Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part IV 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


Sergey Prisekin, The Battle of Kulikovo, 1980, oil on canvas

Several milestones mark the decline of nomad predominance: the battle of Kulikovo Pole in 1380 when the Moscovites first defeated the Mongols of the Golden Horde, although it was not until the fall of Kazan to the troops of Ivan IV in 1552 that the triumph of the settled people was finally consolidated.

Russian cavalry first appeared in 971, in a war against Byzantium, but it could not compare with the Byzantine armoured riders. In the eleventh century, it was organized according to the decimal system, and armed with short lance, sword, bow and large shield. Three centuries later, under Mongol influence, it became one of the main elements of the army, and at the Battle of Kulikovo (1380) against the Mongols, an attack by the Russian cavalry decided the outcome. From the end of the fourteenth century, it was more effective and its equipment improved. Armament consisted of a long lance with pennant, strong sword, battle-axe, bow and dagger; protection was provided by helmet, mail coif or hauberk and large kite shield. The Russian battle formation was akin to that of the Tartars: five groups of scouts (polk), centre, left wing, right wing, and rearguard (reserve).

The Muscovite appanage was further enlarged in the 14th century, and Daniel’s great-grandson Dmitry Donskoi (1359-1389) defeated the Tatars in the battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380. This victory marked the beginning of the end of Tatar domination of Russia. The power of the Golden Horde never fully recovered after Tamerlane’s attack on the khanate in the 1390s, and in the 15th century the Tatar state fell apart.

Dmitry’s disposition of his forces, with his flanks anchored to rivers or marshland and regiments placed in reserve and ambush, reflected how much the Russians had learned about turning their Tatar enemies’ tactics against them.

Before the break of dawn on September 8, 1380, Grand Prince Dmitry-Ivanovich of Moscow, accompanied by his general, Bobrok, made a personal reconnaissance of Kulikovo Field near the Don River, approximately 300 kilometers south of Moscow. The wide field, which got its name from the multitude of small swamp birds, or kulik, that inhabited it, was crisscrossed by many gulches, with small hillocks topped by copses of trees and swampy lowlands nestled between the hills. It was here that he would arrange the 12,000 warriors from various Russian principalities who had agreed to fight for him and a cause that amounted to suicide. Approaching to engage him were some 18,000 Tatars of the Golden Horde, a branch of the Mongol empire that had dominated Russia for almost a century and a half. Russian princes and dukes had challenged the Tatars before. All had gone down in defeat followed by a terrible retribution from their Asiatic overlords.

Russia’s ordeal under the eastern invaders began in 1237, when a 130,000-strong army under the command of Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, thundered across its steppes and claimed them for the Mongol empire. One after another the small and disunited Russian principalities, engaged in constant war against each other, fell under Mongol rule. The fall of Kiev in 1240 left almost all Russian territory, save for some of the northern lands around Novgorod, under Mongol domination. As tragic as those events were for the Russians, the Mongols regarded Russia as an area of little importance, merely a stopover on their way to conquer richer lands in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Unlike the conquered regions inhabited by nomadic Turkic tribes, the Russian lands were not incorporated into the Mongol empire, or khanate, but remained semi-independent vassals, paying an annual tribute and providing troops for Mongol campaigns.

After his campaigns in Russia and Eastern Europe, Batu Khan established the Kipchak Tatar khanate that became known as the Golden Horde, after the color of its warriors’ tents. After Batu’s death in 1255, the Golden Horde went into a gradual decline. By the mid-14th century, the empire Genghis Khan built had lost its Mongol identity. Its power base shifted to the Tatars, nomadic Turkic peoples inhabiting the vast steppes bordering southern Russia. When the ruling khan was assassinated in 1357, the Golden Horde entered a long period of internecine warfare. During a span of 20 years the Horde had almost as many rulers. By 1378, a Mongol general named Mamai, who was a longtime powerbroker behind the throne, finally emerged at the forefront and declared himself the khan of the Golden Horde.

Mamai’s political position remained tenuous. Since he was not of a Genghizid line, he was challenged for the supreme position by Tokhtamysh, khan of the Blue Horde, the eastern offshoot of the Mongol empire, who was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Sensing that Mamai’s grasp on Russian lands was weakening. Grand Prince Dmitry increased the pace of unifying the many duchies and principalities around Moscow under his own control through astute politics, religion and marriage. Dmitry, who hailed from a line of decisive and capable princes, was one of those rare people in history who was the right man at the right place at the right time. He subjugated the principality of Tver by force of arms, then secured an alliance with Suzdal by marrying the daughter of Suzdal’s prince. Novgorod and its adjacent lands came under his control when Patriarch Sergei Radonezhsky, an ardent supporter of Dmitry, excommunicated the city’s residents and closed its churches until they acknowledged the Muscovite prince’s authority over them.

Golden Horde 1. Khan Mamai 2. Standard Bearer 3. Warrior 4. Drummer 5. Trumpeter 6. Noble 7. Noble Horse Archer

In order to curb Prince Dmitry’s growing influence and reassert his own authority, Khan Mamai demanded a large tribute from Moscow in 1380. The prince sent gold and silver, but in what Mamai regarded as no more than a token quantity. The Tatar khan mobilized his army for a campaign to bring Dmitry in line.

The forces that Mamai assembled to oppose the Moscovite prince were varied in character. In addition to the khan’s own Tatars there were contingents from vassal steppe nomads, such as Polovtsi, and Circassian and Arrmenian tribes living in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Prince Oleg of Ryazan, chief among Dmitry’s Russian rivals, also promised Mamai his support. Lithuanian King Jogaila may have also pledged to send his troops to support Mamai. (Jogaila, the son of King Olgerd and Russian Princess Ulyana of Tver, considered himself a rightful heir to some of the Russian lands). Aid also came from an unexpected quarter. The Genoese merchants from colonies in the Crimean Peninsula wanted to minimize the disruption of trade along the Great Silk Road, a portion of which ran through Mamai’s territory. With that in mind, they hired more than 2,000 mercenary pikemen from all over the Eastern Mediterranean to support the Golden Horde.

ARMY OF PRINCE DMITRY Prince with retinue: 1. Prince 2. Squire-page 3. Standard Bearer 4. Trumpeter 5. Drummer

In the early spring of 1380, Prince Dmitry received news of the impending invasion from his ally Prince Gleb of Bryansk. At once Dmitry dispatched messengers to all the territories loyal to him, with requests for soldiers to come to his aid. At the same time he ordered the strengthening of fortifications in Kolomna and Tula, two border towns that would bear the first brunt of the Tatar onslaught.

