Combat Issues – Chinese Chariots

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Fighting from a moving chariot would have been difficult at best, given the bumping and jarring, not to mention the fleeting moment when a shock weapon could be brought to bear against nearby fighters on the ground or used to strike warriors in an oncoming vehicle. Thus the exceptional accomplishments attributed to racing archers may have been preserved precisely because of their uniqueness. Furthermore, even if the chariots merely served as transport to the point of conflict, fighters manning the compartment would have suffered the discomfort of confinement.

Though seemingly spacious, the approximately 32-by-48-inch compartment turns out to be highly limiting when occupied by three warriors bearing weapons and garbed in rudimentary protective leather armor. Experiments conducted over several years with martial artists well trained in such traditional weapons as long- and short-handled halberds, battle axes, daggers, and swords prove that they would have lacked the freedom of maneuver required to fend off, let alone vanquish, attackers. The driver, who faces no threat from the front where the horses block access, is mainly vulnerable to an oblique attack. However, being pinned in the center with the horses and shaft protruding in front of him, he is unable to contribute much to either the attack or defense, whether in motion or at rest. But the other two combatants are exposed from about 45 degrees right around to 180 degrees dead center at the back, where neither shields nor any other form of protection was ever affixed.

If the archer positions himself somewhat laterally on the right side so that his shooting stance puts his arm toward the outside of the chariot rather than to the inside against the driver, he can fire toward the front or out to the sides with little interference. However, swinging around to shoot to the rear is virtually impossible. Conversely, an archer standing on the left, reputedly the normal Shang position, is badly hampered by the driver (even if the driver is kneeling) as he tries to fit an arrow to his bow and fire in any direction. Shots to the rear become possible if he stands laterally facing outward and thus draws his bow on the exterior side of the compartment, in mirror image to an archer positioned on the right side aiming forward.

Wielding the era’s preferred shock weapon, a dagger-axe with a three-foot handle, is easily accomplished on the right side, particularly for blows directed to the front or somewhat alongside, but when swinging outward to counterattack perpendicular to the chariot’s forward orientation, care has to be taken to avoid striking the archer standing on the opposite side on the backswing. Blows directed to the rear that require swinging around prove impossible without dramatically modifying the motion, as well as fruitless because potential attackers, already at the limit of effective range, can easily dodge any strike.

Even if solitary attackers might be thwarted, multiple attackers, especially those bearing five-foot-long spears, would have been easily able to slay the chariot’s occupants without being endangered, unless the archer employed his bow at point-blank range. Whether armed with long or short weapons, multiple attackers create chaos because the heavily confined chariot crew, standing back to back and arm to shoulder, are unable to dodge, bend, or deflect oncoming blows and can only rely on any shields they may have carried or the protection offered by early body armor. Vulnerability would therefore have been especially acute to the rear, though presumably somewhat mitigated by the chariot’s forward battlefield motion.

A single occupant wielding a full-length saber or long two-handed weapon fared far better in these admittedly static tests. Two men, though sometimes impinging on each other or even colliding, still had sufficient freedom of maneuver to fight effectively, even if the archer occupied the left side as traditionally portrayed. Three men suffered the difficulties noted; four became an example of “close packing,” all four being totally incapable of wielding any sort of crushing weapon.

These problems apparently prompted the development of very long-handled spears and dagger-axes in the Spring and Autumn that were presumably intended for battling similarly equipped warriors in enemy chariots. However, for the three chariot occupants this additional length simply exacerbated the lack of maneuverability, particularly because the weapons tended to be held at least a quarter of the way up the shaft rather than at the very butt. (Grasping with two hands increases the power and control, but at the sacrifice of maneuverability.) Even with these longer weapons, two warriors riding fast-moving, converging chariots would only have had a moment to strike each other—making it not impossible but highly unlikely to significantly contribute to the battle’s effort. Rather than as conventionally depicted in contemporary movies, the drivers probably slowed, even halted, to allow the occupants to clash.

Experiments also revealed the height of the compartment to be not just a detrimental factor but also highly puzzling. A horizontal pole or rim that falls somewhere around the middle of the upper thigh provides adequate stabilization for a warrior to maintain a fighting stance and would have prevented falling over in sudden motion, but to provide real functional support the height should rise approximately to a man’s waist. However, though not entirely useless, Shang chariot walls would have risen to just above knee level, a height that tended to cause modern fighters to lose their balance and tumble out because the rail effectively acted as a fulcrum.

The axle’s high placement in a relatively lightweight vehicle would have resulted in a high center of gravity, making stability a crucial issue for any occupants trying to employ their weapons at speed. In addition, there were no springs or any sort of suspension mounting for the chariot box, even though late Shang models apparently began to employ the cantilevered wooden junction called a “crouching rabbit,” which was obviously designed to reduce the effects of the wooden wheels bouncing over the terrain through its tensing and bowing action. The horses loosely coupled to the front shaft and the weight of the three-man crew would have stabilized the vehicle somewhat, but the traditional chariot would certainly have been inherently unstable and rocked jarringly from side to side on the uneven terrain of natural battlefields, just like a modern lightweight SUV.

The straw and moss padding spread on the compartment’s wooden floor to provide additional damping proved to be minimally absorptive while inducing further instability, just as sponge padding might on the floor of an open pickup truck. (Comfortable when stationary, spongelike substances tend to exhibit less desirable properties when the vehicle is in motion or the fighter is active.) In some cases the floors were fabricated by interweaving leather thongs, but their effectiveness in reconstructive experiments was decidedly poor, particularly after they lost their initial tension, and they could even result in the fighter’s stance becoming more tenuous. The use of interior straps and efforts to improve the battlefield in the Spring and Autumn period confirm that stability continued to be a problem: the warriors were jostled about as the chariot moved at speed across the terrain.

HOMILDON HILL 1402

Battle of Homildon Hill 1402 part three 730

Battle of Homildon Hill, 1402, Image by Andrew Spratt

Goaded beyond endurance by English archery, the Scots abandoned their position on the hill and charged down into a carefully prepared killing ground from which few escaped alive.

The last of the medieval confrontations between England and Scotland was not so much a battle as a slaughter. It was a battle in which leadership and tactical skill won out against muddle and indecision. Which is not to say that there was a lack of courage, as the events of the battle clearly show.

After his defeat at Otterburn, Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland, craved revenge on the Scots. First, however, he took a hand in sorting out the internal unrest in England. King Richard II had ruled well for many years, but after the death of his beloved Queen Anne something snapped in his brain. He indulged in every luxury known at the time and gave himself over to gluttony and drink. He hired a large private army, not to fight the kingdom’s enemies, but to crush resistance to his heavy taxes and arbitrary whims. He ordered the murder of the Duke of Gloucester and personally beat the Earl of Arundel senseless. Other nobles and bishops were executed, thrown into prison or exiled. The economy was in a mess and the common people suffered terribly.

When Henry Duke of Lancaster raised a rebellion in the summer of 1399, the powerful Percy family joined immediately. Richard sent out the summons to raise the royal army, but nobody came. Abandoned and alone, Richard was captured and deposed. A few months later Lancaster announced that Richard was dead and took the throne as King Henry IV.

Almost immediately a man with a strong resemblance to Richard appeared at the court of King Robert III of Scotland. The Scots hailed him as the real King Richard and refused to deal with King Henry on the grounds that he was a usurper. The Scots stepped up the number and scale of their border raids. In July 1402, Henry led a large army into southern Scotland, but failed to capture any major cities or to bring the Scottish army to battle.

As soon as King Henry was gone, Archibald, Earl of Douglas mustered a force and marched south over the border. Like his grandfather in 1388, Archibald plundered Northumberland and Durham before turning back at the gates of Newcastle. He led his army, now laden down with a vast amount of plunder, north along the coast road. He turned inland to avoid the great fortress of Alnwick intending to pass through Wooler and cross back into Scotland at Coldstream.

The English had not been idle. The Earl of Northumberland had gathered an army and laid an ambush beside the ford at Milfield where Douglas would have to cross the River Till. Scottish scouts discovered the trap and Douglas halted just north of Wooler to decide his next move. The next morning, 14 September, the English army led by the Earl and his son Harry Hotspur advanced on the Scottish position. Battle was inevitable.

The Opposing Armies

Archibald, Earl of Douglas, had about 9,000 men with him when he camped on the slopes of Homildon Hill. The approaching English army under the Earl of Northumberland was smaller, probably about 7,000 strong. But the English were so confident of victory that Northumberland’s son, Harry ‘Hotspur’ suggested an immediate attack. His confidence was based on the different equipment and tactics of the two armies.

The Scottish troops were overwhelmingly infantry, who rode horses on campaign but fought on foot. These men were armed much as Scottish armies had been for the previous century. In addition to his infantry, Douglas had several hundred heavily armoured knights – though it is not known exactly how many. In theory these men were raised by traditional feudal levy, being expected to serve forty days at their own expense. In practice, however, the full levy was raised only when the king went to war on the grand scale. Noblemen, such as Douglas, could call out the levy of their estates for cross border raids, but they also hired men for cash payments called Bonds of Retinue, or for the promise of a share of any loot captured. It is thought that the Scottish army on this occasion was hired by Douglas and his fellow nobles on the basis of Bonds.

