British Battleship Turrets

Successive Royal Navy post-Dreadnought classes were basically improved versions of that pioneering warship. The next significant advance came with the Orions (Orion, Conqueror, Monarch, and Thunderer, constructed between 1909 and 1912). They were improvements over previous designs and were promptly called super dreadnoughts. Their new 13.5-inch guns gave considerably increased firepower for a small addition in weight and size; range was increased to a spectacular 24,000 yards. The Orions’ main batteries were arranged on a pattern pioneered by the U. S. Navy that would prevail until the last battleship was designed: All turrets were mounted on the centerline, and fore-and-aft turrets were superimposed one on the other, a vast improvement on the German and previous RN wing turrets. The Orions’ armor was extended up to the main deck, eliminating a major weakness of the early dreadnought classes. Still, they suffered from the same lack of beam, which gave inferior underwater protection compared to the German ships. The unsound British argument was that greater beam made the ship more unsteady and reduced speed. The Orions, as noted, were also the last RN dreadnoughts to position their firing platforms directly abaft the forward funnel.

The next major advances in battleship design were seen in the five impressive Queen Elizabeths (Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, Barham, Malaya, and Warspite, completed in 1915-1916). Well ahead of anything the German Navy would produce, they were confidently designed to outrace a retreating enemy fleet. The Queen Elizabeths were the world’s first large oil-burning warships. The Admiralty knew full well that the Germans would be unlikely to go over to oil-burning entirely, as the Germans, unlike the British, were presumed to lack an assured oil supply in wartime. (Of course, with their penchant for invading other countries, the Germans might have been expected to take over Romania’s oil fields, which is what they later did in World War I.) Also, oil gave considerably greater thermal efficiency, discharged much less smoke, and released all personnel from the filthy, time-consuming bondage of coaling. Oiling was simply a matter of running out hoses and opening valves. Thus Great Britain, with no domestic oil resources of its own, had given hostages to the world’s petroleum producers.

The Queen Elizabeths were also the first to mount 15-inch main battery guns, and all five units fired those guns at Jutland. They and two units of the following Revenge class (Revenge, Royal Oak, Ramillies, Resolution, and Royal Sovereign, completed 1916-1917) were the last RN battleship class to fight in World War I and, with the Elizabeths, were the only capital ships of any naval power to use their main guns against enemy battleships in both world wars. (Three more units, Renown, Repulse, and Resistance, were suspended, then canceled in 1914 at the outbreak of war.)

The dreadnought was easily the most expensive weapon of World War I. By contrast, the most costly war tool of World War II (1939-1945) was the U. S. Army Air Force’s B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber. Obviously, the battleship’s status had considerably depreciated since 1918; not one battleship was laid down and completed during World War II.

Yet paradoxically, there were considerably more battleship-to-battleship clashes in World War II than in World War I, although, as in World War I, there would be only one large fleet battleship action. Yet despite their diminished role in World War II, roughly the same number of battleships would be lost as in World War I (23 versus 25, including self-scuttlings).

Like the other naval powers, all battleship-oriented, the Royal Navy entered World War II with a collection of World War I-era battleships, modernized and unmodernized, and with new battleships on the way. It also had the only battleships in any navy designed and completed during the 1920s, Nelson and Rodney. Except for the Nelson class, the Royal Navy during World War II would lose one each from its other battleship classes, in all losing three battleships: Royal Oak, Prince of Wales, and Barham. The oldest of the Royal Navy’s battleships serving in World War II were the five Queen Elizabeths. Of them, Valiant, Warspite, and Queen Elizabeth had been given the most complete reconstructions of any RN battleship. The unmodernized Barham would be lost to submarine torpedo, taking 862 crewmembers, in 1941. Later came the five Royal Sovereigns, of which Royal Oak was lost in Scapa Flow, with 786 dead, in 1939, again to a German submarine torpedo. These later but cheaper warships were not as highly valued as the Queen Elizabeths, perhaps because they were slower and they did not undergo nearly as extensive a modernization. In fact, the Admiralty seriously considered expending two of this class as blockade ships off the German coast. One, Royal Sovereign, was loaned to the Red Fleet for the war’s duration.

The newest RN battleships of World War II were the King George V class (King George V, Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Anson, and Howe, not to be confused with the King George V class of 1911-1912). Again, one unit of this class, Prince of Wales, was lost during the war, this time to aerial attack by the Japanese in December 1941. The class was severely criticized for its 14-inch main guns. This retrograde decision (after all, the considerably older Nelson and Rodney boasted 16- inch guns) was made in order to get at least the first two units of the class completed in 1940, by which date conflict with Germany was expected. As it was, only King George V was ready for service in 1940. Like the Nelson class, the King George V class had significant maingun mounting problems. Nonetheless, the Royal Navy generally felt that the class gave good value for the money.

A follow-on class, the Lions, was designed to mount 16-inch guns, but the realities of World War II saw to it that these battleships did not get past the laying-down stage, if that. Even so, as late as 1943-1944, there was actually a brief flurry of interest in completing the Lions, which went nowhere. Two years into World War II, Great Britain laid down HMS Vanguard as a mount for the never-installed 15-inch guns of the freak giant battle cruisers Glorious and Courageous, long since converted to aircraft carriers. Vanguard was basically Winston Churchill’s idea (the prime minister always had a soft spot for battleships) and was supposed to reinforce the RN fleet at Singapore. But long before Vanguard was launched in 1944, the Singapore bastion had fallen ignominiously, and Prince of Wales (along with the battle cruiser Repulse) had been lost to Japanese airpower off Malaya. Work proceeded very slowly during the war on Vanguard, the largest and last British battleship ever built; it was not completed until 1946, never fired a shot in anger, and was scrapped in 1960.

The cancellation of the Lions and the slow pace of construction on Vanguard should not be taken as an indication that the Royal Navy had given up entirely on battleships. Incredibly, the First Sea Lord (i. e., the highest-ranking RN officer), Admiral Andrew Cunningham, in May 1944, well after Taranto, Pearl Harbor, and the loss of Prince of Wales and Repulse, argued that, for the postwar Royal Navy, “the basis of the strength of the fleet is in battleships and no scientific development is in sight which might render them obsolete” (quoted in Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, New York: The Free Press, 2002, pp. 121-122). Admiral Cunningham was no armchair theoretical navalist, but probably the best admiral the Royal Navy produced during World War II. Yet by the time Cunningham made his lamentable projection, the Royal Navy had ceased all battleship construction except for its leisurely work on Vanguard; after World War II it would lose no time in scrapping all its surviving battleships (except for Vanguard).

ADM 234/509

– Page 198 –



23rd TO 25th MAY

Friday, 23rd May

A – Events prior to First Action

The order to load the cages was given late in the afternoon. In the course of loading the following defects developed:-

    “A” Turret

    No. 2 gun loading cage: Front flashdoors could not be opened fully from the transverser compartment and the cage could not be loaded. Examination showed that the front casing had been badly burred by being struck by the lugs carrying the guide rollers on the gun loading rammer head when the latter was making a “withdrawing” stroke.

    This was cleared by filing and the other gun loading cages were examined for the same defect. Slight burring was found in some cases and was dressed away.

    No. 1 gun: On ramming shell the second time after the order “Load”, the shell arrestor at the shell ring level jammed out and could not be freed before the first action.

    While steaming at high speed, large quantities of sea water entered “A” turret round the gun ports and through the joints of the gunhouse roof. It became necessary to rig canvas screens in the transverser space and bale the compartment.

    “B” Turret

No. 2 central ammunition hoist: Arrestor at shell ring level would not withdraw after ramming shell. It is impossible to strip this in place in the Mark II mounting, and the arrestor was removed complete. The axis pin of the pinion driving the inner tube of the arrestor had seized. There does not appear to be any effective means of lubricating this pin. The pin was drilled out and removed and the arrestor re-assembled. It was not, however, possible to replace the arrestor before action stations was ordered, because at this stage a defect developed in the hinge trays of the forward shell room as described below. This latter defect was taken in hand immediately in order to free the revolving shell ring and was completed a few minutes after action stations. It was not then considered advisable to proceed with replacing the arrestor.

Hinge trays at forward shell room fouled the locking bolt on the revolving shell ring: both trays being bent.

Saturday, 24th May

During the early hours hydraulic pressure failed on the revolving shell ring ship control in “B” turret. This was due to the pressure supply to the turret from the starboard side of the ring main being isolated. The revolving shell ring ship control is fed from the starboard side only, and the non-return valves on the pressure main adjacent to the centre pivot prevent pressure being fed to the starboard side and the revolving shell ring ship control from the port side in the event of the former being isolated from the ring main. Similar conditions exist on the port side of “A” and the starboard side of “Y”. It is considered essential that a cross connection be fitted in the shell handling room with two non-return valves so that the revolving shell ring ship control can be supplied from either side of the ring main.

B – Events during the First Action

The following defects developed in “A” turret:-

    “A” Turret

    On several occasions the shell ring rammers fouled the brackets on the hinge trays for No. 11 interlock. Shell could not be rammed until the bearing of the turret was changed. This also occurred in “Y” but did not prevent ramming.

    No. 1 gun only fired one salvo, due to the events described in A (i).

    After the second salvo, No. 24A interlock failed on No. 2 shell ring rammer. It was tripped after a short delay and thereafter assisted by hand.

    About halfway through the firing, the tappets operating the shell ring arrestor release gear on No. 4 rammer failed to release the arrestor. Subsequent examination has shown that the shaft carrying the levers operating these tappets had twisted. The rammer was kept in action by giving the tappets a heavy blow at each stroke.

    Shortly after this, a further defect occurred on No. 4 shell room rammer. When fully withdrawn the rammer failed to clear No. 7 interlock and the ring could not be locked. This was overcome by operating the gear with a pinch-bar at every stroke.

    Throughout the engagement the conditions in “A” shell handling room were very bad; water was pouring down from the upper part of the mounting. Only one drain is fitted and became choked; with the result that water accumulated and washed from side to side as the ship rolled. The streams above and floods below drenched the machinery and caused discomfort to the personnel. More drains should be fitted in the shell handling room and consideration given to a system of water catchment combined with improved drainage in the upper parts of the revolving structure. Every effort is being made to improve the pressure systems and further attempts will be made as soon as opportunity occurs to improve the mantlet weathering, but a certain amount of leaking is inevitable.

    “B” Turret

    No mechanical defects.

    “Y” Turret

The following defects occurred in “Y” turret:-

Salvo 11 – No. 3 central ammunition hoist was raised with shell but no cordite; No. 25 interlock having failed to prevent this. The interlock was functioning correctly before the engagement. There has been no opportunity to investigate this. It is also reported that the reason no cordite had been rammed was that the indicator in the cordite handling room did not show that the cage had been raised after the previous ramming stroke. This caused the gun to miss salvoes 15 to 20.

Salvo 12 – Front flashdoors of No. 2 gun loading cage failed to open and cage could not be loaded. Flashdoors on transfer tubes were working correctly and investigation showed that adjustment was required on the vertical rod operating the palm levers which open the gun loading cage doors. To make this adjustment, three-quarter inch thread had to be cut on the rod. This defect was put in hand after the engagement had been broken off and was completed by 1300. It would appear that the operating gear had been strained, possibly by the foreign matter in the flashdoor casing making the doors tight. The doors were free when tried in the course of making the repair. This caused the gun to miss salvo 14 onwards.

Salvo 20 – Owing to the motion of the ship, a shell slid out of the port shell room and fouled the revolving shell ring while the latter was locked to the trunk and the turret was training. The hinge tray was severely buckled, putting the revolving shell ring out of action. The tray was removed, but on testing the ring it was found that No. 3 and 4 hinge trays of the starboard shell room had also been buckled and were fouling the ring. The cause of this is not yet known. The trays were removed and as the action had stopped by this time, No. 4 tray was dressed up and replaced. The ring was out of action until 0825.

C – Events subsequent to First Action

During the day in “A” turret, No. 1 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor was driven back with the intention of carrying on without it by ramming cautiously. The gun and cages were then loaded, but owing to the motion of the ship the round in the central ammunition hoist cage slid forward until its nose entered the arrestor, putting the hoist out of action again. Subsequent examination has shown that the anti-surging gear in this cage was stiff and consequently did not re-assert itself after ramming to traverser.

