Above: Mother Snake with charges Tiger Snake and River Snake Alongside.


HMA Ships Kuru, Tiger Snake, River Snake, Black Snake, Sea Snake, Grass Snake, Diamond Snake, Mother Snake, Taipan, Krait, Kuru, Alatna, Karina, Nyanie, Misima, Motor Work Boats (AM) 1830, 1629, 1983, 1985, 2003, 2004.

The activities of “Z” special Forces and the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) have become as much part of Australia’s military history as Gallipoli and Tobruk. “Z” special Force were Australian Army Commandos; SRD was a grab-bag of boats of all shapes and sizes crewed by the RAN, and it was their task to assist “Z” Special Forces with transport, reconnaissance, supply, insertion and so on. Operations saw various parts of the force involved in raids into Singapore Harbour, the Celebes, Timor and Borneo, the pace of operations increasing steadily towards the end of the war.

In the hard times of 1942 and 1943, when the Australians, British and Americans were struggling to contain Japanese expansion, some vessels became little legends in their own right. Kuru, a minute motor-boat of just 55 tons, made a hero of herself on the “Timor Ferry Service” in early 1942; along with the auxilliary patrol vessel Vigilant, she ferried refugees, commandos, stores and equipment between Fremantle and small, dark bays on the Timor coast – a round trip of more than 6,000 kilometres. But perhaps the best known was Krait, originally the Japanese Kofoku Maru, a 70-foot wooden motor fishing vessel of 1920 vintage. She was seized at Singapore and sailed away before the place fell to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. An excellent type of vessel for raiding, she was taken into service and carried out many daring intrusions into enemy territory. The most famous was Operation “Jaywick”, the successful insertion of canoe-borne Commandos into Singapore Harbour (26th September 1943).

Alatna, Karina, Nyanie and Misima were “AM”s – army launches transferred to Naval service, each of 62 feet and capable of 20 knots, bearing a couple of machine guns by way of armament and with considerable capacity for shifting large amounts of cargo. They first came into service at the beginning of 1944. They were officially tenders, but in practice were used as fast supply boats – “fast supply” meaning running guns and stores across five thousand kilometres of open ocean into enemy-held areas and delivering them to the commandos operating behind enemy lines.

By the end of 1944, three vessels were being used as depot ships by these raiders. Taipan was a junk, captured and converted; Anaconda and Mother Snake were big “mother ships” for the raiders, of 550 tons displacement, 125 feet overall, with a large crew of 14 to 19. Anaconda carried a single 20 mm Oerlikon gun, while Mother Snake was a floating anti-aircraft battery by comparison, sporting a 40 mm Bofors gun and two Oerlikons.

The “Snake” boats came early in 1945, and in their way are a clear indication of the resources becoming available, and of the heights to which Australian Naval organisation was ascending. The “Snakes” were purpose-designed commando-carriers – trawlers of 66 feet and 80 tons, equipped with sail as well as motors, mounting at most an Oerlikon and a few machine guns, usually concealed. They looked very much like Malay fishing boats or Chinese junks – a deliberate design feature. They also carried one very special piece of equipment, the “S” phone. This invention of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) was a short-range radio set which sent its signal down a narrow directional beam. Since it could only be received by someone the transmitter was pointing at, it was almost undetectable to conventional listening apparatus. It was thus very useful in smuggling spies across beaches. With the end of the war came the end of a need for Commando insertions – none of these boats had been lost in service, and all were turned over to civilian use, or in the case of the ex-army boats, returned by the Navy to their original owners. Sadly, Alatna was sunk in a collision within six months of the war ending.

SPECIAL UNIT Operation ‘Jaywick’


Top secret, highly trained ‘Z Special Unit’. More commonly but also incorrectly referred to as ‘Z Force’, in fact these were two entirely different units. Z Force was a forward observation force attached to the British General Staff Intelligence, that operated in Burma during World War II. The crew of the Krait during Operation Jaywick.


Z Force’s function was to obtain information for General Slim commander of the British Fourteenth Army. The Fourteenth Army was engaged in the prolonged Burma Campaign fighting to recapture Burma from the Japanese. Z Force’s tasked to obtain information on the size and location of Japanese forces and their logistics (oil dumps, ammunition depots etc.). Z Force did this did this sending intelligence units into Japanese held territory that then relayed the information back by radio to the headquarters of the Fourteenth Army. The Chindit operation of 1943 owed much to men such as Major Herbert Castens of GSI (Z) or Z Force as it was known.

