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Sedan – 13 May: The Germans Cross the Meuse

M108/9 14.5.1940 1. Panzer Reg. geht auf Pontonbrücke in Floing über die Maas, bei Sedan  [Heeresfilmstelle Spandau-Ruhleben]

German troops with French prisoners crossing the Meuse on 15 May 1940 near Sedan.


Sedan, already notorious as the site of a German victory in 1870, was a small city of about 12,000 inhabitants, lying mostly on the Ardennes side of the Meuse. It had been decided in advance to abandon the city and destroy the bridges if an attack occurred. The French would defend the other side of the Meuse, exploiting the natural obstacles offered by the river and the high ground of the left bank. From the forested hill of La Marfée, the French defenders had a superb view over the Germans on the other side. Thus, Huntziger considered Sedan to be the least vulnerable sector of his line. His main worry was that the Germans might attack further to the south-east in the vicinity of Mouzon with a view to taking the Maginot Line from the rear. To counter this eventuality Huntziger had stationed his best units on his right flank. The 17 km of the Sedan sector, on his left flank, was defended by the B-Series reservists of the 55DI. Quite apart from their deficiencies as soldiers, they were extremely short of anti-aircraft weapons—there was only one anti-aircraft battery in the whole area—and when the German planes attacked many men had only machine-guns and rifles to use against them.

On the night of 12–13 May, French artillery was effective in hampering German movements to the north of the Meuse where the steady arrival of German troops and armour provided an easy target. Then at 7 a.m. on the morning of 13 May, German planes started to attack the French positions. The Kleist group had about 1,000 planes at its disposal, mostly around Sedan. This was a massive concentration of airpower for such a narrow sector of the front. For the next eight hours, wave upon wave of German Stuka bombers pounded the French in what was one of the heaviest air assaults so far in military history. Although these attacks did little damage to French bunkers and gun positions, they had a devastating effect on morale.

At about 3 p.m., after this prolonged bombardment, the Germans started their attempt to cross the Meuse. Guderian planned to use his three divisions for a three-pronged attack. The 10th Panzer Division was to cross on the left, and, once across the river, to secure the high ground of the Marfée heights above the village of Wadelincourt. The crossing was difficult. To reach the edge of the river and launch their rubber dinghies, the German troops had to wade through waterlogged meadows, all the time offering a prime target to the French troops defending the Marfée heights. Most of the boats were shot to pieces before they could even be thrown into the river. If the Germans did succeed in obtaining a foothold on the other bank, this success was due above all to the initiative of a few individuals. Among these was Staff Sergeant Rubarth and his squad of assault engineers. Having managed to cross the river, their dinghy only precariously afloat because of the weight of equipment it was carrying, they were able to rush the French bunkers with surprising ease. As Rubarth himself described the events later:

In a violent Stuka attack, the enemy’s defensive line is bombarded. With the dropping of the last bomb at 1500 hours, we move forward and attack with the infantry. We immediately sustain strong machine gun fire. There are casualties. With my section I reach the bank of the Meuse in a rush through a woodline. . . . Enemy machine guns fire from the right flank across the Meuse. . . . The rubber boat moves across the water. . . . During the crossing, constant firing from our machine guns batters the enemy, and thus not one casualty occurs. I land with my rubber boat near a strong, small bunker, and together with Lance Corporal Podszus put it out of action. . . . We seize the next bunker from the rear. I fire an explosive charge. In a moment the force of the detonation tears off the rear part of the bunker. We use the opportunity and attack the occupants with hand grenades. After a short fight, a white flag appears. . . . Encouraged by this, we fling ourselves against two additional small bunkers, which we know are around 100 metres to our half left. In doing so we move through a swampy area, so that we must temporarily stand in the water up to our hips.

In the end Rubarth and his men were able to destroy seven bunkers. There was no sign of the French ‘interval’ troops who ought to have been guarding the flanks of the bunkers but had possibly taken cover from the German bombers. By the evening Rubarth, having suffered six casualties out of his original eleven men, had reached the ground above Wadelincourt. For this achievement he was later awarded the Knights cross of the Iron Cross.

