Breakthroughs at Cassino and Anzio – but the Luftwaffe fights back I

112 Squadron Kittyhawk

Despite the bombing and total destruction of Cassino town by the Strategic Air Forces, on the evening of 19 March the Allies were forced to called off their third attempt to break through the Gustav Line. In five days the New Zealand and Indian Divisions had lost nearly 5,000 men. All immediate offensive plans were shelved. What was achieved in return for a heavy loss of life and casualties? Three incursions made in the Gustav Line seemed a paltry reward. A small bridgehead across the downstream Garigliano had been established, about half of Cassino town and Castle Hill captured, and in the east the Americans and French at great cost had taken more mountains.

While the end of the third battle for Cassino seemed to have little meaning, in the air the DAF [Desert Air Force] continued its incessant fight to keep the Luftwaffe subjugated and to provide close support to Eighth Army. Towards the end of March 1944, DAF’s AOC-in-C, AVM Broadhurst, who had led them from the deserts of North Africa to Italy’s Apennine mountains, departed to be replaced by AVM Dickson. Exactly one year before, at El Hamma in Tunisia, Broadhurst had pioneered DAF’s innovative use of fighter-bombers in close support of a decisive breakthrough on the ground. He also had ensured that, despite the massive growth of Allied air forces in diverse roles, DAF retained its powerful and unique identity.

At the time of DAF’s operation at El Hamma in Tunisia, Dickson had been making an inspection visit of DAF with Air Marshal Leigh-Mallory, AOC-in-C Fighter Command. They returned to the UK armed with lessons learned from DAF’s organization and tactics, which were put to good use in the air support planning for the Normandy invasion. Not least of these were the DAF operations using fighter-bombers. Modification of fighters for the fighter-bomber role had first been developed in the Western Desert in March 1942 when the Luftwaffe had some ascendancy over DAF.

In his Tunisian visit Dickson must have been impressed with what he saw and learned of DAF’s close support tactics for Eighth Army, for on taking up his new command of DAF in late March 1944, Dickson ordered more and more conversions of fighters to this role. Into April and May in support of ground forces at Anzio and Cassino, Kittyhawks carried a 1,000lb bomb under the aircraft’s belly, and two 500lb bombs under the wings. Mustangs and Thunderbolts also carried 1,000-pounders, and even Spitfires a 500-pounder in ‘Spitbomber’ mode.

The Rover David Cab-rank system was intensified to bring even closer support on the battlefield. As well as the Mobile Operations Room Unit (MORU) named David, in recognition of its introduction by Group Captain David Haysom, five more MORU Rovers were established, Paddy, Jack, Joe, Tom and Frank. Each MORU would normally have an RAF officer in command, and preferably one who had some army experience. Around eighteen Eighth Army men in a MORU would include two officers, a sergeant, a radio operator, a cipher clerk, technicians, drivers, mechanics, a cook and guard troops. Their vehicles and equipment, typically comprising an armoured car and trailer, a light truck, and three jeeps with trailers, gave them a high degree of self-sufficiency.

Some fighter-bombers ranged farther afield in modified air interdiction operations. Rather than targeting infrastructure concentration points, strikes were re-focused against bridges and the movement of the enemy’s road and rail traffic. To raid rail routes and traffic deep behind and to the north of the Germans’ right flank at Anzio, on 31 March the 57th Fighter Group USAAF relocated its fighter squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts to Alto near the port of Bastia on Corsica’s east coast. Flying across the Tyrrhenian Sea, their priority targets would be railway locomotives, rolling stock and road traffic in northern Italy. The squadrons were set a target of forty-eight sorties a day, and within two weeks were averaging eighty a day.

While at Alto they began to be armed with eight- to eleven-second fuses for 500lb and 1,000lb high-explosive bombs. The delayed fuses led them to begin dropping their bombs from below 500 feet so as to achieve more direct hits on the railway tracks. This prompted their Major Dick Hunziker to form a flight of ‘Tunnel Busters’, led by Captain Lyle H. Duba. The tactic was to skip-bomb the railway tunnels, where it was thought trains used to hide out in daylight. Duba believed that he and three other pilots of the ‘Tunnel Busters’ Flight caught several locomotives and trains hiding out in the tunnels:

We flew at least 20 of these hair-raising missions on the deck, strafing the target, dropping a single bomb and then immediately going into a high-G pull out to avoid the ridge the tunnel went through. On several occasions the bomb exited the other end of the tunnel before exploding, but most of the time it detonated inside.

Hunziker was of the view that, even if there was no train in the tunnel, the underground track and tunnel structure would have been severely damaged.

In anticipation of the Allies’ build-up for spring offensives at Anzio and Cassino, the Luftwaffe garnered its remaining numbers to try and blunt Allied air attacks. However, air superiority and many more fighter squadrons gave DAF a lethal tactical advantage. Rather than being drawn into individual dog-fights, they were able to shift to an emphasis on formation group work.

While the resourcing of air forces in UK to support the Normandy landings attracted the latest types of aircraft, DAF was left to persist with many outdated models such as Baltimores, Bostons and Kittyhawks. This was only viable because of the Allied air forces’ superiority over the Luftwaffe’s meagre strength in Italy. Bari may have had far-reaching consequences for the Italian campaign but, day in day out, Allied air power still continued to dominate the skies.


To achieve a decisive advantage on the ground, General Alexander planned a build-up with a number of deceptions. The vast bulk of Eighth Army was gradually moved at night time from the Adriatic coast to the Cassino front. False information on planning for another seaborne landing north-west of Rome at its port of Civitavecchia was leaked to the Germans. It must have had an effect, for Kesselring kept strong reserves north of Rome until a few days after the start of Eighth Army’s Operation HONKER, the next attack on Cassino and the Gustav Line.

The Canadian Corps of two divisions was brought into Eighth Army reserve without announcement. At the same time fictitious information was issued which indicated that the Canadians were relocating to Naples to embark for the fake amphibious operation to land at Civitavecchia.

The Allies’ overwhelming air superiority reduced reconnaissance by the Luftwaffe to a minimum, strengthening the cloak of secrecy. The concealment of forces was not just to give the benefit of surprise, it would hide the reserve capability to exploit the capture of Cassino and Monte Cassino, so as to surge forward up the Liri Valley in Operation DIADEM, to combine with an Anzio breakout – codenamed Operation BUFFALO.

However, with the weather improving, and recognizing the inevitability that the Allies must be rebuilding for a new offensive, the Germans began to throw their remaining air power into some large air battles.

Despite the priorities of the war in north-west Europe, some newer model aircraft did keep feeding through to DAF. In mid-March Squadron Leader Neville Duke, the leading Spitfire ace in the Mediterranean, returned from his sojourn as a training instructor, and took over as commander of No. 145 Squadron RAF. Soon after his arrival he was delighted to take possession of a new Spitfire Mk VIII. In this new Spitfire, on 24 March, Duke led two patrol operations of 145 Squadron. On one patrol they engaged in a battle with more than thirty Luftwaffe fighters. The result was five more victories to take 145 Squadron’s overall score above 200.

Duke had brought with him to 145 Squadron Australian Flight Lieutenant Rod McKenzie, who for a period had been a fellow training instructor in Egypt. On one of those training days Duke had asked McKenzie to fly with him. He accepted only on condition that he could fly a Spitfire, and if Duke promised to get him a transfer to a Spitfire squadron.6 In a fateful decision Duke found a way to fulfil his promise

Ensuring that experienced pilots spent time away from operations on training instruction duties, was a further strength of the Allied air forces. The Luftwaffe’s loss rates were too high for them to effectively allocate sufficient experienced pilots to training. The result was that new pilots in Luftwaffe squadrons were thrown into combat without experienced pilots to pass on their knowledge and guide them. It seriously shortened their survival rates, but on both sides a victory could be quickly followed by a defeat and death.

On 27 March Canadian Bill Downer of No. 93 Squadron RAF shot down two Fw190s to become an ace. A couple of weeks later, in a patrol off Anzio, Downer misjudged his height, crashed into the sea and was killed. His fellow pilot, Australian Warrant Officer Bobby Bunting, who had shot down two Fw190s on 29 February over Cisterna for his first victories, had a lucky escape. Outnumbered in a dogfight over Cassino, his Spitfire was hit. Wounded in the right leg, Bunting somehow got away to return safely to base.

Another Australian, Squadron Leader Bobby Gibbes of No. 3 Squadron RAAF, one of Australia’s most distinguished fighter aces and leaders, spoke of his innermost feelings in air fighting:

In that one minute the air is full of twisting, turning, frantic aeroplanes, and the next minute not a single enemy machine can be seen. The enemy has completely disappeared. You then collect the remnants of your squadron, count them hastily, then the fires burning below. The feeling is a strange one. Some of those fires down below contain the mutilated bodies of your friends. But as you look down, you have no real feeling other than, I hate to confess, probably terrific relief that it is them and not you.

It must be the animal in us really I suppose, and the strong spirit of self-survival which has become uppermost. Man becomes animal when he thinks he is about to die. As you fly back to your base, now safe at last, a feeling of light-hearted exuberance comes over you. It is wonderful to be still alive and it is, I think, merely the after-effect of violent, terrible fear. I am not afraid to confess to being frightened. I was almost always terrified.

On landing back, you look for your squadron aeroplanes at the dispersal sites, and if your friends’ aeroplanes are there, your heart fills with gladness for you have become a caring human being again.

He thought it often seemed to be an interminable wait for other missing aircraft. Then when the elapsed time appeared to be too long, an aircraft approached and touched down, ‘You look eagerly for its identifying letters, hoping against hope that it is one of the missing, returning’.

Engagements were often very brief, and always violent, but could be interspersed with interludes of uneventful operations. The dogfights and victories were statistics which belied the massive number of sorties flown. Many operations were completed without any engagement with enemy aircraft, or only a fleeting contact, with no claimed kills. On 29 March, over Anzio, Pilot Officer Doyle of No. 417 Squadron RAF claimed his first victory, a Bf109. Despite then being attacked, wounded and his Spitfire catching fire, he probably also downed an Fw190. Doyle managed amazingly to crash-land in the Nettuno beachhead and survive. His first victory had come on his 185th sortie.


In early March Group Captain Hugh Dundas was awarded the DSO, and informed by AVM Broadhurst in confidence that, if he wanted to get back into operations, he was to be appointed commander of the renowned No. 239 Wing RAF. At the same time as feeling very flattered, Dundas was very apprehensive. The battle-hardened 239 Wing included the formidable Nos 3 and 450 Squadrons RAAF. It was the largest wing in the Mediterranean theatre, and was looked upon by nearly everyone as the best formation operating in the fighter-bomber role. Dundas himself, just twenty-three years old, thought it a staggering promotion, and also daunting:

It was the question which I had been both dreading and hoping for. The old struggle was raging within me – the struggle between the knowledge that I should fight on and the desire to call it a day and stay alive.

Furthermore, Dundas knew really nothing about the skills of flying fighter-bomber roles and dropping bombs. He knew he would have to learn new flying techniques, and regularly lead the wing on operations. Whereas in fighter dog-fights you pitted your plane and ability in one-on-one contests, as a fighter-bomber you had to dive into heavy flak, and a random but increased risk of being shot down. Dundas told Broadhurst that he would take the job.

It was soon after this meeting that Broadhurst was transferred back to the UK, to command the air forces for the D Day invasion, before Dundas’ promotion was approved. The new AVM Dickson chose the Australian Brian Eaton, commander of No. 3 Squadron RAAF, to be commander of 239 Wing. Dundas had great respect for Eaton and, despite missing out on promotion, still found himself wanting to get back into operations. At the beginning of May he persuaded Dickson to let him join No. 244 Wing RAF as a wing leader of their Spitfires, under his old friend Wing Commander Brian Kingcombe. While Dundas waited for the paperwork to be processed for his promotion and transfer, the overall build-up to a spring offensive increased.


In late March and early April 1943 the weather improved. The intensity of air attacks forced most German road traffic to move only at night. The Boston bombers of No. 3 Wing SAAF, in their night-intruder role became the most favoured strike aircraft to try to plug the night-time gap in interdiction operations. The Bostons, nick-named the ‘Pippos’, short for ‘Pipistrello’, the Italian word for a bat, exemplified how DAF had resisted becoming composed solely of fighter squadrons. Once again DAF had demonstrated that its retention of bombers made it unique in its make-up, and highly adaptable to ever-changing circumstances.

