Vlasov wasn’t just a random commander whose only distinctive quality was being willing to jump ship to the German side. In the mess that was the Soviet officer corps, before the bloody crucible of the Wehrmacht pummeled many of the incompetents out of the ranks, Vlasov was one of the most capable. Indeed, when he took command of the 99th Rifle Division, he turned a pretty bog-standard unit into what Semyon Timoshenko called the best division in the Soviet Army in nine months.
Vlasov’s problem was that in the first year of the Great Patriotic War, he was squarely in the middle of several utter disasters, many of which could be directly attributed to Stavka. Vlasov held the very unfortunate command of the 4th Mechanized Corps in June 1941, part of Kirponos’ Southwestern Front- an extremely unready formation that, along with five other mechanized corps, participated in the abysmal disaster that was the Battle of Brody.
A counteroffensive insistently ordered by Zhukov despite Kirponos’ pleading about its impossibility, Brody was one of the most crushing defeats of any force in the entire war. Vlasov’s corps, the strongest of the six, was pretty much annihilated- by 12 July, it was down to 65 tanks from a starting strength of 979. The corps’ remnants, now fighting on as infantry, was soon encircled and annihilated in the right bank Ukraine, and the unit was officially disbanded on August 1941.
Vlasov’s next posting was right in the middle of another developing disaster- the 37th Army, one of the six armies holding the Kiev sector against Army Group South. There, the 37th Army gained the dubious distinction of being part of the largest single pocket of history. Under Vlasov’s direction, parts of the army managed to break out before the German pocket fully solidified. Most of the unit was destroyed and near the end of September officially disbanded.
However, even that disaster that befell the 37th Army was a quite successful defense by the Soviet standards of the time, where the Germans were handing Stalin the red ruins of his army all across the front. Vlasov was now sent to command the 20th Army, freshly reconstituted after its annihilation in the Vyazma Pocket. He commanded the army through the second phase of the Battle of Moscow, with success. With his name followed by glowing praise on the Pravda and a brand new Order of the Red Banner glistening on his chest, Vlasov went to a new command- the 2nd Shock Army in the Volkhov area.
Vlasov’s army was the spearhead of the Lyuban Offensive Operation, intending to break the siege of Leningrad. The 2nd Shock Army advanced across the Volkhov river and penetrated seventy kilometers forward from their starting position, but support proved insufficient against strengthening German defenses and the offensive stalled. Vlasov requested permission to withdraw out of the salient he had formed, and was ordered to hold position, no matter what.
That didn’t work out. Germans counterattacked against the salient, broke through the Soviet positions, and cut Vlasov off. His attempt at breaking out was unsuccessful, and Germans wiped out the 2nd Shock Army at Myasnoi Bor. Vlasov was captured, and after a short while in German custody, turned his colours.
Vlasov’s hatred of Stalin for his disastrous mismanagement of the military situation led German intelligence officers to seek his cooperation in heading an army of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) committed to fight against the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet POWs were already serving as auxiliaries to the German army in noncombat roles, many of them doing so simply to stay alive. Vlasov worked out a political program for a non-Communist Russian state, but this concept flew in the face of Adolf Hitler’s policy of subjugating and colonizing the Soviet Union. Although German intelligence officers proceeded to create the Russian Liberation Army (ROA), Hitler refused it any combat role, and it became a device only to encourage Red Army desertions.
German Schutzstaffel (SS) Chief Heinrich Himmler met with Vlasov in September 1944 and promised him a combat role. Himmler also arranged for the creation of the multiethnic Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (KONR), which was announced in Prague that November. Two divisions of the ROA came into being, one of which was sent along the Oder River in mid-April 1945 but retreated before the Red Army. The “Vlasov Army” then changed sides. Cooperating with the Czech Resistance, it helped liberate Prague and disarmed 10,000 German soldiers, hoping to be recognized by the Western Allies.
At the end of the war, Soviet authorities demanded Vlasov’s return in accordance with repatriation agreements reached at the Yalta Conference, and on 12 May 1945, U.S. units handed him over, together with other ROA prisoners of war. On 13 August 1946, the Soviet Supreme Court condemned Vlasov as a “German collaborator” and an “enemy of the Russian people” and imposed the death penalty on him the same day.
Now, the question. Why?
There are three prevailing theories. The traditional Soviet claim is that Vlasov’s betrayal was primarily motivated by self-interest: a cold, calculating move made by a man who saw a chance to grab at power and took it. A second possibility is that Vlasov was simply infuriated- spiteful, even, at being hung out to dry at Lyuban, and desired vengeance.
Both of these are entirely feasible- I would like to emphasize that the only claims about his motivation that we know Vlasov made, he made while working with Germans, and since Soviets hung him for a traitor in 1946, we can’t exactly ask him. Therefore, anything I’m going to say, and anything anyone can tell you about Vlasov’s motivation, is pretty much an educated guess.
But I myself am partial to the third and most mainstream theory- that when Vlasov stated his anti-Communism and desire to free Russia from Stalin’s grasp, he wasn’t lying.
Most people grow up with at least some sense of loyalty to their countries- treason doesn’t come easy to most people. Vlasov’s situation seems exceptional- not that long ago, during the First World War, it would have been incomprehensible that a captured Russian army commander may write a memorandum to the Kaiser himself asking to be allowed to form an army of Russians so that he might fight against other Russians.
That this happened in the Second World War means two things- either the person is exceptional, or the situation is. But the person isn’t exceptional. Vlasov wasn’t the first Soviet commander to turn his colours in prison, he wasn’t the last, and he sure as hell wasn’t the only- when his ‘Russian Liberation Army’ became a reality in 1944, of the 51 officers commanding a regiment or above, 23 were Soviet defectors(the rest Russian emigres). Well over one million Soviet citizens defected to the German side- such a thing would have been incomprehensible at any other time.
So, if the person isn’t exceptional- the situation has to be.
The prevailing theory, and the one I agree with, is that Vlasov had grown disillusioned with the government he had served. After living through a series of disasters said government presided over, culminating at Lyuban, Vlasov was simply fed up with the Soviet regime- and unfortunately for him, he didn’t exactly have an awful lot of options if he wished to turn his efforts to its destruction.
And thus, one fateful day while imprisoned in Vinnytsia, he had a thought and came to a decision that would eventually lead him to a long drop off a short rope- a tragic but not undeserved fate for a man who in all likelihood had noble reasons for a loathsome act. He certainly didn’t prove half as lucky as his German counterpart- his fellow traitor Walther von Seydlitz-Kurbach, who eventually got repatriated to West Germany, somehow managed to be pardoned by the country he betrayed, and died of old age in 1976.
And when it came to describing the Soviet hero turned German collaborator, I wish to leave the final words to Mark Elliott:
Some have characterized Vlasov a vile collaborator; others have seen him as a Russian national hero. Neither description quite fits. Andrei Andreevich Vlasov, given to drink and fits of fatalism and inertia in captivity, lacked the sterling character deemed essential for a martyr. On the other hand, the ROA chief was anything but a Nazi — he caused his German supporters discomfort with his strong Russian nationalism and his personal refusal to lend his voice to the prevailing, official anti-semitism. He possessed neither a Quisling’s moral blindness to questions of patriotism nor a Joan of Arc‘s penchant for self-immolation. He came closer to the mean of most humans, aptly personifying the nightmarish predicament which confronted millions of the Eastern Front’s victims. Vlasov, like multitudes of other helpless Soviet citizens, was cruelly pulverized between the enormous and unfeeling millstones of Nazism and Communism. Shuffled about Europe’s wargame board, first by Stalin, then by Hitler, Vlasov was a pawn in the epic struggle just like the lowliest POW or forced laborer. He fantasized a Russia minus Marx, and though his failure was complete, he still came closer than any other Russian since the Civil War to fulfilling that dream.
Mark Elliott, “Andrei Vlasov: Red Army General in Hitler’s Service,” Military Affairs, Apr. 1982
Andreyev, Catherine. Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and Émigré Theories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Elliott, Mark. “Andrei Vlasov: Red Army General in Hitler’s Service.” Military Affairs 61 (April 1982): 84–87.
Steenberg, Steve. Vlasov. Trans. Abe Fabsten. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
Strik-Strikfeldt, Wilfried. Against Stalin and Hitler: Memoir of the Russian Liberation Movement, 1941–1945. New York: John Day, 1973.
Caliph Umar (Omar) dispatched Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas and a new Arab 30,000-man army against Persia. Sa’d defeated a Sassanid Persian force of 50,000 men under Rustam in the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah during November 16-19, 636. This strategically significant encounter led to the Muslim capture of the Persian capital of Ctesiphon several months later. Sa’d and the Arabs defeated the Persians again in the Battle of Jalula in December 637.
During 637-645 the Arabs completed the conquest of Syria and Palestine. Among prominent places taken were Jerusalem and Antioch (638), Aleppo (639), Caesarea and Gaza (640), and Tripoli (645). Most fell after lengthy sieges. At the same time, during 639-641 the Arab forces conquered all of remaining Byzantine Mesopotamia.
Egypt was the next Muslim target, beginning in 639. In July 640, General Amir ibn al-As was victorious over Byzantine forces in the Battle of Babylon, near Helliopolis. Following long sieges, he captured the fortified cities of Babylon in April 641 and Alexandria in September 642.
During 640-650 the Arab armies conquered what remained of Persian territory. Following decisive Muslim Arab victories in the Battle of Ram Hormuz in 640 and the Battle of Nahavend in 641, organized Persian resistance came to an end. During the next decade the Arabs solidified their control over what had been the Sassanid Persian Empire, with the Oxus River the boundary between Arab and Turkish territory.
During 642-643 the Muslims expanded into North Africa from Egypt. Under Abdullah ibn Zubayr, they captured Cyrene and Tripoli, then raided farther west. In 645 Muslim forces under Amr turned back an ineffectual Byzantine effort to recapture Alexandria. A revolt within the city, however, forced Amr to retake Alexandria by storm.
Battle of Jalula
This lack of an organised defence of their capital Ctesiphon not only demonstrates the poor state to which the Persian military had fallen through its defeats by Romans, Turks, civil war and now Muslim Arabs, but also how unprepared the Persian defences of Ctesiphon were for an attack from the south. Centuries of warfare against the Romans and the nomadic tribes of the Eurasian steppe had concentrated Persian defensive efforts to the north of Ctesiphon. The contrast between the destruction of the bridges over the Nahrawan canal to block Heraclius’ approach in 627 and the ease with which Sa’d approached Veh-Ardashir and then took Ctesiphon in 637 demonstrates the direction in which Persian defences were facing. It could be argued that, by leaving troops in Mesopotamia to slow the advance of the Muslims on Ctesiphon, Yazdgerd assured the capture of his capital by depriving its defence of much needed manpower. However, without garrisons at the likes of Burs, Babylon and Kusa, Zuhra’s advanced guard would have arrived at Ctesiphon before any defensive measures were implemented. Therefore, after the defeat at Qadisiyyah, the Sassanid king and his generals were left with what was a no-win situation with regard to defending Ctesiphon.
