SUICIDE WEAPONS AND TACTICS IN THE FINAL DEFENCE OF JAPAN

As early as January 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy reached agreement (although their cooperation was, as always, limited by inter-service rivalry) on Ketsu-Go (“Operation Decision”): the final defence of the Japanese home islands against Allied invasion. A single phrase from the Precepts Concerning the Decisive Battle issued on 8 April 1945 by Gen Korechika Anami, Minister of War, will serve to illustrate these measures: all ranks were exhorted to “possess a deep-seated spirit of ramming”. General Yoshijiro Umezu, Army Chief of Staff, emphasized that “the certain way to victory… lies in making everything on Imperial soil contribute to the war effort … combining the total material and spiritual strength of the nation …” Servicemen and civilians alike were left in no doubt that the final defence would be to the death; that all available weapons would be used suicidally.

Meeting the Invasion Armada

Imperial General HQ believed (rightly) that an Allied invasion would be directed first against southern Kyushu and, once a beachhead was established there, against the Tokyo area, southeast Honshu.

Since the IJN was now almost bereft of surface striking units, the first line of defence against the invasion armada would be provided by the remaining aircraft for which pilots and fuel were available – some 10,700 according to USSBS figures – of the Army and Navy. Half of these, 2,700 of the IJN and 2,650 of the IJA, would be kamikaze.

Both the IJN and IJA sought to strengthen the kamikaze units and to impose some unity of aircraft types within them by producing purpose-designed suicide planes, of which the IJN’s Yokosuka D4Y4 Model 43 and Aichi M6A1 are described in Chapter 4. The IJN’s other major attempt at a “special attack” bomber, intended to be cheaply and quickly manufactured from non-strategic material, was the wooden-construction Yokosuka D3Y2-K (finally redesignated D5Y1). The programme was initiated in January 1945 and was aimed at a production target of 30 per month, but not even a prototype was completed.

The IJA had more success, in terms of production only, with its Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi (“Sabre”). This cheap and simply-produced suicide bomber was built largely of metal, with a wood-and-fabric tail assembly and, being intended only for one-way missions, with a jettisonable undercarriage. The open- cockpit aircraft was theoretically suitable to be flown by a pilot with only basic training, but not surprisingly in view of the speed of the development programme (design began on 20 January 1945; the prototype flew only seven weeks later) it proved a beast to handle, especially during takeoff on its unsprung undercarriage, which had to be modified. Of the 105 examples completed by the war’s end, none was operational. No examples were completed of an improved model, the Nakajima Ki-230, or of the Showa Toka (“Wistaria”), a copy of the Ki-115 for the IJN.

Kamikaze and conventional air strikes, coordinated with suicidal attacks by the IJN’s 45 remaining fleet submarines, would begin when the invasion armada was within c.180 miles (290km) of the Kyushu beaches. As the armada drew nearer, the rate of attack would increase, with troop transports the primary targets, until, off the beaches, all remaining aircraft would be committed to a non-stop mass suicide assault which, it was estimated, could be sustained for up to 10 days. At this time, the kamikaze would be supplemented by a “banzai charge” by the IJN’s remaining surface units – only 2 cruisers and 23 destroyers remained fully operational in August 1945 – midget submarines, human torpedoes and explosive motorboats.

Ambitious building programmes for small “special attack” craft were severely limited by material and power shortages caused by blockade and strategic bombing. Thus, by August 1945, there were available in the home islands only 100 koryu five-man submarines; 300 kairyu two-man submarines; 120 shore-based kaiten human-torpedoes; and about 4,000 shinyo and maru-ni EMBs. With the exception of the comparatively long-ranging koryu, these small suicide craft were deployed in well-concealed bases in southern and eastern Kyushu and southern Shikoku. The major locations were: in Kyushu, Kagoshima (20 kairyu, 500 shinyo), Aburatsu (20 kairyu, 34 kaiten, 125 shinyo), Hososhima (ZO kairyu, 12 kaiten, 325 shinyo) and Saeki (20 kairyu); in Shikoku, Sukumo (12 kairyu, 14 kaiten, 50 shinyo) and Sunosaki (12 kairyu, 24 kaiten, 175 shinyo). The IJA’s

EMBs were similarly but separately dispersed. In addition, 180 kairyu, 36 kaiten and 775 shinyo were deployed around Sagami Wan to defend the Tokyo area of Honshu. More shinyo and maru-ni (perhaps as many as 1,000 of each type) remained at bases in Korea, Formosa, Hainan Island, North Borneo, Hong Kong and Singapore.

“Fukuryu”: the Suicide Frogmen

It was estimated that the mass onslaught would destroy some 35–50 per cent of the Allied armada before any troops could be put ashore. Offshore, a last line of maritime defence would be provided by the least-known of the “special attack” forces: the demolition frogmen called fukuryu (“crouching dragons”).

Their training had begun at Kawatana in November 1944 (see here), although the IJN had employed teams of swimmers on hazardous missions since early in the war; notably at Hong Kong, where skindivers defuzed Allied mines to prepare a way for landing craft. A Japanese prisoner taken at Peleliu, Palaus, late in 1944, claimed that he belonged to a 22-strong Kaiyu unit of swimmers trained to attack landing craft. Each swimmer was armed with three grenades, a knife and a simple demolition charge: a wooden box of c.160in3 (2620cm3) packed with trinitrophenol (Lyddite) with a fuze cut to the required length. But the kaiyu units, credited with damaging an LCI in the Palaus and a DE and an attack transport at Okinawa, were surface swimmers rather than frogmen.

The fukuryu appear never to have been deployed outside the home islands. Their role in the final defence would have been suicidal – as was, to some extent, their training. Their equipment – a loosely-fitting wet suit; a clumsy helmet not unlike that of a deep-sea diver; bulky air circulation and purification tanks strapped to chest and back and linked by a tangle of hoses – was most unsatisfactory. “There were very many [fatal] accidents during the training of fukuryu”, a Japanese veteran told me, “because the twin-tank oxygen re-breathing equipment was no good – but nothing better was available”. Nevertheless, some 1,200 fukuryu graduated from Kawatana and Yokosuka Mine School by the war’s end, when 2,800 were still in training.

To destroy inshore landing craft, each fukuryu was armed with a 22lb (10kg) impact-fuzed charge, incorporating a flotation tank, mounted on a stout pole (much like the anti-tank “lunge mine” described above). If his equipment functioned perfectly, the frogman could stay at an optimum depth of 50ft (15m) for up to 10 hours, sustained by a container of liquid food. Construction was begun of underwater pillboxes, concrete with steel doors, in which fukuryu would shelter from a pre-landing bombardment while awaiting their opportunity to sally forth and thrust their explosive lances against the bottoms of landing craft.

The fukuryu would form part of a network of beach defence. Farthest from the beach were moored mines, electrically detonated from ashore; then three lines of fukuryu deployed so that each man guarded an area of c.470sq yds (390sq m); then lines of magnetic mines; and finally beach mines. Capt K. Shintani, commanding the fukuryu, was somewhat optimistic in hoping that his men might “cause as much damage as the kamikaze aircraft”.

“Special Motorboats”: Amphibious Tanks

Attacks by fukuryu on landing craft might have been supported by the few completed Toku 4-Shiki Naikatei (“Type 4 Special Motor boat”; called the katsu) which, in spite of its designation, was an amphibious AFV. Originally designed by Mitsubishi for the IJN as a troop, weapon or freight carrier with a capacity of c.10 tons, the katsu was adapted early in 1944 to serve as a coast defence craft. Only 18 examples of this tracked amphibian were built.

The katsu’s 240bhp diesel engine gave a maximum land speed of c.15mph (24kmh) or, driving retractable twin propellers, a water speed of c.4.5kt (5mph, 9kmh). The craft displaced c.20 tons (20.3 tonnes) and was 36ft (11m) long overall, 10.8ft (3.3m) in beam, and of 7.5ft (2.3m) draught from track-base to deck-level. It mounted two 13mm MGs in shielded positions forward and carried two 17.7in (450mm) torpedoes in launching racks to port and starboard at deck level. The engine was within a pressurized compartment so that the katsu might be carried on the casing of a submerged submarine; but a wild scheme – Tatsumaki-Go (“Operation Tornado”) – to transport katsu in this way to Bougainville, in mid-1944, for an attack on offshore shipping, was abandoned, as were plans for their deployment at Peleliu and Saipan. They were held at Kure for possible employment in the final defence. They were slow, noisy and unhandy.

“Operation Olympic”: the Invasion of Kyushu

Operations “Olympic” (later re-named “Majestic”, but rarely known thus), the invasion of southern Kyushu scheduled to begin on 1 November 1945, and “Coronet”, the Honshu landings planned for 1 March 1946, would have been the largest amphibious operations of all time. The US 3rd Fleet (covering force) and 5th Fleet (amphibious force) would employ more than 3,000 warships and attack transports, excluding inshore landing boats. Anglo-American naval strength in the Pacific in August 1945 included approximately 30 fleet carriers, 78 escort carriers, 29 battleships, more than 50 cruisers and 300 destroyers, and close on 3,000 large landing craft.

Landings on Kyushu would be made by LtGen Walter Krueger’s 6th Army, of three Marine divisions, one armoured division and nine infantry divisions. And although General Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, feared that “Downfall” (ie, both “Olympic” and “Coronet”) would cost at least 250,000 US casualties, a US War Department study of June 1945 predicted that the initial, critical, 30-day phase of “Olympic” should involve only c.30–35,000 casualties.

The Japanese hoped to destroy up to 50 per cent of the invasion force before it hit the beaches. And whatever proportion succeeded in landing would be opposed à outrance at the water’s edge. Imperial General HQ reasoned that only if the first of the amphibious assaults was bloodily repulsed might the Allies be brought to moderate their demand for unconditional surrender. All Japan’s limited resources must be devoted to this “decisive battle”, with little or nothing in reserve to counter later landings. Field-Marshal Hajime Sugiyama, overall commander of the final defence, 1st General Army HQ, Tokyo, decreed in mid- July: “The key to final victory lies in destroying the enemy at the water’s edge, while his landings are still in progress”.

In the summer of 1945, Japan had about 6 million men under arms, of whom some two-thirds were in isolated island garrisons, in Korea, or with the Kwantung Army in China-Manchuria, where a Soviet offensive might be expected. Regular Army forces in the home islands totalled c.2,350,000, with about 3 million Army and Navy auxiliaries (labour battalions and the like). FM Shunroku Hata’s 2nd General Army, with its HQ at Hiroshima, was responsible for Ketsu-Go Area No 6, embracing Kyushu, Shikoku and west Honshu; within this zone, the vital area of southern Kyushu was covered by the 14 infantry divisions and two armoured brigades (their AFVs near-immobilized by lack of fuel) of LtGen Isamu Yokoyama’s 16th Area Army.

