Canon de 90 mm CA Modèle 1939

Canon CA 90 mm Mle1939 (Schneider) – 9.0 cm Flak M39(f) –

Caliber: 90x673R mm

Barrel length: 4500 mm (3780 mm rifling)

Battle-station weight: 5760 kg

Rate of fire: 15 rpm

Muzzle velocity: 810 m/s (projectile of 9.5kg)

Traverse: 360°

Elevation: -4° to 80°

Maximum range: 11000 m

French 90 mm Schneider AA guns, which were planned to be used in Polish Army thanks to the “Rambouliet credit”. Polish aim was to buy about 60 pieces of 90 mm guns in France plus license agreement.

A land based mobile heavy anti-aircraft version called the Canon de 90 mm CA Modèle 1926. In 1939 a modified (shortened by 1 m) version was produced as the Canon de 90 mm CA Modèle 1939. Both were produced in limited numbers and it is estimated that only seventeen were built before 1940. Both had a two-wheeled single-axle carriage with three folding outriggers. Guns captured by the Germans were given the designation 9 cm Flak M.39(f).

Used on the ground but mainly by the French navy, in single and twin mount. Five mobile batteries were deployed around Paris and had shells enabling them to be used in direct AT fire. Some were used in direct AT fire in North Africa initially against the landing US troops in November 1942.

The heavy FlaK battery of Oorderen near Antwerp

German Luftwaffe anti-aircraft (FlaK = Flugzeugabwehr Kanone) batteries were installed in the Antwerp agglomeration to protect the harbour area against allied bombing raids by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and later on also by the USA Air Force (USAAF). One of these batteries lay near the Brandstraat in Oorderen. In November 1940 the Germans commenced construction of the heavy FlaK site. On the site there was a firecontrol tracking radar, a Würzburg (FuMG 39 T) that by means of an analogue computer (Kommando Gerät 36) aimed the guns on the target. This Würzburg with its limited range (30 Km) was put on the target by a Freya search radar (FuMG 401) which was located elsewhere and had a range of 300 Km. The unit that was located here from April 1943 onwards was the ” Gemischte FlaK-Abteilung 295 (v)” and it stayed there until the liberation in September 1944. The guns were captured French guns. The emplacements were initially earth banks with the straight sides inside and the entrances reinforced with wooden shelves. Later during the war, the emplacements were constructed in concrete with concrete blocks (Formsteine). Inside there were niches for ammunition. Initially wooden barracks were built to house the crews and to store ammunition and supplies.

Later on a wall of Formsteine was built straight to the wooden walls (protection against bomb fragments). Somewhat later again, roofs of reinforced concrete were laid on these barracks. A layer of asphalt was laid on it, protection against damp penetration. Then the wooden shelves were removed and windows were cut down in the concrete. Ammunition storages were concrete bunkers or Formsteine half buried in the ground and protected with earth on the outside.

On the site there were also brick buildings with variable sizes, constructed with bricks of 20x10x5cm. The walls were 65 cm thick the roof was reinforced concrete. On several roofs there were small towers with slits for rifles for defence of the area.

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Hess and Goebbels Gun Batteries at Dieppe

19 August 1942

One of the most controversial raids of the Second World War was the raid on Dieppe, which took place on 19 August 1942. By the end of the day, thousands of Allies were dead, wounded or taken as prisoners of war. The Dieppe Raid has since been the subject of much debate, but within the overall operation there were countless acts of great bravery, including those of British commandos at two mighty gun batteries that simply had to be silenced.

The origins of the Dieppe raid were to ease the pressure on the Eastern Front and prevent Germany from committing more resources to the east. The Americans and Russians had both urged Britain to open a second front, but Britain, already heavily engaged in North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Far East, did not have the resources to conduct and sustain a large-scale offensive in north-west Europe. Nonetheless, Winston Churchill had made it clear that he wanted to conduct a major operation during the summer of 1942. Senior military commanders agreed. If the Allies were to eventually carry out a full-scale invasion of mainland Europe, it was essential for a division-size operation to be carried out against a German-held port on the northern coastline of France. To do so would not only help gain a better understanding of large-scale amphibious landings, but would also determine whether the Allies were capable of maintaining forces ashore once a landing had taken place.

A number of ports were considered, but while most were rejected for one reason or another, Dieppe was accepted as a possible target. A coastal town built along a cliff overlooking the English Channel, it was a relatively short distance for raiding forces and so it was possible to make the crossing under the cover of night. Dieppe was also within range of RAF Fighter Command and so raiding forces could be given significant cover from the air.

In April 1942, Mountbatten gave the order for his staff at Combined Operations to commence planning for the raid, which was to be supported by a large array of naval and air assets. One option drawn up was to land a mix of tanks and infantry either side of Dieppe and to then capture the town using a pincer movement over the two headlands flanking the port. Another option was to land tanks and infantry directly onto the beach at Dieppe in a frontal assault, supported by landings on either side of the town. Two heavy artillery gun batteries protecting the approaches to Dieppe – the Hess Battery at Varengeville to the west and the Goebbels Battery at Berneval-le-Grand to the east – would be captured by airborne troops landing ahead of the main attack.

After much discussion it was decided to proceed with the second option, the frontal assault, which would be preceded by a heavy aerial bombardment. Codenamed Operation Rutter, the attack was planned for early July when tidal conditions would be just right for the assault. It would test the feasibility of capturing a port in the face of opposition, understand the problems of operating the invasion fleet, and test the equipment and techniques of the assault.

The scale of the operation meant there were insufficient resources amongst the British Army’s commando units to carry out the raid. Therefore, regular army troops would need to be involved, and because there had been increasing pressure from the Canadian government for its troops to take part in operations, the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division was selected as the main attacking force.

Intelligence reports suggested that Dieppe was not heavily defended and the beaches were suitable for the landings. The plan was for two Canadian battalions to assault the main beach, supported by Canadian tanks and engineers, after two other Canadian battalions had landed earlier to attack German gun batteries overlooking the main beach. The British 1st Battalion of the Parachute Brigade were to be dropped to attack the two coastal batteries at Varengeville and Berneval-le-Grand, with a further Canadian battalion acting as a reserve to be committed when and where necessary.

The date for Rutter was narrowed down to the first week of July but, after weeks of training, the combination of unsettled weather and the fact the Germans had spotted and attacked the large gathering of ships required to transport the assault troops across the Channel, resulted in the operation being cancelled.

Although Rutter had been cancelled, its planning was not entirely wasted. The decision to remount the raid, this time called Operation Jubilee, meant plans were resurrected. The main objectives remained largely unchanged, with the only difference being that the large German coastal batteries would be attacked and captured by a seaborne assault, rather than from the air: 4 Commando was tasked to destroy the Hess Battery at Varengeville while 3 Commando was to destroy the Goebbels Battery at Berneval-le-Grand.

Along stretches of the south coast of England the commandos began training for the raid. They would be required to assault the two coastal gun batteries at dawn while the main landings took place on five different beaches along a 10-mile stretch of the coast. A total of 5,000 Canadians and a further 1,000 British troops, including the army commandos and a unit of Royal Marine commandos, and 50 American Rangers were to be supported by more than 230 Royal Navy ships and landing craft and nearly 70 RAF squadrons. It would be the largest amphibious raid of the war.

Tasked with capturing and then destroying the Goebbels Battery, codenamed Operation Flodden, 3 Commando was to be led by Lieutenant Colonel John Durnford-Slater, who had led his men in the raid at Vaagso the year before. His plan was for his force of just over four hundred men to land in two groups on two beaches, codenamed Yellow-One and Yellow-Two, either side of the battery and near the village of Berneval-le-Grand. The Goebbels Battery was known to house three 170mm and four 105mm guns and, situated half a mile inland, it was protected from the sea by steep cliffs. Durnford-Slater would lead the main element ashore on Yellow-One while his second-in-command, Major Peter Young, another veteran of Norway, would land with two troops plus a mortar section on Yellow-Two. The two groups would then carry out a co-ordinated pincer attack against the battery using gullies to conceal their position.

Meanwhile, 4 Commando, led by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Fraser, the fifteenth holder of the title Lord Lovat, who had also served in Norway, would be carrying out an assault on the Hess Battery under Operation Cauldron. The Hess Battery consisted of six 150mm guns in a concrete emplacement just over half a mile inland from the coastal cliffs. Intelligence reports had estimated there were around two hundred men at the battery, with a further two infantry companies in support nearby. The emplacement was surrounded by concrete defences, landmines, concealed defensive machine-gun posts and layers of barbed wire, and was also protected from air attack by an anti-aircraft gun emplacement.

