Webley British small-arms

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(Webley Mk I, 1887) Caliber: 0.455 in (11.6 mm) Ammunition: 0.455-in 8M Ball Weight: 0.99 kg (2 lb 3 oz) Length: 260 mm (10.25 in) Barrel length: 102 mm (4 in) Magazine: 6-chamber cylinder Muzzle velocity: 183 m/sec (600 ft/sec)

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(Webley & Scott self-loading) Caliber: 0.455 in Ammunition: 0.455-in 8M Ball Weight: 1.13 kg (2 lb 8 oz) Length: 216 mm (8.5 in) Barrel length: 127 mm (5 in) Magazine: 7-round detachable box Muzzle velocity: 229 m/sec (750 ft/sec)

The firm of Webley & Scott started in the 1830s in Birmingham when two Webley brothers set up as makers of parts for gun locks. They combined soon afterwards and in 1853 were advertising themselves as manufacturers of percussion revolvers. These were made in several styles, including cl plain military model. With the lapsing of the Rollin-White patents, metallic cartridge revolvers were made and in 1867 the firm was lucky enough to get a contract to supply the Royal Irish Constabulary with d solid-frame revolver of remarkable durability and reliability. It was a success and was adopted by other police forces all over the empire, setting an example for simplicity and robustness of its components. This feature was to remain a Webley hallmark for all their revolvers, and it made them ideally suitable for service in remote parts of the world. The RIC model went through many variants and different calibers, but the brothers were looking for improvements and were not afraid to buy other men’s ideas.

The Pryse patents for a hinged, self- extracting frame were bought in 1877 and a new line of revolvers put on to the market without delay. They were made in all calibers and all barrel lengths and formed the basis of all the military models that were to follow. The British Army adopted the Webley-Pryse model in 0.442-in (11.2-mm) caliber and called it the Webley Mark I. In 1899 the caliber was changed to 0.455-in (11.6-mm), by which time the marks had reached IV, and this version continued in service until replaced by the 0.38-in (9.7-mm) in 1932, by when it was the Mark VI. The differences between the marks of military revolver were not great, but each one incorporated minor changes, particularly in the methods of manufacture. There were alterations to the barrel length and shape of the butt, and the Mark VI could be fitted with a shoulder stock.

While the military revolvers were keeping the reputation of the company high among service users, the firm also produced large numbers of civilian models in all sizes and calibers ranging from pocket versions in 0.32- in (8.1-mm) up to long-barrelled target weapons with refined sights and hand- finished actions. The military contracts kept the firm going with long-term work, and the civilian products made a useful profit on top of that. When automatic pistols were introduced on the Continent in the late nineteenth century, Webley looked for suitable designs to manufacture. The Mars pistol was offered by Mr Gabbet-Fairfax, but was quickly dropped and they set to work on their own design. The aim was to build a military pistol and the first one, in 1903, was in 0.455 caliber. This had to be refined and development continued for the next six years resulting in the 0.32 of 1906, the 0.25-in (6.4-mm) Hammerless of 1909 and finally, in the 9-mm (0.354-in) of 1909. This last was s step in the right direction, though the two small-caliber models were made and sold in reasonable numbers. The 9 mm remained in production until 1930 and it was followed in 1912 by the first large-caliber automatic of the Webley design that saw military service. This was a powerful and heavy locked-breech pistol of rather angular appearance and somewhat finely made locking system.

It was adopted by the Royal Navy and later models were also taken by the Royal Horse Artillery, and at the same time the Royal Flying Corps, who were looking for a light automatic for the observers of two-seat aircraft, ordered a quantity with a light wooden shoulder stock. The army preferred the revolvers, and very large numbers of these were turned out during the First World War. Military revolvers ceased in 1932, when the army changed to 0.38 caliber, though civilian models have continued to be made, and numbers were produced for the Army in the Second World War.

Wellington: The Consummate Professional

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Wellington would give orders to anyone who needed direction, from division commander to lowly soldier.

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THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON

Napoleon on the eve of Waterloo was to confront Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington for the first time. His Marshals urged caution, but Napoleon brutally put them down. `Because you have been beaten by Wellington, you consider him a great general’ he criticised, `now I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, that the English are bad troops’. So far as he was concerned ce sera l’affaire d’un déjeuner, literally `This’ll be a picnic’. His marshals remained dubious, `I earnestly hope so’ responded his Chief of Staff Marshal Soult.

Wellington, born in 1769, came from an impoverished Anglo- Irish gentry family. His background made him a driven man. He was rejected by the Pakenham family as `not up to scratch’ when he courted his future wife Kitty, which made him determined to prove otherwise. She took on the status of an objective won alongside his considerable military reputation by 1806, but by then she had `grown ugly by Jove!’

After first purchasing a commission, Wellesley’s army rise was meteoric, from Ensign at the age of 16 to Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the 33rd Regiment by 24. Once his brother secured the Governer- Generalship of India in 1798, Wellesley’s military future was assured. He played a major role in successfully defeating the Indian allies of the French in a series of battles culminating in a brilliant but costly victory at Assaye in 1803, emerging as the leading `Sepoy General’ with the rank of Major-General. India developed Wellesley’s hawkish eye for the importance of administrative logistical detail in difficult terrain, a characteristic that was to serve him well later in Spain.

His thirst for reputation continued to drive him. Successive victories against the French on the Spanish Peninsula from Vimiero in 1808 to Vittoria in 1812 followed by victories in the Pyrenees and the south of France earned him a formidable reputation and dukedom by 1814. Wellington’s understated charisma and superb economic management of his armies in Spain coupled with an acute eye for timing and recognition of when precisely to strike placed him in a class of his own. Above all, he showed himself to be the consummate defensive tactician. He was now to do battle for the first time with the master of manoeuvre and attack.

Much has since been made of the similarities between the two opposing commanders at Waterloo, but on the eve of battle they were as academic as they are now. Both were born on islands in the same year, Napoleon on Corsica and Arthur Wellesley in Ireland. Both lost their fathers while young and both were educated in France. Ironically they were to share the same mistresses in Paris, were at ease with mathematics and the study of maps and topography. Hannibal was jointly admired and Ceaser’s `Commentaries’ taken on campaign.

Wellington’s pinnacle of success was, however, to prove Napoleon’s nadir. It was the differences that set them apart. Wellington unlike Napoleon was at the top of his game – soon to be demonstrated at Waterloo – while Napoleon was past his prime. The coolly calculating Wellington was intellectually sharp enough to appreciate that Napoleon would be unpredictably dangerous, but was supremely confident he could deal with him. Despite the early dubious performance of the British army on land, directly experienced by Wellesley in Flanders in 1793, he was not intimidated by the French, claiming in 1808 that:

`I am not afraid of them, as everybody else seems to be; and secondly, because if what I hear of the system of manoeuvre is true, I think it is a false one as against steady troops. I suspect all the continental armies were more than half-beaten before the battle was begun’.

From Talevera on the Spanish Peninsula in 1809, Wellington was to demonstrably prove that his thin red line was the perfect foil for Napoleon’s battering-ram approach with massed columns. Napoleon had respect for Wellington’s victories in the difficult Peninsula, but considered him out of his own league in terms of military prowess. Wellington had fought 24 battles and sieges before Waterloo, and all but one, the siege of Burgos, had been victories. Napoleon had won 60 of his 70 battles and all of them of far greater scale. He had led armies of 200,000 men while concurrently acting as head of state. The forces about to close at Waterloo were only about this in total.

Napoleon projected la Gloire de France, whereas Wellington presented the image of a `gentleman’ player. Although this modest façade suggested the gifted amateur can always prevail, beneath the relaxed demeanor lurked a consummate professional.

Wellington even dressed like an amateur. The only concession to uniform at Waterloo was a low cocked hat adorned with the four cockades of Britain, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Apart from this he wore comfortable civilian clothes. Lord Edward Somerset, commanding a brigade of the Household Cavalry remarked that Wellington passed him by at Waterloo as if `riding for pleasure’. This irreverent approach endeared him to his soldiers, not taken with too much finery, detecting in this a more practical professional.

Wellington’s dullness of dress in fact marked him out on the battlefield, which was part of the intention, to inspire confidence. Napoleon was revered, even loved by his soldiers whereas Wellington held the unqualified respect of his. He had learned what not to do under the misguided management of the Duke of York in the Flanders campaign of 1793. Unfortunate lessons tend to be more enduring than those from success. When Sergeant William Wheeler, a Peninsula veteran with the 51st Regiment learned that Wellington rather than the inexperienced Prince of Orange would be leading them in Belgium he wrote in his diary:

`Our men were almost frantic, every soldier you met told you the joyful news. `Glorious news. Nosey has got the command: won’t we give them a drubbing now”.