The English army at this battle was, essentially, the private army of the Percy family and other northern noblemen. The great wealth of these families gave them the money to hire and equip soldiers, while their spreading estates gave them a large reservoir of men who felt a direct loyalty to the noble family. The English had long ago abandoned the feudal levy and instead relied upon a minority of the men in the population who effectively worked as full time, professional soldiers. As a result the English armies of this time were consistently better trained and equipped than their Scottish rivals.

At Homildon Hill, the Percies brought an army accustomed to fighting on foot. About half the army was made up of archers, many of them Welshmen hired by the northern families to stiffen the bowmen of their own estates. At this date the longbow was at the peak of development. The best archers were those who began training as boys, for the years of practice as the body grew produced massively broad shoulders and overdeveloped arm muscles which together gave greater power in the shot arrow. The remainder of the troops in the English army were infantry equipped with more or less effective armour. Most men wore mail jackets and steel helmets and carried wooden shields bound with iron.

The English also had their heavily armoured knights encased in full plate armour. These men usually fought on foot alongside the men they had raised, using their extra weight to stiffen the battle line and their authority to give orders in the heat of battle. Some English knights chose to fight on horse at this time, but not at Homildon Hill.

Tactics

The early fifteenth century saw large battles fought with similar tactics to those of the fourteenth century. Battles tended to be won or lost by the formations of armoured infantry. Not until the enemy’s divisions were broken and in flight was the battle won.

To achieve this aim, the Scots and English employed quite different tactics. The English used the longbowmen to produce an arrow storm. The armoured infantry were held back while the archers did their work and were brought into play only if the enemy threatened to overrun the lightly armoured and vulnerable archers. At this point in the battle the archers could not shoot for fear of hitting their own men and the battle would become a mass of men engaged in bloody hand to hand combat. If the English were getting the worst of the encounter, they would seek to disengage again covered by archery or by mounted knights whose presence would deter too rash a pursuit. If it were the enemy who fell back, the English would use archery to inflict casualties until their targets were out of range, after which mounted men would take up the pursuit.

To counter these tactics, the Scots came up with a number of ploys designed to neutralize the arrow storm and get to close quarter fighting. The Scots might attack at dawn, as at Bannockburn, or launch a surprise attack from a forest, as at Otterburn. Alternatively they could launch a swift cavalry charge to ride down the archers, or at least mask their aim and enable the infantry to get to grips. If none of these tactics looked possible, the Scots usually preferred to avoid a pitched battle and rely on ambush, raid and sieges to grind down the English campaign.

The Battle

As the English army advanced and deployed for battle, the Scots realized they had a problem. Encumbered by a large train of wagons and pack animals, loaded down with plunder, they could not march as quickly as the English and so avoid a battle. Nor could they scramble up the steep slopes of the hills at their back where their height would render the longbowmen far below almost useless. Nor would the Scots abandon their plunder and flee. Uncertain what to do, Douglas did nothing.

The Earl of Northumberland agreed with his son that an immediate attack was needed, but the wily old man ignored Hotspur’s calls for a frontal assault. Instead Northumberland drew up his armoured infantry on level ground directly in front of the Scots and halted. The front rank of this battle line was filled with archers. A strong body of archers, perhaps 2,000 strong, was then sent out to the right wing. If the Scots tried to attack, the archers could scamper back to the cover of their armoured support.

As the archers moved forward, Douglas did nothing.

Once in position, the archers let fly a deadly arrow storm. Some 12,000 arrows a minute plunged into the Scottish army. Wounded horses screamed in agony and fell to the ground lashing out with their hooves. Men raised their shields, but were hit nonetheless, the arrows tearing into flesh and shattering bones. Hundreds of Scots fell wounded or dead.

Still, Douglas did nothing. Perhaps he panicked, perhaps he was frightened. Whatever the reason, the inactivity of the Scottish commander was condemning his men to death.

Suddenly a lone knight rode out in front of the Scottish army. It was Sir John Swinton, a champion jouster at Scottish tournaments. He turned to face the army and shouted angrily ‘What has bewitched you today? Why do you not attack these men who hurry to destroy you with their arrows as if you were deer? Those who are willing should come with me and we shall strike our enemies to save our lives, or at least to fall as knights with honour.’ At least that is what a chronicler wrote down some time later.

Whatever Sir John actually said, it was enough. His chief rival on the tournament field, Sir Adam Gordon, spurred forwards and shouted ‘Indeed, you are the finest knight in Scotland. Let us ride together.’ The two young men flourished their lances and spurred down the hill at the English army waiting below. A hundred or so mounted knights followed, surging down the slope.

Seeing the charge, Douglas at last took action. He picked up his lance and ordered a general advance, charging forwards in the wake of Swinton and Gordon.

Seeing the Scots army at last in movement, Northumberland ordered his main body to fall back. But he was not retreating, merely luring the Scots into a prepared killing ground at the foot of the slope. The Scottish knights reached the flat ground first and were instantly deluged with an arrow storm from the English main body as well as from the flanking archers. Their horses killed or wounded, the knights crashed to the ground to be peppered with arrows themselves. The few dozen who remained mounted veered to the right and fled.

Seeing their social superiors effectively wiped out, the Scottish infantry abandoned the advance and ran. They were pursued by English arrows, which cut down more Scots, and then by cheering Englishmen who sprung to their horses to give chase. Most of the Scots got across the River Till, but the Tweed was running high. Many Scots, too tired to face the torrent, surrendered. Others dived in. For days afterwards hundreds of bodies were found floating down stream. It is thought that less than half the Scottish army got home.

Aftermath

Once the killing was over, the English moved into the field and up the slopes where the Scots had been mown down by the archers. Most of the heavily armoured nobles and knights were still alive. Thrown by wounded or dying horses and injured by the arrow storm they lay prostrate awaiting capture. The Earl of Douglas himself was hauled from beside his horse with five arrow wounds, including one that cost him his eye. Three other earls were taken together with nearly 100 knights and lesser barons. Even Murdoch Stewart, the king’s nephew, was taken alive.

The Percies were jubilant. They had got their revenge for the disgrace of Otterburn and gained great fame. More lucrative, they had a clutch of wealthy prisoners who, according to the rules of war of the time, could be held for ransom.

There was a complex set of rules about the treatment of noble prisoners at this time. In theory the ransom was to be paid to the person who captured the prisoner, but equally the prisoner expected to be kept in the luxury usual for his station. If a humble foot soldier captured an earl, it was obvious such luxury could not be afforded. It was normal, therefore, that a prisoner would be sold on to somebody able to bear the costs of captivity. In this way the man who made the capture would become instantly wealthy, while the nobleman who ‘bought’ the prisoner would get the eventual ransom, which was usually more than had been paid for the prisoner.

This system was well understood, but in the wake of Homildon Hill it went badly wrong. King Henry IV of England was insecure on his throne and in desperate need of money. He therefore instructed the Percies to hand over the prisoners taken at Homildon Hill and offered them a derisory fraction of the expected ransom in return. The Percies were furious. They argued, they delayed, they pleaded and in the end they rose in revolt and England was plunged into civil war.

Scotland, meanwhile, had its own troubles. Robert III died in 1406 and left the throne to his infant son James I. The nobles fell to squabbling, taking power that rightfully belonged to the crown. It was not until James III became king in 1488 that internal peace came to Scotland. James III was too busy repairing the damage caused by the years of civil strife to feel the need to go to war with England. The English, meanwhile, were bleeding themselves white in the bloodbath known as the Wars of the Roses.

There were, of course, border raids. Some of them led to substantial fights such as that at Wark in 1435. The Earl of Northumberland was driven off by the Earl of Angus and another English defeat, this time at the hands of the new Earl of Douglas, in 1448. But these were relatively small affairs. Both nations were far too busy with their internal troubles to put a large army in the field.

 

Rebuilt Luftwaffe!? Part I

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The spectacular Allied failure to seize the bridges and cross the Rhine River at Arnhem in September had given the Luftwaffe a breathing spell to recover from the aerial fiascos of the previous nine months. Finally, Hitler had given fighter production precedence over bomber types; he could do little else after watching the vast armada of Allied planes pulverize the Reich throughout 1944. Then too, there was little in the way of fuel to keep any of the petrol-guzzling German bombers aloft. Albert Speer warned the German leader, however, that if this desecration continued much longer, there would be no way of continuing the war. In spite of increased production from other armament manufacture, the production of oil plummeted. By greatly expanding synthetic fuels production, German petrol stocks had reached an apex of some 574,000 tons by April of 1944. But then the Allied bombing campaign against German oil production began in earnest. Fuel stocks plummeted. By late June, production was down by 90%; only 52,000 tons were produced that month as opposed to 195,000 in May. With the refineries under a withering assault, the free fall continued. Only 35,000 tons dribbled out in July and barely 16,000 in August. Speer gave Hitler an honest appraisal:

“The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, we will soon no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning. Our hope is that the other side has an air force general staff as scatter-brained as ours!”

Although his generals told him that things could be patched up, Hitler was too perceptive to believe the sycophants in his headquarters. The German leader was always calling for more tanks and planes from the German factories. Speer pointedly challenged him: what good would be these planes and tanks if there was no fuel for them? Hitler knew Speer was right. The German leader grudgingly approved the plan to re-build the fighter forces at the cost of the offensive air arm that summer. But was all this too late?

