War on Two Fronts, 1544-46, Battle of the Solent

The Mary Rose is a Tudor ship, built in 1510. In service for 34 years. Sank in 1545. Discovered in 1971. Raised in 1982. Now in the final stages of conservation, she takes her place in a stunning and unique museum.

The second season of Henry’s wars against France and Scotland therefore drove England into a strategic terra incognita and forced the realm to cope with the consequences of its military and administrative structures being pushed to breaking point and beyond.

If the war had been expensive and alarming during 1544, it would now become far more threatening and costly. The difficulties which Scotland presented to England became obvious when a large English raiding party was ambushed and annihilated at Ancrum Moor in February 1545. Eight hundred of the raiders were killed and another 1000 were taken prisoner. Compounding the blow to England, and the boost to Scottish spirits, was news that French troops would soon be dispatched to reinforce the Scots. In the event, it was not until June that 3500 French soldiers arrived in Scotland and, despite various alarms, no large-scale actions actually occurred in the north. Nevertheless, the prospect of a Franco-Scottish invasion compelled England to ready an army of 27,500 men from its northern counties, stiffened by more than 3000 foreign mercenaries shipped into Newcastle. Month after month, the bored Spanish, Italian, German and Albanian mercenaries waited for action in their various billets, often causing trouble with the local inhabitants. Several hundred more mercenaries spent the summer in camps in Essex and Kent. England’s defensive measures against direct attack from France also involved calling up the militia to create three armies of about 30,000 men each to defend the southern coasts, while another 12,000 men served aboard the fleet. There were also 7000 men at Boulogne and at least 15,000 in and around Calais, many of them foreigners. All up, Henry’s government had over 150,000 men in arms during the summer of 1545. Even if several thousand of these troops were costly foreign mercenaries, this was an extraordinary degree of mobilisation at a time when the total population of England and Wales was less than three million.

The great French offensive finally began in mid-July, when a fleet variously estimated at 30,000 men and 150 to 300 ships, including 26 oar-powered galleys, sailed from Normandy towards Portsmouth. The English fleet, under the lord admiral, Lord Lisle (who had been recalled from Boulogne at the end of 1544), numbered about 160 ships of all sizes. Although both fleets were built around a hard core of large royal warships, most vessels were armed merchantmen carrying contingents of soldiers who would defend their own ship, or attack an enemy vessel, using bows, handguns, bills and javelins. Most ships carried various forms of cannon, but there were relatively few large guns even aboard the biggest royal warships. The Mary Rose, one of the largest English warships, nominally carried 126 guns, but 50 of these were handguns, 20 fired light hailshot and only 12 were heavy bronze cannon. The ship also carried 250 bows, 400 sheaves of arrows and 300 staff weapons. Although the ship carried 185 soldiers and 30 gunners, many of these hand weapons were intended for the sailors, who were expected to fight when necessary. This was essential because naval combat was fought at close quarters. While cannon fire from a few hundred yards might damage an enemy ship and occasionally perhaps even land a crippling blow, the real fighting usually involved showering the enemy with arrows and iron and stone shot from short range, before finally boarding the now-battered enemy hulk and capturing it hand to hand.

Naval warfare was also critically dependent upon fickle winds. In late June, Lisle tried to launch a pre-emptive strike against the French fleet while it still lay in harbour. Unfortunately, the wind failed as the English fleet closed in, leaving it suddenly stranded and open to attack from the French galleys, whose oars enabled them to manoeuvre while the sailing ships were immobilised. Potential disaster for the English was only averted when a fresh breeze sprang up. This forced the galleys to seek shelter because the same wind which filled the sails of the English fleet and restored its mobility also made the sea too rough for galleys to function effectively. However, sixteenthcentury sailing ships were very limited in their ability to sail at an angle to the wind and this breeze soon threatened to blow the English fleet into treacherous shallows. Lisle wisely chose to withdraw and return home rather than risk shipwreck.

This frustrating engagement set the pattern for the naval campaign of 1545. When the French fleet finally arrived in the Solent on 19 July, the same light winds which had cost it nine days in crossing the Channel made it very difficult for the English fleet even to get out of Portsmouth. When Lisle’s fleet finally put to sea, the Mary Rose broached dramatically, drowning almost its whole crew in full view of the king, who was watching from ashore. Although the French claimed that it had been sunk by gunfire from a galley, it seems that the ship was flooded with water when its over-eager commander neglected to have the lower portholes closed before hoisting full sail. Incompetence was not restricted to the English side. The French admiral twice had to transfer his flag even before the voyage had begun because his first flagship caught fire and exploded, while the second ran aground in leaving harbour. Nevertheless, such dramas did not reflect the larger course of events. Frustrated by weeks of fluctuating winds and unwilling to risk precipitate action, neither side could get to grips with the other and force the sort of close-range combat necessary for decisive results. Although a few French troops landed on the Isle of Wight – where they were ambushed by the local militia and forced to withdraw – and 7000 men went ashore to reinforce the French army which was now besieging Boulogne, a full month’s manoeuvring off the English coast produced no result and the French fleet was forced to head home. Packed into their ships for weeks on end and suffering from poor victuals and hygiene, the soldiers and sailors of the French fleet had begun to sicken and die. This was the regular fate of fleets in the early modern period and a reminder that staying power was often no less important than firepower. In this instance, neither side was able to strike a telling blow and the English victory ultimately came from outlasting the enemy. The only decisive action came at the beginning of September when Lisle burned the French port of Tréport and destroyed 30 vessels in its harbour. However, disease showed no respect for nationality and the English fleet soon began to suffer the same fate as its French counterpart. By the middle of September, the naval campaign was over and both sides were trying to disinfect and demobilise their ships.

The I-Go (IJA)

Kawasaki Ki-102 Otsu with Kawasaki I-Go

While the IJN put its focus on SAMs, the IJA’s resources went into developing Air-to-Surface missiles (ASMs). The culmination of these developments, begun in 1942 by the Koku Hombu, was the I-Go series of missiles. The majority of the research on the I-Go was carried out by Rikugun Kokugijutsu Kenkyujo located in Tachikawa. Once the preliminary work for the missiles was completed, the Koku Hombu reached out to Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and the Aeronautical Research Institute of Tokyo University to commence final development of the I-Go as they saw fit, using the initial data assembled by Rikugun. Sumitomo Communication Industry Co. Ltd. was the provider of the autopilot and the transmitter/receiver system for the first two I-Go missiles with T. Hayashi designing the former and K. Nagamori the latter.

The I-Go-1-A (Ki-147) was the Mitsubishi version of the I-Go. The final design of the Ki-147 was completed by the end of 1943. Work began on the missile using a basic airplane configuration and its construction was made of wood and metal. It was propelled by a rocket engine built by Nissan Jidosha KK which produced 240kg (529lb) of thrust with a burn time of 75 seconds, providing a top speed of 550kg (342mph). The warhead was substantial using 800kg (1,764lb) of explosive triggered by an impact fuse. Guidance was by radio from the carrying aircraft. The first Ki-147 missiles were completed in 1944 and by mid-year unguided test drops had commenced at Ajigaura, Atami and Shiruishi. The carrier aircraft was a modified Mitsubishi Ki-67-I Hiryu bomber. By October 1944, guided test drops of the Ki-147 had begun. Despite the testing, the Ki-147 did not enter production and only fifteen were built. The Ki-147 had a length of 5.8m (18.9ft), a span of 3.6m (11.8ft) and a launch weight of 1,400kg (3,086Ib).

