First Cavalry


Cavalry first served in the Assyrian army under Tukulti-Ninurta III. Those illustrated date from the reign of Ashurnasirpal, and show how the cavalry still employed the ‘donkey seat’ when riding the horse. Tactical employment of this period shows how, by riding in pairs, they were envisaged as ‘charioteers without their chariot’. As in the chariot, the warrior is the superior soldier, as can seen by his dress. The ‘squire’ wears a simple iron skullcap, which in the reign of Shalmaneser III had been replaced with an iron conical helmet of the type worn by the archer.


Depicted here are Assyrian horse lancers of the reign of Sargon II, on campaign against Urartu in 714 BC. There are the soldiers Sargon employed straight off the march in the battle that defeated the Urartian army to the ast of Lake Urmia. Those illustrated clearly attest to the much greater proficiency of the Assyrian cavalry arm by this date. The armament is heavier, with both troopers equipped with the compound bow, quiver, and long stabbing lance. The cavalry are now equipped with footwear in the form of socks with lace-up boots.



This a horse lancer, and illustrates the final appearance of cavalry before Assyria’s demise. The horse is now almost fully covered by fabric armour, while in essence the trooper is little different to that in [the above illustration from Sennacherib’s reign]

Heavy armour was generally a characteristic of shock cavalry that intended to close with the enemy, cavalry relying upon missile weapons tending to be more lightly armoured. Nevertheless, even the crews of light two-man chariots, where the only offensive weapon was the bow, are sometimes depicted wearing scale body armour. The reason behind this was that armour required a trade-off between balance and protection. For a charioteer, balance was not too much of a problem and so the more protection the better, being as helpful in warding off enemy arrows and sling stones as blows from hand weapons. By contrast, for a horseman balance and ease of movement was much more of an issue, so the trade-off only really became worthwhile when he was intending to indulge in shock combat where such protection was obviously a massive benefit. One of the benefits that stirrups would bring much later was that they made it easier to shift weight and correct balance, compensating for, or allowing, the top-heaviness of heavier body armour. There was also the issue of the weight carried by the horse. Although horses were strong enough to be ridden, any animal can pull much more weight than it can carry (that was the whole point of the wheel). Increasing the weight of the rider starts to have a detrimental effect on a ridden horse’s speed and endurance sooner than on a driven one.

In many Near Eastern armies the horses themselves might also be armoured with trappers that covered their chests, shoulders, backs and flanks, just as modern horse rugs do. These could be of thick felt or hair and called a parashshamu, with a neckpiece, or milu, of the same material; or these could be of scale, when it was called a sariam as for human armour. Most early ridden cavalry horses, however, were not armoured, horse armour gradually becoming more common again over the course of several centuries. Horses in heavy work can overheat easily, and in severe cases this can lead them to ‘tie up’, becoming effectively paralysed, and even leading to their death. That expensive horses were exposed to this risk by the addition of armour suggests they were expected to be right in the thick of battle. The burden of armour would have reduced the horse’s endurance. It was therefore more useful to units called upon for one or two short, but potentially decisive, charges than those used in the continuous manoeuvring of skirmishing.

The transition from chariots to true cavalry was a gradual and uneven one. Occasional depictions of ridden horses have survived from early in the second millennium BC, but most seem to represent single messengers or scouts, ill-equipped for combat, or charioteers fleeing on team horses cut loose from wrecked chariots. Written references can be ambiguous as some of the terms equivalent to ‘horsemen’ may refer to chariot crews. It seems, however, that by the late second millennium BC units of cavalry may have been making their appearance on Middle Eastern battlegrounds. A twelfth century BC plaque from Ugarit in Syria may be the earliest depiction of an organized unit of horsemen, although only one is definitely armed.

The transition is easiest to follow in Assyria from the ninth century BC, due to the surviving record of relief carvings and inscriptions. Assyria had by then become the dominant power in the region, the Hittites and Egyptians having been severely weakened by migrations and invasions of the ‘Sea Peoples’. Over the next two centuries a succession of aggressive Assyrian kings carved out the largest empire yet seen, at its height incorporating all of Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Although the Assyrians are often credited with being the first to field an organized cavalry force, what can be seen in the surviving evidence may well be a response to developments in the regions beyond their expanding borders.

Urartu, modern Armenia, was a regular target of Assyrian campaigns in which many horses were taken in the form of booty or as tribute payments. Urartu was in direct contact with the steppe peoples to the north and it seems likely that this region was the conduit for the adoption of cavalry in the Middle East, as it had been for the initial introduction of the domesticated horse. An inscription of Menua of Urartu (810-785 BC) lists his forces for one expedition as 1600 chariot and 9174 cavalry. 20 Even if the numbers are inflated, the ratio of cavalry to chariots indicates that conversion was well advanced.

The development of Assyrian cavalry was heavily influenced by their charioteering experience and traditions. Bas-relief sculptures from the palace of Asurnasipal II show riders working in pairs, one armed with a bow and the other with a spear. Most strikingly, while the archer concentrates on shooting, his partner holds his reins for him, continuing the specialization of archer and driver. Both horses and riders are unarmoured. One of the key advantages of this type of unit over chariots was that they were better able to cope with rough terrain, an advantage that would have become immediately obvious in the rugged terrain of Armenia. At least as significantly, they were cheaper as the chariot, which required a lot of skilled labour, was not required.

