Pearl Harbor Japanese “The Re-attack Controversy”

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Many commentators have asserted that the Japanese missed a great opportunity by not launching follow-up attacks targeting the Navy Yard machine shops and repair facilities, the Submarine Base, and the fuel tank farm. Such criticism is part of the official US Navy account of the battle, where the Japanese are castigated as they “neglected to damage the shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II.” This view is echoed by most historical commentators, for example, Goldstein and Dillon (coauthors of At Dawn We Slept) and Wenger have asserted that

One stroke of luck for the Americans on 7 December was the fact that the Pearl Harbor attack plan contained no provision for destroying the Navy Yard. Had the Japanese done so, they would have put the US Pacific Fleet out of action far more effectively than by wrecking individual ships. The fleet would have had no choice but to return to the Pacific Coast. This withdrawal could have significantly altered the course of the war.

This assessment appears to have begun with none other than Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, who once remarked that destruction of the fuel storage tanks “would have prolonged the war for another two years.” The venerable Morison picked up the theme in the semi-official History of United States Naval Operations in World War II and made the idea well-known. He asserted:

There is some question, however, whether the aviators were directed to the right targets, even from the Japanese point of view. They knocked out the Battle Force and decimated the striking air power present; but they neglected permanent installations at Pearl Harbor, including the repair shops which were able to do an amazingly quick job on the less severely damaged ships. And they did not even attempt to hit the power plant or the large fuel oil “tank farm,” filled to capacity, whose loss (in the opinion of Admiral Hart) would have set back our advance across the Pacific much longer than did the damage to the fleet.

Morison later expressed his opinion on the issue:

Tactically speaking, the Japanese committed the blunder in the Pearl Harbor attack of concentrating their attacks only on warships instead of directing them on land installations and fuel tanks. Not only was it strategically a folly, but politically, too, it was an unredeemable blunder.

Prange, the great historian of the Pearl Harbor attack, added:

By failing to exploit the shock, bewilderment, and confusion on Oahu, by failing to take full advantage of its savage attack against Kimmel’s ships, by failing to pulverize the Pearl Harbor base, by failing to destroy Oahu’s vast fuel stores, and by failing to seek out and sink America’s carriers, Japan committed its first and probably its greatest strategical error of the entire Pacific conflict.

Goldstein, Dillon and Wenger frame the point in these terms:

One stroke of luck for the Americans on 7 December was the fact that the Pearl Harbor attack plan contained no provision for destroying the Navy Yard. Had the Japanese done so, they would have put the US Pacific Fleet out of action far more effectively than by wrecking individual ships. The fleet would have had no choice but to return to the Pacific Coast. This withdrawal could have significantly altered the course of the war.

Van der Vat claimed that the fuel tanks and “vital shoreside facilities” were to be the “prime target of wave number three” and that their destruction “would have rendered the base useless and forced the US Navy back to the West Coast, over two thousand miles to the east,” a claim repeated by Clarke and others. Captain Joseph Taussig, Jr. claimed that “One lucky hit would have sorely curtailed the fuel supplies in the Pacific and created a logistics nightmare….” Admiral Bloch, the Naval District Commander with local defense responsibility, testifying before a post-attack inquiry, said that if Japan had struck the shore installations “we would have been damaged infinitely more than we were.” Peattie makes the claim that “… there is little doubt that these targets could have been destroyed by Nagumo’s force.” Another claimed that destroying the shipyard would have delayed serious operations in the Pacific by at least a year.

These assessments have been absorbed into the popular consciousness: a television program on “The Myths of Pearl Harbor” asserted that “had the Japanese launched a third wave attack against the fuel tanks and naval shipyard, the United States would have been forced to pull their crippled fleet back to San Francisco… leaving Pearl Harbor defenseless.”

The tale of the argument on the carrier bridge where stodgy Nagumo turned his back on his aviator’s demands for a third strike has been related in many places, based on Fuchida’s version of the event:

On his return at midday, Fuchida had told Nagumo that there were still many significant targets worthy of attack. There was a complete infrastructure of dockyard installations, fuel storage tanks, power station and ship repair and maintenance facilities which supported the US Pacific Fleet and without which its rebuilding would have been impossible. There were also plenty of vessels not touched in the first assaults.

According to Toland, the encounter happened this way:

Fuchida returned about an hour later and was greeted by an exultant Genda; then he went to the bridge and reported to Nagumo and Kusaka that at least two battleships had been sunk and four seriously damaged. He begged the admirals to launch another attack at once and this time concentrate on the oil tanks…. Kaga’s captain, at the urging of Commander Sata, also recommended a strike against installations and fuel tanks…. “We should retire as planned,” Kusaka advised Nagumo, who nodded. A staff officer suggested that they try and locate and sink the American carriers. Opinion on the bridge was divided. “There will be no more attacks of any kind,” said Kusaka. We will withdraw.”

Toland added, in a footnote,

Some accounts state that Fuchida and Genda repeatedly pleaded with Nagumo to return. In an interview in 1966, Admiral Kusaka recalled that they merely suggested a second attack and that his words “We will withdraw” ended the discussion; thereafter no one expressed a forceful opinion.

Clearly, Kusaka, the First Air Fleet Chief of Staff, had a different perception of what happened on the Akagi’s bridge that critical afternoon.

Fuchida published an article in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, which was reprinted in 1969 in an anthology, The Japanese Navy in World War II. This article was written as a first-person account.

My plane was just about the last one to get back to Akagi where refueled and rearmed planes were being lined up on the busy flight deck in preparation for yet another attack. I was called to the bridge as soon as the plane stopped, and could tell on arriving there that Admiral Nagumo’s staff had been engaged in heated discussions about the advisability of launching the next attack. They were waiting for my account of the battle. [After reporting the extent of the damage] I expressed my views saying, “All things considered we have achieved a great amount of destruction, but it would be unwise to assume that we have destroyed everything. There are still many targets remaining which should be hit. Therefore I recommend that another attack be launched.”… I had done all I could to urge another attack, but the decision rested entirely with Admiral Nagumo, and he chose to retire without launching the next attack.

In this account Fuchida mentions “heated discussions,” but only claims that he recommended an additional attack against the “many targets remaining,” implying targets from the original target set, ships and aircraft. No mention is made of attacking the shipyard or oil storage tanks. An approximation of this scene was included in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! Fuchida served as one of the principle Japanese advisors to the producers of that film.

There are two other accounts of Fuchida’s post-attack report, both by Fuchida as related to Prange, one in At Dawn We Slept published in 1981, and another in God’s Samurai, Prange’s biography of Fuchida, published in 1990. Both contain specific, line-by-line conversations, including quotations attributed to Nagumo, Kusaka, Genda, and other staff members.

On departing Pearl Harbor Fuchida claimed that he “mentally earmarked for destruction” the fuel tanks and the “vast repair and maintenance facilities” for the attention of a follow-on strike. Upon his return to Akagi, after collecting confirming information from other pilots, he went to the bridge to report to Nagumo. He claimed that “a fierce argument” ensued on the subject of a follow-on strike. In Dawn the exchange is related as follows (based on Fuchida’s testimony which Prange dramatizes in the third person):

Then Kusaka took up the questioning. “What do you think the next targets should be?” Fuchida drew a quick breath. The wording seemed to indicate an aggressive intent. He came back swiftly, “The next targets should be the dockyards, the fuel tanks, and an occasional ship.” He saw no need to attack the battleships again.

In God’s Samurai, Fuchida (again through Prange) gives the exchange a different flavor:

If we attack again, what should the targets be?” asked Kusaka.

Fuchida had no difficulty in answering, having thought of little else all the way back to the Akagi. “ The damaged battleships and the other vessels in the harbor, the dock yards, and the fuel tanks,” he informed them…. Nagumo made no immediate decision, dismissing Fuchida with a word of praise. As soon as he departed, Genda took up the battle…. However, Nagumo refused to attack Pearl Harbor again or to hunt for the elusive [American] flattops…. Akagi hoisted a signal flag indicating retirement to the northwest. Upset, Fuchida scrambled to the bridge.

What’s happened?” he asked Genda.

His classmate shrugged. “It can’t be helped.”

That wasn’t good enough for Fuchida. He turned to Nagumo, saluted, and asked bluntly, “Why aren’t we attacking again?”

Kusaka forestalled whatever reply Nagumo might have made. “The objective of the Pearl Harbor operation is achieved,” he said. “Now we must prepare for future operations.”

Silently, Fuchida saluted and stalked off the bridge. “I was a bitter and angry man,” he recalled, “for I was convinced that Nagumo should have attacked again.”

There are inconsistencies in these accounts that could be picked over at length. That is unnecessary, since the conversation, in whatever version, the “heated discussion,” Genda’s “begging,” stalking off the bridge after a second confrontation, re-striking the battleships or not re-striking the battleships—all, without a doubt, did not occur as related.

Kusaka stated in an interview that he had dismissed the subject of a follow-on attack from the outset. There was a one-question exchange on the subject initiated by a staff officer, not Fuchida or Genda; he did not consider the exchange to be sufficiently important to mention it in his account of the attack.

Nagumo and Kusaka had possibly discussed the question before Fuchida landed. In Dull’s account, intercepted radio traffic inferred to the Japanese that an estimated fifty land-based bombers were still operational, and they were still concerned over the unlocated American carriers. Nagumo and Kusaka decided that Kido Butai should quickly clear the area. Dull’s account did not mention a confrontation with Fuchida.

Genda categorically denied that any confrontation took place or that a proposal for an additional strike arose. He did not “take up the battle” for an additional strike, having realized long before that Nagumo had his mind set against such an attack. Genda believed bringing it up would be of no use. He stated in his memoirs that he was aware of the scene in Tora! Tora! Tora!, but explicitly denied that any such exchange took place or that a follow-on strike was proposed by Fuchida at all.

Fuchida apparently noted American post-war statements regarding the supposed importance of a third strike against fuel and shipyard facilities and created fictional conversations that raised his perspicacity to heroic stature.

The executive secretary of the US Naval Institute asked Genda why the Japanese did not bomb the fuel tanks. “He replied ingenuously that nobody had thought of this target.” When interviewed in 1945 immediately after the war, before all the American comments about striking the shipyard or the oil tanks were available in Japan, Fuchida was asked why there had been no third wave strike against Pearl Harbor. Fuchida made no mention of proposals to further attack the shipyard or the fuel tanks.

Infrastructure targets had been briefly considered by the Japanese planners. Genda rejected them in his initial estimates because there wasn’t enough ordnance to spare (recall his dictum that hitting a few critical targets decisively was better than hitting many targets with only minor damage). There wasn’t sufficient ordnance to thoroughly attack fleet and OCA targets as it was, and a few odd bombs directed against the shipyard or the oil tank farms during the first or second waves would have been a wasteful half-measure—more like a hundreth-measure.

Thousands of miles away, members of the Combined Fleet staff, including the Chief of Staff Ugaki and Yamamoto, considered follow-on strikes. These officers appear to have been looking towards a more complete annihilation of the Pacific Fleet, and were not considering infrastructure targets.

Genda considered remaining in the Pearl Harbor area for days and dispatching repeated attacks but, as Willmott has noted:

[Genda] was not necessarily thinking in terms of attacks on port facilities, shore installations and the like. He was thinking primarily in terms of inflicting crippling losses upon the US Pacific Fleet. Indeed, on the morning of the attack Genda limited himself to the proposal that returning Kates should be armed with torpedoes to meet any American forces which tried to mount a counter-attack, but that if none materialized, the Kates should be armed for the normal bombing role. Such deliberation amounted to no more than normal staff procedure, and there seems to be little evidence to suggest that Genda believed a follow-up attack would be necessary and on his own admission he made no representation to his superiors which suggested he was convinced of the need for such an operation.

Some, particularly the more junior staff officers assigned to the Combined Fleet, were inflamed with fighting spirit, stoked by relief that great things had been accomplished at little cost, and were ready for a repeat performance; some felt that Kido Butai was still in dangerous waters, and the additional gains were not worth the additional risk.

One man staunchly against such an attack was Nagumo. He had doubts about the raid from the outset, and had shouldered for weeks the worry that his fragile carriers could be hit while thousands of miles from the nearest friendly port. When the attack met its objectives, he was more than happy to accept an unexpectedly one-sided victory and depart.

The idea that others would suddenly want to champion a return attack to hit shipyard and fuel facilities does not fit with the logistics-blind worldview of Japanese naval officers.

Realizing that the Japanese would likely not have gone after the shipyard and docks and fuel farms does not finalize the debate. Would a third wave attack against those targets been as destructive and as debilitating as so many maintain?

Composition of a Third-Wave Strike

Three hundred fifty aircraft were sent in the two waves of the attack. Of them, 29 (8%) were shot down and another 111 damaged,52 of which 10 to 15 (perhaps as many as 20) were damaged so severely they were jettisoned. Others were written off as unsalvageable. Of the other damaged aircraft, it is not known how many could not be flown until they were repaired by the ships’ maintenance force. Willmott reports that once all the aircraft had returned to the carriers the Japanese had 265 aircraft available for operations.

The Japanese would not have launched another two-wave attack with all available bombers. They were concerned that the US carriers, so far unlocated, would appear and attack. A duplicate two-wave attack would not leave aircraft to search for or strike American carriers. They undoubtedly would have held ready a strike armed with counter-shipping munitions.

If another strike was to be launched, the first order of business would be to launch reconnaissance to ensure the American carriers would not interfere. They could be almost anywhere, to the northeast between Hawaii and San Francisco, east (San Diego), northwest (Midway), west (Johnston Island), or south (Palmyra and the southern training operational areas). Because the Japanese had made a high-speed night transit, they could not even be sure that carriers were not to the north. A 360-degree search out to 250nm would be prudent. If the Japanese used 10-degree search intervals with a single aircraft on each track, 35 aircraft would be required.

The aircraft for this search could come from several sources. First, there were two cruisers accompanying the force, Tone and Chikuma, specially designed to handle six reconnaissance floatplanes apiece. If they contributed ten aircraft, the balance of 25 would come out of the carriers’ complements. These would be B5N Kate carrier attack bombers on the carriers, which had the dual mission of reconnaissance as well as attack. There were the aircraft carried by the two fast battleships that accompanied the carriers, but these aircraft were usually employed in the inner anti-submarine patrol.

The Japanese carriers started with 144 B5N Kate carrier attack planes and 135 D3A Val dive-bombers. 16 Kates were lost or written off after the attack along with 31 Vals, leaving 128 Kates and 104 Vals. The crated spare aircraft would require at least 24 hours to assemble.

If one-third of the remaining aircraft were retained as an anti-shipping reserve, 70 B5N Kate carrier attack bombers (with two or three 250kg bombs each) and 70 D3A Val dive bombers (with one 250kg bomb each) could be employed in a third wave attack. They could deliver 210 to 280 250kg bombs.

This is a high estimate. It is more likely that the Japanese would have retained at least half their aircraft as insurance against enemy carriers, and, as they viewed the B5N Kate as their real ship-killer, they would have retained a greater proportion of them for the anti-shipping strike. 100 of the modified “shallow water” torpedoes were delivered for this operation, and 40 expended in the attack. That might have limited the number of B5N Kates in the anti-shipping strike to 60. However, there may also have been unmodified torpedoes aboard.

