Allied Occupation of France: 1815‒18 and the Royalist French Army is Rebuilt

French assault on Fort Trocadero 1823. In 1823 100,000 French troops, nominally commanded by M d’Angoulême, marched into Spain under the White Flag. As they crossed the River Bidassoa, a band of French Liberals met them, waving the Tricolore—the troops fired on them without hesitation. Angoulême’s advisers, who had learnt from Napoleon’s mistakes, forbade looting and bribed the Spanish peasants handsomely, and the French army occupied Madrid almost without resistance. Only at the siege of the Trocadero fortress outside Cadiz, where the Liberal government had taken refuge, did the Spaniards show just enough fight for the French to claim a glorious victory. The monarchy’s prestige was enormously enhanced, both at home and abroad, though King Ferdinand refused to pay any of the alarmingly expensive costs of the expedition.

This schedule was one of the outcomes of the negotiations of the summer and autumn of 1815. The French government had taken time to reduce the size of its army, confirming to the allies the urgency of settling matters in France.

The allies went through various drafts of a settlement, setting out the possibilities for an army of occupation, their demands for reparations and guarantees. The British negotiator was Lord Castlereagh, who worked closely with the Duke of Wellington. The French economy was also a subject of discussion: it was important to provide a firmer basis for the French state’s finances.

Financial arrangements with France were settled in a meeting of 13 October — and a formal treaty (a second Treaty of Paris) was agreed on 20 November 1815. It committed the four powers — Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia — to the use of military force to ensure the peace of Europe: 60,000 men were to be in the field, beyond the army of occupation. France was to pay 270 million francs over three years from 1 December 1815, of which 140 million francs were a financial indemnity and the balance was for the support of the allied army of occupation. That army was to be in place for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five, with the possibility of reducing it in size after one year.

There was a separate military convention agreed at the same time under the terms of the treaty. This defined a zone of occupation which was limited to north-east France, bordering on the Low Countries and the German Confederation — if the allied troops had been dispersed across the whole of France, they would have been spread too thinly to have been of use. Louis XVIII was effectively agreeing to the occupation of his country, while he built up his own military force. While the army of occupation was security for the allies against French aggression, it was also intended that it give France herself, and especially the King, protection against a revolutionary uprising.

The army of occupation

The allied powers had considered it desirable on 22 October that Wellington should command the army of occupation. The army was to be composed of 30,000 troops supplied by each of the Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia, of which cavalry would constitute between a sixth and a tenth; Bavaria would supply 10,000 men; and Denmark, Saxony, Hanover and Württemberg 5,000 men each. On 20 November, formal treaties and conventions were agreed to give effect to the discussions of the allies, for an army of occupation of 150,000 men. The French were to provide quarters, heating, lighting, forage and provisions, the composition of which was set out in detail, both for officers and men [see Document 1]. The numbers of rations was not to exceed at any one time 200,000 for men and 50,000 for horses. In addition France was to pay 50 million francs per annum towards equipment, clothing and other necessaries. The French were also to maintain fortifications.

Although theoretically the allied armies were segregated from areas where the French army might operate by a demilitarised zone, the French king was allowed to garrison some places in this area, for example, with 1,000 men at Calais and 3,000 at Lille. The gendarmerie was to continue to operate in the areas where the allied forces were based, for the ordinary maintenance of law and order. At the same time, the allies were to reduce their forces to the levels specified in the document within 21 days of its execution. The four allied powers gave Wellington formal instructions, conferring upon him the command of the army of occupation, which were also explained to the French government in a parallel document sent to the Duc de Richelieu, the French minister.

The occupation ends

Richelieu attempted within six months of the convention to have the army of occupation reduced in size. Although his moves were rejected, there were other pressures beyond those of the French government for the reduction. France could not resume her normal commercial activity while she was burdened with heavy reparation payments. She had found it hard to raise the funds to pay the allies and a financial crisis in November 1816 resulted in the suspension of payments. At the start of 1817, negotiations with the Hope-Baring bank provided a way for a substantial loan. The Times of 15 July 1817 saw advantages for Anglo-French trade if France had more finance available. The question of payment for French reparations was only concluded at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at which point they were reduced and France was enabled to pay them off with further loans from Anglo-Dutch bankers.

Richelieu had been successful in 1817 in reducing the size of the army of occupation: the allies agreed that it should be 20% smaller from 1 April that year. The next stage was to negotiate an early conclusion to the occupation itself. This was also business for Aix-la-Chapelle: it was concluded that two further years of occupation would exacerbate conditions in France, rather than providing security for the allies.

On 4 November 1818, the allies agreed that the provisions of the treaty of 20 November 1815 had been fulfilled, and that France might be restored to her full position in international relations — the declaration was made publicly on 15 November. In parallel, preparations had been in hand since early October for the withdrawal of the army of occupation and the troops marched out of France during mid-November.

Royalist Army

The one area in which the regime of 1814–15 took positive action, the military, was especially unfortunate. Old émigré officers from the armies of Coblenz and the Vendée were given half pay and then promoted, while most of the Imperial Army was summarily retired; 14,000 veteran officers, many of them young men, were condemned to rot; Lady Morgan mentions a Captain reduced to working as a waggoner. At court, Marshals were snubbed and reminded of their humble origins. What angered the army above all was the revival of the Maison du Roi, 6,000 strong, complete with Bodyguards, Horse Grenadiers, Musketeers and even the Hundred Swiss, which only noblemen could join. (Among them were two young poets—Alphonse de Lamartine and Alfred de Vigny.) Soldiers began to refer to the King as ‘The Pig’.

When Napoleon landed near Fréjus on 1 March 1815 it was therefore hardly surprising that the army rallied to him. Some Marshals were canny enough to remain loyal to Louis XVIII, but most officers behaved like Ney, ‘Bravest of the Brave’, who first swore undying fidelity to the King, promising to bring the usurper back in a cage, and who then turned his coat.

In 1817 Louis approved a revision of the electoral laws, which gave the government more control of the Chambre des Députés. They were able to bring in the famous ‘law’ of Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr, which decided the structure of the French army until the Third Republic. Gouvion believed that while the monarchy could not trust the old Imperial army, it must none the less have reliable troops if France was to be a great power again. Henceforward the French army was recruited by a limited method of conscription which was infinitely less onerous than the universal conscription of Napoleon. Not only were many Imperial officers reinstated, but a third of all commissions were reserved for promotions from the ranks.

Richelieu returned as Prime Minister but had little hope of implementing moderate policies. In the summer of 1820 new electoral laws, to give the government more control over the voters, plunged the country into a really dangerous crisis. For a moment the Liberals seem to have thought that their only hope lay in a coup d’état. Riots broke out in Paris; there were cavalry charges by cuirassiers and gendarmes, the students fighting back with sticks and stones. The police discovered an army plot to restore Napoleon (who did not die until the following year). But the rioters were ridden down and the plotters were shot. So great was the alarm that the Ultras increased their majority—at the end of 1820 there were only fifteen Liberal Deputies.

