Wilson-Kautz Raid, June 1864

Clockwise from upper left: Brigadier General August V. Kautz, Brigadier General James H. Wilson, Confederate artillery firing across the river.

Union Army commander Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant did not want a siege, but the battle had proved unsuccessful. He had been through one siege already in this war, at Vicksburg. It had lasted 47 tedious days, and the inactivity had made it difficult to maintain discipline and morale in the ranks. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was stronger than Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton had been, and Petersburg was better defended, with several supply routes still open. A siege here would last much longer than at Vicksburg and would be more stubbornly contested. Nevertheless, on June 20 1864 Grant told Butler and others, “I have determined to try to envelop Petersburg.”

That same day he also set in motion one last attempt to force Lee out in the open. His army now lay across the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad east of the city and was in striking distance of two more of Lee’s remaining sources of supply: the Weldon Railroad, which ran into North Carolina and on to the port of Wilmington, and the Southside Railroad, running west to Lynchburg. If he could cut these lines, even temporarily, Lee might be forced to attack him or to abandon Richmond and Petersburg altogether.

Grant ordered General Wilson to take his own cavalry division and Kautz’s on a wide sweeping ride around the enemy right. Grant wanted Wilson to cross the Weldon line as close to Petersburg as possible, cut it, then ride on to the Southside, once again as close to the city as practicable. Then he was to tear up track as far west as he could get, if possible the entire 45 miles to Burke’s Station, where the Southside intersected with the Richmond & Danville line.

From there, if still unmolested, Wilson and Kautz were to continue the destruction, moving southwest on the Richmond & Danville. If they were successful, only one line – the Virginia Central – would be left intact to serve the Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant expected that Sheridan, who was on his way back east from the Trevilian raid, would keep most of Wade Hampton’s cavalry occupied, though Rooney Lee’s mounted division would have to be dealt with. As further cover for the movement, Grant ordered Birney and Wright to move to their left, across the Jerusalem Plank Road and out to the Weldon line in the vicinity of Globe Tavern. They might do considerable damage to the railroad themselves, and they would also provide a screen behind which Wilson could get well on his way.

Wilson asked for two days to rest and refit his men. Then, before dawn on June 22, he set out with a total of about 5,000 troopers. By midmorning they had reached Reams’s Station on the Weldon line without opposition; they stopped briefly to burn the railroad buildings and uproot the tracks for a few hundred yards on either side. That done, the raiders moved on, and by afternoon they passed through Dinwiddie Court House, with Rooney Lee now snapping ineffectually at their heels.

Before nightfall Wilson and Kautz reached Ford’s Station on the Southside line, where they had the good fortune to find two loaded enemy supply trains. These they burned, along with the station buildings and everything else combustible. Then they headed west, tearing up the track as they went, heating it red-hot over fires fed with railroad ties and then twisting the rails out of shape to render them useless. Not until mid- night did the Federal raiders finally halt, more than 50 miles from their starting point. The exhausted men slept with their reins in their hands, lying in formation in front of their saddled horses.

The following morning, while Kautz’s men rode ahead toward the Richmond & Danville line, Wilson’s men continued their work, moving slowly west while Rooney Lee’s cavalry skirmished in their rear. “We had no time to do a right job,” a trooper complained. Now they simply overturned the rails and ties, which could be done quickly but was hardly a permanent form of destruction. The next day they reached Burke’s Station and met Kautz, who had reduced the depot to a charred ruin and had torn up the Richmond & Danville line for several miles in either direction.

Kautz took the advance again and headed out, reaching the Staunton River 30 miles southwest of Burke’s Station on the after- noon of June 25. Destruction of the bridge here would be a hard blow to the Confederates, but by now the raiders were expected. More than 1,000 home guards, supported by at least one battery, waited in earthworks on the far side of the river. When Kautz advanced to burn the bridge, the defenders opened a stubborn fire and drove the Federals back. At the same time, Rooney Lee was pressing Wilson’s rear guard. Wilson decided it was time to end the raid and return to friendly lines.

For several reasons, this was not going to be easy. Wilson was 100 miles from safety, with tired animals and worn-out men. General Hampton was on his way back to the Petersburg area with his two divisions of Confederate cavalry. And friendly lines were not where Wilson thought they were. Wright and Birney had moved their corps as ordered on June 22, but they had become separated in the woods, and A. P. Hill’s Confederates had shoved their way between them. Hill stopped Wright short and forced the Federals back. Then he struck Birney ferociously and threw him back to the Jerusalem Plank Road, taking 1,700 prisoners. As a result, the Weldon Railroad was still firmly in Confederate hands.

At midday on June 28, Wilson’s weary riders reached Stony Creek Depot, just 10 miles south of Reams’s Station, and presumed safety. But here they ran into Wade Hampton’s and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry divisions. The dismayed Wilson could not break through; his line of retreat was cut off and he was in real trouble.

That night Wilson ordered Kautz to ride west and north, around the enemy divisions to Reams’s Station; Wilson would hold Hampton at Stony Creek. While Wil- son fought off a substantial attack, Kautz reached Reams’s Station the next day – only to discover, instead of the Federal II and VI Corps, part of Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry and two brigades of Hill’s Confederate infantry.

Increasingly desperate, Wilson next took his own command around the opponents facing him to rejoin Kautz west of Reams’s Station. But now the enemy was converging on him from three sides: Fitzhugh and Rooney Lee’s cavalrymen from the north, Hill’s infantry from the east, and Hampton’s riders from the south. There was no choice but to make a headlong run for it.

The Federals burned their wagons, spiked their guns, left their wounded behind and headed southwest. Before they could get away, the Confederates attacked and Kautz, in covering the escape of Wilson, became separated from him.

There was a large swamp on the enemy left flank, and Kautz thought he saw a chance to break through there. “It was our only chance,” wrote one of his troopers. In they plunged, the men riding past Kautz, who was sitting astride his horse, one leg slung over his pommel, with a pocket map of Virginia in one hand and a compass in the other. Looking at the sun for position, he pointed out their course. Incredibly, the troopers got through the swamp unopposed. Seven hours later, bone-weary and falling asleep in their saddles, they rode into friendly lines southeast of Petersburg.

Wilson’s men had it even tougher. For 11 hours they were pursued south, until they were nearly 20 miles farther away from Federal lines. Wilson allowed the men two hours’ rest, then he led them east, toward the James River. Riding all day June 30, with Hampton racing to cut them off, the Federals finally reached Blackwater River – seven miles south of the James – after midnight, on July 1.

There was no enemy on the other side of Blackwater River, but Wilson found the only bridge burned. Hastily the troopers made makeshift repairs and straggled across; that afternoon they reached the James and safety, having covered 125 miles in 60 hours. “For the first time in ten days,” Wilson wrote later, his men “unsaddled, picketed, fed, and went regularly to sleep.” Like most cavalry raids in this War, Wilson’s had been audacious, dramatic – and had yielded mixed results. Undeniably the destruction of more than 60 miles of railroad track was important. Years later Colonel Isaac M. St. John, who was in charge of Confederate ordnance supplies in Richmond, said that nine weeks passed before another train entered either Petersburg on the South-side Railroad or Richmond on the Richmond & Danville. The ensuing shortages forced Lee’s army to consume every bit of its commissary reserves, yet it was not forced out of Petersburg, much less Richmond. Meanwhile, Wilson had lost all of his artillery, wagons and supplies, along with one quarter of his command in casualties.

 

Engagement at Asomante Hills

Spanish trenches in the Spanish American War battle of Asomante.

Date: August 12, 1898

Skirmish between American and Spanish forces that occurred on August 12, 1898, at Aibonito Pass, Puerto Rico. Alternately known as the Battle of Asomante Hills and Aibonito, it was the last engagement of the Puerto Rico Campaign. On August 9, 1898, Spanish forces retreated to the stronghold of Aibonito after their battle with American forces at Coamo earlier that day. Aibonito is located within the Cayey mountain range to the east of Coamo in east-central Puerto Rico. The terrain between Aibonito and Coamo fea- tures many ravines and impassable ridges that made regular military operations through them nearly impossible. Travel be- tween the two cities was conducted on the paved military road, which twisted through crooked valleys, doubled around sharp promontories, skirted steep overhanging cliffs, and hugged the sides of the precipitous slopes.

To prevent Spanish forces from destroying the much-needed bridges along the road, Major General James H. Wilson deployed Troop C (Brooklyn) of the New York Volunteer Cavalry com- manded by Captain Bertram T. Clayton to pursue the fleeing Spaniards. Just over five miles beyond Coamo, Clayton’s troops came under fire from Spanish batteries placed on two hills north of Aibonito: Asomante and El Penon. Along with the batteries, the Spanish infantry had entrenched four companies of the Cazadores Patria Battalion, 70 mounted guerrillas from the 6th Provision Battalion, two provisional companies from the civilian guards, police units, and the 9th Volunteers. In all, there were some 1,280 Spanish troops on the slopes below their artillery batteries. This gave the Spanish complete coverage of the highway for several miles in either direction. The crossfire produced by the batteries and troops forced Clayton, under heavy Spanish fire, to halt his pursuit.

