Operation Airthief – the plan to hijack an Fw 190A

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Armin Faber’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of III/JG 2 at RAF Pembrey, June 1942.

In June 1942, Oberstleutnant Armin Faber was Gruppen-Adjutant to the commander of the III fighter Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) based in Morlaix in Brittany. On 23 June, he was given special permission to fly a combat mission with 7th Staffel. The unit operated Focke-Wulf 190 fighters.
The FW-190 had only recently arrived with front line units at this time and its superior performance had caused the Allies so many problems that they were considering mounting a commando raid on a French airfield to capture one for evaluation.
7th Staffel was scrambled to intercept a force of six Bostons on their way back from a bombing mission; the Bostons were escorted by three Czechoslovak-manned RAF squadrons, 310 Squadron, 312 Squadron and 313 Squadron commanded by Alois Vašátko. A fight developed over the English Channel with the escorting Spitfires, during which Faber was attacked by Sergeant František Trejtnar (Czech) of 310 Squadron. In his efforts to shake off the Spitfire, Faber flew north over Exeter in Devon. After much high-speed manoeuvring, Faber, with only one cannon working, pulled an Immelmann turn into the sun and shot down his pursuer in a head-on attack.
Trejnar bailed out safely, although he had a shrapnel wound in his arm and sustained a broken leg on landing; his Spitfire crashed near the village of Black Dog, Devon. Meanwhile, the disorientated Faber now mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and flew north instead of south. Thinking South Wales was France, he turned towards the nearest airfield – RAF Pembrey. Observers on the ground could not believe their eyes as Faber waggled his wings in a victory celebration, lowered the Focke-Wulf’s undercarriage and landed.
The Pembrey Duty Pilot, one Sergeant Jeffreys, grabbed a Very pistol and ran from the control tower and jumped onto the wing of Faber’s aircraft as it taxied in. Faber was apprehended and later taken to RAF Fairwood Common by Group Captain David Atcherley (twin brother of Richard Atcherley) for interrogation.

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By the spring of 1942 the Fw 190 had become an uncomfortably sharp thorn in the side of RAF Fighter Command. Obviously, if an airworthy example of the Fw 190 could be captured and its secrets probed, that would be of inestimable value. Capt. Philip Pinckney, a British commando officer, hatched a daring plan to gain that end.

In an operation of this type, two men might succeed where more might fail. Pinckney suggested that his good friend Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot at the Supermarine Company, should accompany him on the enterprise.

The essentials of the plan were as follows. On Night 1 a Royal Navy motor gunboat, equipped with direction-finding radio, was to carry the pair to a point within about two miles of a selected beach on the French coast, where they would disembark into a folding canoe. The pair would paddle ashore, hide their boat in sand dunes and lie up during the following day. On Night 2 the pair would move inland to within observation range of the selected Fw 190 airfield, and hide up before dawn. During the daylight hours the pair would keep the airfield under observation and plan their attack. On Night 3 the pair would penetrate the airfield defences by stealth, and conceal themselves as near as possible to one or more Fw 190s at their dispersal points. The pair would then wait until the next day, when the ground crew arrived to run the engine of one of the fighters.

The pair would then break cover, shoot or drive away the ground crewmen, and Jeffrey Quill would jump into the cockpit and taxi the machine to the runway. As he did so, Pinckney would be outside the plane warding off any attempt to interfere with the operation. Once Quill was safely airborne, Pinckney would withdraw to a previously prepared hide. On Night 4 he would return to the hidden canoe. Just before dawn he would launch the craft and paddle out to sea, making radio transmissions so that the motor gunboat could home on the craft and pick him up.

Yet in a remarkable coincidence, on the very day Pinckney submitted his proposal, the need for this risky operation disappeared. On the afternoon of 23 June an Fw 190 pilot had become disorientated in a dogfight with Spitfires over southern England. He mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and made a wheels-down landing at Pembrey airfield, south Wales [above]. Thus, the RAF gained the coveted example of an Fw 190, without having to resort to the risky ‘Airthief operation.

Post-war Spitfire XIV

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The final Spitfire variant, the Mk 24, was similar to the Mk 22 except that it had an increased fuel capacity over its predecessors, with two fuel tanks of 33 gal (150 l) each installed in the rear fuselage. There were also zero-point fittings for rocket projectiles under the wings. All had the larger “Spiteful” tail units: modifications were also made to the trim tab gearings in order to perfect the F 24’s handling characteristics. Late production aircraft were built with the lighter, short-barrelled, electrically fired Mark V Hispano cannon.

Performance was impressive – the F 24 achieved a maximum speed of 454 mph (731 km/h), and could reach an altitude of 30,000 ft (9,100 m) in eight minutes, putting it on a par with the most advanced piston-engined fighters of the era.

Although designed primarily as a fighter-interceptor aircraft, the Spitfire proved its versatility in several different roles. In fighter configuration the F 24’s armament consisted of 4 × short-barrelled 20 mm Hispano cannon – operational experience had proved that the hitting power of these larger weapons was necessary to overcome the thicker armoured plating encountered on enemy aircraft as the war progressed. The aircraft also served successfully in the fighter-bomber role, being capable of carrying 1 × 500 lb (230 kg) and 2 × 250 lb (110 kg) bombs, with rocket-projectile launch rails fitted as standard.

A total of 81 Mk 24s were completed, 27 of which were conversions from Mk 22s. The last Mk 24 to be built was delivered in February 1948. They were used by only one RAF squadron, 80 Squadron, until 1952. Some of the squadron’s aircraft went to the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force where they were operated until 1955.

Introduced into service in 1946, the F. Mk 24 differed greatly from the original Spitfire Mk I in many respects and undoubtedly brought the design to the peak of perfection, being twice as heavy, more than twice as powerful and exhibiting an increase in climb rate of 80% over the prototype aircraft, ‘K5054’. These remarkable increases in performance arose chiefly from the introduction of the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine in place of the famous Merlin of earlier variants. Rated at 2,050 hp (1,530 kW), the twelve-cylinder Vee liquid cooled Griffon 61 engine featured a two-stage supercharger, giving the Spitfire the exceptional performance at high altitude that had been sometimes lacking in early marks.

