Martin Marauder Part I

Certainly one of the most elegant bomber aircraft to appear in the early years of World War II, Martin’s B-26 Marauder stemmed from a US Army Air Corps high-speed medium bomber specification which had been circulated to US manufacturers in January 1939. This called for a number of characteristics which, together, made the US Army requirement very difficult to meet. To accommodate a crew of five, which meant that it must be fairly large, it was required also to be fast and with good high-altitude performance, to have a range in excess of 2,000 miles (3219 km), and be able to carry good defensive armament plus a worthwhile load of bombs.

Martin’s design, by Peyton M. Magruder, was far in advance of competing submissions, and as the company not only guaranteed that performance would be as good as, or better than performance estimates and also promised early production, it was not surprising that this company was chosen to build the USAAC’s new bomber. The startling feature of the contract, awarded in September 1939, lay in the fact that it was for a substantial number of production aircraft (201) ordered ‘straight off the drawing board’, a course then unprecedented in USAAG history. No prototypes or preproduction aircraft were called for, so the first of the Martin Model 179s, designated B-26 by the US Army, flew for the first time on 25 November 1940.

As then flown it was a cantilever shoulder-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, except that all control surfaces were fabric-covered, and the conventional but small-area wing had plain trailing-edge flaps. The fuselage was a near perfect aerodynamic cigar-shape form of circular cross-section, marred only by the ‘step’ of the windscreen, and with a conventional tail unit which had a high-set tailplane. Landing gear was of the retractable tricycle type, the main units retracting forward and upward into the centre of the engine nacelles, and the nosewheel unit aft into the forward fuselage. To provide the necessary performance a new Pratt & Whitney engine had been selected, the 1,850 hp (1380 kW) R-2800-5 Double Wasp, and the two of these each drove a four-blade constant-speed fully-feathering propeller. An innovation was the use of a ‘cuff’ at the root end of each propeller blade, this enabling the normally useless area of each blade to provide extra airflow for improved engine cooling. Initial armament comprised two 0.30 in (7.62 mm) machine-guns, one in the nose position and one in the tailcone, plus two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) guns in an electrically operated dorsal turret, the first powered gun turret to be installed in an American bomber. Maximum bomb load, all carried internally, was as much as 5,800 lbs (2631 kg) for deployment at short range.

Following the first flight, it was not until February 1941 that succeeding production aircraft began to come off the line, and while some of these were diverted for test purposes, there were sufficient available to begin deliveries to the USAAC. This initial equipping of the US Army Air Corps’ squadrons was not without problems, for while they had been supplied with an aircraft which attained the desired high performance specification, this performance had been achieved at the expense of good low speed handling characteristics, leading to what is usually termed a ‘hot’ aeroplane. This made conversion training a difficult and slow process, for even at loaded weights well under maximum the aircraft’s stalling speed was not far below 100 mph (161 km/h), a very high figure for that period.

In spite of this Marauders, as the B-26 had been named in preference to the originally chosen Martian, gradually began to equip USAAF squadrons and as experience was gained a number of modifications were considered to be desirable, resulting in the B-26A of which 139 were built. All had engines of the same power as the B-26, but R-2800-5, -9 and -39 units were installed in different batches. The electrical system was changed from 12-volt to 24-volt, two additional fuel tanks were installed in the bomb bay, provision was made for the carriage of a 22 in (559 mm) torpedo and, as a result of combat reports from the war then being fought in Europe, the nose and tail guns of 0.30 in (7.62 mm) calibre were replaced by similar 0.50 in (12.7 mm) installations. The result of these changes, of course, was to increase the gross weight and also, as a consequence, the problems that were soon to come to a head.

Before that, however, the Japanese on 7 December 1941 attacked Pearl Harbour and, on the following day, the USAAF’s 22nd Bombardment Group was despatched to the Pacific zone, becoming operational initially from northern Australia in April 1942. This unit’s B-26As soon found ready employment in a variety of roles, including unsuccessful torpedo attacks against the Japanese fleet engaged in the Battle of Midway. At about that same time the RAF received three examples of the B-26A for evaluation, these being designated Marauder 1. Successful testing resulted in this type being chosen for tactical use in the North African campaigns, and the additional 48 of this version allocated under Lend-Lease were delivered direct to the Middle East and used first to equip No. 14 Squadron.

While these events had been taking place, a special board of investigation had been set up in the USA, under the chairmanship of Major General Carl Spaatz, to enquire into the abnormally high accident rate associated with the B-26, especially during training, and to decide whether production should be terminated. Fortunately this latter course was not adopted for, with growing experience of how best to handle the Marauder, it was later to have the lowest attrition rate of any American aircraft operated by the US 9th Air Force in Europe. The eventual findings of the investigation board resulted in continuing production, but with some recommendations regarding modifications intended to improve low-speed handling.

During the foregoing enquiry all production had been suspended but soon after it was resumed, in May 1942, Martin began to deliver its first B-26Bs, the major production version of which 1,883 were built. These incorporated initially improvements which combat experience had proved to be necessary, but many other changes were introduced on the line throughout the long manufacturing run. Major items included the installation of 1,920 hp (1432 kW) R-2800-41 or R-2800-43 engines, the introduction of slotted trailing-edge flaps, and a lengthened nosewheel strut to increase wing incidence and so improve take-off characteristics. The most important change, one which had been recommended by the enquiry board, was an increase in wing span/area but this, in fact, achieved nothing because the USAAF immediately upped the gross weight. The comparisons of maximum wing loading are interesting, the B-26’s being 53.16 Ibs/sq ft (259.5 kg/m2), the early B-26B’s 56.48 lbs/sq ft (275.7 kg/m2), and the late B-26B’s 58.05 lbs/sq ft (283.4 kg/m2), which all goes to prove that the initial handling problems were largely those of inexperience. Today little is thought of a wing loading of 149 lb/sq ft (728 kg/m2), and that for a civil transport aircraft, not a ‘hot’ military aeroplane.

The introduction of the larger wing necessitated an increase in vertical tail surface area, achieved by increasing fin and rudder height by 1 ft 8 in (0.51 m). The armament, through a succession of modifications, became almost as potent as that of the USAAF’s heavy bombers, with no fewer than 12 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine-guns. The increasing demand for Marauders resulted in the establishment of a second production line by Martin at Omaha, Nebraska, which built 1,235 aircraft as B-26Cs from late 1942, these duplicating various batches of the B-26Bs built at Baltimore, Maryland. The D and E designations were taken up by two one-off aircraft: the XB-26D was an experiment in thermal wing de-icing; and the XB-26E was a ‘weight watchers’ version with some 2,000 lbs (907 kg) weight reduction and with the dorsal turret moved forward to a position adjacent to the wing leading edge.

The final production versions were the generally similar B-26F (300 built) and B-26G (893), plus 57 TB- 26Gs without armament and other purely operational equipment to serve as target tugs or trainers. The major difference between these aircraft and the B-26B/B-26Cs which had preceded them lay in a final attempt to improve take-off performance, wing incidence being increased by 3°30′, so giving a noticeable nose-in-the-air look to the engines. There were also some armament and fuel system changes. Last of the B-26 designations was taken by a single XB-26H with tandem bicycle type landing gear with each of the main units carrying twin wheels and an outrigger, for balancing, was housed in each engine nacelle. This experimental installation was made to evaluate a landing gear of this type which was being developed for the Boeing XB-47.

All of the USAAF’s early deployment of the B-26 had been confined to the Pacific theatre, but B-26Bs and B-26Cs began to appear in North Africa during November 1942, equipping 12 squadrons of the 17th, 319th and 320th Bomb1l.rdment Groups of the 12th Air Force, providing admirable support to the Allied ground forces as they followed the bitter but victorious trail to the south of France via Sicily, Italy, Sardinia and Corsica. However, the B-26’s first operation with the 8th Air Force in Europe was disastrous, all 11 aircraft sent to make a low-level attack on installations in the Netherlands failing to return to base. Subsequently, in a tactical role, Marauders went from strength to strength in operations with the USAAF’s 9th Air Force, also in Europe.

Under Lend-Lease the RAF received a total of 522 Marauders, these comprising the Marauder I mentioned above, plus Marauder IA (B-26B), II (B-26C) and III (B-26F/B-26G). Used by the RAF’s Nos. 14, 39, 326, 327 and 454 Squadrons and the South African Air Force’s Nos. 12, 21, 24, 25 and 30 Squadrons, they were deployed most successfully alongside the B-26s of the US 12th Air Force, after initial failure in a torpedo carrying role.

In 1943 the USAAF converted 208 B-26Bs and 350 B-26Cs for use as high-speed target tugs, stripping out all armament and operational equipment, and these were redesignated initially as AT-23A and AT-23B respectively, but subsequently TB-26B and TB-26C. Of these the US Navy acquired 225 AT-23Bs which they designated JM-1, and 47 TB-26Gs, the last Martin production version, as JM-2s.

Nicknames: Widow-Maker; The Flying Coffin; B-Dash-Crash; The Flying Prostitute; The Baltimore Whore (The last two because it had no visible means of support; “Baltimore” because the Martin Company was located there.)

Specifications (B-26G):

Engines: Two 2,000-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 Double Wasp radial piston engines.

Weight: Empty 25,300 lbs., Max Takeoff 38,200 lbs.

Wing Span: 71ft. 0in.

Length: 56ft. 1in.

Height: 20ft. 4in.

Performance:

Maximum Speed: 283mph

Ceiling: 19,800 ft.