However, this Persian evacuation of their capital without a fight meant that there were still sizeable Sassanid armies in the field that needed to be defeated before Muslim control of Mesopotamia could be consolidated. The main Persian force under Mihran and Khurrazad retreated north to Jalula, which, as well as being near the modern site of Baghdad, lay on a strategically important route between the Persian provinces of Mesopotamia, Khurasan and Atropatene. There were also forces congregating to the north at Birtha, usually identified with modern-day Tikrit, as well as the significant garrison of the fortress further up the Tigris recognised as modern Mosul. Its governor, Intaq, appears to have moved south to Birtha with his garrison and along with some survivors from Ctesiphon and new recruits from the local Arab tribes formed a sizeable force.
The relative proximity of Birtha to the main Sassanid force at Jalula meant that Intaq could move to join his forces to those of Mihran and Khurrazad as well as providing a potential route of retreat for the Persian force should it be defeated at Jalula. Therefore, whilst Sa’d sent the majority of his force against Jalula under Hashim in April, he also sent about 5,000 men under Abdullah to preoccupy if not neutralise Intaq. Upon arriving, Abdullah attempted to storm the walls with a lightning attack. However, Intaq’s men held firm and it appears as though Abdullah became concerned about the size of the garrison. To deal with this perceived strength, the Muslim commander attempted to drive a wedge between the elements of Intaq’s force. Muslim spies made contact with the Christian Arab contingent and persuaded them to side with Abdullah rather than Intaq. The Persians seem to have gotten wind of this betrayal or at least suspected it, as they attempted to abandon Birtha along the river. However, they found themselves trapped between the attacking Muslims and their former Arab allies and the Persian garrison was quickly overrun. A few days later, a small Muslim force received the surrender of Mosul without much of a fight.
While Abdullah was cutting off a potential route of retreat and reinforcement for the Sassanids, Hashim had squared up to the Persian forces at Jalula. While the strategic position of Jalula as a crossroads for the Sassanid state meant that it was vital for Mihran and Khurrazad to try to defend it, the position of the town with the Diyala River to the west and foothills of the Zagros Mountains to the east also offered an excellent defensive position. Knowing that the naturally narrow plain in front of Jalula would funnel the Muslim army towards the town and protect their flanks, Mihran prepared diligently for the Muslim attack he knew would come. Jalula itself was turned into a fort, protected by a line of trenches stretching from the broken ground of the Zagros foothills to the Diyala and caltrops to further hinder the Muslim infantry and cavalry. Archers and artillery were also positioned on the fortifications to bleed the Muslims as they approached the walls. Only after inflicting crippling damage on the Muslim ranks would Mihran then leave this defensive position in order to win a decisive victory.
Upon surveying the disposition and defences of the Persian force, Hashim recognised Mihran’s ploy in presenting the Muslims with only one offensive option – a costly frontal assault. This was something that he could ill afford given that the size of the forces arrayed at Jalula were likely very similar, around 12,000 each. Therefore, Hashim decided to draw the Persians away from their defences by employing one of the riskiest manoeuvres in battlefield tactics – the feigned retreat. The danger of this tactic is that a feigned retreat can quickly become an actual one if the morale and discipline of those attempting it is not strong enough and a counter-attack from the opponent is so well pressed and coordinated as to be impossible to resist. Clearly, after the numerous victories they had won up to the battlefield of Jalula, Hashim had every reason to believe in the discipline and prowess of his men to even attempt such a tactic. While there is no evidence to suggest that Mihran’s counter-attack was not well pressed, it could be argued that the presence of their own trenches and caltrops could have prevented the Persians from launching a fully coordinated assault on the `retreating’ Muslims as they had to waste time in placing a bridge over the defences.
The battle therefore began with a Muslim attack on the defences of Jalula, only for them to retreat under the hail of Persian archers and artillery. Mihran took this as a sign that his plan was working and that the Muslim forces were on the verge of breaking and quickly launched his planned counter-attack. Unbeknownst to the Persian commander, his opposite number will have also been pleased that his own plan was going well. His men had fooled the Persians into thinking they were retreating whilst still retaining their own discipline and order. With the Persians now drawn away from their defences, an infantry confrontation took place on the plain before Jalula. Further staged withdrawals by Hashim’s men then opened up a gap between the Persian lines and the bridge route back into the fort and it was then that Hashim launched his counterstroke. Having gathered together a strong cavalry contingent in his rear under Qaqa, Hashim now sent them in an attack around the Persian right flank against the lightly defended bridge. Once word filtered through the battlefront that the Muslims had cut off the only escape route, Hashim ordered his men in a full-scale attack on the Persian lines while Qaqa attacked their rear. Trapped by geography, their own defences and the Muslim forces, the Persian army broke. Despite many men making it back to the fort of Jalula, the defeat of Mihran and the death of Khurrazad had neutralised it as a threat. The exact date for the Battle of Jalula is difficult to pin down from the sources, some of which place the battle at the end of a seven-month siege while others say that the seven-month siege succeeded a battle in April 637.
Whatever the order of events, Jalula had fallen to Hashim by the end of 637. The Muslim general then sent Qaqa after those Persian forces under Mihran who had managed to escape. The cavalry commander caught up to them at the city of Khanaqin, some fifteen miles to the east. Some reinforcements from Hulwan may have reached Mihran but they were not enough to prevent a further defeat and the capture of Khanaqin. It is recorded that Qaqa defeated Mihran in a personal duel, removing one of the more capable Persian commanders as an obstacle. Qaqa was now within 100 miles of Yazdgerd III’s base at Hulwan and was to appear before its walls before the end of January 638. However, upon hearing of the defeat of Mihran at Khanaqin, Yazdgerd had retreated further east into the Iranian heartland of his empire, reaching Qom, around 100 miles south of modern Tehran. This hopping from Ctesiphon to Hulwan to Qom was to become a repeating pattern for the rest of Yazdgerd’s life as he attempted to outrun the Muslim advance whilst at the same time trying to bring together an army strong enough to retake his lost lands.
With the emperor gone and only a modest garrison left to defend it, Hulwan also swiftly fell. Having settled affairs with the citizenry, the ever ambitious Qaqa then sent to his commander, Sa’d, asking if he could drive further into Iran in pursuit of the fleeing Yazdgerd. Sa’d himself appears to have been in favour of such an advance, perhaps thinking that the Persians were sure to return once they had reorganised their forces. However, Umar was unwilling to further stretch his forces given the effects of the `Year of Ashes’ and the Plague of Amwas throughout 638 and 639 and, as he had done in ordering his men to pull back from a potentially decisive confrontation in Roman Anatolia, he denied Qaqa and Sa’d permission to continue east. What is now the border between Iran and Iraq was to be the effective frontier between the lands of the caliph and those of the Persian emperor, albeit temporarily.
The loss of Mesopotamia, let alone their capital at Ctesiphon, was a huge blow, not just to the prestige of the Sassanids but perhaps more importantly to their continued ability to wage war, as those provinces contained a vast proportion of their population and tax revenue. The Persians still held significant territories all the way east to the Oxus and Indus rivers and their Roman neighbours had demonstrated that by identifying the strategic necessity of regrouping such losses were survivable. However, as will be seen, Yazdgerd and his advisers would not exhibit the same restraint and strategic good sense of Heraclius, allowing their loss of dignity to force them into challenging this `Iran-Iraq’ frontier before they had laid any defensive or infrastructural groundwork.
The Arabs appear to have known exactly how and where to fatally strike the Sassanians on the battlefield, thanks in part to the ex-Sassanian forces now fighting in their ranks.
The remainder of Yazdegird’s troops now engaged in a disorderly retreat and became ensnared in the traps originally intended for al-Hashem.The ensuing Arab pursuit resulted in 100,000 Sassanians being killed. Much booty and goods were then captured from the Sassanian camp, along with the wives and children of the Azadan nobility, who had stayed in the camps. Disputes then appear to have broken out amongst the Arab troops as to the share of the spoils, causing a temporary lull in the Arab advance.
Yazdegird himself managed to retire to Rayy, near modern day Tehran, which became the capital. General Khosrowshonum tried to retain the fortress-city of Holwan at all costs, but failed. The loss of Holwan allowed the Arabs to soon reach Mahrod, where the local dehkhan cavalry force quickly submitted to al-Hashem. By this time, morale appears to have all but collapsed, and any sense of loyalty to the House of Sassan and the magi had all but disappeared. Arab successes, combined with the fact that numbers of professional Sassanian troops had joined the Arabs since Qadisiyyah, further undermined the motivation to resist.
After the defeat at Jalula, the battered remains of the Sassanian gund were dispatched to engage the Arabs at Khuzistan and Persis. The city of Ahwaz in Khuzistan fell, allowing the Arabs to break into Persis proper. Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf was also used as a naval base to land troops into Persis, leading to the fall of Istakhr after the battle of Tavoos. The remnants of the Sassanian forces rallied under General Shahrak and, with the support of inhabitants of Persis, put up a powerful resistance. However, the Arabs prevailed and captured Ramhormuz, Tustar, Manadir, and Shushtar. The resistance at Shushtar, one of the most important bastions of defense in southern Persia, was prolonged, bitter, and bloody. Hormuzan, the commander of the Sassanian forces in the southwest of the Empire, deployed his forces outside the city as the Arabs approached. The battle was yet another defeat for the Sassanians, and the survivors retreated into the city to prepare for a siege. However, one of the upper nobles had betrayed the city and that evening the conspirators killed the sentries and opened the gates to the Arabs. Hormuzan and what remained of his forces made their last stand in the citadel, sueing for peace only when supplies were exhausted. Persis and Khuzistan took a long time to subdue, even as the caliphate reached Spain.
The French strategic cavalry was composed of ten cavalry divisions. This strategic cavalry would be reinforced by infantry battalions and artillery. Each French corps had a light cavalry regiment assigned (six squadrons). There was no divisional cavalry. French reconnaissance patrols were to avoid combat. In reconnaissance and security the French relied on combined-arms teams to confuse the enemy concerning the location of the main body and force him to deploy. The French thereby separated reconnaissance, which was conducted far forward by the strategic cavalry, from security, which was the responsibility of the corps cavalry and at the infantry division, by local foot patrols.
In August 1914 the French cavalry failed to perform both the reconnaissance and security roles. The French cavalry divisions manoeuvred almost aimlessly. The French corps cavalry remained so close to the infantry that tactical security was non-existent. As a result, the French higher commanders were poorly informed concerning German operational movements and the French infantry was repeatedly surprised.
French Enemy Estimate
Observing the density of the German rail net behind Metz, the Deuxième Bureau, the French General staff intelligence section, concluded that the Germans would concentrate up to 11 corps behind the Metz-Diedenhofen fortress complex and in Luxembourg as a mass of manoeuvre and then shift those forces into Lorraine or Belgium. The French did not obtain any solid intelligence on the location of the German assembly areas during the German rail deployment, and therefore retained the pre-war assumption that the Germans would mass behind Metz. On 9 August the French thought that 17 German acive-army corps opposed them, while four corps opposed the Russians. Since the French had 21 active army corps, the French thought they had numerical superiority. They estimated that there were five or six German corps in Belgium, five to eight corps located at Metz-Diedenhofen-Luxembourg, with more on the way, one to three corps in Lorraine, a corps plus in Alsace. Five corps were unaccounted for.
In fact, the German armies were evenly deployed from Alsace to the north of Aachen. The German 4th and 5th Armies were behind Metz and in Luxembourg, but did not have the decisive role that the French ascribed to them. The French intelligence analysts had been trained according to the theories of Bonnal, who doctrinally employed a large mass of manoeuvre, and were mirror imaging – writing the German plan as a French officer would have written it.
