US Navy Hunter-Killer Submarines

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Bass (SSK-2) underway.

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The K1 class

A multitude of problems were identified by Project Kayo and by other ASW exercises. Submarine communications were found to be completely unsatisfactory, preventing coordinated efforts with aircraft and surface ships. Also, in the SSK role sub- marines only could detect diesel submarines that were moving at high speeds (over eight knots). Although Project Kayo was soon reduced to only SubDevGru 2, the Korean War, which erupted in June 1950, increased interest in submarine ASW. The three submarines of the K1 class were completed in 1951–1952. Their anti-submarine performance was most impressive for the time: In exercises off Bermuda in 1952, the prototype K1 detected a snorkeling submarine at 30 n. miles (55.5 m) and was able to track the target for five hours. However, the small K-boats were cramped and uncomfortable, and their slow transit speed limited their being sent into forward areas during a crisis or when there were intelligence indications of a possible conflict. Criticism of their range and endurance was met by proposals to base the K- boats at friendly European and Asian ports within 1,000 n. miles (1,853 km) of their patrol areas, and to employ submarine tankers (SSO) to refuel them—while submerged—on station.

But their ability to detect a snorkeling submarine at long range was not enough. If Soviet submarines could transit through critical areas submerged on battery/electric power or had a closed-cycle propulsion system, they would likely evade K-boat detection. And the SSKs would be severely limited by weaknesses in SSK-to-SSK communications and the short range of their torpedoes. An epitaph to the K-boats was written by Captain Ned Kellogg, who had served aboard the K3 as a young officer:

Some of the good features of the class were its simplicity . . . . It had a dry induction mast, no main induction valve . . . no conning tower and therefore no safety tank, no low pressure blower for the ballast tanks, instead a diesel exhaust blow system similar to what the German submarine force used during World War II, a simple remotely operated electrical control panel which kept the battery always available for propulsion, the newest fire control system . . . all AC power rather than split between AC and DC.

But the submarine suffered from having diesel engines that were difficult to maintain, an unreliable and insufficient fresh water plant, undependable electrical generators, and slow speed. Kellogg’s conclusion: “You just can’t build an inexpensive submarine that is worth much at all, unless you man her with a crew of courage and heart.”

“hunter-killer” submarines (SSK)

As early as 1946 the U. S. Navy’s Operational Evaluation Group had proposed the use of submarines in ASW, and that September the chairman of the planning group for the Submarine Officers Conference noted that “with the further development and construction in effective numbers of new submarines by any foreign power the employment of our sub- marines in anti-submarine work may well become imperative.” Also in 1946 the Navy’s ASW Conference proposed equal priority for a specialized, small ASW submarine as well as the new attack submarine (i. e., Tang).

The specialized “hunter-killer” submarines (SSK) would lay in wait to ambush enemy submarines off Soviet ports and in channels and straits where Soviet submarines would transit—on the surface or snorkeling—en route to and from the Atlantic shipping routes. The concept of specialized ASW submarines date to the British “R” class of World War I, when ten hunter-killer submarines were built, all launched in 1918 with only one being completed in time to see active service. In the U. S. Navy the use of an ASW submarine was proposed in a 1946 report of the Navy’s Operational Evaluation Group. The proposal resulted from the erroneous belief that the Japanese had sunk several U. S. submarines in World War II by employing such craft.

A series of Navy ASW conferences and exercises that began in 1947 in both the U. S. Atlantic and Pacific Fleets led to proposals for a hunter-killer submarine (SSK) force to counter the Soviet under- sea fleet. The central component of the American SSK design was long-range, passive sonar, which would be coupled with effective torpedoes that “would destroy any submarine which passed with- in detection range” with a very high degree of probability. The SSK was envisioned as a relatively small, simply constructed submarine capable of mass production by shipyards not previously engaged in building submarines. Several SSK preliminary designs were developed; the smallest would have had a surface dis- placement of only 250 tons, with a large sonar, minimal torpedo armament, and a crew of two officers and 12 enlisted men. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) initially accepted a proposal for a sub- marine of 450 tons with a pressure hull 14 feet (4.27m) in diameter, but further study by the Submarine Officers Conference revealed that the submerged endurance of this submarine would be wholly inadequate. To provide sufficient endurance the SSK characteristics ultimately approved by the CNO, on 27 May 1948, provided for a surface displacement of 740 tons—close to the German Type VII—with a pressure hull diameter of 15 1 / 2 feet (4.65 m).

The principal SSK sonar was the large BQR-4, the first array sonar developed by the U. S. Navy. Produced by the Edo Corporation, this was an enlarged version of the GHG/BQR-2 sonar. The BQR-4 had 58 hydrophones, each ten feet (3.0 m) high, mounted in a circular arrangement, similar to the BQR-2. These both had significant advantages over earlier, simple, horizontal-line hydrophones. It was more sensitive to the direction of a target, and, the electronic steering (by directing the sonar beams) rather than being mechanically trained was a quieter process.

Early SSK design sketches showed an array of the BQR-4 hydrophones ten-feet (3-m) long wrapped around the submarine’s sail structure. The final SSK configuration placed the sonar in a dome at the extreme bow of the submarine, as far as possible from the noise-generating machinery and propellers of the submarine. The estimated passive (listening) range of the BQR-4 was up to 20 n. miles (37 km) against a surfaced or snorkeling submarine (i. e., using diesel engines). Under perfect conditions, ranges out to 35 n. miles (65 km) were expected. The BQR-4 could track targets to within five degrees of accuracy. Of course, effective U. S. torpedo ranges at the time were a few thousand yards, far short of expected target detection ranges. And, the SSK’s slow submerged speed—8.5 knots—would make it difficult to close with targets detected at greater ranges.

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The massive BQR-4 in the SSKs would be supplemented by the high-frequency BQR-2—a copy of the German GHG—mounted in a keel dome, as in the Type XXI[1]. The BQR-2 had 48 hydrophones forming a circle eight feet (2.44 m) in diameter. It was credited with ranges up to ten n. miles (18.5 km) with a bearing accuracy of 1 / 10 th of a degree, making it useful for fire control in torpedo attacks. Also fitted in the SSK would be the small BQR-3, an improved version of the U. S. Navy’s wartime JT passive sonar, intended as a backup for the newer sets. The small, active BQS-3 sonar would be fitted to transmit an acoustic “ping” toward a target submarine to obtain a precise measurement of range. Also, a hydrophone suspended by cable from the submarine to provide long-range, non-directional listening was planned, but not installed. With some 1,000 feet (305 m) of cable, the hydrophone could be lowered away from submarine-generated noises. A key factor in SSK effectiveness was to be self- quieting, with very quiet refrigeration and air- conditioning equipment being specially developed.

A Navy analysis indicated that a “minimum” of 25 to 70 surface ships would be required on station per 100 n. miles (185 km) of barrier to pose more than a negligible threat to snorkeling submarines. In comparison, three to five SSKs per 100 miles could be expected to detect practically all of the transiting submarines. The Navy’s SSK proposal of 1948 to meet the perceived threat of 2,000 modern Soviet submarines in the 1960s called for 964 hunter-killer boats! This number included SSKs in transit to and from patrol areas, undergoing overhaul, and being rearmed SSK armament would consist of four bow torpedo tubes with eight torpedoes being carried. The submarine would carry straight-running Mk 16 torpedoes and the new, acoustic-homing Mk 35. The latter, which entered service in 1949, was primarily an anti-surface ship weapon. The Mk 16 had a speed of 46 knots and a range of 11,000 yards (10,060 m); the smaller Mk 35 had a speed of only 27 knots for 15,000 yards (13,700 m).

The tactics envisioned the killer submarines operating in forward areas, virtually motionless and hence noiseless when on their patrol station, seeking to detect Soviet submarines transiting to ocean areas. One method considered for hovering on station was to employ an anchor for buoyancy control. With an operating depth of 400 feet (120 m), the K-boats would be able to anchor in water as deep as 3,400 feet (1,040 m). The SSKs also were intended for operation in Arctic waters in the marginal-ice area, with fathometers being fitted in the keel and atop the sail.

The SSK concept provided for a retractable buoy for radio communications with other SSKs. Two submarines in contact would be able to solve torpedo fire control solutions using only bearings (i. e., passive sonar). Congress authorized construction of the first SSK—to be “named” K1—in fiscal year 1948 (which began on 30 June 1947) and two more were authorized the following year. These three K- boats were authorized in place of one additional Tang-class submarine. To mature the K-boat design before it was turned over to non-submarine shipyards, the K1 was ordered from the privately owned Electric Boat yard (Groton, Connecticut), while the K2 and K3 were ordered from the Mare Island Naval Shipyard (near San Francisco). Proposals to build some of this trio at the New York Shipbuild- ing yard in Camden, New Jersey, did not work out. In 1948 the Navy planned a most ambitious construction program for both the K1 and Tang classes; these submarines would be in addition to several special-purpose undersea craft and a large fleet boat conversion program. Construction rates of the Tang-class would increase in 1960 to begin replacing GUPPYs that would be retired.

[1] The Type XXI’s torpedoes consisted of the Lüt, a pattern-running torpedo, and the T11, a passive acoustic homing weapon. The latter was believed to be immune to the “Foxer” and other acoustic decoys used by the Allies. Under development for future U-boat use were active acoustic homing and wire-guided torpedoes. To help the Type XXI detect hostile ships, the submarine was fitted with radar and the so-called GHG sonar, the most advanced acoustic detection system in service with any navy. The sonar was mounted in an under-keel “balcony,” and hence was referred to as Balkon.

The GHG was key to an advanced fire control system fitted in the Type XXI. The submarine’s echo- ranging gear and plotting table, specifically designed for such attacks, were linked to a special device for so-called “programmed firing” in attacking convoys. As soon as a U-boat had succeeded in getting beneath a convoy, data collected by sonar was converted and automatically set in the Lüt torpedoes, which were then fired in spreads of six. After launching, the torpedoes fanned out until their spread covered the extent of the convoy, when they began running loops across its mean course. In this manner the torpedoes covered the entire convoy. In theory these torpedoes were certain of hitting six ships of from 197 to 328 feet (60 to 100 m) in length with the theoretical success rate of 95 to 99 percent. In firing trials such high scores were in fact achieved.