D – Events during the Second Action

“A” Turret

No. 1 gun fired only two salvoes owing to central ammunition hoist being out of action as described above in C, para 1. At salvo 9, No. 3 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor jammed out.

“B” and “Y” Turret

Clean shoot.

E – Events subsequent to Second Action

“A” Turret

No. 3 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor was removed complete from the hoist. Time did not allow of it being stripped and made good, but it was intended to use the hoist without it. The gun and cages were loaded in this manner.

F – Third Action

“A” Turret

First Salvo – Shell rammed short into No. 3 central ammunition hoist cage. In trying to remedy this a double ram was made, putting the shell ring out of action. The second shell was hauled back by tackle, clearing the ring. The base of the shell in the central ammunition hoist cage was jamming against the upper edge of the opening in the hoist. This could not be cleared as the central ammunition hoist control lever cold not be put to lower. After much stripping the trouble was located in a link in the control gear which was found to be out of line.

“B” Turret

Clean shoot.

G – General

With pressure being kept on shell room machinery for a long period, much water has accumulated in the shell rooms and bins. Suctions are fitted from 350-tomnm pumps only and these are not satisfactory for dealing with relatively small quantities of water. Drains are urgently required. It is suggested that a drain be fitted at each end of each shell room and larger drain holes be made in the bins; present drain holes being quite inadequate and easily choked.

The drains should be led to the inner bottom under the cordite handling room. Non-return valves and flash-seals could be fitted if considered necessary.

On passage to Rosyth after the action, two further hinge trays in “Y” shell handling room were buckled by fouling the revolving shell ring.


As far back as the reign of Shamashi-Adad (1813-1791 BCE), the Assyrian military had shown itself an effective fighting force. In the period known as the Middle Empire, kings like Ashur-Uballit I (1353-1318 BCE) were employing the army with great efficacy in the conquest of the region of the Mitanni and the king Adad Nirari I (1307-1275 BCE) expanded the empire through military conquest and crushed internal rebellions swiftly.

Adad Nirari I completely conquered the Mitanni and began what would become standard policy under the Assyrian Empire: the deportation of large segments of the population. With Mitanni under Assyrian control, Adad Nirari I decided the best way to prevent any future uprising was to remove the former occupants of the land and replace them with Assyrians. This should not be understood, however, as a cruel treatment of captives. Writing on this, the historian Karen Radner states:

    The deportees, their labour and their abilities were extremely valuable to the Assyrian state, and their relocation was carefully planned and organised. We must not imagine treks of destitute fugitives who were easy prey for famine and disease: the deportees were meant to travel as comfortably and safely as possible in order to reach their destination in good physical shape. Whenever deportations are depicted in Assyrian imperial art, men, women and children are shown travelling in groups, often riding on vehicles or animals and never in bonds. There is no reason to doubt these depictions as Assyrian narrative art does not otherwise shy away from the graphic display of extreme violence.

Deportees were carefully chosen for their abilities and sent to regions which could make the most of their talents. Not everyone in the conquered populace was chosen for deportation and families were never separated. Those segments of the population that had actively resisted the Assyrians were killed or sold into slavery, but the general populace became absorbed into the growing empire and they were thought of as Assyrians. This policy would be followed by the kings who succeeded Adad Nirari I until the collapse of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BCE.

During their zenith from the 10th century BC to 7th century BC, the Assyrians controlled an enormous territory that extended from the borders of Egypt to the eastern highlands of Iran. Many historians perceive Assyria to be among the first ‘superpowers’ of the ancient world. In a brilliant insight by historian Mark Healy, quite paradoxically, the rise of Assyrian militarism and imperialism (from 15th century BC) mirrored their land’s initial vulnerability, as it laid inside the rough triangle defined between the cities of Nineveh, Ashur and Arbil (all in northern Mesopotamia).

Simply put, this terrain rich in its plump grain-lands was open to plunder from most sides, with potential risks being posed by the nomadic tribes, hill folks, and even proximate competing powers. This, in turn, affected a reactionary measure in the Assyrian society – that led to the development of an effective and well organized military system that could cope with the constant state of aggression, conflicts, and raids (much like the Romans).

Such an intrinsic scope of the military being tied with the economic well-being of a state resulted in what can be called a domino effect. So in a sense, while the Assyrians formulated their ‘attack is the best defense’ strategies, the proximate states became more war-like, thus adding to the list of enemies for the Assyrian army to conquer. Consequently, when the Assyrians went on a war footing, their military was able to absorb more ideas from foreign powers, which led to an ambit of evolution and flexibility (again much like the later Romans). These tendencies of flexibility, discipline and incredible fighting skills became the hallmark of the Assyrian army that triumphed over most of the powerful Mesopotamian kingdoms in Asia by 8th century BC.

The scope of Assyrian military development and expansion was intrinsically tied to the economic prosperity of the rising realm. In the period circa 1450 BC, such a military system was required for actually protecting the vulnerability of the Assyrian lands locked between the powerful Mesopotamian states of Mitanni in the north and Babylonia at the south, which supported the land’s economic stability. But as the centuries went by, Assyria morphed into the aggressor with the aid of its continually developing military prowess.

Suffice it to say, more conquered lands brought more plunder in the form of various valuable resources, ranging from metals, horses to skill-based populations. This was complemented by the control of crucial trade routes that crisscrossed through various parts of Mesopotamia. In essence, waging wars (along with conquering and raiding) became organized ventures conducted for the betterment of the Assyrian realm’s economy. So simply put, by 11th century BC, the security needs of the state became indistinguishable from the prosperity of the ascending empire – with the Assyrian army playing its crucial role in both the ‘merged’ affairs.

With the last king of the dynasty of Khammurabi (about 2098 B.C.) a period of darkness falls upon the history of the land between the rivers. A new dynasty of the Babylonian kings’ list begins with a certain Anmanu, and continues with ten other kings whose names are anything but suggestive of Babylonian origin. The regnal years of the eleven reach the respectable number of three hundred and sixty-eight. The problem of their origin is complicated with that of deciphering the word (Uru-azagga?) descriptive of them in the kings’ list. Some think that it points to a quarter of the city of Babylon. Others, reading it Uru-ku, see in it the name of the ancient city of Uruk. The length of the reigns of the several kings is above the average, and suggests peace and prosperity under their rule. It is certainly strange in that case that no memorials of them have as yet been discovered, — a fact that lends some plausibility to the theory maintained by Hommel that this dynasty was contemporaneous with that of Khammurabi and never attained significance.

The third dynasty, as recorded on the kings’ list, consists of thirty-six kings, who reigned five hundred seventy-six years and nine months (about 1717-1140 B.C.). About these kings information, while quite extensive, is yet so fragmentary as to render exact and organized presentation of their history exceedingly difficult. The kings’ list is badly broken in the middle of the dynasty, so that only the first six and the last eleven or twelve of the names are intact, leaving thirteen or fourteen to be otherwise supplied and the order of succession to be determined from imperfect and inconclusive data. Only one royal inscription of some length exists, that of a certain Agum-kakrime who does not appear on the dynastic list. The tablets found at Nippur by the University of Pennsylvania’s expedition have added several names to the list and thrown new light upon the history of the dynasty. The fragments of the so-called “Synchronistic History” (sect. 30) cover, in part, the relations of the Babylonian and Assyrian kings of this age, and the recently discovered royal Egyptian archives known as the Tel-el-Amarna tablets contain letters from and to several of them. From these materials it is possible to obtain the names of all but three or four of the missing thirteen or fourteen kings, and to reach something like a general knowledge of the whole period and some details of single reigns and epochs. Yet it is evident that the absence of some royal names not only makes the order of succession in the dark period uncertain, but throws its chronology into disorder. Nor is the material sufficient to remove the whole age from the region of indefiniteness as to the aims and achievements of the dynasty, or to make possible a grouping into epochs of development which may be above criticism. With these considerations in mind it is possible roughly to divide the period into four epochs: first, the beginnings of Kassite rule; second, the appearance of Assyria as a possible rival of Kassite Babylonia; third, the culmination of the dynasty and the struggle with Assyria; fourth, the decline and disappearance of the Kassites.

Merely a glance at the names in the dynastic list is evidence that a majority of them are of a non-Babylonian character. The royal inscriptions prove beyond doubt that the dynasty as a whole was foreign, and its domination the result of invasion by a people called Kashhus, or, to use a more conventional name, the Kassites. They belonged to the eastern mountains, occupying the high valleys from the borders of Elam northward, living partly from the scanty products of the soil and partly by plundering travellers and making descents upon the western plain. The few fragments of their language which survive are not sufficient to indicate its affinity either to the Elamite or the Median, and at present all that can be said is that they formed a greater or lesser division of that congeries of mountain peoples which, without unity or common name and language, surged back and forth over the mountain wall stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Persian gulf. Their home seems to have been in the vicinity of those few mountain passes which lead from the valley up to the table-land. Hence they were brought into closer relations with the trade and commerce which from time immemorial had used these passes, and thereby they were early made aware of the civilization and wealth of Babylonia.

Whether driven by the impulse to conquest, begotten of a growing knowledge of Babylonian weakness, or by the pressure of peoples behind and about them, the Kassites appear at an early day to have figured in the annals of the Babylonian kingdom. In the ninth year of Samsuiluna, of the first dynasty, they were invading the land. This doubtless isolated invasion was repeated in the following years until by the beginning of the seventeenth century B.C., they seem to have gained the upper hand in Babylonia. Their earlier field of operations seems to have been in the south, near the mouth of the rivers. Here was Karduniash, the home of the Kassites in Babylonia, a name subsequently extended over all the land. It is not improbable that a Kassite tribe settled here in the last days of the second dynasty, and, assimilated to the civilization of the land, was later reinforced by larger bands of the same people displaced from the original home of the Kassites by pressure from behind, and that the combined forces found it easy to overspread and gain possession of the whole country. Such a supposition is in harmony with the evident predilection of the Kassites for southern Babylonia, as well as with their maintenance of authority over the regions in which they originally had their home. It also explains how, very soon after they came to power, they were hardly to be distinguished from the Semitic Babylonians over whom they ruled. They employed the royal titles, worshipped at the ancient shrines, served the native gods, and wrote their inscriptions in the Babylonian language.

Of the six kings whose names appear first on the dynastic list nothing of historical importance is known. The gap that ensues in that list, covering thirteen or fourteen names, is filled up from sources to which reference has already been made. Agumkakrime (sect. 103), whose inscription of three hundred and thirty-eight lines is the most important Kassite document as yet discovered, probably stands near the early kings, is perhaps the seventh in order (about 1600 B.C.). This inscription, preserved in an Assyrian copy, was originally deposited in the temple at Babylon, and describes the royal achievements on behalf of the god Marduk and his divine spouse Zarpanit. The king first proclaims his own glory by reciting his genealogy, his relation to the gods and his royal titles:

I am Agumkakrime, the son of Tashshigurumash; the illustrious descendant of god Shuqamuna; called by Anu and Bel, Ea and Marduk, Sin and Shamash; the powerful hero of Ishtar, the warrior among the goddesses.

I am a king of wisdom and prudence; a king who grants hearing and pardon; the son of Tashshigurumash; the descendant of Abirumash, the crafty warrior; the first son among the numerous family of the great Agum; an illustrious, royal scion who holds the reins of the nation (and is) a mighty shepherd…

I am king of the country of Kashshu and of the Akkadians; king of the wide country of Babylon, who settles the numerous people in Ashnunak; the King of Padan and Alman; the King of Gutium, a foolish nation; (a king) who makes obedient to him the four regions, and has always been a favorite of the great gods (I. 1-42).

Agumkakrime found, on taking the throne, that the images of Marduk and Zarpanit, chief deities of the city, had been removed from the temple to the land of Khani, a region not yet definitely located, but presumably in northern Mesopotamia, and possibly on the head-waters of the Euphrates. This removal took place probably in connection with an invasion of peoples from that distant region, who were subsequently driven out; and it sheds light on the weakened and disordered condition of the land at the time of the appearance of the Kassites. These images were recovered by the king, either through an embassy or by force of arms. The inscription is indefinite on the point, but the wealth of the king as intimated in the latter part of the inscription would suggest that he was at least able to compel the surrender of them. On being recovered they were replaced in their temple, which was renovated and splendidly furnished for their reception. Gold and precious stones and woods were employed in lavish profusion for the adornment of the persons of the divine pair and the decoration of their abode. Their priesthoods were revived, the service re-established, and endowments provided for the temple.