Range: 1,100 miles

Armament:

11 12.7-mm (0.5-inch) machine guns

Up to 4,000 pounds of bombs

Number Built: 5,157

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Martin Marauder Part II

Briefly during 1943 the Eighth operated a force of medium bombers – Martin B-26 Marauders. The aircraft had first appeared in November 1940 in response to a specification for a fast and heavily armed medium bomber. It had sharp clean lines and was very streamlined, which led the press to name the aircraft ‘the flying torpedo’. The AAC had been so impressed by the design specification that they ordered 1,100 directly from the drawing board, then a unique departure. The B-26 was a rather difficult aircraft to handle with its high landing and take-off speeds, and early into the training programme an alarming number of accidents occurred. As the accident rate rose steadily the aircraft gained the name of ‘widow maker’ or the ‘Baltimore Whore’ (Glenn Martin’s plant was at Baltimore). The position became so grave that the AAC set up a Board of Enquiry to investigate the design, and production of the aircraft was halted. However, the Service retained its faith in the aircraft and with a number of design modifications, production was resumed.

When the first B-26Bs arrived in England in March 1943 they had already seen action in the Pacific and North Africa. They were powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 Double Wasp engines, producing a maximum speed of some 280 mph, and a cruising rate of 195 mph. The bomb load had been increased to 4,000 pounds and its total armament to twelve .50 inch guns, although later this was reduced. Despite its early grim reputation the B-26 proved to be a most successful medium bomber with an amazingly low loss rate, and perhaps the aircraft never received the renown that it deserved.

The Eighth Air Force and disaster over IJmuiden

Four B-26 groups were destined to join the Eighth Air Force in East Anglia under the control of the 3rd BW (Bombardment Wing) with its HQ at Elveden Hall. The first B-26 unit to arrive was the 319th BG, however, their stay was short and the group was transferred to North Africa in early November 1942.

By early December 1942, a second group, the 322nd BG, began to arrive. Ground personnel made Rattlesden and Bury St Edmunds their home and it was not until 7 March 1943 that the first B-26s arrived from the 450th BS. One month later, the 452nd BS followed and the 322nd BG began training for a method of flying that was alien to the Eighth Air Force.

The RAF had been flying low-level attacks throughout the war, while the philosophy of the Eighth Air Force was to maintain a high-altitude offensive. This offensive was flown by B-17s and B-24s, but having a medium bomber on the inventory opened up new possibilities. The RAF made good use of the Mosquito and Boston at low level while the medium Ventura and Mitchells were used against heavily defended targets at between 10,000 and 15,000ft. The Eighth Air Force was not enthusiastic but was prepared to look at using the B-26 for low-level operations where surprise and a good turn of speed were essential. The sight of B-26s thundering low over the East Anglian countryside brought some locals out of the houses, while others shook their fists as they dived for cover in open fields. Brushes with trees and cables became commonplace and this was not helped by the control response of the B-26 which lagged an agonizing split-second behind the control input.

By mid-1943, the 322nd BG was deemed fit for operations and a `baptism of fire’ target was chosen, for a daylight attack on 14 May. Despite being located on the Dutch coast, the power station at IJmuiden, 10 miles north-west of Amsterdam, was by no means a cosy target. The RAF, having already attacked the plant on two previous occasions, had experienced a very warm reception from flak, thanks to an E-Boat station also being based there. It was now the turn of the USAAF, which detailed 12 B-26s, each carrying four 500lb delayed-fuse bombs, to attack the plant.

At 0950hrs on 14 May, the first B-26, flown by Maj O. Turner, CO (Commanding Officer) of the 450th BS, took off from Bury St Edmunds and set course for the Dutch coast, settling only a few feet above the waves to avoid German radar. Behind the formation, but still below radar, another B-26 with the 3rd BW commander, Brig Gen Brady and the group CO, Col Stillman of the 322nd BG, followed behind. Land was reached at Leiden, 20 miles south of the target, and a very alert gun crew quickly opened fire, damaging Lt R. C. Fry’s aircraft, Too Much of Texas. The flak knocked out the port engine and removed a large portion of the rudder as Fry turned his bomber away from the formation to jettison his bombs into the sea. Fry then settled down to concentrate on flying his damaged bomber more than 120 miles back to base on one engine.

The remaining bombers turned north followed a canal and railway track to IJmuiden where the air-raid siren went off at 1057hrs. Three minutes later, the formation was over the target and turning west for home after stirring up a hornet’s nest of anti-aircraft fire. Meanwhile, Lt Fry managed to safely land at Great Ashfield while the mauled formation followed not long after. One B-26 put down at Honington while Lt J. J. Howell ordered his crew to bail out near Bury St Edmunds, leaving it to crash near Rougham. After regaining Bury St Edmunds, Maj G. C. Ceilo, the 452nd BS’s commander, could not lower one of the undercarriage legs due to an enemy round. Ceilo circled the airfield for 80 minutes to build the hydraulic pressure back up before landing safely. Over 300 bullet holes were later recorded in Ceilo’s B-26, but only one of his crew was wounded – he was one of just seven airmen injured on the whole raid, including Maj Turner himself.

Everyone who took part in the raid felt that they had done a good job but were not enthusiastic about repeating the exercise. The crews must have been stunned when, two days later, Col Stillman returned from a meeting at Elveden Hall, after being told that all of the bombs dropped on 14 May had missed their target. Stillman also received orders to attack the power station again on 17 May. Despite his protestations that it was too soon to fly another high-risk mission on the same target, he was overruled by Command, who stated that the operation was an integral part of operations all over Europe and it was too late to alter the target.

Late on 16 May, the order came through from Command for another 12 B-26s with the same bomb load. On this occasion, the force was to split into two on reaching the Dutch coast, with one group attacking another power station near Haarlem while the other would return to IJmuiden. With many aircraft still being patched up from the first raid, only 11 B-26s were declared serviceable for the mission which, this time, was led by Col Stillman.

From 1056hrs, the B-26s set course in bright sunshine again for the Dutch coast with all taking part, well aware that they would be pushing their luck to get home safely this time. Just over an hour later, a single B-26 returned early after being forced to turn back 30 miles from the enemy coast with a double generator failure. ETA for the remaining B-26s to land back at base was 1250hrs, but as this time came and went all those waiting at Bury, including Brig Gen Brady, were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the potential outcome that no bombers would return that day. Once the `all fuel exhausted’ point had also passed, the optimists amongst the 322nd BG were hoping that their crews had diverted to airfields elsewhere in East Anglia. Unfortunately, this final hope was dashed when Command declared that the B-26s were listed as `Missing in Action, cause unknown.

A photo-reconnaissance sortie was flown that afternoon, which revealed that there was no evidence of bomb damage on either target. As the post mortem of the operation progressed, back at Bury St Edmunds it was discovered that the aborted B-26 might have been instrumental in the failure of the whole mission. Following the generator failure, the B-26 climbed to 1,000ft, which was standard operating procedure. However, in doing so the bomber had shown itself on RAF radar, which would mean that it had also appeared on German radar screens. Being 30 miles off the coast, this would have given the German defences plenty of time to prepare for the arrival of the 322nd BG. The story began to unfold further when a Royal Navy destroyer found two tired airmen in a dinghy several miles off the Suffolk coast. S/Sgt J. Lewis and S/Sgt G. Williams, rear and top turret gunners, were the only survivors of a B-26 that came down in the sea while attempting to get home.

Out of the 62 airmen who were forced down in enemy territory, 20 of them survived to become prisoners of war. Lt Col Purinton, who was the group executive officer and leader for the Haarlem attack, was rescued with his crew by a German boat. Incredibly, Col Stillman and two of his gunners were dragged from the remains of their B-26, alive but seriously injured.

In the meantime, a second unit, 323rd BG, had arrived at Horham on 12 May, destined to move to Earls Colne a month later. The 386th and 387th BGs arrived in June, settling at Boxted and Chipping Ongar respectively, giving the Eighth over 250 medium bombers at their disposal. Despite the mechanical problems that had been occurring, the 322nd BG’s accident rate was no worse than that of any other groups. Another positive was that the last squadrons of the group to arrive and any subsequent groups were equipped with later production models with the bigger wing, larger tail surfaces, more fuel and many more improvements.

The Eighth Air Force commander, Gen I. C. Eaker, decided that the B-26s could add little weight to the USAAF’s strategic bombing campaign in the ETO. All of the Marauder groups were placed under the Eighth Air Support Command (ASC), which was established to support ground forces – classed as a low-priority task within the Eighth Air Force. Reading between the lines, this may have been a subtle way of telling Washington that the B-26 was not cut out for operations in the ETO.

Turning it Around

Taking note of how the Twelfth Air Force had been employing their B-26s in North Africa, the Eighth ASC considered the same tactic. The RAF was brought in to provide fighter cover with the B-26s flying tight formations of up to 18 aircraft at a height of 12,000ft, thus avoiding light flak. While the other groups continued to train at low levels, only Col Thatcher’s 323rd BG were instructed to begin practicing the medium-level tactics. The D-8 bombsights slowly began to be replaced, and strike cameras and .50in machine guns firing downward from the ventral rear hatches were also fitted. Another two months had passed before the 323rd BG was ready for its first mediumlevel operation on 16 July 1943. The target was the marshalling yards at Abbeville. There were 18 aircraft that took part with a squadron of RAF Spitfires flying as escort. In all, 16 B-26s managed to drop their bombs while the formation endured heavy flak and the Spitfires drove off several enemy aircraft. The bombing was poor but all returned safely to Earls Colne. The decision had already been made to re-train the other three groups in the medium-level role.

A week later, the target was the Ghent coke ovens in Belgium, which escaped untouched but, on 26 July the airfield at St Omer/Longuenesse took a pasting. The bombardiers were now getting the hang of their role, their accuracy was increasing and their escorts were enjoying high kill rates. The following day, during a raid on the airfield at Tricqueville, the Spitfires brought down nine Fw 190s for the loss of one aircraft, whose pilot was later rescued from the sea. Incredibly, the 323rd BG had flown nearly 100 sorties in five consecutive days over enemy territory without losing a single aircraft. The honeymoon period could not last, but it did show that the B-26 could survive operations when employed at the right height and with an escort.