After reconnoitering the Spanish forces at Aibonito on August 11 and 12, Wilson became convinced that a frontal assault was entirely impossible. The Spanish positions on Asomante and El Penon commanded the steep road, allowing the Spanish to fire down on the Americans and preventing American batteries from deploying. Wilson’s men then found two practical routes around both the Spanish positions, which would place American troops across the Spanish line of retreat. Both routes were obscured from Spanish troops and were exceedingly steep paths, but the trail to the left was the shorter distance. Wilson decided to utilize this route for his turning movement, and on the morning of August 12, he instructed Brigadier General Oswald H. Ernst to take the mountain trail that branched westward and northward over the divide to Barranquitas. Once at Barranquitas, Ernst would travel down the highway from the village of Honduras, placing the American forces to the rear of Aibonito.

Knowing that at any minute he might receive word of an armistice, Wilson delayed Ernst’s flanking movement and sent Colonel Tasker H. Bliss under a flag of truce through the Spanish lines demanding their surrender. The message was also forwarded to the governor-general in San Juan. While the Americans waited for a response, Spanish forces at Aibonito were being reinforced from Caguas, bringing the total number of Spanish defenders to some 1,300 men. The Spanish then refused the American demands. Wilson now instructed Ernst to begin his flanking movement.

To divert Spanish attention from Ernst’s movement, Wilson directed Captain R. D. Potts’s Battery F of the 3rd U. S. Artillery with its six 90-millimeter (mm) field pieces to take up a position on a low ridge some 2,150 yards from the batteries on Asomante and 400 yards below them. Opening fire at 1:25 p. m., the Spanish artillery pieces were silenced by 2:15. The American guns now turned their attention to the Spanish infantry entrenched on the slopes, driving many from their trenches. Subsequently, it appeared that the Spanish had received reinforcements, with the Americans finding themselves under a hail of shells and bullets. With Battery F’s position untenable, the guns were withdrawn. The battery suffered one killed (a lieutenant commanding one of the guns) and six wounded.

Shortly before Ernst began his flanking movement, Major General Nelson A. Miles sent word to Wilson that hostilities had been halted with Spain. The Spanish-American War and the engagement at Aibonito were now concluded.

Further Reading Brands, H. W. The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Chadwick, French Ensor. The Relations of the United States and Spain V1: The Spanish-American War. Reprint ed. Kila, MT: Kessinger, 2007. Hendrickson, Kenneth E., Jr. The Spanish-American War. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003. O’Toole, G. J. A. The Spanish War: An American Epic, 1898. New York: Norton, 1984. Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

James Harrison Wilson

Birth Date: September 2, 1837

Death Date: February 23, 1925

U. S. Army general. James Harrison Wilson was born near Shawnee- town, Illinois, on September 2, 1837. He briefly attended McKendree College before enrolling at the United States Military Academy, from which he graduated seventh in his class in 1860 and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of topographical engineers. He spent nearly a year at Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, before the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861 necessitated his transfer east. He participated in the capture of Port Royal, South Carolina, in November 1861 and also distinguished himself during the siege of Fort Pulaski, Georgia, the following April.

Wilson served as an aide-de-camp to Major General George B. McClellan and accompanied him throughout the Peninsula Campaign and at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Advanced to lieutenant colonel of volunteers, he joined Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff as his chief engineer in November 1862. Grant subsequently appointed Wilson inspector general of the Army of the Tennessee.

Wilson played a conspicuous role at the capture of Vicksburg in July 1863 and was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers that October. In November 1863, he distinguished himself in both the Chattanooga Campaign and the relief expedition to Knoxville. Grant then recommended him for the post of chief of the Cavalry Bureau in the War Department, and Wilson assumed that position by January 1864.

Wilson proceeded to overhaul and reequip the army’s mounted arm. He believed that the cavalry’s days as a shock weapon had passed and that it would be far more effective as mounted infantry. He thus issued rapid-fire Spencer carbines to his troopers and drilled them in tactics emphasizing mobility and firepower. In April 1864, Grant summoned him back as commander of the 3rd Division in Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry corps. Wilson fought well at the battles of the Wilderness and Yellow Tavern that May. In June 1864, Grant entrusted Wilson with the assignment of raiding the outskirts of Petersburg, Virginia, which was then under siege and stoutly defended by Confederate forces. Although Wilson performed effectively in campaigning around Richmond, the Wilson-Kautz Raid that June was a near disaster.

Wilson subsequently fought under Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley but on September 30 was transferred to command cavalry under Major General William T. Sherman as a major general of volunteers. Wilson accompanied Sherman throughout the Atlanta Campaign until Confederate general John Bell Hood abandoned the city and lunged for the Union supply lines in Tennessee. Wilson then joined Major General John Schofield at the defense of Franklin on November 29, 1864. Hood was repulsed, and both Union generals fell back to join Major General George H. Thomas at Nashville. On December 16, Hood’s army was smashed at Nashville, and Wilson destroyed the Confederate remnants in a vigorous pursuit. Promoted to brevet brigadier general of regulars in March 1865, Wilson was next entrusted with a cavalry corps of three divisions (13,500 men) and ordered to raid the heart of the Confederacy. This was the largest cavalry raid of the war and among the most successful.

Wilson’s troopers tangled with renowned cavalry leader Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Ebenezer Church on April 1, 1865, defeating him. The next day, Wilson’s troopers again defeated Forrest during the capture of Selma, Alabama. It was the first time that a Union general had outmaneuvered Forrest. Montgomery, Alabama, fell on April 12, as did Columbus, Georgia, on April 20. In all, Wilson’s cavalry took more than 7,000 prisoners and 300 cannon before the end of the raid on May 20. Ten days earlier, Wilson had gained distinction when his men captured the fleeing Confederate president Jefferson Davis near Irwinville, Georgia. On June 21, Wilson received his final promotion, to major general of volunteers; he was then only 27 years old.

Following the war, Wilson remained with the army, becoming a lieutenant colonel of the 35th U. S. Infantry in July 1866. He performed engineering duty along the Mississippi River before resigning in December 1870 to pursue railroad construction. He settled in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1883.

When the Spanish-American War commenced in 1898, Wilson immediately volunteered his services and was commissioned as a major general of volunteers and assigned to command VI Corps. That corps was never organized, leaving him frustrated and with- out a post. In July, he secured command of the 1st Division in I Corps, commanded by Major General Nelson A. Miles.

Wilson’s 3,571-man division sailed from Charleston, South Carolina, on July 20 and arrived at Ponce, Puerto Rico, eight days later. Because of a lack of suitable small craft, the debarkation took 10 days. Wilson’s command saw little action in the fight for the island before the armistice. A portion under Brigadier General Oswald H. Ernst did fight and win the Battle of Coamo on August 9, and Wilson’s command also engaged in a skirmish at Asomante Hills on August 12.

Wilson, who favored the U. S. annexation of both Cuba and Puerto Rico, was then briefly military governor of the Ponce district of Puerto Rico. He returned to the United States to head I Corps at Lexington, Kentucky, and then served in Cuba as military governor of the provinces of Matanzas and Santa Clara. During 1900- 1901, he was second-in-command of the Beijing (Peking) relief expedition under Major General Adna R. Chaffee Sr. Wilson led a joint Anglo-American punitive expedition against Patachow, the city of eight temples, but refused to burn the Buddhist pagodas in retribution for the Boxer attacks.

Through a special act of Congress in February 1901, Wilson retired with the rank of brigadier general in the regular army. He represented President Theodore Roosevelt at the coronation of King Edward VII in England in 1902. In 1912, he published his memoirs, titled Under the Old Flag: Recollections of Military Operations in the War for the Union, the Spanish War, and Boxer Rebellion, Etc. In March 1915, he was advanced to major general on the retired list. Wilson died in Wilmington, Delaware, on February 23, 1925.

Further Reading Evans, David. Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Jones, James P. Yankee Blitzkrieg: Wilson’s Raid through Alabama and Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976. Keenan, Jerry. Wilson’s Cavalry Corps: Union Campaigns in the Western Theater, October 1864 through Spring 1865. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998. Longacre, Edward G. Grant’s Cavalryman: The Life and Wars of General James H. Wilson. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1996. Wilson, James Harrison. Under the Old Flag: Recollections of Military Operations in the War for the Union, the Spanish War, the Boxer Rebellion, Etc. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1912.

