The War of Austrian Succession: 1740-1748 – In Italy

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The death of the Chevalier de Belle-Isle, Battle of Assietta.

In October 1740, Emperor Charles VI died. In his youth he had held title as the Archduke Charles, claimant to the Spanish crown and for whom the Habsburgs waged the War for the Spanish Succession. He left a single heir, his daughter the Archduchess Maria Theresa.

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. Charles VI, however, negotiated with the ruling houses of Europe and the magnates of his monarchy to accept Maria Theresa as his legitimate and rightful heir and the next empress. Having secured domestic recognition of his daughter’s right to succeed him, he also acquired international recognition embodied in the document, the Pragmatic Sanction. It did not work. As soon as he died, the Bavarian and Saxon electors competed for the crown; and King Frederick II of Prussia, newly ascended to the throne, rejected Maria Theresa’s legitimacy and invaded Silesia, wealthiest of the Habsburg territories. France did not enter the war, but a French auxiliary corps was dispatched to central Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Westphalia, “to defend German liberties.”

The Spanish royal family decided the war offered an opportunity to reclaim Milan. Prince Philip of Bourbon, the youngest son of Philip V and Elizabeth Farnese, needed a crown; and Milan, along with Parma, suited him. A Spanish army landed in Tuscany-a neutral-and marched north to the Padana Plain. Then, Philip V asked his son Charles VII of Naples to return the army he lent him in 1733 to the Neapolitan and Sicilian thrones. Neapolitan troops marched north to join the Spanish army.

France too required allies. They requested Piedmontese permission to cross the Alps and march on Milan, but Charles Emmanuel III did not want to involve his state in this conflict. He realized that, in case of a French and Spanish victory, Piedmont would be caught between the Bourbons. It meant the end of any autonomous policy and of any possible dream of expanding his power in Italy. Moreover, he threatened the approaching Spanish army that if it entered the Padana Plain, his army would its his route to Milan.

At the same time, Britain perceived the precarious situation as a threat to the Balance of Power. Piedmont and Austria were alone against much of Europe, save Russia. London therefore committed its resources to the Habsburg cause. Charles Emmanuel received a £250,000 annual subsidy to keep his army on a war footing. Then, a British squadron entered the Mediterranean under Admiral Matthews, ordered to act in support of Charles Emmanuel. The British ships entered Naples harbor with some five thousand marines. Charles VII knew it. He had no fleet and very few men to defend the city because his army had marched north. So, when Matthews presented an ultimatum: recall all his regiments with the Spanish army, or the city would be shelled and the marines landed, Charles VII had little recourse but to accept the terms.

The defection of Naples eased Charles Emmanuel’s army action against the Spanish in the Padana Plain. Not wanting to face isolation, the Spanish withdrew through the Papal States along the Adriatic coast. Soon after, Charles Emmanuel countermarched rapidly to meet a second Spanish army entering Savoy via France. He won the campaign, but it was clear that the war was becoming harder to manage.

In 1743 the Spanish threatened Piedmont with two armies. Charles Emmanuel possessed no more than 42,000 men and could use only half against each Spanish army. Nonetheless, he crushed Prince Philip’s army, marching from France, at Casteldelfino. Simultaneously, the Piedmontese with their Habsburg allies fought and defeated the second army under de Gages at Camposanto, on the other side of Italy and pressed it to the Neapolitan-Papal States border on the Adriatic coast, where it sought refuge from the Neapolitan king.

In the autumn of 1743, Britain joined Piedmont and Austria in a formal league. The treaty signed in Wörms widened the scope of the conflict from Europe to Asia, Africa, and America, where it was known as King George’s War.

The 1744 campaign was hard fought. Unfortunately, Maria Theresa wanted Naples because, according to the Peace of Utrecht, it should have remained in Habsburg hands, yet the War of Polish Succession had reversed that agreement.

Charles Emmanuel warned the Austrian ruler that this would only increase the strategic dilemma. Why expand the conflict when victory was not in sight? Regardless of the free advice, she ordered her army to destroy de Gages’s Spanish army still waiting on the Neapolitan frontier. Charles VII of Naples, aware of the Austrian menace, declared war and once again united his troops with his father’s army.

An Austrian army marched south, passing through the Papal States from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian coast. Charles VII gathered the Spanish and Neapolitan army and encamped near Velletri, south of Rome. The Austrians attacked in August and were repulsed with great loss.

The defeat forced the Habsburgs to abandon central Italy in November. The Neapolitan-Spanish army followed on their heels, arriving in northern Italy. What a present for Charles Emmanuel, who had his own troubles.

In fact, France officially entered the war in that same year. A French army united with Prince Philip’s army passed the Alps, defeated the local Piedmontese resistance, and besieged Cuneo. Charles Emmanuel tried to relieve the city, but failed. He then directed the militia against the enemy’s ordnance and supply lines and, thanks to these guerrilla tactics and to Cuneo’s resistance, the Bourbon armies raised the siege and withdrew to France to take winter quarters.

