Tom Hardy’s character’s experience in the Dunkirk movie most closely resembles that of New Zealand Spitfire pilot Alan Christopher Deere.

Dunkirk (2017) History vs. Hollywood

When Allied defense against the German FALL GELB operation broke, London organized Operation DYNAMO: a desperate withdrawal of 340,000 British, Commonwealth, and other Allied (120,000 French and 20,000 Belgian) troops from the beaches and port of Dunkirk. The operation lasted from May 25 to June 2, 1940. Many clamored aboard rescue ships without even basic equipment, while all tanks, trucks, and heavy weapons were abandoned on the beaches. This massive amphibious retreat was made necessary by a German breakthrough that split the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and some French and Belgian divisions from the rest of the French Army which forced surrender by Belgium on May 28. There was significant misunderstanding and hostility at first between British and French troops in the enclave, as most of the French who were evacuated were not embarked until nearly all British troops had already left. The main reason was that the French High Command refused to accept the need for any evacuations until after the Belgian surrender on May 28, but later used the British evacuation as an excuse for military failure and signature of the armistice on June 22.

The evacuation was accomplished with the aid of hundreds of civilian craft of all types and sizes, the famed “Little Ships” that included personal yachts, London river barges, and fishing vessels. But mainly it was carried out by Royal Navy minesweepers, destroyers, and other warships. A heroic rearguard defense was made by elements of French 1st Army and selected British and Canadian units, while the RAF fended off Luftwaffe attacks on the beaches and ships and the Royal Navy fought off German E-boats. The RAF lost nearly 200 fighters over nine days defending the Dunkirk enclave; the Luftwaffe lost 240 planes attacking it. The Allies also lost 9 large warships ships and 9 destroyers, with 19 more destroyers damaged. Daylight ship runs stopped on June 1. Another 60,000 French troops and elements of the British perimeter force were evacuated under cover of night on June 2.

Escape of over 320,000 enemy soldiers from Dunkirk was made possible by Adolf Hitler`s “stop order.” For two critical days, May 24-25, he forbade Panzer forces to pursue a retreating and badly demoralized enemy. But it is important to note that the generals of the OKH agreed with Hitler: their attention was drawn south to what they believed would be a large battle in front of Paris. Hitler and the OKH alike wanted to preserve worn and tired Panzer divisions for that fight and to let slower arriving German infantry and the Luftwaffe finish the job along the coast. About 120,000 British troops remained in France after Dunkirk. Smaller evacuations got some men out, but most of the 51st Highland Division was compelled to surrender on June 12. Over 156,000 British, Canadian, and Polish troops were then evacuated from Cherbourg. although 3,000 died when their departing liner was bombed by the Luftwaffe just off the French coast. Behind the German lines, Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS carried out several massacres of French civilians-a sign of occupation practices to come. There were also instances along the perimeter of British troops shooting unarmed or individual surrendering Germans. Dunkirk was not the first time that British forces were chased from Europe by the Wehrmacht and forced into desperate evacuation by sea-British failure in northern Norway was contemporaneous. More dark days and forced amphibious departures from Greece and Crete still lay in the future for the British Army and its Commonwealth and minor European allies. And as Churchill told the House of Commons on June 4: “Wars are not won by evacuations.”


France, the battle launched on 10 May 1940 when German forces attacked through Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, and forced the capitulation of France on 22 June. Some 40 Australian airmen took part in this brief campaign as members of Royal Air Force squadrons, and ten of them were lost in action. Three were killed while flying protective sorties over the Dunkirk beachheads during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force in late May and early June. While none of these pilots were in formed units of the Royal Australian Air Force or retained a formal association with that service, many had received their initial flying training in the RAAF before being seconded (and then usually transferred) to the RAF.

Under these arrangements, the pilots concerned were permitted to wear out their RAAF uniforms before being required to replace them with RAF clothing. It is recorded that at least one man, Flying Officer Leslie Clisby, was still wearing his RAAF tunic-although in an advanced state of disrepair-when shot down over Neuville, France, on 14 May. At the time of his death, Clisby was officially credited with having destroyed fourteen enemy aircraft in combat (his unofficial tally was reportedly nineteen, and possibly higher). Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Clisby was arguably the first `Australian’ air ace of the Second World War.

Lex McAulay (1991) Six Aces: Australian Fighter Pilots 1939-45, Brunswick, Vic.: Banner Books


Siege of Matarikoriko

Note. The interiors of the covered Pits were lined with Fern &c. and used as sleeping places. Food was also cooked in them.
J. R. Jobbins.

Matarikoriko, one of the pas (forts) comprising the main Maori stronghold on the Waitara River in New Zealand’s Taranaki district, was besieged by troops under Major-General Thomas Pratt (commander-in-chief of British forces in Australia) on 29-31 December 1860. Located eight kilometres from the sea, on the river’s southern shore, it was the first-encountered of three formidable fortifications sited on the Kairau plateau and was accordingly the first tackled by Pratt when he took to the field on 28 December. Moving up with 900 men and four guns, the next day the British began constructing a redoubt able to accommodate 500 men about 730 metres from the Maori positions. This was intended to serve as a depot and start-point for a sap to facilitate an attack against the pa, and also for an attack on the next Maori work at Huirangi.

Under a brisk fire from well-concealed rifle pits less than 150 metres away, the British troops laboured all day and received little rest during the night from incessant Maori harassing fire. The exchange of fire on this day was remarkably heavy, with the British alone using an estimated 70,000 bullets along with 120 artillery rounds. The next day, Sunday, a white flag was flown over the stockade and its defenders insisted that they did not wish to desecrate the Sabbath by shedding blood. An armistice was accordingly arranged for the rest of the day, although this did not stop the British from working to finish and improve their redoubt’s parapets, and in preparing barbettes and platforms for mounting two 8-inch guns. Next morning it was found that the Maoris had abandoned the pa, leaving twelve of their dead buried within it. The cost to Pratt’s troops had been three killed and twenty wounded.

The action is principally of note because of the involvement in the British force of a naval brigade of 138 officers and men. Included in this corps were two officers and 30 sailors from the Victorian government’s auxiliary-screw warship Victoria (variously described as a barque, sloop or corvette), this being the first military operation carried out by any Australian armed unit overseas.

James Cowan (1922-23) The New Zealand Wars, 2 vols, Wellington, NZ: W. A. G. Skinner; Tom Gibson (1974) The Maori Wars, Wellington, NZ: A. H. & A. W. Reed; Colin Jones (1986) Australian Colonial Navies, Canberra: Australian War Memorial


Eureka Stockade, Australia, 1854

Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross, watercolour by Charles Doudiet, Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Depiction of the Eureka Stockade by Beryl Ireland (1891)

The spark that detonated rebellion came in October 1854 with the murder of a digger. The culprit, his mates had good reason to think, was the publican of the Eureka Hotel at Ballarat and a known crony of the goldfields police. A mob of 5000 angry diggers burned the pub down. Three diggers who were marginally involved in the bonfire and riot were arrested: yet another injustice. When a deputation of diggers-Humffray, Black and Kennedy-went to Melbourne to petition for their mates’ release, Governor Hotham promised to look into the affair but then ordered police and companies from two regiments, the 12th (East Suffolk) and the 40th (Somerset) to march to Ballarat, a decision that broke any trust the diggers had in him.

