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.


The victorious General Allenby dismounted, enters Jerusalem on foot out of respect for the Holy City, 11 December 1917.

General Archibald Murray’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force [EEF] was then ordered into Palestine where it fought two battles at Gaza (March 26, 1917, and April 17–19, 1917). However, both battles found Allied forces facing stiff resistance, and the attacks failed in the objective of seizing Gaza and driving the Central Powers’ forces out of the region. Nonetheless, with additional resources garnered and delivered by the new British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, London was soon able to generate new life into the EEF, including a change in leadership. Following Murray’s unsuccessful attempts at seizing Gaza in the spring of 1917, the British War Cabinet opted to replace him with General Sir Edmund Allenby, known as the “Bloody Bull,” who arrived in Egypt in June 1917.

Empowered with new resources and new staff, Allenby set about reinvigorating EEF troop morale before recommencing operations against enemy positions in Sinai and Palestine. Concerned with reports that Britain was preparing to commit additional resources and renewed focus in the Middle Eastern theater, including Mesopotamia and Palestine, at the end of April 1917, Germany dispatched a military delegation headed by General Erich von Falkenhayn to Turkey arriving in May. The initial concern of the German military delegation was the British occupation of Baghdad, and it advised that a new army should be constituted to address this threat. Consequently, the new Seventh Army was established and based in Aleppo to counter British moves in Mesopotamia (Iraq). However, by September 1917, the greater concern was for the Ottoman presence in Gaza and Palestine, as the EEF was making preparations for getting underway. As a result, operations by the Seventh Army against the British in Mesopotamia were cancelled as Falkenhayn advised for a rapid redeployment of the army from Aleppo to Beersheba in Palestine. While the theory was sound, the practical application of the plan proved problematic as the limited Turkish rail network hindered its implementation. As such, very few of the Seventh Army’s troops were in position before the British attacked during the Battle of Beersheba (October 31, 1917) and the Third Battle of Gaza (November 1–7, 1917).

Allenby brought a different style of leadership to Egyptian-Palestinian theater of operations than his predecessor. Unlike Murray, who had commanded the EEF from Cairo, Allenby frequently visited front line units and moved the Force’s headquarters from Cairo to Rafah nearer to the front lines at Gaza. Allenby also reorganized the Force into a three, primary corps order of battle: XX, XI, and the Desert Mounted Corps. He was also convinced by the Arab Bureau of Britain’s Foreign Office to utilize the Arab forces that had risen in revolt against the Ottomans and were then operating within Arabia. A remarkable British army officer detached to the Arab Bureau (British Intelligence), Major T. E. Lawrence, had found considerable success in working with Arab leaders in fomenting irregular operations, which ultimately caused the Ottoman and German leadership to station forces in response—forces which were badly needed elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Ottomans had called for jihad against the Entente Cordiale in the fall of 1914 in hopes of rousing support for the defense of the empire. Germany attempted to assist the Ottomans in this endeavor as it sent Kress von Kressenstein to Palestine, Oskar von Niedermayer to Afghanistan, Liman von Sanders to Turkey, and Wilhelm Wassmuss to southern Persia. Wassmuss, often referred to as the “German Lawrence,” incited tribes to attack British interests, particularly its Persian oil pipeline, northwest of Ahwaz.

The British government, ever mindful of the power this campaign might have should it be allowed to successfully proliferate, sought the help of the Sharif of Mecca, Emir Abdullah Hussein, in countering the Ottoman call for jihad. The tribe that Hussein led, the Hashemites, was relatively weak, particularly in relation to Ottoman forces. But the alliance with Hussein was much more than a military-oriented alliance. The Hashemites were politically important within the Middle East for a number of reasons, including the fact that Hussein was seen as a descendent of the prophet Muhammad and regarded as the guardian or custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Allenby was facing two defensive lines in Palestine, which were vital to the Ottoman defense of Gaza and Jerusalem. The first included entrenchments that stretched 30 miles from Gaza to Beersheba. The Gaza-Beersheba line was complemented by the Jaffa-Jerusalem line that extended more than 50 miles. Thus, rather than attacking Gaza in frontal assault, as had been the focus of operations by the EEF under Murray, Allenby, the old cavalry officer that he was, sought to maneuver for position through flanking attacks. Thus, he saw the key to taking Gaza would be to first feign a direct attack and draw the forces and attention of the defenders’ leaders at Gaza while sending a force in a flanking attack at unsuspecting Ottoman defenders that manned the lines in defense of Beersheba. Once Beersheba was in Allenby’s hands, he was then positioned to threaten the left flank of the Ottomans’ defensive line protecting its positions within Gaza. Once in such a position, Allenby could then move in three directions against Gaza itself.

Rumors circulated that the British were intent on attacking Gaza once again, but this time the operation would be centered on a naval amphibious landing north of Gaza and then descending down behind defenses. Additionally, British patrols routinely approached Beersheba every couple of weeks, expecting that when the actual attack was commenced, the Ottomans would at first believe it to be another scouting operation. Allenby wrote the following:

When I took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces at the end of June, 1917, I received instructions to report on the conditions in which offensive operations against the Turkish Army on the Palestine front might be undertaken in the autumn or winter of 1917 … The main features of the situation in Palestine were as follows: The Turkish Army in Southern Palestine held a strong position extending from the sea at Gaza, roughly along the Gaza-Beersheba Road to Beersheba. Gaza had been made into a strong modern fortress, heavily entrenched and wired, offering facility for protracted defense … I decided to strike the main blow against the left flank of the main Turkish position, Hareira and Sheria. The capture of Beersheba was a necessary preliminary to this operation, in order to secure the water supplies at that place and to give room for the deployment of the attacking force on the high ground to the north and north-west of Beersheba. It was, however, important in order to keep the enemy in doubt up to the last moment as to the real point of attack, and that an attack should also be made on the enemy’s right at Gaza in conjunction with the main operations.

