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“

Danelaw

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Danelaw encompassed the areas of northeast England where Danish customs had a strong political and cultural influence throughout much of the early Middle Ages. The area included Yorkshire (southern Northumbria), East Anglia, and the Five Boroughs, named for its main centers of settlement: Lincoln, Stamford, Nottingham, Leicester, and Derby. All these territories bore influence of Scandinavian culture from Viking invaders in the late-ninth century, who then became settlers and who drove the political leadership of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into retreat to the south and west.

In c. 865 an army of between 500 and 1,000 Vikings arrived in England and began a systematic attack on the island. Their leaders were three brothers, Ivar the Boneless, Ubbi, and Halfdan, who had allegedly come to avenge the death of their father, Ragnar. They secured horses in East Anglia and proceeded to York, finding that infighting among local Anglo-Saxon leaders made conquest easy in Northumbria. The invaders next attacked west into Mercia and by 869 defeated East Anglia. The following year Halfdan attacked the kingdom of Wessex, seizing Reading and fighting nine pitched battles against Wessex. The Anglo-Saxons won only one battle, and the onslaught devastated the ranks of their nobility. Despite their unequivocal success, when Wessex offered a treaty the Vikings readily agreed and refocused their efforts north toward the kingdom of Mercia.

Throughout the 870s the Danish army continued to conquer territory in England, dividing and redividing the lands they acquired. They split Mercia with a puppet Anglo-Saxon king, Ceowulf, who held the territory on their behalf from 874 to 877 while they completed their conquests. However by 876 Halfdan and his men had occupied and divided Northumbria, settled into farming, and started a permanent settlement. In effect, the Danes had politically removed Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derby, and Leicestershire from the rest of England. Historians believe that the Danish settlement proceeded in two waves and probably did not displace the English people living in the area. The first wave of Danish settlers came as invaders, increasing in number over time. The second wave came as emigrants from Denmark, who settled in the areas protected by the military forces of the first wave, and who subsequently pushed colonization into new areas.

Early in the winter of 878 a Viking leader named Guthrum launched an attack on the kingdom of Wessex, catching it almost completely off guard and forcing its king, Alfred the Great (r. 871–899), to retreat to the island of Athelney. The Vikings proceeded to conquer the lands of Wessex, while Alfred gathered support and built reinforcements in the southwest, preparing for a counterattack. Later in the year Alfred defeated the Danes at Eddington and drove them back to Chippenham. Eventually Alfred and Guthrum settled their differences and established a treaty for what would become the Danelaw, the main boundary for the division between English England and Anglo-Danish England. The area became a kind of “Denmark overseas,” which Danes organized and administered and which was different from the rest of England in ethnicity, culture, law, language, and social custom. Although the formal division lasted only about fi ve years, through the 11th century Danish law and customs prevailed in this area and the rulers continued to recognize the special and separate nature of Danish England.

The term Danelaw first appears in the time of Canute (1016–35) to distinguish the area’s different legal system, but it is incorrect to categorize Danelaw as a homogeneous territory. The differences in custom, law, and political allegiance varied with the density of the Norse population, but the area’s internal divisions never trumped its separateness from English England. The Scandinavian language permeated the area, as is most commonly observed in the frequent place names ending in by or thorp. Cultural differences also appear in land tenure. Rather than dividing their land into units known as hundreds used to administer the English shires, Yorkshire and the Five Boroughs settlers divided their land into units known as wapantakes. The term, never used in Scandinavia, is related to “weapon taking,” the Viking custom of brandishing one’s weapon to show approval of council decisions and is unique to the Danelaw. Likewise, they divided agricultural land into ploughlands, rather than using the Anglo- Saxon unit known as hide.

The Danelaw’s legal codes also showed a great deal of Scandinavian influence, not only in terminology but in concepts that differed from those of Anglo-Saxon England. For example, in the Danelaw, wergild fines related to a man’s rank, rather the rank of his lord, and the laws punished violations against the king’s peace more severely than in English territories. Courts and legal assemblies reflected Scandinavian roots as well. To investigate crimes, 12 thegns in each wapentake formed a jury of presentment, and the opinion of the majority prevailed in making its decision. They ultimately settled the fate of the accused by ordeal, as in Anglo-Saxon areas, but the notion of a jury of locals charged with investigating a crime was not an Anglo-Saxon concept.

Historians note the positive influence of the Scandinavian culture on the island, from the intensification of agriculture that made Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk among the most prosperous shires of the period and the political success of King Canute to the regular commerce that emerged in the North Sea. Although the formal boundary of the Danelaw lasted only a few years, the impact of the Danes on England’s culture, economy, and political system remained strong throughout the Middle Ages.

Further reading: Hart, Cyril. The Danelaw. London: Hambledon Press, 1992; Hollister, C. Warren. The Making of England, 55 b.c. to 1399. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1983; Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984; Loyn, H. R. The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England, 500–1087. London: Edward Arnold, 1984; Stenton, F. M. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947.

Royal Air Force Regiment

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RAF Regiment servicemen near Khandahar Airfield, Afghanistan January 2010.

The Royal Air Force Regiment (RAF Regt) is part of the Royal Air Force and functions as a specialist airfield defence corps founded by Royal Warrant in 1942.

The RAF Regiment is trained in CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) defence and equipped with advanced vehicles and detection measures. RAF Regiment instructors are responsible for training all Royal Air Force personnel in basic Force Protection, such as first aid, weapon handling, and CBRN skills.

The regiment and its members are known within the RAF as ‘The Regiment’, ‘Rock Apes’ or ‘Rocks’. After a 32 week trainee gunner course, its members are trained and equipped to prevent a successful enemy attack in the first instance; minimise the damage caused by a successful attack; and ensure that air operations can continue without delay in the aftermath of an attack. RAF Regiment squadrons use aggressive defence tactics whereby they actively seek out infiltrators in a large area surrounding airfields.

The genesis of the RAF Regiment was with the creation of No. 1 Armoured Car Company RAF in 1921 for operations in Iraq, followed shortly afterwards by No. 2 Armoured Car Company RAF and No. 3 Armoured Car Company RAF. These were equipped with Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars and were highly successful in ground combat operations throughout the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s. The RAF Regiment came into existence, in name, on 5 February 1942. From the start it had both field squadrons and light anti-aircraft squadrons, the latter originally armed with Hispano 20mm cannon and then the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. Its role was to seize, secure and defend airfields to enable air operations to take place. Several parachute squadrons were formed to assist in the seizing of airfields and No. II Squadron retains this capability. 284 Field Squadron was the first RAF unit to arrive in West Berlin in 1945, to secure RAF Gatow.

The Regiment has a museum at RAF Honington near Bury St Edmunds. The RAF Regiment mounts annually the King’s Guard/Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, with the first occasion being on 1 April 1943.

During World War II, with its first headquarters established at RAF Alma Park, Grantham, Lincolnshire and its first depot at nearby RAF Belton Park the RAF Regiment grew to a force of over 80,000 men in 280 squadrons of 185 men each (each squadron including five officers). Squadrons usually consisted of a Headquarters Flight, three Rifle Flights, an Air-Defence Flight, and an Armoured-Car Flight. The flights were grouped together into wings as needed. It also operated six Armoured Car Squadrons to provide an area response capability to several RAF stations. Light Armoured Squadrons, equipped with FV101 Scorpion and FV107 Scimitar light Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) – (CVR(T) – continued to be operated into the 1980s. Formerly the RAF’s firefighters were also members of the RAF Regiment, although they are now independent of it.

