Imperial Japanese Army Legacy 1920-45

On August 16, 1945, Maj. Sugi Shigeru led about 100 young soldiers from the army’s air signal training school in Ibaraki prefecture to Tokyo in order to protect the emperor from the imminent allied occupation. The Guard Division, which was responsible for defending the palace, shooed them away, but the group congregated at Ueno Park, eventually occupying the art museum. More arrivals from the school swelled their numbers to around 400 armed and emotional young men. Sugi ignored senior officers’ orders to disband, and the next day Maj. Ishihara Sadakichi, a Guard Division officer and friend of Sugi’s, was sent to convince him to leave. While the two were talking, a second lieutenant assigned to the training school walked up and shot Ishihara to death. Sugi in turn shot and killed the lieutenant. The murders broke the spell of an imperial rescue mission, and the disillusioned troops drifted away. That night Sugi and three other junior officers committed suicide. The scene of the army’s decisive victory in 1868 over supporters of the Tokugawa shogunate became the backdrop for the imperial army’s violent curtain call in 1945.

Radical young reformers had created the new army of 1868 and forged intensely personal relationships as young men at war bonded by danger. Their personal ties created a web of informal connections that transcended the emerging political, military, and bureaucratic institutions. The first generation of leaders not only held the various levers of state power but also knew how to use them. They also possessed a self-assertiveness that attracted adherents and repelled opponents.

The army’s formative experiences left it riven with competing internal factions dominated by strong contending personalities who held diametrically opposing visions of a future army. Reaction to the Chōshū-Satsuma domination of senior military ranks produced anti-Yamagata stalwarts like Miura and Soga who simultaneously represented a French faction that opposed Yamagata’s and Katsura’s Prussian clique. Arguments about the merits of differing force structures and the functions of a general staff consumed most of the 1880s. Though the army successfully adapted division formations and staff organizations, it failed to institutionalize the highest decision-making process and formalize command and control arrangements.

Lacking that apparatus, army leaders had to rely on the emperor to resolve disagreements and authorize policy. From beginning to end, the army depended on its relationship with the throne for authority as well as legitimacy and enshrined its unique connection to the emperor in the Meiji Constitution. Although the army steadily increased its power, it still remained one of many government institutions (which were simultaneously expanding their influence) competing for imperial certification. Initially, army leaders used the symbols of the throne to promote nationalism or a sense of nationhood, but by the early 1900s they were manipulating the imperial institution to secure larger force structures and budgets. By the 1930s they used appeals to the throne to justify illegal acts at home and aggression overseas.

The formative period realized its immediate goal, which was the preservation of domestic order. Had Japan fallen into civil chaos during the 1870s or 1880s, the nation might have shared a fate similar to China’s. By quelling civil disturbances and crushing armed insurrections, the army guaranteed domestic order and became the bedrock of the oligarchic government. Thereafter a series of midrange objectives carried Japan through two limited regional wars. In each the army initially sought to protect previously acquired gains on the Asian continent, and successive victories brought in new acquisitions that in turn required protection and ever-larger military forces.

Between 1868 and 1905 the army played a significant role in achieving the nebulous but shared national strategic goal of creating “a rich country and a strong army.” At the least, the slogan suggested a general approach to modernize Japan in order to fend off potential enemies. The well-ordered colonial world of nineteenth-century western imperialism fit the conservative approach of Japan’s oligarchs and military leaders, who were often the same individuals. Working in a well-defined international system, men like Yamagata cautiously developed the army’s strategy in reaction to events.

Successors built on Yamagata’s foundation, modified the army’s institutions to meet new requirements, and institutionalized doctrine, training, and professional military education. The steadily expanding conscription system indoctrinated youths, who in turn transmitted military values to their communities, as the army became an accepted part of the larger society. But the second generation of leadership faced the problem of perpetuating the oligarch consensus, an impossible task because of the emergence of other strong competing elites—the bureaucracy, political parties, big business—whose demands for their shares of power and influence inevitably shifted national priorities and international policies.

Furthermore, once the nation had achieved the goals of the Meiji Restoration, a new strategic consensus was required. It never materialized. The army responded with strategic plans that reflected narrow service interests, not national ones. Army culture increasingly protected the military institution at the expense of the nation. One might say the army had always put itself first, but after 1905 the tendency was exacerbated by the absence of an agreed-upon common opponent, a strategic axis of advance, and force structure requirements.

Until the Russo-Japanese War fierce debates raged within the army about Japan’s future. Should the government be satisfied to be a minor power defended by a small territorial army, or should Japan, undergirded by an expanded army and navy, aspire to a dominant role in Asia? Imperial sanction for the 1907 imperial defense policy set Japan on the latter course because of fears of a Russian war of revenge, rising anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States, and an obsession to preserve continental interests acquired at great cost in blood and treasure. International pressures helped to shape the army, but perhaps the internal debate, division, and dissension were decisive in its overall evolution. In other words, the formulation of strategy, doctrine, and internal army policy decided the army’s and the nation’s fate.

Japan’s post-1905 aspirations for regional security enlarged the army’s responsibilities to encompass garrison and pacification duties in Korea and the railroad zone in Manchuria. The army’s emphasis in the 1907 imperial defense policy aimed to protect those newly acquired interests by conducting offensive operations against a resurgent Russia. The navy, intent on expanding south, identified the United States as its potential opponent. Military objectives were not focused, and the formulation of long-term military strategy foundered as the army compromised internally on force structure issues and externally with the navy over budget shares and the strategic axis of advance.

Too often after 1907 long-term strategic planning was sacrificed for short-term service-specific goals to protect budgets and resolve internal doctrinal and philosophical differences. Formalized strategic planning reflected parochial service interests, not national ones, and military strategy habitually depended on unrealistic plans that the nation could not afford. Military strategy was never integrated into a comprehensive national strategy and never fully coordinated from the top. The last cabinet consensus was for war with Russia in 1904, but even then there was no service agreement on how to fight the campaign. Decision-making had less to do with national unanimity than with the absence of an agreed-upon national strategy.

Unable and unwilling to resolve fundamental differences, the services went their separate strategic ways and produced operational and force structure requirements whose implementation would have bankrupted the nation. Recognizing this, the Diet and political parties consistently rejected the army’s more radical proposals for higher appropriations into the early 1920s. At a time of unprecedented global flux, internal fissures plagued army planning and operations while external friction with the legislature, the imperial court, and the public disrupted hopes for service expansion.

Economic austerity intensified the bitter factional disputes over strategy and force structure that erupted between Tanaka Giichi, Ugaki Kazushige, and Uehara Yusaku. These were not idle disagreements about abstract numbers of divisions but fundamental expressions of substantially different approaches to future warfare. Put differently, the army had moved from its personality-based cliques of the nineteenth century to professionally based groups led by officers holding competing and incompatible visions of future warfare. Traditionalists argued there was no need to match the technology of the West because Japan’s next war would be in northeast Asia, not Western Europe. Excessive reliance on technology would detract from traditional martial values and fighting spirit. And the divergent proposals became zero-sum choices; the army either funded personnel or modernization.

Major international realignments after World War I, particularly in Northeast Asia, reinvigorated the army’s mission. Under the revised postwar international structure, Japan confronted a growing Chinese nationalism, a resurgent Soviet Union in North Asia, and a weakening of the western grip on Asia. New ideologies of communism, democracy, and national self-determination threatened the army’s core values by questioning the legitimacy of the imperial throne. During and after World War I, changing requirements for national security rewrote the rules governing international relations. Alliances that had been the basis of international stability were suspect. Treaties to reduce armaments or guarantee commercial opportunity appeared anti-Japanese. Most of all, modern warfare meant total war—whose preparations had to extend beyond national borders, making it impossible to pursue a conservative foreign policy in a well-ordered international framework and simultaneously achieve military goals of self-sufficiency required to wage total war.

Japan’s new theorists of warfare deemed the acquisition of China’s resources vital national interests and thereby elevated China to a central place in army strategy. Army officers became more aggressive and assertive toward China and made radical, often unilateral, decisions about national security that converted a traditionally defensive strategy into an aggressive, acquisitive one. This decisive strategic alteration set Japan on a course that challenged the postwar international order. Unilateral action by army officers failed in China in 1927 and 1928, but the army’s stunning “Conspiracy at Mukden” in 1931 rendered Manchuria and North China essential national interests. Instead of the army serving the interests of the state, the state came to serve the army.

Senior army leaders, however, were unable to agree on the limits of continental expansion or the type of army required for the changing ways of warfare. The bitter clashes between Araki and Nagata about the timing for war with the Soviet Union and army modernization were not resolved, only carried forward as disputes between Ishiwara and Umezu over China policy, rearmament, and a short-war or long-war strategy. Likewise, the war ministry and general staff often found themselves at odds over strategic decisions during the Siberian Expedition, the China Incident, and the 1941 decision for war with the Soviet Union. They continued to argue about strategy during the Asia-Pacific War, disagreeing about the merits of holding an extended defensive perimeter, Burma operations, and homeland defense, among others. The internal bickering was masked by a united front adopted against the navy, the Diet, political parties, and the foreign ministry. As much as army leaders disliked it, even in wartime they had to deal with these competing elites, compromise with them, and bargain to gain their ends.

Between 1916 and 1945, six army generals served as prime minister. Only one, Tōjō Hideki, displayed an ability to control subordinates and administer the cabinet, but his attempt to consolidate control made powerful enemies within the army who collaborated to assure his downfall. A dominant war minister like Terauchi Masatake fell victim to the rice riot mobs, Tanaka Giichi resigned after the Zhang Zuolin fiasco, and Hayashi Senjūrō quit so soon after taking the premiership that pundits nicknamed it the “eat-and-run” cabinet. Abe Nobuyuki served briefly with little distinction, and Koiso Kuniaki resigned after the defeats in the Philippines and Iwo Jima, unable to coordinate military and national strategy.

The outbreak of full-scale warfare in China in 1937 ended the army’s ambitious modernization and rearmament plans. But the army did not prepare for the last war. It planned well for the next war, only against the wrong opponent. Japan could not afford to prepare simultaneously for the army to fight the Soviet Union in Manchuria and the navy to fight the United States in the Pacific. Stated differently, the services consistently produced a military strategy that the nation could not afford. Only the United States had the resources and industrial capacity to underwrite a global maritime and continental military strategy. Japan went to war against the one opponent it could never defeat. Appeals to warrior spirit to offset American material superiority pitted merciless men against impersonal machines in a savage war that ended in atomic destruction.

Suicide tactics, fighting to the last man, and brutality during the Asia-Pacific War became the legacy of Japan’s first modern army. Yet the concept of literally fighting to the death did not gain popular acceptance until the late 1930s and was not institutionalized until 1941. After the Boshin Civil War and the Satsuma Rebellion there were no mass suicides by the defeated rebels. The collective suicides by sixteen members of the White Tiger Brigade during the Boshin War represented a tragedy of such unusual proportions that the event became enshrined in popular memory. It is true that the Meiji leaders meted out cruel punishments to high-ranking rebels and instigators, but the new government took pains to reintegrate most of the former insurgents into society. Government propaganda and the deification of wartime heroes during the Russo-Japanese War intersected with a popular reaction to western values that revived derivative samurai ideals as somehow representative of true Japanese spirit to create new standards for battlefield conduct. This attitudinal change eventually metastasized into tactical and operational doctrine that prohibited surrender, coerced soldiers to fight to the death, and ultimately endorsed the desperation kamikaze tactics of 1944–1945.

