Sertorian War (80-72 B. C. E.)

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Sertorius was a disaffected Roman who fought successfully against Sulla and Pompey. He was a masterly tactician specialising in surprise and ambushes exploiting wooded hills and according to Plutarch introduced Roman weapons, formations and signals. The 53 cohorts of Roman exiles under the treacherous Paperna that joined him maintained a separate command and camp.

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For a century the old Republic had creaked under the pressures of a series of brutal internecine conflicts. The gang warfare that had caused the deaths of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus escalated into military strife. Romans fought Italians (the Social War), Sulla fought Marius and Marius’ supporters, the Senate crushed Lepidus, Pompey and Metellus fought Sertorius, Crassus (joined by Pompey) repressed the rebellious slaves of Spartacus, Cicero led the Senate against Catiline, Pompey was destroyed by Caesar, the triumviral successors of Caesar hunted down Caesar’s assassins, Sextus Pompeius and Octavian fought a series of naval engagements, and finally Octavian and Mark Antony disputed dominance over the empire. The Republic died in a welter of civil wars.

As in all such civil conflicts a crucial role was played by soldiers who showed themselves willing to engage in their generals’ political battles and to march against Rome in furtherance of political objectives. The new system of government created by Augustus transformed the military from a source of political instability and the instrument of conflict into one of the props of the new regime. Six decades of regular civil wars ushered in a period of two centuries in which, with the exception of ad 68-9, civil political conflicts did not escalate into war.

Quintus Sertorius (d. 72) was an able general who was appointed governor of Lusitania (Portugal and western Spain) in 83. He was forced to flee to North Africa in 81, when Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-72) became Roman dictator and took vengeance upon all former enemies, among them Sertorius. A year later, the Lusitanians revolted against Rome and asked Sertorius to return to lead them, which he did. Rome’s legal governor in Lusitania was defeated by Sertorius at the Battle of the Baetis (Guadalquivir) River in 80. Sulla sent an army under Quintus Metellus Pius (d. c. 64) to squash the revolt, but it was overcome by Sertorius’s forces. By 77, Sertorius controlled most of what is now Spain and Portugal. A new Roman army under Pompey the Great (106-48) marched from Italy over the Pyrenees to join forces with Metellus, but Sertorius out-generaled them in a series of campaigns (76-73). After the arrival of reinforcements, the Romans gradually began to win the upper hand. Sertorius initiated strict discipline and severe punishments for infractions in his army, which roused dissension among his troops. Marcus Perperna (d. 72), his chief officer, stirred up more disaffection, helped murder Sertorius, and assumed command of the army. He was shortly thereafter defeated by Pompey, taken captive, and killed.

Quintus Sertorius

There was a certain Quintus Sertorius who served with distinction in the war against the Cimbri and Teutones. This man of great military and political talent was an associate of Marius and Cinna, and an adherent of their populist movement. His abilities incurred the jealousy and dislike of Cornelius Sulla. This hostile influence kept him from political office in 88 BC; but during the period when Marius was dominating Roman political life, the climate was more favourable to his ambitions, and he was elected praetor. In 83 BC, the year in which Sulla returned victorious over Mithridates and became dictator in Rome, Sertorius went as propraetor to govern Hither Spain. His aim was to establish a base for Marius’ populist party in Spain, from which it might be possible to launch an attack on the dictator in Rome. Sulla understandably wanted to replace Sertorius with an appointee of his own. Sertorius was forced out of Spain and sought refuge in Africa.

After a period devoted to wandering and to mystical contemplation, Sertorius returned to Spain in 80 BC and took the lead in a revolt of the Lusitani. With these formidable warriors, Sertorius and his lieutenants inflicted bloody defeats on the Roman forces. The senior Roman commander, Metellus, was incapable of eradicating an enemy who used guerilla tactics so skilfully in a terrain that suited them so well. Sertorius wore down Roman power sufficiently to enforce its withdrawal to the South, and gradually he increased his authority until it covered the greater part of Spain. He established his own government and among other constructive measures, set up a school for the sons of Celtic chieftains. He also developed a naval base at Denia to accommodate his other allies, the Mediterranean pirates. After the abortive attempt at revolution by the radical leader and consul of 78 BC, M. Aemilius Lepidus, the remnants of his forces which had been defeated by those of the other consul, Catulus, were taken to Spain. M. Perpenna, who was in command of them, added them to the forces of Sertorius, and himself became a lieutenant of Sertorius.

Gnaeus Pompeius, who was to become `the Great’, and C. Memmius were appointed in 76 BC by the Senate to the task of removing what was growing to the proportions of an international menace; for Sertorius had established friendly relations with Mithridates through the agency of the pirates, who themselves constituted a major problem which it was to be one of Pompeís most notable achievements ultimately to solve. Pompey and his colleagues were not able to destroy Sertorius’ forces in a set battle. When this was attempted in 75 BC, in the Sucro valley, Pompey would have been completely defeated if Metellus had not arrived with timely reinforcements.

In time, and with the aid of repeated additions of new troops, Pompey and Metellus were able to put increasingly severe pressure on the Sertorian forces. Many of the Lusitanian soldiers deserted and Sertorius felt obliged to inflict harsh punishments to discourage this. This policy further alienated the Lusitani, who already were sensitive to the tyrannical treatment they had received from some of the Romans on Sertorius’ staff, who themselves were involved in internecine squabbling. In this atmosphere it was not too difficult for the Roman high command to inspire Perpenna with the suggestion that he should murder Sertorius. He did so in 73 BC, but his army was defeated by the Romans under Pompey, and he was taken prisoner and executed. When Pompey returned to Rome in the following year, he seemed to have solved the Spanish problem.

Sertorius is said to have kept a white doe which enabled him to communicate with the divine world. We might surmise that the Lusitani and his other Celtic adherents respected this pet as the impersonation of the horned god whom we know elsewhere as Cernunnos. According to Plutarch (Sert. 11) the doe was supposed to be his medium of communication with the goddess Diana. This may have been a propaganda trick to bemuse simple natives, but I can see no reason why we should think so, or why we should not do him the honour of accepting that he believed what he said about the creature. He regarded it as a mascot of his success and he was greatly disturbed when it was lost for a time at the battle of the Sucro.

Sertorius had the combination of intuitive understanding of people and creative imagination which is often found in great commanders and major poets. He was a brilliant master of guerilla tactics: his devices for winning the loyalty of tribesmen were no less inventive. He recognised the necessity of holding a visible balance of justice between the native population and the Roman settlers. He also understood the need to give the Lusitanian warriors plenty of gold to adorn their armour. Plutarch’s life contains many other examples of his insight and leadership.

If Sertorius had enjoyed the good fortune to exploit the military possibilities of a country as rich in men and resources as `Gallia Comata’, he might have achieved success of comparable magnitude to that of Caesar. But he had no official standing in Spain and he had to rely upon Celtic soldiers who did not see themselves as soldiers, but as warriors who could go and come as they pleased. He had not enough Romans or Romans of good enough quality on his staff, and his cause was bedevilled by the presence of Roman settlers in the country who had already founded deep roots of resentment amongst the population. He was, however, an inspiration to Julius Caesar, and was himself an early example of the Roman man of power who in later times would intimidate Rome from a base in the provinces, when the `secret of power’, in Tacitus’ words, `got out that emperors could be made elsewhere than in Rome’.