In the early days of 1745, Genoa entered the conflict. The Most Serene Republic sought neutrality, just as Venice had done for the third time in forty-five years. Unfortunately, while Venice could defend its neutrality with 40,000 men, Genoa could not; and, moreover, Britain and Austria promised to give Charles Emmanuel the Marquisate of Finale, a little imperial fief in Liguria owned by the republic as a feudatory of the empire. Charles Emmanuel desired it as a port, an additional window to the Mediterranean.

In order to protect its territory, Genoa signed a treaty in Aranjuez and joined the Bourbon alliance. It was a disaster for Charles Emmanuel. The Genoese accession to the League provided the Spanish-French army with an opened route from France through Genoese territory, and now they could mass the army from France with the army from Naples via Velletri, adding to it 10,000 Genoese troops. This was the real disaster as it increased the powerful Bourbon army to 90,000 men.

As the war in Flanders continued, Charles Emmanuel received no support from Austria.

He had a mere 43,000 men. Maneuvering them well to avoid battle, he lost many fortresses but preserved his army. Despite this, he was compelled to accept an armistice in December 1745. Fortunately, Prussia accepted peace terms offered by Austria, allowing Vienna to send 12,000 men to Italy. It was not an impressive army, but enough to permit Charles Emmanuel to take the field upon the expiration of the armistice. In the spring 1746 he attacked and the Bourbons were defeated. Milan was reconquered, Piedmont liberated, and Genoa overrun by the Austrians. The Piedmontese army occupied western Liguria and the French and Spanish fled, abandoning the republic.

While Charles Emmanuel prepared an invasion of southern France, he sent a regiment to support the Corsican revolution against Genoese rule.

Genoa found itself under occupation and threatened with destruction if it did not pay 3 million scudi to Austria. Subsequently the city revolted, and the Austrian garrison was ejected. Charles Emmanuel halted his operations against France and marched to support Austrian operations against the city. The Genoese fleet, supported by coastal defenses, prevented the British fleet from shelling Genoa, but the Austrian and Piedmontese armies cut the city off from the outside world by land, while the French supplied its ally with men and material by sea.

In the spring of 1747, a new French army marched along the Mediterranean coast. Charles Emmanuel ordered his troops to hold Nice, but soon he knew that another French expeditionary force was approaching the Alps from the west. If they crossed the Alps, they could effectively threaten Turin.

Charles Emmanuel had no troops to stem the invasion. He scraped together what troops he could find. On July 19, 1747, at Assietta Hill, 30,000 French with artillery attacked 5,400 Piedmontese and 2,000 Austrians. At sunset, the French had lost 5,800 men and left more than 600 wounded to the victorious defenders. General Count Bricherasio lost only 192 Piedmontese and 27 Austrians; it was clearly a triumph.

Assietta Hill was the last battle of the war on the Italian front. A peace was signed on October 30, 1748, at Aix-la-Chapelle. Everything remained as it was before the war, except that Prince Philip of Spain obtained the duchy of Parma and Charles Emmanuel received from Maria Theresa two West Lombardy provinces, Vigevano, and Anghiera County, and a part of the territory of Pavia, setting the Milanese-Piedmontese border along the Ticino River.

Polyxenidas

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Polyxenidas a Rhodian general and admiral, who was exiled from his native country, and entered the service of Antiochus III the Great, king of Seleucid Empire. We first find him mentioned in 209 BC, when he commanded a body of Cretans mercenaries during the expedition of Antiochus into Hyrcania . But in 192 BC, when the Syrian king had determined upon war with Rome, and crossed over into Greece to commence it, Polyxenidas obtained the chief command of his fleet. After co-operating with Menippus in the reduction of Chalcis, he was sent back to Asia to assemble additional forces during the winter.

We do not hear anything of his operations in the ensuing campaign, 191 BC, but when Antiochus, after his defeat at the Battle of Thermopylae (191 BC) , withdrew to Asia, Polyxenidas was again appointed to command the king’s main fleet on the Ionian coast. Having learnt that the praetor Gaius Livius Salinator was arrived at Delos with the Roman fleet, he strongly urged upon the king the expediency of giving him battle without delay, before he could unite his fleet with those of Eumenes II of Pergamon and the Rhodians. Though his advice was followed, it was too late to prevent the junction of Eumenes with Livius, but Polyxenidas gave battle to their combined fleets off Corycus. The superiority of numbers, however, decided the victory in favour of the allies ; thirteen ships of the Syrian fleet were taken and ten sunk, while Polyxenidas himself, with the remainder, took refuge in the port of Ephesus.