After Yorktown

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The siege of Yorktown ended with the surrender of a second British army, marking effective British defeat.

During the uncertain period immediately after Yorktown, Washington was doing his best to keep up America’s guard. He did not have the luxury of assuming that Britain had had enough of the war. He had to prepare for the worst. He worried that the euphoria generated everywhere by the Yorktown victory would cause patriots to forget a war was still on. As far as he was concerned, Yorktown was only one battle. King George had not given up. The British army and navy were still on American soil.

He told Governor Trumbull that thinking the victory ended the war was “a delusive hope.” To General Greene he confided, “I am apprehensive that the states, elated by the late success, and taking it for granted that Great Britain will no longer support so losing a contest, will relax in their preparations for the next campaign.”

Washington was taking nothing for granted. Before leaving camp at Williamsburg, he divided his army, sending part of it south, under Major General St. Clair, to reinforce Greene, and the remainder north. New Jersey men went to Morristown, while two regiments from New York, under General James Clinton, went to Pompton, and the rest marched back to the Hudson and settled at New Windsor, close to Newburgh.

On November 5 Washington finally left Williamsburg. He planned to remain for a time in Virginia, tending to personal business—consoling Martha for the loss of her son Jacky Custis; dealing with his difficult mother, Mary; and getting brought up to date on affairs at Mount Vernon, where he arrived on November 13 for a few days’ rest.

Of course, official business was always on his mind. He was very unhappy—even though he knew it was coming—when de Grasse stood out from Chesapeake Bay on November 4 and sailed for the Caribbean. Washington tried his best to get him to stay a little longer and attack Charleston or Wilmington, but de Grasse had commitments to the Spanish he could not put aside. At least Washington had the satisfaction of knowing that a little over a week after de Grasse left, Hood sailed back to the Caribbean with eighteen sail of the line, dramatically lessening the probability of any major British move in North America before spring. Washington asked de Grasse if he would return in 1782 for a possible attack on New York or Charleston, and de Grasse promised that he would ask his government.

On November 15 Washington wrote to Lafayette about the absolute necessity of naval superiority for the spring campaign. He lamented the inability of the allies to make a joint attack on Charleston after Yorktown, which he was convinced would have ended the war. He hoped Lafayette’s growing influence in Paris would result in orders to de Grasse to bring a huge fleet to America the following year.

After a few days at home, Washington left Mount Vernon with Martha on November 20 and traveled to Philadelphia, arriving six days later. He spent the next four months in the capital, trying to harden the country for the tough road ahead. It wasn’t easy, nor did he expect it would be. Probably the most difficult problem he faced was finding money. He worked closely with finance superintendent Robert Morris to find a revenue stream. While searching, they needed to create the appearance of solvency so that they could carry on the war.

The basic problem they faced was whether the states were going to support a central government with the power to tax—in other words, whether or not there was going to be a United States of America. The states had not yet decided. At the moment, they were jealously guarding their right to raise money and refusing Congress any power to do so, while at the same time failing to send badly needed funds to Philadelphia. Governor Clinton, in particular, acted at times as if New York were an independent country.

If the states refused to grant Congress the power to raise any revenue, even on imports, the central government could not function. Rhode Island vetoed an impost duty that was proposed and put to a vote. The state assembly in Providence, led by John Brown, a prominent trader who made a fortune during the war, voted unanimously to reject a duty on imports. Virginia later did the same for ideological reasons, under the influence of Arthur Lee and Richard Henry Lee, who did not want a strong central government.

Neither Washington nor Morris let the matter rest. As Washington always had in the past, he carried on and tried, now with Morris’s indispensable help, to find a way to keep the army together. If Congress had no way to raise money, it would have to be borrowed from France or Holland. Both countries ultimately came through, although obviously this method of funding—with the Americans refusing to tax themselves—was not going to continue. Morris employed a number of other expedients, but without the ability to tax they were bound to be short-lived.

During his time in Philadelphia, Washington approved a plan to capture Prince William Henry, George III’s son and third in line to the British throne. The seventeen-year-old was serving in New York as a midshipman aboard Admiral Digby’s flagship, Prince George, and staying in the city with Digby. Washington planned to take them both.

The arrival of the prince on September 24 had been a complete surprise to everyone. Loyalists were quick to believe that his presence meant the British intended to stay, no matter what happened at Yorktown. A feeling of euphoria spread among them, something they hadn’t felt for some time. They had been afraid of what was happening to Cornwallis, afraid that Britain might desert them if things went badly. De Grasse had already beaten Graves, and Cornwallis was in grave danger. Clinton, Graves, Digby, and Hood were frantically trying to cobble together a task force to rescue him.

In spite of the tense atmosphere, Loyalists celebrated the only royal to ever have visited New York or, indeed, America. Many felt that had the king himself come much earlier—even before the Tea Party—his presence would have made a significant difference in people’s attitudes, and perhaps his own. The young prince’s visit became more important to Loyalists than anything else.

Colonel Matthias Ogden of New Jersey proposed the plan to capture His Royal Highness, and Washington approved it on March 28, 1782. Attempting to capture high-ranking people was a common practice, which is why Generals Washington and Clinton always had a substantial guard around them. Seizing the king’s son, however, was very different. It had the potential to create an enormous backlash in London and throughout England. Whether Washington realized the complications that might develop if he were successful isn’t known. He was enthusiastic about the enterprise. He told Ogden, “In case of success, you will, as soon as you get … [the prisoners] to a place of safety [in New Jersey], treat them with all possible respect; but you are to delay no time in conveying them to Congress, and reporting your proceedings with a copy of these orders.”

As things turned out, Ogden was forced to cancel the plot. General Clinton had gotten wind that something was up, although he did not know quite what. He probably thought that an attempt was going to be made on him. Guards were dramatically increased around him, Digby, and the prince. What would have happened had the mission succeeded can only be guessed at, but certainly it would have caused an uproar in England that might have given the king enough renewed political support to prolong the war, bringing about a result just the opposite of what Washington intended. Approving Colonel Ogden’s daring proposal was not one of the commander in chief’s better decisions.

Washington left Philadelphia on March 23 with Martha and arrived seven days later at Newburgh, New York, the army’s winter quarters on the Hudson, fourteen miles above West Point. After dealing with politicians in Philadelphia, they must have felt some relief to be rejoining the army for the spring campaign. To be sure, the problems Washington faced in Newburgh were great, but not as infuriating and frustrating as those in the capital. Yet the state of the army was certainly troubling. The long winter was almost over; the men had suffered through cold, deprivation, and lack of pay once more. Last winter their legitimate grievances had produced heartrending mutinies. Washington was apprehensive about the mood of the troops now, knowing that he did not even have back pay to offer them.

He did have hope, however. By now it was clear—even to Washington—that Yorktown had had a much bigger impact on the British than he had originally thought. The king had been unable to brush off the defeat as a temporary setback. Fundamental changes were taking place in London. Washington wrote to General Greene on March 18 about the encouraging signs. “By late advices from Europe, and from the declaration of the British ministers themselves,” he told him, “it appears that they have done with all thoughts of an excursive war, and that they mean to send but small, if any further reinforcements to America.” Washington began thinking that the British would relinquish all their posts except New York and concentrate their forces there. To what end was unclear.

His optimism soon faded, however, when he heard of Admiral Rodney’s stunning victory over de Grasse on April 12 at the Battle of the Saintes. Britain was now celebrating another classic victory by a great naval hero. Rodney was the man of the hour again. He had never been blamed for what had happened in America. People generally accepted poor health as a perfectly good excuse for his not having been at Chesapeake Bay. His failure to stop de Grasse in the Caribbean before the French fleet ever got to America was never mentioned.

Lord Sandwich was receiving plaudits for his appointment of Rodney. In the late fall of 1781, when Sandwich realized that the French were planning a major campaign in the Caribbean after hurricane season, he had plucked Rodney from retirement and sent him into action once more.

Jamaica was obviously a target of the French, and the other sugar islands were as well. Losing both America and Jamaica would be intolerable. Another major defeat would have certainly cost Sandwich his job as first lord of the Admiralty, which, at the time, he had been trying hard to keep. It was in desperation that he had sent for Rodney—who was at Bath tending to his gout and a stone, the same ailments that had plagued him for years, and that plagued most old sailors. The first lord had urged—begged would be a better word—him to take command of the Leeward Islands station once more and counter de Grasse. The king helped by having a personal interview with Rodney.

Sandwich had been indifferent the previous year when Rodney had made his request to come home for health reasons, even if it meant he would not be going to America. It did not seem to matter to Sandwich in 1781 which admiral led the fleet in America. Now, regardless of Rodney’s health concerns, Sandwich pressured him to undertake an assignment that would have taxed any admiral at any age.

Rodney responded immediately, his ailments seeming to be of no concern, and on January 8, 1782, he stood out from Plymouth with a powerful squadron, reaching St. Lucia in the middle of February. He quickly discovered that the enterprising de Grasse had already taken St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and Demerara. Rodney had arrived just in time.

Hood was already at St. Lucia, and his fleet, combined with Rodney’s, gave them thirty-six sail of the line. De Grasse had thirty-five. After refurbishing his ships, Rodney was ready, and when de Grasse departed Fort Royal Bay on April 8 Rodney was right after him, standing out from St. Lucia, thirty miles away. De Grasse, who had a large convoy to look after, would have preferred avoiding combat at the moment, but Rodney was determined to fight.

He did not get the full-scale battle he wanted until the twelfth, off Les Saintes, a tiny group of islands between the southern end of Guadeloupe and the northern end of Dominica. At the end of that unforgettable day, Rodney had defeated the French decisively. De Grasse and his Ville de Paris surrendered, along with four other sail of the line. The rest of the French fleet, some twenty-five battleships, got away. Hood, who was Rodney’s second throughout, wanted to chase them, but Rodney, who had been maneuvering and fighting for four days, had had enough. Hood, not unexpectedly, was highly critical of standing down at this point. He insisted that twenty more enemy battleships could have been captured. “I am very confident,” he wrote later, “we should have had twenty sail of the enemy’s ships before dark…. Why he [Rodney] should bring the fleet to because the Ville de Paris was taken, I cannot reconcile.”

