About MSW

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“

A New Order in Liberia

Liberia’s violent fall and fragile resurgence illustrate all five characteristics of neomedievalism and shed light on the mechanics of the emerging world order. Liberia is a stark example of state disintegration; as Africa expert Peter Pham observes, “tragically, the recent history of Liberia has been a case study par excellence of a failed state.” In 1975, Liberia’s per capita GDP was greater than those of Egypt, Indonesia, or the Philippines and double that of India. By 2003, it was one of the poorest countries in the world and has remained at the bottom of most international health and development indexes. From 2000 to 2008, 83 percent of the population subsisted on less than $1.25 per day, and in 2008, Liberia had the second-lowest gross national income in the world.

By the time Charles Taylor left the country, Liberia’s economic collapse was complete and had been replaced by an illicit economy dominated by warlords trafficking in diamonds, timber, and other natural resources for personal gain at the country’s expense. After the war, foreign aid jumped from $106 million in 2004 to $1.25 billion in 2008; Liberia’s GDP that year was only $843 million. The country remains totally dependent on global largesse for its survival: five years after the ceasefire, foreign aid still accounts for a stunning 771 percent of government expenditure—the highest percentage of foreign aid to government spending in the world, with Guinea-Bissau a distant second at 221 percent. Not surprisingly, corruption is ubiquitous and so institutionalized that Liberians even have a verb for it—chopping—as ministers and executives are expected to chop money off budgets to feed their families and patronize their tribes.

However, Liberia’s economic woes are only a fragment of its statehood challenges. There are no functioning public utilities, and most Liberians have no access to electricity, water, sanitation facilities, or health care. Basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges—which aid workers, entrepreneurs, peacekeepers, and Liberians themselves all need, especially in rural areas—are in dire need of repairs. Years of civil war have left a generation of Liberians without a formal education and with a brain drain of those who do. Liberia has no effectively functioning judicial system, leaving it with a culture of impunity: most courts have been destroyed, and trial by ordeal is not unheard of outside the capital.

In another sign of the move toward neomedievalism, states did not manage the situation in Liberia; international organizations did. Liberia’s rescuers were not other states, as the Westphalian order demands, but the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional organization. Notwithstanding Blaney’s efforts to secure a battlefield ceasefire, the role of the United States was minimal. Its three warships and twenty-three hundred Marines sat off the coast of Liberia and did nothing to stop the fighting; a mere two hundred troops intervened only after Taylor departed. No other state military came to Liberia’s aid. By contrast, the ECOWAS peacekeeping mission provided security and humanitarian assistance in the immediate aftermath of the war and was replaced by a larger UN force a few weeks later.

The UN Security Council established an interventionist Chapter VII peacekeeping mission called the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). It was authorized to use “all necessary means” to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace process. Led by Jacques Paul Klein, UNMIL was the largest peacekeeping mission in the world at the time, with fifteen thousand blue-helmet peacekeepers. A transitional (and kleptocratic) government was put into place to sate the Westphalian bias for national rule, but in reality, the UN administered the country. Taylor was eventually put on trial for war crimes but not by Liberia. In 2012, an international court at the Hague sentenced him to fifty years in prison for massive human rights violations.

As international organizations rescued Liberia, transnational actors keep it alive on life support. More than four hundred NGOs provide the bulk of services normally associated with the good governance of states: health care, food, shelter, education, security, water, sanitation, sewage, infrastructure, job creation, and general administration. For example, Save the Children provides free health care for 102,399 people, has vaccinated 40,670 children against deadly diseases, has sheltered 15,182 children from violence and abuse, and has helped 56,094 children receive an education. As NGOs provide substantially more public services than Liberia’s own government, many on the ground at the time quipped that it was a “republic of NGOs.”

Multinational corporations also contributed to Liberia’s recovery. After the war ended, Firestone Natural Rubber Company returned to Liberia, where it had operated from 1926 until 1989. According to Firestone, since 2005, it has invested more than $101.75 million to improve conditions in Liberia and “intends to invest tens of millions more.” As of 2011, the company had built or renovated 2,200 homes, with an additional 321 under construction. By then, the multinational corporation was operating twenty-six schools, teaching nearly sixteen thousand children, and was running nine health-care facilities, including a hospital. It distributed more than 2.21 million free rubber tree saplings to Liberian farmers to help rebuild the industry and ensure a future for thousands of families in the country. Firestone’s actions could prove to be trend-setting. Africa expert Greg Mills notes that low-income countries can prosper when their leaders promote private sector-led development in a “trade not aid” policy.

Underlying and enabling the efforts of both NGOs and multinational corporations is the technological unification of the world, which was involved even in catalyzing the international response. Globalized media streamed arresting images of the war’s carnage directly into living rooms across the world twenty-four hours a day, inciting international outrage and demand for humanitarian intervention. This outcry was answered when President Bush declared that “Charles Taylor needs to step down” on CNN, and Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, said that Taylor’s departure marked “the beginning of the end of the long nightmare of the Liberian people.” This sequence of globalized media igniting international uproar and prompting world leaders to take action is a self-feeding cycle sometimes referred to as the “CNN effect.” Polling data show that American support for a US peacekeeping mission in Liberia initially increased during media coverage of the war but remained mixed until President Bush announced on CNN that US Marines would be stationed off the coast of Liberia. This galvanized popular support for the policy. Without globalization, the world may have ignored Liberia’s plight.

Globalization also facilitated Liberia’s recovery. Once peacekeepers were on the ground, information technology and the globalized supply chain nourished the large peacekeeping mission. Satellite telephones, mobile telephone networks, and the Internet allowed for instant coordination between aid workers in the field and those at headquarters in New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. The global supply chain made it possible to deliver humanitarian aid from around the world to Liberia in a timely manner. Such aid has accounted for an average of 50 percent of Liberia’s total aid, one of the highest shares in all recipient countries in 2004 and behind only Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia. In the months that followed Taylor’s departure, $109 million in humanitarian aid was flown, floated, or driven into Liberia; that number jumped to $177 million in 2004.16 Globalization also spurred the Liberian diaspora community’s return and reinvestment in the country: remittances rose from $0 during the war to $1,008,166 in 2009.

Finally, the new private military industry was essential to Liberia’s recovery, since it relied on DynCorp International to provide its military, paid for by the United States. The historic choice to outsource the making of a military was almost accidental; necessity drove the decision. Curiously, it was the State Department rather than the Pentagon that issued the contract. The State Department hoped that the US military would raise Liberia’s army, but after a brief trip to the country, the DOD balked because of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, the State Department was left with a Hobson’s choice: either outsource the making of the military to a PMC or have no military at all. The State Department chose the former and made history without meaning to.

Buying a New Army

Like almost all things involving the US government, purchasing a foreign army is tediously bureaucratic. During the summer of 2004, the State Department tendered a request for proposal (RFP) to the private sector to rebuild Liberia’s armed forces. In the government’s contracting system, an RFP is an invitation to bid on a contract, and bids generally consist of two parts: a technical proposal and a cost proposal. The technical proposal explains the company’s plan to achieve the objectives outlined in the RFP, and the cost proposal estimates in detail—from airplanes to pencils—the projected cost in time, material, and labor needed to fulfill the contract. Typically, firms dedicate considerable, non-reimbursable resources to crafting detailed proposals and submitting them on time, as the government does not accept late proposals.

Only two companies, DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E), were allowed to bid on the RFP for the Liberia army contract, as only they had earlier won a five-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract from the State Department to support such efforts in Africa. IDIQs act as large umbrella contracts between the United States and the private sector that, as the name suggests, provide for an indefinite quantity of services during a fixed period of time. The government uses an IDIQ contract when it cannot predetermine the precise amount of supplies or services it will need for complex operations, such as peacekeeping.

IDIQ contracts do not represent a firm order for services. Instead, companies bid to be prequalified for future subcontracts that might arise under the scope of the IDIQ contract. In other words, IDIQs prequalify companies and streamline the process once a task order is issued, as negotiations are already (mostly) prearranged and such contracts are exempt from protest. Because IDIQ contracts are normally large in size and scope, they are usually awarded to multiple firms. In the case of Liberia, those firms were DynCorp and PA&E.

IDIQ contracts work in a relatively uncomplicated way. They stipulate a needed range of services over a period of time, starting with a base year followed by a number of option years, should the United States wish to extend the contract. They also guarantee a minimum and maximum amount of money spent on contracts overall, so that companies have an incentive to bid. The government makes no guarantee regarding the number of task orders it will issue under the IDIQ or the actual amount of expenditure above the guaranteed minimum value, but companies compete vigorously to obtain an IDIQ, because it gives them exclusive access to profitable agreements as a “prime” contractor to the government rather than as a subcontractor or “sub” to another firm acting as the prime. Primes become the coveted gatekeepers to lucrative government contracts for the rest of the private sector.

When the government needs services or supplies that fall under the IDIQ, it tenders an RFP, which contains a statement of work (SOW) explaining what the contract entails, to the pool of preselected companies on the IDIQ. Orders placed for supplies are called delivery orders; those for services are called task orders. Once the RFP is issued for either a delivery or a task order, the companies on the IDIQ contract bid for the work. Contracts are typically awarded under a best-value approach, and large orders are usually awarded to multiple firms, while smaller ones are not. Once the government selects its contractors, it issues them a notice to proceed (NTP), which authorizes them to commence work in exchange for payment. The delivery or task order normally requires deliverables from the contractor to the government, such as a delivery schedule and reporting requirements, to ensure accountability.

The IDIQ for Liberia had a five-year period of service, from January 1, 2003, to May 26, 2008, consisting of one base year and four option years, and drew funding from the State Department peacekeeping operations (PKO) account. It had a minimum guaranteed expenditure of $5 million and a maximum of $100 million, which was later expanded to $500 million. Although only DynCorp and PA&E could bid on the contract, MPRI joined PA&E as a subcontractor on the Liberia assessment mission, given MPRI’s background in restructuring military forces and PA&E’s lack of it. All in all, the costs of training the AFL by 2009 were an estimated $240.56 million, making it one of the most expensive per capita militaries in Africa.

After the war ended and the United States agreed to rebuild the Liberian military, it considered five options for who should do it and how it should be done: the US military alone, the US military with light contractor involvement, a contractor with light US military involvement, contractors alone, or no one (i.e., abandon the project). To help resolve this, I joined the assessment team as a contractor in 2004.

What we found was a palpably postapocalyptic country with widespread fear of the AFL, disarmed but not demobilized, and the possibility that war could reerupt in the months ahead. In addition to assessing the situation in Liberia, we also considered and rejected the British model of rebuilding military forces in neighboring Sierra Leone, which embeds British soldiers in Sierra Leone military units to mentor them. This was viewed as creating more problems than it resolved. First, placing mentors within existing units to train and equip them is insufficient for wholesale military transformation, which is necessary in failed states where militaries go rogue. Second, the old units were incorporated into the new security forces regardless of quality, experience, capability, and the country’s security needs; this created significant problems in quality control and sheer number of forces, which the government of Sierra Leone could not sustain.

Owing to this, it was agreed that the AFL required wholesale security sector reform (SSR) and not just a “train and equip” program. The envisioned end was an all-volunteer, ethnically balanced, properly vetted, professionally trained, civilian-led, and apolitical military capable of “defending the national sovereignty and in extremis, respond[ing] to natural disasters,” as called for by the ceasefire agreement.

To accomplish this mission, the team recommended a four-thousand-person force that could be scaled upward over time. It was acknowledged that this small number could not secure Liberia’s borders in a Westphalian war, which is about defending territory, but such a war has never occurred there. Moreover, a large force was seen as a threat to security rather than provision of security in Liberia, because unpaid and idle soldiers tend to stage coup d’états. Consequently, the army’s size was determined by the government’s ability to pay soldiers’ salaries regularly and on time instead of troop strength to man the country’s borders. Klein even suggested that Liberia abolish its military altogether, quipping that African armies “sit around playing cards and plotting coups.”

After the US Department of Defense declined to conduct the program, the State Department turned to the private sector. That summer, it issued an RFP, followed by a SOW that autumn ordering a new Liberian military. It was only seven pages long. The objective and scope were deceptively simple: assist the government of Liberia in recruiting, training, and equipping a new military, starting with two thousand troops.

After reviewing both contractor proposals, the State Department decided to divide the duties between the two firms, giving them different roles based on their expertise. PA&E, a security support company, would build the logistical infrastructure, such as roads and military bases, necessary to support the AFL and then supply the military once it was in place. DynCorp would build the army “from the ground up,” which entailed designing, recruiting, vetting, training, equipping, and fielding the new force. It would also create a new Ministry of Defense to manage the military. Absent from the initial plan was the demobilization of the old AFL, which was originally to be conducted by the Liberian government but later fell to DynCorp, owing to the government’s inabilities.

The State Department was quite specific about DynCorp’s role in raising Liberia’s new army. The original SOW called for the complete reconstruction of the Liberian Armed Forces, which it fixed at 2000 troops but scalable to 4300, if funding permitted. It provided guidance on the military’s force structure, the Ministry of Defense, and defense policies, but left the details to the company. It specified eight types of weapons the new army should be proficient in and nine missions it should be able to perform. It instructed DynCorp to recruit, vet and train the soldiers, and also procure all necessary weapons, ammunition and equipment for the army. In short, the SOW directed DynCorp to create a “Ft. Benning, GA” for Liberia. Fort Benning is a major US Army base located in Georgia that trains infantry, airborne, rangers, and other soldiers. In other words, the State Department tasked DynCorp to create and run a complete training base capable of raising an army. Incredibly, the SOW commissioning this army was brief—just six pages long—allowing the contractor needed flexibility to conduct a complex operation yet some might find its brevity disquieting for such a mammoth task.

By 2010, Liberia had a small fledgling army. It remains a qualified success compared with efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Côte d’Ivoire, and elsewhere, where new security forces degenerated into incompetence, sectarian killing machines, or coup d’état makers. What makes Liberia unique is that a corporation raised its army, revealing some of the benefits, complications, and risks of today’s private military industry.

