Tilly and the evolution of tactics 2

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Contemporary painting showing the Battle of White Mountain (1620), where Imperial-Spanish forces under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly won a decisive victory.

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Count Tilly on a portrait by Anthony van Dyck.

Count Jean Tserclaes Tilly (1559–1632) was another outstanding product of Jesuit training. First seeing service in Spain, the Walloon learnt the art of war from the age of 15, serving under the Duke of Parma in his war against the Dutch. In 1610, he was appointed commander of the forces of the Catholic League, established in 1609 as a loose alliance of Catholic principalities and minor states. Like Wallenstein, Tilly brought in important reforms, especially from his experience of the formidable Spanish infantry. Nicknamed the ‘monk of war’, he soon proved to be a highly capable organiser of infantry tactics, which were quickly adopted by Ferdinand’s troops.

The infantry at this stage still consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The pikemen wore armour and carried a pike, which at that time was between 15 and 18 feet long, made of ash with a sharp metal point. Their officers carried shorter pikes with coloured ribbons. The musketeers were a kind of light infantry with a light metal helmet, later replaced by a felt hat. The heavy musket they carried needed to be rested on a wooden pole with an iron fork to be fired. The ‘ammunition’ was contained variously in a bandolier, a flask of gunpowder and a brass bottle of combustible material, the so-called Zundkraut as well as a leather bag containing small metal balls. A small bottle of oil was also carried to ensure that the ‘alchemy’ required to fire the weapon functioned smoothly. This was far from straightforward. A hint of the complexity of firing this primitive musket is given by the fact that ninety-nine separate commands were needed to fire and reload the weapon.

A further forty-one commands existed for dealing with the musket at other times. As this suggests, the need to increase the rate of fire and simplify the munitions were priorities for all commanders throughout the Thirty Years War. These problems would only be solved with the advent of the Swedes, who entered the fray against the Habsburg in 1630. They had a modern solution to many of these problems: the introduction of small cartridges wrapped in paper.

The only tactical unit at this time was the company, which was deployed in a large square made up usually of between 15 and 20 companies. This formation was 50 men deep with its flanks protected by 10 rows of musketeers. Despite much practice at marching to form such elaborate formations as the so-called ‘Cross of Burgundy’ or ‘Eight-pointed Star’, it takes little imagination to realise that manoeuvring in such formations was virtually impossible. The idea of marching to a single beat of the drum had still to be widely introduced and cohesive movement was only possible by extended rank.

Where Tilly proved so successful in organising infantry tactics, Wallenstein proved no less formidable in handling cavalry. Cavalry like infantry were divided into heavy and light. The heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and lancers, both armoured down to their boots. In addition to their main weapon, lancers were also armed with a sword and two pistols, symbols of their privileged status as bodyguards to the commanders in the field. The cuirassiers carried the heavy straight sabre or ‘pallasch’, which was designed to cut as well as thrust.

The horsed ‘carabiniers’ were organised as light cavalry as their only armour was a metal helmet and a light breastplate. Equipped with a shorter musket and 18 cartridges, these horsemen also carried pistols and a short sword. The dragoons were also equipped with a short musket and were indeed originally horsed musketeers. As the barrels of their muskets were often decorated with a dragon, they became known as dragoons. Deployed as advance guard cavalry they carried an axe with which, in theory, they could batter down doors and gates.

To these conventional groupings Wallenstein added new elements. An important part of the horsed advance guard was the ‘ungrischen Hussaren’, or Hungarian hussars. Together with the Croats they formed the irregular elements of the army who could be deployed to plunder and terrorise their opponents as well as perform scouting and reconnaissance.

The origin of the term ‘hussar’ to this day is a source of debate. The word most likely stems from the Slavic Gursar or Gusar. Other theories link the word to the German Herumstreifender or Corsaren; this last with its imagery of piracy perhaps being nearer to the truth than many a Hungarian would care to admit. Famous for giving their enemies no quarter, they became the nucleus of what would become the finest light cavalry in the world.

As with the infantry, the cavalry were grouped into companies. Often these were called Cornetten and hence the title of the junior officer of each such company was ‘Cornet’. As these were formed into a square, the custom arose to call four of these companies a ‘squadron’ from the Italian quadra, meaning square. In theory every cavalry regiment consisted of ten companies each of a hundred riders but in reality no cavalry regiment had more than 500 men.

Drill of these formations was aimed at disordering infantry by charging the last 60 paces at the enemy’s pikemen or cavalry. There was to be no firing from the saddle until the cavalry could ‘see the white in the eye of the foe’ (‘Weiss im Aug des Feindt sehen thut’). Led by such Imperial officers as Gottfried Pappenheim, famous for his many wounds and refusal to be impressed by titles, or the redoubtable Johann Sporck, a giant of a man with hair like bronze, perhaps the most feared cavalry general of his time, the Imperial cavalry was trained in shock tactics relying on aggression and surprise to demoralise their opponents.

The artillery remained a strict caste apart. Each unit of artillery was in theory organised to have 24 guns of different calibre. Mortars and other guns were added to each unit. Every gun had as its team a lieutenant and eleven gunners. These were supported by the so-called Schanzbauern or Pioneers, who were organised into units as large as 300 under an officer of the rank of Captain. The unit had its own flag made of silk which displayed as its badge a shovel and its men were also skilled carpenters able to strengthen bridges, not just demolish them.

Imperialist versus rebel

Such an army for all its appearance was not in any way comparable to the armies of later years. There was no obvious way of telling one army from another. As any army advanced across the ravaged plains of Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War, it was accompanied by bands of irregulars, bandits and marauders, including spies and other n’er-do-wells who plundered the local landscape like locusts.

Armies learnt to distinguish each other by what would in modern parlance be called ‘call signs’. At Breitenfeld in 1631, a battle which threw into sharp relief the energy and skill of the Swedes under their king, Gustavus Adolphus, the Imperialists under Tilly shouted ‘Jesus-Maria’ as they fought while the Swedes used the phrase: ‘God with us’. As battles were fought and won, it became the custom to reward the officers and men with financial gifts. Thus after Lutzen, General Breuner was given 10,000 gulden while the brave Colloredo regiment was awarded collectively 9,200 gulden.

The names of the Imperial officers came from two sources. The aristocrats who had preferred to convert to Catholicism took full advantage of the political support Ferdinand offered them. Many of the names we encounter here for the first time will pop up again and again in our story: Khevenhueller, Trauttmannsdorff, Liechtenstein, Forgách, Eggenberg and Althan (these last two left behind them world-class works of architecture to commemorate their position and wealth: Schloss Eggenberg, on the outskirts of Graz, and Vranov – Schloss Frein – in Moravia). Then came a group whose careers were made in the long Turkish wars. These included not only Ferdinand’s enemies Thurn, Hohenlohe, Schlick and Mansfeld, but a large number of his most important military commanders from Wallenstein downwards.

By 1620, Ferdinand was ready to move on to the attack. He now had no fewer than five separate armies with which to renew the offensive. Dampierre held Vienna with 5,000 men. Bucquoy was advancing along the Wachau with 21,000; from Upper Austria, the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian, advanced alongside Tilly with 21,000, while a Spanish army invaded the Lower Palatinate. The previously Protestant lands of Lower Austria and Upper Austria were cleared of the rebels and more than sixty Protestant noblemen fled to Retz with their families. Half of these would be proclaimed outlaws. Both provinces had been recovered for Ferdinand and the Church with barely a shot being fired.

As the armies advanced into Lusatia and Moravia, the irregular forces of the Emperor began to introduce a far more brutal and indiscriminate warfare. Plundering, rape and other atrocities became widespread, especially among the Cossacks sent by the Polish Queen who was Ferdinand’s sister. On the rebels’ side Hungarian irregulars proved no less capable of atrocities and had in Ferdinand’s own words ‘subjected the prisoners to unheard of torture …’ killing pregnant women and throwing babies on to fires. Ferdinand would later note: ‘So badly have the enemy behaved that one cannot recall whether such terror was the prerogative of the Turk.’

These acts of cruelty set the tone for much of what occurred later. On 7 November 1620 Maximilian and Tilly finally reached the outskirts of Prague where they faced the new rebel commander, Prince Christian of Anhalt, who had taken up a potentially strong defensive position exploiting the advantage of the so-called White Mountain, in reality more of a hill, a few miles to the west of Prague.

Anhalt’s forces consisted of about 20,000 men of whom half were cavalry. Some 5,000 of these were Hungarian light cavalry. His artillery consisted of only a few guns. The entrenching tools to convert his position into something more formidable never arrived. Thus was the stage set for destruction of the Bohemian rebels. The Imperial forces were superior in artillery, but more importantly in morale. The commanders were divided on what they should do next and it was only when an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been burnt out by Calvinist iconoclasts was brandished in front of Wallenstein’s ally Bucquoy that he suddenly ordered the attack.

Anhalt deployed his cavalry but they made no impact on the Imperial horsemen and they fled after an initial skirmish. The Bohemian foot followed rapidly and even the feared Moravian infantry dissolved when Tilly appeared in front of them. The Battle of the White Mountain was over by early afternoon. The Imperial forces had suffered barely 600 casualties and the rebels more than 2,000 but what turned this skirmish into a decisive victory was Tilly’s determination to keep up the momentum against a demoralised enemy. Prague, despite its fortifications, surrendered as rebel morale everywhere collapsed. Frederick joined the fugitives streaming out of the city to the east, leaving his crown behind him along with the hopes of a Protestant Europe. As the Czech historian Josef Pekař rightly observed, the Battle of the White Mountain was the clash between the German and Roman worlds and the Roman world won. Had the German world won, Bohemia would have rapidly been absorbed by Protestant Germany and Czech culture would have ceased to exist.

For Protestantism, with the departure of the Winter King and his wife into exile in Holland, the tide of history which had seemed to run in the direction of the new faith in the sixteenth century now appeared to have turned irrevocably. Increasingly perceived as divisive, unhistorical and radical, Protestantism unsettled those who feared anarchy and extremism. The population of Prague sought refuge in the old certainties and comfortable verities of the Catholic Church and within a year the Jesuits had made the city into a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation.

As Professor R.J.W. Evans has pointed out, the demoralised forces of the new faith had little reply to the intellectual and practical solutions of the Society of Jesus. Those who sought refuge in the occult and Rosicrucian view of the world were ‘qualified at best only for passive resistance to the attacks of the Counter-Reformation’.

