Martin-Baker and Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie

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Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie.

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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.

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Indonesian Navy 2016

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The Indonesian Navy’s procurement is currently split between small numbers of ‘high-end’ vessels and larger numbers of less sophisticated patrol and missile craft. Typical of the latter is the lead KCR-60 missile-armed fast attack craft Samapri, seen here on exercises with the Royal Australian Navy’s Wollongong in March 2016. (Royal Australian Navy)

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Two images of the first Indonesian ‘Sigma 10514’ frigate Raden Eddy Martadinata, being floated out from PT Pal’s dockyard in Surabaya in January 2016. Construction of two ships is currently underway and more could be ordered in what is probably the most important Indonesian surface warship construction programme. (Piet Sinke via Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding)

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Indonesian naval procurement continues to be split between a small number of ‘high-end’ war-fighting vessels and large numbers of relatively unsophisticated patrol ships of various shapes and sizes for constabulary roles. 14 Further progress has been made in both areas over the last year. However, the long-term target of achieving a 274- strong fleet – including over a hundred combatants – by 2024 that was first announced in the Minimum Essential Forces modernisation programme initiated in 2009, looks set to be substantially scaled back to a little over 150 units. In effect, new deliveries are just about matching the pace of withdrawals.

The most costly front-line programme in progress is for the construction of three new Type 209 submarines to an improved version of South Korea’s Chang Bogo design. The first of these, Nagabanda, was rolled-out in March 2016 by DSME and should be delivered on schedule during 2017. DSME is also building a second member of the class, Trisula. Construction then scheduled to switch to PT PAL in Surabaya where a new facility should start work on the final boat from October 2016. The selection of the Type 209 design makes sense given Indonesia already has substantial experience of operating a pair of similar boats since the early 1980s. However, it appears that other designs are also being examined for further construction that is ultimately intended to extend the underwater flotilla to between ten and twelve submarines. These include Russia’s ‘Kilo’ class and the French DCNS ‘Scorpène’ design.

Meanwhile, construction of surface combatants is being assisted by a long-standing alliance with the Dutch Damen group, which delivered four ‘Sigma 9113’ class corvettes between 2007 and 2009. Assembly of a follow-on class of larger ‘Sigma 10514’ light frigates has transferred to PT PAL, who are currently building two units. The first of these, Martadinata, was launched on 18 January 2016. It seems that it is currently hoped to build at least six of the class to replace the elderly Van Speijk class frigates, which are reported to fall due for decommissioning from 2017 onwards.

Other surface assets include the three Bung Tomo class corvettes originally ordered by Brunei from BAE Systems and delivered in 2014 and the three older Fatahillah vessels built in the Netherlands in the late 1970s. The first of these has been completing a mid-life upgrade led by Ultra Electronics but it is not known whether this work will extend to the two other ships. Fifteen Project 1331 ‘Parchim 1’ are also still in service, although one – Pati Ununs – was partly sunk in a grounding incident in May 2016 and may not be repaired.

Turning to smaller vessels, recent years have seen an expansion in orders of fast attack craft based on the KCR-40, KCR-60 and KCR-63 designs. However, reports suggest that production of the KCR-63 Klewang class trimarans will not progress beyond a single vessel and that the SAAB combat suite envisaged for the boat will no longer be fitted. However, a fourth KCR-63 vessel has been ordered to supplement the three already in commission, whist the KCR-40 hull has been selected as the basis for a more lightly-armed patrol vessel variant.

Whilst current focus is on indigenous construction, foreign yards have been contracted for specialised ships. For example, the first of two Rigel class hydrographic ships built by OCEA in France arrived in Indonesia in May 2015. Her sister, Spica – commissioned in October of the same year – followed in December. A new sail training ship is also under construction at the Freire Shipyard in Spain for delivery in 2017.

“Kiwis” at Crete 1941

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Lieutenant Colonel Les Andrew VC and the New Zealand 22nd Battalion at Helwan after their return from Crete, July 1941.

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As the exhausted Anzacs stumbled off ships at Suda Bay and took stock of their new surroundings, the prospect of an epoch-making battle against German paratroopers was far from their thoughts. Most were intent on the simple necessities of food and sleep. The survivors from the Costa Rica were the worst off, having lost all their personal kit as well as their weapons when the troopship went down. Don Stephenson managed to acquire a greatcoat before he landed; apart from that, his earthly possessions on arrival at Suda Bay comprised a pouch of tobacco and a tin of sausages. Coming ashore, Stephenson walked down the jetty and straight into the arms of his brother, who was serving in another AIF unit. He remembered, ‘I hadn’t seen him in months, so we sat down and had a sausage and a smoke.’

For the Australians and New Zealanders, Crete would be a battle against military privation as well as against the Germans. Having lost his Lee-Enfield .303 rifle at sea, Stephenson was issued with an ancient ceremonial rifle used by the British Black Watch regiment, from which dangled a scabbard and bayonet, tied on with a piece of string. The remnants of Murray McColl’s platoon of New Zealand machine-gunners had one Vickers gun, but no tripod, so they got it ready for action by lashing it to the fork of a tree. For his own use, McColl acquired a rifle — without a bayonet — by visiting the British hospital near Suda Bay and taking one from a wounded patient. Phillip Hurst of the 2/7th Battalion was luckier. Like Stephenson, he lost all his gear on the Costa Rica, but on Crete he was issued with a new Tommy gun. Even this bounty had its limits — no replacement webbing accompanied the gun, so Hurst fashioned a substitute to carry his ammunition by tying two socks together and hanging the result around his neck.

Enterprise and improvisation were the order of the day. D Company, 2/1st MG Company added to its stock of Vickers guns by assembling one from the spare parts intended for maintenance purposes.2 Even the most specialised units had to scrounge and make do. The 4 Special Wireless Section got to Crete with most of its technical gear, save for the direction-finding equipment it needed to estimate the location of German transmissions. Its personnel fashioned replacements by salvaging equipment from the many ships lying half-submerged, sunk by German air attacks in the shallows of Suda Bay.3 The infantry did likewise, albeit more prosaically — without entrenching tools with which to prepare pits and trenches, many were dug with nothing more than a tin hat to scratch the ground.

Eric Davies of the 19 NZ Battalion recalled that his platoon, in trying to connect a trench system in an olive grove, spent a fortnight hacking through a massive tree root with nothing more than a bayonet. Davies had an axe to grind of a different kind: having survived his ducking in the Aegean weighed down by his assorted weaponry as he climbed aboard Kingston, he had to give up his spare rifle to the very man responsible for kicking him into the sea. The sacrifice had ‘grieved me ever since,’ Davies recalled 60 years later.

Not all of the defenders had been through the ordeal in Greece. A British brigade had been on garrison duty in Crete since November 1940, when Britain first began assisting the Greeks following the Italian invasion. A handful of Australians were also new to the fighting. A battery of the Australian 2/3rd Light Anti- Aircraft Regiment was landed in Crete to help defend the aerodromes. A Troop went to Maleme in the west, and the rest of the battery took up station at Heraklion in the east. This small reinforcement might have been fresh, but they were ill-prepared. One of its number, Ian Rutter, remembered that for some reason the regiment was a favoured destination for many sons of the Melbourne establishment, but their political connections did not guarantee adequate preparation. Although formed as a specialised anti-aircraft unit, the regiment had never fired its designated equipment, the 40-millimetre Bofors automatic cannon, before it went into action for the first time.