Waffen-SS “Wiking” Division at Korsun

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Wiking Waffen SS Division breaks out Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket.

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Following Soviet attacks in the middle of December out of their bridgeheads south of Krementschug and at Tscherkassy, whereby the city of Tscherkassy also fell, they launched a large-scale offensive from out of the Kiev area during the last few days of December. They drove a wedge 300 kilometers wide between Heeresgruppe Süd and Heeresgruppe Mitte and advanced far to the west. By the middle of January 1944, Soviet forces that had pivoted south had reached a line running Berditschew-Bjelaja Zerkow.

The formations of the 2nd Ukrainian front, which were attacking from the east out of the Krementschug area, reached the city of Kirowograd on 9 January 1944, 100 kilometers south of Tscherkassy. On 28 January 1944, the lead Soviet spearheads of the gigantic pincers movement-heading from Bjelaja Zerkow in the north and from Kirowograd in the south-established contact at Swenigorodka, some 25 kilometers southwest of Tscherkassy on 28 January 1944. The divisions of the XI. Armee-Korps and the XXXXII. Armee- Korps, including the “Wiking” Division, were encircled.

THE TSCHERKASSY POCKET

In the 20 days that followed in the Tscherkassy Pocket, the 10 divisions proved their steadfastness in the face of deceptive enemy propaganda, proved their bravery against the suffocating superiority by the seven Soviet field armies participating in the encirclement and proved the exemplary leadership of the responsible officers.

For “Vikings” of long standing in the division, the names of the local villages-names such Taraschta, Boguslaw and Smela-conjured up memories of hard fighting two years previously. Back then it had also been a matter of standing fast in the face of powerful blows and pressure from enemy formations coming from the Tscherkassy area. The situation was the same; the roles had been reversed. The area of the German forces encircled to the west of the city was growing ever smaller. The relief efforts from the outside, those of the XXXXVII. Panzer-Korps and the III. Panzer-Korps, failed.

After being encircled for 10 days, the pocket was reduced in half from its original 60 kilometer diameter after the Dnjepr line was finally evacuated on 8 February. In addition to the weather conditions, the shallowness of the pocket made movements increasingly difficult. The enemy’s pressure grew accordingly.

Starting on 7 February, all of the measures taken in the pocket were conducted with an eye towards the intended breakout effort, which was to be accompanied by a relief effort from the outside.

Orders arrived at the command post of the tank battalion in Waljawskije at 0830 hours on 9 February to move all of its tanks and assault guns to Korsun. The tracked vehicles were there by 1400 hours; the wheeled vehicles arrived in the evening.

On the next day, feverish efforts were undertaken to prepare the vehicles operationally. In order to consolidate all excess personnel, all of the tank crews that no longer had any tanks were formed into an infantry company of four platoons, along with truck drivers and other men of the trains. The acting commander of the ad hoc unit was SS-Hauptsturmführer Wittmann.

The “infantry” company had a combat strength of four officers and 220 enlisted personnel. It was employed on 11 February against enemy forces at the Korsun train station. Each of the platoons had three machine guns above and beyond the small arms and hand grenades it had received. During the night of 11/12 February, the company closed a gap at Arbusino, about 1 kilometer east of Korsun. At the same time, it established contact with an Army unit.

Until the evening of 13 February, the “infantry” company of the battalion conducted defensive operations and launched immediate counterattacks against attacking company-sized enemy forces. The unit helped prevent the forward elements form being cut off. While that was happening, the operational tanks were sent to Jablonowka, about 4 kilometers west of Korsun, under the command of SS-Untersturmführer Schumacher.

The battle staff of the battalion had already been summoned to the command post of the XXXXII. Armee-Korps in Jablonowka the previous day.

An impressive indicator of the extraordinary difficulties was noted by von Manstein in his memoirs, when he described the effect of the dominant weather conditions of the time. For the forces in Tscherkassy, that was in addition to the difficulties of moving in the reduced pocket, which was also subjected to the strong pressure being exerted by the enemy. Von Manstein:

I attempted to get to the front lines of the assault groups on two occasions. I got hopelessly stuck each time in the snow or the mud. The weather changed daily between snowstorms and thaws.

In order to establish good jumping-off positions for breaking through the Soviet encirclement, the senior commander in the pocket, the Commanding General of the XI. Armee-Korps, General der Infanterie Stemmermann, attempted to push the southwestern tip of the pocket further in the direction of Schanderowka, since it was already pointing in that direction. From there, the lead elements of the assault detachments of the breakout forces would only have another 13 kilometers to advance to link up with the lead elements of the III. Panzer-Korps. The pressure to get to Schanderowka and the movements of the forces involved were expedited, since it could not be ruled out that the lead elements of the relief forces might be pushed back to the southwest themselves by the intensifying Soviet attacks.

During the night of 11-12 February, the tank battalion moved forward into the area around the Sawdski brickworks and then reached Nowo Buda, about 3 kilometers south of Schanderowka, around 0900 hours that morning. It established contact there with the local-area commander, Major Brese.

The lingering thaw made movements across the terrain, which could be observed by the enemy, very difficult. An assault gun was knocked out. The tanks screened towards the northwest from the Nowo Buda-Schanderowka road. They were refueled with captured fuel.

Enemy tanks that had penetrated through the German lines in the Nowo- Buda area lent an additional air of uncertainty. The enemy was also exerting pressure from the northwest.

On 13 February, SS-Untersturmführer Schumacher ejected the Soviets from the eastern portion of Nowo-Buda with two tanks. The enemy had succeeded in making several small penetrations there with two battalions.

On 14 February, the Soviets launched another attack, this time with 11 tanks. Schumacher advanced with two tanks into the southern portion of the village, which had been reoccupied by the enemy. One of his tanks was hit by an antitank gun and damaged.

Schumacher then proceeded to knock out seven enemy tanks with his own tank. He expended all of his armor-piercing rounds; with his remaining high-explosive rounds, he forced the crews of three more tanks to abandon their vehicles. When a second tank came to the aid of Schumacher, the three abandoned tanks were set ablaze. Then a fourth one was set alight, when it attempted to approach Schumacher from the rear.

On the same day, however, four friendly tanks, including the one of SS-Oberscharführer Fiebelkorn, were knocked out while screening. Another battle group under the command of SS-Oberscharführer Schweiss knocked out four enemy tanks in the Komarowka area, 3 kilometers west of Nowo-Buda.

Despite taking extraordinary losses, the Soviets continued their heavy attacks on Nowo-Buda the next day. At 1545 hours, they once again assaulted the southern portion of the village. Once again, Schumacher made a name for himself by knocking out two enemy tanks with his Panzer III.

The tanker “infantry” company of SS-Hauptsturmführer Wittmann, which had been defending in the area around Arbusino, pulled back as ordered during the night of 13-14 February to positions on the high ground west of Korsun. The pursuing enemy was pushed back in some areas by means of immediate counterattacks. At 2200 hours, Wittmann’s men pulled back again and reached Schanderowka on 15 February, in accordance with their orders.