The pre-war calculation of the Deuxième Bureau was that the Germans could attack as of the 13th day of mobilisation. Expecting to find the Germans in the northern Ardennes, Sordet’s Cavalry Corps of three divisions was sent into Belgium on 6 August and reached the area west of Liège on 8 August. On 9 August he found nothing at Marche. Neither he nor French aerial reconnaissance could find any German forces as far east as the Ourthe River because there were no German forces there, nor would there be any there until around 18 August. Sordet’s cavalry had moved ten days too soon. Nor did the Belgians provide much useful information. By 12 August Sordet had moved to Neufchâteau but still made no contact; he then pulled back to the west bank of the Meuse on 15 August and was attached to 5th Army. Sordet reported that it was impossible to supply the cavalry in the Ardennes and that air recon was unreliable in the dense woods. His cavalry corps had conducted an eight-day march without obtaining any information concerning the German forces. In order to find the German 3rd, 4th and 5th Armies, the French cavalry would have had to advance across the Belgian Ardennes to the border with Germany and Luxembourg; it was unable to do so. The German deployment was not completed until 17 August and the German 5th and 4th Armies did not begin their advance until 18 August. The French had great difficulty understanding why the Germans were not as far to the west as they expected them to be.
By 10 August, the French saw indications that the Germans were digging in on the Ourthe between Liège and Houffalize. The French intelligence summary on 13 August reported that in the Ardennes there were only two German corps (VIII AK at Luxembourg and XVIII at Aumetz – the latter was actually XVI AK) and two cavalry divisions. The French were beginning to get the impression that there were no German troops in the Ardennes. This was not an illogical conclusion. It is more than 100km from the sparse German railheads in the Eifel, in the German Ardennes, to the Franco-Belgian border. The Ardennes is thinly populated and heavily forested, with few and poor roads. Crossing it would pose significant problems in supply and traffic control. At the end of the approach march lay the Meuse River, a formidable obstacle. It would seem unlikely that the Germans would commit significant forces from the very start of the campaign into such an out-of-the-way and difficult theatre of war.
In the skirmishes between cavalry and foot patrols during the first week of the war, the French thought that their troops were generally victorious, returning with prisoners, horses and weapons. The chief of staff of VI CA said that ‘this filled them with great joy.’ French pre-war predictions of the natural superiority of the French soldier seemed to be justified.
Between 7 and 10 August the French VII CA had advanced towards Mühlhausen in the upper Alsace and been thrown back into France by the German XIV AK and XV AK. On 14 August the French 1st Army and 2nd Armies attacked into Lorraine. Joffre was fully aware that the German forces to the east of Metz could attack through the fortress to the south into Lorraine: he gave the 3rd Army the mission of attacking any such German sortie in the flank with two corps, while on 15 August he told the 3rd Army to be prepared to invest Metz from the west
By 15 August the French recognised the strength of the German forces in the general vicinity of Liège. Joffre told the commanders of the 4th and 5th Armies that the Germans were going to make their principal effort ‘to the north of Givet’ with a second group marching on Sedan and Montmédy. The 4th Army estimate of the situation on 16 August said that these forces represented the German mass of manoeuvre, and that aerial reconnaissance showed that there were no significant German forces at Arlon or Luxembourg in the southern Ardennes. Joffre based on his plan of attack on the idea that the Germans had left their centre weak in order to strengthen the force north of the Meuse. He therefore decided to break the German centre in the Ardennes. On 15 August GQG ordered 5th Army on the left flank to march north to an area west of Givet. 4th Army was to be prepared to attack towards Neufchâteau. On 16 August the 3rd Army was told to hand over the area between Verdun and Toul to a group of reserve divisions in order to be able attack north of Metz towards Longwy.
The inability of the French cavalry divisions to obtain an accurate picture of the advance of the German 4th and 5th Armies led to serious mistakes in French operational and tactical planning. Due in great part to IR88’s success at Longlier, the French 4th and 9th Cavalry Divisions were pushed out of the way of XVIII AK and were not able to determine what the Germans were doing, nor hinder their movements. The anonymous author of the FAR 25 regimental history said that the French cavalry simply would not fight. From the smallest patrol up to the level of cavalry corps, the French cavalry avoided combat and when it unexpectedly did meet German forces, such as at Longlier, the French cavalry withdrew.77 The German cavalry was able to screen the movements of its own forces, while on 21 and 22 August it provided accurate information concerning the French advance.
3 DIC, Morning, 22 August
The Colonial Corps order, issued at 1800 21 August, directed the corps to march to Neufchâteau on 22 August, with 3 DIC on the right, marching through Rossignol, and 5th Colonial Brigade on the left, marching over Suxy. Because the Corps would transit the Forest of Neufchâteau–Chiny, the Corps cavalry regiment, the 3rd Chasseurs d’Afrique, would follow the advance guard. 2 DIC was held back west of Montmédy as the army reserve. XII CA was on the corps left, marching on Recogne and Libramont, II CA on the right, marching on Leglise. The corps order said that the only enemy forces in the area were those of the German 3 KD and 8 KD, which had been defeated by the French cavalry on 17–18 August.
The 3 DIC order of movement was 1 RIC, 2 RIC, Division Artillery (2 RAC), 3 RIC. 7 RIC followed, guarding the corps artillery (3 RAC); the column was 15km long. The movement order for 2 RIC conveys the prevailing attitude in the division: ‘Today a 33km march. Arrive at Neufchâteau at 1100 and billet. No contact expected.’
The advance guard battalion (I/1 RIC) missed its movement time at 0630 because it was in contact with German cavalry patrols. Then the rest of the regiment, which was to lead the main body, missed its movement time because the staffs did not know where the units were located and orders consequently arrived late. At 0800 the Colonial Corps was informed that II CA on the right was three hours behind 3 DIC, exposing the 3 DIC right flank. This was not an auspicious beginning. Heavy fog hindered movement until it lifted at 0700, revealing a clear, sunny sky.
Meeting Engagement, 3 DIC
A reserve cavalry squadron (6/6th Dragoons) provided security immediately in front of the 3 DIC advance guard. The choice of this reserve squadron, when a regiment of professional cavalry was available (the Chasseurs d’Afrique), can only be explained by the fact that the division did not expect contact. As usual, French cavalry stayed close to the infantry for protection. The Dragoons were engaged about 600m south of Rossignol by dismounted German cavalry, which withdrew. The Dragoons advanced through Rossignol and then 500m into the forest of Neufchâteau where they were again engaged by cavalry. At 0740, 23 August the Dragoons were engaged for a third time 1,500m into the woods, this time by infantry, and stopped cold. The commander of 1 RIC was told that this could not be a large German force because Germans were 35km to the east of Neufchâteau, and that it was important to move quickly through the woods. He therefore committed the advanced guard battalion, II/1 RIC. The forest was deciduous, mixed with pines. The undergrowth was very thick, and only the occasional clearing offered visibility up to 50m. A wall of fire met II/1 RIC. Immediately there were heavy casualties; the commanders of the 5th, 6th and 8th companies were killed, the CO of the 7th Company wounded. A violent standing firefight developed at point-blank range. The fight became hand-to-hand at several points. The rest of 1 RIC was committed; all three 1 RIC battalion commanders were killed while standing on the road, as if on manoeuvre.
The remainder of 3 DIC was strung out on the road. 2 RIC was entering Rossignol; the divisional artillery, 2 RAC, was crossing the bridge at Breuvanne; 3 RIC was entering St. Vincent. Two battalions of 7 RIC had taken a wrong turn and were marching cross-country to regain the correct route. At the rear of the column was the corps artillery, 3 RAC.
At about 0930 it was difficult for the commander of 3 DIC, General Raffenel, to judge the seriousness of the fight; all that he could see were the wounded coming to the rear. Although all of 1 RIC was engaged in the woods, he still refused to believe that he was in contact with a major enemy force. His concern was to bring forward 3 RIC and clear the woods.
By 0800 the lead element of the 3 DIC divisional artillery, I/2 RAC, had advanced until it was at the southern entrance to Rossignol, followed by II/2 RAC, whose last vehicles were at the Breuvanne bridge and III/2 RAC, which was south of the bridge. The firefight in the woods ahead prevented 2 RAC from advancing. As would soon become clear, the ground was too soft to move the guns off the road.
At 1015 I/2 RIC was sent into the thick woods to the right of 1/1 RIC, but became completely disoriented and strayed to the right. II/2 RIC was committed on the left. It took heavy fire from an invisible enemy, probably II/IR 63 on its left flank, lost most of its officers, including the battalion commander, and by 1100 the battalion broke for the rear.
German doctrine emphasised that cavalry needed to be aggressive during the battle in developing opportunities to both participate in the battle as well as to operate against the enemy flank and rear. Doctrine also stated that cavalry was the arm best suited to conduct pursuit.
While the 3 KD and 6 KD had been very effective in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance roles before the battle, during the battle they accomplished nothing. The 3 KD commander decided that the terrain prevented the division from accomplishing anything and resigned himself to inactivity. 6 KD was used to guard the army left flank. Neither division conducted a pursuit, either on 22 or 23 August, although the Colonial Corps would seem to have offered a fine target for 3 KD and the right flank of the French VI CA an even better target for 6 KD.
It appears that the cavalry learned during the approach march that a mounted man presented a fine target and that even small groups of infantry were capable of blocking cavalry movement. By 22 August the senior cavalry commanders were thoroughly intimidated: they avoided serious contact and were unwilling to attempt to move large bodies of cavalry anywhere that they might be subject to small arms or artillery fire. Coupled with the unimaginative operations of the 5th Army headquarters, the timidity of the cavalry leaders cost the cavalry the opportunity to have made a major impact in the battle.
Lessons Not Learned
Upon mature reflection, Charbonneau said that the defeat of the Colonial Corps was due to three factors; the superiority of German training and doctrine not being one of them.
The first was the failure of French reconnaissance. On 20 August the French cavalry reported the Germans moving north of Neufchâteau–Bastogne. On 22 August the Colonial Corps cavalry, ostensibly due to fog and wooded terrain, did not detect the German advance. For these reasons, the Colonial Corps was surprised. Why German operational and tactical cavalry had detected the French advance was not explained. On a tactical level, the 3rd Colonial Division and 33 DI were not destroyed because they were advancing rashly, but because the Germans counter-reconnaissance had blinded the French patrols, and the Germans manoeuvred at a rate of speed that befuddled the French division commanders.
Second was the failure of the French theory of the advance guard, that is, the idea that the advance guard could significantly delay the enemy, giving the main body time to manoeuvre. This theory had nothing to do with Grandmaison, but was the essential element of Bonnal’s doctrine, which had been implemented in the French army in the late 1890s. Charbonneau said that the advance guard concept failed if the enemy attacked at once ‘appearing like a jack-in-the-box’, not only against the front but also against the flanks. Again, French defeat was not a result of superior German doctrine, but deficiencies in French tactics.
Third, Charbonneau said the offensive à outrance failed because it did not incorporate the concept of fire superiority. He did not acknowledge that fire superiority was the foundation of German offensive tactics. He did say that disregard of the effects of fire increased in the French army as the lessons of 1870 slipped further into the past. Indeed, to Charbonneau the offensive à outrance had been taught as French doctrine for most of the period before the First World War, thereby absolving Grandmaison of instituting a radical change in French tactics.