Here he spent the winter in active preparations for a renewal of the contest; and early in the next spring (b. c. 190), having learnt that Pausistratus, with the Rhodian fleet, had already put to sea, he conceived the idea of surprising him before he could unite his forces with those of Livius. For this purpose he pretended to enter into negotiations with him for the betrayal into his hands of the Syrian fleet, and having by this means deluded him into a fancied security, suddenly attacked him, and destroyed almost his whole fleet. After this success he sailed to Samos to give battle to the fleet of the Roman admiral and Eumenes, but a storm prevented the engagement, and Polyxenidas withdrew to Ephesus. Soon after, Livius, having been reinforced by a fresh squadron of twenty Rhodian ships under Eudamus (Rhodian), proceeded in his turn to offer battle to Polyxenidas, but this the latter now declined. Lucius Aemilius Regillus, who soon after succeeded Livius in the command of the Roman fleet, also attempted without effect to draw Polyxenidas forth from the port of Ephesus : but at a later period in the season Eumenes, with his fleet, having been detached to the Hellespont while a considerable part of the Rhodian forces were detained in Lycia, the Syrian admiral seized the opportunity and sallied out to attack the Roman fleet.

The action took place at Battle of Myonessus near Teos, but terminated in the total defeat of Polyxenidas, who lost 42 of his ships, and made a hasty retreat with the remainder to Ephesus. Here he remained until he received the tidings of the fatal battle of Magnesia, on which he sailed to Patara in Lycia, and from thence proceeded by land to join Antiochus in Syria. After this his name is not again mentioned

Post-war Spitfire XIV

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The final Spitfire variant, the Mk 24, was similar to the Mk 22 except that it had an increased fuel capacity over its predecessors, with two fuel tanks of 33 gal (150 l) each installed in the rear fuselage. There were also zero-point fittings for rocket projectiles under the wings. All had the larger “Spiteful” tail units: modifications were also made to the trim tab gearings in order to perfect the F 24’s handling characteristics. Late production aircraft were built with the lighter, short-barrelled, electrically fired Mark V Hispano cannon.

Performance was impressive – the F 24 achieved a maximum speed of 454 mph (731 km/h), and could reach an altitude of 30,000 ft (9,100 m) in eight minutes, putting it on a par with the most advanced piston-engined fighters of the era.

Although designed primarily as a fighter-interceptor aircraft, the Spitfire proved its versatility in several different roles. In fighter configuration the F 24’s armament consisted of 4 × short-barrelled 20 mm Hispano cannon – operational experience had proved that the hitting power of these larger weapons was necessary to overcome the thicker armoured plating encountered on enemy aircraft as the war progressed. The aircraft also served successfully in the fighter-bomber role, being capable of carrying 1 × 500 lb (230 kg) and 2 × 250 lb (110 kg) bombs, with rocket-projectile launch rails fitted as standard.

A total of 81 Mk 24s were completed, 27 of which were conversions from Mk 22s. The last Mk 24 to be built was delivered in February 1948. They were used by only one RAF squadron, 80 Squadron, until 1952. Some of the squadron’s aircraft went to the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force where they were operated until 1955.

Introduced into service in 1946, the F. Mk 24 differed greatly from the original Spitfire Mk I in many respects and undoubtedly brought the design to the peak of perfection, being twice as heavy, more than twice as powerful and exhibiting an increase in climb rate of 80% over the prototype aircraft, ‘K5054’. These remarkable increases in performance arose chiefly from the introduction of the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine in place of the famous Merlin of earlier variants. Rated at 2,050 hp (1,530 kW), the twelve-cylinder Vee liquid cooled Griffon 61 engine featured a two-stage supercharger, giving the Spitfire the exceptional performance at high altitude that had been sometimes lacking in early marks.

In growing numbers and with increasing capability the Spitfire served throughout World War II, not only with the RAF but with the nation’s allies, including US and Soviet squadrons. It also had the distinction of remaining in production throughout the entire war and was operational post-war, the last mission flown by a photo-reconnaissance Spitfire PR.MK 19 of No. 81 Squadron in Malaya on 1 April 1954.

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The Spartan Anomaly

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Sparta was the one city-state in Greece that deviated from the pattern of warfare described above. By the sixth century BCE, the Spartans had established the only real standing army in Greece, training hoplites who can be classified as professionals. Sparta’s deviation from the norm stemmed from a war fought in the eighth century in which Sparta had defeated neighboring Messenia. Sparta had then reduced many of the citizens of that region to the status of serfs, called helots. The helots, who lived quite a distance from Sparta, had to turn over half of their produce to their Spartan masters. In the middle of the seventh century, the helots, emboldened by a Spartan defeat at the hands of rival Argos, rebelled against Spartan control. The uprising by the Messenians nearly ended in defeat for the Spartans, but they were able to put down the rebellion. Afterward, Spartan attitudes hardened, and the Spartan system of the classical period developed.