On 16 February, the enemy renewed his attacks on Nowo-Buda with reinforced forces. The enemy attacks led to the loss of the southern portion of the village at first light. The 1st Battalion of the “Germania” Regiment, which was reinforced with two tanks, held its positions, however.

At 1500 hours, the liaison officer of the “Germania” Regiment brought the tank battalion the order to break out. It stated that the battalion was to disengage from the enemy at 1900 hours and move to Schanderowka. It would receive further orders from the division there.

After the battalion commander returned from the division headquarters- he had gone to Schanderowka at 1700 hours with his adjutant-he issued the following order:

The tank battalion immediately moves to the western portion of Schanderowka after the return of the battle group from Nowo-Buda and immediately prepares to break out from there.

All armored elements move out at 1920 hours, organized as follows: 1 Command Tank; 2 Panzer IV’s; 4 Panzer III’s; 6 assault guns; the wheeled elements immediately follow the armored elements.

The movements of the troop elements into the designated areas were made very difficult by the prevailing bad weather conditions, but they were made decisively difficult by the fact that some 50,000 encircled men had been pressed into an area roughly 7×8 kilometers.

At 2100 hours, the battalion arrived at the western edge of Schanderowka. The first tank in the march order, the command tank, broke through the bridge that led over the creek there. It took hours before the bridge was repaired enough that the individual tanks could cross, assisted by an 18-ton prime mover. The last tank crossed the bridge at 0145 hours on 17 February.

The tanker “infantry” company was given the mission of screening the flanks of the breakthrough group west of the village.

Half an hour remained after the successful occupation of the staging area and the scheduled start of the attack. Everyone was acutely aware of what was at stake. The hope that relief forces on the outside would move towards the breakout point helped encourage the soldiers. On that 13 February, the chief of staff of the 8. Armee, General Speidel, radioed the pocket commander, General Stemmermann: “Breith with forward-most elements at Lißjanka. Vormann advancing from the bridgehead at Jerki in the direction of Swenigorodka. What is the situation there? Best wishes for success!”

Two days before the planned breakout, on 15 February, the 8. Armee sent the following message: “Capabilities of the III. Panzer-Korps restricted. Gruppe Stemmermann must break through at Dshurshenzy and reach Hill 239 with its own forces. Establish contact there with the III. Panzer-Korps.”

At 1500 hours on 16 February, 11 hours before the start of the attack, von Manstein radioed Stemmermann: “Watch word: Freedom. Objective: Lißjanka.”

Approximately 13 kilometers separated the breakout group and the hills at Dshurshenzy, where the lead elements of the III. Panzer-Korps awaited it. The daily logs of the battalion portrayed the breakout attempt thusly:

At 0210 hours, the battalion moved out to conduct the ordered breakthrough. Route in very bad condition. Initial enemy resistance southwest of Chilki. The last remaining wheeled vehicles of the battalion were blown up there, since it was no longer possible for them to move any farther (deep depressions, mud). Enemy tanks moved out from Komarowka and attempted to prevent the breakthrough by means of heavy fire.

Untersturmführer Schumacher was committed south of Chilki with all of the available vehicles to eliminate the [enemy] tanks appeared there from Komarowka. Two tanks were eliminated. The command tank had to be blown up because of differential and track problems.

The commander and the adjutant switched over to Untersturmführer Schumacher’s tank. Untersturmführer Schumacher assumed command of the remaining tanks.

The commander and adjutant attempted to hold together the men of the battalion, which was not possible due to the over-all murky situation. The commander then mounted an 18-ton prime mover, since it was the only vehicle capable of moving forward in that terrain.

Enemy tanks arrived, moving from north to south, and engaged the tanks advancing southwest in the direction of Lißjanka, along with the other vehicles that had made it that far, with machine guns and main guns.

At the patch of woods east of Dshurshenzy, where the prime mover had to cross an open area, it was engaged by enemy tanks. The prime mover received a direct hit right behind the driver’s seat. The commander, Sturmbannführer Köller, met a soldier’s end.

Enemy tanks appeared once more at the western tip of the woods, approaching from Dshurshenzy. The high ground at the tip of the woods could not be crossed by the tanks. As a result, they had to be blown up.

The men of the battalion fought their way through individually. Towards evening, the majority of the battalion arrived in Lißjanka. The adjutant was wounded during the breakout attempt.

The sober language of the daily logs allow the reader to somewhat imagine the difficulty of what was experienced and also the scope of the tragedy that unfolded. The following first-hand accounts are well suited to allow even those unfamiliar with war to picture the events of that day.

The Tscherkassy Pocket never turned into another Stalingrad. The forces in the field and their leaders resisted the promises made by the Soviet leadership on flyers and bills and the German generals who had joined the Soviet side. They did not give up hope on the hill at Dshurshenzy, when they ran into the fires of Soviet tanks instead of the passage points of the III. Panzer- Korps, as the radio message from the Chief-of-Staff of the 8. Armee had led them to expect. The decisive event of 17 and 18 February was the breaking through of the inner and outer encirclements by decisive leadership in the pocket that was prepared to do anything and an extremely capable and brave force in the field. Of the approximately 56,000 soldiers, who had been encircled at the end of January, some 30,000 made the breakthrough to friendly lines. Some 3,000 wounded were flown out of the pocket.

ZHITOMIR-BERDICHEV OPERATION (1943-1944)

General Nikolai Vatutin followed his early success in the Second Battle of Ukraine in November 1943 with this operation intended to expand his bridgehead over the winter of 1943-1944. It formed part of what Soviet historians called the “winter strategic offensive.” As Vatutin moved, his 1st Ukrainian Front faced repeated Wehrmacht counterattacks. Vatutin coordinated an enveloping attack with General Ivan S. Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front to the southeast. Their pincers closed around two corps of German 8th Army, trapping the Nordic-volunteer Waffen-SS “Wiking” Division and five Wehrmacht divisions inside a kotel 15 miles beyond the Dnieper River, around Korsun. As he had done at Stalingrad, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein once more tried and failed to fight his way through winter blizzards and hard Red Army resistance to relieve a trapped German army. Unlike the experience at Stalingrad, 30,000 of the nearly 50,000 men inside the pocket were able to fight their way out. By the middle of February 1944 it was over. Konev was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union and given command of both Ukrainian Fronts. The next planned offensive aimed to cut off all of Army Group South, but Vatutin-whose 1st Ukrainian Front was ahead of the pace set by Konev-was mortally wounded by anti-Soviet Ukrainian partisans a short while later.

Outremer’s Demise

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Salah ad-Din, or Saladin as he is known in the West, had been born in Tikrit in modern-day Iraq in 1137.

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Saladin’s forces besiege the walls of Jerusalem.

Having set to rights the last of Nur al-Din’s legacy, Saladin faced a Frankish problem rather different from the one that had occupied the Almohads in al-Andalus. In Syria the Franks were comparatively isolated from their European sources of support; manpower and supplies were a constant source of weakness for them. Yet Saladin had the backing of the caliph in Baghdad and had methodically crushed or subdued all his Muslim foes in the region. The Almohads never had such luxuries, and so their campaigns against the Franks produced much less satisfying results than did the accomplishments of Saladin.

