HAMILCAR BARCA AND THE END OF CARTHAGINIAN SICILY

In 247 BC, in an effort to break the deadlock, a new commander was sent from Carthage to take over the troops in Sicily. Hamilcar would live up to his nickname, ‘Barca’, which appears to have meant ‘Lightning’ or ‘Flash’. The situation that faced him was grim. Carthage was confined to just two strongholds, while the remainder of the island was controlled by Rome and its allies. What was more, Hamilcar had few troops and no money to hire any fresh mercenaries. As one historian has recently put it, ‘Realistically then, his [Hamilcar’s] task was not so much to win the war as to avoid losing it.’

After first bringing his mutinous troops into line by executing the ringleaders, Hamilcar was ready to make his presence felt. After a first attack on an island close to Drepana was easily rebuffed, he wisely switched to softer targets with which to boast his own prestige and his troops’ morale. He launched a naval raid on the southern toe of the Italian peninsula, where there were no Roman forces. But Hamilcar Barca’s real genius lay not on the battlefield, where he appears to have been a proficient but not exceptional tactician, but in knowing how to generate an appropriate public image for himself. Faced with the overwhelming military superiority of the enemy, a hit-and-run strategy was to some extent forced upon him, but that strategy nevertheless suited a man who appears to have appreciated profoundly the symbolic capital which could accrue through a series of eye-catching, if strategically pointless, raids.

On the way back from the successful but ineffectual Italian expedition, he seized the height of Heircte, which most scholars now think was the mountain range centred around Monte Castellacio to the west of the Roman-held city of Panormus. From this easily defended point, which had access to fresh water, pasturage and the sea, Hamilcar planned a series of lightning strikes against enemy-held territory. His initial raid on the Italian mainland delivered morale-boosting booty and prisoners; thereafter things settled down to a ‘cat-andmouse’ war of attrition with the local Roman forces. By launching swift raids from his mountain refuge, Hamilcar was able to disrupt Roman supply lines and tie down a large number of Roman soldiers who could have been well used elsewhere. However, this strategy also tied down much-needed Carthaginian troops too. Thus, under Hamilcar, the Carthaginians came no closer to re-establishing their control of their old possessions on the island, let alone capturing new territory. Recognizing this, Hamilcar withdrew from Heircte in 244 BC and planned an even bolder venture: the recapture of Eryx.

Sailing in under the cover of night, Hamilcar led his army up to the town and massacred the Roman garrison there. The civilian population was deported to nearby Drepana, one of Carthage’s last outposts, but curiously Hamilcar seems to have made no initial attempt to capture a further Roman garrison stationed on the summit of Mount Eryx. The town, which lay just inland from Drepana, certainly had strategic advantages, for, at over 600 metres, it provided an incomparable view over the coastal plain and the sea. Yet taking it was a odd choice, since it left Hamilcar and his force perched halfway up a mountainside between Roman forces at the top and at Panormus. The one route to his anchorage, following a narrow twisting path, only added to his problems.

In terms of military strategy, Eryx would prove as fruitless as the heights of Heircte had done. Although Hamilcar continually harried the Roman forces who were besieging Drepana, his own side suffered as many losses as his opponents. Once again Hamilcar’s military strategy yielded a high profile for the dashing leader, but mixed results. At one point he was even forced to ask his Roman opposite number for a truce so that he could bury his dead. This was followed by a thousand-strong group of Gallic mercenaries in his army, fed up with the unrewarding war of attrition in which they were involved, attempting to betray Eryx and the Carthaginian army to the Romans. What Eryx lacked in strategic advantage, however, it more than made up for with its strong association with those halcyon days when the Carthaginians had been the dominant force on the island, rather than a defeated contender desperately clinging on to its last few enclaves. What could be better for the burgeoning reputation of a young ambitious general than seizing back a town which the Carthaginians had held for so long and in which they had such emotional investment? Eryx was the holy site where the goddess Astarte had for centuries held sway under the protection of her divine companion Melqart.

In fact matters were soon taken out of Hamilcar’s hands. In Rome, it had been decided that the only way of breaking the deadlock was to rebuild the fleet. As treasury funds were low, much of the money for this ship-construction programme had to be borrowed from private individuals. The result was a fleet of 200 quinqueremes modelled on the superior design of Hannibal the Rhodian’s ship. In a conscious attempt to create a confrontation, the blockade of Lilybaeum and Drepana was tightened, thereby forcing the Carthaginians to act. It took the Carthaginians nine months to assemble a fleet of 250 ships. Although they outnumbered the Romans, the ships were poorly prepared and the crews lacked training. Furthermore, the admiral, Hanno, hardly had a distinguished record against the Romans, having presided over previous defeats at Acragas and Ecnomus. The plan was to drop off supplies for the army in Sicily before taking on troops to serve as marines.

In 241 the fleet crossed over to the Aegates Islands, just to the west of Sicily, and waited for a favourable wind to carry them to Sicily itself. But the Roman fleet, already aware of their location, caught up with the Carthaginians as they were preparing to cross. For the first time, the Roman fleet had no need of the corvi, as it was superior in all areas of seamanship and naval warfare. The Carthaginian crews–poorly trained, with too few marines, and burdened down with supplies– stood no chance. The Romans sank 50 Carthaginian ships and captured 70 before the remainder managed to escape.

The disaster broke the Carthaginians’ resolve, and they sued for peace. The terms agreed in 241 were harsh, but not unexpected. The Carthaginians were to evacuate the whole of Sicily, to free all Roman prisoners of war, and to pay a ransom for their own. Lilybaeum, which had held out to the bitter end, was surrendered to the Romans. A huge indemnity of 2,200 talents was to be paid to Rome over a period of twenty years. Lastly, neither Carthage nor Rome was to interfere in the affairs of the other’s allies nor recruit soldiers nor raise money for public buildings on the other’s territory. When the treaty was put before the Roman Popular Assembly to be ratified, the terms were made even stiffer. The indemnity was raised to 3,200 talents, with 1,000 due immediately and the remainder within ten years. Carthage was also to evacuate all the islands between Sicily and North Africa, but was allowed to hold on to Sardinia. Faced with ruin if the war continued, the Carthaginians had little option but to accept.

There is, however, compelling evidence that the Carthaginians had begun to prepare for a future without Sicily. One of the reasons for the lack of resources to pursue the conflict against Rome in the latter stages of the war was that, astonishingly, the Carthaginians were concurrently fighting another war–against the Numidians in North Africa, and a great deal more successfully than the Sicilian campaign. Sometime in the 240s the Carthaginian general Hanno ‘the Great’ conquered the important Numidian town of Hecatompylon (modern Tebessa), which lay some 260 kilometres south-west of Carthage.50 Dexter Hoyos has suggested that the capture of Hecatompylus was part of a broader campaign of territorial acquisition marshalled by Hanno, which also included the subjugation of another significant Numidian town, Sicca, approximately 160 kilometres to the south-west. Was this part of a deliberate change of policy on the part of the Carthaginian ruling elite, and was it a reflection of the victory of those who wished to concentrate on Africa over those who wished to maintain the hold in Sicily?

Certainly there were interesting changes in the Carthaginian rural economy. In the third century BC the hinterland of Carthage experienced a dramatic increase both in population and in levels of agricultural production. As a result of an archaeological survey, Joseph Greene has argued that this was the result of dispossessed Punic farmers leaving Sicily and Sardinia and settling in North Africa, but there is reason to think that this reorganization of Carthage’s rural territory was part of the same process as the military action against the Numidians, for it seems that some members of the Carthaginian elite had finally decided that there were easier ways to prosper than the retention of the western Sicilian ports.

Trade between many of the Sicilian cities appears to have all but ceased. Local wine and agricultural products, which had previously dominated the market, were replaced by imports from Campania as Rome took control; but, even so, large numbers of amphorae from Carthage simultaneously start appearing in the archaeological record. It seems that the Carthaginians were now exporting large amounts of their own agricultural surplus to Sicily, so it was paradoxically its loss that finally created the circumstances under which Carthage could profit less problematically from the island.

Apart from a brief interlude of three years during the Second Punic War, Carthage would never regain a foothold on Sicily. The Carthaginians had been defeated by an enemy who had simply refused to play by the rules of engagement which had for so long held sway on the island. The destructive march of the Sicilian wars had continued for the best part of 130 years, but it had always been punctuated by intermittent periods of peace which allowed both Carthaginians and Syracusans to regroup. However, Rome, with its extraordinary ability quickly to integrate the human and material resources of those whom it had subjugated, had proved to be a very different proposition. Such had been its ability to sustain a war effort for decades, and at a high tempo without any respite, that it had been able to exhaust the stamina of Carthage, one of the best-resourced states of the ancient Mediterranean.

Moreover, after the first year of the war any chance that the Romans might have accepted some kind of territorial division of Sicily had completely disappeared. The Syracusans, who had been relatively content to maintain a strategic stand-off, had now been replaced by an uncompromising, expansionist enemy who demanded nothing less than the total retreat of the Carthaginians from the island. The latter, despite their initial advantage particularly in terms of sea power, had simply been unable to adapt to this new challenge.

MERCENARIES IN THE WEST

Sicily was proverbial with mercenary service. The preconditions of tyranny, internecine warfare, and coinage all flourished on the island from the late archaic age. The tyrants of Syracuse attracted Peloponnesians into their service from at least the early fifth century. Dionysius I established diplomatic links with Sparta for this purpose and was one of the principal employers of mercenaries, not just Greeks, in the early fourth century. A series of wars against Carthage led to a boom in mercenary service on the island. Later tyrants of Hellenistic Sicily also hired mercenaries in great numbers, as much in response to Carthaginian hostility as for their own personal protection, and many came from the Greek mainland. Agathocles initially armed the poor of Syracuse for his own purposes (Diod. 19.5–9) and then in 316 hired a largely mercenary army to fight Carthage (Diod. 19.72.2). A generation later, Hieron recruited mercenaries for his own security (Polyb. 1.9.6). In addition to Greeks, these tyrants employed Celts and Italians. Just after Agathocles’s death circa 289, a large group of Campanians proved particularly troublesome in returning to Italy from Syracuse when they seized the city of Messana and became a permanent thorn in the side of their neighbors (see Diod. 21.18 and 22.7.4; Polyb. 1.7.2–8; Plut. Pyrrh. 23–24). They styled themselves the “Mamertini” after an Italian war god, Mamers. Their success burgeoned along with their numbers and ultimately they caused the first war between Carthage and Rome. As Roman allies they survived the Punic Wars and prospered. These mercenaries illustrate that the transition from renegade wanderer to established city dweller, though violent in its process, did happen (Griffith 1935: 194–207).

The Carthaginians had long held interests in Sicily and other western islands. Ancient sources, written by their enemies, principally the Romans or Greeks with Roman affiliations, stress the reliance Carthage had on mercenaries. Polybius (6.52.2) regularly implies that mercenaries made up Carthaginian armies. Griffith (1935: 225 n. 1) states “the Carthaginian armies were very like mercenary armies in practice, even if they were not actually mercenaries.” The heart of most Carthaginian armies, along with the officers, remained Carthaginian, and like the Greek cities, Carthaginians served in a citizen militia when necessary. But Roman prejudices tainted the Carthaginians as hucksters and traders rather than as land-holding farmer-soldiers using their wealth to buy fighters for their protection. The language of the pro-Roman sources often paints most Carthaginian soldiers as mercenaries (not subject allies). Roman auxiliaries fought under compulsion as much as for love of Rome, but are styled as allies (socii, auxilia). During the Second Punic War, for example, Livy (29.4.2) notes that Carthaginians hired (conducere) African auxiliaries (Afrorum auxilia), and he calls the African soldiers mercenaries (28.44.5, 29.3.13). In Spain also the Carthaginians hired Spaniards (Livy 23.13.8) and Livy (23.29.4, 24.49.7) notes specifically Spanish and Celtiberian mercenaries. But in both Africa and Spain Livy (24.42.6; cf. Polyb. 10.35.6) notes the existence of a levy (dilectus). Hannibal calls his Spaniards allies (Livy, 21.11.13, 21.3). These Roman references to Africans and Spaniards cover the range of relationships from mercenary to ally and no doubt the reality was more complex. Carthaginian forces may have been like mercenary armies, but so were the armies of the Hellenistic monarchs.