Ill equipped and scantily armed though they were, the Australians and New Zealanders were still fighting among friends, and they were grateful for it. Ken Johnson, at the head of his platoon in the 2/11th Battalion, sent foraging parties to nearby villages to buy milk, honey, and cheese to supplement the army diet of bully beef. Eric Davies confided to his diary on 29 April that although he ‘spent a mighty cold night without a greatcoat’, the hospitality of the Cretans was excellent compensation: ‘I’ve had more to eat today than for weeks. Eggs and chips, after weeks of hard ration, were a splendid feast.’ Phillip Hurst, entrenched along with the rest of the 2/7th Battalion at the village of Georgiopoulos on the island’s mid-north coast, remembered the kindness of the Cretans for the rest of his life:

We wanted some honey, so we went up to the village and asked them, and a chap said a lady there kept bees. But she didn’t have any containers. Well, if we promised to bring the container back, a two-pint billy, a nice one, we could have some honey, and she wouldn’t take the money. That was on the nineteenth of May — we never ate the honey, and never took the billy back. Memories. Life goes on.

Given the length of time that passed between November 1940 when the first British troops landed in Crete, and the German invasion six months later, the improvisations and lack of training were scandalous. Little had been done to prepare the island, because Crete was thought of as a convenient base and depot site for operations on the mainland. One of the consequences of this mentality was that the three British battalions of the original garrison were ‘placed where administration was easy, water plentiful and malaria absent’. Convenience and comfort are not often sound military virtues, nor is constant reorganisation. In this case, a succession of British officers were given command of the garrison before Greece fell and, as result, none had sufficient time in which to prepare a coherent defence plan. The last of these temporary commanders was Major General Weston — his unit was the Mobile Naval Base Depot Organisation (MNBDO), which was landed in Crete in echelons from January 1941. The deployment of this unit says much about how the British leadership conceived of Crete. Planned between the wars as an infrastructure organisation to quickly establish a fleet base for the Royal Navy in a far-flung part of the world, the MNBDO was well equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defences, but it was essentially a garrison formation with a multiplicity of depot units, having little or no capability to fight in the field.

Weston himself only took up command in Crete on 26 April. His tenure lasted but four days before he was replaced by Bernard Freyberg, who arrived at Suda Bay with his staff after their evacuation from Monemvasia. Freyberg thought he was only staging through to Egypt; instead, to his considerable surprise, at a conference held on 30 April with Wavell, he was given command of the defending forces on Crete. The first obstacle that Freyberg had to overcome was his own ignorance, which he acknowledged in his campaign report:

The main defence problems which faced me in Crete were not clear to me at this stage. I did not know anything about the geography or physical characteristics of the island. I knew less about the condition of the force I was to command. Neither was I aware of the serious situation with regard to maintenance and, finally, I had not learnt the real scale of attack which we were to be prepared to repel.

Ignorance might well have been bliss because, as Freyberg’s knowledge grew, so too did his anxiety. British intelligence estimated that the Luftwaffe could deposit on Crete between 5000 and 6000 paratroops in a single sortie, giving the Germans the capacity to seize a decisive area and then reinforce it at will. Winston Churchill, fortified with brandy and cigars in his bunker below Whitehall, thought this a ‘fine opportunity for killing parachute troops’. But Freyberg, having read the intelligence report, concluded more soberly, ‘I could scarcely believe my eyes.’ Apart from the experience he had gained in Greece fighting the Germans, Freyberg was now also showing signs of developing a finer sense of political acumen. After receiving the London appreciation, on 1 May he appealed for equipment and stores not through military channels, but directly to his own government. This forced Churchill to cable Wellington on 3 May, assuring prime minister Peter Fraser that the necessary equipment would be sent to Crete.

Despite this political assurance, what Freyberg actually received was modest enough — apart from small arms, some transport and stores, up until the invasion his reinforcements amounted to two British infantry battalions, 16 light and six infantry tanks, and a troop of mountain artillery with eight guns. His request for field artillery was met by the delivery of 49 pieces, but these were decrepit Italian and French guns, often without sights and instruments, and not modern British 25-pounders.

Shockingly, while expert Australian and British gunners marooned on Crete were formed into improvised infantry companies, a sizeable stock of 25-pound guns remained safely in Egyptian depots — a decision that accorded with Churchill’s determination to resume the offensive in Libya as quickly as possible. The 2/2nd Field Regiment, which had fought with such distinction at Brallos, was one of the bereft artillery regiments on Crete: John Anderson remembers his battery had one rifle for each section of nine men, while Phillip Worthem had a Boys gun, but no ammunition. Without enough of the second-hand Italian and French guns to go round, Cremor — the regiment’s indomitable commander — tossed a coin for their possession with the 2/3rd Field Regiment. Cremor told his men it was a good toss to lose, and they went on with their few infantry weapons. The 5 NZ Field Regiment was one of the artillery units which took on ‘an odd assortment of guns’, including Italian 75-millimetre howitzers, about which the New Zealanders, of course, knew very little — including whether the guns would fire at all, what maximum range they possessed, and how the combination of the four charges they used would produce different ranges.

As the gunners set to work, Freyberg considered what to do with the sizeable Greek force under his command, placed at his disposal by the king and prime minister Tsouderos, who had arrived on the island before him. This force comprised 10,000 troops, organised in three regular battalions and eight recruitment units, and Freyberg was impressed by their determination, if not their training and equipment. He reported: ‘There is no doubt that the Greeks and Cretans were good material and, given the time, great things could have been done. In point of fact, the entire population of Crete desired to fight.’

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Despite the bravery of the defending gun crews, air operations are rarely defeated by anti-aircraft weapons in isolation. So it was on this occasion. With their supremacy in the air, the Germans could mount their paratroop assault at a time and place of their choosing. That moment came on the morning of 20 May 1941. The German invasion was mounted by three groups, and came in two waves. Against Maleme in the first wave, Student sent his Gruppe West, commanded by Major General Meindl and comprising an assault regiment with three-and-half battalions. The other element of this first wave came from Gruppe Mitte, led by General Leutnant Süssman, who sent the 3 Fallschirmjäger Regiment, half of I Battalion, Assault Regiment, and a pioneer battalion to take Canea and Suda. In the second wave, to follow in the afternoon, Student ordered the 2 Fallschirmjäger Regiment (less one battalion) from Süssman’s Gruppe to take Retimo, and committed his Gruppe Ost, under Ringel, to seize Heraklion airfield using the 1 Fallschirmjäger Regiment, II Battalion of the 2 Fallschirmjäger, and the 5th Gebirgs Division, supported by the II Battalion, 31 Panzer Regiment. Student was forced to mount Merkür in two waves for want of sufficient transport aircraft to do the job in one; his decision to then spread the landing over widely separate points nearly brought the operation undone.

In considering how to meet this assault, Freyberg had access to unprecedented intelligence, thanks to the British code-breakers who could read the German Enigma transmissions. ‘Ultra’ informed Freyberg on 13 May that attempts to seize the aerodromes by paratroop landing would be followed by a seaborne invasion; from this, the defenders should have concluded that if they could hold the airfields, Merkür must fail. Given the availability of this information, Freyberg’s preoccupation with the threat from the sea was unfortunate.

When it came, the German attack provided a spectacle that none of the surviving Australians and New Zealanders would ever forget. The assault opened with a concentrated blitz by German bombers and fighters on the anti-aircraft defences and those field works that could be discerned from aerial reconnaissance photos. Murray McColl, with his composite unit above Galatas, was eating his breakfast porridge out of a dixie just before seven in the morning, when he was forced to take cover by the raiding aircraft. Six Messerchmitt fighters broke off in a determined attack on his position and, despite the savagery of the raid — so intense that McColl remembered, ‘I wasn’t frightened, I was bloody well petrified.’ — he and his comrades thought that once the attack was past they could go back to breakfast. ‘Thank God that’s finished,’ McColl remembered thinking, until one of his comrades asked, ‘What’s that buzzing noise?’