Naively, the King Charles X believed that all would be well if sufficient military glory were forthcoming. The unrest among the Catholic Belgians, who hated their new Dutch masters, gave Charles and Prince Jules de Polignac, his new chief minister, an intoxicating vision of regaining the Rhine frontier and even the whole of Belgium; the dream was dissipated by Prussian opposition. Luckily Dey Hussein of Algiers struck the French Consul with his fan, which was a good enough excuse to invade the pirates’ lair. In May 1830 a fleet of 469 merchantmen, escorted by 100 warships, took 38,000 troops and 4,500 horses to Africa. The army, commanded by the Minister for War, General de Bourmont (the ‘traitor of Waterloo’) entered the city of Algiers on 5 July 1830 and hoisted the Lilies over the Kasbah. The cost of the entire expedition was paid for by the Dey’s treasure.

Meanwhile at the opening of the Chambers in March 1830, Charles more or less threatened, in an extraordinary speech from the throne, that if necessary he would use force to keep his ministers. The opposition replied with an Address to the King, demanding that he appoint his ministers from the majority in the lower chamber—the Charter had never made clear how they were to be chosen. But if Charles were to accept the will of the majority, he would surrender the government of France to men who were hostile to the Bourbons and to the whole concept of the restored monarchy. Charles, believing as he did in a strong monarchy, had once exclaimed, ‘I would rather earn my bread than reign like the King of England!’ He therefore ordered new elections to take place in June and July; in a proclamation he explained to the electors that to maintain the Charter, ‘I must be able to use freely the sacred rights which are the prerogative of my crown’, ending rather pathetically, ‘It is your King who asks you, it is a father who calls on you.’ But the electorate were unmoved; out of 428 deputies returned, 274 were supporters of the Address.

As Charles saw it, in his simplicity, he now had only one course—to change the electoral system. Strictly speaking, there was provision for this in the Charter. The King told his cabinet that the men of the Left were trying to pull down the monarchy, and he reminded them how weakness had destroyed Louis XVI. ‘I remember very well what happened. The first concession made by my brother was the signal for his destruction … rather than be carted to the scaffold we will fight and they will have to kill us in the saddle.’ In his blindness, Charles saw his measures as essentially legal and in no way a coup d’état. ‘Dear Jules’, who was acting as Minister for War in Bourmont’s absence, assured him that there would be no trouble and that in 1830 Frenchmen cared more for prosperity than politics. On 26 July the King therefore issued his ‘Four Ordinances of Saint-Cloud’; these dissolved the new Chamber of Deputies before it had even met, restricted the franchise to 10,000 landowners, and called fresh elections; they also imposed the first really rigorous press censorship since the Empire.

That day Charles went hunting. As he was about to leave Saint-Cloud, Mme de Berry ran up, waving the Moniteur in which the ordinances had been published. She cried, ‘You are a real King at last! My son will owe his crown to you and his mother thanks you deeply.’

Chateaubriand wrote sadly, ‘Yet another government hurling itself down from Nôtre-Dame.’ By that evening, a Monday, the mob was in the streets and stoning ministers. On the next day the army had to be called out; most of the troops were in Algeria or on the Belgian frontier, and the effective garrison of Paris was down to 9,000 men. Polignac concealed the gravity of the situation from Charles, who was still at Saint-Cloud, telling him it was nothing but a riot, and that were he mistaken ‘I shall give Your Majesty my head in atonement’—he also spoke of a reassuring vision he had had of Our Lady. Meanwhile barricades were going up, arsenals being stormed. By Thursday 29 July the mob—mainly petit bourgeois rather than working-class, and led by Napoleonic veterans—had taken the Louvre and the Tuileries, and the army was retreating, many men deserting to the rebels. Yet few deputies had any wish to depose Charles X; they only wanted to be rid of Polignac. If the King had been at the Tuileries in the centre of Paris, instead of outside at Saint-Cloud, a compromise would have been reached.

At last, from the terrace at Saint-Cloud, through a spy glass, poor Charles saw the tricolore flying from Nôtre-Dame. He sent an emissary, promising to dismiss Polignac and withdraw the ordinances, and appointed the Duc de Mortemart as Prime Minister. But it was too late. Soon the situation at Saint-Cloud became so dangerous that the King had to move to the Grand Trianon, and then to Rambouillet. Throughout, the old monarch displayed his habitual dignity. Each time the cannon were heard, he gently flicked the cloth of his card-table as though he had seen a spot of dust. Later, with his usual simplicity, he told Mme de Gontaut that he had only tried to appear calm because it seemed the best thing to do. The Duchess says she cried when she saw his sad, resigned face and knew that he realized it was all over.

On 1 August Charles appointed the Duc d’Orléans Lieutenant-General of France. On 2 August 1830, at Rambouillet, he abdicated; for a brief moment there was a Louis XIX until the Dauphin also signed an act of abdication. Then Charles saluted his grandson as King, and presented the ten-year-old Henri V to his guards. Orléans cunningly pretended that he had no authority until the Chambers had debated the abdication; as he expected, the deputies refused to accept the boy. On 7 August Orléans, produced ‘like a rabbit out of a hat’ by the Liberals, was proclaimed ‘Louis Philippe, King of the French’.

Charles had waited trustingly at Rambouillet for the Lieutenant-General to proclaim Henri V. On 3 August, however, hearing that an armed rabble was approaching (some by the new omnibuses), he decided to leave France, although he could have cut them to ribbons. Indeed, as Chateaubriand points out, had Charles fallen back on Chartres or Tours, the monarchy would have survived, as most of the army was loyal. However, like his martyred brother, the old King was not prepared to shed French blood.

But he did not depart like Napoleon, cowering in a closed carriage, or like Louis Philippe in 1848, disguised as an English tourist. Even the sternest critics of Charles X admit that the dignity of his exit had something of the old grandeur of the House of France. Accompanied by cavalry, artillery and infantry of the guard, he marched to Cherbourg beneath the Lilies, insisting on the observance of every detail of etiquette as though he were still King. French monarchs always dined alone at a square table, and when only a round one could be found, he ordered it to be cut square. At Cherbourg, on 16 August, after saying goodbye to his guards, he boarded a ship bound for England. He wept as it set sail.

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Mil-8/17 Helicopter

In May 1960, Mil conceived a machine to replace the piston-engined Mi-4 Hound. On June 9, 1961, the first Mi-8 Hip prototype, with a single AI-24V turboshaft and four-bladed main rotor system, lifted off for its maiden flight. On September 17, 1962, the Hip B, modified with two TV2-117 1,482-horsepower turboshafts mounted atop the fuselage, and a five-bladed main rotor system measuring 70 feet in diameter, took flight. The Mi-8 went into full production in 1965, and by 2000 fifty-four countries operated the more than 10,000 Mi-8s manufactured by the Rostov and Kazan production facilities in Russia and by foreign licensees. Designed as a medium-lift transport helicopter, the Hip, in its many variants, fulfilled a miscellany of mission requirements, including troop and cargo transportation, air ambulance, attack helicopter, airborne command post, fire fighter, and civilian carrier.

Constructed of light alloys, the Hip featured a “bus-shaped” fuselage with a rounded nose and glassed-in cockpit that accommodated a pilot, copilot, and flight engineer. The cabin housed twenty-four passengers, 8,800 pounds of cargo, or twelve stretchers. A large sliding door on the forward port side and rear-opening clamshell doors simplified loading large cargo. Removable interior seats and an internal winch capable of lifting 350 pounds that doubled as a rescue hoist facilitated cargo handling. Additionally, Mil equipped the aircraft with a cargo hook capable of carrying slingloads up to 6,500 pounds. A long tailboom extended from the upper portion of the fuselage and swept up to a tapered vertical fin that housed the gearbox and tailrotor, attached to the left side (right on the export versions).

