Shooting Star




Lockheed XP-80A (44-83021)

In late 1944 the Army pilots visited Muroc to fly the Gray Ghost and Lulubelle in mock combat against such front-line fighters as the P-38, P-47, and P-51 and various bombers. The secret tests were designed to find out what tactical formations, if any, could be used against the German jets then being seen in combat over Europe. The jets bested the propeller-driven planes every time. The results of the exercise made production of American jet fighters all the more urgent to counter the German threat.

On January 8, 1944, the Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star Jet fighter made its first flight at Muroc. At the controls was Milo Burcham. The plane soon proved capable of reaching over 500 mph. Tex Johnston knew what it meant for the P-59. After seeing the first flight, he telegraphed Bob Stanley: “Witnessed Lockheed XP-80 initial flight STOP Very impressive STOP Back to the drawing board.” Later, a mock dogfight was held between a P-80 and a Grumman F8F Bearcat, the navy’s latest prop fighter. Unlike the YP-59A, the P-80 held the initiative, controlling the fight. The F8F was never able to catch the jet in its sights long enough to get a shot. The era of the prop fighter was over.

The XP-80 contract specified that the prototype was to be delivered in 180 days. Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, Lockheed’s chief designer, went to company chairman Robert Gross. Gross told Johnson, “Go ahead and do it. But you’ve got to rake up your own engineering department and your own production people and figure out where to put this project.”

For some time, Johnson had been asking Lockheed management to set up an experimental department where there would be direct links between designer, engineer, and manufacturing. Johnson decided to run the XP-80 program on this basis. The only place for the new section was next to the wind tunnel. The tools came from a small machine shop Lockheed bought out. The walls were wooden engine boxes, while the roof was a rented circus tent. Johnson assembled a group of twenty-two engineers; the new group had its own purchasing department and could function independently of the main plant. Working ten hours a day, six days a week, they had the XP-80 ready in 163 days.

Part of the secrecy surrounding the project was that Johnson’s new section had no name. Soon after the makeshift shop was finished, Lockheed engineer Irving H. Culver was at the phone desk. The phone rang, Culver was alone, and he had not been told how to answer the phone. Culver was a fan of Al Capp’s comic strip “L’l Abner.” In the strip, “Hairless Joe” brewed up “Kickapoo Joy Juice” using old shoes, dead skunks, and other ingredients. On impulse, Culver answered the phone with the name of that brewery.

It was called “the Skunk Works.”

Bronco Bustin

An air-to-air right side view of an OV-10 Bronco aircraft firing a white phosphorous smoke rocket to mark a ground target. The aircraft is used by forward air controllers in support of ground troops. Photo from November 84 Airman Magazine.

An air-to-air right side view of an OV-10 Bronco aircraft firing a white phosphorous smoke rocket to mark a ground target. The aircraft is used by forward air controllers in support of ground troops. Photo from November 84 Airman Magazine.

Soon after arriving in Viet Nam I saw an OV-10 Bronco. It was love at first sight and I was determined to get a ride in one. Luckily my job as an information officer gave me the opportunity. The ALO (Air Liaison Officer, pronounced “aye lo”) assigned to the division flew OV-10s so I tracked the unit down.

It turned out that the current commanding officer was Wing Commander Larrard, Royal Australian Air Force. He quickly approved my flight on the condition that I would come over and party with them the night before.

The next night I finished dinner and bummed a ride over to the ALO. Larrard met me with a firm hand shake and a cold can of Aussie lager. He introduced me around to other members of his crew. We soon pulled up chairs, popped more cold ones, and talked. I asked him all the usual questions regarding the operation and his tour all the while he kept handing me fresh cans of beer. Finally conversation moved on to the Bronco itself.

He loved the plane, “She’s a pilot’s aircraft. Quick, agile, plenty of power. You love to be up in her.” A frustrated killer turned spotter, he realized the unused capacity of the aircraft. “All they give me is Willy Peter (white phosphorus) rockets for spotting. She’s a great gun table, steady, lots of T.O.T (time on target) and as I said, she’s plenty powerful. They could load me down and I could still do my mission. I’d love to have a mini on her and get in there and mix it up with Charley. It’s a pure shame they won’t let me. Waste of a great aircraft if you ask me.”

With that I heard the sound of another can top being pierced and another Swan being handed to me. Good beer, ehh mate? Not like that Budweiser piss water you chaps have to drink.

I’d held my own in college drinking bouts but the Aussies were professionals. My dad had run into them in Casablanca toward the end of WWII and had been mightily impressed. “All you had to do was run the bar rag under a Frog’s nose and they’d get high, but the Aussies, well they were another story. We’re all sitting around in a bar one night in the French area and one of the guys had a fifth of bourbon we were passing around. An Aussie sergeant wandered by and we offered him a taste. The bottle must have been two thirds full. ‘Don’t mind if I do mates.’ he said, then he tipped the bottle back and damn near drank it all in one swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, smacked his lips and said, ‘Thanks, mates. Not bad at all.’ He walked away leaving all of us looking at the bottle in amazement. You don’t want to drink with those Aussies.” His wisdom was rattling around in my cranium but I was finding it more and more difficult to locate. I began trying to nurse my drinks but Commander Larrard would have none of it. “You can’t bugger off now, mate, we’ve still got a fair amount of beer to kill.”

I hung on as best I could. Somewhere along the line we all began to sing Waltzing Matilda rocking back and forth with arms draped around each other’s shoulders. I struggled to keep dinner inside my churning stomach and reason inside my head. Both insisted on being free. The night ended with a toast or two to Yank – Aussie friendship and my forced pledge that I had never tasted better beer than Australian beer: not in Canada, not in Germany and certainly not in Britain. In truth, by the end of the night, all beer was starting to taste alike and I was coming to the sad conclusion that I might never want to taste another one regardless of its nationality.