In spite of Hood’s criticism, Rodney’s victory was a great triumph that had far-reaching effects, one of them being the end of any French naval support for Washington in 1782. To what degree the victory would change Britain’s approach to the American war and peace negotiations remained to be seen. At a minimum, it would stiffen London’s attitude and soften Vergennes’.

Rodney’s stunning success inevitably led to conjecture about what would have happened had he been in command of the British fleet at the decisive battle off Cape Henry, Virginia, on September 5, 1781. It was widely believed that even with a numerically smaller fleet, Rodney would have won, and that that would have changed everything. Even Hood believed that Rodney would have been victorious. Of course, at the Saintes, Rodney had a numerical advantage, which he would not have had at the Chesapeake, although he would have had at least one more ship than Graves did.

Actually, during the decisive part of the battle off the Saintes—between noon and seven o’clock on the evening of the twelfth—Rodney had a six-ship advantage, thirty-six to thirty. It was not his six-ship advantage that brought victory, however, but rather a fortunate shift in wind direction and Rodney’s using it to break the French line, which was moving in the opposite direction from his, into three disorganized groupings that made the French center especially vulnerable. A numerical advantage, a fortunate shift of wind, and unorthodox tactics won the day.

Rodney would certainly have had to improvise in order to beat de Grasse off Virginia, and there’s no doubt that he would have done so. He probably would have begun with Barras, dealing with him before tackling de Grasse. It’s hard to imagine Rodney not doing whatever he had to, regardless of tradition or outmoded rules of engagement, to win.

Rodney’s behavior before, during, and after the Battle of the Saintes was more evidence that his anger at Clinton’s inexplicable conduct in New York during September of 1780 was actually what made him decide to go home the following year and let Admirals Graves and Hood handle de Grasse and the French fleet. It’s hard not to conclude that when Sandwich called him to go back to the Caribbean to deal with de Grasse in the late fall of 1781, he jumped at the chance, regardless of his ailments, because he had a guilty conscience about having avoided de Grasse and the Chesapeake earlier in the year.

Before Washington received news of the Saintes, he was aware of Parliament’s momentous decision not to pursue offensive war in America, but he did not know if he could trust the hopeful trend after Rodney’s victory. The British could change their minds. He was receiving newspapers from London and had an idea of parliamentary sentiment; still, he could not be sure. On June 24, 1782, he wrote to Rochambeau, who had kept his army in Virginia after Yorktown, proposing a meeting to discuss the implications of de Grasse’s defeat. Obviously there would be no joint campaign in 1782. Both sides were in a defensive mode, waiting on events, especially the results of impending peace negotiations in Paris.

The Dawn of the German Empire Navy

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König Wilhelm as completed. She had been laid down for Turkey. 

König Wilhelm

As compared with the second-class vessels upon which Friedrich Carl and Kronprinz had been modelled, the larger British ironclads (the Warriors, Achilles and Minotaurs) displaced between 9300t and 10,900t. In 1866, the opportunity arose for Prussia to acquire a ship of this class, when the impecunious Ottoman authorities put up for sale their Fatih, building at the Thames Iron Works. Prussia bought her on 6 February 1867, initially under the name Wilhelm I. However, this was changed in December to König Wilhelm, the ship being launched under that name the following April. Another potential purchase in the spring of 1867 was of the American Dunderberg which was, however, actually acquired by France as Rochambeau,and would operate against Prussia during the forthcoming Franco-Prussian War.

On completion, König Wilhelm was popularly regarded as the most powerful warship in the world, being compared favourably with HMS Hercules, which was some 1800t smaller and 10m shorter, and has a smaller number of guns. König Wilhelm’s great size was initially a problem, as no dock in Germany was big enough to take her; she thus had to make a run to Britain in August 1869 for her bottom to be cleaned. It subsequently proved possible to dock her (with difficulty) at Wilhelmshaven, but it was not for some time that the development of the German dockyards meant that they could easily take ships of her dimensions. The constraints of existing dry-docks were always an important issue in the development of new generations of ships, a good example being that of French dreadnoughts in the years prior to the First World War, and in designing the final generations of Imperial German capital ships during 1916–18.

König Wilhelm was originally to be armed with 72pdrs (in her case thirty-three), but was actually fitted with eighteen 24cm/20s on the gun-deck and five 21cm/22s. Also as with earlier ships, there were delays in the provision of weapons, and she was still not fully armed in September 1869, seven months after commissioning. Three of the 22cal weapons were mounted in a forecastle armoured battery and the other two in a pair of upper deck armoured batteries in the rear waist at upper deck level. These latter were protected with 152mm plating, the battery-deck itself and belt having 203mm armour, tapering to 152mm fore and aft, on 560mm of teak, itself on the 50mm-thick hull shell.

On commissioning, König Wilhelm became flagship of an evolutionary squadron that also comprised Kronprinz and Friedrich Carl, which undertook exercises with various other ships during August/September 1869. The following May, the same ships, plus Prinz Adalbert, were proceeding on a visit to Great Britain when Friedrich Carl damaged her screw by grounding in the Great Belt and had to be repaired at Kiel, rejoining her squadron-mates at Plymouth. Here they were formally constituted as a training squadron on 1 July, sailing for the Azores. However, with an increase in tensions with France, Prinz Adalbert was recalled to Dartmouth to remain in contact with events. The remainder of the squadron joined her on 13 July and, war being considered imminent, sailed for home, arriving on the 16th – Prinz Adalbert in the tow of Kronprinz, owing to her lack of speed.

War broke out with France on 19 July 1870, ostensibly over a diplomatic slight to the French Emperor Napoleon III in the wake of a dispute over the future occupant of the throne of Spain, but in reality the culmination of pressures arising from the progressive unification of Germany that was felt to threaten French interests. Although on land the French army was a third the size of the forces available to Prussia, the North German Confederation and the southern German states (which formally joined the Confederation November), all of whom allied against France, the French Navy was vastly superior to that of Prussia, and rapidly imposed a blockade of her coasts.

The Prussian Navy’s larger ironclads, Friedrich Carl, Kronprinz and König Wilhelm, were based at Wilhelmshaven from the outset, but Arminius was forced to break through the blockade to the North Sea from Kiel by exploiting her shallow draught to sail through coastal waters, and shook off an attempted interception by three French armoured frigates. Prinz Adalbert and three small gunboats were also available, but the ironclad was unsuitable for seagoing operations and served as the Elbe guardship throughout the war.

The French were unable, in spite of their superior numbers, to make any attack on the Prussian naval bases, and largely contented themselves with taking up a blockading station off Heligoland. The Prussians made a number of sorties into the North Sea, but after the first, in early August 1870, by Arminius, Friedrich Carl, Kronprinz and König Wilhelm, engine problems suffered by the latter three meant that Arminius for a time became the principal combat unit, the ship sortieing over forty times. However, action was limited to a single brief skirmish with the French armoured frigate Gauloise and the armoured corvette Atalante off Heligoland. On 11 September, the three Prussian frigates joined Arminius on another sweep, but no French ships were encountered, as the French Navy withdrew its ships in September, following their army’s defeat at Sedan and the capture of Napoleon III. The war continued, however, into the New Year, and it was proposed that a newly-overhauled Kronprinz should undertake a raid on Cherbourg in early February; however, the armistice, signed on 28 January 1871, came before the attack could take place.

It was on 10 December 1870 that the North German Confederation was renamed the German Reich, with Wilhelm I of Prussia as its Emperor, as formally proclaimed at Versailles on 18 January 1871 during the siege of Paris that marked the last four months of the war. As well as the consolidation of all German states except Austria into one political entity, the war also resulted in the transfer of the most of the province of Alsace, and a quarter of Lorraine, to the German Empire under the direct rule of the Reich Government, not any of the States. The existence of Alsace-Lorraine within the German Empire would remain a running sore in Franco-German relations.

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Hansa as completed.

Hansa

The concept of the armoured corvette Hansa went back to 1861, with a focus on service against shore fortifications, but it was not for some years that she was built, as the first armoured ship to be built in Germany.11 However, when the ship was actually begun in at Danzig Dockyard in November 1868, it was to a Reed design, not dissimilar to HMS Pallas, launched in 1865; like her, Hansa had a wooden hull, but was slightly larger and more heavily armed.

In Pallas and the contemporary, but much bigger, ironhulled HMS Bellerophon, Reed had introduced the central-battery concept, with the armament placed in an armoured box amidships, rather than simply spread along on a gun deck. Hansa had in addition an upper battery arranged for axial fire, much like the British Audacious class (1869/70). Hansa was launched in October 1872, and in August of the following year was towed to Stettin for completion by AG Vulcan, work there finishing in December 1874, before transfer to Kiel on 3 January 1875, for final fitting-out in a floating dock.

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Preußen as built.

The Preußen Class

The navy’s first uniform class of capital ships, all built in home yards, was originally intended to follow previous German armourclads in being broadside-armed, the new Austro-Hungarian central-battery ship Custoza12 being regarded as a model. This ship had a double-storey battery, designed to maximise axial fire. However, after the first vessel, Großer Kurfürst, had already been laid down, the design was entirely recast as a turret-ship similar in layout to HMS Monarch, with Coles-type twin turrets on a low hull, but built-up fore and aft for seaworthiness (as carrying a full sailing rig), the deck-lines of the forecastle and poop being extended along the mid-length by hinged bulwarks, as in many other similar vessels of the period. To make up for the lack of ahead fire of the turret-mounted 26cm/22 guns, chase pieces of 17cm/25 calibre were fitted in forecastle and poop.

The turrets were steam-powered and mounted on what would originally have been the battery deck. The faces of the turrets were 260mm thick, the remainder having 210mm armour. The hull armour at the waterline midships was 235mm for a single plate’s width, thinning to 185mm below the waterline and 210mm above, all thinning to 105mm at the ends. All armour was mounted on a wooden backing.

As with Hansa, the inexperience of the yards – Großer Kurfürst was the first product of the new dockyard at Wilhelmshaven and Friedrich der Große the second to be laid down in the yard at Kiel – resulted in extended building times, exacerbated in the case of Großer Kurfürst by the need to alter her design on the stocks. Indeed, the first to be launched and to complete was the privately-built Preußen, a year ahead of the state-built Friedrich der Große.