In growing numbers and with increasing capability the Spitfire served throughout World War II, not only with the RAF but with the nation’s allies, including US and Soviet squadrons. It also had the distinction of remaining in production throughout the entire war and was operational post-war, the last mission flown by a photo-reconnaissance Spitfire PR.MK 19 of No. 81 Squadron in Malaya on 1 April 1954.

LINK

Raid on Medway I

Upnor Castle, which lies opposite the dockyard at Chatham, played an important part in the defence of the yard at the time of the Dutch raid.

Attack on the Medway, June 1667 by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest, painted c. 1667. The captured ship the Royal Charles is right of centre.

On 13 June 1667 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary: ‘I do fear so much that the whole kingdom is undone, that I do this night resolve to study with my father and wife what to do with the little that I have in money.’

He, like many Londoners, was thrown into a panic by an extraordinary raid on the Royal Dockyards of Chatham, which contained in oak the defensive strength of England. Only a rusty chain and a tiny river-fort provided the last defence against invasion. That panic was shared by the government. A coastal town was captured and three capital ships and 10 lesser vessels were burnt, while around 30 vessels were scuttled and two others – including the pride and flagship of the navy, were towed away. The one-sided attack proved to be, it can be argued, the worst defeat in the Royal Navy’s history. And it vies with Majuba Hill (1881) and the fall of Singapore (1941) as the most humiliating defeat of British arms.

The Stuarts, by making friends of the Spanish and French, ensured that the threat from those two rival powers would be diminished for the best part of a century. That peace was interrupted when it became clear that the Parliamentarians were winning the Civil War against Charles I. A French squadron with transports evaded the navy in the North Sea and reached Bridlington, but was then destroyed in the harbour. Cromwell’s Commonwealth was not threatened from overseas, partly because in a Europe hit by financial crisis, no power was strong enough to mount a serious challenge. That did not change much when the Stuarts were restored.

But the Dutch, sometimes allies, sometimes enemies, were a different matter.

During the Commonwealth, Cromwell had successfully seen off the Dutch in a war sparked by trade disputes and fought entirely at sea. The English were victorious at the Battle of Scheveningen and the Dutch were forced to accept an English monopoly on trade with England and English colonies. Cromwell sought to avoid further conflict with the Dutch Republic.

The restoration of Charles II saw widespread demands at home to reverse the Dutch dominance in world trade. Charles, however, was personally greatly in debt to the House of Orange, which had lent enormous sums to his father during the Civil War. But a conflict soon developed over the education and future prospects of his nephew, William III of Orange. That dispute, which had wide implications for the royal houses of Europe, was temporarily solved, thanks largely to the diplomacy of Lord Clarendon, a favourite of the king. In 1664, the situation quickly changed when Clarendon’s enemy, Lord Arlington, superseded him as the king’s favourite. Arlington and the king’s brother James, Duke of York, the Lord High Admiral, saw the opportunity for great personal gain in a war with the Dutch. James headed the Royal African Company and hoped to seize the possessions of the Dutch West India Company. The two were supported by the English ambassador in The Hague, George Downing, who despised the Dutch. He, either falsely or over-optimistically, reported that the Republic was politically divided between Orangists, who would gladly collaborate with an English enemy in case of war, and a faction of wealthy merchants that would give in to any English demand in order to protect their trade interests. Arlington planned to subdue the Dutch completely by permanent occupation of key Dutch cities. Charles was easily influenced and became convinced that a popular and lucrative foreign war at sea would bolster his authority as king. Naval officers were hungry for promotion and fortune in a conflict which they thought would be a walk-over.

Enthusiasm for war became infectious. English privateers attacked Dutch ships, capturing about 200. Dutch ships were obligated by treaty to salute the English flag first. In 1664 English commanders provoked the Dutch by not saluting in return. Many Dutch commanders could not bear the insult. English propagandists got to work, invoking the Amboyna Massacre of 1623 when ten English residents in the Dutch fortress of Victoria were executed by beheading for alleged treason, after first being tortured by a seventeenth-century version of water-boarding. Scurrilous broadsheets demonised the Dutch as drunken and profane. Pamphlets documented, without any real evidence, Dutch atrocities in the colonies. Under such a mountain of print, most Englishmen believed, in the poet Andrew Marvell’s words, that the Dutch were the ‘undigested vomit of the Sea’. Such vilification was at least partially an expression of unease with the presence of notable Cromwellians in exile in Holland. Charles had some reason to be nervous about at least the possibility of a Dutch invasion coordinated with an uprising within England.

Behind such fear-fuelled bigotry was of course the time-honoured motive for war – mercantile competition. The English sought to take over the Dutch trade routes and colonies while excluding the Dutch from their own colonial possessions. Contraband shipping had gone on from English colonies in America and Surinam for a decade, and the English were in no mood to give up such revenues. The Dutch, for their part, considered it their right to trade with anyone, anywhere. They too suffered from myopic double standards as they themselves enforced a monopoly in the Dutch Indies and threatened to extend it to India, after having expelled the Portuguese from that region.

Relations were decidedly tense on all fronts. James sent the Royal African Company’s Robert Holmes to capture Dutch trading posts and colonies in West Africa. With royal authority, the English invaded the Dutch colony of New Netherlands in North America on 24 June 1664, and controlled it by October. The Dutch responded by sending a fleet under Michiel de Ruyter, which recaptured their African trade posts, seized most English trade stations there and then crossed the Atlantic for a punitive expedition against the English in America. In December 1664, the English suddenly attacked the Dutch Smyrna fleet. Although the attack failed, the Dutch in January 1665 decreed that their ships could open fire on English warships in the colonies whenever threatened. Charles used this as a pretext to declare war on the Netherlands on 4 March 1665.