Under Hitler’s direction, Speer forcefully addressed the fuel problem. The hydro-generation plants were repaired so that production could resume. A horde of army engineers were enlisted to harden the refineries. The engineers and repair crews were supervised by Himmler’s SS, so that their “enthusiasm” would not flag. Thousands of the impressed laborers died. Where possible, facilities were moved underground. For those above, concrete ramparts were erected; and a thicket of heavy flak guns ringed the facilities. Along with smoke generators, this made bomb runs not only uncertain, but exceedingly deadly. The vital German facilities took on the air of fortresses; they were even called that Hydriesfestungen. The 14th Flakdivision, in charge of the defense of the important oil plants in the Leipzig area, possessed 374 heavy flak guns at the beginning of May, 1944. Over the following months, the dynamic Genmaj. Adolf Gerlach increased their strength six-fold and instituted effective fire control schemes to make future Allied blows nearly suicidal. On July 28th, Speer called for dramatic increase in the fighters allocated to defend German industry. One move designed to accommodate his desire was to post JG 400, flying the rocket-powered, but short-ranged, Me-163 Komet, at Brandis along the approach path to the oil facilities. On August 24, eight of these fast rocket planes struck a surprised force of 185 B-17s moving to attack the refinery at Merseburg. Four B-17s were shot down with only superficial damage suffered by two of the Komets. Finally, the ultimate oil protection strategy was entrusted to Edmund Geilenberg, Speer’s energetic head of the munitions organization. He proposed to dig in 41 small dispersed hydrogeneration plants in underground production facilities around Central Germany.

In spite of the far-reaching measures, oil production continued to flag. The experience of the sprawling synthetic oil plant at Leuna is illustrative. Between May 12th and September 28th, the facility was struck no less than twelve times by over 2,400 medium and heavy bombers. Although production resumed briefly with chaotic repairs during the summer, Leuna was bombed so often that at the end of the month repair work was again disrupted before operation could resume. Meanwhile, German fuel production had dropped to a war-relative drip: a mere 7,000 tons for September. The effects were not immediate the Luftwaffe had accumulated a fuel reserve of over half a million tons before the disasters of summer but soon the fat would be gone. With the total stocks down to only 180,000 tons at the end of September the promise of draconian conservation measures loomed. Gone would be profligate use by the Luftwaffe day-bombers. Even legitimate uses like reconnaissance and training operations would have to be sharply curtailed. Worst of all, the Luftwaffe, increasingly viewed as impotent, would be competing with Hitler’s panzers for the trickle of fuel left.

Fortunately for the Germans, there were so many pulls on the Allied air effort that it did not remain solely concentrated on oil. In the late summer the U.S. strategic air force was committed to the destruction of the rail system in France to hinder the ability of the Germans to respond to the invasion. Later, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, the Deputy Supreme Commander at SHAEF, pushed for a greater portion of the strategic bombing effort to be devoted to wrecking the rail and water transport system in Germany on the basis of a controversial study by Professor Zuckerman. Zuckerman had become convinced from an analysis of the effect of bombing on the Italian campaign that destruction of enemy rail centers and rail marshalling yards was the way to speed the end of the war. Eventually, this plan would be translated into Operation Clarion an all-out effort to wreck German rail capability in 1945. But an even larger factor was Air Marshal Harris’ refusal to be drawn away from his area bombing of German cities to attack oil targets. Zuckerman, Tedder and Harris were frequently at odds with Spaatz who was the leading proponent of the oil campaign. But even Spaatz, frustrated with the refusal of Nazi Germany to roll over dead from his precision bombing, was now leaning toward using the heavy bombers to support the armies in massive carpet bombing attacks. A final German grace came from the poor flying weather. With the onset of autumn and the socked-in skies over Western Europe, constant bombing of the German oil facilities became impossible.

Thus, through a combination of circumstances the Germans gained a breathing spell during the summer in which to reorganize. Speer would later write that “Had they continued the attacks of March and April with the same energy, we would quickly have been at our last gasp.” But Speer shrewdly used his breathing room to repair the faltering industry. Synthetic fuel stocks wavered and then rose. Some 19,000 tons were produced in October, and 39,000 in November. This was still not nearly enough, but at least the likelihood of complete collapse was averted. Obviously, the fuel famine was not going to ever allow either the army or Luftwaffe to enjoy the surpluses of a year before. Even with spartan fuel conservation measures, the Luftwaffe would have to fight a poor man’s war. Planes were horse-drawn to their take-off point; personal travel in motor vehicles was forbidden, and training flights were greatly abbreviated. Fuel depots were assiduously dispersed to prevent major losses to Allied air attacks. The gas-guzzling Luftwaffe bombers were relegated to deep mothball status. The list went on. But if Hitler was to have fuel for a major air and ground operation using a large reserve of new aircraft, even sortie rates that fall would have to be curtailed. It was not a good situation, but at least the poor flying weather helped.

Beyond the destruction of the facilities that distilled the German oil, there were limitations with the fuel itself. Although the ingenious distillation process certainly worked, it was inefficient and the produced cost of Hitler’s “synfuels” were about four times the world market crude oil price. When the war began, the octane number of first-grade German aviation fuel was only about 89 and this was obtained only by fortifying the synthetic fuel with 16% aromatics containing tetraethyl lead. Meanwhile, the Americans had 100-octane gas courtesy the pre-war efforts of Jimmy Doolittle at upgrading refineries. The upshot of the difference in 1944 was that the P-51D’s Rolls Royce Merlin engine produced 1,520 hp with 100-octane fuel, while the Me-109G’s Daimler Benz 605 could only reach a similar level of performance with 25% more engine displacement and greater weight. In an effort to match the superior American fuels, the Germans in 1944 were adding 40% aromatics to their brew to pull the octane up to the 96-point range. This increase meant less fuel production overall at a time when the Germans were critically pressed for gasoline for pilot training. Then too, the increased fraction of the aromatics reduced performance in other ways: engines overheated more readily, richer-mixtures had to be run to prevent stalling (reducing aircraft endurance, fouling plugs and fuel efficiency) and the added compounds attacked rubber hoses and the seal-sealing bladders in German fuel tanks. And still the fuels were not equivalent. The Germans attempted to make up for the remaining gulf by using power boost, either methanol-water or nitrous oxide injection. This expedient did increase horsepower, but could only be used for short periods and had to be carefully turned on and off to maintain performance a less than certain event in the heat of combat.

The prospect of increasing fighter output was brighter. With his usual efficiency, Speer set up the Jägerstab, or Fighter Committee, within his Ministry of Armaments to set things straight. Aircraft factories were scattered to prevent intervention by the omniscient Allied air forces: 27 main complexes were brought into being along with many other smaller factories dotted about the German countryside. Critical plants, such as the Junkers Aero-plant producing the Jumo 004 jet and 213 piston engines were sequestered to the safety of underground factories at Kohnstein in the Harz Mountains. There they turned out their products in seven miles of tunnels offering the protection of 140 feet of solid rock. Except for the jet Ar-234 and the new Ju-388, all bomber production was halted; all resources would concentrate on increasing fighter output. Speer’s programs were astonishingly successful. Single engine fighter Gruppen were able to build up to unprecedented operational strengths. German fighter production reached its highest point of the war in September of 1944 when 2,876 Messerschmitt Me-109s and Focke Wulf Fw-190s were produced. It was the final and most remarkable recovery for the Luftwaffe during the war in Europe. Allied intelligence learned of all this by ULTRA decrypts. On October 21, Gen. Spaatz warned that the cost of the air campaign would increase dramatically if the enemy was able to effectively field its new-found strength.

One problem, however, was that such levels of production had been attained by the Jägerstab by concentrating on existing fighter types. The important objective for the Germans was to contest the Allied air power through the use of a strong fighter force. But how would this be accomplished? Should more planes be produced, or fewer planes of higher quality? The most troublesome Allied fighters were the P-47D “Thunderbolt” (top speed: 429 mph), the P-51D “Mustang” (437 mph) and the British Spitfire XIV (448 mph). Production of promising high performance German aircraft to counter these types proceeded at a much slower pace. These included such planes as the Ta-152H (top speed: 470 mph), the exotic Dornier 335 Pfeil or “Arrow” (477 mph) and the jet Me-262 (540 mph) and Arado Ar-234 (461 mph) models. But various problems, particularly the need for very high performance engines, prevented the exotic piston types from seeing service in any numbers. Only eleven of the push-pull propellered Do-335s were delivered by war’s end and only 67 of Dr. Kurt Tank’s beautiful Ta-152. Attempts to build a fighter based loosely on the Me-209, a racing version of the 109 petered out in 1944. With test pilot Fritz Wendel at the controls, this cleaned up piston-powered Me-209V-5 had shown it could reach 42,000 feet and reach speeds of nearly 500 mph. However, Speer did not dare suspend production of the standard Messerschmitt for re-tooling. Instead German production had concentrated on the Me-109G (390 mph), the high-altitude G-10 (426 mph) and the Fw-190A-8 (408 mph). In late fall, production began concentrating on two improved versions, the Me-109K-4s with a nitrous oxide injected Daimler-Benz engine (452 mph) and the Fw-190D-9 “long nose” or Dora (440 mph). Even so, these planes made up a minority of the Luftwaffe inventory. Alas, the Luftwaffe’s new found numerical strength in the fall of 1944 had been achieved at the classic cost quality. But what of the jets?