The I-Go-1-B (Ki-148) was the Kawasaki I-Go. Smaller than the Ki-147, the Ki-148 used a HTP rocket motor that developed 150kg (331lb) of thrust, with an 80 second burn time. The wings were constructed of wood while the body and fins were made from tin. As a consequence of the smaller size, the warhead comprised only 300kg (661lb) of explosive and it used a direct-action fuse. For guidance, the Ki-148 used the same radio system as the Ki-147. Following wind tunnel testing with full- and half-size models, Kawasaki produced a number of missiles at their Gifu factory for testing to begin in late 1944. Ki-148 test launches were made from four modified Kawasaki Ki-48-ll Otsu bombers at Ajigaura in lbaraki Prefecture. By December 1944, up to 20 Ki-148 missiles were being launched per week from the bombers. Despite the relatively successful testing, the Ki-148 was never put into production and total deliveries of the pre-production/test Ki-148 missiles amounted to 180. Had the Ki-148 gone into service, the Kawasaki Ki-102 Otsu was to be the designated carrier aircraft.

Ki-148 had a length of 4.1m (l3.4ft), a span of 2.6m (8.5ft) and a launch weight of 680kg (1,499Ib).

The I-Go-1-C would be the final I-Go project. The Aeronautical Research Institute of Tokyo University decided to take a completely different approach to guidance. Deciding that anti-shipping would be the main use of the I-Go-1-C, the missile dispensed with the radio guidance method and instead employed a novel system that used the shockwaves produced by naval cannons as the means to direct the missile. In essence, the missile would guide itself to the target by sensing the shockwaves developed in the air by large naval cannons during firing. Since shockwaves travel outwards from the cannon, the missile could determine direction and adjust its flight path accordingly to bring it onto the target. The main benefit of the system was that the missile was a fire-and-forget weapon. As long as naval ships engaged in bombardment, the I-Go-1-C would be able to track and attack them on its own. Testing of the system got under way in 1945 and the initial results showed promise. However, the missile body was never built as the war ended before testing of the guidance hardware was complete. The proposed I-Go-1-C was to be 3.5m (11.4ft) long with a diameter of 1.6ft. Other specifications for the missile, such as its warhead size, rocket motor, performance and weight are still unknown. The I-Go-1-C is sometimes called the Ki-149 but there is no evidence to support the use of this name.

Since the Ki-147 and the Ki-148 achieved flight testing and both used the same radio guidance system, the procedures to launch and control the missiles were basically the same. The Ki-67 and Ki-48 bombers used in the testing were modified to accommodate the missile operator as well as the equipment needed to guide the weapon. Operationally, the missiles would be dropped at an altitude of 1,500m (4,922f1),11km (6.84 miles) from the intended target. By the time the missile was 5km (3.11 miles) from the target, the altitude varied between 30m to 150m (98ft to 492ft) depending on the preset of the altimeter. The operator would guide the missile via a joystick and just before it passed over the target, the missile would be put into a dive, bringing it down onto its target. The launching aircraft had to remain within sight of the missile and in most cases would be 4km (2.5 miles) from the target when the missile hit. While the handling characteristics of the weapons were found to be good, analysis showed that the missiles tended to fall either 300m (984ft) short of the target or 100m (328ft) past the target. The reason for was that the operator had to rely on his own vision and clear conditions in order to guide the missile. He was not provided with any form of special optics nor did the missile carry a means to mark itself in flight such as using burning flares or smoke which the operator could use to maintain sight of the weapon. The only measure of this kind ever employed was a taillight which was used at night so the operator could track the missile. Had the Japanese given further consideration to the operator’s needs, accuracy may have been improved. A factor against the use of the Ki-147 and Ki-148 was that the launch aircraft had to be within 11km (7 miles) of the target and had to remain in the area to proceed with the attack. With the heavy Allied air presence, getting to the launch range would have been a formidable task and this may have been a factor in the Ki-147 and Ki-148 failing to enter service.

Why the Bolsheviks’ Enemies Lost

Soldiers of the Don Army in 1919; a White infantry division in March 1920; soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Army; Leon Trotsky in 1918; hanging of workers in Yekaterinoslav (Dnipro) by the Austro-Hungarian Army, April 1918.

The Bolsheviks’ victory in the Russian Civil War, was also made possible by the weakness of their enemies. The parties of the Right had never commanded many followers, and the centre-right Kadet party was hardly in a better state. The educated minority who opposed the revolution became more and more aware of their isolation as time went by. Gorn, an official active in the Baltic, was probably typical:

It would be a mistake to think that Bolshevism was an alien element in Russia. Multi-million illiterate Russia nurtured it, she bore it and belched it forth from inside herself. The Russian intelligentsia was the thinnest film on the surface of the Russian muzhik [peasant] ocean.

G. K. Gins wrote something similar after the disaster of the Siberian Whites:

Our culture was a frail boat in the midst of a raging sea but we, the representatives of the intelligentsia, argued among ourselves on the boat and did not notice the elemental force coming at us. The ocean swallowed the boat, and us with it.

Paradoxically, the moderate agrarian socialists who tried to swim in the ‘muzhik ocean’ also drowned. This was partly a failure of will and organization, but it also came from a kind of peasant passivity, a passivity that was a key to the outcome of the Civil War. The secret Soviet Tambov report is useful here too. Even the kulaks, it noted,

the most cultured, the most politically developed stratum . . . do not, in general, show any capacity for raising their sights to thinking in terms of the state as a whole; their economic [mental outlook] has not carried them . . . very far beyond the outskirts of their villages or rural districts . . . without the guidance of the parties of the industrial bourgeoisie this movement can lead only to anarchical rioting and to bandit destruction.

The SRs were never able to mobilize peasant support, to defend the Constituent Assembly, to oppose the ‘commissarocracy,’ or to counter the pressure of the White generals.

Given the weakness of the anti-Bolshevik civilians, it is not surprising that the soldiers took over. They alone had effective force. ‘Kto palku vzial, tot i kapral,’ ‘He who has the stick is the corporal,’ summed up the power relationships in anti-Bolshevik Russia.

The Whites are sometimes said to have lost because petty rivalries blocked a common military strategy. It is true that their attacks were not coordinated, but this could not have been avoided. The difficulties of communication were immense. The four White fronts – south Russia, western Siberia, north Russia, the Baltic – were all far distant from one another; the two main fronts, Denikin’s and Kolchak’s, were separated by a 10,500-mile voyage around the Middle East and Asia, and then a 4000-mile rail trip across Siberia. The fate of General Grishin-Almazov, captured and executed while trying to take the ‘short’ route to Omsk across the Caspian Sea, showed the danger. Denikin and Kolchak never met one another and could not have done so during the Civil War. The various White armies simply launched their attacks as soon as they were ready. There were sound reasons for this. With each month the Red army became larger. The Allies would only give support if there were successful White advances. Civil War armies did better on the offensive. The one serious mistake of grand strategy was the failure of the Siberian and South Russian armies to link up – either in the summer of 1918 or the summer of 1919, and at the time there seemed good reasons for advancing in other directions. The failure of the Poles to march in 1919 was also critical, although this was outside White control.

The anti-Bolshevik democrats had a popular programme but few military resources. The White generals and colonels had better armies but made few promises to the population of their base territories and of the large captured regions. This was partly because the Whites’ social foundation was the property-owning minority (the tsenzovoe society). But it also came from their very dislike of politics. The White leaders were narrow conservative nationalists. Sakharov, one of Kolchak’s generals, summed up the White outlook in his 1919 appeal to the Urals population: ‘Our party is Holy Russia, our class is the whole Russian people.’ The Whites ignored parties and classes; they thought, moreover, in terms not of revolution or even of civil war, but of the likholet’e or smuta (time of troubles); the great smuta dated from the early 1600s. Denikin entitled his massive memoirs Sketches of the Russian Time of Troubles. One anti-Bolshevik Cossack politican, defending demands for autonomy against the disapproval of the White generals, had to insist, ‘This is not a smuta but a popular movement.’ But the Whites were even afraid of a popular movement.

The Whites feared the people; paradoxically, they counted on some vague popular upsurge to bring them victory. Sakharov again, talking about the late autumn of 1919, was typical. If the rear would give his poorly equipped army some support he would pursue the Reds back beyond the Urals.

And then the road to Moscow would be clear, then the whole people would come over to us and stand openly under the Admiral’s banner. The Bolsheviks and the other socialist filth would be destroyed – from the roots up – by the burning rage of the popular masses.