Operation Dynamo RAF Air Cover

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The year-long ‘Phoney War’ gave way to the real thing for the pilots of No. 65 Squadron at Hornchurch in May 1940 as the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force trudged onto the beaches at Dunkirk and awaited evacuation to England. A strange fleet of barges, coasters, ferries, lighters and small private vessels was assembled by the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay for Operation Dynamo, the rescue of more than 338,000 British and French troops. The British Admiralty had required all private owners of self-propelled pleasure craft of between 30 and 100 feet to register them. In the actual evacuation, many of the owners of these craft were allowed to skipper them and become a part of history.

The cloud conditions did not favour the Spitfire pilots of No. 65, who had been ordered into the Dunkirk area at an altitude of 30,000 feet, well above several layers of intermittent cloud, and 15,000 feet above the operating level of the Hurricanes that first day of the evacuation.

There were other British aircraft in the skies over Dunkirk that day, notably a squadron of Boulton Paul Defiants, a single-engined aircraft that resembled the Hurricane but was operated by a crew of two and mounted an unusual four-gun turret behind the pilot. It had no forward-firing guns and could not defend itself against head-on attacks. As the evacuation began the Defiants were bounced by a squadron of Messerschmitt Me 109s. The German pilots mistook the Defiants for Hurricanes and attacked them from above and behind. Many of the German fighters were shot out of the sky and the Luftwaffe quickly learned how to attack the Defiant. Later that day more Messerschmitts rose to engage the Defiants and this time things were different. The enemy fighters attacked from below and behind. In the action, the Defiants were defenceless and their entire squadron was wiped out. By August the Boulton Paul machines had been withdrawn from operational duty.

The stark reality of air fighting was made clear to the inexperienced Hugh Dundas on 28 May 1940 high over those same Dunkirk beaches. Flying a Spitfire with No. 616 Squadron from Rochford, near Southend, Essex, he witnessed a pair of Fleet Air Arm Blackburn Skua fighter/dive-bombers under savage attack by Messerschmitt Me 109s. The Skua is an all but forgotten type, distinguished for having been the first Fleet Air Arm aircraft to shoot down a German plane (a Dornier Do flying boat on 26 September 1939). It later became the first FAA aircraft type to sink a German warship in wartime when Skuas attacked the cruiser Königsberg in Bergen harbour (Norway, on 10 April 1940).

Dundas watched for five seconds as the little party of friendly and enemy aircraft fell away and behind him. The scene was instantly erased as his own section leader suddenly broke into a hard, climbing turn in the midst of garbled and confusing voices over the radio. Rushing into Dundas’ view was a yellow-nosed Me 109 curving toward him. It occurred to him that he was about to be shot at for the first time. Someone he didn’t know and who didn’t know him was about to try to kill him. Following his leader, he was fascinated by the sight of the rapidly closing enemy fighter:

… I saw the ripples of grey smoke breaking away from it and the lights were winking and flashing from the propeller hub and engine cowling. Red blobs arced lazily through the air between us, accelerating dramatically as they approached and streaked close by, across my wing. With sudden, sickening, stupid fear I realized that I was being fired on and I pulled my Spitfire round hard, so that the blood was forced down from my head. The thick curtain of blackout blinded me for a moment and I felt the aircraft juddering on the brink of a stall. Straightening out, the curtain lifted and I saw a confusion of planes, diving and twisting. My eyes focused on two more Messerschmitts, flying in quite close formation, curving down towards me. Again I saw the ripple of smoke and the wink of lights; again I went into a blackout turn and again the bullets streaked harmlessly by.

At some stage in the next few seconds the silhouette of a Messerschmitt passed across my windscreen and I fired my guns in battle for the first time — a full deflection shot which, I believe, was quite ineffectual.

I was close to panic in the bewilderment and hot fear of that first dog-fight. Fortunately instinct drove me to keep turning, twisting my neck all the time to look for the enemy behind. Certainly the consideration which was uppermost in my mind was the desire to stay alive.

… there was no thought of right or wrong, courage or cowardice, in my mind as I sweated and swore my way through that first fight over Dunkirk. When, at last, I felt it safe to straighten out I was amazed to find that the sky which only a few moments before had been full of whirling, firing fighters was now quite empty. It was my first experience of this curious phenomenon, which continually amazed all fighter pilots. At one moment it was all you could do to avoid collision; the sky around you was streaked with tracer and the thin grey smoke-trails of firing machine-guns and cannons. The next moment you were on your own. The mêlée had broken up as if by magic. The sky was empty except for a few distant specks. It was then that panic took hold of me for the second time that day. Finding myself alone over the sea, a few miles north of Dunkirk, my training as well as my nerve deserted me. Instead of calmly thinking out the course which I should fly to reach the Thames estuary, I blindly set out in what I conceived to be roughly the right direction. After several minutes I could see nothing at all but the empty wastes of the North Sea — not a ship, nor a boat. At last I saw two destroyers steaming at full speed in line ahead, and beyond them in the haze I could see the flat coastline of France. The sight of the two ships restored me to some measure of sanity and self-control. I forced myself to work out the simple problem of navigation which sheer panic had prevented me from facing. After a couple of orbits I set course to the west and soon the cliffs of North Foreland came up to meet me.

Soaked in sweat, I flew low across the estuary towards Southend pier. By the time I came in to land at Rochford, the little grass field behind Southend where the squadron had arrived the night before to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation, a sense of jubilation had replaced the cravenness of a few minutes earlier. I was transformed, Walter Mitty-like: now a debonair young fighter pilot, rising twenty, proud and delighted that he had fired his guns in a real dog-fight, even though he had not hit anything, sat in the cockpit which had so recently been occupied by a frightened child and taxied in to the dispersal point, where excited ground crew waited to hear the news of the battle.

American Civil War Rifled Artillery

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Armstrong 12-Pounder Breechloader—Cutaway Views

ARMSTRONG BREECHLOADER

The breechblock or ventpiece was held in place by a powerful screw in the rear of the gun. This screw was hollow, and was a prolongation of the bore. When the screw was turned out, the ventpiece was lifted out by its handle, leaving the bore clear for loading. To ensure the tight turning up of the screw, and also to help in releasing it when getting ready to reload, a weighted, free-swinging handle was attached to the rear of the breech. A half turn on this acted almost like a blow from a sledge and was sufficient to drive the screw well home or to start it from the closed position. Although a spare ventpiece was usually provided with each gun, there was considerable trouble with the ventpieces fracturing, or blowing out, especially in the guns of large caliber. Structurally, the built-up Armstrong gun tubes were very strong, and the multi-grooved system of rifling is in use today.

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12-POUNDER WHITWORTH BREECH-AND MUZZLE-LOADING FIELD GUN

The Whitworth breechloader, with its peculiar hexagonal bore, used a device resembling a hinged screw cap. The cartridge was in a hexagonally-shaped tin container which assisted in preventing the escape of gas from the breech. A lubricating wad (tallow and wax was used) was inserted behind the projectile.

The projectile was a mechanical fit and did not rely on expansion to make a tight fit in the bore. Because of this, and because there was no chamber, by closing the breech and using a copper disc as a gas check, the guns could be (and often were) used as muzzle-loaders. This could not be done in the Armstrong, with its lead-coated shell and powder chamber larger than bore size.

RIFLED FIELD PIECES USED BY FEDERAL AND CONFEDERATE ARTILLERY

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Although there were two schools of thought as to the effectiveness of rifled versus smoothbore guns, there was no question as to the greater accuracy of the rifle. There was also a marked increase in efficiency. A 12-pounder James, for instance, weighed less than a 12-pounder Napoleon and attained greater range and accuracy with a much smaller powder charge. Part of this was due to the reduction of windage.

Windage (the difference between the diameter of the shot and that of the bore) was allowed to take care of rust, the straps on the sabot, the expansion of the shot, and for ease in loading in a foul bore. It amounted to one-tenth of an inch in a 12-pounder smoothbore, and resulted in loss of accuracy as well as loss of velocity, since much of the force of the explosion of the charge was wasted.

In wooded country, the 12-pounder smoothbores had an advantage. Their accuracy was of secondary importance, and at close range their larger bores could inflict more damage than the 3-inch rifles. As the Napoleons used fixed ammunition and the rifles, semi-fixed—that is, the projectile and the charge were loaded separately—the smoothbore had a higher rate of fire. The 3-inch canister was fixed, however, with forty-nine .96 caliber iron balls in a tinned iron case, although it was claimed that, being long and thin, the load did not perform as well as that of the 12-pounder.

Of the many types of rifled pieces used in the war, the 3-inch Ordnance and the 10-pounder, 3-inch Parrott were the most popular. Originally the Parrott had been made in 2.9 caliber, but it was later changed so that the same ammunition might be used in both pieces. The Ordnance gun was of wrought iron while the Parrott had a cast-iron tube, reinforced at the breech by a wrought-iron hoop.

BREECHLOADERS

Few breechloaders were used in the Civil War (for their breech mechanisms were relatively clumsy and complicated), but the two that did see service—the Armstrong and the Whitworth—were a great deal more accurate than any of the muzzle-loading smoothbore field pieces. The Armstrong is reported to have been more than fifty times as accurate as the standard British smoothbore field piece at one thousand yards. The Whitworth was every bit as accurate. Both had considerable range with low elevation, which meant a larger “danger space.” But long range (the Whitworth 12-pounder could send a bolt nearly six miles) was not of much advantage in the days of imperfect means of observation and poor fire control, and small-caliber shells with comparatively weak bursting charges.

Neither of these breechloaders had any great advantage over muzzle-loaders in rapidity of fire (for one thing, neither used fixed ammunition). A light rifle and shrapnel-proof gun shield, as used in more modern field pieces, might have increased their value, as the gun crews could have been partially protected from musketry. But this did not come into being until the development of a workable recoil mechanism.

‘Sorry for the kipper!’

Since sinking Hood, two days before, Bismarck had enjoyed some incredible luck, which, in retrospect, can hardly be considered undeserved. Several British units, including the battleship Rodney, had missed her by only a few miles, and now the pursuing forces were far astern.

Except one. Force H was only 120 miles to the eastward of Bismarck’s position and, more relevant, between the German battleship and Brest.