Every man of military capability had now been drafted, but many newly-raised units consisted of ill- trained troops without adequate armament and sometimes even without full personal kit and uniforms. Transport was severely limited by a shortage of fuel, vehicles, mechanics, and even draught animals; communications were disrupted nationwide by the B-29 raids; and the paucity of adequate construction materials meant that beach defence works remained incomplete.

“One Hundred Million Will Die …!”

As early as 1944, Imperial General HQ had begun constructing a vast underground complex in the mountainous region of Matsushiro, central Honshu, with a similar refuge for Emperor Hirohito at nearby Nagano. While the great ones resisted to the last in this Japanese equivalent of Hitler’s mythical “Alpine Redoubt”, the ordinary civilians must emulate the aspirations (but not the almost non-existent exploits) of the German “Werewolf” guerrillas.

In November 1944, on pain of imprisonment in default, all Japanese male civilians between the ages of 14 and 61 and all unmarried females of 17–41 were ordered to register for national service as required. From this register, in June 1945, was drawn the Kokumin Giyu Sento-Tai (“National Volunteer Combat Force”), of ficially some 28 million strong. Cadres from Tokyo’s Nakano Gakko (“Army Intelligence School”) were sent throughout Japan – especially to Kyushu – to instruct this militia in the techniques of beach defence and guerrilla resistance, as laid down in the People’s Handbook of Resistance Combat.

Sustained by an individual ration of less than 1,300 calories daily – rice being often bulked out with sawdust or replaced by acorn flour – the unpaid militia, without uniforms but with armbands denoting combatant status, drilled with ancient rifles (one to every ten men); swords and bamboo spears; axes, sickles and other agricultural implements, and even long-bows, “effective at 50yds (45m)” according to the instruction manual. Empty bottles were collected to make “Molotov cocktails” and “poison grenades” filled with hydrocyanic acid; local craftsmen manufactured “lunge mines”, “satchel charges” and wooden, one- shot, black-powder mortars; and small-arms workshops, their labour forces decimated by dietary deficiency diseases, produced single-shot, smooth-bore muskets and crude pistols firing steel rods.

Those who lacked arms of any kind were told to cultivate the martial arts, judo and karate. Women were advised, with the endorsement of Empress Nagako, to wear mompei (the loosely-fitting pantaloons traditionally worn only by peasants working their fields), and were instructed on the efficacy of a kick to the testicles.

Thus, inspired by the spirit of the Special Attack Corps, the entire population of Japan stood ready to fight to the death. The slogan was displayed everywhere: “One Hundred Million Will Die for Emperor and Nation!”

The Last Kamikaze Hits

While most of Japan’s aircraft were reserved for use against an invasion fleet, a few kamikaze sorties continued to be made against Allied shipping in the Ryukyus. Most were flown by Shiragiku (“White Chrysanthemum”) units, so called because they were composed largely of venerable training aircraft; notably a purpose-modified kamikaze version of the IJN’s Kyushu K11W1/2 Shiragiku. IJA trainers such as the Kokusai Ki-86 (Allied codename “Cypress”), and Tachikawa Ki-9 (“Spruce”) and Ki-17 (“Cedar”), all three biplanes, took part in similar operations.

The last Allied warship sunk by a kamikaze aircraft fell victim to one of these veterans. From USN reports, which describe the attacker as a twin-float biplane of wood and fabric construction – and thus immune to proximity-fuzed shells – the aircraft that fell out of the sky over Okinawa at 0041 on 29 July 1945 to strike USS Callaghan was probably a Yokosuka K5Y2 (“Willow”). This flimsy machine, capable of only 132mph (212kmh) with a maximum bombload of 132lb (60kg), struck a ready-ammunition locker and triggered a chain of explosions and fires that sank the big destroyer, with 47 dead and 73 wounded, within 90 minutes. In a similar attack on the following night, another “sticks-and-string” kamikaze badly damaged USS Cassin Young.

It is generally accepted that the last Allied ship struck by a kamikaze aircraft was USS Borie (DD 704), damaged by the crash-dive of a lone “Val” while on radar picket duty for TF 38, as the carriers’ aircraft were launched off Honshu on 9 August. However, Inoguchi and Nakajima (see Bibliography) state that the attack transport USS La Grange was damaged by a kamikaze off Okinawa on 13 August. Also, it is possible that the Russian minesweeper T-152 (215 tons, 218 tonnes) was sunk by a kamikaze during Soviet landings on the northern Kuriles on 18–19 August, when a few suicide sorties are believed to have been flown by IJA aircraft from Shimushu Island.

“Body-Crashing”: the Ramming Interceptors

On 14 June 1944, Boeing B-29 Superfortresses struck for the first time at the Japanese home islands. Most early raids were made at high level (above c.30,000ft, 9150m), but although Japan’s air defence was deficient in both AA guns and aircraft with the speed and combat ceiling successfully to intercept the Superfortresses – of 414 B-29s lost, only 147 fell to Japanese interceptors or AA fire – it was felt that the results of such operations did not justify even the lowest loss rate.

Early in 1945, MajGen Curtis LeMay took over the Marianas-based 21st Bomber Command from BrigGen Haywood Hansell, adopting a policy of low-level incendiary raids at c.5–6,000ft (1500–1800m) by B-29s virtually unarmed for extra speed. By August, LeMay could claim that fire raids had completely shattered some 58 major cities and that by bombing alone Japan would soon be “beaten back into the dark ages”. Fire raids indeed caused far greater material and moral damage than the two atomic bombs: on 9–10 March, in a raid by 325 B-29s, 15.8 sq miles (41 sq km) of Tokyo were gutted and c.84,000 killed and more than 100,000 injured (compared to c.78,000 dead and 68,000 injured in the atomic blast at Hiroshima). In a fire raid on Toyama on 1–2 August, no less than 99.5 per cent of the city was devastated. And when Prince Konoye told the USSBS that the major factor in Japan’s decision to surrender was “fundamentally … the prolonged bombing by the B-29s”, he was speaking of the fire raids. One Japanese statesman, however, referred to the atomic destruction as “the big kamikaze that saved Japan”; meaning that the terrible civilian casualties sustained in just these two strikes afforded a decisive argument to the peace faction.

With fuel stocks low, factories and repair facilities dislocated, and many aircraft lacking trained pilots or held in reserve for the final kamikaze onslaught, the Japanese air arms proved unable to deal effectively with the low-level raiders and thus increasingly resorted to suicidal aerial ramming interceptions. Isolated instances had occurred earlier in the war. On 4 July 1942, Lt Mitsuo Suitsu, enraged when his naval air squadron’s field at Lae, New Guinea, was badly damaged by US bombers, fulfilled a vow of vengeance by destroying a Martin B-26 Marauder in a head-on collision with his Zero. The first Army pilot credited with such self-sacrifice was Sgt Oda who, also flying from New Guinea and unable to maintain the altitude conventionally to engage a B-17 that was “snooping” a Japanese supply convoy, brought down the Fortress by ramming with his Nakajima Ki-43 “Oscar”.

Tai-atari (“body-crashing”) tactics were not invariably fatal: a few US bombers were destroyed by Soviet-style Taran attacks, their tail assemblies chewed away by fighters with armoured propellers. USAAF personnel reported the first cases of what they judged to be deliberate ramming during a raid on the steel works at Yawata, Kyushu, on 20 August 1944. Of four bombers lost over the target area, one fell to AA, one to aerial gunfire, and two to a single Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Dragon Killer; “Nick”): the “Nick” rammed one B-29 and the debris of the two aircraft brought down another.

In February 1945, an IJA manual stated that against B-29s (and the expected B-32 Dominators, of which only a handful became operational) “we can demand nothing better than crash tactics, ensuring the destruction of an enemy aircraft at one fell swoop … striking terror into his heart and rendering his powerfully armed planes valueless by the sacrifice of one of our fighters”. The manual noted that only partly trained pilots need be used and recommended as rammers the Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki (Demon; “Tojo”) and Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (Swallow; “Tony”), on the dubious grounds that their designs gave the pilot a faint chance of baling out immediately before impact.

Earlier than this, in November 1944, the 2nd Air Army’s 47th Sentai formed the volunteer Shinten Sekutai squadron, dedicated to ramming attacks in “Tojos”. Their successes included the destruction of a B-29 over Sasebo on 21 November by Lt Mikihiko Sakamoto; another B-29 on 24 November (one of only two Superfortresses brought down in a 111-strong raid); and two B-29s (out of only six lost from a 172-strong force over Tokyo) on 25 February 1945. Fighters of the Kwantung Army also adopted ramming tactics, bringing down two B-29s over the Mukden aircraft works on 7 December 1944 and another on 21 December. On both occasions, Japanese aircraft also attempted air-to-air bombing, releasing time-fuzed phosphorus bombs above the US formations. At least one B-29 was destroyed by this method, which was also used in the defence of the homeland.

A less extreme measure than ramming was the formation at Matsuyama NAFB, Shikoku, in January 1945 of a fighter wing led by Capt Minoru Genda and including Saburo Sakai and other “aces”. Flying the Kawanishi N1K2-J Shiden (Violet Lightning: “George”) – probably Japan’s best interceptor; only c.350 were built – they achieved especially good results against Allied carrier strikes. On 16 February, WO Kinsuke Muto was credited with engaging single-handed 12 F6F Hellcats from USS Bennington over Atsugi, Tokyo, shooting down four and driving off the rest.

Attempted Aid from Germany

Unable to produce in sufficient quantity such advanced interceptors as the Kawasaki Ki-100 (396 of all models built), the Kawasaki Ki-102 (“Randy”; 238 built) and the Mitsubishi A7M3-J Reppu (Hurricane; “Sam”; prototype only), or to bring to operational status the Funryu (“Raging Dragon”) surface-to-air guided missiles, Japan sought German aid. Plans, and in some cases completed models, were acquired of the Bachem Natter, the Reichenberg piloted-bomb (built as the Baika), and the Messerschmitt Me 262 twin-engined jet fighter-bomber. A prototype based on the latter, the IJN’s Nakajima Kikka (“Orange Blossom”), flew on 7 August 1945; if production had been attained it was to have been deployed in concealed revetements as a “special attack” bomber.