During April the command of the Tactical Air Force (TAF) raised the tempo of the air war, with the instigation of Operation STRANGLE. The objectives were the interdiction of Rome, the battlefields at Anzio, Cassino, and the enemy’s communication routes leading to the Gustav and Adolf Hitler Lines. Just as it had at El Alamein and for the invasion of Sicily, the massive air superiority of the Allies also created a No Fly Zone. This allowed Eighth Army to move west with impunity over the Apennines to join Fifth Army for the major offensives at Cassino.

The air interdiction strategy of Operation STRANGLE was the idea of General John K., ‘Uncle Joe’, Cannon, commander of MATAF, to break the stalemates at Cassino and Anzio. It aimed to do what its name suggests, to cut off all rail, road and river routes across Italy, and prevent supplies reaching the German armies. An unforeseen and beneficial outcome was the near paralysis of any tactical mobility of the enemy forces.

DAF Kittyhawks, Mustangs, Baltimores and Spitbombers struck at rail-tracks, overpasses, tunnels and bridges, in central and eastern areas along the Teni-Perugia and Terni-Sulmona-Pescara lines. Trains were being hit or halted as far as 120 miles from Rome. Of course, Operation STRANGLE was not without its consequences. To counter the growing air-to-ground onslaught, which clearly preceded another major offensive by Allied armies, the Germans took their ground-to-air defences to another level. More intensive anti-aircraft fire of various types imposed greater losses on Allied air forces, particularly the fighter-bombers in their low level dive-bombing runs.

Although low level attack was the essence of fighter-bomber operations, tactics varied in different ways, according to the type of aircraft, and from squadron to squadron. In a typical Kittyhawk air-to-ground attack for instance, the pilot would dive at around a sixty-degree incline, and at up to about 400mph. Groups of four 88mm shells could be the first anti-aircraft fire encountered. Set to explode at a specified height, bursts of orange balls of fire, intermingled with puffs of black smoke, would usually seek out the fighter-bombers before they were close enough to begin a descent. The 88mm fire would then follow the Kittyhawk’s dive down to around 4,000 feet.

A near miss from an 88mm shell could seriously damage an aircraft, while a direct hit would destroy it. Below 4,000 feet a mass of small puffs of brown smoke from 40mm cannon shell explosions could be expected. This was a rapid-fire barrage which would bring down many an aircraft. At 2,000 feet 20mm cannon fire would commence, very probably in heavy concentrations. A direct hit at this altitude was perhaps the most lethal as, even if the aircraft was still flying, the pilot had no time to try and regain height.

As the pilot dived closer to the ground, to release his bombs within 1,500 feet of the target, he would be met with small-arms fire from the enemy troops. As the pilot pulled out of the dive, the G-force tightened and distorted his face into a grotesque mask. And in a desperate climb away to safety, pilots were still being hunted by the anti-aircraft fire. All they could depend upon to successfully complete the mission was their own ability to fly the aircraft with skill, speed, and manoeuvrability – and of course some luck.

Although from late March, because of the massive disruption caused by Operation STRANGLE, no major through traffic was reaching the Italian capital, air interdiction could not cut off all the enemy’s transport lifelines. It could not entirely prevent the flow of some supplies, and the movement of some reinforcements. What it did do was to severely weaken German defences, and undermine their capability for sustaining indefinite resistance. And at the same time Allied air superiority prevented the Luftwaffe from having any material impact on Allied ground forces. This meant that some Allied anti-aircraft units, with little or nothing to do, were converted to supplement the army’s artillery. Allied air power also ensured that the German army stayed on the defensive. As Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Slessor said, ‘if there had been no air force on either side, the German Army could have made the invasion of Italy impossible …’

From the beginning of April in the lead-up to Operation DIADEM, No. 40 Squadron SAAF flew every day from first light to nightfall in low-level reconnaissance. They photographed every German gun position and, as spotters, they were in radio contact with the HQ of 6th Army Group Royal Artillery (6 AGRA), for updating artillery target information. Using large-scale maps and aerial photographs with numbered grids from prior reconnaissance, pilots had direct communication with HQ 6 AGRA while they were in the air, to pass on coordinates of enemy guns which they had spotted.

They also communicated with 239 Wing via the Rover David Cab-rank, to send fighter-bombers against identified targets. Observation posts on Monte Trocchio, staffed in a mix of RAF and Eighth Army Air Control officers, directed Kittyhawks and Mustangs, such as on 15 May against communications centres, and then on the next day to hit German mortar positions at Cassino.

In the days before the fourth battle to break through the Gustav Line at Cassino and, a little farther north, its fallback, the Adolf Hitler Line, the stalemate appeared to be entrenched. A new observer of the Liri Valley from the distance of the surrounding mountains would have been misled. The occasional gunfire, bomb-blast or shell-burst would have seemed desultory, almost languid in the late Italian spring.

Flowers caressing the roadside half hid the coils of telephone wire; the song of innumerable birds, which had grown used to the fighting, only served to emphasise the fevered stillness of anticipation. The peeling pink plaster of a roofless house, the twisted balcony rails, shimmered like an artificial eighteenth century ruin in the liquid sun.

In reality the Allies’ tactical air forces were at work around the clock, bombing raids hitting the German front lines and blocking all rail lines to the north.

On 7 May DAF struck a most remarkable blow against the Luftwaffe’s attempts to make some kind of threat against the coming offensive. Squadron Leader ‘Duke’ Arthur was leading a Spitfire patrol of No. 72 Squadron RAF over Lake Bracciano when they intercepted a formation of eighteen Bf109s of I./JG 4. Arthur shot down one, and his fellow pilots claimed another eight victories as they racked up a total of nine kills of the eighteen Bf109s.

Breakthroughs at Cassino and Anzio – but the Luftwaffe fights back II

In the hours of darkness over Cassino, Anzio and the Germans’ winter lines, the Beaufighter night-fighters of No. 600 Squadron RAF continued to take their toll of any Luftwaffe night intruders. No. 600 Squadron, the City of London’s Auxiliary Air Force squadron, was one of the first to be equipped with AI radar for night-fighter operations.

Throughout the war the Beaufighter was the RAF’s heaviest armed fighter. In addition to four 20mm Hispano cannon under the forward fuselage, it could carry three Browning machine guns in each wing. Its two Bristol Hercules radial engines also enabled it to carry under its wings long-range fuel tanks, bombs, torpedoes or rockets. The Beaufighter was capable of deployment to a greater variety of use than any other aircraft, until the arrival of the Mosquito, the original multi-role combat aircraft.

The Beaufighter Mk VIF night-fighter had a top speed of some 330mph, and a range of around 1,500 miles. The plane’s design and construction strength allowed it to shrug off remarkable amounts of enemy fire, and permitted its two-man crew to survive a crash-landing which normally could be fatal. Despite being heavy and unwieldy to manoeuvre, once pilots were experienced in their characteristics they were devoted to the Beaufighter.

During May 1944, as Allied armies surged north from Cassino and Anzio, Lieutenant Jack Ingate and his fellow pilots of 600 Squadron scoured the night skies for intruding enemy aircraft. Every night their Beaufighters, sometimes as many as nine aircraft, were out on defensive patrols seeking a radar contact with an enemy ‘bandit’ or ‘bogey’. Finding and closing in on a radar contact, unsure whether it was friend or foe, demanded painstaking and disciplined work by the two-man crew.

The Beaufighter’s navigator/radio/radar operator was confronted by radio/radar jamming by German ground defences, and ‘Window’ tinfoil dropped by enemy aircraft, which would snow the reception of the aircraft’s radar equipment. Patrol durations, depending upon contacts and other circumstances of operational activity, could last even beyond five hours. On the night of 14/15 May 1944 a typical eight Beaufighters took off on defensive patrols, in staggered departures from 2015 to 0405 from their base at Marcianise.

14/15 May 1944, No. 600 Squadron RAF Operations Record Book (summarized extracts):

At 0020 on 15 May in a Beaufighter Mk VIII AI, Flight Lieutenant G.B.S. Coleman DFC and Australian Flying Officer N.R. Frumar took off from their Marcianise air base in a defensive patrol. It was a clear night with flak and explosions seen some 20 miles out to sea, and the lights of Allied Army motor transport convoys visible, as they pushed out many miles into enemy territory. At 0400 Coleman and Frumar were vectored by ground control onto a bogey.

Within a few minutes they obtained contact with the target over mountainous terrain. It was at a two-mile range, and slightly above their altitude. Despite the bandit jinking violently to evade the Beaufighter’s pursuit, they held onto the contact. Coleman closed up to about 1,000 feet from the target, and visually identified the aircraft as a Ju87B Stuka dive-bomber.

At 0415 Coleman opened fire. Simultaneously the Stuka hurtled into a steep dive down amongst the mountain peaks, which prevented observation of any damage to the Ju87B. Because the Beaufighter was already low on fuel, Coleman was unable to pursue. When they arrived back at Marcianise at 0515, Coleman and Frumar had clocked up a flight time of 4.55 hours.

Some two hours after Coleman and Frumar’s departure, at 0230, Australian Flying Officer S.F. Rees and Flying Officer D.C. Bartlett lifted off their Beaufighter Mk VIF AI (No. V6574) from Marcianise. North of the River Tiber sometime after 0400 they made contact with a bogey and gave chase. When close enough they identified a Ju88. This time there was no escape for the German intruder, and at 0441 Rees shot down the German bomber. Rees and Bartlett returned to Marcianise at 0520.

Frequently after being vectored onto a suspected bogey and contact acquired, it could be lost not only through enemy radar jamming, and ‘Window’ interference, but also by the target outrunning the Beaufighter or escaping into cloud. In many instances Beaufighters would intercept a vectored bogey, only to find it was another Allied aircraft.

29/30 May 1944, No. 600 Squadron RAF Operations Record Book (summarized extracts):

On 29 May from 0200, on a defensive patrol from Marcionise, Flying Officer A.M. Davidson and Warrant Officer J.A. Telford were flying their Beaufighter Mk VIF AI (No. MM905). On three occasions, 0320, 0350, and 0450, they were vectored and obtained contacts on bogeys coming from the north. All three contacts were identified as Allied Boston bombers.

In the evening of 29 May at 2225 Warrant Officer D. Kerr and Warrant Officer G.H. Wheeler lifted their Beaufighter Mk VIF AI (No. ND148) into the night sky from Marcianise. At 2225 in the vicinity of Anzio they were vectored on to a slow-flying aircraft. Twelve miles north-east of Anzio they obtained contact. After a six-minute chase they had closed to about 500 feet of the target, when the suspected bandit dived and contact was lost. Another contact, possibly the same target, was picked up immediately.

Kerr closed up to minimum range but then overshot. Kerr carried out the overshoot procedure, and again closed up to the minimum range from target. In a brief visual identification Kerr and Wheeler identified the contact as a Ju87 Stuka, moments before it flew into a bank of mist. Before Kerr could line up his guns on the German dive-bomber, it dived and radar contact was lost in ground return interference. During the rest of the patrol Kerr and Wheeler obtained and chased three more contacts where, through the targets’ evasive action, their pursuit proved fruitless. After a flight time of 4.05 hours they safely landed their Beaufighter back at Marcianise at 0230 on 30 May.

The night-fighters of 600 Squadron were waging an unremitting air war of attrition, often tedious, exasperating, energy sapping and at the same time nerve-racking, yet unspectacular, unseen and little recognized. But the cloak of the night must not allow the Luftwaffe to make a resurgence.


The next attack on Cassino and the Gustav Line, Operation DIADEM, was planned for early May by the combined forces of Fifth and Eighth Armies. The timing was significant. Together with the simultaneous break-out from Anzio, Operation BUFFALO, there would be less than a month before the planned D Day landings in Normandy. The hope was that the offensives would draw German attention and their forces to Italy, and away from Normandy and north-west Europe. At the same time Operations DIADEM and BUFFALO in themselves must succeed. Any further stalemate or defeats in Italy could be catastrophic, and allow the Germans to divert divisions to Normandy. A strategic loss in Italy would be a huge psychological blow to the Allies in all theatres.