Charbonneau steadfastly maintained that pre-war French tactical doctrine and training recognised only the offensive and that his division was defeated because it attacked recklessly. But neither 3 RIC nor 7 RIC made any attempt to conduct an attack of any kind, much less a reckless offensive à outrance. 3 RIC was pinned down by German fire, which eventually destroyed the regiment. There was no attempt by 3 RIC to ignore the effects of enemy fire charge with the bayonet. As Charbonneau well knew, his own regiment, 7 RIC, was overrun while attempting to hold a defensive position.
Given the choice between drawing conclusions from what he had seen with his own eyes and parroting the party line, Charbonneau came down foursquare on the side of conventional wisdom. Charbonneau’s cognitive dissonance is symptomatic of the subsequent problems in the discussion of the Battle of the Frontiers.
Seven people have been arrested on suspicion of seizing control of an oil tanker, police have said.
The men were detained when military forces stormed the Nave Andromeda which was thought to have been hijacked off the Isle of Wight on Sunday night.
Sixteen members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) ended a 10-hour stand-off which started when stowaways on board the ship reportedly became violent.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said there had been a “threat to life”.
Hampshire Constabulary said the seven men were being held on suspicion of “seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force under Sections 9(1) and (3) of the Aviation and Maritime and Security Act 1990”.
“All 22 crew members are safe and well and the vessel is now alongside in the port of Southampton,” a spokesman said.
Investigators are now speaking to the ship’s crew to establish what happened.
The stowaways, believed to be Nigerians, were handed over to Hampshire police on Sunday night.
Mr Wallace said: “What was emerging was a clear threat to life on the ship and at that point the police made representation to the Ministry of Defence that they didn’t have the capability to do what was needed in these challenging circumstances.
“We were under the awareness that the suspects were also threatening to do something with the ship.
“If they were threatening to take control of the ship then, of course, that is a hijack and the threat to the environment and, more importantly, to the lives of people on the ship is something the state can’t tolerate.”
BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale said British forces descended on to the vessel by rope from four Royal Navy helicopters after nightfall.
“The seven stowaways – believed to be Nigerians seeking asylum in the UK – were detained and handed over to Hampshire Police,” he said.
Former Royal Navy officer Rear Adm Chris Parry said the operation to take control of the ship was over in “under nine minutes”.
He said; “From the time the helicopters went in and the SBS roped on to the ship, they rounded up the people pretty quickly.
“I think the stowaways themselves accepted this was probably the end of the journey for them and there probably wasn’t any point in resisting heavily armed men approaching them.”
Navios Tanker Management, operator of the crude oil tanker, said the master of the Liberian-registered vessel became concerned for the safety of the crew “due to the increasingly hostile behaviour of the stowaways” who had “illegally boarded” in Lagos, Nigeria.
In a statement released on Monday, the company thanked the UK authorities for their “timely and professional response”.
“Navios would also like to pay tribute to the master of the Nave Andromeda for his exemplary response and calmness and to all the crew for their fortitude in a difficult situation,” it added.
The operation by Special Boat Service commandos is exactly what this elite and secretive unit trains intensively for.
The SBS, headquartered at Poole in Dorset, is less well-known than its Hereford-based counterpart, the Special Air Service (SAS), but both units have been called on over the years for delicate counter-terrorism and hostage rescue missions, often in arduous conditions.
“Fast-roping” down from helicopters at sea and at night can be fraught with dangers but it often results in taking assailants by surprise – this operation took just nine minutes.
It would not have been possible though, if the crew had not followed a maritime drill enshrined in the manual called BMP5 – Best Management Practice 5th edition.
Withdrawing to the ship’s strong room known as “the citadel” and locking themselves inside meant they were able to call for assistance from a secure space.
In most cases of maritime piracy off Somalia hostage rescues were only ever undertaken if all the crew were safely inside the citadel.
The Ministry of Defence called the incident a “suspected hijacking” and said Mr Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel had authorised the operation in response to the police request.
Mrs Patel tweeted she was “thankful for the quick and decisive action of our police and armed forces who were able to bring this situation under control, guaranteeing the safety of all those on board”.
Mr Beale said along with the SBS squad, a team of Royal Navy divers was deployed in one of the Royal Navy helicopters in case the vessel had been mined – but it had not.
Mr Beale said a defence source confirmed the master of the ship was on the bridge and in control of the vessel at all times, while the rest of the crew was locked away safely in a secure area.
The 748ft-long (228m) ship left Lagos on 5 October bound for Southampton.
As it approached the Isle of Wight on Sunday morning it was reported that seven stowaways on board had become violent.
Concerns over the crew’s welfare were raised at 10:04 GMT when the vessel was six miles off Bembridge, police said.
The 22 crew members locked themselves in the ship’s citadel – secure area – and were safe.
A three-mile exclusion zone was put in place around the vessel.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the boarding of the tanker was a “good outcome”.
He said: “Seven stowaways on board taking over a ship or causing the ship not to be in full command would have triggered a multi-agency alarm and then well-rehearsed classified protocols were then put into action.”
Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Nothing at this stage suggests that this was hijacking and in fact hijacking of this nature is extremely uncommon.”
In December 2018, four stowaways were detained after they ran amok on a container ship in the Thames Estuary.
The men, from Nigeria and Liberia, waved metal poles and threw faeces and urine after being found hiding on the Grande Tema.
The German Army recognised the need for a more powerful form of anti-tank weapon and the design of a horse-drawn, 3.7 cm anti-tank gun (designated 3.7 cm Pak L/45) by Rheinmetall commenced in 1924 and the first guns were issued in 1928. However, by the early 1930s, it was apparent that horse-drawn artillery was obsolescent, and the gun was modified for motorized transport by substituting magnesium-alloy wheels with pneumatic tyres for the original spoked wooden wheels. Re-designated the 3.7 cm Pak 35/36, it began to replace the 3.7 Pak L/45 in 1934 and first appeared in combat in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. It formed the basis for many other nations’ anti-tank guns during the first years of World War II. The KwK 36 L/45 was the same gun but adapted as the main armament on several tanks, most notably the early models of the Panzer III.
The Pak 36, being a small-calibre weapon, was outdated by the May 1940 Western Campaign, and crews found them inadequate against allied tanks like the British Mk.II Matilda, and the French Char B1 and Somua S35. Still, the gun was effective against the most common light tanks, such as the Renault FT-17 and saw wide service during the Battle of France and the T-26 during Operation Barbarossa. The widespread introduction of medium tanks quickly erased the gun’s effectiveness; miserable performance against the T-34 on the Eastern Front led to the Pak 36 being derisively dubbed the “Door Knocker” (Heeresanklopfgerät, literally “army door-knocking device”) for its inability to do anything other than advertise its presence to a T-34 by futilely bouncing rounds off its armor.
Not surprisingly The Pak 36 began to be replaced by the new 5 cm Pak 38 in mid 1940. The addition of tungsten-core shells (Pzgr. 40) added slightly to the armour penetration of the Pak 36. Despite its continued impotence against the T-34, it remained the standard anti-tank weapon for many units until 1942. It was discovered that Pak 36 crews could still achieve kills on T-34s, but this rare feat required tungsten-cored armour piercing ammunition and a direct shot to the rear or side armour from point-blank range.
As the Pak 36 was gradually replaced, many were removed from their carriages and added to SdKfz 251 halftracks to be used as light anti-armour support. The guns were also passed on to the forces of Germany’s allies fighting on the Eastern Front, such as the 3rd and 4th Romanian Army. This proved particularly disastrous during the Soviet encirclement (Operation Uranus) at the Battle of Stalingrad when these Romanian forces were targeted to bear the main Soviet armoured thrust. The Pak 36 also served with the armies of Finland (notably during the defence of Suomussalmi), it was also deployed in Hungary, and Slovakia.
In 1943, the introduction of the Stielgranate 41 shaped charge meant that the Pak 36 could now penetrate any armour, although the low velocity of the projectile limited its range. The Pak 36s, together with the new shaped charges, were issued to Fallschirmjäger units and other light troops. The gun’s light weight meant that it could be easily moved by hand, and this mobility made it ideal for their purpose.
The replacement for the outdated Pak 36 was the 50cm Pak 38. The longer barrel and larger projectile produced the required level of kinetic energy to pierce armour . The PaK 38 was first used by the German forces during the Second World War in April 1941. When the Germans faced Soviet tanks in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the PaK 38 was one of the few early guns capable of effectively penetrating the 45 mm (1.8 in) armor of the formidable T-34. Additionally, the gun was also equipped with Panzergranate 40 APCR projectiles which had a hard tungsten core, in an attempt to penetrate the armor of the heavier KV-1 tank. Although it was soon replaced by more powerful weapons, the Pak 38 remained a potent and useful weapon and remained in service with the Wehrmacht until the end of the war.
The 7.5 cm PaK 40 (7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40) was the next generation of anti-tank gun to see service. This German 7.5 centimetre high velocity anti-tank gun was developed in 1939-1941 by Rheinmetall and used extensively from 1942-1945 during the Second World War. It was the PaK 40 which formed the backbone of German anti-tank guns for the latter part of World War II. Development of the PaK 40 began in 1939 with development contracts being placed with Krupp and Rheinmetall to develop a 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. Priority of the project was initially low, but Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and the sudden appearance of heavily armoured Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, increased the priority. The first pre-production guns were delivered in November 1941.
In April 1942, Wehrmacht had 44 guns in service. It was remarkably successful weapon and by 1943 the PaK 40 formed the bulk of the German anti-tank artillery.The PaK 40 was the standard German anti-tank gun until the end of the war, and was supplied by Germany to its allies. Some captured guns were used by the Red Army. After the end of the war the PaK 40 remained in service in several European armies, including Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, Hungary and Romania.
Around 23,500 PaK 40 were produced, and about 6,000 more were used to arm tank destroyers. The unit manufacturing cost amounted to 2200 man-hours at a cost of 12000 RM. A lighter automatic version, the heaviest of the Bordkanone series of heavy calibre aircraft ordnance as the BK 7,5 was used in the Henschel Hs129 aircraft.
The Pak 40 was effective against almost every Allied tank until the end of the war. However, the PaK 40 was much heavier than the 50 cm PaK 38, It was difficult to manhandle into position and its mobility was limited. It was difficult or impossible to move without an artillery tractor on boggy ground.
The PaK 40 debuted in Russia where it was needed to combat the newest Soviet tanks there. It was designed to fire the same low-capacity APCBC, HE and HL projectiles which had been standardized for usage in the long barreled Kampfwagenkanone KwK 40 main battle tank-mounted guns. In addition there was an APCR shot for the PaK 40, a munition which eventually became very scarce.
The main differences amongst the rounds fired by 75 mm German guns were in the length and shape of the cartridge cases for the PaK 40. The 7.5 cm KwK (tank) fixed cartridge case is twice the length of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 (short barrelled 75 mm), and the 7.5 cm PaK 40 cartridge is a third longer than the 7.5 cm KwK 40.
The longer cartridge case allowed a larger charge to be used and a higher velocity for the Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap round to be achieved. The muzzle velocity was about 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) as opposed to 750 m/s (2,500 ft/s) for the KwK 40 L/43. This velocity was available for about one year after the weapon’s introduction. Around the same time, the Panzer IVs 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43 gun and the nearly identical Sturmkanone (StuK) 40 L/43 began to be upgraded with barrels that were 48 calibers long, or L/48, which remained the standard for them until the end of the war.
