An M50 tank that was used in a static defence role by the Israelis. This view shows the access to the shelter. To give added protection the spoil would have been built up around the sides of the tank so that only the turret was visible. This example was located on the coast at Kibbutz Hanita, just south of the Israel/Lebanon border.

 The Israeli Defence Force also used obsolete American M48 tank turrets as improvised fixed fortifications.

Following the end of the Second World War in 1945 there was a huge stockpile of military materiel as the victors reduced their armed forces to peacetime levels and the Axis powers were disarmed. The surplus hardware was either scrapped or was sold to newly liberated countries or to states that had secured independence. In this scrabble a number of Sherman tanks, which had formed the mainstay of the American armoured forces during the war, were ‘acquired’ by the Israelis and some were used in the 1948 War of Independence, although most arrived after the hostilities had ended.

Despite this setback Israel’s neighbours were determined to eliminate this Jewish homeland and began to strengthen their armed forces. The Egyptians, for example, from 1953 began to procure Soviet T34/85 tanks and SU100 tank destroyers. These were more than a match for the basic Sherman and although the Israelis were able to purchase a number of AMX13 light tanks form France it was clear that the most logical approach was to upgun the reliable Sherman. It also seemed eminently sensible to use the high velocity long-barelled 75mm gun fitted to the AMX13 (and which had been used so successfully by the Germans in the Panther tank).

The larger breach and length of recoil meant that the turret had to be remodelled and the new tank was christened the M50 and by 1961, one hundred Shermans had been reconfigured. Advances in armour technology, however, meant that the 75mm main gun was no longer powerful enough to penetrate the armour of the tanks now fielded by Israel’s enemies. Plans to mount the French 105mm gun (from the AMX30) were introduced which meant that the turret had to be remodelled again and in 1962 the first of the so-called M51s was delivered. The M50 and M51 served throughout the 1960s and were the mainstay of the Israeli armoured forces in the Six-Day War in 1967. However, by the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 the Sherman had been relegated to the reserve, replaced by the more powerful American M48, M60 and British Centurion tanks. Some Shermans were still in use in the 1980s and 1990s but they were gradually withdrawn from service.

The fighting that had raged on and off since the War of Independence, and in which the Sherman had played such an important part, had seen the state of Israel grow significantly in size with land seized from her Arab neighbours. The occupied territories were soon settled, but being so close to Israel’s avowed enemies they were exposed to attack and needed defending. One solution was to use emplaced tank turrets.

As the M50 was withdrawn from service a number were modified and were used in a static role to defend the West Bank and the border with Lebanon and Syria. The tank was emplaced whole and all variants of the Sherman hull (including M4, M4A2 and M4A4 models) were seemingly used. Before installation the more modern HVSS tracks and suspension were removed and replaced by the old VVSS bogies which enabled the tank to be unloaded from the transporter and more easily moved to its final location. The engine deck was sometimes removed and replaced with a flat plate. Access to the position was gained either through an enlarged rear door or by removing the transmission cover at the front. A concrete walkway linked the entrance to the tank to a revetted communication trench that often led to further defensive positions. To provide extra protection for the hull, earth and rocks were banked around the tank so that only the turret was visible. Inside the M50, the engine was removed, as were all other fittings save for the turret basket and ammunition stowage. The tank retained its 75mm CN 75-50 main gun and coaxial 7.62mm MG. Later turrets from the more modern M48 tank were used with one being emplaced at Kibbutz Yiron.

Many of the tanks fielded by Israel’s neighbours in the six wars that punctuated the second half of the twentieth century were supplied by the Soviet Union or its satellite states. Many of these were captured by the Israelis and were pressed into service by the Israel Defence Forces, some as fixed fortifications. Turrets taken from ex-Soviet BTR 60 Armoured cars were used in the Golan Heights as were T34/85 turrets and there are also unconfirmed reports that IS3 turrets were used in the Bar Lev Line.

Today a number of these turrets can still be seen, but they are no longer in active service. The role of deterrent has now passed to helicopter gunships and ground-attack aircraft that are quickly able to strike at enemy insurgents.




Ultimately, technology caught up with ambition around the turn of the twentieth century. Science finally had advanced to create machines that could be controlled from afar and move about on their own. The robotic age was getting closer, and robots’ link with war would become even more closely intertwined.

The first real efforts started with Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, two rival scientists and the first of what we now would call electrical engineers. While working on various ways to transmit electricity, Edison and Tesla both experimented with radio-control devices. Because of his eccentric personality and lack of a good public relations team like Edison, Tesla would not gain the same place in history as his rival, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” and died penniless.

Tesla, though, did perhaps the most remarkable work at the time with remote-control devices. He first mastered wireless communication in 1893. Five years later, he demonstrated that he could use radio signals to remotely control the movements of a motorboat, holding a demonstration at Madison Square Garden. Tesla tried to sell this first remotely operated vehicle, along with the idea of remote-controlled torpedoes, to the U.S. military, but was rejected. As Tesla recounted, “I called an official in Washington with a view of offering the information to the government and he burst out laughing upon telling him what I had accomplished.” Tesla would not be the last inventor to find out that what was technically possible mattered less than whether it was bureaucratically imaginable. Two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, had the same experience a few years later when they first tried to sell their invention of manned flight.

The foundations then were laid for remote-controlled vehicles and weapons just as the First World War began. World War I proved to be an odd, tragic mix of outmoded generalship combined with deadly new technologies. From the machine gun and radio to the airplane and tank, transformational weapons were introduced in the war, but the generals could not figure out just how to use them. Instead, they clung to nineteenth-century strategies and tactics and the conflict was characterized by brave but senseless charges back and forth across a no-man’s-land of machine guns and trenches.

With war becoming less heroic and more deadly, unmanned weapons began to gain some appeal. On land, there was the “electric dog,” a three-wheeled cart (really just a converted tricycle) designed to carry supplies up to the trenches. A precursor to laser control, it followed the lights of a lantern. More deadly was the “land torpedo,” a remotely controlled armored tractor, loaded up with one thousand pounds of explosives, designed to drive up to enemy trenches and explode. It was patented in 1917 (appearing in Popular Science magazine) and a prototype was built by Caterpillar Tractors just before the war ended. In the air, the first of what we would now call cruise missiles was the Kettering “Bug” or “aerial torpedo.” This was a tiny unmanned plane that used a preset gyroscope and barometer to automatically fly on course and then crash into a target fifty miles away. Few of these remote-controlled weapons were bought in any numbers and most remained prototypes without any effect on the fighting.

The only system to be deployed in substantial numbers was at sea. Here, the Germans protected their coast with FL-7s, electronically controlled motorboats. The unmanned boats carried three hundred pounds of explosives and were designed to be rammed into any British ships that came near the German coast. Originally, they were controlled by a driver who sat atop a fifty-foot-high tower on shore, steering through a fifty-mile-long cable that spooled out of the back of the boat. Soon after, the Germans shifted the operator from a tower onto a sea-plane that would fly overhead, dragging the wire. Both proved unwieldy, and in 1916 Tesla’s invention of wireless radio control, now almost two decades old, was finally deployed in warfare.

Perhaps reflecting the fact that they were outnumbered in both these wars, the Germans again proved to be more inclined to develop and use unmanned systems when fighting began again in World War II. The best known of their weapons, akin to the land torpedo, was called the Goliath. About the size of a small go-cart and having a small tank track on each side, the Goliath of 1940 was shaped almost exactly like the Talon that Foster-Miller makes over six decades later. It carried 132 pounds of explosives. Nazi soldiers could drive the Goliath by remote control into enemy tanks and bunkers. Some eight thousand Goliaths were built; most saw service as a stopgap on the Eastern Front, where German troops were outnumbered almost three to one.

