Royal Navy Wartime Experience and Analysis

Until at least 1936, the Royal Navy did not try to interest the British Air Ministry in the development of high-performance fighters for its aircraft carriers, because the RN’s air officers did not think that an effective combat air patrol could be mounted around a carrier. By the time approaching bombers could be sighted and identified, it would be too late. Consequently, the RN carriers that followed Ark Royal, which was laid down in 1935, had armored flight decks so that they could absorb punishment and still operate attack aircraft. The advent of shipboard air-search radar in the first year of World War II, however, changed the situation, and the RN procured Royal Air Force (RAF) and U.S. Navy fighters and experimented with the central control of fighter defenses.

The RN also did not expect before World War II to have to operate its carriers against waves of high-performance land-based bombers—as it would be forced to do first in Norway in 1940 and then, in 1941, in the Mediterranean. The RN’s decision to construct carriers with armored flight decks restricted the number of aircraft such carriers could operate, so it chose to emphasize strike aircraft over fighters. The RN projected the logic of its own decisions about carrier-based strike aircraft upon the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Accordingly, it was surprised by the IJN’s very effective carrier-based attacks in the Pacific and the Bay of Bengal in the spring of 1942.

The leaders of the RN responded to the challenges to the Fleet Air Arm posed by operations against the Germans in the Mediterranean and the Japanese in the Indian Ocean by creating the Future Building Committee (FBC), chaired by the Deputy First Sea Lord, in July 1942. The FBC was “the only organization within the Admiralty charged with the overall review of British naval requirements,” and its deliberations supported those of the Joint (i.e., Royal Air Force/Royal Navy) Technical Committee. At the end of 1942, the Joint Technical Committee had accepted the idea that future strike aircraft would be significantly heavier, and it recommended that all future carrier aircraft therefore be designed to use rocket-assisted takeoff equipment. The committee also approved an increased carrier-landing speed for all aircraft. In February 1943, the FBC specified that “carrier interceptor fighters should be the equals (in performance) of their land counterparts,” which implied significant increases in the size and weight of carrier fighters. In March 1943, the Aircraft Design Subcommittee of the FBC was split off to become a distinct organization—the Naval Aircraft Design Committee. This committee was an “early proponent of the catapult as the primary means of launching aircraft” from carriers.

Also in 1943, the RN’s famous test pilot Eric Brown successfully landed a combat-loaded, twin-engine Sea Mosquito fighter on a carrier, and the Future Building Committee recommended that the Mosquito design be modified to create a long-range carrier fighter equipped with radar.

The resulting aircraft, christened Sea Hornet, first flew in April 1945. In September 1944 the First Sea Lord, Adm. Andrew B. Cunningham, asked the chief of the RAF’s Air Staff to provide the RN with Mosquitoes modified for use on carriers. Admiral Cunningham was thinking in early 1945 about long-range attacks from RN carriers against Japanese bases like Singapore. The Admiralty asked for two hundred Sea Mosquitoes “for delivery in 1945 and 250 to follow in 1946.”

That same month (September 1944), the Naval Aircraft Design Committee recommended to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) that it develop a jet interceptor for use from carriers. The members of the committee were aware that “such a fighter would demand catapult-only launching and that no other aircraft could be within thirty feet of it when its engine opened up to full power,” but they felt that the better air-to-air performance of the jet would more than compensate for the problems created by operating it from existing and planned carriers. By late 1944, the MAP had stopped work on new piston-engine designs and was focused on jet turbines and turboprops. In December 1944, the Naval Aircraft Design Committee “proposed that future naval aircraft be designed without undercarriages, to land on soft (flexible) decks,” and in February 1945 the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough “concluded that any future high-performance naval fighter would have to be a pure jet, and that requirements for takeoff, military load, and landing speed would have to be modified.”

Things were moving fast. By 7 June 1945, the Naval Aircraft Department of the RAE had developed a “Proposed Programme of Experimental Work” for determining whether a carrier could operate jets without undercarriages. The “target for flying trials under seagoing conditions” was May 1946. This project was sent forward to the MAP with an endorsement by the director of the RAE two days later. On 4 July, engineer Lewis Boddington, who headed the Naval Aircraft Department at RAE, completed a paper entitled “Assisted Take-off for Future Naval Aircraft,” which he presented on 17 July to the Naval Aircraft Research Subcommittee of the Naval Aircraft Design Committee. He put his main point right up front: “The large increase in take-off speed which will result from the developments in the aircraft and its power plant, and the resulting necessity to remove the present free-deck take-off restrictions will demand assisted take-off under all conditions.”

Boddington’s paper laid out many of the engineering problems entailed by operating jets from carriers, especially the need for catapult launchings that would not be so violent as to damage an aircraft’s structure and the need safely to recover planes landing with their engines running. He argued, first, that “future aircraft will have no undercarriage and will land on flexible decks,” and, second, that “the solution of the problem giving the best handling and deck operating conditions will be a landing deck immediately under which will be the take-off deck. Ranged aircraft for take-off will not obstruct any landing operations.” By 12 July, the deputy director of RAE’s Panel on Flexible Landing Decks had reviewed the feasibility of an approach technique for a carrier with an (as yet only conceptual) flexible deck and had decided to recommend trials of actual landings using jet aircraft.

On 18 September 1945, Boddington presented a second paper for the Naval Aircraft Research Subcommittee, “Landing of Future Naval Aircraft.” As he observed, “The object of this note is to briefly present the problems of landing on a carrier deck in the future and discuss the effects on the equipment and carrier design.” His argument was that the development of jet aircraft “will result in a new approach technique ending in flight parallel to the deck and engaging the mechanical arresting gear under ‘flying’ conditions.” His paper provided the conceptual justification for the angled flight deck. As he noted, “To cover for the baulked landing, the jet engine will be running at 90% full revs….Non-engagement of the wire will allow the pilot to take-off [sic]again depending on the deck arrangements (barriers, parks, etc.) and the carrier design.” To allow a plane that had missed the arresting gear to get back in the air safely, the flexible deck that Boddington advocated would have to be located away from the deck park. His solution—already proposed—was to have “separate landing and take-off decks.”

Boddington also understood that jet aircraft would require more powerful catapults. In Britain, catapult development was shared between the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the Engineer-in-Chief Department of the Royal Navy. About 1943 Farnborough began experimenting with a new kind of catapult (Type K) using a flywheel to store energy. In 1946, the catapult engineers supervised by Boddington also explored the potential of gas turbines as power sources for carrier catapults.

As the Allied armies had surged across northern France in the fall of 1944, they had encountered the fixed sites built by the Germans to launch V-1 missiles against London. The missile’s pulse-jet engine could not function until it reached a set speed, about 150 mph. Thus the catapults built by the Germans were not too different from what a streamlined jet, with a similar takeoff speed, might require. Unlike the explosive-driven catapults then in use in the U.S. Navy for launching scout planes from cruisers and battleships, the German catapult applied its force directly to the airplane. It was a tube with a slot running along its upper side. A reaction in the tube pushed a piston along it, and the piston was hooked through the slot to the airplane. In the German case, the reaction was the decomposition of concentrated (“high-test”) hydrogen peroxide, which the British called HTP. This was one of several German applications of HTP, others being as an oxidant in the Me-163 rocket fighter and as an oxidant in the Walter closed-cycle U-boat. In each case, HTP showed lethal properties that more or less disqualified it if any alternative could be found.

The British report on the V-1 catapult was written by C. C. Mitchell, at that time a Royal Navy reservist but in peacetime a catapult designer in an Edinburgh engineering firm that produced what the RN referred to as “accelerators” for use on carriers. He had patented a slotted-tube catapult, which he called a “popgun” catapult, in 1938, but the RN had not adopted it. After the war, while working for Brown Brothers (also in Edinburgh), he realized that steam from a ship’s propulsion plant could substitute for the dangerous HTP. He formally proposed such a catapult (it is not clear exactly when) when trials of the Type K showed that the weight of existing hydro-pneumatic catapults was growing faster than their capacity to launch aircraft at high speeds. After 1947 the British formally chose the slotted-tube steam catapult as the sole direction for future development. By 1950, the prototype, christened BXS.1, was ready for testing on HMS Perseus, a war-built light carrier now used for experiments.

The Royal Navy used low-temperature, low-pressure steam on all of its existing carriers, as well as those under construction. Low steam pressure made it easier to build a gasket that would hold the steam inside a slotted-cylinder catapult as the steam drove the piston—attached to the airplane—forward. However, low steam temperature and pressure made for poor efficiency in ship propulsion. The U.S. Navy used much higher steam temperature and pressure in its carriers’ boilers, which made them more efficient thermodynamically and therefore increased the carriers’ endurance—a valuable capability in the Pacific War against Japan. Wartime contact with the U.S. Navy convinced the British to develop a new generation of high-pressure steam plants for their late-war and postwar fleets.

Because Mitchell’s catapult was adapted to the conditions of earlier British ships, it was by no means obvious that steam was the appropriate choice if new British carriers using higher steam pressures were built. Similarly, American observers of British catapult development knew that it was by no means obvious that a catapult adapted to British steam systems would succeed on board an American carrier. Wartime U.S. Navy boilers operated at about three times the temperature and twice the pressure of British plants, and by 1950 the U.S. Navy was contemplating doubling the pressure used during wartime, to 1,200 pounds per square inch.

British wartime analysis produced the conceptual foundation for the modern aircraft carrier operating high-performance jet aircraft. Because jets accelerated slowly, jet aircraft would need assistance at takeoff. Because jets landed at higher speeds and needed to do so with their turbines turning over at close to maximum revolutions per minute, the axial deck—with the deck park forward, shielded by a barrier—had to be modified. In effect, the Royal Navy had defined the “problem set” by the end of the summer of 1945. From that point forward, attention focused on possible solutions.

The choice of the steam catapult coincided with the beginning of design work on carrier modernization. As originally envisaged, modernization would have combined a steam catapult, new heavier-duty arresting gear, and a U.S.-style deck-edge elevator, the latter to provide an easier flow of aircraft between hangar deck and flight deck. For the British, the new elevator—the one major American-inspired element of modernization—was by far the most expensive part of the project. It was incompatible with the enclosed, protected hangars that had formed the cores of the existing British fleet carriers. To install the U.S.-style elevator the British had to remove the carrier’s flight deck and tear open its hangar deck. That they were willing to do so suggests the extent to which they considered the U.S. wartime experience, rather than their own, the key to the future In effect, the Royal Navy ended World War II with a policy of developing jet aircraft to replace propeller-driven types; experimenting with the flexible and angled flexible deck; and placing steam catapults in its new and modernized aircraft carriers. A lack of funds limited the speed with which these innovations could be developed, tested, and installed. However, incremental development of new equipment and techniques, rather than concurrent development, allowed RN engineers and aviators to identify problems and potential “dead ends” before large sums had been appropriated or spent.