In the countries enumerated by Agumkakrime as under his sway no mention is made of a people who were soon to exercise a commanding influence upon the history of the Kassite dynasty. The people of Assyria, however, although, even before that time, having a local habitation and rulers, the names of some of whom have come down in tradition, could hardly have been independent of a king who claimed authority over the land of the Keissites and the Guti, Padan, and Alman, — districts which lie in the region of the middle and upper Tigris, or on the slopes of the eastern mountains (Delitzsch, Peradies, p. 205). According to the report of the Synchronistic History, about a century and a half later Assyria was capable of treating with Babylonia on equal terms, but, even if the opening passages of that document (some eleven lines) had been preserved, they would hardly have indicated such relations at a much earlier date. The sudden rise of Assyria, therefore, is reasonably explained as connected with the greater movement which made the Kassites supreme in Babylonia.

The people who established the kingdom of Assyria exhibit, in language and customs and even in physical characteristics, a close likeness to the Babylonians. They were, therefore, not only a Semitic people, but, apparently, also of Semitic-BabyIonian stock. The most natural explanation of this fact is that they were originally a Babylonian colony. They seem, however, to be of even purer Semitic blood than their Babylonian ancestors, and some scholars have preferred to see in them an independent offshoot from the original Semitic migration into the Mesopotamian valley (sect. 51). If that be so, they must have come very early under Babylonian influence which dominated the essential elements of their civilization and its growth down to their latest days. The earliest centre of their organization was the city of Assur on the west bank of the middle Tigris (lat. n. 35° 30′), where a line of low hills begins to run southward along the river. Perched on the outlying northern spur of these hills, and by them sheltered from the nomads of the steppe and protected by the broad river in front from the raids of mountaineers of the east, the city was an outpost of Babylonian civilization and a station on the natural road of trade with the lands of the upper Tigris. A fertile stretch of alluvial soil in the vicinity supplied the necessary agricultural basis of life, while, a few miles to the north, bitumen springs furnished, as on the Euphrates, an article of commerce and an indispensable element of building (Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, II. chap. xii.). The god of the city was Ashur, “the good one,” and from him the city received its name (Jastrow, Rel. of Bab. and Assyria, p. 196).

The early rulers of the city of Assur were patesis (sect. 75), viceroys of Babylonian rulers. Some of their names have come down in tradition, as, for example, those of Ishme Dagan and his son, Shamshi Adad, who lived according to Tiglathpileser I. about seven hundred years before himself (that is, about 1840-1800 B.C.). Later kings of Assyria also refer to other rulers of the early age to whom they give the royal title, but of whom nothing further is known. The first mention of Assur is in a letter of king Khammurabi of the first dynasty of Babylon, who seems to intimate that the city was a part of the Babylonian Empire (King, Let. and Inscr. of H., III. p. 3). In the darkness that covers these beginnings, the viceroys became independent of Babylonia and extended their authority up the Tigris to Kalkhi, Arbela, and Nineveh, cities to be in the future centres of the Assyrian Empire. The kingdom of Assyria took form and gathered power.

The physical characteristics of this region could not but shape the activities of those who lived within its borders. It is the northeastern corner of Mesopotamia. The mountains rise in the rear; the Tigris and Mesopotamia are in front. The chief cities of Assyria, with the sole exception of Assur, lie to the east of the great river and on the narrow shelf between it and the northeastern mountain ranges. They who live there must needs find nature less friendly to them than to their brethren of the south. Agriculture does not richly reward their labors. They learn, by struggling with the wild beasts of the hills and the fierce men of the mountains, the thirst for battle and the joy of victory. And as they grow too numerous for their borders, the prospect, barred to the east and north, opens invitingly towards the west and southwest. Thus the Assyrian found in his surroundings the encouragement to devote himself to war and to the chase rather than to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture; the preparation for military achievement on a scale hitherto unrealized.

It is not difficult to conceive how the Kassite conquest of Babylonia profoundly influenced the development of Assyria. The city of Assur, protected from the inroads of the eastern invaders by its position on the west bank of the Tigris, became, at the same time, the refuge of those Babylonians who fled before the conquerors as they overspread the land. The Assyrian community was thus enabled to throw off the yoke of allegiance to the mother country, now in possession of foreigners, and to establish itself as an independent kingdom. Its patesis became kings, and began to cherish ambitions of recovering the home-land from the grasp of the enemy, and of extending their sway over the upper Tigris and beyond. It is not unlikely that this latter endeavor was at least partially successful during the early period of the Kassite rule. It is certainly significant that Agumkakrime does not mention Assyria among the districts under his sway and if, as has been remarked (sect. 108), his sphere of influence seems to include it, his successors were soon to learn that a new power must be reckoned with, in settling the question of supremacy on the middle Tigris.

Target Hanoi I

On 10 May 1972 US Air Force and Navy planes resumed their attacks on targets in North Vietnam, following a bombing pause lasting more than 3½ years. That day Air Force F-4 Phantoms delivered set-piece attacks on two targets in the vicinity of Hanoi, one of them with the newly developed ‘smart’ weapons fitted with electro-optical and laser-homing heads. This article describes these actions and the force package tactics employed by the attacking planes. An important innovation during this war, from the point of view of historians, was the installation of a tape recorders in combat aircraft; the action conversations reproduced in this article all come from this source.

During the US Air Force raids on North Vietnam in the spring of 1972 the attacking planes flew from bases in Thailand. The F-4 Phantoms configured as bombers came from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon; the Phantoms configured for reconnaissance and air-to-air combat came from the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn; and the EB-66 radar jamming planes, F-105F ‘Wild Weasel’ defence-suppression aircraft and EC-121 Warning Star airborne command and control planes came from the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat. Rescue and recovery planes to pick up crews who had been shot down came from the 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom, whilst the KC-135 tankers that supplied fuel for the high-speed jets before they entered enemy airspace and as they withdrew came from U Tapao and Don Muang.

On 10 May the Air Force’s targets were the important Paul Doumer Bridge over the Red River, immediately to the east of Hanoi, and the nearby Yen Vien railway sorting yard. At 7.30 a.m. that morning the initial wave of seven KC-135 tankers (six aircraft required, plus an airborne reserve) began taking off from U Tapao each carrying 75 tons of fuel. As this was happening, an RF-4C Phantom conducted a weather reconnaissance of the Hanoi area; its coded radio report of clear skies over the targets allowed the preparations for the attacks to go ahead.

At the head of the raiding force entering enemy territory would be two four-plane units, ‘Oyster’ and ‘Baiter’ Flights, with Phantoms armed for air-to-air combat. These took off from Udorn at 8.05 a.m. and headed north. Four more Phantom flights, configured in the same way, followed them into the air to escort different parts of the attack force over enemy territory. Last off from Udorn were a pair of RF-4Cs to carry out a post-strike reconnaissance of the targets.

From Korat, four EB-66 Destroyer radar-jamming planes took off to provide stand-off cover for the attack. Three flights of ‘Wild Weasel’ F-105G Thunderchiefs followed them, to provide defence-suppression cover for the attacks; because of the importance of this mission, each ‘Wild Weasel’ flight took off with five planes, including an airborne reserve that would turn back just short of enemy territory if all of the others were serviceable.

From Ubon, ten four-plane flights of Phantoms took off. Two carried chaff bombs to lay out a trail of the radar-reflective strips along the route to the targets. For the attack on the important Paul Doumer Bridge over the Red River, ‘Goatee’ Flight’s planes were loaded with two 2,000lb electro-optically guided bombs. Those of ‘Napkin’, ‘Biloxi’ and ‘Jingle’ Flights were loaded with two 2,000lb laser-guided bombs. It was to be the first use of the two new ‘smart’ weapons against a target in North Vietnam. A further four flights of Phantoms, to attack the Yen Vien railway sorting yard, carried conventional, unguided 500lb bombs.

By 8.50 a.m. the entire armada was airborne and heading north. Of the total of more than 110 aircraft, no fewer than 88 were scheduled to penetrate enemy territory. Over northern Thailand the raiders refuelled from the six KC-135 tankers waiting at the rendezvous area, then headed into Laos. Already, however, the two flights that were to spearhead the attack had been weakened. Two planes from ‘Baiter’ Flight had suffered technical problems. and had to turn back. A Phantom of ‘Oyster’ Flight had suffered a radar failure, but its crew opted to continue the mission though with a reduced capability.

‘Oyster’ and ‘Baiter’ Flights crossed the North Vietnamese border at 9.20 a.m. and headed for their patrol lines north-west of Hanoi. The plan was to establish a barrier patrol, with ‘Oyster’ Flight at low altitude and ‘Baiter’ at 22,000ft some distance behind and in full view of enemy radars. Any MiGs moving against ‘Baiter’ Flight were therefore likely to fly over ‘Oyster’ Flight waiting in ambush. Three minutes after crossing the frontier, the Phantom crews received warning from the EC-121 Warning Star radar-picket plane over Laos that enemy fighters were airborne. Similar warnings came from the cruiser USS Chicago acting as radar-control ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Initially the MiGs kept their distance from the incoming force, but at 9.42 the North Vietnamese controller finally ordered his fighters to go into action. A warning call from Chicago enabled Major Bob Lodge, ‘Oyster’ Flight Leader, to turn to meet the MiGs nose-on. That gave his flight a clear tactical advantage, for the Phantoms could engage the MiGs at long range with their Sparrow missiles while the enemy fighters with less advanced missiles had no effective means of shooting back.

Down at 2,000ft the Phantoms jettisoned their external tanks and accelerated to fighting speed. In an air combat, victory usually goes to the side which sees its opponent first. Lodge kept his force low to remain out of sight for as long as possible, while the four enemy fighters ran obliquely past his nose at 15,000ft. The two forces were not meeting exactly head-on, but even so their combined closing speed was tremendous — more than 1,000mph, or just over a mile every four seconds. Tape recorders in the fighters captured the words spoken as the MiGs appeared on their radars:

‘Oyster 2 has contact!’

‘Oyster 1 has a contact zero-five-zero [bearing] for fifteen [miles]’

‘Oyster 3 is contact, Bob!’

‘Right, we got ’em!’

‘Oyster 1 on the nose, twelve miles, fifteen [degrees] high…’

The Phantoms were fitted with ‘Combat Tree’, a device that worked on the same principle as the Second World War British ‘Perfectos’ equipment (see Chapter Ten). ‘Combat Tree’ transmitted signals to trigger the IFF transponders in the MiGs and picked up their coded reply signals. In the context of this mission the device was vitally important, for it provided proof that the planes seen on radar were hostile. And that meant that they could be engaged from long range with radar-homing missiles, without having to close to within visual range to confirm their identity. In the three ‘Oyster’ fighters with serviceable radars, the back-seater locked-on to an enemy plane and made ready the Sparrow missiles.

Bob Lodge eased his fighter into a shallow climb preparatory to missile launch and the other Phantoms followed. When the leading MiG was in firing range, Lodge squeezed the trigger to launch his first Sparrow. Trailing smoke, the 450lb missile accelerated from the Phantom’s 700mph to more than 2,000mph in 2.3 seconds. The motor then cut out and the weapon should have coasted on to the target, but instead it blew up in a cloud of smoke. Lodge squeezed the trigger a second time and another Sparrow streaked away from the fighter.

A few hundred yards to the right of Lodge, Lieutenant John Markle in ‘Oyster 2’ fired a pair of Sparrows. These gave similar results, as he later recalled:

Our first missile apparently did not get rocket motor ignition. The second missile came off the aircraft and turned slightly right as it climbed. We continued to maintain position on ‘Oyster 1’ in an easy right turn, slightly nose-up. As I checked the missile’s progress, the trail showed a slight left turn toward the radar target.

Captain Steve Ritchie in ‘Oyster 3’, 3,000yds to the left of Lodge, also launched a Sparrow but this too was a dud: the motor failed to ignite and it fell away from the fighter like a bomb. Thus, of the five Sparrows fired, three had failed to function properly. The two missiles that worked as advertised produced devastating results, however. The tape recorder in Markle’s plane captured his reaction as he saw his missile explode beside the enemy plane:

‘Oh right!…Now!…Good!…Wooohooo!’ Then came a short pause to calm down, after which the pilot announced on the radio, ‘Oyster 2’s a hit!’

