Kamov Ka-52 – The Alligator

This photo of two Hokum-As flying over the Russian countryside shows why the Ka-50 has been dubbed Black Shark. Note that ‘24 Yellow’ is fitted with exhaust/air mixers while ‘26 Yellow’ is not; there are other detail differences as well.

25 Yellow’, a typical production Ka-50. The black portions of the tail unit and the starboard forward fuselage side are ‘anti-soot’ paint.

Here, ‘25 Yellow’ shows off its undersides during a flying display. Note the tandem antennas of the Doppler speed/drift sensor under the tailboom, the mounts for additional optoelectronic systems ahead of the mainwheels and the missile warning sensors flanking the forward fuselage and tailboom.

By the early 1980s the USA and the other NATO nations had built up a large fleet of specialised attack helicopters tailored for CAS and combating armoured vehicles. The Soviet Mi-24 was not quite in the same league, being larger and heavier and having a secondary assault transport role (unlike the western attack choppers). When Hughes Aircraft brought out the AH-64A Apache, the Mil’ OKB responded by developing the Mi-28 along similar lines. This was the helicopter the Soviet MoD placed its bets on; when a competitor appeared on the scene, initially it enjoyed scant support.

The competitor was OKB-938 – the design bureau named after Nikolay I. Kamov, which until then had specialised in naval (shipboard) and civil utility helicopters utilising the co-axial layout. True to form, the Kamov OKB used the same layout for their army attack helicopter project which bore the designation V-80 or izdeliye 800. Its uniqueness among attack helicopters lay not only in the layout; unlike all other combat helicopters, the V-80 was a single-seater. Kamov OKB engineers believed that automation of many functions would allow a single pilot to cope with the mission. A suite of four digital computers would be responsible for navigation, weapons application, operation of the ECM/ESM/IRCM suite and health & usage monitoring of the helicopter’s systems.

The V-80 had a slender fuselage, the cockpit having optically flat bulletproof glazing and a portside car-type door. The tail unit consisted of a virtually all-movable fin and stabilisers with endplate fins mounted further forward. Like other helicopters in the class, the V-80 had stub wings with external stores pylons and ESM/IRCM pods at the tips. The tricycle landing gear was retractable. The TV3-117VM engines were identical to the Mi-28’s and likewise installed laterally. The armament was the same as on the Mi-28 but the 2A42 cannon was mounted on the starboard side of the fuselage, with very limited traversing/elevation angles, which meant the pilot had to aim it by pointing the whole chopper; on the other hand, the co-axial layout facilitated this, making the helicopter less sensitive to crosswinds. The missile armament consisting of 9M4172 Vikhr’ (Whirlwind; AT-16 Scallion) ATGMs was new; the long-range missiles were to be guided automatically, theoretically enabling the V-80 to engage enemy tanks while staying out of range of the enemy’s AA weapons. The extreme nose housed the Merkooriy (Mercury, the planet) targeting/guidance system.

One more unique feature of the V-80 was its crew rescue system. In the event of a catastrophic failure or shootdown the rotor blades were jettisoned, whereupon the pilot was ejected upwards. The K-37-800 ejection seat was specially developed for the V-80 by the Zvezda (Star) Research & Production Enterprise and featured a squib extracting the seat.

The first prototype made its maiden flight on 17th June 1982, followed by four others in 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1990. Design issues were not the only problem the Kamov OKB had to deal with when developing the V-80; the unconventional helicopter was facing stiff opposition, including a good many generals who held high posts in the Soviet MoD. Critics slammed both the single-seat concept (because of the high pilot workload associated with flying and aiming the weapons at once in an air defence environment) and the co-axial layout which they cited as unsuitable for a battlefield chopper due to the danger of blade collision during sharp manoeuvres (here they had a point, as later events showed). A flyoff between the V-80 and the Mi-28 in September-October 1986 showed that the latter type was superior. Yet the Kamov lobby in the MoD was strong enough to secure a decision ordering the helicopter into production as the Ka-50; low-rate production at AAPO Progress in Arsen’yev commenced in 1991 under the product code izdeliye 805. The Ka-50 received the popular name Chornaya akoola (Black Shark) and the NATO reporting name Hokum. The helicopter also had experimental night-capable versions – the Ka-50Sh and Ka-50N.

The trials, which were held in conditions replicating a battle scenario as closely as possible, showed that the Ka-50 did have its weaknesses. Obviously the adversary would seek to extend the ‘kill’ range and reduce the reaction time of its air defence systems, and the Ka-50 was by no means invulnerable. To reduce combat losses among attack helicopters, the US Army and the Israeli Defence Force/Air Force resorted to using special battlefield surveillance helicopters equipped with a mast-mounted sight. For example, AH-64A attack helicopters operated jointly with Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior combat scout helicopters; as a successor to the OH-58D, Boeing and Sikorsky jointly developed the LHX (later known as the RAH-66 Comanche), but this programme eventually fell victim to defence budget cuts. In the Soviet Union/Russia, the Mi-24K was optimised for target designation in the interests of artillery and multiple launcher rocket system units, not helicopter units. Knowing this, the Kamov OKB started work on the V-60 compact and agile combat scout helicopter, but perestroika and the ensuing turmoil prevented the project from coming to fruition.

The operation of the Ka-50’s automated avionics suite that was to permit single-pilot operations was far from perfect, and the debugging effort dragged on and on. The Russian MoD refused to accept the brand-new Ka-50s built by AAPO Progress and pay for them, putting the plant on the verge of bankruptcy.

Acknowledging that some of the military’s complaints regarding the Ka-50 were justified and being aware that developing a ‘clean sheet of paper’ combat helicopter was out of the question, now that Russia was in the throes of a political and financial crisis, General Designer Sergey V. Mikheyev proposed developing a two-seat version of the Hokum. This would be a combat scout helicopter, the second crewman being a mission equipment operator; when the helicopter popped up over the battlefield he would assess the situation and designate targets for helicopters in a group, acting as commander.

Development of the two-seater, which was designated Ka-52, proceeded under the Avangard-1 (Vanguard-1) R&D programme. A rather provisional mock-up was presented to the State commission in 1994 together with the project documents. When the first information on the project was circulated in the media, some experts wasted no time declaring that ‘the single-seat combat helicopter concept had flopped’. In reality, however, the Ka-52 was meant to complement the Ka-50, not replace it – just like the RAH-66 would have complemented the AH-64, had it been fielded. The Ka-52 was not a rejection but a development of the original Ka-50 concept to suit the changing scenario of a limited war or anti-terrorist operation – one which Russia would face that same year.

The usual tandem seating arrangement was unsuitable for the Ka-52 because it entailed a long armour capsule and hence more weight away from the CG, which would impair manoeuvrability. Therefore the crewmen were seated side by side in a wider cockpit on K-37-800M seats. Another factor in favour of this was that side-by-side seating facilitated crew communication – even a gesture could be enough to convey the message, saving vital time in combat. Importantly, cross-section area was almost unchanged, as the Ka-50’s fuselage was widest aft of the cockpit. The Ka-52’s flattened snout with windshield halves resembling ‘eyes’ gave rise to a new popular name – Alligator.

The designers strove to retain maximum structural and systems commonality with the Ka-50 – even down to flat windshields and car-type doors. Later the cockpit was revised to cut drag and improve ergonomics, featuring a more streamlined windshield and upward-opening canopy doors, as well as liquid-crystal MFDs instead of electromechanical instruments and a cathode-ray tube display. Commonality was thus reduced from 95% to 85%, but most of the shortcomings pointed out by the State commission were rectified.

The main difference from the Ka-50 lay in the mission avionics. The Ka-52 was equipped with a Samshit (Boxwood) optoelectronic surveillance/targeting system featuring TV/LLLTV, IR and laser ranging channels and having an auto-tracking feature. In daytime clear-weather conditions it could detect and identify a tank at 15 km (9.3 miles) range. An RN01 Arbalet-52 millimetre-waveband radar developed by Phazotron-NIIR was fitted; it was capable of detecting a tank at 20 km (12.4 miles) range and had a mapping mode.

The prototype was converted from the second production Ka-50 in 1996. When it was rolled out on 12th November that year, the Ka-52 (then known as izdeliye 806) had the large ‘ball turret’ of the Samshit system mounted dorsally aft of the cockpit; the radar’s main antenna occupied the parabolic nose radome, and there was also a secondary antenna in a small pill-shaped radome on top of the radar mast for detecting aerial targets – even incoming missiles. The beginning of flight tests was delayed by the decision to demonstrate the helicopter at the Aero India-96 airshow in Bangalore; after that, the Ka-52 received the reporting name Hokum-B, the Ka-50 becoming the Hokum-A. The Alligator finally made its first flight on 25th June 1997 at the hands of Aleksandr Smirnov and Dmitriy Titov.

Being heavier than the Ka-50, the Ka-52 held an uncomfortable first place among coaxial-rotor helicopters as regards rotor disc loading, which impaired its flight performance as compared to the precursor. Luckily the VR-80 gearbox was designed with sufficient strength reserves to permit installation of more powerful engines. Accordingly the Russian NPP Klimov engine design bureau and the Ukrainian Motor Sich engine factory teamed up to create a new version of the engine designated TV3-117VMA-F (forseerovannyy – uprated); its take-off power was increased from 2,225 to 2,500 shp, with a contingency rating of 2,800 shp. The engine had a new electrohy-draulic control system giving better acceleration and higher surge resistance during rocket launches, and there was an automatic relight function in the event of flame-out. An alternative engine, the VK-2500 (alias TV3-117VMA-SB3), offered slightly less power (2,400 shp and 2,700 shp respectively) but had a lower fuel consumption and more than twice the designated service life (7,500 hours versus 3,000 hours).

A whole bunch of problems was associated with the surveillance/targeting suite. Quite apart from the fact that the dorsal position of the Samshit system did not afford it a sufficient downward field of view, the system itself had failed to meet its specifications (the ‘some s**t’ sound of the name turned out to be true, after all). First, two secondary optoelectronic ‘ball turrets’ were added under the nose but apparently this was not good enough. Next, the nose radome was cut away to accommodate a drum-shaped turret with a Rotor optoelectronic system, but this left no room for the radar antenna; the mast-mounted secondary antenna was not working properly, and eliminating the radar altogether would severely limit the Ka-52’s all-weather capability.