External racks attached along the center of the 61-foot fuselage were designed to hold auxiliary fuel pods or weapons systems. Variants of the Hip carried a combination of 57-mm or 80-mm rockets, AT-2 Swatter or AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, 12.7- or 23-mm gun pods, or either 4  500-pound or 2  1,000-pound bombs. In 1967, Mil introduced the Hip E and F ground support helicopters, each mounting a flexible 12.7-mm heavy machine gun under the nose and carrying 192 57-mm rockets. Combat troops could also fire their individual weapons from the windows of the helicopter. In later models Mil installed the upgraded Isotov TV2-117A engines, which produced 1,700 horsepower each. Generally a Hip cruised at 122 knots, had a service ceiling of 14,700 feet, and hovered Out of Ground Effect (OGE) at 2,600 feet. All Mi-8s rested on a fixed tricycle landing gear, with dual wheels at the nose. Total production estimates ran as high as 15,000 units of the Mi-8 and its export version, the Mi-17.

MIL MI-8 /MI-17 HIP C-K

Country of origin: USSR

Crew: Two pilots and flight engineer

Rotor diameter: 70 ft. Length: 61 ft.

Armament: Combinations of 12.7-mm machine gun in nose, SA-2 Swatter/ AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, 57- and 80- mm rocket pods, 23-mm cannon, and bombs

Powerplant: Two Klimov TV2-117AG (Mi-8)/ TV3-117MT (Mi-17) turboshafts

Airspeed: 135 knots

Range: 200 nautical miles (545 with auxiliary fuel)

Cargo capacity: Up to 32 combat troops, or 8,800 pounds’ internal cargo, or 6,614 pounds slingload

Notes: Designed to replace Mi-4, first flown in June 1961; used by Soviet and Russian forces and Aeroflot. Military versions denoted by round windows and armed with machine guns and 57-mm rockets. Later version designed and equipped for ECM operations. Introduced in August 1975, Mi-17 employed Mi-8 fuselage and Mi-14 engines; latest version with upgraded engines is Mi-17 Hip H. More than 10,000 of all variants manufactured and used by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Madagascar, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Yemen, People’s Republic of China, Slovakia, South Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and Zambia.

OPERATION STOSS

The operational plan was code named “THRUST” (German: STOSS). It concerned the occupation of West Berlin “within the scope of preventive actions following prior aggression by NATO outside the Central European area, for example an attack by Turkey on Bulgaria.” Berlin was to be occupied “while NATO was transporting its reinforcements from overseas and before the opening of military operations” along the intra-German and Czechoslovakian-German borders. In 1987, following the introduction of the new Soviet military doctrine, certain changes were made. The plan was re named “CENTER” (German: ZENTRUM), and West Berlin was now to be occupied only “following NATO aggression resulting in the violation of state [East Germany] borders.”

Following the political decision to occupy West Berlin, a “Berlin Group” field command would be formed out of the East German Army High Command, located in Wildpark West near Potsdam. The “Berlin Group” command was to direct over 32,000 East German and Soviet troops in operations against an estimated 12,000 Allied troops and 6,000 West Berlin police men. The equipment levels used in the Border’s Edge 86 exercise would be significantly raised in real operations – approximately 390 tanks, 450 guns and mortars, 400 antitank units, and 400 armored personnel carriers would be committed.

The plans envisioned splitting West Berlin into two sectors. The sector boundary ran from Konradshöhe in the northwest along the Autobahn ring road from Charlottenburg to Schöneberg, ending at Lichtenrade in the south. The area to the west of the divide was designated as Sector I, while that to the east was Sector II. These sectors did not correspond to, and should not be confused with, the British, French, and American occupation sectors. The occupation of Sector I was to be the task of the NVA’s 1st Motorized Rifle Division (minus its 1st Regiment), the 5th Regiment of Frontier Command North, the 34th and 44th Regiments of Frontier Command Central, an assault engineer battalion of the 2d Engineer Brigade, and four battalions of Potsdam’s paramilitary “Combat Groups of the Working Class.” The 3d Regiment of the 1st Motorized Rifle Division, flanked by the 5th Frontier Troop Regiment to its left, was to push from the west along Bundesstraße 5 toward Spandau, where the majority of the British Brigade’s facilities were located. The 34th Frontier Troop Regiment would move out of Kladow in the west toward the British military airport at Gatow. In the southwest, the 44th Frontier Regiment was to roll along Bundesstraße 1, penetrating the American sector at Zehlendorf, while the 1st Armored Regiment thrust directly toward the city center. The 2d Regiment of the 1st Motorized Rifle Division was to move out of Teltow in the south to ward Steglitz, thereby completing the occupation of Sector I.

Sector II, the eastern portion of West Berlin, would be occupied as follows: The Soviet 6th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade, part of the Soviet Group of Forces in Germany, would roll past the Brandenburger Gate, proceed down the Avenue of the 17th of June to Ernst Reuter Plaza, and continue down Bismarck Street until it reached the Kaiserdamm Bridge. The 18th People’s Po lice Alert Unit and the 33d Frontier Troop Regiment were to provide flank protection. The 1st Regiment of the 1st Motorized Rifle Division would assault out of Pankow toward Tegel International airport, while the 38th and 40th Frontier Troop Regiments occupied Reinickendorf, part of the French sector. The 35th, 39th, and 42d Frontier Troop Regiments would close in on Neukölln and Kreuzberg, areas within the American sector. Support for these assaults would be provided by the 40th Artillery Brigade, an assault engineer battalion of the 2d Engineer Brigade, and propaganda detachments.

The two major assault thrusts, one from the east and one from the west, were to meet at the Kaiserdamm Bridge near Radio Free Berlin, thereby cutting the city in two. Tegel airport, in the French sector, was to be captured by two airborne companies while Tempelhof Airport in the American sector was to be captured by another. The 1st Battalion of the 40th Air Assault Regiment and parts of 34th Helicopter Transport Squadron would provide the necessary forces. Reserve forces included the 40th Security Battalion, the 19th People’s Police Alert Unit, and four battalions of the (East) Berlin “Combat Groups of the Working Class.” The 40th Signal Battalion was tasked with providing reserve assets for all communication requirements.

Any military worth its salt has prepared contingency plans for operations following the outbreak of war. The Soviet Union and its satellites always claimed that both the structure and planning of the Warsaw Pact revolved around a commitment to defeat the enemy on his own territory following enemy aggression. The initial scenario in the Border’s Edge exercises postulated aggression by NATO, provoking a countermeasure by the Warsaw Pact. Former NVA officers stand by the essentially defensive nature of Pact offensive plans. Yet oddly, little attention is paid to containing and defeating NATO offenses. In fact, East German intelligence evaluations concluded that NATO forces in West Germany lacked the structure and equipment for deep offensive operations in the eastern direction. In short, taken at face value, the NVA laid meticulous plans for execution of an operation for which the officially proclaimed premise, aggression by NATO, was evaluated as unlikely at best.

