Konya [Iconium] City-Fortress

Konya [Iconium] City Walls

With the entry of the Seljuk State into Anatolia, the area of its domination began to expand gradually. During this period, there began to struggle with the Byzantines in order to seize Konya and its surroundings. As a result of these struggles, the Seljuks took the city of Konya and Gevele Castle from the Byzantine governor named Romanus Makri. Since then, Konya has been the center of the Anatolian Seljuk State. The castle of Gevele is very important both in terms of its location and its strategic location. Because of this, the city of Konya was generally defended from the Gevale Castle and was first met in the attacks on Konya.

The Konya Fortress is also believed to have been constructed in the Roman period. However, due to the restorations and addition of new sections, the fortress and the city walls, which are believed to have been built in 2nd century AD, have almost lost their original plans and their architectural features. Although they have reinforced it against the anticipated First Crusade, the Seljuks made initially almost no changes to the fortifications when they conquered the city. Today nothing is preserved from the city walls surrounding the Alaeddin Tepesi (Alaeddin Hill).

Physical changes in Alaeddin Hill and its close surroundings, in the second half of 19th century up to 1897, when the railway line is connected to the city. It shows the inner city wall [i.e.the “keep”] as constructed previously.

Especially during the period of Izzettin Keykavus I and Alaeddin Keykubat I restorations were made to the Byzantine walls substantially. During these restorations one of the first examples of an `exhibition’ in the history of museology occurred when the spolia and the Antique period materials found near the Alaaddin Hill were displayed on a stand set in front of the walls. In this way the Sultan synthesized his own culture with the preceding one. Even more, the fact that the materials used in the city walls were contradictory to Islamic philosophy was tolerated. Displaying spolia with erotic figures on the walls was a clear indication of Seljuk tolerance. Another significance is that it displayed iconography on the walls. During Medieval time sultans believed that this could protect their citizens from enemies. There are two kinds of enemy. One of them is the visible enemy – because they are human like them. The other enemies are the invisible ones, and the city could be protected from these by talismans. There are many medieval stories about talisman present in Islamic culture, i. e. Gog and Magog versus Alexander.

Byzantine Cities, Villages and Fortifications

Konya Museums and Ruins


Konya from Total War Medieval 2


The Disaster at La Forbie I

Kingship in medieval times was a thing apart, remote from ordinary human preoccupations, touched with divinity. A king did not walk or talk like ordinary mortals; still less did he make decisions like them, for he saw himself walking with God at his side. While the emperors of Byzantium were most keenly aware of their divine power, even the kings of small states like Cyprus believed they were especially blessed. As a consequence, the king stood at the greatest possible distance from his subjects. He rarely knew what they were thinking, and rarely cared.

From the very beginning the pope had hoped that kings would lead the Crusade. Their splendor, their majesty, their semi-divine powers were needed as much as their armies were for the final conquest of the Holy Land. Their mystical armor preserved them from the arrows of the Saracens. In the imagination of the Vatican, the kings always rode ahead of their knights and infantrymen, and there was always a papal legate beside the king to warn, to console, to bless, and to guide.

In 1234, at the midpoint of the truce arranged between the Emperor Frederick and Sultan al-Kamil, Pope Gregory IX found himself once more putting his trust in a Crusade of kings. He appealed to the kings of France, England, Aragon, Castile, and Portugal. He wanted all of them to assemble their armies in Italy and then to sail off to the Holy Land in order to secure the Kingdom of Jerusalem finally and unalterably. The appeal was urgent, for the principalities in Palestine were dangerously unstable, capable of drowning each other in a sudden bloodbath. Bohemond V ruled over Antioch and Tripoli, but without his father’s flair for vigorous government and legal scholarship. Various members of the Ibelin family ruled over Beirut, Arsuf and Jaffa. In Acre, the merchant colonies of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice elected consuls whose administration extended over the greater part of the city, which was nominally the capital of Richard Filanghieri, whom Frederick had appointed as his viceroy. Tyre was in the hands of Philip of Montfort. The Templars and Hospitallers also had their independent principalities, which consisted of vast chains of fortresses dotted across the length and breadth of Palestine. The Holy Land was fragmented, and its two kings, Conrad and John of Brienne, were both in Italy.

The pope’s call for a Crusade of kings produced only one king. This was Thibault IV, Count of Champagne, who became, in 1234, king of Navarre. He was a faithful servant of the Church, (he burned heretics). He was witty and improvident, generous to a fault, but without much talent as a war leader. He had one virtue as a military commander: he was cautious not out of cowardice, but because he wanted to save as many lives as possible.

Before taking part in the Crusade, the king of Navarre wrote to the barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and asked some sensible questions. He wanted to know whether they regarded the truce to be valid; whether the new Crusaders would be welcomed; which were the best ports of departure; and whether he would be able to find supplies in Cyprus. They answered that the truce was invalid, for the Saracens attacked whenever they pleased; the best ports were Genoa and Marseilles; there were plentiful supplies in Cyprus. Moreover, once they reached Cyprus, they were in a position to strike at Syria or Egypt according to the opportunities at the time of their arrival. He would be warmly welcomed, and they hoped he would come soon.

The army reached Lyons in the summer of 1239. The muster roll included some of the most prominent names of French chivalry, Hugh IV, Duke of Burgundy, among them. The king of Navarre had planned to lead his army across Italy and to set sail from Brindisi, but the pope and Frederick were still quarreling bitterly and he had no desire to be caught in the middle. The army, numbering about twelve hundred knights and eight or nine thousand foot soldiers, marched down the Rhone Valley, some taking ship at Marseilles and others at Aigues-Mortes.

All went well at the beginning. However, as they approached the Holy Land, the ships were scattered by a sudden storm; some were blown onto the shores of Cyprus, while others drifted all the way to Sicily. But the portly figure of the king was seen stepping off his flagship at Acre on September 1, 1239, with the walls streaming with banners and the crowds cheering.

The Sultan al-Kamil had died in March, 1238. He had led his army against Damascus in January, captured it, and then set about organizing his empire, which stretched from southern Egypt almost to the Euphrates. But the effort was too much for him. His death at the age of sixty precipitated another civil war. A nephew, al-Jawad, seized power in Damascus, while his elder son, as-Salih Ayub, marched against Damascus with the help of Khwarismian tribesmen and quickly put an end to the rule of al-Jawad. As-Salih Ayub’s younger brother, al-Adil II, formerly viceroy of Egypt, appointed himself Sultan at the time of his father’s (al-Kamil’s) death. Enamored of a handsome young Negro, al-Adil II surrendered most of his powers to the youth, which would later bring about the enmity of the emirs and most of the population. In May 1240 the tent of the sultan and the youth would be surrounded, and they would both be killed. As-Salih Ayub, who would lose Damascus to his uncle, as-Salih Ismail, would then become sultan of Egypt. With one as-Salih in Cairo and another in Damascus, the civil war between the two branches of the family would begin in earnest, complicated by the presence of marauding Khwarismian tribesmen.

By dying, al-Kamil had made civil war inevitable; and by inviting Khwarismians to enter his army, his elder son had made it inevitable for those hordes of tribesmen to sweep across the country.

On the surface it might have seemed that the war between Damascus and Cairo was favorable to the Christians. But the Christians were themselves engaged in smoldering, haphazard civil wars, which flared up at intervals and subsided quietly: between the followers of Frederick and the Frankish barons who detested him, between the Temple and the Hospital, and between the local principalities. The king of Navarre was not the powerful charismatic leader capable of welding the kingdom into a single fighting force. The kingdom resembled an animal with too many heads and too many legs. The Arabs could survive their civil wars; it was becoming increasingly doubtful whether the Christians could survive theirs.

In an unhappy time, the king of Navarre did his best. His coming coincided with two events of considerable significance. Jerusalem fell to al-Nasir Daud, King of Transjordania. This was believed to be the fault of Richard Filanghieri, Frederick’s viceroy, who had neglected to fortify the city or had done so only halfheartedly in the belief that the truce of Jaffa would be maintained. That the siege lasted as long as twenty-seven days testified to the determination of the garrison troops. That it took place at all testified to the lack of leadership at Acre. No attempt was made to send a relief force. No arms or provisions were sent. Al-Nasir allowed the Christians to go free but none were allowed to remain in Jerusalem; and he dismantled the Tower of David. The fall of Jerusalem seemed to take place in a strange silence, without anyone being aware of it.

The second event which took place at this time was the fall of Damascus to as-Salih Ismail. This was not an event that could possibly pass unnoticed. As long as al-Kamil’s elder son remained alive, he could be depended upon to stir up civil war. At this time, al-Adil II, degenerate and luxury-loving, was still ruling Egypt. In these circumstances, the King of Navarre, with his small council of advisers, had to decide whether to attack Egypt or Damascus. The council consisted of the master of the Temple, the patriarch of Jerusalem, the bishop of Acre, the master of the Teutonic Order, and Gauthier IV of Brienne, Count of Jaffa, the nephew of John of Brienne, King of Jerusalem. Gauthier, who was married to the daughter of Hugh I of Lusignan, King of Cyprus, was coming into prominence as one of the leading barons of the kingdom.

The decision of the council was to attack Egypt first and Damascus second. An attack on Jerusalem was discussed briefly, and there was even some talk of a foray against Safed, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But the general opinion was that an attack on Alexandria or Damietta would be most profitable, since it was known that al-Adil II was unpopular with his people. The former empire of al-Kamil was in ruins, but the various pieces of it were still formidable. The king of Navarre was aware that an attack on Egypt presented grave problems, and his most important task was to keep his army intact. He would not, if he could possibly avoid it, permit any of his officers to engage in reckless adventures. The lesson of Hattin had finally been learned.

On November 2, the king’s army marched out of Acre with the intention of attacking the Egyptian outposts of Ascalon and Gaza. The army numbered about four thousand knights and about twelve thousand foot soldiers; and although the foot soldiers were comparatively few, this was one of the largest armies that had ever set out against the Saracens. Some of the local barons took part; the Templars and the Hospitallers were also represented; the army was well armed, but there were not enough horses, and many of the knights were forced to walk; provisions were low, but spirits were high. To ride against the enemy under a king was an experience the Crusaders had not enjoyed for many years.

While they were marching on Jaffa, Peter of Dreux, Count of Brittany, learned from a spy that a rich caravan was moving up the Jordan Valley toward Damascus. Included in the caravan was a great herd of cattle and sheep intended to provision Damascus in the event of a Crusader attack, which as-Salih Ismail had been expecting for some time. The count of Brittany decided that the herd could be put to better use by the Crusaders. Without asking permission of the king of Navarre, he detached about two hundred knights from the main army to form a raiding party. He rode off into the hills the same evening, and at dawn found himself close to the castle where the caravan, which was well guarded by bowmen and cavalry, had camped for the night. The spy had given the count of Brittany an accurate report of the castle and the approach roads, and it was therefore possible to set up an ambush. One of the approach roads entered a narrow defile, and the count hoped that the caravan would pass through the defile. He divided his troops, posted himself in the defile, and gave Ralph of Nesles command of the alternate road. What was certain was that the caravan would have to pass along one of those roads.

The caravan came along the road that led to the defile, and here the count of Brittany pounced upon it. There was some savage hand-to-hand fighting, during which the count of Brittany was nearly killed. The bowmen were too close to the Crusading knights to be able to discharge their arrows, and the knights were always at their best in close combat. There were probably fewer than three hundred men in the raiding party, and only half of these were attacking in the defile. The horn was sounded. Ralph of Nesles brought up his troops in time to decide the battle. The enemy fled to the castle, pursued by the knights, who seized the herds of cattle and sheep, killed many of the defenders, and made others captive. For the rest of the day, and for two more days, the Crusaders guarded the herds on the way to Jaffa.

Meanwhile the king of Navarre learned that the sultan of Egypt had sent an army to Gaza. Al-Adil II was not witless; he had large armies and was prepared to use them; and he was well aware of the threat posed by the king’s arrival in the Holy Land. Some of the knights, dazzled by the success of the count of Brittany’s raiding party, began to think of a raid on Gaza. Hugh IV, Duke of Burgundy, was one of those who favored the raid, and his standing among the knights was almost as high as that of the king of Navarre. When the ever-cautious king of Navarre discovered this plan, he objected strongly. So did the Templars and Hospitallers. But it appeared that there were only a thousand enemy troops at Gaza and, according to the conspirators, it would be easy to overwhelm them. Let them go forward, attack Gaza, and if the signs were propitous, march into Egypt. The king of Navarre insisted that the army should move forward as a single unit. The count of Brittany and the heads of the military orders protested just as strenuously. The king reminded them that they had all taken an oath to obey him as their military leader. They were rebellious and refused to listen.

