Mycenaean Warfare and the End of the Minoans

Warriors and warfare were glorified in Greece and much of the rest of west ern Europe during the Bronze Age.- The stories of Homer, which were written down after 1000 BCE but likely reflect earlier values, glorify the actions of the ancient warriors involved in the Trojan War. Heroes like Achilles were glorified because of their skills at warfare, and the Homeric epics describe their battles and their accoutrements of warfare in great detail. In other parts of Europe in the Bronze Age, men were buried in elaborate armor and with weapons, suggesting a glorification of warfare beyond the grave.


The great Greek epic the Iliad recounts episodes from a ten-year war between Greeks of the heroic age and the inhabitants of Troy in coastal Anatolia. It is traditionally attributed to the Greek poet Homer, who lived during the eighth century BCE, and probably builds on earlier versions of the story. Long thought to be purely myth, the story was shown to reflect a real period of Greek prehistory when, in the late nineteenth century CE, Heinrich Schliemann excavated at Mycenae and revealed the existence of the Mycenaean civilization. Some details of Homer’s epic poem are anachronistic, but many genuinely re? ect Mycenaean society. One of the most famous elements in the Iliad, the Catalogue of Ships, has been lent support by information in Linear B tablets recently discovered at Thebes. Many of the places listed as contributors to the war fleet are named in these tablets, some of them settlements no longer occupied in Homer’s day. There is a much less good ft, however, between the place names of the catalog and those of the Pylos tablets. And there is no evidence that the Trojan War itself actually took place. The fall of Troy is dated in Greek tradition to 1184 BCE. Since the late 1990s, excavations at Troy and elsewhere have been revealing a historic picture into which the Trojan War could well fit. The large city of Troy VI, which may have housed 6,000-10,000 people within a walled citadel and a walled outer town, was destroyed by an earthquake around 1300 BCE. When the Trojans rebuilt their homes (Troy VIIa), they crowded inside the citadel wall as if for protection against an external threat such as a besieging enemy. A few letters exchanged between the ruler of Troy and his overlord, the Hittite king, refer to attacks on Trojan lands during the thirteenth century BCE, in some cases explicitly by Ahhijawa (probably identifiable as the Mycenaeans). The city of Troy VIIa was destroyed around 1200 (between 1230 and 1180) BCE. Piles of slingshots in the street ready for use by the defenders and bodies, spearheads, and arrowheads in the ruins show that it fell to enemy attack. There are other possible explanations for the sack of Troy. For example, this was the period when the Sea Peoples were actively raiding, but the evidence now available shows it possible that the Iliad has its roots in genuine Mycenaean history.


The Mycenaeans emerged on the southern Greek mainland in the seventeenth century BCE, when Minoan civilization was at its height. It is clear from their burials that theirs was a society in which the warrior played an important part. The most magnificent burials are those found in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, some with gold death masks. Examination of their bones shows that many had suffered injuries and skeletal stress from years of fighting. Their grave goods included plates from boar’s-tusk helmets, gold decorative breastplates, and many weapons. Among these was a dagger inlaid with a hunting scene in which warriors are shown armed with swords, bows, and spears, and carrying figure-of-eight shields or tall rectangular (tower) shields with curved sides. The dappled appearance of shields depicted in frescoes shows that they were made from ox-hides, presumably over a wooden frame. These shields were particularly suitable for single combat, where they offered a full protective screen between the combatant and his opponent, but they were less useful in a pitched battle, where attack could come from any side. Depictions on stelae marking the graves show soldiers equipped in the same style. Spearheads from the Shaft Graves and other early contexts included a type with a split shaft mounted into a shoe on either side of the blade; this soon went out of use. A more efficient type, with a socket at its base to take the shaft, was current throughout the Mycenaean period. These spears were used for thrusting; there is no certain evidence of the throwing spear frequently mentioned in Homer’s Iliad.

Later Mycenaean frescoes and depictions on pottery show that many of these armaments continued in use, and new ones were added including greaves (shin guards) and corselets (cuirasses). A smaller round shield more suitable for maneuvering in pitched battle replaced the earlier types. A set of armor discovered near Midea (the Dendra Panoply) included a helmet, bronze greaves, and a corselet made of overlapping bronze half-rings and plates covering torso, shoulders, neck, and the tops of the arms, combining protection with flexibility. These seem to have been stitched to a linen garment, probably well padded, while the helmet originally consisted of a leather cap to which were added slices of boar’s tusk arranged in rows that curved right and left alternately and ear guards made of bronze. Helmets usually had a chin strap and might also have a neck guard. Boar’s-tusk helmets would have been restricted to the elite, since each required the tusks from 20 to 40 boars; ordinary soldiers wore helmets and body armor of leather or thick layers of linen to which bronze disks might be sewn as reinforcement.

Swords used by the Mycenaeans changed through time. In the Shaft Grave era, a narrow rapier was used: this was hafted with a very short tang that would easily have broken, and examples with longer tangs were also developed. The rapier was designed for thrusting into the body of an enemy or hunted animal. During the fourteenth century this was replaced by the two-edged slashing sword with an integral hilt to which a handle was fastened with nails. Arrows in this period were tipped with bronze heads, often with tangs; earlier arrowheads had been made of flint or obsidian.

Stelae from the shaft graves, terra-cotta models, and pottery decoration show that the elite drove chariots with four-spoked wheels drawn by a pair of horses; chariots, dismantled chariots, and chariot wheels are among the items in storage listed on the Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos. These allowed the aristocracy to move with speed as military messengers and to travel in style to the battlefield and, when necessary, in retreat from it; it is unlikely that they were used as mobile fighting platforms.

On a larger scale, ships were used as transports, but the depictions of two ships on a vase from Iolkos show that they were fitted with a ram and thus were also used offensively. A few late Mycenaean sherds may depict sea battles. The Pylos tablets refer to musters of troops as rowers for naval defense. Ships seem generally to have been propelled by oars but also had sails for use when winds were favorable.

By 1450 BCE the Minoans, who had strongly influenced the Mycenaeans in earlier centuries, were in decline. Of the palaces and towns, all but Knossos were destroyed at this time. The cause is still uncertain: it may have been internal strife or natural disasters, such as the earthquakes that frequently troubled the region, or the Mycenaeans may have been implicated. If they were not, they certainly stepped into the power vacuum left by the Minoan collapse, establishing themselves at Knossos sometime around or after 1450 and gradually taking over the eastern Mediterranean trade network that the Minoans had so successfully operated. Warrior graves on Crete, at Knossos, and elsewhere, were probably the burials of Mycenaeans, complete with swords, spears, and helmets. Minoan life on Crete nevertheless continued, though with a strong Mycenaean veneer. Around 1375-1350 BCE Knossos was destroyed, perhaps by the Mycenaeans, and the center of power on the island shifted to Khania in the west.

During the fourteenth century BCE, palaces emerged on the mainland, often on citadels with impressive walls that in some cases were constructed of massive stone blocks (cyclopean masonry). These may initially have been intended as much to impress as to defend, but in the thirteenth century many walls were extended to enclose far larger areas, and defensive measures were added. At Mycenae, for example, the extensions included a bastion with a sally port and a subterranean passage to an underground cistern, giving the inhabitants access to water if besieged. Similar arrangements for access to water were made at Tiryns and Athens, and at Tiryns the extended walls contained corbelled passages and storage chambers, again suggesting provision against a siege. Frescoes and decorated vessels portray sieges, with warriors fighting outside the walls-watched by women at the window- and slain defenders tumbling from the walls. Many of the palaces were destroyed by fire around 1200 BCE, perhaps as a result of social unrest or internecine conflict.

At Pylos in coastal southwest Peloponnese, however, the enemy came from the sea and may well have been raiders belonging to the Sea Peoples who were wreaking destruction in the eastern Mediterranean around this time. One of their victims may have been Crete: the remaining centers were destroyed, and the inhabitants fled to the hills where they established impoverished refuge settlements. At Pylos was found an archive of Linear B tablets covering the palace’s final year; a set of five tablets (headed “Thus the watchers are guarding the coastal regions”) deals with the provisions for coastal defense. Eight hundred men were deployed in groups along the coast; their purpose, it seems, was to give the palace early warning of any imminent attack from the sea, presumably so that a large force could be deployed to where danger threatened. Despite these precautions, the palace was sacked and burned, and the kingdom was largely abandoned. Some Mycenaeans who survived the troubles of this period fled to start a new life in Cyprus or farther afield; others, in small numbers, reoccupied many of the towns and citadels, although they did not refortify them. But the glories of Mycenaean society were over.

Bibliography Chadwick, John. The Mycenaean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Dickinson, Oliver. The Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Fitton, J. Lesley. The Minoans. London: British Museum Press, 2002. Palmer, Leonard R. Mycenaeans and Minoans: Aegean Prehistory in the Light of the Linear B Tablets. 2nd rev. ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1965. Schofeld, Louise. The Mycenaeans. London: British Museum Press, 2007. Taylour, Lord William. The Mycenaeans. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1983


Late-War Churchill

The Visit of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill To Caen, Normandy, 1944

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the successful outcome of the war, at this stage, was his insistence on the right timing for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. This was necessary for the defeat of Germany, and Churchill made sure it worked and was achieved with minimum loss of life for so immense and hazardous an operation. He argued that an opposed air-sea landing against formidable defenses manned by large, prepared German forces was perhaps the most difficult military undertaking of all. With the costly failure of Gallipoli always in his mind, he insisted that D-day should not take place until overwhelming strength was established and there was a near certitude of success. The Russians had asked for the second front to be opened in 1942. The Americans were willing to risk it in 1943. The “dress rehearsal” at Dieppe in 1942, where Allied losses were unexpectedly high, had shown what hazards lay ahead. Churchill’s conditions could not be met until the early summer of 1944. Even so, Overlord might have failed or proved extremely costly had not a highly successful deception plan persuading the Germans that the Normandy landings were a feint and that the real invasion was planned for the Pas de Calais area—another idea of Churchill’s—prevented a massive German counterattack in the early stages. Thanks to Churchill, and his memories of the Dardanelles, Overlord was a dramatic success. He wished to be present on the first day to enjoy his triumph. It was the last major occasion on which his desire to participate in military action manifested itself. All those concerned in the operation were horrified. Indeed, the desire was foolish in the extreme, a grotesque exhibition of the childish side of his nature. But he persisted, despite unanimous opposition from the service chiefs, the cabinet, his own staff, and the White House. In the end it was only the opposition of King George VI, who said that if his prime minister risked his life he must do so himself, which scotched the plan.