Defining and debugging the Ka-52’s mission avionics took several years. The end result was the Argument-2000 flight/navigation/attack suite which included the GOES-451 optoelectronic surveillance/targeting system and the Arbalet-52 radar. The GOES-451 can work round the clock and in fog; its large ‘ball turret’ is located ventrally immediately ahead of the nose gear unit, not encroaching on the radome. The flight/navigation/attack suite, ECM/ESM/IRCM suite and the BKS-50 communications suite are integrated via the Baghet-53 computer. The latter allows new systems to be integrated easily by updating the software.

The 9A4172 Vikhr’ ATGM inherited from the Ka-50 was regarded as the Ka-52’s principal weapon. The missile has automated laser guidance and a tandem shaped-charge armour-piercing/HE/fragmentation warhead capable of penetrating armour equivalent to 900-mm (35 in) homogeneous steel armour at 8 km (5 miles) range; explosive reactive armour (ERA) is no problem for it. The missile is superior to the US AGM-114A Hellfire. Later the Tula Instrument Design Bureau responsible for the missile brought out the Vikhr’-M version with 9M4172 missiles in various versions. At a range of 400 m to 10 km (0.25-6.2 miles) the Ka-52 armed with Vikhr’-M missiles can score a ‘kill’ against a tank with 1,000-mm (39 in) armour and ERA with 80% probability and engage four different targets within 30 seconds.

Yet, the Vikhr’ missile system turned out to be extremely complex and expensive, while its debugging was hampered by chronic funding shortages and general turmoil in the 1990s. Therefore, as an alternative the Ka-52 can use the less sophisticated but relatively cheap and trouble-free 9M120 Ataka (AT-9 Spiral) ATGM in its laser-guided version; the missile can destroy a tank with 800-mm (31½ in) armour and ERA with at least 65% probability. Improved versions – the 9M120M capable of penetrating 950-mm (37 in) armour, the 9M120F with a HE warhead for use against fortifications and the 9M220 AAM – were also developed. On the other hand, the Ataka missiles are no good against current NATO air defence systems which can destroy the helicopter at up to 4 km (2.5 miles) range in 4-10 seconds with 100% probability before the chopper has a chance to neutralise them; only the Vikhr’ missile system allows the Ka-52 to attack from beyond the range of Roland, Stinger, Mistral and Guepard AA systems. Additionally, the Hokum-B is able to use Kh-25ML (AS-10 Karen) laser-guided air-to-surface missiles normally carried by fixed-wing strike aircraft.

Other weapons used by the Ka-52 include 20-tube B-8V20 pods with 80-mm S-8 FFARs (available in 15 versions with different warheads), B-13L1 pods with five 122mm S-13 FFARs each, S-24 heavy unguided rockets, and free-fall bombs. The latter are traditionally part of the Soviet/Russian combat helicopters’ arsenal and are often the most cost-effective solution. By comparison, the AH-64 does not carry bombs and uses FFARs of smaller calibre (68 mm).

The 2A42 cannon was likewise inherited from the Ka-50. Western experts have often criticised this weapon for its weight – the 2A42, complete with the NPPU-80 mount, weighs 115 kg (253.5 lb) versus 54.4 kg (120 lb) for the Hughes M230 30-mm cannon fitted to the AH-64. However, the Soviet cannon has much greater range −4 km (2.5 miles) versus 1.5 km (0.93 miles) – and uses more lethal rounds; at 1.5 km range they penetrate 15-mm (0 in) steel armour when impacting at 60°. Also, the 2A42 uses the same ammunition as Soviet/Russian IFVs, which facilitates logistics when a mechanised or airborne forces group is supported by choppers; in contrast, the M230 requires aviation ammunition (M789 and M799 rounds, with ammo for the British ADEN and French DEFA cannons as a substitute). The Ka-52’s ammunition supply is 470 rounds; the AH-64 has a maximum of 1,200 rounds but normally carries only 320.

As mentioned earlier, the cannon is mounted on the starboard side and is, to all intents and purposes, fixed – the Ka-52 pilot must point the whole chopper at the target in order to fire. However, this disadvantage is offset by the co-axial layout (which is less sensitive to crosswinds, allowing the Ka-52 to fly sideways at high speed) and the placement of the cannon close to the CG, which minimises the effect of the recoil. Also, pilots find it easier to look ahead, not sideways, when taking aim. In addition to the built-in cannon, two UPK-23-250 cannon pods may be carried – a potent weapon against lightly armoured vehicles and AA assets at close range.

For self-defence against enemy aircraft the Ka-52 may carry four 9M39 Igla-V IR-homing AAMs – an air-launched version of the Igla MANPADS. The pilot is provided with an ILS-28K head-up display which may be used for attacking both ground and aerial targets.

The Kamov Company cites several advantages of the Ka-52’s co-axial layout, including higher efficiency (no engine power is lost for driving the anti-torque tail rotor); this gives the advantage of 6-10% better acceleration from the hover as compared to conventional helicopters when attacking from an ambush. Inertia forces are lower because on a compact co-axial layout helicopter the heavy items are closer to the CG. In a helicopter duel the Ka-52 pilot finds it easier to bring his weapons to bear on the target by making a flat pedal turn; a conventional helicopter requires more time to get into position for an attack. When attacking a ground target the Ka-52 can execute the ‘funnel’ manoeuvre, orbiting the target while keeping the nose pointing at it all the while. It can also manoeuvre vigorously over hilly terrain, dodging the obstacles or ‘jumping’ over them, which makes it easier to neutralise enemy AA installations (giving them less time to react) – even at night, using a special mode of the radar.

While the co-axial layout may be seen as a liability from a survivability standpoint (there are more rotor blades to hit), it also helps survivability, as directional control is retained even if the rudder is shot away. Speaking of which, the rotor blade spars are designed to survive hits by 12.7-mm heavy machine-gun bullets and 20-mm shell fragments. Armour plating is provided to protect the crew and vital items against 12.7-mm HMG fire and high-energy missile/AA shell fragments. Vital piping, wiring and control runs are duplicated for reliability. Exhaust/air mixers can be fitted to reduce the IR signature and protect against heat-seeking missiles. As noted earlier, the Ka-52 has a crew ejection system. Unlike the Ka-50, where the cockpit roof is jettisoned before the seat fires, on the two-seater ejection takes place through the canopy, which – for the first time on a Russian helicopter – incorporates micro detonating cords. In the event of a crash landing the undercarriage and the crashworthy seats will help cushion the impact, preventing crew injury.

An important advantage of the Ka-52 is that the side-by-side layout obviates the need for a specialised trainer version. The helicopter has dual controls and one of the pilots can act as instructor, monitoring the trainee’s actions.

AAPO Progress had started gearing up for Ka-52 production back in 1997, but the programme suffered delays due to lack of funding and other reasons. Not until 2008 did the plant manufacture the second and third prototypes; the former of these took to the air on 27th June. By then the helicopter’s product code had changed to izdeliye 826 – apparently to reflect the design changes that had been made. The second and third prototypes had the ventral GOES-451 ‘turret’ and provisions for two small optoelectronic system ‘turrets’ near the main gear units, but as yet no radar. They took part in the State acceptance trials; Stage A of these was completed in late 2008 and the go-ahead was given to build an initial production batch that would be used for Stage B.

Production picked up pace slowly. In 2009 the 344th Combat Training & Aircrew Conversion Centre in Torzhok took delivery of three pre-production Ka-52s – the only ones completed that year; these and subsequent Hokum-Bs differed in having enhanced armour protection for the crew. At the end of the year the Russian MoD placed an initial order for 36 Ka-52s. In 2010 the Russian Air Force began receiving production Ka-52s powered by VK-2500 engines. The first four of these likewise went to Torzhok.

The State acceptance trials of the Ka-52 – now fully equipped – were completed in 2011. On 19th May that year it was the turn of the first operational unit – the 575th Army Aviation Base (formerly 319th Independent Helicopter Regiment) at Chernigovka in the Russian Far East – to get its first four Hokum-B; three more followed in short order, and the unit was expected to re-equip completely from the Mi-24 before long. That year AAPO Progress delivered nine Ka-52s, the last four of which were fully equipped; the missing radar would be retrofitted to the ones already built in due course. In August 2011 the Russian MoD’s acquisition agency Oboronprom and the Russian Helicopters holding company (of which Kamov is part) signed a long-term contract for the delivery of 140 Ka-52s to the Russian Armed Forces.

As noted earlier, the Ka-52 is now regarded as a helicopter for the Special Forces; it will be used in anti-terrorist operations – notably in the North Caucasus where guerrilla gangs with al-Qaeda affiliations are active even as of this writing. Its fielding comes as a major boost, enabling joint-service operations in any weather round the clock, especially if the targets are carefully concealed; automated data exchange with ground command posts and other aircraft will make sure that upcoming threats are neutralised quicker.

Attempts were also made to market the Ka-52 internationally. First, in late 1997 Kamov joined the Turkish Air Force’s new attack helicopter contest, offering the Ka-50-2 Erdoğan (‘warrior’ in Turkish) – a two-seat derivative of the Ka-50 with tandem cockpits to meet the customer’s requirement. After much wrangling the project got no further than a full-size mock-up.

The second try was when the Hokum-B was entered into the South Korean Air Force’s new attack helicopter contest announced on 19th April 2000, competing against the Bell AH-1Z Viper, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Sikorsky AUH-60 Black Hawk, Eurocopter EC 665 Tiger, Agusta A129INT Mangusta – and the Mi-28NE. The version for the Korean tender was known as the Ka-52K (the first thus designated); the K denoted either koreyskiy (Korean) or kommercheskiy (‘commercial’, i.e., export). The export version was to feature French, Belgian and Israeli avionics as specified by the customer. The Koreans were given a tour of the AAPO Progress plant, and the Korean pilots were given a ride in the Ka-52 that included live firing, but no order ensued. China also sized up the Ka-52, but the Chinese wanted to buy a manufacturing licence, not ready-made helicopters.