Carthaginian armies with their Hellenistic style and elaborate makeup of men from all over the Mediterranean must have presented a varied image to Roman adversaries. Carthage drew its armies from the many peoples in the western Mediterranean: local Libyans and Numidians, Gauls, Baleares and Celtiberians, while Sicilians, Etruscans and other Italians, Greeks and Macedonians and Indians were to be found too. The army which Hannibal led into Italy included the full array of Mediterranean peoples (Polyb. 11.19.3). Small wonder Romans saw this diversity as mercenary service in action.

The image of Carthaginian armies was not helped at the end of the First Punic War when their mercenaries, recently returned from Sicily without pay, revolted. Thus Carthage paid the price for its dependence on professionals. The Truceless War supposedly unparalleled in atrocity brought Carthage close to destruction (Polyb. 1.73; Diod. 25.3). The mercenaries fought for three years in Africa, until the genius of Hamilcar Barca, the resolve of the Carthaginian Republic, and the divisions of the rebels finally saw Carthage victorious. The war reveals that Libyans made up the majority of the “mercenaries” of Carthage, but all manner of men served, including Greeks from different regions (Polyb. 1.67.7; Diod. 25.2). The number of Libyans suggests a less mercenary and more subject-ally status of these men, and certainly the Libyan subjects of the Carthaginians contributed both men (Polyb. 1.70.8) and money (Polyb. 1.72.5) to the revolt.

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Three Dutch Victories

Dutch siege of Olinda and Recife. 1630

The conquest of Luanda and São Tomé in 1641. Print, 1649–1651

Two months after Johan Maurits first arrived in Recife in January 1637, he received a new set of instructions from the West India Company (WIC). The count was to carry out an old plan: the conquest of Sao Jorge da Mina on the African Gold Coast. This was more than a center of the gold trade. It had been the seat of Portuguese might in Guinea since 1482, and once captured, it could be expected to allow the Dutch to become involved in the African slave trade. Johan Maurits did not sail himself but dispatched a nine-ship fleet under the command of Colonel Hans van Koin, which arrived after a voyage of two months on August 23 with eight hundred soldiers and four hundred sailors.

In the twelve years that had passed since their ignominious defeat at Sao Jorge, the Dutch had changed their tactics. Military ingenuity alone had not sufficed; it had proven necessary to establish better ties with African states to have a chance to be victorious. In itself, this was nothing new. As early as 1618, Dutch musketeers on the Gold Coast had served the ruler of Sabu as mercenaries in a counterattack on the Coromantee. What was different from the attack of 1625 was the attempt by the commander of Fort Nassau, Nicolaes van IJperen, in the weeks leading up to the arrival of the Dutch fleet to stir up the African states of Elmina, Komenda, and Efutu against the Portuguese. Assured of some native support, the Dutch were in a good position to challenge the defenders of the castle. And when the defenders failed to sufficiently occupy a hill facing the fort of Sao Jorge, the Dutch victory was within grasp. For four days, Dutch cannonballs rained down on the fort until the Portuguese gave up, worn down by the lack of provisions and the knowledge that no relief force would come from the Iberian Peninsula. After 155 years of Portuguese occupation, Elmina castle came under Dutch control on August 29, 1637.

In Brazil, the Dutch forged ahead energetically by disposing of the guerrilla fighters to the north of the Sao Francisco River and annexing the district of Ceara, which meant that half of all the captaincies in Brazil were in Dutch hands. Governor Johan Maurits now found it opportune to mount an attack on Salvador, the Portuguese capital of Brazil. To that end, he put to sea on April 6, 1638, with 31 ships and nearly 5,000 men, including at least 800 native allies. After the troops had been disembarked a mile and a half from the town and after they had taken a few Portuguese forts, the battle of Salvador began. The defenders’ fighting power was unexpected and hostilities continued without the Dutch making much headway. The siege finally ended in a bloody denouement after forty days, when Johan Maurits ordered a battery that protected the town to be captured. Immediately prior to the actual assault, four hundred troops were ambushed by an equal number of enemy soldiers hiding in the bushes, which did not prevent the Dutch from trying to storm the breastwork. For hours, man-to-man fighting took place, and still the Dutch could not push through. According to a Portuguese source, 237 Dutchmen remained on the battlefield. Dutch morale took a hard knock.

Other Dutch losses were incurred on the high seas, where Spanish privateers enjoyed some of their best years between 1636 and 1639. But the trend was reversed in October 1639 at the Battle of the Downs, a momentous encounter that signaled the start of Spanish naval decline. On the English south coast, a battle raged that day between the Spanish war fleet (dubbed, once again, the second Armada) of 85 ships and 13,000 soldiers and 8,000 sailors under the command of Oquendo and the Dutch fleet of 95 ships led by Lieutenant Admiral Maerten Tromp and Vice Admiral Witte de With. Even though the Dutch losses were substantial, amounting to 10 ships and 1,000 men, they paled before the ruins that befell the Spanish navy. At least thirty-two Spanish ships were lost as well as 9,000-10,000 men, including virtually all the officers. These losses reverberated in the Americas. Deprived forever of their maritime supremacy, the Spanish hold on Peru was suddenly at risk. The viceroy of Peru wrote to his king on January 1, 1640, that the Dutch could make their way to Callao without being discovered. Residents and their families had therefore massively fled from Lima into the mountains, taking their valuables with them.

Was Dutch rule in Brazil then secure? The Iberians refused to think so. For years, the highest officials in the Spanish monarchy had committed themselves to sending another combined fleet to Brazil, but no new armada had been launched. Suspicious of the attempts by the Count-Duke of Olivares to integrate their country more fully into the Spanish state and blaming the Dutch conquests in Brazil on the union of Portugal with Spain, the Portuguese made no effort to collaborate on a new Brazilian campaign. In view of the lack of men and ships, Don Fadrique de Toledo, who had been chosen again as the armada commander, refused to be in charge any longer. A shouting match with the count-duke ensued, which led to Toledo’s fall from grace. Olivares had him put in jail, where he passed away a few months later.

At long last, a combined Hispano-Portuguese fleet of forty sail was organized in 1638 under the command of Fernando de Mascarenhas, Conde da Torre, with the ambitious goal of reconquering the Dutch part of Brazil. Now it was the Dutch population that panicked. Everywhere, settlers buried cash money, in particular silver Spanish reales. What the residents did not know was that mortality on board the Iberian fleet was so high that a military confrontation had to be postponed. After Torre had put to sea from Bahia in November 1639 with 87 sail, 4,000 sailors, and 5,000 soldiers, a naval battle lasting several days took place the following January, begun when Dutch Admiral Willem Cornelisz Loos went on the offensive. Although Loos was almost instantly killed, the Dutch bombarded their enemies for all but a week until they vanished from sight, devastated by hunger and thirst, and fighting unfavorable winds and the extreme heat. Only two Dutch ships were lost and no more than eighty Dutchmen had died.

These battles made it impossible for Spain to turn the tide in its war with the United Provinces. The maritime initiative in the war was no longer with the Spanish. The WIC, however, was also running out of steam, certainly in the Atlantic basin. After 1640, large Dutch privateering fleets, for so long a common sight, almost completely disappeared from the Caribbean. The last expedition of some size was that of Cornelis Jol, nicknamed Houtebeen (Pegleg; 1597-1641), intended to intercept a treasure fleet. He appeared off Havana with thirty-six ships, but he was left powerless by a hurricane on September 11, 1640. Several large ships were destroyed, killing sixty-three men on one ship alone, and around two hundred Dutchmen were made prisoner and sent to Spain. Although the treasure fleet could head safely for Spain, the year did not end well for the Habsburg monarchy. The two major naval defeats suffered at the hands of the Dutch had consequences on the Iberian mainland, contributing as they did to a climate in which the Portuguese decided to throw off the “Spanish yoke.” The Habsburg leaders had always been mindful of the tense crown union with Portugal, making conspicuous efforts to defend Brazil. The Count-Duke of Olivares had even made the restitution of Brazil an absolute condition for peace with the Dutch Republic. This stance could not prevent an uprising. On December 1, 1640, the Portuguese revolution broke out, and Spain could not contain it, in part because of another revolt in Catalonia. The Duke of Braganza ascended the throne as John IV, recognized immediately in all parts of the Portuguese empire.

The news from Lisbon was received with mixed feelings in the United Provinces and the Dutch colonies. On the one hand, the rupture between the Iberians was welcomed enthusiastically because it was thought to weaken the Spanish. On the other hand, the Dutch were involved in colonial wars with the Portuguese, so the Iberian disunion offered unprecedented possibilities. Abandoning Brazil or Elmina was obviously not negotiable; instead, the Dutch reasoned, this was the moment to grab from Portugal as much territory as possible before a truce was signed with the newly independent state. At least, that was the logic expressed by the Heren XIX, which was not altogether seconded by the Dutch political elite. The lack of a common front did not keep the Heren XIX from writing a letter to Johan Maurits in April that suggested quickly adding some conquest-taking Salvador was considered especially opportune-but the governor had already embarked, of his own accord, on the capture of the district of Sergipe del Rey and had succeeded brilliantly.

The next step encompassed more. The council of Brazil decided after ample debate to capture the port of Luanda in the Portuguese colony of Angola, replicating for southwestern Africa what had been achieved four years earlier in Elmina. The primary goal was to secure slaves for Dutch Brazil as well as hit the Spanish empire. Without slaves from Angola, the Dutch asserted, no silver mines could operate in Peru and Mexico. It was a variation on a theme heard often ever since the foundation of the WIC: we have to carry the war into the Atlantic world to make the silver stream run dry, thus crippling the engine of the Habsburg war machine.

Like the fleet that had invaded Elmina, the one designated to conquer Luanda set out from Recife. Led by Admiral Cornelis Jol, 21 ships transported 240 indigenous Brazilians and 2,717 Europeans (1,866 soldiers and 851 seamen). Military aid was expected from African nations, which were to be persuaded with gifts and other means to go to war against the Portuguese. The notion that the local people were enemies of the Spanish and the Portuguese and friends of the Dutch was not at all far-fetched in this part of Africa, where Sonho troops had helped the Dutch ward off an attack by Portuguese troops in 1612. In addition, both the king of Kongo and the count of Sonho had approached the Dutch about a military alliance against the Portuguese in the early 1620s. The new king of Kongo, Garcia II, was considered a strong potential ally according to a report drawn up by a WIC official with extensive knowledge of southwestern Africa. Brimming with information about the political, economic, and military situation in Luanda, the report would soon prove to be very useful.

The intruders had the element of surprise on their side. For many years, the Portuguese had counted on a Dutch attack, but they no longer did. In addition, the Dutch battle plan, based on intelligence provided by an imprisoned Spanish steersman, included a landing in between two gun batteries, something the defenders deemed impossible. The actual battle on August 25-26 was therefore brief and caused few casualties on either side. But although the victory came easy, consolidating the town was very hard. In the belief that their enemies were mostly interested in robbery and slaves, the response of the Portuguese residents to the Dutch takeover was to flee into the interior, preventing the Dutch from assuming control of a vibrant economy and introducing the foreigners to a guerrilla war.

One more task needed to be executed by Jol and his men. On September 17, they left Luanda to overpower Sao Tomé, the island in the Gulf of Guinea that the Dutch had briefly occupied forty years earlier. The plan was to make Sao Tomé a bridge connecting the new possessions in Angola to the trading posts in Guinea. With 664 soldiers, divided into five companies of Europeans and three companies of Brazilians, as well as 400 sailors, the admiral reached the island on October 2. After two weeks of fighting, which resulted in a steady decline of Dutch numbers, a castle was finally captured, which then enabled the conquest of the town of Sao Tomé without firing a single shot. As in Angola, the residents had absconded into the interior, leaving the Dutch army to languish in the capital city. Yellow fever killed Europeans and Brazilians alike, not sparing Jol himself. When forty soldiers defected to the Portuguese, leaving only eighty soldiers, many of whom were ill, in the Dutch camp, the invaders’ hold on the capital was doomed. In November 1642, the Portuguese entered again and the Dutch left. Their only small ray of hope was provided by the notion that the Portuguese were also vulnerable to disease, which kept them from chasing the Dutch from the island altogether.