Two hundred eighty 250kg bombs can be used as an upper estimate of the ordnance a third wave attack might deliver.

Development of Siege and Fortress Artillery

Fortifications and siege works. (American Artillerist’s Companion)

Construction of fortified bridgeheads (têtes du pont). In the centre of the second row is an excellent representation of a horn work. (American Artillerist’s Companion)

ESTIMATED REQUIREMENTS TO DEFEND FORTRESSES

When a man has committed no faults in war, he can only have been engaged in it but a short time.

Marshal Turenne

The ring of hammers and other blunt objects, heavy digging of field fortifications, many times under fire, the building of gun platforms in almost every type of terrain, including muddy, flooded ground, marked the beginning of a siege of a fortress or a strongly fortified city or town. Engineer officers would direct the beginnings of the siege with their templates and instruments, calculating mathematically where to dig and, with their brothers of the artillery, where to emplace the siege batteries to bring the fortress under punishing fire.

Engineer troops, the sapeurs du génie and miners, would prepare their work, the miners getting ready once again to sink their shafts and begin their tunnels toward the fortress to their front and preparing the mining charges that could bring down the curtain walls confronting them. The sapeurs would don their blackened armour, cuirass and lobster helmet, that might, or might not, protect them in the besiegers’ trenches against gunfire from the defenders, and prepare to dig saps and parallels and perhaps lead the infantry assaults.

With the initial saps and approaches dug, the first batteries established with their wooden firing platforms and magazines, the great guns would be brought into position by horse- and man-power, within range of the opposing fortified positions to begin their relentless pounding of the enemy positions both day and night. Siege guns, 16- and 24-pounders, coupled with 8-inch howitzers, would blast the defenders and the great mortars, lofting their deadly bombs over the fortress walls and into the interior would search for the fortresses’ magazines for a lucky shot that might end the siege.

Last of all, but not nearly least, the infantry battalions, when not engaged in digging the siege entrenchments in support of the engineers, would wait until summoned to assault breaches made in the fortress walls if the fortress did not capitulate before that was necessary. The ‘poor bloody infantry’ would bear the burden, and pay the price in blood, for any failure of the engineers, artillerymen, and the senior officers if the siege had not been properly handled before the infantry were sent in.

With the advent of gunpowder artillery in Europe in the fourteenth century, a balance was usually attempted, and many times achieved, between firepower and mobility. Field artillery came into its own by the middle of the fourth decade of the eighteenth century, pioneered by the Prussians, with the Austrians making similar changes in the next decade. The French followed in the mid-1760s after humiliating defeats in the Seven Years War that clearly demonstrated the inferiority of the then-current Vallière System of Artillery of 1732. Just about every other nation with an interest in artillery followed suit, including the young United States upon declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776.

Heavy artillery, however, was present from the dawn of the arm, and that was a function both of technology, or lack of it, and the need to have guns strong enough to punch through or partially demolish both permanent and field fortifications. Heavy artillery is the main subject of this volume, with its strength and lack of general mobility and inability to keep up with a fast-moving field army being its main characteristics.

The main opponent of siege artillery was fortress or garrison artillery, usually composed of the same guns as siege artillery, but mounted on different gun carriages, designed to be operated inside fortifications and to defend the position where they were emplaced.

Siege and fortress artillery also included howitzers and mortars. The howitzers used in siege and fortress operations were of the same general design as those assigned to the field artillery, but were larger and heavier, with the same restrictions on movement as siege artillery guns. Mortars were stationary artillery pieces, designed for the attack and defence of fortified places, and ranged from small to large and generally speaking fired explosive shell. Howitzers were something like smaller mortars, but mounted on field carriages, and were somewhat more mobile than the mortars.

All siege artillery would be mounted in batteries supervised and constructed by the engineers and artillery officers, and great wooden platforms would be emplaced from which the artillery could fire from a stable position.

Sieges were usually carefully undertaken, meticulously planned, and were methodically carried out with the besiegers’ trenches and batteries edging ever-closer to their targets and objective. While the artillery rate of fire might be much slower than that of field artillery in battle, it was relentless and would continue day and night until a breach was made in the curtain wall or the defenders finally capitulated.

The initial siege works and artillery batteries and firing positions completed, sweating gunners manhandled their large, awkward siege pieces onto the firing platforms, managing to get the long gun tubes into the embrasures cut into the field works without damaging the entrenchments. Ammunition would be moved into the magazines constructed in the rear of each siege battery position, dug in and protected from enemy artillery fire. Artillery implements would be placed in each gun position, for the gun crews to use in pointing, loading, and cleaning each piece. The gun crews were smaller than those for field artillery, even though the heavy siege guns were both physically larger than the field pieces, and the guns themselves were of larger calibre.

Large mortars were emplaced in some of the siege battery positions. Of larger calibre than even the largest of the siege guns, mortars would lob bombs over the walls of a besieged fortress, town, or city. These were huge compared to the ammunition fired by the siege guns – some weighing in at 200 pounds. Their crews were also smaller than those in the field artillery, as the mortars were stationary weapons, the guns tubes emplaced in their ‘beds’ – heavy, awkward mounts. Whereas the siege guns were on the familiar wheeled gun carriages which could be moved as necessary, the huge-mouthed mortars would have to be moved by specially constructed vehicles from place to place, and then assembled in their prepared firing positions.

Together, the mortars and heavy siege guns, usually known as ‘battering pieces’ would concentrate their firepower against a pre-selected point of the besieged place to prepare it for an infantry assault or to batter the garrison into submission.

Fortress and Siege Fortifications and the Attack and Defence of Places

The fate of a nation may depend sometimes upon the position of a fortress.

Napoleon

13 October 1810, Sobral, Portugal

Chef de Bataillon Jean Jacques Pelet, first aide-de-camp to Marshal André Massena, commander of the Army of Portugal, and his companion, Capitaine Jean Richoux, made their way towards Sobral by taking a steep and narrow road up to a position from where they could observe the British fortifications that were becoming known as the Lines of Torres Vedras.

While the road had been repaired in places, it was a difficult climb that was hard on the horses, and by the time they reached their objective, only one of the dragoons remained and his mount had thrown a shoe. Pelet and Richoux dismounted and were guided to the top of a hill by some Portuguese peasants, who were, however, very closed-mouthed even as to the names of the villages in the area.

Being an engineer, Pelet closely inspected the terrain and noted that the French maps were inaccurate and needed to be updated. French troops were occupying the area, and Pelet and Richoux picked up another escort, this time of voltigeurs. These light infantrymen, often called kleine Manner (‘little men’) in contemporary comments, were efficient and excellent escorts for the type of terrain the two staff officers had to negotiate on their reconnaissance.

The defences were extensive, and were manned by both Portuguese and British troops, and they would definitely be a hard nut to crack if Massena chose to assault them. A mixture of fortifications had been constructed – redoubts, lunettes, redans and trenches criss-crossed the rough terrain, and all of them appeared to be mutually supporting.

When he had seen enough, Pelet motioned for them to go, and he and Captain Richoux with their escort of vigilant voltigeurs, made their way back down to friendly territory. Massena would not like their report, but would take it to heart and no doubt, as per his usual practice, he would make his own reconnaissance. Massena was no fool. He was a good commander who could be ruthless when need be, but he would not waste his troops in useless assaults against what appeared to be an impregnable position.

Since the dawn of warfare, man has attempted to protect himself and what is his with some type of fortification. Alexander and his near-invincible Macedonians were successful in the attack of fortified positions, be they temporary or permanent. The Romans were excellent military engineers and understood in depth the defence and attack of places. In the Middle Ages the fortified castle could sometimes withstand a siege, especially if the garrison had enough provisions and access to a potable water supply. With the introduction of gunpowder artillery in the fourteenth century, castles could now be breached more easily, and it was gunpowder artillery manned by the Ottoman Turks that finally defeated the walls of Constantinople in 1453, arguably the most sophisticated defensive system up to that time, the Eastern Romans being the capable inheritors of the Roman ability and flair for military engineering.

Recognizing that modern artillery had rendered the older systems of fortifications obsolete, such military engineers as Vauban and Coehorn developed fortification systems that were lower, harder to breach, and usually were organized and defended in depth.

There are generally speaking two types of fortifications – permanent and temporary. Permanent fortifications usually took the form of the large masonry defences of fortified cities and major fortresses. These required constant maintenance because if left alone they would fall into disrepair. Despite their imposing appearance and apparent strength and impression of solidity, masonry and brick fortifications could be quite fragile. Temporary fortifications took the form of earthworks, and these could be built for use on a battlefield and take the shape of anything from a strong redoubt, to redans, flèches, and lunettes that would be hastily constructed in a battery position by artillery gun crews. Some temporary fortifications could be used as semi-permanent structures, such as those used to fortify a bridgehead, or those made in the breach of a besieged fortress after an artillery bombardment had punched a hole in the curtain wall.

Interestingly, earthworks were also used in permanent fortifications either to enhance the masonry works or to repair them. They were also used to construct new defensive works during a siege to replace works that had been breached or destroyed.

Siege works were also semi-permanent field fortifications and were constructed of earth and wood. Siege batteries would be built of earth reinforced with gabions or wood. Embrasures for the siege guns would be earth reinforced with wood. and the gun platforms inside the works, essential for stable firing positions for siege artillery, were constructed of wood.

Fortresses filled more roles than merely defensive structures. They served as depots and magazines and would be filled with supplies during a campaign, especially along an army’s line of communication. They could be garrisoned by regular troops, but these would usually be forwarded to the field army, and their place taken either by recruits or conscripts who would then complete their training before being sent forward as replacements when needed or requested.

Fortresses were usually ‘easy’ to defend against an attacking or besieging army, and it was a long, tedious process for an army to prepare to besiege a fortress, especially a fortress city. Just to invest and surround a fortress took a large number of troops and units, and it also took time to prepare the siege works. Many times defences had to be prepared by a besieging army to protect itself from an army marching to relieve the siege. Sometimes, sieges would be lifted by the besieging force having to march against an enemy army intent on relieving the fortress, which was done during one of the British sieges of Badajoz in 1811, resulting in the bloody battle of Albuera between Marshal Soult’s French and British General Beresford’s British and Portuguese.

The Fortress

When gunpowder weapons, especially artillery, were developed in the late Middle Ages, all existing fortifications soon became obsolete. What resulted was a new range of permanent and field fortifications which, if not impervious to artillery fire, then at the very least made it more difficult for artillery to breach permanent defences. The use of earthworks became more frequent over the years, but permanent masonry fortifications were developed that would give the defender at least a chance of withstanding modern artillery fire.

Overall, one of the best concepts of defensive works was to construct them in depth which gave the attackers the problem of overcoming defences in layers and in order to accomplish that mission they might incur heavy enough casualties to cause the siege to fail.

The great objective of fortifications and the artillery that one employs as the principal agent of their defence is to make one’s troops, which are inferior in numbers, in morale, or in skill of manoeuvring, more able to resist another’s troops which are superior in one or another of these points. The success of the defence depends, therefore, on the ability of the general, the strength of the fieldworks, the proper disposition of the troops, and the effective use of the artillery.

Permanent defences would begin from the inside and be constructed outward. Geometrical patterns were used to construct bastions along the curtain wall which had interlocking fields of fire against any attacker. In front of the curtain wall, redans would be constructed as outworks, not attached to the bastions or curtain wall. A ditch, either dry or wet, would be constructed in front of the curtain wall and the interlocking bastions. This was designed to impede any infantry assault and would make the curtain wall even taller to the assaulting infantry if they reached the ditch. The ditch might have a palisade in the middle to impede any assault further. Inside the main fortress, a citadel was usually constructed which was the last line refuge for the garrison which they would fall back to if the curtain was breached and the enemy infantry assault was successful.

How the available artillery was employed was critical to the defence of the place:

In the case where one places the cannon at various points in the entrenchments, it will be necessary, as much as possible, that they not get in the way of the infantry, or diminish the execution of their fire. In the entrenchments, as everywhere else, large batteries should not be made, because the enemy can simply avoid them. They often lead to defeat, for they strengthen one point of the line while weakening the rest, which can be all the more dangerous if the number of pieces is very considerable.

Vauban also believed that artillery was critical for the defence of a fortress and should be the main emphasis by the defenders. He also pushed for the development and production of iron fortress pieces, as iron was much less expensive than bronze, but his recommendations were ignored by the Duc de Main, who was the Grand Master of the Artillery during that period.

Finally, it should be stressed that ‘The science of fortification was by no means unknown and uncultivated long before … Vauban.’ The first publication describing a complete system of fortification was written by Errard de Barleduc who served Henry IV, the first Bourbon king of France. Subsequently, the Chevalier Antoine de Ville wrote a treatise of fortification while serving Louis XIII as an engineer. De Ville’s methods were termed ‘the French system’ and he was not only a theorist, but a practitioner. The ‘Dutch system’ was developed by Samuel Marollois, whose writings influenced Maurice of Nassau.

The Count de Pagan was Vauban’s ‘direct ancestor’ in the science of siege warfare and probably served as a model for Vauban. Pagan was both experienced and knowledgeable and his conduct of sieges during the reign of Louis XIII was successful. Pagan’s system was ‘improved upon by Alain Manesson Mallet, and his construction of fortification is … looked upon as the most perfect’ and was little different from Vauban’s first system and was probably the model for it.

Menno, Baron Coehorn, the great Dutch engineer and contemporary of Vauban, has already been mentioned; he was at the same time general of artillery and lieutenant general of infantry in the Dutch service. He was also Director General ‘of all the fortified places belonging to the United Provinces’. Coehorn was noted as being ‘intelligent and sagacious’, as well as ‘thoroughly convinced, that, however expensively the rampart of a town may be constructed, it could not long sustain the shock of heavy ordnance’ and he ‘invented three different systems, by which he throws so many obstacles in the way of a besieging enemy, that, although the place be not in reality rendered impregnable, it is nevertheless so far secured as to make its conquest a business of considerable hazard and expense’. It should also be noted that Coehorn designed his systems to defend Holland, a country that is generally flat and level and so could tailor his fortifications to that one reality. Vauban did not have that luxury. When the two actually faced each other in the attack and defence of places, at the siege of Namur in 1692, Vauban’s system proved to be superior to Coehorn’s.

While fortresses were not the main focus of campaigns during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, they were still useful in a number of ways. Holding key fortresses in an occupied territory or country was a constant reminder to the population at large that there was a garrison, usually a large one, that could become hostile and a major problem in the event of hostilities.

Occupying and maintaining fortresses in one’s own nation provided a shield or covering force behind which the army could mobilize and take the field. Well-garrisoned and provisioned fortresses supplied with enough artillery could pose a major problem to an invading army, usually so much that forces had to be left behind, or the enemy commander believed that they had to be left behind, to invest the fortress and either nullify it or take it. This could lead to the invading army’s strength being depleted to such a point as to leave it too weak when it finally came up against the defending army.