Since their defeat in the First Anglo–Dutch War, the Dutch had become much better prepared. Beginning in 1653, a ‘New Navy’ was constructed, a core of 60 new, heavier ships with professional captains. However, these ships were still much lighter than the 10 biggest ships in the English navy. With the threat of war growing, in 1664 the Dutch decided to replace their fleet core completely with still heavier ships. Upon the outbreak of war the following year, the new ships were quickly completed, with another 20 ordered. In the run-up to hostilities, cash-strapped England could only build a dozen ships. During the course of the war the Dutch shipyards built seven vessels to England’s one.

Still, on paper England appeared, fallaciously as it turned out, to be a giant facing the little Dutch boy. Her population was four times as big and its confidence was still on a par with its post-Armada period. But money was tight, with few cities able to dig deep into their coffers. The Dutch burghers were able to spend the equivalent of £11 million on the war, the English barely half that. And God seemed to have deserted England. The outbreak of war was swiftly followed by both the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, bringing England virtually to her knees. Furthermore, the English fleet had already suffered severe cash shortages, despite having been voted a record budget of £2,500,000 by Parliament. The navy could only pay its sailors with ‘tickets’, or debt certificates, as Charles lacked an effective means of enforcing taxation. The only way to finance the war was to capture Dutch trade fleets.

The first encounters were, unsurprisingly, at sea and British naval power at first seemed supreme. At the Battle of Lowestoft on 13 June the English gained a great victory. It was the worst defeat of the Dutch Republic’s navy in history. However, the English proved unable to capitalise on the victory. The leading Dutch politician, Johan de Witt, quickly restored confidence by joining the fleet personally. He sacked ineffective captains and introduced modern tactics.

In August, de Ruyter returned from America to a hero’s welcome and was given supreme command of the confederate fleet. The 60-year-old de Ruyter was highly respected, even loved, by his sailors and soldiers, who used the term of endearment Bestevaêr (‘Grandad’) for him. A pious, lowly born man, cautious in his personal nature, he always led from the front and refused to back away from danger. He also, unusually for one of his standing, had an utter disregard for rank. Meanwhile, the Spice Fleet from the Dutch East Indies managed to return home safely after the Battle of Vagen. That hit English pockets hard.

Charles and his ministers sought foreign help. In the summer of 1665 the bishop of Münster, an old enemy of the Dutch, had been induced by promises of English subsidies to invade the Republic. At the same time, the English made overtures to Spain. Both strategies backfired. Louis XV was greatly alarmed by the attack by Münster and the prospect of an English–Spanish coalition. He feared that a collapse of the Republic could create a powerful Habsburg entity on his northern border, as the Habsburgs were the traditional allies of the German bishops. He immediately promised to send a French army corps and French envoys. There was consternation at the English court. It now seemed that the Republic would end up as either a Habsburg possession or a French protectorate. Either outcome would be a disaster for England. Clarendon, always having warned about ‘this foolish war’, was ordered to quickly make peace with the Dutch without French mediation. Instead, he encouraged the Orangists to seize power, but that was foiled by the return of de Witt from his fleet.

The Dutch created a strong anti-English alliance. On 26 January 1666, Louis declared war and days later Frederick III of Denmark was bribed into doing the same. Charles made a new peace offer, which vaguely promised to moderate his demands if the Dutch would only appoint William to some responsible function and pay £200,000 in ‘indemnities’. De Witt considered it a mere feint to divide the Dutch and their French allies. He was having none of it and decided to strike hard with a fleet of 85 ships.

Eighty English ships, under General-at-Sea George Monck, the Duke of Albemarle, set sail at the end of May to confront the threat. But 20 of them under Prince Rupert peeled off to intercept a phantom French squadron believed to be joining up with the Dutch – in fact, most French vessels were in the Mediterranean. Albemarle came upon de Ruyter’s fleet at anchor on 1 June and immediately attacked the nearest Dutch ship before the rest of the fleet could come to her aid. The Dutch rearguard under Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelius Tromp set upon a starboard tack, taking the battle toward the Flemish shoals and compelling Albemarle to turn about. A ferocious battle raged until nightfall. Albemarle’s strength was reduced to 44 ships, but with these he renewed the battle, tacking past the enemy four times in close action. With his fleet in too poor a condition to continue to challenge, he retired towards the coast with the Dutch in pursuit.

The following day Prince Rupert returned with his 20 ships, joined Albemarle. During this stage of the battle, Vice-Admiral George Ayscue, on the grounded Prince Royal, surrendered, the last time an English admiral did so in battle. On the fourth day the Dutch broke the English lines several times. The English again retreated, but de Ruyter was reluctant to follow because gunpowder was running low. The battle ended with both sides claiming victory, even though the English had lost 10 ships against the Dutch four.

One more major action was fought – the St James’s Day Battle on 4 and 5 August ended in English victory because they lost one ship to the Dutch two. It failed to decide the war as the Dutch fleet escaped annihilation and at this stage simply surviving was enough for the Dutch. Five days later, Charles made another peace offer to de Witt using the notorious Henri Buat, a Dutch cavalry officer with a track record of conspiracy, as an intermediary. Among the letters he took to The Hague, presumably by mistake, was one containing the secret English instructions to their contacts in the Orange party, outlining plans for an overthrow of the state’s regime. Buat was arrested, condemned for treason and beheaded. His accomplices in the conspiracy fled the country to England. De Witt now had proof of treachery within the Orange movement.

The mood in the Republic now turned grimly belligerent. To raise temperatures even higher, in August English Vice-Admiral Robert Holmes, during his raid on the Vlie estuary in August 1666, destroyed merchantmen and sacked the island of Terschelling, setting the main town aflame. In this he was assisted by a Dutch captain, Laurens Heemskerck, who had fled to England after having been condemned to death for cowardice shown during the Battle of Lowestoft.

After the Great Fire of London in September, Charles again reduced his demands in an attempt to withdraw from the war without losing face. He was rebuffed.