In the field, an alarming number of L/48 cartridge cases carrying the hotter charge failed to be ejected properly from the weapon’s semi-automatic breech, even on the first shot (in vehicles). Rather than re-engineer the case, German Ordnance reduced the charge loading until the problem went away. The new charge brought the muzzle velocity down to 750 m/s, or about 10 m/s higher than the original L/43 version of the weapon. Considering the average variability in large round velocities from a given gun, this is virtually negligible in effect. The first formal documentation of this decision appears on May 15, 1943 (“7.5cm Sturmkanone 40 Beschreibung”) which details a side by side comparison of the L/43 and the L/48 weapons. The synopsis provided indicates very little difference in the guns, meaning the upgrade had little if any benefit.
All further official presentations of the KwK 40 L/48 ( “Oberkommando des Heeres, Durchschlagsleistungen panzerbrechender Waffen”) indicate a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s for the gun. As for the PaK 40, the desire for commonality again appears to have prevailed since the APCBC charge was reduced to 750 m/s, even though case ejection failures apparently were never a problem in the PaK version of the gun.
For reasons which seem to be lost to history, at least some 75 mm APCBC cartridges appear to have received a charge which produced a muzzle velocity of about 770 m/s (2,500 ft/s). The first documented firing by the U.S. of a PaK 40 recorded an average muzzle velocity of 776 m/s for its nine most instrumented firings. Probably because of these results, period intelligence publications (“Handbook on German Military Forces”) gave ~770 m/s as the PaK 40 APCBC muzzle velocity, although post war pubs corrected this (Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 30-4-4, “Foreign Military Weapons and Equipment (U) Vol. 1 Artillery (U) dated August of 1955-this document was originally classified).
In addition, German sources are contradictory in that the Official Firing Table document for the 75 mm KwK 40, StuK 40, and the PaK 40 dated October, 1943 cites 770 m/s on one of the APCBC tables therein, showing some confusion. (“Schusstafel fur die 7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40”).
The 88 mm gun (eighty-eight) was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognized German weapons of the war. Development of the original models led to a wide variety of guns.
The name applies to a series of guns, the first one officially called the 8,8 cm Flak 18, the improved 8,8 cm Flak 36, and later the 8,8 cm Flak 37. Flak is a contraction of German Flugzeugabwehrkanone meaning “anti-aircraft cannon”, the original purpose of the eighty-eight. In informal German use, the guns were universally known as the Acht-acht (“eight-eight”), a contraction of Acht-komma-acht Zentimeter (“8.8 cm”). In English, “flak” became a generic term for ground anti-aircraft fire.
The versatile carriage allowed the eighty-eight to be fired in a limited anti-tank mode when still on wheels, and to be completely emplaced in only two-and-a-half minutes. Its successful use as an improvised anti-tank gun led to the development of a tank gun based upon it. These related guns served as the main armament of tanks such as the Tiger I: the 8.8 cm KwK 36, with the “KwK” abbreviation standing for KampfwagenKanone (“fighting vehicle cannon”).
In addition to these Krupp’s designs, Rheinmetall created later a more powerful anti-aircraft gun, the 8,8 cm Flak 41, produced in relatively small numbers. Krupp responded with another prototype of the long-barreled 88 mm gun, which was further developed into the anti-tank and tank destroyer 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun, and turret-mounted 8.8 cm KwK 43 heavy tank gun.
At the outbreak of war the artillery equipment of the Wehrmacht was standardised on a few calibres, and the weapons were in general of sound and well-tested design. The army’s field weapons were of 10.5cm, 15cm and 21cm calibres, and the design philosophy ensured that a gun of given calibre and a howitzer of the next larger calibre were interchangeable on the same carriage, thus simplifying production, supply and maintenance. Anti-aircraft defence was built around the 2cm and 3.7cm light guns, the 8.8cm medium gun and the 10.5cm heavy gun; anti-tank weapons were the 3.7cm gun and a 7.92mm anti-tank rifle for infantry use. One or two improved designs were undergoing routine development with the intention of bringing them into service as and when the need arose.
The demands of war soon spoiled this arrangement. When it came to forecasting the future, the OKW was no more visionary than any other comparable body and the appearance of new weapons in the hands of the enemy frequently led to sudden demands on designers to develop powerful antidotes. An example of this was the sudden flurry of activity in the anti-tank field consequent upon the appearance of the virtually unstoppable Soviet T34 tank. The users’ demands on the gunmakers were always the same: improve the performance of the gun, increase its range, increase its velocity, but please do not increase its weight. How these demands were translated into reality will be seen on subsequent pages but, as a general rule, the paths open to the designers were well-defined. The only way to improve the performance of a conventional gun is by increasing the muzzle velocity, and this can be done m a variety of ways.
The first and most simple technique is to increase the size of the propelling charge or to develop a more efficient propellant, while still operating the gun at the same pressure. This, in round figures, demands a four-fold increase in propellant quantity to obtain a 60% increase in muzzle velocity, and contains several disadvantages in the shape of erosive wear, redesign of the chamber and cartridge case, and economic production of the propellant.
The second simple method is to increase the length of the barrel, thus keeping the projectile exposed to the accelerating effect of the exploding propellant for a longer time. To obtain the 60% increase in velocity would demand a 300% increase in barrel length-scarcely a practical measure.
An increase in chamber pressure combined with a moderate increase in barrel length will also increase velocity. The standard 60% increase could thus be achieved by a 50% increase in pressure coupled to a 50% increase in barrel length, but again this is scarcely a practical answer. One solution, increasingly adopted by many nations towards the end of the war, was a 50% reduction of projectile weight which increased the velocity by 40%- but the ballistic coefficient (the `carrying power’ of the projectile) was proportionately reduced. Deceleration in flight was hence more rapid, leading to less range than a full-weight projectile would have achieved at the same velocity.
Owing to these conventional design limitations, the war initiated the examination of more and more unconventional solutions. One of the first, which had been developed well before the war, was the production of high-velocity guns in which the rifling consisted of a few deep grooves into which fitted curved ribs on the outer surface of the shell, imparting positive rotation. This was developed because the conventional copper driving band was incapable of transmitting the enormous torque of high velocity projectiles’ excessive radial acceleration without shearing. The ribbed or `splined’ shell solved the problem of transmitting spin, but a copper band still had to be fitted to provide the gas-seal necessary at the rear of the shell. This was an expensive and complicated solution, suited only to large weapons produced in limited numbers, and much research was begun to try and overcome the torque defect of the copper driving band, with the additional incentive of trying to find a material in less critical supply.
The first development was the Krupp Sparführung (KpS) band-a bimetallic band of copper and soft iron, although zinc was sometimes added to dilute the copper and to assist in effecting the iron/copper joint. There was little or no performance advantage, merely an economy of copper. Next came the Weicheisen (FeW) soft iron band, the use of which was restricted to large calibre high-velocity guns. It could withstand torque very well, but the process of putting the band on the shell (by a powerful radial press) work-hardened the metal to the point where it became difficult to `engrave’-or force into the gun’s rifling. It was this defect that restricted Weicheisen bands’ use to high-pressure large-calibre weapons.
The final development was the Sintereisen (FeS) wintered iron band, formed from small iron particles bonded together under intense pressure to form a malleable band. This engraved well, resisted shear stresses, and was economical of material in short supply, but in its first application was found to wear out the gun barrels faster than a conventional copper band. Further development evolved a new form of barrel rifling with wider lands and grooves, and this-together with the reintroduction of increasing twist-improved matters to a degree where the German technicians opined that even if they had sufficient copper available they would still prefer to use sintered iron, particularly at higher velocities. One interesting result was the discovery that, while copper bands resulted in the gun barrel wearing out first at the chamber end of the rifling, FeS bands promoted wear at the muzzle since the coefficient of friction was directly proportional to the velocity.
When the increases in performance made available by increasing the barrel length and the size of the charge, and the provision of improved rifling and banding, had been taken to their extremes, it became necessary to explore less well-trodden paths. The first unorthodox solution offered was the `coned bore’ gun, the theory of which predicated that if the barrel was made with a gradually-decreasing calibre (and if the projectile was designed to adapt to the diminution) then, since the base area of the shot is reducing while the propelling gas pressure either remains-depending on the cartridge design-constant or increases then the unit pressure on the shot base will increase and the shot will be given greater velocity. The original idea was patented in 1903 by Carl Puff and the drawings accompanying the specification (British Patent 8601 of 27th August 1904) show a projectile almost identical to those later developed in Germany. Puff, however, does not appear to have pursued his ideas as far as a working gun, and the idea lay dormant until taken up by a German engineer named Gerlich in the 1920s. In co-operation with Halbe, a gunmaker, he developed a number of high-velocity sporting rifles with tapered bores and flanged projectiles, marketed in limited numbers during the 1930s under the name Halger, while at the same time attempting to interest various governments in the possible use of these weapons as high velocity military rifles. He also worked for both the United States’ government and the British Army on taper-bore rifles, but neither felt that there was much virtue in the idea; Gerlich returned to Germany c. 1935, and his subsequent activities have escaped record.
By this time others were exploring the idea: Rheinmetall-Borsig, Krupp, Bochumer Verein and Polte-Werke all had experimental programmes varying in degree of involvement. Rheinmetall-Borsig eventually became the most involved; the firm’s Dr Werner Banck, who took charge of development in late 1939, continued to work on it throughout the war and ultimately became one of the most knowledgeable men in the world on the subject of taper-bore guns.
The 75/55-mm tapered bore 7.5-cm Pak 41.
Two classes of weapon were eventually categorised: the taper bore, in which the barrel tapered evenly from breech to muzzle, and the squeeze bore, in which the barrel was parallel for some distance and then tapered sharply to effect the `squeezing’ of the projectile, finishing as a parallel bore of smaller dimension. An alternative design of squeeze bore was one in which a tapered extension was placed on the muzzle of an otherwise conventional gun. The projectiles used with these two classes were much the same in design, though experience showed that the taper bore shot had to be somewhat stronger in construction than the squeeze bore models owing to the different times throughout which the shells underwent stress in compression.
Towards the end of the war the taper bore concept was gradually discarded in favour of the squeeze bore designs, since these were a good deal easier to manufacture. Making a tapered and rifled gun barrel was no easy task, even with sophisticated machine tools, whereas production of a smoothbore `squeeze’ extension to fit the muzzle of an otherwise standard gun was much less exacting and less wasteful of time and material. Weapons as large as 24cm calibre were fitted with such extensions (in this case reducing to 21cm) and were fired quite successfully.
The only active-service use of the taper or squeeze systems was in the anti-tank class, where three weapons (2.8cm/2.1cm, 4.2cm/2.8cm and 7.5/5.0cm) entered service. In the anti-aircraft field, while the velocity increases gave promise of considerably improved performance and where many experimental weapons were built and fired, no guns were ready for service before the war ended. There was a rule of thumb that said a squeeze bore adaptor could be expected to increase velocity and maximum range by about a third. Velocities of as much as 1400mps (4595fps) had been achieved but it was felt that, bearing in mind wear-rates and dispersion at extreme ranges, service velocities of 1150-1200mps(3775- 3935fps) might be consistently reached.
