Sustaining the German Army in the East – Replacements and Training II

To rapidly provide the necessary low-level leaders as well as specialists, the German military leadership reacted in its typical manner, namely by decentralizing the process. Instead of building up courses at home in the Replacement Army, which was already overstrained by the demands for more recruits and its own expansion, frontline units should choose men that had proven themselves in the last month under front conditions and train them right behind the front. This saved travel time, which could easily take several weeks for the men to travel back and forth, as well as administrative work. It also had the advantage of instituting a warlike training that fulfilled the demands of the frontline units. While these initial courses in winter 1942 were improvised, they were quickly institutionalized in most divisions, often in the so-called divisional combat school. The task of the combat school was described as follows:

1) The combat school’s objective is the development of independently acting, clear thinking, versatile, decisive and energetic NCOs, whose character paired with passion and technical as well as small tactical skills to convince and electrify subordinates and is example to them.

2) In addition to the use of their own weapons, all NCOs are to learn to cooperate with the heavy weapons that fight with them. Here, especially NCOs of the heavy weapons are to train in the flexible control of fire and in the rapid forming of fire concentrations. The NCOs of the Grenadier companies are to learn above all the immediate exploitation of fire.

3) Candidates for platoon- and group leaders are to drill in the technical handling of weapons and equipment, in close-combat and destroying tanks and in the giving of commands, as well as be instructed in the training of subordinates.

4) To that effect, those trained in the combat school include a) especially proven Unteroffiziere to platoon leaders, b) young, inexperienced Unterroffiziere and older good Gefreite, in special cases also Grenadiers, to group leaders, c) young, inexperienced Unteroffiziere and Gefreite of the machine gun, infantry gun and ATG companies to commanders of their weapons and group leaders.

At a divisional level, only the lowest level of leadership – the NCO – was trained. But as one can see from the tasks they were responsible for, NCOs had very different roles in the German army than in most other armies of the time, especially in tactical leadership. Officers, primarily company and battalion commanders, were trained in courses at Army or Army Group level, also a newly introduced innovation begun in winter 1942.

These two developments – the need for additional training for newly arriving recruits and the decentralized training of low-level leaders – as well as the need for training with newly introduced weapons, made training capabilities in the field units necessary. The divisional combat school was one such step, while others were taken in the field replacement battalion. It was the field replacement battalion that finally became the training facility for divisions in the east, as the following source shows:

1) Purpose of field replacement battalions:

The field replacement battalion is the ‘field training battalion’ and at the same time the personnel reserve of the Eastern army’s divisions.

With the field replacement battalion, the divisions should be given the opportunity by evaluating combat experiences to:

  1. A) train arriving replacements to become full-fledged Eastern fighters,
  2. B) train group and platoon leaders for their demands,
  3. C) Further training for the front fighters – especially through attack training – and to train specialists of all kinds.

As losses are the heaviest with the infantry and the engineers, the main task of the field replacement battalion is to train infantry and engineer replacements and sub-leaders.

To A): Newly arriving replacements, such as march companies, convalescent companies, etc., are to be trained in each division for several weeks in the field replacement battalion, as long as the combat situation allows for it, before deploying in the front. The same applies to the training of NCOs, who are supplied from the Replacement Army and are not yet suitable as a group or platoon leader as a result of their previous use. It is also not possible for the Replacement Army to fully train the replacements on automatic weapons (especially the machine gun) due to the lack of such weapons. The missing training is to be supplemented in the field replacement battalion.

To B): The formation of platoon and group leaders (sub-leader training) is of decisive importance in the present state of numerous divisions and in the continuing duration of the war. In consequence, divisional combat schools have been established in infantry divisions, light infantry divisions, and mountain divisions. The divisional combat schools are to be incorporated into the field replacement battalion. They count as a company. The commander of the divisional combat school (B-position) can be used as commander of the field replacement battalion depending on suitability.

To C): Due to the duration of the positional warfare, it is also necessary to develop the older front fighters for other types of combat. In this case ‘attack training’ is of particular importance. If there are personnel reserves (leader reserve) in the field replacement battalion, the same applies to them. The introduction of new weapons [and] the need for specialists of all kinds requires the implementation of special courses in the field replacement battalion. Furthermore, the field replacement battalion can be utilized to train the alarm units. All kinds of combat experiences can be evaluated by further trials in the field replacement battalion.

The structure of the field replacement battalion must therefore be adapted to the respective situation.

2) Training subjects:

In the case of an overabundance of subjects, the emphasis should be placed on:

Reconnaissance patrols and assault group activity

Co-operation of all infantry weapons

Close-combat training,

Anti-tank close combat,

Sniper training,

Night fighting.

At the same time, the field replacement battalion is the winter combat school of the division.

3) Structure

The field replacement battalion is to consist of the battalion staff and 2 to 5 companies. Only the command, instruction and supply personnel are fixed in the unit, while the personnel to be trained are subject to considerable changes, depending on the deployment and situation of the division. Thus, for example, the following structure may be appropriate for a division to which a march battalion had been recently added:

Staff

2 training companies for infantry training,

1 training company for heavy infantry weapons training, 1 company [at the] disposal [of the commander] (engineer training, signal training, other specialists),

1 sub-leader company (divisional fighting school)

On the other hand, it is possible that in another division, to which no march battalion or replacements were added, the field replacement battalion consists only of

1 sub-leader company (divisional combat school), 1 company [at the] disposal [of the commander] (training of specialists of all kinds),

1 company for close combat and assault group training (men removed from the front for advanced training).

4) In particular, the following is pointed out:

The training of the sub-leaders must continue independently of all combat operations.

The most appropriate officers and NCOs are to be appointed as instructors, especially to set up and get used to each other in the first training period.

Anti-gas training belongs to the basic training of every soldier and is therefore also to be pursued in the field replacement battalion.

The field replacement battalion can only fully fulfill its task of being the field training battalion of the division when the leadership does not deploy the battalion prematurely in critical situations for combat, but pursues the training as planned independent of the situation.

In addition to further training for replacements and NCOs, the Field Replacement Battalion was also not only the unit where new weapons and tactics could be tested, but also a place for the further training of men whose long stretch in the trenches had decreased their effectiveness in offensive actions. The training for newly arrived replacements in the field replacement battalion allowed for their step by step integration into frontline units, as well as for the men to adapt to conditions in the Soviet Union. When the combat situation allowed for such a period, units that carried out these programmes clearly suffered fewer losses of new men when they were again engaged in combat. But even when armed with such knowledge, German units were often forced to deploy the field replacement battalion in crisis situations or to release the replacements prematurely to the front. The demand to train NCOs independently of combat action was often impossible due to the lack of men. Interestingly, the training issues stressed did not appreciably differ from the 1941 guidelines.

In addition to filling units with individual replacements, complete units were also sent to the east. Up to mid-1943, these were mostly full divisions. A first wave of divisions was sent to the Soviet Union in the 1941/42 winter crisis to fill gaps across the front. A second wave arrived in the east in spring and early summer 1942 for the German summer offensive. This wave included many allied units. A third and final wave was sent eastward from late November 1942 on to stem the Soviet offensive in the south. After these three waves, only a few new divisions were sent eastward, mostly rebuilt units such as numerous divisions destroyed in Stalingrad. Allied threats in the Mediterranean and on the Channel coast in 1943 drew most newly formed divisions to those regions. The introduction of new troops, however, caused many problems, in some cases due to the composition of the units, while others were due to the special conditions in the east, as the following autumn 1942 report by Sixth Army illustrates:

1) The mistakes ascertained in the report of the Second Army about the formation of divisions with three hundred numbers also occurred in the divisions of the same type subordinated to the Sixth Army. In the case of future new formations, it is then necessary to avoid:

composition of almost only short-service, men classified as indispensable, numerous fathers with many children and last sons,

formation by cadre personnel mostly inexperienced in the East, including officers,

too brief and deficient infantry combat training.

It proved to be disadvantageous to order the few useful instructors to Döberitz and Jüterbog. Dispatching of a school’s instruction troop to the divisions would have been better.

Equipment with too little motorized transport capacity (only 1 small truck column), with horse-drawn bakery companies, with only one workshop platoon, with heavy military carriages instead of light commercial ones, with too many types (about 100) French motor vehicles and with horses that are too heavy, and thus unsuitable for the East;

Equipping [the unit] with horses and motor vehicles too late, so that it was no longer possible for the operating personnel to practice before employment.

2) In spite of these deficiencies, the 300-numbered divisions subordinated to the Sixth Army have proven themselves effective not only in attack, but also generally in defence.

3) In order to remedy the identified shortcomings during the winter:

  1. A) Ruthless eradication of all unsuitable leaders and an increased replacement rate of men with Eastern experiences in contrast to other divisions,
  2. B) Sustained further education during periods of relative quiet in individual and unit training up to the level of the reinforced battalion. For this, several weeks of relief for each unit. Use and training of individual battalions as instruction battalions at the company commander school of the army,
  3. C) Remedy of the deficiencies found in the supply units by modifying the table of organization, the table of basic allowances and corresponding supply.

The divisions identified as numbering over three hundred, which primarily arrived in spring and summer 1942 to support the German summer offensive, suffered heavily from all kinds of shortages, be it men or material. While a lack of instructors with experience in the east only exacerbated the problem, the leadership of experienced divisional and, in some units, regimental commanders allowed these units to perform adequately after an initial learning curve. They also profited from being transferred to the east prior to a German offensive, giving them time to settle and adapt to the conditions. Units sent eastward in the winter crisis were often hastily thrown piecemeal into battle and frequently suffered irreparable damage or were completely destroyed.

But even sending smaller units that should have been integrated into existing divisions proved very problematic, as the following report by the 5th Panzer Divisions indicates:

The I./894 is subordinated to the Panzer Grenadier Regiment 13 since 22.11.1943. The experiences made with this unit appear so serious that it is considered appropriate to make higher levels aware of them.

Grenadier Regiment 894 was formed in June 1943 for security tasks on the Atlantic coast from soldiers non-suitable for the East, men who were previously rated as indispensable, in the mass soldiers classified as fit for reduced field service (Garnisonsverwendungsfähig – Feld), and deployed in the positions on the coast at the end of July 1943. On 20 October 1943, the 1st Battalion was removed from the regiment, and newly formed after the exchange of non-suitable soldiers. From the day of formation to the day of loading to the east, the battalion had 10 days available, which for the most part still had to be used for work for establishing [the unit].

The battalion was equipped in a way that has not been seen in the East either with our own or with other units. Armament: purely MG 42, namely for each company 12 light and 2 heavy machine guns. In addition, in each company two medium mortars. Combat strength of the companies average 130 men. The equipment for the winter, from the complete winter clothing, to sleds, rescue toboggans, skis up to and including coal for heating was described as perfect.

A training of the battalion with the assigned weapons has almost not taken place at all. During the time of the use on the coast, only training on the immobile defensive weapons was carried out. Only in the reserve company was some terrain training carried out. After the formation of the battalion, a special training on the heavy machine gun and mortar was begun, which however had to be interrupted after five days as a result of transport to the east. Use, handling and maintenance of all weapons, priming and use of hand grenades, and the use of the spade invariably are almost unknown to the battalion. The principles on the use of weapons and the building of positions are also unknown to most officers and NCOs.

During the formation of the battalion, it never trained as a unit at all. Therefore, none of the leaders were trained in smooth cooperation. Because of their short affiliation with the troops, most of them hardly knew each other.

The personnel situation was as follows:

NCOs and men at march out:        800

Thereof with experiences in the East: 8%  60

Thereof with otherwise war experiences (France)  90

Without any war experience 81% 650

Officer situation at march out:      11

of which with experience in the East (mainly partisan war)  5

of which otherwise war-experienced (campaign in France)  3

of which without war experience: 3

A 46-year-old Hautpmann was appointed as the leader of the battalion, who until now had been company commander of a bicycle company, and so far had occasionally led a battalion as deputy. He had experience in bandit warfare, but all that is fundamental in the entrenchment and defence of a position is completely new to him. A Leutnant was assigned to him as adjutant, who learned about and took over the affairs of the adjutant for the first time at the end of October 1943. His wartime experiences were limited to the war against France. He had not been in the East yet. The same information applies to the special mission staff officer. Of the company leaders two had experiences in the East. However, the experience of the one limited itself to the staff activity. The third company leader was 2 months [in the Soviet Union], and the fourth not yet in the East.

Immediately prior to the start of the railroad transport, the battalion was given replacements from the class of 1925, which accounted for 16% of the total strength. These young men were all grouped together in a company. As a result of imperfect training and inexperience among the leaders and NCOs, these young replacements suffered considerable casualties within a few days, so that now only 9% are still available.

The total losses of the battalion were also comparatively high as measured by combat activity. Within 9 days, there were 180 casualties. These losses are mainly attributed to the lack of combat experience, likewise the comparatively high losses of armament, devices and equipment already in the first 24 hours.

Such a wear-and-tear of people and material would not have occurred in a veteran unit. There, men as well as weapons and equipment come into expert hands. What is lacking in training will be made good in a sound form, be it during the deployment, and weapons are issued only to those people who could operate them.

It seems more appropriate to refrain from such new formations, and to correspondingly replenish the old, combat-proven companies. Only then can such losses be avoided. We cannot afford any superfluous losses in the currently strained replacement situation.

It should also be borne in mind that there is a tradition in the old front regiments and thus the feeling of pride in one’s own troop. These are the things which, even in difficult situations, enable the troops to achieve a particularly high fighting performance.

Obviously, these conditions are completely absent in the case of such a loosely composed units as in these new formations. As a result, the fighting spirit of such a force is far less. For this reason too, such a preferred equipping [of the unit] appears to be completely out of place.