Moreover not only did Ferdinand’s personal piety inspire his subjects through the widespread dissemination of the Virtutes Ferdinandi II penned by his Jesuit confessor Lamormaini, but the international flavour of the new orders, like Ferdinand’s army, was a powerful intellectual weapon. At the opening of the Jesuit University of Graz the inaugural addresses had been given in eighteen languages. When Ignatius Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 he had from the beginning conceived it as a ‘military’ formation led by a ‘general’ who expected unhesitating obedience and the highest intellectual and spiritual formation among his recruits. These principles guided Ferdinand’s vision of his army. The offensive of the intellect was supported by more practical steps. In 1621, all of the ringleaders of the Bohemian rebels were executed on Ferdinand’s orders in the Old Town Square in Prague.

It was typical of Ferdinand II that while these ‘Bohemian martyrs’ were brought to the gallows, the Habsburg went on a pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine of Mariazell in his native Styria specifically to pray for their souls. In the years that followed, prayer and sword moved in perfect counterpoint for the Habsburg cause. If Ferdinand was the spearhead of spiritual revival, on the battlefield the corresponding military reawakening was to be organised by Wallenstein.

Wallenstein stood out from the newly minted nobility around Ferdinand because of his logistical skills, which he deployed with unrivalled expertise despite his physical disabilities. Plagued by gout which often forced him to be carried by litter, Wallenstein ceaselessly instructed his subordinates to organise his affairs to the last detail. Agriculture was virtually collectivised under his control to ensure that every crop and animal was nurtured efficiently to supply his armies. A fortunate second marriage to the daughter of Count Harrach, one of Ferdinand’s principal advisers, brought him yet more support at court. In April 1625, Ferdinand agreed to Wallenstein raising 6,000 horsemen and nearly 20,000 foot soldiers. Wallenstein’s force gave the Emperor freedom of manoeuvre. He now had formidable forces to counterbalance the armies of the Catholic League led by Tilly, who always showed signs of answering in the first instance to his Bavarian masters rather than to the Emperor Ferdinand.

Habsburg irregulars: the Pandours

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Bannalist and Pandour, Freikorps Trenck. By Morier, 1743.

As well as the Hungarians there came another group of volunteers: the Pandours. These brigands, often the natives of the ‘wrong side’ of the Military Frontier, followed their leader, the gifted Baron Trenck. This Trenck is not to be confused with his kinsman who was initially in the Prussian service and whose memoirs were widely read in the eighteenth century. The Austrian Trenck pledged a unit of irregulars, a Freikorps (Free Corps) numbering about 1,000 to Maria Theresa’s aid.

These irregulars were welcomed into the Imperial service even though they possessed no conventional officer corps but a system whereby each unit of fifty men obeyed a ‘Harumbascha’. All the Pandours, Harumbaschas included, were paid 6 kreutzer a day out of Trenck’s own estates, a pitiful sum. This was certainly not enough for any semblance of a uniform and their appearance was highly exotic. When they appeared in Vienna at the end of May 1741, the ‘Wienerische Diarium’ could write:

Two Battalions of regular infantry lined up to parade as the Pandours entered the city. The Irregulars greeted the regulars with long drum rolls on long Turkish drums. They bore no colours but were attired in picturesque oriental garments from which protruded pistols, knives and other weapons. The Empress ordered twelve of the tallest to be invited with their officer to her Ante-Room where they were paraded in front of the dowager Empress Christina.

Neipperg found the Pandours rather raw meat. He was unused to the ways of the Military Frontier. On several occasions while campaigning he had to remind them that they were ‘here to kill the enemy not to plunder the civilian population’. The Pandour excesses soon provoked Neipperg into attempting to replace Trenck. The man chosen for this daunting task was a Major Mentzel who had seen service in Russia and was therefore deemed to be familiar with the ‘barbaric’ ways of the Pandours. Unfortunately, some Pandours fell upon Mentzel as soon as news of his appointment was announced and the hapless Major only escaped with his life after the intervention of several senior Harumbaschas and Austrian officers.

Mentzel, notwithstanding this indignity, was formally proclaimed commander of the Pandours, whereupon a mutiny took place which only Khevenhueller, a man of the Austrian south and therefore familiar with Slavic methods, could stem by reinstating Trenck under his personal command. At both Steyr and Linz, the Pandours in their colourful dress decorated with heart-shaped badges and Turkic headdresses would distinguish themselvesagainst the Bavarians. Indeed, by the middle of 1742 the mention of their name alone was enough to clear the terrain of faint-hearted opponents. Within five years they would be incorporated into the regular army though with an order of precedence on Maria Theresa’s specific instruction ‘naturally after that of my Regular infantry regiments’. At Budweis (Budejovice) they captured ten Prussian standards and four guns.

The crisis was far from over. While Khevenhueller prepared a force to defend Vienna, the Bavarians gave the Austrian capital some respite by turning north from Upper Austria and invading Bohemia. By November, joined by French and Saxon troops, this force surprised the Prague garrison of some 3,000 men under General Ogilvy and stormed into the city largely unopposed on the night of 25 November. To deal with these new threats, Maria Theresa using Neipperg as her plenipotentiary had signed an armistice with Frederick at Klein Schnellendorf. She realised that her armies were in no condition to fight Bavarians, Saxons, French and Prussians simultaneously.

Maria Theresa received the news of Prague’s surrender with redoubled determination. In a letter to Kinsky, her Bohemian Chancellor she insisted: ‘I must have Grund and Boden and to this end I shall have all my armies, all my Hungarians killed off before I cede so much as an inch of ground.’

Charles Albert the Elector of Bavaria rubbed salt into the wounds by crowning himself King of Bohemia and thus eligible to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. The dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire was entering a new and deadly phase. Maria Theresa was now only Archduchess of Austria and ‘King’ of Hungary.

The election of a non-Habsburg ‘Emperor’ immediately provided a practical challenge for the Habsburg forces on the battlefield. Their opponents were swift to put the famous twin-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire on their standards. To avoid confusion Maria Theresa ordered its ‘temporary’ removal from her own army’s standards. The Imperial eagle with its two heads vanished from the standards of Maria Theresa’s infantry to be replaced on both sides of the flag with a bold image of the Madonna, an inspired choice, uniting as it did the Mother of Austria with the Mother of Christ and so investing the ‘Mater Castrorum’ with all the divine prestige and purity of motive of the Virgin Mary.

Another development followed: because Maria Theresa’s forces could no longer be designated ‘Imperial’ there emerged the concept of a royal Bohemian and Hungarian army which became increasingly referred to for simplicity’s sake as ‘Austrian’. The name would stick. When less than five years later Maria Theresa’s husband was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, Europe had become accustomed to referring to the Habsburg armies as the Austrians.

A glimmer of hope appeared as Khevenhueller cleared Upper Austria of the Bavarians and French. He blockaded Linz, which was held by 10,000 French troops under Ségur. And by seizing Scharding on the Inn he deprived the unfortunate French garrison of all chance of relief from Bavaria. The Tyroleans showed their skill at mountain warfare and ambushed one Bavarian force after another, inflicting fearful casualties. On the day that Charles Albert of Bavaria was elected Holy Roman Emperor, Khevenhueller sent the Bavarian upstart an unequivocal message: he occupied his home city of Munich and torched his palace.

THE PLAIN OF CATANIA – 1943 Part I

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Seaforth Highlanders Pipes and Drums at Catania Stadium, Sicily in August 1943.

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British troops in Catania.

The decisions taken by Alexander on 13 and 16 July dictated the form that the campaign would take. By giving Montgomery the use of Highway 124 he had made the Eighth Army the principal agent by which Messina should be captured, and relegated the Seventh to a secondary role. With XIII and XXX Corps advancing on two fronts towards Catania and Enna respectively, the expectation was that Catania would quickly be occupied; but a stalemate developed as the German defences stiffened south of the city. Montgomery’s attempt to broaden his front there by moving 51st (Highland) Division up on the left of XIII Corps, which might have outflanked the enemy, was too late. On 16 July Alexander took the decision to move both of the British corps eastwards – only for them to run directly into the Axis defence line known as the Hauptkampflinie which Kesselring had agreed with Generals Hube and Guzzoni. The Axis forces in Sicily were now, de facto, under the command of the Germans, and General Hube was an effective instrument to carry out their policy – which was not wholly communicated to the Italians – of fighting a defensive battle which would lead to eventual evacuation of the island.

As outlined earlier, on 16 July Hitler ordered further reinforcements into Sicily. The one-armed General der Panzertruppen Hans Valentin Hube’s XIV Panzer Corps Headquarters arrived and took firm control of the German forces, which now included the remainder of 1st Parachute Division (less one regiment), which arrived from Avignon, and much of 29th Panzer Grenadier Division which crossed the Messina Straits from Calabria. The Luftwaffe flak batteries were brought into action as field artillery. Whatever Kesselring may have told Hube about the potential for driving the Allies back into the sea, Hube was clear in his own mind that a progressive withdrawal was the only feasible strategy. He had also received secret orders to keep the Italians out of planning, and was to gain control of all Italian units still in Sicily. His task was to save as many German forces as possible for future operations. By 2 August, Hube would be in control of all Sicilian operations.

Every move that the British made on the Catania Plain could be observed from the slopes of Mount Etna. Hube had sufficient forces to counter any advance XIII Corps could make, but no proper reserves. While 5th and 50th Divisions attempted to progress northwards, the Hermann Göring Division and the Fallschirmjäger dug in firmly.

The first of the defence lines which the Axis command established to protect the withdrawal to the Straits of Messina, the Hauptkampflinie, ran along the route of the road just west of Santo Stefano, south to Nicosia and Agira, then east to Regalbuto before heading south again to Catenanuova, eastwards along the Dittaino River, and ran across the northern edge of the Catania Plain, reaching the coast about six miles south of that city. The line therefore ran all of the way from the northern to the eastern seaboards, taking advantage of the mountainous terrain, a river bank, and the Catania Plain with its broken countryside.

Fifteen miles behind this line the Germans planned the Etna Line, from San Fratello south to Troina and then east to Adrano (which was also known as Aderno in some accounts) and along the road which ran eastwards along the southern edge of Etna to the sea at Acireale. Behind this, the innermost defence line which protected the north-eastern evacuation sites ran from Mount Pelato through Cesaro and Bronte to the sea near Riposto.

The three lines were based on natural features which lent themselves to defence, and which could be strengthened by demolishing roads and bridges and by the laying of minefields and booby-traps. The defences were beginning to be established, albeit not yet firmly, by 17 July. The anchor of the Hauptkampflinie was Catania – and it was here that Montgomery pressed XIII Corps to attack.