The Catalina’s sighting report was hammered out on area broadcasts HD, BN and CN within minutes by Whitehall W/T, read by Renown, Ark Royal and Sheffield. At this time the carrier’s search aircraft were still airborne, but minutes later one of them. Swordfish 2H, reported to Ark Royal on H/F the sighting of a heavy cruiser which could only be Prinz Eugen.

Sheffield’s Walrus was not employed, and her observer Charles Fenwick, was on the ship’s bridge. ‘For some reason’, he remembers, ‘Charles Larcom had a personal feud with the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, and he was often saying that he wanted to meet her in single combat. I believe … he would rather have found her than the Bismarck herself …’

But it was decreed otherwise. Within seven minutes Swordfish 2F reported the same enemy — but this time a battleship.

‘I was PCO of the Forenoon watch’, Ross’s next letter told, ‘when the voicepipe from the W/T Office buzzed at us, and the Sub hauled up a pink signal on the end of the usual piece of string, then read aloud that the Ark’s aircraft had found [Bismarck] steering towards Brest — which was just the sort of shot we were meant to field … It was a thrilling moment …’

Somerville, however, was not totally convinced; it was vitally necessary to know if both Swordfish were referring to the same ship and, if they were, whether it was indeed a battleship or a cruiser, so that the depth settings of torpedoes could be adjusted accordingly. Fie ordered off two more search Swordfish and all others to be landed and armed. The Admiralty had already ruled that Somerville’s Renown was not to engage Bismarck unless King George V and/or Rodney were in company, but the Admiral was intending to get to the north-west of the enemy and engage from astern, compelling Bismarck, if she washed to respond, to turn away from Brest, into a Force 6 wind and towards other British heavy units closing at speed. If Renown, older even than Hood, outgunned and creaking in every joint, was going to fight, then Somerville needed to steal every advantage possible.

And he would make quite certain that the enemy battleship would not twist away this time. At 1300 he ordered Larcom to increase speed, make contact with Bismarck, shadow and report.

Sheffield, released, lifted her bows as she smashed into the swell, and, on both flanks and astern, the sea creamed. In the boiler rooms below, the fans were roaring, burners and turbines screamed, artificers among the labyrinth of ladders, catwalks and asbestos-covered pipes watched their brass-rimmed gauges. Within minutes the paint on both funnels was beginning to blister and peel. By 1500 the cruiser was steaming at 31½ knots and increasing, the wind WSW, Force 6. Above the funnels the heat shimmered, smokeless.

At 1630 it was piped: ‘The ship is now steaming at 38 knots’ — which was six knots more than her engines had been designed for. ‘It thus seemed rather unfair’, recalls AB Allen, ‘that when a small puff of smoke escaped from the forward funnel, we heard the double click of the Captain’s microphone, and then his voice. “Stop making smoke.” A few minutes later there appeared another smoke-ball — and again the ominous click-click. Larcom’s voice was coldly angry. “Engines — come up here!” The sympathy of the entire ship’s company followed Engineer Commander Baily as he climbed ladder after ladder to the compass platform. After all, we were doing thirty-eight knots!’

Meanwhile Renown had raised Portishead W/T on ship/shore H/F to inform the Admiralty, in cipher, of the detachment of Sheffield. At this time Ark Royal was several miles away, landing-on aircraft and beyond visual range, so Renown’s signal — which would be immediately re-broadcast by the Admiralty to all ships in the area — was repeated in its address to CinC (Tovey) and Ark Royal. This procedure might seem to be cumbersome, but it was the surest means of acquainting Ark Royal with the intentions of her own squadron.

When the signal regarding Sheffield’s deployment was received in Ark Royal, however, the carrier’s communications personnel were already occupied with a back-log of incoming signals traffic. Fresh shadowing reports were still being read. One Swordfish of the returning reconnaissance sortie had crashed on landing, while newly armed aircraft were being lifted from the hangar in the bell-clanging after lift. Somerville’s signal, seen to be merely ‘repeated for information’, was not immediately deciphered. Thus when, at 1450, fourteen attack Swordfish lifted off Ark Royal’s deck, their crews knew nothing of the presence of Sheffield on their flight path; the first warship to be sighted, they had been briefed, would be Bismarck.

Within Force H, only Sheffield was equipped with air surveillance RDF (Radio Direction Finding), soon to be renamed Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) but several of Ark Royal’s Swordfish had been burdened with ASV (Anti-Surface Vessel) radar assemblies, the use of which nobody had confidently mastered. Within only forty minutes of lifting off, the cockpit radar warned of a vessel just ahead, and it had to be Bismarck. The strike CO, Lieut-Commander Stewart-Moore, waited for a gap in the cloud — and there she was below, pounding into the grey sea with a tumbling, silver wake stretching astern.

Ark Royal’s airmen were thoroughly acquainted with Sheffield; she had steamed thousands of miles in company, shared the same anchorage on numerous occasions. Sheffield had two funnels to Bismarck’s one, while the German was 330 feet longer and almost five times the cruiser’s tonnage. It might seem impossible that Ark Royal’s aircrew could fail to identify Sheffield, but they saw only what they expected and wanted to see, and Stewart-Moore led his aircraft above the cloud to deploy for attack.

‘We had closed down our RDF for fear of enemy detection,’ says Al Hurley. ‘I will always remember the words coming down the voicepipe that the Ark’s bombers were sighted, and then the excited retort, “My God — they’re attacking us!”’

Larcom called for emergency full ahead and ordered all guns to refrain from firing. Hurley had hurriedly climbed to the after end of the bridge where, he recalls, ‘the scene was one of dismay, but certainly no panic …

Larcom was a cool customer. As each group of three (aircraft) lined up to make a run at us he would bring Sheffield beam on to their approach, hoping they would recognize our profile. When they failed to do so, and dropped their torpedoes, he had to bring the ship around smartly to meet the fish head on. We had just avoided one such attack on the port bow when I saw, from my vantage point, another three forming up to starboard. I could not resist shouting: “There are three more attacking on the starboard bow, sir!” — which was a bit presumptuous for a Sub-Lieutenant, RCNVR, Special Branch, from a position in which I should never have been in the first place!’

Only three pilots realized their mistake in time; nine released their torpedoes. ‘I reckon that Sheffield showed great restraint,’ wrote Charles Fenwick, the cruiser’s own pilot. It was certainly a very frightening affair. The last straw came when one of our Swordfish, having dropped its torpedo, flew across our bow and sprayed us with its rear gun.’

Larcom had handled his ship with remarkable skill. Even so, Sheffield’s survival was hardly less than a miracle. As the incredulous sailors stared up at the Swordfish climbing away, torpedoes gone, an Aldis lamp was blinking apologetically from the tail-ender: ‘Sorry for the kipper!’

In Sheffield there was little time for anything more than a few obscenities, because at 1740 Bismarck was sighted off the starboard bow — according to the deck log at 068 degrees 10 miles. Hurley says, ‘The first man to sight her masthead was Sub-Lieutenant Paul McLaughlan of Toronto, the only other Canadian aboard.’ From that moment until a destroyer flotilla joined the action four hours later Sheffield never took her eyes off Bismarck.

A Naval Engagement In The Bosphorus

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Venetian “Galley of Flanders.” Illustration of a 15th-century trade galley from a manuscript by Michael of Rhodes (1401–1445) written in 1434.

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For Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI a successful defense of the city depended on relief from Christian Europe. The endless round of diplomatic missions that preceded the siege had all been undertaken to beg or borrow men and resources for the cause of Christendom. Daily the population looked in the direction of the setting sun for another fleet – a squadron of Venetian or Genoese war galleys, their beaked prows surging up the Marmara to the beating of drums, the rallying of war trumpets, the lion flags of St. Mark’s or the gonfalons of Genoa cracking in the salt wind. But the sea remained ominously empty.

In effect the fate of the city hung on the complex internal politics of the Italian city-states. As early as the end of 1451 Constantine had sent messengers to Venice to report that the city would fall without help. The matter had been debated by the Venetian Senate at length; it was the subject of prevarication in Genoa; in Rome the pope was concerned but required evidence that the union of the churches had been fully implemented. In any case he lacked practical resources to intervene without the Venetians. Genoa and Venice eyed each other in cold commercial rivalry and did nothing.

Constantine’s appeal to the West rested on notions that were religious and medieval, but they were directed at states whose motivations were economic – and surprisingly modern. The Venetians were largely indifferent to whether the Byzantines were unionists or not and had little appetite for the role of defenders of the faith. They were hard-nosed traders, preoccupied with commercial agreements, the security of their sea routes, and the calculation of interest. They worried about pirates more than theology, about commodities rather than creeds. Their merchants studied the price of what could be bought and sold – wheat, fur, slaves, wine, and gold – the supply of manpower for the galley fleets, and the pattern of Mediterranean winds. They lived by trade and the sea, by discount, profit margins, and ready coin. The doge was on excellent terms with the sultan, and trade with Edirne was profitable; furthermore Constantine had considerably damaged Venetian interests in the Peloponnese in the previous twenty years.

It was in this spirit that in August 1452 a minority of senators actually voted to abandon Constantinople to its fate. The lack of concern was modified the following spring as reports trickled in of the throttling of trade routes to the Black Sea and the sinking of Venetian ships. On February 19 the Senate decided to prepare a fleet of two armed transports and fifteen galleys to sail on April 8. The organization of the expedition was entrusted to Alviso Longo with cautious instructions that included a helpful dictat to avoid confrontation with the Ottomans in the straits. He finally departed on April 19, one day after the first major assault on the walls. Others made similarly uncoordinated efforts. On April 13 the government of the Republic of Genoa invited its citizens, merchants, and officials “in the East, in the Black Sea and in Syria” to help with all means the emperor of Constantinople and Demetrios, despot of the Morea. Five days earlier it had been authorizing loans to arm ships against the Venetians. At about the same time the pope had written to the Venetian Senate informing them of his desire to get up five galleys, on loan from the Venetians, for the relief of the city. The Venetians, ever sticklers for a debt, accepted the commission in principle but wrote back reminding the papacy that the cost of galleys for the failed Crusade of Varna in 1444 was still outstanding.

