A New Breed of British Bomber I

The RAF had always been keen to try to modernise their bomber force through the 1920s, despite budget cuts and the more popular view that bombers were a doomsday weapon and should be banned. However, for the purpose of policing the Empire, they did not require a vast array of heavy bombers. The Hawker Hart, first introduced into service in February 1930, was a light bomber with a load of 500-lb that could be carried 430 miles, with a top speed of 185 mph—faster than the Bristol Bulldog, the RAF’s brand-new fighter. The Hart was the pinnacle of biplane bomber design, and was more than adequate for the purpose of subduing rebellions in the mandates and far-flung quarters of the Empire, and even for a limited conflict with one of Britain’s neighbours, but it could not carry out the knockout blow that Douhet had espoused.

As the continental power battles began, there were moves to improve the range and firepower of Britain’s aerial arsenal for national security. It was hoped that owning a large bomber fleet would be enough to perturb any other power from attacking and, as RAF planners were keen to point out to Government paymasters, it was cheaper to maintain than a warship. A bomber fleet had the ability to attack the enemy further than her coastline, bringing, if the theorists were correct, an end to war quickly and cheaply.

The RAF began to put out specifications for newer larger designs, and began to bring in aircraft like the Vickers Wellesley and Bristol Bombay, but there was always a move for a bigger bomber with a longer range. In 1932, the RAF released specification B9/32 calling for a twin-engined medium bomber for daylight operations, which had to be markedly better than its predecessors. It was a specification that attracted a lot of attention with Bristol, Gloster, Handley Page, and Vickers all keen to get the lucrative contract.

The Bristol Type 131 was designed by Frank Barnwell and was a monoplane powered by two Pegasus engines, while the Gloster B9/32, designed by Henry Folland, was powered by two Perseus VI engines with a loaded weight of 12,800 lb and a 70-foot wing span. Neither design was taken forward; instead the RAF chose the Handley Page HP.52, designed by the German Chief engineer Dr Gustav Lachmann. Lachmann drew on several aspects of the previous HP.47 design, including a fuselage that tapered into a thin boom, giving two perfect gunnery positions above and below the tapering edges. To reduce drag, the fuselage width was shortened to three feet wide, which gave enough room for one man to sit in the pilot seat with a great forward view, but meant that there could only be one pilot. Lachmann’s speciality of slotted flaps and wing slots gave the Hampden a versatile speed of 263 mph when fitted with two 820 hp Pegasus XX engines.

The prototype HP.52, painted green with the registration K4240, flew for the first time on 22 June 1936 from Radlett with Major Cordes, Handley Page’s chief test pilot, at the controls. It was powered by the two Pegasus engines, although there was a brief redesign due to the Air Ministry’s dalliance with Rolls-Royce Goshawk engines. The Goshawk had been an evolutionary step from the old Kestrel IV, and used an experimental method of cooling the engine by using heat transference to turn the coolant to steam, and then condensing it in wing-mounted condensers and generating 700 hp. On evaluation, the RAF grew concerned about the condensers taking up a lot of space, with their weight and position causing quite serious drag on the aircraft. More pointedly was their vulnerability to enemy fire in the wings: a small amount of stray fire might cause serious damage to the aircraft. There were other issues such as coolant leaks and pumping issues, which demonstrated that the whole system was far too complicated for a warplane, and the project was quietly shelved in favour of the more conventional Pegasus engines, with the specification changed again to reflect the dropping of the Goshawk.

The Air Ministry was so impressed by the design that they ordered 180 machines and put it on display at the ‘New Types’ Park at Hendon. A further order for 100 Hampden airframes powered by Napier Dagger engines was issued and given to Short and Harland of Belfast. L7271 was the first of the Dagger-powered Hampdens (later rechristened as Herefords), and was first flown on 1 July 1937. It featured several modifications by Handley Page engineer George Volkert, including the rear turrets being rounded off, the pilot tube moving to below the fuselage, and redesigning the nose section. The Dagger proved an unreliable engine and far from effective, producing far too much noise and wearing out, with problems due to cooling and maintenance issues. Ultimately, the Herefords were either converted to Hampdens or assigned to training duties, leaving the Hampden as the combat variant. The L4034 became the base model for the production run, flying for the first time on 24 June 1938, and later became the first to enter service, in 49 Squadron.

The Hampden was found to exceed expectations, with greater speed and better manoeuvrability than its predecessors and higher pilot seating, which gave a greater visibility and allowed pilots to make steep turns. The controls required the pilot to be familiarised with the comprehensive layout and included the bomb release switches, but once one was acclimatised, it was considered a good aircraft to fly. For defence, the Hampden mounted individual Vickers ‘K’ machine guns in the manual turrets, which were comparable to the emplacements on the Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17Z rather than the heavier—and heavier armed—powerful turrets on the Wellington and Whitley. The Hampden could also carry a bombload of 4,000 lb, which was considerable, especially when compared to the 1,720-mile range and its relatively good top speed of 265 mph. The German Junkers Ju 88 flew for the first time on 21 December 1936, and the V5 prototype set a top speed record of 320 mph while carrying 4,410 lb on a course in March 1939, with the top speed dropping to 280 mph after modification with a range of some 1,429 miles. When you compare the two aircraft on paper, they are broadly similar.

The Vickers submission to B9/32 was what would become the reliable Wellington with Vickers initial internal manufacturing specification being for an airframe that could carry 1,000 lb of bombs 720 miles and possess a range of 1,500 miles. Initial designs were for a high-wing, fixed undercarriage aircraft with Goshawk engines—as per the RAF’s original specification—or Mercury VIS2s. By October 1933, the whole layout was altered, with the wings situated in the mid-wing position and a retractable undercarriage, and the fuselage reinforced by Barnes Wallace’s geodetic system and powered by two Goshawk engines. The geodetic skeleton was ready for implementation into airframes from the autumn of 1933 and was a great step forward in airframe design. The skeleton was fashioned from spirally crossing load-bearing members made from the light alloy duralumin in a similar shape that the R-100 airship had had, as well as Vickers’ other aircraft, the Wellesley. The biggest asset was that the airframe could take a massive amount of damage, with the beams on the opposite side of the fuselage being able to take the load if a hole was blown in the opposite side—this ultimately saved many lives in wartime, with aircraft that otherwise would have crashed in enemy territory bringing their crews home and alive. The aircraft’s doped linen skin was held to the frame by wooden batons.

The new proposal was accepted by the RAF, who requested a prototype for further evaluation, and the type 271 went into production in 1934, only to suffer a major revision when the Goshawks fell through as a practical engine design. K4049 was refitted with a pair of Pegasus X engines and made her maiden flight on 15 June 1936, flown by Captain Joseph Summers, the chief test pilot, and Barnes Wallace.

The RAF were exceptionally pleased with the Vickers design with its range of 2,000 miles and bombload of 4,500 lb. Specification 29/36 was issued on 29 January 1937, formally ordering 180 of the provisionally named ‘Crecies’— the name was changed to Wellington after a protestation from the Air Ministry. K4049 was lost that April when the elevator’s horn balance failure caused it to lose altitude and crash, killing one aboard and causing the production variant to have the horn balance removed.

The first production model, L4212, flew on 23 December 1937. It demonstrated several redesigns, including a deepening of the rear of the fuselage, a new retractable tail wheel, and a fuselage revision that doubled the bombload. The crew was increased by one and the elongated hull was lit by side windows. The production variant was found to be nose-heavy when diving due to the redesigned elevators, and so the engineers modified the flaps and elevator trim tabs. Vickers’ turrets were mounted on the nose and tail, with a pair of guns mounted in the latter while a retractable Nash and Thompson turret was fitted to the ventral position; the Mk I engines were also changed to the 1,000-hp Pegasus XVIII. The first Wellington Mk I was issued to 9 Squadron in February 1939.

The Mk IA saw the crew brought up to six and armament increased to six 303 machine guns (two to each turret), while the Mk IC was a variant that saw the ventral turret supplanted by a pair of Vickers ‘K’ guns that fired out of either side of the fuselage.

The Wellington bomber was seen as the best choice for an unescorted long-range bomber, with the ability to absorb fire from enemy ground emplacements while maintaining a good rate of defensive fire that could deter enemy fighters from getting close to them.