The delay occasioned by Churchill’s ensuring the invasion succeeded necessarily meant the Western forces were behind the Russians in pushing into the heart of the Nazi empire. This had grave political consequences. Churchill sought to mitigate them by demanding a full-speed drive to Berlin by the Anglo-American forces. This was supported by Montgomery, the army group commander, who was sure it was possible and would end the war in autumn 1944, with the West in Berlin first. But Eisenhower, the supreme commander, thought it was risky and insisted on a “broad front” advance, which meant that the war continued into the spring of 1945, and that the Russians got to Berlin first—and Prague, Budapest, Vienna, too. In his last weeks of life, FDR, despite Churchill’s pleas, did nothing to encourage Eisenhower to press on rapidly. Montgomery wrote sadly: “The Americans could not understand that it was of little avail to win the war strategically if we lost it politically.” That was exactly Churchill’s view.

But if he was unable to stop Stalin from turning much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans into Soviet satellites, he did snatch one brand from the burning—Greece. He used British troops, against much well-meaning advice, to intervene decisively in the civil war raging there between Communist guerrillas and forces loyal to the Crown. The politics were complex and made it difficult to decide whom to back among the contending loyalist leaders. Eventually Churchill decided in favor of the republican, anti-Communist general Nikolaos Plastiras. He joked, “The evidence shows we must back Plaster-arse. Let us hope his feet are not of clay.” “Tommy” Lascelles, King George VI’s secretary, remarked, “I would rather have said that than written Gray’s Elegy.”

Churchill also saved Persia by negotiating a highly satisfactory deal with the Russians, which enabled the British eventually to reduce their influence to a minimum. He kept a tight grip on the Persian Gulf and its oil fields. Of course, by saving Greece, he also enabled Turkey to stay beyond the reach of the triumphant Soviet forces. What is more, by picking a first-class general and backing him with adequate forces, Churchill also made a major contribution to victory in the Far East. Field Marshal William Slim was, next to Montgomery, the ablest of the British generals produced by the war. His Fourteenth Army was often called “the Forgotten Army,” in contrast to Montgomery’s famous Eighth Army. But it was not forgotten by Churchill. With his encouragement and support it conducted a hard and skillful campaign in Burma, ending in complete victory, which did a great deal to restore British prestige so cruelly damaged by the Singapore disaster. Indeed within four years Britain was able to get back Singapore, Malaya, and Hong Kong. Of course the restoration of Britain’s power in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Far East could not be permanent. But for most of a generation, and in some cases longer, Britain was able to enjoy the economic advantages brought by her investments in Gulf oil, Malay rubber and tin, and the mercantile wealth of Hong Kong. For this, Churchill’s energy, foresight, and ability to seize on the essentials deserve much of the credit.

As the war drew to a close in the early months of 1945, Churchill visibly held back his efforts. His aggressiveness declined. He enjoyed his brief and successful intervention in Greece. But destruction now sickened him. He sent a memo to Harris to slacken off the attack on German cities as opposed to strategic targets, “otherwise,” as he put it, “what will lie between the white snows of Russia and white cliffs of Dover? ” Much of his imaginative energy was spent in trying to get the sick Roosevelt to do the sensible thing. “No lover,” he said, “ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt.” The death of FDR, however painful to Churchill, came as a relief, especially as Harry S. Truman, brisk, decisive, much better informed on strategy, proved infinitely easier to deal with. When Churchill was tired, he talked, often off the point. He refused to read his papers. Colville noted on April 26: “The PM’s box is in a ghastly state. He does little work and talks far too long, as he did . . . before his Greek adventures refreshed him.” The businesslike and monosyllabic Clement Attlee, his deputy premier, sent him a sharp memo of complaint. Churchill is credited with many jokes about the Labour Party leader. “Yes, he is a modest man. But then he has so much to be modest about.” “An empty taxi drew up outside the House of Commons, and Mr. Attlee got out.” Sometimes they were mean and savage: “Attler, Hitlee.” One of Attlee’s staff used to whistle, a habit Churchill could not bear. His antipathy to whistling is curiously apt, for Hitler was an expert and enthusiastic whistler: he could do the entire score of The Merry Widow, his favorite operetta. It seems expert whistling by music lovers was a feature of pre-1914 Vienna: Gustav Mahler and Ludwig Wittgenstein were whistler maestros.

Tired as he was, Churchill treated the surrender of Germany with suitable rhetoric and champagne popping. He drank a bottle of his prize 1928 vintage Pol Roger. He was relieved by Hitler’s suicide. He had not relished the prospective task of hanging him. As Beaverbrook said, “He is never vindictive.” His saying had always been—it is one of his best obiter dicta—“In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, goodwill.” Magnanimity came naturally to this generous, jovial old man (he was seventy at the end of the war). Lord Longford, the British minister for postwar Germany, showed notable compassion for the German people. Churchill came up to him at a Buckingham Palace garden party and said, slowly, “I am glad that there is one mind suffering for the miseries of the Germans.”

The outcome of the Battle of Berlin I

Crew of “M for Mother”, a Lancaster bomber from 467 Squadron, preparing to take off on a raid over Berlin. UK0456

Part of a vertical photographic reconniassance aerial taken over Berlin, Germany after heavy night raids by Bomber Command aircraft on 23/24 August, 31 August/1 September and 3/4 September 1943. Heavy damage is evident in the Steglitz area, near the Friedenau railway station, where most properties have been gutted by fire.
C 3838
Part of
No. 542 Squadron RAF

The outcome of the Battle of Berlin would depend upon the answers to two questions: Would the Luftwaffe be able to recover from the setback to its long established defensive system caused by the introduction of Window, and would the Bomber Command Pathfinders be able to overcome the problems of blind marking over Berlin? In other words, it was the old formula of war: the balancing of the costs of a campaign against the success gained.

The night fighter, not the Flak battery, was the greatest cause of Bomber Command’s losses all through the middle years of the war. Window, introduced in late July 1943, rendered virtually useless the German box system of night fighting. The ground radars which directed a night fighter into proximity with a bomber passing through a box, and the radar set in the fighter required for the final interception, were both swamped by the mass of false returns from the fluttering clouds of Window. The only unaffected form of night fighting was the makeshift Wild Boar method recently introduced, in which single-engined fighters were sent into action over the target cities using the various types of illumination available there. The Wild Boar method was forced upon the whole night-fighter force until a technical response to Window was found. The fifty-eight bombers lost on the first raid of the Battle of Berlin were a testimony of the good effect with which the night fighters made use of Wild Boar and were able to deal such a heavy blow on Bomber Command only five weeks after Window was first used.

Thereafter, the effectiveness of Wild Boar gradually diminished, but this was more than compensated for by the introduction of the virtually Window-proof SN-2 radar which enabled the new Tame Boar method of fighting on the routes to be introduced at the turn of the year. The following list shows the loss rates of Bomber Command aircraft carrying out major raids against German targets during four different periods.

24 April to 25 July 1943, the last three months of mainly box night fighting – 4.9 per cent bomber casualties.

24 July to 16 August 1943, the introduction of Window and the initial period of German confusion – 29 per cent bomber casualties.

17 August to 31 December 1943, from the first widespread use of Wild Boar (on the Peenemünde raid) to the end of the year – 4.6 per cent bomber casualties.

1 January to 31 March 1944, the first three months of widespread Tame Boar use – 5.5 per cent bomber casualties.

These figures show how the use of Wild Boar as a standard method of night fighting brought back the losses inflicted on the bombers almost to the level experienced before Window, and how the Tame Boar method inflicted a greater casualty rate than before Window. There are still former German night-fighter men who say that the changes forced upon the Luftwaffe by the British introduction of Window produced in the long term greater benefit for the Germans than for the British, because the entire German night-fighter force could be effectively employed and not just the experienced crews who had claimed priority in the old box-system engagements.

In the Battle of Berlin, the Luftwaffe forced Harris to remove first his Stirlings from the front line and then the older types of Halifax. Even then, the new Halifaxes took a hiding every time they were committed to action, and Harris was forced to use them only intermittently. Then Harris was forced to break off operations to Northern Germany almost completely after the heavy loss of the Leipzig raid on the night of 19 February. Finally, with the Nuremberg raid at the end of March, the Luftwaffe showed that it had answered the question. It had recovered from Window. It could now defend any part of Germany.

What about that second question? How had the Pathfinders coped with the problems of the blind marking method used on all but one of the nineteen Berlin raids?

It had not worked. The confusion of woods, lakes and small towns outside Berlin after a long approach flight over inland Germany and then the great, sprawling mass of the city itself had defied the best efforts of the Pathfinders. The eighteen blind marking attempts can be analysed. There were two excellent results on the consecutive evenings of 22 and 23 November 1943, when all went well and the Main Force bombing wrought great destruction. There were two raids almost as good at the end of January 1944 – on the nights of the 28th and 30th – when the marking was sufficiently concentrated for serious damage to be caused. There were six other raids when the marking was at least confined to the limits of the city and most of the Main Force bombing hit Berlin, but no degree of concentration was possible. Finally, in eight of those eighteen raids, the marking was so scattered that many of the Main Force aircraft did not even hit Berlin. In at least three of those failed raids, strong winds and high cloud made the Pathfinders’ task almost impossible, but the remaining disappointments were due to the general inability to overcome the problems of blind marking.