The Disaster at La Forbie II

The Battle of La Forbie, also known as the Battle of Harbiyah, was fought in 1244 between the allied armies (drawn from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the crusading orders, the breakaway Ayyubids of Damascus, Homs and Kerak) and the Egyptian army of the Ayyubid Sultan as-Salih Ayyub, reinforced with Khwarezmian mercenaries. the Egyptians was victorious over their enemies. Art by Zvonimir Grbasic for Medieval Warfare VI.5

The rebels rode off with Count Henry of Bar in command. The king held a council of war, where it was decided that at first light the main army would march south in the hope that they would be able to protect these foolhardy knights.

From Jaffa the rebels rode all night, swept past Ascalon, reached the brook that formed the frontier of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, crossed it, and continued along the coast in the direction of Gaza. It was a bright moonlit night, very beautiful, and every shrub or tree stood out clearly among the shimmering sand dunes. They took no precautions at all. They spread cloths on the sand and sat down for supper, while others slept and still others groomed their horses. They had sent out no patrols and they were totally unaware that they were being watched at every moment. Suddenly there was an uproar. The Egyptian army came out above the dunes, bowmen and slingers shouting at the top of their voices.

Even then it was possible to make decisions. Gauthier of Brienne and the duke of Burgundy believed they could still fight their way back to Ascalon. Count Henry of Bar and Amaury of Montfort argued that they must stand firm, because only the cavalry could escape and they had no intention of abandoning the foot soldiers. Gauthier of Brienne and the duke of Burgundy and a small handful of knights slipped away. The rest fought under appalling conditions. There were wild skirmishes in the sand. Count Henry used his bowmen well, but they were no match for the enemy. Amaury of Montfort saw a steep passage between two dunes where he thought he could take shelter from the enemy bowmen. He threw his cavalry into the passage defended by Egyptian infantry. The cavalry cut down most of the infantry, but at the other end of the passage the Egyptian cavalry was waiting for them. The Egyptian cavalry then performed a classic maneuver. They fled, with the Frankish knights in full pursuit. Then the Egyptians blocked the passage with their infantry, and their cavalry swung around and charged the knights.

This was the end of the battle of the dunes. For miles around the sands were strewn with the dead. Count Henry of Bar was killed, Amaury of Montfort was taken prisoner, and eighty knights were captured. Altogether twelve hundred Crusaders were killed and half as many were taken prisoner.

There was madness in the moonlit battle, and when the king of Navarre reached Ascalon and met Gauthier of Brienne and the duke of Burgundy, he quickly became aware that everything had happened as he thought it might—a disaster that was totally senseless and totally explicable.

At Ascalon he held a council of war which ended in tentative decisions: to advance, to retreat, to wait for more information? What happened, perhaps inevitably, was that they did all these things. Finally the king decided to advance across the brook in order to help the scattered fugitives. Then he advanced deeper to see the battlefield and to make contact with the enemy, and when the enemy pulled back, the king’s forces withdrew all the way back to Acre. The king himself was inclined to attack Gaza, but the Templars and Hospitallers pointed out sensibly that the enemy would probably cut the throats of all the prisoners if they did so. The prisoners had become hostages for the good behavior of the king’s army.

It has been suggested that the king of Navarre had no reason to retreat to Acre, and it might have been better if he had strengthened the fortifications of Ascalon, or captured Gaza, or made one last effort to take possession of Jerusalem. The Rothelin manuscript, a document that details these events, describes the misery of the people as they watched the great cavalcade on its way back to Acre. “In all the places they passed through there was great weeping and great crying out because so many great Christians were returning after having accomplished nothing at all.” It was precisely because of this sense of futility that they returned to Acre, the largest and most powerful city belonging to the Crusaders.

There was also another reason for returning to Acre. The interminable wars between Damascus and Cairo were about to begin again with undiminished fury. As-Salih Ayub had taken refuge in Kerak with al-Nasir Daud, King of Transjordania. His uncle, as-Salih Ismail, had Damascus completely under his control. Suddenly in May 1240, with the assassination of al-Adil II and the return of as-Salih Ayub to the Egyptian throne with the help of the king of Transjordania, it was clear that there would be a fight to the death between uncle and nephew. By moving back to Acre, the king of Navarre was placing himself at an equal psychological distance from Cairo and Damascus so that he could bargain with both of them, extract concessions from them, and perhaps arbitrate between them.

The political map of the Saracenic Near East at this time showed remarkable fragmentation. Between Damascus and Cairo there were about a dozen principalities. Some were at war with one another; others were searching for allies; still others were quite capable of abandoning their alliances at a moment’s notice. In this way it happened that Muzaffar, Prince of Hama, having fought a border war with the prince of Aleppo, sent an ambassador to Acre, promising that, in exchange for help against Aleppo, he would give the use of his castles to the Christians and all his people would become Christians. The prince of Hama wanted the King of Navarre to send troops to his aid, or at least to make a show of force. The King of Navarre led his troops northward along the coastal road to Tripoli, and he seems to have intimidated the prince of Aleppo. Although the prince of Hama reneged on his promise to let the Crusaders use his castles and convert his subjects, there were indications that more useful alliances would soon be formed.

A few weeks later, when the king of Navarre’s army was encamped at Sephoria in the Galilee, an ambassador arrived from as-Salih Ismail of Damascus with an offer to surrender the castles of Belfort, Tiberias, and Safed, and large areas of the Galilee and the hinterland of Sidon, in exchange for an agreement that the Christians would make no truce with Egypt and that they would defend Jaffa and Ascalon against the Egyptian forces. The king of Navarre agreed to these terms, and marched to Jaffa, where, strangely enough, his army was met by a large detachment of the army of Damascus.

What happened at Jaffa has never been satisfactorily explained. The army of Damascus seems to have melted away after some desultory fighting with the Crusaders, who had meanwhile occupied most of the Galilee and its powerful fortresses. Then as-Salih Ayub, now sultan of Egypt, sent an embassy to win the Franks over to him, with an offer to release all the prisoners taken in the moonlit battle at Gaza and to confirm that the Crusaders had possession of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Like Frederick II, the king of Navarre had accomplished by diplomacy what he had failed to accomplish by force of arms. The Kingdom of Jerusalem had been restored to its historical limits, except for the regions around Nablus and Hebron. The king had accomplished his purpose. He rode to Jerusalem to pay his respects to the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and then returned to Acre for a last meeting with the barons before sailing back to Spain. Somewhere in the Mediterranean, his small fleet would pass the much larger fleet of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of King Henry III of England, who would take the king of Navarre’s place as the acknowledged leader of the continuous Crusade.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall, was one of those curious men who go through life wearing great titles they can never live up to. His uncle was Richard the Lion Heart; his father the lackluster King John; his mother Isabelle of Angoulême, who after her husband’s death married Hugh of Lusignan, Prince of the Galilee; his sister, another Isabelle, was married to the Emperor Frederick. He therefore had wide family connections with the Holy Land, and since he came as a kind of royal legate on behalf of his brother, King Henry III of England, he seemed to be invested with kingly power and the barons of Jerusalem accepted him as they had accepted the king of Navarre.

He was intelligent and affable, and he had very few illusions about the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In one of his letters home he wrote, “In the Holy Land peace has been replaced by discord, unity by division, concord by civic loathing. The two fraternal orders, although they were brought into being in defence of their common mother, are swollen with pride because they have an excess of wealth, and they quarrel mercilessly in her breast.” Apparently the relations between the Hospitallers and the Templars were strained to the breaking point. The Hospitallers were concentrated at Acre, the Templars at Jaffa. The Hospitallers favored Egypt, while the Templars were in alliance with Damascus. Richard, who had brought eight hundred knights with him, represented a third force, which held the balance of power.

November saw a turning point. Richard threw in his lot with the Hospitallers and came to an understanding with Sultan as-Salih Ayub of Egypt, who confirmed the agreements reached with the king of Navarre. There was a brief period of euphoria. It seemed that the kingdom was secure and that all the disruptive forces might be held in check. Richard was the balance wheel. For a few months he represented the power and might of the Crusader army, the more powerful because it was in alliance with Egypt.

Actually it was Frederick II who was acting behind the scenes, although Richard became the beneficiary. During that winter, Frederick sent two ambassadors to as-Salih Ayub. They came with a retinue of a hundred men, laden with expensive gifts for the sultan. This embassy was greeted as no other embassy had ever been greeted before. The sultan ordered that everyone in Cairo should welcome the ambassadors and their retinue, who were given Nubian horses from the sultan’s own stables. The streets and the public buildings were illuminated. There were parades and audiences and celebrations, and the sultan spoke kindly to the ambassadors and their retinue, lodged them in his palaces, and gave them mountains of gifts. The members of the embassy were invited to go on hunting expeditions, to practice with their crossbows, to amuse themselves as they pleased. Winter is always the best time of the year in Cairo, and as-Salih Ayub seemed determined to impress Frederick with his liberality and generosity in a good season.

Richard, well aware of the success of the embassy, seems to have felt that his services were no longer needed. He fortified Ascalon, did his best to resolve the quarrels of the barons, and in May 1241 he returned to England, taking his knights with him.

With the balance wheel gone, the barons of Jerusalem leaped at each other’s throats: The Templars fought the Hospitallers, there were murderous raids by the Templars into the territory of al-Nasir Daud, and by the Hospitallers against Aleppo; Richard Filanghieri, the imperial viceroy, was thrown out of Tyre by a consortium of barons, who were incensed when he attempted to organize a coup d’état in Acre. Balian of Ibelin was emerging as the chief of the barons. Neither King Conrad, who reached the age of fifteen in 1243, nor the aging John of Brienne were able to exercise kingship in the Holy Land, and the barons decided that the title Queen of Jerusalem should be granted to Queen Alix of Cyprus, who became regent. The barons were in the ascendant, with no king of Navarre or earl of Cornwall to curb their recklessness, their stupidity, or their avarice. Each was prepared to defend his own property against all comers. The Kingdom of Jerusalem scarcely existed, there was only the sum of its parts.

If the barons had been united under a war leader of proven excellence—another Godfrey, another Leper King, another Richard the Lion Heart—it would have made very little difference during the days that followed the departure of the earl of Cornwall. The forces confronting the kingdom were vast and incalculable, and even the Templars, with their network of spies and secret agents in Damascus and Cairo, could not measure the extent of the horrors about to be visited on them.

In June 1244, the Khwarismian horsemen swept out of the Hauran, invaded the Galilee, captured Tiberias, put all the Christians to the sword, and then swung toward Nablus and Jerusalem. This long column, more than ten thousand strong, had crossed the Euphrates in boats made of animal skins earlier in the year. They had been summoned by Syltan as-Salih Ayub, who wanted them to create havoc in their southward march, join the Egyptian army at Gaza, and then march north against the Christians along the seacoast and east against Damascus. With the help of the Khwarismians, he hoped to destroy both the Christians and the armies of his uncle, as-Salih Ismail.

The Khwarismians were mercenaries, out for plunder, living off the land. They wore wolfskins and sheepskins; they survived on boiled herbs, water, milk, and a little meat. They were admirable bowmen, skilled lancers; they were quick, with their short hunting knives, at cutting throats. They brought their women and children with them, and the women fought beside the men. They sacked Tiberias and Nablus, but these were small towns. Jerusalem was not so easily sacked by wild tribesmen.

The Christians had been slow to realize the danger. Robert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, now hurried to the holy city with the masters of the Temple and the Hospital, hoping there was time to put the defenses in order. Part of the Christian population was evacuated. Then, on July 11, 1244, the Khwarismians broke into the city, murdering and plundering as they raced through the narrow streets. They reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, desecrated the tombs of the kings of Jerusalem, and cut the throats of the priests who were celebrating mass at the high altar. They opened the graves of the kings, searching for treasure; they found only bones, which they threw into a fire. But the garrison held out for a few weeks. The Crusaders made a surprisingly vigorous defense, and they did not surrender until August 23. The Khwarismians then offered to let the Christians go free. About eight thousand survivors of six weeks of murder and pillage took the road to Jaffa.

They had gone only a little way down the road when they looked back and saw Frankish flags waving on the walls. Thinking that Jerusalem had somehow been recaptured by the knights, they turned back, only to fall into an ambush carefully laid by the Khwarismians, who had had second thoughts about letting the Christians go free. They amused themselves with another massacre. The Arab tribesmen in the neighborhood smelled blood. The Christians who survived the massacre were hunted down by the tribesmen and killed. Only three hundred survivors, out of the eight thousand, reached Jaffa.