 

EMPIRE: “GOLD IS YOUR GOD”

By 1601, there were eight private Dutch companies, with a total of sixty-five ships, frantically vying with one another to buy up commodities in the East Indies. Initially reaping immense returns, the Dutch merchants quickly found that competition among them was driving up prices and threatening their profits. At the same time, Dutch vessels were subject to raids by pirates, enemy warships, and privateers. Moreover, unlike Spain and Portugal, the Dutch had no collective, sovereign armed presence in Asia, Africa, or the New World. In the East and West Indies, Spain and Portugal had conquered peoples and colonized lands, a convenient means of extracting raw materials for commerce. The Dutch merchants saw these advantages and took a lesson from them.

In 1602, a collaboration of Dutch merchants, burghers, and ministers established the East India Company, a joint-stock trading monopoly armed with sovereign powers. The East India Company could conduct diplomacy, sign treaties, form alliances, maintain troops, install viceroys, and make war. All of its agents, whether naval commanders or expatriate governors-general, had to swear double oaths of alliance to the company and to the States General of the United Provinces.

The composition of the founding investors of the East India Company was striking. In the most important Amsterdam chamber, there were more than a thousand initial investors, eighty-one of whom provided about half the total capital. Of these eighty-one “chief investors,” roughly half were wealthy Protestant refugees who had fled Spanish persecution, and roughly half were native Hollanders. The former group, which contributed significantly more capital, included famous Antwerp merchant-banking families such as the Bartolottis, Coymans, De Scots, and De Vogelaers. The native Hollanders, who were less wealthy (at least initially) but more politically influential, included Gerrit Bicker, son of a brewer, Reinier Pauw, son of a grain trader, and Gerrit Reynst, son of a soap boiler. All these men made immense fortunes in long-distance commerce. There were also three chief investors who were immigrants from Germany, including the magnate Jan Poppen, whose family by 1631 was the single wealthiest in all Amsterdam, followed by the Bartolotti and Coymans families. Although Holland’s towns were typically ten to twenty percent Catholic, all the chief investors of the East India Company were Protestant.

Nevertheless, Dutch overseas expansion was not driven by religious zeal. In contrast to the Spanish and Portuguese, very few Dutch missionaries went over to the East Indies or the Americas to “save heathens.” Certainly there were some ardent Calvinists among the Dutch empire builders, including the God-fearing admiral Piet Heyn and the governor-general Jan Pieterszoon Coen. But men like Heyn and Coen complained constantly about the lack of religious piety among their fellow Dutch expatriates in Asia. One reverend grumbled, “Dutch sailors knew as little of the Bible as they did of the Koran.” Dutch imperialism was fueled not by Calvinism but by profit seeking. As West African tribesmen said to Dutch traders in the early seventeenth century, “Gold is your god.” Sweden’s Charles X made the same point a few years later: When a Dutch envoy made a comment about freedom of religion, the king pulled a coin from his pocket and declared, “Voila votre religion!”

The early 1600s saw a burst of Dutch commercial and colonial expansion all over the globe. In 1605 the Dutch seized the Indonesian Spice Islands from the Portuguese. In 1610 the East India Company installed its first governor-general in Java, as well as trading posts on the neighboring islands of Ternate, Tidore, Amboina, and Banda. In 1619, the Dutch captured Jakarta and, renaming it Batavia, made it the company’s new headquarters. Over the same period, the Dutch replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power on the West African coast, taking over the region’s gold and ivory trade. Even more dramatically, between 1599 and 1605 the Dutch sent 768 vessels to the Caribbean and the shores of northern South America-formerly Spain’s stranglehold-successfully procuring large quantities of salt, tobacco, hides, sugar, and silver bullion.

Maurice, Prince of Orange and Dutch Arquebusier

Meanwhile, back in Europe, the long Dutch struggle for independence from Spain (lasting from 1568 to 1648 and known as the Dutch Revolt or the Eighty Years’ War) stretched on, with increasing victories for the Dutch. Fueled by the economic explosion, the Dutch adopted a series of military reforms soon copied all over Europe. Troops were paid regularly. More powerful weaponry was introduced and ammunition standardized. Battlefield training and techniques were revolutionized; soldiers, for example, were drilled to load and fire in synchronized fashion, allowing continuous vol- leys by successive lines of infantry. Dutch battlefield superiority grew so pronounced that in the Battle of Turnhout in 1597 an estimated 2,250 Spanish soldiers were killed, while the Dutch may have lost as few as four men-or, at the highest estimate, one hundred.

Dutch Sailor

In 1607, Dutch warships crushed the Spanish in the Bay of Gibraltar, their own backyard. In 1609, Spain signed the Twelve Years Truce with “the Dutch rebels,” allowing Dutch ships once again to enter the ports of Spain, Portugal, and Flanders and to ply international waters without fear of attack by Spanish warships or privateers. Dutch freight and shipping insurance charges immediately plunged. Dutch profits soared to new heights, and the republic’s commercial ascendancy over the Baltic, Mediterranean, and northern European trade reached its zenith. When the truce expired, Spain did not renew its terms. In 1621, war resumed and Spain reimposed its embargo. The same year, the Dutch West Indies Company was officially created, and Dutch colonization in the New World took off.

By the 1630s, the Dutch had wrested from Portugal almost the entire sugar trade between Brazil and northern Europe. In 1634 the Dutch captured Curaçao from Spain and established a permanent base in the Caribbean. By 1648 the Dutch flag flew over Aruba, Bonaire, half of St. Martin, and the other islands collectively known today as the Netherlands Antilles. Meanwhile, back in 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman hired and provisioned by the Dutch, had claimed much of New York State on behalf of his new employer. By the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch, from bases in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) and Fort Orange (now Albany), controlled North America’s lucrative fur trade.

Like the East India Company, the Dutch West India Company was founded in large part by immigrants who fled to the Dutch Re- public because of its relative religious tolerance. Again, these included many wealthy Protestant refugees-indeed, the West India Company was far more belligerently Calvinist than its East India counterpart. On the other hand, whereas Jews played a relatively small role in the East India Company, they figured much more prominently in the activities of the West India Company.

With their fluency in both Dutch and the Iberian languages, as well as their long-standing expertise in trading sugar and other tropical raw materials, Holland’s Sephardic Jews were particularly well suited to serve as Dutch colonists in the West Indies. By 1644, Dutch Jews represented approximately one-third of all the white civilians in Netherlands Brazil.

Dutch Jews also helped colonize Guyana, Barbados, Martinique, and Jamaica, as well as smaller islands like Nevis, Grenada, and Tobago. The largest and most important Jewish colony in the New World was Curaçao, followed by the five-hundred- person Sephardic community in Suriname, which by 1694 owned forty sugar plantations and nine thousand slaves.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic was “indisputably the greatest trading nation in the world, with commercial outposts and fortified ‘factories’ scattered from Archangel to Recife and from New Amsterdam to Nagasaki.” Incalculable quantities of luxury goods flowed into and through Holland. On June 27, 1634, the following immense bounty was unloaded in the port of Amsterdam:

326,73372 Amsterdam pounds of Malacca pepper; 297,446 lb. of cloves; 292,623 lb. of saltpetre; 141,278 lb. of indigo; 483,082 lb. of sappan wood; 219,027 pieces of blue Ming ware; 52 further chests of Korean and Japanese porcelain; 75 large vases and pots containing preserved confections, much of it spiced ginger; 660 lb. of Japanese copper; 241 pieces of fine Japanese lacquer work; 3,989 rough diamonds of large carat; 93 boxes of pearls and rubies (misc. carats); 603 bales of dressed Persian silks and grosgreins; 1,155 lb. of raw Chinese silk; 199,800 lb. of unrefined Kandy [i. e., Ceylon] sugar.

The Kobukson or “Turtle Ship

Korean fleet led by Yi Sun Sin. The Battle of Noryang, 18 November 1598, occurred when a Japanese fleet led by the Shimazu clan tried to break through the blockade. Although the Shimazu fleet was severely damaged by the combined Chinese-Korean fleet, the Japanese Sunch’on garrison was evacuated. Yi Sun Sin was killed in the battle.

Throughout the two campaigns, in contrast to the fighting on land, the Korean navy was always superior. This was in part because of the splendid leadership of Admiral Yi Sun Sin, who nearly always led the entire Korean fleet. In contrast, the Japanese fleet lacked strong leadership and was little better than a combination of small coastal/inland water navies. The Koreans also enjoyed a technological advantage in the form of their armored Kobukson (turtle ships). These formed the core of the Korean fleet and inflicted serious damage on the Japanese fleet. The Korean victories at sea constantly threatened the Japanese supply lines and were one of the major causes of Japan’s abandonment of the campaign.