In the year 1642, the Dutch empire in the Atlantic reached its greatest extent. In addition to Luanda and Sao Tomé, the Dutch had snatched from the Portuguese the captaincy of Maranhao in northern Brazil (November 25, 1641); Benguela, an Angolan port 600 kilometers south of Luanda (December 21, 1641); and fort Axim in West Africa (January 9, 1642). This was all done on the pretext that there was no truce with Portugal or-after that truce had been signed in The Hague on April 12, 1641-that no truce had been ratified or no confirmation of its ratification had been received. Imperial ambition was still alive and well in 1642. Apart from its suggestion to annex Maranhao, the WIC Chamber of Zeeland proposed an attack on Salvador- which was seen as weakened by the departure of Spanish and Neapolitan soldiers-and expeditions to capture Rio de Janeiro, Araya, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola. While none of these plans left the drawing board, what did materialize was a fleet that was to conquer Chile. Ideas about such a venture had first been discussed before the WIC was founded, but it was during a lull in the fighting in Brazil that a serious effort at conquest was initiated. An expeditionary naval force sailed from the Netherlands, first to Brazil, where it was reinforced with several ships, and then the whole fleet left Recife in January 1643. In charge of the expedition was Hendrick Brouwer (1581-1643), a former governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, who would not survive the expedition. Having rounded Cape Horn, Brouwer and his men arrived at the island of Chiloé and from there passed to the continent. They made contacts with the indigenous Mapuche and conceived plans to fight the common Spanish enemy. After a base was set up in Valdivia, the prospects seemed good. In the end, however, the expedition failed dismally. The Amerindians, who were essential to the strategy, could not be persuaded to form an alliance, the Dutch soon ran short of provisions, and a rumor circulated about a Spanish army that would soon arrive from the north.

 

Curtiss P-40 Series I

Arguably the best-known fighter in the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the first year of direct American participation in the war was the Curtiss P-40. Designed by Donovan Reese Berlin, the prototype XP-40 was more evolutionary than revolutionary in conception, being nothing more than the tenth production airframe of Berlin’s P-36A Hawk fighter with an Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled inline engine substituted for the P-36’s 875-horsepower Wright GR-1820-G3 Cyclone air-cooled radial.

Donovan’s original monoplane design dated to 1934. He designated it the Curtiss Model 75, reflecting his obsession with that number, while the emotive nickname of “Hawk,” already famous from an earlier generation of Curtiss biplane fighters, was revived for the new-generation monoplane. Although the Hawk 75 first flew in 1935, engine problems delayed its development until July 7, 1937, when the Army Air Corps gave Curtiss the largest American peacetime production order up to that time—210 P-36s, as the Army called them, for $4,113,550. Hawk 75s—built with retractable landing gear or with fixed, spatted undercarriage, depending on whether speed or simplicity was the customer’s main priority—were also sold to numerous foreign air arms.

The first to employ them in combat were the Chinese. The first Hawk 75 to arrive was purchased by Madame Chiang Kai-shek for $35,000 as a present for Col. Claire Lee Chennault in July 1937. In July 1938, the first official Chinese air force consignment of Hawk 75Ms with fixed undercarriage was assigned to the veteran 25th Pursuit Squadron, whose pilots began training under Chennault’s tutelage. Its baptism of fire came on August 18, when twenty-seven Mitsubishi G3M2s came in three waves to bomb Hengyang, and Squadron Commander Tang Pusheng led three of the new Hawks up along with seven I-152s. Intercepting the first flight of nine, Tang shot one down and damaged another, then attacked the second wave of bombers, only to be caught in a cross fire from the gunners, who shot him down in flames. The two other Hawk 75Ms crashed on landing.

On October 1, nine more Hawk 75Ms were assigned to the 16th Pursuit Squadron at Zhiguang, which had just been redesignated from a light bomber unit that had previously flown Vought V-92 Corsairs. Similarly, the next unit to get nine Hawk 75Ms, the 18th Pursuit Squadron, had previously flown Douglas O-1MCs. Training continued apace but suffered a setback on January 2, 1939, when five pilots of the 25th Squadron were killed in crashes while flying from Kunming to Sichuan. Curtiss Hawk III biplanes were assigned to the squadron to supplement its reduced numbers. Chinese confidence in the new plane remained so low three months later that when twenty-three Japanese bombers raided Kunming on April 8, no Hawks rose to challenge them, and the nine were bombed to destruction on the ground.

In August 1939 the 25th Squadron was disbanded, followed by the 16th within the following month, leaving only the 18th to be attached to the newly formed 11th Pursuit Group, which operated six Hawk 75Ms alongside I-152s and I-16s. Success continued to elude the monoplane Hawks, and the ultimate blow came on October 4, 1940, when twenty-seven G4Ms attacked Chengdu, escorted by eight new A6M2 Zeros of the 12th Kokutai, led by Lt. Tamotsu Yokoyama and Lt. j.g. Ayao Shirane. Far from intercepting the enemy, the 18th Pursuit Squadron was ordered by the Third Army air staff to disperse to Guangxi, but as it did some of its planes were caught en route by the aggressive Zeros. Hawk 75M No. 5044 was shot down in flames and its pilot, Shi Ganzhen, killed when his parachute failed to open. Additionally, an I-152 and a Gladiator were sent crashing with their respective pilots, Gin Wei and Liu Jon, wounded. Two other I-152s returning to base with engine trouble, piloted by Zing Ziaoxi and Liang Zhengsheng, were strafed as they landed and were apparently counted among the five “I-16s” the Zero pilots claimed to have shot down, along with an “SB-2 bomber,” which was in fact an Ilyushin DB-3 of the 6th Bomber Squadron, returning on the mistaken assumption that the raid was over, only to be destroyed with its three crewmen.

At Taipingzhi airfield the Japanese reported destroying nineteen aircraft on the ground, four of their pilots audaciously landing to set fire to some of them. The Chinese acknowledged the loss of two I-16s, two I-152s, two Hawk IIIs, six Fleet trainers, one Beech UC-43 Traveler, a Dewoitine 510, and a Hawk 75M. The Hawk 75M’s inauspicious combat debut in China officially came to an end when the virtually impotent 18th Pursuit Group was disbanded in January 1941.

Although its performance was eclipsed by other types by 1940, the Hawk 75 was fondly remembered by a lot of others who flew it for its easy handling and excellent maneuverability. Export Hawk 75As, powered by 950-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines, became the best fighters available in quantity to the French in May 1940, and were credited with more enemy planes shot down than any other French fighter. Thailand purchased Hawk 75Ns with fixed landing gear and used them during its war against the French in Indochina in January 1941, as well as during its brief resistance to invading Japanese forces that December. The US Army Air Corps still had P-36Cs on strength when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, and they scored some of the first American air-to-air victories that day. The exiled Royal Netherlands Air Force used Cyclone-engine P-36s in the East Indies, where they became easy prey for the Japanese Zero. The RAF also used P-36s, which it called Mohawks, as stopgap fighters, most notably in Burma in 1942. Vichy French pilots flew Hawk 75As against the British and Americans during their invasion of North Africa in November 1942, and other French H-75As, shipped to Finland by the Germans, fought the Soviets until September 1944. Although neither as modern nor as famous as the P-40 that succeeded it, the P-36 can lay claim to greater ubiquity and the rare—if somewhat dubious—distinction of having fought on both sides during World War II.

The Allison-engine XP-40 first flew on October 14, 1938, and competed against the Lockheed XP-38, Bell XP-39, and Seversky AP-4 at Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio, on January 25, 1939. The XP-40 emerged the winner, and in April Curtiss was rewarded with what was touted as the largest contract since World War I, for 543 P-40s.

Although outclassed by the Zero, P-40s soldiered on as best they could, starting with the very first Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the months that followed, the P-40 pilots fought desperately and often heroically, with decidedly mixed fortunes. They were ultimately annihilated in the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies, but in the hands of master tactician Col. Claire Chennault and his American Volunteer Group in China, the Hawk 81 (as the export version of the P-40 was known) did a disproportionate amount of damage and became one of the war’s legendary fighters.

More than half a year before the United States entered the war, however, P-40s had already fought over terrain that could not have been farther removed from Pearl Harbor, the mountains of China, or the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Even while it was filling the Army Air Corps orders for P-36s and P-40s, Curtiss was marketing both the Hawk 75 and 81 to overseas customers. Although not used quite as widely as the Hawk 75, the Hawk 81 saw considerable Chinese use—first by the American mercenaries of the AVG and later by Chinese pilots—as well as service in the Soviet army and naval air arms, the RAF, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It was, in fact, in British service that the “Hawk” designator probably got more use in reference to the P-40 than it ever did by the fighter’s American pilots. The earliest models were called Tomahawks by the British, while the later ones were christened Kittyhawks.

The first major action in which Tomahawks figured prominently was a sideshow that nevertheless serves as a reminder of just how global a conflict World War II was. On May 2, 1941, British forces in Iraq came under attack by Iraqi forces directed by the anti-British, pro-German chief of the National Defense Government, Rashid Ali El Ghailani. The revolt was quickly crushed and Rashid Ali fled the country on May 30, but not before a number of Axis aircraft had been committed to his cause. Sixty-two German transport aircraft carried matériel to the Iraqis, making refueling stops at airfields in Syria and Lebanon, then mandates of nominally neutral Vichy France. The Germans and Italians had also sent fighters and bombers which, hastily adorned in Iraqi markings, had made their way into the country from the French air bases. Amid the British counterattack, at 1650 hours on May 14, two Tomahawk Mark IIbs of No. 250 Squadron RAF, flown by Flying Officers Gordon A. Wolsey and Frederick J. S. Aldridge, carried out the first P-40 combat mission when they escorted three Bristol Blenheims in an attack on suspected German and Italian aircraft at Palmyra in Syria.

In allowing Axis planes to stage from their territory, the French-mandated Levant presented a threat to British security in Palestine and Egypt at a time when Generalleutnant (Major General) Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps was starting to make its presence felt in North Africa. On May 15, British aircraft attacked French air bases at Palmyra, Rayack, Damascus, Homs, Tripoli, and Beirut. The Vichy government responded by dispatching Groupe de Chasse III/6 to Rayak, with a complement of top-of-the-line Dewoitine D.520 fighters. In addition to those, Général de Division (Major General) Jean-François Jannekeyn, commander of the Armée de l’Air in the Levant, had GC I/7, equipped with Morane-Saulnier MS.406 fighters; Groupe de Bombardment II/39, with American-built Glenn Martin 167F twin-engine bombers; GB III/39, with antiquated Bloch 200s; Groupe de Reconnaissance (GR) II/39 and Flight GAO 583, both with Potez 63-IIs; and a myriad of less effective army and navy planes at his disposal for a total of ninety aircraft.

By the end of May, the British had decided to seize the Levant. General Archibald Wavell organized an invasion force by pulling the Australian 7th Division, less one brigade, from its defensive position at Mersa Matruh and combined it with the 5th Brigade of the Indian 4th Division, elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, a commando unit from Cyprus, a squadron of armored cars, and a cavalry regiment. The scratch force was to receive some offshore support from the Royal Navy, and air support from sixty aircraft of the RAF and the RAAF. The Aussie contingent included Tomahawk Mark IIbs newly delivered to replace the Gladiators of No. 3 Squadron RAAF at Lydda, Palestine. Meanwhile, on May 22, No. 250 Squadron had been reassigned to the defense of Alexandria, Egypt.

The three-pronged invasion, dubbed Operation Exporter, commenced from Palestine and Trans-Jordan at 0200 hours on June 8. The British and accompanying Gaullist French forces had hoped that the 35,000 Vichy troops in Syria would be loath to fight their former allies, but they were in for a disappointment. Anticipating Allied propaganda appeals based on the idea of saving Syria from German domination, Vichy High Commissioner Gen. Henri-Fernand Dentz saw to it that all signs of German presence were removed throughout the country. The Luftwaffe, too, had discretely evacuated all of its planes, aircrews, and technicians from the Syrian airfields forty-eight hours ahead of the expected invasion. In consequence the Allied propaganda fell on deaf ears, the French officers defending Syria refused to deal with their Gaullist compatriots, and the Allied invasion force found itself with a fight on its hands.