In this way Jerusalem fell finally and completely into the hands of the Muslims. Except for an anomalous six-month period in 1300, 673 years would pass before a Christian army would enter the city again. On December 9, 1917, the Turks surrendered the city to General Sir Edmund Allenby.

The Khwarismian invasion brought about changes in the fragile system of alliances. The barons threw in their lot with Damascus; the king of Transjordania and the prince of Hims joined the Christians; the Templars and the Hospitallers seemed to bury their quarrels. When the prince of Hims arrived in Acre, he was welcomed with enthusiasm and jubilation; cloths of gold, silks, and carpets were spread out before him wherever he walked or rode through the city. He was known to be an excellent soldier and a master of diplomacy; and he liked and understood the Christians.

Gauthier of Brienne, Count of Jaffa, and Philip of Montfort, Lord of Tyre, commanded the expedition, which consisted of about a thousand knights and six thousand foot soldiers; the prince of Hims brought two thousand cavalry, and the king of Transjordania about an equal number of Bedouin. A real alliance had been forged: the Christians and Muslims marched together in good spirits; there was no bickering as the three columns drove toward Gaza, where the Egyptians and the Khwarismians were waiting for them.

The armies met near the village of La Forbie on the sandy plains northeast of Gaza. Gauthier of Brienne became commander in chief of the allied forces. A young Mameluke officer, Baibars, formerly a slave, commanded the combined Egyptian-Khwarismian army. The opposing armies were about equal in numbers and equipment. The best military strategists on the field were Baibars and the prince of Hims.

At a war council before the battle, the prince of Hims insisted that they should take up defensive positions and transform the camp into an armed fortress. The Khwarismians generally avoided fortified strongpoints. Confronted by an unyielding wall of knights and foot soldiers, they could be expected to melt away, and the Egyptian army was too small to attack without them. But Gauthier of Brienne, always quick to act, decided upon an immediate attack.

The Franks were massed on the right wing, near the sea; the prince of Hims with his detachment of Damascenes occupied the center, and the king of Transjordania with his mounted Bedouin were on the left. The battle lasted two days, from the morning of October 17, 1244, to the afternoon of the next day. During the first day, the knights made repeated charges against the army of Baibars, which held its ground. There were skirmishes with the Khwarismians, thrusts and sallies all along the line. On the following day the Khwarismians attacked the Damascenes in the center, and this concentrated attack of extraordinary ferocity punched a hole in the allied line which could never be filled up. The Damascenes fled. Then the Khwarismians wheeled around against the Bedouin and cut them to pieces. The army of the prince of Hims fought well, almost to the last man. Seventeen hundred of them fell to the Khwarismians, and the prince of Hims rode off the field with only 280 men. Having disposed of the Damascenes, the cavalry of the prince of Hims, and the Bedouin, the Khwarismians turned on the Christians with the relish of men who, having feasted well, look forward to the sweetmeats at the end of dinner.

Sandwiched between the Khwarismians and the Egyptians, the Franks were torn to shreds. They charged and were thrown back, and every charge produced a mountain of dead horses and dead riders. Over five thousand Christians died in the sands. The losses at La Forbie were even greater than the losses on the Horns of Hattin. Only thirty-three Templars, twenty-seven Hospitallers, and three Teutonic Knights survived the battle. Eight hundred prisoners were taken, including Gauthier of Brienne. The Khwarismians tortured him and then surrendered him to the Egyptians in the hope of a large ransom. He died in a dungeon in Cairo, murdered by some merchants who felt that he had raided too many caravans moving between Cairo and Damascus.

The losses among the great officers of the kingdom were staggering. The Master of the Temple, the archbishop of Tyre, the bishops of Lydda and Ramleh, and the two cousins of Bohemond of Antioch, John and William of Botrun, perished; their heads were cut off to decorate the gates of Cairo. Philip of Montfort and the patriarch of Jerusalem, who had carried the True Cross into battle, escaped to Ascalon. The Egyptians celebrated in Cairo with a triumphal procession, fireworks, illuminations, and a grand parade in which the captured emirs of Damascus were seen roped together with their heads bent low and their faces grey with despair. Cairo went wild with joy.

The disaster at La Forbie signified the end of the Crusaders’ offensive military power. They would continue to hold castles and fortified cities for a little while longer, but never again were they able to put a large army in the field. They had been bled white at La Forbie; the body politic had suffered so many shocks that it seemed to be dazed, exhausted, without willpower.

One more king, arrayed in the mysterious panoply of majesty, would come to the Holy Land and attempt after more terrible defeats to put its affairs in order. Meanwhile the Crusaders, crouched behind their fortress walls, murdered each other, sent occasional raiding parties into the hinterland, and sometimes they managed to believe that the kingdom was in the care of the Holy Trinity and would endure for eternity.

King Baldwin III and the Heroic Age

Baldwin III was one of the key Christian leaders who were involved in the Second Crusade, although one of its first acts was a failure in front of the walls of Damascus.

Of all the kings of Jerusalem Baldwin III is the one we know best. Contemporary historians were awed by the young king who seemed to have no vices, to be at once intelligent, deeply religious, and gentle to all people. Moreover, he possessed the gift of command. He was born at exactly the right time, for his kingdom was in danger of dissolution, and only by superb ability and great gifts of mind could it be maintained. Even so, before he died he may have known that the end was in sight.

William of Tyre, who described him minutely, remembered that in his youth he was an inveterate gambler and that throughout his life he was astonishingly frank, abruptly rebuking high officers of state in public rather than in private, making enemies unnecessarily. These were dangerous elements in his character, and they were to have dangerous consequences.

One of his major gambles took place in 1152, when he quarreled violently with his mother, who had held the regency for seven years which was past the time when Baldwin should, by law, be the single sovereign. Baldwin at twenty-two performed all the military offices demanded of him, presided over the court, and acted in public as though he possessed the real power. Yet he remained under the tutelage of his formidable mother. It was an absurd situation, and the king at long last decided to assert himself.

Queen Melisende was at that time under the influence of a certain Manasses of Hierges, a clever nobleman from the region of Liege, whom she had appointed Constable of the kingdom. Manasses was rich, powerful, and insolent, determined to retain his privileged place at all costs.

Baldwin set about his assumption of real power in two stages. First, he had himself crowned secretly in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the presence of only a handful of his knights, thus preventing his mother from being crowned with him. Secondly, the king decided on war. Manasses was closely besieged in his castle at Mirabel near Jaffa. He was captured, brought into the king’s presence, and spared on condition that he leave the kingdom and never return. Queen Melisende fortified Jerusalem against the king’s army and barricaded herself in the citadel, appealing to the people, the nobles, and the clergy for their assistance in her righteous war against her son. The people and the nobles had grown weary of her; the clergy were deeply indebted to her. After a few days of token resistance, she surrendered and was allowed to leave for Nablus on condition that she, too, never return to Jerusalem. Baldwin had been perfectly prepared to take the citadel by force; he had mounted siege engines and hurled rocks against the walls, and, if necessary, would have killed his mother. This was a gamble that had to be taken to save the kingdom.

In Antioch, the Princess Constance still ruled, headstrong, improvident, pleasure-loving, and without any skill in government. A new Prince of Antioch had to be found for her, and Baldwin presented her with a list of three noblemen who possessed the requisite qualities of courage and resourcefulness. She wanted none of them. In her own good time she would choose a husband suitable to her needs. She found such a husband in Reynald of Châtillon, the feckless younger son of the count of Gien, who had accompanied Louis VII during the Second Crusade. Reynald was young, handsome, possessed of great courage, and to all outward appearances he would have made an excellent Prince of Antioch. Constance was in love with him and appears to have married him secretly even before securing the permission of the king, who was her suzerain. Baldwin appears to have permitted the marriage reluctantly. He had hoped she would marry someone closer to her own rank.

Reynald of Châtillon was one of those men who rise from obscure origins and somehow change the course of history. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for the fall of the kingdom. He endangered everything and everyone who came near him and seemed oblivious to the damage he caused. He could be counted upon to do improbable, absurd, and terrible things with a kind of casual grace, never realizing the cost.

He proved very early that he could be extremely vicious. As Prince of Antioch he regarded himself as the sole ruler whose judgments must never be questioned. The Patriarch Aimery of Limoges sometimes did question them in private, and unhappily these private conversations were reported to the prince. Reynald had the patriarch stripped and scourged till the blood came, then had him placed on the roof of the citadel and smeared all over with honey so that flies settled all over him while the sun burned him. The patriarch was in ill-health but remarkably resilient. Somehow he survived the punishment. News of Reynald’s act of revenge reached Baldwin III in Jerusalem. The king was outraged and at once sent two of his councillors posthaste to Antioch with orders that Aimery should be released from captivity and permitted to resume his patriarchal functions. Reynald obeyed. Aimery left Antioch, and it was many years before he returned.

Reynald was the prince of the second most important city in the Holy Land. Left to itself. Antioch could have added to its great wealth and stability. Reynald, however, possessed the instincts of a bandit chieftain. The Byzantines were warring against the Armenians in Cilicia; Reynald joined the Byzantines, hoping to add Cilicia to his princedom. When it became clear that the Byzantines regarded Cilicia as their own, he turned against them and sent an expedition to Cyprus, which belonged to Byzantium. The expedition was well organized and had one purpose: to obtain booty. The Cypriot army quickly collapsed; monasteries and nunneries were seized; nuns were raped; costly vestments, gold and silver vessels, and jewels were heaped up and carted away to the waiting ships. The raiders remained on the island for only a few days, but the damage was incalculable. Manuel Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, then busy in Europe, quietly decided to take revenge upon an insolent and treacherous prince.

Meantime, Nur ed-Din continued to attempt to forge a united Muslim army against the Christians. Like his father, Zengi, he could be cruel and implacable; unlike him, he possessed a deeply contemplative temperament. He lived like an ascetic, fasted, and sometimes found himself in a state of religious exaltation. He was a man who lived on many levels: administrator, warrior, mystic. His mysticism was perhaps given strength by his chronic ill-health, while his intense religious feeling gave strength to the holy war he conducted against the Christians.

Baldwin III had a profound understanding of his most implacable enemy. His spies gave him accurate reports, and he sometimes took advantage of the periods when Nur ed-Din was bedridden. In theory the prince of Antioch was charged with defending the northeast, while the king defended Samaria, Judaea, and the Negev. In fact Baldwin III was in overall command of Christian territory in the Holy Land.

From the beginning of his reign Baldwin III meant to conquer Ascalon, which was heavily defended by the Egyptians because it was their northernmost outpost along the Palestinian coast. The people of Ascalon were all trained in arms. High walls, barbicans, and towers protected thecity on the landward side, and it was not easily approachable by sea because there were low shelving sands, the winds whipped up high waves, and there was no proper harbor. Nevertheless supplies could be brought into the city on small boats.

Baldwin proceeded with great care and intelligence. The navy of the kingdom patrolled the sea approaches; the royal fleet was under the command of Gerard of Sidon, and consisted of fifteen ships. Other ships were bought, stripped of their masts, and disassembled: from the wooden strakes they made siege engines and moving towers, covered with hides to prevent them from catching fire. On January 25, 1153, the king with his entire army, together with the grand masters of the Hospital and the Temple, the archbishops of Tyre, Caesarea, and Nazareth, and the patriarch holding high the True Cross, appeared outside the walls of Ascalon. With this formidable army it was hoped that Ascalon would yield within a month.

It took much longer, for the people of Ascalon were far better prepared than the Christians had expected. They could not be starved out, they had plentiful supplies of fresh water, and no surprise night attacks were possible because they had ingeniously lit up the walls with oil-lamps which were shielded against the wind by glass containers. But more important than anything was the fact that the defenders were in high spirits and believed their walls were impregnable. They had excellent sources of information, and they knew that the army outside their gates were outnumbered two to one by their own army. One day an Egyptian fleet of seventy vessels appeared, and the small Christian fleet made no effort to attack them. The Egyptians landed supplies and provisions, and Ascalon was stronger than ever.

After two months, Baldwin III realized to his dismay that he had not even made a dent in the walls of Ascalon. That Easter, the influx of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land was much larger than usual. The king ordered that the pilgrims and sailors must all assist in the siege of Ascalon; they would be paid from the royal treasury. All ships coming to the Holy Land must join the fleet of Gerard of Sidon. In this way, the army and the fleet increased in numbers. But three more months passed before there was any significant change.