Many of the defenders recalled that distant hum, like bees, growing louder as the dark spots on the northern horizon resolved themselves into hundreds of tri-motor Junkers transports, 80 of them towing DFS 230 assault gliders. On their way to Crete, the gliders passed over Athens, where onlookers thought they resembled ‘young vultures following parent birds from the roost’. When they arrived at Maleme, the metaphor was apt, as the dazed anti-aircraft gunners watched an ‘extraordinary sight’ unfold: ‘the air was full of parachutes, with a complicated system of colours, officers one colour, supply canisters another, this great concentration of parachutes in the air.’ Frank Sherry, with his code-breaking unit above Suda Bay, found the sight ‘demonic’, while McColl likened the paratroopers to ‘men from Mars’.

Allusions to science fiction figure often in the memories of survivors from that day, and for good reason — nothing on this scale had ever been seen on a battlefield before. Until that moment, many shared the view of Eric Davies, who remembered, ‘We thought it was bullshit, we couldn’t see how they could land thousands like that.’ The shock of the assault when it came was profound.

Even so, when the defenders recovered their equilibrium, the consequences for the German paratroopers were hideous. For all its bravado, a paratroop attack on a prepared position is an extraordinarily vulnerable undertaking. The Junkers transports made their dropping runs at not much more than 100 metres, at relatively slow speeds. As a result, the aircraft were well within range of even small-arms fire, and the paratroops themselves, once in their harnesses, spent anxious moments descending to earth —easy targets even for inexperienced riflemen. The German harness design didn’t help the paratroopers avoid the defences or the obstacles: it suspended the parachutist from a single strop, which meant that the camopy could not be steered in any way.

Unfortunately for the Germans, many of the defenders were battle-hardened, expert infantry, not the disorganised remnants from Greece that German intelligence had assumed. Malcolm Coughlin and his platoon of the 19 NZ Battalion were entrenched on a ridge above Galatas, looking toward Cemetery Hill. Coughlin was armed with a Bren gun, and could not believe the Junkers passing across his left flank, level with his position. At ranges of only 50 metres, Coughlin poured fire into the lumbering transports, and was easily close enough to see his rounds striking each plane as it passed.

Not all of the defenders took the opportunity presented. At Georgeopolis, Phillip Hurst had left his foxhole to fetch some water. Although the Germans made no landing there, he recalled that troop planes went right overhead. ‘We had to go and get water, and I was getting it, like a good soldier! I left my gun behind, [and was] caught in the open — three planeloads going overhead and no gun!’

The savagery of the defending fire naturally dislocated the German landings, and a number of Student’s units came to earth far from their designated drop-zones. The confusion in the German ranks began early: the glider carrying Süssman, commander of Gruppe Mitte, was destroyed in a crash near Athens, and the general and some of his staff were killed. The fragility and inherent danger of the technology used by the Luftwaffe was obvious to the defenders. Murray McColl recalls one transport flying by, with a paratrooper ensnared by his chute on the tailplane. The poor soldier spun wildly, ‘dangling, like [a] fly in the web, until finally he broke off and down he came — everyone cheered’.

The DFS 230 assault gliders afforded the Germans little more protection in the attack phase than the paratroopers enjoyed. Eric Davies found the noiseless descent of the gliders eerie, as they circled about looking for landing places, but their light construction left the occupants onboard vulnerable to ground fire and to bad landings on rocky or tree-covered ground. Five of the DFS 230s came down near Frank Sherry’s signals unit and, although Sherry was ‘seedy’ from the previous night’s celebration of his nineteenth birthday, he and his comrades quickly took advantage — ‘Even a .303 [rifle] made the gliders jump visibly in the air,’ he recalled. This flight of Germans landed successfully within 50 metres of Sherry’s billet but, according to him, ‘out of those five, not many came out alive.’ Despite the initial success of the signallers, four men ventured out to inspect their handiwork and look for souvenirs: one was killed, and the other three wounded and captured.

At Maleme, the airfield was held by just Leslie Andrew’s 22 Battalion of the 5 NZ Brigade, which blunted the drive of the 2nd Panzer Division through the Olympus Pass, but was now down to only 600 men. The allocation of this scant force to the decisive point would be Freyberg’s fatal miscalculation. He opted to organise his defence against both air and seaborne invasion, and the attempt to hold the coast saw the greater part of the 5 NZ Brigade deployed east of the aerodrome, from the village of Pirgos along to Platanias, which was garrisoned by the redoubtable Maoris of the 28 Battalion. With the Royal Navy still in command of the sea, Freyberg could have concentrated on the airfields. As it was, just a single infantry battalion and the anti-aircraft gunners held the vital aerodrome at Maleme and, despite the losses they inflicted on the Germans, the defenders were spread far too thinly. The defences there were also badly organised: despite repeated requests, the 370 men of the RAF, MNDBO, and the Fleet Air Arm who were camped on the airfield were not under Andrew’s command. ‘They retained their independence almost to the point of absurdity: even the current password differed among the three groups,’ wrote the 22 Battalion historian. The New Zealanders were unable to dig a continuous line along their western flank because it would have run through the British officer’s mess — an ‘unthinkable’ prospect, according to the battalion history.

The air attack on the 22 Battalion prior to the German landing was a foretaste of things to come. It killed five men of C Company on the airfield, and wounded Andrew at his headquarters. He described the hit as ‘a wee piece of bomb that stuck in above the temple’; when he pulled it out, it was ‘bloody hot and bled a bit’. The paratroop landing then followed, and the decisive element of the German attack proved to be a concentrated glider landing in the dry bed of the Tavronitis River, on the western perimeter of the airfield. There, 14 gliders came down and, along with other troops dropped by parachute, their occupants quickly besieged the New Zealand defence along the western fringe of the aerodrome. This comprised only one unit, 15 Platoon of C Company under Lieutenant R. B. Sinclair, a clerk from Waipawa. With just 23 men to hold a long stretch of river bank, Sinclair’s chances of defeating several hundred elite paratroopers were slim, particularly given the paucity of firepower available to him: in the whole of C Company, there were no mortars of any kind, and just seven Bren guns and nine Tommy guns, supplemented by six Browning machine-guns salvaged from wrecked RAF planes.

Other Germans landed on the west bank of the Tavronitis and, after forming up, made for the bridge, getting across it by dodging from pylon to pylon. Once on the eastern side, they entered the RAF camp on the southern edge of the airfield, and quickly put the bewildered air-force mechanics and ground personnel to flight. This thrust cut between Sinclair’s men and D Company under Captain T. C. Campbell, a farm appraiser from Waiouru. Campbell’s men were strung out between the aerodrome and Hill 107, garrisoned by Andrew’s A Company.

The German wedge into the RAF camp enveloped what was left of the 15 Platoon on three sides. The bravery of Sinclair and his men was reflected in their casualties. Sinclair himself fought on, though wounded in the neck; he was captured after he fainted from loss of blood. Nearby, Lance Corporal J. T. Mehaffey, a Wellington civil servant, gave his life for his comrades: when a German stick grenade lobbed into their weapons pit, Mehaffey put his tin hat over it and stood on the helmet while the grenade exploded. He died from horrific injuries when the explosion blew off both his legs. The 15 Platoon gamely held on until dusk. Of Sinclair and his 23 men, eight were killed, fourteen others wounded, and just two came out of the battle unhurt.