Operation Stoss – After Action Report

East German Attack Plans for World War 3

Mil Mi-8 NVA DDR

THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY

Bayeux Tapestry

This provides military historians with considerable and very useful data about the pre-events to the Battle of Hastings, the course of the conflict, and the weapons and the accoutrements employed by soldiers on both sides. It is the best contemporary illustration of protective armour. It is not actually a tapestry, but an embroidery, made by English ladies and maids in Kent. The tapestry, which was made on the order of Bishop Odo, measures 231.5 feet long (70.34 metres) and 19.5 inches wide (50 centimetres). It is stitched in eight colours on coarse linen. It was hung for a long time in Bayeux Cathedral. In his paper ‘Arms Status and Warfare in the Late Anglo-Saxon England’ N P Brooks makes two particularly interesting references to this:

‘We find that the English soldiers are shown through the battle as well-armed warriors with which we have seen to characterise the nobility — the thegns. They wear conical helmets and trousered byrnies; their shields are predominantly kite shaped, but occasionally round or sub-rectangular; they have spears and swords and sometimes two-handed battle axes.’

‘But it is at least clear that the tapestry artist distinguishes between the main body of the English army, which formed the shield wall and comprised soldiers with a full complement of the weapons and body armour, and the shield man who played a subsidiary role. The artist makes the same distinction between the noble and non-noble soldiers in depicting the Norman army with its uniformly well-armed knights and its archers who with single exception have no body armour at all.’

Armour

 

Norman and French horsemen wore a knee-length, one-piece mail shirt, with three-quarter-length sleeves, over a padded hauberk, which also protected the neck and throat. The bottom mail section was like an open skirt, as a mounted trooper did not need to protect his inner leg because it was not exposed when he was in the saddle. ‘Furthermore, the discomfort of riding in mail trousers might be palliated by padding, but damage to saddle and horse from friction could not.’ They protected their heads with an iron helmet fitted with a nasal guard. The English housecarls used almost identical armour. They also wore a protective garment of interlinking ring mail and a conical iron helmet with nasal guard. The main difference was that when the English fought on foot they needed to protect their groin area and thus laced up their lower mail coat to make trousers. By the 11th century mail was made with either round or flat rings riveted together to make a suit. Perhaps the strongest defence was achieved by a mail incorporating a mix of both flat and rounded rings. The weight of a mail coat stretching to the waist was about 28 to 42 pounds; a full-length coat weighed considerably more. Below the mail they wore a leather coat or padded jacket, which provided an essential additional safeguard. These protected a man from the contusion effects of a swinging sword or a mace blow, and much reduced the effects of a spear thrust or javelin strike. However, mail would not halt arrows. ‘A mail coat would be most effective if worn over a leather jerkin, though evidence for such an undergarment is absent until the Middle Ages.’ Certainly the Vikings adopted this custom from an earlier period.

The armour used by the English and Norman French military elite was therefore very similar. Generally it would have provided some protection against edged weapons, particularly those wielded in a slashing manner, but it would have been less effective against sword- or spear-points. It would not halt an arrow unless it was a long-range one. The mail coat, unless worn over a quilted jacket, would be vulnerable to a firm thrust from a very long spearhead of the type used by the English, which was designed to penetrate armour. Doubtless these inflicted casualties at Hastings. However, the large and very robust kite-shaped shields would safely halt short-range arrows, sword cuts and spear thrusts. This is clearly confirmed by the Bayeux Tapestry, which shows housecarl shields sustaining numerous hostile arrows. These shields, often made from lime-wood and covered with leather, had a maximum width of about 15.5 inches. They provided very good personal protection.

With one exception, depicted in panel 60 of the Bayeux Tapestry, no Norman French archers are shown wearing armour. Their apparent lack of this resulted in high casualties at Hastings. Their infantry, who are little depicted in the tapestry, carried swords and spears, wore mail and perhaps helmets, but despite this protection also suffered at Hastings. William of Poitiers stated: ‘The attackers (the Norman French) suffered severely because of “the easy passage” of the defenders’ weapons through their shields and armour.’ This indicates their poor and ineffective quality. The English militia also generally had no armour except a buff coat, although its extent depended on the wealth of an individual. They did possess the useful round shield, with its projecting iron boss to protect the left hand. Because this only screened a small area of the body it would have been necessary to move it promptly to block a sudden blow from an unexpected direction. The unarmoured English militia were susceptible to short and high-angled arrow fire and to mounted troopers if isolated in the open. However, when fighting in the shield-wall formation they were more secure and, with their spears of various lengths creating an intimidating frontal mass of gleaming blades, presented a formidable defence to any attacker. Furthermore, men of the militia were often adept at agile ducking-and-weaving techniques, and would sometimes, at close quarters, avoid a hostile blow then at once deliver a successful one with spear or long chopping scramasax.

The Norman French brought a corps of some two to three thousand professional archers to England carrying short bows with a range of about 150 yards. This weapon had little resemblance, in form or use, to the later-famous longbow used so successfully by Welsh and English archers. The English army had only a few bowmen, in the normal Anglo-Saxon military tradition, because the weapon was not highly regarded. A possible explanation for this may come from David Howarth, who wrote:

‘Bows in England were aristocratic sporting weapons, used for shooting deer, not human enemies, and archery was a strictly guarded mystique. For a long time past, the nobles had been fanatically jealous of their hunting rights, and if a poor man owned a bow he labelled himself a poacher. No common soldier in the fyrd would be any good at archery, or admit it if he was.’

It is thus ironic that at both the Stamford Bridge and Hastings battles the bow played a crucial part: King Harald Hardrada of Norway was fatally struck in the throat by an arrow, probably fired by a Yorkshire huntsman; King Harold II of England was later, possibly, wounded at the battle’s crisis point by another at Hastings.

Cavalry

The Norman French cavalry comprised troopers, who rode fairly sturdy but unprotected horses called ‘Destriers’. These were bred and drilled to carry an armoured horseman. Such troopers were called ‘Miles’ or ‘Chevaliers’. In England, military aristocrats (thegns) riding horses were referred to as ‘knights’. Clearly, mounted troopers of the 11th century, with their light lances or throwing spears bore very little resemblance to the true armoured knights of the 13th and 14th centuries, being neither equipped nor trained to achieve shock power. Eventually cavalrymen of the 14th century often wore intricately fashioned suits of plate armour, and closed helmets that afforded considerable protection. Their armoured steeds, such as the percheron or Clydesdale, were large and powerful, capable of carrying the weight of armour while reaching sufficient speed to make effective charges. These extremely expensive animals were also carefully bred and trained. The true knights used a strong couched lance and were trained to charge together, knee-to-knee in an irresistible and unwavering formation. ‘The horse-soldier of the eleventh century had not reached that advanced stage of military development.’ The Norman French cavalry were thus necessarily more circumspect and cautious owing to their inadequate armour and unprotected steeds. Doubtless, Norman French horsemen were periodically effective in battle against other cavalry because they were trained to fight them on a one-to-one basis. They might also deal effectively with isolated small groups of unprotected peasants equipped with shields and spears. However, against well-trained, experienced and professional infantry on the defensive and forming a firm shield wall, they were certainly not.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts troopers advancing on the English in somewhat scattered groups called ‘contoi’ carrying differing weapons such as maces, swords, light spears or javelins. To be more effective they should have all, perhaps, carried spears and advanced in larger, more compact groups.

