The unusual, if not the downright crackpot, appeared in the early days of the anti-tank missile age. This era stretched throughout the 1950s, with the level of wild optimism running fairly evenly all the way. It is perhaps worth noting that the first French missiles began to be generally available to the buying public in the late 1950s and from then on the rush of inventions took a more sober line as actual experience was gained with proper hardware. But with no real experience behind them, some designers were carried away by strange ideas. In 1952 the US Army Chief of Ordnance put a good deal of money into a device called Cannonball, also known as the D-40, with the intention of getting about twenty-five missiles and some associated ground equipment with which to evaluate the project.
He was backing a long-odds outsider because the D-40 had the strangest background of any anti-tank missile, for it had started life in the Navy as a submarine-launched, anti-ship weapon system. One would expect something out of the ordinary from such a beginning, and one would have been quite right. D-40 was a true ball, about 24inch diameter. There were two varieties, a 300lb test model controlled by radio and a 150lb tactical version controlled by wire. The whole idea is best summed up in the words of an official document of 1955.
The D-40 is a subsonic, short range guided rocket utilizing manually operated radio or wire command guidance along a line-of-sight course. The missile may be either ground or ship launched and is propelled to the target by a solid fuel rocket exhausting through a radial jet. The missile is spherical to eliminate aerodynamic effects from the control system. Stabilization in roll, pitch and yaw, is effected by properly placed jets exhausting tangentially in response to signals from three reference gyros operating in conjunction with relays and solenoids. Guidance is achieved by applying correcting signals to shift the contact locations on the gyros, thereby changing the average orientation of the main jet and the flight of the missile.
Which puts it all into one neat package.
To expand a little on the rather bald official description, I should mention that there was one main propulsive jet and three pairs of stabilising jets. In flight the ball did not roll and it remained in the air by virtue of the fact that the main jet pointed downwards at an angle of 45° so that half of the jet’s thrust supported the weight and half pushed it along. The stabilising jets maintained the delicate balancing act. It flew at 280mph to a range of 3,000yd over land, but only 1,000yd over water, taking, it should be noted, a rather leisurely 18.5 seconds to do the land journey and considerably less for the over-water flight. Guidance was by means of a joystick in the operator’s hand and he sighted the target through a powerful optical system. The real merit of Cannonball lay in its warhead which was either a 5olb shaped charge or a 65lb squash head. Either was more than enough to destroy any tank that it hit. The warhead and the guidance electronics were carried in a cylinder running right through the middle of the ball, rather like the core of an apple, with an impact fuze set in the outer shell. The rocket motors were carried in the outer part of the apple, surrounding the core, and the jets were in a circle round the equator. The launch platform was a simple two-armed bracket which held the ball horizontally until it shot itself off. The Navy was concerned to have some sort of autoloader for underwater firings.
At least fifty of these unusual missiles were fired between 1953 and 1956, all in conditions of great secrecy. They did what was expected of them and the whole programme looked most promising, but costs had risen three or four times above the original estimate, and the Army was having doubts about handling the beast in the field, so it was reluctantly dropped.
On October 9 the 14th Fighter Group’s luck was about to change. Fighter Command had assigned the group to protect a British convoy consisting of the cruiser HMS Carlisle and the destroyers Panther, Petard, Rockwood and the Greek destroyer Miaolis.
The convoy was sailing through the straights between Scarpanto and Rhodes, their ultimate destination Alexandria. That morning, Major William Leverette led two flights of P-38s to rendezvous with the conv oy at midday. Two planes developed engine problems and had to return to base, so Leverette was reduced to seven fighters. He led Red Flight’s four P-38s, while Blue Flight’s three airplanes rounded out the patrol.
It was almost noon when Leverette spotted the convoy, which was under attack at that very moment by a swarm of Stuka 87 and Stuka 88s. Before the P-38s were in firing range they could see the damage that the Stukas were inflicting on the hapless convoy. The Stukas were diving down like angry birds of prey, dropping their bombs with seeming impunity. One German bomb scored a direct hit on a destroyer, causing the British vessel to break apart and sink.
The Stuka pilots had little time to savor their triumph, because the avenging P-38s were on them a moment later. There were at least 30 Stukas and seven P-38s, but the Germans planes were no match for these forked- tailed furies. This is not to say they w ere defenseless, for they had wing cannons and a rear gunner, but by the same token, they were no Messerschmitt Bf 109s.
For the next few minutes the blue Aegean skies were filled with dozens of aircraft twisting, turning, gaining altitude then plunging downward, the pilots per forming air pirouettes in a deadly ballet of life and death. It was less a dogfight than an unequal, one-sided slaughter. The P-38s had a field day, effortlessly downing German dive bombers with short, staccato bursts from their guns. Machine gun bullets, including 50-caliber slugs, tore into Stuka fuselages, soon causing the gull-winged aircraft to burst into flames and spiral down into the dark, wine-colored sea.
When it was over, no fewer than 16 German Stukas had been destroyed, and the surviving convoy ships made it to Alexandria safely. Major Leverette downed no fewer than seven Stukas, an impressive total by any standard. But after a few days the Americans withdrew their fighters.
An American pilot was to make his own daring kill in Mediterranean skies. During 1943, from their base in Tunisia, Lockheed P-38 Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group were tasked with offering protection to the many convoys suffering the attentions of Luftwaffe bombers. In one notable mission on 9 October 1943, three of the Group’s P-38s, led by Colonel William Leverette, attacked a formation of Junkers Ju 87s. After shooting down six of the dive-bombers, Leverette found himself on the tail of another Stuka, only to discover that his guns were now empty. With his final burst having already silenced the enemy’s rear gunner he decided that he should close with the Ju 87. As the gap between the aircraft shrank he then lined up his propeller with the Ju 87s rudder, and just as it bit into the rudder he cut his throttle and allowed the blades to slice large pieces from the unfortunate aircraft. As the Ju 87 lost control and spiralled into the sea, Leverette had accounted for his seventh victim of the day (his final score by the end of the war would eventually climb to 11).
The 37th FS arrived back at Sainte Marie du Zit on October 12 1943: without the Lightnings, British forces in the Aegean would once again be at a disadvantage when dealing with the Luftwaffe.
Bill Leverette was subsequently decorated for his achievement. Later, his CO, Oliver B `Obie’ Taylor, wrote:
“Bill’s exploits on this day established what turned out to be a theatre record, for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross. “I tried unsuccessfully to persuade XII Bomber Command that Bill should get the Medal of Honor. Of course the DSC was subject to meeting pretty stiff requirements and something of a rarity itself.”
Fifty years after the event, Bill Leverette learnt from a former squadron colleague that the 37th FS had gone into action with just 350 rounds of .50-cal ammunition per gun, as opposed to the standard 500 rounds. When enough rounds had been expended, causing ammunition to fall below a certain level, g-forces could affect the feed, resulting in a stoppage. To alleviate this, rounds were removed to enable wooden blocks to be placed at the bottom of the ammunition trays.
Bill lamented: “I was credited with seven Stukas destroyed, or 50 rounds (per gun) per kill, on average. Another 150 rounds (per gun) would have meant another three kills, at least.
Throughout World War II the schism between those who campaigned in the East and the Pacific and those who fought in Europe remained open and divisive. Not only did the US Army concentrate its fullest attention upon Europe, it tended to allow its South-West Pacific component to wage a war of its own in alliance with the Australians, the New Zealanders and the US Navy. That suited General MacArthur, whose mission of vengeance against Japan was all-consuming. It also led to improvisations, which unified co-operation between Services and Allies might have averted. Similarly, the British forces in India, Burma and the Indian Ocean often regarded themselves as ‘forgotten’ by London, at least until Mountbatten was sent out to form a new South-East Asia Command in October 1943. Meanwhile the US Navy, of its own choice playing only a supporting role in Europe, sometimes lost contact with developments taking place there and went its own way in splendid pursuit of its own greater glory
For example, shortcomings in the Solomons apparently failed to fix in Admiral Turner’s mind the crucial importance of beach reconnaissance, pilotage and obstacle clearance. The reckoning, as mentioned earlier, came during the successful but costly invasion of Makin in November 1943, which he considered ‘my poorest appraisal of beach areas for a landing during the whole war… The Red beaches were just plain stink profumo. That’s why I pushed the development of Underwater Demolition Teams [UDT] so hard.’ This amazing admission indicates how Turner was not only unaware of the techniques already practiced by COPP and their kin for Torch, Husky, Baytown and Avalanche, but was also in ignorance of US Navy work for over a year at Fort Pierce, Florida. Already created for Europe were Beach Jumper Teams equipped with powerful demolition devices, such as Reddy Fox, a 50–100 foot long pole, filled with 28 pounds of tetrytol, which could be floated into position, sunk and then detonated, and Hot Dog, a smaller version of Reddy Fox.
Be that as it may, Turner, appalled at the difficulties of pushing Amtracks through unbreached reefs and enemy booms and barricades at Makin, now opted for what he called ‘swimming scouts’. In a letter to Admiral King on 26 December 1943 he asked for the urgent formation of nine UDTs, and, a few days later, for the setting up of an ‘Experimental and Tactical Underwater Demolition Station’. Needless to say this was easily and promptly arranged. Within four weeks UDTs, manned by navy personnel, nearly all of whom were Reservists, were at work in the forefront of the action at Kwajalein as part of Operation Flintlock. They swam ashore in daylight from LCVPs and LVTs, thoroughly protected by a typical Turner blasting operation as ‘reef-hugging battleships’ pounded the Japanese defences so hard that the demolition teams were undetected by a cowed enemy. The first assault waves on 1 February 1944 met nothing to impede their landing.
UDTs had come to stay. At Saipan in June 1944, in Operation Forager, they turned in a classic performance. Here Turner had them reconnoitre beach boundaries, blast gaps through the reefs and open channels for subsequent assault waves and the armada of landing craft and LSTs bringing in reinforcements and supplies. Without UDTs the whole schedule would have been set back and enemy resistance dangerously prolonged.
The attack on Guam, a month later, probably witnessed UDTs at the peak of their usefulness. Here they worked for three days and nights, closely protected by gun-fire, removing and demolishing elaborate man-made obstacles and blowing aside tons of reef. Extracts from the report of UDT 3 (under Lieutenant R. F. Burke) give some indication of the variety, labour and danger of their task:
Operation delayed due to grounding of LCI348 on reef. After attempts to remove the LCI, which taken under heavy mortar fire by enemy, it was decided to abandon it and crew was removed by UDT 3’s boat No. 4.
3 LCPRs sent to reef edge under heavy fire cover (sometimes within fifty yards of the swimmers) and smoke screen and launched five rubber boats. 150 obstacles removed using 3,000 pounds Tetrytol… The enemy had placed obstacles in an almost continuous front along the reef. These obstacles were piles of coral rock inside a wire frame made of heavy wire net. Dispatched all UDT Boats to respective beaches to guide LCMs and LCTs with tanks ashore over reef.
Yet it is noteworthy that the complete abandonment of stealth and the three-day bombardment in support of the UDTs ‘tipped off’ Turner’s plan to the enemy, prompting the Japanese commander to re-deploy his troops in those sectors where assault had been so clearly advertised.
Detached from European practices and US Navy and Marine expertise, and faced with the task of a major invasion of the Philippines, Lieutenant General W. Krueger’s Sixth US Army had to create its own equivalent of Amphibious Recon Patrols, Commandos and COPPs. Lacking Marines or OGs, Sixth Army called for volunteers who would scout ahead in parties of one officer and six enlisted men. Applications came from almost every unit and were given the evocative frontier title of ‘The Alamo Scouts’. Within six weeks their own training centre had done its work and 66 physically fit and indoctrinated men were braced to the task of scouring coastlines and inland defences for enemy troops. They were instructed to find and report, but to avoid fighting except when trapped.