Co-ordinating the effort required awesome organisation and logistics. The Allies had to marshal and maintain over 2 million men, 11,000 aircraft, and 7,000 ships in England. The prodigious industrial output to meet their requirements had to be matched by efficient distribution. The engineering work behind the landings was staggering, and thousands of construction workers were recruited to work night and day. The Petroleum Warfare Department pioneered PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean), ready to pump millions of gallons of petrol across to the invaders. To get the astonishing volume of men, equipment and supplies ashore in north-western France, Churchill’s pet project, the technologically ingenious ‘Mulberry’ floating harbours, were essential. Two were to be constructed off Normandy. Over a hundred enormous 6,000-ton reinforced concrete caissons called ‘Phoenixes’ (each 60 feet high, 60 feet wide and 200 feet long) would be towed across the Channel from Selsey Bill and Dungeness by some of the fleet of 132 tugs and then filled with sand from ‘Leviathans’ so they sank to form a breakwater in the Bay of the Seine. Outside this artificial reef was a floating line of ‘Bombardons’ towed from Poole and Southampton to calm the waves, and inside, in shallower water, a line of ‘Gooseberries’, formed from two dozen redundant merchant navy vessels, Liberty ships and one old dreadnought that were scuttled and sunk where needed. In the calmer waters within the two-square-mile Mulberry harbour, strong Lobnitz or ‘Spud’ pier heads were sunk deep into the sand which allowed long bridges or floating roadways to the shore, known as ‘Whales’, to float up and down with the tides. The menagerie of code-names was augmented by power-driven pontoons called ‘Rhinos’ and amphibious vehicles known as ‘Ducks’.
When the Allies prepared for the Normandy landing, it became evident to them that the Germans would do everything possible to prevent their French ports from falling into enemy hands. They consequently decided on a surprise approach, which involved bypassing existing ports and landing on a bare expanse of beach. Two structures were designed to accomplish this purpose: landing craft of various types that were to be deliberately run aground on the beach and then opened to discharge their cargo, and artificial ports.
Churchill had conceived the idea of artificial ports as far back as 1915. In 1940, as prime minister, he thought of it again. On May 30, 1942 he elaborated on his concept in a note dispatched to Mountbatten, who for some time had pondered over the problems that would be posed by a military landing. During a meeting of the chiefs of staff, Mountbatten declared; “If there are no employable ports, we can build them piece by piece and tow them over.” After reconnaissance information about Dieppe confirmed the need for “mulberries” (the code name given to these artificial ports), two of them were constructed in June 1944 for use at Arromarches and Vierville. Their use came as a complete surprise to the Germans, who had never even suspected their existence. Carried over the English Channel piece by piece, these two ports, complete with breakwaters, loading platforms and mobile jetties almost Vs of a mile in length, had a storage capacity exceeding the port of Dover. They could handle daily cargo unloadings of 6,000 tons of equipment and 1,250 tons of vehicles. The construction of these brilliant examples of British naval engineering in gcnuity, weighing one million tons each, required the labor of 20,000 men over a period of eight months, as well as 100,000 tons of steel and 8.75 million cubic feet of concrete. The Vierville port, constructed under extremely bad weather conditions, turned out to be useless. So did the Cherbourg “mulberry,” which was finished on June 27, 1944. But the Arromanches mulberry was able to discharge cargoes of 680,000 tons of equipment, 40,000 vehicles and 220,000 men between mid-July and October 31, 1944.
The artificial port used at Arromanches consisted of four basic elements. The first was breakwaters of three different sorts. One line of breakwaters was formed by filling 60 old ships with 500,000 tons of cement, which, of course, caused them to sink. Next came 146 open caissons of reinforced concrete. Six different types of caissons were made, ranging in weight from 1,672 tons to 6,044 tons; they were deployed at different levels as the depth of the ocean floor increased. The largest could be used where the ocean floor reached a depth of 30 feet. These caissons, armed with Bofors guns to protect personnel, were towed across the Channel by 1,500-horsepower tugs. At the proper moment the caissons’ valves were opened; they then filled with water and sank. The outermost breakwaters, cylindrical metal floats 225 feet long and 16 feet in diameter, were assembled side by side in groups of three and supported by a concrete “keel” weighing 750 tons, the upper part of which emerged six feet from the surface of the water. Anchored at a depth of 65 feet, they were placed end to end to form a floating breakwater a mile long, which took the first shock of the waves, before they struck the caissons.
The second element of the mulberries was fixed oi sheltering jetties. Floating caissons were placed end to end and sunk in lines at right angles to the shore. They protected the port from waves, and from attacking midget submarines or frogmen, and served as loading platforms for small ships.
Next were wharves made of pontoons. To keep the floating platforms at a steady horizontal level, which was necessary to avoid complications in unloading ships, they were anchored to steel braces on the ocean floor by a system of pulleys and cables. To compensate for the tides, pontoons were raised or lowered by winches. The winch operation was controlled by extensometers that were connected to the cables securing the pontoons to the steel braces.
The most difficult problem was how to maintain a continuous connection between the pontoons and the shore, which, at high tide, was about 3,000 feet away.’ In spite of the breakwaters the sea was in such constant turmoil that there was doubt as to how long floating jetties made up of several sections would behave. Exhaustive studies beginning in 1941 led to the construction of a jetty supported by floating caissons. Each 100-foot section was composed of two girders in an extremely rigid “bowstring” form, transversely connected at the center by an equally rigid strut and at different points on the strut by a number of articulated braces. The striated sheet metal deck was fixed to the various braces in such a way as to permit expansion. Thus, the ends of the two master girders could take various positions relative to one another. The whole structure was made of high-elasticity steel; its components were riveted together.
The variation of the tides was such that the floating jetties needed the capacity to lengthen or shorten. For this purpose they were fitted with telescoping sections, each consisting of twin girders whose ends were enclosed in a central unit into which they could slide. In this way each section could be lengthened by nine feet.
The installation of an artificial port required a graded shoreline, depending on its composition-i. e., whether it was primarily wet sand, pebbles, marsh etc. Roads in some cases needed to be constructed from prefabricated material shipped across the English Channel and swiftly laid by engineering crews. The road-building material was sometimes prefabricated metal mats, or perhaps of mineral or vegetable origin. In this last instance a British Valentine tank was sent forward with an enormous drum dispensing several hundred feet of coconut matting. A roadway laid down in this fashion over wet or dry sand proved excellent for wheeled and tractored vehicles.
Further amazing engines onshore also sprang from Churchill’s ‘inflammable fancy’: armoured tank bulldozers and ploughs, special fat-cannoned Churchill tanks for blasting blockhouses, other ‘Crocodile’ Churchill tanks that could squirt petrol and latex flames over a hundred yards, great machines for laying fascines across mud or barbed wire, or for thrashing their way with flailing chains clear through exploding mine fields. These devices came from Churchill’s direct encouragement and protection of a brilliant maverick, Major General Sir Percy Hobart of 79th Armoured Brigade, and were collectively known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’.
The deception plan for NEPTUNE, the cross-Channel attack, was called Plan FORTITUDE, and its object was ‘to induce the enemy to make faulty dispositions in North-West Europe’. FORTITUDE NORTH aimed to keep Hitler worrying about Scandinavia, and the danger to Germany posed by an Allied attack on Norway and Denmark. Dummy wireless traffic and bogus information from double agents indicated that the (notional) British Fourth Army in Scotland, supported by American Rangers from Iceland, was going to attack Stavanger and Narvik and advance on Oslo. British deceivers also worked hard on the neutral Swedes. The commander-in-chief of the Swedish Air Force was asked for ‘humanitarian’ assistance in the event of an Allied invasion of Norway. As his office was being bugged by the pro-Nazi chief of Swedish police, this information went straight to Berlin. When Hitler read the transcript he ordered two more divisions to reinforce the ten already in Norway. Thus 30,000 more soldiers were diverted away from France.
A map showing the route and destinations of the seven voyages of Zheng He between 1405 and 1433 CE, acting as an ambassador and explorer of the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 CE).
Some products were traded over very long distances indeed. In the thirteenth century date honey was produced in Bahrain and was much in demand in China by Buddhist pilgrims travelling to India. The great Chinese admiral Zheng He brought back to Beijing several giraffes, including one from Malindi and one from Bengal, the latter having apparently been given to the ruler of Bengal, Saifu’d-Din, by the ruler of Malindi. Most extraordinary, and mysterious, was the discovery in 1944 by an Australian radar team of five Islamic copper coins from Kilwa on a beach in the remote Marchinbar Islands, part of the Wessell Islands off Australia’s Northern Territory coast. None have dates, but from the inscriptions two may be tenth century, and three early fourteenth. We have no idea how they managed to travel clear across the whole Indian Ocean.
Long-distance trade was governed by the monsoons. One example was a route from the Gulf region to China around 1000 on the longest voyage sailed by any one ship. The Arab geographers claimed that a passage from Oman to China took about three months and ten days, though one exceptional voyage was completed in 48 days. These sound extraordinarily rapid, but they are only sailing times. Several stops were necessary on the way, partly to trade, and partly to wait for the right monsoon, so that the actual time from leaving the Gulf to reaching Guangzhou (Canton) was at least six months. The dhows sailed down the Gulf before it became too rough, in September or October, and then went on to Malabar on the northeast monsoon, arriving in mid-December. They stayed there while they traded, and waited for the cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal to end. In January they sailed to Malaya, and used the last of the northeast monsoon to get around the straits of Melaka and so catch the southern monsoon in the South China Sea and reach Guangzhou in April or May. The return voyage began in October to December when the northeast monsoon took them back to Melaka and over the Bay of Bengal to the west coast of India. The last stage, back to the Gulf, was sailed using the beginning of the southwest monsoon, reaching home around midyear.
Another example comes from five hundred years later. Very early in the sixteenth century Barbosa left us a compelling description of one of the major long-distance trade routes of this period, that is from Malabar, specifically Calicut, to the Red Sea. He wrote that the Muslim traders in Calicut from the Red Sea and Egypt:
took on board goods for every place, and every monsoon ten or fifteen of these ships sailed for the Red Sea, Aden and Meca, where they sold their goods at a profit, some to the Merchants of Juda, who took them on thence in small vessels to Toro, and from Toro they would go to Cairo, and from Cairo to Alexandria, and thence to Venice, whence they came to our regions. These goods were pepper (great store), ginger, cinnamon, cardamons, myrobalans, tamarinds, canafistula, precious stones of every kind, seed pearls, musk, ambergris, rhubarb, aloes-wood, great store of cotton cloths, porcelains, and some of them took on at Juda copper, quicksilver, vermilion, coral, saffron, coloured velvets, rosewater, knives, coloured camlets, gold, silver, and many other things which they brought back for sale in Calecut. They started in February, and returned from the middle of August up to the middle of October of the same year. In this trade they became extremely wealthy. And on their return voyages they would bring with them other foreign merchants who settled in the city, beginning to build ships and to trade, on which the King received heavy duties.
These two accounts point to a major change in the structure of long-distance sea trade in our period. Barbosa was describing a trade divided at south India, while the first account sketched a direct passage from the Gulf to China. What happened is that around the eleventh century the trade became segmented, with one merchant and ship doing the Arabian Sea part to south India, where the goods were exchanged, and then taken on by other ships and merchants to southeast Asia, where there was another exchange, and so to China. South India was always a place where there was a halt, and exchange, but the difference is that in the earlier time the same merchant and ship kept going beyond there, while later they did not.