Panzer Grenadier Regiment 13 also reports that from 22.–24.11.1943, another battalion was attached to it. Here the conditions were the same as in the case of the I./894. After a deployment of 48 hours, the battalion commander reported that he had only around 250 out of 800 men still in hand! This, too, was not a result of the fighting situation, but merely the effect of the inexperience of the troops and their leaders. The troop itself is the least to blame. It is not responsible for its inexperience, and it must also be acknowledged that the good will is undoubtedly present. This good will, however, can neither replace the lack of training nor the complete inexperience of command and troops.

Once again, the source indicates that manpower deficiencies were not as damaging to the unit as was the lack of men – and especially commanders – familiar with conditions and combat in the east. In this particular case, material questions were not an issue. This source thereby reflects a larger problem that occasioned many complaints in the second half of the war, namely the uneven distribution of new equipment. Many newly formed units received new weapons and equipment while older units had difficulties in acquiring either replacements for lost or destroyed material or newly introduced weapons. This process further weakened older units. An issue not even talked about is the amalgamation of a unit trained as an infantry formation into a tank unit, despite the fact that many of these men had never before seen the inside of a tank. This was certainly a contributing factor to the decline of German Panzer units’ combat power in the second half of the war, and is a topic which deserves more research.

Even after the forwarding of replacements and transfers of full units to the east, German manpower in the Soviet Union always operated in a shortage – and it was a shortage that only worsened as the war continued. In an attempt to overcome this scarcity, the German army started to draw manpower from new sources. The most obvious means, yet often overlooked, was to shift men within the army apparatus. A well-known example of this was the tasking of Generalleutnant, later General der Infanterie, Walter von Unruh, with combing through all agencies and rear units for men to be sent to the front. Beginning in late 1942, his competencies were expanded to federal departments and Nazi party institutions. His success in creating large numbers of soldiers was moderate, but it nonetheless led to conflicts with Armaments Minister Albert Speer, because each drew from the same pool. More important was the shifting within the field army’s frontline troops, as the following order from the OKH on the enhancement of the combat power in autumn 1942 shows:

Prior to spring 1943, one cannot expect any significant replacements arriving. We must resign ourselves to this fact, and do everything we can to maintain and increase our combat strength.

Therefore the following measures must be carried out as soon as possible:

1) Complete disbanding of individual units and formations, disbanding and reduction of baggage trains;

2) Replacement of the German soldier by Russian Hilfswillige (prisoners of war) in such places which do not need to be occupied by combat soldiers. In many units this has already been carried out to a large extent, although further measures are still necessary.

3) Deployment of all hereby released German soldiers into the infantry and formation of special branch combat units.

In detail:

  1. A) Disbanding and reduction

1) The disbanding of units and formations (III. battalions […]) must be a complete one and may not be temporary. It is precisely the ‘cadre personnel’ and the baggage trains that yield gains in men.

2) Reduction of batteries to 3 guns. The fourth guns have to be parked division-wise with the least amount of German supervision and Russian support personnel. Cannoneers and drivers who are freed in this way cannot be used for filling open positions in the artillery.

3) Reduction of the baggage trains. Even where this has already been ordered and carried out, it is again necessary to examine with the strictest criteria, which parts a) can be completely disbanded, b) can be stored throughout the winter, thus freeing soldiers for combat use. I expect that commanders of all degrees will take drastic measures here.

4) As soon as the winter position is reached, approximately 50% of all horses and a large part of the motor vehicles are to be stored in the hinterland. For the care of these horses and motor vehicles, only Russian Hilfswillige and only the absolutely necessary supervisory personnel, which at the same time carries out the training of the Hilfswillige (for example as a driver of the horse, a driver, technical staff, etc.) are to be assigned to them.

[…]

5) The reduction and modification of existing tables of organization are in preparation. Correspondingly, we must now proceed. According to these, the following disappeared: about 10% in each battalion and regimental staff, 8 men per battery, all not absolutely necessary motorcycle drivers, messengers, command post clerks and drivers in each engineer battalion, the heavy machine gun group in the cavalry companies of each reconnaissance battalion, some 10% per signal battalion. In the case of supply troops, it is intended to merge all the horse drawn columns and small truck columns into large horse-drawn columns and large motor vehicle columns to save command and crew personnel.

Sustaining the German Army in the East – Replacements and Training III

Soviet Union – Sergeant with binoculars and a soldier with rifle and portable radio coverage in a foxhole / trench.

While the order aimed at creating new frontline soldiers, primarily infantry and engineers, it also reveals an often forgotten issue. Losses in combat and rear area troops were not at the same level. In his pioneering study on the 253rd Infantry Division, Christoph Rass has indicated the level in which losses diverged between the rear and front. While many infantry units were virtually destroyed more than once, loss rates in rear area units were rather low, except for extraordinary circumstances (that admittedly became more common beginning in 1944). The difficulty in regulating the recruitment and flow of replacements often led to imbalances between rear services and frontline troops. Orders such as the one mentioned above tried to realize that balance. But there were also limits to the exchange of personnel from the rear area to the front. The last-surviving sons and fathers of several children could not be endangered for morale reasons, while men physically unfit for frontline duty were more ballast than asset. The same was true with older men, but the age limit was continuously raised as the pool of younger men gradually depleted. In addition to the imbalance between rear and frontline troops, the sustaining of cadre units was also a vital issue. While – as mentioned in the order – this led to a real gain in combat power, the issue was more complex than that. Neither rebuilding units from scratch nor integrating completely new units was an easy task, as was demonstrated by the experience of the 5th Panzer Division. The massive dissolution of battalion-level units in 1942 in the traditional divisions and the formation of many new units, such as independent infantry battalions or the already mentioned Luftwaffe Field Divisions, marked the first step in the erosion of the German infantry that would eventually evolve into the infantry crisis. As a result, the German army lost much of its tactical superiority, which had been an essential component of its ability to successfully fight against numerically superior foes.

As part of its internal shifting of troops, Sixth Army also amended some points to the order, thereby sharpening it:

1) In the staff of the Sixth Army (including the army engineer leader and the army signal leader): return of all officers, NCOs, and men commanded to the staff of the 6th Army; reduction of the remaining actual strength by 10-15%; in addition: replacement of additional soldiers by Russian Hilfswillige. […]

2) In the corps and divisional staffs: return of all officers, NCOs, and men commanded to these staffs; reduction of the remaining actual strength by 10%; in addition: replacement of additional soldiers by Russian Hilfswillige. […]

3) Formation of alarm units: all units of the divisions, which are not directly deployed at the front (parts of the signal battalion, supply units, etc.), of all higher staffs (from divisional staff to and including army headquarters), all corps troops and all army troops not immediately fighting at the front.

4) Disbanding of a rifle company in the infantry battalions and of the 3rd battalion in the infantry regiments, for the saving of baggage trains, etc., in cases where the combat strengths are not in a sustainable relationship with the baggage trains’ strength.

5) Reduction of soldiers and units not directly engaged in combat in the divisions and likewise in the army troops:

Reduction of battalion and regimental staffs by about 10%

Reduction of batteries to 3 guns (removal of the 4th cannon for overhaul and as a material reserve)

Disbanding of individual batteries. Formation of 6-gun batteries […]

6) Handover of 2 NCOs and 10 men from each bridging column to the engineer battalions. […]

8) c) Registration of soldiers not suitable for infantry service, as well as of the last surviving sons from the divisions’ units and all soldiers from the army troops in divisional replacement battalions and army troop replacement battalions (directly subordinated to the Sixth Army).

Training of these replacement battalions for infantry defensive warfare in winter. Deployment is intended only in crisis situations, disbanding and return of the soldiers to their original units in the spring or after receiving sufficient replacements is intended. Use of the army troops replacement battalions only by order of the army command. Beginning of training in the replacement battalions from 5.11.42.

In addition to the measures ordered by the OKH, Sixth Army ordered the disbanding of further units on the lower levels, the reduction of staffs, including higher levels, and decreed that the corps and army levels free soldiers too. Sixth Army at this time was in an extremely difficult situation in and around Stalingrad and in need of every fighting man for the front.

A further means to gain frontline soldiers was to replace German soldiers in various positions by so-called Hilfswillige (literally: one willing to help), Russian men generally drafted into the Wehrmacht for auxiliary services, though in a few cases, they were also used in combat. To be clear: the Hilfswillige formed just one group of Soviet collaborators, but they were the most numerically important for the German army in the east, with their numbers estimated between 800,000 and one million. Divisional files reveal that many divisions employed between 700 and 1,500 Hilfswillige in their ranks in 1942 and 1943. While the initial use of Soviet prisoners of war – the primary source for Hilfswillige – was improvised, the German military in its typical manner developed a set of regulations concerning Hilfswillige in 1942 and 1943, including rations, payment, uniforms, insignia and so on. The training for these men aimed mainly at moulding them into convinced anti-communists and thereby reliable auxiliaries. This was directly formulated in the following manual:

Guidelines for the training of the Hilfswillige

1) The objective of the training and education of the Hilfswillige is to educate them to be reliable fellow combatants against Bolshevism.

2) In order to carry out that training and education, the Hilfswillige are to be appropriately concentrated in camps and suitable supervisory personnel and trainers (including interpreters) have to be made available. The following organization of the Hiwi replacement company has proven itself here in the camps: for every division one or more Hiwi replacement companies. Disposal of training personnel by the division in question. The training personnel train the Hilfswillige for their own division and assist with the allocation of the Hilfswillige inside the division.

3) […]

4) Sustainment of the commitment to service and willingness to fight against Bolshevism are important. In addition to a variety and variation in training, this will be achieved by the example and personality of the German superiors and their active care. Strict but fair treatment through an exact knowledge of the Russian mentality, the eradication of Bolshevik influence through systematic military-ideological leadership to educate the Hilfswilligen to a reliable fellow combatant for the troops. The belief in the absolute superiority of the German leadership and the German soldier over the Red Army and its members is to be stimulated and sustained.

5) […]

6) At every roll call, one has to pay attention to bearing and uniform.

Complementing this focus on developing an anti-communist attitude, the training – or rather education – aimed at a strict discipline. Of course this was needed, but the stressing of discipline here was also part of the German perception that Russian ‘subhumans’ had to be educated to discipline, as they inherently lacked this due to their ‘nature’. As with German replacements, Hilfswillige were trained in the division to which they were attached. With this decentralized organization, the German army again desired to achieve a rapid deployment, but it also wanted to give divisions control over the process of selection. The divisions thus had a keen interest in choosing those men since they would have to fight with them later. This made the selection of instructors especially important. These individuals had a difficult task, as they needed to educate Russians to become ‘reliable fellow combatants’, while at the same time convincing them of the ‘absolute superiority’ of the German military. This became more difficult after the defeat at Stalingrad, but nearly impossible from summer 1943 on, when German victories became very rare events. Even during the years of German defeat, many Hilfswillige and other Soviet auxiliaries stayed with their German units, though this was not so much out of conviction, but rather a consequence of the Stalinist policy that deemed these men as traitors and threatened them with severe punishment.

The main purpose of Hilfswillige was to free German soldiers for combat duty. How this was intended for various positions can be seen again in the orders of the OKH on the enhancement of combat power in autumn 1942:

  1. B) Replacement of the German soldier

Hilfswillige (prisoners of war) are to be employed in place of German soldiers:

In all units up to and including company and battery as a driver, co-driver, horse and mule-driver, craftsman, technical personnel (locksmith, weapon personnel, etc.) and as working personnel in construction and supply units.

In addition: as ammunition bearers in machine gun companies, infantry-gun companies and anti-tank companies.

In battalion and regimental staffs as cable carriers at telephone sections.

In batteries as gunner 5 and 6.

In engineer battalions as engineers not directly involved in the combat. Example:

Formation of a company from only German soldiers for combat deployment.

Formation of 2 further companies with German cadre, filled with Hilfswillige, for bridge building, road and quarters construction, mining and demining, obstacle construction.

In signal battalions in mixed telephone-construction groups.

For building units of all kinds. Only German supervisory staff (ratio 1:10) can be used here.

For supply troops of all kinds. In these, generally, only supervisory staff and the absolutely necessary specialists such as mechanics, bakers, butchers, etc. are to be left.

The purpose of these measures is to free German soldiers. It is not possible that Hilfswillige are hired additionally, just to do mindless work, and the baggage train is thus increased without gaining a German soldier. A sharp supervision is also necessary here!

Therefore, Hilfswillige were to fill all types of auxiliary service positions. While the requirements for most of these positions were low – and therefore could be brought in line with the Nazi ideological belief of Russians as primitive subhumans – the use of Hilfswillige in craftsman or mechanic positions blurred that line. Even when considering all of the boundaries drawn by the German military between German soldiers and Hilfswillige, one cannot escape the impression that in this question, military necessity overtook Nazi ideology. This became especially clear in the cases where Russian Hilfswillige fought side by side with German soldiers, prompting XIth Army Corps Chief of Staff, Oberst Helmuth Groscurth, to write: ‘It is disturbing that we are forced to strengthen our fighting troops with Russian prisoners of war, who are already being turned into gunners. It’s an odd state of affairs that the “beasts” we have been fighting against are now living with us in closest harmony.’ However, even the most fanatical Nazi ideologue had to recognize from mid-1942 on that German troops in the east could not have fought without the help of hundreds of thousands of Soviet men and women serving in the German army and in other agencies, such as, for example, the Reichsbahn. Otherwise, the Germans would have had to mobilize the Reich’s manpower resources at a much higher level, an issue that was feared by Hitler and many other high-ranking German officials due to traumatic experience of the collapse of 1918. Because of this period of limited German mobilization from mid-1942 to summer 1944, Bernhard Kroener has written that it was ‘not quite total war’.