The Alamo Scouts were soon overtaken by the crowd. No sooner were they ashore on Leyte than they found themselves in company with Filipino guerrillas led by Americans. Within a few days or even hours of reconnoitring the beaches another specialized unit was close on their heels. 6th Ranger Battalion was also a Krueger improvisation, trained to ruthless commando standards within a mere three weeks, because by now all the short cuts had been discovered by their predecessors in Europe. But they were recruited in a unique way, for Krueger simply nominated 98th Field Artillery Regiment for the job, placed it under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H. A. Mucci, the ex-Provost Marshal of Honolulu, and told him to replace those who did not want to volunteer from a long list of those from elsewhere who did. Miraculously and by sheer hard work, an artillery unit which had manned pack guns in the New Guinea campaign was turned into spearhead infantry and found itself nominated to seize, on 17 October, the islands of Dinagat, Suluan and Homonhon which lay across the approaches to the main assault area. Because prolonged occupation of the islands was not envisaged, these were not hit-and-run operations in the true sense of the term, although the orders issued had that flavour. Enemy radio installations and gun positions were to be destroyed, documents and codes captured.
When the time came to land there was but little opposition. At Sulunan the Japanese shot once, killing one Ranger, and then ran into the jungle where they were hunted down. Neither was there any resistance at Dinagat, where guerrillas had killed the enemy, with the result that Rangers were first to raise the Stars and Stripes again on the Philippines and free to erect the navigation devices which, on the 20th, guided the invasion fleet to its main assault position. Subsequently, in January 1943, a Company of 6th Rangers, working with Filipino guerrillas and Alamo Scouts, won considerable credit and fame with a long-distance mission to rescue American prisoners of war from Cabanatuan Cavo, 35 miles behind the enemy lines. It was foot-slogging all the way with not a boat in sight, but it enabled 6th Rangers’ group to hit a high spot in history by bringing some 500 fellow Americans safely out, ambushing and killing over 400 Japanese for the loss of only two Rangers and one Scout killed. Thereafter this unit continued to operate exclusively in the infantry spearhead role on land, in much the same way as had its sister battalions in Europe. It was a remarkable feat by an artillery unit to acquire so rapidly more skill and dash than that of ordinary infantry units with more experience in the art. Was it just the name ‘Ranger’ which inspired them? The fact remains that, when assigned the task of spearheading 37th Infantry Division in the assault on Manila’s walled city, they were denied the honour because ‘they had already had too much publicity’.
The crew of Krait during Operation Jaywick
While the American Army fighting the Japanese improvised its raiding forces on the spot, Dutch, Australians and British built up theirs with ready-made bricks such as British Army and Royal Marine Commandos sent to India for use in Burma and elsewhere as spearhead units. Of the many operations attempted, most were inland, often across rivers. Here only those carried out independently at sea will be described, with pride of place given to the dedicated Australians, several of them 18-year-olds who had never before been to sea, who carried out Operation Jaywick against shipping in Singapore harbour after a voyage of over 2,000 miles from Western Australia in an old Japanese-built fishing boat renamed Krait.
Major I. Lyon, Gordon Highlanders, and Lieutenant D. M. N. Davidson, RNVR, were the brains behind Jaywick and it took them more than a year to complete its triumphant execution. Certainly it required a lot of imagination to swallow a plan which involved such a long journey through Japanese-dominated waters to launch three Folbots into a protected harbour with a view to fastening limpets on ships whose presence was no better known beforehand than that of the location of enemy defences. But Jaywick was an act of faith carried out with an unavoidable lack of information by men to whom risk was second nature, against an enemy to whom such attack was unimaginable. Setting out from Exmouth Gulf on 2 September 1943, and flying Japanese colours, Krait reached the ‘thousand islands’ of the Rhio archipelago in good order on 23 September and disembarked six men in three Folbot canoes who hid up on one of the islands. On the night 26/27 September they penetrated the encouragingly lax defences of Singapore Harbour. One canoe entered the inner Keppel Harbour, the other one fixed limpets on shipping anchored off nearby islands without serious challenge. At 0500 hours next morning all six men, exhausted by hard paddling, were hiding on an adjacent island listening to the thud of exploding limpets which accounted for seven ships of about 33,000 tons, including a fully loaded 10,000-ton tanker. By good fortune and much determination they managed to paddle for the next three days to their rendezvous with the Krait and, after 33 days in Japanese territory, returned to Australia, having survived investigation by a rather uninquisitive enemy destroyer on the way.
Jaywick ranks with Frankton and Sunbeam A as among the most successful of canoe operations, and was also perhaps the luckiest. Both Lyon and Davidson were given to taking extravagant risks, venturing forth with a minimum of intelligence and creeping up, as Davidson did, on the tense crew of the Krait at the RV just to find out ‘how well prepared they were’ and nearly being shot for his stupidity. Both were equally obsessed with the idea of striking at Singapore, and that obsession led to Operation Rimau (Tiger), one that was even more perilously based on chance, the chance that 15 unreliable, electrically-powered submersible canoes (known as ‘Sleeping Beauties’) would be better than Folbot canoes, and that a party of 22 men, carried in cramped conditions aboard the submarine HMS Porpoise to the vicinity of Singapore, could hijack a junk, transfer the Sleeping Beauties and 11 Folbots to her and then raid the harbour.
Some measure of the wishful thinking which went into the planning of Rimau can be gauged from Dick Horton’s description of the Sleeping Beauties, which had only two speeds, full ahead at four knots and half-speed.
How it was expected to cope with the tides off Singapore, which ran at over six knots, had been left to fate. Steering and elevation was by means of an aircraft type ‘joystick’ [like the Welman submarine] and on a panel in front of the operator was a compass which was unusually highly inaccurate.
Amazingly they managed to capture a 100-ton junk, Mustika, on 28 September and transfer everything to her in two nights’ working, before Porpoise cast off for another task. After that nothing went right. The Mustika was intercepted by Malay police and the crew gave themselves away. Lyon had her sunk and took to the Folbots in an attempt to paddle the long distance to the pick-up point at Merapas Island. They might have made it if the submarine assigned to make the pick-up (not Porpoise) had stuck to plan, but she did not and, again to quote Horton, ‘no explanation of this has ever been given’. As it was, an intensive Japanese search gradually rounded them up, killing Lyon, Davidson and a few others, bringing 11 survivors to Singapore where one died of malaria and the rest were put on trial and finally beheaded on 7 July 1945.
With the death of Lyon and Davidson, no more Rimau-type amphibious operations were attempted. Dutch and Australian parties, most of the latter drawn from the Independent Companies, concentrated on the vital acquisition of information and the spread and support of clandestine activities in the Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea, Papua and Northern Borneo. They employed hit-and-run techniques but mostly left the hitting to guerrilla bands under SOE control, as did their counterparts in South-East Asia Command.
When Mountbatten assumed command of South-East Asia Command in October 1943, he brought with him that vibrant dynamism for which he was renowned, plus the operational and administrative techniques he had developed as CCO. SEAC, he said, would deal directly with Combined Operations. To make sure, he co-opted several tried members of COHQ Staff. Without the same sense of personal involvement as MacArthur, Mountbatten’s task in the Far East was still one of vengeance. Just as the Americans desired to reconquer the Philippines to wipe out the stain of the 1942 defeats at Bataan and Corregidor, so the British and Dutch were determined to recapture Burma, the Malay Peninsula and the Netherlands East Indies. But although many British viewed the capture of Singapore as an important stepping stone to the Philippines, the only strategic importance the Americans attached to the role of SEAC was the seizing of Upper Burma in order to open up land communications with China. As a result the maritime side of Mountbatten’s task initially took second place to the extension of operations southwards. In consequence it was not until August 1944 that the Small Operations Group (SOG) commenced what were, essentially, reconnaissance missions related to Operation Zipper – the projected invasion of Malaya which would come second only to Overlord in magnitude.
The Allies were all agreed that Colonel Donovan’s OSS was to be prevented from taking a strong part in Zipper in the same manner as they were restrained from ‘assisting’ MacArthur and Nimitz. Fear of American interference in the delicate Indian political scene prompted Mountbatten to copy European methods by placing OSS under SOE, and then ensuring that neither organization received much priority or help. Relatively few agents were inserted to stimulate the activities of Anti-Japanese Forces (AJF) and the flow of supplies was kept extremely low. Even at their peak in 1945, only 276 tons were delivered to SOE throughout SEAC, compared with 506 tons to Scandinavia and 1,147 to Yugoslavia. OSS agents took virtually no part in raiding (and in none at all of the amphibious type) since OGs were excluded, as they continued to be within the commands of Nimitz and MacArthur.
Strict control was also imposed on the British Small Operations Group which began to assemble in Ceylon in April 1944 under Lieutenant-Colonel H. G. Hasler. Consisting, to begin with, of COPPs 7 and 8, which had arrived in India in the latter half of 1943, on 12 June it was ‘officially formed’ under Colonel T. T. Tollemache. It soon expanded to include four COPPs, three sections of SBS who were all Army Commandos, Royal Marine Detachment 385 and the Sea Reconnaissance Unit of long range swimmers, drawn from all three branches of Service. Apart from the fact that RM Detachment 385 and the COPPs were not parachute-trained, the functions of the four types of units overlapped, although the COPPs tended to specialize in tasks demanding thorough off-shore survey and navigation.
It is not the intention here to deal with the scores of raids classified as Force Commander Operations – that is, those carried out under Fourteenth Army, XV Corps or Force W which could be a beach reconnaissance, a fighting patrol, a ‘snatch’ of an enemy prisoner, or co-operation with local guerrilla bands. Mountbatten had specified in Operational Directive No. 14 that the SOG would provide small parties of uniformed troops ‘to operate against enemy coastal, river or lake areas’, of which there were plenty in South-East Asia, and that they would ‘NOT be qualified to work as agents’. First among the tasks they would undertake were ‘Reconnaissance of enemy beaches, seaward approaches, beach exits and coastal defences’. Second, ‘Small-scale attacks on objectives in coastal, river or lake areas’. Third, ‘The provision of markers and guides for assault landings by larger forces which may be either seaborne or airborne’.
A beginning was made between 17 and 23 August by a COPP reconnaissance of beaches in the vicinity of the Peudada River in North Sumatra – Operation Frippery. Carried by submarine, their task, ostensibly, was to assess suitability for a major landing. All that came of it was a submarine-carried demolition raid by SBS between 11 and 13 September with the railway bridge over the river as its objective – these were Operations Spratt Able and Spratt Baker, of which Able came to nothing after the two-canoe party became split up, ran into all sorts of trouble ashore and returned, baffled, to the submarine. Baker, under Major Sidders, also suffered from embarrassments. A corporal fell into the river from the bridge with a loud splash; there was a narrow shave when a Japanese bicycle patrol pedalled by; and the local natives, attracted to the scene, had to be restrained at gun-point in case they betrayed the canoeists while they laid the charge and fixed time pencils. Further delay, when time was already short, occurred to allow a train to pass. All in all it was a relieved party of SBS who paddled back to the submarine to learn later that one end of the bridge was in the water.
Spratt Baker was unique in the so-called Independent Operations by SOG in that it was the only one specifically designed to attack coastal objectives. A few were supply missions for guerrillas, of which Carpenter III, carried out on 30 May 1945, off the east coast of Johore by RM Detachment 385, was the biggest, involving a submarine and the landing of 8,000-pounds of stores and the evacuation of 12 men.
Reconnaissance was the major role, related to the projected invasion of Malaya across the Morib beaches and in the neighbourhood of Port Dickson by Force W and XXXIV Corps (Operation Zipper). Of several small operations, Confidence, on 9/10 June was alone crucial; the rest, Copyright, Baboon, Bruteforce, Cattle and Baker, Defraud, Fairy and Slumber were diversionary.