Ordinary soldiers did not fight ruthlessly to the bitter end because of a common samurai gene pool or military heritage. The great paradox is that the only samurai the new Meiji leaders ever trusted were themselves. Appeals to a mythical warrior ethos were government and army devices to promote the morale of a conscript force that neither the civil nor military leaders held in much regard.

In macro terms, soldiers fought because the educational system inculcated a sense of national identity and responsibility to the state, patriotism, and reverence for imperial values that the army in turn capitalized on to indoctrinate pliable conscripts with idealized military values. At the micro level, they continued to fight when all hope was gone for various institutional and personal reasons. Army psychologists identified tough training, solid organization, army indoctrination, and small-unit leadership as factors in sustaining unit cohesion in extremis. Personal reactions were as varied as the conscripts. Some fought to uphold family honor (usually sons of veterans), others simply to survive one more day, and most to support others. Based on recent, preliminary research, it appears that the vertical solidarity between junior leaders (lieutenants and senior sergeants) and the conscripts they led played a more significant role in combat motivation than in western armies.

Any generalizations about the army’s Asia-Pacific wartime performance require caveats. Battles or campaigns that ended in the almost total destruction of army units usually occurred when they were surrounded, as happened at Nomonhan, or defending isolated atolls such as Peleliu and smaller islands like Attu, Saipan, and Iwo Jima, where retreat was impossible. Conversely, on Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Luzon, and China, large Japanese army forces conducted tactical and operational retreats to preserve unit integrity. True, those armies suffered heavy losses, but most occurred after their logistics systems collapsed. There were also times such as at Leyte when withdrawal was an option but senior commanders’ stubbornness and ordinary soldiers’ docility had predictable disastrous results. Mutaguchi’s Burma campaign is probably the most notorious example, but even his battered army did not fight to the last man.

An assessment of the Japanese army must address its brutality. The army’s conduct in the Boshin War, the Satsuma Rebellion, and the Taiwan Expedition was at times reprehensible and reflected a combination of traditional Japanese military practices of the samurai class and late nineteenth-century western colonial pacification policies against indigenous peoples. In 1894, however, the Second Army’s massacre of Chinese at Port Arthur went beyond accepted international standards, and the army reacted by protecting its interests, not punishing the perpetrators. Just a few years later, during the Boxer Expedition, Japanese soldiers were models of good behavior, operating under draconian discipline designed to impress the western allies with the nation’s enlightened and civilized military forces. If nothing else, the experience suggests that the army could enforce strict field discipline when it found it to its advantage. The army’s conduct during the Russo-Japanese War was likewise exemplary; prisoners of war were well treated, European residents of Port Arthur were not harmed, and international rules of land warfare were observed. A decade later, German prisoners taken at Tsingtao were similarly well treated. The army’s conduct during the Siberian intervention was at times atrocious, but perhaps comprehensible, as the consequence of fighting a nasty guerrilla war in the wasteland.

A sea change in attitudes about civilians and prisoners seems to date from the 1920s. Notions of total war made civilians an essential component of an enemy’s overall war-making capability and therefore legitimate targets to one degree or another by all major military powers. The army’s hardening attitude during the 1930s about being captured complemented a growing contempt for enemies who surrendered. The permissible violence that unofficially suffused the barracks drew on concepts of superiority to toughen the conscripts while the gradual militarization of Japanese society, abetted by a national educational system that glorified martial values, contributed to a sense of moral and racial superiority. Popular stereotypes of devious Chinese made their way into field manuals, and when full-scale warfare broke out in China in 1937, officers at all levels condoned or connived at murder, rape, arson, and looting.

War crimes may afflict all armies, but the scope of Japan’s atrocities was so excessive and the punishments so disproportionate that no appeal to moral equivalency can excuse their barbarity. Between July 1937 and November 1944 in China, for instance, the army court-martialed about 9,000 soldiers for assorted offenses, most involving either crimes against superior officers or desertion, indicating that internal discipline mattered more to the army than external brutality.

By the late 1930s the Japanese army relied on violence to terrorize Chinese opponents and civilians into submission. The army was as ruthless with Japanese citizens (Okinawa being the case in point) as it was with indigenous populations under its occupation because it placed the institution’s prestige first and justified illegal acts to protect it. First readily observable after the Port Arthur massacre, the trend accelerated in the late 1920s with field insubordination (1927 Shandong), assassination (1928 Zhang Zuolin), criminal conspiracies (1931 Manchuria, 1932 Shanghai, and 1936 Inner Mongolia), and the sack of China, which began in July 1937 and continued into August 1945. The government, the army, and the navy ignored reports of mistreatment of Allied POWs and crimes against civilians to perpetuate the institution, not the nation.

Violence was idiosyncratic, depending on commanders’ attitudes and orders. Too often senior Japanese officers ordered the execution of prisoners and civilians, the destruction of villages and cities, and condoned or encouraged plunder and rape. Junior officers followed orders (or acted secure in the knowledge that no punishment awaited them), and the enlisted ranks followed the permissive lead and took out their frustration and anger on the helpless. Not all Japanese soldiers participated in war crimes, and those who did cannot be absolved because they were following orders or doing what everyone else in their unit was. They were the “ordinary men” in extraordinary circumstances who became capable of the worst.

Between the cease-fire of August 15 and Japan’s formal surrender on September 2, the cabinet ordered all ministries to destroy their records—orders that were soon extended to local government offices throughout Japan. The imperial army tried to conceal its past, particularly its long record of atrocities throughout Asia. A week-long bonfire consumed the war ministry’s and general staff’s most sensitive, and likely most incriminating, documents. Imperial general headquarters also transmitted burn-after-reading messages to overseas units ordering them to destroy records related to the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war, transform comfort women into army nurses, and burn anything “detrimental to Jap[anese] interests.” Finally, former army officers concealed significant materials from the occupying American authorities so that they could write an “unbiased” account of what they called the Greater East Asia War after the occupation ended.

Throughout the war, the army had routinely starved and beaten prisoners and had murdered tens of thousands of Caucasian prisoners and hundreds of thousands of Asian captives. Disturbed by the postwar outpouring of such revelations, in mid-September Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru conveyed his thinking on the matter to Japanese diplomats in neutral European nations. “Since the Americans have recently been raising an uproar about the question of our mistreatment of prisoners, I think we should make every effort to exploit the atomic bomb question in our propaganda.” Instead of confronting the issue of war crimes, Shigemitsu tried to shift attention from it, a precedent the Japanese government has followed ever since.

The Allies’ dragnet for Japanese war criminals covered most of East Asia and identified and punished Japanese for war crimes committed throughout the area of Japanese conquest. Besides the twenty-eight leaders designated Class A war criminals (a number that included fourteen army generals) for plotting aggressive war, 5,700 Japanese subjects were tried as Class B and C war criminals for conventional crimes, violations of the laws of war, rape, murder, mistreatment of prisoners of war, and so forth. About 4,300 were convicted, almost 1,000 sentenced to death, and hundreds given life imprisonment.

Others escaped justice. The most notorious example was Unit 731, a biological warfare unit in Manchuria that conducted human experiments on prisoners to test the lethality of the pathogens they manufactured. At war’s end the unit destroyed its headquarters and germ-warfare facilities as its commander, Lt. Gen. Ishii Shiro, and his senior officers escaped the advancing Soviet armies and made their way back to Japan. Ishii later traded his cache of documents to Supreme Commander Allied Forces (SCAP), Japan, in exchange for immunity from prosecution as a war criminal.

For all the bluster about one’s responsibility to emulate samurai values, only about 600 officers committed suicide to atone for their roles in bringing Japan to defeat and disaster. That number included just 22 of the army’s 1,501 army generals. Other general officers disarmed their troops throughout Asia and the Pacific in accordance with Tokyo’s August 17 notification to major commands that surrendering soldiers were not to be considered prisoners of war and that unit order and discipline would be maintained.

The immediate military problems were the repatriation of overseas Japanese and the dissolution of the army. Even with Japanese cooperation, these were staggering tasks. More than 6.6 million Japanese were outside home islands (more than half of them soldiers and sailors), and there were one million Chinese and Koreans brought to Japan as forced laborers during the war who had to be returned home. About two million Japanese were in Manchuria, one million in Korea and Taiwan, and about one-and-a-half million in China. Others were scattered across Southeast Asia, the Southwest and Central Pacific, and the Philippines. The enormous mass migration was carried out between 1945 and 1947, using U.S. Navy and Japanese ships, many crewed by Japanese seamen. Repatriation and demobilization went smoothly, and Gerhard Weinberg has noted the paradox between the turmoil in Asia that followed Japan’s defeat and, notwithstanding the desperate conditions, the relative tranquility in Japan itself.

In mid-September 1945 SCAP dissolved the imperial general headquarters and made the war and navy ministries responsible for demobilization of the armed forces. By December 1945 the ministries had disbanded all military forces in the Japanese home islands. SCAP then converted the ministries into demobilization boards that continued to muster out returning overseas veterans until October 1947, when the boards too were inactivated. After a generation of insubordination, conspiracy, and iniquity, in one of the great surprises of World War II Japanese officers obeyed orders and presided over the dissolution of their army. Perhaps nothing befitted the army so much as its self-administered demise

The rapid rise of Japan’s first modern army was a remarkable accomplishment that succeeded against long odds. Army leaders faced difficult options whose outcomes were never certain. Their choices set the army on a course whose direction was buffeted by foreign threats, altered by personalities, and changed by domestic developments. What continues to define the army, however, is its fall, a descent into ruthlessness and barbarity during the 1930s whose repercussions are still felt today through much of Asia. That legacy will forever haunt the old army.

Breech-Loading Heavy Guns at Sea

Ordnance experiments in the 1870s involving testing pressures in gun bores revealed that performance could be significantly enhanced by utilizing slower-burning gunpowder and longer barrels. Slow-burning large-grain powder, known as prismatic powder, prolonged the length of time that the charge acted on the projectile and thus increased both muzzle velocity and range. The problem with this was that the projectile left the barrel before all the powder was consumed. This could be solved by longer barrels, but that made muzzle-loading next to impossible. The slower-burning powders also required a powder chamber of diameter larger than that of the bore. All these factors, and the need to protect gun crews during the loading process, prompted a renewed search for an effective breech-loading gun.

Although breechloaders had been tried at sea in the modern era, beginning in 1858 in the French Gloire and later in the British Warrior, problems led to them being discarded. In 1864 the Royal Navy reverted definitively to muzzle-loading ordnance, but other nations, especially the French, moved ahead with breechloaders.

The old problem of ineffective sealing at the breech was only slowly overcome. In 1872 a French Army captain named de Bange came up with a “plastic gas check” that helped prevent escape of gases at the breech, and in 1875 France adopted the breechloader. At the same time brass cartridge cases, already used for small arms, came into use for the smaller breech-loading guns.

An accident aboard HMS Thunderer in the Sea of Marmora in January 1879 helped prompt the Royal Navy’s return to breechloaders. Simultaneous firing was under way, with the main guns fired in salvo; during this, one of the battleship’s 12-inch muzzle-loading guns misfired. This was not detected from the force of the discharge of the one gun, and both guns were run back in hydraulically to be reloaded. When they were again fired the double-charged gun blew up, killing 11 men and injuring 35 others. This could not have happened with a breech-loading gun, and in May the Admiralty set up a committee to investigate the merits of breech-loading versus muzzle-loading guns. In August 1879 after a committee of officers examined new breechloaders built by Armstrong in Britain and Krupp in Germany, the Royal Navy decided to utilize the breechloader in three battleships entering service in 1881-1882.