Once German soldiers were freed, units needed to proceed in the following manner:

  1. C) Use of freed German soldiers

The following is to be done:

1) infantry (not the last-surviving sons or the physically unsuitable), whose present position will be filled in the future by Hilfswilligen, are a) if their training permits, to be immediately integrated in rifle companies, b) to be consolidated in training companies by the division and after sufficient training to be transferred to rifle companies. The divisions may, at their own discretion, also use members of other branches.

2) Soldiers of all other branches and supply troops, as well as the last-surviving sons and the physically non-suitable for infantry service, are to be registered by each division and are to be trained for winter and positional warfare. They are then available as reserves, which must suffice until spring, for the winter position.

The initial gain of these measures was rather small, as few soldiers could be directly placed into rifle units. Furthermore, these measures destroyed valuable cadres and necessitated the introduction or rebuilding from scratch of new companies and battalions, a demanding task that cost much blood. The units mentioned under point 2 often enough could not fulfil their task due to the lack of adequate training, equipment and especially leadership. They marked the bottom of a poor man’s army, often suffering extraordinary losses with minor military effect. The widespread forming of such alarm units in late 1942 was a clear sign of an army that had lost its balance.

German losses in the east were enormous – and continual. In 1942, for example, German monthly casualties exceeded 70,000 in nine months. In this year, the German replacement system could forward more troops than the Ostheer lost in only eight months. But when it did so, it never surpassed an additional 30,000 men. On the other side, January 1942 alone saw losses of over 214,000 men, while the Ostheer received only 43,800 replacements; the heavy fighting in August 1942 cost the Ostheer over 250,000 losses, while not even 90,000 replacements arrived in the east. These massive losses forced the German army to lower training and recruiting standards. While part of that could be compensated for by field training, the quality of replacements decreased. The actual strength of the German Ostheer never again reached its peak strength of 22 June 1941 (3.3 million men). While primarily allied units helped to rebuild the strength of the Ostheer for the 1942 summer offensive, their destruction in 1942/43 forced the Germans to send more men in spring 1943. Before Operation Citadel, the German army in the east could field nearly 3.15 million men, but from then on – with pressure from the Western Allies rapidly increasing – German strength fell sharply. Combined with a decrease in training quality, this led directly into the defeats of late 1943 and 1944.

Alexander the Great and the Greek Influence in Central Asia

Bactrian warriors under the Achaemenids (400 to 330 BC)

Events in the mid-fourth century disrupted the political development of Central Asia and B.C. seriously changed the course of history for several centuries. In the eyes of Central Asians, the Greek-Macedonian army led by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) probably came out of nowhere. He appeared from the west to move triumphantly through Mesopotamia and Persia, defeating the Persian army, one of the world’s most powerful military forces until that time. Alexander successfully fought against the Persian garrisons, campaigning between 330 and 327 B.C., and then suddenly left the region and never returned.

The political situation in Central Asia, along with its economic development, on the eve of Alexander’s invasion contributed significantly to his success. The Persian Achaemenian empire had controlled the Central Asian states in one way or another for about 200 years. By the mid-fourth century this control was already significantly weakened. The centralized Persian Empire had been considerably undermined by internal strife, excessive expenditures on the royal family’s lavish court life, public constructions and numerous military campaigns that siphoned revenues from a shrinking state budget. On top of that, there was growing strife between the center and the Central Asian periphery over taxes and the recruitment of conscripts and mercenaries into the Persian army.

Alexander the Great probably entered Central Asia in 330 B.C., after campaigning in Persia for about four years in pursuit of the Persian King Darius III (380-330 B.C.). Darius III gathered large armies several times but lost all the decisive battles. Step by step he retreated further to the east, probably hoping that the remoteness of his Central Asian satrapies would give him shelter against the advancing Greek troops. However, entrepreneurial Greek merchants, craftsmen and colonists had probably settled in or visited Central Asia and were able to provide help to Alexander. Darius’s military mismanagement and mediocrity angered many of his followers and supporters. In 330 B.C. he was murdered by his own governor Bessus, the satrap of Bactria. Bessus declared himself Darius’s successor and adopted the name Artaxerxes V.

With the rise of Bessus-Artaxerxes V as a self-nominated ruler of the Persian Empire, the war entered a new stage. Alexander and his army faced the threat of a protracted guerrilla war in the difficult mountainous terrain of Bactria and later Sogdiana, where Bessus Artaxerxes V sought refuge. The war did not quite end there, for Spitemenes, a satrap of Sogdiana, rose to lead the local resistance.

Before Alexandria-the-furthest could be begun, news arrived of rebellion, not among the Scyths, but in the rear. Since landing in Asia, Alexander had asked his men to march dreadfully hard, often without food, but he had never entangled them in a slow and self-sustaining struggle with guerrillas. Now for the first time his speed was to be halted. This Sogdian rebellion would exhaust his army’s patience for eighteen unsatisfactory months, make new demands on his generalship and induce a mood of doubt among his entourage. The causes were simple; four of Bessus’s henchmen still ranged free, led by Spitamenes the Persian whose name has a link with the Zoroastrian religion. All four now began to work on the native mistrust of the Macedonians. There was ample reason for it. Anxiously searching for food in the Sogdian desert, Alexander’s army had plundered ricefields, looted flocks and requisitioned horses, punishing all resistance severely. His thirty thousand soldiers could not be fed from any other source, but it was a dangerous way to behave. Meanwhile, the natives saw garrisons installed in their main villages; Cyrus’s old town was being changed into an Alexandria, and already, as in Bactria, Alexander had banned the exposure of dead corpses to vultures, because it repelled his Greek sensitivities. Like the British prohibition of suttee in India, his moral scruples cost him popularity, for Sogdians had not seen Persia overthrown only to suffer worse interference from her conquerors. It was time to be free of any empire, especially when a conference had been ordered at Balkh which the local baronry were expected to attend. If they went they might be held hostage. Bactrians, therefore, joined the resistance, the same Bactrians no doubt, whom Bessus had timorously abandoned, and from Balkh to the Jaxartes Alexander found his presence challenged.

Ignoring the nomad skirmishers who had gathered to rouse the south along the Oxus, Alexander turned against the nearest rebellious villagers. Here his garrisons had been murdered, so he repaid the compliment to the seven responsible settlements in a matter of three weeks. The mudbrick fortifications of the qal’ehs were treated contemptuously. Though siege towers had not yet been transported over the Hindu Kush, collapsible stone-throwers were ready to be assembled if necessary; they were not needed at the first three villages, which succumbed in two days to the old-fashioned tactics of scaling parties backed up by missiles; the next two were abandoned by natives who ran into a waiting cordon of cavalry, and in all five villages the fighting men were slaughtered, the survivors enslaved. The sixth, Cyrus’s border garrison at Kurkath, was far the strongest, because of its high mound. Here, the mud walls were a fit target for the stone-throwers, but their performance was unimpressive, perhaps because there was a shortage of ammunition; stone is very scarce in the Turkestan desert and it cannot have been possible to transport many rounds of boulders across the Hindu Kush. However, Alexander noticed that the watercourse which still runs under Kurkath’s walls had dried up in the heat and offered a surprise passage to troops on hands and knees. The usual covering fire was ordered and the king is said to have wormed his way with his troops along the river-bed, proof that his broken leg had mended remarkably quickly. The ruse was familiar in Greece, and once inside, the gates were flung open to the besiegers, though the natives continued to resist, and even concussed Alexander by stoning him on the neck. Eight thousand were killed and another 7,000 surrendered: Alexander’s respect for his newfound ancestor Cyrus did not extend to rebellious villagers who wounded him, so Kurkath, town of Cyrus, was destroyed. The seventh and final village gave less trouble and its inhabitants were merely deported.

Seemingly unmoved by wounds and the August sun, Alexander left the Oxus rising and returned to plans for his new Alexandria. The only available materials for building were earth and mudbrick, hence the walls and main layout were completed in less than three weeks. Nor was there any shortage of settlers after the recent besieging and razing: survivors from Kurkath and other villages were merged with volunteer mercenaries and Macedonian veterans and were consigned to a life in the hottest single place along the river Jaxartes, where the sun rebounds at double heat from the steeply rising hills on the far bank. The houses were flat-roofed and built without windows for the sake of coolness, but of the comforts of life, of the temples and meeting-places, nothing can now be discovered. The new citizens were chosen from prisoners as well as volunteers, and given their freedom in return for garrison service: they would have to live with Greeks and veteran Macedonians, fiercely tenacious of their native customs and aware that they had been chosen as much for their unpopularity with their platoon commanders as for their physical disabilities.

If the rebels further south had been unwisely forgotten in the first excitements of an Alexandria, it was not long before they forced themselves abruptly to the fore. The sack of seven nearby villages had done nothing for the true centre of revolt; Spitamenes and his nomad horsemen were still on the loose behind the lines, and during the building news arrived that they were besieging the thousand garrison troops of Samarkand. The message reached the Scyths on the frontier-river’s far bank: they gathered in insolent formations, sensing that Alexander was under pressure to withdraw. This was a serious situation, for Alexander’s troops stood at their lowest level of the whole campaign after the recent Alex-andrias and detachments; caught between two enemies, he chose to deal with the nearer and detached a mere 2,000 mercenary troops to relieve Samarkand, leaving himself some 25,000, no more, to shock the Scyths. Two generals from the mercenary cavalry shared the command of the Samarkand detachment with a bilingual Oriental who served as interpreter and as staff officer. They were never to be seen again.

As the relief force rode south, Alexander stayed to teach the Scyths a lesson. At first he ignored their provocations and continued to build, ‘sacrificing to the usual gods and then holding a cavalry and gymnastic contest’ as a show of strength. But the Scyths cared little for Greek gods, less for the competitors, and started shouting rude remarks across the river; Alexander ordered the stuffed leather rafts to be made ready while he sacrificed again and considered the omen. But the omens were deemed unfavourable and Alexander’s prophet refused to interpret them falsely: rebuffed by the gods, Alexander turned to his arrow-shooting catapults. These were set up on the river bank and aimed across the intervening river: the Scythians were so scared by the first recorded use of artillery in the field that they retreated when a chieftain was killed by one of its mysterious bolts. Alexander crossed the river, Shield Bearers guarding his men on inflated rafts, horses swimming beside them, archers and slingers keeping the Scyths at a distance.

On the far bank combat was brief but masterly. Scythian tactics relied on encirclement, whereby their horsemen, trousered and mostly un-armoured, would gallop round the enemy and shoot their arrows as they passed; others, perhaps, kept the foe at bay with lances. Alexander too had lancers, and he also had Scythian Mounted Archers who had been serving for a year in his army. He knew the tactics and dealt with them exactly as at Gaugamela; first, he lured the Scythians into battle with a deceptively weak advance force; then, as they tried to encircle, he moved up his main cavalary and light-armed infantry and charged on his own terms. For lancers, not bowmen, it was the only way to repulse nomad archers and the Scyths were jostled back with no room to manœuvre: after losing a thousand men, they fled away into the nearby hills, safe at a height of some 3,000 feet. Alexander pursued sharply for eight miles but stopped to drink the local water ‘which was bad and caused him constant diarrhorea so that the rest of the Scyths escaped’. He was still suffering from his recent neck-wound which had also lost him his voice, and an upset stomach was a convenient excuse for giving up a hopeless chase, especially as his courtiers announced that he had already ‘passed the limits set by the god Dionysus’. Like the cave of Prometheus, this mythical theme, important for the future, must not be treated too sceptically. In Cyrus’s outpost, stormed by Alexander, altars had been found for Oriental cults which the Macedonians equated with the rites of their own Heracles and Dionysus. If Dionysus had not reached beyond Cyrus’s outpost, furthest site of his equivalent Oriental cult, then Alexander could indeed be consoled for losing the Scythians. The omens had been justified by his sickness and failure.

Bursting the bounds of Dionysus was scant reward for what followed. While the Scythian king sent envoys to disown the attack as the work of unofficial skirmishers, Alexander heard a most unwelcome report from behind the lines. The 2,000 troops who had been sent back to Samarkand to deal with the rebel Spitamenes had arrived tired and short of food; their generals had begun to quarrel, when Spitamenes suddenly appeared and gave them a sharp lesson in fighting a mobile battle on horseback. Unlike Alexander, the lesser generals did not know how to deal with the fluid tactics of mounted Scythian archers, especially when they were outnumbered by more than two to one: their entire relief force had been trapped on an island in the river Zarafshan and killed to a man. The difference between frontline generals and reserves could hardly have been pointed more clearly, especially when Alexander had misjudged an enemy, not so much in numbers as in ability. Even if a larger force could have been spared from the scanty front line, Spitamenes’s speed might still have destroyed it; what was needed was a first-class general in sole command, whereas Alexander had appointed three wrong men and left them to argue. The error was galling and nothing was spared to avenge it.

On the first news of the disaster, Alexander gathered some 7,000 Companions and light infantry and raced them through the 180 miles of desert to Samarkand in only three days and nights. Such speed through the early autumn heat is astonishing, but not impossible, yet Spitamenes easily escaped from another tired and thirsty enemy, disappearing westwards into the barren marches of his attendant nomads. There was nothing for it but to bury the 2,000 dead, punish such nearby villages as had joined the nomads in their victory and range the length of the Zarafshan river for any signs of rebels. The search was unrewarding and eventually even Alexander gave it up: recrossing the Oxus, he quartered for the winter at Balkh, where he could only ponder the most conspicuous mishap of the expedition and the decrease in his forces which were now close to a mere 25,000.

