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“




In 1388 Yisüder, a descendant of Qubilai Khan’s brother ARIQ-BÖKE, murdered the emperor Toghus-Temür, initiating a complex period of usurpation and conflict. On one side stood the Oirats in the northwest, first under Möngke-Temür (fl. 1400) and by 1403 under three chiefs, Mahmud (d. 1417), Taiping (d. 1426), and Batu-Bolod. The Oirats drew to their side the descendants of Ariq- Böke and other princes who had been relegated to Mongolia during the Yuan. Against them stood Arugtai (d. 1434) of the Asud, active from 1403 on in HULUN BUIR. The Asud (OSSETES) had been an important unit in the Mongol imperial guard in the Yuan, and Arugtai apparently spoke for the old Yuan court.

Another force was the line of ÖGEDEI KHAN, which under the Yuan had lived in China’s Gansu area but were expelled along with the Yuan. The khan Guilichi (murdered 1408), reigning with Arugtai as his commander in 1400, had his base in southwest Inner Mongolia at Ejene and was apparently an Ögedeid. Farther to the west were the Chinggisid khans of MOGHULISTAN, based in modern Xinjiang, and TIMUR and his dynasty beyond them. Arugtai’s new khan after Guilichi, Bunyashiri (Öljeitü, r. 1408–12), came from Temür’s court in Samarqand in 1405, whence he had fled in opposition to the Oirats.

Under Yongle (1402–24) the Ming dynasty intervened aggressively against any overpowerful leader, exacerbating the Mongol-Oirat conflict. In 1409 Bunyashiri and Arugtai crushed a Ming army, so that in 1410 Yongle attacked the two on the KHERLEN RIVER. In 1412 Mahmud of the Oirats killed Bunyashiri, enthroning an Ariq-Bökid, Dalbag (1412–14). Arugtai appealed to the Yongle emperor, who in 1414 defeated Mahmud. With Mahmud’s death in 1417 Arugtai became dominant again, and Yongle campaigned against him in 1422 and 1423, ending when news of Arugai’s defeat by the Oirats arrived. From Yongle’s death, however, Mahmud’s son Toghoon Taishi (d. 1438) built up power without interruption. In 1433 Arugtai was pushed east of the GREATER KHINGGAN RANGE, where he subjugated the Ming-allied Mongols in the THREE GUARDS. Finally, after a great defeat in 1434, Arugtai fled west to the Muna Uula Mountain (west of Baotou), where Toghoon killed him. Arugtai’s khan, Adai (1426–38), another Ögedeid based in Ejene, made a last stand there before succumbing.

Toghoon died in the very year of his final victory over Adai. His son ESEN Taishi (r. 1438–54) brought the Oirats to the height of their power. In the west he drove back the Moghulistan rulers, while to the east he destroyed the Three Guards and the Jurchen. In 1449 he captured the Ming emperor, bringing about a wholesale collapse of the Ming defense line. The Three Guards streamed south to the Shara Mören (Xar Moron) valley, while they and fragments of virtually every other Mongolian group poured into the Huang (Yellow) River bend and ORDOS. Esen ruled as the taishi for the khan Togtoo-Bukha (reign name Taisung, 1443–52), but after punishing his restive Chinggisid khan in winter 1451–52, Esen took the title khan himself, the first non- Chinggisid to do so. Esen was, however, soon overthrown by his own chingsang (grand councillor) of the right, Alag.

From Esen’s death to 1481 the Oirats ceded power among the Mongols to taishis of obscure origin. Bolai Taishi (fl. 1457–66) seems to have inherited Esen’s titles and men but belonged to the KHARACHIN, descendants of the YUAN DYNASTY’s Qipchaq KOUMISS brewers. After a period of domination by Muulikhai Ong, a descendant of Chinggis’s half-brother Belgütei and closely allied to the Three Guards, there appeared three taishis, Beg-Arslan (d. 1479), Ismayil (d. 1486), and Iburai (perhaps from Ibrahim, d. 1533), all active in the Ordos (Huang [Yellow] River bend) area. Most Mongolian sources call them Uighurs, and Beg-Arslan and Ismayil certainly had ties to the Uighur oasis-city of Hami. The Uighur otogs (camp districts; see OTOG) among the TÜMED and Ordos along the Huang (Yellow) River seem to have been the power base for these western adventurers.

The importance of the Huang (Yellow) River bend increased when the EIGHT WHITE YURTS, or the shrine of Chinggis Khan, moved there around 1450. Perhaps from Adai’s reign on (1426–38), khans were crowned before the shrine. The Chinggisid ruler of the shrine, the jinong, a title first seen in 1452, became under Bayan-Möngke Bolkhu Jinong (fl. 1470–79) an important figure. The death of the Oirat taishi Toghoon at the height of his power in 1438 was turned into an illustration of the shrine’s power. In the Mongolian chronicle ALTAN TOBCHI (c. 1655), Toghoon decided to become great khan before the Eight White Yurts but was supernaturally slain, thus proving that only descendants of Chinggis could be khans.



Reconstruction of the castle in the early 14th century, seen from the sea.


Gatehouses The King’s gate at Caernarfon is one of the most powerful of gatehouses, begun in 1283. In front of the entrance is a turning bridge; the front end rose up into a recess while the rear dropped into a pit behind. The passage was heavily defended: if the gatehouse had been completed it would have had no less than five wooden doors and six portsculli along its length. Evidence in the existing walls suggests that the never-completed rear section made the passage turn at right-angles, thence over a second drawbridge before arriving in the lower ward.

In order to enter the great gatehouse at Harlech, the visitor was required to pass the outer gatehouse with its twin turrets and turning bridge, the pit into which it dropped forming an additional obstacle. Then followed the main gate passage, arched throughout its length and flanked by huge towers. The first obstacle was a two-leaved door closed by a drawbar running into a slot in the wall thickness. There followed two portsculli, behind which was another door with drawbar. Further down the passage was a third portcullis, with possibly yet another set of doors in front. The room directly over the gate passage was a chapel flanked either side by a vestry but it also received the two forward portsculli when raised; the third came up into the larger of the two rear rooms. The fact that this floor housed the winches for operating the portsculli suggests it was used by the constable. Above was another floor, a residential suite laid out the same way and presumably designed for the king or some persons of rank. The rear of each tower was provided with a stair turret and, additionally, a door on the first floor at the rear led on to a platform and thence to an external stair to ground level, allowing access when all the gates were shut.

Master James of St George probably designed the splendid triple-towered gatehouse at Denbigh; once past the twin towers at the front, a vaulted hall was entered (with a chamber on the floor above). The rear tower blocked further egress, forcing a right turn into the ward.