A major effort at a point-defence interceptor was the joint IJN/IJA project for the Mitsubishi J8M1 (Navy) or Ki-200/202 (Army) Shusui (“Swinging Sword”), a near-identical version of the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. Rights to produce a version of the Komet’s airframe and Walter HWK 509A bi-propellant (T-Stoff and C-Stoff, which the Japanese called Ko and Otsu liquids respectively) rocket engine, with a completed example of the aircraft itself, were purchased as early as March 1944; but only one Walter unit and an incomplete set of blueprints reached Japan. Germany’s final effort to provide her ally with more material on the Komet and other “special weapons” was made on 2 May 1945, when U.234 (Cdr Johann Fehler) sailed from Norway for Japan with high-ranking Luftwaffe officers, technicians, and two Japanese scientists aboard. En route, Fehler received the news of Germany’s collapse and, as he headed for the USA to surrender his boat, both Japanese committed seppuku.

In Japan, training with the Komet-replica MXY8 Akigusa (“Autumn Grass”) glider began in December 1944. The first powered flight was attempted on 7 July 1945 at Yokoku airfield, Yokosuka. Successfully jettisoning the takeoff trolley, LtCdr Toyohiko Inuzuka had reached c.1,300ft (400m) when, probably because of a fuel line blockage caused by the steep climb, the engine flamed out and the Shusui stalled and crashed, mortally injuring Inuzuka. Later that month, an explosion of the volatile fuel mixture during ground testing killed another of the project’s officers. Many similar fatalities – especially during the hard skid-landings that often brought the liquid propellants violently together – had occurred in Germany, where the “Devil’s Egg” was regarded by many Luftwaffe personnel as semi-suicidal at best.

The Japanese rocket interceptor differed little from its German pattern. The J8M1 had a span of 31.2ft (9.5m), a length of 19.86ft (6.05m) and a height on its jettisonable trolley of 8.86ft (2.7m). Powered by a Toko Ro.2 motor giving 3,307lb (1500kg) thrust for up to c.5.3 minutes, it was estimated to be capable of a maximum 559mph (900kmh) at 32,810ft (10,000m); thus probably having a range at optimum flight profile of less than 60 miles (96km). Its armament was to be two wing-mounted 30mm cannon – although if the planned production of more than 1,000 examples by August 1945 had been achieved, it is likely that many would have been expended in ramming attacks after exhausting their ammunition of 50 rounds per gun. In the event, only seven Shusui, which were to have been operated by the 312th Naval Air Group, were completed by the war’s end.

Forlorn Hope – Suicide Weapon

ITALIA GERMANICA

A certain stability, or at least consistency, returned to Italy in the middle of the tenth century when Otto, the Saxon King of Germany, claimed the throne of Italy through his wife Adelaide (the daughter, widow and jilter of three previous kings of Italy) and made himself King of the Lombards. Following Charlemagne’s example, he travelled to Rome in 962 and had the pope crown him emperor, thus inaugurating three centuries of rule over Italy by three dynasties of German emperors – Saxon, Salian and Swabian (usually known as Hohenstaufen) – with brief interludes supplied by members of the Welf and Supplinburger families. The gallery consisted of one Lothair, two Fredericks, three Conrads, four Ottos and seven Henrys.

The rulers styled themselves rex romanorum et semper augustus (‘king of the Romans and ever emperor’), and the coronations that their realms required indicate both the complexity of their roles and the difficulty in fulfilling separate duties as kings of Germany, kings of Italy and Holy Roman emperors. After being elected by the German princes, they were crowned kings of Germany at Charlemagne’s beloved Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and became then also known as kings of the Romans. Later they crossed the Alps to receive the iron crown of the Lombards at Pavia, Monza or Milan. The last stage of the process was the journey to Rome, where they were crowned emperors by the pope.

The German Empire stretched from the Baltic and the North Sea to the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian. Such a distance, with a lot of mountains in between, forced emperors to spend long periods on the road. An emperor might be in Italy, quarrelling with the pope over ecclesiastical appointments, when an outbreak of civil war in Germany made him hurry northwards; after settling that crisis, he might have to scuttle back across the Alps to confront the rebellious cities of Lombardy or go even further south to deal with a military threat from Byzantium or the Norman kingdom of Sicily. Even so, emperors managed to find time for outside interests such as campaigning in Poland and participating in four of the Crusades. A predictable consequence of such frenetic activity was the neglect of Italy.

The emperors had their judicial and fiscal institutions in Italy; they also had their supporters among the magnates and bishops, whom they relied on for the administration of the cities. Yet the absence of their overlord enfeebled the institutions and the bishops and encouraged magnates to do what they liked to do anyway: plot and switch allegiances. Such a structure was ill-equipped to administer the new Italy of the eleventh century, in which agricultural wealth, the expansion of trade and a rise in population were transforming societies and economies. The growth and prosperity of the cities gave their citizens the desire and self-confidence to run the affairs of their own communes. Unwilling to accept that they should remain loyal to an absentee foreigner with doubtful rights of sovereignty, they were soon electing their own leaders, running their own courts and raising their own militias. The emperors, distracted by incessant wars in Germany, made concessions that left the communes virtually autonomous. By the late eleventh century their rule over the Lombard and Tuscan cities had become almost nominal.

Frederick Barbarossa (Redbeard), the Duke of Swabia who became emperor in 1155, was determined to reverse the drift. A relentless warrior, with grandiose notions of his rights and his dignity, he later became renowned as a symbol of Teutonic unity, a hero to German romantics and an inspiration for Adolf Hitler, who code-named his invasion of Russia ‘Operation Barbarossa’. He regarded the Ottos as successors to the Caesars and himself as successor to the Ottos. As he claimed his position to be equivalent to that of Augustus, he considered the kings of France and England to be inferior rulers. As for Italy, he was intent on reclaiming the so-called ‘regalian rights’ which lawyers in Bologna conveniently assured him he possessed. These included the rights to appoint officials in the cities, to receive taxes on fish and salt and to collect money from tolls and customs. He wanted the cash and was determined to get it; he also enjoyed the prestige acquired from the submission of others.

The defiance of Milan, the largest Italian city, inspired Barbarossa to invade Italy, which he did half a dozen times. His pretext – and perhaps it was a little more than a pretext – was that he was coming to the rescue of those pro-imperial towns, such as Como and Lodi, which earlier in the century had been devastated by the Milanese. He captured Milan in 1162 and destroyed it. He also obliterated the town of Crema, one of its allies, after besieging it with exceptional brutality: hostages from Crema were tied to the front of his siege towers so that the defendants could not avoid hitting their relatives and fellow citizens with arrows.

Barbarossa’s actions led to the foundation of the Lombard League, formed by sixteen cities in 1167 to defend themselves against his imperial armies. An early confrontation was avoided, however, when more urgent matters forced the emperor to return to Germany, and he did not come back at the head of a new army for several years. Despite the defection of a couple of cities, the League won a great victory against him in 1176 at Legnano near Milan, its infantry forcing Barbarossa’s German cavalry from the field. It was a historic moment for the peninsula, perhaps the most united moment between the death of Theodoric and the creation of modern Italy. When patriots of the nineteenth century scoured their history for heroic events to depict, Legnano was a popular choice for literature and painting; it also inspired one of Verdi’s least memorable operas, La battaglia di Legnano, in which the chorus opens the evening with the words

His humiliating defeat forced Barbarossa to negotiate, and at the Treaty of Constance in 1183 he conceded the rights of the communes to elect their own leaders, make their own laws and administer their own territories. Concessions made by his opponents were nominal or unimportant: among them were an oath of allegiance and a promise to give a sum of money to future emperors as they proceeded to Rome for their coronations. As the historian Giuliano Procacci noted, ‘the communes recognized the overall sovereignty of the emperor, but kept the sovereign rights they held’. Barbarossa died seven years later, drowned in an Anatolian river on his way to join the Third Crusade, but his Italian ambitions lived on in the person of his grandson, the Emperor Frederick II, who made equally futile attempts to cow the cities of northern Italy.

The wars between Barbarossa and the communes were part of a longer and wider struggle between the Holy Roman emperor and the papacy, which had supported the Lombard League. As with so many conflicts on Italian soil, this one thus became internationalized, several popes calling in German and French princes to assist their cause. Competing factions in the Italian communes soon acquired labels of bewildering foreign origin. Papal supporters were known as Guelphs, called after the Bavarian Welf family that produced Otto IV, briefly an emperor in the early thirteenth century, as well as, later and less relevantly, the Hanoverian kings of Great Britain. Their opponents, the pro-imperial Ghibellines, took their appellation from an even more obscure source, the Salian and later Hohenstaufen town of Waiblingen, a name sometimes used to denote members of the house of Swabia. In their endless medieval struggles, however, Italian Guelphs and Ghibellines were motivated far more by local factors than by remote loyalties to popes and German emperors.

When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, it was clear that the Franks, who had rescued the papacy from the Lombards, were the senior partners in the alliance. Yet Leo’s successors tried to reverse the roles by claiming the right to choose who would be emperor. By the eleventh century they were insisting that the emperors acknowledge they received their thrones from the pope, who, as Christ’s vicar on earth, was the highest authority in Christendom. Power was involved along with pride and prestige. Gregory VII, pope (1073–85) and later saint, insisted that only he had the right to invest the clergy with abbeys, bishoprics and other ecclesiastical offices: secular rulers who disobeyed him were excommunicated. The Emperor Henry IV, who planned to continue the policy of his father (Henry III) of appointing and dismissing popes as well as bishops, reacted by deposing Gregory and calling him ‘a false monk’. In retaliation the pope excommunicated the emperor and encouraged his subjects to rebel. Alarmed by threats to his rule in Germany, a contrite Henry then apologized to the pope, waiting for three days in the snow outside the castle of Canossa until Gregory finally absolved him from excommunication. Within three years, however, they were again at odds, and Henry was deposed and excommunicated once more. This time he responded by seizing Rome and setting up an anti-pope who crowned him emperor, but he was soon expelled by the real pope’s Norman allies, who burned much of the city. The feud between Henry and Gregory was not a unique one: these medieval centuries abound with examples of emperors dethroning popes and of popes deposing and excommunicating emperors as well as other monarchs.

Another ingredient in the dispute between pope and emperor was the status of the Norman kingdom of Sicily. The south of Italy was already very different from the north, more rural and feudal, more ethnically varied, its life determined by the Mediterranean and its peoples in a way unknown to the cities of the Po Valley with their ties to Europe beyond the Alps. Under authoritarian rulers, who liked to direct the economy themselves, and living uncomfortably beside a feudal baronage, the towns had little chance to prosper as their counterparts could do further north; the few that had recently flourished, such as the port of Amalfi with its merchants in Egypt and on the Bosphorus, soon withered. Like the north, the south had its Romans, Lombards and Franks, but it also contained large numbers of Byzantine Greeks and Muslim Arabs as well as a significant Jewish minority. This multicultural, multi-confessional amalgam was unexpectedly welded into a kingdom by a small band of knights from Normandy whose descendants ruled it, flamboyantly and on the whole successfully, for nearly 200 years.

