The Fleet that Saved Texas

The Texan sloop-of-war Austin.

Few realize it today, but the Texas Revolution started at sea, and it was at sea its hard-won independence was saved by the little-known Texas Navy.

On September 1, 1835, the armed merchantman San Felipe thwarted an attempted boarding by a Mexican war sloop. Aboard San Felipe were revolutionaries Stephen Austin and Don Lorenzo de Zavala. Their near escape from the Mexican navy made them realized that with Texas’ immense coastline and its reliance on maritime trade, war with Mexico would mean a war at sea. Texas needed a navy.

The Texas provisional government bought a 70-ton former privateer with four to six small guns and renamed her Liberty. Next came the Invincible, a former slave trader with six short-range carronades and a nine-pound swivel gun. Brutus, a 160-tonner armed with a long 18-pounder and nine short guns, followed. The last ship in the fledgling navy was the Independence. At about 170 tons and mounting nine to 11 guns, Independence was placed in the command of Charles E. Hawkins, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant who also became the fleet’s commodore.

Hawkins understood his fledgling navy was too small to fight fleet actions with its Mexican counterpart. He focused instead on commerce raiding, attacking, and capturing merchant ships carrying war supplies to Mexico. The bounty captured with this strategy proved profitable to the Texians’ land war.

On her first cruise, Liberty captured the Mexican merchantmen Pelicano, carrying a cargo of gunpowder hidden within crates of flour. The powder was given to Sam Houston’s army. On April 10, 1836, Invincible boarded the American merchantman, Pocket, sailing for Matamoras. Hidden aboard was powder, shot, and food for the Mexican army. Also found were dispatches addressed to Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna revealing his invasion plans for Texas.

Liberty, on coastal patrol, captured another U.S. merchantman smuggling war materiel to Matamoras.

Texas Blockaded

Houston’s victory against Santa Anna at San Jacinto in April 1836 supposedly gave Texas its independence. In fact, it simply resulted in a temporary truce. Santa Ana was not ready to give up. While the Texas fleet refitted in New Orleans, Santa Ana ordered the Mexican navy to blockade Texas ports. The result was devastating.

While returning from her refit, the Independence was intercepted by the Mexican naval blockade. After a running gun battle, she was forced to lower her colors. In August, Invincible was intercepted by Mexican warships outside Galveston Bay and riddled with shot. Brutus sailed to Invincible’s aid, only to run aground on a sandbar where she was broken to pieces by the sea.

With its navy sunk, Texas was vulnerable to a Mexican invasion from the sea. Fortunately for the Texans, a dispute over Mexican debts owed to France resulted in a French blockade of Mexico’s ports. What became known as the Pastry War gave Texas a chance to rebuild its fleet.

President Mirabeau Lamar convinced the Texas Congress to buy nine new ships. A converted passenger side-wheeler, Zavala, carried eight guns. The 600-ton flagship Austin was armed with 20 24-pounders. Three 170-ton schooners—San Jacinto, San Bernard, and San Antonio—were each armed with six 12-pound carronades. The brigs Wharton and Archer, about 400 tons each, were armed with 15 18-pounders, plus a 12-pound long rifle on the Wharton. The tender Louisville and the receiving ship Potomac made up the rest of the fleet.

A U.S. Navy lieutenant, Edwin Ward Moore, was named post captain of the Austin and commodore of the new Texas Navy.

In late 1840, Moore stood out with Austin, San Antonio, and San Bernard, leaving behind both brigs for coastal duty. The steamer Zavala was laid up for repairs. The cruise went badly. On February 11, 1842, a mutiny broke out on the San Antonio. One officer was killed before the uprising was put down. Two mutineers were later hanged.

Then San Antonio was lost at sea. Later, San Bernard was driven ashore by a storm.

Worse was happening at home. Lamar was succeeded by Houston, assuming his second term as president. Despite his war hero reputation, Houston was both anti-army and navy. Houston convinced the Texas legislature to pass a secret act ordering the fleet sold off. Alerted to plan, Commodore Moore took Austin and Wharton to New Orleans, out of Houston’s reach. He repeatedly ignored orders to bring the ships home.

Battle of Campeche

In the Spring of 1843, Moore received news the Mexican Navy had acquired three new armed steamers—Guadaloupe, Moctezuma, and Regenerador—and four smaller sailing ships. Seeing the danger posed to Texas, Moore set out with his two-ship fleet and intercepted the Mexican fleet off the coast of Campeche, a state on the Yucatán Peninsula. What ensued was one of the most incredible and least known naval battles in history.

The Battle of Campeche started on the morning of April 30, 1843. Austin and Wharton sailed straight into the Mexican fleet, firing port and starboard broadsides, and driving a wedge between the steamers Guadaloupe and Moctezuma, and their escorts. With their force divided, the Mexicans broke off. The Mexicans lost 20 crewmen killed. Wharton lost two crewmen, the Austin none.

Reinforced by the Regenerador, the Mexican fleet attacked Moore on May 16, with Guadaloupe and the Montezuma falling on Austin. The Texas flagship took a pounding for nearly two hours. Suddenly, Moore turned on his pursuers, sailing between them firing broadsides. The steamers staggered under the assault. Their wooden side wheels splintered and their decks became littered with dead and wounded. Again, the Mexicans broke off, but Austin pursued the enemy for 14 miles until her own battle damage forced Moore to break off.

The Mexicans lost 87 killed; the Texans five. The battle showed the Mexican navy, despite better ships and armament, had no stomach for battle. The victory inspired revolutionaries in the Mexican state of Yucatan to rise in rebellion, taking Santa Anna’s attention away from his invasion plans for Texas. That summer, Mexico signed a truce with Texas.

Within hours of the battle, however, Moore learned Houston had proclaimed the commodore and his men pirates. Moore stood court-martial on numerous counts ranging from treason to embezzlement. He was acquitted of all except disobeying orders; no penalty was given. Instead, Moore was hailed as the “Nelson of Texas.”

Texas joined the United States in 1845. What was left of its small fleet was turned over to the U.S. Navy, which sold them for scrap.

Battle_of_Campeche

SSN Trafalgar

Whilst having the appearance of a Bugs Bunny-style navigational error, the Trafalgar-class fleet submarine HMS Trenchant dramatically breached a metre of Arctic sea ice as part of Ice Exercise 18 (ICEX) this March as part of a series of demanding trials for the submarine’s crew. During the major exercise, Trenchant joined two American submarines, the USS Connecticut and USS Hartford, while crews and scientists conducted their research on the ice in conditions as cold as -40°C. Additionally, the crew paused for a service to remember two submariners killed on an ICEX in 2007, after an accident onboard HMS Tireless.

The British nuclear-powered submarine programme began with HMS Dreadnought, which was completed in 1963. She was followed by the five boats of the Valiant class. and all six had been retired by 1991. Their successors were the six Swiftsure class boats completed between 1974 and 1981 of which five remain in service (Swiftsure decommissioned in 1992). Displacing 4,400 tons standard, they have been constantly updated in periodic refits, and Splendid was the first British submarine to fire the Tomahawk SLCM, in October 1998. However, she was retired in 2003, and Spartan followed in 2006.

The Swiftsure design was basically repeated with improvements and modifications and named the Trafalgar class. The name ship was laid down in 1979 and commissioned in 1993. She was followed by Turbulent (1984), Tireless 11984), Torbay (1987), Trenchant (1989), Talent (1990) and Triumph in 1991. These are slightly larger than the Swiftsure class but carry a similar armament including Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Spearfish long-range torpedoes. A prominent feature of both Swiftsure and Trafalgar class submarines is the coating of the hull with anechoic tiles to reduce reflections from active sonars. Unfortunately these have a tendency to come adrift over a period of time and it is rare to see one of these boats without several tiles missing.

All Trafalgar class boats are being progressively updated as they come in for refit and refuelling, and this includes the fitting of Type 2076 hull-mounted active/passive sonar, SMCS (submarine command system) and Tomahawk capability. Diving depth is quoted officially as 1,000ft (300m) but is probably greater than that.

The Trafalgar class boats are claimed by the Royal Navy to be the quietest submarines in service, quieter even than the diesel-electric Oberon class.

The Trafalgar class are hunter-killer fleet submarines. They were the replacement for the Swiftsure class and have been used throughout the world, but most notably in operations concerning Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Of the seven boats built, HMS Trafalgar was fitted with a conventional propeller, the only one of the class not to have a quieter pump-jet propulsion system.

Submarines from the class have seen service in a wide range of locations, and have fired missiles at targets in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. HMS Torbay, Trenchant, Talent and Triumph have been fitted with the Sonar 2076 system, which the Royal Navy describes as the most advanced sonar in service with any navy in the world.

HMS Turbulent. She was commissioned on 28 April 1984. The end of the Cold War effectively made the hunter-killer role of the Trafalgar class redundant. Turbulent has been used subsequently to drop commandos for clandestine operations, as well as in the Iraq War, when she fired Tomahawk missiles in support of the invasion. She was used in the intervention in Libya in 2011, but has now been decommissioned and awaits disposal.

HMS Triumph She is based at Devonport and was the last of her class to be built. She is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2022. In 1993 she travelled 41,000 miles unaided and without support. This remains the longest ever solo deployment by a Royal Navy submarine.

The next nuclear-powered attack submarines for the Royal Navy will be the Astute class, closely based on the Trafalgar class, and the first boat entered service in 2014, with Ambush and Artful followed in 2013 and 2016.