LIBERIA MILITARY PROGRAM TIMELINE

January 2003

DynCorp International (DynCorp) and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E) are both awarded a State Department five-year IDIQ contract to support peacekeeping and security efforts in Africa (contract solicitation number S-LMAQM-03-C-0034. Its minimum guaranteed expenditure is $5 million, and maximum is $100 million, later expanded to $500 million.

August 2003

Charles Taylor flees Liberia, and 1,000 ECOWAS peacekeepers and 200 US troops arrive. The interim government and rebels sign the CPA. Gyude Bryant is chosen to head the NTGL under the title Chairman rather than President.

September–October 2003

US forces pull out, and UNMIL begins the peacekeeping mission, deploying thousands of troops and encompassing the ECOWAS forces.

December 2003

UNMIL begins DDRR for rebel combatants only. AFL personnel are disarmed, but not demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated. After riots at one DDRR site, UNMIL shuts down the program.

January 2004

US sends a six-person SSR preassessment team to Liberia, January 21–29. The United States is responsible for the SSR of the AFL, as agreed to at Accra during peace talks. The State Department is the lead agency within the US government.

February 2004

International donors pledge more than $500 million in reconstruction aid to Liberia.

April 2004

UNMIL commences the DDRR process, and it continues without serious incident. UNMIL also begins SSR for civilian elements of the security sector, such as the Liberian national police. State Department plans a SSR assessment mission to Liberia involving State Department, DOD, and contractors.

May 2004

State Department leads a 10-day assessment mission of SSR for the AFL. The team consists of experts drawn from State Department, DOD, and two contractor teams: DynCorp and PA&E. Additionally, PA&E subcontracts MPRI owing to its PMC expertise (PA&E is a general contractor firm, whereas DynCorp and MPRI are PMCs with relevant SSR expertise). DDR of the AFL is not considered, because the NTGL is responsible for this. A member of the assessment team is murdered in his hotel room while being robbed.

June 2004

DOD determines it cannot conduct the SSR program, and State Department decides to outsource the SSR program entirely to the private sector. Accordingly, it asks both DynCorp and PA&E to submit their assessments and recommendations for SSR.

July 2004

After reviewing the assessments, State Department decides to divide SSR responsibilities between the two companies based on their expertise. DynCorp is responsible for reconstituting the AFL and MOD. PA&E is tasked with constructing most of the military bases and also providing specialty training, equipment, logistics, and base services.

September 2004

State Department tenders a task order RFP and SOW to DynCorp and PA&E entitled “Liberia Security Sector Reform.” The SOW states that they must create a 2,000-person military, scalable to 4,300 personnel if funding permits, and a MOD.

October 2004

DynCorp and PA&E submit their proposals to State Department on October 7. State Department awards the task order to both companies, with a division of labor as outlined in July. DynCorp is required to be on the ground initially, with PA&E to follow once sufficient units are fielded. Riots in Monrovia leave 16 people dead; UNMIL says former combatants and AFL veterans were behind the violence.

January 2005

State Department authorizes DynCorp to deploy a small planning team to Liberia to engage stakeholders and design the SSR program. It becomes clear that the NTGL lacks the capacity to conduct DDR of the AFL and State Department asks DynCorp to take on this task.

UNMIL imposes a curfew on several southeastern provinces owing to ritual human sacrifices and cannibalism, including the involvement of provincial governors.

February–March 2005

Consultations take place with major stakeholders regarding the mission and composition of the future AFL. This includes civil society, the standing AFL, former warring parties and political factions, UNMIL, the NTGL, civil society through the NTGL, and other entities.

A comprehensive recruiting and vetting plan is devised, intended to screen out human rights abusers from joining the AFL.

April 2005

The NTGL releases its AFL Restructuring Policy. Consultations with stakeholders continue. Topics include mission and force structure of the future AFL, location of training bases, sensitization campaign for civil society, and arrears owed unpaid AFL veterans.

May 2005

The demobilization plan is drafted and presented to Chairman Bryant. He signs Executive Order Number Five on May 15, authorizing the full demobilization of all legacy AFL units as of June 30, 2005. State Department issues DynCorp a formal task order for the demobilization of the AFL, releasing full payment to the contractor. DynCorp makes preparations for DDR operations outside of Monrovia and plans to conduct the demobilization, recruiting staff both locally and internationally, and builds up its program (and presence) in Liberia. PA&E is to begin its portion of the program once training commences.

July 2005

DynCorp builds a demobilization site outside Monrovia. The demobilization and reintegration of the legacy soldiers commences.

The US government approves DynCorp’s blueprint for the new AFL’s force structure and TO&E in Washington, D.C.

Construction of AFL training facilities starts but is slowed by the heavy rainy season.

September 2005

The NTGL agrees to allow the international community to supervise its finances in an effort to reduce corruption.

October 2005

Recruiting and vetting for the new AFL begins. More than 12,000 applicants will be processed in the two years to come.

November 2005

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becomes the first woman to be elected as an African head of state. She takes office the following January.

December 2005

Construction of the new training base remains suspended as Liberia, the United States, and UNMIL debate over its location, costing the program money and time.

January 2006

DDR of 13,770 AFL soldiers finishes. Recruiting and vetting begin at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in downtown Monrovia.

Johnson-Sirleaf is sworn in as president, and the NTGL is no more. Brownie Samukai replaces Daniel Chea as Liberian Minister of Defense.

February 2006

The demobilization of the AFL is successfully completed, perhaps the first time in modern African history that an entire standing military was safely demobilized without significant incident.

March 2006

Johnson-Sirleaf calls for Nigeria to hand over Taylor, which it does. Upon his arrival in Monrovia, he is transferred to the custody of UNMIL and immediately flown to Sierra Leone to stand trial before the UN-backed Sierra Leone Special Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

April 2006

MOD transformation begins at BTC. A violent protest takes place outside the MOD by 400 to 500 former AFL soldiers claiming nonpayment of salary arrears and retirement benefits, and they clash with UNMIL peacekeepers sent to contain the unrest.

Taylor appears before the Sierra Leone Special Court.

May 2006

Samukai spends a week in Washington, D.C. with State Department, DOD, and DynCorp to discuss the progress of SSR and formulation of the Liberian National Defense Strategy.

June 2006

State Department issues an updated SOW. DynCorp assists the MOD in a first draft of the national defense strategy. It is written based on the concept of human security, seeking to align the AFL’s mission with the goals of development for durable stability and security.

Progress is limited because the NTGL, UNMIL, the United States, and others are delayed with the national security strategy. The UN Security Council eases a ban on weapons sales so that Liberia can import small arms for government purposes only. An embargo on Liberian timber exports is lifted shortly afterward.

A TRC is set up to investigate human rights abuses between 1979 and 2003. Tensions arise between the TRC and the SSR program as the TRC requests access to SSR vetting records, but the SSR team denies this request, since it might compromise sources and methods, possibly resulting in reprisal killings of victims who spoke to the SSR vetting team on condition of anonymity about human rights abuses of some AFL candidates.

The ICC at The Hague agrees to host Taylor’s trial.

July 2006

The first class of AFL basic training or IET begins at BTC. It includes 110 candidates, most of whom are selected for their leadership potential to fill the leadership ranks first.

The former US Voice of America transmitter site is finally selected as the AFL’s main training base, located at Careysburg and rechristened the Sandee S. Ware Military Barracks. DynCorp begins construction once the occupying UNMIL units move offsite. Construction is slowed by the heavy rainy season.

DynCorp begins the process of purchasing and importing arms into Liberia for the AFL.

Johnson-Sirleaf switches on generator-powered street lights in the capital, which has been without electricity for fifteen years.

August 2006

DynCorp orchestrates the first major shipment of arms, which arrives at Monrovia for the AFL. It is the first legal shipment in more than fifteen years.

November 2006

The first AFL basic training class of 102 graduates. AFL training of future classes is halted owing to US funding shortfalls.

March 2007

After a 17-week SSR program training course, 119 civilian MOD employees graduate. Following this, the MOD reform program is prematurely terminated owing to US funding shortfalls.

April 2007

The UN Security Council votes to lift its ban on Liberian diamond exports. The ban was imposed in 2001 to stem the flow of “blood diamonds,” which helped fund the civil war.

May 2007

The United Nations urges Liberia to outlaw trial by ordeal.

June 2007

Taylor’s war crimes trial begins at The Hague, where he stands accused of instigating atrocities in Sierra Leone.

September 2007

639 total trained. Owing to budget constraints, State Department shortens IET from 11 weeks to 8 weeks by cutting 3 weeks that were devoted to human rights, civics, and laws of war training.

January 2008

1,124 total trained.

April 2008

1,634 total trained.

September 2008

2,113 total trained.

July 2009

PA&E conducts unit training for the battalions.

The TRC lists Johnson-Sirleaf as one of 52 people who should be sanctioned for committing war crimes and places her on a list of people who should be barred from public office. She ignores the TRC.

December 2009

PA&E completes unit training, culminating in an ARTEP to qualify them.

January 2010

DynCorp and PA&E’s contract for SSR ends, and a team of 60 US marines begin a five-year mentorship program with the AFL in Operation Onward Liberty.

In a new task order (worth $20 million if all options are exercised), DynCorp is selected to provide the AFL with operations and maintenance services. This task order is awarded under the new five-year State Department IDIQ contract called the Africa Peacekeeping Program (AFRICAP), contract solicitation number SAQMMA08R0237. Awardees under AFRICAP include DynCorp International, PA&E Government Services, AECOM, and Protection Strategies Incorporated.

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Heir Apparent – T-54

Towards the end of the Second World War the Soviets decided that rather than maintaining large fleets of dedicated light, medium and heavy tanks they needed a good all-rounder – this resulted in the main battle tank (MBT) concept. A `one size fits all’ solution.

Soviet tank designers began to look at developing a successor for the T-34/85 medium tank and the IS (Ioseph Stalin) heavy tank. drawing on their experiences with the T-34/76, T-34/85, KV-85 and IS-1/2, in 1944 they came up with the T-44, which bore a striking resemblance to the late-war T-34/85 and was armed with the same 85mm gun.

It was essentially the same tank with a number of modifications. The main improvements to the rugged T-34/85 design were a similar-shaped turret but without the characteristic thick turret neck, plus a better-shaped hull. other improvements included a transverse-mounted engine and transmission and torsion bar suspension. The crew was reduced from five in the T-34/85 to four in the T-44.

T-44 Medium Tank

One of the designers’ tasks was to lower the height of the T-34/85 that first went into service in the summer of 1944. Upgunning the T-34/76 had resulted in a much bigger turret, which increased the T-34’s height from around 2.4m to over 2.7m. while the improvement from 76.2mm gun to 85mm gun was very welcome, it made the T-34/85’s bulky turret a much better target. Similarly, the IS heavy tank was almost 3m high.

On the T-44 one way to achieve a lower silhouette was to eliminate the prominent collar at the turret base. The hull side armour, which on the T-34 was sloped, was vertical and thicker. This was to permit a wider turret ring because the turret’s armour was more slanted than that on the T-34/85. Another way that the height was reduced was by installing the diesel engine transversely. Also the Christie spring suspension was replaced with a torsion-bar suspension. The result was that the T-44 had a height of just under 2.5m.

Improving on the T-34/85’s main armament was unsuccessful. Attempts were made to upgun the T-44 with a 122mm tank gun but the turret was too small, although experiments with a 100mm gun were slightly more promising. However, only a few prototypes were ever built and the production T-44 retained the 85mm gun. The only way to get round this problem was to design a new tank with a larger turret.

While the T-44 was very similar to the T-34, the glacis plate at the front was much steeper which meant it had to be thicker. The driver was only provided with a very narrow vision slit in the glacis and his hatch, located next to the hull machine gun on the glacis on the T-34, was repositioned to the hull roof. The hull gunner was dispensed with in line with the existing trend with Soviet heavy tanks. Protection against infantry was provided by a Degtyarev 7.62mm machine gun mounted in a fixed position next to the driver, which was fired through an opening in the glacis plate. This was a feature later retained in the T-54.

The successful T-34 five road-wheel running gear was largely unchanged, although the T-44 had a wider gap between the first and second pairs of road wheels instead of the second and third as on the T-34. one of the drawbacks of the latter was that it employed the American Christie-style suspension. This meant that bulky springs took up a large amount of space inside the tank. efforts to remedy this with the T-34M in 1941 had to be abandoned because of the outbreak of war. The T-43 partially remedied this but was swiftly superseded by the need for a larger gun and the T-34/85 which used the existing T-34 hull.

The T-44 proved problematic especially where its weight was concerned. It was supposed to be the same as the T-34/85 at some 31.5 tons, but in light of the thicker armour and lengthening of the hull, it is hard to see what the lowering of the height achieved other than to reduce the tank’s silhouette. It is suspected that the T-44 was heavier than its predecessor and suffered from problems with its running gear and transmission.

In the event only a few thousand T-44s were ever built at Kharkov and it did not see much, if any, combat at the end of the war. It was allegedly deployed briefly during the Hungarian uprising of 1956.

After proving unreliable in front-line service the tank was rebuilt as the T-44M and continued to be used into the 1970s – largely in a tank driver training role. From the design faults and teething problems it is evident that the T-44 was very much an interim design and testbed for features that were incorporated in the vastly more successful T-54.

T-54 Main Battle Tank

The key lesson that the red Army learned from the Second world war was that you needed a lot of everything, especially tanks, to wage modern armoured and mechanized warfare. It was clear from the T-34 and T-44 that they required a tank that was easy to mass-produce in vast numbers, was very reliable and armed with at least a 100mm gun. while the IS heavy tank had been armed with a massive 122mm gun, it meant that it was 20 tons heavier than the T-34/85. experience showed that there was no long-term future in heavy tanks. Thus was born the T-54 MBT.

The T-54 was effectively a Ukrainian tank. Under the designation of Obiekt 137 (or B-40) it was designed by the Morozov Bureau at the Malyshev Plant in Kharkov, Ukraine. The city had been producing T-34s at the start of the Second world war but was captured during the German invasion. It subsequently became the scene of a series of battles fought between the Wehrmacht and the red Army before being finally liberated. However, the Kartsev Bureau at Nizhnyi Tagil in Russia would take the credit for the T-54/55.