Two wounds, a continuing rebellion and shortage of men and food had made his past six months peculiarly frustrating. But just when his prospects seemed at the worst, hope for a new strategy was to arrive most opportunely in this winter camp. From Greece and the western satraps, 21,600 reinforcements, mostly hired Greeks, had at last made their way to, Bactria under the leadership of Asander, perhaps Parmenion’s brother. and the faithful Nearchus who had given up his inglorious satrapy in Lycia to rejoin his friend in the front line. Far the largest draft as yet received, they allowed the army to be brought up to its old strength; they could be split into detachments, and at once Alexander’s problems would be reduced. Sporadic raiders could be beaten off by independent units and the theatre of war would narrow accordingly. The rocks and castles of the east were fortunately untroubled; north beyond the Jaxartes one raid had so impressed the Scyths that they had sent envoys to offer their princess in marriage. In central Sogdia, 3,000 garrison-troops had been added to a region which had twice been punished; the new mercenaries could now hold Balkh and the Oxus, so that only the adjacent steppes to the west and north-west remained open to Spitamenes. Even here, his freedom was newly restricted.

To Balkh came envoys from the king of Khwarezm, not a hushed desert waste as poets suggested, but the most powerful known kingdom to the north-west of the Oxus, where the river broadens to join the Aral Sea. It had left little mark on written history until Russian excavations revealed it as a stable and centralized kingdom, defended by its own mailed horsemen, at least from the mid-seventh century B.C.: now, it hangs like a dimly discerned shadow over a thousand years of history in outer Iran. In art and writing, it shows the influence of the Persian Empire to which it had once been subject; it was a home for settled farmers, and its interests were not those of the nomads who surrounded it in the Red and Black Sand deserts. Spitamenes was using these deserts as his base, and safety inclined Khwarezm to Alexander’s side. Its king even tried to divert the Macedonians against his own enemies, offering to lead them west in an expedition to the Black Sea. Alexander refused tactfully, though glad of a solid new ally: ‘It did not suit him at that moment to march to the Black Sea, for India was his present concern.’ It was the first hint of his future: ‘When he held all Asia, he would return to Greece, and from there he would lead his entire fleet and army to the Hellespont and invade the Black Sea, as suggested.’ Asia, then, was thought for the first time to include India, and not just the India of the Persian Empire. But polite refusals are no certain proof of his plans and it was easy to talk of the future in winter camp, the season when generals talk idly; it was only to hold back Spitamenes that the king of Khwarezm was wanted. Hopes in this direction had been raised for an early victory: the new reinforcements were brigaded and four Sogdian prisoners were conscripted into the Shield Bearers, because they were noticed by Alexander, going to their execution with unusual bravery. As winter passed, the traitor Bessus was sent to Hamadan, where the Medes and the Persians voted that his ears and nose should be cut off, the traditional treatment for an Oriental rebel.

Alexander decided that his positions were strong enough and he turned to conquer India. Before leaving for India, however, he decided to cement his stand in the region by making some strategic arrangements, one of which was a dynastic marriage. In 327 B.C., by accident or by an accord, he met and married Princess Roxana (Roshanak-“little star” in Persian), the daughter of an influential local leader and one of the most beautiful women in Asia. Other arrangements included the establishment of several cities as Greek-Macedonian strongholds and colonies. Ancient sources traditionally report that Alexander established six such centers in Central Asia: Alexandria of Margiana (near present-day Merv in Turkmenistan); Alexandria of Ariana (near present-day Herat in northern Afghanistan); Alexandria of Bactria (near present-day Balkh in northern Afghanistan); Alexandria on the Oxus (on the upper reaches of Amu Darya, which the Greeks called Oxus); Alexandria of Caucasum (close to present-day Bagram in northern Afghanistan); and Alexandria Eschatae (near present day Khojand in northern Tajikistan).

Bactria and Sogdiana were included in Alexander’s world empire, though very soon after his death in 323 B.C. these provinces began experiencing political turmoil. The empire was shattered by internal instability and infighting and rivalries among his generals. Between 301 and 300 B.C. Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals, consolidated his control over the Persian possessions and founded the Seleucid Empire. In 250 B.C. Diodotus, governor of Bactria, broke away from the Seleucids and established an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom. This kingdom flourished for 125 years, between 250 and 125 B.C., as an island of Hellenism in Central Asia. The Greco-Bactrian state prospered and became known as the land of a thousand cities, leaving significant cultural marks among both the settled and nomadic populations of Central Asia. At its zenith it extended its control well into Sogdian territory in the north and to areas of northern India, although it struggled against militant nomadic tribes that regularly attacked the kingdom from the north.

The final blow to the Greco-Bactrian kingdom came from the Eurasian steppe, where powerful nomadic tribal confederations of the Huns and Yueh-Chih fought fiercely for influence in the second century B. C. The Yueh-Chih lost to the Huns and were forced to move to the territory between the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, eventually regaining strength and destroying the Greco-Bactrian state, probably between 126 and 120 B. C.

Italy and the West 1945

The Italian Front

In 1944 the 15th Army Group, under Field Marshal Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, consisted of Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark’s U.S. Fifth Army and Lt. Gen. Oliver Leese’s British Eighth Army. By midyear these forces had ended the stalemates on the Gustav Line, advanced up the Liri valley, captured Rome, and pursued retreating Axis forces north across the Arno River into the northern Apennines Mountains, on the very edge of the Po Valley, in the heart of northern Italy.

In December 1944 Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., replaced General Clark as commander of the Fifth Army, following the latter’s departure to become the new 15th Army Group commander. Before Truscott took command, however, the Allied offensive in the northern Apennines had ground to a halt. Both Allied armies were exhausted. Personnel, equipment, and supplies had been siphoned off to support operations in northwestern Europe and elsewhere. The ensuing lack of resources, combined with the harsh winter weather, rugged terrain, and stiff enemy resistance, had left the Allies short of their immediate goal, the heavily fortified communications center of Bologna, a few miles to the north in central Italy.

General Truscott, a hell-for-leather cavalryman, was no stranger to the Mediterranean. He had commanded the U.S. 3d Infantry Division through campaigns in Sicily, southern Italy, and Anzio. In February 1944, during the darkest days at Anzio, Truscott had replaced Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas as VI Corps chief and had reinvigorated the command. After the Anzio breakout in May, he led the VI Corps through Rome, then in the invasion of southern France (Operation ANVIL-DRAGOON), and finally in pursuit of German forces in the Rhone Valley and northward.

As 1945 opened the Allies still faced an organized and determined foe in Italy consisting of twenty-four German and five Italian fascist divisions. The Axis units were divided among the Tenth, Fourteenth, and Ligurian Armies, all under Army Group C and General Heinrich von Vietinghoff ’s command. Lt. Gen. Joachim von Lemelson commanded the Fourteenth Army, consisting of the LI Mountain and XVI Panzer Corps, which opposed Truscott’s Fifth Army in the west. Opposite the British Eighth Army to the east was the German Tenth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Traugott Herr, with the I Parachute and LXXVI Panzer Corps. The city of Bologna, still in Axis hands, constituted the boundary line for both sides.

The majority of Axis troops in Italy were experienced veterans who belonged to relatively intact units. Although fairly well led and supplied in 1944, they lacked vehicles, firepower, and air support, and by early 1945 they were experiencing increasingly troublesome shortages in nearly every category of equipment. Yet the winter’s respite had allowed them some opportunity to rest and to construct a defensive system in three lines that maximized the tactical potential of the rugged Italian terrain.

Their first defensive line, along the northern Apennines, protected Bologna and blocked entry into the east-west Po Valley, about fifty miles farther north. The Fourteenth Army had built fortifications on steep mountain fingers that were anchored on higher ridgelines and consisted of mutually supporting positions to provide optimum observation and fields of fire. Although the mountain fingers widened as they neared the flat valley floors, the valleys themselves were fenced in by trees, hedgerows, and dikes, which restricted cross-country mobility and provided excellent cover. In addition, the Po River’s southern tributaries emerged from the mountains to cross the valley floors, intersecting all possible routes of advance and serving as potential defensive positions.

The Axis generals planned to anchor their second defensive line along the Po River itself. From its source in northwestern Italy, the Po meandered east to the Adriatic Sea. The river varied in width from 130 to 500 yards and was often bordered by levees which served as natural fortifications made stronger by field works on both banks. As in northern Europe, the towns and villages along the river would provide natural fortifications, while the more developed east-west road system would ease the resupply movements of the defenders.

The third line, in the Alpine foothills, extended east and west of Lake Garda. Dubbed the Adige Line, after the river of the same name, these defenses were designed to cover a last-ditch Axis withdrawal into northeast Italy and Austria. The Adige Line, with its intricate system of trenches, dugouts, and machine-gun emplacements, was reminiscent of World War I. If stoutly defended, it could be the toughest line yet encountered in Italy.

Despite these apparent advantages, the Axis operated under significant handicaps imposed by Adolf Hitler, by the Wehrmacht High Command, and by Germany’s growing shortages in manpower and equipment. The top Axis commanders in Italy had repeatedly asked to withdraw from the Apennines to the stronger positions along the Po River before the expected Allied offensive. Permission was always flatly denied, and Hitler’s subsequent directives compelled local commanders to hold their positions until enemy action forced their retreat. Rigid adherence to this policy posed many risks for the defenders and made it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct organized withdrawals in the face of overwhelming Allied superiority in ground mobility and air power.

As the Axis feverishly dug in, the U.S. Fifth and British Eighth Armies prepared for the coming battle. The Allied troops were exhausted from months of fighting in late 1944, and the first four months of 1945 were marked by intensive efforts to rebuild combat strength and morale. Front-line units rotated to rear areas for rest, relaxation, and training; replacements were worked into tired units; and damaged or worn equipment was replaced or rebuilt. Administrators and logisticians requisitioned, hoarded, and stockpiled equipment and supplies, especially artillery ammunition. Fuel pipelines were built, reconnaissance conducted, supply points planned, and bridging equipment collected. However, due to the shortages caused by the equipment and manpower demands of other theaters, this process took time. In the end, Allied manpower and artillery superiority, critical in the rugged Italian terrain, was no more than about two or three to one.

By early 1945 the Fifth Army contained about 270,000 soldiers (with over 30,000 more awaiting assignments in replacement depots), over 2,000 artillery pieces and mortars, and thousands of vehicles, all positioned along a 120-mile front extending east from the Ligurian coast, across the crest of the Apennines, to a point southeast of Bologna. The commander’s major combat units included five U.S. infantry divisions (the 34th, 85th, 88th, 91st, and 92d), the U.S. 10th Mountain and 1st Armored Divisions, the Japanese-American 442d Regiment, as well as the 1st Brazilian Infantry Division, the free Italian Legnano Combat Group, and the 6th South African Armored Division. The U.S. IV Corps in the west, under Maj. Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger, and the U.S. II Corps in the east, under Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes, shared control of the ten division equivalents.

On the Fifth Army’s right flank was the British Eighth Army, commanded since 1 October 1944 by General Sir Richard L. McCreery. Containing the Polish 2d Corps and the British 5th, 10th, and 13th Corps, the Eighth Army controlled eight divisions from four different nations, as well as four free Italian battle groups and a Jewish brigade. By April 1945 their line extended from the Bologna area east to the Adriatic, ten miles north of Ravenna.

General Clark scheduled a new general offensive to begin in early April 1945. Unlike prior campaigns in Italy, he clearly assigned the major role to American forces. Prior to the main offensive, D-day minus 5, the U.S. 92d Infantry Division was to launch a diversionary attack, Operation SECOND WIND, to capture Massa along the Ligurian coast. Then, on 9 April the Eighth Army was to penetrate enemy defenses east of Bologna, drawing enemy reserves from the vital communications hub.

Following these diversions, the 15th Army Group’s main effort, Operation CRAFTSMAN, would be launched by Fifth Army forces around 11 April. Initially, Fifth Army units were to penetrate the enemy’s defenses west of Bologna, move into the southern Po Valley, and then capture Bologna itself. Rather than destroying the German forces, the initial phase of CRAFTSMAN thus focused on penetrating the Axis front and seizing enough terrain to provide a base for further operations in the Po Valley. Truscott intended to attack with forces from both corps advancing side by side along two major avenues, staggering the assaults to allow the maximum concentration of air and artillery support for each. Crittenberger’s IV Corps would attack first, west of Highways 64 and 65 which lead north to Bologna. One day later, Keyes’ II Corps would attack north along Highway 65 and take Bologna. During Phase II, both Allied armies would continue north toward the Bondeno-Ferrara area, thirty miles north of Bologna, trapping Axis forces south of the Po River. Finally, Phase III would see the combined Allied armies cross the Po and advance to Verona, fifty miles farther north, before fanning out into northern Italy, Austria, and Yugoslavia, completing the destruction of the Axis forces in southern Europe.

Western Europe

The Allies pressed on either side of Nazi Germany by January 1945, grimly determined to complete their version of Vernichtungskrieg (“war of annihilation”), or total war, to drive Germans to accept unconditional surrender and evermore foreswear war as an instrument of national policy. A double-invasion of Germany ensued on a scale unimaginable by any party to the war just four or five years before, and certainly not imagined by its instigators now huddled beneath Berlin or dying in vast multitudes along the frontiers of the “Greater German Reich.” Out of the east came the Red Army, engorged with desire for blood revenge for tens of millions of Soviet dead, for destroyed cities and burned out fields, for their own lost youth and ineffable suffering. Millions of heavily armed men with red stars on their caps surged into Germany, bluntly forcing a way across the Oder with blood and brute force, crashing tanks and artillery into cities crowded with the terrified refugee flotsam of broken Nazi ambition for empire. Out of the west came the armies of democracy, pouring through the Westwall and over the Rhine. Their rage was not as great, but all war is cruel and most wanted to kill as many Germans as it took to end the fight and buy their ticket home. And whatever the quality of mercy on the ground for some poor Landser conscript seeking to give himself up, above advancing Western armies roamed enormous fleets of bombers heading out to burn down Germany’s cities and terrorize its civilian population. For even the great democracies of the West had descended into ruthlessness that brooked little resistance and abjured almost no method of destruction that promised to shorten the war. The greatest armies known in the history of war had a singular mission and one destination in 1945: to meet in the center of Germany, astride the fetid corpse of the Nazi idea.