A classic “dead end” they encountered was the “carpet,” or flexible, flight deck, which was tested successfully at sea on the carrier Warrior in the fall and winter of 1948-49.23 The combination of the flexible deck and jet fighters without landing gear appeared successful, but it had a major flaw. As Rear Adm. Dennis R.F. Cambell, RN, who is closely identified with the origin of the angled deck for carriers, put it years later:

It soon became obvious that there was a world of difference between one-off trials [of the flexible flight deck proposed by Lewis Boddington] and practical front-line operation. Two major points needed to be resolved—how were aircraft with no wheels to be dealt with ashore? . . . The one other big problem was how to ensure that speed of operation wasn’t to be sacrificed by imposing some elaborate mechanical substitute for the previous easy routine of just taxying [sic] forward into the deck parks; and the vulnerability of the whole scheme was surely obvious.

Moreover, it took a very skilled pilot to put his aircraft down on the “carpet” safely. For example, in the first test of the flexible rubber deck at Farnborough at the end of December 1947, RAE’s test pilot, Eric Brown, crashed his aircraft. Brown was fortunate to survive, and his description of what happened is vivid:

After crossing the arrester wire the plane continued to swing nose-down towards the deck and plunged into it with such violence that the nose completely vanished and penetrated right down to the bottom layer. . . . Then it was thrown harshly up again in a nose-up attitude. I opened it up to full power and was climbing away safely when I realized that the stick was jammed solid, with the elevators keeping the plane in a nose-up attitude. I throttled back gently and she settled on to the grass ahead of the deck. The crash split the cockpit all round me.

This initial accident, however, was followed by many successful attempts, once formal tests began again at Farnborough in March 1948. Brown says in his memoir (Wings on My Sleeve) that he made forty successful landings on the flexible deck at Farnborough in the spring and summer of 1948. By November of that year, the light carrier HMS Warrior had been fitted with a full-scale flexible deck, and Brown landed a small jet fighter (a Vampire) on it. As his memoirs have it, “The plane’s belly scraped the wire, the hook caught. The arrester wire and the deck had been deliberately set hard and the chock was uncomfortable, though only for a split second.” Not all his landings were as successful, but Brown nevertheless came away from the trials confident that the system would work. He noted in his official report, “It may even be that future swept-back and delta plan form aircraft will be forced to adopt this method of landing on carriers, since all calculations point to serious wheeled landing problems on such aircraft.”

Films of Brown landing his aircraft on the flexible deck were shown to staff in the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics when Lewis Boddington and two colleagues visited the United States in March 1949. The British team members spent most of their time at the naval aviation test center at Patuxent River, Maryland, the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, and five aircraft manufacturing firms—Grumman, McDonnell, Chance Vought, Douglas, and North American. In his report of the trip, Boddington noted that “discussions were at all times free and open” and that “in general, similar methods of solving difficulties [were] in progress in both countries.” Facilitating this exchange of ideas was Capt. Frederick Trapnell, who had commanded an escort carrier in World War II and was in March 1949 the chief test pilot at Patuxent River.

The discussions among the technical specialists went into great detail and covered such topics as carrier-landing approach techniques, the coordination problems associated with high-speed approaches, the gravitational forces imposed on airplane structures by arrested landings and catapulted takeoffs, safe and functional barriers to shield the already-recovered aircraft in the deck park from those still landing, the problems associated with getting a jet to an adequate airspeed at the end of its catapult run, and the difficulties of moving increasingly heavy aircraft around on a carrier’s flight deck. Boddington and his colleagues observed that it was evident to officers in BuAer that “the direct application of present requirements and methods for catapulting and arresting is not satisfactory,” especially for large (hundred-thousand-pound) aircraft. This need to place very large aircraft on U.S. carriers was based on the formal requirement to develop nuclear-capable bombers. It drew the Americans away from the British, though the two navies otherwise shared the same basic problems that stemmed from the innovations—jet aircraft, radar, and missiles—produced during World War II.

The parallels between the two navies in the immediate postwar period are striking. Because of their wartime experiences, both naval air arms wanted larger, heavier, and longer-range aircraft for their carriers. Both had officers and engineers who believed that it was possible to develop ways to launch and recover high-performance jet aircraft on carriers. Although, as Boddington observed, American engineers in aircraft firms and military and civilian officials were working on similar problems, it was the British who first grasped all the problems entailed in adapting existing carriers to jet aircraft. Their initial solution to this set of problems—the flexible landing deck—did not survive careful scrutiny, but the idea of the slightly offset flexible deck led to the angled deck, and it was the angled deck that opened the way for the large modern carrier.

Helmut von Moltke the Elder

Born: October 26, 1800

Died: April 24, 1891

Prussian Chief of General Staff

Understood as the Elder to distinguish him from his nephew, a World War I Commander. Helmuth von Moltke ended up being the architect of Prussian military supremacy in mid-19th century Europe. The son of an impoverished aristocratic Army Officer, he had been brought up in Denmark. Particularly different from the traditional, boorish type of Prussian officer, Moltke was an intellectual with quiet manners and considerable literary talent. He progressed within the Prussian army because Prussia had recognized the requirement for intelligent and professionally capable Staff Officers, and because his cultured manner made him an eligible bachelor, attracting the favor of the royal family. During the first four decades of Moltke’s career, Prussia was at peace and his only firsthand experience in combat occurred in 1839 when he was sent to serve the Ottoman Empire, and he commanded the Turkish artillery in a battle against Egypt.

As chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1857, Moltke revealed impressive energy and drive through radical involvement in organization, planning, and training. However, his personal status, and that of the General Staff, was at first very uncertain. In 1864, when Prussia went to war with Denmark, Command ended up being entrusted to an 80-year-old General who ignored Moltke’s procedure for the conduct of operations. When Moltke was allowed to take control, he brought the war to a swift, successful conclusion. In the process he won the confidence of King Wilhelm I. In 1866, when a major war broke out with Austria, Moltke was free to act as the Commander-in-Chief, using royal decree to issue orders to Army and Divisional Commanders who outranked him in terms of formal social and military hierarchy. Despite his success, some Officers still resented receiving instructions from a man who they regarded as an obscure military bureaucrat.

The rapid defeat of Austria made Moltke a celebrity, and left his authority unquestionable. The war showed his ability to combine prepared planning with a keen appreciation of the chaotic reality of conflict. The key to precious triumph lay within the efficient mobilization of almost 300,000 men and their gear by railway and trains. This was in line with precise timetables drawn up because of the railroad section of the General Staff. This enabled Moltke to seize the initiative from the outset.

Moltke planned for the three armies to maneuver separately, then come together to destroy the Austrian forces in a decisive battle. He understood the need for flexibility and did not attempt to control the campaign at length. His crisp, clear written instructions – early on in the war sent by telegram from Berlin – always allowed commanders a measure of freedom to exercise their own initiative. Likewise, he relied upon the inner circle of his General Staff to make independent judgments in accordance with his strategy.

The climactic struggle of Koniggratz on July 3, 1866 was almost a tragedy, when the last of Moltke’s three armies failed to arrive until halfway through the day. Triumph was finally achieved with their aid, after which Austria sued for peace. When Prussia went to war with France in 1870, Moltke ensured that his Army was the best-trained in Europe, and that its officers and NCOs were imbued with a shared ethos and tactical doctrine. France’s mobilization was a shambles, while Prussian mobilization was faultless. Overcoming temporary confusion and errors as his armies advanced into eastern France, Moltke issued continuously altering orders to meet the quickly developing situation.

By remaining versatile, Moltke was able to lure the courageous but disorganized French field armies into traps at both Metz and Sedan, from which they would not escape. With the surrender of Paris after an extended siege in January 1871, Moltke was recognized as the architect of a military victory that soon made a Prussian-led Germany the dominant power in Europe. The battle at Koniggratz led to 44,000 Austrian casualties, compared with only 9,000 on the Prussian side.

Field Marshal von Moltke before Sedan

The Battle of Sedan

Moltke and his staff traveled with the Royal Headquarters of the Prussian King, Wilhelm I. They kept up with the movements of the 3rd Army under Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, as well as the Army of the Meuse under Crown Prince Albert of Saxony. Both Crown Princes acted upon Moltke’s orders, although he permitted them broad scope to decide just how these orders were carried out. Moltke was unclear of the intentions of the French. At first, he assumed that MacMahon would fall back toward Paris, and in response prepared to march westward. On August 25, after studying reports in French newspapers and with proof provided from his own cavalry patrols, Moltke decided that MacMahon must have embarked upon a march northeast to join up with Bazaine. Recognizing an unmissable opportunity for a decisive victory, he ordered his armies to travel northward. Using his men assertively to keep in range with the enemy, he was able to catch up with MacMahon, who was crossing the Meuse River near Sedan on August 30.

The following day, Moltke believed that the French would attempt to escape. In order to prevent this, Moltke sent fresh troops across the river both east and west of the French Army – the path northward was blocked by the Belgian border. As the French remained passively inside Sedan, Moltke caught them in a trap.

At dawn on September 1st, Moltke’s armies, outnumbering the French with 200,000 men to 120,000 men, were in place to attack. By early afternoon they had completed the encirclement of Sedan and begin assaulting the French defenses. Although the battle was intense and casualties high, Moltke had no doubt that the end result would be victory. Watching proceedings from a hilltop alongside King Wilhelm, Bismarck, and other dignitaries, Moltke did not issue a single written order that entire day until the battle was over, leaving his Army and Corps Commanders to do their jobs and force the French to surrender.

MacMahon’s dilemma was whether to try to link up with Bazaine’s army or to fall back toward Paris. The French Emperor, Napoleon III, who had joined MacMahon at Chalons, urged withdrawal westward. But MacMahon had chosen a long march around the Prussian flank to meet Bazaine, who he optimistically assumed to be breaking out of Metz. MacMahon’s army was not prepared to execute a maneuver on such a grand scale – they had no maps of the terrain, previously having assumed to be battling in Germany. Slowed by logistical difficulties, they were additionally confused by their Commander’s hesitation.

On the evening of August 27, MacMahon issued orders to turn toward Paris, and then cancelled this command the next early morning. Inexplicably failing to send his cavalry patrol in the direction of the Prussian armies, MacMahon ended up being ignorant of their strength and their position. The unexpected clash with the Prussians on August 30 resulting in the French being forced to complete the hasty, panic stricken crossing of the Meuse. To rest and regroup his weary forces, MacMahon allowed them to stay in Sedan, the fortress town where much-needed food and ammunition were to be found. He could still have made a fighting escape to the West on August 31, but did nothing, while Moltke’s armies crossed the Meuse unopposed. MacMahon designated September 1 as a rest day, but at 4 AM the Prussians launched an attack. MacMahon was wounded early on by an artillery shell. In a debacle typical of the confusion in the French camp, he was forced first by General Auguste Ducrot, and then by General Emmanuel de Wimpffen, to get authorization from the government in Paris. It made no difference who gave the orders, because French military doctrine ultimately determined that there would be no retreat. Prussian artillery dominated the battlefield. Attempts to break out by cavalry and infantry showed immense bravery but could not succeed. Napoleon III humanely insisted on a surrender to save lives. More than 100,000 French soldiers were taken prisoner.