There were two main reasons why consistent blind marking was unattainable. First, the existing H2S sets with which most of the Pathfinder aircraft were equipped did not show enough definition of the ground for the average Pathfinder set operator to be sure of his exact position over Berlin. The H2S Mark III saga has been described in earlier chapters. Too few of these sets were available and they were rushed into service too quickly; H2S Mark III had little effect upon the Battle of Berlin. A second factor is worthy of more discussion. There were a number of first-class radar set operators in the Pathfinders who could have made something useful even of the old sets and even over Berlin, but there were not enough such men. Their shortage was part of the greater problem of the low level of experience in Pathfinder crews through the Battle of Berlin. The reader will remember Air Vice-Marshal Bennett’s plea to Harris to secure all second-tour crews returning to operations in Bomber Command. At the time of that appeal, 25 September 1943, Bennett pointed out that the average Pathfinder captain had only twenty operational sorties to his credit, compared to a level of thirty-two sorties when a survey had been made seven months earlier. Harris had not felt able to accede to that request, and the normal method of Pathfinder recruitment had continued. Two-thirds of new crews came from Main Force squadrons, usually crews with about ten sorties to their credit, and one-third were ‘direct entry’ crews selected at training units, often without having any previous operational experience. In that same letter to Harris in September 1943, Bennett had complained that ‘the direct entry crews are a tremendous burden for training in squadrons and it is a very long period before any such crew is raised to “above average” standards for marking’.

Since that time, the Pathfinders had suffered severe operational losses. In the six monthly periods of the Battle of Berlin, 198 crews were lost on operations, at least fourteen more in crashes, accidents, injury to crew members and other forms of wastage, and perhaps another sixty or seventy crews completed their tours and were released from operations. There was a horrifying six-week period between 16 December 1943 and the end of January 1944 when eighty-seven Pathfinder crews became casualties in missing or crashed aircraft. It is significant that the two heaviest losing squadrons in Bomber Command in the Battle of Berlin – 7 and 156 Squadrons – were both from the Pathfinders. The Pathfinders thus had to recruit and retrain to marking standards nearly fifty new crews each month during the Battle of Berlin. There was never a shortage of crews; the numbers required for operations were always provided. But the average level of experience continued to fall.

The standard first tour of operations in the Pathfinders was forty-five operations, including any operations flown earlier in the Main Force. A crew could then be rested before being called for a second tour of twenty operations. But, if a first-tour crew so wished, they could carry on after forty-five operations as far as sixty, this counting as a double tour and relieving them of the obligation to return for a further tour. Such crews were the most effective in the Pathfinders, with a great amount of recent operational experience behind them; they were the very stuff of the good blind-marker crews required to tackle a target like Berlin. But, when casualties were heavy, very few crews volunteered to carry on in this way; a flight commander in one of the Pathfinder squadrons during the Battle of Berlin says, ‘I don’t remember any; everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the end of a standard tour and got away as quickly as possible.’

The results of all this were that the Pathfinders, on Bennett’s own admission, started the Battle of Berlin with a low level of crew experience, suffered heavy casualties throughout the battle and could never during that winter find enough crews sufficiently experienced and qualified to make those H2S sets work properly over Berlin. No criticism whatsoever is intended by these comments. The Pathfinder crews tried and tried again. Their early return rates were the lowest in Bomber Command; their casualties were among the highest.

There was another factor: the composition and performance of the Main Force. However well the Pathfinders marked the target, no raid was successful if a Main Force carrying enough bombs did not come in and bomb the markers accurately. Let us look at the bomb loads first. The weight of an attack was not measured in the number of aircraft dispatched but in the tonnage of bombs carried. The early raids of the Battle of Berlin did not carry large tonnages because of the proportion of Stirlings and Halifaxes in the Main Force. But an early peak of over 2,500 tons was achieved on the night of 22 November 1943, when the increased numbers of Lancasters together with the use of the shortest possible route enabled this tonnage to be carried. The bombing results on that night were the most successful in the Battle of Berlin. But bomber casualties forced the removal of the Stirlings and the older Halifaxes from the Main Force, and on other nights even the Halifax IIIs were left out of the battle. At the same time, the improving Luftwaffe tactics forced the use of longer and longer routes. The figure of 2,500 tons of bombs was not achieved again until mid-February; less than half that tonnage was dropped on some of the midwinter raids. But by February the battle was almost over; the Luftwaffe was forcing Bomber Command to abandon the task.

How many of the bombs loaded reached Berlin and were properly aimed at the markers? Surviving bomber crew members will confirm that the worst part of any flight was the bomb run. The temptation for a bomb aimer to release his bombs just a second or two early, to get rid of that lethal weight and allow his pilot to dive, increase speed and get out of the target area was almost irresistible. The same urge was present among the Pathfinders. The tendency for both marking and bombing to creep back was present on every raid but it was even more likely to be present when defences were fierce. The Bomber Command staff knew all this, and bombing tactics were planned accordingly. The Aiming Point for the Pathfinders was always placed beyond the centre of the area intended for destruction. A tail wind was used in planning the route through the target if possible. Pathfinder Backers-Up were ordered to overshoot existing markers by two or three seconds. Above all, at every Main Force squadron briefing, the crews were urged to press right on up to the centre of the markers before releasing their bombs, not to bomb the first markers they saw.

Some of the raids on Berlin were successful because these rules were observed. But there were too many other nights when they were not. An interesting correspondence took place in November 1944 between Air Vice-Marshal Bennett, commander of the Pathfinders, and Bomber Command Headquarters over what had gone wrong in the Battle of Berlin. The British Official History quotes Bennett’s views:

‘There can be no doubt’, he said, ‘that a very large number of crews failed to carry out their attacks during the Battle of Berlin in their customary determined manner.’ He referred to ‘enormous numbers’ of reports each night about bombs being jettisoned in the North Sea or over Denmark and he said that the reports of Pathfinder crews ‘consistently showed that the amount of bombing on the markers which they dropped was negligible. I feel quite sure in my own mind’, Bennett concluded, ‘that many bombs were wasted en route in an effort to increase aircraft performance and that, unfortunately, the Command suffered from many “fringe merchants”.’

Undoubtedly Bennett was trying to deflect criticism of the Pathfinder performance over Berlin, but there is some truth in what he wrote. Morale among aircrews held up remarkably well during that winter, but there was a gradual loss of heart and determination as the winter drew on. The rate of early returns, always a measure of morale, increased, even the Lancasters being affected when the other aircraft types were not flying in the lower height bands to absorb the first attentions of the night fighters. Other aircraft jettisoned part of their bomb load in the North Sea. Then, at the target, there were what Bennett called the ‘fringe merchants’. The presence of cloud and the scattering of Skymarkers by the wind on so many of the Berlin raids gave crews the opportunity to avoid the centre of the target and bomb on the edge of it, bringing back a ‘cloud photograph’ which did not reveal where they had bombed, or a photograph showing just a single Skymarker. But the earlier chapters in this book have shown how, on those nights when the Pathfinders were able to produce concentrated and accurate marking, the Main Force responded well, and Berlin suffered accordingly. It was no one’s fault; the task of destroying Berlin was beyond Bomber Command’s capabilities at that time.

What is amazing is the fortitude of the bomber crews in sticking to such a fearful task as well as they did. I asked more than three hundred ex-Battle of Berlin men about the state of morale on their squadrons. The Pathfinders, feeling themselves a selected élite, held well. The small number of Australian squadrons – three out of the four were flying Lancasters – were also steady. The Canadians of 6 Group had been expanded too rapidly, sometimes suffered from poor leadership and were mostly flying the Halifax, which nearly always suffered heavier casualties than the Lancaster when committed to action. Their morale and that of most of 4 Group, which was completely Halifax-equipped, was not so high, although it varied from squadron to squadron. The picture in the Main Force Lancaster squadrons which bore the brunt of the Battle of Berlin was more one of enormous strain, mostly faced and endured, morale being much sustained by the crews’ faith in the aircraft they flew.

These are a selection of individual views. Pilot Officer Joe Sheriff was a Canadian wireless operator on 57 Squadron at East Kirkby.

The Battle of Berlin did cause morale to sag. Crews were weary and angry, strained and more fearful of their next trip than usual, cursing ‘Butch’ Harris for his unrelenting demands and his apparently uncaring attitude towards his own men. The results didn’t appear to come anywhere near justifying the losses and the hardship.

I knew three crews during the Battle of Berlin who obviously were in bad shape because of fatigue and should have been rested. Two didn’t survive. One of the crews had several close calls and the pilot was a nervous wreck. On one trip they were hit by Flak and the navigator and wireless operator were injured. On another trip they were sprayed by shells from a night fighter. One shell came through the windshield right in front of the pilot – the shoulder of his jacket was sliced through. He was not injured but his journey home was a nightmare because of the blast of air through the hole in the windscreen and manhandling a Lancaster which had some of its controls damaged. It was obvious that this crew had had its nine lives and was so shattered by fatigue and tension that there was little chance of them surviving if they continued to operate. They were not rested and they perished.

In attacking Berlin, we paid dearly for a morsel.

Flight Sergeant Dennis Cooper was a wireless operator on 630 Squadron, which also flew Lancasters from East Kirkby.

‘Lack of Moral Fibre’ was a label which frightened everyone because, if you stopped flying, you were stripped of rank and posted out as an A.C.2 to some other station. There was a case of a gunner who twice damaged his turret so that the aircraft had to turn back; no aircraft could continue unless fully serviceable. Station Medical Officers had instructions to keep aircrew off the sick list. I broke out in boils under the crotch and on the buttocks after Berlin on the 15 February raid and the S.M.O. still passed me fit for flying. As a result, on my next op, I sat on the metal of my parachute harness and crushed the boils. With the pain and the cold, I was very uncomfortable until landing. After debriefing, I went to Sick Quarters where a very hard medical officer told me to drop my trousers and, using a scalpel, cut them. In spite of the fact that I fainted, I was on ops the next night. Bomber Command was terrified of too many people going sick and reducing the available force and that other crews might catch the ‘don’t want to fly’ bug.

Crews were beginning to look untidy in dress and manner, and even the ground sergeants, who had previously thought nothing of us because we got our stripes too quickly, began to have pity on us as they could see what we were going through. Many of us could see no hope of completing a tour the way losses were showing. We drank and smoked too much when we were not flying and things were generally depressed.

Flying Officer Eric Tansley was a Halifax bomb aimer on 158 Squadron at Lissett.