The Bristol Blenheim was to come to be the most ubiquitous British bomber across all of the theatres in the early stages of the Second World War. It was born out of a challenge by the newspaper baron Lord Rothermere, who wanted to see if the aviation industry could create a new fast transport that could carry six passengers, in answer to German designers working on aircraft like the Heinkel He 70.

Bristol had been working on a twin-engined monoplane designed around the Bristol Aquila engine since July 1933, under the designation 135. When Rothermere enquired after the design, the chief engineer, Frank Barnwell, quoted that the proposed top speed was 240 mph at 6,500 feet, prompting the Daily Mail’s owner to order one of the aircraft from the drawing board. Significant changes were made, including switching the engines to Bristol’s Mercury engines, and the new plane was designated as Type 142. The first model, named Britain First, was test flown on 12 April 1935 at Filton in South Gloucestershire—to everyone’s surprise, the aircraft was found to be faster than the biplane fighters of the RAF, with a staggering top speed of 307 mph. Within two months, the Air Ministry had taken a keen interest in the airframe as a potential bomber, with the hope that it could outrun any enemy fighter aircraft, deliver its payload, and then leave the enemy behind on its return leg. On 9 July, talks were convened with Bristol to discuss the suitability of converting the design to make the more militarily suitable 145M, which would require the moving of the low wing to a mid-wing position to create more crew and payload space within the fuselage. The discussion turned to armament, including the obvious provision of a bomb aimer and the need for a Browning machine gun in the nose and a retractable turret in the rear of the fuselage. Specification B.28/35 was released specifically for it and the Blenheim was born. Within three months, the RAF placed a contract for 150 aircraft straight from the drawing board due to the need for rapid expansion and more modern equipment.

The aircraft’s Mercury engines were air-cooled and generated 860 hp; they were also equipped with manual and modern electric starting motors with the labour-saving split-segment engine mounts. This meant that maintenance crews could replace the engine quickly without damaging or moving the carburettors.

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A New Breed of British Bomber II

The first Blenheim Mk I prototype, K7033, flew on 25 June 1936 from Filton. On 10 March 1937, the first aircraft began arriving at 114 Squadron, followed by 30 Squadron in Iraq on 13 January 1938, and India the following spring. Bristol released a description of their new aircraft:

[A] high speed day bombing landplane. The crew of three consist of the pilot, housed in the front fuselage, a bomb aimer/navigator whose station is alongside the pilot on the starboard side, and the wireless operator/gunner, in the rear fuselage. A bomb cell under the centre plane which forms an integral part of the fuselage, provides means for the carrying of various bombloads… The bomb fuses are set and released by electrically operated gear. A Vickers gun, operated by the pilot, is mounted in the port outer wing and has a Lewis gun… in the rear fuselage turret.

The bomb release system was very simple: the w eight of the falling bombs pushed the bomb bay doors open, and the doors then snapped shut by elastic cabling, which did have an effect on accuracy, but no more so than the Heinkel He 111, whose bombs were dropped tail first.

Defences on the bomber were not extensive, with the forward firing gun being operated by a button mounted in the pilot’s control column but this was nothing more than a strafing tool or to scare off enemy aircraft. The Blenheim’s main firepower was the more vulnerable machine gun, mounted in a turret on the upper fuselage. Bristol claimed that the turret had been specially designed for the aircraft and fitted with a retractable hood:

It is circular structure with the necessary mechanism to train the gun over a wide field of fire, centralising near the stern. The turret has a bypass valve by a spring clip lever on the main control handle in addition to its control valves. This returns the pressure oil to the supply when the operator releases the handle, so that the turret operates automatically if the gunner is disabled.

The weapon mounted in the turret was the Vickers ‘K’ gas-operated machine gun, which was a development of the Vickers Berthier used by the Indian Army. The Vickers ‘K’ had a fire rate of between 950–1,200 rounds a minute and was faster than the German MG 34, which was being fitted to the Luftwaffe’s bombers. More importantly, it was more reliable than the Brownings, but had problems with space due to the ammunition pan getting in the way of aircraft structures.

As demand for the aircraft grew, Bristol subcontracted the design out to Avro and Rootes Securities in England, and the design was also picked up by foreign markets in Finland and Yugoslavia, who were given licence to build their own; these exports were sold to Turkey, Greece, and Romania. By the commencement of hostilities, some 1,351 Mk I Blenheims had been produced in Britain alone before the Mk I was discontinued in favour of the Mk IV.

There were a few design faults with the Mk I that needed ironing out, with the first being a small range, as well as cramped cockpit conditions. In the Mk I, the control yoke obscured the view of the pilot’s controls, and the engine instruments obscured the pilot’s views on landing and take-off. To make matters even worse, the propeller controls were actually behind the pilot and were operated by the pilot on feel alone. This was hardly an efficient way to fly a combat aircraft, and so Bristol began looking at the evolution of its airframe. After abandoning the Mk II, they test-flew a Mk III model with an elongated cockpit, allowing the bomb aimer much more space and better visibility for the pilot. Fuel tank space was increased; the Vickers ‘K’ replaced with two Brownings to give the gunner greater firepower; and the new Mercury XV engines, which generated 920 hp were added, creating a top speed of 266 mph at 12,000 feet. So rushed was the order for aircraft, due to the rising political tensions with Germany, that the first Mk IVs to be built were equipped with Mercury Mk VIII engines, as the newer engines had not been delivered. The first Mk IVs began arriving in early 1939, by which point it was known that the top speed of Germany’s and Britain’s fighter aircraft far exceeded the top speed of the Blenheim, but nothing else was available. The top speed was fast enough for it to be able to defend itself especially if flying in formation.

July 1934 saw the issuing of Specification B.3/34 for a heavy land-based night bomber and transport aircraft to replace the Handley Page Heyford biplane, which could carry a 2,500-lb bombload up to 920 miles at 142 mph, and the Fairey Hendon, who could carry 1,660 lb a maximum 1,360 miles at 152 mph. After complaints from the various aircraft factories, the design teams’ requirement for ‘transport’ was dropped and the aircraft was given over to be solely a bomber. The chief designer of Armstrong Whitworth, John Lloyd, created the A.W. 38, which was a development of an earlier, rejected, design: the A.W. 23 bomber/transport. The A.W. 23 first flew on 4 June 1935 and was a low wing monoplane with a ‘portly’ frame and a fabric-covered tubular steel frame powered by two 840 hp Tiger VIIIs, with the novelty retractable landing gear defended by two nose and tail Lewis guns. It ultimately lost to the Bristol Bombay as a troop transport, but the prototype was later used as a testbed for inflight refuelling before its destruction during the Battle of Britain in an air raid.

The new aircraft, dubbed ‘Whitley’ after the main Armstrong Whitworth factory, was built around the Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX radial engines, which generated 795 hp with the innovative de Havilland three-bladed two-position variable pitch propellers. However, this new feature caused a certain amount of design problems. in that Lloyd was not familiar with flaps on wing design, and so at first did not put the new propellers in, but, under pressure, altered the wing angle to an 8.5-degree angle of incidence to maintain a good performance at take-off and landing. Flaps were later introduced, but the wings were left as they were, giving the aircraft its familiar nose-down profile at cruising level, but also causing a fair amount of drag. The aircraft’s designers were also not concerned with any aesthetic niceties and sleek aerodynamic lines, giving the Whitley what has been referred to by some pilots as an ‘ugliness’ that causes unnecessary drag, and an almost ‘ponderous, graceless form’

The Whitley was the first aircraft in the RAF’s growing arsenal to use a semi-monocoque fuselage with the loads supported by the external skin of the aircraft, with a light, basic airframe inside the fuselage, rather than a hefty airframe covered with a linen skin which affected performance. Armstrong Whitworth also tried to ease construction methods by using a slab-sided structure rather than a tubular fuselage, and it was this airframe that was considered able to withstand quite a bit of damage and still be airworthy, something that aircrews would come to rely on over Germany at night.

By June 1935, the RAF were getting concerned about their ageing bomber fleet and wanted to update them quickly due to fears of Ernst Heinkel’s He 70 being a good candidate for bomber conversion and the formidable He 111’s first test flight on 24 February 1935. A contract for eighty aircraft was issued, with half being Mk Is and half Mk IIs. Construction began at various Coventry sites, including the former Ordinance works and Whitley Abbey, before final assembly at Baginton aerodrome.