The Spartans reduced the helots to the status of slaves of the state and allotted land and helots to work it to each Spartan. As a result, rather than serving part-time as citizen-farmers, the Spartans could spend their time training for war, preempting the threat of another war with Messenia or Argos. The Spartans also made use of terror to control the helot population and make them more docile servants of the state. For example, the Spartans annually declared war on the helots so that Spartans could kill helots with impunity. Even more frightening was the work of the Krypteia, the Spartan secret police. All men under age 30 served for two years in the Krypteia. Under certain circumstances, most likely when a helot revolt threatened, these young men were sent out armed only with a dagger and a supply of rations. They were to kill every helot they met, and they sometimes sought out particularly strong helots to slay.

In order to create the army necessary to enforce this system, the Spartans began preparing young men for war virtually at birth. All male Spartan newborns were inspected by the elders of their tribes; those deemed unfit were thrown into the gorge of Mount Taygetus. Those deemed fit lived at home until age 7 and then entered the agoge, the Spartan way of life. They were taught to live on modest rations and to endure being left alone, and they learned dances that involved the weapons of a hoplite to accustom them to moving to the sound of the flute (phalanxes marched in time to flute playing). At age 12, training became more intense-boys were deprived of food and encouraged to steal rations, since this would prepare them to live off the land (stealing was fine-but those who were discovered were whipped for having been caught). To prepare for the rigors of campaigning, the boys received but a single thin cloak to be used year-round and slept on a bed of reeds. At age 18 or 20, the young men joined a mess of about fifteen men. They would live in the barracks with their messmates until age 30, at which time they could start their own households (they could marry at 20 but still lived in the barracks).

This harsh system allowed the Spartans to create a superlative hoplite force. The Spartans organized their phalanx into companies and regiments unknown to other phalanxes and had a more formal command structure than anything seen elsewhere in Greece. They drilled in special maneuvers that made the Spartan phalanx much more effective and flexible on the battlefield. And the harsh training gave the Spartans a fearsome reputation as doughty soldiers capable of enduring hardship in silence.

There was, however, a price for this system: a perennial shortage of manpower. Some of this was made up for by the inclusion in the Spartan army of perioikoi (literally, “those who dwell around”), members of nearby towns who had surrendered control of their foreign policy to the Spartans in return for protection. They governed themselves but followed Sparta’s lead in foreign affairs. Sparta also had allies organized into a confederation known as the Peloponnesian League, although Spartan control of the league varied greatly. The nature and extent of Sparta’s manpower problems have been debated-there was probably no shortage of actual Spartans, just of ones well off enough to contribute to the mess and thus serve in the phalanx-but it was severe enough that at times the Spartans promised helots freedom and rights in exchange for military service, often far from home.

The Peloponnesian War, 431–404 BCE

The growth of Athenian power troubled the Spartans. Sparta was the status quo power in Greece. It had led, at least in name, the allies in the war against Persia in 480-79 BCE, and it was the dominant power for at least twenty years thereafter. But as Athens’ power grew, the Spartans’ position was jeopardized. Tensions were heightened by the obvious political difference between democratic Athens and monarchical Sparta, a difference central to the internal politics of many of both cities’ allies. Thucydides explicitly states that Sparta was motivated by fear when it began the great Peloponnesian War in 431. When Corcyra, an Athenian ally, and Corinth, a member of the Peloponnesian League, went to war in 431, mediation failed, both leagues lined up behind their allies, and the war began. Some still opposed war: The astute Spartan king Archidamus noted that Sparta might need to go to war with Athens, but not at this time-if it did, it would be a war Spartans would leave to their children. He was proved right, as the changes in Greek warfare latent since the end of the Persian Wars transformed the limited engagements of the sixth century into a long and bitter conflict in which the customs of earlier Greek combat went by the boards.

Winning Strategy

The Peloponnesian War saw numerous actions both on land and at sea, and in these actions, the impact of the Persian Wars can be seen. Strategically, the Greeks had learned much from the war with Persia, and both alliances planned and executed complex strategies. The war’s complicated alliances dictated operations on several fronts at once. The Athenian strategy formulated by Pericles at the beginning of the war would have been impossible sixty years earlier: He succeeded in convincing the Athenians to abandon Attica and remain within the walls of Athens, her fortified naval arsenal at Piraeus, and the famous Long Walls that connected them, relying on the fleet for supplies. He hoped that after two or three years the Spartans would give up when they could not draw the Athenians into a hoplite battle. Unfortunately, Spartan resolve lasted longer than Pericles anticipated, and something of a strategic stalemate developed between Spartan land power and Athenian naval power.

Subversion of allies and conversion of neutrals became important tools in the conflict; the correspondingly increased need to securely hold allies in place led both sides, especially Athens, into increasingly brutal measures against revolts and resistance. Both sides also looked farther afield for ways to break the stalemate. This proved disastrous for Athens when its expedition against Syracuse in 415-13 resulted in a major defeat for both its fleet and its army. Still, Athenian forces recovered in the years after Syracuse and remained more than a match for Peloponnesian forces at sea. But Sparta brought Persian naval forces and money into its war effort in 408, and a series of naval victories combined with a near-constant land siege of Athens brought the war to an end in 404.