With less than three hundred men, Lovat had a smaller force than Durnford-Slater but he also decided to land his force on two beaches. One group, consisting of C Troop and one section of A Troop, plus a mortar detachment, would be led by his second-in-command, Major Derek Mills-Roberts, and land on the beach at Varengeville. The beach Mills-Roberts had been allocated, codenamed Orange-One, was overlooked by a cliff, but offered two gullies leading to the top, although these were known to be full of barbed wire and other obstructions. The commandos were to scale the cliff in front of the battery and take up a holding position in a wood, half a mile inland, ready to mount a continuous barrage of fire against the front of the battery while the second group, led by Lovat, carried out the assault on the battery. His group, consisting of B and F Troops, was to land on the beach at Quiberville, called Orange-Two. The beach was just over a mile to the west and at the mouth of the small River Saane. It was further away from the battery but the commandos were expected to move quickly inland along the river and then eastwards to the top of the cliffs, where they could attack the battery and its garrison from the rear, although this line of approach was known to be protected by machine-gun posts and barbed wire. The remaining section of A Troop was to be held as a mobile reserve between the two beaches and used as required. Once the battery had been destroyed, the commandos would withdraw using the landing craft at Orange-One.

Having left their temporary bases in Sussex and Dorset, the commandos were transported to their embarkation ports for crossing the Channel; 3 Commando at Newhaven and 4 Commando at Southampton. While 4 Commando’s crossing passed uneventfully, the same was not true for the men of 3 Commando. Shortly before 4.00 am, and still about an hour from the coast of France, their landing group was illuminated after being spotted by an armed German convoy in the Channel. The commandos immediately came under intense fire. Their landing craft quickly scattered as they came under attack by fast German S-boats that had been escorting a German tanker. Some of the landing craft were forced to turn back, while others were sunk, effectively halting 3 Commando’s main attacking force. They had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had been unfortunate to have been spotted.

Remarkably, though, not all of the landing craft of this group had been sunk or had turned back. Six managed to regroup and continued towards their landing beach. Furthermore, the chance encounter mid-Channel seems to have gone unreported to the coastal defences. To the crews of the German patrol boats, they assumed they had come across a planned raid against their convoy and nothing more. The landing craft of Peter Young had also survived intact and completed the crossing on its own. Determined to press on with the attack, the commandos landed just to the west of Yellow-Two slightly before 6.00 am.

Making their way quickly across the beach, Young then located a gulley leading to the top of the cliffs. Undeterred by the barbed wire and other obstructions that filled the gulley, the commandos reached the top. The Goebbels Battery was already firing on the main landing force, now just a few miles away, but with only eighteen men there was little Young could do. The commandos managed to reach a position within 200 yards of the battery, but a full frontal assault was clearly out of the question; it would have meant certain death.

Young decided the best they could do was to harass the battery as much as possible and to prevent it from inflicting serious damage on the attacking forces. Splitting his men into three small groups, he directed his commandos to cut telephone wires to disrupt communications and continue to fire on the battery for several hours as a constant distraction to the gunners. This seemed to have some effect as no Allied forces were believed to have been lost to the battery. After a couple of hours and hopelessly outnumbered, as well as being all but out of ammunition, Young finally gave the order to withdraw; all his men would make it off the beach and safely back to England.

Meanwhile, the group of six other landing craft that had survived the encounter mid-Channel, a total of around a hundred men, including a handful of US Rangers, had landed on a beach to the east of Yellow-One and opposite Le Petit Berneval. But it was now 5.30 am and they were half an hour behind schedule. The delay of thirty minutes had made all the difference between darkness and first daylight, and the landing craft had been spotted by the German defences. As enemy rounds clattered against the landing craft, causing a number of casualties on board, the commandos were quick to get ashore and reach the safety of a nearby gulley. Having then scrambled to the top, Captain Geoff Osmond had contemplated making a limited assault on the battery as planned, but German reinforcements had already arrived in the area. With such a small force it would have been a suicidal attack but the commandos did manage to take out German defensive positions at Le Petit Berneval. However, as they made their way towards the battery the commandos came under a devastating attack and casualties started to mount.

The survivors of 3 Commando had now been ashore for just over an hour but any hope of continuing the attack was abandoned. The order was given to withdraw to the beach and re-embark. But that was impossible. The commandos were now pinned down. Although the landing craft had managed to return to the beach to pick up the survivors, none of the commandos arrived. Eventually, after waiting as long as they dared, the crews of the landing craft left. Unbeknown to them at the time, the commandos they had come to pick up were still pinned down. Those commandos that were still alive were unaware that there was now no chance of getting away. Although some did make a break across open ground in an attempt to reach the beach, many were cut down. Those that did reach the beach arrived to find their only chance of escape had gone; only burnt-out landing craft were there waiting for them. With no option, Osmond surrendered his men to the surrounding forces.

Although 3 Commando’s raid had been disastrous, their colleagues in 4 Commando had been more fortunate. They had set sail from Southampton in the landing ship HMS Prince Albert and although they had heard 3’s mid-Channel encounter a few miles to the east, their crossing had been uneventful. Having then transferred to their landing craft for the assault as planned, the first group of 4’s commandos, led by Mills-Roberts, landed unopposed on Orange-One at around 4.50 am and just before daybreak. They were then able to quickly scale the cliffs and take up their positions, where they were to wait until 6.15 am before commencing their barrage of fire against the battery from the front – the second group were to commence their main assault from the rear fifteen minutes later.

Meanwhile, Lovat’s second group had not been quite so lucky. Their landing was met by heavy machine-gun fire from two pillboxes overlooking the beach. Calling for support from the mobile reserve section of A Troop to deal with the enemy positions, Lovat quickly led his two troops off the beach and towards the rear of the battery, where they took up their positions ready for the assault. Behind him, the commandos of A Troop soon dealt with the pillboxes and quickly made their way towards the first group, where they were to join up with the rest of their troop.

For Mills-Roberts and the commandos of the first group, the peace and quiet of the early summer morning was suddenly shattered and the ground shook when the battery unexpectedly opened fire. The convoy carrying the main assaulting troops had been spotted a few miles away and the battery was now engaging the ships. Mills-Roberts decided to wait no longer. Although it was not yet time he decided to engage the battery immediately. Mortars, Brens and rifle fire – everything the commandos had – rained down on the battery; it was the first the Germans knew that the commandos were even there.

A short distance away, Lovat and his group heard the firing. They were making their way towards their assault positions but the going was tough across heavy ground. Leading F Troop was Captain Roger Pettiward. One of 4 Commandos’ true characters, Pettiward was a complete gentleman by nature. From a privileged background, and educated at Eton, he had been an adventurous and well-travelled artist before the war, achieving much fame as the cartoonist Paul Crum. Alongside him was his second-in-command, Lieutenant John MacDonald, and 24-year-old Major Pat Porteous, the son of an army brigadier and a former artillery officer, who was acting as the liaison officer between the two assault groups carrying out the attack.

As the commandos of F Troop moved quickly between cottages and an orchard towards their assault position, they were suddenly caught by a heavy burst of enemy machine-gun fire. Pettiward and MacDonald were both killed instantly. As Porteous continued the advance towards the guns he was hit, the bullet passing through his palm and entering his upper arm. Undaunted, he continued until he reached his assailant, disarming him and then killing him with his own bayonet; thereby saving the life of one of the sergeants on whom the German had now turned. With Pettiward and MacDonald dead, and the troop sergeant major wounded, Porteous took command. Without hesitation, and in the face of overwhelming enemy fire, he dashed across the open ground to take command of the remaining commandos of F Troop. Rallying them, he then led them to their forming-up position where they fixed bayonets ready for the assault.

A pre-planned strike by Allied fighters arrived exactly on time to strafe the battery. It was now 6.30 am and Lovat signalled the assault. The covering fire then ceased and the commandos of the second group attacked. While Captain Gordon Webb led B Troop towards their objective of the battery’s buildings, the wounded Porteous led F Troop’s charge towards the guns, now less than a hundred yards away. Porteous was immediately wounded for a second time, shot through the thigh, but despite his wounds he continued to lead the men straight to the guns. He was one of the first to reach their final objective, but he was then hit again and finally collapsed from the loss of blood just as the last of the guns was captured. His most gallant conduct, brilliant leadership and tenacious devotion to duty was supplementary to the role he had been given for the assault and was an inspiration to his unit. It was later announced that Pat Porteous was to be awarded the Victoria Cross, one of three VCs to be won during that day.