On 29 November 1854 thousands of diggers gathered in the sunshine on Bakery Hill, beneath a flag of their own devising, the Southern Cross. The German Friedrich Vern called upon them to burn their licences rather than submit to the government. Peter Lalor spoke next, reminding the men that here was tyranny as bad as that in old Ireland. The Italian Raffaello Carboni, who had come to Australia to find happiness, wine and song, called on them to fight tyranny. Not for the last time in dramatic episodes in Australian history, the grog had been freely passed around, and when a couple of diggers burned their licences hundreds more threw theirs into a great bonfire.

Next day, when Commissioner Rede and his force attempted to inspect licences he was greeted with jeers, oaths and laughter. ‘We’ve burned them! ‘ the diggers shouted and marched in a mob through the heat to Bakery Hill. Here, in the late afternoon, Lalor again hoisted the Southern Cross and called upon all those among the 2 0 0 0 assembled who were willing to fight, to stand together. Kneeling in the dust, he led them in an oath: ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’ It was stirring, but it was treason. Others shouted for the vote, for short parliaments, for democracy.

1854: Eureka Stockade Battle

Over the next two days the diggers built a fortress from timber slabs on Bakery Hill-the Eureka Stockade-and fashioned crude pikes from staves and knives. Lalor organised them into ‘divisions’ like an army, under the command of his confederates, Ross (a Canadian) and Thonen (a German). Few of the rebels had guns. By Saturday night only 150 diggers were still with Lalor, the rest having melted away.

It was Sunday, 3 December 1854, and this battle was being fought on the goldfields of Ballarat, Victoria, between Peter Lalor and his band of goldminers sheltering in a makeshift fortress-the Eureka Stockade-and the freshly arrived forces of the British colonial government of Victoria, troops from Melbourne with police in support.

The government forces had crept out of their nearby camp under the cover of darkness and quietly assembled within striking distance of the stockade by 3 a. m., when they started their surprise attack.

These troops were just as ruthless as Major Johnston’s had been in 1804, cunningly waiting till most miners had left the stockade on Saturday night to return home to families and attend church on the Sabbath. Although 800 miners had been guarding the stockade, only 200 had stayed-including Lalor-in case of attack.

Captain J. W. Thomas now began advancing stealthily towards the stockade leading his party of 276 men, all armed to the teeth with the latest weapons. They included 152 infantry, 24 cavalry and 100 mounted and foot police.

The troops had timed their attack well, as most of the remaining miners were sound asleep, but one alert sentry saw their shadowy shapes and fired a shot.

Captain Thomas warned his men: `We are seen. Forward and steady, men! Don’t fire, let the insurgents fire first. You wait for the sound of the bugle’. Meanwhile, the miners woken by the sentry’s shot leapt to their feet, groped for weapons and rushed to man the barricade with rifles, revolvers, cutlasses, swords, pikes, pitchforks or whatever they could lay their hands on.

Just 300 metres short of the stockade, Thomas ordered his centre section to prepare for a full frontal assault, one section to advance on the right flank and another on the left, to prevent miners-such as Lalor-escaping. He also ordered a final section to remain behind as reserves.

Then the troops charged, running across the open ground straight for the makeshift fortification which they could just see in the dark, along with the glint of the gun barrels and blades brandished by determined defenders. These defenders waited until the troops got to within 150 metres of the stockade and then opened fire, sending a scattered volley into the uniformed ranks, felling several men, who fell clutching their wounds.

Taking aim at an officer directing the troops, one of the miners shot Captain Henry Wise, who stumbled wounded to the ground. Picking himself up, the bleeding captain bravely pushed on only to be shot again, a wound that would prove fatal eighteen days later.

The miners let out a whoop of joy. Their first hit at officer level. Things were looking good. The army bugler then sounded his long-awaited signal and the disciplined troops opened fire in the pre-dawn light, from the front and both flanks, pouring lead into the stockade and the poorly armed souls defending their wooden fort.

Miners lucky enough to have rifles or revolvers tried to shoot back; others, like the Irish pikemen, had to wait for hand-to-hand combat. But the miners had neither the training nor the weapons of the troops and could not stop them targeting miner after miner, filling the stockade with wounded and dying men.

Firing his rifle at the fast-approaching troops, Lalor was shouting encouragement to his men when he was shot in the left arm and knocked to the ground. Knowing he would be a prime target once the troopers scaled the stockade, Lalor took refuge under a pile of timber, then called out to a couple of comrades to help whisk him away before it got light. Amid the smoke, noise and confusion of the battle, the two smuggled their wounded leader out through an opening at the rear of the stockade.

Realising they were overwhelmed, Lalor urged others to escape. But it was too late. When the troops scaled the barricades they shot or bayoneted any miners resisting them. Captain Thomas demanded the miners surrender. Routed, they threw down their arms.

By the time the troopers let up-twenty-five minutes after the battle began-they had killed fourteen miners outright (most of whom were Irish) and wounded another eight who later died of wounds. They also wounded twelve others (including Peter Lalor), who all escaped and recovered, and also captured 100 prisoners.

After the battle the government forces killed at least two more. Witnesses said some of the troops `ran amok’ and killed two bystanders before destroying the miners’ tents and property. The miners were so outclassed that defenceless women ran forward and threw themselves over the injured to prevent further indiscriminate killing by the troops.

Some of the wounded fled to surrounding bush, where they died a lonely death without being counted in the toll. The official record of deaths in the Ballarat District Register shows twenty-seven names associated with the stockade battle at Eureka.

By 8 a. m. Captain Pasley, the second-in-command of the British forces, sickened by the carnage, saved a group of prisoners from being bayoneted and threatened to shoot any police or soldiers who continued with the slaughter. But some soldiers and police did go wild, destroying tents and property without reason, bayoneting the wounded and even shooting two innocent bystanders. Because of this aftermath, some witnesses called Eureka a massacre.

Lalor certainly agreed, writing:

As the inhuman brutalities practised by the troops are so well known, it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. There were 34 digger casualties of which 22 died. The unusual proportion of the killed to the wounded is owing to the butchery of the military and troopers after the surrender.

The battle might have been overwhelmingly one-sided and brief, but the miners put up a brave fight in their short-lived attempt to defend their stockade and the call for freedom that the fortress represented. They did better than their Irish predecessors at Vinegar Hill in 1804.

Seventeen soldiers and one trooper were killed or wounded, twenty-four diggers lay dead; another twenty or more wounded (including Lalor, who was hidden by a priest and later had his arm amputated). The 114 prisoners were thrown into gaol to await trial. The bourgeois shuddered at word of Eureka. Even Henry Parkes called the revolt an ‘un-British error’ probably caused by foreigners. He was correct: of the fourteen diggers killed on the day, eight were Irish and two German. One was an Englishman and only one was Australian-born. Hotham made one last error: he ordered that thirteen of the ringleaders be charged with high treason, the only penalty for which was death. The trial became a farce and the sentences were lenient. David Syme’s Age pronounced the general feeling: It was the government that was rotten, not the people. When Governor Hotham caught a chill and died in early 1855, much of the bitterness of Eureka was buried with him.

Eureka would live on in folklore as the day of the Good Fight. ‘Stand up my young Australian, in the brave light of the sun, and hear how Freedom’s battle was in the old days lost-and won,’Victor Daley (another Irish nationalist) would write in ballad. ‘Ere the year was over, Freedom rolled in like a flood/They gave us all we asked for-when we asked for it in blood.’