PT-Boats in Surigao Strait

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Battle of Surigao Strait – US Navy PT Boats, IJN Fuso & Yamashiro.

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PTs 130, 131, and 152, three of six boats positioned furthest into the Mindanao Sea, were the first to spot the Japanese on radar. As the Japanese ships drew close, the three boats revved engines and dashed south. By 11:50 P.M., they actually saw the Japanese ships and began transmitting contact reports by radio. Within moments, lookouts on destroyer Shigure spotted the PTs. While Fuso and Yamashiro hung back, Shigure turned on searchlights, lofted illuminating star shells over the PTs, and advanced to confront them. Seconds later, 4.7-in. projectiles from Shigure’s main batteries bracketed the PTs. The Battle of Surigao Strait began.

To Bob Clarkin on the 152 Boat, the next moments were a riotous blur. “The first thing I remembered was the boat hauling ass away. We hadn’t fired torpedoes and we were caught in a searchlight. The noise was incredible.” Bob heard an explosion forward. “Charlie Midgett, the guy on the bow thirty-seven-millimeter gun was down. He looked pretty bad to me. He probably died right away.” Fires flared topside and below decks. “Some of the guys carried Charlie and a couple of wounded down to the skipper’s cabin. The mattresses in crew’s quarters were burning, so I went below, hauled them up, and tossed them over the side.” By then, 152 was covered by screening smoke from the 130 Boat, but incoming rounds still howled and splashed around them. “The skipper signaled me to roll one of the stern depth charges.” The charge exploded behind them. It was meant to fool the Japanese, but Bob doubted they’d even notice.

This was the first of a string of brief, unequal duels—a nuisance for the Japanese, chaos for the PT crews. Caught under destroyer star shells, searchlights, and gunfire, most boats had no time to line up a good torpedo shot. The 152 Boat—on fire, her bow splintered, one crewman dead and three others wounded—was the worst hit in the first duel. But Boat 130 also was pounded when its skipper Ian Malcolm slowed to lay covering smoke for 152. “We took a hit on our port forward torpedo. It shaved off most of the warhead’s TNT and ripped up twelve feet of deck before it left through the bow. The fish’s detonator cap was hanging by a wire. I dove for it, but one of the gunner’s mates got there first, tossed the detonator cap to me, and I batted it over the side.” The concussion silenced 130’s radio gear. Unable to communicate what he’d seen, Malcolm nursed the 130 southeast to link up with the three PTs waiting near Camiguin Island.

In 127’s chart house, Tom Tenner picked up something on his radar screen. “I saw some blips and called them out. The skipper wanted to know more, but it was hard to judge course and speed; sometimes the radar picked them up sometimes it missed them, depending on how high the waves were. It seemed there were about eight ships: two large blips, one medium, and the rest smaller. We finally estimated their speed at twenty to twenty-two knots.

“Just then Boat 130 came over. They’d been shot up and lost their radio, but their skipper was able to tell us what he’d seen.” Sitting topside as pointer on the forty-mm, Don Bujold heard Jack Cady’s greeting to Ian Malcolm. “The boat captains had these Rudy Valle-type megaphones. I remember Jack Cady shouting across to Malcolm: ‘Mai, are you scared?’ And Malcolm shouted back: ‘Hell, no, I’m terrified!'”

When the 130 Boat arrived, 127’s radioman Jake Hanley left his topside GQ station and went below. “We moved bow to bow with the 130, and Malcolm came aboard. We crowded into the chart room. Ian was pretty excited, but Cady was a man who could calm anyone down. Cady took down Malcolm’s information; I got the code book out and converted the information into coded groups of four or five letters to transmit by voice on the radio. I had to repeat the code groups over and over before I got an acknowledgment. I could tell the Japanese were trying to scramble the signal, but I finally got a confirmation.”

It was the 130’s information and 127’s transmission, received just after midnight, that first alerted the battleship, cruiser, and destroyer lines exactly what was coming and when to expect it. Meanwhile, Nishimura radioed Kurita: “Advancing as scheduled while destroying enemy torpedo boats.”

‘Istrebitel Sputnikov’ (IS)

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An artist’s conception of a Soviet anti-satellite weapon destroying a satellite in 1984.

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The Russian satellite destroyer known as ‘Istrebitel Sputnikov‘ (IS). Carrying an explosive charge, it would be guided on an intercept course towards enemy satellites.