The night of 11 May 1944 was set for the fourth battle to begin, the hoped-for final battle for Cassino and the Monte Cassino Monastery. With the bulk of Eighth Army now added to Fifth Army, the Allies planned to throw overwhelming force at the mountain bastion. In a concentration of numbers, firepower and a massive artillery bombardment, they intended to smash their way through the Gustav Line and north onto Highway 6. It was not just a pincer movement of ground forces. While Allied movements had little or no fear from Luftwaffe air raids, the German Army found in retreat that they were under constant attack from Allied air forces.

In one instance on May 14, 239 Wing targeted some 200 or so vehicles trying to withdraw at Subiaco. By the day’s end there were an estimated 120 destroyed or damaged. In the last six days of May Allied fighters and fighter-bombers claimed 1,148 vehicles of all types destroyed and 766 damaged. This may have even been under-stated. Between Cori and Artena on the Adolf Hitler Line, Fifth Army counted 211 vehicles wrecked clearly by air strikes, whereas air force claims had only estimated 173. With the waning of the Luftwaffe’s attempted offensive, and its inability to stem the Allied armies’ offensive, DAF operations became predominantly fighter-bomber attacks against the retreating columns of enemy troops.

During this time, while DAF once more was asserting its air superiority, Wing Commander Hugh Dundas could only watch from the sidelines. He was not able to join 244 Wing RAF until his appointment came through at the end of May. The Spitfire fighters of 244 Wing had built an enviable record through the North African desert war, Alamein, Tunisia, Sicily and southern Italy. As the Allies broke out of the Gustav Line and Anzio, Dundas must have looked on with heightened interest, as 244 Wing added to their exploits in the air battles of May.

In a desperate attempt to make an impact, the Luftwaffe threw all its remaining fighters and fighter-bombers into the fray. The air battles once again included Squadron Leader Neville Duke, recently returned from a period in training duties, to lead No. 145 Squadron RAF in 244 Wing. Over Arezzo, close to Florence, on 13 May Duke led a patrol of six Spitfires into an engagement with six Bf109s. Duke expressed his relish to be back in an aerial battle with the Luftwaffe, showing his typical confidence in himself and his aircraft:

Great things at last! We met up with six Me109s … and we had a good dice. I got a burst at one and saw strikes under its belly before he rolled down and off. Stayed up and dodged and turned for a bit, finally fixing onto one up above, whom I climbed and turned with, easily climbing and out-turning him.

As the 109 tried violent evasive action, Duke stayed with him and saw his fire strike its fuselage and engine. Parts fell off the enemy fighter as it plunged into a death spin. Soon after he saw the explosion where the 109 crashed, for his first confirmed victory in Italy.

When Dundas took up his appointment as commander on 31 May and arrived at 244 Wing, he found a massive celebration underway at an abandoned farmhouse. Each of the wing’s five squadrons had set up a bar, and were in competition to serve the strongest alcoholic drink. He learnt that the party was to mark 244 Wing’s 400th victory of the war. Between 13 and 31 May, when the Luftwaffe found a way to launch a significant challenge in the air, 244 Wing shot down twenty-three enemy aircraft, three probable, and another twenty badly damaged.

Although Allied air power confronted and killed off the Luftwaffe’s desperate attempt at a counter-attack, the real questions were on the ground. Could Operation DIADEM, at last bursting through the Gustav Line, combine with the break-out from Anzio? Would Fifth and Eighth Armies in the Allies’ pincer strategy, Operation BUFFALO, crush and destroy the German Tenth Army as if in a vice?

The Akkadians

Map of the Akkadian Empire (brown) and the directions in which military campaigns were conducted (yellow arrows)

Summerian King Lugalzagasi of Umma succeeded in establishing his influence over all Sumer, although there is no evidence that he introduced any significant changes. Twenty-four years later, the empire of Lugalzagasi was destroyed by the armies of a Semitic prince from the northern city of Akkad, Sargon the Great (2325-? b. c. e.) All Sumer was now united under the control of the Akkadian king. Sargon bequeathed to the world the prototype of the military dictatorship. By force of arms Sargon conquered all the Sumerian city-states and the entire Tigris-Euphrates valley, bringing into being an empire that stretched from the Taurus Mountains to the Persian Gulf and, perhaps, even to the Mediterranean. In his fifty-year reign Sargon fought no fewer than thirty-four wars. One account suggests that his army numbered 5,400 men, soldiers called gurush in Akkadian. If that account is correct, Sargon’s army would have been the largest standing army of the period.

Sargon’s whole reign was spent in defending his empire from the mountain people who raided Mesopotamia and from rebellions: he had to mollify people who spoke different languages and lived in different cultures. At first, he tried not to offend the Sumerians-when he needed land, he purchased it-but in the end, in the face of continued rebellion, he took stronger action: he levelled city walls and eliminated centers of resistance, he garrisoned Sumer with Akkadian governors and Akkadian troops, and when still he had not pacified Sumer, he confiscated tracts of land, expelled the Sumerians, and resettled the land with Akkadians. Sargon had tried to treat the Sumerians fairly, but his concept of fairness was radically different from theirs-he believed that men appointed their rulers and men owned the land; Sumerians believed that the gods appointed rulers and the gods owned the land and, therefore, as they saw it, Sargon not only had no right to dismiss Sumerian rulers or to dispose of their land, but he was committing sacrilege when he did it.

Sargon discovered another limit to his conquests: although he led his armies to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, when he tried to march them north into Anatolia, they mutinied and he was forced to turn back. Sargon, like every ruler, depended upon the will of his army, and he accepted the limits of what it would allow him to do in order to preserve its loyalty. Because of the army’s loyalty Sargon was able to pass his empire on peacefully to his son Rimush. Rimush, however, had to suppress a Sumerian revolt and nine years after his accession he was assassinated. When his brother, the second son of Sargon, succeeded him, he, too, had to suppress a Sumerian revolt, and he, too, was assassinated. He was succeeded by his son, Naram-Sin.

Naram-Sin had to suppress a revolt by the Sumerians, the revolt spread to the whole empire, and the perilous situation encouraged the Gutians to invade Mesopotamia. Naram-Sin repulsed the Gutians, defeated the rebels, took the title “king of the four-quarters” (that is, king of the whole world), and announced to his subjects that he was a god. If the Mesopotamians, and particularly the Sumerians, had accepted his claim (a not impossible claim given that they believed that gods can grow old and die), then (in logic) they would have been compelled to accept his right to confiscate land and depose rulers. He failed, however, to convince them and never reconciled the Sumerians to Akkadian rule.

Towards the end of Naram-Sin’s thirty-seven-year reign he again had to stop a Gutian invasion, but this time he was unable to expel them from his empire. He died, and his son inherited the continuing war against the Gutians and, to compound his troubles, a new Sumerian revolt. The Sumerians regained their freedom, the empire crumbled, and the Akkadian was driven back to the confines of his home city, Agade. The Sumerians rejoiced in their freedom, but not for long, because they quarreled with each other, they overlooked the threat of the Gutians, and the Gutians invaded, conquered Sumeria, and held it for a hundred years. The empire of Sargon and his heirs was gone, but it left a legacy-all subsequent rulers in Mesopotamia dreamed of re-creating Sargon’s empire.

In the midst of the twenty-second century a Sumerian hero, the king of Uruk, drove the Gutians out of Mesopotamia and convinced the Sumerians-with the help of his victory-to put aside their differences and unite behind him. When he died in an accidental drowning, his successor, Ur-nammu, took control of Sumer in one campaign, subjugated Akkad, took the title “king of Sumer and Akkad” and characterized himself as “the son of a god.” With the powers this divine status gave him (the right to control the land and appoint the ensi’s), Ur-nammu dedicated himself to the restoration of a ravaged and depressed land: he encouraged the reconstruction of temples, city walls, roads, harbors, and, most important of all, the irrigation system. Sumer became prosperous once more.

That Sargon’s army would have been composed of professionals seems obvious in light of the almost constant state of war that characterized his reign. As in Sumer, military units appear to have been organized on the sexagesimal system. Sargon’s army comprised nine battalions of 600 men, each commanded by a gir.nita, or “colonel.” Other ranks of officer included the pa. pa/sha khattim, literally, “he of two staff s of office,” a title which indicated that this officer commanded two or more units of sixty. Below this rank were the nu.banda and ugala, ranks unchanged since Sumerian times. Even if they had begun as conscripts, within a short time Sargon’s soldiers would have become battle-experienced veterans. Equipping an army of this size required a high degree of military organization to run the weapons and logistics functions, to say nothing of the routine administration that was characteristic of a literate people who kept prodigious records. We know nothing definitive about these arrangements.

An Akkadian innovation introduced by Sargon was the niskum, a class of soldiers probably equivalent to the old aga-ush lugai, or “royal soldiers.” The niskum held plots of land by favor of the king and received allotments of fish and salt every three months. The idea was to create a corps of loyal military professionals along the later model of Republican Rome. Thutmose I of Egypt, too, introduced a similar system as a way of producing a caste of families who held their land as long as they continued to provide a son for the officer corps. The Akkadian system worked to provide significant numbers of loyal, trained soldiers who could be used in war or to suppress local revolts. Along with the professionals, militia, and these royal soldiers, the army of Sargon contained light troops or skirmishers called nim soldiers. Nim literally means “flies,” a name which suggests the employment of these troops in spread formation accompanied by rapid movement.

During the Sargon period the Sumerians/Akkadians contributed yet another major innovation in weaponry: the composite bow. The introduction of this lethal and revolutionary weapon may have occurred during the reign of Naram Sin (2254-2218 b. c. e.), Sargon’s grandson. Like his grandfather, Naram Sin fought continuous wars of conquest against foreign enemies. His victory over Lullubi is commemorated in a rock sculpture that shows Naram Sin armed with a composite bow. This sculpture marks the first appearance of the composite bow in history and strongly suggests that it was of Sumerian/Akkadian origin. The fact that the bow appears in the hand of the warrior king himself suggests that it was a major weapon of the time, even though there is no surviving evidence that the Sumerian army had previously used even the simple bow.

The composite bow was a major military innovation. While the simple bow could kill at ranges from 50 to 100 yards, it would not penetrate even simple leather armor at these ranges. The composite bow, with a pull of at least twice that of the simple bow, could easily penetrate leather armor and, perhaps, even the early prototypes of bronze armor that were emerging at this time. In the hands of even untrained peasant militia the composite bow could bring the enemy under a hail of arrows from twice the distance of the simple bow. So important was this weapon that it became a basic implement of war of all armies of the Near East for the next 1,500 years.

The use of battle cars seems to have declined considerably during the Akkadian period. Any number of reasons suggest themselves. Such vehicles were very expensive. In Sumer a powerful king could commandeer the cars of his vassals, which they maintained at their expense. But with the centralization of political authority under Sargon these vassals disappeared, making the cost of these cars a royal expense. The professionalization of the army resulted in an infantry-heavy force which under most circumstances would have required few battle cars beyond those needed to transport the king and his generals. Finally, the Akkadian kings fought wars far from home in the mountains of Elam and against the Guti farther north. These were lightly armed, highly mobile enemies fighting in mountains and heavily wooded glens. The chariot had come into being to fight wars between rival city-states on relatively even terrain. Their use in rough terrain at considerable distances from home probably revealed the battle car’s obvious deficiencies under these conditions, leading to a decline in its military usefulness. They seem to have remained in use by couriers and messengers at least within the imperial borders, where they traveled regular routes known as chariot roads.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin.

The the most famous Akkadian martial monument, 24 this stele shows the king and his army ascending into the Zagros Mountains and defeating the Lullubu highlanders. This scene is the first in the history of Mesopotamian martial art to attempt to depict the natural terrain of the battlefield in a single scene rather than in stylized panels. The terrain shows a number of ridges covered with trees and a high mountain peak in the background. The inscription reads in part, “Satuni, the king of the highlanders of Lullubum assembled together . . . [for] battle.. . . [Naram-Sin defeated them and] heaped up a burial mound over them . . . [and] dedicated [this object, the stele] to the god [who granted victory]” (R2:144). The Lullubu soldiers, with their distinctive long braided ponytails, are shown in an utter rout. Several lie dead; one has an arrow or javelin protruding from his neck. Another falls from the mountain. Two more run away, one with a broken pike. The Lullubi king Satuni stands before Naram-Sin, begging for his life. The Akkadian army, on the other hand, marches boldly forward in good order. All six of the Akkadian soldiers wear kilts and helmets, broadly similar to those shown in the earlier Sumerian Standard of Ur and Stele of the Vultures. They all also have narrow-bladed axes for melees. Two carry war banners, two hold 2.5-meter pikes at the butt, resting the shaft on the shoulder like a rifle on the parade-ground. The fifth Akkadian has a bow, while the sixth seems to have an axe. The heroic Naram-Sin leads his army into battle on the crest of the mountain, standing twice as tall as anyone else, and stepping on the bodies of fallen enemies. He has a similar kilt, but has a thick beard and long hair, and wears a horned crown symbolic of his divinity. In his hand he carries an axe, a bow, and an arrow. His bow is often said to be the earliest representation of a composite bow.