It was not until 17 March 1936 that the first prototype, the Tiger-IX-powered K4586, flew from Baginton, with A. C. Campbell Orde in the cockpit. The second prototype (K4587) was equipped with the supercharged Tiger XIs. The first production run of thirty-four Whitley Mk Is were delivered to 10 Squadron, armed with Vickers machine guns mounted in the nose and tail turrets and a bombload of 3,365 lb.

With the production of specification B.21/35 underway, modifications of the airframe were made. This created the Mk II, which was powered by two 920 hp Tiger VIIIs, and then, under specification 20/36 issued on 4 August 1936, the Mk III saw further evolution, with the Vickers guns being replaced with a Nash-and-Thompson-powered turret fitted with belt-fed Browning 303s. There was also a retractable ventral turret with a pair of Brownings but this was found to cause a lot of drag and was heavy, with crews often finding them difficult to pull back into the aircraft when at height in the cold. The Mk IV saw the replacement of the Tiger engines with the Rolls Royce Merlin IV with an increased horsepower of 1,030, a top speed of 245 mph, and an altitude of 16,250 feet. The Merlin X was also put into the Mk IVa, increasing the horsepower to 1,145. The Mk IV’s tail armament increased to four Brownings in a Nash and Thompson turret, with revisions to the nose shape (to incorporate a better bomb aimer position) giving the Whitley a pointed chin and an increase of fuel load and range. The variant that Bomber Command took to war was the MK V, fitted with the Merlin X and which had a lengthened fuselage (by 1 foot and 3 inches), allowing the rear gunners a greater field of fire while the tail fins were reduced in size and the twin rudders area was increased to improve handling. The Whitley was considered obsolete by the time war commenced but it was more than adequate as a night bomber, as it was not envisioned to face enemy fighters, and the rugged reliable design was considered more than capable of delivering a bombload to German industry from the invulnerable night sky while the Wellingtons and Hampdens delivered by day.

The RAF specification P. 27/32 was issued in 1934, looking for a light bomber to replace the aged Hawker Harts, Furies, and Hinds. The specification outlined the need for a two-seater aircraft that could carry a 1,000-lb bombload a distance of 1,000 miles at 200 mph. Fairey, Armstrong Whitworth, and Hawker all put forward designs.

The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.29 was a mid-wing cantilever monoplane constructed with a forward fuselage of welded tubular steel and a monocoqued light alloy rear. It was powered by the radial Armstrong Siddeley Tiger VIII engine, which generated 870 hp and had a top speed of 225 mph or a cruising speed of 208 mph. The crew of two sat separated, with the pilot along the wing’s leading edge, while the observer gunner was aft of the spar in an enclosed manually operated turret with a Lewis gun. The pilot had control of another Vickers gun in the wing as well as the 1,000-lb bombload. It was not a very attractive aircraft in comparison to the Fairey submission, which had been designed by the Belgian Marcel Lobelle.

The Battle was a modern sleek design, with more emphasis on the lines and elegance than for crew comfort. One navigator would later lament that there was very little room in the rear cockpit, and that the gunner was pretty much sat right on top of you. There was also a fuel tank right beside you, which caused more than a little concern.4 The first prototype’s gunner position was also poorly designed, and the glazing meant the gunner would suffer from a lot of down draught—the pilot’s cockpit was more roomy and comfortable, but it had a tendency to overheat.

The Battle was the first aircraft to be fitted with the new Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the same engine that would equip Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Lancasters. The Mk I sported 1,050 hp and was tapered into the fuselage, which gave the Battle a top speed of 257 mph, and a cruising speed of 210 mph.

The fuselage was the first Fairey aircraft to have a stressed metal skin over the gently tapering oval sections and all metal wings. The armament was similar to the Armstrong Whitworth craft and consisted of a solitary Browning machine gun mounted in the starboard wing and fired by the pilot, and a gas-operated Vickers ‘K’ in a Fairey high-speed mounting in the rear of the cockpit. This position was exceptionally exposed and, with modern fighters like the Hawker Hurricane Mk I sporting eight Browning 0.303s rather than the two Vickers 0.303s on the Bristol Bulldogs it was replacing, the Battle’s defence was already looking flimsy in 1937. By 1940, the Fairey Battle had to be sidelined, as fighter design and armament had rapidly evolved, leaving the Battle’s solitary Vickers to grow even more important. The Messerschmitt Bf 109E variants not only sported machine guns but also a MG FF cannon, while the heavier Bf 110 carried four nose-mounted machine guns and two MG FF cannon.

Hawker’s Henley design was a combination of a light bomber and dive bomber, using a lot of the Hurricane’s design as a basis as they already had a basic, versatile airframe and it would prove economic to make, as much of the production equipment would be the same. The outer wing panel and tailplane jigs were the same and the Henley also used the Merlin I engine. Like the Hurricane, and unlike its competitors, the Henley had a fabric-covered frame which would later be proven durable and easy to repair during the Battle of Britain. However, the Henley was to grow up in the shadow of its more successful stablemate and, despite the prototype’s construction beginning in mid-1935, it was always on the back burner because of the Hurricane project. The Henley’s first flight was on 10 March 1937, by which point the RAF had no need for a light bomber, as they felt that the Battle had similar traits and were therefore unwilling to trade like for like. They also preferred for Hawker to concentrate work on the Hurricane project instead. The Henley was converted into a target tug for aerial and anti-aircraft gunnery, and the Merlin engine was tuned down to make it less powerful, which often led it to overheat.

The aircraft that the RAF went to war with in 1939 did not represent the pinnacle of bomber design. The RAF were already placing orders and development schemes for larger and heavier bombers, including the Short Stirling, which was being developed. The prototype flew on 14 May 1939, but was faced with technical delays, and the Luftwaffe’s destruction of its Rochester site in 1940 further delayed deployment until 1941. The four-engined Handley Page Halifax was also under development, with their first test flight being in October 1939 and the Avro Manchester, a fore runner to the iconic Lancaster, first flew on 25 July 1939, with all three of these aircraft marked as replacements for the older Wellington, Whitley, and Hampden bombers. However, war intervened, and problems with the Manchester meant that the older models were continually pressed into service against the Luftwaffe.

Murat’s End

The Battle of Tolentino by Vincenzo Milizia. The Battle of Tolentino was fought from 2–3 May 1815 near Tolentino, Kingdom of Naples in what is now Marche, Italy: it was the decisive battle in the Neapolitan War, fought by the Napoleonic King of Naples Joachim Murat to keep the throne after the Congress of Vienna. The battle was similar to the Battle of Waterloo. Both occurred during the Hundred Days following Napoleon’s return from exile and resulted in a decisive victory for the Seventh Coalition, leading to the restoration of a Bourbon king.

News of Napoleon’s return had arrived at the Congress of Vienna on 7 March and initially the delegates treated it as a joke. But very soon it became clear that the joke was on them, and they agreed a joint statement proclaiming Napoleon an ‘Outlaw’ and declaring war on him personally. The entire continent was now committed to defeat and destroy Napoleon and his army once and for all. However, mobilising troops that had already marched home, and even disbanded in many cases, was not going to be an easy task. Even so, Spain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Britain and a host of smaller countries signed the agreement to supply troops to this renewed pan-European effort to oust Napoleon.

The Ottoman troops returning to reclaim their hold on Serbia sparked a short but bloody revolt in April 1815, which led to negotiations and the establishment of an informal self-governance under the nominal control of the Sultan.

The war may have ended in April 1814, but Marshal Joachim Murat, as King of Naples, had felt so insecure on his throne, despite Austrian protestations of support, that he continued to build up his forces during the ensuing peace, whilst all other countries were actively dismantling their wartime establishments. Relations with Sicily remained frosty, with the flames of insurrection still persisting in the Calabrian mountains, reputedly fanned by recently disbanded Neapolitan troops, still retaining their arms, being transported from Sicily to the mainland by Ferdinand. Murat also continued to liaise with other factions throughout the peninsula that were seeking a united Italy, in the belief that Napoleon, unable to remain quietly on Elba for long, would seek to head a drive for Italian unification. Despite his recent treason, Murat remained hopeful that Napoleon would forgive him and utilise his forces to achieve their joint goal.

