Boeing P-26

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Looking more like a 1930s sport roadster than a fighting machine, this P-26A is resplendent in the standard blue and yellow paint scheme adopted by the US Army in the mid-1930s. The ‘Kicking Mule’ insignia identifies the 95th Pursuit Squadron, 17th Pursuit Group, based at March Field in California, which operated the type during 1934 and 1935. The type was a true bridge between the old and the new, exhibiting features of both the old wirebraced biplanes and the sleek monoplane fighters to come.

Just after Pearl Harbor, when Philippine air force pilots in the Boeing P-26 were outclassed and outfought by the formidable Mitsubishi Zero, it was fashionable to berate the ‘Peashooter’ as a dated and doughty pursuit ship. The P-26 had fixed landing gear with heavy, high-drag wheel pants. It was festooned with bracing wires. Its armament of two 0.3-in (7.62-mm) or one 0.3-in (7.62-mm) and one 0.5-in (12.7-mm) machine-guns seemed hopelessly inadequate. P-26s battled Japanese invaders in the Philippines and in China (which acquired-11 export machines) but were badly mauled. In those dark days of World War II it would have been easy forget that the P-26 of 1931 had been a bold new venture in fighter design: the first all-metal fighter and the first monoplane fighter to enter squadron service. The P-26 was also the final production fighter built by Boeing, which had dominated the field for nearly two decades.

Ordered by the US Army on 5 December 1931 initially with the designation XP-936, the ‘Peashooter’ made its first flight on 20 March 1932. The prototype machine (32-412), one of three covered by the contract, differed from the familiar production model (Boeing Model 266) in having a lower headrest for its open canopy, and wheelpants which extended behind the main landing gear struts. No beauty, with a huge Townend ring enclosing its 525-hp (391.5- kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-21 radial air-cooled engine, an improved version of the powerplant used by the P-12 biplane fighter, the P-26 nevertheless impressed the onwatcher with its sleekness by comparison with biplane fighters of the time, including the P-12 itself which was still in production. Shortly after the third machine (32-414) reached Selfridge Field, Michigan, on 25 April 1932 to be evaluated by operational pilots, the Army formally purchased the first three airframes from Boeing and designated them XP-26, later YZP-26 to indicate the service-test function and, later yet, simply P-26. With improved headrest and other minor changes, the P-26A was ordered into production on 28 January 1934 with an initial buy of 111 airframes (33-28138). There followed two P-26Bs with fuel injection (33-179 and 33-185) and 23 P-26Cs (33-181/203), the latter with 600-hp (447.4kW) R1340-27 engines.

Some ‘greats’ of the era flew the P-26. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Royce (later a major general) at Selfridge Field, Michigan, was fond of it. Major General Frank O. Hunter of the 17th Pursuit Group at March Field, California, sung its praises. Major Armin F. Herold of the 20th Pursuit Group at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, led formations in a P-26A gaudy with blue, yellow and red bands around the engine cowl. In fact, ‘Peashooters’ appeared widely with elaborate paint schemes. Those of the Bolling Field Detachment, Washington, DC, had alternating blue and gold squares on their Townend rings and around the capitol insignia on the rear fuselage, with yellow tail and red/white striped rudder surfaces. Perhaps most impressive were the mostly blue machines, with red, yellow and gold trim, operated by the 95th Attack Squadron at Selfridge. Major Peter Schwenk, a pilot with that unit, recalled that his Boeing ‘looked like a flying neon sign’. In all, ‘Peashooters’ served with the 3rd, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 27th, 32nd, 34th, 38th, 55th, 734 77th, 79th, 94th and 95th squadrons.

‘Hot’ ship

In the 1930s, the Boeing monoplane was a ‘hot’ ship. With a maximum level speed of 227 mph (365.3 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3048 m) and an initial climb rate of 2,300 ft (701 m) per minute, it was highly manoeuvrable. It outclassed the biplane P-12 in every performance regime. On landing, where it required careful control and did not forgive the lax flier, the P-26 was too hot. Its 82.5 mph (132.8 kmh) landing speed made it difficult to handle until flaps were developed by the Army, reducing landing speed to 70 mph (112.7 km/h). The flaps were retrofitted on P-26As and installed on P-26B and P-26C machines on the production line. Flying the P-26 was a thrill. “That open cockpit and high manoeuvrability kept you in touch with the elements,” says Schwenk. The high, sturdy headrest found on the fourth airframe onward resulted from an accident when an early P-26 flipped violently on its back and killed the pilot with almost no structural damage to the aircraft. “It was sturdy,” says Schwenk. “Though we never flew it in combat, we had the feeling it could take punishment!’ Though its landing gear was stalky and its approach characteristics, as noted, were demanding, the P-26 was easy on the touch once aloft and pilots were pleased that it evoked a feeling of power and toughness. It was a mainstay between world wars until replaced by the Seversky P-35 and Curtiss P-36 in the late 1930s.

In addition to the Philippines, US Army P-26s ended up in the air forces of Panama and Guatemala. The latter country was valiantly flying ‘Peashooters’ as late as 1957. The final variant, the Boeing Model 281, did not enter US service or receive a P-26 designation, although identical to the US machine: 11 went to China and one to Spain. A P-26 occupies a place of pride at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton. Ohio.

Nemea (394)

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Nemea, the largest Greek versus Greek battle of the fourth century, occurred on overgrown terrain.

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In 394 BCE delegates from Corinth, Argos, Athens, and Thebes were meeting at Corinth to discuss the war with Sparta-they agreed that the Spartans had to be fought close to home, because Sparta was like a “river or a wasp’s nest,” best dealt with at the source. And then the delegates debated the questions of contributions, the supreme command, and the division of spoils. While they were still debating these issues, they learned that a Spartan army had arrived at Sicyon, twenty miles away. The allies hurriedly assembled their army at Nemea (about ten to fifteen miles southwest of Corinth) and awaited the Spartan army. The Spartan army was commanded by Aristodamos, a member of the royal family and the regent for Agesipolis.

The allies drew up their phalanx with the Thebans and Boeotians on the left opposite the Spartans, and all seemed ready for battle, but the Theban leaders refused to give the orders to advance because, they said, they had observed that the omens were unpropitious. Day by day, they continued to observe unpropitious omens, until the Athenians agreed to take their place. Then the generals declared that the omens were now propitious and the allied army should join battle immediately. The Thebans and Boeotians drew up their ranks twice as deep as normal, moved to their right (away from the Spartans), and pulled the whole phalanx with them. As they were moving, the Spartans charged.