Between 16 and 22 July the Axis operations were focused on three, largely independent, areas. In the east, forces largely made up from the Hermann Göring Division held the line of the Dittaino River from Dittaino Station to the sea, forty-two miles to the east and four miles south of Catania. Alongside the Hermann Göring Division were elements of 1st Parachute Division, part of the Livorno Division, and 76 Infantry Regiment from the Napoli Division. Facing them were XIII Corps and 51st Division from XXX Corps.

In the centre of the Axis front, 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was withdrawing from a line which ran through the towns of Caltanissetta, Pietraperzia, Barrafrance, Piazza Armerina, and then north-westwards to the Leonforte-Nicosia area. Here, 1st Canadian Division was in contact with the enemy at the eastern end of the twenty-mile line. At the western end of this sector, 1st (US) and 45th (US) Divisions were in pursuit.

The westernmost section of the Hauptkampflinie was the most fluid. Here the Italian XII Corps, comprising the Assietta and Aosta Divisions, most of the Corps artillery and three Mobile Groups, had been ordered back to defend a forty-five mile length of line on Highway 120 running from Cerda through Petralia to Nicosia. Harassed in their retirement by American troops and aircraft, some of the Italian columns were destroyed as they moved along the narrow roads.

The defence line was very long, and was not continuous. Formations were not firmly linked together, and the forces were thinly stretched; in theory, it should have been possible for attackers to feel out weak spots through which to thrust deep into enemy territory. In practice, however, the terrain dictated otherwise, and the climate did not help. The road-bound Allies were tied to the narrow, winding routes which were frequently even more constrained by the stone walls which bordered them.

The most practical directions along which to advance were generally the most obvious – and the most obvious places to concentrate the defences. The Allies were further hindered by their lack of animal transport. During the planning stages for HUSKY seven companies of pack-mules were included in the Eighth Army’s Order of Battle, but these were not included when priorities were established for shipping men and materiel to Sicily. On 17 July, Eighth Army signalled to Middle East that ‘No Pack Transport Units are required by 8th Army in Sicily’. Although local mule trains were organised, they were too small and too untrained to achieve anything more than small tasks.

From Alexander’s perspective, the Eighth Army appeared to be the formation best situated to achieve the objective of seizing Messina and sealing off the enemy’s escape route. Not only were the British well-positioned – on the map – to push up the eastern coast of Sicily, but there was also the legacy of the performance of the Americans and British in North Africa, which left a lingering mistrust of Seventh Army’s reliability. Alexander had confidence, built upon evidence of past performance, in Montgomery. But Monty’s assertion, on 12 July, that Catania would be in his hands two days later failed to materialise – as did his revised target of reaching the city on the 16th. Alexander’s faith in Montgomery had led him to accept the redefinition of the Anglo-American armies’ boundary; the failure to push 45th (US) Division rapidly northwards on Highway 112 had cost him the opportunity to split Sicily in two quickly and to forestall the Germans’ window of opportunity to inject fresh forces into the island and to stabilise their defence lines.

Montgomery’s strategy, accepted by Alexander, effectively sent the Eighth Army in diverging directions to objectives forty-five miles apart – XIII Corps towards Catania, and XXX Corps towards Enna – while the American Seventh Army was left without a real role in achieving the objective of securing Messina, other than protecting the British left flank. As the Catania front became stalemated, so Monty tried to extend it by bringing 51st (Highland) Division from XXX Corps up on the left of XIII Corps, but he was too late to affect a decisive blow against the enemy defences. Alexander’s decision to push both corps eastwards, taken on 16 July, was also too late to bring about the desired result. By this time the Axis defences had become sufficiently well knitted together to prevent the success of the strategy.

On 18 July Montgomery decided that 50th Division would hold fast in the Primosole area, while 5th Division would strike about three and a half miles west of the bridge, towards Misterbianco. The line of attack was to cross the Gornalunga and Simeto Rivers; any further west and it would have had to cross the Dittaino River as well. On the night of 18-19 July 13 Brigade succeeded in making a shallow bridgehead across the Simeto, through which 15 Brigade mounted an attack at 0130 hours on the 20th. The attack faded out, partly because the infantry battalions’ positions were unclear to the supporting artillery – all eight field and one medium regiments of it – and they were unable to bring effective fire down to assist the advance. In fact the infantry had advanced about three thousand yards before being brought to a halt by machine guns and mortar fire from the enemy who were situated in the gullies and ditches which criss-crossed the ground north of the river. A later attempt to restart the assault came to nothing when enemy defensive fire caused confusion and delay, and the division was ordered to consolidate where it was, pending changes in plans.

Further west again, by another eleven miles, Montgomery had hoped that 51st (Highland) Division would be in Paterno by the night of 20 July. General Wimberley intended to reach that town at speed, using his ‘Arrow Force’ on the right and 154 Infantry Brigade on the left. Arrow Force was an all-arms battle group based on Headquarters 23 Armoured Brigade, with 50th RTR (less two troops), 11th (Honourable Artillery Company) Regiment RHA, 243rd Antitank Battery RA, a company from 1/7th Middlesex Regiment – the Division’s medium machinegun battalion – and 2nd Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders. As such, it was a self-sufficient formation capable of acting relatively independently.

Paterno, however, was difficult to approach tactically, being on the far side of three rivers, the Simeto, the Dittaino and the Gornalunga. To get there, either the enemy defences at Sferro or Gerbini had to be penetrated; the two towns protected alternative routes. Arrow Force succeeded in making a shallow bridgehead over the Dittaino at Stimpano, on the Gerbini route, by 18 July, while 154 Brigade advanced through Ramacca with 152 Brigade behind it as the reserve which would exploit whichever route proved most promising. 153 Brigade was to the right moving on Sferro. Now Wimberley changed the direction of his advance, sending 154 Brigade through the Stimpano bridgehead towards Motta Station and 153 to Sferro with the intention of forcing a bridgehead across the Dittaino.

Both brigades ran into more opposition than expected. 154 Brigade was unable to cross the Simeto by dawn on 19 July. At Sferro, 153 Brigade’s 5th Battalion of The Black Watch made a bridgehead and dug in with mortars and antitank guns. The battalion was supported by machineguns from the Middlesex, and the guns of 127th Field Regiment RA. The defenders of Sferro brought down heavy fire on them from artillery, tanks and mortars, causing some sixty casualties, including the regimental sergeant major, who was killed when the battalion headquarters was hit. With enemy panzers in evidence ahead, and with only a single field artillery regiment in support, a rethink was necessary. Wimberley elected to try to enlarge the Sferro bridgehead that night, and 1st Gordon Highlanders and two companies of 5/7th Gordons moved forward through the fiercest bombardment they had ever endured to do just that. They crossed the railway line and then the main road, and 1st Gordons established their headquarters in the station yard, packed with goods wagons. The 5/7th Gordons’ companies forced their way into the village, but lost wireless contact when their radio sets were knocked out in the street fighting. They stayed, isolated, and were shot up by German 88mm guns and armoured cars when dawn broke. The Gordons were to remain in the bridgehead, unable to expand it in the face of stubborn enemy opposition, until 24 July.

Wimberley began to feel that his division was over-extended. On his right, the enemy defences appeared to be the strongest, and not the place to attack. However, he did not wish to redeploy his troops away from there, for to surrender the ground which they had already seized would mean that XIII Corps would have to retake it, should they find it necessary to move through the area. A renewed attack at Sferro was an option, but it was becoming clear that the enemy defences were firmly anchored on the area of Gerbini airfield, two thousand yards north of the positions now occupied by 154 Brigade. Wimberley decided that Gerbini should be taken during the night of 20/21 July by the brigade, supported by a squadron of tanks from 46 RTR and three artillery regiments.

1st Battalion Black Watch, followed by the 7th Battalion and the 7th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders led the attack. 1st Black Watch became pinned down in front of the heavily defended barracks. 7th Black Watch, supported by the tanks, attacked the airfield, again against stiff opposition. The Argylls attacked Gerbini along the railway line, with artillery assistance, and after three hours of hard fighting gained their objective. The Argyll carriers and mortars, covered by a squadron of Shermans, moved up to join them, but the enemy – probably the Reconnaissance Unit and most of the 2nd Battalion Panzer Regiment, and two battalions from 2nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment, all of the Hermann Göring Division quickly responded with heavy fire and infiltration. The Argylls’ A Company was surrounded by enemy with tanks and was forced to surrender.

Before dawn most of the 1st Battalion of The Black Watch were also committed, and finally reached the barracks, which had by now been abandoned by the Germans. By 1030 hours a German counter-attack regained the ground they had lost. The action cost the Argylls eighteen officers, including the CO, and 160 men. 46 RTR lost eight Shermans, and the squadron commander dead.

Eight miles to the northwest of Sferro, XXX Corps planned the capture of a bridge over the Dittaino at Catenanuova that same night. The unit which was to carry out this task was 7th Battalion Royal Marines, a force which had provided the now redundant Beach Bricks, the troops that had administered (with medical, signals, ordnance, service corps, anti-aircraft units and the Royal Naval Commandos) each of the British landing beaches on D Day, but which was now reunited. With inadequate transport resources, much of the battalion had to hitch-hike its way sixty miles inland to join XXX Corps. The battalion was extremely tired – its work on the beaches had been very strenuous, and many men had been working in salt water for long periods during that stage of the landings. Their feet had become softened, and the long march to their present location had added to the difficulties. Furthermore, because of the limitations on transport, much equipment had yet to be brought forward. This included digging tools.

As the two wings of XXX Corps were on divergent courses, a dangerous gap was emerging at Catenanuova through which enemy armour might infiltrate. Two companies from 7 RM provided cover for the Corps Headquarters from this threat, and on 19 July fresh orders were given to the Marines which placed them under command of 51st Division, with the primary task of establishing a roadblock at Lennaretto, which would cover the division’s left flank. A further task, to establish a bridgehead over the Dittaino and the railway line beyond it, was also ordered. Once this had been achieved, the battalion was to advance of Catenanuova. The codename LEOPARD was given to this crossing, with 153 Brigade’s bridgehead at Sferro being named JAGUAR. A third bridgehead to the east, through which 152 Brigade was advancing, was christened LION.

The Royal Marines were supported in the attack to gain their bridgehead by a troop of Shermans, two batteries of 6-pounder antitank guns, a medium machine gun platoon of the Middlesex, and a battery of 3.7 inch howitzers. At 1400 hours, 19 July, two of the marine companies reached the battalion rendezvous south of two mountains which lay about 3,000 yards south of the intended river crossing site. They prepared a hot meal for the remainder of the battalion, which arrived two hours later. With reassurance from the Carrier Platoon of 4/5th Gordon Highlanders that the track ahead was suitable for mechanical transport, the plan was firmed up for one Marine company with an antitank gun to establish the roadblock at Lennaretto, while the remainder of the battalion made a night march and assault to secure the bridgehead over the Dittaino. The Gordons’ brief reconnaissance had indicated that no enemy were present south of the river, but that some movement had been seen on the north bank.