When news of Napoleon’s escape did arrive, Murat was quick to assure the British government that he still wanted peace, but when he learned that the Emperor was back in control in Paris, he immediately offered him his services. He dreamt of marching northwards with an army of 40,000 men, gathering support as he went, and driving the Austrians back over the Alps before establishing a unified ‘Kingdom of Italy’. Napoleon was initially hopeful of persuading the allies to allow him to reign peacefully in France, and the proposal from Murat could not have arrived at a more delicate moment. Even before Napoleon had a chance to reply, Murat, always impulsive, launched his attack, declaring war on Austria on 15 March. This unwelcome news shattered any hope Napoleon had of gaining a peaceful settlement, even if it had been a genuine desire on his part. It inevitably appeared to the allies that Murat was working in coordination with Napoleon, no matter how loud his protestations to the contrary.

Leaving Naples in the hands of his wife Caroline, with 10,000 troops to provide garrisons for his strongholds, Murat marched north with an army of 40,000 men and fifty-six guns. His inexperienced and poorly trained army left Naples on 17 March in two columns, one of which was to march into Tuscany via Rome, whilst the other advanced towards Bologna via Ancona. On the approach of Murat’s army, Pope Pius VII fled to safety in Genoa.

Murat’s troops met virtually no opposition to their advance and were warmly received by the populace, but worryingly, few actually sought to join his crusade. The small Austrian detachments retreated before the Neapolitans, and Murat was able to concentrate his whole force again at Bologna. The first part of his plan had now been achieved. At Bologna, however, Murat received disquieting news. General Macfarlane was reportedly preparing an Anglo-Sicilian force to land in Naples from Sicily, in his rear, and reports of the approach of two Austrian armies, one under General Neipperg with 16,000 troops and the other under General Bianchi with 30,000, caused him to hesitate.

An encounter with Bianchi’s force took place at Carpi, where the Neapolitan troops were forced out of the town, but then maintained a steady defence on the river line behind the town. Murat began to dream of victory, but the loss of the bridge at Occhobiello caused the complete collapse of his defences and a precipitate retreat followed, allowing the two Austrian armies to combine at Bologna.

Murat considered offering battle here but, receiving news that further Austrian reinforcements were at hand, and with the growing realisation that a popular rising in support of a unified Italy was not going to happen, he retreated into Naples. Fighting a string of rear-guard actions, some successful and others less so, the army retired to Tolentino, where battle was offered on 3 May and Murat’s army was completely destroyed. In the disorganised retreat that followed, many men deserted to return to their homes, and by the time Murat arrived at Capua he had barely 12,000 troops with him. Further news that the Anglo-Sicilian force was ready to cross the Straits confirmed that the situation was untenable and Murat handed command to General Carascosa and ordered his ministers to carry out negotiations.

Arriving at Naples on 18 May, Murat learnt that Bianchi had refused to negotiate and was determined to oust him from his throne, whilst a British squadron lay in Naples Bay ready to disembark troops. Caroline had already been forced to surrender all the shipping in the bay, including two Neapolitan ships of the line, to HMS Tremendous when the British ship threatened to bombard the city. Beset from all sides, Murat fled the following night, with as much money and jewellery as he and his small entourage could carry, and successfully crossed to Ischia on a fishing vessel; from here he secretly secured his passage on the Santa Caterina to Cannes, arriving there on 25 May. He remained there, ignored by Napoleon but still hoping to be recalled to his side, reading about the Emperor’s exploits in Belgium. Murat’s presence during the Waterloo campaign may well have been decisive, but Napoleon did not trust him. Naples was quickly defeated, but the fortress of Gaeta held out and was formally besieged by Austrian forces, eventually capitulating on 8 August.

But then came the disaster of Waterloo and the fall of Paris, and the ‘White Terror’ spread across the country,in which royalists sought out prominent Bonapartists; the lucky ones were arrested, but many others were massacred by the mob. Worried for his own safety, Murat moved to Toulon. Here, he arranged a safe passage on a Swedish merchant vessel and had the majority of his goods and treasure loaded on board, but for some unexplained reason he then failed to catch the vessel himself before it sailed, leaving him bereft. He was now living in terror of being discovered and wandered aimlessly along the coast, sleeping under the stars and living off stolen fruit, until he happened upon a group of veterans and ex-naval men who sought to help him. On the night of 22 June they sailed in a small coaster they had hired, but a storm caused them to transfer to a packet ship bound for Bastia. On arrival, the group quickly raised suspicions and the ex-navy men were arrested; Murat fled and was secretly housed by a retired Corsican officer. When his presence was betrayed, ten gendarmes were despatched to arrest him, but the villagers sounded the tocsin and defended him en masse, causing the gendarmes to retire in haste.

Despite the rush to arms, the conference at Vienna had continued to sit until it finally disbanded on 9 June, just before the fighting actually began. Before it broke up it reached agreement on many issues, a number of which impinged on the situation in the Mediterranean. Austria regained the Illyrian provinces and Ragusa, as well as Lombardy and Venetia in northern Italy; the Grand Duchies of Tuscany and Modena were reinstated with Hapsburg princes at their head; the Papal States, minus Avignon, were restored to the Pope; Piedmont, Nice and Savoy were reinstated to the King of Sardinia, and the former Republic of Genoa was also added to his kingdom; the Duchy of Parma was given to Napoleon’s ex-wife Marie Louise; and Ferdinand was reinstated as King of Naples and Sicily, Murat having lost his crown by siding with Napoleon once again.

The Battle of Waterloo, of course, occurred on 18 June. Defeated, Napoleon abdicated again on the 24th and Paris surrendered on 8 July. Napoleon was exiled again, this time to St Helena, where he eventually died six years later, on 5 May 1821.

There was little further fighting in the Mediterranean, as the renewed war was mercifully short, but there are a few incidents worthy of note. On 30 April, for example, the 74-gun Rivoli, now a British ship, encountered off Ischia the French frigate Melpomenne, which had so recently failed to prevent Napoleon escaping from Elba. She was sailing to Naples, where she was due to collect Madame Mere, Napoleon’s mother, and transport her to France. The outcome was not in doubt and the frigate was forced to surrender having exchanged broadsides with her much more powerful adversary for a mere quarter of an hour.

On 17 June the Pilot (18 guns) encountered the Legere (22 guns) off Cape Corse. The French ship was beaten with the loss of twenty-two killed and seventy-nine wounded (nearly half the crew), but escaped when the Pilot lost steering and could not manoeuvre to force her opponent to strike her colours.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Hudson Lowe was despatched from Belgium in May 1815, having apparently fallen out of favour with Wellington, to command the British troops at Genoa, whilst General Macfarlane was in Sicily. Lowe received instructions on 29 May that he was to refuse to combine his operations with either the Austrians or the Sardinians in any proposed invasion of France over the Alps. He was instead to assist in the liberation of key strategic ports in the south of France in the name of the King of France. He was to cooperate fully with Admiral Lord Exmouth and the British navy in seaborne operations with this aim.

Exmouth possessed a huge cache of arms with which to supply royalist insurgents in the south of France, and the British remained ready to act if the mobs in Toulon or Marseilles declared for the king, but at no time must they leave Genoa so poorly defended that it might be in danger of being lost.

Lowe finally arrived at Genoa on 16 June to find that Macfarlane’s troops would not return for some weeks yet and that he had sent advice to Lowe to proceed with caution. Lord Bathurst had, however, written to Lowe from London to insist that he acted independently of Macfarlane and the Austrians, which he did.

Lord Exmouth arrived with his squadron off Genoa having received news that Marseilles had declared for the king and that the rest of the south of France, with the notable exception of Toulon, was strongly royalist. Therefore, Lowe embarked 3,000 troops4 on board Exmouth’s squadron and sailed for Marseilles on 4 July. The convoy arrived safely at Marseilles on 14 July, having observed on their passage the royal standard flying everywhere except Antibes and Toulon. Lowe quickly assessed the situation and sent off requests for reinforcements, mules, tents and siege artillery to be sent. This would allow him to besiege the city of Toulon, which was garrisoned by some 5,000 troops under Marshal Brune. Unfortunately, few additional troops or mules could be spared and there was no siege artillery available to send, but an Austrian army under General Nugent with some 6,000 men had recently arrived at Genoa and was about to be shipped to Savona; this force could be diverted to support Lowe’s operations.