The intelligence units that went behind enemy lines were made up of expatriates who had worked in Burma before the war and were familiar with the jungle (most were teak forests, but some were petroleum engineers, and some had worked with radio companies), and natives Burmese from the Chins, Kachins and Karens peoples. The expatriates were all commissioned as offices from captain to colonel.

Z force operated for three years, initially penetrating Japanese lines on foot but later on they were parachuted in by the RAF who also resupplied them via parachute drops. The “highly dangerous mission in a war noted for its ferocity and bestiality” were carried out in some of the most difficult jungle terrain in the world. During the campaign Z force personnel were awarded one CBE, two DSOs, four OBEs, four MBEs, seventeen MCs with bars to two, and sixteen Burma Gallantry medals

Z Special Unit Operation Jaywick

The Operation was planned by Australian and British Commando and Intelligence Officers and was to take place at the same time when the Salamaua, Lae and Finschafen operations were taking place against the Japanese in New Guinea. Disorganisation of Japanese shipping was deemed to be an essential factor in the success of these operations. So great was the secrecy of Operation Jaywick that Major Bob Page of Grafton, New South Wales, died in a later operation without even knowing he had been decorated for his part in it. For nine months the party trained at a secret camp on the Queensland coast.

The vessel assigned to them was the ‘Krait’, a former Japanese fishing boat, 70 feet long, 11 foot Beam with a range of 11,000 miles and a top speed of 6.5 knots. Krait had originally been sailed to India from Singapore, after its fall to the Japanese, where she was commandeered by Military Intelligence for ‘possible future use’. Later, she was sent on a perilous voyage across the Indian Ocean to Australia and refitted for her new role.

Krait departed Exmouth in Western Australia laden with weapons, limpet mines and rubber canoes, which were stowed out of sight, and headed north toward the Lombok Strait in the very dangerous occupied waters around Surabaja, Indonesia.

She was sailed to within 21 miles of the ‘Singapore Roads’ and then the canoes were loaded with rations and water for one week plus operational stores and weapons. The canoe borne raiders arranged their rendezvous with Krait for the night of October 1st at Pompong, 28 miles from the advanced operational post, for which Dongas, eight miles from Singapore Harbour had been selected.

At 8:30 on September 22, the three canoes, with their six raiders a piece reached Dongas. The arduous nature of the long paddle necessitated a day of rest for the canoeists and the next day Singapore Harbour was reconnoitered for likely targets. At no time during their five day observation was there less than 100,000 tons of shipping present in the harbour. On September 24 the three canoes attempted infiltration of the harbour but adverse tides forced abandonment of the mission. All during this period the raiders were under the constant threat of being detected by the numerous and active Japanese water and shore patrols. The next night the base of operations was altered to Palau Sambu where the tides were more favourable and on the night of 26 September the successful raid was launched.

Canoe 1 reached a 10,000 ton tanker and two limpet mines were attached to her hull, one at the place of the engineroom and another on her propeller shaft. Canoe 2 twice crossed the boom of the harbour in search of worthy targets and finally selected three of the most tempting – one 5,000 ton freighter, the 6,000 ton ‘Taisyo Maru’ and another 5,000 ton tanker. Canoe 3 covertly examined ships and sentries along the lighted wharves before selecting the modern freighters ‘Nasusan Maru’ and ‘Yamataga Maru’. The attacks began soon after 8:00 pm. At dawn, the canoes were back at their operations base camp and there the crews settled back to watch the forthcoming show.

Seven separate explosions were heard between 5:15 am and 5:50 am and both sea and air patrols were observed setting out searching for the attackers. At dusk on 27 September the raiders set out for their rendezvous with Krait which was cruising in the vicinity of Pompong Island and despite the frantic and exhaustive air and sea searches by the enraged Japanese the canoeists slipped through the net and made their rendezvous.

Lieutenant Carse and the seven member crew of Krait had been waiting and playing cat and mouse with Japanese patrols for 16 anxious days when all of the raiders were picked up safely. The Krait then stole away unnoticed bound for Australia where there were one or two close calls along the way – such as being interrogated by an inquisitive enemy destroyer, but she reached Australia without the loss of a single man (a remarkable achievement for such a hazardous mission). The seemingly impossible ‘Operation Jaywick‘ had been a resounding success.

Soviet Union – WWII Machine Guns


The SG43 was designed by P.M. Goryunovin 1942 to provide a wartime replacement for the elderly Maxim Model 1910, and even used the old Maxim’s wheeled carriage.