But the Whites, unlike the Reds, made little effort to mobilize the population in a political way, and their social and political programme was not one that bred spontaneous popular support. Sakharov proudly wrote that ‘the White movement was in essence the first manifestation of fascism’ (he was writing in Munich, nine months after Mussolini’s March on Rome). But this was distorted hindsight; the Whites lacked the mobilization skills and relatively wide social base of the Italian or German radical Right.

Linked to narrow political horizons was another vital drawback of White rule: arbitrary conduct by White authorities and a general lack of order. The source of this was the crude nature of White ‘politics’ and the lack of vital resources; civilian administrators, an enthusiastic population, and time. The Whites also failed properly to organize their armies. This may seem odd, given that the movement was dominated by military officers. But they actually lacked properly trained military specialists, especially in Siberia. The Cossacks gave them a major advantage in south Russia, but the Cossacks were jealous of their own autonomy and fought best within their ‘host territories.’ The Whites had only a small base of manpower and material compared to Sovdepia. And, as was the case with general administration, they had less time than the Reds to organize their forces.

The Whites, as Great Russian nationalists, were also opposed to any concessions to the minorities. They had no tolerance for ‘the sweet poisonous dreams of complete independence’ (Denikin’s words) of people such as the Ukrainians, the Belorussians, the Baltic and Transcaucasian minorities. Denikin was right when he said that his officers, Russian nationalists, would not have fought for the ‘Federated Republic.’ Although the Whites were prepared to accept some form of independence for Poland and possibility for Finland, they could not agree to all the territorial claims of the Warsaw and Helsinki governments. Polish action on the western border in 1919 might have made possible the capture of Moscow, while Finnish support would certainly have made Red Petrograd indefensible.

The Whites had little chance of winning. Certainly by 1920 Vrangel could only have won if there had been a catastrophic internal collapse on the Soviet side. But even Kolchak and Denikin faced, from the winter of 1918–1919, a struggle against great odds. The Bolsheviks had had a year to consolidate their position, they controlled most of the military resources of old Russia, they had more popular support, and their forces outnumbered those of the Whites by ten to one.

The ‘Russian’ Civil War was a three-cornered struggle. Russian revolutionaries fought Russian counterrevolutionaries, but the national minorities resisted both. The Civil War was about what would become of all the peoples of the Empire. (And it was an internal affair; the only fighting outside the old Empire was the 1920 Lvov campaign – in what had been Austrian Galicia – and the 1921 Mongolian expedition.) Those regions that broke away were among the ‘winners’ of the Civil War. They succeeded for various reasons. Finland and Poland won their own independence. Bessarabia, five Belorussian–Ukrainian provinces, and Kars Province had the pull of neighbouring states (Rumania, Poland, and Turkey). Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were helped by German and Allied forces. All benefited from the Red Army’s preoccupation with other fronts. But more than 80 per cent of the former subjects of the Tsar became citizens of the Soviet federation. Half of these people were not Great Russians. The multinational Russian Empire, the famous ‘prison of peoples,’ did not break up, a remarkable development in an age of nationalism.

Demographic, geographical, and cultural factors were involved. The Great Russians outnumbered each individual minority by fifteen to one or more (except in the case of the Ukrainians). Alliances that might have countered this – the Transcaucasian Federation, the cossacks and their southeastern allies, the Poles with the Ukrainians and Belorussians, Pan-Turkism – remained only theoretical projects. The central provinces, the Sovdepia heartland, were Russian-dominated. Even in the minority areas Russians often controlled the towns and transport. The trained military leaders were Russian, and the nature of Tsarism predetermined the minorities’ weakness, just as it predetermined the weakness of Russian political parties. The Petersburg-centreed Romanov autocracy had allowed little political or national activity. Even in areas where the minorities came to see themselves as distinct nations – and 1917 was a great awakener – they lacked the experience and the time to create an effective administration.

Bolshevik Moscow’s social revolution attracted the intelligentsia, workers, and peasants of the outlying regions. Bolshevik national policy, too, seemed better than the ‘Russia, One and Indivisible’ of the Whites, for whom cooperation with the ‘separatists’ was ruled out from the start. It is hard to understand Richard Pipes’s view that the Bolsheviks were ‘the least qualified of all the Russian parties (save for those of the extreme right) to solve the national problem.’ The Cossack politician who spoke of ‘Trotsky’s dreams of a Sovdepia, one, great, and indivisible’ was making a crude oversimplification. Bolshevik policy rejected Russian chauvinism, and the most enthusiastic ‘internationalists’ were reined in; the Bolsheviks granted self-government, however imperfect, to a number of peoples, and to the Ukraine, Belorussia, and other regions they even granted a form of independence. Moscow allowed wide cultural autonomy and encouraged a national awakening that would cause problems for itself in the 1920s. And it combined this with the maintenance of centralized institutions such as the party and the army and with the unifying idea of social revolution. This was just the right – possibly the only – formula for holding multinational ‘Russia’ together.

It was important that the Russian Bolsheviks had strong motives for holding the Empire together. Their leaders saw the nationalists as just a form of bourgeois rule. Their spetsy military commanders had simpler nationalist motives. For both, the defeat of ‘Russian’ counterrevolutionaries and Allied intervention demanded an advance into the borderlands. And there were broad continuities. Denikin put it as follows:

The state link of Russia with her borderlands was preordained by history, economics, markets, the railway system, the need for defendable frontiers, the psychology of Russian society, and the whole totality of the cultural-economic development of both sides and of mutual interests. The link would be restored, sooner or later, voluntarily – by treaty – or through compulsion – economic (tariff) war or an army offensive. And that would have been done by any Russia – ‘Red,’ ‘Pink,’ ‘White,’ or ‘Black’ – which did not want to suffocate inside the limits of those artificial boundaries which the World War and internal chaos had confined her to.

The link was something that the newly conscious, newly organized minorities could not tear apart.

Defeated with the Whites was foreign intervention. Bolshevik Civil War propaganda stressed Allied intervention, and later Soviet historians, following Stalin, reduced the Civil War to three ‘Entente Campaigns.’ An imperialist conspiracy fitted in with the Bolshevik world outlook; a foreign threat mobilized nationalist feeling; and the ‘Entente cannibals’ (Stalin’s phrase) gave a reason why the Civil War lasted so long. But Lenin had predicted on the eve of October 1917 that the Allies would not be a serious problem: ‘a combination of English, Japanese, and American imperialism against us is extremely difficult to realize, and is not at all dangerous to us, if only because of Russia’s geographical position’; there is much to be said for this analysis.

Contrary to what is often thought, the most important ‘intervention’ was not by the Allies but by the Central Powers. Up until November 1918 they held much of western and southern Russia. The ‘fourteen-power’ anti-Bolshevik Allied alliance that was featured in Soviet propaganda was a myth. The Americans were cool about intervention; the Japanese stayed on the Pacific coast. The French gave up an active role after the spring of 1919 Odessa shambles and concentrated on a cordon sanitaire of the border states. (Even then, neither the French nor the British did much to help the border state of Poland in 1920.) Few Allied troops were sent; none fought in the main battles. The western Allies neither created the Czechoslovak Corps nor planned its uprising. The Czechoslovaks did clear a rallying area, but they were few in number and fought only for six months. Their success was a symptom not of Allied manipulation but of Soviet impotence and unpopularity. It is true that Allied munitions and supplies made possible the furthest White advance, but this material only arrived in quantity in the summer of 1919; Kolchak’s spring offensive and Denikin’s conquest of a south Russian base area came earlier. Even the Allied blockade had little effect. Bolshevik Russia’s foreign trade possibilities were limited anyway (especially after the renunciation of foreign debts), and for most of 1919 Whites or nationalists held the major ports (Petrograd was the exception, but it had already become an economic wasteland).