From the leading aircraft Lodge replied, ‘I got one!’

Steve Eaves, Markle’s back-seater, confirmed that he had seen the leader’s kill: ‘Roger, he’s burning and he’s going down one o’clock!’

Captain Roger Locher, Lodge’s back-seater, saw a couple of small clouds suddenly appear as the two missiles detonated a long way in front of him. A few seconds later he caught sight of the two stricken North Vietnamese fighters, MiG-21s, tumbling out of the sky. One was cartwheeling and going down in a shallow dive, the other had part of a wing missing and was in a steep dive, rolling out of control.

The two MiG-21s that had survived the Sparrow onslaught flashed over the top of the Phantoms, as the latter were pulling into tight turns to the right to get behind their opponents for follow-up attacks. When Lodge rolled out he was only 200ft behind one of the MiGs, giving Locher in the rear seat a sight that he would never forget:

We were in his jet wash. There he was, [after]burner plume sticking out, the shiniest airplane you’ve ever seen. He was going up in a chandelle to the right, we were right behind him.

The Phantom carried no gun and it was too close for a missile attack, so Lodge eased off the turn to open the range on the enemy fighter. It seemed only a matter of time before that MiG too was smashed out of the sky. Then, without warning, a pair of MiG-19s climbed steeply from below and gate-crashed the fight. Probably flown by Lieutenants Le Thanh Dao and Vu Van Hop of the 3rd Company, the newcomers slid into firing positions behind Lodge’s Phantom as Markle bellowed a warning to his leader: ‘OK, there’s a Bandit…you got a Bandit in your 10 o’clock Bob, level!’ The MiG-19s passed behind Lodge then closed in from his right.

Further warning calls followed from the other Phantoms: ‘Bob, reverse right, reverse right Bob. Reverse right!’

Lodge’s attention was focused on the MiG-21 in front of him, which by now had opened the range sufficiently to allow a close-in missile shot. Meanwhile, behind the Phantom, the leading MiG-19 opened fire with its cannon. The hefty 30mm rounds rapidly bridged the gap between the two machines and Markle’s warnings to his leader took on a more strident note: ‘He’s firing — he’s firing at you!’

In the Phantom under attack, events now followed each other in confusingly rapid succession. Roger Locher recalled:

One or two seconds later — wham! We were hit. I looked up and saw the MiG [the MiG-21 in front of him] separating away. I thought we had mid-aired because that was exactly my interpretation of how a collision would feel. We both said ‘Oh shit!’, and my ‘Oh shit!’ was because the guy in front was getting away from us.

More 30mm shells slammed into the Phantom, and at last Locher realized what was happening. The fighter decelerated rapidly and he felt it yaw violently to the right. The whole of the fighter’s rear fuselage was ablaze and as the flames ate their way forwards the heat began to roast the plastic of Locher’s canopy, which turned an opaque orange. Smoke seeped into the cockpit.

Around the doomed Phantom the air battle continued. The MiG-21 that Lodge had been about to engage sped clear. The fourth plane from the original enemy formation was less fortunate, however. Steve Ritchie in ‘Oyster 3’ rolled out of his turn about a mile behind it, in a perfect firing position, and squeezed off two Sparrows in quick succession. Once again, the first missile failed to guide, but the other homed in perfectly. It detonated immediately below the Soviet-built fighter, pieces flew off it and the MiG quickly lost speed. As the Phantom swept past its victim, Chuck DeBellevue in the rear seat saw a black shape flash past his left, less than 100ft away — the enemy pilot. DeBellevue gave a jubilant shout on the radio: ‘Oyster 3’s a splash [enemy plane shot down]!’

DeBellevue’s triumphant call was the last thing Roger Locher heard before he ejected from his Phantom. By then the burning plane was upside down and falling fast. Locher grabbed the firing handle between his legs with both hands, and pulled hard:

We were under negative g at the time. My ass was off the seat; I was pinned against the top of the canopy. I saw the canopy go, then I went out under negative g. There was a lot of wind blast; I started to see again. Then thwack! — the parachute opened. And Zoooom! — past me went two MiG-19s.

The other members of ‘Oyster’ Flight watched in horror as the Phantom fell from the sky, hoping for a glimpse of one or more parachutes to indicate that there were survivors. They saw none. The fighter was upside-down when Locher ejected and probably the plume of smoke trailing behind the aircraft screened him from their view. It seems certain that Lodge was still in his cockpit when the fighter plunged into the ground.

Shaken by the loss of their leader, the survivors of ‘Oyster’ Flight kept up their speed as they returned to low altitude and made a rapid withdrawal from the area. The two aircraft of Salter’ Flight also had a tussle with MiGs, though without loss on either side. Those skirmishes were not decisive, but for the raiding force now approaching Hanoi they had an important result: they kept the MiGs to the area northwest of city, enabling the main attackers to approach their targets without interference from enemy fighters.

Now the second phase of the action could begin, with the aim of blunting the cutting edge of Hanoi’s SAM and anti-aircraft gun defences. Four EB-66E stand-off jamming aircraft, four ‘Wild Weasel’ F-105Gs and eight F-4 chaff-bombers were assigned to this task.

The first to make their presence felt were the EB-66s. Each plane carried a battery of eighteen radar-jammers and their role was similar to that of the target-support Liberators operated by No 100 Group in the Second World War (see Chapter Ten). At 9.45 a.m. the aircraft arrived at their orbit positions just outside the reach of the Hanoi missile belt and, flying at 30,000ft, began jamming the enemy radars. As they did so four ‘Wild Weasel’ F-105Gs split into two pairs and ran into the defended area at low altitude. Their role was to strike at the radars of enemy surface-to-air missile sites as they came on the air. Each plane carried three anti-radar missiles — two short-range Shrikes and a long-range Standard ARM. One of those who flew on this type of operation, Major Don Kilgus, described the tactics used:

Once we had found an active site we would go into afterburner and increase speed to between 450 and 520 knots [520-600mph]. Speed gave us survivability and manoeuvre potential, because when we started pulling g the plane would slow down. The Thud [F-105] was a super plane but it was not the tightest turner in the world and you had to plan ahead if you wanted to make a violent manoeuvre. So we would light the burner, pull up and turn at the same time to establish the firing parameters for the missile. Needles showed where the Shrike was looking and gave an indication of range plus or minus about 20 per cent. If a loft attack was necessary, for maximum range we would launch in a 30-degree climb from 15,000 feet. Or if we were close to the site we would pitch over and push the missile down his throat.

The ‘Wild Weasel’ aircraft were themselves likely to come under missile attack, and this was no mission for the faint-hearted.

Target Hanoi II

As the F-105s played their deadly game of hide-and-seek with the SAM batteries, the next phase of the action opened. Eight Phantoms ran in towards Hanoi from the south-west at 26,000ft, each carrying nine chaff bombs. The role of these planes was similar to that of the ‘Window Spoof’ forces in the Second World War. At 9.47 a.m. these aircraft entered the Hanoi SAM-defended zone and each released a single chaff bomb. After a short fall the casings split open and each disgorged millions of metallized strips each thinner than a human hair. At 15-second intervals along the route to the enemy capital, each plane released a further chaff bomb.

During the run-in the Phantoms flew in the so-called ‘jamming pod formation’, with two lots of four aircraft flying in line abreast with 2,000ft horizontal separation and stepped up to one side with 600ft vertical separation between adjacent planes. This formation offered a high degree of protection against the SA-2, the only long-range missile system then used by the North Vietnamese. Each Phantom carried a jamming pod under the fuselage, and the noise-jamming from the four-plane formation produced a wedge of overlapping strobes on the enemy gun and SAM control radars. The SAM operators could see the incoming formation, but they could not pick out the individual planes accurately to engage them.

That, at least, was the theory. It worked only if the crews held their positions in formation. As the Phantoms closed on the enemy capital the crews watched the clouds of orange or white smoke on the ground as the enemy missiles blasted away from their launchers. During its boost phase each missile left a smoke trail, but when this ended there was nothing to see until then missile itself hove into view. Captain William Byrns recalled:

A SAM came for us and someone yelled ‘Look out!’ I turned my head and my reaction was to pull back on the stick. That was not the normal reaction — I should have gone down. But I believe God took my hand and made me go the other way. The missile went underneath my plane, underneath the F-4 across the way and exploded on the far side of him. If I had gone down it would have hit us and we would probably not have got out.

Several of the crews experienced similar scares, and a few planes suffered a shaking as missiles detonated within a few hundred feet. Yet the protective cocoon of jamming conferred a high degree of safety: only one chaff bomber was hit by missile splinters, and these caused little damage.

Having released the last of their chaff bombs, the two flights sped away from the target area. Behind them they left more than seventy clouds of chaff that now spread out to form a corridor two miles wide, more than a mile deep and eighteen miles long. At the end of that corridor lay the Paul Doumer Bridge.

Five minutes behind the chaff bombers, the first of the main attack formations entered the Hanoi missile zone. Flying through the corridor of chaff laid to assist it, the Paul Doumer Bridge attack force headed for the target flying at 620mph at 13,000ft. ‘Goatee’, Napkin’, ‘Biloxi’ and ‘Jingle’ Flights, each with four Phantoms in jamming-pod formation, followed each other at two-mile intervals.

Flying ahead of the Phantoms and far below them, a fresh team of four ‘Wild Weasel’ F-105Gs fanned out in pairs, looking for active SAM sites. Yet despite this harassment and the radar jamming from the Phantoms and their supporting EB-66s, the defending batteries lay on an impressive display of wrath. Holding position in a jamming-pod formation under SAM attack has been likened to the first time one snuffs out a candle with one’s fingers — it was an unnatural act and it required courage to overcome one’s basic instincts. Captain Lynn High commented:

We had to sit in formation and grit our teeth when the SAMs came through the formation. It took nerves of steel to watch a SAM come straight at you, even though you knew that in all probability it would not hit you and if it detonated it would detonate too soon or too late. I watched about six SAMs do exactly that.

Meanwhile the leading attack flight, ‘Goatee’, commenced its bombing run on the Paul Doumer Bridge with electro-optical guided bombs (EOGBs). These weapons homed in on the image contrast of the target against its background, and the Phantoms were to attack the bridge broadside-on from the south. In each plane the back-seater operated a small hand-held controller to position the bridge under the sighting reticle on his TV screen and pressed a button to lock the target image into the first bomb. He then switched to the second bomb and repeated the process. Colonel Carl Miller, the Flight Leader, pushed his plane into a 30-degree descent and the other three planes followed. At 12,000ft the Phantoms released their bombs in a salvo.

During the recent war in the Persian Gulf the newest types of EOGBs demonstrated an impressive degree of accuracy. Earlier weapons of this type were considerably less effective, however, and on this occasion they performed miserably. The exasperated Miller watched his bombs go their separate ways:

One made a 90-degree turn and went for downtown Hanoi, I think it impacted near the train station. I don’t know where the other went. The EOGB was a launch-and-leave weapon, they were supposed to stay locked-on after release. But they didn’t.

After releasing their bombs, the aircraft of ‘Goatee’ Flight turned west and engaged their afterburners to get clear of the defended area as rapidly as possible. As this was happening, ‘Biloxi’, ‘Jingle’ and ‘Napkin’ Flights sped towards a point immediately to the east of the bridge, ready to attack along its length with their laser-guided bombs (LGBs). As he was about to turn in to attack, Major Bill Driggers glanced to his left to observe the result of ‘Goatee’ Flight’s attack with EOGBs. He had expected to see them burst around the bridge and demolish parts of the structure, but the reality was quite different:

As we rolled in to attack the bridge I saw big waterspouts rising from the Red River. The first EOGBs fell short; those that made it to the bridge went through the gaps between the pylons. I saw two, maybe three, of the bombs explode in the water on the other side.

None of the EOGBs hit the target — a profoundly disappointing result during the first operational use of these expensive weapons over North Vietnam.