The RAF Regiment comes under command of 2 Group, Air Command. Its members are organised into ten regular squadrons, – Nos 1, 2, 3, 15, 26, 27, 34, 51, 58 and 63/Queen’s colour Squadron – of which eitght are field squadrons and two are specialist CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear units under the umbrella of the defence CBRN Wing (No 20 Wing RAF Regiment -see note below), plus fourRoyal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) Regiment (RAuxAF Regt) squadrons. These are intended to counter ground-based threats to overseas/deployed RAF assets and, to this end, are trained as mobile infantry to move on foot, or in helicopters and protected mobility vehicles, to defend airfields and landing sites. The large area surrounding airfields (regularly up to 140 km square) means RAF Regiment rifle flights (platoons) often spend long periods of time deployed on the ground deterring and detecting potential attackers. Since 2007, some 10 RAF Regiment gunners have been killed in action, and many seriously injured, in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, over the same period, three Military Crosses have been won by RAF Regiment members for conspicuous bravery.

Members of the RAF Regiment are equipped with a range of direct and indirect fire systems and surveillance and night vision equipment. The way a field squadron operates depends upon the threat they are facing, mounting defensive positions or aggressive patrolling outside the airfield boundary. As air bases are fixed and supporting elements are unable to redeploy quickly, field squadrons must engage an attacking adversary at the earliest opportunity to prevent air operations from being disrupted.

Field Squadrons are divided into flights, which are equivalent in size to an army platoon. Each squadron contains several rifle flights, whose task is to engage the enemy at close range, and a support weapons flight, which provides fire support to the rifle flights using machine guns, mortars, and snipers.

The field squadrons are 171 strong making them larger than an infantry company in the British Army although not all personnel on an RAF Regiment squadron are trained gunners, rather specialist support services such as administrators and drivers etc. A typical RAF Regiment squadron has support elements from the RAF but these personnel are not able to deploy on patrols etc. All regular RAF Regiment personnel are male although the Auxiliary Squadrons do recruit women, it is British Government policy that women cannot serve in close combat units. There are approximately 2,000 regular airmen (i.e. Other Ranks), 300 regular officers, and 500 reservists.

Since 1990, the RAF Regiment has conducted operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Iraq, Kosovo, Kuwait, Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Sierra Leone. Some RAF Regiment officers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers have been seconded to the Army in roles such as Forward Air Controlers with some Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) that co-ordinate Close Air Support for the ground forces. The Regiment provide staff for the Defence CBRN Centre at Winterborne Gunner which trains personnel from all three Services and the civilian police in CBRN defence skills; a flight of some 40 RAF Regiment personnel forms part of the tri-service Special Forces Support Group.

In 2011, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, it was announced that from December 2011, the CBRN role undertaken by the Joint CBRN Regiment, a combined Army/RAF unit, would be transferred to the RAF Regiment (as lead service) under the new Defence CBRN Wing, formed from 26 Squadron, 27 Squadron and 2623 (Auxiliary) Squadron. The army retains involvement through the continued use of the Royal Yeomanry to provide trained battlefield casualty replacements.

The RAF Regiment’s basic training increased to 32 weeks to incorporate the specialist training centred on air-aware soldiering.

The RAF Regiment have recently begun a large reservist recruitment drive for their reserve field squadrons calling for civilians with and without military experience.

LINK

The Byzantine warships and their tactics

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Reconstruction of an early 10th-century Byzantine bireme dromon by John H. Pryor, based on references in the Tactica of Emperor Leo VI the Wise. Notice the lateen sails, the full deck, the fore- and mid-castles, and the Greek fire siphon in the prow. The above-water spur is evident in the bow, while the captain’s tent and the two steering oars are located at stern.

The typical high-seas elite warship of the empire in the period was the dromon (from the Greek dromeas, meaning `the runner’). This was a two-masted fully decked bireme with two banks of oars, one rowed from below the deck and one from above it. There were twenty-five oarsmen on each side of each deck, thus raising the total number of oarsmen to a hundred, all fully seated. The marines and the officers of the ship numbered around fifty men, while the ousia, the standard complement of a war galley (its crew excluding the marines and the officers), totalled 108 men. Another type of warship that had the same features as the dromon was the khelandion; both Ahrweiler and Pryor consider these two types of vessel to be almost identical. However, although the Greek primary sources used these two terms indiscriminately, it is interesting to mention that Theophanes identifies the khelandia primarily as horse transports. The Arabic primary sources, however, use only the term khelandion to describe Byzantine warships.

A smaller but much faster type of ship compared to the dromon and the khelandion was the galea. It derived from the same design mentality for a war ship and it had two sails (the one amidships being smaller by a third) and probably one bank of oars on the deck. Because of its speed, however, this type of ship was used primarily for courier service and, during campaigns, for the transport of orders. There is also mention of galeai being used in espionage. Other types included the supply and carrier ships like the pamphylos, which was `like a baggage-train, which will carry all the equipment of the soldiers, so that the dromons are not burdened with it; and especially in time of battle, when there is need of a small supply of weapons or other materiel, [these] undertake the distribution’.

In the non-tidal waters of the Mediterranean war galleys, like the dromons and the khelandia, would have been suitable for any sort of landing on a hostile beach, unlike the heavy and round-hulled pamphylos, which required a dock. The horse-transport units of the Byzantine fleet had been equipped with a climax since at least the early tenth century, which was a ramp used for the loading and unloading of the horses from the ship’s gunwales, either from the stern or usually from the bow. This term is mentioned in the De Ceremoniis for the Cretan expeditions of 911, 949 and 960/126 and reveals the necessary modifications to the ships when they had to carry horses, such as hatches not just to the sides but also on the decks, leading down into the holds, while further modifications would have been engineered in the hulls of the ships concerning the stabling of the horses. According to Pryor, the khelandia were indeed specialised horse transports, able to carry between twelve and twenty horses. But these must have been built differently from dromons when it comes to the dimensions of the ship’s beam, which would have been much wider to accommodate both the lower bank oarsmen and the horses. A significant structural difference between the tenth-century Byzantine transport ships and their Italian counterparts in the twelfth century was that the latter placed both banks of oarsmen on the upper deck, thus making more room for the horses in the ship’s hull.

Turning to the battle tactics of the Byzantine navy, the existence of an above-water beak in the larger warships reveals a fundamental difference between the ancient Greek and Roman naval tactics and those used by the Byzantines, at least after the early tenth century. This beak, replacing the below-water ram, possibly as early as the sixth century, indicates a change in the objectives of naval engagements, from penetrating the enemy ship’s hull below the water line to damaging the ship’s oars and upper hull and bringing it to a stop in order to board it and capture or burn it.

What is obvious in all contemporary treatises of naval warfare is the same spirit of avoidance of battle at all costs, identified as Vegetian strategy by modern historians, which characterised the Byzantine attitude towards warfare on land. The basic idea of Byzantine warfare at sea follows the simple dicta by Syrianus Magister (c. 830-40s) that `if the enemy is overwhelmingly stronger than us and a great danger hangs over our cities, then we should avoid war and overcome the enemy by wisdom rather than might’. Leo VI also strongly urges an admiral that:

You must indeed deal with the enemy through attacks and other practices and stratagems, either with the whole of the naval fleet under you or with part of it. However, without some urgent compelling reason for this, you should not rush into a general engagement. For there are many obstacles [in the workings] of so-called Tyche [Luck] and events in war [are] contrary to expectation.

When a decision to engage the enemy was taken by the senior officers, then the fleet would deploy its squadrons in several formations depending on a series of factors such as `time, by attacking the enemy at a moment when we have the winds as allies, as happens frequently with off-shore winds; place, [by using] the sea between two pieces of land, or a river, [areas] in which the numbers of the enemy are useless because of the narrowness of the sea’. The author of the Taktika provides his readers with a variety of naval formations to engage the enemy (§§50-6); the two most commonly used were the crescent-shaped and the straight line:

Sometimes [you should draw up] a crescent-shaped or sigma-shaped [i. e. C-shaped] formation in a semi-circle, with the rest of the dromons placed on one side and the other [i. e. of the flagship] like horns or hands and making sure that the stronger and larger [ships] are placed on the tip. Your Gloriousness [should be positioned], like a head in the deep of the semi-circle [. . .] The crescent arrangement should be such that, as the enemy attack, they are enclosed within the curve. Sometimes you will form the ships on an equal front in a straight [line], so that, when the need calls, [you can] attack the enemy at the prow and burn their ships with fire from the siphones.