Wellington’s taut, lithe and athletic demeanor physically demonstrated he was in his prime, unlike the flabby Napoleon, who was the same age. Wellington’s physical stamina, gained from long years campaigning in Spain and Portugal was undiminished. There was no sallow skin, paunch, curtailment of riding or unintentional dozing during the day. He had less than three hours sleep during the night of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on 15/16th June after discovering that Napoleon had moved into Belgium. He directed operations from the saddle continuously until midnight the following day, riding from Brussels to Quatre-Bras, to Frasnes, to Ligny then back to Quatre-Bras and then on to Genappe covering 50 to 60 kilometres. His second day in the saddle on the 17th June after only another three hours sleep meant a further 20 kilometres and no sleep until midnight. On the day of the battle on the 18th Wellington was up at 03.00 and riding by 06.00 and would be in the saddle for the next 16 hours, directing an extremely close run battle, with all the physical shocks and emotional tensions that that entails. Many of his staff were killed around him. By the end of the battle Wellington had achieved maybe nine hours sleep out of 72, with at least 55 of these on horseback.

This understated strength was personified by a solitary nature, which added to his aura of competence. He was a disciplinarian, often stern with an outwardly cold and aloof manner and extremely sparing in his praise. Plans were always played close to his chest, which often caused complaints and umbrage among his staff and might occasionally reduce morale. He never felt any obligation to explain himself. When his second in command Lord Uxbridge mustered the courage to ask what the plan for Waterloo might be, Wellington responded:

`Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects; and as my plans will depend on his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?’

Little blame could be attached to the surprise caused by Napoleon’s skillful insertion of his own army between the two Allied armies because Wellington never publicly conjectured what might happen. He realised he was at a disadvantage at Waterloo, but characteristically never gave any sign of it. He simply awaited Napoleon’s next move, having established himself in a strong defensive position, but knowing he was cut off from his Prussian allies.

Wellington, unlike Napoleon, rarely if ever delegated on the battlefield. As a consequence he was on the move all day, generally mounted, dashing from trouble spot to trouble spot with his staff trailing behind. Battlefield orders were given personally direct, or if appropriate by staff officers. He would address anybody he needed to, from division commander to lowly soldier. Tight control was maintained. Quick decisions were made and orders issued at every stage of the battle. At Waterloo the Duke characteristically gave orders to those he considered the battle-winners: the infantry or artillery. He left Uxbridge to lead the cavalry.

Wellington was a brilliant defensive tactician and a proven master of profiting from his enemy’s mistakes. He waited for Napoleon to display some. Despite being temporarily out manoeuvred, he continued to superbly manage his army economically. Wellington’s personal demeanour radiated confidence and he could be positively lethal in the timing of his offensive counter-strokes. He waited on the dominant ridge, his Anglo-Allied force occupied and prepared to check-mate his opponent, should there be any mistakes in the opening moves. Wellington believed his pithy and pragmatic responses would far outweigh any `fancy’ schemes the French might throw at him. As he later explained in a conversation recorded by Sir William Fraser:

`They [the French] planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid piece of harness. It looks very well; and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaign of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot and went on’.

Bomber Command Doctrine – Early WWII

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Early operations in the daylight reconnaissance role were uneventful, but on September 29 1940 the Hampden’s shortcomings were highlighted vividly when five out of eleven aircraft in two formations were destroyed by German fighters when within sight of the German coast. Not long after this it was decided to operate in future under cover of darkness, and some leaflet-dropping missions were carried out.

By the winter of 1939-40 the Hampden had found its most useful role as a minelayer. Aircraft from five squadrons sowed mines in German waters on the night of April 13/14, 1940, just after the German invasion of Norway, and by the end of the year 5 Group’s Hampden squadrons had flown 1,209 mine-laying sorties and delivered 703 mines, losing 21 aircraft in the operations, the loss rate of less than 1.8% being considered acceptable.

The Norwegian campaign, however, once again showed the Hampden’s `Achilles heel’; because of its inadequate defensive armament it suffered heavily at the hands of German fighters when used as a day bomber.

On the night of August 25/26, 1940, Hampdens and Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys took part in the RAF’s first raid on Berlin, and the Hampden continued to support the night bombing offensive until late 1942 when, on the night of September 15/16 aircraft of the RCAF’s 408 Squadron attacked Wilhelmshaven in the Hampden’s final sorties with Bomber Command. The Hampden, in spite of inadequacies it had its good points: among them were pleasant handling characteristics and the excellent view for the pilot. On the debit side accommodation was very cramped, individual crew members being able to change places only with extreme difficulty, which posed great problems in the case of injuries. In all, 1,432 Hampdens were built, 502 of them by Handley Page, 770 by English Electric and 160 in Canada.

In September 1939 Britain could call upon only 1,460 first-line aircraft, including 536 bombers of limited capability, 608 fighters, 96 aircraft for army cooperation, and 216 for coastal reconnaissance. The first eighteen months of the war saw the bomber force used mainly for maritime operations and for tactical support of armies in France and Belgium, including attacks on German air bases in France and the Low Countries. But Bomber Command had only very limited effectiveness in any of the roles it attempted to undertake. It is surely understatement to argue that this period represented a crisis for the RAF: the gap between rhetoric and reality proved to be nothing less than an abyss. But the grim present had the effect of focusing attention on the future, and the Air Staff looked toward it with a hopefulness that, in hindsight, appears overly optimistic and even naive. They persuaded themselves that heavy bombers, when strengthened in numbers and put on a true war footing, would make good on all the promises issued for them over the years.

Rather than waging an all-out air offensive designed to throw the enemy on to the defensive, Bomber Command was reduced to limited attacks on shipping and to dropping propaganda leaflets in the hope of convincing the German population that Hitler’s war was a grave error. Hours after Britain’s declaration of war, twenty-seven Vickers Wellingtons and Handley Page Hampdens were sent to search for German shipping off the coast of Denmark, but none found targets. The following day twenty-nine bombers were sent to attack warships around Wilhelmshaven. Seven crews failed to return, and ten failed to find the target; those that did caused only minimal damage. In actions on 14 and 18 December 1939, small groups of Wellington bombers flying over the North Sea in daylight were mauled by German defenders, losing half the attacking force in each encounter. These demoralizing outcomes quickly began to cast doubt upon the theory that the bomber would “get through” in daylight, although the pessimism was not widely acknowledged right away. As historian Anthony Verrier later argued, “Few aspects of this phase of the strategic air offensive are more striking in retrospect . . . than the disparity between the claims made for and the hopes entertained about mass bombing before 1939 and the virtual absence of all reference to it at the highest policy-making levels for many months thereafter.”

The poor early results of the initial daytime raids caused Ludlow- Hewitt to begin to pull back from the prospective plan then favored by the Air Ministry: an attack on the Ruhr power plants. On 28 January 1940 he expressed his doubts about it to the Air Ministry. Losses of 50 percent or more of the attacking forces would not only demoralize British bomber crews, but would also kill those men who might later fly more capable bombers. These conclusions caused the Air Ministry to shift its planning efforts from the Ruhr plants to the German oil industry. The latter was encouraged by a variety of intelligence sources, and was further stimulated by the expectation that oil facilities would have the useful property of being relatively self-destructive when attacked. The Ruhr plan would be adopted only if a German attack on the Low Countries produced an emergency.

The nighttime leaflet-dropping missions, which had commenced on 4 September 1939, gave the Air Staff an early opportunity to test Bomber Command as an arm of psychological warfare. The Air Staff had earlier expressed the hope that warning notices of impending attacks by British bombers might cause panic and disrupt the industrial life of the Ruhr. In the last months before the war, the Foreign Office had cooperated in the task of creating suitable leaflets. Hopes that this effort would have some discernible impact on Germany proved to be greatly mistaken, however. Instead, the missions told of the difficulties of finding distant cities, the constant battles with weather, and the physical discomforts crews would encounter in such operations. Crews were sent out with maps, astro-sextants, and directional radio. With these means, which required a high degree of skill to use effectively, they were expected to find their way about; in essence, crews were expected to navigate at night by observation-an all but impossible task under the weather conditions so frequently prevailing. The interwar lack of attention to navigation told heavily. RAF crews mistakenly overflying and crashing on neutral Belgian, Dutch, and Danish territory led to a temporary ban on nighttime leaflet drops. But the missions made clear something else: the relative absence, at night, of enemy fighters, and the comparative ineffectiveness of anti-aircraft fire, even at middle heights. This, along with the shift away from the Ruhr plan, provoked the first steps in the conversion of Bomber Command to a night attack force. At the same time, some elements of Trenchardian thinking were already working themselves back into planning. A variant of W. A. 5, prepared in January 1940 without any pretense of overriding earlier versions, pointed out that Bomber Command might be best served in the near term by a night offensive designed for maximum moral effect. Its authors looked to dispersed harassing attacks at night to disrupt industrial production and disturb the population generally. Like Trenchard, they presumed that continuous air raid warnings would have an important cumulative impact on the nerves of the German people. Though they recognized that they were placing their faith in an “imponderable factor”-the will and morale of the German population-they felt that it was a “practicable course to adopt.”

By early March 1940, Ludlow-Hewitt already was beginning to turn the focus of his force to night bombing. It had many drawbacks, but these seemed, at least, less formidable than the ones posed by daylight attack. On the night of 19 March 1940, in response to a German air attack near Scapa Flow, Bomber Command struck its first land target, the isolated seaplane base at Hornum on the isle of Sylt, chosen in part because of the low likelihood of collateral casualties. Although the crews claimed to have identified and bombed the target, photo-reconnaissance revealed no evidence of damage done. (In one bit of good news, only one of the dispatched bombers failed to return.) Bomber Command would soon admit that only about half of its average crews could be expected to identify and attack targets at night except in the very best conditions of visibility. This was an inauspicious start to what would become a five-year campaign of increasing tempo and fury.