Tanks at Monte Cassino

A 17-pdr anti-tank gun and crew near Cassino, 17 May 1944. A Sherman tank can be seen in the background.
NA 15075
Part of
No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit
Gade (Capt)

German Panther tank camouflaged between buildings, near Monte Cassino, Italy, Apr-May 1944.

In an effort to break the disastrous stalemate at Anzio, the Allies launched Operation Diadem on 11 May 1944. The key Allied armoured formations involved in the battle were the US 1st, Canadian 5th and British 6th Armoured Divisions, as well as the Polish 2nd Armoured Brigade.This was an all-out armoured thrust designed to pierce the German defences; it also served to distract Hitler from the impending invasions of Normandy and the French Riviera, and the massive Soviet offensive on the Eastern Front. After months of deadlock the honour of taking Monte Cassino would eventually fall to Polish Shermans.
Operation Diadem called for a rapid penetration of the Gustav Line at Cassino and a joint thrust northwards. Lieutenant General Oliver Leese’s British 8th Army was to push up the Liri valley as far as Sora and up the Sacco valley as far as Valmontone, southeast of Rome. Lieutenant General Mark Clark’s US 5th Army was to drive along the coast to link up with the US 6th Corps, which would break out from the Anzio beachhead and strengthen the final push on Rome.

On the left two British divisions were to push up the coast to pin down the 3rd Panzergrenadiers, and in the meantime the US 1st Armored and 3rd and 45th Infantry Divisions were to conduct the main attack towards Campoleone. The fighting was heavy, with the Americans losing a hundred tanks, and little progress was made until the 1st Armored Division finally pieced the Caesar Line.

During the fierce battles for Cassino tanks proved to be of limited value; in the town itself they were hampered by rubble and craters which prevented them from moving freely. During the First Battle, when the houses and streets of Cassino were still recognisable, tanks losses were high because they made suicidal frontal assaults and blundered into anti-tank ambushes and well laid mines. In just twelve days of fighting the US 756th Tank Battalion had twenty-three of its sixty-one tanks knocked out, with another twenty-one damaged. An armoured sortie into the Cassino massif early in the Third Battle was hopelessly mismanaged, resulting in considerable losses.

Pantherturm I

The defenders had no intention of surrendering any ground. During March and April the German paratroopers toiled on Cassino’s defences, hauling up their anti-tank guns to protect the most vulnerable sectors, as well as manning the fortified dugouts and bunkers that overlooked the approaches to the top of the Cassino massif. In addition, between Cassino and Rome the Germans had constructed a whole series of defensive lines upon which they could fall back. One of the strongest was the Hitler Line; this was studded with Panther tank turrets embedded in concrete, which were ready to exact an appalling toll on Allied tanks and infantry.

Captured German Fallschirmjäger parachute troops file past a Sherman tank of the New Zealand Armoured Brigade at Cassino.

The battle for Monte Cassino comprised four major engagements, involving American, British, Canadian, French, New Zealand and Polish forces.The centrepiece of the battle was the struggle for the monastery overlooking the town of Cassino. By early 1944 the western section of the German Winter Line was held by their forces in the Rapido, Liri and Garigliano valleys, and the surrounding mountains and ridges known as the Gustav Line.The Germans did not occupy the monastery and incorporate it into their defences until after American bombers flattened it in mid-February.

After struggling for six weeks through 7 miles of the Bernhardt Line at the cost of 16,000 casualties, the US 5th Army finally reached the Gustav Line on 15 January. The first assault was launched two days later. Although US troops got across the Rapido, tanks were unable to reach them, leaving them at the mercy of the panzers and self-propelled guns of General Eberhard Rodt’s 15th Panzergrenadiers.

When the Third Battle commenced on 15 March it was hoped to launch a decisive blow on the German defences in the monastery and town. This included a surprise attack by the British 20th Armoured Brigade moving up a track from Cairo to Albaneta Farm towards the monastery. The conditions were completely unsuitable for tanks. A German counterattack from the monastery left the tanks stranded round Castle Hill; lacking infantry support, by mid-afternoon they were all knocked out.

The final battle commenced with Operation Diadem on 11 May and saw the British 8th Army make two opposed crossings over the Rapido river. Once this was bridged, tanks of the Canadian 1st Armoured Brigade moved up to support the infantry – armoured support had been lacking during the first two battles. In the meantime the Polish Corps fought against the German paratroops in and around Cassino in what was clearly a grudge match.

While the Polish Corps consisted of two infantry divisions, the 3rd Carpathian and 5th Kresowa, they had the normal allotment of divisional tanks and were supported by the Polish 2nd Armoured Brigade.The latter consisted of the 1st and 2nd Polish and 6th Kresowa Armoured Regiments, equipped with American-supplied Shermans. In total the Poles mustered 50,000 men, who had arrived in Italy between December 1943 and January 1944 and first went into the line in March. Around 80 per cent of these troops were former Russian prisoners of war, but they were strengthened with Poles from the Carpathian Brigade that fought with the British 8th Army at Tobruk. A Polish armoured division was formed but this was committed to the Normandy campaign.

After the failure of the assaults by the Americans, New Zealanders and Indians, the same formidable defences confronted the Poles. In particular, the monastery, the south and west of the massif, and part of the town were held by the paratroops, whose key strongpoints were situated at Colle Sant’ Angelo – Point 706 – Monte Castellone; in the monastery and the upper reaches of the town; on Points 593 and 569; and around Massa Albaneta.
The German 1st Parachute Division holding Cassino had considerable firepower. It was supported by 242 Assault Battalion, 525 Anti-tank Battalion (equipped with self-propelled 88mm guns), four artillery battalions from the 10th Army and one from the 90th Panzergrenadier Division. In addition, 71 Werfer Regiment had forty 150 and 300mm mortars near Pignataro and thirty 150mm and 200mm mortars at Villa Santa Lucia. The Nebelwerfer or ‘Moaning Minnie’ six-barrelled rocket launcher was a particularly devastating weapon.

The Poles had great difficulties in concentrating their men at the forward jump-off points, and were assisted by five Cypriot mule companies and two British jeep platoons in moving up their stockpiles for the attack. The 3rd Carpathians had the job of storming the monastery ruins after securing Point 593 and Albaneta Farm to the northwest. The 5th Kresowas were to assault Phantom Ridge and Sant’ Angelo to the south. The going was tough for all the Allied forces committed to the offensive. Astonishingly, within 20 minutes of the opening Allied barrage the Carpathians were on Point 593 and the Kresowas had gained Phantom ridge, though they suffered fearful casualties in the process.

Polish tanks with names like Claw, Pygmy and Pirate advanced on Albaneta on 15 May firing on burnt-out Allied tanks, the remains of the March attack, which were being used as enemy machine-gun posts. They were soon halted by mines, and sappers had to crawl under the tanks for protection from snipers as they worked to clear them. ‘We were in utter despair,’ said one Polish tank commander, ‘being unable to reach our comrades dying in front of Albaneta. With real fury we blasted away at the ruins, and at every suspicious bush or pile of stones.’ The tankers took no chances and showed no mercy. Anything that moved was deluged in machine-gun and anti-tank gun fire by the Polish tanks. On the night of 17 May the determined Poles finally gained all their main objectives, including Point 593, but not Albaneta, where the Germans clung on to the last.

Polish troops moved into the monastery on 18 May to find it abandoned.The 1st Parachute Division had called it a day. Lieutenant Casimir Gurbiel and a platoon of Uhlans from the Podolski Lancers were the first Poles to enter the monastery. The only remaining Germans were the badly wounded; when asked why they had held out so fanatically, they replied they had been told the Polish did not take prisoners. Nearly a thousand Poles died in the two attacks.