The T-54 made its debut in the late 1940s with the first prototype appearing in 1946 and initial production authorized three years later. Three factories were given the task, at Kharkov, Nizhnyi Tagil and Omsk. It and the subsequent T-55 went through numerous upgrades, rebuilds and reconfigurations and unless you are a specialist technical intelligence expert trying to identify them all is a largely fruitless task (some sources are downright contradictory or are simply incorrect). essentially the T-54 and T-55 were the same tank with detailed improvements. The following lists the key T-54 production models.

T-54-1 (Model 1946)

This bore some resemblance to the T-44, with undercuts to the front and rear of the turret. Similarly, it also had a very wide gun mantlet but was armed with the 100mm d-10T tank gun. These features made the turret vulnerable to enemy fire. It was issued to field units for trials but proved unsatisfactory and in the meantime the focus remained on T-34/85 production.

T-54-2 (Model 1949)

This was the very first low-rate production model with an improved turret that eliminated the frontal undercut, featured an overhang at the rear and was armed with the 100mm d-10T tank gun.

T-54-3 (Model 1951)

Second low-rate production model, featuring a turret undercut at the rear and a narrow, so-called `pig snout’ gun mantlet.

T-54 (Model 1953)

First full-rate production T-54 with a hemispherical turret with no rear undercut and narrow mantlet. This turret became standard on all subsequent models of the T-54/55.

T-54A (Model 1955)

This version was fitted with a fume extractor just behind the muzzle and vertical axis stabilization for the newer 100mm d-10TG gun, as well as power elevation. It was the first T-54 to have OPVT river-fording equipment, that enabled the tank to wade through water up to 5m deep and up to 700m wide. Other improvements included an electric oil pump, bilge pump, modified air filter and automatic fire extinguisher system. Some Model 1955 retrospectively had infra-red might vision equipment installed. It was also produced by Czechoslovakia, Poland and China with some modification. Confusingly it is also known as the T-54A Model 1951.

T-54B (Model 1957)

The Model 1957 was a Model 1955 with improvements to its main armament and night-vision equipment for the commander, driver and gunner. This comprised an improved 100mm d-10T2S gun with an L-2 infra-red searchlight mounted next to the barrel. The gunner’s standard MK-4 periscope was upgraded by the TPN-1 night observation device. The commander was served by a smaller searchlight known as the OU-3. This type of tank was also sometimes called the T-54B Model 1952.

T-54M (Model 1983/1988)

This upgraded the T-54A/B to T-55M standard with additional armour, the inclusion of an upgraded suspension, new tracks and interior improvements including a new engine and radio. This model was developed as the Obeikt 140. It set the benchmark for the last of the Cold War T-54/55s.

T-10: Last of the Heavies

Despite the rise of the main battle tank, the Soviet Union persisted with heavy tanks for a number of years after the end of the Second world war. The innovative IS-3, armed with a 122mm gun, appeared in the closing months of the war and was retained in service until the 1960s, though despite modifications it remained unreliable. It was followed by the short-lived IS-4 which needed redesigning.

Just after the T-54 went into full production, in 1956 the Soviets produced the largely forgotten T-10 Lenin heavy tank (or IS-10) armed with a 122mm gun. This looked very similar to the IS-3 and likewise had a round ‘mushroom-head’ turret giving the tank a low silhouette. It featured seven road wheels either side and three return rollers, whereas the IS-3 had six and three. This was presumably in an attempt to address some of the power-to-weight problems experienced by the latter tank. The IS engine and gearbox had simply not been up to the job.

Ironically, although classed as a heavy the T-10 was in fact lighter than the later American Abrams, British Chieftain and German Leopard. It proved to be the very last of the Soviet heavy tanks for good reason. The T-10 was flawed and by the 1960s did not meet the Soviet Army’s developing all-arms tank doctrine. Despite armour of up to 270mm, its slow speed, limited ammunition stowage, low rate of fire and poor depression on the main gun greatly reduced its combat effectiveness. In particular, it meant that the T-54 had to slow down to allow the cumbersome T- 10 to keep up. The IS tanks suffered the same problem in supporting the T-34 in 1945. The T-10 at 51 tons was 15 tons heavier than the T-54 and could manage at best 42km/hr compared to the T-54’s 48km/hr.

The T-10 first appeared publicly in the November 1957 Moscow parade, but it was not long before it was relegated to a tank destroyer role. It was evident it could function as a long-range anti-tank support weapon, but as a spearhead tank it was just too slow. In addition, its thick armour might have made it suitable for local counter-attacks, but little else.

Although possibly deployed in Warsaw Pact countries by the Soviet Army, the T-10 was never exported and did not see combat during the Cold war. Some sources suggest it was supplied to Egypt and Syria but there is no evidence to support this and they are probably confusing it with IS-3M exported to Egypt in the 1960s and employed in the Six Day War. It is possible that some IS-4 and T-10 were shipped to Egypt for evaluation by the Soviet advisory teams but never handed over, though this would have been pointless as the Soviets were phasing out their heavy tanks.

Although ultimately a dead end, the heavy tank legacy should not be underestimated. Soviet post-war heavy tank production amounted to about 9,000, of which around 1,000 were IS-3M/IS-4 and the rest were T-10 and T-10M. However, by this stage Soviet doctrine and tank design was firmly focused on the main battle tank as the key armoured vehicle of the Soviet Army. The T-54 remained firmly the heir apparent.

 

INTELLIGENCE THAT FAILED I

The new British battleship HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore Harbour, 4th December 1941. She had arrived with HMS Repulse, together forming ‘Force Z’ – designed to deter Japanese aggression.

Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1840 after the Opium War and twenty years later the Convention of Peking added the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island. Stonecutter’s Island was less than a mile off the west coast of Kowloon and approximately three miles due north of Victoria, the capital of Hong Kong, one of the small, seemingly unimportant dependencies around the Island.

Like countless other captains in the Royal Navy, Captain Leach sailed many times through the passage between Stonecutter’s Island and Hong Kong, which encompassed approximately 32 square miles. Since there was a small Royal Navy facility on Stonecutter’s, he may have visited the island. In 1935 Stonecutter’s became extraordinarily important because that year the British created a top-secret wireless station on the island which could intercept a huge volume of Japanese naval signals. These included signals between Commander-in-Chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet, as well as a wide variety of other naval signals from ships or shore installations. This intelligence gathering was carried out by an organisation called the Far East Combined Bureau (FECB), a joint command of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Their headquarters was in Hong Kong where they continued to operate until 1939 when it was deemed too vulnerable to a Japanese attack. Over the summer and autumn of 1939 it relocated to Singapore except for the staff manning the intercept station at Stonecutter’s Island who remained there until just before the Japanese captured the island on 11 December 1941. Almost two years earlier the FECB had established another powerful intercept station in Singapore.

Prior to 1991 references to the FECB in the Second World War histories were few and far between; Churchill’s six-volume history of the conflict contains not a single reference. The Japanese Thrust by Lionel Wigmore makes only three minor references in footnotes, which quote Compton Mackenzie’s Eastern Epic ‘General Percival … was depending for his judgment about Japanese intentions and Japanese fighting efficiency on the Far East Combined Bureau …’ In 1979, the official British intelligence historian F.H. Hinsley wrote British Intelligence in the Second World War, which contains an oblique reference to FECB stating that as of September 1939, ‘It remained possible … to keep track of [IJN’s] main naval movements.’ This footnote must be read in light of his disclaimer in the Preface where he states, ‘… there are unavoidable omissions. The most important of these is that we have not attempted to cover the war in the Far East.’

The 1995 The Oxford Companion to World War II devoted two paragraphs to the Far East Combined Bureau written by the general editor, I.C.B. Dear, a former officer in the Royal Marines. Dear writes, ‘The FECB’s records were probably destroyed and opinions vary as to how much the Bureau contributed to breaking the Japanese Navy’s JN-25 cipher …’ One can only assume that if the records of this intelligence bureau had not been located by 1995, then they will never be discovered. Dear would have been aware of a controversial book first published in1991 entitled Betrayal at Pearl Harbor – How Churchill Lured Roosevelt into World War II. The co-authors James Rusbridger and Eric Nave assert that Churchill knew that a Japanese task force was headed for Pearl Harbor and that he failed to warn Roosevelt. Rusbridger and Nave claim that on 25 November 1941 the FECB intercepted a signal from Admiral Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, to Admiral Naguma, Commander-in-Chief of the First Carrier Strike Force, which read, ‘the Task Force will move out of Hitokappu Wan [Tankan Bay] on the morning of 26 November and advance to the standing-by position on the afternoon of 4 December and speedily complete refuelling.’ In the Preface written by Rusbridger he asserts that by 26 November Commander Malcolm Burnett RN ‘had personally advised Churchill in London that the only logical target for the impending attack was Pearl Harbor.’

The co-authors were a curious pair. Rusbridger had written two earlier books both of which were controversial, The Intelligence Game and Who Sank Surcouf? Eric Nave had distinguished service in the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. In 1988 Nave, who was 90 at the time, was living in Melbourne when he received a telephone call from Rusbridger who told Nave that he had come across his name in the unpublished diary of one Howard Baker who had been in Java before the war; the diary had ‘an intriguing reference to an Australian naval officer called Commander Nave, who had broken the Japanese naval codes before the war.’ Rusbridger flew out to Australia and spent days recording interviews with Nave. It is highly unlikely that Nave was much involved in either the research or writing of Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, which was extensive, and the publisher’s editor had to turn ‘a long technical manuscript into final concise print’.

Besides claiming that Churchill knew in advance from the aforesaid FECB intercept of 25 November 1941, and from later intercepts, that a giant Japanese strike force of aircraft carriers was at sea headed for Pearl Harbor, the book also claims that following the Japanese surrender Churchill sent secret instructions to FECB headquarters in Ceylon to destroy all of its archives. On both claims their book is a failure. The first depends on the alleged FECB intercepts and the uncorroborated statements of Commander Malcolm Burnett, OBE, RN to an historian named Dr Andrew Gordon. Burnett died on 17 July 1984 three years before Rusbridger decided to write his book and it seems unlikely that either co-author interviewed Dr Gordon, who is never quoted. There is a brief reference to Commander Burnett’s widow that requires comment. Rusbridger asserts in the Preface that after the first edition to their book was published, certain memories were awakened, including that of Commander Burnett’s widow, Mary. It is claimed that in December 1991 she appeared on American television and confirmed what her late husband had told Dr Gordon. Neither the television station nor the television programme is identified. Rusbridger makes no claim that he interviewed Mary Burnett and every statement that Rusbridger has attributed to Commander Burnett is unverifiable.

The claim that Churchill instructed FECB to destroy its archives after Japan’s surrender is even more untenable. The co-authors cite as their source Lieutenant Commander W.W. Mortimer, RNR (Ret.). Mortimer is never quoted directly and what he actually said to the co-authors will never be known. One of the co-authors (probably Rusbridger) added this aside, ‘Whether Churchill had the authority to do this seems doubtful …’ Churchill did not have the authority since he was no longer prime minister at the time of Japan’s surrender and it is regrettable that Rusbridger chose to make these claims against Churchill the main focus of his book.

Correlli Barnett’s book Engage the Enemy More Closely: the Royal Navy in the Second World War contains some scathing criticism of Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and as Prime Minister but no mention of Churchill knowing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Barnett describes Britain’s woeful lack of intelligence about Japanese operational plans for war against Britain and the US throughout 1941 as follows:

The British in particular, last in line to receive gleanings from ‘Magic’ and then by no means all of them, could only guess, grope and argue about Japanese intentions and plans – the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Office and Sir Robert Craigie, the ambassador in Tokyo, the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister themselves.

In stark contrast Rusbridger and Nave claim the Far East Combined Bureau was able to intercept and read virtually every important signal of the Imperial Japanese Navy at least until 4 December 1941. Without giving precise dates they describe FECB’s achievements in the first years of its operations as follows:

FECB read all the Japanese messages with ease and had prior knowledge of every operation they planned. The first advice usually came after a War Cabinet meeting in Tokyo and would be sent in the Commander-in-Chief’s code. A typical message would read, ‘Instructions have been issued for the capture of Canton. This will be known as Operation Y. Further details will be given by Chief of Naval Staff.’ This immediately helped FECB identify the much longer messages that would shortly be intercepted in the Blue Book code. These would give precise details of the number of transports, escorting warships, the Army units involved, landing place, route to be taken, and so forth. Not a single message escaped the listening post in Hong Kong. The powerful intercept station at Stonecutter’s sucked up everything transmitted from Japan and by any ship at sea.

On 1 June 1939 the Japanese Navy introduced a new code system; however, FECB and GCCS (Government Code & Cipher School), which by the autumn of 1939 had moved to its wartime home at Bletchley Park some 50 miles northwest of London, soon broke this new code. According to Rusbridger and Nave:

So by the end of 1939, GCCS and FECB could read JN-25, used between navy headquarters in Tokyo and all their ships and shore stations; the naval attaché traffic, which was still using the Red Machine; the Commander-in-Chief’s code; and several other low-grade codes, such as the Appointments Code, which contained little of importance.

With respect to the critical period just before Pearl Harbor and the simultaneous Japanese attacks on Northern Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, Rusbridger and Nave write:

The exact total of messages sent by Yamamoto between 20 November and 7 December to his Task Force at Tankan Bay, and later while at sea en route to Pearl Harbor is not known, because all Japanese naval records were destroyed before the end of the war. But at least twenty such messages were intercepted and exist today in the National Archives, Washington D.C. thus proving beyond any doubt that radio silence with the Task Force was broken after it had assembled and sailed … The American intercepts all bear postwar decryption dates … but Nave is adamant that every message intercepted by the Americans would also have been intercepted by the British, and because JN-25 had been broken by him since the autumn of 1939, all these intercepted messages would have been read without difficulty or delay by FECB and GCCS.

They identify two Japanese signals of the highest importance allegedly intercepted and read by FECB on 20 November and on 25 November.