Norman adventurers, seeking work as mercenary soldiers, had begun arriving in the south early in the eleventh century. Pope Benedict VIII hired some of them to fight the Byzantines in Apulia, and before long a few of the knights, notably the remarkable Hauteville brothers, were receiving lands from grateful employers. Fearing that these Normans were becoming too strong, a later pope led an army against them but was defeated and taken prisoner by one of the five Hautevilles, Robert Guiscard, in 1053. Making the best of it, the papacy agreed soon afterwards that, in return for recognizing papal sovereignty over the south, Robert Guiscard could call himself ‘Duke of Apulia and Calabria and future Duke of Sicily’. The adjective ‘future’ soon became redundant when the new duke, assisted by his equally talented younger brother Roger, advanced down Calabria and invaded Sicily in 1061. Thereafter, Robert Guiscard concentrated on conquering the mainland north, capturing Bari and ending Byzantine rule there in 1071, while Roger (later known as ‘the Great Count’) overcame the Arabs of Sicily, taking Palermo in 1072 and completing his conquest of the island in 1090. After the deaths of the two brothers, the Great Count’s son, another Roger, united the Hauteville territories and, following the capture of another pope, was recognized as Roger II, King of Sicily.

The new king was one of the finest rulers of the Middle Ages, a broadminded and farsighted man of wide culture and much administrative ability. He refused to join the Second Crusade because religious toleration was fundamental to his rule, and he insisted that the laws and customs of the peoples of his kingdom should be respected. Fluent in Greek and Arabic, he presided over the most intellectual and cosmopolitan court in Europe, and the architecture he loved – a blend of Saracen, Norman and Byzantine – is still visible in Palermo, in the Palatine chapel with its mosaics and in the red domes of the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti. He returned Sicily to the prosperity and influence it had not enjoyed since the days of the ancient Greeks – and to which it would not return again. He made of the Mediterranean’s largest island a microcosm of what the sea might be but very rarely is, a space where cultures, creeds and peoples meet in a climate of mutual tolerance and respect.

The popes treated the Normans much as they treated the emperors: cajoling and pleading when they needed them, fighting and trying to depose them when they did not. Robert Guiscard and Roger II both suffered excommunication. When the Hautevilles and the Hohenstaufen (Barbarossa’s family) became dynastically united in 1186, the hostility became almost permanent. Roger was succeeded by his son William I, another talented and successful Hauteville, unjustly known by his foes among the barons as William the Bad, and by his grandson, William II, called ‘the Good’ because he was more lenient to those perennially annoying subjects. Since Barbarossa after Legnano was no longer a threat to Italy, the second William decided to marry his aunt Constance to the emperor’s heir, the future Henry VI; as his own marriage was childless, a son of this union might thus add the crown of Sicily to the titles of King of Germany, King of Italy and Holy Roman emperor. The prospect of an emperor ruling lands both north and south of the expanding papal states naturally alarmed Pope Celestine III, who first promoted a rival claimant (an Hauteville bastard) to the Sicilian throne and then tried to thwart Henry’s plan to have his son Frederick elected King of Germany. He failed when Frederick was chosen by the electors at the age of two in 1196, but the deaths of the boy’s parents before he was four, together with Constance’s choice of the next pope (Innocent III) as her son’s guardian, postponed an inevitable struggle.

The infant became the charismatic Frederick II, a monarch whose cultural range makes his fellow rulers of the period seem brutal, boorish and philistine in comparison. Hailed as stupor mundi (‘the amazement of the world’), he was lauded in his time as a linguist, law-giver, builder, soldier, administrator and scientist; as an ornithologist he wrote a masterly book on falconry and dismissed the notion that barnacle geese were hatched from barnacles in the sea – an example of deductive reasoning rather than observation because he had no opportunity of studying the breeding habits of the geese inside the Arctic Circle. Yet the adulation, like the appellation, was excessive. The comparison with contemporary kings may stand, but he was not as wise a ruler or as cultured a man as his maternal grandfather, Roger II. He was justly famous as a champion of religious tolerance, yet his skills as a builder, architect and linguist have been exaggerated. In any case, whatever his talents, he failed to solve the three great inherited problems of his position: relations with the papacy, relations with the Lombard cities, and the relationship between Sicily and the empire.

Frederick antagonized the papacy early in his reign by crowning his baby son King of Sicily and, a few years later, making sure he was elected King of Germany. When he himself was crowned emperor in 1220, at the age of twenty-five, he assured the papacy that the crowns would remain legally separated. Yet the assurance did not convince a subsequent pope, Gregory IX, once a friend of St Francis and St Dominic but now a dogmatic and irascible leader of the Church. In 1227 he excommunicated Frederick after an outbreak of plague had forced the emperor to abandon a crusade; when the expedition was resumed a year later, the pope was so enraged that an excommunicant was leading it that he launched an invasion of Sicily while its king and his army were away campaigning triumphantly for Christendom. Frederick soon returned from the Holy Land, where he had crowned himself King of Jerusalem, defeated the papal armies and forced Gregory to come to terms and absolve him from excommunication.

The truce between the two men lasted for almost a decade after 1230, but the pope did not relinquish his ambitions to remove the Hohenstaufen from Sicily and to promote a new dynasty for the empire. Frederick’s invasion of Sardinia in 1239 gave him a pretext to excommunicate the emperor once again and build alliances with the pro-Guelph cities of the north. Gregory died in 1241, yet his vendetta was continued, with matching vindictiveness, by a successor, Innocent IV, who deposed Frederick, called him a precursor of the anti-Christ and urged the German electors to supply a new emperor.

Stupor mundi may have been unlucky in his relations with the papacy but he was unwise in his dealings with the Lombard cities. Claiming that northern Italy legally belonged to him, he was determined to succeed where Barbarossa, his paternal grandfather, had failed. In 1226 he summoned an imperial assembly to Cremona, most loyal of Ghibelline towns, and announced his intention ‘to restore regalian rights’. His ambitions predictably led to a revival of the Lombard League, and most of the Po Valley cities banded together to resist him for the last quarter-century of his life. Frederick defeated the League at the Battle of Cortenuova in 1237 but then overplayed his hand by demanding an unconditional surrender, which the cities refused to give him; the following year he was humiliated by his failure to capture Brescia after a lengthy siege. Despite military successes in 1240–41, when he captured parts of the Papal States, and in 1246, when he suppressed a rebellion in the south, the campaigns achieved nothing durable. Even more humiliating than Brescia was the siege of Parma in 1248, when the apparently beleaguered garrison unexpectedly stole out of the town and ransacked Frederick’s camp while he was out hunting.

The emperor died in 1250 and, after the brief reign of his son Conrad, his southern territories were claimed by his bastard child Manfred. Another talented descendant of the Hautevilles, Manfred was a poet, a scientist and a diplomat wiser than his father in his dealings with northern Italy. Yet Frederick’s death had not halted the papacy’s efforts to eliminate the house of Hohenstaufen and to find a new monarch for the kingdom of Sicily. In 1266, after the entreaties of several popes, Charles of Anjou, a brother of the French king, victoriously invaded: Manfred was killed in battle, and the last male Hohenstaufen, Conrad’s teenage son Conradin, was executed.

Charles made himself unpopular in Sicily, chiefly by transferring his capital from Palermo to Naples, and he was ejected by the islanders following the uprising in 1282 known as the Sicilian Vespers. In his place the throne was offered to King Peter of Aragon, whose wife was a daughter of Manfred. Peter’s acceptance and reign may have given some solace to supporters of the Hohenstaufen, but Aragonese rule presaged the long decline of the island. Already cut off from north Africa and the Arab world, it was now detached from France and Italy, although over the centuries the southern mainland – known as ‘continental Sicily’ – was from time to time reunited with island Sicily to be called eventually the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Yet from the end of the thirteenth century the island was effectively an outpost of Spain, tied torpidly to Iberia for over 400 years. Like Sardinia, it received viceroys but little attention from its Hispanic rulers.

Frederick’s rule had resulted in the extinction of his dynasty and the impoverishment of Sicily, which had to pay for his wars. Another casualty was the idea of uniting Italy under a single ruler, which is what he wanted and which no one tried to make a reality again for another six centuries. The beneficiaries of his failure were the cities of Tuscany and the north, which could now pursue their cultural and communal development – as well as their local rivalries – without much external interference. The defeat of a cultured monarch of the south thus led to a cultural efflorescence of the north.

Self-Propelled Mortar Carriers I

M21 Mortar Motor Carriage

An Australian 3 inch mortar carrier

Half-track carriers were one of the most versatile designs of all armoured fighting vehicles to be used during the Second World War. The Japanese Army had this type of vehicle, as did the French Army, but it was the German and American armies which developed their half-track vehicles to serve in a whole range of roles, from mounting anti-tank guns and field guns to serving as carriers for mortars. One of the first types to be developed for the mechanised infantry battalions of the US Army was the M4, which entered service in October 1941. It carried an M1 81mm mortar in a fixed mounting to allow it to fire rearwards from the back of an M2 half-track vehicle. Unfortunately this layout was not favoured, probably because the carrying vehicle had to be manoeuvred into firing position instead of simply being driven forward to open fire on targets, like standard self-propelled guns such as the M7 ‘Priest’ with its 105mm gun. A modification was made so that the crew could dismount the mortar in order to fire it on a baseplate from prepared weapon pits. The modified mounting corrected the drawback and fitted the mortar to allow it to fire forward from within the vehicle. It was operated by a crew of six men and carried ninety-six rounds for the M1 mortar, which comprised mainly HE but with some smoke and illuminating bombs. Between late 1941 and December 1942, the White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, produced 572 of these vehicles, which went on to serve in mainly the European theatre. The design weighed 7.75 tons, had an overall length of 19.72ft and could reach speeds up to 45mph on roads. It measured 6.43ft in width and 7.4ft in height and carried a .30in calibre machine gun for self-defence with 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Some vehicles were armed with the heavier .50in calibre machine gun, and the crew also had personal weapons.

Another variant was designated as the M4A1, and from May 1943 the White Motor Company built 600 of these vehicles. This was slightly larger and heavier weighing 8 tons but still carrying ninety-six rounds of ammunition for the M1 81mm mortar, which was mounted to fire forward. A crew of six operated the vehicle and weapons, which included a .30in calibre machine gun with 2,000 rounds mounted for self-defence. The M4A1 was 20.3ft overall in length, 7.44ft in height and 6.43ft in width. It could reach speeds of up to 45mph on roads. Together with its M4 counterpart, these mortar carrying vehicles served with armoured units such as the 2nd Armoured Division, nicknamed ‘Hell on Wheels’, from 1942 and later served across Europe after June 1944. Despite the successful development of these two types of mortar carrier, the Ordnance Department decided to re-evaluate the layout and develop a third type of mortar-carrying half-track based on a modified M3 half-track and conduct experiments with an 81mm mortar mounted to fire forward over the driver’s cab.