Intervention was not a disaster for the Allies, if only because they committed so few resources to it. True, it did not defeat the Central Powers, save the anti-Bolsheviks, or deflect a Soviet onslaught on Central Europe (something the Red Army was hardly up to). The Reds were distracted from some of the border regions. Some White leaders resented the intrusions of the ‘dress-circle internatsional’, but Allied support was a major part of White propaganda. There is little evidence that intervention helped the Bolsheviks by making their cause a nationalist one. And if intervention lengthened the Russian crisis it did not create dictatorship and terror; they had deep enough roots in the soil of Imperial Russia.

The outcome of the Civil War has much to do with Russian history. Tsarist Russia contained elements of both backwardness and modernity. Russia’s peculiar state-sponsored modernization meant that there was a considerable working class (although small in per capita terms) and only a small middle class. The victory of extreme radicals during the Civil War had much to do with the very strength of the autocracy before 1917. Until less than ten years before the start of the World War there had been no legal political parties. The Tsarist state had never tolerated rival forces in the form of political parties or the national minorities, or even in the form of the army or the church. As a result there were no strong forces on hand to take over the country when the autocracy disappeared in February 1917.

The Bolsheviks were able to take over, in the October 1917 Revolution and the ‘Triumphal March of Soviet Power,’ because they followed the popular movement. The workers and Tsarist soldiers, with their particular discontents, helped carry the Bolsheviks to power – and then economic collapse and demobilization largely ended their political role. The Right was still shattered by the impact of the World War, the fall of the autocracy, and the impact of social revolution. After that there was no one to challenge the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ The reason the country did not just slide into anarchy with the October Revolution was, ironically, because of the state tradition that had been created under the autocracy. Modernization had progressed far enough to give a railway network that enabled the centre to regain control of the periphery, and meanwhile the Bolsheviks were able and willing to make use of much of the apolitical debris of the Tsarist state, including the army officer-corps and the civil service.

Dortmund-Ems Canal August 1940

Hampdens of 49 and 83 Squadron also attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal near the aqueduct at Münster on 12–13 August in the hope of severing it. They flew through a hail of flak at low level, claiming two of the incoming bombers, but eight pressed on and damaged the aqueducts significantly enough to halt all traffic for over a month. Acting Flt Lt Roderick Learoyd of 49 Squadron was awarded the Victoria Cross for taking his Hampden down to 150 feet and pushing through the hail of bullets, sustaining hydraulic system damage, inoperable flaps, a wrecked undercarriage, and wing damage, before dropping his bombs and then nursing his aircraft back to England, where he circled his aircraft until daylight, as he felt it too risky to attempt a night landing.

On the night of 31 July/1 August 1940 42 Battles, Blenheims and Hampdens set out to bomb a variety of targets and sow mines in enemy waters but only thirteen bombed and nine laid mines. On its outward flight, one Battle was shot down into the sea off Skegness by RAF fighters and three Hampdens ditched in the sea on the return. Squadron Leader R. L. Oxley DFC, who was involved in the ‘Gardening’ operation, got his Hampden safely back to Lindholme but overstressed the aircraft. ‘Oxley, who was known among his service friends as ‘Beetle’ showed as much effrontery as his namesake in Kipling’s Stalky and Co., recalled David Masters in So Few: The Immortal Record of the RAF’ published in 1941 ‘with results that surprised him – as well as the enemy. It started with his bomber acting as a decoy over Magdeburg [probably on the night of 3/4 September], making as much noise as possible in order to draw the fire and let his companions go in and do their work before he went off to do his. Low cloud baffled the searchlights and Squadron Leader Oxley was not worried by the guns, which were firing blindly. Having roared about over Magdeburg to scare the Germans, he climbed to 6,000 feet to bomb his target which had shown up for a moment through a gap in the clouds. Swiftly, unexpectedly, the sinister shape of a German balloon threatened death only fifty yards away. It gave him a shock, ‘I thought of the chances I’d been running, flying in and out of those cables for half an hour,’ he said later. ‘As I turned and climbed I saw five or six dirty, grey shapes, just like the British balloons.’ Incidentally he once saw a German balloon as high as 13,000 feet. Dodging the balloons, he dropped a bomb or two on his target and turned to find another target where he could drop the rest. Flying south-west of Bremen at 10,000 feet, he saw an enemy aircraft landing on the illuminated flare path of an aerodrome. The red lamp was left on and the captain of the bomber was not slow to seize his opportunity. Gliding down to 4,000 feet, he fired off a signal cartridge to see whether the enemy would put the lights on. The Germans fired up a signal consisting of three yellow and three white lights in reply.

‘The nearest thing I had that night was a red-yellow, so I fired that,’ recorded Squadron Leader Oxley. ‘I was quite enjoying myself to see if we could fix them. They fired another signal, so I switched the navigation lights on, but these had no effect. Then I started Morsing on the recognition lights and for want of anything better to send I sent ‘Heil Hitler.’ That had the pleasing and astonishing effect of getting them to put all the lights on. They gave me a green to come in and land, which was just what I wanted, I went round the circuit as though to land-and opened up and let our bombs go into the hangars. Then I went off and returned about twenty minutes later. They must have been convinced that no enemy would hang about so long, for when I again signalled with my recognition lights, they gave us another green to land. But we had nothing more to drop. I wonder what they told the CO next day!’

‘Which incident goes far toward explaining his nickname. Yet there is nothing of the dare-devil about his appearance. He looks far too good-natured to go bull-baiting Germans in their own arenas. He speaks quietly and moves with an easy step. About five feet five inches in height, he is inclined to be tubby, with a clean-shaven face and fair hair that is going thin on the top, though he is still in his twenties. It is when his vivid blue eyes light up with a mischievous twinkle that he betrays a hint of that sense of humour which has found such free expression over Germany, although the Germans will never see his jokes.

‘Like other pilots, he struck a good blow for England when Hitler was preparing to invade Great Britain during the, crisis of 1940 and Squadron Leader Oxley twice ran the gauntlet of the heavy enemy defences in order to bomb the barges being collected for the transport of German troops. The Germans had mounted large numbers of machine-guns controlled electrically from a distance and during his first attack Squadron Leader Oxley was so blinded by the searchlights that he had to keep his eyes on the instrument panel and steer as instructed by the navigator.

‘A few nights later he arrived at the same spot at 2202 and dropped a flare. ‘Oh my God sir, you can’t miss. This is wonderful!’ exclaimed Sergeant Horner, the navigator. There were about a hundred barges arranged in arrowhead formation along the shore. The flare set all the guns firing in the neighbourhood as Squadron Leader Oxley circled to make a dive-bombing attack. At 5,000 feet the searchlights picked up the bomber and made it impossible for the pilot to see, so he flew once more under the instructions of the navigator. ‘Push her down a bit, sir!’ the latter exclaimed when they were down to about 3,000 feet. A moment later he added: ‘Bombs gone!’

‘What do we do now?’ asked the captain.

‘Keep on going down’ came the reply, as the captain closed the bomb doors. ‘Now turn left,’ said the navigator when they were down to 300 feet.

Escaping the dazzling lights, the captain dropped still lower, leaping a sand dune like a horse going over a hurdle at Aintree and climbing out to sea for home. His bombs shattered the barges, covered with black tarpaulins, but none of the bomber crew saw any German troops on board, which was not surprising considering that it was at night. The bomber’s attack lasted exactly four minutes.’

Throughout August, just when one would expect the story to come to a climax and the threat of the flat-bottomed boats to declare itself, there was a long pause. In daylight Blenheims were almost wholly engaged in attacks on aerodromes and the long-range guns at Cape Gris Nez. These were bombed on many nights from the middle of August onwards and well on into September. As to the barges, they were still about on inland waterways, but they had not, as yet, collected in the Channel ports in any great quantity. In August 1940 traffic on the Dortmund-Ems Canal, an essential link between central and western Germany and a bottleneck of the canal system, was about three times what it had been before. As a result, bombing attacks were made on this canal, highly vulnerable where it is carried across aqueducts, at frequent intervals. German transport had to be attacked whatever might be under the covers of those mysterious barges; this was the period when Bomber Command made Hamm a household word and traffic diverted from much-bombed railways would naturally go by canal. For the time being, with invasion apparently not absolutely imminent, it probably seemed better to bomb where an attack would be a threefold gain, helping to interfere with Germany’s economic organization, hampering the supply of armies in the West and blocking the route for invasion barges coming from the East.

