Following the success of the AEC Mk III and Daimler Mk II armoured cars during World War II the British army issued a requirement for a new armoured car with a 2-pdr gun. But it was soon decided that this weapon would be ineffective against the newer vehicles expected in the 1950s, and the Armament Research and Development Establishment then designed a new 76-mm (3-m) gun called the L5.
The chassis of the Saladin, or FV601, is very similar to that of the FV603 Saracen armoured personnel carrier, which was also under development by Alvis at that time. Because of needs of the guerrilla war in Malaya, development of the Saracen was given precedence over that of the Saladin, and because of the high work load at Alvis the first six preproduction Saladins were built by Crossley Motors at Stockport in Cheshire.
The Saladin was accepted for service with the British army in 1956, and production started two years later at Alvis in Coventry. Production continued for the home and export markets until 1972, by which time 1,177 vehicles had been completed.
During the Second World War the British Army probably placed more reliance on armoured cars than any other combatant, and once the war was over they demanded a replacement vehicle. The design was entrusted to Alvis of Coventry, and the result was a six-wheeled vehicle with excellent cross-country performance. It was hoped to begin issuing the vehicle in the early 1950s, but many of its components were common to the Saracen APC which had higher priority. The resulting delay was used to good effect, since it allowed the obsolete 2-pdr gun to be replaced by the new 76-mm (3- in).
Saladin uses a welded steel hull with six independently suspended and driven wheels; the front four wheels are steered, and the vehicle can still be driven with one wheel missing. The driver is seated at the front, the engine is at the rear, and the centre of the hull acts as the fighting compartment into which the fully rotating turret is placed. The 76-mm gun can elevate to 20° and carries a 7.62-mm (0.30-in) machine-gun mounted coaxially. A second machine-gun is carried on the turret for antiaircraft defence, and smoke dischargers are mounted on the turret exterior. The 76-mm gun is provided with HE, HESH, smoke and canister ammunition, and has a maximum range of 5000 m (5470 yards). Saladin can wade to a depth of 1.1 m (3 ft 6 in) without preparation.
There were very few variants of the Saladin, one of the more interesting ones being the amphibious model. This was fitted with a flotation screen around the top of the hull, and when this had been erected the vehicle could propel itself on water with its wheels.
Most first-line units of the British Army had replaced Saladin with the Scorpion CVR(T) by early 1978, but large numbers were held in reserve. An interesting adaptation was carried out by the Australian army who removed the turrets from their Saladins and fitted them to US M113 APCs to turn them into support vehicles. A similar modification which has been suggested is to remove the Saladin turret and replace it with the turret of the Fox CVR(W). The Saladin was also put forward as a possible vehicle for the Swingfire ATGW, but the advent of the Scorpion family ended this idea.
A small number of Saladins remain in service in Cyrpus with the British army, and the type is also used by Bahrain, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Nigeria, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and both North and South Yemen, although in some cases spares must be a major problem as the UK is no longer handling spares for some countries as a result of political considerations.
First-produced in 1952, the FV 603 Saracen APC was a member of a family of 6×6 vehicles. The turret mounts a 0.30-calibremachine-gun.
Saracen British armoured personnel carrier.
After the Second World War the British Army required a new armoured car, and this was placed under development by Alvis, to become the Saladin. In the meantime, however, it became apparent that an armoured personnel carrier was urgently required, particularly for anti-guerrilla operations in Malaya, and the basic design of the Saladin was taken as the starting point for the APC. This was eventually given priority over the armoured car version, so that the Saracen APC appeared some years before the Saladin. In fact it appeared too soon, and early production was upset by several ‘teething troubles’ which might have been avoided had the work been less rushed.
Saracen has a welded steel hull suspended on six wheels, the front four being steerable. The driver sits at the front of the passenger compartment, with the engine ahead of him as in a conventional automobile. The compartment is fitted with bench seats to take eight infantrymen; the infantry section commander and radioman are seated behind the driver. The vehicle commander occupies the small turret mounted in the roof of the vehicle which carries a 7.62-mm (0.30-in) machine-gun. A hatch in the rear of the roof gives access to a ring mounting upon which an antiaircraft machine-gun can be fitted. Smoke dischargers are carried at the front of the hull, and entrance to the interior is via two large doors at the rear end. Transmission is by a five-speed preselector gearbox and fluid coupling, which makes a characteristic screaming noise when the vehicle is moving.
Although the FV603 Saracen had the same automotive components as the FV601 Saladin 6×6 armoured car, its layout was quite different with the engine at the front and troop compartment at the rear, The driver is seated in the centre, with the section commander to his left rear and radio operator to his right rear. To their rear are the eight infantrymen, who are seated on individual seats (four down each side of the hull facing inwards). The troops enter and leave via twin doors in the hull rear, and firing ports are provided in the sides and rear. On the forward part of the roof is a manually-operated turret with a 7.62-mm (0.3-in) machine-gun (this turret is identical with that fitted to some Ferret scout cars), and over the rear part of the troop compartment is a 7.62-mm (0.3- in) Bren light-machine gun for air defence. Steering is hydraulically assisted on the front four wheels, and the vehicle can be driven with one wheel missing from each side. Some vehicles supplied to the Middle East were not fitted with a roof
The most important variant, apart from the basic APC model, is probably the Command Post vehicle for Royal Artillery units. This has the hull raised to give more headroom, does away with the turret, and carries a variety of fire-control instruments and radios. Some vehicles also carry the FACE (field artillery computing equipment) fire-control computer. A similar vehicle, though without the additional headroom, is used as a command vehicle. An ambulance version has been developed, but only a few were made. There were not many variants of the Saracen as the FV602 ambulance was cancelled fairly early on in the development programme. The FV604 is a command vehicle, while the FV610 is also a command vehicle with a much higher roof to allow the command staff to work standing up. The FV611 is an ambulance model and also has a high¬ er roof. The FV610 was also fitted with the Robert surveillance radar but this never entered service; the same fate befell the 25-pdr self-propelled gun version and a roller-type mine clearing vehicle. Numbers were built for Kuwait with no turret and with the top of the compartment left open.
Production of the whole FV600 series was undertaken by Alvis Limited at Coventry, and 1,838 vehicles had been completed by the time production came to an end in 1972, Throughout the 1950s the Saracen was the only real armoured personnel carrier in service with the British army, used in the Far East and Middle East (for example Aden and Libya) as well as in the United Kingdom and with the British Army of the Rhine. From the early 1960s replacement of the Saracen in the BAOR started by the FV432 full-tracked armoured personnel carrier, which has better cross-country performance, improved armour protection and longer operational range. In 1984 the Saracen remained in service with the British army in Northern Ireland, where it is used in internal security operations, with the Territorial Army and in Hong Kong. Sales of the Saracen were also made to Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, South Africa, Sudan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Uganda.
In 1951, a design team under Alexander Kartveli at Republic Aircraft began work as a company venture on a new high-performance, single-seat low-level nuclear strike aircraft. The new aircraft, which was given the company designation of “AP-63”, where “AP” stood for “Advanced Project”, was to replace the Air Force’s Republic F-84F Thunderstreak.
Many different design concepts were considered, gradually evolving towards something along the lines of a “stretched” F-84F with a bomb-bay for a nuclear weapon. The aircraft was to be fitted with an Allison J71 engine, though as it turned out, this powerplant would not prove powerful enough for the aircraft that finally flew and was never actually used.
The AP-63 would also be able to carry air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) and air-to-air missiles (AAMs) on underwing pylons. It was to have a top speed of Mach 1.5 and would be capable of defending itself against enemy fighters. The aircraft would have sophisticated combat avionics and mid-air refueling capability.
Initial contracts were awarded to Republic in 1952 and 1953 for what at first was a total of 199 aircraft, with initial delivery in 1955. In reality, the USAF requirements were shifting at the time, and the company did not receive a solid contract until February 1955, for 15 aircraft. These 15 aircraft were finally completed as two “YF-105A” evaluation aircraft; three “RF-105B” reconnaissance aircraft, which were later redesignated “JF-105B” and used for “special tests”; and ten production “F-105Bs”.
The initial flight of the first YF-105A was on 22 October 1955, with the second flying on 28 January 1956. The YF-105A was a sleek, big aircraft with mid-mounted wings swept back 45 degrees; similar sweptback tail surfaces, with an “all moving” horizontal tailplane; engine intakes in the wing roots; a ventral fin for yaw stability at high speeds; and tall and stalky tricycle landing gear with single wheels. The main gear hinged in the wings, retracting towards the fuselage, and the nose gear retracted forwards.
The wings were relatively small for the aircraft’s size to gave it high “wing loading” that ensured a smoother ride at low level, though at the expense of agility and with the price of a long take-off run. Flight controls were hydraulically boosted. The pilot sat in a cockpit with a clamshell canopy, on a Republic-designed rocket-boosted ejection seat.
Although the plan was to fit production aircraft with the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) J75 turbojet, as the J75 was not available at the time the two YF-105As were powered by the P&W J57-P-25 turbojet engine, with 45.4 kN (4,625 kg / 10,200 pounds) dry thrust and 66.7 kN (6,800 kg / 15,000 lb) afterburning thrust. Despite the fact that the J57 was substantially less powerful than the J75, the YF-105A was still capable of Mach 1.2.
The first YF-105A was severely damaged in a landing on 16 December 1955 after losing one of its main landing gear in flight. An attempt was made to repair the machine, but the effort proved too costly and the aircraft was scrapped. The other YF-105A remained in service for development testing for several years.
The first of four “YF-105Bs” or “F-105B-1s” performed its initial flight on 26 May 1956, and was fitted with the P&W YJ75-P-3 engine with 71.2 kN (7,260 kg / 16,000 lb) dry thrust and 105 kN (10,660 kg / 23,500 lb) afterburning thrust. The F-105B-1 also differed from the YF-105As in having reverse-swept instead of straight air intakes, plus an “area-ruled” fuselage.
The reverse-swept intakes helped reduce the likelihood of engine stall from high-speed shock waves in the engine inlets. There was a moveable “plug” in each inlet that could be shifted forward and back to improve high-speed airflow, as well as auxiliary ducts that opened when the aircraft’s landing gear were extended. Area ruling was an innovation of the 1950s in which changes in aircraft cross-section were made as gradual as possible to improve transonic handling, resulting in a “wasp-waisted” fuselage configuration.
However, the initial F-105B-1 suffered damage on landing during its first flight when its nose gear failed to extend. The aircraft was judged repairable, until a crane operator dropped it during an attempt to get it off the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, and it was written off. This slowed down the flight test program, which compounded the delays encountered by Republic in putting together such a sophisticated and advanced aircraft.
The development effort was also complicated by the fact that the USAF requirements were continuing to shift, but these changing requirements also led the USAF to become more enthusiastic about the “Thunderchief”, as it was formally named in June 1956. In March 1956, the service had ordered 65 F-105Bs and 17 RF-105Bs, followed by an order for five two-seat “F-105C” trainers to provide instruction in the Thunderchief’s advanced avionics systems.
The RF-105Bs were cancelled in July 1956, though three prototypes lacking both armament and photographic gear were completed and used as trials aircraft. The F-105Cs were axed in 1957, but F-105B production went ahead.
The second F-105B flew on 30 January 1957. It also suffered a landing gear problem and had to “belly in”, but repairing the damage was straightforward. First flight of a production aircraft was on 14 May 1958.
The USAF Tactical Air Command (TAC) had a full squadron of Thunderchiefs in service by mid-1959. On 11 December 1959, Brigadier General Joseph Moore, commander of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, set a world’s speed record of 1,958.53 KPH (1,216 MPH) over a 100 kilometer closed course in an F-105B.
F 105B / F-105D / F105F in service
The Thunderchief was a complicated aircraft, leading to high maintenance rates. The electronic systems were particularly unreliable and the hydraulic systems badly needed redundancy. Initially, the aircraft required 150 maintenance hours per flight hour to keep it in the air and so aircraft availability rates were poor. However, efforts to work out the bugs continued, and presently Republic and the Air Force began to get ahead on the serviceability curve, with F-105Bs brought up to snuff through a program designated “Project Optimize”.
When the Thunderchief was in flying condition, it was an impressive aircraft, like its Republic ancestors big, rugged, and powerful, but unlike them surprisingly sleek and photogenic.
The sweptback wings featured low-speed ailerons and high-speed spoilers to improve handling, as well as full-span leading-edge flaps to improve takeoff and landing characteristics. The Thunderchief also featured an interesting airbrake system consisting of four “cloverleaf” segments around the jet exhaust that opened like flower petals. The cloverleaf exhaust also served as a variable engine exhaust, opening nine degrees automatically when afterburner was engaged. Only the horizontal petals could be extended when the aircraft’s landing gear was down.
Full production F-105Bs were powered by a P&W J75-P-19 engine, with 71.6 kN (7,300 kg / 16,100 lb) dry thrust and 109 kN (11,100 kg / 24,500 lb) afterburning thrust.
The aircraft was fitted with a single General Electric (GE) M61 six-barrel 20 millimetre Vulcan Gatling-type cannon, firing from the left side of the nose. The fighter could also carry 3,630 kilograms (8,000 pounds) of stores in its bomb bay, as well as an additional total of 1,815 kilograms (4,000 pounds) of stores on five external stores pylons, with one pylon on the aircraft centreline and two under each wing.
The bomb bay could carry a Mark 28 or Mark 43 nuclear weapon, though as the Thunderchief became more focused on conventional attack the bomb bay was usually fitted with an auxiliary fuel tank with a capacity of 1,476 litres (390 US gallons). The internal fuel capacity without the bomb bay-tank was 4,396 litres (1,160 US gallons) in seven tanks in the rear fuselage.
The F-105B could also carry two 1,705 litre (450 US gallon) drop tanks, one on each inboard stores pylon, and another 1,705 liter or 2,464 liter (650 US gallon) drop tank on the centreline pylon. Total fuel capacity could be as high as 11,750 litres (3,100 US gallons). The aircraft was fitted for probe-and-drogue inflight refuelling, with a retractable probe on the left side of the nose just forward of the cockpit.