SPECIFICATION

Type: SSN Class: Trafalgar

Displacement: 4,740 tons surface, 5,208 tons dived

Length: 280.1 ft (854m)

Beam: 32.1It (9.8m)

Draught: 31.2ft (9.5m)

Machinery: nuclear; 1 Rolls-Royce PWR reactor; 2 GEC turbines, 15,000hp; 1 shaft, pump jet propulsor; 2 turbo generators, 3.2MW; 2 Paxman diesel alternators, 2,800hp; 1 motor for emergency drive; 1 auxiliary retractable propeller

Speed & Range: 32kt dived

Complement: 130

Missiles: Hughes Tomahawk Block III submarine launched cruise missile ISLCM); Boeing UGM-84B Sub Harpoon Block 1CSSM

ASW & USW: 5 21 in 1533mm) torpedo tubes, Marconi Spearfish or Tigerfish Mk. 24 dual-purpose wire-guided torpedoes

Sensors: radar: Type 1007 navigation; sonar: Type 2020 or 2074 or 2076 hull-mounted low-frequency active/passive search and attack; Type 2007AC or Type 2072 hull-mounted passive flank array; Type 2046 passive towed array; Type 2019 or Type 2082 passive intercept and ranging; Type 2077 short-range active classification

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Beriev Jet Military Flying Boats

Beriev A-40

For a period from the mid-1960s the Beriev design bureau’s work on military flying boats fell away because official interest moved towards alternative types. However, in 1976 some preliminary studies were initiated for a new generation anti-submarine flying boat. The project was eventually proposed to the Government by Chief Designer A K Konstantinov and in 1983, following his prompting, the Soviet Union’s Defence Industry Committee issued an order to go ahead with the design, called Be-42 or A-40, to replace the Be-12 and the Ilyushin Il-38 land-based maritime aircraft. The A-40 maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft was designed to deal with submarines and surface ships at close and medium distances from home bases and also provide access to remote areas in the eastern sectors of the Soviet Union; it was to be powered by two Soloviev D-30KPV main engines and two Klimov RD-60Ks.

Two prototypes were built and the first made its maiden flight from a land runway in December 1986, following this with its first water take-off in November 1987. Publicly revealed at the Tushino airshow in August 1989, the type was eventually named Albatros (and designated Mermaid by NATO) and was proposed in numerous military and civil versions. By 2002 a prototype of the military A-42 variant was planned with more advanced avionics and powered by D-27A propfan engines that offered improved fuel efficiency.

Beriev Be-10

As a result of the bureau’s newly won experience with jet-powered flying boats, the next step was to create an aircraft that would be suitable for service use and the result was the second aircraft to receive the Be-10 designation (the initial designation was ‘Article M’). This began as a proposed reconnaissance/ strike torpedo-carrying flying boat capable of dealing with enemy warships and transports and came into existence after the OKB had received an official request for such a type from E N Preobrazhensky, the Commander of the AVMF (naval aviation) – Admiral of the Fleet N G Kuznetsov also offered his support. This move was followed by an official resolution dated 8th October 1953, the receipt of which was a big step forwards for the Beriev design bureau.

Unlike previous flying boats, the offensive weaponry was housed in an internal bomb bay with doors in the bottom hull behind the planing step. The R-l’s straight wing was replaced by an alternative with moderate sweepback and the Be-10’s full design had been completed by 15th May 1954. It showed an aircraft that was much bigger than the R-l and the mock-up was officially examined between 7th June and 15th July; the first prototype had been completed by October 1955. However, the OKB’s home base presented a problem in that every winter Taganrog Bay froze over, which automatically stopped the flight testing of flying boats and seaplanes for a good proportion of the year. An alternative was required that would remain open all year round and the final choice was Gelendzhik.

As a result the Be-10 was towed to Gelendzhik in a floating dock and made its maiden flight from there on 20th June 1956; in due course it successfully completed its state acceptance testing, although not without some teething troubles. However, the 27 production aeroplanes that followed, manufactured between 1958 and 1961, were all assembled at Taganrog. The type entered service in mid-1959 and for many years was the world’s only all-jet flying boat to become fully operational; in the West the Be-10 was codenamed Mallow. (A few production examples of the American Martin XP6M-1 Seamaster flying boat, powered by four jet engines, were taken on charge but were not a success). In August 1963 the Be-10 was grounded for two reasons – three boats had recently crashed, with some fatalities, while, in addition, cracks had been found in the Al-8 alloy structural parts of several other airframes; after sitting idle for five years, all of the survivors were eventually scrapped.

Beriev Be-10N

The Be-10’s offensive stores comprised three RAT-52 rocket-assisted torpedoes, up to twelve 5511b (250kg) or one 6,6141b (3,000kg) bomb, or three mines but, overall, this was considered to be a relatively limited warload. Consequently a follow-on Be-10N version was designed to carry two K-12BS anti-ship cruise missiles on underwing pylons, thus giving the type the ability to attack larger warships, other surface vessels and coastal targets. The K-l 2BS could receive conventional or nuclear-tipped warheads and on 31st July 1958 an official Ministry resolution was passed to cover the design. The structural changes made to the basic Be-10 came in the form of a much larger nose cone (for the massive K-12U Shpil targeting radar scanner) and in the weapon bay, but the avionics were also upgraded and improved. Maximum take-off weight was 106,9221b (48,500kg) and combat radius about 901 miles (1,450km), while the missile would be launched at 32,808ft (10,000m) about 62 miles (100km) from its target. The draft design was submitted to officials and gained SovMin approval on 10th June 1959, but no instructions to proceed were ever issued. A later Be-10S preliminary proposal, which was intended to carry the SK-1 Skalp nuclear depth charge, was abandoned in August 1960.

July 3, 1943, Kastelli Airbase, Crete

Mission accomplished. Reconnaissance photo from the German Federal Archive, showing Kastelli Airbase, Crete, the target of Lassen’s devastating June 1943 raid. Damaged aircraft lie scattered about the airfield.

Major Anders Lassen MC and two bars, VC, discussing the forthcoming Lake Comacchio raid, in which he and his men were tasked to cross impossible terrain, so spearheading the Allied breakthrough in Northern Italy.

The goats wandered across the dry, dusty terrain nibbling here and there at whatever vegetation they could find. Ahead of them loomed the wire-mesh fence of the German airbase. A low bush still possessing some succulent greenery grew right on the fence line. It drew the hungriest animals. To get to the highest branches they had to stand on their hind legs, forehooves resting on the wire itself.

Two figures followed in the animals’ wake. They were dressed like local goatherds, wrapped in traditional loose, dirty-gray robes and shawls. As they tried to restrain the animals, pulling them back from the wire without much success, a pair of Junkers Ju-87s landed on the airstrip, the roar of their propellers drowning out the goatherds’ cries to their animals.

The two men eyed the hated Stuka dive-bombers, whose Jericho-Trompete screaming sirens could strike terror into even the most hardened of operators. There were six further Ju-87s sitting on the runway, plus a handful of the larger Ju-88 Schnellbombers—Hitler’s much-vaunted warplanes.

No doubt about it, Kastelli Airbase was getting busy. Along with the handful of sleek Messerschmitt fighter planes and Storch reconnaissance aircraft that also dotted the runway, there were a plethora of juicy targets to choose from.

As the roar of the Stukas died away, from somewhere inside the airbase a voice yelled out a challenge in German. A guard had spotted the goats clambering on the perimeter fence. He started pounding on the wire with his rifle butt.

“Hey! You there! Get your animals off! Schnell! Schnell! Get them off!”

Beneath their disguises, Anders Lassen, a Dane by birth, but now fighting with Britain’s Special Forces, and Nereanos Georgios, his Greek resistance-fighter guide, stiffened. Unlike Georgios, Lassen was a fluent German speaker and could understand every word—but both men tried to act as if they were entirely ignorant of the meaning.

Lassen fingered the Luger pistol he had tucked under his robes, flicking the safety catch to “off.” While Georgios could easily pass as the local that he was, Lassen’s straw-blond hair and piercing blue eyes would be a dead giveaway if the German guard got close enough to get a proper look at them.

“Get your damn goats off the wire!” the German yelled again. “Get out of here! Or I’ll shoot!”

It had seemed like a good idea to use the goatherd cover to do a close reconnaissance of the airfield, but Lassen hadn’t taken into account the innate stubbornness of the animals, especially when they were hungry. As he and Georgios used their sticks to beat the animals back, the German guard seemed suddenly to grow more suspicious.

“Kommen Sie hierher!”—come here. “Kommen Sie hierher!”

Lassen’s grip on his weapon tightened, but it was then that Georgios took the initiative. He splayed his hands in a helpless gesture.

“We don’t understand!” he shouted back at the guard, in Greek. “We don’t understand!”

The guard raised his rifle angrily and mimed shooting the goats. Then he switched his gun sights across to the two men. The message couldn’t be clearer: get the hell out of here. Lassen figured they’d seen enough. Together the two men dragged the last of the animals off the fence and beat them back with their sticks.

The guard gave them a long, lingering scowl before continuing with whatever were his duties.

“Perfect,” Lassen muttered, as soon as they were out of earshot. “The fence isn’t electrified.”

As they drove the herd farther away, he took an odd, surreptitious glance at the wider fortifications surrounding the airbase. The nearest guard tower—a wooden structure built up to a height of around fifty feet—had a searchlight peeping out between the outer posts, one that could be operated by those manning the tower.

“See that,” Lassen whispered. “Searchlights all face outward.”

Georgios flashed him a look. “Perfect to see us coming. How does that help?”

Lassen’s mouth offered a thin smile, but there was no corresponding warmth in his eyes. There was only the ever-present, visceral hatred of the German enemy, plus the wide-eyed, wired stare of a man burning through the Benzedrine. Benzedrine—more commonly known as “bennies”—is a powerful amphetamine. Ever since they’d landed on this Greek island, Lassen had been handing out the pills like Smarties. It was the Benzedrine that was keeping him and his men going.

“It means we can go about our work unseen,” Lassen muttered. “Once we’re on the airfield—”

“That’s if we get as far as the airfield,” Georgios cut in.

“Don’t worry,” Lassen countered, his Danish accent still evident. “Ve vill get there.”

From the skies to the east a faint, juddering beat drifted on the air. It grew into a powerful rhythmic roar as an aircraft approached. Over the far end of the airbase, for a brief moment, three silhouettes hung in the air almost as if they were floating. But within seconds they were thundering toward where Lassen and Georgios were standing.

“More Schnellbombers!” Lassen hissed, excitedly. “First the Stukas and now these! They must be clearing Heraklion.”

The flight of Junkers-88s thundered low overhead, the sheer power of their twin BMW engines coupled with the sensation of the downdraft scattering the goats. The Schnellbomber had been designed to fly too fast for Allied fighters to intercept or shoot it down and had proved to be one of the most versatile aircraft in the war. Known in the Luftwaffe as “Die Mädchen für Alles”—the Maid of all Work—the Ju-88 was used as a bomber, a night fighter, a heavy fighter, a reconnaissance aircraft, and even as a torpedo bomber.