Two by two, the Phantoms of ‘Napkin’ Flight pulled into their 45-degree attack dives. The 37mm and 57mm anti-aircraft guns around the target opened up a powerful defensive fire and colourful lines of moving tracer, punctuated by stationary puffs from exploding shells, criss-crossed the sky over the eastern side of Hanoi. At 12,000ft each Phantom let go its bombs and pulled out of its dive. In the leading plane in each pair, the back-seater operated a small control stick to hold the laser-designator on the required aiming-point. A laser seeker head in the nose of each bomb steered the weapon to the point thus marked. The first salvo of four bombs exploded against the bridge or in the river beneath it, hurling smoke, spray and debris hundreds of feet into the air.

At the head of ‘Biloxi’ Flight, the next to attack, Captain Lynn High noticed that the enemy anti-aircraft gunners seemed to be aiming at the wrong part of the sky:

The Vietnamese gunners obviously expected us to release from a lower altitude: they coned their fire on a point 7,500 feet to 9,000 feet above the target. It looked like an Indian tepee sitting over downtown Hanoi. But we released our bombs at a higher altitude — we kept out of it.

The Flight’s eight 2,000-pounders threw up further columns of debris, smoke and spray around the bridge.

‘Jingle’ Flight bombed last, and Captain Mike Van Wagenen piloted the final aircraft to attack the bridge:

There was so much going on, it was impossible to comprehend everything. The human mind cannot take that many inputs so it rules a lot of them. The radio seemed to go quiet, the radar warning gear went quiet, everything appeared to go quiet as I tracked the Doumer Bridge underneath my sighting pipper. We just stopped thinking about the other things going on around us. My back-seater was calling off the altitudes: 15…14…13 [thousand feet]…The pipper was tracking up the bridge, I had the parameters like I wanted to see them and released both bombs.

Van Wagenen hauled on the stick and watched the horizon sink rapidly past his windscreen as the g forces asserted themselves and pushed him hard into his seat:

As we came off the target it was like plugging in the stereo: slowly one’s senses came back and one could hear the radar warning gear, the radio transmissions, everything else. The human computer was working again. I jinked hard left and right, picked up Mike [Captain Mike Messett, his element leader] and joined up on him. Then I rolled back to the right to see where my bombs had gone. It appeared all four, Mike’s and mine, had hit the first span on the east side of the river. I took one more look to see if the span was standing but I couldn’t tell, there was a lot of smoke around.

As Van Wagenen left the bridge none of the spans had dropped, despite the fact that several of the laser-guided bombs had scored direct hits on the structure and caused severe damage. Two spans at the eastern end had broken apart, however, and the bridge was impassable to wheeled vehicles.

As the Phantoms sped out of the target area some of them had fleeting brushes with MiGs. Lieutenant Rick Bates recalled:

As we came off the target we passed a Thud [F-105] followed by a MiG followed by a Thud. Then I saw a MiG-21 that looked as if it was trying to turn on us. But we were going so goddarn fast he had no chance…Those three or four minutes was [sic] absolute and total chaos as far as I was concerned; my pulse rate was going at about eight million a minute…

As the Phantoms of the bridge attack force left the target, the raiding force heading for the Yen Vien rail yard began running through the chaff corridor laid earlier. The sixteen F-4 bombers followed the same route as the bridge attack force and Major Kelly Irving was surprised at the ease with which he could follow the line of chaff through the defended area:

I was impressed at how well it showed up on my air intercept radar. That was how we made sure we were positioned in it. That was a godsend — we drove up that thing like it was a highway.

The bombers ran towards their target at 15,000ft, pulled up to 20,000ft and swung into echelon right as they peeled into their 45-degree attack dives. Captain Jim Shaw, in the leading flight, recalled:

We followed the other three down the chute and Bud Pratt [his pilot] pickled [released] the bombs. When we pulled off I looked back, and saw somebody’s bombs do a pretty good job across the south chokepoint. While in the target area we tried to change something — heading, altitude or speed — every ten seconds to defeat the radar-aimed fire.

This attention to detail proved necessary, for as Shaw left the target his flight suddenly came under heavy fire:

Lead got away with it, No 2 flew through some of it, No 3 could not avoid it. We broke left and came very sharply back to the right. I got an eyeful of all the standard colours of smoke puffs. The larger the calibre the darker the smoke: white puffs were 23mm, light grey puffs were 3 mm, grey were 57mm and black puffs were 85mm. Beforehand every flight leader briefs that he will fly a wide arc coming off the target, so those behind can cut off the turn and join up for mutual support. But when they were being shot at, very few leaders do it to the degree their wing-men would like. We went out scalded-ass fast and it took a while to get the flight back in order. Everybody had a distinct interest in getting away from the people they had just been nasty to!

The attacks on both targets were now complete, but there was a further chore that had to be completed. North of Hanoi a pair of RF-4C reconnaissance Phantoms moved into position to photograph the targets for damage assessment. The aircraft accelerated to 750mph, keeping just below the speed of sound to retain a measure of manoeuvrability, and sped towards their objectives at between 4,000 and 6,000ft, continually varying their altitude to give the enemy gunners as difficult a target as possible. Major Sid Rogers led the pair, with Captain Don Pickard flying as wing-man behind and about 1,000ft to the right of his leader. The latter recalled:

After we passed the rail yard we got everything in the world shot at us. We started jinking and as we approached Hanoi there was a trail of black puffs from bursting shells behind Sid. I said to my back-seater, Chuck Irwin, ‘Good God, look at that stuff behind lead!’ Chuck replied, ‘It’s a good thing you can’t see the stuff behind us…!’

Moments later Pickard noticed a MiG-17 about 500yds behind and to the left, trying to get into a firing position. But the two Phantoms soon left the slower fighter far behind. South of Hanoi a SAM battery loosed off at Pickard’s aircraft. The pilot saw nothing of the missile until it detonated and the Phantom bucked under its blast:

I didn’t see the SAM but I saw a whole bunch of red things, like tracer rounds but fanning out, come past my nose [the hot splinters from the warhead]. I ducked; it looked like we were going to hit them.

Miraculously, all the warhead splinters missed the plane.

It was 10.14 a.m. and now all the bombers, the reconnaissance planes and the ‘Wild Weasel’ and jamming-support aircraft were heading away from the target. Four flights of Phantoms covered the withdrawal: one patrolled north-west of Hanoi, one was to the south-south-west, one was to the south-south-east and one was astride the withdrawal route near the Laotian border.

The earlier activity by MiGs had tapered off and now there was little sign of the defending fighters. Tempted by this inactivity, one flight moved west of Hanoi at 8,000ft trying to lure North Vietnamese fighters into battle. The stratagem succeeded only too well. Suddenly a MiG-19 zoomed into a firing position behind one of the Phantoms and delivered a snap attack. Exploding 30mm shells tore away chunks from the left wing and the fighter rolled into a dive and plunged into the ground. There were no survivors. The remaining Phantoms curved vengefully after their assailant and one launched missiles from extreme range, but the North Vietnamese pilot knew his business and dived away and disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

By 11.15 a.m. the whole of the raiding force was back on the ground. The 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon had sent out forty F-4s to lay the chaff corridor and deliver the attacks on the Paul Doumer Bridge and the Yen Vien railway yard; as a testimony to the effectiveness of the ‘jamming-pod formation’, all the planes had passed through the thickest part of the defences and all had returned, though one had suffered minor damage. The 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat sent twelve F-105s, four EB-66s and an EC-121 to support the operation; all these returned safely too. The 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn had sent 28 F-4s and three RF-4Cs; its two F-4s shot down by MiG-19s were the only planes lost during the mission. Three North Vietnamese MiG-21 fighters had been shot down, all of them by ‘Oyster’ Flight during the initial encounter.

On the following day Phantoms delivered a second attack with laser-guided bombs on the Paul Doumer Bridge, during which they concentrated their weapons on the damaged eastern end of the structure. After further hits, the disconnected span toppled into the Red River.

Just over three weeks later there was an interesting sequel to the action. It will be remembered that Captain Roger Locher had ejected from his blazing Phantom shortly before it crashed into the ground. Although deep in enemy territory he avoided capture, living off any edible vegetation he could find. On June 1 Locher finally made radio contact with US aircraft, and the following day a large-scale rescue operation retrieved him. When he was picked up by a ‘Jolly Green Giant’ helicopter he had lost 30lb in weight and he was weak from starvation. For an air-crew survivor to remain at liberty, unassisted, for 23 days deep in enemy home territory and initiate a successful rescue was a record for the Vietnam War and it ranks with the most successful combat evasion episodes in history. The rescue also set a record for those who retrieved him, for it took the helicopters deeper into North Vietnam than any other such mission during the conflict.

Zveno Aircraft and Developments

The complete sequence of Zveno developments (not all were tried).

In 1930 Vakhmistrov suggested that a cheap glider might be used as an aerial gunnery target, and he quickly perfected a way of carrying such a glider above the upper wing of an R-l reconnaissance aircraft and releasing it in flight. This gave Vakhmistrov the idea of using a large aircraft to carry a small one on long-range flights over hostile territory. The small aircraft could either be fighters to protect a large bomber, or bomb-carrying attack aircraft or camera-carrying fast reconnaissance aircraft which could make a pass over a target while the parent aircraft stood off at a safe distance. In each case the difficult part was hooking on again for the long flight home. After presenting the WS and LII management with calculations Vakhmistrov received permission to try out his idea. This led to a succession of Zveno (link) combinations:

Z-1 This featured a twin-engined Tupolev TB-1 bomber carrying a Tupolev I-4 fighter above each wing. The fighters were of the I-4Z version, three of which were converted for these experiments with short stub lower wings and attachment locks on the landing gear and under the rear fuselage. The bomber was provided with attachments for the Zveno aircraft above each wing: two small pyramids for the landing gear and a large tripod for the rearfuselage attachment.

The first flight took place from Monino on 3rd December 1931. The TB-1 was flown by AI Zalevskii and A R Sharapov, with Vakhmistrov as observer. The fighters, with ski landing gears, were flown by V P Chkalov and A S Anisimov. The take-off was made with the fighter engines at full power. The TB-1 co-pilot forgot the release sequence and released Chkalov’s axle before releasing the aft attachment, but Chkalov reacted instantly and released the rear lock as the fighter reared nose-up. The second fighter was released correctly. For a few seconds the TB-1 flew with no tendency to roll with an I-4Z on one wing.

Z-1a First flown in September 1933, this comprised the TB-1 carrying two Polikarpov I-5 fighters. The latter were fitted with a reinforcing plate under the rear fuselage carrying the rear holddown, but had no special designation. The pilots were P M Stefanovskii (TB-1) and I F Grodz’ and V K Kokkinaki (I-5).

Z-2 This was the first of the more ambitious hookups using a TB-3 as parent aircraft. The bomber was an early TB-3/4 M-l 7, and it was given attachments for an I-5 above each wing and a third above the fuselage with its wheels on a special flat platform. On the first test in August 1934 the TB-3 was flown by Zalevskii and the fighters by T P Suzi, S P Suprun and T T Al’tnov.

Z-3 This combination would have hung a Grigorovich I-Z monoplane fighter under each wing of the TB-3. It was not flown.

Z-4 No information.

Z-5 This was the first attempt to hook back on. The parent aircraft was again the TB-3/4 M-l 7, and the fighter was an I-Z fitted with a large suspension superstructure of steel tubes, plus a curved upper guide rail terminating in a sprung hook releasable by the pilot (almost identical to the arrangement used on the airship- borne US Navy F9C Sparrowhawks). This was designed to hook on a large steel-tube trapeze under the bomber, which was folded up for take-off and landing. V A Stepanchyonok flew the I-Z on several tests with the bomber flown as straight and level as possible by Stefanovskii. The first hook-on took place on 23rd March 1935; this was a world first.

Z-6 The final combination of the original series was the mating of two I-16 monoplane fighters hung under the wings of the TB-3. The fighters were provided with local reinforcement above the wings to enable them to be hung from sliding horizontal spigots on large tripod links of streamlined light-alloy tube pin-jointed to the bomber’s wing structure. Bracing struts linked the bomber to a latch above the fighter’s rear fuselage, and one of the fighters (M-25A-engined No 0440) was photographed with a lightweight pylon above the forward fuselage to pick up under the bomber’s wing. The first test took place in August 1935; Stefanovskii flew the TB-3 and the fighter pilots were K K Budakov and AI Nikashin.