The F-105B only equipped two USAF squadrons, with the variant phased out to the US Air National Guard (ANG) in 1964. Some of these aircraft were passed on to the Air Force Reserve later. However, the USAF had already requested modifications to the F-105B for all-weather operation in November 1957, well before the Thunderchief entered service, leading to the definitive “F-105D”.
The F-105D’s nose was stretched by 38 centimetres (1 foot 3 inches) to accommodate the “AN/ASG-9 Thunderstick” system. This featured the “R-14A” multi-mode radar to provide air-to-air, air-to-ground, and low-level terrain-following capability, and the GE “FC-5” automatic flight-control system to provide navigation and weapons-delivery capabilities. Cockpit instrumentation was updated accordingly. The circular dials of the F-105B’s cockpit were also replaced with horizontal and vertical “tape” style indicators.
The F-105D was powered by an uprated J75-P-19W turbojet with water-methanol injection, providing 118 kN (12,000 kg / 26,500 lb) boost thrust. Intake ducting was modified and the airframe, landing gear, and brakes were strengthened. The F-105D also incorporated a somewhat unusual feature for a ground-based fighter: an arresting hook at the rear of the ventral fin to allow it to snag runway cables on an overshoot.
The armament and weapon load was the same as the F-105B, but the entire 5,450 kilogram (12,000 pounds) weapon load could now be carried externally. The F-105D could also carry four “Sidewinder” AAMs or four “Bullpup” ASMs.
Initial flight of the first of three “F-105D-1s” was on 9 June 1959, with deliveries to TAC beginning in early 1961. However, late in 1961 all F-105Ds were grounded when an airframe failed a fatigue test in the laboratory. The problem was quickly corrected.
The F-105D was manufactured in a series of production blocks that incorporated various refinements, with 353 more produced up to the definitive “F-105D-25” production block, of which 80 were built. All earlier production was brought up to F-105D-25 specification through an update program designated “Project Look-Alike”, begun in 1962 and completed in 1964
In addition, 39 “F-105D-30s” were built with improved instrumentation, and then 135 “F-105D-31s” with dual probe-and-drogue / boom refuelling capability, adding a tanker boom socket in the nose. Total F-105D production came to 610 aircraft, with the last delivered in 1964.
Although the Air Force had cancelled a two-seat strike version of the F-105D designated the “F-105E” in 1958, the service decided that they needed a two-seat Thunderchief after all and ordered yet another two-seat version, the “F-105F”. The first flew on 11 July 1963.
The F-105F featured tandem clamshell cockpits; dual flight controls; the dual inflight refuelling capability of the F-105D-31; a taller vertical tailplane; and a fuselage stretch of 79 centimetres (31 inches) to accommodate the second cockpit. The F-105F was intended mostly to introduce new pilots to the aircraft’s complicated electronic systems, as the back seat had too poor a view to make it a useful flight trainer. However, the aircraft was also fully combat-capable.
The last of 143 F-105Fs was delivered in January 1965, ending Thunderchief production. The word had come down from the top to concentrate on the McDonnell F-4 Phantom for the attack role. 833 F-105s of all types were built in total. All went into service with the USAF. No other US service operated the Thunderchief, and the type was never exported.
By this time, America’s war in Southeast Asia was ramping up. The USAF 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) relocated from Japan to Korat Air Force Base in Thailand in August 1964. These F-105s were supposed to be used to provide cover for air rescue operations, but in practice they were often used as strike support for US Central Intelligence Agency operations in Laos.
On 14 August 1964, Lieutenant Larry Davis’s F-105D was chewed up by flak over Laos. Davis made it back to Korat and landed safely, but his aircraft had to be written off as a loss. It was the first Thunderchief to fall to enemy action.
Six months after the introduction of the Thunderchief to Southeast Asia, the 36th TFS was relocated to another base in Thailand at Takhli, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) to the northwest. The 35th TFS moved into Korat. More Thunderchief units arrived, eventually constituting the 6234th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Korat and the 6235th TFW at Takhli. Some F-105 squadrons were operated from the Da Nang air base in South Vietnam for a short period of time early in the war, but they were then relocated to Thailand.
The US government denied that the Air Force was operating out of Thailand until 1966, but in fact the F-105s were increasingly busy. They conducted a month-long bombing campaign designated “Barrel Roll” beginning in early December 1964, Barrel Roll was intended to support Royal Laotian forces fighting with the North Vietnamese Army and Communist Pathet Lao insurgents.
This was just a warmup to a bigger air war. On 7 February 1965, in response to an attack by Communist Viet Cong guerrillas against a US base camp in South Vietnam, American President Lyndon Johnson ordered “Operation Flaming Dart” to strike targets in North Vietnam.
The strikes were conducted by US Navy, US Air Force, and South Vietnamese Air Force aircraft, with the F-105s making their initial sorties into North Vietnam itself on 8 February. The Viet Cong responded with further raids on American facilities in South Vietnam, and the US responded with more air attacks.
These strikes led up to a prolonged air campaign against North Vietnam codenamed “Rolling Thunder”, with the first attack performed on 2 March 1965. Rolling Thunder was largely the brainchild of US Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, and had the objective of pressuring North Vietnam to the bargaining table by performing a series of restrained but increasingly severe strikes, hence the codename.
The 2 March strike didn’t give much reason for confidence in the scheme. Three F-105s and two F-100 escorts were shot down, with four pilots killed and one becoming a prisoner of war (POW). The North Vietnamese seemed barely disturbed by the attack. Indeed, as the losses showed, they had been expecting it.
The F-105 became the USAF’s primary strike aircraft for Rolling Thunder, ironically because the Air Force was reluctant to risk the loss of their B-52s, the backbone of their strategic bomber force. In a further irony, B-52s were heavily used for tactical strikes, particularly on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The F-105 took the brunt of the air war. Pilots were generally fond of the big, sturdy, powerful machine, giving it names such as “Lead Sled”, “Super Hog”, “Ultra Hog”, “Iron Butterfly”, and most of all “Thud”. Most of the dangerous bugs that had plagued the type early on had been worked out, and the Thud could take a lot of punishment and come back home. In 1966, one F-105 was hit with a flak round that took out a chunk out of its wing 1.2 meters (4 feet) across, and the aircraft still limped back to base.
The major complaint against the F-105 was that it was, like all its Republic ancestors, a real “Earth lover” that always needed as much runway as it could get to make it into the air. Its highly loaded wings did give it an unbeatable fast ride at low altitude, but they didn’t give the Thud much in way of maneuverability, and the thing was generally regarded as being about as agile as a brick.
Fitted with multiple ejector racks (MERs) on its stores pylons, the Thud could carry eight 340 kilogram (750 pound) bombs, giving it an impressive strike capability. It could carry other air-to-ground munitions, such as napalm canisters and 70 millimeter (2.75 inch) unguided rocket pods. It could also carry four AIM-9 Sidewinder AAMs, with a special rack allowing two to be carried on a single stores pylon.
North Vietnam was divided up by the US military into a set of target zones referred to for some reason as “Route Packages (RPs)”. As the air attacks ramped up, so did the effectiveness of North Vietnamese air defenses, and US losses continued to rise. The most heavily defended area was “RP-6A”, in and around Hanoi. US pilots referred to Hanoi as “downtown”, a reference to the contemporary Petula Clark pop hit of the same name, whose lyrics include the line: “Everything’s waiting for you there.” To enter into this target area, the F-105s had to fly over a region of hilly ground that became known as “Thud Ridge”.
The missions were dangerous and casualties were high. At the peak of the air war, the chances of a Thud pilot surviving 100 missions over North Vietnam was only about 75%. To increase frustration of the pilots, the air war was being “micromanaged” from the top by President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara. The strikes were conducted with highly specific “rules of engagement (ROE)” that defined what was to be hit and what wasn’t.
ROEs are now common in the limited warfare practiced in the conflicts that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they were more or less a new idea in 1965, one that Air Force pilots had not been trained for and that the politicians in charge didn’t seem to have thought out very well. The ROEs seemed to shift frequently with absolutely no understandable rhyme or reason. What was absolutely clear to Thud pilots, however, was that they were getting shot at by a fearsome network of anti-aircraft guns of varying calibers, as well as SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and their squadron mates weren’t always coming back.
The North Vietnamese air defense system was so effective that countermeasures became a high priority. “Strike packages” were often led by a Douglas RB-66 Destroyer electronic countermeasures (ECM) aircraft to blind air-defense radars, as well as provide navigation and precision all-weather targeting for the rest of the aircraft in the package.
F-105s also carried one or sometimes even two “ALQ-72” ECM pods on underwing pylons to jam air defence radars. The ALQ-72 was developed by GE beginning in 1961 in response to the emerging SA-2 SAM threat, with the pod originally designated “QRC-160”, where “QRC” stood for “Quick Reaction Capability”. A formation of F-105s all carrying ALQ-72 pods could effectively blind North Vietnamese radars.
Aircraft crews approaching defended territory would run their last system checks and switch on their ECM gear, getting green lights on their cockpit panels to show that things were working. The slogan was: “Clean up, green up, and turn on the music.”
T-Stick II / Wild Weasels / Combat Martin / Northscape / Twilight
F-105Ds were given various refinements to improve their maintainability and survivability in the course of the war, such as countermeasures and a strike-assessment camera.
30 F-105Ds were were fitted with advanced attack avionics beginning in 1969 under the “Thunderstick (T-Stick) II” program, featuring an improved LORAN radio-beacon navigation system to hit targets at night or in bad weather. The avionics were stored in a dorsal fairing that ran from cockpit to tail. However, by this time the F-105D was being withdrawn from combat and the T-Stick II aircraft never went to war.
The F-105F was heavily committed to combat over Southeast Asia. Some were quickly adapted for the “Wild Weasel” air-defence suppression role, fitted with electronics to detect enemy radars and target air defense sites for destruction in advance of strike packages. The original Air Force “Wild Weasel I” was a modified two-seat North American F-100F Super Sabre, but the F-100 wasn’t fast enough to keep up with F-105 strike packages, and so the F-105F was selected for the role.
The major elements of the modification were addition of the “APR-25 Radar Homing And Warning (RHAW)” system, which picked up and located radar sites; the “APR-26 Launch Warning Receiver (LWR)”, which provided warning of a missile launch; and an “IR-133 Scan Receiver” to search for emitters. The back-seat “electronics warfare officer (EWO)” controlled these devices and had a cockpit CRT to help locate targets.
The first such F-105F “Wild Weasel II”, sometimes informally known as an “EF-105F”, performed its first flight on 15 January 1966, and the Wild Weasel Thuds were engaged in active combat by the spring of that year. A total of 86 Wild Weasel F-105F conversions were performed.
The Wild Weasel F-105F was armed with the new “AGM-45 Shrike Anti-Radar Missile (ARM)”, a modified Sparrow AAM with a radar-homing head, to destroy radar transmitters, and attacked air-defense sites with CBU-24 cluster bombs and other munitions. Sometimes Wild Weasel F-105Fs worked with F-105Ds in “hunter-killer” teams, with the Wild Weasel Thud pinpointing the target and the F-105Ds destroying it.
While other aircraft could avoid air-defense sites when possible, Wild Weasels actually had to attract their attention and take them on. This led to the Wild Weasel motto, which was “YGBSM”, standing for “You Gotta Be Shittin’ Me!” Apparently this was the reaction of the first Wild Weasel aircrews when they were told what they were getting themselves into.
Wild Weasel crews were generally gutsy sorts, and they evolved tactics for outflying SAMs launched at them. They would watch for a missile launch, and then fly straight at the SAM at high speed, turning at the last moment. The fast-moving SAM would not be able to turn quickly enough to bring the fighter into the blast radius of its warhead.
Two Wild Weasel F-105F pilots won the highest American military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor. On 10 March 1967, Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen was piloting one of four Wild Weasel Thuds paving the way for a strike package. The leader was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, and North Vietnamese MiG-21 fighter made repeated passes on the survivors, trying to force them to dump their ordnance. Dethlefsen pressed home the attack anyway and destroyed the site. All three surviving Wild Weasels returned home with severe damage. Dethlefsen was personally awarded the medal by President Johnson.
On 19 April 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Leo K. Thorsness had completed a Wild Weasel strike when his wingmates were shot down. He was low on fuel but stayed around to cover the air rescue operation, driving of a flight of MiG-17s that tried to interfere. Thorsness shot down one MiG and damaged another. He passed up an opportunity to refuel from a tanker when another aircraft breathing fumes showed up, and landed safely at Ubon, a forward base in Thailand.
On 30 April, Thorsness’ F-105 was hit and badly damaged. He and his EWO ejected, Thorsness being badly injured in the process, and were captured by the North Vietnamese. They spent over six years in a North Vietnamese POW camp.
56 Wild Weasel F-105Fs were later updated to an improved “Wild Weasel III” configuration with the designation “F-105G”, featuring improved avionics, as well as jammer pods that were faired into the forward fuselage, freeing up the underwing pylons for other stores. 14 of the F-105Gs were further modified to carry the big AGM-78 “Standard Anti-Radar Missile (STARM)”, an air-launched variant of the US Navy’s “Standard” SAM.
In late 1967, about a dozen F-105Fs serving in Vietnam were fitted with a Hallicrafters QRC-128 VHF radio jammer to disrupt communications between MiG pilots and their ground controllers. The big box, called “Colonel Computer” by flight crews, replaced the back-seat crew member. These aircraft were referred to as “Combat Martins” and were identifiable from a large square blade antenna just behind the cockpit. Beginning in 1970, they were re-converted to the Wild Weasel configuration.
In early 1967, F-105Fs were also modified to provide a night-strike capability, with a modified R-14A radar system for improved targeting and other, minor, changes for night operations. These were known as “Northscape” or “Commando Nail” aircraft. The program does not seem to have been a success, since it was abandoned by the end of the year, with the aircraft re-converted to Wild Weasels.