During these early missions, the 322nd and 386th BGs had been flying diversions but from the end of July they also joined the fray. Neither had the same luck as the 323rd BG, especially on 30 July when, out of 21 aircraft dispatched to Woensdrecht airfield, only 11 managed to bomb and one 553rd BS B-26 was shot down. The 322nd was back in action on 31 July against Tricqueville. This time, rather than being nearly wiped out, one gunner, S/Sgt C. S. Maddox, claimed a Fw 190 shot down, which was confirmed by an escorting Spitfire pilot.

The bombing at this level, up to 3 August, had produced some indifferent results. On this day, the target was the Trait shipyards and 33 B-26s of the 322nd BG were dispatched. The raid went without a hitch, but the crews were unaware just how good it really was until strike photos were analyzed two days later. The shipyards were heavily damaged, and with the exception of just a few bombs, all had fallen within an area measuring 350x650yd. These results were not only encouraging for the crews but also for the senior staff who had their doubts about the B-26 even being in service, let alone becoming an effective combat aircraft. By the end of August, the B-26s had achieved the lowest loss-per-sortie rate of the entire Eighth Air Force. Having been the butt of many jokes, especially from B-17 crews, since their arrival, the B-26 had finally appeared to have silenced its critics.

Throughout September and early October, the Marauder groups had been successful against the airfield targets allocated to them and equally successful against enemy fighters. Using cloud to avoid the Spitfire escorts, the Luftwaffe struggled to knock the sturdy B-26s out of the sky and, during their Eighth Air Force service, 13 enemy fighters were claimed shot down by Marauder gunners. On 9 October, 1943, the 323rd and 387th BGs flew the last B-26 operation with the Eighth. In just three months, the reputation of this bomber was completely turned around and, after 90 medium-level raids made up of 4,000 sorties, only 13 B-26s were lost. Only one of these was brought down by an enemy fighter, which equated to a loss rate of just 0.3 per cent. On 16 October 1943, the four B-26 groups were transferred to the newly formed Ninth Air Force where they would go from strength to strength.

The History of the British Free Corps Part I

The German Waffen-SS “British Free Corps” (hereafter shortened to BFC), was the brainchild of John Amery. Amery, whose father was a Conservative MP in the English Parliament, found himself living within the shadow of his successful political parent and as such, he strove to excess to prove himself capable of making it on his own. With failures in these endeavors, it only drove him to more and he joined Franco’s Nationalists in Spain in 1936, being awarded a medal of honor while serving as a combat officer with Italian “volunteer” forces. Amery was a staunch anti-Communist and with all of his failings and money problems, he accepted the fascist doctrines of Germany. Following his tour in Spain, he resided in France, under Vichy rule. He ran afoul of the Vichy government (Amery was displeased with their mind set anyhow) and made several attempts to leave the area but was rebuffed. It was German armistice commissioner Graf Ceschi who offered Amery the chance to leave France and come to Germany to work in the political arena. Ceschi wasn’t able to get Amery out of France but later, in September of 1942, Hauptmann Werner Plack got Amery what he wanted and in October, Plack and Amery went to Berlin to speak to the German English Committee. It was at this time that Amery made the suggestion that the Germans consider forming a British anti-Bolshevik legion. So much so was Amery’s suggestions (in addition to the unit ) taken that Adolf Hitler himself made the motions for Amery to remain in Germany as a guest of the Reich and that Hitler thought highly of the idea of a British force to fight the Communists. The idea languished until Amery met up with two Frenchmen, friends of his, who were part of the LVF (Legion des Volontaires Francais ) in January of 1943. The two LVF men lamented about the poor situation on the Eastern Front but that they saw that only Germany was battling the Russians and thus, despite all, they should still lend support with their LVF service. Amery rekindled his British unit concept, wanting to form a 50 to 100 man unit for propaganda uses and also to seek out a core base of men with which to gain additional members from British POW camps. He also suggested that such a unit would also provide more recruits for the other military units made up of other nationals. It seemed that the Germans were already ahead of Amery and had already undertaken some consideration, a military order saying “The Fuhrer is in agreement with the establishment of an English legion…The only personnel who should come into the framework should be former members of the English fascist party or those with similar ideology – also quality, not quantity.” As it is to be seen, this last bit would prove to be very difficult to obtain.

With the go-ahead, Amery set down write two works which covered his German radio talks (which were allowed to be broadcast but with a disclaimer which stated his comments were not those of the German government) and that he suggested the unit be called “The British Legion of St. George”. Amery’s first recruiting drive took him to the St. Denis POW camp outside Paris. 40 to 50 inmates from various British Commonwealth countries were assembled. Amery addressed them, handing out recruiting material. The end result was failure. Still, efforts continued at St. Denis and finally bore some fruit. Professor Logio (an old academic man), Maurice Tanner, Oswald Job, and Kenneth Berry (a 17 year old deck boy on the SS Cymbeline which was sunk at sea ) came forward. Logio was released while Job was recruited away by the German intelligence, trained as a spy, and ended up being caught while trying to get into England and hung in March of 1944. Thus, Amery ended up with two men, of which only Berry would actually join what was later called the BFC. Amery’s link to what would become the BFC ended in October of 1943 when the Waffen-SS decided Amery’s services were no longer needed and it was officially renamed the British Free Corps.

With Amery’s initial recruiting methods being seen as a failure, another idea was to be tried in an attempt to woo POWs to join the BFC. Given the harsh conditions of POW camps in Germany and the occupied areas, it was decided to form a “holiday camp” for likely recruits from POW camps. Two holiday camps were set up, Special Detachment 999 and Special Detachment 517, both under the umbrella of Stalag IIId in the Berlin locale. These camps were overseen by Arnold Hillen-Ziegfeld of the English Committee. English speaking guards were used, overseen by a German intelligence officer, who would use the guards as information gatherers. But a Englishman was needed as possible conduit for volunteers and in this, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant John Henry Owen Brown of the Royal Artillery was selected. Brown was a interesting character. He was a member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) but also a devout Christian. His ability to play both sides would serve him well. Captured on the beaches of Dunkirk in May of 1940, Brown eventually ended up in a camp at Blechhammer. Given his rank, he was made a foreman of a work detail and he also began to work into the confidence of the Germans. What Brown was doing, in reality, was setting up a black-market scheme, smuggling in contraband and using it to give to his men and also to buy off the guards. Later, Brown was taught POW message codes created by MI9 of the British intelligence service and he began to operate as a “self-made spy” as he called himself. With his status, he was called to be the camp leader of Special Detachment 517. At this time, another Englishmen, Thomas Cooper (who used the German version of Cooper, Bottcher, as his last name), arrived at the camp. Cooper, unable to obtain public service employ in England due to his mother being German, joined the British Union (the shortened name of the BUF) and eventually left England on the promise that he could get work in German with the Reichs Arbeits Dienst (RAD). As it turned out, this was not to be in the end and finally, he joined the Waffen-SS (who, unlike the Army, would take British nationalities). He was posted to the famous SS “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” (LAH), underwent basic training, then was placed into artillery training. This did not last for long and he was transferred to the infamous SS “Totenkopf” infantry training battalion. Trained all over again in infantry tactics, he was moved to the position of machinegun trainer with the 5th. Totenkopf Regiment and made an NCO, staying there until February of 1941 until moved to the Wachbattaillon Oranienburg unit outside Krakow, Poland. During this time, Cooper was reported (by post-war BFC men) to have participated in atrocities against Russian and Polish POWs and civilians, including the Jewish. In January of 1943, Cooper was transferred to the SS-Polizei-Division as a transport driver. The unit was posted to the Leningrad front and once in a Russian town called Schablinov, they were told they’d be put into the line to replace the mangled forces of the Spanish Blue Division. By February 13, 1943, the Russians went on the attack again and broke through the SS-Polizei lines. Cooper was wounded in the legs by shell splinters, evacuated out, and was awarded the Wound Badge in Silver, the only Englishman to obtain a combat decoration. During his recovery, Cooper came into contact with the camp and upon learning about the purpose, was given orders to join the project.

Brown, being a crafty and streetwise person, saw the real deal behind the camp and he correctly came to the conclusion that he was in a very unique position to both hinder the formation of the unit as well as obtain intelligence (and he also would make sure the men who came to the camp actually got a holiday). Brown set about winning the confidence of his German handlers and surrounds himself with trustworthy POWs and when the first batch of 200 POWs rolled into the camp, things did not turn out for the better. Brown and his men were doing their best to entertain the prisoners while Cooper and other pro-Nazi men worked the crowd, seeking ex-BUF members or other ex-Fascist group members as well as finding out attitudes about the Communists. However, this resulted in displeasure and many of the POWs wanted to be sent back to their camps. To try and qualm this, it was asked of the most senior British POW, one Major-General Fortune, to send a representative to the camp to inspect it and assure the men it was on the up-and-up. Brigadier Leonard Parrington was selected and was sent to the camp. He gave a speech, had a look at the facilities, and said it was indeed a holiday camp and not to worry. He did not know the real truth and took it for what it looked like. Brown did not feel safe in informing Parrington of the purpose of the camp. This visit was successful in calming the situation but when the POWs were sent back to their respective camps, only one confirmed recruit was gained, Alfred Vivian Minchin, a merchant seaman whose ship, the SS Empire Ranger, was sunk off Norway by German bombers. Others kept the BFC in mind as they were sent off. Brown, following the first batch, learned of the full scope of the project from Carl Britten. Britten said he’d been forced into the BFC by Cooper and Leonard Courlander. Brown was unable to persuade Britten to quit the BFC, but MI9 got a very revealing transmission from Brown.