Yi Sun-sin

Born: April 28, 1545

Died: December 16, 1598

Korean Admiral

Yi Sun-sin was originally an Army Commander who earned his reputation fighting Manchu nomads on Korea’s northern border. After a period out of power, he was made Commander of the Cholla Naval District. Faced with the looming threat of a Japanese invasion, Yi took vigorous measures to prepare his fleet for war. He began collecting supplies and improving the equipment on his ships. Alongside the cannon armed warships – known as panokseon, which formed the core of his fleet – he built a number of geobukseon (turtle ships), whose upper decks were enclosed in iron plates. Yi’s task as an Admiral was to maneuver these gun platforms so that his cannons – firing solid shot and incendiary rounds – destroyed the lighter Japanese warships, while avoiding being boarded by the well-armed Japanese soldiers. Yi achieved this by exploiting his superior knowledge of the sea currents and channels around the Korean coastline.

Yi is credited with 23 victories against Japan. His greatest triumph during the first invasion was the engagement at Hansando, in August 1592, where the Japanese ships had been lured into an encirclement from which only a handful escaped. Success earned him jealousy at the Korean courts, however. Yi was arrested, tortured, and relegated to common soldier. A severe naval defeat during the Second Japanese Invasion quickly brought Yi’s reinstatement as Admiral.

There are many factors to consider in why Admiral Yi was so successful against the Japanese. Admiral Yi took a vested interest in his men and ensured that his soldiers, supplies, and his ships were well-maintained. He expended all efforts to replace them when necessary. The turtle ship also played a significant role in his victories. He expertly navigated them against the Japanese because he had knowledge of the Korean coast and knew the sea tides and used the terrain and weather to his advantage. Like most great leaders, he was charismatic and excelled at motivating his soldiers and sailors. He treated them with respect and dignity and in return earned their loyalty.

His turtle ships had stronger hulls than the Japanese ships of that period. They were also capable of carrying at least 20 cannons which were useful in broadsiding. He personally led development of additional types of cannons that proved useful in battle. In 1597 Admiral Yi led his ships into battle at Myeongnyang against the Japanese fleet of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Admiral Yi brought with him at least 12 panokseon warships, and they faced off against the considerable naval force of the Japanese, which numbered 133 warships and at least 200 logistical ships.

The Japanese Navy had arrived in the Yellow Sea and sent out an advance scouting party. They soon staged a surprise attack, but were driven off. A second scouting party later launched another nighttime attack, but Yi repelled them again.

All ships were ordered to return to the Japanese Fleet when they received reports that there was Korean resistance in the area. They began to amass their fleet. Admiral Yi did not want to fight a major sea battle in such a vulnerable position, so he withdrew his forces and concealed his ships on the northern side of the strait. Positioning his ships in the strait gave him a tactical advantage. The narrow strait prevented his small group of ships from being flanked by the massive Japanese Fleet. The roughness of the currents also made it exceedingly difficult for the Japanese ships to maneuver and close in. This forced the Japanese to attack in smaller groups.

Early on the morning of October 26th, the Japanese fleet began to deploy around the bay at the end of the strait. The crews of Yi’s other ships were survivors of a recent naval battle under the command of a different Admiral, and were shaken by the numerically superior Japanese fleet. It is recorded that for a time only Admiral Yi’s flagship was engaged in combat. He advanced alone but soon his example of bravery drew out the other ships one by one. His warships fired both cannon and arrows and were careful to avoid Japanese boarding attempts, as this was their primary tactic of the period. Several Japanese vessels attempted to come alongside the Korean ships but were driven off or sunk with concentrated fire. The tide in the strait soon reversed. The panokseon dropped their anchors while the Japanese ships were pushed back by the tide and soon began to smash upon one another. The Japanese ships clustered and crashed, forming a target rich environment for the Korean ships. The strong tides prevented Japanese sailors from swimming safely to shore and many drowned while attempting to escape their sinking vessels. By the end of the battle, records show that nearly thirty Japanese vessels were damaged or destroyed. The defeat was crushing to the morale of the Japanese and caused difficulties in resupplying their ground forces. The victory had the opposite effect for the Korean ground forces who had previously been fighting a losing front. When word spread of Admiral Yi’s victory, spirits ran high.

While this battle demonstrates the strategic prowess of Admiral Yi, this victory alone failed to slow or stop the Japanese campaign in Korea.

During the final struggle of the war at Noryang in November 1598, Yi was shot by a Japanese arquebus and died on the deck of his ship. Admiral Yi Sun-sin is considered a national hero and is celebrated by statues in a number of Korean cities, including Seoul.

Kamov Ka-52 – The Alligator

This photo of two Hokum-As flying over the Russian countryside shows why the Ka-50 has been dubbed Black Shark. Note that ‘24 Yellow’ is fitted with exhaust/air mixers while ‘26 Yellow’ is not; there are other detail differences as well.

25 Yellow’, a typical production Ka-50. The black portions of the tail unit and the starboard forward fuselage side are ‘anti-soot’ paint.

Here, ‘25 Yellow’ shows off its undersides during a flying display. Note the tandem antennas of the Doppler speed/drift sensor under the tailboom, the mounts for additional optoelectronic systems ahead of the mainwheels and the missile warning sensors flanking the forward fuselage and tailboom.

By the early 1980s the USA and the other NATO nations had built up a large fleet of specialised attack helicopters tailored for CAS and combating armoured vehicles. The Soviet Mi-24 was not quite in the same league, being larger and heavier and having a secondary assault transport role (unlike the western attack choppers). When Hughes Aircraft brought out the AH-64A Apache, the Mil’ OKB responded by developing the Mi-28 along similar lines. This was the helicopter the Soviet MoD placed its bets on; when a competitor appeared on the scene, initially it enjoyed scant support.

The competitor was OKB-938 – the design bureau named after Nikolay I. Kamov, which until then had specialised in naval (shipboard) and civil utility helicopters utilising the co-axial layout. True to form, the Kamov OKB used the same layout for their army attack helicopter project which bore the designation V-80 or izdeliye 800. Its uniqueness among attack helicopters lay not only in the layout; unlike all other combat helicopters, the V-80 was a single-seater. Kamov OKB engineers believed that automation of many functions would allow a single pilot to cope with the mission. A suite of four digital computers would be responsible for navigation, weapons application, operation of the ECM/ESM/IRCM suite and health & usage monitoring of the helicopter’s systems.

The V-80 had a slender fuselage, the cockpit having optically flat bulletproof glazing and a portside car-type door. The tail unit consisted of a virtually all-movable fin and stabilisers with endplate fins mounted further forward. Like other helicopters in the class, the V-80 had stub wings with external stores pylons and ESM/IRCM pods at the tips. The tricycle landing gear was retractable. The TV3-117VM engines were identical to the Mi-28’s and likewise installed laterally. The armament was the same as on the Mi-28 but the 2A42 cannon was mounted on the starboard side of the fuselage, with very limited traversing/elevation angles, which meant the pilot had to aim it by pointing the whole chopper; on the other hand, the co-axial layout facilitated this, making the helicopter less sensitive to crosswinds. The missile armament consisting of 9M4172 Vikhr’ (Whirlwind; AT-16 Scallion) ATGMs was new; the long-range missiles were to be guided automatically, theoretically enabling the V-80 to engage enemy tanks while staying out of range of the enemy’s AA weapons. The extreme nose housed the Merkooriy (Mercury, the planet) targeting/guidance system.

One more unique feature of the V-80 was its crew rescue system. In the event of a catastrophic failure or shootdown the rotor blades were jettisoned, whereupon the pilot was ejected upwards. The K-37-800 ejection seat was specially developed for the V-80 by the Zvezda (Star) Research & Production Enterprise and featured a squib extracting the seat.

The first prototype made its maiden flight on 17th June 1982, followed by four others in 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1990. Design issues were not the only problem the Kamov OKB had to deal with when developing the V-80; the unconventional helicopter was facing stiff opposition, including a good many generals who held high posts in the Soviet MoD. Critics slammed both the single-seat concept (because of the high pilot workload associated with flying and aiming the weapons at once in an air defence environment) and the co-axial layout which they cited as unsuitable for a battlefield chopper due to the danger of blade collision during sharp manoeuvres (here they had a point, as later events showed). A flyoff between the V-80 and the Mi-28 in September-October 1986 showed that the latter type was superior. Yet the Kamov lobby in the MoD was strong enough to secure a decision ordering the helicopter into production as the Ka-50; low-rate production at AAPO Progress in Arsen’yev commenced in 1991 under the product code izdeliye 805. The Ka-50 received the popular name Chornaya akoola (Black Shark) and the NATO reporting name Hokum. The helicopter also had experimental night-capable versions – the Ka-50Sh and Ka-50N.

The trials, which were held in conditions replicating a battle scenario as closely as possible, showed that the Ka-50 did have its weaknesses. Obviously the adversary would seek to extend the ‘kill’ range and reduce the reaction time of its air defence systems, and the Ka-50 was by no means invulnerable. To reduce combat losses among attack helicopters, the US Army and the Israeli Defence Force/Air Force resorted to using special battlefield surveillance helicopters equipped with a mast-mounted sight. For example, AH-64A attack helicopters operated jointly with Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior combat scout helicopters; as a successor to the OH-58D, Boeing and Sikorsky jointly developed the LHX (later known as the RAH-66 Comanche), but this programme eventually fell victim to defence budget cuts. In the Soviet Union/Russia, the Mi-24K was optimised for target designation in the interests of artillery and multiple launcher rocket system units, not helicopter units. Knowing this, the Kamov OKB started work on the V-60 compact and agile combat scout helicopter, but perestroika and the ensuing turmoil prevented the project from coming to fruition.

The operation of the Ka-50’s automated avionics suite that was to permit single-pilot operations was far from perfect, and the debugging effort dragged on and on. The Russian MoD refused to accept the brand-new Ka-50s built by AAPO Progress and pay for them, putting the plant on the verge of bankruptcy.

Acknowledging that some of the military’s complaints regarding the Ka-50 were justified and being aware that developing a ‘clean sheet of paper’ combat helicopter was out of the question, now that Russia was in the throes of a political and financial crisis, General Designer Sergey V. Mikheyev proposed developing a two-seat version of the Hokum. This would be a combat scout helicopter, the second crewman being a mission equipment operator; when the helicopter popped up over the battlefield he would assess the situation and designate targets for helicopters in a group, acting as commander.

Development of the two-seater, which was designated Ka-52, proceeded under the Avangard-1 (Vanguard-1) R&D programme. A rather provisional mock-up was presented to the State commission in 1994 together with the project documents. When the first information on the project was circulated in the media, some experts wasted no time declaring that ‘the single-seat combat helicopter concept had flopped’. In reality, however, the Ka-52 was meant to complement the Ka-50, not replace it – just like the RAH-66 would have complemented the AH-64, had it been fielded. The Ka-52 was not a rejection but a development of the original Ka-50 concept to suit the changing scenario of a limited war or anti-terrorist operation – one which Russia would face that same year.