On the estuary of the River Dwyryd, on the site of a former Welsh fort, built by Master James of St George for Edward I, 1283–90, costing £9,500. The sea was closer then to the castle. It had a concentric plan with a wide moat on two sides. A massive twintowered gatehouse faces east. The inner curtain has round corner towers. The curtain to the narrow outer bailey is low, dominated by the inner bailey. Master James became constable of Harlech 1290–3. It was besieged by Welsh rebels in 1294 but relieved. Repairs were made in the 14th century. Harlech was besieged and taken in  1404 by Owen Glendower with French allies, to become his base, and recovered by Lord Talbot in 1408. In the Wars of the Roses Harlech was taken over in 1468 by Dafydd ap Ieuan, whose men were the original ‘Men of Harlech’. The castle was besieged and taken by Yorkists under the Earl of Pembroke. It was held for the royalists in the English Civil War.

In the late thirteenth century, King Edward I of England built a sequence of castles from Caernarfon to Conwy to Harlech to secure his conquests in the north of the principality of Wales. In so far as the inhabitants of the country were the direct descendants of the British population of Rome’s province of Britannia and the last unconquered region of the empire north of the Alps, it has been said that Edward’s victories there represented the final fall of the Roman Empire in the West.

The financial outlay on these “Edwardian” castles was huge (in the 1970s it was calculated that each fortress cost in modern terms the equivalent of a Concorde supersonic airliner) not least because the most up-to-date principles and techniques of fortification were used. The strength of these places was to be demonstrated years later when in 1404 the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr laid siege to Harlech. For weeks the place was held by just five Englishmen and sixteen Welshmen—when the castellan made overtures to surrender, the garrison locked him up. In fact, the great castle fell not to assault by its Welsh attackers but because, in the end, the skeleton force defending it decided to accept terms and were bought out. Some sixty years later, it was once more in rebel hands, holding for the House of Lancaster when, in 1461, Edward of York became king as Edward IV. These “Men of Harlech” held out for seven years, harrying the neighboring countryside until in August 1468, after a protracted siege, William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, finally recovered the place for Edward. An indication of the effort involved and the obvious strength of the fortress is found in the Public Record Office, where the accounts show some £5,000 paid to the earl for his expenses.

Battle of Novi (15 August 1799)


Battle of Novi by Alexander Kotzebue


A major battle between French and Austro-Russian armies near the town of Novi in the Italian Piedmont. As the Allies liberated Lombardy and Piedmont, the French Directory made a new effort to turn the tide of the war by appointing a new commander in chief, the young and energetic General Barthélemy Joubert, to the Armée d’Italie. The French advanced in early August from Genoa, and by 15 August they approached the Allied position at Novi. Joubert was surprised to find that he faced superior Allied forces, as Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov massed more than 50,000 men on the battlefield against 35,000 French and enjoyed a great superiority in cavalry. The French command spent the night vacillating, and, as a result, the French troops had no clear orders for the coming battle. On the Allied side, Suvorov was impatient to attack. At 8:00 P. M. on 14 August, he ordered Austrian Feldzeugmeister Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova to begin movement during the night so that the troops could attack at dawn.

The Austrians (27,000 men) launched an assault on the French left flank at 5:00 A. M. Hearing the exchange of small arms fire, Joubert rode to observe the action and was instantly killed by a musket ball. His death was kept secret from the army, and General Jean Moreau assumed command in his place. An experienced commander, Moreau realized the dangers and kept his troops on the defensive. Meanwhile, as Kray continued his attack on the French left, generals Peter Bagration and Mikhail Miloradovich attacked the French positions in the center. For the next several hours, the Russians launched desperate charges on the town of Novi, where the French had established strong positions and expertly arranged their batteries on three levels. After seven hours of fighting, the Allies failed to break through the French positions but, around 3:00 P. M., Suvorov launched a flanking attack with General der Kavallerie Michael Freiherr von Melas’s troops, while Bagration attacked Novi and Kray assaulted the left flank.

Despite their stubborn defense, the French right flank was swept away, allowing Bagration to capture Novi and pierce the central positions of the French. The Allies now threatened to encircle the French left wing, which hurriedly withdrew toward Pasturano. The retreating French packed the narrow streets of the village, while Allied troops opened fire on them from the nearby heights. Moreau’s men fled in confusion, leaving their artillery and supplies. Generals Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy and Catherine Dominique Pérignon tried to organize some sort of resistance, but both were wounded and captured. Feldmarschalleutnant Michael Freiherr von Colli was surrounded and forced to surrender with 2,000 men and 21 guns. Only General Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr’s troops retreated in good order and covered the rest of the army. The exhausted Allied troops did not pursue the French and bivouacked on the battlefield.

The next morning, Suvorov intended to resume the pursuit, but his troops were still exhausted and could not move. Moreau exploited the Allied inactivity and successfully extricated the remaining troops to the Riviera. The Battle at Novi was a decisive Allied victory. The French army was shattered, having lost almost 6,500 killed and wounded, 4,600 captured, including 4 generals, 84 officers, 4 flags, and most of the artillery. The Russians lost 1,900 killed and wounded, while Austrian casualties amounted to 5,800 men.

References and further reading Clausewitz, Karl von. 1833. Die Feldzuge von 1799 in Italien und der Schweiz. Berlin: N. p. Duffy, Christopher. 1999. Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799. Chicago: Emperor’s. Gachot, Edouard. 1903. Les campagnes de 1799: Souvarow en Italie. Paris: Perrin. Longworth, Philip. 1965. The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov, 1729-1800. London: Constable. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander, and Dmitri Miliutin. 1852-1853. Istoriia voini Rossii s Frantsiei v 1799 godu. St. Petersburg: Tip. Shtaba voenno-uchebnykh zavedenii. Orlov, Nikolay. 1895. Suvorov na Trebbii v 1799 g. [Suvorov on Trebbia in 1799]. St. Petersburg: N. p.—,ed. 1898. Pokhod Suvorova v 1799 g.: Po zapiskam Gryazeva [Suvorov’s Campaign of 1799: Gryazev’s Notes]. St. Petersburg: N. p.


Battle of Eylau (7–8 February 1807)


“Napoleon on the field of Eylau” by Antoine-Jean Gros


The Battle of Eylau, 1807 – Situation Early, 8 February


The Battle of Eylau, 1807 – Situation About 1600, 8 February

Eylau has the dubious distinction of being one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Some 200 years after the inconclusive event, it is difficult for historians to calculate the true scale of the losses incurred by the participants. One thing remains clear: The figures involved would not look out of place in the attrition rates for the soldiers of World War I. Modern scholars put a figure of 25,000 men on French casualties, approximately one man in three. The opposing Russians lost some 15,000 men, including a number of Prussians. One officer described it as “the bloodiest day, the most horrible butchery of men that had taken place since the beginning of the Revolutionary wars” (quoted in Haythornthwaite 2001, 56). The grueling combat, which saw the forces under Napoleon pitted against Russian troops under General Levin Bennigsen, is also noteworthy for a number of other reasons. It gave rise to one of the greatest cavalry charges in history (spearheaded by Marshal Joachim Murat); it was fought in some of the most atrocious weather conditions; and was one of the few occasions when the Emperor himself almost fell into the hands of his enemies.