A bombing raid against Berlin damaged a good portion of the camp prior to a second batch of POWs being brought in. It was decided to move the campmen to a requisitioned cafe in the Pankow district of Berlin, overseen by Wilhelm “Bob” Rossler, a Germany Army interpreter. Prior to the move, the BFC gained two members, Francis George MacLardy of the Royal Army Medical Corps ( he was captured in Belgium ) and Edwin Barnard Martin of the Canadian Essex Scottish Regiment ( Martin was captured at Dieppe in 1942 ). At this time, the BFC numbered seven. POWs continued to roll into the camp once repaired until December of 1944, when it was called to a halt. The reasoning was that the handling of the camp, as stated by Brown, was counter-productive to getting recruits for the BFC since the way the camp was run, fostered distrust. The reality was they had Brown as their front man, who was out for himself but also loyal to the Crown to continue his dangerous game of intelligence gathering and also deterring recruits from joining, which gained him, post-war, the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Oskar Lange, who was overseeing the camps, hit upon another idea to gain recruits, and, it was hoped give him more stature. The earlier holiday camps only entertained long term POWs. Lange’s idea, however, was to take newly captured prisoners, who were still in a state of confusion, and work on them while they were vulnerable. This new camp was in Luckenwalde. The camp was headed up by Hauptmann Hellmerich of the German intelligence and his chief interrogator was Feldwebel Scharper. Scharper was not above using blackmail to get what he wanted and his tactics included fear, intimidation, and threats to coerce prisoners into joining.

The first group of POWs to be taken to Luckenwalde were mainly from the Italian theater. One such case of Trooper John Eric Wilson of No.3 Commando illustrated the techniques used by the camp. Upon arrival, he was stripped, made to watch his uniform get ripped to bits, then was given a blanket to cover up with. Placed in a cell with only the blanket and fed 250 grams of bread and a pint of cabbage soup, he was only allowed out to empty the waste bucket. After two days like this, he was taken before a “American”, who was in fact Scharper. Wilson was asked his rank, name, number, and date of birth (to which Wilson lied about his rank, saying he was a staff sergeant) then returned to his cell. Left alone, a “British POW” would come in from time to time, offer smokes and conduct idle chit-chat. The end result was that the isolation and the mistreatment led to him holding on to the “POW” who showed kindness to him and when dragged before Scharper some days later and offered the choice of joining the BFC or staying in solitary, it can be understood that Wilson chose the BFC. With this initial success, it was deemed this method would be the gateway to expanding the BFC and in turn, 14 men were made to join, including men from such esteemed units as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Long Range Desert Group.

However, things fell apart when these men, told they would be joining a unit of thousands, ended up in the billets of the cafe and the unit amounted to a handful of men who were more out for the opportunity of freedom or Fascist in leaning. At this time, Edwin Martin attempted to take advantage of the discord (perhaps to atone for his role in the camp) to disrupt the BFC but it did not have the desired effect. Two of the men broke away from the cafe and get into the holiday camp 517 to report to Brown who then complained to Cooper. Cooper then addressed the men at the cafe billet and in turn, those who did not want to remain could leave (though, to prevent the truth about the BFC reaching the general POW population, these men were isolated in a special camp) and by December of 1943, the BFC had only 8 men.

In spite of the tiny size of the unit, the Waffen-SS continued to work on the BFC. The first step was to appoint an officer. Because of the nature of the BFC, the candidate had to be trustworthy, have a good understanding of English, and also be a skilled leader and have excellent administrative. This job fell to SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Werner Roepke. A very educated man, Roepke’s grasp of English came from his time as an exchange student prior to the war. His military service included being a private in the Reichswehr, then as a law man with the Allgemeine-SS, before being called up to duty as a flak officer with the SS-Wiking division. He was made the commander of the BFC in November of 1943. Roepke’s first order of business was to determine just what goal of the BFC was and its principles. The first order of business was the name. “The Legion of St. George” was tossed out as being too religious and the “British Legion” was rejected as well since it was in use by a UK World War 1 veterans group. It was Alfred Minchin who suggested “British Free Corps” after reading about the “Freikorps Danmark” in the English version of Signal magazine. Thus, it was accepted (though, in correspondence, the unit was sometimes called the “Britisches Freikorps”) officially as the “British Free Corps”. That settled, Roepke moved on the purpose of the unit. All the current members told Roepke they wanted to fight the Russians (as you will see, this was more of telling the Germans what they wanted to hear) and so, with that settled, it was ordered that the BFC must swell to create at least a single infantry platoon, or 30 men. It was also decreed that no BFC member could be part of any action against British and British Commonwealth forces nor could any BFC member be used to intelligence-gathering. The BFC would be, until a suitable British officer joined the unit, under German command. Other things worked out included the fact that the BFC members would not have to get the German blood tattoo, they did not have to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, nor were they subject to German military law. They would receive the pay equal of the German soldiers for their rank. Finally, it was decided to equip the unit with standard SS uniforms with appropriate insignia.

Roepke put in the order for the BFC to be moved to the St. Michaeli Kloster in Hildesheim and he also put in the order for 800 sets of the special BFC insignia to the SS clothing department. Officially, the BFC came into existence on January 1, 1944. By February of 1944, the BFC made the move to Hildesheim and the Kloster, which was a converted monastery, now the SS Nordic Study Center and also the barracks for foreign workers laboring for the SS. Prior to the move, things for the BFC men were pretty idle but after the move, recruiting was to be stepped up. Of the group who left the BFC in December, the rumor that they would be sent to a SS run stalag, caused some of them to rethink their decision and three of them returned. Two new recruits were gained, including Private Thomas Freeman of the 7 Commando of Layforce. Freeman was to be the only BFC man who did not receive any punishment post-war for his membership, as MI5 stated his only purpose for joining the BFC was to escape and also to sabotage the unit. At this time, Roepke ordered all of the BFC men to assume false names for official documents but some did not do so. The BFC were also issued their first SS field uniforms, but without any insignia. Tasks were now assigned to the BFC members as well, which lead to some factionalism. Despite having duties, the majority of the time was spent being idle once simple chores such as cleaning the billets and such were done.

This idleness was to Freeman a chance to ruin the BFC by going after those who weren’t Fascist or strong anti-Communist. By gaining them to his side, especially since the main pro-Nazi BFC men were often away from the barracks, Freeman sought to form a rift in the unit. He was able to go on one of the recruiting drives (which were still being carried out) and even get ahead of the line to being made the senior NCO of the BFC. Freeman’s purpose for going on the recruiting drive was to gain men for his own ends. It netted three men, though one left soon after, being returned to his camp.

In April of 1944, the BFC was issued its distinctive insignia, the three-lion passant collar tab, the Union Jack arm shield, and the cuff title bearing “British Free Corps” in Gothic-script. Britten, who had been tasked as the unit tailor, spent most of a day sewing all the items onto the BFC member’s tunics. On the morning of April 20, 1944 (which was Hitler’s birthday), the BFC was paraded in full uniform and addressed by Roepke who said that now that the BFC was full-fledged ( by being issued uniforms, weapons, and pay books ), recruiting can begin in earnest. Promotions were also handed out at this time, with Freeman getting his NCO slot. Following the parade, the BFC members went off to various camps throughout Germany and Austria. The idea was to send the men to camps which they had been formally interned in. The idea, however, was very flawed and did not help recruiting in the slightest. All told, this recruiting drive netted six new members. During one such drive, Berry confided in a camp leader about his predicament, the leader saying he should seek out the Swiss embassy in Berlin, which Berry did not follow up on. Two of these recruits, John Leister and Eric Pleasants, both not wanting to get involved with the war, got caught up in it when the Germans took over the Channel Islands and put them both the camps since they were of military age. While not initially taking up the BFC offer, they talked it out and if the BFC should return, they’d join up. Why? Because the both of them were tired of slim food rations, did not like being away from the company of women, disliked the camp life, and also because the both of them hated being deprived of their freedom for a war they wanted no part in. In fact, Pleasants even admitted to Minchin and Berry that he “was in it to have a good time.”

All of the drives found the BFC numbering 23 men. This worried Freeman because if the unit reached 30, then the BFC would be incorporated into the SS-“Wiking” division and sent into action. To prevent this, Freeman took it upon himself to stop it. He drafted a letter, signed by him and 14 other BFC men (mostly the newcomers), requesting they be returned to their camps. This threw the BFC into chaos and it took pressure from Cooper and Roepke to just have Freeman and one other instigator tossed out and into a penal stalag, both being charged with mutiny on June 20, 1944. Freeman escaped the stalag in November of 1944, making it to Russian lines where he was repatriated in March of 1945. Still, the BFC was rattled and tensions between members were evident, made worse by Cooper seeking to instill SS-style discipline and methods, which was alien to the Englishmen whose experience with the British army was more lenient. With Freeman gone, Wilson was made senior NCO, which was a mistake given Wilson had lied upon his capture about his rank, and thus had little experience leading men and had a large appetite for women, which only being with the BFC could provide him with the freedom to partake of the female virtues.

The History of the British Free Corps Part II

In August of 1944, four more recruits joined on with the BFC. However, three of the four had done so not because they wanted to, but because they were blackmailed into doing it. Two of them were made to join as they had relationships with local area women. One of them was pregnant by one of the men and this was an offense punishable by death while the other man’s liaison with a woman was discovered by the Gestapo. The results of men forced to join the BFC did nothing for morale, in fact, it made it worse. This touched off lack-luster recruiting drives and a flap over the wearing of the Union Jack arm shield flared up. The flap concerned the wearing of the shield below the German eagle. By this time, many other units wore their national flag on the right sleeve and some of the BFC men thought the original position of the shield took a shot at England. It took a direct order from Heinrich Himmler to quell it by allowing the shield to be worn on the right sleeve if desired. Another downturn was Lieutenant William Shearer, who joined the BFC, and was their first, and only British officer to accept a position in the unit. Hoping that, at the least, Shearer would provide a token officer presence, but Shearer was a schizophrenic and wouldn’t put on his BFC uniform or even leave his room to which end he was removed and sent to the mental asylum from whence he came, to be sent back to England on medical grounds. Another sour on the BFC camp was the successful invasion of France by the allies.