When Marshal Brune was summoned to surrender, he acted erratically. Initially he asked to be allowed to surrender on similar terms to the recent convention at Paris, and then he appeared to be ready to surrender on 24 July (on condition that he would pledge allegiance to the king but would be allowed to continue to fly the tricolour!), but three days later a cannon shot just missed a British frigate and negotiations were suspended. Lowe moved troops onto the hills surrounding Toulon and into the outskirts of the city. Finally, an agreement was signed, under the terms of which the royalist and British troops would be allowed to take control of the city and its fortresses. It was agreed that Brune could leave and go wherever he wished within France, and that those French regiments particularly loyal to Napoleon could march out of the city. On 1 August Lord Exmouth sailed his ships into the harbour and the city was handed over, but Lowe did not stay to witness the event, for that very day he received notification of his new job as custodian of the ex-Emperor Napoleon, whose destination was yet to be decided, and he was to return to London as soon as possible.

News of an insurrection on Corsica, and the arrival there of Murat, led to a detachment of British troops being ordered to the island under General Montresor to aid the rebels in ousting the French, but they did not actually go there as events had moved on5 and most of the rest of the troops were then sent back to Sicily or Gibraltar.

Left in peace on Corsica, Murat convinced himself that if he landed in Calabria, the country would rise immediately in his support. In mid-September he marched to Ajaccio, gathering some 400 recruits on the way, and seized the shipping in the port in preparation for his landing in Calabria. Just as he completed his preparations, however, a Mr Macirone arrived from Paris, offering Murat safe passage and an offer from Metternich, the Austrian Foreign Minister, for a safe residence within Austria for him and his family; as a sign of good faith, Macirone had brought with him the valuables that had so mysteriously sailed on the Swedish ship without Murat.

Murat mistakenly thought that Caroline had abandoned him and this bitter belief, although completely wrong, seems to have set him on the road to final destruction. He refused Macirone’s offer and thought only of his daring enterprise. On the night of 28 September his little expedition sailed on six small vessels, but storms and desertions caused three of the ships to leave him, halving his little force. Finding that his men had lost heart, he talked of making his way to Trieste and accepting Metternich’s offer; he then sailed his ship alone to Pizzo, where the captain assured him he could exchange it for a larger vessel, to make his way to Trieste.

Arriving at Pizzo, Murat changed his mind yet again and landed in full uniform with twenty-six of his men. Marching into the market square, his escort proclaimed him king. After a few moments of incredulity, the crowd turned nasty and threatened the Corsicans with their knives; one Corsican was killed and most of the others wounded in the ensuing scuffles. A woman struck Murat full in the face, declaring ‘You talk of liberty and you had four of my sons shot!’ The Corsicans retreated to the harbour only to find that their vessel had already fled and they were all captured, Murat bleeding from a cut on his forehead.

A detachment of troops arrived, led by General Nunziante, and Murat was questioned. He denied attempting to start an insurrection and stated that he intended to travel to Trieste under the protection of the Emperor of Austria. He was tried by court-martial on 13 October, but refused to enter a plea or make any defence. He was found guilty by a unanimous verdict and sentenced to be shot within the hour. He wrote a last letter to his wife and children, before being marched into the courtyard of the castle. He refused a blindfold and ended with the words ‘Soldiers, do your duty. Fire at the heart, but spare the face.’ He fell dead, pierced by six balls, one of which struck his right cheek, and was buried in a common grave in the churchyard of Pizzo, perhaps the final casualty of the war.

The Military Orders

The Warrior-Monks

Crusading was originally a temporary action undertaken for a specified goal. With the establishment of the military religious orders in the twelfth century, that “temporary act of devotion became warfare as a devotional way of life.”

The development of these religious orders, whose members took a vow to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience with the added vow of military service for Christ and the Church, can be traced to those warriors who came to the Holy Land after the First Crusade. The founding of their orders, like the founding of most religious orders throughout Church history, was not a planned event; rather it “was the completely spontaneous response of some Christians to the problems facing them in the Holy Land. The pilgrims had to be protected and the sick and needy among them cared for, and above all else, the safety of the captured holy places had to be assured.”

Over time, four main groups of warrior-monks developed: the Hospitallers, the Templars, the Teutonic Knights, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. Believing that “fighting was a charitable activity,” members of these orders “said the office and then rode out to kill their enemies.” Some questioned whether these orders were in keeping with the dictates of the gospel of Christ, but the reality of life in the twelfth century was such that “if the mendicant brothers preached the gospel, the military brethren defended it.”

The emergence of two religious orders combining the ideals of knighthood and monasticism played a vital role in buttressing the Frankish Levant. In about 1119, a small band of knights, led by a French nobleman named Hugh of Payns, dedicated themselves to the charitable task of protecting Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. In practical terms, at first this meant patrolling the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, but Hugh’s group quickly gained wider recognition and patronage. The Latin patriarch soon acknowledged their status as a spiritual order, while the king himself gave them quarters in Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque, known to the Franks as the Temple of Solomon, and from this site they gained their name: the Order of the Temple of Solomon, or the Templars. Like monks, they made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but, rather than dedicate themselves to lives of sheltered devotion in isolated communities, they took up sword, shield and armour to fight for Christendom and the defence of the Holy Land.

As the Templars’ leader (or master), Hugh of Payns travelled to Europe in 1127 in search of validation and endorsement for his new order. Formal recognition by the Latin Church came in January 1129, at a major ecclesiastical council held at Troyes (Champagne, France). In the years to come, this official seal of approval was further garlanded by papal support and extensive privileges and immunities. The Templars also earned the endorsement of one of the Latin world’s great religious luminaries, Bernard of Clairvaux. As abbot of a Cistercian monastery, Bernard was renowned for his wisdom and trusted as an adviser in all the courts of the West. The combination of political and ecclesiastical power that he wielded was unprecedented, but in physical terms Bernard was a wreck, forced to have an open latrine trench dug next to his pew in church so that he could relieve the symptoms of an appalling chronic intestinal affliction.

Around 1130 Bernard composed a treatise–titled In Praise of the New Knighthood–extolling the virtues of the Templars’ way of life. The abbot declared the order to be ‘most worthy of total admiration’, lauding its brethren as ‘true knights of Christ fight[ing] the battles of their Lord’, assured of glorious martyrdom should they die. This lyrical exhortation played a central role in popularising the Templar movement across Latin Europe, garnering acceptance for a revolutionary offshoot of crusade ideology that in many ways was the ultimate distillation and expression of Christian holy war.

The example set by the Templars encouraged another charitable religious movement founded by Latins in the Near East to embrace militarisation. Since the late eleventh century, Jerusalem’s Christian quarter had contained a hospital, funded by Italian merchants and devoted to the care of pilgrims and the sick. With the Holy City’s conquest by the First Crusaders and the associated influx of pilgrim traffic, this institution, dedicated to John the Baptist and so known as the Hospital of St John, grew in power and importance. Recognised as an order by the pope in 1113, the Hospitallers, as they came to be known, began to attract widespread international patronage. Under the guidance of its master, Raymond of Le Puy (1120–60), the movement appended a martial element to its ongoing medical functions, emerging by the mid-twelfth century as the second Military Order.

Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Templars and Hospitallers stood at the heart of crusading history, playing leading roles in the war for the Holy Land. In the central Middle Ages, Latin lay nobles commonly sought to affirm their devotion to God by giving alms to religious movements, often in the form of title to land or rights to its revenue. The mercurial popularity of the Military Orders therefore brought them rich donations in Outremer and across Europe. Despite their relatively humble origins–immortalised in the Templars’ case by their seal, depicting two impoverished knights riding a single horse–both were soon endowed with enormous wealth. They also attracted a steady stream of recruits, many of whom became highly trained, well-equipped warrior-monks (as knights or lower-ranking sergeants). Most medieval European war bands were startlingly amateurish, accustomed only to fighting in short seasonal campaigns and predominantly composed of poorly drilled, lightly armed irregulars. The Templars and Hospitallers, by contrast, could levy expert full-time standing forces: in effect, Latin Christendom’s first professional armies.

The Military Orders became supranational movements. Primarily focused on the protection of the crusader states, they nonetheless developed an array of other European military, ecclesiastical and financial interests, including a prominent role in the Iberian frontier wars against Islam. In the Levant their unprecedented military and economic might brought them a concomitant degree of political influence. Both orders enjoyed papal patronage, gaining independence from local secular and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and so had the potential to destabilise the Latin East’s sovereign polities. As rogue powers, they might question or even countermand crown authority, or ignore patriarchal edicts and episcopal instruction. For now, though, this danger was more than balanced by the transformative benefits of their involvement in Outremer’s defence.