The most vital sector of the Sedan crossing point was assigned to the 1st Panzer Division, which was to cross at the village of Glaire just west of Sedan, at the base of a small peninsula formed by a loop in the river. As the troops hurled hundreds of rubber boats into the river and jumped after them, many were killed by French gunfire, but enough reached the other side to rush the French defences. Particularly spectacular results were achieved by troops of the 1st German Infantry Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Balck. A tough veteran of the Great War, in which he had been wounded five times, Balck was an exceptionally inspiring commander who was to end the war as an army group general. Having succeeded in crossing the river, Balck and his men found four French bunkers in their path. They bypassed one; two others succumbed relatively easily (and indeed may have been abandoned by their defenders); and the fourth held out for about three hours. By 7 p.m. Balck’s men had covered the 2.5 km from the Meuse to the Château of Bellevue; three hours later they had reached the village of Cheveuges, about 3 km further south. Already by 5.30 p.m. the German foothold on the left bank was sufficient for engineers to begin building a bridge; meanwhile rafts ferried over equipment; by 11 p.m. a bridge capable of bearing a weight of 16 tons was ready, and the first tanks started to cross.

Of the three German divisions at Sedan, it was the 2nd, taking the righthand prong of the attack at the village of Donchery, which had the hardest task crossing. The Germans came under intensive French artillery fire from the opposite bank. Most of the boats were destroyed, and only one officer and one man managed to get across. They both promptly swam back. Only when the 1st Division had established a foothold on the other side was it possible for elements of the 2nd Division to cross at about 10 p.m. It was not possible to start constructing a bridge until 9 a.m. on the morning of 14 May, and continued French artillery fire meant that it took 20 hours to complete. Once fully across the river, however, the 2nd Panzer Division was to assume a major strategic significance, since it found itself directly attacking the hinge between the French Ninth and Second Armies.

By the end of the day (13 May) the Germans had succeeded in crossing at Sedan in three places. Despite pockets of fierce resistance, the French defence overall, weakened by the aerial bombardment, was unimpressive. During the afternoon, some soldiers of the 55DI had begun to flee their positions. In the evening this developed into a full-scale panic. As well as crossing at Sedan, the Germans had breached the Meuse at two other localities. In fact the first German troops to cross the river on 13 May did so not at Sedan but at the little village of Houx, about 4 km north of Dinant. Troops from Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division had crossed by stealth at night along an old weir that connected an island to the two banks of the river. This sluice had not been destroyed by the French for fear that it might excessively lower the level of the river. Thus, some of Rommel’s soldiers were on the other side of the Meuse by the early hours of 13 May.

The main attack by Rommel’s troops occurred later that morning. They were helped by the fact that two of Corap’s divisions, the 18DI and the 22DI, were still not fully in position. Neither of them was motorized. The 22DI had to cover 85 km on foot to reach the Meuse and only arrived there on 13 May after three consecutive night marches. As for the 18DI, which had slightly further to go, French planning had only required it to be fully in place by the morning of 14 May. Those troops in position by 13 May were tired from their march, and four battalions had yet to arrive. Furthermore, the Houx crossing point happened to be at the junction of these two divisions. Despite all these weaknesses, the French defenders fought hard, and the Germans might not have succeeded in crossing had it not been for Rommel’s inspiring leadership and resourcefulness. Rommel ordered houses upstream of the crossing point to be set alight in order to provide a smoke-screen. When German engineers seemed momentarily unnerved by machine-gun fire coming from the French side of the river, Rommel called up tanks to provide covering fire. In responding, the French were handicapped by their shortage of anti-tank weapons. At one point Rommel himself took direct command of a battalion and crossed the Meuse on one of the first boats, joining the men who had been there since the early morning.

The most difficult of the three German crossings on 13 May was that undertaken by Reinhardt’s XLI Panzer Corps at Monthermé (about 32 km north of Sedan). Here the Meuse flows faster than at Sedan and cliffs plunge down to the river. On the west side, where Monthermé lies in a small isthmus, the ground rises up steeply again. This provides a superb defensive position. At the end of 13 May, the Germans had crossed the river but only succeeded in establishing a tiny bridgehead. The French defenders, who were regular troops, fought hard, and the Germans were not yet able to bring tanks across the river.