With the success of the D-Day landings, some of the BFC men saw the writing on the wall and began to look for ways out. A flash in the pan involving the arrest of BFC man Tom Perkins for theft of a pistol caused a full blown fire within the BFC which culminated in eight men, including Pleasants, refusing to work to set up a football field and all of them were dismissed and sent to SS punishment camps. This incident led to an investigation as to why the BFC was floundering and the upshot was that recruiting had to be stepped up, assemble as many volunteers as possible, and get them trained for combat and sent off to the front lines, whether as a unit or just as replacements for other units. It was here that Vivian Stranders, a SS-Sturmbannfuhrer, sought to make his bid for power by making a move against Cooper and Roepke, so as to position himself for possible monopolization of the British recruiting and perhaps assuming command of the BFC. Stranders, originally a English citizen, joined the Nazi party in 1932 and became naturalized and later, after the war began, was posted in the Waffen-SS as an expert in British affairs. Stranders, however, may not have had a unit to go to as two new problems rocked the boat.

MacLardy abandoned the BFC, volunteering to join a Waffen-SS medical service unit. Two other men, one of them Courlander, could read the tea leaves and sought out of the BFC. They, however, took another tact and volunteered for service with the war correspondent unit “Kurt Eggers”, which was operating on the Western Front. The ultimate goal for these men was to run for the lines when the first chance arose. Britten removed all of the BFC insignia from their uniforms, replacing them with the standard SS patches and rank then the the two men hopped a train for Brussels in the company of a Flemish Waffen-SS unit. Once there, they ultimately turned themselves over to the British, being the first two BFC men to return to England. Still, problems reigned. Two more recruits were gained, again by being forced into it as they had sexual contact with German women and the new quartermaster found a ready source of things to sell to those barracked at the monastery. With all these problems, the barrack commander went to Roepke to request the BFC be sent elsewhere. As it turned out, the BFC were indeed going to be moved.

On October 11, 1944, the BFC arrived at Dresden, to begin training as assault pioneers at the Waffen-SS Pioneer School at the Wildermann Kaserne. Here, they would receive instruction in clearing obstacles, removing minefields, usage of heavy weapons, demolition, and other tasks required of such combat engineers. SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Hugo Eichhorn reviewed the now 13 man BFC unit (not counting the support staff of four ) and despite what, to him, might have been a pretty unfearsome lot, greeted them and introduced their two training officers. The BFC was now working up into shape. They were issued with rifles, steel helmets, camouflage uniforms, and gas masks then set about getting back into physical shape and taking courses in the use of machineguns, flamethrowers, and explosives. Picket and guard duty were assigned to the BFC as well. All this came crashing down when news of Roepke’s dismissal came through.

Stranders had been successful in outing Roepke, replacing him with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Walther Kuhlich, who was wounded so bad during his stint with SS-“Das Reich”, that he was unfit for active frontline duty. This only added another nail to the BFC coffin. Freeman, following the war, said he had seen a list of over 1,100 British who applied to fight against the Soviets. Why did the BFC remain rife with problems and could never get any recruits? Freeman summed it up that the core base of the BFC were “poor types” and that this contributed to lack of any respect for the BFC from the get-go. And by this time, POWs were hip to the propaganda, especially the BFC.

Cooper, seeing that he needed to bow out of the BFC, asked Wilson, who said he was of a similar frame of mind, to meet in Berlin to request a return to the stalags. The gig was up when Wilson, whose sole reason for going to Berlin was to go womanizing, left Cooper high and dry and under arrest, the charge being sabotage of the BFC. Brought before Stranders and Kuhlich, Cooper was shown signed statements by several BFC men accusing him of anti-Nazi acts. A day later, he was formally charged by a SS prosecutor and sent to the LAH, working as a military policeman. Wilson, now in charge of recruiting, had no real intention of working hard to get new blood. Instead, he set about getting ex-BFC men who’d been kicked out, back into the fold, notably Pleasants. In this, Wilson was successful. In the winter of 1944 and 1945, several new BFC recruits arrived, and the BFC returned to its training, all the while trying to put up a front to the other soldiers who felt the BFC led a soft life. Pleasants even managed to woo the secretary who worked for Kuhlich, marrying her in February of 1945.

Plans were afoot, however, to use the BFC in a last-ditch propaganda ploy. An attempt was made to form a rift between Josef Stalin and the allied leadership, namely Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. The main effort, called “Operation Koniggratz”, attempted to sway British POWs being evacuated from the Polish stalags as the Soviets advanced. The plan was an abject failure and it was pondered how the BFC might be used to play a role in the effort, especially as they were training for combat on the Eastern Front. Again, this came to naught and the whole idea, which even included faking Communist acts within Germany, crumbled.

The BFC, meanwhile, found its morale taking a nose dive once more, thanks in part to Wilson’s lack of leadership and with Kuhlich almost always in Berlin. Still, recruits for the BFC arrived, near the close of 1944, including two South Africans. Of these five, three turned out to be genuinely anti-Communist, one of them being swayed by BFC literature, the other two having wanted to initially join the SS-“Totenkopf” division until they were talked into joining the BFC by Kuhlich. By January of 1945, the BFC was up to 27 men, three shy of the magic 30. But by this time, it was seen the whole BFC idea was a total and complete failure and many began to concoct ways to get out. Hugh Cowie, a Gordon Highlander from Scotland, was in the middle of several scandals, including the refusal to accept six Maoris into the BFC on the grounds it was a “white only” unit and having to deal with drunkards and AWOL BFC men, notably one man who kept sneaking away to be with his girl. With Wilson away, Cowie hatched a plan to use his temporary position to get access to travel documentation for him and five others, hop a train to the Eastern Front, and lay low somewhere and let the Soviets overtake them, using the pretext of going on a recruiting drive. Once on the train, all the men (save one who didn’t show) removed their BFC insignia and it went downhill from there, the end result being all of them were picked up by the Gestapo. After harsh tongue lashings by their armed escort and Kuhlich, half of the escapees were sent off to isolation camps while the other three agreed to remain with the BFC. The major hammer fell when the allies bombed Dresden on February 12, 1945, killing some 40,000 people and some took advantage of it all to make an escape but one man, who thought he could confide in his Norwegian nurse girlfriend, found out otherwise and she informed the Gestapo of his plans and the entire BFC was arrested but not before two BFC men managed to sift into the POWs being sent west and were never to return to the BFC.

This was the straw which broke the camel’s back. After the BFC men were sprung from jail, it was time to make some use out of the unit. The BFC was taken to Berlin and barracked in a school on the Schonhauser Allee, to wait there until the required steps were taken to put them into the line. It was here that the last “volunteer” came forward, Frank Axon who was captured in Greece in 1941. Accused of hitting a cow which caused it to give birth to its calf too early, he could either join the BFC or be severely punished and so, he chose the BFC. With the prospects of combat looming for a lost cause, the BFC men sought ways out once more. Three men were provided British army uniforms by a sympathetic officer who sent them off to escape. Another man, who had a girlfriend with connections to the “Kurt Eggers” Regiment, managed to get transferred there while Pleasants went to the “Peace Camp”, doing exhibition boxing bouts with Max Schmeling for the delight of German officers. On March 8, 1945, the remaining BFC men were brought before Kuhlich who gave each of them a choice: fight on the front or be sent to an isolation camp. All of them chose to fight. Wilson, in no hurry to go to battle, managed to get himself a slot as liaison between the BFC and the Berlin office of Kuhlich. This put Douglas Mardon in charge of the unit and in shaping up what he had, he was left with eight men in all (two men he refused to take and Minchin had scabies ). Mardon had to move the unit to a training camp in Niemeck, to get a crash course in anti-tank, close-combat tactics. Here, the BFC men were given training in the use of the Panzerfaust and other tank killing methods. They were also issued the StG44 (MP44) assault rifle and given training in its use. The unit strength was cut down to seven when one member smoked aspirin until he became ill, being able to get transferred out. With the hurried training done, the BFC was given two days leave before moving out to the front lines.

On March 15, 1945, a truck was loaded up with the tiny BFC and it moved out to meet up with the headquarters of III. (Germanisches ) SS-Panzer-Korps. During the ride, most members removed their BFC insignia. Upon arrival, the HQ staff was rather shocked at getting a British unit and so they put the BFC up in billets on the western edge of Stettin pending orders on what to do with them. While waiting, the BFC came under some brief Soviet mortar and artillery fire but no injuries were reported. However, the manpower was again reduced by one when one man came down with a severe case of gonorrhea and was sent away to a military hospital.

On March 22, 1945, orders came in from the HQ that the BFC should move to the headquarters portion of the SS-“Nordland” division, located at Angermunde. From there, they would be placed with the divisional armored reconnaissance battalion (11.SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung) which was stationed in Grussow. The commander there was Sturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Saalbach and when the BFC arrived, he gave them a quick welcome and assigned them to the 3rd. Company, commanded by the Swede Obersturmfuhrer Hano-Goesta Perrson. Perrson issued the BFC with a single Sd.Kfz.251 half-track and a “Schwimmwagen”, giving them orders to prepare trench lines within the company’s perimeter. The “Nordland” division was currently being held in reserve but the BFC, from their positions, could clearly see the Soviets. The BFC remained in the line for a month but the notion that they could be attacked by the Russians, failed to unify them and discord was rampant, so much so that Mardon was pressured into seeing if the BFC could be pulled out. During this time, Cooper was to return to the fold. After being told he was being transferred to the Germanic Panzer Corps, Cooper burned his SS papers and packed a suitcase with civilian clothing and went to the Corps HQ located in Steinhoffl on the Oder. He learned, to his surprise, that “ten [Englishmen were] somewhere near the front.” He was then informed his presence was requested by Obergruppenfuhrer Felix Steiner and during this time, Steiner ordered Cooper to accompany him to the front to inspect the BFC troops. Cooper, on the ride there, informed Steiner about the BFC and that it was unwise to have them at the front, to which Steiner agreed, but more because Steiner was concerned about post-war legalities of his usage of such men on the front. After inspecting the BFC, Steiner gave a short speech and ordered that the BFC be used as medical orderlies. Cooper, after catching up on the news, spoke with Mardon and then the two of them approached Brigadefuhrer Ziegler at his Nordland headquarters. They gave Ziegler a rundown on the unit, pointing out that many were forced into joining the BFC and thus, were of dubious combat value, to which Ziegler agreed. Ziegler set in motion the process by sending Cooper and Mardon to Steiner and upon meeting with him, discussed the points they made to Ziegler. The upshot was that Steiner issued the orders to pull the BFC out of the line and utilize them as truck drivers in the rear lines.