Hampden pilot, Wilf Burnett, recalled: ‘The Station Commander gathered all officers together one morning in August or September 1940 and told us that it appeared invasion was imminent and that we should be prepared for it. I remember the silence that followed. We left the room and I don’t think anyone spoke, but we were all the more determined to make certain that we did everything possible to deter the Germans from launching their invasion. At the time we were bombing the invasion barges in the Channel ports, undertaking operations almost every other night. I remember one operation in particular against the invasion barges. We had part moonlight, which was very helpful because navigation in those days depended entirely on visual identification. We flew to the north of our target so that we could get a better outline of the coast. We followed the coast down towards our target, letting down to about 4,000 feet so that we could get a better view of what was below and to increase the accuracy of the bombing. At that height light anti-aircraft fire was pretty heavy and fairly accurate so we didn’t hang around after dropping our bombs. This was done repeatedly over a period of time until the invasion was called off.’

Twenty-seven-year-old Flight Lieutenant Roderick Alastair Brook ‘Babe’ Learoyd, a pilot on 49 Squadron at Scampton, was awarded the Victoria Cross for a most daring low-level swoop on one of the Dortmund-Ems Canal’s aqueducts on the night of 12/13 August. Learoyd recalled later in a BBC broadcast: ‘Our target on this raid was the old aqueduct carrying the Dortmund-Ems Canal over the River Ems north of Münster. This canal is of great importance to the industrial area of the Ruhr. There is also at this point a new aqueduct, but when that was blown up as a result of previous raids the Germans had diverted all traffic to the old one. The operation had been most carefully planned. Five aircraft detailed for bombing, were to slip in and carry out their work. Two of the five, I am sorry to say, never got back.

‘Timing was an all-important factor. For a reason I cannot mention it was imperative that the five of us should all attack within a very short period.

‘At three o’clock in the afternoon we were told that we were going and at six o’clock that evening we were given the details of the operation. Aircraft from two squadrons were taking part. Having been there before, most of us knew the place pretty well. The actual briefing of the crews took about three-quarters of an hour. The whole place was carefully gone through with special maps and plans.

‘We synchronised our watches and the clocks in the aircraft before starting. Everybody got away right on time. Just after we took off, I saw one of the others in the air, but we soon lost sight of him. The timing had been worked out so as to allow us a ten-minute margin in case we got slightly off our course or had any trouble in getting into the target area. My navigator did a very fine job of work and we arrived at a point north of the target with our ten minutes in hand, so we circled round there for a bit.

‘Going out, there hadn’t been any excitement, but we were not looking for trouble anyway. There were clouds on the way over but they cleared beautifully just on the edge of the target. The moon was about half full. We were relying on the moonlight reflecting on the water to give us our direction for the run up. We being the last of the five were due to go in at 23.23. Two minutes before that time we came down to about 300 feet. We were then still several miles north of the target. Gradually we lost height as we came along the Canal, following its course all the time.

The navigator was in the nose of the aircraft doing the bomb-aiming. Everything was quiet until we got to the point where the Canal forked just before the two aqueducts. I was doing the run up to this point when the navigator was taking over the directing. We must have gone off a bit to the left because he called out ‘Right’, then immediately after, when we had turned a bit to make the correction, he called out ‘Steady’.

‘Then, suddenly, everything started at once-searchlights and all the antiaircraft fire. It was unfortunate from our point of view of course, that the enemy knew pretty well the direction from which we must attack. They had disposed their defences so that they formed a sort of lane through which we had to pass. It seemed to me that they had strengthened these defences a great deal since the first raids.

‘The searchlights were blinding and we were flying entirely on the bomb aimer’s instructions. I had my head down inside the cockpit trying to see the instruments, but the glare made even that difficult. Our instructions were not to rush it too much because of the need for extreme accuracy. Before we started, the rear gunner had asked if he could fire at something or somebody and he was shooting at the searchlights as we went past.

‘Almost at the same moment as we bombed I felt a thump and the aircraft lurched to the right. A pom-pom shell had gone through the starboard wing. Then another shell hit the same wing between the fuselage and the engine. They were firing pretty well at point-blank range. It was all over in a few seconds. The navigator called out ‘OK finish’. Then we turned away again. The ground defences were still after us but the tracer was dying out a bit by this time.

‘When we had got away and set course for the base the rear- gunner reported that oil was coming into his cockpit. Then the wireless operator reported that the flaps were drooping. I tried to raise them but found that they wouldn’t come up. What had happened was that the hydraulic system had been damaged. We discovered too that the undercarriage indicators were out of action.

‘Not having landed without flaps before I didn’t like to try it that night with a crew aboard, so we cruised around a bit doing a few local ‘cross countries’ for about two and a half hours. We waited till dawn and then we came in all right.’

Dortmund-Ems Canal

Ambrosius Aurelianus [Arthus]

An illustration depicting the battle of Mt. Badon in which the historic Arthur (if there actually was one) was said to have won a major victory over the encroaching Saxons. If Arthur was a real person, I think this depiction is a lot closer to what he may have looked like. He would likely have been a Romanized Briton with Celtic heritage but Roman training.

One name that emerges from the history of this time is Ambrosius Aurelianus, also called Arthus. Little is known of this man and his history has become irrecoverably entwined with medieval legend and romance so that it is difficult to untangle fact from fiction. As King Arthur, he was immortalized by Sir Thomas Malory in the fifteenth century in his work Le Morte d’Arthur, with an elaborate account of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, thus intermingling fact and fiction. The historical Ambrosius was a warrior, probably trained in Roman military tactics, who led mounted bands of Britons against the Saxons. The Historia Brittonium called Arthus Dux Bellorum, reminiscent of a Roman military title. He was associated with twelve battles and probably led mounted horsemen, well trained, who could easily rout a force of foot soldiers. Eight of these battles took place at fords where foot soldiers would be at a disadvantage. These victories culminated in a last great battle, about AD 500, at Mount Badon (Mons Badonicus), an unidentified site but probably somewhere in the south-west. Gildas said that ‘after this there was peace’ and about AD 540 spoke of ‘our present security’.

When the Romans left Britain, they didn’t just take their belongings with them; they took their entire way of life. Over the centuries, Roman rule had civilized Britain. The abrupt departure of the Romans left a vacuum the Anglo-Saxons were happy to fill, but the two invaders could not have been more different. The Romans had introduced government to Britain, central political and economic structures that had created an orderly and prosperous life for most. They had also established long-distance trade, money, taxes, roads, sanitation, pottery, and glass. When the Romans left, they took all of these innovations with them and under the illiterate, “barbaric” Anglo-Saxons the British were reduced to a barter economy and lived in a more primitive state than their ancestors before.

Those who were able to escape fled to Armorica in Gaul (modern-day France) where they settled by the sea in a land that closely resembled that which they had left behind. To this day, inhabitants of the part of France now known as Brittany speak in an unusual Welsh-sounding dialect that is an ancient British tongue. For those who remained behind in Britain, the only option was to run and hide from the fearful barbaric warriors who would kill them on sight.

It is at this desperate juncture in British history that Ambrosius Aurelianus appears and the legend of King Arthur is born. Little can be fact-checked on the life of Ambrosius Aurelianus, but it is thought that he was a Roman general of impeccable lineage who had remained behind in Britain when the Empire fell. Aurelianus may have had a son who was Romano-Celtic and given the same name, and as a result, the British army of resistance against the Anglo-Saxons may have been active under a leader named Aurelianus for two generations.

Under the second Aurelianus, who has been described as a Welsh prince, the first effective resistance to Anglo-Saxon forces was established. Saxons were pushing further and further west, forcing Romano-British deeper into Wales. Aurelianus gathered the surviving Roman-British and organized them into a military force, capable of standing up to the Anglo-Saxons. In a series of battles, the British resistance managed to reclaim important territory, forcing West Saxons out of Dorset and as far as Wiltshire.