America’s ability to gather intelligence on Soviet developments was severely limited during the early post-war years and the only methods of aerial observation available were large numbers of camera-equipped balloons and specialised spyplanes. The balloons were uncontrollable, unreliable and generated serious diplomatic problems, while the high-altitude reconnaissance flights ended on 1st May 1960 when a Lockheed U-2 was shot down and the pilot captured. There was now intense pressure on US defence contractors to provide the USAF and CIA with a reconnaissance satellite system, and there was an equal determination within the Soviet Union to counter US satellite observation of its activities. Vladimir Chelomei is generally credited within Russia as being the first designer to suggest the idea of an anti-satellite system using another small space vehicle carrying an explosive charge. His initial proposal for an Istrebitel Sputnikov (IS – Destroyer of Satellites) was made in 1959. This small vehicle would be directed towards the target from the ground before it switched to its own terminal guidance system.

In early 1960 Khrushchev approved development of the UR-200 ballistic missile which Chelomei had suggested as the launcher for his IS satellite destroyer, and a decision to proceed with the IS was approved in early 1961. This project was assigned to Anatoly Savin and his deputy K. A. Vlasko-Vlasov, who ran a group within OKB-52 called KB-1. Much of the work on the IS appears to have been compartmentalised and classified as top secret. As the first prototypes neared completion in 1963, there were still problems with developing the UR-200 and a formal request was made via official channels to secure the use of R-7 launch vehicles for testing. The first two prototype test vehicles, named Polet (Flight), were launched on 1st November 1963 and 12th April 1964. Both lacked radar and infrared homing systems but successfully demonstrated orbital manoeuvring capabilities. But the UR-200 missile intended to launch IS still proved very troublesome and after the second test it was cancelled. However, the Ministry of Defence was sufficiently impressed with IS to recommend that the launch vehicle should be replaced by an R-36 missile (SS-9 NATO Scarp) then under development by OKB-586. This resulted in OKB-586 receiving a formal request in August 1965 to develop a suitable version of the R-36 as an IS launcher, and the new slightly modified design was designated 11K67 (and later Tsyklon-2A).

The test launch of this rocket carrying the third prototype IS vehicle took place at Baikonur on 27th October 1967 and was judged to have been a success. Named Cosmos- 185, the IS spacecraft initially entered a 339 x 229 mile (546 x 370km) orbit with a 64.1° inclination, which was later boosted to a 550 x 324 mile (888 x 522km) orbit. During April 1968 another IS vehicle was launched at Baikonur as Cosmos-217, although something went wrong with this test and the IS failed to separate from the upper stage. Six months later Cosmos-248 was launched into orbit at Baikonur as a large target satellite for a fullscale test of the IS vehicle’s capability. Within a matter of hours Cosmos-249 had been launched which was a fully equipped IS vehicle. Cosmos-249 attained a 157 x 84 mile (254 x 136km) orbit and manoeuvred to pass within close proximity of Cosmos-248. A small explosive charge was then detonated to demonstrate the system, although the target vehicle is thought to have remained largely undamaged.

Less than two weeks later another IS vehicle designated Cosmos-252 was launched and successfully intercepted Cosmos-248. The spacecraft exploded within close proximity of the satellite and it was completely destroyed. Although the IS system was still in its early test phase, it seems reasonable to conclude that these trials were considered very successful. Further launches took place during 1969 and 1970 with the orbital apogees of the vehicles increasing to more than 1,242 miles (2,000km) before descent to the target. During 1971 several target satellites designated DS-P1-M were launched from Plesetsk and ASAT trials continued until 1972 when SALT 1 was signed. However, it seems that the Soviet anti-satellite system was considered semi-operational by this time.

Tests resumed in 1976, possibly as a response to military proposals for the US Shuttle which the Soviets perceived as an offensive weapon. It was also clear that the capability and accuracy of the IS system continued to improve. Development of this programme proceeded rather erratically until 1983 when Chairman Yuri Andropov decided to halt further ASAT trials for political reasons. Although ASAT research continued and the Polyus orbital platform was built and unsuccessfully launched in 1987, no further tests were undertaken. Just how far the US went with attempts to duplicate the Soviet IS system remains unknown, but Project SAINT may have been conceived as a direct response to IS.

Battle of Talas River – Redux

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In 751 a Tang (T’ang) dynasty army commanded by Gao Xianzhi (Kao Hsien-chih), military governor of Anxi (An-hsi) in the Western Regions, met an Arab army in battle at Talas River near Samarkand. The Chinese were defeated. Although this was not a major military confrontation, it had great consequences.

Tang power and prestige stood at their zenith up to 750. Tang military forces had scored major successes and secured the frontiers from Tibet to Central Asia; the northern steppes were under a friendly semi-sedentary people called Uighurs, while the Khitans in the northeast and the Xixia (Hsi Hsia) in the southwest were contained. International trade flourished by land along the Silk Road, and by sea routes. However soon all would change. The aging Emperor Xuanzong (Hsuan-tsung), infatuated with a young concubine, the Lady Yang (Yang Guifei), had been neglecting his duties while her corrupt family and favorites dominated the government. The military system that had made the empire strong during the previous 100 years was deteriorating. Many of the frontier garrisons were manned by nomadic mercenaries and commanded by non-Chinese generals. Meanwhile Muslim Arab power had been expanding eastward.