The usual tandem seating arrangement was unsuitable for the Ka-52 because it entailed a long armour capsule and hence more weight away from the CG, which would impair manoeuvrability. Therefore the crewmen were seated side by side in a wider cockpit on K-37-800M seats. Another factor in favour of this was that side-by-side seating facilitated crew communication – even a gesture could be enough to convey the message, saving vital time in combat. Importantly, cross-section area was almost unchanged, as the Ka-50’s fuselage was widest aft of the cockpit. The Ka-52’s flattened snout with windshield halves resembling ‘eyes’ gave rise to a new popular name – Alligator.

The designers strove to retain maximum structural and systems commonality with the Ka-50 – even down to flat windshields and car-type doors. Later the cockpit was revised to cut drag and improve ergonomics, featuring a more streamlined windshield and upward-opening canopy doors, as well as liquid-crystal MFDs instead of electromechanical instruments and a cathode-ray tube display. Commonality was thus reduced from 95% to 85%, but most of the shortcomings pointed out by the State commission were rectified.

The main difference from the Ka-50 lay in the mission avionics. The Ka-52 was equipped with a Samshit (Boxwood) optoelectronic surveillance/targeting system featuring TV/LLLTV, IR and laser ranging channels and having an auto-tracking feature. In daytime clear-weather conditions it could detect and identify a tank at 15 km (9.3 miles) range. An RN01 Arbalet-52 millimetre-waveband radar developed by Phazotron-NIIR was fitted; it was capable of detecting a tank at 20 km (12.4 miles) range and had a mapping mode.

The prototype was converted from the second production Ka-50 in 1996. When it was rolled out on 12th November that year, the Ka-52 (then known as izdeliye 806) had the large ‘ball turret’ of the Samshit system mounted dorsally aft of the cockpit; the radar’s main antenna occupied the parabolic nose radome, and there was also a secondary antenna in a small pill-shaped radome on top of the radar mast for detecting aerial targets – even incoming missiles. The beginning of flight tests was delayed by the decision to demonstrate the helicopter at the Aero India-96 airshow in Bangalore; after that, the Ka-52 received the reporting name Hokum-B, the Ka-50 becoming the Hokum-A. The Alligator finally made its first flight on 25th June 1997 at the hands of Aleksandr Smirnov and Dmitriy Titov.

Being heavier than the Ka-50, the Ka-52 held an uncomfortable first place among coaxial-rotor helicopters as regards rotor disc loading, which impaired its flight performance as compared to the precursor. Luckily the VR-80 gearbox was designed with sufficient strength reserves to permit installation of more powerful engines. Accordingly the Russian NPP Klimov engine design bureau and the Ukrainian Motor Sich engine factory teamed up to create a new version of the engine designated TV3-117VMA-F (forseerovannyy – uprated); its take-off power was increased from 2,225 to 2,500 shp, with a contingency rating of 2,800 shp. The engine had a new electrohy-draulic control system giving better acceleration and higher surge resistance during rocket launches, and there was an automatic relight function in the event of flame-out. An alternative engine, the VK-2500 (alias TV3-117VMA-SB3), offered slightly less power (2,400 shp and 2,700 shp respectively) but had a lower fuel consumption and more than twice the designated service life (7,500 hours versus 3,000 hours).

A whole bunch of problems was associated with the surveillance/targeting suite. Quite apart from the fact that the dorsal position of the Samshit system did not afford it a sufficient downward field of view, the system itself had failed to meet its specifications (the ‘some s**t’ sound of the name turned out to be true, after all). First, two secondary optoelectronic ‘ball turrets’ were added under the nose but apparently this was not good enough. Next, the nose radome was cut away to accommodate a drum-shaped turret with a Rotor optoelectronic system, but this left no room for the radar antenna; the mast-mounted secondary antenna was not working properly, and eliminating the radar altogether would severely limit the Ka-52’s all-weather capability.

Defining and debugging the Ka-52’s mission avionics took several years. The end result was the Argument-2000 flight/navigation/attack suite which included the GOES-451 optoelectronic surveillance/targeting system and the Arbalet-52 radar. The GOES-451 can work round the clock and in fog; its large ‘ball turret’ is located ventrally immediately ahead of the nose gear unit, not encroaching on the radome. The flight/navigation/attack suite, ECM/ESM/IRCM suite and the BKS-50 communications suite are integrated via the Baghet-53 computer. The latter allows new systems to be integrated easily by updating the software.

The 9A4172 Vikhr’ ATGM inherited from the Ka-50 was regarded as the Ka-52’s principal weapon. The missile has automated laser guidance and a tandem shaped-charge armour-piercing/HE/fragmentation warhead capable of penetrating armour equivalent to 900-mm (35 in) homogeneous steel armour at 8 km (5 miles) range; explosive reactive armour (ERA) is no problem for it. The missile is superior to the US AGM-114A Hellfire. Later the Tula Instrument Design Bureau responsible for the missile brought out the Vikhr’-M version with 9M4172 missiles in various versions. At a range of 400 m to 10 km (0.25-6.2 miles) the Ka-52 armed with Vikhr’-M missiles can score a ‘kill’ against a tank with 1,000-mm (39 in) armour and ERA with 80% probability and engage four different targets within 30 seconds.

Yet, the Vikhr’ missile system turned out to be extremely complex and expensive, while its debugging was hampered by chronic funding shortages and general turmoil in the 1990s. Therefore, as an alternative the Ka-52 can use the less sophisticated but relatively cheap and trouble-free 9M120 Ataka (AT-9 Spiral) ATGM in its laser-guided version; the missile can destroy a tank with 800-mm (31½ in) armour and ERA with at least 65% probability. Improved versions – the 9M120M capable of penetrating 950-mm (37 in) armour, the 9M120F with a HE warhead for use against fortifications and the 9M220 AAM – were also developed. On the other hand, the Ataka missiles are no good against current NATO air defence systems which can destroy the helicopter at up to 4 km (2.5 miles) range in 4-10 seconds with 100% probability before the chopper has a chance to neutralise them; only the Vikhr’ missile system allows the Ka-52 to attack from beyond the range of Roland, Stinger, Mistral and Guepard AA systems. Additionally, the Hokum-B is able to use Kh-25ML (AS-10 Karen) laser-guided air-to-surface missiles normally carried by fixed-wing strike aircraft.

Other weapons used by the Ka-52 include 20-tube B-8V20 pods with 80-mm S-8 FFARs (available in 15 versions with different warheads), B-13L1 pods with five 122mm S-13 FFARs each, S-24 heavy unguided rockets, and free-fall bombs. The latter are traditionally part of the Soviet/Russian combat helicopters’ arsenal and are often the most cost-effective solution. By comparison, the AH-64 does not carry bombs and uses FFARs of smaller calibre (68 mm).

The 2A42 cannon was likewise inherited from the Ka-50. Western experts have often criticised this weapon for its weight – the 2A42, complete with the NPPU-80 mount, weighs 115 kg (253.5 lb) versus 54.4 kg (120 lb) for the Hughes M230 30-mm cannon fitted to the AH-64. However, the Soviet cannon has much greater range −4 km (2.5 miles) versus 1.5 km (0.93 miles) – and uses more lethal rounds; at 1.5 km range they penetrate 15-mm (0 in) steel armour when impacting at 60°. Also, the 2A42 uses the same ammunition as Soviet/Russian IFVs, which facilitates logistics when a mechanised or airborne forces group is supported by choppers; in contrast, the M230 requires aviation ammunition (M789 and M799 rounds, with ammo for the British ADEN and French DEFA cannons as a substitute). The Ka-52’s ammunition supply is 470 rounds; the AH-64 has a maximum of 1,200 rounds but normally carries only 320.

As mentioned earlier, the cannon is mounted on the starboard side and is, to all intents and purposes, fixed – the Ka-52 pilot must point the whole chopper at the target in order to fire. However, this disadvantage is offset by the co-axial layout (which is less sensitive to crosswinds, allowing the Ka-52 to fly sideways at high speed) and the placement of the cannon close to the CG, which minimises the effect of the recoil. Also, pilots find it easier to look ahead, not sideways, when taking aim. In addition to the built-in cannon, two UPK-23-250 cannon pods may be carried – a potent weapon against lightly armoured vehicles and AA assets at close range.

For self-defence against enemy aircraft the Ka-52 may carry four 9M39 Igla-V IR-homing AAMs – an air-launched version of the Igla MANPADS. The pilot is provided with an ILS-28K head-up display which may be used for attacking both ground and aerial targets.

The Kamov Company cites several advantages of the Ka-52’s co-axial layout, including higher efficiency (no engine power is lost for driving the anti-torque tail rotor); this gives the advantage of 6-10% better acceleration from the hover as compared to conventional helicopters when attacking from an ambush. Inertia forces are lower because on a compact co-axial layout helicopter the heavy items are closer to the CG. In a helicopter duel the Ka-52 pilot finds it easier to bring his weapons to bear on the target by making a flat pedal turn; a conventional helicopter requires more time to get into position for an attack. When attacking a ground target the Ka-52 can execute the ‘funnel’ manoeuvre, orbiting the target while keeping the nose pointing at it all the while. It can also manoeuvre vigorously over hilly terrain, dodging the obstacles or ‘jumping’ over them, which makes it easier to neutralise enemy AA installations (giving them less time to react) – even at night, using a special mode of the radar.

While the co-axial layout may be seen as a liability from a survivability standpoint (there are more rotor blades to hit), it also helps survivability, as directional control is retained even if the rudder is shot away. Speaking of which, the rotor blade spars are designed to survive hits by 12.7-mm heavy machine-gun bullets and 20-mm shell fragments. Armour plating is provided to protect the crew and vital items against 12.7-mm HMG fire and high-energy missile/AA shell fragments. Vital piping, wiring and control runs are duplicated for reliability. Exhaust/air mixers can be fitted to reduce the IR signature and protect against heat-seeking missiles. As noted earlier, the Ka-52 has a crew ejection system. Unlike the Ka-50, where the cockpit roof is jettisoned before the seat fires, on the two-seater ejection takes place through the canopy, which – for the first time on a Russian helicopter – incorporates micro detonating cords. In the event of a crash landing the undercarriage and the crashworthy seats will help cushion the impact, preventing crew injury.

An important advantage of the Ka-52 is that the side-by-side layout obviates the need for a specialised trainer version. The helicopter has dual controls and one of the pilots can act as instructor, monitoring the trainee’s actions.

AAPO Progress had started gearing up for Ka-52 production back in 1997, but the programme suffered delays due to lack of funding and other reasons. Not until 2008 did the plant manufacture the second and third prototypes; the former of these took to the air on 27th June. By then the helicopter’s product code had changed to izdeliye 826 – apparently to reflect the design changes that had been made. The second and third prototypes had the ventral GOES-451 ‘turret’ and provisions for two small optoelectronic system ‘turrets’ near the main gear units, but as yet no radar. They took part in the State acceptance trials; Stage A of these was completed in late 2008 and the go-ahead was given to build an initial production batch that would be used for Stage B.