Elsewhere, the Germans landed directly on the battalion position, including the village of Pirgos, but the New Zealanders were able to eliminate these threats. On the airfield itself, however, the paratroopers were able to cross the runways, and bring the anti-aircraft gun crews under small-arms fire. Ian Rutter was among these men who, for want of small arms, were unable to defend themselves. The Bofors cannons taken over by the Australian gunners were fixed on concrete mountings — had they still been mounted on wheels, the gunners might have been able to drag them into the open and chop up the German infantry moving across the aerodrome. As it was, the static Bofors had to be abandoned, and Rutter and his surviving comrades were driven up Hill 107 with the remnants of the 22 Battalion, one of the four gun crews having been killed.

East of the aerodrome, the 5 NZ Brigade held its ground comfortably on the first day. The 23 Battalion overlooked the main coast road to Canea, with the 21 Battalion on higher ground south of it. As a result, the gliders and paratroops landing on the 23 Battalion fell on a strong position and were shot down in droves, with an estimated 400 killed.

To the south-east of Hill 107, along what the New Zealanders knew as Vineyard Ridge, the 21 Battalion was but a shell of the unit which had fought at Platamon and Pinios Gorge. It got to Greece with just 237 men, and more trickled in over the following weeks, including 39 who arrived on 3 May, led by Battalion CO ‘Polly’ Macky. His health was now scarred by the pressures of the campaign on the mainland, and on 17 May he handed command of the battalion to Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Allen, a ‘short, slight and wiry’ farmer, and member of parliament for Hauraki.

Allen’s new command easily accounted for 100 paratroops landing on the slopes around the battalion position, despite the fact that its machine-guns were antique Lewis guns. Now was the time for a counterattack to restore the position on the aerodrome, but poor communications eroded effective control of the battle. Signal lines to Puttick’s divisional headquarters were cut for most of the morning, and contact with individual battalions was minimal throughout the day. Left to their own devices, the local counterattacks organised by the New Zealand battalion commanders were half-hearted, lest they compromise the continuing defence of the ground they already held.

Andrew, at the head of the 22 Battalion, sent two Matilda tanks and a platoon of infantry against the aerodrome just after 5.00 p.m. In the first example of the generally poor performance of the British armour on Crete, one tank pulled out early with an unserviceable gun, and the other got as far as the Tavronitis, where it became bogged and was abandoned by its crew. In the chaos of air attack, confused fighting, and non-existent communications, Andrew struggled to maintain control of his battalion: during the night, patrols were sent out to find his A, B, and D companies, without success.

Behind Andrew, Allen had authority to act according to one of three scenarios: join the 22 Battalion along the Tavronitis; take over the ground of the 23 Battalion if it moved in support of the 22 Battalion; or stay where he was. Uncertain of the situation around him, Allen understandably opted to keep the 21 Battalion largely where it was, sending just a platoon to clear the villages of Xamoudhokhori and Vlakheronitissa. With more strength, this move might have re-established contact with the 22 Battalion on Hill 107; but, while Allen’s men got through Xamoudhokhori, they found the second village too strongly held, and the isolation of the defenders on Hill 107 remained.

Ian Rutter was one of those defenders, and he spent an anxious night with the Germans in close proximity on the slopes below. The New Zealanders had a listening post 30 to 40 metres in advance of their main position, and Rutter had to take his turn to man it. As they had in Greece, the Germans called out in English in an attempt to deceive the defenders into error:

[S]omebody had to wriggle out there and just listen. You could hear them talking, one German calling out, ‘Hello, Charlie? Is that you?’ It was eerie to be that close to them.

Towards dawn, the 22 Battalion was largely surrounded, and Andrew opted to salvage what he could of his unit, ordering a withdrawal. Ian Rutter went with the surviving New Zealanders, taking off his boots to dull the noise of his footfall. As his weary column moved back, he recalled, ‘The sun came up, and hundreds of fellows were sitting just waiting for an order’. While the hours ticked away, the Germans poured reinforcements into Maleme.

Gallipoli August 6-9, 1915

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Major General Sir Andrew Hamilton Russell KCB, KCMG (23 February 1868 – 29 November 1960) was a New Zealand General during the First World War. A senior officer in the New Zealand Territorial Force and a veteran of the British Army, Russell was appointed to command the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade upon the outbreak of war, and rose swiftly to high command during the Gallipoli Campaign, principally for his role in the short-lived capture of Chunuk Bair. He commanded the ANZAC evacuation from Gallipoli, and went on to achieve further distinction as the commander of the New Zealand Division on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918. Sir Ian Hamilton identified Russell as “the outstanding New Zealander on the Gallipoli peninsula.”

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Battle of Sari Bair, showing the British attack, 6–8 August 1915.

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Assault on Chunuk Bair, 8 August 1915.

At Anzac on August 6 1915 there was no confusion over the plans; the commanders knew exactly what they had to do. During the afternoon the Australians were to attack at Lone Pine in the south of the bridgehead, so as to give the Turks the impression that the main assault was coming from that direction, and then, after nightfall, the bulk of Birdwood’s forces were to march up the ravines towards Sari Bair. They hoped to take the crest of the ridge by morning.

The charge at Lone Pine was a particularly desperate adventure, since it was to take place in broad daylight and on a narrow front of only 220 yards where the Turks could concentrate their fire. Yet the soldiers believed in the plan. They believed in it so well and were so eager to fight that guards had to be posted in the rear trenches to prevent unauthorized men from attempting to take part. This was a wise precaution, because when the fighting did begin it created a frenzy that was not far from madness, and men were to be seen offering sums of five pounds or more for the privilege of getting a place in the front line.

Through the midday hours the soldiers committed to the first assault filed quietly into the secret underground tunnel which had been dug about fifty yards in advance of the front line and parallel to it through no-man’s-land. The sandbags plugging the holes from which they were to emerge were loosened, and they lay waiting there in darkness and in fearful heat, while the artillery barrage thundered over their heads. At 5.30 p.m. whistles sounded the attack along the line. It was the strangest of battles; soldiers erupting from the ground into the bright sunlight, others leaping up from the trenches behind them, and all of them with shouts and yells running forward into the scrub. They had about a hundred yards to go, and when they arrived at the Turkish line they found that the trenches had been roofed over with heavy pine logs. Some of the men dropped their rifles and started to claw these logs aside with their hands, others simply fired down through the chinks into the Turks below, others again went running on to the open communication trenches and there they sprang down to take the enemy in the rear. In the semi-darkness under the pine logs there was very little space to shoot; on both sides they fought with bayonets and sometimes without any weapons at all, kicking and struggling on the ground, trying to throttle one another with their hands.

Although in after years the action at Lone Pine was very carefully chronicled—the attacks and counter-attacks that followed one another through the day and night for a week on end—it is not really possible to comprehend what happened. All dissolves into the confused impression of a riot, of a vicious street-fight in the back alleys of a city, and the metaphor of the stirred-up ant-heap persists; it was the same frantic movement to and fro, the agitated jerking and rushing and the apparent absence of all meaning except that contained in the idea of mutual destruction. It was the kind of fighting which General Stopford could hardly have understood.

Seven Victoria Crosses were won at Lone Pine, and in the first few days’ fighting alone something like 4,000 men were killed there. On this first evening, however, the important thing was that by 6 p.m. the Australians had captured the Turkish front line and were resisting every effort to turn them out. If they did not altogether deceive Essad Pasha as to the true direction of Birdwood’s main attack, at least they made it impossible for him to obtain reinforcements from this part of his line. By nightfall the way was clear for the main assault on Sari Bair ridge to begin.