In 2011 the Ka-52 unexpectedly ‘returned to its naval origins’. A year earlier Russia had ordered two Mistral class amphibious assault ships from France for delivery in 2014-15 and bought a licence to build two more – a highly controversial deal in more than one aspect. Thankfully at least the helicopters making up the ships’ carrier wing are indigenous; the first two Russian Navy Mistrals (provisionally christened RNS Vladivostok and RNS Sevastopol’) are to be equipped with Ka-27 Helix-A anti-submarine warfare helicopters, Ka-29 Helix-B transport/assault helicopters – and Ka-52s. The designation Ka-52K was reused for the navalised version, the K denoting korabel’nyy (shipboard) in this case; the helicopter differs from the baseline army model in having folding rotor blades (similar to those of the Ka-27/Ka-29) and folding stub wings for on-deck/below-deck stowage, a reinforced landing gear with tie-down shackles, and enhanced corrosion protection for operations in a maritime environment. The avionics will feature a special broadband communications suite that will be responsible both for data exchange with the ship and for navigation/carrier approach.

The shipboard version was first revealed by Anatoliy Isaykin, head of the Rosoboronexport arms export agency, at the 49th Paris Air Show on 20th June 2011; on 26th July that year the Kamov Company’s General Designer Sergey V. Mikheyev announced plans to build the first batch of Ka-52Ks by 2014. Back in November 2009, when FNS Mistral had paid a visit to St.-Petersburg, a standard Ka-52 had made deck landings on the ship in an improvised carrier compatibility test; now in August-September 2011 the original Ka-52 prototype passed initial sea trials, making several flights from the helipad of the North Fleet ASW cruiser RNS Vice-Admiral Kulakov with good results. On 7th August 2012 a Russian Helicopters spokesman stated that construction of the Ka-52K prototypes had begun. Until the amphibious assault ships are commissioned with the Pacific Fleet, with eight Helix-A/Bs and eight Hokum-Bs each, the first Ka-52Ks will operate from the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier RNS Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov. The naval version’s reporting name is Hokum-B Mod.

In November 2012 the Russian MoD announced its intention to test the Ka-52 in actual combat against Somalian pirates. To this end a number of Ka-52s are to be redeployed to the French base in Djibouti (by sea or by air if the runway at Djibouti-Ambouli AB can handle Antonov An-124 Ruslan transports). According to a source in the Russian MoD, the decision to use the Alligator for these operations was prompted by the fact that the Ka-52K is to equip the carrier wing of the Russian Navy’s future Mistral class amphibious assault ships; also, tropical seas are the best proving ground (oops) for shipboard helicopter forces.

ARMA 3 Game Alligator Film – Caution Coase Language



Warriors of New South Wales

Depicts Aboriginal men, wearing body paint and paint (or clay) on heads carrying spears and shields.This is one of the earliest works in the art collection which reveals much about the commonly held views of Aboriginal people during the Colonial period in Australia. John Heaviside Clark’s image depicts a number of Aboriginal men wearing body paint, carrying spears and shields depicted in a theatrically aggressive manner.
Clark (c.1770-1863) was a landscape painter, commercial artist, book illustrator and engraver who worked in London. Although as an artist he espoused sketching directly from nature, it is doubtful that Clark actually visited Australia to record the Aboriginal warriors he so dramatically captures in this work. His work reveals the fanciful beliefs prevalent at the time of indigenous people as ‘naked savages’ and illustrations in this vein were largely designed to meet the British public’s interest in the ‘curiosities to be found in the colony of New South Wales’ .

Parramatta was the site of a skirmish in March 1797 in which Bidjigal (Bediagal) Aborigines fought white settlers and troops of the New South Wales Corps. The clash followed depredations upon settlers in the Toongabbie district, led by the Aborigines’ noted guerilla leader Pemulwuy. An armed party was sent after the marauders, and following a pursuit lasting throughout one night came across their quarry-numbering about 100-the next day. The Aborigines fled, leaving the spoils of their raids on the ground. The punitive expedition pursued the hostile band into the Parramatta district but-becoming fatigued-eventually retired into the town. The Aborigines followed them there, with Pemulwuy at their head threatening to kill the first white man who approached him. He effectively challenged the town’s military garrison to battle by hurling his spear at one of the soldiers. What was described as a `desperate fight’ followed, in which Pemulwuy and his followers pitted their spears against the muskets of the troops and settlers. Five Aborigines were killed and many more wounded, including Pemulwuy who was made prisoner with seven buckshot hits in his head and body. He was taken to the hospital, but subsequently escaped to play a leading role in numerous other incidents until he was finally shot dead by two settlers late in 1802.

Heidelberg, now an outer suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, was in May 1840 the scene of an extraordinary confrontation between white settlers and Aborigines using European firearms seized in raids on shepherds’ huts. Early in 1840 a large band of Aborigines led by Jackie Jackie made their presence felt on the upper reaches of the Yarra River during several incidents in which firearms were used. Attempts were made by white authorities to retrieve the weapons, but were too late. In May, Armyne Bolden, a settler based several kilometres up the Yarra from Melbourne, reported to the superintendent of the Port Phillip district, Charles La Trobe, that more than 200 Aborigines armed with about 30 guns were `shooting in every direction’ and threatening to burn down huts on his run.

A detachment of mounted police was sent out from Melbourne, but by the time this arrived the Aborigines had disappeared. Several troopers led by Lieutenant F. B. Russell tracked the band, but when they were about 65 kilometres upstream they were ambushed by the Aborigines who had concealed themselves in dense scrub by a ford. The police were fired on as they attempted to cross the stream, three were wounded and all were forced to retreat. The incident is chiefly notable for showing the Aborigines acting virtually as guerillas in opposing white occupation of their lands. The solution adopted by La Trobe was to issue orders to police patrols to prevent any Aborigines from entering Melbourne, and in particular to impose severe penalties on shopkeepers supplying powder and shot to any Aborigines, especially women, who sneaked into the town.

Eumeralla, the district around the Eumeralla River between Port Fairy and Portland, Victoria, was in August 1842 the scene of several violent clashes between Aborigines and whites over the `theft’ of sheep. On 7 August Aborigines attacked a shepherd employed by James Hunter, who held Eumeralla station with his brother John, and drove off his flock. The station manager, Samuel MacGregor, and several hands pursued them and took back the sheep after `a severe skirmish’. On 10 August a group of Aborigines estimated to number more than 150 again appeared on the station, part of the group driving off the sheep while the rest attacked the shepherds. This time the latter were well armed and kept them at bay until help arrived, whereupon the Aborigines made off and the flock was recovered.

Eight days later there was a third large-scale attack, with this time the tribesmen taking away over 1,000 sheep. A party from the station which went out in pursuit found the flock’s trail littered with dead carcasses. About thirteen kilometres from the station the party came up against the Aborigines, and only after overcoming `a vigorous resistance’ (during which three warriors were shot dead and several others wounded) were they able to retake the 500 or so sheep which remained alive.

These clashes were repeated on neighbouring stations of the district to the north-west of Port Fairy over the next five years, reaching a peak of ferocity from early in 1845. Tom Browne-a local squatter who wrote novels under the pseudonym of Rolf Boldrewood-characterised this period as `The Eumeralla War’ in his 1884 book of recollections Old Melbourne Memories.

Enter Rommel…

Those who fought in the Western Desert and those who reported the fighting there devoted a good deal of effort to describing the setting. They noted the daytime heat and the nighttime cold, the swarming flies and the gritty, blowing sand, the spectacular sunsets and the star-filled night skies. As they groped for a proper descriptive image, the one they most often hit upon was to compare the desert to the ocean.

Often, nothing but the unbroken line of the horizon could be seen in any direction. Vehicles moved freely across this expanse like ships at sea. Men did not just drive in the desert, they navigated, getting where they wanted to go by using speedometer, map, and compass. The few landmarks were usually man-made: a heap of rocks or empty gasoline cans, a stone cistern for catching rainwater, a whitewashed Moslem mosque, a long procession of telephone poles. The only paved road was the coast road. Inland, vehicles followed rough, dusty tracks that avoided the worst of the rocky outcroppings and patches of soft sand.

From the shore of the Mediterranean, the Libyan Desert, or the Western Desert, as it was called in those days, climbs upward in a haphazard series of steps, or escarpments. In most places, these escarpments are too steep for trucks and even for tanks, so the few natural gaps, or passes, became important military objectives. The surface of the desert is largely underlaid with limestone; tracked vehicles, at least, could drive almost anywhere on it. Only well inland does the true desert of drifting sand dunes begin. Narrow, stony ravines, called wadies, look from the air like jagged cracks. Here and there lie large dish-like depressions known as deirs. Inland from the sea, rain falls only two or three times a year – and in some places, only once in two or three years.

A German general aptly described North Africa as a “tactician’s paradise and a quartermaster’s hell.” The long, narrow desert battlefield stretched over 1,400 miles from Tripoli on the west, the Axis’ major port, to Alexandria on the east, the Allies’ chief base. The Germans and the Italians on the one hand and the British on the other were willing to spend their blood and treasure to win this desolate strip of land simply because neither side could afford to let the other have it. For the British, the Western Desert was the buffer that protected the Suez Canal and the Middle Eastern oil fields, both of which the Axis powers wanted. In addition, whoever controlled the North African airfields was well ahead in the race to control the strategically vital Mediterranean.

As Marshal Graziani had ruefully noted, desert war imposed its own special rules. Rule number one was that armies brought with them everything they needed. There was no way to live off the country. As a result, the two most precious liquids were gasoline and water. For the British soldier, remarked a war correspondent, “The great problem in the mornings was to decide whether to make tea with the shaving water or to shave in the tea.” What was left of a man’s daily water ration (seldom more than a gallon) after drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing his clothes had to go into the radiator of his vehicle.

The second rule was the importance of complete mobility. In the desert, infantrymen did not march; they rode in trucks. The queen of battle was the tank. Closely related to mobility was rule number three: the need for speed. A fast-moving, quick-off-the-mark army, as General O’Connor’s Western Desert Force had proved, possessed an enormous edge, and a quick-thinking, energetic general could dominate an opponent who paused to gather up all the loose ends.

The final rule of desert warfare dealt with the nature of the battlefield itself. There were no industrial centers to capture, no captive populations to rule, no political considerations to clutter up tactics. It was a purely military struggle on an empty stage, and it was entirely possible to honor whatever “rules of the game” might still exist in a total war.