In the air, the Germans were equally revolutionary, deploying the first cruise missile (the V-1), ballistic missile (V-2), and jet fighter (Me-262). The Germans were also the first to operationally use remotely piloted drones. The FX-1400, known as the “Fritz,” was a 2,300-pound bomb with four small wings, tail controls, and a rocket motor. The Fritz would drop from a German plane flying at high altitude. A controller in the plane would then guide it into the target using a joystick that steered by radio. The Fritz made a strong debut in 1943, when the Italian battleship Roma was trying to defect to the Allies. Not knowing of the Fritz, the Italian sailors saw a German bomber plane, but didn’t worry too much as it was at a distance, height, and angle from which it couldn’t drop a bomb on top of them. A Fritz launched from the bomber and then flew into the Roma, sinking it with more than a thousand sailors lost.

The Allies were behind the Germans in these technologies, but they were no less futuristic in some of the things they sought to develop. In the United States, the focus of research was on aerial weapons and actually led to another of the great “what ifs?” of recent history. In 1944, “Operation Aphrodite” was launched in Europe. The idea was to strip down bomber planes and load them up with twenty-two thousand pounds of Torpex, a new explosive discovered to be 50 percent more powerful than TNT. A human crew would fly the plane during takeoff, arm the explosives in midair, and bail out. A mothership flying nearby would then take remote control of the bomber and, using two television cameras mounted in the drone’s cockpit, steer the plane into Nazi targets that were too well protected for manned bombers to hit.

On August 12, 1944, the naval version of one of these planes, a converted B-24 bomber, was sent to take out a suspected Nazi V-3, an experimental 300-foot-long “supercannon” that supposedly could hit London from over 100 miles away (unbeknownst to the Allies, the cannon had already been knocked out of commission in a previous air raid). Before the plane even crossed the English Channel, the volatile Torpex exploded and killed the crew.

The pilot was Joseph Kennedy Jr., older brother of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the United States. The two had spent much of their youth competing for the attention of their father, the powerful businessman and politician Joseph Sr. While younger brother JFK was often sickly and decidedly bookish, firstborn son Joe Jr. had been the “chosen one” of the family. He was a natural-born athlete and leader, groomed from birth to become the very first Catholic president. Indeed, it is telling that in 1940, just before war broke out, JFK was auditing classes at Stanford Business School, while Joe Jr. was serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. When the war started, Joe Jr. became a navy pilot, perhaps the most glamorous role at the time. John was initially rejected for service by the army because of his bad back. The navy relented and allowed John to join only after his father used his political influence.

When Joe Kennedy Jr. was killed in 1944, two things happened: the army ended the drone program for fear of angering the powerful Joe Sr. (setting the United States back for years in the use of remote systems), and the mantle of “chosen one” fell on JFK. When the congressional seat in Boston opened up in 1946, what had been planned for Joe Jr. was handed to JFK, who had instead been thinking of becoming a journalist. He would spend the rest of his days not only carrying the mantle of leadership, but also trying to live up to his dead brother’s carefree and playboy image.

The Aphrodite program was not the only remotely controlled weapons program that the Allies devised in World War II. The Brits, for example, developed what they darkly called “bombing without knowledge of path, place, or time” that used radio signals from afar to guide bombers in the dark. In the Pacific theater, more than 450 VB-1 Azons, a 1,000-pound radio-controlled glider bomb, were used to destroy targets in Burma, mainly bridges of the sort made famous in the movie The Bridge over the River Kwai.

The most widely produced unmanned plane in World War II, however, was used for training rather than combat. It was called the OQ-2 Radioplane, or sometimes the “Dennymite” after its maker, Reginald Denny. Denny was a British pilot during World War I, who then moved to Hollywood to become an actor. With his dashing looks and aristocratic accent, his career took off. Over the next forty years, he would appear in 172 films. The high point was his starring role opposite Greta Garbo in 1935’s Anna Karenina, the low point perhaps his final role as “Commodore Schmidlapp” in 1966’s Batman: The Movie.

While horsing around on set, Denny became a hobbyist of radio-controlled model airplanes. He saw a business opportunity in other fans, and so in 1934 opened Reginald Denny Hobby Shops, a model plane store located on Hollywood Boulevard. As war grew closer, Denny got the idea that cheap radio-controlled planes would make perfect targets to give more realistic training to antiaircraft gunners. In 1940, he pitched the idea of the planes, which he marketed to hobbyists as the “Dennymite,” for use as a target drone. The army signed a contract for fifty-three. Then Pearl Harbor happened. Over the next five years, the army would buy another fifteen thousand drones, making the Dennymite the first mass-produced unmanned plane in history.

To build so many drones, Denny had to move his manufacturing out of Hollywood and into a plant at the Van Nuys Airport. In 1944, army photographer David Conover was sent to this factory for a magazine shoot about women contributing to the war effort. He spotted a buxom woman spraying the drones with fire retardant. It was not the most sexy of settings but he thought this woman had potential as a model and sent his photos on to a friend at a model agency. Norma Jeane Dougherty soon dyed her mousy brown hair to platinum blond and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. After the war, the Northrop company bought out Denny, meaning that the icon of the blonde bombshell and the Global Hawk drone both were born in the same place.

More advancement was made during this period with computers and other automated systems, though, than with remote-controlled ones that went out into the world on their own. The most widely used of these automatic systems was the Norden bombsight.

Carl Norden was a Dutch engineer who moved to the United States in 1904. In 1920, he developed an analog computer that could calculate the trajectory of how a bomb would fall off a plane in flight. In a plane moving faster than three hundred feet per second, the human’s reaction time was too slow to use the computer’s calculation effectively, so the system automatically released the bomb at just the right time when it was sighted on a target. Norden’s bombsight could even be linked to the plane’s autopilot, taking over the flight controls on the final bombing run.

While it was advertised as being able to “put a bomb in a pickle barrel from twenty thousand feet,” the reality was that in combat conditions, the system was a little less accurate, typically hitting targets within one hundred to one thousand feet. Even so, the Norden was far more accurate than anything before it, and was used in all the U.S.’s heavy bombers during World War II. The device was considered so valuable that it was taken out of the plane and put in a safe after each mission. If their plane was about to crash, the crew was to shoot the bombsight with a thermite gun that would melt the computer.

The cost of the Norden program was $1.5 billion, almost the same as the Manhattan Project to make the first atomic bomb. Like many of the inventors, though, the “cranky” and “irascible” Norden was a bit of an oddball and never profited to the extent he might have. He didn’t like how the U.S. Army Air Corps had treated him when he had tried to sell them unmanned planes during World War I. So to get back, he sold his sight to the army’s greatest nemesis, not the Japanese or the Germans, but the U.S. Navy, for the grand price of one dollar. Throughout World War II, then, the U.S. Army had to buy its bomber sights from the U.S. Navy.

By the end of the war, the early B-17 and B-24 planes that Norden had equipped were being replaced by the far more sophisticated B-29 Superfortress. Besides the automated bombsight, the B-29 was the first plane to have a computer-controlled firing system, made up of twelve .50-caliber machine guns mounted in electric turrets, all remotely fired using an analog computer called the “Black Box.” It was a B-29, the Enola Gay, that would use a Norden bombsight to drop the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

The real breakthrough was in computers that stayed off the battlefield. The first that used programming as we now understand it was Colossus, built at the top-secret codebreakers’ lab at Bletchley Park, England. Weighing a ton, Colossus had fifteen hundred electronic valves to crank out the complex mathematics needed to break the Enigma code used by the Germans.