Another change in the period was to guns of steel, which accompanied enormous increases in gun size. Krupp in Germany began producing cast steel rifled guns in 1860. The change to steel guns was made possible by the production of higher-quality steel. At the same time that the Royal Navy went to the breechloader it adopted the all-steel gun, in which a steel jacket was shrunk over a steel tube and layers of steel hoops were then shrunk over this. The system of jackets and hoops over an inner steel tube was followed by one in which steel wire was spun on under tension varying with the distance from the bore. This helped eliminate barrel droop. Such “wire guns” continued in British service until the 1930s. Bore lengths of the guns increased from 35 to 45 calibers and even from 40 to 45 calibers.

The larger guns of the period required mechanized ammunition hoists and complex breech-loading gear. Their metal carriages recoiled on inclined metal slides that pivoted under the gun port. The slides were trained laterally by means of transverse truck wheels moving on racers, iron paths set into the ship’s deck.

Naval Gun Turret

Following the decision to arm ships with a few large-bore pivot-mounted guns as their principal armament, the next step was an armored turret to protect the guns and their crews, especially during the lengthy reloading process. During the Crimean War (1853-1856), Royal Navy captain Cowper Coles designed two floating batteries to engage Russian shore batteries at close range. The second of these mounted a 68-pounder protected by a hemispheric iron shield, which during action proved largely impervious to hostile fire.

In March 1859 Coles patented the idea of turrets aboard ship. He advocated guns mounted on the centerline of the vessel so as to have wide arcs of fire on either side of the ship and halving the number of guns previously required for broadsides fire. Coles’s persistence, coupled with the powerful support of Prince Albert, led the Admiralty in March 1861 to install an experimental armored turret on the floating battery Trusty. The test was a success, for 33 hits from 68-pounder and 100-pounder guns failed to disable it.

The Coles turret turned on a circumferential roller path set in the lower deck, operated by two men with a hand crank. Its upper 4.5 feet of armor came up through the main or upper deck and formed an armored glacis to protect the lower part. The crew and ammunition entered the turret from below through a hollow central cylinder.

The first British seagoing turreted ship was the Coles-inspired Prince Albert of 1864. It mounted four 9-inch muzzle-loading rifles, one each in four centerline circular turrets, turned by hand; 18 men could complete a revolution in one minute. The problem of centerline turrets in a ship of high superstructure and sail rig and very low freeboard (the latter the result of a design error) contributed to the disastrous loss at sea of the Coles-designed HMS Captain in 1870. Most of its crew drowned, Coles among them.

In the United States, John Ericsson’s single revolving turret the Monitor entered service in March 1862. The Monitor and many follow-on types all had very low freeboard. This lessened the amount of armor required to protect the ship, allowing it to be concentrated in the turret. Unlike the Captain, however, the Monitor had no high superstructure or sail rig.

Ericsson’s turret was all above the upper deck, on which it rested. Before the turret could be turned, it had to be lifted by rack and pinion from contact with the deck. A steam engine operating through gearing turned the turret around a central spindle. The Monitor was the first time that a revolving turret had actually been employed in battle, in its March 9, 1862, engagement with CSS Virginia.

Sharp disagreement continued between those who favored the revolving turret and supporters of broadside armament. Renewed interest in the ram-in consequence of the 1866 Battle of Lissa-and larger, more powerful guns helped decide this in favor of the turret. The ram meant that ships had to fire ahead as they prepared to attack an opposing vessel; heavier guns meant that ships needed fewer of them and that these should have the widest possible arc of fire. The elimination of sail rigs and improved ship designs heightened the stability of turreted warships.

Turrets continued to undergo design refinement and received new breech-loading guns as well as heavier armor, indeed the thickest aboard ship. Relatively thin top-of-turret armor on British battle cruisers, however, led to the loss of three of them to German armor-piercing shells in the Battle of Jutland (May 31-June 1, 1916). The battle cruiser turrets also lacked flash-protection doors and the means of preventing a shell burst inside the turret from reaching the magazines. The largest battleship ever built, the Japanese Yamato had 25.6 inches of steel armor protection on its turrets.

Further Reading

Hogg, Ivan, and John Batchelor. Naval Gun. Poole, Dorset, UK: Blandford, 1978.

Lambert, Andrew, ed. Steam, Steel & Shellfire: The Steam Warship, 1815-1905. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992.

Padfield, Peter. Guns at Sea. New York: St. Martin’s, 1974.

Tucker, Spencer C. Handbook of 19th Century Naval Warfare. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 2000.

Hawkey, Arthur. Black Night off Finisterre: The Tragic Tale of an Early British Ironclad. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

Hough, Richard. Fighting Ships. New York: Putnam, 1969.

The Chaffee Tank in Asia

The Light Tank M24 entered US service towards the end of World War II. Intended to replace the M5 Stuart, the first thirty-four M24s reached Europe in November 1944, and were issued to the 2nd Cavalry Group in France. Although commonly referred to as `Chaffee’, this name was actually given to British Army M24s in recognition of General Adna R. Chaffee Jnr., who helped develop the use of tanks in the US armed forces. In all 4,731 M24s were produced.

Post-1945, the M24 saw action in the Korean War. As with other successful designs, it was sold to many armies around the world, and was used in local conflicts long after being replaced in the US Army by the M41 Walker Bulldog. By far the largest buyer of the M24 was France, with 1,260 units being procured via the `US Defense Military Aid Program’. Many of these saw action in the Algerian War, and later in the First Indochina War. While conditions in this latter conflict were not particularly suited to tank operations, the M24 benefitted from minimal ground pressure, allowing it to cope with the soft terrain.

Observations of the British experiences in the Western Desert fighting in 1942 when the 8th Army was using M3 series light tanks, showed that a heavier weapon was desirable for future US light tanks. A 75mm gun was fitted experimentally to a M8 HMC in place of the howitzer, and firing trials proved that it would be possible to develop a version of the M5 series light tank armed with the 75mm gun. Stowage space was severely restricted in the M5, however, more so with the fitting of a 75mm gun, and in addition the overall design of this vehicle was now dated and the armour thickness was inadequate. In April 1943, therefore, following the demise of T7 light/M7 medium programme (qv) the Ordnance Department, in conjunction with Cadillac (makers of the M5 series), began work on an entirely new light tank design which was to incorporate the best combinations of features from earlier designs with all lessons learned from previous experience. The twin Cadillac engines and Hydra-matic transmission which had been so successful and trouble-free in the M5 series were retained and the good accessibility which had been a feature of the T7 layout was adopted. A weight of 18 (short) tons was envisaged with an armour basis of only 25mm to save weight, but with all hull faces angled for optimum protection. Maximum turret armour was 37mm. Vertical volute suspension was replaced by road wheels on torsion arms to give a smoother ride. First of two pilot models, designated T24, was delivered in October 1943 and proved so successful that the Ordnance Department immediately authorised a production order for 1,000 vehicles which was later raised to 5,000. Cadillac and Massey-Harris undertook production, commencing March 1944 and these two plants between them produced 4,415 vehicles (including SP variants) by the war’s end. In each case production supplanted M5 series vehicles.

The 75mm M6 gun was adapted from the heavy aircraft cannon used in the Mitchell bomber, and had a concentric recoil system which saved valuable turret space. The T24 was standardised as the Light Tank M24 in May 1944. First deliveries of M24s were made to American tank battalions in late 1944, supplanting M5s, and the M24 came into increasing use in the closing months of the war, remaining as standard American light tank for many years afterwards.

Parallel to the need for a new light tank was the desire to produce a standard chassis as the basis of the so-called “Light Combat Team”-a complete series of tanks, SP guns, and special purpose tanks all based on one chassis so greatly simplifying maintenance and production. The many variants produced to meet this concept are given below. Each had identical engine, power train, and suspension to the M24.


M19 Gun Motor Carriage: Produced for the AA Command, this vehicle was originally designated T65E1 and built as a development of the T65 GMC (qv) with a twin 40mm M2 AA mount set at the hull rear and the engines moved forward to the hull centre. Design (by the Ordnance Department) commenced in mid-1943 and 904 vehicles were ordered in August 1944 when the design was standardised as the M19. By the war’s end, however, only 285 had been completed. M19s were standard US Army equipment for many years post-war. Crew: 6; weight 38,500Ib; height 9ft 9 1/2-in; elevation – 5° to + 85°; stowage 336 rounds, 40mm.

M41 Howitzer Motor Carriage: Prototype for this vehicle was the T64E1, a development of the T64 HMC (qv) which had been based on M5Al light tank components. The T64E1, however, featured the components of the “Light Combat Team” and was similar in layout to the M19, with centrally-mounted engines and the gun, a 155mm M1 howitzer, at the rear firing forward. It had a manually operated recoil spade and a folding crew platform. Unofficial name for this vehicle was “Gorilla”. Standardised as the M41 HMC, in May 1945,250 of these vehicles were ordered but only 60 were completed by the war’s end. The M41 HMC was standard US Army equipment for many years post-war. Details as for M24 except: Crew: 12 (8 carried in accompanying ammunition carrier); weight: 42,500Ib; length: 19ft 2in; trench crossing: 9ft; stowage: 22 rounds; range: 96 miles; elevation: +45° to – 5°; traverse: 17° left to 20° right; speed: 30mph.

M37 Howitzer Motor Carriage: Intended to supplement or replace the M7 HMC (qv) a new design based on the M24 chassis was produced, resembling the M7 in general layout. Designated T76 it was standardised in November 1944 as the M37 HMC with 105mm M4 howitzer. It had the same hull arrangement (ie, rear engine) as the M24 and compared with the M7 it had greatly increased ammunition stowage and improved armour protection. American Car & Foundry were given the production contract for 448 vehicles, but only 316 were completed, most of them after the war had ended when Cadillac took over the contract. Details as for M24 except: Crew: 7; weight: 40,000Ib; length: 18ft 2in; traverse: 22 to right and left; elevation: +45° to -10°; stowage: 90 rounds.

T38 Mortar Motor Carriage: This was a project to use the M37 HMC in the mortar carrying role. The 105mm howitzer was removed and the embrasure plated over. A 4·2in mortar was carried and fired from the fighting compartment. The project was cancelled in August 1945 when it became apparent that the war would end before the vehicle could go into service. A pilot model was completed.

T77E1 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage: This was a proposed AA tank development initiated in 1943 to mount a specially designed quad .50 cal machine gun turret on the M24 chassis. The turret was developed by the USAAF and featured remote control for the guns. Pilot vehicle, designated T77, was completed and tested at APG in July 1945. As a result of trials a computing sight system was added to the turret and the vehicle was re-designated T77E1. With the cessation of hostilities in September 1945, the project was abandoned.

M24 with swimming device: This was tested in the fall of 1944 and consisted of pontoons attached fore-and-aft to give flotation with grousers added to the tracks to give propulsion in the water, the idea being to allow the standard M24 to “swim” ashore from landing craft. Once ashore, the pontoons were jettisoned. This device was not used operationally. Designation for the device was M20.

Mil Mi-35P Attack Helicopter (Variant 2019 – “Phoenix”)


The Mi-24 attack / transport helicopter was developed by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters.

The Mi-24 entered service with the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and has been deployed by 40 countries. More than 3,500 Mi-24 helicopters have been produced. It has been deployed in more than 40 wars and conflicts including Afghanistan and in Chechnya.

The original model (Nato codename Hind-A), designed to carry eight combat troops, was later reconfigured to take on the gunship role (Hind-D). Later versions, Mi-24P (Hind-F) and the export Mi-35P, are also armed with anti-tank missile systems for the engagement of moving armoured targets, weapon emplacements and slow-moving air targets. All versions retain the troop transport capability.

The Mi-35P version entered into the serial production in August 2020.