The tactical objective of the crescent-shaped formation was for the stronger ships on the sides of the formation to overwhelm the enemy ships and then turn around and attack the rest of the formation on their exposed flanks where they were most vulnerable. Once the opposing units came into close proximity with each other they would attack the enemy ships and their crews with bows and arrows, snakes, lizards and other dangerous reptiles, pots with burning lime or tar and, of course, with Greek fire, projected either through the ship’s siphones, through small hand-siphons or thrown against the enemies in a form similar to small hand-grenades. The importance of the proper management of the preliminary missile phase was indicated by the emperor’s insistence on using the projectiles effectively, not wasting them against an enemy protected by shields, and ensuring that neither supplies were exhausted nor the crews exhausted themselves in hurling them. When the ships were close enough, boarding detachments were sent to the enemy ship and the result of the naval battle largely depended on the courage and the fighting abilities of the boarding teams. For that reason,

apart from the soldiers or the upper oarsmen, [all others] however many there might be, from the kentarkhos down to the last [man], should be kataphraktoi – having weapons such as shields, pikes, bows, extra arrows, swords, javelins, corselets, lamellar cuirasses, helmets, vambraces – especially those engaged in fighting hand to hand in the front line of attack in battle.

Finally, if we follow the writings of Leo VI, a potentially decisive weapon that came to the fore at this point of the naval engagement were the `gerania [cranes] or some similar contrivances, shaped like a gamma [A], turning in a circle, to pour either wet flaming pitch or the processed [fire] or anything else into the enemy ships when they are coupled to the dromons when the manganon is turning over them’. This technique was coupled with the thrusting of pikes from the lower bank of the dromons through the oarports, a tactic that Leo claims had only recently been devised.

Naval Mine Warfare, WWII

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EMB Mine being laid from an S-Boote. Photograph from Suddentscher Verlag.

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EMC Contact Mines aboard a Leberecht Maas class destroyer in Autumn 1940. Note the trolley rails.

Hidden, unseen, and inflicting their damage below the waterline, mines were one of the most feared naval weapons of World War II. Worldwide, mines sank 534 ships, accounting for some 1.4 million tons. Only torpedoes sank more ships than mines. The same had held true in World War I, and yet most of the great naval powers entered World War II poorly prepared to deal with mines. Only Germany and the Soviet Union included strong mine countermeasures forces in their fleets, no doubt because of their mutually bad experiences with each others’ mines in World War I. They also had the largest mine inventories at war’s start.

More significantly, Germany exploited British magnetic mine technology from World War I to produce a magnetic mine of its own. It was a technical surprise that cost the British dearly in the war’s early months, but fortunately the Germans had few in stock and their production had a low priority. Moreover, the German Navy commander, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, wasted the opportunity by using them in small numbers instead of concentrating them for a decisive effect.

The British implemented countermeasures by mid-1940 and began to develop advanced mines of their own. Thus began a technological war between the Western Allies’ mine and mine-countermeasure experts and their German counterparts. It was a war the Allies eventually won, but not without difficulty or pitfalls.

Although seemingly unglamorous and unexciting, mine warfare was a critical element of naval operations in World War II. By 1943, for example, mine-countermeasure forces constituted nearly 60 percent of the German Navy, while their Allied counterparts had grown to more than 1,100 ships and boats from a force of only two dozen at war’s start.

German minefields were the deciding factor in Russo-German naval operations in the Baltic Sea, and a major hazard to Allied shipping. Axis minefields affected Allied planning for every amphibious operation in the war except Operation TORCH in Northwest Africa. The Western Allies, on the other hand, used mine warfare to choke German Baltic coastal and river commerce during the war’s final years, while Soviet minefields severely inhibited Axis naval operations in Soviet coastal waters. In each instance, the country employing mines found them to be a cost-effective weapon, particularly in circumstances and areas where the opposition had naval supremacy.

Mines can be used either offensively or defensively, with the latter being the most common. Laying defensive minefields around key ports and coastal areas was one of the first naval actions undertaken by nations entering the war. This activity also highlights where a country either felt most vulnerable or most expected an enemy attack. These minefields served to restrict maritime movements within the mined areas to “transit lanes”—areas within the minefields, or between them, in which no mines were present.

Since mines, particularly moored mines, often drift with the tide and current and are indiscriminate in what they destroy, transit lanes had to be maintained by constant clearing. Hiding the locations of the transit lanes from the enemy was a major concern as well, since he might use the lane to penetrate the minefield or lay mines within it.

Mines are classified by how they are detonated (contact or influence) or deployed (moored, bottom, or free-floating). Contact mines explode when the target makes contact with the mine. Influence mines detonate as a result of the target’s influence on the local environment—either due to the noise it makes (acoustic mines), its effect on local water pressure (pressure mines), or magnetic attraction (magnetic mines). Moored mines are secured by cable to a casing that lies on the bottom. As the name implies, bottom mines rest on the bottom, while free-floating mines float just below the surface. There are three types of free-floating mines: drifting mines drift in the surface current; creeping mines drift at a fixed depth in the subsurface current; and oscillating mines drift at varying depths within the subsurface current.

Each type of mine has its own strengths and weaknesses. All bottom mines, for example, are influence mines and must be laid in waters less than 100 fathoms deep. Otherwise, the targets may not pass close enough to detonate the mines, or they may be too far away for the blast to be effective.

Influence mines were the most difficult to detect and counter. They also drifted less than the other types of mines, and therefore were easier to “reseed” (that is, lay additional mines in the field) and sustain. Moored mines could be either contact or influence and could be laid almost without depth restrictions. They were the easiest to detect and remove, however, and had a tendency to drift with wind and current over time. This made moored minefields more difficult to maintain.

All free-floating mines of World War II were contact mines. Almost totally random weapons, they were rarely laid in fields but generally were employed near enemy harbors or staging areas, where current and tides would preclude their becoming a threat to friendly forces. They are the most difficult mines to defeat and they are such a random hazard that international law requires free-floating mines to sink within eight hours of being laid.

The mine’s primary effectiveness is in its psychological impact. Mines can be laid by any platform (ship, plane, or submarine), encountered anywhere, and they are virtually undetectable. Thus, prudent mariners avoid known or suspected minefields. More significantly, mines require more effort to clear than they do to deploy. The best minefields include a mixture of moored and bottom, contact and influence mines, but such fields are exceptionally difficult and dangerous to lay. Whatever that difficulty, however, it is little compared to what is required to clear such a minefield.

Minesweeping was the only available method of clearing mines in World War II. So-called because the original mine-clearing equipment employed a steel cable towed behind the sweeping ship to “sweep” away the mines’ mooring cables so they would float to the surface for destruction, minesweeping was a tedious and dangerous task. The ships that carried the gear were called minesweepers.

The only available mine-countermeasures equipment at war’s start was the Oropesa sweep from World War I. Essentially a “wire sweep” that trailed behind the minesweeper, the Oropesa sweep cut cables out to about eighty meters from the sweeper. Each sweeper could conduct two sweeps, one to a side, per sweep run. The lead ship in a sweep formation had to literally “lead” the unit through the minefield. The position was normally rotated since losses among lead ships exceeded 10 percent. The trail ships also faced danger because they had to avoid, as well as destroy, the mines the lead ships released. Unfortunately, the Oropesa gear could only be used against moored mines. The introduction of German bottom magnetic mines in 1939 came as a total surprise and ultimately led to the development of influence sweep gear and degaussing equipment.