Soon thereafter, Dmitry received word that Prince Oleg of Ryazan and King Jogaila had thrown in their lot with Khasn of the Golden Horde Mamai. Dmitry immediately called a council of nobles, or boyare, to decide on a course of action. Dmitry backed up by the veteran general Bobrok and Dmitry’s cousin, Prince Vladimir of Serpukhov, decided to immediately advance against Mamai before Oleg and Jogaila joined him.

Not wasting any time, Dmitry sent out a strong cavalry detachment under the command of experienced warriors Rodion Rzhevsky, Andrey Volosaty and Vasily Tupik. They were ordered to get as close as possible to the main encampments of the Golden Horde and take a prisoner for interrogation. This reconnaissance detachment took all the precautions to make its approach unobserved. The men wrapped their horses’ hooves and all the metal horse equipment, as well as their personal weapons, with rags in order not to make noise. Each trooper, emulating the Tatar custom, brought along a reserve horse for faster movement.

Five days later, the scouts reached the outer edges of the Tatar camp, to be confronted with the intimidating sight of innumerable campfires stretching to the far horizon. After setting up an ambush, they succeeded in capturing a minor Tatar noble. In questioning him, the Russian scouts found out that Mamai was waiting for the w heat to mature a little more so that his warriors could live off the land while campaigning. The Tatars were also waiting for the arrival of King Jogaila, who was not expected earlier than September.

That intelligence spurred Dmitry to hasten his mobilization effort. The troops who would not have time to gather in Moscow by the start of the campaign were redirected to the border town of Kolomna. As his forces began to gather, Dmitry took stock of the situation. Only a small portion of his force was made up of seasoned soldiers from the household war bands of Russian nobles. Those troops were armed with swords, war axes and heavy spears, and wore chain or scale armor with high-peaked helmets. A heavy metal teardrop-shaped shield, traditionally painted deep red, rounded off their armor Only a fraction of them were mounted. The bulk of the Muscovite army was made up of peasants and city residents with limited military’ experience at best. Barely one in three of them had any armor, and even that was simply fashioned from sewing metal plates onto heavy clothing. This militia was mainly armed with wooden shields, bows and spears.

The basic unit making up a Russian regiment was called a “banner,” comprising “lances” of 10 warriors each. The strength of each banner generally varied from 20 to 100 men, based on recruiting efforts in each area and the wealth that each particular prince had to raise and equip his retinues.

In his preparations for the upcoming campaign Dmitry proved himself an experienced administrator He attended to myriad details, from gathering materials for wound dressing and finding people knowledgeable in treating wounds to planning routes of march for individual units.

After leaving strong garrisons in Moscow and Serpukhov, Dmitry’s army left Moscow for Kolomna on August 20, 1380. In order to alleviate crowding on poor roads, the Russian forces moved along three different routes. Ten merchants who knew the route through the steppes as well as the location of watering holes and other water sources guided the columns. Reaching Kolomna on the 24th, Dmitry called a halt to rest his troops and give his late arriving detachments time to catch up. In order to facilitate the crossing of Oka River, he ordered his soldiers to improve the available fords by dumping large amounts of sand, gravel and dirt in the river. Some of these artificial sandbanks survive to the present day, and navigators on the Oka take careful measures to avoid them.

Learning that Jogaila’s forces were on the move as well, Dmitry led his army south along the left bank of the Oka. In choosing that route, Dmitry placed his forces between Mamai and his Lithuanian allies. Ever\’ day mounted scouts brought news of Mamai’s progress. They reported that the forward detachments of Tatar cavalry’ were already approaching the Nepryadva River delta at the Don River. The main Russian force was rapidly advancing toward the Don as well, gaining several days’ march ahead of Jogaila.

Dmitry’s route took his forces through the edge of Ryazan’s territory. In spite of Prince Oleg’s alliance with the Golden Horde, Dmitry ordered his troops to leave the Ryazan lands unmolested. In so doing, the Muscovite prince displayed a canny understanding of the fact that Ryazan was one of the most geographically vulnerable Russian principalities, lying directly between Moscow and the Golden Horde. Oleg had the unenviable job of trying to safeguard even a modicum of independence in the face of two voracious neighbors. And Dmitry’s nonthreatening behavior paid off-although he was within easy reach of the Tatar army, Oleg did not hurry to join Mamai, but cautiously hung back, to see how the upcoming confrontation would play out.

The Russian forces approaching the Don were divided into four components. The main body, called the Grand Regiment, was under Dmitry’s immediate command. This unit also included the war bands of the Belozersk princes. The Right Regiment, as its name implied, was moving to the right of the Grand Regiment, under the command of Prince Vladimir. This unit also included troops from the city of Yaroslavl. The Left Regiment was commanded by Prince Gleb. Marching in the van, in front of the Grand Regiment, the Forward Regiment’s task was to scout out the route of march and receive the brunt of a Tatar offensive if necessary.

In the beginning of September; the forward Russian detachments reached the Don. Prince Dmitry ordered a halt to give all the troops who had fallen behind a chance to catch up, assemble and rest.

Meanwhile the Russian scouts took another prisoner who told them that Mamai was advancing slowly, waiting for Jogaila’s and Oleg’s armies to arrive. The Tatar forces, mostly composed of light cavalry, did not have the siege train necessary for taking Russian cities and were relying on the Lithuanians to provide them with the needed equipment. Not yet aware that Dmitry had already reached the Don, Mamai was still under the impression that the Russian forces would not dare to make a major move against him, and he was preparing to cross the river in three days’ time.

Russian scouts also reported that King Jogaila’s forces were making good time and were only two days away from joining Mamai. Prince Dmitry called for another war council, in which several courses of action were discussed. Some princes favored not crossing the Don, but remaining on their side and attempting to prevent Mamai from crossing the river. Dmitry, supported by his hotheaded cousin Prince Vladimir and General Bobrok, were for crossing the river and taking the war to Mamai. After much deliberation, Dmitiy decided to cross the river and meet the invader head-on. This decision did not come lightly. The Russian commander was well aware that should he fail and his army be annihilated, and as had happened so often in the past century, the majority of the Russian lands would be wide open to the ravages of Tatar retribution.

