Quality versus Quantity?

Although primarily a history of multiple failures, the German heavy fighting vehicles of World War II provided a multitude of challenges within the engineering problems of tank design and manufacture, and several technological exploits resulted from the experience of bringing them to the final stages. In most cases, however, the sheer size, scope and weight of these vehicles generally exceeded the available technologies and manufacturing capabilities.

These setbacks proved no specific undoing for the armies concerned despite the sheer waste of materials one might consider they involved. The numbers attempted remained very small. Above all, the tactical and operational considerations that brought them into development were proven false or obsolete by the time they could have entered service. Fortifications of all kinds and power were encountered and overcome in World War II without the use of specialized armored vehicles. The accomplishment of tactical and operational breakthrough on the modern battlefield came to depend more on numbers, mobility, and logistical sustainment than the application of superior guns and armor at a single point. The minor experiences of German operations with their Jagdtiger tank destroyers pointed out that when not employed in substantial numbers, even super-heavy fighting vehicles were soon overwhelmed and swept aside in the Allied advances.

Above all, the logistical handicaps of the heavies presaged their doom. The operational constraints posed by at least partial disassembly for rail transport, the limitations of bridging and fording means, and the ever-existent possibility of miring in swamps or even city streets that their high length-to-width steering profiles could carve up all made for extraordinary difficulties. Left to their own automotive power for deployment, they could not hold up for long under constant stressing of barely tested components.

As is well known, the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941 was intended to be yet another brief campaign in a striking series of victories accomplished by German arms since 1939. The German position that summer was unprecedented, especially given the faulty economic and financial preparations of the Third Reich in the years through 1939. Contrary to the usual view of Nazi efficiency preparing for war with a sustained period of production and investment that yielded the successes later dubbed Blitzkrieg by the foreign press, the pace of German rearmament staggered during 1937–1938. In particular, the steel (and later, copper) rationing required for the three armed services stagnated production of armaments. On the day of the Munich Settlement, the new German priority became the preparation for war with the United Kingdom, plus France, with presumed American support, all targeted for 1942. Yet the 1936 armaments programs for the German Army at that point would require about a fourth of German steel production in 1939 for completion. The new goals for the three services would require three times the 1938 production in the following year.

By the spring of 1939, the Army procurement plan lapsed into full retreat. Ammunition production plummeted, building steel was unavailable for 300 new infantry battalions that lived under canvas, and weapons programs experienced severe cuts; machine gun and field artillery orders fell by at least half and those for the current infantry rifle were ordered to stop by the fall of 1939. The tank production originally programmed for 1,200 medium tanks between October 1938 and October 1939 was halved. At least thirty-four of the planned wartime force of 105 divisions would suffer serious shortages of equipment. Ammunition for all would stall at a quantity sufficient for only fourteen days heavy fighting. The circumstances for the other services remained just as poor.

Accordingly, Hitler grasped the only straw he could, an early launch of the war he had forecast for 1944, then 1942. As he stated to his military leaders at Berchtesgaden on August 22, 1939, “we have nothing to lose; we have everything to gain. Because of our restrictions our economic situation is such that we can only hold out for a few more years. We must act.” Hitler and Germany had run out of time.

The victories came in surprising sequence and ease, especially the fall of France. However, the ability of the German economy to sustain the war effort remained circumspect. It was, for instance, impossible to calculate the requirements for each and every campaign in advance. In the case of the Russian campaign, it had to be supplied while at the same time, Germany and Italy engaged the United Kingdom on several fronts. For the first time, therefore, the economic priorities in 1941 were hitched to the Blitzkrieg concept of short but hard-fought operations, leading to a rapid conclusion on the battlefield. Accordingly, the armaments plan “Rüstungsprogramm ‘B’” would dictate the armaments output for the eight months of October 1940–April 1941 in order to increase the strength of the German Army and its firepower sufficient for the rapid defeat of the Soviet Army and another victory. Before Russia was invaded, it was presumed that the surge of production, materials and labor could be shunted to the navy and air force for the final priority of the United Kingdom.

The emphasis on tank production remained the new model medium tanks with which the German Army had defeated France, not the various projects for heavy tanks that had not been required in the war thus far; they were also not forecast as being required for the Blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union. These conditions explain to a considerable extent the rather dilatory pace at which the 1939–1941 heavy tank designs had progressed.

The misfortunes of the German Army in Russia mostly fall beyond the scope of this work; however, the defeat of the 1941 Blitzkrieg campaign in Russia had reverberations throughout the structures and programs of the Third Reich, not least of which was the management of the war economy and the German industrial sectors. Not only had the German invasion foundered instead of producing a quick victory, but also that same setback coincided with perhaps a greater danger, the entry of the United States into the war, thanks to Hitler’s declaration of hostilities on December 11, just after the Battle of Moscow had turned badly against his Army. Although Hitler knew that the United States could not effect immediate changes to the Allied situation, the possibility of a long-term war had just received new impetus. For the war industry, ammunition would now become the dominant production category, accounting for half of Minister Speer’s so-called initial “miracle.” By mid-1943, ammunition accounted for half the Army’s steel quota, compared to 15 percent each allocated to weapons and tanks.

The German capacity to continue all parts of the war economy, yet introduce new weapons with an especial urgency easily waned under the conditions of 1942. The German heavy fighting vehicle programs reflected this markedly. Their specialized designs required considerable engineering feats that differed from the continued production of current model medium tanks already entering obsolescence. The rush to produce the heavy tanks and tank destroyers consumed larger amounts of scarce raw materials and also resulted in specific dead ends with commensurate waste. However, to a certain extent, Hitler was correct in calling for the development of superior fighting vehicles to be fielded that would somehow offset the looming gap in numbers German forces faced in fighting the three major Allied powers on the ground. Unable to match the Allies in numbers of weapons and men, superiority would have to be sought in the quality of weapons that would prove decisive on the battlefields of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The PzKpfw Maus (Mouse) super-heavy tank. A wildly impractical design, it was more suited as a mobile fort (no river bridge existing at the time could take its weight). Produced only as a prototype, the Maus owed its development to Adolf Hitler’s love of the grandiose; he ordered it from Porsche in 1942. Weighing some 188 tons, the Maus was quite simply the heaviest tank in history. It had a 200mm armored carapace over the front hull and mounted a 128mm (5-inch) main gun as well as a coaxial 75mm gun and one 7.62mm machine gun. The intention was that the production version would mount a 160mm (5.9-inch) or even 170mm (6.7-inch) main gun. Although 150 of these monsters were ordered in 1943, the Maus program was plagued by problems, not the least of which was developing an engine capable of moving the immense weight. Only two prototypes were ever produced, one of which survives in a museum near Moscow.

However, such quality weapons could be manufactured, though their impact would still depend upon sufficient numbers being produced along with proper logistical support to keep them in action long enough to gain success on the battlefields where they fought. These factors too would elude the Third Reich in World War II. With only a few factories capable of producing precision forgings and assembling them in rapid sequence, the numbers produced far lagged requirements. The damage inflicted on German industry by Anglo-American strategic bombing exacerbated these shortfalls beginning in mid-1943. Furthermore, the losses sustained in action by these dominant armored vehicles, too often engaged in insufficient numbers to carry the battle, prevented the accumulation of a larger dominant tank force. If a month’s production of fighting vehicles were lost in three to four months time, little growth and operational impact occurred. By 1943, the Germans were faced with superior numbers of all types on three strategic fronts. A mere fourteen battalions of heavy tanks and two more of heavy tank destroyers were not likely going to turn the tide unless they could somehow be concentrated. Such was never achieved. In the meantime, two German field armies had surrendered in the field by May 1943.

On the operational level, the heavy fighting vehicles could inflict serious blows upon their opponents. Their weaknesses in automotive range and mechanical endurance worked against them, and the requirements for a day of maintenance for every three of operations were seldom permitted in the huge battles that raged on the Russian steppes and in the Norman countryside. In terms of logistic support, a superior fighting vehicle could prove effective in battle only as long as its components held up to battle damage of all sorts inflicted by enemy troops, tanks, minefields, and artillery. In this aspect, the critical failure of German logistical support proved consistently decisive. Despite the heralded accomplishments of the maintenance workshops and personnel, the lack of sufficient spare parts and components quickly reduced the numbers of operating vehicles of a company or battalion to a mere shadow of the same in just a few days. German manufacturers preferred that battle-damaged tanks be retrograded to Germany for rebuild rather than spreading spares over the various armies in the field. Spare parts to them represented reduced production of new vehicles. However, for most of the war the fronts remained distant from the factories and German transportation difficulties increased throughout the war.

The shortages of fuel inevitably dogged the heavy fighting vehicles, especially when they had to perform road marches to enter the battles for which they were assigned. The very notion that Tiger tanks might have been assigned to Rommel’s commands in Africa with such a short radius of action and poor mechanical reliability simply boggles the mind. Under persistent fuel shortages, the quality of spare engines sent to the fronts began to decline as well, as regulations prevented new engines being run-in because static test machines were considered a proper economy.

In the end, the gun-armor race may have sidetracked critical mobility concerns of the commanders and troops in the field. Speer’s November 1944 report from a trip to Italy (November 19–25) showed that the troops were willing to give up armor and weight in order to gain maneuverability and mobility:

On the Southwest Front, opinions are in favor of the Sherman tank and its cross-country ability. The Sherman tank climbs mountains that our Panzer crews consider impassable. This is accomplished by the especially powerful engine in the Sherman in comparison to its weight. Also, according to reports from the 26th Panzer Division, the terrain-crossing ability on level ground (in the Po valley) is completely superior to our Panzers. The Sherman tanks drive freely cross-country, while our Panzers must remain on trails and narrow roads and therefore are very restricted in their ability to fight.

All Panzer crews want to receive lighter Panzers, which are more maneuverable, possess increased ability to cross terrain, and guarantee the necessary combat power just with a superior gun. This desire by the troops corresponds with conditions that will develop in the future as a result of the drop in production capacity and of the fact that, because of a shortage of chrome, sufficient armor plate can’t be produced to meet the increased production plans. Therefore, either the number of Panzers produced must be reduced or it will be necessary to reduce the thickness of the armor plate. In that case, the troops will unequivocally ask for a reduction of the armor thickness in order to increase the total number of Panzers produced.6

In the end, the nature of World War II suggests that numbers did count, provided some minimum level of quality could be delivered.

Experimentation by most major armies in the immediate aftermath of World War I confirmed the tank as a supporting arm for the infantry and the armored car remained useful for colonial security and the support of cavalry operations. However, the armies overcame limitations of the early vehicles thanks to a series of technical improvements in engines, suspension systems, and drive trains elaborated mostly in the 1930s. Advances in the civilian automotive and aircraft industries proved essential and military engineers provided key applications and adaptations for a new generation of armored fighting vehicles.