Production picked up pace slowly. In 2009 the 344th Combat Training & Aircrew Conversion Centre in Torzhok took delivery of three pre-production Ka-52s – the only ones completed that year; these and subsequent Hokum-Bs differed in having enhanced armour protection for the crew. At the end of the year the Russian MoD placed an initial order for 36 Ka-52s. In 2010 the Russian Air Force began receiving production Ka-52s powered by VK-2500 engines. The first four of these likewise went to Torzhok.

The State acceptance trials of the Ka-52 – now fully equipped – were completed in 2011. On 19th May that year it was the turn of the first operational unit – the 575th Army Aviation Base (formerly 319th Independent Helicopter Regiment) at Chernigovka in the Russian Far East – to get its first four Hokum-B; three more followed in short order, and the unit was expected to re-equip completely from the Mi-24 before long. That year AAPO Progress delivered nine Ka-52s, the last four of which were fully equipped; the missing radar would be retrofitted to the ones already built in due course. In August 2011 the Russian MoD’s acquisition agency Oboronprom and the Russian Helicopters holding company (of which Kamov is part) signed a long-term contract for the delivery of 140 Ka-52s to the Russian Armed Forces.

As noted earlier, the Ka-52 is now regarded as a helicopter for the Special Forces; it will be used in anti-terrorist operations – notably in the North Caucasus where guerrilla gangs with al-Qaeda affiliations are active even as of this writing. Its fielding comes as a major boost, enabling joint-service operations in any weather round the clock, especially if the targets are carefully concealed; automated data exchange with ground command posts and other aircraft will make sure that upcoming threats are neutralised quicker.

Attempts were also made to market the Ka-52 internationally. First, in late 1997 Kamov joined the Turkish Air Force’s new attack helicopter contest, offering the Ka-50-2 Erdoğan (‘warrior’ in Turkish) – a two-seat derivative of the Ka-50 with tandem cockpits to meet the customer’s requirement. After much wrangling the project got no further than a full-size mock-up.

The second try was when the Hokum-B was entered into the South Korean Air Force’s new attack helicopter contest announced on 19th April 2000, competing against the Bell AH-1Z Viper, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Sikorsky AUH-60 Black Hawk, Eurocopter EC 665 Tiger, Agusta A129INT Mangusta – and the Mi-28NE. The version for the Korean tender was known as the Ka-52K (the first thus designated); the K denoted either koreyskiy (Korean) or kommercheskiy (‘commercial’, i.e., export). The export version was to feature French, Belgian and Israeli avionics as specified by the customer. The Koreans were given a tour of the AAPO Progress plant, and the Korean pilots were given a ride in the Ka-52 that included live firing, but no order ensued. China also sized up the Ka-52, but the Chinese wanted to buy a manufacturing licence, not ready-made helicopters.

In 2011 the Ka-52 unexpectedly ‘returned to its naval origins’. A year earlier Russia had ordered two Mistral class amphibious assault ships from France for delivery in 2014-15 and bought a licence to build two more – a highly controversial deal in more than one aspect. Thankfully at least the helicopters making up the ships’ carrier wing are indigenous; the first two Russian Navy Mistrals (provisionally christened RNS Vladivostok and RNS Sevastopol’) are to be equipped with Ka-27 Helix-A anti-submarine warfare helicopters, Ka-29 Helix-B transport/assault helicopters – and Ka-52s. The designation Ka-52K was reused for the navalised version, the K denoting korabel’nyy (shipboard) in this case; the helicopter differs from the baseline army model in having folding rotor blades (similar to those of the Ka-27/Ka-29) and folding stub wings for on-deck/below-deck stowage, a reinforced landing gear with tie-down shackles, and enhanced corrosion protection for operations in a maritime environment. The avionics will feature a special broadband communications suite that will be responsible both for data exchange with the ship and for navigation/carrier approach.

The shipboard version was first revealed by Anatoliy Isaykin, head of the Rosoboronexport arms export agency, at the 49th Paris Air Show on 20th June 2011; on 26th July that year the Kamov Company’s General Designer Sergey V. Mikheyev announced plans to build the first batch of Ka-52Ks by 2014. Back in November 2009, when FNS Mistral had paid a visit to St.-Petersburg, a standard Ka-52 had made deck landings on the ship in an improvised carrier compatibility test; now in August-September 2011 the original Ka-52 prototype passed initial sea trials, making several flights from the helipad of the North Fleet ASW cruiser RNS Vice-Admiral Kulakov with good results. On 7th August 2012 a Russian Helicopters spokesman stated that construction of the Ka-52K prototypes had begun. Until the amphibious assault ships are commissioned with the Pacific Fleet, with eight Helix-A/Bs and eight Hokum-Bs each, the first Ka-52Ks will operate from the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier RNS Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov. The naval version’s reporting name is Hokum-B Mod.

In November 2012 the Russian MoD announced its intention to test the Ka-52 in actual combat against Somalian pirates. To this end a number of Ka-52s are to be redeployed to the French base in Djibouti (by sea or by air if the runway at Djibouti-Ambouli AB can handle Antonov An-124 Ruslan transports). According to a source in the Russian MoD, the decision to use the Alligator for these operations was prompted by the fact that the Ka-52K is to equip the carrier wing of the Russian Navy’s future Mistral class amphibious assault ships; also, tropical seas are the best proving ground (oops) for shipboard helicopter forces.

ARMA 3 Game Alligator Film – Caution Coase Language


Warriors of New South Wales

Depicts Aboriginal men, wearing body paint and paint (or clay) on heads carrying spears and shields.This is one of the earliest works in the art collection which reveals much about the commonly held views of Aboriginal people during the Colonial period in Australia. John Heaviside Clark’s image depicts a number of Aboriginal men wearing body paint, carrying spears and shields depicted in a theatrically aggressive manner.
Clark (c.1770-1863) was a landscape painter, commercial artist, book illustrator and engraver who worked in London. Although as an artist he espoused sketching directly from nature, it is doubtful that Clark actually visited Australia to record the Aboriginal warriors he so dramatically captures in this work. His work reveals the fanciful beliefs prevalent at the time of indigenous people as ‘naked savages’ and illustrations in this vein were largely designed to meet the British public’s interest in the ‘curiosities to be found in the colony of New South Wales’ .

Parramatta was the site of a skirmish in March 1797 in which Bidjigal (Bediagal) Aborigines fought white settlers and troops of the New South Wales Corps. The clash followed depredations upon settlers in the Toongabbie district, led by the Aborigines’ noted guerilla leader Pemulwuy. An armed party was sent after the marauders, and following a pursuit lasting throughout one night came across their quarry-numbering about 100-the next day. The Aborigines fled, leaving the spoils of their raids on the ground. The punitive expedition pursued the hostile band into the Parramatta district but-becoming fatigued-eventually retired into the town. The Aborigines followed them there, with Pemulwuy at their head threatening to kill the first white man who approached him. He effectively challenged the town’s military garrison to battle by hurling his spear at one of the soldiers. What was described as a `desperate fight’ followed, in which Pemulwuy and his followers pitted their spears against the muskets of the troops and settlers. Five Aborigines were killed and many more wounded, including Pemulwuy who was made prisoner with seven buckshot hits in his head and body. He was taken to the hospital, but subsequently escaped to play a leading role in numerous other incidents until he was finally shot dead by two settlers late in 1802.

Heidelberg, now an outer suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, was in May 1840 the scene of an extraordinary confrontation between white settlers and Aborigines using European firearms seized in raids on shepherds’ huts. Early in 1840 a large band of Aborigines led by Jackie Jackie made their presence felt on the upper reaches of the Yarra River during several incidents in which firearms were used. Attempts were made by white authorities to retrieve the weapons, but were too late. In May, Armyne Bolden, a settler based several kilometres up the Yarra from Melbourne, reported to the superintendent of the Port Phillip district, Charles La Trobe, that more than 200 Aborigines armed with about 30 guns were `shooting in every direction’ and threatening to burn down huts on his run.

A detachment of mounted police was sent out from Melbourne, but by the time this arrived the Aborigines had disappeared. Several troopers led by Lieutenant F. B. Russell tracked the band, but when they were about 65 kilometres upstream they were ambushed by the Aborigines who had concealed themselves in dense scrub by a ford. The police were fired on as they attempted to cross the stream, three were wounded and all were forced to retreat. The incident is chiefly notable for showing the Aborigines acting virtually as guerillas in opposing white occupation of their lands. The solution adopted by La Trobe was to issue orders to police patrols to prevent any Aborigines from entering Melbourne, and in particular to impose severe penalties on shopkeepers supplying powder and shot to any Aborigines, especially women, who sneaked into the town.

Eumeralla, the district around the Eumeralla River between Port Fairy and Portland, Victoria, was in August 1842 the scene of several violent clashes between Aborigines and whites over the `theft’ of sheep. On 7 August Aborigines attacked a shepherd employed by James Hunter, who held Eumeralla station with his brother John, and drove off his flock. The station manager, Samuel MacGregor, and several hands pursued them and took back the sheep after `a severe skirmish’. On 10 August a group of Aborigines estimated to number more than 150 again appeared on the station, part of the group driving off the sheep while the rest attacked the shepherds. This time the latter were well armed and kept them at bay until help arrived, whereupon the Aborigines made off and the flock was recovered.

Eight days later there was a third large-scale attack, with this time the tribesmen taking away over 1,000 sheep. A party from the station which went out in pursuit found the flock’s trail littered with dead carcasses. About thirteen kilometres from the station the party came up against the Aborigines, and only after overcoming `a vigorous resistance’ (during which three warriors were shot dead and several others wounded) were they able to retake the 500 or so sheep which remained alive.

These clashes were repeated on neighbouring stations of the district to the north-west of Port Fairy over the next five years, reaching a peak of ferocity from early in 1845. Tom Browne-a local squatter who wrote novels under the pseudonym of Rolf Boldrewood-characterised this period as `The Eumeralla War’ in his 1884 book of recollections Old Melbourne Memories.

Enter Rommel…

Those who fought in the Western Desert and those who reported the fighting there devoted a good deal of effort to describing the setting. They noted the daytime heat and the nighttime cold, the swarming flies and the gritty, blowing sand, the spectacular sunsets and the star-filled night skies. As they groped for a proper descriptive image, the one they most often hit upon was to compare the desert to the ocean.

Often, nothing but the unbroken line of the horizon could be seen in any direction. Vehicles moved freely across this expanse like ships at sea. Men did not just drive in the desert, they navigated, getting where they wanted to go by using speedometer, map, and compass. The few landmarks were usually man-made: a heap of rocks or empty gasoline cans, a stone cistern for catching rainwater, a whitewashed Moslem mosque, a long procession of telephone poles. The only paved road was the coast road. Inland, vehicles followed rough, dusty tracks that avoided the worst of the rocky outcroppings and patches of soft sand.