The next day, the BFC left the front lines and reported to the Corps headquarters and from there, they were issued with travel orders, rations, and were to go to Templin, to join the transport company of Steiner’s headquarter staff. They arrived there on April 16, 1945. In the meantime, Wilson, who was supposed to be sending the BFC men their Red Cross parcels (for all intents and purposes, the BFC were still classified as POWs and thus still got the parcels), chose to horde them and ultimately, he deserted into Berlin on April 9, 1945. To calm the rumblings, Cooper and four BFC men rode into Berlin to try and locate the parcels on the 17th. and upon returning on the 19th., they found a Hauptsturmfuhrer, in full SS panzer uniform, sporting BFC insignia, waiting to take them back to the front.

The tanker was Douglas Berneville-Claye who had a pension for embellishment, fraud and theft, and the ability to pass himself off as something he wasn’t. Having been booted out of the RAF, he ended up as a commander with the SAS in the Middle East where he was branded as “useless” and “dangerous” by his comrades, to the point they’d refuse to conduct operations with him. He was captured in 1942 by DAK units and taken to an Italian POW camp, to which he claimed to have broken out of four times. He was then sent to Oflag 79 in Brunswick until removed from there for his own safety since the POWs saw him as, and correctly so, as a German informer. From the time of his removal to his appearance in Templin in March of 1945, no record is known. As he stood with the BFC, he launched into a speech saying he was a earl’s son, a captain in the Coldstream Guards, and would collect two armored cars to take the BFC into battle with, even making the claim that the BFC would have no problems with the British authorities and that England was going to declare war on Russian in a few days. Cooper called Berneville-Claye’s bluff and Berneville-Claye turned away, taking one of the BFC men with him as a driver, and drove away ( Berneville-Claye eventually changed into a full SAS uniform while the driver took up farmers clothing and they turned themselves in ). “Bob” Rossler remained with the Nordland division when it went into battle in Berlin, fighting alongside the Volkssturm, Hitlerjugend, and all the other mixed bag units which remained to fight it out.

The BFC, however, remained true to their orders, following Steiner’s headquarter unit to Neustrelitz. They drove trucks, directed traffic, and assisted the evacuations of civilians from the Neustrelitz and Reinershagen area until, on April 29, 1945, Steiner ordered his forces to break contact with the Russians and make for the western combat lines to surrender to the US and British. From this point on, the BFC men sought ways to get to the western lines and avoid capture by the Soviets. Those who fell into or were turned over to the British, among other British traitors, stood trial. Amery was hung, Cooper went to jail (being released in 1953), Britten got ten years (reduced to two months when he was released for medical reasons), Wilson got ten years, Freeman got ten years, and other members got from 15 years to even no punishment at all.

And so ended the British Free Corps service to Germany

The Turncoat Claye

Douglas Webster St. Aubyn Berneville-Claye called himself Lord Charlesworth (no claim to any title) 1 SAS (B + A Squadrons) October 1942-December 1942 (2Lt) born 1917 Plumstead, London (Douglas Berneville Webster Claye) son of Frederick Wainwright Claye, MBE, Little Ouseburn, Yorkshire.

Every army has its bad hats, those men who prove to be inherently unworthy of comrades, a disruptive influence in any unit. In World War II such men did not appear only among the `other ranks’: there were occasions when the Army selection boards erred in promoting candidates to hold officer rank in His Majesty’s forces.

In wartime the Army boards were passing out as fit many young subalterns to lead men in battle or staff work, whether on dangerous missions or among the `we also serve’ ranks of the humble Pay Corps or other noncombat units. Such a candidate for advancement was Douglas Berneville-Claye, who was granted his commission as a second lieutenant in October 1941, and presently posted to the West Yorkshire Regiment in the Middle East. That the selecting officers in England had erred in permitting Claye to bear an officer’s pips did not then seem obvious. But a year after first donning his officer’s cap Claye volunteered for the Special Air Service. At this point his true merit began to emerge. As a leader of special service troops he proved quite undistinguished, so untrustworthy that veterans of hazardous SAS operations refused to accompany him on new ventures.

Nevertheless, despite misgivings, Lieutenant Claye’s commanders allowed him to embark on ops, this resulting in his capture behind enemy lines. Hitler had ordered the execution of all captured commandos, but Claye was lucky and was sent first to an Italian POW camp, then to the German Oflag (Offizierlager) 79. And here Claye’s true personality emerged: he went over to the enemy, becoming an informer to the German camp security staff. ByJanuary 1945 he had fully weakened to German propaganda, inviting Allied prisoners to join them in the great `anti-Bolshevik crusade’. Claye entered the Waffen SS, specifically the socalled `British Free Corps’, a handful of turncoats let out of POW cages, men who succumbed to German promises of a better, more adventurous life – in reality to be used as more cannon fodder on the Russian front. Even here Claye proved a misfit, unable to agree with his fellow traitors or lead them in combat. He used his SAS training to desert his German masters, re-outfitting himself in British battledress before returning to Allied positions in the West.

Claye’s past eventually became known and various charges were put to him, all of which he denied. Owing to lack of evidence he was released from custody and permitted to resume Army service, but one year later he was caught out on a comparatively small offence, that of stealing a typewriter, and was dismissed from the Army.

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The renegade SAS officer who eventually arrived on the Oder Front in March-April 1945. He had actually joined the Waffen-SS after being released from a POW camp where his fellows, probably correctly, suspected him of being an informant for the Germans; but his excuse, post-war, was that he had been given an SS uniform after escaping from a camp and had eventually, after various highly unlikely adventures, bluffed his way back to the British lines. Not surprisingly, MI5 and other investigating authorities didn’t believe him, but after two years intensive effort they could not gather enough hard evidence to make a conviction likely and dropped the matter (though Berneville-Claye himself was already in prison for various other offences). Berneville-Claye strikes me as the most likely inspiration for the story: he was an inveterate liar, con man and BS artiste and told everyone he met a range of grandiosely inflated accounts of his wartime experiences (there is now, at an Australian school where he ended up teaching in the 1970s, a ‘Douglas Berneville-Claye Memorial Prize’ for the most distinguished pupil of the year, named after ‘Major the Honourable Douglas Berneville-Claye, DSO, MC’. He died in 1975.

Battery Lindemann

View of one of the 406mm naval guns while being installed at Battery Lindemann. The gun had a range of between 29 and 34 miles.

 

Photos from propaganda magazines showing Battery Lindemann under construction and completed.

Perspective view of Battery Lindemann.

Although the navy had its own construction units, this project was too large for them to handle. The OT had to deploy about 9,000 men to prepare positions for all the batteries in the Pas de Calais. Most of the batteries required for Operation Sealion initially occupied temporary firing positions until the concrete fortifications were ready to receive them.

Although the Kriegsmarine planned to position additional 380mm gun batteries along the Baltic after the summer of 1940, it gave the French coast higher priority in preparation for Operation Sealion. The new interest in the Baltic stemmed from the Soviet Union’s occupation of the three Baltic States in the summer of 1940, which gave the Red Fleet new bases outside the Gulf of Finland. The naval staff drew up plans for two batteries of 380mm guns, one to be sited on the Danish island of Bornholm and the other on the German coast near Kolberg to bar the Soviet fleet from the western end of the Baltic. Work began in November 1940 but had come to a stop by April 1941 as the site of the southern battery at Bornholm neared completion. The navy decided against emplacing any of the guns there and moved them to Hanstholm in Denmark, where work had also started back in November. The machinery and equipment went to Kristiansand in Norway, where another 380mm battery under construction was to join with Hanstholm to close the Skagerrak Straits. The largest guns were the 406mm (16-inch) pieces of Battery Schleswig-Holstein that the navy had installed at Hela on the Hel Peninsula in November 1940 to cover the approaches to Danzig. These were the ‘Adolph’ guns, intended for the 56,000-ton H-Class battleships. Organization Todt began the work late in 1940 and the site was ready for occupation by April 1941. The first gun’s test-firing took place in May, followed by the other two guns in June and October. The position included two munitions bunkers, a 23-metre-high fire-control position towering above the forest, and three large concrete emplacements for the turreted guns.

Not long after the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the Kriegsmarine bottled up the Red Fleet at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, reducing the need for the heavy battery positions in the Baltic. In September 1941 the naval high command (OKM) determined that Battery Schleswig-Holstein would be better employed in France, and by December the guns had been dis mantled and made ready for shipment to the West. The gun crews and other personnel did not leave Hela until April 1942, by which time the guns were already in France. The OT had begun the construction of the battery position in December 1941. The initial designation was Battery Grossdeutschland, but later in 1942 it was renamed Battery Lindemann in honour of Captain Ernst Lindemann, who went down with the Bismarck on 27 May 1941.

Construction for Battery Lindemann had to wait until the arrival of the guns from Hela in early 1942, since the casemates had to be built over the guns. These guns first fired in the summer of 1942.

Construction of a Battery Position

The construction time for a battery with concrete emplacements varied according to the size and type of gun position. A simple concrete platform that allowed the artillery piece to rotate from its fixed position took the least time to pour and cure and constituted the first construction step for a battery position. At this early stage the position also included concrete storage chambers for ammunition. This first stage took a relatively short time to complete. A gun casemate for an artillery piece with or without a shield or turret required much more time to put together. The casemates for the super-heavy artillery had to be built around the guns, which took even longer than for most gun positions. A large artillery piece to be emplaced on a large concrete bunker-like position with a turret or shield for protection took about the same length of time since the structure’s concrete roof had to be poured and cured sufficiently before the installation of the gun. A large gantry crane had to be brought to the site to emplace the guns and their turret before the construction of the casemate walls and roof.