The Ottomans had positioned nine infantry divisions and one cavalry division in the line protecting Gaza with a total force level of between 35,000 and 45,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry, and 500 artillery guns. The British force was divided into three elements: the strike wing consisted of the Desert Mounted Corps, containing the Anzac and Australian Mounted Divisions and the 7th Mounted Brigade and XX Corps, with four infantry divisions and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade. In total, it was a force of 47,500 infantry, 11,000 cavalry, and 242 guns. On the left of this striking wing was the British XXI Corps, containing three infantry divisions and two brigades for a total of 35,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 218 guns. Between the two main bodies of the EEF and protecting the gap between them was the Yeomanry Mounted Division consisting of some 5,000 cavalry troopers.

In order to facilitate the deception, an artillery bombardment of Gaza began on October 27, four days before the actual attack at Beersheba was scheduled to occur. The bombardment would last for six days, which included naval gunfire and was the largest artillery barrage of World War I, outside of France. On October 31, the British commenced the actual attack as two infantry divisions moved against the well-entrenched and well-defended southwest defenses of the town. The key to the attack, however, was in the flanking maneuver conducted by the 4th Australian Light Horse led by General W. Grant, who, in dramatic fashion, conducted one of the last successful cavalry attacks in the modern warfare. By November 7, Gaza was under British control.

By November 14, the British took Junction Station, which effectively cut the Ottoman rail line into Palestine. From that point, the 75th Division—the last one formed during the war and consisting of Indian Gurkhas and British personnel from India—captured the road from Jerusalem to Jaffa. The key military geographic objective for the defense of Jerusalem, throughout history, has been the vital hill of Nebi Samwil, which from either defenders’ or attackers’ perspective was the key to the city. On November 21, the 75th captured Nebi Samwil, which then provided Allenby and the EEF the position from which the city of Jerusalem could be taken.


On December 8, 1917, Allenby dispatched the XX Corps for the final assault on Jerusalem. The following day, December 9, the Turkish army withdrew from Jerusalem and 400 years of Ottoman rule had come to an end. On December 11, Allenby made a dramatic and well-photographed entry into Jerusalem, choosing to walk instead of ride into the city through the Jaffa Gate. It was the first time since 1187 CE that Western forces controlled the historic city.

By the fall of 1918, the Ottomans fielded three armies with a total of 34,000 men defending a defensive line from the Eastern Mediterranean coast across the Judean Hills, the Jordan Valley, and to the Hejaz Railway. German General Liman von Sanders had replaced Falkenhayn and was in overall command. Under Allenby in Palestine were 69,000 men (57,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry). The Turkish front line defenses were 3,000 yards deep, well-constructed, and protected by thin, barbed wire. The second line three miles to the rear was less prepared and consisted of strongpoints but not adequately connected in a consistent defensive line and unprotected by wire.

The Battle of Megiddo, September 19–25, 1918, was the climactic battle of British operations in Egypt and Palestine against German-led Ottoman forces during World War I. The name applied to Allenby’s final offensive in Palestine was of course chosen for symbolic purposes, as scant fighting relative to other regions actually occurred in the vicinity of Megiddo. Symbolic, figurative, or literal, Allenby’s cavalry did in fact advance past the ancient site of Megiddo, which served as the first battle in recorded history (1457 BCE).

Arrayed in front of Allenby were the Ottoman Eighth, Seventh, and Fourth Armies, with the Eighth nearest the Mediterranean coast, the Seventh in the middle of the Ottoman order of battle, and the Fourth on Allenby’s right flank. Allenby’s main focus was on the Seventh and Eighth Armies, commanded by Mustafa Kemal Pasha and Jeved Pasha, respectively. Once again, Allenby’s ability to keep the enemy from ascertaining his striking plans forced Sanders to defend across the entire front, which left scant few troops in reserve.

By mid-September 1918, Allenby had positioned 35,000 infantry, 9,000 cavalry, and 383 guns on the western fifteen miles of the front line facing 8,000 infantry and 130 guns of the Ottoman Seventh Army. On the remaining 45 miles of the front, the British had 22,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and 157 guns facing 24,000 men and 270 guns of the Eight and Fourth Ottoman Armies. However, 11,000 of those in the Fourth Army were east of the Jordan Valley, which when actual combat began effectively removed them from making effective contributions. Sanders had placed them guarding his left flank knowing that the “Bloody Bull” had a penchant for sweeping flanking maneuvers and often using his swift moving cavalry. Sanders, who had calculated so well in ascertaining British landing intentions during the Gallipoli campaign, now, with limited forces holding weaker positions, was a victim of British deception as to the actual plans of attack.

Allenby’s battle plan was for his XXI Corps of five divisions to attack along the Mediterranean coast and force Jeved Pasha’s Eighth Army to pull back along the line of the railway north to Tul Keram, followed by a move east to Messudieh Junction. Once this was accomplished, a gap would have been opened up along the coast through which Allenby planned on sending his Desert Mounted Corps. Once past the Ottoman lines it became incumbent upon them to ride north past the Judean Hills and arrive at the Plain of Esdraelon. Their objective was the capture of the Beisan and El Afule, which were key to controlling access to the rail link.