After touring the last of his newly conquered lands in northern Syria, Saladin was ready to focus on the Franks. He arrived in Damascus in May 1186. On the way, he had summoned his son al-Afdal from Cairo, who set out for Syria after mustering a small army. He was obliged to pause, however, as Frankish raids on the Egyptian border blocked his passage. Saladin was not particularly concerned. By instigating this raid, the Franks had broken the four-year truce they had once demanded and that had inconveniently tied his hands. If the Franks were going to engage in such practices, “then the wheel of ruin will turn against them,” his secretary smugly wrote. In August al-Afdal arrived in Damascus, while other of Saladin’s sons were sent to take charge in Aleppo and Cairo.

Much had happened in the Latin kingdom since Saladin first arrived in Syria nearly a decade earlier. By 1186 the leper-king Baldwin IV was dead, succeeded by his nephew Baldwin V, another child, who ruled only under the regency of Raymond of Tripoli. Then, when this Baldwin died a few months later, his mother, Sibyl, took the throne. As queen of Jerusalem, Sibyl came with her husband, Guy of Lusignan, whom she crowned in the summer of 1186 as king.

This reshuffling in the palace at Jerusalem resulted in two changes of direct interest to Saladin. On the one hand, it created a potential new ally in Raymond of Tripoli, the former regent. At court his talents were no longer needed, and he was put out to pasture. As a result he opened negotiations with Saladin and, it appears, entered into a treaty with him, opening passage to the Muslims through his lands around Tiberias. On the other hand, the new situation in Jerusalem also created a new enemy, in the form of Reynald of Chatillon. By 1186 Reynald could not really be called “new” as if he were an unknown quantity. Indeed his problem was that he was all too well known. Formerly prince of Antioch and now lord of Transjordan, Reynald was a hard-liner who came east with the Second Crusade and stayed on to make his name, eventually winding up as a guest in Nur al-Din’s prison in Aleppo for seventeen years. Later, as lord of Transjordan, he had outraged Muslims by sending a squadron of ships out on the Red Sea to attack merchants and pilgrims bound for Mecca. From his base at Karak, he followed the same modus operandi on dry land, harassing the caravans that crossed from Syria to Egypt, even while the truce between Saladin and Jerusalem was supposed to be in effect.

In this context Saladin’s options seemed fairly clear. He badly needed a victory against the Franks to silence those who criticized him for spending so much time at war with his fellow Muslims. Reynald’s actions were provocative, and Transjordan was an important jigsaw piece of territory connecting Saladin’s lands in Egypt to those in Syria. In itself the conquest of Transjordan would be a small gain against the Franks-but perhaps a threat there could lure the rest of the Franks out into the field. When Reynald captured a large Egyptian caravan and its guard, Saladin had his pretext. He demanded the immediate release of the prisoners, but Reynald refused, even (or perhaps especially) when Raymond of Tripoli arrived to serve as an intermediary. In March 1187 Saladin arrived at Karak for retribution and spent the spring harassing the countryside. The peasants fled in droves to Muslim territory. Meanwhile his son al-Afdal was mustering a large army at the Sea of Galilee; he led one impetuous raid to Saffuriya (ancient Sepphoris) in Palestine, where the Muslims overwhelmed a smaller Frankish force. Among the slain was the master of the military order of St. John, or Hospitallers, a valued Frankish commander. By May Reynald’s lands in Transjordan were devastated and virtually every stronghold, including Karak, was in Saladin’s hands. However, when news reached Saladin that his erstwhile ally Raymond of Tripoli had made peace with his fellow Franks, he knew that now was the time to strike at the Latin kingdom.

All of Saladin’s forces that were in the field, from Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia, made for Tiberias. Additional troops were on the move from Egypt if needed, and Saladin’s nephew in Aleppo made a truce with the Franks of Antioch to ensure his army would not be distracted. The sultan even sent a polite invitation to the Byzantine emperor, but he declined to join in. The Franks, led by King Guy, assembled at Saffuriya and had at their disposal the entire army of the Latin kingdom, including Templars and Hospitallers, assisted by much smaller contingents from Antioch and Tripoli. The exaggerated figures given by our medieval sources on the disposition of the Muslim and Frankish troops are hard to swallow, but Saladin’s army, soberly estimated at about thirty thousand, seems to have grossly outnumbered the combined forces mustered by the Franks. Indeed the very size of Saladin’s army may have added to his sense of urgency, as it would be very difficult to muster so many soldiers again and to keep them supplied and in the field for very much longer. If Saladin was to act against the Franks, he needed to act then and there.

In late June Saladin camped with his army at Kafr Sabt, to the southwest of Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. There he controlled access to abundant sources of water and, more important, to the road running east from the Frankish camp at Saffuriya to the town of Tiberias. The city’s lord, the once-friendly Raymond of Tripoli, was of course away with most of his men in the camp of King Guy, but a small garrison, and Raymond’s wife, remained behind. Rather than stampeding into the Frankish camp, Saladin instead put Tiberias under siege in the hope of drawing the Franks into territory of his own choosing. The plan worked; after much argument, which even the Arabic sources take note of, the Frankish army marched east to relieve Tiberias. As the Franks strung themselves out along the road, a division of Saladin’s army maneuvered behind them to prevent their retreat. Other troops harassed them with feints and arrow fire as they traveled. In the heat of the season (now early July 1187) the battle became, at base, a battle about water. Saladin had ready access to his sources, but the Frankish troops were now sealed off from the secure sources at Saffuriya. Such springs that Guy could gain en route were utterly insufficient to the needs of his army; this seems to be what pushed him to make the fateful decision on July 4 to direct his army to the springs near the little village of Hattin.

At the Horns of Hattin, a double hill formed by the basalt rim of an extinct volcanic crater, the Frankish army saw that their progress was blocked even here. Trapped, unable to punch through the Muslim lines to Tiberias, most of the army retreated to the Horns, where Guy pitched his tent and the walls of ancient ruins atop the hill provided some semblance of cover. The Franks mounted numerous charges against the Muslim army, but Saladin’s men simply closed up around any men who came through. Only Saladin’s former ally Raymond III and a few of his men were allowed to pass through unharmed-a fact that cannot have buoyed Raymond’s stock among the few who survived the battle. The Muslim troops had the Franks on the Horns surrounded by fire and smoke, cut off from retreat or water, exhausted and decimated. By the end of the day the Muslims had managed to gain the summit. Saladin’s son al-Afdal later provided this dramatic eyewitness account:

When the king of the Franks was on the hill with that band, they made a formidable charge against the Muslims facing them, so that they drove them back to my father. I looked towards him and he was overcome by grief and his complexion pale. He took hold of his beard and advanced, crying out “Give the lie to the Devil!” The Muslims rallied, returned to the fight and climbed the hill. When I saw that the Franks withdrew, pursued by the Muslims, I shouted for joy, “We have beaten them!” But the Franks rallied and charged again like the first time and drove the Muslims back to my father. He acted as he had done on the first occasion and the Muslims turned upon the Franks and drove them back to the hill. I again shouted, “We have beaten them!” but my father rounded on me and said, “Be quiet! We have not beaten them until that tent [Guy’s] falls.” Even as he was speaking to me, the tent fell. The sultan dismounted, prostrated himself in thanks to God Almighty and wept for joy.