Russian Helicopters holding has developed a common standard for Mi-24 modernization designated as Mi-35P. The Mi-35P has received the OPS-24N-1L observation-sight system with a third generation long-wave matrix thermal imager, TV camera, and laser rangefinder. The upgraded gunship’s cockpit has the KNEI-24E-1 flight navigation system with multifunctional displays. The PKV-8-35 digital flight system increases the helicopter’s manoeuvrability and steadiness. The modernised gunship is also fitted with the updated PrVK-24-2 targeting system, which allows the use of 9M127-1 Ataka-VM anti-tank guided missiles and either L370 Vitebsk electronic countermeasure system or its export version President-S. The helicopter has also received a chin-mounted NPPU-23 turret with a twin-barrel GSh-23L rotary cannon. Serial production has started as of August 2020 for an export customer.

Hind helicopter international sales

The Mi-24 is in service with Russia and countries of the ex-Soviet Union and has been exported to Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czech Republic, East Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Korea, Peru, Poland, Vietnam and South Yemen. Ten Mi-35 helicopters were delivered by Russia to the Czech Republic in 2005/2006 as part of a debt repayment. The Mi-35M model entered into serial production by Rostvertol since 2005

In 2005, ten Mi-35M helicopters were ordered by Venezuela. The first batch of four was delivered in July 2006, the second four in December 2006, and the deliveries of remaining helicopters were completed by 2007.Indonesia placed an order for six additional Mi-35s in late 2006 and the deliveries were completed by 2008. Another batch of three Mi-35s out of five was delivered in 2010.Brazil ordered 12 Mi-35M attack helicopters in October 2008, with deliveries completed by 2014.

Iraq took delivery of the first four Mi-35s in 2013 as part of a deal for 40 Mi-35 and Mi-28NE attack helicopters. Another batch of Mi-35Ms was delivered in 2015.

The Mali Air Force took delivery of two Mi-35Ms in 2017.

Pakistan received four Mi-35Ms from Russian Helicopters in 2017, while Nigeria placed an order for 12 Mi-35s in 2019.

India delivered four refurbished Mi-24Vs to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) by 2019 as a replacement for the four attack helicopters earlier gifted to Afghanistan.The Kazakh Armed Forces procured four Mi-35Ms in June 2020.The Mi-35M helicopter is currently being delivered to the Russian Armed Forces.

Mi-24 Hind upgrades

The Russian Army Mi-24s were upgraded with new avionics including thermal imagers. Other upgrade packages are available, including that of Denel / Kentron of South Africa which includes Eloptro infrared sighting systems and Kentron Mokopa anti-tank missiles, and IAI Tamam which has HMOSP (helicopter multi-mission optronic stabilised payload) with FLIR, TV and autotracker, embedded GPS (global positioning system) and cockpit multi-function displays.

The ‘Visegrad Four’ – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – signed an agreement in February 2003 to jointly upgrade up to 105 Mi-24D/V helicopters to Nato standards. This agreement was later abandoned.

However, two Polish Mi-24s were upgraded to Nato standard as prototypes. In February 2004, BAE Systems was selected as integrator for the avionics systems, which include an integrated electronic warfare suite.

In December 2005, Bulgaria signed a contract for the upgrade of 12 Mi-24 helicopters to a team led by Lockheed Martin and Elbit. However, the contract was subsequently cancelled in February 2007.

Mi-24 Hind helicopter design

The design of the Mi-24 is based on a conventional pod and boom, with a five-blade main rotor and three-blade tail rotor. It has retractable tricycle nose-wheel landing gear.

The two crew (pilot and weapons operator) are accommodated in tandem armoured cockpits with individual canopies and flat, bulletproof glass windscreens. The main cabin can accommodate eight troops or four stretchers.

Weapons aboard Mi-24 helicopter

The helicopter has six suspension weapon units on the wingtips. The Mi24D (Mi-25) and the Mi-24V (Mi-35) are equipped with a YakB four-barrelled, 12.7mm, built-in, flexibly mounted machine gun, which has a firing rate of 4,000-4,500 rounds a minute and a muzzle velocity of 860m/s. The Mi-24P is fitted with a 30mm, built-in, fixed gun mount; the Mi-24VP with a 23mm, built-in, flexibly mounted gun.

The Mi-24P and Mi-24V have four underwing pylons for up to 12 anti-tank missiles. The Mi-24V (Mi-35) is armed with the Shturm anti-tank guided missile system. Shturm (Nato designation AT-6 Spiral) is a short-range missile with semi-automatic radio command guidance. The 5.4kg high-explosive fragmentation warhead is capable of penetrating up to 650mm of armour. Maximum range is 5km.

The Mi-24V can also carry the longer-range Ataka anti-tank missile system (Nato designation AT-9), as can the Mi-24P. The Ataka missile’s guidance is by narrow radar beam, and the maximum range of the missile is 8km. The average target range is between 3km-6km. The target hit probability of the Ataka missile is higher than 0.96 at ranges 3km-6km. The missile has a shaped-charge 7.4kg warhead, with a tandem charge for penetration of 800mm-thick explosive reactive armour.

All Mi-24 helicopters can also be armed with rockets and grenade launchers.


The Mi-24D is equipped with the KPS-53A electro-optical sighting pod. The most recent Mi-24V and P variants have a digital PNK-24 avionics suite and multifunction LCD cockpit displays, and Geofizika ONV1 night-vision goggles, along with NVG-compatible cockpit lighting.They are fitted with the Urals Optical and Mechanical Plant GOES-342 TV/FLIR sighting system and a laser rangefinder. Countermeasures include infrared jammer, radar warner and flare dispensers.

Mi-24 engines

The helicopter is powered by two Isotov TV3-117VMA turboshaft engines, developing 2,200shp each. The air intakes are fitted with deflectors and separators to prevent dust particle ingestion when taking off from unprepared sites. An auxiliary power unit is fitted.

The internal fuel capacity is 1,500kg, with an additional 1,000kg in an auxiliary tank in the cabin or 1,200kg on four external tanks. The fuel tank has self-sealing covers and porous fuel tank filler for increased survivability, and the exhaust is fitted with infrared suppression systems.

Mi-24 – General Comparison to Western helicopters

As a combination of armoured gunship and troop transport, the Mi-24 has no direct NATO counterpart. While the UH-1 (“Huey”) helicopters were used in the Vietnam War either to ferry troops, or as gunships, they were not able to do both at the same time. Converting a UH-1 into a gunship meant stripping the entire passenger area to accommodate extra fuel and ammunition and removing its troop transport capability. The Mi-24 was designed to do both, and this was greatly exploited by airborne units of the Soviet Army during the 1980–89 Soviet–Afghan War. The closest Western equivalent was the Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk, which used many of the same design principles and was also built as a high-speed, high-agility attack helicopter with limited troop transport capability using many components from the existing Sikorsky S-61. The S-67, however, was never adopted for service.[1] Other Western equivalents are the Romanian Army’s IAR 330, which is a licence-built armed version of the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, and the MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator, a special purpose armed variant of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. The Hind has been called the world’s only “assault helicopter” due to its combination of firepower and troop-carrying capability


Crew 2

Length 16.78m

Rotor Diameter 17m

Main Cabin 2.5m x 2.45m x 1.2m

Take-Off Weight

Normal – 11,100kg

Maximum – 11,500kg

Combat Load

Normal – 900kg

Maximum – 1,480kg

Maximum Payload on Sling 2,500kg

Empty Weight 8,500kg

Powerplant 2 x Isotov TV3-117VMA turboshaft, 2,200hp each

Flight Range 480km

Ferry Range 1,050km


Maximum – 324km/h

Cruising – 280km/h

Hovering Ceiling 2,200m

Service Ceiling 4,599m

The Germans

All illustrations Samson Goetze

While Julius Caesar and his legions humbled the Celts during his Gallic campaign, a warlike people who migrated into the region from the east during the first century B. C. E. proved more difficult for the Romans to bring to heel. Across the Roman frontier that ran along the Rhine and the Danube, these peoples, known as the Germanic tribes, built a society marked by its egalitarian nature and martial power. Fearing the military threat posed by these belligerent tribes, the Romans invaded their homeland in 12 B. C. E., in an attempt to conquer and pacify the region. Despite committing thousands of troops to the campaign, the Roman armies spent decades battling the Germanic tribes without gaining the upper hand. Finally, in 9 C. E., a decisive battle took place deep in the Teutoburg Forest.

Unfortunately for the Romans, the battle proved to be the worst defeat they ever suffered in centuries of imperial expansion. The fierce Germanic warriors they encountered were drawn from a number of tribes and commanded by a Cheruscan chieftain known to the Romans as Arminius (ca. 18 B. C. E.-19 C. E.), who had fought as a mercenary for the Romans and understood their tactics. Ambushed and attacked from all sides in a woodland glade, three Roman legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus (d. 9 C. E.), the cream of the Roman military, were butchered. The attack was the culmination of a revolt against Roman occupation by the Germanic tribes, and the heavy losses that the Romans suffered in the Teutoburg Forest convinced Emperor Augustus (63 B. C. E.-14 C. E.) to abandon the costly conquest of Germany. In the 19th century, Arminius, known to modern Germans as Hermann, became a potent symbol of nationalistic pride and German military might, celebrated in scores of patriotic songs and nationalistic books.

The Germanic Tribes

In the first century B. C. E., life in central Europe was transformed when the Germanic peoples, newcomers to the region, migrated into the area of modern-day Germany. Defined by their shared language, a cluster of Indo-European tongues classified as Germanic by linguists, this ethnolinguistic group seems to have originated in northern Europe. These various tribes did not form a cohesive group, waging constant warfare among themselves and living alongside and intermingling with other peoples during their extensive migrations. The most important of these interactions was with the Celts, who had dominated the region before the appearance of the Germanic tribes.

While sources are hazy for the ancient period, and archaeology has not been able to provide conclusive information, it appears that the migrating Germanic tribes moved from the area that is today southern Scandinavia and northern Germany. In the course of their migrations, they moved to the south, east, and west, coming into contact with Celtic tribes in Gaul and Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic peoples in eastern Europe. During this period, Germanic languages became dominant along the Roman frontier in the area of modern Germany, as well as Austria, the Netherlands, and England. In the western provinces of the Roman Empire, namely, in the Roman province of Gaul, situated in modern-day France and Belgium, the Germanic immigrants were influenced deeply by Roman culture and adopted Latin dialects. The descendants of the Germanic-speaking peoples became the ethnic groups of northwestern Europe, not only including the Germans, but also the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Dutch.

Roman sources are often confused and contradictory in their attempts to identify the menacing Germanic “barbarians” they encountered along their borders. Thus, Roman authors such as Julius Caesar used vague terms such as Germani to describe the various Germanic tribes that settled in the area. While scholars are unsure about the extent to which these diverse peoples represent distinct ethnic groups or cohesive cultures, Roman sources mention a range of Germanic tribes including the Alemanni, Cimbri, Franks, Frisians, Saxons, and Suebi.

Caesar marched against the latter of these tribes, the fearsome Suebi, in his conquest of Gaul. In his account of this campaign, he describes these Germanic warriors, whom he compares explicitly with the Celts. According to Caesar, the Germanic tribes he encountered gave primacy to war, rather than to religion or domestic life. Their religion apparently lacked an organized priesthood and centered upon the veneration of nature, and Caesar suggested that the Germanic tribesmen devoted all of their energies to gaining renown in battle.