One day toward the end of July, the defenders crept out of the city and set fire to the great wooden tower which topped the walls of Ascalon. But as the Christians watched in amazement, the wind changed and the flames began licking the walls. The Christians decided that if the walls could be burned by fires the enemy set, how much more would they burn if set by them. They heaped faggots and cord wood and wood from the surrounding orchards in the space between the burnt-out tower and the wall, poured pitch and oil on them, and then set fire to them. About dawn, as they had hoped and expected, part of the wall fell with a thunderous roar that awakened the army.

Through this breach in the wall some forty Templar knights rushed into the city, some of them standing guard to prevent any other Christians from entering. In their madness, a handful of Templars believed they could conquer the entire city. At first, the people of Ascalon took fright; then they formed ranks, and it was a simple matter to round up these proud Templars and butcher them. That night, they mended the breach in the wall with huge balks of timber from their own ships, while the bodies of the dead Templars were dangled over the walls in the full sight of the Christian army; the bodies were left there for the birds to peck at.

Ascalon seemed to be lost. A vast despair seized the Christians, who debated whether it was worth their while to continue battering a city that seemed impregnable. The army of Ascalon, thinking the Crusaders would reel back, made sorties on the third day after the Templars were hung on the walls. The Crusaders counterattacked with fury and desperation, as though all their pent-up strength and all their frustration were released in the counterattack. From their walls, the people of Ascalon, who had been so sure of themselves, so certain of ultimate victory, witnessed a massacre. The attack was so devastating that there was scarcely anyone in the city who was not bereaved. The elders of Ascalon asked for a truce to give them time to bury their dead. Having counted the dead, they sent envoys to sue for peace. Baldwin III, sitting in council, agreed that if they left the city within three days, they could take their movable belongings with them: what he required was total evacuation. On the third day they poured out of the city in the thousands, while the king’s standard flew from the highest tower. He gave them guides as far as al-Arish. Beyond this town, a Turkish chieftain promised to lead them into Egypt. They followed him willingly and lived to regret it, for once the king’s guides had returned to Ascalon, the chieftain attacked them and despoiled them of their possessions. When we last see them they are wandering helplessly in the desert.

The lordship of Ascalon was given to the king’s younger brother Amaury, Count of Jaffa. Since Gaza had already been captured by Baldwin III, the entire coast of Syria and Palestine was in the possession of the Crusaders. Ascalon was a kingpin, and its capture spread alarm and terror in the camps of the Muslims.

The capture of Ascalon, however, was offset by the loss of Damascus to the Christians’ most deadly enemy, Nur ed-Din. For many months, Nur ed-Din had been at work attempting to undermine the authority of the reigning sultan. He saw Damascus as the launching ground of an expedition that would sweep the Crusaders out of Syria. The logic of his argument appealed to the Damascenes, who were disturbed by the fall of Ascalon; and when Nur ed-Din entered Damascus, he was greeted like a conqueror who was also a friend. There were no exactions; and everything went on as before except that there was no longer any sultan. Nur ed-Din appointed one of his most trusted generals to be governor of the city.

In May 1157, Nur ed-Din attacked the Crusader castle at Banyas in the Upper Galilee. The castle occupied an important position at the foot of Mount Hermon. Nur ed-Din twice captured it, and was twice repulsed. So much blood was spilt in and around the castle, that it became a symbol of the intransigence on both sides. There were sudden surprise attacks carried out faultlessly by the king’s army, and there were equally sudden surprise attacks by Nur ed-Din’s army.

The massive skirmishes for Banyas showed that the Crusaders and the Muslims were evenly balanced. The logic of the situation demanded a truce. Instead they went on fighting. One small advantage was given to Baldwin III. Nur ed-Din fell ill. It was not an advantage that could be relied upon, however, for Nur ed-Din was perfectly capable of directing battles from his sickbed. On the frontiers of Antioch and in the Galilee, there were continual raids and excursions, but no real advantages were gained. The war in the Holy Land seemed to have reached a stalemate.

Baldwin, searching for new allies, had long contemplated an alliance with Byzantium. From the beginning of the Crusades, such an alliance had been discussed and for various reasons abandoned. The Emperor Manuel Comnenus was known to have a high opinion of Baldwin III and the worst possible opinion of the present prince of Antioch. It would be necessary to tread cautiously, in the Greek manner, but it was also necessary to break the stalemate. Baldwin III sent an embassy to Constantinople, asking for the hand of a Byzantine princess. Discussions went on for many weeks; at last a suitable princess was found in the person of Theodora, the daughter of Isaac Comnenus, who was Manuel’s elder brother. Thirteen years old, radiantly beautiful, very tall, with thick fair hair, she possessed a natural elegance of manner. Her dowry, her bridal outfit, her wedding gown, her ropes of pearls, the coffers full of jewelry, tapestries and silken stuffs, carpets and gold vessels, were worth a fortune.

Thus equipped, and accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting and the envoys of the king of Jerusalem, she reached Tyre in September 1158. In great state she traveled to Jerusalem, where she was married to the twenty-seven-year-old Baldwin, who delighted in his bride and is said to have remained faithful to her as long as he lived.

That same autumn, the emperor set out from Constantinople at the head of an immense army, and about the beginning of December he marched into Cilicia, which the Armenians called Lesser Armenia. The emperor regarded Cilicia as a province of his empire and he was determined to take possession of it. The Armenian Prince Thoros had seized Cilicia and his army commanded strongly fortified castles. The emperor’s army approached so quietly that Thoros, who was staying at Tarsus, barely had time to flee to the neighboring mountains. Reynald, Prince of Antioch, realized that he had nowhere to go. The emperor was determined to punish him for his savagery in Cyprus, and he knew that the only way to escape punishment was by making a public and humiliating submission. He therefore hurried to the emperor’s camp at Mamistra in Cilicia, where he appeared, barefoot, wearing a woolen tunic cut short at the elbows, with a rope around his neck, and a sword with the point resting on his breast and the hilt turned outward in his hand. The emperor took the sword by the hilt, whereupon Reynald flung himself violently to the ground, where he lay prostrate for a long time. The emperor was pleased by this self-indulgent theatrical display because he believed in the sincerity of the prince’s submission. He did not know that Reynald submitted to no authority except his own.

Baldwin III arrived in Mamistra a few days later with a large retinue. The emperor gave the king the kiss of peace. They spent ten days together. Among the subjects they discussed was the Armenian Prince Thoros, who was brave and had fought many battles against the Turks. The king acted as mediator; Thoros was permitted to retain Cilicia after swearing fealty to the emperor, who saw himself in those days as the kindly, all-forgiving father of an empire so powerful that he could afford to be kindly and all-forgiving.

The king returned to Antioch, while the emperor spent Easter in Cilicia. In April 1159, the emperor descended upon Antioch accompanied by his army, wearing the imperial jeweled cap with pendants and an embroidered robe so weighted with jewels he could hardly move. Trumpets blared; drums boomed; flags waved; and all the dignitaries of Antioch came out to meet the emperor, riding stiffly on horseback, with Reynald of Châtillon, Prince of Antioch, walking by his side and holding the bridle in token of complete submission. Behind the emperor rode the king of Jerusalem and his brother Amaury. The day of the emperor’s triumphal entry into Antioch was one of intense celebration and festivity, with gifts showered on the people and everyone vying for the honor of being able to set eyes on the man who possessed such vast power and an empire so ancient that it seemed to be a permanent fixture on earth. All favor and honor flowed from the emperor. During those days he was lord of Antioch, suzerain of the king of Jerusalem and all the Christian principalities of the Holy Land.

The emperor enjoyed the baths of Antioch, which were among the most luxurious of their time; he also enjoyed hunting. One day, when he was hunting with King Baldwin, there was an accident. The king’s horse, racing over rough ground covered with low-growing shrubs, stumbled and threw Baldwin headlong to the ground. His arm was broken; suddenly the emperor hurried up, knelt beside him, and began to tend the broken arm like a doctor. The emperor prided himself on his knowledge of medicine and he liked to put his knowledge to use.

These hunting parties, processions, feasts, and visits to the bathhouses emphasized the bonds between Byzantium and the Holy Land. It was felt that the eight days spent by the emperor in Antioch implied the promise of immediate military assistance. Yet it was not so. He had not the least intention of throwing his army against the Turks; he had come to demonstrate the imperial power of Byzantium to Christian and Turk alike. He made the motions of beginning an advance on Aleppo, leading the combined forces of Antioch, Jerusalem, and the Byzantine empire, and then halted abruptly. Through envoys, he arranged a truce with Nur ed-Din, who promised an exchange of prisoners, and then, hearing of a plot against him in Constantinople, he began the homeward march across Asia Minor.

That he had shown himself without engaging in battle was entirely in the Byzantine character. The Byzantines were skilled diplomats, masters of many ruses, and they knew that a show of force was sometimes more effective than force itself. The emperor’s tactic offered little consolation to the king of Jerusalem and the prince of Antioch.


The wild and daring Reynald decided to take matters in his own hands and march at the head of a column into the territory of Nur ed-Din’s brother in the Marash region. Someone told him that there were immense herds of sheep and goats, many Christians, and almost no Turks. This was true, but his progress had been watched and reported to Aleppo. Their lightly armed cavalry was sent against him. The Turks found him in camp, laden with booty. He could have abandoned the treasure, fled, and saved himself. Instead he elected to fight, and he had the bad luck to be captured. Slung on the back of a camel, he was carried off to a dungeon in Aleppo where he spent the next sixteen years of his life. They did not kill him only because they believed he might prove useful in future bargaining. Neither the king nor the emperor made any effort to ransom him, knowing perhaps that the ransom would be so large that they could not afford to pay it. The king became regent of Antioch, and little more was heard of Constance, Reynald’s wife.

The chessboard was being swept clean. Queen Melisende died of a lingering illness; the king was inconsolable. A few months later the king fell ill while on a journey through Tripoli, and died, possibly poisoned by a doctor sent by the count of Tripoli to attend him. His body was borne to Jerusalem with the appropriate pomp and ceremony, to be buried beside the other kings of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. His subjects stood beside the road in silence; and Muslims came down from the hills to wail and lament his passing. For eight days the cortege made its way to Jerusalem amid sighs and lamentations. It was reported that Nur ed-Din was advised by his captains to attack the kingdom during these prolonged ceremonies. William of Tyre tells us that Nur ed-Din refused, saying, “We should pity them, for they have lost such a prince as the world no longer possesses.” It is possible that he said these words; it is also possible that it was he who paid to have the king poisoned.

With Baldwin Ill’s death in January 1162, the heroic age of the Crusades came to an end. He became a legend. In him, there had been combined a youthful gentleness and a youthful cruelty, reasoned audacity, a kingly beauty. He was soldier and statesman, student and philosopher, and William of Tyre was only exaggerating a little when he wrote, “There is no record in any history, nor does any man now living recall, that such deep and poignant sorrow was ever felt over the death of any other prince of our own or other nations.”

Byzantine Fire on the Water

The low state of medieval maritime technology ensured that battle tactics were just as basic. They had hardly progressed since Roman times. Confrontations at sea remained messy affairs that almost invariably devolved into unpredictable ship-against-ship mêlées. This helps explain why large-scale naval engagements were rare during the Middle Ages. Few naval commanders were willing to risk all in a single battle subject to so many uncontrollable variables. As on land, clashes at sea normally occurred only when one side or both could not avoid it.

The fact that there was no reliable ship-killing weapon compounded the uncertainty surrounding the outcome. The waterline ram or rostrum of the classical era was ineffective against the sturdier, frame-first hull construction which began to develop in the Mediterranean as early as the seventh century and found full implementation by the eleventh century. It proved utterly futile against the more robust ship architecture of the northern seas, even in Roman times. In his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (‘Commentaries on the Gallic War’), Julius Caesar said of the dense oak vessels of the Gauls, ‘Our ships could not damage them with the ram (they were so stoutly built).’ As a result, no warship in either the north or the south was known to have sported a ram by the seventh century. It was replaced on the Byzantine dromōn by a spur, a sort of reinforced bowsprit used to assist in seizing and boarding an enemy ship. The only weapon developed in the medieval period capable of destroying an entire vessel was ‘Greek fire’, a secret petroleum-based incendiary invented by a Syrian artificer named Kallinikos in the seventh century. Documentary and graphic sources indicate that it was spewed from specially constructed siphon tubes mounted on the bows of dromōns. Unfortunately its utility was extremely restricted. It had limited range and could only be deployed in calm or following winds.

Siphons for spewing ‘Greek fire’ were eventually mounted on protected platforms at the bow and possibly amidships. The parapeted forecastle (xylokastron) housed the main siphon, called the ‘raven’ (katakorax), while the castle amidships was the kastelloma. The aftercastle contained the kravatos, a structure to shield the kentarchos or captain.

