Hospitallers

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“Order of the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem.”

An international Military Order originally comprised of male nurses devoted to providing succor to Christian pilgrims in the “Holy Land.” It was founded in 1070 by Italian merchants from Amalfi. Following the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade the nursing brothers hired a number of knights with crusading experience in Iberia to protect pilgrims journeying to nearby holy sites and shrines, a service already offered by the Knights Templar. The Order of the Hospital was recognized by the papacy in 1113 and was much pampered by successive popes. Its first military action was in 1136, when the Order was given land to fortify and defend at Beit Jibrin, between Gaza and Hebron. In the 1140s the Brethren fended off Muslim raids into the Crusader states, after which more Hospitallers took up arms and accepted contracts to protect Latin castles and pilgrims. Soon this military function overshadowed the original nursing purpose of the Order: by 1187 it held over 20 key strongholds in the Holy Land, including the spectacular Krak des Chevaliers. However, the Brethren always took their hospital duties seriously. Perhaps that was because, unlike the rival Templars, Hospitallers permitted women in the Order. Like other military orders, they had four classes of Brethren: knights, sergeants, serving brothers, and chaplains. They also allowed confrère knights. Any knight catching leprosy was required to leave the main Order to join the Knights Hospitaller of St. Lazarus. Although few in number, the “Lazars” founded many leper asylums in Europe (200 in England alone), supported by commanderies in the Holy Land. In 1134 defense of Aragon itself was left to the Hospitallers and Templars. As Iberian Hospitallers were drawn more into the Reconquista fewer left as Crusader reinforcements for the Middle East. Still, the main concern of the Order remained Outremer.

In 1187 Salāh al-Dîn inflicted a massive defeat on a Crusader army at Hattin, near Tiberias in Galilee. After the battle he ordered all Hospitaller and Templar prisoners killed. On October 3 his troops overwhelmed the remaining defenders of Jerusalem and recaptured the city for Islam. Subsequently, he battered down Crusader castles along the Syrian coast, earning respect among the Latins for his military skill and chivalry.

When Jerusalem was recaptured for Islam in 1187 by the great warriorprince Salāh al-Dîn, the Knights Hospitaller retreated to Acre. In the Muslim storming and sack of Acre in 1291 every Knight Hospitaller, Lazar, Knight of St. Thomas, and Teutonic Knight (except the Hochmeister) died fighting. Upon the loss of that last Crusader state in 1291, the Hospitallers withdrew to island strongpoints from which their long-established navy continued to fight ascendant Muslim power in the eastern Mediterranean. Along with other defeated Latins, surviving Hospitallers settled on Cyprus (1291) then Rhodes (1306). Although they benefitted hugely from persecution of the Templars, fear of similar treatment confirmed the Hospitallers in their decisions to make Rhodes their headquarters (1310) and to reorganize as a federation of national associations. From Rhodes they remained active as pirates (“Sea Brothers”) against Muslim and Christian ships alike. In 1344, in alliance with Venice, they captured Smyrna. In 1365 they captured Alexandria. In neither case could they hold what they took, and Muslim counterattacks soon retook both cities. In 1440 and 1480 the Hospitallers repelled two Muslim sieges of Rhodes. In 1522 they were finally defeated by the Ottomans; survivors were allowed to depart Rhodes (January 1, 1523). Already well-established and respected in Austria and Germany, in 1530 Charles V granted the Order sovereignty over Malta. It held that island as a Christian outpost in the Muslim eastern Mediterranean for several centuries. A much different and distant outpost was on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. The Protestant Reformation led to suppression of Hospitaller branches in most Protestant countries, and confiscation of their great estates, although the Lazars continued a quiet, almost underground, existence in France and Italy. Attenuated in all ways, the Hospitallers remained in control of Malta until Napoleon dispensed with them in 1798.

 

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lance

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Assyrian cavalry with lances.

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Polish Winged Hussars.

A long cavalry spear used for thrusting at the enemy. It was not a javelin, which it replaced among the Franks in the late 9th century. Early medieval lances were 8 to 10 feet long, usually carved from a sturdy wood such as ash or apple. Reliance on the lance by medieval cavalry began under Charlemagne (r. 768-814), who ordered all knights to use lances in his 792- 793 edict “Capitulare missorum.” Frankish armies continued to use the lance as a thrusting weapon, and did not yet unite weight of warrior and warhorse in combined mounted shock combat. That development only arrived with the couched lance, probably around 1100 (the date of introduction remains controversial). It established battlefield dominance by 1150. The heavy lance thereafter served as the principal weapon of cavalry in the Middle Ages, and the main weapon of specialized units of lancers into the gunpowder era.