Once in control of Beisan and El Afule, the Desert Mounted Corps would have effectively blocked the escape route via rail for the Seventh and Eighth Ottoman Armies, at which point, the only alternative for retreat open to the Ottoman forces would have been east through the Jordan Valley. XX Corps was assigned the task of advancing parallel to the hills toward Nablus and in blocking the best passes into the Jordan Valley, thereby catching the retreating Ottoman units in a trap.

Allenby benefited from the British Air Corps’ ability to maintain air superiority and in keeping German aircraft from conducting scouting missions. In a preliminary operation, the Air Corps dropped ordnance on Ottoman positions in Deraa (city in present-day Syria), which lent weight to Sander’s opinion that Allied forces would conduct its main attack inland. Simultaneous to the air raid, Arab insurgent forces—among them T. E. Lawrence—cut the rail lines north, south, and west from Deraa, at which time Sanders transferred additional reserves east to address the rising threat. A second preliminary move occurred when the 53rd Division of XX Corps moved to engage Ottoman units east of the Judean Hills. This attack was to place the 53rd in position to maneuver once the actual main attack opened nearer the Mediterranean coast.

The main attack commenced at 4:30 a.m. on September 19, as Allied artillery opened fire for a brief, 15-minute barrage. The following infantry assault overwhelmed the outnumbered Ottomans in the first line. The 60th Division moving on the left of Allied advance gained 7,000 yards, nearly four miles, in the first two and a half hours shattering the first and second defensive lines and taking control of a bridge over the Nahr el Falik. The control of the bridgehead then allowed the cavalry to move forward.By the end of the first day’s operations, XXI Corps had managed to seize most of the railway north of Tul Keram. As the Ottoman Eighth Army was attempting to withdraw through Tul Keram, it was struck from the air and engaged by the rapidly advancing 5th Australian Light Horse as well as the 60th Division, which had pushed forward 17 miles and secured Tul Keram. All cavalry units had met their expected objectives for the first day’s operations and reached the outer perimeter of the Plain of Esdraelon and, by 2:30 a.m. on September 20, were advancing into the valley. The key objectives of El Afule and Beisan were captured later on September 20, securing the railroad in each region. Moreover, as the Allied cavalry swiftly advanced, it nearly succeeded in capturing General Sanders who had made his headquarters at Nazareth.

By close of the second day, the Turkish Eighth Army had essentially been destroyed and the Seventh was near collapse. With the railway blocked, its only chance of escape was east from Nablus down a road leading from Wadi Fara into the Jordan Valley. This position, however, was the objective of the Allied XX Corps, which had not enjoyed the same success as other Allied units. Thus, it was not where Allenby planned for it to be on the night of September 20 and morning of September 21, and the Ottomans began a successful evacuation from Nablus. However, they were then stopped by Allied airpower as Allenby’s aircraft caught Ottoman forces on the road east of Nablus at a gorge. Bombing soon served to block the Ottoman passage through the gorge, and survivors scattered into the surrounding countryside only to be captured piecemeal in follow-on operations. Advancing Allied forces captured over 1,000 vehicles and 90 guns, which had been abandoned along the road.

Allied forces took 25,000 prisoners during and following the Battle of Megiddo. Less than 10,000 Turkish and German soldiers escaped and made their retreat north. British and Allied forces pressed the advantage and continued the pursuit of the retreating Central Power troops through the month of October. The EEF moved north toward the ancient city of Damascus (in present-day Syria). Sanders had placed Ali Riza Pasha Rehabi, an Arab general serving in the Ottoman army, in command of Damascus. Unbeknownst to Sanders, Ali was also the serving president of the Syrian branch of the Arab Secret Society and had been in contact with T. E. Lawrence.


Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel commanding Desert Mounted Corps leads his corps through Damascus on 2 October 1918.

Prince Feisal leaving Chauvel’s Desert Mounted Corps Headquarters in Damascus.

With the Ottoman military position in Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia collapsing at late autumn of 1918, the Arab Secret Society seized control in Damascus. On October 1, in a sequence preplanned by the commander of the EEF, the first troops of the Arab Revolt rode into the city followed on October 2 by Allenby’s forces. During the month of October, Allied forces under Allenby seized Beirut (present-day Lebanon) on October 8; Tripoli on October 18, and the great trading city of northern Syria, Aleppo, on October 25. On October 30, 1918, with all lands outside of Anatolia (present-day Turkey) essentially lost in terms of the Middle East, Istanbul sued for peace and asked for an armistice. The Battle of Megiddo was certainly one of the best planned and executed British battles of the First World War and most certainly that which followed in the aftermath was historic in scale as Britain and France took positions of prominence across the Middle East in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.


Reforming the Ottoman military had been a pressing issue for successive Sultans for at least two centuries in the early modern era and in the lead-up to the First World War. An entrenched bureaucracy, backed by the powerful Janissaries and elite merchants who were quite content with the Ottoman status quo, successfully hindered the necessary reforms. Yet, the reforms needed for successful military operations in the modern, industrialized world went beyond the need to reorganize army units and train their leaders.

As was the case in many of the battles that took place during World War I, in any theater, battle communications with the front were generally broken in short order. Since nearly no battle plan survives, first contact with the enemy fully intact, those in the front lines are unable to receive new orders or benefit from new intelligence other than what they are generating on their own. Accordingly, while brilliant generals and field marshals construct plans that come from a career of experience and study, the original plan most often needs to be adjusted in the face of enemy action.