By the end of the day, then, three German bridgeheads had been established— one of about 5 km at Sedan, one of less than 3 km at Houx, and one of barely 1.5 km at Monthermé. At last the French realized the gravity of the situation. Arriving at 3 a.m. on 14 May, with Doumenc, at Georges’s headquarters, General Beaufre witnessed the despair of the French High Command:

The room was barely half-lit. Major Navereau was repeating in a low voice the information coming in. Everyone else was silent. General Roton, the Chief of Staff, was stretched out in the armchair. The atmosphere was that of a family in which there has been a death. Georges got up quickly and came to Doumenc. He was terribly pale. ‘Our front has been broken at Sedan! There has been a collapse . . .’ He flung himself into a chair and burst into tears.

He was the first man I had seen weep in this campaign. Alas, there were to be others. It made a terrible impression on me.

Japanese Small Arms



All paratroopers jumped with an 8mm semi-automatic pistol, either the Type 94, 1934 #1, or Type 14, 1925 #2; a Meiji Type 30, 1897 bayonet with 15Y in blade #3; and at least two HE grenades, Type 97 1937 #4 or Type 99 1939 #5. The 21b 11 oz Type 99, 1939 magnetic anti-armour charge #6, used for attacking tanks and the steel doors and shutters of pillboxes, was issued in a pouch, with the fuse/detonator packed inside in a two-piece metal tube; the fuse was screwed into the 99 hako-bakurai, and the igniter struck against a solid object to initiate a 10-second delay. The IJN initially used the 6.5mm Meiji Type 38 (1905 carbine #7. Modified “take-down” tera rifles for paratroopers first appeared in 1942/43. A 1941 prototype of the Type 38 carbine with a hinged butt proved too fragile to be adopted. The first IJA attempt to develop a rifle that could be carried on the jump was the 7.7mm Type 100 1940 – the Type 99 short rifle modified with a detachable barrel; the locking mechanism was inadequate, and only small numbers were issued. An improved purpose-made version was adopted as the Type 2, 1942 #8, #9 & #10 in May 1943, and was widely issued to IJA and IJN parachute units from late 1943. Take-down rifles were carried on the jump either in a canvas chest bag, or separated in two leg bags lowered on a short rope after the parachute opened. The Type 1, 1941 paratrooper bandoleer #11, of canvas and leather, was worn around the lower torso; it had seven pockets each holding two five-round rifle charger clips, and two grenade pockets – grenades were carried upside down, so leather bottom extensions accommodated the fuses.


The standard 7.7mm Type 99 (1939) LMG, which already had a detachable quick-change barrel, was provided with a detachable shoulder stock and hollow forward-folding pistol grip; this model came into use in1943 #1, #2. At 46’/ in long, this weighed 231b, took 30-round box magazines, and had a rate of fire of 850rpm. Few sub-machine guns were initially used, but larger numbers were issued for the deployments to the Philippines in 1944; although they were not listed on organization tables, a Takachiho paratrooper veteran stated that they had about 100 per regiment. Three versions of the 8mm Type 100 (1940) were employed. The original 1940 version #3, which already had a detachable barrel, was modified in 1942 with a folding stock and the removal of the flash hider #4a, #4b; length was 34in, or 22.2in folded; weight, 7lb; and rate of fire, 450rpm. The much altered 1944 version #5, without a folding stock, weighed 81 lb, measured 36in, and fired at 850rpm. All used 30-round magazines. The Type 100 bayonet issued with the SMG had an 8in blade #6. The 5cm Type 89 (1929) grenade discharger #7 – popularly but mistakenly called a “knee mortar” by Allied troops – weighed 10.31b; a 1943 paratroop version had a detachable base plate #8, although the standard model base plate and firing mechanism could already be unscrewed and reversed inside the barrel for compact carrying. This valuable weapon fired HE #9a or WP #9b shells out to 700yds, and Type 91 1931) hand grenades fitted with propellant charges #9c to 200yds; a range of smoke and pyrotechnic rounds included this 3-star red flare #9d. The discharger was carried in a canvas case slung from the shoulder, and paratroopers were provided with a chest pack. Some IJA officers carried 3.5cm Taisho Type 10 (1921) flare pistols #10; the IJN used the 2.8cm Type 97 (1937) #11. The IJN 17-pocket paratroop bandoleer is shown at #12.