Fortresses also provided a safe and sheltered environment where recently conscripted units could complete their training before becoming part of the field army. And those garrisons of conscripts could be a reassuring reminder both for the native population and the enemy that the garrison could become a hostile force if provoked. Napoleon used this approach during his campaigns.

Coastal Defences

Coastal defences were necessary for the protection of naval bases, ports, and other facilities deemed essential. The fortifications were usually nothing out of the ordinary and generally followed the patterns developed by inland fortifications other than that they also had to be able to defend themselves against attacking ships if necessary.

One interesting development by the British was the Martello Tower. Built on the coastline, these were round, two-storey masonry structures with a flat roof, upon which would typically be placed one coastal defence piece, either a naval long gun or a carronade. The piece was usually put on a traversing gun carriage that could be pointed in any direction in a full circle. They could be a standalone work, or be coordinated with other defensive measures and they were built in Britain, Canada, and other places in the British Empire. While small and usually armed with only one garrison piece, they were quite innovative, easy to build and man, and if nothing else could provide early warning of a naval or land attack.

Coastal defence ordnance was normally, but not always, of the iron naval type. The gun carriages used with the ordnance could be of several types, including the standard naval gun carriage of the truck type, the traversing carriage, or the older slide carriage. Mortars could also be used in the defence of ports and naval bases.

The Third Reich’s Battleship Ambitions

In what was a time of general Allied distress at sea. In the European Theater, the notorious Channel Dash of 11-13 February 1942, by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with an escort of destroyers and aircraft, might be termed a comedy of errors but for the great loss of life-almost all British. Both German warships slipped from their French bases, steamed through the English Channel past slack British defenses, and found haven in Germany. It was the first time since 1588 than an enemy fleet had managed to pass through the English Channel. This, after the Royal Navy had been at war at sea for more than two years. Two days later, on the other side of the world, Singapore ignominiously capitulated.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Scharnhorst: sunk by HMS Duke of York and others off North Cape, Norway, 26 December 1943. Gneisenau: self-scuttled 28 March 1945 as block ship after being badly damaged by RAF attacks.

KMS Scharnhorst

KMS Scharnhorst was planned as the Ersatz Elsass, fourth of a class of six planned ‘pocket battleships’. By 1933, however, the weaknesses of the ‘pocket battleship’ or Panzerschiffe were so obvious that Hitler gave the German navy permission to expand the design to 26,000 tons as a reply to the French Dunkerque.

It was hoped to arm the ship with three twin 380-mm (15-in) turrets, but to save time three triple 280-mm (11-in) turrets were used. The design was nominally of 26,000 tons, but had reached 32,000 tons; to conceal the size of the new battle-cruiser the Kriegsmarine continued to quote the lower figure.

For most of her active life the Scharnhorst operated with her sister KMS Gneisenau, and both ships made forays into the North Atlantic in 1940-1. The Scharnhorst was badly damaged by a torpedo fired by the destroyer HMS Acasta while attacking the carrier HMS Glorious in June 1940.

Although the two ships posed a considerable threat to the British while lying at Brest in 1941 and the repeated raids by the Royal Air Force were far too inaccurate to do any serious damage, Hitler felt the two units were too exposed, and ordered them to return. Operation ‘Cerberus’, the daylight dash through the English Channel in February 1942, was probably the Kriegsmarine’s greatest success, for it took the British completely by surprise, the two battle-cruisers and the heavy cruiser Prinze Eugen slipping past ineffectual air and sea attacks. Apart from slight damage to Scharnhorst from a magnetic mine during the final phase it had been a humiliation for the British and proof that audacity pays.

After repairs lasting until August 1942 the ship was sent to Norway in March 1943. She took part in the raid on Spitzbergen in September but otherwise lay in a remote fjord until December 1943, when Admiral Donitz ordered her to sea for an attack on a British convoy.

Germany, stripped of its World War I-era dreadnoughts, had only two true battleships between 1919 and the early 1930s: Schleswig- Holstein and Schlesien, pre-World War I relics that the victors had grudgingly allowed for coastal defense, presumably against the resurgent Poles (the sister ship Hannover was still in existence but apparently not in active service). Schleswig-Holstein does, however, have a claim to dubious fame: By opening fire on the Polish fortifications at Westerplatte (Danzig) at 4:45 A. M. on the morning of 1 September 1939, this elderly battleship fired the first shot of World War II. (The three units of the even older Braunschweig class [Hessen, Braunschweig, and Elsass] were rebuilt as coast-defense battle- ships and reequipped with 280mm and 170mm guns. Only Elsass, converted into a target vessel, survived into the 1930s and beyond.)

In early 1942, after repeated British bombing raids, the two ships made a daylight dash up the English Channel from occupied France to Germany. In early 1943, Scharnhorst joined the Bismarck-class battleshipTirpitz in Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. Scharnhorst and several destroyers sortied from Norway to attack a convoy, but British naval patrols intercepted the German force. During the Battle of the North Cape (26 December 1943), the Royal Navy battleship HMS Duke of York and her escorts sank Scharnhorst. Only 36 men were rescued, out of a crew of 1,968.

It was a badly planned operation, and the Scharnhorst failed in her attempt to brush aside the destroyers and cruisers escorting the convoy. In- competent reconnaissance by the Luftwaffe left her with no idea that the battleship HMS Duke of York was closing fast, and she was taken by surprise when 356-mm (14-in) shells started to hit her. She disengaged but the British and Norwegian destroyers slowed her down with torpedoes, allowing the Duke of York to pound her again. She was finally sunk by torpedoes from HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica and went down with the loss of all but 46 of 1,840 men on board.

‘Scharnhorst immer voran’ (‘Ever onwards’)

The Third Reich’s battleship ambitions were every bit as grandiose as those of any other naval power. Germany’s naval chief, Eric Raeder, was in close harmony with Adolf Hitler’s global goals. Raeder and Hitler foresaw Germany eventually going to war with Great Britain, the United States, and even Japan, and envisioned a fleet for those eventualities. As a temporary deterrent to Great Britain, the aborted Plan Z (1939) envisioned 10 (some sources say six) super- Bismarcks of 56,000 tons, three battle cruisers, four aircraft carriers, and 249 submarines, with top priority over air force and army requirements, all to be completed in six years. Plan Z was the basis for the even larger blue-water battleship-based navy programs of 1940 and 1941, drawn up to take on the rest of the world’s major naval powers and featuring capital ships of 98,000-141,500 tons armed with 20-inch guns. It is also indicative of German battleship- mindedness that its navy never completed an aircraft carrier.

Thanks to post-World War I Allied policies, the Third Reich entered World War II with only fast and modern battleships (not counting those two nearly-valueless pre-dreadnoughts). Its three pocket battleships laid down in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and thus predating Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933) were Lutzow, Admiral Scheer, and Admiral Graf Spee. (Lutzow was originally named Deutschland, but Hitler, worried about the domestic reaction if a warship named after the German nation were sunk, ordered it re- named.) Although high speed was supposed to be the main advantage of these small capital ships, their average of 28 knots was soon enough surpassed by the following Scharnhorst class’s 32 knots. Nonetheless, the Deutschlands/Lutzows, a well-balanced pioneering design, served as the embryo of many later, much larger warships, such as the Scharnhorst class, and Germany’s first and only true post-World War I first-class battleships (Bismarck and Tirpitz), as well as for the Royal Navy’s King George V class, and even for the last three U. S. Navy battleship classes. The Lutzows were also no- table for their pioneering of welded construction and unique diesel propulsion, the latter a feature never repeated in any other capital ship. They could also be called cruisers (and were actually reclassified in 1940 as heavy cruisers), but their six 11-inch guns were not matched in any other cruiser until the U. S. Alaskas, which were officially classified by the U. S. Navy as large cruisers. Whatever the nomenclature, these were the Kriegsmarine’s most successful heavy units. Specifically designed as commerce raiders that were to be more powerful than any faster warship, the three destroyed some 300,000 tons of Allied shipping. Thus the Scharnhorsts and the Lutzow/Deutschlands did what battle cruisers were supposed to do- attack enemy commerce-and avoided what battle cruisers were supposed to avoid-enemy battleships-something the Royal Navy, to its cost, never learned.

The Scharnhorsts (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) were both laid down in 1935. There is little question that these two units were true battleships, but even with more than twice the displacement of the Lutzows, they mounted only the same 11-inch main guns. The German admiralty planned to up-gun these warships at the beginning of World War II, but the complexity and the costs not only of the bigger guns themselves but also of their intricate mountings precluded this proposal in the German Navy (or in any other navy, for that matter).

Bismarck and Tirpitz were the last and by far the most powerful battleships built by Germany. Although nominally still bound by the London Naval Agreement, they exceeded its tonnage limitations by a wide margin. In this case “wide” can be taken literally; they were the broadest-beamed of any contemporary capital ship, which gave them outstanding stability. (Only the aborted U. S. Montanas would have measured wider.) Their intricate internal subdivision made them extraordinarily difficult to sink. Yet at the end of the war, and in sharp contrast to World War I, not one German capital ship survived to be turned over to the Allies.

PLAN ‘Z’

Germany’s Masterly Deception I

Germany’s Masterly Deception II

Bomber Command’s offensive against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau 1941

Americans in Vercors I

The OSS Special Operations and Operational Groups teams were involved in supporting the Maquis of Vercors during one of the best-known and much discussed episodes of the French Resistance during World War II. Vercors is a plateau situated in the pre-Alps region between the cities of Valence and Grenoble, about one hundred miles south of Lyon. Thirty miles long from north to south and twelve miles wide east to west, Vercors is a formidable natural fortress. To get inside it, an enemy had to go through an outer ring of obstacles formed by the rivers Isère, Drôme, and Drar. Next, he had to cross mountain ranges up to six thousand feet high that formed a perimeter over one hundred miles long around the plateau. At that time only eight roads led into Vercors, each of them with hairpin turns and narrow passes carved into the sides of the mountain that a defender could easily keep under surveillance, control, and if necessary destroy to prevent the advance of the enemy.

After the Franco-German armistice of June 25, 1940, Vercors remained in the area of France controlled by the Vichy government, although the Germans controlled Grenoble, the main city at the northern entrance of the plateau. Being at the boundary of German-occupied zone and due to the remoteness of its geography, Vercors became a place of refuge for people on the run, including political refugees, French Jews escaping arrest, and former French soldiers who did not want to serve under the Vichy regime. The plateau came under the influence of the movement Franc Tireurs, founded in Lyon in 1941 and one of several resistance organizations that arose in France at the time. Franc Tireurs, or “free shooters,” was a term used in France since the early 1800s to indicate irregular soldiers who fought behind enemy lines. In Vercors, their actions began with publishing and distributing leaflets against the Vichy policies and inciting passive resistance to the government directives.

The decision of Hitler and Mussolini to occupy the south of France after the Allied landings in North Africa on November 10, 1942, caused an influx of men to the Maquis of Vercors. The majority of them took to the mountains to evade the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO), or Compulsory Work Service, the mandatory labor service instituted in France that sent hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen to work in Germany. The newly arrived were young, the majority between nineteen and twenty-three years of age, and without any combat experience. They came from all walks of life, had varied motivations, and were affiliated with movements across the French political spectrum. Some attempts to homogenize the members of the Maquis were made by equipes volantes, or roaming teams of political agitators, who were mostly socialist-leaning members of the Franc Tireurs movement interested in keeping other resistance factions from establishing a following in Vercors. The military preparation of the new arrivals was limited to studying a manual on guerrilla warfare assembled from instructions on the use of irregular troops issued by the French Ministry of Defense before the war. They also underwent physical training despite the winter conditions and the fact that most of them wore city clothes not appropriate for life in the mountains.

By the end of winter 1942–1943, four to five hundred members of the Maquis had settled in a dozen camps around Vercors. Their main preoccupation at the time was to secure provisions, including bread, meat, and tobacco. Most of the veterans remembered the time in these camps as mostly spent in boredom, filled with the drudgery of fetching water, collecting firewood, and pulling kitchen duty. They launched some raids to secure arms and munitions, but those remained marginal and most of the actions were against Italian depots to secure provisions. Here is how Gilbert François remembered the life in one of the camps:

When it was sunny, you could see a small flock being taken to pasture in the morning and back to the stables in the evening, men lying in the shade, others toasting in the sun, in other words, a vacation colony for unemployed youth. This is what a solitary traveler would have seen venturing in that abandoned landscape. We did water duty, vegetable cleaning duty, cutting down trees, killing and preparing animals; and then there were alerts, raids in Jossaud [the nearby village], and so on.

As long as the Maquisards remained in their camps and limited their actions to raids on supply depots, the Italians were happy to confine their actions to the discovery and collection of arms and ammunition dumps hidden in caves around the area. Occasional hits against Italian soldiers triggered raids on the Maquis camps or nearby villages, but no reprisals against civilians ever occurred. Both sides had developed an unspoken mutual warning system to signal each other’s presence and avoid head-on confrontations. For example, on March 18, 1943, two hundred Italian soldiers left Grenoble headed toward a Maquis camp. They sang all the way to ensure that there was no surprise whatsoever in their arrival. The outcome of the operation was four Maquisards arrested. One of the leaders of the Maquis of Vercors, Eugène Samuel, later wrote that this relaxed behavior of the Italian army created bad habits among the Resistance members. When the Germans took the place of the Italians, the Maquisards learned the hard way to be more disciplined and paid the price whenever they displayed reckless temerity.

The fight against the Maquis was primarily the responsibility of the Fascist secret police, the Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism. Using a network of informers in the area, OVRA was able to arrest the original founders of the Maquis, which left the movement leaderless for a while and severed its connections with other Resistance groups in France and the Free French in London and Algiers.

At the end of June 1943, a new generation of leaders stepped up to reorganize the Maquis of Vercors. They embraced a strategic plan, known as Plan Montagnards, or Highlanders Plan, that envisioned two ways in which the Maquis could engage the Germans. In the first one, “Vercors would serve as a center of unrest and refuge for guerrilla fighters who, at the opportune moment, would attack railways, roads, bridges, electrical lines, and industrial plants in the area. The area would be a launching point for incursions in the rear of the German armies only at the time when they began their withdrawal from the Rhône valley.” The second option, the most audacious one, envisioned “the transformation of the plateau of Vercors into an aircraft carrier docked on dry land.” Under this option, the main task of the Maquisards would be to clear and prepare areas where Allied airplanes and parachutists could land.

The leaders of Vercors found a way to brief the French leaders in Algiers about Plan Montagnards. They received the response over the airwaves when the BBC broadcast the message “Les montagnards doivent continuer a gravir les cimes,” or “The highlanders should continue to climb the summits.” It meant that the plan was approved. No further instructions arrived to indicate which of the two options was seen as more favorable, although during a clandestine visit in Vercors, a senior French officer from Algiers made it clear that “without artillery, or mortars as a minimum, there is no hope to hold the plateau for long” in the event of an attack.