Visionaries in France, Great Britain, and Germany provided key theories of a future operational doctrine before any improved vehicles reached the drawing board. Although many people conceived of armored warfare as a translated sea battle with landships dueling for battlefield supremacy, a better doctrine emphasizing combined arms began to emerge in the late 1930s. Fire and movement became effective tactics and large-scale maneuvers an operational doctrine with a balanced force of all arms, mechanized, or motorized to permit continuous movement and mounted combat. In addition to fielding tank units and mechanizing the traditional arms of infantry, artillery (field, anti-aircraft, and anti-tank), cavalry, engineers, and services, the incorporation of modern communications into the new armored formations became a key element. Armored commanders needed effective voice radios and message services to send and receive intelligence, request air and artillery support, report their situation, and give their subordinates new maneuvers and missions as the fluid situations of mounted combat occurred. The extent to which these vital communications functions took root in various national armies determined their success at the outset. French and British armor remained hopelessly outmaneuvered in 1940 by the German Panzer units, which extended radio communications down to the individual tank and reconnaissance vehicle. In 1941, it became the turn of the Red Army’s tank forces to face the same contrast, with their radio issue initially extending only down to company commanders. The Russians had also made a temporary error of abandoning the combined arms force and returning the tank units to the piecemeal support of infantry formations.

In the end, all the major armies fighting World War II in Europe adopted the best features of the Panzer Division and the qualitative edge of the German forces disappeared at the same time that the experience and organization of their opponents improved. No longer able to knock out a major opponent in a single campaign after 1940, the fate of the Third Reich was sealed, despite any array of miracle weapons it attempted to field.

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The End of Black Bart

As night fell on Saturday, 13 January 1722, the two pirate ships pulled away from Whydah, taking the French prize with them, leaving the Porcupine blazing in their wake. Captain Ogle arrived in HMS Swallow twenty-four hours later.

Bartholomew Roberts had got away with it again. He had sailed into the very jaws of two of the most powerful British warships ever sent in pursuit of pirates, and yet had managed to pillage shipping along a 500-mile stretch of coast, leaving them twisting and turning in his wake, bewildered by the speed of his movement, and sailed away unharmed having taken a total of nineteen prizes. For all the simmering tensions within his own crew, he must have felt invincible. There was even a bonus. As they pulled out into open sea the pirates came across the Whydah, the small Royal African Company sloop which had escaped them two days before, enabling them to indulge once more their detestation of the company and its ships. They plundered it and Miss Nanny was again given license to set it alight. Watching the flames take hold, one of the Liverpool men asked James Philips, an Old Stander, the ‘reason of such wicked practice that served no purpose among them’. ‘It was for fun,’ Philips replied.

The Whydah’s crew was loaded on to a slaver called the Neptune, which happened to be passing, but which the pirates decided not to plunder. The pirates then made their way to Cape Lopez where they set about converting the French prize into their new second ship, naming it, like its predecessor, the Ranger.

The plan now was to make for Brazil in the hope of repeating the capture of the Sagrada Familia over two years before. Since Kennedy’s desertion with their gold Roberts’ rampages had been confined to waters which, though rich in prizes, rarely yielded the sort of spectacular haul that would enable a pirate to retire. And retirement was what Roberts now had in mind. They planned to raid off Brazil for eight months, ‘share 600 or 700 pounds a man, and then break up’, Roberts’ confidant George Wilson told a new recruit. It was increasingly rare in this period for pirates to survive to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. Shrewd operator that he was, Roberts sensed that he had pushed his luck for long enough, and was dreaming of a life of ease, free of the constant stress of having to keep control over an unruly crew of 250 men. He would probably have made the move earlier if the Good Fortune hadn’t deserted or the Puerto del Principe hadn’t been captured, which forced him to stay longer off Africa to build up his strength.

But Captain Ogle hadn’t finished with him yet. At Whydah he was told that Roberts was carrying substantial quantities of gold. If any extra incentive were needed he now had it, and he was determined not to let the pirates slip through his grasp. ‘I judged they must go to some place in the Bight [of Biafra] to clean and fit the French ship before they could think of cruising again,’ he wrote. There were only a limited number of places where this could be done. Ogle strengthened his crew with thirty recruits from the Porcupine and the French ship the pirates had seized. Then, on 19 January, he sailed out of Whydah planning to explore them one by one.

He went first to Princes Island, where he had buried so many of his men four months earlier. Finding no word of the pirates he hurried quickly away. He went next to the River Gabon, but, again, drew a blank. Then, as dawn broke on 5 February, he saw the outline of the three pirate ships, riding at anchor, framed against the headland of Cape Lopez.

He’d arrived just in time. The pirates had careened the Royal Fortune and had almost completed fitting out the new French ship. Two days later they’d have sailed for Brazil. But Ogle might be forgiven if at this moment he paused and drew breath. They’d loaded the new Ranger with 32 guns, giving Roberts 72 guns in total. The pirate crew now numbered 253 men, and Ogle believed it to be larger. Ships taken at the start of January had told him there were close to 300 men aboard the two pirate vessels, including ‘100 blacks, trained up’. Ogle had just 50 guns and a crew of no more than 250. He was confronting the most powerful, experienced pirate crew in the Atlantic and the outcome was by no means certain.

But, for once, Roberts’ luck deserted him. There was a sandbank between HMS Swallow and the three pirate ships. As Ogle approached from the north he was obliged to veer west, out into open sea, to avoid it. Seeing this, the pirates thought he had taken fright at the sight of them, and was trying to escape. They concluded that Swallow was a merchant ship, probably Portuguese and full of sugar.

Roberts now made a fateful decision. Sugar, of course, was one of the key ingredients of punch and they were running short. The men on the new Ranger, in particular, had had none for the past few days and this was adding to tension between the two crews. ‘There is sugar in the offing,’ he bellowed across to them. ‘Bring it in that we may have no more mumbling!’ He was handing the prize to the second ship. It was a sound piece of team management. But it meant that, from that moment, Roberts’ forces would be fatally divided.

The Ranger was ‘on the heel’ when HMS Swallow appeared, meaning its contents had been shifted to one side, tilting it so its hull could be scrubbed. Its crew quickly righted it and, while they were doing this, Roberts took the precaution of sending across twenty of his most loyal men to bolster its crew, including his boatswain, William Main, and John Walden – ‘Miss Nanny’. He had no faith at all that, having taken the prize, the Ranger wouldn’t simply desert. He’d also been careful to make sure it was carrying none of the crew’s gold.

With the additional men aboard, the Ranger set off in pursuit of its prize. Seeing this Captain Ogle immediately realised the pirates’ mistake. He continued out to sea, making sure he went slowly enough not to lose sight of the Ranger. Aboard the pirate ship there was wild excitement, the pirates brandishing their cutlasses and ‘swearing every minute at the wind or sails to expedite so sweet a chase’, according to Captain Johnson. One man was dancing manically around the deck. Its captain, the Welshman James Skyrm, ‘in the hurry and warmth of his passion’ slashed with his cutlass at a couple of the forced men whom he felt were showing less enthusiasm than the rest.

Amidst the mayhem one man aboard, peering closely at the prize, began to suspect its true identity. William Guinneys, who had been forced from the Porcupine in Whydah, mentioned his suspicion to a crewmate standing next to him. But the man ‘bid him hold his tongue’. He too was a forced man and both knew HMS Swallow represented their best chance of being freed.

Around 10.30 a.m. Ogle judged they were out of earshot of the ships back at Cape Lopez and allowed the Ranger to come within gunshot. The pirates immediately opened fire with four chase guns, simultaneously hoisting their black flag and preparing to board. At this, Ogle swung HMS Swallow around, across the Ranger’s path, opened the lower gunports and delivered a broadside.

The effect was devastating. The Ranger was caught head on and the fire from HMS Swallow raked its decks from bow to stern, ripping through flesh and tearing off arms and legs. Stunned, the Ranger wheeled away. In the confusion, a young pirate, David Littlejohn, lowered the black flag, signalling surrender. But immediately William Main, the Royal Fortune’s boatswain, and another man rushed at him, pistols drawn, and forced him to raise it again. It was only with difficulty that other pirates persuaded them not to shoot him.

A chaotic pursuit now ensued, the two ships exchanging cannon fire at distance. Captain Skyrm, Main and other hard-liners were all for pulling alongside HMS Swallow, throwing out grappling hooks and making a desperate bid to board. But it was clear the bulk of the crew were reluctant. At 2 p.m. the poor steering of the pirates enabled Swallow to draw close again and deliver another devastating broadside. The Ranger’s main-mast came crashing down. On the deck men slithered around in their own blood. By now nine were dead and around fourteen wounded. Captain Skyrm’s leg had been blown off, as had Miss Nanny’s. Skyrm continued to hop back and forth across the deck, screaming dementedly at his men to continue fighting. But it was clear all was lost. At 3 p.m. the Ranger struck its colours and surrendered, the men throwing their black flags overboard so they could not be displayed in triumph over them on the gallows.

So often the hardened pirates among the crew had said they would blow themselves up and ‘go all merrily to Hell together’ rather than be captured. Now they were true to their word. Half a dozen of the most desperate gathered around the gunpowder they had left in the steerage, and fired a pistol into it. But it was too little to do anything other than leave them hideously burned.

HMS Swallow’s surgeon, John Atkins, heard the explosion as he was being rowed across to the Ranger to treat the wounded. Climbing aboard, he encountered a bizarre scene. The pirates were as dandily dressed as ever ‘with white shirts, watches, and a deal of silk vests’. Those unhurt remained ‘gay and brisk’. But the ship was awash with blood, and dead and hideously injured men lay all about, victims both of the battle and the explosion afterwards.

Captain Skyrm was still raging and refused to allow Atkins to dress the stump of his leg. Atkins turned instead to William Main, whom he identified as a boatswain by the silver whistle hanging at his waist. ‘I presume you are the boatswain of this ship,’ he said. ‘Then you presume wrong,’ replied Main, ‘for I am the boatswain of the Royal Fortune, Captain Roberts commander.’

‘Then Mr. Boatswain you will be hanged I believe,’ Atkins retorted. ‘That is as your honour pleases,’ said Main. Main told him there were still 120 men (a figure which excluded slaves) aboard the Royal Fortune – ‘as clever fellows as ever trod shoe leather: would I were with them!’ But he denied responsibility for the explosion. The blast had blown him into the water and he complained he had ‘lost a good hat by it’.