Since shock and not thrusting was the new method of attack, cavalry lances became heavier, sturdier, and longer: up to four meters of hardened wood with a solid iron tip (usually leaf-shaped to cut deeply into mail and flesh), and a pennon to prevent its passing right through an enemy soldier. When full plate armor became common for rider and warhorse in the 15th century the “arrêt de cuirasse” was used to bracket the lance against the breastplate. This allowed a still heavier lance to be used. However, this change came just as heavy lancers were being shuffled off the battlefield by gunpowder weapons, which led to abandonment of the lance in favor of alternate cavalry weapons and tactics such as the pistol and caracole, and a reduced assault combat role for cavalry in favor of large infantry formations. It has been argued by Claude Gaier and other French military historians that what finally drove the heavy lance from the battlefield, or at least from French battlefields, was “not infantry but mounted pistoleers.” That is not the dominant view in more general military histories.

pennon

A crossbar below the lethal tip of a lance to limit its penetration of an enemy’s body by making contact with his ribs. This permitted it to be more easily extracted and used again.

arrêt de cuirasse

A late medieval device, something like a bracket, used to anchor a heavy lance against the breastplate of a full suit of plate armor. It temporarily revived an offensive role for heavy armored cavalry in Europe.

Rhineland Offensive (February-March 1945)

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Allied eastward campaign to reach and cross the Rhine River. Actually a series of offensives-Operations VERITABLE, GRENADE, LUMBERJACK, and UNDERTONE-the Rhineland Offensive was designed to drive the German army from the area north of the Mosel River in preparation for the main Allied invasion of Germany by Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in the north, across the Rhine north of the Ruhr. The supreme Allied commander in the west, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, also wanted to occupy the Rhineland (the area of Germany west of the Rhine River) south of the Mosel River in order to protect Montgomery’s right flank and to provide territory for a secondary invasion of Germany through the Kassel-Frankfurt corridor.

Eisenhower had pledged to Montgomery that his forces would make the primary thrust to the Rhine, and he left Lieutenant General William H. Simpson’s Ninth Army under Montgomery’s command. He also allowed Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army to continue its drive toward the city of Trier and the Saar River basin. Ordering elements of Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s First Army to seize the Roer River dams in support of Montgomery’s northern thrust, he also let Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley make an additional strike northeast from Saint Vith toward the Rhine. This latter attack began on 28 January, but the troops bogged down when confronted with poor weather and stiff German resistance.

Montgomery’s attack in the north, Operation VERITABLE, began on 8 February. Infantry and tanks of the Canadian I and II Corps, reinforced by the British XXX Corps, assaulted the German West Wall (known to the Allies as the Siegfried Line)-entrenchments in and around the Reichswald State Forest. Despite the attackers’ greater numbers and air superiority, stubborn German resistance and poor weather slowed the advance. When the Germans breached the Roer River dams before the Allies could seize them, the flooding of that river postponed Operation GRENADE, a supporting attack by the U. S. Ninth Army, and allowed the Germans to concentrate their reserves against the British and Canadians.

However, having committed almost all their reserves against VERITABLE, the Germans could not hold back the Americans as the First and Third Armies involved in Operation LUMBERJACK began to penetrate the West Wall defenses. Patton, ignoring orders to halt his offensive, sent Major General Manton Eddy’s XII Corps toward Bitburg and Major General Troy H. Middleton’s VIII Corps on to the Prum River. Steadily advancing through a heavily fortified German belt, the weary troops reached both objectives by the end of February. The U. S. First Army north of Patton likewise pressed the defenders ever closer to the Rhine. Launching Operation GRENADE on 23 February, after the Roer River flooding had receded, the U. S. Ninth Army broke through the thinned defenses and advanced toward the Rhine. Operation UNDERTONE was the final stage of clearing the Rhineland, with the goal of removing German forces from the Saar and Palatinate. Mounted by Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch’s Seventh Army, it began on 13 March. Adolf Hitler’s stubborn refusal to permit his armies to retreat or even maneuver contributed greatly to the subsequent German debacle. Standing in place, the German defenders were destroyed in detail or cut off and forced to surrender. Only a relative handful escaped east across the river. By 24 March, German forces had been forced back across the Rhine.

The U. S. First Army secured the biggest prize of the campaign. No American commander had really expected to capture an intact Rhine bridge, but on 7 March, a unit from the U. S. 9th Armored Division took advantage of a confusion in the German defense to seize the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge at Remagen. General Hodges reinforced the coup by rushing divisions of his III Corps under Major General John Millikin over the river. The First Army’s bridgehead over the Rhine, reinforced on 22-23 March by Patton’s surprise crossing near Oppenheim and Montgomery’s set-piece crossing on 23 March, wrapped up the campaign.