I have no idea how much sleep I got that night. The tent kept spinning in opposition to the world’s rotation. My stomach growled and pitched like an angry sea. My head throbbed, my feet and hands felt swollen and stiff. But the sun came up and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.

I cleared enough cobwebs from my mind to locate my dopf kit and towel, step into my Ho Chi Minh flip flops and aim my suffering body in the direction of the shower point. For once the breath stealing chill of the water felt good. I let it fall straight onto my noggin, the water massaging my temples, cooling my fever. I finished the shower and then, razor in hand, I acknowledged the grim face in the mirror. Thoughts of suicide were balanced against the idea of living out the work day feeling the way I did. Suicide was ahead on points going into the final round but I finally convinced myself that all of this would pass. Plus, I really did not want to miss that ride in the OV-10. I finished my shave and padded back to my hooch to dress stepping, lightly for fear I would further bruise my aching brain.

The smell of breakfast pulled me into the mess hall. I passed on the oatmeal and the S.O.S. and sought the warm comfort of greasy bacon and eggs to pour oil onto my troubled stomach waters. But though I was hungry I could not force the food down. I sat and stared at my plate wondering what had happened to my appetite between entering the mess and sitting down. I chewed on the edges of my toast, the crunch of each bite echoing painfully in my ears. I knew I had to eat something or my torture would continue unabated, but knowledge was easier to obtain than cure.

I carefully selected my route to the office tent, deliberately avoiding anyone I would either have to salute or whose salute I would have to return. I was sure the sudden lifting of my arm would jerk my stomach out of balance and bring about a sudden and violent up chuck of epic proportions. I made it to the tent unimpeded by military courtesy and sought the sanctuary of the coffee pot. Thank God Colonel Vicienza was either in a staff meeting or sleeping off his own “night before.” The office could not have contained two such hangovers simultaneously.

Willy and Wayne wandered in and we worked for a while on selecting our sound bites for the show. I was in no mood to write script and so I procrastinated, telling them I would get back to the script before we left for Long Binh the next day. Then I sent them off for more interviews while I wandered down to the PX just so I could walk around and try and clear my head. By now I had reached the point where aspirin and a cold Coke could be brought into play and speed my recovery. I got both at the PX and then headed back toward the mess hall for lunch. I was able to get the soup and sandwich down and my tummy thanked me for not putting in more poison.

I returned to the tent so that Specialist Huckaby could give me a lift to the ALO office. There I was met by Larrard and his Aussie band. They were unbelievably chipper. I tried to pretend that I had not been seriously wounded by the activities of the previous night but I’m sure I detected a few winks and smirks on their part. They knew I was hanging on, praying for the bell to save me from the knockout punch. They fitted me up with a parachute, a shoulder holster with a Smith and Wesson .38 and a flight helmet. The parachute was a flat, lumpy sort of back pack. The bottom fourth of it rested on my rump ending about three inches south of the gluteus maximus crease. I tromped around feeling like a toddler with a load in a baggy diaper, all the while Larrard and the sergeants briefed me on emergency measures. They spent time explaining how you had to grip the ejection seat ring and tug it free. I tired to imagine my willingly ejecting from a plane and always came to the same conclusion that I would end up inside a pilot-less aircraft trying to fly and land her rather than bailing out. Larrard ended my internal debate by saying, “Don’t worry mate, if we do get in a bit of a fix I’ll launch you before I go myself.” If those words were supposed to bring me comfort they failed.

We piled into their jeep and began the ride toward the aircraft. I was easily able to suppress whatever fears I harbored as I contemplated the OV-10. She looked like a P-38 from my father’s war. I felt the little boy in me imagining the exhilaration of a combat flight. I eagerly climbed into the back seat noting that the second seat sat about a foot higher than the pilots. Then I waited as the sergeant strapped me in. I listened intently to each instruction, noted the maze of controls, located the black and yellow stripped ejection seat ring and then squirmed a bit to settle the parachute into a comfortable position. I remembered there was a red arrow on the fuselage marking the plane’s center of gravity and realized the arrow pointed directly to where my hips were located. The cockpit was closed and Commander Larrard’s confident voice came through the earphones inside my flight helmet. “She’ll be a bit hot Lieutenant until we get airborne. There’s a vent you can move about but there’s not much escape from this sun.”

I hadn’t thought about such things prior to asking for a flight. The huge greenhouse on the OV-10 was designed with mission, not comfort, in mind. The inside of the plane had baked all morning as she sat on the flight line. The sun streamed through the plexiglass making a solar oven out of the cockpit. The sweat poured out of me, trailing down the sides of my face, running down my arms and legs, finding all the baggy places in my uniform to gather. Meanwhile, Larrard was going through his check list, revving the engines and talking with the tower. We taxied into position. He locked the brakes and pushed the throttle forward for one last test, then released the brakes and we began to roll. By now the heat was making things uncomfortable. I fidgeted to make the parachute comfortable and found that it wasn’t to be. I might as well have been sitting on the bare metal seat itself for all the cushioning affect the chute offered. Still, my excitement reached a crescendo as we rolled toward the end of the strip, I watched as our shadow raced along the ground after us, saw the nose tip up and felt the power and speed of the plane. The angle of climb increased and I was pushed back against the rear of the seat but I could now feel the cooler air flowing into the area. We leveled off and I began to admire the design of the aircraft. The wings were above and behind us and the greenhouse bulged out over the fuselage. From the air the view was spectacular, clear and unobstructed in all directions.

WE flew on straight and level and then Larrard’s voice came on again. “We’ll be flying out to our run here for a minute and then I’ll start my first orbit.”

I gave an “OK” back as if I understood what was really going to happen. I imagined that we would fly in straight lines following the boundaries of the division’s AO, or that we would fly in some huge, lazy circle. I had no idea of orbits.

“Here we go Lieutenant.”