Together, the Templars and Hospitallers brought a desperately needed influx of manpower and martial expertise to crusader states starved of military resources. Crucially, they also possessed the wealth to maintain, and in time extend, Outremer’s network of forts and castles. From the 1130s onwards, the lay lords of the Latin East began ceding control of fortified sites to the orders, often allowing them to develop semi-independent enclaves in border zones. Command of the castle of Baghras gave the Templars a dominant position in the northern reaches of the Antiochene principality. Rights to Safad in Galilee and to Gaza in southern Palestine brought the order similar rights and responsibilities. The Hospitallers, meanwhile, gained centres at Krak des Chevaliers, perched above the Bouqia valley between Antioch and Tripoli, and at Bethgibelin, one of three strongholds built in southern Palestine to defend Jerusalem and exert military pressure upon Muslim-held Ascalon.

Knights of the Holy Sepulchre

Godfrey de Bouillon, the hero of the First Crusade, founded the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in 1099 as the military guard for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1138 Pope Innocent II (r. 1130–1143) approved their religious charism as canons of the Church embracing the evangelical counsels. The order also contained knights living a secular life who vowed to defend the tomb of Christ. Operating so closely with the kings of Jerusalem initially made the order a powerful institution, but it steadily became a ceremonial and service organization. In 1847, the order was reconstituted, reorganized, and modernized by Pope Bl. Pius IX, who took on the role of grand master. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre continue to serve the Church through their spiritual devotion to the Holy City and their assistance to Christians in the Holy Land.

The Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights of St. Mary’s Hospital of Jerusalem originated through the actions of German merchants at the siege of Acre in 1190, during the Third Crusade. They began by simply establishing a hospital in the Crusader camp to care for the sick, wounded, and dying combatants, but within a decade their focus shifted to military matters. Like the other military religious orders, they bound themselves in service to Christ and the Church. They embraced a personal identification with the Savior, evidenced by the adoption of the motto, “Who fights us, fights Jesus Christ.”

Although never influential in the Holy Land, the Teutonic Knights became a powerful political and military force in Eastern Europe. In spite of this, they were decisively defeated by Polish forces at the Battle of Tannenberg on July 15, 1410. The devastation wrought by this defeat severely limited their influence and effectiveness. Although their numbers dwindled through the centuries, they continued to exist as a small order of nobility centered in Austria. Already limited in activity, they suffered even greater loss when twelve knights were hanged in 1944 by the Nazi German government for their role in the assassination plot against Adolf Hitler.

Military Orders and the Church

The modern Catholic may wonder why the Church recognized and supported the creation of religious orders whose members lived the evangelical counsels but also fought in combat. The same question was also raised by some Catholics during the twelfth century, but the Church rightly emphasized the difference between killing an innocent person and an enemy soldier. St. Bernard used the term “malecide”—the killing of evil; it was “the extermination of injustice rather than of the unjust, and therefore desirable.”

The military religious orders were a unique spiritual innovation in the life of the Church. While the Crusades gave the medieval warriors of Christendom a temporary outlet for spiritual benefits through the use of their martial skill, the military orders provided a permanent place for the knight in monastic life: “The warrior, a strong man, taking pride in his strength, was asked to use this strength and his sword in the service of the weak, to step out of his own world and become a monk, yet keep his sword by his side and his lance in his hand.”

 

Coulter Plough

Infantry Tank Mk. I (WD number T.3433, registration number MHM 788), equipped with the Fowler Coulter Plough.

Chain drive installed on tanks that were equipped with the Fowler Coulter Plough.

The problem of clearing paths for tanks through minefields was appreciated as early as January 1937 and two devices, the Coulter Plough and Fowler Rollers, were designed for fitting to the Infantry Tank Mk I. The Plough was eventually chosen and tested on a production vehicle in 1939. It consisted of two pivoted girder arms, mounted on the hull sides and raised and lowered via chains from a power take-off on the rear drive shaft. The mine plow idea was considered so good buy the army that a decision was made to convert 70 tanks to use it. The device was never used in combat though provided experience for later adaptations of other vehicles.

The first recorded combat use is by a “Bullshorn” plow on a Churchill tank of the British 79th Armoured Division, on Sword Beach during the Allied invasion of Normandy (this was one of “Hobart’s Funnies” specialized vehicles). The “Bullshorn” was just one of various designs of plow that were tested and used by the British.

 

Soviet Light Cruisers 1950s

Technical data of the light cruiser designs

In the ten-year programme of November 1945 there were besides the five prewar cruisers of projekt 68K25 new light cruisers planned. They were intended for classic cruiser tasks, defending the fleet against surface and air torpedo attacks, covering convoys, undertaking raiding operations and laying minefields. The Navy had first issued a TTZ for a cruiser of 8,000-8,500t stdd., with 152mm guns. But when the TsKB-17 worked on such a ship it soon became much bigger and reached between 14,500 and 18,000t, and it was suggested that the ships be armed with 180mm guns instead of the 152mm. In 1947 the TsKB-17 developed no less than 40 variants of the projekt 65 cruiser with 12,800-16,850t and three or even four triple turrets of 180mm guns to be superior to the latest US cruisers of this type, the Worcester, and the British Superb, or to be armed with nine 152mm dual-purpose guns. But Stalin did not like this project, and during a meeting at the Kremlin in 1947 it was cancelled, and Stalin wanted to have the new light cruisers built as improvements of the projekt 68K, using the proven systems and some of the German developments in fire control and stabilized 100mm dual-purpose guns.

The design work was done at the TsKB-17 by A.S. Savichev, and on 27 May 1947 the projekt 68-bis was approved for series production, and the first three orders went out on 3 December 1947 to the yards No. 189 and No. 194 at Leningrad and No. 444 at Nikolaev, using the names of the laid-down but not completed ships of the pre-war design projekt 68: Sverdlov, Dzerzhinskii and Ordzhonikidze. The Dzerzhinskii was the first to be laid down at Nikolaev on 21 December 1948, followed in October 1949 by the other two ships. During 1948–53 18 more orders followed, eight to the No. 189 yard at Leningrad, five to yard No. 194 at Leningrad, of which two should be sent to Molotovsk, three to yard No. 444 at Nikolaev, and two to yard No. 402 at Molotovsk. One more of each were planned to be ordered in 1954 for each of the four yards. The Ordzhonikidze yard 189 built – besides the Sverdlov, which was commissioned in May 1952 and surprised the public in the Western countries when it appeared at the coronation parade at Spithead in June 1953 – four more which were commissioned from December 1952 to December 1954: Zhdanov, Admiral Ushakov, Aleksandr Suvorov, and Admiral Senyavin. The Marti yard No. 194 at Leningrad completed two more ships in 1952 and 1953: Aleksandr Nevskii and Admiral Lazarev, the Marti yard No. 444 at Nikolaev in 1953 and 1954 also completed two, the Admiral Nakhimov and Mikhail Kutuzov, and finally yard No. 402 at Molotovsk two ships in 1954 and 1955, the Molotovsk and Murmansk (ex-Kozma Minin).

After the completion of the first 14 ships it was planned to complete the other 11 vessels to a changed design as projekt 68-bis-ZIF with a changed A/A armament and protection against a radioactive fallout. But after Stalin’s death in March 1953 it was decided not to lay down the last four vessels, which were planned to be ordered in 1954 with one unit for the four yards. But in early 1956 the decision was taken to stop the construction of the incomplete vessels, which were in the meantime planned to be rebuilt to projekt 75. So the Kronshtadt, Tallinn and Varyag, laid down in 1953 and early 1954 at No. 189, the Shcherbakov, laid down already in 1951 at No. 194, the Admiral Kornilov, laid down in 1951 at No. 444, and the Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok, laid down in 1954 at No. 402, were laid up and from 1959 to 1961 scrapped. The Kozma Minin and the Dmitrii Pozharskii, laid down in 1952/53 at No. 194, were sent in sections to No. 402 to be used for the Molotovsk (renamed Oktyabrskaya revolyutsiya in 1957) and the Murmansk under construction.