At dusk, 2000 hours, two companies moved forward and occupied the pass between the two mountains immediately north of the rendezvous point; a third passed through them and crossed the river without incident until Italian troops in a building near the railway raised the alarm. The position was taken at the point of the bayonet and several prisoners were taken. To the right, the first of the companies that had secured the pass moved up and crossed, again taking prisoners, and the third company advanced into the centre. By 0500 hours the far bank was secure, and some 100 Italian and fifty German prisoners were in the bag.

The infantry may have been on the north bank, but behind them the supporting antitank guns were having difficulties in coming forward to the position. The track between the two mountains was poor. It had never been used for motorised transport and the edge was crumbling, and a Bren carrier and two portees carrying 6-pounder guns went over the edge into a deep ravine; there was no possibility of tanks or artillery using the track. The Marines were without support apart from those few antitank guns which had made it to a ridge south of the Dittaino.

To compound their problems, the ground which the Royal Marines occupied was hard and rocky, and impervious to digging. Moreover, it was overlooked by two features to the north, Razor Ridge and the Fico d’India. Enemy on the second of these could enfilade British troops huddled in the only cover available, the railway embankment and the banks of the river. Soon the Marines came under very heavy fire from an assortment of weapons, directed from observation posts beyond the range of anything the British had. Self-propelled guns, Nebelwerfers (multi-barrelled mortars) heavy machine guns and 88mm guns firing airbursts, together with snipers, all pitched in. One 88mm gun was destroyed by the antitank guns south of the river before they in turn were put out of action by the Nebelwerfers. Four carriers attempted to bring the battalion’s 3-inch mortars across the river, but one bellied down on the approach, and although the other three came into action they were soon knocked out.

THE PLAIN OF CATANIA – 1943 Part II

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Sherman tank of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) in the village of Milo near Catania, Sicily, August 1943.

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The 3.7 inch howitzers gave what support they could, as did the Middlesex’ machine guns from the south of the river, but at extreme range they had little affect. The Shermans, despite efforts by the engineers to make the track suitable, were unable to move forward. By 1100 hours withdrawal was inevitable. This was far from easy because of the exposed positions, but seven hours later the battalion was back, some 200 yards across the river.

The other crossings to the east, at LION and JAGUAR, had some initial success but XXX Corps was not able to exploit forward from the bridgeheads. AT LION, the Highland Division had reached the outskirts of the Gerbini airfield, whereupon they had been counterattacked by tanks and driven back. This setback caused the British advance to be paused for a week to allow time for reorganisation and to give the troops time to gain a second wind.

Montgomery visited Wimberley at midday on 21 July. With the strength of the opposition facing the Highland Division and XIII Corps, he had come to the decision to stop attacking on these fronts, and was ordering 78th Division to Sicily from North Africa. Once they had arrived, the offensive would be resumed using the 78th and the Canadian Division. Meanwhile, the right flank of the Eighth Army would go on the defensive.

To the west, 1st Canadian Division had been moving on Leonforte and Assoro since 15 July. Its route had been through mountainous country, where the enemy had made good use of the small villages which sat astride the tortuous roads to make easily defensible redoubts. These were strengthened by use of demolitions, road blocks and mines, and had to be reduced by a series of small battles.

On 17 July 231 (Malta) Brigade was given the independent role of covering the gap between the 51st (Highland) and 1st Canadian Divisions, and moved northwards towards Raddusa. Its advance was held up by enemy demolitions, but the route was soon cleared and by 1900 hours that day contact was made with German forces on the line of the Gornalunga River, a mile or so south of Raddusa.

To the Canadians’ left, Seventh (US) Army advanced against less opposition, the Germans having abandoned any thought of defending the west of Sicily, and many of the Italians having no other thought but to surrender. On 17 July 1st (US) Division was abreast of the Canadians about eight miles to the west of Piazza Armerina, approaching Caltanissetta. 45th (US) Division was further west again, approaching the same town from the southwest. The race was still on between the Americans and the Canadians for Enna. The latter had the main road leading to the town from the southeast, but enemy resistance was stiffening, and was much more determined than the Canadians had experienced hitherto.

General Simonds directed 3 Brigade towards Enna and the 1st northeast towards Valguarnera. 3 Brigade were delayed at a narrow pass, the Portella Grottacalda, for some fourteen hours on 17 July until they attacked the enemy frontally with the Royal 22e Regiment, and from the flanks with the Carleton and Yorks, and the West Nova Scotia’s. At Valguarnera 1 Brigade entered the town, against resistance, after nightfall. The two encounters cost the Canadians 145 casualties.

The enemy – the 2nd Battalion of 1st Panzer Grenadier Regiment was thought to have been reinforced by the regiment’s 1st Battalion – held a position on a road junction southwest of Valguanera. Having had their advance held up by a blown bridge, 3 Canadian Infantry Brigade encountered the Germans here, and came under mortar and machine-gun fire. The infantry disembarked from their transport, the tanks took up hull-down positions to the west of the road, and the enemy were forced to retire, leaving three Italian guns and three small tanks out of action behind them.

At this stage Simonds decided to by-pass Enna. On 19 July he broadened his front by taking advantage of the road fork north of Valguarnera, sending 2 Infantry Brigade towards Leonforte and 1 Brigade to Assoro. The Canadians did, however, send a patrol from the Reconnaissance Squadron to try to enter Enna before the Americans, who were rapidly approaching it from the southwest. Halted about five miles from the town by a badly cratered road which prevented any further motorised progress, a group consisting of a sergeant, two corporals and a trooper proceeded to complete their mission on foot.

They had a walk of some four and a half miles to do uphill, but became ‘browned off’ after a short while, so commandeered a donkey to help them on their way. A patrol comprising a man mounted on a donkey, leading three others, proceeded with the mission of capturing Enna for the Canadians. In front of them they saw two truckloads of troops, but it was a little while before these were identified as being Americans rather than Germans. The GIs had just arrived, and gave the Canadians a lift into town, whereupon one of the Canadian corporals later claimed to be the first to dismount from the jeep in the town centre – thus claiming the honour of the capture for Canada. No doubt the Americans disputed this8.

Leonforte sat at the western end of the Etna Line before it turned northwards to the sea. Three battalions of the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 15th Panzer Grenadier Division held the town and Assoro. The German defences were centred on demolitions and minefields, and small stay-behind parties armed with machine guns and mortars were deployed around destroyed culverts and cratered roads to further delay the Allied troops. The Canadian approach to the two towns had to cross the Dittaino valley, in full view of enemy observation posts, and artillery fire on them was continuous.

The route forward was hazardous. Although no enemy were encountered at close range, the Canadians were harassed by artillery, and C Squadron, 12th Canadian Tank Regiment (The Three Rivers Regiment) drove straight into a minefield, where nine tanks had their tracks blown off before the crews realised their predicament. They had to stay in their Shermans for nearly five hours while the Germans rained down mortar and artillery fire on them. The danger increased when the stubble on the ground around them caught fire, setting off petrol and ammunition dumps nearby. The Sappers distinguished themselves by starting to clear the mines while under fire, and it was yet another unpleasant experience in the campaign for those involved.

The lead battalion nominated for the attack on Assoro, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, lost both its commanding officer and intelligence officer while carrying out a reconnaissance for a night assault on the village. The Canadians’ approach had been impossible to carry out unannounced, and the Germans were ready. The light was fading, but the Canadians could see that all along the horizon stretched an escarpment running from Leonforte through Assoro and on eastwards to Agira. Directly ahead the Assoro feature dominated, and it was clear that the Germans would have the only direct approach, a winding road, well covered. Major The Lord Tweedsmuir (the son of John Buchan, the author and former Governor-General of Canada) took command of the Hastings. He identified a route up a steep slope on the east of the feature to the 12th Century Norman castle which dominated the village, which might be practicable, and determined to attempt it. To divert the Germans’ attention from the Hastings’ approach, three carriers of the 48th Highlanders were sent down the road at dusk, with orders to swing about and return as soon as they came under fire, and artillery laid on harassing fire.

At 2130 hours Tweedsmuir led a hand-picked group of twenty men, followed by the rest of the battalion, up the terraces to the summit. Armed with no more than rifles and a few Bren Guns, they scaled the heights in bright moonlight, on their way awakening a sleeping boy on the back of a donkey, who closed his eyes and went straight back to sleep, not realising how tense the men around him were, and how close he might have been to being shot. The Hastings gained the summit a quarter of an hour before dawn, and the position was taken without a casualty. The enemy expected no-one but their own men to be there, and were completely surprised by the manoeuvre. The Germans mounted two counterattacks in attempts to dislodge them, but the Hastings held on until, on the morning of 22 July, the 48th Highlanders fought their way into the village through its western defences, which had been weakened in an attempt to dislodge the Canadians on the castle heights.

The fall of Assorto made it more difficult for the Germans to defend Leonforte. They had to hold the whole ridge, or withdraw from it altogether.

On 21 July the Seaforth of Canada had been halted in the steep approaches to Leonforte, but towards 2100 hours the Edmonton Regiment succeeded in gaining a foothold in the town. House-to-house fighting continued through the night, and early the next day the Canadians managed to repair a bridge over a ravine below the town, allowing four tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, a troop of antitank guns and a company of the PPCLI to enter. After a morning of hard fighting the Germans were driven out. They retired to two hills, from where the PPCLI removed them at about 1730 hours. Leonforte cost the Canadians 175 casualties; Assorto nearly a hundred.

The Divisional Intelligence Summary of 23 July made the following statement:

For the first time, the Germans fought all three battalions of 1 Pz Gren Regt as one tactical formation. After the fall of ASSORO the coys (3 Bn?) fighting there were moved in to defend LEONFORTE. During 22 Jul all three bns were identified in and about the latter town. At first light 5 tks and about 75 inf penetrated back into LEONFORTE. This resolute defence is something new. Hitherto the German rearguard has pulled stakes cleanly and retired some 8 or 10 miles to a new posn. The fact that they are not voluntarily retiring from their latest strong point but are fighting for every yd of ground indicates that we are nearing something like a serious defence zone. Beyond doubt they would have held LEONFORTE had they not been driven out of it.

 

The point regarding nearing ‘a serious defence zone’ was not far off the mark. Ahead lay Agira.