COPP 3, carried 1,200 miles to Phuket Island by submarine, executed Baboon on 8/9 March; its task the examination of beaches and a possible airstrip – for which purpose it included among its seven members an RAF officer. The beach survey was completed, but the canoe carrying the RAF officer overturned. His crew of two Royal Engineers was killed by enemy fire as they ran up the beach, and he was taken prisoner next day. The experiences of RM Detachment 385 attempting Copyright the next day was equally hectic because the enemy were alerted, and eventually ended in tragedy. Having taken their beach samples, they were apprehended by Thai police, but fighting broke out and the men escaped into the jungle where they were hunted by both the Thais and the Japanese. One by one they were killed or captured as they tried to make their way to pre-arranged pick-up points, which the submarines kept under surveillance for the next nine days in the hope of finding them. Three were lucky enough to fall into Thai hands and spent the rest of the war as their prisoners. The two taken by the Japanese were removed to Singapore where their captors ‘honoured’ them by decapitation in the same manner as the previous Australian teams.
As a deception to Baboon and Copyright, Bruteforce, consisting of four men and two canoes from RM Detachment 385, were carried by Catalina flying boat to land on the Burmese coast at Ziggon on 29 March, their orders stating they should leave behind traces of their presence. Nothing more was heard of them, however, and a search by Catalina two days later was abortive. There does seem to have been an exuberance about SOG deceptions. When it came to leaving traces of their presence, their teams tended, in the opinion of those who had experience of Europe, to overdo it a bit. The team from RM Detachment 385, under Lieutenant A. L. Croneen, RM, which went by submarine to North Sumatra on 15 April, simulated a battle on shore with Tommy-gun fire and grenades, without, apparently, impressing anybody, for there was no response. And Clearance Baker in West Siam was criticized for leaving so much kit behind as to be unrealistic: in Europe only scraps were thrown away to indicate a minor mishap.
How effective deception raids were must remain in doubt. Defraud, by ten men from RM Detachment 385 in the Nicobar Islands on 18/19 April, certainly succeeded in bringing back information, but its aim of engaging the enemy and inflicting casualties came to naught for lack of enemy. Fairy, in the Tavoy area on the same night, was called off after the canoes had left the destroyers carrying them due to miscellaneous problems including the sighting of an unidentified motor boat.
As for Confidence, it can only be remarked that this was one of the few essential beach reconnaissances which fell short of requirements, despite the very considerable endeavours of the members of COPP 3 under Lieutenant A. Hughes, RNR, to complete the job. Taking eight men in four canoes, he landed in two parties on the Morib beaches on 9 June. Hughes’s party managed to return to their parent submarine, HMS Seadog, with sufficient evidence, it seemed, to indicate that the beaches they had examined were adequate for a major invasion. But the party with Captain Alcock, a Canadian, lost contact with Seadog, as well as among themselves, and remained ashore, having discovered their beaches unsuitable. This had repercussions, for no further attempt was made to examine the beaches for fear of compromising the main Zipper operation. As for Alcock and his men, their subsequent adventures amounted to a saga in itself. Captured and reunited by a unit of Javanese AJF guerrillas, they were handed over to a well organized, but suspicious band of Chinese Communist AJF whose methods were, to say the least, uncompromising and brutal. After a prolonged investigation of Alcock’s credentials, they were grudgingly recognized as allies, especially when it became known that the Japanese were offering a reward of Malayan $10,000, later increased to $100,000, for their capture. For their enlightenment, they were invited to witness the torturing of a spy and his subsequent decapitation. They were told SEAC had been informed of their survival, but during the next few weeks were almost constantly on the move with the AJF unit, their health gradually deteriorating from malnutrition and jungle sores. When contact was made by the AJF with SEAC, it took a long time for arrangements for their rescue to be made by Force 136, which was responsible for clandestine operations along with OSS. It was September before they at last emerged, and by then the war was over.
There is no doubt that the SOG filled an essential need in the same manner as Amphibious Recon Patrols and the Alamo Scouts. The information they provided could not have been acquired in any other reliable way, and the price paid in lives for 174 operations was by no means exorbitant – nine killed, five missing and two wounded.
Great good fortune also attended the Zipper landings at the Morib beaches and close by Port Dickson in Malaya, since they eventually took place without opposition on 9 September when the war with Japan was over. If it had been otherwise the last major and prestigious amphibious operation of the war might have been catastrophic and not simply the fiasco that it was. For as a result of inadequate reconnaissances and the false conclusions drawn therefrom, the landing craft and men faced beach conditions which somebody in the Royal Navy described as ‘vile’. Many craft became grounded too far out to permit unloading, while others touched down on terrain which precluded rapid unloading. Scores of vehicles were drowned and chaos reigned on congested beaches because egress from them was extremely difficult through dense vegetation and trees. A few yards inland narrow roads, bounded by deep ditches and soft ground, prevented vehicles from getting off the roads without becoming stuck, with the result that traffic jams of fearsome dimensions built up and the tanks ripped the frail roads and their shoulders to shreds. Only men on foot could move inland and it was fortunate for the unsupported infantry that the Japanese tended to assist rather than resist. It was a strange irony, indeed, that, under Mountbatten of all people, the culminating British operation from the sea should be so badly prepared, and not so very surprising that his despatches draw a veil over an episode most people preferred to forget. Zipper’s troubles were not the fault of the COPPs, but the experience of Confidence was not lost on the Marines or without significance for the future in their contacts with the AJF bands. For these guerrilla bands were an enemy of the future who, during the next decade, would challenge Britain for power in Malaya throughout long-drawn-out operations in which Marine Commandos would play an important role.
Within hours of having delivered himself of the British determination to stand by all who opposed Hitler, regardless of race or creed, Churchill addressed his mind to practical means of diverting German forces from their Eastern enterprise. A minute to the Chiefs of Staff on 23 June urged upon them the need to step up air attacks by day as well as by night and also to concentrate attention upon surface raids:
I have in mind something on the scale of 25,000–30,000 men – perhaps the Commandos plus one of the Canadian divisions… As long as we can keep air domination over the Channel and the Pas de Calais it ought to be possible to achieve a considerable result.
Among the other objectives, the destruction of the guns and batteries, of all shipping, of all stores, and the killing and capturing of a large number of Germans present themselves. The blocking of the harbours of Calais and Boulogne might also be attempted… Now the enemy is busy in Russia is the time to ‘Make hell while the sun shines’.
Coming after the cancellation of Barbaric these contradictions were confusing and so the Chiefs of Staff took them with a pinch of salt and told the planners to concentrate their energies on small raids across the narrow waters. Captain G. A. French, RN, who chaired an important meeting of the Executive Planning Staff to consider the ‘runners’ a few days later, said in an interview that they usually had before them scores of ideas from which to select a manageable handful.
First choice fell on a reconnaissance patrol named Chess which the War Cabinet Defence Committee adopted on 7 July and Keyes passed to Vice-Admiral Dover for action against Ambleteuse. Another small operation, Acid Drop, was to follow in August, followed by a third, Chopper, in September. Representing the Naval Intelligence Department at that meeting was Lieutenant-Commander G. Gonin, who took the opportunity of a lull in the formal discussions to mention to French an idea he and his colleagues had had for a raid on the very large dry dock at St Nazaire, for which the German battleship Bismarck had been making before she had been caught and sunk the previous month and which, any day, might be the destination of Bismarck’s sister ship, Tirpitz. It is not often one can identify exactly who generated an operational scheme but this one was of particular importance, and for a great many reasons which will appear in due course. For now it was merely referred for consideration and found a place in DCO’s diary later in July under the name Operation Chariot.
The idea, however, so stimulated Churchill’s imagination that he expanded it at once into a concept aimed at ‘nipping out the Brest peninsula’. This unrealistic scheme led the Chiefs of Staff into a desperate rearguard action to convince the Prime Minister that a project that would demand six divisions and which, from shortage of shipping, let alone of trained troops, would stretch their resources to the limit, was impossible. One fancies here that, however impractical Churchill seemed (and it is worth recalling that he avoided mention of these follies in his Memoirs), his goadings were the products of political expediency as well as sticks to whip the Chiefs and planners, whose caution he saw as obstructiveness. Already Communist voices which, prior to 22 June, had stood against the ‘capitalist and imperialist war’, were beginning to agitate for a Second Front now, and were painting the demand on walls and publishing it in the papers. Churchill may have later written that ‘we did not allow these sorry and ignominious facts to disturb our thoughts’, and he did, on 20 July, answer Stalin’s demand for a major diversion of Lend Lease Aid from Britain to Russia and his request for vigorous action across the Channel with a well-reasoned paper pointing out how impossible it was, due to lack of shipping and almost everything else.
The fact remains that serious study was made of several ambitious projects in the medium-to-large-raid category in order to satisfy Stalin:
1. Operation Ransack – a tip-and-run raid of Brigade strength ‘to kill Germans and do as much damage as possible’ (preferably against a German Security HQ at Le Touquet) without interfering with Pilgrim. The JPS rejected it because only six LTCs (enough to land a single squadron of tanks) were available, and only 600 semi-equipped parachutists. Remorselessly the tyranny of chronic shortages trimmed down the force to a couple of troops from 5 Commando and a company of line infantry, carried in eight Eurekas, tasked to raid an undisclosed airfield in the Pas de Calais. Like similar designs, including one called Irrigate, it was squashed by the Prime Minister for the same reason he had squashed Barbaric – lack of effect for too much risk.
2. A joint operation suggested by the Russians, which, Churchill reasoned, had to be taken very seriously – an invasion of Northern Norway to clear the country southward and free the sea route to Murmansk along which convoys would soon be taking supplies from the West to the Russians. This was discarded by the planners as being beyond the means available, but it stimulated Churchill’s insistent and very unpopular proposals to raid Trondheim or Stavanger in the autumn when the nights were longer.
3. Operation Gauntlet, again at Russia’s suggestion, to seize Bear Island and Spitzbergen with a view to liberating the Norwegians and Russians there, destroying the mines and the coal stocks upon which the Germans were drawing, and eliminating German weather stations which were being secretly inserted.
Of the three only Gauntlet was adopted as a joint British, Canadian and Norwegian venture with the Russians collaborating for the evacuation of their civilians. A force, originally set at two infantry battalions, was whittled down to one (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) supplemented by 17 British officers and 101 men from the Sappers and several different Commandos. Hit-and-run raid that it was in military terms, the whole thing had about it the air of a peacetime policing operation, with the troops sailing in the comparative luxury of the liner Empress of Canada and the escort of two cruisers and three destroyers not being called upon to take offensive action. ‘So for better or worse ran Gauntlet’, wrote the Force Commander, Rear-Admiral P. Vian, as the soldiers went ashore on 25 August and began the work of assembling the Norwegian and Russian civilians for evacuation, preparing the Russian-run mines for demolition and the burning of 450,000 tons of coal and 275,000 gallons of fuel, and arguing hotly with the mine manager who resisted as staunchly as he could the destruction of his life’s work and the future economic well-being of the island. It was a model exercise in peripheral raiding against an undefended target in the absence of enemy detection, a security which was assured by the local Norwegian radio operators who continued to broadcast as if nothing was happening, and totally fooled the Germans as to what was going on.
But not by any stretch of imagination could Gauntlet be rated as a substitute for a Second Front, even if it did help Russia and harm the German economy. Nor were the pinprick raids of July and the months to come any substitute. What impact could a few dozen men, spending a few minutes ashore, have on the 30 German divisions in France which were not in the least stretched by occupation of a secure coast line and controlling a population 99 per cent of whom were peaceful, even if secretly hostile? Of course the ineffectuality of very small raids was well understood. Indeed, on 1 July, Keyes had tried to revive the Barbaric scheme with parachutists and added a few tanks, but this foundered on the same rocks that Ransack would strike.