Following an indecisive action at Jankovo, Napoleon, on 7 February 1807, with 30,000 men under his corps commanders Murat and Marshal Nicolas Soult, met the Russian army of 67,000 near the small village of Preussisch Eylau in Poland. The Russians drew up in a line running roughly from the north to the east behind the town. The French were drawn up from just northwest of the town down to the southeast. Hostilities began when, probably ignorant of the enemy’s presence, Napoleon’s own baggage train entered Eylau in search of cover for the night. Bitter street fighting ensued, accompanied by intense combat in the town graveyard. Eylau changed hands several times until Bennigsen conceded the place to the French and pulled back to a ridge behind the town, leaving around 4,000 casualties on each side. With French supply wagons lagging behind the army and the Russian supply system on the verge of collapse, both sides suffered from severe shortages of food. Worse still for Bennigsen, loss of the village forced his men to spend the night in subzero temperatures. During the evening 15,000 French reinforcements arrived, with an equal number again expected on the following day under Marshal Louis Davout. To the northwest stood a corps under Marshal Michel Ney, operating independently to keep the 9,000 Prussians under General Anton Wilhelm Lestocq from uniting with the Russians, but with orders to join the main body on the eighth.

The size of the respective armies during the second day’s fighting remains unknown, but it is estimated that though Napoleon was clearly outnumbered in the morning, the successive appearance of troops over the course of the day increased the strength of each side until they stood about equal-perhaps 75,000 men, but with Bennigsen enjoying a clear superiority in artillery: 460 guns to about 200 for Napoleon.

The French, occupying heights slightly north of the town and only 1,200 yards from the Russian positions, stood in expectation of a frontal attack. At about 8:00 A. M. the massed artillery of the Russians opened the battle with a bombardment that left the village of Eylau ablaze, but in concentrating their guns at relatively short range they exposed themselves to counterbattery fire from the French, whose accuracy soon began to tell. Amid a shrieking blizzard, Soult, supported by cavalry under General Antoine Lasalle, carried out a diversionary attack against the Russian right to deflect attention from the arrival of Davout from the southwest, where Napoleon hoped the decisive blow would be delivered. At about 9:00 A. M., however, Soult was beaten off by the stoic Russians, and General Louis Friant’s division (the advance guard of Davout’s corps) was effectively stalled by an attack at about the same time by a large body of Russian cavalry.

The stage was set for even more carnage. With both his flanks seriously threatened, Napoleon ordered the 9,000 men under Marshal Pierre Augereau, on the French right, to counterattack the Russian center, with a division under General Louis St. Hilaire in support. Augereau’s ill health and the atrocious weather conditions ensured that the attack ended in grisly chaos. The columns became separated, and Augereau’s men-advancing blindly and losing their way-ended up walking directly into the mouths of seventy massed Russian guns. A withering bombardment ensued, while the beleaguered French troops were also subjected to fire from their own artillery, whose gunners could not make out anything through the swirling snow. By 10:30-in under an hour-Augereau’s corps had all but been destroyed, with over 5,000 killed and wounded, Augereau included among the latter, and St. Hilaire’s men had been halted in their tracks.

Napoleon’s fortunes were taking a turn for the worse as General Dmitry Dokhturov’s reserve infantry corps pushed into Eylau on the heels of Augereau’s reeling formations. With the appearance of something on the order of 6,000 Russians in the town, the Emperor himself only narrowly avoided capture, thanks to the self-sacrifice of his escort, who lost heavily until relieved by the arrival of Imperial Guard infantry. Characteristic of the carnage of the day’s fighting was the fate of the French 14th Regiment of the Line: Finding itself completely encircled by the enemy, it refused to surrender and was consequently annihilated near the cemetery.

With the battle reaching a critical phase and with only one major formation still uncommitted, Napoleon ordered the 10,500 men of his reserve cavalry into the fray. Around noon, Murat deployed his eighty squadrons into two vast columns before launching them against the Russian center in a maneuver that has become almost legendary. It gave rise to the oft-quoted vignette in which General Louis Lepic exhorted his men as they waited for the charge with the rejoinder: “Heads up, by God! Those are bullets, not turds!” (quoted in Lachouque and Brown 1997, 88). With inexorable momentum, Murat’s massed horsemen smashed through Bennigsen’s infantry and rode over a seventy-gun battery before reforming, facing about, and returning to friendly lines as a single column through the wreckage left by their initial advance. The charge cost the French 1,500 men, but it brought the relief Napoleon’s infantry desperately needed, allowing him to restore order among his hard-pressed formations. Historians have pointed out that Murat’s feat validated the cavalry as an independent (and useful) fighting force in its own right rather than as a mere adjunct to the artillery or infantry.

While Lestocq’s Prussians had meanwhile arrived around 11:00 A. M. to bolster their beleaguered Russian allies, Davout’s corps was not far behind and by 1:00 P. M. was applying pressure against Bennigsen’s left, which had to shift its position by 45 degrees to maintain a solid front against ever-increasing numbers of French troops. Nevertheless, so determined was Russian resistance that despite the continuous increase of French troops on the field as the day wore on, they still found themselves unable to wrest ground from dogged Russian infantry who preferred to die where they stood.

Ney’s corps did not arrive until dusk, by which time the bulk of the fighting had ended. That night Bennigsen withdrew from the field, leaving Napoleon in possession of Eylau. Despite Napoleon’s subsequent claims in Le Moniteur, the government’s official newspaper, the battle was far from a great victory and is now generally viewed by historians as a costly draw at best, with losses estimated at 15,000 Russian casualties and as many as 25,000 French, whose exhausted state rendered pursuit impossible. Both sides, severely mauled, went back into winter quarters to recover from the bloodletting, but with the certain expectation of renewed fighting in the spring. Eylau’s significance cannot be underestimated because, as David Chandler points out (Chandler 1966, 551), it was one of the first occasions when the chinks in Napoleon’s considerable armor were exposed for all his contemporaries to see.

References and further reading Chandler, David. 1966. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan. Davidov, Denis. 1999. In the Service of the Tsar against Napoleon: The Memoirs of Denis Davidov, 1806-1814. Trans. and ed. G Troubetzkoy. London: Greenhill. Haythornthwaite, Philip J. 2001. Die Hard: Famous Napoleonic Battles. London: Cassell. Lachouque, Henry, and Anne S. K. Brown. 1997. The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard-A Study in Leadership. London: Greenhill. Petre, F. Loraine. 1989. Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland, 1807-07. London: Greenhill. Summerville, Christopher. 2005. Napoleon’s Polish Gamble: Eylau and Friedland, 1807. London: Leo Cooper.