After the fall of Mussolini on July 25, 1943, and the signing of the armistice between Italy and the Allies on September 8, Vercors came under the 157th Reserve Division of the Wehrmacht, a unit created in November 1939 in Munich from local recruits from Bavaria. It had been located in southeast France since the fall of 1942 and did not have the combat experience that had hardened other German troops, such as deployments in the Eastern Front or in the Balkans. The division was under the commanded of General Karl Pflaum, a career officer of the German military establishment since 1910. Pflaum, born in 1890, had become a captain in 1921 and a colonel in 1937. He became general in 1941 and commanded the 258th Infantry Division in the battles for Moscow between October 1941 and January 1942.

The Germans replaced OVRA with the Gestapo and the Milice Française, or French Militia, the dreaded paramilitary force of the Vichy regime. Known simply as the Milice, the French Resistance feared it even more than the Gestapo and the SS for its ruthlessness and cruelty. The Gestapo and the Milice quickly showed that they would not tolerate any acts of defiance in the area. On November 11, 1943, when two thousand men marched to the monument of the fallen in Grenoble to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the French victory in 1918, Gestapo and French police surrounded them and deported four hundred marchers to Buchenwald. The resistance responded by sabotaging railroad and electricity lines, killing Milice members, and blowing up a depot with two hundred tons of artillery munitions.

The Germans countered with Operation Grenoble, executed between November 25 and 30, during which they arrested, killed, or deported most of the resistance leaders in the area. It became known as the “bloody week” or the Saint Bartholomew Massacre of Grenoble. On January 22, 1944, about three hundred Germans responded strongly to a strike by the Maquis two days earlier that had blocked one of the gorges leading into Vercors. The Germans easily broke through their positions and moved in the village of Chapelle-en-Vercors, forty miles south of Grenoble, where they burned down half of the houses in reprisal. On January 29, the Germans attacked the Maquis at Malleval, thirty miles south of Lyon on the opposite side of the plateau. A French survivor of that engagement recalled later how the inexperienced Maquisards had fallen into a lethal trap while advancing single file to meet the enemy. A well-positioned machine gun opened up on them. About thirty Maquisards died and only five or six were able to escape the massacre. The Germans burned the village to the ground.

It became clear to the Maquis leaders that the numerous camps where the Maquisards had spent the winter had become targets for the Germans and created a great risk for the civilians around them who kept these camps provisioned. A vast difference of opinions existed on whether it was best to reinforce these camps with heavy weapons that the Allies would send or to abandon them. Although all the Resistance military groups had been unified since February 1, 1944, under the French Forces of the Interior (FFI), reaching a consensus on the best way forward was very hard. Reflecting on the fate of the Maquis groups recently attacked, the FFI commander for Vercors, Albert Chambonnet, known as Didier, advised all Maquisards to “not engage in frontal battles. Be flexible, fall back, and conduct guerrilla actions without mercy against the flanks of the enemy.” At the end of March, Didier ordered the camps abandoned and the men spread around Vercors in what he called “a state of dispersed defense.”

In early January 1944, the Maquis of Vercors came into contact with the Union mission, the first inter-allied team to be sent to France as a precursor to the Jedburgh teams that would follow after the invasion began. The team was led by British Colonel H. A. A. Thackthwaite and included American Captain Peter J. Ortiz of the OSS and the French radio operator André Foucault. The team parachuted on the night of January 6–7, 1944, near St. Nazaire-en-Royans, in the outskirts of the Vercors plateau, halfway between Valence and Grenoble. Within a few weeks, they had established contacts with the military leaders of the area from the French-Italian border to Lyon and impressed upon them that the main task of the Maquis at the time was to prepare for guerrilla activities on or after D-Day.

Mission Union spend considerable amount of time in Vercors, which had the widest concentration of Maquisards in the area. They advised the French leaders to adopt a mobile defense, which meant letting the Germans move freely by day and attacking their flanks and rear by night. They reported to the Special Forces Headquarters in England that there was the potential to mobilize up to three thousand Maquisards in Vercors; five hundred men were already active and lightly armed. There were many former French military among the Maquisards, with experience and training in the use of heavy arms, who could form strong fighting groups if supplied with mortars, machine guns, and other heavy weapons. When Mission Union returned to England at the end of May, they prepared detailed accounts of their activities and were debriefed for days. “Vercors has a very finely organized army,” they wrote, “but their supplies, though plentiful, are not what they need; they need long distance weapons and antitank weapons.”

The Allies had developed elaborate plans to activate all the resistance networks and Maquis groups in France in a general national insurrection against the Germans to coincide with the landings in the Normandy beaches on D-Day. On June 1, 1944, at 1330 hours, the BBC began broadcasting one hundred and sixty so-called personal messages, which were in effect code words alerting their groups throughout France to prepare for action. The messages were repeated at 1430, 1730, and 2115 hours of that day and then again at the same times on June 2. Then, there was nothing on June 3, 4, and during the day on June 5. Finally, at 2115 hours on June 5, the BBC broadcast for sixteen minutes the code words for action directed at the twelve regional organizations of the French Forces of the Interior and sixty-one Resistance circuits controlled by the Allied Special Forces Headquarters.

The code words for the Maquis of Vercors were “Le chamois des Alpes bondit,” or “The goat of the Alps leaps.” Those for the Drôme department in which the lower half of the Vercors resides were “Dans la forêt verte est un grand arbre,” or “There is a great tree in the green forest.” The military and political leaders of the Resistance received these calls to action with enthusiasm, believing that the moment had arrived to execute the Plan Montagnards, mobilize the population, and close Vercors to the Germans. They believed that “Vercors is the only Maquis in the whole of France, which has been given the mission to set up its own free territory. It will receive the arms, ammunition, and troops which will allow it to be the advance guard of a landing in Provence. It is not impossible that de Gaulle himself will land here to make his first proclamation to the French people.”

Calls went out to all nearby cities and villages for volunteers to join the Maquis camps in Vercors. The Communist Party printed and distributed leaflets in Grenoble calling for its supporters to take up arms. “Don’t wait any longer to join the battle. There is no D-day or H-hour for those who want to free the homeland. Let’s create everywhere combat groups to support the movement and to defend ourselves against the Boches and the murderous miliciens.” The calls were met with great enthusiasm. Within days, the number of Maquisards in the mountains increased tenfold to several thousand. This sudden influx of newcomers in the ranks of the Maquis created immediate problems: they had to be armed, fed, clothed, supplied, and trained before they could engage the enemy. Paradoxically, it worked to the benefit of the Germans who preferred to have the Maquisards concentrated in the mountains, away from the cities and main communication arteries, rather than wreaking havoc in their rear areas.

The problems were not limited to Vercors but extended throughout France. An intelligence report of the French Forces of the Interior on June 13 warned:

The ranks have grown considerably and the recruitment cannot be stopped. Those who have arms do not have sufficient ammunition. If a considerable effort is not carried out, we will witness the massacre of the French resistance.

All the partisan groups throughout France demand the same thing: arms, ammunition, money, medications. All claim to have permanent parachuting areas that they control where supplies can be sent day or night, with or without prearranged signals.

FFI tried to stop the rush to insurrection especially when reports of German atrocities and reprisals began arriving. The Germans recovered quickly from their initial surprise on D-Day and moved swiftly to restore order. Reinforcement divisions on their way to Normandy often went out of the way to sweep the areas of Maquisards and leaving a swath of blood on their wake. On June 9, in the city of Tulle, ninety-nine hostages were hanged from trees and balconies. On June 10, the Germans massacred and burned alive 634 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane, twenty miles northwest of Limoges.

On June 10, General Koenig issued the following clandestine order to his subordinates in France: “Rein in to the maximum guerrilla activity. Impossible at this time to provide you with arms and ammunition in sufficient quantities. Break contact with the enemy everywhere to reorganize. Avoid big gatherings. Operate in small isolated groups.” On June 17, Koenig further instructed to avoid gatherings around armed groupings of elements who were not armed and ready to fight. The focus of the guerrilla had to shift away from mobilizing the population in general insurrection and toward classical objectives such as disrupting enemy communications, railroad traffic, and long-distance telephone lines.

The efforts to throttle back the enthusiasm of the Maquis had little effect in Vercors. On July 3, 1944, the civilian authorities in the massif announced the restoration of the French republic in Vercors. A proclamation posted in all the towns and villages of the area informed the citizens that “starting from this day, the decrees of Vichy are abolished and all the laws of the republic have been restored…. People of Vercors, it is among you that the great Republic is being born again. You can be proud of yourself. We are certain that you will know how to defend it…. Long live the French Republic. Long live France. Long live General de Gaulle.” The flux of would-be fighters from the cities continued. Most of them had little experience and there were many who had never fired a weapon.

An initial conflagration with the Germans, a harbinger of things to come, did not bode well for the Maquis of Vercors. On June 10, two companies of German soldiers attacked Saint-Nizier, a key mountain pass in the northern extremity of the Vercors, which dominated the city of Grenoble in the valley below, only a few miles to the northeast. Saint-Nizier was an excellent observation point for all the automobile and railroad traffic into and out of Grenoble. The Maquisards holding the pass had little military experience but were able to hold out for several hours until more seasoned and better-equipped men arrived from other camps. The Germans retreated but returned on June 15. This time, there were between 1,000 and 1,500 German soldiers against 300 Maquisards stretched along a front of 2.5 miles. Within a few hours, the Germans broke through their defenses, entered the town, and burned it down.

Throughout June, the Germans assembled forces and equipment for the final assault on Vercors, which they gave the code name Operation Bettina. Over 1,500 reinforcements arrived in Valence, a city west of Vercors, among them troops specialized in mountain fighting and anti-guerrilla operations. Seventy airplanes and armored equipment were positioned at the airfield of Chabeuil, just south of Valence. General Pflaum took special care in retraining and preparing the 157th Reserve Division for the upcoming battle. He restructured the division around mobile columns who could operate more effectively in Maquis territory. He supervised personally the instruction of each unit of infantry and insisted on special drills at night and in camouflage. He was able to change completely the division’s state of mind, which resulted in a marked improvement in the ability of his soldiers to fight.

The German preparations did not go unnoticed by the French Maquisards. Spotters observing the German movements from the mountains reported in detail the preparations to the Vercors military commanders. They in turn sent appeals for help of increasing intensity to their superiors in Algiers and London.

To strengthen the Maquis of Vercors and to coordinate guerrilla attacks against the German lines of communications, the OSS dispatched a team, code-named Justine, of two officers and thirteen enlisted men from the French OGs based in Algiers. Captain Vernon G. Hoppers and First Lieutenant Chester L. Myers led the team. They left Algiers in the evening of June 28 and reached the designated drop zone near Vassieux at 0100 hours on June 29. The sky was clear, the weather was calm, and the entire team parachuted in perfect form to the reception area organized by the Maquis on the ground. They moved all the containers dropped with them to a farmhouse nearby and began distributing the supplies to the Maquisards.

They had been there for a few minutes when the excited Frenchmen brought in another five parachutists. They belonged to an inter-allied team, code name Eucalyptus, commanded by British Major Desmond Lange. It included another British officer, Captain John Houseman, two Frenchmen of the FFI, and a French-American member of the OSS Special Operations branch, First Lieutenant André E. Pecquet, the radio operator of the team. The French reception committee and the villagers were impressed and excited by the presence of twenty Allied soldiers in their midst. They served coffee, dark bread, and rich butter, which everyone took with gusto. The paratroopers passed around their cigarettes and a lively conversation ensued. After a while, vehicles arrived to transport the paratroopers—a smart private car for the Eucalyptus team and a special bus for the American OGs. They were taken to Vassieux and accommodated in villagers’ houses where they were able to rest for a few hours.

The next day, Commandant François Huet, the Maquis leader in the area, arrived early. He had coffee with the paratroopers and asked them to attend the hoisting of the flag, a short ceremony that nevertheless astonished the new arrivals for the strict military procedure with which it was conducted. Houseman described in his diary what happened next:

On the way back the people of the village had turned out to welcome us. We were shaken by the hand a score of times. The children kissed us, and the infants were held up also to be kissed. Bouquets were pressed into our arms—the whole unrehearsed greeting was very touching. They behaved as though our very arrival had liberated them from the burdens and fears of occupation.

The two teams began conducting their assigned missions immediately. Eucalyptus acted as liaison between the Vercors commanders and the Special Forces Headquarters in London. The OGs began training the Maquisards on the use of British and American equipment at hand and in planning strikes against the Germans. The news of the arrival of the Allied paratroopers spread fast, and the FFI commanders wanted them to visit the area to boost the morale and confidence of the Maquisards. On June 30, Captain Hoppers and a corporal from Team Justine, Houseman from Eucalyptus, and a Maquisard escort went on a three-day “see and be seen” tour in the southern part of Vercors in the department of Drôme.

In contrast with the sharp-looking military personnel in Vassieux, the Maquisards in these areas were “young and middle aged men, tough and rough-looking from months of hard living, some dressed in what remained of their wartime uniform, others in any civilian clothes they had managed to scrounge.” They had only a fair supply of arms, ammunition, and explosives. Throughout the villages they visited, they—the first Allied officers to visit the area—were treated as the saviors of France. People simply did not know how to express their delight and gratitude. Houseman wrote about the reception they received in the town of Aouste, the last town they visited at the southern end of the Vercors massif:

As we entered by some smallish streets I happened to see a young girl staring at us—she stared for a moment only. Turning round on her bicycle she shot off into the town itself—the news was out. No town crier can have had such a response.

We stopped at a small shop and shook hands (I think we were kissed as well) with the people inside. Wine appeared, and I had scarcely raised my glass, when I heard a seething mob outside in the street—the people of Aouste had come immediately to welcome us. They surged round us, shaking our hands and hugging us—all were talking at once, and my very poor French met its Waterloo. Armed with flowers and carrying children, they kept on streaming in, telling us of their experiences, asking us when the invasion armies would come and thanking us time and again for coming to their country and to their town. The bouquets of red, white and blue flowers by now covered the large table in the shop—more wine was brought up and the children reappeared with red, white and blue ribbons in their hair.

After an hour or so we left the shop to make what proved to be nothing less than a regal procession through the town. We had to walk at the head of this excited ever-growing crowd along the main street to an outpost at the far side of the town. Men saluted us, the women clapped, children ran to kiss us and give us more flowers to carry. People rushed into the road and held up the cavalcade to grasp us by the hand and to embrace us. On our way back, an elderly woman ran across the road with tears in her eyes, to tell me about a relation she had lost and to ask the ever-expectant question “when will the invasion from the south begin?”

Upon return of the inspection group to Vassieux, both teams, Justine and Eucalyptus, reported through their channels the need to send arms and supplies to Vercors. They also advised the FFI military staff on measures they could take to strengthen the ranks and discipline of the Maquisards. In early July, Commandant Huet decided to militarize the volunteer force and return to the military tradition of regular troop units. “In the past two years,” Huet wrote to his subordinates, “the flags, the standards, the pennants of our regiments and our battalions have been asleep. Now, with a magnificent drive, France has risen against the invader. The old French army that has shone in the course of centuries will reclaim its place in the nation.”

The old camps and companies of civilians were reorganized into alpine battalions and even an armored battalion, which included a section of irregular African riflemen from Senegal. Efforts were made to standardize the uniforms, using in part battle dress uniforms that had arrived with teams Justine and Eucalyptus. Requests were made to send more uniforms as well. In a report to London, Lieutenant Pecquet, the French-American radio operator of Eucalyptus, said that proper uniforms were a question of self-respect for the French, who were very sensible to the enemy propaganda that described the Maquisards as terrorists.