Colossus, however, used physical switches to store data, so the first truly electronic computer was ENIAC, the Electric Numerical Integrator and Computer. Built at the University of Pennsylvania in 1944, it weighed twenty-seven tons and took up eighteen hundred square feet of floor space. While it was an unwieldy system that required the wires to be reset for each different problem, ENIAC could crunch out equations in thirty seconds that took a human engineer with a slide rule more than twenty hours. It was put to work on everything from shell trajectories to the development of the hydrogen bomb. In 1951, the first commercial version was released, and it was soon put to use at such things as predicting election results. Officially, it was termed the UNIVAC, but the media called it the “Giant Electronic Brain.”

Greek Sicily

The Athenian siege of Syracuse, 415-413 BC. The scene is from 414 BC, when the Athenians bad established a fort at Syca (‘the fig tree ‘) on the Epipolae plateau above Syracuse, and embarked upon their usual strategy of periteichismos [encirclement]. Specialist masons and carpenters appear to have accompanied the army to Sicily, and tools for construction work were a normal part of their equipment.

One consequence of this broad diaspora is that there are as many superb Greek sites in Italy, Sicily and Asia Minor as there are in the area we now know as Greece. The greater part, inevitably, has been lost; and yet, in Sicily alone, at Selinunte—formerly Selinus—there are at least seven temples of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. in tolerable states of preservation, though most of those still standing do so only thanks to a long and ambitious program of reconstruction in the past half-century. Of the nine at Agrigento, five are more impressive still and, particularly around sunset, quite astonishingly beautiful. Loveliest of all is Segesta, set in a fold of hills an easy drive from Palermo (but just out of sight, thank God, of the motorway). It is actually unfinished—the projecting bosses used for shifting the blocks of stone were never filed away—but the general impression is one of quiet perfection, everything a late-fifth-century B.C. Doric monument ought to be. There is also, high on the opposite hillside, a beautifully preserved third-century theater, from which one can look down on the temple and marvel that such a sublime building should have survived virtually intact after two and a half thousand years.

Finally, the cathedral of Syracuse, one of the only cathedrals to have been built five centuries before the birth of Christ. Its splendid baroque façade gives no hint of what lies within, but the interior tells a very different story. The columns that support the building are those of the original Doric temple of Athena, erected by the tyrant Gelon to celebrate his victory over Carthage in 480 B.C. and famous for its magnificence all over the ancient world. Under the Romans, its greatest treasures were stolen by the unspeakably corrupt Governor Verres, against whom Cicero so famously thundered. The Byzantines converted it for the first time into a Christian church; the Arabs turned it into a mosque. Normans and Spaniards both made their own contributions; a series of earthquakes did their worst; and there was a major reconstruction in 1693 after the collapse of the Norman façade. Those ancient columns, however, survived all their tribulations, and still stand to prove once again that most curious of historical-religious phenomena: that once a place is recognized as holy, then, regardless of all changes in the prevailing faith, holy it remains.

But who, you may ask, was this tyrant Gelon, who started the whole thing? Of all the tyrants—those men who ruled their cities as virtual dictators and who played all too large a part in Greek-Sicilian history—Gelon could boast the most distinguished parentage. Herodotus claims that his ancestors had founded the city of Gela. The prototypes of these tyrants first make their appearance in the early sixth century B.C.—Panaetius in Leontini, Phalaris in Acragas and one or two others. About Panaetius we know next to nothing, and of Phalaris very little except that he greatly enjoyed eating babies and small children, and that he possessed a huge, hollow bull of bronze in which he tended to roast those who displeased him. We are a good deal better informed about Pantares of Gela, whose four-horse chariot was victorious in the Olympic Games of 512 or 508, and whose sons Cleander and Hippocrates ruled successively after him. It was on the death of Hippocrates in 491—killed in battle with the Sicels on the slopes of Mount Etna—that Gelon, his former cavalry commander, seized power. He ruled in his native city for six years, then in 485 moved to Syracuse, taking more than half its population with him. The move was sensible, if not inevitable. Gela, as we have seen, had no harbor; but no one beached ships anymore if they could avoid it, and in all the Greek world there were few harbors more magnificent than that of Syracuse.

But Syracuse was more than its harbor. It also possessed an island, separated from it by no more than a hundred yards, which could serve as a huge, self-contained fortress. It was here that the first Greek colonists founded their city, which they called Ortygia after one of the epithets of Artemis. Almost miraculously, the island possessed a seemingly inexhaustible spring of freshwater at the very edge of the sea; this they dedicated to Arethusa, one of the goddess’s attendant nymphs.

Over the next few years Gelon transformed his new conquest into a powerful and prosperous city. In this he was greatly aided by an idiotic attack on Syracuse by another Greek city, Megara Hyblaea, some ten or twelve miles up the coast. Herodotus tells us the story:

[Gelon] brought to Syracuse the men of substance, who had instigated the war and therefore expected to be put to death, and he made them citizens. The common people, who had no share in the responsibility for the war and therefore expected to suffer no evil, he also took to Syracuse and there he sold them into slavery for export outside Sicily….He did this because he thought the commons were the most unpleasant to live with.

It was not long before Gelon, with his ally, the immensely rich Theron of Acragas, had extended his power across the greater part of Greek Sicily. Selinus and Messina alone managed to preserve their independence; and it was Anaxilas of Messina who took what appeared to be the only course open to him if he and his people were to escape absorption. He appealed to Carthage.

At this point—and before we go any further—it might be a good idea to say something about Carthage. It was originally Phoenician, and the Phoenicians—the Canaanites of the Old Testament—were a very curious people indeed. Unlike their contemporaries in Egypt, they seem to have made little or no attempt to found a single, coherent state. The Old Testament refers to the people of Tyre and Sidon, and we read in the First Book of Kings how Hiram, King of Tyre, sent King Solomon timber and skilled craftsmen for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. His people had developed one memorable home industry: gathering the shells of the murex—a form of mollusc which secreted a rich purple dye,worth far more than its weight in gold.*2 But their principal interest lay always in the lands to the west—with whom, however, they traded more as a loose confederation of merchant communities than as anything resembling a nation. Today we remember them above all as seafarers, a people who sailed to every corner of the Mediterranean and quite often beyond, setting up trading colonies not only in Sicily but in the Balearic Islands and along the shores of North Africa. Beyond the Strait of Gibraltar they had important settlements on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and on the promontory of Cádiz; they probably even crossed the English Channel in search of Cornish tin.

As for Carthage, it had gained its independence around 650 B.C., and by the fifth century it had developed into a formidable city-state, by far the most important and influential of all the Phoenician settlements in the Mediterranean, occupying the site of what is now Tunis. People are always surprised when they look on the map to find that Tunisia is not south of Sicily but due west of it, and that the distance between the two is barely a hundred miles. Carthage was highly centralized and efficiently governed. It was not, in short, a presence that could be taken for granted. It responded to Messina’s appeal—and on a scale far beyond anyone’s expectation or, indeed, understanding. The response was not immediate, but that was simply because the Carthaginians meant business. They were not interested in just helping out small-time tyrants in distress; they were aiming at something a good deal more ambitious. They spent the next three years amassing a huge army, not only from North Africa but from Spain, Corsica and Sardinia, while building up an equally massive fleet; and in 480, under the command of their Chief Magistrate Hamilcar, they landed at Palermo. From there they advanced eastward along the coast to Himera, and attacked.