Illyrian Pirates

Queen Teuta

The lembos (Lat. Lembus, Plautus, Mercator, I, 2,81 and II, 1,35) was an Illyrian fast ship, probably originally used in piracy and very important for the Romans for its carrying capacity of men, equipment and booty. It could be open and aphract, with a strong ramming capacity and rowed at two levels (biremis). From this the liburna was developed.

Illyrian land prior to Roman conquest.

The eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea-the Illyrian shore-with its many natural harbors and protected coves was a paradise for pirates. Illyrian pirates lurked in the sheltered hiding places along the shore; they crammed one hundred pirates into their little galleys (known as lembi), fifty to row and fifty to fight, and, when they spied a merchant ship, out they would dash as fast as they could row and come alongside, board, and overwhelm their victims. Merchants sought help from the states along the shores of the Adriatic, but none of the Greek states had sufficient forces to suppress piracy, even if they had had the resolve to confront the Illyrians, and the Romans had no inclination to go to the expense and danger of a campaign for the sake of a few merchants and an occasional threat.

When, however, one of Illyria’s petty kings united the whole of Illyria under his rule, he also brought the pirates under his control; he transformed them from independent entrepreneurs out for what they could get for themselves into an instrument of state policy. His queen, Queen Teuta, succeeded him and continued the same policy-to use the pirates sometimes to harass and attack Illyria’s enemies, sometimes to combine and operate as a navy, and sometimes just to plunder and provide a share of the booty to the crown. The beauty of the situation was that the rulers could disavow the pirates if necessary.

By 230 bc Queen Teuta had consolidated the Illyrians into the most powerful kingdom in the Balkan peninsula and she was determined to subjugate the whole of the Adriatic’s eastern coast. She mustered her army and navy and ordered them to conquer the coast; she lifted the few restrictions left on the pirates and permitted them to attack any ship or any land. At one city the pirates pretended that they were merchants, and particularly inept merchants, selling their cargo at a loss. When they had attracted a crowd of shoppers by their apparent ineptitude and the shoppers were completely engrossed in the bargaining, the Illyrians seized a large number of them, threw them in their ships, sailed away, and sold their victims into slavery. At another city the Illyrians pretended that they needed to fill their water jars (in which they had hidden short swords), but the citizens tumbled to the trick and drove them off.

The pirates ranged as far south as the southern Peloponnesus, while the army and navy defeated the forces of the kingdom of Epirus, and the Epirotes, to save themselves from the Illyrian forces and from the continual attacks of pirates, made peace with the Illyrians, became their allies, and left the Greeks to fend for themselves. The Illyrian armed forces continued to advance south and the Illyrian pirates (operating under the protection of the royal family) ranged up and down the Adriatic, and no one seemed ready, or able, to stop them.

The queen was supremely confident of the power of her united Illyria and the pirates were supremely confident in their queen, far too confident, because they made a disastrous mistake-they plundered some Italian ships. The Italian merchants appealed to the Roman Senate. The Roman Senate listened to their long list of complaints and decided to send two envoys to Queen Teuta to persuade her to control these pirates. The queen, as so many rulers had done in the past and would continue to do in the future, totally misestimated the Romans. She listened to their complaints and she told them that it was not her policy to do injury to the Romans or to Italy and that she could give them a guarantee that her armed forces would not attack Romans or Italians, but she said,

“It is an ancient custom of the land of the Illyrians and of its rulers that the queen does not interfere with the actions of her private citizens in taking plunder on the sea.”

The younger of the envoys replied,

“Queen Teuta, the Romans have an excellent tradition, which is that the state concerns itself with punishing those who commit private wrongs and with helping those who suffer them. With the gods’ help we shall do our utmost, and that very soon, to make you reform this ancient custom of your kings.”

The queen was furious and she let her fury show. The young envoy’s ship was boarded by pirates on his journey home and he was murdered. Perhaps Queen Teuta had ordered the pirates to avenge this insult to her dignity, or perhaps the pirates had simply thought to please her; in either case, she was guilty in the eyes of the Romans and the Senate determined to act.

Yet time passed, murder had been done, and nothing seemed to happen. Queen Teuta assumed that she had given the Romans a sharp lesson in what the Illyrians did to meddlers, and in the spring of 229 bc she ordered an expedition to seize the two most important way stations for the trade between Greece and Italy, the Greek cities of Epidamnus and Corcyra. An Illyrian surprise attack on Epidamnus failed and the Illyrians withdrew, regrouped, and attacked Corcyra. Corcyra appealed to the Greek leagues: of the three leagues with interests in the region, one had already joined the Illyrians, another demurred, and the third league did send a few ships, but in the ensuing sea battle, when the first Greek ships caught the Illyrian ships broadside and rammed them, the bronze rams stuck, and the Greeks only then discovered that the Illyrians had lashed their ships together, four by four, to form a large unsinkable platform; Illyrian soldiers stormed the Greek ships and took them. When the captains of the other Greek ships saw what had happened, they turned their ships, fled, and abandoned the citizens of Corcyra to their fate. The Corcyraeans came to terms with the Illyrians and accepted a garrison under the command of Demetrius of Pharos (later to be king of the Illyrians). The Illyrians then sailed north and returned to the attack they had earlier abandoned on the city of Epidamnus.

At this crucial moment, when no Greek power seemed able to stand up to the Illyrians and many Greeks feared that Queen Teuta would subjugate the whole western coast of Greece, when Corcyra seemed firmly under Illyrian control, and when Epidamnus was about to fall, a Roman fleet of 200 ships (under the command of one of the Roman consuls) appeared before Corcyra. Demetrius, the commander of the Illyrian garrison at Corcyra, recognized immediately that the game was up and he surrendered to the Romans and made himself useful as an adviser. The Roman naval commander enrolled the Corcyraeans as “friends of the Roman people”-this designation meant that in the future the Romans would come to their aid and protection-and then took the fleet to Apollonia, where the second consul and an army of 20,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry joined the first consul and the entire Roman force advanced on Epidamnus to raise the Illyrian siege. As soon as the Illyrian soldiers heard that the Romans were coming, they broke and scattered across the countryside. The Romans enrolled Epidamnus as a “friend” and then the two consuls conducted coordinated campaigns. The Roman army advanced inland and accepted the surrender of three of the Illyrian tribes (thus fracturing the unity of the Illyrian state). The Roman fleet attacked and captured Illyrian coastal towns, surprised and captured pirate vessels, and liberated Greek cities. While the queen fled to a fort in the interior of the country, the Romans recruited local troops and campaigned vigorously for one year. At the end of the year they believed that they had the situation enough in hand to release one consul to return to Rome with most of the soldiers and all but forty ships. The Romans placed Demetrius on the throne of a reduced Illyria and in the spring of 228 bc the queen capitulated completely: she offered to pay the Romans an indemnity of whatever they asked, to accept the breakup of Illyria, to acknowledge Demetrius, and to be content with whatever the Romans were willing to grant her and, finally, she agreed that she would not sail south of Lissus with more than two galleys and those galleys would not be armed.

With the war concluded the Romans sent envoys to the Greek leagues to explain their actions, to delineate for the Greeks which places and people were now under Roman protection, and to reassure them that the Romans had no ambitions in that part of the world.

PAXOI ISLS (229 BC, spring) – Illyrian Raids

The Illyrians were masters of piracy with an utter disregard for the nationality of their victims, who included Italian traders. This led to an increasing number of complaints to Rome, where the senate sent out two commissioners to Illyria to investigate. One of these officials spoke some words to Queen Teuta to which she took exception. She had him assassinated. The incident is noteworthy because it triggered the first Roman intervention in the Balkans.

Queen Teuta, in continuation of her warlike policies, fitted out a large fleet of galleys. Some of them were sent to Epidamnus [Durres] where, taking the inhabitants by surprise, they all but captured the city. Rejoining the rest of the fleet, they proceeded to besiege Corcyra [Corfu], which appealed to the Achaeans and Aetolians for help. The two leagues manned 10 Achaean ships, which sailed for Corcyra and met the Illyrians off the Paxoi islands. The Illyrian tactics consisted of lashing their galleys together in groups of four and inviting a broadside attack from a ram. The Illyrians would then board the enemy craft in overwhelming numbers. In this way they captured four quadriremes and sank a quinquereme. The rest of the Achaean crews, overwhelmed by the enemy’s success, set sail for home. The unfortunate Corcyreans had no alternative but to capitulate and to receive a garrison until the Romans arrived with offers of protection. Polybius, 2: 9-10

Illyrian Warfare 

Spanish Defense Commitments – Navy


S-80 class submarines

Displacement: 1,565 tons submerged

Dimensions: 61.7 x 6.2 x ?? meters

Propulsion: Diesel-electric, AIP, 1 shaft, 3,800 shp, 20 knots

Crew: 32-35

The S-80 submarine’s sonar suite will comprise of a cylindrical array sonar, a flank array sonar, a passive ranging sonar, and a mine and obstacle detection sonar. These facilities are being provided by Lockheed Martin. The support structures and fairings for the sonars are being provided by Goodrich.

The S-80 will also be integrated with a towed array sonar system, supplied by QinetiQ, an interception positioning system and an own noise analyser.

It will be fitted with satellite communication systems developed by Indra and a guidance automation unit distributed intelligence (GAUDI) autopilot system developed by Avio.

The submarine will be equipped with Aries radars, Friend or Foe identification systems (IFF) and modular Pegaso defence electronic systems supplied by Indra.

The submarine will also be enhanced by integrating non-penetrating all-weather optronic imaging systems, hoistable masts and periscopes, which will be supplied by Kollmorgen Electro-Optical and Calzoni.

Armament: 6 21 inch torpedo tubes (18 torpedoes and Harpoon missiles)

New design to replace the Daphne class submarines.

Number Name                   Year       Homeport           Notes

[S81                                     2005    Cartagena            planned December 2022 ]

[S82                                                 Cartagena           planned]

[S83                                                 Cartagena            planned]

[S84                                                  Cartagena           planned]

Galerna (Agosta) class coastal submarines

Displacement: 1,767 ton submerged

Dimensions: 67.57 x 6.8 meters (222.5 x 22 feet)

Propulsion: Diesel electric, 2 diesels, 1 shaft, 4,600 shp, 20 knots

Crew: 50

Sonar: DUUA-2A, DUUA-2B, DSUV 22A, DUUX-2A (S73 & S74: DUUX-5)

Fire Control: DLA-2A

Armament: 4 21 inch torpedo tubes (20 torpedoes)

Spanish-built French Agosta class with slightly different electronics.

Number Name                   Year       Homeport           Notes

S71     Galerna                1981    Cartagena

S72     Siroco                      1982    Cartagena decommissioned 2012

S73     Mistral                     1983    Cartagena

S74     Tramontana            1984    Cartagena

Delfin (Daphne) class coastal submarines

Displacement: 1,043 ton submerged

Dimensions: 57.57 x 6.74 meters (189 x 22 feet)

Propulsion: Diesel electric, 2 diesels, 2 shafts, 2,000 shp, 15 knots

Crew: 56

Sonar: DUUA-2B, DSUV 22A, DUUX-2A.

Fire Control: DLT-D-3

Armament: 12 21 inch torpedo tubes (12 torpedoes)

Spanish-built French Daphne class with improved electronics.

Number Name                   Year       Homeport           Notes

S61     Delfin                       1973    Cartagena

S62     Tonina                    1973    Cartagena

S63     Marsopa                  1975    Cartagena

S64     Narval                       1975    Cartagena

The first major change in the long dormant WEU (West European Union), the defense arm of the European Community (later European Union). The showcase for this change, calculated to energize European capabilities without recourse to NATO and, in particular, the United States, became the Eurocorps in which the Spanish contribution of the “Brunete” (1994) demonstrated a new Spanish presence in European affairs. Building on the Eurocorps formula, the WEU continued the next year with inceptions of EuroFor and EuroMarFor standing forces earmarked by Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal. A Spanish admiral led the standing naval force in the Mediterranean in the first year of its existence.