These skirmishes reached their climax in the Battle of Mons Badonicus, or the Battle of Mount Badon, which is thought to have taken place around the year 500 AD. We cannot be sure exactly where Mount Badon is. Most of the assumptions historians are able to make about this period of ancient history come from archeological findings. Evidence of a hillfort manned by Romano-British people was found at Little Solsbury Hill in southern England, close to Bath, leading some historians to believe that this is Mount Badon. Others think it more likely that Aurelianus was defending the north of England and that Mount Badon is probably located in Cumbria, known as Camboglanna in Roman times.

What little information we have about Ambrosius Aurelianus and the Battle of Mount Badon comes from just one scant source: the sermon of a sixth-century British priest or monk named Gildas. Gildas, who was known as Gildas the Wise, wrote the sermon De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) as a religious re-telling of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain and the aftermath. It is thought that Gildas’ text was written sometime between 510 and 540 AD, meaning Gildas was writing about events as they were happening or at the very least had happened within living memory. As such, Gildas’ text is incredibly valuable to historians studying this particular period of British history. Gildas, for example, offers one of the very first descriptions of Hadrian’s Wall.

On Ambrosius Aurelianus, Gildas says only, “A gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather’s excellence. Under him, our people regained their strength and challenged the victors to battle. The Lord assented, and the battle went their way.”

Gildas account of Aurelianus and his followers’ Christian piety and bravery in this first section of his sermon contrasts with the next two parts in which he condemns contemporary leaders for their sinful ways. Was Aurelianus a real man? And if so, was his life the foundation of the legend of King Arthur? One theory suggests that Arthur was a nickname given to Aurelianus by his men. In early Anglo-Saxon times, Arthur meant “bear man” and alluded either to Aurelianus being a particularly powerful and hairy man or to his habit of wearing a bear skin cloak.

The next mention of the British leader who led his men to victory at Mount Badon comes from the Welsh cleric Nennius, who wrote Historia Brittonum (History of Britain) around 830 AD. Nennius lists twelve battles between the British and the Anglo-Saxons, but unlike Gildas, he names the leader of the battles Arthur. Arthur is briefly mentioned again in the slightly later Annales Cambriae, compiled during the seventh or eighth century. This weighty chronicle was written anonymously and includes references to the Battle of Badon during “year 72” with the detail, “Arthur bore the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were the victors.” Arthur’s death is also listed as having occurred during a battle at Camlann in 539 AD. It’s not much to go on, but it was enough to spark the imagination of subsequent generations who looked to these ancient texts as proof of the origin of the legend of King Arthur.

The Battle of Mount Badon became legendary as it was the first military victory the Romano-British had achieved over the Anglo-Saxons and secured relative peace for 50 years. Peace was disrupted again in 550 AD when a massive and devastating new wave of Saxons descended on Britain and took almost complete control of the land. By the seventh century, there was no such thing as Britain; four distinct cultures were sharing the cluster of islands we now refer to as the United Kingdom.

What remained of the Romano-British stayed in Wales and the southwest, but by now they had taken on the language of the Celts. A culture known as the Gaels lived in Ireland and the northwestern region of Scotland. The Pictish kingdoms kept control of the land north of the Roman Wall. And the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes controlled the vast majority of England, territories they named Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, Kent, Wessex, Sussex, and Essex. The very term Welsh is an Anglo-Saxon one, derived from Wielisc or Wyliscand meaning foreign or slave. Even today, the Welsh term used to describe England translates roughly as “the lost lands.”

It’s impossible to say how much of Aurelianus or King Arthur’s life happened, and focusing too much on historical evidence is beside the point. The time period in which King Arthur was supposed to have lived was a real period in British history that later became known as the Dark Ages. Looking back at the Anglo-Saxon invasion their ancestors lived through, subsequent generations needed a hero whose bravery and Christian virtues were something to look up to, and this brings us nicely to the legend of King Arthur in the twelfth century.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part V of V

The few armoured vehicles from the 1948 campaign such as the Vickers Mk VIB, M22 Locust and assorted Bren gun carriers and armoured cars tended to be painted plain Sand or British Army Green with Egyptian roundels. The delivery of large amounts of Soviet and Czechoslovakian tanks in the mid-1950s saw a standard overall sand finish with black Arabic numbers often accompanied by black silhouettes of various wild animals painted for parades. The 1970s saw the introduction of a broad range of different camouflage patterns which were used on tanks and vehicles of the Yom Kippur war. The new schemes could consist of three colours such as pale brown sometimes nearly coffee in colour, light green over sand. Other patterns include green and sand, and brown and sand. In terms of patterns there were many varieties. Over these colour options could be added white recognition stripes that were used by units in the early stages of the Sinai campaign, consisting of a set on each mud guard, while others were added to the upper casemate of SU-100s or turrets of T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. The other important detail to note was the pressed metal Egyptian army licence plate added to the front right-hand side mud guard and left rear.

Posted in AFV

Early Soviet Jets I

On 2nd April 1946 I. V. Stalin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, held a briefing on the prospects of Soviet aviation, including jet aircraft development. One of the items on the agenda was the possibility of copying the Messerschmitt Me 262A-1 a fighter, an example of which had been evaluated by GK Nil WS in August-November 1945, and putting it into production at one of the Soviet aircraft factories. In its day the Me 262 had an impressive top speed of 850 km/h (459 kts) , heavy armament comprising four 30-mm (1.18 calibre) cannons and was generally well designed. However, the idea was rejected for various reasons.

By then several Soviet design bureau had a number of high-speed aircraft projects in the making; many of them fell for the ‘German’ layout with two turbojet engines under or on the wings ala Me 262 (which, incidentally, was also employed by the British Gloster Meteor). For instance, Pavel O. Sukhoi’s OKB used it for the izdeliye K fighter, the Mikoyan OKB developed a Me 262 look-alike designated 1-260, while the Lavochkin OKB came up with the ‘160’ fighter (the first fighter to have this designation) and the Alekseyev OKB with the 1-21 designed along similar lines. A notable exception was the Yakovlev OKB because A. S. Yakovlev cordially disliked heavy fighters, preferring lightweight single-engined machines. (Later Yakovlev did resort to the twin-engined layout, but that was in the early 1950s when the Yakovlev OKB brought out the Yak-120 (Yak-25) twinjet interceptor which lies outside the scope of this book.)

As an insurance policy in case one OKB failed to achieve the desired results, the Soviet government usually issued a general operational requirement (GOR) for a new aircraft to several design bureau at once in a single Council of People’s Commissars (or Council of Ministers) directive. This was followed by an NKAP (or MAP, Ministerstvo aviatsionnoy promyshlennosti – Ministry of Aircraft Industry) order to the same effect. This was also the case with the new jet fighters. Initially all the abovementioned OKBs designed their fighters around Soviet copies of the Jumo 004B or BMW 003A engines; later the more promising indigenous TR-1 came into the picture.

It should be noted that in the early postwar years the Soviet defence industry enterprises continued to operate pretty much in wartime conditions, working like scalded cats. In particular, the Powers That Be imposed extremely tight development and production schedules on the design bureau and production factories tasked with developing and manufacturing new military hardware. The schedules were closely monitored not only by the ministry to which the respective OKB or factory belonged but also by the notorious KGB. ‘Missing the train’ could mean swift and severe reprisal not only for the OKB head and actual project leaders but also for high-ranking statesmen who had responsibility for the programme. Nevertheless, even though the commencement of large-scale R&D on jet aircraft had been ordered as far back as May 1944, no breakthrough had been achieved by early 1946. For instance, the aircraft industry failed to comply with the orders to build pre-production batches of jet fighters in time for the traditional August fly-past held at Moscow’s Tushino airfield; only two jets, the MiG-9 and Yak-15, participated in the fly-past on that occasion. This was all the more aggravating because jet fighters had been in production in Great Britain since 1944 and in the USA since early 1945. Unfortunately the Soviet aero-engine factories encountered major difficulties when mastering production of jet engines; hence in early 1946 jet engines were produced in extremely limited numbers, suffering from low reliability and having a time between overhauls (TBO) of only 25 hours.