On the day of the invasion, June 8, Hurricanes of Nos. 80, 108, and 260 Squadrons, and five Tomahawks of No. 3 Squadron, RAAF, made preemptive attacks on the French airfields. Among other targets, the Hurricanes and Tomahawks strafed GC III/6’s fighters on the ground at Rayak, burning a D.520 and damaging seven others. On this occasion, the Tomahawks drew relatively little fire from French ground gunners, who mistook the unfamiliar new fighters for their own D.520s. On the same day, two Tomahawks of 250 Squadron, flown by Flying Officer Jack Hamlyn and Flt. Sgt. Thomas G. Paxton, together with shore batteries, shot down an intruding Cant Z.1007bis reconnaissance bomber of the Italian 211a Squadriglia five miles northwest of Alexandria.

As Vichy France rushed reinforcements to the Levant, the Germans and Italians put airstrips in newly conquered Greece at their disposal, allowing the swift ferrying of Lioré et Olivier LéO 451 bombers of GB I/31, I/14, and I/25; D.520s of GC II/3; and Martin 167s of the 4e Flotille of the Aéronavale to Syria by June 17.

French bombers attacked Adm. Sir Andrew Cunningham’s naval force off Saida on June 9, damaging two ships. Eight German Junkers Ju 88A-5s of II Gruppe, Lehrgeschwader 1, operating from Crete, also turned up to harass the fleet on June 12, but they were intercepted by Tomahawks of No. 3 Squadron. Squadron Leader Peter Jeffrey shot down one of the attackers, Flt. Lts. John R. “Jock” Perrin and John H. Saunders claimed two others, while Flt. Lt. Robert H. Gibbes caught a fourth bomber right over the fleet and claimed it as a “probable.” In fact, two Ju 88s failed to return—one from the 4th Staffel, piloted by Ltn. Heinrich Diekjobst, and one from the 5th Staffel, flown by Ltn. Rolf Bennewitz.

Three days later, the Aussies turned their attention to the Vichy French, as Jeffrey and Flt. Lt. Peter St. George B. Turnbull each accounted for a Martin 167F of GB I/39 in the area of Sheik Meskine. On June 19, Turnbull damaged another Martin bomber over Saida, and Pilot Officer Alan C. Rawlinson damaged two others near Jezzine. Damascus fell to the Allied forces on June 21. In an encounter between Tomahawks and D.520s of GC III/6 two days later, Capitaine Léon Richard, commander of the 6e Escadrille, was credited with shooting down a Tomahawk south of Zahle—probably Turnbull, who crashed his damaged Tomahawk upon returning to Jenin. The starboard wing of Sgt. Frank B. Reid’s Tomahawk was also damaged by 20mm shells, but the French took the worst of the fight. Sous-Lieutenant Pierre Le Gloan was forced to beat a hasty retreat when his D.520 began to burn, probably after being hit by Flying Officer Percival Roy Bothwell, who also sent Lt. Marcel Steunou, a five-victory ace, down in flames near Zahle, and killed Sgt. Maurice Savinel between Ablah and Malakaa. Flying Officer Lindsey E. S. Knowles claimed to have shot the wingtip off another Dewoitine, which was credited to him as damaged.

Among the toughest Vichy strongpoints was Palmyra, a fortified air base surrounded by concrete pillboxes, antitank ditches, observation posts, and snipers’ nests. When Habforce, a composite invasion group drawn from British and Arab troops occupying Iraq, crossed the border and moved on Palmyra on June 20, it came under heavy and very effective bombing and strafing attacks by the base’s aircraft. Habforce’s advance ground to a halt for about a week. Then, on June 25, appeals for air support by Habforce’s commander, Maj. Gen. J. George W. Clark, were finally answered as Commonwealth aircraft arrived, including No. 3 Squadron’s Tomahawks. In an aerial engagement fifteen miles southwest of Palmyra, Saunders, Flying Officers John F. Jackson and Wallace E. Jewell, and Sgt. Alan C. Cameron each claimed a LéO 451 of GB I/12—though only three such bombers were in fact present, and all were lost along with the lives of five of their twelve crewmen. When six Martin 167s of Flotille 4F sallied out of Palmyra to attack Habforce again on June 28, they were intercepted by No. 3 Squadron’s Tomahawks, and six were promptly shot down in sight of the British ground troops, Rawlinson accounting for three of them, Turnbull downing one, and Sgt. Rex K. Wilson destroying another. The action heralded a pivotal turn in Habforce’s fortunes, the day’s only sour note being struck after the Tomahawks refueled and returned to Jenin, where Sergeant Randall’s plane suffered engine failure, and he was killed in the crash.

Ultimately, the Allied forces prevailed, launching their final thrust on Beirut on July 7. Amid fierce but hopeless resistance, High Commissioner Dentz passed a note to Cornelius Engert, the US consul general in Beirut, expressing his willingness to discuss surrender terms with the British, but absolutely not with the Gaullist French.

Negotiations dragged on for sixty hours, during which fighting continued, and the Tomahawks had one more occasion to test their mettle against the D.520 in the air. On July 10, seven Tomahawks of No. 3 Squadron RAAF went to cover twelve Bristol Blenheims of No. 45 Squadron, which were to bomb an ammunition dump near Hamana, south of Beirut. The Blenheims bombed the target, but the explosions drew the attention of five D.520s of Aéronavale Flight 1AC, which had transferred to Lebanon six days earlier and were escorting Martin bombers on a mission. Attacking from head on and below, the French quickly shot down three Blenheims, riddled a fourth so badly that it subsequently had to crash-land, and damaged six others.

Diving to the belated rescue, the Tomahawk pilots claimed all five of the Dewoitines—two by Turnbull, and one each by Jackson, Pilot Officer Eric Lane, and Sgt. Geoffrey E. Hiller. In actuality, only two French fighters were lost: Second Maître (Petty Officer Second Class) Pierre Ancion was mortally wounded, dying in Beirut hospital two days later, while Premier Maître (Petty Officer First Class) Paul Goffeny bailed out of his burning D.520 over the Bakaa Valley with slight wounds, subsequently claiming that his pursuer had crashed into a mountain while trying to follow his evasive maneuvers. The other three French pilots returned—Enseigne de Vaisseau de 1ère Classe (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Jacques du Merle being credited with two bombers, Premier Maître Jean Bénézet with another, and Lieutenant de Vaisseau (Lieutenant) Edouard Pirel sharing in the destruction of the fourth Blenheim with Goffeny, who was also credited (wrongly) with the “crashed” Tomahawk.

On the following day, Lt. René Lèté of GC II/3, lagging behind his formation due to engine trouble, spotted three Tomahawks and attacked, shooting down Flying Officer Frank Fischer. Lèté was one of only two Frenchmen to shoot down a Tomahawk during the campaign, but he had little time to exalt in the distinction, for moments later Gibbes and Jackson got on his tail and claimed to have sent him down in flames—Bobby Gibbes subsequently getting full credit for his first of an eventual ten victories by winning the coin toss. In fact, Lèté survived his crash landing—as did Fischer, who, after hiding from the French in an Arab village, rejoined 3 Squadron after hostilities ceased. The squadron lost one other Tomahawk to antiaircraft fire over Djebel Mazar that day, Flying Officer Lin Knowles crash-landing near Yafour, ten miles from Damascus.

At 1201 hours on July 12, a cease-fire finally went into effect, ending the thirty-four-day Syrian campaign. A formal armistice was signed at Saint-Jean-d’Acre on July 14—Bastille Day, ironically enough. The Tomahawks of No. 3 Squadron RAAF were transferred to the Western Desert, where their colleagues in RAF and South African air squadrons were already battling the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica. Among other early successes over the Western Desert, Pilot Officer Thomas G. Paxton of 250 Squadron, who had shared in the Cant Z.1007bis on June 8, added an Me 109E to his growing score south of Tobruk on June 26, while on June 30 one of Paxton’s squadron mates, Sgt. Robert J. C. Whittle, shared in the destruction of an Me 110, damaged an Me 109, and probably downed an Italian aircraft.

And so, the Curtiss P-40 had its baptism of fire in the Middle East. Although its principal virtue in 1941 was its ready availability, great things would be done in the P-40, and a series of improved models kept the Curtiss fighter in production for five years, a total of 13,737 being produced.

Curtiss P-40 Series II

It was July 1943. Parked on the ramp of Sunrise Airport at Tifton, Georgia, was a P-40F painted in wartime camouflage. To a pilot with a total of about 190 hours, all in trainer aircraft, this was an impressive sight. Stories were coming in from North Africa, where American Warhawks and British Kittyhawks of the Desert Air Force were harassing Rommel’s army and shooting down German aircraft. The Palm Sunday Massacre had taken place the previous April, when Desert Air Force fighters—mostly P-40s—had shot down sixty-five German aircraft as they desperately attempted to get out of Cape Bon. This was a real warplane, one that I had wanted to fly for four years. My time had come.

I first saw the 400-mile-per-hour Curtiss P-40 at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where the Army Air Corps was displaying this newest fighter. Three years later, I was a second lieutenant on active duty, passing through Philadelphia. Stationed at the municipal airport before deploying to Africa was a squadron of P-40s, and I watched entranced, as they flew landing patterns around the field. I was to report for flying school in a few weeks and here was the airplane that I hoped to fly in combat. (In April 1944 in Italy I was to join this same 315th Squadron of the 324th Fighter Group flying these same P-40s in combat.)

Then, in June 1943, when I was in basic flying school at Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina, a combat veteran from Africa came through, flying his P-40 around the country, on a war-bond drive. Of course, the Flying Tigers had in the meantime made a great record with their P-40s against the Zeroes. I had waited a long time, and finally here was my chance.

Fighter pilots are a proud lot—some people say conceited. One of the main reasons is the fact that the pilot can receive instruction only on the ground. He has to fly the airplane alone his first time up. Other pilots have several hours of dual time in the air, with an experienced, qualified pilot in their aircraft. So for a student fighter pilot who would not get his wings for more than three more weeks, taking up a brand new kind of airplane was a challenge.

My aircraft was number 55 and had the name Stinkie painted on the fuselage. Thirty-five years later, some of the details have been forgotten. However, many impressions remain. The 1,000-horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was almost twice as much power as I had handled so far.

In the P-40, as well as the Spitfire and the Jug, we would climb on to the trailing edge of the left (port) wing and then into the cockpit. The Spitfire had a horizontally hinged flap on the port side of the cockpit that let down permitting easier entry. The crew chief standing on the left wing would help us with the chute and harness straps after we were seated. There was enough room in the cockpit for a six-footer whose height was in his long legs. It was a comfortable arrangement in there, with good visibility, except straight ahead, where the P-40’s long nose blocked the view. My instructor led me through the steps in starting the engine, although I had practiced this several times by myself in simulated cockpit drills. When the engine actually started, I realized that I was on my own.

I have forgotten the exact details of engine start for the three aircraft, and although between them there were minor differences, I am sure nothing stands out in my memory. Aside from the ever-present problem of overheat on the liquid-cooled engine, starting was simple and routine.

The P-40 Warhawk and the Jug had the standard U.S. braking system of individual toe brakes on each rudder. That is, right rudder—right brake, left rudder—left brake. Both had a steerable tailwheel which responded to rudder movement, but most steering was by differential braking. I personally never landed nor took off in a fighter with my heels on the floor; I always put my feet up on the pedals for takeoff and landing, and heels on the floor for taxiing and flying.

Taxiing was not difficult, as we had been taught since our first flight in a primary trainer always to “S” to clear the view dead ahead. But in Italy, we were flying P-40s off dirt strips with a heavy dust problem so the crew chief rode sitting on the leading edge of the left wing astride the pitot tube wearing dust goggles. He would direct our taxiing with hand signals to avoid any chance of collision. As we turned onto the runway, lining up for takeoff, he would jump off, salute us (his pilot), and we would be off. Both in Corsica and France with the P-47, although there was no problem of dust on the hard-packed ground at Istres and on the sod of Amberieu, we kept up the crew chief system of riding the wing. In Africa, in the Spit, we taxied alone.

The pre-takeoff drill in the P-40 of checking propeller controls, magneto, oil pressure and temperature was routine. This liquid-cooled engine on a hot July day in Georgia was quick to overheat and the acrid smell of coolant was one that always seemed present.

The P-40 was a development of the radial-engined P-36. The long liquid-cooled engine placed the propeller several feet farther from the center of gravity than it was on the P-36, so that the torque was greatly increased. On takeoff it was necessary to turn in a good bit of right rudder trim from the control in the cockpit. As the aircraft accelerated along the runway, the effect of torque increased and had to be corrected by proper application of right rudder. The reverse was true in a dive, and it was a standing joke that all P-40 pilots had very highly developed calf muscles as a result of this characteristic.