The Athenians were completely outflanked and in disarray because of the Theban movement and they suffered heavy casualties. The Thebans, however, broke the phalanx of the Spartans’ allies and pursued them off the battlefield. The Thebans, and the other contingents with them, were convinced that they had won a complete victory. They formed up in columns, polis by polis, and marched back. Meanwhile, the Spartans halted their pursuit of the Athenians, reformed their phalanx, and advanced to their left.

The Spartan commander, Aristodamos, intended to push his phalanx in front of the enemy columns, cut them off, and force them to fight, but someone in the Spartan ranks called out, “Let the first go by.” Aristodamos accepted the advice and held the Spartan phalanx back, drawn up parallel to the enemy’s line of march, and then charged the columns, one at a time, first the Argives, then the Corinthians, and finally the Thebans and Boeotians. They put each column to flight.

The fifth-century contrast of diverse Athenian hoplite functions and Spartan perfection of the phalanx yielded to a different set of political circumstances after the Athenian defeat in 404. Despite large hoplite contingents in allied forces at Nemea (394) and Mantinea (362), Athens emphasized light infantry, mercenaries, cavalry, and smaller-scale employment of hoplites in amphibious operations, as the new age of mercenary captains like Iphicrates, Chabrias and Timotheus emerged. In the first third of the fourth century the chief protagonists for political hegemony, Sparta and Thebes, competed with rival tactical systems. Labelling the contrast as manoeuvre versus depth is too facile, for both exploited basic characteristics of the phalanx but in different ways.

The custom of placing the best troops and the general on the right flank coincided with the phalanx’s tendency to charge obliquely to the right, as Thucydides (5.71.1) noted at Mantinea (418). Consequently the rival right flanks of each army could emerge as victors in their respective sectors of the battlefield – a phenomenon already attested at Potidaea (431) and Laodicium (winter 423/2).128 Rival right flanks also prevailed at Delium (424), before a surprise Theban cavalry attack routed the Athenian right. Often the attacker’s right flank could get beyond the opponent’s left and envelop it, as Agis did to the Athenians at Mantinea and the Athenians to the Thespians at Delium. Success on the right permitted pursuit and plunder of the routed wing or wheeling to the left to advance at a ninety-degree angle to the original battle line and to attack the flank (the hoplite’s unshielded right side) and rear of the opponent’s right wing. At Mantinea, Agis chose the latter course of action, which set a precedent in Spartan tactical thinking.

Twenty-four years later at Nemea (394) the Spartans abandoned the direct advance altogether. Rather, the polemarchs moved the Spartan phalanx off to the right in column and wheeled it to the left to attack the Athenians at a ninety-degree angle to the original front. After routing the Athenians they advanced across the enemy’s rear to catch the victorious enemy centre and right in the flank. As the initial move in column to the right was an immediate response to what was almost a surprise attack (Xen. Hell. 4.2.19), it surely reflected doctrine, not a spur-of-the-moment decision.

The allies opposing Sparta at Nemea also knew the `lesson’ of Mantinea. In pre-battle negotiations about the phalanx’s depth the issue was not depth for pushing, but avoiding a deeper, shorter line that invited outflanking.

In fact the Thebans led the attack from the allied right by veering off to the right to encircle the Spartan allies on the left (Xen. Hell. 4.2.13, 18), but subsequently chose pursuit of the fleeing over wheeling left to move across the Spartan rear.

At Delium (424) – the earliest evidence – the Thebans were twenty-five deep, at Nemea somewhat deeper than the agreed-upon depth of sixteen, and at Leuctra at least fifty deep. Figures for depth are lacking for Coronea and Mantinea (362), although Epaminondas clearly constructed an extremely deep left similar to that at Leuctra (Xen. Hell. 7.5.22-3). The assumption (ancient as well as modern: Arr. Tact. 11.1-2) that Theban depth increased the attack’s weight in pushing seems erroneous: as noted earlier, depths beyond sixteen yield no increase in `the push’. At Delium the Thebans had the advantage of downhill momentum, and Xenophon’s sparse account of Coronea permits no conclusions. AtNemea the Theban emphasis on mass contradicts their intention to outflank the Spartan left – the same battle plan that the Spartans (with superior tactical sophistication) executed against the allied left (Xen. Hell. 4.2.18). Width, not depth, was required to overlap a flank. If Xenophon’s `100-deep Egyptians’ at Thymbrara are meant to represent Thebans, then a Boeotian blind belief in numbers and mass similar to what the Greeks attributed to the Persians, or (to cite a modern example) Napoleon’s reliance on bulky columns of attack in the later stages of his career, could be postulated.

Epaminondas does not clarify Theban doctrine: his massive left wing (of unknown depth) was hardly the decisive factor at Mantinea and his intentions at Leuctra lie mired in the controversies about tactical details. Epaminondas seems to have combined Theban mass with Spartan manoeuvre. Whereas the Spartans sacrificed their left to win on the right, Epaminondas made his left the preferred flank and spared his right altogether. Precedents for commanding from the left existed, but none were in contests of the magnitude of Leuctra or Mantinea. Concentration on the left not only pitted the Theban best against the opponent’s best, but also attacked the enemy’s command structure, if the opposing general could be killed or wounded – a factor in deflating enemy morale. For Epaminondas mass was not an end in itself.

Besides Spartan outflanking on the right and Theban massing on the left, a third method of breaking up the phalanx’s continuity appears at the end of the fifth century. In attacking in rough terrain, especially uphill and against light infantry, a phalanx could hardly maintain its continuity. Xenophon’s Ten Thousand used orthioi lochoi (`straight’ or `uphill’ lochoi), units of 100 men each in column with large gaps between the lochoi. 140 The practice, inspired by Spartan doctrine for responding to sudden threats to a marching column (Xen. Lac. 11.10), surely anticipates the break-up of the legionary phalanx into maniples when the Romans faced the Samnites and other hill peoples.