The First Siege of Constantinople and the Advent of ‘Greek Fire’ (672–7)

Once Muawiyah had moved his capital to Damascus and consolidated his grip on power, he began preparations for an enormous expedition against Constantinople itself. In 672 he was ready. The caliph unleashed at least two separate fleets on the south coast of Asia Minor. Their activities must have kept the Karabisian fleet fully occupied. Both Crete and Rhodes were raided. One Arab fleet wintered in Cilicia (the southeastern coast of Anatolia) and the other in Lycia (on the south-central coast). Word of these incursions galvanized Constans’ son and successor, Constantine IV, into action. According to Theophanes, the emperor ‘built large biremes bearing cauldrons of fire and dromones equipped with siphons and ordered them to be stationed at the Proclianesian harbour of Caesarius [Constantinople’s Theodosian harbour]’. In 673 Muawiyah’s fleets surged into the Sea of Marmara and ravaged the Hebdomon district just southwest of Constantinople, then captured Kyzikos on the south shore of the sea. Here they established a base camp for incessant attacks on the city.

Constantinople would endure this maritime assault for the next several years, but the emperor was in possession of a terrible new weapon which would finally – and precipitously – end it. Residing in the city at that time was a Christian refugee from Heliopolis in Syria (modern Baalbek in Lebanon) named Kallinikos. Theophanes described him as an ‘architect’ or ‘artificer’ who had ‘manufactured a naval fire [or sea fire]’ which floated on the surface of the sea and could not be extinguished by water. Its precise ingredients were kept a closely guarded state secret and remain a mystery to this day. This has led to endless speculation through the ages and repeated attempts at replication. A similar Muslim concoction of the twelfth century was said to have included ‘dolphin’s fat’ and ‘grease of goat kidneys’. Early scholarly conjecture centred on saltpetre as the main component (as in gunpowder) or some form of quicklime, but recent empirical investigations, particularly by renowned Byzantinist John Haldon, have revealed that its primary ingredient was probably petroleum-based – most likely naphtha or light crude oil. The Byzantines had access to the oil fields of the Caucasus region northeast of the Black Sea where crude seeped to the surface. The theory is that Kallinikos may have distilled this into a paraffin or kerosene, then added wood resins as a thickening agent. The mixture was then heated in an air-tight bronze tank over a brazier and pressured by use of a force pump. The final step was the release of the flammable fluid through a valve for its discharge from a metal-sheathed nozzle, affixed with a flame ignition source. In a 2002 clinical test of this theory, Haldon and his colleagues, Colin Hewes and Andrew Lacey, were able to produce a fire stream in the neighbourhood of 1,000 degrees Celsius that extended at least 15m (49ft).

It was very probably a compound similar to this that Constantine caused to be loaded onto his dromōns in the autumn of 677. The fearsome new weapon was unleashed from swivel-mounted siphons in the forecastles with horrific results. Theophanes testified almost matter-of-factly that it ‘kindled the ships of the Arabs and burnt them and their crews’. To the Arab victims of his frightful invention, it must have seemed like some early version of ‘shock and awe’. The fact that they would have had no idea of how to combat the weapon must have compounded their panic. Water would have been ineffective. At that point they could not have known that the only way to extinguish the ‘liquid fire’ was with sand, vinegar or urine. The siege soon collapsed. What was left of the Arab armada withdrew, only to be severely mauled by a violent winter storm while passing abeam Syllaem in Pamphylia (on the south coast of Asia Minor between Lycia and Cilicia). Theophanes said, ‘It was dashed to pieces and perished entirely.’

The Second Siege of Constantinople and the Fall of the Umayyad Dynasty (717–50)

The continuing turmoil in Constantinople could not have gone unnoticed in Damascus. Earlier that same year Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik assumed the caliphate and inaugurated his rule by propelling his brother, Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, into Asia Minor at the head of 80,000 troops, while a huge armada of reportedly 1,800 vessels made its way around the south coast. Constantinople was about to experience its most dire confrontation with Islam until its final fall over seven centuries later.

The details of the ensuing epic engagement are discussed in a separate section at the end of the chapter as an example of sea combat in the period, but it suffices to say here that it unfolded in a manner similar to the siege of 672–8, with much the same result. As the Arab forces approached Constantinople in the spring of 717, Leo the Isaurian, the strategos of the Anatolikon Theme, engineered a coup to replace the ill-suited Theodosios III on the throne. Under his inspired leadership as Leo III, the Byzantines then used dromōns spewing ‘Greek fire’ to break up an Umayyad attempt to blockade the Bosporus. The besieging Arab army fared even worse. A particularly harsh winter ravaged it with deprivation and disease. And the following spring offered little relief. Nearly 800 supply ships arrived from Egypt and Ifriqiyah, but their Coptic Christian crews switched sides en masse. Without the precious provisions which these ships carried, Maslama’s troops fell easy prey to the Bulgars of Khan Tervel, with whom Leo had formed a propitious alliance. The Bulgars butchered some 22,000 of the Arabs. Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, the new caliph, had little choice but to recall his forces. It was a battered Umayyad army that retreated across Asia Minor in the autumn of 718 and only five vessels of the once massive Muslim armada managed to run the gauntlet of autumn storms in the Hellespont and Aegean to reach their home port.

It was a disastrous Muslim defeat, which should have put Islam on the defensive for decades to come, but inexplicably Leo chose this time to delve into the religious controversy that was to be the bane of Byzantium. In 726 he inaugurated Iconoclasm (literally, ‘the smashing of icons’) by ordering the removal of the icon of Christ over the Chalke entrance to the imperial palace in Constantinople. In 730 he followed up this action with an imperial decree against all icons. This polemical policy was to rend the fabric of the empire for the next fifty-seven years. It proved particularly unpopular in Italy and the Aegean areas. In early 727 the fleets of the Hellas and Karabisian Themes revolted and proclaimed a certain Kosmas as emperor. Leo managed to devastate and disperse these fleets with his own, again using ‘Greek fire’, the secret of which was apparently restricted to Constantinople at the time.

The episode, nonetheless, prompted the emperor to dissolve the troublesome Karabisian Theme and restructure the provincial fleets in order to dilute their threat to the throne. Leo placed the south coast of Asia Minor, formerly a responsibility of the disbanded Karabisian Theme, under the authority of the more tractable droungarios of the Kibyrrhaeot fleet, whose headquarters was transferred to Attaleia (present-day Antalya). Land-based themes, like the Hellas and Peloponnesos, were also allowed to maintain fleets of their own. These modifications to fleet organization were probably intended to help defuse naval power and make it more subservient to the emperor.

Despite their humiliating failure before the walls of Constantinople, the Umayyads took advantage of continued Byzantine upheaval both in the palace and in the Church to nibble away at the edges of the empire. A long period of raid and counter-raid ensued between Damascus and Constantinople, mostly involving either Egypt or Cyprus. But ultimately the Byzantines’ advantage in naval organization, possession of ‘Greek fire’ and virtual monopoly of such critical shipbuilding materials as wood and iron ensured they would prevail, at least in the eastern Mediterranean. The climax of the contest came in 747, when the Kibyrrhaeot fleet surprised an enormous armada from Alexandria in a harbour on Cyprus called Keramaia (exact location unknown). ‘Out of 1,000 dromōns it is said only three escaped,’ professed Theophanes. This was undoubtedly a chauvinistic exaggeration, but Umayyad naval power was evidently broken by the outcome of the battle and never again posed a serious threat to the Byzantine Empire. The Umayyad Dynasty came to an end just three years later when the Abbasids led by Abu al-Abbas as-Saffah crushed Caliph Marwan II at the Battle of Zab (Mesopotamia) in late January 750. The subsequent Abbasid Caliphate moved its capital from Damascus to Baghdad and focused its initial attention on the East.

What If: The Kamikaze and the Invasion of Kyushu? I

The lecture on logistic considerations for the recent invasion of Kyushu was going well. Nearly 160 students, faculty, and guests filled Pringle Auditorium at the Naval War College on this blustery Tuesday evening in November 1946 to hear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner. A 1908 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Turner had commanded the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force of more than 2,700 ships and large landing craft during the invasion. The 101 students in the class of 1947 were veterans of the largest war in history, and the transfer of nearly all of the Atlantic Fleet’s assets to the Far East after Normandy had insured the participation of every navy and marine officer at the college in either the final, mammoth operation at Kyushu or the even more massive operation planned for later in the Tokyo area. Likewise, all but two of the dozen army, air force, and coast guard officers—plus the single student from the State Department—had seen service in the Pacific. The college’s new president, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, had himself commanded the 5th Fleet during the invasion and whispered to an aide that his longtime friend and colleague was “in top form tonight.”

It was good to see Turner doing well, and Spruance reflected that speaking before the assembled officers—particularly these officers—would do him nothing but Turner had only two weeks earlier concluded his testimony in the last of three Congressional inquiries held after the armistice with Imperial Japan, and even before those, had been summoned back to Washington on three separate occasions in the midst of the war to testify on matters relating to December 7, 1941. During those earlier proceedings, he had been subjected to considerable cross-examination because of his prewar duty in the navy’s War Plans Division, and the first hearings after the armistice again dealt with Pearl Harbor. There was very little of substance that he had been able to add to the second postwar hearings, since the joint House-Senate committee was investigating events surrounding the tactical use of nuclear weapons and the resultant deaths and sickness recorded so far among some 40,000 U.S. military personnel. However, the most recent hearings of the Taft-Jenner committee had been another matter entirely, and Turner rapidly became the focus of its investigation into why the navy, after more than a year of experience battling Japanese suicide aircraft, had been “caught napping” by the kamikazes off Kyushu.

“Pearl Harbor II,” as it was dubbed by the press, saw thirty-eight troop-laden Liberty ships and LSTs, along with a score of destroyers and twenty-one other vessels, struck within sight of the invasion beaches during X-Day and X+l. Six other vessels were crashed by shinyo speedboats filled with explosives that darted into the assault groups during the confusion, and a further ten Liberty ships were hit by kamikazes from X+2 to X+6. The bulk of the 29,000 dead and missing were ground troops, with an equal number of soldiers and marines turned into stunned refugees after discarding all their gear during frantic efforts to abandon burning and sinking transports. Finely choreographed assault landings had been terribly disrupted by the incessant attacks and rescue operations. The subsequent lack of proper resupply and reinforcement resulted in nearly triple the anticipated ground-force casualties through X+30 and an unprecedented—and bloody—stalemate until X+20 on the north-eastern-most six of the thirty-five invasion beaches.

More men had been lost in the first two weeks at Kyushu than at the Battle of the Bulge and Okinawa combined, and critics were looking hard for someone’s head to stick on a pike (an “army” pike). Adm. Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, refused to offer up Turner for sacrifice and took full responsibility for the debacle (although it was certainly obvious that there was plenty of blame to go around). Still, the hearings had been brutal, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, from his headquarters in Manila, made it clear that he believed Turner’s “failure to safeguard the lives of our gallant soldiers and marines” had forced America into “an incomplete victory worse than Versailles.” Tonight was the tough old admiral’s first public address since the hearings, and Spruance did all he could to keep news of the event confined to the tight naval community on Coasters Harbor Island in Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. In fact, the only people in attendance not from the Naval War College or Newport Naval Base were retired marine three-star general Holland Smith, who was visiting the son of a longtime colleague, and George Kennan, an assistant to newly appointed Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

The students were held spellbound by the man Spruance regarded as the finest example of that rare combination, a strategic thinker and a fighter ready and willing to take responsibility and plunge into battle.6 Very few of the officers had actually laid eyes on “Terrible” Turner during the Pacific War, and the first round of questions after his presentation were tentative, almost softball. Spruance expected that this wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t.

“Sir, right from the beginning, at Leyte, when the Japs succeeded in forcing a redisposition of the carriers, we started to lose a lot of ships to the suiciders and even conventional attacks. Was it the loss of those transports and LSTs that slowed down the airstrip construction ashore and just made a bad situation worse from the standpoint of air defense?”

A score of supply ships along with a half-dozen destroyer-type vessels had unexpectedly been lost during November 1944. The kamikazes had drawn first blood on October 25-26, when a five-plane raid sank the escort carrier St. Lo and damaged three similar carriers. This had prompted many more young Japanese fliers to volunteer for the Shimpu (Special Attack Corps) unit, and on October 30 a kamikaze attack damaged three large fleet carriers so severely that they had to be pulled back to the Ulithi anchorage for repairs. Within days another large flattop fell victim, as did three more toward the end of November. This stunning disruption of carrier airpower spelled the loss of the ships referred to by the questioner and had a pronounced effect on the conduct of the ground campaign as well. Leyte had not been Turner’s show. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid had been commanding, and Turner chose his words carefully.