On September 7, the entire Russian army, numbering about 12,000 men, gathered on the banks of the Don, getting ready to cross this formidable obstacle. Numerous militia detachments were put to work felling trees to build temporary bridges. Cavalry detachments were sent out to search for fords, Dmitry wanted to be across before Mamai had time to join up with Oleg and Jogaila. Work on the bridges proceeded at a good pace, and several fords were discovered as well. By nightfall, the whole of Dmitry’s army had crossed over and halted in the swampy terrain near the confluence of the Don and Nepryadva rivers.

Tension ran high in the Russian camp that night. A strong wind picked up, and the river became shrouded with fog. Around midnight the wind finally died down and an uneasy calm fell over the encampment. Not many slept that night. Scouts reported that Mamai. with his whole force of roughly 18,000 troops, was already approaching the expected battlefield. The forward-most Russian detachments had fought several running skirmishes with the advancing Tatars. Now only a tiny river, the Smolka, divided the converging armies.

So it was that Dmitry and Bobrok surveyed Kulikovo Field and made their preparations for the battle to come on the morning of September 8, Knowing that the favorite Tatar tactic was to move around the flanks of an opposing force and take it from the rear, Dmitry and Bobrok deployed their forces in such a way as to anchor them on defensible terrain features. Their goal was to deny the Tatars mobility and channel them into a narrow field in order to negate their numerical superiority.

The Russian forces were deployed in their traditional three-deep battle formation. The detached scout element formed the first line. Directly behind it, in the second line, was the Forward Regiment. The third Russian line consisted of the Right, Left and Grand regiments. The Right Regiment was deployed with its flank resting on the Lower Dubyak River. The shallow Smolka anchored the Left Regiment, under the command of two brothers, the princes of Belozersk. The Grand Regiment under Dmitry’s personal command took up the center position, with a small reserve held behind it. An even smaller detachment guarded the several temporary bridges located behind the Left Regiment. Dmitry combined almost all of his available cavalry, consisting of the experienced war bands of various princes’ household troops, into a new unit. This so-called Ambush Regiment, placed under the joint command of Prince Vladimir and Bobrok, was hidden in the Dubrava Wood, on the extreme left of the Russian deployment.

According to Russian Orthodox Christian beliefs, September 8 coincided with the birthday of the Virgin Mother, and a priest walked up and down the Russian ranks imploring the troops to be worthy of the occasion. Shortly after 10 a. m., a solid wall of Tatar cavalry appeared on the field. Denied the opportunity to encircle the Russian deployment, the Golden Horde also deployed in linear-formation. The center of the Tatar line was occupied by Genoese mercenary pikemen and dismounted tribesmen, Tatar cavalry coveied their flanks, and a strong detachment of cavalry was kept in reserve.

Around 11 a. m. following a ritualistic duel between two horsemen, the Tatars opened the battle by shooting a volley of arrows that darkened the sky, then surged forward. The Russian scout force and Forward Regiment were severely pressed by the Genoese and their long pikes, supplemented by dismounted Tatars. After a short period of pushing and shoving, the Russians began to give way. Some Russian archers, however, managed to bring down several of the front-rank Genoese pikemen, and the Russian infantry got in among them. In the melee that ensued, the swords and war axes of the Russians began to exact a heavy toll on the Genoese, whose pikes became a liability’ in close combat. The Russian success did not last long, however, as fresh waves of Tatars swung the advantage back in Mamai’s favor.

After almost an hour of fighting, the survivors of the Forward and scout units were pushed back onto the Grand Regiment. The Tatar warriors charged headlong to close with the Russian main body, while their archers showered the tight Russian formations with arrows. The fight became a vicious brawl. Fallen wounded were crushed underfoot, men slipped on grass slick with blood, and horses stumbled over piles of bodies.

At that critical moment, Prince Dmitry himself went down under a fresh rush of Tartars. Instead of discouraging the Russian forces, however, this only strengthened their resolve. On the right flank. Prince Andrey of Ryazan, a noblemen who had renounced Prince Oleg’s alliance to the Golden Horde, slowly began to gain ground. He personally led a small band of his mounted retainers in a mad charge that drove the enemy back.

From his observation post on top of Krasny Hill, Mamai became enraged to see some of his troops retreat. Around 2 p. m., he sent in his last reserves in an attempt to overwhelm the Russian left wing and break into the Russian tear. As the fresh Tatar forces crashed into the exhausted Russians, the Left Regiment slowly began to give way. For the first time in the course of the battle, the Grand Regiment was in real danger of being surrounded. At that time, both of the Belozersk princes fell in battle. The small Russian reserve detachment was brought forward but could not restore the situation. The fight continued, with the Russian left wing being slowly pushed back onto the Grand Regiment.

As it often happens, the side that hoards the last reserves wins the day. At that crucial time, the Russian Ambush Regiment attacked from its position in the Dubrava Wood, taking the Tatars in their right flank and rear. The fresh Russian horsemen, bent on revenge for the carnage that had unfolded before their eyes, gave no quarter. The remnants of the Grand Regiment under Prince Gleb, who assumed command after Dmitry fell, rushed forward, trapping fleeing Tatars between them and the cavalry.

After another hour of savage fighting, the Tatars finally gave way and began to retreat in earnest. Some of them tried to rally and make a stand at Mamai’s camp but were quickly overrun by jubilant Russian troops. Mamai, screaming with rage, abandoned his camp and followed the survivor’s in retreat.

Back on the corpse-strewn battlefield. Prince Vladimir launched a desperate effort to find Dmitry. Twice, fallen noblemen resembling the grand prince were discovered and word spread of his death. That feeling of despair ultimately turned to widespread joy, however, when Prince Dmitry was finally found alive. He was covered in blood from a head wound, but his helmet bad absorbed the blow-he had been knocked unconscious rather than seriously wounded. Dmitry s personal standard with the image of Christ the Savior was hoisted high amid the exhausted but jubilant Russian troops.

After a short pursuit, the Russian cavalry’ returned to the battlefield. It was a Pyrrhic victory, with more than 3,000 Russians lying dead and roughly the same number wounded. Because of the large number of casualties, seven days had to be spent at the battlefield resting, tending the wounded and burying the dead. Disproportionate to the overall Russian casualties was the butcher’s bill of their leaders, who had fought at the forefront throughout the battle, with 15 princes killed. Tatar dead numbered roughly the same as the Russians, but the wounded they left on the field received no mercy from the victors.

King Jogaila was still a day’s march away when he received news of Mamai’s defeat, at which point he turned around and retired to Lithuania, laying waste to Russian lands as he passed. As Dmitry’s detachments began returning to their homes, several small units were set upon and destroyed by retreating Lithuanians and Prince Oleg’s forces, who until then had showed no activity. The brutal nature of the civil war was clearly demonstrated when at least two wagon trains of Dmitry’s Russian wounded were massacred by Oleg’s Ryazanians and Jogaila’s Kievan and Belorussian troops.