To meet the pressing needs in Greece and East Africa, General Wavell had left the Western Desert Force gravely weakened. “Next month or two will be anxious,” he cabled Prime Minister Churchill in March 1941, but he estimated that the enemy in Libya would not be strong enough to risk an attack before May. This, in fact, was precisely the timetable given in Hitler’s orders to General Rommel. The turn of events was to surprise Hitler as much as Wavell.

Erwin Rommel was a forty-nine-year-old professional soldier whose reckless bravery during World War I had brought him two wounds and the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military decoration. Outspoken and blunt, Rommel lacked the arrogant polish of the Prussian aristocracy that supplied the German Army with so many of its officers. In the 1930s, a book he wrote stressing boldness in infantry tactics caught Adolf Hitler’s eye. In 1940, during the Battle of France, he led a panzer division with dash and brilliance. Hitler concluded that here was the man to come to the aid of Mussolini. The moment Rommel set foot in North Africa, the situation began to happen.

Hitler had promised Mussolini an “Afrika Korps” of two German divisions, one armored and one of motorized infantry. When the 5th Light Motorized Division – a self-contained force of infantry, armor, artillery, and antitank and antiaircraft guns – arrived at Tripoli in February 1941, Rommel ordered the ships unloaded through the night, ignoring the danger of the RAF bombing the lighted docks. He put his engineers to building dummy wooden tanks atop little Volkswagen staff cars to make the British think he was stronger than he was, and he hurried his advance units to El Agheila, the westernmost British outpost in Libya, to test the enemy’s strength.

The army that faced Rommel was not the same fast-moving, quick-thinking force that had chased Marshal Graziani out of Egypt. The Desert Rats of the 7th Armored Division, back in Egypt for rest and refitting, had been replaced by the newly arrived 2nd Armored Division, green and at half strength. The 6th Australian Infantry, victors at Bardia and Tobruk and Benghazi, was relieved by another Australian division, untrained and poorly equipped. Replacing O’Connor in command was Lieutenant General Philip Neame, a newcomer to the desert.

On March 24, 1941, the German advance guard drove the British out of El Agheila. A week later, Rommel launched a second attack. Sensing the weakness before him, he disregarded his orders. “It was a chance I could not resist,” he wrote. By April 2, Neame’s defenses were splintered. Orders went out to abandon Benghazi if necessary. Wavell commanded General O’Connor to fly at once to Cyrenaica to try to restore a defensive front.

There was little O’Connor could do, for Western Desert Force was rapidly falling apart. Communications broke down, orders were bungled, and troops went astray. An enormous supply dump containing most of the 2nd Armored’s gas was set afire by its guards when they thought the enemy was approaching; the “enemy” turned out to be a British patrol.

As O’Connor had done earlier in the year, Rommel took the desert shortcut across the base of the Cyrenaican “bulge.” He pushed his men relentlessly, flying from one column to another in his tiny Storch plane. When told that the vehicles needed servicing and repairs, he ordered his officers not to bother with such “trifles.” The 5th Light Division’s commander asked for a four-day halt to bring up ammunition and gasoline; Rommel had him empty all his trucks – leaving the division stranded immobile in the desert for twenty-four hours – and send them back to depots to bring up the needed supplies. An Italian general complained that he was being ordered into impassable terrain; Rommel drove ahead a dozen miles by himself to prove the path was clear.

Late on April 3, Rommel paused long enough to write his wife: “We’ve been attacking since the 31st with dazzling success. There’ll be consternation amongst our masters in Tripoli and Rome and perhaps in Berlin, too. I took the risk against all orders and instructions because the opportunity seemed favorable. . . . You will understand that I can’t sleep for happiness.” By April 6, most of the Cyrenaican bulge was in Axis hands. Benghazi had fallen, and the spread fingers of Rommel’s columns were reaching for Mechili, where the exhausted British were regrouping.

That night, a British staff car drove headlong into a German scouting force on one of the desert tracks north of Mechili. There was a brief exchange of gunfire, killing the British driver and a German motorcyclist. The staff car was surrounded, and the occupants were ordered to surrender. Out stepped generals Neame and O’Connor and Brigadier John Combe, whose Combeforce had slammed the door on the retreating Italians barely two months before. (So seriously did Wavell feel O’Connor’s loss that he tried – unsuccessfully – to exchange him for any six captured Italian generals that Mussolini’s high command cared to choose.)

The next day Mechili capitulated. The British streamed eastward. Most of the Australian infantry reached safety in the defenses of Tobruk, but the 2nd Armored Division was shattered; it never again appeared on the battle roles of the British Army. Seeking a quick victory, Rommel threw his troops at Tobruk. But his planning was too hurried and his men too exhausted, and the assault was repulsed. German armored forces bypassed the fortress and seized Bardia and Sallum, key points along the coastal escarpment. Cyrenaica had been regained, and once more the Axis were at the gates of Egypt.

April 1941 was a month of severe trial for Great Britain. Only the campaign against the Italians in East Africa went well. Officials in London sugar-coated the defeat in the Western Desert with such phrases as “a withdrawal to a battleground of our own choosing” and “part of a plan for an elastic defence,” but few Britons were fooled. On April 6, Hitler attacked Yugoslavia, whose capital, Belgrade, fell within a week. Greece, too, was invaded. The forces sent there at such cost by Wavell could not stem the Nazi tide, and by the end of the month, they had to be evacuated. The British island of Malta, key to control of the Mediterranean, was savagely pounded by the Luftwaffe. Oil-rich Iraq, east of Suez, was torn by an anti-British revolt, and there were signs that a similar uprising was brewing in Syria. In a grim mood, Churchill wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “In this war, every post is a winning-post, and how many more are we going to lose?”

As usual, Churchill met trouble by bounding into action. Axis submarines, warships, and planes were so thick in the Mediterranean that British ships carrying supplies to the Middle East took the slow, 14,000-mile route around Africa and through the Red Sea to Egypt. Now, overriding the objections of his military advisers, Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to force a passage through the Mediterranean with a convoy of merchant ships carrying tanks to General Wavell.

The codename for his bold plan was Operation Tiger.

It would have comforted the prime minister to know that just then all was not serene in the Axis camp. Rommel was determined to press into Egypt and beyond as soon as he was re-supplied and the Tobruk thorn was removed from his flank. But his unexpected victories had embarrassed the German high command because it had not intended North Africa to be a major theater of war. General Franz Halder, chief of the German General Staff, complained in his diary that Rommel did not even submit proper reports; instead, “All day long he rushes about between his widely scattered units.” Something must be done to “head off this soldier gone stark mad,” Halder thought, or he would embroil Germany in a campaign beyond her resources.

Shrugging off his first repulse at Tobruk, Rommel searched for a soft spot in its defenses. Tobruk was important because of its harbor, the only one of any size between Alexandria and Benghazi. The desert around the small, whitewashed town was flat as a plate; the verdict of one observer was that it “must have been difficult to defend even in the days of bows and arrows.” Yet, before the war, the Italians had lavished tons of concrete and steel on its defenses.

A double row of strong points and trenches formed a semicircle thirty miles around the harbor. The British strengthened this line with barbed wire, tank traps, minefields, and a heavy concentration of artillery. The garrison, made up mostly of Australian infantry supported by a few tanks, was led by General Leslie Morshead. He and his Aussies were very determined. “There is to be no surrender and no retreat,” Morshead told his officers.

Rommel ordered three major assaults against the Australians, using a variety of tactics. But his forces were too weak, and the opposition too unwavering, to achieve a breakthrough. By May, he had to content himself with tightening the ring around the fortress while he waited impatiently for reinforcements.

The siege of Tobruk was to drag on for eight months, until the winter of 1941. It was a boring, bloody, dangerous stalemate for the men on both sides. They “went to ground” during the day, suffering the stifling heat and the swarming insects to avoid snipers’ bullets. Bombing and artillery fire took a steady toll. The desolate landscape, wrote a British war correspondent, was “littered with broken transport, burned-out tanks, and spent ammunition, as though some junk merchant had set up business on the surface of the moon.” Morshead’s garrison could be supplied only by ship and only at night, and British naval losses were heavy. But neither side would loosen its grip. To the British Commonwealth, Tobruk came to stand for stubborn courage in the face of adversity. To Rommel, Tobruk was a symbol of frustration. He vowed that the fortress would be his.

For General Wavell, events were rapidly reaching a climax. He moved his available forces across the vast chessboard of the Middle East – to put down revolts in Iraq and Syria, to gain final victory over the Italians in East Africa, to probe Rommel’s outposts on the Egyptian frontier, to counter (unsuccessfully) a massive assault on the island of Crete by German paratroopers. All the while a blizzard of telegrams from Churchill crying for action descended on Wavell’s Cairo headquarters.

On May 12, 1941, the Tiger convoy anchored at Alexandria, having lost only one ship in the Mediterranean passage and bringing Wavell 238 tanks. Churchill, who had risked so much to get these reinforcements to the Middle East, waited anxiously for his Tiger Cubs, as he called them, to go into action. Wavell replied that Operation Battleaxe was scheduled for June 15. He intended to use the new tanks to break Rommel’s shield at Sallum and Bardia and then advance seventy miles westward to lift the siege of Tobruk. The Desert Rats of the 7th Armored Division would spearhead the attack.

Battleaxe called for the 4th Indian Division, supported by infantry tanks, to capture Halfaya Pass, an important gap in the coastal escarpment near Sallum. The British armor would meanwhile swing around to the left beyond the Axis positions guarding Sallum and Bardia. Here, on the desert flank, Wavell saw the decisive tank battle taking place.

On the appointed morning, eighteen Matildas waddled toward Halfaya Pass, followed by Indian infantrymen in trucks. Before the tanks were close enough to fire effectively, they were hit by a hail of armor-piercing shells. Eleven of the twelve leading Matildas stopped dead, some in flames, others with gun turrets blown completely off their hulls. Four others behind them withdrew, blundered into a mine field, and had tracks blown off. Later the same day, far out on the desert flank, a column of British cruiser tanks met the same devastating fire from a German strong point.

Thus were British armored forces introduced to the German eighty-eight-millimeter gun, one of the best artillery pieces of World War II. A dual-purpose antiaircraft and antitank gun, the long-barreled eighty-eight was accurate and fast firing, and its twenty-one-pound shell had tremendous hitting power; at a range of well over a mile, it could kill even the most heavily armored tank with a single shot. Rommel had only a dozen of these guns, but the five at Halfaya Pass had been dug into stony clefts so that the barrels were at ground level. In the shimmering desert haze and with their flash-less charges, they were all but invisible.