One of the first, decoded by FECB on 20 November, was from Yamamoto in Tokyo, using his combined Fleet C in C call sign, KE RO 88, to his Task Force waiting at Tankan Bay. Here for the first time in print is the signal that effectively set in motion the war in the Pacific: ‘This dispatch is top secret. To be decoded only by an officer. This order effective as of the date within the text to follow: At 0000 (midnight) on 21 November, repeat 21 November, carry out second phase for opening hostilities.’

The prefixes at the start of this message, which was known to FECB because they could read JN-25, showed that it was addressed to the Second Fleet (YA KI 4), the Third Fleet (E MU 6), the Fourth Fleet (O RE 1), the Combined Fleet (RI TA 3) and the Eleventh Air Fleet (SU YO 4), indicating that a large group of warships, including carriers, had assembled somewhere as part of the first phase of opening hostilities, and that the second phase was about to begin.

Regarding the signal of 25 November, previously quoted, Rusbridger and Nave write:

On 25 November FECB decrypted Yamamoto’s next set of instructions to his waiting Task Force in JN-25: ‘The Task Force will move out of Hitokappu Wan [Tankan Bay] on the morning of 26 November and advance to the standing-by position on the afternoon of 4 December and speedily complete refuelling.

While Rusbridger and Nave give FECB full credit for intercepting and reading both of the aforesaid signals, the source notes reveal that they had relied on quite a different source – the National Archives in Washington DC. Moreover, the National Archives records reveal that the 20 November intercept was not decrypted until 26 November 1945. The source of the 25 November intercept was also the National Archives, but it was not an intercept at all, but instead a document recovered from the wreck of the Japanese cruiser Nachi that was sunk in Manila Bay in November 1944. These inconsistencies alone cast doubt on their claims that Churchill had been forewarned by FECB of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Rusbridger’s book is replete with numerous source notes. It also contains in the Appendices verbatim copies of documents, some of which are marked ‘top secret’. Nevertheless, the sources that he has cited and the verbatim documents that he has reproduced fail to include any original sources relating to Far East Combined Bureau except for a very few retired officers concerning events that had taken place more than 40 years earlier. Rusbridger obviously considered his co-author, Eric Nave, his most important individual source.

Eric Nave joined the Australian Navy in 1917 at the age of eighteen. Two years later he was eligible to sit for his examination for promotion to sub lieutenant and chose to study Japanese for his required foreign language. The GCCS (British Government Code & Cipher School) became aware of his fluency in Japanese and his promise at code and cipher breaking. In mid 1927 at its request Nave was loaned to the Royal Navy to work for this code-breaking school and by the end of 1930 he was its most experienced Japanese code breaker and was invited to transfer from the RAN to the Royal Navy. The London Gazette on the front page of its issue for 2 December1930 announced that by special order of King George V, Nave had been transferred from the RAN to the Royal Navy effective 27 November 1930. In 1937 the Government Code & Cipher School sent Nave to Hong Kong to continue his work at Far East Combined Bureau. He arrived there in the autumn of 1937 only a few months after Japan had started its offensives against China’s coastal cities.

Nave soon became a key figure at the interception station on Stonecutter’s Island and at the headquarters of FECB in the naval dockyards on Hong Kong Island. Because the Japanese naval Code (JN-25) was periodically altered, GCCS and FECB coordinated their best efforts to break the altered code. In the autumn of 1939 Commander Malcolm Burnett RN flew out from London ‘to FECB to give Nave the reconstructed dictionary and current keys’165 to the reconstructed JN-25 codebook.

Since Hong Kong was much more vulnerable to a Japanese attack than Singapore, the headquarters of FECB was relocated to Singapore in August 1939 but the Stonecutter’s Island facility continued to intercept Japanese naval signals.

It was not until 2006 that a retired officer in the Royal Australian Navy, Ian Pfennigwerth, wrote Nave’s biography. A Man of Intelligence: The Life of Captain Eric Nave, Australian Codebreaker Extraordinary was first published in Australia in 2006. Pfennigwerth served in the Royal Australian Navy for 35 years, the last ten of which were spent primarily in the intelligence sphere; he served as Director of Naval Intelligence for three years. His book on Nave was clearly motivated by a desire to set the record straight and to celebrate ‘the magnificent work done by this Australian’. Pfennigwerth writes convincingly about Nave’s brilliance both in his ability to break Japanese Naval codes and in his translating ability. He is also convincing about the success of the intercept station on Stonecutter’s Island from October 1937 until February 1940 when Nave served with the FECB.

In a 1989 BBC interview Nave spoke of the signals intelligence that originated from Stonecutter’s Island.

The reception there in China, and particularly from Hong Kong, Stonecutter’s, was excellent. We could read Tokyo [Radio] twenty-four hours a day; and the possibility of missing an important dispatch, I think, just didn’t exist. Atmospherics, of course, was one thing; but we generally could overcome that. We could get static very bad at times. It was difficult, yes; but for the most part we were not in a position where you could miss a certain period during the day, or a whole message at any time. You had confidence that you could read all the traffic.

In February 1940 Nave was sent to Australia on sick leave suffering from a rare illness called Tropical Sprue. At that time the cause was unknown and there was no satisfactory treatment; however, living outside the tropics clearly improved a patient’s chances of recovery. Eric and his wife Helena embarked at Singapore on a Dutch ship for the voyage to Australia in February 1940. The significance of that date is that it represented the end of his work with Far East Combined Bureau, but Rusbridger’s and Nave’s book suggests that Nave was privy to the work of FECB in the months and weeks leading up to the Japanese attacks on 7 December. In fact Nave was over four thousand miles from Singapore for at least twenty months before the start of the Pacific war. It is unlikely that Nave had any first-hand knowledge of the FECB’s code-breaking operations at any time after February 1940.

In Australia Nave was able to render invaluable service to the newly created Special Intelligence Bureau, which he commanded before Pearl Harbor; yet Pfennigwerth found no involvement by Nave or Special Intelligence Bureau in any intercepts that would show that the IJN had a powerful strike force of aircraft carriers headed toward Pearl Harbor.

It can be confidently stated that Eric Nave and the Special Intelligence Bureau had nothing at all to do with the alleged intelligence ‘failures’ that might have given warning of Japanese intentions to attack Pearl Harbor.

Pfennigwerth has made a point of informing his readers that Betrayal at Pearl Harbor has been severely criticised. He quotes one critic as follows:

The noted writer on cryptanalysis, and the author of The Codebreakers – David Kahn – made the following reference to Betrayal at Pearl Harbor in an October 1991 article defending the work of the codebreakers in the lead-up to the Japanese attack: ‘Aside from the fact that Churchill wanted the United States to fight Germany not Japan, the claim [that Churchill concealed foreknowledge of the attack from Roosevelt] is not only not substantiated by any documents (it is based chiefly on hypothesis and ‘must have beens’) but it is vitiated by technical errors … it is improbable that the British … would have limited exchanging code group recoveries with the Americans, when they would have benefited as much if not more than the Americans from learning as much as they could about the Japanese.’

Pfennigwerth then commented:

These are, in my view, perfectly fair criticisms of the book but as the reader will now realise, the hypotheses and ‘must have beens’ were not the work of Eric Nave. Its publication damaged his reputation and portrayed him as something of a crank … It would have been better had his name been left off the title page …

INTELLIGENCE THAT FAILED II

 

As for Rusbridger, his journalistic sensation making with Betrayal at Pearl Harbor brought him more notoriety than fame, and precious little fortune. He died by his own hand on 16 February 1994 in allegedly bizarre circumstances, apparently unable to meet the demands of his creditors.

Rusbridger was a charlatan, but he succeeded in beguiling a number of prominent people in Britain, America and Australia. One respected British historian, John Costello, even worked for a time as an adviser to Rusbridger and Nave. In his source notes to Days of Infamy Costello wrote, ‘When the original British publisher bowed out after the government issued a ‘D’ notice to prevent Nave from publishing his memoir, the author of this book ceased to have any responsibility for either the manuscript or the conclusions of the work that finally appeared in 1990 [sic] under the title Betrayal at Pearl Harbor.’ Another of Costello’s source notes refutes one of Rusbridger’s more scurrilous claims. ‘Mortimer’s 1982 letter to the author does not state that Churchill (who was no longer prime minister when the war ended) had personally ordered the destruction [of the FECB records] as Rusbridger and Nave claimed in Betrayal at Pearl Harbor.’

Ian Pfenningwerth and John Costello are among few serious scholars who have written extensively about the Far East Combined Bureau FECB. Neither, however, has examined the question of whether this arcane signals intelligence organisation could have detected the presence of the 22nd Air Flotilla on airfields around Saigon prior to 8 December. It is rather astounding that neither author seemed to comprehend the enormous threat this flotilla posed to Prince of Wales and Repulse.

By sending HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to the Far East Churchill had hoped to deter Japan from any new aggression that would lead to a war with Britain and America. While deterrence failed, the presence at Singapore of these two capital ships did cause Admiral Yamamoto to reinforce the 22nd Air Flotilla with 27 additional torpedo bombers. This has been well documented by historians Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney:

The third step taken by the Japanese to protect the invasion convoys from Prince of Wales and Repulse was to reinforce the air units assigned to the area. Since there was no separate Japanese Air Force, an earlier plan had called for army planes to cover the landings. Yet the Japanese Navy had no confidence in the army to provide the necessary scale of air cover, and Admiral Yamamoto Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Navy had ordered the 22nd Koku Sentai – the 22nd Air Flotilla – to move from its airfields in Formosa to Indo-China. Rear Admiral Sadaichi Matsunaga, the 22nd Flotilla’s commander, had moved his headquarters to Saigon and his aircraft had followed … But, when the arrival of the two large British ships at Singapore became known, Admiral Yamamoto decided to strengthen this force by taking part of the Kanoya Air Corps away from the 21st Air Flotilla in Formosa. In this way, twenty-seven Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 G4MIS flew into Saigon just in time for the new war.

The original date that the 22nd Air Flotilla – which consisted of almost 70 long-range bombers capable of carrying either bombs or torpedoes – arrived at airfields in southern French Indo-China cannot be pinpointed; however, it is believed to have been in late October. The reinforcements from Formosa arrived on 5 December.

Admiral Yamamoto’s October order redeploying the 22nd Air Flotilla from Formosa to southern French Indo-China might well have been intercepted and read by FECB. What is virtually certain is that Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach and Captain Tennant never received any intelligence reports about the 22nd Air Flotilla, much less the reinforcements from the 21st Air Flotilla.

Leach clearly did not underestimate the threat that Japanese aircraft posed to his ship as well as to HMS Repulse. On the evening of 6 December he had spoken to his son, Henry, about the enormity of the odds they were up against. It can be assumed that he had discussed these concerns at length with his good friend, Bill Tennant, the Repulse’s captain. Of the three senior officers in Prince of Wales and Repulse, Admiral Phillips was the most dismissive of Japanese airpower. He would not, however, have ignored any intelligence from FECB that the 22nd Air Flotilla had been redeployed and reinforced, and there would be records of his requesting information about the number of aircraft, their type, range and armament. He would not have gotten such precise information from FECB and in that climactic first week in December signals intelligence was no substitute for human intelligence out of French Indo-China.

One individual could have revealed much about the composition of the 22nd Air Flotilla to the British. He was Vice Admiral Jean Decoux, the 57-year-old Governor General of French Indo-China. It is all too easy for historians to dismiss Decoux as just another Vichy collaborator who was little more than a lackey of the Japanese. While he never declared himself for the ‘Free French Movement’ of the enigmatic Charles De Gaulle, Decoux was a substantial historical figure who had the courage to follow his convictions.

After July 1941, his position was unenviable. The Japanese Army had already occupied part of northern Indo-China and the Japanese Navy had established a forward naval base at Cam Rahn Bay. There were strong units of the Japanese Army and the Japanese Army Air Force in the south around Saigon and Japanese warships controlled the seas around the colony that stretched from the Chinese border in the north to the Thai border in the south.

Decoux could expect no reinforcements from Admiral Darlan as the latter’s heavy ships at Toulon were short of fuel, but even if he had possessed an adequate supply of fuel, it would have availed him nothing because the Royal Navy controlled both ends of the Mediterranean. Admiral Darlan, therefore, could not send any warships to the Far East without the consent of the British. It was not only the overwhelming Japanese military presence that concerned Decoux. The Japanese using intimidation and coercion were systematically stripping his colony of its mineral resources and its rice crop, which at the time was the third largest in the world.

Notwithstanding the Japanese presence, Decoux controlled all French military forces in Indo-China and governed the native populations that consisted of the French protectorates of Cambodia, Laos, Annam, Tongkin and the colony of Cochin-China. His army numbered 80,000–100,000, but most of them were ill-equipped native recruits; however, Decoux did have hardened troops of the French Foreign Legion under his command. His tiny air force had at least one squadron of Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406 fighter aircraft, and on 8 June 1940 one of these aircraft in the hands of a superb pilot shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s in fifteen seconds. The French Navy in Indo-China included the light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet armed with eight 6.1-inch guns in four turrets and two sloops, Admiral Charner and Dumont D’Urville, each armed with three 5.5-inch guns in three turrets. These sloops had been designed for tropical service with special arrangement for circulation of cool air.

Decoux’s guiding principle was to use his military forces to assert French sovereignty over the entire colony; however, he knew that at any time the Japanese could arrest him and demand the surrender of his forces. In the event that his forces refused to surrender, he felt certain they would be annihilated. Why the Japanese did not disarm the French forces in Indo-China early on remains a mystery. It is conceivable that Japan thought Vichy France would eventually declare war on Britain and that Decoux’ forces could be used to garrison Indo-China, thereby releasing Japanese troops for operations elsewhere.

Decoux insisted that the Japanese comply with their treaty obligations to compensate the French for everything that was exported to Japan including the vital rice crop. He resolved to defend the borders of French Indo-China from any aggression by Thailand, which later would become Japan’s ally by declaring war on Britain and the US. At the same time Decoux wanted to safeguard some 40,000 Europeans, most of whom were French, and to protect the inhabitants of Indo-China from starvation. In mid September 1940, three months after France’s surrender, Thailand demanded that France cede certain border territories together with some islands in the Mekong River. Decoux rejected this demand and took the drastic step of calling up French males throughout the colony between the ages of 40 and 50.