Asurnasipal II’s riders still had a lot to learn from their neighbours, however, as they are shown sitting well towards the rump of the horse. This not only makes good balance and control difficult but risks bruising the horse’s vulnerable kidneys. The rearward seat had been used on donkeys and asses because it is the only position on them that is not akin to riding a bread knife, but trying to transfer the same method to horses must have retarded Assyrian riding prowess. It may cause wonder that correct riding techniques took so long to develop, but let us not forget they didn’t have approved riding schools and manuals to go by. It was only in the nineteenth century, after all, that Federico Caprilli (1868-1907) popularized the practice of leaning forward over jumps in western Europe, something now so widely accepted as the correct technique that it seems mere common sense.

By the reign of Tiglath Pileser III (745-27 BC), Assyrian reliefs show us horsemen armed only with long thrusting spears, maybe seven feet long, and swords. Some are armoured with helmets and sleeveless scale vests that come only to the hips, allowing the riders to bend freely at the waist. These may be the first confirmed heavy cavalry, for their one spear armament was obviously only of use in close combat, while their body armour was an unnecessary encumbrance and expense for mere scouts or messengers. Significantly, although they are still depicted in pairs, which may be merely artistic convention, they are all managing their own horses and sitting much further forward, just behind the horse’s withers.

Cavalry did not suddenly replace chariots in Assyrian armies; chariots were still used alongside them until Assyria’s destruction. The fact that chariots continued to be used may seem surprising to the modern mind used to thinking in terms of linear technological evolution, with each technology being rapidly replaced in turn by a superior one. It may be significant that these last Assyrian chariots were of the heavy, four-horsed type with four armoured crewmen, which may indicate that the shock role was the last to be taken over by cavalry. Here chariots may have retained some advantage due to their imposing bulk and noise, which would have increased their psychological impact on the target.

Probably more significant in the slow disappearance of chariots was the fact that they were symbols of prestige and had been the most obvious distinguishing feature of an elite for a thousand years. They were almost certainly at the centre of a web of tradition, custom and value that would not be quickly thrown away, even if they were being outperformed in a purely military sense. That the prestige value of chariots was greater than that of the ridden horse is demonstrated by the fact that they continued in use as transport for kings and generals long after all their other battlefield roles had been usurped by ridden horses. No doubt ancient grandees felt the chariot more befitting to their dignity, just as modern ones are more often seen in chauffeured limousines or staff cars than walking or bicycling.

When Sargon II launched a campaign against Urartu in 714 BC, the terrain was so rough that the chariots were the first sent home, while the king continued with the infantry and cavalry. The king’s chariot was retained, however, even though it had to be dismantled and carried in places. Eventually the weary Assyrians found Rusash’s Urartian army, also containing both cavalry and chariots, deployed for battle across their path, ready to fall upon them as they straggled along in column. Caught at a massive disadvantage and with no time to deploy, Sargon in his lone chariot seized the initiative and led the vanguard of cavalry in a pre-emptive attack.

The unhappy troops of Assur [Assyria] who had marched by a distant route, were moaning and exhausted … I did not look back, I did not use the greater part of my troops, I did not raise my eyes. With my chariot alone and with the cavalry who march at my side, who never leave my side in a hostile and unfriendly land … like a mighty javelin I fell upon Rusash

The Urartians broke and fled with heavy casualties inflicted upon infantry archers and spearmen as well as their cavalry: ‘his destruction I accomplished, I routed him… His warriors who bore the bow and the lance before his feet, the confidence of his army, I slaughtered. His cavalry in my hands I took and I broke his battle-line’. Rusash and the chariots meanwhile took refuge in their camp, but when Sargon brought up archers and javelinmen, the Urartian king abandoned his chariot and fled on horseback.

The account is from an inscribed tablet bearing a letter from Sargon II to the Assyrian god, Assur, presumably intended as an offering of thanks for the victory. While not as detailed as might be wished, it does at least demonstrate that one of the fundamental principles of the use of shock cavalry (which presumably applied also to heavy chariots) had been grasped by some. Because the physical and psychological impact of cavalry upon an enemy is multiplied by speed, and because horses make vulnerable targets when stationary, it was one of the fundamental principles of cavalry tactics up to the early twentieth century that cavalry should always attack rather than wait to receive an attack. The author of this advice from a typical nineteenth-century tactical manual would certainly have approved of Sargon.

Its action is confined to shock action. Hence it should always attack; at the moment of doing which it should attain its maximum speed. As it is powerless at the halt, it should, to defend itself, always advance to the attack.

Moreover, Sargon’s cavalry were not merely protecting themselves. By using their speed to fall upon the enemy before they had time to formulate a response, Sargon was able to wrest the initiative and save his army from disaster.