Atkins turned next to a pirate called Roger Ball, whom he could see from his hideous burns had been close to the seat of the explosion. Ball was sitting in a corner ‘with a look as sullen as winter … bearing his pain without the least complaint’. He told him a pirate called John Morris had fired the pistol into the powder, but that ‘if he had not done it, I would’. Like Skyrm, Ball refused to allow Atkins to dress him. As evening fell he entered ‘a kind of delirium, and raved on the bravery of Roberts, saying, he should shortly be released, as soon as they should meet him’. Ogle’s men strapped him down upon the forecastle and he screamed and strained at the ropes all night, despite his appalling injuries. He died the following day.

There were over a hundred men still alive on board, including twenty-three slaves and sixteen Frenchmen, taken when the new Ranger was seized at Whydah and still being held prisoner. It was decided to leave the wounded pirates aboard, along with the Frenchman and a skeleton crew from HMS Swallow, and to dispatch the Ranger to Princes Island. The remaining pirates, numbering around sixty, were stripped naked and shackled below decks on HMS Swallow, along with the slaves. Ogle’s men spent a couple of days getting the Ranger in a fit state to sail. Then, on 7 February, the two ships parted company, Swallow heading back towards Cape Lopez where Ogle knew Roberts would be awaiting the return of his consort. Two days later, on 9 February, Captain Ogle caught sight of the Royal Fortune and the abandoned old Ranger, still riding at anchor just where he had left them.

Dusk was falling and Ogle, now confident of victory, decided to postpone his attack until the following day. The pirates had not spotted him. And he was delighted to note there were now three sails in the bay. This meant Roberts and his men had seized a prize, and would, at that moment, be plundering its liquor store.

In fact the vessel riding at anchor alongside the two pirate ships was the Neptune under Captain Thomas Hill – the same ship the pirates had encountered as they left Whydah, and onto which they had loaded the crew of the Whydah sloop. Its presence at Cape Lopez is suspicious. Hill was on his way to the port of Cabinda further south and later claimed he had simply put in to get water. But the pirates had not robbed Hill the first time they encountered him and it’s likely they had reached an arrangement. Hill may have been bringing them supplies. Either way, as Ogle suspected, they were enjoying a party and when dawn broke on 10 February most of the pirates were either still drunk or nursing ferocious hangovers.

This was the scenario that Roberts had always dreaded – an encounter with a powerful naval vessel when his crew was the worse for drink. They were in such a state that they didn’t see HMS Swallow initially as it began its approach that morning. They were ‘very easy in the bay’, recalled John Atkins, ‘and stayed so long that we doubted whether they would stir for us’.

Roberts was in his cabin when the cry of ‘Sail ahoy!’ finally came. With him was Captain Hill from the Neptune and they were enjoying a breakfast of weak beer and salmagundi – a pirate speciality that included chunks of meat, pickled herrings, hard-boiled eggs and vegetables. In their befuddled state his men again failed to identify HMS Swallow. Some thought it was Portuguese, others a French slaver. But most believed it was the returning Ranger. Roberts, unconcerned, continued his breakfast. His men were debating how many guns they should fire as a salute to their returning consort when suddenly a look of horror passed across the face of David Armstrong, the deserter from HMS Swallow whom they had taken at Axim six months previously. Armstrong had recognised his old ship. He dashed down to Roberts’ cabin.

It was probably at this moment, as Armstrong frantically gabbled the news, that Roberts realised he was going to die – if not that morning then on the gallows in the next few weeks. But if he felt fear he didn’t show it. Perhaps to displace his own tension, he cursed the trembling Armstrong for cowardice and, taking leave of Captain Hill, went up on deck. Hill took the opportunity to slip back quietly to his own ship.

Looking through his telescope Roberts saw it was flying French colours, which was clearly a ruse. He ordered his men to battle stations. Many were terrified. At least one would spend the battle hiding in the ‘heads’ – the enclosed toilets at the front of the ship – and Roberts almost came to blows with others. But he himself kept his composure. If this was the end then he was determined to go out in style. He went below and dressed in ‘a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain round his neck, with a diamond cross hanging to it’, according to Johnson. He put on his sword and slung four pistols over his shoulders on a silk sling, in ‘the fashion of the pirates’. Then he went up on deck.

The strategy he devised was characteristically bold. Armstrong told him HMS Swallow sailed best ‘upon a wind’, that is, with the wind coming from the side. With the wind directly behind them the Royal Fortune might be able to outrun it. The wind at that moment was blowing from the south, in the face of the approaching man-of-war. Roberts decided to sail straight towards Ogle’s ship, exchange broadsides, and then shoot out into open sea and try and make a run for it with the wind behind him. If badly damaged the ship would ground itself on the headland ‘and everyone to shift for himself among the Negroes’. If the worst came to the worst they would come alongside and blow both ships up. Roberts knew it was a desperate gamble. And he knew most of his men were drunk and unfit for service – ‘passively courageous’, in Johnson’s words. But he had little option.

By mid-morning a thunderstorm was breaking around them. In the wind and driving rain the pirate ship sped towards HMS Swallow. At 11 a.m. the two ships closed, raised their true colours, and exchanged broadsides. HMS Swallow was almost untouched. The Royal Fortune lost its mizzen-mast and suffered damage to its rigging. But it was still sailing and was soon half a gunshot beyond HMS Swallow and heading out into open sea. Just for a moment it looked as if Roberts might have got away with it. But then the crew’s night of revelry took its toll. One man simply passed out on the deck having fired his gun. Many others were little better and the pirates’ steering was erratic. By now the storm was gaining in strength. One clap of thunder ‘seemed like the rattling of 10,000 small arms within three yards of our heads’, John Atkins later recalled, and the simultaneous bolt of lightening split the top of HMS Swallow’s main-mast. But, with the wind swirling around unpredictably, the warship was soon gaining ground once more on the Royal Fortune. At half past one, it came close enough to deliver another broadside. As the smoke cleared the men on HMS Swallow saw the pirate’s main-mast come crashing down. Shortly afterwards the pirates signalled surrender.

As on the Ranger, the crew of the Royal Fortune immediately divided between those who felt they might stand some chance of acquittal at trial and those who knew only the gallows awaited them. James Philips, one of the Old Standers, went down to the powder room with a lighted match, swearing ‘let’s all go to Hell together’. But there he encountered a sentry – Stephen Thomas – placed by Henry Glasby. Philips ‘throwed [me] against the ladder at the hatchway, wounding [my] hand as [we] were struggling about the match,’ Thomas later recalled. At that moment Glasby appeared and, together, they were able to subdue him.

Shortly afterwards HMS Swallow’s long boat arrived, commanded by Lieutenant Isaac Sun. Recalling the attempt to blow up the Ranger, Ogle had opted to keep his ship at a distance. Working with Glasby, whose ‘good character’ he’d been informed of beforehand, Sun quickly secured control of the Royal Fortune. But there was one final moment of farce as crewman Joseph Mansfield, the former highwayman, suddenly burst from the hold, blind drunk. ‘He came up vapouring with a cutlass to know who would go on board the prize,’ Glasby later recalled. ‘It was sometime before [we] could persuade him of the truth of [our] condition.’

By 7 p.m. the entire crew was secured below decks on HMS Swallow, side by side with their colleagues from the Ranger. The pirates had suffered three dead and ten injured in this second battle, while HMS Swallow hadn’t suffered a single casualty in either engagement. ‘Discipline is an excellent path to victory,’ Atkins commented in his memoir. ‘The pirates, though singly fellows of courage’, lacked ‘a tie of order, some director to unite that force’. Defeat and capture would always ‘be the fate of such rabble’, he concluded. Naval discipline had won out over pirate bravado. But it was a harsh verdict on Roberts’ leadership. This pirate crew, more than any other, had possessed a ‘director’ and ‘a tie of order’. The problem was the pirates themselves, and their reluctance to submit themselves to his will.

But Roberts himself was the one man Atkins was never able to speak to. As the Royal Fortune had sailed towards HMS Swallow that morning Roberts had taken his place close to the wheel ready to direct operations. But as the smoke cleared after the first broadside the helmsman, John Stephenson, had noticed him apparently resting on the tackles of a gun. He ran over and swore at his captain to get up and fight like a man. But Roberts’ throat had been ripped out by grapeshot. The greatest of all pirates, the ‘Admiral of the Leeward Islands’, the scourge of three continents, was dead.

At that moment they were within just a few miles of the spot where they had seized the Expectation back at the end of July 1719. Since then Roberts had taken around 400 ships – a figure which dwarfs that of any of his contemporaries. He had travelled around 35,000 miles. And he’d held together a larger crew for a longer period of time than any other pirate captain. But in the end he had lost his long battle with the anarchy of pirate life. For all the tensions within the crew Roberts was revered by his men and, although the battle raged on for three more hours, his death knocked the fight out of them. Ogle was in no doubt that, if he had been alive, Roberts would have blown up the Royal Fortune with everyone aboard rather than allow it to be taken.

Many times Roberts had sworn, ‘Damnation to him who ever lived to wear a halter!’ He, at least, had escaped hanging. He had left strict instructions that if he was killed at sea his body should be thrown overboard to prevent its being hung in chains. Stevenson wept over him for a time, as the pirates gathered round. And then they fulfilled their captain’s last wish, heaving his body over the rail and consigning it to the deep, still dressed in all its finery.

 

Parthia and Rome

After the defeat of Crassus, the Romans expected a Parthian invasion to overrun and claim the poorly defended territories of the eastern Mediterranean. Instead, the Parthians launched plundering raids into Syria and Asia Minor that undermined, rather than vanquished, Roman authority in these regions (53–52 BC). The death of Crassus destabilised Roman politics and in 49 BC Julius Caesar was drawn into a civil war with a political faction led by his former friend and colleague, Pompey. When Caesar emerged victorious and was declared Dictator, he prepared the Roman legions for a further campaign against Parthia. His plan was to avenge Crassus by conquering the Parthian Empire and extending Roman rule as far as the Oxus River. But Caesar’s autocratic rule had alarmed traditionalists in Rome who conspired to have him assassinated before he could begin his war against the Parthians (44 BC).

The death of Caesar caused another civil war as Mark Anthony joined with Caesar’s nephew and adopted son Octavian to establish their own joint rule over the Roman Republic. They achieved a decisive victory over the pro-republican faction at the Battle of Philippi in Macedonia in 42 BC. Octavian then assumed power in Rome and Antony took authority over the Roman commands in the Eastern Mediterranean. The responsibility therefore fell on Antony to enact Caesar’s plans and conquer the Parthian Empire.