What happened next is almost as incomprehensible as the size and scale of the expedition itself. Theron—Gelon’s principal ally—who had been carefully following the passage of the Carthaginian fleet and was now standing ready to resist the invaders, at first found himself hopelessly outnumbered; but he was able to hold the situation until the arrival of Gelon from Syracuse, with an army comparable in size to that of Hamilcar but infinitely better equipped and trained. Meanwhile, to their bewilderment, the Carthaginians found themselves entirely alone. Of Anaxilas and his Messinans—who had invited them in the first place—there was not a sign; nor was there any help from Selinus. In the desperate encounter that followed Hamilcar was killed—or, as some say, took his own life by leaping into a blazing fire; his ships, drawn up defenseless on the beach, were burned to cinders. Vast numbers of prisoners were enslaved, and Carthage was obliged to pay an immense indemnity, of which Gelon made excellent use, building not only his great temple of Athena but two lesser temples in a developing quarter of Syracuse, dedicated to Demeter and Persephone—the goddess of fertility and the harvest, and her daughter, queen of the dead.

After the Battle of Himera—which, Herodotus tells us, was fought on the very same day as the great Athenian victory against the Persians at Salamis—it was as if the Carthaginian expedition had never been. Carthage retired to lick her wounds; she made no attempt to take her revenge or resume hostilities, remaining quiet for the next seventy years. Anaxilas was allowed to continue in Messina as before; indeed, he felt secure enough to travel to Olympia, where he won a not very exciting race for mule carts at the Games. He seems gradually to have reconciled himself to Syracusan hegemony; a year or two later he married his daughter to Hiero, Gelon’s younger brother and successor. As for Gelon himself, he died in 478 B.C. For many years he had been the most powerful figure in the entire Greek world—perhaps in all Europe. Despite Herodotus’s nasty little story above he had shown himself, for a tyrant, unusually just and merciful; we are told that, as one of the conditions of the peace treaty, he insisted that the Carthaginians should give up their traditional practice of human sacrifice—which they somewhat regretfully did. It was not only in Syracuse, but in many other cities of Magna Graecia, that Gelon was deeply and genuinely mourned.

The immense popularity and respect in which Gelon was held should have rubbed off on Hiero, but it somehow failed to do so. Hiero meant well enough, but he possessed little of his brother’s ability and intelligence. Some basic insecurity led him to establish a formidable secret police, which had little effect other than to make him more unpopular still. Like Gelon, he was a great mover of populations, transporting the people of Naxos and Catania to Leontini, and actually refounding Catania under a new name—Etna—and populating it with immigrants from the Peloponnese. He was ambitious too: in 474 B.C., in response to an appeal from Cumae, he sent a fleet across to the Bay of Naples, where it inflicted a crushing defeat on the Etruscans.

Perhaps his most attractive feature was his love of the arts: Pindar and Simonides, together with many other lesser poets and philosophers, were welcomed to his court at Syracuse, as was the tragedian Aeschylus, but somehow the old magic was gone. It is the inherent weakness of autocracies that their success depends entirely on the character and strength of the autocrat. Hereditary monarchy can take the occasional weak ruler in its stride; tyranny collapses. Hiero, alas, was found wanting. He survived long enough to win an Olympic chariot race in 468 B.C., but died the following year. He was briefly and ingloriously succeeded by two more of his brothers, who were thrown out one after the other.

At this point it was certainly on the cards that some new, unrelated adventurer might have seen his chance and staged a coup d’état; for some reason, however, tyranny suddenly dropped out of fashion. It was not only Syracuse—by far the most important city in Sicily—that reverted to a form of democracy, but almost all the petty tyrannies (whose fortunes we have no time, space or reason to follow here) across the island. This change of heart raised its own problems: so many local populations had been uprooted and transported to other cities that it was almost impossible to determine who deserved a vote and who did not, and the result was half a century of considerable confusion. It was this, perhaps, which in 415 B.C. emboldened the Athenians to launch against Syracuse what Thucydides described as the most splendid and costly fleet ever to have sailed from a single Greek city—more than 250 ships and some 40,000 men.

For reasons not entirely clear, Athens had been showing a faintly sinister interest in Sicily since the 450s, when she had most improbably signed a treaty of friendship with Segesta—a diplomatic coup comparable, perhaps, to a pact today between China and Paraguay. A number of similar treaties followed, and when in 427 Leontini appealed for help in resisting an attack by Syracuse, the Athenians immediately sent twenty ships. This might have seemed generous enough at any time; during the fourth year of the Peloponnesian War, when Athens was fighting for her very existence, it was little short of astonishing. Thucydides claims, not very convincingly, that their object was to prevent the dispatch of grain to their enemies.

The Peloponnesian War—which was basically a struggle between Athens and Sparta—had had little effect on Sicily until 415; in the previous year, however, hostilities had flared up—not for the first time—between the two western cities of Segesta and Selinus. Segesta, being by far the weaker of the two, having appealed in vain for help to Acragas, Syracuse and Carthage, finally in despair sent an embassy to Athens. Athens was still technically at war, but warfare had given way to a period of uneasy truce and she had large numbers of bored fighting men who needed employment. She also had a dazzling young senator named Alcibiades—a former ward of the great Pericles—who enthusiastically championed the idea of a large-scale expedition to Sicily. He had no very high opinion of the Sicilians; and in a long speech to the Senate, he explained why:

Although the Sicilian cities are populous, their inhabitants are a mixed multitude, and they readily give up old forms of government and receive new ones from outside. No one really feels that he has a city of his own….They are a motley crew, who are never of one mind in counsel and are incapable of any concerted action.

The Athenians believed him, and launched their expedition.

Almost immediately, the plight of Segesta seems to have been forgotten; the Athenians had bigger fish to fry. They may well have had in mind the subjection of all Sicily, but it was clear that their first objective must be the island’s most important city, Syracuse. To Syracuse, therefore, they sailed; but the army had hardly landed before its commanders began to quarrel. Alcibiades, who was by far the ablest of them, was recalled to Athens almost at once to answer charges of profanation, and played no further part in the fighting; had he done so the expedition might have ended very differently. None of his fellow generals seems to have had any overall plan of attack; for weeks they shilly-shallied, giving Syracuse plenty of time to prepare a firm resistance—and to appeal for help. Sparta with its superbly trained army and Corinth with its magnificent navy were swift to respond, and the Athenians soon found that the conquest of Sicily, or even only of Syracuse, was by no means to be the walkover that they had expected.

Moreover, unlike Athens, Syracuse possessed a superb commander. His name was Hermocrates. He is described by Thucydides as highly intelligent, experienced in war and of conspicuous courage, and by Xenophon as thorough, diligent and, as a general, unusually accessible to his men. In 415 he had been among the first to warn his countrymen of the Athenian danger, and had made a determined attempt to unite all Sicily—together with Carthage—against Athens while there was still time. In this he had failed, being by some written off as an alarmist, by others reviled as a warmonger; and more than a vestige of these suspicions seems to have remained, as the Syracusans absolutely refused to entrust him with supreme command, electing him instead as merely one of three generals who would share the executive authority between them. This asinine arrangement meant that, to a very considerable extent, his hands were tied.

The fighting continued for two full years, and on at least two occasions the Athenians had the city almost within their grasp. In 414 a major slave revolt was narrowly averted, and later the same year Hermocrates was obliged to open peace negotiations; only the timely arrival, with substantial reinforcements, of the Spartan general Gylippus saved the situation. Gylippus was not initially popular in Syracuse, but he soon showed himself a thoroughgoing professional and Hermocrates, swallowing his pride, accepted him as his superior officer. It was these two men together who were ultimately responsible for the Athenian defeat—a defeat which Athens was to take a long time to live down.