British and Canadian casualties in these battles approached 16,000 men, and U. S. losses among all the armies engaged were almost twice that number. The collapse of the German defenses west of the Rhine began when pressure was applied at several points simultaneously. Lacking the reserves to meet so many attacks and forbidden by Hitler to fall back, the German armies suffered severely. In the Rhineland Campaign, the Allies took more than 200,000 German prisoners.

Rhine Crossings (7-24 March 1945)

The Rhine River presented the greatest natural obstacle in the path of the advancing Western Allies after their crossing of the English Channel. Ranging in width from 700 to 1,200 feet and at no point fordable, the river was at flood levels in early March 1945-the result of spring rains and melting snow. The Rhine was also in German territory and would be defended at great cost. Allied plans called for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group to cross the Rhine in the north, while General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group would cross in the south. The majority of resources were to be assigned to Montgomery, whose forces were then to secure Germany’s industrial heartland of the Ruhr Valley.

The Germans had already blown most of the bridges across the Rhine accessible to the advancing Allies when, on the afternoon of 7 March, lead elements of Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division of Bradley’s army group were able to secure the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge at Remagen. Troops and vehicles were rushed across as combat engineers hurried to construct other bridges. Meanwhile, amphibian trucks and engineer ferries supplemented the bridge.

Not to be outdone, Lieutenant General George S. Patton sought to secure a crossing for his Third Army. He planned to make a feint at Mainz and then cross at Oppenheim. The task of making the initial crossing fell to the 5th Infantry Division. The operation began late on the night of 21 March. Thirteen artillery battalions and 7,500 engineers stood by to support the crossing, but to secure surprise, there was no preliminary fire. Two assault companies of the 5th Division, assisted by the 204th Engineer Combat Battalion, crossed the river at Oppenheim without resistance. South of the city, another assault company got across but then met heavy German resistance on the other bank. Not until 12:30 A. M. on 22 March did the Germans begin to fire artillery, and even then, it was only sporadic. Patton’s sneak crossing had worked well indeed.

As the bridgehead expanded, ferries, DUKWs amphibious trucks, and landing craft known as LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle or personnel) of the U. S. Navy’s Naval Unit 2 ferried men and equipment to the other side. By midafternoon, three infantry regiments and hundreds of support troops were across. By evening, the bridgehead was 5 miles deep. Patton’s army made two other assault crossings of the Rhine. Lead elements of the 87th Division crossed in the early morning hours of 25 March at Boppard, and the following morning, the 89th Division crossed at Saint Goar.

Despite the good fortune of the Remagen crossing and Patton’s crossing to the south, the Allied plan still called for the northern crossings, code-named Operation PLUNDER, to be the main attack. Montgomery massed nearly 1 million men along the lower Rhine: 21st Army Group units in the crossing included the 9 divisions of the British Second Army and the 12 divisions of the U. S. Ninth Army. The U. S. Navy’s Naval Unit 3 supported 21st Army Group and was the largest of three such supporting units for the Rhine crossing. It was reinforced by a Transportation Corps harbor company and elements of the Royal Navy. Defending in this area, the Germans had only 85,000 men and 35 tanks. Operation PLUNDER began late on 23 March, with units of the 21st Army Group getting across the Rhine between Wesel and Emmerich.

To support Operation PLUNDER at Wesel and impede any German reinforcement, the Allies planned a massive airborne assault. Operation VARSITY, carried out on 24 March, involved 21,692 Allied paratroopers and glidermen of the British 6th Airborne and U. S. 17th Airborne Divisions of Major General Matthew B. Ridgway’s XVIII Airborne Corps, with 614 jeeps, 286 artillery pieces and mortars, and hundreds of tons of supplies, ammunition, food, and fuel. A total of 1,696 transports and 1,348 gliders participated. More than 2,000 Allied fighter aircraft provided support, and 240 B-24 bombers were specially rigged to drop supplies and equipment. The drop zones for VARSITY were east of the Rhine in the Wesel area, close enough to the advancing ground forces to provide for a quick linkup but not deep enough to give any real additional depth to the operation. By the end of 24 March, the airborne forces had secured most of their objectives. The defending German 84th Division was virtually destroyed, with 3,500 Germans taken prisoner. Although VARSITY was a success, it was a costly one; casualties were higher for the airborne forces in this operation than for the Allied ground units in their crossings.

Meanwhile, the Ninth Army’s 90th Infantry Division crossed all three of its regiments near Wallach shortly after midnight on 24 March. The Scottish 15th Division of Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie’s British XII Corps got across the river west of Xanten, opposed only by sporadic artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire. Then, at 3:00 A. M. on 24 March, the 79th Division conducted the last amphibious crossing of the river, at points east and southeast of Rheinberg.