Americans in Vercors II

In the first days of July, Eucalyptus settled at the Huet’s headquarters in Saint-Martin-en-Vercors, twelve miles north of Vassieux. The team became the primary channel of communication between Huet and the outside world, with Pacquet exchanging hundreds of messages with Algiers and London. On the other hand, Captain Hoppers and the OGs of Team Justine took a much more visible role among the Maquis as they began preparing their first action against the Germans. They also equipped and trained a group of Maquisards to add strengths to their own group.

The French proposed a location suitable for an ambush at the southeastern extremity of Vercors, near the village of Lus-la-Croix-Haute, about forty-five miles south of Grenoble. On July 7, Hoppers and his men travelled to that location, a strip of road about three hundred yards long, shaped like a horseshoe and flanked on the east by an escarpment thirty feet high. It was perfect for an L-shaped ambush. On the short end of the L the OGs placed only two men armed with a bazooka and a Browning machine gun. The remainder of the group took positions along the long end the L. After waiting for about an hour, they saw a column of six trucks and a bus carrying about 120 Germans approaching. A bazooka round hit and disabled the leading truck as it came around the bend of the road. The machine gun fire stopped the second truck that attempted to drive around the disabled truck. The remainder of the convoy had nowhere to go and came under a barrage of fire from the OGs and the Maquisards lined up along the kill zone. Particularly effective were Gammon grenades, bags of canvas-like material and a fuse, which the OGs filled with one pound of C-2 explosives and one pound of scrap iron. The Gammon grenade was activated by removing the fuse and throwing the bag toward the enemy. Upon impact, it exploded, sending shrapnel in all directions and killing or maiming everyone in the vicinity.

In true guerrilla fashion, the attack ended almost as soon as it began. By the time the Germans had taken cover, set up mortars, and began to return fire, Hoppers gave the order to withdraw to the prearranged rendezvous point ten miles from the ambush location. They had destroyed three trucks and one bus, killed sixty Germans and wounded another twenty-five. One Maquisard was killed in action, and another one was missing. The next day, they learned that the Germans had captured the wounded Frenchman and had tortured him to death in front of the villagers of Lus-la-Croix-Haute.

This operation was the only successful combat operation the Maquisards had conducted since the Germans had dislodged them from Saint-Nizier near Grenoble. It added to the fascination the Maquisards had developed with the Americans’ appearance, their weapons, and the aura of abundance and modernity that seemed to surround them. It also added further credit to rumors of a massive arrival of Allied soldiers in Vercors, rumors that puzzled Pecquet who wondered about their precise origin in a report to Algiers. The diary of Henri Audra from the town of Die, about twenty miles south of Vassieux, allows us to trace the progression of these rumors among the population of the area. On June 19, he noted, “the imminent parachuting of 2,000 Canadians coming to support the dissidents in Vercors.” On June 25, hearing airplanes flying overhead, he wrote, “most certainly, they are parachuting the Canadians we have been expecting for several days.” On July 10, he noted that he saw passing though the town “trucks carrying Canadians to attack a German convoy.” Then, on July 13, he noted that it was not Canadians after all, but “Americans from New York!”

The Germans were well informed of such rumors, as well. In its orders for the final preparations for Operation Bettina, issued on July 8, 1944, the headquarters of Army Group B responsible for defending South France said:

The concentration of important enemy troops in the zone of Vercors, their increasing equipment with heavy weapons, their probable reinforcement by Canadian paratroopers, and a considerable number of enemy forces expected to be transported by air in the plateau of Vassieux, make us think that in case of further landings by the enemy we should expect greater offensive actions launched from this region aiming to occupy Valence and the valley of Rhone, and perhaps at the same time to take the city of Grenoble.

The Germans tightened the stranglehold on the region in preparation for the final assault. General Pflaum began concentrating his men for the attack on Vercors. He set the D-day for operation Bettina on July 21, 1944. The initial striking point would be the town of Vassieux. The German soldiers were ordered to “hit fast and hard” and to show no mercy because Vassieux harbored the supreme command of the Resistance and considerable forces protecting it. The Luftwaffe flew multiple reconnaissance missions every day over the plateau photographing the terrain, roads, towns and villages.

Through communications with Team Eucalyptus, French authorities in Algiers sent warnings to the leaders of Vercors to expect a major attack at almost any moment. Local intelligence services of the Maquis confirmed this information: three German divisions were closing in on Vercors from Valence, Romans-sur-Isère, and Grenoble. The command of Vercors issued a general mobilization order on July 11. Six hundred men volunteered as laborers to prepare an airfield in Vassieux where Allies could land troops and supplies if they decided to come. Another one thousand men were called to the colors, but arming and equipping them remained a problem.

On July 12, the Germans were on the move. Chapelle-en-Vercors, in the heart of the plateau, was bombed on July 12 and 13 while surveillance airplanes flew over the plateau constantly during that time. In the evening of July 13, London sent word to expect a mass parachute drop the next day. On July 14, Bastille Day, at 0900 hours, eighty-five Flying Fortresses flew in formation over Vassieux in three waves and dropped 1,457 containers with red-white-and-blue parachutes in honor of France’s national holiday. The inhabitants of Vassieux celebrated in the streets, waiving at the planes and thanking the members of Eucalyptus and Justine for their efforts.

It was a sight to celebrate, but the joy was short-lived. Thirty minutes later, German airplanes began to bomb and strafe the town, and continued to do so for three days in a row, from dawn until well into the evening hours. The Germans used explosives during the day and incendiaries in the evening. The town was set ablaze, and the planes machine-gunned people trying to salvage belongings out of their homes. By July 16, Vassieux was completely in ruins, and the Germans began to destroy Chapelle-en-Vercors, seven miles to the south. From all the containers dropped to them, the Maquisards were able to retrieve only about two hundred during the night.

On July 17, the 157th Reserve Division and selected mobile units of the Ninth Panzer Division moved in on the Vercors triangle and began engaging the Maquisards at a number of outposts and mountain passes. The bombing and strafing of the towns and villages continued incessantly. According to estimates, seven hundred Germans closed in from the east, three thousand from the south and west, and four thousand from the north. No other Maquis group in France had drawn this many enemy troops against them.

Commandant Huet proclaimed martial law throughout the Vercors and all units were put in battle positions. The Maquis counted in their ranks two thousand fully armed men, one thousand partially armed men, and another one thousand unarmed men. Desmond Lange and John Houseman, the officers of Team Eucalyptus, sent requests to London and Algiers for heavy weapons and additional support troops, without effect. Houseman noted in his diary entry of July 18, “Commandant H[uet] maintaining extraordinary calm. He seemed (as in fact he had) to have the situation completely in hand. Signs of nervousness in the P. C. [command post] among the junior officers—Desmond and I trying hard not to show signs of alarm!”

In the morning of July 21 at 0930 hours, French volunteers working at the airfield in Vassieux saw twenty airplanes carrying enormous gliders approaching from the south. The sight lifted their spirits with the hope that these were the much-expected paratroopers and heavy equipment coming to the rescue of Vercors. The hope disappeared moments later when the gliders began their final approach and the Frenchmen noticed the Luftwaffe markings on them. One by one, twenty DFS 230 troop gliders touched ground, some of them in the airfield itself and the rest in the plateau outside Vassieux. Within minutes, two hundred German paratroopers of special commando units of the Luftwaffe stormed Vassieux under the protection of Stuka fighters overhead. Each glider had a machine gun mounted in front, which the pilot used to cover the exit of the paratroopers from the aircraft and their rapid advancement toward the objective. The element of surprise was complete, just as it had been when Germans had used the same technique to take the Belgian fortress of Eben Emmael in 1940, occupy Crete in 1941, and rescue Mussolini in 1943. “It was as if lightning struck Vassieux,” was how a number of Frenchmen described those initial moments.

The shock did not last long, however. The Maquisards around Vassieux rushed to block the German paratroopers. The officers and men of the OG mission Justine organized the Frenchmen into surrounding the Germans in town and attacking them with all the weapons at their disposal. According to German sources, during the first day of fighting, the German paratroopers suffered over 25 percent casualties, twenty-nine dead and twenty wounded. The attacks on all sides, the constant bombardment of towns and villages, and the fierce battle in Vassieux rattled the nerves of the Maquisards. Houseman described “an oppressive atmosphere of confinement in our house with bombing and machine gunning off and on all day.” When assistance from the outside failed to materialize, a feeling of abandonment if not betrayal set in. Eugène Chavant, the civilian leader of Vercors, who had traveled to Algiers in May 1944 to meet with De Gaulle’s military staff and believed he had received assurances of help from them, fired off a message on the night of July 21:

La Chappelle, Vassieux, Saint-Martin bombarded by German aircraft. Enemy troops parachuted on Vassieux. We demand resupplies in men, foodstuffs and supplies. Morale of population excellent but will turn quickly against you if you do not take immediate measures and we will be in agreement with them in saying that those sitting in London and Algiers have understood nothing of the situation in which we find ourselves and are considered criminals and cowards. Let us be clear on this: criminals and cowards.

The next day, the Americans and Maquisards continued their attacks on the German paratroopers, helped by the rain that prevented the Germans from reinforcing their men. But the following day, on July 23, the weather cleared and another 250 German paratroopers landed in Vassieux aboard twenty DFS 230 gliders. While the Maquisards and the American OGs were going through their last reserves, the Germans used larger Go242 gliders to bring supplies and ammunition for their beleaguered paratroopers. The Germans dropped in a 20-mm Flak 38 antiaircraft gun, which could fire eight hundred rounds per minute from four independent guns at a range of 2,200 meters. They used the gun to destroy the Maquisards’ positions and force them to withdraw.

The Germans came out of the three-day battle victorious, losing 101 paratroopers and four glider pilots. Elsewhere around Vercors during these three days, two heavy mountain battalions took all the mountain passes to the southeast of Vassieux from ill-equipped Maquisards. German infantry pushing south from Grenoble broke through the northern positions in the key town of Valchevrière. Armored columns from the Ninth Panzer Division moving from Valence breached the southern defenses in the town of Die. On July 23 in the afternoon, the battle was over. In a telegram to Algiers sent on the night of July 25–26, Huet summarized the situation as follows:

Defenses of Vercors pierced on the 23rd at 1600 hours, after 56 hours of battle. Have ordered the dispersion in small groups with the hope to resume the fight when possible. All did their duty courageously in a desperate struggle and all carry with them the sadness of having succumbed to superior numbers and having been left alone in the moment of battle.

What followed is the most bloody and tragic chapter in history of the Maquis of Vercors. The Germans cordoned off the entire area and set up surveillance posts on all the roads, primary, secondary, and even forest tracks. Airplanes constantly flew overhead searching for movements in the mountains and woods. The German command ordered:

It is now the time to mop up Vercors methodically, to find the bands and the terrorists dispersed in their hiding places and to exterminate them completely, to discover the stockpiles of ammunition and provisions of the enemy, and to destroy their depots and hiding places, to make impossible any future resurgence of the enemy in Vercors. A period of seven days is envisioned for the mopping up…. The houses that have been points of support and supply for the terrorists, especially in the Vercors proper, shall be burned.”

Thus, seven days of reprisals and barbarity were unleashed upon Vercors. The toll mounted to 840 killed, of which 639 were Maquisards and 201 civilians. In Vassieux alone, the Germans massacred one hundred civilians, often killing entire families on sight. Only seven houses remained inhabited out of the 120 houses that the town had before the operation.

On July 27, a surveillance plane noticed a Red Cross flag spread at the entrance of the cave of Luire, three miles east of Vassieux. A German infantry unit arrived around 1700 hours to discover that the cave had become a temporary refuge for the military hospital of Saint-Martin, evacuated since July 21 to escape the bombing and strafing of the Luftwaffe. Most of the wounded were Maquisards, but they also included First Lieutenant Chester L. Myers of the OG team Justine, who had come down with appendicitis and was recovering from surgery,46 four Wehrmacht soldiers from Poland, and two women from Vassieux.

The German soldiers sprayed the walls of the cave with bullets and began searching the place for hidden resistance fighters and arms. They ripped off bandages of the wounded to make sure they were not fake. The Poles tried to intervene, explaining that they had been treated well, but without success. The Germans marched everyone down the ridge where they shot thirteen gravely wounded Maquisards as they lay in their stretchers. They took the rest to the nearby village of Rousset, where they executed twenty-five lightly wounded Maquisards. They considered the four Poles deserters and shot them as well. Then they unleashed reprisals on Rousset and the nearby town of Saint-Agnan, where they interrogated, arrested, or killed several civilians.

The Germans took the rest of the prisoners to the Gestapo headquarters in Grenoble. An aerial bombardment was going on when they arrived, and, in the confusion, one of the doctors managed to escape together with his wife, daughter, and a Red Cross nurse. The rest were not so fortunate. The Gestapo interrogated and then executed Lieutenant Myers that night. They executed two French doctors and a priest on August 10. They sent eight nurses to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück where one of them died of disease and the rest managed to survive until liberation.

When Commandant Huet gave the order to disperse on July 23, Team Eucalyptus split up. The French-speaking members of the team, including the OSS radio operator, André Pecquet, moved up the mountains, where they hid the W/T equipment in caves. Pecquet changed into civilian clothes and made several dangerous reconnaissance trips into villages and towns in the area, collecting information about the disposition of enemy troops in the area that the Allied command used to great benefit during the landings in the south of France in mid-August.

During one of these trips, Pecquet went to a post office outside Vercors to buy stamps. He was an avid stamp collector and showed great interest in the stamps issued by the Vichy government, although they had been in use in that area of France for almost four years. His unusual interest attracted the attention of the man standing in line behind him, who could tell that Pecquet had not lived long in the country. The girl at the post office winked. Pecquet realized his error and left the post office in a hurry with the man following him. Pecquet was able to get rid of his pursuer but only after a great deal of trouble.

On August 21, 1944, when the German 157th Infantry division retreated and the US forces arrived in Grenoble, Pecquet assumed a liaison role between the FFI and the US Army command. The French considered Pecquet one of the heroes of Vercors, and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “his devotion to duty, perseverance and courage displayed throughout his hazardous assignment” in Mission Eucalyptus.

The two British officers of Eucalyptus, Major Lange and Captain Houseman, travelled through the mountains and woods with a small group of four Frenchmen, including a young girl who had worked for the mission as a cipher clerk. The journey was harrowing, with hair-raising escapes from German and Milice patrols, which forced the members of the party to talk in the mildest whispers. Houseman wrote in his diary, “every unusual sound in the woods caused an instant silence among the party—a hunted dog look, as everyone strained his ears and slowly, but with calculated intention, reached for his gun.”

Further complications came from scarce food, and especially lack of water in the mountains. “The meagre ration of half a cupful of water a day (sometimes) and two table-spoons of goat’s milk were not much help.” Houseman wrote. “So I settled down to squeeze water out of moss irrespective of the physical effort which it entailed. After two or three hours of hard work, sometimes with the assistance of one or another member of the party, I had perhaps 3/4 of a pint which, though muddy and having an unwelcome taste, was nectar.”