Recently, the Schnellbombers had been used in that latter role from Crete, flying antisubmarine and antiship patrols, searching for any Allied vessels that might be lurking in the Mediterranean. As Lassen and his men had been dropped at the start of this operation by a British warship operating under the very noses of the Germans, taking out those Schnellbombers would be a delicious irony.

Lassen let out a wild laugh. “It’s all here! Looks like Holmes and his lot’ll be attacking empty runways and hangars!”

Dozens of miles across the German-occupied island of Crete lay Heraklion Airbase—the target for a sister group of raiders, led by Ken Lamonby and Dick Holmes. Holmes was Lassen’s arch-rival in D Squadron, their Special Forces unit, and the Dane thrilled to the idea that Holmes might arrive at Heraklion to find no targets to strike.

Two hours later, he and Georgios made it to the bare and sun-blasted ridgeline lying high above the airbase. They’d left the goats with one of Georgios’s brothers at a prearranged rendezvous, where they’d also dumped their local dress.

On seeing them, Ray Jones, who was lying in a hidden sentry position, called out the coded challenge: “GARAJ!”

“SLAVE!” Lassen replied.

As with everything, they kept it simple: the code words were made up from the first few letters of the men’s name and rank. There were five raiders on the Kastelli mission—Georgios included—so it was simple enough to remember five code words based upon such easy details. Recently, they’d been ordered by Raiding Force Headquarters to resort to a more complex and arguably unbreakable code system, but as with most things, Lassen liked to keep it idiot-proof. He gave those orders he disagreed with the scant attention they deserved.

Lassen and Georgios rejoined the main body of men, who were lying up in the shade of a patch of rocky scrub just outside the entrance to their cave. All apart from Jones were feverishly busy constructing the tools for the coming nighttime attack. Mostly these were Lewes bombs—a do-it-yourself blast-incendiary explosive made by mixing diesel oil with “Nobel 808,” a plastic explosive, plus thermite, a metal-based gunpowder.

It was Lieutenant Jock Lewes, one of Special Air Service (SAS) founder David Stirling’s stalwarts, who had invented the Lewes bomb. Stirling’s men had needed a device light enough to carry into the field, yet powerful enough to damage and set fire to aircraft. Placed within a small canvas bag, the Lewes bomb could be hidden inside a cockpit or on a wing, in close proximity to the fuel tanks, so as to ignite the aviation fuel—which was exactly how Lassen and his men intended to use them tonight.

Lassen squatted down among his band of fighters. He grabbed a half-eaten K Ration pack and pulled out some hard biscuits. While the rest of the British Army was issued with the so-called British Compo Rations, Lassen had managed to finagle some of the US Army paratroopers’ K Rations for his men. Far lighter and more portable than Compo, they were borderline edible and provided just enough energy and calories to keep a soldier going in the field.

Of course, Lassen was largely fueling himself with the Benzedrine, but he needed something solid in his guts with tonight’s mission almost upon them. He started to sketch a map of the airbase, describing in a series of sharp, staccato sentences what he and Georgios had found. His eyes were wide and staring, and his men could sense the blood lust that was coursing through his veins. For all of them, the thought of blowing that airbase to smithereens was a delicious one—only with Lassen, it was the idea of killing Germans that really got his blood pumping.

“We keep it simple,” Lassen declared. “We go in tonight and cut the perimeter wire. There will be good cloud cover. Little moonlight. Nicholson and Greaves, you move in from the east and hit the fuel and ammo dumps. Jones—you and me go in from the west and we hit as many aircraft as we can. We go through the wire at 0100 hours. We should be in there for no more than twenty minutes. Set the timers for 0200 hours so we get a good distance away before it blows.”

“But what about me?” It was Georgios.

“Go back to your village,” Lassen told him. “Go back home.”

“But I can fight!”

“Not tonight. Not with us. When the base blows, we run like the wind. You do not want to be with us. Anyway, the Germans may try to take revenge. Go back and make your people ready.”

In spite of his cold-blooded demeanor, Lassen had a real affinity with the locals, and especially the women—the dark-eyed, raven-haired beauties of this captivating Greek island. He shared a common bond with the Cretans, who nurtured a level of hatred of the German enemy as deep as his own.

“But I want to fight,” Georgios insisted. “I am resistance fighter. I want to fight. The Germans, they already have killed many of my people.”

Lassen’s voice softened. “Go back where you are needed. Protect your family. Trust me, we could not have come this far without you.”

“But when you run, you will need guide,” Georgios argued. “You get nowhere without me. You attack, I attack. You go in, I go in. You come out, I show you the way.”

“Andy, Georgios is right,” Sergeant Jack Nicholson cut in. “We’ll be screwed on the way out without him.”

“All right,” Lassen relented. “Georgios, you go with Nicholson and Greaves. But stay outside the perimeter wire to guide us out again.”

“Yes!” The Cretan’s fist punched the air. “Andy, we will fight like the brothers!”

“What’s the plan if things go wrong?” Nicholson asked. “What if we’re spotted on our approach under the searchlights? Or once we’re on the base setting the charges?”

Lassen’s killer stare returned. “No one is going to get seen during the approach.” He was silent for a beat. “Make sure of that. And if we are spotted once on the airbase, blow it all to hell and get moving. You all know the emergency RV?”

Lassen reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled map. He took a pencil and tried to scribble “Rendezvous” on their agreed emergency rallying point should they get split up. But English wasn’t his first language, nor spelling his strongest suit. He tried again, scrubbed it out in frustration, and scrawled one word in capitals: “MEAT”

“Got it?” he queried.

There were a series of grunts in the affirmative.

“If any one of us does not make the RV, we do not go back for him. Understood?”

Again, the grunts of agreement.

Lassen nodded. “Good. Now the fight.”

The night trek to the airbase went without a hitch. The four raiders were dressed in “light order,” carrying only their day sacks stuffed with Lewes bombs, and armed with pistols, grenades, and knives. They’d left their heavier tommy guns and German Schmeisser machine guns behind—the key with such a mission being able to move fast and unseen. They’d never win a stand-up firefight with the enemy, who tonight numbered some two hundred mixed German and Italian troops.

Instead, the aim was to be in and out like ghosts.

At around five hundred yards out from the airbase, Lassen’s group split from Nicholson’s, the latter skirting southward through a vineyard toward the humped, blocky silhouette of the fuel dump. Lassen led Jones toward the airstrip, dropping to a cat-crawl as they emerged from the cover of the vines a couple of hundred feet short of the wire. A searchlight swept the night, the sentries on the nearest tower staring into the thin beam that probed the sea of darkness around them.

For an instant, the blinding spear of light seemed to pierce Lassen and Jones, pinning them to the ground. The two raiders burrowed on their bellies into the dry dirt and the sparse, scrubby undergrowth as they tried to escape the searchlight’s pitiless glare. Being trapped under that intense illumination was spine chilling, especially as there wasn’t a scrap of real cover anywhere around.

After several tense seconds, the light moved on, and Lassen urged Jones forward. The Dane reckoned it was movement that drew the eyes of the guards, so if they made like statues whenever the light swept past, no one would detect their presence.

The next time the searchlight swung around, he and Jones froze in their tracks, and after a tense moment the beam of light continued its steady sweep across the hillside. As they pushed ahead, Lassen was trying to keep his natural exuberance in check. He was never happier than when on the hunt, especially stalking much-sought-after prey.

He’d been this way since he was a small boy, when he’d tracked deer with a bow and arrow on his parents’ grand country estate, hunting silently and swiftly. But now his native Denmark was occupied by the German enemy, the Danish people—his family among them—crushed under the heel of the Nazi jackboot, just like the Cretans.

It fed his hatred of the Nazis and fueled his lust for revenge.

Finally, he and Jones reached the wire. A hundred yards or so to their south, Lassen could make out the skeletal form of the main gate, with one of the six guard towers rearing above it. A match flared in the thick darkness, betraying where a sentry was positioned atop it. The flame was passed between the guards as each lit a cigarette, forming four pinpricks of fiery orange as they puffed away.

In the glow of the flaring match, Lassen had caught the gunmetal-blue form of a Maschinengewehr 42, the German’s fearsome “Spandau” general-purpose machine gun. A belt-fed 7.92mm weapon, it could put down a stunning volume of suppressive fire. They’d better hope the sentries were less than alert, for Lassen’s men were going in with a few pistols and knives and two dozen Lewes bombs between them.

For a few seconds, Lassen and Jones scanned the terrain to their front. The squat forms of the Stukas were some two hundreds yards away, separated from them only by the wire. So near and yet so far.

As their eyes probed the darkness, Lassen spotted a pair of sentries executing a foot patrol past the line of aircraft. The enemy had pitched tents on the mown grass that lined the runway so they could camp out under canvas and keep permanent guard on their warplanes. Clearly, they had men standing permanent watch over the aircraft in addition to those positioned in the guard towers.

The sentries out on foot had their weapons slung over their shoulders, but Lassen could sense that they were alert and on task. He knew the Germans to be professional and motivated fighters, as opposed to their Italian comrades, who tended not to have their heart in the fight. It would be well not to underestimate them.

Lassen put two fingers to his eyes, then pointed toward the foot sentries and held up two fingers—indicating to Jones where to look and the number of the nearest enemy. By the silent nod he got in return, he figured Jones had seen them. On Lassen’s signal, Jones reached up to the fence with a pair of wire cutters and began to snip the strands, slicing through a section up to about three feet in height.

He forced it apart and was just reaching higher when from out of the darkness to their right a match flared again. This was much closer. The flame revealed a sentry who had paused to light up. It looked as if they had guards out walking the wire on perimeter patrols—a third layer of security.

Lassen and Jones went to ground, forcing their faces deeper into the dry dirt. The sentry paced closer along the fence line, and for some reason he chose to pause right opposite where the raiders had cut their hole in the wire. Perhaps he had heard them doing so, the sharp snips of the wire cutters carrying far in the still darkness.

Lassen cursed under his breath.

They’d “blacked up” earlier, using first camouflage cream and then a burned cork to smear their faces, but that wouldn’t hide the whites of their eyes. The sentry took a long drag of his cigarette and exhaled. The June night was balmy, and the soldier seemed in no hurry to move. Quite the opposite: his attention seemed glued to the section of fencing that Lassen and Jones had just been cutting.

If the two raiders didn’t get going soon, Nicholson’s team would already have set their charges, and Lassen and Jones would be caught on the runway as the ammo and fuel dumps blew. Without a sound, Lassen slid out of his backpack and reached for the fence. Moving like a cat, his lithe, wiry form wriggled through the narrow hole, the handle of his heavy stiletto fighting knife gripped in his right hand.