The Battle of Hattin left the Frankish military gutted and thereby opened the Frankish kingdoms to reconquest by Saladin’s seemingly unstoppable armies. It was celebrated in Saladin’s sword-rattling chancery as “a day of grace, on which the wolf and the vulture kept company, while death and captivity followed in turns. The unbelievers were tied together in fetters, astride chains rather than stout horses.” Those Franks who did not die that day were taken as captives to be ransomed or sold. The most prized were taken to Saladin’s tent to be dealt with personally; Guy and many other lords were eventually ransomed. Reynald of Chatillon did not join them. Instead, following the letter of Islamic law when dealing with dangerous prisoners, Saladin urged Reynald to convert to Islam and, when he refused, personally executed him, as he had twice vowed to do. It was the social implications of the act, not its finality, for which Saladin felt he should apologize, saying to Guy, “It is not customary for one prince to kill another, but this man had crossed the line.” The same process attended the execution of the Templars and Hospitallers, who were considered such a danger that Saladin personally ransomed any such prisoners found in the hands of his men, to ensure that they would meet their end. He also had any Turcopoles (Turkish light cavalry in the service of the Franks) executed as traitors.

Throughout Syria, it is said, the price of slaves plummeted as the markets were flooded with Frankish captives. According to one source, one Frankish prisoner was traded in exchange for a shoe. When asked, the captive’s seller explained that he insisted on the price because he “wanted it to be talked about.” The nonhuman plunder taken was also said to be considerable. Among the treasures was the relic of the True Cross, which the Franks had carried before them in battle. Its capture was precisely as devastating to the Franks as it was thrilling to Saladin’s subjects in Damascus, who suspended it upside-down on a spear and paraded it through the streets of the city. It was later sent by Saladin’s son al-Afdal as a trophy for the caliph of Baghdad and was never seen again-lost, one presumes, during the Mongol sack of 1258. At Hattin itself Saladin had a “Dome of Victory” constructed to commemorate what was already being seen as a turning point in his life; however, within a few decades, like much Saladin left for his descendants, it was in ruins.

By the end of 1187 Saladin’s armies had captured most of the territory that the Franks had taken since they arrived with the First Crusade. The cities of Syria and Palestine fell one by one, in diverse circumstances. In the wake of the debacle at Hattin, the mere sight of Muslim armies was often enough to convince Frankish leaders to surrender their towns, as at Acre. At Nablus the local villagers-almost all of whom were Muslims-blockaded the Franks in the citadel until one of Saladin’s commanders arrived and accepted their surrender. Jubayl, on the northern coast, surrendered as ransom for its lord, Hugh Embriaco, who had been captured at Hattin. A similar ploy was attempted in the south, where King Guy and the master of the Templars were trotted out to convince the garrison of Ascalon to surrender, but to no avail. Instead Saladin’s armies met fierce resistance, though the Franks there were eventually prevailed upon to surrender. Other cities likewise gave Saladin some serious resistance, as at Beirut and Jaffa. Then again, some places were simply passed over and saved for later, notably the port of Tyre, which Saladin reconnoitered but left untouched not once but twice as he crisscrossed the region. It was an act of expediency he would live to regret.

German Schnellboot (S-boat)

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Schnellboot S-80 torpedo boat

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Operations with the Kriegsmarine

S-boats were often used to patrol the Baltic Sea and the English Channel in order to intercept shipping heading for the English ports in the south and east. As such, they were up against Royal Navy and Commonwealth (particularly Royal Canadian Navy contingents leading up to D-Day) Motor Gun Boats (MGBs), Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), Motor Launches, frigates and destroyers. They were also transferred in small numbers to the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea by river and land transport. Some small S-boats were built as boats for carrying by auxiliary cruisers.

Crew members could earn an award particular to their work—Das Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen—denoted by a badge depicting an S-boat passing through a wreath. The criteria were good conduct, distinction in action, and participating in at least twelve enemy actions. It was also awarded for particularly successful missions, displays of leadership or being killed in action. It could be awarded under special circumstances, such as when another decoration was not suitable.

Schnellboote of the 9th flotilla were the first naval units to respond to the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord. They left Cherbourg harbour at 5 a.m. on 6 June 1944.[5] On finding themselves confronted by the entire invasion fleet, they fired their torpedoes at maximum range and returned to Cherbourg.

During World War II, S-boats sank 101 merchant ships totalling 214,728 tons. In addition, they sank 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, eight landing ships, six MTBs, a torpedo boat, a minelayer, one submarine and a number of small merchant craft. They also damaged two cruisers, five destroyers, three landing ships, a repair ship, a naval tug and numerous merchant vessels. Sea mines laid by the S-boats were responsible for the loss of 37 merchant ships totalling 148,535 tons, a destroyer, two minesweepers and four landing ships.

In recognition of their service, the members of Schnellboot crews were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 occasions, and the German Cross in Gold on 112 occasions.

To the British and Americans these lethal boats were simply enemy boats, or E-boats.

To the Germans they were S-boots or Schnell boots simply fast boats. For a period during the Second World War they controlled a respectable portion of the Mediterranean Sea and a sizeable area of the English Channel, specifically the area between Smiths Knoll and The Wash called E-boat Alley. Any convoys venturing from the London docks north or the Firth of Forth south paid a penalty to the E-boats for doing so.

The Allies had their boats as well and in some way, they were similar. The British MTB (motor torpedo boat), the American PT (patrol-torpedo), and German E-boats were all heavily armed, capable of deploying either torpedoes or mines, and pound-for-pound some of the most dangerous vessels afloat. All of these vessels, including F-lighters and MAS boats were relatively small and unassuming. Far away; up close was a different matter.

By late in the war, E-boats in the Channel were painted a very functional combination of grays—probably to match the English weather. The hull, superstructure and bridge vertical surfaces were painted a pale gray. The deck, superstructure, and bridge and wheelhouse horizontal surfaces were painted a darker gray. This monochromatic theme with its ominous hints of darkness scattered about a 120-foot vessel made it appear, as it was, lethal.

The deck armament, compared to Pacific Theatre PT boats that carried everything except a re-enforced rifle company, was not exceptional. In the deck well forward was an Oerlikon 20mm cannon, mounted low in the hull. “Doorknockers” the crew called them for their remarkable inability to do anything to enemy vessels but announce the E-boats presence. In the center of the superstructure, just aft of the bridge was a twin mount 20mm gun with armored shield. Between amidships and the aft superstructure was a four-barreled 20mm gun, a 37mm gun, or a Bofors 40mm cannon. E-boats also carried 7.92 MG38 machine guns for anti-aircraft defense and close-quarter encounters. The 20mm guns, which constituted the bulk of the E-boats sting, were generally acceptable weapons under the right circumstances. They could pump out 240 rounds a minute with a maximum range of 12,000 meters, which gave enemy pilots reason to consider how best to approach an E-boat; and they seldom traveled alone. Doubling or tripling the 20mm rounds flying through the air, always made pilots a bit wary. Nothing increased one’s heart rate like a line of blazing green tracers coming straight toward one’s nose.

But two weapons in the E-boats arsenal kept convoy commanders awake at night. One was the E-boat’s torpedoes; the other was the E-boat’s speed. E-boats carried four torpedoes, two loaded in tubes (later E-boats had the tubes enclosed in the hulls); and two ready to be loaded—elapsed time to replace fired torpedoes, 45 seconds.