On July 26, the party decided to split to make it easier to move undetected and to find food and water. Lange, Houseman, and a French guide left in the afternoon to climb down in the valley in search for food and water. “We were to learn later that the remainder of the party were surprised by a German patrol.” Houseman wrote. “The men, after castration, were beaten to death with rifle butts and the girl disemboweled and left to die with her intestines wound round her neck. I saw the photographs later—they were unrecognizable.” Throughout the night, Lange, Houseman, and their French guide, made their way through the valley and across German lines, “running, walking, crawling and rolling” under bursts of fire and pursued by attack dogs, until they were able to reach the mountain ridge and forests on the other side.

After several days of experiences like this, the team was finally able to exit Vercors on August 3 from the north by crossing the river L’Isère. There, Lange and Houseman established contact with the local Maquisards who guided them on a 125-mile journey through the mountains to the city of Chamonix on the Swiss border. On August 11, 1944, Lange and Houseman crossed into Switzerland.

The OG team Justine had a similar harrowing escape. After breaking off the engagement with the German paratroopers in Vassieux, the members moved to the northeast to the plateau of Presles in an attempt to break the encirclement toward the town of Saint-Marcellin. When four hundred Germans appeared on Presles, the OGs took to the woods, where they remained in hiding for eleven days, subsisting only on raw potatoes and occasionally a little cheese. They were never allowed to speak above a whisper. Not more than one man moved at a time, and then never more than fifty feet. Finally, on August 9, when the situation had calmed down a little, a French guide went to Saint-Marcellin and stole a truck that the OGs used to drive outside the Vercors plateau to the west across the L’Isère. From there, they moved along the Isère valley for ninety miles to the Chartreuse Mountains, twenty miles to the north of Grenoble. Then the team crossed L’Isère again this time eastward to the Belledonne Mountains. By this time, the American army had arrived in Grenoble, and Team Justine moved into the city. They were all in poor condition. Many had severe cases of dysentery, three men were unable to walk and all had lost weight, including Captain Hoppers who had lost thirty-seven pounds.

The experiences of the Maquis of Vercors, the pitched battle it put up against the Germans during the assault of July 21–23, 1944, and the bloody reprisals that followed have been a source of debate and controversy in France since the end of the war. The prosecutors in the Nuremberg trials, under the charge of “senseless destruction of cities, town, and villages, and devastations unjustified by the military necessity,” cited the example of numerous villages destroyed in their entirety in France, among others “Oradour-sur-Glane, Saint-Nizier, and in the Vercors: La Mure, Vassieux, La Chappelle-en-Vercors.” Nevertheless, not a single soldier of the Wehrmacht who participated in the operations against Vercors was held accountable for war crimes.

Countless accounts have been written to discuss whether the French authorities in Algiers gave false hopes to the leaders of Vercors on their support for the Plan Montagnards. The fact is that this plan was never part of the Allied strategy for using the French Resistance in coordination with the landings in Normandy and Provence. The reprisals in Vercors left the participants in the Resistance with a feeling of having been misunderstood, abandoned, and even betrayed by the Allies. Historians have established that there were not sufficient means among the French officials in Algiers or among the Allies who supported them to match the enthusiasm of the members of the Resistance. Several members of the Resistance have pointed out that shortly after the reprisals, the region rose up again when the Allies landed in the south of France, which they would not have done had they felt betrayed.

The military choices of the Maquis leaders have been questioned as well, and their decision to engage in frontal battles against a much stronger enemy has been called in various degrees a tragedy, a disaster, and a mistake. Alain le Ray, one of the proponents of the original Plan Montagnards, rejected the aura of disaster and strategic error. In a debate in 1975, he suggested that guerrilla tactics in Vercors might have provoked even more reprisals and that the battle of the Vercors tied down an important section of the Germans army. It “induced in the German war machine a kind of paralysis, both moral and material in the very locality where the Allied forces would penetrate into France after the landings in Provence.”

In the end, General Koenig probably summarized best the story of the Maquis of Vercors when he told an enquiry commission in 1961:

Due to circumstances that were quite unfortunate at the time, you became soldiers assigned with a true sacrificial mission. You became, pardon the expression, “laboratory rats …” I tell you this to remove a little bit of the bitterness that you who lived through those hours feel. There are moments when we find ourselves, pardon the expression, in deep s … and unfortunately the story has a sad ending, meaning no one is able to escape.

Sweden’s Early Navy

Gustav Vasa was determined to build up his navy as well as his army, and he sought foreign assistance not only to man his ships but also to design and build them; Scotland was one of the places he looked to for this help. By the time the king died in 1560 he had some nineteen warships in his fleet. Erik XIV continued this naval development, with the principal aim of confronting the power of Denmark, and indeed the Swedish navy, under the command of the sea-going general Klas Horn, defeated the Danes as well as the Lübeckers in 1565–66. Frederick II of Denmark wrote to Mary, Queen of Scots, in April 1566 to protest about a ship being made ready in Leith to join the Swedish fleet. Among the Swedish ships in 1566 was one called Skotska Pinckan, taken from the Danes but recaptured again; the name suggests a Scottish origin. Another, in the early 1600s, was bought from Scotland and bore the name Skotska Lejonen – Scottish Lion. Karl IX established the main naval base at Karlskrona in order to benefit for as much of the year as possible from ice-free water.

Despite these developments, by the time Gustavus Adolphus came to the throne the Swedish ships were still outgunned by the Danes. The ability to project military might overseas was essential to Gustavus Adolphus’s foreign policy in the Baltic; as navies have always done, his had to convey troops safely to foreign shores, maintain supply lines, defend trade and also impress outsiders as symbols of prestige and authority. A new threat to Sweden appeared in the late 1620s when, by the capture of north German ports, Wallenstein created the spectre of a Habsburg navy afloat in the Baltic. It was a threat real enough to persuade Gustavus Adolphus and Christian IV to overlook their rivalry and cooperate to keep Stralsund from the Imperial grasp. The Swedish king was in need of experienced sea captains and, as with his army, he found some of them from across the North Sea.

The Swedish Navy had been created in the sixteenth century as a defensive force against invasion and blockade and as an offensive force for power projection in the Baltic. From the late seventeenth century it was primarily seen as a defence of the Swedish empire. It had to be able to control the sea lines of communication within the Baltic empire in order to provide quick reinforcements and supply to Swedish provinces and garrisons threatened by sudden attack. One cornerstone of this mobilisation system was the unusual way of manning the navy which remained unchanged up to the advent of steam. Apart from a permanent core of experienced seamen and trained gunners, most of the naval manpower was recruited from the coastal provinces close to Karlskrona. They had to provide the navy with (voluntarily recruited) men who might turn up at short notice in case of an emergency. Most of these men were not experienced seamen (although the navy gave them some training) and they were probably better gun-crews than top-sail men but they gave the Swedish Navy the most rapid mobilisation system in Europe. The same system was used for the oared flotillas based in Stockholm and Sveaborg. There was no system for recruiting or conscripting seamen from the mercantile marine. In spite of that it grew into one of the largest in Europe during the eighteenth century.

The Swedish Navy emerged from the Great War of 1700-21 seriously weakened. Materially, it recovered in the 1730s, but the Swedish government and armed forces failed to readjust to the new strategic conditions. The navy still regarded Denmark-Norway as the main enemy and plans for army-navy cooperation were inadequate. A considerable galley fleet had been created in the 1710s and it was maintained in Stockholm and Gothenburg after the war but, mentally, the navy had not adapted to the fact that it had an important role to play in amphibious warfare. The war with Russia of 1741-43 revealed these weaknesses. Close strategic and even tactical coordination of the battle fleet, the archipelago fleet and the army had again proved to be the key to Russian victory in Finland. The lesson was there to be learned by Sweden.

After the war a determined effort was made to create a large oared flotilla. During the political crisis around Sweden in the late 1740s no fewer than 44 galleys were built and the fortress base of Sveaborg (Suomenlinna) was founded outside Helsinki. Sweden now had enough oared craft to equal the Russians in archipelagic warfare, even when the eastern neighbour was at a high degree of readiness. In practice, the new large oared force meant that a considerable part of the Swedish Army should serve at sea and in the archipelagos during wars. Gradually innovative efforts, from 1760 led by the naval architect Frederick Henrik af Chapman, created new and more efficient types of oared vessels, primarily gunboats. The archipelago fleet was formally transferred to the army from 1756 but in practice it became a third armed force. The development of Sveaborg provided it with an adequate base close to the main operational area. The war of 1788-90 showed that the reforms had worked.

The Swedish battle fleet was maintained at a very even level (23-25 battleships) from the 1730s to 1790. Most battleships were built with well-seasoned timber and high-quality iron and enjoyed very long lives, usually with a mid-life great repair. The high age of many ships has often been misinterpreted as a sign of neglect. Actually, the battle fleet was kept in a high or at least adequate state of readiness during most of the eighteenth century. 16 Together with the archipelago fleet and the Sveaborg fortress it was also regarded as an important asset in Sweden’s efforts to get foreign subsidies to its armed forces, forces which were very large for a small and not very rich nation. During the eighteenth century, France became the most important supplier of finance and, at least in the 1770s and 1780s, this was primarily spent on the navy. After the severe losses against Russia in 1790 it was planned to rebuild the navy to a force of around 20 battleships with the help of new subsidies, but the times had changed and no Great Power had any interest in creating a strong Swedish battle fleet. During the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain paid subsidies to Sweden but the British were mainly interested in keeping the Swedish Army in shape for Continental warfare. The Swedish battle fleet had to be maintained at a level of around a dozen units and the oared flotilla (cheap to maintain in peacetime) became a relatively more important part of the naval forces. The two navies had by now begun to fight about limited resources, a fight that would be an important part of Swedish naval policy-making for much of the nineteenth century.

The loss of Finland during the war of 1808-09 again changed the Swedish naval strategy. Sweden had now to cope with a situation where defence against sea-borne invasion from a power with a superior battle fleet was the most likely threat. The union with Norway did not change the basic strategic situation as the Norwegian parliament was not willing to recreate even a small part of the powerful battle fleet which Norway until recently had shared with Denmark. Gradually, Sweden- Norway opted for a cautious policy of non-alignment and neutrality. As events during the war period 1801-14 had shown, Scandinavia was now placed between the two superpowers Great Britain and Russia, and this was to mold strategic thinking in the Baltic for much of the nineteenth century.

Towards the First Tanks I

F.R. Simms‘ 1902 Motor War Car, the first armoured car to be built

Hornsby developed a caterpillar artillery tractor before the war based on agricultural machines. It meant heavier machinery could be carried than traditional horse-drawn artillery

When the legate, later Emperor, T. Flavius Vespasianus led the IInd Legion Augusta across Hardy’s Egdon Heath to its assault upon the great Iron Age fortress of Maiden Castle he did not require his foot soldiers to advance unprotected against expert slingers. On the command being given Augusta carried out a well-practised drill movement. Each shield was raised above the head of its bearer, interlocking with those of his neighbours and the defenders looked helplessly down as the testudo, the great tortoise, advanced upon them. Iron-hard pellets rained down, bounced off and the legionaries arrived at the East Gate practically unscathed. Once there the swords of Rome made a swift and bloody end to the business. To Augusta it was second nature, an exercise that had been carried out times without number by them and their predecessors. Their lesson was not wasted upon posterity. Only a few miles across the heath lies Bovington Camp, home since 1916 to the British armoured forces.

The Roman Army had always been an infantry army; its artillery, in the form of catapults of all shapes and sizes, was efficient for siege work but horses had never been important on the battlefield. Auxiliary cavalry were always useful for scouting and for the pursuit of a broken enemy but had never been the queen of battles. The edged weapon was master and everything else existed only to help the swordsmen get to hand strokes with their adversaries. The next of the really mighty armies to arrive worked on the opposite principle. Mongols were horsemen, excellent horsemen, but they were not cavalry as the West knew it. Their sovereign weapon was not edged but missile, the short bow, and they used it from the saddle with devastating effect. No armour was needed. For a Mongol, as for ‘Jacky’ Fisher, speed was armour enough, speed coupled with overwhelming numbers. None of their opponents stood a chance. From a professional point of view it would have been of the greatest interest if time and space problems could have been overcome in order to have allowed them to meet in open field the armies of the English longbowmen. It would take some hardihood to pontificate on which side would have come off best. The same may be said of the Swiss phalanx. Though it was the terror of Europe it had the good fortune never to have to take on a missile weapon of such power and precision.

In Western Europe armour had a long and probably undeserved run of success. The mailed knight upon his barbed horse was irresistible, again until he came face to face with the same simple weapon in very skilled hands. In the Near East, however, he had a less easy time of it. From Manzikert in 1071 to Dorylaeum fifteen years later and finally to the disaster of the Horns of Hattin in 1187 the Frankish-style charge proved ineffective against an enemy who would not stand still to receive it. The Turkish bow was a feeble thing compared to the English but it was good enough to puncture horses, and camel-loads of arrows furnished generous supplies of missiles. The truth was that cavalry ought to have been obsolete hundreds of years before it finally vanished from the field. It continued to exist, as a battering force, only for sentimental reasons and because regular armies had not come into existence. Great numbers of animals were always needed for draught and pack purposes; hunting was the traditional sport of the richer strata of society and it would have been unthinkable that, in the midst of so much horseflesh, a man of high degree should walk into battle.

The old problem remained until our own day. Very possibly it remains still. In essence it is obvious. How do you break a body of armed and determined men if you cannot shoot them down from a distance? Something must hit them with great force, but, before it can do that, it must reach them without being itself destroyed. Many devices were invented over the centuries, most of them never getting further than the drawing board. The majority can be of no more than antiquarian interest, for there are no records of them having achieved anything worth while. Froissart tells of a device called a ‘ribaudequin’; it was, so he says ‘a high wheelbarrow reinforced with iron and long pointed spikes in front’. In his famous paper of 3 December, 1915, Major The Rt Hon Winston S. Churchill suggested something of the same kind, along with other variants on the offensive. Leonardo da Vinci, inevitably, produced complicated drawings; a great mural at Cowdray, copied before the place was destroyed by fire, depicts a battle-car used at the siege of Boulogne in 1544; as it appears to have been a farm cart pulled by a single horse and carrying one hackbutman plus a bowman it was unlikely to have greatly influenced events. The Germans, ever inventive, produced a number of cognate machines but all suffered from a fatal, if obvious defect. Livy, Silius Italicus and Quintus Curtius told of war-carts or chariots. Later came Nicholas Glockendon of Nurnburg, various Scotchmen of whom the most notable was John Stewart, Duke of Albany, and the inventors of devices pictured by Valturius and Ludwig von Eyb. All foundered on the same snag. Horses can no more push carts than sailors can push rope. It was necessary to be patient and await the discovery of something better than animal-power.