But there were other causes as well. As time went by the Athenian soldiers became ever more homesick and demoralized, and thus increasingly vulnerable to epidemics, particularly of malaria—unknown in Athens but rampant in Sicily. At last the Athenian commanders accepted that they had failed and gave the order to withdraw. But they were too late. The Syracusans and their allies launched a sudden last-minute attack; the Athenian fleet was trapped inside the harbor and annihilated. What followed was little short of a massacre. After it, the two principal Athenian generals, Nicias—despite being seriously ill—and Demosthenes, were executed, while some 7,000 of their men were captured and forced to work in those fearsome limestone quarries that can be visited just outside the city. The marks of their pickaxes can still be seen. In the next few months many of them were to die of cold and exposure. Countless others were branded on the forehead with the mark of a horse and then sold into slavery. (Plutarch’s claim that a few lucky ones were set free because they could recite a chorus or two of Euripides can, alas, be discounted.) Thucydides summed it up: “the victors earned the most brilliant of successes, the vanquished the most calamitous of defeats.”

Sicily was victorious and, for the moment, safe from foreign invaders; but the Peloponnesian War was by no means over and Hermocrates, now unemployed, assumed command of a fleet of twenty triremes to fight for Sparta in the Aegean. For two years all went well; but in 410 fate turned against him. Perhaps he was less gifted as an admiral than he was as a general; at any rate, in the course of a grim battle off Cyzicus on the Sea of Marmara every one of his ships was destroyed by an Athenian fleet. He returned to Sicily, only to find the gates of Syracuse firmly closed against him—perhaps because, despite his excellent past record, the citizens mistrusted his obvious ambition and feared that he might make himself a tyrant. Their fears were probably well justified, but we shall never know: in 407, while making a determined bid to force his way into the city, he was surrounded and killed.

Marlborough’s March to the Danube

Marlborough and Cadogan at the Battle of Blenheim by Pieter van Bloemen

The affairs of the Grand Alliance failed to prosper elsewhere as Philip V proved to be popular in much of Spain, and Maximilien-Emmanuel Wittelsbach the Elector of Bavaria, having combined forces with the French, moved on to threaten Vienna. If this threat became reality, and Vienna should be occupied, even for a short time, then the Grand Alliance would almost certainly fall apart.

Early in 1704, Queen Anne gave her consent to a plan hatched by Marlborough and the Austrian ambassador, Count Wratislaw, to go to the aid of the emperor. In effect, Marlborough would take those troops in the queen’s pay up the course of the river Rhine to combine with the Imperial troops in southern Germany and confront the elector to remove the threat to Vienna. For Marlborough, this offered the chance to be free of the constraints imposed on him by the Dutch, while countering one of Louis XIV’s main strategic initiatives, that of driving Austria out of the war. The southern frontier of Holland would be exposed by such a movement, but the Dutch troops in Marlborough’s army would remain on guard there, under the reliable command of Veldt-Marshal Overkirk. The duke could see, and managed to persuade his Dutch colleagues of the fact, that if he marched south, the French would be unable to ignore the strategic re-balancing that was being made in the Allies’ war effort and would have to follow, so that the immediate threat to Holland would subside.

Speed was of the essence in order that the French should remain off-balance. The remarkable march of Marlborough’s army in the early summer of 1704, from the Low Counties up the course of the Rhine and then across the passes of the Swabian Jura mountains, is well known, a major switch in the emphasis of the efforts of the Grand Alliance from northern to southern Europe. The dramatic change went virtually unchallenged while it was in progress; Louis XIV was taken by surprise at such an audacious move, and his army in Bavaria, under the command of the recently promoted Marshal Ferdinand Marsin was soon under threat. The countermove by the king was to hurriedly send a fresh French army, commanded by Marshal Tallard, through the Black Forest passes to go to the support of Marsin and the Elector of Bavaria. In the meantime, dictating the pace of the campaign and always one step ahead, Marlborough had joined Prince Eugene of Savoy, the president of the Imperial War Council, and the Margrave of Baden, the Imperial field commander, and agreed with them a joint strategy to deal with the threat to Vienna. In short, Eugene would go to hold the upper Rhine secure, while Marlborough and Baden combined forces to engage Marsin and the elector on the Danube.

First of all, Marlborough had to get his army across the river Danube and interpose it between Vienna and the French and Bavarian forces. This he did in emphatic style on 2 July 1704, by seizing the partly fortified Schellenberg hill above the small town of Donauwörth at the junction of the Wornitz River with the Danube, and he destroyed Count d’Arco’s Franco-Bavarian force there in the process. Marlborough now had a secure crossing to the southern bank of the Danube. Having placed his army between Vienna and the French and Bavarians, his principal objective in the campaign, he could operate almost at will in the region. On the other hand, of course, Marsin and the elector might come out of their defences to fight, although news of the approach of a fresh French army under Tallard was soon received in the Allied camp, and it seemed almost certain that nothing would be attempted until Tallard’s arrival in Bavaria. Meanwhile, in an effort to prise the elector away from the French, the duke embarked on a ruthless campaign of destruction in Bavaria, but the elector was not to be moved from his own set course and clung to his alliance with Louis XIV, despite the urging of his wife. By late summer there was something of a stalemate in southern Germany; Marlborough could not winter his army south of the Danube, at least partly because the region had been devastated by his own cavalry and dragoons. The alternative was to withdraw along his own newly established supply lines towards Nuremburg in central Germany, but this would be a tacit admission of failure, and whether the campaign in the south could be renewed in 1705, with the Dutch growing more anxious at the duke’s continued absence, was very much in doubt. Also in doubt would be Marlborough’s reputation as a commanding general who could deliver real success, particularly as many politicians in London were far from convinced that their troops should be so far away at all, on what might prove to be a fool’s errand.

An English grenadier with a captured French colour at the Battle of Blenheim.

On 13 August 1704 all such misgivings were set to rest. Marlborough had joined forces with Prince Eugene and attacked and defeated the French and Bavarian armies on the plain of Höchstädt, in the battle that became known as Blenheim (from the nearby village of Blindheim, into which Marshal Tallard’s French infantry were pointlessly packed and then herded away as prisoners of war). ‘We took them all prisoners,’ Donald McBane, serving with Orkney’s Regiment, wrote, ‘they laid down their arms and marched a mile to the right of our army, we took a great many of their head officers, with the standards, tents, and their whole Train and ammunition.’ In the aftermath of utter defeat, Marshal Marsin and the elector conducted a withdrawal to the Rhine with their own battered forces, and the closing months of the year saw a series of hard-fought rearguard actions and sieges of such places as Landau in Alsace and Trarbach on the Moselle. This dogged resistance, conducted in part by François de Neufville, Marshal Villeroi, a close friend of Louis XIV, slowed the Allied progress and prevented Marlborough from making the most of his astonishingly successful campaign that summer. Despite this, the French king had lost the ability to win the war on that terrible day in August; the complete destruction of one of his main field armies was a blow that could not easily be set right. ‘The loss of France could not be measured by men or fortresses. A hundred victories since Rocroi had taught the world to regard the French army as invincible, when Blenheim, and the surrender of the flower of French soldiery, broke the spell.’ All this might be so, but Louis XIV had not yet lost the war – it remained to be seen whether the Grand Alliance could make the most of this turn of events and prudently achieve an advantageous peace for themselves.