Upon returning to his base of operations, Mamai began to gather another army to take revenge on the upstart Russians. Significant numbers of his troops who were dispersed after the Battle of Kulikovo rejoined him and provided the backbone of his new force. Before he had time to assemble his new horde, however, Mamai was attacked and defeated in 1381 by his Tatar rival, Khan Tokhtamysh. Accompanied by just a few followers, Mamai escaped to Crimea to seek shelter with his recent backers, the Genoese. Now carried in the liability portion of their ledger, Mamai was quietly murdered by his former allies in Kaffa, present-day Feodosiya.

Dmitry died on May 19, 1389, nine years after the victory on the Don River, for which he forever became known as Dmitry Donskoi. While the immediate military-political gains of victory on Kulikovo Field were minimal, it gave a huge boost to Russian national pride and identity. Even though the Tatar yoke would not be thrown off for another century, the Russian people now recognized that their liberation was only a matter of time.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part III 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


The early origins of the Hittites are not entirely certain, but it is likely the people we call Hittites arrived in Anatolia about 2000BC and came from Europe as part of a broader migration from the Black Sea region and Pontic steppe. In diplomatic correspondence of the Late Bronze Age the realm is the land of Hatti (Khatta in Egyptian).

Army of the Hittite Old and Middle Kingdom 1680 BC – 1380 BC

The Hittite kingdom from its foundation by the semi-legendary Labarnas possibly circa 1680 BC, until the accession of Suppiluliumas circa 1380 BC. In 1595 BC Mursilis I broke the power of the Amorite states of Syria and overthrew the First Dynasty of Babylon and carried away its gods. However, he was murdered before he could consolidate his conquests, leaving power vacuums to be filled by the rising Human powers. The numbers of chariots attested in armies before 1500 BC never exceed 80. The kingdom declined after 1500 BC until it was restored to Empire during the reign of Suppiluliumas from 1380 BC.

Army of the Hittite Empire 1380 BC – 1180 BC

The Hittite empire from the accession of Suppiluliumas circa 1380 BC. Mitanni was acquired as a vassal state circa 1348 BC. Syria was incorporated into the empire circa 1340 BC. The empire was crippled by the “Sea Peoples” invasion of the 1170s and then finished off by their old enemies the Gasgans. We use Syrian here to include all the states allied or feudatory to Hatti in that general area, such as Canaanites, Phoenicians, Retennu, Ugaritics and Khaaru. At the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, Hittite chariots and those of their allies from Arzawa, Masa and Pitassa had three-man crews, comprising shieldless driver, shieldless spearman (who probably also had a bow) and shield-bearer. Against lighter chariots these would attempt to come to close quarters where their long spears and larger crew would have the advantage. Since they apparently came as a surprise to the Egyptians, we assume they were a recent innovation. A Hittite army would still include 2-man chariot types, including Syrian chariots with driver and archer, and Anatolian types with driver and a single spearmen or javelinman. In Syria, tactics were based on the offensive use of chariotry, with infantry adopting a supporting role, depicted deployed in the rear in deep rectangular blocks of tight-packed troops with spear in one hand and sword in the other, described in the Egyptian account of Kadesh as teheru, a term they also used for their own elite troops. Only officers and chariot runners are shown with shields. Spears are often shown as long and used two-handed. In Anatolia, the Hittite infantry were well suited to counter the troublesome Gasgans in the rugged terrain of the Empire’s periphery. The duties of Hittite scouts included eliminating enemy scouts. A Ugaritic fleet landed a Hittite force to attack Cyprus.

The Hittite first arrived in Anatolia around the time of 2000 B.C. Before their arrival, this region was already inhabited by other groups of people. These groups initially resisted the militaristic advances of the Hittite people, though were eventually overpowered and succumbed to their advances. Within several hundred years, the entire region was under the control of the Hittite king.

This time period is best defined as the later stages of the Bronze Age. The majority of the world at this time utilized bronze as a major resource for tools, weapons, and other everyday items. Bronze was a readily accessible material that was the product of easily workable elements that were quite common. The advantage to using bronze was that it was extremely malleable and did not take extreme heat to be manufactured. The downside to bronze was that it did not keep a sharp edge for long periods of time and was not a very sturdy metal.

These shortcomings of bronze are magnified one hundred fold when you consider that some of the key items made from metal at this time period were related to military needs. Swords, armor, and shields all used bronze in their construction. If an army’s sword became dull or their armor suffered damage, it would be a massive priority for these items to be repaired immediately.

What the Hittite had that other cultures in the region did not was the knowledge of how to make iron. The Hittite had learned the secretive process for extracting iron from rocks containing iron ore. That is not to say that other cultures had not attempted to do the same, but the Hittite were able to understand the best methods for increasing the heat in their forges to a massive degree in order to separate the ore from the base rocks. This concept alone is the main reason that the Hittite was able to unify their nation and expand it to neighboring borders.

The Hittite used this new found metal as a way to create stronger weapons. Their swords, shields, and armor were all crafted using iron as opposed to bronze. The iron was more durable and held a sharper edge over a longer period of time. Considering that many of the military campaigns fought throughout this time were hand-to-hand combat, this gave the Hittite a massive edge over their competitors. The Hittite used these stronger, sharper weapons to continually expand their empire and to overcome rebellions within their own borders.

The Hittite conquered the then existing city-states of the region and unified them all under one authority using their iron weapons and other military technology. At that time, many of these city-states were at war with one another. With the introduction of iron, the Hittite were able to improve not just their military capabilities, but also the tools related to daily functioning.

The Hittites were an agriculturally based society.  They relied heavily on farming and herding as a means to support their empire’s development and sustainability. With the inclusion of iron, farmers were able to begin using iron plows that allowed them to till land that had previously been unusable due to soil conditions. It allowed the Hittite to increase dramatically their output of crops and to support their ever-growing empire.

Another piece of technology that the Hittite utilized was the chariot. The Hittites were not the only race in this region to have access to horses and chariots. What made the Hittite’s use of these weapons unique was how they constructed their chariots. While one or two soldiers may have used a standard chariot, the Hittite designed their chariots to be used by three soldiers. So why would this be advantageous? Consider this notion.