The longbow dropped out before its time, probably because it needed a long training period for the archer, which men became unwilling to take up. Any weakling could be taught to loose off a musket. Thus the cavalries of the world continued in existence, for want of better shock machines and because the aristocracy could not bear to be parted from their horses. They beat each other up relentlessly but their successes against stout infantry were few and far between. Le Marchant’s heavy horse wrought famously at Salamanca and von Bock’s Germans broke a square at Garcia Hernandez. The next troops to do this, or something like it, were Osman Digna’s Hadendowa, alias ‘Fuzzy Wuzzies’. And Fuzzy Wuzzies fought on foot.

With the coming of steam it seemed that a battle car might be at last within the realms of the possible. One such was reportedly built for service in the Crimea, but it never left England and was soon broken up. Anyone who has seen a traction engine will not need further explanation. Steam locomotives are powerful but only on rails have they any turn of speed. And, at the risk of repetition, Jacky Fisher propounded a great truth. Speed is armour; armour without speed merely produces a target.

The ingredients of the tank all came into existence during the eighties of the last century and were produced by several different men working far away from each other. In 1886 Gottlieb Daimler, who had served an apprenticeship with the Manchester firm of Whitworth, came up with the petrol-driven internal combustion engine. It very soon powered a wheeled horseless carriage. Wheels, whether solid-tyred or fitted as they soon would be with Mr Dunlop’s inflatable variety, were good enough for metalled roads but of no use off them. Nor did there seem any likelihood of their being needed to go across country. The ploughman and his team still had a long future ahead of them. There were, however, some experiments going on with a view to bringing some degree of mechanical power to the farm additional to the steam traction-engine and reaping machines.

The obvious difficulty was to prevent the machinery from becoming bogged down by sheer weight. The footed wheel, one fitted with pivoted shoes or plates around its circumference so contrived that a flat surface was always presented to the ground, had been known for a long time. The German Army used it in conjunction with its heavy guns. The arrangement was not without its uses but it was hard work for the horses and slowed things up considerably when on any sort of road. With the coming of an engine so much lighter than the steam affair men cast around for something better than the footed wheel; the pressure for results was felt mostly in America whose enormous fields urgently needed something in the way of serviceable tractors.

As long ago as 1770 Richard Lovell Edgeworth had been granted, in London, a Patent for an endless track running over wheels. Once the Patent was granted, Mr Edgeworth seems to have let the matter drop, probably because no financier could be made to take it up. It may well be that the steam engine running on fixed rails seemed a better proposition than a machine that laid its own. Dust gathered on the plans until 1880 when Mr Batter, an American citizen, made a steam-tractor running on endless caterpillar tracks of the same kind. This suited prairie farmers well and soon became established. As time went on other manufacturers appeared and by the beginning of the present century the first name amongst caterpillar-tractor makers was Benjamin Holt. The farmers of Europe were not greatly interested.

The last essential of an armoured fighting vehicle arrived in 1883 when the Patent Office issued its No 3178 for an automatic gun to Hiram Maxim of ‘57D Hatton Garden, corner of Clerkenwell Road’. Maxim, one of the few American inventors to become a naturalized British subject, was as prolific as Leonardo had been, his discoveries ranging from guns to electric light bulbs. His machine-gun was a masterpiece of ingenuity, working on a different principle from the gas-and-spring affairs that superceded it and are still in service with a number of armies. The recoil forces back the barrel on to the lock which, driven back in its turn, extracts the spent case, feeds in another from a canvas belt, fires it and returns to keep up the process as long as the ammunition lasts. The barrel is encased in a water-jacket and continues operating for a very long time. The drawback is that the gun is heavy, weighing nearly half a hundredweight without its tripod.

As the component parts of the armoured fighting vehicle arrived so did the reason for its existence. Wire had been commonly used in England since the first factory was set up at Mortlake in 1663. Lucien Smith of Ohio is not a name as familiar as Daimler, Holt or Maxim but it deserves to be. In 1867, just after the Civil War, he produced for the farmers of America ‘twisted wire studded with points’. Under the name of ‘barbed wire’ it was patented in this country in 1876 by a Mr Hunt. It became widely used and so unpopular that the Barbed Wire Act 1893 had to be passed in order to limit its use. The first military use of it was in its home country. The Spanish-American war of 1898 taught few lessons apart from some of the ‘how not to’ kind. It did, however, bring barbed wire into service, though only for the protection of camps. Lord Kitchener used vast quantities of it in South Africa to maintain his lines of blockhouses and in 1905 the Russian General Tretyakov complained that the defence of Port Arthur was made exceedingly difficult by the shortage of a commodity worth its weight in gold. Before 1914 it was an established ordnance store with most armies. When the inventions of Mr Maxim and Mr Smith came to dominate the battlefields it was necessary to take stock of all the means available of overcoming them. At the end of the nineteenth century nothing was further from the military mind. There was then a curious spirit abroad in the British Army.

Everybody will remember the Punch cartoon headed MILITARY EDUCATION:—

General. ‘Mr de Bridoon, what is the general use of cavalry in modern warfare?’ Mr de Bridoon. ‘Well, I suppose to give tone to what would otherwise be a mere vulgar brawl’.

It was meant as a joke, but it was only half one. Newspaper correspondents fresh from the Sudan who visited the Aldershot Manoeuvres of 1898 were horrified at what they saw. Troops advanced in review order over open country and the very idea of taking cover was regarded as cowardice. The only Maxim guns, until very recently, had been those privately bought by wealthy London Volunteer regiments. The usual orders given to machine-gun officers were to ‘get those bloody things out of the way’. The cavalry was still the pride of the service, fresh from its not very difficult success against Arabi at Tel-el-Kebir. Then came South Africa, a war against ‘the most formidable mounted warriors since the Mongols’ as Mr Churchill called them. Here were lessons in plenty, but few of the senior men seem to have grasped them. Sir John French, at the great house of 94 Lancaster Gate which he shared with his American friend the engineer George Moore, had a visit from Valentine Williams, one of Northcliffe’s young men and, later, author of the ‘Clubfoot’ novels. ‘He (French) made a fine portrait of an English gentleman of the old school, in his dinner-coat and white waistcoat, with his silvery hair and healthy pink cheeks, as he sat at the dinner table over the nuts and port, under a large and rather indifferent painting of the “Dash to Kimberley”, in the South African War, showing him on horseback, with Haig at his side, sweeping along at the head of the cavalry’, Williams wrote in his autobiography The World of Action.

In retrospect the Dash to Kimberley was the worst thing that could have happened both to Sir John and to the Army. The Daily Mail quoted what it claimed as a letter from one present that the relief of the town was due to the commander’s ‘masterly decision’ to charge through what was believed to be a solid wall of defenders: To do Sir John justice, he would have charged just the same had this been true; in fact the Boers, being sensible men, fired a few rounds from their Mausers and removed themselves from his path. It was claimed that some forty or fifty of them moved too slowly and were either speared or sabred as against losses to the cavalry of less than a dozen. The charge must have been enormous fun for those participating in it, but it was no Gravelotte. Kimberley was certainly relieved, but at a cost. The cavalry had ruined themselves and their horses by overenthusiasm. When Lord Kitchener needed them to support the attack on Cronje’s laager a few days later they were not there. The attack went in without them and Kitchener observed to an American correspondent that had he known yesterday what he knew then he would not have tried it at all. Frontal attacks were impossible against the magazine rifle. This lesson Lord K never forgot. Sir John, and to a lesser extent his Chief of Staff Colonel Haig, never quite learned it.

The newspapers went wild over the Dash. It seems sad that television had not arrived for here was the perfect subject. There was, however, another point of view. Doctor Conan Doyle, always an admirer of the regular army, put it this way: ‘In the larger operations of the war it is difficult to say that cavalry, as cavalry, have justified their existence. In the opinion of many the tendency of the future will be to convert the whole force into mounted infantry … a little training in taking cover, leggings instead of boots and a rifle instead of a carbine would give us a formidable force of twenty thousand men who could do all that our cavalry does and more besides.’ Which is exactly what happened as the war went on. It was all very well for a civilian to say things like that and even to point to the fact that Lord Airlie had started it all by using his XIIth Lancers dismounted at Magersfontein. A soldier who openly announced the same heresy would have been reckoned not only a professional incompetent but, and worse, a traitor to his class. ‘Chevalier’, in both the literal and figurative meanings, was still the word of power.

The war ended at last and with it the army’s re-education. It had been a horseman’s affair for obvious reasons of topography and it had been very expensive; a Commission opened up some interesting scandals over the manner in which the horses had been found. All the same, it was not likely to recur. If the army ever had to fight anybody again it would probably be the Russians and the business would be done by horse, foot and guns as grandfather had done it in the Crimea. Mr Balfour’s Conservative government remained in office just long enough to place orders for better weapons of the old kind. The 18-pdr gun, the 4.5 howitzer, the short Lee Enfield rifle and some more Maxims. All were excellent in their way but all were in truth weapons of the late nineteenth century.

Towards the First Tanks II

Hornsby developed a caterpillar artillery tractor before the war based on agricultural machines. It meant heavier machinery could be carried than traditional horse-drawn artillery

Little Willie at the Tank Museum, Bovington

An early model British Mark I “male” tank, named C-15, near Thiepval, 25 September 1916. The tank is probably in reserve for the Battle of Thiepval Ridge which began on 26 September. The tank is fitted with the wire “grenade shield” and steering tail, both features discarded in the next models.

The Wolseley Car Company had shown a petrol-driven car with a 16 horse-power Daimler engine at the Crystal Palace show of 1902. It had been designed by Mr Frederick Sims, mounted a Maxim and was in some sort covered with armour plating. In fact it was ahead of its time. The engine was too feeble and the great weakness, as every pioneer motorist knew, lay in the wheels. Pneumatic tyres had been in use for a long time but were still not to be relied upon even on tarred roads. Heavy vehicles still, and for a long time to come, stuck to the solid variety and put up with the jolting and low speed. Nobody was much interested in Mr Sims’ car and it was quietly taken to pieces again. In 1908 the Liberal Government gave to the cavalry the only new weapon to be added before 1914. It was a sword; a very fine sword; a shovel would have been far better value.

The reign of Edward the Peacemaker saw much happening in new forms of military hardware. In 1904 a Danish officer, Major-General Madsen, invented a light automatic gun which weighed only five pounds more than a rifle, had a mechanism of the simplest kind and was better by far than anything of the kind for a long time to come. Years later, on 6 June, 1918, an official statement was made in the House of Lords that ‘the present Madsen gun is by many considered “the most wonderful machine-gun of its kind ever invented” and that it was admittedly superior in many respects to either the Lewis or the Hotchkiss guns’. The gun was taken into service by the Danish cavalry but the War Office in Pall Mall was not interested. Some years later, when the War Office had moved to its fine new home in Whitehall and handed over Pall Mall to the Royal Automobile Club, it brushed off Colonel Lewis in much the same way. The Madsen gun would have been cheap. By the time of First Ypres the Government would have paid any asking price for such a weapon. By then it was too late. Efforts were made to get hold of some but Germany prevented the sale and collared the guns herself. In a way this disinterest in automatics was a compliment to the soldier. With the SMLE a recruit before leaving his Depot could get off fifteen aimed rounds a minute; real experts could manage thirty. The long-service regular infantryman was the best marksman in any army, as the Germans readily admitted when the clash came. Nobody seemed to understand that hastily raised units could not be expected to come anywhere near this standard.

The attitude of civilian ministers in the new Liberal Government of 1906 was soon made plain to Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien when he held the command at Alder-shot; ‘One day he (a Minister whose name had been struck out by Lady Smith-Dorrien) honoured me at lunch, and I used the occasion to impress on him, as a member of the Government, that it was most important that we should be armed with the new Vickers-Maxim machine-gun, which was half the weight of the gun we then had, and much more efficient, and I urged that £100,000 would re-equip the six divisions of the Expeditionary Force. Mr — jeered at me, saying I was afraid of the Germans, that he habitually attended the German Army at training and was quite certain that if they ever went to war “the most monumental examples of crass cowardice the world had ever heard of would be witnessed”.’ Such, apparently, was Cabinet thinking in 1909. It is hardly wonderful that any soldier of an innovative mind did not waste his time by pressing ideas.

During Smith-Dorrien’s tour at Aldershot, in 1910, there was a demonstration by the earliest of the British petrol-engined tractors, a Hornsby chain-track. This was a splendid vehicle that looked as if it owed something to Mr Heath Robinson or Mr Emmett. The exhaust led into an impressive smoke-stack; the chains that drove it were surmounted by wooden blocks about the size and shape of those commonly used for paving roads and the whole was mounted on powerful springs that bounced it about alarmingly. Among those watching was General ‘Wullie’ Robertson, later to be CIGS under Lord Kitchener. He held the machine ‘to have a great future as a tractor for dragging heavy guns and vehicles across broken ground. Universal sympathy was extended to the drivers, who, in consequence of the caterpillar’s violent up-and-down motions, experienced all the sensations of sea-sickness, and looked it’. In spite of that there was no denying that the thing worked.

The Committee of Imperial Defence, however, was occupied with more important matters. Between 1907 and 1914 the Channel Tunnel came up for discussion fourteen times. Lord Wolseley’s Memorandum of 1882 was resurrected and papers submitted by Field-Marshal Lord Nicholson, Mr Churchill, Colonel Seeley and Sir John French. There is no mention of caterpillar tractors anywhere in the Committee’s agenda over these years. As soon as the war started and the demand came for guns heavier than the usual field pieces the question of how they were to be moved along the roads of France demanded answer. Very quickly, for Kitchener was now in charge, the War Office placed orders in America for fifteen of the Holt machines. With 75 hp petrol engines, the best track then on the market, and a weight of 15 tons (the Hornsby weighed 8) they could manage a speed of 15 mph, though this fell to 2 with a gun hooked in. It was still better than a large team of Clydesdale horses and they were soon at work in France. Only a few people saw in them the beginnings of a war-winning fighting machine.

It would be wrong, however, to assume that indifference was limited to the allied camp. The German possessed one great advantage which they, too, neglected. When the Zeppelin first appeared it became plain that engines far more powerful than those used on roads were needful. After much experiment, the firm of Maybach produced one of 450 hp. No other country had anything like this. Fortunately no effort was made to apply the knowledge to land-bound vehicles. The Maybach was far too heavy and clumsy for such uses. Apart from the Rolls-Royce, which was in a class of its own, the best motor-cars were made in France with Germany a good second. England lagged badly behind; the United States produced excellent machines, the Hudson being perhaps the fastest, but these belonged to quite another world.

To blame the Army for living happily in the past would be entirely unfair. Soldiers, like everybody else, could hardly fail to see how swiftly the country was becoming mechanized. As early as 1906 the land speed record had risen to more than 125 miles per hour. At the end of the following year London contained 723 motor taxi-cabs, a figure that had risen within two years to just under 4,000. It was also noticeable that by far the greater number of these were of French manufacture, Unic, Darracq and, above all, the two-cylinder Renault that clung on for a very long time. The year, 1909, saw the first movement of a formed body of troops by road. It was, admittedly, a publicity stunt by the Automobile Association but the fact remained that a composite battalion of the Guards, complete with all impedimenta, was carried from London to Brighton and back in several hundred private cars at a good round speed and without a hitch. The only military lesson learned was that the service cap universally called a Brodrick, though St John Brodrick, Earl of Midleton, denied all responsibility for it, blew off for want of a chin-strap. This omission was made good. It was the AA, months before Lord Kitchener’s call, that coined the phrase ‘The First Hundred Thousand’. In July, 1914, its membership had reached 89,198 of whom 3,279 had been elected during the previous month or so. It was confidently expected that the magic figure would be reached by the time of the Olympia motor show and a great celebration dinner was planned. Fate, however, got in first. There was no motor show in August, 1914.