The Role of Unmanned Airborne Vehicles


UAV Roles Unmanned Airborne Vehicles (UAVs) have become an important part of modern warfare. They can provide a range of functions, including:

  • remote sensing, including optical and radio surveillance;
  • direction finding;
  • over the horizon targeting;
  • communications relay ;
  • stand-on jamming;
  • interdiction, using Unmanned Combat Airborne Vehicles (UCAVs) ;
  • local surveillance, using very small UAVs.

Hundreds of types of UAV are in service or development, covering everything up to strategic roles. Design and operational considerations vary considerably according to size, role, performance and endurance. Most UAV s require a command and control link and also a telemetry link to transmit the data they are collecting. In many cases, there will also be a vehicle telemetry system to transfer flight data back from the aircraft to the control centre.

Communications to and from the UAV may pass via satellites for strategic systems, via airborne communications relays or straight to and from ground control stations. Airborne communications relays may be aircraft or other UAVs. The routes shown in the figure may have more than one set of links; there may be others for redundancy.

UAV Advantages

UAV s have clear advantages over other systems in certain cases. Compared to ground systems, they have the advantage of altitude and unobstructed paths to and from potential target systems. As they are unmanned, they can be sent forward to areas that are more dangerous to perform stand-in jamming, surveillance or radio localisation tasks. They are cheaper to operate than manned aircraft. The scalability of UAVs allows them to be used for a variety of tasks. Very small systems can be used at the tactical level by units as small as squads to provide intelligence collection over the next hill or around the next street corner. Low-cost, simple to use systems can be widely issued to units for tactical tasks of a few kilometres. Larger systems can be used to provide surveillance tens of kilometres into enemy territory at the expense of larger cost, logistic’ and operational issues.

UAVs are also finding roles in other areas such as policing, border monitoring, surveys of power lines and areas of interest. It is not difficult to imagine the role they could play in providing real-time images for emergencies and for natural disasters.

UAV Disadvantages

If UAVs have such obvious, advantages, do they have any disadvantages? As with any other system they do. Large UAVs are more vulnerable to ground fi re and they would stand no chance against airborne interception aircraft. If control of them is lost due to damage or system failure, large UAVs can cause significant damage on the ground and recovered UAVs are intelligence gold for technical specialists looking to find out how the most modern systems work.

UAVs are not totally autonomous and do rely on communications to function correctly. Interrupts to command control can be tolerated to a greater or lesser extent, but it communications are lost the mission will be terminated at some point. The most sophisticated systems may be programmed to return to base or specific points to allow communications to be re-established if possible, but others will lose control and crash.

UAVS, in common with other aircraft, have limited time on task. Depending on their design, they can loiter for a certain length of time in the target area but then they have to return to base for re-fuelling and maintenance. Also, the aircraft are flown remotely and their pilots also require rest. This means that just like manned aircraft, many UAV s are required to maintain extended coverage. Another key issue is the power available required onboard to supply the UAV systems and payloads. This places severe power management issues on the design of all vehicle sub-systems. Jammers in particular have limited power and must be managed to ensure that their power is not exhausted too early. This constraint adds to design cost and operational mission management. UAV systems also pose potential airspace management problems with other airspace users. Since they are unmanned, they cannot react to other traffic in the same way that a manned aircraft can. It may be necessary to block off large parts of airspace and flight levels to ensure that other aircraft remain clear. In dynamic military environments, this is inefficient.




The sixth HMS Bulwark of the Royal Navy was a 22,000 tonne Centaur-class light fleet aircraft carrier.

The Royal Navy was an early enthusiast of helicopter operation at sea and, as early as 1953, envisaged completely replacing fixed-wing antisubmarine warfare aircraft with large helicopters. It followed United States Marine Corps’s progress with helicopter assault landing experiments with keen interest. By 1955 the Royal Navy had employed light aircraft carriers as troop transports on a number of occasions and its chief of amphibious warfare, Major General C. F. Phillips, Royal Marines, requested development of both large and small troop carrying helicopters. The Admiralty responded by approving the start of work on designing a conversion of a light fleet carrier into an amphibious assault ship, termed a commando carrier in the Royal Navy, in July 1956.

Almost immediately, before work on a full-scale conversion had begun, the concept was tested in action. The British government decided to intervene in response to Egyptian Premier Gamal Abdul Nasser’s decision on July 26, 1956, to nationalize the Suez Canal. French and British officials drew up plans to launch a joint amphibious invasion to take over the Canal. As part of the invasion task force, two British light carriers, the Ocean and the Theseus, were hastily modified (in four days) to carry a full commando of 450 troops and twenty-two helicopters to transport them ashore. The mass helicopter assault concept was tested in a successful exercise just prior to their departure for Suez on October 12. Three weeks later the two carriers launched the first such assault against enemy opposition with complete success.

The success of the operation and the obvious utility of such techniques for imperial policing duties led to the permanent conversion of two later light carriers of the Centaur class, the Albion and the Bulwark, into commando carriers. They were stripped of most guns and fitted with accommodations for 900 troops. Sixteen helicopters provided troop lift, and four landing craft suspended from davits, transported heavy equipment ashore. Both ships were in service by 1962. A decade later their more modern semi-sister, the Hermes, was similarly converted when it was withdrawn from frontline carrier service as part of the run-down of Royal Navy fixed wing operation mandated by the 1966 Defence Review.