By the beginning of 1667 Charles’s active fleet was in a poor state owing to spending cuts and the remaining big ships were laid up. Johan de Witt saw his chance. Negotiations had been in progress at Breda since March, but Charles had been procrastinating over the signing of peace, hoping to improve his position through secret French assistance. De Witt vowed to end the war quickly with a clear victory, thereby ensuring a more advantageous settlement for the Dutch Republic. He sent his brother Cornelis to supervise the fleet’s preparations. The Dutch commanders, fearing the treacherous shoals in the Thames estuary, hired two English pilots, one a dissenter named Robert Holland, the other a smuggler who had fled English justice.

Admiral de Ruyter gathered together his various squadrons and set sail for the Thames on 4 June with 62 frigates or ships-of-the-line, about 15 lighter ships and 12 fireships. The fleet was in three squadrons: the first was commanded by de Ruyter himself, the second by Lieutenant-Admiral Aert Jansse van Nes, and the third by Lieutenant-Admiral Baron Willem Joseph van Ghent. The latter, on the frigate Agatha, was the real commander of the expedition; he had done all the operational planning as he had been the former commander of the Dutch Marine Corps, the first in history created for specialised amphibious operations. That was now headed by the English Cromwellian Colonel Thomas Dolman.

On 6 June a break in the fog bank revealed the Dutch task force sailing into the mouth of the Thames. The attack caught the English unawares. Despite ample warning from spies, no serious preparations had been made. Most frigates were at Harwich and in Scotland. Sir William Coventry had earlier dismissed the likelihood of the Dutch landing anywhere near London, believing that purely as a morale-booster they would launch a token attack on Harwich. That port was strongly fortified, leaving London protected by only a small number of active ships, most of them prizes taken earlier in the war from the Dutch. In March the Duke of York had ordered the discharge of most of the crews of the prize vessels, leaving only three guard ships at the Medway. The number of fireships was hastily increased from one to three, and 30 large sloops were prepared to row ships to safety in an emergency. But such measures merely underlined the lack of a clear line of command, with most responsible authorities giving hasty orders without bothering to coordinate them first. The result was utter confusion. King Charles stood aloof and English morale plummeted. English soldiers, not having been paid for months or even years, were not over-eager to risk their lives. England dithered while the main Dutch fleet took five days to manoeuvre around the shoals and reach the approaches to Chatham.

At the Royal Dockyard, Commissioner Peter Pett, despite having raised the alarm, sat on his hands until 9 June when, late in the afternoon, about 30 Dutch ships, Van Ghent’s squadron of frigates, were sighted off Sheerness. Pett sent a gloomy message to the Navy Board, lamenting the absence of Navy senior officials whose help and advice he believed he needed. When decisive action was required, Pett was more interested in avoiding future blame.

Van Ghent’s frigates carried marines who were landed on Canvey Island in Essex. They had strict orders not to plunder, as the Dutch wanted to shame the English whose troops had sacked Terschelling. Nevertheless, tCaptain Jan van Brakel’s crew couldn’t control themselves and commenced looting rather than soldiering. They were driven off by English militia and upon returning to the Dutch fleet found themselves under threat of severe punishment. Van Brakel offered to lead the attack the next day to avoid the penalty.

King Charles was finally spurred into action and ordered the Earl of Oxford to mobilise the militia of all counties around London. All available barges were gathered to lay a ship bridge across the Lower Thames, so that the English cavalry could quickly switch positions from one bank to the other. Musketeers from the Sheerness garrison were sent to investigate reports of Dutch raiding parties on the Isle of Grain. It was only in the afternoon of 10 June that the king instructed Albemarle to go to Chatham to take charge. Admiral Prince Rupert was sent to organise the defences at Woolwich a full three days later.

Albermarle found to his utter dismay that at Gravesend and Tilbury there were too few guns to halt a Dutch advance upon the Thames. To prevent such a disaster, he ordered all available artillery from the capital to be positioned at Gravesend. On 11 June he went to Chatham, expecting the backbone of England’s naval strength to be well prepared for an attack, but found only 12 of the 800 dockyard men present. Only 10 of the 30 sloops were there because the remainder had been used to ferry to safety the cherished personal possessions of senior officers, in Commissioner Pett’s case, his collection of model ships. No munitions or powder were available and the six-inch thick iron chain that blocked the Medway, installed in the Civil War to repel a possible attack of the Royalist fleet, had not been protected by batteries. Albemarle immediately ordered the transfer of the artillery from Gravesend to Chatham.

The full Dutch fleet arrived at the Isle of Sheppey on 10 June and launched an attack on the incomplete Sheerness Fort. Captain Jan van Brakel in Vrede, desperate to assuage the dishonour of his men, led and, followed by two other men-of-war, sailed as close to the fort as possible to batter it with cannon. Only the frigate Unity, stationed off the fort, was able to engage. It was supported by a number of ketches and fireships at Garrison Point, and by the fort itself where 16 guns had been hastily placed. The Unity fired one broadside, but when a Dutch fireship approached, she withdrew up the Medway, followed by the support vessels. The Dutch fired on the fort. Two men were hit and when the Scots soldiers of the garrison realised that no surgeon was on duty, they deserted. Seven remained, but their position became untenable when some 800 Dutch marines landed about a mile away. The fort and its guns were captured and blown up,

Confusion reigned on the English side, as Spragge, Monck and Admiralty officials issued conflicting orders. As his artillery would not arrive soon, Monck on the 11th ordered a squadron of cavalry and a company of soldiers to reinforce Upnor Castle. River defences were hastily improvised with blockships sunk, and the chain across the river was guarded by light batteries. Pett proposed that several big and smaller ships be sunk to block the Musselbank channel in front of the chain. HMS Golden Phoenix, HMS House of Sweden, HMS Welcome and HMS Leicester were scuttled along with the smaller vessels Constant John, Unicorn, John and Sarah. Spragge took soundings and discovered that this was not enough to block the second channel, several more were sunk, including the Barbados Merchant, Dolphin, Edward and Eve, Hind and Fortune. The job was done by men from the remaining warships, which were temporarily left crewless. They were placed in a too-easterly position on the line and could not be covered by fire. Monck then decided also to sink ships in Upnor Reach, presenting another barrier to the Dutch should they break through the chain at Gillingham. The defensive chain placed across the river had at its lowest point been lying practically 9ft under the waterline between its stages, leaving it possible for light ships to pass over it. The defenders tried to raise it by placing stages under it closer to the shore.