Fragmentation of the phalanx also appears in maintaining a reserve of infantry or cavalry in the rear to relieve exhausted troops in the phalanx or to surprise the enemy’s flank or rear (Onasander 22.1-3). At Solygea (424) a Corinthian lochos appeared suddenly on the Athenian right and routed it (Thuc. 4.43.4). Later the same year at Delium the Theban general Pagondas had two cavalry units circle a hill behind his line and hit the victorious Athenian right flank – the deciding move in the battle (Thuc. 4.96.5). Brasidas’ surprise attack on Cleon and the Athenians at Amphipolis (422) had an initial charge on the Athenian centre from one direction and a second contingent attacking later from another (Thuc. 5.8-10). The Ten Thousand’s attack on the satrap Pharnabazus in Bithynia (400) featured 600 men in three units of 200 each, each placed about 100 feet behind both flanks and the centre, 141 and at Thymbrara a reserve of 2,000 infantry and cavalry became Cyrus’ outflankers of the outflankers. 142 Clearly by the 420s the concept of a reserve was well known and even appears in Euripides’ Phoenician Women (1093-8) of 410 or 409. The timing for the insertion of reserves, however, often lay at the discretion of their officers rather than the commanding general.

Whereas Theban grand tactics focused on engaging only with the strongest part of the line, Spartan battlefield manoeuvres as developed at First Mantinea and the Nemea revolved around outflanking the enemy line and `rolling it up’ by defeating each contingent in turn. 48 In later battles there was still the same preoccupation with trying to take the enemy in flank or rear, but this was seen as something to be achieved by exploiting gaps caused by earlier frontal combat, rather than through pre-battle manoeuvre.

Soviet Air Force – Pre WWII

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In Western countries, typically known as the Red Air Force-one of the largest and most powerful air forces of the twentieth century. The rise and fall of the Soviet air force (1918-1991) reflected Soviet military might yet contributed enormously to the history of airpower.

The huge continental landmass and open areas of the Soviet Union, as well as the primacy of the ground forces in the structure of its military machine, defined air defense and ground support as the primary missions of aviation. The air force necessarily interacted with other independent airpower branches (air defense aviation and naval aviation) and undertook wider interservice coordination. Rapid expansion of the air force was driven mainly by the strategic ambitions and mobilization abilities of the communist regime and was supported by virtually unlimited resources. The air force accumulated broad experience, which greatly enhanced its operation, from the 1917 Russian Revolution through the Cold War.

The Bolshevik government inherited a shattered czarist air force. The progress of the civil war, which lasted from 1918 to 1920 and resulted in Lenin’s rise to the pinnacle of power, as well as the Allies’ intervention in Russia, forced the Bolsheviks to organize the Red Army, including an air arm. On 24 May 1918, the Chief Administration (Directorate) of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Air Fleet was organized. Simultaneously, regular Red Army air units were formed. Red Navy aviation existed in 1918-1920 as a separate service.

The rapidly changing pattern of the civil war, as well as the need to employ aircraft throughout diverse climatic and terrain conditions, posed daunting operational problems. Moreover, the air force suffered from extremely poor maintenance, logistics, and critical shortages in fuel, trained personnel, and spare parts (about 60 percent of the planes were of Western origin-Morane, Nieuport 17C. I, SPAD S. VII).

Although the air force conducted 17,377 combat sorties during the war and confronted some 635-770 enemy planes (White Russian, Allied, Ukrainian Nationalist, and Polish), air-to-air combat was somewhat rare, with only 131 engagements and 20 victory claims. Most of the effort was in ground support, bombing, and reconnaissance.

During World War I, the air force acquired significant operational and organizational experience that influenced its development. These included the value of highly centralized command and control, the use of airpower in mass, the value of interservice coordination in combined and joint operations, and some tactical innovations such as air assault on large cavalry formations and the use of aircraft in propaganda.

While previously relying on Western designs, the Soviets began building their own, such as the MK-21 Rybka naval fighter and I-1 and I-2 monoplane fighters. During the 1920s, two main design bureaus, led by Nikolai Polikarpov and Andrei Tupolev, emerged. The Soviets also benefited from the joint Soviet-German air training base in Lipetsk and particularly from Junkers production of all-metal monoplanes in Russia.

The first Five-Year Plans triggered a massive buildup of Soviet aviation, including many airplanes of indigenous design. Among them were maneuverable fighter biplanes, such as the Polikarpov I-15 and I-15 bis; the first cantilever monoplane with retractable landing gear to enter squadron service, the Polikarpov I-16; and a variety of bombers, including the Tupolev TB-7, SB-2/SB-3, and DB-3. Yet the Soviets failed to develop a reliable long-range bomber force. The established Soviet concept of air warfare envisioned the use of airpower predominantly in close support missions and under operational control of the ground forces command.

The Red Army Air Force under the command of Yakov Alksnis during 1931-1937 developed into a semi-independent military service with a combat potential, good training, and a logistics infrastructure spreading from European Russia into Central Asia and the Far East. Still, the Red Army Air Force exhibited marked deficiencies in several local conflicts (e. g., against the Chinese in 1929 and in the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939). In contrast, during the 1937-1939 air conflicts with Japan (China, Lake Khasan, Khalkin Gol) the Soviets effectively challenged the Japanese air domination and provided decisive close air support in the campaigns on Soviet and Mongolian borders. During the Winter War with Finland (1939-1940), however, the Red Air Force suffered heavy losses due to inflexibility of organization, its command- and-control structure, poor training of personnel, and deficiency of equipment.

Alksnis, Yakov I. (1897-1940)

Commander of the Red Air Force during the 1930s. Yakov Ivanovich Alksnis was born in 1897 in Latvia. He joined the Bolshevik Party in 1916 and participated in the Russian Revolution and civil war. Remaining in the Red Army, he became an aviator during the 1920s, and in June 1931 he was appointed commander of the Red Air Force. He was closely associated with Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a former Chief of Staff and later marshal of the Soviet Union, and under his command the Red Air Force saw rapid expansion and modernization. Notable was the large-scale introduction of the TB-3, the world’s first four-motor monoplane bomber, though these bombers were not intended as an independent strike force. He also oversaw the dispatch of pilots to fight in Spain. In December 1937, during the purge of the Soviet high command, Alksnis was arrested on false charges of treason. He was executed in 1940.