On May 22nd, 1943, Adolf Galland stopped by the flight testing center at Augsburg. He was to test perhaps the most revolutionary German technological aviation achievement of the war the Messerschmitt 262 jet. Galland’s flight made an indelible impression on the German officer. He was euphoric. “It was just like being pushed by an angel,” he proclaimed. Without delay, Galland sent a teletype message to Genfldm. Erhard Milch. He suggested dropping the Me-209 and immediately transferring the production capacity to the Me-262. “The aircraft represents a great step forward,” he cabled, “which assures us an unimaginable advantage in operations should the enemy adhere to the piston engine. The aircraft opens up completely new tactical possibilities.”

Certainly the new jet aircraft were the most palpable of Hitler’s promises of “wonder weapons” to turn the tide of the war. The Me-262 and the Ar-234, upon which so much hope was pinned, were coming off assembly lines in increasing quantities nearly a hundred per month during the fall. But this was not enough. According to Hitler’s grandiose plans, a new jet plane was scheduled for mass-production, the “Volksjäger” or “People’s Fighter.” The contract was awarded to Ernst Heinkel on September 8, 1944. The single-engined Heinkel-162 “Salamander” went from drawing board to test in the astonishing time of 37 days! In the first test flight made on December 6th, the tiny plane proved speedy, reaching 520 mph. The machine showed signs of it’s abbreviated incubation period. The second test flight a few days later killed the pilot, Flugkapitän Gotthold Peter, when the plane shed its plywood wings due to defective wood-bonding adhesive. Other fliers filed varying reports on the futuristic-looking beast. Some indicated it was ”pleasant to fly” while others related questionable flying characteristics. Almost all, however, agreed that any idea that glider trained recruits might fly the machine was mere fancy.

Clearly, however, Hitler would be unable to realize his summertime wish of “2,000 jet aircraft” to alter Allied air superiority overnight. On the desirability of the jet, Genlt. Adolf Galland, the General der Jagdflieger, was certain. “At the time I would rather have one Me-262 than five Me-109s,” he had told Hitler. Galland fervently believed that only “technically superior planes” could make up for the wide gulf between German pilot experience and their Allied foes. But Hitler insisted that the twin-engined Me-262 be used as a “Blitz bomber.”

Rebuilt Luftwaffe!? Part II

Messerschmitt-me262

Historians over the years have pointed to Hitler’s decision on the Me-262 as an egregious error; another in a long series of meddlings which cost him the war. Most, however, have not been aware of the limitations under which the German jet was developed. There is little question that the aerodynamics and structural aspects of the plane were brilliant; it was far ahead of its time. A cruising speed of 525 mph with an endurance over an hour was a fantastic achievement for 1944 aviation technology. However, the big problem was the thing that made the propeller-less 262 such a potentially hot aircraft the Jumo 004 turbo-jet engines. As with most new technologies, the revolutionary engine experienced many teething troubles.

The turbo-jet operated at much higher temperatures and rotational speeds that any piston power-plant. Moreover, the metals usually used for high-temperature strength, alloys of nickel and chromium, were in very short supply in the Nazi inventory. The engineers were forced to rely on less-reliable substitutes. As a result, even as late as fall, 1944 the mean serviceable life of the jet engines was only eight hours for the early models! Metal fatigue created engine failures and fires were frequent. All through the summer and fall of 1944, there was always a heavily guarded convoy with replacement jet engines somewhere in Germany looking for Special Detachment E 51. Oblt. Werner Muffey remembers being happy that the Ar-234s had two turbojets:

“it was rare for a single engine to survive the 25 hours scheduled between overhauls. It was much more likely for only 5 to 10 hours to pass before something went wrong. In fact I once jealously preserved a unit for almost 30 hours which was considered a record. Then another turbojet threw several blades before I returned from my first sortie with it. After putting out a small fire in the Riedel gas tank, I returned directly to Oranienburg to change the engine.”

Even worse, German pilots flying the new aircraft learned to their horror that the turbojet was prone to suddenly quit or even catch fire when throttled too quickly. Due to the raw materials shortages, the composition of the turbine blades was not up to the loads which could be imposed upon it. The flight born discovery of “flame-out” would prove fatal to a number of pilots putting the 262 through its paces. The solution to this was to only throttle the engines slowly, a luxury that only a bomber or reconnaissance application could afford. Fighter dogfights demanded sudden acceleration and hence the first use of the Me-262 was most appropriately restricted to less taxing reconnaissance and level bombing missions.

In spite of German engineering genius, the vexing problems with the jet engine were never completely solved during the war. Then there were other mechanical problems, such as roughness in the fuel metering system, which in a piston powered plane might only mean a momentary reduction in power. In an Me-262, such mundane troubles could overheat the engine which would promptly disintegrate as it shed turbine blades. Flying a jet Me-262 was significantly less forgiving than jockeying around in a piston powered plane. Most of the pilots converting to the elite units flying this plane were very experienced, but jets represented new territory. For instance, a common even subconscious habit in piston aircraft, was to push the throttle forward to rev up the engine before easing it back. In a 262, this could drop an engine a potentially fatal mistake. There were even bizarre problems with the J2 fuel. In November and December of 1944 KG 51 experienced mysterious symptoms of poisoning in some of its pilots who had received minor burns. Sr. Warrant Officer Kohler, died after receiving only minor burns to his hands. After the cause was established as the fuel, the jet pilots were provided with leather clothing including protective gloves.

The unparalleled power of the turbojets led to other dangers never encountered in conventional piston aircraft. It was easy to exceed the airframe limits even in a steep climb full throttle would see speeds only encountered in the most daring dives in other planes. Also, unlike the howl of a piston plane under full throttle, the jet was deceptively quiet in the cockpit and a wary pilot had to be attentive to the airspeed indicator. There were high speed limits as well. Up to 570 mph the 262 operated faultlessly. However, as test pilots reached 585 mph, they found that control surfaces responded poorly. Beyond that things quickly became uncontrollable. Today, surviving Me-262 veterans reckon that a number of their compatriots succumbed to compressibility at the aerodynamic limits. Flying a V-2 chase sortie, Werner Muffey, the Technical Officer of an Ar-234 reconnaissance unit, learned that his jet powered craft could exceed the aircraft’s “envelope”:

“This was the only time I got into trouble with ‘Dr. Mach.’ Oblivious of my pilot’s duties and staring constantly down to detect the exploding V-2, I inadvertently pushed the stick forward. The vibration going through the airplane was quite dramatic, and I had some problems recovering control.”

In spite of early recognition of these problems, conversion training was not always satisfactory. Since there was no two-seater version of the 262, training flights were begun after cursory technical instruction. Usually the instructor, who often had little experience with the aircraft himself, would provide a pre-takeoff briefing, supervise the tricky start-up procedure for the engines and then talk the pilot through a flight over the radio. Often too much reliance was made of a pilot’s experience with conventional aircraft. Lt. Walther Hagenah was an experienced Fw-190 pilot from JG 3:

“Our ground school lasted one afternoon. We were told of the peculiarities of the jet engine, the dangers of flaming out at high altitude and their poor acceleration at low speeds. The vital importance of handling the throttles carefully was impressed upon us, lest the engines catch fire. But we were not permitted to look inside the cowling of the jet engine we were told that it was very secret and we did not need to know about it! By the time I reached III/JG 7 there was insufficient spare parts and insufficient spare engines; there were even occasional shortages of J-2 [jet fuel]. I am sure all of these things existed and that production was sufficient, but by that stage of the war the transport system was so chaotic that things often failed to arrive at the front-line units. In our unit, flying the Me-262, we had some pilots with only about a hundred hours’ total flying time. They were able to take off and land the aircraft, but I had the definite impression that they were of little use in combat. It was almost a crime to send them into action with so little training. Those young men did their best, but they had to pay a heavy price for their lack of experience.”

Aside from all of this, Hitler had already decided that the He-162 would be the new jet fighter and the Me-262 must carry bombs. Knowing of the coming invasion of France, he was fixated on the idea of German jets dropping bombs on the heads of the Americans on the beaches. In May, 1944 when Hitler insisted that the 262 be modified to carry bombs, less than fifty had been assembled and all were in use in test programs. Due to the poor reliability (the Jumo 004s were lasting less than 10 hours before failure) none of the jet-powered aircraft would be suitable for any combat role for some time even reconnaissance. The many critics of the decision to use the Me-262 as a fighter-bomber must remember that in 1944 the plane stood as the last chance for an effective offensive air weapon for the Luftwaffe. Any blame for lack of impact of the German jets must rest squarely on the technology itself, rather than on the manner in which the handful of planes were utilized. It was a matter of too little, too late.

However, the engineering problems loomed large; the Me-262 had been designed as a fighter. Change-over to a “hit and run” Blitz bomber required many modifications. The original plane had two fuel tanks, each holding about 200 gallons of J2 fuel. Armament consisted of four 30mm cannon. That the Blitz was to carry two 550 lb. bombs required more fuel to give it an acceptable range. Two additional fuel tanks were fitted one 55 gallon vessel under the pilot’s seat and another 130 gallons in the fuselage to the rear of the main tank. This additional weight not only decreased the plane’s performance, it also resulted in troubles with the plane’s center of gravity. The added weight in the tail of the Blitz was balanced by the two center mounted bombs and two of the four cannon were taken away. The rear fuel tank was never to be filled unless the plane had a bomb load. When flying, the pilot had to be careful that the rear tank was emptied first. Mishandling of the fuel cocks, draining the forward tank first, and dropping bombs would cause the aircraft to rear up violently. Elevator control could not restore such an ill-weighted 262 and pilots who forgot these procedures in the heat of battle could easily lose their aircraft.