Fresh from his dalliance with Cleopatra, Antony set out to conquer the Parthian empire, following a battle plan he discussed years before with Caesar. Avoiding Crassus’ mistake of striking directly through Mesopotamia, Antony took his massive army north through Armenia. Always impetuous, Anthony refused to wait for his baggage wagons and siege equipment and marched with his main army to Phraaspa, the Royal City of Media, leaving Oppius Statianus in charge of the siege train with a fairly large security force. When king Phraates heard about Antony’s folly, he led a strong force of cavalry to attack the wagon train. Phraates’ cavalry quickly surrounded the wagons, killed the guards, and destroyed all the equipment. Antony could not capture Phraaspa without his siege equipment. Despite winning a few minor skirmishes, Anthony was forced to withdraw from Media in the winter, suffering extremely heavy losses to both Parthian attacks and the harsh weather.

After his victory at Philippi, Mark Antony was intent on waging war against the Parthians and avenging the defeat at Carrhae. Anthony sent Pubulius Ventidius Baussus ahead to pave the way. Ventidius was one of the most successful Roman generals who fought the Parthians. His use of ranged weapon troops and terrain to combat the Parthian cavalry gave him several victories.
Ventidius marched into Syria and encountered Quintus Labienus, a renegade Republican officer who had served under Brutus and then joined the Parthians. Ventidius gave chase, tracking Labienus down at the Cilician Gates, the main pass through the Taurus Mountains that separated Cilicia from Anatolia. Ventidius made camp on the heights while Labienus, expecting Parthian reinforcements, camped a short distance from the away. The Parthian cavalry under Pacorus soon arrived. Utterly fearless of the Romans, the Parthian horsemen did not wait to join Labienus but instead directly charged the heights. The Roman force, well supplied with missile troops and benefitted from the terrain, repulsed the attack and drove off the Parthians. The surviving Parthians fled to the Labienus’ camp. Labienus avoided the fight and managed to escape again after dark. The way was now clear for Antony to invade Mesopotamia.

Antony invades the Parthian Empire

Antony utilized the Egyptian city of Alexandria as his new political headquarters and with the support of Roman client kingdoms in the Near East he prepared for a new war against the Parthians. He mobilized an army of 100,000 soldiers including up to 60,000 legionaries from sixteen legions and 10,000 cavalry. The allied forces included 20,000 Hellenic troops provided by Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and several other kingdoms in the Near East subject to Rome. The King of Armenia also offered 6,000 cavalry and 7,000 infantry to support the Roman conquest. A convoy of 300 wagons was organized to transport essential siege machinery including an 80-foot long battering ram. The wagons also carried crucial food stocks for the campaigning army. Antony believed that this force was sufficient to defeat a Parthian army that could probably mobilize about 40,000 mounted troops including 4,000 armoured lancers commanded by their new king Phraates IV.

In 36 BC the Roman army crossed the Upper Euphrates and invaded the large kingdom of Media Atropatene which dominated the northwest quarter of the Parthian Empire. Their first target was the Median winter capital Phraaspa (Maragheh) which was almost 300 miles, or three week’s march, from the Euphrates frontier. The Roman soldiers were equipped with slings that had proved effective in countering volleys of enemy arrows. Dio reports that ‘the numerous slingers routed the enemy because they could shoot farther than the Parthian archers.’ A hail of lead sling-stones could inflict ‘severe injury on all Parthians including men in armour’, but this weapon rarely killed and the enemy could quickly retreat if overwhelmed or injured.

Antony achieved a rapid advance by marching ahead of the slow-moving train of accompanying wagons which were guarded by at least two Roman legions and a large force of allied Hellenic troops. But the Parthian army ambushed the convoy, massacred its guard of 10,000 legionaries, plundered the Roman supplies and burnt the siege equipment. Plutarch explains that this was a decisive point in the war and ‘the king of Armenia, despairing of the Roman cause, withdrew his forces and abandoned Antony.’

Antony reached Phraaspa with a force of more than 50,000 legionaries, but the fortified city was well-garrisoned and provisioned to withstand long-term siege. The Roman siege machinery that had been destroyed could not be replaced using local timber or the palisade wood that the legionaries carried to fortify their camps. The Romans therefore began to build a large earthen mound next to the city wall to surmount the defences and provide a platform for attack. This was a time-consuming, labour-intensive effort and as their supplies dwindled large parts of the army were left immobile. The Parthian army appeared outside the legionary camps arrayed in full battle formation to yell repeated challenges and insults which badly affected Roman morale. Antony was concerned that this ‘dismay and dejection would increase through inactivity,’ so he assembled ten legions and with the support of his cavalry he marched into the countryside to seize all available food supplies. This he hoped would draw the Parthians into a decisive battle.

Leaving a retaining force near the city walls, Antony marched his army a day’s journey from Phraaspa. The following day, the Parthian army including up to 40,000 mounted warriors appeared within sight of the Roman legions. They waited for the Romans to renew their march then gathered a crescent-shaped formation to attack the legionary columns from their flanks. But at a given signal the marching legionaries began a complex manoeuvre to bring columns of men into rank formation and face the Parthian army in a combat-ready battle-line. Plutarch describes how the Parthians ‘were awed by Roman discipline and watched the men maintain equal distance from one another as the marching lines rearranged in silence without confusion. Then soldiers brandished their javelins.’ Antony had issued orders that the Roman cavalry were to ride against the Parthians if they came within range of a legionary charge.

The Parthians interpreted these silent manoeuvres as the early stages of a Roman withdrawal and were not alarmed when the space between two armies narrowed. But at a given signal, ‘the Roman horsemen wheeled about and rode against the enemy with loud shouts.’ The shocked Parthians did not have time to unleash a full volley of arrows as 10,000 Roman cavalry charged into their midst. The larger Parthian force was able to withstand and repel the Roman charge, but the delay gave the legionaries time to dash forward and reach their enemy. Plutarch describes how battle was joined with shouts and the clash of weapons, but ‘the Parthian horses took fright and broke contact, and the Parthians fled before they were forced to fight the legionaries at close quarters.’ The legionaries pursued the Parthians for up to 6 miles, then the Roman cavalry continued the chase for 18 miles, but the enemy did not regroup for battle.

This engagement was considered a Roman victory, but when the legionaries took a tally of the battle they counted only eighty Parthian casualties and thirty prisoners. Plutarch explains that ‘Antony had great hopes that he might finish the whole war or decide a large part of the conflict in that one battle.’ But the tactics and casualty figures suggested otherwise, especially as the Roman army had already lost 10,000 legionaries in the earlier ambush. Plutarch reports that ‘all were affected with a mood of despondency and despair. They considered how terrible it was to be victorious, yet have killed so few of the enemy, when they had been deprived of so many men when they themselves had suffered defeat.’

The following day the Roman legions began the march back to Phraaspa. But the Parthian army had rallied and reappeared, ‘unconquered and renewed, to challenge and attack the Romans from every side’. Plutarch explains that the Romans only reached the safety of their siege camp after ‘much difficulty and effort’. When they saw the condition of the returning Roman army, the defenders of Phraaspa launched a successful sortie to destroy the improvised siege-works and put the guards to flight. To maintain discipline Antony ordered an immediate ‘decimation’ where one in ten of the soldiers in the disgraced units were selected for summary execution by their colleagues.

By this stage famine was imminent as Roman supplies were depleted and any troops sent on foraging parities suffered heavy casualties. Furthermore, winter was approaching and both armies knew that severe cold and frosts would soon cover this exposed landscape. Antony had no choice but to abandon the siege and withdraw to Roman territory. Plutarch reports that ‘although Antony was a natural speaker and could command armies with his eloquence, he was overcome with shame and dejection and did not make his usual speech to encourage his troops.’ The Roman retreat was announced by a sub-commander who perhaps reminded the legions that Armenia was now considered to be hostile territory, since its king had changed his allegiance.

Antony chose an alternative route back to Roman territory that crossed hills rather than the open treeless stretches of plain which would have been favourable to pursuing Parthian cavalry. The hill route passed through well-provisioned villages, but the Parthians were prepared and ‘seized passes before the Romans approached, blocked routes with trenches or palisades, secured water-sources and destroyed pasturage’. On the third day of the march the Parthians breached a dyke and flooded the ground in preparation for an ambush. But the legions were quick to form defensive formations with slingers and javelin-throwers launching missiles. The forward march continued and Antony ordered his troops not to leave the marching column to pursue the enemy. On the fifth day a detachment of light-armed troops guarding the rear disobeyed his orders and followed a Parthian attack force away from the main column. The detachment was immediately surrounded by Parthian reinforcements and Antony fought a fierce battle to retrieve his troops. Almost 3,000 Romans were killed and a further 5,000 soldiers suffered serious wounds in this single engagement.

The following day the Parthians again rode against the Roman rear-guard and encountered several units formed up behind a wall of shields (the testudo). They assumed that these immobile ranks were units that had abandoned the march prior to surrender. The Parthians therefore dismounted and approached on foot. But the legionaries counter-charged and cut down the first ranks of the enemy with their short-swords.

As the march continued the weather worsened with severe frosts and driving sleet further hampering the Roman retreat. Many wounded Romans had to be carried or supported, and the accompanying pack animals began to die from exhaustion and exposure. Provisions were almost exhausted and the troops became ill from eating harmful wild plants. But the Parthians still followed the retreating Romans, guarding any nearby villages that the legionaries might try to seize for shelter or supplies.

Antony considered leaving the hills, but he received a Parthian deserter who warned that the Roman column would be annihilated if it ventured onto the open plains. One source suggests that this man was a survivor from the campaign by Crassus who had undertaken to serve his Parthian captors, but could not bear to see his countrymen massacred. Florus reports, ‘The gods in their pity intervened, as a survivor from the disaster of Crassus dressed in Parthian costume rode up to the camp. He uttered a Latin salutation, inspired trust by speaking their language and told them of imminent danger’. Florus asserts that ‘no disaster had ever occurred comparable with the one which now threatened the Romans.’

The Parthian deserter warned Antony that the hill route was taking them across a district where there was no fresh drinking water. Antony therefore instructed his soldiers to fill all available leather-skin containers and carry additional water in their upturned helmets. The Romans began the 30-mile march across this district at night with the mounted Parthians still in pursuit. By morning the Romans had reached a clear, cold-running stream that was heavily saline. Despite direct orders from Antony, many thirsty soldiers drank this harmful water and were debilitated by a sudden sickness. After miles of further forced march, the exhausted legionaries finally reached shade and clean drinking water, but they were only permitted a short rest. Their guide promised Antony that they were close to a boundary river and rough terrain that the mounted Parthians would not cross in pursuit.