On approaching the enemy, the drill was to launch light lances from some distance in the hope of inflicting casualties before turning away, allowing comrades to repeat the manoeuvre. Their purpose was to create a break in the defence line into which they would advance, and attempt to widen it with slashing swords. However, until the shield wall eventually disintegrated, most horses approaching the English line too closely might have been decapitated and their rider killed with an axe or spear. Troopers may have attempted a forward spear thrust but most horses would naturally have shied away from the bristling and dense line of spears. It is not surprising that many Norman French warhorses could not withstand the heavy and continuous fusillades of missiles that greeted attacks some 20 to 30 yards from the English shield wall. So the Norman French cavalry did not at all resemble the later, fully developed feudal heavy cavalry. However, we should remember that the steep and boggy ground at Hastings was disadvantageous to horsemen.

It is interesting that the English cavalry used their horses in a very different manner from that practised on the Continent. The principle in England was that warriors rode to battle, fought dismounted, and then rode home after the conflict. From the time of King Alfred, the primary purpose of Anglo-Saxon cavalry (mounted infantry) was to move a small, mounted infantry army to an area of conflict at sufficiently high speed to confuse and surprise their adversary. They then fought on foot. Harold achieved this on his Welsh campaigns. The tradition of mounted Anglo-Saxon armies moving at great speed to confront an adversary continued throughout their history and the tactic was usually very successful. However, the procedure had one snag: the dismounted fyrd troops would naturally be unable to keep up with the mounted ones, which consequently reduced the size of the force that eventually fought the battle.

Battle of Brunanburh (AD 927), where King AEthelstan of England defeated a huge hostile confederation army led by Constantine, King of Scotland.

Another important role of the Anglo-Saxon cavalry was to provide a small, mounted mobile reserve to be employed only when an adversary started to display weakness in a battle that was being fought on foot. These troops then used their horses to convert a retreat into a rout. A classic example of this was at the Battle of Brunanburh, in 937, when King AEthelstan defeated the huge northern confederation host. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the English promptly followed up their victory (fought on foot) with a long pursuit by mounted infantry:

‘All through the day the West Saxons in troops

Pressed on in pursuit of the hostile peoples,

Fiercely, with swords sharpened on grindstone,

They cut down the fugitives as they fled’

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, AD 937; p.108

It is often assumed that, because the English fought on foot at Hastings, they therefore always fought on foot, and employed horses only to reach, and then later depart from, a battlefield. At Hastings, of course, Harold wisely dismounted his housecarls in order to create a very strong defensive line. ‘Much as he would have liked, no doubt, to have kept his mounted housecarls in reserve, poised to launch a counter attack, the rather poor quality of his rustic army demanded that he dismounted his professional soldiers to stiffen the ranks of the militia.’

Swords used by the housecarls and Norman French troopers.

Those employed by both sides were similar. They were often of the double-edged type with fullered blades similar to those of Wheeler’s Type VII. English ones possibly retained more Viking features than those of their opponents. Some swords had imported inscribed Rhineland or high-quality English blades and were fitted with short, straight guards and beehive or Brazil nut pommels. Some patterns may have incorporated thick, faceted ‘wheel’ pommels, sometimes with bevelled edges, or the three-lobed, cocked-hat type. Some swords would have had a much longer guard, in a variety of simple but slightly differing forms, similar to those of Oakeshott’s Type IX. These were designed to provide better hand protection from opponents’ sword cuts. This type was to be a characteristic of the subsequent knightly swords. Swords of the late 11th and early 12th centuries tended to have rather larger pommels designed to act as counterweights to the rather longer, more tapering blades.

The First Aces

Bavaria, though part of the Kaiser’s Reich, had a strong tradition of independence. It was the South German wing of the air service which formed the first three bespoke (if ad hoc) fighter groups, latterly the brilliantly named Kampfeinsitzer-kommando or KEK, combat single-seater commands. This facilitated the rise of two men who were to symbolise the emerging cult of fighter aces – Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke. In January 1916 both would be awarded the Pour le Mérite – the legendary ‘Blue Max’; Germany’s highest gallantry award. For an ace, it was the badge of stardom. Celebrity was becoming important. Propagandists on both sides realised that these heroic lone wolves offered the cloak of chivalric glamour in this most un-chivalrous of wars. It was on that day perhaps that the fighter ace fully ‘arrived’.

AH-Aviation-Art

Immelmann, ‘the Eagle of Lille’, was famed not just as a fighter ace but as a technical innovator of the half-loop, half-roll combat tactic, ‘the Immelmann turn’. Born in 1890, he was an early enthusiast for flying. He was sent for pilot training in November 1914. He was a gifted student but, like von Richthofen, something of a loner, devoted to his mother and his dog and not imbued with the boisterous camaraderie of the mess. His early missions were entirely reconnaissance. In June 1915 he was shot down by a French Farman, only to emerge unscathed and with an Iron Cross (second class).

The arrival of the Eindecker at Douai aerodrome was the spark that ignited both his and Boelcke’s careers. On 1 August ten British planes shot up and bombed the airfield. Both German aviators leapt for their machines and mounted hot pursuit. Boelcke’s gun jammed, forcing him out of the fight. Immelmann did rather better. He took on two of the Brits and forced one down. Though wounded the Englishman landed safely and Immelmann courteously took him prisoner. This exploit earned him another Iron Cross, this time first class.

In the third week of September he brought down two more victims but was himself shot down a couple of days later when a French Farman peppered his fuel tank and shot away his wheels. He walked away from the wreck and, undeterred, chalked up kill no 4, another British plane, above Lille. He downed another over Arras and the sixth on 7 November. Just over a month later on 5 December he claimed a French Morane. By the standards of 1915, seven kills was a lot. The war in the air hadn’t reached the immense numbers of 1917–18. He and Boelcke became rivals that autumn, matching score for score.

One Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c was luckier. Captain O’Hara Wood was flying with Ira Jones as observer. The single Lewis gun operated by Jones had a series of mounts and for a full traverse had to be swapped between these. No easy matter especially when, as they’d dreaded, a lone Eindecker began stalking them over Lille. The hunter manoeuvred below and behind, the classic blind spot and came in gun blazing. Jones, unable to swap the Lewis fast enough, grabbed it and tried to fire holding the cumbersome weapon with its fearsome recoil like a Tommy gun. Not a great idea. The gun, like a living thing, leapt free of his hands and disappeared overboard. They were defenceless but Immelmann had run out of ammunition and flew off. Wood and Jones lived to fight another day.

It was on 12 January 1916 that the two rival aces both downed their eighth opponent. Eight kills was enough to win a coveted Blue Max, the talisman of success. With other manufacturers hot on his heels, Fokker attempted to up-gun the EIII model by adding two more machine guns and beefing up engine performance. In April 1916, Immelmann tested the new plane but the interrupter gear just couldn’t handle three guns and he shot himself down. Even two proved tricky and led to another crash in May.