Having been briefed on all this, a pilot on his first flight was ready, but it was still a difficult thing to control. On takeoff the aircraft would yaw from right to left and back. As the pilot made his corrections, the hot exhaust would blast into the cockpit from six exhaust stacks on each side of the cowling. We took off and landed with the canopy open as a safety measure in case of a crash, and this sudden blast of heat added to the confusion and excitement of a first flight in this fighter. To complicate matters, there was a very strange procedure necessary to raise the gear. The gear handle was placed in the “up” position with the left hand, and at the same time a trigger at the bottom of the pistol grip on the stick was squeezed with the right little finger. (The trigger at the top of the pistol grip squeezed by the index finger fired the six guns!) Next we swapped hands, as it was necessary to check the gear position by pumping the handle of the hydraulic lever located on the right of the cockpit, while controlling the climb with the left hand holding the control stick. Then there was another swap of hands to put the gear lever in the “neutral” position. Then the canopy was cranked shut, with its handle on the right-side canopy track. Once one mastered this technique, the climb was easy, and the aircraft was nice to fly. The rate of climb and the evidence of power were much greater than I had previously experienced and were a great thrill for an aspiring fighter pilot.

Leveling out at 10,000 feet (we were not equipped for using oxygen), this airplane flew beautifully. Slow rolls were particularly easy to do, as the Warhawk just seemed to be designed to roll on the axis of that long nose. Loops also came smoothly, as did the standard chandelles, lazy eights, Immelmans, and Cuban eights. We had been instructed not to spin the aircraft deliberately, but if we got into a spin, neutralizing the controls and releasing them would bring it out easily. About a year later, I was to find this true in the Liri Valley in Italy. In tight turns, if the controls were coordinated, the aircraft would out-turn any fighter (except maybe the early Spitfires), as the Germans in their Me-109s learned when fighting with the Warhawks in the Mediterranean. A bad turn would result in a snap roll, generally to the right.

We were not taught, as the RAF was in Canada, to pull off power. We maintained the same power and pulled into the turn. There was, of course, depending upon the airplane design, the ever-present chance of snapping out; however, this was part of the technique to be learned and practiced.

The P-40 could dive very fast. Our technique in combat when dive-bombing consisted of turning in full left rudder trim at 10,000 to 12,000 feet, making a half roll to the left and then a full-power dive onto the target in as close to a vertical altitude as we could estimate from the cockpit. Using the standard 100-mil gunsight, we would pull the nose up through the target and drop our 1,000-pound bomb just after the target disappeared under the nose. By that time we were down to about 2,000 feet and up to 450 miles per hour. We would leave in the left rudder trim during a zoom back to 10,000 to 12,000 feet, yawing in this climb and confounding the gunners on the ground, who would shoot out in front of our nose but not on our flight path.

One time in the Liri Valley, after dropping the bomb, I popped into clouds which were scattered at about 10,000 feet. But the deck of clouds was much thicker than I had estimated, and I soon found myself in a spin. Neutralizing the rudder trim with the trim tab control wheel I remembered instructions and turned the controls loose. The aircraft came out of the spin and went into a dive. I came out of the bottom of the cloud in a dive, much too low, I thought, to pull out. But I pulled back hard on the stick and went back into the clouds in a coordinated climb. Popping out of the clouds, I thanked the Warhawk and its stability for my life.

After a pilot has been airborne for a while and has put an aircraft through its paces on a first flight, there comes a sense of confidence, even euphoria. Pretty soon, however, the small voice keeps reminding him that he has not landed the aircraft yet (usually the most challenging part of a flight). The P-40 had a narrow landing gear tread, and although the long nose obscured the view dead ahead, I never found it very hard to land. It was heavy and rugged, and although it was not easy to make a perfect landing, it was not any harder to land safely than the primary and advance trainers (PT-17 and AT-6). The procedure for putting the gear down was as complicated as getting it up. Putting the flaps down was just as complicated, but aside from that, I could bring it in safely, sometimes very smoothly.

That successful first flight in a modern high-performance fighter, before even graduating from advanced training and before getting our wings and pilot’s rating, was a great thrill to all of us. It was an experiment with our class. Most pilots before this had not flown fighters until they had been graduated and had received a pilot’s rating. We continued flying the P-40 for the rest of the week and accumulated about ten hours in eight flights.

The P-40 was about equal in speed to its peers the Spitfire and the Me-109. Although it could not climb as fast as either of them, it could dive and turn just as well. In the hands of experienced pilots it could do better than hold its own. Our 324th Fighter Group, which had fought with the Desert Air Force across North Africa from Egypt to Tunisia and through Sicily and Italy, bested the German Me-109 at a better than twoto-one ratio in victories in air-to-air combat. The aircraft’s range and endurance were sufficient for our mission, except for the invasion at Salerno, when our Warhawks, stationed at a distance in Sicily, could only provide very limited beachhead cover. Even though the P-40 had the liquid-cooled engine (considered by most people to be more vulnerable to ground fire than the air-cooled radial engines), it was a rugged sturdy aircraft, a fine combat vehicle.

My dogfighting in combat was very limited. Within these limits we felt that full power was best (the more power the better), especially when we were outmatched as we were in the P-40. In training, to avoid undue wear and tear on engines, we would use less power, maybe forty inches of mercury, rather than cruise or takeoff power. The Spit had comparative pounds boost. Altitude was where it occurred, but only fools would try to climb with an Me-109, and diving was the best course of action, as well as turning.

Flying damaged aircraft in my experience was done on a case-by-case basis. The vital question was whether even to try to fly it. Fine pilots had been killed when, possibly because of pride, they did not bail out. After deciding that a damaged craft could be flown (and this decision was always subject to change), the best general rule was to stay well within the limits of its capability under the circumstances. In other words, never press one’s luck—be very conservative. None of these lessons in judgment or common sense are included in a manual.

Bailing out, like so many other facets of air combat, had to be learned by experience. A fellow officer and tentmate had an unsuccessful bailout using a technique that was generally thought to be effective. This consisted of turning the aircraft on its back and dropping out of the cockpit. Unfortunately, the air flowing past the cockpit would hold the pilot in his seat until the nose of the aircraft fell through into a dive. By this time the pilot was usually unable to clear the plane and was hit in the legs by the tail. My friend lost one leg at the knee. Another pilot in our flight tried to pop out of the cockpit by rolling forward full nose-down elevator trim and turning loose the stick. He was thrown upward as he expected by the sudden nose-down maneuver of the aircraft, but not high enough to avoid both legs being virtually cut off at the knees by the canopy. He died before being picked up by rescue craft.

A successful maneuver used by several pilots (including myself) required a certain amount of control of the aircraft. With a dead engine, the canopy was opened and the aircraft put into a shallow climbing turn to the right, holding the airplane in this attitude as long as possible until it was on the verge of a stall. By that time the airflow over the cockpit was not enough to prevent the pilot from climbing out of the cockpit. A dive at the trailing edge of the right wing with the legs tucked up as in a front one-and-a-half somersault off a diving board into a pool, enabled the pilot to clear the aircraft as it went by. Then the chute could be opened.

Landing the P-40 was not any different from landing any other aircraft, although there were variations in landing patterns in the various commands. At flying school, the conventional rectangular pattern was used, but in the operational training unit and at Sarasota, Florida, where we had our combat training, the overhead pattern was standard. The aircraft was flown over the landing runway at 1,500 feet at about 200 miles per hour. As it passed over the upwind end the pilot would pull into a tight 90° turn to the left. In the humid air of Sarasota, this maneuver caused vapor trails to form and stream off the wingtips. This spectacular maneuver became a status symbol of a skilled (and daring) pilot. If this sharp turn was coordinated, there was no danger; but if uncoordinated, the aircraft would snap, often into a spin, deadly at 1,500 feet.

Aside from the chance of a spin this was a good technique for landing. Gear was dropped on the downwind leg of the pattern, flaps on the base leg, and a three-point landing was made at the end of the final approach. As I remember it, the downwind was flown at about 130 miles per hour, base leg at about 120 miles per hour, and final at about 100 miles per hour.

My total time in the P-40 was 225 hours, 123 of which were combat hours, flying seventy-two sorties. We were hard on engines, most of which were rebuilt, and I used up three. My log book, which I am sure does not include all of the small-arms bullet holes, shows five missions in which I was hit badly enough to put the aircraft out of action for at least a day. The worst damage was on June 5, 1944, when I was hit dive-bombing and then strafing German vehicles in their retreat north of Rome. The spinner was more than half shot off, and the resulting vibration made it impossible to use more than a small fraction of available power. However, I was able to make it to our emergency landing strip at Anzio, where repairs were made, and the spinner was replaced. After spending a day at the Anzio strip, I flew my airplane back to our home base. Another bad day for my P-40 required the replacement of the right wing when an 88-millimeter shell went through it without exploding, leaving a hole 88-millimeter in diameter. So the P-40 could take punishment; fortunately, I was never hit by a killing round.

About seventy of my hours in the P-40 were in the K and M models, which were equipped with the Allison engine. The remaining 150 hours, including the ten in flying school and all of my combat time, were in the F and L models with the much better Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. On takeoff we had available fifty-four inches of mercury manifold pressure as opposed to forty-eight in the Allison. The Merlin was much more rugged, and even when overheating would deliver full power. The Allison was likely to cut out when it was overheating, and an engine failure on takeoff, the normally hot time, is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a pilot and his airplane.

All of the P-40s had six 50-caliber machine-guns (the Ls, which normally had four guns, had been converted to the F armament by adding two guns). There was provision for carrying either a seventy-five-gallon auxiliary gasoline tank or a 1,000-pound bomb on a shackle under the fuselage. Under each wing were shackles for three twenty-pound antipersonnel fragmentation bombs.

This aircraft was my first love. I developed a sense of confidence in the P-40 that I never had in any other craft. It always brought me back in combat, and our relationship was like that between a cavalryman and his horse.

John A. C. Andrews

Col. John A. C. Andrews was a fighter pilot in the Twelfth Air Force in Italy and southern France in 1944. He was shot down while strafing a German airfield on his eighty-ninth mission and was held prisoner in Pomerania until May 1945.

November 1918 – Towards Armistice

Comparison of Allied and German frontline rifle strength before and after the Hundred Days Offensive 1918 and arrival of additional American troops.

Rumours of an armistice passed through all the armies on the Western Front with remarkable speed, but they were not always greeted with relief and happiness. On the contrary, the US Marine Elton Mackin remembered that whenever talk of peace came, ‘You saw men take a deep, full breath at the thought of it. You watched them look away beyond the front and picture hope. You watched men curl their lips in bitter disbelief, remembering the promises of rest camps, winter quarters, and other things. You heard them curse disinterestedly at men who dared to dream, and call them fools.’ It was not uncommon for the British, who had long specialized in dry, graveyard humour, to dismiss the whole thing as a conspiracy to undermine their morale. They knew how dangerous it was to think too much of peace. When the men of A. J. Turner’s battalion heard that an armistice would probably be signed the following day, they received it, he wrote, ‘with the usual scepticism’; one man quipping that ‘of course’ it would happen, ‘and Lloyd George will be bringing each of us a nice hot steak and kidney pie’.

The increasing likelihood of peace, or at least some form of temporary ceasefire, weighed heavily upon Allied commanders. They knew that their armies, drawn from every corner of their societies, many of whom were wartime volunteers or conscripts, would only keep going for so long. The French had already mutinied in 1917 so there was little chance that Pétain could push them much harder, no matter how many times Foch pestered him. By the last weeks of the war the length of active front held by the French Army had narrowed dramatically in part owing to the convergent advances of the British and Americans on either wing, but also because it was rapidly running out of manpower. As for the BEF, it was, as Haig had told Lloyd George on 19 October, ‘never more efficient, but has fought hard, and it lacks reinforcements’. Even the Americans, who had no shortage of men, were beginning to tire. When Hunter Liggett took command of the US First Army in late October (Pershing having been elevated to the same authority as Haig and Pétain), he found, to his despair, that ‘some signs of discouragement were beginning to appear among both men and officers, the most conspicuous evidence of which was the great number of stragglers’, which he estimated to be as high as 100,000 men. Because American casualties had been so heavy, and because so many divisions were filled with raw recruits, a loss of cohesion and discipline was probably inevitable, but it was shocking nonetheless. There was only one thing to do: continue to push on and ensure that operations were conducted with as much care and attention to detail as possible.