We joined our squadron at a time when morale was extremely low. Losses had been heavy and it seemed to us that there were very few experienced crews left; certainly none were completing tours. Our flight engineer was evidently shattered by the mortality rate at the squadron because, almost overnight, he departed from our ranks, branded L.M.F.

I was assigned a room which I shared with another young officer; he seemed a very pleasant person. Less than a week later, I was in charge of a funeral party for the funeral of the pleasant young man and his crew. They had crashed and blown up returning from a raid.

We lived under great strain. I remember one occupation was looking for signs of ‘twitch’ in other aircrew and hoping all the time that oneself was still sane.

Sergeant Ken Scott was a twenty-year-old navigator on 101 Squadron at Ludford Magna who flew to Berlin fourteen times.

A strange symptom developed which I have not mentioned to anyone until now. At night, after getting to sleep, I would suddenly feel awakened by a buzzing sensation in my mouth. My face would then distort with the feeling that the flesh was being drawn back; I would then feel myself half-rising from the bed, with all the muscles and sinews of my torso and arms straining and stretching to breaking point. This sensation would reach a climax and then I felt myself falling back on the bed, exhausted. I would then awake to the reality that I hadn’t moved at all in bed and it had been some kind of dream. This was all very exhausting and it happened perhaps two or three times a week. In time, I learnt not to resist, sort of lay back and let it all happen; this way, although it always ran the gamut, I felt less drained. After I finished my tour, I was never troubled with it again. I put it down, rightly or wrongly, as a symptom of stress.

Flying Officer Bob Lloyd was a Canadian pilot, flying Lancaster IIs of 408 Squadron from Linton-on-Ouse.

My navigator lost his mind during our 26 November trip to Berlin. My mid-upper gunner got hit in the ankle with a 20-mm shell on the same trip; he never flew again. My bomb aimer went absolutely wild over the target area on a later raid, to such a degree that we couldn’t let him wear an intercom; the navigator had to drop the bombs. Then I finally got hurt, smashing my left femur, and the bomb aimer had to fly out the rest of his tour with another crew; he ‘bought it’ the first night out. They were as frightened as hell, but their morale was good. They flew until they couldn’t fly any more. They could have begged off L.M.F. had they wanted to.

The outcome of the Battle of Berlin II

But there are less gloomy views. Pilot Officer David Oliver was a Lancaster pilot on 12 Squadron and then 626 Squadron.

Morale was high throughout the period that I was at Wickenby. An efficiently run station and intelligent leadership, including inspiration from a few whose exploits were legendary, helped a lot. Some other factors predisposed to high morale. The average age of aircrew was twenty or twenty-one and very few had the close attachments and responsibilities of wife and children. We were just as well educated academically as the young men of today but we were less socially and politically aware. We had not experienced the clamorous debate in the media on every conceivable subject, nor the continuous dissection of authority that goes on today. In the event, we were united in our belief in the cause and in giving unquestioning support to those in authority.

We were intensely preoccupied with our own crew and very strongly motivated not to let it down. Apart from our commanders and three or four other crews that were close contemporaries, we knew few other aircrew on the station as more than passing acquaintances. The effect on morale is less severe if casualties are not known to one personally. By far the highest casualty rate occurred amongst the very inexperienced crews, whom established crews were unlikely to know personally.

And youth is ever resilient. Sergeant Tommy Marchant was a flight engineer on 101 Squadron at Ludford Magna and then with the Pathfinders of 7 Squadron at Oakington. He obviously took in his stride his crew’s seventeen raids to Berlin, probably a record for any crew in Bomber Command.

Being a mere lad of nineteen, with little emotional or imaginative maturity, I probably did not notice the signs of people cracking up. So far as I recall, none of our crew exhibited any signs of the stress etc. so beloved of dramatic film makers. I did sometimes wonder if I would survive but it certainly wasn’t a recurring or dominant thought. I was more concerned as to whether the local pub would run out of beer and if a certain Waaf would be there.

I am sure that morale was quite high on the squadrons with which I served. I personally look back on those days as a happy and exciting adventure – the old ‘Biggies’ books of my youth come true for me – and a feeling that you really were contributing to the war effort. But then I didn’t get shot down or injured.

Young Tommy Marchant’s seventeen operations to Berlin lead into another story. At the end of the Battle of Berlin, Señor Adalbert Fastlich of Panama gave some money for the purchase of gold watches which were presented to those Bomber Command pilots who had flown most Berlin raids. It is believed that his brother had been killed in London by German bombing earlier in the war. (There may have been another contributor to this fund – Mr Harold Lindo of Jamaica, whose son, Squadron Leader Harold Lindo, a navigator on 103 Squadron, was killed on one of the Berlin raids.) The crew of which Sergeant Marchant was a member was found to have flown more Berlin raids than any other, so was allowed to have two watches. One was for the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Bob Sexton from Queensland; the remainder of the crew drew lots for the second watch, and Marchant, the young flight engineer, was successful.

Let us turn now to the German side and try to assess what the efforts of the bomber crews achieved. The great disadvantage in any judgement of the outcome of the Battle of Berlin is that no comprehensive survey was ever made on the effects of the bombing that winter. The Berlin authorities produced excellent factual reports on the damage and casualties in individual raids, and this book has made much of those reports; but no overall assessment was made. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, which studied the effects of bombing in many German cities, hardly mentions Berlin. A British Bombing Survey Unit was established, but the new Labour Government of 1945 refused to allocate funds for detailed surveys, and little work on Bomber Command’s huge wartime effort was ever carried out by the British. Sir Arthur Harris’s post-war dispatch claimed that 6,427 acres or 33 per cent of Berlin’s built-up area was destroyed by bombing during the whole war. (The ‘built-up area’ of a city was defined as that part of it which was more than 40 per cent occupied by buildings.) Of those 6,427 acres, an estimated 480 acres had been destroyed by bombing before the Battle of Berlin started, and a further 750 were credited to American bombing after the Battle of Berlin. A further unknown acreage should be credited to the numerous Mosquito raids made in the last year of the war, but this might be balanced by the damage caused in the non-built-up suburbs during the Battle of Berlin. This leaves approximately 5,200 acres, nearly 27 per cent of Berlin’s built-up area, to be credited to Bomber Command in the Battle of Berlin. These figures tend to be confirmed by Berlin’s own records, which show that 556,500 or 37 per cent of the city’s pre-war flats were destroyed during the war by all forms of bombing and by the street fighting with the Russians in 1945. The difficulty of concentrating both marking and bombing on those sectors selected for attack led to western parts of the city being hit too often and the eastern parts not often enough. There was a similar inability to concentrate both marking and bombing sufficiently for complete destruction to be achieved anywhere. Squadron Leader Arthur Fawssett, an Intelligence Officer at Bomber Command Headquarters at that time, writes:

What was not sufficiently appreciated at the time was that nothing less than another Hamburg in the space of two or three days, something quite unbearable, was needed, and that a long period of attrition was unlikely to achieve the aim and could be self-defeating, in that the more piecemeal the damage became, the more difficult it was to create a self-destructive holocaust.

Finally, there was the sound construction of Berlin’s buildings and the width of the streets of this modern city, factors which reduced the spread of fire. Much destruction was undoubtedly caused, but sufficient of Berlin’s housing remained, supplemented by quickly erected wooden accommodation, for all essential workers to be housed.

Turning now to the human casualties in Berlin during the battle, it can be estimated from the civilian records that 10,305 people died in the nineteen raids, made up as follows:

German civilians in Berlin 9,390

Foreigners (mostly forced workers) 637

Service personnel 187

Country areas outside Berlin 91

And what of civilian morale, that primary target? There is no need to spend long on this subject. The Germans’ innate patriotism, the particularly tough character of the Berliners and the strict discipline of the Nazi Party combined to hold the spirit of Berlin sufficiently intact to weather the storm. There was fear and, at times, terror. There was apathy. There were temporary breakdowns in the supply of power and water, and of some administration, but restoration of all these was swiftly achieved. Berlin was never overwhelmed. There was never the mass, panic-stricken flight of people from the bombed city as was sometimes seen in other places. The Japanese Embassy in Berlin was sending regular telegrams to Tokyo on the state of the city. In January 1944: ‘Internal collapse will certainly not be brought about by means of air raids.’ Morale in Berlin was noted as falling to its lowest in January and February, but ‘because the Government used its enormous power and influence well, the fighting spirit of the people has been intensified to the pitch of seeing no course but to fight to the finish’. This assessment was made just when Harris was forced by the Luftwaffe to break off the Berlin raids.

Prominent among the means by which the authorities bolstered the population were the threat of what would happen to Germany if the war was lost and the massive retaliation promised by Hitler against Britain by the new ‘Revenge Weapons’. Hitler retained the confidence of most people although he never came to see the bombed cities of Germany but remained away at his headquarters, loftily directing every aspect of Germany’s war effort. Not for him the visiting of people in bombed streets as Churchill and the King and Queen did when London was ‘blitzed’ in 1940 and 1941. That work he left to his Gauleiters. Joseph Goebbels, either Reichstag Member or Gauleiter for Berlin continuously since 1929, respected by the ordinary people, often out on foot in the bombed areas without a large escort, looked after Berlin, and much credit for the steadfastness and performance of the city should go to him.

The effect of the bombing upon industrial production in Berlin is difficult to measure. The factories were never direct targets, although they were often hit. The fire at the Alkett tank factory on the night of 26 November 1943 is described in Speer’s memoirs and is thus often quoted elsewhere as being an example of serious damage to the war factories.1 Nearly every major factory in Berlin was hit at some time or another, but often only by a few bombs, and none of the large factories was destroyed. Fire-fighting and then reconstruction work at the factories had the highest priority. It is probable that a much greater direct effect upon Berlin’s war production was achieved that winter by the area bombing of the semi-residential areas. Here were situated a mass of small workshop industries supplying components to the larger factories. These were often wiped out by a single bomb or large fire. Much dislocation of both raw materials and finished goods was also caused by bomb damage to railways and canal traffic in Berlin.