Mustafa Kemal made one error in his anticipation of Birdwood’s plan; he did not believe that the British would ever have attempted to climb these hills by night. Yet here again the commanders were very confident. A New Zealand major named Overton had been secretly reconnoitring the ground through the latter part of July and early August, and he had organized a troop of guides who were to lead the soldiers over the fantastically broken country to their objectives. They had an excellent map of the area which had been taken from the dead body of a Turkish officer after the May 19 assault. Twenty thousand men, under the command of Major-General Godley, were to be engaged, and they were divided into two columns. The first of these, made up chiefly of New Zealanders, was to advance up Sazlidere and a neighbouring ravine to the top of Chunuk Bair. The second, comprising British, Australian and Indian troops, was to march on a roundabout course to the north of the bridgehead, where it was to split into two halves for the assault of Hill Q and Koja Chemen Tepe.

The first column’s offensive opened brilliantly soon after night had fallen. Faithfully at 9 p.m. the British destroyer shelled the Turks at Old Post 3 in the usual way, and at 9.30 the New Zealanders rushing alongside the searchlight beam occupied the position before the enemy could get back to it. There developed almost at once some of the most brutal fighting of the campaign along the side of Sazlidere, but the Turks, as Kemal had predicted, were not strong enough to hold. They fell back along a ridge known to the British as Rhododendron Spur,26 and for a time the New Zealanders found themselves advancing through unoccupied country behind the enemy lines. ‘It was a curious sensation,’ one of their officers related later, ‘to be marching along that valley in bright moonlight, far within the Turkish lines, without opposition of any kind. One Turk, who rushed out ahead of the advanced guard, I shot dead with my pistol. He was the only Turk seen that night.’

Soon after midnight, however, things began to go wrong. The guides faltered, stopped, and finally admitted they were lost. One part of the column having marched—or rather climbed and descended—all through the night found itself back at its starting point. The part which did succeed in finding its way to the top of Rhododendron Spur sat down to wait for the lost battalions, and when dawn broke the assault of the final summit of Chunuk Bair had still not begun.

But this was nothing to the difficulties in which the second column on the left found itself almost from the outset. The men had been set to march a distance of about three and a half miles in three hours, and no doubt it might have been done if they had been on a walking expedition in peacetime, and if they had travelled in daylight with good maps and without baggage of any kind. But many of them were weakened by months of dysentery, they were heavily burdened, it was very dark and they had to fight the Turks on the way. Moreover, the guides were so confident that at the last minute they chose to take a short cut. Instead of following the easy roundabout route on the low ground to the north, they led the column into a ravine at Aghyldere, and here the Turks poured down their fire upon them. At once the whole column came to a halt, and it was not very helpful that the men had been ordered to march with unloaded rifles so as to confine their fighting to the silent bayonet. In this wilderness there was now no silence, and there was no one whom they could see to bayonet. When the commanding officer was wounded panic began to spread along the line. Some of the men, believing the opposition to be far worse than it was, started to scatter and retreat; others pressed on in broken groups into dark valleys that led nowhere, and every ridge was the beginning of another ridge beyond. They were soon exhausted. Many of the men dropped in their tracks and fell asleep, and it was difficult for the officers to harry them on since they themselves were without orders, and were bewildered by the unaccountable delays in the movement of the column. It was like a caterpillar, undulating at the centre, but without forward motion, its head and tail rooted to the ground. Daylight on August 7 found them still groping about in the ravines; and the crests of Hill Q and Koja Chemen Tepe, which they had hoped to rush at 3 a.m., were a mile or more away.

There was still one more forfeit to pay for the folly of attempting this night march. In the expectation that the Sari Bair ridge would have fallen by dawn it had been arranged that the Australian Light Horse should carry out a frontal attack just below Kemal’s headquarters on Battleship Hill, so as to prevent the enemy from enfilading on that flank. The Light Horsemen were an aggressive lot, and Birdwood at one stage had even contemplated putting them back on their horses so that they could make a cavalry charge into the rear of the Turkish lines, somewhat in the manner of the Light Brigade in the Crimean campaign. That colourful idea, however, had been dismissed, and the Light Horsemen now found themselves dismounted in the trenches below Battleship Hill. The Sari Bair ridge had not been taken but they decided to charge just the same. ‘You have ten minutes to live,’ one of the officers said to his men while they waited, and this proved to be very nearly accurate, for it did not take the Turks long to destroy 650 out of the 1,250 who came over the top, one wave following another, the living stumbling for a few seconds over the bodies of the dead until they too were dead. Only a handful reached the Turkish trenches and there they fired their green and red rockets as the signal for the others to come on. But there were none to follow them.

Other small attacks along the line came to no better end and an unnatural quiet began to spread along the front through the early hours of the morning of August 7. On the Turkish side the commanders had survived the surprise of the first shock of the offensive, but they had had no time as yet to re-group their men to meet the next assault. The British, like the crew of a ship which has barely weathered a bad storm in the night, were still dazed and uncertain. Those New Zealanders who had gained the crest of Rhododendron Spur looked down and saw far below them to the north-west Stopford’s soldiers strolling about in the sunshine at Suvla Bay. From the left-hand Anzac column, still beleaguered in the hills, there was no sound; nor was there any movement in the direction of Battleship Hill, since the Australian attack here had failed and so many were dead. The fight at Lone Pine further to the south was still going on, but apart from this the battle had stopped. Not unnaturally the New Zealanders began to feel isolated in their high perch under Chunuk Bair—they alone seemed to have penetrated into the enemy lines, and there was no knowing whether or not they were about to be entirely cut off. There was still no sign of the other units who were expected to join them there, and the plan was now running many hours behind schedule.

Presently, however, two companies of Gurkhas who had been lost all night came straggling up the spur, and with these reinforcements the New Zealanders made a rush for the summit of Chunuk Bair in the middle of this morning of August 7. It was several hours too late. By now a German Colonel named Kannengiesser had arrived on the hilltop, and although he was wounded he roused the Turkish outpost there and they drove back the attack. This was the last heavy fighting on Anzac on August 7. The rest of the day went by while the left hand column extricated itself from the frightful muddle it had got into during the night, and nothing more could be done on Rhododendron Spur until the New Zealanders were reinforced.

General Godley now decided to reorganize his force for a new attack at dawn on August 8. Through the night five columns were assembled, and their objectives were the same as before—the three main peaks on Sari Bair. It was a confused affair, for the troops were still not properly rested or supplied—most of them had been wandering about half the night in the hopeless maze of gullies and ravines, and had not even reached the start line when the attack began. But there were two encouraging events: a British Major named Allanson, in command of a battalion of Gurkhas, found himself far out in front near the centre of the line, and instead of waiting for support to reach him he elected to go on and see whether he could take Hill Q on his own initiative. He very nearly succeeded. It chanced that he struck a gap in the enemy defences, and he had actually advanced to within 300 feet of the crest before he was fired on. He then scrambled back down the cliffs in search of reinforcements, and having gathered in some British infantry managed to hoist his little force another hundred feet towards his goal: and there they perched all day on ledges and crannies in the rocks under the fire of Turkish snipers, until, at dusk, they clambered on to a better position a little higher up. It was not so much fighting as mountaineering. They were quite cut off, and at Godley’s headquarters that night nothing was known about them.