Japanese army and naval-infantry forces relied on a standard assortment of small arms in World War II. These arms can be grouped into rifles and carbines, pistols, light machine guns, and submachine guns. Heavy machine guns, while not normally considered small arms, will also be covered under this topical heading. Japanese small-arms ammunition could be identified, in many instances, by the following colored bands: pink (ball), black (armor-piercing), and green (tracer).

The two basic rifle models in service by the Japanese were the 38 and the 99. The Model 38 (1905) 6.5-mm rifle, also known as the Arisaka, was based on the German Mauser bolt-action design and fitted to take the Model 30 (1897) bayonet. A carbine version of this rifle, the Model 38 (1905) carbine, which was shorter and lighter than the original model, was also manufactured. A carbine variant, the Model 44 (1911) carbine, was slightly longer than the Model 38 carbine and came with a folding spike bayonet. A sniper’s version of the Model 38 rifle, the Model 91 (1931), was essentially the same as the original except for the inclusion of a telescopic sight. Some Italian-made 6.5-mm rifles were also used by the Japanese.

The Model 99 (1939) 7.7-mm rifle succeeded the Model 38 as the need arose during the war for a more powerful service rifle. It was basically the same as the Model 38 except it was shorter and had a larger caliber. A long variant of the Model 99, a sniper variant, and an experimental model reworked to use light-machine-gun magazines were also produced. Both the Model 38 and the Model 99 rifle could be fitted with spigot, rifled, and cup-type grenade launchers, which fired fragmentation, smoke, and high-explosive antipersonnel grenades. Toward the end of the war, a few Japanese 7.7-mm semiautomatic rifles, based on captured U.S. Garands, were also manufactured.

The standard Japanese pistol design was based on the Nambu (1914) 8- mm pistol. Modeled in appearance after the German Luger yet different in its internal functioning, this semiautomatic pistol is named after its Japanese inventor, Colonel Kijiro Nambu. A wooden combination shoulder-stock-holster was developed to turn this pistol into a carbine but was obsolete prior to the war in the Pacific. The Nambu was superseded by the Model 14 (1925) 8-mm pistol, a significantly modified version. The Model 14 was mass-produced and became the major Japanese pistol used in World War II. A rare 7-mm version, reserved solely for the use of staff officers, was also manufactured.

Two other Japanese pistols were also in service. The Model 94 (1934) 8- mm pistol was of poor design and initially produced for export, mostly to Japanese living in South America. It was supplied to aircraft crews and infantry forces during the war. The model 26 (1893) 9-mm revolver was based on a hinged-frame Smith & Wesson model. It was the only revolver ever produced in quantity by the Japanese. The Model 11 (1922) 6.5-mm light machine gun was based on the French Hotchkiss yet was hampered by its reliance on 5-round ammunition clips fed into a hopper instead of a more standard feed system. At one time standard to the Japanese infantry squad, this weapon was replaced by the Model 96 (1936) 6.5-mm light machine gun. Although the Model 96 externally resembled the British Bren gun, with its magazine feed and carrying handle, it was based on French and Czech internal designs. This light machine gun had a bipod mount and was fitted to take the Model 30 (1897) bayonet. The Japanese also used other machine-gun models during World War II. The Model 99 (1939) 7.7-mm light machine gun was basically the same as the Model 96 except that it was based on a larger caliber. The BRNO, ZB (1925) 7.92-mm light machine gun also saw considerable service. Originally of Czech manufacture, it was purchased by the Japanese prior to the war, looted from the Chinese, and produced in their captured arsenals. Because of the large quantities of British ammunition seized by the Japanese, attempts were made to produce imitations of Allied weapons.