Field trials and firing tests proved this new layout to be superior to the M4 design in some respects, and in June 1943 it was standardised as the M21. The White Motor Company, with its experience in developing such vehicles, was awarded the contract to build the new design, and between January and March 1944 produced 110 units. Meanwhile, trials were continuing using an M4 half-track to mount a 4.2in (107mm) mortar for use with the chemical mortar battalions. Mobility and firing trials were conducted to assess the feasibility of this combination to lay smoke screens. The mounting was the same as that used on the 81mm mortar but the recoil forces of this heavier weapon proved too great for the vehicle’s chassis, the trials were suspended and the project dropped. Two other projects, known as T27 and the T27E1, using the M1 mortar mounted in the chassis of tanks, were examined, but these were terminated in April 1944. The T29 to mount an 81mm mortar into a converted chassis of an M5A3 light tank was another short-lived project which never got off the drawing board. The Ordnance Department then tried mounting the 4.2in mortar on the M3A1 half-track, and this proved much better. For some reason the design team appears to have reverted to mounting the mortar to fire rearward out of the vehicle and the configuration was designated T21. A change of design to mount the mortar to fire forward resulted in the designation T21E1, and even mounting the weapon into a the chassis of an M24 light tank was considered, but it was not pursued and the complete project was dropped shortly before the end of the war in Europe in 1945. Two other proposals for self-propelled mortar carriers were the T36 and T96 projects. The T36 suggested mounting a 155mm mortar in the chassis of an M4 Sherman tank and the T96 a 155mm mortar onto the chassis of the M37 gun carriage. They were good ideas but by the time these proposals were put forward the war was coming to an end and the projects were dropped.

The M4, M4A1 and M21 mortar carriers were based on the M2, M2A1 and M3 half-tracks respectively, of which some 60,000 of all types were built. They served in various roles, including self-propelled gun and anti-aircraft gun platform with quadruple-mounted .50in calibre heavy machine guns known as the M16. There were also communications vehicles in this range. The White Motor Company built the prototype of the M21 in early 1943 as the T-19 and, following successful trials, it was standardised in July the same year. It was accepted into service in January 1944 and among the units to receive the vehicles was the 54th Armoured Infantry Regiment of the 10th Armoured Division, which later saw heavy fighting during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The M21 had a crew of six to operate the vehicle, mortar and the machine gun for self-defence, while frames on the side of the vehicle allowed mines to be carried which could be laid for defensive purposes in an emergency. The vehicle had a combat weight of 20,000lbs (almost 9 tons) with an overall length of almost 19ft 6in. The height was 7ft 5in and it was almost 7ft 5in at its widest point. The barrel of the M1 81mm mortar was supported with a bipod and a special baseplate mounting which allowed it to be fired from the rear of the vehicle. A total of ninety-seven rounds of ammunition were carried and included smoke, illuminating and high explosive rounds. A store of forty rounds of ammunition was kept in lockers either inside the hull where the crew could access it easily ready to use. A further fifty-six rounds were kept in storage lockers, twenty-eight rounds either side of the hull, which could be loaded into the rear of the vehicle to maintain levels of ammunition ready to fire. This arrangement was the same on the M4 and M4A1 vehicles. The mortar of the M21 could be traversed 30 degrees left and right; for greater changes the vehicle had to be manoeuvred to face the direction of the target. The mortar could be fired at the rate of eighteen rounds per minute to engage targets at ranges of almost 3,300 yards with the high explosive rounds. The barrel could be elevated between 40 and 85 degrees to alter the range. The .50in calibre machine gun was fitted on a pedestal mount to the rear of the vehicle and a total of 400 rounds of ammunition were carried. From there the firer could traverse through 360 degrees to provide all-round fire support. The vehicle was only lightly armoured up to a maximum 13mm thickness.

The M21 was fitted with a White 160AX six-cylinder petrol engine which developed 147hp at 3,000rpm to give speeds of up to 45mph on roads. Fuel capacity was 60 gallons and this allowed an operational range of 200 miles on roads. The front wheels were operated by a standard steering wheel and the tracks were fitted with double sets of twin bogies as road wheels, larger ‘idler-type’ wheels at the front and rear of the track layout and only one return roller. The open top of the vehicle could be covered by a canvas tarpaulin during inclement weather and this could be thrown off quickly when going into action. Although only few in number, together with the more numerous M4 and M4A1 mortar carriers, the three designs provided excellent mobile fire support to infantry units wherever required. All three designs were equipped with radio sets to communicate and receive orders as to where to deploy if needed to fire against targets. Some units of the Free French Army were supplied with some fifty-two examples of the M21 self-propelled mortar vehicles, which were used during the European campaign.

One armoured unit, the 778th Tank Battalion, recorded of the mortar carriers attached to D Company in December 1944 that the fire support they provided was ‘instrumental on several occasions in assisting the advance of the infantry by placing fire on enemy gun positions and strongpoints that could not effectively be fire upon by other weapons’. The account continues by stating how ‘the two … mortar platoons, from advantageous positions on the west side of the Saar River placed harassing fire on the city of Bous, on the east side of the river. The platoon fired an average of 350 to 400 rounds per day into the city’. Continuing in their support of D Company, the mortar carriers fired from elevated positions at Bisten from where they suppressed German positions. Another armoured unit, the 746th Tank Battalion, was provided with fire support from mortar carriers and the unit recorded how these vehicles were able to ‘fire support to [cover] advance infantry elements in many instances when tank fire cannot be employed successfully’. This account continues by recording how self-propelled mortar carriers ‘were attached to an infantry regiment and further attached to one battalion and the assault company thereof. By following closely behind the advancing infantry, the mobile mortars lay down covering fires within their maximum range before displacing to the next bound. In some actions, the mortar carriers have backed down the axis of advance from one bound to another.’ Yet despite the mortar carrier’s effectiveness in supporting advances at very close quarters and keeping up with the advance, by the end of the war some officers in armoured units dismissed their usefulness. There were plans to develop the M21 vehicle to carry the larger 4.2in calibre mortar but it never entered service.

During its rearmament programme the German Army investigated the possibility of using half-tracked vehicles, and the way in which they could be developed into a variety of roles to support troops on the battlefield. By the time Poland was attacked, the German Army was equipped with several versatile designs of armoured half-tracked vehicles, mostly serving in the primary role of transporting troops on the battlefield and a secondary role as communications vehicles. Production of these designs continued so that several months later, when the blitzkrieg was launched against Western Europe in May 1940, the fleet of half-track vehicles was even larger. The two most widely-used types were the SdKfz 251 and the smaller SdKfz 250, which went on to prove itself to be no less versatile than its larger counterpart. In fact, by the end of the war in 1945; the SdKfz 250 had been developed into no fewer than twelve different configurations.

The German Army was quick to realise that light armoured half-track vehicles could be used on the battlefield as flexible workhorses. Of all the designs to enter service, it was the SdKfz 251 series, weighing 8.7 tons in its basic APC version and capable of carrying ten fully-equipped infantrymen as well as the driver and co-driver, which would prove invaluable in many campaigns, including North Africa. From the very beginning it complied with the requirements calling for an armoured vehicle capable of transporting infantrymen on the battlefield. Known as the Gepanzerter Mannschraftstran-portwagen (armoured personnel carrier) when it was first proposed in 1935, the vehicle quickly took shape and in 1938 the prototype was ready for field trials. It was produced by the companies of Hanomag and Bussing-Nag, which built the chassis and hulls respectively, and the vehicle was given the title of Mittlerer Schutzenpanzerwagen (medium infantry armoured vehicle) with the designation of SdKfz 251. The first vehicles were in service in 1939 and some were used during the campaign against Poland. Production was low at first, in fact only 348 were built in 1940, but there were enough numbers to be used during the campaign in the west in 1940. The SdKfz 251 was fitted with a Mayback HL42 TKRM six-cylinder water-cooled petrol engine which developed 100hp at 2,800rpm to give road speeds of up to 34mph, which was more than sufficient to keep up with the tanks in the armoured divisions.

The APC version was 19ft in length, 6ft 10in in width and 5ft 9in in height. The vehicle could cope with vertical obstacles up to 12in in height, cross ditches 6ft 6in in width and had an operational range of 200 miles on roads. Armour protection was between 6mm and 14mm, but the rear crew compartment where the infantry sat had no overhead protection, which exposed the troops to the elements and also the effects of shells exploding overhead. Two machine guns, either MG34 or MG42, were fitted to allow one to fire forwards from behind a small armoured shield and the weapon at the rear was fitted to a swivel mount to provide fire support for the infantry as they exited the vehicle. Being open-topped, the infantry could jump over the sides to leave the vehicle or exit through the double rear doors. The machine guns, for which 2,000 rounds of ammunition was carried, could be taken from the vehicle when the infantry deployed.

Self-Propelled Mortar Carriers II

8cm Schwerer Granatwefer 34 auf Panzerspahwagen AMR 35(f)

Type 4 Ha-To 30cm special mortar carrier.

The SdKfz 251 was developed into a range of different purposes, from ambulance duties to anti-tank roles. By late 1944, around 16,000 vehicles had been built to serve in no fewer than twenty-three different roles. Depending on the role, each version had a different length of service life, but if they were capable of continuing to operate they remained in use. In fact, examples were still in operation right until the last days of the war at a time when fuel was extremely scarce. One of the earliest variants to be produced was the SdkFz 251/2, which was the mortar-carrying version, weighing 8.64 tons and equipped to carry the 8cm GrW34 mortar. Being open-topped, the weapon could be fired from within the vehicle, firing forward, and a separate baseplate allowed it to be dismounted for use from prepared positions. The vehicle in this role was operated by a crew of eight, available in the heavy platoon and known as Great 892 (Equipment 892). It carried sixty-six rounds of ammunition ready to use and was supported in turn by the SdKfz 251/4 version, which could carry resupplies of ammunition or even tow the heavy GrW42 12cm mortar.

The other half-track vehicle developed into a mortar carrier was the SdKfz 250, which was built by the company of Bussing-NAG, which developed the armoured body, and several other manufacturers including Wegmann and Deutsche Werke. Although the design had been thoroughly tested in the field throughout 1939, there were insufficient numbers ready to enter full operational service on the outbreak of war. In fact, the SdKfz 250, originally referred to as Leichte Gepanzerte Kraftwagen, did not enter service with the German Army properly until 1940, by which time it was known as the Leichte Schutzenpanzerwagen (light infantry armoured vehicle). Although it was not in service for the Polish campaign, there were sufficient numbers in service to be used during the attack against Holland, Belgium and France, where they were used in roles such as reconnaissance, command and communications. After this initial battle-proving deployment, the SdKfz 250 went on to see service on all fronts during the war, including North Africa, Italy and Russia.