Soviet Volunteer Pilots

Soviet pilots often participated in foreign military conflicts without official government involvement. The dispatch of volunteer Soviet airmen to assist allies and revolutionary forces was a regular practice from the beginning of the Soviet state. It allowed the Soviets to intervene on a limited scale without risking a wider conflict and provided the chance for practical tests of new tactics and equipment.

Soviet airmen were first sent to assist the Mongolian communists in their war against the Whites in June 1921 when Lenin sent a unit of four aircraft and crews that operated for several months before returning home. In October 1936, the first of several hundred Soviet volunteer aviators arrived in Republican Spain with the dual task of combating the Nationalist air forces and training the Republicans to fly Soviet aircraft.

Soviet pilots nominally camouflaged their presence by wearing Spanish uniforms and using noms-de-guerre, such as Pablo Palancar, Captain Jose, and General Douglas and generally stayed for about six months. The Soviets flew in squadrons integrated with Spanish and international volunteer pilots as quickly as they could be prepared to handle the modern Soviet equipment. Even before the Soviet withdrawal in October 1938 in the face of Republican defeat, Spanish pilots were being phased into command of the squadrons.

In October 1937, the Soviets again dispatched volunteer pilots, this time to assist the Chinese government against the Japanese, four fighter and two bomber squadrons initially being sent. Soviet pilots flew in China until 1939, and a few advisers remained through 1941. Though the number of aircrews dispatched is unknown, 1,250 aircraft were sent for use by Soviet volunteers and Chinese pilots, and during 1938 they provided the core of Chinese air defense.

References Andersson, Lennart. Soviet Aircraft and Aviation 1917-1941. London: Putnam 1994. Erickson, John, The Soviet High Command. London: Macmillan, 1962. Rapoport, Vitaly, and Yuri Alexeev. High Treason Essays on the History of the Red Army, 1918-1938. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1985. Dulles, VA: Brassey’s, 1999. Sarin, Oleg, and Lev Dvoretsky. Alien Wars: The Soviet Union’s Aggressions Against the World, 1919 to 1989. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1996. Boyd, Alexander. The Soviet Air Force Since 1918. New York: Stein and Day, 1977. Kilmarx, Robert. A History of Soviet Air Power. New York: Praeger, 1962. Murphy, Paul J., ed. The Soviet Air Forces. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1984. Whiting, Kenneth. Soviet Air Power. Boulder: Westview, 1986.

SPAD Xlll in American Hands

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The most famous of the US aircraft of World War I, and the one supplied in the largest quantities, the SPAD XIII was the logical development of a successful line of fighters. In combat it was sturdy, fast and hard-hitting, enabling the American fliers to compile an extensive victory list during the last hectic months of fighting. This patriotic aircraft was the mount of America’s greatest ace, Captain Edward Rickenbacker of the 94th Aero Squadron. Downing his first aircraft, an Albatros D. Va on 29 April 1918, he ran up the considerable score of 26 before the Armistice on 11 November that year.

With more than 6,500 examples built, the SPAD W could be regarded as a definite success and, not surprisingly, it was decided to develop the same basic design to produce a new single-seat fighter. In adopting such an approach at a period of time when a day saved would be of vital importance to the course of the air war, the company was able to lean upon’ the best features of the SPAD VIII, and gain enhanced performance from a combination of improvements and more power. Thus in basic combination there was little difference between the SPAD VII and the new version, which was given the designation SPAD XIII. Except for some structural reinforcement, the improvements were largely of an aerodynamic nature, with the wing span increased by 11 in (28 cm), the introduction of improved ailerons, an increase in the area of tail surfaces, plus other aerodynamic refinements that resulted largely from cleaning up the existing structure. A more powerful version of the Hispano-Suiza 8 engine was adopted and, in this form, the prototype was flown for the first time on 4 April 1917.

Test and evaluation of the prototype showed an improvement of some 18 per cent in maximum speed and a 19 per cent increase in ceiling, with the additional power making it possible to carry a second machine-gun yet retaining the excellent handling and maneuverability that had been the secret of the SPAD VIIs success. Orders flowed in from France’s allies, with initial deliveries starting at the beginning of June 1917. By the time that production ended a total of 8,472 had been built and orders outstanding for more than 10,000 aircraft were cancelled at the Armistice. AEF procurement of the SPAD XIII totalled 893, which was by far the largest number of any single type which the US Army acquired from any of its allies during World War I. The type eventually equipped 16 squadrons and the first was delivered in March 1918 to the 1st Pursuit Group, which comprised the 27th, 94th, 95th and the 147th Aero Squadrons based in the Toul Sector. SPAD XIIIs helped top American aces Eddie Rickenbacker, Frank Luke and Raoul Lufbery to reach their respective totals of 26,21 and 17 combat victories, but the type saw little more than five months’ front-line service before the Armistice brought an end to the fighting, and surviving SPAD XIIIs were shipped to the USA. There they were used for a short period as first-line fighters before they were relegated to a training role. Unreliability of the Hispano-Suiza engine hastened their withdrawal from service, but in 1922 a small number were reengined with a 180-hp (134-kW) direct-drive Wright E (licence-built Hispano-Suiza) to become redesignated the SPAD 13E.

Specification

SPAD XIII

Type: single-seat righter

Powerplant: one 220-hp (164-kW Hispano-Suiza 8Be Vee piston engine

Performance: maximum speed 139 mph (224 kmh) at 6,560 ft (2.000 m); climb to 13,125 R (4,000 m) in 12 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 21,815 ft (6,650 m); range 185 miles (298 km)

Weight: maximum take-off 1,863 Ib (845 kg)

Dimensions span 26 ft 6.9 in (8.1 m); length 20 ft 8 in (6.3 m); height 7 ft 8.5 in (2.35 m)

Armament: two fixed forward-firing synchronised 0.303-in (7.7- mml Vickers machine-guns

Lake Narotch was one of the decisive battles of the First World War.