All the converted commando carriers were out of service by the early 1980s without direct replacements, although the support carriers of the Invincible class could readily convert to the commando role by embarking up to 1,000 troops and the assault helicopters to transport them. On September 1, 1993, however, the Royal Navy ordered a new helicopter assault ship, the Ocean, to compensate finally for the decommissioning of the dedicated commando carriers. The hull design was based on that of the Invincible class but the ship itself was constructed to Lloyd’s Register specifications for similar size merchant vessels except for those features specifically military in nature, a decision that substantially reduced the cost of construction. The Ocean is smaller and slower than its American contemporaries and, unlike them does not have a wet dock for launching its landing craft.


Although the United States Navy had conducted some experimental exercises earlier, the first use of helicopters from carriers to conduct an amphibious assault against opposition was by the Royal Navy at Suez in 1956. Two light carriers, the Ocean and the Theseus, were rapidly converted between September 25 and September 29 to accommodate a complete 450-man Royal Marine commando and to operate 22 helicopters, a joint force of Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and Army machines, to land them. After validating the concept during a successful exercise in the United Kingdom, the two carriers joined the Anglo-French fleet assembled for the operation against Egyptian forces around the Suez Canal. On November 6, 1956, helicopters aboard the carriers landed all 450 troops from 45 Commandos in the city center of Port Said within ninety minutes. The commandos successfully linked up that afternoon with paratroops who had been dropped alongside the Suez Canal itself, consolidating their position there prior to the cease-fire that went into effect at midnight the same day.

The success of these extemporized assault carriers led to the Admiralty’s decision to undertake permanent conversions of two later light carriers, the Albion and the Bulwark, into commando carriers. Both ships operated extensively “east of Suez” in support of British efforts to hold on to its empire. The Bulwark formed part of the British force deployed to the Persian Gulf in a successful operation to deter an attempt by Iraq to invade Kuwait in the summer of 1961 (operation Vantage) then, together with its sister the Albion, participated in the extended British campaign confronting Indonesian efforts to take over Brunei and Borneo between late 1962 and 1966. The Albion also covered the British withdrawal from Aden in late 1967 while the Bulwark was deploying its commandos to prevent infiltration into eastern Malaysia. Britain’s withdrawal from its Far Eastern imperial holdings brought the two commando carriers back to European waters, where they engaged primarily in exercises to prepare for a potential conflict with the Soviet Union fought in the Norwegian littoral.


Roman Watchtowers


There is no real consensus as to what such monumental linear boundaries as the walls in northern Britain or between the Rhine and Danube in Germany were for and how they functioned. Almost as puzzling are cases where Roman soldiers were distributed in very small detachments, often less than ten men, manning watchtowers, constructed in lines following roads or along ridges. Such deployments seem to make little sense if the primary aim of the Roman army was to defend the provinces since any serious attack would surely have overwhelmed these weak defences.

Neither the view of the Roman Empire during the Principate as essentially defensive, nor the view that it was aggressive and still hoping to expand, explains properly what the army was actually doing. Mattern has recently suggested that the defensive-offensive distinction is anachronistic, and that we should view Roman foreign relations more in terms of concepts of honour and power. The theme of her book was essentially the ideology of empire, and it did not really explain how the army operated or whether or not its activities were effective. The shift in emphasis was very useful, for it is important to understand how the Romans conceived of their relations with other peoples, and it is within this framework that we should attempt to understand what their armed forces were actually doing.

For all the insights generated by this debate, the question remains of whether or not the Romans developed something which could reasonably be described as grand strategy. As with so many labels, there is a tendency for each contributor in the debate to provide his own definition for this term, making it easier to prove that the Romans either did or did not have one. The term was created in the twentieth century, and most of the definitions employed by modern strategic literature assume the existence of institutions and ideas utterly alien to the Roman Empire. For most modern states the ideal of international affairs is peaceful coexistence with their neighbours. Each state is considered to have a right to govern itself in its own way and by its own laws. In the modern world war is the anomaly, shattering the natural state of peace. For many societies in the ancient world the reverse was true, and peace was an interruption of the normal international hostility. The Romans were inclined to think of peace as the product of an enemy’s utter defeat, hence the verb `to pacify’ (pacare) was a euphemism for `to defeat’.

Peaceful coexistence with other nations, and most of all former enemies, was never a Roman aspiration. In some way we must relate our understanding of Roman ideology to the reality of military deployment in the frontier zones, many areas of which were constantly occupied for centuries on end. It is therefore worth considering the army’s deployment in these areas and trying to reconstruct what it was doing. In doing so we must try to look at the fringes of the Roman Empire from both directions.