The basic model was an armoured personnel carrier designated as the SdKfz 250/1, operated by a crew of two (driver and commander). In this role it was capable of carrying four fully-equipped troops with support weapons, such as crew for mortars or machine guns. This version was armed with two machine guns, such as the MG42, for which some 2,000 rounds of ammunition were carried. The basic version SdKfz 250 was almost 15ft in length, 6.4ft in width, but the height varied according to the role in which it was serving and the armament carried. The standard version had a combat weight of 5.5 tons, but, again, this varied according to armament and other equipment, such as the mortar carrier which weighed 5.61 tons. The armour thickness was from 8mm minimum to 15mm maximum.

The vehicle in all its variants was powered by a Maybach HL42 TR KM six-cylinder water-cooled inline petrol engine, which developed 100hp at 2,800rpm and gave a top speed of just over 40mph on roads. The vehicle had an operational range of over 180 miles on roads and it could negotiate vertical obstacles up to 15in, ford water obstacles shallower than 27in and scale gradients of 40 degrees. The front wheels were not ‘driven’, being used for steering purposes only. The automotive power was to the front drive sprockets on the tracks and the suspension was of the FAMO type, and whilst the vehicle was itself efficient it was somewhat complicated to maintain. This was a telling point in the sub-zero conditions on the Russian Front after 1941. In total, twelve variants were developed from the basic version and included an antitank gun version, specialist engineer versions, signals vehicles, ammunition carrier with ordnance troops and was even used by the Luftwaffe. Most, but not all, versions of the SdKfz 250 were open-topped, which was perfect to allow fire support weapons such as the GrW34 8cm mortar to be mounted and create a variant known as the SdKfz 201/7 or Great 897 (Equipment 897). These were operated by a crew of five and available to the fourth platoon of the Leichter Panzer Aufklarungs, or light armoured reconnaissance vehicles. A total of forty-two rounds of ammunition were carried on the vehicle ready to use and the mortar could be dismounted to be used to provide fire support in prepared positions. It was supported by a version termed munitionsfahrzeug (ammunition vehicle), which was operated by four men and carried sixty-six rounds of ammunition to resupply the mortar carrier. It was armed with two machine guns for self-defence with 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

In addition to using its own standard mortar-carrying vehicles, the German Army also converted a number of captured French armoured vehicles to the role of self-propelled mortar carriers. These they armed with either German service 8cm sGrW34 mortars or captured French-built Brandt weapons. French tanks such as the AMR35 had their turrets removed and the chassis converted to other roles such as self-propelled guns and mortar carriers. In May 1940, the French Army had about 200 AMR35 tanks in service, mostly armed with a 37mm gun in a fully traversing turret, but there were also other variants. After the French surrender, all surviving examples and variants captured by the Germans were converted into other uses, which included carrier vehicles for the standard German Army 8cm sGrW34 mortar. In this role they were designated as 8cm schwere Granatewerfer 34 auf Panzerspahwagen AMR35(f), which identified it as a heavy armoured self-propelled mortar carrier.

The conversion was achieved by first removing the upper superstructure including the engine covering, and this was replaced by an open-topped fighting compartment into which was mounted an 8cm GrW34 mortar fitted on a race-ring mounting to allow it to be fired in any direction without having to manoeuvre the vehicle. The rear of the compartment was open but could be closed off with a door to protect the crew. The conversion gave it a larger profile than the original design but the engine and all other automotive parts and road wheel layout remained unchanged. This gave the vehicle a road speed of 31mph and an operational range of 120 miles. It was operated by a crew of four, which included the driver, and a secondary armament of a single 7.92mm calibre MG34 machine gun was fitted for self-defence. A supply of ready-to-use ammunition was carried on the vehicle and resupply vehicles would have brought forward replenishment stocks. Records show that around 200 such vehicles were converted to this role and used only in France, where they could be deployed in response to threats. The conversion would have been completed at workshops in France, but it is not clear if any of these vehicles participated in the fighting after the Allied landings in Normandy from 6 June 1944 onwards.

It would seem likely these would almost certainly have been deployed at some point against the Allies because it would make no sense to develop such weapon systems and not use them. It may be that some of these self-propelled mortar vehicles were used in the fighting during the Normandy campaign, but due to the low production numbers they have been overlooked in favour of the more widely-used vehicles such as the true self-propelled guns and tanks. The person responsible for developing these systems and other selfpropelled weapons was Major Alfred Becker, who was a professional soldier, having served in the First World War. He was an engineer who excelled in developing hybrid systems such as these, using captured stocks of enemy equipment. He commanded the Sturmgeschutz-Abt 200, equipped with selfpropelled guns of his design, as part of the 21st Panzer Division, seeing much action in Normandy. He served with distinction and developed other systems until his capture in December 1944.

One of the most unusual conversions to serve as a mortar carrier was based on the French SOMUA MCL half-track personnel carrier, which became known as the Mittlerer Schutsenpanzerwagen S307(f), work on which began in 1943. The vehicle was modified to its new role by mounting two rows of eight barrels of 81mm captured French Army mortars stacked on a mounting to the rear of the vehicle. The tubes were pre-loaded and could be fired simultaneously to produce an instant bombardment. Reloading the tubes would have taken time and rate of fire would have been a lot slower than using a conventional mortar firing from a prepared position. In total some sixteen of these vehicles were available in 1944, but their fate is not known. A heavier version was produced, also based on the SOMUA MCL, which mounted twenty barrels of 81mm Brandt mortars in a similar array, and this was known as the Schwerer Reihenwerfer auf SPW SOMUA S303(f). These vehicles served in France, but, again, it is not known conclusively if they were deployed in action against the Allies after June 1944.

Captured armoured vehicles were dispatched to various theatres of operations, including Finland and Norway. Others such as the French Char B-1 bis, known in service with the German Army as the Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f), were sent to the Channel Islands and the Eastern Front, which represented the opposite extreme edges of the territory under German occupation. In the Channel Islands, some French tanks had their turrets removed to be incorporated into defence plans. Other vehicles which could have been converted to use as mortar carriers included the UE630, which the French Army used as a transport vehicle for supplies, and the Unic-Kègresse half-track, yet despite their suitability neither these nor apparently any other French vehicles were armed to serve as self-propelled mortars carriers.

The French Army had never deemed it necessary to develop a self-propelled mortar system using any of the weapons in service; after all they had good artillery and armoured units. The Italian Army did not develop a selfpropelled mortar system and relied on artillery and the mortars used by the infantry units. After 1943, when Italy capitulated to the Allies, the German Army seized many armoured vehicles and took these into service. Unlike the French vehicles which they converted to other uses, the Italian vehicles were used in their primary roles. The Soviet Red Army did not develop a selfpropelled mortar system either and relied on self-propelled guns and vehicles which towed the heavy calibre mortars on wheeled carriages. The Japanese Army did experiment with self-propelled mortars for a while and developed the Type 4 Ha To. This used a Type 4 Chi-To medium tank which was converted to allow a 300mm calibre Type 3 heavy mortar to be mounted to fire forward. It could fire a 374lbs HE bomb out to ranges of 3,300 yards, but the design was unstable and the vehicle proved liable to toppling over due to its height. In the end only three prototypes of the Ha To were produced and these never saw combat service.

British and Commonwealth forces did not show much interest in developing a self-propelled mortar version based on an armoured vehicle design. Some feasibility experiments were conducted to examine the viability of producing such a variant, but ultimately the research did not lead to the introduction of a vehicle-mounted mortar in the same way as used by the American and German armies. One experiment which did lead to the production of a self-propelled version of the British 3in mortar was based on the Universal Bren Gun Carrier. This was developed by the Australian Army, which had already modified some Universal Carriers to mount 2-pdr anti-tank guns, and using this as a starting point they fitted a 3in mortar to the vehicle. The weapon could be fired directly from the vehicle or dismounted and used from a prepared defensive position. The mortar had a full 360-degree traverse capability if required, which meant the vehicle did not have to manoeuvre to alter the range of traverse beyond the angles which could be achieved in the bipod mounting. In terms of range, this configuration was comparable to the standard infantry mortar and fired the same bombs. In the end it was never taken into service with the Australian Army, but around 400 examples are understood to have been produced and these were sent as part of the military aid to support the Nationalist Chinese Forces of Chiang Kai Shek in the fighting against the Japanese.

It seems strange that the British Army should not pursue the development of a self-propelled mortar vehicle, especially when it developed a range of specialist vehicles for other roles to clear minefields and close support tanks armed with large calibre guns. These were developed in the build-up for the invasion of Europe to support the landings. They were known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’, after Major General Percy Hobart who thought up some of the designs. Hobart was a military engineer who had served in the First World War, seeing action in France. During the 1920s, he developed an interest in tank designs and armoured warfare tactics. He retired in 1940 under duress, following a conflict of opinions concerning his designs for armoured vehicles and their role. Hobart initially joined his local Home Guard unit, but in 1941 he was re-instated and given the job of training the 11th Armoured Division. Further positions followed and in 1942 he was given the role of training the newly-created 79th Armoured Division. After the disastrous failure of Operation Jubilee, the Allied attack against Dieppe on 19 August 1942, where none of the tanks were able to get off the beach, he set about developing a series of specialist armoured vehicles designed to support future amphibious landings. What Hobart developed included bridge-laying vehicles, flails to breech minefields and flame throwers. These were to prove vital during the D-Day landings and campaigns across Europe. For some reason self-propelled mortars were not developed. One can only conclude that with SPGs such as the Sexton, with its 25-pdr field gun, and the M7 ‘Priest’, with its 105mm gun, Hobart did not feel it necessary to build a design around the British 3in mortar.

Battle of the Colline Gate (82 BC)

(82 BC, November 1) – First Civil War

Carrinas, Censorinus and Damasippus made a last effort to relieve Praeneste from the north, in conjunction with the Samnites who were trying once more to break through from the south. This attempt too failed, and so it was decided to try a diversion by marching on Rome itself, which now lay almost empty of both men and supplies, in the hope of drawing Sulla out of his impregnable position. By the early morning of 1 November the Italian force had reached a point just over a Roman mile from the Colline Gate. But although Telesinus may have made a speech urging his men to destroy the wolf in its lair, he made no attempt to take the city. No doubt, whatever his ultimate intentions may have been, he realized that it would be not only pointless but dangerous to allow his men to be distracted by the delights of sacking Rome while Sulla was still in the field. So the Samnites and their allies waited for Sulla to appear.