The night before they reached the river there was a large-scale disturbance in the Roman camp. A group of deserters killed comrades who had been guarding the pay and precious metal artefacts carried by the legions. The Parthians saw the disorder and attacked. Antony feared that a breakdown in the Roman formations would cause a mass rout, so he ordered a member of his personal guard to kill him if his capture seemed imminent. The freedman was instructed to cut the head from Antony’s corpse so that it could not be taken and displayed as a Parthian trophy. But Roman training and discipline held enough of the ranks together to repel the enemy throughout the night. In testudo formation the Roman column finally reached the banks of the boundary river the following day. The cavalry formed a guard as the sick and wounded were brought across the river to safety in the territory that lay beyond.

It had been twenty-seven days since Antony had abandoned the siege at Phraaspa and begun the retreat back through the hill country. Since then, his army had fought at least eighteen defensive engagements and suffered heavy casualties due to enemy action, exposure, sickness and fatigue. According to Plutarch the Romans lost 20,000 legionaries and 4,000 cavalry on the return march alone. To these figures can be added the two legions (10,000 troops) destroyed with the siege equipment on the outbound expedition. Florus claims that barely a third of the expedition force (23,000 troops) reached safety, meaning that 12,000 were captured or killed at Phraaspa. Roman casualties were over 40,000 men, the size of the entire army led by Crassus. Antony had probably lost two-thirds of the soldiers taken on campaign. This reduction in Antony’s forces proved significant when Octavian successfully challenged and defeated Antony to gain control over the entire Roman Empire (32–30 BC).

Augustus and Parthia

In 27 BC Augustus (Octavian) formally accepted the position of Emperor and became the uncontested ruler of the entire Roman Empire. But important political legacies of the civil war period were still unsettled. Julius Caesar had planned the conquest of Parthia in revenge for the Roman defeat at Carrhae and Antony had suffered humiliating setbacks in his failed campaigns against the Parthian Empire. Augustus was expected to rectify this situation and restore Roman honour in the Middle East.

But eastern conquests were not an easy prospect for the Augustan regime. Two Roman armies had been almost annihilated attempting first the Euphrates invasion route and secondly the Median route into Parthia. Furthermore, any invasion of Parthian territory would take large numbers of Roman troops far from the centre of their Mediterranean Empire at a time when Augustus needed to be near Rome to oversee political affairs and guarantee the dictatorial reforms that he had introduced. Any Parthian campaign needed to be undertaken by generals that Augustus could trust to pursue conflicts in distant regions far from his direct supervision. Alexander had been able to conquer the core territories of the Persian Empire in just three years (331–328 BC), so perhaps the Romans could expect similar progress if everything in their high-risk invasion plans were to succeed. Appian records that even Caesar’s invasion plans had set out a three-year schedule for the conquest of the Parthian Empire.

The Latin poet Horace reveals the prevalent Roman attitude during this period (30–20 BC). In one instance he refers to ‘the Parthians, threatening Rome’ and in another context suggests that the Roman army needed to develop a cavalry corps equipped with long lances to counter the tactics of mounted Parthian forces. He asserted that ‘our youth should learn how to use the steed and lance to impose fear on the Parthians.’ This is probably based on popular debate as to how to prepare the legions for the prospect of eastern wars.

Other comments by Horace promote Roman supremacy, for example, ‘The Roman soldier fears the deceptive retreat of the Parthians, but Parthia dreads Roman dominance.’ Elsewhere he comments, ‘who fears Parthian or Scythian hordes, or dense German forests, while the Emperor lives?’ The view that the Romans might be about to attack Parthian territory is also conveyed by his statement that ‘Rome, in warlike pride will stretch a conqueror’s hand over Media.’

Early Postwar Aerial Reconnaissance of the Soviet Union

DAYTON, Ohio — Boeing RB-47H at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Although at the end of World War II the United States had captured large quantities of German photos and documents on the Soviet Union, this material was rapidly becoming outdated. The main source of current intelligence on the Soviet Union’s military installations was interrogation of prisoners of war returning from Soviet captivity. To obtain information about Soviet scientific progress, the intelligence community established several programs to debrief German scientists who had been taken to the Soviet Union after the end of the war but were now being allowed to leave.

Interrogation of returning Germans offered only fragmentary information, and this source could not be expected to last much longer. As a result, in the late 1940s, the US Air Force and Navy began trying to obtain aerial photography of the Soviet Union. The main Air Force effort involved Boeing RB-47 aircraft (the reconnaissance version of the B-47 jet-propelled medium bomber) equipped with cameras and electronic “ferret” equipment that enabled aircrews to detect tracking by Soviet radars. At that time the Soviet Union had not yet completely ringed its borders with radars, and much of the interior also lacked radar coverage. Thus, when the RB-47s found a gap in the air-warning network, they would dart inland to take photographs of any accessible targets. These “penetration photography” flights (called SENSINT—sensitive intelligence—missions) occurred along the northern and Pacific coasts of Russia. One RB-47 aircraft even managed to fly 450 miles inland and photograph the city of Igarka in Siberia. Such intrusions brought protests from Moscow but no Soviet military response.

In 1950 there was a major change in Soviet policy. Air defense units became very aggressive in defending their airspace, attacking all aircraft that came near the borders of the Soviet Union. On 8 April 1950, Soviet fighters shot down a US Navy Privateer patrol aircraft over the Baltic Sea. Following the outbreak of the Korean war in June 1950, the Soviet Union extended its “severe air defense policy” to the Far East. In the autumn of 1951, Soviet aircraft downed a twin-engine US Navy Neptune bomber near Vladivostok. An RB-29 lost in the Sea of Japan on 13 June 1952 was probably also a victim of Soviet fighters. The United States was not the only country affected by the new aggressive Soviet air defense policy; Britain and Turkey also reported attacks on their planes.

The Soviet Union’s air defense policy became even more aggressive in August 1952, when its reconnaissance aircraft began violating Japanese airspace over Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese home island. Two months later, on 7 October 1952, Soviet fighter aircraft stalked and shot down a US RB-29 flying over Hokkaido. Aerial reconnaissance of the Soviet Union and surrounding areas had become a very dangerous business.

Despite the growing risks associated with aerial reconnaissance of the Soviet Bloc, senior US officials strongly believed that such missions were necessary. The lack of information about the Soviet Union, coupled with the perception that it was an aggressive nation determined to expand its borders—a perception that had been greatly strengthened by the Soviet-backed North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950—increased US determination to obtain information about Soviet intentions and capabilities and thus reduce the danger of being surprised by a Soviet attack.

New Approaches to Photoreconnaissance

While existing Navy and Air Force aircraft were flying their risky reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union, the United States began planning for a more systematic and less dangerous approach using new technology. One of the leading advocates of the need for new, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft was Richard S. Leghorn, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and employee of Eastman Kodak who had commanded the Army Air Forces’ 67th Reconnaissance Group in Europe during World War II. After the war he returned to Kodak but maintained his interest in photoreconnaissance. Leghorn strongly believed in the need for what he called pre-D-day reconnaissance, that is, reconnaissance of a potential enemy before the outbreak of actual hostilities, in contrast to combat reconnaissance in wartime. In papers presented in 1946 and 1948, Leghorn argued that the United States needed to develop such a capability, which would require high-altitude aircraft and high-resolution cameras. The outbreak of the Korean war gave Leghorn an opportunity to put his ideas into effect. Recalled to active duty by the Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Leghorn became the head of the Reconnaissance Systems Branch of the Wright Air Development Command at Dayton, Ohio, in April 1951.

In Leghorn’s view, altitude was the key to success for overhead reconnaissance. Since the best Soviet interceptor at that time, the MIG-17, had to struggle to reach 45,000 feet,6 Leghorn reasoned that an aircraft that could exceed 60,000 feet would be safe from Soviet fighters. Recognizing that the fastest way to produce a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft was to modify an existing aircraft, he began looking for the highest flying aircraft available in the Free World. This search soon led him to a British twin-engine medium bomber—the Canberra—built by the English Electric Company. The Canberra had made its first flight in May 1949. Its speed of 469 knots (870 kilometers per hour) and its service ceiling of 48,000 feet made the Canberra a natural choice for high-altitude reconnaissance work. The Royal Air Force quickly developed a reconnaissance version of the Canberra, the PR3 (the PR stood for photoreconnaissance), which began flying in March 1950.

At Leghorn’s insistence, the Wright Air Development Command invited English Electric representatives to Dayton in the summer of 1951 to help find ways to make the Canberra fly even higher. By this time the Air Force had already adopted the bomber version of the Canberra, which the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company was to produce under license as the B-57 medium bomber. Leghorn and his English Electric colleagues designed a new Canberra configuration with very long high-lift wings, new Rolls-Royce Avon-109 engines, a solitary pilot, and an airframe that was stressed to less than the standard military specifications. Leghorn calculated that a Canberra so equipped might reach 63,000 feet early in a long mission and as high as 67,000 feet as the declining fuel supply lightened the aircraft. He believed that such a modified Canberra could penetrate the Soviet Union and China for a radius of 800 miles from bases around their periphery and photograph up to 85 percent of the intelligence targets in those countries.

Leghorn persuaded his superiors to submit his suggestion to the Pentagon for funding. He had not, however, cleared his idea with the Air Research and Development Command, whose reconnaissance division in Baltimore, headed by Lt. Col. Joseph J. Pellegrini, had to approve all new reconnaissance aircraft designs. Pellegrini’s unit reviewed Leghorn’s design and ordered extensive modifications. According to Leghorn, Pellegrini was not interested in a special-purpose aircraft that was only suitable for covert peacetime reconnaissance missions, for he believed that all Air Force reconnaissance aircraft should be capable of operating under wartime conditions. Pellegrini therefore insisted that Leghorn’s design meet the specifications for combat aircraft, which required heavily stressed airframes, armor plate, and other apparatus that made an aircraft too heavy to reach the higher altitudes necessary for safe overflights of the Soviet Bloc. The final result of Leghorn’s concept after its alteration by Pellegrini’s staff was the RB-57D in 1955, whose maximum altitude was only 64,000 feet. Meanwhile Leghorn, frustrated by the rejection of his original concept, had transferred to the Pentagon in early 1952 to work for Col. Bernard A. Schriever, Assistant for Development Planning to the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Development.

In his new position Leghorn became responsible for planning the Air Force’s reconnaissance needs for the next decade. He worked closely with Charles F. (Bud) Wienberg—a colleague who had followed him from Wright Field—and Eugene P. Kiefer, a Notre Dame-educated aeronautical engineer who had designed reconnaissance aircraft at the Wright Air Development Center during World War II. All three of these reconnaissance experts believed that the Air Force should emphasize high-altitude photoreconnaissance.