With that I saw the left wing tip drop and the plane turn until I was looking almost straight down. My respect for the aircraft’s design increased as I took in the incredible size of the vista. We seemed to hang as straight as a sword, as if a giant wire were attached to the top wing dangling us parallel to earth. Once, twice, three times we orbited and then Larrard would snap her back and we would fly straight for a few minutes until the wing would drop again and we would begin another tight orbit. I soon became used to the idea that I would not fall out and that I could move my head in all directions and see even more. Larrard pointed out things he was looking for: trails, bunkers, changes in the landscape from previous missions, anything that might develop into intelligence of enemy activity or, even better, a fire mission for artillery or a ground target for a fighter bomber.

At first it was fascinating and time moved quickly. But then the continual orbits began to wear on me. The parachute had not grown any softer and the importance of that “center of gravity” marker was finally coming into play. During each orbit the G-forces went right through the center of gravity. That meant they went right through me. At the beginning of each orbit I felt myself being squeezed tighter against the bottom of my seat. I grasped the sides of the seat with my hands and pushed up, lifting my legs and my butt off of the metal but then I would have to sit down again. Circulation was cut off and I began to feel the tingle of my legs and butt “going to sleep.” I looked at my watch and swore the hands had not moved for the past half hour.

I tried to think of how to broach the subject of mission length with Larrard. “Sir, how long do these missions run?” We overlap on each end so that at least one ALO is always in the air but the basic mission is three hours unless things get hot; then you go till the mission’s over or your out of fuel and ammo.”

Any enthusiasm I might have had to get involved in a real combat mission ended with that thought. I looked at my watch again and swore the hands had moved backwards. The day was stretching toward eternity. My butt was turning into pancake and the natural force of gravity was trying to locate my stomach and bladder.

We reached the final orbit on our line and began to work our way back toward Lai Khe following the same path and the same pattern we had used on the way out. The heat, the movement and the G-force were beginning to win the uneven contest. “Sir, what do I do if I have to blow lunch?”

“We keep a bag for that, Lieutenant. Here you go.”

I saw his hand reach back and dangle a barf bag in front of me. I had no more grabbed it and brought it to my area when the headphones began to crackle. “Sidewinder 4, this is Dauntless 6. I got fire from my front. Can you take a look? Over.”

“Dauntless 6, this is Sidewinder 4, Roger that. On my way. Give me your position.”

I could hear faint sounds of small arms fire in the background. I looked down but saw nothing on the ground. The two voices, Larrard and the ground commander, calmly exchanged information. I was amazed at the lack of emotion, just direct, business like, straight forward exchanges of facts.

Before I had time to think about it Larrard spotted his target on the ground. I sensed the right wing come all the way over. All blue disappeared from my field of vision. The nose of the craft sought a point on the ground and the plane bored straight toward it. I felt the craft twist, a long smooth spiral. Sky reentered my sight but the ground was racing up to meet us. My stomach and other vital organs hung suspended inside my body cavity, that crazy feeling you can get as you crest a small rise on a country road except that this continued the length of our dive. I looked past Larrard’s head and could see the ground clearly. I spotted a few isolated figures, men in jungle fatigues either lying on the ground or moving about hunched over, all looking in the direction we were headed. A short distance behind them was a slowly rising spiral of yellow smoke, marking their position for Larrard. I heard a whoosh emerge from outside the Bronco and suddenly saw two rockets trailing smoke and flame and heading for a clump of trees. Just before they hit, the nose of the OV-10 suddenly lifted and the earth disappeared from view. I was slammed back into the seat and then felt the craft spin hard to my right. I could look back and see the white smoke rising from the green trees as the Willy Peter burned in place.

Larrard and the ground commander were talking again. We went into a tight orbit, the plane seeming to snap into various angles and flight lines. The two rockets made it easy to spot the ground troops now. I could see the bursts of red tracer from the American M-60 drawing a line a bit to the west and south of the burning rockets. I heard “Roger, out.” Through the head phones, and looked up just in time to see the right wing once more flip over my head. Again the sky disappeared, again my stomach floated, again the earth raced toward me.

Larrard adjusted his point to just where I had seen the tracer going. Then whoosh, no earth, slammed against seat, tight spin, and snap, into another orbit.

The ground commander’s voice was back in my headset. Confirming the accuracy of Larrard’s rockets. A third voice came on announcing the cooperation of an artillery unit. We moved away from the target and went into another orbit, Larrard’s eyes focused on the area we had marked. We hung around long enough to watch the first rounds slam into the enemy area, and heard the adjustments being made. Not much was needed. Seconds later the target was smothered with red orange bursts and the dark gray smoke of artillery explosions. We flew on to our next orbit.

Things had happened so fast, I hadn’t had time to be sick. I had been upside down, rolling over, diving, climbing, spinning. My stomach had no idea where it was and even less an idea of in which direction to push things in order to throw up. I felt awful but I no longer felt nauseous. I guessed that was progress.

We continued our string of orbits and then I heard the welcome voice of Lai Khe tower coordinating Larrard’s landing approach. The heat, nowhere near as bad as when we took off, began to return to the cockpit. At last we rolled to a stop and the canopy was rolled back. I was stuck to my seat almost unable to move. My legs tingled from the lack of circulation and my uniform was damp and shapeless. The same sergeant that had strapped me in was there to help me out. I stood up, felt my legs wobble a bit, and then feeling began to return.

I walked away glad to have the whole thing behind me. I climbed into the back seat of the jeep and did not turn and look longingly back at the Bronco. My Aussie friends helped me out of the parachute and shoulder harness. I was whipped. They offered another beer and I knew that this was the final test. I accepted the challenge. If the flight had not turned my insides out one more beer was not going to matter. I finished it up, thanked Larrard and the sergeants, and began to walk back toward the office.

I was glad I had gone, but one ride on the Bronco was enough for this cowboy.