By the spring of 1968, the Rolling Thunder campaign had proven a clear failure. American casualties had been high and the North Vietnamese proved entirely indifferent to the attempt to bomb them by gradual increments to the negotiating table. A month-long bombing halt was called, somehow appropriately, on 1 April 1968, with intermittent strikes dwindling away until they stopped completely on 1 October. They were formally called off on 1 November, as American presidential elections were coming up.
There were no more strikes to the north for about three years. During this time, the F-105s were withdrawn from the strike role, the survivors going back home. The last strike mission of the F-105 was on 6 October 1970.
However, Wild Weasel Thuds remained on hand for combat. Attacks on North Vietnam in earnest in the spring of 1972, beginning with an operation codenamed “Freedom Train”, intensifying into “Linebacker I”, to finally end with a climax of destruction named “Linebacker II” during the Christmas season that year. The bombing was much less restrained and much more effective than before, with Linebacker II finally pushing the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table.
Wild Weasel Thuds were in the thick of the action, generally operating in hunter-killer teams with Phantoms to make the most of the limited numbers of F-105Fs still available for combat. They stayed in action until the US finally ended its overt involvement in the war in early 1973.
The loss record of the Thunderchief in the war speaks volumes about the level of its commitment. 385 F-105s were lost, with only 51 of these losses due to operational accidents.
Flak and SAMs were the worst hazard, taking down 312 F-105s. North Vietnamese MiGs claimed 22 Thunderchiefs, but the Thuds more than evened the score, with the F-105 credited with the destruction of 27.5 MiGs. Interestingly, 24.5 of these kills were performed with cannon alone. This is very much the opposite of the kill records of the other major fighter types in the war, the Vought F-8 Crusader and the F-4 Phantom, in which most kills were achieved with missiles.
Thunderchiefs began to be transferred from USAF service to the Air Force Reserve and US Air National Guard in January 1971, with the last Thunderchiefs, F-105Gs, in USAF service sent to the Reserves in July 1980. The last flight of a Reserve Thunderchief, an F-105D, was on 25 February 1984, and the Thud was out of service with the ANG in early 1985. There are some survivors on static display, but none remain in flying condition.
Span: 34 ft. 11 in.
Length: 67 ft. 0 in.
Height: 20 ft. 2 in.
Weight: 54,580 lbs. max.
Armament: One M61 20mm Vulcan cannon plus 14,000 pounds of ordnance–conventional bombs, rocket packs, missiles and special weapons
Engine: One Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W of 26,500 lbs. thrust with afterburner
HMS Swiftsure was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Sir Anthony Deane at Harwich, and launched in 1673. By 1685 she had been reduced to a 66-gun ship.
In 1692 she saw action at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue.
She was rebuilt by Snelgrove of Deptford in 1696 as a 66-gun third rate. In 1707, she belonged to Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet. She saw action during the unsuccessful Battle of Toulon and was present during the great naval disaster off the Isles of Scilly when Shovell and four of his ships (Association, Firebrand, Romney and Eagle) were lost, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors. Swiftsure suffered little to no damage and finally managed to reach Portsmouth. She underwent a second rebuild at Woolwich Dockyard, relaunching on 20 November 1718 as a 70-gun third rate of the 1706 Establishment. She was renamed HMS Revenge at this time. On 25 February 1740 Revenge was ordered to be taken to pieces at Deptford, and to be rebuilt as a 70-gun third rate to the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment. She was relaunched on 23 May 1742.
Revenge was sold out of the navy in 1787.
Deptford, where Revenge was built, was frequented by Samuel Pepys and the fourth Revenge was a result of the considerable surge in shipbuilding that took place in the first decade of the eighteenth century.
A Third Rate was a two-decker ship, and one of the most common ships in the Navy. The most famous of these was the 74-gun Third Rate. Not a great deal had changed since the days of Elizabeth I, though the fourth Revenge had a less racy design than her successor. The fourth Revenge was effectively a frigate, comparatively light on the water, though heavier, due to the greater weight of guns, and not as manoeuvrable as her more famous ancestor. The guns were comparatively unchanged, including the short-barrelled, medium-range culverin.
With the arrival of William of Orange in England in 1688, Pepys’s star began to wane, having collaborated with George Legge, Lord Dartmouth’s unsuccessful attempt to intercept William’s fleet. Pepys, whose work for the Navy had contributed to the creation of a national naval force that would one day dominate the oceans of the world, allowed himself to be mixed up in a disastrous muddle that resulted in a change in the monarchy.
William’s accession meant a radical change in foreign policy and whereas the third Revenge appeared to be the agent of a Catholic revival, the fourth Revenge was once again the servant of Protestantism ranged against the French. War was declared on France on 5 May 1689 and negotiations for co-operation with the Dutch fleet were wrapped up, turning the naval arrangements of the previous few years completely on their head.
The fourth Revenge sailed almost immediately into the cauldron that was the War of the Spanish Succession. Carlos II having died heirless, the succession went to Philippe of Anjou which in turn precipitated French military advances in the Spanish Netherlands and Italy.
With the death of William, the war against France proceeded under Queen Anne and the major historical emphasis switched to the exploits of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, who proceeded to unravel French ambitions with the help of Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Sir George Rooke had unsuccessfully attacked Cadiz in order to repeat Drake’s singeing of the King of Spain’s beard, but the attempt was badly organized and failed to achieve the intended result.
Sir George Rooke (1650–1709) was born near Canterbury and entered the Navy as a volunteer. He commanded a squadron at the siege of London in 1689 and became a Rear Admiral in 1690, when he participated at the Battle of Beachy Head. He made his mark at the Battle of La Hogue, when he contrived to burn six enemy ships and was rewarded for his action with a knighthood. He served in various posts in the Channel and in the Mediterranean until 1702, when he led the expedition against Cadiz, followed by the conspicuously successful raid on the Spanish and French fleet at Vigo. He was accompanied by Sir Cloudesley Shovell on the attack on Gibraltar on 21 July 1704, which received popular acclaim and which proved to be a milestone in British maritime history. On 13 August he commanded the fleet in an attack on the French off Malaga. The battle was inconclusive, with neither side losing a ship, and Rooke was subject to criticism for the poor preparation of the English fleet at the battle – the ships’ hulls had not been careened and the guns were short of ammunition after the extensive barrage at Gibraltar. On this negative note, he retired from the Navy in 1705 and died in 1709.
After the failure at Cadiz, Rooke’s face was saved when he got wind of some Spanish treasure ships in Vigo Bay. At a council of war held on the Royal Sovereign on 17 October 1702 it was decided to sail to Vigo and ‘insult them immediately with our whole line, in case these be enough’.
On arrival at Vigo on 18 October, Rooke sent in two boats to scout which reported back that there were about twenty-two Spanish galleons and eighteen French men-of-war. The ships had unloaded some of their treasure and were secured in an inlet above Vigo, near Redondella, protected by a boom made up, according to Captain Nathaniel Uring, thus:
They having unrigged their ships, laid their Masts and Yards abreast each other, and lashed them securely together which spread the whole breadth of the Channel, with their cables stretched out a length upon them and well fasten’d; and their Top and other chains were stapled down to the Mast, to prevent them being out by our Men. They moored it without Side and within, with several anchors and cables; it was 8 or 10 foot broad, which altogether made it so strong, that they thought it impossible to be forced.
The Allied fleet anchored near the boom and another council of war was held in which it was decided that it was too risky to attempt to enter the enemy’s lair in full strength, due to the lack of sea space, and it was decided instead to send in a detachment of fifteen English and ten Dutch ships along with fireships, backed up by frigates and bomb vessels, with the major ships watching for any opportunities at the back.
The population of Vigo, having been visited upon years before by the legendary Drake, were understandably alarmed, as a French historian recounts:
L’inquietude puis la panique gagnerent toute la region; le vieux racontaient de terrible histoires du temps de leurs grandsparents; c’etait l’attaque de la ville en 1589 par Francis Drake qui brula les maisons, profana les eglises et laissa le pays ruine pour trent ans, c’etait la mise a sac de Cangas en 1617 par les pirates barbariques qui ne laisserent pierre sur pierre, qui massaeraient enfants et viellards et mutilaient les prisonniers a grand coups de cimeterre, qui couperent les seins de femmes don plusieurs nonnes.
On Monday, 22 October, having landed troops in a bay ‘about a league above Vigo’ [Rooke], Vice Admiral Topsonn in the Torbay was ordered to make an attempt on the boom, which he succeeded in making. The Swiftsure accompanied the Berwick and the Essex under Rear Admiral Fairborne. Meanwhile the Marines attacked and took the forts, putting them out of action while the Allied ships passed beneath them.
What ensued was effectively a turkey shoot, with every French and Spanish ship being either burnt (16), sunk (8) or captured (12). On the Allied side, the Torbay came off worst, having been attacked by a fireship which then blew up.
Carlos di Risio has little doubt about the reasons for the crushing victory: the English gunners were better trained and could fire faster than either the French or Spaniards, and these two fleets were in any case a shadow of their former selves. Just over a hundred years later, at Trafalgar, the English would once again defeat a Franco-Spanish fleet, with once again a bold strategy and superior gunnery.
Following this victory, England made an alliance with Portugal and some Portuguese soldiers were present in the attack that took place on Gibraltar on 24 July 1704. Joined by Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Rooke held a council of war on 16 June in which the best possible targets were debated, the onus being on them to make good use of the considerable naval resources at their disposal, including the Swiftsure, a 70-gun ship built in 1673 which would be renamed Revenge in 1716. At a second meeting, on 17 June, Gibraltar was finally settled upon as the best option, though it is unlikely that the strategic impact of that decision for the next two centuries would have crossed the minds of those in attendance. It seemed to them to be a useful place to hold for the purposes of the war and it was also relatively lightly defended in comparison with ports such as Cadiz, on which Rooke had already burnt his fingers.
On 21 July, the Anglo-Dutch fleet arrived in Gibraltar Bay and 1,800 English and Dutch marines landed under the command of the Prince of Hesse, cutting the town off from the mainland. They received a barrage of cannon fire the next day, after the governor refused to surrender, but the marines took the fortifications and the governor of the town eventually surrendered on the 24th.
Leaving the Prince of Hesse in charge, the fleet then withdrew and some days later, on 9 August, spotted a French fleet and gave chase. By the 14th, the French had formed for action off Málaga and consisted of fifty-two ships and twenty-four galleys. The Anglo-Dutch fleet was fifty-two ships. The ensuing action was sporadic, with the enemy disinclined to stand and fight, eventually disappearing into the mist.
The Swiftsure was part of a division commanded by Sir Cloudesley Shovell, which also included the Barfleur, Eagle, Orford, Assurance, Warspite, Nottingham, Tilbury and Lenox. The English lost 691 men, the Dutch 400 killed and wounded and the French 3,048 men, along with one rear admiral, five captains, six lieutenants and five ensigns. The French, however, contrived to portray the battle as a victory – an early example of propaganda.
The Swiftsure remained under her original name for another decade, during which the Duke of Marlborough and Eugene fought a series of victorious campaigns over the French, prefaced by the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, with Ramillies and Oudenarde following in 1706 and 1708 respectively. When the war eventually drew to a close, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713, which set the seal on Rooke’s capture of Gibraltar in perpetuity. This great lump of igneous rock was henceforth to be a lynchpin of British naval strategy in the Mediterranean and a stone in the shoe for Spain. Flying the Union Jack, it was emblematic of the rise in fortune of the British colonial empire and the relative decline of Spain and France.
In 1704, Revenge was involved in the vital duty of protecting trade in the Channel, particularly the Soundings, that area of sea roughly south of the Lizard in England and north of Forne Head in Britanny. Revenge was under the command of Commodore the Honourable William Kerr (1622–1722) who had the unenviable task of protecting British trade coming in from the Americas or Portugal from the depredations of French squadrons based at Brest and Dunkirk.
The Brest squadron was led by a privateer called Duguay-Trouin whose skill in hunting down straggling traders had been applauded and officially recognized by the French Government. His opposite number at Dunkirk was Saint-Pol-Hecourt.
Réné Duguay-Truin (1673–1736) led a career that was radically different to the one his family had intended for him. Having trained in a Jesuit College for Holy Orders, after which he entered the University of Caen, he decided to answer instead the call of the sea and became a corsair. Various successful actions led to his appointment as captain of a frigate in 1692, when he was eighteen, and later a larger ship.
Taking a leaf out of the book of the successful English Elizabethan privateers, the French Government decided to equip French corsairs with navy ships, thus granting a semi-official status to the swashbuckling escapades of the privateers and taking advantage of their natural talent and bravado for the benefit of the nation. One of the tactics practised by Duguay-Trouin and other corsairs was to fly the enemy flag before launching a surprise attack on an often unsuspecting enemy. At one point the British managed to capture Duguay-Trouin but their efforts to charge him with ungentlemanly deceit fell flat when he managed to escape from imprisonment.
His continued success led to an official invitation to join the French Navy, which he was delighted to accept, and by the age of twenty-four he had been appointed to the rank of captain. Realizing that his new formal status was constricting his debonair talent, it was decided on the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession that Duguay-Trouin should leave the Navy and return to privateering.
After his exploits in the Channel in 1704, often against the Revenge, he was honoured by the French Crown and, in 1704, when HMS Revenge was no longer cruising in that station, he captured twelve British merchantmen off the Lizard.
To begin with, the French had to contend with a larger British force under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, who had been appointed to deal with a bustle of activity round the French ports of Rochefort, Brest and Port Louis. If the French fleet were to set sail for the straits, then Shovell had orders to detach part of his force, up to twenty-two ships, to reinforce Admiral Rooke.