In the earlier period, from say the eighth century, the very long-distance trade from the Gulf to China was handled by Persian merchants. In the Gulf Siraf, on the east bank, was the main centre, where were to be found goods from all over the Indian Ocean, including East Africa. Later Julfar, on the west coast up from Hurmuz, was important, and later still Hurmuz. Another old centre was Daybul, in present day Pakistan. Arabs also took part in this trade, and soon became more important than the Persians. Later some Chinese ships also, from the twelfth century and particularly in the fourteenth, traded into the Arabian Sea. However, from around the eleventh century the direct passage from Baghdad to Guangzhou declined, and we see the rise of emporia, that is shorter routes connecting the major port cities of Baghdad, Hurmuz, Cambay, Calicut, Melaka and Guangzhou, with many minor routes from, say, the Bay of Bengal feeding into this network. What evolved then was a basic change in the orientation of long-distance trade, which in the earlier period was on an east–west axis, from Baghdad to Guangzhou, and later was more north–south, that is Baghdad down to India, then an east–west segment to southeast Asia, and then north–south again up to China. We can even see here an early version of today’s divide between north and south, for the north, India and China, provided manufactures like cloths and porcelain, and the south unprocessed tropical products such as ivory, slaves, gold and spices.
From the twelfth century or slightly later we have three segments: the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the South China Sea. Chinese and Indians went to Melaka, Persians and Arabs only to India. It is significant that the account by Wang Dayuan, who travelled extensively in the 1330s, finds a western ocean and an eastern one, with the division at the Straits of Singapore. This important move towards segmentation may have been a result of traders realising that the direct passage in the same ship was inefficient, given that they had to wait for monsoons at several places, but it was probably also a result of the rise of important Indian trading communities in south India associated with the powerful Cola dynasty. We will turn to the influence of politics on trade presently, but we can remember here that the wealth and stability of the Abbasid empire from 750 CE, and of T’ang China, 618–907, certainly fostered this long-distance and quite perilous trade. The effects of the rise of the Cola empire in South India from the late ninth century has been less investigated, but it may be that the Colas, and the powerful merchant organisations, akin to guilds and associated intricately with state power, had two results. First, the stability provided by this state had the same effect as the equivalent in Baghdad and Guangzhou, that is a wealthy and stable state which had a large demand for foreign luxuries, and second merchants based in this state could trade both east and west, and especially to the east, to southeast Asia, where they met up with the powerful Sumatran-based trading empire of Srivijaya, which benefited from controlling the Melaka Straits up to the thirteenth century. South India seems to act as a fulcrum in this very long-distance connection. Later in our period other Indians joined in, this time Muslims based in the many emporia on the west coast, and in the major Islamic state of Gujarat from the thirteenth century. Increasingly the trade beyond India was controlled by Indian Muslims, while Arabs, and a few Persians, were restricted to the Arabian Sea.
We can start our survey of routes, trade and ports in the east, in China. We have noticed that Chinese products, especially porcelain, were traded all around the Indian Ocean from very early times. We have already quoted Ibn Battuta’s valuable description of the ships he saw in Calicut. His account dates from the early fourteenth century, but Chinese products have been found in the Arabian Sea from much earlier. Chinese pottery has been found on the Swahili coast from at least the eighth century, and a little later in Mauritius also. These goods were transshipped many times in a relay fashion, and some no doubt came overland to the Gulf and then were sent on by sea. An actual Chinese trading presence seems to date only from the twelfth century.
Many of the vast Chinese ships had both economic and political functions. We refer to the famous tribute system. Ostensibly this was a matter of foreign rulers accepting the superiority of the Chinese emperor, and sending tribute to signify this. However, much of the tribute was actually trade items, and the system then was a method of fostering exchange as much as a matter of political dominance. In the later thirteenth century the new Mongol dynasty, the Yuan, was keen to expand trade. In 1286 either the sons or younger brothers of the rulers of ten kingdoms ranging from Malabar to Sumatra came to pay tribute.88 Marco Polo got part of the way back home accompanying one of these politico-trade missions. Around 1290 a Mongol princess was sent by sea to Persia to become the consort of the local ruler, Arghun Khan, and the Polos went with her. She travelled with 600 sailors and officials, in a fleet of fourteen ships. They left from Zaiton, of which more in a minute, and touched at Champa and the Malay peninsula. Reaching Sumatra, they were forced to wait for five months to avoid monsoon storms. They then travelled near the Nicobar Islands to Sri Lanka, the west coast of India, and so to Hurmuz. However, Arghun had died by this time, and the princess was handed over to his son, Mahmud Ghazan, instead. This sort of voyage has been described in Chinese sources also. They said that it took forty days to get from China to Sumatra. One spent the ‘winter’ there and then took thirty days to get to the Malabar coast. This information again points to the good sense of the rise of the emporia trade, which meant that ships travelled shorter distances and did not have to wait for a change in the monsoon. Rather they could sell their goods and return home.
Kulke claims that in the thirteenth century there was a large Indian settlement, complete with temple, in south China, and Chinese settlements in Cola south India. Chinese traded to India, but it seems that many more Indians traded to China. Indeed Polo makes clear that Indian traders had by his time replaced Arabs and were an important community at the main Chinese port, which now seems to be Zaiton, that is modern Quanzhou, rather than Guangzhou (Canton). In a famous passage he wrote that Quanzhou is
frequented by all the ships of India, which bring thither spicery and all other kinds of costly wares. It is the port also that is frequented by all the merchants of Manzi [the surrounding province], for hither is imported the most astonishing quantity of goods and of precious stones and pearls, and from this they are distributed all over Manzi.
Much later, when he got to Malabar, he again wrote, ‘Ships come hither from many quarters, but especially from the great province of Manzi. Coarse spices are exported hence both to Manzi and to the west’.
Quanzhou was located north of the modern port of Amoy, or Xiamen, opposite Taiwan. Muslims had traded there very early on, even from the seventh century, and in 1350 there were six or seven mosques in the town. Among the products they imported was rhinocerous horn, which establishes a connection between East Africa and China. Fujian merchants began to venture out only from the late tenth century. Indian merchants had been in Guangzhou by at least the early sixth century.93 From the twelfth century the Kling merchants from south India began to concentrate on Quanzhou, where in the mid fourteenth century they built a large Siva temple modelled on that back home in Madurai. By this time however Chinese traders were taking over the trade between China and Melaka from both Hindus and Muslims. This trade may have been fostered by the awe-inspiring state-directed expeditions of the eunuch Zheng He, to whom we must now turn.
Zheng He erected a tablet which gives a flavour of his pride and sense of superiority. He had inscribed:
We have traversed more than one hundred thousand li of immense waterspaces and have beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising sky high, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away hidden in a blue transparency of light vapours, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds day and night, continued their course [as rapidly as] a star, traversing those savage waves as if we were treading a public thoroughfare….
This chauvinism is reflected even more in another inscription, where he claims that during his voyages ‘those among the foreigners who were resisting the transforming influence of Chinese culture and were disrespectful, we captured alive, and brigands who indulged in violence and plunder, we exterminated. Consequently the sea-route was purified and tranquillised and the natives were enabled to pursue their avocations.’ So also with many modern authors: Mills claims in his introduction to Ma Huan’s account of Zheng He’s 1433 expedition that the representatives of sixty-seven foreign states, including seven kings, came to China to pay tribute and render homage. At this time, at the height of Ming power in the 1420s, Yong Le’s fleet had 400 warships of the fleet, 2,700 coastal warships, 400 armed transports, and the pride of the Ming fleet, 250 treasure ships, each carrying 500 men. Throwing caution to the wind, Mills enthusiastically claims that ‘China enjoyed a hegemony over a vast arc of land which extended from Japan to the east coast of Africa.’
Comparisons have often been made with Portuguese activities at the same time in the early fifteenth century. When the Chinese were travelling all over the Indian Ocean, say in 1422, the Portuguese had not even got to Cape Bojador, 26° N. Zheng He’s greatest ships were 400 feet long, while Vasco da Gama’s were between 85 and 100 feet. Many senior historians have speculated that Zheng He’s fleets had the ability to round the Cape of Good Hope (indeed maybe they did) and proceed north to discover western Europe. World history would have been stood on its head.
The reality is a little less exciting than this. There were a total of six expeditions between 1403 and 1433, sponsored by the Yong Le emperor of the Ming dynasty. These vast fleets travelled all around the littoral of the Indian Ocean, going as far as Jiddah, and far down the Swahili coast. Each had between 100 and 200 ships, and forty to sixty of these were the famed huge treasure ships, which could be 150 metres long. There were maybe 27,000 men in each fleet. However, most of the ships were much smaller, some for example being water carriers. Barker tentatively claims that even the size of the great treasure ships has been enthusiastically overestimated: they may have been only about 230 feet long (though this is still very large for the time). They are to be seen as a continuation of the tribute system, with its characteristic mixture of tribute and trade. However, the fleets also engaged in essentially pedling trade in the Indian Ocean, that is, they took goods from one place to another quite apart from any association with tribute. They took southeast Asian sandalwood and Indian pepper to Aden and Dhofar, Indian pepper to Hurmuz, sandalwood and rice to Mogadishu, and rice, probably from Bengal, to the Maldives.
Perhaps the most important point is that Zheng He (perhaps understandably) has bewitched historians, and led to their ignoring three important matters that place his voyages in context. First, his activities were really a continuation of a long tradition, albeit writ large. Second, the tribute system, so-called, hardly meant Chinese suzerainty all over the Indian Ocean. Third, for much of the time the expeditions engaged in humble Indian Ocean trade alongside many other merchants. We described Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo travelling in private, and very large, Chinese ships, and generally Chinese merchants, often ignoring official prohibitions on overseas trade, dominated the trade from their coast to southeast Asia, and at least up to the middle of the fifteenth century, well after the end of major state expeditions, participated fully in trade from Melaka to the west coast of India but not beyond.
Overall then Chinese merchants, and state expeditions, played a rather small and transient role in the Indian Ocean proper.
Historians have been particularly interested in the fact that on two occasions during our period great empires provided security and a market for luxuries in different parts of the Indian Ocean world. The huge trade between China and the Abbasid empire has been linked to the rise and florescence of the Abbasid state after 750, and a similar situation with the T’ang dynasty in China from 618–907. The Fatimids in Egypt, the Colas in South India, and the Song in China produced the same effect in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
There certainly seems to be some connection between flourishing trade and stable empires, albeit one hard to quantify. Such empires usually got most of their revenue from the land, not the sea, and prevailing norms were usually hostile, or at least indifferent, to sea trade and merchants. Yet merchants did provide customs revenues, and perhaps more important brought curiosities and preciosities to the court. More generally, a strong, stable empire obviously has advantages for economic activity in general, including sea trade. Some states were actually quite interventionist. Srivijaya controlled the straits of Melaka for some time. In the early eleventh century the Cola state in south India responded to this with devastating raids. Thirteen ports in the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands were attacked by Rajendra Cola.