The Degtyerev DP Model 1928 was a major Soviet light machine-gun during World War II. Simple and robust, the DP could stand rough treatment and extremes of weather. It can still be found in the hands of guerrilla groups all over the world.

The Soviets entered the war with a mix of medium Maxims and light Degtyarevs, with the DShK being produced to replace the Maxims. However, when the Red Army attacked Finland in the 1939 Winter War, its DP and DT machine guns did not operate as well as hoped in the cold environment. They experienced major problems, especially the failure of return springs. Several quick fixes were tried but proved unsatisfactory. Eventually, the spring design and placement were radically changed; the resulting weapons were designated the DP Modernized (DPM). Similar changes were applied to the DT, resulting in the DTM, which was the tank and armored vehicle version.

Other modifications and revisions were made in the early years of the war, including converting them to belt-feed, but this made the DPM too heavy, and the long, flapping ammunition belt was a nuisance to the gunner when sprinting to a new position. It is suspected that the DPM was merely a stopgap pending the development of better weapons.

While production of the DPM continued, the Soviets put engineers to work developing a new 7.62mm LMG. A number of designers, including Vasily Degtyarev, Sergei Simonov, and Mikhail Kalashnikov (his first appearance as a designer; he would later become famous for his assault rifle), participated in this competition. Degtyarev offered two gas-operated guns, one belt-fed and the other with a top-mounted box magazine. Simonov designed a gas-operated weapon. Kalashnikov presented a short-recoil design. The Simonov design was selected after initial trials, but the weapon was neither durable nor accurate.

By the middle of 1943, the Soviets had developed a new short cartridge, the 7.62x39mm, and this led to a rethinking of the LMG concept in the Red Army.

Although the new round had been developed for the assault rifle, it was accurate out to 800 meters, sufficient for the squad light automatic weapon. A call went out for designs using the new cartridge. A number were submitted, and after trials the Degtyarev entry was selected. It was approved in 1944 as the RPD (Ruchnyy Pulyemet Systema Degtyarev—Light Machine Gun by Degtyarev).

The RPD was a derivative of the earlier DP and DPM models but was belt-fed from a drum clipped beneath the gun. For the first time, Soviet infantrymen had a machine gun that they could pick up and use in the assault. Unlike most LMGs, it had a fixed barrel, and the gunner had to be careful to avoid firing more than 100 rounds in one minute to prevent overheating. The war ended before this weapon could be perfected. It would go into full production in 1953 and proved to be a rugged and effective design; it became the standard squad automatic weapon for the Red Army and for Soviet client states.

The Soviets also developed a medium machine gun during World War II. The Degtyarev DS MMG had proved a failure in service, and production was halted in 1941. The Red Army reverted to the Maxim M1910, but when the Germans attacked in OPERATION BARBAROSSA, the supply of machine guns was woefully inadequate. The choices were to build more factories to turn out more of the older model, or to come up with an entirely new design. Pyotr Goryunov had already been working on a medium, and in June 1941 he demonstrated his design to the military. He was instructed to make 50 guns for extensive testing, including some sent to front-line units. The reports were favorable; after some revisions and more tests, it was adopted in May 1943 as the 7.62mm Stankovyi Goryunova 43 (SG43). The SG43 was gas-operated and air-cooled. It was fed by belt and was usually mounted on a wheeled carriage similar to that used with the Maxim 1910. During the Winter War of 1944 against Finland, the SG43 was mounted on a sled for easier movement over snow. It is extremely heavy but was very good for use in the defense. This gun was manufactured in some numbers during the war but never entirely replaced the PM1910, which stayed in production right till war’s end and remained in front-line service with the Soviet Army into the 1980s.

The Soviets also used the 12.7mm DShK HMG during World War II. It had originally been employed primarily as an antiaircraft weapon, but by 1943 it was in wide use in the infantry support role. With the increase in usage, problems with the weapon became apparent; chief among these was a feed problem. Modifications were made to the Shpagin feed system, and various other parts were strengthened, making the gun easier to manufacture, more reliable, and less likely to jam. The new model was designated the DShKM 38/46.

Operation ‘Squabble’

Operation Squabble by eskiwoods


Alfred ‘Ken’ Gatward, the daring RAF pilot who dropped the French Tri-Colour on occupied Paris as part of the WWII Operation Squabble during the spring of 1942.

This was a special operation in the Paris area carried out in June 1942 which was intended to create a heartening effect among the Parisians and to expose the occupying Germans to ridicule.