As was customary in the Soviet Union in those days, someone had to pay for this, and scapegoats were quickly found. In February-March 1946 People’s Commissar of Aircraft Industry A. I. Shakhoorin, Soviet Air Force C-in-C Air Marshal A. A. Novikov, the Air Force’s Chief Engineer A. K. Repin and Main Acquisitions Department chief N. P. Seleznyov and many others were removed from office, arrested and mostly executed.

The early post-war years presaged the Cold War era, and the Soviet leaders attached considerable importance not only to promoting the nation’s scientific, technological and military achievements but also to flexing the Soviet Union’s military muscles for the world to see. This explains why the government was so eager to see new types displayed at Tushino, regardless of the fact that some of the aircraft had not yet completed their trials – or, worse, did not meet the Air Force’s requirements. Thus, the grand show at Tushino on 3rd August 1947 featured a whole formation of jet fighter prototypes: the Yak-19, the Yak- 15U, the Yak-23, three Lavochkin designs – the ‘150’, the ‘156’ and the ‘160’, plus the MiG- 9, the Su-9 and the Su-11 .

Sometimes the initial production aircraft selected for the fly-past lacked armament or important equipment items. This was not considered important; the world had to see the new aircraft at all costs. Behold the achievements of socialism! Feel the power of the Soviet war machine! Fear ye! Still, despite this air of ostentation, the achievements and the power were there beyond all doubt; the Soviet Union’s progress in aircraft and aero engine technologies was indeed impressive, especially considering the ravages of the four-year war. It just happened that, because of urgent need, some things which could not be developed in-country quickly enough had to be copied; and copied they were – and with reasonably high quality at that.

Thus by the end of the 1940s the Soviet Union had not only caught up with the West as far as jet aviation was concerned but gained a lead in certain areas. The first Soviet jet fighters dealt with in this book were instrumental in reaching this goal.

Even before the end of World War 2 it was clear that the future of combat aircraft lay with jet engine power. German designs, although limited in their application, had shown to many the shape of things to come and the British and Americans were moving quickly to develop their jet fighters.

The Soviets were at first slow to catch up mainly due to the fact that they had no domestic turbojet engine which was effective enough to base a fighter upon. The Soviet designer Arkhip Lyul’ka had been working on axial turbojets during the war but they weren’t as effective as the German engines, while the Americans and British, seen now as the main rivals to the Soviet Union, were far advanced with good coaxial engines and some centrifugal jet engines. The leading jet engine of the time was the British Rolls-Royce Nene, which with nearly 5,000lbs of thrust had double the power of any German engine as well as other advantages.

The Russians had decided at the end of the war to loot what they could of German industry and talent to rebuild their economy and this attitude continued in their approach to jet fighter development.  The Soviet design bureaus (OKBs) responded to Stalin’s order to quickly develop jet fighters by using former German specialists  in gas turbines,  aerodynamics and other technologies to catch up with the Western powers’ technological advantage.  The three main Soviet aircraft designers Mikoyan and Gurevich (MiG), Yakovlev (Yak) and Lavochin (La) were tasked to build jet fighters based on soviet air frames but using German engines.

The first of these two hybrids were the MiG-9 which had engines based on BMW 003A engines and the Yak-15.  The MiG-9 had been on the drawing board before the German surrender and was to use the weaker Lyul’ka engines. A fourth designer (Sukhoi) had also been developing a jet fighter – the Su-9 – which apart from having straight rather than swept wings looked remarkably like a Me262. It was this similarity which was to doom the aircraft when in 1946 Alexander Yakovlev went to see Stalin and told him that the Su-9 was just a Me262 copy and outdated and dangerous. It was cancelled and Yakovlev had effectively put a rival out of the race. Yakovlev’s design was based on his successful Yak-3 design (variants of which would continue to serve into the Korean War). The design drawings were finished in just 3 days and three months later in May 1945 detailed plans were complete for what was to become the Yak-15 ‘Feather’. The Yak-15 was short ranged but agile and well-armed with two 23mm cannon. Despite his political and design skill Yakovlev was to loose the race to have the first Soviet jet fighter to fly.  Ready to fly at the end of 1945 a waterlogged runway at the Moscow test site and internal politics meant that the Yak-15 was made to wait till the MiG-9 ‘Fargo’ prototype was also ready.  On 24th April 1946 both were ready. Apparently a coin was tossed to see which plane flew first and the MiG team won, so the MiG-9 flew first followed by the Yak-15 a few minutes later.

Both of these fighters were simple but gave Soviet pilots valuable experience of jets. The MiG-9 was used mainly as a ground attack fighter while the Yak-15 developed into the Yak-17 which had wingtip fuel tanks, tricycle landing gear and a more powerful engine. Over 400 were built and some exported. Meanwhile Yakovlev’s old rival, Lavochkin was having little success. In September 1946 the La-150 flew but was outdated in its design and performed poorly compared to the Yaks.

On 24th June 1947 the La-160 flew the world’s first swept wing fighter but Lavochkin had fallen from favour and was destined to create ‘also rans’ for the rest of the early Soviet jet fighter race. He was aided by some strange good fortune when the Soviets were given some of the best British jet engines by the Labour government of Prime Minister Attlee. Lavochkin quickly produced the La-168, 174D, 176 and 180 all using engines based on the Rolls-Royce engines the Soviets had been given. The La-176 was the first aircraft in the world to have wings swept back at 45 degrees and with the help of its engine based on the Rolls-Royce Nene it was the first European fighter to break the sound barrier (Mach 1) in a shallow dive on 26th December 1948. About 500 of Lavochkin’s fighters were produced but handling problems dogged them and they were soon over shadowed by the success of MiG.

Meanwhile MiG whose OKB had been founded in 1939 began to dominate Soviet combat aircraft design – a dominance that continues to this day to a large extent. MiG also benefited from the British engines as some of their best designs were hampered by the lack of a good engine. This problem now solved, their aircraft S was to become the legendary MiG-15 ‘Fagot’, which flew on 30th December 1947. The Nene engine fitted it perfectly and the combination of a great design and a great engine was to be a world beater. The impact of the MiG-15 on the Korea war was drastic; facing the US F-86 Sabres it could match them for speed but had longer range and longer ranged more powerful guns in the shape of its one 37mm cannon and twin 23mm cannons compared to the Sabre’s six 12.7mm machine guns. This meant that although the Sabre pilots could hit more often the MiG pilots could open fire at far greater range. The MiG-15 was produced in huge numbers and some were still being used more 40 years after the first one flew.

Early Soviet Jets II

Ilyushin Il-28

After a slow start the Soviets had by 1953 caught up on Western jet fighters mainly due to the copying of British Rolls-Royce engines. MiG had now become the dominant aircraft designer and its fighters would see service round the world for more than 40 years. This lead in aircraft design would not last and by the end of the Cold War western aircraft design and technology would once more be more than a match for the Soviets.


Its development started at the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union captured numerous German components, including Junkers Jumo-004 jet engines. This engine was studied in the USSR, and the Klimov OKB created a domestic counterpart under the designation RD-10. In turn, the Yakovlev OKB used the design to produce a jet fighter based on the latest version of the well-liked Yak-3.

The designers decided in favor of the pod-and-boom layout. A turbojet engine with 900 kg thrust was mounted instead of the old VK-107A piston engine. The engine was inclined so that the jet stream exited underneath the fuselage and wing. The rest of the airframe was left almost unchanged, except for an additional heat shield, made of refractory steel, located in the exhaust section. The aircraft’s armament included two Nudelman-Suranov NS-23KM cannons with 60 rounds each. The cannons were housed in the forward fuselage above the engine. The new Yakovlev fighter was originally called the Yak-Jumo but later obtained the designation Yak-15.

