China-India – Conflict Background

The Chinese, unable to understand the genuine resentment and anger the Tibetans felt about the occupation, were convinced that India supported the resistance. Sino-Indian relations deteriorated even further when the Dalai Lama fled to India after the failed uprising in Lhasa in March 1959. At a CCP Politburo meeting on 17 March, Zhou stressed upon what he saw as a connection between the uprising and the Indian government, and he went on to speculate that both Britain and the United States had provided support for the rebels in collusion with India, and that, ‘a commanding centre of the rebellion has been established in Kalimpong’.

There was no more Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai and it was at this time that Deng Xiaoping argued that India had to be taught a lesson The incursions into Longju in August 1959 and Kongka La in October were most likely meant to probe India’s defences. The American academic Donald S. Zagoria in his comprehensive study of the Sino-Soviet conflict has another explanation for the Chinese attacks in 1959; it once again shows that China’s conflict with India was never mainly about border demarcation or whether or not old treaties should be honoured. He refers to what was said by a Polish delegation that visited Beijing in October 1959 for the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China,

The Poles … supposed that Chinese Communist resentment at being left out of high-level negotiations was one of the motivations behind Peking’s (Beijing’s) decision to stir up trouble with India over the boundary question. The October incident in Kashmir, where several Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed, was said to be intended as a reminder to India, the Soviet Union, and the West that there were important areas of the world where settlements could be reached only by direct negotiations with Peking.

It was also becoming increasingly clear that Mao’s—and China’s—worldview was fundamentally different from Nehru’s ideals of non-alignment and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. The Western concept of the Three-World Model, as formulated during the Cold War, meant that the US and its allies belonged to the First World, the Soviet Union and its satellites to the Second, and neutral and non-aligned countries to the Third World. Mao’s Three Worlds Theory was different. To him, the US and the Soviet Union belonged to the First World; Japan, Europe and Canada formed the Second World; and Asia, Africa, and Latin America were the Third.

Naturally, China aspired to become the leader of the Third World and dethrone India from the position it held throughout the 1950s as the main voice of the newly independent Asian and African nations. Wang Hongwei, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spelled it out in one of his studies, ‘India after annexing more than 560 principalities, sent forces into Kashmir and embarked on expansionism … Since then the bourgeois elite of India stepped on the stage of contemporary Asian history and strived for power and hegemony, and acted as if they were leaders.’ And in order to change that, China had to show that it was militarily superior to India. That was achieved in 1962. India never recovered from the defeat—Nehru himself died a broken man in 1964, and China under Mao became the beacon for most of the Third World revolutionaries. As Mao had said, ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’.

The 1962 War also forced India to abandon its non-aligned status, first by seeking support from the US and later by allying itself with China’s new enemy, the Soviet Union. Non-interference became history when Indian troops intervened in East Pakistan in 1971 and helped the resistance fighters there break away to form Bangladesh. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent ideals had definitely given way to a militarized India, which expanded its armed forces and even exploded its own nuclear device in May 1974. China had won. India was no longer an example to follow for the Third World. China was.

Even a cursory look at the history of China’s wars since 1949 shows that border disputes were never a main guiding principle in Beijing’s foreign policy. Apart from the invasion of Tibet and bombardments of the nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Strait in the 1950s (which were meant to consolidate the new communist government over what it considered its rightful territory) China’s wars have always been ideologically motivated, meant to show its superior strength vis-à-vis adversaries and to demonstrate socialist solidarity with its ‘comrades-in-arms’. Respect for international boundaries has never been an issue.

In Korea in the early 1950s, hundreds of thousands of Chinese ‘volunteers’ streamed down the peninsula to support the communist regime in the North and its war against the US-allied South. The Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, and a still-divided nation, a Chinese ally, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North, and the pro-West Republic of Korea in the South. Chinese losses in that war were immense, as it resorted to ‘human-waves tactics’, i.e., sending wave after wave of inexperienced recruits to face the bullets and the artillery of the south. An estimated 152,000 Chinese died and 383,000 were wounded in that war, but China had for the first time showed that it was a military force to be reckoned with and that it would not hesitate to suffer heavy casualties if a political point could be made.

After the Mekong River Operation across the border into Myanmar in 1960–61, China embarked on a strategically even more adventurous campaign in the same region. In January 1968, thousands of Chinese crossed the border again into Myanmar—this time as ‘volunteers’ to fight alongside the insurgent Communist Party of Burma (CPB), which resorted to armed struggle against the Myanmar government shortly after independence in 1948. Since the early 1950s, more than 140 Myanmar Communists had been living in exile in China, but it was not until an unpredictable general, Ne Win, seized power in the capital Yangon in March 1962 that they began to receive substantial Chinese support for their cause. It is generally assumed by most Westerns scholars that the anti-Chinese riots in Yangon in June 1967 became the catalyst for China’s decision to aid the CPB. But, like the border dispute with India, that was only a pretext for China to move into action.

CPB cadres had already begun surveying the border areas for possible infiltration routes in 1963. At the same time, they were introduced to a group of ethnic Kachin rebels who had also retreated into China in the early 1950s. As most of the Myanmar communists were urban intellectuals, that group of warlike Kachin tribesmen were to become the nucleus of the CPB army. But, until the early 1970s, Chinese ‘volunteers’ made up the bulk of the CPB’s fighting force. Most of them were youthful Red Guards from China, who had received their political schooling during the Cultural Revolution. But among them were also more experienced PLA officers and political commissars.

Chinese support for the CPB continued until Deng Xiaoping, a political hardliner but an economic reformer, changed Beijing’s foreign policy in the 1980s from support of revolutionary movements to bilateral trade with China’s neighbours and other commercial activities. But the Chinese never completely abandoned the CPB. It was still a useful tool, which the Chinese could use to exert its influence inside Myanmar.

In March 1969, a border war broke out between China and the Soviet Union, ostensibly over the ownership of some sandbanks in the River Ussuri. But, as was the case with India in 1962, political motives were more important than the exact alignment of the border. Beijing wanted to show the Third World that revolutionary China was strong enough to stand up even against the ‘Soviet revisionist renegade clique’, as the Chinese called the Soviet leaders after Beijing had broken ties with Moscow in 1960. China, not the Soviet Union, was the true leader of all the oppressed peoples of the world.

Chinese support for North Vietnam and the communist guerrillas in the South was substantial until that war ended in May 1975. But centuries of mutual distrust between the Chinese and the Vietnamese let to strained relations, with Hanoi allying itself with the Soviet Union. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia, China’s main ally in the region, in December 1978–Janaury 1979, it was time for Beijing to teach another neighbour ‘a lesson’. In February 1979, Chinese troops—and they came from the same regiments as those that had taken part in the 1961 campaign against the KMT in Myanmar—crossed the border into northern Vietnam. But this time, the PLA was not as successful as it had been against India in 1962. The Vietnamese fought back, inflicting heavy casualties on the Chinese. No one really won that war—and it turned out to be the last of its kind that the PLA fought. Since then, efforts have been made to turn the PLA into a more modern and professional force, not the ‘people’s army’ of the past.

But back in 1962, the PLA was still an ideologically motivated entity guided by the political commissars from the CCP, and it is clear that India, and Nehru in particular, did not realize that. Nehru’s faith in Zhou was also misguided. George Patterson, a British Tibet expert who was fluent in several local dialects, writes in his Peking Versus Delhi, which was published in 1963,

There is another side to Chou [Zhou] which is not so well-known as the charming, brilliant, even ‘moderate’, exterior which he uses to win friends and influence people. In 1931, Kao Chen-chang [Gu Shunzhang], a member of the Communist Central Committee and Chief of the Communist secret police, broke with the Communists and informed to the police in Hankow [Hankou], a group of men led by Chou himself murdered the whole family, including servants and babies, by strangulation.

Gu himself was not among those killed, and the decision to punish the family was made as he had managed to escape from the clutches of the Party. When Gu had outlived his usefulness to the KMT authorities, he was executed by the police in 1935. Zhou, meanwhile, carried out many similar purges and killings of real or imagined traitors to the Communist cause. Zhou was as much a hardliner as the dreaded security chief Kang Sheng, who became notorious for his brutality during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Moreover, Chinese articles and documents show that Nehru’s apparent fondness for Zhou was not reciprocated. The Chinese Communists always considered Nehru a bourgeois nationalist leader, and not even as a mild socialist. The earliest attacks on the Indian prime minister came even before the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 October 1949. Nehru was a ‘running dog of imperialism’, according to an article on 19 August 1949 in Shijie Zhishi (‘world knowledge’), a magazine published by the CCP’s Culture Committee. In its 16 September 1949 issue, the magazine proclaimed, ‘Nehru riding behind the imperialists whose stooge he is, actually consider[s] himself the leader of the Asian people… as a rebel against the movement for national independence, as a blackguard… as a loyal slave of imperialism, Nehru has always been made the substitute of Chiang Kai-shek by the imperialists.’

Even if Nehru was unaware of what Zhou and his comrades were writing in their Chinese-language publications, and saying about him behind his back during the days of Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai, the CIA certainly knew what the Chinese were up to. A top secret CIA report from 2 March 1963, which has only recently been declassified, states,

The Chinese diplomatic effort was a five-year masterpiece of guile, executed—and probably planned in large part—by Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai]. Chou played on Nehru’s Asian, anti-imperialist mental attitude, his proclivity to temporize, and his sincere desire for an amicable Sino-Indian relationship. Chou’s strategy was to avoid making explicit, in conversations and communications with Nehru, any Chinese border claims, while avoiding any retraction of those claims which would require changing Chinese maps. Chou took the line with Nehru in Peiping [Beijing] in October 1954 that Communist China ‘had as yet had no time to review’ the Kuomintang maps, leaving the implication but not the explicit promise that they would be revised. In New Delhi in November–December 1956, Chou sought to create the impression with Nehru that Peiping would accept the McMahon Line, but again his language was equivocal, and what was conceded with his left hand, he retrieved with his right.