Six days later the Canadian 5th Armoured Division breached the line, opening the route to Rome. The Allies hoped that this would break the deadlock that had blighted the Italian campaign to date. It was not to be.

Vultee Vengeance

Vengeance Mk.IIa Unit: 12 Sqn, RAAF Pilot – Flt.Lt.John Hooper. Cooktown AB, Queensland, Australia, September 1943.

Vengeance Mk.II Unit: 45 Sqn, RAF India, 1943.

No. 45 Sqn new the Vengeance for 15 months in the Far East, where it achieved limited success. This example is a Vengeance Mk II shown whilst based in India in 1943. The Vengeance was based on the German idea of the ‘Stuka’, and similarly needed fighter cover to operate with any success.

Think of the most effective dive- bomber of World War Two and one would be forgiven for believing that honour might go to the German Junkers Ju 87 `Stuka’, the Russian Petlyakov Pe-2 `Peshka’ or the American Douglas Dauntless.

But another American type takes the top slot for delivering the maximum number of direct hits for the minimum amount of losses. It was an aircraft its crews came to love and the Japanese learned to fear, yet it never went to war with US forces: the Vultee 72 A-31 Vengeance.

Like many aircraft developed before 1939, the birth of the Vengeance was not especially easy. Although the French had been first to consult the Americans on a new dive-bomber design, with l’Armée de l’Air officers urgently seeking to address their ailing military aircraft programme, the Vengeance ultimately evolved to a British specification.

The Model 72, brainchild of Richard Palmer, head of engineering for Vultee, was a twoseat single-engined monoplane with a distinctive wing shape. It was specifically built as a divebomber, with all-metal stressed skin construction and airframe loads adjusted accordingly. Its powerplant was a 1,700hp (1,268kW) Wright Double Cyclone R-2600-A5B-5, which gave it a maximum speed of around 279mph (448km/h) and the ability to climb to a little above 24,000ft (7,315m). Its range was comparatively limited, but it was never intended that the Vengeance should fly far to its target.

Among pilots asked to test the new type as part of the British Air Commission was Battle of Britain veteran Wg Cdr Mike Crossley DSO DFC. Satisfied, the British signed an initial contract for 400 Mk. Is and 300 Mk. IIs.

The honour of being the first RAF unit to operate the Vengeance fell to 82 Squadron, although its sister unit, 84, became the first to bomb Japanese targets. Two other RAF outfits – 45 and 110 Squadrons – were also equipped.

The Indian Air Force flew the Vengeance, 7 and 8 Squadrons taking the type, and a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) unit, 12 Squadron, began receiving it in October 1942 too; others were to follow.

All three air arms shared the same early frustrations. Oil leaks, faulty piston rings and temperamental electric fuel pumps caused equal concern. Many aircraft returned home with the air gunner’s hand cramped from continually pumping the hand-drive wobble pump.

The mounting for the twin 0.30in machine guns in the rear cockpit was inadequate and the similar-calibre four guns in the wings tended to overheat and jam. Some Vengeances would come back with all their defences out of action.

The CO of 82 Squadron, Wg Cdr Dennis Gibbs, reported it was not until April 1943 that he obtained serviceable aircraft which could be flown every day! Gibbs was later be awarded the DSO for his period in command, one of only a handful of Vengeance aircrew to be recognised

– a cause of considerable frustration and anger at the time and since. Early Vengeance sorties comprised sea patrols, hunting with little success for elusive Japanese submarines. Between the first deliveries in the late autumn of 1942 until operational readiness was achieved the following spring, most of the time was spent in local flying and intense bombing practice.

Squadrons also experimented with tactics, including the optimum flying formations, the ideal length of dive and angle of attack. `Vics’ of up to a dozen aircraft were considered ideal, diving from 10,000ft to 4,000ft to achieve an accurate drop and allowing for a suitable margin to descend lower if required. Terminal velocity with dive brakes extended and one-third throttle was recorded at 320mph at 90°, or 290mph at 75°.

Pilots were soon getting the hang of things, some being able to place their bombs within 15 yards (13.7m) of the objective. This encouraged an official report declaring the Vengeance as ideally suited to being “used with good effect against small targets”.

The crews of 110 Squadron celebrated a `Red Letter Day’ on March 19, 1943 when a box of six Vengeances bombed a Japanese headquarters in Htizwe village on the Arakan Front in Burma, supporting Allied troops who were heavily engaged. All 12 bombs burst in the centre of the target, causing considerable damage. More sorties were flown against enemy strong points and pillboxes over the next few days, prompting a congratulatory signal from the Air Officer Commanding, Bengal.

Other RAF units were soon in the fray, among them 82 Squadron. Attacks were made throughout May and June 1943 before 82’s place was taken in the line by 45 Squadron to maintain momentum. Targets in and around Akyab Island became the priority to disrupt the landing and transportation of supplies to Japanese forces.

An unusual task was a precision strike on a photorecce Spitfire that had crashed behind enemy lines. The Allies did not want its camera equipment falling into Japanese hands so 45 Squadron was ordered to destroy it.

As well as front-line objectives, Vengeance units were also briefed to support the behind-the-lines activities of the famed General Orde Wingate and his `Chindit’ special forces. When the first columns moved off, 84 Squadron, under Sqn Ldr Arthur Gill, was ready in support and relieved soon after by its counterparts in 45 Squadron.

Increasingly the RAF units worked alongside one another in a pattern not dissimilar to the `cab rank’ system perfected by Hawker Typhoon squadrons over Northern Europe. With increased liaison with ground forces, Vengeances could drop down from the skies to pick off targets where they were most needed. For example, on January 17, 1944 two dozen Vengeances from 45 and 110 Squadrons attacked a Japanese stronghold at Kyauktaw twice in the space of less than 20 minutes, with devastating effect.

The action was one of the last the men of 45 Squadron were involved in before being pulled out of the line to re-equip with DH Mosquitos. Sadly, on the unit’s last-ever Vengeance operation, Plt Off Hedley Jewell’s aircraft was shot down.

Consigned to the “Forgotten War” but gained a reputation for incredible accuracy, and was ergo much praised by the army. Also, it was a very strong aircraft that kept bringing its crews back (“45 missions was not uncommon” – direct quote of OC 84 Sqn who commanded the unit whilst it was equipped with Vengeances).

Powerfully influenced by the successes achieved by the German Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber in the early months of the war, the British in 1940 ordered several hundred Vultee V-72 aircraft from the USA, a type that had not then been selected for the US Army Air Corps, and production lines were established at Vultee’s Nashville plant and the Northrop plant at Hawthorne, California. Before the first British aircraft was delivered in 1942, however, the United States had entered the war, and further aircraft were ordered for the USAAF, The American aircraft (designated the A-31 and A-35, but generally referred to as the V-72) did not match up to expectations and almost all were relegated to target towing and other training duties from the outset.

Missions by Australian Vengeance squadrons (12, 21 `City of Melbourne’, 23 `City of Brisbane’, 24 `City of Adelaide’ and 25 `City of Perth’) mirrored those of their RAF counterparts. Although they were initially on invasion alert, operations in earnest began in New Guinea in September 1943 from Tsili, hitting Japanese radio location installations on the islands of Kaial and Wonam and supporting the Australian 9th Division’s amphibious landing on Satelberg.