Nonetheless, by early June he’d scored 15 victories. On the 18th his considerable luck ran out. He got into a dogfight with some of the ‘pushers’ of 25 Squadron. In the melée Lieutenant G. R. McCubbin and Corporal J. H. Waller claimed they’d hit Immelmann’s Fokker, causing his fatal crash. German sources claimed it was anti-aircraft fire, ‘Archie’ as it was known, that brought him down. Fokker himself was prepared to accept this verdict as it neatly avoided any questions about the working of the interrupter gear. Immelmann’s brother Franz was convinced otherwise, claiming he’d examined the wreckage and found the propeller shot in half. Whatever actually occurred, the first true fighter ace passed into legend.

AH-Aviation-Art

Oswald Boelcke was far more gregarious. Born a year later in 1891; he was an outstanding young sportsman and enthusiastic advocate of aggressive German militarism. At 13, he wrote a personal letter to the Kaiser asking for a place at a military academy. His turn came in 1914 – at Darmstadt he had his first taste of flying. He was still only an NCO for, in those very early days, the observers had most of the kudos, flyers were just the ones who drove. His older brother Wilhelm had also joined up and both won gallantry awards during that first year.

Boelcke was grounded by illness for a period but, early in 1915 he was assigned to Aviation Section 62 where he met his rival Immelmann. By the start of 1916, he was a star and, in January scored another four kills. These included a Vickers FB5, another two-seater pusher. Although these were rapidly approaching obsolescence as a design, they were very agile in the air and this crew gave Boelcke quite a fight. The two duelled for over half an hour, the pusher’s gymnastics enough to deny him a killing burst. The Englishman’s luck ran out almost directly above Boelcke’s own aerodrome at Douai.

He was not only a hit in Germany, he also won a decoration from the French. Nothing to do with flying this time, he had averted tragedy when a local lad slipped into the canal. Boelcke, a strong swimmer, dived in to rescue the boy from certain drowning. The French government awarded him a life-saving medal, though obviously not in person.

In February 1916, the great German offensive at Verdun opened up, the fearsome shrieking of the guns a doleful summons to months of hideous attrition. Boelcke’s jasta (fighter squadron) flew into this sector. Their prime role would be reconnaissance but on 13 March he clashed with a lone Voisin and set off in pursuit. The much slower French plane, pilot already rattled, made for the sanctuary of the clouds. The next Boelcke saw of it, the hapless observer was engaged in a desperate bid to stabilize the unwieldy brute of an aircraft by clambering out onto the wing.

This wasn’t recommended in any textbook or manual. Boelcke lacked the innate cruelty which spurred his successor von Richthofen and refrained from firing. It didn’t really matter as a sudden lurch sent the Frenchman off into the clouds and the long, very lonely fall to his death. Within a few days Boelcke had added another three Farmans to his growing tally.

The battles of 1916, across the ravaged landscapes of pounded fields and skeletal forests, grew larger and more intense, dwarfing anything that had gone before. So too in the skies. By September 1916, Boelcke was leading Jasta 2, equipped with the much-feared Albatros DII. He had his pilots fly in big formations, ‘circuses’ as the Allies dubbed them. Flying these formidable, fast fighters Boelcke pushed his score up to 40. In September alone, now battling over the Somme, he downed 11 British planes. He was Germany’s top ace yet he had none of the hubris that often went with that status. His belief was that victories belonged to the unit, more than the individual. It is perhaps ironic that one of his most promising novices was Manfred von Richthofen, the man who would come to exemplify the self-seeking glory of the individual hunter.

Boelcke was an inspirational and conscientious leader. He trained and mentored his pilots exhaustively and preached the gospel of successful air combat throughout the German air service. He issued his tactical doctrine for dog-fighting early in 1916 as the great battle for Verdun was beginning to unfold. This is the voice of experience:

(1) Always try to secure an advantageous position before attacking. Climb before and during approach in order to surprise the enemy from above, and dive on him swiftly from the rear when the moment to attack is at hand.

(2) Try to place yourself between the sun and the enemy. This puts the glare of the sun in the enemy’s eyes and makes it difficult to see you and impossible for him to shoot with any accuracy.

(3) Do not fire the machine guns until the enemy is within range and you have him squarely within your sights.

(4) Attack when the enemy least expects it or when he is preoccupied with other duties such as observation, photography or bombing.

(5) Never turn your back and try to run away from an enemy fighter. If you are surprised by an attack on your tail, turn and face the enemy with your guns.

(6) Keep your eyes on the enemy and do not let him deceive you with tricks. If your opponent appears damaged, follow him down until he crashes to be sure he is not faking.

It was on 28 October that Boelcke’s store of luck ran dry. All pilots, aces especially, lived with the knowledge that their life expectancy was finite. For beginners, it could be measured in weeks, sometimes days. With no parachutes the only hope was to nurse a stricken plane into a soft landing somewhere. Few slept well when they were set to fly the dawn patrol, that mystical time when light filters and brightens as the new day rises. Up at 04.30 with a brew of tea or cocoa and perhaps a shot to calm the nerves, then out and into the cockpit, the loneliest place on earth. This is five o’clock in the morning courage, no red mist or heat of battle, no comfort of comradely cloth at the touch. Each patrol may be your last, the way to flaming death. Pilots carried revolvers and pistols, not for cowboy antics but to spare themselves the agony of burning alive.

On that day, Boelcke had von Richthofen and Erwin Böhme as his wingmen, six Albatroses in the patrol. They dived to scrap with some DH2s and Böhme flew that bit too close, that second of inattention. His wing sliced clear through his chief’s upper wing struts, like a knife through cheese. The wing collapsed; all torsion and strength gone and Boelcke plummeted to his death. Ironically, he did manage to crash land the crippled Albatros but he had forgotten to fasten his seat harness and was killed on impact.

Erwin Böhme, born in 1879 and, like his boss, a serious sportsman, was devastated by the accident for which he blamed himself. Indeed, at one point, he became suicidal. Von Richthofen (nobody’s first choice for counselling perhaps) managed to talk him out of it and he went on to score 24 kills and win the Blue Max. He was killed in action on 29 November 1917.

Oswald Boelcke was buried in Cambrai Cathedral to a packed house, ablaze with gold braid. Even British prisoners of war from Osnabrück sent a card and the RFC dropped a wreath. There was still some romance left, for the moment anyway.

British Anti-tank guns in the Desert

The portee of guns is a pretty basic and, generally, an ad hoc technique.  While it was often used in NA owing to the need for longer ranged mobility and lack of concealed gun positions, the British did use it in Europe.

The first British portee weapons in WWII occurred in France in 1940.  They were augmenting their 2-pdr AT guns with French 25mm guns.  They were so flimsy that high-speed cross-country towing was impossible so they were carried by lorries.

Starting in 1941, the British developed the “en portee” method of mounting an anti-tank gun (initially a 2 pounder) on a truck. This was to prevent the weapon from being damaged by long-distance towing across rough, stony deserts, and it was intended only to be a carrying method, with the gun unloaded for firing. However, crews tended to fire their weapons from their vehicles for the mobility this method provided, with consequent casualties. This undoubtedly inspired their Morris C9/B (officially the “Carrier, SP, 4×4, 40 mm AA”), a Bofors 40 mm AA gun mounted on a chassis derived from the Morris “Quad” Field Artillery Tractor truck. Similar types, based on 3-ton lorries, were produced in Britain, Canada and Australia, and together formed the most numerous self-propelled AA guns in British service.