He rose into a crouch and flitted through the darkness toward the sentry. Once, during training with fellow Special Duty recruits in Scotland, Lassen had stalked and killed a deer with his knife. Those who had watched him were amazed at his hunting prowess. It was a large stag, and he and fellow trainees had feasted on its flesh for days. Lassen possessed an uncanny ability to creep up undetected on just about any kind of prey and to kill it with his bare hands.

He came up silently behind the sentry. In one swift move he slipped his left arm around the neck and mouth in a savage chokehold, blocking off any possibility of a cry, jerking the chin upward and to the left at the same moment. Simultaneously, his right arm came around in a savage thrust, sinking the blade of his fighting knife up to the hilt through the man’s neck, before punching forward to slice through the artery.

For several seconds Lassen gripped the stricken figure in a vice-like hold, waiting for the life to drain out of him before lowering his body to the blood-soaked dirt. An instant later, he was back beside the fence, the dead man’s submachine gun slung across his bloodied shoulder. He crouched low and leaned all his weight on the wire, widening the narrow hole for Jones.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

By now Lassen had killed enough Germans at close quarters that another death wasn’t exactly going to damn his soul. But the first time he’d killed a man with a knife, he had found it difficult. A year earlier, during a raid on the Channel island of Sark, he’d knifed to death a lone German sentry.

He’d written in his diary about it: “The hardest and most difficult thing I have ever done.”

A lot had happened since then.

Jones wriggled through. Together, the two men moved ahead at a low crouch, sticking to the darkest shadows. They skirted past the dead sentry, his body lying in a pool of thickening blood, before coming up at the rear of a hangar with an attached barracks block. Inside, it was a hum of chatter and laughter, as the aircrew, technicians, aviators, and guards enjoyed a little downtime. It was a Saturday night, and no doubt their minds had drifted to thoughts of loved ones back home.

Lassen led Jones around the side of the block, keeping away from the light. To the front was another machine gun, this one positioned in a sandbagged bunker, the gun facing outward to protect the aircraft at its back. Lassen eyed the planes hungrily.

Not far now.

Jones reached for a second line of fencing, one that segregated the airstrip itself from the rest of the base. The wire was thicker here, offering more resistance, but they had to cut a passage through. The only other way in was via the main gate, and no way did Lassen want to have to bluff his way past that.

Straining with the effort, Jones snipped the first few strands of wire. Beside him, Lassen used his hands to pull up the cut ends and bend them backward, forming a hole just big enough to crawl through. With his purloined German machine gun covering Jones, Lassen waved the man on. Only when Jones had reached the far side did Lassen slide his gun under and wriggle through himself.

With Lassen in a crouch and covering him, Jones knelt to twist together the wire in a makeshift fix, just as he’d done at the outer fence. At first glance no one would notice that it had been cut.

They were at least two hundred yards inside the base by now, and practically in among the aircraft. As Jones worked feverishly at closing the wire, Lassen felt certain they would be spotted. With so many sentries posted on the airstrip, it was going to be nigh-impossible to flit unseen among the airframes.

After what seemed like an age, Jones turned away from the wire and gave a thumbs-up. Lassen breathed out a sigh of relief. For a few seconds he kept watch, tuning his senses to the rhythm of the German sentries on duty. Once he had a feel for the pace of their march, he was ready.

Using hand signals, he sent Jones to his left to deal with the aircraft on the near side. He would move ahead right to plant his charges on the second rank of Stukas. But then, under the glare of a distant floodlight Lassen spotted a more remote but juicier target. On the grass beyond the Stukas, he could just make out the form of a twin-engine Junkers-88 Schnellbomber.

Lassen’s pace quickened. Painted on the side of the sleek fighter-bomber was a white square bisected by a black cross, marking it out as an aircraft of the hated Luftwaffe. The insignia shone out in the darkness, drawing Lassen to it like a moth to a candle flame.

He glanced left and right as he steeled himself for a dash through the open. The sentries were nearing the end of their patrol leg, whereupon they’d do an about-turn and come around to face him. In the few seconds remaining, Lassen darted forward. He scuttled across the bare brightness of the grass strip running alongside the runway, trying as far as possible to keep under cover and out of view.

The next moment, he pounded onto an open stretch of pavement, his felt-soled boots passing silently over the unyielding surface before he darted onto the grass on the far side. One last dash and he slipped into the cover of the larger aircraft—moments before the first of the sentries turned. They were no more than two hundred yards away and nearing the ends of the runway—which meant Lassen and Jones had just minutes in which to complete their task.

Lassen glanced left, confirming what he suspected—that this was the first in a row of six Ju-88s. He clambered up the steel ladder set against the aircraft’s flank and from there slid onto the wing.

Lassen inched ahead on his belly, the knapsack held before him, his hands crabbing about inside for two Lewes bombs and a timer. This being a big old bird, he wanted to make doubly sure that he’d blow it sky high. He’d noted how closely the Ju-88s were parked. If he could just get the fuel tank of this one to go up, it should ignite the next and the next, like a row of falling dominoes.

Hands working feverishly, he slid the two bombs into position, shoving the same fuse into both of them. That done, he turned to eye the nearest sentry, whose hobnail boots he could hear clicking their way back toward his position. Lassen was now lying on the Junkers’ wing facing back the way he’d come, with Jones in front of him.

Lassen watched his fellow raider freeze as he heard the approaching footsteps, then press himself down onto the wing of his chosen Stuka. Each man was carrying several more charges that they’d yet to lay, and they forced themselves to remain motionless as the sentry approached. Unfortunately, like most of the men in his unit, Jones was a compulsive smoker, and as the lead sentry moved forward he let out a stifled cough.

The sentry stiffened. He turned to glance in Jones’s direction. “Friedrich? Friedrich?”

The sentry stared at Jones’s Stuka for a long moment. Jones was doing his best to force his body into the hard steel of the wing, but it was slick with the first drops of dew, and he was sick with worry that he was going to slip and fall.

“Friedrich?” the sentry called again, more insistent this time.

He slipped the rifle off his shoulder, flicking the safety to off and leveling it at the hip. Keeping it there, he reached into his pocket for his flashlight.

As he did so, a silent figure sprinted along the wing of the Schellbomber, sailed thought the air, and landed with a crushing impact on the German’s shoulders. Even as he hit the deck, Lassen jerked the sentry’s head up and to the left with one hand, the other driving his fighting knife into the man’s throat, forcing it savagely downward.

As he’d fallen, the sentry’s rifle had clattered to the ground, making a harsh metallic crack as the barrel hit the concrete.

His fellow sentry stiffened in alarm. He called out, voice thick with alarm. “Oli? Oli?”

The dying man gurgled horribly as he fought against Lassen’s hold. Moments later, Lassen rose to his feet, the dead man’s rifle gripped in his hand.

“Hey! Friedrich! It’s me!” He was speaking fluent German. “Like a fool I tripped over my own weapon.”

“Dummkopf!” The sentry laughed, but there was a nervous edge to his laughter. Maybe he’d noticed that Lassen didn’t exactly sound like the Oli he knew. “I thought maybe there was trouble?”

“Only my two left feet,” Lassen replied.

He shouldered the rifle and moved forward as if continuing with his patrol. They were a dozen paces apart when Lassen saw the sentry falter, and his hand go toward his weapon. In one smooth movement Lassen drew his Luger and fired, unleashing one sharp shot from the hip, using the weapon Shanghai style, as he’d been taught in their “school for bloody mayhem and murder.” The bullet struck the guard full in the chest, perfectly aimed to drill his heart.

As the echoes of the shot faded, Lassen heard a muffled cry of alarm from the machine gun nest a couple of hundred yards away. He sprinted through the darkness toward Jones as the gunner called for a searchlight to sweep the airstrip in the direction from which the lone shot had come.

A searchlight fingered the darkness. Confused shots rang out across the airbase as nervous guards loosed off at shadows. None of the fire yet seemed to be directed at Lassen and Jones, but it was clear that their mission was blown. The Germans would send a search party to look for Oli and Friedrich; two missing sentries wasn’t something to be ignored.

Lassen ran over to Jones, who was crouched in a dark slice of shadow beneath one of the Stukas. “Change of plan,” he hissed. “Get as many aircraft rigged with charges as you can. We need a distraction to cover us, so we can get the hell out of here. Leave that to me . . . And if we get split up, see you at the RV.”

Without another word, Lassen turned and moved at a crouching run toward the barracks building. Jones scuttled off toward the remaining aircraft. As the Dane neared the barracks end of the runway, a barrier lifted in the fence line, and a Kübelwagen—a German open-topped jeep-like vehicle—nosed through. It was loaded with four soldiers, presumably those who had come to investigate the lone shot and the two missing sentries.

Lassen slipped into the shadow of the last Stuka in line. He waited for the vehicle, his right arm gripping a grenade with the pin already removed. He was known for being a “grenade man”—he loved the weapon, and he never missed a chance to use it. As the Kübelwagen neared the first of the dive-bombers, he let out a cry in German.

“Idiots! Sentry change isn’t for another thirty minutes!”

The Kübelwagen slowed, and Lassen stepped forward and threw the grenade. It arced through the air, landing in the rear of the open-topped jeep. An instant later, a savage blast tore through the vehicle, jagged shards of shrapnel ripping apart its thin metal skin and human occupants alike. The Kübelwagen kept rolling for a few seconds, as the flames engulfing it fizzed and boiled, before coming to rest hanging half in the shallow drainage ditch running beside the runway.

Before the vehicle had stopped, Lassen was running for the nearest machine gun nest, crying out: “Partisans! Schnell! Schnell! Schnell!”

The machine gunner swung his weapon around toward Lassen, but the yelled German words made him hesitate for just an instant. In that moment Lassen fired with the Luger from the hip, three bullets spitting out of the weapon in rapid succession and smashing into the German gunner. It was a classic “double-tap”—two to the body and one to the head, as he’d been taught—the gunner slumping forward over his weapon.

An instant later, Lassen vaulted into the machine-gun nest, heaving the dead man to one side. In one smooth move, he swung the Maschinengewehr 42 around, and opened fire with the belt-fed 7.92mm weapon.

As he did so, all hell broke out across Kastelli airfield.