The Japanese used very few submachine guns in the war because they did not appreciate their value until well into the conflict. Those machine weapons that were encountered were mostly German Bergmanns, Swissmade Solothurns, or captured Allied models. Still, three Japanese submachine-gun designs were manufactured either in small quantities or as prototypes. The Type 0 (1940) 8-mm submachine gun was used by Japanese naval infantry and by paratroopers at Leyte in 1944. The experimental 6.5-mm light machine gun was a cheap, easy-to-make weapon produced during the final Japanese emergency and is notable for its blowback operation. The experimental 8-mm machine gun, which was very compact and had a special rate-of-fire selector, was never placed in production.

The Model 92 (1932) 7.7-mm heavy machine gun represented the standard Japanese heavy machine gun. It was a modified Hotchkiss-type weapon and was mounted on a tripod for use against ground targets; however, an adapter allowed it to be used against aircraft. A Model 92 variant based on the Lewis-type machine gun, which was drum-fed rather than strip-fed, also existed. Another variant, known as the Type 0 heavy machine gun, was lighter than the standard Model 92 and simpler in design, making it one of the best heavy-machine-gun designs of the war. The Model 93 (1933) 13-mm twin heavy machine gun, which was tripod-mounted and had a steel chair for the gunner, was used against both tanks and aircraft. Model 93 ammunition has a different colored-band system than standard small-arms ammunition: black (ball), white (armor-piercing), and red (tracer). A single-barreled version of this heavy machine gun was also produced.

FURTHER READING Chamberlain, Peter, and Terry Gander. Axis Pistols, Rifles, and Grenades (1976). Smith, W.H.B. Small Arms of the World: The Basic Manual of Military Small Arms (1948). U.S. War Department. Handbook on Japanese Military Forces, TM-E 30–480. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1 October 1944 (1991 reprint). U.S. War Department. Japanese Infantry Weapons, special series, no. 19, U.S. Government Printing Office, 31 December 1943.

Elizabethan Impact


When Elizabeth I (1533–1603) was crowned queen in 1558, England was, compared to other European nations, a poor and backward country. At this time England was deeply divided by religious strife. It was too weak to protect itself from its enemies, lacking a strong military. Furthermore, England had been too beleaguered by its conflicts to participate in the Renaissance, the great artistic and intellectual movement that had swept Europe beginning in the fourteenth century. The people of England must have wondered what the inexperienced twenty-five-year-old queen could possibly do to strengthen her nation.

Nonetheless, when people today think of the Elizabethan Era most envision the dazzling, red-headed queen skillfully reigning over a vibrant court lively with music and dance, splendid costumes, and dashing young statesmen, explorers, and artists. Soon after she took the throne, Elizabeth’s moderate religious settlement eased some of the divisions between Protestants and Catholics that had been tearing the nation apart, providing England with a stability that allowed it to grow in many directions. During Elizabeth’s reign commerce flourished. London became one of Europe’s largest and greatest cities. The era produced unparalleled advances drama, and not surprisingly, the Elizabethan Era has become known as the age of Shakespeare in honor of its leading dramatist and poet. There was growth in other spheres as well. As the new middle class developed, public education advanced, and England experienced a higher level of literacy than ever before. This made it possible for people who were not born into the nobility to rise in position. Elizabeth’s reign also marked the beginning of English exploration of the New World. Militarily, Elizabethans restored England to its place as a major European power. When the Spanish Armada arrived in the English Channel in 1588 hoping to invade England, Elizabeth’s small but highly skilled navy was up to the task of defending the small island from the world’s largest power. The English people celebrated the victory with a new sense of pride in their nationality.

Historians differ greatly over how much credit to give Elizabeth for all the advances that occurred during her reign. Many elements of change were clearly already in process. Although we will probably never determine the extent of her contribution, her story has nevertheless fascinated historians worldwide for centuries after her death. The story of Elizabethan England provides valuable insight not only into English history, but also into the transition of Western society into modern times.

Edwin Alexander Anderson, Jr.