Battery Lindemann, the largest in the Pas des Calais, is a good example. Work on its foundations began at the end of 1941, well before the first guns arrived. Once the guns were emplaced, work continued through 1942. The last gun positions were not ready until late spring 1942 and the first test-firings did not take place until June and July.

It took from six months to a year to get most of these batteries operational. Besides the firing positions, munitions bunkers, crew shelters and fire-control posts, other positions also had to be built to serve the battery.

The battery was operational by June 1942 and formally inaugurated in September. It consisted of three 406mm cannon each mounted in a turret within its own casemate. The walls of the upper level of the casemate were built around the gun turret. Each of these Regelbau S-262 gun casemates, identified as Anton, Bruno and Caesar, were large enough to contain quarters and facilities for the garrison, as well as munitions storage. Separate chambers in the magazine at the lower level held 600 rounds, powder charges and fuses. There was also a heating and air- conditioning room, an engine room and a filter room. The intermediate level and the upper level housed quarters for the garrison, the NCOs and officers, with showers, toilets and other facilities. A guard post covered the men’s entrance and on the opposite side another, larger entrance with a guardroom allowed access to munitions and supplies. At the end of the entrance an overhead monorail system carried shells to a hatch and lowered them to the magazine level. The roofs were thick enough to resist 380mm shells. The overall dimensions of the casemates were approximately 50 x 47 metres

In 1943 the OT completed ammunition magazines large enough for trucks to enter, as well as a hospital bunker. Wire obstacles and sentry posts surrounded the battery site. In addition, the battery was defended by 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns captured from the British, two 75mm guns, several 25mm and 50mm anti-tank guns, a few mortars and several heavy machine-guns mounted in Tobruks. The thirty Tobruks were Bauform/Regelbau-58c intended for machine-guns. An additional Tobruk mounted one of the two 50mm anti-tank guns. Near the main gate leading to the town of Sangatte there was a Regelbau-655, a troop shelter with one chamber for six men, one for ammunition and an attached Tobruk. This bunker measured 10 x 10 metres. The battery formed a strongpoint manned by naval troops, but many of the bunkers were army designs. At the main gate there were two pre-fabricated concrete one-man sentry posts.

A large, two-level fire-direction S-100 Leitständ (fire-control) bunker served as the eyes of the battery guns. The OT built only four additional bunkers of this type in Norway and Denmark for the super-heavy 406mm gun batteries and for two other batteries. The Leitständ bunker housed an office for the battery commander and the bunker commandant. A rotating steel cupola mounted a 10-metre stereoscopic range-finder near the front of the block. In front of it was an observation cloche. A telephone and a radio room for receiving and relaying instructions were in this forward section, below the cloche and range-finder cupola. The operators in these rooms also received information from other observation positions. Behind these rooms there was a large computations room where about a dozen men tabulated the information and used plotting boards and charts to make the calculations for the firing orders that were sent to the gun casemates. Beyond this large room, near the entrance, were chambers for officers, NCOs and enlisted men. A ventilation room and an engine room to power the bunker and its equipment were located at the end of the bunker on either side of the entrance and gas lock. The lower level included quarters for the enlisted men with showers, toilets and a heating room. This large bunker measured 28.6 x 20.6 metres. Except for the positions on the roof, earth covered the exposed surfaces. The entrance at the rear was accessed from ground level by an incline.

One of the key instruments for locating targets was mounted on the roof of the S-100 bunker. This was the See-Riese FuMO 214 radar known as the Giant Würzburg (Würzburg-Riese) by the Allies. The Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine both used this type of radar. The one at Battery Lindemann was a naval version. The radar, like the cupola for the range-finder, stood above ground level, since this was the only way it could function properly.

The entire battery site occupied a position 500 to almost 1500 metres behind the coastal cliffs that rose over 20 metres above the beach. The coastal road ran between the cliffs and the battery position, which began on a small rise. Here stands the S-100 fire-control bunker with a view of the sea. The ground drops slightly behind this bunker for a few hundred metres and then begins to rise. This is where the three gun casemates were built. The ground rises behind the gun casemates, forming an escarpment. The small rise in front of the gun casemates and the escarpment behind them hides the bunkers from sight from the sea. Anti-aircraft guns and their facilities were located at the top of the escarpment.

The S-100 fire-control bunker was forward of the gun positions on a rise in the terrain that leads down to the sea cliffs across from the main coastal road. The battery and all its associated positions were surrounded by obstacles that included an anti-tank ditch and a wall along a few sections. The outer perimeter consisted of about 700 ‘Belgian Gates’ that were once part of a continuous anti-tank barrier south of Brussels extending towards the Meuse between Namur and Liege in 1939-1940. Barbed wire and minefields extended beyond the perimeter. Some minefields were actually inside the perimeter. An electrified wire fence surrounded each of the three gun casemates.

he battery complex also included a medical bunker, H-118, identified as the hospital. This bunker, measuring 22.2 x 12.8 metres, was smaller than the fire-control bunker but was large enough to house a couple of wards for patients, an operating room, a storage room and the quarters of the medical officer and his staff. Near this bunker stood the huts for the garrison, and a little further to the west were the two large ammunition bunkers. These two bunkers measured about 20 x 20 metres and were built into the terrain. Only the tunnel-like openings that ran in front of each bunker and the outer wall were exposed. On the south side of the position, near or at the top of the escarpment, two areas on either side of the anti-aircraft positions were encircled with double apron barbed wire obstacles. One of these areas included troop accommodation and entrances to a tunnel system that was never completed. The other area included two observation bunkers to assist in fire-control. Battery Lindemann and its associated close-combat defensive positions formed a strongpoint (StP) known as StP Neuss. Strongpoints like this or for smaller batteries often included covered brick-lined trenches that allowed the troops to move relatively safely from one point to another. This strongpoint was so heavily bombarded that it was difficult to determine if there had actually been covered trenches on the site. Other obstacles included steel hedgehogs, anti-tank ditches, etc. An anti-tank ditch ran along much of the east side, outside the perimeter made of Belgian Gates, and was backed by a concrete anti-tank wall up to 4 metres high. The medical bunker, the fire-control bunker and the three gun casemates were linked to a water line with a pumping station located between the gun casemates and the fire-control bunker.

Some features that show up on plans of Battery Lindemann but are often ignored are the hydrants. High-pressure water hydrants were distributed at various points at the large gun battery positions –and even the U-boat bunker complexes – for fire-fighting because fire extinguishers in the fortifications had limited capabilities. At complexes like Lindemann, special features like the hydrants, air-conditioning systems for cartridge rooms and power generating systems were necessary to operate the equipment effectively.

The other heavy battery positions were not much different from Battery Lindemann and were usually part of an StP. The engineers and artillerymen had laid out the batteries to meet the needs of the weapons available to them. As a result, except for the types of structure needed, no two batteries were identical. At Battery Lindemann and Battery Todt the large naval cannon were mounted in armoured turret types designated as Bettungsschiessgerüst C/39, but at Battery Grosser Kurfürst the 280mm gun was found in a single gun turret mounted on a large S-412 bunker. Like the Lindemann and Todt casemates, this bunker included all the facilities needed for munitions, the machinery and the crew. Batteries Fjell and Oerlandet in Norway were even more impressive than the ones in France. Their 280mm triple-gun turrets from the battlecruiser Gneisenau were mounted on an emplacement with a concreted shaft that connected to the magazines and a tunnel system below it. The shaft of Battery Fjell below the turret was 17 metres deep and consisted of six levels that were used for loading the weapon. Battery Vara at Kristiansand, Norway, had 380mm guns mounted in a turret on an emplacement that was part of a complex of four large single-level gun bunkers somewhat similar to the 305mm guns of Battery Mirus on the Channel Islands. The S-169 gun emplacement was actually adjacent to the bunker facilities and not on top of the bunker as at Battery Grosser Kurfürst. Since there was nothing below the gun position, this type was considered an open emplacement. One of these S-169 gun bunkers – only four of which were actually built – included a casemate over the gun turret.

Avro Vulcan (1952)

Vulcan B.Mk 2 XM597, stationed at Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island, during the Falklands campaign of 1982. This aircraft was used on both Black Buck anti-radar attacks and made an emergency landing in Brazil after a raid on the night of 2/3 June.

Vulcan B.Mk 2 XM607 was one of the aircraft involved in the first of the Black Buck raids against Port Stanley airfield, flown on 1 May 1982, and armed with 21 1000lb (454kg) bombs.

Most successful of Britain’s three V-bombers, the Vulcan enjoyed an impressively long service career, starting out as a high-level strategic nuclear bomber and later going into combat as a conventional bomber during the Falklands campaign.

The Vulcan was one of the results of the United Kingdom’s Specification B.14/46, which called for a bomber capable of striking a target at a range of 2735km (1700 miles) carrying a nuclear weapon weighing 4536kg (10,000lb), and offering a cruising altitude of 12,190m (40,000ft) and a full-load range of 6437km (4000 miles). This specification was later revised to become B.35/46, which led to the development of the three V-bombers: the Avro Vulcan, the Handley Page Victor and the Vickers Valiant.

In its initial prototype guise, the Vulcan employed a wing planform that was an almost perfect triangle. In this distinctive form, the aircraft completed its maiden flight in August 1952, and was flown with Rolls-Royce Avon, Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire and finally Rolls-Royce Conway engines. Since the delta wing marked a new departure, a series of Type 707 one-third scale research aircraft had been completed beforehand to test the concept. It would be another 30 years after its first flight before the delta-winged bomber first saw combat over the South Atlantic, in what were then the longest bombing raids ever staged.

After completion of two prototypes, the Vulcan B.M 1 entered RAF service in February 1957. This version had a modified wing of 330m2 (3554 sq ft) area with the inboard sections accommodating the four Bristol Olympus 101 engines, each developing 48.93kN (11,000lb) of thrust. Compared to the prototypes, the overall planform of the definitive production aircraft was modified with reduced wing sweep from the root to the mid-point, the result being a kinked leading edge. As production progressed, more powerful Olympus Mk 102 or Mk 104 engines were installed. In 1961, aircraft were modified with electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment in a modified tailcone, becoming the B.Mk 1A aircraft.