Demolitions experts then destroyed the six guns with explosive charges while the commandos of B Troop searched the battery buildings and gathered anything of interest for intelligence. The commandos had been ashore for two hours and it was now time to leave. Carrying their wounded, the commandos withdrew to Orange-One where they were evacuated from the beach by landing craft under the cover of a smokescreen. It was still only 8.30 am. Then, having crossed the Channel without incident, apart from some ineffective enemy fire on leaving the beach, the men of 4 Commando arrived at Newhaven shortly before 6.00 pm. It had been a very long day.

As for the main assault on Dieppe by the Canadians, it was a total failure. The naval bombardment had not supressed the enemy defences, the tanks were unable to advance over the shingle beach and the infantry had suffered heavy casualties. Of the main assault force of 6,000 men, over 1,000 were killed and more than 2,000 were captured and taken as prisoners of war (a total casualty figure of some 60 per cent of the attacking force). Naval losses were also severe, with more than 500 casualties, plus the loss of a destroyer and over 30 landing craft. Allied losses in the air were also significant, with around a hundred aircraft lost, more than on any other day of the war. Furthermore, none of the objectives had been met: the assault by 4 Commando on the Hess Battery at Varengeville had been the only success of the whole operation. Even so, 45 commandos had not returned, 17 of whom had been killed, although German casualties were estimated to be around 150.

The assault by 4 Commando was later described as ‘a classic example of the use of well-trained troops and a thoroughness in planning, training and execution.’ For his leadership of the raid, Lord Lovat was awarded the DSO and his second-in-command, Major Derek Mills-Roberts, was awarded an MC, as was Captain Gordon Webb.

The men of 3 Commando had also fought with courage, aggression, resilience and dogged determination at Dieppe, but the fight had proved costly, with 140 killed, wounded or taken as prisoners of war; the majority of whom had been killed or captured trying to make it back to the beach. Amongst those killed was 22-year-old Lieutenant Edward Loustalot, a US Ranger attached to 3 Commando. He was the first American to be killed on European soil during the war and one of three rangers killed at Dieppe; Loustalot had been cut down by enemy crossfire while attacking a machine-gun post at the top of the cliff.

For his courage and leadership of the eighteen commandos of 3 Commando, who had landed in the single landing craft to the west of Yellow-Two and had then harassed the battery for some three hours before withdrawing safely back to England, Peter Young was awarded the DSO. His action was later described by Vice Admiral John Hughes-Hallett, the naval commander of Jubilee, as perhaps the most outstanding action of the whole operation.

Although the raid had ended up in a disastrous loss of life, the events at Dieppe would influence Allied planning for later landings in North Africa, Sicily and, ultimately, in Normandy on D-Day. The losses at Dieppe were claimed to be a necessary evil and Mountbatten later justified the raid by arguing that lessons learned were put to good use later in the war: stating that the success at Normandy was won on the beaches of Dieppe, and every life lost at Dieppe in 1942 spared at least ten more in Normandy in 1944. Churchill also claimed that the results of the Dieppe raid fully justified the heavy loss. To others, however, especially the Canadians, it was, and remains, a major disaster.

A Gun Called… ”Bruce”

British long-range, hyper-velocity gun. ‘Bruce’ was nicknamed after Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, Controller of the Navy in 1942. The gun was developed largely as a ballistic research tool and consisted of an 8-in (203- mm) calibre barrel, 18.3 m (60 ft) long, inserted into the outer jacket of a standard naval 13.5-in (350-mm) gun. The 13.5-in chamber and breech mechanism were retained. The bore was rifled with 16 deep grooves, and the shells were made with exterior ribs which engaged in these grooves to spin the projectile. The shells weighed 1 16 kg (256 lb) and the propelling charge was 66.7 kg (147 lb) of cordite, giving a muzzle velocity of 1378 m/sec (4520 ft/sec).

Two guns were built by Vickers, the mountings being made in the Great Western Railway workshops at Swindon. The first gun was installed on the Isle of Grain in 1942 and used for test firings, aimed northward so that the flight of the shell and its fall could be tracked by instruments on the Essex coast. Towards the end of 1942 installation of the second gun began at the Royal Marine Siege Battery, St Margarets, near Dover, with the intention of using it as a long-range gun to bombard German positions on the French coast.

This gun was the one which was nicknamed ‘Bruce’. It was fired several times in 1943, but not with warlike intent. The line of fire was southwesterly, across Beachy Head, and the firings were all concerned with studying the performance of shells and fuzes at high altitude and long range. The maximum range achieved was 100.6 km (62.5 miles) but the enormous propelling charge wore out the gun barrel with such rapidity that no more than 30 shots could be fired before the bore became unserviceable. Since this was of little use as a service weapon, the experiments were closed down in 1944 and the weapon was scrapped.

Calibre: 8-in (203-mm) Barrel length: 18.3 m (60 ft) Shell weight: 116 kg (256 lb) Muzzle velocity: 1378 m/sec (4520 ft/sec) Range: 100.6 km (62.5 miles)

Royal Marine Siege Battery

The two 14″ Guns were one battery of the RM Siege Regiment at St Marys at Cliffe near Dover. They were never handed over to the Royal Artillery. In addition this battery also used an experimental gun called Bruce which was a 13.5″ Gun Breech with an 8″ gun barrel making it a super High Velocity weapon.

The second Battery used three `WW! 13.5″ Railway guns, which had been stored at Chilwell and recovered in 1939, these were eventually handed over to the RA in late 1943.

In addition the siege regiment had anti aircraft guns at all gun sites as well as MG and ATG’s for local defence. The RAF also had a spotter baloon section attached to the Regiment

There were numerous artillery exchanges with German batteries throughout the war including the one mentioned below..

“COASTAL ARTILLERY.

There were two 14” coastal guns at Dover. These had a range of 24 miles and they could fire heavy shells across the English Channel. They were normally used against shipping in the Channel, either firing on German coastal convoys or firing on German coastal batteries which interfered with British convoys. However they were used briefly in support of 3 Canadian Division during operations in the Pas de Calais area in September 1944. An Auster AOP spotted for them and 189 rounds were fired.

These guns were reserve guns for the King George V class battleships. They were originally manned by Royal Marines but were handed over to the Royal Artillery. The first gun to be emplaced was named Winnie after Churchill and its partner was named Pooh.

The standard shell weighed 1,586 lb and the maximum range was 47,250 yards.

Also available were two 15” guns which had been intended for Penang but were installed at Dover. These fired a 1,938 lb shell to a range of 42,000 yards. This was just enough to reach the French coast.

COAST OBSERVATION DETACHMENT.

War Establishment III/313/1. March 1944.

No3 Detachment is listed on the 21 Army Group Order of Battle. Presumably it was to direct the fire of coastal batteries.

12 X operator, fire control including

serjeant

bombardier

lance bombardier

9 X gunner

A Marine’s Tale Part 1

The Hellenistic Period – Weapons 400–150 BC III

LIGHT CAVALRY AND CATAPHRACTS

Light cavalry of the Hellenistic period were generally mercenaries, called Tarentines. Although originally from Taras in south Italy, the name came to mean just a type of light cavalry armed with javelins and a small shield (Head 1982, pp. 115–16). The small shield of Macedonian style from Olympia, mentioned in connection with Cretan archers, could equally have been used by a Tarentine cavalryman. It is a moot point as to whether they wore helmets. We might presume that those who could buy their own helmet would have done so, but that they were not essential. Apart from battles, these soldiers were used chiefly for scouting by all the Hellenistic kingdoms and many Greek states.

A final type of cavalryman, who appears to have been used only by the Seleucid and Bactrian kingdoms, is the cataphract. This was a very heavily armoured cavalryman, who was covered from head to foot with armour, and who rode a horse that was also armoured. They were probably developed by the Parthians, and adopted by the Seleucids and Bactrians, the Greek kingdoms to their west and east in the later third century. Antiochus III had none at the Battle of Raphia in 217, but he did have 6,000 at the Battle of Magnesia in 190. He probably first recruited them following his travels through the eastern provinces in the late third century. There are no clear illustrations of cataphracts from this period, but there are illustrations of their armour on the Pergamum friezes, and an important find of actual armour has been made in Afghanistan (Bernard et al. 1980, passim).