Map of the second day’s fighting showing the charge of the French cavalry


Murat’s Cavalry charge at Eylau

With his centre almost broken, Napoléon resorted to ordering a massive charge by Murat’s 11,000-strong cavalry reserve — aside from the Guard, the last major unbloodied body of troops remaining to the French.

Thus began one of the greatest cavalry charges in history. Somewhat obscured by the weather, Murat’s squadrons charged through the Russian infantry around Eylau and then divided into two groups. The group on the right, Grouchy’s dragoons, charged into the flank of the Russian cavalry attacking St Hilaire’s division and scattered them completely. Now led by Murat himself the dragoons wheeled left against the Russian cavalry in the centre and, joined by d’Hautpoult’s cuirassier division drove the Russian cavalry back on their infantry. Fresh Russian cavalry forced Murat and the dragoons to retire, but d’Hautpoult’s cuirassiers broke through everything and the broken Russian were cut to pieces by fresh regiments of cuirassiers. D’Hautpoult then rode through the Russian guns chasing off or sabering the gunners and burst through the first line of Russian infantry trampling a battalion of infantry that attempted to stand. The cuirassiers forced their way through the second line of Russians and only after 2,500 yards did the charge finally expend its force in front of the Russian reserves. A second wave of cavalry consisting of the Guards and Grouchy’s dragoons now charged the Russians as they attempted to reform and also rode through both lines of infantry. Another group charged into the Russian infantry in the area where Augereau’s corps had made its stand. Not content with these heavy blows, the cavalry reformed, wheeled, and charged back again, finally retiring under the protection of the Guard cavalry. Murat had lost 1,000 to 1,500 well-trained troopers, but relieved the pressure on Augereau, Saint-Hilaire, and Soult paralyzing the Russians long enough to allow Davout to deploy in strength. Rarely had French cavalry played such a pivotal part in a battle. In part this was because, for the first time, Murat’s men were now mounted on the best cavalry horses in Europe, freshly requisitioned in the aftermath of the conquest of Prussia.

Graf Zeppelin I


Graf Zeppelin. Flugzeugträger. Stapell.: 8.12.1938 B 676 (R IX E 7845)

Flugzeugträger "A". Baustadium Aufgen. am 14.9.1937 Deutsche Werke Kiel

Plans for a shipped-based air force started soon after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. The first plans were limited to supplying the existing battleships and cruisers with reconnaissance seaplanes. On March 12th 1934 the first requirements the future aircraft carrier was given. Within a year the design study had been completed. The model used was the British Courageous class of carriers. On June 18th 1935 the signing of the British-German naval agreement set the future strength of the German Navy at 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet applied to all classes of ships. This opened the way for building the first German aircraft carrier. Based on British tonnage of the time, 38,500 tons, this allowed for two ships of 19,250 tons. Officials were sent to England to attend the Navy Week where HMS Furious was opened for visitors but little was learned. More successful was a German Commission allowed to visit the carrier Akagi in Japan where they were given 100 copies of the blueprints of the air deck facilities. However, the Japanese neglected to tell them that the carrier was about to be completely rebuilt and the plans were obsolete.

At the end of 1935, when the design of the carrier was mostly completed, it received the consent of the commander of the navy. On 16th November 1935 the order to build the ‘A’ carrier was given to the Deutsche Werke Kiel AG. At that time most of its resources were engaged in building other warships and its slipways were occupied by ships under construction. Therefore construction was delayed until 28th December 1936 when it was possible to lay the keel on Slipway 1, twenty days after Battleship ‘E’ – the Gneisenau – had been launched from the same slipway. The slipway construction stage took two years. The ship was launched by Countess Hella von Brandenstein-Zeppelin, daughter of Count Zeppelin, on 8th December 1938 in the presence of Adolf Hitler. Work progressed during 1939 and by August it was estimated that the first tests could be carried out in June 1940 and the ship ready for service by the end of that year. When war broke out the Graf Zeppelin was 85%-90% completed. The engines and boilers were in place, the auxiliary machinery prepared though not yet installed and the 15cm guns were in place as well but lacked armoured shields.

The order for carrier ‘B’ was placed on 16th November 1936 with the Friedrich Krupp-Germania shipyard. The laying of the keel could not have taken place until the second half of 1938, after the heavy cruiser ‘J’ had been launched, because only one slipway (VIII) could accommodate the carrier. The date, 30th September 1936, given in some sources is invalid and probably a misprint. 30th September 1938 seems the most likely date. The construction of the ‘B’ carrier was intentionally slow because of the possibility of using experience gained from trials of the Graf Zeppelin in the ‘B’ construction. The planned launching was 1st July 1940 which did not take place as the order was cancelled on 19th September 1939. The ship had been finished up to the armoured deck. On 28th February 1940 Admiral Raeder ordered the dismantling of the hull. The ‘B’ carrier was never given a name. Peter Strasser is ascribed to the carrier by some sources but is entirely speculative and it is questionable that Hitler would have approved it even if it were on the list of proposed names.

After the start of the war, works on the Graf Zeppelin continued as planned for a while, but soon delays were caused by the extensive U-Boat building programme. [Carriers were always last in construction priority. Until 19th September 1939 the priority was: battleships, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers.] In October 1939 Hitler allowed only the building of small ships and the continuing construction of five large ships, the Graf Zeppelin among them. It was the German conquest of Denmark and Norway that had an adverse effect on the ship’s fate. Defence of the long the Norwegian coast required many small ships and their construction became the priority. During a conference with Hitler on the 29th April 1940, Admiral Raeder proposed stopping all work on the carrier. Even if the ship was commissioned as planned at the end of that year, equipping her with guns would take another ten months, if not longer, and the installation of the fire control system several more months. (The original fire control system had been sold to the Soviet Union. In the end the AA and 15cm guns were removed and sent to Norway to be incorporated in the coastal defence system.) During a conference in July, Hitler referred to aircraft carriers saying that Germany must have “a cruiser with a flight deck”. Ludicrous as it was to start a new project when the existing carrier was almost complete, it was Hitler’s remarks that stopped all work on the Graf Zeppelin on the 12th July 1940 and the Design Bureau to prepare a design of an ‘M’ cruiser that could carry 14 aircraft. On the same day the Graf Zeppelin left Kiel for Gdynia (called Gotenhafen by the Germans). The ship remained there almost a year until Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941. Because of the treat of Soviet air raids the Supreme Command of the Navy ordered Group North to tow the ship further west by 19th June. The carrier left at noon 19th June and reached Stettin on afternoon of 21st June. There she was moored at Hakenterasse, remaining until German forces had penetrated far enough to lift the threat of air attacks. On 10th November 1941 she left Stettin to arrive a week later back at Gdynia. She was then used as a floating warehouse for hardwood under the name Zugvogel.