So, after all the puff and blow, there emerged Operation Chess, a raid by 16 men from 12 Commando, led by an officer who was to become one of the stars of raiding – 2nd Lieutenant P. Pinckney of the Berkshire Yeomanry. Chess was important, not because of what was achieved by a landing at Ambleteuse on the night 27/28 July, but for the precedent it set. For the Prime Minister, having, for the moment, been convinced that the large raids he preferred were impossible, reluctantly agreed to small ones ‘of the order of ten men’, and this, having been formally adopted, became the model for many such to come.
Chess, like all of its kind, was inhibited by weather, by the phases of the moon and the tide quite as much as by enemy resistance. Wind and surf could arise unexpectedly at any time and hamper landing and re-embarkation; tides and moon tended to restrict raiding to one short, dark period of only a few days each month – and in summer a mere four hours’ darkness increased the risks of detection on approach and withdrawal and limited the time which could be spent ashore. Putting a raid together also caused complex problems and included the training and rehearsal of the sailors and troops, the provision and briefing by the Royal Navy of an escort and of motor launchers (MLs) to tow the LCAs to the cast-off point, the arrangement of communications and the notification, without breaching security, of all those who needed to know, to prevent, for example, attack by friendly ships or aircraft. Generals who, by the existing rules, held ‘the licence to raid enemy sectors opposite their piece of coast’ tended to think of each foray as ‘trench raiding across a watery no-man’s land’, and often had no conception of all that was entailed, which was why Admirals attempted to exclude them from the planning process.
There was a sense of occasion on the evening Pinckney’s force embarked in the MLs at Dover. Conditions were good and the approach to the cast-off point and transfer to the LCAs went without a hitch. However, the noise of engines alerted the Germans, and when 250 yards offshore they must have been seen as whistles were heard from various places ashore. A lesser man than Pinckney might have abandoned Chess there and then, but he was determined to capture a prisoner and was never the sort to give in.
The LCA’s ramp was lowered before beaching was made successfully despite the surf… Some 200 yards down the beach a spot to climb the cliff was discovered. Men and myself climbed up with difficulty and found wire. At this moment a star shell was fired and firing broke out. There was no time to get the others up. An MG was firing from the cliff directly above the boat. We got beneath this and threw up grenades. This silenced the MG. I then re-embarked my party.
Pinckney made it sound all very simple, but the enemy had scored hits on the other LCA, the tracer snaking across the water to the light of the star shells and killing a naval officer and rating. It was touch and go that they managed to escape and Pinckney was to return with a profound respect for the alertness and competence of the enemy whose reception certainly bore out the Prime Minister’s ingrained fear of beach assaults.
Nevertheless Chess was considered encouraging enough to warrant staging a double event a month later – that being the length of time needed to ‘lay on’ such raids. Acid Drop and Cartoon were also to be cautious ventures, confined to reconnaissance with no attempt at combat. In the event Cartoon was abandoned at a later stage, leaving Acid Drop to go it alone in two parties of 30 and 20 men to tackle, respectively, beaches at Hardelot and Merlimont on either side of Le Touquet. Acid Drop turned sour from the start. To the men of 5 Commando the LCA crews appeared slap-happy and deficient in training. Officers in white flannels may look engaging on a yacht but do not inspire confidence on a night operation. Then a misinformed naval officer condemned the soldiers to a voyage in the LCAs, squatting in water instead of in the dry of the MLs. In any case they were destined to land wet since the LCAs stayed too far out for fear of stranding and the Commandos were compelled to wade ashore. Fortunately the enemy here were not as aggressive as those at Ambleteuse. There were no obstacles, no mines and no opposition, despite indications that the Germans were aware of a hostile presence when they began whistling warnings to each other among the dunes. But there was no contact, and so no prisoners. It all went to show how easy Barbaric might have been.
Operation Chopper on 27 September was quite another story. The Royal Navy had taken the lessons of Acid Drop to heart. Not only were the LCA crews well trained but everybody, from top to bottom in the chain of command, was keen to go. One RN officer asked, ‘Why can’t we increase the frequency of these things?’ – a very reasonable request which pointed to indifferent organization and lack of enthusiasm in higher places. No lack of aggression infected 1 Commando on this occasion, although a mistake in navigation took the two LCAs in Force B 3 miles off-course from the objective of Courseulles and landed them in front of alerted defences, illuminated by flares and raked by fire. Two men were killed, one badly wounded and an LCA holed so badly that the men had to bail out to stay afloat. The Commandos were filled with praise for the sailors on this occasion – their determination to get them out under fire, the way they made their way home despite losing contact with the supporting motor gun boats (MGBs) and the care they took with the wounded; in his report, the skipper of LCA 26 said he was ‘regretting having to chop up my centre seat to provide splints for a severely wounded man’.
Force A fared better after it landed correctly at Point de Saire on the Cherbourg peninsula. A party from 5 Troop under Captain G. A. Scaramanga penetrated inland, got no answer when they knocked on the door of a shuttered house and then, as their scouts reached a bend in the road:
A German cyclists’ patrol came round the bend going a good speed on low handle-bar bicycles. There were three in a row in front and one behind. Our leading tommy gunners opened fire immediately. I saw the two leading cyclists on my side of the road crumple up and fall on the road. I ordered the bodies of the two Germans to be taken to the LCA; the other carrying party was slow in coming to the fact that one of the men detailed to carry it had been slightly wounded. Time was pressing, being already 35 minutes after the scheduled time of departure. As the two Germans appeared identical, I ordered one body to be left, and everybody embarked. Two men were slightly wounded, possibly by ricochets from our own tommy guns. Afterward one of my men told me that he had seen the body of a third German dead in the hedge. After re-embarking … fire was opened upon us with one MG firing tracer… No beach obstacles or wire were encountered. No searchlights or Verey lights were seen. No enemy aircraft were seen.
It was only a pin-prick to the Germans who at that moment seemed well on the way to overrunning Russia and then planned to be able to turn back on Britain in 1942. The raids did not receive strong publicity in Britain and only passing mention by the German Propaganda Ministry, which had its attention held elsewhere. But changes were on the way, and the time was not far removed when the Germans would be compelled to take a lot more notice. Before then, however, the Combined Operations organization in Britain had to be taken in hand.
The STZ-5 artillery tractor was a product of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory (STZ) from 1937 to 1942 in the Soviet Union. The tractor was designed to tow division to corps level guns and howitzers of 8 tonnes and less. The STZ-5 was one of the few artillery tractors specifically designed by the Soviet government for its role. With over 9900 built, it was the most-produced Soviet ‘military’ tractor during the war.
One agricultural tractor that made the transition to military service in the pre-war era was the STZ-3 light artillery tractor, which was developed into the STZ-5 at the NATI (Nauchniy Avto Traktorniy Institut – Scientific Auto and Tractor Institute) design bureau. It was developed in 1935-36 in cooperation with engineers from Plant Nº264 located in Stalingrad, and better known as STZ – the Stalingrad Tractor Plant. The NATI institute had from 1933 begun development of two-tracked tractors on a common theme, intended for agricultural and military use respectively. Both tractor types were initially designated STZ-3, the `transport’ (military) STZ-5 being so designated at a later date. After prolonged trials in 1935, the rework of some design components took another two years, with the STZ-5 entering series production in late 1937. Known during development as the STZ-NATI-2TB, the designation was simplified to STZ-5 in Red Army service.
The STZ-5 was a cab-over-engine, militarised version of the essentially civilian STZ-3 agricultural tractor (which was also pressed into military service in 1941). The STZ-5 was re-configured to serve the role of artillery tractor for light and medium artillery and anti-aircraft guns, transporting the associated ammunition complement in the rear cargo area. The modifications to the basic STZ-3 were drastic. The driver’s position was moved from the rear of the vehicle to a front-mounted cab-over-engine configuration, with all the control links correspondingly modified and incorporated within a cab that could accommodate the driver and up to three of the gun crew.
The STZ-5 was powered by the standard four-cylinder GAZ engine used in the GAZ-AA 1.5-tonne cargo truck; coupled to a relatively advanced for its day four-speed gearbox with two-speed transfer box giving the driver a wide range of gear options. The engine was not particularly powerful relative to the need to move the six-tonne STZ, a 1.5-tonne ammunition load and tow artillery pieces weighing up to 3.4 tonnes. The compromise was however necessitated by the availability of engines, and the 14km/h laden road speed was actually quite acceptable compared to the S-60 and S-65 heavy tractors.
The STZ-5 retained the same oscillating bogies with horizontally-mounted coil-spring suspension system as the agricultural STZ-3, but the cast road wheels were replaced with a new type fitted with rubber rims to reduce vibration and noise, and increase track life. The original roughcast tracks were replaced with smoother road tracks, which also reduced vibration and improved road speed. A wooden stake rear cargo area was fitted behind the reconfigured and now front-mounted cab, with bench seats for the gun crew and a drop down tailgate for loading and unloading ammunition.
The STZ-5 was produced at Plant Nº264 in Stalingrad from late 1937, but production was initially slow until formal Red Army trials and subsequent acceptance for service in 1939, after which production dramatically increased. There were 1,256 STZ-5 tractors produced in 1939, and 1,274 in 1940, the majority for the Red Army, with the STZ latterly being built alongside T-34 medium tanks being assembled at the same plant. The STZ-5 was a regular participant in Red Square parades during the 1930s and was initially used in service to tow a variety of medium and heavy artillery.
The Red Army had 2,839 STZ-5s in its inventory (13% of its entire artillery tractor park), with a further 5,478 in state service on January 1,1941. In total, 9,944 STZ-5 tractors were built at Plant Nº264 until the autumn of 1942, when the production tooling was partially evacuated as advancing Axis forces closed on Stalingrad. Of that total, 6,505, the majority, were built at Plant Nº264 after the outbreak of war on June 22,1941.
In practice the STZ-5 was used to tow the 76.2mm regimental gun, 122mm and 152mm howitzers, and 76.2mm and 85mm anti-aircraft guns. After the outbreak of war the vehicle was often used to tow heavier weapons due to the lack of alternative heavier tractors. The STZ-5 was used in the early stages of World War Two on the Eastern Front, with civilian vehicles drafted into military service, though huge numbers were destroyed or captured in the months that followed ‘Operation Barbarossa’. A significant number were captured by the Wehrmacht, which pressed the vehicles into service as the Artillerie Schlepper STZ-601(r). By the autumn of 1941, with the Kharkov KhTZ plant now over-run, and Plant No37 near Moscow on rails to Siberia, the STZ plant was the only plant west of the Ural mountains still producing military-tracked artillery tractors, these were produced alongside the T-34 until the plant was destroyed during the Battle of Stalingrad in the autumn of 1942.
STZ-5 BM-13 `Katyusha’
In September 1941, with Axis forces approaching Moscow, the ZiS plant in Moscow halted production of the ZiS-6 6×4 trucks as the plant was prepared for evacuation to Miass in Siberia and other cities. The ZiS-6 had been the standard chassis for the 16 rail, 132mm calibre BM-13 `Katyusha’ multiple rocket launcher, and as the number of available ZiS-6 chassis dwindled, alternative chassis were required. The tracked STZ-5 was considered ideal, not least because it was available in quantity, and prototype trials proved that the STZ-5 would provide a stable launch platform. Accordingly, a small quantity of STZ-5 tractors were rebuilt as BM-13 Katyusha MRS vehicles and entered service with the Red Army.