Birth Date: July 16, 1860

Death Date: September 23, 1933

U.S. naval officer. Edwin Alexander Anderson Jr. was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, on July 16, 1860. He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, in 1878; graduated in 1882; served an obligatory two years’ duty at sea; and was commissioned an ensign on July 1, 1884. Owing to the large number of officers and the navy’s policy of advancement based on seniority, he did not make lieutenant, junior grade, until 1894. In late January 1897, he reported for duty aboard the cruiser Marblehead and was serving in that assignment when the Spanish-American War began in April 1898.

NH 79952

Cienfuegos Cable-Cutting Operation, 11 May 1898

The primary U.S. Navy goal at the beginning of the war was to blockade Cuba and sever its communications with Spain. In pursuit of this objective, on May 11, 1898, the Marblehead and the light-draft gunboat Nashville shelled a Spanish cable house and barracks on the coast at Cienfuegos, Cuba. As part of the mission, men were sent in small boats to cut the Spanish telegraph cables in shallow water.

Lieutenant Cameron Winslow had charge of the four launches from the two ships designated to carry out the order. Anderson had command of the two boats from the Marblehead: a steam launch crewed by 5 seamen, 3 sailors manning a 1-pounder Hotchkiss gun, and 6 marine marksmen and a sailing launch crewed by 16 men, including Anderson, who were armed with rifles and revolvers. The plan was for the sailing launch crews to cut the cables while the steam launches provided fire support.

The steam launches from both ships moved to between 150 and 200 yards of the beach and cable house and began to direct fire ashore. Meanwhile, the sailing launches located two armored cables about 30 yards from the beach. Fire from the shore intensified as the Spanish employed rifles and machine guns against the launches during a three-hour span. Anderson took over the steering of his launch when his coxswain was wounded; four other members of his crew were also wounded. The launch took on water from numerous bullet holes, requiring constant bailing to keep it afloat in the rough water. Nevertheless, the two American boat crews were able to drag the sea floor with grappling hooks, pulling up two cables and cutting them with hacksaws. Lieutenant Winslow reported on the coolheadedness, bravery, and intelligence demonstrated by Anderson while under fire and eventually had to order Anderson to desist from further cable cutting. Unfortunately, a smaller cable that was not cut during this operation enabled the Spanish to maintain communications until additional cable-cutting expeditions occurred in the following weeks.

By 1901, Anderson had been promoted to captain and held a variety of commands, including that of the battleship Iowa. He was recognized for his heroism in 1898 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading naval forces ashore at Veracruz, Mexico, during the U.S. intervention there in 1914. He was also decorated by the Japanese government for providing humanitarian assistance after a devastating earthquake and tsunami there in 1923. Anderson retired as a rear admiral in 1924 and died in Wilmington on September 23, 1933. A World War II destroyer was named in his honor.

Further Reading Anderson, Edwin Alexander, Jr. ZB Biographical File, Navy Department Library, Washington, DC. Appendix to the Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1898. Feuer, A. B. The Spanish-American War at Sea: Naval Action in the Atlantic. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995. Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.


Battle of Aguadores


View of the July 1898 scene of action showing General Lawton’s division attacking at Caney on the right and General Joe Wheeler’s in the center, while General Kent on the left moves on Aguadores and Sampson’s fleet bombards Morro and the other forts at the entrance. The Spanish fleet in the upper harbor is also taking part in the fight.

Date: July 1, 1898

Battle involving U.S. troops and a fortified Spanish strong point on the western side of the San Juan River some three miles east of the harbor entrance to Santiago, Cuba. The U.S. attack on Aguadores was planned as a diversion during the concurrent principal U.S. attack against San Juan Heights. The plan called for U.S. Navy ships and 2,500 American troops under Brigadier General Henry N. Duffield to attack the Spanish garrison there.