Raiding does appear to have been endemic in the tribal societies of Spain, Britain, Gaul, Germany, Thrace, Illyria and Africa. Caesar claimed that the Helvetii migrated to occupy lands which would give them more opportunity to raid their neighbours (B Gall. 1.2).We are told that German tribes tried to keep a strip of depopulated land around their borders as a protection against enemy raids. This was also a measure of a tribe’s martial prowess and thus a deterrent to attacks. The Belgian tribes grew thick thorn hedges as boundary markers that were intended to delay raiding groups. They may also have been a sign that crossing them would be met with force, and it was probably no coincidence that Caesar’s army had to fight a battle at the Sambre soon after passing such a barrier (B Gall. 2.17, 6.23). The archaeological record of weapons burials in many regions of Europe confirms a picture of societies in which martial symbols were very important, and it is implausible to suggest that many Celtic tribes were not warlike warrior societies.

Our sources inevitably only report raids carried out on a large scale, usually by thousands of warriors. Only well-established leaders in reasonably united tribes could ever have mustered such forces. The warriors in many societies were strongly independent, choosing whether or not to join a leader who proclaimed that he was to lead a raid. Most raiding bands were probably much smaller. Even Ammianus, who provides far more detailed accounts of activities in the frontier provinces than any earlier source, never specifically mentions groups of fewer than 400 marauders. The distribution of Roman troops in penny packets to man lines of watchtowers might make a lot more sense if they were facing raids by equally small or smaller groups of warriors. The distinction between warfare and banditry blurs at this level, but there are many hints that small-scale violence was common in the empire.




High-Speed Nuclear Submarines – Project 705


An Alfa on the surface, showing how her sail blends into her hull. A mast is raised forward of the windshield. When the masts were retracted they were covered over to minimize water flow disturbance over the sail structure. Although a titanium-hull submarine, the Alfa-like the Papa SSGN-was not a deep diver. (U. S. Navy)


The Remarkable Alfa

The direct successor to the Project 627/November SSN would be the second-generation Project 671 (NATO Victor). This was a relatively conservative design intended primarily for the ASW role. The near-simultaneous Project 705 (NATO Alfa) was a major step forward in submarine development.

The design team for Project 705 at SDB- 143/Malachite was led by Mikhail G. Rusanov, who had just completed work on Project 653, a missile submarine intended to carry the P-20 missile. Project 705 was to be a high-speed ASW submarine, intended to seek out and destroy Western missile and attack submarines in Soviet defensive areas. 40 The endurance of the ASW submarine was to be 50 days. From the outset Project 705 was to have had minimal manning.

The titanium hull, advanced fittings and ballast system, and other features would give the submarine a test depth of 1,300 feet (400 m), comparable to U. S. second-generation SSNs of the Thresher and later classes. While titanium would lower the hull’s magnetic field, the submarine’s acoustic signatures were higher than contemporary U. S. submarines. A streamlined sail was “blended” into the advanced hull shape. The submarine would prove to be highly maneuverable.

Armament of the submarine consisted of six 533-mm torpedo tubes with 12 reloads. In addition to standard torpedoes, the submarine could carry the RPK-2 Vyuga (blizzard) ASW missile, given the U. S.-NATO designation SS-N-15 Starfish. This was a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead, similar to the U. S. Navy’s SUBROC (Submarine Rocket). The torpedo complex, including rapid reloading, was totally automated. Advanced sonars and fire control system were provided to support the armament.

In some respects the most futuristic aspect of Project 705 was the propulsion plant. Although the Project 645/modified November SSN as well as the USS Seawolf (SSN 575) had liquid-metal reactor plants, neither submarine was considered successful. The Project 705 reactor plant would use a lead-bismuth alloy as the heat exchange medium. This would provide increased efficiency (i. e., a more dense power plant) with a single reactor and single OK-7 turbine providing 40,000 horsepower.

Two types of nuclear plants were developed simultaneously for the submarine: the OK-550 for Project 705 was modular, with branched lines off the first loop, having three steam lines and circulating pumps; the BM-40A for Project 705K was a modular, two-section reactor, with two steam lines and circulating pumps.

There were significant drawbacks to both plants because the use of a liquid-metal heat carrier required always keeping the alloy in a liquid (heated) condition of 257°F (125°C) and, in order to avoid it “freezing up,” the plant could not be shut down as was done on submarines with a pressurized-water plant. At Zapadnaya Litsa on the Kola Peninsula, the base for these submarines, a special land-based complex was built with a system to provide steam to keep the liquid metal in the submarine reactors from solidifying when the reactors were turned off. In addition, a frigate and floating barracks barge supplied supplemental steam to the submarines at the piers. Because of the inherent dangers of using these external sources of heat, the submarine reactors were usually kept running when in port, albeit at low power.

Like previous Soviet submarines, the craft would have a two-reactor plant, but with a single propeller shaft. The decision to provide a single shaft in this design followed considerable deliberations within the Soviet Navy and at SDB-143 (similar to the discussions within the U. S. nuclear program). The single screw was adopted for Project 705/Alfa almost simultaneous with the Project 671/Victor second-generation SSN design. To provide these submarines with emergency “come-home” propulsion and, in some circumstances, low-speed, quiet maneuvering, these submarines additionally were fitted with small, two-blade propeller “pods” on their horizontal stern surfaces.