The same CIA report says that the former prime minister of Myanmar, Ba Swe, had written a letter to Nehru in 1958, warning him to be ‘cautious’ in dealing with Zhou on the Sino-Indian border issue. At the same time, Myanmar was engaged in talks with the Chinese about their common border, which was eventually demarcated in 1960 after an agreement, which was not unfavourable to Myanmar, had been reached.

According to the report, ‘Nehru is said to have replied by declaring Chou to be “an honourable man”, who could be trusted’. Nehru, and India, had to pay a heavy price for that trust when the PLA came storming across the Himalayas in October 1962.

Some analysts and historians have argued that China would have been willing to settle the border dispute with India through some ‘give-and-take’ on both sides. The Chinese would give up their claim to the NEFA in exchange for India’s recognition of China’s de facto control of Aksai Chin. After all, that was how China had settled its border disputes with Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. But this argument fails to make a distinction between Beijing’s relations with smaller neighbours such as Myanmar and Nepal, and the importance of a strategic alliance with Pakistan, and the fact that China’s disputes with India go way beyond drawing a line on the map and demarcating it on the ground. And, as noted, in the 1950s, China emerged as India’s main rival for leadership of the newly independent nations in Asia and Africa.

Today, an entirely new situation has emerged. Bilateral trade between China and India—not across the closed border but by sea—is booming; in 2015–16, it stood at US$ 70.73 billion, but it should be added, India’s trade deficit is US$ 52.68 billion. China imports minerals, ores, and cotton from India, while India buys electronic equipment, computer hardware, and chemicals from China.

However, the rivalry between India and China is far from over, and the distrust between the two countries remains deep and profound. To China, Arunachal Pradesh is still ‘South Tibet’ and travellers from that part of India get their Chinese visas stapled into their passports. According to the Chinese, they are not foreigners, as they are coming from a part of China that is under Indian occupation. This is a gesture that serves no purpose other than to humiliate India and the Indians.

More alarmingly, China has not ceased its support to rebels in India’s troubled northeast. Nagas, Assamese, and Manipuris have been able to buy weapons on what is euphemistically called ‘the black market’ in China. Paresh Baruah, the leader of the main outfit, the United Liberation Front of Asom [Assam] (ULFA), stays in Chinese towns and travels freely across the country. The Chinese may argue that they are only reciprocating India’s act of providing sanctuary for the Dalai Lama, allowing the enemy of one country to stay in the other. But while the Dalai Lama is not the leader of a band of armed insurgents, Baruah certainly is.

Bumla and other passes in the Himalayas may be quiet today, but there is growing concern over a cascade of dams the Chinese are planning to build on the Brahmaputra in Tibet, where it is called Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan and Yarlung Zangbo on Chinese maps. One dam, at Zangmu in southeastern Tibet, became operational in October 2015, and there are another 27 proposed dams on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries before the river enters India. Naturally, that plan has caused controversy as the Chinese have not consulted India and Bangladesh, the downstream countries that would be affected by these dams.43 China’s attitude towards its neighbours has been the same on the Mekong, where a number of dams have been built inside China without any consultation with Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, through which that river also flows.

Despite the tension along and across the border, the centre of frictions between India and China today is not in the Himalayas but in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese are making inroads into what India has always considered its ‘own lake’, and that could lead to conflict. China wants to keep a close watch on the sea lanes used by its suppliers of oil in the Middle East, but that means challenging India’s supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Recent joint naval exercises between India and the United States, and Japan’s interest in those, show that there is a new Cold War, this time with China rather than the Soviet Union as the main adversary.

In the middle of this imbroglio lies Myanmar, which has always strived to be a neutral buffer state between regional rivals, but more often than not ended up as an area of conflict between players, indigenous as well as foreign, vying for power and influence. During the decade 1968–78, the Chinese poured more aid into the CPB in Myanmar than they had into any other communist movement outside Indochina. A 20,000-square-kilometre base area was established along the Chinese border in Myanmar’s northeast. The Chinese built two small hydroelectric power plants inside the CPB’s territory, and a clandestine radio station, ‘the People’s Voice of Burma’, began transmitting from the Yunnan side of the border in 1971. It was later moved to the CPB’s headquarters at Panghsang inside Myanmar, where the entire leadership resided in houses built by the Chinese.

On the Thai border, ethnic Karen, Shan, and Mon rebels were allowed to set up bases, and buy supplies and weapons from the Thai side. The Thais wanted a border buffer between themselves and their historical enemy, Myanmar, which had invaded their country in the past and had sacked the old capital of Ayutthaya in 1767. While such concerns may seem anachronistic in today’s world, they were real enough for the Thais.

In the west, near the border with East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), Muslim guerrillas from the Rohingya community in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been active since Myanmar became independent from Britain in 1948. India never supported any rebel movement in Myanmar, but gave asylum to U Nu, who was ousted by General Ne Win in 1962. During a pro-democracy uprising in August–September 1988, the activists received moral support from Indian authorities.

The situation in Myanmar’s border areas changed dramatically when, in March–April 1989, the once powerful CPB collapsed after a mutiny among the rank-and-file of the party’s army, most of whom were Wa tribesmen. The Wa were headhunters who lived in the mountains straddling Myanmar’s northeastern border with China and had been recruited into the communist army without having any clear idea of the ideology for which they were fighting and dying. Almost the entire old leadership fled to China, where they were given asylum. The CPB subsequently broke up into four ethnic armies, of which the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is by far the strongest.

The 1989 CPB mutiny actually suited China’s interests, and there are strong suggestions that China’s clandestine services actively encouraged the Wa and others to rise up against their leaders. In view of Deng’s new polices, which emphasized trade and economic expansion, the CPB’s old leadership, which remained staunchly Maoist, had become a liability.

In the years following the CPB mutiny, trade between China and Myanmar blossomed. China flooded Myanmar’s markets with cheap consumer goods and imported mainly raw materials such as timber and minerals. The annual exchange of goods soon reached the US$ 1 billion mark. The surge in bilateral trade between Myanmar and China was facilitated by Western sanctions and boycotts, which at that time were in force because of the Myanmar government’s gross violations of human rights. China did not have to face any competition and became Myanmar’s most important foreign trade partner.

But China was not going to give up the foothold inside Myanmar that it had had since the late 1960s. In May 1989, the UWSA entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government, which, on the one hand, suited China’s new commercial interests, and on the other, also helped strengthen the UWSA. After all, the Chinese had had a long-standing relationship with most of the leaders of the UWSA, dating back to their CPB days. Thus, the UWSA has been able to purchase vast quantities of weapons from China, including heavy artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and armoured fighting vehicles.

Today, the UWSA is better armed than the CPB ever was. It can field at least 20,000 well-equipped troops as well as thousands of village militiamen and other supportive forces. Moreover, the top leaders of the UWSA are usually accompanied by Chinese intelligence officers who provide advice and guidance.

In recent years, Myanmar has mended its ties with the West, partly because the Chinese influence, even dominance, was becoming overwhelming, and sanctions have been lifted. China’s sending of even more weaponry to the UWSA is a way of putting pressure on Myanmar’s government at a time when its relations with Washington are improving. As China sees it, it cannot afford to ‘lose’ Myanmar to the US and the West. A strong UWSA provides China with a strategic advantage, and it is also a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Myanmar government.

When Aung Min, the then president office minister, visited Monywa, a town northwest of Mandalay, in November 2012, to meet local people protesting a controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project in the area, he openly admitted, ‘We are afraid of China…we don’t dare to have a row with [them]. If they feel annoyed with the shutdown of their projects and resume their support to the Communists, the economy in border areas would backslide. So you’d better think seriously.’ By ‘the Communists’ he clearly meant the UWSA and its allies, among them the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in the Kokang area, another former CPB force in Myanmar’s northeast, which indeed resorted to armed struggle in February 2015.

China, predictably, has denied any involvement in that conflict, but the fact remains that most of the MNDAA’s weaponry and vast quantities of ammunition have been supplied by the UWSA. According to a well-placed source, China was indirectly ‘teaching the Myanmar government a lesson in Kokang: move too much to the West, and this can happen’. At the same time, China is playing another, ‘softer’ card by being actively involved in the so-called ‘peace talks’ between the Myanmar government and the country’s multitude of ethnic rebel armies.

Whether China wants to export revolution or expand and protect commercial interests, it apparently feels that it needs to have a solid foothold inside Myanmar. There is no better and more loyal ally in this regard than the UWSA and its former CPB affiliates. Myanmar is China’s ‘corridor’ to the Indian Ocean as an outlet for trade from Yunnan and other landlocked southwestern provinces, quite apart from Beijing’s strategic interests in the region. Although there are no, and have never been, any Chinese bases there, as some Indian writers have suggested, China has helped Myanmar upgrade its own naval facilities—and that is worrying enough for India.

In April 2015, India eventually ran out of patience with Myanmar’s turning a blind eye to the presence of Indian rebels on their soil. Indian commandoes crossed the border into Myanmar and destroyed a number of camps where Assamese, Manipuri, and Naga rebels were ensconced. The rebels were armed with weapons obtained from secret arms factories inside a former CPB area in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State. Although located inside Myanmar, the machinery and the technicians came from China. The Chinese may have no interest in independence for Assam, Nagaland, or Manipur, but they evidently want to keep the Indians off balance—at least as long as the Dalai Lama is alive and the Tibetan exiles are being provided with sanctuaries in India.