North Atlantic Fleet commander Rear Admiral William T. Sampson had ordered his flagship, the armored cruiser New York, and the gunboat Gloucester and armed yacht Suwannee to commence shelling Aguadores at 6:00 a.m., but Duffield’s troops were three hours late arriving, and the naval gunfire did not commence until 9:20 a.m. When the men of the 33rd Michigan Regiment arrived at the 700-foot railroad bridge over the San Juan River, they discovered that the Spanish had blown a 40-foot span on the western side. The Americans were thus never able to secure positions from which they could lay down effective fire against the 274 Spanish defenders at Aguadores. The Americans subsequently came under effective Spanish long-range rifle fire. At about 1:30 p.m., after his men had sustained casualties of 2 killed and 10 wounded, Duffield withdrew to Siboney. While Secretary of the Army Russell A. Alger claimed that the operation had prevented the Spanish from reinforcing San Juan Heights, there is no evidence to support this conclusion.

Further Reading Cosmas, Graham A. An Army for Empire: The United States Army in the Spanish-American War. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994. Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.


76-mm Sherman


Standard M4A2(76mm) Sherman


M4A3(76mm) Sherman


The US Army made a conscious decision in 1943: to ignore calls for rapid development of the heavy, 90mm-gun T26 (Pershing) to take on the Panthers and Tigers, and instead to mass produce the M4 – a medium tank that would do the job well enough rather than brilliantly, and at a practical cost in time, talent, treasure, and shipping weight.

Its 75mm gun and 50mm (2in) frontal armor were not good enough to take on a late Panzer head-to-head; but Sherman crews used their numbers, speed and agility to swarm round the Panthers and Tigers. The Panzer might survive long enough to kill one, maybe even two M4s; but in the meantime the rest of the platoon, working round onto its flanks, would be putting rounds into its more vulnerable sides and engine compartment from close up.

The Sherman also lent itself to adaptation. The 75mm gun was a good all- purpose weapon with a very useful HE round; but when its shortcomings against the new Panzers became evident, the British customized a proportion of their Sherman fleet by shoe-horning into the turret their big 17-pounder anti-tank gun. Probably the best Allied anti-tank weapon of the war, this 76mm (3in) gun could pierce at least 130mm of armour sloped at 30 degrees at 1,000 yards range, compared to about 60mm for the 75mm gun (the frontal armor of Tigers and Panthers was around 80mm). Sadly, there were never enough of these 17-pdr.Sherman “Fireflies” to issue more than one tank per platoon. The US Army turned them down, but late US Shermans received a new turret for the long 76mm M1 series gun.

So why go to all the trouble of installing a new gun in the Sherman when it only fired a projectile that was 1mm larger in diameter? Well, the typical AP M72 shot used with the 75mm M3 Gun attained a muzzle velocity of 2,030 ft/sec. The typical AP M79 shot, which was used with the M1A2 76mm Gun, achieved a velocity of 2,600 ft/sec. This additional speed provided a penetration difference in homogeneous armor at 30 degree obliquity from 2.4in (60mm), to 4.3in (109mm), a penetration difference of approximately 2 inches. To what was this new penetration performance due? It was mostly due to the additional powder used in the larger shell cartridge, but both the increased length of the barrel and the improved performance of the projectile itself also had some effect. The increased velocity of the round still wasn’t enough to penetrate a Panther or Tiger I head on at distance, but the improved performance was directly noticeable to the users, and it temporarily reduced American tankers’ complaints about the poor performance of their earlier 75mm M3 weapons.

One good point about the US Sherman’s guns was that their trajectory allowed indirect fire – wartime photos show tanks lined up track to track on slopes with guns elevated, firing HE barrages over crests like howitzer batteries, a tactic impossible for most German tanks with their high velocity cannon.

Of the many versions of the M4 which were produced, varying in armor, turret, ammo stowage, weapon, engine and suspension, the best – by acclamation – was the M4A3E8 (“Easy 8”) with a big liquid-cooled V8 engine, wider tracks, HVSS suspension, and enlarged turret with 76mm gun; these began to reach the troops soon after D-Day. They served on for some years, seeing combat in Korea; and they – and many earlier marks – would continue to serve in overseas armies for decades afterwards. A handful served in Israel’s 1948 war of independence, and many in her 1956 and 1967 campaigns; Shermans fought in the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971; and in odd pockets of the Third World a few may have soldiered on even later.