The victory at Blenheim, so unexpected and so complete, was greeted with relief and jubilation across the Alliance. Marlborough was the hero of the hour, seen to be clearly one of the great captains of all time, a true ‘master of the field’. Honours flowed to him and his commanders. Eugene had his share of glory, of course, although the Margrave of Baden had gone to lay siege to the Bavarian-held fortress of Ingolstadt early in August and had not, to his regret, been present on the day of victory. Making the most of this success, however, was not that simple, and the duke found that he was unavoidably drawn back into the Low Countries to campaign in 1705. His overall plan for the year, almost certainly too ambitious and optimistic, was to take his troops to combine with the Imperial army under Baden to sweep through the Moselle valley into the heart of northern France, while Veldt-Marshal Overkirk held the line with a Dutch corps in the Southern Netherlands. Nothing went well – the weather was bad, the Margrave was delayed (partly due to still convalescing from a wound to his foot suffered at the Schellenberg). The duke, Captain Robert Parker wrote, ‘was greatly chagrined at the disappointment, as he had conceived great hopes of penetrating France that way . . . had the prince [Baden] joined him according to their agreement, the French must have drawn from the Netherlands a good part of their troops.’ It would, though, not have been quite so simple as the good captain suggests, for the formidable Marshal Villars, always a sound tactician, held strong defensive positions along the line of the Moselle. In addition, Emperor Leopold had died in Vienna that May, adding uncertainty to the Alliance. To complicate all this, the contractor who was supposed to be gathering stores in Trier embezzled the funds and defected to the French instead. Marlborough’s troops were out of position and short of supplies: ‘We camped on a hill called Hungry Hill,’ Donald McBane remembered ruefully.

Matters turned worse on 10 June, when Marshal Villeroi seized the town of Huy on the Meuse River, and Overkirk, thoroughly alarmed at the sudden French move, urgently sent word for Marlborough to return as soon as he could. The duke had little option but to abandon his already faltering Moselle campaign and force march his troops back to the Low Countries, where Huy was soon recovered and Villeroi forced back behind his defences. These works, known as the Lines of Brabant, stretched in a huge arc some 60 miles long, from Antwerp in the north down to Namur on the Meuse, and shielded the French field army as it manoeuvred to counter whatever Marlborough and Overkirk might attempt. On 17 July 1705 Marlborough forced his way through the lines at Elixheim on the Gheete stream and drove off the French and Bavarian detachment he met there with heavy losses. Villeroi fell back behind the shelter of the Lys River to cover Louvain, but a move by the duke to confront him there was frustrated by Dutch reluctance to move quickly enough once an initial crossing of the river had been accomplished. A month later, in mid-August, an attempt by the duke to overwhelm a French force under the Marquis de Grimaldi on the Yssche River to the south of Brussels failed because the Dutch generals and their field deputies were unwilling to undertake what they, quite understandably in fact, foresaw would be an expensive engagement. The duke might invite his allies to come to a ball, but he could not, yet, be sure that they would dance.

For his part, Marlborough declared that he would no longer work under such restrictions. The States-General, tacitly acknowledging that the campaign had stalled at least in part due to the restrictions under which he had to operate, quietly transferred elsewhere the more obstinate and short-sighted of their generals and field deputies and assured the duke of full cooperation in future. ‘If he would continue at the head of the army on their frontier . . . they would readily comply withal.’ To a large degree, they proved to be as good as their word in the years that followed. Difficulties did persist, however, over the precise terms of service and prompt payments of subsidies with some of the Protestant leaders who provided such excellent troops for the Alliance, a number of whom, welcome and gifted with military expertise or otherwise, wished to take the field in person.

George Crouch PT 1-4 and Scott Paine PT-9

The unusual hull shape of the Crouch-designed PT 1 is clearly visible in this view of the boat on the deck of a seaplane carrier. The whale-back form was carried along the full hull length, as in the CMBs.

On 11 July 1938, invitations to builders and designers (with the exception of inverted-V boat designers) were issued with prizes awarded for the winning PT boat designs given out on 30 March 1939. In an important note after winning the design competition for the smaller PT boat, George Crouch wrote that Hickman’s Sea Sled design would be far superior “in either rough or smooth water to that of the best possible V-bottom or hard chine design”. Earlier when Sea Sleds were specifically excluded, Crouch had informed the Bureau of Ships that the Sea Sled was the best type of vessel for the job. On 8 June 1939, contracts were let to the Fogal Boat Yard, Inc., later known as the Miami Shipbuilding Co., of Miami, Florida, for PT-1 and -2 “Crash Boats”, and to the Fisher Boat Works, Detroit, Michigan, for PT-3 and -4. These four boats were designed by George Crouch, and modified in some details by the Bureau of Ships.

PT 1 thru PT 4 based on the 25ft aluminum test model 9. Model was requested for use during training.

Original 3M2500s were left (port engine) and right (starboard engine). These were upgraded to two right 4M2500s in Jan 41. The engine and fuel tank compartment metal framing is all aluminum.

Construction: Considered superior and boat was 10% lighter than contract (light load 38,000 lbs – trial displacement 56,600 lbs). In comparison, sister boats PT-1 and PT-2 built in Miami were about 4,000-6,000 lbs heavier (not sure if this was due to construction or equipment). Items such as the portholes were light weight aluminum and the boat even used a lightweight Northill Anchor (same typed used by seaplanes).

Performance: Boat handled 8-10 ft waves very well and was compared favorably over PT-9’s pounding. Boat turned easily on a very close radius and gave a feeling of complete stability in turn (banked very well into turn). At 2000 rpm, boat turned in 4 1/2 boat lengths. Maintained a pretty constant 4 degree trim angle. Hump speed approximately 12-16 knots.

Big problem seemed to be the prop slip, which reduced the HP. At a top speed of 34 knots (2400 rpm with 3M2500s), boat was losing an estimated 450 HP. Two different sets of props were tested (first 25 x 23 and then 26 x 27) a third was requested (greater pitch and increased blade area) for model testing with the tests completed 5 months after the transfer of the boat to Lend-Lease. Hull performance graphs indicate the boat hull design would easily allow speeds up through 40 knots, however I could not find any follow on performance tests with the 4M2500s or if a third set of different size props were ever installed. Looking at all the early PT boat BuShips data, props, either having the wrong size (P and D), using race type wheels which wore out quickly, or suffering from excessive cavitation, seem to be a constant theme.

As far as critiques from the various reports, maneuvering and seakeeping were excellent, as were the cockpit layout and internal arrangement, however the boat’s small size (59 ft), restricted deck size due to the rolled chine and deck mounted mufflers, and the stern launched torpedoes came up on the negative. In response to the restricted deck, it was stated that the rolled chine gave this light weight boat great strength (it is true she never suffered the hull and deck problems of boats without the rolled chine). Since she planed early, not sure how well her design would have taken to weapons overloading and her small fuel capacity (1665 gal) would have also been a limiting factor. Lastly, having to run on 1 prop required excessive rudder to drive her at what turned out to be an inefficient speed (just below hump speed). Her best operational speed seems to have been about 25-26 knots.

Of note, PT-4 was built with two 3M2500s and was suppose to receive a centerline 700 HP Allison. Found no indication that this Allison engine was ever installed (initial trials done with just the two Packards).

PT-3 and PT-9 during test runs


Considering that the US Navy really had no idea what they wanted at the time of her contract, she did directly address the severe weight (transportation) requirements and incorporated many advanced features.

Some noteworthy design features.

– oak steam bent framing spaced every 10 and continues through barrel back.

– curved tumble home provides strength and stiffens hull, and eliminates normally weak deck edge to hull transition.

– double longitudinal planking provides lightweight strength and eliminates additional weight requirement of sandwiched cloth/canvas.

– use of carriage bolts to secure planking to lightweight framing, allows crew to tighten hull from inside.