Shovell’s plan was to take his squadron from a rendezvous at Plymouth to the location of the cruisers on the Soundings, to ascertain at that point whether the French fleet, under the command of the Comte de Toulouse, had left Brest. If there was no sign of Toulouse, Shovell would gather the combined fleet, which included merchantmen bound for the West Indies, and bring them into the Soundings. If there were still no sign of the French, he would take his ships to a point 140–150 leagues west or west-south-west of the Scilly Isles. Again, if there were no sign of enemy, the ships for the West Indies would be allowed to set off, while store ships would be despatched to replenish Sir George Rooke’s fleet at Lisbon.
On 15 May, Shovell’s fleet was positioned between the Lizard and Forne Head, with Revenge in the squadron commanded by Rear Admiral of the Red George Byng. Having come to the conclusion that Toulouse was probably at sea, the fleet then moved into the Soundings.
By 28 May, when there was still no sign of the French fleet, Shovell detached the major part of the fleet and set sail for Lisbon. This left the Westward end of the Channel under the command of Sir Stafford Fairborne, based at Portsmouth. At least two thirds of the Channel fleet, consisting of thirty-five English ships of the line and eleven Dutch, were based in the North Sea, leaving Fairborne and Kerr with the difficult task of defending a considerable area with limited resources. It was all the more difficult, in this game, to be on the defensive rather than on the offensive.
The French, for their part, could call on two large ships and two or three smaller ones under the command of Duguay-Trouin, and three large ships and three or four smaller ones under Saint-Pol.
The English cruisers in the Soundings focused on the safe passage of the merchant ships returning across the Atlantic, from Portugal and the West Indies.
In early July, Duguay-Trouin sailed from Brest with two large ships, Le Jason (54 guns), L’Auguste (54) and the corvette La Mouche. He was later joined by La Valeur (28) and some St Malo privateers.
When Kerr spotted the French on 15 July, he was cruising alone in the Revenge some 50 miles west of Scilly. Revenge first of all engaged Le Jason, over which the Revenge, with its 70 guns, should have had the advantage. After a battle of nearly two hours, Kerr noticed L’Auguste and three other ships approaching, and decided to break off the action and return to Plymouth. Fortunately for Kerr, although heavier than the French ships, the Revenge proved to be faster and managed to get away without further incident.
Having had the opportunity to lick his wounds, Kerr came out of Portsmouth on 20 July accompanied by the Falmouth (54), Captain Thomas Kenny. Three days later he captured the corvette La Mouche and the following day chased and fired at La Valeur.
After this display of bravado, when Kerr sighted Duguay-Trouin 150 miles west of the Lizard on 27 July, he once again appears to have become more circumspect. According to Kerr, the French detachment appeared to consist of ‘six tall ships’ and his reason for declining the opportunity of a fight was that he felt it would distract him from his primary duty, which was to protect the Virginia fleet and incoming trade.
This raises an interesting point with regard to the tactics of the cruising squadrons. Should they, considering their small numbers, have engaged the enemy more closely, whatever the cost, or should they have continued to maintain themselves as a deterrent force, only taking their opportunities when the odds were obviously in their favour? After his somewhat inconclusive wrangle with Le Jason on 15 July, Kerr was clearly of the opinion that it was best not to throw caution to the winds. His case was not helped by the fact that the French force turned out to consist of only two armed ships, Le Jason and L’Auguste, as well as some prizes.
The French, for their part, were also probably aware of the limitations of their force and did not appear to want to commit to a battle either, so the two sides tracked each other warily over the next two days until the French broke away on the 29th. The wisdom of Kerr’s tactic may be seen by the fact that he was able to sail to the west to meet a fleet arriving from Virginia.
At eight o’clock on 2 August, Kerr sighted some ships about whose identity he was unsure. In squally weather, he set a cautious course to the north until one of the ships hoisted English colours. The ship turned out to be the Salisbury, but Kerr was not fooled. The Salisbury, now renamed Le Salisbury, had been captured and was now part of the Dunkirk squadron.
Two more ‘tall ships’ now appeared to windward,3 which turned out to be the Moderate and the Gloucester. By this time the enemy were upon the Falmouth and, despite Kerr’s efforts to come to her aid in the Revenge, she was soon taken by a boarding party from a fifty-gun ship. Revenge engaged Le Salisbury and Le Jersey. According to the French account, it was L’Amphitrite that attacked the Falmouth, aided by L’Heroine. Captain Kenny of the Falmouth was mortally wounded.
Despite being supported by Kerr on the Revenge, the Moderate and the Gloucester did not make an appearance at this engagement, Captains Lumley and Meads having had several discussions on 4 August as to what to make of the ships they had sighted, sometimes disguised by fog. On 5 August, the Moderate and Gloucester engaged L’Auguste and Le Jason respectively, the battle continuing until midday, when the French broke away. Both the English ships then headed for Portsmouth where they joined the Revenge and the Mouche.
The French had turned the tables on the English and had beaten them at their own game. Faced with the challenge of patrolling a wide area of sea, the English had broken their ships up into small detachments, and indeed Revenge was sometimes on her own. This did not give them sufficient firepower when it came to engaging with the enemy and driving them off, and it also resulted in some rather tentative behaviour by the English commanders. If Captains Kerr and Kenny had been able to work together with Meads and Lumley, they could have formed a much more potent force that would have been likely to see the French off with somewhat less risk to themselves.
Although to some extent slamming the door after the horse had bolted, the Admiralty did order Fairborne to gather reinforcements from Portsmouth, Chatham and the North Sea. Kerr, whose original orders were to wait for the reinforcements at Plymouth, was later despatched to escort ninety incoming merchantmen from Oporto and Vianna in Portugal. The traders put in at Plymouth on the 11th and sailed again on the 13th for the Thames, accompanied by the Revenge, Medway, Exeter and Mary. The Medway captured two French privateer frigates off the Lizard.
Having fulfilled their duties to the Portuguese traders and escorted their prize home, the English squadron did not see action again until 4 September, when Kerr in the Revenge sighted seven sail, probably under Saint-Pol, and gave chase. As there was a gale blowing from the west, the Medway sprung her mainmast while the Mary’s fore-yard was carried away. Having lost his quarry, Kerr returned to Plymouth on 6 September.
When Kerr sailed again on 21 September, it was with Fairborne in the Exeter, along with the Rochester and Deptford. Fairborne sent a disgruntled note to the Secretary of State informing them that his ships were foul. The fleet was forced to put into Torbay due to a gale.
On 28 September, the squadron was at sea again under Fairborne and on 30 September they met a convoy of ships returning from the East Indies, which were escorted up the Channel by 7 October. Fairborne had eight major warships cruising off the Lizard and he spread six of them, including the Revenge, in a long line southwards between 11 and 22 October. Fairborne eventually returned to Plymouth on 28 October and went on leave.
The efforts to protect the valuable trade returning from England, and the important part played in this by the Revenge, showed how the times had changed. In this game, it was the daring French privateers, Duguay Trouin and Saint-Pol, who took on the parts once played to such effect by Francis Drake, Raleigh and Frobisher. It was the French who had the initiative, lying in wait for the rich pickings of heavily laden transports shepherded by scanty escorts, and were able to choose their moment to run in and take their prey by surprise while the English Channel cruisers might be miles away, patrolling in the wrong spot, by guesstimate or intuition.
In February 1942, the British home fleet and coastal defences, with all the benefits of radar and aircraft reconnaissance, were to be caught napping by the German Kriegsmarine, which slipped the pocket battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst up the Channel to their ports at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, the level of difficulty required in the eighteenth century to intercept raiders without such aids, who even when in sight were difficult to identify or who might be flying the wrong colours.
When the enemy was intercepted and correctly identified, there then arose the issue of whether the defending cruisers had the strength to engage them effectively, and all too often this proved to be seriously in doubt. The English tactics and organization proved to be at fault, for even when there were enough ships in the area to see the enemy off, complications in the chain of command and poor communications meant that the forces remained separated and weakened, as evinced by the fiasco on 2 August 1704.
In the context of this book, however, the conclusion is more heartening: Revenge was almost invariably on the scene, acting as a deterrent if not actually engaging the enemy. Like her first forebear, Revenge defended the English coast against all comers, not as part of a large fleet, but alone or in the company of two or three other ships. If the tactics were at fault, then at least there was some measure of success: most of the incoming trade reached home safely and the French were thwarted in their attempt to challenge the emerging maritime power of England.
As if to emphasize the point, on 21 September, Fairborne’s squadron had passed Sir George Rooke’s Grand Fleet which was returning from the successful action against Gibraltar. While Revenge had been defending home waters against the odds, a foundation stone had been laid for the extension of English naval power and maritime trade into the Mediterranean and beyond.
Discusses an armed frigate bearing 8-pdr guns. It is a unique ship because “La Renomm?e” was one of the first modern frigates to be built in 1744 according to Blaise Ollivier’s concepts. Aimed at experienced model builders who will be able to construct a model of rare quality, especially thanks to the beauty of this elegant frigate whose fine bottom and distinguished decoration do honor to French naval architecture. Text in French.
There were two ships called “Renommee” built in France, one in the 17 Century and this one in the 18 Century. Launched in 1744 at either Byrone or Brest, La Renommee was a one-off 40-gun ship designed by Antoine Groignard with 30 12-pounders and 10 8-pounder guns. She was captured by the British Navy (HMS Dover) 27 September, 1747 and converted into a 30-gun fifth-rate frigate as the HMS Renown and served until she was broken up in 1771. However, this type of frigate (French rating Coirvette) is very important in the evolution of ships of the British Navy because it inspired the development of a series of fifth-rate frigates equipped with only thirty guns of large caliber, all placed on the second deck. Few frigates of the mid-1700s displayed the sleek lines and advanced features of la Renommée (pronounced: reh-noh-may’), which was built in 1744 and carried eight pounders.
Sirène class (30-gun design of 1744 by Jacques-Luc Coulomb, with 26 x 8-pounder and 4 x 4-pounder guns).
Sirène, (launched 24 September 1744 at Brest) – captured by British Navy 1760, but not added to RN.Renommée, (launched 19 December 1744 at Brest) – captured by British Navy 27 September 1747, becoming HMS Renown.
Her unique nautical architecture influenced the future of ship design in England as well as in France. La Renommée sailed both sides of the Atlantic under the French and British ensigns for almost 27 years.
Captain Semmes and First Lieutenant Kell on the Alabama, 1863
Vegetius, writing in the fourth century AD, describes how Roman skiffs used for reconnaissance had their sails and rigging dyed Venetian blue
which resembles the ocean waves; the wax used to pay ships’ sides is also dyed. The sailors and marines put on Venetian blue uniforms also, so as to lie hidden with greater ease when scouting by day as by night.
Warfare at sea has obviously been subject to bluff and deception for as long as warfare on land. In 1264, during the long wars with Venice, the Genoese decided to intercept the ‘caravan of the Levant’, an annual convoy that the Venetians sailed to Egypt and Asia. The caravan was an event of great moment. Its dates of departure and return were fixed by strict laws, as were the numbers of men on each vessel and the conduct of the convoy itself. The commanders and captains were chosen by the Great Council and in times of war the Senate pronounced the chiusura del Mare (‘closing of the sea’), a decree that forbade any vessel from leaving the convoy, while arrangements would be made to escort it with war galleys. The Genoese well understood the importance of this convoy to Venice and decided to send Simone Grillo with twenty galleys, two large vessels and a contingent of 3,500 men to intercept it. In reply, the Venetians assembled a force of no fewer than forty-seven galleys under ‘a brave man and wise, and sprung of high lineage’, Andrea Barozzi. This ‘noble captain’ set out for Sicily expecting to intercept the Genoese before they in turn could attack the caravan.
Alas for Barozzi, on this occasion his wisdom failed him. The Genoese were indeed there, but all he found was ‘a boat in which there were men who told him on inquiry that the Genoese galleys had passed four days previously, bound for Syria’. After a hastily assembled council of war, Barozzi set off in a fruitless pursuit and as soon as the news reached Venice orders were given for the immediate departure of the caravan, which had been delayed owing to the supposed presence of the enemy in the Adriatic. Grillo now emerged and put his fleet into position at Durazzo to await the arrival of the caravan, the movements of which he was kept fully informed of by an underwriter of the Great Council (who, the chronicles note with barbed acidity, came from Treviso). When in due course the caravan was intercepted, its commander, Michele Duaro, tried bravado, throwing some chicken coops in front of the Genoese line and bidding them fight the chickens. However, this served no purpose and with no escort of warships the caravan was soon destroyed, as grievous a blow to Venetian prestige as to her material well-being.
Not only does this episode illustrate an early example of deception in naval warfare, but it also shows the importance of commerce to naval strategy. While the principles of warfare and of deception apply equally on land and at sea, there are obviously fundamental differences. While land warfare is fought with units containing thousands of men and hundreds of pieces of equipment, naval warfare is conducted with dozens of units or (more usually) fewer, each of relatively great value. More importantly, it is fought over a vast area, with no natural cover. The size of the ships also makes it hard to conceal or disguise them and their shapes make identification of their nationality and class quite simple, so that deception is difficult – but not impossible. Since it was common in the days of sail to capture enemy shipping rather than to destroy it, it was equally common for foreign-built ships to serve with the navies that had captured them, and therefore not unusual to see them bearing different colours from their country of origin. Over the years many other measures have been adopted to suggest that a ship is not what it appears, giving plenty of scope for tactical deception.
Thomas Cochrane, tenth Earl of Dundonald, was a daring and inspirational leader who was always prepared to use guile combined with forethought and audacity to overcome large odds, in other words a master of deception. He was convinced (and proved) that a single ship correctly handled, preying on coastal shipping and coast defences, could cause the enemy loss and distress out of all proportion to the effort expended. He took great pains over the training and welfare of his men and this paid dividends in their performance. His first command was the 168-ton brig HMS Speedy, which he operated off the Spanish coast in 1800. Knowing the Spaniards would soon come to recognize his vessel for an enemy, he repainted it to resemble the neutral Dutch ship Clomer, which had been trading in the area for some time. He also recruited a Danish speaker whom he provided with a Danish uniform. Towards the end of December he gave chase to what appeared to be a heavily laden, unarmed merchantman, only to discover as he drew near that he too had been duped. It was a Spanish frigate with some 200 men and heavy guns, which now put down a boat. He ordered below everyone who looked British, and set his ‘Dane’ to tell the Spaniards they were neutrals. When this failed to put them off, one of his men hoisted a yellow flag (quarantine) to the foretop and the ‘Dane’ said they were just out of Algiers. The Spanish knew that Algiers was suffering from an outbreak of bubonic plague and quickly returned whence they had come.