The Kobukson, also known as the Turtle Ship, was the first ironclad warship in the world.

Boasting unparalleled firepower and mobility, it proved a pivotal instrument for victory in the sea battles under Admiral Yi. Effectively a sea tank, it was capable of sinking large numbers of enemy vessels, and so did much to maintain the morale of Korean sailors, so often outnumbered by the vast fleets of the Japanese navy.

It should not be supposed that Admiral Yi designed and built the Turtle Ship entirely by himself. The planning and the actual construction of the Kobukson required the combined efforts of a large number of people, both craftsmen and naval officers. On the practical side of the work, for instance, Na Dae-yong (1556-1612) played one of the most important roles in bringing the plans for the first ship to fruition.

An Overview of Kobukson:

The following are the main features of Kobukson, as recorded by Yi Sun-sin’s nephew, Yi Boon, in his book, Haeng Rok.

– Its dimensions are 34.2m in length, 6.4m in height, and 10.3m in width; it is thus roughly the same size as a Panokseon (the standard warship of the Korean Navy at the time of the Seven Years War).

– The prow is fashioned in the shape of a dragon’s head; cannon balls are fired through the mouth.

– The stern is in the shape of a turtle’s tail. Additional gun ports are stationed beneath it.

– The turtle’s ‘back’ is a roof made with planks, and is covered with iron spikes. Amid the spikes is a narrow, cross-shaped alley that serves as a passageway along the roof for the crew to use.

– Six gun ports are positioned on each side of the deck.

– During combat the spikes on the roof are concealed with straw mats, on which an unsuspecting enemy will be impaled if he tries to board.

– Any attack from port or starboard is repelled by arrows and cannon-fire, which can be launched from every part of the ship.

– From the inside, the outside can be seen, but the inside cannot be seen from the outside.

– It employs every variety of projectile-based weapon, including long-ranging cannon such as Chon (Heaven), Chi (Earth), Hyon (Black) and Hwang (Yellow).

– As such, it is able to roam freely and unopposed amid many hundreds of  enemy ships.

Detailed Description:

The Kobukson was mounted with a dragon’s head at the bow, and a turtle’s tail at the stern. It had two decks, a lower deck for oarsmen and the storage of supplies, and an upper deck for archers and gunners. It was specially designed so that its sailors could see their enemies outside while themselves remaining invisible.

In the naval warfare of the day, it was usual to attempt to board an opponent’s ship and engage him in hand to hand combat. The Kobukson was designed with a view to making this kind of assault particularly difficult. Not only was the ship roofed over, protecting both combat(45) and non-combat(80) personnel alike, but the roof itself was fitted with deadly iron spikes, often concealed beneath innocent-looking straw mats.

Unlike other warships, the Kobukson had guns stationed not only along its sides, but also in the bow and in the stern, allowing it unprecedented accuracy and flexibility of range in fire power. The dragon head was designed not only to ‘breathe out’ flaming arrows and cannon balls, but also sulphurous fumes and clouds of smoke, which provided the Korean Navy with cover for tactical maneuvers, as well as frightening the more superstitious of the Japanese sailors.

A little below the bow, there protruded the head of a gargoyle, which served as a charging device, and together with the dragon head constituted the secret of the Kobukson’s tactic of ramming. In battle, the Kobukson would charge an enemy ship and, once the gargoyle’s head had breached its hull, cannon balls would be fired from the dragon’s head into the breach as the ship withdrew. The gargoyle had the further effect of improving the ship’s hydrodynamic performance by cutting the waves as the ship sped along, thus increasing its ramming speed.

Two further features of the Kobukson made it particularly serviceable for the execution of this tactic. First, it was built with Red Pine timbers no less than 12cm in diameter; the advantage offered by this type of wood was that its relative density of 0.73 was much higher than that of average timber, which lay typically between 0.41-0.47. Secondly, wooden nails were used in the construction of the Kobukson; unlike metal, which was quick to rust, the wooden nails absorbed water and expanded, and thus over time the joints became more secure. Indeed, the Kobukson as a whole was constructed on this principle: support beams were fitted to the roofs by means of a system of matching indentations and interlocking teeth, thus making the entire structure of the vessel stronger and more resilient.

The Japanese ships, built out of wood with a low density, were light and swift, but the relative weakness of the wood to withstand the recoil of a cannon put a restriction on the number of heavy fire-arms that could be carried on one ship, and consequently they normally preferred to use muskets, which had a maximum range of 100 meters. The Kobukson, on the other hand, were able to carry a whole array of different cannons on board, including long-distance cannons such as the Chon (Heaven) with a range of over 500 meters, the Chi (Earth), its slightly smaller companion, which had a range of 350 meters, and the Seung (Victory), a portable cannon, with a range of up to 200 meters.

Kobukson had 8 oars on either side, with a team of five men – a leader and four regular oarsmen – assigned to each oar, making a total rowing crew of 80. During combat every oarsman was expected to be on duty, but at other times they would take turns at the oar in pairs. The leader would direct his colleagues to row forward or backward, to increase or decrease speed, to halt or turn about, according to the changing circumstances of the battle. This innovative division of duties thus gave the Kobukson superior potential of movement not only in terms of speed but also in terms of the range of its possible maneuvers.

The combat personnel on board the Kobukson were divided into three groups: Gunners, Chargers, responsible for the loading of cannons with shells and gunpowder, and Archers. It was thus possible for the Kobukson to produce an uninterrupted shower of cannon balls and fire-arrows, wreaking havoc on everything that came within its range.

The number of gun ports generally varied from ship to ship, but the Tong Je Young Kobukson which we find described in the Complete Works of Yi Sun-sin, had a total of 74: 12 ports on either side of the turtle’s back, 44 on either side of the shielded boards underneath, 2 above and below dragon’s head, and so on.

Invented late in the 16th century, Kobukson was a unique warship, the like of which cannot be found used anywhere else in world naval history. Planned with meticulous care, and the result of much detailed scientific research, it boasted unsurpassed structure and performance. Above all, much meaning lies in the fact that Kobukson was a refinement and a remodeling of P’anokson, the existing warship of Korea, based on careful investigation of the primary Japanese tactic of grappling and boarding.

Replicas of Kobukson are on display in various national museums, such as the War Memorial of Korea, as well as in other museums throughout the world, such as the Wasington D.C. War Memorial Museum in North America, the Maritime Museum of Great Britain, and in many other countries including China, Japan, Germany, France, Canada and so on.

 

The New Zealanders at Bapaume

A view over Bapaume, taken by Henry Armytage Sanders the day after its capture, showing the huge amount of destruction to the town

A New Zealand infantry battalion passing through recaptured Bapaume, 14 September 1918

When the Amiens offensive launched by the Fourth Army astride the Somme on 8 August 1918 ran out of steam, the Third Army took over the main advance. What followed in the last days of August became known as the Battle of Albert. In fact, Albert was taken by III Corps from the Fourth Army, which secured the right flank of the Third. For New Zealanders, though, the last part of August has always been the period of the Battle of Bapaume. The town was the Third Army’s main goal. Advancing in the centre of the Third Army was IV Corps. As the New Zealand Division formed the centre of IV Corps, it was at the heart of the Third Army and, therefore, at the heart of the Battle of Bapaume.

The battle was significant for the New Zealanders in several ways. During its course, they received air-dropped supplies and were counterattacked by tanks for the first time. Three of them won VCs, the most for any battle in the nation’s history. Involving failed and successful attacks in equal measure, it was their toughest action of 1918 and resulted in 3000 casualties, including 821 dead. Many of these were from the large pool of reinforcements that replaced the losses incurred during the defensive fighting. The veterans started to show the war-weariness that was gripping the Australian divisions. Not for nothing do New Zealanders call the battle `Bloody Bapaume’.

Preliminaries
As most of the German reserves were facing the Fourth Army in front of Amiens, striking towards Bapaume, 40 kilometres northeast, promised to catch the Germans off balance. The Third Army might then outflank the Germans opposite the Fourth. Field Marshal Haig wanted Bapaume seized rapidly. Between 21 and 23 August the Fourth Army took Albert and the Third reached the Arras-Albert railway, bringing Bapaume within striking distance. Running from Loupart Wood through Grévillers to Biefvillers-les-Bapaume, the last ridge to the west of the town had to fall first. Grévillers and the wood were well defended and the 5th Division, on the left of the New Zealand Division, could not capture them on 23 August. The task passed to the New Zealanders, whose role so far had been limited to gaining the line of the Ancre north of Miraumont. On 24 August the 1st New Zealand Brigade was to advance 450 metres past both Grévillers and Loupart Wood, after which the 2nd Brigade would take Bapaume. The 37th Division on the left would capture Biefvillers.