From the shore of the Mediterranean, the Libyan Desert, or the Western Desert, as it was called in those days, climbs upward in a haphazard series of steps, or escarpments. In most places, these escarpments are too steep for trucks and even for tanks, so the few natural gaps, or passes, became important military objectives. The surface of the desert is largely underlaid with limestone; tracked vehicles, at least, could drive almost anywhere on it. Only well inland does the true desert of drifting sand dunes begin. Narrow, stony ravines, called wadies, look from the air like jagged cracks. Here and there lie large dish-like depressions known as deirs. Inland from the sea, rain falls only two or three times a year – and in some places, only once in two or three years.

A German general aptly described North Africa as a “tactician’s paradise and a quartermaster’s hell.” The long, narrow desert battlefield stretched over 1,400 miles from Tripoli on the west, the Axis’ major port, to Alexandria on the east, the Allies’ chief base. The Germans and the Italians on the one hand and the British on the other were willing to spend their blood and treasure to win this desolate strip of land simply because neither side could afford to let the other have it. For the British, the Western Desert was the buffer that protected the Suez Canal and the Middle Eastern oil fields, both of which the Axis powers wanted. In addition, whoever controlled the North African airfields was well ahead in the race to control the strategically vital Mediterranean.

As Marshal Graziani had ruefully noted, desert war imposed its own special rules. Rule number one was that armies brought with them everything they needed. There was no way to live off the country. As a result, the two most precious liquids were gasoline and water. For the British soldier, remarked a war correspondent, “The great problem in the mornings was to decide whether to make tea with the shaving water or to shave in the tea.” What was left of a man’s daily water ration (seldom more than a gallon) after drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing his clothes had to go into the radiator of his vehicle.

The second rule was the importance of complete mobility. In the desert, infantrymen did not march; they rode in trucks. The queen of battle was the tank. Closely related to mobility was rule number three: the need for speed. A fast-moving, quick-off-the-mark army, as General O’Connor’s Western Desert Force had proved, possessed an enormous edge, and a quick-thinking, energetic general could dominate an opponent who paused to gather up all the loose ends.

The final rule of desert warfare dealt with the nature of the battlefield itself. There were no industrial centers to capture, no captive populations to rule, no political considerations to clutter up tactics. It was a purely military struggle on an empty stage, and it was entirely possible to honor whatever “rules of the game” might still exist in a total war.

To meet the pressing needs in Greece and East Africa, General Wavell had left the Western Desert Force gravely weakened. “Next month or two will be anxious,” he cabled Prime Minister Churchill in March 1941, but he estimated that the enemy in Libya would not be strong enough to risk an attack before May. This, in fact, was precisely the timetable given in Hitler’s orders to General Rommel. The turn of events was to surprise Hitler as much as Wavell.

Erwin Rommel was a forty-nine-year-old professional soldier whose reckless bravery during World War I had brought him two wounds and the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military decoration. Outspoken and blunt, Rommel lacked the arrogant polish of the Prussian aristocracy that supplied the German Army with so many of its officers. In the 1930s, a book he wrote stressing boldness in infantry tactics caught Adolf Hitler’s eye. In 1940, during the Battle of France, he led a panzer division with dash and brilliance. Hitler concluded that here was the man to come to the aid of Mussolini. The moment Rommel set foot in North Africa, the situation began to happen.

Hitler had promised Mussolini an “Afrika Korps” of two German divisions, one armored and one of motorized infantry. When the 5th Light Motorized Division – a self-contained force of infantry, armor, artillery, and antitank and antiaircraft guns – arrived at Tripoli in February 1941, Rommel ordered the ships unloaded through the night, ignoring the danger of the RAF bombing the lighted docks. He put his engineers to building dummy wooden tanks atop little Volkswagen staff cars to make the British think he was stronger than he was, and he hurried his advance units to El Agheila, the westernmost British outpost in Libya, to test the enemy’s strength.

The army that faced Rommel was not the same fast-moving, quick-thinking force that had chased Marshal Graziani out of Egypt. The Desert Rats of the 7th Armored Division, back in Egypt for rest and refitting, had been replaced by the newly arrived 2nd Armored Division, green and at half strength. The 6th Australian Infantry, victors at Bardia and Tobruk and Benghazi, was relieved by another Australian division, untrained and poorly equipped. Replacing O’Connor in command was Lieutenant General Philip Neame, a newcomer to the desert.

On March 24, 1941, the German advance guard drove the British out of El Agheila. A week later, Rommel launched a second attack. Sensing the weakness before him, he disregarded his orders. “It was a chance I could not resist,” he wrote. By April 2, Neame’s defenses were splintered. Orders went out to abandon Benghazi if necessary. Wavell commanded General O’Connor to fly at once to Cyrenaica to try to restore a defensive front.

There was little O’Connor could do, for Western Desert Force was rapidly falling apart. Communications broke down, orders were bungled, and troops went astray. An enormous supply dump containing most of the 2nd Armored’s gas was set afire by its guards when they thought the enemy was approaching; the “enemy” turned out to be a British patrol.

As O’Connor had done earlier in the year, Rommel took the desert shortcut across the base of the Cyrenaican “bulge.” He pushed his men relentlessly, flying from one column to another in his tiny Storch plane. When told that the vehicles needed servicing and repairs, he ordered his officers not to bother with such “trifles.” The 5th Light Division’s commander asked for a four-day halt to bring up ammunition and gasoline; Rommel had him empty all his trucks – leaving the division stranded immobile in the desert for twenty-four hours – and send them back to depots to bring up the needed supplies. An Italian general complained that he was being ordered into impassable terrain; Rommel drove ahead a dozen miles by himself to prove the path was clear.

Late on April 3, Rommel paused long enough to write his wife: “We’ve been attacking since the 31st with dazzling success. There’ll be consternation amongst our masters in Tripoli and Rome and perhaps in Berlin, too. I took the risk against all orders and instructions because the opportunity seemed favorable. . . . You will understand that I can’t sleep for happiness.” By April 6, most of the Cyrenaican bulge was in Axis hands. Benghazi had fallen, and the spread fingers of Rommel’s columns were reaching for Mechili, where the exhausted British were regrouping.

That night, a British staff car drove headlong into a German scouting force on one of the desert tracks north of Mechili. There was a brief exchange of gunfire, killing the British driver and a German motorcyclist. The staff car was surrounded, and the occupants were ordered to surrender. Out stepped generals Neame and O’Connor and Brigadier John Combe, whose Combeforce had slammed the door on the retreating Italians barely two months before. (So seriously did Wavell feel O’Connor’s loss that he tried – unsuccessfully – to exchange him for any six captured Italian generals that Mussolini’s high command cared to choose.)

The next day Mechili capitulated. The British streamed eastward. Most of the Australian infantry reached safety in the defenses of Tobruk, but the 2nd Armored Division was shattered; it never again appeared on the battle roles of the British Army. Seeking a quick victory, Rommel threw his troops at Tobruk. But his planning was too hurried and his men too exhausted, and the assault was repulsed. German armored forces bypassed the fortress and seized Bardia and Sallum, key points along the coastal escarpment. Cyrenaica had been regained, and once more the Axis were at the gates of Egypt.

April 1941 was a month of severe trial for Great Britain. Only the campaign against the Italians in East Africa went well. Officials in London sugar-coated the defeat in the Western Desert with such phrases as “a withdrawal to a battleground of our own choosing” and “part of a plan for an elastic defence,” but few Britons were fooled. On April 6, Hitler attacked Yugoslavia, whose capital, Belgrade, fell within a week. Greece, too, was invaded. The forces sent there at such cost by Wavell could not stem the Nazi tide, and by the end of the month, they had to be evacuated. The British island of Malta, key to control of the Mediterranean, was savagely pounded by the Luftwaffe. Oil-rich Iraq, east of Suez, was torn by an anti-British revolt, and there were signs that a similar uprising was brewing in Syria. In a grim mood, Churchill wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “In this war, every post is a winning-post, and how many more are we going to lose?”

As usual, Churchill met trouble by bounding into action. Axis submarines, warships, and planes were so thick in the Mediterranean that British ships carrying supplies to the Middle East took the slow, 14,000-mile route around Africa and through the Red Sea to Egypt. Now, overriding the objections of his military advisers, Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to force a passage through the Mediterranean with a convoy of merchant ships carrying tanks to General Wavell.

The codename for his bold plan was Operation Tiger.

It would have comforted the prime minister to know that just then all was not serene in the Axis camp. Rommel was determined to press into Egypt and beyond as soon as he was re-supplied and the Tobruk thorn was removed from his flank. But his unexpected victories had embarrassed the German high command because it had not intended North Africa to be a major theater of war. General Franz Halder, chief of the German General Staff, complained in his diary that Rommel did not even submit proper reports; instead, “All day long he rushes about between his widely scattered units.” Something must be done to “head off this soldier gone stark mad,” Halder thought, or he would embroil Germany in a campaign beyond her resources.

Shrugging off his first repulse at Tobruk, Rommel searched for a soft spot in its defenses. Tobruk was important because of its harbor, the only one of any size between Alexandria and Benghazi. The desert around the small, whitewashed town was flat as a plate; the verdict of one observer was that it “must have been difficult to defend even in the days of bows and arrows.” Yet, before the war, the Italians had lavished tons of concrete and steel on its defenses.

A double row of strong points and trenches formed a semicircle thirty miles around the harbor. The British strengthened this line with barbed wire, tank traps, minefields, and a heavy concentration of artillery. The garrison, made up mostly of Australian infantry supported by a few tanks, was led by General Leslie Morshead. He and his Aussies were very determined. “There is to be no surrender and no retreat,” Morshead told his officers.

Rommel ordered three major assaults against the Australians, using a variety of tactics. But his forces were too weak, and the opposition too unwavering, to achieve a breakthrough. By May, he had to content himself with tightening the ring around the fortress while he waited impatiently for reinforcements.

The siege of Tobruk was to drag on for eight months, until the winter of 1941. It was a boring, bloody, dangerous stalemate for the men on both sides. They “went to ground” during the day, suffering the stifling heat and the swarming insects to avoid snipers’ bullets. Bombing and artillery fire took a steady toll. The desolate landscape, wrote a British war correspondent, was “littered with broken transport, burned-out tanks, and spent ammunition, as though some junk merchant had set up business on the surface of the moon.” Morshead’s garrison could be supplied only by ship and only at night, and British naval losses were heavy. But neither side would loosen its grip. To the British Commonwealth, Tobruk came to stand for stubborn courage in the face of adversity. To Rommel, Tobruk was a symbol of frustration. He vowed that the fortress would be his.

For General Wavell, events were rapidly reaching a climax. He moved his available forces across the vast chessboard of the Middle East – to put down revolts in Iraq and Syria, to gain final victory over the Italians in East Africa, to probe Rommel’s outposts on the Egyptian frontier, to counter (unsuccessfully) a massive assault on the island of Crete by German paratroopers. All the while a blizzard of telegrams from Churchill crying for action descended on Wavell’s Cairo headquarters.