Three months later Cochrane was chased by an enemy frigate, which gained on him throughout the day and was guided at night by the faint glimmer of light from the little brig. But as they drew near towards daybreak, the enemy frigate found it had been chasing a tub with a lantern in it and the brig was nowhere to be seen. Cochrane later used the same ruse again. Commanding the frigate HMS Pallas in March 1805, he was chased by three French 74-gun ships of the line off the Azores. After conducting a brilliant manœuvre to run back on them, he was pursued for the rest of the day and all night, but when they closed in for the kill all they found was a ballasted cask with a lantern made fast to it.
Captain Raphael Semmes and the Confederate cruiser CSS Alabama forged a formidable reputation as a commerce raider. The Alabama sank no fewer than eighty-three US merchantmen as well as the heavier gunboat USS Hatteras (which she lured to her doom by pretending to be a merchant blockade runner), and was probably the most famous ship in the world at the time. The USS Kearsarge had been pursuing the Alabama for a year in European waters when, as she lay at anchor in the Scheldt estuary near Vlissingen on Sunday 12 June 1864, her captain, John A. Winslow, received word from the US minister in Paris that his elusive quarry had steamed into Cherbourg the day before. Winslow wasted no time and two days later found his prey still in Cherbourg roads, where he stopped engines and lay to. Unable to engage within the confines of a neutral port, Winslow retired beyond the three-mile limit required by international law, intending to intercept Alabama when she emerged He took precautions against a surprise night attack but was most worried that Alabama might try to slip away. The following day, however, he received a note from Semmes via the American vice-consul that indicated his intention to fight at the earliest opportunity and begging Winslow not to depart.
The two ships were evenly matched. Both were three-masted and steam-propelled, and if the Kearsarge mounted a combined broadside firing 365 pounds to the Alabama’s total broadside of 264 pounds, the latter’s Blakely guns outranged and were more accurate than the Dahlgrens of the Kearsarge. However, the speed and manœuvrability of the Alabama were declining and Semmes had intended to put her into dry dock for two months and thoroughly clean the keel and overhaul the boilers. Nevertheless, he wrote in his journal that ‘the combat will no doubt be contested and obstinate, but the two ships are so evenly matched that I do not feel at liberty to decline it.’ He had confidence in the ‘precious set of rascals’ that was his crew. Besides, his luck had never yet failed him and he busied the crew preparing the ship, waiting for Sunday, which he deemed his lucky day.
Sunday dawned bright, clear and cool and after a leisurely breakfast the Alabama was cheered out to sea by crowds along the mole and in the upper windows of the buildings, where a fine view could be had of the forthcoming action. Excursion trains had brought sightseers from Paris, and Cherbourg was packed with excited crowds shouting ‘Vivent les Confedérés!’ In a new dress uniform Semmes delivered a stirring oratory to his men before taking station on the horseblock just before the mizzen mast. Then at 1057 hours, with watch in hand, at a range of about a mile, he asked his executive officer if he was ready: ‘Then you may fire at once, sir.’
No hits were scored as the range closed to half a mile, when Winslow returned the fire and the two ships began to circle to starboard, firing furiously at each other. A Blakely round scored a direct hit on the sternpost of the Kearsarge but fortunately for Winslow it was a dud. A three-knot current bore the ships westward and as it did so so their circles became tighter until the range dropped to about a quarter of a mile by the seventh and final revolution. Once they were on target, the US guns inflicted tremendous damage. At the same time, Semmes watched in horror as everything his own guns fired at the Kearsarge bounced harmlessly off the sides, including solid shot. Realizing the desperate state of his old vessel, Semmes ordered full sail for the coast but Kearsarge was not to be denied. When Semmes saw the wreckage to which the lower decks had been reduced, he ordered the colours to be struck saying: ‘It will never do in this nineteenth century for us to go down, and the decks covered with our gallant wounded.’ Captain and crew abandoned the rapidly sinking ship, which went down at 1224 hours, just ninety minutes after she had opened the action.
Only after the battle did Semmes discover that the Kearsarge had 120 fathoms of sheet chain suspended from scuppers to waterline, bolted down and concealed behind an inch of planking: he had been fighting an ironclad! Semmes protested this was unfair. ‘It was the same thing’, he said, ‘as if two men were to go out and fight a duel, and one of them, unknown to the other, were to put on a suit of mail under his outer garment.’ Perhaps, but Commodore David Farragut had employed the same stratagem two years previously, when he ran past the forts into New Orleans.
The development of the ironclad increased the size and cost of ships. At the same time, improved armaments increased the range at which actions were fought and reduced the scope for capture, making sinking a more likely outcome of an action and thus making it increasingly difficult and expensive to replace losses. But losses must be accepted if control of the seas is to be gained and maintained, as it must be if commerce is to flow unhindered. However, the official history of the First World War describes how
by a strange misreading of history, an idea had grown up that [a fleet’s] primary function is to seek out and destroy the enemy’s main fleet. This view, being literary rather than historical, was nowhere adopted with more unction than in Germany, where there was no naval tradition to test its accuracy.
On the one occasion the German Battle Fleet did enter the North Sea to fulfil its aim, it achieved a marginal tactical victory over the British (in simple terms of losses) at the Battle of Jutland, but there can be no doubt as to the strategic result of the battle. The British did not deceive the Germans but simply faced them down, and the German Battle Fleet spent the remainder of the war sitting idly in port while the British naval blockade helped squeeze Germany to ultimate defeat. However, British nervousness of the German Battle Fleet forced her to denude some other vital positions of destroyers, such as Dover. Thus the Dover patrol had to rely on bluff to prevent German naval forces operating from the Belgian ports from interfering with the vital cross-Channel traffic.
Meanwhile, Britain herself came perilously close to being squeezed to defeat by Germany’s commerce raiders and U-boats during both world wars. An early effort to counter this threat was camouflage paint schemes. Transport and cargo ships were painted neutral blue, grey or sea-green in the hope of avoiding detection for as long as possible. Warships, on the other hand, are not looking to avoid contact but instead require every fighting advantage they can muster, particularly in the early stages of an action. One result was a proposal by an eminent Scottish zoologist, John Graham Kerr, whose study of marine vertebrates suggested that odd patterns of white and grey might help make ships harder to identify. Although the Admiralty circulated his suggestions as early as October 1914, it left responsibility to individual captains and was later shelved. It took further prompting from another painter, P. Tudor Hart, and an RNVR lieutenant, Norman Wilkinson (a marine painter and poster designer who had served in the Dardanelles campaign) who wrote to the Admiralty on 27 April 1917, to create what was known as ‘dazzle’ camouflage. In poor visibility, at long range or at high speed, this served to hinder an observer’s ability to identify a vessel accurately, perhaps long enough to give it a precious advantage. It also made judging the vessel’s speed more difficult – very important when trying to fire at long range. Gunnery officers and submarine captains had to ‘track’ moving ships on calibrated range-finders and periscopes, but the pattern distorted the image and made it harder to secure a hit. Refinements of the same technique included false bow waves to give the impression of greater speed, false waterlines which were designed to inhibit accurate estimation of range, and painting the upper works a lighter colour to blend them with the sky. The effectiveness of the technique was questionable but it raised morale and was therefore retained, mainly for merchant shipping. Nevertheless, during the Second World War the Admiralty Research and Development Section employed the naturalist and artist Peter Scott to develop further patterns.
The vulnerability of shipping to aircraft, demonstrated among other instances by the destruction of HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales by the Japanese on 11 December 1941, made it essential to camouflage ships from the air. On the open ocean, ships could not avoid being spotted by aircraft in the vicinity. For example, a US aircraft north of Guadalcanal flying at 18,000 feet spotted five destroyers belonging to Rear-Admiral Tanaka’s ‘Tokyo Express’ at a distance of eight to ten miles, and sighting fast-moving warships at greater ranges was not unheard of in good conditions. Attempts were made to design patterns that gave some protection from aerial attack, but these were seldom effective, at least while a ship was at sea. Eventually, technical developments such as radar and acoustic torpedoes made dazzle patterns largely redundant, but they continued in use throughout the Second World War.
If a ship was inshore, by its very nature it might be found if aircraft looked in the bays, rivers and ports. Paint might go some way to protect it in such circumstances, blending it with its surroundings just long enough to put a bomb aimer off, but a photo interpreter could probably identify its class precisely and thus reveal its speed, firepower and cargo capacity. Nets and, where appropriate, cut vegetation might help to make the tell-tale shape of a ship blend in with the shoreline and barges and floating material could be used to break up the characteristic shape of bow and stern.
Another early measure adopted to counter U-boats was the arming of merchant ships in 1915, which was followed by the creation of Q-ships. These were merchant ships armed with concealed guns and torpedoes manned by naval crews, designed to lure the U-boats – which preferred to destroy merchant vessels by gunfire – to a position where they themselves could be destroyed. The Q-ships were eventually credited with eleven U-boat kills out of a total for the First World War of 192. During both wars the Germans operated similar ships as merchant raiders. Perhaps the most famous example was the Atlantis, commanded by Kapitän zur See Bernard Rogge during the Second World War, one of nine such ships which sank 850,000 tons of Allied shipping and kept the Allies busy for three and a half years. The Atlantis logged over 100,000 miles in 622 days at sea and accounted for twenty-two Allied freighters, making her the most successful surface raider of the war. In the course of her wanderings she pretended variously to be the Krim (Russian), the Kasii Maru (Japanese), the Abbekerk (Dutch) and the Antenor (British).
Carrying huge stocks of fuel and food, Atlantis mounted behind collapsable bulkheads an armament of one 75mm and six 150mm guns and six light anti-aircraft guns, plus four torpedo tubes, mines and a Heinkel He-114 seaplane for reconnaissance. She had a dummy stack and cargo booms and carried a variety of fake foreign uniforms and clothing, male and female, which the crew could use as appropriate. In addition, there was a large supply of paint to change her name and the colour of the superstructure. It is perfectly legal for a ship to operate in this fashion, providing it displays the correct national flag before opening fire, and Rogge adhered strictly to this law, as well as endeavouring whenever possible to pick up survivors, who were treated graciously.
Rogge trained his gunners to shoot out a victim’s radio equipment first, which would allow the remainder of his operation to take place in slow time. None the less, a stream of QQQ messages (‘I am being attacked by a disguised merchant ship’) eventually helped the Admiralty to track him down. The final clue to Atlantis’s whereabouts in November 1941 was provided by ULTRA intercepts ordering her to resupply submarines south of the Equator. On 22 November a seaplane from HMS Devonshire (sent to nearby Freetown to look for her) sighted a suspicious merchant ship and opened fire while Atlantis was in the process of replenishing U-126. Rogge tried one last desperate trick. He signalled urgently (and indignantly) that he was the Polyphemus, a Dutch ship, then gave the signal RRR: an Allied cipher that an enemy warship was close by. Unbeknown to Rogge, this cipher had recently been changed to four Rs. A new precautionary system introduced by the Admiralty to plot the whereabouts of every single known ocean-going merchantman confirmed Devonshire’s suspicions and when word came from Freetown that this ship could not possibly be Polyphemus, Rogge and his crew were forced to take to the boats. Afraid of lurking U-boats, Devonshire made off, and after a series of extraordinary adventures Rogge and the survivors were eventually picked up by U-boats and returned to Germany.
A definitive historical account of the origins of the Russian A-bomb has never been published, but by consulting various sources a brief account can be gleaned. Only a summary can be provided here.
Research into nuclear physics had gone on in the Soviet Union as far back as the 1920s, and some scientists such as Igor Kurchatov had at the beginning of the Second World War recognized the atom’s potential military application and had recommended funding for laboratory work. The war prevented such research from taking place, but when Josef Stalin heard the Americans had driven down that road, he decided Russia should follow suit. Stalin had heard from his spies working in key American labs that the research they were engaged in was ultimately to be used in an atomic weapon. But it was really only the United States government’s test and only after two bombs were dropped on Japan in the summer of 1945 that the Russians began seriously focusing on their own weapons. The secrets passed onto Moscow from those American individuals greatly helped the Russians in their endeavour, and in August 1949, years earlier than the Americans had predicted, they detonated their first bomb.
The next step in Soviet weapons development was to find ways to deliver those bombs. Air dropping was the first mode of delivery, but since the bombers the Soviet air force then possessed had a limited range, other methods were contemplated. Research on rocket technology had progressed well, thanks mainly to captured German scientists and information, and tests were made with missiles that carried conventional warheads. By the 1950s, Soviet rocket technology had so advanced that by 1957, it succeeded in placing a Sputnik satellite into space. At the same time, rockets were being examined as nuclear delivery platforms, and more than a full year before Sputnik said ‘hello’ to the world, the first ballistic missile regiments were deployed. Within a few years, the Soviet Union’s first operational rocket, the R-5M, would be supplemented with the R-7, the R-12 and the R-14. The rockets then became so plentiful Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev claimed they were coming out of the factories like sausages.
By the late 1950s, Soviet missile production was running at full speed. Rockets were being deployed on launch pads in bases throughout Russia. The missiles represented such an important element of the Soviet Union’s warfighting machine that some generals thought a new and separate branch of the armed forces should be created specifically for them. At first, all rocket units belonged to the artillery corps, but eventually some were assigned to Long-Range Aviation forces and others to the Soviet Supreme High Command. On 17 December 1959, however, history would be made and the new Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) were born. It would soon become a military service on a par with the army, air force, air defence service and navy.