Following up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line early in 1917, the Australians had passed through this area. When the Germans returned in the Michael offensive in March 1918, they fortified the ruins of the villages they had devastated during their earlier retirement. From the New Zealanders’ point of view, the ground offered good going to tanks as it lay just beyond the 1916 Somme battlefield and was not cut up by shelling. Thirteen heavy tanks and some Whippets supported them. But the uncertainty as to the situation on the evening of 23 August resulted in rushed planning that left no time to organise an artillery barrage. The attack would be a `silent’ one, which initially helped the New Zealanders when they stepped off at 4.15 am next morning. With the darkness and rain blinding the Germans, the absence of a barrage removed their last hope of detecting the assault until it was almost upon them.

The Germans still defended strongly. 1st Wellington took until 12.30 pm to clear Loupart Wood. On their left, 2nd Auckland had enveloped Grévillers by 9 am but could not get beyond it. Engineer Sergeant Sam Forsyth led an assault that took a strongpoint holding up part of the attack. Killed afterwards, he was awarded a posthumous VC. Further left, 2nd Otago and 2nd Canterbury from the 2nd Brigade, and 2nd Wellington from the 1st Brigade, cleared Biefvillers by mid-morning, thereby securing the 1st Brigade’s left flank. The 37th Division, which should have taken the village, had fallen behind. Heading towards the D929, the Albert-Bapaume road, part of 2nd Otago was stopped just beyond Grévillers. The rest continued with 2nd Canterbury towards Bapaume, 1.5 kilometres away on the far side of the D929. Avesnes- les-Bapaume, then a hamlet west of the town, now an outlying suburb, was taken but could not be held.

`One of the toughest nuts to crack’
Since the start of the Third Army’s offensive four days earlier, nine German divisions had reinforced the eight originally opposing it. The Germans ahead of the Third Army thus regained their balance and, as the tough fighting on 24 August showed, were putting up the same stiff resistance that had slowed down the Fourth Army. It was particularly strong in front of Bapaume, which did not bode well for the New Zealanders. In the continuation of the advance on 25 August, in which IV Corps was to reach the line Riencourt-Beugnatre three kilometres beyond Bapaume, they had to envelop the town, thereby forcing the Germans to abandon it. Costly street fighting through its ruins would then be avoided.

At 5 am on the 25th, 1st Auckland and 2nd Wellington from the 1st Brigade headed for the southern side of Bapaume. Hit by heavy fire, they stalled on the D929. Supported by a creeping barrage and 23 tanks, whereas the 1st Brigade had neither, the 2nd Brigade made for the northern side of Bapaume. 1st Canterbury on the right briefly took Avesnes and reached the D917, the Arras road. 1st Otago on the left was halted on the D917. But both battalions got across the road in capturing Monument Wood and part of Favreuil, 1.5 kilometres north of Bapaume, in a second attack at 6.30 pm. Nonetheless, the town’s well-sited and concealed defences had withstood the New Zealanders a second time. As one of them remarked, it was turning out to be `one of the toughest nuts to crack’.

The First Army joined the offensive on the left of the Third on 26 August but it made no difference to the New Zealand Division, which was to advance a third time against Bapaume. South of the town, the 1st Brigade barely progressed beyond the previous day’s line. The only bright spot was the knocking out of three machine-guns by Sergeant Reg Judson of 1st Auckland. He won the VC. North of Bapaume, the Rifle Brigade, which had relieved the 2nd Brigade, reached the D956, the Bapaume-Beugnatre road, a gain of just 450 metres. Pinpointing the cause of the grinding pace of the advance, a New Zealand artillery observer expressed sentiments that the Australians would have echoed: `We share great admiration for the way the machine-gunners of the enemy stick to their work. Most died at their post’.

Another attack that evening achieved little but at least the Rifle Brigade was now firmly ensconced east of Bapaume, threatening the Germans with envelopment. A continuous bombardment commenced to give them every incentive to withdraw. But on 27 August they belted two attacks by the 63rd Division on Ligny-Thilloy, on the right of the New Zealanders, who stood fast that day and the next. The New Zealanders’ patrols still attracted intense German machine-gun fire. An attack on Bapaume was being planned when the fire petered out early on 29 August. Cautiously entering after dawn, New Zealand patrols found the Germans had gone and the town `nothing but a few acres of bricks’, according to Private Stayte of 1st Auckland. It was booby-trapped just as extensively as it had been when the Australians entered in 1917.

Following up
During the day, the Rifle Brigade established a new line 1.4 kilometres beyond Bapaume and Beugnatre. At last able to move around the southern side of the town, the 1st Brigade took the heavily defended sugar factory on the Cambrai road to the right of the Rifles. Both brigades started the 2.2-kilometre advance to the ridge behind the villages of Bancourt and Frémicourt at 5 am on 30 August. They reached the crest but could not hold it. A German counterattack with tanks next morning was driven off. Forming the centre of a wider attack on 1 September, the two brigades took all but the Bancourt part of the ridge. Sergeant John Grant was awarded the VC for clearing machine-guns that held up 1st Wellingtons. Relieving the 1st Brigade and the Rifles that night, the 2nd Brigade secured the uncaptured section of the ridge on 2 September.

`Bloody Bapaume’ was over. Throughout the battle, the New Zealand Division had fought with one, and sometimes two, open flanks because it consistently outpaced the divisions of IV Corps on either side. Major-General Russell, the divisional commander, seemed out of touch, probably because he was tired and quite ill. Partly for this reason, orders often arrived at the last minute. Like the Australians, the New Zealanders had the skill and experience to know what to do anyway. Their effort at Bapaume deserves more recognition but, ironically, some of the blame for its obscurity rests with them. The New Zealand press misrepresented Bapaume as a pushover that cost few casualties. So no-one gave it a second thought, especially since it coincided with the stunning Australian capture of Mont St Quentin, which stole the limelight from everything else.

Jabo over England I

FIGHTER-BOMBER TACTICS

As a result of the experience in World War I, fighter aircraft were, during the building up of the present fighter force, fitted to carry small caliber bombs (10kg. fragmentation). In regulations and in maneuvers, ground attacks by fighter formations in the combat area and against forward airfields were planned.

In Spain, fighter Staffeln with outmoded fighter aircraft specialized in ground attack missions, while the fighter units equipped with more modern aircraft, the Me.109, attacked only targets of opportunity. As a result of this experience, special ground attack formations called Schlachtflieger (Battle flyers) were formed in the Luftwaffe in 1938. It had been shown that special tactical and flying training was necessary if the most effective action possible for the immediate support of the army was to be effected. Moreover, the first series of the Me.109 were not equipped to carry bombs.

The Schlachtflieger units (ground attack units) now embarked on their own course of development, related to the fighters, having the same elementary fighter training as a basis and subject to the Inspectorate (both were at first under the General der Jagdflieger). In October 1943, however, the Schlachtflieger were rightly combined with the Stuka units to form an independent branch. This did not, however, alter the fact that from fall 1940, pure fighter units continually engaged in fighter bomber attacks paralleling those of the Schlachtflieger. These fighter bombers are called Jabos, a contraction of Jagdbomber – fighter bomber.

In the Polish Campaign and French Campaigns, German fighter units were not technically equipped to drop bombs, since the Me.109 was not fitted with bomb racks. Nevertheless a great many planned strafing attacks were carried out by fighter units and even more unplanned attacks on targets of opportunity. The frequent fast retreats of the enemy produced a mass of good targets. In addition, the destruction of the enemy air forces in the air was quickly effected in both campaigns, leaving more time for ground attacks by fighters.

Pre-requisites for effective cooperation with the Army are recognition of friendly front lines, knowledge of the intentions of the Army and its requirements for air support and the recognition of friendly troops; therefore the low level attacks by fighters can only be conducted in very clear situations. Operations right on the battle front and attacks against targets hard to recognize, especially in indistinct situations and during rapid situation changes, are to be flown only by the Schlachtflieger.

Targets especially suited for attacks by fighters are: road and rail movements, troop assemblies in defined areas, airfields and installations, river crossings and so forth. Especially important is the just and adequate rewarding of successful low-level attacks with medals, promotions and so forth, in comparison to the often easier and cheaper air victories. This is important because otherwise the fighter will hunt air targets until the end of his aircraft’s endurance and will overlook the best opportunities for effective low level attacks.

Entirely new possibilities came in the Fall of 1940 with the bomb carrying fighter (Me.109 Jabo). Of necessity, this aircraft became, until the advent of the F.W.190, the standard ground attack aircraft for the Schlachtflieger. Fighter units now could carry out low level attacks as well as high altitude bombing.

Fighter Bomber Tactics During the Battle of Britain.