– combination of framing structure with planking provided a very strong and mildly flexible hull.

– hull form is a warped plane design and overall narrow in design, but keeping the stern wide, in comparison to midships, seems to have minimized suction and stern squatting. Photos indicate that boat lifted up on step at a constant angle. As fuel consumed, weight would shift slightly forward.

– used two Packards for power (first PT Boat with these) For this design, the Navy required the engines to be mounted on a steel frame. In order to accommodate the engines, boat uses some sort of “v” drive. PT-3’s engine compartment construction has a forward and aft steel bulkhead with engine hoist. Hull and deck framing are wood. During the construction in 1939, both PT-3 and 4 were delayed by four months due to the unavailability of the new 3M2500 Packards.

– muffler system (although huge)

You can understand why this small boat was considered obsolete once the Navy figured out what they didn’t want (stern fired torpedoes), but I believe she was an important design worthy of note in PT Boat development and exceeded the designs of newer boats in frame and hull construction and showed the experience of George Crouch.

The hull is relatively straight chine aft of midships (widest part and transom only differ by 2 ft) and the back portion of the hull only has a slight change in deadrise. The hull is also not concave in form, you would expect suction loads to be on the lesser side and would not expect to see much squatting of the boat on plane. Trim angle on plane (from photographs) estimated at about 2.5-3°.

Because of the position of the fuel tanks (aft) and the weight of the engine room steel framing and engines, the center of gravity (CG) for PT-3 is pretty far aft. The center of buoyancy (CB) is guestimated at about 23-21 feet from the transom. As she starts to plane, CB would move aft and probably move very close to the boat’s CG which I believe to be about 20-18 feet from the transom.

She probably rides very well on glass calm based on other George Crouch designs. Deadrise is good at entry indicating potential for a smooth ride, however, in rougher sea states, her lack of a deep forefoot would probably result in some pounding forces, although the steep deadrise and slight convex shape of the bow would help. Having such a large hull sail area out of the water forward would probably make PT-3 very susceptible to beam wind forces when on plane. When operating at lower speeds, the CG being aft of the CB would probably make PT-3 susceptible to yawing motions in following seas. As for turning, she was probably good at slower speeds, but would suffer a bit at higher speeds due to not having the forefoot in contact with the water.

PT-3s actual hump speed is probably somewhere about 25-26 kts. Even with the steel framing in the engine room, weight saving building techniques are obvious, so she was intended to be a planing hull design.

PT-9        70′ Scott Paine Experimental Motor Torpedo Boat:

  • Laid down by the British Power Boat Co., Ltd., Hythe, Hampshire, England
  • Acquired by the Navy 24 July 1940, placed in service and assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron ONE (MTBRon 1) for evaluations
  • MTBRon 1, under the command of Lt. Earl S. Caldwell, USN, was the first squadron commissioned, and originally was made up of experimental boats
  • Transferred 8 November 1940 to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron TWO (MTBRon 2) under the command of now Lt. Comdr. Caldwell
  • MTBRon 2 tested the first 70′ Elco boats in Florida and Caribbean waters in the winter of 1940/41
  • Transferred to the Royal Navy 11 April 1941 and reclassified HM MTB-258
  • Transfer to the Royal Navy canceled, subsequently transferred to Canada 23 September 1942 and reclassified V-264 where she served in the Halifax and Gaspe area as a harbor defense force vessel
  • Reclassified S-09
  • Reassigned in March 1943 to Quebec for blackout patrols on the Saint Lawrence River
  • Reassigned in 1944 to Toronto, Ontario as a range control and safety vessel
  • Returned to U.S. custody 1 February 1945
  • Sold for scrap 5 September 1946Naval Vessel Register of 1 January 1949 lists transfer to the War Shipping Administration in October 1946.Specifications:
  • Displacement 55 t.
  • Length 70′
  • Beam 20′
  • Draft 5′
  • Speed 41 kts.
  • Armament: Four 18″ torpedoes and two twin .30 cal. Browning machine guns Torpedoes removed prior to transfer. Machine guns retained and eight depth charges added by Royal Canadian Navy
  • Propulsion: Three 1,500shp Packard V12 M2500 gasoline engines, three shafts Reengined with two 550hp Kermath V-12 gasoline engines.



Object 279

In 1957, a group of engineers, headed by L. S. Troyanov, developed a prototype of a new heavy tank, named “Object 279“. This was a very unique vehicle. The tank had a classic layout, but the problem of protection was solved by an unusual design feature. The hull of the tank was covered by a thin elliptical shield. That shield protected the tank against HEAT ammunition and to prevent it from overturning during a nuclear explosion.

The thickness of the glacis plate was 269 mm, and the thickness of the turret was 305 mm. The tank was armed with a 130 mm M-65 gun and a coaxial 14.5 mm KPVT machine-gun. The ammunition carried for the main gun was 24 shells. The Engine was a 16-cylinder diesel DG-1000 (950 hp) or 2DG-8M (1000 hp). The tank’s crew consisted of four men.

Another unusual feature of the tank was the chassis. It consisted of four tracks combined in pairs. Such construction increased the tank’s height, but guaranteed that the tank would rarely get bogged down. The tank also had great tractability on snowy and swampy terrain. At the end of 1957, a single tank had been built, but after that the project was abandoned. The “Object 279” is now displayed at Kubinka.

The Italians in Roman armies

South Italic warriors, c. 400BCE, art by Giuseppe Rava

Semper populum Romanum alienis rebus arbitrio alieno usum; et principium et finem in potesta tem ipsorum, qui ope sua velint adiutos Romanos, esse.

The Roman people had always employed the property of other peoples with their consent; the decision to provide assistance, both the beginning and the end, was under the control of those who wished the Roman people to enjoy their aid. (Livy 32.8.14)

The Romans relied heavily on the resources of their Italian allies, as the Senate informed Attalus II of Pergamum in 198 BCE in the passage above (all dates BCE unless otherwise noted). Of course there was a significant difference between the façade of willing, even eager, assistance the Romans promoted and the reality of allied support. In the centuries in which Rome rose from one among many Italian communities to hegemon of the peninsula, the story of the peoples of Italy in Roman armies is one of gradual integration and subordination. Roman armies in the fourth century and earlier resembled other Italian armies of the day. An important aspect of early Italian warfare was military cooperation, facilitated by overlapping bonds of formal and informal relationships between communities and individuals. Over the third century and culminating in the Second Punic War, the Romans organized their Italian allies into large conglomerate units that were placed under Roman officers. At the same time, the Romans generally took more direct control of the military resources of their allies as the idea of military obligation developed. The integration and subordination of the Italians under increasing Roman domination fundamentally altered their relationships. By the late second century, the Italians were vestiges of past traditions that no longer fitted into a changing world, resulting in growing feelings of discontent and eventually outright rebellion. Italian military resources were key to the growth of the Roman empire, but over time the balance of power changed the fundamental military relationship of the Romans with the other peoples of Italy.

Early Italian warfare

Italy prior to the Roman conquest, ending ca. 265, was a land divided amongst hundreds of communities constantly in conflict, often at war, with one another. The narrative of early Roman history is dominated by annual wars with neighbors, while the great men of Rome were nearly all warriors. The evidence that survives in the literary record is naturally one sided, focusing on the supposedly inevitable rise of Rome to hegemon of Italy. Where Italians come into the narrative is secondary, as opponents or supporting characters in a Roman tale. Despite the limitations of the sources, what survives reveals the Italian foundations of the Roman army’s reliance on allied soldiers. While warfare was common there was also an important aspect of cooperation, which is important when looking at the nature of military interaction in Italy. Both the contentiousness and cooperation shaped how the Italians fit into Roman armies and the eventual growth of empire.