The first flight of the Yak-15 was on April 24, 1946, and the plane was launched into full-scale production in the autumn of the same year. Production Yak-15 planes had a different engine, the RD-10, manufactured in the USSR. The service life of the earliest engines was officially claimed to be 25 hours, but in reality it was 17 hours at best. Nevertheless, the Yak-15 was very easy to pilot, and its steering was similar to that of the Yak-3, which had been the basis of its development. As a result, it was decided that although the Yak-15 did not meet the requirements of the Air Force for a modern combat fighter, it was perfectly suitable as a transition from prop to jet aircraft.

In addition to its engine’s limited service life, the Yak-15 had a number of distinctive disadvantages. The most commonly encountered defects during its operation included hydraulic fluid leaks (through the sealing rings of the landing gear shock struts), the rupturing of rudder control cable threads, and the deterioration of tail wheel springs (probably caused by overheating). But the Yak-15’s main disadvantage was its very short flight range.

Nevertheless, the significance of the Yak-15 in the history of Soviet aviation should not be underestimated. Hundreds of pilots underwent training on planes of this type, and it was the Yak-15 that became the first Soviet jet aircraft officially accepted for service in the Air Force as well as the first jet fighter that enabled military pilots to master advanced aerobatics.

Production of the Yak-15 was discontinued in 1947. In all, 280 planes were constructed.


An all-metal, single-seat cantilever monoplane with two turbojet engines, mid-mounted wings, and retractable tricycle landing gear. It was clear by the end of World War II that the piston-engine-and-propeller combo had reached the limit of its potential. Soon it would be necessary to switch to new engine types.

Jet aviation in the USSR changed for the better at the very end of the war when captured German turbojet engines, particularly the BMW-003, arrived in the Soviet Union. The aforementioned engine was studied in the shortest time possible, and a Soviet copy, the RD-20, was launched into mass production.

In the end of 1945, the Mikoyan Design Bureau began the development of a jet fighter with two BMW-003 engines (producing 800 kg of thrust). On 24 April 1946, test pilot A.N. Grinchik first flew the prototype I-300 (F-1), the first Soviet fighter with a turbojet engine. The plane reached a speed of 920 km/h and had powerful armament: a 57mm N-57 cannon and two 23mm NS-23 cannons.

In 1946, the I-300 began full-scale production and was accepted for service with the Air Force under the designation of MiG-9 (Product FS). Before producing it on a full-scale basis, the designers of the Mikoyan Design Bureau reworked the fighter’s construction (particularly its fuselage) from scratch to adapt it to production in large quantities.

The power unit of production MiG-9s consisted of two RD-20 turbojet engines producing 800 kg of thrust apiece. At first, planes of this model had RD-20A-1 engines, with a service life of 10 hours. Actually, these engines were captured BMW-003s, reassembled in the USSR. Subsequently, MiG-9s featured only Soviet-produced turbojet engines: the RD-20A-2, with a service life of 25 and 50 hours, and later the RD-20B, with a service life of 75 hours.

The armament of the production planes differed from that of the prototypes. The MiG-9 (Product FS) had one 37mm Nudelman N-37 cannon with 40 rounds and two 23mm Nudelman-Suranov NS-23K cannons with 80 rounds each.

In 1947, it was decided to equip the MiG-9 with RD-21 uprated engines producing 1,000 kg of thrust. The engine was uprated due to increased gas temperature and turbine revolutions.

A prototype I-307 (Product FF) aircraft was built and tested with these engines in 1947. The testing showed that the I-307 had higher flight characteristics than production MiG-9s. The I-307 remained a prototype, since in March 1948 a decision was made to start the full-scale production of the more advanced MiG-15.

The last production aircraft were handed over to the Air Force in December 1948, and in factories they were supplanted by a new plane from the Mikoyan Design Bureau, the MiG-15. A total of 602 MiG-9 fighters were produced.

The MiG-9 was the beginning of the jet MiG’s history. The success of the MiG-15 fighter all over the world would have been impossible without the experience gained in the processes of design, building, testing, mass production, and operation of the first Soviet jet fighter, the MiG-9.

As new fighters were received by the Air Force, some MiG-9s would be delivered to China. These planes became the first jet fighters of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China.


In 1948, Soviet high command issued a requirement for a two man, all-weather, twin -engined jet interceptor that would be capable of carrying a new type of radar system called “Toriy” (Thorium). All three Soviet design bureaus (Lavochkin, MiG, and Sukhoi) developed a prototype for testing.

Lavochkin’s design, the La-200, had a long fuselage to accommodate its two turbojet engines, swept wings, and a large cockpit for two men. The La-200 took its maiden flight on September 9th, 1949. It was the only aircraft of the three designs to pass initial trials.

By the early 1950s, the La-200 was ready to enter production under the official designation La-17. However, due to the appearance of the Yak-120 (later known as Yak-25), which surpassed the La-200’s performance in testing, the La-200 order was cancelled in favor of the Yakovlev design.

Only a single prototype of the La-200 was ever built, and it was modified several times during development to improve performance, correct flaws, and test other radar systems.


The IL-28 was created to meet a requirement for a bomber to carry a 3,000-kilogram payload at 800 kph (500 mph). Although there were several previous attempts to create such an aircraft the IL-28 was the first successful design. It incorporated the new Rolls-Royce Nene engines, produced as the unlicensed “RD-45”. After the completion of testing in 1949, the aircraft was ordered into production on 14 May 1949, with the new Klimov VK-1, an improved version of the previous RD-45. The IL-28 was widely exported and was utilized by almost all of the Warsaw Pact nations along with various Middle Eastern and African nations. It was license-built in China as the Harbin H-5 and in Czechoslovakia as the Avia B-228. It is known to still be in service today in the Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF). Although few in number, they provide North Korea with a means of strategically bombing targets.

An all-metal cantilever monoplane with a crew of three. Created at OKB S.V. Ilyushin.

S.V. Ilyushin put forward his preliminary design for the Il-28 on 12 January 1948. By 8 July 1948, the test pilot V.K. Kokkinaki took the Il-28 out for its maiden flight. It was equipped with two turbojet Rolls-Royce Nene engines. On 30 December 1948, the Il-28 underwent in-plant tests with the Russian series-produced RD-45F engine – a licensed version of the English engine.

But the decision on the aircraft’s fate was delayed until 14 May 1949, when the Council of Ministers decided to increase the Il-28’s speed to 900 km/h by installing more powerful VK-1 engines with a maximum thrust of 2,700 kgf. In only three months, on 8 August 1949, the Il-28 took its maiden flight with the VK-1 engines.

The turbojet VK-1 engines were located under the wing in streamlined engine nacelles.

The Il-28’s armament included two turrets – one to the fore and one to the rear. Two frontal 23 mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 cannons with 100 shells each were mounted in a fixed position in side compartments in the front fuselage. The pilot acted as gunner for the frontal cannons.

The movable Il-K6 tail turret also contained two 23 mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 cannons, these with 225 shells each.

The aircraft could carry bombs of various calibers internally, up to and including the FAB-3000. Its bomb compartment could contain 12 FAB-100 bombs or eight FAB-250s, or between two and four FAB-500s, or a single FAB-1500 or FAB-3000.

The Il-28 became the most mass-produced jet-powered bomber. The aircraft was easy to manufacture and reliable in use. It was in series production between the years of 1950 and 1956. The Il-28 reached peak production during the Korean War: in 1953, six plants were building them at once. In total, 4,405 Il-28 bombers were produced. In the 50s, the Il-28 was the main front-line bomber in the Soviet Air Forces.

The Il-28 was widely distributed beyond the borders of the USSR. It served in the air forces or air-defense forces of: Algeria, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Hungary, Vietnam, East Germany, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Yemen, China, North Korea, Morocco, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Syria, Somalia, Finland and Czechoslovakia. The People’s Republic of China and Czechoslovakia produced them under license (with the designation B-228).