Nadzab in northern New Guinea became a focus in the winter of 1943- 1944, with strikes on enemy positions that were holding up the advance of the Australian 5th and 7th Divisions moving along the Huon peninsula. At one fortress known locally as `Shaggy Ridge’, RAAF Vengeances from 24 Squadron dropped nine tons of bombs in an initial attack, and in less than a week a painful thorn in the Australians’ side had been removed.

Throughout February, the RAAF units combined to bring even greater weight to their strikes and on the 24th of the month, 23 and 24 Squadrons hit enemy anti-aircraft batteries in Hansa Bay. Sadly, they lost two of their aircraft in the strike – including one carrying an army captain as an observer.

The Vengeance saw considerably more service in the RAF, a total of 1,205 being delivered, the Vengeance Nik I, Vengeance Mk II and Vengeance Mk III corresponding to the American A- 31, and the Vengeance Mk IV to the A-35. Tests with the first Vengeance Mk Is led to numerous alterations, and it was not until late 1942 that deliveries started in earnest. By that time the tactical weakness of the dive-bomber had been recognized, and it was decided not to employ the Vengeance in Europe where it would be easy prey for the excellent German fighters. Instead the type was sent to equip RAF squadrons in India and Burma where, operating under top cover provided by Hawker Hurricanes (and later by Supermarine Spitfires and Republic Thunderbolts), it would represent the best weapon against difficult jungle targets.

The Vengeance was first in action in July 1943 in Burma, having started to replace the veteran Bristol Blenheim with the RAF; it eventually equipped four squadrons (Nos 45, 82, 84 and 110) as well as several in the Indian Air Force. As expected, however, the Vengeance proved extremely vulnerable in the presence of Japanese fighters and so seldom ventured abroad without strong fighter escort. The type did nevertheless prove very effective during the Arakan campaign, and in a number of successful raids destroyed a large number of Japanese vehicles and quantities of stores being assembled in the jungle.

By the last year of the war conventional fighter-bomber tactics were seen as the best means of ground support, and demands for the Vengeance diminished rapidly. The Vengeance squadrons’ powers reached their zenith in the spring and early summer of 1944. Crews were engaged in all the major actions along the Indo-Burmese border and in particular the battles in and around Imphal and Kohima.

Flying hundreds of sorties, the dive-bombers were pushed to the limit of their endurance. Two `ops’ per crew per day were not uncommon, with some attacks delivered on enemy targets within a few yards of friendly forces. Even a near miss could cause terrible damage, so accuracy was essential and the 14th Army was once again full of praise for their air force colleagues.

Despite the increase in volume and frequency of strikes, casualties were remarkably low. Losses to Japanese aircraft were virtually unheard of: enemy fighters seemed unwilling, or unable, to engage. The Vengeances that did fail to return inevitably did so as a result of flak or, at the point of pulling out of a dive, to small arms fire. At least one of the squadrons worked out a new tactic: attacking the target in two `vics’ from opposite directions to divide the enemy’s antiaircraft fire. A misjudged approach could have fatal consequences. Occasionally a Vengeance would be caught in the blast from the bombs of the aircraft in front of it, although the fuses were timed to avoid this.

Under the command of Sqn Ldr Hemango Choudhuri, the crews of 7 Squadron, Indian Air Force, were briefed on May 25, 1944 to bomb a strategic bridge near Imphal. The structure was of vital importance to the Japanese army’s lines of communication and nothing short of total destruction would do.

The Vengeances swept down through thick cloud to register a direct hit, seriously delaying the Japanese advance. Other raids on similar bridges were attempted but never with the same degree of success.

The start of the monsoon season in June signalled the beginning of the end for Vengeance operations in the Far East. In what appeared to be undue haste the squadrons were withdrawn and re-equipped.

It was fitting that the Vengeance’s final combat operation was flown by 84 Squadron, the unit that had first taken the dive-bomber into action. Appropriately, it was led by the CO, Sqn Ldr Gill, with Flt Lt Alan Blackburn in the rear seat.

Twelve Vengeances made an early afternoon attack on an enemy ammunition dump on July 16. The sortie was completed with the usual high degree of accuracy, most of the bombs and incendiaries falling in the target area. All the aircraft returned safely to base.

While the Vengeance was enjoying its swansong, thousands of miles away in the US the decision had been taken to cease production and the last one rolled out of the factory on June 2.

New roles were found for those yet to be delivered, some becoming garishly painted target-tugs and sturdy or reliable station `hacks’. Trials were even undertaken to use the Vengeance to carry poison gas.

By mid-1945 most had been relegated to target-towing duties.

In total, 1,528 of all types had been built, of which 1,205 were passed to the RAF – some purchased outright and others on Lend-Lease.

So how does the Vengeance rank in the list of the all-time greats? Comparing various bombers in the Far East for their bombing accuracy, a study by the Indian Air Force found the B-24 Liberator registered 50% hits and the B-25 Mitchell 60%, whereas the humble Vengeance achieved 100% accuracy.

It’s time that Vultee Vengeances – and the men that crewed them – are given the recognition they so richly deserve.


Vultee Vengeance Mk I

Type: two-seat dive-bomber

Powerplant: one l,700-hp (1268-kW) Wright R-2600-A5B-5air-cooled radial piston engine

Performance: maximum speed 449 km/h (279 mph) at 4115 m (13,500 ft); climb to 4570 m (15,000 ft) in 11 minutes 18 seconds; service ceiling 6795m(22,300ft); range1930km(1200 miles)

Weights: empty 4672 kg (10,300 lb); maximum take-off 7440 kg (16,400 lb)

Dimensions: span 14,63 m (48 ft 0 in); length 12.12m (39ft 9in); height 3.91 m (12ft 10in); wing area 30.84m2 (332 sq ft)

Armament: four wing-mounted 7.62-mm (0.3-in) machine-guns and two 7.62-mm (0.3-in) machine-guns in the rear cockpit, plus a bombload of four 227-kg (500-lb) bombs carried internally.

December 1915 – Gallipoli

The smouldering remains of an accidental fire which began in the supply dump on North Beach at about 1 am on 18 December 1915, the day before the final stage of the evacuation. The fire, at first thought to have been deliberately started by treachery, threatened to alert the Turks to the evacuation in progress and led to shelling from the Turkish guns at the Olive Grove. [AWM G01302]

HMS Cornwallis, the last ship to leave Gallipoli in the evacuation of 19-20 December 1915, returns fire to the Turkish guns shelling her as she prepares to sail. In the background stores at Suvla Bay, set alight to prevent their use by the Turks, can be seen burning. [AWM H10388]

Escaping Gallipoli was going to be just as dangerous as invading it. The challenge was to remove 80000 men, 5000 animals, 2000 vehicles and 200 guns from Anzac and Suvla. If the Turks found out, tens of thousands of Allied troops could be slaughtered on the beaches.

The soldiers would leave over a number of nights. Boats would creep in, load men, and disappear. Before the dawn mists lifted, the beach had to look the same as it had on the previous day. The Turks needed only to break through at one Anzac point to expose the deception. And we know from Mehmed Fasih’s diary that they suspected something was up.

Allied command estimated losses of between 20 and 50 per cent during evacuation, which would equate to at least 16000 men being killed or captured. The plan was kept from the Anzac troops. Senior commanders feared that the Turks might hear the news. In some places the trenches were so close that the Turks could hear the Anzacs talking. But no orders could stop gossip. Few Anzacs swallowed the official line that troops were being thinned for the winter period.