A chariot needs to be driven by at least one person. If the driver of a chariot must focus all of their efforts on controlling the team of horses, how many arrows can they fire? How can they best defend themselves against the swords of an enemy? The Hittite chariots fit three soldiers. This allowed one man to drive the chariot and allowed two more to work effectively as soldiers and focus their efforts on warfare.

The Hittite used these chariots extremely effectively. One of the ancient cultures most connected to chariots is the Egyptian culture. The size advantage of the Hittite’s chariots is what helped them to overcome Egyptian advance into their territory.

The combined effects of Hittite designed chariots and iron made weapons were what gave the Hittite the power to unify their home region of Anatolia and expand their empire. At the height of their power and control, the Hittite king held influence over land that would encompass modern-day Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. Hittite raids were also successful at striking targets far from their home range as a means of destabilizing neighboring states and allowing the Hittite to gain further influence among their neighbors.

While the Hittites understood the process of making iron, their empire existed fully within the Bronze Age. It wasn’t until the empire’s final demise that the Hittite let their secrets of iron working escape their empire to other cultures. This action is what truly ushered in the next age, commonly referred to as the Iron Age.

One of the key portions of accessing records concerning these secretive Hittite people is actually through one of the most well-known books in existence. The Hittites are continually referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible. In fact, biblical references about the Hittite abound. One of the Old Testament’s most famous characters is said to have interacted with the Hittite. Abraham, a foundational individual from ancient times, is said to have purchased a cave from a Hittite in which his wife, Sarah, was buried. This was massively significant, as, before this, Abraham had been engaged in a life that was defined by wandering from region to region. This notion is very similar to the details relating to the origins of the Hittite. Remember that prior to settling in the area then known as Anatolia, the Hittite were wandering people consumed primarily with agricultural development.

So what then happened to the Hittite? To fully answer this question, you should consider some of the factors the Hittite needed to ensure continued success as an empire. The Hittite were susceptible to disease same as any other ancient race. While they did rely on ancient medicines as a means to ward off certain infections, they were not immune to the diseases that commonly ravaged entire nations. An outbreak of plague decimated much of the land and left many dead. Without sufficient manpower to operate the needed positions within the empire, tasks began to go unfinished. These unfinished tasks compounded over time and began a snowball effect that eventually led to the failure of needed systems within the Hittite culture.

Another issue for which the Hittite empire was at fault was the continued cost of unending military campaigns. The Hittite were continually attempting to gain full control over the lands of Syria and beyond. These city centers were far from their home where the Hittite people had the strongest support base. As the Hittite attempted to wrest the control and gain continued support over these lands, they inadvertently overtaxed their own networks of supply and support. Too much was taken for too long and eventually the Hittite found themselves at odds with continuing this unsustainable war effort.

The final cause of the downfall of the Hittite empire can be found in the exact same issue by which they came to the lands of Anatolia. Outsiders whom they called the ‘sea people’ began arriving in untold numbers to their homelands. These people were eventually successful in ousting the Hittite, from their native lands and forcing them to flee to lands to the south where they were forced to settle in new lands and cultures. Their assimilation did not maintain the same success as their initial foray into the lands of Anatolia as they were unable to unify any sort of centralized government in these new lands and had to instead, accept the ways of these new lands.

The modern day historians and scholars divided their kingdom into three periods initially.

1)  The Old Kingdom – 1700-1500 BCE

2)  The Middle Kingdom – 1500 – 1400 BCE

3)  The New Kingdom or the Hittite Empire – 1400-1200 BCE

1) Old Kingdom:

Historians claim that the Old Hittite Kingdom began in 1700 BCE when Hittite King Anitta of Kussara sacked Hattusa. Even though King Anitta conquered the city it was referred as ‘land of Hatti’ because it was a powerful land since 2500 BCE. The king had burned the city and cursed everyone living in it. He even cursed anyone who attempts to build it again. But soon, another king Hattusili I from Kussara, re-built the city. It was his symbolic expression to establish the prominence of Hattusa. Scholars have found an ancient document – ‘The Edict of Telepinu’ which belonged to the 16th century BCE. It states that King Hattusili was a brave warrior and ruled over a vast empire. There is a passage which claims that Hattusili aimed to unify his kingdom and he was largely successful at it. However, his sons rebelled and used their power and resources entrusted to them for the rebellion. Towards the end when Hattusili was on his deathbed, he chose his grandson as heir to his kingdom. However, the grandson turned out to be an ineffective leader. He invaded other regions merely for loot and not establishing political control over the region.

2) The Middle Kingdom:

Telepinu was the last ruler of the ‘Old Kingdom’. A very long phase of bad rule between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ kingdom is known as the ‘Middle Kingdom’. No clear records are available about which ruler held the throne for how long. Historians assume that there is an obscurity of data as the Hittites must have been attacked constantly. It is only from the rule of Suppiluliuma, the proper records about the ‘New Kingdom’ are available for study.

3) New Kingdom:

The New Kingdom is also is known as the Hittite Empire begins with King Suppiluliuma I who was crowned in 1344. He dominated the region of the Middle East around the 14th century BC. He is said to have ruled for about four decades and was known for his improved defenses. There were extended city walls and enclosed area that spread over 120 hectares. Under his rule, the kingdom expanded to the farthest northern Syrian cities. Suppiluliuma I died of the plague and was succeeded by Arnuwanda II, who too died from the plague. Automatically, the reign fell into the lap of his younger brother Mursilli II. While no one took this new king seriously and considered him to be a child, they were taken aback when he displayed his exemplary skills as a statesman.

He conquered several tribes which threatened his kingdom and was the first one to secure the Hittite borders. The last ruler of the Hittites’ empire was Tudhaliya IV. Around this time, the Assyrians were strengthening their army and gaining political control. They challenged the Hittites and defeated Tudhaliya IV, which resulted in the decline of the Hittite Empire.

Hittites can be credited for setting up peace treaties and alliances. This civilization established pacts with their neighboring regions to maintain cordial relations and diplomacy. So, if you look at this civilization carefully, it has set up an example in international politics.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part II 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

War of the Polish Succession, (1733–1738)

Painting of Polish soldiers by J. Ch. Mock, “Kampament wojsk polskich i saskich pod Wilanowem w 1732 r.”, Muzeum Wojska Polskiego w Warszawie.

Europe after the 1738 Treaty of Vienna, which concluded the war.