The conflict began as one between two local states, Ferghana, a Chinese client state, and Tashkent. It led to battle between Ziyad bin Salih, governor of Samarkand under the Ummayyad Caliphate, assisting Tashkent, and General Gao Xianzhi and his Chinese forces. Gao was badly defeated when his ally the Western Turks defected to the Arabs and retreated across the Pamir Mountains. The battle was not significant in the short term, because the Arabs did not press eastward to threaten China, but because of what followed in the long term. In the same year, nearer to home, the aborigines in Yunnan in southwestern China revolted and declared independence, creating a state called Nanzhao (Nan-chao).

Finally in 755 the Turkic general and once imperial favorite An Lushan (An Lu-Shan) began a rebellion that captured both Tang capital cities and threatened the throne. The immediate result of events in 755 was the recall of Chinese forces from Central Asia, creating a political vacuum. That left the Arabs in a strong position. Likewise the power vacuum enabled the Tibetans and the Xixia people to expand their power at China’s expense. Even as an ally the Uighurs expanded their power at the Tang’s expense. Without Chinese military protection the Buddhist states in Central Asia would fall to the rising power of Islam. Chinese power would not return to the region for another 600 years.

Further reading: Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire of Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987; Grousset, René. The Empire of the Steppes, a History of Central Asia. Trans. by Naomi Walford. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

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T’ang armies

The Sui dynasty was founded in northern China in 581 AD and had reunited the whole country by 589. Initial successes were followed by a disastrous war with Koguryo and several rebellions. A military family from the northern frontier succeeded in establishing the new T’ang dynasty, which united China by 623 and extended Chinese frontiers further than ever before. Sui and early T’ang armies were based on the fu-ping militia system, both infantry and cavalry being conscripted but thoroughly trained. The system could not cope with prolonged service on distant frontiers, however, and the militias were progressively replaced by professional troops until being abolished in 753. Some T’ang armies in the steppes were composed entirely of cavalry, though such armies were usually mostly Turkish auxiliaries. Other T’ang armies in Central Asia had all their infantry mounted. Sui armies must use infantry.

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T’ang infantry were divided into pu-ping “marching infantry” and pu-she “foot archers”. Classification is awkward because it was the ideal that all troops should carry bows – even, apparently, if also armed with spears – but it is not clear how far this ideal was achieved. Some Sui cavalry carried lance, others sword and shield. Under the T’ang, most heavy cavalry were armed in originally Turkish style with lamellar armour, lance and bow; but occasional sources show lances only. Sui armies used wagon-laagers and chevaux-de-frise against Turkish cavalry, and T’ang forces also occasionally used defences. Mo-ho are the Manchurian tribes called Malgal by the Koreans. Some fought for the Sui against Koguryo and against Chinese rebels, and for the T’ang against Turks, Tibetans and Silla.

Final Assault on the Reichstag

A total of 89 heavy artillery guns and Katyusha rocket launchers were trained on the Reichstag for a thunderous barrage before the infantry stormed it, turning the structure into a ruin.

When the Reichstag was finally taken on 30 April 1945, Soviet soldiers swarmed through its elegant hallways to scrawl graffiti recording their presence, and their feelings about the Germans.

By the evening of the 28th April 1945, Marshal Zhukov’s lead forces were preparing the final assault on the Reichstag. Chuikov’s Eighth Guards advanced from the south, Berzarin’s Fifth Shock Army with 11th Tank Corps from the east, and Kuznetsov’s Third Shock Army the unit designated to make the actual seizure – from the north-west. The spearhead unit from Third Shock was General S. N. Perevertkin’s 79th Rifle Corps. They had two major obstacles to overcome before they reached the Reichstag building. First, the Moltke Bridge would have to be seized and a crossing of the Spree forced. To this task was assigned 171st Rifle Division. Then, after the corner building on the opposite Kronprinzenufer had been cleared, the 171st would have to join the 150th Division in neutralising the huge complex of the Ministry of the Interior – ‘Himmler’s House’ – which was expected to mount a terrific resistance. Late on the 28th, the Germans attempted to blow the Moltke Bridge, but the explosion left the centre section hanging precariously in place. The Soviet soldiers tried to force a crossing but were driven back by murderous fire from German pillboxes. Shortly after midnight, however, two Soviet battalions succeeded in blasting their way through the barricades and across the bridge, where they proceeded to clear the surrounding buildings to allow a crossing in force.