On the second day of Battleaxe, Rommel threw in the tanks of the 5th Light Division and the newly arrived 15th Panzer Division, the second of the two divisions Hitler had promised Mussolini. While neither side could claim a clear-cut advantage, Rommel was gaining the upper hand. Most of his outposts, including Halfaya Pass (by now, and ever after, known to the British as Hellfire Pass), had held firm. The 5th Light was on the flank of the Desert Rats, and the German armor was better concentrated. Most important, Rommel had found British field commanders cautious and unimaginative, and he was ready to seize the initiative. He would “deal the enemy an unexpected blow in his most sensitive spot” by a flank attack at first light on June 17 before the British could launch any attack of their own.

Rommel stayed a step ahead of his enemy. By four in the afternoon of June 17, his panzer columns hooked in toward Halfaya Pass while the British rushed eastward to escape encirclement. The British lost twenty-seven cruiser tanks and sixty-four Matildas – almost half their armored force. The Afrika Korps won the battlefield as well as the battle and recovered and repaired its damaged tanks; in all, Rommel lost only a dozen tanks.

The British concluded from the failure of Battleaxe that their tanks were outgunned by those of the enemy, which was not true. This error grew out of misunderstanding what had killed so many of their cruisers and Matildas. They believed German tanks were responsible, when in most cases, the actual killers were antitank guns, particularly the eighty-eight. The failure to appreciate the full value of antitank guns, or how Rommel was using them, was to haunt the British in the months to come.

When the Battleaxe reports reached England, Winston Churchill was at Chartwell, his country home, where he was awaiting the outcome. There he received news of the defeat. “A most bitter blow,” he wrote, “I wandered about the valley disconsolately for some hours.” Beyond the fact that his beloved Tiger Cubs had been so roughly handled was the grimmer realization that, for the first time, the desert army had struck a full-strength blow, only to be repulsed.

The Middle East needed new blood, Churchill thought. He had lost confidence in General Wavell. On June 21, he cabled Wavell that “the victories which are associated with your name will be famous in the story of the British Army,” but that “the public interest will best be served” by a change in leadership. The new Middle East commander was to be General Sir Claude Auchinleck. Wavell would take Auchinleck’s place as head of British Commonwealth forces in India.

Wavell received the news from an aide early the next morning in his Cairo home as he was shaving. He showed no emotion as he listened to the orders, remarked quietly “the Prime Minister’s quite right – this job needs a new eye and a new hand,” and went on shaving. He took his usual morning ride and swim and set about getting affairs in order for his successor.

For nearly two years, in victory and defeat, Archibald Wavell had kept the Middle East in the Allied column. Certainly no other British soldier in World War II shouldered so many burdens. He built the foundations for victories that other men would win. When the change of command was made public, correspondent Alan Moorehead wrote: “There went out of Cairo and the Middle East that afternoon one of the great men of the war.”

British Naval Superiority In The Indian Ocean

East Indiaman (Ship Type) Small, broad, roomy ships developed in the 1590s by the Dutch for trade with their colonies in the East Indies. Developed from the galleon and Dutch Fluyt, East Indiamen were rigged as frigates (square-rigged) and powerfully armed, to the point of equaling a man-of-war in fire power. They featured two galleries, a single forecastle deck, a quarterdeck, and a half-deck. Typical of the class was the Den Ary, which carried 54 guns and whose hull was clinker-laid up to the sides of both the half-deck and the quarterdeck.

Shortly after the Dutch, the British entered the East India trade, forming “The Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies,” also known as the Honourable East India Company [EIC]. Chartered in 1600, its ships, as were those of the Dutch, were well-armed and heavily manned. Similar, too, were the ships’ full underbodies, flat floors, sharp turns of the bilges, and quick rises. British East Indiamen were more apt to carry studding sails than were their Dutch counterparts and were frequently commanded by former Royal Navy officers. Quarters were often luxurious, and many vessels were adorned with gilding and ornamental carving.

British naval superiority in the Indian Ocean, arguably dates to Great Britain’s defeat of France during the Seven Years War (1756–63), but it was not cemented until their decisive victory over Napoleon. At the end of the eighteenth century, with the defeat of the Netherlands by France in 1795, Great Britain seized upon this enforced alliance between its main European and Indian Ocean rivals to take Cape Town, Ceylon (today Sri Lanka), and Java and Melaka from the Dutch, and the Mascarene Islands of Bourbon (now La Réunion) and Ile de France (now Mauritius) from the French. Twenty years later, by 1815, the British controlled the Cape, Ceylon, Melaka, and Mauritius, while Bourbon was returned to France by the Treaty of Paris. Just a few years later, the unauthorized occupation of Singapore by Stamford Raffles in 1819 and its formal possession by the British in 1823 almost immediately reduced the economic signifcance of both Melaka and Dutch Jakarta.

European maritime superiority did not go unchallenged in the early modern period. Along the coast of western India two rival indigenous navies clashed with each other and with the EIC to control coastal shipping. The most successful were the Sidis of Janjira Island, about forty miles south of Mumbai, who had ruled this fortifed island since 1618. Descendants of enslaved Africans known as habshis, a broad name denoting origins in northeast Africa, the Janjira Sidis traced their Indian roots to military service in the Deccan of southern India.

From the great fortress they constructed at Janjira, the Sidis became an important factor in coastal shipping north of Goa up to Bombay, whether serving the Mughals or their own interests. Sidi naval power was challenged by the powerful and ambitious Maratha ruler Shivaji Bhosale, whose army was seizing large chunks of western India from the Mughals. Shivaji commanded a series of small forts along the Konkan coast, as well as a fleet of perhaps several hundred ships. Although Shivaji is remembered as a militant Hindu ruler, in the typical Indian Ocean division of labor his ships were captained by Muslims. His several attempts to assert a naval presence on the coast proved to be disruptive to both the English and Portuguese, who were simultaneously contending with Maratha continental expansion. In the process of beating back the Maratha challenge, the Sidis momentarily shifted their alliance from the Mughals to the EIC, but they remained an independent if steadily less powerful coastal naval force deep into the nineteenth century.

The Yaarubi rulers of Oman drew most of their revenue from customs duties levied at their ports, but they also began to expand the date plantations along the Batinah coast of northeastern Oman. The demand for labor created by this agricultural plantation expansion, as well as the maintenance of a standing army by the Imam, were harbingers of increased slave trading to the Gulf from East Africa. Maritime raiding was apparently another source of revenue for Oman, such that Masqat gained a reputation as a pirate’s den. In 1705 an Omani attack on an EIC vessel caused one offcial to write that “Muskat . . . is become a Terror to all the trading people of India,” while a company pilot’s guide published in 1728 cautioned that “the danger of this port is as much from the Treachery of the Arabs as from the Storms and Rocks of the Coasts; for they are not only Pirates and Thieves, but Cheats in every thing wherein you can deal with them.”

By this time, however, internal dissension over election to the Imamate gave rise to civil strife in Oman. In 1749 a new dynasty, the Busaidi, came to power. Under the vigorous leadership of Ahmad b. Said, Oman’s place as a mercantile maritime power in the western Indian Ocean steadily grew. One immediate consequence of this political transition was that the Omani Mazrui governor of Mombasa rejected the new Busaidi claimant to authority. According to the anonymous nineteenth-century Swahili History of Mombasa, which only exists in Arabic renditions, “When the governor learnt that the Imam Ahmad bin Said had come to power, and that he was not of the family of the Imams, he declared himself ruler of Mombasa and refused to recognize the country as a possession of the Imam, and said: Formerly this Imam was my equal: he has now seized Oman, so I have seized Mombasa.” Mombasa’s independence would eventually be ended by Oman’s imperial expansion into East Africa in the long nineteenth century. From the middle of the eighteenth century, however, it was Great Britain that came to dominate the maritime space of the Indian Ocean as it built an empire based around India that eventually extended from South Africa, through the Gulf, across the Bay of Bengal and Malaya all the way to Hong Kong.


Major-General Pajari, unaware that he is standing in a minefield on a makeshift speaker’s podium, giving his speech at the Suursaari victory parade on 28 March 1942. (Sa-Kuva)

One of the most daring and unique Finnish operations during the period of trench warfare was the capture of Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland, 43km south of Kotka and 56km north of the Estonian coast. Due to its location, this 11km-long island had great strategic significance. Artillery stationed there could control most of the sea lanes to Leningrad. In 1939, the Soviet Union repeatedly approached Finland to see if it could annex Suursaari and the other outlying islands. When these requests were refused, the Red Army took the islands by force during the Winter War.

During the Summer War, the Finnish and German high commands agreed that Suursaari and other outlying islands had to be wrested back from Soviet hands. When supported from these islands, the Soviet Navy was able to disrupt all naval traffic to Kotka harbour, and extend their range of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea. Conversely, if Finland were to hold the islands, it would enable the Germans to bottle up the Soviet Navy into a small corner of the Gulf of Finland. In addition, the establishment of air observation bases on the archipelago could provide early warnings that would considerably increase tactical timeframes for all aerial operations.

Finnish headquarters agreed on a joint operation with the Wehrmacht high command to capture Suursaari and the neighbouring islands. They decided that the best time for the attack would be during midwinter across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Attacking while the sea lanes were still open was considered too risky, as the enemy would be able to ship reinforcements and heavy equipment rapidly to the islands. Once it became apparent that the Germans could not spare the troops needed for the operation, Mannerheim decided that the Finns would carry out the audacious plan themselves. Nevertheless, Luftwaffe support was still expected and officially requested (though it would never appear).

Mannerheim handpicked Major-General Aaro Pajari to lead the attack. He had already proven his worth as an able field commander; first during the Winter War at the battle of Tolvajärvi and again as the commander of the 18th Division during the attack phase of 1941. Despite the involvement of some 3,500 men and 67 planes, Pajari gave orders for the landing plans to be kept top secret.

The Finns had managed to gather relatively accurate intelligence on the strength of the enemy defences. Suursaari belonged to the Leningrad Naval District and was under the jurisdiction of one of their oldest navy formations, the Baltic Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Vladimir Tributs. The Suursaari garrison was commanded by Colonel Barinov, who in turn reported to the fortress commander at the nearby Lavansaari Island. Despite the island’s significance, the vital bases at Suursaari were manned by only 496 soldiers, 12 officers and the compulsory eight political commissars.