Some Anzacs relished a potential end to bad food and raging disease. But others now considered Anzac their property, the muddy holes their homes. They had staked their territory and their mates had died defending it. ‘If it were true! God!’ wrote Cyril Lawrence of the rumours on 10 December. ‘I believe that murder and riots would break loose amongst our boys . . . Oh, it couldn’t be; how could we leave this place now after the months of toil and slavery that have gone to the making of it?’

Monash described the news as ‘stupendous and paralysing’. There was talk of disobeying orders to stay in the trenches. The 2nd Brigade was said to beg for one final ‘go’ at breaking the stalemate. Lawrence felt ashamed. ‘Better to struggle and die fighting our way ahead than to sneak off like a thief in the night,’ he wrote.

The evacuation was better planned than any Allied attacks at Gallipoli. Monash issued each 4th Brigade soldier with a card detailing his task, time of departure and route to the beach. Trails marked by salt or flour would guide the men to the beach. The last to leave were to pull across barbed wire behind them.

Tricks were staged to suggest that all was normal. Those silent periods that Fasih wondered about in November? They were ‘silent stunts’, aimed at getting the Turks used to lulls. Most medical staff left early, but their tents remained on the beach. Men were ordered to loaf around and smoke where Turks could see them. On the afternoon of 17 December, Light Horsemen played cricket on Shell Green. A famous photo depicts a soldier belting a front-foot drive while three shrapnel shells burst in the background.

All went well at first. Men and supplies and mules left each night. Some Anzacs may have grumbled but they co-operated with their orders. At least they’d enjoyed decent food, wine and clothing from the stores opened up on the beach. The weather stayed calm and the Turks tried no surprises. On the last two nights, only 20000 men defended Anzac. Now for the tricky part.

The front-line trenches were the last to be evacuated. Trench floors were ploughed or laid with blankets to silence footfalls. Lance Corporal W. C. Scurry, of the 7th Battalion, invented a self-firing rifle to give departing soldiers a head start. A kerosene tin was punctured so that it dripped water into a tin below. After about twenty minutes the lower tin overbalanced, tripping a piece of twine that triggered the rifle to fire.

After dark on 18 December, half the remaining men left on a smooth sea. The situation grew more tense. If the Turks attacked now, they would break through. Men tidied the graves of their mates and bade them farewell. An Australian nodded towards a cemetery and told Birdwood: ‘I hope they won’t hear us marching back to the beach.’ Some smashed what they couldn’t take, so that the Turks couldn’t use anything.

One soldier set a table for four, with jam, bully beef, biscuits, cheese and tobacco. He left a note. ‘There are no booby traps in this dugout’, he wrote. This was not quite true. He had opened some rifle shells, poured out the black gun powder, and mixed it into the packets of ready-rubbed tobacco. Another soldier left a note telling the Turks, ‘You didn’t push us off, Jacko, we just left.’

By 11 pm on 19 December, less than 2000 men held the entire Anzac line. Sergeant Cliff Pinnock had survived the Nek charges on 7 August. Now he was among the last to leave Gallipoli. Pinnock was set to leave the front-line for the beach in a few hours. The moon shone and the temperature dropped. Pinnock’s feet froze. He didn’t think twenty pairs of socks could warm them. ‘The last day was simply awful,’ he wrote. ‘I never in all my life want to go through such another day.’

Pinnock had been instructed not to fire unless he was certain he saw a Turk. The problem was that he thought he saw Turks everywhere. ‘My God, I would have given anything in the world to have been able to open up and let go a hundred or so rounds just to ease my nerves,’ he wrote. ‘At 12 o’clock I was in that state that I dared not look at any object for more than a few seconds, if so I could clearly imagine I saw a man rise and place his rifle to his shoulder.’

At 2.15 am, Pinnock was ordered to march the 4 kilometres to the waiting boats. There had been 36 000 Anzacs here a few weeks earlier. Now there were a few hundred. Some were so exhausted from the nervous strain that they had to be prodded to stay awake. No one spoke as Pinnock’s group trudged to the beach. The men had rigged rifles to fire when trench candles burned down. As they walked, they heard the guns going off. The Turks opposite returned fire.

Men from the 24th Battalion stayed at Lone Pine until the end. The last group was about to leave, at 2.40 am, when an officer found a man on the parapet taking ‘just one more pot at them’. The officer heard explosions and found an Australian throwing the new Mills bombs. ‘It’s a pity not to use them,’ the Anzac said. ‘They’re great.’ An officer thought he saw two Turks emerging from a tunnel, until one man said: ‘A bonzer night. It’ll be a pity to leave the old joint.’

Pinnock clambered into a boat that moved off for Lemnos as spent bullets plopped into the sea all around. A few hours later, he bribed a ship steward and had his first bath in months. He soaped off his lice and threw his stinking clothes out the porthole.

The last boat left Anzac at 4.10 am. Private F. Pollack, of the 13th Battalion, was nearly left behind. He awoke in a dugout to find the area deserted. He raced to the beach. It was deserted. He rushed to North Beach and caught one of the last boats.

Underground explosions, set off at 3.30 am, killed seventy Turks at the Nek, and prompted Turkish fire right across the line. The Turks did not discover the evacuation until after dawn. Only two men were wounded in the Anzac evacuation, including one hit in the arm by a spent bullet as he left the beach. At Suvla, and later Helles, there were virtually no casualties.

Almost every major event had got away from the Allied commanders since 25 April. Only in the leaving of Gallipoli could they claim a triumph. Monash watched from a ship as the Nek exploded like a volcano of dust. He felt that the evacuation was ‘a most brilliant conception, brilliantly organised, and brilliantly executed – and will, I am sure, rank as the greatest joke in the whole range of military history.’


The bombardment of the Turkish forts. Original illustration published by H W Wilson, British journalist and naval historian, editor of The Great War: The Standard History of the All-Europe Conflict, a popular part series published by the Amalgamated Press in 13 volumes, 1914 to 1919.

Liman von Sanders, the German officer commanding Turkish Fifth Army, which defended Gallipoli and the Straits against the Allied landings of 25 April, generally anticipated the Allied landing sites quite accurately. However, one other area, Bulair/Saros, at the neck of the Gallipoli peninsula, particularly attracted his attention. This turned out not to be an Allied landing site, but the capture and interrogation of a British naval officer just before the Allied landings helped focus Liman von Sanders’ attention on Bulair/Saros from 25 to 28 April.

Following the end of Allied naval attempts to force the Straits on 18 March, Turkish attention turned naturally to defence against the possibility of Allied landings on either side of the Straits. On 24 March 1915 Liman von Sanders, a German cavalry officer, Inspector of the Turkish Army, commander of the pre-war German military mission to update the Turkish army and commander of Turkish forces in the Caucasus in 1914, was chosen to command Fifth Army, defending Gallipoli and the Asian shore area. Already in January 1915, von Sanders had outlined his ideas for a defensive system. His first point was that the present defensive structure, set up by Enver Pasa, Supreme Military Commander in Istanbul, scattered the Turkish divisions too widely. This was feasible against small landings, but, ‘Against landings of large troop formations, our divisions must be much more concentrated in order to be able to attack the enemy in strength during or after landing.’ This was easily remedied, but here, though, was the central problem, where would the Allies land?