Note: by Forrest Brandt

WWI Night Patrol

73-British Trench Raiders

I really believe that I am after all a coward for I don’t like patrolling…The battalion who alternates with us here have lost three officers (or rather two officers and an NCO) on this business in front of my trenches. Let me try to picture what it is like. I am asked to take out an ‘officer’s patrol’ of seven men; duties – get out to the position of the German listening post (we know it), wait for their patrol and ‘scupper’ it; also discover what work is being done in their trenches.

I choose my favourite corporal (a gentleman, a commercial traveller for the Midland Educational in civilian life) and my six most intelligent and most courageous men. My sentries and those of the first platoon of the battalion on my right are told we are going out so that we shan’t be fired on. Magazines are charged to the full, one round in the breech; bayonets are examined to see if they slip out of the scabbard noiselessly; my revolver is nicely oiled; all spare and superfluous parts of equipment is left behind. Everything is ready.

As soon as the dusk is sufficiently dark, we get out into the front of the trenches by climbing up on to the parapet and tumbling over as rapidly as possible so as not to be silhouetted against the last traces of the sunset. No man feels afraid for we have grown accustomed to this thing now, but every man knows that he has probably seen his last sunset, for this is the most dangerous thing in war. Out we walk through the barbed wire entanglement zone through which an approaching enemy must climb, but we have a zigzag path through the thirty yards or so of prickly unpleasantness; this path is only known to a few. The night has become horribly dark already, and the stillness of the night is broken only by the croaking of many frogs, the hoot of an owl and the boom of distant guns in the south. The adventure has commenced.

We lie down in the long grass and listen. Nothin’ doin’. I arrange my men in pairs – one to go in front and one to either flank, the corporal and myself remaining in rear, but the whole party is quite close together, practically within whispering distance of one another. We all advance slowly and carefully, wriggling along through the long grass for a hundred yards or so, past the two lines of willow trees and across the stream, now practically dry. There we lie and wait and listen. One pair goes out another fifty yards or so, nearly to the German wire to see if there is anything about. Nothing is discernible, so they return, and for another hour we lie in absolute silence like spiders waiting for flies. It is a weary game and extremely trying to one’s nerves, for every sense especially hearing and sight are strained to the utmost. Tiny noises are magnified a hundredfold – a rat nibbling at the growing corn or a rabbit scuttling along give us all the jumps until we learn to differentiate the different sounds. In the German trenches we hear the faint hum of conversation. Nothing is to be heard near us, but there is a very ominous sign – no shots are being fired from the trenches in front of us, no flares are being sent up and there is no working party out. This points to only one thing and that is that they also have a patrol out. There is no other conclusion.

Suddenly quite close to the corporal and myself there is a heavy rustling in the long grass on the right. Now, if never before, I know the meaning of – is it fear? My heart thumps so heavily that they surely must hear it, my face is covered with a cold perspiration, my revolver hammer goes back with a sharp click and my hand trembles. I have no inclination to run away – quite the reverse – but I have one solitary thought: I am going to kill a man. This I repeat over and over again, and the thought makes me miserable and at the same time joyful for I shall have accounted for one of the blackguards even if I go myself. Do they know we are here? How many are there? Are they armed with bombs like most German patrols? However, our queries remain unanswered, for quite abruptly they change their direction and make off to the right where to follow them would be only courting certain disaster.

So with great caution we come in and breathe again when we are safely inside the trench. I give instructions to the sentries to fire low down into the grass but it is very improbable that the German patrol will get anything but a fright.

Note: by Second Lieutenant H E Cooper, Royal Warwickshire Regiment

German Sdkfz.251 halftrack






The SdKfz 251 stands with the Panzer IV at the focal point of Wehrmacht armor. Its only rival for “best of its kind” was its US army counterpart. It was a bit of a military afterthought. German infantry had regularly ridden trucks to the combat zone during maneuvers since the Reichswehr years. In the early days of the armored force, motorcycles were so popular that five of the nine rifle companies in a panzer division’s rifle brigade rode them. Trucks and cycles, however, shared common problems: high vulnerability and limited off-road capacity. On the other hand, the panzers’ commitment to the principle of close tank-infantry cooperation was reinforced by the experiences of both sides in the Spanish Civil War, when tanks operating alone in broken or built-up terrain proved highly vulnerable to infantry who kept their heads. In a 1937 exercise, the modified civilian two-wheel-drive trucks assigned to the motorized infantry performed so badly that Guderian, still a mere colonel, directly challenged the armís commander in chief, Werner von Fritsch, to remedy the situation.

“Had my advice been followed, we would now have a real armored force” were bold words, often cited to prove Guderian’s professional conviction, his moral courage, and his arrogance, depending on the author’s perspective. In fact, exercises and maneuvers were historically regarded as high-stress situations where such outbursts were more or less predictable, and Fritsch had a known high tolerance for young enthusiasts. Guderian, moreover, was widely understood as Lutz’s protégé (an alternate German word is Protektionskind, “favorite child”). In short, he got away with it.

In concrete terms, Lutz and Guderian pressed for the development of an infantry-carrying vehicle with sufficient cross-country mobility to accompany tanks into action, and with enough armor and firepower to allow the crew to fight from it, if necessary. Such a vehicle had to meet two external requirements. It had to be cheap, and it could not interfere with tank production. That ruled out prima facie any kind of full-track design. Trucks were disqualified because any reasonably armored version would be heavy enough to overload suspensions and to lack off-road capacity. The answer came from the artillery—and indirectly from France.

Even before World War I, truck companies on both sides of the Atlantic had been experimenting with replacing rear wheels with some sort of track in order to lessen ground pressure and improve mobility in mud, snow, and sand. Most prominent in this effort was French engineer Adolphe Kegresse, whose successful conversion of some of Russian Tsar Nicholas’s autos inspired the Putilov armaments works to consider a project for military half-tracks. After the war the French firm of Citroën developed several civilian versions, staging well-publicized desert crossings in North Africa and central Asia and attracting the particular attention of a French army still engaged in Morocco and southern Algeria.