The introduction of influence sweep gear in mid-1940 marked the beginning of the technology race in the mine war. The British LL magnetic sweep used alternating electric current, pulsed through a cable towed behind the minesweeper, to detonate magnetic mines at a safe distance by simulating the passage of a ship. The Germans and the British also modified aircraft, the Ju-52 and Wellington bomber respectively, to conduct influence sweeping. Carrying huge electric coils in rings attached to their fuselage and wings, these aircraft cleared suspected minefields by flying over them at altitudes of less than forty meters. Such aircraft swept large areas of influence mines but proved vulnerable to enemy fighter aircraft.

One other countermeasure to magnetic mines that all sides used after 1940 was the elimination of ships’ magnetic signatures. Since all metal ships acquire the magnetic signature of the area in which they are built, they need a major deperming or signature removal effort to reduce their magnetic vulnerability. Maintaining that magnetically neutral signature requires the installation of electric cables along the ship’s hull. Passing electric current through those cables “degaussed” the ship (that is, prevented its developing a local magnetic signature). Degaussing equipment is a major design feature of all warships to this day.

The Germans got the mine warfare lead again later in 1940 when they introduced acoustic mines. However, Raeder employed them before they were available in large numbers. The British recovered one in August 1940, and one month later put a mechanical acoustic sweep into service that could defeat the German acoustic mine. Unfortunately, sound dampening the equipment on British ships proved too expensive to implement during the war, although they did do it in minesweeping units. The Germans countered by producing a combined acoustic/magnetic mine, but the British soon developed minesweeping tactics to counter it as well.

The Allies were not idle in mine development, Great Britain developed magnetic mines in World War I and employed them again beginning in April 1940. The Germans countered by developing their own magnetic influence sweeps. They also built a specific class of magnetic sweep ships, called Sperrbrecher. Equipped with huge electric coils in their bows to project a strong magnetic field ahead of them, these specially reinforced ships had shock-mounted equipment and other damage reducing features to survive mine detonations. The Germans used these units to lead coastal convoys through suspected and likely enemy minefields. They became increasingly important in the war’s final two years, as the Western Allies, in particular, laid more and larger minefields.

The Germans began to employ mines with arming delay mechanisms in late 1941. The mines could also be set to arm from six hours to twelve days after they were laid. Hence, a field thought safe after multiple sweeps could suddenly become active. The Germans also introduced refinements in their acoustic mine sensors, lowering the frequencies monitored and targeting specific ship equipment, making it more difficult for Allied sweep gear to simulate. They also began to employ multiple polarity magnetic mines and finally, ship counters to complicate sweep efforts—that is, the mines required a variety of magnetic phenomena to detonate and allowed a preset number of ships to pass by safely before they would detonate. Thus, an area was not truly clear until the entire field had been swept to the maximum “number” that an enemy mine could be set. Moreover, the sweep gear had to simulate a wider variety of magnetic signatures to detonate the mine.

Both the Germans and Western Allies had combined acoustic/magnetic mines with ship counters and variable arming delays in service by late 1943, when the Germans introduced their latest technical innovation, the bottom pressure or “oyster” mine. These mines were detonated by the pressure wave a ship generated as it moved through the water. No minesweeper could simulate that wave since each pressure wave was unique to the size and speed of a ship.

Determined not to repeat Raeder’s mistakes from earlier in the war, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz waited until the Allied Normandy landings to employ oyster mines. By then, however, he lacked the means to lay the mines in the invasion area. Only a handful could be deployed. Had they been laid in the invasion fleet’s assembly areas, they would have had a devastating effect. As it was, after some nasty surprises, the Allies easily avoided the few areas where these mines were laid. A few were recovered and the technology incorporated into Allied mines used against the Germans in the war’s closing months.

Although the Germans developed the most technologically advanced mines of the European theater, they did not employ mines to their maximum effect. Missing several opportunities to exploit their advantages both early and late in the war, the German mine warfare effort was further weakened because it supported only naval operations. Allied mine warfare operations were more opportunistic and better integrated into their overall war effort. Thus, they employed mines effectively to cut German commerce on the Danube and other river systems critical to the German economy as part of the overall Allied strategy of attacking Germany’s infrastructure.

Allied mining was also geared to support the Allied ground campaign in Italy by interdicting German coastal convoys supporting German ground forces. A similar German mining effort directed at the Soviet river and coastal navigation system would have paid huge dividends for the German war effort on that most critical front. As it was, naval mine warfare represents yet another area in which the Germans wasted their initial lead and regained it too late to affect the war.

Additional Reading

Bekker, Cajus, Hitler’s Naval War (1974).

Campbell, John, Naval Weapons of World War II (1985).

Hartmann, Gregory K., Weapons That Wait (1979).

Hough, Richard, The Longest Battle (1986).

‘screw gun’

A mountain artillery crew from the British Indian Army demonstrating assembly of the RML 2.5 inch Mountain Gun, circa 1895.

It seems the idea of a gun in two parts had its origin in Russia, having been proposed bin 1876 by Captain Kolokolzor, Director of a factory at Obuchow.

In 1877 Colonel le Mesurier RA proposed an RML 7-pr (2.5-inch) steel gun made in two parts which screwed together, hence ‘screw gun’, the piece eulogised by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) in his poem on the subject. Twelve guns to le Mesurier’s design made by the Elswick Ordnance Company (Armstrong’s firm) were sent to Afganistan in 1879 and proved so satisfactory that a large number to a similar design were made at the Royal Gun Factory for the service. The RGF guns, designated Mark 2, differed from the EOC pattern mainly internally, eg in the shape of the sealing rings.

Rifling consisted of eight PPS grooves, 0.05-in deep, with a twist increasing from one turn in 80 calibres to one in 30 at 3.53 inches from the muzzle, the remainder being uniform at that pitch.

Gun and carriage dismantled were carried by five mules. The screw gun remained the armament of British mountain batteries until after the South African War (1899-1902). It was not popular among Gunners; although cordite had been introduced in 1892 ‘screw gun’ cartridges were still filled with gunpowder, the smoke from which advertised a gun’s position every time it fired.

Two mules each carried a third of the piece, a third the carriage, a fourth the wheels, and the fifth the rest, ie the axletree, elevating gear, rammer and other stores.

In its day the screw gun was considered the best mountain gun of its kind in the world.

Screw-Guns

by Rudyard Kipling

Smokin’ my pipe on the mountings, sniffin’ the mornin’ cool,

I walks in my old brown gaiters along o’ my old brown mule,

With seventy gunners be’ind me, an’ never a beggar forgets

It’s only the pick of the Army

that handles the dear little pets — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns — the screw-guns they all love you!

So when we call round with a few guns,

o’ course you will know what to do — hoo! hoo!

Jest send in your Chief an’ surrender —

it’s worse if you fights or you runs:

You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees,

but you don’t get away from the guns!

They sends us along where the roads are, but mostly we goes where they ain’t:

We’d climb up the side of a sign-board an’ trust to the stick o’ the paint:

We’ve chivied the Naga an’ Looshai, we’ve give the Afreedeeman fits,

For we fancies ourselves at two thousand,

we guns that are built in two bits — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

If a man doesn’t work, why, we drills ‘im an’ teaches ‘im ‘ow to behave;

If a beggar can’t march, why, we kills ‘im an’ rattles ‘im into ‘is grave.

You’ve got to stand up to our business an’ spring without snatchin’ or fuss.

D’you say that you sweat with the field-guns?