The cuirass for the cataphract could have been of any of the metal types we have already looked at, no doubt fitted with pteruges, but the example from Ai Khanum in Afghanistan, which dates to the second century, is most unusual in that it is made of iron scales. The surviving shoulder piece is made of iron lamellar strips and came down onto the chest with a stud attachment, just like earlier shoulder-piece corslets and the Prodromi cuirass, to be secured with a thong. Various pieces of leather, linen and felt seem to have formed a separate arming jack, and were not directly attached to the cuirass as has been surmised for other metal cuirasses (Bernard et al. 1980, p. 61).

As for helmets, it seems that cataphracts wore a masked helmet which completely encased the head. An example is shown on the Pergamum frieze, and a possible Hellenistic example is in Belgrade’s Archaeological Museum (Russell Robinson 1975, pp. 107, 112). Such helmets were also apparently worn by chariot drivers (Sekunda 1994b, plates 4–5). Whoever wore them, they must have restricted vision dreadfully.

For arm and leg protection, tubular laminated guards were worn. These arm guards are depicted on the Pergamum friezes, and the Ai Khanum find has produced a leg guard made of iron. This guard was for a left leg, with the strips of iron overlapping upwards for greater flexibility like later Roman guards (Russell Robinson 1975, plates 502–4). The topmost part of the thigh was protected by a semi-circular plate, and there was a further plate covering the foot. Earlier arm and leg guards could well have been made of bronze. A small statuette from Syria also exists, which seems to show both arm and leg guards of this style (Sekunda 1994b, figs 32–3).

The Pergamum reliefs also show horse armour in the form of a chamfron (face guard) and plastron (chest guard) and these too are likely to have been for cataphracts, or perhaps for scythed chariots (Sekunda 1994b, fig. 54, plates 4–5). A further piece of armour from Ai Khanum, made up of very thin iron lamellae in a rough square shape, appears to be a horse plastron, although the excavator thought it might be a parameridion or thigh guard (Bernard et al. 1980, p. 61). Given the fact that the rider’s legs were already protected by the tubular leg guards and possibly pteruges, I think a plastron is more likely. It is highly unlikely that cataphracts used a shield as well as all this armour, and most probably they were armed with a spear for frontal assault. The Battle of Magnesia saw the cavalry and cataphracts of Antiochus III’s right wing break through the Roman line and pursue the fugitives to the camp. They were unable to return in time to salvage the collapse of the infantry phalanx, and one reason must surely have been that the cataphract horses would have been exhausted after one charge. The weight of armour, especially if much of it was in iron (not necessarily the case until well after Magnesia), would have protected rider and horse from missiles, and made them a formidable strike force, but must also have exhausted the cataphracts very quickly. The timing of their charge needed to be exact, as they probably could not have been manoeuvred again for any further action.

CHARIOTS

The chariot had gone out of use among the Greeks when horses had been bred that were big enough and strong enough to be ridden as cavalry. The same had happened in Persia, where chariots no doubt continued in use for ceremonial purposes; but, sometime before 400, the chariot made a comeback as a weapon of war. This new chariot was very different from those of former times. It was a four-horse chariot, whose horses and drivers were heavily armoured. The chariot itself was covered with scythes, and was designed to smash through enemy formations. Scythes projected in front of the chariot from the yoke poles, and also sideways from the yoke, one pointing horizontally, the other downwards. Two more scythes were attached to the axle, again horizontally, and pointing downwards. This latter probably revolved with the wheel to catch both ‘duckers’ and ‘jumpers’ (Livy XXXVII, 41). Persian chariots mentioned by Xenophon in his Anabasis had scythes projecting from under the box of the chariot, but these are not mentioned by Livy describing the Seleucid version and may have been dropped by then. It seems likely that they would have often got caught in the ground if the surface was at all uneven, and that may have been the main reason why Darius III had to level the ground for his chariots before the Battle of Gaugamela. It seems that the horses and drivers of these chariots were armed in much the same way as cataphracts.

Scythed chariots have usually been dismissed as a gimmick that did not work. Livy (XXXVII, 41) describes them at the Battle of Magnesia as ‘farcical’, but they remained in use by Persian and Seleucid armies for over 200 years. Their first known appearance at Cunaxa in 400 failed against disciplined Greek hoplites, who moved aside to let them pass, but in 395 at Dascyleum they scored a victory against hoplites who were panicked by the sight of them. Alexander the Great managed to break up the Persian chariot attack at Gaugamela with light troops, and this became the standard defence. Molon, a Seleucid rebel, used them against Antiochus III in 220, but Antiochus himself never used them against other Greek armies because he thought they could be easily countered. Against Rome at the Battle of Magnesia he thought the element of surprise would count in his favour, but Eumenes, King of Pergamum, was on the Roman side and told them how to deal with the chariots. They were again broken up using light troops. At the Daphne parade in 166, Antiochus IV had 100 six-horse scythed chariots and only 40 four-horse versions, so it is possible he was trying to make them more effective by increasing their size. It is difficult to be sure because this was a parade and not a battle (Sekunda 1994b, p. 26). Chariots continued to be used by the Seleucids until after 150, but are unlikely to have lasted into the first century BC, when the Seleucid Empire had been reduced to a Syrian rump. There is no evidence for scythe-chariot use by other Greek states. Livy (XXXVII, 41) states that Eumenes of Pergamum knew about how they worked in war, but does not suggest that he actually had any himself. There is a slight possibility that they were used by the Bactrian kingdoms in the east, but the terrain there is not really suitable for chariotry.

ELEPHANTS

Elephants were used by the Indian army of Porus, which fought Alexander the Great in 326. Although Alexander was victorious, the elephants had caused heavy casualties among his men. It was rumours of larger elephant armies in India that caused the army’s revolt soon after. Alexander saw the advantages of the elephant, and began to recruit an elephant corps into the Macedonian army. Originally the elephant itself was the weapon, and it was made as imposing as possible. The elephants of Eumenes and Antiochus III had purple trappings, and Antiochus decorated his elephants with gold and silver and awarded them medals for bravery (Scullard 1974, pp. 238–9). If elephants were wounded they had an unfortunate tendency to run amok so, as well as the driver, a soldier or two was mounted astride the elephant’s back, armed with missiles to help protect it.

Later on, elephants were issued with armour, consisting of head pieces like horse chamfrons and leg armour similar to that worn by cataphract troops, although perhaps leather rather than metallic (Sekunda 1994b, plate 7). Livy (XXXVII, 40, 4) mentions headpieces with crests on them. Scale body armour for elephants was also used and features on a damaged statuette of uncertain provenance (Sekunda 1994b, figs 52–3). For offensive purposes the elephants’ tusks could be sheathed in iron (Arrian, Punica IX, 581–3).

As well as breaking up elephant charges with light troops and missile weapons, elephants could be disrupted by weapons placed in front of them. The elephants of Polyperchon (regent in Macedonia after the death of Antipater in 319) were once disrupted with planks lying on the ground, with nails pushed through them from underneath (Scullard 1974, p. 248). Ptolemy improved on this at the Battle of Gaza in 312 by attaching a series of caltrops (sets of spikes) to chains. These could then be quickly moved to where an elephant attack might come.

The best tactic was to make sure you had more and bigger elephants than the enemy. At Magnesia in 190 the Romans had sixteen elephants, but did not bother to use them as Antiochus III had fifty-four. Ptolemy’s elephants at Raphia in 217 were defeated because he had only 75 to Antiochus’s 102, although Ptolemy won the battle in the end. Ptolemy’s elephants were also defeated because they were African bush elephants, which are much smaller than the Indian elephants used by Antiochus. (Connolly 1998, p. 75). After Raphia, Ptolemy captured some Indian elephants, which he used in his army, and in 145 Demetrius II of Syria captured some African elephants from Egypt, which he also used in his army. Generally, however, early Hellenistic kingdoms – including Pyrrhus of Epirus – used the Indian elephant; only the Ptolemies of Egypt, cut off from supply by the Seleucid Empire, were forced to rely on smaller African elephants.

The idea of defensive troops sitting on elephants’ backs was enhanced in the early third century by placing small wooden towers on the animals’ backs. These enabled more men to be carried, and gave those men greater protection. As well as elephant defence, these men now became part of the offensive capability of the elephant. The mahout, or elephant driver, still had to sit outside the tower, astride the elephant’s neck. The earliest representations of towers are both from about 275. A plate from south Italy shows an Indian elephant with a tower containing two soldiers and may represent one of Pyrrhus’s elephants (Connolly 1998, p. 75, fig. 2). A statue of similar date shows an elephant attacking a Celt, and has been dated to the ‘elephant victory’ of the Seleucids against invading Celts in 273. The towers may well have been first used by Pyrrhus at the Battle of Heraclea in 280, but were soon adopted by other Hellenistic kingdoms (Scullard 1974, p. 104).