From the later 1920s, half-tracks made up a steadily increasing percentage of France’s military motor vehicles. Initially and primarily used as artillery and engineer vehicles, they found their way to the mounted troops as well. The French cavalry division as reorganized in 1932 had 150 armored versions as reconnaissance and combat vehicles. Another hundred, unarmored, carried the men and weapons of the battalion of Dragons portés (motorized dragoons) newly created for each mounted division.

With such an example so ready at hand, as early as 1926 the Reichswehr’s Weapons Office began preparing its own design for half-track tractors. Daimler-Benz began working on a production version in 1931; by 1936, a series of vehicles from one ton to eighteen tons were on the drawing boards or in the field, mostly as artillery tractors. That reflected, in passing, the artillerís continued reluctance to accept the urging of the Lutz/Guderian school and fully mechanize the panzer divisions’ fire support by developing self-propelled mounts. This was more than commitment to branch self-interest and a tradition of towing guns into battle. Tracked vehicles were still fragile relative to the weight and the recoil of even a light field piece like the standard 105mm howitzer. In addition to probable effects on accuracy, a breakdown took the gun out of action as well. Not until well into the Cold War would even the US army abandon towed guns as standard divisional-level weapons.

On the bright side from the panzers’ perspective, Hanomag’s three-ton tractor seemed well suited to carry a rifle squad. The armored chassis was provided by Büssing and the fit, if not perfect, was close enough for government work. At eight tons, with between 8 and 15mm of armor and mounts for two light machine guns, the 251 was tough and durable, eventually serving as the mount for a bewildering variety of weaponry. Tracks extending to nearly three-fourths of the chassis, plus a sophisticated steering system, compensated for an unpowered front axle and gave the vehicle better cross-country abilities than its US counterpart and eventual rival.

The technical hair in the soup of the 251 was its complexity. It may be argued as well that neither the infantry nor the panzers sufficiently internalized the need to emphasize rapid, large-scale production. The first A-model versions did not begin service trials until 1939, and there would never be enough of them to equip more than one battalion in all but a few favored panzer divisions.

Production delays bedeviled as well the 251’s smaller cousin. The SdKfz 250 developed out of a growing mid-1930s belief that reconnaissance was too vital an element of mobile war to be trusted to existing combinations of motorcycles and armored cars. At times it might be necessary to fight for information; at times it might be necessary to traverse rough ground to secure information. The solution was a half-sized half-track built on the chassis of the 1-ton artillery tractor. At 5.4 tons, with up to 14.5mm of armor, an open top, and a six-man crew, the 250 could move at almost 40 miles per hour, cover 300 miles on a single fueling, and, when necessary, put a few boots on the ground to search, destroy, and provide fire cover. It would not see service until 1940, but eventually it would prove almost as versatile a weapons platform as the 251.

There were four main model modifications (Ausführung A through D), which formed the basis for at least 22 variants. The initial idea was for a vehicle that could be used to transport a single squad of panzergrenadiers to the battlefield protected from enemy small arms fire, and with some protection from artillery fire. In addition, the standard mounting of at least one MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun allowed the vehicle to provide support by fire for the infantry squad once they had disembarked in battle.

Positive aspects of the open top included greater situational awareness and faster egress by the infantry, as well as the ability to throw grenades and fire over the top of the fighting compartment as necessary while remaining under good horizontal cover. The downside was a major vulnerability to all types of plunging fire; this included indirect fire from mortars and field artillery, as well as depressed-trajectory small arms fire from higher elevated positions, lobbed hand grenades, even Molotov’s cocktails, and strafing by enemy aircraft.

The first two models were produced in small numbers from 1939. A and B models can be identified by the structure of the nose armor, which comprised two trapezoidal armor panels – the lower of which had a cooling hatch. The B model, which began production in 1940, eliminated the fighting compartment’s side vision slits. The C model, which started production in mid-1940, featured a simplified hexagonal-shaped forward armored plate for the engine. Models A through C had rear doors that bulged out. The C model had a large production run, but was quite complex to build, involving many angled plates that gave reasonable protection from small arms fire. From early 1943, the D model was developed with the purpose of halving the number of angled body plates, simplifying the design and thus speeding up the production. D models can be easily recognized by their single piece sloping rear (with flat doors).

The standard personnel carrier version was equipped with a 7.92 mm MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun mounted at the front of the open compartment, above and behind the driver. A second machine gun could be mounted at the rear on an anti-aircraft mount.

When comparing the M3 with the German Sdkfz.251 halftrack, you will find both of similar size, speed and weight, but the M3 had over 20% more internal capacity due to its boxy hull shape. The 251 halftrack was more thickly armored, and the armor was angled to derive the best protection possible. But, due to the greater horsepower from the US vehicle’s engine, and the powered front axle, the M3 was a greatly superior vehicle for cross-country travel. Unfortunately, both vehicles were lacking in over-head protection, a problem that plagued occupants throughout WWII.

‘Jamming’ operations for D-Day


Boeing B-17 Fortress II ‘BU-A’ SR386 of 214 Squadron.

No account of Operation Overlord would be complete without mention of the deception operations conducted against the Germans. Since there was no disguising the imminence of the invasion, it was essential to its success that the enemy be misled about the actual location of the assault.

Imaginative, elaborate and realistic intelligence deceptions, for example utilising double agents, `dummy’ forces and `spoof’ radio traffic, played no small part in this campaign over the weeks and months preceding D-Day.