The conversion of KG 51 to the 262 was carried out at Lechfeld beginning on September 4th under command of Oberstleutnant Wolfgang Schenck. By late November, Schenk’s command possessed some thirty jets with 26 operational and 48 pilots in training. As a bomber, the 262 reflected its bastardized upbringing. Unlike conventional types, such as the Ju-88, the Blitz was not fitted with a downward facing bomb sight. It had a simple reflector reticle suitable for aiming cannon fire. With practice, pilots found they could reasonably hit sizeable targets, but precision bombing was out of the question. Dive bombing was also Verboten since a personal edict from Hitler himself forbade it along with any flying over enemy territory at less than 13,000 feet lest a 262 fall into enemy hands from AA fire. All this made for some very inaccurate bombing; members of KG 51 began to coyly refer to themselves as the “crop damage Geschwader.” If that was not depressing enough, an “Edelweiss” pilot had to worry about his back, since there was no armor behind the pilot’s head. This design flaw was found responsible for the death of a number of 262 bomber pilots who were killed before design changes went into effect in March, 1945. Some of the experienced Ju-88 and Me-410 pilots of the group had little confidence in the turbine engines and a perpetual fuel shortage made extensive training impossible. Some 65 tons of scarce petrol were needed to provide rudimentary training for a replacement pilot.

Then finally in September, Hitler relented on the employment of the 262 as a fighter, at least in a limited sense. During a Führer Konferenz on September 22nd, on the further reconsideration of this thorny matter, Hitler spelled out a convoluted policy that would allow for some jet fighter versions of the 262 so long as a commensurate number of jet bombers were provided:

“The Ar-234 will, with all possible dispatch continue to be turned out as a bomber in the greatest possible numbers. As it is possible to use this aircraft for the short range targets with three 1,100 pound bombs, and for long-range targets with one 1,100 pound bomb, under considerably more favorable general conditions than the Me-262 when used as a bomber, the Führer confirms his earlier promise that, for every single-battle worthy 234 accepted as a bomber, the General in charge of the fighters [Galland] will be allocated one battle-worthy 262 fighter.”

The direct result was that some forty Me-262s became available for the formation of the first combat jet fighter unit. The incipient command was organized under the legendary Austrian fighter ace, Maj. Walter Nowotny. When he took over the command, “Nowi” had some 250 combat victories and was perhaps the most famous of the Luftwaffe aces. The distinguished title for his unit would take its leader’s name Versuchskommando Nowotny. With tremendous expectation, his unit became operational as a 262 fighter training unit in October with some 23 jets, flying from airfields at Achmer and Hesepe. Not surprisingly, the new jet fighter pilots experienced a rash of technical problems, which led to a very low serviceability rate; on November 1st the unit had only nine of its jets serviceable. There were also questions regarding effective methods of attack. So fast were the machines that the 262 would close on enemy aircraft very rapidly with the target in range for only a fraction of a second. The obvious conclusion, to slow to strike their quarry, was no good. This would only sacrifice their speed advantage.

“Our strength lay in our enormous speed. The reaction propulsion system made us something like twice as fast as the enemy’s airscrew driven fighters. Moreover, the armament of the 262 with 43mm cannon was not only sensational; it was ideally suited to destroying the solid thick-skinned bombers. But the technology of this revolutionary machine also had its weakness that made high-level aerial combat and attacks on bomber formations problematical. Swinging into the target’s wake from above was out because of the danger of exceeding the maximum safe [airframe] speed, the aircraft having no brakes with which to check the rapid acceleration involved in such a maneuver. Frontal attack on collision course with the bombers a favorite method with the experts because the target was virtually defenseless and the crews of the Flying Fortresses were exposed to the hail of bullets was also out because the combined approach speeds made such an attack impossible. In practice we went back to the old, conventional attack from behind, approaching the bomber formation with of course a tremendous speed plus through the defensive fire of the rear gunners and letting off our cannon at short range. The Me-262 was a pretty sensitive and vulnerable piece of machinery, however, and our losses turned out to be higher than we had feared.”

Rebuilt Luftwaffe!? Part III

me-262-combat_over_the_reich

Encountering the enemy jets for the first time was quite a shock for the P-51 pilots of the Eighth Air Force. So accustomed to being top dog, the Mustang jockeys were forced to admit that the jets were at least 75 mph faster in level flight. However, they reckoned that the 262 were much less maneuverable than the P-51 or even P-47, they accelerated more slowly and the engines appeared to be the target to shoot for when training guns on the enemy. Twenty-two year old Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager of the famed 357th Fighter Group (Col. Irwin H. Dregne) found that his P-51 steed, “Glamorous Glennis III,” could not keep up with Kommando Nowotny on November 6th:

“north of Osnabrück we spotted three Me-262s going 180 degrees to us at two o’clock low. We were at 10,000 feet. I and my flight turned to the right and headed the last man off. I got a hit or two on him before he pulled away. They were flying a loose V-formation and they did not take any evasive action, but seemed to depend on their superior speed. They pulled out of range in the haze.”

The Germans at Achmer were quite aware of these shortcomings. Even given all the difficulties, technical and tactical, Nowotny’s advanced fighters claimed 19 victories in their first month of operations for a loss of six Me-262s in combat and another nine lost to accidents. The attrition on the highly prized German jet pilots was severe; more pilots were lost to accidents with the fickle jet engines than in dogfights. After all, the average experience level of the German pilots flying the jets was less than ten hours on the type. On November 8th Kommando Nowotny picked up its activity, flying several sorties against a bomber raid. Lt. Franz Schall felled three escorting Mustangs in a single outing, although was himself shot down (he bailed out after being hit by Lt. James W. Kenny of 357th FG) and Nowotny reported his third kill in the Me-262. However, even with the jets’ superior speed, the P-51s got the better of the action and two of the Me-262s were shot down. Tragically, one of these was Nowotny himself. The holder of the Knight’s Cross with Diamonds was killed as he tried to bring his machine back to Achmer with his left engine out. Picked off by Mustangs of the 20th and 357th FGs while at slow speed, his Me-262 plunged out of the clouds to auger into a meadow near Bramshe. So ragged had become the loss rate of the unit, that it was temporarily withdrawn from action for reorganization. It was to become operational within a few weeks as Jagdgeschwader 7 at Lechfeld. The new detachment was to be commanded by Obst. Johannes Steinhoff.

In was decided in May of 1944 that the experienced Maj. Robert Kowalewski’s KG 76 would be the first Luftwaffe unit to receive the jet-powered Ar-234 bomber now starting to come out of the Arado factory. The only operation of the 234 in the summer of 1944 was as a high-performance camera carrying reconnaissance aircraft. Flying as Kommando Sperling the Staffel-sized unit demonstrated the dramatic capabilities of the B-series aircraft in several spectacular reconnaissance missions over the Allied invaders in August and later in the fall. After months of complete inability to gather aerial reconnaissance Kommando Sperling gave the Luftwaffe ability to scout Allied rear positions freely at will. The plane was a tremendous success.

But the III/KG 76 under Hptm. Dieter Lukesch would be the first unit to be equipped with the revolutionary bomber. Lukesch first flew the plane in July; it was love at first sight. It was very fast, easy to control and with the bubble glass nose possessed excellent visibility. On August 26th the first two bombers were delivered to the unit. Conversion training from their Ju-88A4s beginning almost immediately near Magdeburg. All the pilots chosen had extensive experience and Lukesch found that training went smoothly, although some had trouble with horizontal stability since the pilot was so far forward that there were no engines or wings to look at to help keep one’s bearings.

Helmut Rast was one of the chosen pilots. Rast had been a 19-year old student at Munich Technical School when the war broke out and soon became a flight instructor. However, he was bored with student flying and in 1943 obtained a transfer to the Luftwaffe’s major proving center at Rechlin as a test pilot. There he tested the very latest products of German genius, many of which were extremely dangerous in the test phase. But his personal favorite was the new Arado 234B the “Blitz” then in preparation for its assignment to the Luftwaffe as a reconnaissance aircraft. Rast found the jet a thing of beauty. The bubble-nosed bird handled smoothly and was exceptionally fast. Rast’s reputation flying the 234 rose quickly, being enlisted to conduct a mock combat with a Fw-190A, at the time one of the leading German piston powered aircraft. Rast’s 234 easily outpaced the Focke Wulf in level flight and was faster in climb and descent. One performance limitation was the 234’s turning radius which was very wide relative to the piston-powered fighter. But the major weakness was acceleration; the throttles of the Junkers Jumo 004Bs could not be changed rapidly during takeoff and landings. Vulnerable to attack, the low speed on approach or takeoff could not be changed quickly enough to execute defensive maneuver. Regardless, Rast’s superiors were greatly impressed by his mock combat. He was promoted to Unterfeldwebel and was eagerly assigned to the post of the first combat unit to use the 234, III Gruppe of KG 76. At Burg the pilots trained in earnest with their new craft.