Liman von Sanders suggested three possible landing sites, all based on the assumption that the Allies would land so as to attack Turkish batteries and fortifications from the rear. Starting firstly with the Asian shore, he predicted a landing at either Besike Bay or Kum Kale (where the French landing did actually take place), in order to attack the strong Turkish batteries and fortifications along the Straits’ shore from the rear. Liman von Sanders argued for a defensive counterattack as the enemy troops moved inland from Kum Kale and crossed the Mendere River. Also, 3 and 11 Turkish Divisions were to be combined in a corps stationed at Erenkeui, where they could go in any direction, according to the Allied landing site. Officers were to be stationed where they could judge whether the landings were a feint or a serious operation. Mines were to be laid at Kum Kale, which was to be defended by one battalion. Bridges over the Mendere River were to be prepared for demolition. (As it turned out, the French did not reach the Mendere River, partly because their landing was a feint. On the other hand, the Turkish 3 Division did little, and actually used the Mendere River as a means of protecting themselves!) Secondly, Liman von Sanders turned his attention to what he called the European shore. Here, he predicted landings at either Seddulbahir (Helles) or Gaba Tepe, or both simultaneously, ‘in order to advance against the batteries from the rear.’ The 9 Division was to be moved closer to the middle of the sector, and 19 Division was to be stationed at Maidos. In this sector, Liman von Sanders was prescient, because Helles was the site of the main Allied landing, while Gaba Tepe was just south of the intended Anzac landing site of Brighton Beach. Finally, thirdly, Liman von Sanders identified the Saros/Bulair area. He suggested two aims of a potential Allied landing in this area. One was the rather difficult Allied task of covering the ground necessary to cross the isthmus and disable the Turkish batteries on the Sea of Marmora side. The other was to totally cut off Turkish troops on the peninsula by simply capturing the narrow neck of the isthmus. Without actually saying so, Liman von Sanders revealed his particular bias toward the Saros/Bulair area by assigning three divisions to guard it, 4 and 5 Turkish Divisions, which could be amalgamated, and 7 Division.

This emphasis on the Bulair/Saros area is at variance with Liman von Sanders’ later memoirs, where he claimed that he saw the Asiatic area as the greatest danger, then Seddulbahir, then Gaba Tepe, and last, Bulair/ Saros. But he was quite correct in his memoirs when he identified intelligence reports and rumours out of Turkish embassies or consulates in such places as Athens, Sofia and Bucharest, which gave information on British and French forces preparing to land. Turkish archives actually reveal a bewildering variety of alleged Allied plans. For example, on 22 March it was reported from sources in Italy that a combined Russian, French, British plan was underway. Russians would land on the Black Sea coast, and the French would land an African division at Saros. The British army from Egypt would land near Izmir. The Allied navy would also attack. The aim was the capture of Istanbul. On the same day, the Turkish military attaché in Rome focussed on French intervention. This report said that about 40,000 French would land, including colonial troops from Mauritania and Senegal. The commander was to be General d’Amade. Indian troops and Australians would also arrive from Egypt. Altogether, the force amounted to some 80,000 troops, which the military attaché thought exaggerated. (He was not so far out, since about 75,000 Allied troops did take part in the April landings. And he was correct about d’Amade and the French colonial troops.)

With these various Turkish reports, and many others, it is not surprising that Liman von Sanders was unsure about Allied intentions. Yet, curiously, although his predictions as to where the Allies would land had all been based on the idea that the Allies were aiming to capture or demolish Turkish batteries and forts from the rear, Liman von Sanders was remarkably accurate in forecasting Allied plans, which actually had other reasons behind their choice of landing sites. There was one exception, however, to Liman von Sanders’ accurate predictions, which he tried to play down in later years, and this was the Saros/Bulair area. One probable reason for this emphasis in Liman von Sanders’ mind, was a remarkable incident that took place on 17 April, just eight days before the 25 April Allied landings. On this day, the British submarine E 15, commanded by Capt. T.S. Brodie, tried to run the Straits to get into the Sea of Marmora. The submarine first hit one of the Turkish nets, and then was caught in a strong eddy off Kephez Point, and ran aground on a sandbank. As luck would have it, this was just by the Turkish Dardanos battery, which lost no time in shelling the submarine. One shell hit the conning tower and cut the unfortunate Brodie in half, plus six other crew were killed during the shelling, and the submarine filled with thick smoke. The rest of the crew surrendered, and were taken into captivity, including a certain Lt Palmer. This individual, who was an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, had been the British vice consul at Chanak. After hostilities broke out, Palmer apparently arrived in Athens in early March 1915 to report on the location of Turkish guns in the Straits. Palmer then joined the staff of de Robeck at Gallipoli as an Intelligence Officer. Wishing to see active service, Palmer volunteered to serve on E 15 as an Intelligence officer. After Palmer’s capture, he was interrogated by Col. Djevad Bey, commanding the Straits Forts. Djevad Bey then sent a lengthy cipher to the Supreme Command in Istanbul on 20 April, with the results of Palmer’s interrogation.

Since this cipher message containing Palmer’s interrogation is of critical significance, as it occurred just five days before the Allied landings of 25 April, it is given in full:

Palmer, who was the Consul at Chanak, was captured and made a prisoner of war. He was accused of being a spy for the Allied powers. Also a certificate was found in the submarine showing that Palmer was a reserve officer. But we did not tell him that we had found this certificate. Palmer was told that he was accused of being a spy, and that is why he might be executed. Because no soldier wants to give information openly, Palmer wanted to talk privately. So I promised him that he would be regarded as a prisoner of war. Then, he agreed to give us information. I asked him about the Allied attack that was planned. He said that a British attack would be made against the Dardanelles with a force of 100,000 men, landing under the command of Gen. Hamilton. According to Palmer’s statement, the Allies planned to land at Gaba Tepe. But as soon as they found out that the Turks had learnt of this attack, they changed their plans concerning Gaba Tepe and Seddulbahir [Helles]. Also they did not think that their landing at Seddulbahir would be successful. Consequently, they decided to land in the Gulf of Saros, and in the region of the northern part of the Peninsula. Previously, they had planned to attack Gaba Tepe, Seddulbahir and even Besike. To support their attacks in these regions, they needed the support of their navy. In fact, they planned to make these attacks last Monday [presumably 12 April: the original date for the landings was 14 April], but they have now given up this plan. He does not have any information about the new attack plan. This information has been given by the ex-consul on the condition that his life be spared under this agreement. Please do not give the origins of this information, in order to ensure his safety. I have sent the prisoner of war [Palmer], and his goods that have been taken from the submarine, with this cipher. I beg you to accept him as a prisoner of war.

20 April 1915, the Commander of the Forts, Col. Djevad.

The next day, the Supreme Command in Istanbul, obviously interested in what might be a real Intelligence coup, wanted Palmer to identify the threatened northern area. Djevad Bey replied: ‘The name of the region which is around the Gulf of Saros as mentioned by the ex-consul that I wrote in the cipher, is the region between Imbros and Karacali on the northern coast of the Gulf [of Saros]. 21 April 1915.’