Named ‘mother aircraft’, this amazing test, not part of the original plan, took place in November 1935. The TB-3/4M-17 took off from Monino with an I-5 above each wing and an I-16 below each wing. At altitude it folded down the under-fuselage trapeze and Stepanchenok hooked on the I-Z, making a combination of six aircraft of four types all locked together. After several passes all the fighters released simultaneously. By this time Vakhmistrov had schemes for up to eight fighters of later types all to be carried by large aircraft such as the full-scale VS-2 tailless bomber projected by Kalinin. Instead Stalin’s ‘terror’ caused the whole effort to wither, but there were still to be further developments.

SPB (Russian initials for fast dive bomber) This was a special version of the Polikarpov I-16 equipped with a rack to carry an FAB-250 (bomb of 250kg, 551 Ib) under each wing. Such an aircraft could not have safely taken off from the ground. In 1937 a later TB-3/4AM- 34RN was made available, and two SPB aircraft were hung under its wings. The first test took place on 12th July 1937, the TB-3 being flown by Stefanovskii and the dive bombers by A S Nikolayev and IA Taborovskii.

Z-7 In November 1939 one final combination was flown: the TB-3/4AM-34RN took off with an I- 16 under each wing and a third hooked under the fuselage in flight (with severe difficulty). The I-16 pilots were Stefanovskii, Nyukhtikov and Suprun. In early 1940 the WS decided to form a Zveno combat unit. Based at Yevpatoriya, this was equipped with six modified TB-3/4AM- 34RN and 12 SPB dive bombers. During the Great Patriotic War a famous mission was flown on 25th August 1941 which destroyed the Danube Bridge at Chernovody in Romania, on the main rail link to Constanta. Surviving SPBs flew missions in the Crimea.

The Industrial Revolution and Machine-Gun Prototypes

The fundamental changes, including manufacturing and financial practices, that came about during the Industrial Revolution greatly speeded machine-gun development. The first patent using the term “machine gun” was issued in the United States in 1829 to Samuel L. Farries of Middletown, Ohio. This grant seems to imply that the term was to be assigned to any mechanically operated weapon of rifle caliber and above, regardless of whether the energy necessary for sustained fire was derived mechanically or from some other source of power. As it turned out, however, the weapons of the nineteenth century would all be manually operated. Because it was always necessary for a gunner to aim the weapon, there seemed to be no reason why he should not also furnish the power to feed and fire the gun. The challenge for inventors was how to devise a mechanism to make that possible.

In the 1850s, Sir James S. Lillie of London attempted to combine both the multibarrel and the revolving chamber systems. He arranged 12 barrels in two rows. Each had a cylinder, as with a revolver, behind it. A hand crank tripped the hammers of each unit, either simultaneously to produce a 12-barrel barrage of fire, or consecutively to produce a continuous ripple of fire from each barrel in turn. The problem with Lillie’s gun was that it took a long time to reload. Thus it had little appeal for the military and the only specimen ever made now resides in the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich in London.

In the United States, other inventors continued to work on perfecting a multifire weapon. Improvements to percussion caps and subsequent developments in the evolution of the cartridge paved the way for new advances. Ezra Ripley, of Troy, New York, took advantage of the paper cartridge developed by Samuel Colt and the Ely brothers of England to patent a hand-cranked machine gun. Ripley achieved sustained volley fire by a compact firing mechanism that allows the gunner to fire one shot, or the whole volley, with a quick turn of the handle. The weapon consisted of a series of barrels grouped around a central axis. The breech lock, made in the shape of a revolving cylinder, was loaded with the conventional paper cartridges of the time. The breech was then locked into place by securing the operating handle. This aligned the chambers containing the cartridges with the rear of the barrels. With a turn of the handle, the firing pin was cocked and released, firing the weapon. Once the weapon was fired, the gunner then pulled the firing assembly rearward, removed the empty cartridges and reloaded the empty chambers. As preloaded cylinders were made available, a single operator was able to produce more sustained fire than a company of men using the standard muzzle-loading musket of the day. However, U. S. military observers evaluating Ripley’s prototype expressed serious doubts about overheating of the barrels and ammunition resupply. In the end, the U. S. Army, which ordered little more than conventional arms like muskets and cannons during this period, was not interested in Ripley’s invention. Nevertheless, it was a promising weapon that had many features that greatly influenced machine-gun design for years.

Some of the difficulties incurred by arms inventors in marketing their ideas were reduced with the onset of the U. S. Civil War; the needs of industrialized warfare spurred weapons inventors and added new impetus to the development of volley-fire weapons and ultimately the mechanical machine gun. One of the most effective of the volley-fire weapons during the Civil War was the Billinghurst-Requa battery gun, built in late 1861 by the Billinghurst Company of Rochester, New York. Designed by Joseph Requa of Rochester, this weapon was yet another revival of the fourteenth-century ribauldequin brought up to date. The weapon consisted of 25 rifle barrels mounted side-by-side on a light wheeled carriage. The barrels were each loaded with a brass cartridge containing gunpowder and a bullet and having a hole in the base. A steel block closed all 25 breeches and was perforated to allow the flash from a single cap, which was placed on a nipple on the iron frame and fired by a hammer, to pass through and ignite the 25 cartridges in a ragged volley, after which the 25 barrels had to be emptied of the spent cartridges by hand and reloaded before the gun could fire again. It produced a blast of fire that could cut down a charging enemy.

The Billinghurst-Requa battery gun, although primitive by later standards, had a few unusual features that merit mention. Requa had solved the inevitable long pause for reloading by making his weapon a breechloader. The clip-loading feature and quick means of locking and unlocking the bolt allowed for a decent rate of fire. The gun was demonstrated in New York shortly before the Civil War broke out, and several were purchased by the Union and the Confederacy. They were used to protect vulnerable points, notably bridges and similar places where an enemy attack could be channeled into a narrow space and a sudden blast of fire delivered. As a result, these weapons became known as bridge guns. Despite its potential, the battery gun had its limitations and did not represent a great leap forward in rapid-fire technology. Additionally, there were questions about how such guns would best be used on the battlefield. The gun was demonstrated for the Ordnance Select Committee in London in 1863, and the observers attending were less than impressed. The committee thought that the gun could not be a substitute for any existing field guns and questioned its utility for the infantry. Ian V. Hogg, a modern expert on weapons and their development, maintains that “this short report pinpoints the greatest problem facing the early development of machine guns: how were they to be used?”1 Most military observers saw them as some sort of artillery weapon and contended that they should be handled in the field in the same manner, that is, setting up some distance from the enemy to take him under fire. According to Hogg, “It was this ques tion of method of employment that was to be the greatest brake on the early development” of the machine gun. Very few observers realized the potential of these weapons and how they would change the nature of armed combat.

A different approach during the Civil War was taken by Wilson Ager (sometimes spelled Agar). His invention was called the Coffee Mill because the ammunition was fed into the top through a funnel-shaped hopper resembling an old-time coffee grinder. Ager’s gun, also known as the Union Repeating Gun, was unique in that it had only one barrel. A number of steel tubes, into which powder and a bullet were loaded, provided the firepower; on the end of each tube was a nipple on to which a percussion cap was placed. The tubes were then dropped into the hopper and gravity-fed one at a time by rotating the crank. This pushed the first tube from the hopper into the chamber of the barrel, locked the breech block behind it, and then dropped a hammer onto the cap and fired the caliber .58 Minié-type bullet out of the barrel. Continuous rotation of the crank withdrew the empty tube and ejected it, then fed the next tube in, and so on. The gunner’s mate had the job of picking up the empty tubes and reloading them as fast as he could, dropping them back into the hopper.

The gun, which Ager described as “An Army in Six Feet Square,” worked reasonably well, particularly for its day. The inventor claimed that the weapon could fire 100 shots per minute. This was probably an exaggeration, and that claim was no doubt received with great skepticism. This response was probably well-founded, because 100 shots per minute meant exploding a pound or so of gunpowder every minute. In truth, the gun probably could not have withstood the heat generated. (The problem of heat buildup in the barrel would be one of the recurring difficulties that had to be overcome in the development of an effective machine gun.) Nevertheless, Ager conducted a demonstration firing for President Abraham Lincoln, who was so impressed with the weapon that he authorized the purchase of 10 units on the spot. Eventually Ager sold more than fifty Coffee Mills to the Union Army. Generally, they proved to be unreliable in combat and were never employed en masse. According to one reference, they were incorporated into the defenses of Washington and were only occasionally fired at Confederate positions along the Potomac River. 3 They were usually relegated to bridge duty, like the Requa. In the end, the Coffee Mill was not adopted in great numbers because contemporary authorities, failing to see its great potential, condemned it as requiring too much ammunition ever to be practical.

Captain D. R. Williams of the Confederate Army invented a mechanical gun that was also used during the Civil War. This weapon, a 1-pounder with a bore of 1.57 inches and a 4-foot barrel, was mounted on a mountain howitzer-style horse-drawn limber. This weapon was really a cross between a machine gun and a light repeating cannon. The firing mechanism was operated by a hand crank located on the right side. The weapon used a self-consuming paper cartridge and was capable of 65 shots per minute. It was fairly reliable but had a tendency to overheat when fired for extended periods. The Williams gun was first employed on 3 May 1862 at the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia. Some historians maintain that this was the first machine gun to be used in battle, but weapons historian Ian V. Hogg disputes this claim, arguing that the Williams gun cannot be classed as a true machine gun, since it was necessary to put each round into the feedway by hand. The Williams, according to Hogg, “was simply a quick-firing breech-loader, operated by a hand crank.” Nevertheless, these weapons were used by the Confederacy for the rest of the Civil War with some success.

Another American, General O. Vandenberg, also invented a new weapon, a volley gun designed for “projecting a group or cluster of shot.” This weapon employed 85 to 451 barrels, depending on the size of the projectile for which it was designed. Each barrel was loaded with a bullet and then the breech was closed. When the operator manipulated a lever, measured charges of powder were dropped simultaneously into each chamber. The method of ignition was percussion: a centrally located charge ignited the whole volley simultaneously. With so many barrels, the weapon was extremely heavy. Vandenberg built the first guns in England and tried to market them there. The British showed some interest in it for use aboard ships but believed that it had little potential as a land weapon due to its weight. Vandenberg, at the outbreak of the Civil War, made many attempts to sell the weapon to the U. S. government. He even gave three weapons to the secretary of war for testing. After very comprehensive field trials, it was found that it took nine hours for one man to clean the bore and chambers of the weapon adequately after firing. This maintenance problem and the weight issue doomed the weapon, and it was deemed unacceptable for Union service. Several of these guns were used by Confederate forces, but they were stamped with the name of the British manu facturing company, Robinson and Cottam. There is a record of one being used in the defense of Petersburg, Virginia.

The Gatling Gun

The most famous and successful of the mechanical machine guns was invented by Richard Jordan Gatling. Rather than practice medicine after completing medical school, Gatling spent his life inventing things, including a steam plow, a mechanical rice planter, and a hemp breaker. However, it was in the area of repeating arms that Gatling made his name. In 1861, taking advantage of the progress that had been made in machine tooling, he combined the best principles of the Ager and Ripley guns (although he denied that he had been influenced by either weapon), overcoming their more objectionable features. Because of his successful designs, Gatling has generally been credited with being the progenitor of the modern mechanical machine gun.

Gatling was fully aware of the problems with heat buildup from multiple explosions in a rapidly firing weapon. To overcome this, he designed the weapon with six barrels that would be fired in turn. This ensured that with a total potential fire rate of 600 rounds per minute, each barrel would only fire 100, allowing them to cool down.

The first Gatling gun, patented in November 1862, consisted of six barrels mounted around a central axis in a revolving frame with a hopper-shaped steel container similar to the Ager. The barrels were cranked by hand. The weapon used small steel cylinders that contained a percussion cap on the end, the bullet, and paper cartridges for the charge. It was loaded by placing the steel cylinders into the hopper above the gun, which fed the rounds into the breech by gravity. As the handle was turned, the six barrels and the breech mechanism revolve, each barrel having a bolt and a firing pin controlled by a shaped groove in the casing around the breech. As the breech revolved, the bolts were opened and closed and the firing pin released from the action of studs running in the groove. When any barrel was at the topmost point of revolution, the breech bolt was fully open and as it passed beneath the hopper a loaded cylinder was dropped into the feeder. As the barrel continued to revolve, the bolt was closed, leaving the firing pin cocked; as the barrel revolved to the bottommost point, the firing pin was released and the barrel fired. Further revolution caused the bolt to open and the empty case to be ejected, just in time for the barrel to reach the top again with the bolt open, ready to collect its next cartridge and casing.