From information obtained from a reliable source it appeared that the enemy performed a routine parade along the Avenue des Champs Elysee every day between the hours of 1215 and 1245, and it was considered by the Air Ministry that a low flying machine gun and cannon attack launched against this parade would have most valuable results in upholding the moral of the French people.

As the target was outside the range of Spitfires and all Fighter Command’s Beaufighters were fitted with special equipment, it was decided by the Air Ministry on 30 April 1942 that the operation should be undertaken by a Coastal Command Beaufighter

Accordingly the A.O.C-in-C was requested to make arrangements for this attack to be delivered at his discretion. This special flight was allocated the name “Operation Squabble” and No. 236 Squadron was chosen to fulfil the task.

The hazardous nature of this operation called for specific conditions of cloud cover over certain parts of the route which did not materialise until 12 June 1942, after four previous attempts had been made abortive by the lack of cloud cover on crossing the French coast.

On this day, however, conditions appeared to be more satisfactory, so, Beaufighter C/236 Squadron with F/Lt. A K. Gatward as pilot and Sgt. G F. Fern as navigator, was airborne at 1129 hours from Thorney Island on “Operation Squabble”.

In conditions of ten tenths cloud at 2,000 feet with heavy precipitation the aircraft set course for the target at 1131 hours. Crossing the French coast a few miles eastward of Fecamp at 1158 hours, the cloud began to thin out and by the time Rouen was reached there was bright sunshine. With visibility at ten to twenty miles and no cloud, the aircraft passed over the suburbs of Paris at a very low altitude and some light flak was encountered for the first time. The Eiffel Tower was easily pinpointed and was circled at 1227 hours.

There was, unfortunately, no sign of the parade, but to compensate for this development a Tricolour was successfully dropped over the Arc de Triomphe, after which the aircraft flew down between the buildings of the Champs Elysee but there was still no sign of any troops. In accordance with briefing instructions the pilot then proceeded to attack with cannon fire the Ministry of Marine building and released a second Tricolour.

The pilot reported that there were plenty of people about of both sexes, with most of them in shirt sleeves, many of whom waved. Before opening fire on the Ministry of Marine building, however, the pilot ensured that there were no pedestrians in the line of fire. His point of aim was half-way up the building.

At 1230 hours the aircraft set course for base and maintained the same track back to the coast as followed on the outward flight. The French coat was crossed for the second time at 1255 hours and the aircraft finally landed at Northolt at 1353 hours.

The whole sortie had been flown at a height of twenty to thirty feet and although the aircraft flew over Rouen aerodrome at this altitude no enemy opposition was encountered. The light flak encountered over the target was very poor.

This mission received its full share of publicity and some of the photographs en route were released to the general public. In addition, the pilot of the aircraft, F/Lt. A K. Gatward was awarded the DFC and the navigator Sgt. G F. Fern was granted a commission.

AIR 41/47




The usual designation of German submarines, derived from “Unterseeboot.” Most U-boats were actually modified torpedo boats with some submerged capacity. There were several models or “Types” that had origins in World War I. Type II, IIb, and IIc were all small, prewar U-boats displacing 250–290 tons when surfaced. They had crews of 25 men but carried just six torpedoes. Additionally handicapped by a short, 18-day cruising range and lacking any deck gun, they were not suitable for ocean cruising and were mainly confined to wartime duty hugging the coast and prowling sea lanes of the North Sea. Types VII and VIIb displaced 626 and 753 surfaced tons respectively. Each had a crew of 44–50, a lot of men crammed into just 200 feet of boat that was only 20 feet wide. Type VII boats carried 11 torpedoes while the Type VIIb mounted 14. Four Type VIIs were fitted out as long-range attack/resupply boats capable of carrying 39 torpedoes each. Two were sent into distant Asian waters to hunt, taking advantage of the relative absence of Allied warships. Type IX boats were the mainstay of the German submarine fleet, though Type VIIs were its real workhorses. Over 250 feet long and hosting a crew of 48, the Type IX was larger but less manoeuvrable than the Type VII. A Type IX displaced 1,053 tons when surfaced and 1,153 tons submerged. It carried 22 torpedoes standard complement, fi red from four forward and two aft tubes. Deck armament varied, but usually comprised 105 mm and 37 mm guns. Type IXs had a surfaced range of 8,100 miles and a cruising speed of 18 knots. They could remain submerged for 65 miles at a constant 7.7 knots. Four prewar, experimental “U-cruisers” were designed at 750 tons each for crews of 110 men. They had a theoretical range of nearly 24,000 miles and carried 24 torpedoes. Commissioned in January 1939, none of these Type XI boats were completed. An early version of “stealth” technology was developed to conceal the conning towers of U-boats from enemy radar.