If, as was widely the case during the war, those at the front cannot communicate with the brilliance in the rear, they are then left to fend for themselves. It is the ability of these officers and men to adapt, adjust, and overcome. Conversely, it is their inability to do so that often factored significantly into the outcome of battle. It was, therefore, the intent of the Ottoman leadership to allow Germany to help develop Auftragstaktik at the general officer level and where appropriate, within its mid-level officer ranks. In the drill regulations of the infantry 1888, German commanders were told to tell subordinates what to do without insisting on how they did it. Due to the increased lethality of modern weapons, it was expected that greater force dispersion would be required. Given this, captains and lieutenants would often find themselves required to direct their units without orders from central command. As such, the nature of the decentralization of the modern battlefield created the necessity of developing initiative, critical thinking, and independent judgment at all levels.

Yet, the ability to think independently, critically, and accurately in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, violence, and danger requires a culture that fosters, over a lifetime, a culture of innovative and courageous behavior. Accordingly, in order to be successful militarily in modern battle-space, traditional and authoritarian societies are faced with a dilemma: continue insisting on a compliant and submissive population producing military leaders incapable of fast and independent thinking or launch societal-wide reforms in the nature of education, socialization, and training, which will empower their commanders and decision makers to adjust quickly and effectively in the heat of modern-era battle.

In essence, the centralized power of the typical autocratic political regime within the Middle East will not simply have to reform in order to create modern democratic societies, rather, and perhaps more importantly, it will have to embrace change in order to defend itself in the modern battle-space. The centralized command structure with initiative and independent thinking suppressed in many of the armies within the modern Middle East will have to be overcome in order to prosecute effective military campaigns in the modern era. The need for military security will require changes in traditional society, which will, in turn, create the conditions leading ultimately toward greater political participation and greater democratization across the region.

This is not to suggest that Ottoman officers, had they been better at operating independently, would have prevailed over Allenby’s forces during the campaign in Palestine during the First World War. It does suggest that given the realities of modern warfare, successful military officers will be forced to think in new and different ways and will benefit from being schooled in the science and art of critical and innovative thinking. The plight of the Mamluks in the face of a rising and technically proficient Ottoman army and their subsequent refusal to adapt to new weaponry and doctrine serve to illustrate the gravity of the situation for Middle Eastern cultures as the twenty-first century unfolds. Allenby’s Middle East operations were instrumental in driving Ottoman and German forces from the Levant, the liberation of Arab lands from Turkish rule, as well as laying the foundation for the arrival of the Jewish people and the ultimate establishment of the state of Israel. As such, Allenby, the EEF, and the Cairo-based Arab Bureau’s contributions to the creation of the modern Middle East are substantial.


In order to conduct modern, industrialized warfare at the great power level, the ability to generate and sustain strategic endurance had become, by the First World War, a prerequisite for success. Accordingly, the great powers, particularly Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, maneuvered for control of those elements that contributed to strategic endurance: people, resources, markets, and trade routes. These crucial elements or components of aggregated power and the direction of that power for the obtainment of political objectives were certainly not new or unique to the modern world having animated world politics for centuries. What was new were the nature of energy, electricity, machining, and mass production, coupled with an exponential rise in the levels of lethality, range, and accuracy of rapid fire small arms and large bore artillery.

Long lasting wars between great power coalitions in the modern age have been won by the side with the largest economic staying power and productive resources. In every economic category, the Anglo-American-French coalition was between two and three times as strong as Germany and Austria-Hungary combined—a fact confirmed by further statistics of the war expenditures of each side between 1914 and 1919: 60.4 billion dollars spent by the German-Austrian alliance as opposed to 114 billion spent by the British Empire, France and the United States together (and 145 billion if Italy and Russia’s expenditures are included).

Given the militarization of the various industrialized economies, as well as the mobilization of the entire populations for prolonged periods, the First World War came to be referred to as a “total war.”

The militarization of societies, economies, and politics was the consequence. In the end, the war proved a contest of productive capacities; and the Allied victory was due to their material superiority, which by 1918 was insuperable.

In order to form sufficient levels of aggregated power that would lead to a war-winning level of strategic endurance, Britain needed to borrow heavily (particularly from the United States and the banking syndicates in Europe) and was forced to make promises that were eventually difficult to honor. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its Central Powers’ allies, the promises that Britain had made in order to cobble together the winning coalition were, by 1919, beginning to color its postwar Middle East policy. Sharif Ali Hussein and his sons, Faisal and Abdullah, called for the promises made during the Hussein-McMahon correspondences to be honored by establishing an independent Arab state and to be placed under Hussein’s control.

New Guinea Campaigns

After landing 3,000 men unopposed, at Lae on March 8th, the Japanese had little to fear from the allies. It was MacArthur’s obsession with the liberation of the Philippines that was to make New Guinea the lure for thousands of American, Australian and Japanese troops to fight for it’s uninviting jungle. It was a pivotal point for any invasion of the Philippines, it also blocked any invasion of Australia by the Japanese and could sever the America/Australia lifeline if taken by the Japanese. After the Japanese invasion at Buna, MacArthur and the Australian General Blamey often fell out, as the Australian militia fell back before the Japanese onslaught MacArthur felt that the ‘Aussies’ were poor fighters, often retreating before inferior Japanese forces. He lingered under the impression that American troops would do much better. As the Japanese continued their advance over the Owen Stanley mountains towards Port Moresby, the allied situation became desperate, the landings at Guadalcanal had turned into a bloody slogging match of grinding attrition and at the same time the Japanese launched a two pronged attack on Port Moresby.