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Lake Naroch Offensive (1916)

The last real effort by the old Russian army—as distinct from the new, which emerged in summer 1916 on Brusilov’s front—was the offensive staged at Lake Narotch in March 1916. It was an affair that summed up all that was most wrong with the army. There had been talk of a spring offensive for some time—Stavka had felt that the results of Sventsiany in September 1915 justified a renewal of the offensive in this region; and the French were even told that it could well win the war outright. Now, the bulk of German troops had gone against France, had lost heavily at Verdun. Evert, commander of the western Front, was full of rather ill-defined pugnacity—though also, by one account, ‘gaga’ to the point of writing ‘Mariya’ for ‘Armiya’. Moreover, the French had been told, in December, that if one ally was attacked, the others must launch immediate offensives to save it—an argument designed to save the Russian army from the isolation of summer 1915, and now turned against Russia. French appeals for help went out as soon as the German offensive began at Verdun. Alexeyev could not refuse his help. Stavka was now prisoner of its own arguments. Alexeyev had told Zhilinski to suggest that Russia was now strong enough to attack. Privately, he did not feel this at all—there had been delays in the re-organisation, and the army, now counting 1,700,000 men at the front—with 1,250,000 rifles—was not yet strong enough for offensive action. Evert, too, began to quail at the thought of attack once he was asked to bring his pugnacity to some concrete expression—no doubt he had, in the interim, read the south-western commanders’ reports on the failure of their winter offensive, where a thousand guns with a thousand rounds each, and two-fold superiority of numbers, had failed to make much of a dent in the Austro-Hungarian lines. But not much could be done: an offensive would have to be staged for the benefit of the French. On 24th February—three days after the Germans launched their attack on Verdun—there was a conference in Stavka. The Russian superiority of numbers was now considerable—on the northern front, 300,000 to 180,000; on the western, 700,000 to 360,000 (917 battalions to 382) with 526 cavalry squadrons to 144; and on the south-western front, about half a million men on either side (684 Russian battalions to 592, and 492 squadrons to 239).

It was felt that the western front—Evert’s—should attack. The shell-reserve had now been built up to 1,250 rounds for the 5,000 field guns, 540 for the 585 field-howitzers, and 685 rounds each for nearly a thousand guns—a force that, if concentrated, must surely bring great results. It would be Evert’s duty to ensure concentration of this force. There were also, now, increasingly, rises in the number of battalions and divisions, of which there were 152 in March, 163½ in summer, with forty-seven cavalry divisions, later fifty. The area of attack18 was much the same as in September 1915—east of Vilna. The two army groups, Kuropatkin’s and Evert’s, must co-operate in attacking, one to the south-west against Vilna, the other due west from the line of lakes east of Vilna. The Russians’ superiority was a considerable one—II Army, on the line of lakes, assembled 253 battalions and 233 squadrons of cavalry, over 350,000 men, with 605 light and 282 heavy guns—982 in all if two corps in reserve are included. There were ten army corps involved, over twenty divisions. The German X Army, here, had four and a half infantry divisions, subsequently built up to seven: 75,000 men, with 300 guns, subsequently built up to 440. It is, in the first place, notable enough that the Russian superiority at Lake Narotch—in men, guns, and shell (since each gun had a thousand rounds and more) was considerably greater than had been the Germans’ superiority in May 1915 at Gorlice, or even in July 1915 on the Narev.

The difficulties came, as usual, with command and operations. In the first place, the promised co-operation of Kuropatkin’s front did not come into much effect, beyond a feeble demonstration at Dvinsk that cost 15,000 men. II Army was commanded by General Smirnov, born in 1849, ‘a soft old man with no distinction of any kind’. Usually, he played patience while Evert’s chief of staff did the work; Evert, himself elderly, resisted attempts to have him dismissed by reason of age; and he was removed from command only just before the attack, to be replaced by the younger Ragoza—a man altogether unfamiliar with II Army, and subsequently replaced in turn by Smirnov. The corps were drawn up in groups, each commanded by the commander of one of the corps involved—as usual, on principles of seniority. In this case, the groups were taken by Pleshkov, Sirelius, Baluyev. Of Sirelius, Alexeyev wrote, ‘It seems unlikely that he will be able to manage the bold and connected offensive action or the systematic execution of a plan that are needed.’ But attempts to remove Sirelius broke down because, it is alleged, ‘some old granny still has flutterings about the heart when his name comes up’.

The offensive was carried out at a time of the year that could not have been less suitable if it had been chosen by the Germans. It opened on 18th March. The winter conditions had given way to those of early spring—alternating freezes and thaws that made the roads either an ice-rink or a morass. Shell would explode to little effect against ground that was either hard as iron or churned to a morass; gas was also ineffective in the cold. Supplies presented problems that the best-trained army would have found impossible to solve: the man-handling of boxes of heavy shell through slush that was a foot deep. The Russian rear was a scene of epic confusion—complicated by the astonishingly large masses of cavalry deployed there, to no effect whatsoever at the front. It was altogether an episode that suggests commanders had lost such wits as they still possessed. Preparations had gone on for some time, or so Evert alleged. In practice, the Russians’ positions were sketchy—some parts of their line were protected only by staves in the ground, and Kondratovitch, who inspected II Army’s positions, said that, when snow fell, rifle-fire became impossible. 20.Corps was sited in a marshy region, with its rear in full view of German artillery. There had been almost no preparation of dug-outs—nor, in view of the season, could there be. But the elderly commanders, their mental digestions still coping uneasily with the lessons of 1915, were in no condition to think things out. The Germans received a fortnight’s warning of the offensive—it was even discussed by the cooks in Evert’s headquarters three weeks before it began.

The attack began with bombardment on 18th March, the northernmost of the corps groups—Pleshkov’s—leading off. Of all bombardments in the First World War, this was—with strong competition—the most futile. It was subsequently known as ‘General Pleshkov’s son et lumière’. A subsequent investigation of the artillery-affairs in this battle revealed that only in Baluyev’s group had there been discussion between senior artillery and infantry officers on the ground—as distinct from maps—as to how things should go. Almost no reconnaissance had been conducted, so that the guns fired blind—on Pleshkov’s front, they were even told to fire blind into a wood, behind which the Germans were thought to be. On Sirelius’s front, the guns registered on their own infantry’s trenches, in case the Germans came to occupy them. The guns were useless against German enfilading-positions and communications-trenches, since no-one knew with any accuracy where they were; even observation-posts for the guns were, as things turned out, vulnerable to machine-gun fire. It was only on 7th March that Pleshkov’s artillery was told what to do, and the instructions were changed on 13th March, the guns having to be hauled over marsh and slush to new positions. A further peculiarity was that artillery was divided into light and heavy groups: the heavy artillery of Pleshkov’s group was mainly concentrated in the hands of Zakutovski, the light artillery mainly in the hands of Prince Masalski, corps artillery commander. The two men quarrelled—Zakutovski believing that, as commander of the whole group’s artillery, he should be giving the orders, while Masalski reckoned that, being commander of artillery in the corps mainly involved (1.), he should have the task. There was almost no co-operation between the two men; and shell-delivery became difficult enough, since heavy rounds would be delivered to Masalski, light ones to Zakutovski, and not released by them—even if the morass had allowed it. One Corps (1st Siberian) got half the shell it needed; another (1st) twice as much as it could use. This was more than a battle of competence. It reflected the poor state of relations between infantrymen and gunners, Masalski protecting the one, and Zakutovski the other. In this way, many gunners’ tasks were not carried out at all, and many duplicated. Light artillery tried to do the work of heavy, heavy of light.