Raid on Medway II

De Zeven Provinciën was a Dutch ship of the line, originally armed with 80 guns. The name of the ship was also written as De 7 Provinciën. The literal translation is “The Seven Provinces”, the name referring to the fact that the Dutch Republic in the 17th century was a confederation of seven autonomous provinces. The vessel was originally built in 1664-65 for the Admiralty of de Maeze in Rotterdam, by Master Shipbuilder Salomon Jansz van den Tempel.


The ship served as Admiral Michiel de Ruyter’s flagship during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, taking part in the hard fought Dutch victory in the Four Days Fight, the bitter defeat at the St. James’s Day Battle, and acting as a command post as well as blockading the Thames during the Raid on the Medway. The vessel gave a good account of itself throughout the war, although it was partially dismasted during the Four Day’s Fight.

De Ruyter used De Zeven Provinciën as his flagship during the Third Anglo-Dutch War of 1672-1673. The ship served in all four major battles against the combined English and French fleet, fighting in the Battle of Solebay, the first and second Battle of Schooneveld and, in possibly its greatest moment, at the Battle of the Texel.


In 1692, the ship, now armed with only 76 guns, fought at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue during the War of the Grand Alliance. The vessel was severely damaged during the fight and, in 1694, De Zeven Provinciën had to be broken up.
De Zeven Provinciën measured, in English Feet, approximately 151 ft long by about 40 ft (12 m) wide by a little over 15 ft (4.6 m) deep. It was originally armed with 12 36-pdrs and 16 24-pdrs on the lower deck (although this had been changed to an all 36-pdr battery by the time of the Third Anglo-Dutch War), 14 18-pdrs and 12 12-pdrs on the upper deck, and 26 6-pdrs on the forecastle, quarterdeck, and poop deck.

The positions of Charles V and Matthais, both captured Dutch merchantmen, just above the chain were adjusted to enable them to bring their broadsides to bear. Monmouth was also moored above the chain, positioned so that she could bring her guns to bear on the space between Charles V and Matthias. The frigate Marmaduke and the Norway Merchant were sunk off above the chain; the large Sancta Maria foundered while being moved for the same purpose. Pett also informed Monck that the Royal Charles had to be moved upriver. He had been ordered by the Duke of York to do this on 27 June, but as yet had not complied. Monck at first refused to make available some of his small number of sloops, as they were needed to move supplies; when he at last found the captain of the Matthias willing to assist, Pett answered that it was too late as he was busy sinking the blockships and there was no pilot to be found daring enough to take such a risk anyway. Meanwhile the first Dutch frigates to arrive had already begun to move the Edward and Eve away, clearing a channel by nightfall.

Van Ghent’s squadron now advanced up the Medway on 12 June, attacking the English defences at the chain. First, Unity was taken by Van Brakel by assault. Then the fireship Pro Patria under commander Jan Daniëlsz van Rijn broke through the chain (or sailed over it according to some sources). She then destroyed the Matthias by fire. The fireships Catharina and Schiedam attacked the Charles V. The Catharina under commander Hendrik Hendriksz was sunk by the shore batteries but the Schiedam successfully set the Charles V alight. The crew was captured by Van Brakel.

The flagship Royal Charles, with only thirty cannon aboard and abandoned by her skeleton crew when they saw the Matthias burn, was then captured by the Irish flag captain Thomas Tobiasz. Only the Monmouth escaped. Seeing the disaster, Monck ordered the 16 remaining warships farther up to be sunk off to prevent them from being captured, making for a total of about 30 ships deliberately sunk by the English themselves. As Andrew Marvell observed: ‘Of all our navy none should now survive, But that the ships themselves were taught to dive.’ The Dutch anchored in the Medway when the tide turned.

The following day, 13 June, the whole of the Thames side as far up as London was in a panic as a rumour spread that the Dutch were transporting a French army from Dunkirk for a full-scale invasion. Many wealthy citizens fled the city, taking their most valuable possessions with them. Samuel Pepys, secretary of the Naval Board, wrote on the 13th:

No sooner up but hear the sad newes confirmed of the Royall Charles being taken by them, and now in fitting by them – which Pett should have carried up higher by our several orders, and deserves, therefore, to be hanged for not doing it – and turning several others; and that another fleete is come up into the Hope. Upon which newes the King and Duke of York have been below [London Bridge] since four o’clock in the morning, to command the sinking of ships at Barking-Creeke, and other places, to stop their coming up higher: which put me into such a fear, that I presently resolved of my father’s and wife’s going into the country; and, at two hours’ warning, they did go by the coach this day, with about L1300 in gold in their night-bag. … never were people so dejected as they are in the City all over at this day; and do talk most loudly, even treason; as, that we are bought and sold – that we are betrayed by the Papists, and others, about the King; cry out that the office of the Ordnance hath been so backward as no powder to have been at Chatham nor Upnor Castle till such a time, and the carriages all broken; that Legg is a Papist; that Upnor, the old good castle built by Queen Elizabeth, should be lately slighted; that the ships at Chatham should not be carried up higher. They look upon us as lost, and remove their families and rich goods in the City; and do think verily that the French, being come down with his army to Dunkirke, it is to invade us, and that we shall be invaded.

The Dutch continued their advance into the Chatham docks with the fireships Delft, Rotterdam, Draak, Wapen van Londen, Gouden Appel and Princess, under English fire from Upnor Castle and from three shore batteries. Cannon boomed and musketry rattled from Upnor. Dutch frigates suppressed the English fire, but suffered about 40 casualties in dead and wounded. The exposed structures of three of the finest and heaviest vessels in the navy, already sunk to prevent capture, now perished by fire: first the Loyal, set alight by the Rotterdam, then the Royal James and finally the Royal Oak. The latter withstood attempts by two fireships but succumbed to a third. The English crews abandoned their half-flooded ships, mostly without a fight, a notable exception being army Captain Archibald Douglas of the Scots Foot, who personally refused to abandon the Oak and perished in the flames. The Monmouth again escaped. The raid thus cost the English four of their remaining eight ships with more than 75 cannon. Three of the four largest ‘big ships’ of the navy were lost. The fourth, the Royal Sovereign, was safely but uselessly in Portsmouth. De Ruyter now joined Van Ghent’s squadron in person.