Sulla had sent a squadron of cavalry ahead while he himself hurried in full force down the Via Praenestina. About noon he encamped near the temple of Venus Erycina. The battle began in late afternoon, against the advice of some of Sulla’s officers, who thought that the men were too tired. The right wing, commanded by Crassus, won an easy victory, but the left, under Sulla’s own command, broke. Sulla risked his life in trying to rally his forces but they fled, despite his despairing prayers to Apollo, towards the city. Sulla was forced to take refuge in his camp, and some of his men rode for Praeneste to tell Afella to abandon the siege, though Afella refused to panic. But when Sulla’s fleeing troops reached the gates of Rome the veterans dropped the portcullis, compelling them to stand and fight. The battle continued well into the night, as slowly but surely Sulla’s men gained the upper hand, until finally they captured the Samnite camp. Telesinus himself was found among the dead, but Lamponius, Censorinus and Carrinas escaped. Later still messengers came from Crassus, who had pursued the enemy as far as Antemnae, and Sulla learned for the first time of his success.

The generals of Carbo’s faction fled after their army had been destroyed. It was estimated that in all about 50,000 men were slain. In the aftermath of Sulla’s narrow victory his enemies were rooted out one by one and eliminated, leaving him with the absolute power of a dictator.

Its aftermath was marked by yet more bloodshed. The Samnites who fought with the Marians were systematically massacred. A full attack was launched against Praeneste; Marius committed suicide, and all his associates who happened to be in the city were massacred. It was the opening act of the organised massacre known as the first `proscription’, which was accompanied by a law (the lex Cornelia de proscriptione) that legalised the confiscation of the patrimonies of the victims and gave impunity to their killer. Proscriptions were to become a trademark of late Republican history.

The success of Sulla’s campaign, with major efforts being concentrated on two fronts-Campania and Praeneste-was made possible only by the contemporaneous parallel victories of the Sullan generals on other fronts. In northern Etruria and in Aemilia Metellus countered the attacks of Carbo, while Pompey and Crassus obtained crucial victories against Carbo himself and C. Carrinas. Sulla’s direct involvement on this front appears to be limited to a single military confrontation with Carbo, near Clusium.

This city was certainly loyal to the Marians, who used it as a pivotal point for the movements of their troops. The allegiance of the Etruscan cities to the anti-Sullan coalition is widely accepted, and con? rmed by the available evidence, which however fails to be satisfactory in many respects. It has been argued that Cinna managed to obtain the support of the elites, while the lower classes had wholeheartedly supported Marius, perhaps being attracted by the prospect of serving in his army. The evidence, however, is almost non-existent, and we also lack any information about the dissensions that may have arisen within the Etruscan elites about their attitude towards Sulla. It is beyond dispute, nonetheless, that some groups of the aristocracy managed to reach an agreement with the winner as soon as the outcome of the war became clear.

What was left of the army of the Mariani after the Colline Gate battle was disbanded in Etruria. The war, however, continued on several fronts, as the literary sources on one hand, and the archaeological evidence from a number of sites on the other show. From the literary accounts of the war, it is apparent that Clusium and Arretium had an important role in the development of the operations. Populonia was besieged and sacked, almost certainly by Sulla. The Acropolis, which had gone through an impressive renovation in the last decades of the second century BC, was abandoned from then on. The site still looked almost depopulated in the early fifth century. Telamon, although not a municipium, was ravaged, and traces of a sack, followed by a prompt reconstruction, have been recently detected at Saturnia. The extent of violence and human losses finds further confirmation in the four coin hoards datable to the late 80s that have been discovered in Etruria.

Volaterrae came into play at a late stage of the war, as the last stronghold of the diehard enemies of Sulla, both Etruscans and Roman victims of the proscriptions. It was, along with Nola, one of the last fronts Sulla had to deal with before concentrating all his energies on the institutional reforms. From a passage of the pro Roscio Amerino we know that he was still besieging the city in the first months of 81BC, soon after the beginning of the proscriptions. A passage of Licinianus, whose importance was rightly stressed by A. Krawczuk, dates the final conquest to 79BC, during the consulship of Appius Claudius Pulcher and Servilius Vatia. A number of proscribed were still in the city, and left just before the besiegers arrived. However, they were promptly caught and eliminated. The siege of Volaterrae is therefore a significant exception in Italy, which was mostly pacified after 82BC. For three years, possibly until Sulla’s abdication from dictatorship, an important Etruscan city was still held by a contingent of rebels; there is no reason to disbelieve Licinianus.  That the situation at Volaterrae was unparalleled in Italy is apparent from several pieces of evidence. Nola, the other main anti-Sullan city, was conquered about two years before, in 81, and its ager was promptly assigned to the Sullan veterans. On the contrary Volaterrae attracted all sorts of anti-Sullan partisans because of its strategically invaluable position, and it remained a critical front for a longer period.

Battle of Colline Gate 82 BC – Command & Colors Ancients

Libyan Civil War I

To get a grasp on the recent history of Libya and its various conflicting groups one must go back to the military coup of 1969. In this year little known Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi took power and began the transformation of Libya into Islamic Socialist state or his version of it. While he implemented housing, health care and educational programmes at home his erratic approach to foreign policy quickly led to conflict with neighbouring Egypt in the 1977 border war and a series of unsuccessful campaigns in fellow neighbouring Chad throughout the 1980s. Small detachments of Libyan troops were also sent to try help ldi Amin during the successful Tanzanian invasion of Uganda in 1979. Gaddafi longed for international recognition and in a sense wanted to become a figure head of a global anti-imperialist movement buying favour and donating arms throughout the middle east and Africa. His arms shipments to the Irish Republican Army in the late 80s and other guerilla groups around the world are well documented. The US conducted a series of air-raids in 1986 in response to Libyan night club bombing in West Berlin in the same year. Other out rages would follow over the years the worst being the Lockerbie bombings which destroyed Pan-Am flight 103 over Scotland. Libya became further isolated but could obtain arms form various nations. While Gaddafi stock piled millions of dollars worth of Tanks, APCs, SPGS and fighter aircraft from Russia, Europe, Brazil and North Korea he lacked the personnel to use it properly . Gaddafi was never really in a position to be a conventional threat in the region. With the Arab spring revolution came to many North African states, in Libya the uprising started in Benghazi in February 2011 . These protests were put down by the army with 290 shot, but only spread to other cities such as Misrata, Al-Bayda and Tobruk soon these towns were firmly in rebel hands. NATO air strikes quickly turned the tide against Gaddafi’s armoured forces destroying Libyan T-72s and Palmaria SPGs on the move to Benghazi. The Libyan rebels took to their land cruisers and pick-ups with various light anti-aircraft guns and brought the war to the capital Tripoli ultimately capturing and killing Gaddafi who had been found hiding in a drainage pipe, a pitiful end for the once great dictator . Democracy did not break out in Libya however and various factions now tried to take power uniting only briefly to defeat ISIS in the city of Sirte in 2016. Since then Libya has been split between Egyptian backed Military strong man Field Marshal Hifter and the House of Representatives , the Government of National Accord led by Al-Sarraj and the General National Congress led by Al-Ghawil backed by hard line militias, not to mention Al Qaeda and ISIS remnants. Whatever the outcome of Libya struggle remains to be seen at this time, but the vast collection of pick ups, gun trucks, tanks and Mad Max vehicles will surely not remain idle for long.

Libyan Civil War II

To get a grasp on the recent history of Libya and its various conflicting groups one must go back to the military coup of 1969. In this year little known Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi took power and began the transformation of Libya into Islamic Socialist state or his version of it. While he implemented housing, health care and educational programmes at home his erratic approach to foreign policy quickly led to conflict with neighbouring Egypt in the 1977 border war and a series of unsuccessful campaigns in fellow neighbouring Chad throughout the 1980s. Small detachments of Libyan troops were also sent to try help ldi Amin during the successful Tanzanian invasion of Uganda in 1979. Gaddafi longed for international recognition and in a sense wanted to become a figure head of a global anti-imperialist movement buying favour and donating arms throughout the middle east and Africa. His arms shipments to the Irish Republican Army in the late 80s and other guerilla groups around the world are well documented. The US conducted a series of air-raids in 1986 in response to Libyan night club bombing in West Berlin in the same year. Other out rages would follow over the years the worst being the Lockerbie bombings which destroyed Pan-Am flight 103 over Scotland. Libya became further isolated but could obtain arms form various nations. While Gaddafi stock piled millions of dollars worth of Tanks, APCs, SPGS and fighter aircraft from Russia, Europe, Brazil and North Korea he lacked the personnel to use it properly . Gaddafi was never really in a position to be a conventional threat in the region. With the Arab spring revolution came to many North African states, in Libya the uprising started in Benghazi in February 2011 . These protests were put down by the army with 290 shot, but only spread to other cities such as Misrata, Al-Bayda and Tobruk soon these towns were firmly in rebel hands. NATO air strikes quickly turned the tide against Gaddafi’s armoured forces destroying Libyan T-72s and Palmaria SPGs on the move to Benghazi. The Libyan rebels took to their land cruisers and pick-ups with various light anti-aircraft guns and brought the war to the capital Tripoli ultimately capturing and killing Gaddafi who had been found hiding in a drainage pipe, a pitiful end for the once great dictator . Democracy did not break out in Libya however and various factions now tried to take power uniting only briefly to defeat ISIS in the city of Sirte in 2016. Since then Libya has been split between Egyptian backed Military strong man Field Marshal Hifter and the House of Representatives , the Government of National Accord led by Al-Sarraj and the General National Congress led by Al-Ghawil backed by hard line militias, not to mention Al Qaeda and ISIS remnants. Whatever the outcome of Libya struggle remains to be seen at this time, but the vast collection of pick ups, gun trucks, tanks and Mad Max vehicles will surely not remain idle for long.

Sulla Marches on Rome

Sulla Marches on Rome

However, during that year a tribune and former associate of Drusus, Publius Sulpicius Rufus, clashed with Sulla and his colleague Quintus Pompeius Rufus over Italian voting rights. The new Romans had found their brand-new citizenship a rather dilute thing as they had been allotted to ten tribes (and hence ten votes). As their champion Sulpicius proposed to reform the tribal system and enrol the new citizens in the thirty-five old tribes so that their right to vote would not be utterly vitiated.