Heavy fighting continued in the Franco-American sector in the south. By the last days of October, First Army had chewed its way through twenty-one kilometres of some of the worst ground on the Western Front, and had secured a good jump-off line for what Pershing hoped would be the final, decisive push. On 1 November, in conjunction with Gouraud’s forces on the left, three American corps launched a major offensive to secure the third German position on the Barricourt Heights. Once this had been achieved, the Americans would then be able to cross the Meuse and head up to the city of Sedan, severing the German rail links that supplied the rest of the front. The Americans may have tried to do too much too soon in earlier offensives, but they had learnt remarkably quickly, and the November offensive was noticeable for the care and attention to detail that preceded it. It was also helped by the disastrous state of the German defences. Along an eighteen-kilometre front there were barely seven divisions in the line, and they had long been worn out. There were a handful of reserve units, but they were unable to move up because of the shelling of the road network, and the collapse of the telephone system (also due to shelling) meant that their commanders were cut off. At Fifth Army headquarters, General von der Marwitz wanted to pull back behind the Meuse; a sensible and prudent manoeuvre that would have given his tired men a breathing space and allowed them to hold the river line. Instead OHL had forbidden any retirement because of its effect on the negotiations and compelled Marwitz to stand and fight where he was.

At 3.30 a.m. the preliminary shelling began, an agonizing two-hour ‘hurricane’ bombardment that pulverized the German defenders in their shell holes and trenches. Herbert L. McHenry, serving with 1st US Division, and in reserve that day, remembered watching the guns open fire – what he called ‘the real roaring sound of war’. ‘Then each of those “big babies” let go, it shook the earth, and as the “letting go” was continuous the earth was in a constant state of tremble.’ By noon the first lines of German prisoners were filing past their positions, the usual cowed young boys and stumbling old men. The Americans achieved remarkable success that day. Although some enemy regiments resisted stubbornly, most did not and US troops swept over the German lines, secured the high ground, and mauled whatever units they engaged. Hunter Liggett was mightily pleased with the results of the day’s fighting. ‘We had caught Von der Marwitz as I expected to – braced for the attack on his right. His weakened centre broke before the Fifth and Third Corps and these corps drove through to the Barricourt Ridge, as ordered, overrunning his entire defensive system …’

On the same day that Pershing’s corps had reached the Meuse, the Canadian Corps was in action on the outskirts of Valenciennes, attacking a fortified hill called Mont Houy that commanded the town. Furious attacks by British forces in the last days of October had come to nothing, so Arthur Currie had agreed to mount an operation to secure it. In what was a masterpiece of preparation and care, Currie’s gunners, led by the tireless Andrew McNaughton, went to work. ‘Owing to the fact that the German Army was approaching a defeat on a grand scale and that there was much peace talk in the air,’ a report on the operation stated, ‘it was decided that all restrictions concerning the economical use of supporting arms … were now out of place, and it was therefore the proper time to neglect economy.’ Six brigades of field artillery and 104 heavy guns, supported by nine batteries of heavy machine-guns (totalling seventy-two barrels), were brought up to the front. They were to launch a massive creeping barrage on the German positions at Zero Hour. Because of the layout of the ground, it was possible to deploy a great deal of artillery forward and allow a combination of not only frontal artillery fire, but also oblique, enfilade and, incredibly, reverse fire. It would not only be a startling demonstration of the effectiveness of Currie’s policy of ‘neglect nothing’, but a brutal illustration of the sheer weight and accuracy of firepower that the British and French Armies could wield in the closing months of the war.

On the cold, wet morning of 1 November, just one Canadian brigade, the 10th, went forward, supported by what historians have judged to be one of the most intensive fire plans of the war. During the attack seven tonnes of high explosive were fired every minute on a front of less than two miles, completely pulverizing the dazed defenders and tearing apart any defences they had made. If anywhere on the Western Front epitomized the Dante’s Inferno-like conditions faced by the German soldier in this period then it was Mont Houy. When Andrew McNaughton examined the cratered, smoking ground after the battle he noted that enemy dead were everywhere, ‘in rifle and machine gun pits, in trenches and sunken roads, in the open, in the rows of houses demolished by the siege howitzers; the concentrations, particularly those in enfilade on railway cuttings and other defiles, had left a shambles …’ In total the Germans had suffered 800 dead. Another 1,400 prisoners were being shepherded to the rear. The Canadians had suffered only 420 casualties, with just 60 fatalities, an astonishingly light figure given the strength of the enemy defences and the limited numbers of attackers. The German Army had no answer to this kind of punishment. Its soldiers, many still bravely led and well-trained, always took a toll on the attacking forces, but under such fire they could do little but retreat or die. If they decided to hold any position, they did so at a terrible risk and in the knowledge that it would only take a matter of days – sometimes hours – before the Allies pushed them off.

By the first week of November the German Army was in full retreat across the Western Front. From the air ‘we saw all the roads crowded with columns of men marching back,’ wrote one German pilot. Endless lines of weary troops splashed and shuffled their way eastwards, bowed down with their equipment, looking over their shoulders in fear, half expecting to see Allied aircraft or cavalry squadrons ready to scatter them again. It was an awful sight: the faces of young boys overshadowed by the steel helmets that were too big for them, or hobbling along in boots that had been worn away long ago; old veterans who had seen too many battles marching along with glassy eyes and a grim acceptance of death or wounding. It was by now a motley army; the exact opposite of the legions of proud feldgrau that had marched across Europe in the summer of 1914 on their way to enact Count von Schlieffen’s great war plan. The German Army had reached its end; worn down by four years of merciless slaughter and pounded into dust by the brutal Allied artillery bombardments. Some still believed in victory, in some divine intervention – a catastrophic outbreak of flu in Paris or London; a devastating fallout between the English and Americans perhaps – but most realized there was little they could do. How could they defeat the endless power of the Allied guns or their swarms of tanks? How many Americans would they have to kill before they too gave in? And in any case, was it really worth fighting and dying for any more? Did anyone really care whether Alsace-Lorraine was French or German?

Casualties were nothing short of catastrophic. Fritz von Lossberg estimated that by the time the German Army reached the Antwerp–Meuse Line it had lost over 400,000 men and 6,000 guns. Other authorities put it higher, and it is possible that between 18 July and 11 November the Army suffered 420,000 dead and wounded with another 385,000 men being taken prisoner. Such a magnitude of loss was simply unsustainable, and when this was combined with the thousands of casualties from Germany’s spring offensives earlier in the year – perhaps as high as a million – it meant that her army was bleeding to death. The strength of many units was now a fraction of their full establishments. According to Major-General von Kuhl, by the end of October most German battalions could muster only 450 men, and of them barely half were fighting troops, and this was almost certainly an overestimation. There were not enough men to man the trenches, not enough men to bring up the guns, and fewer and fewer reliable NCOs. For example, against the British Third Army, 111th Division registered company strengths of between fifty and sixty men. Likewise in 21st Reserve Division, one of its regiments was now down to three companies, each numbering around sixty soldiers, and this seems to have been entirely typical of the German Army in the West by this point, its ranks ravaged by the endless Allied attacks and stalked by the merciless influenza pandemic.

Given the chronic shortages of manpower, morale quickly declined. When rumours spread through units of the increasing rate of desertion, of how more and more men were simply giving up and heading for home, those at the front understandably asked why they should continue to suffer when others declined to do the same. Reinforcements would occasionally turn up, but they were always far fewer than had been promised and often surly and unhappy, always muttering about ‘war prolongers’ and doing nothing for unit cohesion. Adolf Hitler later complained that the arrival of recruits from home meant not a reinforcement but ‘a weakening of our fighting strength’, with the young ones being ‘mostly worthless’. Such was the toxic mixture of exhaustion and ill-discipline that was crippling the German Army. It was now nothing more than a collection of units, some good, mostly bad, but all lacking organization and structure. Commanders tried their best to explain to their men the importance of continuing to resist, but it was an almost hopeless task. Tales would be spread of the horrific consequences of peace with the Allies; of how the land would be exhausted and the people taxed beyond anything they had ever known. Second Army even issued a message to its troops in late October warning them that any peace would bring worse devastation to Germany than the struggle against Napoleon had in the last century. ‘Only when the enemy’s guns are silent forever is peace in sight,’ it read. ‘Until that happens we HAVE GOT TO FIGHT ON. Every man has got to do his duty, unless the enemy is to snatch victory at the eleventh hour. Only by setting our teeth and holding on to the end are we to get peace. THE FATHERLAND FOREVER.’

In spite of the increasingly shrill exhortations from its leaders, the Army gradually ceased to function. Orders would go missing; supporting artillery fire would never come; reports would not be written; supplies would never turn up. Alfred Mahncke, a staff officer with the German Air Force at Verviers, was tasked with organizing supplies to the front-line squadrons. ‘Considering the many shortages at this late stage of war,’ he wrote, ‘it was a thorny and almost hopeless task which could not be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.’ Lack of coal and strikes in the factories had a devastating effect on the number of engines, guns and ammunition he received, but getting enough fuel to the squadrons was his greatest challenge. By November, fighter squadrons were limping by on just 150 litres of aviation fuel a day – barely enough for a handful of individual sorties – which meant that the Air Force could no longer contest control of the skies. ‘I toiled at the centre of it all – compromising, balancing, reconciling and pacifying.’ The disintegration was noticeable even at OHL. Mahncke went to Spa for a meeting in early November and noticed that the atmosphere at the Hôtel Britannique was ‘tense and charged; nervous individuals rushed around, seemingly without purpose’.

Fritz von Lossberg was glad to leave Spa on 1 November. He had been shocked by the decline in efficiency and order. ‘Under Ludendorff there was a regime of strict discipline and deference,’ he wrote. ‘Now strong leadership was lacking. Now all the many self-important people were bragging. Everyone had his own opinion and liked to air it.’ As he was climbing into his car that morning, intending to travel to Strasbourg to take up his position as Chief of Staff to the Duke Albrecht of Württemberg (who commanded the southern sector of the German line in France), he was handed a telegram from the senior doctor of a military hospital in Antwerp. ‘Your son is ill with an infection in both lungs,’ it read. ‘His life is in grave danger.’ Lossberg’s son had already been wounded four times and had been employed as a desk officer at the Supreme Command until his fitness improved. Now, it seemed, his health had failed him again. Lossberg travelled on to Strasbourg, but as soon as he arrived he telephoned his wife and asked her to go to Antwerp. Unfortunately, by the time she reached Holland, mutiny had broken out and was spreading quickly behind the lines. ‘In order to return to Stuttgart she had to travel for five days in trains crammed with riotous soldiers,’ he remembered. ‘The transportation of our son from Antwerp ran into difficulties because the hospital trains were stormed and occupied by lawless people from behind the lines. It was not possible to evacuate the sick and wounded in an organised manner.’ Fortunately they managed to get on another hospital train that took them to safety in Germany.

By the last days of October the German Seventeenth, Second and Eighteenth Armies – those that had borne the brunt of British and French attacks since August – had occupied the line of the Sambre–Oise canal that ran from La Fère northeastwards up past Guise and Le Cateau. On 4 November the Allies would attack this line in what became one of the last great offensives on the Western Front: the Battle of the Sambre. Three British armies attacked along a twenty-mile front; pushing towards Avesnes and Mons, marching through difficult wooded terrain, hedgerows and orchards, and over numerous water obstacles ranging from canals and streams to irrigation ditches. To the south, the French were also on the move, extending the frontage of attack for another twenty miles, with Debeney’s First Army aiming for the town of La Capelle. Against them was an assorted collection of divisions from the battered Army Group of General von Boehn. The German positions were just hastily dug foxholes or rifle pits. There was not the time or the manpower to convert them into something more substantial, leaving the men in the open to face the oncoming storm. The history of 3rd Westphalian Regiment (holding the line at Raucourt near the Forest of Mormal) complained that:

The whole position consisted of rifle-pits connected up irregularly. There were no dug outs. There was no field of view owing to hedges, houses, walls and gardens. The battle headquarters were in small cellars, hardly splinter proof. In these inadequate positions weakened and used up troops awaited the attack of an overwhelming enemy.