The first chance for Spanish military action in this 1990s came in supporting the United States in Spain as part of the UN prosecution against Iraq during 1990-91. So soon after breaking away from further dependence upon U. S. aid in 1988, the Socialist government of President Felipe González proved surprisingly helpful to U. S. forces in Spain. Permission was given to base twenty-two B-52 bombers at Morón and fly their bombing missions against Iraqi forces. Another forty aerial refuelers operated out of Morón and supported these aircraft, and the hundreds of U. S. tactical aircraft ferried through Spain to the Gulf region. When the bombers at Morón began to run out of ordnance, Spanish air force and army aircraft and heavy lift helicopters carried the bombs from storage sites at Torrejón and Zaragoza to maintain the operational tempo. Over 60% of U. S. airlift to the Gulf transited Spanish bases and local commanders stepped up security at the U. S. facilities; Spanish forces deployed ships to the Gulf in 1990 and took over other allied responsibilities in the Mediterranean to free them for deployments. Finally, Spanish air force and army troops deployed to Turkey in mid-1991 as part of Combined Task Force Provide Comfort, a U. S.-led UN mission into Northern Iraq to furnish local security to Iraqi Kurds in wake of the Iraqi defeat in Operation Desert Storm. A reinforced battalion of the Parachute Brigade (586 troops) operated with the U. S. and British forces on the ground, including the U. S. 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had exercised that spring with the Spanish Legion at Almería.

Spanish defense doctrine created a so-called strategic “Axis” drawn along the line Balearic Islands-Straits-Canary Islands in the 1980s, both to orient its planning and to convince allies of the importance of the southern flank. In particular, Spain sought to advise allies of its archipelago responsibilities in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and to stress the vital role of the Straits zone, including the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves.

Spanish defense forces undertook developing a joint warfighting doctrine. Cooperation among the three services traditionally had proven nonexistent. However, the replacement of the former service ministries by a modern MOD structure and the demands for modernization of forces and warfighting techniques for national and European defense needs brought joint operations to the forefront. Approved in 1995, the new policy formally charged the chief of the defense staff (JEMAD) with the operational command of the units assigned by the separate services for a mission. The staff exercised this control for years in exercises and simulations, and first put the doctrine into action in the Perejil Island recovery operation of 2002.

The services were ordered each to form “operational commands” suitable for expeditionary service in 1991. The commanders of the Mandos Operativos take the character of service component chiefs, each responsible for deploying and tactically directing their units under the command of the JEMAD or a joint deployment headquarters. The Army initially designated its FAR headquarters, the Air Force created its Aerial Operational Command (MOA), and the Navy entrusted its fleet commander (ALFLOT) with these responsibilities. The defense structure changes and force modernization programs fleshed out these and other organizational aims during 1996-2000.

In terms of the military balance, Maghreb nations pose so little offensive threat to Spain and other nearby countries that Spanish Defense Minister Gustavo Suarez Pertierra could assert (1995) “we have no enemies” as the slogan of Spanish defense policy. Reduced tensions in Central Europe, however, contrasted with increased instability in the Mediterranean littoral. Spanish defense policy continued to evolve from the old Francoist policy of peninsular defense and colonial policing to embrace a modern version of territorial defense (mainly air defense and a ground reserve) coupled with modern forces necessary to maintain Spain’s status in NATO, the EC, and the UN.

Even in the event of ruptured relations, the Maghreb nations pose very little military threat to Spanish territory. The Spanish Air Force will replace its older U.S.-supplied radars and command and control systems with a modern SIMCA system (Sistema Integrado de Mando y Control Aereo), featuring three-dimensional radars, NATO and AWACS interoperability, and hardened command bunkers at Morón, Torrejón, and Canary Island sites. The NATO AWACS also serves to fill in radar gaps in the south, especially against low-fliers. Fighter squadrons are well exercised in the defense of Spanish airspace, and, with a few deployments from garrison bases-e. g., to the Balearic and Canary Islands-should be capable of handling a level of intrusion in excess of the threat.

Seaward defenses against raiding patrol craft, mines, and submarines remained the primary effort of the Spanish Navy, assisted by P-3C aircraft of the Air Force and Harpoon-armed EF-18 fighters. The light carrier Task Group Alpha, centered on the carrier Principe de Asturias, is fully oriented to classic sea control missions. The Mine Warfare Flotilla was transferred from its idyllic base at Palma de Mallorca to the naval base at Cartagena in 1992 mainly so that it could concentrate better on the vital shipping lanes into Cádiz, where 70% of Spanish sea imports arrive. The eight (recently reduced to five) Spanish submarines are kept in technically upgraded condition and exercise frequently in ASW roles. Amphibious potential continued to grow in Task Group Delta with the replacement of older transport ships with two Spanish-built amphibious assault ships and the naval infantry of the Tercio de la Armada, composed of a regimental landing team. The amphibious arm would prove essential in the event of a forced evacuation from Maghreb ports or a reinforcement of the Spanish enclave cities. The excellent Spanish Navy combat divers and the special operations companies of the naval infantry can perform hostage rescue actions.

The Navy

The Spanish Navy of the twenty-first century also aims at achieving a technological edge over its possible opponents, and musters over 11,000 enlisted personnel and draws 1,056 million of the 2006 budget. The navy takes advantage of an excellent relationship with the United States to purchase advanced systems such as the Aegis combat system, the Tomahawk land attack missile, and the SH-60 helicopter, but also has led the other services in establishing a solid national industrial base now producing and exporting advanced ships such as the F-100 air defense frigate and the S-80 submarine (Nansen and Scorpene class ships being built for Norway and Chile, respectively).

In 2005, the navy could line up one light aircraft carrier, five submarines (though one is scheduled to be retired in 2006), eleven frigates, six minesweepers, four amphibious ships, twelve patrol ships or corvettes, forty aircraft of all classes, and around fifty auxiliary ships, including an underway replenishment ship. In the same vein as the other services, the operational fleet, based at Rota, includes

Fleet Projection Group with the carrier Principe de Asturias and the amphibious ships carrying units of the naval infantry Tercio de Armada (TEAR). This Tercio forms as a brigade-sized formation that combines light infantry (two battalions), mechanized units (a tank company and a mechanized battalion supported by a self-propelled battery), and a special operations company, making it the most versatile unit in the Spanish armed forces.

• 41st Escort Squadron: six F-80 FFG frigates

• 31st Escort Squadron: three F-100 class frigates and two F-70 frigates

• Submarine Squadron: four Agosta class and one Daphne´ class submarines

• Aircraft flotilla: with helicopter and AV-8B Harrier squadrons

• Minesweeper flotilla: with six Segura class minesweepers

• Fleet replenishment ship Patiño

New programs include the Strategic Projection Ship (a large through-deck amphibious assault ship), an additional replenishment unit, two more F-100 frigates, four S-80 advanced diesel submarines, and four Maritime Action Ships (with a possible ten more to follow), as well as lesser units, like the twelve landing craft. The helicopter force is expected to receive twenty NH-90 helicopters, and it is hoped that JSF will be bought to replace the Harriers.

Egypt 1915 – A Rolls-Royce Triumph

One of the Duke of Westminster’s Rolls-Royce armoured cars at Solium, April 1916

Rolls-Royce Armoured Car 1914

If, for the moment, the Turkish narrow-gauge system seemed secure from British interference, the same could not be said of the standard-gauge, which passed within a few miles of the coast as it rounded the Gulf of Alexandretta (Iskenderun), sending a branch line down into Alexandretta itself. If the main line could be cut this would effectively sever the Palestine Front’s major supply artery and simultaneously compromise the logistics of the Turkish armies serving in Mesopotamia as well. In December 1914 an Allied naval squadron did considerable damage to the branch line and even occupied Alexandretta for a short period. This success led to plans being drafted for the permanent occupation of Alexandretta and the destruction of the main line. Unfortunately, these were shelved, initially because the Dardanelles operation held a higher priority and latterly because, after the traumatic failure at Gallipoli, the risks involved in further landings on the Turkish coast were not politically acceptable. Had the effort been made the entire course of the war in the Middle East could well have been very different, for during the winter of 1914/15 the Turks sustained a disastrous series of reverses in the Caucasus, culminating in a Russian invasion of Asia Minor from the north-east. The fact remains that it was not and this in itself made some kind of initiative by the Turks against the Suez Canal inevitable.

Obviously the scope and duration of the operation could only be limited and what was contemplated amounted to little more than a large-scale raid which would cause damage to installations and possibly block the Canal with sunken ships. Even so, the objectives set were vague and the possibility of Allied warships being integrated into the Canal defence scheme seems to have been largely discounted.

The troops detailed for the operation were Djemal Bey’s VIII Corps, accompanied by a team of German advisers under Colonel Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein. By the middle of January 1915 the corps was ready to leave Beersheba and embark on its crossing of the Sinai, from which the British had withdrawn the previous autumn. The coastal route was avoided, as this would have brought the marching columns within range of naval gunfire. The inland route, though hot and arid in summer, was now quite passable, as heavy winter rains had filled pools and cisterns along the way. Even so, 5,000 water-carrying camels were still required to prevent thirst from becoming an acute problem.

The advance had been expected by the British and its progress was reported by Nieuport seaplanes flying off the Canal. The defenders, therefore, had plenty of time in which to set their house in order. On 3 February the Turks launched a series of uncoordinated attacks along a wide front and were defeated in detail by a storm of fire from Allied warships and British positions on the west bank. The majority of assault boats launched were riddled and sunk; only three managed to cross the Canal and their occupants were all quickly killed or captured. Djemal retired slowly to Beersheba, having sustained 2,000 casualties, approximately 10 per cent of his strength. British casualties amounted to only 163.

Lieutenant-General Sir John Maxwell, the Commander-in-Chief Egypt, was naturally satisfied with the outcome of the engagement but made no attempt to pursue Djemal and remained sensitive regarding the prospect of a further Turkish offensive. His anxieties were aggravated by the incessant demands of the Dardanelles, which had reduced the garrison of Egypt to a dangerously low level, by the wave of anti-British feeling which was sweeping the country, and by the growing belligerence of the Senussi across the frontier in Libya. There was little doubt that the Senussi were preparing to extend their activities beyond the guerrilla war they were waging against the Italians, for along the largely deserted coastline of Italy’s newest colony German U-boats came and went more or less as they pleased, landing small arms, machine guns, mountain artillery, ammunition and Turkish instructors. By the autumn of 1915 the merest spark was required to explode Senussi antipathy into outright hostilities against the British.

That spark was provided, unwittingly if not unwillingly, by Lieutenant-Commander Waldemar Kophamel, the commander of U-35, on 5 November 1915. Kophamel, who was to survive the war as Germany’s sixth highest-scoring submarine ace with 190,000 tons of Allied shipping to his credit, was an officer who somehow managed to preserve his sense of chivalry despite the growing brutalism of total war, and the previous day he had arrived in the little harbour of Bardia brazenly towing two schooners loaded with munitions for the Senussi. Next morning he set off on his return journey to Turkey but five miles out in the Gulf of Solium he sighted the smoke of a twin-funnelled vessel and dived.

The ship was HMS Tara, under the command of Captain R. S. Gwatkin-Williams, RN. In peacetime her owners had been the London and North Western Railway Company and she had operated as SS Hibernia on the run between Holyhead and Dublin. On the outbreak of war she had been requisitioned by the Admiralty, armed with three sixpounder guns, and became an armed boarding vessel. Now, she was engaged on a routine visit to the frontier post of Solium.

Kophamel quickly brought U-35 into an attacking position and fired a single torpedo, which struck Tara amidships. The British ship began settling at once and launched her boats. Kophamel surfaced among these and towed them back into Bardia, taking some of the survivors on to his own deck. Having handed over his prisoners to the senior Turkish officer present, he resumed his journey the following day, sinking one Egyptian gunboat and severely damaging another at Solium, then adding a horse transport to his score on the way home.