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Stanislaus I Leszczynski (backed by France, Spain, and Sardinia) vs. Augustus III (backed by Russia and Austria)

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Poland, Rhineland, Italy, and Austria

DECLARATION: October 10, 1733

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Succession to the Polish throne following the death of Augustus II

OUTCOME: After an Austrian victory in the decisive Battle of Bitonio, the supporters of Stanislaus yielded to the supporters of Augustus III, who became king of Poland. In addition, the war led to a redistribution of Italian territories and inflated Russia’s influence over Poland.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: In Poland-pro-Hapsburg forces: 30,000 Russians, 10,000 Saxons; pro-Stanislaus forces: large but unknown number of Poles and a small French reinforcement of 1,950. In the Rhineland-no estimates for the large French invasion force or the overall Hapsburg resistance. In Italy-40,000 Spanish and 30,000 French-Sardinian troops; 50,000-60,000 Hapsburg forces. CASUALTIES: At least 50,000 Frenchmen killed or wounded overall and more than 30,000 Austrians. Overall figures for other belligerents were not tabulated, although the Spanish lost 3,000 men at Bitonto alone. TREATIES: Treaty of Vienna, November 18, 1738.

On 1 February 1733 Augustus II died of alcohol poisoning in Warsaw. His last words were: ‘My whole life has been one un—interrupted sin. God have mercy on me.’ He had hoped to ensure the succession of his son Augustus to the Polish throne, but this seemed unlikely since Stanisław Leszczyński, whose daughter had married Louis XV of France, was expected to stand for election and to win easily. Russia, Prussia and Austria signed an agreement to throw their combined strength behind the young Saxon, who had already promised to cede Livonia to Russia if elected.

The 13,000 who assembled for the election voted unanimously for Leszczyński, who had travelled to Warsaw incognito. In Paris Voltaire composed an ode of joy, but Russian troops were already on the move. On 5 October 20,000 of them assembled 1,000 szlachta outside Warsaw and forced them to elect Augustus of Saxony. Five days later France declared war on Austria and started the War of the Polish Succession. King Stanisław’s supporters gathered in confederations all over the country and the city of Gdańsk raised a sizeable army on his behalf. Two years of sporadic fighting ensued, but France made peace, having got what she wanted from Austria in Italy. Stanisław was given the Duchy of Lorraine as a consolation prize by his son-in-law, and Augustus III ascended the Polish throne.

The Commonwealth had effectively ceased being a sovereign state in 1718 with the imposition of the Russian ‘protectorate’. It had also virtually ceased to function as a political organism. The Sejm was not summoned between 1703 and 1710, the years of the Northern War, which meant that no legislation was passed and no state taxes could be levied. When the Sejm did sit again, it was hardly more effective. Of the eighteen sessions called under Augustus II, ten were broken up by the use of the veto. The King had tried to impose stronger government, but his policies were poorly thought out. He had an unfortunate conviction that a show of strength by the Saxon army was a necessary prelude to any change, and this had the effect of provoking resistance even in those who would otherwise have agreed with him. In the last years of his reign he did manage to gain the support of a group of magnates and szlachta, but their programme for reform was cut short by his death in 1733.

His son Augustus, Poland’s new monarch, was obese and indolent: he would spend his days cutting out bits of paper with a pair of scissors or else sitting by the window taking potshots at stray dogs with a pistol. He also drank like a fish. Augustus III reigned for thirty years. He spent only twenty-four months of that time in Poland, feeling more at home in Saxony. Yet he was not as unpopular with the szlachta as might have been expected—he never made the slightest attempt to curtail their prerogatives and increase his own. Only one Sejm completed its session under his rule, the army dwindled to half its theoretical size, and all visible signs of nationwide administration disappeared.


When Poland’s King Augustus II (1670-1733) died on February 1, 1733, Austria and Russia supported the succession of his son Frederick Augustus (1696-1763), elector of Saxony, to the throne. Most Poles, and certainly the major Polish nobles, preferred Stanislaus I Leszczynski (1677-1766), who, as the father-in-law of Louis XV (1710-74), had the backing of both France and Spain. In fact, Stanislaus had been the Poles’ king once already for a brief five years after the Swedes, back in 1704, helped to depose Augustus in the Second (or Great) NORTHERN WAR-temporarily as it turned out. In any case, the Polish sejm (Diet, or parliament), consisting of some 12,000 delegates, on September 12 elected Stanislaus king.

This the Hapsburgs’ ally, Russia, could not abide, and quickly dispatched an army 30,000 strong toward Warsaw. With the approach of the Russians, both Stanislaus and most of the Diet’s delegates fled, the king, pursued by Russian and Saxon troops, to Danzig. Meanwhile, the Russians occupied the city and forced a rump parliament of some 3,000 to declare Frederick Augustus as Poland’s new king, Augustus III, on October 5, 1733.

In response to the mobilization of the Russian army, France had formed anti-Hapsburg alliances with Sardinia on September 26 and Spain on November 7. They declared war on Austria on October 10. With some dispatch, Don Carlos (1716-88), the Spanish infante (heir apparent), led a Spanish army of 40,000 across Tuscany and the Papal States to Naples, defeated the Austrians at Bitonto on May 25, 1734, conquered Sicily, and was crowned king of Naples and Sicily (25 years later, he would become Spain’s Charles III). The French war, however, did not proceed so smoothly. After overrunning Lorraine when they invaded the Rhineland, the French were effectively checked in southern Germany by the Hapsburg forces; the French-Sardinian forces invading Lombardy could not manage to take Mantua, and the small French contingent sent by sea to relieve the Russian siege of Danzig failed miserably.

Danzig fell in June 1734, but by then Stanislaus had escaped to Prussia. Although the Poles organized the Confederation of Dzikow in November 1734 to support his cause, they were no match for the Russians and Augustus. Worse for the Poles, the Spaniards and the Sardinians fell to bickering, fracturing the Italian campaign of 1735. Worried that the British and the Dutch might join the fighting as Hapsburg allies, the French made a hasty, halfbaked peace with Austria on October 3, 1735, which was followed by the definitive Treaty of Vienna on November 18, 1738. Don Carlos was allowed to retain Naples and Sicily but he had to give the Hapsburgs both Parma and Piacenza, which he had inherited in 1731, and to renounce his claims to Tuscany. Stanislaus renounced the Polish throne and was compensated for this with the dukedom of Lorraine. Augustus III was recognized as the rightful Polish king.

Siege of Danzig (1734)

The Siege of Danzig was the Russian encirclement (February 22 – June 30, 1734) and capture of the Polish city of Danzig (Gdańsk) during the War of Polish Succession. This was the first time that France and Russia had met as foes in the field.