As General Horii’s troops launched their overland offensive, (on August 24-25th) the Navy landed 2,500 troops at Milne bay. From Milne however, the Japanese had to advance along a single muddy track and soon clashed with the Australians guarding it. During frequent downpours the Japanese launched several night attacks using light tanks, machine guns, grenades and bayonets. Despite their fanatical attacks, the Japanese could make no headway against the determined Aussies and after several days they evacuated their surviving troops. It was during these actions that Maj. General Kenney the new allied air commander made his debut. Despite not achieving much against the Japanese at Milne Bay (the 5th Air Force mistakenly bombed Australian troops) Kenney learned quickly and his innovations and adaptability proved to be very valuable in the harsh jungle airstrips the 5th was forced to operate from.

As the Japanese attack on Milne was being repulsed, more good news arrived. Horii’s attack force had shot it’s bolt during the overland offensive, tired, dispirited by the jungle fighting and with Horii himself drowned while crossing a river, the Japanese fell back under ferocious Aussie counterattacks. MacArthur now struck at Buna, using the 32nd Infantry Division. Everyone expected it be a walk over, basically just ‘mopping up’ stray Japanese troops, instead the men of the 128th Infantry, 32nd Div, walked into a jungle nightmare. Reinforced by fresh troops, the Japanese holding Buna, Sanananda and Gona could not be outflanked as the villages all backed up to the ocean and so the Americans had to advance through swamps and jungle to launch frontal attacks against the dug in Japanese. Japanese infantry would wait in their foxholes until the Americans passed by, then attack them from the rear while machine guns peppered the Americans from the front. Besieged by insects, soaked by frequent downpours and in a kind of combat that they had not been trained for, the 128th stopped dead in its tracks. MacArthur was especially embarrassed because, as reports of cowardice, malingering and inaction filtered back to him, the ‘unreliable’ Australian troops of the 7th Division pressed home their attacks regardless of harsh conditions, small parties of troops crawled through the slime to attack strong-points, destroying each bunker in turn, while living in vile conditions.

In the close quarter fighting the Japanese ravaged the Aussies who kept hammering away at the Japanese positions until they took Gona on the 9th of December. The 7th Division was finished as a fighting force however, battle casualties and malaria had exacted a terrible toll. The Americans on the other hand were still stuck in the swampy morass around Buna and Sananada and on the 29th of November, an irate MacArthur told General Eichelburger to “take Buna or don’t come back alive!” After relieving the hapless General Harding and reinforced by tanks and additional artillery, the 128th finally took Buna on January 2nd, 1943, Sanananda fell 20 days later. As many as 13,000 Japanese troops lost their lives during the fighting and allied casualties were about 8,500 battle casualties (5,698 of them Australians) with another 25,000 cases of malaria.

With his three months of unimaginative attrition warfare, MacArthur had won the airstrip at Buna but wrecked two infantry divisions and exhausted two others in the process. The Americans would get a respite for six months to recover. The Japanese did not allow the weary Australians that luxury.

Isolated and weakly protected, the Australian Airbase at Wau seemed like ripe pickings for the Japanese 18th Army. In January,1943, the 102nd Infantry, 51st Division moved by ship to Lae. Although Lae was within range of the allied planes, an overland attack from safer ports further west was impossible because of the dense jungle. Kenney’s ‘Kids’ struck the Japanese convoy again and again, sinking 2 transports and killing 600 Japanese soldiers, under air attack even as they unloaded at Lae only about one third of the force got ashore and they only had about half of their equipment. Even so, these survivors stuck to their orders and on January 30, an attack on the Aussies defending the airstrip. The attack reached the edge of the airstrip, but the reinforced defenders (some running from the transport planes firing at the Japanese) stopped the attack cold. The survivors fell back to Lae.

The Japanese tried to reinforce Lae and from 2-5 March and, in what became known as ‘The Battle of The Bismarck Sea’ the fifth Air Force threw everything it had at the Japanese convoy. On March 2nd, high level B-17’s and B-24’s sank 1 and damaged 2 more, near Lae, the survivors came under attack from B-25’s of the 13th and 90th squadrons. The crews of the B-25’s had been honing their ‘skip bombing’ skills on a derelict ship in Port Moresby harbor and now their practice was being put to the test. The Japanese air patrols were at 7,000 feet and didn’t even see the B-25’s who came roaring in at wavetop height. The newly acquired ‘skip bombing’ skills were put to deadly effect, they sank 8 transports and 4 destroyers. Of the 6,912 men of the 102nd Infantry, about 3,900 survived, but only about 1,000 oil stained, exhausted officers and men reached Lae. Allied fighters strafed the helpless Japanese in the water (a little enterprise started by the Japanese earlier in the war) it was payback time for many of the atrocities committed by the Japanese. The sea turned to bloody froth as sharks swarmed to the feast, allied pilots looked down on hundreds of shattered corpses bobbing about like broken dolls in the bloody swells. This disaster set the seal for the Japanese in New Guinea, from now on the thoroughly demoralized Japanese troops were totally on the defensive, lacking the strength or morale for anything but localized counterattacks.

In an effort to retard the growing allied counteroffensive, the Japanese launched massed air attacks against allied air and shipping around Guadalcanal and New Guinea. 350 naval aircraft attacked in four stages. The inexperienced Japanese pilots gave wildly exagerated reports, claiming 28 transports or warships sunk and 150 allied planes shot down, for only 49 Japanese aircraft lost. In fact the losses were four small ships sunk and twelve aircraft destroyed. A jubilent scheduled a morale raising visit to his front line pilots, but the allies knew the details of the trip after breaking the Japanese code. Orders came from the highest U.S. authority and a flight of P-38 lightnings intercepted and shot down Yamamoto’s plane. So died the great Japanese naval leader who had predicted the defeat of Japan in his ‘sleeping giant’ comments just after Pearl Harbor.