Gatling made arrangements for six weapons to be manufactured for an official test by the Union Army. Unfortunately, the factory in which the guns were being made was destroyed by fire, and the guns and all his drawings were lost. The inventor was not deterred, however, and he was able to raise enough money to manufacture 12 new guns. This time he did away with the metal cylinders, using rim-fire cartridges instead. This made the newer weapon easier to load and more reliable. Gatling boasted that the gun could be fired at the rate of 200 shots per minute.

Despite Gatling’s claims, which were to be borne out by subsequent events, the Union Army failed to adopt the gun for two reasons. First, the army’s chief of ordnance, Colonel John W. Ripley (later brigadier general), strongly resisted any move away from standard-issue weapons. The other reason was suspicion that Gatling’s sympathies lay with the South. Although he had located his factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, Gatling had been born in North Carolina, which had joined the Confederacy. Therefore, to many among the Union leadership, his politics and sympathies were suspect. Gatling even appealed directly to President Lincoln, pointing out that his deadly invention was “providential, to be used as a means in crushing the rebellion.” Despite Gatling’s offer to help the North win the war, many in the Union high command felt there was something odd about a Southerner offering a new gun to the Union and thus refused to even consider Gatling’s invention. The only use of the Gatling gun during the Civil War occurred when General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts personally purchased 12 guns for $1,000 each and later put them to good use against Confederate troops besieged at Petersburg, Virginia.

In 1864, Gatling completely redesigned the gun so that each barrel was formed with its own chamber, thus doing away with the separate cylinder and its attendant gas-leak problem. The gun now fed center-fire cartridges from a magazine on top. The cartridges were gradually fed into the chamber by cams as the barrels revolved, then fired at the bottom position, and were extracted and ejected during the upward movement. As the barrel reached the top it was empty and ready to take in the next round. The great advantage of this system was that it divided the mechanical work among six barrels so that all the machinery operated at a sensible speed. By this time, Gatling had refined the gun’s design considerably, increasing the rate of fire to 300 rounds per minute and improving reliability.

Gatling intensified efforts to sell the gun to the U. S. government. He published a publicity broadsheet in 1865 that informed the world that his gun bore “the same relationship to other firearms that McCormack’s Reaper does to the sickle, or the sewing machine to the common needle. It will no doubt be the means of producing a great revolution in the art of warfare from the fact that a few men can perform the work of a regiment.” At Gatling’s urging, the U. S. Army finally agreed later that year to conduct a test. Pleased with the results, the Army formally adopted the Gatling gun in 1866, ordering 50 of 1-inch caliber (with six barrels) and 50 of 0.50-inch caliber (with 10 barrels). Gatling entered a contract with Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Company of Hartford, Connecticut, to manufacture the guns for delivery in 1867. Gatling was so pleased with this arrangement that for as long as the U. S. government used the Gatling gun, it was manufactured by Colt.

Even though the U. S. Army had adopted the Gatling gun, there were two schools of thought among military men, both in the United States and elsewhere, about the best way to use it. One believed they should be used as artillery fire support; the other advocated its use for defending bridges and for street defense. Neither side recognized its true potential was as an infantry support weapon. This would be a recurring theme within the world’s armies regarding the Gatling gun and subsequent machine guns, as doctrine and tactics failed to keep pace with technological advances.

With the Civil War over and the arms embargo enacted during the war lifted, Gatling and the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Company began marketing the weapon overseas, aggressively entering arms competitions throughout Europe. In each case, when a properly designed cartridge was used, the Gatling gun out-shot every competing design. In Great Britain, some military leaders had recommended the adoption of the machine gun, but cost considerations led Parliament to refuse to appropriate funding to develop such weapons. Nevertheless, the British Army tested Gatling’s weapon at Woolwich in 1870 in competition with the Montigny Mitrailleuse, a 12- pounder breechloader firing shrapnel, a 9-pounder muzzleloader firing shrapnel, six soldiers firing Martini-Henry rifles, and six soldiers firing Snider rifles. The Gatling fired 492 pounds of ammunition and obtained 2,803 hits on various targets; the Montigny 472 pounds for 708 hits; the 12-pounder 1,232 for 2,286 hits; and the 9-pounder 1,013 pounds for 2,207 hits. The British were impressed with the Gatling’s accuracy, its economy, and the fact that in timed fire it got off 1,925 rounds in 2.5 minutes. The test went so well that the British adopted the Gatling in caliber .42 for the Army and caliber .65 for the Royal Navy.

Great Britain became one of the first countries not only to recognize the utility of the Gatling gun but also to put it into action. After some initial difficulties with the new weapon during the Ashanti campaign of 1873 in the territory that is now Ghana, West Africa, the British Army wholeheartedly endorsed it. Events elsewhere in Africa contributed toward the acceptance of the Gatling gun. In South Africa on 22-23 January 1879, the British had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Zulus under Cetshwayo at Isandlwana. In retribution for this defeat, a force of 4,000 infantrymen and 1,000 cavalry under the command of Lord Chelmsford set out to punish the Zulus. On July 4, the British, armed with two Gatling guns, engaged the Zulu warriors at Ulundi. The Gatlings wrought havoc among the Zulus, who had never gone up against such devastating fire. When the battle was over, more than 1,500 Zulus lay dead, most due to fire from the Gatlings. From then on the Gatling gun became a mainstay of British expeditionary forces in places like Egypt and the Sudan. Modern-day historian Robert L. O’Connell maintains that the Gatling and subsequently the Maxim machine gun were so popular with British colonial forces because “from an imperialist standpoint, the machine gun was nearly the perfect laborsaving device, enabling tiny forces of whites to mow down multitudes of brave but thoroughly outgunned native warriors.”

Over the next few years, most major armies in Europe, as well as those in Egypt, China, and much of South America, purchased Gatling’s weapon. The Russian government, preparing for war with Turkey, ordered 400 Gatlings. A Russian general was sent to the United States to oversee their manufacture and inspect the units before acceptance and shipping. With considerable cunning, he replaced the original Gatling nameplates with his own before the guns were shipped to Russia. Not surprisingly, some Russians claimed that Gatling had stolen important elements of the Gorloff model, which was called the Russian Mitrailleuse.

Despite Russian claims of originality, the Gatling was popular and saw use in many theaters. The inventor continued to work for 30 years on improvements and conducted many exhibitions throughout Europe and South America. Various models of varying calibers were introduced. By 1876, a five-barreled caliber .45 model was firing 700 rounds per minute and even up to 1,000 rounds in a short burst. By the mid-1880s, the armed forces of almost every nation in the world included Gatling guns among their inventories.

The Gatling was an effective design and remained in use until technology evolved such that a single barrel could be manufactured to withstand the heat and wear of multiple firings. After that advance, the Gatling disappeared. Before then, however, the Gatling saw long war service in countries, primarily as a instrument of colonialism, whereby small numbers of European soldiers could defeat large masses of native troops in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Despite the increased firepower of the Gatling, it had some limitations technically and tactically. The multiple barrels prevented excess heat buildup, but they were also a liability due to their weight. The weapon was best used in defensive situations because it was too heavy and unwieldy to use on the attack. For that reason, Gatlings were usually relegated to the artillery to be used in batteries, rather than distributed to infantry and cavalry units. There were a few instances where this was not the case. The Americans first used the Gatling against a foreign enemy during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Under the leadership of Captain John H. “Gatling Gun” Parker, a Gatling unit was organized and employed against the Spaniards at Santiago, Cuba. Parker took it upon himself to push the guns, mounted on carriages, forward on the flanks of the attacking force, keeping up with the advancing infantry and effectively clearing a path for them. This was the first use of the machine gun for mobile fire support in offensive combat. Parker quickly became one of the pioneers in the development of a tactical doctrine built around the use of the machine gun in support of the infantry.

The Gatling gun and its inventor were way ahead of their times. It was the only weapon in history to progress from black powder to smokeless powder, from hand power to fully automatic, and eventually to an electric-drive system that allowed 3,000 rounds per minute. All this was accomplished without any change to its basic operating principle before being abandoned as obsolete in 1911. It was also a design that would have applications in the modern era.


c.1915–19 A photograph from 1915–19 of Jamrud Fort on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass. The fort was built in 1836–37 by the Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa, a fort builder, after conquering the area from local tribesmen. Built with thick walls, the poorly protected fort was captured by the Afghans later in 1837. Jamrud later served as a British base, notably for operations in Afghanistan in 1878–79 and in the Tirah Campaign of 1897–98. It was the collecting station for the Khyber tolls and a base of the Khyber Rifles, an auxiliary unit for the army raised among local tribesmen.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837), the well-known Sikh general, proposed to build a big fort at Jamrud. The proposal was opposed; nevertheless the foundation of the fort that has survived was laid by General Hari Singh Nalwa on 6 Poh 1893 Sambat (18 December 1836) and the construction was completed in 54 days. “Jamrud…noted for its fort built with 10 feet (3 m) thick walls c.1836 by the Sikh Hari Singh Nalwa, one of Ranjit Singh’s generals, was originally named Fatehgarh to commemorate the Sikh victory over the disunited tribes.”

The establishment of unrivalled rule in the Punjab did not, however, provide for the removal of all threats: the Afghans were still in charge of the frontier and regularly took the opportunity to raid Sikh territory. In these early years of the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was riven with civil war as the multitudinous grandsons of Ahmad Shah Abdali fought each other for the throne. The kingdom descended into a period of vicious scheming in which princes were killed or blinded by their own brothers and no depravity was unexplored in the pursuit of the crown. Some of these royal pretenders sought succour from Ranjit, he being the new regional power most possessed of the capacity to assist their ambitions; one such supplicant was Shah Shujah, for a time king in Kabul before being deposed by Dost Muhammad. Ranjit agreed to ensure the safety of Shah Shujah, who then went into comfortable exile in British territory; the price of his rescue was the Koh-i-Noor. One of the great symbols of power in northern India was now in Sikh hands.

The other, however, was not: the Khyber Pass remained in Afghan territory, despite regular outbreaks of fighting between the Sikhs and their neighbours. In these first decades of the century, Peshawar changed hands several times, and the Sikh armies had some successes, but while the critical points of the frontier were out of their control, security would be elusive. It was not until late in the reign of Ranjit Singh that an attempt was made to fortify a border outside Peshawar in the hope of ending costly Afghan incursions. In 1836, the powerful Sikh general Hari Singh took charge of revitalising the frontier protections and built a fort at Jamrud, just outside Peshawar on the Khyber road. The rounded, pinkish castle that stands there today is of later British construction, but the value of a fortification at the site is clear, commanding as it does the approach to the mouth of the Khyber Pass.

Immediately upon its completion, Jamrud Fort became an alarm that set the Afghans on a path to war. The King of Kabul, Dost Muhammad, understood the fortifying of the frontier to mean that the Sikhs were planning an invasion of his territory and the capture of the Khyber Pass. Accordingly, he levied his forces – declaring a jihad against the infidel Sikhs – and advanced through the Khyber Pass in the spring of 1837, placing Jamrud Fort under siege on 23 April. Although the Sikh forces in the fort were under strength, and Hari Singh lay ill in Peshawar, stout resistance prevented the Afghan army taking the fort, even after heavy artillery bombardment; around 1,000 Sikhs held off an Afghan force of perhaps 25,000. Such an imbalance in numbers, however, made the Sikh position dangerous, as the Afghan army cut off all supplies of food and water and continued their shelling of the fort. The situation began to look hopeless. Sikh commanders inside the besieged stronghold met and decided that their only chance was to get a message to Hari Singh in Peshawar and trust in his bringing reinforcements to their aid. A volunteer was sought for the hazardous mission of taking a despatch through the siege lines, and it was a woman, Harsharan Kaur, who came forward. Accepting the risk of her death, Harsharan made her prayers, disguised herself as a dog, and set out in the middle of the night, walking on all fours, picking her way carefully through the Afghan encampments.