The initial assault crossings completed, engineers followed with additional bridging. Allied headquarters had estimated that sustaining military operations across the Rhine would require 540 tons of supplies per day. Allied engineers had, in short order, constructed a variety of foot, vehicle, railway, and pipeline bridges. For generations, the Germans had considered the Rhine as a natural barrier that would protect them from invasion, but superior resources at the points of attack and military engineering gave the Allies access to the German heartland.

References MacDonald, Charles. The Siegfried Line Campaign. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1963. —. The Last Offensive. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1973. McKee, Alexander. The Race for the Rhine Bridges, 1940, 1944, 1945. New York: Stein and Day, 1971. Weigley, Russell. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Whitaker, W. Denis, and Shelagh Whitaker. Rhineland: The Battle to End the War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Allen, Peter. One More River: The Rhine Crossings of 1945. New York: Scribner’s, 1980. Blair, Clay. Ridgway’s Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II. Garden City, NY: Dial Press, 1985. Breuer, William B. Storming Hitler’s Rhine: The Allied Assault-February- March 1945. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. MacDonald, Charles B. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations-The Last Offensive. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1973.

RIKUSENTAI “Special Naval Landing Forces.”

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Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) ground forces. They were amphibious assault troops, elite marines organized originally in brigade-strength units of about 2,000 men each. Rikusentai were an interwar advance by the IJN toward true marines, away from a World War I practice of simply forming shore parties from ships’ crew. They first saw action at Shanghai in 1932, where their inability to hold ground drew more heavily armed and numerous Japanese Army troops into the fighting. They were again assaulted in Shanghai by elite Guomindang troops during the opening months of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Rikusentai were reformed into 12 battalion-strength units of about 800-1,200 men each in 1940, two of which trained for airborne operations. Rikusentai were directly controlled by fleet commanders, with only a few held in a small strategic reserve. They did not include other IJN ground forces such as port guards or base garrisons. They were instrumental in the “Hundred Days Campaign” of 1941-1942, which saw the Japanese advance across the Pacific, making multiple landings in the Dutch East Indies and Philippines, as well as on Wake Island, Guam, and dozens of smaller locales. Rikusentai also made airborne assaults on Celebes, Sumatra, and Timor.

In the Solomons campaign and on New Guinea, Rikusentai continued to lead aggressive Japanese operations into 1942. Among these was a highly aggressive assault on Milne Bay on August 25, 1942. Thereafter they were engaged in Japan’s defensive perimeter campaigns, starting with defense of New Georgia. They were severely mauled in fighting on Guadalcanal. Rikusentai and naval base troops badly bloodied U. S. marines on Tarawa through fanatical resistance. U. S. marines and Japanese marines met again on Saipan, where the last Rikusentai parachute troops were wiped out. Rikusentai also fought U. S. marines on Iwo Jima, and in Manila Bay during the second Philippines campaign. By 1944 the elite character of the original Rikusentai units was badly eroded by repeated, bloody defeats. Scratch units were formed from ship’s crew and naval garrisons, a reversion to original IJN practice. These ill-disciplined late-war naval troops were responsible for awful massacres carried out by the Japanese in Manila in 1945, when they disobeyed orders to withdraw and instead slaughtered many thousands of civilians. The last marine-on-marine fight in the Pacific War was on Okinawa in 1945.

Milne Bay, Battle of (25 August- 6 September 1942)

In late August 1942, the Japanese continued their advance southeastward down New Guinea’s northern coast. Their destination was Port Moresby, initially denied to them by the Battle of the Coral Sea. Milne Bay, on New Guinea’s southeast tip, offered a harbor and good sites for airfields. The Australians and Americans had already built one airfield, and two more were under development, all part of the Allied defense of Port Moresby.

On 24 August 1942, Japanese light cruisers Tenryu and Tatsuta, three destroyers, two submarine chasers, and two transports left Rabaul, transporting 612 naval troops of Kure 5th Special Naval Landing Force and 197 men of Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing Force. Another 362 navy cadre and civilians of the 16th Naval Construction Unit were also aboard. These troops were to take the Allied airfields.

The Japanese landed at Milne Bay on the night of 25 August and ran into trouble in the form of torrential rains, swamps, mud, and flooded streams. They also encountered many more Allied troops than anticipated. The Japanese navy had estimated Australian forces at Milne Bay at about a battalion, but the Australians had recently reinforced their garrison and had six battalions present from the 7th and 18th Australian Infantry Brigades under Major General Cyril A. Clowes. In and around the airfields were 9,458 Australians and Americans. The Australians also had 34 P-40 fighter aircraft.