The second weapon available to the E-boat (with due respect given to the very capable 24-man crews that sailed them), were the three, supercharged Daimler-Benz 2500-hp engines. Subject to the vagaries of the sea, and the condition of the boats and engines, most E-boats could reach top speed of 42 knots, but for only 30 minutes at a time. Still, in the heat and confusion of battle, 30 minutes is a lifetime, and a short burst of power can mean a great deal to the attacker and the defender.

James Foster Trent, in his superb book E-Boat Alert: Defending the Normandy Invasion Fleet, points out two components of the E-boat’s secret weapon, her hull design and special rudders. The American and British torpedo boats were designed with a hard chine, or scooped out bottom. This concave construction is cost-effective and pulls the boat’s hull out of calm water at high—less contact, less drag, better speed. E-boats had a round bottom, which was costlier to produce but which gave it a speed advantage in rough seas. In place of rough seas insert: English Channel. Trent also points out just how effective the twin Lurssen rudders were. A PT boat roaring through the sea with the forward third of its hull suspended above the surface of the ocean and churning out an impressive wake, is a joy to watch. But it is not the most efficient means to move a boat through the water. The Lurssen Effect is created when two, small Lurssen rudders, mounted to either side of the main rudder and turned outboard, lowers the wake height, which, according to Trent “requires less energy, allowing the vessel to go faster.”

For a time E-boats (and smaller, slower but just as effective German coastal craft), controlled the English Channel. Contests between the British MTB, Coastal Command (air), and Coastal Forces (surface, and sometimes derisively known as Costly Farces), were deadly affairs with a third enemy taking its toll; the sea. Individual seamen often found themselves adrift after battles that might range over vast areas. In the best of weather a seaman might have a life expectancy of two hours in the cold water; other times, it was a matter of minutes.

As the war progressed and things began to go badly for the E-boats they sought refuge during the day in massive E-boat bunkers in Cherbourg, Boulogne or LeHavre; coming out at night to practice Lauertatik, simply loitering around at night near possible convoy lanes, waiting. If they were lucky they could return to base before dawn (the light was anathema to them; too many enemy aircraft), flying a Victory Pennant. The boats carried radar, not as effective as the enemy’s but still a defense against surface or air attack The Funkmessbeobachtungsgerat, or FuMB, was a passive detection unit, much like the early U-boats Biscay Cross. Its purpose was to detect the enemy’s radar impulses; thus alerting the E-boats to the presence of an unfriendly aircraft that was in turn, looking for them.

The Last Hurrah for E-boats was achieved quite by accident within sight of the English coast. Eight ships of Allied Convoy T-4 were scheduled to practice landings early on the morning of April 28, 1944. Slapton Sands in Lyme Bay was chosen because it closely resembled Utah Beach in Normandy to which the Americans had been assigned. A battalion of combat engineers and units of the 4th Infantry waited aboard their LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks, literally floating warehouses), for the exercise to begin when the first E-boats attacked. The LSTs were armed, but only with guns designed to withstand air attack, and the lone British destroyer attached to the convoy couldn’t protect the entire line of squat LSTs. E-boats raced in almost at will, firing their cannons and launching torpedoes. At a top speed of 12 knots, the men aboard their LSTs realized that the vessel’s nickname was apropos; Large Slow Targets.

Nearly a thousand men died, killed in the attack or drowned, including ten who had been “bigoted.” That is, they knew enough about the upcoming invasion to be of real value to the Germans, and of great concern to the Allies, if captured. There were no losses among the E-boats. This attack and the desperate shortage of LSTs added one more nightmare to the long list facing Allied commanders responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of men and thousands of ships across a narrow, inhospitable body of water. What about E-boats? The Luftwaffe had virtually been eliminated, the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine neutralized, and broad lanes had been, or would be, swept through the dense minefields in the Channel. The Channel was, despite the fact that the Allies controlled it, a haven at night for E-boats.

“The immediate threat on D-1 and D-Day,” Rear Admiral Alan J. Kirk, USN said, “is considered to be the E-boat, especially after nightfall.” In fleet defense, preemptory strikes and planning, action was taken to ensure that the E-boat threat to the invasion was destroyed. Lyme Bay had proved one thing to the Allied planners; these small, fast craft, let loose in even limited numbers within the invasion fleet, could cause a disaster.

There were no E-boats captured during the war and those that came in under their own power to the Allies or were towed in, did so reluctantly. You can not get predators to renounce their predilections because somewhere, someone signed a piece of paper. It is not in the natural order of things. But as the war ended and E-boats were carried away to be studied by the victors, those that fought against them remembered tumultuous seas and gray skies. And the deep rumble of approaching death.

They were indeed enemy boats.

Variants

The Schnellboot design evolved over time. The first had a pair of torpedo tubes on the fore deck.

S-2 class

The first productions of the S-Boat in 1931 which were based on S-1.

S-7 class

They firstly built in 1933 and 3 of them were sold to China.

S-14 class

The improvement of S-7 in 1934. The enlarged hull.

S-18 class

Wartime types were:

S-26 class

Entered service in 1940. 40 m hull. Torpedo tubes covered by forward deck.

S-30 class

S-38 class

S-38b class

Improved S-38 class with armoured bridge. Various armament including 40mm Bofors or 20mm Flak aft, MG34 Zwillingsockel midships

S-100 class

From 1943. 1 × 20 mm in the bow, 2 × 20 mm gun amidships and 37 mm gun aft.

S-151 class

Type 700

Late war design proposal with stern torpedo tubes and 30 mm gun turret forward. Eight boats built, but completed to S-100 design specification

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Borodino class

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In 1904 Moscow dispatched the 2nd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rohdzsvenski, from the Baltic to the Pacific, halfway around the world, to salvage the desperate situation in the Pacific. Rohdzsvenski’s main units numbered eight battleships, three armored cruisers, and three hopelessly obsolete armored coast-defense warships. The core of the Russian fleet was represented by the four new battleships of the Borodino class (Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvarov). The Russians again appeared to have a strong edge in numbers, but they were, in truth, inferior in just about every other way, particularly guns, armor, and speed. And Rohdzsvenski’s fleet was also outclassed in the intangibles that really counted: leadership, morale, and training. By the time it met the Japanese, the Russian fleet was completing a debilitating seven-month epic of endurance. Instead of training, the crews had exhausted themselves in repeated coaling stops and were suffering from low morale and heat exhaustion.

The highly regarded 12,700-ton Retvisan, built by William Cramp of Philadelphia, was the first Russian battleship protected by Krupp armor. The 12,915-ton Tsesarevich, built in La Seyne, was used as a prototype for four warships of the 13,520-ton Borodino class. The Borodinos were built in Russian shipyards, along with a third ship of the Peresviet class and the 12,580-ton Potemkin. The eight battleships of the 1898 program all were in service by the beginning of the war with Japan in 1904. While focusing on capital ships Russia remained a leader in mine warfare, in 1898–99 constructing the world’s first purpose-built minelayers, the 3,010-ton Amur and Yenisei. Russia also purchased the submarine Protector, launched in 1902 by the American Simon Lake, built additional submarines in St Petersburg designed by Lake, and ordered three more from Germania of Kiel.