Caesar also describes the pastoral economy of the seminomadic Germanic tribes that he encountered across the Danubian frontier. Again, he highlighted the Germanic tribes’ single-minded focus on warfare, recording that-unlike the Romans-they eschewed both wealth and luxury, living off conquest and raiding. For Caesar, this warrior ethos made the Germanic tribes into formidable enemies, and he contrasted the military vigor of the Germanic tribes with that of the more civilized Celts. Accentuating the bellicosity of the Germanic peoples, he found the once formidable Celts, seduced by Roman luxury, lacking by comparison:

There was formerly a time when the Gauls excelled the Germans in prowess, and waged war on them offensively, and, on account of the great number of their people and the insufficiency of their land, sent colonies over the Rhine . . . but their proximity to the Province [the Roman province of Gaul] and knowledge of commodities from countries beyond the sea supplies to the Gauls many things tending to luxury as well as civilization. Accustomed by degrees to be overmatched and worsted in many engagements, they do not even compare themselves to the Germans in prowess. (Caesar in M’Devitta 1853: 153)

The Germanic armies that the Romans encountered in their efforts to subdue the territory between the Rhine and Elbe were products of a social order far less developed than that of the Gauls. The social order of the Germanic tribe was essentially premodern in that it was not strongly articulated and lacked a varied specification of social roles. The bonded male warrior group became the dominant form of military organization. Every German male was first and foremost a warrior, and the entire society was formed around the conduct of war. Prowess in war was the road to social advancement, and behavior on the battlefield was the primary determinant of social rank and status.

By around 100 C. E., the time of Tacitus’s Germania, numerous Germanic tribes had settled along the Rhine and the Danube, along the Roman frontier, occupying most of the area of modern Germany. The Roman-Germanic frontier, known as the Limes Germanicus, thus became a site of vibrant cultural exchange, as the Germanic tribes encamped along it bartered for Roman goods and absorbed elements of Roman culture. Roman garrison towns such as Moguntiacum (Mainz), Augusta Treverorum (Trier), and Augusta Vindelicorum (Augsburg) sprang up in pacified areas, fostering further assimilation and providing the foundations for Germany’s rich urban life of the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, as the might of Rome began to falter in the late 300s C. E., and Roman troops were pulled from the border defenses, Germanic peoples began raiding the Roman provinces along the frontier. Some Germanic tribes even migrated across the frontier and settled in Roman territory, providing military service in exchange for land grants.

Tacitus’s description of the Germans as “fierce looking with blue eyes, reddish hair, and big frames” recalls earlier Roman descriptions of the Gauls, and it is likely that, like the Gauls, the average German was much taller than the average Roman. The Germans had not yet reached a level of political development where state institutions had come into existence. The German peoples were divided into tribes (volkerschaften); twenty-three different tribes lived between the Rhine and the Elbe. An average tribe numbered about 25,000 people living on a land area of approximately 2,000 square miles. Some of the larger tribes comprised 35,000-40,000 people and occupied a comparatively larger land area. The tribes were divided into extended family clans called “Hundreds” (Hundertschaften) comprised of 400-1,000 people living in a single village and controlling an area of twenty square miles. Agriculture was not extensively practiced by the Germans, and what cultivation was undertaken was done by women, the men contributing to the food supply by hunting and fishing. Land was held in common, as were some cattle herds, and their utilization was determined by the head of the community, the altermann or hunno.

The Germanic Armies

Within each tribe were a small number of richer noble families who met in assembly with the clan hunni to address major issues, including war and peace. In wartime, however, it was common for the council to select a war chief, usually from the most powerful warrior noble families, to command the tribal army. An average German tribe could put 5,000-7,000 warriors in the field under the command of the war chief. The actual fighting units, however, were centered around the clans, and a Germanic army of 5,000 warriors would have at least twenty and as many as fifty subordinate unit leaders, the clan chiefs.

In assessing the fighting quality of German tribal armies it must be kept in mind that Germanic tribes were warrior societies in which all other social roles were defined by or influenced by the warrior ethos. Thus Germanic men did not farm because it was beneath them (women’s work), but they did hunt because hunting improved their combat skills. The relationship between man and wife and family was also conditioned by the warrior ethos. It was the woman who brought weapons to her husband as a gift of her dowry. Germanic women acted as the tribe’s “military medical corps,” and it was to these wilde weiber (literally, “wild women”) that the wounded turned for medical aid. Women accompanied their men into battle, urging them on to greater efforts by reminding them of the cost of enslavement to themselves and children. The German soldier was a professional warrior whose very social existence was defined by war.

In times of war, each clan provided its own coterie of warriors under the leadership of the village hunno. The cohesion of the family and clan was extended to the warrior group with the result that German combat units were highly cohesive, strongly disciplined, self-motivated, well led, and well trained in the skills of individual close combat. They could be relied on to make murderous charges on command and to fight well in dispersed small groups. While blood ties usually assured that clan units remained loyal to the larger tribal military command, in fact, there was probably only the most rudimentary command and control exercised by the war chief over the behavior of the clan units. Once the tribal levy had been assembled and a general battle plan decided on, implementation was left to local units with little in the way of any ability to direct the battle.

German weaponry was the result of many years of intertribal wars, the lack of contact with any other culture from which new weapons could be acquired, and, as Tacitus and others tell us, the German difficulty in working with iron. Tacitus does not tell us why the Germans were poor iron smiths, but it is clear that they were far behind the Celts and Gauls, who were making chain mail armor superior to the Romans’ in the second century B. C. E. Roman sources note as well that only a few of the German warriors, probably their nobles or the best warriors, wore body armor or metal helmets.

The basic protection from wounds was afforded by a large shield of wood or braided reeds covered with leather. Some troops wore a covering of leather or hide on their heads as well. The basic weapon of the German was the framea, the seven- to ten-foot spear of the type used by the Greek hoplite tipped with a short, sharp blade. The spear was used in close combat or could be thrown. It seems likely as well that German units carried somewhat longer spears, which might have been used by the front rank of a charging infantry formation to break through the enemy. Once inside the enemy formation, the framea was used as the primary killing weapon. The sword was not commonly used by German combat units. The German warrior also carried an assortment of short, wooden javelins with fi re-hardened tips that, as Tacitus tells us, they could hurl long distances. Other missiles, most probably stones and sharpened sticks, were also salvoed at the enemy. Although some German tribes developed into excellent cavalrymen, for the most part German cavalry was limited in numbers and used rather poorly. Battle accounts note that German cavalry moved at such a slow pace in the attack that the infantry had little difficulty in keeping up. The primary strength of the German tribal levy was infantry.

The Germanic infantry fought in a formation that the Romans called cuneus, or “wedge.” Vegetius described the cuneus as “a mass of men on foot, in close formation, narrower in front, wider in the rear that moves forward and breaks the ranks of the enemy.” This formation, also called the Boar’s Head formation by the Romans, was not a wedge with a pointed front, but more resembled a trapezoid, with a shorter line in front, followed by a thick formation of closely packed troops with a rear rank somewhat longer than the front rank. The formation was designed to deliver shock and to carry it through to a penetration of the enemy ranks.

The use of the wedge against the Roman open phalanx explains other Germanic battlefield habits. If the object of the wedge was penetration, then there was no need to armor the men in the center of the wedge. Those German warriors who had body armor and helmets probably fought in the front rank and in the outside fi les of the wedge. Fourteen centuries later, it became the Swiss practice to armor only the front and outside ranks, while the men in the center of the Swiss pike phalanx had only leather armor or none at all. If the wedge did its job and broke the enemy formation, the fight was reduced to either a pursuit or a scramble of individual combats. Under these conditions, the troops least encumbered by armor and other weighty equipment had the advantage.

The German strength lay in the highly disciplined and cohesive nature of its clan combat groups (kampgruppen). These groups could move quickly through the forest and swamps and could fall with terrible ferocity on an enemy not yet deployed for battle. They could break contact and withdraw just as rapidly for group discipline was central to the clan fighting unit. The Germans were particularly competent in scattered combat, surprise attacks, ambushes, feigned withdrawals, rapid reassembly, and most other aspects of guerrilla war.

France Rebounds 1918

When, like an autumn wind, these whispers of peace began to move across Europe in early October, they stirred, at first, more scepticism than hope. There had, after all, been so many false dawns during the four dark years that had passed. General Debeney, commander of the First French Army now fighting in the St Quentin sector, told an American visitor that his own poilus were even getting exasperated by the rumours, as they had already geared themselves mentally for a campaign that would last through the winter. ‘It was important that their hopes should not be raised . . . only to be dashed by a rejection of offers unacceptable to the Allies.’

More difficult to gauge was the mood of the French nation at large, which was part actor and part bystander in the conflict. What was undeniable was that France had suffered far more than any other of the major Allied combatants. Ever since 1914, ten of her northern départements, areas covering about twenty-five thousand square miles, had been occupied and largely devastated by the enemy. More than a tenth of her soil, including some of her finest orchards, vineyards and arable land, had been torn up by the rake of war. Some four hundred thousand houses had been levelled to the ground. Hundreds of her factories were either out of commission or, even worse, working for the invader, including key industries like textiles, sugar and metallurgy, to say nothing of the coalmines and heavy plants of Longwy and Briey.

Two preoccupations dominated everyday civilian life: fighting cold and fighting hunger. All forms of fuel were both rationed and scarce. The frantic hunt for coal was graphically summed up by a top Paris jeweller who displayed a lump of it in his shop window in place of his usual array of diamonds and emeralds. By now, the liberation of the mines at Lens, which used to produce three million tons a year, had raised hopes that the flooded and dynamited galleries might yield up at least a few thousand tons of the precious stuff. But no Parisian doubted that, if the war were to drag on until 1919, it would be another winter of shivering in one’s apartment, with the family overcoats on, and huddled into one room for most of the time. In that glacial setting social life tended to freeze over. An invitation to dinner (a rarity in itself) was no more welcome than an invitation just to sit by a fire.

The food problem was not, in practice, so severe – though acute and distressing enough for a people with such veneration for their stomachs. The vast lush countryside of France which stretched south of Paris, untroubled by the war, down to the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, knew few serious privations. Even in the cities, the perpetual queueing for everything that was unrationed was a commoner hardship than outright privation. Serious shortages did, of course, occur. Le saucisson, so beloved of the Parisians, had been in such short supply that the sausage dealers of the capital had been closed three days a week throughout that summer, and prospects did not look much brighter when they had met to review the situation on 5 October. This fifth autumn of the war had also brought a dearth of potatoes. Yet, as regards bread, the main complaint in Paris concerned quality rather than availability – ‘In one quarter of the city dark brown; in another heavy and golden like Indian corn; in another white as bread ever was.’ The prospects for drink supplies were even more: 1918 had seen an excellent vintage of wine, while beer was now declared to be better and more abundant than for some time past.

Restaurants flourished. This was partly because they ignored the food regulations and partly because, since they provided warmth and light as well as a meal, it often worked out cheaper to eat in them, despite the stiff prices, than at home. France strove to remain true to its gastronomic heritage. The Food Commissioner, Emile Borel, insisted that all French restaurants should provide both à la carte and table d’hôte menus, and warned proprietors to treat both classes of customer equally well. The autumn had also seen the opening of a chain of municipal restaurants where the working man could buy himself a square meal for only 1 franc 65 centimes (little more than one English shilling). Nobody, in short, was starving, and money could buy any delicacy.

More important for the nation’s morale was the feeling that, with the great Allied summer advance from the Marne, the German grip around the throttle of Paris had been shaken off for good, however long it might still take to free Picardy and Flanders. The best token of this easement was the liberation of Crépy, just south of Laon, during the September fighting. There, on a railway siding, had crouched those huge 210 mm German guns, each a hundred feet in length and weighing over three hundred tons, which, at 7.16 a.m. on the morning of 23 March, had hurled the first of their shells into the northwestern suburbs of Paris, a staggering distance of seventy-four miles away. These monsters, now driven from their lair, could, surely, never return.