Retaliation

Though engaged in a close-run thing, RAF fighters managed to prevail in the air battle over British skies. Victory was due to prewar attention to air defense, scientific and technological advances, the dogged determination of Fighter Command, and some crucial German errors. The Luftwaffe, headed by the rash, self-indulgent Hermann Go” ring, discovered that waging a successful air offensive was no simple matter. Paradoxically, however, the Luftwaffe failure did not seem to blunt the Air Staff’s enthusiasm for its own planned air offensive: the latter managed to convince themselves that the Germans had misused their resources. The German bombers of 1940-41, they argued, could not match the ordnance payloads of the heavy British bombers then in the works. And the Germans would not hold up very well under air attack: taking the war to Germany would undermine the “gloss of national unity” that the Nazis had labored to create. Perhaps under the circumstances, this attitude was not surprising. Britain was in a desperate situation: the bombers provided the only means of offensive action against Germany. Looking stoically ahead, the British kept themselves from despair by cultivating a selective blind spot. As one historian has argued, “[T]he Air Staff, and indeed the government, were sustained by a faith wholly at variance with the known facts of the situation.” Through the summer, however, reality often intruded on grasping optimism. Oil targets proved very difficult to find and hit with any reliability. Sir Charles Portal complained to the Air Staff that his force was incapable of performing all of its tasks. In particular, he believed neither that his force could consistently hit oil targets, nor that its light scale of attack against such targets could generate worthwhile results. He argued that for tactical reasons scattered bombing was unavoidable. Using an old argument of Trenchard’s, he rationalized that dispersal “largely increases the moral effect of our operations by the alarm and disturbance created over the wider area.”

German air attacks on Britain peaked in August. Following the fall of some German bombs on London the night of 24 August 1940, Bomber Command retaliated with attacks on industrial targets in Berlin (25 August). Portal believed that German behavior in the war to date had freed Britain to “take the gloves off” and give as good as she got. Churchill’s thinking ran along the same lines. In July he had written to Lord Beaverbrook, Minister for Aircraft Production, about the need for an “absolutely devastating exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland.” Churchill suggested that Portal might spread his attacks as widely as possible over cities in Germany. But most Air Staff members still preferred to prioritize selective attack, despite Portal’s reservations. Indeed, one memorandum from the Air Ministry’s Plans Division-suggesting curious gaps in organizational coordination, and revealing the extent of misplaced optimism in some circles-argued that, since Bomber Command had been adequately trained for precise bombing of important selected targets, anything less would have little appeal. 48 A new bombing directive, issued 21 September, continued to stress the disruption of Germany’s oil supply as the basis for long-term offensive policy. In the meantime the Germans had begun to supplement the daylight battle with nighttime bombing. Initially this concentrated on London but was soon extended to other British cities.

Portal, acutely aware of the limitations of his force, wanted to follow Churchill’s advice. The prime minister’s encouragement and the expectation of poor winter weather allowed Portal to make some headway against Air Ministry arguments. His views, however, complicated the careful consideration given to civilian casualties and collateral damage in the August 1939 and June 1940 guidance. Though he had no authority in political matters, Portal believed that events had justified a direct attack on the “will of the German people to continue the war.” He argued that if heavy material destruction could be “periodically meted out to different towns,” it would produce a generalized fear of bombing that would then facilitate “panic and exaggerated reports,” even following scattered raids. The debate took on a new complexion as a result of a reshuffling within the RAF hierarchy: Vice Chief of Air Staff (VCAS) Sir Richard Peirse took over the helm of Bomber Command, while Sir Charles Portal went to London to take over as Chief of Air Staff. As CAS-designate and later as CAS (beginning 25 October 1940), Portal could directly shape Air Staff policies. At a meeting to discuss bombing policy, held on 23 October, he advocated a program of heavy incendiary attacks on large, populous areas. He argued that if the air war resolved itself into a contest of wills, the British “will prove themselves to be tougher than the Germans.” In the end, the meeting produced a compromise: attacks on oil would continue to be the focus of long-term strategy, but Bomber Command would turn more of its attention to assaults on German morale. On the night of 16 December 1940, Bomber Command attacked the city of Mannheim in its first deliberate “area raid” of the war.

Ideas about what comprised enemy morale, or how to undermine it, however, remained muddled at best. Britain’s domestic experience reflected this. The government, recognizing the crucial role of public support and steadfastness in war, had created a Ministry of Information to handle government propaganda and sustain homefront morale. But more than two years passed before its officials “made any attempt to define what it was they were charged with sustaining.” Lacking a clear sense of its objective, the Ministry floundered about, becoming the object of considerable criticism and ridicule in the early years of the war. Even as they worked out the requirements for implementing air raid policies and emergency medical procedures, they struggled with the more ethereal aspects of preserving the public will to fight. Despite the government’s grave fears that breakdown on the homefront would mean defeat in war, its efforts to think through and shape the social and psychological aspects of the problem were flailing and largely irrelevant. If the elusiveness of the term “morale” had been an asset to Trenchard, it was a problem for those recruited to serve in the Ministry of Information.

RAF in Aden 1945–1948 I

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Tempest F.Mk.VI
Unit: 8 Sqn, RAF
Serial: A (NX131)
Pilot – CO of 8 Sqn, Squadron Leader Frank Jonsen. Aden, 1948.
A weathered post-war Day Fighter scheme of overall Aluminium, applied in-service directly over the original Ocean Grey/Dark Green/Medium Sea Grey scheme which was starting to show through in places. Bright Red, White and Bright Blue post-war National markings were applied in all six positions and were of 48 inches diameter above the wings, 36 inches diameter on the fuselage sides and 32 inches diameter on the wing undersides. The Bright Red, White and Bright Blue tail fin marking was 24 inches square. The fuselage serial number was 8 inches high in Night. The individual aircraft letter was approximately 24 inches high, probably in Night. Under wing serials were approximately 36 inches high in Night and did not extend over the undercarriage leg and wheel covers due to the outer positioning of the under wing roundels. The spinner was also probably Night. The canopy hood framing was still in camouflage colours. Note the small ‘winged 8’ emblem on the cowling sides, the No 8 Sqn emblem within a standard frame on the fin and the Squadron Leaders pennant under the windscreen.

With the war having moved away from the Middle East, RAF forces in Aden at VE-day were primarily made up of the usual range of second-line units. However a single squadron, 621, was based at Khormaksar operating Wellingtons in a maritime-reconnaissance role. The squadron was quickly reduced to cadre strength, losing eight of its sixteen aircraft and an equivalent number of airmen. The remaining aircrew found themselves principally operating in a transport role until the squadron was posted to Egypt in October 1945. Their place on the airfield at Khormaksar was taken by 114 Squadron, which arrived in Aden with its Boston light-bombers at the end of September. The new arrivals quickly got down to the process of converting to the Mosquito VI aircraft, which a number of squadrons around the region were to operate. During the early months of 1946, the first outbreaks of tribal unrest, which had been a constant feature of RAF operations in the region in the pre-war period, began again. The Mosquitos of 114 Squadron were called upon a number of times to provide support for operations against tribes that were causing the authorities trouble, although without having to use weapons.

On 1 September 1946, 114 Squadron was re-numbered as 8 Squadron. This was a continuation of Air Ministry policy in keeping more historic squadrons in being. In this case, this was particularly apt as 8 Squadron had been the resident squadron in the Protectorate for around 15 years prior to the outbreak of the war. Otherwise, little else changed. A note in the squadron records states that the newly renumbered unit was still equipped at cadre strength, that is, it still was flying eight Mosquito VI fighter-bombers and a single T. III trainer variant. Of these, six were fitted with wing-racks for 500 lb bombs and rocket rails, a further aircraft had just the rocket rails, whilst the final aircraft had drop-tanks for increased range.

The new squadron’s first flying of note was on the 3 September when four aircraft were flown on practice air to ground firing. The aircraft did not have far to fly as the squadron set up targets just four mile to the east of Khormaksar on the coast. The targets, made up of strips of canvas stretched over wooden frames, were only set up prior to the sorties as it had been found that if left out the materials were likely to be stolen overnight by the local Arab population. Next day, two aircraft flew up to El Milab to engage in an exercise with armoured cars in that area. The armoured cars had recently been fitted with VHF radios enabling much easier communications with RAF support aircraft, and in this first exercise, the participants were able to report that contact was much clearer than had been the case when using the older HF radio-equipment.

Of importance to 8 Squadron at this time was the arrival in Aden on the 6 September of their new CO, Wg Cdr O’Brian DFC and bar, following his completion of a refresher flying course at 13 OTU. On the same day, a squadron aircraft flew to Mogadishu in British Somaliland. Here it was unable to carry on to its original destination of Eastleigh in Kenya due to adverse weather. The squadron, in both 114 and 8 forms, were to carry out regular weekend sorties to Kenya. Planned as long-range navigation sorties, these flights were also useful in allowing aircrew some respite from the harsh conditions prevalent in Aden but also to enable various rations to be flown back to Aden from relatively bountiful Kenya. The return trip by Flt Lt Walkden and Flt Sgt Bauchope totalled 6 hours 10 minutes flying.