There are two basic types of tower: the original large tower for the Indian elephant, and a smaller type devised by Ptolemy IV for his African elephants. The Indian-elephant tower, as used by Antiochus III at Raphia in 217 and Magnesia in 190, is as wide as it is high and has three merlons per side in the crenellations. The early plate, sculpture, and an elephant medallion in the Hermitage all show this (Connolly 1998, p. 75, fig. 3). The African-elephant tower has a much smaller base to enable it to sit on the smaller elephant, but is twice as high as it is wide, to make up for the lesser height of the elephant, and it has only two merlons per side (Connolly 1998, p. 75, fig. 1). Livy (XXXVII, 40, 4) states that the elephants at Magnesia had four men in each tower and this is supported by the ‘elephant victory’ statuette, which has two shields attached to each side of the tower. Four armed men in a wooden tower is certainly possible, but was probably the maximum allowed. The statuette of the African elephant shown by Connolly has only one shield each side and suggests a crew of only two.

Ptolemy’s elephant crew at Raphia were armed with sarissas to poke at the opposition, but Antiochus III’s elephant crew probably had two sarissa men and two archers or javelineers. Large amounts of missile weapons could certainly be stored in the tower (Scullard 1974, p. 240). Fear was the elephants’ strongest weapon, but they did have other uses. Perdiccas used his elephants to assault the Camel fort of Ptolemy where they tore up palisades and threw down parapets (Diodorus, XVIII, 34, 2), but they were ineffective against stonework. Horses could not stand the sight or smell of elephants unless they were specially trained. After Demetrius the Besieger had been victorious with his cavalry on the right wing at the Battle of Ipsus in 301, he found himself cut off by Seleucus’s screen of elephants and unable to return to the battle (Diodorus XX, 113–XXI, 2). At the Battle of Magnesia, Antiochus had his horses trained to work with elephants, and each cavalry wing was supported by sixteen of them. To try and prevent light troops from getting close to an elephant and hamstringing it, each elephant was provided with a guard of forty to fifty men, usually archers or slingers (Polybius XVI, 18, 7). Also at Magnesia pairs of elephants and their guards were stationed in between blocks of the pike phalanx, to try and add some flexibility to this formation and to protect the flanks.

After Magnesia, Antiochus III was required to have all his elephants destroyed, but at the Daphne parade in 166 Antiochus IV still had thirty-six elephants equipped for war, as well as a four-elephant chariot and a two-elephant chariot – these last two items surely for parade purposes only (Sekunda 1994a, p. 27). Whether the Romans had not got around to making sure the elephants were destroyed, or whether Antiochus IV had been able to obtain more from Demetrius of Bactria, is uncertain. In 162 Gnaeus Octavius was sent out by Rome and he did destroy the elephants, although it cost him his life at the hands of an outraged elephant lover (Green 1990, p. 437). Further elephants do continue to appear in the sources, although some sources are unreliable. It seems unlikely that either the Seleucid or Ptolemaic Empires used them after c. 140. By then Parthia had blocked off supplies from India, and the African bush elephant was on its way to extinction. Pyrrhus of Epirus had famously used elephants against the Romans in the 270s, but there is no evidence for Epirote use after this time, and none for their use by Macedonia, Pergamum or any of the southern Greek states. It is almost certain that the Greek states of Bactria and India used them throughout their period of existence (down to perhaps AD 10), but their coins show only elephants, elephant heads and elephant scalps on helmets. They do not show elephants with towers or soldiers, which would prove the case.

As has been said earlier, surprise and the fear they caused were the greatest weapons of the elephant. These were the main factors in the elephant victories of the early third century. But when soldiers knew how to deal with them, they were easily managed and became an expensive liability. Once enraged or wounded, they were just as likely to inflict heavy casualties upon their own side as on the enemy. Neither the Romans nor indeed the Parthians ever really bothered with them.

ARTILLERY

Nearly all of our evidence for Hellenistic artillery – that is, bolt-throwers and stone-throwers – is literary. We have surviving Hellenistic manuals and descriptions in Arrian, Polybius, Livy, etc., of the equipment in action at the various sieges. Parts of some catapults have been found, mostly dating to the Roman period, and these also help with reconstructions. The main archaeological finds are the projectiles. At Rhodes and in other places, round boulders of specific weights, fired from catapults, have been found, and catapult bolts inscribed with Philip II’s name are also known (Connolly 1998, pp. 282–3).

According to Diodorus, the catapult was invented in 399 for Dionysius I of Syracuse (Campbell 2003, p. 3). Unfortunately, we don’t know quite what this machine was. The forerunner of the earliest catapult was the gastraphetes or ‘belly-bow’ devised by Ctesibius, probably towards the end of the fifth century. This was a large, composite bow mounted sideways on a stock, rather like a large crossbow. The arrow or bolt rested on a slider, which moved up and down the stock. The slider was pushed forward until a catch on it was fastened onto the bow string. The end of the slider was then rested on the ground, and the operator pushed with his stomach into the crescent-shaped end of the stock, using his weight to force the slider back, thus drawing the bow. An arrow could then be fitted and the catch released to fire it. It was a very slow and cumbersome effort.

The machines probably presented to Dionysius were similar but mounted in a base, with the slider being drawn back by a winch system. Biton describes four of these machines in his treatise, the first two designed by Zopyrus. The first, still called a gastraphetes, had a 9ft-long bow, and fired two 6ft bolts simultaneously. The second was a smaller version for easy transport to sieges and was called the mountain gastraphetes. The third machine was a stone-thrower, designed by Charon of Magnesia, which could fire a 5lb stone. The last, by Isidorus of Thessalonika, could fire a 40lb stone, using a 15ft bow. These stone-throwers had a sling fitted with a pouch, instead of the normal bowstring. All four machines were mounted on the base by a universal joint, which allowed the machine to be traversed, depressed and elevated with relative ease by one man.

These bow catapults, or ballistas, developed during the first half of the fourth century into the torsion catapult. In this design the bow was replaced by two wooden frames on either side of the stock, each containing twisted bundles of hair or sinew. A wooden arm was inserted into each bundle, and these formed the arms of the bow. After a few shots the elasticity of the bundles slackened, and iron levers were inserted top and bottom in order to retighten them (Marsden 1969, p. 81). It seems that machines of this type, capable of throwing stones, were not developed until the time of Alexander the Great. The last development seems to have been the use of curved arms for extra springiness. The first evidence for this is on the Pergamum frieze, so an introduction date of c. 200 seems likely. The earlier bow catapults continued to be used down until about 240.

The range of bolt-throwing catapults was about 500 yards, with the bolts being 2–5ft long, but they were really accurate only up to about 100 yards. Stone-throwers had a range of about 300 yards – perhaps only 200 yards for the largest – and came in a variety of sizes. The most popular engines seem to have been ten minas (4.4kg), thirty minas (13.1kg) and one talent (26.2kg) machines, these weights being the weight of the projectiles. Stones larger than that have occasionally been found, but they were probably for lifting and dropping by cranes, as Archimedes did at Syracuse in 212 (Polybius VIII, 5). Further developments, mentioned in the treatises we have, never seem to have got off the drawing board. Ctesibius mentioned a catapult with bronze springs, which did not slacken like the sinew or hair in the torsion catapults, but they seem to have proved to be too expensive to manufacture. He also designed a catapult operated by compressed-air-powered springs. This was fine on the drawing board, but could not be accurately manufactured with the techniques available at the time. The final invention in this field was a repeating catapult designed by Demetrius of Alexandria, but this machine was a failure because it was too accurate; all the bolts hit the same target and did not disperse. Its range was also somewhat limited.