The British authorities in Egypt at once sent an envoy to the Senussi to negotiate the release of Tara’s survivors. At first the Grand Senussi, Said Ahmed, denied all knowledge of the affair. Under pressure, he admitted that the prisoners were being held at an undisclosed location, but declined to hand them over as they had been left in his care as hostages by the Turks. He was, in fact, under the influence of two Turkish senior officers by now, Nuri Bey, the brother of Enver Pasha, and Ja’far Pasha, who had received his training from the German Army. These two had arrived with gifts of gold and a flattering letter from the Sultan himself. They pointed out that the Turkish army had not only defeated the Gallipoli landing but was also doing extremely well in Mesopotamia, and that in view of recent events in the Gulf of Solium the claim of the Royal Navy to rule the waves was obviously no longer valid. An invasion of Egypt, they argued, would bring about the collapse of the weakened British, particularly if the large number of Senussi supporters in Egypt rose against them. Said Ahmed was convinced and gave orders for his troops to march.

During the night of 17 November the Solium garrison beat off an attack, and was then brought out by steamer. Sidi Barrani was attacked on the 18th and held, although many of the Egyptian coastguards deserted to the enemy. The remainder marched along the coast to Mersa Matruh spreading alarm and despondency.

In Cairo, Maxwell was seriously alarmed by the invasion and the Egyptian desertions, knowing that the despatch of troops to fight the Senussi would leave very little in reserve with which to mount counter-insurgency operations, should the need arise. Nonetheless, a number of Territorial infantry battalions and Yeomanry cavalry regiments were assembled under Major-General A. Wallace and designated Western Frontier Force. Wallace fought a number of costly holding actions west of Mersa Matruh, and these succeeded in containing the Senussi advance. As the position stabilized, his strength was augmented by South African and New Zealand infantry, as well as troops recently returned from Gallipoli.

Wallace’s command also included the first British armoured unit to serve in the Western Desert, the Emergency Squadron Royal Naval Air Service Armoured Car Division. As its name implies, this was formed hastily in November from Nos 3 and 4 Armoured Car Squadrons, elements of which had taken part in the Gallipoli fighting. It was equipped with Rolls-Royce armoured cars based on the Alpine chassis, with a fourspeed gearbox and a strengthened back axle. The body was sheathed in armour plate, leaving a small carrying platform at the rear, and an Admiralty pattern turret mounting a Vickers-Maxim machine gun was fitted over the main body of the vehicle. Comfort there was none, the driver sitting on a pile of small square mats, his back supported by an adjustable sling. Only the smallest men could operate efficiently in the cramped turret, which one contemporary account refers to as `the cylinder’.

The Emergency Squadron saw little fighting, largely because the winter rains had turned the going into a quagmire, much as they did in the same area after the Second Battle of Alamein, 27 years later. However, by January 1916 the squadron had acquired considerable desert experience and, having been relieved by the Duke of Westminster’s armoured car brigade (formerly No 2 Squadron RNAS Armoured Car Division), was sent up the Nile to Upper Egypt where Senussi bands were threatening the security of the west bank of the river, having occupied the oases of El Kharga, Dakhala, Farafra and Baharia. In due course its cars, and those of its personnel who wished, were transferred to the Army, as was the case with every naval armoured car unit, with the notable exception of one which continued to pursue an adventurous career in Russia.

The Duke of Westminster’s unit, having seen active service in Flanders, had already made the change and consisted of three batteries of four Rolls-Royce armoured cars and a small headquarters, supported by an echelon of Model T Ford tenders. Its morale was high, the Duke having selected his officers and men with care, the majority, including Second-Lieutenant Griggs, his own jockey, coming from cavalry and yeomanry regiments, with a leavening of professional motor drivers and mechanics.

In January, air reconnaissance revealed that the Senussi were occupying an entrenched camp at Halazin, 22 miles south of Mersa Matruh, and Wallace decided to eject them. A move by the cavalry to isolate the camp was foiled by a counter-attack led by Ja’far, but the Senussi fled when their trenches were stormed by the infantry. The battle was fought in atrocious conditions, the wounded having to be carried by hand across several miles of sodden ground, while the troops were compelled to spend the night without blankets or shelter of any kind, exposed to the wind and rain.

Wallace’s health had begun to deteriorate, and on 10 January he was relieved by Major-General W. E. Peyton. The Western Frontier Force was now in a much stronger position and Maxwell ordered it to take the offensive and recapture Solium, allocating 2,000 transport camels for its support. A forward base was established at Unjaila and when aircraft reported that the main Senussi camp was located at a place called Agagya some way to the south-east of Sidi Barrani Peyton led out a column to deal with it, consisting of two battalions from Brigadier-General Lukin’s South African infantry brigade, the Dorset Yeomanry, one squadron of the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry, a Royal Horse Artillery battery and four of the Duke’s armoured cars.

By the evening of the 24th the column was within eight miles of Agagya. Peyton decided to rest his men throughout the following day and attack on the 26th. The Senussi, 1,500 strong and supported by artillery and machine guns, were holding a ridge five miles north of their camp and brought the infantry under fire as soon as they were within range. Ja’far again attempted a counter-attack but this was defeated by a reserve which Peyton had retained for the purpose. The South Africans then fought their way forward on to the ridge and through the enemy position. After several hours of hard fighting the Senussi began to pull out, watched closely by Lieutenant-Colonel Souter, commanding the Dorset Yeomanry, from the British right flank. Once he was certain that the enemy were clear of their trenches he set his regiment in motion. At once machine-gun fire from the rearguard began to cut swathes through the ranks of his troopers, but the gap closed steadily and the lines of galloping horsemen swept into the mass of the enemy, cutting down 300 of them and pursuing the rest across the desert. At the critical moment Souter’s horse was shot dead beneath him and he almost landed on top of Ja’far, who was promptly taken prisoner. Ja’far, himself wounded, acknowledged that the yeomanry’s charge had been devastating, but commented that it had been made contrary to the normal usages of war. The Dorsets’ casualties amounted to 58 out of 184 men taking part, but the loss of 85 horses effectively reduced the regiment’s strength by half. For the armoured cars, Agagya had been a disappointing battle, their part being confined to providing machine gun support from ground mountings when they became bogged in soft sand.

Sidi Barrani was occupied on 28 February and on 9 March Peyton resumed his advance on Solium. Lukin’s brigade and the cavalry were to advance along the coast to Buq Buq and then swing inland to climb the coastal escarpment near Augarin Wells. The Duke’s armoured cars would head south from Sidi Barrani and climb the escarpment by way of a pass which, it was thought, might just be passable for motor vehicles, although the last wheels to make the journey had probably been Roman. It was a struggle, but all the cars made it, some having to be man-handled over the difficult stretches as they flogged their way upwards with boiling radiators.

Next day they picked their difficult passage along the edge of the escarpment, trying to keep in visual touch with the troops on the coastal plain below. After they had covered 14 miles the Duke ordered a halt and opened heliograph communication with Lukin. The news conveyed by the distant winking light was far from good.


The cars continued on their way and some miles further on the first South Africans came scrambling up the escarpment, desperate for water, many with their tongues hanging out; one, a former bank manager, willingly offered £50 for a drink. There was little that the crews could do for them. Their spare water tanks had already been drained by the greedy radiators, and apart from what little remained in the men’s water bottles, the only other sources lay within the radiators themselves or the machine guns’ cooling jackets, and to touch either of these had been declared a court martial offence.

Early next morning the cars discovered a source of water which enabled the advance to continue. On 14 March Peyton’s force reached Halfaya Pass, and from there marched the remaining three miles to Solium, which the enemy had abandoned. Once again the Union Flag was hoisted over the little white fort, but Peyton was not satisfied with having evened the score; he wished if possible to complete the destruction of the Senussi field army and when aircraft reported a large enemy camp at Bir Wair he instructed the Duke to take his armoured cars and act with such aggression as the situation demanded.

Bir Wair technically lay in Italian territory, but since the Italians themselves were unwilling or unable to do anything about the Senussi, little embarrassment was felt, especially since Italy had become the United Kingdom’s ally the previous year. Across the frontier the going was found to be excellent and the cars were able to maintain a high average speed. At Bir Wair the Senussi camp fires were still burning but the enemy had pulled off to the west and the armoured cars caught up with them at a well called Bir Azeiz.

The Senussi had established themselves in a rocky position fronted by some rough going and opened up on the cars with mountain artillery and machine guns. The cars fanned out and went straight for them, machine guns chattering. Inside, conditions quickly began to deteriorate as the heat of the racing engines added to that of the sun, while choking fumes from the machine gun turned the atmosphere blue. The noise level within the vehicles was almost intolerable, being a compound of their own machine gun fire, rounds striking the armour plate, the roar of the engine and the shouts of commanders as they ordered the drivers to change direction. One driver at least suffered the added torment of hot cartridge cases falling on to his bare neck and into his shirt, where they burned his back. The cars concentrated their fire on the enemy gunners, whose own rounds were badly ranged and exploded beyond their moving targets. When the gun crews, mostly Turks, began going down around their weapons the whole Senussi army suddenly broke and ran. Hundreds were killed or wounded during the ensuing pursuit; among the fugitives was Nuri Bey, who narrowly escaped capture.

The Duke’s men spent the night near the battlefield and returned to Solium the following morning with their prisoners and booty-three 4-inch guns, nine machine-guns, an assortment of small arms and 250,000 rounds of ammunition. Their own casualties amounted to one or two very slightly wounded, almost certainly as a result of bulletsplash penetrating the visors and interior flaking of the armour under impact, and some vehicle tyres punctured. The engagement at Bir Wair, though small in scale, marked a major turning point in the history of desert warfare, for a mere 34 men, protected by armour plate and possessing the superior mobility conferred by the internal combustion engine, had routed an entire army. In recognition of the fact, Peyton had the unit paraded in front of the fort and thanked it personally for its invaluable services.

Meanwhile, there was still no news of Tara’s survivors. No one knew whether they were alive or dead and none of the prisoners could give any information. Quite possibly they would never have been heard of again had not a letter written by Captain Gwatkin-Williams, the ship’s commander, been discovered in a house in Solium. The letter had been addressed to the commander of the British garrison, but it had been delivered during the period of Senussi occupation; it gave the prisoners’ location as El Hakkim Abbyat, or Bir Hacheim.

In Arabic Bir means well, or more specifically an underground cistern. The desert is dotted with Birs, but at that period no maps existed of the interior and none of the inhabitants of Solium had any idea where Bir Hacheim might be located. The prisoners taken at Bir Azeiz were questioned and at length an elderly man named Ali confessed that in his youth he had tended stock there. Bir Hacheim, he said, was five days’ journey by camel from Solium, and he would be prepared to act as guide.

The Duke of Westminster at once volunteered his armoured cars to lead a rescue attempt. A column was quickly assembled, including Ford tenders and motor ambulances, a total of 45 vehicles including the armoured cars. It left Solium at 01:00 on 17 March and proceeded through the darkness along the track leading through Bir Wair to Tobruk. Leaving two of their number to act as rearguard to the column, the armoured cars led the advance, with the tenders, loaded with spare petrol, water and provisions, following behind. A short halt was made at first light for breakfast and then the march resumed.

After 50 miles had been covered Ali spotted a camel caravan moving along a parallel course to the south. A diversion was made and the caravan intercepted by the armoured cars. It was found to be carrying supplies for the Senussi and these were confiscated, the drivers captured and the camels shot. This took more time than had been bargained for and it was almost noon when the column started off again. The route took them ever westward with no further instructions from Ali save to continue in the same direction. The interpreter pointed out testily to the old man that motor vehicles were unlike camels and had to be fed regularly, but Ali steadfastly maintained that this was the way to Bir Hacheim.

After about 100 miles had been covered Ali indicated that the column should swing left and head south over the desert. This generated serious doubt as to whether the guide knew his business. Halts were made frequently to verify the position. By. 15:00 the vehicles had travelled over 120 miles since leaving Solium and the Duke, who had by now completely lost faith in Ali, decided that they had gone far enough. The fuel state indicated that the point of no return had been reached and to venture further would simply result in the temporary immobilization of the Western Frontier Force’s armoured element, and most of its motor transport as well. Suddenly the guide shouted that he could see Bir Hacheim. Through his binoculars the Duke observed two small hummocks on the horizon and Ali assured him that the wells lay beneath.

The cars spread out and charged the mounds. Armed men could be seen scurrying about and running off into the desert, evidently taking their families with them. Soon other, horribly emaciated, figures tottered into view, waving and cheering in cracked voices.