STZ-5 based NI Odessa Tanks
In August 1941, the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa was cut off from the mainland, as a result of which the city turned to its own resources to build armoured vehicles to defend the city. The engineer P K Romanov, an engineer working at the January Uprising Factory in the city, had many ideas for the armouring of available vehicles, which resulted in the local shipyards turning to the production of armoured tractors based on available tracked agricultural tractors, not least because there was a significant inventory of available vehicles within the catchment area of the shipyards. The majority of tractors converted were STZ-3 and KhTZ-3 agricultural tractors; however a smaller number of cab-over-engine STZ-5 tractors were also converted.
The tractors were individually completed according to available components, fitted with combinations of steel plate sandwiched with wood and rubber sheeting to give some protection from small arms fire. The armament on the vehicles also varied, some tanks being fitted with small machine gun turrets from the T-26 M-1931, others had new turrets fitted with 37mm Model 15R mountain guns, or 45mm anti-tank guns. A total of 68 Odessa tanks were produced. During the fighting, the tanks were referred to by local Russian residents as Na Ispug – literally `Frightener Tanks’. This referred not to the their combat capability but rather was an ironic commentary on the clatter the tracks of the agricultural-based tractors made while driving along the cobbled streets of the old city centre. Even if the armour was somewhat crude, the tanks proved surprisingly effective against the Romanian infantry advancing on Odessa.
The fate of these conversions remains unclear. They were apparently driven off the harbour walls and into the sea to save them from being captured and turned against their original owners. There is however no record of them being recovered after the war, and the few vehicles in museums are all replicas.
The USS Endicott underway while serving in the Mediterranean
Battle damage to the United States Navy destroyer USS Endicott after the Battle of La Ciotat in 1944.
After the Battle of Casablanca in November 1942 the U. S. Navy’s surface fleet did not engage an Axis warship larger than a destroyer in European waters during the balance of the Second World War. A U. S. task group that included the Washington assisted in protecting the convoys to Murmansk during the summer of 1942, opening the remote possibility of a clash with the German battleship Tirpitz, and the Iowa spent several weeks guarding the North Atlantic in September 1943, lest the German battle fleet emerge from its Norwegian fjords while the British concentrated their battleships in the Mediterranean for the invasion of Italy. Otherwise, the principal tasks of U. S. surface forces in European waters were to escort shipping, conduct antisubmarine operations, interdict Axis supplies, and conduct amphibious operations. These duties reflected the state of the enemy they faced. When Italy announced its armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943, the Axis lost its most significant surface force in the European theater.
Despite their decided disadvantage, German warships did tangle with U. S. warships in five engagements. The U. S. Navy’s surface fleet made its major effort in European waters in support of amphibious attacks in the Mediterranean and then during the ambitious and risky cross-channel attack on Normandy. Germany’s remaining surface assets-destroyers, torpedo boats, and MTBs-made strenuous efforts to interfere but lacked the strength to make a difference. German submarines accomplished even less. Following the Normandy landings and the subsequent Allied breakout into France’s countryside, Germany retained enclaves in the Channel Islands and at other French ports throughout the war. The Allies, applying lessons learned in the Pacific, contentedly quarantined these pockets of resistance.
The U. S. Navy held responsibility for security in the Gulf of St. Malo and the Channel Islands. During the first weeks of August 1944, while Patton’s armies motored into Brittany, the U. S. Navy patrolled the waters of the gulf every night with PT boats supported by destroyers or destroyer escorts, experiencing the vicious coastal war the British had been fighting for four years. The Americans’ opposition consisted of German M-class minesweepers-capable vessels used as corvettes-and a flotilla of armed trawlers.
On 11-12 August the American destroyer escort Borum supporting PT500 and PT502 engaged two ships of the 24th German Minesweeper Flotilla off La Corbiere on the southwest coast of Jersey. Following an unsuccessful torpedo attack, heavy gunfire chased the Americans off and damaged two boats. On the night of 13-14 August the Borum, the British destroyers Onslaught and Saumarez, PT505, PT498, and two British MTBs engaged the large minesweepers M412, M432, M442, and M452 (all 776 tons, 17 knots, one 4.1-inch gun), which were escorting a merchant vessel off St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Borum vectored the PTs toward the German ships. Under heavy fire, the PTs each launched two torpedoes from 1,500 yards, but they missed and the PTs retired undamaged. St. Malo fell to the American Army on 18 August. After that, the German navy kept largely to port, and the U. S. Navy discontinued offensive operations, although patrols using smaller warships like sub chasers and patrol boats continued.
In the Mediterranean Germany held the coastline from the Franco-Spanish border to the stalemated Italian front line south of Rome from October 1943 to June 1944. The German navy’s “capital ships” in the area consisted of captured torpedo boats and destroyers, which, combined with a fleet of corvettes, MTBs, barges, gunboats, and armed trawlers, protected a brisk coastal convoy traffic and engaged in offensive missions such as shore bombardment and mining. In general the Allies relied on MTBs, motor gunboats (MGBs), and armed landing craft to harass this traffic and used their larger warships to guard the beachheads and escort shipping. Between June 1944 and August 1944 the German-held shoreline contracted drastically when the Allies finally broke through central Italy to the Gothic Line in the north and invaded southern France. During this summertime operation, U. S. destroyers tangled with German surface units larger than coastal craft.
Early on the morning of 15 August the American destroyer Somers, skippered by Cdr. W. C. Hughes, patrolled south of Ile du Levant in support of a raiding group on the left flank of the Anvil invasion of southern France, which was scheduled to begin at 0830 that morning. At 0347 two pips appeared on Somers’s radar screen. Hughes tracked these contacts until it seemed their course would threaten the transports. At 0440, after the ships ignored his challenge, Hughes passed astern and opened fire from 4,750 yards. The intruders were German warships: the UJ6081 (728 tons, 18 knots, one 3.9-inch gun, two 17.7-inch torpedoes), which was formerly the Italian corvette Camoscio, and the SG21 (917 tons, 20 knots, two 4.1-inch guns) a former French aviso.
The Somers belted the SG21 with her opening salvos and left her ablaze with “numerous explosions forward and aft as ammunition began exploding.”2 The American destroyer then chased down the outgunned UJ6081 and left her dead in the water by 0520. The UJ6081 rolled over and sank at 0722. The SG21 burned and periodically erupted with small explosions until after dawn. The Somers expended only 270 rounds and suffered no casualties during this brief, conclusive, and well-fought action.
Two nights later a Naval Special Operations Force consisting of the American destroyer Endicott, two British river gunboats, the Aphis and Scarab, two PT boats, and four motor launches appeared off La Ciotat, halfway between Marseilles and Toulon, to feint a landing. During this operation the corvette UJ6082, the ex-Italian Antilope and sister to the UJ6081, and the large sub chaser UJ6073 (1,710 GRT, one 3.5-inch gun), formerly the Khedive of Egypt’s motor yacht Nimet Allah, attacked a small craft at 0545, prompting urgent calls for help. The British gunboats arrived at 0555 to find themselves outmatched and were chased southeast by the aggressive corvettes.
The Endicott, skippered by the PT veteran Cdr. John D. Bulkley came on the scene at 0620. She engaged the UJ6073, which was the much larger of the two available targets, even though jammed breech blocks had disabled three of the Endicott’s four mounts. In the first minutes 2 five-inch shells detonated in the exyacht’s engine room, and the UJ6073 quickly lost way. The Germans return fire fell close. One shell penetrated the Endicott and caused minor flooding but failed to explode. Using leather mallets to open and close the breech blocks, the Endicott continued to close range; at no time was she able to fire a full broadside using all four guns.
The UJ6073, listing heavily to port, began to explode at 0648, but the UJ6082 launched two torpedoes, forcing the Endicott to evade. The destroyer replied with two torpedoes of her own. When the UJ6082 combed the America torpedoes’ tracks, she masked her main battery. This allowed the Endicott to close to 1,500 yards. At 0702 Bulkey’s 20-mm and 40-mm guns raked the corvette’s deck. The UJ6082 gamely returned fire for a few minutes until five-inch rounds exploded near her stack and bridge. The UJ6082’s crew started abandoning ship at 0717, and the Endicott ceased firing. The UJ6073 sank at 0709. The UJ6082 finally capsized at 0830.
In the following weeks the Allies overran southern France, but their resources did not permit an offensive over the Alpine passes into the Italian Po Valley. For this reason, the front line froze east of Monaco along the Franco-Italian border, preserving Germany’s enclave on the Ligurian Sea for another eight months. In October the Allies established a naval Flank Force, Mediterranean that was made up largely of French units and under French command to guard the western portions of this enclave. British and American destroyers and coastal craft based out of Livorno patrolled the eastern flank. These naval forces supported Allied ground units, attacked German shipping, and were harassed in their turn by German coastal and small battle units. Throughout this campaign, German torpedo boats remained remarkably active, as when they shelled Allied positions near the Arno estuary on the night of 30-31 August.
USS Gleaves laying a smoke screen off Southern France, August 18, 1944. HMS Dido can be seen behind her.
On the evening of 1 October 1944, as the American destroyer Gleaves skippered by Cdr. W. M. Klee patrolled off San Remo, Italy, news arrived that Allied aircraft had bombed three vessels off Porta Maurizio further up the coast. Klee decided to head toward Imperia to investigate.
That same evening the TA24 and TA29 (both 1,110 tons, 28 knots, two 3.9-inch guns, six 17.7-inch torpedoes), and TA32 (2,000 tons, 31 knots, four 4.1-inch guns, three 21-inch torpedoes) sailed from Genoa toward San Remo to lay a minefield. The TA29 and TA32 were loaded with ninety-eight mines. The German force had just passed Imperia when, at 2313, lookouts spotted a large warship about 11,000 yards southwest. This was the Gleaves, which was also tracking the Germans. At 2319 the American destroyer turned parallel, rang up twenty knots, and opened fire.
The first salvo fell only fifty yards from the TA24. The Germans maneuvered as the next American salvo sent geysers spouting near the TA29. At 2324 the German commander ordered a simultaneous turn to starboard. The TA29, her rudder control affected by her cargo of mines, rammed the TA24. The German ships managed to separate and retreated toward Genoa, opening fire against the American destroyer at 0235. Klee assumed shore batteries were engaging, and when his radar detected two aircraft only three miles away at 2339, Klee had the Gleaves make smoke and head west. The gunfire continued until 2345. At 2348 the Gleaves secured from general quarters after expending eighty rounds and eight star shells.
The German torpedo boats made port by 0315. They thought they had fought a French light cruiser. In his report Klee concluded he had attacked three merchant ships. He observed two of them explode while under fire and believed them sunk or seriously damaged. Much more exciting was the encounter later that night with Axis small battle units. The big destroyer had some narrow escapes, sank several boats, and captured an enemy vessel. For this, the commanders of Cruiser Division 8 and the Eight Fleet recommended a slew of medals for the Gleaves’s crew.
The German navy retained a sting. In the most unlikely of combat zones, far behind the front line, the final surface action of the war involving the German and U. S. navies occurred on the night of March 8, 1945, when a small German force consisting of the M412, M432, M442, M452 (all 776 tons, 17 knots, one 4.1-inch gun), and nine other vessels sailed from St. Hélier in the Channel Islands to conduct a commando strike against the mainland port of Granville. En route they encountered the U. S. sub chaser PC564 (463 tons, 19 knots, one 3-inch gun, one 40-mm gun, two 20-mm guns) and severely damaged her, killing fourteen men and wounding eleven. With this defeat, the product of complacency, the U. S. Navy heightened its vigilance but the Germans did not venture out again before the European war ended two months later.
Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud was the Moorish ambassador to Elizabeth in 1600.
A life-size portrait of Sultan Murad III (1574-1595), attributed to a Spanish artist, 17th century.