By the end of 1941, the crippling of the Italian fleet in Taranto, the Home Fleet’s interception of the Bismarck and especially the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had proved that ship-based aircraft were a fully developed and dangerous weapon. The Seekreigsleitung pressed for completion and putting into service of the Graf Zeppelin as soon as possible. The final discussion took place on 16th April 1942 at Hitler’s Wolfschanze headquarters. The results were as follows:

  1. Works on the hull and engines were to be completed by summer 1943.
  2. The only available aircraft types, adapted Bf 109 and Ju 87, required upgrading of the air facilities, especially installation of stronger catapults. Design, production and testing of these would take not less than two years so it was decided to modernize and adapt the existing catapults which would take six months. This gave the earliest possible time to complete the carrier as the winter of 1943/44. From the point of view of the Luftwaffe constructing a new carrier-based aircraft was impossible before 1946.
  3. The Luftwaffe would provide the Kriegsmarine ten fighters and twenty-two bombers to be used in the reconnaissance role. Designing a torpedo-bomber was opposed by Hitler who thought such aircraft were not useful.

On May 13th 1942 the decision was made to resume the construction of the Graf Zeppelin. Along with changes to the air facilities there were other alterations considered necessary as early as 1938/39 because of the developments in naval technology. The superstructure was obsolete. The existing mast had to be replaced with a heavier one fitted with a fighter command post and radars. The bridge and fire control centre covered with fragment-proof armour. A higher funnel shield was necessary to protect the fighter command post from smoke. The alterations resulted in a significant increase in weight that needed to neutralised to keep the ship stable. Bulges were added to keep the ship upright. The secondary role was to protect the ship’s interior from torpedoes. Parts of the bulges served as oil tanks. These additions improved the manoeuvrability and range of the ship. AA protection was also upgraded. The planned air component was composed of 28 Ju 87s and 12 Bf 109s.


The Supreme Command of the Navy expected that work would be completed by April 1943 with the first sea test performed in August. However, the last twelve months of construction were to be carried out at the cost of cancelling VVIIC U-boats at Deutsche Werk AG Kiel. As well as the Graf Zeppelin, five other ships were to be converted to aircraft carriers. Due to the shortage of workers and lack of material, especially steel, Hitler decided to cancel the conversion of existing warships and put the workers and material into building the aircraft carriers Graf Zeppelin, Seydlitz and Potsdam. Meanwhile, due to increasing air threat, the operation to move the Graf Zeppelin to Kiel was delayed. She finally left Gdynia on 30th November 1942. On 3rd December the convoy reached Kieler Forde and the Graf Zeppelin anchored to the Heikendorf roadstead. On 5th December she was put into the Deutsche Werk floating dock where work on the bulges started immediately. At the same time work on the engines room was started to make the two inner shafts and their propulsion system operational allowing the ship to make a top speed of 25 to 26 knots. The objective was to finish the carrier in the autumn of 1943. On 30th January 1943 Hitler ordered all capital ships to be put out of service and cancel the construction of those not yet completed. Grand Admiral Raeder described it as “the cheapest sea victory England ever won” and was the direct reason for him being relieved from duty. On 2nd February 1943 the construction of the Graf Zeppelin, on which the bulges were still being installed, was stopped for good. On April 15th Deutsche Werk shipyard were ordered to prepare the ship to be moved to Gdynia. After these preparations the carrier was towed out on 20th April, its destination now Stettin. There she was anchored on one of the forks of the Odra River and camouflaged to look like a small island. The initial plan of moving the ship to Pillau was abandoned because of a lack of adequate anchor ground. The end of the carrier came soon after the Red Army entered the territory of the Reich. First all the Kingston valves were opened and the ship settled on the bottom. Then a ten-man squad prepared the ship for blowing up with depth charges. On the 25th April 1945 at 6pm the order was given. Thick smoke issued from the funnel, proof that the charges had gone off as planned.

Graf Zeppelin II



Last photograph of Graf Zeppelin towed from Swinocijscie Poland to Leningrad. April 17. 1947.

In April 1945, Soviet troops found the carrier’s artillery had been dismantled, the installation of fire control equipment had not been finished and the electrical installations partially installed as well as the flight equipment. There was a complete engine room and the power station was fully operational. Among the explosives, ten depth charges had been set off in the engine room. Water had penetrated through small blow-holes, cracks and leakages and the ship settled on the bottom in water seven meters deep. Seepage was so slow the water in the engine room was lower than that outside the hull. By 17th August 1945 the ship had been examined by teams of the 77th Emergency Rescue Unit. The carrier lay on the bottom with only half a degree of list to starboard. On the starboard were 36 holes up 1.0 X 1.0 meters made by shells and fragments. All the turbines, boilers and power plants had been blown up damaging the nearby watertight bulkheads. One .8 x .3 meter hole had been blown in the underwater part of the ship along with a .3 meter crack. The propellers had been dismantled and placed on the flight deck to minimize electrochemical corrosion of the hull. The aircraft elevators had been blown up as well. The ship was raised by simply sealing the underwater hole and crack and pumping out the water. Ten longitudinal and twelve transverse bulkheads had to be sealed to give the ship the necessary buoyancy. Cracks above the waterline and portholes were sealed with wielded metal sheets. Due to extensive damage and time pressures damage to ship’s deck were not mended. After the repairs were completed the ship was towed to Świnoujście, the former Kriegsmarine base known as Swinemunde. On 19th August the hulk was included in the Soviet Navy as a spoil of war. At the Potsdam Conference (17th July until 2nd August) the first agreement was reached on how to dispose of captured German surface vessels. On 23rd January 1946 an Anglo-American-Soviet committee was formed to deal with these matters. All combat and auxiliary vessels were divided into three categories A, B or C. The Graf Zeppelin was given to the Soviets by lot and came under category C – ships sunk, damaged or unfinished that required over six months of repairs using the resources of German shipyards. It was the recommendation of the committee that category C ships should be scuttled in deep water or dismantled by a given date. Admiral Kuzniecov requested to repair the Graf Zeppelin for use as an experimental platform for the construction of Soviet aircraft carriers. Initially he was given approval for the Baltic shipyard in Leningrad to carry out the necessary repairs; however the authorities chose the simpler option of complying with the terms of the allied agreement. On March 17th 1947 a resolution was passed that all category C vessels were to be destroyed in 1947. The command of the Soviet Navy had managed to convince the government to run durability tests on the vessels.

From 2nd February 1947 the Graf Zeppelin was classified as experimental platform PB-101. The destruction was to be carried out in a manner that allowed the collection of experimental data and experiences. A special committee head by Vice-Admiral Rall was formed and ordered to sink the carrier while testing its resistance to aerial bombs, artillery shells, and torpedoes in two variants, static and dynamic. Static meaning that the munitions would be placed in the ship and detonated and dynamic that they would be delivered by simulated attacks. The detonation of mines at various depths and distances from the ship was also considered. Between the tests teams of scientists would be sent aboard to assess the effects of the explosions. They were allowed to conduct minor repairs to stop the ship from sinking too soon.