Although these machines were designed principally for attack and defence during sieges, they were occasionally deployed on the battlefield. At Mantinea in 207 Machanidas the Spartan stationed catapults, probably bolt-shooters, all along his line in an experiment to counter greater Achaean numbers. Philopoemen and the Achaeans charged the catapults as soon as they saw them and, since they were difficult to move, they were almost immediately destroyed or overrun and played no further part in the battle. In 198 and 191 Philip V and Antiochus III, respectively, used catapults in defensive positions against the Romans at the Aous Gorge and at Thermopylae. In both cases, the Romans found it hard to approach these defences from the front, but they were easily outflanked and captured. These would have been expensive losses, since the price for these machines appears to have been about 500–2,500 drachmas each (Philon 62, 15). For the most part the machines were installed in fortifications for defensive purposes, and could also be used in attack against such fortifications. The best-known Greek attack was that by Demetrius the Besieger against Rhodes in 305–4, at which he used a huge tower filled with catapults and ballistas of all sizes (Connolly 1998, pp. 281–5). The best-known defence was that of Archimedes at Syracuse in 213. Apart from a vast array of bolt-throwers and stone-throwers, Archimedes also had cranes which dropped huge boulders on the attacking Romans, and giant grappling hooks which pulled Roman ships out of the water and then dropped them (Connolly 1998, p. 294).

THE REFORMS OF THE 160S

The Hellenistic warfare we have been describing in this chapter, principally the pike phalanx and the heavy cavalry, was an effective form of warfare that lasted successfully until 168. In that year, the Romans annihilated the army of Perseus, King of Macedon, at the Battle of Pydna. The legionary army proved itself more effective on the day, and this has led Sekunda (1994b, 1995, 2001) to suggest that the remaining Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms in Egypt and Syria remodelled their armies on Roman lines. The evidence for this is actually slim.

A stele from Hermopolis describes new ranks and names for formations, which Sekunda (2001, p. 21) argues is the adoption of the Roman maniple or double century, but the top and bottom of the stele are broken and we do not know what sort of soldiers these are. The semeia which is mentioned could simply be a new word adopted for the syntagma or speira, words previously used to describe a phalanx block of 256 men. The later tacticians like Asclepiodotus and Aeneas use the word semeia, but they are still describing a Hellenistic pike phalanx. The use of the word semeia does suggest, however, the use of standards, so it may be that military standards were introduced into the Ptolemaic army at this time.

Further evidence for this ‘reform’ is provided by the Kasr-el-Harit shield and various stelai from Sidon. The Egyptian shield has already been mentioned by me as a descendant of the Greek thureos, and the soldiers depicted on the stelai are also mercenary thureophoroi, who have no relation to the regular Hellenistic phalanx (Sekunda 2001, pp. 65, 80).

The evidence for the Seleucid Kingdom is almost entirely contained in a sentence of Polybius (XXX, 25, 3), where he is describing the Daphne parade of 166. Here he says that there were 5,000 men equipped in the Roman manner with chain mail. These marched separately from the 20,000 men of the phalanx, and were clearly a different unit. Some commentators have suggested these men were just a bit of a gimmick, like the elephant chariots that also featured in the parade, but Sekunda is surely right when he states that they were a genuine military component. They were not armed as Roman legionaries, however. Apart from the chain mail, there was nothing to suggest that these men used the Roman pilum or shield, or fought in maniples. A unit of 5,000 men could easily be part of the phalanx, but the fact that they were placed at the front of the parade with other obviously mercenary troops – Mysians, Thracians and Galatians – suggests that these men were mercenary thureophoroi, armed with the thureos shield and spears.

A final pointer which seems to confirm that the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms did not reform along Roman lines was that the Macedonian-style pike phalanx continued to be used, both in the later campaigns by the Seleucids against the Jews and in Mithridates of Pontus’s campaigns against Rome. Mithridates did arm half his army in Roman fashion, but he also seems to have been the last man to employ the Hellenistic pike phalanx.

CHAIN MAIL

Further mention should be made of chain mail as a form of body armour, as it was clearly used by some soldiers in the Seleucid Kingdom. Apart from the Daphne parade mentioned above, some or all of the Seleucid phalanx was armoured with chain mail at the Battle of Beth-Zacharia in 162 (Maccabees I, 6.35). Appian (Syrian Wars 30–6) also suggests that cataphracts may have worn chain mail at Magnesia in 190, but he seems to confuse Celtic cavalry with cataphracts, so this idea is perhaps best ignored.) One of the stelai from Sidon mentioned above also has a soldier in chain mail, which may indicate use by the Ptolemaic Kingdom as well (Sekunda 2001, front cover, p. 69).

Chain mail was a Celtic invention of about 300, consisting of rows of interlocking iron rings, each ring passing through two above it and two below it to give a strong but flexible defence. Rows of punched rings usually alternated with rows of butted or riveted rings (Connolly 1998, p. 124), the latter being stronger. Each ring is usually 8–9mm in diameter. The shape of the later mail cuirasses adopted by both Romans and, presumably, Greeks was similar to the shoulder-piece corslet, with two shoulder flaps coming over the shoulders and being fastened down onto the chest. Chain mail corslets appear on the Pergamum frieze, where they probably represent armour captured from the Galatians. The date of c. 170 for this monument shows that this would have been the type of cuirass adopted by the Seleucids in the 160s. Wealthier Roman soldiers wore this form of cuirass, and it seems likely that all legionaries were issued with chain mail in c. 123, after Rome had inherited the wealth of the new province of Asia. It would have been very expensive for Antiochus IV to equip 5,000 soldiers in chain mail for the Daphne parade, which is one reason why Polybius remarks upon it.

Chain mail is an excellent defence, combining the flexibility of leather with the resilience of iron plate, and it lasted as a defence until the Middle Ages. It was even revived as a defensive material for tank crew in the First World War. It would have been quite heavy to wear a knee-length corslet of mail, but the defensive capabilities were excellent. Pointed weapons would be caught in a ring and held, while edged weapons also would not have much penetrative power, especially as the mail would have been worn over a leather jack. As far as the Greeks go, however, it was the last innovation before impotence led to a gradual absorption into the Roman Empire. Macedonia and Greece were annexed in 148, Seleucid Syria in 64 – although it had ceased to be any sort of power since the 120s – and Egypt in 30, although it too had existed since 168 only by the will of Rome.

Spiking of Cannon


The vent being the only means of firing with such celerity as the service of cannon requires. it is evident that to render this weapon useless, it is sufficient to choke up its vent. This operation is called to nail, spike, or cloy cannon, and in French enclouer le canon.

When circumstances make it necessary to abandon cannon, or when the enemy’s artillery is seized, and it is not, however, possible to take them away, it is proper to nail them up, which is done by driving a large nail or iron spike into the vent of the pieces of artillery, which is a momentary business and renders them unserviceable, at least for awhile.

A 24-pounder, can be nailed with a square nail 8.52 inches long and .27 inch square, with a swelling at the head: one minute is sufficient to drive it into the vent.

The same can be nailed with a nail 8.52 inches long, .36 inch square in the middle and .44 or .56 inch at the head: it is not easy to drive this nail up to the head.

The same can be likewise be nailed with a steel pointed nail, cut in the form of a male screw, .48 inch diameter, and 7.46 inches long; and tempered in its whole length, exclusive of the point, that it may be riveted inside. This method is by far the best but it is long and requires two hours and a quarter to perform it.

In order to increase the obstacles, after the cannon is nailed, the bottom is filled with potter’s clay or with a cylinder of hard wood, and a calibre shot, muffled in felt, or in a piece of old hat, is strongly rammed above it.

There are various contrivances to force the nail out. In the two first instances, it is sometimes possible to remedy this accident, by loading the gun with a charge somewhat more than one-third the weight of the shot, for instance ten pounds and a half for a 24-pounder, ramming on the charge a wad mixed with powder and matches: then putting one shot, or a wooden cylinder. We would rather advise a cylinder of fat clay to increase the resistance to the explosion, and consequently, render the action of the powder greater in the vent. In all cases a strong wad should be rammed on the shot or cylinder. The fire is communicated to a match, which from the mouth of the cannon, reaches the charge; but sometimes this operation is to be renewed more than once, before the nail can be forced out. Great attention must be paid that no sand or small stones remain in the rammer, before making use of it.

But all attempts in general are useless when the piece is well spiked as in the third instance; and the piece must either be melted again, or, if it be worth the trouble, repaired in the same way as damaged vents.

If the nail be screwed in, the best method is to drill a new vent next to the other.

When the nail is forced out, or a new vent drilled, it becomes as easy matter to disengage the bore of all internal obstacles, by introducing a sufficient quantity of powder through the vent, in these cases the spiking of cannon is but a temporary accident.

Georg Bruchmüller, (1863–1948)

German Army officer. Georg Heinrich Bruchmüller was born in Berlin on December 11, 1863. His early military career was undistinguished. After service as an officer candidate, Bruchmüller was commissioned in the foot artillery in 1885.