It is time to come to a conclusion. Should the results of Bomber Command’s vast effort and heavy losses in the Battle of Berlin be classed as success or failure? How have others answered the question? Some views are so bland as to be of little use. Air Marshal Saundby, Harris’s deputy, was a much respected man but he obviously did not wish to be controversial when summing up the Battle of Berlin in his book: ‘There could be no doubt that the target marking by the Pathfinder Force had been carried out with great skill and that the operations of the night bombers had been highly successful.’ Harris was much more restrained:

Judged by the standards of our attacks on Hamburg, the Battle of Berlin did not appear to be an overwhelming success. … The Battle of Berlin cost us 300 aircraft missing, which was a loss rate of 6.4 per cent. This could not be considered excessive for a prolonged assault on this distant, most difficult, and most heavily defended target.[1]

The British official historians were more blunt: ‘The expectations of the Commander-in-Chief had not been fulfilled and by that standard the Battle of Berlin had been a failure. … Moreover, in the operational sense, the Battle of Berlin was more than a failure. It was a defeat.’

Harris’s authorized biographer, Dudley Saward, who had been an officer on Harris’s staff, disputes this view.

The Official History of the bomber offensive states in emphatic terms that the Berlin campaign was a failure, and that losses were at a level that made it impossible to continue the campaign. This is incorrect. The reasons for the cessation were twofold: by the end of March the nights were becoming too short for operations against such distant targets as Berlin and, secondly, the requirement for the preparation for the invasion of France. … The suggestion that the Berlin campaign was a failure is not supported by the facts. An examination of the results reveals not failure but success, but as Harris himself admits, judged by the standards of the attacks on Hamburg, the Battle of Berlin was not an overwhelming success. However, for Germany it was an unprecedented disaster.

‘Unprecedented disaster’? What about Hamburg?

The Battle of Berlin obviously reduced Germany’s war effort and made a contribution to victory. Every anti-aircraft gun or fighter aircraft kept back to defend Berlin was one less which might otherwise be serving at the fighting fronts. Berlin was itself a front. Every pane of glass broken in Berlin was a tiny drain on Germany’s economy; every bomb which hit a small workshop or large armaments factory was a direct blow against the war effort; and every workman killed or prevented from coming to work because his family had been bombed out was one less man producing war material. But the extent of the achievements at Berlin was not sufficient either to satisfy the aims set for the battle – breakdown of civil morale and destruction so great that the normal life of Berlin would cease – or to justify the bomber casualties. The cost was too high in relation to results. Bomber Command lost the equivalent of its entire front-line strength in attempting to destroy Berlin, and a similar loss was incurred in raiding other targets in Germany during the same period.

The ability of Bomber Command to hit Berlin and of the Luftwaffe to defend it, now come together. The Luftwaffe hurt Bomber Command more than Bomber Command hurt Berlin.

[1] Bomber Offensive, pp. 187 and 188. Harris has his aircraft casualty figures all wrong. The total losses of missing heavy bombers were 624 aircraft in the whole battle and 499 in the main November 1943 to March 1944 period to which he may have been referring. The percentage rates were 5.8 for the whole period and 5.5 for the November to March period.

Late-Third Century Praetorian Guard

Aurelianus and the Praetorian guard by AMELIANVS on DeviantArt

Gallienus had also been directly challenged since 260 by Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus. This flamboyant pretender was governor of Germania Superior and Inferior when he was declared emperor by the Rhine garrisons. The western provinces had been placed under the rule of Gallienus’ teenage son Saloninus and it was not entirely surprising that the north-west Rhine garrisons preferred the option of an experienced leader. Postumus ended up creating and ruling a breakaway empire from Cologne that in every formal respect emulated the legitimate Empire; this probably included creating his own praetorians but there is no evidence to substantiate this. Postumus controlled Britain, Gaul and the German provinces in a regime now known as the Gallic Empire. Postumus, murdered in 268, produced a vast amount of coinage but, unlike that of Gallienus, none of it honoured specific military units, and the same applies to his short-lived successors who finally capitulated in early 274. Unusually for emperors of the era, Claudius II had died in 270 from the plague and not as a result of violence. He was briefly succeeded by his brother Quintillus, who was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers at Aquileia, but the declaration of Claudius’ cavalry commander Aurelian as emperor by the army in the Balkans proved a more enticing prospect. Quintillus committed suicide and Aurelian proceeded unchallenged, initiating a highly successful reign cut short by yet another conspiracy.

Aurelian’s praetorian prefect was Julius Placidianus, attested in the post on an inscription from the Augustan colony of Dea Augusta Vocontiorum (Drôme) in Gallia Narbonensis; he had previously served as prefect of the vigiles under Claudius II. The presence of Placidianus in Gaul reflected the very dangerous situation on Rome’s northerly borders, caused initially by the German Juthungi tribe, the Vandals, and next by the Alamanni. The absence of the praetorian prefect from Rome was certainly not new, and had become a necessary part of the increasing need to confront threats in various parts of the Roman world, especially in the third century. The idea of the Guard as an elite body of experienced and privileged troops with a permanent base in Rome was changing. The Guard now more resembled the ad hoc units of praetorians organized by the protagonists of the civil wars up to 31 BC.

The frontier threats faced by Aurelian were successfully fought off to begin with, but only at the price of rebellions breaking out in Rome. These seem to have included one by the mint-workers, led by the rationalis (official in charge) of financial affairs, Felicissimus. Aurelian returned to crush the rebels, which involved having to execute a number of senators and confiscate their property. Aurelian also devised a scheme in which estates were to be bought up along the Via Aurelia at state expense and then operated by slaves captured on campaign so that a perpetual free dole of wine, oil, bread and pork could be made to the Roman people. This peculiar brand of slave-serviced socialism never came off, either because of Aurelian’s premature death in 275 or because Julius Placidianus dissuaded him on the grounds that if the Roman people had been given wine then there would be nothing more to give them apart from chicken and geese.

During Aurelian’s reign the Castra Praetoria underwent its most significant change since its construction 250 years earlier. Aurelian ordered a vast new circuit of walls to be built round Rome. These would reflect the huge expansion of the settled area since Republican times, and also protect the city from the very real threat it faced from barbarian incursions across the frontiers. It may also have helped to contain a potentially volatile population. Building began in 271 and continued for the next decade. The walls survive in large part today and bear witness to the colossal effort and resources involved. The Castra Praetoria’s north and east walls formed part of this new circuit, the south and west stretches now facing inwards. The work was more complicated than simply joining the new walls up to the camp and bonding them in. The camp’s walls were raised again, adding to previous periods of elevation, and a new type of tower added which served as a buttress to help support the heightened walls.

Aurelian also faced a breakaway state in the east based around the great city of Palmyra under the queen, Zenobia. In 272 the regime’s city of Emesa fell to Aurelian in an engagement that included a hand-picked selection of praetorians as well as a huge array of legions and auxiliary forces.44 Palmyra fell too but Aurelian spared the city until a rebellion in 273 led him to destroy it. Aurelian could now turn his attention to the crumbling Gallic Empire. The last of Postumus’ successors, Tetricus I, capitulated to Aurelian in early 274 and participated in a triumph in Rome with Zenobia. In 275 Aurelian had to head east once more, this time to recover Mesopotamia from the Persians. En route in Thrace he became suspicious about his secretary Eros and evidently made an allegation to which Eros took exception. Eros decided to get his revenge by circulating a fictitious list of people whom he claimed Aurelian was planning to punish, encouraging them therefore to do what was necessary to save themselves. The outcome was almost inevitable: some of the accused, including a number of praetorian officers, watched Aurelian leave the city one day. They followed the emperor and killed him. The conspiracy and assassination were the consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding but the incident proves that the Praetorian Guard was a routine part of the emperor’s field army.

Aurelian was succeeded by Marcus Claudius Tacitus, a senator of mature years. The Historia Augusta refers to an otherwise unknown praetorian prefect called Moesius Gallicanus, perhaps appointed under Aurelian, recommending Tacitus to the army on the grounds that the senate had made emperor the man the army wanted. Tacitus either replaced Gallicanus with, or appointed alongside Gallicanus, his brother Marcus Annius Florianus as praetorian prefect. Since Florianus was sent east by Tacitus to fight the Goths, we can legitimately assume that the Praetorian Guard went with him. Tacitus, however, died and Florianus seized the chance to declare himself emperor. This was not the intention of the army in Syria and Egypt, who preferred to sponsor their commander, Marcus Aurelius Equitius Probus instead. The two sides came to a potential battlefield at Tarsus but Probus avoided fighting and in the ensuing stand-off Florianus was killed by his own troops.

Prior to his accession in 276, Probus allegedly wrote to his praetorian prefect, Capito, reluctantly accepting the post of emperor. Unfortunately, Capito is otherwise unknown and the Historia Augusta for this period so unreliable in many ways that there is every possibility that ‘Capito’ and the letter to him were simply invented, unless Carus was meant. Even the hope expressed in the ‘letter’ that ‘Capito’ will stand alongside the emperor appears to have its origins in one of Cicero’s orations. However, there is perhaps a plausible basis in the context of Probus’ time where the praetorian prefect had become the emperor’s right-hand man. The reign was characterized by yet more endless frontier warfare. At Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) in Pannonia (Serbia), Probus was killed in a rebellion led by Marcus Aurelius Numerius Carus who had been appointed by Probus as praetorian prefect early in the reign. Carus’ presence and involvement in the death of the incumbent emperor replicated a scenario that was becoming all too familiar. Carus did not last long. He was found dead in his tent in July 283 on campaign in Persia. This time the culprit seems not to have been an accidental lightning strike, as reported in the Historia Augusta, but his praetorian prefect and his son Numerian’s father-in-law, Lucius Flavius Aper, who allegedly believed his own chances of power were likely to be better served if Carus was extinguished and replaced by his sons. Carus’ adult sons, Carinus and Numerian, succeeded their father seamlessly, Carinus taking the western half of the Empire, Numerian the east. It was an arrangement that was to be used extensively in the century to come. By 284 Numerian had been killed. The Historia Augusta blamed Aper, which, if true, made him the first praetorian prefect to kill two emperors in succession. Aper was apprehended by the soldiers of the eastern army who nominated the commander of the domestici, ‘household troops’, Diocles, who immediately killed Aper. By 285 Carinus was in a position to challenge Diocles but was killed by one of his own officers during the battle at Margum on the Danube.