Various specialized U-boats were built or converted by Kriegsmarine yards, including minelayer boats sent to seed enemy and neutral waters. Several types of ad hoc supply boats and U-tankers were floated in late 1940. Some were captured Dutch or other enemy submarines. Other supply and fuel boats were put to sea after converting older German designs to new purposes. The Germans also commissioned purpose-built supply boats. These Type XIV boats were popularly called “Milchkühe” (“Milk Cows”). They lacked deck guns or torpedo tubes and so had no offensive capability. A Type XIV could carry four torpedoes for delivery to a hunter, but more often it used that space to transport extra fuel. They also supplied fresh food and a few small luxuries. Contact with on-station or patrolling hunter U-boats was made by radio. That exposed supply boats and hunters at the rendevous: intercepts of waypoint instructions and the great success of ULTRA code breakers permitted Western Allied navies and aircraft to specifically target high-value Milchkühe, along with the attack boats they exposed during resupply operations. From late 1942 even attack U-boats began to dispense with deck guns in favor of additional anti-aircraft guns to fend off an ever increasing threat from enemy aircraft. Over time, accumulation of anti-aircraft guns and armor on the bridge adversely affected submerged performance and stability while luring U-boat captains into the usually fatal error of trying to shoot it out with a diving and strafing enemy aircraft. In 1943 the U-boat arm experimented with seven anti-aircraft “flakboats” bristling with guns and ordered to fight back in a group defense. These instructions only worsened U-boat losses, as enemy aircraft group-attacked in response. The tactic of engaging aircraft was abandoned in preference for a return to rapid combat dives when any aircraft was spotted.

An all-out building program by German and captured shipyards was initiated immediately upon the change of Kriegsmarine command from Admiral Erich Raeder to Admiral Karl Dönitz in January 1943. Adolf Hitler was also persuaded by Dönitz to commission new classes of U-boats, including 10 experimental and highly costly “Walter boats,” hydrogen peroxide propulsion submarines named for engineer-designer Hellmuth Walter. None saw action and all were scuttled on Dönitz’s orders in May 1945. The main production effort aimed to launch 30–40 Type IXs per month until that older model could be replaced. The successors were two new “Elektroboote” The first, the Type XXI, was a long-range cruiser capable of more speed while submerged (12 knots) than surfaced (6 knots), with battle “sprint” or escape capability of 18 knots under water for a maximum of 90 minutes. Type XXIs were 50 percent larger than standard Type IXs, displacing 1,800 tons submerged. Most critically, they were true submarines that could stay submerged for extended periods using Schnorchel equipment. The second Elektroboote model was the Type XXIII. A coastal craft, it was not ocean-capable. It displaced just 260 tons and was intended to attack shipping no farther out than the British Isles or Mediterranean. In July 1943, Hitler ordered construction of 140 Type XXIs and 238 Type XXIIIs. From September, all new construction was confined to Elektroboote models. Just 61 Type XXIIIs were finished by the end of the war; only four made war patrols. Only 120 Type XXIs were built and just a single boat put to sea. It headed for Norway on April 30, 1945, the day Hitler killed himself. It never met or sank an Allied ship.

Dönitz was full of plans right to the end, envisioning new U-boat technologies that would not become available before 1947, and boasting to Hitler as late as March 1945 that his U-boats were now ready to relaunch and win the naval war. Yet, he rigidly discouraged experimentation and testing of new designs before and during the war. None of his plans, not even the new Elektroboote and Schnorkel technology whose development he helped delay, made any difference to the war at sea. The new boats and technologies did not prevent the OVERLORD invasion fleet or huge follow-on supply convoys from reaching Normandy, nor did they block the DRAGOON landings in southern France on August 15, 1944. Instead, dedication of high-grade German steel and scarce skilled labor to building fleets of U-boats that never saw action proved a significant drain on German tank, artillery, and anti-aircraft tube production. A total of 1,170 U-boats were commissioned during the war. The fleet peaked at 460 U-boats, but the last 200 were completed too late to train crews and none saw active service. A total of 739 U-boats were sunk by the enemy or otherwise lost at sea from 1939 to 1945; over 30,000 submariners were lost with them. By 1944 and 1945 life expectancy was reduced to the maiden war patrol of a new crewman. The U-boat arm was also deeply radicalized and nazified, as the “grey sharks” were employed by Dönitz and Hitler not to win the war at sea but to delay defeat on land by interfering with the Western Allied buildup to invasion and resupply thereafter