Bruchmüller spent his entire career in the standard pattern for an officer of that branch, alternating between assignments with fortress guns and as an instructor in various military schools. In 1913 he had a riding accident and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. In October of that year he was medically discharged and was placed on the retired list at the rank of lieutenant colonel but with retired pay of a major.

When World War I began in August 1914, Bruchmüller was recalled to temporary active duty and posted to the Eastern Front, assigned as the divisional artillery commander of the newly formed 86th Division. He soon displayed a talent for field operations. Bruchmüller began experimentation with different fire support tactics, and by the start of 1915 he had seen action in 13 battles and won the Iron Cross Second Class and First Class.

After languishing in a minor post in a fortress in 1914 he was briefly assigned as a corps artillery staff officer then as a divisional Artillerie Kommandeur (ARKO). As reports of the Russians massing for an assault came in, Bruchmüller suggested abandoning the traditional divisional artillery system and instead proposed using massed, centrally controlled fire directed by the corps artillery commander to break up enemy attacks as soon as their plan became apparent. His direct superior, Borkenhagen, was unimpressed but Bruchmüller took the plan to XL Korps’ chief of staff, Emil Hell, and convinced him to test his theory on the Russians. Bruchmüller’s method proved startlingly effective and the Russian infantry and artillery paid a heavy price for their ineffective preparatory barrage as the Germans focused their own fire on the sectors where the Russians were massing instead of reacting to individual attacks. To support the counter-attacks, Bruchmüller used a variant of the creeping barrage and this tactic drove the Russians back in disarray. Hell was immediately transferred to the staff of an army group, and Bruchmüller was assigned to his delighted patron’s staff. In May 1917 he was awarded the coveted Pour le Mérite.

Bruchmüller eventually came to the attention of Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) Max Hoffmann, chief of staff of the Eastern Front. In August 1917 Hoffmann assigned him to the Eighth Army to control the artillery for the attack at Riga (September 3–5, 1917).

The German Eighth Army, commanded by Oskar von Hutier, was tasked in August 1917 with finally breaking through Kornilov’s Russian Twelfth Army at Riga. Plans had been under consideration since April, but the Russian positions were formidable and the garrison well prepared. Kornilov seems to have been aware that the offensive was imminent but appears to have played little role in the battle except authorising the retreat. Fresh divisions were assigned to Hutier’s command but more importantly he planned to use a combination of the latest assault tactics to achieve a decisive breakthrough, with a fire-plan orchestrated by Colonel Bruch-müller. The infantry assault units were trained in infiltration methods – an approach initially suggested by Laffargue but perfected by Hauptmann Willy Rohr and others – on a grand scale for the first time. The Germans intended to use abbreviated registration in the first phase of the preparatory bombardment to mask the detailed fire-plan. This simple system was an effective solution to the problem of maintaining surprise. Instead of a long general bombardment or a slow methodical battering of key positions over several days, abbreviated registration required the batteries supporting the main assault to use pre-set registration points to first confirm their position on the battlefield and then shift their fire to targets identified within the carefully surveyed area around their initial registration point. Batteries could thus arrive during the night, pre-register at dawn, then fire on their main targets with a reasonable chance of hitting the target. Accuracy was worse than the old way but chemical rounds meant near-misses could still neutralise targets. Allied analysts would ultimately conclude the Germans had discovered a new way of delivering unobserved fire without registration.

Mindful of the damage the Russian artillery could cause during the Duna river crossing, the first two hours of the fire-plan, planned for 1 September, also included a hurricane bombardment against identified battery positions. To ensure counter-battery success, the artillery was reinforced from both the Eastern and Western Fronts, with enough ammunition to provide a genuine test of Bruchmüller’s methods. Given the scale of the bombardment, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Russians failed to notice the final phase of the abbreviated registration plan during the torrent of shellfire. The mix of shells (three-quarters gas and one-quarter high explosive) shattered the communication system and silenced most of the batteries. After 2 hours the majority of the heavies continued to focus on the Russian batteries while the rest, including the trench mortars, adjusted their sights according to the data gathered from the abbreviated registration phase and began to pound the front lines with a mix of shells dominated by high explosive (80:20). After another 3 hours of intense fire, the remaining heavy batteries joined the main barrage for a final terrifying few minutes before the creeping barrage commenced, leaving only one gun per battery to maintain the lethal miasma over the Russian gun positions.

The creeping barrage surged forwards after 5 hours and 10 minutes of pounding. As Zabecki notes in his biography of Bruchmüller, the main barrage had delivered 10,500 tons of high explosive on to the Russian defensive system – the equivalent of 500 B-52 bomber payloads. The devastation was made more horrific by the densest utilisation of gas shells since the technology was introduced and by the relative accuracy of the fire. Unlike the timed barrages at Verdun, the six lifts in the German creeping barrage were coordinated by the advancing infantry firing green flares. Bruchmüller’s fire-plan fed additional silent batteries in to each phase while earmarked batteries pounded identified targets in the rear areas, sowing further chaos. Once the river crossing was complete (aided on the day by the morning mist), the heavy guns switched back to counter-battery fire. Light guns were rafted over for the attack on the second position, at which point the heavy guns switched targets to give supporting fire. The next phase of the fireplan supported the consolidation units building the bridges, covered the movement of heavy guns over the river and assisted the assault units by disrupting counter-attacks on the bridgehead. Once these were in position the final phase of the fire-plan could begin and the exploitation phase could theoretically commence before the Russians could move any effective reserves into play. 51 The only aspect missing in the plan was the recognition that confusion was inevitable as soon as the assault units surged over the bridges and into the chaos created by the Russian retreat. This elaborate fire-plan confirmed Bruchmüller’s reputation as a master gunner and his version of the creeping barrage was quickly nicknamed the `feuerwalze’, a peculiarly light-hearted term which nevertheless captures his skillful orchestration of phased zone fire missions. While the intended effect is always entirely destructive, the creation of a complex fire-plan certainly shares some of the combination of art and precision that characterises musical composition.

After Russia withdrew from the war, Bruchmüller went to the Western Front with General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Oskar von Hutier when the latter assumed command of the newly formed Eighteenth Army.

With Ludendorff looking at the front lines rather than at a deeper objective, the Germans assembled 6, 473 guns and 3, 532 mortars – 48 per cent of their guns and 40 per cent of their mortars. Three armies would be attacking, but there was no single artillery commander: instead each army had a different chief. Among the Germans coming west was Oberst Georg Bruchmüller. While he was important in the upcoming offensive, he was not the key figure that he is sometimes made out to be. Bruchmüller certainly brought new techniques (including the `Pulkowski method’ of calibration and allowance for daily weather variations, which was essentially what the British had been doing for several months5) and his own gift for matching the right mix of munitions to targets. While he influenced Ludendorff (especially in getting the `Pulkowski method’ widely adopted so that the whole bombardment could be predicted instead of registered, thus preserving surprise), he was only in direct charge of the artillery for the Eighteenth Army. This meant that the impact of his talents was limited; the Second Army paid close attention to his suggestions but dedicated Westerners in the Seventeenth Army had to be forced to listen.

The Germans had not made a major attack on the Western Front since Verdun, over two years before. Bombardment methods had changed a great deal since Verdun, where areas had basically been drenched with shells; if the target area was trenches it was a `trench bombardment’ and if the area had French guns it was called `counter-battery fire’. In 1918 far more precision was used, along with different types of artillery and a range of specialist shells. Bruchmüller was extremely confident in the Pulkowski method and planned to use a wholly predicted barrage. He also mixed gun types and shell types based on the effect he was trying to achieve, not on tradition. For instance, in the past counter-battery fire was often done with howitzers because they fired larger shells that were more likely to destroy enemy guns; meanwhile, field guns would fire at infantry. Bruchmüller turned this assumption around, trying to break up the infantry’s positions (especially headquarters, observation posts and strong-points) with howitzer shells while field guns swamped the enemy artillery with gas shells. (He also mixed gas types, using a tearing/sneezing agent to make British gunners take off their masks and breathe in lethal phosgene.) At different phases of the bombardment Bruchmüller mixed field guns, field howitzers, gas and high explosive for counter-battery fire, and used various types of gun and shell to support the infantry. Trench mortars, minenwerfer, were used wherever possible, including during the barrage, but due to range limitations they could only reach the first British line. Bruchmüller kept the supportive role of artillery in mind all the time (he later wrote `the thanks of the infantry, in my opinion, must be treasured more by every artilleryman than all decorations and citations, but took a wide range of routes to the objective. The artillery commanders for the Second and Seventeenth Armies were far more traditional; they lacked Bruchmüller’s (uniformly successful) Eastern Front experience and confidence in his unorthodox methods. For instance Lieutenant-General Richard von Berendt of the Seventeenth Army would not fire a wholly predicted bombardment; there was a little registration fire before the attack, and he also had a pause in the fire on the morning of the attack to adjust fire. (Ludendorff had had to specifically order the Seventeenth Army to use the new principles and even suggested they use the same procedures, but the order came only two weeks before the attack, while Bruchmüller had used seven weeks.) Another difference was in trusting the infantry. All the armies had a feuerwalze to cover the advancing infantry (including a creeping barrage advancing 200 metres every 4 minutes), but Bruchmüller ended the fire at the guns’ maximum range so the infantry could continue their advance, while von Berendt continued the barrage to protect against British counterattacks.