By God, you must lather with us — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

The eagles is screamin’ around us, the river’s a-moanin’ below,

We’re clear o’ the pine an’ the oak-scrub,

we’re out on the rocks an’ the snow,

An’ the wind is as thin as a whip-lash what carries away to the plains

The rattle an’ stamp o’ the lead-mules —

the jinglety-jink o’ the chains — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

There’s a wheel on the Horns o’ the Mornin’,

an’ a wheel on the edge o’ the Pit,

An’ a drop into nothin’ beneath you as straight as a beggar can spit:

With the sweat runnin’ out o’ your shirt-sleeves,

an’ the sun off the snow in your face,

An’ ‘arf o’ the men on the drag-ropes

to hold the old gun in ‘er place — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

Smokin’ my pipe on the mountings, sniffin’ the mornin’ cool,

I climbs in my old brown gaiters along o’ my old brown mule.

The monkey can say what our road was —

the wild-goat ‘e knows where we passed.

Stand easy, you long-eared old darlin’s!

Out drag-ropes! With shrapnel! Hold fast — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns — the screw-guns they all love you!

So when we take tea with a few guns,

o’ course you will know what to do — hoo! hoo!

Jest send in your Chief an’ surrender —

it’s worse if you fights or you runs:

You may hide in the caves, they’ll be only your graves,

but you can’t get away from the guns!

Here’s some general info on Indian Mountain Batteries of Screw Guns

The oldest Indian army Mountain Batteries were first raised around 1827. By the time of the Indian mutiny there were 3 such batteries, and by the time of the Great War, this rose to a total of 28 units. Although light in caliber, the guns of Mountain Batteries were designed to be disassembled and transported by pack mule in up to eight loads for use in terrain that would otherwise be impossible to traverse with larger and more conventional artillery. (note 1)

Each gun and its first line ammunition was carried in parts on six mules with a relief team of another six. In India, a Royal Artillery Mountain Battery had six guns, 219 mules and an establishment of 174 British all ranks with an additional 94 Indian muleteers who led the relief and baggage mules (note 4)

The earliest guns were the tiny 3 Pounder SBML (Smooth Bore Muzzle Loading) and 4 2/5 Inch SBML howitzer of c.1850. These were replaced in 1865 by the 7 Pounder RML (Rifled Muzzle Loading) and this in turn was replaced in 1879 by the significantly improved and significantly heavier 2.5 inch RML, also known as Kipling’s Screw Gun (all mountain gun types from this 2.5 inch RML on had barrels that split in two for transport). (note 1)

During the Afghan War Gen Williams who had come from England, declared that there were only three things worth seeing in India, namely the Taj at Agra, the way General Jough handled Cavalry Brigade and the Hazara Mountain Battery. (note 2)

This mountain gun was based on a new system invented by Colonel Le Mesurier in 1876. A new type of gunpowder had been invented but the barrel that was able to use it had to be longer and so heavier. While the carriage and wheels were carried in their parts by mules as usual, the new system was to have the barrel in two parts, each of one mule-load. These were joined by a trunnion ring attached to the muzzle section which allowed it to be ‘screwed’ to the breech section. The completed barrel length was 66.5 ins. with a diameter of 2.5 ins. The shell weighed 7lbs. Currently, one of these guns is on show at Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich. (note 3)

The mule gun train consisted of five mules, the first two mules for each part of the barrel, a third for the wheels, a forth for the carriage and the fifth for the other parts (elevating gear, axletree etc, note 3)

Camel Mounted Versions: As part of the Khartoum Relief Column, the Naval Brigade had one five-barrelled Gardner gun with four camels to carry it; one for the barrels, one for the wheels and elevating gear, one for the trail, and one for the ammunition. The Camel Battery of the Royal Artillery had three 7 pdr. screw guns. Each gun, plus two boxes of ammunition, were carried on six camels with one native driver allotted to every two camels. The guns were usually put in the corners of the square, or placed in smaller fortified zaribas outside of the main square. (note 5).

During the battle of Abu Klea, the 5th Battery, 15th Brigade’s Royal Artillery guns were pushed out to the edge of the British square to fire at the charging enemy. The guns each managed to fire one round of case-shot, cutting down many of the enemy, before they reached the square and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. (note 6)

R.A. and R.E.: Both the artillery and the engineers were dressed in the grey khaki uniform issued in Egypt. One photo of an R. E. officer shows him in full khaki with no puttees, and with his helmet a darker shade with than his uniform (Sandes, photo opp. p. 114). The R.A. were armed with three 2.5″ rifled muzzle loading screw guns, each carried by five camels, (Headlam, pp. 211, 218-19, note 5).

Howard Whitehouse (note7) points out that a major campaign had the effect of creating a boom in the prices for ANY pack animal, and then beasts that were old or sick often commanded double the proper price that they cost in peaceful times. Maybe this explains why camels have such a vast difference in the rated loads, from one source to another (anywhere from 250 pounds to 800 pounds!)

The End of Schorner’s Army Group Centre

Territories held by Germany (1st May, 1945)

The story of Ferdinand Schorner’s Army Group Centre, which formed the ‘balcony’ on the left or southern flank of the Russian forces operating on the Berlin axis. Schorner (promoted to field-marshal 5 April) deployed the Fourth Panzer Army along the border hills with Silesia to the north, the powerful First Panzer Army (Heinrici’s old command) in the Mahrisch-Ostrau industrial region to the north-east, and the Seventeenth Army prolonging the line to the south-west.

The ethnic ‘Czechs’ were quiescent until 3 and 4 May, when the railways were paralysed by strikes, and red flags began to appear at house windows. Communist partisan groups took the initiative in the open combat which broke out in Prague on 5 May, and on the next day the struggle took a bizarre but decisive turn when a force of Russians in German uniforms fought their way into the city. This was the 1st Division of General Andrei Vlasov’s Army, which had been recruited by the Germans from Russian prisoners of war, and had new turned against its new masters. Vlasov’s double turncoats were now in the position of being at war with both the German and Soviet armies, and the 1st Division retreated from Prague on 7 May before the Soviet forces could arrive on the scene.

The last two days of the war found about 1 million German troops still in ‘Czechoslovakia.’ The general direction of their movement was towards the west, for they hoped to be received as prisoners by the Americans. Their rearguards meanwhile executed a fighting retreat in the face of the Soviet forces, of which the most dangerous were the armoured spearheads of Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front, thrusting into Bohemia from the north. The authority for this ‘organised flight to the West’ was given on 7 May by Army Group Commander Schorner at the suggestion of his chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Oldwig von Natzmer, who had received an order from the OKW telling him that a cease-fire must come into force at midnight on 8-9 May.

The Germans were naturally ignorant of the radio conversations which had opened late in April between the Soviet chief of staff, General Antonov, and the Allied commander-in-chief, General Eisenhower. The Soviets were anxious to rein the Americans back in the Bohmerwald and western Bohemia, and so leave the Russians with a clear run to Prague and the open country behind. On 4 May Eisenhower agreed to hold the American forces behind the line Karlsbad-Pilsen-Budweis, and when at the end of hostilities the German troops approached the Bohmerwald, they found that the Americans refused to take any more of them under their wing. A number of small parties infiltrated through, but most of the Germans had to resign themselves to being taken into captivity by the Russians.

We do not know with complete certainty what happened to Field-Marshal Schorner until he was recognised on 18 May by some civilians in eastern Austria, where his light aircraft had crash-landed. He was taken into custody by German officers acting under American authority, and he was duly passed to the Russians. Schorner was imprisoned as a war criminal in the Soviet Union until 1955, when he was released and returned to his native Bavaria. He was now confronted by angry German veterans seeking revenge for the thousands of their comrades who had been executed on his orders in the last stages of the war. In 1957 Schorner was sentenced to four and a half years of imprisonment on a specimen charge of manslaughter. He lived for ten years after his release and died in 1973.