`The scene when we got there was one I shall never forget,’ wrote an officer serving with the brigade’s supply tenders. `Numbers of prisoners were crying without any effort to hide their tears while a number of our men found great difficulty in not following suit; I personally had a very big lump in my throat if nothing more! The majority were so weak from dysentery and starvation that they could only just stand, and most were half naked and ravenous.’

Gwatkin-Williams was in slightly better shape than the rest of his crew, although he had escaped once and been recaptured. He had lost six stone in weight and four of his men had died as a result of their privations; for another, the rescue had come just too late. The Senussi had not been deliberately cruel and had, in fact, lived on the same rations as their prisoners, but food was in terribly short supply and the latter had been forced to eke out their meagre diet with desert snails and roots.

 Seized by blind rage, the armoured car crews roared off in pursuit of the guards. Gwatkin-Williams’ pleas for mercy were ignored and neither age nor sex was spared. The only survivors of the massacre were two babies who were brought back with the column. It was a stain on an otherwise perfect operation, deeply and sincerely regretted when calmer thoughts had returned.

The column set off on its return journey to Solium as soon as the released captives had been clothed and fed, reaching Bir Wair, now held by a unit of the Australian Camel Corps, at 23:00. The drivers were exhausted and most collapsed over their wheels the minute they arrived. The Duke had gone ahead to make arrangements for the survivors, who were placed aboard a hospital ship for passage to Alexandria as soon as they reached Solium. The armoured cars remained at Bir Wair for two days until a sand storm blew itself out, but drove up to the fort to the cheers of the infantry and a salute fired by the artillery. Once again, General Peyton congratulated the unit on its remarkable achievement.

Greek Fleet at Salamis I

Twenty-two Greek cities were represented at Salamis, for a total of more than three hundred ships. Six states from the Peloponnese provided vessels: Sparta, Corinth, Sicyon, Epidaurus, Troezen, and Hermione. In central Greece, Athens and Megara contributed ships, while Ambracia and Leucas represented northwestern Greece. From the islands there were ships from the city-states of Chalcis, Eretria, and Styra in Euboea, Aegina in the Saronic Gulf, and from the Cyclades, Ceos, Naxos, Cythnos, Seriphos, Siphnos, and Melos. Croton in Italy was the only western Greek city to take part. It sent one trireme, but its crew may all have resided in Greece: political refugees, they were eager to find a patron to help them return home and overthrow their enemies.

Most of these states provided only a tiny number of ships. Leucas, for instance, sent only three triremes; Cythnos sent only a trireme and a penteconter; while Melos, Siphnos and Seriphos sent only penteconters—two from Melos, one each from Siphnos and Seriphos. With its defection at Artemisium, Lemnos provided one trireme. These numbers speak eloquently of financial and demographic poverty and of loyalty to the Greek cause. Plataea, which had sent men to Artemisium to help fill the rowers’ benches of Athens’s triremes, was not represented at Salamis. After Artemisium, the Plataeans had hurried home to convey their families and property to safety.

Several of these states were in the process of being swamped by the Persian tide. Plataea, Chalcis, Eretria, and Styra had fallen. Athens was in the process of evacuation, and once the Persians reached Athens, nothing stopped them from overrunning Megara, the next city-state to the west. Troezen was crowded with Athenian refugees. Except for Seriphos, Siphnos, and Melos, the other Cycladic ships came from states that had submitted to Persia. The commanders disobeyed orders and joined the Greeks.

Still, the allies might have been disappointed at their inability to attract more ships to Salamis. There was one prominent no-show. The Corcyreans had promised ambassadors of the Hellenic League to fight for Greece and against slavery. The western Greek island of Corcyra (modern Corfu) had even launched sixty triremes, a fleet second only to Athens’s in size. But the Corcyreans sent the ships only as far as Cape Taenarum in the southern Peloponnese in order not to anger Xerxes—the eventual winner of the war, they were sure. To the Greeks they pleaded the excuse of the Etesian winds, the powerful nor’easter that sometimes blows in the fall and stops navigation cold.

Then there was Sicily. Its leading Greek city-state was Syracuse, ruled in 480 B.C. by a tyrant named Gelon. The Hellenic League had asked Gelon for help against Persia. He promised a huge number of ships and men but named too high a price: supreme command. Both the Spartan and Athenian ambassadors who went to see him refused. Besides, Gelon had a war with Carthage on his hands. In the end, Gelon sent only a representative to Delphi, carrying a treasure to give as a gift to Xerxes, should the Great King prevail.

The three biggest contingents at Salamis were from Aegina, with 30 ships, Corinth, with 50 ships, and Athens, with 180 ships, about half of the triremes in the Greek fleet; Sparta contributed only 16 ships.

The Greeks had 368 ships at Salamis, as a reasonable reading of the tricky evidence concludes. To take only fifth century B.C. sources: the playwright Aeschylus says that the Greek numbers at Salamis “amounted to thirty tens of ships, and another ten elite ships”; the historian Thucydides reports a claim that the Greeks had 400 ships of which two-thirds (i.e., 267) were Athenian. Aeschylus’s figures are imprecise and poetic; Thucydides’ are imprecise and attributed to a bragging speaker fifty years after the battle. Herodotus’s numbers are better, if problematic.

Herodotus says that the Greeks had 378 ships, of which 180 were Athenian. He also adds that two ships defected to the Greeks from the Persians, bringing the number of ships to an even 380. Unfortunately, when Herodotus cites the ship numbers city-state by city-state, the figures add up to only 366 ships. Herodotus also specifies that the Greek fleet at Salamis was larger than the Greek fleet at Artemisium, which eventually numbered 333 ships. Assuming that Herodotus’s city-by-city figures are more accurate than his total, it would seem that the Greeks had 368 ships (366 plus the two defectors) on the day of the battle of Salamis.

Sparta had been made commander of the allied fleet, probably at the meeting at Corinth in the autumn of 481 B.C. when the Hellenic League had been formed. The natural commander of the fleet would have been an Athenian, presumably Themistocles, but the other Greeks resented Athens’s new naval power and feared Athenian muscle flexing. They insisted on a Spartan commander or they would dissolve the fleet. The Athenians yielded, and the Spartan government named Eurybiades.

Two city-states probably led the charge against the appointment of an Athenian as commander: Aegina and Corinth. Aegina is an island in the Saronic Gulf, south of Salamis, about thirty-three square miles in size. Located about seventeen miles from Athens, Aegina and its conical mountain (about 1,750 feet high) are clearly visible from the Acropolis. Like many neighbors in ancient Greece, Athens and Aegina were longtime rivals. In later years, Pericles expressed Athens’s habitual contempt for its neighbor by describing Aegina as “the eyesore of Piraeus,” referring to Athens’s main port after 479 B.C. Eyesores, of course, need to be rubbed out, and under Pericles, Athens smashed Aegina’s power once and for all. In 480, however, the rivalry was still burning.

Though small, Aegina before the days of Themistocles was a greater naval power than Athens. The Aeginetans were a maritime people who took the turtle as the symbol on their coins. For two decades before 480 B.C, Aegina and Athens waged a very violent war. In 490, on the eve of the Persian landing at Marathon, only Spartan intervention prevented Aegina from joining in the attack on Athens. The two states laid down their differences in 481 at the conference establishing the Hellenic League; no doubt Athens’s sprint ahead in the arms race, by deciding in 483 to build a two-hundred-ship navy, encouraged Aegina to think peace.

Corinth smarted from less nasty wounds. Traditional rivals, Athens and Corinth had avoided all-out war. But Themistocles hardly endeared Athens to Corinth when he arbitrated a dispute between Corinth and Corcyra in the latter’s favor. Corcyra was a naval power and a former colony of Corinth that had little love for its mother city. Looking even farther westward, Themistocles also strengthened Athens’s connections with the Greek city-states in Italy and Sicily.

None of this Athenian interest in the west could have pleased Corinth, which had long had maritime connections there. By modern roads Corinth and Athens are fifty-five miles apart. Ancient Corinth was a wealthy city, grown rich on the oil of the olive trees that grew well in its fertile soil, on maritime trade, and on prostitution. Long the home of a tyranny that was famous for its vices, Corinth in 480 B.C. was now an oligarchy that preferred to sell vice to others. Corinthians were jealous and suspicious of an Athens that had once been a backwater but that had outstripped Corinth first as a trading center and now, recently, as a naval power.

The Corinthian admiral in 480 B.C. was Adimantus son of Ocytus. Corinth was an ally of Sparta, but Corinth loved its luxuries, and Adimantus was no doubt better dressed than Eurybiades. For that matter, he was probably better dressed than Themistocles. Unlike Athenians, Corinth’s oligarchs had no need to look like men of the people. We may imagine Adimantus in an elegant cloak of woven linen, cream-colored with a dark purple edging. His bronze breastplate no doubt featured incised musculature. His helmet, also bronze and made out of a single sheet of metal, was surely of the Corinthian style: close-fitting and custom-made, with a nosepiece and eyeholes. The helmet’s lower edge might have been decorated with a delicate, incised, spiral border. The helmet would give in to a blow without cracking, while padding underneath cushioned the impact. Adimantus may have worn a roll of cloth under his greaves to avoid chafing. His shield may have been emblazoned with an image of Pegasus, the winged horse that was a symbol of Corinth.

Between the return of their fleet from Artemisium and the arrival of the Persians, the Athenians had only five or six days to complete their evacuation. We do not know if the allied ships at Salamis helped the Athenians evacuate Athens or if they stood and waited. No doubt a steady stream of eleventh-hour transfers of people, property, and supplies across the narrow channel from Attica to Salamis was still flowing when the first hoofbeats of the enemy horses were heard. At any rate, even before the enemy had appeared, Eurybiades called the generals of the allied states to a council of war at Salamis. The date was about September 23.

A navy whose main admirals cordially hated each other. A naval commander in chief who came from a country famous for its inattention to ships. A naval base teeming with refugees whom it could not feed for long. A set of allies who were itching to leave the war zone. It was of this unpromising material that the Greeks had to forge a strategy for victory.

Since there were twenty separate commanders at Salamis, they needed a sizable space for their deliberation. Presumably, they met either in a public building or in a large private house. Every Greek city had its agora, the open space in the center of town that combined marketplace and political forum. The agora was usually bordered on one or more sides by a stoa, or covered portico, offering shelter from sun, wind, and rain.

We might imagine the generals at Salamis meeting in a covered portico of the agora, perhaps within sight of the statue there of the great Athenian statesman Solon, shown in the act of addressing the people, with his arm modestly tucked inside his cloak. Perhaps they even met in the Temple of Ajax, a shrine to the great hero.

It is an open question whether the Greeks would have made good use of leisure time for discussion had it been available. The Greeks were so famous for talk and argument that some doubted their capacity for action. Cyrus the Great of Persia, for example, had once dismissed the Spartan army by saying that Greeks were men who set aside a place in the center of town where they could swear oaths and cheat each other, referring to the agora.

The Greeks in council at Salamis would have the chance to prove Cyrus wrong, but they would have to move quickly. However long it took the full Persian force to get from Thermopylae to Athens, once they arrived, they seemed to fly.

Eurybiades opened the meeting by asking for recommendations for strategy. Which of the lands that they controlled should be the base for future naval operations against the enemy? He explicitly excluded Attica, since the Greeks were not defending it. So bald a statement of the facts might have stung Themistocles. True, Eurybiades did not exclude Salamis as a base, but he did not favor it, either.

A variety of opinions was heard, but the most common theme was that the fleet should move westward to the Isthmus of Corinth. Perhaps Themistocles argued that Salamis was no farther from the Isthmus, about twenty-five miles, than Artemisium had been from Thermopylae, a distance of forty miles. And all things considered, the Greeks had done very well at Artemisium. If Themistocles spoke in this vein, he might have been shocked at the response.

Herodotus reports the majority viewpoint among the speakers at the council, and apparently the Peloponnesians predominated among those who spoke. They made it clear that their concern was less the suitability of Salamis as a base for victory than as a getaway point after defeat. If the Greek fleet was beaten at the Isthmus, the Peloponnesian sailors had only to get ashore and they could walk home, if need be. If the Greek fleet was beaten at Salamis, however, the survivors would be blockaded on an island.

In short, the Peloponnesian admirals were defeatists. Their gloom could have only deepened when an Athenian messenger interrupted the council with the news that the Persians were in Attica and had set everything on fire. Worse, they had taken the Acropolis. This latter information, delivered in person, might have been confirmed by signal relay. The smoke of the buildings would have been visible from the hills of Salamis, and word of it could have been sent down to the city by a prearranged signal, perhaps a flashing of shields.