The fluid and chaotic nature of community interactions is clearly demonstrated in the events from 343 to 338, the First Samnite War and the great Latin War (Livy 7.32?8.14; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.307?311). Around the year 343, the Samnites launched attacks from the central Apennines on the Sidicini in northern Campania, who in turn called upon the nearby people of Capua for help. After suffering defeat at the hands of the Samnites, the people of Capua persuaded the Romans to abandon a previous treaty with the Samnites and enter the war on their side. The Romans brought their Latin allies with them. After three years of fighting, the Romans and Samnites concluded peace to the dismay of the Latins, Campanians, and Sidicini who jointly decided to continue the fight against the Samnites (and supposedly attack Rome afterwards). In response, the Romans and Samnites, so recently enemies, joined forces and together defeated the forces of the Romans’ former allies in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius (Livy 8.8.19?11.2; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.7.3). After two more years of fighting, the Latins were put down and “given” full Roman citizenship, the Campanians became Roman allies with civitas sine suffragio, and the Sidicini became Samnite allies. These developments occurred over about five years. It is hard not to be impressed by the ease with which the Italians of the central Apennines created and abandoned their alliances when deemed profitable or useful. Such a chaotic environment made alliances and military cooperation of significant importance for the survival of Italian communities. By pooling military resources together, smaller communities were able to protect themselves and larger communities could project their influence abroad.

The communities of Italy were tied together in a complex web that facilitated military cooperation. In the plains cities were common, while in the mountains looser tribal organizations existed. Trade routes linked the peninsula, with goods flowing across community boundaries. While a number of different languages existed in Italy prior to the Roman conquest (such as Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, Etruscan) linguistic and material evidence suggests close interaction of peoples regardless of linguistic differences (Adams 2003, 112?183). Many Italian communities throughout the peninsula worshipped at common shrines, which formed the basis for religious associations called nomina (Cornell 1995, 294?299; Bradley 2000, 62?77; Isayev 2007, 31? 41; Alföldi 1965, 119). On an individual level the elites of Italian communities intermarried and maintained ties of hospitality such as the Fabii in Caere (Holloway 1994, 71?72; Livy 9.36). The various communities of Italy were a diverse group in many ways. Nevertheless, they were able to cooperate effectively with each other militarily through the connections that existed.

In particular, cooperation relied heavily on the generally similar militaristic societies of Italy. Roman militarism is well understood and quite obvious in their historical accounts (Harris 1984). However, the Romans were hardly unique in their bellicosity in the peninsula (Eckstein 2006, 118?147). Fortifications blanket Italy (city walls and hill forts). Artwork commonly depicted warfare as a motif, while ritualistic burials included military goods. Indeed, an individual’s position in society relied heavily on military accomplishments. A stark example of this comes from the story of P. Horatius Cocles, who single-handedly defended the only bridge over the Tiber from enemy invaders, earning praise from his fellow citizens. However, despite the reputation he achieved, a severe hip wound taken during the fight left him lame, which ended his ability to participate in war and thus precluded any future military commands or political offices (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 5.25.3). The story of Horatius, although undoubtedly embellished, is a stark example of the importance of warfare in Roman society. While we lack such stories from the traditions of any other Italian people, the material record (burial goods, burial frescoes, pottery) and the historical record of constant warfare suggest a similar outlook.

Formal and informal relations between communities and individuals made cooperation possible. Formal treaties (foedera) existed between communities that included mutual defense clauses in addition to various legal clauses. The foedus Cassianum stated “let [the Romans and Latins] assist each other with all their forces when either is attacked,” and forbade assisting foreign enemies (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 6.95.2; Cornell 1997, 299?301). Less formal agreements existed as well, including indutiae (truces that were mostly used in Etruria), sponsiones (personal guarantees), and the religious ties of nomina, although the military implications of these relationships is unclear. These less formal arrangements could become formal treaties under the right circumstances (Crawford 1973, 1?7). In addition, personal social relations were important especially in terms of military cooperation. Within communities, prominent individuals could maintain personal bands of warriors such as those described in the Lapis Satricanus (Stibbe 1980; Smith 1996, 235?237), the Fabii at the Cremera (Livy 2.48.8?10; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 9.15; Richard 1988, 526? 553, contra Welwei 1993, 60?76), and Numerius Decimius in the Second Punic War (Livy 22.24.12). These warbands could be led to the support of foreign individuals or communities with whom their leaders had personal relations. In 327 Samnite military assistance to Neapolis was described as “some individuals with private ties of friendship (?d??? e?? a) . and friends of the Neapolitans who are helping that city by their own choice” (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.8.4). Likewise, Etruscan assistance to Veii, which was being attacked by the Romans, was limited to young men with personal ties to the Veientes without any official support or condemnation from their home cities (Livy 5.17.9). Military cooperation among the Italians relied on the complex web of formal and informal relationships that linked communities together in diverse ways.

Cooperation in tactical situations was also made possible by a similar panoply of arms and armor as well as approach to warfare. Italian arms and armor showed a good deal of local variation, but generally indicate a similar style and approach to warfare. From the fifth century onwards, Italian armor suggests an emphasis on individual combat in battle. Helmets came in a variety of styles variously inspired by Celtic influence in the north and Greek influence in the south (Paddock 1993). Despite local variations, these helmets shared an open face and uncovered ears that did not hinder the wearer’s sight or hearing, indicating the importance of situational awareness. Body armor consisted of heart-protectors, triple-disc breastplates, and chainmail depending on the region, while shields were generally oval in shape and somewhat smaller than their Greek equivalents (Stary 1981). These forms of armor allowed freedom of movement, relying on personal mobility for protection rather than Greece’s heavy bronze that provided superior protection but inhibited movement. Mobility and space trumped heavy armor and dense formations. Weaponry likewise suggests an importance on individual combatants. The peoples of Italy seem to have preferred a certain kind of weapon (e. g. swords in Latium, spears in Samnium), but many regions also indicate variation of weapons within a single population (different types of spears, swords, axes) (Stary 1981). Ultimately, weapon choice was likely personal. Polybius confirms this disparity of arms and armor, albeit within larger age groups of Roman armies (Polyb. 6.22?23; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.703? 706). Where the individual is emphasized over the group, personal variations had less of an impact. Common arms and armor, as well as approaches to warfare, facilitated the military cooperation of the peoples of Italy.

Military cooperation was made possible by a common military culture in Italy and served an important function in the survival and expansion of communities. Domination of the peninsula ultimately came down to who could best utilize allied military resources through formal and informal relationships. The fourth and early third centuries witnessed a brutal series of wars that engulfed the peninsula in a constantly shifting set of alliances among communities. Although Rome’s wars naturally dominate the narrative, there were many others, many of which did not involve the Romans. Throughout these conflicts, exploitation of military alliances proved vital but alliances were often fleeting. An important aspect of Roman success in the wars of Italy was their attempts to solidify control over their allies’ military resources, by incorporating many allies as full or partial citizens into Rome’s military structure (Livy 8.14.1?12; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.538?571). By the middle of the third century the Romans managed to solidify their hegemony through warfare, colonization, citizenship extensions, land seizures, aristocratic relationships, and treaties. At its heart, though, Roman domination of Italy was built on preexisting military and political systems of the peninsula. The Italians remained autonomous Roman allies who continued to provide military assistance through the ancient systems of cooperation that had long been in place. Roman hegemony, however, fundamentally altered the balance of power in Italy and would, in time, result in a subordination and integration of the Italians into a Roman military and political system.