Underlying their advocacy of high-altitude photoreconnaissance was the belief that Soviet radars would not be able to track aircraft flying above 65,000 feet. This assumption was based on the fact that the Soviet Union used American-built radar sets that had been supplied under Lend-Lease during World War II. Although the SCR-584 (Signal Corps Radio) target-tracking radar could track targets up to 90,000 feet, its high power consumption burned out a key component quickly, so this radar was normally not turned on until an early warning radar had detected a target. The SCR-270 early warning radar could be left on for much longer periods and had a greater horizontal range (approximately 120 miles) but was limited by the curvature of the earth to a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet. As a result, Leghorn, Kiefer, and Wienberg believed that an aircraft that could ascend to 65,000 feet before entering an area being swept by the early warning radar would go undetected, because the target-tracking radars would not be activated.9

The problem with this assumption was that the Soviet Union, unlike Britain and the United States, had continued to improve radar technology after the end of World War II. Even after evidence of improved Soviet radar capabilities became available, however, many advocates of high-altitude overflight continued to believe that aircraft flying above 65,000 feet were safe from detection by Soviet radars.

The Air Force Search for a New Reconnaissance Aircraft

With interest in high-altitude reconnaissance growing, several Air Force agencies began to develop an aircraft to conduct such missions. In September 1952, the Air Research and Development Command gave the Martin Aircraft Company a contract to examine the high-altitude potential of the B-57 by modifying a single aircraft to give it long, high-lift wings and the American version of the new Rolls-Royce Avon-109 engine. These were the modifications that Richard Leghorn had suggested during the previous year.

At about the same time, another Air Force office, the Wright Air Development Command (WADC) in Dayton, Ohio, was also examining ways to achieve sustained flight at high altitudes. Working with two German aeronautical experts—Woldemar Voigt and Richard Vogt—who had come to the United States after World War II, Air Force Maj. John Seaberg advocated the development of a new aircraft that would combine the high-altitude performance of the latest turbojet engines with high-efficiency wings in order to reach ultrahigh altitudes. Seaberg, an aeronautical engineer for the Chance Vought Corporation until his recall to active duty during the Korean war, was serving as assistant chief of the New Developments Office of WADC’s Bombardment Branch.

By March 1953, Seaberg had expanded his ideas for a high-altitude aircraft into a complete request for proposal for “an aircraft weapon system having an operational radius of 1,500 nm [nautical miles] and capable of conducting pre- and post-strike reconnaissance missions during daylight, good visibility conditions.” The requirement stated that such an aircraft must have an optimum subsonic cruise speed at altitudes of 70,000 feet or higher over the target, carry a payload of 100 to 700 pounds of reconnaissance equipment, and have a crew of one.

The Wright Air Development Command decided not to seek proposals from major airframe manufacturers on the grounds that a smaller company would give the new project a higher priority and produce a better aircraft more quickly. In July 1953, the Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, and the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation of Hagerstown, Maryland, received study contracts to develop an entirely new high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. In addition, the Glenn L. Martin Company of Baltimore was asked to examine the possibility of improving the already exceptional high-altitude performance of the B-57 Canberra. By January 1954 all three firms had submitted their proposals. Fairchild’s entry was a single-engine plane known as M-195, which had a maximum altitude potential of 67,200 feet; Bell’s was a twin-engine craft called the Model 67 (later the X-16), which had a maximum altitude of 69,500 feet; and Martin’s design was a big-wing version of the B-57 called the Model 294, which was to cruise at 64,000 feet. In March 1954, Seaberg and other engineers at Wright Field, having evaluated the three contending designs, recommended the adoption of both the Martin and Bell proposals. They considered Martin’s version of the B-57 an interim project that could be completed and deployed rapidly while the more advanced concept from Bell was still being developed.

Air Force headquarters soon approved Martin’s proposal to modify the B-57 and was very much interested in the Bell design. But word of the competition for a new reconnaissance airplane had reached another aircraft manufacturer, the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, which submitted an unsolicited design.

Lockheed had first become aware of the reconnaissance aircraft competition in the fall of 1953. John H. (Jack) Carter, who had recently retired from the Air Force to become the assistant director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Program, was in the Pentagon on business and dropped in to see Eugene P. Kiefer, an old friend and colleague from the Air Force’s Office of Development Planning (more commonly known as AFDAP from its Air Force office symbol). Kiefer told Carter about the competition for a high-flying aircraft and expressed the opinion that the Air Force was going about the search in the wrong way by requiring the new aircraft to be suitable for both strategic and tactical reconnaissance.

Immediately after returning to California, Carter proposed to Lockheed Vice President L. Eugene Root (previously the top civilian official in the Air Force’s Office of Development Planning) that Lockheed also submit a design. Carter noted that the proposed aircraft would have to reach altitudes of between 65,000 and 70,000 feet and correctly forecast, “If extreme altitude performance can be realized in a practical aircraft at speeds in the vicinity of Mach 0.8, it should be capable of avoiding virtually all Russian defenses until about 1960.” Carter added, “To achieve these characteristics in an aircraft which will have a reasonably useful operational life during the period before 1960 will, of course, require very strenuous efforts and extraordinary procedures, as well as nonstandard design philosophy.” Some of the “nonstandard” design characteristics suggested by Carter were the elimination of landing gear, the disregard of military specifications, and the use of very low load factors. Carter’s memorandum closed with a warning that time was of the essence: “In order that this special aircraft can have a reasonably long and useful life, it is obvious that its development must be greatly accelerated beyond that considered normal.”

Lockheed CL-282B

Lockheed’s senior officials approved Carter’s proposal, and early in 1954 the corporation’s best aircraft designer—Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson—began working on the project, then known as the CL-282 but later to become famous under its Air Force designator—the U-2. Already one of the world’s leading aeronautical engineers, Kelly Johnson had many successful military and civilian designs to his credit, including the P-38, P-80, F-104, and Constellation. Johnson quickly came up with a radical design based upon the fuselage of the F-104 jet fighter but incorporating a high-aspect-ratio sailplane wing. To save weight and thereby increase the aircraft’s altitude, Johnson decided to stress the airframe to only 2.5 units of gravity (g’s) instead of the military specification strength of 5.33 g’s. For the power plant he selected the General Electric J73/GE-3 nonafterburning turbojet engine with 9,300 pounds of thrust (this was the same engine he had chosen for the F-104, which had been the basis for the U-2 design). Many of the CL-282’s design features were adapted from gliders. Thus, the wings and tail were detachable. Instead of a conventional landing gear, Johnson proposed using two skis and a reinforced belly rib for landing—a common sailplane technique—and a jettisonable wheeled dolly for takeoff. Other features included an unpressurized cockpit and a 15-cubic-foot payload area that could accommodate 600 pounds of sensors. The CL-282’s maximum altitude would be just over 70,000 feet with a 2,000-mile range. Essentially, Kelly Johnson had designed a jet-propelled glider.

Early in March 1954, Kelly Johnson submitted the CL-282 design to Brig. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever’s Office of Development Planning. Eugene Kiefer and Bud Wienberg studied the design and recommended it to General Schriever, who then asked Lockheed to submit a specific proposal. In early April, Kelly Johnson presented a full description of the CL-282 and a proposal for the construction and maintenance of 30 aircraft to a group of senior Pentagon officials that included Schriever’s superior, Lt. Gen. Donald L. Putt, Deputy Chief of Staff for Development, and Trevor N. Gardner, Special Assistant for Research and Development to the Secretary of the Air Force. Afterward Kelly Johnson noted that the civilian officials were very much interested in his design but the generals were not.

The CL-282 design was also presented to the commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, in early April by Eugene Kiefer, Bud Wienberg, and Burton Klein from the Office of Development Planning. According to Wienberg, General LeMay stood up halfway through the briefing, took his cigar out of his mouth, and told the briefers that, if he wanted high-altitude photographs, he would put cameras in his B-36 bombers and added that he was not interested in a plane that had no wheels or guns. The general then left the room, remarking that the whole business was a waste of his time.

Meanwhile, the CL-282 design proceeded through the Air Force development channels and reached Major Seaberg at the Wright Air Development Command in mid-May. Seaberg and his colleagues carefully evaluated the Lockheed submission and finally rejected it in early June. One of their main reasons for doing so was Kelly Johnson’s choice of the unproven General Electric J73 engine. The engineers at Wright Field considered the Pratt and Whitney J57 to be the most powerful engine available, and the designs from Fairchild, Martin, and Bell all incorporated this engine. The absence of conventional landing gear was also a perceived shortcoming of the Lockheed design.

Another factor in the rejection of Kelly Johnson’s submission was the Air Force preference for multiengine aircraft. Air Force reconnaissance experts had gained their practical experience during World War II in multiengine bombers. In addition, aerial photography experts in the late 1940s and early 1950s emphasized focal length as the primary factor in reconnaissance photography and, therefore, preferred large aircraft capable of accommodating long focal-length cameras. This preference reached an extreme in the early 1950s with the development of the cumbersome 240-inch Boston camera, a device so large that the YC-97 Boeing Stratocruiser that carried it had to be partially disassembled before the camera could be installed. Finally, there was the feeling shared by many Air Force officers that two engines are always better than one because, if one fails, there is a spare to get the aircraft back to base. In reality, however, aviation records show that single-engine aircraft have always been more reliable than multiengine planes. Furthermore, a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft deep in enemy territory would have little chance of returning if one of the engines failed, forcing the aircraft to descend.

On 7 June 1954, Kelly Johnson received a letter from the Air Force rejecting the CL-282 proposal because it had only one engine and was too unusual and because the Air Force was already committed to the modification of the Martin B-57. By this time, the Air Force had also selected the Bell X-16; the formal contract calling for aircraft was signed in September. Despite the Air Force’s selection of the X-16, Lockheed continued to work on the CL-282 and began seeking new sources of support for the aircraft.

Transportstaffel 40

The series of mountain trials, completed on 5 October 1944, would undoubtedly have contributed much to helicopter development under other circumstances. Oberst Kraitmeyer had been delighted with the results achieved, enthusiastically recommending a final series of evaluation trials before adoption of the Drache as a general-purpose transport for the mountain troops. Meanwhile, however, the Laupheim factory had, as previously related, been destroyed by bombing, a factor which obviously changed the situation. Nevertheless., the order issued by the RLM on 11 October 1944, forbidding the further testing of the Fa 223 and seconding Focke Achgelis personnel to Messerschmitt was scarcely expected.

Characteristic of the confusion that now permeated Berlin was the extraordinary volte-face performed within weeks by the RLM which not only sanctioned a resumption of flight testing, but ordered the Focke Achgelis organisation to reassemble at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport and prepare to manufacture the Fa 223 at a rate of 400 per month! Such an order was totally unrealistic at the stage reached in the European conflict-apart from the lack of sufficient machines jigs, tools and materials, such prodigious production would have demanded a labour force equivalent to the populace of a medium-sized town to undertake the work.