There are two contradictory versions of what had happened to Schorner in that mysterious second week of May in 1945. According to Lieutenant Helmut Dirning, his aide-de-camp, Schorner had made good his escape in direct obedience to an order from Hitler to take command of an ultimate ‘National Redoubt’ in Bavaria. It should be noticed, however, that Dirning was a cousin of Schorner, and that he had not accompanied him on his flight from Bohemia. A much more circumstantial account was left by his chief of staff, Lieutenant-General von Natzmer. The story began at Josephstadt on 7 May, when Schorner stuffed his briefcase with money and told von Natzmer that he was going to escape by light aircraft, for he was too compromised to allow himself to fall into the hands of the Soviets. He offered some of the money to von Natzmer in case he too decided to run, but ‘in a cold and dismissive voice von Natzmer drew Schorner’s attention to the fact that on the next day the army group would be marching for its life. At such a juncture the commander should not abandon his troops, for never was higher direction more necessary than now’ (Thorwald, 1951, 362). Schorner replied that he had already given everyone in the army group freedom to escape to the west, and he was now merely claiming the same liberty for himself.

On the morning of 8 May Schorner’s car took off at such speed that von Natzmer’s vehicle was hard-pressed to keep up. There was no sign of the promised Fieseler Storch at Saaz, and the party remained there until a number of Russian tanks appeared on the northern side of the airfield and opened fire. The mad chase was resumed, and continued to Podhorsan, where it was discovered that a Storch had landed in a nearby meadow. Von Natzmer needed the aircraft desperately as a means of establishing communication with the Seventeenth Army and the First Panzer Army, which were out of radio contact, but when he addressed himself once more to Schorner, he found that the field-marshal had dosed himself very heavily with alcohol and had contrived to change into Bavarian national costume. Early on 9 May Schorner browbeat the elderly sentries into handing the Storch over to him, and he took off for the west.

Field Marshal Ferdinand Schorner (center), Commander of Germans forces in Czechoslovakia, is pictured May 25, 1945, under guard in a US, Army jeep of the 42nd Infantry (‘Rainbow’) in Austria.

The Last Days

When Hitler committed suicide, his Political Testament came into force, and Grand-Admiral Karl Doenitz was appointed president of the Reich and supreme commander of the Wehrmacht. On 2 May he made his first and most significant entry in his war diary: ‘At the present stage of affairs the principal aim of the government must be to save as many as possible of our German men from destruction by Bolshevism.’

At that time substantial bodies of German troops were still scattered over Eastern and Central Europe. Many of the Germans were assured of falling into Western captivity, such as the divisions in Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria and the Tyrol. Others were doomed to be taken by the Russians, like the 190,000 men of Army Group North in Kurland (surrendered 10 May), the troops still holding out in the Vistula delta to the southeast of Danzig and the embattled garrison of Breslau (surrendered 6 May). All the rest were imploding from the line which up to now had been holding firm eastwards along the Sudetens to the region of Mahrisch-Ostrau, then south across eastern Moravia, the Danube valley and the Austrian Alps to northeastern Yugoslavia. Out of these forces about 1.5 million troops were able to disengage themselves from the Eastern Front between 1 and 9 May, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Western Allies, from whom they expected to have basic guarantees of their lives and welfare. Such hopes were not always fulfilled.

The official end of hostilities came on 9 May 1945, though some fighting continued east of Prague until the eleventh, and the surrender of the German forces in Yugoslavia was not completed until the fifteenth. The last remnant of the Third Reich was eliminated on 23 May, when a British armoured brigade captured Grand-Admiral Doenitz and his provisional government in their refuge on the Baltic.

The German defeat in 1945 was inevitable, given the weight of Allied material superiority, especially on the Eastern Front, and the fact that the Alliance held together politically. It remains to ask why the Germans lost in the particular way they did, and here every line of enquiry leads to the conclusion that the Germany of the Third Reich, for all its banners and stamping, fell short of being a united community in many fundamental respects.

As Colonel-General Guderian was aware, Hitler and some of his closest associates were men of the Danube or the Rhine, who awakened too late to the mortal danger to the old Prussian heartland of the Reich. It is striking how at the lower levels of command also the Germans attached so much importance to a man’s roots as part of his qualifications for such and such a task. It was judged important, for example, that General Krappe was a Pomeranian, Schulz a Silesian, von Saucken an East Prussian, and that Greiser hailed from the Warthegau. Panzerknacker Rudel arranged for his wing of Stukas to be moved from Hungary as soon as he learned that his native Silesia was under attack.

Real or supposed local origins account for the fate of Colonel-General Erhard Raus, who was dismissed from the command of the Third Panzer Army on 10 March. His end was welcomed by some elements of regional opinion, for he was ‘a native of Austria, and therefore alien to the land and people of Pomerania’ (Murawski, 1969, 72). The immediate cause, however, was a ludicrous episode in Hitler’s bunker, where Raus had gone to deliver a report on the state of his army. Guderian writes that he himself found the exposition outstandingly lucid. When he had finished Hitler dismissed him without comment. Raus had scarcely left the Chancellery shelter, where this conference had taken place, before Hitler turned to Keitel, Jodl and myself and shouted: ‘What a miserable speech! The man talked of nothing but details. Judging by the way he speaks he must be a Berliner or an East Prussian. He must be relieved of his command at once!’ I replied: ‘Colonel-General Raus is one of our most capable Panzer generals. . . . And as for his origin, Raus is an Austrian and therefore a compatriot of yours, my Führer.’

HITLER: ‘Absolutely impossible. He can’t be an Austrian.’

JODL: ‘Oh yes he can, my Fuhrer. He talks exactly like Moser, the actor.’ Hitler’s opinion of him remained unfavourable. When I pointed out that we had no surfeit of good generals my remark was ignored. Raus was relieved of his command. (Guderian, 1952, 420-21)

The fundamental disunity of the Reich was also evident in matters of organisation. Competition for authority and resources was shown in the lack of coordination in the development of weapons, the hoarding of ammunition and fuel, and the tardy and broken-backed mobilisation for Total War in 1944. Likewise the dissensions between Party and Wehrmacht were responsible for the lack of effective defence in depth on the Eastern Front, and for the deaths or needless misery of millions of civilian refugees.

When the Reich neared its end, it became clear that leaders had been fighting for different ‘Germanies.’ On the one side the moral contagion of those closest to the Nazi system became unmistakable. Field-Marshal Schorner, and those brown-jacketed heaps of filth the Gauleiters Greiser, Schwede-Coburg, Koch and Hanke were unsparing of the lives of others as long as there was a Nazi order to defend, and they then attended with great speed to their own safety. In contrast, Germany was honoured by the devotion of men like Hossbach, Reinhardt, von Tettau, von Saucken, Lasch, von Ahlfen, von Niehoff and many others, who proved that human responsibility could still be reconciled with soldierly duty.

Barbary Wars –US Marines I

Date: 14 May 1801 to 30 June 1816.

Location: North Africa. Involved: Various North African nations, Algeria, Morocco, Tunis, and mainly Tripoli, versus the United States.

Situation: For many centuries, in order to sail the Mediterranean with as little harm as possible, most European nations paid tribute to various Barbary nations. Otherwise their ships would be attacked and captured, and their sailors made slaves; this sometimes happened even if they did pay. The U. S. was also forced to pay until 1816.