Pleshkov had supposed that a narrow concentration of guns—on two kilometres of his twenty-kilometre sector—would create a break-through. His guns fired off their 200 rounds per day, commanders feeling that a weight like this—after all, equivalent to three months’ use of shell, as foreseen in 1914—could not go wrong. With four army corps on a front of twenty kilometres, against a German infantry division with one cavalry division, there ought not, in commanders’ view, to be any difficulty. By sending in waves of infantry on two kilometres, Pleshkov merely gave the German artillery a magnificent target; and when, as happened, these occupied German trenches, they would be fired on from three sides by German guns on the sides of the salient—guns that had been registered previously on the trenches, which were found evacuated. One division attacked before the other, because of an error in telephone-messages; it even attacked, on 18th March, under its own bombardment, no doubt because liaison between Zakutovski and Masalski was so poor. A further corps assaulted the woods of Postawy, also in vain—German guns being concealed by the woods. In all, Pleshkov’s group lost 15,000 men in the first eight hours of this offensive—three-quarters of the infantry mustered for attack, although fifteen per cent of Pleshkov’s total force. On 19th March the attacks were continued, although trenches now filled with water as rain came, with a thaw. There were minor tactical successes—600 prisoners being taken—and losses of 5,000 in a few hours, equivalent to a whole brigade. On 21st March Pleshkov tried again, and even Kuropatkin stumbled forward. Each lost 10,000. In the rear, confusion—brought about mainly by the presence of 233 cavalry squadrons, who monopolised supplies and transport—was of crisis proportions, the hospital-trains breaking down, troops going hungry while meat rotted in depots. Over half of all orders were countermanded.

The only success of any dimensions came on Baluyev’s front, on Lake Narotch, where artillery and infantry had co-operated. At dawn on 21st March Baluyev attacked along the shores of Lake Narotch, using the ice, and helped by thick fog. His gunners sustained an artillery duel with the Germans, and a few square miles were taken, with some thousand prisoners. Sirelius, to the north, would not help at all, relapsing into cabbalistic utterance, and losing only one per cent of his force—through frost-bite. In the next few days, there were repeated attempts by Baluyev and Pleshkov; then the affair settled down to an artillery-duel. Later on, in April, the Germans took what they had lost. In all, they had had to move three divisions to face this attack, ostensibly, of 350,000 Russians. Not one of these came from the western front. The Russian army lost 100,000 men in this engagement—as well as 12,000 men who died of frostbite. The Germans claimed to have lifted 5,000 corpses from their wire. They themselves lost 20,000 men.

Lake Narotch was, despite appearances, one of the decisive battles of the First World War. It condemned most of the Russian army to passivity. Generals supposed that, if 350,000 men and a thousand guns, with ‘mountains’ of shell to use, had failed, then the task was impossible—unless there were extraordinary quantities of shell. Alexeyev himself made this point to Zhilinski, saying that the French Army itself demanded 4,200 rounds per light gun, and 600 per heavy gun, before they would consider an offensive, and Russia had not these quantities. In practice, even Russia could have assembled such quantities on a given area of front had the generals managed their reserves properly. But they had no way of arranging sacrifices by one part of the front to the benefit of another; they did not understand the tactical problems; and, certainly, recognition of the extreme incompetence with which affairs had been combined in March, 1916 remained platonic. As before, artillery and infantry blamed each other, the only positive consequence being a demand for yet more shell. The way was open to Upart’s demand for 4,500,000 rounds per month, and also to the eighteen million shells that were stock-piled, to no effect save, in the end, to enable the Bolsheviks to fight the Civil War. Now the western and northern army groups would have no stomach for attack. It was only the emergence of a general whose common-sense amounted to brilliance, and who selected a group of staff-officers who were almost a kernel of the Red Army, that gave the Russian army a great rôle in 1916.

Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry

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The Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry (Bosnisch-Hercegovinische Infanterie), commonly called the Bosniaken (German for Bosniaks), was a branch of the Austro-Hungarian Army. As Muslim units, they were granted some special and unique privileges. They had their own uniforms and units were given its own number sequence within the common army.

The units were part of the Austro-Hungarian infantry in 1914 and consisted of four infantry regiments (numbered 1-4) and a Field Rifles Battalion (Feldjägerbataillon).

Bosnian infantry regiments differed from all other units of the Austro-Hungarian army in their uniforms. The most distinctive characteristic garment of this European military force was the Oriental fez, which was worn on parade and for field uniform. The Fez was made of reddish-brown felt and equipped with a tassel of black sheep’s wool. This tassel was 18.5 cm long and mounted on a rosette fringes. The fez had to be worn such that the tassel was at the back. Officers and cadets often wore alternate Austrian military infantry caps. If the officers were Muslims, they could also wear the fez. If the officer was not Bosnian then he wore a standard Austro-Hungarian officer’s beret instead. Tunics and blouses were consistent with those of the standard German line infantry. The buttons were yellow with the respective regimental number. Officers’ uniforms consisted of blue coats with red collar and yellow buttons, and from 1894 the uniform featured the regiments’ numbers.

Ordinary soldiers had a light blue uniform with trouser pants bearing so-called knee breeches after the oriental models. They consisted of the two leg parts and the leg pieces (like the German V-away or breeches of the armed forces – but instead issued after the front side) that were each composed of a front and back. At the front were two diagonally cut pockets. The leg parts were kept far below the knee and narrowed from there. The running down Wade pieces were connected by a 3.5 cm wide alliance of double pleated fabric with the leg parts.