Red Army VVS Assault Aviation

The Red Army VVS assault aviation first saw combat near Berezin and Bobruisk. The combination of armament and armor made IL-2 a potent means of fighting enemy ground forces, especially against tanks and motorized units. First days showed German tanks and motorized units’ ability for rapid maneuver and mass strike. Russia’s ground forces could not withstand the Germans and assault aviation rose in value. Because of the lack of special aircraft, IL-2 attacked only moving tank and motorized columns and tank concentrations. Later IL-2 also was used to attack targets on the battlefield.

Early combat showed that the pilot could attack targets from 300-400m using rocket shells and could destroy 1-2 tanks in one passe. Rockets demoralized the enemy, and in several cases tank crews fled their tanks under air attack. Bombs and machinegun fire were also effective.

Analyzing period documents we can see combat experience summarized: how the enemy acted and what was good and bad in applying Soviet assault aviation. In “Conclusion about combat applying West Front VVS” we find: “in the Bobruisk airfield 28-29 June 1941, 30-35 enemy fighters Me-109 were destroyed by sturmoviks from 4th Aviation Regiment on the ground “. In another part German tactics were documented: “There were cases when enemy pilots used deception: 2-3 aircraft JU-88, pursuing escorts, dropped their landing gear above the airfield, descended, went along airfield border and, from an altitude of 400-500m, suddenly attacked (attack on airfield Bihov 28 June 1941). Another document (report ” To the Reserve Front VVS navigator”) spoke about problems that appeared in the first month of war. There were differences between theoretical and practical combat range of the new aircraft (IL-2, MIG-3, and Pe-2), which caused forced landings in first days of war, lack of radio navigation (only by compass or visually), and poor bombing accuracy due to lack of precise target pointing. At the same time the document also spoke about new methods of applying experience. Very good results drove dive attack tactics and emphasized the need for fighter cover during assault operations. An interesting fact concerned the new method of using rockets which were fired backward from the aircraft (rocket launchers were turned around), allowing attacks on enemy columns or position without turning (also used later in Afghanistan and Chechnya). Another instruction (about narrow target attack tactics) pointed to the utility of using Pe-2, SU-2, and IL-2 in small groups (zveno/shesterka) with echelon attack (in 10-15 minute intervals), using sun or clouds to gain surprise. The instruction also spoke about ground target attack effectiveness for IL-2 from low altitude and as a dive bomber in diving maneuvers. Support for ground forces was proposed, in attacking vital points such as small targets; artillery positions and grenade positions. In addition it recommended sending a liaison from AF to ground units for better coordination. Wide use of camouflage on airfields was stressed. Another document concerning assault aviation addressed the need to attack enemy airfields using combined groups (bombers, sturmoviks and fighters). First strike was recommended for fighters (to suppress airfield FLAK), and in common operations, the ratio of fighters and sturmoviks was recommended two to one.

The first big application of Soviet assault aviation was in Mozhaisk defense, as component of Special Air Group under the command of N. A. Sbytova. The group consisted of 46th Bomber Air Regiment (equipped with Pe-2), 65th and 243d Ground attack Regiments (with IL-2). In that operation, the Group interacted with 5th Army. Later in counteroffensive near Moscow, VVS flew 16,000 combat sorties in three days, half of them supporting ground forces. Front Aviation according to the Soviet sources “played significant role in the offensive against Army Group Center”.

Nevertheless, speaking about basic assault aviation aircraft – IL-2 (despite some successes) suffered big losses. The absence of a gunner made sturmovik defenseless to rear-quarter fighter attack. German Air Command formed special fighter group of pilots trained in attacking IL-2 from above and behind. In the combat units (for example in 806 SHAP sturmovik air regiment) engineers and technicians improvised a gunner position using a hatch behind the pilot (made for transporting a maintenance technician). From veterans’ stories, rear gun was sometimes simulated by installing sticks (creating illusion of a machinegun for fighters). The weak point was also a wood tail section (later it was reinforced by a steel longeron). Combat operations also indicate a small speed range for the IL-2 which complicated sturmovik group actions (and led to new engine development).

A special tactic was developed for defense from enemy fighters. Single-seat IL-2 attacked ground targets from a “free circle” with 150-200m between aircraft. When enemy fighters appeared they formed a “closed circle”(forward aircraft was covered by firepower of the one behind).

Nevertheless it was impossible to quickly fix these problems. In October 1941 KB S. V. Ilyushina was evacuated from Moscow. Several aviation factories were also evacuated (including factories that produced IL-2) and because of this mass production of IL-2 was reduced and stopped altogether for 35 days. In very hard conditions people started production in new places, sometimes working under the open sky. At that time two aircraft factory directors Shekman and Tretyakov got this telegram:

“You betray our country and our Red Army. You have not to this date produced the IL-2. Red Army needs IL-2 aircraft as air, as bread. Shekman gives one IL-2 per day, Tretyakov one-two MIG-3. There is a rout on the Red Army. I ask you to not frustrate the government. I require you to produce more IL-2. This is your last warning.” (National Defense Commissar I. V. Stalin P553).

After that IL-2 production increased, partly by reducing MIG-3 production. Finally the two-seat IL-2 started going through its factory tests.

Hostilities also shaped the combat tactics of sturmoviks. Emphasis was made that the basic targets for sturmoviks should be enemy tanks and that it was ineffective to use all ammunition in one attack. The orders spoke about to the requirement to assign the units a clear mission before the flight to include time of target attack, numbers of attacks, time on target, enemy strength, return orders, group actions in air battle, anti FLAK maneuvers, and protection for take off and landing. On 18 June 1942 came Stalin’s order about applying fighters and sturmoviks IL-2 on the battlefield as day bombers with approved weapons variants. Commander of Western Front VVS Colonel Naumenko issued directions that emphasized the need for better interaction between the Army and aviation and aviation units assigned to airfields close to the front line (for faster reaction). He also made special directions about sturmovik actions (prohibition of flying the same route to the targets and the need to have detailed combat plans).

Tremendous changes in USSR military aviation happened after General A. A. Novikov was assigned as VVS Commander (11 Apr 1942). His reformations created Air Armies, which took airpower application to a higher level. The Air Armies enabled force concentration, flexibility, and quick reaction to changes in the situation. Novikov’s next step was to develop communications, which was a weakness in military aviation.

Using of assault aviation also showed new problems – inability for sturmoviks fight against enemy fighters from “hedgehop” altitudes and necessity of creating new methods of attack.

Especially effective against our sturmoviks, enemy fighter groups, attacking our sturmovik employing “hedgehop” tactics, engaged them and shot from close distance. On several occasions ME-109s approached closely to IL-2, dropped their landing gear, stood on their tail, and with carefully aimed fire from machineguns attacked the vulnerable spots of the sturmoviks-between the cockpit dome and fuselage and in the side cockpit dome windows-while they were attempting to land.

New sturmovik tactics emerged: diving attack with new array and target attack order, assault blow from “hedgehop”, bombing from level flight, and defense air battle against enemy fighters.

The next serious phase of applying assault aviation was the battle in Stalingrad. At that time 8th Air Army reinforced by ten regiments (General Novikov’s special order) took part in the hostilities. Seventy-five percent of the Army equipment was new types of aircraft: YAK-1, YAK-7b, IL-2, and Pe-2.

General Falaleev was assigned in June as Chief of Staff VVS. In August the units got his order which emphasized assigning combat missions to the units, fighter coordination, the role of sturmovik units in escort and maneuvers above the target and supporting problems.

During Stalingrad battle, assault aviation was used very frequently and effectively. For example, from 18 to 22 August 8th Air Army flew more than 1,000 sorties to prevent enemy forces from crossing the Don River. Attacks were made by groups of ten to thirty Pe-2 and IL-2, covered by fighters, that greatly increased their effectiveness. On 22 October came General Novikov’s special Directive for ground attack and fighter regiments, “It is necessary to train a minimum of five crews for flying in complex and night conditions”. In the defensive operation phase 406 night sorties were made by sturmoviks IL-2. On 12 November Stalin made clear that his basic objective for VVS in Stalingrad was to concentrate efforts in the breakthrough zone, clear the airspace from enemy aircraft, and create the necessary support and air cover for the ground forces. When the offensive operation started in Stalingrad the battlefield picture was: 17th Air Army supported 5th Tank Army and 21st Army, 16th Air Army supported 65th Army and 8th Air Army assisted 50th Army. In the 16th Air Army in that period almost all assault aviation was replaced by new IL-2s reinforced by two bomber divisions of Pe-2. November’s combat statistics of this Army showed that of 2,848 sorties flown in that period, 2/3 were against Germany’s airfields. A bright spot in the offensive operations were VVS tactics. In December 1942 (16-31) of the 4,177 sorties flown by 2nd and 17th Air Armies 80% supported ground troops. The tactic of assault aviation was constantly developed. A method of attacking targets from low-level with small number of heavily armed IL-2s was created. The example of successfully using that method occurred with 7 IL-2s, under the command of Captain I. P. Baktin and covered by of squadron YAK-1, on 2 January at Sal’sk airfield. Soviet sturmoviks made six passes and destroyed 72 Germany aircraft, losing only four of their own aircraft. On 28 November a Soviet air raid destroyed 219 enemy aircraft on the Gumral and Bol’shaya Rossoshka airfields.

General lessons learned in Soviet military aviation development from the battle of Stalingrad include the clear need to create Air Armies, develop communication systems (to allow coordination of those armies), close coordination with ground forces, and developing new methods of applying assault aviation.

In 1942, many orders and instructions about assault aviation application were issued. Among others, instructions for conditional signals for sturmovik (bombers) and fighter’s interaction were issued. Special instruction: “Sturmovik action against airfields and small targets” were developed. It spoke about choosing and apportioning targets among flying crews, selecting routes to a target, approaching a target, attacking a target, leaving the target, rejoining, active defense against enemy fighters, returning to base, and using bombs with special fuses.