In a first sign of potential action, the senior air staff officer in Aden, Grp Capt Leigh flew one of the squadron’s aircraft to the Kotaibi area on the 9 September, where the local tribe was starting to give trouble. Further flying during the rest of September was primarily focused on exercises with the local armoured car units and their new VHF kit. With the squadron having just nine pilots on strength at the beginning of the month until the arrival of the new CO, there was a fair amount of flying to go round unlike on some other squadrons at this time.

For much of the beginning of October, 8 Squadron was primarily involved in routine training flying. On 12 and 14 October a number of sorties were flown in conjunction with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Glasgow. On the first day, the Mosquito crews were involved in establishing VHF communications with the fighter direction officer on HMS Glasgow which lay at anchor in Aden harbour. The second day was arranged as a full-scale exercise with six squadron aircraft detailed to take part.

Of these, five aircraft were detailed to take the roles of attackers with a single aircraft under the control of HMS Glasgow’s fighter direction officer tasked with defending the cruiser. The exercise was spilt into four runs, with the first two giving the five attacking aircraft the chance to attack using rockets a target on a raft towed by the cruiser. Briefed to carry out 35-degree dive attacks and to fire at 600 yards, this was considered useful in that the crews rarely had the chance to fire at a moving target. On run three, the attacking aircraft carried out dive attacks in a starboard echelon from 6,000 feet against the cruiser pulling out at 4,000 feet. On this run, HMS Glasgow attempted to position the sixth Mosquito into a suitable intercept position using their radar. Evaluation of the attack afterwards concluded that the Mosquito crews would have struggled to hit the cruiser if it had been taking avoiding action and putting up anti-aircraft fire. On the final run the five Mosquitos spread out to attack at low-level, positioning themselves on converging courses. In all, the exercise was considered good practice although it was recognised that the rockets carried by the Mosquitos may have inflicted little damage on the cruiser, while in return the Glasgow welcomed the realistic approaches allowing gun-laying practice for its crew. Similar exercises were carried out with other Royal Navy ships during the month, including one with the carrier HMS Indefatigable on 18 October. Despite the carrier not having any embarked aircraft due to it operating as a troop transport at the time, again the squadron was able to carry out a useful exercise. Despite these exercises, the squadron was only able to carry out just over 80 hours flying this month, almost half that of the previous month.

A detachment of Mosquito photo-recce aircraft from 13 Squadron based in Palestine arrived during the month. The initial elements of the detachment arrived on 24 October in a number of Halifax aircraft of the support squadrons based in Palestine before the four aircraft of the detachment arrived six days later. The airmen of the detachment moved into the same block as used by 8 Squadron, while their Mosquitos used the squadron’s hanger and office accommodation. The detachments task was to carry out an aerial survey of British Somaliland, one of many such surveys that 13 Squadron would carry out in the immediate post-war years.

In November, 8 Squadron carried out a number of survey flights over the interior regions looking for potential landing grounds. However, a more operational tasking was carried out on 14 November when two aircraft were despatched to fly over a peace conference being held with tribesmen at Al Milah. The conference was being held when the Government was forced to intervene after two members of one tribe had attempted to ambush a caravan from a different tribe. Elements of the local Harshebi garrison had intervened, killing one and wounding the other ambusher. Afterwards, in order to sort out their differences, representatives of each tribe were brought together with Government officials. However, it was proving difficult to get them to resolve the issue despite the presence of an armoured car unit, so the two Mosquito crews were briefed to carry out a low-level flypast of the conference. By using the terrain to mask their approach till the last minute, the two Mosquitos provided a sudden and effective demonstration of air-power and the disagreement was quickly resolved.

A few days later fighting broke out between tribes of the Amir region and those owing allegiance to Hamershah Sultan. Although fighting had ceased by 23 November, the Government had decided to carry out a flag march from Dmala to Musemir (where the fighting had occurred) to deter any further hostilities between the various parties. In order to provide air support and to provide local air reconnaissance, 8 Squadron were instructed to fly patrols in the morning and afternoon over the column. In all, these patrols required some forty-seven hours flying, lifting 8 Squadron’s flying to the month to a total of 92 hours. It is interesting to note, that the squadron was managing to meet its operational requirements despite a serious shortage of personnel following the posting on release of further airmen during the month.

It should be noted that these manpower issues were reflected throughout all the units in Aden, and in fact, across all the RAF units in the Middle East at this time. The lack of corporals placed even more pressure on the remaining senior NCOs, yet the squadron seems to have maintained good morale due to the periods of operational activity that gave a purpose to the hard work. As at airfields all over the world, much of the airmen’s attention was on sporting activities. In Aden, a lack of facilities at the time led to most of the units concentrating on producing football teams. However, 8 Squadron struggled compared to some of the other units on the airfield, such as the servicing or admin wings, due to the small number of airmen available to play. The arrival of the 13 Squadron detachment was to have a positive effect on 8 Squadron’s results as the detachment provided some players for a combined squad further strengthening the links between the two units.

A major task for 8 Squadron during December was to provide air cover for a force making a road into a previously inaccessible area around Beihan in the northeast area of the Western Protectorate. The first sorties were flown on the 4 December and numerous sorties were carried out during the following days. On a number of occasions the aircraft were requested to fly at low-level over tribesmen who were attempting to disrupt the road-making process. On one occasion the crews reported that tribesmen were throwing stones at the low-flying Mosquitos. The squadron flew their last official sortie over the road-making column on 19 December, despite the column being ambushed on their return trip by some 300 natives. The column finally returned to base on Christmas Day, returning by a different route in order to avoid having to fight their way through the tribesmen. Interested in the column’s progress, 8 Squadron flew a number of cross-country sorties in the area of the road and were to witness the tribesmen ripping up parts of the newly completed road or blocking other parts with rocks. Having been fully armed during these patrols, a number of air-to-sea firing sorties were carried out by 8 Squadron after the Christmas festivities in order to use up the ammunition. During these sorties, considerable trouble was experienced with the cannons which in many cases were completely unserviceable.

Flying was reduced in January 1947 as the ground crews endeavoured to catch up on work that had been postponed due to the operational commitments of the previous months. A number of sorties were flown in support of the communications flight that was commissioning a number of new landing strips around the protectorate. For example, on 16 January a Comms flight Anson made the first landing on the new strip at Dhala, while on 31 January Grp Capt Snaith (station commander of RAF Khormaksar) flew a Mosquito to watch an Albacore make a successful landing at the Dhala airstrip. During the month, 8 Squadron carried out a number of cannon tests using a new batch of ammunition which were more successful than those at the end of the previous month. The 13 Squadron detachment completed their task during the month, with their personnel either moving on to Kenya or back to base in Egypt. With 8 Squadron’s strength now just thirty out of an establishment of seventy-seven, it is no wonder that 8 Squadron’s monthly flying totalled just under 57 hours.

Further trouble was brewing, however, in the Protectorate and 8 Squadron received advance notice that it was likely to be called for operations. The Amir of Dhala, part of the Protectorate, had been overthrown previously by his son Haderi. Despite efforts by the local government to re-install the Amir, Haderi maintained his oppressive control over the territory. Eventually, after negotiations had broken down, Haderi retreated from Dhala with over 100 of his followers to a fort on the nearby Jebel Jifah. A plateau at an altitude of over 7,000 feet, the Jebel Jifah could only be approached by foot or using animals. With the rebels strongly ensconced in the fort and armed with rifles and four Vickers machine-guns, air support would be vital if the rebels decided to fight it out.

Plans called for a force of Aden Protectorate Levies to advance on the fort, supported by British armoured cars and 3 inch mortars. Only the troops and the mortars would be able to ascend the plateau. It was hoped that this show of force would cause Haderi to surrender, but if not, the force was to secure the capture of the fort. Initially, 8 Squadron’s involvement was to be limited to reconnaissance and demonstrations flights over the fort, although the aircraft were to be armed at all times. The first flight was made by Grp Capt Snaith with a Comms flight navigator on 1 February, looking for gatherings of local tribesmen. Like many of the operations carried out over Aden, a total sortie time of forty-five minutes shows the limited area of effective Government control with hostile areas only a short distance from Khormaksar airfield. However, due to the difficult terrain reaching these areas by ground was slow and sometimes almost impossible except by foot.

Patrols over the column carried on for the next week, with air cover being provided over the fort on 8 February for a Comms flight Albacore involved in dropping leaflets calling to the rebels. The drop was not particularly successful due to cloud cover over the plateau region. During the following day, a patrol flown by Sqn Ldr Boyle and navigator Flg Off. Coates were able to watch the levies engaged in fighting the rebels in the fort. However, despite being ready they were not called in to assist the troops. Two crews were later briefed on the disposition of friendly forces at base in readiness for an attack on the fort but they were not called into action. During the night, Haderi and his followers fled from the fort, leaving it under Government control.