At 0700 hours the next morning, Soviet artillery began a 10-minute pounding of ‘Himmler’s House’. Mortars were also hauled up to the second floor of a next-door building and fired point-blank through the windows. The infantry began the assault, but it was another five hours before they managed to storm into the complex’s central courtyard. The fighting was intense and vicious. Close-range combat was pushed from room to room and up and down the stairways. Finally, at 0430 hours on 30 April, the Ministry of the Interior building was secured, and the Red Army troops began taking up their positions for the storming of the Reichstag.

While this battle raged, just a few hundred yards away, the last Fuhrer-conference was getting underway in the bunker. General Weidling reported on the situation, sparing nothing in his description of the city’s, and the Third Reich’s, plight. There was virtually no ammunition left, all of the dumps being now located in Soviet-occupied sectors of the city; there were few tanks available and no means for repairing those damaged; there were almost no Panzerfausts left; there would be no airdrops; an appalling number of the ‘troops’ left defending the city were red-eyed youngsters in ill-fitting Volkssturm uniforms, or feeble and frightened older men or those who had been earlier deemed unfit for military service. It was inevitable, Weidling told Hitler, that the fighting in Berlin would end soon, probably within a day, with a Soviet victory. Those present reported later that Hitler gave no reaction, appearing resigned to his fate and the fate he had inflicted on the country. Still, when Weidling requested permission for small groups to attempt break-outs, Hitler categorically refused. Instead he glared dully at the situation maps, on which the locations of the various units had been determined by listening in to enemy radio broadcasts. Finally, around 0100 hours, Keitel reported to the Fuhrer that Wenck was pinned down, unable to come to the Chancellery’s aid, and that the Ninth was completely bottled up outside the city. It was over. Hitler made his decision to kill himself within the next few hours.

Around noon on the 30th, the regiments of the l50th and l7lst Rifle Divisions were in their start positions for the attack on the Reichstag. In a solemn though brief ceremony, several specially prepared Red Victory Banners were distributed to the units of Third Shock Army which, it was thought, stood the best chance of being the first to hoist it over the Reichstag. In l50th Division, one banner was presented to 756th Rifle Regiment’s. First Battalion, commanded by Captain Neustroyev; another went to Captain Davydov’s First Battalion of the 674th Regiment; a third to the 380th’s First Battalion, led by Senior Lieutenant Samsonov. Banners were also given to two special assault squads from 79th Rifle Corps, both of them manned by elite volunteer Communist Party and Komsomol (Young Communist League) members.

At 1300 hours, a thundering barrage from 152mm and 203mm howitzers, tank guns, SPGs, and Katyusha rocket launchers – in all, 89 guns – was loosed against the Reichstag. A number of infantrymen joined in with captured Panzerfausts. Smoke and debris almost completely obscured the bright, sunny day. Captain Neustroyev’s battalion was the first to move. Crouching next to the captain, Sergeant Ishchanov requested and was granted permission to be the first to break into the building with his section. Slipping out of a window on the first floor of the Interior Ministry building, Ishchanov’s men began crawling across the open, broken ground towards the Reichstag, and rapidly secured entrances at several doorways and holes in the outer wall. Captain Neustroyev took the rest of the forward company, with their Red Banner, and raced across the space, bounding up the central staircase and through the doors and breaches in the wall. The company cleared the first floor easily, but quickly discovered that the massive building’s upper floors and extensive underground labyrinth were occupied by a substantial garrison of German soldiers. One floor at a time, they began attempting to reduce the German force. The task uppermost in everyone’s mind was to make their way to the top and raise the banner; the soldiers who succeeded in this symbolic act, it had been promised, would be made Heroes of the Soviet Union. Fighting their way up the staircase to the second floor with grenades, Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya managed to hang their battalion’s banner from a second-floor window, but their efforts to take the third floor were repeatedly thrown back. It was 1425 hours.

Immediately after the beginning of the attack on the Reichstag, German tanks counter-attacked against the Soviet troops dug in around the Interior Ministry building. The 380th Regiment, which had been attempting to storm the north-western side of the Reichstag, came under withering fire and was forced to back off and call for help from an anti-tank battalion. Meanwhile, on the second floor, Captain Neustroyev radioed a request for a combat group to support his men and ordered them to clean out the German machine-guns still on the second floor. Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya were entrusted with the banner once again, and the battalion readied for the battle to take the third floor.

Towards 1800 hours, another strong assault was launched up into the third floor of the Reichstag. This time the Red Army infantrymen succeeded in blasting their way through the German machine-gun positions. Three hundred Soviet soldiers now occupied the German parliament building but a much larger number of heavily armed German soldiers remained in the basement levels. However, the Soviets enjoyed the better position and after a number of tense hours, in the early morning hours of 1 May – the Soviet workers’ holiday, and the target date for their conquest of Berlin – they finally cleared the remaining Germans from the building. Even before all German opposition had been wiped out, at 2250 hours, two Red Army infantrymen climbed out onto the Reichstag’s decimated roof and hoisted the Red Victory Banner. Berlin was under the control of the armies of the Soviet Union.