At 2.45 pm on 14th August 1947 PB-101, as she was now known was pulled out onto the out roadstead of Świnoujście from where she was escorted by various vessels to the five mile square designated as the test area. Due to draining of three starboard rooms in the bulges she had a 3 degree list to port. When she arrived on the evening 15/16th August if was found that she could not be anchored. One of the main anchor chain links failed and the light kedge anchor could not prevent the ship from drifting. This was to affect the final outcome of the testing.

The first tests were carried out on the morning of 16th August. First a FAB-1000 bomb was exploded in the funnel along with three FAB-100 bombs and two 180 mm shells set under the flight deck. For the second test a FAB-1000 bomb was detonated on the flight deck. For the third a FAB-250 was set off on the flight deck and two 180 mm shells on the upper hangar deck. For the forth a FAB-500 over the flight deck set on a 2.7 meter high tripod, a FAB-250 on the upper hangar deck, another on the flight deck and a FAB-100 on the C deck. The fifth and last of the series, a FAB-500 and FAB-100 detonated on the flight deck with part of the bombs set deep in holes cut in the deck to simulate penetration.

The funnel was ripped open down to the flight deck but the island was not damaged, with the shockwave failing to deform the smoke ducts. No increase in pressure in the boilers was reported and on the armoured gratings an intact spider’s web was found. Of the three FAB-100 bombs detonated on the flight deck the most damaging was the one not set in the deck. The shockwaves of those set in deck were directed down into the hangar. The 180 mm shells caused various damage, the most effective being mixed armour piercing high explosive.

After the first series of tests an air raid was carried out on the ship by 39 aircraft from the 12th Guards Mine Torpedo Division and 25 Pe-2 dive bombers. On the day of the test there were only 100 P-50 exercise bombs available in the entire 4th Fleet instead of the 156 required. Therefore only 24 Pe-2 crews could perform the bombardment. Two nine plane flights dropped their payloads on the leader’s signal, the rest individually. A white 20 x 20 meter cross had be painted on the flight deck with arms 5 meters wide. The first group dropped 28 bombs from a height of 2070 meters, the second 36 from about the same height and the third attack carried out individually another 24 bombs. Three aircraft were forced to emergency dump their ordnance. The effects of the attack on what was a ‘sitting duck’ were farcical. Of the 100 bombs dropped only six hit the target, and there were only five marks on the flight deck. (Soviet pilots claimed there were eleven hits, some of the bombs having struck already damaged areas.) The test failed to give any useful information. The P-50 bombs were too small causing 5-10 cm dents in the flight deck and blew a hole about one meter in diameter in the starboard bulge. The pilots complained about poor visibility.

Another series of static explosions followed. After the forth series the entire island was wiped out and the upper hanger seriously damaged. The effect of the fifth series was the most spectacular. A FAB-550 bomb on the flight deck blew a three meter hole and a FAB-100 bomb in the hanger demolished all the light walls and destroyed the equipment. That concluded the static tests and preparations for the testing of underwater munitions where begun. On 17th August the weather bean to worsen and the carrier started to drift towards the shoals. There was the possibility that the ship would drift into waters too shallow to sink her. Rall decided to abandon the testing and finish off the carrier with torpedoes. The planed bombardment by cruisers had been cancelled because of an accident in one of the main turrets of the Molotov. The usage of the 180mm artillery was banned in the entire Soviet Navy for the year 1947. Three torpedo boats and the destroyers Slavny, Srogy, and Stroiny were summoned. The torpedo boats arrived first. The first run by TK-248 was unsuccessful, the torpedo passing under the carrier’s keel. After 15 minutes a torpedo fired by TK-503 hit the starboard side near frame 130. The explosion destroyed the bulge but the armoured belt remained unscathed. After an hour the destroyers arrived and the Slavny hit again the starboard side near frame 180 where there was no bulge. The carrier began to list to the twice damaged starboard. After 15 minutes the list reached 25 degrees, and the ship started to trim to bow. After another eight minutes the Graf Zeppelin with a 90 degree list 25 degree trim to bow slipped below the surface. The date was 18th August 1947.

The results of the tests were kept secret and the allies only informed that she had been sunk. The gap between the summer of 1945 when she was raised and March 1947 when her fate was decided remains a mystery. The German Admiral Ruge claimed in a book that the carrier capsized while being towed from Stettin to a Russian port due to the stowage of steel sheets on the flight deck According to gossip circulating in the Baltic Fleet published by Marek Twardowski in a magazine article, in 1946 the ship was towed to a Leningrad shipyard to be prepared for service. The authorities found this a welcome occasion for the transport of heavy loot which was placed on the flight deck because the damaged elevators prevented the stowage in the hangers. Placing a heavy weight on the flight deck made the ship unstable and she capsized in the shallow fairway. Most of the goods from the flight deck fell in the water, whilst those stored below caused serious damage to the bulkheads and braces. Raising the ship was not difficult but she was no longer suitable for reconstruction and had to be sunk to cover the accident. This supports the account of Ruge but is most probably untrue.

Brandenburg and the first Nordic War 1655-60


Frederick William, the “Great Elector”.

As Frederick William finally took possession of East Pomerania, his interest in the Baltic intensified. In 1654 Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated in favour of her cousin, Charles X. The new king showed every sign of emulating Gustavus Adolphus in his desire to make the Baltic a Swedish lake. The Elector was alerted to the prospect of another war between Sweden and Poland when Charles approached him with a demand for the towns of Pillau and Memel as the price of a Swedish-Brandenburg alliance (1654). Frederick William was reluctant to make quick concessions even to gain a powerful ally. He was wary of being drawn into another conflict which might result in the loss of his hard-won Westphalian gains; but more to the point, his instinct was to secure the maximum advantage from the situation by selling his military support to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, to protect his own position he turned to the Dutch Republic, whose vital trading interests would also be affected by Swedish occupation of the Baltic ports. A defensive treaty was concluded at The Hague in 1655, by which the Elector hoped to retain his independence.

However, within a matter of weeks Sweden’s armies swept across the plains of Poland, capturing all the leading cities. They then wheeled round against Polish Prussia, and after taking all the towns except Danzig, moved on to the duchy of Prussia. Backed into a corner at Königsberg, the Elector avoided battle to save his army and accepted the Swedish terms (1656). Charles X appeared to have brought Brandenburg-Prussia to heel. Ducal Prussia became a Swedish fief and Frederick William promised military and financial aid to his overlord, and the use of Pillau and Memel, along with half the port dues. As a modest reward to his new vassal, Charles allowed Frederick William to take the bishopric of Ermland, an enclave within East Prussia.