The RVSN would be Russia’s first line of action against the West, and in consequence it recruited the best and the brightest among Russian conscripts. Throughout its history, it would have the best facilities, the best equipment and the smartest and most loyal officers. The officers and men were treated so well that in return, Moscow expected utmost dedication from them. To expect anything less, in the Kremlin’s mind, would have invited disaster.
The RVSN’s organizational structure follows a pattern very similar to that of the USAF. In the United States, numbered ‘Air Forces’ consist of Wings and Wings are made up of Squadrons. The latter are further divided into Flights. Since the Strategic Rocket Forces were an outgrowth of the artillery corps, it adopted the army structure of numbered Armies, Divisions and Regiments. The latter are composed of Battalions where each consist of a single launcher. Armies and Divisions have their own primary underground headquarters, and the Armies have apparently also a secondary command post that is airmobile. Regimental headquarters are located in launch tubes on remote properties. The missiles are either silo-based or rail or road-mobile. Following the standard Soviet practice, the various units are identified by both ordinal and five-digit numbers. Some units use the prefix ‘Guards’ to indicate a form of eliteness. Divisions are normally numbered, although some carry names. The RVSN has its own test and support sites such as the No. 4 Central Research Institute at Bolshevo in the suburbs of Moscow, and the No. 25 Central Military Clinical Hospital at Odintsovo, again outside Moscow. Training of staff takes place at military engineering institutes at Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, Serpukhov and at the Peter the Great Military Academy in Moscow.
In 1985, the RVSN consisted of the following six Armies:
Headquarters Missile Army Location
Vladimir 27th Russia
Orenburg 31st Russia
Omsk 33rd Russia
Vinnitsa 43rd Ukraine
Smolensk 50th Belarus
Chita 53rd Russia
It then had 1,398 missiles in service, 6,840 warheads and counted 415,000 men and women on its payroll. Today, however, only the first three armies remain, and its population is only a fraction of what it used to be. In 2008, the RVSN had 430 ICBMs in service.
Ultimate use of nuclear weapons is decided upon by a very small number of individuals: the President, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff (the Nachalnyk Generalnovo Shtaba or the NGS). All three have access to a nuclear football, called Cheget or more colloquially chemodanchik, that is nearby at all times in the hands of an officer from the General Staff’s 9th Directorate. According to Peter Pry in his book War Scare, only one person, the President, needs to issue the order. He does not need, ‘in all likelihood’, the consent of the other two, although he would certainly consult with them. If the President was unavailable or dead, the Minister of Defence would likely assume command, and if the Minister was incapacitated, he would probably be replaced by the NGS. This line of succession seems to confirm that only one person needs to issue the go signal from the Cheget.
The Russian command and control system is predicated on the concept of ‘launch on warning’, which states that nuclear forces should act only when there are definite indications that an attack is under way. Orders to launch can be passed through the footballs (or from some of the underground command posts around Moscow) via a special communications network called Kavkaz, to the General Staff’s and to the military services’ command centres. At the General Staff’s bunker, the orders are transmitted via the Signal-A multifaceted communications system to the RVSN main staff, then to Armies, Divisions and Regiments. Here, they are received by special equipment called Baksan. The orders are then transmitted to the launchers by launch crews. At the same time, missile unlock codes (which are nicknamed ‘goschislo’) and authorization codes are passed onto the regimental command posts. One key feature present in the Russian command and control system not present in the American system is the ability of the Russian high command to bypass intermediate stages using a radio system called V’yuga and transmit orders to fire directly to launch control centres. As Bruce Blair put in in his book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, the General Staff is not only the band leader but can also play the instruments.
Before the missileers shoot their loads, several steps must take place throughout the command and control system. First, a preliminary command must be sent from Moscow. The command is really generated from two parts, one that originates from the General Staff and the other from the RVSN main staff, and is then validated, combined and transmitted down the chain of command. This order can only be created after enemy launches have been detected by at least two types of sensors and only after the President has so decided. Once this order is received at the regimental Launch Control Centres, launch consoles are activated. Next, a permission command is generated by the same three individuals (the President, Minister of Defence and the NGS) and transmitted to the Commander-in-Chief of the RVSN. Its only role is to provide legality to the launch order. Finally, a direct command is generated in two parts, one from the General Staff and the other from RVSN Headquarters. The command is later combined and again sent down the chain of command. Once received by Baksan equipment at the LCCs, it is authenticated by launch crews. The same crews then check certain computer symbols against a list kept in their safe, choose their targets (probably from a coded list) and set launch times. The command also allows any missile blocking device to be disabled. It then only remains to turn the two keys. Some Russian experts estimate that launch can take place within twenty-one minutes from the time of initial missile detection. Since an American ICBM takes thirty minutes to reach Russia, this would still give a nine minute window of reaction time. On the other hand, this would prove of little comfort to Russian forces if SLBMs were fired from American or British submarines from the Barents or Mediterranean Sea.
Individual missiles contain the target co-ordinates in the memory of their re-entry vehicles. The co-ordinates are chosen from a set listed in the ‘Plan of Operations of the Strategic Rocket Forces’, a document that parallels the American SIOP. In the 1990s, the two superpowers agreed to de-target their missiles as a gesture of goodwill, but this is only a symbolic move as the rockets can be reprogrammed within minutes thanks to computerization. During an attack, some writers have speculated that silo-based missiles would be fired first because of their susceptibility to a first strike, and that mobile missiles, which can relocate to virtually any point, would be used in a retaliatory assault.
The command and control system in Russia has a feature that guarantees near-total reliability. Should the various communications systems be rendered inoperable, or should the human decision triad described above be unavailable, the RVSN would still be able to launch its missiles. In the early 1970s, a decision was made by Moscow to develop a system that would allow the launch of missiles if most of the human input was erased. In 1974, work began on a system that would see special UHF radio-equipped rockets take off if certain conditions were satisfied and that would automatically transmit pre-recorded voice commands to launching crews. Other missiles would then fire after a pre-set time interval. Called Perimetr, this system was implemented to give Russian leaders an insurance policy against decapitation. This ‘Doomsday Machine’, as it is often called in the Western press, was declared operational in 1985. It is also referred to as ‘Dead Hand’.
The Perimetr system operates in three stages. First, once duty officers located in a special underground radio command post receive the proper order, they must turn the system on. Second, they must determine if communications are still available with the Supreme High Command (e.g. the President). If they are not, they are to assume the leadership no longer exists. Third, the officers are to determine if any detonations have taken place on Russian soil. If all three conditions are met, they are to load a message into the radio warhead and launch the rockets, one from each end of the country. Over the next fifteen minutes, these rockets will broadcast the order to fire to the launch crews. There is apparently no way to stop the Perimetr rockets, which means the responsible officers must be sure of themselves before launching them.
Automated systems notwithstanding, the value of human input in the Russian command and control system was clearly demonstrated in 1983. On 25 September of that year, Lieutenant-Colonel Stanislas Petrov was working as a missile warning officer in one of the nation’s early warning facilities, called Serpukhov-15, south of Moscow. The facility received inputs from a series of detection satellites flying high over the planet. At 12.15am on the 26th, one of the warning panels in the control centre flashed the word ‘launch’. It had originated from the United States.
This had never happened before to Petrov. A launch from the US required the Colonel to contact higher authorities and brace for the worst. He and others began to wonder if the United States was using the NATO exercise Able Archer which was then in process as an excuse for a missile attack. Petrov’s staff began to worry and looked to him for guidance. Another indicator panel in the room showed ‘high reliability’. The electronic map in front that showed all the American missile bases had one lamp turned on showing from which base the missile had come from. Petrov’s duty was to alert the Kremlin and the General Staff, but he held off until he could confirm the systems were working properly and that the launch was real. He knew the system was not perfect, and he began to have doubts when the map showed only one missile launch and when the optical telescopes could not confirm that launch. Petrov’s instincts told him it was a false alarm, and said so to his staff. Soon, however, the system showed five more missiles on the way. Again, knowing the system was full of glitches, he assumed it was giving false readings. Petrov knew that if the United States was to attack, it would do so with hundreds of missiles, not just five, so this knowledge served to reinforce his suspicion. He thus refused to sound the alarm, and the world was spared from a potential Armageddon.
One would think that Soviet generals would have thanked Petrov for using his judgment. Not so. A few hours after the event, senior Army officers dropped in not to congratulate him, but to berate him for not passing on the warnings. Had he done so, however, who knows what actions would have been taken by the leadership? For his actions, Petrov was soon transferred to less sensitive duties, and within a year, he would be gone from the military. Eventually, it would be learned that the warnings were generated from the sun’s reflection from the clouds.
When it comes to Russian targeting policy, very little has been revealed about it. What has been divulged has often been based on educated guesswork, limited military writings and, on rare occasions, on information from defectors. What is known is that during the Cold War, the Soviets’ targeting plan called for the destruction of every single enemy nuclear device, preferably in one massive sweep. The most important targets were bomber airfields, submarine bases, nuclear weapons depots and strategic command and control centres. Secondary targets included radar stations and tactical air and missile bases. Other less important aimpoints would have been large army bases, conventional munitions stores and fuel depots. Civilian sites such as political centres and economic facilities (such as power stations and petroleum stockpiles) would also have been wiped out. Early Russian missiles were not very accurate, so they were likely reserved for large facilities such as air and naval bases, although when the Americans began building missile-launching facilities in the 1960s, the rockets’ quick reaction time meant they too would have to be knocked out in the first wave. To ensure their destruction, some installations, such as ammunition depots (of which there were many in West Germany), could have required up to eighteen bombs to destroy because of their hardened igloos. Russia therefore had a clear incentive to build up its arsenal and to increase the accuracy of its weapons.
While it was always clear that the United States and Canada were prime targets for the Strategic Rocket Forces, some have wondered how Western Europe would have fared. Some academics thought that part of the continent might have been spared the use of strategic weapons during an all-out attack for a number of reasons. First, if the Soviet Union’s goal was annexation, they obviously would not want to occupy a smouldering radioactive ruin. Second, more than likely the Russians would have wanted to take over heavy industries for their own use, as they did with Germany after the Second World War. (This would have also applied to Japan.) Third, if the Russians had indeed attacked with ICBMs, normal west-to-east wind patterns and the resultant radioactive clouds would have meant that they themselves would have been contaminated. For these reasons, theorists believe the Soviets would have restricted their attacks to mostly military targets using tactical weapons only.
When it comes to actual missiles, Russia has developed a much larger array than the United States. Victor Suvorov in his book Inside the Soviet Army claims that one of the reasons was that the Soviet Union was not capable of manufacturing a large quantity of rockets because of the dearth of key components; it was therefore forced to produce limited runs. Whereas the United States had only two ICBMs deployed in 1975–the Minuteman and the Titan II–the RVSN had nine models. The larger number of types was not necessarily a disadvantage, though, since one could make up for the shortcomings of another.
The year 1975 also saw three new missiles come off the assembly line; the UR-100, R-36M and the UR-100N. The UR-100N, known in the West as the SS-19, is described here as an example.
The UR-100N was a two-stage UDMH-fueled ICBM with a range of 10,000km. It was designed by the OKB-52 development facility at Reutov outside Moscow and built in two models: the first carried six independent warheads of 550 kiloton yield each and the second, a single 5 megaton re-entry vehicle. The Russians claim it had a circular error of probability (or impact accuracy level) of 350m, but in his book Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Podvig claims it is 920m, which is still better than older ICBMs. The UR-100N was a leader in fourth-generation missiles since it incorporated new microprocessor technology and improved launch techniques. Some thought that the heavy warhead model was aimed at American missile silos, until it was realized too few were produced and that their high yield made them more suitable for deeper targets such as Mount Weather. Both models were manufactured at the Krunichev machine plant outside Moscow and fitted into modified SS-11 silos, such as at Pervomaysk, Ukraine, or into new silos such as at Tatishchevo. The UR-100N was also eventually put in Derazhnaya, Ukraine, and Kozelsk, Russia. When hints of the missile first appeared in the 1970s, Jane’s Weapons Systems asserted it was hot-launched–launched from within its silo–while the US Department of Defense claimed it was raised first, then fired, or cold-launched. As it turned out, Jane’s was right. The UR-100N was replaced with the UR-100NU in the 1980s due to its launch instability.
The pattern of missile deployment in the Soviet Union seems to have paralleled, up to a point, American patterns. The rockets were either placed in earth-covered bunkers, kept on launching pads or installed in groups of silos, but later models were placed in individual silos. One of the early ICBMs, the R-7, was kept on launching pads and supported by four masts, while some of the R-12Us were put in Dvina complexes that consisted of four silos. One variant of the R-14U was placed in a Chusovaya complex of three silos located less than 100m apart, while the R-16U was deployed in threes in a Sheksna-V complex of three silos forming a straight line 60m from each other. All these complexes included an underground command post. Newer missiles, such as the UR-100 and the RT-2, were placed in individual silos, and their LCCs were located separately.
Russian engineers would end up devising unique ways to install and launch a missile. The R-16U, for example, was placed in a silo in a tube that could be rotated to align the missile’s guidance system. The UR-100 was delivered to the launch facility in a sealed container that was simply lowered in a silo and fastened. In the case of the UR-100U, the missile and its tube were suspended from the top and stabilized at the bottom. Unlike American missiles, some Russian missiles are launched first by ejection from the tube by forced gas, followed by ignition of their motors once outside.
Where launch facilities are concerned, from satellite photos these appear simple. They are often located in wooded areas far from major highways. The properties are large and clear of nearby trees. They include a small number of buildings–one to house guards–and a square landing pad nearby for helicopters. The silo hatches are often circular-shaped and open on a hinge, unlike American silo hatches which travel horizontally on rails. The facilities are connected to their control centres by underground cable. They can be spotted relatively easily on the Internet; two of the facilities associated with the Tatishchevo base can be seen west of Saratov near Petrovo and Bolshaya Ivanovka respectively.
To say that security arrangements at Russian missile bases are tighter than in the US is an understatement. The precautions taken against enemy intrusion are more than adequate and leave practically nothing to chance, as the following shows.