Pope Nicholas had however already undertaken one prompt initiative at his own expense. Fearful of the fate of Constantinople, in March he hired three Genoese merchant ships, provisioned them with food, men, and weapons, and dispatched them to the city. By the start of April they had reached the Genoese island of Chios off the Anatolian coast but could proceed no farther. The north wind that impeded the Ottoman fleet held the Genoese at Chios for a fortnight. On April 15 the wind shifted to the south and the ships set sail. By the 19th they had reached the Dardanelles where they fell in with a heavy imperial transport, laden with a cargo of corn the emperor had purchased from Sicily and commanded by an Italian, Francesco Lecanella. They swept up the Dardanelles and passed the Ottoman naval base at Gallipoli unopposed – the entire fleet had decamped to the Double Columns. The ships were in all likelihood similar to those that had seen off the Ottomans at the boom a few days previously: high-sided sail-powered vessels, probably carracks, described by the Ottoman chronicler Tursun Bey as “cogs.” On the swell of the south wind they made rapid time up the Marmara so that by the morning of April 20 the crews could make out the great dome of St. Sophia forming on their eastern horizon.

The lookout for a relieving fleet was a constant obsession in the city. The ships were seen at about ten in the morning, and the Genoese flags – a red cross on a white background – identified. The news caused an instant stir among the people. Almost simultaneously the ships were also sighted by Ottoman naval patrols, and word was sent to Mehmet in his camp at Maltepe. He galloped down to the Double Columns to deliver clear and peremptory orders to Baltaoglu. Doubtless stung by the failure of his fleet at the boom and the reversal at the land walls, Mehmet gave a message to commander and fleet that was unequivocal: “either to take the sailing ships and bring them to him or never to come back alive.” The galley fleet was hurriedly made ready with a full complement of rowers and crammed with crack troops – heavy infantry, bowmen, and Janissaries from his personal bodyguard. Light cannon were again loaded on board, as well as incendiary materials and “many other weapons: round and rectangular shields, helmets, breast plates, missiles and javelins and long spears, and other things useful for this kind of battle.” The fleet set out down the Bosphorus to confront the intruders. Success was imperative for morale, but this second naval battle was to be fought farther out in the straits where the vagaries of the Bosphorus’s extraordinary winds and local currents were less predictable and the demands on ships could be exacting. The Genoese merchantmen were battering up the straits with the wind astern. The Ottoman fleet, unable to use their sails against the wind, lowered them as they rowed downstream against a choppy sea.

By early afternoon the four ships were off the southeast shore of the city, keeping a steady course for the tower of Demetrios the Great, a prominent landmark on the city’s Acropolis, and well out from the shore, ready to make the turning maneuver into the mouth of the Horn. The huge disparity in numbers filled Baltaoglu’s men “with ambition and hope of success.” They came on steadily, “with a great sounding of castanets and cries towards the four ships, rowing fast, like men wanting victory.” The sound of beating drums and the braying of zornas spread across the water as the galley fleet closed in. With the masts and oars of a hundred ships converging on the four merchantmen, the outcome seemed inevitable. The population of the city crowded to the walls, onto the roofs of houses, or to the Sphendone of the Hippodrome, anywhere that had a wide view of the Marmara and the entrance of the Bosphorus. On the other side of the Horn, beyond the walls of Galata, Mehmet and his retinue watched from the vantage point of an opposing hill. Each side looked on with a mixture of hope and anxiety as Baltaoglu’s trireme drew near to the lead ship. From the poop he peremptorily ordered them to lower their sails. The Genoese kept their course, and Baltaoglu commanded his fleet to lie to and rake the carracks with fire. Stone shot whistled through the air; bolts, javelins, and incendiary arrows were poured up at the ships from all directions but the Genoese did not waver. Again the advantage was with the taller ships: “they fought from high up, and indeed from the yardarms and the wooden turrets they hurled down arrows, javelins, and stones.” The weight of the sea made it hard for the galleys to steady their aim or to maneuver accurately around the carracks still surging forward with the south wind in their sails. The fight developed into a running skirmish, with the Ottoman troops struggling to get close enough in the choppy sea to board or to fire the sails, the Genoese flinging a hail of missiles from their castellated poops.

The small convoy of tall ships reached the point of the Acropolis unscathed and was ready to make the turn into the safety of the Horn when disaster struck. The wind suddenly dropped. The sails hung lifeless from the masts, and the ships, almost within touching distance of the city walls, lost all headway and started to drift helplessly on a perverse countercurrent across the open mouth of the Horn and toward Mehmet and his watching army on the Galata shore. At once the balance shifted from the ships with sails to the galleys with oars. Baltaoglu gathered his larger vessels around the merchantmen at a slight distance and again pelted them with missiles, but with no greater effect than before. The cannon were too light and too low in the water to damage the hulls or disable the masts. The Christian crews were able to put out any fires with barrels of water. Seeing the failure of raking fire, the admiral “shouted in a commanding voice” and ordered the fleet to close in and board.

The swarm of galleys and longboats converged on the cumbersome and disabled carracks. The sea congealed into a struggling mass of interlocking masts and hulls that looked, according to the chronicler Doukas, “like dry land.” Baltaoglu rammed the beak of his trireme into the stern of the imperial galley, the largest and least heavily armed of the Christian ships. Ottoman infantry poured up the boarding bridges trying to get onto the ships with grappling hooks and ladders, to smash their hulls with axes, to set fire to them with flaming torches. Some climbed up anchor cables and ropes; others hurled lances and javelins up at the wooden ramparts. At close quarters the struggle developed into a series of vicious hand-to-hand encounters. From above, the defenders, protected by good armor, smashed the heads of their assailants with clubs as they emerged over the ships’ sides, cut off scrabbling hands with cutlasses, hurled javelins, spears, pikes, and stones down on the seething mass below. From higher up in the yardarms and crow’s nests “they threw missiles from their terrible catapults and a rain of stones hurled down on the close-packed Turkish fleet.” Crossbowmen picked off chosen targets with well-aimed bolts and crewmen deployed cranes to hoist and drop weighty stones and barrels of water through the light hulls of the longboats, damaging and sinking many. The air was a confused mass of sounds: shouts and cries, the roaring of cannon, the splash of armored men falling backward into the water, the snapping of oars, the shattering of stone on wood, steel on steel, the whistling of arrows falling so fast “that the oars couldn’t be pushed down into the water,” the sound of blades on flesh, of crackling fire and human pain. “There was great shouting and confusion on all sides as they encouraged each other,” recorded Kritovoulos, “hitting and being hit, slaughtering and being slaughtered, pushing and being pushed, swearing, cursing, threatening, moaning – it was a terrible din.”

For two hours the Ottoman fleet grappled with its intractable foe in the heat of battle. Its soldiers and sailors fought bravely and with extraordinary passion, “like demons,” recorded Archbishop Leonard begrudgingly. Gradually, and despite heavy losses, the weight of numbers started to tell. One ship was surrounded by five triremes, another by thirty longboats, a third by forty barges filled with soldiers, like swarms of ants trying to down a huge beetle. When one longboat fell back exhausted or was sunk, leaving its armored soldiers to be swept off in the current or clinging to spars, fresh boats rowed forward to tear at their prey. Baltaoglu’s trireme clung tenaciously to the heavier and less well-armed imperial transport, which “defended itself brilliantly, with its captain Francisco Lecanella rushing to help.” In time, however, it became apparent to the captains of the Genoese ships that the transport would be taken without swift intervention. Somehow they managed to bring their ships up alongside in a practiced maneuver and lash the four vessels together, so that they seemed to move, according to an observer, like four towers rising up among the swarming seething confusion of the grappling Ottoman fleet from a surface of wood so dense that “the water could hardly be seen.”

The spectators thronging the city walls and the ships within the boom watched helplessly as the matted raft of ships drifted slowly under the point of the Acropolis and toward the Galata shore. As the battle drew closer, Mehmet galloped down onto the foreshore, shouting excited instructions, threats, and encouragement to his valiantly struggling men, then urging his horse into the shallow water in his desire to command the engagement. Baltaoglu was close enough now to hear and ignore his sultan’s bellowed instructions. The sun was setting. The battle had been raging for three hours. It seemed certain that the Ottomans must win “for they took it in turns to fight, relieving each other, fresh men taking the places of the wounded or killed.” Sooner or later the supply of Christian missiles must give out and their energy would falter. And then something happened to shift the balance back again so suddenly that the watching Christians saw in it only the hand of God. The south wind picked up. Slowly the great square sails of the four towered carracks stirred and swelled and the ships started to move forward again in a block, impelled by the irresistible momentum of the wind. Gathering speed, they crashed through the surrounding wall of frail galleys and surged toward the mouth of the Horn. Mehmet shouted curses at his commander and ships “and tore his garments in his fury,” but by now night was falling and it was too late to pursue the ships farther. Beside himself with rage at the humiliation of the spectacle, Mehmet ordered the fleet to withdraw to the Double Columns.

In the moonless dark, two Venetian galleys were dispatched from behind the boom, sounding two or three trumpets on each galley and with the men shouting wildly to convince their enemies that a force of “at least twenty galleys” was putting to sea and to discourage any further pursuit. The galleys towed the sailing ships into the harbor to the ringing of church bells and the cheering of the citizens. Mehmet was “stunned. In silence, he whipped up his horse and rode away.”

The immediate consequences of the naval engagement in the Bosphorus were profound. A few short hours had tipped the psychological balance of the siege sharply and unexpectedly back to the defenders. The spring sea had provided a huge auditorium for the public humiliation of the Ottoman fleet, watched both by the Greek population thronging the walls and the right wing of the army with Mehmet on the shore opposite.

It was obvious to both sides that the massive new fleet, which had so stunned the Christians when it first appeared in the Straits, could not match the experience of Western seamanship. It had been thwarted by superior skill and equipment, the innate limitations of war galleys – and not a little luck. Without secure control of the sea, the struggle to subdue the city would be hard fought, whatever the sultan’s guns might achieve at the land walls.