The feelings of those soldiers can well be imagined as they crouched in the dirt under their steel helmets, clutching their rifles and breathing heavily through their foul-smelling rubber gas masks, waiting nervously for the bombardments to begin or the tanks to rumble forward.

Wilfred Owen would write what would turn out to be the final letter to his mother on 31 October, just after six in the evening. His battalion had moved up to the front several days earlier, taking up a position on the heavily wooded west bank of the Sambre canal, north of the village of Ors. Owen had been billeted in a stone cottage known as the ‘Forester’s House’. ‘So thick is the smoke in this cellar that I can hardly see by a candle 12 inches away, and so thick are the inmates that I can hardly write for pokes, nudges and jolts. On my left the Company Commander snores on a bench: other officers on wire beds behind me.’ Despite the discomfort, Owen seemed more content than he had been for many months. He ended by saying that he was perfectly safe and that ‘I hope you are as warm as I am; as serene in your room as I am here … you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here.’ Owen may not have said much about the forthcoming attack, but it must have weighed heavily on his men. All the bridges had been demolished by the retreating Germans, leaving the British with little option other than to swim the seventy-foot canal or improvise boats or bridges. On the far bank, the ground rose steadily away, giving enemy observers a clear view of the British lines. It was just like Bellenglise again, and many men shivered in apprehension at going over the top here, particularly when peace seemed so tantalizingly close.

The battalion attacked at 5.45 in the foggy, dew-stained morning of 4 November. Owen was in one of the assaulting companies. They went forward after a five-minute ‘hurricane’ bombardment fell on the far bank, before lifting 300 yards into the enemy defences, where it would remain for a further half an hour; more than enough time, staff officers had said, for the men to establish themselves across the canal, and push on eastwards. Unfortunately, as at Gouzeaucourt and at scattered places across the front throughout the Hundred Days, here the Germans were determined to stay put, and greeted the attackers with heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, pounding shells and mortar rounds that dug into the damp earth or splashed into the murky waters of the canal. The engineers and bridging specialists who had been called in to get the Manchesters over the obstacle could make little progress against such lethal fire. Thirty of the forty-two engineers tasked with putting pontoon bridges into place were killed or wounded, which left the battalion’s junior officers with no choice but to secure the bridges as best they could.

One of those who fought in this sector was Leutnant Erich Alenfeld, serving with 280th Field Artillery Regiment, whose batteries were dug in about 600 metres from the far bank. They were woken shortly before 6 a.m. when a heavy bombardment opened on their position. They immediately fired off flares to warn the other batteries and commenced firing ‘like the devil’. ‘The battle has broken out,’ he remembered. ‘We continuously shoot protective barrages in waves, that is, allowing the artillery to increase and decrease. The enemy is no less active. There are howls and crashes, a grey wall spreads out before us, and the enemy shrouds us in smoke. Machine gun fire can be heard from close by.’ News reached Alenfeld that the British were coming.

I know what this means; there’s a reason we are here. I fasten on my sling and pistol, bag and water, give my luggage to my batman and just want to give the new order, when I’m told that I should engage the enemy on the banks of the canal. I call Jacoby to my side, explain the situation to him, leave the third gun to him (on the left flank), say goodbye with a handshake and assume command of the right column, gunners at the ready! I tell them what is going on in a few words, and ask them to hold on with me until the end.

Alenfeld fought along the canal all morning, beating off attacks and organizing protective fire from his guns, before eventually being wounded. ‘I am the first to be hit in the left thigh and the right upper arm – I throw myself on the ground; next to me the brave telephone operator Herten falls to the ground screaming.’ Alenfeld could now see British troops about 300 metres from where he was lying, but fortunately one of his gunners dragged him back to the battery, where he was attended by a medical orderly. ‘The arm wound is nothing, a scrape on my skin, the leg is bleeding quite a bit.’ Alenfeld then had to make a decision, whether to hold on until reinforcements arrived or retreat. In the end, seeing that the main road to Landrecies was already in British hands he ordered his men to fall back.

The Manchesters suffered heavily that day. One of their most promising officers, Second-Lieutenant James Kirk, was killed operating a Lewis gun on the far bank of the canal, after having paddled a raft across under heavy fire. He kept up a constant fire, vainly attempting to suppress the incoming machine-gun rounds so that his men could survive. He would later be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, his citation commending his ‘supreme contempt for danger and magnificent self-sacrifice’ that he showed that day. It was an awful scene: heavy machine-gun bullets scything through the dark waters and shredding the thin lines of infantry; artillery fire on the banks; smoke; confusion. His fellow officer, Wilfred Owen, was last seen on a raft in the water with some of his men when he came under murderous machine-gun fire. At one point he comforted two members of his platoon – green young boys – telling them ‘well done’ and ‘you’re doing well’, hoping to instil some courage into them, even as it became clear that the battalion would not be able to cross here. Shortly afterwards Owen was shot and killed. Thus, on 4 November, seven days before the Armistice, ended the life of the most promising English poet since Keats.

Despite the carnage at Ors, 4 November had been a day of good returns for the Allies with most divisions taking their objectives on time without running into heavy resistance. Rawlinson’s Fourth Army had crossed the Sambre–Oise canal across a fifteen-mile front and taken over 4,000 prisoners. To the south, Debeney’s French troops had also encountered ‘energetic resistance’ in getting over the canal – footbridges could not be secured and the troops had to raft themselves across – but they would march into the village of Guise the following day. For the Germans, however, it was the same dispiriting story of crushing bombardments, heavy attacks and panicked retreats. Leutnant Alenfeld and his men fell back at 2.30 p.m., marching away from the fighting with their wounded on stretchers, trying to escape the attention of passing aircraft. Although British shellfire continually harassed them, it was the aircraft that they really hated; flying low, shooting and throwing bombs and grenades at anything they saw. By the time darkness fell they were in Maroilles, four miles from the canal, getting their wounded treated while they snatched quick mugs of coffee. There were no horses or trucks available, so they spent the next six hours continuing the retreat, marching on dead feet towards Avesnes (‘countless columns march beside us’), which only two months before had housed the Advanced Headquarters of the Supreme Command. Alenfeld’s battery had lost two dead, seventeen wounded, five missing, and a number of guns and horses. When they reached their destination, they could rest for the time being and reflect upon what had happened. ‘Since the Englishman is cowardly,’ he raged, ‘he attacks only if he finds no opposition. His artillery shoots well. The airmen are too many for us to deal with. They have absolute control of the air, they simply go for a flight and do a lot of damage … Germany is defeated and the conditions of peace are dreadful. With Austria’s collapse everything becomes much worse still …’

A question was on everyone’s lips: how long could this go on?

Interstate TDR-1 assault drone

Of all the missions flown against Rabaul-or even throughout all of World War II- few were as unusual as the sixteen one-way sorties by unmanned “assault drones” in October 1944. Almost seventy years before the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as those used in the Global War on Terror, expendable radio-controlled drones were used to attack Rabaul. The TDR-1 looked conventional in almost every respect, with two inexpensive Lycoming six-cylinder engines, tricycle landing gear, and the capability to carry an external bomb or torpedo. A cockpit with flight controls was included for test or ferry flights, then faired over for the unmanned attack. Equipped with an RCA television camera in the nose, along with a gyro stabilizer and radar altimeter, the drones were flown by an operator in a stand-off TBM (General Motors-built) Avenger using radio control. Almost two hundred drones were manufactured, using lightweight tubular frames supplied by the Schwinn Bicycle Company, before the contract was cancelled. Most of the completed TDRs were shipped overseas with a unit called the Special Task Air Group (STAG)-1.

Before launching the drones against enemy targets, a live demonstration was conducted on July 30 for the benefit of the ComAirSols brass. Four drones carrying two-thousand pound general purpose bombs were directed by their control planes against Yamazuki Maru, a 6,500-ton merchantman beached on Guadalcanal. Technically the drones scored three direct hits, although one bomb failed to detonate. The fourth drone missed the superstructure by a matter of feet, exploding against the tree line. On the heels of that success, two missions were conducted against ships off southern Bougainville, along with other well-defined targets such as antiaircraft emplacements. Initial results due to malfunctions and equipment failures were disappointing. Nevertheless four separate strikes were flown against Rabaul by STAG-1 in October. Flying from Nissan in the Green Islands, each strike consisted of four drones for a total of sixteen sorties against Rabaul. A great majority either missed due to radio interference or malfunction, or crashed en route. (One of the wrecked drones was partially recovered by the Japanese, who discovered that the lightweight generator assembly and a sparkplug from one of the engines made an excellent cigarette lighter.) The last strike, on October 25, resulted in one direct hit on a secondary target, and a couple of hits on buildings near their intended target. The following day, the program was officially terminated.

On 27 September 1944, Special Task Air Group 1 arrived at Sterling Island, southwest of Bougainville, and Green Island with its Interstate TDR-1 assault drones. Pilots had flown these aircraft up from the Russell Islands. Then the manual controls were neutralized and a 1,000 pound general purpose bomb was hung under the fuselage. The aircraft were flown, under radio control from a following TBM, to targets in the Bougainville and Rabual area. Being guided by a television camera in the nose of the drone, the controller would dive the aircraft into the target – this at a time when few had even heard of television. While the results of these strikes were inconclusive, they did prompt Tokyo Rose, the Japanese propagandist, to broadcast stories about the American suicide pilots. Kamikaze strikes were yet to be conceived by the Japanese. After expending approximately 50 drones, the squadron returned to the United States. Little did any of us who watched these strange little airplanes skitter off the deck realize we were watching the granddaddy of the formidable cruise weapons of today.

Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) was equipped with the Interstate TDR-1 pilotless assault drone.

This drone was a twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with a fixed tricycle landing gear and the ability to carry bombs. The aircraft was originally developed by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the TDN-1 but because the factory was busy building the PBN Catalina, production was turned over to the Interstate Aircraft & Engineering Co. Although it had a cockpit for a pilot to test the aircraft, normal operation was for a TBF/TBM to control the drone via radio until it was over the target. The TDR had a TV camera in the nose and an operator in the TBF/TBM would control the path of the drone and aim it at a specific target.

5 October 1944

The USN’s Special Air Task Force (STAG 1), based on Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands, commences operations with Interstate TDR-1 target drones controlled from converted TBM-1C Avengers against Japanese targets in the southwest Pacific. Four Interstate TDR-1s, each carrying a 2,000-pound (907 kilogram) bomb, are launched against Japanese supply caves in the Keravia Bay, Rabaul, area of New Britain Island. One TDR hits in the vicinity of cave entrances; one misses the target area. Two are lost en route due to interference from communications frequency used by a motor gunboat (PGM) operating in the waters over which the drones fly.

9 October 1944

The USN’s Special Air Task Force (STAG 1) continues operations from Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands, Solomon Islands. Four Interstate TDR-1 target drones controlled from converted TBM-1C Avengers are launched against Matupi Bridge, Simpson Harbor, Rabaul, on New Britain Island. Antiaircraft fire, however, downs three of the TDRs; one is lost en route to the target.

15 October 1944

The USN’s Special Air Task Force (STAG 1) operations continue from the Nissan Island, Solomon Islands, as four Interstate TDR-1 glide bombs are launched against Matupi Island, Bismarck Archipelago, as part of coordinated attack by USMC PBJ Mitchells, F4U Corsairs and SBD Dauntlesses against Simpson Harbor Rabaul, New Britain Island. (Matupi Island is located in Simpson Harbor.) Poor picture reception and pilot error results in none of the TDRs hitting their targets.

17 October 1944

The USN’s Special Air Task Force (STAG 1) (Commander Robert F. Jones), based on Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands, Solomon Islands, continues operations as Interstate TDR-1 target drones are launched against Japanese installations near East Rabaul on New Britain Island. One of the four hits the objective; a second hits a target of opportunity; a third is lost due to the failure of a vacuum tube in the drone receiver; a fourth may have been shot down (light and inaccurate antiaircraft fire is noted).

18 October 1944

The USNs Special Air Task Force (STAG 1) operations continue as three Interstate TDR-1 drones are launched against a lighthouse on Cape St. George, New Ireland Island. None hit the target.

19 October 1944

The USN’s Special Air Task Force (STAG 1) based on Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands, continues operations with Interstate TDR-1 target drones. Two flights (one TDR each) are launched against Japanese gun positions west of Ballale. Ballale Island is a small island south of Bougainville. In the first, one drone misses its target during its run; in the second, the drone drops part of its ordnance [the two four-100-pound (45 kilogram) bomb clusters] on the target before it crashes.