Pepys wrote:

Late at night comes Mr. Hudson, the cooper, my neighbour, and tells me that he come from Chatham this evening at five o’clock, and saw this afternoon ‘The Royal James,’ ‘Oake,’ and ‘London,’ burnt by the enemy with their fire-ships: that two or three men-of-war come up with them, and made no more of Upnor Castle’s shooting, than of a fly.

Cornelis de Witt, fearing that the English would finally get themselves organised and counter-attack, on 14 June decided against further penetration and withdrew, towing the Royal Charles along as a war trophy; the Unity was also removed with a prize crew. Dutch demolition teams rowed to any ship they could reach to burn her down as much as they could, thus ensuring their reward money. One boat even re-entered the docks to make sure nothing was left above the waterline of the Oak, James and London; another burnt the merchantman Slot van Honingen, ruining a precious salvage opportunity. The Dutch failed to completely destroy the Chatham dockyard, another missed opportunity. Such destruction could have put back the rebuilding of the English navy by decades.

The Dutch fleet, after celebrating by collectively thanking God for ‘a great victory in a just war in self-defence’ tried to repeat its success by attacking several other ports on the English east coast but was repelled each time.

On 27 June an attempt to enter the Thames beyond Gravesend was called off when it became known that the river was blocked by sunken ships and five fireships awaited the Dutch attack. On 2 July a Dutch force landed near Woodbridge north of Harwich, aiming to take the port, a position of immense strategic importance. But first they had to take the newly constructed Landguard Fort. What happened next did something to restore battered English military pride. Four officers and around 100 men, with 18 heavy cannon, were determined to fight. So, too, were the town militia.

Initially the Dutch fleet, due to unfavourable winds, was forced to sail north off Lowestoft before turning south to launch the attack. As they sailed northwards, the British militia, assuming another raid, marched along the coast shadowing the enemy fleet. When the Dutch turned south again, with a now favourable wind, so did the militia. De Ruyter’s fleet was joined by five troop transports sent out from Holland especially for the Harwich raid, commanded by the experienced Colonel Count van Hoorn. That took the attack force to about 850 infantrymen and 400 marines. The infantry commander was Colonel Thomas Dolman, the Medway veteran who had earlier served in the British army under Cromwell.

On Sunday 30 June, 70 Dutch ships anchored behind the shelter of a large sandbank known as the Gunfleet. The landing force embarked in a small fleet of around 20 small flat-bottomed sailing barges, known as galiots, At noon de Ruyter gave the signal and the galiots started for the shore.

Marines commander Colonel Francois Palm leaped out onto the gently sloping shingle, the first man to land, followed immediately by his men. To their right the infantry also poured ashore, led by Dolman. On the beach, the troops formed up as though on parade, while van Hoorn sent out a scouting party to ascend the low cliffs by a narrow track. Within two hours the Dutch were ashore safely, in good order, and without a shot being fired at them. The scouts brought back two civilian prisoners who told them that the fort’s garrison had been heavily reinforced and that 60 guns faced the raiders. Van Hoorn refused to believe them and ordered the attack.

While the Dutch soldiers of the assault group moved under cover of a large sand dune at around 1400 hours, the footsore English militia were on the wrong side of the River Deben. The river was swift-flowing with a surging tidal current. The militia cavalry trotted eight miles upstream to cross at Woodbridge while the infantry crossed in a tiny ferry-boat capable of carrying barely a dozen men at a time. It was agonisingly slow work in the face of immense danger. De Ruyter ordered forward a few of his galiots, each carrying a small cannon to bombard the 250yd crossing. The part-time British militia were attempting that most difficult military manoeuvre – a river crossing under artillery fire. The crossings were halted when just a few had reached the Dutch side of the estuary. They buried themselves in marsh ditches and waited for the ebb of the tide. As the water receded, the galiots that had been plaguing them were forced farther and farther from the shore until out of range. The river crossing started again at about 1600 hours.

The Dutch troops of the assault group were also forced to wait. The same tidal rush frustrated the Dutch admirals sent to bombard Harwich and Landguard Fort from the south and east. Their arrival in the selected firing positions with their squadrons coincided with the fall of the tide, and they too were forced out of range – even the largest cannon on the ships could barely reach the walls of the fort. The Dutch assault force was denied the flanking fire designed to keep the defenders’ heads down. The English had also removed all the marker buoys from the Harwich channels, so that the Dutch sailors had to navigate by memory and guesswork. Admiral van Nes’s flagship, the Delft, ran aground and had to be laboriously towed off later. The Dutch ships withdrew and most of their sailors were sent to reinforce the soldiers on land.

Soon after 1600 hours – just as the falling tide allowed the militia to the north to resume their interrupted river crossing – the Dutch soldiers, marines and sailors started their attack. The soldiers were organised in 18 infantry half-companies of about 48 men each, disposed in four sections, each with four grenadiers, the rest being musketeers and pikemen. The marines were all armed with carbines – short flintlock muskets much like the old firelocks.

Surprised by the sheer volume of musket fire poured at them, the vast majority of Dutch soldiers and sailors simply refused to leave the shelter of the dunes. Their musketeers, trying to fire from behind cover, tended to fire high. Some did make several gallant assaults against the walls, using their fascines to fill the ditch and their ladders to scale the walls. None made it to the top. At around 1730 the Dutch began to melt away, but officers rallied sufficient of the braver men for a second major assault. That, too, failed. At 1800 the attack on Landguard Fort was called off and the Dutch retreated towards the beaches.