The Japanese landed 5 miles from the beaches where they had planned to land and 8 miles from their objective. They had no useful maps, nor did they have mechanized equipment to haul supplies inland. The Australian P-40s bombed and strafed beached supplies, oil drums, and barges and thereby destroyed most of the Japanese food stocks. Bombs from a B-17 bomber also damaged a Japanese transport unloading supplies.

Another Japanese landing unit, actually part of the initial effort, never made it to shore. Some 350 Kure 5th Special Naval Landing Force troops aboard seven powered barges stopped at Goodenough Island for a break. Nine P-40s attacked and sank all seven barges, stranding the men. Japanese reinforcements (568 men of the Kure 3rd and 200 men of the Yokosuka 5th Special Naval Landing Forces) arrived on 29 August aboard three destroyers and three patrol boats.

Despite an early setback, the Australians fought the Japanese to a standstill at the edge of the easternmost airfield. By 30 August, the Japanese at Milne Bay were short of supplies. Rain, mud, malaria, air attacks, and infantry combat wore them down. A final assault on the airfields during the night of 30 August failed. The Australians then counterattacked and drove the Japanese back toward their landing sites.

The Japanese then decided to cut their losses and evacuate the survivors. As a consequence of the Allied air threat and because the Japanese needed only to evacuate men and not equipment or supplies, they employed two light cruisers and destroyers in the evacuation effort. They removed their wounded on the night of 4-5 September; the main body of the force departed the next night. One Japanese destroyer was lost during the withdrawal, sunk by U. S. aircraft.

The Battle of Milne Bay was a tremendous psychological boost for the Allies. Until then, the Japanese had repeatedly defeated Allied ground forces. Japanese aggressiveness and spirit had previously triumphed over Allied soldiers and matériel-but not at Milne Bay. The Allied repulse administered to crack special naval landing forces helped convinced Allied soldiers that they could defeat the Japanese.

References Bergerud, Eric. Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific. New York: Penguin Books USA, 1996. Dod, Karl C. United States Army in World War II: The Technical Services- The Corps of Engineers: The War against Japan. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1960. Lacroix, Eric, and Linton Wells II. Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. Milner, Samuel. United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific-Victory in Papua. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1957. Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 6, Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, 22 July 1942-1 May 1944. Boston: Little, Brown, 1950.

Char versus Panzer: The factors that really mattered!

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Notwithstanding the ‘on paper’ superiority of French armour in particular areas, the 1940 campaign would illustrate the degree to which these were degraded by a whole series of other factors. These ranged from French Army doctrine and organisation through to general design limitations and other issues, all of which combined to render the whole, in the crucible of war, to be substantially less than the sum of its parts.

It is a truism that French armour doctrine at the start of the Second World War was in essence no different to that at the end of the First. The roles of the tank were that of infantry support and the provision of a mechanised equivalent of the cavalry. These two suppositions governed all aspects of tank unit organisation, their use, design and development in the inter-war period. It meant that when faced with a technologically inferior enemy whose tank arm was predicated upon a far more dynamic concept of the use of armour and air power, the French were unable to respond in an effective way and went down to defeat. Cited as a maxim in pre-war French Service Regulations, tanks had to observe the requirement of only moving as fast as the infantry they were supporting. In consequence, the specifications issued for new machines to fulfil the support role rarely required that they have a maximum speed beyond 17 mph. These machines formed the core of the five Light Cavalry Divisions in 1940. These comprised a light mechanised brigade equipped with the H-35/R-35/H-38/H-39 tanks, Panhard armoured cars and mechanised infantry. It is a measure of their anachronistic structure that they still included a brigade of cavalry.

The Cavalry Division analogue was to be found in the three Divisions Legeres Mecaniques (abbreviated hereafter to DLM). These light mechanised divisions were seen conceptually as mechanised cavalry. Their primary role was to advance to the fore of the main force and screen its movements – a role that Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s commander of cavalry, would have related to without difficulty save for the fact that these steeds were of steel and not flesh and blood Fielding a mixture of Hotchkiss light tanks and the more formidable Somua S-35s, two of these divisions would be involved in the largest tank clash of the campaign at Hannut in Belgium on 12 and 13 May.

Evidence, however, that the contribution played by the Panzerwaffe in the rapid defeat of Poland had not gone by way of the board in France can be seen in how between September 1939 and May 1940 the French had moved very quickly to create their own equivalent of the Panzer Division. Four Divisions Cuirassees Rapide (hereafter abbreviated to DCR) were set up in short order. Three were already part of the order of battle on 10 May. The fourth, as yet still forming, was under the command of a certain Colonel Charles de Gaulle (one of the few minds in the French camp in the 1930s who had been in tune with German armoured developments and had argued for the same in France). With a mechanised infantry battalion and two battalions of artillery, the core of these formations was built around two battalions of 60 Char B1Bis. This was the premier tank of the French Army in 1940. However, it had not been designed for rapide. Its original specification had called for a machine to provide infantry support! The top speed of just 18mph illustrates the point. More numerous were 78 Hotchkiss H-39s that were also organised in two battalions. When enabled to take up static positions, the heavy frontal armour and weapons of French machines enabled them to deal without difficulty with all German tanks -their armour being so weak.