While the Eighth Army was engaged in the events described above, Alexander was giving consideration to the future. On 19 July he signalled Montgomery, pointing out that the enemy defences stretching from the northern to the eastern coasts (in effect, the Hauptkampflinie) might prove to be too strong for the Eighth Army to pierce. He suggested placing one of the American divisions under Monty’s command, which would work in the northern sector. He still saw Seventh Army’s task as being to occupy western Sicily, very much a secondary role.

Montgomery’s reply enumerated the four thrusts that he had launched: Catania (which was now called off), Misterbianco, Paterno, and Leonforte-Adrano. He considered these to be very powerful, and if his troops could be in Misterbianco the following night (20 July), and Adrano the next day, he thought that he would be in a strong position to move around either side of Etna. The Americans, he suggested, might provide one division to push along the north coast towards Messina. This would stretch the enemy’s defences and might divert them.

After visiting Montgomery on 20 July, Alexander reported to Brooke that the Catania offensive was to be suspended because it would prove too costly. However, Agira had fallen, the Canadians had captured Enna and Leonforte, and the Americans were expected to be in Petralia that day. They would then provide one division to cut the northern coast road and to work to the north of the Eighth Army. His intention was for the Seventh Army to be based on Palermo, before operating to the north of the Eighth in the final thrust for Messina.

One has to question where Alexander got his information. Leonforte did not fall until the 22nd, and Agira on the 28th. Whether it was Montgomery’s over-optimistic view of things, or Alexander’s, is debatable – but the Eighth Army situation reports for 19 and 20 July gave the correct state of affairs, and it would appear that Monty’s rosy assessments were not checked before Alexander reported to the CIGS10.

During the evening of 21 July Montgomery again signalled Alexander, reporting that enemy resistance around Catania and in the foothills about Misterbianco and Paterno was ‘very great’. Although he ‘had won the battle for the plain of Catania… heat in the plain is very great and my troops are getting very tired’. He was therefore going to hold his right wing, while continuing operations against Adrano. XXX Corps would be strengthened by 78th Division, to assist in operations north towards Bronte.

Meanwhile the Americans should thrust along the northern coast road towards Messina, and the full weight of Allied airpower from North Africa should be brought to bear on the enemy in the northeast corner of Sicily. The four-thrust strategy which he had outlined only two days previously was no longer mentioned; the prospect of extending the battle on both sides of Etna with the assistance of an American division had gone. Instead, he was calling forward his reserve, 78th Division, from Africa, and XXX Corps would be committed to a ‘blitz attack’ on the line Adrano-Bronte-Randazzo, northwards up the western side of Etna. Possession of Adrano would put Etna between the two halves of the Axis forces, robbing them of their lateral communications on the southwest and south of the mountain. What Monty now wanted was more commitment from the Americans on the northern coast road.

Alexander accepted Montgomery’s fresh strategy. Patton had already been ordered to bring pressure against the enemy on Highways 113 and 120, the coast road and that some twenty miles inland, running west to east through Nicosia and Troina to Randezzo, On 23 July Patton was given directions to transfer his supply lines through Palermo, and to use the maximum strength he could maintain to thrust along these two roads, striking at the enemy’s northern flank while the Axis communications system in the north-eastern corner of Sicily was subjected to a bombing campaign.

He ordered the remainder of his reserve, 9th (US) Infantry Division, to the island (39th RCT had been brought over on 15 July, landing at Licata, and had been attached to 82nd Airborne Division to assist in clearing western Sicily). On 24 July, Alexander visited Montgomery, and the following day the two generals held a conference with Patton – the first time during the campaign that the land force commanders met together.

It is notable that the conference was held at the instigation of Montgomery rather than Alexander. Monty signalled an invitation to Patton and his chief of staff to attend the meeting, in Syracuse, to discuss the capture of Messina. Despite the campaign now being two weeks old, there was still no strategy agreed for its completion. Montgomery was coming to recognise that the enemy facing the Eighth Army was too strongly ensconced to push through, and that a greater degree of coordination was needed between Patton and himself to resolve the impasse. Alexander, on the other hand, was continuing with his ‘handsoff’ style of leadership, refusing to become involved in the detailed direction of the campaign. This may have been acceptable in North Africa when he let Montgomery run Eighth Army’s battles as he saw fit, but in Sicily there were two Allied armies operating, and thus far Alexander had rather ignored the American role in the campaign.

Patton’s – understandable – suspicions notwithstanding, the two army commanders quickly agreed that Seventh (US) Army was to have the exclusive use of Highways 113 and 120, and Montgomery even proposed that it should be Patton who was to have the privilege of taking Messina, and striking through Randazzo to Taormina, across the north of Etna. If necessary, the Americans were given full permission to cross the inter-army boundary in pursuit of this aim, which if successful would mean that two German divisions would be cut off from their line of retreat. With the legacy of Monty’s commandeering Highway 124 from the Americans only eleven days earlier, it was not surprising that Patton should be suspicious of Montgomery’s motives. But the Eighth Army commander was aware that his strategy of launching separate attacks by various divisions along the Catania front was proving unsuccessful and that the campaign needed greater inter-Allied cooperation.

Three days later Montgomery paid a return visit to Patton in Palermo, narrowly avoiding disaster when the airfield proved too short for the B-17 bomber in which the British delegation was travelling. An accident was prevented only by the skill of the pilot. At last, Allied strategy – at least on the ground – was coming together. But Alexander appeared to be taking little part in this, for he arrived late at the Syracuse meeting, to be told by Montgomery that everything had been settled by Patton and himself. In Palermo, the Montgomery-Patton agreement was confirmed, although Patton remained mistrustful. With memories of Anglo-American problems since TORCH, he had little faith in Monty’s good intentions, and saw Messina as the prize that must be competed for, as a way of establishing American military prestige.

H.M.S. RODNEY PART I

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16-Gun Sloop of War

While has been six Rodneys, officially only four British warships have borne the name, the first ‘official’ being a ship of the line commissioned in 1810, here are the first three (3). Bearing in mind the Admiralty’s reluctance to recognise the cutter, it is strange the earliest battle honour attributed to Rodney comes from that vessel, which, a decade after Captain Rodney’s governorship of Newfoundland, garnered the tribute ‘Quebec 1759’. The Rodney cutter supported General Wolfe’s brilliant assault on Quebec and while she carried a mere four guns, they were adequate enough for the job of carrying despatches to and from the scene of battle. However, while the cutter earned the battle honour she was not believed to have been present when Wolfe scaled the Heights of Abraham to confront Montcalm, the British general losing his life in the process of achieving a great victory, ending French hopes of establishing control over much of Canada.

During the Quebec campaign Rodney was commanded by Lieutenant the Honourable Philip Tufton Perceval, an aristocrat of Irish descent. His father was John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, at one time tipped to be a future Prime Minister of Britain but who, instead, became First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1763 and 1766.

The Rodney’s commander was born on 10 March 1741, his mother being Catherine Cecil, a daughter of the Earl of Salisbury. Lieutenant Tufton Perceval was therefore not even nineteen when he took charge of Rodney; he was made a Master and Commander on 5 September 1759, receiving his promotion, and captaincy of Rodney, eight days before the climactic battle for Quebec. After his time in command of the cutter, Tufton Perceval no doubt moved on to larger ships, but does not seem to have distinguished himself greatly in his subsequent naval career, dying at the age of 54, on 21 April 1795. His half brother, Spencer, found greater success, as a politician, but in 1812, while serving as Prime Minister, was assassinated in the House of Commons.

In the same year the Rodney cutter sailed the St Lawrence, the man she was named after received promotion to Rear Admiral of the Blue and an appointment to command a naval force charged with containing a French invasion force in Le Havre. By this time Rodney’s reputation was mixed, to say the least. In 1762 he had ignored Army claims that Martinique could not be taken from the French and landed troops with Royal Navy guns and gunners to take the island’s chief stronghold, Fort Royal. The British soon subdued the fortress; a notable triumph achieved against the odds.

Following the end of the Seven Years War, in August 1764 Rodney was made a baronet and, aside from serving as Governor of Greenwich Hospital for five years, entered politics. It was not his first such venture, for Rodney had been elected MP for Saltash in 1751, a borough just up the River Tamar from Plymouth Dock, today known as Devonport and future home port of the Second World War-era battleship Rodney. Rodney the man was by 1761 MP for Penryn, another Cornish constituency.

Rodney’s campaign to be elected MP for Northampton in 1768, while successful in that it gained him the seat, was ruinously expensive and, taken together with his addiction to gambling, plunged him into dire financial straits. An appointment to command in Jamaica did not solve his money problems and, when he retired from the Caribbean in 1775, Rodney sought refuge in France to avoid the indignity of a spell in a debtors’ prison. The admiral lived in Paris until May 1778 when, with hostilities about to break out between Britain and France over the latter’s support for rebels in North American colonies, Rodney went home, able to pay off his debts thanks to a very generous loan from a French general. Ironic then, that Rodney’s return would eventually lead to a defeat that brought ruin upon France’s designs to enrich herself by taking British colonies. Rodney was appointed to command in the Leeward Islands in 1779, mainly because, although not universally admired, he was the best available at a time when talent was thin on the ground, partly because the Keppel-Palliser affair had prompted many senior naval officers to refuse service at sea. On the way to his new posting, Rodney was tasked with relieving the siege of Gibraltar, the resulting victory in the ‘moonlight battle’ of January 1780 raising his reputation to a new high. Once he arrived in the West Indies, Admiral Rodney was hopefully preoccupied with saving Jamaica from Franco-Spanish invasion. With lingering financial problems that a share in lucrative captures might solve, he was particularly keen on ships under his command taking prizes. This motive cast further disrepute on Rodney’s name, for it is reckoned money-seeking prompted him to organize an operation to seize the island of St Eustasius from the Dutch. Although this venture yielded a lot of treasure, various legal issues meant Rodney personally benefited little. Most serious was the fact that it diverted him from providing a proper defence for Martinique, which was taken back by the French.

A combination of disgrace, over his putting lucre before securing British possessions, and ill health forced Rodney to resign in 1781 and return home, but, as is the way with such things, he was accorded the honorary rank of Vice Admiral of Great Britain in early November. Such was the poverty of talent among Britain’s available sea-going admirals, Rodney was soon sailing again for the West Indies, returning to the post of Commander-in-Chief in mid-January 1782.

The next HMS Rodney was a 16-gun brig-sloop, with a ship’s company of fifty-one, in 1781 commanded by John Douglas Brisbane, who had been promoted to Lieutenant on 1 April 1779. This Rodney, the second and final ‘unofficial’, had been purchased in the Caribbean that year and may previously have been an American customs vessel, or even a locally commissioned ship, like so many of the Royal Navy’s smaller craft. She was no doubt named in honour of the commander-in-chief, in order to give physical form to Admiral Rodney’s status (and seek advantage in his favours).