Part of the volume of fire which had so surprised and dispirited the Dutch troops came from a tiny galiot the British had sailed to the harbour mouth. This vessel used grapeshot to great effect on the retreating Dutch. Having run that gauntlet, Colonel Dolman’s men made it to the beach, only to confront another threat. The English militia had come together and a mixed force of 1,500 infantry and cavalry were on high ground to the north challenging the Dutch flank guard. A separate two-hour battle now ensued as the Dutch used their musketeers to keep the British at bay, with small groups of men from both sides creeping around trying to out-manoeuvre each other. The British attempred to lure the Dutch forward from their lines by feigning a withdrawal, but instead the Dutch maintained the fire of their small portable cannon, using grapeshot against the infantry and round-shot against the cavalry. This harassing artillery fire was so effective that the British cavalry were unable to form up for a charge. Sunset ended the battle. At about 2030 hours the Dutch used the deepening darkness to disengage in a display of professional skill and they were all re-embarked by around 2200.

The casualties were never recorded properly by either side. One Dutch report listed ‘7 dead and 35 wounded in the whole fleet’, which does not accord with a British eye-witness account of ‘boat-loads of Dutch dead’ being rowed out to the ships. More believable is that the Dutch casualties were seven dead and 35 wounded in the ships themselves, while the soldiers and marines ashore suffered perhaps eight dead and 30–40 wounded at the fort. British casualties were very precisely numbered at the fort as one dead and four wounded, including their commander, Captain Nathaniel Darell, who received a musket ball through his shoulder. But, like the Dutch, there was no record of casualties during the withdrawal or in the battle with the enemy flank guard. The best guesses, given the nature of the battle, are 12–15 British killed and 20 wounded, and eight Dutch dead and 20 wounded. For the British it was a small price to pay for repelling the last opposed seaborne invasion of England.

Despite that Dutch failure, panic still ruled in London amongst the ruling class. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary on 19 July 1667: ‘The Dutch fleete are in great squadrons everywhere still about Harwich, and were lately at Portsmouth; and the last letters say at Plymouth, and now gone to Dartmouth to destroy our Streights’ fleete lately got in thither; but God knows whether they can do it any hurt, or no, but it was pretty news come the other day so fast, of the Dutch fleets being in so many places, that Sir W. Batten at table cried, By God, says he, I think the Devil shits Dutchmen.’ And on 29 July 1667: ‘Thus in all things, in wisdom, courage, force, knowledge of our own streams, and success, the Dutch have the best of us, and do end the war with victory on their side’.

Wharf official John Norman estimated the damage caused by the Medway raid at about £20,000, apart from the replacement costs of the four lost capital ships; the total loss of the Royal Navy must have been close to £200,000. Pett was made a scapegoat, bailed at £5,000 and deprived of his office while those who had ignored his earlier warnings quietly escaped any blame. The Royal James, Oak and Loyal London were in the end salvaged and rebuilt, but at great cost and when the City of London refused to share in it, Charles had the name of the latter ship changed to simply London. For a few years the English fleet was handicapped by its losses during the raid, but by around 1670 a new building programme had restored the English navy to its former power.

Total losses for the Dutch were eight spent fireships and about 50 casualties. In the Republic, the populace was jubilant after the victory; many festivities were held, repeated when the fleet returned in October, the various admirals being hailed as heroes. They were rewarded by a flood of eulogies and given honorary golden chains and pensions by the States-General and the lesser States of the Provinces; de Ruyter, Cornelis de Witt and Van Ghent were honoured by precious enamelled golden chalices depicting the events. Cornelis de Witt had a large ‘Sea Triumph’ painted, with himself as the main subject. This triumphalism by de Witt’s States faction caused resentment with the rival Orangist faction; when the States regime lost power in 1672, Cornelis’s head was to be ceremoniously carved out from the painting, after Charles had for some years insisted the picture would be removed.

The Dutch success in the Medway had a major psychological impact throughout England, with London feeling especially vulnerable just a year after the Great Fire. This, together with the cost of the war, of the Great Plague and the extravagant spending of Charles’s court, produced a rebellious atmosphere in London. Clarendon ordered the English envoys at Breda to sign a peace quickly, as Charles feared an open revolt.

On 31 July 1667, the Treaty of Breda sealed peace between the two nations. The treaty allowed the English to keep 27 possession of New Netherlands, which they renamed New York, while the Dutch kept control of the valuable sugar plantations of Surinam they had conquered in 1667.

The Raid on the Medway was a serious blow to the reputation of the English crown. Charles felt personally offended by the fact the Dutch had attacked while he had laid up his fleet and peace negotiations were in progress, conveniently forgetting he himself had not negotiated in good faith. His resentment was one of the causes of the Third Anglo-Dutch war, as it made him enter into the secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV of France. In the nineteenth century, jingoistic British writers expanded on this theme by suggesting it had been the Dutch who had sued for peace after their defeats in 1666 – although in fact these had made them, if anything, more belligerent – and that only by treacherously attacking the English had they been able to gain a victory.

The Republic was jubilant about the Dutch victory and the peace was generally seen as a personal triumph for de Witt. He consolidated his political power at home and reduced the powers of difficult provinces. But de Witt’s success would sow the seeds of his eventual downfall and nearly that of the Republic with him. Charles and Louis, both humiliated in turn, intensified their secret cooperation and would, joined by the bishop of Münster, attack the Dutch in 1672. De Witt was unable to counter this attack, as he could not create a strong Dutch army for lack of money and fear that it would strengthen the position of the young William III. That same year de Witt was assassinated and William became stadtholder.

The Royal Charles, her draught too deep to be of use in the shallow Dutch waters, was permanently drydocked near Hellevoetsluis as a tourist attraction, with day trips being organised for large parties, often of foreign state guests. After vehement protests by Charles that this insulted his honour, the official visits were ended and Royal Charles was eventually scrapped in 1672.

In 1676 de Ruyter took command of a combined Dutch-Spanish fleet to help the Spanish suppress the Messina revolt and twice fought a French fleet. At the Battle of Agosta a cannonball mangled his left leg. He died on 29 April 1676. He was given a full state funeral and buried in Amsterdam.