The Finns also understood the strength of the fortifications on the rocky island. The problem was how to transport the chosen few thousand men to the vicinity of the island quietly and unseen, quickly enough and with still enough energy left for the fight. The Arctic landscape provided another challenge: the transports had to somehow traverse undetected across a completely horizontal ice plateau (which was entirely devoid of cover) for dozens of kilometres.

Pajari’s plan was to first move the designated troops into staging areas, near Haapasaari and Luppi islands, about 10–15km away from their targets. He hoped to schedule his attack so that heavy snowfall would help conceal the approaching troops. However, this also meant that the necessary roads across the ice would have to be continuously ploughed to keep them open. Strong winds blowing from the open sea could pile up the snowdrifts so fast that whole roads could vanish within 20 minutes. In order to keep routes and assembly areas clear, five cars and one tractor, all fitted with snowploughs, worked continuously for a total of 408 hours.

All of the men were issued with brand new snowsuits. All their equipment was to be painted white. Furthermore, the 738 horses had to be camouflaged with white sheets and the trucks, sleighs and heavy weapons similarly painted. The troops moved into the area mainly on horse-drawn sleighs or in trucks. As time was of the essence, some men on skis were to be drawn along, holding onto ropes trailing from the crammed trucks. In addition to all the soldiers and their weapons, several bridge sections were taken along, in case the ice cracked and caused a chasm to open across the ice road. White tents were to be set up at 10km intervals along the track. These were to serve as supply points and field hospitals. In the end the total traffic on the ice was so extensive that it was a miracle the Soviets did not notice the preparations for the attack. For the time being, aircraft were only stationed on the mainland. When the time came, they were to be charged with reconnaissance duty and then the support and protection of the infantry during the attack. Additionally, they were tasked with evacuating the wounded and preventing the enemy from withdrawing from Suursaari Island.

The main Finnish attack force was split into two battalions: the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment under Major Lauri Toiviainen, and the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment under Captain Veikko Elovaara. There was also a reserve coastal guard battalion commanded by Major Åke Sokajärvi in the vicinity of the main attack. Lieutenant-Colonel Lauri Sotisaari led the spearhead with his Detachment S, which was to assault the western shore under cover of darkness. From there his men would then move both north and south along the frozen shoreline while the body of his command took control of the road connecting the two small settlements on the island. Several heavy mortars assigned to the detachment would provide tactical support. A simultaneous attack was also scheduled to start from the opposite, eastern side of the island by Detachment M under Major Martti Miettinen; its role was to prevent the enemy from escaping over the ice, and to act as a distraction from the main assault. Once the enemy dug in to defend, he was to continue his attack towards the two settlements of Suurkylä and Kiiskinkylä. Two light artillery batteries and several anti-tank guns were to provide support for the detachment.

The troops moved into their staging areas and settled into camouflaged tents near the Luppi and Haapasaari Islands. All that was needed was propitious weather. During this crucial time, the Finnish Air Force prevented Soviet planes from approaching close enough to get an idea of the scale of the preparations. On 27 March, once the temperature had dropped to -6°C, Pajari judged that the snow conditions were ideal to launch the attack on skis. Before the assault commenced, each man received a warm meal and 100ml of cognac blended with vodka, in order to give them the boost needed for rapid approach and attack.

The men moved to their jumping-off points. In order to ensure total darkness no fires were permitted and light bulbs were removed from the truck headlights, just in case somebody switched them on accidentally. Unfortunately, the first time the column of vehicles stopped, a long trail of red lights lit up; no one had remembered to remove the bulbs from the brake lights. Luckily for the Finns, this happened far enough away from the Soviet lines that the attackers could continue undetected.

Nevertheless, observers at Suursaari finally realised that something was afoot. On the evening of 26 March at 21:30 the following message was sent to headquarters at nearby Lavansaari Island: ‘About a battalion-strength enemy force seen staging around Haapasaari Island before darkness fell. Special patrols have been sent to observe.’ Lavansaari was at the time snowed in and 40km distant; sending any support there would be slow. However, the island did have an airfield, so in theory at least, air support could be rapidly scrambled.

However, the sighting had come too late. The significance and strength of the Finnish forces was greatly underestimated. After sending the message, Colonel Barinov raised the alarm at Suursaari Island standing his men to. For some reason, instead of sending out patrols to gauge the enemy’s intentions, he was content with letting the troops fight the cold in their foxholes. Although the temperature was only -6°C, the Arctic wind blowing across the ice made matters much worse. At the same time, the increasing snowfall continued to hinder visibility. While the Soviet troops seemed to be hibernating, the Finns approached the island from two directions. Everything was going to plan. Suursaari lay ahead, silhouetted dimly through the billowing snow.

The heavy mortars reached their positions 1.5km from the island, with the light mortars pulled to a mere 500m from the shore. The attack commenced at 04:00 with the troops starting to ski towards the island. When the vanguard of Detachment S was near the western shoreline, the Soviets opened fire. At the same time, the smaller Detachment M had spread out on a wide front on the ice and now engaged the enemy positions from the east. Soon a fierce firefight had developed on both sides of the island. Once the main Finnish forces secured a bridgehead, they started to force their way north and south along the rocky island. Progress was slowed by having to climb steep, rocky cliffs and to wade through ravines filled with deep snow. However, despite the determination of the Soviet defenders, the southerly force soon captured the middle of the island and Kiiskinkylä. At the same time, the majority of Detachment S targeted the rear of Suurkylä and the heavily fortified northern peninsula. A small number of men under Detachment Oksanen were sent to simultaneously secure the southernmost tip of the island from the west.

The Finnish numbers came to bear during the night and through the following morning, when the northern part of Detachment S was able to assault the positions in Suurkylä. Here the Soviets managed to hold out until 15:00. By this time, most of the other important strategic objectives around the island had been captured. Nevertheless, the Soviets continued to resist in several fortified positions across the island and by nightfall, six Soviet fighter planes flew over in support. Twelve Finnish fighters met the enemy planes and proceeded to shoot down four of them. A fifth Soviet aircraft was hit by flak, and only one plane was able to return back to its base at Lavansaari Island.

At this stage, the fiercest opposition came from the Soviets on Selkäapajanniemi Peninsula. There the defenders had used thick timber logs to build extremely strong fortifications in the natural openings in the bedrock. The Finnish Air Force was called upon to soften up these positions. At 17:30, four bombers arrived, strafing the strongholds with machine guns and delivering a total payload of 2,000kg of bombs. By the evening, the Soviet defenders had had enough, and decided to escape over the ice. The Finns pursued them relentlessly across the vastness.

By the bright light of dawn the following morning, the Finns had cleared out the last three fortifications offering resistance at Selkäapajanniemi. This left only one determined enemy stronghold at Lounatrivi lighthouse. So far, the defenders there had resisted all attacks by the Finns. Two pioneer detachments and an artillery squad were sent to resolve the matter. The crew manhandled their gun on top of the piled ice. After setting their sights, they opened fire systematically against the lighthouse, shelling it from the top down a floor at a time. This forced the defenders to flee downwards and eventually out of the front door. Even now, these brave men refused to surrender. They were all killed in the fight that ensued. Kipparniemi Peninsula also held a small Soviet detachment. After completely surrounding the enemy, the Finns concluded that their positions were not strongly fortified. Therefore it was decided to let them stew until the following morning.

The whole of Suursaari finally came under Finnish control on 28 March. That day, Pajari decided to organise a victory parade on the ice in front of the island. Two flights of six Curtis fighter planes each were to fly sentry over the formations. After giving the orders for the procession, Pajari telephoned Mannerheim at his headquarters in Mikkeli: ‘I hereby notify you that I have more or less captured Suursaari Island. Only some minor pockets of resistance remain.’ After the phone call, Pajari found time for a quick nap in his tent. Meanwhile, his men hastened into the parade formations and readied themselves for inspection. The men also had time to assemble a makeshift speaker’s podium on top of a horse-drawn sleigh and a military marching band was even rushed all the way from Helsinki for the occasion. It was extremely risky to organise the parade so soon. Had Soviet planes happened on the scene, the men would have made easy targets on the flat, cover-free ice. Nonetheless, Pajari seemed to have had great faith in the aircraft flying over his men.

The first incident happened after all the men had been inspected, the chaplain had given his sermon and the last of the speeches delivered. At this stage, a lone Soviet machine-gun squad chose to reveal itself and surrender. They had been hiding a mere 100m away from the place where Pajari had been speaking. Had the sergeant in charge of the heavy weapon fancied some posthumous Soviet fame for himself, at least a dozen Finnish soldiers could have been killed. Afterwards, it also came to light that the general and his chief of staff had been positioned directly on top of a minefield. It was sheer good fortune that it had snowed so much, as this prevented the pressure-mines from detonating.

When the excitement of taking care of the surrendering Soviets had died down, a radio message reached Pajari. Twenty-nine enemy planes were approaching the island in three formations of eight, eleven and ten planes. Only one Finnish flight of six Curtiss fighter planes was still in the area while the second flight had already moved nearer to Lavansaari Island. It transpired that the parade had an air show-style finale. The aerial battle quickly developed into a spinning carousel with planes flying in every direction. The six Finnish planes on site engaged immediately with no shortage of targets. The second flight returned quickly from the direction of Lavansaari, attacking the rearmost of the Soviet formations. In the end, the Finns destroyed 18 of the 29 enemy planes without suffering any losses of their own. Earlier the same day, another flight of Brewsters had bagged itself five confirmed kills and a Fokker unit four more. This score of 27 confirmed enemy kills was (to date) the highest one-day tally achieved by the Finnish Air Force. Such triumphs did come with a hefty price: each pilot was forced to fly or be on high alert throughout the day and night. During the last days of the operation, the only way the men kept themselves fit to fly was through heavy use of the German-made combat stimulant Pervitin (methamphetamine). In total, they flew 643 combat missions and delivered over 5,000kg of bombs during the operation.

The Age of the Shoguns

There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, love, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called patient… I have practised patience.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616)

Japan, after the death of its feudal overlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1535–98), was threatened by anarchy. A council of five co-regents had been nominated by Hideyoshi to rule Japan after his death and during the minority of his son Toyotomi Hideyori. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), as head of the regency council, emerged as a dominant figure but Ishida Mitsunari (1563–1600), another council member, challenged his authority.