It would seem that Palmer had to think quickly on his feet during this interrogation. On the one hand, he certainly did not want to be shot, but on the other hand, he did not want to give away the real Allied landing sites, which he certainly knew, having been an Intelligence officer on de Robeck’s staff. So he adopted the risky strategy of giving the actual Allied landing sites, but then suggesting these had been cancelled due to a security leak. In their place, Palmer directed Turkish attention north to Saros/Bulair as the new Allied landing area. In his further explanation of what the northern region consisted of, Palmer gave a vague answer, although it did include the Anzac landing zone. As for the 100,000 Allied troops that would land, Palmer probably did not know the exact Allied figure, otherwise the logical solution would have been to minimize the number of Allied troops, in order to cause Turkish over-confidence. On the other hand, Palmer may just have been unable to think quickly enough on the question of numbers, or he did not think the question of numbers was significant. (Ironically, the actual number of Allied soldiers involved in the landings was in fact discovered by Fifth Army through a Turkish wireless intercept on 25 April.) Nevertheless, the timing of Palmer’s capture and interrogation was extremely critical – just five days before the Allied landings on 25 April, although he did not give away this information. Now the question was: would the Supreme Command, and especially Liman von Sanders, be taken in by the Bulair/Saros disinformation from Palmer?

Documents in the Turkish archives do not definitely answer this question, but one message on 22 April, and correspondence between Fifth Army and Supreme Command on 20 April, show that the information was at least disseminated. Other messages suggest a considerable focus on the Saros/Bulair region. For example, Fifth Army reported on 25 April that Allied ships were in Saros, and that help was needed. The next day, 26 April, Fifth Army urgently requested more ammunition for the Saros area. On the other hand, while the Turkish Official History mentions Palmer, it does so without emphasis, and does not claim an Intelligence coup. It is also the case that Liman von Sanders does not mention Palmer in his memoirs. Yet a significant first hand observer of Liman von Sanders at his GHQ on 25 April and following days, Capt. Carl Mühlmann, describes in detail how Liman von Sanders focussed on the Saros/Bulair region to an unusual degree over the next four days.

Mühlmann awoke early on Sunday 25 April, to the sound of gunfire. He was at Liman von Sanders’ GHQ at the town of Gelibolu, when a staff officer rushed in with news of landings at Seddulbahir and Ari Burnu (Anzac), as well as of a transport flotilla in the Gulf of Saros. (This was part of an Allied feint by Hamilton at Bulair/Saros.) Liman von Sanders immediately alerted 4 Division to march to Bulair. Mühlmann takes up the story:

Unfortunately, L[iman] was somewhat nervous and instead of centralizing all telephone connections and remaining at the choke point – GHQ – he swung up on his horse and, accompanied by the two of us [Mühlmann and another staff officer] rode up to the heights near Bulair. Unfortunately, this meant that all reports were delayed 1–2 hours and the entire traffic between us and GHQ was made much more difficult…

Admittedly Bulair was the nearest danger zone to the German GHQ at the town of Gelibolu, but Liman von Sanders could also have headed toward Ari Burnu, or to Maidos, as a more central location to the known landings of Ari Burnu and Seddulbahir. In fact, while Liman von Sanders’ party was at Bulair, news of the Kum Kale French landing came in. Esat Pasa, GOC Turkish III Corps asked permission to move his HQ to Maidos, and this was granted. Yet Liman von Sanders continued to focus on Bulair.

Mühlmann relates that the small party reached the heights above Bulair in time to see a heavy naval bombardment of the fort there. Mühlmann already noted the limited effect of naval fire – the shell craters were immense, but did no damage unless there was a direct hit, although ‘the psychological effect is tremendous.’ Perhaps this influenced Liman von Sanders, because when evening came on 25 April, instead of returning to his GHQ at Gelibolu, Mühlmann commented: ‘to our great surprise, he [Liman] decided to spend the night out here; we could not find out why because we had no telephone line to GHQ.’ Mühlmann was sent on a mission the next day, 26 April, to Maidos with orders to concentrate 5 Division closer to Bulair, while 7 Division was sent to Seddulbahir. However, Liman von Sanders again planned to spend the entire day of 26 April on the heights above Bulair. (Meanwhile, Mühlmann was now down at Maidos, where an Allied submarine, evidently the Australian submarine AE2, fired nine torpedoes at a troop transport and missed, probably because the torpedoes failed to explode. Then AE2 surfaced and hailed a sail boat to ask directions, ‘really an incredible piece of cheek!’ noted Mühlmann. The AE2 sailed into the Sea of Marmora and, according to Mühlmann, did not sink any transports before being forced to the surface and scuttled. A Turkish message notes that the AE2 was followed by the German Capt. Merten, and fired on.) After the submarine episode, Mühlmann returned to Liman von Sanders at Bulair, and was ordered to remain there to observe, while Liman von Sanders went, on 27 April, to check on the situation at Maidos and Ari Burnu.

Mühlmann thought his sojourn at Bulair was over on 27 April, when the fleet disappeared from the Gulf of Saros. Liman von Sanders met Mühlmann at GHQ at Gelibolu and informed him that all was well at Ari Burnu, and that the French were hurled into the sea at Kum Kale, which was, of course, the planned French re-embarkation from Kum Kale. Liman von Sanders had also witnessed the shelling across the peninsula by the Queen Elizabeth of a Turkish transport, usually seen by historians as a significant blow, but Mühlmann remarked ‘Thank God, it was not loaded, and sank within one minute.’ Apparently Liman von Sanders returned from Maidos to his GHQ at Gelibolu by sea on 27 April, aboard the Barbarossa, at which a submarine fired two torpedoes and missed. This was probably the British submarine E14, and a successful torpedo attack would certainly have changed the campaign had Liman von Sanders gone down with this ship. The next day, 28 April, news came into von Sanders’ GHQ that the enemy was being reinforced at both Ari Burnu and Seddulbahir, and so, at this time, 7 Division and most of 5 Division were recalled from Bulair to move south via Maidos. This decision is at variance with Liman von Sanders’ memoirs, where he claimed to have recognized Bulair/Saros as a feint by 26 April.

However, neither Liman von Sanders nor Mühlmann were finished with Bulair. While on his way to a different task on 28 April, Mühlmann,

became despondent when, looking beyond the heights [at Bulair] I saw the transport fleet back in the Gulf of Saros. It was clear to all of us that we were only dealing with a bluff, otherwise they would have landed several days ago – in addition, the ships rode too high in the water to be fully loaded. Of course, L[iman’s] specific concern about protecting his rear at Bulair was to be expected, and therewith came the danger that I was to be left there again.

Mühlmann’s fear was only too accurate, since Liman von Sanders came up, and informed Mühlmann that he would move his HQ to Maidos, but Mühlmann was to be stationed at Bulair as Liman von Sanders’

plenipotentiary and general staff officer. I [Mühlmann] made a deeply disappointed face and explained my wish to him [to get closer to the actual war theatre]. At first, he [Liman von Sanders] did not wish to consider it, because after seeing the enemy fleet, new fears had swelled up in him. But, finally, he gave in…

Thus, it is clear that Liman von Sanders remained heavily preoccupied with the Bulair/Saros area over the period of four days between 25 and 28 April, and was still inclined to worry about this area as late as 28 April, when major Allied operations were obviously focussed at Anzac and Helles. Of course, Liman von Sanders was right to consider Saros/Bulair as a danger area, and in addition there was the Allied naval feint at Saros/ Bulair, but Liman von Sanders also appeared to show an unreasonable interest in this area. It is entirely possible that the capture and interrogation of Lt Palmer just before 25 April, with his disinformation about the Allies choosing Saros/Bulair as their main landing area, helped to confirm Liman von Sanders’ preoccupation with this zone. The documents do not specifically reveal this, but Liman von Sanders’ focus on Saros/ Bulair, and his hesitation in sending the Bulair divisions south, certainly gave the Allied landings on 25 April a breathing space they might not otherwise have expected.