The master and commander of the Rodney sloop-brig was the son of Captain John Brisbane, who had distinguished himself in action during the on-going American War of Independence. No doubt it was Captain Brisbane’s influence that won his son command of Rodney. Possibly the elder Brisbane was held in high esteem by Admiral Rodney but Lieutenant Brisbane was not blessed with good fortune, for Rodney would be captured on 3 February 1782 by the French, during a vain defence of Demerara in what is today Guyana. The area was originally settled by the Dutch West India Company, which reclaimed stretches of the coast to develop sugar and cotton plantations, using slaves to harvest the crops. In the 1590s Sir Walter Raleigh had searched in vain for El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, in the region’s vast jungles and, in 1781, the British – probably acting under orders from the money-hungry Admiral Rodney – regarded Demerara as such rich territory they seized it. The main aim was to prevent the Dutch from shipping Demerera’s highly desirable goods to rebel American colonies and instead divert it into British hands.

The new rulers constructed a fort at the mouth of the river, Fort St George, and began laying out a settlement around it, the beginnings of Georgetown, the modern-day capital of Guyana. In early 1782, Rodney, the 20-gun frigate Oronoque, sloops Barbuda, 16-guns, Sylph, 18-guns and Stormont, 16-guns, together with the schooner Henry, 6-guns, failed to deter a French expeditionary force composed of five warships led by the 32-gun frigate Iphigenie. The Oronoque would appear not to have had a full complement, perhaps due to disease, and of the nominal guns available across the force only 75 were actually capable of being manned. French firepower amounted to 140 guns, out-gunning the British by 65 weapons. In terms of available manpower, there were 380 British sailors and marines while the French mustered 1,500 soldiers and matelots.

The story of this obscure moment in British naval history can be found in the ‘Lieutenant’s Log’ of Tudor Tucker, at forty-years old a rather elderly Lieutenant, from the loyalist side of a family whose rebel scions included the first Treasurer of the USA, also named Tudor Tucker. Lt Tudor Tucker RN joined Rodney at the end of July 1781. By mid-August, Rodney was alongside in Antigua, where she went into refit and then sailed for Barbados, which she soon left. On Friday, 19 October, Rodney dropped anchor in the lower reaches of the Demerara river, which flows north for 230 miles from its source in the rain forests. She stayed there through the early autumn and into winter, as war clouds loomed ever more ominously on the horizon.

Wednesday, 30 January 1782 dawned fair, but a storm approached in the form of the French naval force. The Rodney was hailed by the Oronoque’s Commanding Officer, who told Lieutenant Brisbane of the enemy ships, which ‘he supposed intended to attack the river at some time.’

Brisbane called Lt Tucker over and ‘ordered by him to go on shore and take charge of the fort . . .’

Not long after, it was decided it should be abandoned, with Tucker instructed to spike the guns, but before he could complete the task, he was hailed from Rodney and told to return to ship. An attempt to break out into the open sea was planned. The Sylph and Henry had earlier sailed out from the river to see if there was any chance of the British naval force making it, but the French were too well positioned. Sylph and Henry retreated and brought back gloomy news. There was probably a council of war where it was decided the best course of action was to surrender. On 31 January, Lieutenant Tucker’s log noted that at 1 am Rodney

. . . weighed and made sail up the river in company with the Oronoke [sic], Barbuda, Sylph, Stormont and Henry . . . at 5 anchored . . . at 11 am a Flag of truce flew off from the Oronoke [sic] . . .

On 2 February Lt Tucker was ordered to come on board Oronoque and, in the early hours, tasked with taking an offer of surrender to the French commander. Sent off in a boat under a Flag of Truce, at 8 am going on board Iphigenie, Tucker delivered the letter, two hours later receiving a verbal reply, then setting off back up the river. But, when he went aboard the Oronoque, Lt Tucker found two French officers already there, having arrived an hour before him. Subsequently, Oronoque’s captain and the governor of Demerara went down the river to agree final terms. Sunday, 3 February dawned fair but it was a black day for the Royal Navy as, at 10 am, Tucker was told by Brisbane that capitulation of British naval forces had been agreed, with Rodney’s guns to be discharged and secured.

Admiral Rodney gained revenge for the taking of Demerara by defeating a Franco-Spanish fleet at the battle of The Saintes, on 12 April 1782, so ending the enemy’s dreams of conquering further British colonies in the Caribbean. Rodney deployed the tactic of cutting the enemy line that would reach its apex when used by Nelson at Trafalgar more than two decades later. But, what of Rodney’s Brisbane and Tucker? Their lives were but footnotes of British naval history, forgotten in the shadows of great victories like The Saintes. Neither man was destined to reach a ripe old age.

Released from captivity, Lieutenant Brisbane was put aboard one of the French warships taken as prizes at The Saintes, the captured vessels sailing for Britain in company with a large convoy of merchant ships in July 1782. By mid-September, they were off the Newfoundland Banks, hit by severe gales for three days during which the Ville de Paris, French flagship at The Saintes, sank with the loss of all but one sailor and Glorieux went down with all hands. The Rodney’s Lieutenant Brisbane was among those drowned. Following his release from captivity Lieutenant Tucker returned to his unspectacular career in the Navy, getting married in December 1784 and not receiving promotion to Commander until February 1796. He died four years later.

The third Rodney of this story – the first ‘official’ vessel of the name – was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line built by the private shipyard of William Barnard, on the River Thames, close to Deptford Royal Dockyard.

During an active warship construction life of some thirty-nine years, Barnard’s Deptford Green Yard, established in 1780, built twenty-six warships and a dozen East Indiamen. The Rodney was one of eight 74-gun ships constructed by Barnard, a type for which it had a good reputation.

Among them was the legendary HMS Orion, which saw action in the battles of the Glorious First of June (1794) Cape St Vincent (1797) and Trafalgar (1805).

The 1,754 tons third-rate Rodney was ordered by the Admiralty Board on 28 May 1808, for, despite the victory at Trafalgar nearly three years earlier, the French naval threat remained acute, particularly as the potential building capacity of shipyards under the sway of Napoleon remained even greater than Britain’s. To retain dominance of the oceans the Royal Navy needed supremely useful 74-gunners and so private yards like Barnard did well. The amount of wood devoted to constructing a ship like the 74-gun Rodney would make a modern-day conservationist weep, for 3,000 full-grown oak trees were used in the hull alone. Despite a heavy workload, Barnard completed Rodney in the remarkable time span of just 20 months. The new Rodney was launched on 8 December 1809, more than 17 years after Rodney the man had passed away.

The progression from humble cutter to a line-of-battle-ship, reflected the rise of the Admiral’s renown, for good or ill. It was no doubt hoped the name Rodney would indicate a good fighting spirit, rather than reflect the more controversial aspects of Rodney’s personality and reputation. After his success at The Saintes, Admiral Rodney was called home from the West Indies and dismissed from his post by a new government keen to show the country it meant to make up for the disastrous conduct of the war to retain America. When the success of The Saintes became widely known, and acclaimed throughout Britain, Rodney was given the freedom of many towns and cities, awarded the thanks of both the Commons and Lords, was made Baron Rodney of Stoke-Rodney and received the considerable pension of £2,000 a year. However, his financial difficulties pursued him into his retirement and he died on 24 May 1792, with debtors snapping at his heels.

As Rodney was being fitted out, rigged and also equipped with her weapons, and while her press gangs were scouring ports looking for sailors, many hundreds of miles to the south, British involvement in the Iberian Peninsula was hotting up.

Napoleon was attempting to use the Continental Blockade to shut European ports to British trade, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. However, the British Army was not large enough to contest Napoleon’s might on land across several theatres. It had become clear, despite the disastrous retreat from Corunna in January 1809, which saw the Royal Navy lift thousands of troops off the beaches – a forerunner of Dunkirk 130 years later – that Spain and Portugal still offered the best means of sapping the strength of the French Army and destroying the myth of Napoleon’s invincibility.

The warships that saw service in support of Wellington’s army in Spain were true practitioners of what today is referred to as littoral warfare. By dominating waters just off the shore they were able to keep land forces supplied and leapfrog enemy obstacles by taking troops up and down the coast. British warships also influenced events on land directly through bombarding enemy forts, cutting sea lines of communication to Napoleon’s troops, and supporting isolated pockets of friendly forces. Transport of troops by sea, and their re-supply, was so much swifter, less dangerous and wearing, than using the often atrocious roads of the Iberian interior. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy denied the French every advantage offered by the sea and forced them into an ineradicably hostile terrain where Spanish guerillas picked at their entrails like voracious vultures.

The Rodney was by the early summer of 1810 at Plymouth, with orders to join the Mediterranean Fleet and, in preparation for her first voyage into a war zone, was receiving stores and also taking aboard impressed men to bring her complement up to its full strength of 700.

Among those delivered to her was eighteen-year old Joseph Bates, a young American who had already seen many adventures since first going to sea as a cabin boy in 1807. From the moment he stepped aboard, Bates found his card was marked by Rodney’s First Lieutenant, who had received reports of his several escape attempts. The officer glared at him and growled: ‘Scoundrel.’

H.M.S. RODNEY PART II

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A Vengeur-class ship of the line

The Commanding Officer of the Rodney, Captain Bolton, warned his boat’s crews they would be flogged if they allowed Bates anywhere near their craft, in case he tried to escape again. The new batch of pressed men went down to dinner but a few hours later many of them, including Bates, were ascending Rodney’s rigging to unfurl sails. On sailing from Plymouth, Rodney set course down the Channel, to join the Mediterranean Fleet on its blockade station in the Gulf of Lyons, off Toulon. Rodney first stopped at besieged Cadiz, joining eight other British warships supporting the Spanish fleet with the objective of assisting the host nation’s vessels to set sail for Gibraltar where they were to be refitted, having been virtually confined to port since Trafalgar. Bates was sent to one of the Spanish ships, the Apollo, with 49 other sailors from the Rodney. After her refit at Gibraltar, Apollo set sail for Port Mahon, on the island of Minorca, which was once more being used by the Royal Navy as its main support base for the blockade of Toulon. Bates made another unsuccessful bid to escape, giving up and returning to the ship after finding he could not get off the island. He escaped flogging because officers in the Apollo were impressed that he returned voluntarily, but Bates soon rejoined Rodney, at Gibraltar.

In October 1810, an Anglo-Spanish force tried to take the fort at Fuengirola, which was held by Polish troops fighting for Napoleon. It was hoped this would entice the French garrison at Malaga to sally forth, enabling an attempt to recover that important port, but it all went horribly wrong, with the Poles refusing to surrender. Lord Blayney, commander of the landing force, was overjoyed to see a magnificent 74-gun British warship cresting over the horizon.