As the date for the invasion drew closer, the air campaign continued to sow confusion by attacking more targets north of the Seine and in the Pas-de-Calais area than in Normandy. However, on the eve of D-Day the lion’s share of the credit for successfully blinding, confusing and misleading the Germans, must go to the air operations conducted by a relatively small number of specialist aircraft and crews. So successful were these operations that the German High Command retained Wehrmacht divisions north of the Seine and in the Pas-de Calais, even after the invasion in Normandy had occurred, in the belief that this was where the main blow would fall. These enemy forces could, potentially, have made a major difference if they had been deployed to Normandy early enough. They might have turned the tide entirely and they would, at the very least, have inflicted greater casualties on the Allied troops during the initial break out from the invasion beaches.

From the night of June 4-5, 1944, the specialist RCM aircraft of 100 (BS) Group, including USAAF B-17 Fortresses of 803 Squadron, which were attached to 100 Group, set up a radar jamming `Mandrel screen’ to cover the invasion fleet from the `eyes’ of those German radars which had survived the earlier attacks by Allied fighter bombers.

On the eve of D-Day, June 5-6, all the jamming squadrons of 100 Group were in the air performing their specialist duties. First up, around dusk, were 199 and 214 Squadrons. 199 Squadron Stirlings took up station at 15,000ft at intervals along the south coast of England, spread from Dorset to Dover.

Flying at precisely determined intervals, heights and bearings the aircraft jammed German radar across the entire central and eastern English Channel, masking the invasion fleet.

Meanwhile, B-17 Fortresses of 214 Squadron and a small force of 101 Squadron Lancasters were heading east to fly over Calais and along the Somme Valley, penetrating 80 miles into France then turning around to fly back and forth across the Channel.

On each inward run `Window’ bundles were tossed out as fast as possible. Just 10 aircraft created on German early warning radar a `ghost’ bomber stream of hundreds of non-existent raiders heading for precisely those targets that would have been chosen if the invasion were taking place near Calais, distracting the German’s attention from Normandy. The Fortresses also jammed the German fighter control radio frequencies with their special on-board equipment.

An electronic wall, blocking all German communications and radar, was established for several hours over northern France, masking the presence of the huge and vulnerable force of Allied transport aircraft and the gliders they towed, on their way to deliver airborne forces as the precursor to the invasion.

D-Day ‘Spoof’ operations

While the specialist `jammers’ of 100 Group did their work, three other special air operations added to the trickery that the Germans had to contend with on the eve of the invasion. Operations Taxable and Glimmer, flown by 617 Squadron Lancasters and 218 Squadron Stirlings, created `spoof’ invasion fleets, while Operation Titanic conducted by Special Duties Halifaxes and Stirlings generated decoy airborne landings.

The effectiveness of Taxable and Glimmer

The real D-Day assault into Normandy was supposed to have been completely masked by the radar jamming of the specialist 100 Group RCM aircraft.

That jamming, it transpired, was insufficient to overcome the powerful German radars that had survived earlier attacks, whose operators did in fact detect and report the real invasion fleet heading towards Normandy. By that point, however, the Germans were in a state of disarray and confusion, which had been added to by the `spoof’ invasion fleets simulated by Taxable and Glimmer.

While some German officers wanted to respond to the real invasion, others refused to accept it for what it was and would not believe the reports they were receiving. The fact is that potent German forces were kept in the Pas-de-Calais area, even after the invasion in Normandy had occurred, in the belief that this was where the main blow would still fall, proof indeed of the success of the numerous deception operations, including Taxable and Glimmer.

The commander in chief of RAF Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, sent a message to the air crews involved which said: “It is already established that the operations on which you engaged on the night of June 5-6 were very successful and it may well be when the full facts are known it will be found that you achieved results of even greater importance than can be known at present.”

Ernest Gideon, Freiherr von Laudon


Laudon in victory pose at the Battle of Kunersdorf, 1878 portrait. Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon (German: Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon (originally Laudohn or Loudon) (February 2, 1717 – July 14, 1790) was an Austrian generalisimo, one of the most successful opponents of the Prussian king Frederick the Great, allegedly lauded by Alexander Suvorov as his teacher.

Austrian Lieutenant-colonel (1756-57), Colonel (1757-58), Feldmarshall Lieutenant (1758-59), Feldzeugmeister (1759-78) born February 2, 1717, Tootzen, Livonia died July 14, 1790, Neutitschein, Moravia

Loudon was the son of Petrol Gerhard von Loudon, a lieutenant-colonel, retired from the Swedish service and of Sofia Eleonore von Bornemann. His family was of Scottish origin and had settled in Livonia before 1400.

In 1732, Loudon was sent into the Russian army as a cadet.

In 1734, during the War of the Polish Succession, Loudon took part to the siege of Danzig by Field Marshal Münnich.

In 1735, Loudon accompanied the Russian corps who marched to the Rhine.

In 1738 and 1739, Loudon participated to the war against Turkey.

In 1741, dissatisfied with his prospects in the Russian army, Loudon resigned from the Russian service and sought military employment elsewhere. He applied first to Frederick II of Prussia who declined his services. Finally, thanks to his relations with Lieutenant-colonel Franz von Trenck, Loudon was enlisted in the Austrian army as captain in the famous Trenck’s Pandour Corps.

In 1744, Loudon fought with Trenck’s unit in Alsace where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was shortly released by the advance of the main Austrian army.

In 1745, Loudon saw active service, once more under Trenck, in the Silesian Mountains. During this campaign, he greatly distinguished himself as a leader of light troops. On September 30, Loudon was present at the battle of Soor. Later, he had a conflict with Trenck, left his unit and went to Vienna.

In 1746, Loudon was appointed captain in the Karlstädter Infantry Regiment, a unit of Grenzers (frontier light troops). He spent the next 10 years with this unit in the Carlstadt district. At Bunich, where he was stationed, he built a church and planted an oak forest now called by his name.

In 1753, Loudon was promoted lieutenant-colonel. With his Grenzers unit, he served under Browne.