“We expected to take losses, but the nature of the Jap attacks was a complete surprise. We expected that our fighter sweeps would take out most of his airpower in the Philippines before the landings. The feeble response to Bill [Admiral William F.] Halsey’s earlier raid in September 1944 led us to conclude that Jap strength in the islands was far weaker than it should have been and we, in fact, canceled intermediate operations and pushed KING II up a full sixty days. There was no way to anticipate the tactics that were used against us. As to air-base development on Leyte, it was not the loss of shipping, but the weather and resultant conditions on the ground that stalled the best efforts of army engineers. We’d owned those islands for over forty years yet did not have a clue as to just how unsuitable the soil conditions were in the area where we sited the Burauen Airfield complex.

“Everyone remembers the newsreels of the theater commander wading ashore from a Higgins boat—I’m sure he did it in one take—[laughter] and his pronouncement that he had ‘returned’ but what few people know is that he was supposed to have retaken Leyte with four divisions and have eight fighter and bomber groups striking from the island within forty-five days of the initial landings. Nine divisions and twice as many days into the battle, only a fraction of the airpower was operational because of that awful terrain. The fighting on the ground had not gone as planned either. The Japs even did an end run, briefly isolated 5th Air Force headquarters, and captured much of the airfield complex before the army pushed them back into the jungle. Colonel?”

Having closed with a comment on the army, he motioned to one of several soldiers attending the college. He noted that the officer wore the scarlet crossed-arrow patch of the 32nd Infantry Division, which fought battles on Leyte’s Corkscrew, Kilay, and Breakneck ridges.

“Thank you, sir. In light of the fact that the lack of air interdiction allowed the enemy to transfer four divisions plus various independent brigades and regiments to the island from Luzon, do you feel that the amount of time to take Leyte was excessive?”

The admiral was unfazed by the implied rebuke. “No. Buoyed by pilot reports of both real and imagined losses to our fleet, the Japs decided to conduct their main battle for the Philippines on Leyte instead of Luzon. We had originally intended Leyte to act as a springboard to Luzon in exactly the same way that Kyushu was to act as the last stop before Tokyo. But the important thing to remember is that no matter which island we fought them on, the Japs had only a finite number of troops available in the Philippines. Over eighty percent of Jap shipping used during their effort was eventually sunk during later resupply missions, but we obviously would have liked to have sent them to the bottom sooner. The conquest of Leyte eventually involved over 100,000 more ground troops than anticipated and took us so long to accomplish that the island never became the major logistical center and air base we intended. My point is that the Japs were turning out to be much more resourceful than we anticipated and this affected operations all across the board. Does that answer your question?”

“Yes, sir,” said the colonel. But he later told the head of the college’s logistics department, Rear Adm. Henry Eccles, that he had considered commenting that the dearth of army and navy air interdiction was still being felt months later; that a number of Japanese units were actually evacuated from Leyte when ordered off in January 1945, and that he didn’t like fighting the same Japs twice. Eccles said that the colonel had been wise not to press the issue.

Many in the audience now raised their hands with questions, and Turner called on a lieutenant commander from the junior class.

“Admiral, could you comment on the fighter sweeps conducted over southern Japan ahead of the invasion?”

Turner asked him if he could be more specific.

“Yes, sir. Why was there so little attrition of their air forces ahead of Kyushu?”

This had been a subject of much heated discussion both in the press and in the wardrooms. It had even been rehashed in great detail earlier that day in Luce Hall, with the head of the college’s Battle Evaluation Group, Commodore Richard Bates, and about two dozen students.

Kamikazes “Glued to the Ground”

“To a very real degree, gentlemen, we were the victim of our own success,” said Turner. “Throughout the war, increasingly effective sweeps by our aircraft—and the army’s fighters and medium bombers—played havoc with Japanese air bases. And we were sure that many of their aircraft would certainly be destroyed by preinvasion fighter sweeps. But to destroy them on the ground, we would have had to know where they were. Anticipating that attacks would only grow worse as we neared the home islands in force, the Japs stepped up the dispersion of their units and spread aircraft throughout more than 125 bases and airfields that we knew of, and the number was apparently far larger. This effort intensified after we caught hundreds of them on the ground at Kyushu bases preparing for suicide runs at Okinawa. As for the planes slated for use as kamikazes, they didn’t require extensive facilities, and were hidden away to take off from roads and fields around central billeting areas. In addition, dispersal fields were being constructed by the dozen, while use of camouflage, dummy aircraft, and propped-up derelicts performed as desired during our strikes against known facilities.”

Spruance suspected that the questioners already knew the answers, or pieces of the answers, almost as well as Turner, but were deeply interested in the admiral’s unique insight into Pacific operations. The exchange now moved at a very fast clip.

“Sir, intelligence reports made it clear that there were a large number of aircraft available in Japan, but I was surprised that even though we were bombing virtually everything we wanted at will, they would not come up and fight.”

“You weren’t the only one,” replied Turner. “After some initial sparring with our carriers and Far East air force elements flying out of Okinawa, the Japs essentially glued their aircraft to the ground in order to preserve them for use during the invasions. We all know the story. The few high-performance aircraft like the Raiden were used against the B-29s, but that was it. There was no significant employment of aircraft, even during the approach of our fleets, since the Japs believed that being drawn out early would cause needless losses and correctly anticipated that we would attempt to lure their aircraft into premature battle through elaborate feints and other deception measures. They planned for a massive response only when they confirmed that landing operations had commenced.”

“Sir,” said another student, “it has been reported that the Japanese had been planning to use suiciders well before Leyte.”

Turner nodded. “The codicil to the armistice agreement which allows us to formally discuss the conduct of the war with Japanese officers of equal rank brought out some interesting information on that. These discussions, by the way, are continuing. They are certainly not controlled interrogations and the information is sometimes questionable, but the discussions overall have been frank and useful.” The admiral didn’t say it, but he was as amazed as anyone that talks of that nature were even taking place. “As to your question, the growing supremacy of our fleet prompted some Japanese leaders to contemplate the systematic use of suicide aircraft as early as 1943. But it wasn’t until late the following year, after they’d lost many of their best pilots at Midway, the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Marianas, that the kamikaze was seriously considered as a last-ditch alternative to conventional bombing attacks. We’d known this for some time. What we have just learned from our discussions is that the first time that orders were actually handed down for employment of suicide tactics was July 4, 1944, at Iwo [Jima]. Since all the kamikazes were shot down before reaching our ships, we never knew a thing about it.”

“Sir, right to the end there were always Jap pilots who made no attempt to crash our ships. Was that intentional; part of a systematic employment?”

Turner nodded again. “Yes, experienced pilots, deemed too valuable to sacrifice, were to provide fighter cover or fly conventional strikes. In fact, when some of them volunteered for the one-way missions, they were denied the ‘honor’ of killing themselves for the emperor.”

“Sir, with the benefit of hindsight it seems apparent to me that if the tactics employed at Kyushu had been employed at Leyte, their planes would have been able to crash a lot more ships. When they had altitude, you could pick ’em up without much trouble. But if they’d come out of those hills—coming in low rather than flying up here where we could pick ’em up early around 10,000, 20,000 feet and diving down—frankly, the Japs could have massacred our transports in the Philippines. The only upside is that it would have made the danger off Japan’s coast more clear.”

“You never like to take losses,” said Turner, “but if the Japs had used their aircraft as you described at Leyte, the lessons learned from that battle would indeed have made a difference at Kyushu. Okinawa represented the first coordinated effort by Jap pilots to use cliffs and hills to foil our radar, but the size of the island and the distances they had to fly from their bases on Formosa and Kyushu, together with the fact that the Japs had only just begun to experiment in this area, initially limited the usefulness of such tactics. Nonetheless, they did enjoy numerous successes when kamikazes appeared so suddenly out of the radar clutter that even fully alert crews of ships close ashore had little time to respond. And of course, response times naturally stretched out once the fatigue of being constantly at the alert began to set in. All kinds of tactical innovations were developed ad hoc as we gained more experience with the new threat. Ideas were shared throughout the fleet and crews incorporated any innovations they thought would be useful— anything to increase point defense capabilities by shortening antiaircraft weapons’ response times. Would you like to comment on that, Commodore Bates?”

“Certainly, sir. By summer 1945, slewing sights for the five-inch gun mount officers’ station were helping to ensure quick, non-radar-directed action, and many ships had begun to rig cross connections between their five-inch guns’ slow Mark 37 directors and the 40mm guns’ more nimble Mark 51s. These changes—and a projectile in the loading tray—enabled the five-inchers to come on line more quickly to counter sudden attacks, but switch back to the longer-range Mark 37 directors if radar found possible targets at a more conventional range. The new Mark 22 radar, which allowed early and accurate identification of incoming aircraft, was also widely distributed by the time of Majestic. It had little impact on the fighting close to shore, but proved its worth over and over again with the carriers.

“Prior to the appearance of the kamikazes, 20mm anti-aircraft guns had been the greatest killers of Jap planes. After that, however, their lack of hitting power rendered them little more than psychological weapons against plunging kamikazes. Commanders relied increasingly on the larger 40mm guns, because they could blast apart a closing aircraft. As more became available, we jammed additional mounts of the twin- and quad-40s into already overcrowded deck spaces on everything from minesweepers and LSTs to battleships and carriers.”

A voice rang out from the back of the hall, “But we wouldn’t let you take away our ‘door knockers’!” a remark followed by general laughter.

Admirals Turner and Spruance grinned widely at the shouted comment, but the chief of the Battle Evaluation Group offered only a half-smile.

“As I was saying, although 20mm guns had proved ineffective against a plunging kamikaze, that did not mean crews were eager to do away with them in order to free up deck space. These weapons at least had the advantage of not being operated electrically. Even if a ship’s power was knocked out, the ‘door knockers’ could still supply defensive fire. The new three-inch/ 50 rapid-fire gun is a wonderful weapon. One gun is as effective as two—that’s two—quad 40s against conventional planes, and against the Baka rocket bomb the advantage was even more pronounced. It took fully five quad 40s [twenty guns] to do the work of a single three-inch/50. Unfortunately, very few crews had been properly trained for it by Majestic.

“Reviewing the outcome of the extended radar picket operations off Okinawa,” continued Bates, “COMINCH [Commander in Chief, United States Fleet] came to the conclusion that one destroyer cannot be expected to defend itself successfully against more than one attacking enemy aircraft at a time— many did, in fact, but were eventually overwhelmed—and noted that, in the future, a full destroyer division should be assigned to each picket station if the tactical situation allowed such a commitment of resources. We were able to do this at four of the sixteen picket stations at Kyushu, but all the other stations had to make do with a pair of destroyers and two each of those special gunboats made especially for operations against Japan [LSMs with one dual and four quad 40mm mounts], which were far more heavily armed than the gunboats used at Okinawa.

“COMINCH also found that while large warships’ and aircraft gunnery was not affected greatly by evasive maneuvers, violent turns by a diminutive destroyer to disturb the aim of the kamikaze, or to bring more guns to bear during a surprise attack, caused extreme pitches and rolls that degraded accuracy. Gunnery improved dramatically when destroyers performed less strident maneuvers, even if fewer guns could be brought into play quickly.”

What If: The Kamikaze and the Invasion of Kyushu? II

The officer students were more willing to respectfully interject themselves into Commodore Bates’s comments than they were to interrupt Turner, and a former destroyer captain immediately spoke up.

“That’s theoretically true, sir, but anyone who experienced the Philippines and Okinawa, or the raids on Japan, knows that in most instances you can’t actually do that and live to tell about it. The suiciders had apparently been told that, since they didn’t need the broad targets normally required for aiming bombs, the best results in their type of mission would come from bow—or stern—on attacks that allowed them to be targeted by the least amount of defensive fire. I’d seen new skippers follow COMINCH advice on this matter and the only thing that happened was a sort of Divine Wind ‘crossing the T,’ made much easier by less radical destroyer maneuvers.”

A former executive officer chimed in. “I’ve been told that even a novice pilot can be trained to perform skids, or sideslips, and when we were hit—I was on the Kimberly target skidded to always remain in the ship’s wake—and we were on hard right rudder! Only the afterguns could bear, and each 5-inch salvo blasted the 20mm crews off their feet. The Val came in over the stern, aiming for the bridge, and crashed aft the rear stack between two 5-inch mounts.”