Bruchmüller commanded the artillery of the Eighteenth Army during the Saint-Quentin Offensive (March 21–April 5, 1918), and his fire support tactics greatly influenced those of the other two armies in that attack. In the four subsequent German offensives of 1918, German first quartermaster general (de facto chief of staff) General der Infanterie Erich Ludendorff placed Bruchmüller in direct charge of all the artillery. In late March, Bruchmüller was promoted to colonel and restored to the active list.

Bruchmüller pioneered many of the fire support techniques that were widely copied by all sides during World War I and ever since. While the massive artillery preparations on the Western Front lasted days and even weeks, his preparations lasted only hours but with better effect. Bruchmüller was one of the first to recognize that artillery’s ability to neutralize the enemy temporarily through shock effect was more important than its too often inadequate capability to destroy enemy fortifications. Bruchmüller also developed a system of task-tailored artillery groupings for specific tactical missions, and he was the war’s most successful employer of artillery-delivered gas.

After the war, Bruchmüller again retired from the army. He wrote several influential books about his tactical methods. These were translated into English, French, and Russian and were widely studied in military schools between the world wars. But the postwar German Army, focusing almost exclusively on the tank–dive-bomber combination, abandoned most of Bruchmüller’s World War I artillery principles, for which it paid a heavy price in World War II. The Soviets, however, followed Bruchmüller very closely.

In August 1939 the German Army belatedly promoted the man who once commanded more than 6,000 guns to the rank of Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) on the retired list. Bruchmüller died in Garmisch, Germany, on January 26, 1948.

Further Reading

Bailey, J. B. A. Field Artillery and Firepower. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004.

Zabecki, David T. Steel Wind: Georg Bruchmüller and the Birth of Modern Artillery. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

DAVID T. ZABECKI, an Engineer by profession, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is a field artillery officer with an additional skill designator as a historian. He is currently a contributing editor to Military History magazine. In 1987 he received the General John J. Pershing Award as the Distinguished Honor Graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Presently, he is enrolled in the U.S. Army War College. In 1968 he served as an infantry rifleman during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive.

 

Armstrong 100-ton guns

Rinella gun, Malta, still on the original mount.

 

In the late 1800s, large muzzle-loading cannons were built by Armstrong’s Elswick Ordnance Company for the British government. They were built on the Armstrong system of a primary steel tube, with successive, shorter, wrought-iron tubes, heated and shrunk on the main tube. They had a 18-in (45-cm) bore, a little over 30ft (9m) long. The guns were first fired in 1884, but the weapons were not fully operational until 1889 owing to hydraulic system problems. The four original British guns were divided between Gibraltar and Malta and none of them were ever fired in earnest.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Woolwich manufactured several marks of large naval and seacoast Armstrong muzzleloaders, ranging from the 12-ton, 9-inch Mk IV to the 81-ton, 16-inch Mk I. Other big Armstrongs included the 38-ton, 12.5-inch Mk I; the 35-ton, 12- inch Mk I; the 25-ton, 12-inch Mk II; the 25-ton, 11-inch Mk II; and the 18-ton, 10-inch Mk II. The largest rifled muzzleloaders in British service were 17.72-inch, 100-ton giants that, with a 460- pound charge, fired a 1-ton projectile at a muzzle velocity of nearly 1,700 feet per second. Four were manufactured and were mounted in the defenses of Gibraltar and Malta.

The largest muzzleloading black powder cannons ever built were the Armstrong 100-ton guns which saw service with the Italian Navy and with British coastal fortifications on Malta and Gibraltar. They were purchased by the Italians first, to outfit a pair of new super battleships, each vessel having two turrets with two of these guns in each. To avoid being outclassed, the British ordered two guns for installation to protect the Grand Harbor of Malta and two more to protect Gibraltar. Today one survives at each location, and we are visiting the Rinella Battery in Malta, which was built to house one of the Maltese guns.

These guns had a maximum range of 8 miles, and was capable of piercing 15 inches of iron armor at 3 miles. It had a 17.7 inch (45cm) bore fired a 2000 pound (900 kg) shell with a 450 pound (200kg) charge of black powder. The gun itself weighed approximately 102 tons, and with its cradle and a shell the whole assembly came in at 150 tons.

Aside from the massive scale of the piece, the most interesting part of its design is actually the loading machinery. Because of the titanic size of the gun and ammunition, Armstrong designed a fascinating hydraulic reloading facility which makes up the body of the fortress in which the gun is set. A pair of steam engines drove a pair of hydraulic accumulators, which provided hydraulic pressure to move the gun on its carriage, to douse the barrel after firing, to hoist ammunition into position for loading and power a 60-foot (18m) ramrod to mechanically ram the charge and shell into place. Two mirror-image reloading galleries under the fortification operated in turn, giving the gun a sustained rate of fire of 1 round every 6 minutes – at least until its 120-round barrel life was exhausted.

Malta Batteries

In 1866, four coastal batteries were proposed, two on either side of the main harbor area. On the northwest side were established Sliema Point Battery and Fort Pembroke, while on the southeast side were Fort St. Rocco and Fort St. Tombrell. The Sliema Point Battery was built in 1876 with two eleven-inch and two ten-inch guns. In 1879 work began on Fort Pembroke, overlooking St. George’s Bay. It was completed at a cost of 13,730 pounds. The seventy troops stationed there serviced three thirty-five-ton twelve-inch rifled muzzle loader (RML) guns with a range of 10,000 yards.

Originally, these new coastal batteries were to be armed with twenty three-ton RML guns, but with the rapid development of technology, it became necessary to increase their size during construction, some being eventually armed with thirty-eight-ton RML guns firing 12.5-inch shells. Likewise, the protection of the batteries was repeatedly upgraded. While five inches of protective iron had been sufficient previous to 1866, the introduction of the twenty-three-ton gun led this to be increased to twelve inches. By 1878, twenty-eight inches of armor plating was deemed necessary to withstand the bombardment of the largest ironclad battleships.

It would seem that in their long possession of the islands, the knights had fortified every conceivable spot in the main harbor area. But if there was a chink in the armor, it was the Corradino Heights, directly across from Floriana and Valletta. The Turkish army had established batteries there in 1565, and the Hornwork at Floriana had been constructed to deal with any future threats from that direction. The British decided to build entrenchments on these heights and in 1871 began work on the Corradino Lines. These were completed in 1880 at a cost of 17,634 pounds and featured two sixty-four-pound RMLs.

Additional artillery positions were built around the main harbor area. On the northern or Marsamxett side, Fort Cambridge was built on the Sliema peninsula. It featured a single 100-ton RML, the heaviest muzzle loader ever built, with a maximum range of 14,000 yards, a gun crew of thirty-five, and firing a 17.72-inch shell. Begun in 1878, it was not completed until 1898 at a cost of over 19,000 pounds. Another new position on this side of the harbor area was Garden Battery, which was sandwiched between Fort Tigne and Fort Cambridge. It was completed in 1894 at cost of 7,806 pounds and armed with one 9.2-inch breech-loading (BL) gun and two 6-inch BL guns, all on disappearing mountings.

On the opposite or Grand Harbour side, the British built Fort Rinella, featuring another 100-ton gun similar to that in Fort Cambridge. Its massive artillery piece was mounted on January 12, 1888, with great ceremony. Delia Grazie Battery was then constructed between forts Ricasoli and Rinella. Completed in 1893, it was armed with two ten-inch and two six-inch BL guns, costing 16,344 pounds.