The Project 705/Alfa made use of processes and technologies previously developed for Project 661/Papa. The K-64 was launched at Sudomekh on 22 April 1969 (V. I. Lenin’s birthday anniversary). She was then moved by transporter dock through the Belomor- Baltic Canal system to Severodvinsk, where her fittingout was completed and her reactor plant went critical. The K-64 was accepted by the Navy in December 1971, with Captain 1st Rank A. S. Pushkin in command.

The submarine underwent trials in the Northern Fleet area beginning in mid-1972. That same year the K-64 suffered a major reactor problem when the liquid metal in the primary coolant hardened, or “froze.” She was taken out of service, and her hull was towed to Sverodvinsk, where she was cut in half in 1973-1974. The forward portion of the submarine, including control spaces, was sent to Leningrad for use as a training device. The reactor compartment was stored at the Zvezdochka yard in Severodvinsk. (Because of the distance between the two hull sections, Soviet submariners joked that the K-64 was the world’s longest submarine!)

As a result of this accident, in 1974 Rusanov was relieved of his position as chief designer, although he remained at Malachite. The project was continued under his deputy, V. V. Romin. Solving the engineering problem that plagued the K-64 delayed the completion of the other submarines of the class. Seven additional units were ordered-four from Sudomekh (705) and three from Severodvinsk (705K), with six units laid down from 1967 to 1975.48 They were launched from 1969 to 1981, and the first to commission was the K-123, built at Severodvinsk, on 26 December 1977. The remaining five operational units were completed in 1978-1981.

Beyond the lead submarine, other Project 705/Alfa SSNs suffered problems. In the lead operational submarine, the K-123, liquid metal from the primary cooling circuit leaked and contaminated the reactor compartment with almost two tons of metal alloy. The compartment was removed in 1982 and a new reactor installed. It took almost nine years to replace the reactor, with the submarine being launched again in 1990 and placed back in commission the following year. The other Project 705/705K submarines operated until the end of the Cold War, being decommissioned in 1990-1991.

The U. S. and Soviet Navies initially developed high-speed submarines for different reasons. The U. S. Navy-like the Royal Navy-became interested in high submerged speed to train ASW forces to counter “enemy” submarines based on Type XXI technology. Subsequently, the Soviet Navy sought speed to enable attack submarines (SSN/SSGN) to close with Western aircraft carrier groups, a part of their homeland defense strategy to counter nuclear strike aircraft from the carriers.

The USS Albacore was a revolutionary undertaking, the next major step in submarine hull form and supporting systems developed after the Type XXI. This test craft reportedly attained an underwater speed of 37 knots. The subsequent USS Barbel marked the rapid transition of the Albacore hull form to a combat submarine. But the Albacore was too revolutionary for the U. S. Navy’s leadership; although her basic hull design was adopted for the Barbel, and that submarine was more capable than the previous Tang design (based on the Type XXI), many performance features of the Albacore were not applied to the Barbel.

The subsequent step in the development of advanced submarines-from the American perspective- was the USS Skipjack. That submarine combined two underwater revolutions: the Albacore hull form with nuclear propulsion. The Skipjack went to sea in 1959, the same year the three submarines of the Barbel class were completed. Earlier, the Navy’s leadership had made the decision to produce only nuclear-propelled combat submarines.

That historic decision was made by 1956- only a year after the Nautilus went to sea. This commitment contradicts the later myth that “the Navy” opposed nuclear submarines and, even after the Nautilus proved the efficacy of nuclear submarines, persisted in wanting to construct diesel boats.

Similarly, the early Soviet government decisions to procure advanced submarines so soon after completion of the first Project 627/ November (K-3) must be applauded. The use of titanium, very-high-power density reactor plants, advanced hull forms, and improved weapons and sensors made Projects 661/Papa and 705/Alfa significant steps in submarine development. Although titanium was used in the construction of these submarines, they did not have a greater-than-normal test depth for their time (a characteristic that was attributed to them by Western intelligence).

Further, while Project 661 was a one-of-a-kind submarine, Project 705 was produced in numbers. Despite major problems with the prototype Project 705 submarine and a major reactor problem with another submarine of that class, Project 705 was in many ways a highly successful design.

Essentially simultaneous with the advanced Projects 661 and 705 high-speed submarines, the Soviet design bureaus and shipyards were producing “conventional” SSN/SSGN designs.

USS Texas


USS Texas, photochrom print c. 1898


Along with the Army, the Navy began to modernize in the 1880s. Alfred Thayer Mahan, a professor at the Naval War College, published The Influence of Seapower on History, 1660 – 1783 in 1890 , which led the way in changing views of the navy ‘ s mission. The Navy changed its main purview from continental protection to explicit seapower or, in simple terms, from isolation to imperialism, which demanded overseas coaling stations and overseas involvement. During this era the Navy altered its strategy for coastal defense. The USS Texas and Maine, laid down in 1888 and 1889, were designed to extend coastal defense 200 miles out to sea, beyond the range of the monitors that first entered service during the Civil War. Beginning with the Indiana – class battleships (commissioned 1895 – 7), the Navy assigned all subsequent battleships to squadrons and fleets rather than to defend particular coastal locations (George 1998).