Viewing the “air battle” above Kuban we can divide it in two parts. The first part was fighting to achieve air superiority. The second part for supporting Soviet force offensive operations broadly was applied assault aviation. For example; in the battle near village Krymskaya, sturmoviks from 2nd Mixed Air Corp under command of General Major I. T. Yeremenko supported tanks attack. The 4th Air Army in interacting with naval air units in the period from 29 Apr to 10 May made 12000 sorties and more than half of them against Germany ground positions. In operation of “Blue Line” attack mass strike tactic were again applied: 4th Air Army attacked German positions with 338 combat aircraft. There in the first time IL-2 used special bombs for smoke screen making, under cover of which Soviet ground forces were able to secretively approach enemy position and attack by surprise. Senior Lieutenant N. P. Dedov applied the new tactic in attacking Germany artillery position with 36 IL-2 under fighter cover. They attacked by columns, six aircraft in each, to predefined targets, with changing columns above targets in a circle (later it called “circle of death”), which gave for each pilot more freedom in maneuve.

And of course speaking about Soviet assault aviation application in WWII, we can’t overlook the “Battle of Kursk”. The “Battle of Kursk” became the smithy of new assault tactics against Germany armor. The initial phase of operation, like in Stalingrad, had a defensive character; 16th and 2nd Air Armies participated in it. The VVS was already fully reorganized and rearmed. Sturmoviks IL-2 were changed to IL-2M3 with more powerful engine and a shooter in the back cabin, armed with a 12.7mm machinegun. Also the aircraft had NS-37 guns (constructor A. E. Nudel’man), special pocket shells RBS-82 and RBS-132, cumulative bombs PTAB-2.5-1.5 (constructor I. A. Larionov). The first time that kind of bomb was used occurred on 6 June 1943 in “Kursk Arc” battle. Using those weapons pilots from 291 Assault Air Division (Commander Colonel A. Vitruk) in first five days of “Kursk Battle” destroyed and damaged 422 enemy tanks. In the defensive phase of operations VVS started applying “Okhotniki” (hunters) tactic, including sturmoviks in the teams. Their patrolled pointed areas, attacking all possible targets and exerted constant military pressure on the German Army rear area.

On 12 of July near Prokhorovka, the biggest tank battle of WWII happened, involving some 1200 tanks. Assault aviation from both sides actively participated in the battle, attacking enemy tanks and each other. By the end of battle Germany lost 300 tanks, the Soviet side had commensurable losses, but was better able to absorb these losses. The failure of the German offensive operation “Citadel” enabled the Soviets to launch counteroffensive operation. The VVS in that operation had the followings objectives: establish control of the air space above the battle zone, make a blow against enemy ground forces to create a corridors for own forces, support ground force offensives on the battlefield and continue attacking enemy reserves attacking.

IL-2 contributed to the victory of “Kursk Battle” in a major fashion. Attacking, for example, the 9th Panzer Division in July 7 1943, sturmoviks in 20 minutes destroyed 70 tanks or in four attacks against the 17th Panzer Division destroyed near 200 (from 300). In favor of it powerful weapons and invulnerability IL-2 was named as “flying tank”. An article in the Pravda (August 8, 1943) stated that:

“It was clear to us that air forces would primarily be used in joint operations with land armies and the navy. Therefore, our design ideas were directed toward aircraft that would render the most effective assistance to the ground forces of Red Army”.

Summarizing the experience of assault aviation application in the “Kursk Battle”, we can conclude that it entailed the first mass application against enemy armor and was used in offensive operation for creating “offense corridors”, with later close ground support on a battlefield.

Also assault aviation was broadly applied in the Navy for enemy ships attacks and amphibious support. The effective attack method for sturmovik IL-2 against enemy ships was the “topmachtoviy method”. The results were five-time higher compare with bombing from horizontal flight. An aircraft went on 30m altitude with 400km/h speed, dropped bombs, rebounding on water, smash in the ship’s board. Trying to attach torpedoes to IL-2 wasn’t successful (it was too heavy for IL-2). The great example of applying sturmoviks in the Navy can be operation of Crimea deliverance. In it took a part 23rd Assault Aviation Division, 8th and 47th Assault aviation Regiments (from 11th Assault Aviation Division). In that operation sturmoviks flew ground support sorties, attacking enemy ship convoys with very good results.

by Major Jurijs Plavins

LINK

 

Chateau Gaillard and the Cabulus, the Great Horse Catapult

Chateau Gaillard, Les Andelys, France. Richard the Lion Hearted claimed to have built his “cocky castle” on the border of Normandy in only a year, but no one believes he did. The walls, towers, and courtyards of the huge castle cover the narrow hill top, creating a system of barricades known as a defense in depth. An independent fortification at the left blocks access to the main structure, whose great tower still rises above the walls at the right. The area is roughly the size of two modern football fields.

By most accounts, King Philip Augustus of France was an unusually dour king. He was severe, stern, rather unfriendly, and he was certainly not known for any particularly sharp wit or sense of humor. Philip Augustus was king of France during a roughly forty-year reign centered around the year A.D. 1200. Perhaps his ill temper was due to the fact that his fame and reputation never quite matched that of his English rival, Richard I. In terms of reputation and world opinion, Richard outshone the Frenchman. Even their nicknames show the difference-while Richard was known as Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lionheart) , Philip’s appellation was merely Philip Augustus. Philip Augustus was certainly a fine name, but not nearly as evocative as his rival’s.

But in terms of results, of lasting effect, Philip Augustus was head and shoulders above contemporary kings, especially the wonderfully named but slow-witted Richard. At the time of Philip Augustus’s ascension to power in 1180, the English kings held far more territory in what is now France than the French royal family did. A map of land holdings for the year 1175 shows English control of French land from Normandy in the north, down through Anjou, west through Brittany, and south through the large and powerful land of Acquitaine, and into the southern reaches of modern-day France, to a land called Gascony. Philip Augustus’s father, Louis VII, held only the “demesne” (demesne means “royal territory”) of Paris.

But by the time Philip died in 1223, the situation had changed immensely. The English were driven out of Normandy, Anjou, Brittany, and most of Aquitaine. These lands were now in control of the French royal family. And who was most responsible for removing the English from all these lands? The dour, unheralded, overlooked by history Philip Augustus. The English were pushed out of France, mostly because Philip Augustus was a better king than Richard the Lionheart. An able military strategist, he managed to do what his predecessors could not-consolidate most of France into one royal domain. Through military action and diplomacy he seized the territories of Maine, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany, and Normandy from the English crown.

It was unfortunate for the English that their king loved to fight and hated to govern. He chose to spend almost all of his time outside of England, making war on whomever he could find, often without any particularly good reason. His heroic exploits in the Crusades make good reading, but while he was off fighting the Muslims, the power the English had held in France had become very shaky.

While Richard roamed Europe and the Levant in search of a good fight, back in London his advisors were alarmed. “Richard,” said the correspondence from his cadre of dukes and earls, “Stop running around Europe and Asia. Come back and attend to matters here at home! Your kingdom in France is at risk!” It took some convincing, but finally Richard did understand that his country ‘s interests in Brittany, Anjou, Gascony, and the rest of France were in danger, and he took some big steps to shore things up. Perhaps the most important thing he did in this regard was to build castles in France to defend his land holdings.

Castle building was a tried-and-true way to protect your interests and make it very hard for another ruler to come in and attempt to take over land. Richard, thick-skulled as he was, understood this very well, and therefore designed one of the most impregnable castles ever built. It was located on the River Seine near the key town of Rouen, situated such that any invasion of the English territories in France by Philip Augustus would need to go right past this castle. The castle was built high on a solid rock bluff in such a way that there were cliff-like natural rock faces on three sides of the castle, and on the fourth, the river. This imposing, unassailable castle was called Chateau Gaillard.

Chateau Gaillard was huge. It was built with three separate rings of tall walls surrounding the inner ward or “keep.” The outer walls were built with large rock towers thirty feet high and walls eleven feet thick! If the English defenders, high on the ramparts, dropped stones, the walls below were set at angles such that the stones would roll and ricochet wildly, making an assault even more dangerous than normal. Indeed, Chateau Gaillard was a very solid and powerful castle, and one that Richard felt sure would save his empire in France.

In 1199 Richard heard that one of the subjects of the Viscount of Limoges had discovered a hidden treasure of Roman gold. The valuable treasure was found in the Duchy of Aquitaine, one of Richard ‘s holdings. No rule of “finders-keepers” applied then, so Richard claimed the gold as his own.

Not so fast, said the Viscount, and yet again Richard was involved in the siege of a French castle, this time called Castle Chaluz, that took him away from England. In terms of tactics or intensity, the Battle of Chaluz wasn’t particularly memorable. In fact, the siege was so ordinary that Richard became bored. So, to amuse himself, he took to riding around the castle on horseback, deliberately offering himself as a target to the archers inside. Richard had a fine time dodging arrows and exchanging insults with the besieged Frenchmen. But things didn’t work out too well.

One of the defenders, a man named Bertrand de Gourd on, was evidently a very good marksman. Upon seeing the helmetless Richard riding around the castle yet again, yelling insults, he took careful aim with his bow and arrow and shot Richard in the neck.

Richard had been injured before, and this particular wound wasn’t nearly as bad as some previous ones he had survived. But medieval battle conditions were quite dirty, and the doctors of the time were more harmful than helpful, so the wound became infected. Richard hung on for a while, but gangrene set in and he died from the wound on April 6, 1199.

Richard had no heirs, so with Richard dead, the throne of England passed to his brother, John. King John, while not nearly the fighter that Richard was, was perhaps a little more practical, and over time he moved to shore up the English holdings in France.

Regardless of whether John or Richard was king of England, Philip Augustus wanted the English out of his backyard. France is ours, he said, and set out to drive the English out of the territories they ruled on Philip’s side of the English Channel. Wars and skirmishes between Philip Augustus and John erupted and then faded, this going on in an up and down pattern of activity for years. Things came to a climax in the year 1203, when Philip decided that Chateau Gaillard would be taken by whatever means necessary.

King John’s commander of castle, or castellan, was a trusted man named Roger De Lacy. De Lacy, a determined sort of man, resolved to hold the castle no matter what the cost.

Philip was equally determined to take the castle. He decided to spare no expense and brought forth a large and well-supplied army. He instructed his royal engineers and carpenters to begin work on siege engines, big mangonels, smaller onagers, and one very, very large trebuchet. It was called Cabulus, the Great Horse Catapult. It is assumed that Philip was fond of horses, and he likely wanted a machine as powerful as a team of the strongest war horses.