The Borodino-class battleships were based upon the earlier battleship Tsesarevich, which had been built to a French design at La Seyne and fought as the Russian flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904. The Russian Navy agreed to buy Tsesarevitch under the conditions that they could construct 5 more of them and modify them to meet the standards of the Russian Navy; thus Oryol, Kniaz Suvorov, Borodino, Aleksandr III, and Slava were built in Russian yards. Only Slava was not finished in time to participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As previously mentioned all of the class were of a tumblehome hull design as were many of the French Pre-Dreadnoughts of the period. Dupuy de Lôme, the leading French naval architect, was a proponent of the idea as it increased fields of fire for the main and secondary gun batteries, as well as improve seaworthiness and create greater freeboard. Another advantage of the tumblehome design was that it provided for sloped armour – giving a thicker vertical belt at any given point due to the slope of the armour plate.

Along with the lead-ship of the class, Tsesarevich, the vessels suffered from instability having a high centre of gravity (made worse by overloading). The centre line bulkhead led to a danger of capsizing and a narrow armour belt became submerged due to overloading. As such, some naval architects regard these as some of the worst battleships ever built.

The Japanese re-built Oryol, which they renamed Iwami, by substantially reducing its top-hamper and removing the lighter calibre guns.

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Motobomba FFF

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The Motabomba, or more properly the Motobomba FFF (Freri Fiore Filpa), was a torpedo used by Italian forces during World War II. The designation FFF was derived from the last names the three men involved with its original design: Lieutenant-Colonel Prospero Freri, Captain-Disegnatore Filpa, and Colonel Amedeo Fiore.

The FFF was a 500 millimetres (20 in) diameter electric torpedo which was dropped on a parachute and was designed to steer concentric spirals of between 550 and 4,375 yards (500 and 4,000 m) until it found a target. It weighed 350 kilograms (770 lb), and contained a 120 kilograms (260 lb) warhead. Its speed was 40 knots (46 mph) and it had an endurance of 15–30 minutes. It was acknowledged by the Germans as superior to anything they had and American intelligence was eager to get its hands on it after the Armistice with Italy in September 1943.

Development

The initial development work on the torpedo was carried out at Parioli, near Rome. It was demonstrated in 1935 to Benito Mussolini, Admiral Domenico Cavagnari, General Giuseppe Valle and other high officials. Freri later demonstrated it at the Germania works at Travemünde, the Luftwaffe experimental trials centre, and the Germans were sufficiently impressed to order 2,000 examples.

500 were ordered for the Regia Aeronautica, the first planned uses for them in combat to be against the British naval bases at Gibraltar and Alexandria in 1940. The limiting factor was the fact that only the Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 bomber had the necessary power and range to deliver such a weapon over such a distance.

The first version of the FFF were designed to enter the water vertically, but it was found that a tilt device allowing it to make a gentler angled entry was less likely to upset the delicate mechanisms, and this was implemented on the second series.

Service history

The first attack using the FFF was made on July 17, 1942 when three SM.82s flew from Guidonia against Gibraltar, an effort repeated on July 25, both missions aborted before launch. On the night of August 20, a Major Lucchini conducted a successful mission against Gibraltar and this was followed by attacks on targets in Albanian, Libyan, and Egyptian waters. Aircraft of 32 Stormo attacked Gibraltar once more in June 1941 and in that same month Lieutenant Torelli (based at Rhodes) attacked Alexandria harbour on the night of June 13.

The largest use of the weapon was against the PEDESTAL convoy to Malta on August 12, 1942 when ten Savoia-Marchetti SM.84s of 38 Gruppe’s 32 Stormo launched them against the convoy south of Cape Spartivento, Sardinia. This made the ships of the convoy alter course, which allowed conventional attacks to penetrate the convoy’s defences.

By September 1942 the Italians had 80 of the improved Mk 2 version at bases in Sardinia, 50 in Sicily, and 50 more with their experimental (ASI) 5 Squadron.

The Luftwaffe made their first mass attack using the weapon on March 19, 1943 when Junkers Ju 88s launched 72 of them against shipping at Tripoli, sinking two supply ships and damaging the destroyer HMS Derwent. Derwent was subsequently beached with her engine room flooded and although salvaged and returned to England, was never repaired.

The FFF was subsequently used in attacks against invasion shipping at Bône in Algeria on April 16, 1943 and at Syracuse during the Allied invasion of Sicily later that year. On December 2 a force of 105 Ju 88s attacked Bari harbour with FFFs, destroying 16 Allied ships including the SS John Harvey, which had been carrying mustard gas.

Bibliography

Giuseppe Ciampaglia: “La sorprendente storia della motobomba FFF”. Rivista Italiana Difesa. Luglio 1999

Motobomba FFF

The first Italian bombers appeared on Gibraltar in 17 of July, 1940. three SM 82 Marsupiale dropped each 4 250 kg high explosive bombs on the harbour( not in the sea) that was not darkened because none in the British Empire knew the performances of this three-engine aircraft yet ( 4000 km autonomy, 4000 kg bomb load).The British night fighters didn’t succeed in striking the raiders.

Bombs on the sea? Maybe you are right, but some weapons MUST be dropped in the sea.

In July/august 1940 and in June 1941 the SM 82s bombed Gibraltar 4-6 times. A special weapon employed in this attacks was the Motobomba FFF ( Freri Fiore Filpa) torpedo. These were 50cm electric torpedoes which followed a circular course when dropped, the circle getting gradually larger. They weighed 350kg, of which 120kg was the warhead. The weapon was dropped as a bomb in the sea but it moved as a torpedo and was very useful against ships that were anchored in an harbour. Each motobomba was connected with a parachute , this is the reason why the wind took 2 bombs on a Spanish village.

In 13 July and 20 august 1941 two merchant ships in Gibraltar were sunk by the “motobombe” .

The Motobomba was also employed by the Luftwaffe ( FLT 400 torpedo was dropped by Ju-88 and Dornier 217 on Tripoli, Bona and Algeri harbours , some ships were sunk).

Operation Airthief – the plan to hijack an Fw 190A

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Armin Faber’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of III/JG 2 at RAF Pembrey, June 1942.

In June 1942, Oberstleutnant Armin Faber was Gruppen-Adjutant to the commander of the III fighter Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) based in Morlaix in Brittany. On 23 June, he was given special permission to fly a combat mission with 7th Staffel. The unit operated Focke-Wulf 190 fighters.
The FW-190 had only recently arrived with front line units at this time and its superior performance had caused the Allies so many problems that they were considering mounting a commando raid on a French airfield to capture one for evaluation.
7th Staffel was scrambled to intercept a force of six Bostons on their way back from a bombing mission; the Bostons were escorted by three Czechoslovak-manned RAF squadrons, 310 Squadron, 312 Squadron and 313 Squadron commanded by Alois Vašátko. A fight developed over the English Channel with the escorting Spitfires, during which Faber was attacked by Sergeant František Trejtnar (Czech) of 310 Squadron. In his efforts to shake off the Spitfire, Faber flew north over Exeter in Devon. After much high-speed manoeuvring, Faber, with only one cannon working, pulled an Immelmann turn into the sun and shot down his pursuer in a head-on attack.
Trejnar bailed out safely, although he had a shrapnel wound in his arm and sustained a broken leg on landing; his Spitfire crashed near the village of Black Dog, Devon. Meanwhile, the disorientated Faber now mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and flew north instead of south. Thinking South Wales was France, he turned towards the nearest airfield – RAF Pembrey. Observers on the ground could not believe their eyes as Faber waggled his wings in a victory celebration, lowered the Focke-Wulf’s undercarriage and landed.
The Pembrey Duty Pilot, one Sergeant Jeffreys, grabbed a Very pistol and ran from the control tower and jumped onto the wing of Faber’s aircraft as it taxied in. Faber was apprehended and later taken to RAF Fairwood Common by Group Captain David Atcherley (twin brother of Richard Atcherley) for interrogation.