There were problems with the bird, however, which had not really completed flight testing. “Hardly any aircraft arrived without defects,” and Lukesch remembered they “were caused by hasty completion and shortage of skilled labor at the factories.” Training continued throughout the fall, hampered by the slowly accumulating number of aircraft and a variety of accidents associated with the new type.

Two methods of aiming the 3,000 lb bomb load were developed. The first was to drop the bombs during a shallow dive with special periscope sight and a trajectory calculator; the second involved putting the jet on automatic pilot at high altitude and then using the Lotke 7K bombsight to release the bombs automatically after the target was centered in the crosshairs. This advanced technique had considerable safety advantages since high-speed, high-altitude flight could be maintained where the Ar-234 was nearly invulnerable to slower Allied fighters. However, Lukesch felt the method impractical since the Allies quickly learned to attempt attacks on the speedy jets from above with the faster piston types particularly the Tempests, and having one’s hands on the control and able to see behind the aircraft was vital to survive such assaults. Installation of the technically advanced autopilot also slowed the delivery of the aircraft to the unit and it was the end of October before III/KG 76 had 44 Ar-234s available.

Training conversion continued in earnest for the fledgling jet unit in November, although plagued by accidents. Some problems, such as getting used to the tricycle landing gear, were due to differences with the Ju-88, but a variety of troubles arose from the machines themselves. One unexpected problem was that the two Jumo 004 engines were too powerful for their own good and an unladen Ar-234 could easily approach the speed of sound where Chuck Yeager’s demon lived. A good example is the experience of Uffz. Ludwig Rieffel who was hurt when he mysteriously lost control of his Ar-234 near Burg on November 19th:

“The effects of nearing the sound barrier were virtually unknown to us at this time, the high speed of the aircraft sometimes surprising its victims. Rieffel was practicing a gliding attack when he experienced a reversal of the controls at Mach 1. He bailed out successfully, but the shock of the parachute opening at that speed ripped three of its sections from top to bottom. A freshly plowed field prevented him from being seriously injured. This happened later to Oblt. Heinkebut he was unable to escape from the aircraft which crashed into the ground in a vertical dive”

At the end of November KG 76 was reaching its operational strength with 68 Ar-234s on hand. On December 1st, the famous bomber ace and veteran of some 620 operational sorties, Maj. Hans-Georg Bätcher, took command of III/KG 76 to take the jet bombers into action. With so many bomber units now disbanded, Bätcher had the pick of the German bomber pilots. Pilots with the unit included Hptm. Diether Lukesch, holder of the Ritterkreuz with Oak Leaves and veteran of some 372 missions, as well as Hptm. Josef Regler, a veteran with 279 operational sorties under his belt. Unlike the fighter pilots, where the attrition and demand for pilots often meant low skill levels, the pilots with the Gruppe all had extensive flying experience.

Regardless of the minor danger posed by these small groups of German planes, the Allies had a phobia about them and kept their bases at Achmer, Hesepe and Rheine under constant surveillance. Only the profusion of 20mm flak around the bases and a standing guard of German piston-powered planes allowed the jets to get off the ground or land without being shot down during the vulnerable portion of their flight. Still the German bases harboring the jets received much unwelcome attention. A carpet bombing raid on the Rheine base on November 13th killed many members of KG 51.

Similar to the teething troubles of the Me-262 jet, Dr. Heinkel’s entry, the He-162, was designed to use another problem-plagued turbo-jet (BMW-003E-1). And perhaps more significantly, with only one engine, the reliability of the turbojet powerplant would be critical. Operationally, the short-ranged fighter was intended for employment against the enemy escort fighters as soon as they crossed into German territory to cause them to drop their drop-tanks and leave the bombers open for attack from the conventional German fighters. Galland, however, was totally opposed to this aircraft. Not only did he believe it to be of “dubious airworthiness,” but he also questioned whether the plane would ever come into production soon enough to alter the outcome of the war. Certainly it’s production would detract from assembly of great numbers of a proven design such as the Me-262. Even more fanciful was the plan to use Hitler Youth hastily trained in gliders to fly the Volksjäger. Regardless of such assessments, outlandish schemes called for production to be expanded from 500 to over 4,000 per month in salt mines and underground factories in Germany. But all this took on the special air of delusion typical of the last six months of the Third Reich. Neither the Volksjäger nor the Me-262 would be ready for the Ardennes in quantity; the main fighter available would be the Me-109 with which Germany had begun the war in 1939.

Regardless of their type, German aircraft numbers rose in a spectacular fashion that fall: from the end of the summer debacle on the ground in August of 1944 to the middle of November, German single engine fighter strength increased from 1,900 to 3,300 planes a nearly twofold increase. The new aircraft were added to the day fighter force in the form of six new fighter Gruppen and by increasing the established strength of lower echelon units. This improvement resulted in an increase from three to four Staffeln per fighter group and each Staffel was increased from 12 to 16 aircraft. In December alone, a total of 2,953 new aircraft were delivered from the factories to the Luftwaffe. Indeed, so plentiful were the planes that the main problem was finding capable, warm bodies with which to fly the machines and aviation-grade fuel for the intended missions. Piston fighter aircraft were abundant and pilots often found it more expedient to take a new plane than repair a damaged one:

”We simply went to the depot nearby, where they had hundreds of brand new 109s G-10s, G-14s and even the very latest K models. There was no proper organization anymore: the depot staff just said, ‘There are the aircraft, take what you want and go away.’ But getting fuel that was more difficult”

Even the jets were not exempt from the petrol shortage. An OKL circular commanded that J2 jet fuel must be carefully conserved. The German jet bases were hauling the world’s most advanced aircraft to the end of the runway with oxen:

“the monthly production, compared with possibilities of consumption, is very small. As the jet engines have a relatively high consumption rate, it is absolutely forbidden for these particular aircraft to taxi under their own power prior to taking off and after landing. Remember that the Me-262 consumes 200 liters of J2 while taxiing for five minutes under its own power.”

In spite of strenuous efforts Hitler’s hope of “2,000 jet fighters by fall” never materialized. As it had been for the last five years of war, the Me-109 and Fw-190 would carry any German hopes of contesting Allied air power. As for filling the cockpits of the new aircraft, the German plans were sublime; it was anticipated that many of the needed personnel would come from the now moribund heavy bomber command or superfluous reconnaissance units now disbanded. Whether there would be fuel for any of this remained a major question.

Tosti’s (Tostig) rule I

tostig_godwinson_by_ltf86

Tostig Godwinsonby LTF86

The first interruption to Tosti’s rule apparently came from outside when a Norse fleet, which had allied itself with Earl Aelfgar, raided England in 1058. This raid probably struck at the Irish Sea coasts of Tosti’s earldom, and Domesday Book records of wasted land in Amounderness may be confirmation of this. However, Earl Tosti appears not to have been blamed for failing to counter this ‘unexpected’ raid. Again in 1061, when Earl Tosti was on a pilgrimage to Rome, Malcolm of Scotland took advantage of his absence to raid the north of England, including Lindisfarne. This incident has been seen as a sign of weakness on Tosti’s part because no susequent retaliation is recorded. This may, of course, be a result of the paucity of our sources at this time, but it is also possible that Tosti was able to keep Malcolm in check with diplomacy. The author of the Vita Eadwardi hints at this when he speaks of Tosti wearing down the Scots ‘as much by cunning as by . . . military campaigns’ and indeed no further Scottish attacks are recorded until after the Conquest. It is possible that Tosti’s links with Gospatric, son of Maldred, Malcolm’s cousin, may have helped him to secure the latter’s quiescence.

William Kapelle claims that this Scottish invasion resulted in the loss of Cumbria, and in Earl Tosti’s position being undermined by his failure to recover it. However, there is no clear evidence for the loss of Cumbria at this date, and the arguments Kapelle advances in support of this claim are unconvincing. The existence of wasted land in Amounderness proves nothing as it could have been caused by the Norse raids of 1058, or by William’s later harrying of the north in 1069. The fact that King Malcolm held Cumbria in 1070 does not necessarily mean that he gained it in 1061, and it seems much more likely that this occurred in the immediate post-Conquest period when Northumbria was in a state of chaos. The suggestion that Earl Tosti was unable to retaliate militarily against Malcolm because of the insecurity of his position in Northumbria, where a force of 200 huscarls was needed to hold down the earldom itself, is absurd. In 1063 Earl Tosti’s position was sufficiently secure that he was able to lead a major force into North Wales, to participate in his brother’s great campaign, with no ill effects in Northumbria. This would have been impossible if he had faced widespread discontent in his own earldom. Indeed, the booty gained on the expedition may have reinforced his popularity there.

If we consider the evidence objectively it is apparent that the discontent against Tosti’s rule first arose not in 1055 or 1061 but after the successful Welsh campaign of 1063. This was probably when Tosti began to be drawn into the confused local politics of the Northumbrian nobility. Either late in 1063, after the Welsh campaign, or early in 1064, Tosti had Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated in his own chamber at York while they visited him under safe conduct. (The fathers of these men were probably the Orm who commissioned the Kirkdale sundial, and the Dolfin who fell in Siward’s battle with Macbeth in 1054.) The date is not clear from John of Worcester, who speaks of these killings taking place ‘the year before’ the death of Gospatric on 28 December 1064. This Gospatric, the son of Uhtred, was slain by order of Queen Edith while attending King Edward’s Christmas court. His murder was reportedly the result of the queen’s intervention in a dispute between Gospatric and her brother, Tosti. He was probably the same man who issued the famous writ concerning lands in Allerdale in Cumbria. What were the reasons behind these savage actions carried out by Earl Tosti, or on his behalf? It has been suggested that it was an attempt to stifle opposition by removing its potential leaders and this is certainly possible. Earl Tosti’s predecessor, Siward, had acted in a similar manner, killing Earl Eadwulf, who controlled the region beyond the Tees in 1041, in order to seize control of all Northumbria.