With their menace removed (and that of the Zeppelin and Gotha bombing raids as well as the proximity of the German army itself) many of the half-million Parisians who had left the capital in the spring were filtering back. ‘Stations which a little while since were busy with departures are almost as busy with arrivals,’ one observer noted. Moreover, shops and theatres were re-opening and the famous fashion houses were stirring into life again. The 1918 autumn models still reflected the shadows of war. Black, the colour of mourning, was prominent in the collections. An abundance of very long gowns and furs took note of the fuel shortage. The hats even included ‘a helmet-shaped erection made of a metallic cloth with little plumes sticking out of it’. But though the associations may still have been military, the revival of the luxury trade itself pointed hopefully towards peace.

Above all, the French had now regained confidence in their own leaders. There had been a thorough, if belated purge of the defeatists in their ranks in 1917, the year when France, wracked by political scandals and mutinies in the army, had stood within a few tottering paces of collapse. In the spring and summer of 1918, most of the principal culprits were brought to justice after public trial. Louis Malvy, the former Minister of Interior, had been sentenced to five years’ banishment, having only just escaped a heavier penalty on charges of incitement to mutiny. Some of his principal henchmen in the same game (financed by German money) of spreading subversive pacifist propaganda were less fortunate, and had ended up before the firing squad. The most illustrious defeatist of them all, the former Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux, was still in jail awaiting trial – which was not to come until February 1920 – for ‘plotting against the security of the state abroad’. He was the black conscience of wartime France. But Georges Clemenceau, the seventy-six-year-old radical Republican who had stepped into that disgraced office on 17 November 1917, had soon become her talisman of hope. Nothing conveyed the transformation better than the phrase now often heard in Paris: ‘If Clemenceau says that victory is in sight, then it must be.’ In short, by the autumn of 1918 France, though more exhausted and bled whiter than ever, was no longer prostrate.

1918       November 11      The Supreme Allied Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, dictates the terms of an armistice to German plenipotentiaries at Rethondes in the Forest of Compèigne. The Germans sign the Armistice at 5:10 a.m.

               A cease-fire ending the First World War takes effect at 11 a.m.

                November 18      French troops led by General Petain enter Metz, Lorraine.

                November 23      The last German troops are withdrawn from Alsace and Lorraine.

                December 8         President Poincaré, Premier Clemenceau, Marshal Joffre and Generals Petain, Haig and Pershing visit Metz to mark the return of Lorraine to France.

                President Poincaré hands General Petain the baton marking his elevation to Marshal of France.

                December 9         President Poincaré, Premier Clemenceau and the military chiefs visit Strasbourg to mark the return of Alsace to France.

                December 14       President Wilson arrives in Paris to attend the Peace Conference.

1919       January 9              The Seine rises nearly 6 meters over flood stage at Paris. Residents of the Rue LeBlanc are evacuated. The bears in the Jardins des Plantes are released from their cages.

                January 10            The Seine rises 6 meters in 3 hours at Paris. A transmission line from the Issy electric generating station breaks leaving entire Left Bank without service.

                January 14            All prisoners of war held by the Allies are released.

“Grief” in Development and Combat

Heinkel 177 by Mark Postlethwaite

In last few months of the war the He 177 was used on the Eastern Front and for the first-time pattern bombing was used. Horst von Riesen, by now Kommodore KG 1, led his Geschwader against the railway centre of Velikye Luki, some 480km west of Moscow. It must have been an impressive sight-a Stab of four aircraft followed by three Gruppen of 27 aircraft in vics at about 6,000m. But the time for Luftwaffe strategic missions was past: most targets were well out of range. Quite apart from any other considerations, fuel was by now so short that such missions were out of the question. Von Riesen was then ordered to send his huge bombers out on anti-tank sorties. After losing several aircraft, with no commensurate return in tanks destroyed, the order was rescinded.

Beset by technical difficulties in development, the He 177 had a troubled history in service. Overly demanding design requirements of long range, high speed, heavy bomb load, and dive bombing capability didn’t help. Although the He 177 entered service in 1942 it was far from operational. In an assessment of the aircraft on 9 April 1942, the newly activated Erprobungsstaffel 177 reported that the Greif had good flying characteristics, but had unacceptable engine troubles and problems with its airframe strength. As an emergency measure it was used to supply the encircled 6th Armee at Stalingrad, where it was found to be unsuited for the transport role, carrying a little more cargo than the smaller, more reliable Heinkel He 111, and proving useless for the evacuation of wounded. As a result the He 177s reverted to bombing and flak-suppression missions near Stalingrad. Only 13 missions were flown, and seven He 177s were lost to fire without any action attributable to the enemy.

As the war progressed, He 177 operations became increasingly desultory. Fuel and personnel shortages presented difficulties, and He 177s were sitting on airfields all over Europe awaiting new engines or engine related modifications. Of the 14 He 177 sent out during Operation Steinbock, one suffered a burst tire, and eight returned with overheating or burning engines. Of the four that reached London, one was lost to night fighters. These aircraft were brand new, delivered a week before the operation and not fully flown in, because the air unit had moved to a new airfield the day before, and lacked sufficient maintenance personnel and material. Constant attacks against Luftwaffe long-range combat units in France made continuous operations difficult.

While Steinbock was unsuccessful, the He 177 did achieve some successes. They typically carried two 1,800 kg (3,970 lb) and two 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bombs. Climbing to 7,000 m (22,965 ft) while still over German territory, the He 177s approached the target in a shallow dive, each aircraft throttled back, the pilot putting his aircraft into a gliding descent to take it across the bomb release-point at about 4,500 m (14,760 ft). After releasing the bombs the pilot re-opened the throttles, but continued the descent at approximately 200 m (656 ft) per minute.

The bombers typically re-entered German airspace at an altitude of 750 m (2,460 ft), and headed back to base. By such means, the He 177s were able to keep up speeds of about 600 to 700 km/h (370 to 430 mph) during their withdrawal phase. The higher speed and constant change of altitude made interceptions difficult, increasing the survivability of the aircraft, but decreased accuracy. With an average loss rate of 60% for all types of bomber used in Operation Steinbock, the He 177’s loss rate below 10% made them the most survivable bomber in the campaign.

During operations on the Eastern Front in early 1944, often carried out in daylight at about 6,000 m (19,690 ft) or higher, losses were relatively light. The Soviet Air Force, equipped mainly for low-level interception and ground-attack roles, was able to do little to hinder the high-flying bombers.

In common with most German bombers, the He 177 was grounded from the summer of 1944 as Allied bombing crippled German fuel production. The He 177 can be compared with the Boeing B-29 Superfortress[citation needed] which also took about two years to have its problems ironed out, after which it found success. However the He 177 was never to achieve its full potential.

Heinkel He 177 Greif

In the Second World War, the greatest deficiency in the Luftwaffe was the lack of a true strategic bomber. The He 177 was the nearest the service ever got to it, although compared to contemporary British and American heavy bombers it was far short of ideal. On 2 June 1937, only weeks after the cancellation of the ‘Uralbomber’, the Ernst Heinkel works was given the contract to develop Project 1041 for a multi-engine long-range bomber. The aircraft was given the designation He 177 and the prototype flew for the first time on 20 November 1939. By then it was already included in long-range planning for output from 1942 onwards, as successor to the ageing generation of medium bombers. It was intended to produce 350–450 bombers in 1942, rising to 900 in 1943 and over 1,500 in 1944. The new bomber had a limited performance compared with the new generation of British and American aircraft, the Avro Lancaster and the B-29 ‘Superfortress’ then under development. With a full load of 6,000 lbs of bombs the He 177 had an operational range of only 745 miles, which would not take it to the Urals and back. The greatest handicap for the new long-range bomber was the requirement that despite its great bulk and weight, it should have the capacity to perform a shallow dive as well, a requirement entirely at odds with the size of the aircraft and its strategic purpose. Heinkel solved the problem by coupling two pairs of Daimler Benz DB-606 engines together, giving the aircraft four engines but only two nacelles, to reduce the drag during a dive. The engine configuration was not the only difficulty experienced with the aircraft – there were 56 files on modifications and technical problems on the He 177 in Heinkel’s office – but it was the principal one. The aircraft as a result was prone to engine failure and engine fires, so much so that crews nicknamed it the Luftwaffenfeuerzeug, the ‘air force lighter’, and disliked having to fly it.

The slow pace of development of the He 177 dictated by problems of design mattered less in the early part of the war when quick victories could be achieved with the prevailing technology. The German Air Force nevertheless expected that it would be their replacement bomber and by 1942, with the Soviet war prolonged beyond the first phase of fast-moving mobile warfare, the necessity for a bomber with greater bomblift and longer range became obvious. The strategic gap that this opened up for the air force was exacerbated by the insistent demands of the army for close support and the low level of serviceability and supply for the eastern theatre. An air force study written in late 1943 claimed that air force commanders had wanted to bomb Soviet industry from at least the autumn of 1941, but found that army requirements left the air force ‘completely harnessed to close support’ throughout the campaign. Although Hitler deplored the absence of a heavy bomber, his role as commander-in-chief of the army, assumed in December 1941, inclined him to place priority on air support for ground operations when these faced crisis. The main handicap, however, was the failure of the He 177 to fulfil its early promise.

The sorry story of the He 177 reflected more profound problems in the technical evolution of the air force. Uncertainty about the course of the war or the reliability of the aircraft had led to two cancellations, only for the model to be reinstated months later. Decision-making at a technical level was hampered by the interference of both Udet and Göring, neither of whom understood the nature of technical planning or grasped the extent to which industrial rivalry encouraged Heinkel to shield the seriousness of the design problems from fear that the heavy bomber would be placed with another company. Only in August 1942 did the chief of the air force development and testing office supply Göring with a comprehensive survey of all the faults of the He 177, with the conclusion that the model could only be introduced successfully into combat by March 1944 at the earliest. Erhard Milch, Göring’s deputy, reflected that ‘one could weep’ over the failure of the air force’s one available strategic bomber. When Hitler was finally informed in May 1943 that the coupled engine was the explanation for the failure to get the He 177 into combat he is supposed to have retorted: ‘But that’s madness … is it possible that there could be so many idiots?’ The air force technical branch had already arrived at the same conclusion and other bomber models were now in the pipeline, though years away from large-scale operation. Heinkel was ordered to convert the bomber to four regular but different engines (the DB-610) and the model was renamed the He277. It was ready for testing only by July 1944, by which time the bomber programme had been wound up in favour of fighters. Until then plans continued to produce the ill-starred He 177 at the rate of 100 a month.

The 1938 specification stated a warload of 2,000kg over a radius of 1,600km at a speed of 500kph. This aircraft duly emerged as the He 177, which made its first flight on 19 November 1939, piloted by Carl Francke, the man who ‘sank’ the Ark Royal.

In an attempt to improve performance by minimising drag, it was powered by two pairs of coupled engines, which gave only half the frontal area of a conventional four-engined bomber, for the same power. In concept this was not too far removed from the ill-fated British Avro Manchester, which used two monster 24-cylinder Rolls Royce Vultures which were effectively two 12-cylinder engines mounted above and below a common crankshaft-and with much the same results: unreliability, overheating, and in-flight fires. But whereas the Manchester was quickly abandoned in favour of the more conventional Lancaster, the Luftwaffe persevered. This was a major error. Losses due to engine fires were unsustainable, and while a handful of He 177s entered service, notably with I/KG 40 from July 1942, delays mounted while solutions to the problems were sought. Eventually they were found, but by then it was far too late.