During the afternoon of 1 February, two Mosquitos (crews: Sqn Ldr Boyle, Flg Off. Coates and Flt Lt Norman, Flg Off. Wright) were ordered to carry out a practice attack against the fort on the Jebel Jihaf. It was hoped to make an assessment of the effectiveness of rockets on the thick stone walls of the fort as this kind of target had not been attacked previously. Although the fort was demolished by the Army before an accurate gauge of the rockets effectiveness could be made, feedback from the Army suggested that the rockets had failed to penetrate far into the stone walls and that damage to the fort was not great. However, the fort was considered to be one of the strongest in the Protectorate with walls about five feet thick and it was believed that the morale effect on any tribesmen by this kind of attack would have been significant. Certainly tribesmen from neighbouring tribes watching the attack were suitably impressed. It was also considered that a change from the instantaneous fuses used on the SAP 60 lb rockets to a delayed action fuse would have helped their destructive effectiveness.

During the month Sqn Ldr Boyle instructed the new CO, Sqn Ldr Jensen and three other newly arrived pilots in flying the Mosquito. The new arrivals had ferried a section of Tempest VIs from the UK to a maintenance unit in Egypt where they were being prepared prior to being issued to 8 Squadron as replacements for the Mosquitos. With all of the pilots being experienced they quickly picked up the differences in flying the twin-engine Mosquito and were soon integrated into the regular squadron flying programme. At the end of the month, one Mosquito was flown to Salalah with spare parts for a comms flight Wellington that had gone u/s. The return flight of just over 6 hours brought the month’s total flying to just over 65 hours. Sqn Ldr Jensen left the squadron on 21 February, leaving the squadron with just one experienced Mosquito pilot and a single Flt Sgt navigator.

Fortunately the squadron were not called upon for operations in March. Two Mosquitos flew to the maintenance unit at Fayid on 18 March, with one returning on 28 March to Khormaksar leading the squadron’s first three Tempest aircraft. Unfortunately, one of the Tempests, flown by a pilot not aware of the condition of the airfield, taxied off the perimeter track onto the sand whereupon the wheels dug in and the aircraft ended up on its nose.

RAF in Aden 1945–1948 II

Aden from 1417 Flt FR10_20-08-65_RW

RAF Khormaksar

8 Squadron began Tempest operations in the middle of April, with Sqn Ldr Jensen taking one up on 11 April and performing aerobatics over Khormaksar airfield impressing all of those watching on the ground. Further flights over the following days would see other squadron pilots and the station commander, Grp Capt Snaith, also enjoying the performance of the squadron’s new mount. Four additional Tempests arrived one week later. A fifth was delayed at Khartoum after going unserviceable. All five of the Tempest pilots had been posted to the squadron having previously flown Tempest II aircraft with 54 Squadron in the UK. The new arrivals had little chance to rest, however, as on the following day the squadron was ordered to make an all-out attack on the village of Al Hussen. This action was in response for the murder of a Government political officer by a tribesman of the village. Four Mosquito and three Tempests were launched on the strike, with all four newly arrived pilots involved, two flying Tempests and the others as observers in Mosquitos. All of the aircraft launched salvos of rockets and strafed the village with cannons and machine-guns. By the end of what was considered a highly successful attack the village had suffered significant damage with many fires started. As usual, the attack had been carried out after warnings had been issued and no locals were injured. The squadron’s last Tempest (bringing the total to eight) arrived on 30 April. Despite the influx of new arrivals, the squadron was still desperately under strength in terms of airmen. It says much for those on the squadron, plus the personnel of the servicing wing of RAF Khormaksar that the squadron was still able to respond at almost full strength when each call to action was made by HQ.

A new innovation for the squadron was the use of formation take-offs, initiated by Sqn Ldr Jensen. However, the squadron reverted to having one aircraft take-off at a time later in the month as it had been noted that on some parts of the runway the markings on the edges were non-existent and the dangers of putting a wheel into soft sand were considered too dangerous. Early May also saw the end of regular Mosquito flying as the aircraft were passed to the Khormaksar servicing wing prior to their ferrying back to the UK. With the withdrawal of the Mosquitos, and the squadron still settling in with their new Tempests, it is unsurprising the month’s flying total was a mere 45 hours 50 minutes.

June 1947 was also a quite month for the squadron with no operational flying. It was a feature of Aden that even the local tribes tended to settle down during the summer months, as the ambient temperatures reached extreme levels. The high temperatures also determined the RAF’s activities in Aden, with as much work as possible carried out early in the morning. A training programme including formation work, rocket-firing, navigation sorties and co-operation flights with the armoured car units was initiated to hone the pilots’ skills.

Two squadron pilots ferried two Harvard aircraft from Fayid that had been allocated to the squadron arriving in Aden on 7 June. Without a navigator or an escort aircraft, the ferry flight had proved quite tricky with adverse weather leaving the pilots very short of fuel on a couple of legs or their journey. One of the Harvards was fitted out for dual training and instrument flying practice, while the second was rigged as a target-towing aircraft to allow the squadron to put in some air to air gunnery.

Uniquely for an RAF Tempest squadron at this time, the pilots also began practising supply dropping. On 17 June, three Tempests, flown by Sqn Ldr Jensen, Flg Off. Amer and Flt Lt Lawrence, each dropped a pair of 300 lb containers from varying heights between 1,000 to 2,000 feet. Two of the pilots dropped their containers singly, while the third dropped the containers as a pair. No issues were encountered, including flying with an asymmetric load, and all of the containers fell within an eighty feet target square.

Operations began again in July, with the Tempests called upon to act against rebellious tribesmen. This time a group of tribesmen had acted against the Sheriff of Beihan, captured the Bel Merith fort and began a series of raids against neighbouring villages. The first step of the operation was undertaken on 14 July when Sqn Ldr Jensen, Flt Lt Mitchell, Lawrence, Sherwin, Flg Off. Tanner and Amer were flown in a Wellington of the Comms Flight to the area of the fort to carry out a visual recce and to take some photos to prepare for an attack. Two days later, four Tempests set out for the target area, beginning their attack at roughly 0820. The fourth aircraft to attack, flown by Flg Off. Tanner, was seen to flick rolls three times to the right as it pulled away after launching its salvo of rockets. Sadly, the aircraft struck the ground and disintegrated with the pilot killed instantly. It was the first direct loss of the renewed air policing campaign in Aden after the end of the war. Unfortunately, due to strong winds the attack was not entirely successful so a second attack was arranged.

This time three Tempests, flown by the CO, Flt Lt Lawrence and Sherwin slightly changed their tactics. First firing a pair of rockets each on their first pass and then a salvo of six rockets the second, the three pilots managed to achieve eighteen hits out of the twenty-four rockets fired in total. The ground crews were particularly praised after the attack for their efforts in re-fuelling and re-arming the aircraft during the worst of the day prior to the second attack. On 19 July, two Tempests were engaged in the final stage of the operation to retake control of the fort when they flew to Assylan dropping pairs of 300 lb supply containers, loaded with materials for the Sheriff’s guards who were running short of ammunition.

August began with Tempests being flown on what were fairly regular recce flights over potential trouble spots around the Protectorate. Areas visited included Dhala and Shuqra. Due to a number of serviceability issues, flying was restricted during the month, with a lack of oxygen completely grounding the squadron at one point. A supply of oxygen cylinders was flown in by Dakota from Egypt, but it was noted in the squadron records that a more regular supply would be needed to ensure that the squadron would not be hampered in its operations. At this time, Khormaksar’s own oxygen plant was not operating, hence the problem, given that due to issues with exhaust fumes leaking into the cockpit from the engine, Tempest pilots were expected to fly using oxygen masks from engine start-up. On 15 August, two additional pilots arrived to join the squadron. PII Edwards and Bowyer had both been with 20 Squadron in India, but with the end of British rule they had, like many of the other 20 Squadron pilots, been sent to join the Tempest squadrons in the Middle East. Having signed up for extended service and an overseas tour, the RAF was making sure that their pilots served out the required months overseas. At the end of the month, Sqn Ldr Simpson visited the squadron from HQ RAF Med/ME to investigate why the squadron was only managing a low level of flying hours with the Tempest. A note in the squadron records reveals the relief of the squadron that HQ would now have an accurate picture of the difficulties that the squadron was experiencing.

During September three Tempests were flown into Aden by ferry pilots. One aircraft was handed over to 8 Squadron to replace the aircraft lost in the crash in July, while the other two were placed in the hands of 114 MU to hold as a ready reserve. Two days after the arrival of the new aircraft, one of the squadron’s aircraft was written off following a landing accident. The Tempest, NX190, piloted by Flg Off. Ginger had both flap problems and also was unable to lower one main wheel. Despite the best efforts of the pilot to make a safe landing the Tempest careered off the runway and smashed into some native huts. Illustrating the strength of the Tempest, the pilot walked away from the crash without a scratch, despite the plane being a complete write off. Squadron records do state that on-looking personnel suffered severe mental stress watching the crash unfold, while a number of Aden natives were forced to run for their lives from the scene.