When denied that facility, they succumbed rapidly to the superior movement of the Panzer formation operating in concert with other arms and the Luftwaffe. This was bound to happen at any time the Germans effected a breakthrough of the French line – be it held by infantry or armour – because of the latter’s attention to the maintenance of contiguous lines. This hangover from the Great War, when trench lines dictated the requirement to preserve a coherent front, contained within it the seeds of many errors made in 1940 by the French Army. By default it conferred many tactical and strategic gains on the Germans, who rapidly and ruthlessly exploited every opportunity provided when this effect of this anachronistic doctrine was employed.

Although the new DCRs appeared formidable on paper, they had been set up to emulate a formation whose armour doctrine was alien to the French military mind. It would take more than a few months and a reorganisation of assets to copy what the Germans had done in Poland. Herein is to be seen a profound weakness in the design of French armour that was to impact on its ability to duplicate the mobility of the Panzer Divisions in Poland. We have already alluded to the slowness of French tank designs. It was also the case that the efficiency of any Char in battle in 1940 was seriously handicapped by the one-man turret they all carried. To the commander of the vehicle, who had to identify the target, also fell the tasks of aiming the gun, rotating the turret, loading the gun and firing it. Nor was he helped by the poor view provided for him by limited optics. However, all of the aforementioned were then compounded by the slow traverse of the turret.

Contrast this with German design practice. Unlike their French counterparts, the German medium Panzers had crews of five men. Representing, as they did, the machines that would see the Panzerwaffe through to 1943, and in the case of the Pz IV through to the defeat in 1945, the insistence by the Heeres Waffenamt on a three-man turret design was proved by experience. A commander, loader and aimer were deemed to provide the best arrangement for the division of labour in carrying out those tasks, thereby providing the optimum efficiency of the workload of a crew when in battle. With the commander able to observe events from his cupola and communicate his orders via a throat microphone, this permitted the Panzer to rapidly move and shift both vehicle and main armament from target to target. The trump card, however, for the German way of war in 1940 was the radios carried by all Panzers, but very few Chars. In a real sense, they were the war winner.

It was the onboard radios carried by all Panzers that permitted them to manoeuvre rapidly on the battlefield to take account of contingencies as they arose. It was accepted even in 1940 that ‘the primary method of command in combat’ was the radio. Drilling in the use of this medium was deemed by the Panzerwaffe to be as important as firing accurately. By 1940, the Panzerwaffe had had years of practice in war games and operations in which to develop their radio procedures and inculcate the protocols of such in their tank crews. A short insight into the sophistication of such methods and their common usage through the tank arm in 1940 can be gleaned from this instruction manual extract:

‘Movements are carried out according to radio command, previous orders or signals (although radio was accepted as being the most workable means of command – author comment). On the order to move out, all tanks start moving uniformly and at first, straight ahead. If a change of formation is desired at the same time as the start of the move, the formation order is given first, followed by the order to move out. Distances, intervals and formation are assumed while driving…. When changing direction of the march, the commander orders ‘Follow me!’ or ‘Direction of march is…!’ while giving point or compass bearing. If a formation change is to take place at the same time, the march direction is given first, followed by the new formation. Platoons that have four, instead of five, tanks execute these formations and manoeuvres in analogous fashion’.

The degree of control implicit in such a short extract and the sophistication required to effect it betokens a great expertise in radio employment. Herein lies the French bafflement at the ability of the Germans to move their tanks around en masse and effect a rapid concentration of effort and firepower where they desired it. This is hardly surprising when very few French tanks actually possessed radios. Apart from a cultural obsession with radio security, which provides one explanation as to why they were not fitted in their tanks, the other problem arose again directly out of the perception that tanks were only to provide support for the infantry. In such circumstances, radios were not necessary, signal flags would suffice and, once drawn up in their static lines facing the enemy, it was thought to be enough for an officer or runner to move from tank to tank passing on orders in person by word of mouth!