The Field Rifles Battalion (Feldjägerbataillon) had a different uniform. The officers and cadets wore the same uniform as the Tyrolean Jägerbataillon, while the ordinary soldiers wore grey uniforms with a grey fez. The žandamerijskom Corps is particularly striking as the men wore the hat with black feathers.

Note:In Austro-Hungarian sources of that time soldiers from Bosnia were called as just Bosniaken(eng. Bosniaks, bos. Bošnjaci) of Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic faith.

In terms of modern nationality, those Orthodox population of Bosnia are part of Serbs nation, Catholics of Croats nation, while Muslim population of Bosnia = Bosniaks.

Books written about it:

– Werner Schachinger, “Die Bosniaken kommen! Elitetruppe in der k.u.k. Armee 1879 – 1918”

– Hans Fritz, “Bosniak”

– Ahmed Pašić, “Bošnjaki na Soški fronti”

– Werner Schachinger, “I Bosniaci sul fronte Italiano”

– Pero Blašković, “Sa Bošnjacima u svjetskom ratu”

– Pero Blašković, “BH3”

– Group of authors, “Des Kaisers Bosniaken”

It seems that troops from Bosnia and Herzegovina were best part of k.u.k. army in WW1.

Especially Second Regiment with 42 highest, golden medals for bravery, record holder in entire army.

In total, troops from Bosnia and Herzegovina earned 106 golden medals, 63 of them were for Muslim soldiers. According to Werner Schachinger, even non Bosnia units would sometime use Bosnian fez to make enemy think they are fighting against Bosniaks, what was discouraging. It seems that most famous venture of them was battle for Monte Meletta during last days of May and first days of June in the year 1916, where Bosnian troops destroyed Italian forces.

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Gliders in the East

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Men of the U.S. 11th Airborne Division landing near Appari in the Cagayan Valley on Luzon.

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Appari, Cagayan Valley. A jeep and equipment is unloaded from a CG-13A glider.

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Interior of a Waco CG-13A.

MORESBY: MISSION ABORTED

At 0825 hours on 5 September 1943, the U.S. 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment took off from Port Moresby in 84 C-47 transport aircraft. An Australian parachute artillery regiment—25-pounders—reinforced the regiment. To assist a three-pronged Australian drive for the important Japanese-held port of Lae, the paratroopers were to seize an airstrip at Nadzab, some twenty miles inland. The air formations included 302 aircraft: A-20’s laid smokescreens to hide the drop zones from enemy observers; B-25’s bombed and strafed the landing area; and B-17’s carried a “basket” of twelve bundles of equipment in each bomb bay, a parachute on each bundle. These had been specially designed for the mission and contained ammunition, heavy machine guns and supplies. They would be dropped according to signals from the ground wherever needed. Squadrons of P-38 fighters flew cover above, and P-39’s guarded the flanks; heavy bombers carried bomb loads to drop on enemy positions at the nearby Heath Plantation.

Three deaths and a number of fractures occurred in the jump, but the paratroopers found little resistance on the ground, and they quickly organized a perimeter defense. An Australian engineer battalion that had set out on foot six days earlier joined them, and work proceeded on the airstrip. The shuttling by air of the Australian 7th Infantry Division from Marilinen to Nadzab—an operation that required several weeks—began thirty-six hours later.

No gliders were used in the Nadzab operation. Eleven, loaded with Australian men and equipment, were waiting to take off at Port Moresby on 5 September, when their mission was cancelled. It was said that the use of the gliders was cancelled because the outstanding success of the parachute drop made them unnecessary, but a contributing factor was the concern for the safety of the men they would carry. All the gliders were showing signs of deterioration. On the flight from Brisbane, where they were being assembled for the operation, one glider had lost its tail-assembly in mid-air, and the crew had been killed in the resulting crash. Thirty-five pilots and thirty-five mechanics, the first glider contingent for the Southwest Pacific, had arrived in Australia in February 1943. In April, another twenty-six pilots and twenty-six mechanics had joined them. Their crated gliders—twenty-seven of them—arrived shortly afterwards. None of these gliders was ever used in tactical operations. Some of the pilots and mechanics were later assigned to various other duties among widely separated troop carrier units and others were returned to the United States.

GLIDER RESCUE MISSION

On 13 May 1945, a C-47 flying on instruments struck a ridge in the Orange Mountains in Dutch New Guinea. Of the passengers, the three survivors included a WAVE corporal, Margaret Hastings. Search planes located the wreck, but the area in the interior, called Hidden Valley, was inaccessible by trail. Men, followed by supplies, parachuted into the valley to prepare a strip suitable for glider landings and recovery by snatch technique. Two medical corps men also parachuted in and rendered aid to the survivors.

Glider crews on Wakde Island prepared for the rescue operation. On 28 June, the first glider landed successfully. They loaded the five passengers, including the survivors, and were snatched thirty minutes later. In two subsequent sorties, the parachuted men were flown out by glider. Sentani airstrip on Hollandia served as the base of operations.

LUZON: THE ONE AND ONLY PACIFIC OPERATION

Right at 0600 hours on 23 June 1945, a C-46 carrying paratroopers of the U.S. 11th Airborne Division took off from the Lipa airstrip on Luzon. Six CG-4A’s and one CG-13 glider brought up the rear of scores of aircraft that followed in a V of V’s on their way to Aparri in northern Luzon. Fighters hummed overhead. This was a first for gliders in the Pacific. Although hundreds were at airfields scattered throughout the Pacific islands, none had yet been tested in combat. The tactical objective of this mission was to hasten the collapse of organized enemy resistance in northern Luzon. The forces to be dropped were to make contact with American and Philippine guerrillas to the south to free the Cagayan Valley.

The parachute and glider landing zones were the same: an abandoned enemy airstrip five miles south of Aparri. They flew to the rendezvous point at Camalaniugan, 250 miles by direct route from Lipa, the staging area for the airborne forces. To avoid alerting the enemy, they approached the rendezvous point over the China Sea, adding 100 miles to the course. Glider tow planes carried neither paratroopers nor cargo. The gliders carried a total of nineteen troops, six jeeps, one trailer, machine guns, ammunition and radio and medical supplies.