Fighter bombers had to be assigned fixed targets, geographically well-defined and clearly visible. The state of training of fighter pilots permitted successes only against area targets (as distinguished from point targets). The fighter bomber attacks could be flown as high-level attacks, dive bombing attacks, or as low level attacks with strafing after a high altitude bombing run.

Fighter bomber attacks during the Battle of Britain were conducted almost without exception as high altitude attacks. The approach to the target area took place almost at maximum operational altitude, about 22,000 feet. The formation used was the usual one for fighters, only a little more closed up and with less stepping up. The bomb-carrying fighters were surrounded with a fighter escort, set off higher and to the sides. The dropping of the bombs was carried through after a short dive losing about 3000 to 6000 feet in order to have some slight possibility of aiming. These attacks could only be used effectively against large area targets. Even against such targets the effect was only harrassing and not destructive in view of the low bomb load and the small bombs. Against area targets like airfields, low level attacks with bombing from 1000 to 1500 feet had to be employed.

In 1940 such attacks were flown mainly by two special Gruppen, II/(Schlacht) Lehr Geschwader 2 and Kampfgruppe 210. Often regular fighter Gruppen carrying bombs were put in formation with these special Gruppen, all covered with a close escort. Kampfgruppe 210 was a fast-bomber experimental group, which was supposed to be equipped with the Me.210, but which got Me.109s. The various twin-engine fighter units, called Zerstörer Geschwader, which had been unsuccessfully used in the Battle of Britain as long-range fighters, were fortunately not equipped to drop bombs, although this change was discussed.

J.G.26 was delegated to cooperate with II/(S)LG 2 (Galland had himself been a Staffel CO in this latter unit in the Polish campaign). J.G.26 furnished cover for almost all the missions of this Gruppe (II/(S)LG2). In most cases the fighter-bombers flew together and in somewhat closer formation than the fighter escort, which was positioned to the right, left, and high rear. When the English fighters later concentrated only on the fighter-bomber, the trick was tried of dividing up the Gruppe of fighter-bombers among the three-escort fighter Gruppen. It became harder to tell which of the Me.109 aircraft were carrying bombs. Area targets like London, cities and harbors, and smaller targets like oil depots and fighter airfields, were attacked in this manner. The approach took place usually at about 23,000 feet. Area targets were bombed from high altitudes after a shallow dive. Smaller targets were attacked from low levels after a long shallow dive begun from a great distance to gain speed. In such cases the cohesion of the fighter-bomber formations was easily lost and the escort job was thereby appreciably toughened. After bombs were away the fighter-bombers had sufficient speed for a get-away and didn’t need cover so badly. Fighters were thereby released to engage the RAF fighters. The losses of the fighter bombers were bearable.

The High Command of the LUFTWAFFE soon demanded more use of fighter-bombers, which previously had been undertaken by the fighter units themselves. Training for such missions was non-existent. Fighter pilots had little interest in fighter-bombing. It must also be noted that at this time they had behind them three months of intensive missions against England. When the weather had permitted, they had flown daily at least two and often three and four missions across the Channel.

The required modification of equipment was that one third of each Geschwader’s aircraft be used as fighter-bombers. In various Geschwader this order was carried out in one of two ways, either by converting one whole Gruppe to fighter-bombing, or by converting one Staffel in each of the three Gruppen to fighter-bombing. The second solution seemed to be the better. Its advantage was that no large fighter-bomber formations were created which would immediately have demanded fighter cover, and that each Gruppe continued to conduct itself purely as a fighter outfit and just inconspicuously carried bombs along. A disadvantage was the greater technical and maintenance effort and equipment which now had to be on three airfields instead of on one.

A few fighter-bomber missions were still flown against shipping in 1940 but had little success because of the inadequate training in bombing.

The fighter bomber attacks which figured in the last stage of the Battle of Britain were not terminated because of high losses, but because of the beginning of poor weather, which prevented the fighter bombers from seeing their targets. Moreover, the fighter bomber missions were not much liked by the fighters. Nevertheless there was, from this time on, an order from Hitler that all fighter aircraft must be manufactured and maintained in condition to drop bombs, and that pilots must be trained in bomb dropping. This order remained until the end of the war but fighter training for bomb dropping was naturally scanty.

Fighter Bomber Tactics in the West, 1941-42.

In the West in 1941 a Staffel of J.G.2 and in 1942 one of J.G.26 specialized in fighter bomber attacks. The Staffel of J.G.2 was especially successful against ships along the south coast of England and against harbors and coastal targets.

The special formations II/(S)LG2 and Kampfgruppe 210 were more in need of fighter-cover than the fighter-bomber formations. These special units had not mastered aerial fighter combat and were inexperienced in fighter warfare as it was in the Battle of Britain. In exhaustive conferences the conduct of missions between fighters and fighter-bombers was clarified and defined.

In 1941 and 1942 several fighter-bomber attacks in Staffel strength were flown without fighter cover, as pure surprise attacks, with some success against shipping targets. Most of these were by J.G.2 and were absolute surprise attacks. To avoid the English radar service the approach flight was made at sea level, a few meters above the waves, and absolute radio silence was observed. These formations only ran into English fighters over a convoy, or RAF patrols to intercept German fighter-bomber thrusts.

From this type of attack developed the so-called Revenge and Retaliation raids (ordered by Hitler and called by the RAF the Baedecker Raids, because they concentrated on English historical and artistic monuments as listed in the German Baedecker Tourist Guide Books). For this purpose, fighters were again converted to fighter-bombers. On some missions as many as 100 Jabos were sent over en masse. Conduct and planning of the missions were based on surprise and deception. Accordingly, the approach flight was made at low level up to the coast of England, when it was changed to medium altitude, and after bombing the return flight was made at a very low level. Usually only weak close fighter escort was sent along, while stronger fighter forces drew onto themselves the RAF fighters after a high approach flight. In every instance, the Germans successfully got to the target without being intercepted. On the return flight, however, they were usually cut off by RAF fighter standing patrols and engaged in combat. This caused a serious problem because the LUFTWAFFE fighter, the Me.109, had a limited range and short flying time. Losses of the fighter bombers were heavier from light A.A. than from RAF fighters.

These attacks were carried out partly at tree-top level, and for the rest at high altitudes with fighter escort, and with screening and feints by subsidiary fighter forces. In all cases, the much strengthened English fighter defense forced the LUFTWAFFE to take advantage of the element of surprise. The missions continued successfully with low to bearable losses.

The End of The Fighter-Bombers.

At the time of the invasion of Normandy, fighters were given the mission of taking part in the ground combat with a third of their force as fighter bombers or as RP firing aircraft. These types of missions were forced to stop fourteen days after the beginning of the invasion by the oppressive air superiority of the USAAF and RAF.

The last great effort, to throw in the fighter force for the decision on the ground, was made during the Ardennes offensive. The then current training of the fighter pilots was wholly concentrated on combat against heavy bombers and was thus completely inadequate for ground attack. Because of enemy numerical air superiority, augmented by the extremely concentrated A.A. which confronted the Jagdwaffe, the attempt failed.

The large ground attack mission against Allied fighter and other bases on 1st January 1945 was, in all details, a project and plan of the bomber man, Peltz. Despite careful preparation the planning was too complicated, and in many respects clearly demanded too much. The timing should have placed the attack at the beginning of the Ardennes offensive. The same massed use of air power would have, in any event, brought about a perceptible relieving of the Eastern Front, or led to the ‘Big Blow’ against bombers.

Ammunition and Bomb Load.

The Me.109 carried one 250kg. bomb or 4 x 50kg.

The F.W.190 carried a 250kg. bomb, a 500kg. bomb, or 4 x 50kg. bombs in the fighter version.

Instead of the heavy bombs, containers with a number of small anti-personnel bombs could be fitted.

From 1943 on, the Me.109 and F.W.190 could be fitted with two rocket tubes for the 21cm. army rockets. Ammunition for the MGs and cannon was the same as in use for regular fighter missions.

Carrying of drop tanks was only possible when bombs were not carried, except in the case of a special model of the F.W.190 which had fittings onto which both bombs and tanks could be attached.

Missions with RPs were more popular with fighter pilots than bombing missions, because RP firing better suits the mentality of the fighter pilot.

Generalleutnant Galland, Germany, 3 September 1945.

 

Jabo over England II

During 1941 and 1942 only limited raids were mounted against England. Bf 109s carried out low-level cross-Channel raids on coastal targets, and small numbers of bombers were sometimes despatched to attack important specific targets. In October 1942 Fw 190 fighter-bombers, followed by a large force of night bombers, attacked Canterbury. Further minor raids were flown by the pilots of SKG 10 (SKG standing for Schnellkampfgeschwader, literally Fast Bomber Wing, or Fighter-Bomber Wing), which was equipped with the Fw 190A. Early in 1943 a new staff position, the Angriffsführer England (England Attack Command), was established by the OKL, which concentrated the fighter-bombers of SKG 10 and the Me 410s and Do 217s of KG 2 under the command of Oberst Dietrich Peltz.