Diocles assumed the name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. As Diocletian he embarked on a sophisticated and disciplined recovery of the Empire. To begin with, he carried over Carinus’ praetorian prefect, Titus Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus. The reorganization culminated in 293 in the creation of the Tetrarchy, a collegiate system of emperors. He and another officer divided the Empire, Diocletian taking the east and Maximian the west as the Augusti. Each was assisted by a junior emperor, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, known respectively as the Caesars. In time Diocletian and Maximian were to abdicate and hand over power to their Caesars who would then become the Augusti and appoint their own Caesars. The system was designed to avoid the appalling problems their immediate predecessors had experienced trying to govern a sprawling empire beset by endless frontier problems, internal rebellions and succession by force.

The logical inference is that each tetrarch had his personal Praetorian Guard, and this does appear to have been the case. The Guard, still referred to as the praetorian cohorts, was dispersed by Diocletian amongst each of the four tetrarchs, with only a skeleton garrison left behind in Rome to man the Castra Praetoria. In 303, during a period of Christian persecution, a church in Nicomedia was raided by the ‘prefect’ in a search for images of Christ. The attack was conducted while Diocletian and Galerius watched from the nearby palace, and was carried out by part of the Praetorian Guard in battle order suitably equipped with axes and iron weapons. They systematically destroyed the church. In the fourth century under the Tetrarchy and later the position of praetorian prefecture continued, even once the Guard itself had been disbanded.

From soon after Diocletian’s accession, Britain had been controlled by a rebellious former fleet commander called Marcus Aurelius Mauseaeus Carausius. Seizing power in 286, Carausius was a colourful usurper whose ideology of a renewed and revived Augustan Roman Empire in Britain was depicted on a highly unusual series of coins. Carausius’ power seems to have extended partly into northern Gaul since he was able to strike some of his coins at Rotomagus (Rouen), but this did not in any sense entitle him to the audacity of the military issues he had minted in Britain. These included coins which honoured some legions not based in Britain, such as the VIII legion Augusta and the XXII Primigenia, as well as those that were, such as II Augusta. Unless the coins were designated as a form of propaganda designed to entice these other legions into siding with Carausius, the only other explanation would be that detachments were then based in Britain. However, there is no other evidence to substantiate that, and so many legions are involved that the idea is implausible. It is much more likely that Carausius was simply trying to ingratiate himself with as much of the Roman army as possible. The series also included one with the legend COHR PRAET for the Praetorian Guard around four standards. The issue closely resembles one produced at Philippi in the first half of the first century AD in honour of the Praetorian Guard and was probably based on it. There are three possible explanations: Carausius had a detachment of Diocletian’s praetorians in Britain, he had his own praetorians, or he was trying to seduce the Guard into supporting him. The latter is the most likely, but there is no means of verifying this. It was the last time the Praetorian Guard was honoured on any coin issue. Clearly Carausius, who posed as a restorer of everything traditional about Rome, perceived the Praetorian Guard as an integral part of his manifesto and image.

The United States Air-power in 1918

In 1918 the United States, still inexperienced in modern warfare, rushed to field an effective air arm for the European war, while struggling to establish an industry to support the new service and the logistics to transport supplies to the front. The optimistic predictions and expectations of 1917 yielded to the chastening realities of coordinating an effort to fulfill them in 1918.

At the front the U.S. Air Service command was riven with internal rivalries, which the May appointment of Brig. Gen. Mason M. Patrick as chief to replace Gen. Benjamin Foulois did not resolve. Only when Col. Billy Mitchell became the top American air combat commander, with considerable independence in establishing objectives despite the army’s ultimate control, did these tensions ease. Yet certain problems continued to plague the new arm. The command of fliers by nonfliers and the army’s ignorance—from division staff officers to troops of the line—regarding the air service and its work remained dilemmas.

Colonel Mitchell, as his mentor Trenchard, was determined to take the aerial offensive. June’s strategic bombing and independent air operations, the formation of the RAF’s Independent Force, and Trenchard’s refusal to acknowledge any superior—even Marshal Foch, Allied commander in chief—prompted the United states to switch from assisting the British campaign to supporting Foch’s coordinated plan. Meanwhile, Pershing’s chief of staff warned air service officers “against any idea of independence.” The American air war would be a tactical campaign.

U.S. units saw action in the quiet sector around Toul in the spring. Ninety-three Lafayette Escadrille members transferred to the U.S. Air Service and 26 went to naval aviation. The escadrille’s aces took command of U.S. units. For example William Thaw was commanding the 103rd Squadron of mostly former escadrille fliers when it transferred into the U.S. Air Service in May. Raoul Lufbery, the escadrille’s ace, after a short stint flying a desk at the huge U.S. training base at Issoudun, returned to the air only to be shot down in flames in May by a German two-seater. Lufbery had shared his knowledge with Eddie Rickenbacker, a 27-year-old new pilot of the 94th Squadron and former race-car driver. Rickenbacker scored his first victory on 29 April and ultimately gained 26 victories to become the United States’ leading ace.

By the end of June, 13 squadrons were operating at the front—6 pursuit, 6 observation, and 1 bomber squadron—when they transferred to the fighting around Château-Thierry during the Aisne-Marne offensive in July. Over Château-Thierry U.S. pursuit pilots encountered for the first time large concentrations of Fokker D7s, which fought aggressively and tenaciously in teams and made attacks on German observation planes dangerous. The inexperienced pilots of the First Pursuit Group, mounted on France’s second-line fighter, the Nieuport 28, found that they could not yet compete with the D7. In their three-plane incursions over German lines, they were barely able to defend themselves, much less U.S. observation planes.

The first U.S. day-bomber units, flying Breguets, began operations in June attacking railroad yards. On 10 July six Breguets of the United States’ only bombing squadron, the 96th Squadron, got lost and were forced to land behind German lines. They compounded the disaster by failing to burn their aircraft, prompting the German message, “We thank you for the fine airplanes and equipment which you sent us, but what will we do with the Major?”

By fall circumstances had improved markedly. When the AEF First Army attacked the Saint-Mihiel salient on 12 to 16 September, Colonel Mitchell had under his direct command or on call 1,481 airplanes—701 pursuit, 366 observation, 323 day bombers, and 91 night bombers—the largest concentration of Allied air forces during the war, nearly half of which belonged to the United States. Despite poor weather conditions, this overwhelming mass retained aerial control as the fighters penetrated over German airfields and day bombers struck targets on the battlefield and in the rear. Saint-Mihiel marked the meteoric ascent of the 27th Squadron’s Arizona balloon-buster Frank Luke, who concentrating on observation ballons shot down 18 Germans in 17 days, but was downed by the Germans on 28 September as the Meuse-Argonne offensive began. In an unusual gesture for a downed pilot, Luke, rather than surrender, pulled his pistol to fight on the ground and was killed. His wingman and protector, Joseph Wehner, an ace in his own right, had fallen 10 days before.

American bomber crews, whether flying Breguets or DH4s, suffered severe losses during the offensive when operating in small formations of 3 to 6 airplanes but far fewer in larger tight formations. The United States’ use of virtually unprotected day bombers on raids 10 to 20 kilometers behind German lines—a French and British practice—resulted in such heavy losses that the U.S. Air Service resorted to bomber escorts in the Meuse-Argonne campaign. In that campaign from 26 September to the end of October, Mitchell pursued the same tactics as over Saint-Mihiel. He sent 100 aircraft-pursuit groups strafing over the lines, and staged his largest daytime raid on 9 October with 200 bombers and 100 fighters attacking German troop concentrations. Mitchell also further increased the size of his fighter patrols to counter German formations at the point of the U.S. attacks. The corps observation planes had the most difficult task—keeping pace with the infantry in contact patrols performed at tree-top level, often in fog and ground mist—in addition to their artillery observation tasks. Ultimately 18 observation squadrons would serve army or corps headquarters in what the army regarded as aviation’s most essential task.

Losses in the intensive fighting in the war’s last three months offset the influx of new units to the front, and many of these approximately 31 units were understrength. On 26 September the air arm had 646 airplanes; on 15 October it comprised 579; and at the Armistice it could muster 45 squadrons with only 457 serviceable planes, less than half the authorized program. Supply remained a problem throughout the war, and was particularly grave during the Meuse-Argonne campaign. At the end of October the three pursuit groups could assemble only a little over half their listed strength of 300 Spads.

The U.S. Air Service received 6,624 combat planes—4,879 from the French, 1,440 DH4s from the United States, 272 from the British, and 19 from the Italians. Of its French planes, 1,644 were Nieuports, 893 were Spad 13s, and 678 were Salmsons. At the war’s end some 80 percent of the air service’s planes were French made. The Spad 13, France’s first-line fighter, though not particularly maneuverable, was strong and the fastest fighter at the front. It was more difficult to keep in operation than the Nieuport 28 because the geared Hispano-Suiza 220-hp engine was more difficult to adjust and repair than the Nieuport’s 160-hp Gnome rotary. In the August Saint-Mihiel buildup, problems with the 220-hp Spads of the 22nd Squadron made concentration on combat difficult, and at Saint-Mihiel some pilots could fly only one mission a day because mechanics were able to keep only 65 percent of the planes serviceable.

U.S. squadrons judged the DH4 inferior to the Breguet for bombardment and the Salmson for observation. Similar average losses of Breguet, Salmson, and DH4 squadrons in the war’s final months were misleading, since squadrons in quieter sectors used the DH4. The Breguet was faster, its metal-tubing fuselage stronger than the DH4’s wood frame, and possessed better load and altitude capability. The sturdy Salmson 2A2 was overall the best observation craft. Although corps observation missions—especially infantry-contact patrol—suffered serious losses to enemy pursuit in the absence of fighter protection, on army observation missions above 15,000 feet the Salmson with its 260-hp radial could outrun the Pfalz, Albatros, and Fokker D7 and outclimb both the Pfalz and the Albatros.