Lorry-mounted 2-pdr anti-tank guns on a practice shoot in the Western Desert. 3 May 1942.The 2-pdr antitank gun equipped RA anti-tank regiments and later infantry battalions for much of the Desert War. This 10mm-calibre weapon was mounted on an ingenious three-legged carriage, giving it a low profile and which allowed the travelling wheels to be lifted clear of the ground so that the gun could easily traverse through 360 degrees. An armoured shield fined with an ammunition box protected its 5-man detachment and it weighed 1,760 lb. in action. Many were carried portee on the back of lorries during the Desert War. but when used this way often proved vulnerable to both small arms and shrapnel. Firing a solid AP round and with a penetration of ’40mm at I,000m, the 2-pdr was highly effective against lightly armoured cars and tanks, but as the Desert War progressed it was quickly outclassed and could only engage with a hope of success from the flank at close range.

The 2-pounder was given a new lease of life by putting it on a lorry-the Portee mounting. This mounting used a 15cwt truck with the sides taken off the back so that it had a flat bed. Using two long ramps a 2-pounder was hauled up and set down on its platform. The wheels were removed and bolted on the sides of the truck. The gun could be fired from the flat bed or it could be unloaded and emplaced. By reversing the truck up to the emplacement and throwing down the ramps, it could be evacuated quite quickly, although it could not be done with safety by daylight. The idea gave the little 2-pounders some much-needed mobility and the Portee gunners soon evolved a technique in which they lay up behind a low mound with only the top of the shield and the barrel emerging round the side of the cover. This was safe enough until the tank moved to a flank whereupon the unfortunate truck began to catch the shot and the gun had to move. One anti-tank regiment lost almost a complete battery in one day early in 1942. When the first of the 6-pounders arrived, they too were mounted as Portees, though they were getting a little heavy for continuously pulling up and down the ramps.

15 CWT truck with Breda 20/65

During WW II Canada produced well over 850.000 military motor vehicles which includes one of the most widely used types: the 4 x 2 type Chevrolet 15 CWT. This vehicle was the backbone of the Australian, British and Canadian Forces but was also supplied to many of the other Allies including the Soviet Union, China and India. The truck was used or transporting troops, ammunition and other war material. The design was based on a British Army design and the vehicle was built by General Motors of Canada as well as in Australia. The engines were also supplied through American manufacturers.

BEDFORD QL with 6 PDR.AT GUN

In 1939 the British War Office placed an order with VAUXHALL MOTORS Ltd of Luton, a British subsidiary of General Motors to design a 3-ton 4×4 truck chassis which would form the basis for various vehicles. Originally this vehicle was built for the transport of 6-pound-guns type M-1 and therefore it was also called Gun-Portee. The gun was placed on the platform of the truck and thus it could not be identified. Thus the Bedford QL truck was created and from 1941 until 1945 a total of 52,245 chassis were produced. The QL was an excellent vehicle and soon became the most numerous tactical 3-tonner of the British armed forces. These models were used on almost all fronts during the Second World War and later served in Korea and the Middle East. In the British forces it was gradually replaced by the model RL.

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It is important to note that in any battle a significant proportion of the AT fire suffered by British tanks did not come from other tanks at all, as perhaps British tacticians liked to assume, but from towed (ground-mounted) AT guns. The German 5cm gun was particularly potent, and their famous 8.8cm Flak gun even more so, although it was available in far smaller numbers. British tank crews often imagined that they were being hit by tank fire when in fact they were being hit by something much more serious; the literature is crammed with examples of this misconception. This led them to make a false comparison between the supposed power of the Axis tank guns and the perceived weakness of their own – which in turn reinforced the British belief that they did not particularly need to fire HE shells at the enemy. High explosive was not a good weapon against tanks, but was ideal against AT guns. Since the British doctrinal mindset was pre-occupied with tanks fighting other tanks, it simply did not take account of the need to shell AT guns with HE – in diametrical opposition to the German perception of what was needed.

The British believed that they themselves possessed an adequate antitank defence, although it was split into five distinct and different elements. The first was the infantry platoon’s 0.55in Boys AT rifle, which could be useful against very light armour, or sometimes against the flank or rear of heavier tanks, but for nothing much else. The next were the 2-pdr guns fitted on tanks, and the ballistically identical 2-pdr towed guns on ground mountings or portee vehicle mounts. While these guns were recognized as being the best in their category, by 1942 that whole category had become practically obsolete. The fourth prop of British AT defences was provided by the Bofors 40mm quick-firing AA gun, which in practice did some good service with AP shells, but was not often available at the key time or place. Finally and most importantly, there was the incomparable 25-pdr gun-howitzer. This was in fact almost precisely an 8.8cm weapon, although its muzzle velocity was considerably lower than that of the 8.8cm Flak. There were many occasions on which 25-pdrs in the AT role did succeed in beating off the Panzers. A major disadvantage, of course, was that as long as they were firing AP ammunition they could not be firing HE; their dual role thus served to reduce the availability of HE to the British in a ‘tank battle’ still further.

A sixth potential British AT weapon was the 3.7in (92mm) AA gun, which was ballistically better than the German 8.8cm Flak. The question has often been asked why it was not widely used in the same way, to which the answers are many and complicated. There were problems with sights – of which three different types were tried before an effective AT sight was developed – and with the production of AP ammunition. It took about ten minutes to remove the wheels and unfold the static firing platform; and the sheer height of the beast, which did not have a gunshield, made it a more vulnerable target than its German equivalent (although firing both guns kicked up a 100-foot dust cloud). There were also ‘political’ pressures for it to be kept nearer to the Army, Navy and RAF rear base areas than to the front line where it might encounter Panzers. All of these difficulties had been solved in theory by the summer of 1942 (notably by the energetic efforts of Brig Percy Calvert, commander of the 4th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Bde), but with very few exceptions the 3.7in was still not used against tanks.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was ultimately because British doctrine saw all AT guns as defensive and static weapons, and therefore not really appropriate to take part in a mobile tank battle. If friendly tanks were defeated and forced to fall back upon their AT guns, then all well and good; but pushing the guns forward to accompany an armoured thrust somehow went against the grain. The Germans, by contrast, regarded the deployment of AT guns – including even the heaviest – as an integral part of all tank movements, in the advance no less than the retreat.

Berlin Vehicles

General Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the LVI Panzer Corps, looked rather like a professorial version of Erich von Stroheim, only with hair.

On the morning of 23 April, Weidling rang the Führer bunker to report. General Krebs replied ‘with conspicuous coldness’ and informed him that he had been condemned to death. Demonstrating a remarkable moral and physical courage, he turned up at the Führer bunker that afternoon. Hitler was clearly impressed, so much so that he decided that the man he had wanted to execute for cowardice was the man to command the defence of the Reich capital. It was, as Colonel Refior observed, a ‘tragi-comedy’ typical of the regime.

Weidling’s LVI Panzer Corps was considerably reduced. Only fragments remained of the 9th Parachute Division. The Muncheberg Panzer Division was reduced to remnants, and although the 20th Panzergrenadier Division was in better shape, its commander, Major General Scholz, had committed suicide shortly after entering Berlin. Only the Nordland and the 18th Panzergrenadier Division remained in a relatively battle-worthy condition. Weidling decided to hold back the 18th Panzergrenadier Division in reserve for counter-attack. The other formations were distributed around the different defence sectors to act as ‘Korsettstangen’ — ‘corset-stiffeners’.