On the first day of October, a Wellington C. 10 of the Aden Communications Flight went missing on a routine transport flight. Sadly, the aircraft was later reported to have crashed into the sea and all on board perished. On 25 October, four of 8 Squadron’s Tempests provided an escort for a VIP Dakota transporting Lord and Lady Tedder to Khormaksar. The successful interception drew a message of congratulation from Lord Tedder following his arrival in Aden. Despite the best efforts of the squadron, it was still struggling to achieve more than one hundred flying hours with the temperamental Tempests.

With trouble again amongst the tribesmen in Aden occurring during November, the RAF was once more called into action. On 17 November, an Anson of the Comms Unit dropped warning leaflets to tribesmen in the Quteibi area. This was not the first time that the RAF had been called to launch an action in this area, during 1940 the RAF had been required to carry out a three-month campaign against the tribe. Having been given seven days to pay reparations for their actions and having had no response, a further leaflet drop was made on 25 November giving the traditional 48 hours notice of bombing starting. On the same day, six Lincoln bombers from 101 and 138 Squadrons arrived, having been ordered to Aden whilst carrying out Sunray detachments to Egypt. Over three days, beginning on 27 November, the combined force of Tempests and Lincolns carried out a significant number of sorties over villages belonging to the Quteibi tribesmen, dropping over 60 tons of 500 and 1000 lb bombs and firing a large number of rockets. Following this activity the Quteibi entered negotiations regarding reparations but these broke down, so 8 Squadron returned to the fray with six further sorties on 4 December. These had the desired effect and the trouble was quelled. In particular, it seems that the tribesmen were impressed by the accuracy and destructive powers of the rockets fired into the village buildings by the Tempests. With the bombing complete the tribesmen and their families returned to the villages and were able to quickly repair the damage inflicted by the RAF, which had caused no loss of life due to the advance warning that had been given.

The New Year of 1948 saw 8 Squadron’s flying restricted by the poor serviceability of its aircraft. For much of the month only three of the eight allocated aircraft were in a fit state to fly and these were held on the ground for much of the time in expectation of further operational calls. During January a number of Dakotas arrived in Aden having been allocated to the Comms Unit to replace some of the disparate types that still plied the skies around the Middle East. However, the Dakotas were substantially larger than the earlier aircraft and would not fit into the Comms Unit hanger. To their disgust, 8 Squadron were ordered to swap hangers with the Comms Unit. Having just spent many months working hard to improve the state of their accommodation the squadron had no desire to have to start all over again.

During February, a further nomadic tribe was subject to punitive action by the RAF. With just three airworthy Tempests, once again a detachment of Lincolns arrived at Khormaksar to help. On this occasion, the three aircraft belonged to 57 Squadron. Operations began on 28 February and further sorties were carried out during the next day. The target village was located close to one occupied by a friendly tribe and all the crews were aware of the care needed during their attacks. In particular, although the target village had been abandoned by members of the troublesome Bal Harith tribe, the nearby village was packed with not just its normal inhabitants but also other tribesmen who had arrived to watch the show. The attacks against the tribe’s holdings continued during the first four days of March. With most of the buildings having been damaged already, attention turned to the cultivated areas around the villages. Attacks were now being made using 1,000-lb bombs, many of which were fitted with delayed action fuses to deter the tribesmen from returning to the fields between attacks to try and gather their crops. In addition, the Tempests dive-bombed one of the tribes’ principal watering holes. It was hoped that by preventing access to their food and water supplies the tribesmen would be forced into a quick capitulation. This indeed proved to be the case and no further sorties were carried out.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities, there continued to be further dissent throughout Aden. However, 8 Squadron was also called into action out with the immediate confines of Aden. On the last day of March, a flight of four Tempests carried out a long-range sortie over the town of Giggiga, in British Somaliland, where unrest had broken out prior to the handing over of the town to Ethiopia. On 12 April, 8 Squadron were busy carrying out strikes using rockets against forts belonging to the Ahl Yehia tribe in a region less than forty miles to the northwest of Khormaksar. Unlike the mud huts that had made up earlier targets, the forts were of solid stone construction with walls some two feet thick and were a much harder proposition for the Tempests to deal with. During one sortie, Tempest VI NX140, piloted by Flt Lt Wilson made a force-landing due to an engine failure on soft sand dunes six miles from one of the target forts. This was considered to be hostile territory and an Anson of the Comms Flight was scrambled to orbit the slightly injured pilot. For the next few hours, Flt Lt Wilson’s aircraft was orbited by friendly aircraft, while at Khormaksar one of the Tempests was quickly stripped of its rocket rails and bomb racks refitted. This aircraft was then loaded with supply containers and these were dropped to Flt Lt Wilson by the squadron CO, Sqn Ldr Jensen. The squadron continued with its attacks throughout this period eventually demolishing all three forts having expended over two hundred rockets, of which some sixty scored direct hits. The pilots had also fired off over three thousand rounds of ammunition during their attacks. Flt Lt Wilson was successfully rescued on the following day by a column of armoured cars of the RAF Regiment supported by troops of the Aden Protectorate Levy. It is no surprise that Sqn Ldr Jensen was to earn an extremely rare Bar to his DFC during April in recognition of the squadron’s efforts of the preceding months. Although May was a quiet month, further operations were carried out in June. Aden would continue to remain a hot-spot for many months, if not years, to come and would see a gradual increase in the RAF’s presence due to the perception of its strategic location on the principal reinforcement route to the Far East.

Tiger Shock

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Counter Attack at Villers Bocage by David Pentland. (C)

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Wittmann at Villers Bocage, Normandy, 0900 hrs, June 13th 1944 by David Pentland. (PC)

While the Germans vainly planned to deliver a multidivision counterattack, the British were hatching plans of their own. Montgomery planned a double encirclement of Caen with the 51st Highland Division and 4th Armoured Brigade executing a short hook east of the city via the Orne bridgehead and the 30 Corps to the west continuing its attack down the Seulles River Valley to capture Villers- Bocage. Corps elements were then to turn east to link up with the 1st British Airborne Division, to be dropped around Noyers and Evercy. RAF objections scratched the parachute operation, however, and the 21st Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions both counterattacked to stall, respectively, the east and west British pincer movements. The discovery of a gap in the German front on the Aure River three miles west of Tilly-sur-Seulles, however, offered the possibility of a wider flanking movement on Villers-Bocage.

On 12 June, Dempsey went to the 30 Corps’ sector to see for himself what could be done to regain the initiative. At the 7th Armoured Division’s headquarters, he seized on the suggestion of Maj. Gen. Bobby Erskine that it might be possible to outflank the Panzer Lehr by driving on Villers-Bocage from the west, leaving the 50th (Northumberland) Division to hold the German formation in place. Correctly sensing that Erskine had identified a weak spot in the German defense along the Aure River, Dempsey directed him and Bucknall to immediately execute the movement with all speed.

That afternoon, Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division, primarily equipped with Cromwell tanks, started moving. Brig. Robert “Looney” Hinde’s 22nd Armoured Brigade, with two armored regiments and two infantry battalions, spearheaded the drive through the gap, followed by Brig. Michael Elkins’s 131st Infantry Brigade, which had one tank regiment and two infantry battalions. By late evening, Hinde’s formation had reached Livry, five miles west of Villers-Bocage. There, owing to uncertainty about enemy strength in the latter village, he wisely decided not to undertake further movement that night.

In the early morning of 13 June, a battle group of the 4th County of London Yeomanry tanks and a motorized company of the 1st Battalion of The Rifle Brigade advanced virtually unopposed into the town. While attempting to secure the key high ground northeast of the town, the battle group encountered the 2nd Company of the 101st SS Heavy (Tiger) Panzer Battalion. The company was commanded by the already legendary tank ace Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann, who, in short order, cut a swath of destruction along the strung-out British armored column, his single Tiger destroying six Cromwell tanks, two Shermans, a Firefly, and numerous infantry carriers. By the time the action finished, Wittmann and his four other Tigers and Mark IV Special had knocked out around thirty British tanks and an equal number of armored vehicles. Although Wittmann later lost three Tigers and the Special to 6-pounder and hand-held antitank weapon fire in attacking Villers-Bocage itself, he went on to coordinate the deployment of nine more Tigers from the 1st SS Heavy Panzer Company and fifteen Mark IVs from the Panzer Lehr. Significantly, however, three more Tigers were knocked out in the town, which was defended from 1000 hours by Hinde’s 2nd Infantry Battalion from the Queen’s Royal Regiment.

The shock of the Wittmann attack not only threw the British onto the defensive, but also trumped good tactical sense. When the Queen’s commanding officer asked to be reinforced in Villers-Bocage, he was told by a visiting Elkins that the situation looked hopeless. Erskine, on the other hand, recognized the urgent need for more infantry and gave Hinde another Queen’s infantry battalion from Elkins’s 131st Brigade. Just before this battalion began to arrive in Villers-Bocage, however, Hinde, with Erskine’s approval, ordered a withdrawal to the high ground two miles to the west of the village. Had he not done so, Villers-Bocage could have been turned into a fortress by the two Queen’s battalions and the bulk the Rifle Brigade motorized battalion. Conceivably, such a fortress defense could have been made stronger than those effectively established by the Regina Rifles at Bretteville and Norrey. In addition, Erskine still had at his disposal 155 operational tanks and the last infantry battalion of the 131st Infantry Brigade to defend the high ground west of the village.