There were numerous complaints about faulty materiel, particularly engine assembly and magnetos. The DH4 frame was too weak for the Liberty engine to run at full throttle without shaking the plane to bits. One U.S. engineer officer considered Liberty planes unprepared for service and often replaced their shock absorbers and wheels with Breguet parts. Beyond such construction flaws, the absence of self-sealing gas tanks offering some protection against fire in the DH4s did not help the morale of bomber crews. French plane tanks had asbestos-rubber coatings that automatically sealed bullet holes. The DH4’s nickname, “Flaming Coffin,” stemmed from its unprotected gas tanks and pressure-feed gas system. If a bullet punctured the gas tank, the pressure system forced fuel out of the unsealed hole over the airframe. A single incendiary bullet or spark made the plane a flaming funeral pyre for its crew.

Such potential fate did not deter American aircrews. Second Lt. W. J. Rogers, a DH4 observer of the 50th Aero Squadron, commented:

Aerial observation is neither a bed of roses nor the path to glory that the man on the ground imagines it to be. The wind behind a Liberty is terrific, and it taxes the strength of the strongest to fight it for three hours. If the ship is rolled and tossed about very much, . . . the occupants sometimes get sick . . .

But I like it. I’m sorry we had war, but since we did, I’m glad I was an aerial observer.

Aircrew members underwent training at home and in Europe. The Signal Corps adopted the Canadian method, establishing ground training units at eight universities that ultimately put more than 17,000 cadets through an 8- to 12-week course. Although the army increased its flying fields for primary training from 3 in 1917 to 27 by the war’s end, airplane and instructor shortages in the United States caused many aircrews to receive their primary and advanced training in Europe.

The most noted training grounds in France were the pursuit school at Issoudun and the bomber school at Clermont-Ferrand. The French fighter-training method emphasized individual tactics rather than teamwork and formation flying, although “gang” or “collective and cooperative” fighting, perhaps the “exact antithesis of the ‘sporting attitude,’” was most efficient and appropriate in 1918. The U.S. fliers did not fully appreciate the necessity for formation training until after the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, when they modified their instruction. Meanwhile, trainees and instructors in the bombardment school at Clermont-Ferrand suffered from dissatisfaction and poor morale. School commanders complained that pursuit aviation received excessive publicity, and that training for observation and bomber aviation was undervalued, neglected, and used as a threat for poor fighter-pilot trainees.

Casualties of U.S. Air Service personnel attached to all armies in Europe mounted steadily from four in March to 537 in October. Of the total 583 casualties, 235 were killed in action, 130 were wounded, 145 taken prisoner, 45 were killed in accidents, 25 were wounded, and 3 were interned. Accidents at the front and in flight training were as lethal for the American air arm as other air arms. The figures show that 681 flight personnel died in the air service, 508 (74.6 percent) of them in accidents (263 training in the United States, 203 in AEF training schools in Europe, and 42 at the front), 169 (24.8 percent) in combat, and 4 (.6 percent) from disease. In 1920 Lieutenant Colonel Rowntree of the Medical Reserve Corps concluded that “for every flier killed in combat three succumbed to accidents.” In addition, 72 were missing, 137 taken prisoner, 127 wounded, and 3 interned at the front. Of the 2,034 flight personnel—1,281 pilots and 753 observers—who reached the front, for every 100 trained fliers 24 had been killed; for every 100 pilots 33 had been killed; and for every 100 observers 4 had been killed. Pursuit training took the highest toll, followed by night bombing, day bombing, and then observation.

On 6 April 1917 the navy had 21 seaplanes in use, and on 14 October it had over 500 seaplanes at U.S. naval stations and 400 abroad. U.S. naval aviators flew Capronis in the northern bombing group at Calais-Dunkirk. However they received only 18 Capronis in July and August 1918 instead of the 140 promised, and the planes’ Fiat engines were so poorly built that they had to be completely reconstructed. The first Caproni with the superior Isotta-Fraschini engines arrived just after the Armistice. The group’s day bomber DH4s flew with RAF units. The naval operation remained small, and at the Armistice it had only 17 serviceable aircraft—6 Capronis, 12 DH4s, and 17 DH9s—instead of the 40 Capronis and 72 day bombers planned. By the war’s end naval aircraft would be based at 27 naval air stations from Ireland to Italy, and for their overwater operations they would rely increasingly on U.S.-made seaplanes—Curtiss boats with Liberty engines.

In the United States, the disarray in the aviation industry continued in 1918. By January the production program’s failures led President Wilson secretly to authorize sculptor and air enthusiast Gutzon Borglum to investigate the existence of an “aircraft Trust.” Borglum’s attacks forced the resignations of Col. Edward Deeds and Howard Coffin. By mid April aviation manufacturers, members of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and particularly a president’s special committee investigating the industry recommended placing the aircraft program under a powerful civilian executive separate from the Signal Corps. Builders complained about the lack of definite orders; the Senate committee decried the delays in the provision of training aircraft, the “gravely disappointing” production of Liberty engines, and combat-plane production that was “a substantial failure and constitutes a most serious disappointment in our war preparations.” The committee majority believed that production needed to be removed from the Signal Corps entirely, although a minority insisted that the program was doing well given its difficult circumstances.

In May the president appointed Brig. Gen. William Kenly, Pershing’s former aviation chief, director of the Division of Military Aeronautics directly subordinate to the Secretary of War. President Wilson selected John D. Ryan, a director of the Anaconda Copper Company, to direct the army’s Bureau of Aircraft Production and chair the Aircraft Production Board. The two offices proceeded to operate independently, since Secretary of War Newton Baker was too overburdened to serve as liaison between Kenly and Ryan. On 22 August a report by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs recommended establishing an independent air secretary with a seat in the cabinet over a department of aviation, as existed in both England and France. In August 1918 President Wilson placed Ryan in charge of aviation, appointing him a second assistant secretary of war and director of the U.S. Army’s air service, but Ryan then left on a six-week tour of Europe, and the war ended before the new arrangement took effect.

As the government struggled to correct matters, rumors spread. The 22 March New York World carried part of Gutzon Borglum’s report to the president, and Wilson referred the matter to the Justice Department. Charges of profiteering and conflict of interest led to an investigation of aircraft production by Charles Evans Hughes, Wilson’s opponent in the 1916 election and a former Supreme Court justice. The investigation, which was completed in October, yielded evidence of confusion and conflict of interest though none of corruption or conspiracy. The matter was dropped at the war’s end.

During this political turmoil, the U.S. aviation industry strove to develop and produce combat airplanes. DH4 production began to accelerate in May, when 153 were manufactured, and culminated in October with the production of 1,097. Only 67 had reached the battlefront by 1 July, but tests showing them to be structurally weak and defective forced a temporary suspension of contracts. In 1918 Liberty-engine production increased dramatically from 39 in January to 620 in May to 1,102 in June and finally to 3,878 in October. In July some aircraft plants were shut down or running below capacity.

The failure to manufacture foreign designs in the United States resulted from production problems. The government’s cancellation of Spad production at Curtiss in January necessitated providing large advances to prevent the firm’s collapse. In late April the Joint Army and Navy Technical Board recommended SE5 production at Curtiss, but the prototype, an SE5a with a 200-hp geared Hispano-Suiza, arrived with incomplete drawings that mixed the SE5a and the SE5 with a 180-hp Hispano-Suiza. Later, on 20 August, the official test of the U.S. SE5 revealed engine and radiator problems. When the order was canceled at the Armistice, Curtiss had produced only one SE5.

The 2,000 Bristol fighters ordered from Curtiss in January met a similar fate. Curtiss initially believed that the plane required extensive redesign and strengthening to contain the Liberty, but later abandoned these reservations. The first plane crashed in test on 7 May, then another crashed nose first on 7 June, killing the crew, as did a third in a 15 July test. The overpowered plane was deemed “unsafe, overloaded, and [of] no military value.” On 20 July the order was canceled. The United States would build no frontline fighters, only fighter trainers.

In February the Aircraft Production Board decided to produce both Handley Pages and Capronis and placed contracts in April with the Standard Aircraft Corporation in Elizabeth, New Jersey. By late June Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peyton C. March was studying the United States’ ability to produce the Handley Page four-engine giant V/1500. In late July the plant began to ship unassembled Handley Page 0/400 bombers without engines to England for assembly. It ultimately sent fewer than 100, none of which reached the front. Meanwhile, after much delay, misunderstanding, and trouble, the Caproni flew on 4 July and proved to be overpowered by the Liberty engines. In October the government decided that Capronis and Handley Pages were a stopgap measure until the manufacture of U.S. Martin bombers, a new design by Glenn L. Martin and Donald Douglas that would prove to be the world’s best light bomber in 1920. The Armistice, however, led to the cancellation of all Caproni and Handley Page orders.

Capt. Frank Briscoe, assigned to manage Caproni production, attributed the long delay and great expense to the serious problems of adjusting metric plans for skilled woodworkers to production by machine methods using U.S. measurements. He considered the greatest obstacle of all to be “the military method of handling industrial projects,” specifically the absence of a single authority to manage the project.

A report on U.S. aircraft production submitted on 22 August by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs ascribed the disappointing results in aircraft production to the automobile manufacturers’ control of the program. Their lack of experience in aircraft production and the emphasis on the Liberty engine, which was thought capable of powering all aircraft types, were largely responsible for production delays. The committee rejected as reasons for delays the difficulty of measurement conversion and of securing sufficient engines, and accused the board of being mainly concerned with adapting planes to the Liberty engine, referring to the abortive attempts to adapt the engine to the Bristol fighter and the Spad. It condemned the organization under the Aircraft Production Board as unsystematic and inefficient, and believed that the board should have heeded the 1917 recommendations of Colonel Clark and Colonel Boiling to produce foreign planes and engines. The committee also suggested that the board should have adopted the Italian approach of selecting the best French types for production and then gradually moving to domestic designs. It judged that a substantial part of the $640 million appropriation had been wasted, citing the $6.5 million expended on the Bristol fighter and the over $6 million expended on 1,200 standard J-trainers that had to be condemned.