From the mid-1950s there were many plans to rebuild some of the aforementioned cruisers into anti-aircraft vessels armed with rockets and others to be armed with cruise missiles, as is mentioned later. A new projekt 84 light cruiser, for which an OTZ was issued in 1955, was not realized.

Sverdlov Class

Type and Significance: These light cruisers were among the world’s last vessels whose armament was composed solely of guns.

Dates of Construction: Laid down between 1949 and 1954, with the last being completed in 1955.

Hull Dimensions: 689’ x 72’ 2” x 24’ 7”

Displacement: 16,000 tons

Armor: A belt with a maximum thickness of 5 inches, a deck that varied between 3 inches and 1 inch in depth, and 5-inch turret armor.

Armament: 12 5.9-inch guns in four triple gunned turrets, two each being located fore and aft, 12 3.9-inch guns, antiaircraft weapons, and 10 20.8-inch torpedo tubes.

Machinery: Turbines fed by six oil-fired boilers that could produce 110,000 horsepower.

Speed: 32.5 knots

Complement: 1,010

Summary: These ships engendered alarm in the naval officials of the Western powers, as they were perceived as significant threats. Although powerful in appearance, however, the Sverdlov-class cruisers were rendered largely obsolete by the beginning of the missile age. The Admiral Nakhimov and Dzerzhinski were refitted in the late 1950s to test early Soviet SSM batteries. The former unit was scrapped in 1961. The Ordzhonikidze was sold to Indonesia the following year and sold for scrap in 1972. All the other units except one were scrapped by 1994. The Mikhail Kutuzov was put in reserve in 1989 and remains in that status.

Western Approaches – Coastal Command

During November 1942 Admiral Sir Percy Noble, who had been C.-in-C., Western Approaches since February 1941, was succeeded by Admiral Sir Max Horton. Starting with miserably inadequate resources, Noble had done a magnificent job in creating a viable AS defence for the convoys. Churchill, however, found him lacking sufficient aggression, wanting a man who would use the Allies’ growing strength to carry the war to Dönitz. In Horton he made the perfect choice. A career submariner, he had been in command of the whole Royal Navy submarine force and well understood Dönitz’ problems and weaknesses. Horton was ferocious with erring subordinates yet knew that the war against the U-boat was one of patience, for which the maintenance of morale was top priority. In pursuit of this he regularly sailed on operational cruises and flew with Coastal Command crews.

First Wellington variant to be developed specifically for Coastal Command was the GR. VIII, a general reconnaissance/torpedo-bomber version of the Pegasus XVIII-engined Mk IC. Equipped with ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) Mk II radar, it was identified readily by the four dorsal antennae and the four pairs of transmitting aerials on each side of the fuselage. A total of 271 torpedo-bombers for daylight operation was built at Weybridge, together with 65 day bombers, and 58 equipped for night operation with a Leigh searchlight in the ventral turret position. In these last aircraft the nose armament was deleted and the position occupied by the light operator.

There was, however, still an important role for the Wellington to play with Coastal Command. Maritime operations had started with the four DWI Wellingtons: these had been converted by Vickers in the opening months of 1940 to carry a 52-ft (15.85-m) diameter metal ring, which contained a coil that could create a field current to detonate magnetic mines. Eleven almost identical aircraft, with 48-ft (14.63-m) rings, were converted by W. A. Rollason Ltd at Croydon, and others on site in the Middle East.

No. 172 Squadron at Chivenor, covering the Western Approaches, was the first to use the Leigh Light-equipped Wellington VIII operationally, and the first attack on a U-boat by such an aircraft at night took place on 3 June 1942, with the first sinking recorded on 6 July. From December 1941 Wellingtons were flying shipping strikes in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East No. 36 Squadron began anti-submarine operations in October 1942.

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The Coastal Command of the RAF, which was eventually to prove such a potent obstacle to Dönitz’ plans, enjoyed a painfully slow expansion. Until early in 1941, invasion was the primary threat to the nation. In denying the Luftwaffe the necessary air supremacy for such an undertaking, Fighter Command took an indisputable top priority. Bomber Command, with its deeply ingrained strategic bombing theories, could equally claim that it alone could strike directly at the enemy, reducing his capacity to continue the war through the destruction of his industrial base and the morale of his populace.

In July 1940, as Dönitz’ boats extended their range by beginning operations from Biscay bases, Coastal Command had 500 aircraft, but only thirty-four of them were Sunderlands, capable of operation beyond a 500-mile radius. The enemy increasingly operated at the fringe of these limits.

Further to the all-important anti-invasion patrols, there were others to watch for attempted breakout by raiders, and the establishment of an AS reconnaissance line running north-westward from Cape Wrath. Patrols were gradually set up on a regular basis from Iceland, and then from Freetown, the busy southern terminal of the SL convoys.

For nearly two years, poorly equipped and lacking experience, Coastal Command spent thousands of hours patrolling, seeing U-boats aplenty but sinking none except in support of surface AS escorts. Then, on 27 August 1940, they captured one. With what appeared to be the most incompetent crew that ever sailed, the U-570, a Type VIIC, surfaced south of Iceland almost beneath a patrolling Hudson. Four shallow-set depth charges caused extensive superficial damage and created panic. With the boat unable to dive, the aircraft kept the crew below with strafing runs until further aircraft and, eventually, the Navy arrived. With some difficulty, the U-570 was recovered and repaired. Although all sensitive material had been destroyed, the boat provided valuable operational data when re-commissioned with a Royal Navy crew.

Slowly, Coastal Command accumulated new aircraft – Sunderlands and Catalinas, Beaufort torpedo bombers, Blenheims and the new Beaufighter. As Bomber Command expanded its four-engined, heavy bomber fleet, it passed down some still-useful twin-engined aircraft – Hampdens, Whitleys and the versatile Wellington.

The useless AS bombs had been superseded by depth charges, modified for air drop but yet lacking a reliable ultra-shallow fuse. As U-boats were usually attacked while on or near the surface, this was an urgent requirement. To evaluate new weapons and to establish correct attack procedures a Development Unit was created.

Although the ASV Mark II, the first practical air-to-surface radar set, was introduced in August 1940, Bomber Command took first priority. When the development of the magnetron oscillator then facilitated a high-power centimetric radar, the discovery was shared with the Americans, who began production of sets with trainable antenna but small enough to be airborne. For these, Coastal Command’s priorities ranked below those of the night fighters of Fighter Command.

Radar gave an aircraft the ability to surprise the U-boat, surfaced at night to recharge batteries and to refresh on-board air. Unfortunately, like Asdic-equipped ships, the aircraft was ‘blind’ over the very last stage of the approach, as the synchronously-switched transmitter and receiver units could not cope with near-simultaneous returns.

The solution was the brilliantly simple ‘Leigh Light’, a 24-inch naval projector mounted in a turret ring and controlled by the standard gun mounting servo system. When trials began in March 1941, a Wellington was required to accommodate the associated generator, but later variants were powered from a bank of trickle-charged accumulators. Entry into service of a device so important was inexcusably slow, it seeing action for the first time in June 1942.

From the middle of 1941, U-boats commissioned at an increasing rate while mercantile losses fell off considerably. This false dawn led to demands that Coastal Command’s heavier aircraft be diverted to assist in Bomber Command operations. But this was to ignore that these same aircraft were a major reason for the improvement. Air cover extended some 700 miles westward from the British Isles, 600 miles eastward from Canada and 400 miles southward from Iceland. Within these limits, surfaced U-boat skippers found that they could be caught with little warning. Around the fringes life was safer, for the longer-range aircraft remained scarce and could not dally so far from base. The U-boats correspondingly congregated in what was known as the Gap, an aircraft-free zone, several hundred miles in width, occupying the central one-third of a line drawn from Iceland to Newfoundland. The Admiralty’s Submarine Tracking Room thus sought to use intelligence to direct convoys in a great northerly arc, to avoid known submarine concentrations and to remain a maximum time within the limits of air cover.

Noting the decrease in interceptions, Dönitz initiated the first of several inconclusive enquiries to establish whether naval codes had been compromised, how to reduce the number of radio transmissions and to evaluate the accuracy of the known British D/F system.

By the end of 1941 a first Coastal Command squadron was converting to the American-built B-24 Liberator. This aircraft proved vulnerable as a daylight bomber over the Continent but was remarkably successful when converted for long-range maritime patrol duties, being well able to cover the Gap.