Deliveries of the B.Mk 1 amounted to 45 before production switched to 89 of the much-improved B.Mk 2 variant. The Mk 2 was entirely re-engineered and its most prominent feature was a much larger but thinner wing, with cranked and cambered leading edge, housing more powerful Olympus engines. Other changes included elevons replacing the B.Mk 1’s ailerons and elevators, and an inflight refuelling probe. The Vulcan B.Mk 2 entered service in July 1960 and was initially employed in a high-altitude role. The definitive Vulcan B.Mk 2A added the capability to carry a single Blue Steel standoff missile. As the final B.Mk 2 was delivered, almost all the remaining B.Mk 1s had been withdrawn from use.

In 1966 the Blue Steel was also withdrawn from service as the appearance of new surface-to-air missiles prompted a switch to low-level operations, for which a terrain-following radar was added in a nose fairing. At the same time, the ECM fit was appropriately upgraded. In 1962 the B.Mk 2 was re-engined with 88.96kN (20,000lb) Olympus 301 engines. Total production of the B.Mk 2 amounted to 89 aircraft, for a grand total of 134 Vulcans of both marks.

In the early 1980s it became apparent that the Vulcan’s fatigue life was running low, as a result of the low-level focus. However, it was decided that the cost of extending the service life of the remaining aircraft was too great. It was decided to withdraw the Vulcan force between June 1981 and June 1982.

Falkland Islands Swansong

The Vulcan force was mid-way through being wound down when, in April 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falklands in the South Atlantic. By now the Vulcan had lost its inflight refuelling capability, and a search was begun for refuelling probes with which to equip the remaining bombers, in order to stage an attack on the Falklands from Ascension Island. Six aircraft were converted as Vulcan K.Mk 2 tankers, with a hose and drogue unit in the rear ECM bay and extra fuel in the bomb bay, while others were equipped for the carriage of conventional bombs, new navigation systems, refuelling probes and underwing pylons for AN/ALQ-101 electronic countermeasures pods and AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missiles.

In the course of round trips exceeding 12,870km (8000 miles), and under the codename Black Buck, the Vulcans bombed the occupied Port Stanley airfield and related radar installations in the Falklands, putting the runway out of action. The last Vulcans to bow out of service were the K.Mk 2 tankers, finally retired in March 1984.

Maritime Operations

Towards the end of the type’s career, nine aircraft were modified for the Strategic Maritime Radar Reconnaissance (MRR role) as Vulcan B.Mk 2MRR aircraft. Conversions were made in 1973 and the aircraft were outfitted with an array of classified electronic, optical and other sensors, as well as additional fuel in the bomb bay. The aircraft were operated by RAF Scampton-based No.27 Squadron from November 1973 to May 1982, assuming the role from Victor B.Mk 2(SR) aircraft of No.543 Squadron that were in turn converted as inflight refuelling tankers. Compared to the standard Vulcan bomber, the B.Mk 2MRR received LORAN-C navigation equipment and the terrain-following radar thimble was removed from the nose. Air-sampling pods could be fitted below the wings for testing the air for contamination, such as dust from nuclear tests.

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Admiral Count Yamamoto Gonbee

(Yamamoto Gonnohyoe, 1852-1 933)

was the architect of modern Japanese naval power. He was born and grew up in the castle town of the Satsuma domain, Kagoshima. As a boy of sixteen, he fought with the Satsuma army in the Restoration war at Toba-Fushimi and in northern Honshu (1868). He was one of the first to be graduated from the new Naval Academy, in 1874, and took a midshipman cruise to San Francisco. Like other navy leaders, he had significant foreign experience. After his cruise he served for over a year on the warships Vineta and Leipzig of another fledgling navy, the German, circumnavigating the globe and passing both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. As a junior officer he had duty aboard five different vessels (1878-81). He became second in command of the screw-corvette Asama, 1882-85, and occupied the same position on the cruiser Naniwa when it was brought to Japan in 1886 after its construction in Britain.

His first command, the sloop Amagi, followed. In 1887, as aide to Nav Minister Saigo, he undertook extended visits to Europe and the United States. He made the rank of captain in 1889 and subsequently commanded the cruisers Takao and Takachiho. His career began to take a political direction when he was appointed director of the Navy Ministry’s Secretariat in 1891 . Because of his administrative skill he was made rear admiral and chief of the Naval Affairs Department of the ministry in 1895. He attained the rank of vice admiral in 1898 and admiral in 1904. He served as navy minister, 1898-1906, and as prime minister, 1913-14 and 1923-24.

Navy Minister, 1898-1906

In a memorial to the throne on national defense, Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (1852-1933), the navy minister, described how the emperor’s contribution of personal funds for building warships had brought about victory in the war with China. He declared,

It would seem that in the lands of the Orient, ominous clouds and baleful mists have now been happily cleared away, but I fear that in all prob ability the situation in China and Korea contains seeds of disaster imminently threatening the peace. At present the Imperial Navy may be said to reign supreme in the Orient, but military preparations of the powers are advancing rapidly. This is true especially of the neighboring power that has recently expanded its ‘navy and plans before long to have a fleet in the Orient many times stronger than the empire’s. If an emergency should arise, will the sea-girded empire of Japan be able to sleep in peace?

Yamamoto asked for a total of 115 million yen with which to build and equip three first-class battleships, three first-class cruisers, and two second-class cruisers. Needless to say, the power against which Japan had to defend itself was Russia, whose eastward advance was deplored by the genrō when they approved this request for naval expansion.

“In the budget for next year,” Navy Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyoe declared in early 1906, “nothing more has been attempted than to make provisions for replacing what had been destroyed or impaired in the war.” “But after that,” the navy’s most important bureaucrat suggested, “it would be necessary to consider . . . new undertakings.” Within five years of Yamamoto’s prophetic utterance, all in Japan’s elite political circles knew what Yamamoto had alluded to by the somewhat cautious and guarded phrase “new undertakings”; massive naval expansion on a scale not previously undertaken in Japan. Conferring with Seiyukai leader Hara Kei four years later at the end of a navy-inspired, pro-naval expansion propaganda campaign, Prime Minister Katsura Taro revealed just what he felt naval expansion and the navy’s political machinations to secure large-scale budgetary increases meant for politics and the nation of Japan: instability. Predicting that the navy would shortly introduce a massive expansion plan based on the purchase and construction of Dreadnought class warships, the army General turned Prime Minister claimed that the naval expansion proposal had been “hatched [by Yamamoto] out of an ambition to break up the tie between the government and the Seiyukai,” a relationship that had resulted in political stability since 1905. Katsura’s assumptions proved correct on both counts and the navy’s political engagement to secure greater appropriations significantly influenced elite level politics after 1905.

Army-Navy Rivalry

An example illustrating this type of army thinking towards the navy occurred in 1894, when Vice Chief of the Army General Staff, Kawakami Soroku, devised war plans against China that emphasized the navy’s support role, Yamamoto Gonnohyoe pointedly asked Kawakami a simple but loaded question, “Is it true the army has engineers?” Taken aback, Kawakami replied, “Yes . . . of course we do.” To this, Yamamoto responded, with no little sarcasm, “Then it should be no trouble [for you] to build a bridge from Yokubo in Kyushu to Tsushima and then to Pusan in Korea, to now send our army to the continent.”

Siemens Incident

Allegations that high-ranking officers in Japan’s Imperial Navy had received bribes from the German munitions firm Siemens Schuckert caused a political crisis that culminated in the resignation of the premier, Admiral Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (1852-1933) and his cabinet on 24 March 1914. The Siemens incident was indicative of the competition, which was especially bitter in 1905-1915, among rival factions associated with Japan’s army and navy commanders as well as among rival party organizations. The subject of heated public discussion and official debate, the scandal also marked a step toward greater government accountability in the early history of parliamentary democracy in Japan.

On 23 January 1914 Japanese newspapers printed reports of the trial in Berlin of a former Siemens employee who was charged with stealing confidential company documents from files in the firm’s Tokyo office. The defendant testified that he had sold the documents to a Reuters News Service reporter in order to expose a duplicitous deal between Japanese naval officers and the British firm Vickers, represented by a Japanese company, Mitsui Bussan. By accepting an offer from Vickers of regular secret “commissions” of 25 percent of the value of equipment procurement contracts placed with the firm, the naval officers contravened an agreement reached with Siemens earlier to place large orders for ammunition and communications equipment with the German firm in exchange for kickbacks of 15 percent of the value of the orders.

Admiral Yamamoto, premier since February 1913, had authorized a program of lavish expenditures on naval expansion. Critics of his generosity seized on the information released in Berlin to confirm suspicions of corruption in connection with naval spending. In a Diet session on 23 January 1914, Shimada Saburo, a leading member of the opposition Doshikai, opened a twomonth period of public debate and political crisis by calling Yamamoto to account with a series of embarrassing questions about the navy’s purchasing practices.

During February and March, Yamamoto succeeded in maintaining his position, partly by dismissing naval officers implicated in the allegations of corruption. But the admiral’s position was irretrievably weakened by opposition within the upper house of the Diet, the army, and the public.

The Siemens incident contributed to greater instability in Japan’s parliamentary politics by ousting the majority party, the Seiyukai, from the premiership and the cabinet. Yamamoto’s government survived a nonconfidence vote on 10 February, but failed to survive the loss of support in the upper house of the Diet, where the peers had slashed the naval expansion budget and refused to yield to the principle that only the lower house had authority over the budget. In an arrangement brokered by Yamagata Aritomo and other senior leaders, a new cabinet was installed in April 1914 with the veteran parliamentarian Okuma Shigenobu (1838- 1922) as premier. Competition for budgetary appropriations between the navy and army continued to be a bone of contention within Japan’s government, even at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Corruption connected to public contracts with foreign firms continued as well, although it did not precipitate another political crisis until the Lockheed scandal of 1976.