In January 1941 after Thai troops had crossed the border, Admiral Decoux ordered his naval units to sea. His small squadron led by the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet engaged and defeated most of the Thai fleet sinking or disabling two coast defence ships armed with four 8-inch guns. A few months later the Japanese intervened. Under the guise of mediation, Japan forced the French to cede all of the disputed territory to Thailand. These events did not go unnoticed by the American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. On 6 April he told the British ambassador Lord Halifax that the government of Thailand had colluded with the Japanese to secure Tokyo’s aid in their war with the Vichy French.

Notwithstanding this three-month war, Thailand ceased to pose any real threat to French Indo-China. The Empire of Japan was a different matter. Admiral Decoux and his superiors in Vichy well understood their grim choices: an undeclared war with Japan resulting in an overwhelming military defeat, abject surrender without resistance or an accommodation with Japan that would preserve the semblance of French rule.

On 19 July the axe fell. The Japanese envoy in Vichy delivered his government’s ultimatum that Japan demanded the right to occupy all of French Indo-China with the provisos that France would retain sovereignty and that Admiral Decoux would continue to be Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief of all French military forces. The Vichy government quickly acceded and within ten days the Japanese occupied southern French Indo-China including Saigon and its airfields, which placed Japanese aircraft within range of Singapore for the first time. From then until the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Decoux and his staff had front row seats to the stage on which the Japanese were marshalling their military might for the most egregious act of aggression in their entire history.

In contrast, the British military in Singapore had little knowledge of what was happening in French Indo-China other than official announcements from Vichy and Tokyo. Their two most important channels of intelligence were the Free French organisation in Singapore and a secret channel with Admiral Decoux. The Free French organisation was headed by Monsieur Baron who was more successful at public relations than he was at acquiring military intelligence. The channel to Decoux seems to have been the brainchild of Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief China, the highest ranking Royal Navy officer in the Far East. Although Decoux was well known to a number of Royal Navy officers with whom he had worked prior to the fall of France, it is unclear whether he and Admiral Layton ever met. Early in 1941, with permission of the Admiralty, Layton opened secret negotiation with Decoux. The story that was leaked to the press was that the Commander-in-Chief China offered economic aid to the French Governor-General in exchange for a pledge not to interfere with British shipping in the coastal waters of French Indo-China. The possibility that Decoux, who had only a handful of warships, might order them to interfere with British shipping seems preposterous. The possibility that Layton was trying to improve relations with Decoux in order to open a possible channel of military intelligence seems much more plausible.

By the autumn of 1941 Decoux’s situation was becoming critical. The Japanese continued to demand the colony’s mineral resources and most of its rice crop. For compensation the Japanese sometimes paid the French in a currency printed by the Japanese exclusively for use in French Indo-China. Since the currency had little real value, inflation threatened to destroy the economy, and with the forced export of rice, starvation loomed.

While Decoux like many other officers in the French Navy deeply resented the attack ordered by Churchill on French ships at Mers-el-Kébir where 1,000 French sailors perished on 3 July 1940, it seems doubtful that he was either pro-German or pro-Japanese. What has been largely overlooked is that in early 1941 Decoux and Admiral Layton commenced secret negotiations. The American war correspondent, Cecil Brown, had exceptionally good sources in Singapore and was keenly interested in what was happening in French Indo-China. His diary for 7 October 1941 reads in part:

My contact with the Free French finally bore fruit today. Dr. May and M. Baron, head of the Free French movement here, gave me a good story. They showed me secret documents they’d just gotten hold of revealing the extent of Vichy’s collaboration with the Japanese … At the moment the Japanese are exerting all kinds of pressure on Vichy to surrender additional oil storage facilities and to permit Japanese control of the entire postal system, telegraph and communication … the ‘honor’ with which the Japanese carry on their business dealings is shown in their treatment of the French in Indo-china. I saw a document showing that under two treaties the entire coal production of Indo-China was reserved for Japan as well as the entire output of iron, tin, manganese, chromium and antimony … Under the treaty, payment by Japan was to be made in gold dollars or in goods. After the agreement was made the Japanese informed the Vichy authorities in Indo-China that their gold was frozen and that they would pay with goods and raw materials … On September 18th, Decoux was asked by a reporter of Tokyo Nichi-Nichi if he was satisfied with the Franco-Japanese agreement. ‘Until now,’ Decoux said, ‘Indo-China has completely fulfilled all that was asked of her. She has sent everything that Japan has requested and that we promised to send, but the Japanese have not sent us the goods that they promised. We have difficulties getting things we need from the Japanese, and we reserve our opinion on answering that question until the promised goods arrives [sic].’

Seven weeks later Brown was able to get a story from Duff Cooper, Churchill’s representative in Singapore, that the latter should never have revealed. Brown’s diary for Friday 28 November reads:

Duff Cooper is still working on his report on the Far East. He was astonished to find that Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton was carrying on diplomatic relations with Indo-China. The story I get is this: Some time ago Layton telegraphed the Admiralty that he didn’t want to dissipate his forces and the French in Indo-China had some naval units which could cause some trouble and interfere with shipping. He therefore asked if he could negotiate with Indo-China. He was told to go ahead. As a result he negotiated with Admiral Decoux, the Governor-General in Indo-China, an accord that if the French didn’t interfere with shipping on the China coast or infringe on British naval rights then certain raw materials, but not war materials, would be sent to Indo-China.

How much raw materials reached Indo-China is unclear. The real import of what Cooper revealed to Brown is that Admiral Decoux had a secret means of communicating with Admiral Layton.

The 22nd Air Flotilla and part of the 21st Air Flotilla with almost 100 naval aircraft capable of carrying either bombs or torpedoes were clearly prepared for action on 8 December. Their presence on airfields around Saigon would not have escaped the attention of the French. The deployment of an entire flotilla could not have been accomplished without some cooperation from Decoux’s senior air force staff officers. While Decoux’s air force was not large, nevertheless his aircraft would have made routine flights over the three airfields around Saigon and his pilots would have reported to him on the numbers and the types of aircraft they had seen from the air. It is highly probable that the Saigon police learned in late October that the commander of the 22nd Air Flotilla, Rear Admiral Matsunaga, had established his headquarters in Saigon. Admiral Decoux, whose headquarters were also in Saigon, could make reasonably accurate estimates of the Japanese naval air presence. Even if he had not had a naval background, Decoux very likely would have understood the threat that the 22nd Air Flotilla posed to Prince of Wales and Repulse in the event they were to venture into the Gulf of Siam.

Why did Decoux withhold this vital information from Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton? This is indeed a troubling question. In the recent past Decoux had been involved with the Royal Navy and he had reason to loathe the Japanese. In September 1940 the Japanese Army had overrun a French Fort in Northern Indo-China and massacred the garrison; 800 French soldiers had perished. This happened despite the fact that a few days previously French officials had signed a treaty giving Japan the right to use certain airfields and port facilities in northern Indo-China.

Decoux might well have been tempted to tell Layton what he knew about the 22nd Air Flotilla; however, he did not. His primary loyalties lay with ‘La Belle France’ and the French Navy. He knew that if the Japanese learned that he had given Admiral Layton this vital information, they might have summarily executed him. The Japanese would have dismantled the entire French colonial administration and interned all French military forces including the hapless Governor-General. This would have ended French sovereignty in Indo-China, perhaps forever. It, however, seems probable that Decoux informed Admiral Darlan of the massive build-up of Japanese naval aircraft.

The British had obtained some French naval codes in early July 1940. On 1 July 1940 Admiral Darlan had ordered all French ships to return immediately to French ports. The French submarine Narval commanded by Capitaine de Corvette Drogou received the order in the Mediterranean and broadcast a reply that became symbolic of Free French resistance everywhere. ‘Trahison sur toute la ligne, je rallie un port anglais.’ (‘Betrayal all along the line, I am making for an English port.’) A few days later Narval arrived at Grand Harbour, Malta. Capitaine Drogou promptly turned over the French naval codes to officers of the Royal Navy.

There is no historical evidence that FECB intercepted or read any signal from Decoux’s headquarters in Saigon to Darlan’s headquarters in France; however, that possibility cannot be entirely excluded in view of the probable destruction of all the FECB records for 1941. The monitoring stations on Stonecutter’s Island and at the Singapore Naval Base certainly had the capacity to intercept a French naval signal coming from Saigon; however, it is probable that these two stations were too busy intercepting Japanese naval signals to bother with any French ones. Furthermore, although the British had acquired the French naval codes used by the submarine Narval in early July 1940, Admiral Darlan may have changed all his codes long before the 22nd Air Flotilla’s appearance in southern French Indo-China.

The failure of British intelligence in the Far East is not easily explained. The biggest problem for historians is the lack of official records. British historians almost unanimously agree that the official records of the Far East Combined Bureau were probably destroyed after the Japanese surrender.

The private records of Admiral Jean Decoux and his official records as Governor-General were probably destroyed months prior to the Japanese surrender. Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, who commanded all Japanese southern armies, had established headquarters in Saigon early in 1945. By then French Indo-China was his strongest bastion in south-east Asia. His army was still formidable and he had a secure land line of communication with China where Japan maintained armies totalling a million men.

Terauchi was determined to fight to the death against any American invasion that seemed likely to be launched from the Philippines, which General MacArthur’s forces had largely liberated by the end of February. Terauchi was concerned about what Admiral Decoux would do in that event. In November 1942 Vichy French forces in French North Africa had initially resisted US and British landings, but by 1945 the Vichy government no longer existed. Although Decoux’s native troops seem to have been largely demobilised, he still commanded up to 10,000 French soldiers and an unknown number of French Foreign Legion troops.

On 9 March 1945, Terauchi demanded that Decoux place his forces under Japanese command. When Decoux refused, he was arrested and the French garrisons were surrounded ‘and in the fighting that followed about 1,700 French troops were killed or simply massacred.’ Before he received this ultimatum Admiral Decoux had probably already ordered the destruction of all sensitive records.

If the precise causes of these intelligence failures remain unknown, their consequences are apparent. Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach and Captain Tennant would have been able to devise a far better battle plan had they had accurate information about the 22nd Air Flotilla. War would come to Singapore all too soon. The individual who would have the forthcoming responsibility for the deployment of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. The Admiral did not know half of what he would be up against.

INTELLIGENCE THAT FAILED II

As for Rusbridger, his journalistic sensation making with Betrayal at Pearl Harbor brought him more notoriety than fame, and precious little fortune. He died by his own hand on 16 February 1994 in allegedly bizarre circumstances, apparently unable to meet the demands of his creditors.

Rusbridger was a charlatan, but he succeeded in beguiling a number of prominent people in Britain, America and Australia. One respected British historian, John Costello, even worked for a time as an adviser to Rusbridger and Nave. In his source notes to Days of Infamy Costello wrote, ‘When the original British publisher bowed out after the government issued a ‘D’ notice to prevent Nave from publishing his memoir, the author of this book ceased to have any responsibility for either the manuscript or the conclusions of the work that finally appeared in 1990 [sic] under the title Betrayal at Pearl Harbor.’ Another of Costello’s source notes refutes one of Rusbridger’s more scurrilous claims. ‘Mortimer’s 1982 letter to the author does not state that Churchill (who was no longer prime minister when the war ended) had personally ordered the destruction [of the FECB records] as Rusbridger and Nave claimed in Betrayal at Pearl Harbor.’

Ian Pfenningwerth and John Costello are among few serious scholars who have written extensively about the Far East Combined Bureau FECB. Neither, however, has examined the question of whether this arcane signals intelligence organisation could have detected the presence of the 22nd Air Flotilla on airfields around Saigon prior to 8 December. It is rather astounding that neither author seemed to comprehend the enormous threat this flotilla posed to Prince of Wales and Repulse.

By sending HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to the Far East Churchill had hoped to deter Japan from any new aggression that would lead to a war with Britain and America. While deterrence failed, the presence at Singapore of these two capital ships did cause Admiral Yamamoto to reinforce the 22nd Air Flotilla with 27 additional torpedo bombers. This has been well documented by historians Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney:

The third step taken by the Japanese to protect the invasion convoys from Prince of Wales and Repulse was to reinforce the air units assigned to the area. Since there was no separate Japanese Air Force, an earlier plan had called for army planes to cover the landings. Yet the Japanese Navy had no confidence in the army to provide the necessary scale of air cover, and Admiral Yamamoto Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Navy had ordered the 22nd Koku Sentai – the 22nd Air Flotilla – to move from its airfields in Formosa to Indo-China. Rear Admiral Sadaichi Matsunaga, the 22nd Flotilla’s commander, had moved his headquarters to Saigon and his aircraft had followed … But, when the arrival of the two large British ships at Singapore became known, Admiral Yamamoto decided to strengthen this force by taking part of the Kanoya Air Corps away from the 21st Air Flotilla in Formosa. In this way, twenty-seven Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 G4MIS flew into Saigon just in time for the new war.

The original date that the 22nd Air Flotilla – which consisted of almost 70 long-range bombers capable of carrying either bombs or torpedoes – arrived at airfields in southern French Indo-China cannot be pinpointed; however, it is believed to have been in late October. The reinforcements from Formosa arrived on 5 December.

Admiral Yamamoto’s October order redeploying the 22nd Air Flotilla from Formosa to southern French Indo-China might well have been intercepted and read by FECB. What is virtually certain is that Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach and Captain Tennant never received any intelligence reports about the 22nd Air Flotilla, much less the reinforcements from the 21st Air Flotilla.

Leach clearly did not underestimate the threat that Japanese aircraft posed to his ship as well as to HMS Repulse. On the evening of 6 December he had spoken to his son, Henry, about the enormity of the odds they were up against. It can be assumed that he had discussed these concerns at length with his good friend, Bill Tennant, the Repulse’s captain. Of the three senior officers in Prince of Wales and Repulse, Admiral Phillips was the most dismissive of Japanese airpower. He would not, however, have ignored any intelligence from FECB that the 22nd Air Flotilla had been redeployed and reinforced, and there would be records of his requesting information about the number of aircraft, their type, range and armament. He would not have gotten such precise information from FECB and in that climactic first week in December signals intelligence was no substitute for human intelligence out of French Indo-China.