Admiral Turner was not surprised that, given an opportunity, the talk turned to tactics. He quickly moved to elevate the discussion.

“Early in the war, after Pearl Harbor, Malaya, and the Java Sea, things looked bleak for our surface ships—and those of the Japanese as well. Naval aircraft were clearly dominating any vessels they came up against. The fielding of the proximity fuse in 1942 and 1943 increased the odds that our ships would fight off their aerial tormentors, and by 1943—just two years after Pearl Harbor—the balance of power had firmly shifted into America’s favor as our industrial base, our training base, added warships, attack aircraft, and large numbers of skilled aviators to the fleet. The duel between ships’ guns and aircraft, however, came full circle with the advent of the kamikaze. Destroying ninety percent of an inbound raid had been considered a success before Leyte, but the damage inflicted by even one suicide aircraft could be devastating. It was obvious that the invasion of Japan would entail terrible losses, and we moved to defeat the threat through increased interdiction, effective command and control, more guns, and everything we could think of to knock them down before they reached our ships.”

“Sir,” interjected a member of his audience, “one of the points noted over and over again in intelligence reports before Kyushu was that the Nips didn’t even have enough gas to train their new pilots; that, cut off from their oil in the Dutch territories and with all their refineries destroyed by the [B-29] Super-forts, they would be hard-pressed to maintain flight operations. I don’t really know anyone at my level who bought into this, but was it a factor in why we provided so little air cover at the landing sites?”

“I’ll answer that in two parts,” said Turner after a moment’s deliberation. “First, everything you said about their ability to import and refine oil was true, but not to the degree that some believed. The other part of the picture dealt with evidence from signals intelligence and the Japs’ lack of fleet activity, which appeared to be a clear sign that they had run out of gas. Their navy had drastically curtailed combat operations because of a lack of heavy fuel oil, and we were aware that shortages were the primary factor behind the ratcheting down of flight hours in their pilot training. Moreover, reports obtained from neutral embassies also indicated that the civilian population had not only been deprived of liquid fuel but that badly needed foodstuffs, such as potatoes, corn, and rice, were also being requisitioned for synthetic fuel production. We also believed that our attacks had destroyed nearly all of their storage capacity. So, while we were aware that some large number of aircraft had been successfully hidden from us, the recurring weakness of their response to our attacks reinforced the idea that those aircraft were no longer able to defend effectively.

“What we did not know was that the Japs had made a conscious decision early on to build up decentralized fuel reserves separate from those used for training, a reserve which would only be tapped for the final battles. They had seen the writing on the wall when we reestablished ourselves in the Philippines, and succeeded in rushing shipments past our new bases in February and March before that avenue was choked off. Although we sank roughly two-thirds of the tankers running north, four or five got through with 40,000 tons of refined fuel. This shipment and some domestic production formed the core of what became Japan’s strategic reserve, which included 190,000 barrels of aviation gas in hidden army stockpiles and a further 126,000 barrels held by the navy. To give you an idea of just how much gas we’re talking about here, the Japs used roughly 1.5 million barrels during flight operations against our fleet at Okinawa but—and this is important—at Okinawa they had to fly roughly triple the distances they did over Japan.

“Their perceived inability to send up large numbers of aircraft encouraged us to believe that the landing area’s immediate defense could be left to our escort carriers, while the nearly 1,800 aircraft of Task Force 58’s fleet carriers were assigned missions as far north as 600 miles from Kyushu, well beyond Tokyo. Aircraft from only two of Admiral Spruance’s task groups were dedicated to suppression efforts north and east of the screen thrown up by Adm. [Clifton A. E] Sprague’s escorts. I and others argued strenuously—and unsuccessfully—that this was taking a lot for granted. We didn’t need a show of force all up and down Honshu. We needed a blanket of Hellcats and Corsairs at the decisive point. We needed them at Kyushu. Yes, command and control would be extremely difficult, maybe impossible, with that many planes concentrated over that airspace. But it would be worth it if the Japs succeeded in massing for an all-out lunge at the transports—and that’s exactly what they did.”

“Sir, weren’t there also fewer escort carriers taking a direct part in the invasion than there might have been?”

“Yes,” replied Turner, “but a certain amount of that was unavoidable. A total of thirty-six escort carriers took part in some facet of Majestic, but many had to be siphoned off to protect the far-flung elements of the invasion force. For example, four escort carriers were assigned to provide cover for slow-moving convoys plying the waters between the Philippines and Kyushu against more than 600 Jap aircraft that could be brought into play through their bases on Formosa. Sprague had sixteen flattops with approximately 580 aircraft available for both the direct support of the landing force and defense of the assault shipping. Plans called for roughly 130 aircraft to be on-station from dawn to dusk to provide a last ditch defense of the landing area. Of course, far more aircraft were required to maintain a continuous, seamless presence, and even more were siphoned away from ground support as they were at Okinawa. The ability of the CAPs (combat air patrols) to actually maintain coverage of this area once battle was joined—the CAP checkpoints averaged fifteen miles apart over a clutter of cloud-covered peaks—proved to be extraordinarily difficult and broke down quickly. We didn’t have enough depth. The CAPs were drawn away from the barrier patrol by the first Japs coming through. We had expected that there would be some leakers— possibly quite a few—but did not anticipate that they could successfully coordinate and launch as many aircraft as they did.”

“It sounds to me, sir,” observed his questioner, “that they had figured us out.

“It’s clear that they’d developed plans based on a comprehensive understanding of the set-piece way in which we do business—our amphibious operations,” acknowledged the admiral, “and that their plans extended well beyond air operations. In fact, they were so confident in their analyses of our intentions that they moved a number of divisions into Kyushu before our airpower—our ability to interdict them—had been built up sufficiently on Okinawa. The Japs were one step ahead of us. Our intelligence noted the appearance of these reinforcements which, when combined with the units already there and the new divisions being raised from the island’s massive population, presented us with an awful picture, but one that we could have dealt with if we had been able to get our forces ashore intact.

“There’s an interesting footnote for future historians on this matter. Some of you may know that the original name of the Kyushu operation was Olympic, but do you know why the code name was changed? When intelligence discovered the rapid buildup, it was believed that the invasion plans may have somehow been compromised. The change from Olympic to Majestic represented an effort to confuse Japanese intelligence when, in fact, the changes were based on analyses conducted within Imperial headquarters. The Japanese had correctly deduced both the location and approximate times of both Majestic and Coronet and decided to expend the bulk of their aircraft as kamikazes during the critical first ten days of each invasion. The landing forces themselves were to be the main focus of Japanese efforts, with additional aircraft allotted to keep the carrier task forces occupied.”

More than a few of the officers present would have liked to be told how Turner knew this but knew better than to ask, and the next question returned to the kamikazes. It came from another former destroyer captain.

“Sir, irrespective of how many of our own aircraft were used for suppression of Nip bases and defense of the landing zones, it seems to me that the very large number and close proximity of their bases—and Kyushu’s mountains—created virtually ideal conditions for the suiciders.”

“Yes. I’ve had a good deal of time to think about this. The Japanese had seven interrelated advantages during the defense of the home islands that they did not have at Okinawa.

“First, their aircraft were able to approach the invasion beaches from anywhere along a wide arc, thus negating any more victories along the line of the [Marianas] Turkey Shoot or the Kikai Jima air battles [north of Okinawa], where long distances required Jap aircraft to travel relatively predictable flight paths.

“Second, Kyushu’s high mountains masked low-flying kamikazes from search radars, thus limiting our response time to incoming aircraft. Plans were made to establish radar sites within our lines and on the outlying islands as quickly as the tactical situation allowed, but this had only a minor effect on the central problem—the mountains. In addition, most shore-based radar units during Majestic were not slated to be operational until after X+10—and by then the kamikaze attacks were drawing to a close.

“Third, we knew that the Japs were suffering from a severe shortage of radios, and some among us discounted their ability to coordinate attacks from dispersed airfields and hiding places through use of telephone lines. At this point in the war, however, Jap reliance on telephones was more a strength than a weakness. No communications intercepts there. Our forces could neither monitor nor jam the land lines and, like the Jap electrical system, it presented few good targets for air attack.

“The fourth advantage was related to the second and had to do with the virtually static nature of our assault vessels while conducting the invasion. Because the ships disembarking the landing force were operating at a known location, kamikazes didn’t have to approach from a high altitude, which allowed them the visibility needed to search for far-flung carrier groups yet also made them visible to radar. Instead, they were able to approach the mass of transports and cargo ships from the mountains and then drop to very low altitudes. The final low-level run on the ships offered no radar, little visual warning, and limited the number of antiaircraft guns that could be brought to bear against them. It wasn’t difficult to see that this was going to be a problem during Majestic, since a much larger percentage of kamikazes got through to their targets when flying under radar coverage to fixed locations, like Kerama Retto anchorage [Okinawa], than those approaching ships at sea from higher altitudes.

“I want to stress, however, that despite the advantages offered by radar picking up the high-fliers, ships operating at any fixed location invited concentrated attack, and the radar pickets near certain Japanese approach routes to Okinawa suffered much more than those on the move with fast carrier task forces. The lack of predictable approach routes at Kyushu only exacerbated the situation.

“Fifth, we had begun extensive use of destroyers as radar pickets as early as the Kwajalein operation in January 1944, and by the end of that year comparatively sophisticated CICs (combat information centers) were effectively providing tactical situation plotting and fighter direction from select destroyers. Unfortunately, coordination within and timely communications from the radar pickets’ newly installed CICs presented a problem, with the centers frequently becoming overwhelmed by the speed of events and sheer quantity of bogies. Add a nearby landmass to the equation, and things got dicey in a hurry.

“Sixth, as previously noted radar coverage of the countless mountain passes was virtually nil during the Kyushu operation, and the 5th Fleet CAPs attempting to form a barrier halfway up the island were essentially on their own because they were frequently out of direct contact with the pickets assigned to control the checkpoints. The barrier patrol over the 120-mile-wide midsection of Kyushu and Amakusa-Shoto, an island close to the west, were able only to find and bounce a comparatively small percentage of attackers coming through the mountains, and this number shrank even further in areas with a modest amount of cloud cover. As it turned out, Majestic was launched at a time that the weather was ideal for Japanese purposes— and I might add the same would have been true for Coronet. Not only did the moderate-to-heavy cloud cover, ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 feet, tend to mask the low-level approach of aircraft to the landing beaches, but the inexperienced Jap pilots searching for carriers out to sea from high altitudes also found that these clouds provided good cover from radar-vectored CAPs while being no great hindrance to navigation.

“Last, and perhaps most important of all, a proportionately small number of suicide aircraft got through to the vulnerable transports off Okinawa because of the natural tendency of inexperienced pilots to dive on the first target they saw. As a result, the radar pickets had, in effect, soaked up the bulk of the kamikazes before they reached the landing area. Accomplishing this entailed terrible losses even though the destroyers had their own CAPs and were sometimes supported by LCSs and LSMs acting as gunboats. At Kyushu, however, there were no radar pickets on the landward side of the assault shipping to absorb the blows meant for the slow-moving troop transports and supply vessels, which had to lock themselves into relatively static positions offshore during landing operations. These were the ships that kamikaze pilots were specifically to target, and circumstance and terrain went a long way toward helping them achieve their goal of killing the largest number of Americans possible.

“While all this must seem like a wonderful example of twenty-twenty hindsight, I believe that we could have anticipated much more of this ahead of time if we had not been lulled by the lack of air opposition in the months preceding Majestic. It was simply inconceivable to many of us that they would be willing to take the degree of punishment that they did from the air without fighting back. It crossed few minds that they were, in effect, waiting to see the whites of our eyes. Next question.”

“Sir, wouldn’t this also tie in with why we didn’t disperse our blood supplies ahead of the invasion?”

The young captain’s question touched on one of the most grim facets of the invasion. Five LST(H)s, one for each set of invasion beaches, had been outfitted as distribution centers for plasma and whole blood needed by the wounded ashore. Even before the first waves of landing craft hit the beaches, one had been turned into an inferno and another sunk by midmorning of X-Day. For many thousands of wounded ashore, this was a disaster of terrible proportions. The landing beaches now denied blood supplies had been unable to receive assistance from the remaining three vessels because of excessive casualties in those ships’ own assigned areas. Although it was difficult to calculate precisely, estimates of the number of wounded whose deaths might have been prevented if the immediate blood supply had not been nearly halved ran as high as 4,100. Emergency shipments were rushed up by destroyer from Okinawa and flown direct to escort carriers off Kyushu aboard Avenger torpedo bombers from the central blood bank on Guam. These emergency shipments, together with blood donated by bone-tired sailors after the last air raids of the day, enabled the situation to be stabilized by X+4.