One novel method of reaching the United States from Germany was the proposal for a hybrid of two planes. A Heinkel He-177 would be used to transport a Dornier Do-217 bomber equipped with an extra Lorin-Staustrahltriebwerk ramjet engine until the planes were sufficiently close to the United States for the Do-217 to be released and fly on towards the target. The plane would deliver its bomb to United States territory and then be ditched in the Western Atlantic, where the pilot would be recovered by a German submarine. The design could not be realized as the distances proved to be insurmountable, so the idea was soon abandoned.

The He 177 was used to carry up to three Hs 293 missiles in the antishipping role; it was also used during ‘Steinbock’ and on the Eastern Front, but never on true strategic missions. One aircraft was modified to carry a nuclear weapon, ready for when and if this should be developed. A German engineer is said to have remarked: ‘If we succeed in this, we shall rule the world!’


He 177 V1 to V8

    First eight prototypes of the He 177. V1 through V3 powered by DB 606 A engines. He 177 V4 and subsequent aircraft powered by DB 606 A/B engines.

He 177 A-0

    Pre-production series, 35 built. First to use the “Cabin 3” cockpit with “fishbowl” framed glazed nose, as with production A-series.

He 177 A-1

    First production series, 130 built. Armed with a single MG 81 in the nose, a single MG FF/M cannon in the forward end of the Bola ventral gondola, a remote-controlled dorsal turret with a single (later twinned) MG 131, and a single tail mounted MG 131.

He 177 A-1/R1

    Equipped with a pair of aft firing MG 81Z machine guns in the rear of the Bola ventral gondola.

He 177 A-1/R2

    Experimental version only, equipped with a sighting station in the rear of the Bola ventral gondola for a remotely controlled ventral turret housing a single MG 131.

He 177 A-1/R4

    Equipped with a supplementary aft firing MG 131 in the rear of the Bola ventral gondola and a manned aft dorsal turret containing an MG 131.

He 177 A-1/U2

    Zerstörer heavy fighter with a pair of limited-traverse 30 mm MK 101 cannon in enlarged Bola lower nose mount, 12 conversions.

He 177 A-2

    Proposed four-man pressurized variant with reduced defensive armament of six MG 81 and a single MG 131, never built.

He 177 A-3

    Second production series, 170 built, with a fuselage lengthened by 1.60 m (5 ft 3 in). Sixteenth and subsequent aircraft powered by DB 610 A/B engines.

He 177 A-3/R1

    Powered by two Daimler-Benz DB 606 A/B engines, 15 built.

He 177 A-3/R2

    Improved electrical system. MG FF cannon replaced by an MG 151 cannon in the Bola ventral gondola. DB 610 engines. Larger, upright seating-equipped redesigned tail position, MG 131 replaced by MG 151 cannon in the tail position. First variant to be fitted with Kutonase (cable cutting equipment).

He 177 A-3/R3

    Anti-shipping version capable of using the Henschel Hs 293, equipped with FuG 203-series Kehl I control gear, usually fitted in the rear fuselage.

He 177 A-3/R4

    Bola Ventral gondola’s aft end lengthened by 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) to provide room for the FuG 203b Kehl III missile-control equipment, instead of the usual rear-fuselage mounting location.

He 177 A-3/R5

    Planned, never-built Stalingradtyp version armed with a 75 mm Bordkanone BK 7,5 cannon based on the 7.5 cm PaK 40 installed in the ventral Bola gondola, based on a small number of He 177 As field-equipped with the KwK 39-based BK 5 cannon.

He 177 A-3/R7

    Torpedo bomber version abandoned in favor of the He 177 A-5, only three built.

He 177 A-4

    Proposed high altitude pressurised version, never built under the designation, and later developed into the Heinkel He 274.

He 177 A-5

    Main production series, 826 built. Standardized on the A-3’s longer rear fuselage, strengthened wing, shortened undercarriage oleo legs, ETC 2000/XII wing racks and an increase in maximum external load.

He 177 A-5/R1

    Version optimized for Fritz X and Hs 293 guided bombs, equipped with Kehl control gear.

He 177 A-5/R2

    Armed with a single MG 81 in the nose, a single MG 151 cannon in the forward end of the Bola ventral gondola, an MG 131 in the rear end of the ventral gondola, a pair of MG 131 in an FDL 131Z remotely controlled forward dorsal turret, a single MG 131 in a manned aft dorsal turret, and a single tail-mounted MG 151 cannon.

He 177 A-5/R4

    Simplified bomb rack installation, equipped with Kehl control gear.

He 177 A-5/R5

    Tested with a supplementary pair of MG 131 in an FDL 131Z aft ventral remote turret aft of the rear bomb-bay, only one built.

He 177 A-5/R6

    Replacement of the forward and central bomb-bays with enlarged, full-fuselage-depth fuel tanks.

He 177 A-5/R7

    Pressurised cockpit study with a projected ceiling of 15,200 m (49,869 ft) and similar reduced armament to the He 177 A-2.

He 177 A-5/R8

    Armed with FDL-series remote gun turrets. Abandoned as a result of difficulties with the turrets, only one built.

He 177 A-5 Grosszerstörer

    Anti-bomber variant based on the He 177 A-5, armed with up to 33 spin-stabilized 21 cm (8¼ in) calibre rockets obliquely mounted in fuselage, replacing bomb bays and auxiliary fuel tanks, and most likely based on components of the 21 cm Nebelwerfer 42 infantry barrage rocket system. Five examples delivered in January 1944 for operational trials. Abandoned due to increasing numbers of Allied air supremacy fighters.

He 177 A-6

    Meant to be a “32 metric-ton” loaded-weight long-range bomber, as a planned improvement over the A-5 version, the A-6 dispensed with the rear manned dorsal turret, and retained the A-5/R2’s single MG 151 flexible cannon at the front of the Bola, the flexible ball-mount MG 81 in the “fishbowl” nose glazing, along with the regular A-series FDL 131Z remote forward dorsal turret, and standardized the rear armament with the planned, Borsig-designed Hecklafette manned HL 131V quadmount MG 131 machine gun turret for the first time. Not produced, due to building volume of design work on the He 177 B-series four-engined aircraft.

He 177 A-6/R1

    Replacement of the forward and central bomb bays with full-fuselage-depth fuel tanks (as on the A-5/R6 modification) and the addition of external bomb rack under the new fuel tank bays, capable of carrying a single 2,500 kg (5,511 lb) bomb or Fritz X/Hs 293 in addition to the rear bomb-bay payload of four 250 kg (551 lb) or two 500 kg (1,102 lb) bombs, if equipped with Kehl control gear. Range of 5,800 km (3,604 mi), only six test conversions built, from A-5 versions.

He 177 A-6/R2

    Equipped with a redesigned fuselage nose of improved aerodynamic form, abandoning the earlier “Cabin 3” cockpit, with the new nose being generally the same as intended for He 177 A-7 and all He 177 B development versions. Retained the FDL 131 remotely controlled forward dorsal turret, a single flexible-mount MG 131 in the rear of the Bola, a pair of MG 151/20 cannon in a remotely controlled FDL 151Z “chin” turret (to be standardized on the B-version) at the front of the Bola, and a manned Hecklafette HL 131V hydraulic-drive, quadruple-MG 131 armed “quadmount” tail turret. Similar bombload and range to He 177 A-6/R1. Only one test airframe converted from an He 177 A-3 to test the new cockpit/nose, as the He 177 V15, of which no photos are known to survive, and which itself was wrecked in a mishap in late July 1944.

He 177 A-7

    High-altitude bomber with an extended wing spanning 36 m (118 ft 1⅓ in) and powered solely with DB 610 A/B engines instead of the intended 3,800 PS (3,748 hp, 2,795 kW) DB 613 “power systems”, which never emerged from testing and used pairs of twinned DB 603 engines for each “power system”. Six examples, for wing tests, converted from He 177 A-5 airframes, but never fitted with the intended He 177 B-series advanced cockpit. One converted He 177 A-5 example, Wk. Nr. 550 256 captured by American forces, scrapped postwar and believed buried under the grounds of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

He 177 A-8

    First proposed He 177 design to feature four individual engines, using the A-3 or A-5 fuselage with a new wing design, and either Daimler-Benz DB 603 engines as prototyped (He 177 V101 through -V103 in 1943-44) or Junkers Jumo 213 engines (proposal only) with He 219 style annular radiators for the Heinkel-unitized DB 603s used in the He 219. Remained a paper project only, before re-designation as the “He 177 B-5” by August 1943.

He 177 A-10

    Proposed four-engined He 177 design, similar to the He 177 A-8, but based instead on the He 177 A-7 definitive production fuselage, with manned rear dorsal gun turret omitted, and re-designated as the “He 177 B-7” in August 1943.

He 177 B

    Developed as the direct, “separate four-engined” development of the “coupled engine” powered He 177 A-series, four prototypes ordered (He 177 V101 to V104) with three built and flown under DB 603 power. Originally postulated in postwar aviation books to have been a “cover designation” for the never-produced, paper-only He 277 Amerikabomber design competitor by February 1943, itself cancelled in late April 1944.

He 177 H

    Initial project designation for the Heinkel He 274.

He 179

    Proposed 1939 variant of He 177 with four separate piston engines; not built.

Special variants

    He 177 V38

        An A-5 (Werknummer 550 002, bearing Stammkennzeichen of KM+TB) – documented use was as testbed for FuG 200 Hohentwiel ASV maritime patrol radar with flexible MG 131Z nose gun installation, speculated to have been intended for the installation of an enlarged bomb bay for test purposes, said to be intended for use in the Junkers Ju 287. A common myth claims V38 was the prototype for a German “atomic bomber” (purportedly capable of carrying a fission device as a droppable weapon). Remains found at Prague’s Rusiye field on V-E Day.

Specifications (He 177 A-5/R2)

General characteristics

    Crew: 6

    Length: 22 m (72 ft 2 in)

    Wingspan: 31.44 m (103 ft 2 in)

    Height: 6.67 m (21 ft 11 in)

    Wing area: 100 m2 (1,100 sq ft)

    Airfoil: He 1.5 36.8 17.3-0.715-36.6[78]

    Empty weight: 16,800 kg (37,038 lb)

    Gross weight: 32,000 kg (70,548 lb)

    Powerplant: 2 × Daimler-Benz DB 610 24-cylinder liquid-cooled piston engines 2,900 PS (2,860 hp; 2,133 kW) (paired DB 605 V-12 engines)

    Propellers: 4-bladed VDM constant-speed propellers


    Maximum speed: 565 km/h (351 mph, 305 kn) at 6,000 m (19,685 ft)

    Stall speed: 135 km/h (84 mph, 73 kn)

    Combat range: 1,540 km (960 mi, 830 nmi)

    Ferry range: 5,600 km (3,500 mi, 3,000 nmi)

    Service ceiling: 8,000 m (26,000 ft)

    Rate of climb: 3.167 m/s (623.4 ft/min)

    Wing loading: 303.9 kg/m2 (62.2 lb/sq ft)


    Guns: 1 × 7.92 mm MG 81 machine gun in Cabin 3 “fishbowl” nose glazing with 1,000 rounds

        1 × 20 mm MG 151 cannon in forward ventral Bola gondola position with 300 rounds

        1 × 13 mm MG 131 machine gun in rear ventral Bola gondola position with 1,000 rounds

        2 × 13 mm MG 131 machine guns in Fernbedienbare Drehlafette FDL 131Z remotely operated forward dorsal turret, full 360° traverse with 1,000 rounds