With Germany’s surrender imminent, Dönitz resisted Japanese blandishments to send his surviving U-boats into the Pacific. In any case, he did not have fuel to do so. Instead, he ordered Operation REGENBOGEN : the scuttling of the entire surviving U-boat fleet; 218 of his captains obeyed. As happened in 1918, the Royal Navy sought immediate destruction of any surviving U-boats. Of the boats that remained in German dry docks or whose captains surrendered rather than obey the Dönitz’s Götterdämmerung-like order, 30 were divided among the major Allied navies following the surrender. The rest were destroyed at sea, mainly by the British, from November 1945 through January 1946. The last commander of the U-boat arm, Admiral Hans von Friedeburg, committed suicide in late May 1945. Dönitz chose not to go down with his defeated fleet. He was arrested, tried, and convicted of war crimes by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Chinese Territorial Expansion I


The Qing had the largest army of any Chinese dynasty. It was so large they had to divide it into 8 huge banner armies.
Initially the banners were divided into ethnic lines, predominantly there were Manchu, Han Chinese, and Mongol banners. But shit got hairy when the Han armies returned home while Jurchen banners are out fighting, and Jurchen women began marrying returning Han men. Furthermore only the Chinese knew how to effectively use firearms while the Manchurians nor the Mongols don’t. So in the end each banner army ended up being multiethnic.
The main 8 banners armies were (from left to right, but jesus these are such obvious names).
-The Plain Yellow Banner Army
-The Plain White Banner Army
-The Plain Red Banner Army
-The Plain Blue Banner Army.
-The Bordered Yellow Banner Army
-The Bordered White Banner Army
-The Bordered Red Banner Army
-The Bordered Blue Banner Army.
There is also the Green Banner, but this is no army. This banner is assigned to any of the 8 banner armies who are spread out for garrison duty. Usuallym the practice is rotating the 8 banners into Green Banner roles.
The size of the armies in each of the banners were so large that there were essentially moving cities. Some soldiers live in banner armies their whole lives that their unit numbers become their family names (a Manchurian custom).
This organization is how the Qianlong Emperor managed to launch campaigns and invasions in almost every direction.


Along with shorter interregna and administrative integration, the third macro-historical parallel now requires more direct treatment is the long-term expansion of imperial territory. Admittedly, until the mid-1600s – in contrast to Southeast Asian states, Russia, and France – the territorial fortunes of successive China-centered empires showed no strong linear trend. That is to say, although imperial authority expanded in the southwest after 1253, losses elsewhere produced an oscillatory pattern from Han to Ming, with little, if any, net gain. The Qing, however, transformed the situation by joining agrarian China to steppe Inner Asia in a durable polity for the first time. This achievement thus corresponded to dramatic Russian conquests in Inner Asia (on which Qing success depended in part), as well as to extensive post-1650 acquisitions by Vietnam, Burma, and Siam and, less notably, Japan and France.

The Han empire at its height stretched from modern Gansu, the southern frontiers of Inner Mongolia, and central Korea in the north to Hainan island, northern Vietnam, Guangxi, and parts of Sichuan and Yunnan in the south. In order to combat the Xiongnu confederation of Inner Asian tribes, who in 166 b.c.e. had sent 140,000 horsemen to within 100 miles of the capital, the Han not only cultivated nomad allies, but outflanked the Xiongnu in the northeast, founding provinces in parts of modern Korea, and in the northwest, where a million colonists were sent to settle Gansu. What is more, to obtain horses and to secure anti- Xiongngu allies in the far west, Han forces established a protectorate that endured to the early first century c.e. in the southern part of modern Xinjiang.

This vast domain enjoyed only a modest organic unity. Large parallel river systems facilitate east–west communications, but much of West and South China is mountainous. Areas north and west of China proper are either completely unsuited or marginally suited for agriculture and thus incapable of supporting a Chinese-style social order. That the Han could hold together China proper, northern Korea, northern Vietnam, and areas in Xinjiang as long as it did speaks, we shall see, to cultural symbolism and administrative standardization as well as to early military prowess.