At this moment His Majesty’s ship Rodney, with a Spanish line of battle ship, appeared off the coast, and I learnt that they had on board the 82d regiment, one thousand strong, which had been sent from Gibraltar to reinforce me; my anxiety to receive them was of course very great, and boats were immediately sent off to assist in landing them.

Blayney went aboard Rodney, to dine with her captain and discuss plans for taking the fortress. The following day Rodney and other warships were moored broadside on to the shoreline, so their cannons could bear on the enemy positions. Polish cannon balls were soon whistling through Rodney’s rigging and there was some hesitancy among her topmen, who did not go up to furl the sails quickly enough for the officers’ liking. Because of such tardiness, all seamen were ‘ordered aloft, and there remained exposed to the enemy’s shot until the sails were furled.’

While in this condition, a single well-directed shot might have killed a score, but fortunately none were shot . . .

The Rodney’s 32-pounder guns spoke, belching flame and smoke, but the ebb and flow of battle placed British and Spanish troops in the line of fire, so she stopped her cannonade. The British lost the initiative altogether and were hurled back, with the hapless Blayney taken prisoner. When this happened Spanish and British troops fled down to the shore. Boats brought the dead and injured out to Rodney, the slaughter having lasted from 2 pm to sunset; Bates and his shipmates were tasked with washing the blood out of the boats and hurling corpses over the side. Meanwhile, Blayney suffered the indignity of watching Rodney and the other vessels vainly bombarding the fortress in which he was now held prisoner.

I went on the rampart, from whence I had a full view of the shipping. The fort was still firing at the Rodney, and at the boats with the troops, which approached close to the shore. A few minutes would have brought them to my assistance, and they would certainly have changed the fortune of the day in my favour; but fate ordered it otherwise. While thus absorbed in my own melancholy reflections, I could not help exclaiming, as I looked on the Rodney and Topaze, there is the ship where a few days since I dined in social friendship, and there the frigate which brought me to this shore, rejoicing in the sanguine hope of serving my country; all on board then, are free, while I am doomed to pass an indefinite period in captivity, deprived of the society of all those who are dear to me in the world!

Rodney and the other warships withdrew and headed east, but a storm blew up, one vessel ‘. . . dashed to pieces on the rocks of the Island of Sardinia, and nearly every one of the crew perished.’ With the gale abating, Rodney joined the fleet off Toulon.

For a time Rodney was in Port Mahon, as flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Fremantle, one of Nelson’s legendary ‘Band of Brothers’ who fought alongside England’s greatest naval hero at both Copenhagen, in 1801, and Trafalgar, in 1805. Fremantle had been made Rear Admiral in 1810 and yearned for action, having been ashore for some years. He joined the Mediterranean Fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, who regarded his subordinate as a dangerous talent to be kept in check. In early 1811 Fremantle expressed fears that Minorca was weakly garrisoned by the Spanish and could easily be taken, leaving the fleet off Toulon without proper support. Cotton decided that, as his subordinate was so concerned, he may as well have command of Port Mahon, and that is how Fremantle came to transfer his flag into Rodney from the 110-gun Ville de Paris. Fremantle was happy to receive an independent command and especially grateful to be away from his boss, writing home from Rodney to his wife:

Cotton is incapable of governing this fleet.

Fremantle, as was the custom, took a select group of supporters into Rodney, including all the officers of the Ville de Paris, a band, plus sailors to man small boats, in all sixty people. Orders soon began to fly out from Rodney, providing the jump-start needed to get the island’s dockyard working at a higher pitch, so it could begin refitting some of the fleet’s weatherworn ships.

Essential supplies were dispatched to ships on station off Toulon and when Spanish naval stores from Cadiz and Cartagena arrived, to ensure they did not fall into the hands of the encroaching French, Fremantle hammered out a deal to buy them. Of major concern was the fact that 300 of the 600-strong Minorcan garrison were French prisoners persuaded to serve in Spain’s Walloon Guards. In Rodney Fremantle brooded on the matter and wrote to Cotton that the Walloons ‘seem daily to be more disinclined to the English and I cannot too strongly impress upon you the importance of this place which can be carried by a Coup de Main.’ But the danger passed and Fremantle left Rodney in August 1811, sailing in the new 74-gun HMS Milford to become Britain’s chief naval representative at the Neapolitan court in Sicily. Ultimately, he commanded British warships during a successful campaign in the Adriatic, after a period in home waters returning to the Mediterranean as Commander-in-Chief, but dying at Naples in 1819, aged fifty-four.

William Henry Smyth, grandfather of the founder of the Scouting movement, Lord Baden-Powell, joined Rodney in the summer of 1811. Prior to this Smyth achieved renown when he transferred from Milford to command a Spanish gunboat in defence of Cadiz. It was probably for this excellent work that on 14 December 1811 Smyth was promoted to Master’s Mate. This remarkable twenty-three year old sailor, who was destined to be a noted hydrographer and an admiral, possibly used his time in Rodney, as she cruised off Spain throughout 1812, to collect data for charts still used by mariners as recently as 1961.

At least three of Rodney’s sailors had fought in HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. They joined Rodney at the beginning of August 1811, like Smyth drafted from Milford before the latter sailed for Sicily carrying Fremantle. It is likely they were switched for men the admiral wanted to take with him. Rodney’s Trafalgar trio were: Gunner’s Mate John Brown, from Ireland, in his thirties; Thomas Sedgwick, from Sunderland, County Durham, in the north of England, a Quartermaster’s Mate in his forties; Charles Thomas, in his mid-thirties, from Boston, America, who became a member of the Rodney’s Carpenter’s Crew. Fellow American Joseph Bates was, meanwhile, getting into trouble again, this time for hanging trousers up to dry behind Rodney’s maintop sail after his daily laundry. The ordinary sailors were required to present themselves in pristine smocks and trousers, but, with only three changes of clothes a week, and not enough time each day to wash and dry clothes before inspection, it was a tall order to avoid punishment for appearing in soiled garments. Therefore, Bates had the bright idea of hanging his clothes out in the breeze where they would dry in double quick time. However, the sail was furled sooner than expected, the enraged First Lieutenant demanding:

. . . whose trowsers [sic] are these found hanging in the maintop?

Not wanting to see his shipmates punished, Bates owned up. Receiving a savage telling off, he narrowly avoided a beating but was put on the so-called ‘black list’ for six months, which involved shining brass and iron work, plus carrying out other demeaning chores on top of daily routine. It all had to be fitted into time usually spent resting off watch or sleeping.

There was no punishment more dreaded and disgraceful.

Two years on from leaving London, Rodney’s officers decided it was time to refresh her reserve water supply, as down in the deepest part of the hold were casks filled from the Thames, not yet touched.

Young Joseph Bates was there when the bungs were removed, seeing his shipmates set light to the foul air that came out with a candle and recalling, ‘it would blaze up a foot high, like the burning of strong brandy.’

According to Bates the water was perfectly clear, the sediment having settled a long time ago. Some of it was drawn off and poured into glass tumblers for Rodney’s officers to taste. One of them held his tumbler up to a lantern and pronounced it ‘the purest and best of water’. Bates thought it tasted good, but he couldn’t help wishing he was drinking from the pure springs of Vermont or New Hampshire.

When it came to refreshing the minds of Rodney’s men, those that could read availed themselves of books from the ship’s portable libraries, which averaged two volumes for every ten men. Reading was allowed on every day except Sunday, which was reserved for a church service starting at 11 am. Bates, a born and bred Presbyterian, saw the prayers of Rodney’s sailors and marines as pure hypocrisy:

. . . how little their hearts were inclined to keep the holy law of God, when almost every other hour of the week, their tongues were employed in blaspheming his holy name; and at the same time learning and practicing the way and manner of shooting, slaying and sinking to the bottom of the ocean, all that refused to surrender . . .

The most notable encounter at sea for this Rodney came in the middle of a gale on 15 January 1812, when a ship was spotted off Cape Sicie, in the Gulf of Lyon, and the battleship set off in pursuit. Meanwhile, two British frigates – Apollo and Alcmene – were using subterfuge to patrol close to the coast, flying French colours. Mistaking these two men ‘o’ war for friendly vessels, the fleeing ship sought their protective custody, only to be boarded. All this commotion alerted the French to something untoward and they ordered out a dozen of their line-of-battle ships from Toulon. With Apollo and Alcmene in the process of snaring their prize, Rodney stoutly hove to and barred the path of on-coming French warships, which, seeing a British battleship standing in their way, decided the situation was not worth a fight and returned to port.

With extra manpower available, and carrying the senior officer, it was Rodney that put a crew aboard the prize, which was sailed to Port Mahon.

Later that year a severe storm battered Rodney badly while on station with the fleet in the Gulf of Lyons, Bates and his shipmates fearing the worst.

For a while it was doubted whether any of us would ever see the rising of another sun. These huge ships would rise like mountains on the top of the coming sea, and suddenly tumble again into the trough of the same with such a dreadful crash that it seemed almost impossible they could ever rise again.

Ten ships of the fleet were badly damaged, including Rodney, her captain instructed to take her back to Britain for repairs.

Her men were overjoyed – going home meant they would finally receive their pay and be allowed twenty-four hours leave ashore, many dreaming of roistering and whoring in the taverns of Plymouth. Bates, on the other hand, fantasized about finally escaping servitude in the Royal Navy. However, as the Rodney prepared to sail for Britain from Port Mahon, fifty of her sailors, including Bates, were called forward and told to get their things together, as they were transferring into the 74-gun HMS Swiftsure. She had just arrived and would in all likelihood serve three years on the Mediterranean station. Bates was plunged into utter despair:

I was doomed to drag out a miserable existence in the British navy.

Bates remained in Swiftsure until the war between Britain and America, provoked in large part by the former’s habit of pressing the latter’s citizens into service in the Royal Navy, broke out. He became a Prisoner of War in 1812 and, after incarceration in a prison ship, then Dartmoor, eventually arrived home in the USA, on 15 June 1815. A career as a merchant service captain followed, before Joseph Bates devoted himself to carrying out God’s work, taking part in the anti-slavery movement and helping to found the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He died in 1872 at the age of eighty.