Besides the broader issue of the vast differences in the respective cultures and worldviews to which the sign at Bumla refers somewhat presumptuously to as ‘Two Old Neighbouring Civilisations’, the question of Tibet remains at the heart of the conflict between India and China. And if the proponents of the Chinese version of the border dispute and the 1962 War had paid more attention to the Chinese source material, even they would have discovered that border demarcation was never the main issue. On 6 May 1959, only weeks after the Lhasa uprising against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua published an article titled ‘The Revolution in Tibet and Nehru’s Philosophy’, accusing the Indian prime minister of having adopted ‘the strategic aspirations of British imperialism’.

According to US security expert and former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, ‘On the day the article attacking Nehru was published, Zhou Enlai said in a public forum that Nehru “had inherited England’s old policy of saying Tibet is an independent country” and that this mentality was “the centre of the Sino-Indian conflict”’. Vertzberger was obviously right in his conclusion that Nehru and the Chinese leaders had incompatible worldviews, and, in a more modern context, it can be argued that China and India are still worlds apart when it comes to culture and strategic thinking.

China may have been grossly mistaken in believing that Nehru, of all Indian leaders, wanted to seize Tibet. But, the Chinese fear of ‘losing’ what they have always considered an integral part of their country has been a factor that has determined relations between China and India for more than a century, and still does. And events first came to a head at Shimla in 1914—at a time when China was weak as millennia of imperial rule were being replaced by a new, chaotic republican order.

Sukhoi Su-22M – Poland

History

In 1956 the Sukhoi design bureau created its first tactical jet bomber, the Su-7, a modern-looking machine built in large numbers to offset its relative simplicity. It was a capable fighter-bomber and ruggedly built but also somewhat underpowered. Moreover, it suffered from long runway rolls and rather short range. In 1967 the Sukhoi bureau decided to upgrade this family of bombers by adding variable-geometry wings to enhance takeoff, landing, and load-carrying abilities. Early on it was judged impossible to fit wing-retracting equipment into the narrow fuselage, so engineers compromised by making the wings pivot midway along their length. The added lift increased the Su-7’s takeoff performance, and operational radius and ordnance payload were improved as well. Commencing in 1971 the new Su-17 became operational in large numbers, and they were deployed by Warsaw Pact allies and Soviet client states. It has since received the NATO designation FITTER.

During the past three decades, the basic Su-17 design has undergone numerous modifications and upgrades that render this marginally obsolete machine still useful as an attack craft. The latest variant, the Su-17M, is distinguished by a close-fitting clamshell canopy with a high spine ridge running the length of the fuselage. The tail fin is also somewhat taller and employs a single airscoop at its base. This model has been exported abroad as the Su-22, with somewhat lowered-powered avionics, but otherwise it remains an effective bombing platform. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, many former Warsaw Pact countries were eager to unload their aging Sukhois, but Russia alone seems content to maintain its stable of 800-plus Su-17s. Their rugged design, combined with good reliability and performance, ensures a long service life.

Polish Air Force

On 19 August 2003, a Polish Air Force Su-22M4K was accidentally shot down by friendly fire during an exercise by a Polish 2K12 Kub battery. The aircraft was flying 21 km from the coast over the Baltic Sea near Ustka. The pilot ejected and was rescued after two hours in the water. He later died in a C-295M crash on 23 January 2008. As of 2012, Poland was planning to replace its Su-22s with three squadrons of drones.

As of 2014 the Polish Air Force was planning to retain the Su-22s in service. It is hoped that this decision will have a positive impact on Polish industry, as the WZL nr 2 repair facility in Bydgoszcz will maintain the remaining aircraft under contract to the Air Force. The decision would also allow the Air Force to retain the well-trained ground crews and pilots, currently operating the machines. The Poles consider the Su-22 easier to maintain and repair than the other main combat aircraft types currently in Polish service (mainly the MiG-29 and the F-16). They also suffer from fewer malfunctions and other problems (high, 70–75% non-error index). It is also the only plane in Polish inventory equipped for electronic intelligence, warfare, and support of ground systems. The Polish Air Force has retained a large stockpile of air-to-ground weapons for use with the Su-22. By some estimates, the cost of destroying these resources would be higher than the projected cost of continuing Su-22 operations. It was decided that starting from 2015, only 12 Su-22M4 and 4-6 Su-22UM3K out of 32 remaining would undergo a refit, increasing their lifespan for another ten years. For economical reasons the aircraft are not modernized, apart from fitting an additional radio RS-6113-2 C2M with a blade antenna on the top, but they receive a new grey multishade camouflage, similar to other Polish aircraft.

Su-17UM3 (S-52UM3, “Fitter-G”)

Revised trainer with the same avionics suite as the Su-17M3. First flight: 21 September 1978 with Yu. A. Yegorov at the controls. The export version was designated Su-22UM3 with R-29 engine, and Su-22UM3K with the AL-21 engine. Manufactured 1978–1982.

Su-17M4 (S-54, “Fitter-K”)

Final production version with considerably upgraded avionics, including RSDN navigation (similar to LORAN), beacon navigation, inertial navigation, a more powerful (Klyon) “Kлён-54” laser rangefinder, radio compass, and SPO-15LE (“Sirena”) radar-warning system. Additional fuselage inlets (including ram-air inlet at the base of the fin) to improve engine cooling airflow, fixed air intake shock cone. Many aircraft were equipped for the use of TV-guided missiles and BA-58 Vjuga pod for anti-radiation missiles. AL-21F-3 engine. Export version was designated Su-22M4 (factory S-54K). First flight: 19 June 1980 with Yu. A. Yegorov at the controls. Su-17M4 was manufactured 1981–1988, Su-22M4 was manufactured 1983–1990.

Sukhoi SU-17M4/22M4

Russian aircraft builders display great ingenuity in wringing every last ounce of performance from existing machines. The long-lived Su-17 is such an example, and it continues to be upgraded and employed long after the basic design became obsolete.

Flak towers: then and now

flakturm

The construction of Flaktürme (Flak towers) in major cities began in response to the first bombs falling on Berlin in August 1940. Flak tower complexes consisted of a G-Tower (Gefechtsturm, Combat tower) and an L-Tower (Leitturm, Lead tower). In total eight of these complexes were completed: in Berlin (3), Hamburg (2) and Vienna (3). Another 14 were planned, potentially extending coverage to Bremen and Munich, and increasing the defences in Berlin and Hamburg, but none of these were begun. While the towers in Berlin have been drastically reduced in stature due to post-war demilitarisation, those in Hamburg and Vienna still dominate the cityscapes, standing out against their surroundings. That several of the towers still stand today, and those which have been destroyed required enormous amounts of explosives post-WWII, bears testimony to their amazing strength as air raid shelters. However, their use as armed defences is questionable. Were they actually expensive ‘white elephants’ in that respect? The towers were designed to be architectural landmarks as well as defences – the former requirement eventually absorbing incredible amounts of money at a time when it could have been better spent elsewhere. Hitler wanted them to become monuments resembling medieval castles in peacetime, once his war had been won. He even drew some initial sketches himself. Thus, the towers would fit into his grand plan for Germania and beyond.

As the Soviets entered Berlin, the guns of Flakturm III (Humbolthain) were directed downward with the intention of preventing Red Army tanks from reaching Alexandraplatz. The walls of the towers still bear the pockmarks of returned artillery fire, all of which merely grazed the surface of the reinforced concrete walls. The roof of the G-Tower was 3.5 m thick, not only to resist a direct hit, but also to withstand the recoil force of the 128 mm guns standing above it. It was only after WWII, the tower then standing within the French Sector of Berlin, that attempts were made to blow- up the four-turreted juggernaut as part of the demilitarization. Placing explosives only under the southern turrets, so as to avoid blowing the tower onto the railway lines to the north, two attempts only managed to destroy that half. The force of these explosions can be seen today. Exposed steel strengthening rods within the tower show that the northern half of the tower was shifted a metre northwards but still remained standing sturdily! Flakturm I (the ‘Berlin zoo tower’) was destroyed by the British, but four attempts were needed.

Although designed to hold 15,000 civilians, in addition to the technical equipment and personnel, as many as 30,000 people arrived at Flakturm III during air raids, so it became extremely packed inside. In April 2004, the remaining part of this tower was opened to the public. More than 1,400m3 of rubble has been moved to date, taking over 8,000 hours. Entry to the tower is permitted only by tours guided by the Berlin Underworlds Association, Berliner Unterwelten e. V. Despite safeguarding citizens and treasures (Flakturm I held valuable historic artefacts including the bust of Nefertiti), the crews of the towers scored few direct ‘kills’. For example, Flakturm III apparently only scored 32 aircraft shot down from its completion in April 1942 to the end of the war (though this does not include secondary effects).

 

The Panzer Divisions

somme-1940_1

somme-1940

The military historian Matthew Cooper described the German Panzer arm of service as: ‘a failure. A glorious failure … but a failure nonetheless … The significance of this failure was immense. The Panzer Divisions, the prime offensive weapon, had become indispensable … in both tactical and strategic terms … Upon the fortunes of the armoured force was based the fate of the whole army …’. ‘He concluded that the fault for the demise of the Panzer arm lay in the hands of Hitler and the Army commanders, ‘who failed to grasp the full implications of this new, revolutionary doctrine and consistently misused the force upon which their fortunes had come to depend’. Another reason was the neglect of equipment and organizational requirements, which stunted the Panzer arm’s potential in the field.