However, there is another possibility which could explain these actions by Tosti. When Tosti visited Rome in 1061, among his following was a young man named Gospatric, a kinsman of King Edward. This was almost certainly Gospatric, son of Maldred, a grandson of King Aethelred and cousin of King Malcolm, who was later to become Earl of Northumbria under William. This Gospatric, according to the Vita Eadwardi, which was written for Tosti’s sister, Queen Edith, showed considerable valour and loyalty in aiding the earl’s escape when their party was attacked by robbers on the return journey. The fact that Gospatric accompanied Tosti on this journey indicates that he had probably entered the service of the earl, and the prominence he is given shows that he had become an important member of his entourage. If this was the case, it would not be surprising if Tosti reciprocated by promoting Gospatric’s interests in Northumbria.

This would probably involve Tosti in acting against the rival lines of the descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof and the murders of Gamal, Ulf and Gospatric would fit such a pattern. Gospatric, son of Uhtred, Lord of Allerdale, was the senior representative of the elder line of Waltheof’s descendants. The other two murdered men were closely linked to this Gospatric. Ulf, son of Dolfin, was probably the grandson of the Thorfinn MacThore to whom Gospatric had granted lands in Allerdale in his famous writ, during Earl Siward’s rule. Gamal was probably the grandson of his namesake who also appeared in Gospatric’s Allerdale writ, and son of the Orm who commissioned the Kirkdale sundial and who married Gospatric’s niece, Aethelthryth. All of these killings may therefore have been arranged to further the career of Tosti’s protégé Gospatric, son of Maldred, who came from the junior line of Waltheof’s descendants. Whatever the reason behind Earl Tosti’s actions, these deaths undoubtedly aroused opposition to his rule among those linked to Gospatric of Allerdale, north of the Tees.

This unrest was not the main cause of the rebellion of 1065, although the rebels did use these slayings as justification for their actions. The identified leaders of the rebellion, Gamelbearn, Dunstan, son of Aethelnoth, and Gluniarn, son of Heardwulf, were thegns of Yorkshire with no apparent links to Gospatric. They were unlikely to be interested in the rivalries of Waltheof’s descendants. Instead, the interests of the leading rebels were centred on the extensive lands they held in Yorkshire. Domesday Book records these lands, including one estate at Temple Newsham held jointly by Dunstan and Gluniarn, which lay mainly in the West Riding but also included houses in York itself.

It is John of Worcester who indicates the probable reason for the involvement of these men in the rebellion when he speaks of a huge tribute Tosti had ‘unjustly levied on the whole of Northumbria’. In addition, the Vita Eadwardi, although otherwise sympathetic to Tosti, admits that he had ‘repressed [the Northumbrians] with the heavy yolk of his rule’, possibly another reference to this tax. It appears that the northern shires may have had a much more favourable tax assessment than the rest of England. Earl Tosti seems to have made the mistake of attempting to redress this anomaly and impose on the northern shires a level of tax closer to that found in the rest of England. The exact change made is unfortunately unknown, but that it may have caused the rebellion is suggested by the widespread participation of minor thegns in the revolt, all of whom, naturally, would be affected by such a change. Thus Chronicle C speaks of the participation of ‘all the thegns of Yorkshire’ and notes that ‘all Tosti’s earldom unanimously deserted him’, while Chronicle D adds ‘all the thegns of . . . Northumberland’ as well. The rebellion was also led by fairly minor figures in contrast to the leaders of other revolts, such as Earls Godwine and Aelfgar.

The purpose of such an increase in the tax level was clear. It would result in a substantial increase in revenue for the king, and since the earl took a third of all such revenue, it would enhance his own wealth too. This may have been particularly important since Tosti’s participation in Harold’s Welsh campaign and his vigorous enforcement of justice must have been draining his coffers. Although he should have realized that such a move would be widely unpopular, he may have considered his position sufficiently secure by 1065 for him to take this chance. He had already secured his government of the Northumbrians through increased enforcement of law and order, which possibly involved intervention in local blood feuds and had probably reduced general unrest in the earldom. This and the elimination of possible threats from Wales and Scotland and from the local nobility may have contributed to what was to prove a false sense of security on Tosti’s part.

Whatever the reasons behind it, Tosti’s action was to prove a major error of judgement. A proposed increase in taxation naturally aroused a great deal of opposition, far more than his participation in northern feuds or enforcement of royal justice could have done. The reason for this opposition is not difficult to appreciate if we examine the landholdings of the three named leaders of the rebellion, Gamelbearn, Dunstan and Gluniarn, as recorded in Domesday Book. Consider, for example, the effect of an increase in the Northumbrian tax assessment from 2s on every 6 carucates to say 2s on every 4. This assessment still represented only a quarter of that of the rest of England, but would in effect increase the annual tax payments of these Yorkshire thegns by 50 per cent. Thus Gamelbearn, who held approximately 60 carucates of land and paid 20s at the original tax rates, would pay 30s at the new rate. Similarly, Dunstan, who held 48 carucates and originally paid 16s, would find this rising to 24s, and Gluniarn, with 39 carucates and paying 13s, would find himself liable for 19½s. Such proposed increases would indeed provoke a great deal of opposition, affecting as they did every thegn in the earldom. The sources also hint that Tosti was dispensing arbitrary justice, including killings and forfeitures, at this time, which may have been attempts to enforce collection of taxes at the new rate.

In summary, the rigorous imposition of justice by Tosti had probably interfered with traditional jurisdictions and with a local preference for the blood feud, and so aroused resentment from some local nobles. The promotion of the interests of Gospatric, son of Maldred, in preference to those of the senior line of the descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof had led to opposition from and the murder of men of this line. However, it was surely the attempted imposition of unaccustomed financial burdens in autumn 1065 which raised the temperature of the whole earldom to boiling point. Taxes may have been collected in the autumn after harvest and this would certainly fit the time-scale of the Northumbrian revolt. It has been suggested that the clerks of Durham had sought to incite the earldom to revolt by translating the relics of St Oswine to Durham and displaying them there in March 1065. However, a later life of St Oswine records Bishop Aethelwine presenting Countess Judith, Tosti’s wife, with some hair of St Oswine as a result of this same event. It would therefore seem unlikely that this translation was directed against the earl, but rather was part of Durham’s efforts to expand its collection of relics. In fact, it was in the autumn of 1065 that opposition began to form, its objective being the overthrow of Earl Tosti, his representatives and his new taxation. The absence of the earl, who had been called to the south on business at the royal court and had stayed on to hunt with King Edward at Britford in Wiltshire, provided the rebels with their opportunity.

On 3 October 1065 the thegns of Yorkshire and the rest of Northumbria descended on York and occupied the city. This accomplished, they proceeded to slaughter Tosti’s officials and supporters, including his huscarls Amund and Ravenswart, and to sack his treasury. These actions appear to confirm that the primary cause behind the revolt was the new taxes. They emptied the earl’s treasury in order to recover those unlawful taxes taken from them earlier, and took revenge on the officials who had sought to enforce that taxation through ruthless measures including forfeiture and killing. They seem to have missed Copsi, Tosti’s deputy, indicating perhaps that he too was absent from York, leaving the field clear for the rebels.

Once they had vented their initial anger on the symbols of Tosti’s rule, the northern thegns met to consider how to seek legitimacy for their rebellion. They did this by declaring Tosti outlawed for his unlawful actions and sending for Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, to be their earl. These brothers probably had sufficient reason to participate in Tosti’s discomfiture. Despite its sympathetic view of Tosti, the Vita Eadwardi admits ‘a long-standing rivalry’ between him and Aelfgar’s sons. This may have originated from Tosti’s elevation to the earldom in 1055, which had been considered by their father, Aelfgar, as a usurpation of his seniority. They probably believed that Tosti had deprived their father of a major earldom and probably contributed to his banishment later that year. What made the Northumbrians choose Morcar as Tosti’s successor?

The fact that Morcar was, in effect, an intruder has already been discussed, and indicates that he was not chosen for his connections with Northumbria. Neither was he chosen because of a lack of local candidates. There were at least three such men: Oswulf, son of the Eadwulf slain by Siward in 1041; Waltheof, the young son of Earl Siward; and Gospatric, son of Maldred, Tosti’s protégé. The last of these was probably unacceptable because of his close links with Tosti, and certainly so to the supporters of his murdered rival, Gospatric of Allerdale. Waltheof may still have been considered too young or was perhaps unacceptable as a son of Earl Siward, who was also remembered for his severe rule. This left Oswulf, a nephew of Gospatric of Allerdale, who would later be appointed to rule part of Northumbria under Earl Morcar and who became Earl of Northumbria soon after the Conquest. However, he was overlooked on this occasion, possibly because backing him would have aligned the partisans of his rival, Gospatric, son of Maldred, against the rebels. The latter Gospatric may have retained sufficient local support, even without his patron Tosti, to effectively bar Oswulf’s appointment. The fact that he had not been completely eclipsed by Tosti’s fall seems proven by his ability to take control of Northumbria in 1068. In a sense, therefore, the northern thegns had to look beyond their own region, and chose Morcar as the most senior nobleman currently available who lacked an earldom.