The other success was on Chunuk Bair, and here too there was another inexplicable gap in the Turkish line. A Lieut.-Colonel Malone made a rush for the summit with two companies of New Zealanders, and they surprised the Turkish outpost there asleep. One does not know why it was that these exhausted Turks had not been relieved or reinforced, but it was so, and Malone and his New Zealanders contrived to dig in just below the crest. But they had very little chance of survival: there was no cover on the open hilltop, and from either side the Turks shot shells and machine-gun bullets into them all through the day. Several times the Gloucestershire regiment and others tried to get through to them without success, and when night fell Malone and nearly all his men were dead.

Thus on the evening of August 8, forty-eight hours after the offensive had begun, the Allies had reached none of their main objectives. The Suvla plan, which was a good plan, had failed because the wrong commanders and soldiers had been employed, and at Anzac the best officers and men were employed upon a plan that would not work. And both attacks had been bedevilled at the outset by the difficulties of advancing through a strange country in the night. Even at Helles the battle had gone wrong, for the British there had launched their diversionary attack against Krithia at the very moment when the Turks were also massing for an assault. And so the Allies were thrown back to their own trenches with heavy casualties and apparently nothing gained.

It was the nadir of the campaign. And yet in a perverse way, when everything seemed to have gone wrong, when the vital element of surprise had been lost, a change was taking place at this instant and hope began again. It came chiefly from the commanders. Hamilton was now at Suvla, arguing, persuading, and finally insisting that the new army should march to the hills, and something of the same sort was happening at Anzac. Birdwood and Godley were a long way from abandoning their offensive. Instead they simplified it: they planned still another dawn attack on August 9, but this time they ignored Koja Chemen Tepe and aimed simply for Chunuk Bair and the narrow saddle of land connecting it to Hill Q—the point where Allanson and a little handful of survivors were still clinging to the cliffs. The main assault was entrusted to a General Baldwin, who was in command of four British battalions which had not yet taken part in the battle. At 4.30 a.m. in the first light of the morning every gun at Anzac, at sea or on the shore, was to fire at the crestline, and at 5.15 a.m. the infantry were to get up and charge.

The night again passed in comparative quiet at the front, but with much agitated movement behind the lines. General Baldwin was particularly unlucky. He was given two guides who were supposed to be reliable, but they led him and his column at first in one direction and then in another, until eventually they finished up against the blank wall of a precipice. When the guns opened up at 4.30 a.m. Baldwin was still roaming about some distance from the front, and three quarters of an hour later, when he should have been attacking, he was only beginning to march in the right direction. The rest of the line went into the assault without him, and it was a slow uncertain movement. Perhaps it ought never to have been begun with troops who were so tired and so utterly confused, perhaps Birdwood and his staff were no longer making any sense out of their maps and plans and were guided only by a dull persistence. Yet the crest was very near; so long as there was any hope they had to try again. And in fact, in the most unexpected way, their hope was justified.

Major Allanson, on his eyrie on the ridge, had made contact with the main body of the British during the night and had obtained a reinforcement of Lancashire troops for the new attack—a total of about 450 men in all. He had his orders direct from General Godley: he was to keep his head down until the bombardment was over and then he was to rush the Turkish trenches on the ridge.

‘I had only fifteen minutes left,’ Allanson wrote in the report he made two days later. ‘The roar of the artillery preparation was enormous; the hill, which was almost perpendicular, seemed to leap underneath one. I recognized that if we flew up the hill the moment it stopped, we ought to get to the top. I put the three (Lancashire) companies into the trenches among my men, and said that the moment they saw me go forward carrying a red flag, everyone was to start. I had my watch out, 5.15. I never saw such artillery preparation; the trenches were being torn to pieces; the accuracy was marvellous, as we were only just below. At 5.18 it had not stopped, and I wondered if my watch was wrong. 5.20 silence. I waited three minutes to be certain, great as the risk was. Then off we dashed, all hand in hand, a most perfect advance, and a wonderful sight. . . . At the top we met the Turks; Le Marchand was down, a bayonet through the heart. I got one through the leg, and then for about what appeared to be ten minutes, we fought hand to hand, we bit and fisted, and used rifles and pistols as clubs; and then the Turks turned and fled, and I felt a very proud man; the key of the whole peninsula was ours, and our losses had not been so very great for such a result. Below I saw the straits, motors and wheeled transport on the roads leading to Achi Baba. As I looked round I saw that we were not being supported, and thought I could help best by going after those who had retreated in front of us. We dashed down towards Maidos, but had only got about 100 feet down when suddenly our own Navy put six twelve-inch monitor shells into us, and all was terrible confusion. It was a deplorable disaster; we were obviously mistaken for Turks, and we had to get back. It was an appalling sight: the first hit a Gurkha in the face: the place was a mass of blood and limbs and screams, and we all flew back to the summit and to our old position just below. I remained on the crest with about fifteen men; it was a wonderful view; below were the straits, reinforcements coming over from the Asia Minor side, motor-cars flying. We commanded Kilid Bahr, and the rear of Achi Baba and the communications to all their Army there.’

There is some doubt about the shells that fell on Allanson. The Navy deny that they were theirs, and even those soldiers who, from just below, were observers of the skirmish, were not quite certain what had happened. They saw that Allanson, on reaching the summit, had caught the Turks in the open as they were running back to their trenches after the bombardment. They saw the hand-to-hand fighting with the bayonet, and at the end of it they saw the excited and triumphant figures of the Gurkhas and the British waving on the skyline. Then as they disappeared over the other side the thunderclap occurred, but it was impossible to know the direction from which the shells had come or who had fired them.

Yet the incident was not absolutely disastrous. Allanson was still on the top, and although wounded was prepared to hold on there until reinforcements arrived. And it was indeed a wonderful view, the best that any Allied soldier had ever had on Gallipoli. After three and a half months of the bitterest fighting the Turks were now displaced from the heights, and in effect their army was cut in half. ‘Koja Chemen Tepe not yet,’ Hamilton wrote in his diary. ‘But Chunuk Bair will do: with that, we win.’

Australian Tank WWII: Sentinel

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With war against Japan seeming more than probable, and with the added possibility even of a Japanese invasion, the Australian Ministry of Munitions first considered the idea of building tanks as early as July 1940. At this time, Britain’s tank strength was inadequate for home defence, and there seemed little possibility of Australia receiving tanks from this source for some time to come. The Army Design Section (part of the Directorate of Mechanisation) was therefore asked to examine design characteristics and production problems, and in November 1940, the Australian General Staff drew up precise requirements for the sort of tank they thought necessary. They called for a 16-20 (long) tons vehicle, with 2pdr main armament, crew of 4-5, a range of 150 miles, and armour maximum of 50mm. They estimated that 2,000 would be needed, with first deliveries in July 1941 and output of 70 a week from then on.

The Ministry of Munitions asked the British General Staff for the services of a tank design expert from Britain, and, accordingly, a Colonel Watson was sent to Australia in December 1940. Watson travelled via America, where he had the chance to see the designs being drawn up for the M3 medium tank (qv), and on arrival in Australia he was appointed Director of Design. For the proposed vehicle, AC I (AC: Australian Cruiser), Watson planned to use a copy of the M3 final drive and gearbox since he had been impressed by the mechanical features of this vehicle. For a power plant, Guiberson diesel motors were planned but since it seemed probable that there would be difficulty in obtaining these, three commercial automobile engines, Ford at first, then more powerful Cadillac engines, were adopted, arranged in “clover leaf’ formation. A leading Australian automobile engineer was co-opted to advise on development and installation.