With the death of Yamamoto, so came the death of Japanese hopes for any kind of victory in the South Pacific. The air offensive against Guadalcanal and New Guinea was the last great Japanese air offensive of the South West Pacific area.

The allies next landed at Nassau Bay, after some nigh-time skirmishes the Japanese fled into the jungle. From Nassau Bay, the allies could put pressure on Salamaua, the village that guarded the aproach to Lae, troops were siphoned from Lae to defend Salamaua leaving the Lae garrison vulnerable to flanking attacks from the air and sea. An allied pincer closed on Lae, American troops pushed along the coast from Nassau Bay and Australian troops advanced from Wau. The main Japanese defense was a lone infantry regiment, but in this type of terrain a few determined troops could slow down a force ten times their number. The Americans advancing up the coast had to cross numerous streams, but the Australian line of advance was predictable and the Japanese dug in at various locations. A grueling, 75 day running battle followed, with patrol sized units probing through the undergrowth. Ambush and death awaited the careless or unlucky, in the appalling conditions visibility was often only a few feet into the undergrowth and most deaths were by small arms fire or grenades, emphasizing the close combat conditions.

American losses between the end of June and September 12, when Salamaua fell, were 81 killed and 396 wounded. The Australian Brigade suffered 112 killed, 346 wounded and 12 men missing. Japanese losses were well over 1,000 men. The struggle on New Guinea was fought in some of the worst battle conditions ever encountered, men collapsed from the heat and humidity, soldiers shook constantly from Malaria chills or being drenched in tropical downpours, some simply went mad. The Neuropsychiatric rate for American soldiers was the highest in the South west Pacific theater, 43.94 per 1,000 men. The Japanese soldier had to survive on millet and hard tack. Malnutrition, Amoebic Dysentery, Beri-Beri and Malaria plagued him, rice was an undreamed of luxury, the terrible rations on both sides left the soldiers undernourished and susceptible to uncountable tropical diseases that flourished in the heat and humidity.

The Japanese still had air power on two fronts around the allies, Rabaul and Wewak, Kenney decided to concentrate on Wewak. The distance was to great for allied fighters to escort the bombers and unescorted raids would be suicide, so Kenney had a secret staging base built about 60 miles from Lae. On August 17th, the raid by the 5th Air Force left 100 parked planes destroyed or damaged, a follow up raid the next morning left another 28 Japanese planes wrecked. In two days the Japanese Fourth Air Army had lost three quarters of it’s aircraft. Two weeks later the allies landed just north of Lae, only a few Japanese bombers made any attacks on the beachhead and little damage was done. On September 5th, American Paratroops dropped on Nadzab, twenty miles West of Lae, unchallenged by Japanese aircraft. This move cut of the 51st Division from the rest of Eighteenth Army.

The Japanese had to retreat 50 miles to Finschafen across the 12,000 foot mountain range, of the 8,000 officers and men that started the retreat, about 2,000 were lost in the unforgiving mountains, mostly to starvation. Lt. Gen. Yamada assembled his remaining men on Satelberg ridge which overlooked the entire Finschafen coastline and blocked any further ground push toward Sio.

Australian troops landed at Finschafen on Sept 22nd, after quickly clearing the coastal enclave around the port, they started to push up Satelberg ridge. Against entrenched and fanatical defenders, the Australians soon found themselves embroiled in a series of deadly, small unit combats, that found the 9th Australian Division having to clear isolated pockets of resistance one by one. At least 5,000 Japanese perished, but MacArthur’s expected ‘walkover’ advance was held up for two months.

The allied forces in the Southwest Pacific had increased dramatically, in December, 1942, it was just the 32nd and 41st Infantry Divisions, now there were five divisions, three regimental combat teams, three engineer special brigades, five Australian infantry divisions and three more US divisions on the way. The 5th Air Force had about 1,000 combat aircraft and the 7th fleet increased in size with more transports and landing being added. The Japanese on the other hand, had lost about 3,000 aircraft in the Southwest Pacific and 18th army had suffered about 35,000 casualties, they could not replace these kind of losses.

The jungle that had claimed so many Japanese lives now sheltered them from a concentrated allied ground offensive. Because of the dense jungle, the allies could not mass their overwhelming firepower against any particular stronghold. Of all the allied forces in the area, few actually fought the Japanese, the amount of logistical effort to sustain the allied forces was staggering. To sustain a single infantry regiment in combat required the equivalent of two divisions of supply personnel. Seven out of every eight troops in the area served in support roles, from unloading ships to preventing Malaria, constructing airfields and hauling supplies.

In December, 1943, MacArthur’s forces invaded the southern tip of New Britain, Japanese gunners shot the first wave of the 112th Cavalry to pieces and repulsed the attack. The main force did get ashore, but became bogged down in the swampy ground. On the north side of the island, the attack by the 1st Marine Division ran into similar difficulties, but on a larger scale. An overland advance on Rabaul was impossible. To overcome this obstacle the 126th infantry was shipped from Finschafen to land at Saidor and cut off the Japanese 20th Division who were defending Sio. Again the Japanese were forced to flee through rugged mountains, losing men to starvation and disease all along the trail of retreat.