Cabulus was immense, several stories high, with a swing arm and counterweight powerful enough to cast half-ton stones. The stones were specially mined from nearby quarries, as they needed rock that was hard, and heavy, and tough. Philip’s master of engines started working immediately on a model for the giant siege engine. (In those days, engineers did not draw up plans for machines on paper. Instead, they built scale models and then built the real thing based on the model.) The master ordered his men to the nearby forest to cut timbers and hew them into shape. Work had begun on Cabulus-Philip’s monster wall breaker, the great stone flinger, the Great Horse Catapult.

In February of 1203, after a preliminary siege of about six months, Philip Augustus decided the time for the frontal attack was right. During that six-month span, the French army had busied themselves with all sorts of war preparations. They built wooden walls around their own camp, and a covered walkway for protection against English arrows. They flattened entire hilltops to make suitable platforms for the catapults, so they could be accurately aimed and fired.

Cabulus and the other siege engines flung stone after stone at Chateau Gaillard’s towers and outer wall. The towers stood firm, but the wall did not. The French army had sent in miners under the protective cover of the catapults to dig underneath the foundation of the wall. With pick and shovel, the miners worked to remove earth from under the wall. Eventually, enough dirt was taken out so that when the flying stones hit the wall it gave way. The French overran the outer courtyard, or “ward,” and quickly took control of it.

But the outer ward was just part of the defenses of Chateau Gaillard. The next task facing the attackers was to take the middle ward, and this was a very hard job indeed. The middle ward was built such that the walls and towers were actually part of the cliff face. It was too hard for the miners to get their picks into the rock, and the catapults, even mighty Cabulus, were ineffective against the solidity of these walls. The French were facing the daunting task of mounting a suicidal frontal attack using ladders and movable towers of their own.

Then one of the soldiers, Peter Bogis, noticed an opening built for garbage and waste, called a “gard e robe,” on the west side of the castle. With much excitement, Bogis realized that the opening was not barred, so he and a few fellow soldiers climbed up into this smelly, slippery opening. Incredibly, they soon found themselves inside the middle ward near the chapel. Once inside, Bogis and the other soldiers came up with a plan. They decided to make noise, a lot of noise, in order to fool the English into thinking they were being overrun by a huge attacking force, already inside the middle ward. It worked. The English, thinking there were squads of French soldiers breaking in through the chapel, retreated again, this time towards the last and final refuge of Chateau Gaillard, the inner ward, or “castle keep.”

Now that the French were inside the middle ward, it was finally time to unleash the awesome power in Cabulus’s mighty arm. The trebuchet was built from a lattice of heavy oak beams, as large and well-constructed as an oil derrick. The cross arm was probably a structure made from several wood beams bolted together, with the grain of each beam oriented at cross angles to add strength. Attached to the short end of the cross arm was the counterweight, a very large wooden box full of thousands of pounds of rocks or lead weight.

To fire the weapon, the engine master ordered his crew to tug on ropes attached to blocks and tackles or heavy winches. “Heave!” cried the captain. “Heave again!” The heavy weight would rapidly gain elevation, and as it did so, the throwing end would lower closer and closer to the ground. When the counterweight was at full height, a stout pin was inserted into the framework to keep the counterweight in place.

A sling was then attached to the throwing end and a stone projectile placed within. When all was ready, the engine commander would take a sledgehammer and knock loose the holding pin. Down fell the weighted bucket, and up went the throwing arm, dragging the sling. The sling would snap forward, and at just the right angle, the projectile would leap free, flying far and true against the castle wall. Crash!

Quickly the mighty arm would be retracted again, and like the pit crew at a modern automobile race, each member of the firing crew would snap into action. Some would winch the arm down again, some would reload the sling with a stone, one would replace the pin. Crash! Reload. Crash! Reload.

The swinging arms of Cabulus and the other catapults set up a steady, whooshing rhythm as the slings whipped through the air. Ball after stone ball crashed against the walls. Rock chips flew immediately; soon cracks appeared in the wall, then finally large gaping holes.

The inner walls were no match for the horse catapult and its companions. Soon, the English knew there was no hope for holding the castle. On March 6, the last 120 knights and foot soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered.

While the siege of Chateau Gaillard would have a lasting effect on the relationship between England and France, it did not really shorten the Hundred Years War. In fact, it would be three hundred fifty more years until the last vestiges of English hegemony would be gone from the area we know today as France. But Cabulus proved that no castle could be considered impregnable from the big machines of an attacking army.

Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) – CVR(T)

A CVR(T) (combat Vehicle reconnaissance [Tracked]) is pictured being operated across the harsh desert terrain of Afghanistan by soldiers of the 9th/12th royal lancers. The first of the enhanced CVR(T) fleet is now operational and being put to good use by the lancers, whose main task is to overwatch the battlespace on either side of Highways 1 and 611, the two main supply routes that run through the Task force Helmand area of operations. The Spartan troop carrier, Samson recovery vehicle, Sultan command vehicle, and Samaritan ambulance complete the family.

 In 2010/2011, BAE Systems were awarded a contract to modernise CVR(T) armoured vehicles to the CVR(T) Mk 2 configuration, as illustrated by this SCIMITAR Mk 2 vehicle on operations in Afghanistan.

Scorpion (FV101)

Scorpion (FV101), officially named Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked), was developed by Alvis to replace Saladin armoured car. First prototype completed in 1969 and first production vehicles in 1972. By 1999 well over 3,500 had been built for home and export. Driver sits front left with engine to right and two-man turret rear. Turret has commander on left and gunner right. Turret traverse is manual through 360° and 76mm gun elevates from -10° to +35°. Main armament fires HESH, HE and smoke rounds with 7.62mm MG mounted coaxial to left. Flotation screen is carried collapsed round top of hull which when erected makes vehicle fully amphibious, propelled by its tracks. Wide range of optional equipment available including various fire-control systems, laser rangefinders, diesel engine, 90mm gun, 7.62mrn anti-aircraft MG and air-conditioning system. The standard 76mm Scorpion is no longer used by the British Army.

Armour

In the late 1960s, the British adopted aluminum for the Alvis Scorpion tracked reconnaissance vehicle (CVR(T)). This was the first vehicle to have a turret as well as a hull welded from the aluminum alloy plate. Due to the strict weight limitations and the level of protection that was required, the 5083-aluminium alloy could not be used. Instead, a new alloy was developed. The result was AA 7039 – an aluminum-zinc- magnesium alloy, which derived its strength from a precipitation hardening heat treatment. This finished aluminum alloy possesses a higher strength and better ballistic properties than AA 5083.

The Type 7039 alloy performed well against AP ammunition when compared to steel armour (RHA). For 14.5-mm ammunition, the advantages of using aluminum alloy over steel are more significant than what would be required to protect against the 7.62-mm ammunition. Yet with both types of ammunition, the disadvantage of using steel narrows as the angle of obliquity increases.

Alvis Stormer APC

In the 1970s a British Government research and development establishment built FV4333 armoured personnel carrier prototype using components of Alvis Scorpion CVR(T) range. Further development by Alvis resulted in Stormer which entered production in 1981 for export with three sold to USA for evaluation in Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) competition (subsequently won by Diesel Division, General Motors of Canada) and 25 to Malaysia, 12 of which had Helio FVT900 turret, 20mm Oerlikon Contraves cannon and 7.62mm MG and remaining vehicles had Thyssen Henschel TH-1 turret with twin 7.62mm MG. Late in 1986 British Army selected Stormer to mount Shorts Starstreak High Velocity Missile (HVM) system. This has an unmanned turret with a total of eight Starstreak SAM in ready to launch position, four either side.

All versions have similar layout with driver front left, engine compartment right, troop compartment extending right to rear. Wide range of weapon stations for hull top including turrets with 7.62mm and 12.7mm MG, 20mm, 25mm or 30mm cannon up to 76mm or 90mm guns. Wide range of optional equipment including NBC system, night vision devices, flotation screen, firing ports/vision blocks, automatic transmission, land navigation system.

Alvis  Striker SPATGW Vehicle

Striker was developed to meet requirements of British Army, Alvis being responsible for chassis and the now Matra BAe Dynamics for Swingfire ATGW missile system. First production vehicles delivered in 1975 and used in British Army service by Royal Armoured Corps. Striker (FV102) is member of the Scorpion family Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked).

Mounted roof rear is a launcher box for five wire-guided Matra BAe Dynamics Swingfire ATGWs with HEAT warhead and range of 4,000m. They can be launched from inside or outside vehicle with the aid of a separation sight and controller, in day and night conditions. When travelling, launcher box is horizontal but elevated to 35° prior to missile launch. After the five Swingfire ATGWs are fired new missiles must be loaded externally.

The flotation screen on the Alvis Striker has now been removed and the vehicle has been withdrawn from service with the Belgian Army.

Most of the British Army Alvis Striker vehicles have now been upgraded with the Swingfire Improve Guidance (SWIG) system, the actual missile and chassis have not been upgraded. The British Army did deploy two other systems with the Swingfire ATGW system, the Ferret Mk 5 and the FV438 based on the FV432 chassis, but both of these have been phased out of service.

Alvis Spartan APC

Alvis Spartan (FV103) is a member of Scorpion CVR(T) family and entered service with British Army in 1978 for specialised roles such as carrying Javelin SAM or Royal Engineer assault teams. It is not replacement for FV432 APC.

Driver sits front left, engine compartment to right, vehicle commander/7.62mm MG gunner to his rear and section commander, who dismounts with four infantry, right of vehicle commander. Troops in rear with two-part roof hatch opening left and right, no firing ports. Flotation screen can be fitted round top of hull which, when erected, makes Spartan fully amphibious, propelled by its tracks.

New production vehicles have a number of improvements including upgraded suspension and the option of the more fuel-efficient Perkins diesel engine which has already been installed in some export Scorpions. By 1999 total production of the Spartan APC amounted to over 960 vehicles for both home and export market.

The British Army did have some Spartans fitted with the twin turret but these have been phased out of service. Spartan can be adopted to take a wide range of other weapons including anti-tank guided missiles and various air defence weapons.

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The Expeditions into Palestine, 1101-5: Second and Third Battles of Ramla

The Second Battle of Ramla, 17 May, and Jaffa, 27 May 1102

The second battle of Ramla, only a few months later (17 May 1102), showed just how differently things could have gone. The primary problem seems to have been one of poor intelligence on the crusaders’ part, combined with an unsustainable level of overconfidence on the part of the king. Whereas the previous two Fatimid campaigns into southern Palestine had been well monitored by the Franks, and their movements contested by aggressive scouting, the invasion of 1102 seems to have come as a complete surprise.