Mitsunari and Ieyasu were supported by the war lords of, respectively, western and eastern Japan, and came to do battle at Sekigahara, a narrow pass of strategic importance between Lake Biwa and Nagoya in central Japan on 21 October 1600. At about 8 a.m, as the mists cleared after a night of driving rain, the first shots of musketry were heard. The contest between the 80,000-strong army of the west and the slightly smaller army of the east was even until midday. But Ieyasu’s espionage network, ahead of the battle, had already persuaded elements of the ‘army of the west’ to defect. A force on the hill above that army’s southern line advanced on its own allies and delivered the victory to Ieyasu.

Mitsunari’s defeat led to his execution and Ieyasu either banished the nobles who had supported him or deprived them of their lands. He then redistributed the fiefdoms among his own supporters. But since many feudal nobles supported Hideyori’s legitimacy the ambitious, but cautious, Ieyasu allowed the seven-year-old boy to keep his father’s stronghold, Osaka castle, and gave him his granddaughter in marriage. The battle was the last major opposition to Tokugawa power. The emperor, whose power was merely nominal, confirmed Ieyasu’s authority when, in 1603, he appointed him shogun – supreme military ruler of Japan. When Ieyasu retired in 1605 he ensured that the title of shogun was transferred to his son Tokugawa Hidetada. A dynasty had therefore been established but Ieyasu retained effective control until his death.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century Japan had dissolved into a collection of some 400 effectively independent states and the emperor’s authority was just a formality. But Japanese attempts at establishing central authority dated back to the country’s emergence as a distinctive civilization in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. The constitution of 604 had asserted the emperor’s authority over the nobility, the national reforms of 646 established the emperor’s title to all Japanese land, and Nara became the country’s administrative capital. Buddhism, imported from China through the adjacent Korean peninsula, was used to elevate imperial power. But Japan, unlike Korea, failed to transplant the much-admired Chinese example of a hierarchical and centralized administration. Buddhist monasteries and great families were granted private estates as a reward for crown service and this diminished the imperial patrimony. In 794 the emperors decided to move their court to the new capital of Heian (Kyoto) in order to escape the political influence of Buddhist monks at Nara. However, they then found themselves dominated by the Fujiwara clan, whose members intermarried with the imperial family and became the country’s predominant power. The absence of a central army meant that the country’s provinces were run by the monasteries and by the private armies of nobles. Samurai soldiers roamed the countryside and observed their own chivalric code. By the twelfth century, a time when Fujiwara power was waning, the samurai were influential in court politics.

Shoguns, as supreme military rulers, ruled with the aid of provincial subordinates – the shugo. The flow of power to the peripheries proved to be a chronic feature of Japanese political and military life: the shugo established themselves as regional rulers and the shoguns’ power diminished. But the shugo themselves lost their authority in the provinces after the civil war (1467–77) caused by a quarrel about the shogunate succession. The real victors were a new class of feudal warriors and provincial power-brokers known as the daimyo. Samurai warriors provided the daimyo with private armies, which led to internecine warfare. They in turn, as befitted their vassal status, received their own small estates. In the west such feudalism had led to national legal and political structures but Japanese feudalism militated against any such authority. Daimyo castles dominated their particular areas as centres for trade, urban development and the arts. Within their fortresses some of the daimyo became influential patrons of the ritualized Noh drama, the tea ceremonies, painting and prose romances which gave Japan a national cultural style despite the fragmentation so evident elsewhere.

The man who ended the chaos by establishing a centralized despotism started life as a victim of the age of Japanese anarchy. Tokugawa Ieyasu was born into a struggling warrior family and his father’s alliances meant that Ieyasu’s mother was separated from the family when her son was two. At the age of seven he became a hostage of the powerful Imagawa clan and two years afterwards Ieyasu’s father was killed by one of his vassals. The Imagawa educated Ieyasu as both warrior and administrator and his earliest campaigns were waged on behalf of the clan. But the age’s dominant figure was Oda Nobunaga, with whom Ieyasu formed an alliance after Nobunaga’s defeat of the Imagawa. Nobunaga had captured Kyoto and started an anti-Buddhist campaign, slaughtering monks and destroying temples. The Portuguese had by now introduced firearms into the country: muskets were reproduced and tactics changed. Nobunaga exploited these developments. The castle of Azuchi, built as his base on the shores of Lake Biwa in central Japan, showed the novel quality of his power. Earlier castles were defensive citadels built in remote mountain strongholds but Azuchi, built on the plains, asserted political and administrative order rather than just military control. Ieyasu was able to return to his family’s estates, near Nagoya on the central east coast, where he established a tax regime and a system of civilian administration to run his small army. He replaced the Imagawa during the 1570s as the dominant regional power so that he became the daimyo in charge of a prosperous and well-populated area.

Nobunaga, following an attack by one of his vassals, died in 1582 and Toyotomi Hideyoshi emerged as his successor within the Oda territories. During the 1580s Hideyoshi extended his authority over the daimyo of south-west Japan and his defeat of the Hojo clan enabled him to consolidate control of eastern Japan. Hideyoshi suggested that his ally Ieyasu should surrender his coastal provinces in return for the Hojo lands further east and the Tokugawa vassals and army were therefore transferred to land centred on the fishing village of Edo (Tokyo).

Hideyoshi in his vast domain and Ieyasu in his compact one followed policies designed to sustain their authority. Hideyoshi disarmed the peasantry and insisted that the samurai should now live in castle towns rather than roam the countryside ever ready to lend support to rural rebellions. A land survey yielded new taxes and Hideyoshi moved to suppress the Christian faith established in Japan by the Portuguese in 1572. Ieyasu placed large tracts of land under the direct administration of his own officials, drew up land surveys, and confiscated villagers’ weapons. Artisans and businessmen were encouraged to come and work in his new castle town.

After his victory at Sekigahara Ieyasu issued regulations and established administrative bodies which controlled the activities of the nobility, the Buddhist clergy and the daimyo. His aim was the creation of a stable and self-sufficient state by autocratic means: farming and trade were segregated, private investment banned and different parts of the country were only meant to communicate with each other by travelling along the strictly controlled five Imperial highways which converged on Ieyasu’s court. The Japanese were stopped from travelling abroad and, after the ban on the building of large ships (1638), had few means of travel to tempt them. Japanese hostility to trade grew since they saw from the examples of Goa, Malacca and Macau how missionaries always followed in the traders’ footsteps. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, had first arrived in Japan in 1549 and Christianization had been rapid. By 1615 some half a million of Japan’s eighteen-million population were Christian. Ieyasu embarked on a systematic anti-Christian policy which later culminated in the slaughter of 37,000 Japanese Christians at Hara castle near Nagasaki after Christian peasants, aided by samurai mercenaries, rose in rebellion. Three thousand one hundred and twenty-five officially recognized Catholic martyrdoms occurred during the Tokugawa era. All Japanese now had to register at local Buddhist temples and alien faiths were proscribed.

The need to control the daimyo ensured that both Ieyasu and his son kept them hard at work building, extending and embellishing the castle at Edo. By the time of Ieyasu’s death it was the world’s largest castle. Surrounding it were the mansions in which the daimyo lived as virtual hostages. The issue of the succession to Hidetada still plagued his father, especially when Toyotomi Hideyori attained his majority in 1614. The seventy-one-year-old warrior therefore led an army to seize Osaka castle and finally crush the Toyotomi clan with the help of Hidetada, who raised an army of 90,000 warriors. After a year-long campaign the castle fell and Hideyori, along with his family, committed suicide.

Ieyasu established the isolationism of the Edo period (1603–1867), which was dominated by the Tokugawa shogunate and as a prolonged period of peace is without parallel in advanced societies. Economically, the experiment was successful for a long time: cities boomed and agriculture expanded. The population grew to some thirty million by the early eighteenth century, but with virtually no foreign trade the state had to be financed almost exclusively from agricultural taxes whose burdens caused many peasants to leave the land. Samurai fell into debt and rural discontent spread. The peace meant that the army was largely redundant and the educated samurai joined the ranks of the bureaucrats who ran the highly centralized administration created by Ieyasu and which remains in place today. This concentration of power also produced enormous powers of patronage which proved to be another longterm national legacy. Japan’s introspective sense of its cultural uniqueness – and of its distinctiveness among its Asian neighbours – deepened during this period. But keeping the west at bay proved a high-cost policy. Japan could not assimilate western technology on its own terms. And western technology meant western power. A secluded society grew vulnerable to the feared ‘barbarian’.


Friedrich von Schomberg/Schönberg (1615–1690)

Parliaments, as William III was coming to appreciate with ever-growing clarity, could be troublesome things. He had watched with dismay as the proceedings of the English Convention had devolved into bitter wranglings over his revenue and as the Whigs had tried to hold up the promised Act of Indemnity, in an attempt to purge local government for good of their Tory rivals, and to confer an inbuilt majority for their own partisans in any future parliament. More disturbing to the Dutchman, who had the blood of the House of Stuart flowing through his veins, was the decision of MPs to turn the Declaration of Rights into law, transforming sentiments which William had been led to believe were merely the restatements of customary privilege into far more radical attempts to transfer power from the Crown to Parliament. By December 1689, the dispensing power – so closely identified with James II’s resurgent monarchy – had been declared illegal and removed from the arsenal of royal prerogatives. For a King who had hoped to pass on the throne with all its powers still intact to his eventual heir – at this point, likely to be his nephew, the little Duke of Gloucester, who had been born to Princess Anne in July and named in his honour – such moves came as a particularly heavy blow. They were interpreted by William as representing nothing more than a singular mark of ingratitude from a legislature that he alone had saved from ruin. Furthermore, while £2,000,000 had been earmarked by parliament in October 1689 for the prosecution of the war in Ireland, much of the money had already found its way into the seemingly bottomless pockets of the Chief Commissary, Henry Shales, whom some suspected of Jacobitism and all noted as showing utter indifference to the plight of the soldiers who sickened at Dundalk and Lisburn. Just as serious was the Whigs’ intention to use the question of supply for the war in order to tie the King’s hands, and to compel him to rubber-stamp their ambitious legislative programme, which included the remodelling of the boroughs. Even though the Corporation Bill eventually went down to defeat in the Lords in the new year, the threat to hold up the granting of loans for the war now compelled William to act in order to reassert his will, dissolving the Convention in February 1690 and calling for fresh elections, so that he might preserve both the power of the Crown and his chance of leading an army into Ireland during the forthcoming campaigning season.