Elizabeth was enjoying the final few days of her summer progress at Nonsuch late in September 1598 when the news filtered down via Paris, Venice and The Hague that Philip II was dead. After more than two months of unrelieved torture from his arthritis, the seventy-one-year-old Spanish king had taken the last rites of the Catholic Church in his study-cum-bedroom at the Escorial and died with his son and heir, the future Philip III, and the Infanta at his bedside. So severely afflicted by bedsores was he in these last, lingering days that his doctors were forced to wriggle underneath his bed and cut holes in his mattress from below to drain out the pus.
The Venetian ambassador to Madrid observed that Philip’s twenty-year-old son had the same prominent Habsburg jaw as his father and grandfather before going on to praise him as a man of peace: ‘affable, grave, temperate, beloved by those who serve him’. His assessment, many times repeated, helped to foster a myth that Philip was mild-mannered and agreeable, a keen horseman who loved music and magnificence and believed that the Spanish monarchy’s dignity was best preserved by peace, pomp and parade.
In reality, the new king of Spain was nothing of the sort. He demanded that force be met with force, agreeing with Don Baltasar Álamos de Barrientos, who wrote a steely memorandum to him on his accession, advising:
It would be neither proper nor profitable to make peace with England: nor would any such peace be firm, for this Crown has been extremely offended by that woman. She is a schismatic and utterly contrary to our religion, and will consequently never trust us; peace with her will be very unsure.
Philip III needed little persuasion. His feelings for the heretic bastard queen were no warmer than his father’s; he did, however, recognize the extent of Spain’s human and material losses since the failure of the Gran Armada of 1588. After his father’s bankruptcy, nothing on such a scale could be attempted again. Instead, the Treaty of Vervins presented an opportunity for the young king to open a new, limited front in the war against Elizabeth, one where he believed he could win a lasting victory. The result was a policy in which he decided to attack Ireland, England’s soft underbelly. He believed far fewer troops would be needed, as it was said in Spain that the English defences in Ireland outside Dublin were no more than rudimentary, while the Gaelic Irish were loyal Catholics almost to a man. The Protestant Reformation had made minimal inroads into Ireland. Henry VIII had even failed to dissolve many of the more remote Irish monasteries. Still better from the Spanish viewpoint, Ireland was now in open rebellion and had been for the last four years.
The revolt had begun in 1594 as little more than a regional uprising in the northern province of Ulster led by the wily and ambitious Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, but by the summer of 1598 much of Gaelic Ireland had been set aflame. Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy, based in Dublin, Lord Burgh, had mounted a strong offensive, building a new fort on the River Blackwater three miles north of the garrison town of Armagh to guard the main road to Dungannon. He had then fallen fatally ill on his return from revictualling it. Seeing his opportunity, Tyrone tripled the stakes, demanding liberty of conscience for all Catholic Irishmen and redress for English offences against the Irish over the past fifty years. When he was rebuffed, Tyrone laid siege to the Blackwater fort. On 14 August, after ambushing a relief force in the thick woods south of Armagh, his forces killed some two thousand English troops at the Battle of the Yellow Ford. It was the greatest victory ever achieved by Irish arms against the English and seemed to threaten the complete loss of Ireland.
And the reverberations echoed still further through the British Isles as Elizabeth increasingly suspected King James of colluding in Tyrone’s rebellion. Her quarrels with James had entered a new phase some two years into the revolt, when he had condoned a cross-border raid into England by the Laird of Buccleuch, who rescued one of the queen’s closely guarded prisoners in a midnight assault on Carlisle Castle.9 Elizabeth retaliated by slashing his pension again, and when negotiations for a new treaty for the regulation of the border did not go her way, she fumed to her ambassador in Edinburgh, ‘I wonder how base minded that king thinks me that with patience I can digest this dishonourable slur. Let him therefore know that I will have satisfaction, or else.’
In January 1598, Anglo-Scottish relations further deteriorated when Elizabeth levelled a raft of obscurely phrased but stinging accusations against James for criticizing her in the Scottish Parliament:
I do wonder what evil spirits have possessed you, to set forth so infamous devices void of any show of truth . . . I see well we two be of very different natures, for I vow to God I would not corrupt my tongue with an unknown report of the greatest foe I have, much less could I detract my best-deserving friend with a spot so foul as scarcely may ever be outraised . . . I never yet loved you so little as not to moan your infamous dealings which you are in mind. We see that myself shall possess more princes’ witness of my causeless injuries, which I could have wished had passed no seas, to testify such memorials of your wrongs. Bethink you of such dealings, and set your labour upon such mends as best may. Though not right, yet salve some piece of this overslip. And be assured that you deal with such a king as will bear no wrongs and endure no infamy.
After this, James began to ignore her, claiming, ‘It becomes me not to strive with a lady, especially in that art wherein their sex most excels’ (i.e. in trading insults).
Elizabeth’s misgivings about James’s intentions in Ireland were fuelled by his secret overtures to the European Catholic powers and by highly disturbing reports that Anne of Denmark was very close to converting to Catholicism. Up until Prince Henry’s christening, Anne had been safely Protestant, but afterwards her chief gentlewoman, the French-born Henrietta, Countess of Huntly, had slowly but surely begun to convert her. Late in 1596, a St Andrews clergyman noted for his attacks on the anti-English, pro-Spanish Earl of Huntly and his wife preached a sermon denouncing Anne as a renegade ‘papist’. ‘As to the queen,’ he declared, ‘we have no cause to pray for her. We hear no good of her. She will never do us good. It may be she [will] trouble us all shortly.’
James positively revelled in this growing appreciation of Anne’s apostasy: he found it an invaluable diplomatic tool in his quest to persuade the Catholic powers that he was the best candidate to succeed Elizabeth. Pope Clement VIII prayed for his conversion, and James went out of his way to foster this hope. Shortly before Philip II’s death, the Scottish king had sent Lord Robert Sempill to Madrid to rebuild commercial links between Scotland and Spain, armed with secret instructions to secure recognition of James’s title to the English throne. After Philip III’s coronation, Sempill’s mission encouraged the new king’s advisers to consider sending an ambassador to Edinburgh with instructions to work towards partitioning the British Isles into pro- and anti-Spanish spheres of influence. When Elizabeth learned of this, she raged against James, whom Cecil had also caught out drumming up Catholic support for his claim to the throne in Venice, Florence and Paris.
Elizabeth put two and two together and made five. Relying on warnings she had received from Tyrone’s former mentor, the Earl of Ormond, coupled with a leaked copy of a letter purportedly from James to the rebel leader, she convinced herself that James was in league with Tyrone and conspiring with Spain. She suspected him of joining clandestinely with Tyrone in a grand pan-Britannic conspiracy in which both men hoped to profit from her death. Prompted by dark hints from Cecil, she even harboured suspicions that there might be a plot, centred on James and Catholic Ireland, to force her to abdicate.
After their fatal encounter in the Privy Chamber on 30 June or 1 July 1598, when the Earl of Essex had insolently rejected her nomination of Sir William Knollys as Lord Burgh’s successor in Ireland, Elizabeth at first decided to leave him to sulk and feign illness at his country estate at Wanstead. ‘He hath played long enough upon me,’ she said. ‘I mean to play awhile upon him and to stand as much upon my greatness as he hath done upon [his] stomach.’18 But after news came in of the catastrophe at the Blackwater fort, she decided to recall Essex and make him live up to his proud boasts over so many years to be a true military leader. It was a coolly calculated gamble on her part, a toss of a coin she knew she could not lose. Heads, she would recover Ireland, and Essex his career. Tails, Essex would destroy himself, and she could distance herself from the disaster.
But before she gave Essex the command in Ireland, he would have to submit and apologize for the offence he had caused her. Until then, she refused to admit him to her presence. There seemed slender prospect of this after the Earl sent her a letter complaining of ‘the intolerable wrong you have done both me and yourself’. His friend and admirer Sir Henry Lee tactfully urged him to come to his senses:
Your honour is more dear to you than your life, but yet may it please your Lordship to consider these circumstances. She is your sovereign, whom you may not beat [treat] upon equal conditions . . . I grant your wrongs to be greater than so noble a heart can well digest, but consider my good Lord how great she is with whom you deal . . . What advantage you have in yielding when you are wronged, what disadvantage by facing her whom (though you deserve never so much) yet you must rely upon for favour.
The impasse was resolved only when Essex succumbed to a bout of genuine fever. Anxious for his welfare, Elizabeth sent one of her own physicians to treat him, and by 10 September he was sufficiently recovered to attend a Council meeting for the first time since their spectacular row. He met her privately two days later to kiss her hand. After that, it was said that, at least for the moment, he was ‘in as good terms as ever he was’. Although he lost out hands down to Cecil and his allies in the redistribution of offices after Burghley’s death, Elizabeth was still prepared to accept his service when it suited her, but strictly on her own terms.
By 20 October, the Court gossips were confidently placing their bets on Essex going to Ireland. But while, by December, it was certain that he would be sent there, a heated debate was taking place over the conditions of his appointment, which Essex contested clause by clause. Elizabeth signed his commission on 25 March 1599, granting him wider powers than any of his predecessors. In one notable clause she authorized him either to prosecute or conclude the war at his discretion, and even to come to terms with Tyrone. After endless discussion, he had finally convinced her that his expedition aimed at nothing less than ‘the saving of one of Her Majesty’s kingdoms’ and, to do this, he needed a free hand.
Given the sweeping nature of this last clause, the Earl secured a licence from the queen permitting him temporarily to put a deputy in place so that he might return and consult her at such times as he should find cause, ‘as well to see our person as to inform us of such things as may be to our important service’. He left London on the 27th and landed in Dublin just over two weeks later, feeling distinctly queasy after an unusually stormy passage across the Irish Sea. With him sailed twenty thousand infantry and two thousand cavalry, the largest English army ever sent to Ireland.
The key to the Earl’s initial plan of campaign was to dispatch amphibious forces to Lough Foyle in the far north, well behind Tyrone’s lines, with the aim of establishing a new English garrison there. Modelled on his earlier template for Cádiz, the idea was to create a permanent military bridgehead that could readily be relieved and provisioned by sea. Before he died, Lord Burgh had intended to march to Lough Foyle to establish exactly such a garrison. The problem for Essex was that Cecil and his allies in the Privy Council had in the meantime diverted the necessary forces and supplies much further south for the defence of Dublin.
This diversion of resources was undertaken despite confidential warnings Cecil had received from his chief intelligence officer in Dublin, Sir Geoffrey Fenton, suggesting that a strong garrison at Lough Foyle would be essential for the reconquest of Ulster. Essex had pledged himself to an immediate attack on Tyrone before leaving England, but the profound lack of support he received from Cecil and his allies invites the conclusion that they were setting him up to fail.
Unable to establish the garrison, Essex dissipated the prime campaigning months of May and June in a southerly march through Leinster towards Waterford and from there into Munster, capturing the supposedly impregnable Cahir Castle, relieving a fort at Askeaton and driving the rebels into the woods and mountains. His sweep through southern Ireland was approved by the Privy Council. It safeguarded Munster from the threat of attacks from Spain and from Tyrone, but it also wasted valuable time, money and supplies. In particular, Essex was much delayed by a dire shortage of carriage horses, which had to be sent from England. Despite repeated warnings from his own officials, Cecil refused to treat this question with anything like the seriousness it deserved, stonewalling Essex by pretending that the queen ‘will not be content to be put to any new charge for that’.
Early in July, Essex returned to Dublin to file a decidedly hysterical report to the queen outlining the difficulties he had so far faced. Now in the hands of his physicians, with his body (as he claimed) ‘indisposed and distempered’ by the harsh conditions he had endured, he found his spirit crushed by the tenacity of Irish resistance. Already seething over the spiralling cost of his expedition, Elizabeth was exasperated by a series of damning reports she had received from Cecil outlining Essex’s demands for further ‘liberal supplies of men, money and victual’, the appointment of his younger protégé, the Earl of Southampton, as his General of the Horse – she flatly refused to confirm this nomination – and delays in confronting Tyrone. ‘O miserable employment and more miserable destiny of mine’, Essex wailed to the Privy Council, ‘that makes it impossible for me to please and serve Her Majesty at once.’