At this time, only five airworthy Fa 223E-0 helicopters remained, the V11 not having been rebuilt and the V12 having been lost while attempting a mountain rescue. The helicopter had been flown to the Mont Blanc after a long cross-country flight from Germany to rescue 17 people trapped in snow on the mountain. During the attempted rescue, a mechanical link failed, resulting in a rotor disintegrating, and although the Drache touched down on its wheels, it was hurled against an embankment and destroyed, its crew losing their lives. It was this same helicopter that SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny had proposed to use to rescue Benito Mussolini from imprisonment in the hotel at the peak of the Gran Sasso Massif in the Abruzzi Molise in September 1943, the Fa 223E V12 becoming unserviceable at the last moment and, with no other helicopter available, use of an Fi 156 Storch was necessitated.

Three of the remaining five Drache helicopters were now issued to the first and only true Luftwaffe helicopter squadron, Transportstaffel 40 activated early in 1945 at Mühldorf, Bavaria, under the command of Hauptmann Josef Stangl, the other two Fa 223E-0s being retained by Focke Achgelis for development purposes. The Staffel was equipped with a mix of Fa 223s and FI 282s, and soon transferred for working up to Ainring, west of Salzburg and close to the German-Austrian border.

While Transportstaffel 40 was working up at Ainring, Focke Achgelis had succeeded in resuming production of the Drache at its new facilities at Tempelhof, and the first new Fa 223E-0 (Werk-Nr 00051), coded GW+PA, had been accepted by the Luftwaffe and immediately assigned by special “Order of the Führer ” 25 February 1945 to fly to Danzig on the night of 25 February 1945. In the event, the helicopter could not take-off until 0800 hours on the next day owing to necessary maintenance. Crewed by Ltn Gerstenhauer, Meister Möller and Feldwebel Friedrichs, the helicopter took-off from Tempelhof for Würzburg – although this was in virtually the opposite direction to Danzig and the reason for the detour being unrecorded but the crew lost its bearings in a storm over the Schwäbischen Alb region landing the helicopter at Crailsheim

The Fa 223 took-off again and, 30 min later, landed at Würzburg-Giebelstadt. A heavy bombing attack by the 8th Air Force on the previous day had destroyed all fuel stocks, however, and despite inclement weather, the helicopter forced to take-off once more and fly to Würzburg at an average altitude of 330 ft (100 m). Refuelled, the Fa 223 took-off yet again, flying via the Werra Valley, despite winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 km/h), to Meiningen, where it arrived after having flown a total distance of 179 miles (288 km) in three hours and five minutes.

At 0835 hours on the next day, the helicopter continued along the Werra Valley to Werder, landing en route at Erfurt and Kölleda, in continued bad weather, with a cloud barely higher than 650 ft (200 m) and strong winds. On this second day, a distance of 196 miles (315 km) was flown in two hours and 53 minutes. The next morning, at 0745 hours, the Fa 223 took-off in the direction of Stettin-Altdamm, but due to the proximity of the frontline this course could not be kept and the helicopter was therefore flown towards Prenzlau and thence along the line of the Autobahn to Stettin, deteriorating weather making it impossible to continue. Take-off on 3 March was once again 0745 hours, Ltn Gerstenhauer and his crew landing at Stolp-Reitz and then transferring to Stolp-West to refuel. With the distance flown on the previous day the Fa 223 had now accumulated a further 230 miles (370 km) in 2 hours 35 minutes. Here the crew was informed of the purpose of the mission. From a sports field near the front line at Graudenz the helicopter was supposed to fly out three prisoners. These prisoners belonged to the so-called Seydlitz Army, a battle group of former German soldiers who now fought alongside the Red Army.

Further progress was impossible owing to the weather, but on 5 March, the situation on the ground had become so serious that Stolp-West had to be abandoned, the helicopter taking off at 1330 hours for Stolp-Reitz and from there flying direct to Danzig-Praust. Fulfilment of the helicopter’s assignment to fly into the centre of Danzig was no longer possible owing to a renewed Soviet offensive in the area. Ltn Gerstenhauer had therefore to await fresh orders. In the meantime, however, the Fa 223 was to prove its worth in the search-and-rescue mission. A pilot of 1./NAG 4 had lost his bearings in a heavy snowstorm and had force-landed. The helicopter took-off and located the Bf 109 near the village of Goschin. The wounded pilot, Ltn Schadewitz was still in the cockpit and was immediately flown back to base by the Fa 223.

Danzig-Praust now had to be evacuated and the Fa 223 therefore took-off for Gotenhafen-Hexengrund. Here orders arrived from Luftflotte HQ for the helicopter to return to Werder, but no fuel was allocated for the flight. Meanwhile, all airfields between Gotenhafen and Swinemünde had either been blown up or occupied by the enemy. Ltn Gerstenhauer finally succeeded in finding some fuel and decided to take on board an extra 44 Imp gal (2001) drum plus a hand pump to transfer the contents of the drum to the main tank in flight. The helicopter finally took-off once more on 9 March, flew westwards along the Baltic coastline and landed at Garz. Bad weather delayed the start of the final phase of the journey until 0712 hours on 1 March, the Fa 223 eventually reaching Werder at 0840 hours. During this – for a helicopter – epic journey under the most adverse conditions, the Fa 223 had covered a total of 1,041 miles (1 675 km) in a total flying time of 16 hours 25 minutes; a feat that underlined the remarkable reliability and operational capability that had been achieved by the Focke Achgelis helicopter.

The Transportstaffel 40 had remained at Ainring meantime, but late in April it was transferred eastwards with three Fa 223s and five Fl 282s to Aigen in Styria (Austria). The unit was supposedly to have operated in the Alpenfestung as part of the Lw. Div. Nordalpen (as the Lw. Kdo. West had been redesignated), tasked with artillery observation, transport and liaison duties in the northern Alps. As the Aigen-im-Ennstal airfield was choked with the surviving Bf 109s of JG 27, JG 53, JG 300 and NAG 13, the Transportstaffel 40 was allocated a landing ground outside Aigen, near Putterersee, the crews and ground personnel being accommodated in lakeside cabins.

The advance of the US 80th Infantry Division over the Pyhrn Pass in the direction of Liezen early in May forced the Staffel to retire westwards along the River Enns to Radstadt at the foot of the High Alps. From here, Hauptmann Stangl tried to get back across the German border to Ainring, only to be taken prisoner by US forces near Salzburg. Only two Fa 223s succeeded in reaching Ainring, these being the V14 and Werk- Nr 00051 of Danzig flight fame, the third Fa 223 of the Staffel being destroyed by its pilot. At Ainring, the two Fa 223s were captured by the US forces.

THE SINO-FRENCH WAR IN ANNAM

Chinese regular soldiers photographed during the Sino-French War.

Operations of the Sino-French war (1884–85)

Soon after Beijing succeeded in eliminating-for a time at least-Russia’s intervention into the Chinese colony of Xinjiang, the Qing faced a new Imperial challenge to its authority: French efforts to break away and dominate China’s southern tributary state in Annam (Vietnam). The Sino-French War in Annam (1884-85) was China’s second anti-imperialist confrontation after Ili, and was a war that China lost. While China now used some modern weapons for its infantry, the recently constructed but largely untested Chinese Navy proved to be no match for the French.

Annam was under Chinese influence as early as the reign of Han Wudi (140-87 bc) and remained a Chinese colony until after the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Thereafter, unlike Xinjiang’s later colonial status, Annam’s troops successfully defeated Qianlong’s armies and so Annam did not fall under direct Qing control, but was considered instead to be an autonomous tributary state. Beginning in the seventeenth century, western influence increased following the arrival of the Jesuits. By the mid-nineteenth century, France sought to use its self-declared position as protector of Catholicism to add Annam to its colonial empire.

France’s opportunity to absorb Annam appeared in 1859, when antimissionary riots provided the French with an excuse to send troops. This action quickly led to the French acquisition of Annam’s three southernmost provinces in 1862. Later, in 1874, the French government completed the task of turning Annam into a protectorate when it obtained the right to navigate the Red River in northern Annam. By 1880 it had troops stationed as far north as Hanoi. Faced with this western threat, the government of Annam sought Chinese assistance. Responding favorably to its tributary’s request, Beijing agreed to dispatch troops to Hanoi in 1883.

Increasing tensions between the Chinese and French troops stationed in Annam led to open conflict in 1884. Although China’s Navy was well on the way to becoming modern, it was still no match for the French. During the summer of 1884, the French fleet attacked Fuzhou, in southeast China, and quickly sank most of China’s southern fleet. They also destroyed the Fuzhou Navy Yard, which France had originally helped China to build. Eventually the French forced Beijing to negotiate peace, and in June 1885 China recognized the French treaties with Annam that turned it into a protectorate.

China’s loss in the Sino-French War forced her to concede the tributary status of Annam and to acknowledge that the region was a French colony. This defeat had immediate consequences throughout southeast Asia, as Britain soon challenged Burma’s tributary status. China conceded Burma without a fight in 1886. What is more important, France’s success undoubtedly prompted Japan to make similarly aggressive moves to the northeast of China in its Korean tributary.

Historians have claimed that Annam’s loss also “signaled the failure of [China’s] twenty-year-old self-strengthening movement.” However, this assertion largely overlooks China’s long string of military successes in suppressing the Taipings, the Nian, and the various Muslim rebellions to the south and west. It also completely ignores China’s diplomatic success in recovering Ili from Russia without resorting to war. Therefore, a more sympathetic appraisal of Chinese self-strengthening is that while China proved to be sufficient to oppose and defeat civil, ethnic, and religious unrest within the borders of the Empire, it was insufficient to halt foreign expansion into its traditional system of tributary states in southeast and northeast Asia.

In fact, it would take China an additional seventy years of military development and modernization before it was capable of reinserting itself once again into the affairs of these tributary states, as the People’s Republic of China was to do in the Korean War during the 1950s, and the Vietnam War during the 1960s. Before China was once again able to play a role in these tributary states, however, it lost control over enormous sections of its former Imperial territory, including Tibet, Xinjiang, Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and Manchuria. The Sino-French War proved to be an important precedent, therefore, since it was the first Qing confrontation with a foreign power that resulted in the loss of a tributary state.

The origins of the Sino-French War, 1859-83

China influenced Annam as early as the third century bc, and conquered Annam during the Han Dynasty. Even the name Annam is Chinese, from the term meaning south-pacifying, or an-nan campaign, during the Tang Dynasty. Although Annam gained its independence from China in 938 after the Tang collapsed, it remained a Chinese tributary state. This tributary relationship proved to be especially important during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and according to one account, Annam sent approximately fifty tribute missions to Beijing during the period 1664 to 1881.