Within the city, spirits were suddenly high again: “the ambitions of the Sultan were thrown into confusion and his reputed power diminished, because so many of his triremes couldn’t by any means capture just one ship.” The ships not only brought much needed grain, arms, and manpower, they had given the defenders precious hope. This small flotilla might be merely the precursor of a larger rescue fleet. And if four ships were able to defy the Ottoman navy, what might a dozen well-armed galleys of the Italian republics not do to decide the final outcome? “This unhoped-for result revived their hopes and brought encouragement, and filled them with very favourable hopes, not only about what had happened, but also about their expectations for the future.” In the fevered religious atmosphere of the conflict, such events were never just the practical contest of men and materials or the play of winds, they were clear evidence of the hand of God. “They prayed to their prophet Muhammad in vain,” wrote the surgeon Nicolo Barbaro, “while our Eternal God heard the prayers of us Christians, so that we were victorious in this battle.”

Luftwaffe Early Years and the Rhineland I

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With all of Germany humming after twelve years’ stagnation, the Rhineland Program moved swiftly toward completion. By the end of 1934, with another nine months in hand, approximately half of the four thousand planes ordered by Milch had emerged from the factories and were delivered to the proliferating units activated by Wever. There were forty-one organized formations scattered throughout six Luftkreis (air district) commands, units whose military functions were concealed under innocuous code names. The bomber unit equipped with Dornier 11s at Fassberg, for example, was camouflaged under the name Hanseatic Flying School. The bomber training station at Lechfeld operated its Ju.52s undercover as research planes of the headquarters, German Flight Weather Services. The familiar German Commercial Pilots’ School at Braunschweig hid the activities of the Heinkel 46 reconnaissance outfit. And at Prenzlau, student bomber pilots took refuge as crop dusters, their JU.52s merging with the State Agricultural Pest Control Unit.

The first fighter unit was activated on April 1, 1934; it was known unofficially as Squadron 132, but officially as one of the so-called advertising squadrons that had been parading across German skies for more than a year. The unit designation, 132, was not meant to imply that Germany possessed a hundred-plus squadrons, but was a simplified code; the first digit indicated that the unit was squadron one, the second revealed that it was equipped with fighters, while the third digit showed that the squadron was based within Air District II (Berlin.) Chosen to command was Major Robert Ritter von Greim, a grizzled veteran of the skies over the Western Front, a dead shot with twenty-five kills to his credit, a wearer of the cross of the Pour le Mérite, and, until his return to Germany, one of the organizers of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese air force.

To meet the immediate needs of the expanding air units for men to perform the less glamorous chores of air base duty, thousands of NCOs and enlisted men were summarily transferred from the Reichswehr and put into new blue uniforms as they became available. Because most of them were volunteers, and because of Seeckt’s policy of quality when he could not have quantity, the airmen, almost without exception, were of high caliber and well qualified to learn quickly the technical aspects of their new career field. It was after August 1,1934, that incoming airmen were presented with a new oath to swear, an oath far more personal than existed during the Weimar period. On that date, President von Hindenburg died and Hitler assumed his title as well as that of chancellor. Instead of swearing loyalty to the Constitution, recruits henceforth chanted, “I swear by God this holy oath, that I will render to Adolf Hitler, Leader of the German nation and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, unconditional obedience, and I am ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.”

The Nazi Party was not mentioned, but soon its symbol began to appear on every naval and military uniform. General von Blomberg, although adamant against allowing Wehrmacht members to join the NSDAP, nonetheless wanted to show his commander in chief that the Wehrmacht was as loyal to him as were the SS and other purely party organizations. He ordered new cloth badges from the quartermaster, a design featuring a straight-winged eagle clutching a small swastika in its claws. These were sewn on the uniform jacket just over the right upper pocket. Goering ordered badges with more sweeping lines, a soaring eagle looking downward, talons clutching the party symbol as though a bird of prey was dragging its victim through the sky. The order was placed in anticipation of the Führer’s next big moves, which were not long in coming.

On February 26,1936, Adolf Hitler signed a decree that established the air force as an independent branch of the armed forces. At last, the shadowy air arm had a name given it by the Führer himself — the Reichsluftwaffe. Nobody liked it, and in general parlance the name was shortened to Luftwaffe (air weapon), which soon became accepted official usage. The new command structure ranked the Luftwaffe equally with the army (Reichsheer) and the navy (Reichsmarine), answerable through Goering to Blomberg and through him to Hitler. On March 1, the decree was implemented. Independence! A dream British military airmen had realized in 1918 after three years of hard political infighting, and a dream their American counterparts had despaired of achieving, and would not realize for another twelve years. On March 10, Goering summoned the correspondent of the friendly London Daily Mail and presented Ward Price with the scoop of the year. Goering told Price he had created a new German air force, but with no intention of threatening the rest of the world; his Luftwaffe, Goering said, was purely defensive. Four days later, Major von Greim’s J.G.132 was christened J.G. Richthofen 2, and squadron mechanics got busy painting the cowlings red and adding black crosses to wings and fuselages of the new Arado 65 and Heinkel 51 biplane fighters. Roaring over German towns in warpaint, the slender, elegant Heinkels looked menacing and businesslike — and from the ground the carefully kept secret that the resurrected Richthofen Circus had no guns could not be discovered. Shortly afterward, yet another fighter wing was created out of the equipment pouring from the factories. The party influence was clearly revealed in the choice of names for J.G.134, known as Jagdgeschwader Horst Wessel For those officers and men who believed the official version of Wessel’s death in February 1930 — that he “died on the barricades in the struggle against Bolshevism” — the name was acceptable, even though Wessel had never been connected with flying in any way. To those who knew the truth, it was something else. Wessel, in fact, was a twenty-three-year-old storm trooper living in a Berlin slum, earning pocket money as a part-time pimp. He was shot to death by another party member, also a pimp, over possession of the chattel, Erna Jänicke.

When Goering made his announcement, the Luftwaffe strength stood at sixteen squadrons; by August 1, five months later, the figure had trebled, and the first-line strength stood at 1,833 aircraft, broken down as follows:

372 bombers (Do.11 and Do.23)

450 auxiliary bombers (Ju.52)

51 dive-bomber trainers (He.50)

251 fighters (Ar.64, Ar.65, He.51)

320 reconnaissance (long-range He.45)

270 reconnaissance (short-range He.46)

119 naval (He.38, Do.16, He.59, Do.18, He.51W)

There was more. On Saturday, March 16, Hitler announced that he had signed a decree reintroducing compulsory military service; conscription would enable the army to field thirty-six divisions, about five hundred thousand troops. On top of the news of the Luftwaffe as a force in being, this latest pronouncement torpedoed the already foundering ship of Versailles, leaking violations at every seam. Reaction to this German truculence on the part of the treaty signatories was pitiful: Great Britain, France, and Italy met at Stresa, under a League of Nations mandate, and spent their time concocting notes of pious outrage and condemnation. France signed a mutual-assistance pact with Russia; Russia signed one with Czechoslovakia; England kept quiet about her own plans for a treaty with Germany that would allow the potential enemy to greatly increase the Reichsmarine — an agreement reached only two months later, and one that included the British approval of German submarine building. Sir John Simon, Whitehall’s new foreign minister, was received by Adolf Hitler in the Reichs Chancellery in Berlin and listened while Hitler, now gracious, now scowling, stressed his desire for peace. Then came the sword thrust. The Luftwaffe, said Hitler, with the surety of a poker player holding a full house, has achieved parity in the air with England. This was not true at the time, but with Berlin’s streets filled with columns of marching men in brand-new blue uniforms, and with the skies overhead alive with the thunder of Luftwaffe formations of bombers and fighters, there was no way to disprove it.

Generalleutnant Wever, as he now was, having seen the Rhineland Program heading toward completion, bent his energies to the Luftwaffe’s second-generation force. Wever assigned highest priority to the development of a basic four-engine strategic bomber design. Through the technical chief, Colonel Wimmer, General Wever pressed development contracts on the Junkers works at Dessau and on Claudius Dornier at his Friedrichshaven plant on Lake Constance. Both Wever and Wimmer were satisfied with the preliminary drawings, and work proceeded to the mock-up stage. In final configuration, both bombers were remarkably similar: broad wings exceeding one hundred feet in length, four engines grouped closely together, deep-bellied fuselages, twin rudders. The Do.19, typically Dornier, was cleaner of line than its competitor, the Ju.89, which (typically Junkers) was brutish and robust. Both featured retractable landing gear housed inside the inboard engine nacelles; both bombers’ noses rode high off the ground.

Wimmer recalled how, in the spring of 1935, he persuaded Goering to accompany him on a visit to Dessau. They marched through the crowded Junkers workshops, shouting to be heard above the crash of hammers, the whine of plane saws, the stutter of riveting guns and the crackle of arc welding equipment. They passed through the great sliding doors leading into a cavernous building where the only sounds were the gentle scraping of sandpaper, the desultory slap-slap-slap of paintbrushes, and the creak of wood being fitted to wood. Goering gazed upward at the full-scale mock-up of the giant Ju.89, its bulk seeming to fill the hangar. Goering turned incredulously to Wimmer and, still shouting, yelled out, “What on earth’s that?”

Wimmer explained that it was the final wooden study of the much-discussed Ural bomber, about which the Minister must surely have been informed. Wimmer remembered that Goering turned suddenly furious and bellowed, “Any such major project as that can only be decided by me personally!” Then Goering stamped out of the building. Wimmer was at a loss, but decided that Goering’s blast was only another temper tantrum, probably forgotten by the time he got back to Berlin. Work on the Ju.89 continued.

Next, Wimmer escorted Blomberg through the Dornier works and explained in detail about the hoped-for capability of the Do.19. The War Minister listened patiently, then asked Wimmer when he thought the Do.19 could become operational. Wimmer replied, “In about four or five years.” Blomberg, along with every other German officer of field rank, believed that the next war could not possibly begin before 1942 or 1943. Therefore, if the strategic bombers, the Ju.89s and/or the Do.19s, were ready for combat by the spring of 1939 or 1940, that would be soon enough. His somewhat abstract comment to Colonel Wimmer in response to the time lag Wimmer mentioned, “Yes, that’s about the size of it,” was interpreted to mean that he was favorably impressed with the Do.19. Work on the big bomber was ordered to proceed.