After an Australian patrol found a complete cypher library for the 20th Division in a stream, Kenney convinced MacArthur that the Japanese had abandoned Los Negros (the largest of the Admiralty Islands, 360 miles from Rabaul) and an invasion force of 1,000 officers and men of the 1st Cavalry Division landed on Los Negros on February 29th. The Japanese were expecting an attack from the opposite direction and were caught by surprise when the 1st landed behind them. Although it was an accident, the good fortune of landing behind the enemy was put to good use and, after some vicious night fighting, the 5th won an impressive victory. Capture of the Admiralties allowed the allies to extend fighter cover beyond Wewak and the decision was taken to make an unprecedented 400 mile leap up the New Guinea coast to Hollandia. The value of the captured cyphers was to make the landing at Hollandia (Operation ‘Reckless’) a masterpiece of planning and ‘Reckless’ would prove to be the turning point in MacArthur’s war against Japan. Through the cyphers it was learned that the planned landing at Hansa Bay would meet strong ground opposition and also the airbase at Hollandia was being ‘beefed up’ to support the land defense of Madang. It was also learned from the cyphers that the land defenses at Hollandia were minimal so ‘Reckless’ was planned and given the go ahead.

Hollandia was still beyond the range of land based fighters, so MacArthur was given three days of carrier fighter support and the invasion of Aitape was planned. By seizing Aitape, land based fighters could support the Hollandia landings and the carrier planes would be used to support the seizing of Aitape. 217 ships transported 80,000 men 1,000 miles to land in three separate areas on Aitape. With the island secure, Kenney was now allowed to crush the aircraft at Hollandia. The Japanese aircrews at Hollandia felt safe from allied aircraft and did not expect the flight of 60 B24’s escorted by P38’s with drop tanks that smashed the airfield at Hollandia on March 30th. Follow up raids demolished nearly all the serviceable Japanese aircraft at Hollandia and never again did the Japanese contest air superiority over New Guinea.

A deception plan kept the Japanese thinking that the next allied landing would be at Hansa Bay, and when the 24th and 41st Infantry Divisions waded ashore at Hollandia they were unopposed. The same thing happened at Aitape, the Japanese Eighteenth Army was isolated in Eastern New Guinea and the Japanese defences had been split.

In order to prevent Adachi’s 18th Army from breaking through the envelopment and also to stop the Japanese defenders from having enough time to regroup and reorganize, the 41st Infantry tried to seize Wadke island and some airstrips at Sarmi on the adjacent New Guinea coast. Wadke was a tough nut to crack, the Japanese had to be winkled out of spider caves, Coconut log bunkers and Coral caves during 2 days of bitter, squad sized actions. Because most of the Japanese defenders had gone to help stave off the Hollandia landings, the Sarmi airfileds were taken with relative ease. In the subsequent push towards Sarmi village, the 6th Division, with the 158th Regimental Combat Team, fought a bitter battle to clear ‘Lone Tree Hill’ of the enemy. The Americans suffered 2,299 casualties (437 killed) while the Japanese had a staggering 4,000 killed.

With all these major operations going on at the same time, the allies now turned their attention to Biak. Biak dominates Geelvink Bay and with it’s capacity for heavy bombers on it’s airstrips it was a powerful lure to MacArthur and Kenney. The 41st Infantry now turned it’s attention to Biak, landing there on May 27th, 1944. Being only 60 miles south of the Equator, the steaming heat combined with sudden Japanese ambushes to make the advance inland very slow indeed. The fighting continued through June and meant that the amphibious fleet along with Kincaid’s 7th fleet were tied up close to Biak and vulnerable to Japanese air and surface attack. The Japanese 16th Cruiser Division tried several attacks on the American ships but thanks to allied code breakers and the 5th Air Force B-25’s, none of them caused any damage and the Japanese lost one Destroyer in the attempts. The Japanese lost about 4,800 men killed defending Biak, American casualties were about 2,800 killed and wounded.

Because the airfields on Biak were not taken on schedule, the allies also attacked the airstrips on Noemfoor island, beginning with a landing on the airfield itself by the 503rd Parachute Regiment. Many Paratroopers had bone-cracking landings as high winds carried them into supply dumps, vehicle parks and wrecked Japanese aircraft. None were actually killed in the jump, but 128 were injured in the jump. 411 Americans were casualties during the battle while about 1,759 Japanese were killed. Although an impressive defensive belt was built around the airstrips, only 3 infantry battalions and 2 under-strength cavalry squadrons guarded the Driniumoor river line. On the night of the 10th of July, 10,000 howling Japanese troops rushed across the shallow Driniumoor and fell upon the vastly outnumbered Americans. Outnumbered and undermanned, the GI’s fired their guns until they were red hot, artillery shells killed and maimed hundreds more Japanese, but the sheer weight of numbers allowed the Japanese to prevail. For a month after, a battle of attrition was waged by small squads of GI’s mopping up the remaining pockets of Japanese. All 10,000 Japanese were killed and about 440 Americans paid the ultimate price. Meanwhile the Australians were advancing towards Wewak in a move that cost them 451 killed while the Japanese lost 7,200! With these horrendous loss ratios (about 23-1 in favor of the allies) the Japanese forces in the South Pacific were chewed up piecemeal and destroyed. About 110,000 Japanese troops died in eastern New Guinea with another 15,000 killed in western New Guinea with another 40,000 isolated there and left to wither on the vine. With the isolation of another 100,000 Japanese troops on New Britain, the totality of the allied victory in the New Guinea campaign came into sharp focus.