The Polish king Stanislas Leszczynski had fled after the Russian capture of Warsaw, and after failing to find support in Poland. Stanisław entrenched with his partisans (including the Primate and the French and Swedish ministers) to await the relief that had been promised by France. On February 22, 1734, a Russian army of 20,000 under Peter Lacy, after proclaiming August III the Saxon at Warsaw, proceeded to besiege Danzig.

On March 17, 1734, Marshal Münnich superseded Peter Lacy, and on May 20 the long-expected French fleet appeared, consisting of three ships of the line and two frigates, including the 60-gun Fleuron and the 46-gun Gloire. The fleet went on to disembark 2,400 men on Westerplatte. A week later, this force attempted to storm the Russian entrenchments, but failing to do so, and following the arrival of a Russian fleet under admiral Thomas Gordon on June 1, was finally compelled to surrender. The Russian fleet, consisting of the 100-gun ship Peter I and II and the 32-gun frigates Russia and Mitau had had a previous encounter with the French ships, in which the Mitau was captured. Danzig capitulated unconditionally on June 30, after sustaining a siege of 135 days, which cost the Russians 8,000 men. Danzig had suffered considerable damage and had to pay reparations.

Disguised as a peasant, Stanisław had contrived to escape two days before. He reappeared at Königsberg, whence he issued a manifesto to his partisans which resulted in the formation of a confederation on his behalf, and the dispatch of a Polish envoy to Paris to urge France to invade Saxony with at least 40,000 men. In the Ukraine, Count Nicholas Potocki hoped to support Stanisław by joining up with a force of some 50,000 guerillas operating in the countryside around Danzig. However they were ultimately scattered by the Russians.

Russian Navy

While Russian seafarers had been discovering new lands, Russia’s seamen had been asserting the power of Russian ships of the line in the Baltic. In 1734 the fleet assisted Russian land forces in the siege of Danzig, where a claimant to the Polish throne, Stanislav Leshchinsky, supported by King Louis XV of France, had been in hiding. In opposition to the French, Russian Empress Anna ordered that August III be made King of Poland. The French delayed arming their fleet and were able to dispatch only three ships of the line and two frigates. In May of 1734 a total of eighteen hundred French soldiers disembarked near Danzig while their ships lay at anchor nearby, awaiting reinforcements.

The Russian fleet left Kronstadt on May 15 under Admiral Thomas Gordon, who had his flag on the 100-gun ship Peter I and II. For reconnaissance the admiral sent out the 32-gun frigates Russia and Mitau. Ten days later the frigate Mitau, commanded by Captain Pyotr Defremery, was taken unawares by the French 60-gun Fleuron and 46-gun Gloire. At the insistence of the French, Cap-tain Defremery came on board the Fleuron and was then arrested. The Russian frigate Mitau, left without its captain, was seized. Admiral Gordon, meanwhile, arrived at Danzig with the fleet on 1 June. Having failed to repulse the reinforcements, the French surrendered on 13 June. Leshchinsky escaped from Danzig, the town was occupied by Russian troops and the French gave up their frigate the Brilliant. The dispute over the Polish throne ended in favour of August III.

Further reading: Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland, 2 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); O. Halecki (with additional material by A. Polonsky and Thaddeus V. Grommada), A History of Poland, new ed. (New York: Dorset Press, 1992); W. F. Reddaway, et al., eds., The Cambridge History of Poland, 2 vols. (reprint, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971).

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part I 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


General Heinz Guderian with an Enigma machine in a half-track being used as a mobile command center during the Battle of France, 1940

The main German cipher machine, derived from a Dutch invention that failed in several commercial models in the late 1920s. Various models of increasing complexity were used by the Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, and in diplomatic traffic. It was also used by the Reichsbahn (German railways). The Italian Navy used a derivative machine, the C38M. Polish intelligence partially broke Enigma ciphers in 1932. By 1939 the Poles had a foothold understanding of the original Dutch machine and therefore were able to rig replicas of its German descendants. The French also made headway from 1938. Polish intelligence Enigma replicas, and dearly acquired knowledge of German ciphers, were supplied by the Poles to the Western Allies in July 1939. The French and Poles passed additional information to the British in 1940. The British broke the naval code for the Italian C38M in September 1940, a year before that cipher was withdrawn. That greatly aided the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean naval campaign in 1940-1941. Naval Enigma rotors were recovered from a sunken minelayer U-boat off Scotland in February 1940. That told British intelligence that all German ships and U-boats carried them. Thereafter high priority was assigned to capture of U-boats and other enemy craft. German trawlers off Norway proved especially vulnerable: capture of Enigma code books or rotors from two trawlers led to breaking of the Kriegsmarine code. In May 1941, U-110’s Enigma machine was captured intact along with all code books. That and such capture or recovery successes were kept at the highest level of secrecy, including by deceit of captured U-boat crews or separate incarceration from other German prisoners.

The British built “bombes”-machines that mimicked and thus helped work out Enigma’s rotor sequences. There were never enough bombes to meet the demand of the code breakers at Bletchley Park, plus all the armed services and Britain’s clamoring allies. If the British had been more willing to provide technical information to the Americans-which they did not for mostly valid security reasons-it is conceivable that many more bombes would have been made much earlier. That was certainly Admiral Ernest King’s firm view, but in fairness King was not the most cooperative ally either. U. S. intelligence decided to make their own bombes in September 1942, with the first poor quality models available in May 1943. By the end of the year, 75 better quality bombes had been manufactured in the United States, greatly increasing code breaking capacity. It was still an infernal problem to decode: the two inner settings of the German naval cipher were set by officers only every two days, while naval cipher clerks changed the two outer settings every 24 hours. Enigma operators then chose three of the machine’s eight rotors, each of which had 26 point positions. All that provided 160 trillion potential combinations. On the receiving end, each U-boat had two nets of six frequencies each (“Diana” and “Hubertus”). And yet, Bletchley Park broke into the cipher.

The Kriegsmarine added a fourth rotor to its ciphers in January 1942, creating a prolonged “information blackout” that reduced enemy ability to detect wolf packs and divert convoys around them. The British made it a top priority to capture another machine from a U-boat or weather ship. U-559 was forced to the surface on October 30, 1942, by a sustained depth charge attack by five destroyers and destroyer escorts. Its documents were recovered, but the machine went down with the scuttled submarine. Still, it became clear that German operators were not fully utilizing the fourth rotor. An American ASW Support Group captured U-505 off Cape Verde in June 1944. The haul of Enigma material was enormous. It was also current and forward looking to new naval codes. Deciphering signals was greatly aided by COLOSSUS I, the first electronic computer put together by the brilliance of Alan Turing and engineers at Bletchley Park and elsewhere. It made processing and reading German ciphers faster than ever, often close to “real time.” COLOSSUS II came online in June 1944. A measure of how Enigma proved vulnerable to stiff-minded German overconfidence is the remarkable fact that the source of most intercepted signals, Admiral Karl Dönitz, went to his deathbed in 1980 convinced that no enemy ever read his Enigma ciphers.