Before the beginning of the campaign of 1757, Loudon was promoted colonel. In August, he repeatedly distinguished himself while conducting guerrilla operations against the Prussian army during its retreat from Bohemia.

In 1758, Loudon became a knight of the newly founded Order of Maria Theresa. During the Prussian invasion of Moravia, he got his first opportunity to act as commander of an Austrian corps. On June 30, by his action at Dormstadtl where he destroyed a Prussian supply convoy of 4,000 wagons, he forced Frederick II to abandon the siege of Olmütz and to retire into Bohemia. Three days later, Loudon was rewarded with the grade of Feldmarshall Lieutenant (roughly equivalent to lieutenant-general). After the battle of Hochkirch where he showed himself an active and daring commander, Loudon was created a Freiherr (baron) in the Austrian nobility by Maria Theresa and in the peerage of the Holy Roman Empire by her husband the Emperor Francis. Furthermore, Maria Theresa gave him the Grand Cross of her order and an estate near Kuttenberg in Bohemia.

In 1759, Loudon was placed in command of the Austrian contingent sent to join the Russians on the Oder. He advanced into Neumark and made his junction with the Russian army of Saltykov. On August 12, they both won the battle of Kunersdorf but failed to pursue the Prussians. After this victory, Loudon was promoted Feldzeugmeister (general of infantry) and made commander-in-chief in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.

At the battle of Landeshut on June 23 1760, Loudon destroyed an entire Prussian corps led by Fouqué. He also stormed the important fortress of Glatz (present-day Kłodzko). On August 15, he sustained a reverse at Frederick’s hands in the battle of Liegnitz, which action led to bitter controversy with Daun and Lacy, the commanders of the main army, who, Loudon claimed, had left his corps unsupported.

In 1761, Loudon operated in Silesia in conjunction with a Russian corps. All attempts against Frederick’s entrenched camp of Bunzelwitz failed. However, on the night of September 30 to October 1, he succeeded in the storming of Schweidnitz. His tireless activity continued to the end of the war, in conspicuous contrast with the temporizing strategy of Daun and Lacy. The last three years of the war are marked by an ever increasing friction between Daun and Loudon.

After the peace, when Daun became the virtual commander-in-chief of the army, Loudon fell into the background. Offers were made, by Frederick II amongst others, to induce Loudon to transfer his services elsewhere. Loudon did not entertain these proposals. When Lacy succeeded Daun as president of the council of war, Loudon was made inspector-general of infantry. Dissensions, however, continued between Loudon and Lacy, and on the accession of Joseph II, who was intimate with Lacy, Loudon retired to his estate near Kuttenberg.

In 1769, under the influence of Maria Theresa and Kaunitz, Loudon was appointed commander-in-chief in Bohemia and Moravia. He assumed this function for three years.

In 1776, Maria Theresa repurchased his estate near Kuttenberg on generous terms. Loudon then settled at Hadersdorf near Vienna.

On February 27 1778, Loudon was finally appointed Feldmarshall. At the outbreak of the War of the Bavarian Succession, Emperor Joseph and Lacy reconciled to Loudon. Lacy and Loudon then commanded the two armies in the field. However, the performance of Loudon during this war did not stand to his reputation. For two years after this Loudon lived quietly at Hadersdorf.

In 1779, other Austrian generals having suffered important reverses against the Turks, Loudon was called for the last time into the field. Though old and broken in health, he was commander-in-chief in fact as well as in name and won a last brilliant success by capturing Belgrade in three weeks (October 8).

In March 1790, Loudon received supreme command over the Observation army on the Prussian border. On July 14, he died at Neu-Titschein, his Moravian headquarters, while still on duty.

Austrian Army Spanish War of Succession





The Habsburg Empire dominated Germanic central Europe at the start of the eighteenth century, dwarfing its rivals in size, population, and military might. Prussia numbered only 1.6 million persons and Bavaria 2.0 million; the Habsburg lands held 11.0 million. In the first decades of the century, Habsburg armies under the skilful command of Prince Eugene of Savoy had fought well in the War of the Spanish Succession, and the peace treaties of 1714 gave the Habsburgs the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) and Lombardy. Wars with the Ottoman Empire at the end of the seventeenth century had acquired the Kingdom of Hungary, including vast territories in Eastern Europe. Thus, in 1714 Vienna controlled lands from Brussels in the west to Milan in the south, Belgrade in the east, and Prague in the north—plus the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. This gave the Habsburg emperor Charles VI, who reigned from 1711 to 1740, daunting political problems. The heterogeneous, polyglot realm was united only by the person of the Habsburg monarch.

The forces maintained by the Austrian Habsburgs often operated in an Imperial Army, but on an organizational level it’s better to describe the Austrian Habsburg element separately. One can say that the Austrian army was founded when after the thirty years war the emperor decided to hang on to 24,500 men even though he was at peace. This new ‘standing’ army then first came into action in the war between Sweden and Poland (1655-1660). In 1663 and 1664 it fought the Turks, and after that it took part in the ‘Guerre de Hollande’ to 1679. Together with the Poles it then got the great victory over the Turks at the siege of Vienna in 1683. The subsequent campaign against the Turks led to conquest of Hungary by which Austria became a great power. The fact that the simultaneous campaign in the west ended less well was deplorable but not as significant as the annexation of Hungary. The support for the Austrian Army

The emperor could not follow the French example in reorganising his army. Unlike the French the emperor was not able to levy taxes at will, and he was therefore highly dependent on the Stände to grant him taxes. The recent success against the Turks had been gained by the support of allies like Bavaria and Prussia, the financial support of some Stände that were afraid of the Turks, and even the financial support of rich feudal lords that commanded in the emperor’s armies. The shortages had been paid by loans and subsidies (a. o. from the church). Apart from this the Habsburg state was not a model of efficient governance. The apparatus of Hofkammer, Hofkriegsrat, Stände and even local authorities each having their say about the army did not function smoothly at all, and led to a significant loss in the already small means that were allotted to the army. Prinz Eugen would personally oversee the reform of the army’s administration during the Spanish Succession War.