Because a steady increase in the number of British nightfighters progressively reduced the chances of Luftwaffe bombers returning safely to base, the German High Command developed a new tactic. This involved despatching Fw 190A long-range fighter bombers, known as ‘Jabo-Reis’, against targets in Southern England, each carrying one SC 250 or SC 500 bomb and two 300-litre drop tanks. SKG (Schnellkampfgeschwader) 10, which operated these aircraft, was based at St André and Caen from early 1943.

The Fw 190G-3 ‘Jabo-Rei’ had a range of 1,000 to 1,100 km. Only a small number of these fighter bombers ever became available, these becoming part of SKG 10 at an early stage. Of the unit’s twenty-two G-3s only sixteen were serviceable and ready for action on 25 December 1943.

In autumn 1943 SKG 10’s II and III Gruppen became II and III/SG 4 (SG standing for Schlachtgeschwader or Combat Wing) and were subsequently part of SG 10, which was engaged in the defence of the Normandy coast during the Allied invasion of June 1944. Due to the overwhelming strength of the Allies’ forces here there was little chance of achieving more than local successes.

Enter the Jabo

Two months before Dieppe, while all the fighter units of JG 2 and JG 26 had converted to the Fw 190, their respective fighter-bomb Staffeln, 10.(Jabo)/JG 2 and 10.(Jabo)/JG 26 still had their original Messerschmitt Bf 109F-4s. In late June, however, both began to work up on Fw 190A-2s and A-3s fitted with centreline racks to carry bombs. Operations began swiftly, with bombing raids on shipping around the Isle of Wight in early July. Throughout the remainder of the month and into August, the two Jabo units carried out nuisance hit and run raids on targets both at sea and inland.

In addition to shipping, the Jabos targeted factories along the south coast. By the time British fighters had been scrambled to intercept them they were already on their way back to France. Fighter escorts were sometimes provided for the bomb-armed Fw 190s but on most occasions they proved unnecessary. During four months of raids, JG 2’s Jabos suffered no losses. JG 26 lost just one pilot – an inexperienced flyer who, having attacked the airfield at Manston, went back for another go and was shot down in flames. He survived and was taken prisoner.

The broad sweep of German attacks was narrowed down to targets in Kent and Sussex in October 1942 – those closest to the unit’s bases in France.

The British attempted to counter the Jabo threat by positioning five squadrons of the fast and heavily armed new Hawker Typhoon on the south coast and lying in wait for the Fw 190s. This yielded some success and a pair of Typhoons from 486 Squadron successfully bounced two Jabos from 10./JG 26 shortly after they had attacked a church in Hastings, killing two civilians and injuring 16 others.

One of the Fw 190s crashed into the sea and its pilot, Feldwebel Karl Niesel was killed. In his official report, the surviving pilot described that attack’s target as “a block of flats”.

Meanwhile, Hitler ordered that more daylight raids should be carried out on Britain in retaliation for the RAF’s night- bombing offensive.

Therefore, the Luftwaffe planned an all-out Vergeltungsangriff or `vengeance attack’ on a British city and picked Canterbury as their objective. Unfortunately, the Jabo units of JG 2 and JG 26 were the only bombers in France at the time and between them they could only muster 19 serviceable aircraft.

As a result, they were joined by yet more Fw 190 fighter-bombers from III./ZG 2 and several dozen fighters from the other Staffeln of JG 2 and JG 26 were fitted with bomb racks, resulting in an attack force of 68 bomb- carrying fighters.

They were to be escorted to the target by 62 more Fw 190s while six carried out a diversionary raid elsewhere. After waiting for just the right weather conditions, this large force set off late on the afternoon of October 31 and arrived over Canterbury at around 5pm, flying fast and low.

As soon as they were reported approaching the coast, barrage balloons were raised and a number of the German pilots dropped their bombs off target as a result. Nevertheless, 31 bombs hit the city and killed 32 people, as well as causing a significant amount of damage to buildings.

Spitfires were scrambled but as before the Fw 190s quickly turned around and sped back to France once their munitions were expended. Only a single Fw 190 from II./JG 2 was caught and shot down, its pilot being taken prisoner.

However, during the return flight Leutnant Paul Galland, brother of General der Jagdflieger Adolf Galland, and his wingman became lost in low cloud nine miles from Calais. He then heard a distress call from another German pilot and after some searching spotted a Fw 190 flying very low and being chased by a Spitfire.

He went to help but the Spitfire pilot saw him coming and pulled away into the clouds. Galland entered a turn and his Fw 190A-4 stalled. He was trying to recover when the Spitfire emerged from the clouds and fired on him. Bullets hammered into Galland’s machine and it went down in flames. His wingman then shot down the Spitfire, believed to have been from 91 Squadron.

Although the successes of the Jabo raids had been relatively insignificant, the Germans resolved to intensify them as 1942 drew to a close.

It was decided that a new sort of unit should be established to specialise in these attacks – the Schnellkampfgeschwader or `fast bomber wing’. SKG 10 was to have three Gruppen, each comprising four Staffeln, compared to the more usual three.

Since existing Fw 190 pilots were all needed elsewhere, SKG 10 would be manned by former Bf 110 pilots drawn from the Zerstörer Gruppen or `heavy fighter groups’.

The Jabos continued to attack the south of England and during one raid on London on January 20, a 500kg bomb dropped by a Fw 190 landed on Sandhurst School, killing 38 children and six teachers. Elsewhere, the raid resulted in the deaths of 26 more civilians with dozens injured.

By now, SKG 10’s first two Gruppen had completed their training and their campaign of fighter-bomber raids on the south of England began on March 8, 1943, with the bombing of a trawler close to Eddystone Lighthouse. Hastings was hit again on March 11, followed by a raid on Ilford and Barking on March 12. These nuisance or `vengeance’ attacks continued throughout the month and into April.

British Infantry at Dettingen

King George II at the Battle of Dettingen, with the Duke of Cumberland and Robert, 4th Earl of Holderness, 27 June 1743.


King George II at the Battle of Dettingen, with the Duke of Cumberland and Robert, 4th Earl of Holderness, 27 June 1743.

The first battle of the War of the Austrian Succession – Dettingen 1743 – was also the last occasion upon which British troops were commanded in the field by their monarch, in this case George II. The British with their Hanoverian and Austrian allies were outmanoeuvred by the French and found themselves trapped between the river Main and forest-covered hills with the French in front, behind and across the river. Fortunately, errors by the French gave the British and their allies a chance to fight their way out when the French force blocking their march launched an unnecessary attack.

It is generally stated that the platoon firing of the infantry pretty much fell apart with every man firing in his own time, despite which the British and their allies were able to achieve a notable victory over the French. The main source for this assertion is a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Russell of the Guards in letters to his wife.

That the Austrians also behaved well is also true; that except one of their battalions which fired only once by platoons, they all fired as irregular as we did; that the English infantry behaved like heroes, and as they were the major part of the action, to them the honour of the day was due; that they were under no command by way of Hide Park firing, but that the whole three ranks made a running fire of their own accord, and at the same time with great judgement and skill, stooping all as low as they could, making almost every ball take place is true; that the enemy when expecting our fire, dropped down, which our own men perceiving, waited till they got up before they would fire, as a confirmation of their coolness as well as bravery, is very certain; that the French fired in the same manner, I mean like a running fire, without waiting for words of command, and that Lord Stair did often say he had seen many a battle and never saw the infantry engage in any other manner is as true.