Hitler was impressed by armour operating in conjunction with other arms. In 1933, after witnessing a demonstration of mobile troops, he had been very enthusiastic, although armoured theory and practice were not new in the Germany Army. Indeed, it would be true to say that Germany’s armoured force was born on the steppes of Russia during the 1920s. Among other prohibitions, the conditions of the Versailles Treaty forbade the German Army from having armoured fighting vehicles. To circumvent this restriction, the governments of republican Germany and the Soviet Union entered into a conspiracy: the Soviet Union would grant a vast area of land upon which the German military commanders could practice manoeuvres, while in another part of that territory, factories would be set up to construct the armoured fighting vehicles which German experts had designed and which the German commanders needed for their manoeuvres. A great number of German senior commanders and armour theorists went to Kasan in the Soviet Union and developed the skills required in handling armour in the mass and in conducting exercises using aircraft. Between them, the Army and Luftwaffe commanders evolved and developed the concept of Blitzkrieg.

This collaboration between Germany and Russia lasted until 1935, when the Nazi government withdrew the Panzer and Luftwaffe detachments from Soviet territory. Thereafter, it was on German soil that tank design and construction was carried out. The first types of Panzer had been given the cover name ‘agricultural tractors’, to hoodwink the officers of the Armistice Commission, and because that name fitted In with conventional German military thinking that armoured vehicles would be used principally to bring supplies forward across the broken and difficult terrain of the battlefield. This negative attitude towards the strategic employment of armour as a separate arm of service was common to many generals of the high command: one even went so far as to say: ‘The idea of Panzer divisions is Utopian.’ But the protagonists advanced their ideas, and a Mechanized Troops Inspectorate was set up in June 1934. Hitler’s repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles brought the expansion of the German Army, and with it the beginning of an armoured force. As early as July 1935, an ad hoc Panzer division successfully carried out a training exercise which demonstrated that the movement and more particularly, the control – of major Panzer units was practicable. Even further than that, a general staff exercise had studied the employment of a whole Panzer corps in action. The year 1935 also saw the birth of a new arm of service when the Armoured Troops Command was created, which was followed by the raising of the first three Panzer divisions. The Armoured Troops Command had, as yet, no real authority, for armour was not considered to be an equal partner with the infantry, cavalry and artillery arms.

General Guderian was given the post of Chief of Mobile Troops, and took over the development and training of the entire mechanized force of the Army. As a consequence, he had direct access to Hitler. During 1938, two more Panzer divisions were created, as well as a command structure which allowed the Panzer arm – in theory, at least – to be one of the partners in the Field Army.

It was one thing to be accepted as a partner, it was another to be equipped for that role. The Panzers which the armoured divisions needed were issued to non-Panzer units, and another hindrance was that tank quality was poor. The majority of machines in the armoured force were Panzer I and II types, which were not only obsolete, but were under-gunned and under-armoured. A third negative factor was the raising of three light (mobile) divisions in November 1938. These, together with a fourth division, were created instead of Panzer divisions.

It was not until 1940 that the OKW placed all German armour within the framework of its Panzer divisions. This favourable situation was of brief duration, for by the middle years of the war one-fifth of the AFV strengths still remained outside a divisional framework. One final factor was that the German leadership neglected to plan for new types of replacement tanks. Apart from the existing III and IV types, no preparation was made to produce adequate stocks of tanks or other armoured vehicles or any new marks of Panzer. It was not until 1943 that top priority was given to AFV production. Total production of Panzers in the second month of the war, September 1939, was only fifty-seven machines. Clearly, there was a need for improvement.

German superiority in the matter of Panzer operations during the war owed nothing to the number or quality of the machines it fielded, but was rather the product of superior organizations and training. The campaign in Poland did not see the Panzer force being used in the way that Guderian and the other theorists had planned. It was, instead, the speed with which the whole German Army moved – not just that of the Panzer divisions – which brought victory. For the Polish campaign, the German Army had fielded 2,100 tanks, and lost 218 of them. More serious than the 10 per cent battle loss was the high rate of mechanical failure, which kept 25 per cent of the machines out of action at anyone time. There had been no improvement by 1940, when the war in the west opened. For that campaign, out of a total of 2,574 machines, fewer than 627 were of the heavier Panzer III and Panzer IV types, and 1,613 were the obsolete Panzer I and II. Nevertheless, as Guderian recorded, the Panzer force fought its battle more or less without interference from the OKW, and as a result, achieved dramatic successes.

One of the few examples of Hitler’s direct interference was when he halted the Panzer divisions outside Dunkirk, an act which allowed Britain to withdraw the bulk of its Army. As a result of the experiences gained through the victory in the west, it became clear that the Panzer arm of service would soon rise to become a partner equal to the infantry. Hitler was determined to invade the Soviet Union, but needed to increase the number of Panzer divisions. To achieve that growth, he could have decided to increase the output of German tank factories. Instead, he deluded himself that numbers equalled strength, and raised the number of armoured divisions from 10 to 21 by the simple expedient of halving the AFV strength of each division. Thus, each division was made up of a single tank regiment numbering 150-200 machines. Hitler was convinced that a Panzer division fielding a single armoured regiment had the striking power of a division which fielded two regiments. It was a fatal mistake, particularly since Panzer production in the first six months of 1941 averaged only 212 vehicles per month. The total number of machines available for the new war against Russia was 5,262, of which only 4,198 were held to be ‘front-line’ Panzers, and of that total, only 1,404 were the better-armed Panzer III and IV. Those vehicles, good as they were, were soon to be confronted by the Red Army’s superior T 34s and KV Is. Although inferior in every respect, the Panzer llls and IVs were forced to remain in front-line service until the Panzer V (Panther) and the Panzer VI (Tiger) types could be rushed into service. An example of the blindness of the general staff towards armour requirements was shown by General Halder, who seemed to be satisfied that 431 new Panzers would be produced by the end of July 1941, although this was less than half the number of machines lost during that period. Throughout the war, replacements never equalled the losses suffered.

To summarize: German industry was not equipped for the mass production of AFVs, and the ones which were produced for the Army were inferior to those of its opponents – certainly until the Panther and the Tiger came into service. Although the Panzer arm fought valiantly to the end, from 1943 it was firmly on the defensive, except for a few isolated offensives. The greatest mistake was that the supreme commander, Hitler, would accept no limitations upon his strategic plans, and sent major armoured formations across vast areas of country without consideration for the strain upon crews or machines and the drain upon the petrol resources of the Reich, and then committed those tired crews and worn-out vehicles to battle against unequal odds. Because of those and many other factors, Matthew Cooper must be seen as correct in his verdict that the Panzer arm was a failure.

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Organisation

The Panzer divisions of the German Army were eventually numbered 1-27, 116, 232 and 233. The establishment also contained named Panzer divisions, as well as light divisions, which were later upgraded to Panzer status. When general mobilization was ordered, the Army had five Panzer and four light divisions on establishment.

The infantry component of the 1st Panzer Division was Schützen Regiment No.1, made up of two battalions, each of five companies; the 2nd Panzer Division incorporated the 2nd Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of five companies; the 3rd Panzer Division had the 3rd Schützen Regiment, also with two battalions, each of five companies; the 4th Panzer Division’s infantry component was the 12th Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of four companies; and the 5th Panzer Division had the 13th Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of four companies.

The organization of the light divisions was not standard. The 1st Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiment No.4, which was reorganized into a motorized infantry brigade, with a single infantry regiment, a recce battalion and a tank regiment. The 2nd Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiments Nos 6 and 7, formed into two motorized infantry regiments, a recce regiment and a battalion of tanks; the infantry regiments were made up of two battalions, each of which fielded four squadrons. The 3rd Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiment No. 8 on establishment, formed into a motorized infantry regiment of two battalions, each fielding two squadrons; the divisional establishment was completed with a motorcycle battalion and a Panzer battalion. The 4th Light Division fielded Cavalry Schützen Regiments Nos 10 and 11, forming two motorized infantry regiments and a Panzer battalion; each of the motorized regiments was composed of two battalions, both of these fielding four squadrons.

In the months between the end of the Polish campaign and the opening of the war in the west, the four light divisions were upgraded to Panzer division status, and were numbered 6-9. Three motorized infantry regiments were taken to create the 10th Panzer Division. Other infantry regiments were used to increase the strength of the first three Schützen regiments to three battalions, as well as helping to create the 11th Schützen Regiment.

The number of Panzer divisions on establishment was increased from 10 to 20 during the autumn of 1940, and that number was further increased during 1941, with the 21st Panzer Division being raised for service in Africa. During the winter of 1941/2, Panzer divisions Nos 22, 23 and 24 were raised. The 24th was created by conversion of the 1st Cavalry Division, whose mounted regiments were renamed and renumbered Schützen Regiments Nos 21 and 26.

On 5 July 1942, the Schützen regiments of Panzer divisions were renamed Panzergrenadier regiments, and there was a change in organization, with the disbandment of the machine gun company which had been on the strength of each battalion. Panzer Divisions Nos 25, 26 and 27 were formed during 1942. Ten divisions were destroyed on the Eastern Front and in Africa, the 14th, 16th and 24th were lost at Stalingrad, while the 22nd and 27th suffered such severe losses that they had to be broken up. The 14th, 16th and 24th Divisions were then re-raised in France. In Tunisia, the 10th, 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions were lost, as were the 90th Light Division and the 164th and 999th Light Africa Divisions. The 15th and 90th Light were re-raised as Panzergrenadier divisions. The 21st Panzer was also re-raised in its former role. Neither the 164th Light nor the 999th Light were re-formed.