One individual could have revealed much about the composition of the 22nd Air Flotilla to the British. He was Vice Admiral Jean Decoux, the 57-year-old Governor General of French Indo-China. It is all too easy for historians to dismiss Decoux as just another Vichy collaborator who was little more than a lackey of the Japanese. While he never declared himself for the ‘Free French Movement’ of the enigmatic Charles De Gaulle, Decoux was a substantial historical figure who had the courage to follow his convictions.

After July 1941, his position was unenviable. The Japanese Army had already occupied part of northern Indo-China and the Japanese Navy had established a forward naval base at Cam Rahn Bay. There were strong units of the Japanese Army and the Japanese Army Air Force in the south around Saigon and Japanese warships controlled the seas around the colony that stretched from the Chinese border in the north to the Thai border in the south.

Decoux could expect no reinforcements from Admiral Darlan as the latter’s heavy ships at Toulon were short of fuel, but even if he had possessed an adequate supply of fuel, it would have availed him nothing because the Royal Navy controlled both ends of the Mediterranean. Admiral Darlan, therefore, could not send any warships to the Far East without the consent of the British. It was not only the overwhelming Japanese military presence that concerned Decoux. The Japanese using intimidation and coercion were systematically stripping his colony of its mineral resources and its rice crop, which at the time was the third largest in the world.

Notwithstanding the Japanese presence, Decoux controlled all French military forces in Indo-China and governed the native populations that consisted of the French protectorates of Cambodia, Laos, Annam, Tongkin and the colony of Cochin-China. His army numbered 80,000–100,000, but most of them were ill-equipped native recruits; however, Decoux did have hardened troops of the French Foreign Legion under his command. His tiny air force had at least one squadron of Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406 fighter aircraft, and on 8 June 1940 one of these aircraft in the hands of a superb pilot shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s in fifteen seconds. The French Navy in Indo-China included the light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet armed with eight 6.1-inch guns in four turrets and two sloops, Admiral Charner and Dumont D’Urville, each armed with three 5.5-inch guns in three turrets. These sloops had been designed for tropical service with special arrangement for circulation of cool air.

Decoux’s guiding principle was to use his military forces to assert French sovereignty over the entire colony; however, he knew that at any time the Japanese could arrest him and demand the surrender of his forces. In the event that his forces refused to surrender, he felt certain they would be annihilated. Why the Japanese did not disarm the French forces in Indo-China early on remains a mystery. It is conceivable that Japan thought Vichy France would eventually declare war on Britain and that Decoux’ forces could be used to garrison Indo-China, thereby releasing Japanese troops for operations elsewhere.

Decoux insisted that the Japanese comply with their treaty obligations to compensate the French for everything that was exported to Japan including the vital rice crop. He resolved to defend the borders of French Indo-China from any aggression by Thailand, which later would become Japan’s ally by declaring war on Britain and the US. At the same time Decoux wanted to safeguard some 40,000 Europeans, most of whom were French, and to protect the inhabitants of Indo-China from starvation. In mid September 1940, three months after France’s surrender, Thailand demanded that France cede certain border territories together with some islands in the Mekong River. Decoux rejected this demand and took the drastic step of calling up French males throughout the colony between the ages of 40 and 50.

In January 1941 after Thai troops had crossed the border, Admiral Decoux ordered his naval units to sea. His small squadron led by the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet engaged and defeated most of the Thai fleet sinking or disabling two coast defence ships armed with four 8-inch guns. A few months later the Japanese intervened. Under the guise of mediation, Japan forced the French to cede all of the disputed territory to Thailand. These events did not go unnoticed by the American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. On 6 April he told the British ambassador Lord Halifax that the government of Thailand had colluded with the Japanese to secure Tokyo’s aid in their war with the Vichy French.

Notwithstanding this three-month war, Thailand ceased to pose any real threat to French Indo-China. The Empire of Japan was a different matter. Admiral Decoux and his superiors in Vichy well understood their grim choices: an undeclared war with Japan resulting in an overwhelming military defeat, abject surrender without resistance or an accommodation with Japan that would preserve the semblance of French rule.

On 19 July the axe fell. The Japanese envoy in Vichy delivered his government’s ultimatum that Japan demanded the right to occupy all of French Indo-China with the provisos that France would retain sovereignty and that Admiral Decoux would continue to be Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief of all French military forces. The Vichy government quickly acceded and within ten days the Japanese occupied southern French Indo-China including Saigon and its airfields, which placed Japanese aircraft within range of Singapore for the first time. From then until the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Decoux and his staff had front row seats to the stage on which the Japanese were marshalling their military might for the most egregious act of aggression in their entire history.

In contrast, the British military in Singapore had little knowledge of what was happening in French Indo-China other than official announcements from Vichy and Tokyo. Their two most important channels of intelligence were the Free French organisation in Singapore and a secret channel with Admiral Decoux. The Free French organisation was headed by Monsieur Baron who was more successful at public relations than he was at acquiring military intelligence. The channel to Decoux seems to have been the brainchild of Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief China, the highest ranking Royal Navy officer in the Far East. Although Decoux was well known to a number of Royal Navy officers with whom he had worked prior to the fall of France, it is unclear whether he and Admiral Layton ever met. Early in 1941, with permission of the Admiralty, Layton opened secret negotiation with Decoux. The story that was leaked to the press was that the Commander-in-Chief China offered economic aid to the French Governor-General in exchange for a pledge not to interfere with British shipping in the coastal waters of French Indo-China. The possibility that Decoux, who had only a handful of warships, might order them to interfere with British shipping seems preposterous. The possibility that Layton was trying to improve relations with Decoux in order to open a possible channel of military intelligence seems much more plausible.

By the autumn of 1941 Decoux’s situation was becoming critical. The Japanese continued to demand the colony’s mineral resources and most of its rice crop. For compensation the Japanese sometimes paid the French in a currency printed by the Japanese exclusively for use in French Indo-China. Since the currency had little real value, inflation threatened to destroy the economy, and with the forced export of rice, starvation loomed.

While Decoux like many other officers in the French Navy deeply resented the attack ordered by Churchill on French ships at Mers-el-Kébir where 1,000 French sailors perished on 3 July 1940, it seems doubtful that he was either pro-German or pro-Japanese. What has been largely overlooked is that in early 1941 Decoux and Admiral Layton commenced secret negotiations. The American war correspondent, Cecil Brown, had exceptionally good sources in Singapore and was keenly interested in what was happening in French Indo-China. His diary for 7 October 1941 reads in part:

My contact with the Free French finally bore fruit today. Dr. May and M. Baron, head of the Free French movement here, gave me a good story. They showed me secret documents they’d just gotten hold of revealing the extent of Vichy’s collaboration with the Japanese … At the moment the Japanese are exerting all kinds of pressure on Vichy to surrender additional oil storage facilities and to permit Japanese control of the entire postal system, telegraph and communication … the ‘honor’ with which the Japanese carry on their business dealings is shown in their treatment of the French in Indo-china. I saw a document showing that under two treaties the entire coal production of Indo-China was reserved for Japan as well as the entire output of iron, tin, manganese, chromium and antimony … Under the treaty, payment by Japan was to be made in gold dollars or in goods. After the agreement was made the Japanese informed the Vichy authorities in Indo-China that their gold was frozen and that they would pay with goods and raw materials … On September 18th, Decoux was asked by a reporter of Tokyo Nichi-Nichi if he was satisfied with the Franco-Japanese agreement. ‘Until now,’ Decoux said, ‘Indo-China has completely fulfilled all that was asked of her. She has sent everything that Japan has requested and that we promised to send, but the Japanese have not sent us the goods that they promised. We have difficulties getting things we need from the Japanese, and we reserve our opinion on answering that question until the promised goods arrives [sic].’

Seven weeks later Brown was able to get a story from Duff Cooper, Churchill’s representative in Singapore, that the latter should never have revealed. Brown’s diary for Friday 28 November reads:

Duff Cooper is still working on his report on the Far East. He was astonished to find that Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton was carrying on diplomatic relations with Indo-China. The story I get is this: Some time ago Layton telegraphed the Admiralty that he didn’t want to dissipate his forces and the French in Indo-China had some naval units which could cause some trouble and interfere with shipping. He therefore asked if he could negotiate with Indo-China. He was told to go ahead. As a result he negotiated with Admiral Decoux, the Governor-General in Indo-China, an accord that if the French didn’t interfere with shipping on the China coast or infringe on British naval rights then certain raw materials, but not war materials, would be sent to Indo-China.

How much raw materials reached Indo-China is unclear. The real import of what Cooper revealed to Brown is that Admiral Decoux had a secret means of communicating with Admiral Layton.

The 22nd Air Flotilla and part of the 21st Air Flotilla with almost 100 naval aircraft capable of carrying either bombs or torpedoes were clearly prepared for action on 8 December. Their presence on airfields around Saigon would not have escaped the attention of the French. The deployment of an entire flotilla could not have been accomplished without some cooperation from Decoux’s senior air force staff officers. While Decoux’s air force was not large, nevertheless his aircraft would have made routine flights over the three airfields around Saigon and his pilots would have reported to him on the numbers and the types of aircraft they had seen from the air. It is highly probable that the Saigon police learned in late October that the commander of the 22nd Air Flotilla, Rear Admiral Matsunaga, had established his headquarters in Saigon. Admiral Decoux, whose headquarters were also in Saigon, could make reasonably accurate estimates of the Japanese naval air presence. Even if he had not had a naval background, Decoux very likely would have understood the threat that the 22nd Air Flotilla posed to Prince of Wales and Repulse in the event they were to venture into the Gulf of Siam.

Why did Decoux withhold this vital information from Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton? This is indeed a troubling question. In the recent past Decoux had been involved with the Royal Navy and he had reason to loathe the Japanese. In September 1940 the Japanese Army had overrun a French Fort in Northern Indo-China and massacred the garrison; 800 French soldiers had perished. This happened despite the fact that a few days previously French officials had signed a treaty giving Japan the right to use certain airfields and port facilities in northern Indo-China.

Decoux might well have been tempted to tell Layton what he knew about the 22nd Air Flotilla; however, he did not. His primary loyalties lay with ‘La Belle France’ and the French Navy. He knew that if the Japanese learned that he had given Admiral Layton this vital information, they might have summarily executed him. The Japanese would have dismantled the entire French colonial administration and interned all French military forces including the hapless Governor-General. This would have ended French sovereignty in Indo-China, perhaps forever. It, however, seems probable that Decoux informed Admiral Darlan of the massive build-up of Japanese naval aircraft.

The British had obtained some French naval codes in early July 1940. On 1 July 1940 Admiral Darlan had ordered all French ships to return immediately to French ports. The French submarine Narval commanded by Capitaine de Corvette Drogou received the order in the Mediterranean and broadcast a reply that became symbolic of Free French resistance everywhere. ‘Trahison sur toute la ligne, je rallie un port anglais.’ (‘Betrayal all along the line, I am making for an English port.’) A few days later Narval arrived at Grand Harbour, Malta. Capitaine Drogou promptly turned over the French naval codes to officers of the Royal Navy.

There is no historical evidence that FECB intercepted or read any signal from Decoux’s headquarters in Saigon to Darlan’s headquarters in France; however, that possibility cannot be entirely excluded in view of the probable destruction of all the FECB records for 1941. The monitoring stations on Stonecutter’s Island and at the Singapore Naval Base certainly had the capacity to intercept a French naval signal coming from Saigon; however, it is probable that these two stations were too busy intercepting Japanese naval signals to bother with any French ones. Furthermore, although the British had acquired the French naval codes used by the submarine Narval in early July 1940, Admiral Darlan may have changed all his codes long before the 22nd Air Flotilla’s appearance in southern French Indo-China.

The failure of British intelligence in the Far East is not easily explained. The biggest problem for historians is the lack of official records. British historians almost unanimously agree that the official records of the Far East Combined Bureau were probably destroyed after the Japanese surrender.

The private records of Admiral Jean Decoux and his official records as Governor-General were probably destroyed months prior to the Japanese surrender. Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, who commanded all Japanese southern armies, had established headquarters in Saigon early in 1945. By then French Indo-China was his strongest bastion in south-east Asia. His army was still formidable and he had a secure land line of communication with China where Japan maintained armies totalling a million men.

Terauchi was determined to fight to the death against any American invasion that seemed likely to be launched from the Philippines, which General MacArthur’s forces had largely liberated by the end of February. Terauchi was concerned about what Admiral Decoux would do in that event. In November 1942 Vichy French forces in French North Africa had initially resisted US and British landings, but by 1945 the Vichy government no longer existed. Although Decoux’s native troops seem to have been largely demobilised, he still commanded up to 10,000 French soldiers and an unknown number of French Foreign Legion troops.

On 9 March 1945, Terauchi demanded that Decoux place his forces under Japanese command. When Decoux refused, he was arrested and the French garrisons were surrounded ‘and in the fighting that followed about 1,700 French troops were killed or simply massacred.’ Before he received this ultimatum Admiral Decoux had probably already ordered the destruction of all sensitive records.

If the precise causes of these intelligence failures remain unknown, their consequences are apparent. Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach and Captain Tennant would have been able to devise a far better battle plan had they had accurate information about the 22nd Air Flotilla. War would come to Singapore all too soon. The individual who would have the forthcoming responsibility for the deployment of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. The Admiral did not know half of what he would be up against

HUNGARY – THE ROAD TO NICOPOLIS

Emperor Sigismund, aged approximately 65.

Sigismund of Luxembourg (15 February 1368 in Nuremberg – 9 December 1437 in Znaim, Moravia) was Prince-elector of Brandenburg from 1378 until 1388 and from 1411 until 1415, King of Hungary and Croatia from 1387, King of Germany from 1411, King of Bohemia from 1419, King of Italy from 1431, and Holy Roman Emperor for four years from 1433 until 1437, the last male member of the House of Luxembourg. Sigismund von Luxembourg was the leader of the last West European Crusade – the Crusade of Nicopolis of 1396 to liberate Bulgaria and save Constantinople from the Turks. Afterwards, he founded the Dragon Order to fight the Turks. He was regarded as highly educated, spoke several languages (among them; French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin) and was an outgoing person who also took pleasure in the tournament. Sigismund was one of the driving forces behind the Council of Constance that ended the Papal Schism, but which in the end also led to the Hussite Wars that dominated the later period of Sigismund’s life.