The battle maps of Germany, filled with arrows, strings, and the tiny symbols used by the generals and their staffs to assess the current status of operations, covered large walls, while others were barely large enough to cover the hood of a jeep or staff car. But all had in common a forest of arrows depicting the movement of Allied forces eastward and the relentless advance of the Red Army toward the west. To the uninitiated, such maps may have seemed chaotic but, notes historian Charles B. MacDonald, it was an illusion, and “in reality from each of the columns strings led, as from puppet to puppeteer, to General Eisenhower’s supreme command.” Whether pointing east or west, the arrows were all aimed at one key location on the map: Berlin.

On the evening of his shocking visit to the Merkers mine and Ohrdruf, Eisenhower revealed privately to Patton that he was soon to halt the First and Ninth Armies at the Elbe River to await the arrival of the Red Army. Third Army would be given a new mission to drive southeast toward Czechoslovakia. “From a tactical point of view, it is highly inadvisable for the American Army to take Berlin and I hope political influence won’t cause me to take the city,” he said. “It has no tactical or strategic value and would place upon the American forces the burden of caring for thousands and thousands of Germans, displaced persons and Allied prisoners of war.”

Patton’s reaction was incredulity. “Ike, I don’t see how you figure that out. We had better take Berlin, and quick—and on to the Oder!” Later on, in the presence of his chief of staff, Patton reiterated the need to drive on to Berlin, arguing that it could certainly be done in forty-eight hours by Ninth Army. Eisenhower wondered aloud, “Well, who would want it?” Patton did not reply at once, but placed both hands on his friend’s shoulders and said, “I think history will answer that question for you.”

Bradley admitted that he was sorely tempted by the lure of his troops capturing the greatest political prize of the war but realized it was simply not militarily feasible. A strong dose of reality set in when he calculated the cost, and noted that to have sent Montgomery on a mission to capture Berlin would have necessitated detaching a U.S. army-size force to guard his flank and correspondingly thwart the defeat of the German army on the 12th Army Group front. “As soldiers we looked naively on the British inclination to complicate the war with political foresight and nonmilitary objectives.”

Among those dismayed by Eisenhower’s decision was Simpson, who when ordered by Bradley to halt his Ninth Army at the Elbe, replied, “Where the hell did you get this?” Told, “From Ike,” Simpson obeyed his orders but was convinced it was a terrible mistake, and that his army could have advanced to Berlin. The U.S. official historian agrees: “The American armies, the Ninth in particular, could have continued their offensive some fifty more miles at least to the fringe of Berlin. The decision of the Supreme Allied Commander and nothing else halted the Americans at the Elbe and the Mulde [Rivers].”

Eisenhower had the full endorsement of Bradley, who was likewise convinced of the existence of a National Redoubt, which, he said, was “too ominous a threat to be ignored and in consequence it shaped our tactical thinking during the closing weeks of the war.” Bradley, wrote Chester Hansen in his diary, “is convinced that we shall have to fight the Germans in the mountain wilderness of southern Germany and there destroy the core of his SS units which are determined to carry on the battle.” Bradley predicted there might be twenty SS divisions, “supplied through a system of underground factories and supported by aircraft from underground hangers [sic]” from which “he could presumably have held out for a year.” No one seems to have questioned where these divisions might have come from, particularly in view of the fact that Model’s forces in the Ruhr had been thoroughly bottled up and then surrendered. In A Soldier’s Story Bradley ruefully admitted that it had existed “largely in the imaginations of a few fanatic Nazis.” Only after a senior German general in a position to have known surrendered to Ninth Army did it finally become clear, at least to Bradley, that they had been chasing a ghost. “I am astonished we could have believed it as innocently as we did.”

Not until a week before his death did Hitler issue a rather broadly worded directive outlining the creation of a “last bulwark of fanatical resistance” in the Alps, which came far too late in the war to have been established. The British official historian was unable to discern “any clear intention” on the part of Hitler to make a “last-ditch” stand in the Alps or anywhere else in particular unless it were in Berlin. … Indeed, the greater the threat to Berlin, the more tenaciously did Hitler cling to the idea of holding out there at all costs … for Hitler the notion of a “redoubt” was no more than a momentary idea. … An examination of the contemporary German evidence available to us [in 1968] shows quite conclusively that the so-called “National Redoubt” never existed outside the imaginations of the combatants.

The final irony was that in the last days of the Third Reich, when Joseph Goebbels learned of the Allied delusion over the Redoubt, his propaganda machine scored one of its greatest coups by effectively playing on Allied suppositions in much the same way that the Germans had been hoaxed before D-Day by Fortitude.45

The myth of the National Redoubt might have been merely incidental and a lesson in leaping to false conclusions had it not been for its profound effect on Eisenhower’s strategic thinking. As Russell Weigley points out, despite evidence to the contrary, “Eisenhower and Bradley had already moved their armies as though the threat of the Redoubt merited a high strategic priority, higher than Berlin.”

The decision to turn de Lattre’s French First Army, Hodges’s First Army, and Patton’s Third Army south toward Switzerland, Bavaria, and Austria came at a time when Montgomery’s army group was thinly spread. With Ninth Army committed to securing and guarding the Elbe, there was no American force available to provide support to carry out his mission of capturing northern Germany, securing the Baltic ports, and liberating Denmark.

Eisenhower’s controversial decisions regarding Berlin and the National Redoubt notwithstanding, during the month of April 1945 the death knell of the Third Reich sounded as the rampaging Allied armies began mopping up pockets of resistance from the central plains to the Alps, capturing tens of thousands of prisoners and drawing the noose ever tighter.

With his nation in ruins and his armies destroyed, Hitler designated the head of the German navy, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, to carry on the fight as his successor, then committed suicide on the night of April 30. His corpse and that of his mistress, Eva Braun, were burned on a funeral pyre outside his Berlin bunker in a scene that would have done justice to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. To the bitter end the German madman who had unleashed the worst conflagration in history entertained fantastical delusions that somehow he could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

By May 1, 1945, both the U.S. First and Ninth Armies were astride the Mulde and Elbe Rivers, where they halted as ordered, while to the south the Seventh Army was advancing deep into Bavaria and Austria. To the north Montgomery’s troops were nearing Hamburg and Lübeck. Patton’s Third Army had driven into Austria and Czechoslovakia, but—in yet another controversial decision by Eisenhower—his troops were forbidden to enter the capital of Prague. At Churchill’s instigation the British chiefs of staff exhorted the U.S. Joint Chiefs to compel Eisenhower to liberate Prague and Czechoslovakia before the arrival of the Red Army. The State Department, agreeing that Czechoslovakia was a political prize that should be denied the Russians, urged Truman’s concurrence. Truman consulted Marshall, who passed the request back to Eisenhower, who replied that he thought that the Red Army would liberate Prague before Patton could get there, and thus elected to halt Third Army at the prewar border near Pilsen (now Plzeň). Marshall supported his decision. “Personally and aside from all logistic, tactical or strategical implications, I would be loath to hazard American lives for purely political purposes.”

However, Third Army, which had captured Nuremberg, advanced to the Danube, and been astride the Czech border for several weeks, was primed to advance into both Czechoslovakia and Austria. Patton had begged for permission to push on but had been firmly restrained by a stop line beyond which Third Army was not to advance without permission. Bradley thought that Prague could have been liberated within twenty-four hours. On May 4 Eisenhower finally authorized Third Army to cross the Czech border, but there was to be no advance beyond Pilsen. That same day units of the U.S. Seventh Army and the U.S. Fifth Army driving north from Italy made contact at Austria’s Brenner Pass.

Bradley believed that Patton might ignore the new stop line, and on May 6 excitedly telephoned to reaffirm Eisenhower’s order. “You hear me, George, goddamnit, halt!” Reluctantly Patton complied. This decision brought about the repercussions Churchill had correctly feared. An uprising by the Czech Resistance against the SS in Prague was ruthlessly suppressed, while Third Army sat idle, a mere forty miles away, but under orders not to intervene. Although conceding that Eisenhower’s reasons for halting at Pilsen were sound, Patton wrote shortly before his death, “I was very much chagrined, because I felt, and I still feel, that we should have gone on the Moldau River and, if the Russians didn’t like it, let them go to hell.”

Torpedoes Away!

Condition of Sargo’s (SS-188) bottom prior to a paint job at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, July 1941.

With much of the American Navy in tatters, with American airpower reduced to nearly nothing, and with American ground forces dying, retreating, or surrendering in droves throughout the Pacific, there seemed to be little hope for a major counteroffensive against the Japanese anytime soon.

The United States had but one force left in the Pacific capable of taking the fight to the enemy-the Submarine Force. Small though that force was-an army of ants trying to stop a stampeding herd of elephants- brave and sometimes foolhardy attempts were made by the submariners to interrupt Japan’s drive to dominate the Pacific.

During the remaining three weeks of December 1941, thirty-nine American submarines sailing from Pearl Harbor, Fremantle, and the Philippines conducted their first war patrols; fourteen went on their second; and one-Adrian Hurst’s Permit (SS-178)-went on its third. The results of the patrols were not just disappointing-they were downright appalling.

Swordfish in 1939

There were a few successes, however. Three Manila-based submarines did manage to draw blood. On 16 December, Chester C. Smith’s Swordfish (SS-193) sank a transport, while another enemy freighter was sent to the bottom by Wreford G. Chappie’s S-38 (SS-143) on 22 December; a third freighter was destroyed by Kenneth C. Hurd’s Seal (SS-183) the following day.

USS Swordfish underway off San Francisco, California, 13 June 1943

Seawolf underway off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 7 March 1943

Frederick B. Warder

During those final three weeks of December 1941 at least eleven other subs sighted targets, fired their torpedoes, but had no confirmed hits. 2 On 14 December 1941, Frederick B. Warder’s Seawolf (SS-197), normally based at Manila, slipped unnoticed into the harbor at Aparri, on the east coast of Luzon, where a small Japanese force had landed the day before. Seeing a seaplane tender at anchor, Warder fired a spread of four Mark XIV torpedoes armed with the new magnetic detonators-but there were no explosions. Somehow the torpedoes had either missed their targets entirely or their detonators failed to detonate. On his way out of the harbor, Warder fired four more torpedoes, but again, nothing. As Clay Blair notes, “Warder was furious. He had penetrated a harbor, fired eight precious torpedoes, achieved zero results.”

Sadly, most of the other American submarines had no better luck; their skippers’ patrol reports read like a laundry list of missed opportunities and heartbreaking failures. Near Formosa, Bill Wright’s Sturgeon, based in Fremantle, Australia, made a surface attack against a sitting duck cargo ship; all four torpedoes either missed or misfired. From Manila, Ted Aylward’s Searaven (SS-196) attacked two freighters, also near Formosa, without inflicting damage, while David Hurt, in Perch (SS- 176), with a good-size convoy in his sights, could not verify that any torpedoes struck home. Snapper (SS-185), under Hamilton “Ham” Stone, took on a cargo ship; it escaped unscathed. Pickerel (SS-177), with Barton E. Bacon Jr. at the helm, shot five torpedoes worth $10,000 apiece at a patrol boat; none hit it. Roland F. Pryce’s Spearfisb (SS-190) attacked an enemy submarine with four torpedoes, again without result.

Skipjack (SS-184), commanded by Charles L. Freeman, had a similar disappointing patrol. Spotting the choicest of targets-a big, fat Japanese aircraft carrier-Freeman closed in for the kill, fired three torpedoes, and got that sick feeling in his gut when none of them exploded. On Christmas day, Freeman tried again, this time at point-blank range against a heavy cruiser; as with the carrier, the target lived to fight another day. On New Year’s Eve 1941, Tarpon (SS-175), under Fewis Wallace, went after a light cruiser, but there was no New Year’s celebration because no hits were scored. After firing at least seventy torpedoes-$700,000 worth-Freeman and Wallace reported that in December they had sunk twenty-one enemy ships for a total of 120,400 tons. However, postwar records, compiled once access was gained to Japanese naval records, showed that only six ships, totaling 29,500 tons, were actually sunk. Not an auspicious beginning.

Even at this early stage of the war, and despite the many problems being encountered, legends of the submarine service were being created. One of the most unusual was that of the “red submarine.” When the Japanese struck Cavite Naval Base in the Philippines on 8 December, William E. “Pete” Ferrall’s Seadragon was undergoing an overhaul, including a complete repainting. There was no time to finish the paint job, so Seadragon set sail with just her red-lead undercoating showing.

The radio propagandist Tokyo Rose got wind of this unusual-color boat and soon was broadcasting to her listeners that America had a fleet of “Red Pirates” that were plundering Japanese shipping lanes; she promised that these criminal pirates would be executed when caught. Teaming of the broadcast, Ferrall’s men had a good laugh.