Most of the Panzer divisions on establishment were reorganized along the lines of a ‘Panzer Division 1943 Pattern’. In this, the first battalion of each division became armoured Panzergrenadiers, able to fight from their armoured vehicles. The first three companies of the battalion had a war establishment of 4 heavy and 39 light machine guns, 2 medium mortars, and 7.5 cm and 3.7 cm guns. No.4 Company had three heavy PAK, 2 light infantry guns, six 7.5 cm and 21 machine guns.

The first, second and third companies of the battalions in the new-pattern division each had 4 heavy machine guns, 18 light machines guns and 2 medium mortars. No.4 Company had 4 heavy mortars, 3 heavy PAK and 3 machine guns. No.9 – the infantry gun company – had 6 guns mounted on tracks. No. 10 Company was the pioneer company, and was equipped with 12 machine guns and 18 flame-throwers. During 1943/4, the 18th Panzer Division was broken up, and units were taken from it to create the 18th Artillery Division. During this period the ‘Panzer Lehr’ Division was raised, and three reserve Panzer divisions were used to create the 9th, 11th and 116th Panzer Divisions. The military disasters of the summer of 1944 brought about the creation of Panzer Brigades 101-113, which were used to reinforce Panzer or Panzergrenadier divisions which had suffered heavy losses.

During the autumn of 1944, the Army followed the pattern of the SS in combining two Panzer divisions into a permanent corps structure. Until that time, Army Panzer Corps HQs had been administrative units, to which divisions had been allocated as required. Army Panzer corps were then created, and ‘Grossdeutschland’, ‘Feldherrenhalle’ and XXIV Panzer Corps were created. The first named contained the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Panzergrenadier Division, the Panzergrenadier Division ‘Brandenburg’ and the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Musketier Regiment. The ‘Feldherrenhalle’ Corps had 1st and 2nd Divisions of that name, and the XXIV Panzer Corps contained the 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions, as well as the 29th Panzer Fusilier Regiment.

The final reorganization of the Panzer arm of service saw the creation of the ‘Panzer Division 1945’. This was an internal rearrangement which created and fielded a Panzer battle group because there was insufficient fuel to move all the Panzer vehicles, and only the machine gun company and the heavy weapons company were mobile.

Italian Renaissance Infantry

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It is a commonly held view that disciplined and effective infantry largely disappeared from the Italian military scene in the second half of the fourteenth and in the fifteenth centuries. Indeed even the great masses of ill-trained levies, which provided the numbers of thirteenth-century armies, seemed to play little part in fifteenth-century warfare. However, the emergence of smaller groups of more professional, more specialised, infantry was an early development, and, although there was perhaps a period when such troops were still relatively few and the mass levy was either discarded or clearly recognised as a separate auxiliary force, this period was short, and throughout the fifteenth century the number of genuine and effective infantry in Italian armies was growing.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century the effective infantry were still divided into three groups: the infantry lances, the shield bearers, and the crossbowmen. An infantry company was usually made up of equal proportions of each, and, although only the larger condottiere companies contained infantry, there were many wholly infantry companies available. It is true that the role of such infantry was largely defensive; the lancers and the shield bearers with their long cumbersome shields could form a wall behind which cavalry could reform. The other main role for such infantry was in siege warfare, when both the defence of the besieging encampment against sorties and the actual assault were entrusted to them.

Although the crossbow was the main missile weapon of Italian infantry and had been since the early thirteenth century, there were still some companies of English archers to be found in Italy as late as 1430. Thirty archers under John Clement and Godfrey Reynolds were in Florentine service in that year, and in 1431 Walter of England was employed by Venice with 90 archers. The pay of these men was rather better than that of the average Italian infantryman, but this was perhaps because they were still mounted in the tradition of Hawkwood and his archers, rather than because their services as infantry were particularly prized. There was still a slight predominance of Genoese amongst the crossbowmen but, on the whole, ability to use the crossbow was widespread. Venetians all learnt to fire a crossbow as part of their civic obligations, and it was the standard weapon of garrison troops and town guards.

Infantry units maintained this threefold division until around the middle of the century, although the prestige of infantry was certainly growing. Both Sforza and Braccio attached particular importance to their infantry. Francesco Sforza developed a highly disciplined infantry force, commanded by such men as Pietro Brunoro and Donato del Conte, in which crossbowmen, and later hand-gun men, predominated. In this emphasis one can see an intention to use infantry in a more offensive role, and Braccio had the same ideas, as he developed a lighter type of infantry armed with sword and round shield which took part in the assault on Perugia in 1416. By the 1440’s the leading infantry commanders were men of considerable reputation and were regarded as the equals of the best of the cavalry leaders. Diotisalvi Lupi, who commanded the Venetian infantry for many years in the 1430’s and 1440’s, was a close associate of Carmagnola and Colleoni, received large estates and rewards, and was knighted by the Republic in 1447. His successor, Matteo Griffoni, had commanded the Florentine infantry in the 1440’s and was brought to Venice about 1447. He still commanded the Venetian infantry in 1470. He also was knighted for his services and was second only to Colleoni in the military hierarchy of the Republic. He commanded a company of 500 infantry of his own as well as his overall command of the Venetian infantry.

The emergence of men such as these, and the Venetians were by no means exceptional, is indicative of the way in which the wars in Lombardy between 1425 and 1454 changed the nature of Italian warfare. The central Lombard plain, the area of the subsequently famous Quadrilateral, was ideal country for campaigning. It is open and flat and yet intersected with several rivers and many canals. Here increasingly large armies could be deployed, and there was room to manoeuvre large bodies of cavalry. At the same time the natural barriers could be readily converted into massive field fortifications, and there was plenty of peasant manpower available for digging. This development brought the infantry to the fore, while the new size of armies and their subsequently retarded speed of manoeuvre enabled infantry to participate much more fully in the campaigns.

It was to combat the new emphasis on field fortifications that a new type of infantry became popular in Italian armies. This was the so-called ‘sword and buckler’ infantry, first experimented with by Braccio. They were lightly armed, agile, and equipped for hand-to-hand offensive fighting. The type had already been developed in Spain in fighting with the Moors, and the establishment of the Aragonese in Naples in the 1440’s clearly had something to do with their appearance in Italy at this time. But the best infantry forces appeared in Lombardy and were clearly a development from the special conditions of Lombard warfare. Florence, for example, retained the traditional types of infantry well into the 1470’s, and, despite its Spanish antecedents, there is no indication of a particularly effective Neapolitan infantry growing up. After Milan and Venice, it was the papal army which had the best infantry in the middle of the century. This was partly a matter of having some of the best recruiting grounds in the mountain valleys of Umbria, the Romagna, and the Abruzzi, but it also in part perhaps reflected the Spanish influence of Calixtus III and his entourage. A number of the leading infantry captains in the papal army in the 1450’s were Spaniards.

It was at about the same moment that the other major development in Italian infantry took place—the large scale introduction of hand firearms. The earliest hand firearm was the schioppetto or hand-gun, and the introduction of these has been postulated as early as the late thirteenth century. By the second half of the fourteenth century there is a good deal of sporadic evidence of their use but almost entirely in the defence of towns. The primitive hand-gun was three or four feet long, rather cumbersome and shapeless and had to be fired with a match. It cannot have been an easy weapon to use in the field or without a rest. However, by the 1430’s there was growing evidence of groups of specialist hand-gun men in the field armies. The emperor Sigismond had 500 in his following on his visit to Rome in 1430, but these were clearly intended for display and their presence does not indicate that the hand-gun had arrived as an infantry battle weapon. But the presence of schioppettieri companies in the Milanese and Venetian armies in the next two decades, and descriptions of their activities, clearly do indicate just such an initiative. Both Francesco Sforza and his cousin Micheletto Attendolo, who commanded the Venetian army between 1441 and 1448, had hand-gun contingents in their companies, and Colleoni and the Venetian infantry commander, Diotisalvi Lupi, were others who were associated with the new weapon in this period. In the 1440’s the Venetian senate was alarmed by reports that the Milanese army had superior numbers of hand-gun men and that these were causing considerable casualties in the Venetian army. In 1448 at the battle of Caravaggio, Francesco Sforza had so many hand-gun men firing that they could not see each other for the smoke from their guns. In the next year when the short-lived Ambrosian Republic of Milan sought to oppose Francesco Sforza, it was claimed that it could put 20,000 Milanese citizens into the field equipped with hand-guns. This was clearly pure propaganda intended to frighten Sforza off, but the very fact that such a claim could be made and thought to be efficacious indicates the extent to which the hand-gun had arrived by this time. Certainly hand-gun men captured in the battles of the 1440’s received short shrift and were usually executed on the spot; this was a tribute to their effectiveness rather than a sign of abhorrence for their unchivalrous weapon.

In the years following the Peace of Lodi in 1454 hand-gun companies became a part of all the Italian standing armies. As in so many of the military developments of the period, Florence seemed to be behind in the use of the new weapon, but hand-gun men appeared in the papal army from at least the mid-1450’s. At the siege of Rimini in 1469, the papal army had a company of 77 hand-gun men led by a German commander, and by this time a number of Germans appeared in this role in Italian armies. But there is no evidence that hand-gun development was exclusively a preserve of Germans. In 1476 one-fifth of the Milanese infantry, 2,000 men, were equipped with hand-guns, and in 1482, in the preparations for the War of Ferrara, the Milanese contingent was issued with 1,250 hand-guns, 352 arquebuses, but only 233 crossbows. By this time in fact the old hand-gun was beginning to be superseded by the arquebus, a more sophisticated weapon, perhaps heavier, but fitted with a trigger. The Milanese hand-gun man was equipped with a steel skull-cap and breastplate, and in addition to his gun and powder he carried a sword and a halberd. By the 1490’s mounted hand-gun men and arquebusiers were being used by Camillo Vitelli and Cesare Borgia, and thus a new dimension was added to the light cavalry as well as the infantry forces.