With the fragmentation that accompanied the collapse of the Later Han, non-Chinese tribal power flowed into North China, producing through the late 6th century a series of unstable Sino-foreign regimes and generating a political culture that embraced both the steppe frontier and much of North China, but that grew increasingly distinct from that of South China. It was, in fact, from the mixed blood Sino-foreign northwest military aristocracy that the founders of the Sui and Tang dynasties emerged to reassemble the basic Han ecumene. After wresting control of much of what is now Inner Mongolia from Turkic peoples, Tang forces recreated a short-lived protectorate in modern Xinjiang and reasserted control over northern Vietnam. But in Korea and Southwest China newly risen local states excluded the Tang from areas once dominated by the Han. Tang authority in Inner Asia was also unstable, with frequent challenges by early Turks and Tibetan-related groups.

In part because its ruling family was at least half Turkic and had access to both Inner Asian and Chinese traditions, the Tang was the last dynasty until the Mongol Yuan to control both South China and significant areas in Inner Asia. All along its northern frontier the Song faced foes it was unable to dislodge and to whom indeed it began to pay heavy tribute. In the northwest the Xi Xia state of the Tanguts, a semisedentary people related to the Tibetans, and in the northeast the Liao state of the Khitans, who were pastoral nomads, ruled mixed populations of Inner Asians and Chinese. The Liao state fell to Jurchen tribes from Manchuria, whose Jin Dynasty, as noted, expelled the Song from all of North China in 1127. In turn, the Mongols destroyed both the Jin and the Southern Song. While it is true that the Song held out against the Mongols longer than any other power – no mean feat, surely – their military power was never commensurate with their demographic and commercial superiority. Whether because of the chronic northern threat or internal weakness, the Song also were obliged to accept the independence of Vietnam and of the kingdom of Dali in Yunnan.

The last Chinese-led dynasty, the Ming, improved on Song performance insofar as the early Ming expelled the Mongols from China proper, pushed briefly into the steppe, and regained substantial territories formerly held by the Xi Xia and Liao polities. The Ming also took over southwest areas once controlled by Dali. Although it would later contract, Ming territory in 1470 was appreciably larger than Northern Song territory in 1102. But in truth neither of the last two Chinese-led dynasties, the Song or the Ming, could compete effectively with Inner Asian cavalry. This weakness became manifest not only in Song failures vis-`a-vis Xi Xia, Liao, and Jin and in Song extinction at the hands of the Mongols, but in the Ming’s increasingly defensive posture. After early victories against the Mongols, the Ming suffered humiliating reverses – in 1449 the emperor himself was captured on campaign in the steppe – after which Ming strategy stressed static defense. This was the true origin of the Great Wall. Internecine Mongol strife subsequently reduced dangers in the north, but that was replaced by an ultimately fatal Manchu threat in the northeast. Even the Ming’s improved territorial performance vis-`a-vis the Song reflected, in large part, the fact that the Mongols had temporarily obliterated other Inner Asian powers – Xi Xia and Jin – that could threaten China proper and, in order to outflank the Southern Song, had destroyed Dali. As John Dardess quipped, by eliminating non-Chinese regimes all along the frontier, the Mongols did China a favor that it had been unable to do for itself.

In other words, the major post-Han territorial extensions occurred not under Chinese, but Inner Asian-dominated regimes that, by wedding tribal military organization to Inner Asian and Chinese political traditions, softened the divide between frontier and sown. The Manchus continued these earlier patterns in two respects: First – like Tanguts, Khitans, Mongols, and Jurchens (from whom Manchus claimed descent) – Manchus were a non-Chinese conquest elite who emphasized clan-based politics, ethnic domination, polyglot administration, and the power of the military class. Second, almost four centuries after the Mongols tried to join all of China and vast stretches of Inner Asia in a single empire, the Qing resumed that project.

Chinese Territorial Expansion II


Qing dynasty at its greatest extent in 1820.

The central difference, of course, was that whereas Mongol unification lasted barely 90 years, Manchu conquests survived to the end of the imperial era in 1911. What is more, insofar as the bulk of Qing annexations were retained by 20th-century governments, the Qing lay the foundations of the modern Chinese nation-state. All told the Qing more than doubled Ming territory through acquisitions in Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Tibet, and Taiwan. Although Manchus, like other Inner Asians, were inspired by Mongol example, their expansion north and west of China proper responded more directly to concerns about Russian encroachment and to fear that the Zunghar, or Western, Mongols might effect an anti-Qing alliance with Tibet.