The 5th Airforce lost 1374 aircraft from September 1942 to September 1944 and 4,100 airmen killed or missing. 2,000 Australian airmen also lost their lives in the climactic air battles over New Guinea. Before Hollandia it took 20 months and 24,000 allied battle casualties (17,107 being Australian) to advance 900 miles, with another 70,000 Malaria casualties. After Hollandia it took 9,500 casualties (mostly Americans) to leap 1,500 miles in just 100 days. The allies learnt in eastern New Guinea that the terrain dictated the campaign, so in western New Guinea air power and the sea allowed the allies to simply bypass the jungle, seize the coastal enclaves and leave the isolated Japanese troops trapped in the interior, to be decimated by disease and relentless allied pressure.

Martin-Baker and Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie


Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie.


Return of the Meteor jets, Kimpo, Korea. Oil on hardboard, 1953 by Ivor Hele. 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force flew Meteors in Korea in 1952 and 1953. [AWM ART40304]

With air combats developing at altitudes of over 30,000 feet, it was inevitable that the Korean War should see new records set for high-altitude parachute escapes. An air battle fought on 29 August, 1951, between Gloster Meteor Mk 8s of No 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, and Chinese MiG-15s saw the highest recorded baleout to date. On this day, eight Meteors were detailed to escort B-29s and another eight to carry out a diversionary sweep north of Sinanju. At 11.20 the latter flight, led by Squadron Leader Wilson, spotted six MiGs at 40,000 feet over Chongju, 5,000 feet higher than themselves. Keeping the enemy in sight Wilson manoeuvred his formation up-sun, but as he did so two more MiGs appeared a few thousand feet below. Wilson decided to attack and went into a dive followed by his number two, Flying Officer Woodroffe. As the two Meteors levelled out, however, Woodroffe’s aircraft suddenly flicked into a spin (an unpleasant tendency of the Meteor 8, caused by the effects of compressibility, if the aircraft exceeded 0.8M at altitude) and dropped away; the pilot managed to recover several thousand feet lower down, but now Wilson had no one to cover his tail. As he began his approach to attack, a MiG jumped him out of the sun, unnoticed in the 30-degree blind spot caused by the dural structure at the rear of the Meteor’s cockpit. The first warning Wilson had of the danger was when cannon shells passed over his wing; he immediately put his aircraft into a maximum-rate turn in a bid to shake off his pursuer. He was rescued by Flight Lieutenant Cedric Wilson and Flying Officer Ken Blight, who spotted his predicament and drove the MiG away – but not before cannon shells had shot away Sqn Ldr Wilson’s port aileron and punched a three-foot hole in his port wing, puncturing a fuel tank. Despite the damage Wilson reached base safely, touching down at 30 knots above normal landing speed.

Meanwhile, a fierce air battle had developed over Chongju as the other Meteors were hotly engaged by thirty MiGs. The weight of the attack fell on ‘Dog’ section, led by Flt Lt Geoff Thornton, who saw the MiGs coming down and ordered his section to break as soon as the enemy opened fire. Flying in the number four position was Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie, a veteran of fourteen previous Meteor sorties over Korea, and as he broke hard to port his aircraft was hit by cannon shells aft of the cockpit, destroying his radio equipment. Two of Guthrie’s attackers passed in front of him and he got one in his sights, loosing off a burst of 20mm cannon fire, but before he had time to observe any result he came under attack again, and this time the Meteor went out of control.

As the Meteor passed through 38,000 feet in a rolling dive, with the Machmeter showing 0.84, Guthrie ejected. The Martin-Baker seat worked perfectly and Guthrie sat upright in it as it descended through the stratosphere. It was like sitting in an armchair, with the world unfolding at his feet, and the situation might almost have been pleasant had it not been for the fact that he was falling into enemy territory and that his oxygen mask had been ripped away on ejection. Fortunately, it was still attached to the emergency supply and he managed to get it back on, finding to his relief that the oxygen was still flowing.

Guthrie now had a decision to make. The air temperature at that altitude was minus 50 degrees C and he was wearing only a lightweight summer flying suit. If he jettisoned his seat and opened his canopy at this stage, there was would be a very real danger of frostbite. On the other hand, altitude would give him an advantage: he might be able to steer his parachute clear of the North Korean coastline and make a touchdown in the sea, where he would have a good chance of being picked up by friendly forces. He decided to take the risk. Unfastening his harness, he kicked the seat away and pulled the ripcord.

His parachute opened at 35,000 feet. From that height he could see the curvature of the earth, and the whole panorama of the Korean peninsula spread out below him. The air grew warmer as he continued his descent, but now he realised with dismay that a westerly wind was blowing him inland, and that despite his best efforts to control the direction of his parachute he was not going to reach the coast. Twenty-eight minutes after ejecting, having survived the attentions of some enemy troops who fired at him in the latter stages of his descent, he landed in a paddy field and was quickly surrounded. It was the beginning of a two-year captivity. At that time, Guthrie’s was the highest ejection on record. He had also experienced the longest parachute descent, and it was the first time that a Martin-Baker seat had saved a pilot’s life in combat.

It was soon apparent that the Meteor was no match for the MiG-15, and it was soon reassigned to the ground attack role, which it performed well, leaving the F-86 Sabres to tangle with the MiGs in the stratosphere. Ground attack work in Korea was difficult and dangerous; quite apart from the nature of the terrain, targets were usually well defended. If an aircraft was hit, the pilot had two choices: either he could bale out into enemy hands, or he could try to gain sufficient height to nurse his crippled aircraft back to friendly territory,where he could either bale out or attempt a crash landing.