The Treaty of Königsberg (1656) exemplified the Elector’s dilemma. Armed neutrality was an obvious strategy for a second-class state, but there would be situations in which the ruler would be forced to take sides. By arming his state in order to sell its military capacity, he had to ask himself whether it was better to take the initiative and negotiate with the superior power in the hope of winning an ally’s prize. Or was it wiser to support the weaker of two major powers in the expectation that the aggressor would eventually be defeated by a hostile coalition? Over the years Frederick William turned to both these strategies and switched from one alliance to another. If he was flexible and inconsistent in his diplomatic and military strategies, he was unwavering in his overall objective, which was to enhance his possessions and the status of the dynasty he embodied. This impelled him to take every possible step to defend and consolidate his patrimony.

Later in 1656, as the Poles recovered much of their lost ground, the Elector found himself courted by both sides. But it was too early to desert Sweden, which still appeared the dominant power. In return for a promise of territorial booty in the west of Poland, he agreed by the Treaty of Marienburg (1656) to fight alongside the Swedes. Leading his army of 8,500 troops, Frederick William joined in the three-day battle of Warsaw, where he proved his military prowess. The victory caused Sweden’s enemies to reform. The Dutch fleet came to the defence of Danzig, the Russians took Ingria and Livonia and Ferdinand III sent help to John Casimir, the Polish king. Frederick William saw his chance to turn the diplomatic tables on his ally, Sweden. He had also clarified his war aims, for the war had already shown how elusive territorial gains and promises could be. But there was an important constitutional matter to be rectified: the Elector wanted to be freed permanently from Swedish and Polish suzerainty. In the Treaty of Labiau (1656) Charles X agreed to this demand and recognized Frederick William as the sovereign ruler of ducal Prussia. In addition, Sweden surrendered her claims to the customs dues levied in Prussian ports. With these concessions secured, a small Brandenburg force joined in Charles’s latest campaign against Poland (1657).

The hostilities in Poland, however, turned into an inconclusive guerilla campaign. When Denmark declared war against Sweden and Charles X decided to decamp from the mainland to concentrate on fighting his oldest enemy, Brandenburg returned to a state of armed neutrality. To conserve his army, Frederick William withdrew circumspectly into Prussia (1657). Sweden was now on the defensive against a coalition of powers and Frederick William no longer felt the need for the Swedish alliance. Charles X’s departure and Poland’s relative weakness gave him an opportunity to make further political capital. He expressed his readiness to come to terms with the Poles on the key condition which he had won from the Swedes at Labiau: recognition of his sovereignty in Prussia. As it happened, the Emperor had his own dynastic reasons for wanting to detach Brandenburg from the Swedish alliance. In the ensuing negotiations he put pressure on the Polish king to match the Swedish bid and accept Frederick William’s sovereign rights over ducal Prussia. In the Treaty of Wehlau (1657) John Casimir reluctantly made this substantial concession, and in return Brandenburg returned Ermland to Poland. Frederick William followed this triumph with a total turnabout when he agreed terms with the Austrian Emperor and the King of Denmark.

By 1658 the Nordic War was in its last phase. The fighting had concentrated on Denmark, where the spectacular gains made by Charles X in 1657 were partly countered by the armies of the anti-Swedish coalition, to which Frederick William contributed a Brandenburg force. The possibility of territorial gains at Sweden’s expense now opened up. At the head of 30,000 men, the Elector drove the Swedes from Schleswig and Holstein (1658) before turning his attention to Swedish Pomerania and the ports of Stralsund and Stettin in particular. Although Stettin withstood his attacks, by the end of 1659 Brandenburg forces were in control of most of Pomerania. In the event of peace, the Elector’s bargaining position against Sweden looked stronger than it had ever been. His main goal was Swedish Pomerania, which he had failed to achieve at Westphalia.

It was the intervention of another superior power which blocked Frederick William’s strategy. The French minister, Mazarin, was reluctant to see Sweden lose her prime position in the Baltic. Brandenburg’s allies in the anti-Swedish coalition- Poland, Denmark and the Austrian Emperor-had grown weary of the war, despite the fact that Sweden’s position was suddenly weakened by the death of Charles X (1660) and the advent of a regency for his 4-year-old son. However, Frederick William learned again the harsh reality of politics, that a second-rate power is unwise to abandon neutrality and fight alone. At the Peace of Oliva (1660) the Elector’s recent allies had no reason to support him against French diplomacy, which carried the day. He had to accept a compromise. He secured his first war aim, the recognition by all the signatories that he was the sovereign Duke of Prussia. But to his deep disappointment he had to withdraw his army from western Pomerania and accept Sweden’s possession of the Baltic province.

The Battleship Race Won and the Strategy Lost

Btlshp USS Arizona NARA-5900075

USS Arizona Built in 1913 and was the second and last of the Pennsylvania Class “super-dreadnought” battleships and primarily served stateside during WWI. She was part of the escort of the USS George Washington that carried President Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference on December 13, 1918. 31,400 tons and required a crew of 1,385. She was sunk on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese leading the United States into WWII. 1,177 lives were lost when the Arizona was destroyed.

In 1897 the US navy was ranked as the sixth most powerful after Great Britain, France Germany, Russia, and Japan. The naval appropriations of 1898 resulted in the US navy moving up to fourth position by 1902; and by 1908 it had only Great Britain ahead of it as the supreme maritime power. Between 1895 and 1910, in a span of 15 years, a new navy had been created in consonance with the Mahanian strategy of the battle between capital ships. Much of this drive to build bigger battleships was the result of international competition rather than an absolute need. The rapid arming of Japan and its conquest of Manchuria had pleased the American government as it was quite ambivalent on whether the main threat to the US in the Pacific came from-Russia or Japan. The defeat of the Russian main fleet at Tsushima by Admiral Togo alarmed the Americans into a clearer understanding of where danger lay. Much of the confusion in Washington arose as a result of intense lobbying from London, which pushed for American rearmament as an additional bulwark against the Kaiser’s building of a High Seas Fleet. During this phenomenal growth period, the same questions reappeared. Did a strategy drive the rearmament, or did the newly created force drive strategy? On record we have only two documents-Plan Black and Plan Orange-to work from to solve this conundrum. Plan Black can hardly be said to fall within the ambit of strategy. It would be difficult even to consider it to be relevant at the operational level. It was, at most, a tactical plan for a onetime operation, involving the interception of an alleged German intention to occupy Culebra with a seaborne invasion force and then attack the east coast. Considering the relative strength of the German and British fleets and the need to support the centre of gravity in central Europe, this was not a realistic course of action the Germans could possibly have thought up. Even if we discount the fact that in 1905 naval planners could not have forecast what the submarine would do to change naval warfare in the next decade, Plan Black could at best be described as an alibi for what had already been decided-the rebuilding of the US battle fleet.