The sophisticated German radio net went beyond tank to tank. It also permitted a degree of communication between ground and air that had never been seen before. Attached to the Panzer Divisions were Fliegerleittrupps-tactical air control parties – which were provided with wheeled vehicles. At this juncture of the war there were too few SPWs available to be fitted out for this role, although they would become a more familiar sight from 1941 onward. Their task was to be in close proximity to the advancing Panzers. When the tank divisions’ own towed artillery could not eliminate a target, the Fliegerleit offizier-the air control officer – elicited what air support was available and contacted the pilots on their frequency. In 1940, it was the Stuka and the Henschel Hs-123 which provided this help, with the bulk of the air support being provided by the former. The air control officer would then talk the pilots into the area so that they could recognise the target. In the meantime, troops with the Panzers would have demarcated their own positions relative to that of the enemy by laying out on the ground special identification panels. It was later claimed that the support given to Guderian’s thrust to the channel saw the most effective use of air support of the war, with Stukas being on hand to deal with targets within 15-20 minutes of being called.

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Char B1 bis

The Char B1 bis was an upgraded variant with thicker armour at 60 mm maximum (55 mm at the sides) and an APX4 turret with a longer-barrelled (L/32) 47 mm SA 35 gun, to give the tank a real anti-tank capacity. It was the main production type: from 8 April 1937 until June 1940 369 units were delivered out of a total order for 1144, with series numbers 201 to 569. Before the war manufacture was slow: only 129 had been delivered on 1 September 1939. The monthly delivery was still not more than fifteen in December; it peaked in March 1940 with 45.

The Char B1 bis had a top speed of 25 km/h (16 mph) provided by a 307 bhp (229 kW) petrol engine. The first batch of 35 Char B1 bis used the original engine but from 1938 to May 1940 they were slowly re-equipped. Its weight was about 31.5 metric tons. The operational range was about 180 km (110 mi) which was similar to other tanks of the period. At 20 km/h (12 mph) the three fuel tanks (total capacity of 400 l (88 imp gal) would be exhausted in six hours. To improve matters, at first, trailers with an 800 litre auxiliary fuel tank were towed but this practice was soon abandoned. Instead Char B1 units included a large number of fuel trucks and TRC Lorraine 37 L armoured tracked refuelling vehicles specially designed to quickly refuel them. The last tanks to be produced in June had an extra internal 170 l (37 imp gal) fuel tank. To cool the more powerful engine the Char B1 bis had the air intake on the left side enlarged. It is often claimed this formed a weak spot in the armour, based on a single incident on 16 May near Stonne where two German 37 mm PAK guns claimed to have knocked out three Char B1’s by firing at the intakes at close range. The air intake was a 6-inch (150 mm) thick assembly of horizontal slits alternately angled upwards and downwards between 28 mm thick armour plates, and as such intended to be no more vulnerable than the normal 55 mm side plates.

Over the production run the type was slowly improved. Tanks number 306 to 340 carried 62 47-mm rounds (and the old complement of 4,800 machine gun rounds); later tanks 72 and 5,250. However the B1 bis had fewer 75 mm rounds compared to the earlier B1: 74 instead of eighty, normally only seven of which were APHE ammunition. Early in 1940 another change was made when the ER53 radio was replaced by the ER51 which allowed spoken wireless communication. The company and battalion command tanks also had an ER55 for communication with higher command. The crews of the 1re DCR kept their old sets however, preferring them because the human voice was drowned by engine noise.

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Char B1 ter

Development of the Char B1 ter was started at the same time as production funds were given for the bis with the intention of providing a tank armoured to 75mm. A design with sloped and welded 70 mm armour, weighing 36.6 metric tons and powered by a 350 hp (260 kW) engine was meant to replace the B1 bis to accelerate mass production from the summer of 1940. In the course of the redesign, space was provided for a fifth crew member, a “mechanic”. Cost was reduced by omitting the complex Neader transmission and giving the hull gun a traverse of five degrees to each side instead. The first prototype was shown in 1937. Only two prototypes could be finished before the defeat of France. In May 1940 it was agreed to deliver nine Char B1’s each month to Britain in exchange for a monthly British production of the “H 39”.

IS-2 Heavy Tank in Czech Armies

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IS-2 at Lešany tank museum, Czech Republic.

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After the end of the war Czechoslovakia received 8 tanks IS-2 that were formed into the 1st Armoured Brigade. They were paraded in the May 1945 victory parade in Prague. They saw active service patrolling the Polish border until July 1945 and then they were transferred to the “Peace units”. In February 1947 they were stored as reserve tanks, but only 7 of them, the fate of the 8th tank is not known. They were stored until August 1958, were only 4 tanks are registered on the army register, the fate of the other tanks is not known (probably scrapped).

The need for a larger gun for the IS-1 had in fact been identified by Kotin’s team and designers at Zavod Nr 9 in the wake of the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. This realization had two effects. First, production of the IS-1 with an 85mm (3.34in) gun was restricted until it could be equipped with a more powerful gun. Second, the 100mm (3.93in) BS-3 and 122mm (4.8in) A-19 guns were adapted for the IS-1 and put through firing tests during November 1943.