The dual-purpose Luftwaffe envisioned by Wever required not only a strike force with extended reach, but a tactical sword whose importance lay not in the weight of the blade but in the speed of the stroke. Even before Wever’s installation in the command structure, airmen in the old Fliegerzentrale used to theorize endlessly about the kind of bombers they would someday build. What emerged from these serious daydreams was the concept of bombers so fast they would outrun fighters, obviating the need for heavy defensive armament whose weight — plus that of the men needed to serve the guns — could be better utilized in payload or fuel. It was a concept with which Wever did not argue. Fortunately for the development section of the Luftwaffe’s Technical Office, such a bomber already existed in prototype, a reject found in Lufthansa’s passenger-plane bin.

Late in 1933, Lufthansa presented Dornier with a requirement for a new mail plane capable of hauling six passengers; because the airlines wanted the plane for use on express runs between European cities only, range was not important, but speed was paramount. The most powerful engines then available were BMW Vis, twelve-cylinder, liquid-cooled inlines developing 660 horsepower at takeoff, and around this power plant, with its low frontal area, Dornier designers planned to build the most aerodynamically advanced aircraft in the world. The fuselage was as slim as a pencil, the nose shaped like a bullet. The round-tipped wings, fifty-nine feet long, were set in the shoulder of the fuselage, some distance aft of the flight deck, and faired so smoothly that the wing-body structure seemed to have been poured molten into a mold and allowed to set. The rudder was small and nearly triangular. The wide-track landing gear folded neatly backward into the curve of the engine nacelles, and, as a final triumph over drag, even the small tail wheel retracted into the fuselage where it was so narrow a large man could encircle it with both arms.

Lufthansa took delivery of three prototype Do.17s for evaluation. Test pilots were enthusiastic about control response and general handling, the traffic chiefs agreed that the two hundred-plus miles per hour exceeded performance requirements, and Lufthansa’s flight engineers were keen on the new power plants. But those responsible for passenger ticket sales vetoed the Do.17 on the spot. Because the plane had been designed for speed, and only speed, accommodation for fare-paying passengers was only an afterthought: a tiny cabin for two people was fitted immediately behind the flight deck, making the clients almost part of the crew; but unlike the crew, their visibility was extremely restricted. Room for four others was made just aft of the wing, providing a good view downward — along with the full benefit of the noise of the engines and the propellers. Ingress and egress to the seats required contortions not possible except to the young and the athletic, and women hobbled with the skirts of the time would have refused the attempt. All three prototypes were returned to Dornier.

At this point, Flight Captain Untucht stepped into the picture. Untucht, Lufthansa’s chief pilot and a former test pilot for Dornier, had friends in the Air Ministry, and he suggested that the elegant Do.17, with only a few modifications, would make an ideal quick-dash bomber. The forward passenger box was ripped out and replaced with radio equipment and a seat for the operator. Portholes were eliminated. The fuselage was shortened by twenty-two inches, and the single rudder was replaced by twin rudders to eliminate the plane’s only evil, a tendency to yaw left and right. A sixth prototype, the Do.17V6, was fitted with different engines, twelve-cylinder Hispano-Suiza inlines developing 775 horsepower at takeoff, and, thus modified, the new bomber entered flight trials in the fall of 1935. With the throttles bent all the way forward, the V6 clocked a sizzling 243 miles per hour, faster than Heinkel’s famous He.70 Blitz, and 13 miles per hour faster than Britain’s latest biplane fighter, the Gloster Gauntlet.

The argument was advanced within the Luftwaffe Technical Office that since chance had provided the long-discussed highspeed bomber, production should commence without further modifications; no armament was needed; speed alone was proof against interception. Sagely, the suggestion was vetoed. After all, it was only a question of time before tomorrow’s enemy, whoever that might be, produced faster fighters. The Technical Office ordered guns installed. The Do.17 went through yet two more prototype versions, ending with the V9; then full production began for the Luftwaffe with model Do.17E-1. Armament included a 7.9 millimeter (.30 caliber) machine gun firing downward and another gun mounted on top of the fuselage just aft of the wing. The maximum bomb load was 1,650 pounds, i.e., a pair of 550-pounders and four 110-pound general-purpose bombs. Speed was reduced to 220 miles per hour at sea level, and the thin, low-drag wings accommodated fuel enough for a tactical range of barely 310 miles — enough, however, for a highspeed run and back from the Oder to Warsaw, from the Rhine to Paris, or from Düsseldorf to London. With a quantity order in hand, Dornier produced an innovation in the manufacturing process: the DO.17’s airframe was broken down into component parts for ease in subcontracting, a technique that not only resulted in early dispersal of the German aircraft industry, but made it easier for replacement of damaged airframe parts at group and even squadron level.

The other major contributor to the Luftwaffe’s plowshares-into-swords scheme was Ernst Heinkel. Even before the last of the seventy-two He.70s ordered by the Air Ministry rolled off the line at Warnemünde, its derivative big brother was being assembled in the new plant at Marienehe. Unlike the Do.17, Heinkel’s 111 was laid out on the drawing board as both a bomber and a transport right at the start. In civil dress, the He.111 carried ten passengers — four forward and six aft. In between was an improvised space Lufthansa called a smoking compartment, but which was in reality the bomb bay. The He.111, powered by the BMW VI engines, was a much larger airplane than the Do.17 — the wings, broad and elliptical, spanned fully eighty-two feet — and was nearly a ton and a half heavier unladen. Even so, the first test flight on February 24, 1935, produced a top speed of 217 miles per hour, and a pilot verdict that the handling characteristics were delightful, even superior to those of the famous He.70 Blitz. The Luftwaffe ordered ten He.111s in full military configuration, including three machine-gun positions, a longer fuselage, and a many-windowed plastic nose section for the bombardier. Ballasted for the maximum bomb load of 2,200 pounds, the gross weight of the bomber shot up to more than six tons, and the cruising speed dropped to under 170 miles per hour. Luftwaffe test pilots at the Rechlin proving center complained that the He.111 required excessive stick pressures and, in general, was mulish in flight. All ten were rejected — but Heinkel later sold them at a handsome profit to Chiang Kai-shek.

Now Daimler-Benz came forward with a new engine that not only saved the He.111 program, but boosted the dreams of fighter plane designers, who were frustrated at the meager horsepower available inside Germany. The new power plant, an inverted V, twelve-cylinder inline, boasted 1,000 horsepower at takeoff, and this made all the difference. Powered with the DB 600A engines, the fifth prototype of the new bomber reached 224 miles per hour in trials at Rechlin despite the extra 838 pounds added to the gross weight by the bigger engines. Could Heinkel have all the new Daimler engines he wanted for series production of the He.111? He could not; they, and improved variants already in the works, were earmarked for the fighter program, but the Luftwaffe was so keen on the prospects of the He.111 in that Daimler was asked to provide similar, if slightly downrated, power plants for the new Heinkel bomber. With certain structural modifications — including altering the pure ellipses of the wings to a more straight-line shape in the interests of simplifying and speeding up shopwork — and equipped to mount DB 600C engines offering 880 horsepower, the He111B-1 was ordered into full production.

Heinkel’s production capacity was strained to the limit, but relief was promised with the visit of Colonel Fritz Loeb, a young Luftwaffe officer attached to the Technical Office. Loeb told Heinkel that the air force wanted yet another factory built, one devoted exclusively to the output of He.111s at an initial rate of one hundred a month. Heinkel, already heavily overspent on the new works at Marienehe, asked where the funds were coming from; he had no intention of going into hock with the moneylenders. Loeb told him the Luftwaffe would pay for everything, that money was no problem. Indeed it was not; the Luftwaffe budget was increasing by quantum jumps. Under Special Plan XVI for fiscal 1933-1934, the Luftwaffe was allotted $30 million, of which $10 million was siphoned from funds available to the army and navy. For fiscal 1934-1935, the amount was increased to $52 million, and from 1935 onward, the Luftwaffe had at its disposal $85 million in one budget and a whopping $750 million in a separate black fund financed through interest-bearing notes sold by the government to the Reichsbank. This scheme was concocted by the Reichsbank’s president, financial wizard Hjalmar Schact, who kept the transactions secret in order to avoid inflation at home and loss of confidence in the reichsmark abroad.

Colonel Loeb specified that the new plant must be located near Berlin and made it clear that the factory must be laid out with war in mind. He told Heinkel, “Not in a city — no compact block of buildings, but everything scattered in case of attacks from the air.” Heinkel pointed out that dispersion resulted in production inefficiency with consequent loss of profit margins. “Don’t worry about it,” Loeb said, “it isn’t your money.”

Heinkel’s scouts roamed the countryside near Berlin and came back with the report that the hilly, wooded stretch of heath near Oranienburg seemed ideal. Oranienburg was only eighteen miles north of the heart of Berlin, and an electric tramline connected the two places. The major drawback was the absence of water. Heinkel sent for a diviner, who plodded across the vacant spaces with a forked stick, and shortly afterward reported a strike. Sure enough, ample water was found only six feet beneath the surface. Heinkel consulted Hitler’s architect, young Albert Speer, and plans for the Oranienburg works were completed at the beginning of April 1936. The plant was broken down into eight major workshops, many of them hidden under the trees. Despite the possibility of air raids, Heinkel later boasted of the plant’s “vast areas of glass framed in steel and red-glazed brick.” Deep shelters were dug, however, and the factory ran its own large fire department. New track was laid connecting the complex with the main line running from Berlin to Oranienburg, but rail traffic was necessarily intended for delivery of raw materials, and Heinkel realized that dependence upon the tram for getting workers back and forth from Berlin was only asking for trouble. A workers’ town was built on the site, comprising twelve hundred homes, a school, a town hall, theaters, shops, laundries and a swimming pool. Ground was broken on May 4,1936, and a year to the day later, the first He. 111 bomber taxied out of the assembly shop to the cheers of thousands of workers and invited guests. Oranienburg was the German aviation industry’s showcase, and the Luftwaffe used it to impress — and intimidate — visitors from abroad.

The high-speed medium bomber program was purely a Luftwaffe idea, but the concept of pinpoint bombing of highly selected, individual targets using specially constructed dive-bombers releasing loads along the plane’s near-vertical axis of flight was borrowed from the United States Navy. That the concept was hammered into operational reality over stubborn opposition and at great personal risk to its prophet was due to the fiery dedication of one man: a civilian barnstormer?, Germany’s greatest living ace from the war, Ernst Udet.