In any case, spooked by Ultra reports of the imminent arrival in area of the 2nd Panzer Division, the entire 22nd Armoured Brigade withdrew from Villers-Bocage to tighter positions around Point 174 a mile to the west, near Tracy-Bocage, by 2000 hours on 13 June. Arguably, Ultra intelligence appears to have worked against tactical effectiveness in this case by encouraging excessive caution. In fact, the first of the 2nd Panzer Division’s tanks did not arrive in the area until 18 June. Most German attacks launched against the British in Villers- Bocage also appear to have been mounted by Panzer Lehr scratch forces and only leading elements of the 2nd Panzer Division, most notably reconnaissance battalion troops, reinforced by the few remaining Tigers of the1st SS Heavy Panzer Company.

Notwithstanding decisions made by Hinde and Erskine, primary responsibility for the failure of the Villers-Bocage turning movement must be laid at the feet of the corps commander, Bucknall. On the night of 13 June, after committing his last infantry battalion to Hinde, Erskine warned Bucknall that without additional infantry reinforcement, the 22nd Armoured Brigade could not continue to hang on between the Panzer Lehr in the north and the 2nd Panzer in the south. If Bucknall provided such reinforcement, however, Erskine was confident Hinde could hold out and keep threatening the German flank. Instead of reacting quickly to Erskine’s request by dispatching his reserve 151st Infantry Brigade or an infantry force from the 50th Division through the still-open gap to reinforce the 22nd Armoured Brigade, Bucknall opted to continue the 50th Division’s drive south in the hope that it could break through the Panzer Lehr to relieve Hinde.

At the time, Hinde’s positions astride the Caumont-Villers-Bocage road around Point 174 were defensible against anything short of concentrated attack, but by the morning of 14 June, Bucknall recognized that the 50th Division would be unable to break through the Panzer Lehr and provide additional reinforcement. Deciding that the 7th Armoured was now at unacceptable risk, he obtained Dempsey’s permission to have it withdraw to new positions east of Caumont. At no time, apparently, had Bucknall ever considered asking Dempsey to divert recently landed infantry brigades of the 49th (West Riding) Division to Erskine. For his part, Dempsey was furious that the 7th Armoured had withdrawn from Villers-Bocage without his permission. In his view, he had told both Erskine and Bucknall what to do, and they should have complied. Without the stunning intervention of Obersturmführer Wittmann and his Tigers-which seemed to change the entire dynamic of the battle in favor of the Germans-they might well have succeeded. A fleeting opportunity to roll up the I SS Panzer Corps’ flank and envelop Caen from the southwest was thus lost.

Tank Action at Chongju

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M4A3E8 (76W) HVSS, Co. C, 89th Tank Battalion, Han River, Korea 1951

Following the capture of Pyongyang, the enemy’s capital city, in October 1950, the left-flank unit of Eighth Army hurried north to fulfill the long-range mission of reaching the Yalu River and the end of the war. This force was built around the British 27 Commonwealth Brigade which, at the time, consisted of a battalion from the Royal Australian Regiment, a battalion from the Argyle and Sutherland Regiment, and a battalion from the Middlesex Regiment. Since these infantry battalions were without supporting arms or services of their own, Eighth Army attached to the brigade U. S. artillery units, engineers, and the 89th Medium Tank Battalion. This combined force, commanded by Brig. B. A. Coad of the British Army, was under the operational control of the 1st Cavalry Division, but worked as a separate task force at a considerable distance from, and without physical contact with, that division or other friendly units.

Starting early on the morning of 22 October 1950, the task force resumed its advance from Pyongyang north. Usually the infantrymen rode on the tanks or in trucks near the end of the column that stretched for two and a half to three miles. A platoon of tanks led. Nothing unusual happened until near noon of the second day, when the task force engaged a large but disorganized enemy unit at the town of Sukchon. There was no trouble the third day as the column crossed the Chongchon River at Sinanju and Anju, but at Pakchon, to the north, the bridge across the Taenyong River was destroyed, and there was a two-day delay before the column headed west toward Chongju. North Koreans offered some resistance to the river crossing at Pakchon and, more significant, there was a sudden stiffening of enemy activity. As a result, the brigade commander concluded that the days of “rolling” were over. When the advance began again at 0800 on 28 October it was with greater caution. Lead companies investigated all likely enemy positions instead of leaving them to the follow-up units, and the column therefore moved only fifteen miles during the day.

Again on the morning of 29 October the task force resumed its march westward. The day’s objective was Chongju. The Royal Australian battalion and Company D, 89th Medium Tank Battalion, led the column. The infantrymen dismounted frequently to screen suspected high ground to the flanks, and the tank battalion’s liaison plane patrolled the area well ahead of the column. The liaison pilot (Lt. James T. Dickson) stopped the column several times during the morning while fighter planes made strikes against enemy tanks. About noon, as the head of the column neared the top of a high hill, Lieutenant Dickson sent a radio message to the tankers warning them of enemy tanks dug in and camouflaged on each side of a narrow pass where the road cut through a low hill, This position was at the top of the ridge ahead, beyond a narrow strip of paddy fields and about two and a half miles away over a winding and narrow road. Proceeding slowly, the leading platoon of tanks went down to the bottom of the hill to the east edge of the valley. There Lieutenant Dickson dropped a message advising them to hold up temporarily because of the enemy tanks.

After a delay of a few minutes, the tank battalion commander (Lt. Col. Welborn G. Dolvin) and the Australian infantry battalion commander arrived at the head of the column. While they were planning the next move, Lieutenant Dickson spotted what he believed to be a camouflaged tank position on the reverse slope of a low hill just beyond the next ridge ahead. The fighter planes were busy with another target, so he radioed the tankers to ask them to place indirect fire in the area. The platoon of tanks that was second in line, led by Lt. Francis G. Nordstrom, opened fire from its position on top of the hill. Nordstrom did not expect to hit anything but, after firing about ten rounds, with Lieutenant Dickson adjusting the fire, smoke started to rise from the camouflaged position. It was heavy, black smoke such as that made by burning gasoline. Lieutenant Dickson called off the firing.

Meanwhile, the battalion commanders had worked out their plan of attack. Since Lieutenant Nordstrom liked the point position where he could open the action and control it, they decided to let his platoon lead the attack. No infantrymen would accompany his tanks. The other two tank platoons, mounting infantrymen, would follow in column. This force consisted of thirteen tanks and about two companies of infantry.

Nordstrom’s platoon was to head at full speed for the point where the road went through the narrow pass-a distance of about two miles. This seemed to be the most important ground since there was no apparent way to bypass it. The next platoon of tanks, under Lt. Gerald L. Van Der Leest, would follow at a 500-yard interval until it came within approximately a thousand yards of the pass, where the infantrymen would dismount and move to seize the high ground paralleling the road on the right side. The third platoon of tanks, under Lt. Alonzo Cook, with a similar force was to seize the high ground left of the road. After discharging the infantrymen, the tank platoon leaders were to maneuver to the left and right of the road and support the advance of their respective infantry units.

The attack started with Lieutenant Nordstrom’s tank in the lead. Within a hundred yards of the road cut Nordstrom noticed enemy soldiers hurriedly climbing the hill on the left of the road. He ordered his machine gunner to open fire on them. At about the same time he spotted an enemy machine-gun crew moving its gun toward the pass, and took these men under fire with the 76mm gun. The first shell struck the ground next to the enemy crew, and the burst blew away some foliage that was camouflaging an enemy tank dug in on the approach side of the pass on the right side of the road. As soon as the camouflage was disturbed the enemy tank fired one round. The tracer passed between Nordstrom’s head and the open hatch cover. In these circumstances he did not take time to give fire orders; he just called for armor-piercing shells and the gunner fired, hitting the front of the enemy tank from a distance of less than a hundred yards. The gunner continued firing armor-piercing shells and the third round caused a great explosion. Ammunition and gasoline began to bum simultaneously, Black smoke drifted east and north across the high ground on the right side of the pass, effectively screening that area.

Lieutenant Nordstrom ordered the commander of the last tank in his platoon column (Sgt. William J. Morrison, Jr.) to fire into the smoke with both machine guns and cannon. At the same time other tank crews observed other North Koreans left of the pass and directed their guns against them. Lieutenant Nordstrom did not move on into the pass itself because by this time it seemed to him that the enemy would have at least one antitank gun zeroed in to fire there and could thus block the pass. He remained where he was-about seventy yards from the pass with the other tanks lined up behind his. Fire on the enemy to the left of the road tore camouflage from a second enemy tank dug in on the left of the pass in a position similar to that of the tank already destroyed. Nordstrom’s gunner, firing without orders, destroyed this tank with the second round. There was another violent explosion, which blew part of the enemy tank’s turret fifty feet into the air.

While this fire fight was going on at the head of the column, the Australian infantrymen were attacking along the ridges on each side of the road. There was considerable firing in both areas. Lieutenant Cook’s tanks, on the left side of the road, had been able to follow the infantrymen onto the hill and provide close support.