It was not the General Staff, however, but the Home Secretary who first realized that the motor car might have an unexpected military use. On a day in the wonderful summer of 1911 Mr Churchill attended a party at No 10 Downing Street where he fell into conversation with Sir Edward Henry, Chief Commissioner of Police. As they talked about the European situation and its gravity, Sir Edward casually remarked that by an odd arrangement the Home Office was responsible, through the Metropolitan Police, for guarding the whole of the Navy’s cordite reserves in the magazines at Chattenden and Lodge Hill. This being the first the Home Secretary had heard of it he pressed Sir Edward hard. The guard, it seemed, had for years consisted of a few London bobbies armed with truncheons. To the question of what would happen if a score of armed Germans turned up in motor-cars Mr Churchill received the interesting answer that they would be able to do as they liked. He left the garden party and telephoned the Admiralty. As both First Lord and First Sea Lord were absent he spoke to an Admiral ‘who shall be nameless’. He made it quite plain that he was not taking orders from any panicky civilian Minister and flatly refused to send Marines. A second call to Mr Haldane at the War Office had two companies of infantry installed within a few hours. The motor car had introduced something new into military matters.

It was left to that erratic genius Mr H. G. Wells to move things on a little further. Though the son of a professional cricketer, he had some ideas that were certainly not cricket. In 1903, being well into what is now called ‘science fiction’, a market that he had almost to himself, he sent to the Strand Magazine a story of some future war in which armed and armoured machines crawled over the countryside on their tracks and fought battles with each other. It was called The Land Ironclads. Later he warmed to his work and told not merely of wars in the air between various branches of the human race but also of battles with invaders from outer space. All were regarded with equal seriousness. The Holt tractor from America, an efficient petrol-driven machine running on tracks, was given a demonstration at Aldershot. Its faults, which were many, were pointed out; its virtues and potential were ignored. The military mind, mercifully, knew no national boundaries. Not only did no other War Office want Mr Holt’s tractor; none even wanted buses or lorries.

The scientific Germans, however, did not entirely abandon the idea. In 1913 a Herr Goebel produced a machine of his own design. It was, according to German custom, huge and ponderous; no picture seems to have survived but it was described as resembling what we know as a tank, to have been covered in thick armour and to have bristled with guns. In 1913 he drove it over a high obstacle at Pinne, in Posen; the following year he produced it before a huge crowd at the Berlin stadium. It broke down half way up the first bank and refused to be started again. The crowd became truculent and demanded its money back. Herr Goebel and his machine disappeared from history.

The Belgians took a few of their excellent Minerva cars to the Cockerill works in Antwerp and had them fitted with a mild steel armour. That apart, the armies of the great industrial powers of Europe walked slowly towards each other in the summer of 1914 with masses of man-power and animal-power as great armies had done since man discovered war. A reincarnated Wellington could have taken command of any of them after only the shortest refresher course.

In the rear areas of the BEF some concession was made towards modernity. The War Office as long ago as 1900 had set up a Mechanical Transport Committee, a brave gesture towards the coming century. It found little occupation in Pall Mall but survived the translation to Whitehall in 1907. In 1911, Coronation year, new life was breathed into it with the introduction of two subsidy schemes; these provided a means of mechanizing some parts of the Army on the cheap. Civilian companies were given money on the understanding that they would build vehicles more or less to a specification and would on mobilization hand them over. The scheme did not work out too badly. Each Division had a supply column of motor-lorries, working, theoretically, between railhead and the Divisional Train. Homely names on their sides like Waring & Gillow or J. Lyons rather spoilt the picture of a twentieth-century army but the Army Service Corps drivers plied their new trade well enough. All army ambulances remained horse-drawn; the best of the motor-driven ones were furnished, along with their crews, by those old reliables the British Red Cross Society and the Salvation Army.

On 31 May, 1915, Lord Kitchener submitted a secret report to the Cabinet which set out the entire state of affairs very clearly. On mobilization the Army had owned exactly 80 motor-lorries, 20 cars, 15 motor-cycles and 36 traction-engines. The subsidy scheme brought the lorry total to 807; another 334 had been instantly commandeered. The 20 cars simultaneously jumped by 193 and the motor-cycles by 116. On the day Kitchener signed the report there were on the strength a further 7,037 lorries, 1,694 cars, 2,745 motor-cycles and 1,151 motor-ambulances. The Army Service Corps had grown from 450 officers and 6,300 other ranks to ‘a strength today of 4,500 officers and 125,000 other ranks, i.e. 5,000 more than the whole of the Regular Forces in the United Kingdom previous to the outbreak of war’. Petrol, including that for the Royal Flying Corps, was being consumed at the rate of 35,000 gallons a day.

The war was still very young. On Armistice Day 1918 the Army had on charge in all theatres 121,692 motor vehicles along with 735,000 horses and mules.

Japanese Warrior Women

Indomitable: Hangaku Gozen rides into battle swinging her bloodstained naginata and wearing yoroi armor symbolic of leadership during the siege of Torisaka Castle (in present-day Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku) in 1201, after her clan rose up against the powerful Minamoto Shogunate in a (losing) medieval power struggle.

The study of Japanese history raises the often asked question of whether there were female warriors. There were indeed a number of them, right through until the late 1860s, though in some cases it is difficult to separate legend from fact. They were certainly not as numerous as, for example, Celtic female warriors. Among the better-known female warriors, one of Yoritomo’s relatives, his cousin Yoshinaka (1154–84, whom Yoritomo had killed), had a concubine Hangaku Gozen (ca.1160–1247) who is credited with taking a number of heads during the Genpei War, and in modern history Nakano Takako (1847–68) was killed fighting in the Boshin War of 1868–69. However, female warriors were not formally recognised as samurai. The term applied to them was onna bugeisha, meaning literally ‘women skilled in martial arts’.

A salient and thought-provoking characteristic of most ancient cultures is the predominant role played by women in the history and management of clan affairs. Historiography often seems to minimize the early, strongly matriarchal aspects of man’s social units; the frequently myopic views of chroniclers of later ages and periods, bent upon reinforcing the preconceived notions of their patrons, tend largely to either denigrate woman’s role in the military history of early civilizations or ignore it entirely. Ancient sagas, archaeological discoveries, and the painstaking work of anthropologists, however, indicate widespread participation by women in clan or tribal life in pre- and proto-historical times, from the icy lands of Northern Europe to the tropical cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, in both ancient Sparta and the Celtic clans of Western Europe, as well as in nomad tribes roaming the steppes of Mongolia and, of course, in the many clan cultures of Southeast Asia and China.

In Japan, woman’s originally predominant role finds its first expression in the mythological records of that land, which traditionally emphasize the supremacy of Amaterasu, the solar goddess, among all the deities in the Japanese pantheon, as well as equating the position of Izanagi, the female, with that of Izanami, the male, on the fighting level. The long shadow cast by ancient matriarchal influence is also apparent in the predominance of the solar cult, which was female in its original Japanese conception.

Even the first chronicles of Japanese history are filled with the exploits of warrior queens leading their troops against enemy strongholds in the land of Yamato or across the straits to Korea. In time, the growing influence of Confucian doctrine began to reduce her position of preeminence, hedging her about with restrictions of every sort, which, however, were not always accepted as meekly as later historians would have us believe. In the Heian period we find her not on the battlefield perhaps, but occupying a position of prominence in the cultural hierarchy of the age. Certain aristocratic ladies of kuge status emerged as literary figures of astounding insight and sophistication. Their literary production, although not expressed in the rigid and pedantic forms of classical Chinese writing generally preferred by the scholars of the time, provides one of the first manifestations of a truly indigenous form of expression, whose depth of perception, as well as complex content, help to explain why the various empresses and aristocratic dames of Nara and Kyoto wielded such power, whether governing directly or guiding more subtly (if just as effectively) the affairs of state from places of retirement or seclusion.

From the provinces, a new breed of women, the female members of the buke, joined their menfolk in the struggle for political and military predominance. These women did not lead troops as in archaic times, but, steeped in the same martial tradition and clinging to those warlike customs which characterized their men as a class, they were a stern reflection of their male counterparts. As such, they acted to consolidate and reinforce those qualities considered of fundamental importance to the emerging class of the buke. The product of a particular system, the samurai woman became its soundest basis and transmitter.

One such woman was Lady Masa (Masako), wife of the first Kamakura shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo. Mere quoted Brinkley in describing her as “astute, crafty, resourceful and heroic,” adding:

During her husband’s lifetime she wielded immense influence and after his death she virtually ruled the empire. This seems to be the only recorded instance in the history of Japan when the supreme power was wielded by a woman who was neither Empress nor Empress-dowager. Nominally, of course, Lady Masa did not rule, but her power and influence were very real. (Mere, 16)

The samurai woman was trained to be as loyal and totally committed as her father, brothers, and husband to their immediate superior in the clan hierarchy and, like her male relatives, was expected to carry out every authorized assignment, including those which might involve force of arms. Thus it is not surprising to find in the literature of bujutsu the annotation that women of the buke were trained in the use of traditional weapons, which they were expected to use against a foe or, if necessary, to end their own lives. Moreover, many episodes concerning the rise of the warrior class mention women who played militarily determinant roles—even joining their menfolk on the battlefield upon occasion. Certain chronicles, for example, mention Tomoe, the wife of one of Yoshitomo’s nephews, Yoshinaka. Authors who have discussed her exploits are almost unanimous “in praising her great strength and skill with weapons, her superb horsemanship and her fearless courage” (Mere, 15). She used to ride into battle with her husband, leading and encouraging his troops with her initiative and bearing. She even displayed that peculiar anger typical of the professional fighter when an opponent handles him cavalierly. It is related, in fact, that she killed several enemy retainers in single combat at the battle of Azazu-no-Hara: “when their leader, Uchida Iyeyoshi, attempted to capture her, she struck her horse and her sleeve, which he had seized, was rent and a part of it was left in his hand. Angered at this, she wheeled her charger and attacking him in her turn, cut off his head, which she forthwith presented to her husband” (Mere, 14-15).

Among the weapons the samurai woman handled with skill was the spear, both the straight (yari) and the curved (naginata), which customarily hung over the doors of every military household and which she could use against charging foes or any unauthorized intruder found within the precincts of the clan’s establishment. She was also equally well versed in handling the short dagger (kaiken), which, like the male warrior’s wakizashi, was always carried on her person (usually in her sleeve or sash) and which she could deftly employ against armed foes in close combat or throw with deadly accuracy. This same dagger was the one a samurai woman would use if she undertook to commit ceremonial suicide, not by piercing her lower abdomen as would her male counterpart, but rather by cutting her throat in accordance with the exact rules of ritual suicide, which also instructed her in the correct manner of tying her ankles together, in order to insure that her body would be found properly composed, whatever her death agonies. Under the name jigai, in fact, suicide was as familiar to her as it was to her menfolk.

She not only accepted death resignedly at the hands of her male relatives or superiors if capture by enemy forces was imminent, but even dispatched the men herself if, for any reason, they were unable or unwilling to perform the ritual act, sparing neither herself nor her children in such a situation. One of the most ancient episodes concerning the making and executing of this decision in accordance with martial tradition is to be found in the ancient sagas which describe the destruction of the Taira clan during the great sea battle at Dan-no-Ura, in the straits of Shimonoseki. Nii-no-Ama, grandmother of the infant Emperor Antoku (son of Kiyomori’s daughter Tokuko or Kenrei-mon-in), when confronted with the alternative of surrendering to the warriors of the Minamoto clans, clasped the child tightly in her arms and plunged with him into the waves of the straits, followed by other court ladies and Tokuko as well. The emperor’s mother was rescued by force, but the others succeeded in drowning themselves and the infant heir.

The samurai woman also used suicide as a form of protest against an injustice she felt had been perpetrated against her by a superior. One of the most striking examples of this is related by François Caron (1600-73). The powerful lord of Higo had engineered the murder of one of his most loyal vassals so that he might include the beautiful wife of the deceased among his concubines. The woman requested a certain period of time within which to mourn and bury her husband and then asked the lord to assemble the highest dignitaries of the clan and her husband’s friends on the tower of his castle, ostensibly to celebrate the end of her mourning period. Since she might very well have stabbed herself with her kaiken if anyone had tried to force her to violate her mourning period, her requests were granted. On the appointed day, as the ceremony in honor of her slain husband drew to a close, she suddenly threw herself from the tower “and broke her neck” (Cooper, 83) before the very eyes of the lord of Higo, his vassals, and the dignitaries of the clan. This type of suicide, although not performed strictly in accordance with the rules of ritual suicide, was recognized as one of valid protest (kan-shi) against a master’s injustice. It created a dilemma in military minds, however, since it was also a breach of the code of absolute loyalty which dictated that the lady’s life was not hers to dispose of, especially not in such an independent manner.

Equally famous in Japanese literature and theater is the story of Kesa-gozen, the wife of an imperial guard in Kyoto during the twelfth century, when the buke was being drawn toward the imploding and collapsing center of the empire. This lady was the object of another warrior’s passion and he was determined to have her. When her pursuer planned to murder her husband in his sleep, she substituted herself in her husband’s bed and allowed herself to be decapitated in his stead, thus saving her honor and her husband’s life at one and the same time.

As ferocious and determined as male members of the buke, the samurai woman also took upon herself, when necessary, the duty of revenge which the particularly Japanese interpretation of Confucian doctrine had rendered both an absolute and virtually automatic response to the death or dishonor of one’s lord. “Not only did man consider it his duty to avenge his family or lord,” wrote Dautremer, “but woman herself did not fail before the task. Of this, Japanese history gives us many instances” (Dautremer, 83). Even throughout the long and debilitating Tokugawa period, she remained generally attached (often even more strongly than her male counterpart) to the clan’s rule of loyalty, that is, to the uji-no-osa and, by delegation, to her husband. In an era characterized by the degeneration of martial virtues, by effeminate behavior, profligacy, and dissipation within the “floating world” (ukiyo) of a new culture, she was noted for her chastity, fidelity, and self-control. For centuries, she remained a forbidding figure, clearly traditionalist and conservative in outlook and action, who clung tenaciously to the martial ethos of her clan not only in essence (which the Tokugawa period was diluting substantially), but also in form and paraphernalia.

As the nucleus of those households which even today maintain the ties linking them to the feudal past, many of these women continue to resist change and bring up their children beneath the aristocratic shadow of the family’s kami—an ancient suit of armor before which sticks of incense burn night and day. Many of their sons enter the military academies of Japan, while their daughters face one another across the spacious dojo where the ancient art of naginatajutsu is taught to them, as well as to other girls of lesser military lineage but of equally intense attachment to the tradition which produced the samurai woman.

The Role of the Arms-Bearing Women in Japanese History