The navy’s seaplane procurement was highlighted not just by Curtiss’s success but also by that of the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, which had begun deliveries in April. The first Naval Aircraft Factory plane flew in March, only 228 days after the factory’s ground-breaking ceremonies. By the war’s end the factory employed 3,750 workers, a quarter of them women, and by 31 December 1918 it had built 183 twin-engine flying boats, the last 33 of them Felixstowe F5Ls, the final version of the British boat powered by a Liberty engine. A critical difference between the circumstances of naval and military procurement was the navy’s foundation of the Curtiss designs, which compared favorably to those abroad and were probably the United States’s true aircraft production success story. The military had no domestic landplane design of comparable standing.

Imperial Japanese Army and Navy – Night fighters

J1N1-Sa Gekko Model 11 Kou
Unit: Yokosuka kokutai
Serial: Yo-101
Pilot – Juzo Kuramolo; observer – ensign Shiro Kurotori. Yokosuka (Oppama) AB/Kanagawa, Japan. Early May 1945.

In the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy there was no alternative to visual recognition, because until early 1944 neither service used any avionics apart from communications radio and DF loops. AI radar and IFF were slow to come into Japanese service, though preliminary information on FuG 202 Lichtenstein was sent by submarine from Germany in 1942. But it would be misleading to picture Japan as a land of technology illiterates, able only to copy Western innovations. This image may have comforted the Allies until the first few days after Pearl Harbor, but it was knocked for six by the superior combat performance of the A6M (Zero) fighter, and it never had much basis in fact. In 1928 Okabe in Tokyo had been the first microwave worker to generate enough power for communications in this band of new centimetric wavelengths, and at about the same time Professor Yagi had devised the short-wave directional aerial that bears his name. Comprising a linear array of dipoles, the Yagi aerial is today seen on many millions of rooftops around the world, and it was this type of aerial that was used in the first Japanese AI installation.

Though their development was slow and often troublesome, no fewer than five types of airborne radar were worked on by the Japanese in the Second World War. At first the main effort went into ASV (air-to-surface vessel) sets, which by 1944 were operational in several types of Navy aircraft down to the familiar B5N (‘Kate’) torpedo-bomber. The three types of AI radar for night fighters were less successful. One was an Army copy of FuG 202, and though it was tested in an obsolescent Mitsubishi Ki-21 bomber in 1943 it either never reached combat units or made only an insignificant impact on operations. The much more important Army set was the E-1, operating in the S-band at near 11 cm wavelength, the main carrier of which was the Kawasaki Type 2 heavy fighter, also called Ki-45 Toryu (dragon-killer) and known to the Allies as ‘Nick’. Originally a day long-range fighter, with forward-firing guns, the Ki-45-Kai-C (modification C) version appeared in June 1944 with two 20 mm guns mounted obliquely in the mid-fuselage and, in some aircraft until October 1944, a searchlight in the nose. Gradually the AI radar was fitted and operators trained, but there is no evidence that radar played the central role in the occasional successes scored by these aircraft defending Japan against the B-29. At least the Ki-45 could reach the B-29 attack height of around 31,000 feet, and at full throttle could just overtake the speedy American bombers. Over Japan there was often chaotic radio communication, and no GCI system at all. Night fighters were thus left to their own devices, and the few successful night interceptions that took place were usually on moonlit nights when the B-29 contrails showed up from a considerable distance.

Intercepting a B-29 formation called for great courage. Whereas a Luftwaffe NJG pilot had nothing to fear from 99 per cent of the RAF heavies, the B-29 had no blind spots and carried heavy armament covering every possible direction of attack. Downwards and to the rear a fighter could be seen from three sighting stations and fired upon by six 0.5 in guns and a 20 mm cannon, and as these great bombers held tighter formation than the RAF bomber stream it was probable that, if one bomber opened fire, several others would open up on the same target. Added to the fact that head-on attacks were impractical at night, one is left with a situation in which a single fighter is faced with withering heavy-calibre fire in a stern chase at a closing speed hardly more than walking pace. A few Ki-45 night fighters attempted to get more speed and altitude by fitting only two 12.7 mm (0.5 in) oblique guns, a totally inadequate armament for the task of bringing down a B-29. Typical Ki-45-Kai-C forward-firing armament comprised a single heavy cannon of 37, 50 or 75 mm calibre, but these fired slowly and carried a very limited number of rounds. How eight of these fighters managed to bring down seven of a force of B-29s attacking northern Kyushu on the night of 15 June 1944 remains a mystery: there may have been some deliberate collisions.

The equivalent of the Ki-45 in the Imperial Navy was the Nakajima J1N1 Gekko (moonlight), called ‘Irving’ by the Allies. Planned as an escort fighter in 1940, the original J1N1-C failed to make the grade, but eventually entered service as a reconnaissance aircraft. It first operated in late 1942 in the area of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and though it had inadequate performance for day fighting it was locally judged to be a possible answer to the US Army heavy bombers that were making life a misery at night. The initiative to turn the J1N1-C into a night fighter stemmed from the commander of the 251st Air Corps at Rabaul, Yasuna Kozono, who proposed the same upward-firing armament as was being experimented with by the Luftwaffe. He went further, and suggested two pairs of 20 mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon, one pair firing obliquely up and the other pair obliquely down. Compared with the Luftwaffe Schräge Musik installations the inclination was less steep, a typical angle being 30°.

In March 1943 Kozono received permission for the proposed modification, and two aircraft were returned to Japan for this purpose. At the same time the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Tokyo recognized that the basic aircraft was eminently suitable for use as a night fighter, a category of aircraft then non-existent in the Imperial Navy. Work began on a specialized sub-type, the J1N1-S. Meanwhile the first two night-fighter conversions, designated J1N1-C-Kai, returned to Rabaul in May 1943 and soon proved their worth by shooting down two B-17s, following the next night by a B-24. This was no mean achievement, as the C-Kai had long exhaust stacks discharging above the wing, without flame dampers, and maximum speed not higher than 300 mph. At one time one of them had a trainable searchlight in the nose. They retained a crew of three, the pilot being assisted by a navigator and a gunner, the latter being needed to change ammunition drums.
These successes, the first ever gained by Japanese night fighters, were followed by others until both the original C-Kai conversions had been destroyed. But by August 1943 the definitive J1N1-S Gekko was in production, and most of the 479 of all J1N versions built were of this sub-type. The new Type 99 Model 2 guns had belt feeds, so no gunner was needed, and the previously lumpy rear fuselage was made more streamlined. From December 1944 the Gekko was the chief Navy night fighter, but its success against the B-17 and B-24 could not be repeated against the B-29; it could not climb high enough nor fly fast enough, despite the speed being increased to 315 mph at the best height of about 16,000 feet and 272 mph at 30,000 feet. In the final versions produced in 1945 a Navy-developed AI radar was fitted, again using Yagi-type aerials in a neat quadruple array and being under the control of the observer. There is no record of successful B-29 interceptions, and these aircraft either languished on the ground or were used for Kamikaze attacks.

The Army’s success with the Ki-45 led to a successor, the Ki-96, first flown in September 1943. Much more powerful, it had a speed of 373 mph and carried a 37 mm cannon and two 20 mm guns. The Army could not make up their minds whether it should have one seat or two. Eventually the Ki-96 was redesigned into the Ki-102 two-seater, flown in March 1944. One of its guns had a calibre of 57 mm, and a single shell blew an engine off a B-29 in the course of a prototype test flight with loaded guns. Only a handful of different types of Ki-102 were built, the last two being Ki-102c night fighters with two oblique 20 mm Ho-5 cannon and two forward-firing 30 mm Ho-105s. All these were new guns marking a great improvement on the old patterns used previously. The Ki-102c also carried AI radar, almost certainly E-1, and its crew comprised a pilot and radar observer. The Allied name for all Ki-102 versions was ‘Randy’.

It so happened that the best of all Japanese night fighters was a converted bomber extremely similar to the Ju 88 in character. Though many years later in conception than the German aircraft, the Yokosuka P1Y1 had precisely the same wing span, almost identical weights and engine power, a close-grouped crew of three and very similar flight performance. Like the Ju 88 it was big, tough, durable and could be flung round the sky like a single-seater. So good was it that the Navy instructed the Kawanishi company to redesign it into the P1Y1-s Kyokko (Aurora), known to the Allies as ‘Frances’. The tricky airframe was made simpler to build, the troublesome Homare engines were replaced by robust Kaseis, and the interior was rearranged with the navigator in the nose, the pilot in the centre and the rear gunner in the aft cockpit. The usual armament comprised two oblique 20 mm guns (said to be Type 99 but almost certainly Ho-5s) and a third gun of the same type in the rear cockpit for defence. Radar was fitted, related to that of the J1N1-S but derived from the widely used ASV installation with a completely different dipole aerial array, there being a single large Yagi array in the nose and an axial trio of dipoles along each side of the rear fuselage. About ninety-seven Kyokkos were built, a few having a twin 20 mm dorsal turret. It was perhaps fortunate for the Allies that protracted trials were still going on when the war ended.

There were many other ‘heavy fighter’ programmes in Japan which might have yielded a useful night defender. Among these were the Ki-46-III-Kai version of an established reconnaissance machine, with an oblique 37 mm cannon; the big Mitsubishi Ki-109 with a forward-firing 75 mm gun; the Nakajima J5N-1 Tenrai (heavenly thunder), designed to replace the J1N1-S; the Kawasaki Ki-108 with twin turbocharged engines and a pressure cabin; the Rikugun Ki-93, with two six-blade single-rotation propellers; and the Mitsubishi Ki-83, which was one of the best combat aircraft the Japanese produced in the Second World War. None of these played any part in the war, owing to a combination of muddled administration, severe technical snags, crippling shortages, and the catastrophic effect on Japanese industry of the devastating B-29 raids. Unlike the air battles in the German night sky, those over Japan – if they took place at all, which was very seldom – were one-sided. The general objective of the Japanese was not so much to develop a better fighter that would destroy the B-29 faster, as to develop one that could actually get within firing range. There was quite a difference between a Lancaster cruising at 200 mph at 22,000 feet and a B-29 cruising at 300 mph at 32,000 feet. This must be borne in mind when reflecting on the Japanese lack of success.