France began to form relations with Annam when the Jesuits became some of the first westerners to enter Annam in 1615. French trade with Annam was initially opened by the French East India Company during the late seventeenth century, but was not a financial success. Fearful of China renewing its southern military campaign, Annam’s leaders sought outside allies. Although French officers thereafter helped Nguyen Phuc Anh found the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), once he became Emperor Gia-Long and realized that China was occupied with domestic and ethnic rebellions he quickly spurned his French benefactors. 180 In a classic case of Asian power politics, however, Annam’s new `friend’ turned out to be worse than its traditional “enemy,” since once the French were invited in they refused to leave.

French missionaries and Vietnamese converts had enjoyed a long and generally productive relationship in Annam, but under Tu Duc’s (1848-83) xenophobic rule, anti-Catholic riots became more common and widespread. This proved to be a perfect excuse for Napoleon III, who was also urged by his Catholic wife Eugenie to send troops to Annam. In 1858, Napoleon ordered the military to intercede. 181 By 1859, a French force seized Saigon in southern Annam and garrisoned it. Supported by twenty-seven French warships and some 3,500 troops, the French used their superior weaponry to break through a Vietnamese blockade. Soon, they controlled Saigon and the three surrounding provinces.

A temporary French peace was achieved with the Vietnamese Emperor, Tu Duc, in June 1862. The resulting French-Annam treaty granted a US$4 million indemnity, trade privileges, and religious freedom for Annam’s Catholic minority. This treaty went much further by also ceding France outright the three southern provinces of Gia-dinh, Dinh-tuong, and Bien-hoa-the French called them Cochin China-and prohibited the Vietnamese from sending any troops into these provinces. Although Tu Duc criticized the terms of this treaty and called the Vietnamese negotiators who signed it “criminals,” Mark McLeod has suggested that Tu Duc secretly gave his approval to these important concessions while publicly condemning his officials as scapegoats.

French domination of Annam expanded throughout the 1860s, and by 1874 a second French-Annam treaty was signed that made Annam a French protectorate. This agreement not only confirmed French possession of Cochin China and asserted French control over Annam’s foreign affairs, but it also added the important right of navigating the Red River in northern Annam. This provision made the French domination of northern Annam possible. By 1880, the French had erected forts along the Red River and had stationed troops as far north as Hanoi and Haiphong.

Annam now turned to China to halt French expansion. Despite French opposition, the Annamese government sent tributary missions to Beijing in 1877 and 1881. It also requested help from the Black Flag Army, a pirate army associated with the Heaven and Earth Society (an offshoot of the Taiping movement). The Black Flags were commanded by Liu Yongfa, a Hakka Chinese who was from Guangdong Province. Liu reportedly dreamed as a youth that he would become a famous “General of the Black Tiger” and so used a black flag as his banner.

The Black Flag troops began to arrive in Annam during 1882. For over a year before China declared war, albeit unofficially, they opposed French forces throughout the Tonkin area. The Black Flags were noted for using a variety of military strategies, ranging from defensive entrenchments to the cunning ambush of French troops. According to Spencer Tucker, their understanding of modern weapons was poor: “They had artillery but they seldom used it, and they were very poor marksmen, preferring not to fire their rifles from the shoulder in aimed fire.” Although outnumbered by the French, the Black Flag troops made effective use of guerrilla tactics. Many of these tactics would be seen once again almost eighty years later during the US-Vietnamese conflict.

From 13 to 16 December 1883, the French launched an offensive against the Black Flag base in Sontay and routed their forces. Four months later, the French occupation of Bacninh, just north of Hanoi, forced Liu Yongfa to order his troops to withdraw back to China. Even though many members of the Black Flag Army had formerly been followers of the Taipings, Beijing could not ignore the Black Flag’s plight. Beijing responded to Annam’s pleas by sending troops in 1883. Stationed close to the Sino-Annam border, at Lang Son, the Chinese troops were more numerous than their French counterparts. Tensions increased between the opposing French and Chinese troops and fighting soon broke out. Although the Chinese weapons were modern, the Chinese troops’ training would still prove to be largely inferior to that of the French.

The birth of the Chinese Navy, 1870-83

Unlike earlier nineteenth-century conflicts, the Sino-French War was the first war during which China possessed a modern navy. Credit for this development largely goes to Li Hongzhang who, during 1870 to 1895, was governor-general of the northern province of Zhili, and a primary sponsor of China’s modernization. Not only was Li still considered to be the head of the Huai (Anhui) Army, which had born the brunt of fighting against the Taiping, the Nian, and the Muslim Rebellions, but he soon became responsible for forming the Beiyang Navy in China’s northern waters. The Chinese government ordered the development of three other modern fleets as well, based at Guangzhou, the Fuzhou Naval Yard in southeast China, and along the Yangzi River.

China’s need for a modern navy was first revealed during the Opium War, but was dramatized in 1873 when Japan claimed the Ryukyu (Okinawan) Islands as Japanese territory. These islands had become a Chinese tributary in 1372, but from 1609 were slowly dominated by the Satsuma feudal state in Japan. The incident that sparked Japan’s action was the 1871 massacre of fifty-four shipwrecked Ryukyu sailors by Taiwanese aborigines. When Beijing refused to take action in what was technically a part of China, the Japanese launched their own expedition in 1874 and sent troops to Taiwan. Lacking an effective navy to counter the Japanese force, China was forced to pay Japan an indemnity both for its expedition and to compensate the murdered sailors’ families. Beijing also agreed not to dispute Tokyo’s claim to the Ryukyu Islands. In 1879, Japan formally annexed these islands and changed their name to the Okinawa Prefecture.

Beijing could not counter foreign aggression from the sea without a modern navy. Previously, funds for building a navy were particularly scarce because of the military demands of opposing the Muslim rebellion in Xinjiang and resolving the Ili Crisis. In addition, the Manchu Court decided in 1874 to use scarce funds to rebuild the Summer Palace; although widely condemned by westernizers as a waste of money, the construction of a new Summer Palace was intended to prove to the Han Chinese that the Manchus were still firmly in control, and so had important domestic consequences.

Li Hongzhang was the leader of a group of Qing officials who pushed for building a proposed forty-eight-ship navy. He argued persuasively that Beijing was vulnerable mainly from the coast, not from the western borderlands. Still, although Li obtained permission to purchase ships from abroad beginning in 1875, only two million taels were set aside for this task. This amounted to just a fraction of the sum Zuo Zongtang received during the same years to fund his Xinjiang expedition.

As John Rawlinson recounts in great detail in his study of Chinese naval development, Li had a particularly difficult time deciding whether China should build ships herself or should buy them from British, French, and German shipbuilders. As a result of his indecision, by the early 1880s the various Chinese fleets were far from being standardized and so experienced great difficulty working together as units. Accordingly:

In that disordered buy-and-build situation, there was no plan, no grasp of the problem. There were only varying degrees of hostility to China’s several external foes. Much money was spent, but with little effect. The variety of equipment, which reflected the political compartmentalization of the coast, contributed to the lack of coordinated action and grand strategy. Li Hongzhang only added confusion with his wily and opportunistic purchasing of ships and arms.

By 1882, the Qing Navy consisted of approximately fifty steamships. While China built half of these at either the Shanghai or Fuzhou shipyards, the government purchased the other half abroad. For example, China ordered four gunboats and two 1,350-ton cruisers from England, while ordering two other Stettin-type warships and a steel cruiser from Germany (the German vessels, however, did not arrive in China until after the Sino-French War was over).

Not surprisingly, considering Li Hongzhang’s political power, many of the best and most modern ships found their way into Li’s northern fleet, which never saw any action in the Sino-French conflict. In fact, fear that he might lose control over his fleet led Li to refuse to even consider sending his ships southward to aid the Fuzhou fleet against the French. Although Li later claimed that moving his fleet southward would have left northern China undefended, his decision has been criticized as a sign of China’s factionalized government as well as its provincial north-south mindset.

While China possessed much of the equipment for a modern navy by the early 1880s, it still did not have a sufficiently large pool of qualified sailors. One of the major training grounds during the early 1870s was at the Fuzhou shipyards, which had hired foreign experts to conduct training classes. By the late 1870s, many of the foreigners had left Fuzhou, and a new naval academy was opened at Tianjin, in northern China. This academy lured many of the best-trained Chinese sailors away from southern China.

By 1883, therefore, at the outset of the Sino-French War, China’s navy was poorly trained, especially in southern China. Although many of China’s modern ships were state of the art, the personnel manning them were relatively unskilled: according to Rawlinson, only eight of the fourteen ship captains that saw action in the war had received any modern training at all. In addition, there was little, if any, coordination between the fleets in north and south China. The lack of a centralized admiralty commanding the entire navy meant that at any one time France opposed only a fraction of China’s total fleet. This virtually assured French naval dominance in the upcoming conflict.

The Mawei Battle [Battle of Fuzhou]

The Chinese flagship Yangwu and the gunboat Fuxing at anchor off the Foochow Navy Yard on the eve of the battle.

The Chinese flagship Yangwu and the corvette Fuxing under attack by French torpedo boats No. 46 and No. 45. Combat naval de Fou-Tchéou (‘The naval battle at Foochow’), by Charles Kuwasseg, 1885.

Spurred on by their defeat at Baclé, the French decided to blockade the Chinese island of Taiwan (Formosa). Beginning on 5 August 1884, Admiral Lespes bombarded Taiwan’s forts at Jilong (Keelung) Harbor on the northeast coast and destroyed the gun emplacements. However, Liu Mingchuan, a former commander of the Huai Army, successfully defended Jilong against an assault by Admiral Lespes’ troops the following day; the French abandoned this attack in the face of the much larger Chinese forces. While the Chinese Army enjoyed limited victories in Annam and on Taiwan, the Chinese Navy was not so successful. On 23 August 1884, a French fleet of eight ships under Admiral Courbet challenged and destroyed all but two of the eleven modern Chinese-built ships at port in Fuzhou Harbor. The heart of the French force was the 4,727-ton Triomphante, which led the artillery attack. Within the space of only one hour, naval bombardments destroyed not only the cream of China’s southern fleet but also the Fuzhou shipyards, which had been built with French aid beginning in 1866. This attack left approximately 3,000 Chinese dead, and damages have been estimated as high as fifteen million dollars. Rawlinson has discussed this naval battle at some length, and has concluded that the “French advantage was not overwhelming” and that: “Had they been decisive, the Chinese might have seized a last opportunity.” The French took advantage of the swift tides in Mawei Harbor to move against the Chinese ships, which were still moored in their docks. Beginning with the deployment of their torpedo boats, the French then used their heavy 10-inch guns to destroy first the Chinese fleet, and then the neighboring dockyards.