The decline of empires usually produces much confusion, and this may be detrimental to trade, though on the other hand as an empire declines it will release hoarded wealth with which to defend itself, thereby increasing liquidity. Some notable episodes in the decline of these empires no doubt did impact on trade. In its last few decades the T’ang dynasty was less stable, and Guangzhou was sacked and foreign merchants massacred in 878 by a rebel army. At this same time, in 868–83, the Zanj slaves in lower Mesopotamia rebelled, and this is considered to have contributed to Abbasid decline. Later, the coup de grâce for the Abbasids, that is the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, may have disrupted trade, though this claim is open to doubt. The other great example of politics intervening in the ocean in our period is the cessation of Zheng He’s voyages in the 1430s as a result of a change in Ming policy. The precise reasons for this shift have been much debated, but certainly these expeditions were terminated by the court, and foreign trade greatly restricted. However, this coincides with the rise of Melaka, and it is a ‘chicken-and-egg’ matter as to whether the rise of Melaka meant the great expeditions were no longer needed, as compared with the rise of Melaka being to fill the gap left by the end of the voyages. In any case, the whole matter of this connection is difficult indeed to prove. Perhaps the point to keep in mind is that there were much more constant and important matters which affected merchants engaged in sea trade, namely did their imports meet local demand, and were prices high?
In the early 1340s Ibn Battuta was happily sailing along the west coast of India when his ship was attacked by pirates:
the infidels came out against us in twelve warships, fought fiercely against us and overcame us. They took everything I had preserved for emergencies; they took the pearls and rubies that the king of Ceylon had given me, they took my clothes and the supplies given me by pious people and saints. They left me no covering except my trousers. They took everything everybody had and set us down on the shore. I returned to Qaliqut and went into one of the mosques. One of the jurists sent me a robe, the qadi a turban and one of the merchants another robe.
Apart from again reminding us of how he could gear in to Islamic networks at need, this passage introduces the matter of piracy in the Indian Ocean in our period. Interestingly, Marco Polo had more or less the same problem, and we may note that Polo only slightly predated Ibn Battuta, for he died in 1324, a year before the latter set out from Morocco on his first hajj.
Polo wrote that on the west coast of India
there go forth every year more than a hundred corsair vessels on cruise. These pirates take with them their wives and children, and stay out the whole summer. Their method is to join in fleets of 20 or 30 of these pirate vessels together, and then they form what they call a sea cordon, that is, they drop off till there is an interval of 5 or 6 miles between ship and ship, so that they cover something like an hundred miles of sea, and no merchant vessel can escape them. For when any one corsair sights a vessel a signal is made by fire or smoke, and then the whole of them make for this, and seize the merchants and plunder them…. But now the merchants are aware of this, and go so well manned and armed, and with such great ships, that they don’t fear the corsairs. Still mishaps do befall them at times.
With the King’s connivance many corsairs launch from this part to plunder merchants. These corsairs have a covenant with the King that he shall get all the horses they capture, and all other plunder shall remain with them. The King does this because he has no horses of his own, whilst many are shipped from abroad towards India; for no ship ever goes thither without horses in addition to other cargo. The practice is naughty and unworthy of a king.
What these two unfortunate travellers are describing is either piracy or corsair activity. Whichever it may be, it is crucial to distinguish this from actual naval activity from port cities or other political entities, for at this time there were virtually no navies in the Indian Ocean, the exceptions being perhaps Zheng He’s voyages, and the activities in Sri Lanka, the islands, and the Malay world of the Colas. The real danger was from pirates and corsairs, the former to be seen as acting autonomously of any political entity, the latter connected, at least loosely, as Polo wrote, with a local ruler. Pirates were the most prevalent. Yet we need to keep in mind that some piracy is in the eye of the beholder; the so-called pirates could see themselves very differently.
Ibn Battuta had more than one skirmish with these predators, who were quite prepared to attack even very large ships. He set off from the Gulf of Cambay on an official mission from Muhammad bin Tughluq to the emperor of China. The mission had several ships, and one of them must have been a good size, as it carried seventy horses. Battuta’s own ship had fifty rowers and fifty Abyssinian men at arms: ‘These latter are the guarantors of safety on this sea; let there be but one of them on a ship and it will be avoided by the Indian pirates and idolators.’ Chinese accounts of the straits of Melaka, then and now a haven for pirates, complained that the locals ‘are very daring pirates. If they meet upon a foreign ship, they get into small boats, a hundred in number, and approach the enemy for several days. With a fair wind he may be lucky and escape. Otherwise he will be intercepted by them, and his goods will be plundered. Travellers who float around on the sea should guard against these robbers.’
Some pirates seem to have set up almost state-like structures. Ibn Majid south of Calicut found that the pirates there, operating out of the Kerala backwaters, were ‘ruled by their own rulers and number about 1000 men and are a people of both land and sea with small boats’. So also in the Gulf near Hurmuz in the twelfth century. The island of Kish was more or less a pirate state, or so the hostile accounts available say. These men raided up and down the Indian west coast, and across to East Africa. In 1135 they became very daring. They wrote to the ruler of Aden demanding a part of the city as protection against being raided. This was refused, so the pirate Amir sent fifteen ships, which entered Aden harbour and waited. They had no intention of landing: rather they wanted to capture merchant ships on their way back to India. Finally, two ships belonging to Abul Qasim Ramisht of Siraf, in the Gulf, appeared, but helped by troops from Aden they were able to beat off the pirates.
The Portuguese were the first European mariners to enter the Persian Gulf in force in the modern period. They dominated the Gulf from the early 16th century until the arrival of the British and Dutch in the early 17th century. With help from the East India Company, Shah Abbas of Persia drove the Portuguese out of their stronghold on Kharg Island in 1622. From that point onward, British commercial interests grew in importance even as Portuguese fortunes declined. But the Persian Gulf remained a strategic afterthought to British policymakers for almost 200 more years.
During the late 18th century, particularly after the death of the Shah Karim Khan in 1779, Persia lost control of the Gulf. The result was increased competition and conflict among the various coastal tribes of the Persian Gulf. That conflict devolved into raiding and, in British eyes, piracy. Arab corsairs based on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula ranged far out into the Indian Ocean, threatening British shipping there as well as in the Persian Gulf.
The increase in piracy negatively impacted British trade in the region. Since the East India Company’s trade in the Persian Gulf was relatively limited, it made no effort to suppress piracy in the Gulf. But independent British merchants, known as “country traders,” were affected. These country traders developed fairly substantial and lucrative trade relationships in the Gulf. They exchanged British manufactured goods for pearls, Persian silks, and specie that were used in the China trade. Even though the Arabs normally left the well-armed East India Company vessels alone, they sometimes attacked the smaller, more vulnerable country traders. British merchants, of course, condemned such transgressions and pressed both the British Government and East India Company to take action.
The strategic outlook also changed at the beginning of the 19th century. Because the Persian Gulf was one of the primary mail links between the United Kingdom and India, the pirates impinged on official Britain when they attacked British mail ships. Even more important, the French expedition to Egypt (1798-1801) and France’s short-lived alliance with the Shah of Persia (1807-1809) raised the threat of French invasion through India’s northwest territories. British policymakers began to view the Persian Gulf as a buffer zone, protecting India’s western flank.
The death of the Sultan of Oman in November 1804 led to further aggression against British merchant shipping in the Gulf. At the time of the Sultan’s death, the British were actively pursuing an alliance with Oman. East India Company leaders realized that Oman, because of its location at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, was perfectly situated to restrict French and Dutch access to the Gulf. But Britain’s relationship with Oman put it at odds with one of the tribes most involved in piracy. The al-Qawasim were nominal vassals of the Sultan of Oman, but when he died, they reneged on their allegiance and broke away from Oman. Britain became a de facto enemy of the al-Qawasim. But that circumstance had distinct advantages since suppression of piracy in the Gulf not only would appease merchant and shipping interests in Britain but also would enhance Great Britain’s strategic relationship with Oman.
All three conditions that facilitate piracy are readily apparent when considering the Persian Gulf. The al-Qawasim were ideally situated geographically to perpetrate acts of piracy. The tribe’s territory included some 25 coastal towns on the western side of the Arabian Peninsula from the tip south to Dubai. Its main port was Ras al-Khaymah, which is located some 50 miles from the northern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. At that point, the Strait of Hormuz is only about 30 miles wide. Thus, the al-Qawasim could easily control traffic entering or leaving the Persian Gulf. The decline of Persian control of the Gulf and the death of the Sultan of Oman led to political turmoil, which facilitated piracy in the Gulf. Furthermore, since the United Kingdom was fully involved in the Napoleonic Wars, the British lacked the resources to aggressively respond to piracy in the Persian Gulf. Since the al-Qawasim depended on the sea for their existence, whether by trading, harvesting pearls, or raiding, there was considerable land-based support for their piratical activities within their territory as well.
The attacks began in the last quarter of the 18th century. In December 1778, six al-Qawasim vessels attacked a British ship carrying official dispatches. After a running battle that lasted 3 days, the British ship succumbed and was taken to Ras al-Khaymah as a prize. Encouraged by their success, the al-Qawasim assaulted two more British vessels the next year. The most significant incident occurred in October 1797 when the al-Qawasim stormed the East India Company cruiser Viper while in port in Bushehr. Although the company ship drove off the attackers, Viper suffered 32 casualties out of a crew of 65.
After they broke away from Oman, the al-Qawasim began levying tolls on all shipping entering or leaving the Gulf. When the British refused to pay the toll, the al-Qawasim retaliated by raiding British shipping. They captured two British ships in 1804 and attacked a 24-gun East India Company cruiser in January 1805. There was a short respite after the Omanis, led by the British Resident in Muscat, blockaded the main al- Qawasim fleet in Ras al-Khaymah and forced them to submit.
The truce did not, however, last long. In the meantime, the al- Qawasim continued to consolidate their power. By 1808, the al-Qawasim fleet numbered some 63 large vessels, 810 small dhows, and 18,000 to 25,000 fighters. In April 1808, two al-Qawasim dhows attacked another East India Company ship, the Fury (6 guns). Once the summer pearling season ended, the al-Qawasim resumed the war against the United Kingdom. The violence quickly escalated. When they captured the East India Company schooner Sylph (8 guns) in October 1808, the pirates killed 22 crew members. Only the captain survived. Wounded when the Arabs took the ship, the captain hid in a storeroom below deck and was rescued when the HMS La Nereide (38 guns) recaptured the Sylph as the raiders sailed her back to Ras al-Khaymah. The next month, some 40 al-Qawasim dhows entered the Indian Ocean and wreaked havoc on British and Indian shipping. Within a short time, they captured 20 merchant vessels and shut down commerce along the western coast of India.
This proved too much for the East India Company to accept so, in September 1809, a combined land and naval force was dispatched to the Persian Gulf to deal with the pirates. The force included 2 Royal Navy frigates, 8 East India Company cruisers, 1 East India Company bomb ketch, and 1,300 soldiers, half of whom were Europeans. Its primary objective was Ras al-Khaymah, which was assaulted and captured on 13 November 1809. Company soldiers sacked the town and burned 60 dhows trapped in the harbor. Later, the British force attacked two al-Qawasim strongholds in Persia: Linga and Luft.
British operations against the al-Qawasim pirates demonstrate the difficulty of trying to eliminate piracy using primarily naval forces. Although the British inflicted a substantial amount of damage on the al- Qawasim, the impact of the 1809 expedition was limited. Once the British returned to India, the al-Qawasim quickly recuperated. By the fall of 1813, al-Qawasim dhows once again hunted for prey off the coast of India. Further pirate cruises were conducted in the spring and fall of 1814. The al-Qawasim acted even more aggressively in the Persian Gulf, attacking two American, one French, and three Indian ships. In 1816, the British sent another expedition to punish the pirates, but it was even less effective because the naval force limited its actions to merely bombarding Ras al- Khaymah. During the 1817-1818 trading season, the situation was so bad that convoys were used to mitigate the risk of attack.