In the midst of the fighting at the head of the column, the guns in the two leading tanks jammed because of faulty rounds. At that time a shell came in toward Nordstrom’s tank from the left front. Nordstrom instructed his platoon sergeant (MSgt. Jasper W. Lee) to fire in the general direction of the enemy gun until he and the tank behind him could clear their guns. This was done within a few minutes, and Nordstrom, having the best field of fire, started placing armor-piercing rounds at five-yard intervals along the top of the ridge to his left, firing on the only logical positions in that area, since he could see no enemy vehicles. Following the sixth round there was another flash and explosion that set fire to nearby bushes and trees.

The next enemy fire came a few minutes later-another round from a self-propelled gun. It appeared to have come from the right-front. It cut across Lieutenant Nordstrom’s tank between the caliber .50 machine gun and the radio antenna about a foot above the turret, and then hit one of the tanks in Lieutenant Cook’s platoon, seriously injuring four men. Because of the smoke it was impossible to pinpoint the enemy, so Nordstrom commenced firing armor-piercing shells into the smoke, aiming along the top of the ridge on the right side of the road. He hoped that the enemy gunners would believe that their position had been detected, and move so that he could discover the movement. Another green tracer passed his tank, this time a little farther to the right. Nordstrom increased his own rate of fire and ordered three other tank crews to fire into the same area. There was no further response from the enemy gun and, to conserve ammunition which was then running low, Nordstrom soon stopped firing. It was suddenly quiet again except along the ridgelines paralleling the road where Australian infantrymen and the other two tank platoons were pressing their attack. No action was apparent to the direct front.

At the rear of the column, Lieutenant Cook had gone to his damaged tank, climbed in and, sighting with a pencil along the bottom of the penetration, determined the approximate position of the enemy gun. He radioed this information to Nordstrom, who resumed firing with three tanks along the top of the ridge on the right side of the road. Again he failed to hit anything. For lack of a better target he then decided to put a few rounds through the smoke near the first enemy tank destroyed. He thought the two rounds might possibly have come from this tank even though the fire and explosions made this very improbable. The third round caused another explosion and gasoline fire. With this explosion most enemy action ended and only the sound of occasional small-arms fire remained.

Shortly thereafter both Australian units reported their objectives secured. Since it was now late in the afternoon, the British commander ordered the force to form a defensive position for the night. It was a U-shaped perimeter with a platoon of tanks and an infantry company along the ridgeline on each side of the road, and Lieutenant Nordstrom’s tanks between them guarding the road.

When the smoke cleared from the road cut there was one selfpropelled gun that had not been there when the action commenced. It appeared that it had been left to guard the west end of the road cut and its crew, becoming impatient when no tanks came through the pass, had moved it up beside the burning tank on the right side of the road, using the smoke from this and the other burning tanks as a screen.

At 2100 that night enemy infantrymen launched an attack that appeared to be aimed at the destruction of the tanks. Lieutenant Nordstrom’s 1st Platoon tanks, which were positioned near the road about a hundred yards east of the pass, were under attack for an hour with so many North Koreans scattered through the area that the tankers turned on the headlights in order to locate the enemy. The Americans used grenades and pistols as well as the tanks’ machine guns. Gradually the action stopped, and it was quiet for the rest of the night. When morning came there were 25 to 30 bodies around the 1st Platoon’s tanks, some within a few feet of the vehicles. At 1000 the column got under way again and reached Chongju that afternoon. This was the objective, and here the task force broke up.

The Russian Imperial Navy – Catherine the Great to Alexander I

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Under the Empress Catherine the Great, the Russian Navy again resumed the full and personal attention of the sovereign. A new ship-building programme resulted in a tremendous expansion in the navy, and a mercantile marine was established but both of these developments once more revealed the Russian paucity in manpower and expertise. Foreigners again filled these depleted ranks with Catherine recruiting almost exclusively from the English and the Scots, while Russian officers saw service in the Royal Navy. In 1769 a Russian fleet sailed from the Baltic under Count Orlov to wage war on the Turkish squadrons in the Eastern Mediterranean and thereby draw the enemy away from the Black Sea. Although this was the first time that the Russians were to transfer seapower from one region to another, it was not the last, for it has become a major feature of Russian maritime strategy and reflects the often desperate predicament which the obstacle of geography presents to a country of this size.’

A combination and culmination of disasters forced Orlov to seek sanctuary in Plymouth. Scurvy, inexperienced sailors and leaking ships caused this inauspicious start to the expedition. The ships were repaired, the sick landed and many English recruited to take their place. Rear-Admiral Sir John Elphinston, who had already distinguished himself in the Royal Navy, was given ‘leave of absence’ to command one of Orlov’s squadrons. On the 5th July 1770 this cosmopolitan fleet fought a decisive, and indeed notorious, battle over the massed Turkish war galleys. The Russian ships were out-numbered two to one, a feature in itself which is contrary to their tradition, but they annihilated the Turks in an engagement which many historians have claimed as one of the most complete victories in the annals of war at sea.

Despite the magnitude of this victory, Catherine wisely refrained from maintaining a naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean for she shrewdly recognized that to have done so would have alarmed the British and French, who would both no doubt have bitterly resented such an intrusion into their own traditional areas.

With the Peace of Kuchuk Kainarji. Russian hegemony was assured for the time being and the navy once again entered a period of decline. But nevertheless it still attracted more than its fair share of colourful personalities, for that legend of American history John Paul Jones spent his last years of active life in Russian service. After a spectacular career in the Ranger, raiding English shipping during the War of Independence, he had been sent as prize agent to Denmark; it was from there that, in 1778, he joined the Russian navy with the rank of Rear-Admiral. Although American historians would have it otherwise the Russians have always maintained that John Paul Jones made little contribution to their victories in the Black Sea. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1779 but only stayed there for a short while, since he became involved in scandal. He left the country in disgrace and returned to Paris where he died in 1782.

Renewed hostilities with Turkey in 1790 produced the first native-born Russian admiral of world stature. Feodr Feodorovich Ushakov achieved notable victories in the Mediterranean, one of which illustrated the same type of tactics that Nelson was later to use at the Nile; indeed, Soviet historians today have on a number of occasions referred to Admiral Ushakov as the ‘Tutor of Nelson.’

The Russian Navy in the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was a rather hybrid affair for many of its officers were British and the only overseas bases it could use were British harbours. Russian units sailed from the Channel bases at Chatham and Portsmouth to take part in the blockade of the French coast, while in the Mediterranean Admiral Ushakov captured the island of Corfu. The mentally unbalanced Tzar Paul I provoked a quarrel with England when he accepted the title of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. The British resented this and the quarrel erupted into open violence when the island was captured in 1800 by the Royal Navy; Paul then seized British merchant shipping in Kronshtadt and conspired to deprive England of the invaluable Baltic timber trade. Nelson’s victory at Copenhagen soon inspired a more cautious and pragmatic policy from the Tzar who returned the British merchantmen, paid compensation to their owners and renounced any claim to the titles of Malta.

Paul was assassinated in 1801 and replaced by his more amenable son Alexander who, whilst not particularly interested in the Navy, sought to heal the breach caused by his father. Admiral Ushakov was now dead and his place was taken by Admiral Seniavin who had served his apprenticeship in the British Navy. Under his command Russian squadrons co-operated with Collingwood in the Mediterranean against their common foe, the Turks, and a number of Russian officers were with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Major reforms were introduced into the Russian naval organization by officers who had all been trained in the Royal Navy and in 1803 Captain Krusenten completed the first circumnavigation by a Russian. However, all this co-operation and mutual support between the two navies was fatally undermined by the Peace of Tilsit when Alexander was forced to accept French military hegemony and become allied to Napoleon. Admiral Seniavin and the Mediterranean squadrons, however, refused to fight their one-time allies, and instead sailed to Lisbon where the force was interned by the British. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 restored the old relationship between the two navies and the Russians in particular, performed valuable service in co-operating with their armies and hounding the French hues of communication along the coastal reaches and inlets of the Southern Baltic shore. Russian ships once again appeared in the Mediterranean as part of the joint force while others operated in the North Sea with the Royal Navy. This happy state of affairs lasted until the peace of 1815.

The Eastern Mediterranean was the scene for one final major joint venture between the Royal Navies of Britain and Russia and once again the enemy was Turkey. The Battle of Navarino (1825) was fought by naval contingents from Britain, Russia and France against a large but incredibly old-fashioned Turkish Fleet. This allied victory which resulted in the destruction of fifty Turkish ships assured the Greeks of independence when all else seemed lost, and at the same time led to the Sultan acknowledging Russian supremacy in the Black Sea. Russian historians would have us believe that the Russian squadron under Count Heyden not only bore the brunt of the fighting, while the British and French units held back, but by carrying the battle to the Turks ensured victory; such a hypothesis does not stand up to close examination. Nevertheless the Russians have always been justly proud of this victory, for their squadron did fight with vigour and valour, and the squadron flagship Azov has been immortalised in the annals of their naval history. To this day there has always been a Russian warship called Pamyat Azova {In memory of Azov) and this ship always displays the badge of St. George, the Russian insignia for valour.