Up against stiff senatorial opposition and needing further support for his reforms, Sulpicius adopted a more radical stance and allied himself with Marius, who in turn wanted the tribune’s help to obtain the lucrative command against the Pontic king. Violence erupted on the streets of Rome and Pompeius Rufus’ son, who was related to Sulla by marriage, was one of the victims. During the rioting Sulla himself was forced to seek refuge in Marius’ house, later managing to flee the city. Sulpicius was now in power and his programme of measures, including the bill transferring the eastern command to Marius, was passed by vote of the people. The septuagenarian general had stepped down from command during the later stages of the Social War pleading age and fatigue, but the glory and booty that would result from a successful campaign in the richest area of the Graeco-Roman world were undoubtedly great inducements for a second comeback.

When a tribune had done something similar in 107 BC, taking the command against Iugurtha from Metellus and handing it to Marius, Metellus had acquiesced in the decision of the people, whatever sense of outrage he may have felt. The response of Sulla, now at Nola preparing to depart for the east, was to be entirely different and revolutionary.

With his soldiers behind him, Sulla marched on Rome and after a few hours of street-fighting imposed martial law for the first time in Roman history; Sulpicius and Marius were declared hostes, or public enemies. Sulpicius was hunted down and killed, but Marius, after a series of hair-raising adventures that saw him outfacing contract killers, made a spectacular escape to Africa where he was persona grata among the settlements of his own veteran soldiers.

Sulla had earned the dubious distinction of being the first man to march his legions against Rome, and Appian recalls his justification for doing so:

When Sulla discovered this [i.e. the transfer of the eastern command to Marius], he decided to settle the matter by force and summoned his army to a meeting, an army that was eagerly anticipating a profitable war against Mithridates and thought that Marius would enlist other men in their place… . [Sulla] immediately placed himself at the head of six legions. Except for one quaestor, the officers of his army made off to Rome because they could not stomach leading an army against their own country. On the way, Sulla was met by a deputation who asked him why he was marching under arms against his native land, and he replied, ‘To free her from tyrants’.

Appian, Bellum civilia, 1.57

Appian waxes lyrical here, but it is clear that the event was traumatic as all Sulla’s officers bar one refused to march with him, the rest resigning their commands and hurrying to the defence of the city. What had changed was not the attitude of the army and its officers, but that of their general. Sulla had dared to do what others scarcely dared to dream.

First Civil War

The following year Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a popularis, and Cnaeus Octavius, an optimate, were returned as consuls. Octavius was a tractable man, but Cinna attempted to re-enact Sulpicius’ legislation on the voting rights of the new citizens. He also recalled Marius, but was driven out of Rome along with six of the tribunes by his colleague, who supported the status quo – namely not allowing the new citizens to be fairly distributed among the voting tribes.

Washing up outside Nola, where the Social War still flickered, Cinna appealed to the one legion Sulla had left to continue the siege, and also to the rebel Italians within. In the meantime, after long months brooding in Africa, Marius had landed at Telamon in Etruria. Recruiting a personal army of slaves, he joined forces with Cinna, and then turned on Rome. There Marius quickly introduced tribal reform, and even granted the unbending Samnites full citizen rights. Psychotic with rage and bitterness, he then ordered Rome to be systematically purged of anti-Marians, including Octavius, along with six consulares, Marius’ old campaigning colleague Catulus among them. But the main opponent, his erstwhile protégé Sulla, had already gone east with five legions to fight Mithridates.

The capstone of this orchestrated bloodbath was that Cinna and Marius made themselves, without the formality of an election, consuls for the coming year. Marius had held the consulship an unprecedented six times. He liked to claim that a fortune-teller in Utica had promised him a seventh. Early in 86 BC Cinna (cos. II) and Marius (cos. VII) tightened their grip on Rome. However, Marius quickly abandoned himself to alcohol abuse and nightmares. A fortnight later he was dead.

The following year Cinna chose Cnaeus Papirius Carbo, who had been a praetor during the Social War, as his colleague, and the two would remain self-appointed consuls until 84 BC, a period known as dominatio Cinnae. They appointed censors so as to begin a full registration of new citizens, and a detailed reorganisation of local government in Italy now commenced, and would continue for decades.

Sulla Marches on Rome, Again

Out east in the meantime Sulla had won a number of spectacular successes against Mithridates and against the Marian commander Caius Flavius Fimbria, sent by Cinna to replace him. Fimbria had fought well against Mithridates too, but in 85 BC lost his army to Sulla and committed suicide. In 84 BC Sulla held a summit with Mithridates himself. Both men had good reason to come to an agreement. Mithridates, knowing the game was up, was desperate to keep hold of his kingdom. Sulla, nervous of his enemies back in Italy, was eager to head home. The hurried result was the Peace of Dardanus, which not only allowed Mithridates to remain on the throne of Pontus but also to retain some of his territorial gains. The cold-blooded murder of 80,000 Italians was conveniently forgotten. Yet the time would come when Rome would regret that Mithridates had not been finished off for good.

Sulla’s troops spent a luxurious winter in the fleshpots of Athens, binding them more closely to him. The relationship between political and military power was abundantly clear to the successful and ruthless Sulla, and it was now that the victorious proconsul dispatched an ominous letter to the Senate. The government he had established before his hurried departure had collapsed and Sulla himself had been declared a hostis at the behest of Marius and Cinna, his property razed, his family forced to flee. ‘However’, as Appian says about Sulla and his outlaw status, ‘in spite of this he did not relax his authority in the least, since he had a zealous and devoted army’. Now that Mithridates had been tamed, Sulla prepared to embark his loyal troops and turn his vengeance back on his native city.

At Rome events moved on apace. While Sulla was talking peace with Mithridates, Cinna (cos. IIII) had been stoned to death by his own troops during a mutiny, thus leaving Carbo (cos. II) as the sole consul for the rest of the year. Carbo, struggling with a moderate majority in the Senate and despite having pandered to the newly enfranchised communities, was eventually forced to take hostages from many towns and colonies in Italy to ensure their loyalty in the coming showdown with Sulla. As the acceptable face of the Cinnan régime, Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiagenus and Caius Norbanus were returned as consuls for the coming year.

Early in 83 BC Sulla landed at Brundisium (Brindisi), and large numbers of senators and sons of senators flocked to his side, including the young Pompey. Unlike his first march on Rome, when only a single officer had accompanied him, Sulla’s entourage was now thronged with members of the nobilitas. By changing the rules of the political game, civil wars encouraged even more exceptional careers among those who supported the winning side and, as we shall later discover, that of Pompey was to break all records. Alas for the losers there was no such luck: Scipio Asiagenus’ soldiers judged they would do better to serve under the lucky Sulla.

In 82 BC Caius Marius minor, not yet 27 years old, was consul alongside the veteran Carbo (cos. III), and they attempted, through a Marian–Cinnan coalition, to reassert control after a string of defeats. Despite many of his father’s veterans coming to his standard, Marius was eventually holed up in the hill town of Praeneste, some 40 kilometres east of Rome. Once again the Samnites, for the last time in history, marched down from their mountains and entered the war. They joined a Marian cause already on the point of collapse, but failed to lift the siege, and then, with the sudden realisation that Rome lay unprotected to their rear, abruptly turned and marched on the capital. Abandoned by his new allies, Marius minor committed suicide, while Sulla, surprised by the Samnites’ action, pursued them at frantic speed. Throwing his exhausted army into battle outside the city walls, by dawn on 2 November he emerged unbeaten from the bloodbath of Porta Collina. It had been a close call. The Samnites had marched on Rome not from loyalty to old Marius’ memory, but ‘to pull down and destroy the tyrant city’.

Marius in the Political Wilderness

With six consulships and two triumphs, Marius had created an extraordinary precedent. He was now a man above the system, a forerunner of Pompey and Caesar. However, at the time Marius’ unconstitutional position did have a certain amount of logic to it as he was no revolutionary and the system had worked to his advantage. The other extraordinary aspect was the temporary nature of Marius’ influence.

There is an old Latin expression gladius cedet togae, ‘the sword gives way to the toga’. If a man would be great, he must be great at home too. After his defeat of the northern tribes, Marius was hailed by the people as the third founder of Rome, a worthy successor to Romulus himself and Camillus – the old saviour from the war with Brennos the Gaul, the sacker of Rome. However, the year 100 BC, the year of his sixth and penultimate consulship, saw the great general fail disastrously as a politician. Marius would desert the tribune who had aided him, Saturninus, and stand by as an angry mob lynched him and his supporters.

The firebrand Saturninus had been re-elected as one of the tribunes for the coming year, proposing yet more radical bills, but the Senate, who saw the spectre of tribunician government raise its ugly head again, called on Marius to protect the state. Having restored public order under the terms of a senatus consultum ultimum, both literally and efficaciously ‘the ultimate decree of the Senate’, the veteran general subsequently saw his popular support slip away. The nineties BC were to be a decade of political infighting of the most extreme sort, and one of its first victims, according to Plutarch, was Marius. Yet his actions in 100 BC can be seen as a bungling attempt to announce his arrival to the nobility of Rome. Of interest here are Sallust’s remarks concerning the monopoly of the nobilitas on the consulship:

For at that time, although citizens of low birth had access to other magistracies, the consulship was still reserved by custom for the nobilitas, who contrived to pass it from one to another of their number. A novus homo, however distinguished he might be or however admirable his achievements, was invariably considered unworthy of that honour, almost as if he were unclean.

Sadly for Marius, to the nobilitas he would always be, despite his unprecedented six consulships and two triumphs, a novus homo. Despised by the inner élite and shunned by the equestrians and the people, Marius was now cast into the political wilderness. In early 98 BC Metellus Numidicus was recalled from exile – Saturninus had orchestrated this for Marius two years previously – and Marius, having tried to delay the return of his one-time patronus, admitted defeat and scuttled off to Asia ‘ostensibly to make sacrifices, which he promised to the Mother of the Gods’. The following year he did not stand, as was expected, for the censorship, a clear sign that he was not in the political spotlight.

Marius wanted to beat the nobilitas at their own political game, substituting self-made support for their inherited connections. Showing little flair for politics, it did not occur to him – as it would have done to Sulla and Caesar – that the rules of the game could not be changed. Though connected to the equestrians by birth and interests, and favouring the welfare of soldiers (including Italians, whom he truly valued as allies), he had no positive policies or solutions for the social problems of the day. As an individual he was superstitious and overwhelmingly ambitious, but, because he failed to force the aristocracy to accept him, despite his great military success, he suffered from an inferiority complex that may help explain his jealousy and, later, his vindictive cruelty. Yet he marks an important stage in the decline of the Republic: creating a client army, which Sulla would teach his old commander how to use, he was the first to show the possibilities of an alliance between a war leader, demagogues and a noble faction. His noble opponents, on the other hand, in their die-hard attitude both to him and later Sulla, revealed their lack of political principle and loss of power and cohesion.