“Secret writing machine.” Siemens & Halske T52 A German cipher machine that turned patterned holes in paper ribbons into transmittable radio pulses, or back into readable messages. Its 10-rotor system made the code-breaking task of British intelligence at Bletchley Park extremely difficult. The British did not break the Geheimschreiber until they developed the COLOSSUS I and II mechanical computers by mid-1944. When the Western Allies did break the code, they gleaned much information of high value, for the Wehrmacht used Geheimschreiber machines for its top-level headquarters’ communications.


“Station X.” The site of, and usual shorthand reference for, the British Code and Cypher School founded in 1919 and located about 80 miles north of London. During World War II it housed the critical code-breaking operation run by MI6. It employed some of the most brilliant British minds of the century-notably Alan Turing, inventor of the fi rst computer-as well as cryptanalysis specialists from Allied countries such as France, Poland, and the United States. The Americans actually took a long time to arrive and longer to be fully integrated: the first U. S. team did not reach Bletchley Park until April 25, 1943. Work at Bletchley Park was compartmentalized by “hut,” with groups in different huts listening to various of the hundreds of Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, or Wehrmacht codes. Signals were passed to code translators in Hut Three, which accepted its first Americans only in January 1944. There were over 10,000 people working on or otherwise supporting the extraordinarily complex and crucial work done at Bletchley Park by 1945. All their extraordinary work was kept secret for several decades after the war. Outposts of cryptanalysis tied to Bletchley Park were also maintained overseas, such as the “Combined Bureau, Middle East” in Cairo.


U.S. code for intercepts of Japanese diplomatic messages, and some military communications. This body of information is sometimes referred to as “the other ULTRA.” Cryptanalysis of the U.S. Army’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) broke Japanese “PURPLE” machine encryptions before the start of the Pacific War. The intercepts allowed American intelligence officers to read exchanges between Tokyo and the Japanese Embassy in Washington. While providing important insight into Japanese political and foreign policy thinking and relations, MAGIC did not provide operational or other “actionable” intelligence-mainly because Japanese diplomats were not told about Army or Navy operations in advance. MAGIC thus did not provide advance warning of the attacks on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), the Philippines, or Hong Kong. MAGIC traffic from Japanese Embassy officials in Berlin and European neutral capitals provided indirect intelligence on German plans, including the build-up for BARBAROSSA in mid-1941. Useful information was gleaned from 1943 to 1944 about some secret Wehrmacht weapons research and about planned strategy and dispositions along the Atlantic Wall.


U.S. code name for the Japanese electronic cipher machine that encrypted diplomatic messages. That cipher traffic was broken and read by U. S. Army intelligence agents of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) by late September 1940. The intercepts that resulted were code named MAGIC. The U. S. gave a copy of their PURPLE decoder machine to the British, who then also read Japanese diplomatic ciphers. The Japanese never knew that their diplomatic traffic was read by the enemy. They revealed much of military value as a result.


“Very Special Intelligence.” Code name for the initially British system of interception and decryption of German signals intelligence from 1940. ULTRA also intercepted and decrypted Italian signals. Its intelligence was shared by the major Western Allies by formal agreement from mid-1943. Although the relationship was uneasy at first, it proved one of the major successes of the Anglo-American alliance by war’s end. The code term “ULTRA” was later applied to Allied interception of Japanese signals intelligence, though not to diplomatic or political intercepts. Vast amounts of German signals were spewed out by Enigma machines and Geheimschreiber machines used by a variety of German military, diplomatic, police, and intelligence sources. ULTRA understanding of some intercepts-the Germans used nearly 200 code ciphers during the war, many of which were never penetrated-was greatly aided by widespread and often sloppy enemy tradecraft, especially within the Luftwaffe. For instance, Luftwaffe and other German operators often repeated signals on the same topic at the same time, permitting content analysis to identify certain key terms or coded locations, which provided clues to penetrate deeper into the cipher. There was also much real heroism and risk taken by Allied agents, and sheer mental sharpness and perseverance by code breakers starting with Polish and French intelligence before the war.

Winston Churchill was a key supporter of British signals breaking. He read ULTRA reports daily. British ULTRA decrypts aided defense during the Battle of Britain in 1940, helped RAF Bomber Command carry out its extended bomber offensive, and significantly aided British 8th Army win the desert campaigns (1940-1943): intercepts revealed German logistics problems and allowed the Royal Navy and RAF to further cripple supply. Probably the single most critical contribution of ULTRA was to support Allied victory over the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945). German historian Jürgen Rohwer estimates that ULTRA intercepts reduced Allied shipping losses by 65 percent as early as the end of 1941. ULTRA intelligence was also key to understanding to what degree deception operations succeeded or failed in land campaigns, up to the level of directly influencing the operational and strategic thinking of Adolf Hitler. Notable confirmation of deception success came in the BARCLAY and related MINCEMEAT operations, and for a series of critical deceptions called COCKADE. Unknown to the Western Allies, John Cairncross was a Soviet double agent in place inside Bletchley Park and MI6. He fed Moscow ULTRA intercepts that contributed directly to the Red Army’s success at Kursk.

Such important successes made ULTRA one of the top secrets of the war. ULTRA was so crucial that some operations that might have been undertaken were not, out of fear of revealing to the Germans that Enigma codes were compromised: ULTRA was just too strategically important to risk for any one tactical or operational gain. ULTRA not only aided operations, it helped shape Allied strategy at the highest levels of leadership. The secret of ULTRA was kept by at least 20,000 people for over 30 years. It was not until the 1970s that the first quasi-official accounts were authorized, and not until 1988 that the British official history astonished the historiographical world with rich detail that illuminated and altered understanding of many key events of the war.

Suggested Reading: David Khan, Seizing the Enigma (1995). R. Lewin, The American Magic (1982). Ralph Bennett, Behind the Battle (1994); F. H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War (1979-1990); Simon Singh, The Code Book (1999).

50 Books on World War II Recommended by John Keegan