Seemingly unaware of the size or location of the enemy forces, King Baldwin foolishly advanced too close to the Fatimid army with a force of just 200 Frankish knights and little or no infantry support. They were surrounded and almost totally destroyed. Thankfully for the crusaders, however, Baldwin escaped the debacle and the Egyptian military paused for several days to argue about what to do next. This allowed the Franks to muster a small army at Jaffa, and march out to confront them.

The battle was over quickly, and Christian losses were light. Frankish sources claimed that there were 3,000 Egyptian casualties which, allowing for natural exaggeration, hardly sounds like a massacre. The Fatimid cavalry had fled relatively early on, and thus left the battlefield more or less intact as they did at Ascalon three years before, while their infantry, stationed in the centre where the Frankish cavalry charges were focused, and far more vulnerable to pursuing cavalry during a rout, bore the brunt of the casualties.

The battle of Jaffa did not reflect well on the Fatimid army. They had displayed indecisiveness at the highest levels of command. This was commented on even by Muslim sources, and it allowed the crusader armies to regroup and recover. Incoherent strategy in the face of the newly gathered Frankish forces at Jaffa, neither enforcing a close siege, nor retiring to Ascalon, was also unimpressive from a command perspective.

Tactical performance was similarly weak. Despite outnumbering and outflanking the Frankish army, the Fatimids found themselves once more unable to hold the line against an aggressive crusader cavalry charge. That casualties were not higher is attributable more to the early flight of the Egyptian mounted arm and the relatively small numbers of crusader cavalry than to any great tactical skill.

Ultimately, despite the disaster at Ramla a few weeks earlier, the crusaders did not even pay the Egyptians the compliment of trying to develop a new tactical response: they just fought the battle in the same way as before, but this time with the infantry support that should have been there in the first place.

The Third Battle of Ramla, 27 August 1105

In the aftermath of their defeat outside Jaffa, the garrison at Ascalon were reduced to carrying out raids and patrols. These were useful in maintaining morale, but they could only delay the inevitable. By 1105 it was increasingly clear that if the Fatimids were not to abandon Palestine altogether, they would need to act decisively.

The Egyptians certainly knew that they needed to make changes if they wanted to break the pattern of tactical weakness that was apparent whenever they faced the Franks on the battlefield. The basic issue was that, despite numerical superiority, under most circumstances regular Fatimid troops could not withstand a charge from Frankish knights. Their cavalry on the flanks could not destroy the crusader infantry or baggage train quickly enough to stop the main body of the Egyptian army being routed, and the battle lost.

Their answer to this tactical problem was probably the correct one: try to recruit Turkic mounted archers to envelop the flanks of crusader armies more quickly and aggressively, and to destroy them before the Fatimid centre caved in. But this was easier said than done. The supply of Turkic mercenaries getting down to Egypt had largely dried up since the Egyptians first started fighting the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh century. The results on the battlefield reflected this lack.

Once attempts to establish direct recruitment of Turkic mercenaries had failed, the Fatimid government had to swallow its pride. They approached Turkic-run Damascus to provide mercenary or allied troops for their invasion of southern Palestine in 1102. Although these requests were rejected, by 1105 even the Damascenes were becoming more aware that the crusader states might pose a long- term problem to everyone. Putting their distaste of the Shi’ite regime in Egypt to one side, they were persuaded to provide mounted archers for an invasion of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1105.

Preparations for the campaign began early in 1105, starting with negotiations with Damascus and the provisioning of the regular army. The mustering process took place in June-July 1105, with the Fatimid regulars and a large force of Bedouin gathering at Ascalon in August, and the Egyptian navy present in support.

This force, numbering about 5,000-10,000 regular cavalry and infantry, plus a similar number of irregular troops, were joined by 1,300 Turkic horse archers under the command of the Damascene general Sabura. The Egyptian infantry are described by the Franks as `Ethiopians’, suggesting, as in previous battles, that they were drawn predominantly from the Black regiments, while the regular cavalry were mainly Armenian or Arab. The crusaders thought they were facing an army approximately 15,000 strong which, including Turkic cavalry and irregulars, may not be too much of an exaggeration.

The first warning of a major attack came when the Fatimid navy began to blockade Jaffa. Realising that this presaged a full-scale invasion by land, Baldwin began to muster his forces at Jaffa, leaving only small garrisons in the other cities. By coincidence, the Franks also had their own Turkic horse archer contingent, showing how local politics and personal interests could cut across seemingly intractable religious lines. These light cavalry were provided by a disgruntled son of the previous Damascene ruler, eager to get Frankish support so that he could retake what he saw as his inheritance. Though his Turkic contingent was smaller than that provided by the Damascenes for the Egyptian army, it may at least have gone some way towards counteracting the impact of the Fatimids’ new Turkic allies.

Baldwin was not going to repeat the secular or spiritual mistakes he had made at Ramla three years earlier: this time he gathered all his resources carefully. Leaving behind a garrison of 300 men, he marched his army out of Jaffa on Friday, 25 August, and moved down to Ramla. He arrived there on Saturday, 26 August, and waited for the arrival of the patriarch of Jerusalem, who was en route with temporal help in the form of 150 extra infantry and the crusaders’ spiritual weapon of last resort, the True Cross.

In the meantime, the Fatimid army had moved up from Ascalon, and camped at Ibelin, just a few miles from Ramla. Battle was deferred by the Christians until the following day, to maximise the spiritual benefits of fighting on the Lord’s day. On the morning of Sunday, 27 August, the army of the Latin Kingdom received the blessing of the patriarch and celebrated mass with the True Cross. The Franks then advanced towards Ibelin. The Fatimid army, warned by scouts of their approach, likewise set off to meet them halfway.

Baldwin organised the army into five divisions. He himself gathered a force of 160 cavalry and kept them with him as a mounted reserve. Fulcher of Chartres, who may have been with the army and certainly had the chance to discuss the battle with many participants, describes the size of the Frankish forces as being about 500 knights and 2,000 infantry. He also mentions an unspecified number of other mounted troops, which may be a reference to the small contingent of Turkic mounted archers and to the early use of Turcopoles.

After the battle, the Franks came to believe, presumably on the basis of discussions with high- ranking prisoners, that the original Egyptian battle plan had been to move towards Ramla with the smaller part of their forces, thereby pinning the crusader field army. The main Egyptian army, meanwhile, was to proceed towards Jaffa, where it would link up with the Fatimid navy, cut the crusaders’ supply lines, and put the city under siege. This was an ambitious plan, probably far too ambitious in light of the recent track record of the Fatimid army, but not entirely irrational given their superiority in numbers. The advance of the crusader army on the morning of 27 August pre-empted any ideas of such strategic sophistication, however, and the two armies met between their respective camps at Ibelin and Ramla.

The sequence of events in the battle itself is confused, though a couple of features seem clear. The Franks charged into the centre of the Egyptian line in the usual manner, smashing into its leaders, capturing several senior emirs and causing severe casualties to the `Ethiopian’ infantry posted there. The Turkic light cavalry, although only a relatively small part of the Egyptian army, seem to have been disproportionately effective, outflanking and surrounding parts of the crusader army. Tellingly, not only were the Turkic troops described as excellent archers but, once they had finished softening up their Frankish adversaries with missile weapons, they were not afraid to move in with swords and take the fighting to close quarters. It was only the vigorous actions of the reserve cavalry division commanded by King Baldwin himself that kept them at bay long enough for the main body of the Egyptian army to be routed, ensuring that the Turkic cavalry had no option but to break off the engagement.

Casualties on the Egyptian side were heavy, and included the commander of the garrison at Ascalon, Jamal al- Mulk. Although one of al- Afdal’s sons was in at least nominal command of the expedition, Jamal al- Mulk and other regular army commanders had a very significant role to play in the leadership of the army. The emirs of Arsuf and Acre were also captured, suggesting that the Egyptian centre had been hit hardest, and had broken.

The religious, ethnic and political factionalism that was rife within the Egyptian army always degraded its cohesion and effectiveness. This was played out to the extreme at the point where decisions were being made as to whether to rally or to rout, whether to opt for fight or flight. Interests quickly diverged. The Sunni Turkic horse archers left the rest of the army and rushed back towards Damascene territory. The Bedouin irregulars, ethnically and culturally distinct from the other groups, were fighting for booty and cash payments: they had little motivation to stay. The Armenian cavalry seem to have fled back to Ascalon. The Black infantry regiments were on their own: slow and isolated, they took the brunt of the casualties.

On the Christian side, losses were significant but not heavy: Albert of Aachen claimed that there were 100 fatalities, with only one eminent knight, Reinard of Verdun, among them. Fulcher of Chartres wrote that there were only 60 killed in the entire Frankish army. Muslim sources, on the other hand, suggested that Christian casualties were of the same order as their own. Given the disproportionate number of casualties that are sustained in the rout phase of a battle, this does not seem likely, though there is no reason to doubt that the battle was intense and bloody for both armies.

The battle was a hard- fought but conclusive defeat for the Egyptian army. Once again, the Fatimid forces seemed to have had everything in place. They had a large naval contingent to support them and to blockade Jaffa. A significant number of high- quality Turkic horse archers had joined the ranks. They outnumbered their enemy. And they were a well-provisioned regular army, supported by numerous irregular cavalry and volunteers, fighting on a battlefield they knew well. It must have felt as though, despite their every effort, it was still never enough. Morale plummeted. Significantly, this was the last Fatimid field army to enter Palestine for almost two decades.

What went wrong? As always, one gets the impression of an army which lacked energy and coordination at a strategic level, and which did not have the élan to compensate for this on the battlefield. The crusaders, in this as in most of their encounters with the Egyptian army, seem to have held the initiative at the critical points of the battle: disrupting the Egyptian plans to move the majority of their army towards Jaffa, and pinning the centre of their army with repeated and devastating heavy cavalry charges to which they seem to have had little response.

The Turkic mounted archers were a very welcome addition for the Fatimids, but they were merely temporary allies and, given their limited numbers and the presence in the crusader army of other Turkic archers and possibly Turcopoles, they could not make a battle- winning difference. The Fatimids never solved the issue of how to deal with a Frankish heavy cavalry charge. The lack of a solution to this fundamental problem was militarily debilitating.