The U. S. Enterprise, with 12 guns and 90 men, was sailing the Mediterranean on 1 August when it fought its first action against the new enemy off North Africa. This was when it encountered the Tripolitan polacra1 Tripoli of 14 guns and 80 men. Captain Andrew Sterrett was flying a British flag when he approached the polacra and requested information about what that ship’s master intended to do. Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous told him, “I’m looking for Americans … but haven’t found a one.” “You have now,” responded Sterrett, raising the American colors and ordering a volley of musketry fire. Three times the Africans tried to board the Enterprise, but the Marine detachment’s firing, led by 2nd Lt. Enoch C. Lane, was especially deadly at close range. The Marines are credited with sweeping the decks clear of the occupants each time they attempted to board. After three hours of bombardment and musketry fire, the Americans boarded the Tripoli and found the ship completely shot to pieces. The dead numbered 30, as did the wounded. Only 20 men remained able to serve the ship and its guns. After the enemy surrendered Sterrett took stock of his own ship and found that not one American had a scratch. After many years of insult and abuse, the Tripolitan’s enemy was unwilling to take it any more.

Because orders did not allow taking prizes, as in the past wars, Sterrett set about abuse so grand that the admiral was publically disgraced upon returning to his home port. The enemy ship had all cannons rolled overboard, and all ammunition and weapons, including cutlasses, muskets, and pistols, were also thrown into the sea. The masts were chopped down, leaving but a single spar with a ragged sail, just enough to make it to the nearest port. News of the destruction spread and caused the Tripolitan sailors engaged in preparing new ships to hide, which effectively kept the Tripolitan fleet from sailing out to meet the enemy for an entire season. Only those already at sea were still dangerous to any American vessel.

Keeping an effective blockade on the port of Tripoli was difficult. Two Tripolitan gunboats attacked both the Philadelphia and Essex on 29 September in order to try to break up the “noose” closing in on Tripoli’s importation of food and ammunition. The ships fought back and while the gunboats were damaged they managed to return to port. Congress recognized that the four-ship fleet of Comm. Richard Dale was not sufficient to close all the ports of North Africa and soon new ships were being prepared for sea duty off North Africa.

War was declared by the Congress against Tripoli on 6 February 1802 and instructions were forwarded to Dale to begin operations against the Bashaw and his subjects. Over the course of the next several months several ships joined Dale’s little fleet, including the Boston on 16 May.

Morocco declared war upon the United States on 22 June, thereby adding a powerful foe to those the U. S. already had in the area. They controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean and would have a grave impact on the ongoing war with Tripoli. The U. S. ships, aided by the Swedish fleet, continued to have serious encounters with the Tripolitans all during this year. The Bashaw went so far as to parade his 6,000-man army on the beaches to frighten or at least to impress Dale, which failed its purpose. Commodore Richard Valentine Morris, newly commanding the Mediterranean U. S. fleet, decided on 9 May 1803 that it was long past time to be active against Tripoli.

Meanwhile, a Marine Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon wrote the commandant and let him know how disgusted he was with the whole affair of sitting in “that hell-hole, Gibralter” and how happy he was to be back close to the scene of possible action. Recently arrived Marines and shipmates aboard Capt. John Rodgers’ ship John Adams were in for very busy period. They caught seven Tripolitan gunboats attempting to break the blockade and severely punished them. Then Rodgers and his men chased, caught, and captured the Moroccan ship Meshouda, bringing her back to Malta as a prize. Captain Rodgers led a three-ship excursion toward three Tripolitan merchantmen making an effort to escape, but they reversed direction and ran ashore. Marines and sailors were sent ashore as a landing party to destroy the three merchantmen. Naval Lt. David Porter (later to become one of the most famous of all Navy men and grandfather of a Marine hero) led the party ashore, destroying the ships, and they made their way back to the ships with few casualties, one being a wounded porter.

On 2 June Marines and sailors from the squadron were sent ashore to burn 10 more boats. Twenty days later the John Adams answered a signal flag from the Enterprise, located in the harbor of Tripoli. She had engaged a larger Tripolitan ship, a polacra of 22 guns, and needed help. Enterprise had been pumping shells point-blank into the ship, however, and within an hour the enemy crew abandoned the ship. John Adams had sent Marines and some crew to take the supposedly vacated polacra when all of a sudden she was blown up. Her hull split in two and down she went, taking the Americans with her.

Peace with Morocco was reestablished on 12 October, which made transit past its shores much easier for the American Navy. But, at the end of the month, serious trouble would happen. On the 31st the second-largest American ship in the Mediterranean fleet, the Philadelphia, ran up on an unmarked reef in the Tripoli bay. The smaller Vixen, which had been accompanying Philadelphia, had been set astray by a heavy wind and was 300 miles away off Cape Bon. It was soon evident to the Tripolitans that the Philadelphia was in trouble and small boats from shore were sent out to test her combat ability. Because of the ship’s location and position upon the reef, the starboard side was not able to do anything, so the Tripolitan boats came in on that side. Captain William Bainbridge decided that there wasn’t much they could do and that surrender was his only alternative. He ordered the ship to be scuttled but failure by the ship’s carpenter to pierce the bottom sufficiently allowed the ship to be taken. The enemy also captured 235 seamen, 41Marines and 33 commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The Marine officer in command was 1st Lt. William S. Osborne. Private William Ray, a Marine, later wrote that the men begged Bainbridge not to surrender but to fight and try to get the ship refloated, but the captain persisted. As a result, they spent 19 months in captivity.

The rest of the U. S. fleet in the waters continued to fight most effectively. Covering all the ports of Tripoli constituted a huge problem for Comm. Edward Preble, aboard the Constitution, his lone 44-gun frigate now that the Philadelphia was gone. His much thinned-out Mediterranean fleet now consisted of but two brigs, Argus and Siren, 16 guns each, and three schooners, Enterprise, Vixen, and Nautilus, with 12 guns each. He had placed Tripoli under a blockade with his minuscule fleet, and was now in dire straits trying to cover all the exits.

However, there were some bright moments. On 16 February 1804 the Intrepid commanded by Lt. Stephen Decatur, with 60 volunteers, eight of whom were Marines led by Sgt. Solomon Wren, entered Tripoli’s harbor and there boarded and burned the Philadelphia, which was still hung up on a reef. At least there was no chance the enemy would have it to sail and fight against its comrades. Incidentally, the U. S. offered $100,000 for the safe release of its men, which was refused.

In the meantime, Preble had been assembling more boats and on 20 May had acquired gunboats with a 24 pounder and mortar boats, each with a 13-inch brass sea mortar, from the Neopolitan king’s navy, and some of that king’s subjects to help man them. Preble assigned sailors and Marines to each boat to carry the fight directly into Tripoli Harbor and divided his formation into two divisions. Lieutenant Richard Somers commanded the 1st Division and Lt. Stephen Decatur, the 2nd Division. Each of these boats was going up against better armed, with 18 to 26 pounders each, and more numerous enemy, but Preble was a fighter and this failed to deter him.

On 3 August Tripolitan boats began coming out toward Preble’s fleet and he decided to make them “pay for their insolence.” At 1400 Preble gave the command and each mortar boat pumped its shells down upon the oncoming enemy. The first boat to get into the action was that mastered by Decatur, which headed for nine Tripolitan boats. He had his Marines shower all with musket fire, causing the enemy heavy casualties. Commanding a boat in Somers’ division, Lt. James Decatur, younger brother of Stephen, pulled ahead and joined Stephen’s group. The four boats were soon up to their necks in Tripolitans. The first enemy boat taken was leaderless. The captain had been hit by numerous musket balls and left no one to command.

For the subject of various paintings, artists would later utilize the hand-to-hand fighting that ensued that afternoon. Casualties for the Tripolitans numbered in the hundreds while, at the end of the fight, Decatur’s loss was but one dead, his brother James, and three sailors wounded. The boat that killed James soon fled but Decatur followed him. After Decatur caught the enemy boat they fought for about 20 minutes before he managed to kill the Tripolitan captain that he blamed for his brother’s death. During the fight a Turk had been wrestling with Decatur and had him on the deck. He raised his scimitar but a sailor, Daniel Fraser, leaped between them and received the blow on his head. Meanwhile, a Marine raised his musket and killed the Turk before he could finish off Decatur or Fraser. Both men survived, the former to go on to greater glory in the years ahead. He was a real fighting sailor and pride of the U. S. Navy. From that date, 3 September, Marines participated in the constant shelling of Tripoli. Meanwhile, the next serious blow against Tripoli was going to be on land.