The U. S. Navy had earlier constructed two dwarf turret ships that might be termed battleships, Texas (to a British design) and Maine (laid down in 1888 and 1889, respectively). Texas displaced only 6,650 tons and mounted only two 12-inch main battery guns. Maine, even less promising at 6,315 tons, mounted four 10-inch main guns and was actually originally designed to carry a small spread of sail. Both battleships carried their main armament in the now-discredited echelon sponsoned arrangement to give ahead-fire- again, presumably for ramming.






France – 1940 – airwar – Sitzkrieg


Cockpit check-thumbs up-switches on-press the starter button. A few turns of the two-bladed airscrew, blue-grey smoke puffs from the exhausts and the Merlin roars into life … At take-off power the Hurricane needs a fair bit of right rudder, then, almost unexpectedly, she leaps eagerly off the grass and flies. Unconsciously moving the stick when reaching for the undercarriage lever, I immediately have to pick up the nose and port wing-God! but these controls are sensitive. But what a beautiful aeroplane-instant obedience to the controls, superb view, and what power. So much in fact that one’s leg aches holding her in a prolonged climb.- Graham Leggett, No 46 Squadron, 1940

British Fighters

The Fighters Only two British fighter types saw action in the first phase. These were the Gloster Gladiator, the last biplane fighter in the RAF, and the Hawker Hurricane, the first of the eight-gun monoplanes. The Gladiator, totally outclassed by the German Messerschmitts, achieved little, although one shot-down German bomber pilot, having fallen victim to a Gladiator of the Auxiliary Air Force (the ‘week-end flyers’), expressed himself forcibly in fluent English when apprised of the circumstances: ‘I don’t believe it. Shot down by a bloody biplane flown by a bloody barrister!’ This notwithstanding, the main burden of the air fighting over France fell upon the squadrons equipped with Hurricanes.

In terms of sheer performance, the Hurricane was slightly better than the Messerschmitt Bf 109D, of which a small number were in service, but it was outclassed by the Bf 109E, although the difference was less marked at lower altitudes. Speed for speed, it could generally out-turn the German single-seater at normal combat altitudes. In most areas it was superior to the twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer (Destroyer) heavy fighter, although problems were posed by the powerful forward armament of the latter, which made head-on attacks rather less than advisable; and by the rear gunner, who not only defended against attacks from astern, but made the Bf 110 much more difficult to take by surprise.

Whatever the Hurricane lacked in performance, it made up for by virtues of its own. Although a bit ‘lazy’ on the ailerons, which made it slow in the rolling plane, it could comfortably out-turn both German fighters. It could absorb a considerable amount of battle damage- indeed, Ginger Lacey of No 501 Squadron once described it as ‘a collection of non-essential parts’; it was easy to fly, and forgiving of a ham-fisted pilot; very much so compared with its Bf 109 opponent; and its wide-track main gear was well-suited to rough temporary airfields. Finally, it was an exceptionally stable gun platform, which made for accurate shooting, while the nose sloped down from the windshield, allowing a reasonable degree of deflection to be taken when aiming at manoeuvring targets.

By orthodox single-seater standards, the Hurricane was large, it was heavy, and drag was high, with the result that the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine gave it a lower performance than the similarly-powered Spitfire. This notwithstanding, the Hurricane was at that time an entirely suitable vehicle with which to pursue the King’s enemies.

The Opposition

The Luftwaffe single-seater fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 109E, was smaller than the Hurricane, making it more difficult to see at a distance and providing a smaller target. It was faster, with a higher ceiling, a higher rate of climb, and better acceleration than the Hurricane. Its armament included two 20mm Oerlikon cannon, which gave it greater hitting power than the British fighter. Its other great advantage was a fuel-injected engine, which at times of need enabled it to stuff its nose straight down without the engine cutting under the influence of negative-g. By contrast, the conventionally-aspirated British fighters of the period were forced to roll inverted before pulling through into a vertical dive, losing valuable seconds before they could follow a Messerschmitt down.

However, the advantages were not all on the German side. The heavy framing of the side-opening cockpit canopy gave a poor view ‘out of the window’, and did not permit of being opened in flight to improve the view, such as was often done in the Hurricane. The Bf 109 was tricky to handle, and unforgiving of pilot error; take-off and landing on the flimsy narrow-track main gear posed particular problems, and resulted in many accidents. Wing loading was on the high side, making for an inferior turn radius and rate vis-a-vis its RAF opponent; while leading edge slots, which deployed automatically as the aircraft neared the stall, had a habit of opening asymmetrically during high-g manoeuvring, ruining the pilot’s aim.

The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was indubitably the best of the generation of heavy fighters that had arisen in the 1930s. As in other fields, fashion had held sway, and fashion had dictated the need for a long-range fighter. The degree to which this fad had taken hold is illustrated by the fact that Zerstörer units were regarded as an elite by the Luftwaffe. The Bf 110C was a large and heavy twin-engined two-seater. Its performance was decidedly inferior to that of the Bf 109; its dogfighting capability was poor, yet it was expected to be the spearhead of the Jagdwaffe. Although far more docile than its single-seater stable-mate, and described by one British pilot who flew a captured example as a ‘twin-engined Tiger Moth’, it proved to be extremely vulnerable when pitted against the Hurricane, even though it was rather faster and more heavily armed.