The smaller gun proved to have the more effective armour penetration, although the larger one showed its potency by ripping the frontal armour off a captured Panther. Ultimately the 122mm (4.8in) gun was selected because there was a surplus of manufacturing resources for the gun and its ammunition, whilst the 100mm (3.93in) was in short supply. The barrel was initially fitted with a single chamber muzzle brake, but this was changed to two chambers after one of the guns exploded during testing and narrowly avoided fatally wounding Marshal K. E. Voroshilov.

Not content with up-gunning the IS-1 design, Kotin developed the IS-2 with improved armour and mobility. The stepped armour glacis plate of the earlier design was replaced by a flat sloping type, giving better protection, but avoiding the need for thicker armour that would increase the vehicle’s weight. The new hull could withstand a direct shot from a German 8.8cm (3.46in) armour-piercing round at over 1000m (914.4yd), whilst its own gun could penetrate 160mm (6.29in) of armour at the same range, if its gunners could hit the target. Attempts to improve the turret’s protection had to be cancelled because the weight of the 122mm (4.8in) gun would have made it unbalanced. The possibility of re-designing the turret was turned down because of the cost and a lack of time.

In reality, the IS-2 had several major shortcomings. The designers were aware that the IS-2’s effectiveness in combat was restricted by a slow rate of fire (just 2 or 3 rounds per minute) and stowage room for only 28 rounds. The former factor was partially solved in 1944, when an improved D-25T gun was introduced with a more efficient breech. Combat experience also revealed that the 122mm (4.8in) gun could not penetrate the Panther’s sloped armour above 600m (656yd), whilst splintering remained a problem for the IS-2’s own armour. Tempering the frontal armour to very strong hardness proved too complex and costly to introduce, and the deficiency was allowed to remain. Ironically, in late 1944 the difficulty in dealing with the Panther was partially, though unintentionally’ solved by the Germans. Shortage of manganese led to a switch to using high-carbon steel alloyed with nickel for armour plate, which made it more brittle, in particular along weld seams.

Karl Freiherr von Leiberich Mack, (1752-1828)

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In 1805 Feldmarschalleutnant Karl Mack Freiherr von Leiberich lost more than 50,000 Austrian troops in the opening moves of the Austerlitz campaign after having been isolated by the rapid advance of Napoleon’s army on Ulm in Bavaria.

Mack enlisted in the Austrian Army as a cavalry trooper in 1770 and, making rapid progress, was offered a commission in 1777. Six years later he received his first staff appointment, and during the war against the Turks in 1789 he was made a baron for his services at the siege of Belgrade. Following a return to regimental duties in 1790 he accepted a position as chief of staff to Feldmarschall Friedrich Josias Graf Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (generally known as Saxe-Coburg) in 1793 and earned widespread praise for his contribution to the victories at Aldenhoven and Neerwinden. He stepped down after the defeat at Tourcoing the following year but returned to the army in 1796 as chief of staff to the Army of the Interior with the rank of Feldmarschalleutnant. In 1798 having accepted command of the Neapolitan army, he led it in a disastrous campaign against French-occupied Rome. As public order broke down he surrendered to the French for his own protection and eventually returned home to semi-retirement in April 1800.

France’s defeat of Austria in 1800 led to a period of military reform overseen by Archduke Charles. His view that the army was as-yet unprepared for a return to war angered those who supported the necessity of a Russian alliance to protect Austria from French ambitions. In 1804, to back their argument, the war party resurrected Mack’s career and presented him as their military expert. His confident but overoptimistic ideas concerning tactical and logistical reform and plans for a rapid mobilization of the army gained influential support from those frustrated by Charles’s more sober views. Appointed chief of the quartermaster general staff, Mack pushed through his program of reforms in the first half of 1805, resulting in a state of confusion in the army on the eve of the war of the Third Coalition.

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Nominally under the command of the young Archduke Ferdinand, but in reality led by Mack, an Austrian army advanced into Bavaria, taking up a position centered on Ulm on the Danube, to await Russian support. This support did not arrive before Napoleon was able to surround the Austrian position. Isolated and facing disunity among his officers, Mack accepted that the Russians were too far away to help and surrendered the city on 20 October. The campaign cost the Austrian army more than 50,000 men. Released on parole, Mack returned in disgrace to Vienna, where he was court-martialed, stripped of his rank, and imprisoned for two years. His reputation gained some rehabilitation in the postwar years, but he lived out the rest of his life as a recluse.

References and further reading Castle, Ian. 2002. “The Rise of `the Unfortunate Mack’.” Osprey Military Journal 4, no. 2: 3-6. Rothenberg, Gunter E. 1982. Napoleon’s Great Adversaries: The Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792-1814. London: Batsford.