In a scorching diatribe she dictated on 30 July, Elizabeth instructed Essex to march north without any more excuses or delay: he was to attack Tyrone in his heartland of Ulster. But by the time her letter reached him, his forces had shrunk to fewer than six thousand infantry and five hundred cavalry. Many had slipped away home to England; others were feigning sickness; some had defected to the rebels. Essex’s thoughts quickly turned to how he might parachute himself out of Ireland and return to Court to confront not Tyrone but his enemies on the Privy Council, whom he believed to be subverting him at every turn. For a single madcap moment he even toyed with the idea of going over to Wales with two thousand or three thousand troops and marching on Whitehall to purge the evil councillors who were poisoning the queen’s mind against him.
In a typically extravagant gesture, with his forces diminishing by the hour, Essex then invited Tyrone to fight him in single combat. After a game of high-stakes poker, he finally accepted the fifty-four-year-old Irishman’s offer of a parley. On 7 September, the two men came face to face on the opposite banks of a river at Ballaclinch ford near the town of Louth, between Ardee and Dundalk. With Essex’s horse at the water’s edge and Tyrone’s standing belly-deep midstream, as the river was too wide at this point to shout across, they talked alone for half an hour. Playing for time, but also genuinely torn between a new accommodation with Elizabeth and one with Spain, it would appear from what he said about it afterwards that Tyrone demanded freedom of conscience, liberation of the Irish from English domination and a full pardon as the price of a settlement. Essex refused.
At last, a rolling truce was agreed upon that was to last for six weeks at a time. Renewable until 1 May 1601, the truce was to be terminable earlier by either side at two weeks’ notice. Tyrone, who swore an oath to observe it, also offered his eldest son as a hostage as a sign of his good faith. Afterwards, the rebel leader boasted to Philip III’s agent in Ireland that he had almost persuaded Essex to turn against Elizabeth, but this was surely bluster. Like Ralegh, Essex was a genuine patriot who would never have been able to reconcile himself to colluding with Spain.
And yet, however honourably intended, the murky circumstances of the truce left Essex, who now disbanded what was left of his army, open to damaging smears. Francis Bacon later summed up the extent of his vulnerability. Just as ‘the secrecy of that parley’, as he put it, gave Essex ‘the more liberty of treason, so it may give any man the more liberty of surmise what was handled between them’. Almost certainly, Essex’s overriding aim was to protect Elizabeth from the threat of a Spanish invasion of Ireland. The danger was that his enemies would find it easy to feed a distorted account of the purpose of the truce directly into Elizabeth’s fears of a grand pan-Britannic conspiracy.
But that was still to come. On reading Essex’s first reports of the truce, Elizabeth was not unduly concerned, believing it to have been ‘seasonably made (though now it seems that in many provinces the rebels make use of it), as great good hath grown to the most of Her Majesty’s subjects by it’. But from the outset she expressed a justified anxiety over the lack of witnesses to the parley. ‘For comeliness, example and for your own discharge’, she chivvied Essex a mere ten days after his rendezvous with Tyrone, ‘we marvel you would carry it no better.’ But this was chiefly because Tyrone was as slippery as he was duplicitous. ‘To trust this traitor upon oath’, she parried, ‘is to trust a devil upon his religion.’
The fact is that Elizabeth had far more on her mind in the summer and early autumn of 1599 than Essex’s Irish expedition. Since mid-June, rumours that Philip III was intent on sending a fourth Gran Armada had triggered a panic throughout southern England. Sixty great warships and a hundred and twenty other ships with three thousand soldiers on board were said to be victualled and ready to sail from Coruña.
In response, the queen appointed the Earl of Nottingham, who was still Lord Admiral, to be Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom with supreme command by land and sea. Working closely with Cecil, he dispatched a full complement of royal navy ships to patrol the Channel approaches and the southern coast of Ireland, while another forty or so armed merchantmen and pinnaces were requisitioned as support vessels. An improvised barrage was hastily created across the Thames, near Barking, by scuttling eighty-three small ships half laden with ballast. The coastal defences were strengthened and the county militias from Cornwall to Norfolk put on full alert. As in 1588, plans were made to assemble a field army some twenty-five-thousand-strong, drawn from the southern counties, to defend the queen and Court if the Armada landed. A serious failure of intelligence left the Privy Council entirely unaware that the Spanish fleet’s true destination was to be Ireland.
Several false alarms brought turmoil to London as heavy iron chains were once again hung across the streets and the city gates locked and bolted. In early August, a rumour spread like wildfire that Spaniards had landed at Southampton and were marching towards London. This had arisen from a mistake during the night of the 6th, when lookouts on the Isle of Wight had spotted a flotilla of ships passing eastwards along the Channel and fired the beacons. In fear of her life, Elizabeth was driven at high speed in her coach to St James’s Palace, where she took refuge, exactly as in 1588. Several days would elapse before she could be certain that these mysterious vessels in the Channel were no more than innocent merchantmen plying their trade, and she could safely emerge.
At the very last moment, Philip III’s ships sailed not northwards for England or Ireland, but southwards for the Azores, where a formidable fleet of Dutch warships lay in wait for the New World treasure convoys. Unaware of the change of plan, the queen resumed an intriguing diplomacy she had pursued intermittently since 1587, when, after vigorous lobbying by Walsingham and the London merchants for the best part of two years, she had appealed to Sultan Murad III of Turkey to open up a new front in the war. Her aim then was to distract the Spanish navy by inciting Murad to attack Spain on its Mediterranean flank.
Strongly encouraged by Walsingham, Elizabeth had from the very outset justified her initiative on religious as well as strategic grounds, arguing that both Protestantism and Islam were haters of idolatry. Perhaps surprisingly for a woman who, by the time of her translation of Boethius, had come to interpret contemporary events as a test of character imposed on her by God, she had no compunction about setting the Muslim ‘infidels’ against the Christians of Spain. For their part, a number of London merchants trading in Venice and Turkey had joined forces to form the Levant Company, chartered in 1592. Lobbying the queen continually to open up diplomatic and therefore improved commercial relations with the Sultan, they were able to make huge profits from exporting raw iron and munitions to the Ottoman empire, returning from Istanbul and Aleppo with spices, raw silk, cotton, indigo, carpets, apothecary wares, currants, sugar and sweet wines.
Begged by Elizabeth for support at the time of the great crisis of 1588, the Sultan had excused himself, saying that he lacked the resources to wage war simultaneously in Persia and the western Mediterranean. When, however, the Persian war ended in 1590, Burghley and the queen had tried again to unleash Ottoman forces against Spain, channelling much of their diplomacy through Dr Lopez. The most influential westerner in Istanbul, the Portuguese Jewish merchant Don Solomon Abenaes was Lopez’s kinsman. And it was largely through Don Solomon that Burghley and the queen spent much of the next three years urging Murad and his advisers to attack Spanish possessions in southern Italy. In fact, the queen’s links to Don Solomon may go some considerable way to explain her decision to stay Lopez’s execution warrant.
Unfortunately, Murad always replied that he had more pressing problems than Spain. Chief among them were the episodic upheavals in his tributary principalities beyond the Danube, either in Moldavia, the last Christian outpost in the Balkans, or in Hungary, where in 1593 the Ottomans resumed war against the Habsburgs. When, two years later, Mehmed III, Murad’s eldest son and heir by the Albanian-born Sultana Sāfiye, mounted the throne, Elizabeth wrote again (her letter is lost but its contents can be worked out from the reply). An offer of amity was swiftly returned by the Grand Vizier, Sinān Pasha, but it came with a sting in the tail. After reminding the queen that the Hungarian war was the new Sultan’s top priority, Sinān Pasha invited her to send him troops and money first. When Edward Barton, Elizabeth’s newly appointed first resident ambassador in Istanbul, provided her with a translation of this document, he tactfully omitted that last passage.
A superficially more enticing offer followed in the summer of 1596 on the back of Philip II’s second Gran Armada, which was at first thought to be directed against Calais or Marseilles. In a reassuring letter to the queen, the Sultan explained that he would not want her war effort to be compromised by a Spanish attack on Marseilles: if the town fell, he would send a fleet to relieve it and restore it to France. Once again, self-interest lay at the heart of the Turkish response, as Marseilles, along with Venice, was the chief hub for imports of Ottoman goods into western Europe.
No sooner had the ink dried on the Sultan’s letter than he left Istanbul for Hungary at the head of an army of thirty thousand, accompanied by Barton, who followed in a coach with his luggage, carried by thirty-six baggage camels provided at Mehmed’s expense. For the next three years, Anglo-Ottoman diplomacy slumbered and the Sultan’s letters to Elizabeth were restricted to reporting Turkish victories in central Europe.
Then, in 1599, at the height of the fresh crisis created by the threat of a fourth Spanish Armada, Elizabeth decided to write, woman to woman, to Mehmed’s mother, Sāfiye. Her approach made perfect sense, because the Ottoman state, during both Murad III and Mehmed III’s reigns, notoriously, was ruled mainly from the harem. Elizabeth had employed very similar tactics on Barton’s advice six years earlier in 1593, using Sāfiye as her intermediary in an attempt to influence the direction of the Hungarian war. At that time, her letter had been accompanied by a few handsome gifts, paid for by the Levant Company. These consisted of ‘a jewel of Her Majesty’s picture’ (possibly a Hilliard miniature) set with rubies and diamonds, three great gilt plates, ten garments of cloth of gold and a very fine case of glass bottles, silver and gilt.
Elizabeth’s letter of 1593 has disappeared, and Burghley, maddeningly, kept no copy, but even if this is likely to have been far from a candid personal correspondence, Sāfiye replied courteously and effusively. ‘Let there be a salutation so gracious’, she had declared in the course of a raft of diplomatic compliments, ‘that all the rose-garden’s roses are just one petal from it and a speech so sincere that the whole repertoire of a garden’s nightingales is but one stanza of it.’ Advised by Barton that ‘a suit of princely attire being after the Turkish fashion’ would be the ideal gift, Sāfiye sent the queen a fine gown of cloth of gold, together with a kirtle of cloth of silver and ‘a girdle of Turkey work, rich and fair’.
When, in 1599, acting on the advice of Barton’s replacement as ambassador, Henry Lello, Elizabeth wrote again, she sent more gifts. As before, the queen’s letter is lost, and the gifts, a richly upholstered coach for Sāfiye and a magnificent mechanical organ for her son, were to be paid for by the Levant Company. Elizabeth’s Ottoman diplomacy did not extend so far as spending her own money.
Sāfiye sent two letters in reply, each to similar effect, reassuring Elizabeth that she would not cease to intervene on her behalf with her son, not least to the benefit of mutual trade, and thanking her for the coach. The gift was presented to her on 11 September by Lello’s secretary, Paul Pindar. ‘It has arrived and has been delivered,’ reported Sāfiye. ‘It had our gracious acceptance.’
As Lello later informed the queen, Sāfiye received the gift ‘very gratefully’. She ‘made a great demonstration of joy’, handsomely rewarding the coachman. She then proceeded to ride out with her son in the coach ‘often times’. Afterwards, she ‘sent to me to send her the queen’s picture to behold, which I have here given order to make by one that came with the ship’ – by which he probably meant Rowland Buckett, the organ-painter. She also ‘did take a great liking to Mr Pindar, and afterwards she sent for him to have his private company, but their meeting was crossed [prevented]’.