Plan Orange, on the other hand, was acutely perspicacious. It described the plan to recapture the Philippines through a central Pacific thrust after its capture by the Japanese in the initial stages of a war-a scenario duplicated almost exactly 40 years later. The great dilemma was whether the fleet should be concentrated in the Pacific or the Atlantic, or split into two, each half being considerably weaker than either Japan’s or Germany’s navy. This dilemma was partly solved by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, an achievement which took over a decade. The idea began with the US-inspired revolt of the people of Panama against Colombian rule in 1903, supported by the US navy. To dominate the Pacific from Washington by building the Panama Canal, enabling a concentration of force, is certainly grand strategy. But was it all part of a plan? Perhaps a person like Theodore Roosevelt was capable of thinking out grand strategy on that scale, but there is little evidence that the navy department was thinking along these lines. Underlying the frantic battleship race that preceded World War I were the varying rates of economic growth of the countries involved and their standing as world powers based on their economic might.

If the US was catching up with Great Britain in the number of battleships, it still had quite far to go to develop a comparable maritime strategy. In 1900 Great Britain already had a maritime strategy worldwide, to protect her far-flung empire as well as to ensure peace on her terms anywhere on the world’s oceans. To give Whitehall the ability to exercise command of the Royal Navy worldwide, Britain had established global undersea cable links, that were later backed by HF stations, permitting a ship in any part of the world to be within easy communication distance of a powerful radio station. This complicated communications tentacle, which really was the heart of Britain’s ability to react to any situation on any of the world’s oceans, had no comparable equivalent in the US. In fact, if force levels and communications are judged to go hand in hand, it was not until the late 1950s that the US had a comparable worldwide communications system for her navy.

After the Battle of Tsushima, when Britain signed an alliance with Japan, there was much heartburn in Washington. Under the terms of the alliance, Britain would remain neutral if Japan fought one power but would join Japan if the Japanese had to fight two powers simultaneously. Britain made some concessions to the US to placate Washington, but both sides kept a wary eye on each other’s battleship-building programmes. By 1905 Mahan was accepted by the navies of the US, UK, Germany, Russia, and Japan as the source of all maritime wisdom. France alone remained aloof from a total acceptance of Mahanian strategy. Since all of these nations viewed the big battle as the final arbiter of sea use, a battleship-building contest began which was limited only by the governments’ ability to pay for them. The blind adherence to the cult of the battleship was responsible for the US entering World War I without any credible idea on what the navy would do in such a war. In any case, until 1910 the US visualised that Japan would be the likely threat. The reason for this presumption is not clear other than that Japan was the nearest Asian power with a large number of battleships; there was no economic rivalry, no conflict of interests. An alleged Japanese attempt to occupy a port in Mexico on payment was resisted and the Japanese backed down. Perhaps with the hindsight of what we know about World War II, we may tend subconsciously to support the US naval view that Japan would be the next enemy, but it must be remembered that much of the Japanese desire to expand into South East Asia, and conquer the Philippines en route, lay three decades away. The Americans faced only one threat in World War I, and that was the German submarine, a weapon they had no idea would affect the course of the war to the extent that it did. If the miscalculation on the future role of the submarine was painful, the anticipation in Washington that the submarine would have to fight according to the existing laws of war was a downright blunder. This led to the Lusitania carrying almost 2,000 passengers along with 4 million rounds of small arms ammunition-a deadly combination. The responsibility for the destruction of the ship must lie squarely with US naval authorities who permitted a war-like act by a large and vulnerable passenger ship.

Many have questioned Britain’s maritime strategy in the Royal Navy’s approach to World War I. The strategy in part was indeed thorough and well thought out, particularly the blockade of Germany and the refinement of the co-operation between the navy and the ministry of economic warfare. The rest of the strategy-the role of the main force, the battleship fleet-is what has come under criticism. Judged against the yardstick of the criticisms levelled against British strategy, the US maritime strategy must surely take a beating. At the beginning of the war, before Admiral William S. Sims took up his post in London, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) is reported to have told him that as far as the US navy was concerned, they would just as soon be fighting the British as the Germans. 9 If we read more into this, the failure of the US navy to fashion a more serious strategy against the Germans than Plan Black is quite understandable, since the European enemy was indeterminate. But this understanding must then be validated by a US naval strategy for war against Great Britain. Such a plan, if it existed, had yet to be publicised although war-games played before 1914 reportedly had the Royal Navy in the role of the `enemy’.

An admission of the absence of a US maritime strategy against any European power comes from the 1916 Naval Appropriations Act put up to the Congress. The earlier request, made in 1915, for a massive battleship force to meet any possible combination arising from an alliance between two powers from among Britain, Germany, Austria and Japan had been hobbled by the politics of the presidential elections. Nevertheless, the Act when it was passed in 1916, laid down the foundations for a navy that was meant to challenge the supremacy of the British navy after World War I. For what purpose this supremacy was to be challenged is most unclear. No American commercial interests would have prospered by facing off the British navy in any part of the world-at least at the end of World War I. If there was a link between the political goals of the US and the strategy of its navy up to 1914, it has yet to emerge.

In the meantime, the only worthwhile American maritime strategy during the course of the war had to be implemented by cunning and subterfuge against the wishes of the CNO, Admiral William S. Benson, the officer who superseded 26 admirals to become CNO. This extraordinary event occurred when the senior admirals revolted against the overweening powers of the secretary of the navy, Joseph Daniels. The contribution of the US towards winning World War I was to supply both men and material in dozens of convoys safely through U-boat waters by escorts which had to be diverted from screening the battleships. Eventually the US built almost 400 escorts after pressure from Admiral Sims in London had convinced the navy department that the continental war in Europe was the main theatre and that an American contribution to it would require only anti-submarine escorts from the US navy. In all, 1,200,000 men of the American army and Marines were landed in France. Equally important, not one American battleship fired a shot in anger throughout the war. The five battleships of the US navy attached to Admiral David Beatty’s fleet arrived long after Jutland and replaced five older battleships decommissioned for the purpose of providing crews for ASW vessels.

When the war ended, a considerable amount of anti-British feeling existed among the American delegations that went to Paris. Much of this was caused by Britain’s firmness in imposing the blockade against Germany where many items produced in the US had been declared contraband. At the same time, the British had been reasonable in releasing those American items which were used for munitions if they were convinced that the Germans could have easily replaced the US product with an equivalent. Nevertheless, the Americans were convinced that the British intended that a regime should be enforced on the world’s oceans where trade would proceed only with the permission of the Royal Navy. The chief weapon of negotiations for the Americans was their unwillingness to concede the primary position to the Royal Navy in battleship tonnage. For the British it was their threat to scuttle President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. The stalemate continued and no solution was found until 1922, when the existing ratios of battleship tonnage for Britain, US, Japan, France and Italy were finalised at 5:5:3:1.75:1.75.