Holy Lance


The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal.

A relic discovered at Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) on 14 June 1098, identified by many participants in the First Crusade (1096–1099) with the weapon that pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion (John 19:33–34).

According to the eyewitness chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, a week after the capture of Antioch from the Turks on 3 June 1098, a Provençal peasant called Peter Bartholomew approached Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles, claiming that he had received a series of visions from St. Andrew during the previous months. On one of these visitations, Andrew had revealed to him the spot where the lance that pierced Christ’s side lay hidden within the Church of St. Peter in Antioch. After five days of fasting and penance, twelve men (including Raymond of Aguilers) accompanied Peter Bartholomew to the church on the morning of 14 June 1098 and began to excavate the site in search of the relic. That evening the lance was uncovered by Peter Bartholomew himself. Both Raymond of Aguilers and the anonymous Gesta Francorum report that the discovery of the Holy Lance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the crusaders, at that point themselves besieged within Antioch by Turkish forces. These same sources, as well as a letter sent by the crusade leaders to Pope Urban II on 11 September 1098, relate that the lance was carried into combat when the crusaders broke the siege of Antioch on 28 June 1098. From these accounts, it seems clear that the crusaders attributed their success in that battle to the inspiration and divine protection offered by the holy relic.

Over the following months, however, while factionalism among the crusade leaders delayed the army’s departure for Jerusalem, the authenticity of the lance was called into question, particularly by the Norman followers of Bohemund I, future prince of Antioch. In addition to claiming lordship over the newly conquered city, Bohemund was vying for authority over the crusade army with Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the guardian of the lance, and his southern French supporters. This situation came to a head when certain nobles and the less privileged elements of the army beseeched Count Raymond to lead them to Jerusalem or surrender the lance to those who were willing to continue the march. Raymond acquiesced and led a substantial portion of the crusaders toward Jerusalem in early January 1099.

Nevertheless, a faction led by Arnulf of Chocques, chaplain to Robert, duke of Normandy, persisted in questioning the legitimacy of the relic. This situation encouraged Peter Bartholomew to undertake an ordeal in order to prove the lance’s authenticity. On 8 April 1099, Peter hazarded an ordeal by fire while bearing the lance. Raymond of Aguilers reports that Peter crossed safely between two piles of burning wood, but was mortally crushed by the thronging crowds that greeted him on the other side. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Peter Bartholomew died on 20 April 1099. Though this turn of events did not diminish Raymond of Aguilers’s enthusiasm for the lance, it clearly contributed to the relic’s controversial status among contemporary crusade historians. Fulcher of Chartres, who was at Edessa (mod. Şanliurfa, Turkey) when the lance was discovered, expressed his skepticism about its authenticity and wrote that Peter Bartholomew’s death was a clear sign of his duplicity in the matter, adding that the ordeal’s outcome greatly disheartened the bulk of the relic’s supporters.

Writing around 1115 in praise of the recently deceased Norman crusader Tancred, the chronicler Raduph of Caen excoriated both Raymond of Saint-Gilles and Peter Bartholomew for their fabrication of the supposedly holy relic. Raduph asserts that Peter Bartholomew’s demise was clear proof of the lance’s falsity. Writing from a less polemical standpoint, subsequent generations of crusade historians, including Albert of Aachen, Guibert of Nogent, and William of Tyre, present the discovery of the lance as a moment of great significance during the course of the First Crusade, but also acknowledge the controversy that surrounded the relic and its discoverer’s ordeal.

The question of the Holy Lance’s authenticity was further complicated by the existence of well-known competitors, including a lance kept at Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) since the seventh century and one possessed by the Holy Roman Emperors since the tenth century. The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal. According to second-hand sources, Count Raymond may have given the lance to the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, or he may have lost it during his participation in the ill-fated Crusade of 1101. If the lance discovered by the crusaders did find its way to Constantinople, it may have been the same one purchased in 1241 by King Louis IX of France from Baldwin II, Latin emperor of Constantinople.



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