“The care and storage of blood products is a complicated matter. It is a valuable—and highly perishable—commodity that needs to be stored in and distributed from refrigeration units. The system for blood distribution at Kyushu made perfect sense in light of these requirements and past experience. The blood supply expert on MacArthur’s staff had, in fact, pointed out the vulnerability of the system to be employed, but lack of proper facilities had rendered any worthwhile changes impossible on such short notice.”

Even Turner realized that his answer sounded like it had been written by a press officer, and he quickly moved on to the next question by pointing to an officer in the third row who had raised his hand twice before.

Deception Operations

“Sir, with all the ships we produced during the war, why didn’t we create a dummy invasion fleet? Why didn’t we make more of an effort to draw their planes out early so that we could get at them?”

The admiral did not answer immediately, but instead cast a glance at the poker face of Spruance, sitting to his left. Had the young captain thought of this himself or had he picked up on clues in the newspapers where references to an elaborate deception operation—not carried out—were already beginning to leak from an unannounced, closed-door session that Turner had with the Taft-Jenner committee? The room was deathly quiet as the admiral looked back to the podium and drew a deep breath. The men—the veterans—in the room deserved to get an answer.

“Certain deception operations were conceived ahead of Majestic,” he began. “Code-named Pastel, they were patterned after the very successful Bodyguard operations conducted against the Nazis before, and even well after, the Normandy invasion. Through those operations, very substantial German forces were held in check far from France in Norway and the Balkans, and a well-equipped army north of the invasion area was kept out of the fight until it was too late to intervene effectively. Deception operations of this type were particularly effective in Europe, with its extensive road and rail nets, but were a waste of time against Japan proper. They all assumed a strategic mobility that the Japanese did not possess for higher formations—corps and armies—and were made even less effective by our own air campaign against the home islands, which essentially froze those formations into place. Distant movements could only be made division by division and only at a pace that a soldier’s own feet could carry him. Likewise, the success of the blockade rendered the deception operations against Formosa and the Shanghai area unnecessary.

“The Japanese, themselves, had realized this early on, and their system of defense call-up and training during the last year was reoriented toward raising, training, and fielding combat divisions locally in order to minimize lengthy overland movements. With major population centers within easy marching distance of threatened areas, they could actually get away with this. The most useful comparison to our own history might be the Minutemen.”

Turner could see that some of the students were questioning the relevance of his comments and were wondering if he was going to dodge the question altogether.

“In short,” he continued, “we spent far too much time and energy trying to keep the Japanese from doing something that both we and the Japs knew they couldn’t do anyway. To the specifics of your question, in May of last year, I, along with Admirals Spruance and [Marc A.] Mitscher, were replaced by Bill Halsey and his crew so that we could begin planning for Kyushu. I regretted not being able to see Okinawa through to the finish, but Iceberg was to have been wrapped up in forty-five days, and since the 5th Fleet of Admiral Spruance had been selected to handle Kyushu, what was then called Olympic, planning could not be delayed any further.

“Our work was conducted back at Guam and took full account of what we had learned at Okinawa. It was my conclusion that kamikaze attacks of sufficient strength might so disrupt the landings that a vigorous resistance ashore against our weakened forces would put our timetable for airfield construction in serious jeopardy. Four months was the minimum time judged necessary for base construction and subsequent softening up before our landings near Tokyo. These, in turn, had to be conducted before the spring monsoon season, when use of our armored divisions from Europe would become impossible on the Kanto, or Tokyo, Plain. The landing force had to get off to a running start, and it was up to us to get them there in the best possible shape. What we proposed was exactly what you suggested form a fleet—a dummy fleet carrying no men; no equipment—escorted by the usual screen but with the air groups rearranged to carry a preponderance of Hellcats and Corsairs.

“It had to look credible, especially from the air. Feints at Okinawa, that we had considered quite impressive, had absolutely no discernible impact on the course of the campaign. Moreover, communications intelligence made it clear that the Japs were expecting us to try something like that again and we estimated that we would have to utilize 400 ships, not counting the escort, in order to provide enough mass to be convincing. Assault shipping and bombardment groups would form up at multiple invasion beaches. We would follow all normal procedures— heavy radio traffic, line of departure, massive bombardment. All of this would take time, of course, and the Japs would be able to get a real good look at us. They would judge it to be the real thing because it was—minus a half-million troops! They would send up thousands of aircraft to come after us and we would be able to concentrate virtually all of our airpower, by sectors running from Nagoya [south-central Honshu] through Kyushu, and we would knock them down. There would be leakers. We would lose ships and many good sailors. But at the end of the day—actually three days—we’d pull out.

“The Japs would undoubtedly believe that they had repelled the invasion. Those same ships and others, however, would be at Okinawa, at Luzon, at Guam, loading for the real knockout. We would be back at Kyushu in just two weeks and this time there would be so few meatballs left that we could handle them easily. Preparations for Operation Bugeye were begun in early June at Pearl [Harbor] and Guam.”

A slight pause in Turner’s commentary precipitated a sea of hands raised across the floor. The Class of ’47 was a sharp group, and it was not hard to guess what was on their minds.

What If: The Kamikaze and the Invasion of Kyushu? III

Typhoon Louise Strikes

“Was it Louise,” asked one, “was it the October typhoon that killed the plan?”

“Ultimately, yes. It had been a hard sell to begin with. The shipping crisis that had come to a head at Leyte had never been completely solved and there was a legitimate concern that if too much was lost during Bugeye we would be hard-pressed to fulfill our needs during Majestic. We received the go-ahead for Bugeye only after certain numbers of assault ships of every category had been pulled from the operation. Vessels like the thirty-eight to be used as blockships for Coronet’s ‘Mulberry’ harbor would have been completely satisfactory for the feint, and yet though many were virtual derelicts, we were nevertheless required to preserve them for Tokyo. I need not remind you that construction of the artificial harbor carried a priority second only to development of the atom bomb, and that we were producing seven unique, heavy-lift salvage ships in two classes especially for the invasion. As things turned out, four of the six that had arrived in-theater survived Typhoon Louise and were fully employed with salvage operations at Okinawa till nearly Thanksgiving.

“Everyone in this room is painfully aware of the disaster at Okinawa. Every plane that could be gassed up was sent south [to Luzon] and most were saved. The flat bottoms [assault shipping and craft designed to be beached] weren’t so lucky. Six-hours’ warning was not enough. Shifting cargoes in the combat-loaded LSTs sent sixty-one of 972 LSTs to the bottom; 186 of 1,080 LCTs went down or were irretrievably damaged; 92 of 648 LCIs—the list goes on. Plus a half-dozen Liberty ships and destroyers. At least they couldn’t blame this one on Bill. This storm took on mystical proportions to the Japanese war leaders who had defied the Emperor and taken over the government when he tried to surrender during the first four atomic attacks in August.” Harkening back to the original “Divine Wind,” or kamikaze, that destroyed an invasion force heading for Japan in 1281, they saw it as proof that they had been right all along. Their industrial base in Manchuria was gone because of the Soviet invasion, their cities were in ashes, but the Japs were even more certain that we would sue for peace if they just held out.

“Any chance of carrying out the feint was gone. With a little more time, the shipping losses—greater in tonnage than Okinawa—could be made up. But there was no time. The Joint Chiefs originally set December 1, 1945, as the Kyushu invasion date with Coronet, Tokyo’s Kanto Plain, three months later on March 1.

“What I’m about to say is an important point and I’ll be returning to it in a moment. To lessen casualties, the launch of Coronet included two armored divisions shipped from Europe that were to sweep up the plain and cut off Tokyo before the monsoons turned it into vast pools of rice, muck, and water crisscrossed by elevated roads and dominated by rugged, well-defended foothills.

“Now, planners envisioned the construction of eleven airfields on Kyushu for the massed airpower which would soften up the Tokyo area. Bomb and fuel storage, roads, wharves, and base facilities would be needed to support those air groups, plus our 6th Army holding a 110-mile stop line one-third of the way up the island. All plans centered on construction of the minimum essential operating facilities, but most of the airfields for heavy bombers were not projected to be ready until ninety to 105 days after the initial landings on Kyushu, in spite of a massive effort. The constraints on the air campaign were so clear that when the Joint Chiefs set the target dates of the Kyushu and Tokyo invasions for December 1, 1945, and March 1, 1946, respectively, it was apparent that the three-month period would not be sufficient. Weather ultimately determined which operation to reschedule, because Coronet could not be moved back without moving it closer to the monsoons and thus risking serious restrictions on all ground movement— and particularly the armor’s drive up the plain—from flooded fields, and the air campaign from cloud cover that almost doubles from early March to early April. MacArthur’s air staff proposed bumping Majestic ahead by a month, and both my boss, Admiral Nimitz, and the Joint Chiefs immediately agreed. Majestic was moved forward one month to November 1.

“The October typhoon changed all that. A delay till December 10 for Kyushu, well past the initial—and unacceptable— target date was forced upon us, with the Tokyo operation pushed to April 1—dangerously close to the monsoons. We were going to get one run, and one run only, at the target. No Bugeye. One of the greatest opportunities of the war had been lost.”

At first there were no hands appearing above the audience since they were still absorbing everything that Admiral Turner had said. A navy captain in the second row was the first to break the silence.

“Sir, was there reconsideration at this time of switching to the blockade strategy that we, the navy, had been advocating since 1943?”

Turner’s host that evening, Admiral Spruance, had been outspoken in his belief that such a move was the best course but, like Turner, had followed orders to the fullest of his ability and beyond. Turner knew that he had already said far more than he should on Bugeye and moved to wrap things up.

“I can’t tell you what others were advocating. All I can say is that I was fully, very fully, engaged in carrying out my orders. On a personal note, I would have to say that I believe that the change in plans regarding the use of atom bombs during Majestic was fortuitous. After the first four bombs on cities failed in their strategic purpose of stampeding the Japanese government into an early surrender, the growing stockpile of atom bombs was held for use during the invasion. Initially, though, we did not intend to use them as they were eventually employed against Japanese formations moving down from northern Kyushu. Initially we were going to allot one to each corps zone shortly before the landings.”

Audible gasps and a low whistle could be heard from some in the audience, who immediately recognized the implications of what the admiral was saying.

“Yes,” Turner acknowledged “the radiation casualties we suffered in central Kyushu were bad enough, but they were only a fraction of what would have happened if we had run a half-million men directly into radiated beachheads—and all that atomic dust being kicked up during the base development and airfields construction! The result hardly bears thinking about. It was clear, after the initial bombs in August, that the Japs were trying to wring the maximum political advantage from claims that the atom bombs were somehow more inhuman than the conventional attacks that had burnt out every city with a population over 30,000. At first their claims about massive radiation sickness were thought to be purely propaganda. However, over the next few months it was determined that there was enough truth to what they were saying to switch the bombs to targets of opportunity after the Jap forces from northern Kyushu moved down to attack our lodgment in the south. They had to concentrate before they could launch their counter-offensive, and that’s when we hit ’em. As for the original landing zones, repeated carpet bombing by our heavies from Guam and Okinawa produced the same results that the atom bombs would have, and besides, the big bombers had essentially run out of strategic targets long before the invasion. The carpet bombing gave them something to do.” This remark elicited laughter.

“The Jap warlords were unmoved when atom bombs were employed over cities, but the extensive use of the bombs against their soldiers is what finally pushed them to the conference table. Yes, they changed their tune when they faced the possibility of losing their army without an ‘honorable’ fight, but so did we when it became undeniably clear that our replacement stream would not keep up with casualties.”

Turner looked over at General “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, and continued “One man in this room tonight served in the trenches of World War One. An incomplete peace after that war meant that he and the sons of his buddies had to fight another war a generation later. We can only pray that the recent peace will not end in a bigger, bloodier, perhaps atomic, war with Imperial Japan in 1965. Thank you.”

The Reality

The coup attempt by Japanese forces unwilling to surrender was thwarted by Imperial forces loyal to Emperor Hirohito, and the Japanese government succeeded in effecting a formal surrender before the home islands were invaded. Occupation forces on Kyushu were stunned by the scale of the defenses found at the precise locations where the invasion was scheduled to take place. The U.S. military government eventually disposed of 12,735 Japanese aircraft.

On October 9-10, 1945, Typhoon Louise struck Okinawa. Luckily, Operation Majestic had been canceled months earlier. There was considerably less assault shipping on hand than if the invasion of Kyushu had been imminent, and “only” 145 vessels were sunk or damaged so severely that they were beyond salvage.


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