With his envoys shuttling from one north German and Baltic court to the next in an attempt to hire troops, settle subsidies, and preserve the fragile patchwork of alliances that had maintained the League of Augsburg, William remained fearful that, in his absence, the States General of Holland might undertake to negotiate a separate peace with France. Louis XIV had taken the Dutch invasion and the overthrow of James II as the signal for the outbreak of hostilities with both England and Holland, though it was not until 5 May 1689, after the battle of Bantry Bay had actually been fought, that a formal declaration of war was delivered on behalf of the English, by William’s diplomats. Yet William’s luck held, with the allied generals slowly consolidating a series of gains along the disputed Rhine Valley, re-garrisoning the fortresses of Kaiserwerth, Cologne and Bonn, and inflicting a sharp rebuff to de Humieres at the battle of Walcourt in August 1689. Of far greater value was the ‘Grand Alliance’ concluded between the Dutch Republic and the Empire at The Hague, on 12 May 1689, and the successful courting of both Bavaria and Denmark over the summer months. By the following year, as William was preparing to sail for Ireland, alarm at Louis XIV’s territorial ambitions had driven Spain into the arms of the allies and persuaded Pope Innocent XI to advance large sums of money to finance the expedition. Further delays, resulting from the visceral electioneering of February and March 1690, had led William to despair of the inefficiency and faction that beset English politics, declaring that: ‘One loses patience in seeing the slowness of the people here in all they do, although I hurry from morning to night’. Nevertheless, the heavy defeat of the Whigs at the polls, and the return of large numbers of Tories to office – who, in their desire to secure place, privilege and the dominant position of the Established Church, had reconciled themselves to the revolutionary settlement – actually served to ease the pressure on the joint monarchy and permitted Queen Mary, clearly petrified at the prospect of taking executive power in her husband’s absence, to be gifted the services of Danby, the one familiar counsellor in whom she could trust.1 William, though often overcome with exasperation at his wife’s obtuse nature, had now good cause to be thankful for her gifts and for her ability both to soothe the tempers of the quarrelsome magnates who sat on her council, and to salve English national pride, which had been sorely dented by the flight of the native king and the importation of a foreign one. Indeed, if the slight, silent, and – more worryingly – Calvinist, William had distinctly failed to impress his new subjects, carrying with him always the dignified reserve of a stranger, then Mary fitted almost perfectly the Tory ideal of a monarch, English to the core and devoted with every fibre of her being to the rituals and doctrine of the Anglican Church. Almost entirely without guile, she combined the deference and modesty expected of a dutiful wife with feminine tact and good grace, and acted as a valuable counterbalance to her sister Anne, who was both attempting to found a rival polity based about her own Household, and preparing – under the tutelage of Sarah Churchill – to play the national card without the faintest trace of shame or scruple. It was this consideration, and the knowledge that her dull and moon-faced husband, Prince George of Denmark, had managed to change his allegiances within the space of the last year, with scarcely a blink or any certain reflection, that decided William upon taking his brother-in-law with him to Ireland, where he would be out of the way of temptation and, as a staff officer with no real responsibilities, could do no significant harm.

William had hoped to sail first to Scotland, thoroughly securing and pacifying that nation, before landing his reinforcements in Ireland. However, the winds dropped away, leaving his fleet stranded off the Cheshire coast for several days at the beginning of June 1690, and effectively removing all remaining possibility of the voyage north, while adding appreciably to the King’s mounting sense of frustration. William had been deeply disappointed by von Schomberg’s failure to press the campaign in Ireland to a successful conclusion. He had always valued the Marshal’s combination of far-sighted judgement and bluff bravery, but this unexpected reversal, coupled with what he believed to be the dereliction of duty among his general officers, only confirmed in him the desire to take the conduct of the war into his own hands. One of the most troublesome and intractable of problems was presented by the presence of James himself, for if he fell in battle his blood would surely be seen to cling to the hands of both his daughter and son-in-law, while if he was captured he might become as great a nuisance, and as forceful a rallying point, as he had been before his escapes from London and Rochester. Furthermore, it was the more personal and devastating vision of ‘how terrible it must have been’, if ‘my husband and my father would fight in person against each other, and if either should have perished in the action’ that tore at Queen Mary’s thoughts, as she agreed to the cancellation of a joint coronation in Edinburgh and chose to overlook the graffiti chalked on the gates of Kensington Palace – under cover of dark by some Jacobite wit – promising that by midsummer the place would be open ‘to let’ again to a new tenant. However, a plan had already been drawn up that seemed, at face value, to offer a solution to these problems, by endeavouring to lure James on board a 3rd rate which had supposedly defected from the Williamites, before weighing anchor and racing out of Dublin Bay, effectively kidnapping the hapless monarch and eventually landing him safely in either Spain or Italy, as he ‘should desire’, and pressing upon him some £20,000 for his future subsistence. Bishop Burnet believed that William ‘thought it was a well formed design, and likely enough to succeed; but would not hearken to it’, saying that he would have no hand in treachery and fearing that a scuffle might break out and shots be fired, once the subterfuge was discovered, which might have resulted in the former King bleeding his life away upon the decks of an English battleship. If James could not be dislodged from Ireland, in good conscience, without the use of force, then William was prepared to make clear to the House of Lords in January 1690, that high taxation and the ills currently afflicting his lands could only be curbed quickly by the ending of hostilities, while he was the only commander who was both fully willing and capable of delivering the knock-out blow. Thus, he declared, to expedite ‘the speedy recovery of Ireland … and to preserve the peace and honour of the nation, I am resolved to go in person’ to Ireland. However, had William been a suspicious general he might have felt – as the fog closed in about his yacht as soon as it got out into the Irish Sea, obscuring it from the anxious sight of the look-outs aboard its escorts – that the new campaign appeared to be extremely ill-starred. For days the convoy struggled to edge its way forward against prevailing winds, and it was only after sheltering in Ramsey Bay, at the north-west tip of the Isle of Man, early on 14 June 1690, that the King’s luck and the winds changed, with the gathering breeze suddenly filling sails and pushing the fleet on towards its destination. That same afternoon some 300 ships, troop transports, supply vessels and men-of-war, together with scores of rowboats and pleasure craft loaded with curious spectators, crowded into the harbour at Carrickfergus, as William III was slowly rowed ashore and the guns of the fleet answered the salute given by the cannon run out on the castle walls, intoning both a welcome obeisance and the thunderous intent of a second King who had arrived in Ireland to claim what he believed to be his by right.

Knowing that a fresh (and much more significant) challenge was to be launched against his power in Ireland that year, it is all the more remarkable that James had made no effort, in the intervening months available to him, to break the deadlock and destroy von Schomberg’s forces before they could be properly reinforced. He had spent the winter in Dublin, presiding over a little court which, with its attendant pages, gentlemen ushers, grooms, cooks and confectioners, attempted to replicate the functions and formulas of his old Household at Whitehall. College Green had become a fashionable area for courtiers to live, with the King’s faithful valet, de Labadie, moving quickly to take possession of a mansion sequestrated from Viscount Charlemont. Scurrilous tongues at Versailles would credit James with keeping two of his Irish mistresses – allegedly but poor creatures, all skin and bone – close by, while later aristocratic visitors to Dublin would accord him only the far more mundane honour of introducing spaniels into the land, and with popularising the breed, after a little pack of the animals was seen to be constantly trailing in his wake. Far more telling was the absence of goods and livestock from the capital’s markets, and the fact that the great estates and parklands had been swept long ago for horses with which to mount cavalry troopers and pull siege guns. James had attempted to enforce a blockade on the enemy’s ports and to disrupt von Schomberg’s naval communications, but he had refused to license privateers to disrupt English trade, and he could only lead his soldiers down to the quayside and look on as a helpless spectator as Sir Cloudisley Shovell seized the Pelican – the only frigate belonging to the Jacobite navy – after a brief fight in Dublin Bay and carried her back out to sea as a prize for his daring.

James had been troubled by the late arrival of the French fleet and resolutely clung to the belief that the landing of crack French regiments would not only restore the military balance in his favour, but also assist in the training of his own soldiers, providing the necessary reservoir of expertise that his army had hitherto struggled to make good. Though it seemed that the King had won his battle with Louvois to make a straight exchange, with numerical parity of forces on either side, he bitterly resented the attempt by the French military to strip his army of its best officers. Although James had never particularly cared for Sarsfield, whom he had considered stupid, he had grown to value his usefulness and bravery after his capture of Sligo, and refused to be parted from him. Conversely, the French had heard quite enough of the failings of the Hamilton brothers, from the pages of d’Avaux’s increasingly Jeremiah-like despatches, to want nothing to do with them, rejecting their services after James had offered them. It is conceivable that the King might have been prepared to send his son Berwick into France, if he could have been guaranteed the command of the Irish Brigade, but his allies were not inclined to trust such an important post to a youth, who although recognised as a promising and courageous officer, still lacked wide-ranging experience of independent action. The natural choice to lead the Brigade had been Justin Macarty, who was competent, well-bred and respected by both parties, but whose gifts would not outshine or provoke the jealousy of too many French officers in the constant search for preferment, honours and titles. Unfortunately, his capture at Newtown Butler had effectively removed him from the frame, until he chose to break his parole in the most controversial of manners, and rejoined a clearly delighted King James in Dublin in December 1689. From then on, it was Macarty’s hand that was to be instrumental in the shaping of the Brigade, bringing five heterogeneous foot regiments up to strength, and fighting hard to raise the issue of their pay and conditions with their new masters. The regimental names of Clare, Mountcashel and Dillon would win battle honours from Italy and the Alps to Catalonia, Flanders, and the Rhine over the next twenty-five years – their illustrious pedigrees finally being eclipsed only by the tide of Revolutionary warfare in France – but for the moment, as just over 5,000 unarmed men were herded aboard transports, the success of these first ‘Wild Geese’ to flee the shores of Ireland was far from certain, and their leaving was accompanied by ‘a great deal of howling’ and the wails of distraught families who feared, with good justification, that they would never see their loved ones again.