Russell is clearly stating that the British infantry did not fire by platoons as practised in Hyde Park. The London-based Guards’ regiments drilled in Hyde Park and the term Hyde Park became synonymous with doing things strictly according to regulations. In another letter Russell wrote: ‘our men and their regimental officers gained the day; not in the manner of Hyde Park discipline, but our foot almost kneeled down by whole ranks, and so fired upon ’em a constant running fire.’ He goes on to say that each man fired as an individual, and that Lord Stair stated that was what always happened in a battle. The extent to which this sweeping statement, which could be read as applying solely to the French, can be relied upon is open to question. Lord Stair had been the army’s commander-in-chief until his position was usurped when George II took personal command and there is little doubt that Stair was sulking. Similarly Russell was in no mood to pay compliments to the line battalions as the Guards had been with the rearguard of the army and saw no action. In fact Russell wrote to his wife that his view of the battle was from a hill two miles away. More reliable are the accounts of those in the infantry who were directly involved, including a young James Wolfe with Duroure’s regiment. He is clear on the point that his battalion and several others opened fire at far too great a range. Colonel Duroure, acting as adjutant general, wrote that the British infantry fired ‘not by Platoons but with perpetual Volleys from Right to Left, loading almost as fast as they fired without ceasing, so that the French were forced to retreat’. La Fausille described how, once some battalions began to fire, firing broke out right along the line of British infantry even though in places the French were even out of cannon shot. He also recounted how, when a battalion commander asked a general whether he should order his battalion to fire by platoons or ranks the general advised him to keep his men in good order, try to hold their fire to a very close range and he would be delighted to see either fire by platoon or ranks as he ‘never did yet but on a Field day or at a Review’. However, at least one British infantry battalion seems to have managed to fire correctly, by platoons, in firings. An officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers described how they advanced to within sixty paces of the French before firing:

Our people imitated their predecessors in the late war gloriously, marching in close order, as firm as a wall, and did not fire till we came within sixty paces, and still kept advancing; so that when we had soon closed with the Enemy, they had not retreated: for when the smoak blew off a little, instead of being among their living we found the dead in heaps by us; and the second fire turned them to the right about, and upon a long trot.

This describes the battalion continuing to advance after giving the first firing and on emerging from the smoke of their fire finding the French had taken heavy casualties. The battalion’s second firing then caused the enemy to run. This feat was then repeated against three other French regiments, including a Guard’s regiment that retreated before the fusiliers could fire. This officer was clear in his views about the reasons for the success of his regiment, emphasising the importance of getting close to the enemy before firing: ‘What preserved us was keeping close order, and advancing near the enemy ere we fir’d. Several that popp’d at one hundred paces lost more of their men, and did less execution, for the French will stand fire at that distance, tho’ ’tis plain they cannot look men in the face.’

In his official report Colonel Duroure not only gave his account of what happened, but also made mention of how the infantry had been ordered to fight. It was ‘judged that the whole fire had been given without Orders, against the Directions to preserve ours, and first to receive the Enemy’s, then giving ours and charging with Bayonets’. A clear statement that if Dettingen had been won by firepower alone that had not been the intention.

At Dettingen the French cavalry enjoyed an initial success against the British infantry. The French Household cavalry broke through the first line of British infantry, but did not cause it to retreat. Rather the words of Bland about the superiority of infantry over cavalry were vindicated when the grenadier company of Huske’s 32nd, in the second line, held off the cavalry while the battalion finished forming. Then, trapped between the first and second line of infantry, the cavalry were shot to pieces.

For events at Fontenoy in 1745 there is a French account of cavalry attacking British infantry. ‘Our Cavalry, which advanced before them immediately, could not sustain the terrible Fire made by that Line of Infantry . . . Several of our Squadrons rallied, but were again repuls’d by the prodigious Fire of the Enemy’s Infantry.’ Although Fontenoy was a defeat for the allied army under the Duke of Cumberland the British infantry more than held their own against both French cavalry and infantry.

Following Dettingen the infantry had trained hard in their battalion firings, as shown by an order of 1 December 1744: ‘The Regt which fired ball against the wall of ye Capuchin’s near the Nonnen Bosh, are to do so no more, but to find some other place, if they have occasion to fire anymore.’ Whilst not a great deal of detail of the infantry battle at Fontenoy has come down to us, the notable exception to this is the firefight between the British and French Guards early on in the battle, when the benefits of such training were clear. Three battalions of British Guards were on the right of the first line of the British infantry attacking the French position. In an incident immortalised by Voltaire they came face to face with the French Guards, the Swiss Guards and the Regiment Courten. According to Voltaire, Lord Hay, a captain in the First Guards, stepped forwards and invited the French to fire first. A French officer responded, saying that they never fired first. The truth, as related by Lord Hay, was more prosaic. He saluted the French, toasted them from his hip flask and told the French he hoped they would not swim the nearby Scheldt as they had the Main at Dettingen, a reference to their rout at that battle. It is unclear who did fire first. Voltaire suggests that the French infantry were so stunned by the British fire that they did not fire at all. An account in a British newspaper stated that the French fired first. Whether they fired first or second the effect of the British fire was devastating. Voltaire says that the fire was by platoons and it seems most likely that the Guards fired twice by firings at a range of less than thirty yards. The total strength of the three guard’s battalions at Fontenoy was approximately 1,970 rank and file, meaning that the French received approximately 3,900 rounds of musket fire. Voltaire records this fire as causing a total of 912 killed and wounded, giving the Guards a hit rate of about 23 per cent. By contrast the three battalions of Guards suffered a total of 736 killed and wounded for the whole battle.

The British Guards Brigade in the War of the Austrian Succession, 1740–1748

The peace was broken by the outbreak in 1740 of the War of the Austrian Succession. The origins are complex and the campaign only concerns us because the expeditionary force sent to the Continent in 1742 included a Guards Brigade consisting of the 1st Battalions of all three regiments of Foot Guards.

In 1743 King George II not only joined the army in Flanders but also assumed command. On 27 June 1743 he fought the Battle of Dettingen, well known as the last occasion on which a King of England personally led his troops into action. He led them, in fact, into a dangerous trap, carefully prepared by the French, and the situation was only saved by several gallant charges made by the cavalry, including, for the first time, a Household Cavalry Brigade.

The Guards Brigade formed the rearguard and so was not involved in the battle until the later stages. The French finally suffered a severe defeat, losing 5,000 men, and Dettingen became the Regiment’s sixth Battle Honour.

In 1745 the King handed over command to his 25-year-old son, The Duke of Cumberland, whose first action as a commander was the Battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745. Things did not go well and the Allied army was forced to make a frontal assault against the enemy centre, which involved an advance of half a mile across flat, open country under intense fire from their front and also from French strongpoints on both flanks.

The Guards Brigade was on the right of the leading line, with the regiments in their customary positions, that is the First Guards on the right, the Coldstream on the left and the Third Guards in the centre. The brigade was commanded by Colonel George Churchill, Coldstream Guards. With shouldered arms the three battalions marched steadily forward, despite the fierce fire from three sides. Finally, as they topped a slight ridge, now seriously reduced in numbers, they found, thirty yards in front of them, four complete battalions of French Guards, as yet unscathed.

It was the first time that the British and French Guards had met in battle and it was a dramatic confrontation. The French fired first, but to little effect. Then the Guards replied and their first volley laid low nineteen French officers and 600 men. Steadily they reloaded, firing in disciplined sequence six platoons at a time, so that the volleys never ceased. Finally the French gave way and the Guards advanced. But they did not receive any support and found themselves isolated; for three hours they had to hold their positions against both infantry and cavalry attacks, but finally were forced to withdraw, having lost around half their strength. It had been a bloody and bitter defeat, and was not allowed to count as a Battle Honour, though it was perhaps deserved.

On obtaining the summit of the ridge the allied column found itself facing the French infantry line. The French guards rose and advanced towards the crest, whereupon the two forces confronted each other at a distance of 30 paces.[85] The moment was immortalised by Lord Charles Hay of the 1st Regiment of Guards who later wrote that he stepped forward, took out a hip flask and drank with a flourish, shouting out to his opponent, “We are the English Guards, and we hope you will stand till we come up to you, and not swim the Scheldt as you did the Main at Dettingen.” He then led his men in three cheers. Voltaire’s version of this famous episode has become proverbial. He wrote: “The English officers saluted the French by doffing their hats … the French, returned the greeting. My Lord Charles Hai, captain in the English Guards, cried, ‘Gentlemen of the French Guards, fire.’ The Comte d’Auteroche, then lieutenant of Grenadiers, shouted, ‘Gentlemen, we never fire first; fire yourselves.'” The French were the first to fire, the volley was somewhat ineffective but threw the Third Guards into some confusion and wounded George Churchill, the commander of the guards brigade. Captain Lord Panmure led the unbroken companies of the Third Guards to the flank of the First Guards. Up to this point the British column had not fired a single musket shot, but now the allied infantry poured a devastating discharge into the French. The volley of musketry with the battalion guns delivering numerous rounds of grape-shot, swept away the front rank of the ten battalions of the French first line, killing and wounding between 700–800 men, breaking the Gardes Françaises, while the Gardes Suisses and the four battalions of the Brigade Aubeterre were driven back by the British advance.

Historian David Chandler writes that upon the order “first firing, take care”, in the British platoon firing system, the six platoons of the first firing with the whole of the front rank of each British battalion fired together – explaining the efficacy of the British first volley. Additionally, Chandler describes the advance as also a British development of the platoon firing system in which troops mounting an attack continue to advance to give fire by stepping out ahead of the rest of the marching battalion, when they are done and reloading the other platoons advance ahead of them and give fire in turn. This explains the slow advance of the column noted in many first hand accounts.