The Habsburg army would thus enter the war while at a serious disadvantage in matters like provisions, equipment and above all numbers. As regards innovation it was probably not more or less modern than other armies. In command however it probably ranks first. It had the incomparable Prinz Eugen, but also men like Starhemberg and Daun, and these again had an emperor and soldiers that trusted their judgement.

The transformation and rapid growth of the Austrian monarchy’s capacity for war as judged from its army transport services in the period between the mid-1750s and 1780 was certainly impressive when compared to the situation during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13). Then, the Habsburg Empire’s supply system had a well-deserved reputation as `probably the worst in western Europe’.2 During the Austro-Ottoman conflict of 1714-18, Eugene of Savoy, despite his brilliance on the battlefield, struggled largely unsuccessfully against the weight of custom and long-established practice to introduce an element of cohesion and rationality into the Austrian military system. In spite of his thirty-three-year term as president of the Hofkriegsrat (Aulic War Council) between 1703 and his death in 1736, the general left a chequered legacy characterised overall by institutional stagnation or even regression, and it is generally agreed that he was a much better fighter than he was an administrator. Real progress was made only after 1749, as part of broader centralising reforms.

Eugene of Savoy, Belgrade’s temporary liberator in 1717, also acquired legendary and later mythical status in traditional European historiography. Yet if the personal qualities of an exceptional commander were on occasions crucial to success in individual campaigns and battles, more important than these exceptional individuals – who were not reproducible and unlikely to emerge more than once a century – was the strength of the underlying military systems. After Eugene’s brilliant successes against the Ottomans in back-to-back campaigns, one defensive (at Petrovaradin in 1716) and the other offensive (against Belgrade in 1717), his successors’ failure twenty years later in the anti-Ottoman wars of 1737-9 to match his record can be attributed only in part to poor leadership. The problems besetting the early-eighteenth-century Austrian army were above all organisational, linked to the inadequacy of their military planning process and the ad hoc and unreliable systems for delivery of basic supplies to the army. The failures in Austria’s military systems were cruelly exposed in the first and second Silesian wars of 1740-2 and 1744-5 respectively, which revealed unresolved problems arising from the related issues of institutional fragmentation, poor communications, and a lack of centralised planning. These resulted in serious military inefficiencies that undermined battlefield performance.

Krupp 28-cm-Kanone 5 (E)


Krupp 28-cm-Kanone 5


A K5(E) is preserved at the United States Army Ordnance Museum in Maryland. It is composed of parts from two guns that shelled Anzio beachhead during World War II. They were named Robert and Leopold by the Germans, but are better known by their Allied nicknames – Anzio Annie and Anzio Express. When the Germans were forced to retreat, the guns were spiked by their crews. The guns were discovered on a railroad siding in the town of Civitavecchia, on 7 June 1944, shortly after the allies occupied Rome. Robert had been partially destroyed by the gun crew before they surrendered and Leopold was also damaged but not as badly. Both guns were shipped to the U.S. Aberdeen Proving Ground, (Aberdeen, Maryland) where they underwent tests. One complete K5 was made from the two damaged ones, and Leopold remains on display to this day.

The Krupp 28-cm-Kanone 5 (E), in short K5, was a heavy railway gun used by Germany throughout World War II.

The K5 was the result of a crash program launched in the 1930s to develop a force of railway guns to support the Wehrmacht by 1939. K5 development began in 1934 with first testing following in 1936 at the Firing Test Range Rügenwalde-Bad (German: Schießplatz Rügenwalde-Bad) in Farther Pomerania at the South coast of the Baltic Sea. Initial tests were done with a 150 mm barrel under the designation K5M.

Production led to eight guns being in service for the Invasion of France, although problems were encountered with barrel splitting and rectified with changes to the rifling. The guns were then reliable until the end of the war, under the designation K5 Tiefzug 7 mm. Three of them were installed on the English Channel coast to target British shipping in the Channel, and proved successful at this task.

Towards the end of the war, development was done to allow the K5 to fire rocket-assisted projectiles to increase range. Successful implementation was done for firing these from the K5Vz.

A final experiment was to bore out two of the weapons to 310 mm (12.2 in) smoothbore to allow firing of the Peenemünder Pfeilgeschosse arrow shells. The two modified weapons were designated K5 Glatt.

Several other proposals were made to modify or create new models of the K5 which never saw production. In particular, there were a number of plans for a model which could leave the railway by use of specially modified Tiger II tank chassis which would support the mounting box in much the same manner as the railway weapon’s two bogies. This project was ended by the defeat of Germany.


The Krupp K5 series were consistent in mounting a 21.5 metres (71 ft) long gun barrel in a fixed mounting with only vertical elevation of the weapon. This gondola was then mounted on a pair of 12-wheel bogies designed to be operated on commercial and military rails built to German standards. This mounting permitted only two degrees of horizontal traverse. The carriage had to be aligned on the rails first, with only minimal fine levelling capable once halted. Hence the gun could only fire at targets tangential to an existing railway track.

To track targets needing greater traverse either a curved length of railway was used with the gun shunted backwards or forwards to aim; a cross-track was laid with the front bogie turned perpendicular to the rest of the gun and moved up and down the cross-track to train the weapon; or for 360 degree traverse, the so-called “Vögele Turntable” could be constructed, consisting of a raised rail section (the “firing bed”) carrying the gun, running on a circular track with a central jack to raise the gun during traverse and to take some of the enormous weight.

The main barrel of the K5 is 283 mm (11.1 in) in calibre (caliber), and is rifled with twelve 7 mm (0.28 in) grooves. These were originally 10 mm (0.39 in) deep, but were shallowed to rectify cracking problems.