KING SIGISMUND

During the period of internal wars in Hungary, relations between the kingdom and its neighbours changed profoundly and irreversibly. Ottoman expansion reached Hungary in 1389 and the kingdom was soon compelled to adopt a defensive policy to counter this threat. From this time until the catastrophe of Mohács, Hungary lived, almost without interruption, under the constant menace of Ottoman raids and invasions, which, besides straining her economic and military forces to the limit, also led to internal conflicts. Proud of their ancestors’ warlike traditions, the nobility found the necessity of a defensive policy unacceptable. They demanded the same offensive attitude towards the Ottoman empire as had for so long prevailed towards others. The failures that were bound to follow were invariably blamed on those who happened to be in power.

In early 1389, Lazarus, prince of Serbia, confirmed his allegiance to Sigismund, but he was killed in June at the battle of Kosovo, and his son Stephen Lazarević soon became an Ottoman vassal. In early 1390 Turkish troops devastated the region of Timişoara, in 1391 they did the same in Srem, and thereafter their incursions became regular occurrences. Sigismund took the threat seriously from the very first moment. As early as the autumn of 1389 he led an expedition to Serbia, taking Čestin and Borač by siege, and he repeated the action in 1390 and 1391. In 1392 he pushed forward as far as Ždrelo, but Sultan Bayezid, who arrived there in person, refused to give battle. In 1393 the barons led a campaign along the southern frontiers, and Sigismund was also there in August 1394. In early 1395 he mounted an expedition against Moldavia and forced its prince to submit, but this success proved only temporary and Moldavia soon shifted back under the influence of Poland. By this time Wallachia had passed temporarily under the suzerainty of the Ottomans, who raided Transylvania for the first time in 1394. Mircea cel Bătrîn, prince of Wallachia, who had hitherto opposed Hungary with Polish support, asked Sigismund for help in order to regain his land. On 7 March 1395, in Braşov, he agreed to be a vassal of Hungary. However, on 17 May the Hungarian army sent to Wallachia was defeated and its commander, Stephen Losonci, killed. In July Sigismund himself invaded the province, restored Mircea to his throne and recovered from the Ottomans the castle of Minor Nicopolis on the Danube.

These wars were exhausting and yielded only meagre results. Consequently, Sigismund decided to settle the Turkish problem once and for all. He set about organising a major enterprise with the ambitious aim of driving the Ottomans out of Europe. In 1395 his envoys made a tour of the courts of Europe and an embassy may also have been sent to the Mamluk sultan of Egypt. As a result of these efforts the Pope declared the planned expedition a crusade, and by the summer of 1396 an army of considerable size had assembled. Alongside the Hungarians and their Wallachian auxiliaries, the core of the army was made up of Frenchmen, with John of Nevers, heir to Burgundy, at their head, though knights also came from Germany, Bohemia, Italy and even England. In August the army, led by Sigismund, invaded Bulgaria along the Danube and laid siege to Nicopolis. Bayezid, leading the counter-attack in person, marched to relieve the beleaguered castle, and it was there that a European army faced the Ottomans for the first time. The battle, which for a long time was to determine the nature of Hungaro-Ottoman relations, took place on 25 September 1396. The crusader army was virtually destroyed, allegedly as a consequence of the ill-considered actions of the French knights. As for Hungarian casualties, several barons were killed, Palatine Jolsvai captured, and Sigismund himself barely escaped with his life, fleeing on a ship to Constantinople and returning by sea to Dalmatia in January 1397.

The catastrophe of Nicopolis demonstrated that the Ottoman empire represented a power against which Hungary was unable to wage an offensive war, even with support from abroad. The hope that Ottoman attacks might be stopped through a single determined effort vanished. From this point on priority was given to defence rather than to offensive campaigns. The kingdom had to learn how to live with the constant menace of Turkish incursions.

The Ottomans did not try to conquer Hungary for a long time. In contrast to the Balkan states, which were easily crushed, the kingdom was to remain a rival of the empire right up to the end of the fifteenth century. For the time being it was not Hungary’s existence that was threatened but the supremacy that it had been able to impose upon its southern neighbours. However meagre the palpable results of Louis the Great’s wars had been, they had demonstrated that Bosnia, Serbia and Wallachia belonged to Hungary’s sphere of influence. The Ottoman conquest caused Hungary to lose this position: instead of launching offensive campaigns, the kingdom was forced now to defend itself. Nor should the humiliating effect of the Turkish incursions be underestimated. Hungary, which had not suffered a major external attack since the Mongol invasion, now found herself exposed to plundering raids by the Ottomans year after year.

THE DIET OF TIMIŞOARA

The immediate consequence of the defeat of Nicopolis was a revolt by the Lackfi. The former palatine, who had been deprived of office since 1392, contacted Ladislaus of Naples and was joined in his conspiracy by his nephew, Stephen Lackfi junior, and by a grandson of Ban Mikcs. But that was all the support he could muster. The rest of the league remained faithful to the king, who was therefore able quickly to put down the revolt after his return. The two Lackfi were enticed to the royal court and killed there in February 1397, and the enormous wealth of their family and of their supporters was confiscated.

From this time on Sigismund became increasingly determined to rule alone. The barons of the league were slowly but steadily pushed aside. Only Kanizsai and Detricus Bebek, the new palatine, remained in office after 1398. Their place was taken by hitherto unknown persons, partly from the household, partly from abroad. Immediately after the suppression of the revolt the king took into his service Count Hermann of Cilli (Celje) from Styria, who was to remain his closest confidant (before even Stibor) until his death in 1435. Cilli was given, as hereditary grants, first the town of Varaždin in 1397, then the district of Zagorje in 1399. From this time on, he and his successors gave themselves the title ‘count of Cilli and Zagorje’ and were the greatest landowners in Slavonia. Cilli’s staunch ally was Eberhard, a cleric who probably came from the Rhine region and who in 1397 was appointed bishop of Zagreb. He summoned to Hungary his nephews, lords of Alben in Germany, and persuaded the king to invest them with large estates. It was in 1398 that Filippo Scolari, who was the Buda representative of the trading house Bardi of Florence, was engaged by Sigismund. He was a count of the chamber for the time being, but was later to make an astonishing career under the name of Pipo of Ozora.

Sigismund’s endeavour to enlarge his independence manifested itself no less in his reforming activities. In October 1397, in response to the disaster of Nicopolis, he convoked a diet to meet at Timişoara with the intention of organising effective defence against the Ottomans. Forty-five of the 70 articles that were accepted simply reiterated the Golden Bull and Louis’s decree of 1351, but the remaining 25 contained important innovations. Whilst being willing to confirm in principle the nobility’s freedom from compulsory mobilisation for an offensive war, he suspended this privilege in view of ‘the great necessity of this kingdom’. He promised that ‘once the present wars are over’, that is, after the Ottoman threat had passed, the nobles would regain their ancient liberties. But for the time being he required them to take up arms ‘in person’, whenever he called them, and to make war on the frontiers, or even beyond, under his leadership or (in his absence) that of the palatine. Those not complying with royal orders would be liable to a fine of one florin per tenant if they had any, and of three marks, equalling twelve florins, per head if they did not. He also ordered that all the landowners ‘must equip, as a soldier should be, one archer from every 20 peasant tenants and lead him to war.’6 With a view to enforcing the edict as smoothly as possible Sigismund ordered a general census of landowners and their tenants in every county. This is the first such attempt that we know of in medieval Hungary, though unfortunately only the roll from the county of Ung has survived. Troops were being raised from landowners according to the number of their tenants as early as 1398. Known as militia portalis, these troops would constitute an important part of the army in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The nobility received little in return for these encroachments upon their liberties. Sigismund agreed not to grant ‘promotions’ of daughters in cases where there was a male heir within the fifth degree of kinship. In another article, he promised that he would remove all ‘foreigners’ from their offices, but stipulated that exception should be made for Stibor, Eberhard and Maternus, bishop of Transylvania. These were, of course, the very persons against whom the protests underlying this article had been aimed in the first place.

The burden of war had also to be borne by the Church. Albeit ‘only for the time of the war against the heathens’, the king seized half of all ecclesiastical revenues, the tithe included, promising that the money would be spent solely on the defence of the kingdom.7 Finally, referring to the fact that he had often been forced to yield to extortion in the past, Sigismund had himself invested with the authority to recover all estates that had been given – whether as a hereditary grant or as a mortgage – to persons who had done nothing to merit them; but he would issue special letters patent to his adherents to exempt them from this provision.

Although the decree of Timişoara had been prompted by the Ottoman threat, the ultimate insolubility of that problem soon discouraged Sigismund. With growing intensity, his attention was drawn to the affairs of the Luxembourg dynasty. His brother, Wenceslas, had no children and Sigismund could expect one day to succeed him in Bohemia and Germany. In his struggle with baronial leagues Wenceslas frequently turned to his brother for help, and Sigismund did in fact devote much of his time to Bohemian affairs. He went there in person in 1393 and 1396, while in 1397 he took the field against Procop, his old enemy. He left for Moravia at the end of 1399 and having spent nearly a year abroad, only returned in December 1400. In the meantime, the crisis in Hungary had come to maturity.

SIGISMUND’S VICTORY

On 28 April 1401 the barons, led by Archbishop Kanizsai and Palatine Bebek, arrested the king in the castle of Buda. They demanded that he should get rid of his foreign counsellors once and for all. Sigismund refused to yield, preferring captivity, and the government was assumed by the prelates and barons in the name of the Holy Crown, which was now regarded as vacant. Kanizsai took the title of its ‘chancellor’, while the council issued orders under the ‘seal of the Holy Crown’. Various plans were put in motion with a view to filling the throne: Ladislaus of Naples, Wladislas II of Poland and William of Austria emerged successively as possible candidates. However, the barons were unable to come to an agreement, and Sigismund’s captivity did not last for long. It was Nicholas Garai, the king’s faithful supporter, who secured his release on 31 August 1401. Garai brought the king to his castle of Siklós and handed over his own son and brother as hostages. Through Garai’s mediation a compromise was finally agreed upon at Pápa on 29 October, as a result of which Sigismund was restored to his throne. In return he granted immunity to the rebels, and promised to remove his foreign followers with the exception of Stibor, a promise that he was determined to break as soon as possible.

Thus it was Sigismund who won the first battle, and Wenceslas, observing events from a distance, was of the opinion that his brother was ‘more powerful than ever before’.8 Acting as if his captivity had never occurred, Sigismund began immediately to reinforce his authority. Not only did he refuse to remove his foreign supporters, but, adding insult to injury, he also became betrothed to the daughter of Hermann of Cilli, Barbara, whom he married in 1405. Since Cilli’s other daughter, Anne, was Garai’s wife, the three families became linked to one another by affinity. Before returning to Bohemia in January 1402, Sigismund took some important security measures, bestowing the most important royal castles upon his adherents. In September he paid a short visit to Pressburg in order to sign a treaty with Albert IV of Austria, who was an old friend. Sigismund designated him as governor of Hungary during the period of his own absence, and made the assembled barons and nobles promise that in the event of his dying without a male heir they would accept Albert as king. He removed Detricus Bebek from the office of palatine, putting Garai in his place, thus disposing of his last enemy, with the exception of Kanizsai, who still held the dignity of arch-chancellor.

These measures prompted the leaders of the opposition to take a decisive step. They offered the crown to Ladislaus of Naples, who had already sent troops to Dalmatia in 1402. At about Christmas 1402 they made a solemn oath of allegiance to him at the tomb of Saint Ladislaus in Oradea, and at the beginning of 1403 the revolt broke out. This time the rebels had a real chance of victory. They were led, as in 1401, by Kanizsai and Bebek, but their movement was much stronger than before, for they were joined by the archbishop of Kalocsa, the bishops of Eger, Oradea, Transylvania and Győr, Emeric Bebek, prior of Vrana, son of Detricus, and by nearly all the magnates, with the exception of Garai and some of his kinsmen. The provincial nobility rallied to the revolt in great numbers, and the general feeling of discontent even drove some of the king’s former supporters into opposition. The rebels of the eastern counties were led by the two voivodes of Transylvania, Nicholas Csáki and Nicholas Marcali, both of them the king’s own creations.

Against the rebels Sigismund could rely on his barons, his household and the towns, which all remained faithful to him. The most important castles, such as Buda, Visegrád, Pressburg and others were securely held by his foreign captains. Yet his throne was saved by the swift and determined action of Stibor, Garai, John Maróti, Peter Perényi and several other barons who promptly mobilised their contingents and within weeks dispersed the enemy, who had been gathering in rather too leisurely a fashion. At the end of July Sigismund himself arrived from Bohemia, and by the time the army of the eastern provinces crossed the Tisza he had reached Pest. He surrounded Esztergom, Kanizsai’s residence, then had the Holy Crown brought from Visegrád and set upon his head in a public ceremony, making palpable that he was the real lord of the kingdom. King Ladislaus had arrived at Zadar in the company of Angelo Acciajuoli, legate of Boniface IX, on 19 July and was crowned there by Kanizsai on 5 August, but this was too late. He left for Italy as early as November, after appointing one of his supporters, Hrvoje, as duke of Split and bestowing upon him the government of Dalmatia. Sigismund’s authority was never fully restored in this province, a fact that was to bring about its permanent loss by Hungary.

The barons could do nothing but surrender. The first to lay down their arms were Csáki and Marcali, who on 8 October mediated an agreement with the other rebels at Buda. The king granted a pardon to all those who would submit before a fixed date, and promised to restore their possessions and to annul the grants that he had made to their detriment during the revolt. Bebek and Kanizsai and their kinsmen, who did not lay down their arms before the term expired, were accorded a special pardon, but some of their castles were confiscated and Esztergom itself taken into royal hands for some years. By the spring of 1404 virtually the whole kingdom had been pacified, only a couple of fortresses continuing to resist the king’s troops.