Although badly outnumbered, America’s antiquarian submarines were doing their best to make the Japanese warlords think twice before believing they had free rein in the Pacific. On 2 January 1942, Lieutenant Commander Edward C. Stephen of Grayback, sailing from Pearl Harbor, sank the 2,180-ton monster submarine 1-18 in the Solomons. On 24 January, as Japanese troops were preparing to land at Balikpapan, on Borneo’s southeast coast, a task force of four American destroyers and seven submarines, including William L. Wright’s Fremantle-based Sturgeon (SS-187), attacked and disrupted the amphibious operation, sinking four of the sixteen transports. Although the invasion was not halted, the damage done marked the first American naval “victory” of the war. It was small, it was insignificant, but it represented the tiniest glimmer of hope.

Hope would have been greater had the torpedoes been reliable. America’s submarines were armed with the latest Mark XIV steam-powered torpedoes equipped with Mark VI influence exploders. The failure of many torpedoes to detonate upon contact or within proximity of their targets was not the only problem; other torpedoes, for mysterious reasons, exploded prematurely, either just seconds after being launched or partway to the target.

Tyrell D. Jacobs, commander of the Manila-based Sargo (SS-188), experienced both vexations on one patrol. Encountering a large convoy near the major Japanese port at Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina (later Vietnam) on 14 December 1941, Jacobs launched a torpedo; it exploded eighteen seconds after leaving the firing tube and nearly wrecked the sub. On the twenty-fourth, Jacobs fired five torpedoes at three heavily laden transport ships north of Borneo without recording any hits. Three days later, Sargo went after two more freighters and a tanker; again, zero hits.

A total of thirteen torpedoes that had cost American taxpayers $130,000 had been fired on Sargo’s first war patrol, and not one of them had so much as knocked the paint off an enemy vessel. Sargo might as well have been firing spit wads for all the good they were doing. Jacobs had a well-trained crew, so he knew the chances for “operator error” were slight; it had to be the “tin fish” themselves. He analyzed the data, did the math, and concluded that the Mark XIVs were running ten feet deeper than their settings indicated and passing too far beneath the enemy hulls to set off the magnetic exploders. Jacobs compensated by instructing his torpedomen to set the depth shallower, but he knew he was only guessing at a solution.

A few days later, Jacobs spotted a slow-moving tanker, had one torpedo set to run at a depth of just ten feet, and fired. The gunnery officer, after calculating range and torpedo speed, stood by in the control room with his stopwatch, marking off the seconds until the torpedo, if it was working correctly, would detonate. At the moment he should have heard an explosion, there was only silence. Jacobs upped the periscope to see the tanker continuing on its merry way, oblivious to the fact that it had just escaped destruction.

Angry and frustrated, Jacobs reported the problem of the malfunctioning torpedoes to higher command; the torpedo problem soon would become a scandal of major proportions within the Navy.

It did the American war effort little good for submarine commanders to risk their boats and crews’ lives by traveling thousands of miles into enemy-controlled waters to locate a target, fire their torpedoes, and then watch in helpless frustration as the intended targets sailed away unharmed. But that is exactly what was happening, and on a large scale.

The number of ships sunk by American submarines in January 1942 was woefully insignificant. Of the six boats that sailed from Pearl Harbor that month, only three of them reported hitting anything-just four enemy vessels worth 23,200 tons. Pollack, commanded by Stan Mosely, sank a merchantman near Tokyo Bay on 5 January, and David C. White’s Plunger lived up to its name, sending a cargo ship plunging beneath the waves near Kii Suido on 18 January. Grenfell’s Gudgeon sank the enemy submarine 7-173, on 27 January in empire waters. Eight additional American subs departing their Australia and Java bases did little better, sinking but six ships during the entire month, for a total of only 23,000 tons.

The scarcity of sinkings was due not only to the unreliability of the torpedoes but also to their scarcity. Admiral Thomas Withers, Commander of Submarines, Pacific, or ComSubPac, criticized boat commanders who “wasted” torpedoes on targets. If a commander shot a second fish at a target that had been hit by the first one, Withers would dash off a withering note condemning the “profligate expenditure” of precious munitions. And, in January 1942, the torpedoes were precious-only 101 were in reserve at Pearl Harbor. Clay Blair notes, “According to prewar production schedules, [Withers] was to receive 192 more by July-about 36 a month. However, his quota had been recently cut to 24 a month. At the rate his boats were expending torpedoes, he would need more than 500 to reach July. There was no way the production rate could be drastically increased to meet this demand. Unless his skippers were more conservative, Pearl Harbor would soon run out of torpedoes.”

The submarine force, then, faced two equally important problems- a physical shortage of torpedoes and torpedoes that, when they were fired, rarely sank anything.

There are three main reasons why torpedoes might not sink their intended targets.

First, getting the torpedoes’ firing platform-the submarine-into firing position without being spotted and attacked by the enemy is not always easy. Second, the range is important; the closer the submarine is to the target, the more likely the chance of a hit. Conversely, the farther away, the less likely it is that the torpedo will strike home. Finally, a stationary target, obviously, is much easier to hit than a moving one. If the target is zigzagging or employing some other type of evasive maneuver, the chance of hitting it is even more remote.

In many instances, the submarine captain would fire a “spread” of torpedoes-usually three torpedoes fired within a few seconds of one another-in the hope that at least one of them would hit. And hitting a target presenting its broad flank to the submarine-and thus making for a larger target area-is preferable to trying to put a torpedo “down the throat” (a head-on shot at a target coming toward the submarine) or “up the skirt” (shooting at the rear of a ship as it is steaming away).

Setting the correct information into the torpedo’s guidance system is also critical. For best results, a torpedo should explode just beneath the centerline of a ship; the detonation will usually be enough to “break her back” and cause immediate sinking. If set to run too deeply, the torpedo will glide completely beneath the target’s hull; if set too shallow, it will strike just below the waterline and not cause enough damage to ensure a sinking.

What must never happen is that, after maneuvering carefully into a good firing position, taking steady aim, dialing the correct information into the torpedo, and firing at the proper moment, the torpedo itself malfunctions. Unfortunately, malfunctioning torpedoes were all too often a curse that plagued American submariners, especially during the first half of the war.

During the First World War, only one manufacturing facility made torpedoes for the United States Navy-the Alexandria Torpedo Station of Alexandria, Virginia. The armistice of 1918 had led to the closure of that station for, after all, the Great War was supposed to have been the “war to end all wars.” The Washington and London Naval Treaties also put a damper on torpedo development, for the nations of the world fully believed that it was possible to outlaw war and the tools of war. As history proved, their idealism could not have been more misplaced.

In the 1930s, with obvious signs that civilization was marching in lockstep toward a new world conflict, the U. S. Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, which had been established in 1869 as the Navy’s experimental station for torpedoes and torpedo equipment, explosives, and electrical equipment, went into the full-time manufacture of the underwater missiles; political wrangling delayed the reopening of the Alexandria facility until July 1941. In addition to these two, five more facilities-in Forest Park, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Keyport, Washington; the Pontiac Division of General Motors in Michigan; and the International Harvester Corporation-received contracts to build torpedoes, not only for submarines but also for destroyers and aircraft. By the end of the war, over 57,000 torpedoes would be built. But the end of the war was a long way off. The torpedoes were needed now.

Even if there had been no torpedo shortage, the fact that the tin fish were so unreliable did not boost anyone’s confidence. Who in their right mind would want to sail into enemy-controlled waters and risk their boats and the lives of their crews with so little assurance that their torpedoes, once fired, would actually work?

And no matter how many submarine skippers sent in reports detailing the torpedo-detonation problem, there was no indication that anyone at ComSubPac or BuOrd or anywhere else was the slightest bit interested in acknowledging that a problem existed or that they wanted promptly to fix it. Just as maddeningly, the problem was intermittent; sometimes the torpedoes worked fine and sometimes they didn’t. How could anyone isolate a problem if the problems weren’t consistent?

The situation allowed innumerable enemy ships to escape destruction, and doubtless contributed to the prolongation of the war in the Pacific and the loss of many American lives.

CHINA – Naval Strength

Twenty-five Type 054A frigates have now entered service with the PLAN and a further two have been launched. Representing an intermediate level of capability between the fleet’s larger Type 052 series destroyers and the littoral warfare-orientated Type 056 corvettes, these frigates are the workhorses of the blue water fleet. These pictures show Huangshan, one of the earlier members of the class, on exercises off the Chinese coast in April 2017.

The PLAN Type 054A frigate Hengshui pictured operating with the US Navy destroyer Stockdale (DDG-106) during the RIMPAC 2016 exercise on 28 July 2016. In spite of occasional collaboration, countering Chinese ‘expansionism’ in the Pacific is one of the main strategic challenges facing the United States and its allies.

China’s maritime ambitions continue to be supported by an ongoing construction programme that is unequalled globally in terms of quantity and surpassed in scope only by that of the United States. One measure of the speed with which new vessels are entering service is the estimate that a new Type 956 corvette was commissioned, on average, once every six weeks during 2016. An interesting status check on China’s maritime ambitions was provided by the American CNA research centre in a report entitled Becoming A Great ‘Maritime Power’: A Chinese Dream published in mid-2016. The report confirmed previous analysis that suggested the People’s Liberal Army Navy (PLAN) is steadily transitioning from a single-minded focus on offshore waters defence (otherwise known as an anti-access/area denial or A2/AD strategy). Instead, the continued importance placed on defending the near seas will be balanced by a greater emphasis on blue water power projection. As part of this trend, the PLAN will complete a process of overhauling other major ‘blue water’ navies such as those fielded by France, Russia and the United Kingdom to become the second largest ocean-going fleet by 2020.

This trend is supported by table below, which highlights the PLAN’s most important warship classes. Additional detail on recent developments with respect to key types is provided below.

Aircraft Carriers and Amphibious Ships: A highlight of the last year was China’s launch of its first indigenously-constructed Type 001A aircraft carrier from the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company’s yard on 26 April 2017. The new ship’s design is based closely on that of the existing Soviet-origin, Project 1143.5/6 Kuznetsov class carrier Liaoning (ex Varyag). However, reports suggest that she will incorporate a number of detailed improvements. Completion of fitting out is likely to take two–three years and it therefore seems it will not be until the 2020s that she will join Liaoning in operational service. In the meantime, China is said to be working on a follow-on Type 002 carrier design that will incorporate a conventional catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery arrangement.

Renewed construction of amphibious ships also reflects an expeditionary focus. A fifth Type 071 amphibious transport dock was launched from Shanghai’s Hudong-Zhongua yard in June 2017and a sixth vessel is said to be under construction. There have also been reports that work has begun on a long-awaited Type 075 of broadly similar size to the US Navy’s LHA/LHD types.

Surface Combatants: PLAN surface combatant construction continues to encompass three major elements. The most potent of these is a series of general-purpose destroyers, of which the Type 052D variant is the latest to enter service. Six of the class have been commissioned since 2014, with another seven launched to date by the Jiangnan-Changxing yard in Shanghai and by Dalian Shipbuilding. The 7,500-ton ships are now being followed into production by a new class of 10,000-ton Type 055 ‘Renhai’ destroyers. The first of these was launched from Jiangnan-Changxing on 28 June 2017. Although official details are sparse, it appears that the new ships will be equipped with similar sensors and weapons to those found on previous Chinese destroyers. However, their missile capacity may be expanded from sixty-four to as many as 128 vertical launch cells. To date, two pairs of Type 055s have been observed under construction at Jiangnan-Changxing and Dalian Shipbuilding but it would seem likely that many more will be ordered in due course.

The second strand of construction relates to the intermediate frigate-sized vessels of the Type 054A ‘Jiangkai II’ class. Twenty-five of these have entered service since 2008, with the most recent, Wuhu, commissioning on 29 June 2017. As for the destroyers, construction has been split between two yards: the Hudong-Zhongua facility in Shanghai and the Huangpu Shipyard in Guangzhou (Canton). Both of these have each launched a further vessel of the class. Like the destroyers, the Type 054A frigates have a blue water, general-purpose orientation, albeit their diesel propulsion may limit their effectiveness in an anti-submarine role. Development of a more silent diesel-electric or integrated electrical propulsion variant has been rumoured for some time but, if correct, this has yet to produce a tangible result. Some commentators have suggested that the PLAN is waiting for domestically-produced technology to reach sufficient maturity before switching to construction of a new class.

The final class of surface combatant under assembly is the Type 056/Type 056A ‘Jiangdao’ corvette, the latter being distinguished by a modification of the ship’s stern to accommodate a towed array. Over thirty of these diminutive littoral warfare vessels have been delivered from four shipyards since 2013 and some analysts believe that as many as sixty may ultimately be completed.

Submarines: Tangible information on the development of the PLAN’s submarine force remains difficult to obtain. This is particularly the case with respect to the nuclear-powered force of strategic and attack submarines, about which only vague details exist. Most commentators believe that four or five Type 094 ‘Jin’ class strategic submarines were completed in the first decade of the millennium and all these are now regarded as being operational. They are reported to be noisier even than the oldest Russian strategic submarines remaining in service, negating much of their second-strike potential. A follow-on Type 096 ‘Tang’ class, armed with an improved JL-3 ballistic missile and presumably equipped with better noise-reduction technology, has been reported as being under development for some time. However, American intelligence assessments suggest that construction will only begin in the early 2020s. Meanwhile, the two initial Type 093 ‘Shang’ class attack submarines delivered in 2006–7 have recently been joined by a quartet of improved Type 093A/Type 093G ‘Shang II’ variants. These are believed to have been lengthened to incorporate vertical launch tubes for cruise missiles. As for the strategic submarines, it appears experience gained from operating these boats will be used to inform the design of a further class – variously reported as the Type 093B or Type 095 – that will probably also not be built until the 2020s. A number of older nuclear-powered submarines of the 091 and 092 types remain in commission. Their operational status and utility must be regarded as being marginal.