It has been usually thought that the hand-gun was a largely ineffective and despised weapon before 1500, but both the evidence of its growing use in Italian armies and of the growing numbers of casualties inflicted by hand-gun men would suggest differently. No serious comparison of the range, firepower or practicability of the hand-gun and the crossbow has yet been attempted, but it is clear that the former was steadily replacing the latter as the principal infantry missile weapon from a fairly early moment in the fifteenth century. This was to some extent because the hand-gun and its ammunition were cheaper to produce and easier to use than the crossbow, rather than because of its superiority as a weapon. At the same time the stage had not yet been reached when trained and disciplined bodies of hand-gun men could swing the course of a battle by controlled and concentrated fire. The hand-gun was still used, as the crossbow had been used, to harass the enemy and protect the flanks of an army in the field and even more effectively, both by besiegers and besieged, in siege warfare.

Infantry forces, therefore, formed a significant part of fifteenth-century Italian armies. It is true that there was no disciplined pike infantry of the Swiss type, which was enjoying brief, but lastingly significant success beyond the Alps. It is also true that, because of the nature of the Italian mercenary system, the companies tended to be small and unused to operating en masse. But large numbers of specialist and well-trained infantry were available and played an increasing part in the warfare. Only infantry and light artillery could deal with the field fortifications, which were so much in vogue, and the decisive victory won by Roberto Malatesta over the Duke of Calabria at Campomorto in 1482 was won by an infantry assault over marshy ground on a fortified camp.

As we have seen, permanent infantry forces in the pay of Italian states were appearing beside the companies of the mercenary constables. The increased status of the infantryman was indicated by the fact that the organisation of professional infantry was beginning to resemble that of the cavalry lance, with an infantryman attended by two or three followers who looked after his equipment and supported him in battle. This improvement in status was also evident amongst the infantry leaders, who were more often than not drawn from noble families in the later fifteenth century. Finally the ranks of the infantry companies were more filled with foreigners than were those of the cavalry, and this was a factor in ensuring professionalism and progressive developments. Corsicans were particularly prominent both as constables and in the ranks, and there were increasing numbers of Spaniards, Germans and Albanians. Of the eighteen commanders in the Milanese regular infantry in 1467, three were Spaniards, three Corsicans and one Albanian. These men did not command integrated companies of their own nationals, and it seems to be true that the proportion of foreigners amongst the leaders was higher than amongst the rank and file. All this, however, was a world apart from the untrained militia and country levies who certainly played their part in Renaissance warfare, but in different capacities to those so far described.

Machine Guns WWI: Issue, organization and doctrine

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The German MG08, fitted with an optical sight and an armoured cover for its water-jacket.

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A graphic representation of machine gun cones of fire and beaten zones. Taken from British machine gun training notes.

The level of machine gun issue in the armies of the major powers in 1914 was roughly equivalent. The Russians were actually the most lavishly equipped on paper, with an eight-gun company attached to each regiment. However this remained a sadly theoretical scale of issue for some Russian regiments, for whom even riles were a scarce commodity. The Russian Army was 833 machine guns short of its official scale of issue at the outbreak of war. Once the fighting began this situation worsened, as pre-war forecasts of wastage proved to have been far too low. Efforts were made to increase production and to negotiate purchases from abroad. It was not until 1916, however, that production exceeded the average rate of wastage, which stood at 600 guns per month. Russian machine-gunnery was further hampered by a severe shortage of small arms ammunition, which prevailed throughout 1915.

Austria-Hungary, Russia’s chief enemy in 1914, also suffered from a shortage of riles, due to pre-war parsimony. Conversely, small arms ammunition was very plentiful – undoubtedly to the benefit of the machine-gunnery of the Habsburg Empire’s armed forces. When their former ally, Italy, attacked in May 1915, machine guns were to prove the mainstay of the successful defensive campaign mounted by the outnumbered Austro-Hungarian forces. They took a particularly high toll of Italian troops attempting to force the valley of the River Isonzo. Italy had rather neglected the machine gun, with only two guns attached to each regiment (which were composed of either three or four battalions). The elite Alpini fared rather better, with two guns per battalion. Italy purchased 892 Vickers ‘C’ Class machine guns between 1910 and 1914. Reports reaching Britain suggested that they were intended for the defence of Italy’s northern frontiers. The coming of war cut off any further possibility of commercial purchases from Britain: such was the need for machine guns in the British Army that selling them to neutral nations was out of the question. Consequently the Italians were obliged to turn to an indigenous design: the Revelli, named for its designer Abiel Bethel Revelli. Like the Schwarzlose, the Revelli worked on the delayed blowback principle, although, just to complicate matters, the barrel also recoiled for a short distance after firing. The delay was effected by a swinging wedge mechanism. In another echo of the Schwarzlose, the cartridges had to be lubricated to ensure clean extraction. The Revelli did not possess the ruggedness of its Austrian counterpart and its potential for unreliability was only enhanced by its use of a unique open magazine, containing fifty rounds. The troubles of Italian machine gunners were compounded by the fact that the Italian Army used a rather underpowered 6.5mm cartridge. As the war progressed the Revelli was supplemented by considerable numbers of the St Etienne gun, supplied by France – thereby augmenting the quantity, if not the quality, of Italian machine guns.

The most effective user of machine guns in the first year of the war was the German Army. German machine-gunners held a decided advantage over their opponents: not because they possessed more guns, but for organizational reasons. Ostensibly the German provision of two guns per battalion matched arrangements in the British and French Armies. However the German guns were organized in a separate company, which was considered the thirteenth company of each three-battalion regiment. This meant that instead of being distributed piecemeal to the three battalions of the regiment, the machine guns remained under the direct control of the regimental commander, and were often grouped together in action. Indeed German regulations specifically stipulated that machine guns should always be under the command of the senior officer present. In addition to the machine gun companies of infantry and cavalry regiments, eleven independent machine gun ‘detachments’ (Abteilungen) were available to corps commanders – these had originally been intended for use in conjunction with the cavalry.

One of the earliest lessons learnt by machine-gunners during the First World War was that this type of ‘brigading’ of guns could greatly enhance their effectiveness, by concentrating their firepower at crucial points. A clear example of this occurred on 26 August 1914, during the Battle of Tannenberg, when, near that village, a Russian counter-attack was shattered by the concentrated fire of the six machine guns of the German 150th Infantry Regiment. In the West, the battle of Le Cateau witnessed the offensive use of ‘closely massed’ German machine guns. The Germans went further than other nation in laying down field regulations for the employment of machine guns. Concentration of fire was encouraged and it was considered a ‘mistake’ to advance machine guns closer to the enemy than 800m if effective supporting fire could be delivered without so doing. Nevertheless, in common with other armies, the Germans still thought in terms of a war of manoeuvre; thus their regulations contained instructions for such activities as firing upon enemy bivouacs by night.

Another advantage held by the Germans was the specialist nature of their machine-gunners and machine gun officers. American historian Dennis Showalter has pointed out that this effect was enhanced in wartime because the limited numbers of trained machine-gunners meant that there was little interchange of machine gun officers and NCOs between first line and reserve regiments (the reverse being the case with their counterparts in rile companies), therefore ‘an active machine-gun company was likely to take most of its peacetime cadre into the field, with corresponding benefits to morale and stability’. However, before attributing too high a level of preparedness to the Imperial German Army, it would be wise to reflect on what this meant for machine-gunnery in reserve formations, which were expected to fight at the Front and which, in many instances, lacked machine gun companies altogether. This fact, added to the natural wastage of the stock of machine guns that occurred in combat, meant that German divisions in the field were running short of them by the autumn of 1914. Of the eight German divisions primarily involved in the Battle of the Marne (those of III and IX Armeekorps of von Kluck’s First Army and X and X Reserve Armeekorps of von Bölow’s Second Army), only one could deploy its full complement of machine guns (twenty-four). Others fared less well, with one division having only six – the average per division being fifteen. Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, in their indispensable work Fire Power, assert that each German battalion was furnished with a machine gun company. This is certainly not so, except in the case of Jöger Battalions, which were not grouped in regiments. This fact is not only implicit in the levels of equipment quoted above, but is also proved by the reliable figure we possess for the total number of guns available, which simply would not support such a scale of issue. Contemporary Allied observers certainly did credit the Germans with more Maxim guns than they possessed, with estimates of up to 50,000 being bandied about. This might be taken as a sign of the effective use made by the Germans of the guns that they did have, but was also a consequence of the general pre-war tendency to underestimate the potential effect of machine gun firepower.

The situation in the French Army could hardly have been more different. Although the French level of machine gun issue met the two guns per battalion ‘norm’ of the period, their policy was to use only one at a time. This was due to the unreliability of their guns. It was thought better to keep at least one gun firing continuously, rather than risk two failing simultaneously. Naturally, the grouping of guns was not a consideration in this context. The reliability problem was not just a fault of the bizarre mechanism of the St Etienne gun. It was a general failing of air-cooled machine guns. Due to the state of metallurgy at that date, air-cooled guns inevitably began to lose accuracy in sustained fire, due to expansion of the barrel. Tests conducted with Hotchkiss guns revealed that the expansion was such that bullets began to fail to take the riling after three to four minutes of sustained fire. The Colt ‘Potato Digger’ became dangerously hot after 500 rounds had been discharged. Water-cooling, although more cumbersome, was far more efficient.