The result was chaos. Herodotus describes it as a thorubos, a loud, confused noise or confusion more generally. Some of the commanders made a quick exit. They rushed to their ships and ordered the sails hoisted for departure. The rest of the generals stayed at the meeting and passed a motion to fight the Persians at the Isthmus. In either case, the result was the same: Salamis, the last shred of independent Athenian territory, was to be abandoned. The Greeks had panicked, and Xerxes could not have asked for a better result if he had planned it.

Greek Fleet at Salamis II

The commanders left the conference and returned to their ships. By now it was nighttime, hardly the ordinary hour to board. But the Greeks had a great deal to do if they were to be ready to leave for the Isthmus at dawn—and certainly they were eager to leave as soon as possible. Gear and supplies had to be loaded, equipment had to be tested, and there were always repairs to be made to wooden boats, especially boats as fragile as the trireme. Oars break, ropes snap, sails tear, leather oar-hole covers leak, seats split, and so on. In the fourth century B.C., an Athenian trireme carried a set of thirty spare oars, which is a sign of how common shattered oars were. Normally repairs would all have been made in the sunlight, and no doubt much had been done after Artemisium, but any time spent helping the Athenians evacuate would have taken time from repairing the ships. Now the men would have to make do with the flickering light of portable clay oil lamps.

Themistocles, too, returned to his trireme, which was probably moored in Paloukia Bay. We may imagine that, for the moment, he felt depressed. Even heroes have dark moods when their plans fail, and he surely had given considerable thought to the strategy of fighting at Salamis. At that moment, Mnesiphilus came aboard ship in search of Themistocles. Mnesiphilus was an Athenian politician, apparently an older man and fellow demesman whom Themistocles had looked up to as a young man. Now, Themistocles was the more prominent of the two. But Mnesiphilus was not shy and didn’t fear controversy, as shown by surviving evidence of Athenian attempts to have him ostracized (he sidestepped them, as far as is known). As soon as he found out from Themistocles what had happened at the council to cause the hubbub along the shore, Mnesiphilus gave his advice.

Mnesiphilus told Themistocles bluntly that he had to get Eurybiades to change his mind and to reopen the strategic debate. No doubt Themistocles already knew this, but he needed to hear it from someone else. And Mnesiphilus went further. If the fleet left Salamis, he said, it would give up the act of fighting for a single Greek fatherland. Once the ships left Salamis, every city-state’s unit would look after its own interests and go home. Neither Eurybiades nor anyone else would be able to reunite them. It was an astute argument. It drove a wedge between Eurybiades and the other commanders by playing on Sparta’s smugness. Sure as Eurybiades was of his city’s superior virtue, he would be willing to suspect the worst of others.

In short, Mnesiphilus had made an argument worthy of Themistocles. It was all the impetus Themistocles needed. He did not say a word, although he was thrilled with Mnesiphilus’s reasoning. Instead, Themistocles simply left and immediately headed towards Eurybiades’ flagship. We may imagine him hurrying over the hill between Paloukia Bay and Ambelaki Bay, where the Spartan fleet was probably moored, perhaps drawn up at the quay. When Themistocles reached the Spartan’s trireme, he called for Eurybiades, saying that he wished to speak to him about a matter of common interest. The message was relayed by an aide to the commander in chief, who replied that Themistocles could come on board if he wished. The Athenian, we may imagine, climbed up a wooden ladder and joined Eurybiades on deck. There he sat down beside Eurybiades. They probably sat in the stern, perhaps under a canvas awning, perhaps on folding stools or sitting cross-legged directly on the wood of the deck. They probably spoke by the light of clay oil lamps.

At first glance, Themistocles and Eurybiades made an odd pair. The Athenian typified a society that was brash and free, while Eurybiades’ country was famously slow and sober. Yet Athens and Sparta were both great powers and both enemies of Persia, while Eurybiades and Themistocles were both patriots. Although he lacked a Spartan’s long hair, Themistocles’ bulldog face conveyed a Spartan toughness. And while Themistocles had a quicksilver style, Eurybiades was a pragmatist.

“Of all the men we know,” said an Athenian years later, the Spartans “are most conspicuous in considering what is agreeable honorable, and what is expedient just.” Eurybiades no doubt found it disagreeable to reconvene the council of war, but it would be even more disagreeable to show up at the Isthmus without a united fleet. That would merely confirm his countrymen’s prejudice against sea power. How much better it would be for Eurybiades to have a naval victory to bring home to the Spartans. Eurybiades had learned at Artemisium how much that victory depended on listening to the advice of Themistocles.

Then there was Thermopylae. Rather than give an inch to the enemy, Leonidas had sacrificed his men’s lives and his own. As a Spartan, Eurybiades might cringe at the symbolism of surrender that would come with a withdrawal from Salamis.

In his meeting with Eurybiades, Themistocles repeated Mnesiphilus’s argument without identifying the source. By taking credit for it, Themistocles both glorified himself and avoided the danger that Eurybiades might dismiss a line of reasoning that came from a mere underling. Themistocles then added several arguments of his own. It is not known what he said, but Themistocles must have been able to mix threats and flattery in the right proportion. Eurybiades agreed to reconvene the commanders.

It was probably not unusual for a war council to meet at night, because commanders had their hands full during the day, especially in late September, when daylight hours are rapidly decreasing. It was extraordinary, however, for a council to reconsider a plan that had just been decided. Before anyone could raise a point of order, even before Eurybiades could explain why he had called the council back into session, Themistocles began addressing his colleagues. Then, too, Themistocles was in a state of excitement.

Adimantus, the Corinthian commander, broke in. “At the games, Themistocles, those who start before the signal are beaten with the judge’s stick.” It was a clever insult, at the same time poking fun and threatening violence.

“Yes,” Themistocles replied in his defense, “and those who are left behind do not win the victor’s wreath.”

What followed was an epic contest between the Athenian and the Corinthian. Aegina could have matched Corinth’s disdain for Athens, but it would not support a retreat to the Isthmus, since that would leave Aegina behind Persian lines. So it came down to a battle between two speakers. Herodotus, who knew from Homer the impact of describing a clash of egos, no doubt heightens the tension in his narrative, but even a matter-of-fact account would reveal the drama of the occasion.

As a Spartan, Eurybiades was no stranger to the clash of egos in public. He had seen men compete with every weapon in the Greek rhetorical tool kit: honor, shame, humiliation, wit, pain, threats, and, just beneath a surface of civility, violence—violence that was all the more dangerous because it was controlled.

But in Sparta speeches were mercifully short and sharp: laconic, as the favored form of discourse was called, after Laconia, the geographical name for Sparta’s territory. By comparison, other Greek speakers must have seemed like windbags. There is a report that during this meeting a frustrated Eurybiades lifted up his walking stick and threatened to strike Themistocles.

“Strike but listen,” Themistocles said. The Spartan no doubt appreciated the pithy response; in any case, he lowered his stick and let the man speak.

Having brushed off Adimantus with relative gentleness, Themistocles directed his arguments toward Eurybiades. Here in council he said nothing about the danger of the fleet breaking up if it left Salamis, because that would have amounted to accusing his colleagues of treason to their face—a mortal insult. Instead, he emphasized the relative advantages of fighting at Salamis.

At the Isthmus, said Themistocles, they would have to fight a naval battle “on the wide open sea.” That would hurt the Greeks, because they would be surrounded by the lighter, faster, and more numerous Persian triremes. Even if the Greeks won an engagement, the Persians would come back and whittle down Greek numbers. By contrast, Themistocles continued, his plan set the stage for a naval battle in the narrows, where the Persians could not deploy their full numerical strength.

“Fighting a naval battle in the narrows is good for us, and in the open sea it is good for them” is how he put it in a nutshell. He reminded the generals of the Athenian women and children on Salamis, thereby playing on their emotions. And he insisted that the Persians would not advance to the Peloponnese unless the Greek fleet enticed them there. Finally, Themistocles recalled the oracle that had promised victory at Salamis—no doubt without alluding to the debate in Athens over just what the oracle meant. He closed by reminding his colleagues that the gods help those who help themselves.

Themistocles’ point about the need for heavier ships to fight in the narrows was no small matter. If Athens had purposely built its new triremes to be heavy, then it needed to fight in narrow spaces where there was no room to be outmaneuvered by lighter and faster ships and, preferably, to fight in a moderate wind, which tosses around light ships while barely moving heavy ships. Hence, Themistocles’ insistence on fighting at Salamis. The Salamis straits were narrow and, as will become clear presently, had favorable winds.

Events would prove Themistocles a prophet about a naval battle in the narrows. And he was right about the sea off the Isthmus: it offered nothing like the closed space of the Salamis straits. But Themistocles was wrong about the Persian advance to the Peloponnese, because Persia was ready to head there without any encouragement from the Greeks on Salamis.

Adimantus had the right to be proud of Corinth’s record of fighting for the Greek cause. Since Xerxes had no quarrel with Corinth, the Corinthians might have decided to Medize. Instead, their men fought in every major battle of the war while their women prayed to the gods not to bring the boys home but to let their warriors prevail.

But Adimantus missed the chance to rebut Themistocles’ faulty reasoning. Instead, he insulted him. Adimantus told Themistocles to be silent because he had no fatherland. Then the Corinthian turned to Eurybiades and insisted that Themistocles be denied a vote because he was now a man without a country. Let Themistocles get himself a city before he gave any more advice.

Themistocles now either was furious or pretended to be. He snapped at an Eretrian commander who tried to rebut him, “What are you doing making an argument about war? You people are like squids: all shell and no guts.” Themistocles was referring both to anatomy and numismatics: the squid has both a tough beak and a dagger-shaped internal shell, while Eretria used a symbol of an octopus (closely related to a squid) on its coins.

Adimantus had unintentionally stirred up sympathy for the Athenian by his crude remarks. Themistocles turned the emotion into fear. After abusing both Adimantus and Corinth, he reminded his colleagues that with two hundred triremes fully manned, Athens had a better city than anyone else in the council. In fact, no city in Greece could defend itself against an Athenian attack.

Then he turned to Eurybiades. “If you stay here,” Themistocles said,

you will be a man of courage and honor. If not, you will destroy Greece. For the ships carry the whole weight of the war for us. Mark my words. If you don’t do what I advise, we will put our families aboard ships and convey them to Siris in Italy, which has been ours from of old, and the oracles say that we are bound to establish a colony there.

Themistocles had thrown down his last card. He had threatened to lead Athens into what might be called the Phocaean option: to leave Greece and relocate in southern Italy. Herodotus believes that it was the credibility of this threat that changed Eurybiades’ mind. The Spartan knew that without Athens’s ships, the Greeks could not stand up to the Persian fleet. So Eurybiades gave in.

Apparently Eurybiades had the power to overturn the vote of the council, for that is what he now did. He decided that they would stay at Salamis and fight it out by sea. “They had jousted with words over Salamis,” says Herodotus, and now Eurybiades told the commanders to prepare to fight with their ships. They obeyed, but without the enthusiasm that would have followed had they voted in favor of the decision. The only vote on record called for a retreat to the Isthmus, and it remained to be seen if the other Greeks would continue to abide by their commander in chief’s decree.

It was now dawn somewhere around September 24. Herodotus implies that the council had lasted all night long or at least most of it. There would have been little time for any commander to sleep. The night of drama was followed by a final, daylight shock. About an hour after dawn, at sunrise, an earthquake was felt by land and sea. The Greeks took this as a sign from heaven. The commanders voted to pray to the gods and to call upon the sons—that is, the descendants—of the hero Aeacus to fight at their side. In Greek mythology, those descendants included Ajax and his father, Telamon: it was presumably at the Temple of Ajax in Salamis Town that the Greeks prayed. Unfortunately, the other sons as well as Aeacus himself were represented by temple statues in Aegina, which was about fifteen miles away. The Greeks immediately sent a ship there to bring the statues to their camp.

So the battle of Salamis, the accidental battle, the battle that almost never happened, the battle for Greece to which many of the Greeks had to be brought against their will—the battle was now set to take place. That is, so said the Hellenic League, or at least some of it. The Persians, however, had yet to weigh in. Everything now depended on what they decided to do.

The battle of Salamis