There is slightly greater clarity around the flotilla of conventional submarines, which form one of the most potent weapons in the PLAN’s A2/AD arsenal. Three main classes of submarine – the domestic Type 039 ‘Song’ and Type 039A/B ‘Yuan’ series and the Russian-built ‘Kilos’ – form the operational force. These are backed by a steadily diminishing force of Type 035/035G ‘Ming’ submarines based on the 1950s-era Russian ‘Romeo’, which are now used largely for training. Recent reports suggest that construction of ‘Yuan’ class boats has now resumed after a considerable gap. At least three new submarines are expected to join the existing thirteen members of the class. The reason for the hiatus in production since the end of 2013 is not known for certain but may relate to the development of improved AIP technology for this latest batch.

Other Vessels: The construction of warfighting vessels is being supplemented by a wide range of minor warships and auxiliaries. These range from a sail training ship – the PLAN’s first – to a new 50,000-ton semi-submersible vessel broadly similar to the US Navy’s Montford Point (T-ESD-1). Making good the previous deficiency in replenishment vessels remains an area of focus. With the eight-strong Type 903/903A class now completed, attention has turned to the new Type 901 ‘comprehensive supply ship’. The 45,000-ton design is reportedly powered by gas turbines to keep pace with a carrier task force. It has multiple fuel hoses to allow simultaneous provision of both marine and aviation fuel as well as a significant dry stores transfer capability. The first member of the class commenced an extensive period of sea trials in December 2016. A second member of the class will also soon be ready for launch.

China Defense Blog

Lessons Learned Too Late I

By 10 May 1940, when Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, 228 D.520s had been manufactured, but the French Air Force had accepted only 75, as most others had been sent back to the factory to be retrofitted to the new standard. As a result, only GC I/3 was fully equipped, having 36 aircraft. They met the Luftwaffe on 13 May, shooting down three Henschel Hs 126s and one Heinkel He 111 without loss.

The Potez 637 was one of the more modern aircraft in the reconnaissance groups, but losses were heavy. Production of this variant was limited, and the Potez 63.11 played just as important role in these groups. The Potez 63.11 was also the most important aircraft in the army co-operation units, where it suffered heavy losses, mostly to ground fire and on the ground (although managed to hold its own against German fighters). By 1940 the entire family was outdated, with the lack of engine power.

More than 700 Potez 63.11 were delivered by June 1940, of which more than 220 were destroyed or abandoned, despite the addition of extra machine gun armament; the heaviest losses of any French type. The Potez 63.11 continued in service with the Vichy air force and with the Free French forces in North Africa seeing action with both. Production was resumed under German control and significant numbers appear to have been pressed into service by the Germans, mostly in liaison and training roles.

To some, the task now facing France seemed hopeless. The Dutch and Belgian Armies had been defeated, only one British division remained in the front line, and one third of the French Army had been lost. On 10 May, the Allies had outnumbered the Germans. Now, the French stood virtually alone and outnumbered in every respect. There seemed to be good reason for French pessimism.

The short-term prospects of the French may have been bleak, but if the Army could hold on, all was not necessarily lost. Fresh divisions were already arriving from North Africa and the French divisions plucked from the Dunkirk beaches were heading back to France. Better planes were on the way and production was rising rapidly. The delivery of nearly 200 modern fighters was expected in June and by August, it was hoped that monthly output would have risen to 400, which was far more than the German aircraft industry was turning out. Even more significant was the improved quality of these fighters. On 12 May, the HS 12Y-51-powered Dewoitine D.523 achieved 562 km/hr and two days later, a similarly powered Arsenal VG-35 managed 590 km/hr. French fighters would finally have the speed to intercept German bombers with ease and the ability to take on German fighters on equal terms. The delivery of the first 200 HS 12Y-51 motors was expected in June and deliveries of the D.523 were due to begin in July. Production of bombers was also rising fast. French factories were expected to build over 200 in June and with deliveries from the United States also increasing, very soon, some 500 would be becoming available each month. However, all of this would mean nothing if France could not stem the German tide; to do this, everything available would have to be thrown into the struggle.

The brief lull in the fighting on the Somme and Aisne fronts as the Germans concentrated their efforts on the Allied forces surrounded at Dunkirk gave the French a brief opportunity to reflect. Valuable lessons had been learned and Georges was anxious to apply them. He was particularly struck by the speed with which German commanders could get air support; he estimated bombers could be over a target within fifteen minutes of the request being made. He claimed this feat was only possible because the German Army and Air Force were under a single commander. This was not quite the case, but they were part of the Wehrmacht, which acted as one. Georges’s comment was clearly a swipe at the whole concept of an independent Armée de l’Air. In truth, however, it had been this independent Air Force that had argued for tactical close air support and the Army that had been reluctant to incorporate the idea into its thinking.

Georges now accepted the enormous impact the direct intervention of bombers on the battlefield could have. Quite correctly, however, he observed that although the psychological impact had been great, the actual physical harm done was often limited. Fighter units had to be called in quicker; in terms no French general would have trouble understanding, he explained how rapid fighter intervention against bomber attack was just like a counter-artillery barrage. He was, however, careful not to lay all the blame for the collapse of French Army formations on the Air Force. He recognized that the Army had simply not done enough to prepare the troops for the shock of aerial bombardment. The reaction of French soldiers had been far too passive and this had bred a feeling of helplessness. He urged all commanders to instil in their troops the need to turn all weapons on the attacking aircraft. He pointed out that French aircraft were often returning from missions riddled with small arms fire. French troops had to be trained to take a more active part in their own defence. This would reduce the accuracy of German bombing, lower the morale of German aircrews, increase Luftwaffe losses, and, most importantly of all, lift French morale.

The role of the GAO observation groups also came under close scrutiny. As Têtu now freely admitted, these units had played virtually no part in the fighting. Seven months before, the commander of the observation forces had suggested that the crews of the grounded bomber groups in the rear should be retrained as reconnaissance pilots. Now, he was proposing removing all observation squadrons from army corps, creating fewer larger units under his direct control and using surplus crews to reinforce bomber and fighter units.

In the last three weeks of May 1940, the French made more progress towards a more modern air force than they had managed in the previous decade. The Army now appreciated that the bomber was a battlefield weapon, and the need for more fighters had been hammered home. It was now accepted that a disproportionate amount of effort had been put into observation squadrons at the expense of other branches of the Air Force. The Army was still suspicious of Air Force intentions, and with the way d’Astier had been running air operations, they had good reason, but there was agreement about the need for more centralised control of the Air Force at a higher level of command.

While all this was now plain to the French High Command, it would be some time before these new ideas filtered through to commanders in the field and time was something the French did not have. On 29 May, the outlines of a German offensive across the Somme and Aisne were already being drawn up. The German Army had so far suffered surprisingly light losses, but advances of several hundred miles inevitably imposed considerable wear and tear on equipment. Hitler, however, was determined not to give the French any time to recover and there would only be the briefest of rests before the attack was renewed. The next offensive would be launched on 5 June. The stakes were high. If it failed, the Germans would be forced to give their units time to rest and refit. This in turn might give the French time to complete the re-equipment of their Air Force, rearm the French troops that had escaped at Dunkirk, and put into practise the lessons they had learned. On the other hand, an immediate German success on the Somme and Aisne might lead to the disintegration of the French Army and the defeat of the nation. The French felt if they could just hold the next offensive for a week, the situation would begin to look very different.

Once any attempt at linking up with the forces in the northern pocket had been definitively abandoned, Weygand turned his attentions to strengthening the defensive lines along the Aisne and Somme. The French Air Force was required to protect French reinforcements disembarking at railheads in the rear, disrupt the German build-up on the Somme and Aisne, and support French efforts to eliminate the bridgeheads at Abbeville, Amiens, and Péronne. From the 26th, the Luftwaffe was concentrating on Dunkirk and enemy air activity over the southern front was light. On the last three days of the month, the same bad weather that helped the Dunkirk evacuation succeed also brought French aircrews a welcome respite.

The French used this time to refit their squadrons as best they could. The M.S.406 was to be replaced as quickly as possible. After losing all its M.S.406s on the 16th, GC II/6 moved to the Châteauroux Bloch MB.152 plant; between 23 May and 1 June, the group took delivery of thirty-four as they came off the production line. The pilots flew patrols in defence of the factory as they got used to their new mounts and demonstrated they were fully operational by claiming four He 111 bombers that attacked the factory on 5 June. Other groups converted even more rapidly. On 29 May, GC III/2 handed over its surviving M.S.406 to other groups, and between 31 May and 5 June, the group took delivery of thirty recently arrived Curtiss H75 A-3. The unit flew its first operation with the plane on 6 June. This was not nearly enough time to become fully familiar with a new plane, but it was the sort of urgency that France would need to have any chance of surviving. GC II/7 received thirty-five D.520s between 20 and 29 May and flew its first mission with the fighter on 1 June. GC III/3 got its first D.520 on 25 May and flew its first mission with the plane on 5 June.

With the reduced aerial activity, replacement Bloch MB.152 and Curtiss H75s reaching squadrons for once exceeded combat losses and there was time to repair damaged machines. Even so, most H75 and Bloch groups had fewer fighters than on 10 May. Dewoitine groups at the front were particularly short of equipment as nearly all new output was being used to convert M.S.406 units. At least the few remaining M.S.406 groups had no problems with reserves; the remaining units were turning away machines being offered to them by groups converting to new types. By the beginning of June, the number of fighters available had risen to 356. French losses among fighter pilots amounted to 160 killed, wounded, or captured, but these had been largely made good. A total of 175 pilots arrived from training schools in May. In the first days of June, another fifty fighter pilots arrived and another 100 were expected to become available in a matter of days. These were supplemented by some instructors hastily called back to front line duties to see France through the crisis.

Bomber units were also benefiting from increased production. There were still no fully operational Amiot 351/354s, which meant the bomber could still only be used by night at low level. Groupement 6 returned to the front on the 28th after a week’s rest and refit. At the beginning of June, there were six LeO 451, four Breguet 693, four Martin 167, and two Douglas DB-7 groups available for day operations, with a paper strength of around 200 bombers, although only a half, at most, were serviceable at any one time. Another eight groups were available for night operations.

The GAO and reconnaissance units had lost around sixty Potez 63.11 reconnaissance planes in combat since the beginning of the campaign, but around 100 more had been destroyed on the ground or abandoned. Eighty replacements helped restore Potez strength to around 130, of which eighty-five were serviceable, an improvement on the forty-eight that had been available on 21 May. Those GAO still at the front contributed another 120, of which around seventy were serviceable. However, there was a reluctance to risk any of them if fighters were not available for escort duties. The Bloch MB.174 could operate without an escort, and Vuillemin ordered a special effort to be made to ensure as many as possible were made available to front line units but switching production from the Bloch MB.174 to the Bloch MB.175 meant deliveries of new machines had virtually ceased. On 5 June, there were only nine serviceable Bloch reconnaissance planes along the entire front. Interestingly, older planes like the Mureaux reconnaissance machines were not even listed. France was not in a position to be so cautious about which planes it used.

The shortage of modern planes was chronic but there was no shortage of aircrews. French naval squadrons had been heavily involved in the fighting, and they now expected a proportion of the modern planes that were coming off the production lines. On 31 May, the first ten Dewoitine D.520s were handed over to re-equip one of their four fighter squadrons. The Navy also got its first LeO 451s and Martin 167s. Large numbers of Belgian aircrews were now joining the Poles and Czechs in the rear. The aircrews of the 1st, 7th, and 9th Army observation squadrons sent to the rear were also still waiting for something to fly.

More Poles and Czechs were finding their way to front line squadrons. On 28 May, eighteen Polish fighter pilots were posted to front line squadrons. On 3 June, another thirty-three Poles followed. There was now far less resistance to the idea of units manned entirely by foreign personnel. On 24 May, the first Polish bomber unit was finally formed and was expected to become operational with the LeO 451 in mid-June. Other Poles were to begin training on Martin 167s. On 1 June, the morale of the Czech contingent was given a boost by the signing of an agreement finally allowing an independent Czech Air Force within the framework of the French Air Force, along the lines of the agreement already made with the Poles. Two Belgian squadrons began converting to the LeO 451, but the aircrews from eleven more were waiting for something to fly. On 4 June, another 100 Polish fighter and fifty bomber pilots completed their training. At a time when units were being converted to new types and thrown back into action within days, it was not too late to make use of these pilots, if planes could be found for them to fly.

The French still held out hope that even at this late stage, the United States might save the day. Since 23 May, the French, apparently armed with a detailed list of planes held in American stores, had been preparing a request for more American help. By the time it was made, it had become a frantic appeal for anything, however obsolete, the Americans could send. Aware of the many American planes the French already had, but through lack of vital equipment could not be used, Reynaud made it clear that they had to arrive fully armed and ready for use. Astonishingly, within a couple of weeks, the Americans had gathered together ninety-three obsolete Northrop A-17A attack bombers and fifty Curtiss SBC biplane dive-bombers and the first batch left for France on 16 June.

Did the French have to wait for the Americans to go through their reserves and ship what they could find across the Atlantic? Should the French Air Force have looked more closely at their own stored obsolete equipment? The French Army was already hauling obsolete mothballed 75-mm guns out of stores and dispatching them to the front to be used as anti-tank guns over open sights. Soon after the Germans launched their attack, Vuillemin had ordered storage units to make available as many fighters and bombers as possible. Bloch MB.151s and Koolhoven F.K.58s had been hastily made serviceable and used to equip rear defence flights, but nothing older than these relatively new fighters was considered. The plea for bombers saw much effort put into preparing old Amiot 143 and Bloch MB.210s for combat. Indeed, so many were arriving at the Avord air base, they did not know what to do with them and told the units to stop sending them. These ungainly, difficult to fly bombers were better than nothing, but perhaps it would have been better to focus effort on cannon-armed Dewoitine D.501and D.510 single-seater fighters for ground strafing, or Mureaux reconnaissance planes for bombing. Perhaps it was even time to see if the old Potez 25s could be used like the Dutch used their Fokker C.Vs. It seems, however, that to the very end, the French default preference was large multi-seaters.