Weidling found that he was supposed to defend Berlin from 1.5 million Soviet troops with around 45,000 Wehrmacht and SS troops, including his own corps, and just over 40,000 Volkssturm. Almost all the sixty tanks in the city came from his own formations. There was also supposed to be a Panzerjagd battalion equipped with Volkswagens, each of which was fitted with a rack for six anti-tank rockets, but nobody could find any trace of it. In the central government district, Brigadeführer Mohnke commanded over 2,000 men from his base in the Reich Chancellery.

The most immediate threat which Weidling faced on the afternoon of 23 April was the assault on the east and south-east of the city from the 5th Shock Army, the 8th Guards Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army. That night, armoured vehicles which were still battle-worthy were ordered back to Tempelhof aerodrome to refuel. There, amid an expanse of wrecked Luftwaffe fighter planes, mainly Focke-Wulfs, the armoured vehicles filled up at a depot by the huge administration building. They received an order to prepare to counter-attack south-eastwards towards Britz. They were reinforced with a few King Tiger tanks and some Nebelwerfer rocket launchers, but the main anti-tank weapon of this force was the ‘Stuka on foot’, a joke name for the panzerfaust.

By 1945 the Red Army had not only rectified many of the long existing weaknesses’ plaguing it’s main battle tank; the T-34 – but it had also taken delivery of increasing numbers of even heavier tanks and assault guns capable of defeating the armor on any German tank then in service. That said, the T-34 was still the Red Army’s dominant tank in 1945 and for good reason.

Beginning in 1944 the Red Army had begun taking delivery of the newest model T-34s. These tanks, having received numerous upgrades, featured most prominently a new 85mm main gun, from which the tank drew its late-war designation; T-34/85. The T-34’s 85mm gun represented a potent increase in firepower over the old F-34 76mm gun that was not only a smaller caliber but also could only fire its AP rounds at a 662meters/sec muzzle velocity that was hardly adequate for penetrating modern German tank armor. In comparison to the old F-34 the new 85mm gun could fire a standard AP round at a muzzle velocity reaching 899 meters/sec (or 2950feet/sec). Consequently, the T-34/85 possessed better penetrating power than did the newest Panzer IV marks, and comparable penetrating power to the Panther. Even the much-vaunted British 17-pounder gun only produced a muzzle velocity similar to the T-34/85, although the venerable 88mm cannon on the Tiger outclassed all of these weapons. Besides the new primary armament the T-34/85 also featured a redesigned heavily armored three-man turret; reducing some of the inefficiencies characterizing the old turret in the T-34/76. In addition, the T-34/85 carried thicker armor; with 75mm of sloped frontal armor on the T-34/85 vs. the sloped 60mm frontal armor on the older T-34/76. The T-34/85 also possessed one other great advantage over its foes. Because the T-34/85 was really a modification of an existing model, that tank’s production meant the Soviet economy could maintain the enormous economic efficiencies necessary to crank out the massive numbers of tanks needed to propel the Red Army into Germany. Thus, not only did the T-34/85 regain parity with Germany’s medium tanks in terms of hitting power it also maintained existing Soviet advantages in output. Producing the T-34/85 did not require the Soviet Union to conduct large scale retooling of factories; as needed for instance by the Germans to phase in Panther over Panzer III production, or later in the war when the Tiger II replaced the Tiger I.

Furthermore, in addition to the presence of the T-34/85 in its ranks the Red Army had also taken delivery of the Russian made answer to the Tiger I and even Tiger II. This new tank, which had trickled into select frontline units during the spring of 1944; was a brand new heavy tank; the IS-2 or JS-2 – as the I/JS derivation came from Stalin’s name; Iosef/Josef Stalin. Unlike the T-34/85, the IS-2 was a new design and in fact was the long-awaited replacement for the KV series of heavy tanks. Weighing 46 tons, the IS-2 featured superb protection with 160mm of frontal armor, again sloped. The IS-2 also carried even more impressive armament than armor, equipped with a 122mm cannon. Although the 122mm gun arming the IS-2 only produced a muzzle velocity reaching 747 meters/sec, it more than made up for its comparatively slow muzzle velocity with a 56-pound shell twice as heavy as the 88mm shell fired by the Tiger. With the ability to fire a powerful shell the IS-2 could engage and defeat the frontal armor on a Tiger I at ranges approaching 2000 meters; though the Tiger II, when it wasn’t breaking down, proved more than capable of holding its own against the Red Army’s newest heavy tank.

The 1945 era Red Army had also, and much like the German army, buttressed its burgeoning strength in tanks with a growing inventory of self-propelled guns such as the SU-76; equipped with a 76mm gun and protected by 55mm of frontal armor and a low profile. Much less common, but more dangerous, in the Red Army’s ranks was the SU-100; armed with a 100mm gun and 45mm of sloped frontal armor – again on a low-profile frame. During the War, the SU-100 distinguished itself as a superb anti-tank weapon; proving as effective as almost any German self-propelled and assault guns. Finally, in 1945 the Red Army could also count on ever-increasing numbers of ISU-152 series self-propelled guns, built on the IS-2 chassis, and having evolved from the SU-152, previously built upon the KV-1 chassis during 1943. Manufactured at Chelyabinsk, these potent armored fighting vehicles, powerfully armed with a 152mm howitzer, proved to be superb infantry support weapons and could more than hold their own against Germany’s most commonly fielded tanks during the Second World War’s final years. Nicknamed “Zveroboi” (the cat killer) for their ability to destroy even Germany’s vaunted Panther and Tiger tanks, these weapons were even better suited for leveling heavily fortified strong points in the built up areas and modern cities the Red Army typically found itself fighting through in the final year of the Second World War. Along with the numerically dominant T-34/85, the IS-2 the ISU-152 provided the 1944-45 era Red Army with a triumvirate of superb armored fighting vehicles equipping its men on their march to final victory during the spring of 1945.

The number of tanks and combat planes at the start of operation (“Berlinskay operaciya 1945”, 1950)

2nd BF – 602 fighters, 449 ground atack (Il-2s), 146 day bombers, 137 night bombers, 26 recon, total – 1360 airplanes

976 AFVs in the main group of the front plus 117 in the 2nd Shock Army – total – 1093

1st Belorussain Front – 1567 fighters, 731 ground-attack, 761 bombers, 126 recon and artillery-spotting planes, total – 3188

3059 AFVs (including 63 polish). Aside from this 43 flame and minesweeper tanks.

2st Ukrainian Front – 1106 fighters, 529 ground-attack, 422 bombers, 91 recon and spotting, total – 2148

1918 AFVs including 378 in the Polish Army

The figures quoted in the proceedings of the conference on the Berlin operation conducted in April 1946 (published in “Russkiy arkhiv..Bitva za Berlin”. The breakdown of AFVs in the 1st Belorussain by types:

419 IS

989 T-34

7 T-70

227 M4A2

241 ISU-122/152

230 ISU-85/100

863 SU-76

83 SU-57

Total 3059