By 1814 Rodney was flagship for Vice Admiral Sir George Martin, Commander-in-Chief Lisbon. Her commanding officer was Captain Edward Durnford King, who had distinguished himself while in command of the frigate HMS Endymion, encountering the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet off Cadiz in 1805 prior to Trafalgar, but escaping destruction by pretending to signal a Royal Navy force astern of him. In November 1814 Captain King was appointed to the 74-gun Cornwallis, but ill health forced him to resign his command and return home. Rodney returned to Britain with other ships of the fleet following the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814. Thirteen years later she was renamed Greenwich, so her previous name could christen a new vessel. The Napoleonic-era Rodney (now Greenwich) was decommissioned and sold off in 1836, ending a career in which she experienced no pitched battles at sea, but had played her part in maintaining pressure in the Iberian Peninsula, so helping to bring the little French Emperor down.

German WWII Destroyer – Z 10 Hans Lody

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Origin of the Name

On the outbreak of the First World War, Oberleutnant zur See (Reserve) Hans Lody, who had been declared medically unfit for military service, immediately volunteered for espionage duty. He arrived in England posing as an American, but he was soon arrested: the network of German secret agents in Britain had already been betrayed and eliminated. Lody was executed by firing squad for espionage at the Tower of London on 6 November 1914. Until 1945 a plaque in his honour was to be found at the gate of Lübeck fortress.

Career

Z 10 was a Type 1934A ship commissioned on 17 March 1938 by her commander,  Korvettenkapitän Karl Jesko von Puttkamer. She ran her speed trials over the measured mile off Neukrug between 30 November and 3 December 1938, achieving 37.8 knots from an output of 65,000shp at 370rpm per shaft.

Attached to 8. Zerstörerdivision, she joined the Fleet after working up and formed part of the escort and homecoming celebrations for the Condor Legion (Spanish Civil War) veterans on 30 May 1939. In August 1939, Korvettenkapitän Puttkamer was appointed Hitler’s Naval ADC and replaced by Korvettenkapitän Freiherr Hubert von Wangenheim.

After three day’s blockade duty off Danzig at the outbreak of war, Z 10 transferred into the North Sea to help lay the Westwall defensive minefield. While she was loading, a mine exploded, killing two and wounding six of her crew. During October, in company with Z 15 Erich Steinbrinck and 6. Torpedobootflottille, Z 10 inspected neutral commerce in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, often in severe weather. In the operation of 27–29 October she suffered storm damage and lost one man overboard with three injured.

Hans Lody sailed on two offensive minelaying operations against the British coast, on 18 November to the Thames estuary and on 6 December off Cromer, where, with Z 12 Erich Giese,she fought a torpedo action against two British destroyers, one of these, Jersey, being hit and damaged. On 9 December Z 10 sailed to Wesermünde for a refit and did not emerge until 22 May 1940. Once operational she returned to Trondheim, and on 3 June was attached to the Fleet for ‘Juno’. During the sortie she torpedoed and sank the troop transport Orama (19,840grt), the largest ship to be sunk by a German destroyer. With Admiral Hipper, she returned to Trondheim on 8 June with survivors from the British vessels sunk.

On 13 June 1940 Lody was damaged in an air raid aimed at Scharnhorst and returned to Kiel for repair, but she was back on the 20th in time to join Z 7, Z 15 and the torpedo boats Greifand Kondor, escorting Scharnhorst to Deutsche Werke. After a call at Wilhelmshaven, she returned to Trondheim in company with Z 5 Paul Jacobi to escort home, on 25 July, the damaged battleship Gneisenau. During a course change in the Kattegat on the 27th there was a minor collision between Gneisenau and Z 10. After completion of the escort, Z 10 transferred to Wilhelmshaven, from where, on 9 September she steamed to the western end of the English Channel with Z 6, Z 14, Z 16 and Z 20 preparatory to Operation ‘Seelöwe’.

Z10 took part in the minelaying operation off Falmouth on 28 September 1940, and on 10 October, during an air raid at Brest, she received shrapnel damage and lost two crew dead and seven wounded to strafing. On 17 October she sortied into the Bristol Channel and received two shell hits from the enemy cruiser and destroyer force. Korvettenkapitãn Werner Pfeiffer was appointed Lody’s third commander in November 1940.

In the skirmish with five British destroyers off Plymouth on 29 November, Z 10 suffered splinter damage and was raked by anti-aircraft fire. On 5 December she left Brest in company with Z 20 Karl Galster for a refit at Wesermünde.

After leaving the yards in April 1941, Lody joined the Bismarck escort in the Great Belt on 19 May and was released into Trondheim on the 22nd, returning from there to Wesermünde. Between 11 and 14 June she helped to escort the torpedoed heavy cruiser Liit-zow from Egersund to the repair yard. On 1 July she sailed with 6. Z-Flottille to Kirkenes and carried out various escort duties, reconnaissance sorties and anti-shipping operations with the her sister ships before returning to Wesermünde at the end of September with boiler damage.

On 15 May 1942, together with Z 4, Z 27 and Z 29, Hans Lody escorted Lützow to Trondheim in Operation ‘Walzertraum’, arriving on the 20th and transferring with her northward to Altafjord on 2 July. While anchoring in Gimsöystraumen with Theodor Riedel and Karl Galster she grounded in uncharted shallows, as a result of which her double bottom was ripped open, the port shaft seized and both propellers received damage. After refloating, the two destroyers returned to Trondheim for survey and emergency repair, and on the 27th both were towed to Deutsche Werke, Kiel. The damage to Z 10 was so extensive that her decommissioning was seriously considered. Korvettenkapitän Karl Adolf Zenker was appointed commander in August 1942.

A boiler room fire broke out during engine trials on 15 February 1943, and not until 22 April was Lody sufficiently battleworthy to return to operations in Norway. Meanwhile Kapitän zur See Hans Marks had been appointed her fifth commander.

Lody was part of the force which dispossessed the Soviets of Spitzbergen between 6 and 9 September. While leaving Altafjord on 21 November, she collided with Erich Steinbrinck.Korvettenkapitän Kurt Haun was appointed commander in November 1943.

The period until April 1944 was spent on escort and minelaying missions out of southern Norwegian ports, and on 3 May that year Z 10 was laid up at Germania Werft, Kiel, for a refit that lasted until 18 February 1945. While working up in the Baltic afterwards she was attached temporarily to Admiral K-Verbände, the command organisation for the various one- or two-man midget submarines. Once more or less operational again on 5 April, Lody ran escort duties from Copenhagen to the Skagerrak, and on 5 May she sailed from Copenhagen to the Hela peninsula to embark refugees, returning in the huge convoy of 7 May with about 1,500 aboard. On the 9th, in company with Z 6, she was removed to Kiel, where she decommissioned the following day.

On 10 May 1945, under Royal Navy command but with German engine-room personnel, Hans Lody proceeded to Wilhelmshaven. On 6 January 1946 she arrived at Portsmouth as experimental vessel R 38, German engine room staff being requested of the Naval Officer Commanding, Wilhelmshaven, on the 19th, presumably to help operate the complicated machinery. The ship was scrapped at Sunderland three years later.

LUFTFAUST

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‘Lufthaus B’

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The Luftfaus in a transport case with preloaded ammunition cartridges. ‘Lufthaus B’

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The rounds were fired in two stages with a 0.2 second gap between salvos. ‘Lufthaus B’

In 1945 the Luftfaust was designed by ‘Hugo Schneider’ of Leipzig and by the end of that year the German army were ready to field test the weapon system. The early version ‘Luftfaus A’ had only four shorter barrels however in this article we will be looking at the ‘Lufthaus B’

One thing that cannot be denied is the fact that the German military during World War II managed to develop a significant number of weapons that were precursors to many of the most impressive weapon technologies of modern warfare today. One of those weapons, the Luftfaust, was a precursor to the MANPADS, or MAN Portable Air Defense System, weapons like the Stinger, Blowpipe, or Strella. The Luftfaust, or “Air Fist”, was a recoilless shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled anti- aircraft weapon developed during the last year of the war, with large orders placed that would have marked a significant change in German weapons technologies had the war lasted another year or two. If the war had lasted into 1947, German troops would have been armed with Stg. 44’s and a variety of rocket-propelled heavy support weapons, eliminating the need for most grenades, mortars, and machine guns.

There were two versions of the Luftfaust developed. The first version was the Luftfaust-A. This weapon consisted of a bundle of four launch tubes, each capable of launching a small 2 cm diameter rocket fitted with a 90 gram projectile with a 19 gram explosive warhead. Fired in salvo, these little rockets reached a maximum velocity of 380 m/s. Unfortunately, test firings showed that while the rockets had sufficient range, they did not have sufficient dispersal inside a target kill circle to be effective against aircraft.

This lead to the Luftfaust-B, which used longer launch tubes and more of them. The Luftfaust-B mounted nine launch tubes, each 1.5 meters long, with the entire launcher assembly weighing in at 6.5 kg. When fired, the nine rounds would launch in a salvo, 0.2 seconds between each round, allowing them to form a 60 meter diameter kill pattern at a range of 500 meters, sufficient to shoot down aircraft of the day. Though heavy, the weapon produced no discernible recoil, and was fired much like a bazooka or panzerschrek, with the rear part simply laying on the shoulder.

Production of the Luftfaust-B began in March, 1945, with an order for 10,000 launch units and 4 million rocket rounds to fire through them. However, as the war concluded, only 80 were in service, being tested in combat field trials before official adoption occurred.

A weapon similar to the Luftfaust was developed as well. For ground attack aircraft, they developed the Fliegerfaust, or “Airplane Fist”. This was a hefty 6-barrelled launcher designed for mounted under the wings of aircraft. It fired six 3 cm rockets in salvo, fitted with warhead manufactured from the ammunition of the Maschinenkanone MK108, a 330 gram projectile filled with 75 grams of explosives.

While this weapon never advanced past trials, it did inspire the Hand-Fohn. This was a bundle of three launch tubes designed to fire the 7.3cm Raketen-Sprenggranate 4609, a 3.2kg rocket with a 300 gram explosive warhead, capable of attaining a speed of 360 m/s. Again, these weapon never reached the prototype stage.

All three anti-aircraft systems relied on the concept of using terminally fuzed warheads to fill a 20 to 40 meter diameter sphere with sufficient shrapnel to damage or down a plane at 500 to 600 meters range.

The Fliegerschreck
The Fliegerschreck was by the end of the war almost ready for field trials and was to use a new form of ammunition that could be used by the Panzerschreck, which enabled the Panzerschreck to be used for both the anti aircraft and anti tank roles.
The new ammunition was to contain an explosive charge and 144 small incendiary sub munitions that would be fitted to a standard rocket motor. The new warhead was ready in 1945 however none were ever issued to front line troops.
The Fliegerschreck would incorporate a new AA sighting system similar to that used by the MG 42 Machine gun
References
World War II Data Book Hitler’s Secret Weapons 1933-1945 -ISBN 1906626871