Tosti’s (Tostig) rule II

There were other, more positive reasons for the choice of Morcar. The rebels were fully aware that the deposition of Tosti was bound to arouse strong opposition, for not only was he a favourite of King Edward but his brothers ruled much of England and the eldest, Harold, was second only to the king. In these circumstances, the wise course for the rebels was to ally themselves with the other major family in England, in the person of Morcar. This alliance would bring them the assistance of his brother, Earl Edwin of Mercia. Such major outside support, which could be vital to the success of their revolt, would not be forthcoming for any local Northumbrian leader. The Vita Eadwardi confirms this point when it says that they chose Morcar ‘to give them authority’ for their actions. This was a rebellion against Earl Tosti, rather than a rebellion against southern government in general.

The northern rebels, accompanied by their new ‘Earl’ Morcar, marched south to press their case with King Edward. They were joined at Northampton by Earl Edwin with the forces of his earldom and some Welsh allies. They had ravaged the countryside on the way south, targeting Tosti’s lands and followers in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, all of which were part of his earldom. They were met at Northampton by Earl Harold, who it should be noted clearly came to negotiate as he was without an armed following. He had been sent by King Edward, possibly at the suggestion of Earl Tosti, to open negotiations with the rebels. The intention was that he should restore peace to the kingdom and his brother to his earldom.

Harold was now faced with the most difficult negotiations of his entire career, between two sides equally determined not to give an inch. These negotiations were undoubtedly made more difficult because of the passions aroused on both sides and because they reached into the heart of the kingdom and the heart of Harold’s own family. In comparison, Harold’s earlier negotiations with Earl Aelfgar and Gruffydd of Wales, must have seemed relatively straightforward. On the one hand, Earl Tosti, his own brother, was determined to recover his earldom, even if that meant civil war and the crushing of the rebellion by force. Initially, it appears Tosti was supported in this by King Edward and his sister, Queen Edith. On the other hand, the rebels, consisting of the northern thegns from Yorkshire and the rest of the earldom and led by Morcar, wanted Tosti removed. They were supported by Morcar’s brother, Earl Edwin of Mercia, and the men of his earldom. The initial positions adopted by Earl Harold himself, and by his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine, are unknown, but were presumably supportive of their brother Tosti. Harold’s attitude may be hinted at in Chronicle C, which states that he ‘wanted to bring about an agreement between them if he could’, including presumably Tosti’s restoration. The fact that Tosti may have requested his brother’s mediation and the latter’s later reaction to Harold’s failure to support his restoration may indicate the same.

However, after Harold had spoken with the rebels at Northampton towards the end of October, he realized that it would be impossible for Tosti to retain Northumbria. The latter had completely lost the consensus of support which an earl required to rule. He had succeeded in alienating the majority of the local thegns rather than simply one faction or another. As a result, the feelings of hatred and distrust now stirred up against him were too deep to be assuaged, and the opposition was now too well organized and supported to be overcome without a civil war. The spectre of civil war was something which Earl Harold drew back from, just as his father and King Edward had done during the earlier crisis of 1051–2. Therefore, by the time he returned to Oxford where the royal council was to meet on 28 October to consider the crisis, he had probably already made an important decision.

At the Oxford council, Harold announced that the rebels could not be persuaded to withdraw or reduce their demands for Tosti’s removal and that they could only be compelled to do so by the use of military force. He advised against this and instead suggested their demands should be met. The Vita Eadwardi recounts the arguments raised against military action including the fear of civil war and the imminent onset of winter weather. The fear of civil war, as in the crisis of 1051–2, certainly loomed large in men’s minds. Harold himself was also now aware of William’s ambition to invade, an ambition which would more easily have become a reality if there had been civil war in England. Nevertheless, Harold’s statement must have caused shock and consternation for the king, for Earl Tosti, and for the rest of the Godwine family. The king demanded that troops be called out to restore Earl Tosti by force. It seems that Tosti was so stunned and furious that he actually accused his brother of inciting the whole rebellion, with the aim of expelling him from the kingdom. Indeed, so emphatic was Tosti with this accusation that Harold had to purge himself of this charge by swearing an oath.

Is it possible that any truth lay behind Tosti’s accusation? As we have seen, the rebellion had resulted from local causes in the north which Harold could not have created. It is possible that Harold took advantage of the fact of the rebellion to rid himself of a rival or potential rival, but there are no contemporary indications that the brothers were considered as rivals. On the contrary, the brothers had always worked very closely together, particularly during their recent Welsh campaign. In addition, the Vita Eadwardi, written for Queen Edith, is clearly confused by this sudden rift between the brothers, and the whole scheme of the work, based on the brothers working together with a common aim, is disrupted and transformed by it. Similarly, Queen Edith herself is stated to have been confounded by the quarrel between her brothers and there is no reason to doubt this. Therefore, there appear to be no grounds for suspecting any important rivalry between the brothers before 1065.

It has been suggested that Harold now saw Tosti as a potential threat to his designs on the English throne and used the rebellion to achieve his replacement with Morcar. This assumes that Harold already intended to take the throne and forestall the rightful claims of Atheling Edgar, which is by no means certain. It also requires that Tosti would be opposed to such an action by Harold, and that the latter had already prepared an alliance with Edwin and Morcar to secure a possible future move for the throne. In such circumstances he might have sought to win the support of the brothers Edwin and Morcar by supporting Morcar in his claim to Northumbria. However, there are problems with such a scenario. Firstly, there is no evidence one way or the other to indicate when Harold forged his alliance with Edwin and Morcar, and second, it seems unlikely that Tosti would in fact have opposed any move by Harold to take the throne. There is little evidence, for example, that he was a supporter of the rightful heir, Atheling Edgar. The latter is never linked to the earl, although they must have had regular contact at court. The possibility of Tosti himself as a rival candidate for the throne also seems unlikely since as the younger brother, less powerful than Harold and more isolated in the north from the centres of power, his claim could only be weaker than Harold’s. All the evidence seems to point to Tosti as Harold’s potential supporter in such a venture, as in all previous actions.

The timing of the Northumbrian rebellion itself also causes difficulties. In the autumn of 1065 King Edward was around sixty-three years old but had as yet shown no signs of imminent demise. If Harold was making arrangements to occupy the throne already, his actions could have been premature. He might have had to wait for several years for King Edward’s death, by which time Atheling Edgar would have reached maturity and perhaps been in a more secure position to succeed in opposition to Harold. In such an interval, any alliance between Harold and the brothers Edwin and Morcar might decay and the latter be tempted to support Edgar instead. This would also appear to make the suggestion that Harold took advantage of the Northumbrian rebellion to remove Tosti seem unlikely, although it cannot be entirely ruled out. It is impossible to establish the truth of this unless we consider the reactions of the rest of the Godwine family and of King Edward to the rebellion against Tosti.

The sympathy of King Edward and Queen Edith for Tosti is clearly recorded. The positions of Gyrth and Leofwine are unknown but it is possible that Gyrth was close to his brother Tosti as he is frequently associated with him in the sources. Thus he was in Tosti’s company during the family’s exile in 1051–2, and again on the visit to Rome in 1061. In an obscure reference in the Vita Eadwardi, Tosti’s mother, Gytha, would be described as sorrowing over his exile. In spite of this sympathy for Tosti from the king and members of his family, all these individuals were eventually persuaded, probably in part by Harold but largely by the stark facts of the situation, that Tosti could not remain as Earl of Northumbria. Indeed, they were also persuaded that since he refused to accept his deposition he should be exiled. Gyrth and Leofwine appear to have accepted Tosti’s downfall without a murmur, and thereafter supported Harold with complete loyalty until they fell together at Hastings. There are no indications in any sources that either brother considered supporting Tosti instead of Harold and this strongly suggests there existed no suspicion concerning Harold’s actions on their part. King Edward is recorded in Chronicle D as finally agreeing to the terms of the northern rebels. Although the Vita Eadwardi shows that both he and Queen Edith were deeply upset by Tosti’s fall, it nevertheless makes clear that they accepted it, however reluctantly. All of this would seem to indicate that Harold was not purposefully using the rebellion to rid himself of Tosti, but was forced to act as he did as a result of it.

Eventually, King Edward had to accept the northern rebels’ terms. The alternative was civil war, which no one was prepared to countenance. Tosti was deposed and replaced by Morcar, the rebels were pardoned and the laws of Cnut renewed, the latter point no doubt signifying the withdrawal of the additional tax demands. Harold returned to Northampton soon after the council of 28 October to give the rebels surety for this settlement, and the immediate crisis was resolved. Tosti appears to have been outlawed a short time later, possibly early in November, apparently because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by Edward. This seems clear from his accusations against his brother and his subsequent attempts to restore his fortunes by any means possible. Domesday Book preserves notices of land forfeited by Tosti at this time at Bayford in Hertfordshire and Chalton in Bedfordshire. Thereafter, Tosti took ship with his wife and family and some loyal thegns and sailed for Flanders and refuge with his brother-in-law, Count Baldwin V.

 

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