On May 12, 1941, the Tiger convoy anchored at Alexandria, having lost only one ship in the Mediterranean passage and bringing Wavell 238 tanks. Churchill, who had risked so much to get these reinforcements to the Middle East, waited anxiously for his Tiger Cubs, as he called them, to go into action. Wavell replied that Operation Battleaxe was scheduled for June 15. He intended to use the new tanks to break Rommel’s shield at Sallum and Bardia and then advance seventy miles westward to lift the siege of Tobruk. The Desert Rats of the 7th Armored Division would spearhead the attack.

Battleaxe called for the 4th Indian Division, supported by infantry tanks, to capture Halfaya Pass, an important gap in the coastal escarpment near Sallum. The British armor would meanwhile swing around to the left beyond the Axis positions guarding Sallum and Bardia. Here, on the desert flank, Wavell saw the decisive tank battle taking place.

On the appointed morning, eighteen Matildas waddled toward Halfaya Pass, followed by Indian infantrymen in trucks. Before the tanks were close enough to fire effectively, they were hit by a hail of armor-piercing shells. Eleven of the twelve leading Matildas stopped dead, some in flames, others with gun turrets blown completely off their hulls. Four others behind them withdrew, blundered into a mine field, and had tracks blown off. Later the same day, far out on the desert flank, a column of British cruiser tanks met the same devastating fire from a German strong point.

Thus were British armored forces introduced to the German eighty-eight-millimeter gun, one of the best artillery pieces of World War II. A dual-purpose antiaircraft and antitank gun, the long-barreled eighty-eight was accurate and fast firing, and its twenty-one-pound shell had tremendous hitting power; at a range of well over a mile, it could kill even the most heavily armored tank with a single shot. Rommel had only a dozen of these guns, but the five at Halfaya Pass had been dug into stony clefts so that the barrels were at ground level. In the shimmering desert haze and with their flash-less charges, they were all but invisible.

On the second day of Battleaxe, Rommel threw in the tanks of the 5th Light Division and the newly arrived 15th Panzer Division, the second of the two divisions Hitler had promised Mussolini. While neither side could claim a clear-cut advantage, Rommel was gaining the upper hand. Most of his outposts, including Halfaya Pass (by now, and ever after, known to the British as Hellfire Pass), had held firm. The 5th Light was on the flank of the Desert Rats, and the German armor was better concentrated. Most important, Rommel had found British field commanders cautious and unimaginative, and he was ready to seize the initiative. He would “deal the enemy an unexpected blow in his most sensitive spot” by a flank attack at first light on June 17 before the British could launch any attack of their own.

Rommel stayed a step ahead of his enemy. By four in the afternoon of June 17, his panzer columns hooked in toward Halfaya Pass while the British rushed eastward to escape encirclement. The British lost twenty-seven cruiser tanks and sixty-four Matildas – almost half their armored force. The Afrika Korps won the battlefield as well as the battle and recovered and repaired its damaged tanks; in all, Rommel lost only a dozen tanks.

The British concluded from the failure of Battleaxe that their tanks were outgunned by those of the enemy, which was not true. This error grew out of misunderstanding what had killed so many of their cruisers and Matildas. They believed German tanks were responsible, when in most cases, the actual killers were antitank guns, particularly the eighty-eight. The failure to appreciate the full value of antitank guns, or how Rommel was using them, was to haunt the British in the months to come.

When the Battleaxe reports reached England, Winston Churchill was at Chartwell, his country home, where he was awaiting the outcome. There he received news of the defeat. “A most bitter blow,” he wrote, “I wandered about the valley disconsolately for some hours.” Beyond the fact that his beloved Tiger Cubs had been so roughly handled was the grimmer realization that, for the first time, the desert army had struck a full-strength blow, only to be repulsed.

The Middle East needed new blood, Churchill thought. He had lost confidence in General Wavell. On June 21, he cabled Wavell that “the victories which are associated with your name will be famous in the story of the British Army,” but that “the public interest will best be served” by a change in leadership. The new Middle East commander was to be General Sir Claude Auchinleck. Wavell would take Auchinleck’s place as head of British Commonwealth forces in India.

Wavell received the news from an aide early the next morning in his Cairo home as he was shaving. He showed no emotion as he listened to the orders, remarked quietly “the Prime Minister’s quite right – this job needs a new eye and a new hand,” and went on shaving. He took his usual morning ride and swim and set about getting affairs in order for his successor.

For nearly two years, in victory and defeat, Archibald Wavell had kept the Middle East in the Allied column. Certainly no other British soldier in World War II shouldered so many burdens. He built the foundations for victories that other men would win. When the change of command was made public, correspondent Alan Moorehead wrote: “There went out of Cairo and the Middle East that afternoon one of the great men of the war.”

British Naval Superiority In The Indian Ocean

East Indiaman (Ship Type) Small, broad, roomy ships developed in the 1590s by the Dutch for trade with their colonies in the East Indies. Developed from the galleon and Dutch Fluyt, East Indiamen were rigged as frigates (square-rigged) and powerfully armed, to the point of equaling a man-of-war in fire power. They featured two galleries, a single forecastle deck, a quarterdeck, and a half-deck. Typical of the class was the Den Ary, which carried 54 guns and whose hull was clinker-laid up to the sides of both the half-deck and the quarterdeck.

Shortly after the Dutch, the British entered the East India trade, forming “The Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies,” also known as the Honourable East India Company [EIC]. Chartered in 1600, its ships, as were those of the Dutch, were well-armed and heavily manned. Similar, too, were the ships’ full underbodies, flat floors, sharp turns of the bilges, and quick rises. British East Indiamen were more apt to carry studding sails than were their Dutch counterparts and were frequently commanded by former Royal Navy officers. Quarters were often luxurious, and many vessels were adorned with gilding and ornamental carving.

British naval superiority in the Indian Ocean, arguably dates to Great Britain’s defeat of France during the Seven Years War (1756–63), but it was not cemented until their decisive victory over Napoleon. At the end of the eighteenth century, with the defeat of the Netherlands by France in 1795, Great Britain seized upon this enforced alliance between its main European and Indian Ocean rivals to take Cape Town, Ceylon (today Sri Lanka), and Java and Melaka from the Dutch, and the Mascarene Islands of Bourbon (now La Réunion) and Ile de France (now Mauritius) from the French. Twenty years later, by 1815, the British controlled the Cape, Ceylon, Melaka, and Mauritius, while Bourbon was returned to France by the Treaty of Paris. Just a few years later, the unauthorized occupation of Singapore by Stamford Raffles in 1819 and its formal possession by the British in 1823 almost immediately reduced the economic signifcance of both Melaka and Dutch Jakarta.

European maritime superiority did not go unchallenged in the early modern period. Along the coast of western India two rival indigenous navies clashed with each other and with the EIC to control coastal shipping. The most successful were the Sidis of Janjira Island, about forty miles south of Mumbai, who had ruled this fortifed island since 1618. Descendants of enslaved Africans known as habshis, a broad name denoting origins in northeast Africa, the Janjira Sidis traced their Indian roots to military service in the Deccan of southern India.

From the great fortress they constructed at Janjira, the Sidis became an important factor in coastal shipping north of Goa up to Bombay, whether serving the Mughals or their own interests. Sidi naval power was challenged by the powerful and ambitious Maratha ruler Shivaji Bhosale, whose army was seizing large chunks of western India from the Mughals. Shivaji commanded a series of small forts along the Konkan coast, as well as a fleet of perhaps several hundred ships. Although Shivaji is remembered as a militant Hindu ruler, in the typical Indian Ocean division of labor his ships were captained by Muslims. His several attempts to assert a naval presence on the coast proved to be disruptive to both the English and Portuguese, who were simultaneously contending with Maratha continental expansion. In the process of beating back the Maratha challenge, the Sidis momentarily shifted their alliance from the Mughals to the EIC, but they remained an independent if steadily less powerful coastal naval force deep into the nineteenth century.

The Yaarubi rulers of Oman drew most of their revenue from customs duties levied at their ports, but they also began to expand the date plantations along the Batinah coast of northeastern Oman. The demand for labor created by this agricultural plantation expansion, as well as the maintenance of a standing army by the Imam, were harbingers of increased slave trading to the Gulf from East Africa. Maritime raiding was apparently another source of revenue for Oman, such that Masqat gained a reputation as a pirate’s den. In 1705 an Omani attack on an EIC vessel caused one offcial to write that “Muskat . . . is become a Terror to all the trading people of India,” while a company pilot’s guide published in 1728 cautioned that “the danger of this port is as much from the Treachery of the Arabs as from the Storms and Rocks of the Coasts; for they are not only Pirates and Thieves, but Cheats in every thing wherein you can deal with them.”

By this time, however, internal dissension over election to the Imamate gave rise to civil strife in Oman. In 1749 a new dynasty, the Busaidi, came to power. Under the vigorous leadership of Ahmad b. Said, Oman’s place as a mercantile maritime power in the western Indian Ocean steadily grew. One immediate consequence of this political transition was that the Omani Mazrui governor of Mombasa rejected the new Busaidi claimant to authority. According to the anonymous nineteenth-century Swahili History of Mombasa, which only exists in Arabic renditions, “When the governor learnt that the Imam Ahmad bin Said had come to power, and that he was not of the family of the Imams, he declared himself ruler of Mombasa and refused to recognize the country as a possession of the Imam, and said: Formerly this Imam was my equal: he has now seized Oman, so I have seized Mombasa.” Mombasa’s independence would eventually be ended by Oman’s imperial expansion into East Africa in the long nineteenth century. From the middle of the eighteenth century, however, it was Great Britain that came to dominate the maritime space of the Indian Ocean as it built an empire based around India that eventually extended from South Africa, through the Gulf, across the Bay of Bengal and Malaya all the way to Hong Kong.


Major-General Pajari, unaware that he is standing in a minefield on a makeshift speaker’s podium, giving his speech at the Suursaari victory parade on 28 March 1942. (Sa-Kuva)

One of the most daring and unique Finnish operations during the period of trench warfare was the capture of Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland, 43km south of Kotka and 56km north of the Estonian coast. Due to its location, this 11km-long island had great strategic significance. Artillery stationed there could control most of the sea lanes to Leningrad. In 1939, the Soviet Union repeatedly approached Finland to see if it could annex Suursaari and the other outlying islands. When these requests were refused, the Red Army took the islands by force during the Winter War.

During the Summer War, the Finnish and German high commands agreed that Suursaari and other outlying islands had to be wrested back from Soviet hands. When supported from these islands, the Soviet Navy was able to disrupt all naval traffic to Kotka harbour, and extend their range of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea. Conversely, if Finland were to hold the islands, it would enable the Germans to bottle up the Soviet Navy into a small corner of the Gulf of Finland. In addition, the establishment of air observation bases on the archipelago could provide early warnings that would considerably increase tactical timeframes for all aerial operations.