Both launch and control sites are ringed with three or four coils of barbed wire, an electrified fence and in the internal perimeter POMZ-2 anti-personnel and MON-type directional mines. The first coil of wire is 200m to 300m from the silo giving guards much response time and latitude for action. The fence normally carries 800V but this can be increased to 1,600V when conditions require. In between the coils of wire, another fence responds to large objects through a change in capacitance, and the approximate point of disturbance is registered on the guards’ security control panel. The entire site is kept clear of obstructions and mowed to give the greatest possible field of fire.
Inside the perimeter of a launch site, the only structure seen is a bunker for the guards. As stated above, the bunker houses intrusion detection equipment that is continuously monitored. The guards are armed with submachine guns, night vision goggles, floodlights, radios and loudspeakers. The bunkers are topped with either armoured turrets or concrete heads with small arms slits. The land mines can either detonate when tripped or be remotely activated from this position. The launch sites also include an antenna, the main role of which is to receive emergency war orders. The silos are very survivable since they can reportedly withstand thousands of pounds of overpressure.
A command post consists of much more. The property is divided into two parts where the first contains a number of buildings such as the guards’ quarters and a vehicle garage, and the second, a defensive bunker, office hut, a buried LCC (called globes, or in Russian, shariki) and an ICBM launcher. A tunnel that connects the launch control centre to the guards’ barracks provides protection against enemy fire and radiation. The entrance to the LCCs came in two basic forms. The older model, which is no longer used, consisted of only a round metal hatch set on a concrete pad from which one descended by way of ladder. The newer entrances are hidden in camouflage-painted buildings. The mode of descent, whether stairs or a lift, leads to a very long and narrow tunnel that terminates at three consecutive blast doors. The two-man launch crew, a captain and a lieutenant, sit in chairs a few feet apart at desks surrounded by consoles and indicator lights. Two of the most important features of the consoles are the launch-key slots and the square ‘launch’ indicator light. Working in six-hour shifts, these ‘raketchiki’, or missileers, routinely practise drills and continuously monitor the various systems. A third man, a warrant officer, mans a communications panel. At any given time, the trio can be subject to inspections and exercises where the focus could even include armed attacks on their posts. During the Cold War, the two launch officers carried sidearms and had to surrender these to the warrant officer for safekeeping, but nowadays, they no longer carry these. Also, it was the KGB, not the missileers, that armed the warheads, but again, this is no longer the case. Two of the Tatishchevo LCCs can be seen near Chernyshevka and Radishchevo northwest of Saratov.
The support bases contain all the amenities found on a typical military base. There are offices, dormitories, schools for dependents, a store, a gym and dining halls for the missileers where food is served by young women wearing short black skirts. Several missile bases are located near large cities, such as Saratov and Novosibirsk, which provide additional shopping and recreational convenience. The bases have their own motor pools that include a fleet of green trucks used to ferry launch crews to their posts. All three Missile Armies have their own aviation squadrons that use helicopters to ferry such personnel as security response teams and VIPs. Some of the helicopters can serve as airborne command posts.
Some of the key questions that have dogged defence analysts about Soviet/Russian warfighting capability regard the reliability of the RVSN. How reliable are the weapons and how dependable is the personnel? What changes are going on in the Russian nuclear world that will guarantee that the forces will work as required? Of the hundreds of ICBMs, how many will actually launch? Initially, the RVSN counted on the fact that while its missiles had low accuracy, they compensated for this by outfitting them with high-yield warheads. Nowadays, we see the opposite. Accuracy has increased and yields have been lowered. One of the early missiles, the R-9A, had a 5 megaton warhead with a maximum error of 20km, but later on, one of the variants of a newer missile, the MR UR-100, had four 550 to 750 kiloton warheads with a maximum error of 400m. The RT-23UTTH (SS-24) road-mobile missile’s accuracy is even better at 200m. Also, some of the weapons in the RVSN’s arsenal now have the capability to deliver an EMP pulse, which would be particularly useful in knocking out an enemy’s electronic systems. On the other hand, in Soviet times some scholars estimated that during a nuclear war, perhaps only 50 per cent of the missiles would fire, and this may have been the reason why they had so many of them deployed. Bruce Blair in his book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War writes that the Russian armed forces have established three tiers of nuclear forces, first echelon, operational reserves and uncommitted reserves, where the second category is meant to compensate for launch failures of the first, and where the uncommitted reserves are simply surplus weapons. What they lacked in quality, they made up for in quantity.
When it comes to the reliability of the command and control system itself, besides its high redundancy (radio, radio relay, satellite, cables), new technology developed in the 1990s was designed to enhance threat data collection and analysis. The RVSN tried to establish a system that reduced guesswork partly, no doubt, because of the early warning mishap of 1983. On the other hand, the RVSN has suffered from the same funding problems as have other military services, a situation that has sometimes put it in a precarious position. Throughout the 1990s, articles appeared in the press on the RVSN’s reduced effectiveness. Not only were bases put at risk for not paying their electricity bills, some parts of the command and control system were said to still suffer because they relied on older technology or because of crime. For example, the system has been known to put itself into combat mode for no reason, and thieves have been found to steal underground cables that link the LCCs to the silos for their metal. The armed forces have made up for the decline of its strength by deploying new weapons such as the EMP device previously mentioned, nuclear earth-penetrating weapons, ABMs and precision low-yield warheads, but it is not known how they have tackled the issue of theft. In the final analysis though, if the RVSN command and control system works well enough, and if the new rocket technologies it has acquired have increased firing probabilities, Russia may very well have the ability to meet its attack objectives.
Concerned about the security of its weapons, the RVSN has established its own personnel reliability programme. The missileers are tested for personality defects, not only before they enter the service, but also routinely once accepted. Membership in the ‘nuclear club’ is restricted to those who would turn the keys unhesitatingly and who possess no serious vices. During Soviet times, the staff was also checked for political reliability, but these days the requirement no longer exists: gone is the annoying zampolit. In the offices of missile commanders, one will no longer find the ubiquitous red star but perhaps rather a picture of St Barbara, the patron saint of the RVSN. On the other hand, Deborah Yarsike Ball writes in Jane’s Intelligence Review that since the end of the Cold War, the Russian armed forces have seen a dramatic increase in diseases and drug abuse in its soldiers. If such individuals were to be put in charge of nuclear weapons, the West could be put at risk. Russian officers claim the West does not need to worry since those in charge of the nuclear arsenal are ‘different’.
For a few years following the end of the Cold War, the two superpowers enjoyed a spirit of co-operation. Both the United States and Russia sent officers to each other’s country to see first hand how their armed forces worked. Both have also witnessed the destruction of each other’s silos, and in 2001 a Joint Data Exchange Center was created in Moscow as a point of contact when the USAF and NASA want to warn the Russians when they are launching missiles. This spirit, however, soon disappeared when the relationship between the two superpowers began to freeze; even though its ICBMs are supposed to be de-targeted, the RVSN still conducts exercises where the main enemy is the United States. At the doctrinal level, while the Russian government has dropped its ‘no-first-use’ policy on nuclear weapons employment in 1993, it has stated that it would be willing to use such weapons in a conventional conflict, this to make up for the reduction of its conventional forces. Some say that if the United States began such a war and later decided to use atomic weapons, Russia would respond in kind. Both sides would then end up with a conflict no one wants.
Missile development in Russia is still taking place. The new single-warhead Topol RS-12M Model 2 ICBM (the SS-27) was put into active service in existing silos in 1997–98, despite long delays and financial cutbacks, at the 104th Missile Regiment at Tatishchevo. At the same time, a road-mobile version was developed. The Topol is a three-stage rocket with a single 550 kiloton warhead and comes equipped with protection against ABMs. It is thought to have a CEP of 100m to 200m. The RVSN was expected to have 160 to 220 RS-12Ms in active service by 2005, but in 2007, only 47 of both the fixed and mobile variants were found on the roster.
The Indian Ocean was at its best, the sky a flawless blue, the sea mirror-calm, the wind a gentle breeze from the north-east. An eerie quiet lay over the ocean, with only the measured thump of the engines and the swish of the bow-wave disturbing the silence of the early afternoon. Lunch was over, and most of the passengers were below enjoying a concert party in the main lounge. On deck, a few dedicated sun worshippers were stretched out in steamer chairs. At any other time the Khedive Ismail might have been a cruise liner of the 1930s carrying the privileged to their next exotic destination. But the year was 1944, and the world was at war.
By December 1943, after a long and hard-fought campaign, British forces in Burma had at last turned the tables on the Japanese invaders, and a major offensive aimed at regaining lost territory was about to be mounted. Fresh troops were being brought in from bases around the Indian Ocean, among them 996 men of the 301st Field Regiment of the East African Artillery, who made up the majority of the Khedive Ismail’s passengers. Also on board were 271 Royal Navy personnel, 54 nursing sisters, 19 Wrens and 9 drivers of the Women’s Transport Service. The ship’s crew consisted of 22 British officers, 5 medical staff, 12 DEMS gunners and 144 Indian ratings. With a total of 1,536 passengers and crew on board, the ship’s accommodation was fully occupied.
In her long life the Khedive Ismail had served many masters. Built on the River Clyde in 1922 for the Chilean Campania Sud Americana de Vapores for their Valparaiso to New York service, she had been launched as the Aconcagua, named for the highest mountain in the Andes. In l931, following heavy losses sustained by CSVA in the depression years, she had been sold to Lithgows of Port Glasgow and returned to the land of her birth. A few years later, the Lithgow yard sold her on to another shipbuilder, William Hamilton of Belfast, who in turn found a buyer for her in Egypt, the Khedivial Mail Line of Alexandria. She was then renamed Khedive Ismail and employed ferrying cargo and passengers between Alexandria and ports in Greece and France. Egypt was then under joint British and French control, and in 1940 she was requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport and converted for carrying troops in the Indian Ocean under the management of the British India Steam Navigation Company.
On Sunday, 5 February 1944 the Khedive Ismail sailed from Mombasa, East Africa with Convoy KR-8, bound for Colombo. The convoy consisted of five fast British troopships, Ellerman Line’s 10,902-ton City of Paris and four others operated by British India, the Ekma (5,108 tons), the Ellenga (5,196 tons), the Varsova (4,701 tons) and the Khedive Ismail. Between them, the five ships were carrying a total of 6,311 military personnel.
Commanded by 49-year-old Captain Roderick Macaulay, who had been appointed convoy commodore, the Khedive Ismail led the way out of Mombasa, and once clear of Mackenzie Point the ships formed up in three columns abreast. At the head of the port outer column was the convoy’s ocean escort, the heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins.
Built in 1917 and a veteran of the China Station, HMS Hawkins was a formidable looking warship armed with seven 7.5-inch and eight 12-pounders; but she was severely lacking in anti-submarine capability, which in this war was the main requirement of any convoy escort. She had no Asdic or any other underwater detecting equipment and was in reality far more vulnerable than any of the merchant ships she was charged with protecting. Fortunately, KR-8 also had a local escort comprising the Flower-class corvette Honesty and the two Banff-class sloops Lulworth and Senna, all fully equipped and well experienced in submarine warfare.
As the convoy formed up off the East African coast, 3,000 miles to the east the Japanese submarine I-27, which had sailed from Penang twenty-four hours earlier, was rounding the northern end of Sumatra and entering the Indian Ocean. In her conning tower was Commander Toshiaki Fukumura, who had orders to seek out and attack Allied shipping in the Gulf of Aden. The Suez Canal, which for some time had been inaccessible to the Allies, was once more in business, and it was reported that many ships were sailing unescorted in the Gulf.
I-27 was a 356ft-long cruiser-class submarine with a displacement on the surface of 2,584 tons, almost twice the size of the Type IX, her German equivalent, and considerably larger than the average British destroyer. She was armed with six torpedo tubes in the bow, a 5.5-inch deck gun and a twin-barrelled 25mm AA gun in the conning tower. Housed in a hangar forward of the tower was a small reconnaissance seaplane, and she was also equipped to carry a midget submarine on deck when required. With a surface speed of 23 knots and an underwater speed of 8 knots, I-27 was undoubtedly fast, but she had an Achilles heel: largely because of her size, she was slow to manoeuvre and slow to dive, two characteristics that could prove fatal to a submarine at war.
Thirty-nine-year-old Toshiaki Fukumura was a long-serving member of the Imperial Japanese Navy, having entered the service as a midshipman in 1927. After sailing in the battleship Matsu he had joined the submarine arm in l933 as a navigator, advancing quickly through the ranks until in November 1939 he was given command of the small coastal submarine RO-34. Since taking command of I-27 in February 1943 he had had considerable success, sinking ten Allied ships of 54,453 tons and damaging three others. In the course of these sinkings he had earned the reputation of being a ruthless foe, prone to machine-gunning survivors in the water.
Four days after sailing from Mombasa, when crossing the Equator north of the Seychelles, KR-8’s local escort returned to port, leaving the cruiser Hawkins in sole charge. The voyage so far had been without incident, and with the Admiralty reporting no German or Japanese submarines in the area, the indications were that it would continue so. Some forty hours later, on the morning of the 11th, HMS Hawkins was joined by the P-class destroyers Paladin and Petard, two of the Royal Navy’s best. Less than three years off the stocks, they were 37-knotters equipped with the latest in anti-submarine gear. The two destroyers took up station 3,000yds on either bow and began zigzagging, their Asdics sweeping ahead for any sign of an underwater enemy. KR-8 was then only 270 miles west of the naval air base on Addu Atoll, and with air cover expected soon it seemed that, to quote an old adage, ‘it was all over bar the shouting’.