As the Bay of Biscay had to be traversed by every U-boat leaving or returning to its French base, it was divided into sectors by Coastal Command. These sectors reached down to Spanish coastal limits and each was covered in a planned patrol programme. Submarines increasingly had to submerge during daylight hours, slowing their progress and reducing their endurance.

Mid-1942 saw the strength of RAF Coastal Command stand at over fifty flying boats (Catalinas and Sunderlands) and nearly 500 other aircraft. These included Hudsons, Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens for general reconnaissance but only two squadrons of B-24 (Liberator) and B-17 (Fortress) Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft. As the Luftwaffe was now operating Ju88 and Me110 heavy fighters over the Bay of Biscay, there were also deployed eight squadrons of Beaufighters and the more vulnerable Blenheims.

In addition, four naval squadrons were attached to the Command, together with specialist units for photographic, meteorological and air-sea rescue duties. Based around the British Isles (with Group headquarters at Liverpool, Chatham, Rosyth and Plymouth), at Iceland and Gibraltar, the Command’s aircraft were complemented by those of the US Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operating from Iceland, Newfoundland and the Canadian mainland. Despite increasing offensive capacity, however, the Gap yawned as wide and as deadly as ever.

With the reduction in scale of submarine attack, it became the practice to reduce the degree of evasive routing and to follow more closely the shortest Great Circle routes. There came also an inevitable relaxation in vigilance, so that it came as an unpleasant surprise when Dönitz set up the occasional pack attack. This he did in order to prevent the transfer of escorts to assist the beleaguered Americans.

One such attack fell on HG.84, a twenty-three ship convoy which sailed northbound from Gibraltar on 9 June 1942. Barring its route were the nine U-boats of Group Endrass, named for the ‘ace’ lost in these waters some six months earlier. The group itself contained one ace skipper in Erich Topp of U-552. It was he that had earlier sunk the American destroyer Reuben James and, by virtue of surviving the war, would accumulate a ‘score’ of 185,000 GRT, earning him the Ritterkreuz with Oak Leaves and Swords.

By coincidence Endrass’ nemesis, Captain F.J. Walker, was again the Senior Officer of the escort, although EG.36 was at a reduced strength of Walker’s sloop Stork and three Flowers. Included in the convoy was the fighter catapult ship, Empire Morn.

Enemy agents in Spain duly reported HG.84’s departure. Twenty ships sailed from Gibraltar, the final three joining from Lisbon on 11 June. These were tracked by Kondors, which thus discovered the main convoy. The reported position proved to be thirty-five miles in error, prompting a tart comment from Dönitz.

With the convoy’s slow progress, Dönitz was able to deploy his boats in two search lines and it was Topp himself that made the first sighting on the afternoon of the 14th some 400 miles west of Cape Finisterre.

In vectoring-in the three colleagues, Topp generated radio traffic that was noted by the rescue ship Copeland at the rear of the convoy. Rescue ships did not enjoy any special immunity and were equipped with ‘Huff-Duff’, the existence of which was suspected by the enemy but not yet confirmed. The Copeland alerted Walker who ordered away the Empire Morn’s solitary Hurricane to disperse the snoopers while his four escorts pursued three separate contacts.

With darkness, Topp had worked himself into an attacking position. He launched a full, four-tube bow salvo, then swung to fire the stern tube. Three ships went down, the Norwegian tanker Slemdal and two British ships, Moss Hutchinson’s Etrib and MacAndrew’s Pelayo. Reloading rapidly, he was able to repeat his attack, this time destroying two Ellerman ships, Hall Line’s Thurso and the Papayanni vessel City of Oxford. The four British ships aggregated barely 8,500 GRT but typified the valuable little Mediterranean traders which, working cargo with their own equipment, could use the most minor ports.

Despite the number of boats in contact with the convoy by the 15th they were kept at a safe distance by the escort, Topp and one other receiving sufficient damage to cause them to break off.

On the following day the escort was reinforced by three fresh ships, including two of the new River-class frigates. The convoy also came within the range of Coastal Command Liberators. Continuous air cover and calm conditions caused the remaining enemy to abandon the operation. Topping-up from a pair of U-tankers, they resumed their interrupted passage to the United States.

That the enemy was thus being ‘let off the hook’ was of great concern to the Admiralty which, as soon as suitable vessels could be mustered, initiated the Support Group concept. This comprised an independent group, accompanied by its own oiler, which could be directed to reinforce the escort of any threatened convoy. First tried in September 1942, the idea immediately faltered with the need of every available ship to cover the North Africa landings in the November. Requirements here consumed not only every possible AS escort but also the first escort carriers (CVE) that were coming forward. It was thus a further six months before Support Groups would become a reality, for which reason the Admiralty initiated the emergency Merchant Aircraft Carrier (MAC) programme. This, however, would produce no result before May 1943.

Deployment of escort carriers pitted U-boats against that most unlikely of killers, the Fairey Swordfish. Often portrayed as an obsolescent stopgap, the aircraft was nothing of the sort, having entered service with the Fleet Air Arm only in July 1936. Designed to handle well at very low speeds, it could lift off a short flight deck with a relative wind speed of only 55 knots. A rare example of a successful multi-purpose design, the Swordfish could deploy torpedoes or mines, and even engage in divebombing in the face of light opposition. Fitted with ASV radar, it carried depth charges or, later, hull-piercing rocket projectiles, to deadly effect against submarines. Often ‘superseded’, it nevertheless remained operational throughout the war.

Although ASV Mark II radar had first been flown in March 1941, Fighter Command’s night fighters enjoyed higher priority than Coastal Command, and it was June 1942 before the enemy became convinced that his surfaced submarines were being surprised because of airborne radar rather than poor watch-keeping. In this same month came a further alarming report of a U-boat, surfaced at night in the Bay of Biscay, being surprised by a sudden illumination and almost simultaneous bombing. The Leigh Light had arrived.

From their French Atlantic bases, all U-boats had to deploy and return across ‘the Bay’ and the growing attentions of Coastal Command were a matter of concern to BdU. Where early 1942 had been casualty-free, June had seen three boats damaged sufficiently to abort their deployments and return. Unusually, Dönitz over-reacted, ordering boats to remain submerged at night, surfacing by day only to recharge and refresh. This was intended to be only a stopgap measure, pending the improvisation of a suitable radar warning receiver. Its result, however, was to more than double the number of sightings and to begin a slow attrition as odd boats were picked off.

Following complaints about lack of Luftwaffe cover, two dozen fighter versions of the Ju88 were transferred to Lorient and Bordeaux. Additional automatic weapons began to appear on U-boats, starting a trend to growing topside clutter that had a cumulative and adverse effect on surfaced stability and submerged manoeuvrability.

Ironically, a couple of French firms, Metox and Grandin, were already producing electronic equipment which, with the addition of a crude antenna, could receive signals over a bandwidth that included the frequency range of ASV Mark II. Known simply as ‘Metox’, the first sets were rushed to completion within six weeks. On surfacing, boats so equipped would hoist a wooden-framed antenna (the ‘Biscay Cross’) and submerge again hastily on the reception of a train of signals at around 200 MHz. Metox-equipped boats escorted those without and, once again, sightings dropped almost to zero.

With their superior electronic industrial base, the Americans were keen to apply technology to AS warfare. Airborne magnetic anomaly detectors were shown to work in principle but the distance from detector to the ferrous mass of the target could not exceed 600 feet. Even the lowest and slowest of aircraft could thus detect a transient lasting only milliseconds.

Expendable air-dropped sonobuoys appeared to be more promising. Released around a suspected target position, these detected target noise, amplified it and re-transmitted it to the circling aircraft. By the end of 1942 they were in use by both US Army Air Corps and US Navy aircraft, and were about to go into mass production.

As sonobuoys could give only an approximate position for the target, precision-dependent weapons such as depth-charges were not appropriate. For this purpose, the self-homing acoustic torpedo was developed. For submarines, too, this was a useful weapon for, launched against a threatening escort, it allowed a skipper to concentrate on a convoy. The Germans had been working on the device since 1933 but progress had been slow. Targeting depended upon matched pairs of sensitive and highly-directional hydrophones. As these, in a fast torpedo, would be swamped by self-generated noise, the weapon was electrically-propelled at about 25 knots. Wrongly assuming that the Allies were already using acoustic torpedoes, German scientists managed to deploy them operationally during 1943.