Finnish headquarters agreed on a joint operation with the Wehrmacht high command to capture Suursaari and the neighbouring islands. They decided that the best time for the attack would be during midwinter across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Attacking while the sea lanes were still open was considered too risky, as the enemy would be able to ship reinforcements and heavy equipment rapidly to the islands. Once it became apparent that the Germans could not spare the troops needed for the operation, Mannerheim decided that the Finns would carry out the audacious plan themselves. Nevertheless, Luftwaffe support was still expected and officially requested (though it would never appear).

Mannerheim handpicked Major-General Aaro Pajari to lead the attack. He had already proven his worth as an able field commander; first during the Winter War at the battle of Tolvajärvi and again as the commander of the 18th Division during the attack phase of 1941. Despite the involvement of some 3,500 men and 67 planes, Pajari gave orders for the landing plans to be kept top secret.

The Finns had managed to gather relatively accurate intelligence on the strength of the enemy defences. Suursaari belonged to the Leningrad Naval District and was under the jurisdiction of one of their oldest navy formations, the Baltic Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Vladimir Tributs. The Suursaari garrison was commanded by Colonel Barinov, who in turn reported to the fortress commander at the nearby Lavansaari Island. Despite the island’s significance, the vital bases at Suursaari were manned by only 496 soldiers, 12 officers and the compulsory eight political commissars.

The Finns also understood the strength of the fortifications on the rocky island. The problem was how to transport the chosen few thousand men to the vicinity of the island quietly and unseen, quickly enough and with still enough energy left for the fight. The Arctic landscape provided another challenge: the transports had to somehow traverse undetected across a completely horizontal ice plateau (which was entirely devoid of cover) for dozens of kilometres.

Pajari’s plan was to first move the designated troops into staging areas, near Haapasaari and Luppi islands, about 10–15km away from their targets. He hoped to schedule his attack so that heavy snowfall would help conceal the approaching troops. However, this also meant that the necessary roads across the ice would have to be continuously ploughed to keep them open. Strong winds blowing from the open sea could pile up the snowdrifts so fast that whole roads could vanish within 20 minutes. In order to keep routes and assembly areas clear, five cars and one tractor, all fitted with snowploughs, worked continuously for a total of 408 hours.

All of the men were issued with brand new snowsuits. All their equipment was to be painted white. Furthermore, the 738 horses had to be camouflaged with white sheets and the trucks, sleighs and heavy weapons similarly painted. The troops moved into the area mainly on horse-drawn sleighs or in trucks. As time was of the essence, some men on skis were to be drawn along, holding onto ropes trailing from the crammed trucks. In addition to all the soldiers and their weapons, several bridge sections were taken along, in case the ice cracked and caused a chasm to open across the ice road. White tents were to be set up at 10km intervals along the track. These were to serve as supply points and field hospitals. In the end the total traffic on the ice was so extensive that it was a miracle the Soviets did not notice the preparations for the attack. For the time being, aircraft were only stationed on the mainland. When the time came, they were to be charged with reconnaissance duty and then the support and protection of the infantry during the attack. Additionally, they were tasked with evacuating the wounded and preventing the enemy from withdrawing from Suursaari Island.

The main Finnish attack force was split into two battalions: the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment under Major Lauri Toiviainen, and the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment under Captain Veikko Elovaara. There was also a reserve coastal guard battalion commanded by Major Åke Sokajärvi in the vicinity of the main attack. Lieutenant-Colonel Lauri Sotisaari led the spearhead with his Detachment S, which was to assault the western shore under cover of darkness. From there his men would then move both north and south along the frozen shoreline while the body of his command took control of the road connecting the two small settlements on the island. Several heavy mortars assigned to the detachment would provide tactical support. A simultaneous attack was also scheduled to start from the opposite, eastern side of the island by Detachment M under Major Martti Miettinen; its role was to prevent the enemy from escaping over the ice, and to act as a distraction from the main assault. Once the enemy dug in to defend, he was to continue his attack towards the two settlements of Suurkylä and Kiiskinkylä. Two light artillery batteries and several anti-tank guns were to provide support for the detachment.

The troops moved into their staging areas and settled into camouflaged tents near the Luppi and Haapasaari Islands. All that was needed was propitious weather. During this crucial time, the Finnish Air Force prevented Soviet planes from approaching close enough to get an idea of the scale of the preparations. On 27 March, once the temperature had dropped to -6°C, Pajari judged that the snow conditions were ideal to launch the attack on skis. Before the assault commenced, each man received a warm meal and 100ml of cognac blended with vodka, in order to give them the boost needed for rapid approach and attack.

The men moved to their jumping-off points. In order to ensure total darkness no fires were permitted and light bulbs were removed from the truck headlights, just in case somebody switched them on accidentally. Unfortunately, the first time the column of vehicles stopped, a long trail of red lights lit up; no one had remembered to remove the bulbs from the brake lights. Luckily for the Finns, this happened far enough away from the Soviet lines that the attackers could continue undetected.

Nevertheless, observers at Suursaari finally realised that something was afoot. On the evening of 26 March at 21:30 the following message was sent to headquarters at nearby Lavansaari Island: ‘About a battalion-strength enemy force seen staging around Haapasaari Island before darkness fell. Special patrols have been sent to observe.’ Lavansaari was at the time snowed in and 40km distant; sending any support there would be slow. However, the island did have an airfield, so in theory at least, air support could be rapidly scrambled.

However, the sighting had come too late. The significance and strength of the Finnish forces was greatly underestimated. After sending the message, Colonel Barinov raised the alarm at Suursaari Island standing his men to. For some reason, instead of sending out patrols to gauge the enemy’s intentions, he was content with letting the troops fight the cold in their foxholes. Although the temperature was only -6°C, the Arctic wind blowing across the ice made matters much worse. At the same time, the increasing snowfall continued to hinder visibility. While the Soviet troops seemed to be hibernating, the Finns approached the island from two directions. Everything was going to plan. Suursaari lay ahead, silhouetted dimly through the billowing snow.

The heavy mortars reached their positions 1.5km from the island, with the light mortars pulled to a mere 500m from the shore. The attack commenced at 04:00 with the troops starting to ski towards the island. When the vanguard of Detachment S was near the western shoreline, the Soviets opened fire. At the same time, the smaller Detachment M had spread out on a wide front on the ice and now engaged the enemy positions from the east. Soon a fierce firefight had developed on both sides of the island. Once the main Finnish forces secured a bridgehead, they started to force their way north and south along the rocky island. Progress was slowed by having to climb steep, rocky cliffs and to wade through ravines filled with deep snow. However, despite the determination of the Soviet defenders, the southerly force soon captured the middle of the island and Kiiskinkylä. At the same time, the majority of Detachment S targeted the rear of Suurkylä and the heavily fortified northern peninsula. A small number of men under Detachment Oksanen were sent to simultaneously secure the southernmost tip of the island from the west.

The Finnish numbers came to bear during the night and through the following morning, when the northern part of Detachment S was able to assault the positions in Suurkylä. Here the Soviets managed to hold out until 15:00. By this time, most of the other important strategic objectives around the island had been captured. Nevertheless, the Soviets continued to resist in several fortified positions across the island and by nightfall, six Soviet fighter planes flew over in support. Twelve Finnish fighters met the enemy planes and proceeded to shoot down four of them. A fifth Soviet aircraft was hit by flak, and only one plane was able to return back to its base at Lavansaari Island.

At this stage, the fiercest opposition came from the Soviets on Selkäapajanniemi Peninsula. There the defenders had used thick timber logs to build extremely strong fortifications in the natural openings in the bedrock. The Finnish Air Force was called upon to soften up these positions. At 17:30, four bombers arrived, strafing the strongholds with machine guns and delivering a total payload of 2,000kg of bombs. By the evening, the Soviet defenders had had enough, and decided to escape over the ice. The Finns pursued them relentlessly across the vastness.

By the bright light of dawn the following morning, the Finns had cleared out the last three fortifications offering resistance at Selkäapajanniemi. This left only one determined enemy stronghold at Lounatrivi lighthouse. So far, the defenders there had resisted all attacks by the Finns. Two pioneer detachments and an artillery squad were sent to resolve the matter. The crew manhandled their gun on top of the piled ice. After setting their sights, they opened fire systematically against the lighthouse, shelling it from the top down a floor at a time. This forced the defenders to flee downwards and eventually out of the front door. Even now, these brave men refused to surrender. They were all killed in the fight that ensued. Kipparniemi Peninsula also held a small Soviet detachment. After completely surrounding the enemy, the Finns concluded that their positions were not strongly fortified. Therefore it was decided to let them stew until the following morning.

The whole of Suursaari finally came under Finnish control on 28 March. That day, Pajari decided to organise a victory parade on the ice in front of the island. Two flights of six Curtis fighter planes each were to fly sentry over the formations. After giving the orders for the procession, Pajari telephoned Mannerheim at his headquarters in Mikkeli: ‘I hereby notify you that I have more or less captured Suursaari Island. Only some minor pockets of resistance remain.’ After the phone call, Pajari found time for a quick nap in his tent. Meanwhile, his men hastened into the parade formations and readied themselves for inspection. The men also had time to assemble a makeshift speaker’s podium on top of a horse-drawn sleigh and a military marching band was even rushed all the way from Helsinki for the occasion. It was extremely risky to organise the parade so soon. Had Soviet planes happened on the scene, the men would have made easy targets on the flat, cover-free ice. Nonetheless, Pajari seemed to have had great faith in the aircraft flying over his men.

The first incident happened after all the men had been inspected, the chaplain had given his sermon and the last of the speeches delivered. At this stage, a lone Soviet machine-gun squad chose to reveal itself and surrender. They had been hiding a mere 100m away from the place where Pajari had been speaking. Had the sergeant in charge of the heavy weapon fancied some posthumous Soviet fame for himself, at least a dozen Finnish soldiers could have been killed. Afterwards, it also came to light that the general and his chief of staff had been positioned directly on top of a minefield. It was sheer good fortune that it had snowed so much, as this prevented the pressure-mines from detonating.

When the excitement of taking care of the surrendering Soviets had died down, a radio message reached Pajari. Twenty-nine enemy planes were approaching the island in three formations of eight, eleven and ten planes. Only one Finnish flight of six Curtiss fighter planes was still in the area while the second flight had already moved nearer to Lavansaari Island. It transpired that the parade had an air show-style finale. The aerial battle quickly developed into a spinning carousel with planes flying in every direction. The six Finnish planes on site engaged immediately with no shortage of targets. The second flight returned quickly from the direction of Lavansaari, attacking the rearmost of the Soviet formations. In the end, the Finns destroyed 18 of the 29 enemy planes without suffering any losses of their own. Earlier the same day, another flight of Brewsters had bagged itself five confirmed kills and a Fokker unit four more. This score of 27 confirmed enemy kills was (to date) the highest one-day tally achieved by the Finnish Air Force. Such triumphs did come with a hefty price: each pilot was forced to fly or be on high alert throughout the day and night. During the last days of the operation, the only way the men kept themselves fit to fly was through heavy use of the German-made combat stimulant Pervitin (methamphetamine). In total, they flew 643 combat missions and delivered over 5,000kg of bombs during the operation.