Against the odds, she was successful, and arrived in Peshawar several hours later: Hari Singh immediately ordered the cannon shot that would tell the besieged that rescue was on the way, and raised himself from his sickbed to set out to lift the siege. With his forces, Hari Singh advanced on Jamrud and heavy fighting took place outside the fort; eventually, the Afghan army began to lose ground and the Sikhs gained the advantage. Forced to raise the siege, the Afghans retreated the short distance into the Khyber. Once inside the Pass, the natural defensive excellence of the rocky cliffs provided refuge and respite for the retreating army, and hard fighting followed: for some time, both the Sikh and Afghan forces were static, none making headway amid such terrain. Eventually – despite the death of Hari Singh during this fighting – the Afghan forces withdrew and the Khyber Pass was finally in Sikh hands.

With their frontier now fixed upon the natural mountain border of the Subcontinent, the Sikhs had secured their kingdom and reached their apogee under Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Through long years of chaos – introduced in part by invasions through the Khyber Pass – Sikh rule had come to triumph, a native Indian state emerging from internal decay and outside invasion, just as the Mauryan Empire had done more than two thousand years before. This success was, however, long in coming but short in life: Ranjit Singh had taken the Sikhs to their most glorious days but his kingdom would not long outlast him. Just a few years after his death in 1839, Sikh rule in the Punjab was threatened by the rising new power in India: the British Raj.


Whilst the Americans headed to the south, British forces battled their way across northern Europe into Hamburg — Germany’s biggest port and its second city.

While the Allied armies in the south marched to the Alps. Montgomery’s 21 Army Group drove north and northeast. The British Second Army’s right wing reached the Elbe southeast of Hamburg on April 19, 1945. Its left fought for a week to capture Bremen, which fell on April 26. On April 29 the British made an assault crossing of the Elbe, supported on the following day by the recently reattached 18th Airborne Corps. Ahead lay the challenge of taking Germany’s biggest port and its second city – Hamburg.

On Montgomery’s left, meanwhile, one corps of the First Canadian Army reached the North Sea near the Dutch-German border on April 16, while another drove through the central Netherlands, trapping the German forces remaining in that country.


Squadron Leader Edgar Venning RAFVR, a Dental Officer with the Second Tactical Air Force, had maintained a diary since the day his Mobile Dental Surgery had gone ashore in Normandy after D-Day. The entries provide an intriguing record of his progress across northern Europe, an advance that was, at times, so rapid that Edgar noted “one can hardly keep pace with the events happening so fast all over Europe”. The date of this entry in his diary is May 3, 1945, the very day that both Littbeck and Hamburg were finally taken.

At times the drive on Hamburg had been fiercely contested by the Germans. On April 20, for example, the 8th Hussars and a company from the Rifle Brigade captured the town of Daerstorf, eight miles west of Harburg, but only after bitter house-to-house fighting and the deployment of Wasps, a version of the ubiquitous Universal Carrier fitted with a flamethrower, against enemy infantry and anti-tank gun positions.

The following day the Durham Light Infantry assaulted, and took, the village of Maschen, which lay 16 miles due south of Hamburg. In the surrounding woods were deployed a Hungarian SS unit, a German tank destroyer battalion and numerous Panzerfaust teams. It took the men of the 53rd Division, supported by the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, four days to dislodge them. Over 2,000 prisoners were taken in the process.

Then, under cover of darkness, at 02.30 hours on April 26, the Germans launched a counterattack near the village of Vahrendorf, some 14 miles south of Hamburg’s city centre. Symptomatic of the state of Hitler’s forces at this stage of the war, the attackers comprised a rag-tag assortment of members of the 12th SS Reinforcement Regiment, a smattering of ordinary soldiers, Hitler Jugend, impressed ships’ crews, stevedores, U-boat crewmen, Volkssturm and policemen and firemen from Hamburg. They were supported by a number of 88mm guns that were no longer deployed in the anti-aircraft role in the city.

The fighting in Vahrendorf raged throughout the day. At one point a pair of self-propelled 75mm guns worked their way into the village, seriously threatening the British line until a squadron of tanks arrived and resolved the situation. The enemy finally withdrew on April 27, leaving behind 60 dead and 70 prisoners.


Bit by bit, though, the net continued to close around Hamburg. On April 28, British artillery shelled a number of targets in the city itself. The following day, on the instruction of the combat commander of Hamburg, Generalmajor Alwin Wolz, who had been appointed to the role on April 15, 1945, a deputation from the city was sent out to discuss surrender terms.

“The negotiations went on for some time,’ notes one account, “but on 1st May General Woltz’s [sic] staff car under a white flag approached the `D’ Company 9th DLI. Two staff officers were then taken to Battalion HQ. Admiral Doenitz had ordered General Keitel to order General Woltz to surrender the city of Hamburg to the Desert Rats… On 2nd May General Woltz arrived at Divisional HQ to discuss the arrangements for the surrender, which was [to be] taken by Brigadier Spurling on the afternoon of 3rd May 1945”!

As he later noted, Squadron Leader Venning suddenly found himself at the centre of events on May 3, experiencing the “excitement of being in one of the first few vehicles to enter”. The description of that final push into central Hamburg is best left to Edgar:

“The Doc. and I had no queue of patients, so we accepted the invitation of… the Official Observer RAE, attached to 83 Group, to accompany him by Jeep into Hamburg, which at noon that day was to be taken over… by our own Second Army.

“For an hour or so we sped along the bumpy cobbled roads on an army route to Winson [due south of Hamburg] and there turned onto the road to Hamburg.

Some way along the road we remarked that we were no longer on an army marked route and, moreover, there were no army vehicles or personnel to be seen. We were just wondering what were the chances of meeting a pocket of resistance, and whether we should turn back, when we encountered a little group of men trudging along – a dozen or so German soldiers carrying a white flag in front of them.

“We stopped – and they stopped. Most of them were very young and some looked only 16 or so. So, we told them to carry on marching, and pressed on towards Hamburg. But the bridge on the main Hamburg road had been blown up, so we had to go back and find a different route.

“Soon, to our relief, we came across a village where a lot of army vehicles were parked by the roadside. And here we learnt that there had been a hitch – the army had not yet gone in… long lines of tanks were waiting round the corner for the word `go.

“In our RAF Jeep, clearly marked `Official Observer, we cruised along past the long lines of tanks, Bren gun carriers and so on and, just as we reached the head of the column, they started to move off. We watched as these huge armoured vehicles went forward in battle array – a most impressive sight. They weren’t taking any chances – it was to be a military operation, not a triumphal parade.

“Our Official Observer wasn’t going to miss this, and much to amusement of the blokes in the tanks, drove on towards Hamburg. It was an amazing drive. There was, of course, no resistance at all. In fact, in the outskirts the Germans were lining the streets, wide-eyed with relief and undoubtedly pleased that for them it was all over. Many were waving, if a little self-consciously”

Some way along the road we remarked that we were no longer on an army marked route and, moreover, there were no army vehicles or personnel to be seen. We were just wondering what were the chances of meeting a pocket of resistance, and whether we should turn back, when we encountered a little group of men trudging along – a dozen or so German soldiers carrying a white flag in front of them.

“We stopped – and they stopped. Most of them were very young and some looked only 16 or so. So, we told them to carry on marching, and pressed on towards Hamburg. But the bridge on the main Hamburg road had been blown up, so we had to go back and find a different route. “Soon, to our relief, we came across a village where a lot of army vehicles were parked by the roadside. And here we learnt that there had been a hitch – the army had not yet gone in… long lines of tanks were waiting round the corner for the word `go.

“In our RAF Jeep, clearly marked `Official Observer, we cruised along past the long lines of tanks, Bren gun carriers and so on and, just as we reached the head of the column, they started to move off. We watched as these huge armoured vehicles went forward in battle array – a most impressive sight. They weren’t taking any chances – it was to be a military operation, not a triumphal parade.

“Our Official Observer wasn’t going to miss this, and much to amusement of the blokes in the tanks, drove on towards Hamburg. It was an amazing drive. There was, of course, no resistance at all. In fact, in the outskirts the Germans were lining the streets, wide-eyed with relief and undoubtedly pleased that for them it was all over. Many were waving, if a little self-consciously”


At this point, the convoy came to the bridges over the River Elbe, at which the tanks dispersed themselves at strategic points on either side of the road. As the crews awaited further instructions, the final advance on the city centre came to a temporary halt.

“We got into conversation with a Major of the Desert Rats [the 7th Armoured Division] whose Jeep was heading the convoy at the bridge,’ continued Venning. “He took a pretty good view of the job the RAF had done – and advised us to tag on behind him. Eventually the message came through to proceed, the battalion commander came up in his armoured car, and we all moved forward into the heart of the city.

“It was like a city of the dead. By a British order, a forty-eight-hour curfew kept everyone indoors and behind closed windows and shutters… We drove through a desolate, devastated and deserted city, with piles of rubble and twisted steel on either side of the road”

Large sections of the city had been devastated by Allied bombing, though around the central square and the Rathaus, or Town Hall, the damage was visibly less. For Edgar and his colleagues, the empty roads meant that they could sweep on towards the city centre. “Since leaving the bridge,’ he recalled, “the road had been lined on both sides by German military police, every 100 yards, in long green greatcoats and impressive helmets. Many saluted as the convoy went by – no Nazi Heil, but a deferential cap salute…

“We drove to the Town Hall square and there were a bunch of Nazi officials on the steps of the Rathaus awaiting the Brigadier. All the tanks and Jeeps and armour piled into this vast city square behind us, and soon the [German] officer with the white flag arrived, followed by the Brigadier. They entered the building amid much saluting and heel-clicking and photography.’


One reporter had managed to send through the following report that was published in an evening edition on May 3: “Hamburg, Germany’s greatest port and chief pocket of resistance along the North Sea coast, fell to the British today without a shot being fired. At nine o’clock this morning, a few hours after Gen. Dempsey’s columns completely isolated the garrison by their dash to the Baltic near Luebeck [sic], Hamburg Radio announced that the port had been declared an open city and that the British would begin its occupation at noon…

“Hamburg, second city of the pre-war Reich, contained 1,430,000 people and possessed 110 miles of docks and landing stages. Its capture is easily the biggest prize to fall to British troops since D-Day. Reuter’s radio station says it is evident that Hamburg radio station, formerly the Germans’ chief transmitter in the North, is now operating under Allied control.

“Hamburg’s fall, only one day after the capitulation in Italy… deprives the dying German Army of a northern stronghold and adds emphasis to the reports that the Germans in Denmark are ready to surrender. Hamburg is the first of German cities to be declared open and undefended, says A. P. [Associated Press]. The Secretary of State, Ahrendt, read the official announcement in a dull listless voice. At one point he choked, and remained silent for a few seconds. He spoke very slowly.

“In making the announcement, Hamburg Radio said: `All public traffic and vehicles must stop when occupation takes place at 12 noon. From 1pm there will be a curfew for the population, with the exception of the staffs of the electricity, gas and other works. The length of curfew will depend on the carrying out of all orders. The Hamburg police will be responsible for the enforcing of the curfew. In case of disobedience the occupation authorities will help in enforcing it?”


For Edgar, the next 24 hours were full of some of the most `extraordinary’ sights he would ever witness: “Hundreds of German soldiers drifting back, some walking, overburdened with kit, trudging wearily, some on bikes, many hundreds in long convoys of farm carts, some in vans and lorries of all kinds – all trekking back to find someone to give themselves up to. All looked weary, miserable, – and quite bedraggled, unshaven, and dirty quite often nonplussed”

One of the British soldiers present would later recall that he witnessed “terrible destruction in Hamburg. The roads were badly potholed, and piles of rubble on each side had been made into temporary homes. We were told the Germans dare not try to clear the debris because so many bodies were buried under it – they had no medical supplies to fight the epidemic which would follow”

One of the officers in the armoured column with Squadron Leader Venning, Lieutenant Brett-Smith, also kept a diary. In this he noted that “everything the RAF had claimed was true – Hamburg had ceased to exist… yet the streets were absolutely clear… no broken glass, nothing lying about in the streets… But at the same the damage was terrific – not single houses but whole streets were flat?

As the Gloucester Citizen newspaper account noted, Hamburg had indeed marked the last remaining defence for the Germans in the north of their country. After the British had captured the city, the surviving troops of the 1st Parachute Army along with the remains of Army Group Northwest retreated into the Jutland Peninsula. However, the battle that really signalled the end of the Reich had been taking place some 170 miles southeast in Berlin itself.