        1 × 13 mm MG 131 machine gun in manned Hydraulische Drehlafette HDL 131/1 aft dorsal turret with 1,000 rounds

        1 × 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon in tail position with 800 rounds

    Bombs: Up to 7,000 kilograms (15,000 lb) of ordnance internally, up to 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) externally on each ETC 2000 underwing rack, or up to 3 Fritz X or Henschel Hs 293 PGMs (w/FuG 203 Kehl MCLOS transmitter installed) externally

        48 × 50 kg (110 lb) bombs (2,400 kg/5,291 lb total)

        12 × 250 kg (551 lb) bombs (3,000 kg/6,613 lb total)

        6 × 500 kg (1,102 lb) bombs (3,000 kg/6,613 lb total)

        6 × LMA III mines (3,000 kg/6,613 lb total)

        2 × 1,800 kg (3,968 lb) bombs (3,600 kg/7,936 lb total)

        4 × LMB III mines (4,000 kg/8,818 lb total)

        2 × 1,800 kg (3,968 lb) bombs + 2 × LMA III mines (4,600 kg/10,141 lb total)

        10 × 500 kg (1,102 lb) bombs (5,000 kg/11,023 lb total)

        2 × 2,500 kg (5,511 lb) bombs (5,000 kg/11,023 lb total)

        2 × 1,000 kg (2,204 lb) bombs + 2 × 1,800 kg (3,968 lb) bombs (5,600 kg/12,345 lb total)

        4 × 1,400 kg (3,086 lb) bombs (5,600 kg/12,345 lb total)

        6 × 1,000 kg (2,204 lb) bombs (6,000 kg/13,227 lb total)

        4 × 1,700 kg (3,748 lb) bombs (6,800 kg/14,992 lb total)

        2 × 1,800 kg (3,968 lb) bombs + 2 × 1,700 kg (3,748 lb) bombs (7,000 kg/15,432 lb)

        2 × FX 1400 Fritz X + 1 × FX 1400 Fritz X under the wings and fuselage (w/FuG 203 Kehl MCLOS transmitter installed)

        2 × Hs 293 or 294 + 1 × Hs 293 or 294 under the wings and fuselage (w/FuG 203 Kehl MCLOS transmitter installed)

        2 × 500 kg (1,102 lb) bombs internally + 2 × Hs 293 under the wings (w/FuG 203 Kehl MCLOS transmitter installed)

        2 × LT 50 torpedoes under the wing


For control of gravity and/or rocket-boosted PGM ordnance:

FuG 203 Kehl radio control transmitting system

German Failure to Develop a Four-Engine Bomber

“Amerika” bomber Amerika Bomber: A group of Me 264 aircraft getting ready to take off.

The answer lies with Germany’s theory of war in general. Everyone knew that Germany could not sustain a long-drawn-out war like WWI. Blitzkrieg, to use a simple term, was developed to achieve quick victories of the kind that were essential to Germany’s success. As a result, the sole purpose of the Luftwaffe was to directly support the ground troops in getting that victory through direct intervention on the battlefield.

In general, the twin engine bombers (Do17, Ju88, etc.) were to function in an interdiction role, disrupting supplies and the flow of reinforcements directly behind the battlefield. Strategic bombing, the only use for four-engined bombers, was a waste of time if the war was only going to last weeks or months. If Germany needed strategic bombing, then she had already lost.

A very decent four-engine plane was built, the Fw 200 Condor, but used mainly for reconnaissance in support of the navy. It could be used in a bombing role, but again, to what purpose?

The gross statistic for aircraft production is the weight of airframes produced.

An empty Bf-109 weighs something over 5,000 lbs.

An empty B-17F weighs something over 36,000 lbs.

So a B-17 is not just 4 times as demanding on production as a fighter, it’s more like 7 times.

Additionally, the big bombers suck too much gas. One book I read described a raid in 1944 where the US bombing force that raided a German refinery burned more fuel in that single mission than the targeted German refinery could produce in a MONTH.

A Bf-109 has internal storage for 100 gallons of gas.

A B-17 uses 1,700 gallons of gas.

A B-29 uses 7,000 gallons of gas.

A B-36 (available in 1946) uses 20,000 gallons of gas.

Finally, if you check the stats for the He-111, Ju-88, and Do-217, the Germans had bombers with lifting capacities fully in line with the B-17 and B-24. This is especially true when you realize that the loads carried by 8th Air Force were restricted to 4,000 – 5,000 lbs. of bombs per plane because management had selected the 500-lb. bomb as the standard weapon and only 10 such bombs fit into an American bomb bay.

If the Germans could have assembled a force of 1,000 Do-217Es or Ju-88s dedicated to strategic bombing, they could have done the same damage as 1,000 B-17s or B-24s.

The critical difference is mostly the overwhelming production capacity of the US and England. Canada produced more aircraft than Italy. England produced more aircraft than Germany. American production was limited only by the schools to produce aircrew. And with the Luftwaffe already outnumber 3 or 4 to 1 by the English and Americans, you have to include Russian production, which was also larger than Germany’s.

Eagle Day included sorties by something like 1,500 German aircraft.

D-Day, 6 June 1944, included sorties by 15,000 Allied aircraft, and it wasn’t considered an “air battle”.

As mentioned above, the German’s lack of a dedicated four-engined bomber at the start of the war, was due the philosophical orientation of the German High Command.

At the outset, the German military’s goal was to achieve dominance of mainland Europe. To do so, it was decided that rapid strikes by German aircraft over short distances, in support of ground forces, would be the key to victory. Thus, bombers were to perform a tactical, rather than strategic, role in a European war. In examining this plan, German planners decided that it was better (militarily and economically) to field a large force of small bombers performing pin-point attacks (via dive-bombing) than to have a smaller force of heavy bombers dropping huge loads of bombs with a poorer rate of accuracy.

The need for long range heavy bombers was not seriously considered by the Germans until 1940 when Britain did not sue for peace as Hitler had hoped. The campaign over Britain exposed a number of serious flaws in the Luftwaffe’s long-range capability, which German aircraft designers rushed to rectify.

While it is true that the Fw 200 Condor was a decent four-engined maritime patrol bomber, it was actually derived from a civilian design and had a limited bomb load. For good or bad, the He 177 Greif was destined to be the Luftwaffe’s heavy bomber, but due to demands from the RLM that the plane be capable to perform a multitude of tasks (including medium angled dive bombing attacks), the design was severely compromised from the start. The arrangement of its four engines into pairs driving a pair of large props was complicated and prone to breakdowns with disastrous results. The high incidence of planes lost to engine fires resulted in Luftwaffe crews nicknaming the He 177 “the flying lighter”. These problems and other delays did not see the He 177 coming into large scale production until 1943 when the war was already turning against Germany. Although the plane did see considerable service in the east and was employed fitfully against Britain, it had little impact on the course of the war.

Other designs, such as the “Ural” and “Amerika” bomber programs were also harried by design problems, changing RLM demands and interference by Nazi officials, which prevented their complete development.


For years there has been much debate about the ‘Amerika Bomber’. Today frequent reference is made to an ‘Amerika Bomber’ programme and numerous German bomber projects are regularly associated with it. But there is no contemporary evidence for a programme using that term.

However, there are several references in contemporary British intelligence reports indicating that the Me 264 had indeed been given a nickname by German personnel. Was this the ‘Amerika Bomber’?

A. I. 2.(G) Report No. 2208 of December 26, 1943, states: “The information which has been received concerning the Me 264 is of a rather spectacular nature. It was originally believed that this was to be a twin-engined aircraft but more recent reports describe it as a four-engined long-range recce-bomber. Particular emphasis is laid upon range, which has been variously indicated as 9300 miles; 6200 miles (with four- ton load); and ‘sufficient to attack the USA’. There has also been a reference to sleeping accommodation for four out of a total crew of nine.”

A later account, A. D. I.(K) Report No. 169/44 of April 18, 1944, says: “Two P/W [prisoners of war] who were at Lechfeld during the summer of 1943 had seen an aircraft which they referred to as a Me 264 at that airfield. It appears that one aircraft of this type was standing in the open at Lechfeld airfield for several months up to August 1943 when it suddenly disappeared.

“It aroused P/W’s interest owing to its reputed prodigious range; it was usually referred to as the ‘USA Bomber’, as it was supposed to be capable of attacking the United States, and one P/W asserts that it has been flown to Tokyo and back.”

A. D. I.(K) 1346 dated October 18, 1944, refers to the “Me 264 ‘York Bomber’” presumably meaning ‘New York Bomber’. The most oft-stated reference for the Me 264 as being the ‘Amerika Bomber’ comes from a speech given by Hermann Göring at his Carinhall retreat on March 18, 1943. He is quoted as saying: “I well remember that at Augsburg – it was exactly a year ago – I was shown an ‘Amerika Bomber’ that really called for nothing more than to be put into mass production.” In fact, word for word, the original transcript actually says: “I remember – it is years ago now – when I was in Augsburg, I was shown an ‘America’ aircraft which had only to be put into large-scale production.”

This interesting speech is reproduced in its entirety elsewhere in this publication. So there appears to be no contemporary source that puts ‘Amerika’ and ‘Bomber’ together. Where, then, does this common ‘secret projects’ term come from?

The earliest verified reference appears on p15 in the November 1952 issue of American magazine Flying and is used in reference to a postwar Soviet-supervised Junkers design, the EF 132. It states: “More German scientists and equipment arrived and more German aircraft and engine plants took roots in Russian soil. Professor Doctor Schiebe, Freundel, Wocke, Hartmann and hundreds of others went to work on different projects, such as the most secret Luftwaffe plan of transatlantic bombing with the JuEF 132 – The ‘Amerika Bomber’.”

There is scant evidence from the 1960s but writing in his highly influential 1970 work The Warplanes of the Third Reich, William Green stated that the Me 264 was ‘dubbed unofficially the Amerika-Bomber’. Green was writing at a time when most if not all documents and reports relating to German projects were still classified and unavailable. He therefore did what he could with what he had.

No doubt as a consequence of this description, Herbert Molloy Mason stated in his 1973 book, The Rise of the Luftwaffe, that the Me 264 was known as the Amerika-Bomber, and in his 1978 Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Bernard Fitzsimons said the Me 264 was ‘popularly called’ the Amerika-Bomber. In the 1987 Smithsonian Book of Flight, Walter J Boyne also uses ‘Amerika Bomber’ to refer to the Me 264.

Nathan C Goldman, writing in 1992, used the term to refer to Eugen Sänger’s suborbital bomber, as did NASA writer A M Springer in 2003. In 1999, Isolde Baur called the Me 264 an ‘Amerika-Bomber’ in her biography of her husband, Messerschmitt test pilot Karl Baur.

Perhaps most influentially in recent times, David Myhra referred to the Horten XVIII as an Amerika Bomber in his 1998 book Secret Aircraft Designs of the Third Reich. This followed his interview with Reimar Horten in 1980, where Horten stated: “The Ho 18 was to have been a very long-range all-wing bomber which Walter and I were ordered to design and build for Hermann Göring in April 1945. The project already had a nickname – it was being called the ‘Amerika-Bomber’.”

Suffice to say that only Göring and perhaps Horten himself ever used the ‘nickname’ since the XVIII was entered for a competition that was meant to result in a bomber capable of attacking England and, to a limited degree, supply vessels in the Atlantic. Following Myhra’s lead, Walter J Boyne also refers to the Horten XVIII as the ‘Amerika-Bomber’ in his 2002 Air Warfare encyclopaedia, as does Jean-Denis G G Lepage in his 2009 Aircraft of the Luftwaffe, and Lance Cole in his 2015 Secret Wings of World War II.