Sigismund’s struggle with his barons ended with his complete victory. He was to have no difficulty in maintaining his control over Hungary during the 34 years that remained of his life. Many years would be spent far away from the kingdom, yet he would never again face opposition. His enemies at home, weakened and demoralised, could only accept defeat and wait for better times.

 

FRENCH AIR WAR OVER INDOCHINA

The air war over Indochina was a decidedly one-sided affair. The Viet Minh did not have the ability to operate an air force, especially one with modern jet fighters. Nor did Mao offer them one. This was just as well for the French, who relied on slower propeller-driven aircraft throughout the conflict. In Korea, Soviet and Chinese-piloted MiG-15 jets operated south of the Yalu, intercepting American B-29 bombers targeting North Korea’s defence industries. This led to fierce aerial battles, though the communists ultimately failed to gain control of the air. The North Koreans were supplied the MiG, but they and their allies’ jet fighters had little bearing on the ground war as they spent much of their time locked in dogfights.

In contrast, America was soon providing the French with Second World War-vintage naval dive-bombers to support their ground war in Indochina. However, France’s greatest failing was its complete lack of a strategic airlift capability and the weakness of its tactical airlift. The French never really generated the ability to support more than one operation at a time, which was to have catastrophic results at Dien Bien Phu.

Once China and the Soviet Union had recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Viet Minh began to receive ever-growing quantities of Chinese and Soviet weapons.

Subsequently, French reliance on fortified ‘hedgehogs’ meant aircraft played a key role in the escalating war, providing vital ground support and supplies. The French air force committed around 300 aircraft to Vietnam, while the French navy rotated four carriers with their naval air squadrons in the South China Sea.

Prior to the Second World War, the French Armée de l’Air (air force) and Aéronnautique Naval or Aéronavale (naval air force) had maintained only token units in Indochina. Most of the aircraft there were obsolete, consisting of 1925-vintage biplanes. At the outbreak of the war in 1939, the French had about 100 aircraft, of which just 13 were modern fighters. These accounted for 20 Thai aircraft during the brief border war with Thailand, but they could do nothing to counter the powerful Japanese air force.

The French air force first returned to Saigon on 12 September 1945, when Americanbuilt Douglas C-47 Skytrains ferried in 150 French troops to serve alongside the British. Subsequently, C-47 and Toucan (Ju 52 variant) transports were used to drop rudimentary barrel bombs on Viet Minh positions. On their return to Indochina, until 1949, the French feared that America might impose an embargo on spares for U.S.-made combat aircraft and thus greatly limit their deployment options. This concern, however, evaporated once Mao had taken over in China.

Ironically, the Nazi war machine helped equip the French armed forces. The trimotor Toucan was a hangover from the Second World War. While under Nazi occupation, France had been forced to build the German Junkers Ju 52 medium bomber and transport aircraft. These were constructed at the Amiot factory at Colombes. Post-war designated the AAC.1 Toucan, it was kept in production with over 400 built for Air France and the French air force. The drawback with the Toucan, and indeed the Skytrain, was the limited number of men they could carry: eighteen and twenty-eight respectively. This meant that parachute and air-landing operations required very large numbers of transport aircraft. In the Second World War, the Axis and Allies conducted such operations, but they always resulted in considerable losses in aircraft.

Similarly, occupied France built the German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (Stork) reconnaissance aircraft, made famous by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. It was also kept in postwar production as the Morane-Saulnier Criquet (Cricket). This proved ideal for Indochina because of its short take-off and landing capabilities, plus its low speed, which enabled it to use the roughest of air strips. The Criquet was deployed in Indochina by the French army, Armée de l’Air and Aéronavale for a wide variety of tasks.

The first fighter aircraft sent out were British-supplied Supermarine Spitfires, rather than the Armée de l’Air’s American-built Republic P-47Ds. While waiting for them, French pilots conducted hair-raising training flights in a dozen dilapidated and untrustworthy Japanese fighters. The Spitfires though, were not suitable for ground support due to their limited range and small bomb load. Nonetheless, they were flown from Saigon in Cochinchina, Nha Trang and Tourane (Da Nang) in Annam and Hanoi, and Lang Son in Tonkin until 1947. Likewise, the British-supplied, twin-engine de Havilland Mosquito proved ill-suited to the conditions, as the bonded-plywood structure had a habit of falling apart in the tropical heat. Confined to Saigon, they were eventually sent home.

To back up the Armée de l’Air the French navy sought to keep a carrier stationed off the coast of Vietnam, though these deployments really stretched its capabilities, operating so far from home. The escort carrier Dixmude (former HMS Biter) first arrived in the South China Sea in March 1947, with nine American-supplied Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless dive-bombers – the victors of the Battle of Midway in June 1942. These aircraft made their first carrier sorties on the 16th of that month, with additional raids against targets in Annam and Tonkin.

After problems with her launch catapult, Dixmude was forced to return to Toulon for repairs, thereafter making only one more combat deployment the following year. On the return journey, the vessel carried Toucans and Spitfires for the air force. The elderly carrier was then employed as an aircraft-transport vessel. Dixmude was photographed in 1950 on the Saigon River with a deck full of F6F-5 Hellcats.

The light carrier Arromanches (former HMS Colossus) arrived in November 1948, making a total of four combat deployments up to and including 1954. This carrier operated the American Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver dive-bomber. While it provided accurate and powerful support for the French ground forces, the Helldiver was vulnerable to ground fire. During these deployments, the aircraft usually operated from forward land bases rather than from the carrier.

The third carrier committed to the war was La Fayette (former USS Langley), which took over in April 1953, minus its aircraft, ready to take on those from the Arromanches. It only stayed on station for five weeks.

The fourth and final carrier, Bois Belleau (former USS Belleau Wood), only operated from 30 April to 15 September 1954. The navy also deployed amphibious aircraft, such as the PBY Catalina, to patrol Vietnam’s coastal waters and the Red River Delta. Additionally, they acted in air-support, transport and medical-evacuation roles. These were replaced by the four-engine PB4Y Privateer, which was the largest aircraft operated by the French.

Once Mao was in power and the Korean War had broken out, Washington saw France less as an unsavoury colonial power with dubious democratic credentials, and more as a staunch anti-communist ally. The Spitfires were soon followed with American-supplied Bell P-63 Kingcobras, called ‘Kings’ by their French aircrews. These helped cover the ill-fated withdrawal from Cao Bang in the summer of 1950, but again, could not carry a large enough bombload and could not operate from forward airfields.

What arrived next was much better and just what the French needed. To re-equip French fighter units, the Americans provided the F6F-5 Hellcat and the F8F-1 Bearcat. Both these were designed as carrier strike aircraft, so were capable of relatively short takeoff and landing. This meant that they were ideal for forward deployment in Indochina. The Hellcats were delivered by U.S. carrier in November 1950 with the ‘Beercats’ as the French called them, following in January 1951.

The Hellcat was only intended as an interim solution until all the fighter squadrons could be equipped with the Bearcat – this conversion though, was not completed until early 1953. In contrast, the Bearcat remained in service until the final French withdrawal in April 1956, and fought at Dien Bien Phu. It became the premier fighter-bomber in Indochina, being used almost solely for ground-attack missions. Some ‘Beercats’ though, were converted to a reconnaissance role by fitting specially modified U.S. drop tanks fitted with two cameras.

In the French armoury was napalm. This jellied-petroleum bomb, developed by the Americans in the early 1940s, and used against the Japanese during the Second World War, was then employed by UN forces in Korea. This terrible weapon, which bursts on contact with the ground into a wide carpet of flame, generates enormous heat and, once stuck to skin, cannot be removed. Used as an anti-personnel weapon, it was devastating. The Bearcat was capable of dropping 100gal. napalm tanks. It was first used by the French on 22 December 1950, against a Viet Minh troop concentration at Tien Yen.

The French air force desperately wanted a twin-engine light bomber, but none was available. It especially needed such an aircraft once the Viet Minh’s air defences began to improve. The best available aircraft to fill this role was the American Douglas B-26 Invader, which was known as the A-26 until 1948. While the Bearcat and Hellcat were surplus to U.S. Navy requirements, the USAF was employing its B-26 as night bombers in Korea. Nonetheless, the first four aircraft were supplied to the French in early November 1950.

The B-26 was the most potent type of air power the French were able to bring to bear during the war, with the ability to carry 2,722kg of bombs, napalm or rockets, and armed with up to fourteen machine guns. Equipping a French bomb group, the B-26s were operated from Tourane. A further two bomb groups were later formed using this aircraft. Despite its growing strength and newfound confidence, the French air force was unable to provide the army with a decisive edge during the inconclusive Black River offensive in the winter of 1951–52. From then until the end of the war, America provided some eighty bombers, fighter-bombers and transport aircraft. Many of these, however, arrived too late to influence the outcome of the war.

Funds were not made available for the acquisition of limited numbers of helicopters from Britain until 1952. America also supplied some rotary-wing aircraft. The French army, air force and navy all deployed helicopters to support their operations. The Groupement des Formations d’Hélicoptères of the French army was created under Commandant Marceau Crespin. In honour of General de Lattre’s late son, who was killed in action, the French army’s main helipad at Tan Son Nhut air base outside Saigon was named Camp Bernard de Lattre. Army helicopter squadrons were also based at Bien Hoa to the north of Saigon. These were used almost entirely for medical evacuation rather than troop carrying. By the time of Dien Bien Phu, the French had just thirty-two helicopters, most of which were Sikorski S-55s, dubbed the H-19 by the French.

General Salan, relying on the strategy of les hérissons fortified ‘hedgehog’ bases and mobile commando operations, needed the commitment of massive airpower. By this stage, the air force had some 300 aircraft, including four groups of Bearcats and two of Invaders. This strength was to remain unchanged until after Dien Bien Phu, when the third bomb group was added.

After the withdrawal of the antiquated Toucans, there were three transport groups equipped with C-47s, providing logistical support for the ground troops. To supplement this insufficient fleet, the French made use of commercial- and American-supplied Fairchild C-119Cs, which were sent from Japan and Korea. Some aircraft were flown by American mercenaries, operating from Formosa. These civilian pilots could earn up to five times that of their counterparts in the Armée de l’Air. The French armed forces’ lack of a strategic airlift meant that to fly troops and equipment from France or the other colonies required the help of Air France. America also stepped in, transporting almost 1,000 military personnel from Paris to Saigon in April–May 1954.

By 1953, the key Armée de l’Air officers were General Charles Lauzin, commander of the French air force in Indochina, General Jean Dechaux, commander Tactical Air Group North (Tonkin), and Colonel Jean-Louis Nicot, commanding the air transport group. Army aviation came under Commandant Crespin, who was responsible for the limited helicopter units.

Israeli Avia S-199

The Czechs sold Israel twenty-five Avia S-199 (Me 109Gs assembled from parts left over after the war) called ‘Mezek’ or Mule by the Czechs but more often known as ‘Messer’ (knife in Yiddish) by their pilots.

In 1945, the Czech pilots returned home with their Spitfires and Lavochkins used in the war. These machines became the standard fighters in the first post-war years. There were also some planes left behind by the Luftwaffe. New planes were delivered by Avia. During the war, the company produced Messerchmitts Bf-109 for the Reich. The natural thing to do was continue with this production. There were, however, no original engines for the Bf-109 in the country. That’s why the engine was replaced by a heavier and more powerful type, which was plentiful. The plane was too nose heavy and the engine was overpowered for the design. The Avia designers did their best to improve the qualities of the plane, but this was only partly successful. The result was called Avia S-199, and its two-seater version was CS-199. The pilots called it “mezek” – a short form of Messerschmitt, but also the Czech expression for “the mule”, due to its mule-like behavior. The plane was difficult to balance, and had a tendency to roll over during the landing (this was a problem even with the original Bf-109). If this happened, the engineers had to smash the cabin with a long pole to get the helpless pilot out. When the pilot revved up the engine during the take-off, the movement was so strong that the plane was in danger of hitting the ground with the wing. In spite of these problems, hundreds of S-199’s were produced and used until 1955.

Israel used 25 S-199s from 1948 to 1949, and they played a critical role in defending the Jewish state against early Arab air raids. S-199s had a maximum speed of 368 mph and a ceiling of 28,500 feet. Range was 530 miles on internal fuel. Armament consisted of two 20-mm cannon and two 13-mm machine guns. The airplane weighed 6,305 pounds empty and 8,236 pounds loaded

The moment of glory for S-199 came with the Israeli war of independence. Czechoslovakia was the only country ready to equip Israel with aircraft and train their pilots. A number of Spitfires and Avias were delivered to Israel. Israeli pilots learned to use the excessive engine moment for unexpected sharp turns in combat. According to some sources, if it hadn’t been for Avias, there would be no Israel. It is ironic that the only Czech plane that played a decisive role in a real conflict was at the same time one of the worst Czech designs.

Ten Messerschmitt Avia S-199s, the Czech version of the German fighter, were purchased in Prague by Haganah agents on 23 April 1948. They were disassembled and, beginning on 21 May, shuttled in parts in an American Skymaster cargo plane to Israel, where Czech technicians hastily assembled them. By 29 May, four were ready for action. By the end of August, another fifteen had been added to what remained of the original ten. They constituted the backbone of the IAF. In general, and in contrast with the Spitfires, which arrived later, they performed poorly.

Gordon Levitt, Israeli fighter pilot, comparing the Spitfire, Mustang, and Avia S-199 (Jumo-engined Bf 109), all of which the Israelis flew: “Despite the pros and cons, the Spitfire was everyone’s first choice.”

In the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The Egyptian army was about twenty miles from Tel Aviv, halted by a blown-up bridge, when four AVIA S-199 fighters (Czechoslovakian-built Me-109s that arrived in Israel and were assembled four days earlier) attacked them. An attack by such a small force is nothing dramatic. Damage on the ground was minimal, and one of the attackers was lost. But the Egyptians were shocked, since their intelligence had no inkling that the Israelis had real fighter planes and the Egyptian army had no antiaircraft weapons. Furthermore, the Egyptians were trained by the British and were an orderly force that operated by the book. They stopped to bring up AA weapons and so lost the momentum. This enabled the Israeli Southern Brigade to keep harassing them, stopping them for good and eventually defeating them.