Barbary Wars –US Marines II

Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon at Derna, 1805

After several years of demanding and receiving tribute, then attacking American ships, on 10 May 1804 the Bashaw of Tripoli declared war upon the U. S. On the 14th he had the flagstaff cut down before the American consulate. This was the formal beginning of the so-called Barbary Wars. William Eaton, the local American consul and adventurer, promised to rectify the situation and persuaded President Thomas Jefferson that it would be easy for him to stir up a revolt against the Bashaw of Tripoli. The president was anxious to believe that and gave Eaton permission to make the attempt.

A Marine officer, 2nd Lt. Presley O’Bannon, had been assigned to him along with six enlisted Marines (names below). This part of the war would be the only land combat in the entire period.

In October 1804, O’Bannon, with the U. S. fleet at Malta, was transferred to the Constitution and three days later to the brig Argus, commanded by Isaac Hull. This ship had received special orders to pick up William Eaton and convey him and his “command” to Alexandria, Egypt.

At Alexandria, Eaton had brought along a willing O’Bannon, Navy officer Joshua Blake, two midshipmen, Eli E. Danielson and George Washington Mann, and a few assorted adventurers. He made arrangements to gather the deposed Tripolitan Bashaw Hamet, while O’Bannon recruited more adventurers in the sea-port town: 67 “Christian” (meaning Greek) mercenaries and 90 Arabs. Midshipman Pascal Paoli Peck and seven Marines from aboard the Argus constituted the entire “army.”

For ten days the army moved westward along the northern coast of Africa toward Derna without encountering serious trouble. On the 18th Eaton had trouble with the camel drivers. Several days later 230 Arabs on horse and foot joined them. As they moved westward, disputes with the Arabs were continuous, but each was eventually settled. At one point only the Americans and a few Christians stood between total revolt and continuing to advance. A few days later the Christians revolted because their food was gone and water was severely limited. By chance three American ships were off Bomba; provisions were landed and once again, all was well. So far the little expedition had traveled over 500 miles across deserts, frequently without water, and with little food.

Eaton requested another hundred Marines but Comm. Samuel Barron refused, although he did return the volunteers, Midshipmen Danielson and Mann. On 23 April their trek resumed. Meanwhile, the Bashaw became alarmed at Eaton’s threat to the fortress of Derna and sent reinforcements from Tripoli. That discouraged Hamet and his Arabs, who had anticipated a bloodless victory. Eaton was forced to bribe them to go on. Two days later, on 25 April, Eaton and his motley force arrived upon the hills overlooking the walled city of Derna.

Eaton at once sent the Bey of Derna a note demanding surrender. The Bey, obviously sure of his 800 defenders, replied simply, “My head or yours.” One field piece was landed via the offshore Nautilus and that was followed by gunfire from the three U. S. ships just a hundred or so yards offshore. Eaton placed the Christian forces under O’Bannon’s command, and Hamet and his Arab horsemen in reserve.

The Marine lieutenant with his command of six Marines and 26 Greeks, plus a few Arabs on foot, were to be the assaulting force. Enemy artillery fire was soon canceled out by the ships’ firing, and the small force charged the defenders. The latter believed in the old adage “There is safety in flight.” O’Bannon and his Marines went over the walls and soon planted the national colors upon a fortress high above the city. There were, however, several counterattacks, all of which failed, and the remaining Marines forestalled any serious attempt by the defenders to stand their ground. The situation was far from bright. In his original attack, though O’Bannon had suffered a modest 14 casualties, three of those were Marines. With only six to begin with, the Marine casualty rate was 50 percent. As Eaton was to report, “The detail I have given of Mr. O’Bannon’s conduct needs no encomium.” He added, “it is believed the disposition our government has always discovered to encourage merit, will be extended to this intrepid, judicious, and enterprising Officer.”

The month of May saw continued efforts to throw the Americans out of Derna, all of which failed. At the end of May, O’Bannon drove off a 50-man attack with his three remaining Marines supported by 35 Christians. A few days later O’Bannon led a feint which forced the Tripolitans to withdraw from the city entirely. Once more, on 11 June, the Bashaw sent another large force to retake Derna, which also failed miserably. On that evening the U. S. ship Constitution arrived with orders to Eaton: Peace had been signed and he and his men were to withdraw from Derna.

William Eaton was terribly disappointed, being sure that with one hundred Marines he could have easily taken all of Tripoli. Tobias Lear, American counsel at Alexandria, had negotiated the, as it later turned out, disadvantageous treaty. But at the time he made complimentary remarks about Eaton, O’Bannon and “our brave countrymen,” meaning the six other Marines. O’Bannon and his three remaining Marines (names below) returned to the Argus. In the summer of 1806 the ship set sail for the United States.

The previous March the Congress had passed a resolution praising the courage, valor, and zeal of the Americans involved. Kind words throughout but little else. On 26 December 1805, O’Bannon’s home state, Virginia, passed a resolution authorizing a sword be created and presented to him. It was designed after a bejeweled Mameluke sword which Hamet had presented to O’Bannon, but which subsequently had disappeared. That sword design is the origin of today’s Marine officer sword. The original Virginia gift now resides in the Marine Museum.

The names of the Marines who accompanied O’Bannon on his hazardous tour are as follows: Acting Sgt. Arthur Campbell; Pvt. Bernard O’ Brien; Pvt. David Thomas, wounded in action on 27 April 1805; Pvt. James Owens; Pvt. John Whitten, killed in action on 27 April 1805; and finally, Pvt. Edward Steward, who died of wounds on 30 May 1805. Not all was victory; the U. S. was forced to pay a ransom of $60,000 to free the American prisoners from the capture of the Philadelphia. The terms did specify there would not be further harassment of American ships in the area.

President Madison approved an act of Congress on 3 March 1815 authorizing force against the Dey of Algiers because of depredations against American ships and the enslavement of their crews. It wouldn’t be until the month of June that any serious counter-action would be taken against the Algerians. On the 17th Comdr. Stephen Decatur’s squadron caught the Algerian frigate Mashuda off Cape de Gat and the Marines were especially cited by Decatur as providing excellent musketry fire from the tops. Two days later they took another Algerian ship, the brig Estedio off Cape Palos, where he again cited the effective fire of Marines as helping greatly in forcing the surrender of the Algerian ship.

At the end of the month, the Dey of Algiers realized that the game was up and signed a no question treaty with the United States. Then, on 31 July, a peace treaty was signed with the Bey of Tunis. This was followed on 9 August with a treaty of peace signed by the Bashaw of Tripoli. These would effectively end all payment of tribute to the nations of North Africa. Decatur obtained a treaty on 30 June, another with Tunis on 26 July and another with Tripoli effective 5 August, all in 1816.

Results: Warfare between the U. S. and various North African states lasted for more than 15 years and the final outcome was a barely visible victory. During the earlier years the USN, with a variety of commanding officers, did rather poorly trying to control access to and from the various nations being blockaded. A major success was the taking and holding of the city of Derna by O’Bannon until at least 11 June 1805. After numerous failed attempts to retake the city, the Pasha signed a peace treaty with the U. S. ending payment of tribute to Tripoli. The treaty subsequently faltered and was rehabilitated on 5 August 1816. However, it wasn’t until that year, more than ten years after Derna, that the USN finally stopped payment of tribute.