In terms of armament, the German fighters held an advantage. The Bf 109E had two 20mm Oerlikon MGFF cannon mounted in the wings, and two 7.9mm machine-guns above the engine. One hit from a cannon shell was, of course, far more destructive than several hits from rifle calibre machine-guns. On the other hand, the rate of fire of the MGFF was a mere 350 rounds per minute, making it less likely to score hits on an evading target, while muzzle velocity was low, reducing effective range. The engine-mounted machine-guns were of comparable performance to the Colt-Brownings of the Hurricane, with greater accuracy conferred by their solid location, although the need for interrupter gear reduced the rate of fire somewhat. The accuracy of wing-mounted guns was degraded a little under combat conditions by wing flexing during hard manoeuvring. This was more evident in the thin-winged Spitfire than the sturdy Hurricane, although as most shooting was carried out while flying more or less in a straight line, this was no great problem.

The main armament of the Bf 110C was all nose-mounted: two 20mm cannon and four MG 17s, giving a weight of fire more than half as great again as that of the Hurricane. This made it unwise to stand toe-to-toe with it in a head-on pass, although this could not always be avoided. Rear defence was provided by a single swivel-mounted MG17.

Gunsights for both British and German fighters were remarkably similar; the British Barr & Stroud GM2 and the German Revi were both reflector sights, comprising a small glass screen on which was reflected a circle, adjustable ranging bars, and an aiming dot, all focused at infinity. Much has been made of the secrets of the GM2 being revealed to visiting German Generals Milch and Udet at Hornchurch before the war, by a high-ranking RAF officer. He probably knew something the troops didn’t. With British companies unable to cope with the flood of orders, a production contract for the GM2 had been placed with C. P. Goerz of Vienna. In a notable contribution to British rearmament, the Austrian company delivered 700 excellent reflector sights to the RAF prior to the outbreak of war.

Into Action

The training and tactics of RAF Fighter Command were unimaginative and inflexible in the extreme. But while many squadron commanders played it ‘by the book’, others refused to be hidebound by rules and regulations. One such, who used his initiative to outstanding effect, was ‘Bull’ Halahan, commanding No 1 Squadron. He started by scrapping the standard harmonisation bullet pattern, which was calculated to give a few hits at long range, and ordered all his squadron’s Hurricanes to have their guns point-harmonised at 750ft (229m). In theory, this meant that all bullets from all eight guns would go through the same hole which, if the initial aim was true, and the much closer range demanded would assist this, would concentrate the damage caused enormously. Even before the squadron left England, the effectiveness of point harmonisation had been demonstrated against towed drogue targets.

Other innovations were wider spacing in the Vic formation, which allowed all pilots to search the sky rather than having to concentrate on holding station, and the introduction of back armour. When the latter was first requested, Hawker Aircraft refused to comply, on the grounds that the extra weight would alter the centre of gravity and lead to handling problems. Taking an empirical approach, Halahan scrounged the pilot’s back armour from a written-off Battle bomber, and had it fitted to a Hurricane which was then flight-tested. No problems were found; the machine was then checked out at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, with the same result. Consequently all Hurricanes thereafter were provided with back-armour, which saved many lives.

Nor was Halahan averse to learning from other nations. l’Armée de l’Air fighter units used ‘weavers’ to guard their tails: the main body of the formation flew a straight course, with two aircraft above and astern weaving continually, looking over their shoulders to cover the blind spot behind them. Shortly after its move to Eastern France, Halahan’s squadron adopted the same system, vulgarly known as ‘Arse-End Charlies’. Sources state that No 1 Squadron generally flew with two Charlies, and was never taken by surprise during the French campaign. Later, of course, the system was proved fallible and fell into abeyance, as we shall see, but in France it certainly seems to have contributed to the unit’s success.

The other remarkable thing about No 1 Squadron was the results achieved by its personnel. Not only did it wrack up the highest score of any RAF squadron in France for relatively few casualties; it had an exceptionally high proportion of aces. The normal ratio of fighter aces to ordinary pilots was rather less than 20:1. Of the 14 pilots who flew to France under Halahan’s leadership, no less than nine qualified as aces, with a combined score of 83 confirmed individual victories, not counting shared scores. Five of them reached double figures, although not all with this squadron, and certainly not all in France. In effect, the usual proportion of aces, which was slightly less than five percent, exceeded 60 percent in this one squadron.

Battle of Britain squadron scores varied according to opportunity, but typically just two pilots accounted for nearly half the totals; a far cry from No 1 Squadron in France, in which about 40 percent of the pilots were high scorers.

While many RAF fighter pilots opened their accounts during the Sitzkrieg, only two achieved the ‘magic five’ victories before the air war started in earnest. New Zealander ‘Cobber’ Kain, identified by the press in spite of the service’s desire for anonymity, was the first RAF fighter ace of the war, followed shortly after by ‘Fanny’ Orton. Both flew with No 73 Squadron. Their exploits were not without their tribulations; it appears that both fell victim to Luftwaffe Experte Werner Mölders at different times.