The queen’s gifts had travelled on the Hector, which had sailed from Gravesend, along with the organ-maker Thomas Dallam, a coachman Edward Hale and their assistants. The coach, built in Cow Lane, near Smithfield in London, was modelled on the queen’s own. Said to be worth £600 and thus more valuable than the organ, it closely resembled another built in 1604 with ironwork by Elizabeth’s former locksmith, Thomas Larkin, and with decorations by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. A gift from James I to Tsar Boris Godunov of Russia, this coach is still intact and now preserved in the Armoury Museum in Moscow.
Also crated up on board the Hector during the six-month voyage was the Sultan’s organ. Dallam and his assistants toiled day and night to repair it on arrival in Istanbul, as it had been severely damaged by heat and storms during its journey. At last assembled in the Topkapi Palace, the instrument stood sixteen feet high and was adorned with ‘very curious work of gold and other rich colours’. Four or five feet above the keyboard was a twenty-four-hour striking clock, framed by the organ’s pipework, cased in Corinthian columns carved from gilded oak. Higher up was a platform with angels holding silver trumpets to their lips, and above that a cornucopia of baroque wood-carving surmounted by a holly bush on which silver thrushes and blackbirds perched.
Every hour, on the hour, once the clockwork was wound up and a pin moved, a peal of bells went off, after which the trumpeters sounded a tantarra. The organ then played a series of voluntaries, all by itself, the keys of the instrument going up and down. When the music stopped, the thrushes and blackbirds burst into song and flapped their wings.
Mechanical instruments were a particular favourite of Elizabeth’s. Before Dallam left Gravesend, she had made him set up the organ at Whitehall for a bespoke performance. And while in the Privy Chamber, he would have seen ‘a certain jewel’ specially made for her by her resident instrument-maker and tuner, Edmund Schetz: ‘a pair of virginals with three thousand rich stones’ that came complete ‘with trees, branches, herbs, flowers, weeds, birds, beasts and such like of perfect sterling silver’. When Elizabeth played the instrument, as Schetz helpfully recorded, the birds and animals moved ‘without rattling or any noise’ so that it seemed as if Orpheus by his melodies had ‘made the brute beasts to rejoice’.
So entranced was the Sultan with his gift, he asked Dallam to repeat the mechanical display and then to give a brief solo recital. The second of these requests struck terror into Dallam, since it meant turning his back on the Sultan, which he had been warned that ‘no man on pain of death might do’. Fortunately, Mehmed was sufficiently delighted by Dallam’s virtuoso performance to overlook the breach of protocol, rewarding him with forty-five pieces of gold. In fact, he was so overcome he begged Dallam to stay with him for ever, offering him two royal concubines or any two virgins he cared to select for himself as wives. Dallam managed to extricate himself only by the skin of his teeth. But before he could return home, he had to dismantle the organ and move it to Mehmed’s favourite spot, a pavilion on the shore of the Golden Horn known as the Pearl Kiosk, where he liked to relax.
On 18 October, a week before Dallam finished his second reassembly of the organ, the Hector left Istanbul and began its homeward journey. To Sāfiye’s dismay, it departed without the letters and further gifts she had prepared for Elizabeth, which included a gown of cloth of silver, a matching pair of sleeves, gold-embroidered handkerchiefs and a crown studded with pearls and rubies. Liaising with Sāfiye’s chief gentlewoman Esperanza Malchi, a Venetian Jewess, Lello arranged for Paul Pindar to travel to Greece with Dallam and his assistants on a Turkish vessel, and from there to cross to the island of Zante, where he could rejoin the Hector. Pindar’s task was to deliver Sāfiye’s messages and gifts safely to London.
Pindar finally reached Dover in mid-May 1600. When he handed over the gifts to the queen in the Privy Chamber at Greenwich Palace, she was said to be ‘very well’ and enjoying herself as if she had stripped twenty years from her true age. ‘This day she appoints to see a Frenchman do feats upon a rope . . . Tomorrow, she hath commanded the bears, the bull and the ape to be baited in the tiltyard. Upon Wednesday she will have solemn dancing.’
Whatever triggered her sunny mood, though, it was not Sāfiye’s gifts. Elizabeth barely glanced at them. With the threat from Spain’s fourth Armada finally dissipated, but with Tyrone’s revolt now commanding ever more of her time and attention, she had lost all interest in the prospect of opening up a new front in the Mediterranean. Pressure from the London merchants had also largely evaporated. For the sensational news had just arrived from Aleppo that a flotilla of Dutch merchant ships had successfully sailed to the East Indies around the Cape of Good Hope, defying Portuguese claims to exclusive rights to navigation in the region. Once the astronomical value of the cargoes they had returned with became known, the London merchants forgot about Turkey and rapidly switched their attention to Asia.
It was another nail in the coffin of the more fully joined-up ways of devising a war strategy that men like Walsingham, Ralegh and Essex had pioneered. Since the assassination of William of Orange in 1584, all three, in their radically different ways, had advocated a more aggressive, better coordinated strategy for dealing with Spain and Catholicism, one that at the same time could transform England’s economic and commercial position in the world, but always the queen had proved to be the obstacle. Now, it was to be a matter of defeating Tyrone as quickly as possible, and at almost any cost, before Philip III sent a fifth Armada to land in southern Ireland.
Ever since the Treaty of Vervins, cries for peace with Spain had steadily become more strident. Robert Cecil, with his own mercantile investments to think of, had led the peace party in the Privy Council. And, as the long anxious months went by, the queen’s resolve never to make peace with Spain in her lifetime had slowly begun to waver. In September 1599, a bare fortnight after Archduke Albert had made his triumphant entry into Brussels with his new bride, the Infanta Isabella, he had put out an olive branch, assuring Elizabeth of his desire for peace. Lying through his teeth, Albert added that he had received full authority from his new brother-in-law, the Spanish King Philip III, to discuss terms.
Elizabeth swiftly reassured Count Maurice and the States General that she would do nothing without them. She already knew their response: they adamantly opposed a settlement with Spain. Barely was his father cold in the grave than Philip had imposed a trade embargo on the Dutch, aiming to hit them where it hurt most. And she knew only too well, as they did, that Albert’s olive branch had been triggered not by goodwill but by mutinies in his armies.
On the afternoon of Sunday, 9 March 1600, Lodewijk Verreycken, the Archduke’s special envoy, requested an audience at Richmond Palace. To his dismay, Elizabeth gave him a bruising reception, fencing irritably with him. For his part, Verreycken was overconfident. Rather than preparing for the interview, he had been wined and dined by Lord Buckhurst and attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.
Deeply vexed with Verreycken for talking down to her as if a peace was a virtual certainty, Elizabeth quibbled that his letters of credence were signed only by Albert and not by Philip. She then ostentatiously changed the topic to the appalling weather, asking him how the Infanta was coping with her move from the Escorial to freezing Brussels. Afterwards, Cecil, Nottingham and Buckhurst tore his proposals to shreds. When Verreycken demanded that the queen’s remaining auxiliary troops be withdrawn from the Netherlands and that all trade between England and the Dutch should cease, he was greeted with a deafening silence. Curious to see if a deal could still be done, the privy councillors asked whether Philip would concede English merchants free passage to the trade of the East Indies, but Verreycken refused. Nor was he able to promise that no Spanish aid would be given to Tyrone’s rebels.
Verreycken was sent back to Brussels with a demand that the Archduke should fundamentally revise the peace terms and was offered a month to provide an answer. The result was a much-heralded peace conference at Boulogne in May, when Spanish, Flemish and English delegates finally sat down together. The Dutch held their breath, but the negotiations were doomed to fail. Elizabeth’s instructions to Sir Henry Neville, the new ambassador to France who led the English delegation, ran to ten closely written pages and made it clear that there was to be no compromise over the auxiliaries and no agreement to a hostile move against the Dutch States. Neville was also told to stipulate that free trade to the East Indies would be considered a litmus test of a ‘true amity’ with Spain, without which the two countries must remain at war.
With peace once more off the agenda, Philip made fresh plans to invade Ireland, where Mountjoy was fast boxing the rebels into their Ulster homeland. Just as the Spanish delegates to the Boulogne conference were on their way to file their report in Brussels, Tyrone, who had a price of 4,000 marks (£2.6 million today) put on his head, made a loud appeal for Spanish aid. Without delay, Philip consulted the Council of State. ‘We think that to protect and help these Catholics will be an act most worthy of Your Majesty’s greatness’ was the unanimous reply. ‘Your Majesty will be able to copy what the queen does through the rebels of Holland and Zeeland, and at a very small cost.’ Juan de Idiáquez, one of the hawks who had encouraged the Portuguese double agent Manuel de Andrada to incite Dr Lopez to poison the queen, argued for a fifth Armada to be sent to southern Ireland to bring Elizabeth to her knees. His fellow councillors urged caution: Spain could barely find enough money to pay the Archduke’s troops and an expedition that went off at half-cock would jeopardize the very interests that Philip hoped to protect.
But Philip sided with de Idiáquez. On Monday, 24 August 1601, a fifth Armada set sail from the port of Lisbon, destined for Ireland. On board a fleet of thirty-three ships, nineteen of them warships and the rest armed merchantmen and transport vessels, were 4,500 soldiers under the command of Don Juan del Águila. The expedition would be jinxed from the beginning. Many of the mariners were foreign conscripts, pressed into service by a last-minute raid on foreign shipping. They could not understand their officers and had no loyalty to the king or to the cause. As one of Águila’s naval commanders complained, ‘When the action came, I had more need to protect myself from the enemy I was carrying with the Armada than from the enemy without . . . Once in Ireland, many of them left me for the enemy.’
A shortage of victuals combined with a disagreement as to the Armada’s final destination sowed further confusion. Was the fleet to undertake the slower, much riskier Atlantic route to Ulster around the west coast of Ireland or the quicker, safer one to the southern coast between Cork and Waterford? If the former, food would be short. If the latter, Águila’s troops would be left with the almost impossible task of marching across the hostile terrain to join up with the rebels.
As luck would have it, a storm decided the issue by scattering the fleet. Not until the evening of 21 September, after an atrocious journey lasting more than three times longer than anyone had predicted, would Águila make dry land, at Kinsale to the south-west of Cork. By then, he had only 1,700 men and they were on half-rations. After a week, the number rose to 3,400, as the stragglers drifted in. Sir George Carew, a fine soldier and Cecil’s key informant in Ireland, was the closest of Mountjoy’s senior officers to the invading Spaniards and he marched from Cork to assess the threat. Soon Mountjoy followed him. On the 29th, the Lord Deputy rode with a few of his men to reconnoitre the area around the town of Kinsale, which the Spaniards had fortified. It took him a month to pull together his field army but, by the end of October, he had laid siege to the hungry Spaniards with seven thousand men, who would soon be reinforced by two thousand raw conscripts and three hundred cavalry from England, with another three thousand conscripts to follow.
Tyrone would first try ravaging Leinster in an attempt to force Mountjoy to abandon the siege of Kinsale. When that failed, he continued to march southwards, elated to find a new threat ravaging the English ranks – an unidentified zoonotic disease that killed 2,500 soldiers and put 2,000 more out of action. Carew wrote to Cecil in dismay: it was beginning to look as if Mountjoy could end up trapped in a pincer movement between the Spaniards and the Ulstermen with a much-reduced fighting force.
Carew’s fears proved to be unwarranted. Although Tyrone had almost 10,000 men at his disposal, the Spaniards would dwindle to fewer than 2,500 fit for combat. With his proud soldiers soon thinking themselves lucky to be eating dogs and cats when they could find them, Águila appealed to Tyrone not to delay. And, shortly after dawn on Christmas Eve, the battle began. Caught between firm ground and a bog by an English cavalry charge that broke his lines, Tyrone would have no choice but to flee. Seeing that the rebels’ cause was in tatters, the Spaniards declined to sally forth from Kinsale, fearing a massacre. By dusk, a thousand Irish lay dead and eight hundred were wounded, as against only a handful of English.