Dawn on the 12th saw the convoy approaching the One and a Half Degree Channel, the 80-mile-wide gap in the Maldive archipelago, and making 13 knots. During the course of the morning, Captain Whitehorn, as convoy commodore, suggested to the Senior Officer Escort, Captain Josselyn in HMS Hawkins, that the merchant ships should now commence zigzagging. The convoy, consisting of the Khedive Ismail, four other troop ships and four 46 escorts including HMS Hawkins, departed on February 3, 1944. Captain R. C. Whiteman, commodore on board the Khedive Ismail, decided not to plot a zig-zag course as, not only would it would have meant an extra night at sea owing to the greater distance the course would create but the port of Colombo was closed at night so timing was everything. In the subsequent Board of Inquiry blame was placed on this decision for the sinking of the Khedive Ismail. But throughout the war different strategies had been adopted, for example ships in convoy using zig-zag or else ships travelling without convoy so his decision was not unusual. Captain John William Josselyn of HMS Hawkins had recommended an alternative strategy but had backed down, not before insisting that if it became advisable at any time during the voyage, zig-zag numbers 12 and 38 should be used.
Aboard the Khedive Ismail noon sights had been taken and the course adjusted appropriately. Normal afternoon routine was being followed. Below decks, the concert party was in full swing, with Nursing Sister Edith Bateman giving a spirited rendering on the grand piano of the Warsaw Concerto, while on deck the sunbathers sipped their post-lunch gin and tonics contentedly. The war seemed to be on some far-off planet. Then, without warning, this peaceful scene was cruelly shattered.
I-27’s periscope was sighted simultaneously by the leading ship of the starboard column, British India’s Varsova, which was slightly ahead of her station, and the destroyer Petard. Aboard Petard, zigzagging on the starboard bow, the Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant R. de Pass, happened to be looking astern when he caught a glimpse of the periscope as Fukumura took a quick sweep around the horizon. At the same time, three DEMS gunners, standing to at the 4-inch on the Varsova’s poop, saw what they described as ‘A dark green periscope protruding some 3ft above the water and travelling towards the Khedive Ismail at about 4 knots’. The gunners tried to bring their gun to bear, but it would not depress low enough.
Fukumura had been approaching the One and a Half Degree Channel from the east when he sighted the smoke of the convoy, which was then on a reciprocal course. Remaining on the surface until the sighting was confirmed by the appearance of mast and funnels on the horizon, Fukumura submerged and waited. KR-8 continued on course in complete ignorance of the danger it was steaming towards.
As the convoy drew nearer, Fukumura sank deep, and with motors stopped and observing silent routine, he allowed the two destroyers to pass over him. Once inside the convoy, he came back to periscope depth and took another quick look around. I-27 was then about 50yds astern of the Varsova, but Fukumura had eyes only for the cruiser Hawkins. He took careful aim and fired a spread of four torpedoes.
I-27’s spread bracketed the British cruiser, one torpedo passing ahead of her, another astern. The Khedive Ismail, which at the time was partially overlapping Hawkins, was the unlucky recipient of the other two torpedoes. Second Officer Cecil Munday, who was on watch on the bridge of the troopship at the time, later stated:
I am of the opinion the submarine fired a fan of torpedoes from the starboard quarter of the convoy; I was on watch at the time, talking to one of the signalmen, when I saw the wake of a torpedo pass our stern and miss the stern of HMS Hawkins by 50 feet. Immediately afterwards we were struck by a torpedo in No. 4 hold on the starboard side, followed five seconds later by a second torpedo, which struck in the boiler room, on the starboard side. No one saw the track of either of these torpedoes, but I sighted the U-boat’s periscope about 400 feet away between the centre and starboard columns.
There was a loud explosion with the first torpedo, which caused the vessel to list 12° to starboard; the second explosion, which was more violent than the first, may have caused one of the boilers to explode. There was no flash with either explosion, but I saw flames rising outside the funnel through the fidley gratings. No water was thrown up, but a great amount of debris was flung high into the air. The second explosion caused the main stairway and troop deck to collapse, thereby trapping a great number of people. The vessel continued to heel over to starboard, until she was on her beam ends, and then disappeared.
An unnamed eyewitness described how, when the first torpedo struck, he saw the mainmast collapse and much of the after part of the superstructure cave in, while the hatch covers of the after hold were blown high in the air. When, five seconds later, the other torpedo hit directly below the funnel, there was a major explosion inside the vessel, resulting in the Khedive Ismail breaking in two. The stern sank first, then the bow section up-ended and corkscrewed below the surface. One minute and forty seconds after she was first hit, the ship was gone.
Acting Petty Officer Percy Crabb, one of the Royal Navy contingent on board the Khedive Ismail, in later years recorded his experience:
I was in the POs’ mess with seven other petty officers when the troopship was torpedoed between 1400 and 1500 by, I believe, two tin fish, one in the engine room and one aft under the counter. I was asleep at the time. Immediately she listed over; everyone made a dash for the companionway except yours truly and PO Harper; we both made for the two portholes, which were open. I remember scrambling through and hobbling down the ship’s side, stepping over the rolling chock and diving into the sea, by the time I surfaced the ship had gone. I swam to a green smoke canister some thirty yards away, hanging on to this I looked around me, there were several survivors either swimming or hanging on to whatever floated.
Soon after the second torpedo hit, Captain Whiteman, realizing that his ship was mortally wounded, gave the order to abandon ship, informing Second Officer Munday that he would remain on board until everyone else was off. This was a brave gesture that would cost Roderick Whiteman his life; the Khedive Ismail capsized and sank only seconds later.
Second Officer Munday later said:
There was no time to launch any boats, but many rafts and four lifeboats broke away as the ship sank. The Chief Officer and the Troop Officer ordered everybody to jump overboard as the ship was turning over. The Chief Officer jumped, but fouled some ropes and was pulled under with the ship; he eventually came to the surface, found a raft onto which he climbed and managed to pull on board a Wren who was struggling in the water. He said that he felt no effect of suction on the low side of the ship as she sank. I went along to No. 2 boat and saw a Wren officer lying on the deck; as she was unconscious and frothing at the mouth, I did not consider anything could be done for her, so I climbed over the high side and walked down the ship’s side into the water.
I swam some half dozen strokes from the ship when a big wave overtook me, and as I was drawn under I saw many bodies and wreckage floating past; I momentarily surfaced and managed to take a few deep breaths before being again drawn under. I was then on the port side of the ship, but on surfacing again I found myself off the starboard bow. I therefore must have passed completely under the ship.
The reaction of Paladin and Petard to the sighting of the periscope by Lieutenant de Pass was immediate. Both destroyers turned outwards under full helm and raced back to the rear of the convoy, where it was thought the attacker might be. Asdic contact was established, and with Petard directing, Paladin dropped two patterns of depth charges. There was no visible reaction, Fukumura having already moved out of range. Now the hunt had to begin in earnest.
At this point, as Senior Officer Escort, Captain Josselyn in HMS Hawkins intervened. Having in mind the possibility of more than one enemy submarine being involved, he called for one destroyer to return to the convoy, leaving the other to deal with the attacker. Petard being the senior ship, Commander Egan ordered Paladin to rejoin, after first picking up survivors sighted in the water. Among those survivors was Petty Officer Crabb, who later wrote:
The convoy had dispersed by this time and it seemed we were left to our own devices; some 200 yards away were two lifeboats from the ship, one upside down, survivors were all making for them so I decided to do the same.
I am almost certain the submarine passed under me, as there was quite a turbulence of water and a wake left behind. This was the scene when the destroyers Petard and Paladin arrived at high speed, the submarine must have been picked up on their Asdics, because they started depth charging some 300 yards away. I distinctly remember one charge from the thrower exploding just above the surface of the sea. It was a very strange experience to feel shock waves coming through the water and the almighty thump in the stomach. Luckily, I was still hanging on to the smoke float, which took most of the concussion.
Paladin had dropped off a motor boat and sea boat to pick up survivors. I eventually made it to the troopship’s lifeboat and got aboard, we managed to row towards Paladin, which was slowly circling us, while Petard was still depth charging further away. We got alongside Paladin and hastily scrambled aboard, among us three nursing sisters, two Wrens and one South African WTS; this was all that was left of their contingents. I remember a seaman throwing me a pair of sandals, as I was barefoot, because the steel decks of the destroyer were very hot.
HMS Paladin was in the act of sending away her boats to pick up survivors when I-27 appeared to give away her position. Commander Egan, on the bridge of Petard, saw a sudden eruption in the water about 1,000yds to the east which had the appearance of a submarine blowing its tanks. Egan carried out an Asdic sweep in the area but could get no contact. He then concluded that the disturbance must have been caused by a sudden rush of air escaping from the submerged wreck of the Khedive Ismail and decided to join Paladin in the more urgent business of rescuing people from the water. It soon became obvious that there were not many of them. To quote Commander Egan, ‘Survivors were regrettably few and concentrated in a small area, with barely half a dozen up-turned boats and a few rafts.’
As Petard approached the survivors with her boats swung out ready to lower, another large bubble of air broke the surface close to the wreckage marking the last resting place of the Khedive Ismail. Egan immediately abandoned the rescue and made for the spot at full speed. Once again he was disappointed, for no Asdic contact could be made. He was about to rejoin Paladin when, to his great surprise, a submarine suddenly shot to the surface about 1½ miles on Petard’s starboard quarter. Egan’s report reads:
By this time Paladin had recovered all survivors and both ships turned simultaneously to the attack, firing with all weapons and scoring many hits. I then proceeded to pass as close astern of the U-boat as practicable, firing three depth charges from the port throwers and trap, set to 50 feet, when close aboard, which fell reasonably near but were not lethal.
Meanwhile the U-boat got under way but attempts by the crew to come out of the conning tower were frustrated by the combined fire of both ships. At least two of the crew were blown to shreds. Petard now opened from the target while Paladin closed at high speed to the attack, signalling that she intended to ram.
Although there was a possibility of the U-boat re-submerging, I did not wish to take this action, except as a last resort, I therefore ordered Paladin not to ram.
Egan’s signal came too late. Paladin was then only 600yds from the surfaced submarine and bearing down on her at full speed. The Khedive Ismail’s second officer, Cecil Munday, who had been picked up by HMS Paladin, described the action:
All the survivors in the Paladin were ordered to lie flat on deck. We then proceeded at full speed and steamed straight for the submarine with the intention of ramming. When only a few feet away the Senior Officer in HMS Petard signalled, ‘Don’t ram’. Immediately the helm was put over in an attempt to clear, but as she shot past the submarine’s hydroplane guard caught in the Paladin’s side, below water, and ripped her side from amidships as far aft as the 4″ gun. Water poured into the ship and everybody was ordered on deck.
Damage parties reported that the Paladin’s hull had been sliced open for some 80ft just below the waterline. Her engine room was awash, and two fuel tanks and the after magazine were flooded. The destroyer slowly lost way, until she was lying dead in the water and listing to starboard. Paladin was out of the fight.
Petard now took up the sword, and there followed a bizarre running action lasting nearly an hour, in which destroyer and submarine circled each other like two prize fighters in the ring, each looking for an opportunity to land the killer punch. I-27 appeared to be unable to dive, and because of the hail of machine-gun and cannon fire sweeping her decks her gunners were unable to man her 5.5-inch. However, her six torpedo tubes were a menace not to be ignored. If she were able to manoeuvre into a position to fire, Petard would be in great danger. As it was, the destroyer smothered the submarine with shot and shell, firing a total of 300 rounds of 4-inch and a constant stream of smaller shot. I-27’s deck gun was blasted over the side and her conning tower riddled, but due to Petard’s lack of armour-piercing shells, she failed to hole the submarine’s hull. Commander Egan wrote in his report:
The problem of tackling a U-boat under these conditions was vexatious. Gunfire inflicted no apparent damage to pressure hull and running up alongside sufficiently close to lob depth charges to a lethal distance, with the U-boat under helm, at the same time keeping clear of bow and stern tubes, was hazardous. These tactics were finally abandoned due to the danger of collision and it was decided to sink her by torpedo.
Here again the target appeared simple, but only the seventh torpedo found its mark and she finally blew up at 1153 (GMT). When the column of water subsided, nothing was visible except an oil patch. Another violent underwater explosion occurred seven minutes later, which only brought more diesel oil and a few pieces of wreckage to the surface.
Paladin now reported she was in danger of sinking. Her engine room was flooded and it was feared that the forward engine room bulkhead would give way under the weight of water. Her remaining torpedoes were fired off, and everything moveable and not essential was thrown overboard, while her survivors were transferred to HMS Petard. Fortunately, by the time the sun went down Paladin had stopped taking on water and appeared to be out of danger. Petard then passed a tow line, and the two destroyers set off for Addu Atoll, leaving HMS Hawkins to look after the remaining four ships of the convoy. The destroyers arrived safely at the base t 0740 the next morning.
The sinking of the Khedive Ismail with the loss of 1,297 lives, including 77 women and 137 of her crew of 183, will go down in history as one of the worst shipping disasters of the Second World War. There are conflicting reports as to why so many people died, when the weather was so favourable and other ships were close by. It has been said, although never officially confirmed, that I-27 was hiding under the survivors in the water and that HMS Petard made at least one depth charge run through them, causing many deaths. If this was so, then Commander Rupert Egan was only following Navy protocol, the safety of the other ships in the convoy taking precedence over the lives of survivors in the water.
Kenneth Harrup, who was serving in the repair ship HMS Lucas at the time, in later years wrote:
Our orders were to join the Khedive Ismail and convoy KR 8 but when they learned that our maximum speed was only 9 knots they departed without us at 15 knots on the 5th. We left on the 8th and sailed through the wreckage and empty lifeboats before arriving at the Maldives where we carried out first aid repairs to the damaged destroyer. Apart from this our voyage was completely uneventful, but only now do I realize how close we came to disaster.
If that raider had not been disposed of in that terrible moment of decision by the Petard captain, my ship and the lives of some 500 navy men would almost certainly have fallen to that Japanese submarine. We had so little in the way of defences – just a 12 pounder gun and a few depth charges, we would have been a sitting duck. With that thought in mind, perhaps those dozens of poor souls did not die in vain on that most tragic day 61 long years ago, when swimming hopefully towards their rescuers only to find that they were their executioners.