In early 1941 a wooden mock-up of AC I was built. The vehicle was to have cast or rolled armour throughout, utilising only alloys available in Australia. By April 1941, drawings of the M3 final drive arrived from America, when it found that this installation was too sophisticated to be manufactured in Australia with existing facilities. Suitable machinery could not be delivered from Britain or America for at least another year. Meanwhile, the United States suggested that Australia produced a new design which could utilise components supplied from America. This proposal, envisaged the use of commercial truck engine and mechanical components. In July 1941, therefore, it was decided to go ahead with a new design which was designated AC II. The limitations which soon became evident using truck engines and drive, however, were many; principally the weight had to be kept below 16-18 tons with consequent reduction in armour thickness, and armament could be no heavier than a 2pdr gun. The truck mechanical components were not powerful enough to cope with a vehicle heavier than this. In September 1941, therefore, the AC II design was abandoned, and attention was given once more the the AC 1.

It was found that by redesigning the final drive to a much more simplified form it would be possible to build the necessary components in Australia. Meanwhile, redesign had also been carried out on the bogies; originally vertical volute bogies of the M3 type were planned, but these were changed to horizontal volute pattern and proved much superior. The first cast hull was successfully manufactured in October 1941, and the prototype AC I was completed in January 1942. The hull and turret castings were in them- selves a great achievement as nothing so complicated as this had previously been attempted by Australian industry.

Modifications were made to the prototype vehicle after trials, and in August 1942 the first production vehicle was completed at Chullora [NOT Chullona] Tank Assembly Shops, NSW, only a year after the first over-optimistic (and unrealistic) estimate. Chullora Shops had been built starting in January 1942 specially to produce tanks, and were erected and managed by New South Wales State Railways, based on the American tank arsenals. A total of 66 AC Is were built when production ceased and all orders were cancelled in July 1943. By this time the tank supply situation had changed and the USA was able to provide all vehicles necessary for equipping the 1st Australian Armoured Division which had meanwhile been formed. The AC Is already completed were therefore used only for training and never saw combat service.

The Australian AC tank, named Sentinel, was a most remarkable achievement for a nation with only limited heavy engineering facilities and no previous experience of tank production. The arrangement of the Cadillac “clover leaf’ power plant, and the cast one-piece hull were novel features which made a strong, tough, powerful vehicle capable of much future development. Plans for upgunned versions of the AC I (detailed below) never went beyond prototype stage, however, when AC production was prematurely terminated. Had AC manufacture continued, it was also planned to commence building ACs at the Geelong Tank Assembly Shops, Victoria, then being built, which were to be managed by Ford Motor Co (Australia).

VARIANTS

AC III: This was an upgunned design of the AC I mounting a 25pdr in place of the 2pdr. This necessitated considerable modification, mainly the provision of a larger turret and turret ring, which was increased from 54in to 64in diameter. The engine installation was redesigned with a common crankcase, allowing room for extra fuel tanks, and the bow machine gun was eliminated to give increased ammunition stowage. The bow machine gunner was also, of course, dispensed with, reducing the crew to four. A prototype for the AC III underwent trials in February 1943 and AC III production was to replace the AC I at Chullora from May 1943. However, in view of cancellation of the AC programme it seems probable that very few, if any, AC III were actually completed.

AC IV: The AC III prototype was subsequently tested in March 1943 with two 25pdrs in a co-axial mount, so that the feasibility of mounting the new 17pdr high velocity gun in the AC series could be investigated. Fired together, the two 25pdrs gave a recoil 20 % greater than the recoil of a 17pdr gun with no adverse effect on the turret or vehicle. Plans thus went ahead to fit the 17pdr in the AC III design, and a prototype was completed and tested in late 1943. However, by then AC production had ceased, and no further production orders followed. With the 17pdr, the vehicle was designated AC IV. Undoubtedly it would have proved a most potent vehicle.

One AC hull was modified with torsion bar suspension in an attempt to provide superior riding qualities for the proposed upgunned models. Though completed and run, there was, of course, no opportunity of incorporating the new suspension in production vehicles.

SPECIFICATION:

Designation: Cruiser Tank AC I and AC III, Sentinel

Crew: 5 (commander, driver, hull gunner, gunner, loader)(No hull gunner in AC III).

Battle weight: 62,7201b

Track width 16tin

Dimensions: Length 20ft 9in Track centres/tread 7ft 6tin Height 8ft 5in . Width 9ft lin

Armament: Main: 1 x 2pdr OQF (AC I) I x 25pdr (AC III)

Secondary: 2 x Vickers· 303 cal MG (one in AC TTl)

Armour thickness: Maximum 65mm Minimum 25mm

Traverse: 360°.

Engine: 3 x Cadillac V-8 petrol, 117hp each unit (AC I) Perrier-Cadillac triple engine (common crankcase), 397hp(AC III)

Maximum speed: 30mph

Maximum cross-country speed: 20mph (approx)

Suspension type: HVSS, Hotchkiss type

Road radius: 200 miles (AC I), 229 miles (AC III)

Fording depth: 4ft

Vertical obstacle: 2ft (AC I), 4ft (AC III)

Trench crossing: 9ft 6in

Ammunition stowage: 130 rounds 2pdr (AC I) 4,250 rounds· 303 cal (AC I)

Special features/remarks: Cast one-piece hull with prominent armoured sleeve for bow machine gun mount. HVSS copied from French Hotchkiss design in place of M3 type vertical volute suspension at first planned. Very low, stable, fast vehicle, with good armour protection and development potential. Tracks were American rubber block type. Bren AA machine gun mount fitted on cupola of all marks.

The Great White Fleet

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The visits of the Great White Fleet were a display of American goodwill.

Everyone thought that, but 93 years later the Australian Government revealed doubts.

The Great White Fleet was an impressive American convoy of 16 battleships plus escorts, staffed by 14,000 sailors, sent by President Theodore Roosevelt on a peaceful circumnavigation of the world in 1908–9. They visited 20 ports in six continents with a disarming display of goodwill combined with a very public demonstration of America’s growing military strength.

In 2001, the government of Australia’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group revealed that in the context of international politics in 1908, ‘goodwill’ wasn’t the only purpose of the Fleet:

In the event of a crisis between the US and Japan, Britain’s ally, Australia and New Zealand, as loyal dominions of the British Empire would be potential enemies of the United States. Roosevelt felt it necessary to ascertain the sentiments of Australia and New Zealand.

On a more practical level, Rear Admiral Sperry, the commander-in-chief of the fleet ordered that during the fleet’s visits intelligence be gathered to compile war plans for the capture of New Zealand and Australian ports.

And:

Thus, when the fleet arrived in each Australian port to a tumultuous welcome, its intelligence team went to work compiling detailed reports on the defences and infrastructure of each city as part of invasion plans. The hospitality of the local population undoubtedly made it easier for the fleet’s officers to gain insight into Australia’s strengths and weaknesses, and probably direct access to the information necessary to prepare plans to capture the new nation’s major cities.

The resulting reports, having been lodged with the American Department of the Navy, then went into storage. While it is clear that the extremely hospitable reception the Fleet received in the Pacific was a clear demonstration of the friendliness of people in this area towards America, the report concludes:

However, the mere compilation of the plans was an acknowledgment of what US national interest might dictate could happen to Australia in the event of hostilities between the US and Japan.

Parliament of Australia, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Report on ANZUS after 50 years (28 August 2001)

After the victory of the Japanese over the Russian fleet at Tsushima Strait on 27 May 1905, the West Australian claimed the Imperial Japanese Navy was a threat to White Australia: ‘After Tsushima, the British withdrew their battleships from the East and Australians were, to put it in Billy Hughes’ words, worried ‘‘that we should now rely on the Japanese for the maintenance of British naval supremacy in Eastern seas’’’. Japan was now seen as a credible threat to Australia. This made the American fleet visit crucial. The Age took the lead in suggesting the messages that would be conveyed and lessons that should be learned.