20 October 1944

Special Task Air Group (STAG 1) operations continue from Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands. Three Interstate TDR-1 target drones controlled from converted TBM-1C Avengers are launched against Japanese gun positions west of Ballale Island located south of Bougainville: one is lost, one makes a hit with its bomb but crashes before it can be directed into its ultimate target (the beached Japanese freighter serving as an antiaircraft gun site off the Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville and christened the “Kahili Maru”), the last achieves a bomb hit and crashes into “Kahili Maru” as planned.

23 October 1944

The USN’s Special Air Task Group One (STAG-1) operations continue in two missions; three TDR-1 target drones each guided by TBF-1C Avengers are flown against beached Japanese ships in Moisuru Bay and off the south end of the Kahili airstrip on Bougainville Island. In the first mission, one TDR scores a direct hit on “Kahili Maru” the beached Japanese freighter serving as an antiaircraft gun site off the Kahili airstrip; in the second, one TDR scores a direct hit on “Kahili Maru” while another hits a beached merchantman in Moisuru Bay.

25 October 1944

At Stirling Airfield (Coronus Strip) on Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands, In the Russell Islands, the last attack in a month long demonstration of the Interstate TDR-1 assault drone is made by Special Task Air Group (STAG-1), thereby concluding the first use of the guided missile in the Pacific. During the demonstration a total of 46 drones are expended, of which 29 reach the target areas: two attack a lighthouse on Cape St. George, New Ireland, Bismarck Archipelago, making one hit which demolishes the structure; nine attack anti-aircraft emplacements on beached ships achieving six direct hits and two near misses; and 18 attacked other targets in the Shortland Islands and Rabaul areas making 11 hits.

The TDR was a remotely-controlled aircraft — a cockpit was provided for ferry flights.  It was a clean twin-engined monoplane with fixed landing gear.  The TDR was fitted with a TV-camera in the nose, and could carry a bomb or a torpedo. The TDR was used in some attacks in the Pacific in 1944. Type: TDR-1 Function: attack Year: 1942  Crew: 1  Engines: 2 * 220hp Lycoming O-435-2 Speed: 225km/h   Ceiling:   Range: 685km Armament: 906kg

USS Nautilus

USS Nautilus was one of the V boats and a Narwhal class submarine. It was the third ship in the US Navy to be called this. The submarine was originally named as the V-6 (SF-9). Subsequently on February 11th, 1925, the design of the submarine was modified and was assigned the hull classification symbol, SC-2. May 10th of 1927 saw the laying down of her keel by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard of Vallejo situated in California. Miss Joan Keesling went on to sponsor the launch of the ship on the 15th of March 1930. July 1st of 1930 saw the commissioning of the submarine with Lieutenant Commander Thomas J Doyle Jr. in command. Let us look at how this submarine was a significant asset of the US Navy in detail now.

Design

The eventual possibility of meeting Japan on the naval front in the frat western Pacific resulted in the designing of the V-4, V-5 and V-6 submarines. Apart from this reason, the Washington Naval treaty of 1922 mandated the need for strategic scouts or long-range submarine cruisers and also long-range minelayers. The minelayers were required for long endurance at sea as opposed to high speed. It could be said that the design of the V boats was influenced by the design of the German U cruisers, though the V boats were larger than any of the U cruisers. There was a raised gun platform was set up around the conning tower. Apart from this, deck stowage was provided under the platform and in the superstructure for spare torpedoes. The V boats were built with larger and more powerful diesel engines. However, these engines failed to deliver for they either didn’t deliver the promised power and resulted in several dangerous crankcase explosions. As a result of this, the engineering plants in these boats were replaced subsequently in 1941.

Inter war period

V6 predominantly operated out of New London until the March of 1931, where it was used to conduct various submergence tests. She was subsequently renamed Nautilus on 19th February and was assigned the hull number SS-168 on July 1st. She was later shifted to Pearl Harbor. This was where she became Submarine Division 12’s flagship. She was later reassigned to Submarine Division 13, located at San Diego, California, in the year1935. She was employed there till 1938, after which she was redeployed to Pearl Harbor. She was used for regular training sessions and fleet exercises. She entered, in 1941, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for the purpose of modernization. This was when she underwent the following additions/replacements – fitting of four Winton diesel engines, external torpedo tubes, air conditioning and radio equipment.

First patrol – the Battle of Midway

Upon the completion of the modernization, she departed San Francisco on April 21st, 1942 and subsequently reached Pearl Harbor on April 28th. She was deployed for her first war patrol on May 24th, 1942, to help counter the attack expected from the Japanese fleet at Midway Island.

On 4th June, while on patrol, she spotted some masts on the horizon of the northern boundary of the island at around 7:55 a.m. At the same time, the Japanese planes also spotted her and commenced strafing. To avoid it, she dived a 100 feet into the water and continued observing the planes. By 8:00 a.m., she was able to sight the formation of four enemy ships namely the cruiser Nagara, battleship Kirishima and two destroyers. She was spotted again by the planes in a matter of few minutes and the firing resumed. The two cruisers rounded her up for a kill and at a distance of about 1000 yards; nine depth charges were dropped.

When the Japanese planes stopped the attack, she rose to periscope depth. She went on to fire two bow tubes at Kirishima, both of which didn’t meet the target. One of the bow tubes misfired while the other one simply missed to hit the battleship. At 8:30 a.m., one of the destroyers headed towards the submarine, which was diving 150 feet into the water. At 8:46, the submarine emerged, at periscope depth, by which time both the cruiser and the two destroyers were nowhere in sight. When the periscope was raised again at 9:00, an aircraft carrier came into sight. The submarine closed this time, with an aim to attack the aircraft. The aircraft carrier followed suit to attack and dropped six depth charges.

By 9:55, the periscope emerged again with the cessation of the firing, by which time; the enemies were not in sight. At 12:53, a damaged aircraft carrier and her two aircrafts were spotted by the submarine. An hour after this, Nautilus moved forward to attack. Between 13:59 and 14:05, by which time most of the battle was over, she went on to launch 4 torpedoes at the carrier, while she was less than 3,000 yards away. One of the torpedoes did not succeed in running while two zoomed ahead in an erratic fashion. The fourth and final one was a dud, which did nothing but impact amidships and ended up breaking in half. The submarine soon reported that flames began to appear along the length of the ship, once the first hit was over. The skeleton crew present on board was reportedly moving to the side (who later confirmed that the torpedo failed to hit the ship), with the dud torpedo’s air flask, which ended up being a life preserver for the Japanese sailors.

As another intense depth charge from the enemy commenced, the submarine dived 300 ft deep into the water. At 16:10, the submarine emerged again, by which time the carrier had been completely abandoned. She resumed her patrol later in the night, having survived 42 depth charges. Her artillery was replenished between June 7 and 9, after which she resumed patrol duties in the west. In the subsequent days, she was successful in damaging a destroyer, an oil tanker, and merchantman and sank a destroyer and sampan.

Men of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion lined up on the deck of the submarine USS NAUTILUS on 26 August 1942, as she docks in Pearl Harbor following the raid on Makin Island (17-18 August 1942).

Second patrol – the Makin Raid

As part of a special mission in August, she was deployed to Hawaii. She reached Makin Atoll on 16th August, to stage a raid for diverting the Japanese off Solomon Islands. The next morning began with her sending the raiders in rubber boats to Butaritari Island, following which she started providing gunfire aid against the enemies. At 10:39, she was forced to dive into the water as an enemy plane emerged in the skies. Two aerial attacks followed suit, one at 11:30 and 12:55.

At 17:00, the Marines began to withdraw their forces. They launched their boats at 19:00. In the absence of the aid from their outboards, several struggled to clear the breakers. Only a hundred men and seven boats returned that night. The remainder of the men and boats returned to the submarine, after discovering that there were no Japanese left to fight. However, nine of them were captured and executed by the Japanese. With the surviving marines on board, she left for Pearl Harbor and reached on August 25.

3rd to 5th Patrols

She returned to the Japanese waters, as part of a submarine blockade from Kurile Island to the Nansei Shoto.​Despite the several adversities faced at the sea, such as torpedo firing, mechanical breakdown etc, she was successful in sinking three Japanese merchant ships. She also managed to destroy three sampans at the surface level. This patrol later turned out to be one of the most dangerous expeditions of her in the upcoming days. Oil and air leaks were soon discovered on her, which resulted in her leaving a trail for the Japanese. She moved on to a less dangerous area and continued her patrol on October 24, during which she sank Kenun Maru. Following this, she returned to Pearl Harbor, without facing any enemies on the way. She stopped at Midway Island in between, where temporary repairs were performed.

As part of her fourth patrol in Solomon Islands, between December 13th, 1942 and February 4th, 1943, she was successful in rescuing 3 children and 26 adults from Toep Harbor. She also sank a cargo ship and damaged a destroyer, a freighter and a tanker. After debarking her passengers at Brisbane, she set sail to Pearl Harbor once again. Five days after her arrival, she sailed north to Alaska, where she began instructing the 7th Infantry Division Provisional Scout Battalion on amphibious landings. Upon embarking 109 scouts, she moved to Attu, where she landed them before the planned assault.

6th to 8th patrols

She spent most of the summer at Mare Island and departed to Pearl Harbor on 16th September 1943, for her 6th war patrol. This time, her focus was on Kuma, Tarawa, Abemama, Butaritari and Makin. This turned out to be a highly productive mission for the pictures of the coastlines and chart corrections brought back by the submarine was instrumental in planning the invasion of Tarawa.

On 18th November, she returned to Tarawa, for the purpose of obtaining information on surf conditions and weather, landing hazards and the implications of the latest bombardments. On 19th November, at 21:59, she was mistaken for an enemy submarine by the USS Ringgold, which fired at her. This firing resulted in a 5-inch shell attacking her conning tower, which in turn damaged her main induction valve. She dived into the water at once and the damage control team immediately set to work. The preliminary repairs were completed within 2 hours, which helped her continue her journey to land 78 scouts on Abemama.

The midnight of November 20 saw her laying 3000 yards off an island in the Abemama Atoll, with the purpose of discharging her passengers. All of her passengers were safely ashore the following afternoon. On November 22nd, she was instrumental in providing firing support to bring the enemy garrison out of their hiding. This resulted in the death of 14 enemies while the remaining killed themselves. Abemama was completely secured even before the main assault team could arrive. By this time, preparations were going on to turn this place into an air base, keeping the Marshall Islands campaign.

On December 4th, she returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for her 8th war patrol, which was to be conducted north of Palau and west of the Mariana Islands. The patrol was conducted between January 27th, 1944 and March 21st, 1944, during which time she managed to sink one cargo ship and damage 3 other cargo vessels. On 26th April, she set sail for Brisbane, from where she would depart to conduct a series of special guerilla missions in Philippines.

9th to 14th Patrols

As part of her 9th patrol, she transported oil, dry stores and ammunition to Mindanao. She carried a similar cargo to Negros Island and transported evacuees and set sail for Darwin. As part of her 11th patrol, she landed 12 tons of stores on North Pandan Island and dropped by more supplies at Mindanao. She focused on Philippines during 12th, 13th and 14th patrols, where she would land personnel and supplies at different points on Luzon and Mindanao. She was also successful in transporting evacuees from these points to Australia. She landed at Luisan Shoal, on September 25th, as part of these three patrols. To lighten her load, her mail, evacuees, cargo and captured documents were sent ashore. Any secret materials on board were burnt immediately and reserve fuel tanks were blown dry. Six-inch ammunition present on board was jettisoned. She was able to get off the reef easily within three and a half hours, once her main ballast tanks were blown off. She managed to clear the area by dawn.

On October 31st 1944, during her 13th patrol, the Nautilus destroyed USS Darter, which had stuck on a reef, and could not be recovered. A number of attempts to torpedo the wreck had only failed because the torpedoes kept exploding on the reef instead of the wreck. Nautilus’s guns, on the other hand, completely destroyed the Japanese boat.

Nautilus completed her last patrol on January 30th 1945. She moved from Australia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for inactivation. She arrived at Philadelphia on May 25th 1945. She was struck out of the Naval Vessel Register on July 25th and was sold to the North American Smelting Company on November 18th as scrap.