Such considerations were of marginal interest to most in the French Army of 1914. Their tactical doctrine was one of attack. The infantry assault with the bayonet was to be pressed home as soon as the enemy’s defensive fire had been neutralized. The riles and machine guns of the infantry would play a part in this neutralization phase, but the main work would be done by the artillery – specifically by the 75mm field gun. The French Soixante-Quinze was an excellent weapon, but the reliance that the French placed upon it certainly retarded the development of machine-gunnery in their army. As it turned out, the 75 was found to be vulnerable when brought forward to aid the assault. The Germans had not invested all their hopes in a single weapon system and, although their 77mm field gun could not match the 75, they could engage it in counter-battery fire with the 105mm howitzers with which their infantry divisions were also equipped. Moreover, field guns firing in the open made a tempting target for enemy machine guns.

The situation altered as France was forced onto the defensive. In other armies in 1914 the machine gun came to the fore as the primary source of defensive firepower – indeed the French infantry suffered grievously at the hands of German machine-gunners during the Battle of the Frontiers. How-ever, in the French Army this role was performed with great success by the Soixante-Quinze, which could indeed develop a frightening level of destructive power. A four-gun battery of 75s, firing at a rate of ten rounds per minute (just half of the twenty rounds theoretically possible) could put 10,000 shrapnel balls per minute into an area 100m by 400m. That is to say ten times more projectiles than four machine guns firing at the standard French cadence moyenne of 200–300 rounds per minute. Little wonder that the German soldiers referred to the French gunners, in their dark blue uniforms, as the ‘Black Butchers’.

Thus, for the time being, the machine gun remained a mere adjunct of infantry firepower, although the French field regulations made the following succinct differentiation: ‘The infantry must advance and shoots to advance; the machine gun must shoot and advances to shoot.’ This phrase, agreeably elliptical though it is, cannot mask the fundamental absence of machine gun doctrine in the French Army of 1914.

Roman Emperors on Campaign

A massive programme of propaganda, of which the Forum complex was only a part, celebrated the victory in Dacia. Had Trajan simply wanted military glory to confirm his position as emperor, it is unlikely that he would have sought other opportunities for aggressive warfare. His rule was as popular as that of any emperor, and subsequent generations preserved his memory as the Optimus Princeps, the best of emperors, only rivalled in prestige by Augustus himself. His relations with the Senate – always the most critical factor in determining a ruler’s treatment in our literary sources – were generally very good, his rule considered both just and successful. Even Trajan’s vices – he was prone to infatuations with boys and youths – were pardoned, since his behaviour never reached a stage which Romans considered excessive or made him vicious. His decision to launch an invasion of Parthia in AD 114 was, according to Dio, motivated by a desire to win renown.

Trajan had spent more of his life with the army than most Roman aristocrats, and certainly appears to have enjoyed the military life. The pretext for war was, once again, a dispute over the relationship of the Armenian king to Rome, for a new monarch had been presented with his diadem of authority by the Parthian ruler and not by a Roman representative. The peace with Parthia had always been uneasy, since for the Romans their eastern neighbour represented a deeply unsatisfactory thing – the former enemy who had not been reduced to subordinate status and remained fully independent and strong. Trajan appears to have planned to win a permanent victory, for his campaign was from the beginning far more than simply a struggle to show dominance over Armenia. Massive Roman and allied forces – some seventeen of the thirty legions went in their entirety or as a substantial vexillation to the war – were backed by huge quantities of supplies which had been massed in the east for several years in preparation for the conflict. At the back of his mind the emperor was eager to emulate the great conquests of Alexander in the very region through which the Macedonian king had passed centuries before. The culture of the Roman Empire was firmly Greco-Roman and the heroes of the Hellenic world every bit as worthy of emulation as earlier generations of Romans.

Trajan’s eastern war began well, as in successive years he overran Armenia, Mesopotamia and most of Parthia itself. The Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and the major city of Seleucia were both captured, after which Trajan sailed down the Tigris to reach the Persian Gulf. If Trajan had any plans to follow further in the footsteps of Alexander – and it seems unlikely that he did – these were then dashed when major rebellions erupted throughout his newly acquired territories in AD 116. Roman columns had to operate throughout the new provinces, putting down insurrection. Matters were made worse by a major rebellion by the Jewish communities in Egypt and other provinces – though not Judaea itself – which required substantial numbers of troops to defeat. Trajan himself began a siege of the desert city of Hatra in Arabia. During the siege, when his own guard cavalry took part in at least one of the assaults, Trajan himself was almost struck by a missile as he rode past the walls. Dio notes that the emperor was not wearing any symbols of rank, hoping not to stand out amongst the other officers, but his age – he was now 60 – and grey hair made his seniority clear. He was missed, but a cavalryman riding beside him was killed. Hatra withstood the Roman onslaught until Trajan’s men, desperately short of water and other provisions, withdrew. The emperor was planning fresh operations when he suffered a stroke and died soon afterwards.

Trajan was succeeded by his relation Hadrian, but there was considerable doubt over whether in fact he had formally nominated him before he died. Thus, at the beginning of his reign, Hadrian’s position was somewhat insecure, making him reluctant to spend several years away from Rome fulfilling his predecessor’s eastern ambitions. This, combined perhaps with a feeling that Rome’s military resources were overstretched, led to the abandonment of the territories taken from the Parthians. Another casualty was Trajan’s great bridge across the Danube, which was partially demolished to prevent its ever being taken and used by an enemy. There were to be no wars of conquest during Hadrian’s reign from AD 117 to 138, and in most cases the wars which developed in response to rebellion or attack were fought by the emperor’s legates without his on-the-spot supervision. Lacking Trajan’s aggressive ambitions, Hadrian nevertheless spent much of his reign touring the provinces and in particular visiting and inspecting the army. Dio noted that he ‘subjected the legions to the strictest discipline, so that, though strong, they were neither insubordinate or intolerant’. A cult of Disciplina – one of a number of Roman deities personifying virtues – flourished in the army at this time, especially with the troops in Britain and Africa, and may well have been encouraged by Hadrian himself. Even when the army was not at war, the emperor could still conform to the ideal of the good general by ensuring that the troops were well trained and ready to fight if necessary. According to Dio:

He personally viewed and investigated absolutely everything, not merely the usual appurtenances of camps, such as weapons, engines, trenches, ramparts and palisades, but also the private affairs of the men serving in the ranks and of the officers themselves – their lives, their quarters and their habits – and he reformed and corrected in many cases practices and arrangements for living that had become too luxurious. He drilled the men for every kind of battle, honouring some and reproving others, and he taught them all what should be done. And in order that they should be benefited by observing him, he everywhere led a vigorous life and either walked or rode on horseback on all occasions … He covered his head neither in hot weather nor in cold, but alike amid German snows and under scorching Egyptian suns he went about with his head bare. In fine, both by his example and his precepts he so trained and disciplined the whole military force throughout the entire empire that even to-day [i.e. a century later] the methods introduced by him are the soldiers’ law of campaigning.

Hadrian watched the troops on exercise, just as a commander did in battle, praising and rewarding skill and criticizing and punishing poor performance. An inscription set up by an auxiliary soldier named Soranus survives, recording – albeit in rather poor Latin verse – an incident when the emperor commended his skill as an archer. Much fuller inscriptions found at Lambaesis in North Africa include selections from a number of speeches delivered at a parade of the provincial army as a culmination to a series of rigorous exercises. Hadrian’s style is very direct, referring to Legio III Augusta as ‘his’ legion and its commander as ‘his’ legate. He shows a detailed knowledge of the legion’s recent history, noting that it was seriously under strength through having detached a cohort for service in a neighbouring province. He also mentions that it had subsequently sent a cohort, strengthened by men drawn from the rest of the unit, to reinforce another legion. Stating that under such conditions it would have been understandable if III Augusta had failed to meet his high standards, he reinforces his praise by declaring that they had no need of any excuse. The centurions, especially the senior grades, are singled out for specific praise. Both in this section of the speech and in those parts delivered to individual auxiliary units, the emperor repeatedly pays tribute to the diligence of the legate Quintus Fabius Catullinus. His address to the cavalry element of a mixed cohort (cohors equitata) gives a good indication of the style of these speeches:

It is difficult for the cavalry of a cohort to put on a pleasing display anyway, and especially difficult not to displease after an exercise performed by an ala; the latter fills a greater expanse of plain, has more riders to throw javelins, makes frequent wheels to the right and performs the Cantabrian ride in close formation, and, in keeping with their higher pay, has superior horses and finer equipment. However, you have overcome these disadvantages by doing everything you have done energetically, in spite of the hot temperature; added to this, you have shot stones from slings and fought with javelins and everywhere mounted quickly. The special care taken by my legate Catullinus is very obvious…

Some criticism is contained in the speeches, for instance when a cavalry unit is reprimanded for pursuing too quickly and falling into disorder which would have made them vulnerable to a counter-attack. Yet overall Hadrian sought to encourage his soldiers and make them feel that they and their units were valued and respected. Apart from the specific details there is little that would seem out of place in a similar address by a modern general or manager.

Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius was not a military man, and spent no time on campaign. It was a mark of the security of the time that he was content to trust his legates to fight the major conflicts of the time. These were all in response to problems on the frontiers. From the late first century AD the military bases on the fringes of the Roman Empire had taken on more and more of an air of permanence, with old timber fortifications and internal buildings being replaced by stone. Hadrian had taken the process further in his visits to the provinces, ordering the construction of new installations and frontier boundaries. In Northern Britain the army laboured to construct the Wall which bears his name and stretched for 80 Roman miles from coast to coast. Such barriers were only ever intended to restrict outsiders, and never to hinder the movements of the Roman army, instead providing them with secure bases from which to launch aggressive operations. Rome sought to dominate its neighbours, not merely to repel any invasion or raid on the provinces, but attempts at permanent occupation of new territory were rare.

Operation Wowser

No 250 Squadron Mustang III KH538/T heads this line. The fighter-bombers were active all day on 9 April, in the case of the Mustangs attacking pre-briefed targets just beyond the front line. Each of the rocket rails accommodated four 3in rockets.

An Auster V wearing the Q code of No 654 Squadron and the D of its `C’ Flight, confirmed by the section number 10. According to its operations record book, 654 provided the `entrée’ for `Wowser’ with 11 aircraft directing counterbattery gunfire simultaneously.

This was a US concentrated air attack by Major General Nathan F. Twining’s 15th AAF against German forces, positions and dumps in northern Italy, especially those around Bologna, in preparation for the ‘Craftsman’ breakthrough of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott’s US 5th Army in this sector just to the north of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ defences (15 April 1945).

As the headquarters of the 305th Fighter Wing moved to Lesina, along with the 1st Fighter Group, the USAAF 15th Air Force’s war drew near its close. Targets became tactical as the number of strategic targets dwindled. The disbandment of the Jockey Committee that selected strategic bombing targets on April 3, 1945 underlined the change. The Brenner Pass line and rail communications in northern Italy and Austria now became primary targets as the Fifteenth attacked bridges and marshalling yards to interdict supply and escape routes for German troops. The effort was so successful that flak units transferred from Italy to Munich in early April used roads, since attacks on railways made the latter very unreliable.

Following the capture of Vienna on April 13, Linz became an important German supply center and the target of the last large mission flown by the fifteenth on April 25. The Soviet advance stopped at Sankt Pölten and Kreuz in the middle of April and any future attacks on rail targets in much of Austria could be made only with Russian approval. With the last Anglo-American offensive in Italy in the offing, Operation Wowser began several days of close support for ground troops on April 9, with the Fifteenth flying missions against troop concentrations, supply dumps, headquarters, and gun positions facing the British 8th Army southeast of Bologna.

Planning for the final offensive was easily completed by early April. In fact, planning for the air phase of the spring offensive was briefer than for any other operation undertaken in the Mediterranean, indicating not only that the Allies had complete mastery of the air but that long experience in the theater had welded the ground forces and air forces into a nearly perfect team. Indeed, Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) issued only one major directive for the whole operation and it is significant for its brevity, consisting of but five paragraphs. Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (MATAF), charged with the detailed planning, published the final plan on 7 April, naming the operation WOWSER and setting forth its purpose as “the employment of maximum air effort in coordination with 15th Army Group during the initial stages of the Ground Forces’ forthcoming Spring Offensive.” After the initial assault the primary task of MATAF would be to maintain the isolation of Italy in accordance with current directives.

The plan did not call for a sustained pre-assault softening-up program by the air forces. Consequently, the air forces during March and, indeed, right up to the beginning of the final drive, concentrated on severing the enemy’s lines of communication with the object of denying him supplies and at the same time of preventing his escape from 15th Army Group. By far the largest share of Tactical’s March effort was devoted to communications targets, and before the end of the month the primary routes north of the Po were so thoroughly interdicted that there were no longer suitable targets in Italy and medium bombers began to attack rail lines in northern Yugoslavia and southern Austria. As a result of these intensive efforts and increasing assistance from MASAF early in April, on D-day (9 April) of the spring offensive every major rail line north of the Po was cut at multiple points. The enemy could not depend on his rail net either to sustain or to evacuate his troops. It should be noted also that although emphasis in the interdiction campaign had long since passed to north of the Po Valley, from January onward a sufficient number of medium and fighter-bomber missions had been directed against the Po River bridges to keep that barrier to enemy mass movement completely interdicted. Furthermore, dumps had continued to be priority targets for XXII Tactical Air Command (TAC) and Desert Air Force (DAF), and beginning late in March and continuing with rising intensity early in April, the greatest effort MATAF had yet applied to these targets was carried out until April, MASAF was governed by directives that placed targets in Italy last in its priority list and limited such attacks to those specifically requested by MATAF.

More missions followed on April 10, and then April 15 through 18 to bomb similar positions barring the advance of the American 5th Army, also near Bologna. These missions used radio beacons and visual markers to ensure that bombs did not hit Allied troops and lead bombardiers and navigators of bomb groups flew almost two hundred familiarization flights in droop snoot P-38s over these targets. These efforts were largely successful, with only one incident that accidently killed forty soldiers from the 8th Army, on the first day of the offensive. Ground troops supported these missions by shelling flak positions within their range and the Fifteenth considered the missions very satisfactory.

Complementary Bombing Missions

To supplement this effort, bombers also attacked Italian arms and munitions factories and ammunition dumps, as German forces in Italy depended on them for resupply. Besides these tactical missions, the Fifteenth also tested new fragmentation bombs when the 304th Bomb Wing flew two missions against flak batteries, on April 1 and 19, with fair results. These missions must have been very satisfying for the crews involved, as flak was their main adversary since the previous summer.

Almost a week after the Allied offensive began, General Spaatz formally announced the strategic air war at an end, on April 16. Henceforth, the Fifteenth Air Force would work with the Twelfth Air Force in support of the ground troops in a tactical role, bombing bridges in northern Italy to prevent German troops, reeling from the Allied offensive, from withdrawing in good order. Communications targets gained top priority at the beginning of the month, with the heavy bombers of the Fifteenth preoccupied with Italian targets for much of April.

Bombing by fighters was also an important operational feature in April, with missions mounted against bridges in Austria and Italy. Results were good, with a number of bridges out of commission, at least temporarily. Strafing of ground targets continued, with a number of missions flown to southern Germany and Austria against railroads and airfields. Bombers only attacked one enemy airfield, at Udine in northeastern Italy early in the month, to deal with a surprising increase in single-engine fighters in northern Italy. The end of the month saw the expansion of fighter bombing, strafing, and sweep missions in Germany and Austria to northern Italy. Two fighter sweeps at the end of the month were strictly tactical operations in direct support of advancing Allied troops. Soviet Air Force fighters, however, occasionally presented a problem. On April 2, Russian fighters jumped American fighters near Bratislava, but fortunately, neither side lost any aircraft.

Last Strategic Bombing Missions

The penultimate bomber mission on 25 April, to the marshalling yards at Linz, tallied the highest losses of the month, fifteen bombers lost to flak. The mission employed Visar radar for the first time in combat and heavily damaged the yards. Visar was an improvement over PFF radar bombing since its radar relayed target information directly from the bombsight to the bombardier, unlike the PFF system in which the PFF operator sent this information to the bombardier.

All bomb wings of the Fifteenth took part in the last major American bombing raid in Europe, escorted by seventy-four-P-38s from the 1st and 14th Fighter Groups and ninety-five P-51s from the 52nd and 325th Fighter Groups. One hundred fifty-nine Fortresses and 310 Liberators bombed the main station and the marshalling yards at Linz. Some groups used PFF and others the new Visar radar to inflict major damage on the yards. Bombs cut all main rail lines and many sidings, badly damaged or destroyed more than 400 rail cars, and damaged the main station, the freight station, workshops, warehouses, a road overpass, buildings in the Hermann Goering Factory, and residential structures. Of the several enemy fighters, including Me 262s, seen during the mission, only a single FW 190 made one pass at the bombers, but quickly broke away. Intense, accurate flak shot down fifteen bombers. The 99th, 463rd, and 483rd each lost a Fortress and twelve Liberators also went down. Two each from the 451st, 460th, and 465th Bomb Groups went down while the 455th, 456th, 459th, 461st, 484th, and 485th each lost one, the latter crashing behind Russian lines.

The Fifteenth’s last bombing mission, and the last strategic bombing mission in Europe, also used Visar, at Salzburg on May 1. Only one bomb group, escorted by one fighter group, took part, without any losses, a fitting end to the previous eighteen months of the Fifteenth Air Force’s war.

The final bombing mission by the Fifteenth Air Force took place when twenty-seven Fortresses from the 2nd Bomb Group bombed the Main Station Marshalling Yards in Salzburg, with an escort of forty-three P- 38s from the 14th Fighter Group. There was no opposition as the aircraft bombed through complete cloud cover, using both PFF and Visar, to cut all main rail lines and sidings and damage or destroy about seventy freight cars in the yards.

Close Call RAF Close Air Support in the Mediterranean Volume 1 & 2

By Vic Flintham

Close support for the Army by the Royal Air Force evolved during WWII from being virtually non-existent to a fully developed part of the battle plan. Nowhere was co-operation more refined and developed than in the Mediterranean theatre.

The first part of this work traced the evolution of close air support through the inter-war years to disaster in France and the first attempts at immediate on-call cover in East Africa provided by the South African Air Force. This led to a much-improved system from el Alamein onwards.

Volume II takes the story on from the assault on Sicily through a succession of battles in Italy and southern France where the Allied armies could depend on an immediate air cover, made possible by Allied air forces having total air supremacy. The war in Italy saw much innovation in terms of weapons and also in the role of the air observation post squadrons, both of which are fully discussed.

These volumes include references to official sources and documents, including squadron operational record books, as well as to logbooks, diaries, and autobiographies of many who participated.

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