It is no less our proper business, while the Fleet is here, to use the object lesson of patriotic effort and achievement it will furnish us to steel our resolution to obtain as soon as possible a navy that will not disgrace us in comparison. Australia is an island continent. Our destiny lies on the sea. No friend or enemy can reach us save by the sea. A friend is coming to us soon along the ocean highways; but who shall dare to say that almost as powerful an enemy may not one day steam into our waters in ironclad might to fight us for our heritage? Nothing is plainer than that we must have a navy. We must arm, and inasmuch as the sea while we possess no warships puts us at the mercy of any hostile Power possessing ships, it is our first duty to arm navily. That is the lesson of the forthcoming visit—that and the fact that without a navy we should be useless to the Motherland or to a friendly Power like America as an ally.

The sixteen white-painted American warships, dubbed the ‘Great White Fleet’, departed from Hampton Roads in Virginia in December 1907 for a fourteen-month cruise including 29 international ports of call. It attracted enormous attention during its visits to Sydney and Melbourne, which each hosted the fleet for one week. (After departing the eastern seaboard, the fleet also spent one week in Albany—with a population of 4000—while it took on fuel.) The Australian response to the visit was overwhelming. Public holidays were declared and funerals were delayed as a carnival spirit enveloped the host cities with balls, parades, receptions, concerts and parties for the 14 000 American sailors.

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The visit of the Great White Fleet was a clear indication that Britain was not the only nation possessing naval might and not the only nation which shared a ‘natural’ bond with Australia and its people. This notion of a ‘natural’ bond was central. As Rear Admiral Charles Sperry USN, the commander of the American fleet, told a crowd in Melbourne, the visit of his ships and men ‘bring on both nations a realisation of their close relationship and common interests, and foster sympathy and mutual understanding more binding than treaties’. The sentimental component of the relationship, an important motivator for building and sustaining the trans-Pacific friendship, was reflected in Prime Minister Deakin’s proposal of 1909 that the Monroe Doctrine be extended to all countries around the Pacific Ocean, supported by guarantees from Britain, Holland, France, China and the United States. Perhaps caught up in the euphoric aftermath of the Great White Fleet’s visit, the Age stated that people in Australia were ‘always cheered to know America is watching their efforts with more than a friendly interest and ready at a pinch to show that blood is thicker than water’.

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The visit of the Great White Fleet could not have been better timed to assist the Australian navalists in their campaign to create an Australian navy. There was a growing fear of both Japanese expansionism and German imperial aspirations in the Pacific. After the Colonial Conference, Deakin proposed a variation of the increasingly unpopular naval agreement. The Commonwealth offered to substitute the subsidy with the provision of 1000 Australian sailors for service on the Australia Station with the remainder of the subsidy to be applied to local naval construction. It was proposed that 400 sailors would man two P Class destroyers retained in Australia, notwithstanding prevailing strategic conditions elsewhere, while another two cruisers would be lent for training purposes at a cost of £60 000 per annum to the Commonwealth. On 20 August 1908, the Admiralty said that it ‘had difficulty in fully comprehending the extent of the scheme’ outlined by Deakin and pointed out that the cost of the Australian naval proposal consisting of six destroyers, nine sub- marines and two depot ships was £1 277 500. Their Lordships believed that this was beyond Australia’s means. Having given careful consideration to Deakin’s scheme, the Admiralty ‘could not see their way to accept the proposals as a basis for a new agreement’. The Admiralty waited for the Australians to respond.

Maritime Australia in the 21st Century

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SAM GOLDSMITH analyses three possible options for a better surface combatant mix for the RAN. In considerable technical detail, this forensic examination is essential reading for naval personnel and anyone concerned with getting the best force for Australia’s future. The full paper is here.

As a very large continental-scale island, Australia’s maritime credentials should be obvious. Australia has 25,760 km of coastline and 58,920 km2 of sea area under its jurisdiction. It is relatively isolated, but is flanked to the north by the Indonesian archipelago. Its geostrategic location, with strong ties to the Asian markets, and important military links with the USA and South East Asia make Australia vitally important. “As a significant medium power in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia inescapably is a participant in the most politically, economically, and strategically dynamic part of the world. …

As a maritime trading state highly dependent upon secure sea lanes of communication stretching from the Middle East to North America, Australia is tied comprehensively and profitably to Asia’s economic success.” As Commander Simon Bateman RAN points out: “Australia is a medium power on a world scale [and] Australia is also a medium maritime power.” It is interesting to note that Australia defines ‘medium power’ following Hill[1]; such is Hill’s influence on RAN thinking. Australia has contributed to both wars against Iraq and also the war in Afghanistan as well as taking unilateral action in its own backyard when it intervened in East Timor. Australian forces have also been at the forefront of disaster relief operations such as in Aceh and other areas affected by the 2004 tsunami. Australia’s security concerns are diverse, yet it places its focus on the maritime element.

It is significant that the title of the 2009 White Paper was Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific Century. The Australian government bases its decisions on ‘strategic interests’ which are “those that endure irrespective of specific passing threats that may complicate our outlook from time to time.”

There is also a desire for operational autonomy whereby Australia must have the means to “act independently where we have unique strategic interests at stake, and in relation to which we would not wish to be reliant on the combat forces of any foreign power.”

Despite the wide type of security threats that Australia faces, “taking into account the strategic drivers, regional geography, and Prime Minister Rudd’s stated emphasis in 2008 on naval power, it should come as no surprise that by far the most significant force-structure initiatives in the white paper relate to maritime capability.” Under the subheading ‘Enhancing Our Maritime Forces’ the 2009 Defence White Paper explains, “The major new direction that has emerged through our consideration of current and future requirements is a significant focus on enhancing our maritime capabilities.

By the mid-2030s, we will have a heavier and more potent maritime force. The government will double the size of the submarine force (12 more capable boats to replace the current fleet of six Collins class submarines), replace the current Anzac class frigate with a more capable Future Frigate optimised for ASW; and enhance our capability for offshore maritime warfare, border protection and mine countermeasures.” Overall, Australia’s maritime focus “point toward the RAN’s being a well-balanced but vastly more capable and flexible regional naval force in the future.” The maritime theme was reaffirmed in the 2013 Defence White Paper.

2014 Defence White Paper

[1] REAR ADMIRAL J. R. HILL

Royal Navy Officer 1942–1983. Editor of the Naval Review, 1983–2002 and reviews editor from 2002. He has been a member of Council, Greenwich Forum, 1983—date. He is extensively published with 14 books and numerous articles on maritime subjects including: Rear Admiral J. R. Hill, Maritime Strategy for Medium Powers, (Beckenham, Croom Helm, 1986); and as ‘Marlowe’,(1976) ‘The Medium Maritime Power-I’, Naval Review , Vol. 64, No. 2, 106–112; and (1976) ‘The Medium Maritime Power-II’, Naval Review , Vol. 64, No. 3, 213–221; and (1976) ‘The Medium Maritime Power-III’, Naval Review , Vol. 64, No. 4, 321–328; and (1977) ‘The Medium Maritime Power-IV’, Naval Review , Vol. 65, No. 1, 36–45; and Rear Admiral R. Hill, (1981) ‘Apocalypse When?’ RUSI Journal, 126: 2, 63–65; and (1984) ‘Maritime Forces for Medium Powers’, Naval Forces , Vol. 5, Issue 2, 26–32; and (2000) Medium Power Strategy Revisited, (Royal Australian Navy, Sea Power Centre).