At precisely 0900 hours, the aircraft reached the drop zone, which pathfinders had marked with colored smoke. Fighter-bombers laid down a smokescreen, blinding the hills to the southeast where the Japanese supposedly had artillery that could reach the drop zone. Paratroopers and gliders “unloaded” from the aircraft in a single pass over the field. Glider landings were equally accurate, although the grass on the strip was denser than appeared from photo interpretation. A wing-tip collision between two CG-4A’s was the only imperfection in the glider phase.

Three days after the drop, the 511th made contact with the U.S. 37th Infantry Division, sealing off the Cagayan Valley. The captured strip was later used for supply landings and to evacuate casualties.

FINAL ALLIED OPERATIONS IN BURMA

In April 1945, C.C.F.T. transports and gliders played an important part in the final stages of the campaign in Burma, getting airfields at Pyinmana, Toungoo and Pegu into operation in time for quick support of the IV Corps advance. At Pegu, the transports carried out a familiar role, delivering reinforcements that would enable the ground forces to hold and consolidate their gains. In preparation for these activities, a reserve of 86,000 gallons of gasoline was built up at Meiktila to permit the temporary operation of C-47’s from that advanced base. Gliders loaded with bulldozers, runway lighting equipment, jeeps, tractors, scrapers, gasoline, radio equipment, food and water were ferried into Meiktila until fifty-five gliders were on hand.

IV Corps bypassed Pyinmana and secured Lewe Airfield south of the city on 20 April. At 0850 hours the next morning, eight C-47’s of the 4th Combat Cargo Squadron towed one glider each to Lewe, after delivering supplies to Meiktila. The gliders contained a tractor, a scraper, two bulldozers, a jeep and trailer, a power saw, gasoline, rations, water and nineteen men. The first glider was released over Lewe at 0955 hours and the last at 1015 hours. Some of the gliders were damaged in landing—one beyond repair—but none of the equipment was lost. The machinery was put to work immediately, but the gasoline was left aboard the gliders until it was needed. This was a mistake because Japanese fighters, making one of their last sweeps over Burma, came over Lewe on the morning of 22 April and set the gasoline in five of the gliders alight. This incident delayed work on the airfield for only a few minutes, however, the strip was 4,500 feet long and by noon. The first transports landed at 1600 hours that afternoon, only sixty-four hours after the ground forces had driven the Japanese away.

While Lewe Airfield was being repaired, a division overran Tennant and Kalaywa Airfields at Toungoo. A bulldozer that had accompanied the advancing column filled enough craters at Tennant to permit glider landings, but most of the equipment with the ground forces was put to work on Kalaywa. On 23 April, after delivering supplies, six C-47’s of the 4th Combat Cargo Squadron lifted six gliders loaded with construction equipment from Meiktila and released them over Tennant between 1015 and 1045 hours. The Tennant Strip was in much better condition than the one at Lewe. A C-47 carrying a number of personnel and equipment landed at 1415 hours, and a 6,000-foot runway was ready by 1600 hours. Improvement of the field continued throughout 23 April, and fifty-six transports landed with supplies the next day.

Ground forces reached the well-sited strip at Zayatkwin, thirty-two miles from Rangoon, on 4 May. Although Tennant Airfield was barely serviceable, C-47’s of the 1st Combat Cargo Group and 117 RAF Transport Squadron towed gliders from there to Zayatkwin on the morning of 5 May. Handicapped by weather, in addition to craters in the runway, the engineers made slow progress. When Lewe Airfield became temporarily serviceable on 8 May, eight more equipment-loaded gliders were towed to Zayatkwin. Momentarily improved weather and the added equipment enabled engineers to open the strip to C-47’s before nightfall on 8 May and to C-46’s the next day. Zayatkwin was the southernmost airfield opened in the IV Corps area during the drive on Rangoon.

Massive Mines

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1 UNDERGROUND WORLD Specialist tunneling companies dug subterranean trenches across much of the Western Front, such as those preserved in the Wellington Quarry beneath Arras in northeastern France. The mine tunnels were among the most ambitious of all.

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2 BIG BANG A rare photograph captures the explosion of the mine under Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt, packed with 18 tons of explosives, at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in June 1916.

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3 LASTING IMPACT The 24-ton Lochnagar Mine, detonated at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, left behind a crater some 91 meters (300 ft) across and 21 meters (70 ft) deep, which has been preserved in commemoration of the battle

LOCATION West Flanders, Belgium

NEAREST POPULATION HUB Ghent

SECRECY OVERVIEW Access restricted: home to the First World War’s largest unexploded mine.

La Basse Cour (which translates as “The Farmyard”) is a 60-hectare (150-acre) privately owned farm close to the town of Ypres. Amid the push-and-pull of the First World War’s Western Front, its location on the Messines Ridge put it on the front line of hostilities. Today the farm sits on a massive 22,500-kilogram (50,000-lb) mine that has yet to detonate.

The Messines Ridge fell under German control in the early months of the First World War, and remained so until 1917. It was a major target for British forces stationed in the area and, as it became increasingly clear that trench warfare was producing only stalemate, a radical new plan was put into action.

From January 1916, British troops began digging underground tunnels from their lines around the Ypres Salient toward the German encampments at Messines. The idea was to lay a series of mines that could be exploded shortly before a major troop offensive. In fact, the scheme was put on hold until 1917, when 25 mines and 450,000 kilograms (1 million lb) of explosives were laid underground along an 11-kilometer (7-mile) front after a heroic period of subterranean burrowing.

British forces under the command of General Sir Herbert Plumer began a heavy bombardment of German positions toward the end of May 1917. On June 7, Plumer gave the order to detonate the mines, creating a blast that claimed between 6,000 and 10,000 enemy lives and which was reputedly loud enough to be heard in London. Within a week, the British had secured the Messines Ridge.

However, six of the British mines survived the operation intact. Five of them were left undetonated for strategic reasons, while the sixth was lost during a German counter-mining attack and never recovered. It lay beneath a farm then known as Le Petite Douve, which was renamed as La Basse Cour by its owners, the Mahieu family, in the aftermath of the conflict.

And there the mine survives to the present day. While another of the Messines mines exploded spontaneously in 1955 during a lightning storm, the bomb beneath La Basse Cour remains buried some 24 meters (80 ft) beneath the Mahieus’ property. Its exact location was pinpointed in the 1990s by British researchers using historical maps of the area, but only the foolhardy are likely to want to prod and poke at this sleeping but potentially deadly brute.