Ultimately, to follow Peter Perdue, Qing conquests proved more durable than those of either the Mongols or the Ming for four reasons. First, in contrast to the Ming, whose Chinese ethnicity and lower Yangzi base partially isolated them from Inner Asia, Manchus were intimately familiar with the steppe. China’s perennially inadequate supply of horses meant that imperial power could extend beyond the Great Wall only with the help of Mongol cavalry, whom the Qing won over through a mix of religious patronage, marriage alliances, diplomacy, economic lures, and force. Second, Chinese economic expansion provided the Qing with greater internal resources. The Ming, like the Song, tried to supply grain and horses to frontier garrisons by providing merchant incentives, but the economy was insufficiently monetized to make this work. By the mid-1700s, however, Qing officials could purchase large supplies on the markets of northwest China and ship them out to Xinjiang. And when prices in the northwest rose sharply, the civilian state granary system, another essentially mid-Qing innovation, could relieve local distress. The Qing also strengthened ties between newly conquered territories, principally Xinjiang, and China proper through large-scale Chinese settlement. Third, the new civilian granary system was symptomatic of a general increase, both secular and cyclic, in administrative efficiency during the early and mid-Qing. The aforementioned reforms, in particular the Grand Council and the system of palace memorials, allowed the Qing to respond more quickly to frontier problems and mobilize resources more efficiently than the Ming. By the same token, Jesuit cartography produced more accurate maps, while Western-style artillery figured in some of the Qing’s Inner Asian campaigns.

Finally, Qing expansion benefited from simultaneous Russian advances. Even if they could defeat the Mongols, the Ming could never close off escape routes into the steppe. As Russia and China, who signed frontier treaties in 1689 and 1727, divided much of Inner Asia between them, however, the space for nomad maneuver contracted. For three generations the Zunghar Mongols of Xinjiang strove with astounding energy and imagination to construct an independent empire, but trapped between the Qing hammer and Romanov anvil, their project collapsed in the 1750s. For their part, the Russians were motivated to join the Qing both by security considerations and by the lure of the China market.

Thus by 1760 the Qing could boast something no previous dynasty had achieved: ending the two-millennia threat from the Inner Asian steppe.

Ira C. Eaker, (1896–1987)


Ira Eaker and Carl Spaatz were two brilliant officers whose careers intertwined, from before the famous flight of the Question Mark in 1929 to the sending of the Eighth Air Force against Germany.

Army Air Forces general.

Ira Clarence Eaker was born in Field Creek, Texas, on April 13, 1896, and in 1917 he became a pilot in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. During January 1–7, 1929, he joined Carl A. Spaatz and Elwood Quesada on a seven-day nonstop endurance flight over Los Angeles that required 41 in-flight refuelings. In 1940 Eaker was selected to visit England and study the Royal Air Force in combat and, the following year, he received command of the 20th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field, California. Once the United States entered World War II, Eaker gained temporary promotion to brigadier general and accompanied Spaatz to England to organize the VIII Bomber Command.

During the war, General Eaker personally led the first U.S. B-17 bomber strike against German occupation forces in France (against Rouen on 17 August 1942). As commander of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean, he flew the first bombing raid from Italy into Germany, landing in the Soviet Union after striking a series of military targets. He advocated precision daylight bombing, a tactic that most Allied leaders were skeptical about. In addition, he also developed the plan to bomb enemy targets around the clock using U.S. B-17s to strike by day and Royal Air Force bombers to attack by night.

In the fall of 1942, Eaker replaced Spaatz as commander of the Eighth Air Force. In January 1943, during the Casablanca Conference, he personally convinced Prime Minister Winston Churchill to continue precision daylight bombing in concert with nighttime raids performed by the Royal Air Force. In June 1943 Eaker transferred to the Mediterranean, and in April 1945 Eaker returned to Washington, D.C., as deputy commanding general of the Army Air Forces, and its new chief of staff.

Before he retired from Air Force service in June 1947,General Eaker worked closely with General Spaatz and Assistant Secretary of War W. Stuart Symington to establish a separate U.S. Air Force. Awards would follow. He received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and myriad other military awards from other countries as well as the United States, including a special Gold Medal from Congress in 1979.

After his Air Force retirement, General Eaker worked at the Hughes Tool Company and Hughes Aircraft until 1957. For almost two decades, he wrote a column on military affairs that was syndicated to 180 newspapers. He died in 1987, two years after President Ronald Reagan awarded him his fourth star. The wartime hero and aviation pioneer is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.