Lessons Learned Too Late II

On the ground, Weygand had few options. With the Luftwaffe controlling the skies, the last thing the French wanted was a war of manoeuvre. Even a limited retreat from the position they now held might prove catastrophic. Weygand opted for a static defence in depth, with towns and villages turned into strong points and their garrisons instructed to hold on, even if bypassed by German forces. By holding key communication centres, the French hoped that the panzer spearheads would be starved of supplies and that the German offensive would eventually fizzle out. In the circumstances, it was the strategy which offered the French the best chance of success.

Weygand’s policy was not entirely defensive. If the French could recapture bridgeheads the Germans had established at Abbeville, Amiens, and Péronne, it would boost French morale and make the German task more difficult. With the Germans fully occupied around Dunkirk, there would be no better time. There was now a new-found determination to integrate bomber support with operations on the ground. Georges wanted these counterattacks supported by ‘rigorous bomber action’ and Weygand demanded the maximum bomber effort against the panzers forces assembling in the bridgeheads. Vuillemin, Weygand, Georges, and Têtu all now agreed on the need for bomber support on the battlefield.

On the 26th, the four Breguet 693 groups and two fighter groups—GC III/2 and GC III/3—were made available to General Frère’s 7th Army to support attempts to eliminate the German bridgeheads at Amiens and Abbeville, where de Gaulle’s 4th Armoured Division was in action. This Assault Brigade and its accompanying fighter groups were, in effect, now being used in much the same way as the Air Division of the First World War. To speed up the response time, flights of fully armed Breguets, with their engines ticking over, were kept on alert at forward airstrips ready to intervene immediately an appropriate target was identified, a practice a previous generation of Breguet tactical bomber units had used in the Rif campaign. Poor weather limited the opportunities of the brigade, but about forty sorties were flown against various targets in and around Abbeville and Amiens in the last four days of May. Four Breguets and Potezs were lost, all the victims of fighters.

The last day of the month proved to be a particularly unfortunate one for the entire bomber force. Nine out of twenty-one LeO 451s were lost, as were four out of twelve Douglas DB-7 bombers and two out of eighteen Martin 167s, again all the victims of fighters. Weygand wanted the German bridgeheads pounded with everything the Air Force had and demanded that these attacks should continue but Vuillemin feared that his force would be exhausted before the Germans even launched their offensive. In the end, a compromise was worked out whereby the light and assault bombers continued to provide the Army with support by day, while the LeO 451 groups would operate by night until the Germans attacked, although following the heavy losses of the 31st, no missions would be flown until the night of 4–5 June.

Meanwhile, the counterattacks on the German bridgeheads across the Somme were continuing. General Altmayer’s 10th Army had now taken over the Abbeville sector of the Somme front. On 3 June, the Assault Brigade with forty-three Breguets and forty fighters, was put at his disposition, for a further assault on the Abbeville bridgehead planned for 4 June. The army commander was also told that a further fifty bombers and 100 fighters were available for more general support. ‘What am I to do with all this aviation? I’ve already got more than sufficient artillery,’ he is reputed to have replied. Altmayer made no attempt to call upon the resources put at his disposal either before or during his counterattack. Altmayer can hardly be blamed. The Army had always insisted bombers did not have an important role to play on the battlefield. At the top of the Army command structure, Weygand and Georges may have come to appreciate that ideas had to change but it was expecting a lot of Altmayer to enthusiastically embrace this use of air power overnight. Although the French counterattacks reduced the size of the German bridgeheads, none were eliminated, so strategically, the attacks were failures.

While the French troops along the Somme and Aisne awaited the German offensive, in the rear, a threat of a different kind was causing far more concern. On the first two days of June, the Luftwaffe launched a series of powerful raids against targets in the Rhône valley, including industrial targets around Lyon and the port of Marseilles, where reinforcements were arriving from North Africa. It was a timely reminder to the French that they dare not reduce their aerial defences in the rear. Even more disturbing was the mounting evidence that the Germans were planning a major air assault on the French capital. For Parisians, this was a much greater threat than the panzers just sixty miles away. For Vuillemin too, the danger was still in the rear. On 29 May, he made it very clear to d’Astier that the defence of Paris had to have priority over support for the armies at the front.

The danger to Paris was far more acute than it had been a few weeks before. The Germans were not quite as near to Paris as they had been in 1918, but the speed of modern bombers meant that the capital was little more than fifteen minutes flying time from the front. Before 10 May, the Bf 109E had not been capable of reaching the Paris area; now, it could escort German bombers all the way with ease. With the world still stunned by the destruction of Rotterdam, the French believed they had good reason to be worried. For French civilians and government, the moment of truth was at hand.

French intelligence was correct. ‘Operation Paula’ was never intended as a pure terror raid—the targets were military rather than civilian—but the Germans hoped an attack on Paris would shake French morale. Targets included communication centres, airfields, and factories. Targeting factories scarcely suggested that the German High Command were entirely convinced they would soon be in their hands. About 500 German bombers, escorted by an equal number of fighters, would take part in the raid.

For some time, both Groupements 21 and 23 had been on standby for the expected Luftwaffe attack. Groupement 22 in the east had also been told that it should try and intercept German formations as they headed back towards Germany. The Potez 631 squadrons would try and follow the bombers and report their positions. Ground controllers, using the Eiffel tower radio mast, would transmit instructions to the fighter squadrons. The Dewoitine D.520 groups would tackle the German escorts, while other fighters would concentrate on the bombers. With only fifty serviceable Dewoitine D.520s, it was a daunting task.

Soon after midday on 3 June, the raids began on targets in and around Paris as well as airfields well beyond Paris. The Potez 631s did what they could but the scrambling fighter squadrons were always going to be desperately short of time and their task was complicated by the Germans jamming the instructions from the ground controller. GCs III/1 and II/1 both had to take off amid falling bombs. GCs I/1 and II/9 were both caught by enemy fighters as they climbed towards the bombers and eight of their Bloch fighters were shot down. The Moranes of GC III/7 once more found they lacked the speed to catch the German bombers, and were then set upon by German escorts. By good fortune, the arrival of the Dewoitines of GC I/3 enabled them to escape. GCs I/5, I/6, and I/8 spotted bomber formations but found it difficult to break through the German escorts. To the west of Paris, three Polish pilots from GC I/145, flying their unsafe Caudron C.714s, entered the fray claiming three Bf 109s, but they too failed to get through to the bombers. Four pilots from the Belgian Air Force unit GC II/2, still flying their Fiat CR.42 biplanes, gamely attempted to stop Do 17s attacking their airfield at Chartres, and contributed to five of the attacking Dorniers returning badly damaged. Seventeen French fighters were lost, thirteen pilots were killed, and eight were seriously wounded. They claimed seventeen certain victories, although the Luftwaffe lost just seven fighters and only four bombers. In the air, it was another emphatic victory for the German fighter force.

However, the raid itself achieved little. Only five aircraft were destroyed and four damaged at the thirteen airfields bombed. About 250 Frenchmen lost their lives in the attack. While heavy, these casualties were not on the cataclysmic scale predicted by so many experts before the war. There was no panic or public disorder in the streets of Paris and no extra pressure on the government to seek an end to the war. The threat that had dominated and distorted French thinking for two decades had finally materialised, and while it was by no means an empty threat, it was far more manageable than the prophets of doom had predicted. In the overall scheme of things, the much-feared bomber threat turned out to be irrelevant. The fate of France would be decided on the Somme and Aisne battlefields, not in the skies above her cities; on those battlefields, the Army would need the cheaper light bombers that could have been built instead of large expensive planes that the long-range deterrent bomber force required.

This was still not so easy to see at the time. It was not easy to switch mindset in a matter of days. The Paris raid and others in the rear ensured the French still kept back strong fighter forces. The principal task of four Bloch groups and GC I/145 remained the defence of the capital and Lower Seine. At Lyon, there was a semi-operational Polish group created from pilots awaiting transfer to front line squadrons, which offered some protection for the area, but it was still felt necessary to keep GC III/9 there. GC II/7, one of the few Dewoitine D.520 groups, and GC II/2 were based well to the south of the Aisne line, covering the Dijon and Tours regions. GC III/6, converting to the Dewoitine D.520, provided some protection for Marseilles, but it was still felt necessary to have GC III/1 there too. More than twenty light defence flights were also covering targets in the rear.

There were good reasons for covering the rear. Reinforcements arriving from North Africa via Marseilles were very worthy candidates for protection and the desperate shortage of planes made it difficult to leave aircraft factories undefended. Nevertheless, it was not in the rear that the fate of France would be decided. If the front line held for a week and every French factory in the rear had been destroyed, France would still be in the war. If the line did not hold, it did not matter how many factories were building aircraft. Indeed, if the Luftwaffe could be persuaded to bomb French factories rather than the French Army, France’s chances of survival would be considerably improved. It was a mistake the German High Command was unlikely to make. Guarding against this potential threat, however, was also a mistake. The French could not understand why, at such a critical stage, the British were holding back 600 fighters in the UK to meet an attack that had not so far materialised. France had more reason to fear bombing attacks—her cities and towns were being bombed—but they were just as guilty of holding fighters back. To survive, the French had to take chances, and one chance was to leave the rear exposed and focus all air effort on holding the front line. French fighter units were not well placed to do this. Once the German offensive was underway, the French would have to get as many fighters over the front as quickly as possible, if they were to have any chance of halting the Wehrmacht juggernaut.

As far as retaliation was concerned, the French were not quite as helpless as they had been in 1918. All medium and heavy French bombers had been designed with Berlin in mind as the principal target. Ironically, now that retaliation was required, they were far too valuable tactically to squander on a long-range bombing offensive. The two Farman F.222 groups were ordered to bomb Munich and seven sorties were flown on the night of the 3rd–4th.26 The following night, seven LeO 451s joined four Farmans for a second attack on Munich. Retaliation against the German capital itself was left in the hands of the Navy. Its sole Farman F.223.4 long-range reconnaissance bomber had the remarkable ability to carry 2,000 kg of bombs along the Channel, North Sea, and Baltic coasts and then south to Berlin. The Germans were taken completely by surprise, both by the raid itself and the direction from which it came. There were no blackout precautions and the French crew found their target with little difficulty.

The raid was only a gesture, but this was all that was required. The next day, the French press were able to lift the morale of the nation with a slightly exaggerated account of how a formation of naval bombers had struck the German capital and neutral embassies were certainly able to confirm an attack had taken place. After all the effort that had gone into the creation of a bomber force capable of attacking the German capital, a single long-range bomber, and a naval one at that, was all that was needed to satisfy French honour.

Meanwhile, the Germans were preparing to launch the offensive that would decide the fate of France. French reconnaissance planes did a fairly good job of identifying where the Germans were concentrating for the attack. It seems only around a dozen sorties a day were flown, and with fighters on standby to meet the expected attack on Paris, most of these missions were unescorted, but only four reconnaissance planes lost in the first four days of June. The densest concentrations of tanks were identified in the Péronne region with smaller groupings spotted around Amiens. With these threatening Paris directly, there was little doubt in French minds that this was where the greatest danger lay.

The German plan did not involve any great tactical or strategic novelty. The ten available German panzer divisions were divided equally between the five proposed lines of advance. On 5 June, three of these would strike westwards from Abbeville, Amiens, and Péronne. The French would be forced to commit their reserves to counter these thrusts. Then, after three days, the Germans would use their remaining two armoured corps to strike south across the Aisne from the Rethel region.

The German attack again involved intensive use of level and dive-bombers over the French front line, but this time, there was no repeat of the panic on the Meuse. The French troops now knew what to expect and tenaciously resisted the German advance. All the available light and assault bombers were thrown against the advancing panzers. The sixty-eight Breguets, Martins, and Douglas bombers focused their efforts on the roads leading west from the Péronne bridgehead southwards to Chaulnes, but when fighter escorts were not available, the results were disastrous. An escorted early morning strike by ten Breguets suffered no losses but a second strike at 9 a.m. was savaged by Bf 109s, with nine out of the twelve Breguets shot down. A formidable force of D.520s, Bloch MB.152s, and H75s was assembled to cover more Breguet attacks in the afternoon and evening. The fighters did their job, and no more Breguets were lost. Twelve ground-strafing Moranes joined these attacks, losing two to ground fire, but it was still a tactic Vuillemin was very reluctant to use.

As soon as it became clear the northern front was bearing the brunt of the new offensive, four fighter groups (GCs II/2, II/5, II/7, and II/6) were ordered to support the fighters on the Somme front. GCs II/2, II/5, and II/7 were heavily involved in the afternoon escort missions, the Moranes of GC II/2 joining in the strafing attacks. GC II/6 at the Châteauroux Bloch factory did not get involved over the front until the next day. The Bloch groups defending Paris were operating over the front but both GC II/10 and III/10 were held back to cover the Lower Seine. This was now much closer to the fighting than it had been on 10 May, but it was not where the fate of France was being decided. GC II/10 was in action, shooting down three Heinkels in an early morning raid on Rouen and a couple of Ju 88s in an evening raid, but GC III/10 did not encounter a single German plane throughout the course of the day. It was not sensible to have a fighter group idle while an unescorted Breguet attack was being decimated by Messerschmitts.