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By the spring of 1942 the Fw 190 had become an uncomfortably sharp thorn in the side of RAF Fighter Command. Obviously, if an airworthy example of the Fw 190 could be captured and its secrets probed, that would be of inestimable value. Capt. Philip Pinckney, a British commando officer, hatched a daring plan to gain that end.

In an operation of this type, two men might succeed where more might fail. Pinckney suggested that his good friend Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot at the Supermarine Company, should accompany him on the enterprise.

The essentials of the plan were as follows. On Night 1 a Royal Navy motor gunboat, equipped with direction-finding radio, was to carry the pair to a point within about two miles of a selected beach on the French coast, where they would disembark into a folding canoe. The pair would paddle ashore, hide their boat in sand dunes and lie up during the following day. On Night 2 the pair would move inland to within observation range of the selected Fw 190 airfield, and hide up before dawn. During the daylight hours the pair would keep the airfield under observation and plan their attack. On Night 3 the pair would penetrate the airfield defences by stealth, and conceal themselves as near as possible to one or more Fw 190s at their dispersal points. The pair would then wait until the next day, when the ground crew arrived to run the engine of one of the fighters.

The pair would then break cover, shoot or drive away the ground crewmen, and Jeffrey Quill would jump into the cockpit and taxi the machine to the runway. As he did so, Pinckney would be outside the plane warding off any attempt to interfere with the operation. Once Quill was safely airborne, Pinckney would withdraw to a previously prepared hide. On Night 4 he would return to the hidden canoe. Just before dawn he would launch the craft and paddle out to sea, making radio transmissions so that the motor gunboat could home on the craft and pick him up.

Yet in a remarkable coincidence, on the very day Pinckney submitted his proposal, the need for this risky operation disappeared. On the afternoon of 23 June an Fw 190 pilot had become disorientated in a dogfight with Spitfires over southern England. He mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and made a wheels-down landing at Pembrey airfield, south Wales [above]. Thus, the RAF gained the coveted example of an Fw 190, without having to resort to the risky ‘Airthief operation.

Fw 190 – Entry into service In March 1941

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Oberleutnant Otto Behrens assumed command of Erprobungsstaffel 190 based at Rechlin- Roggenthin. The unit received six pre-production Fw 190A-Os and its brief was to test the new tighter under service conditions. The pilots and ground crews assigned to the Erprobungstaffel were drawn from II. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 26, and the latter unit was earmarked to receive the first production Fw 190s when these became available.

During early service trials the Fw 190A-0 exhibited a number of serious shortcomings. The new BMW 801C engine suffered from overheating, although not to the same extent as the BMW 139. The engine’s automatic fuel control system also gave trouble. For a given throttle-setting, set by the pilot, this automatic system should have established the optimum relationship between aircraft altitude, fuel flow, fuel mixture, engine revolutions, supercharger gear selection, propeller pitch setting and ignition timing. The system did not work reliably at first, but a string of modifications over a long period reduced the problems to an acceptable level.

In June 1941 the first four production Fw 190A-1s emerged from the Marienburg factory. By August, monthly production reached 30 aircraft. The first two aircraft off the Arado/Warnemunde production line were delivered in August, and the first two from the AGO/Oschersleben plant followed in October. The initial production version carried an armament of four MG 17 7.9-mm machine-guns, two on top of the forward fuselage and two in the wing roots, with all four synchronised to fire through the airscrew.

By the end of September 1941 the Luftwaffe had accepted a total of 82 Fw 190A-1s. One Gruppe, II./JG 26 based at Moorseele in Belgium, had re-equipped with the new fighter and deliveries had started to III./JG 26 based at Liegescourt in northern France.

British intelligence

By this time the British Air Ministry had received vague and contradictory evidence as to the existence of the new German fighter. The Air Ministry Weekly Intelligence Summary dated 13 August 1941. a secret document issued to all RAF units and made available to all officers and aircrew, carried the following report:

“A certain number of these new fighters have been produced, hut information is very scanty. The general design is said to be based on American practice and the aircraft is probably a low-wing monoplane with a fairly short fuselage and a span of about 30 feet. This new aircraft is fitted with a two-bank radial, an engine of the same type as that in the Dornier 217. It is definitely known that this particular machine had to be fitted with an auxiliary mechanically-driven fan to keep the engine temperatures within reasonable limits. It is also reported that it is equipped with a very large airscrew and that the undercarriage is extraordinarily high in order to give the necessary ground clearance. Rough estimates show that the speed of the Fw 190 is somewhere between 370 and 380 mph at 18-20,000 ft.”

Although brief, the report was accurate except in two respects. The propeller fitted to the Fw 190 was not particularly large. Also, and more importantly, the report underestimated the maximum speed of the Fw 190 by about 30 mph (48 km/h).

Soon after II./JG 26 commenced combat patrols in September, the RAF pilot’s reports began to mention encounters with a new German fighter type. Following action on 18 September, a combat report noted the destruction of “a Curtiss Hawk (or Fw 190)”. Almost certainly the aircraft was the Fw 190 flown by the commander of II./JG 26, Hauptmann Walter Adolph, who was shot clown and killed on that day.

Three days later, while escorting Blenheim bombers attacking the power station at Gusnay near Bethune, the Polish No. 315 Squadron reported that its Spitfires had destroyed “one unknown enemy aircraft with a radial engine”. Almost certainly this was the Fw 190 of Lieutenant Ulrich Dzialas, who was lost at that time.

The evidence mounted slowly, and more months elapsed before the RAF Intelligence Sevice committed itself to a positive identification of the new German fighter. In the issue dated 29 October 1941 the Weekly Intelligence Summary stated: “In recent weeks a radial-engined type of fighter has been reported as a French aircraft, the Bloch 151, and as a new type of German fighter, the Fw 190. There is as yet insufficient evidence to say with certainty what the new aircraft is”.

By the beginning of 1942 RAF Intelligence had at last established beyond doubt that the aircraft was indeed the Fw 190. Also, from the reports of disgruntled fighter pilots who encountered it in combat, it became clear that the radial-engined Fw 190 was a formidable opponent. It had a dear margin in performance over the Spitfire Mk V, the best aircraft RAF Fighter Command then had available.

Even after it began flying combat missions the Fw 190 continued to suffer from engine overheating. Sometimes this led to fires in flight and, following losses to this cause, an edict was issued forbidding pilots to fly over the sea beyond gliding range from the coast. Despite that difficulty, the Fw 190 proved a formidable adversary. In the months that followed the RAF learned to its discomfort that the new German fighter had the edge in performance over any of its operational types.