The Medway debacle, a humiliation for Britain’s military might, led to a major overhaul of coastal defences. Over 15 years, enormous sums were spent in both the Medway and the Thames, and in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Hull and Tynemouth. Many fortifications were designed by the country’s famed chief engineer, Sir Bernard de Gomme. Squat forts bristling with ordnance covered the main estuaries and waterways. In military circles, the lessons were learnt and never forgotten.

During the Second World War, on 14 December 1941, the Dutch minelayer Jan van Brakel hit the anchor buoy of one of the vessels protecting the entrance to the Medway. The commander reported this incident to the port authorities, signalling: ‘Van Brakel damaged boom defence Medway’. The instant reply was: ‘What, again?’

Flers-Courcelette 15 Sept 1916

IWM-Q 5574 THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME 1 JULY - 18 NOVEMBER 1916 MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION PRODUCTION DATE: 15 September 1916 MAKER: Brooke, J W (Lt) DESCRIPTION: The Battle of Flers Courcelette 15 - 22 September: A 'C' Company Mark I (C19 Clan Leslie) in Chimpanzee Valley preparing for action. Haig had 49 tanks available but due to mechanical problems only 18 went forward in small groups with the advance. Other Description: A 'C' Company Mark I tank (C. 19 "Clan Leslie") Chimpanzee Valley, 15 September 1916. Tanks first went into action on this day.

flers0001

On 1 July 1916 the British began a massive offensive against German positions along the Somme. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig unleashed this offensive prematurely, in large part to respond to a desperate appeal by the French for a diversion to draw off German forces from Verdun. The Battle of the Somme developed into the deadliest engagement of the entire war. In fighting from July to November it claimed some 1.2 million men on both sides.

Despite the horrific casualties of the first day on the Somme, Haig continued the offensive in the belief that his men could indeed break through the German lines and end the war. Desperate for anything that might tip the balance, Haig called on the tanks, even though but few were available. Swinton opposed their deployment before they were available in sufficient numbers and the crews could be properly trained. But he was promptly overruled and replaced, not the last of the tank pioneers to be thus treated.

The men of the new force operated under the cover of the Armored Car Section of the Motor Machine-Gun Service. Many of those who were recruited to operate the new machines had little knowledge of soldiering. Training in driving (first with Little Willie), gunnery, and rudimentary tactics went forward, but one tank commander who took part in the subsequent attack on the Somme later wrote:

I and my crew did not have a tank of our own the whole time we were in England. Ours went wrong the day it arrived. We had no recon naissance or map reading . . . no practices or lectures on the compass . . . we had no signalling . . . and no practice in considering orders. We had no knowledge of where to look for information that would be necessary for us as Tank Commanders, nor did we know what information we should be likely to require.

Some of the men and their machines were then shipped to France. As a consequence of the feverish efforts to prepare for action, many of the crewmen were completely exhausted before they even got into battle. On the night of 13 September, the drivers, guided by white tape on the ground, with the tanks creating considerable amazement for those who watched them, moved into their assembly areas.

Shortly after first light on 15 September 1916, a new chapter in warfare opened when the tanks went into action. Of 150 Mark I tanks, only 59 were in France when Haig made the decision to employ them, and of these only 49 actually reached the front. Plagued by mechanical problems abetted by nervous crewmen, only 35 tanks reached the line of departure; 31 crossed the German trenches, and only nine surmounted all problems and pushed on ahead of the infantry.

The Tanks on the Somme. 15th September 1916.

przekroj_mark_I_tank

D Company, 2 section, with NZ Division, XV Corps, 3rd Army

D Company, 2 section intended to get 8 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

2 Section, Capt Nixon G

D8, 720, 2Lt Bown, HGF

D10, 535, 2Lt Darby H

D11, 547, 2Lt Pearsall HG

D12, 719, Capt Nixon G

Notes:

2 section also had two other tanks which were detached and operated with other units on the 15th September 1916.

Orders

2 Section was to support the New Zealand Division

Zero was 06:20. The tanks were to reach Switch Trench five minutes before the infantry and thus enable their advance. En route 535 and 547 were to turn right along Crest trench and help clear it of the enemy; 719 would turn right upon reaching Switch trench and clear the lower half of it of opposition, these three tanks would then rendezvous at the southern end of Fish Alley. Meanwhile 720 was to move right, cross Switch Trench and cover the infantry who would be consolidating in front of it.

The advance was to halt at Switch Trench until 7:20am, partially to allow the tanks to assist with mopping up.

Account of operations

The tanks arrived late and followed the infantry over the German front line, which had already been captured, the infantry making use of the lane left in the barrage to push forward.

The advance resumed, and despite enfilading fire dorm each flank the infantry swiftly capturing their second objective, Fat Trench and the upper part of Fish Alley. A further advance was now halted in front of the heavily wired and well defended Flers Line which lay in between the second and third objectives. 535 continued northwards in an attempt to support this attack but was hit and Knocked out at M36c.2.6.

547 and 720 advanced either side and probably a little to the rear of 535. At 10:30 547 advanced into the centre of the Flers Line and enfiladed the twin trenches with MG fire, the infantry rapidly advanced over the crushed wire and captured the position. 720 meanwhile, may have done much the same on the extreme left of the Division, all the while probably firing on the Germans on the Division left who had not been silenced by the unsuccessful attack of the 47th Division.

719 advanced on the extreme right of the division, catching the infantry up at the second Objective, where Fat Trench abutted Flers trench. At 9:15am, at the request of the infantry, the tank moved into the depression to the south west of Flers and silenced enemy Mgs ensconced in a farmhouse there. The tank then moved towards Flers, its steering was damaged by shell fire and then tank then ditched, at M36d.9.9, whilst attempting to withdraw. More shells hit the tank, it caught fire and was burnt out.

The New Zealanders, possibly with the assistance of 547 and two other tanks, were able to capture Grove Trench, and two field guns therein. The trench could not be held due to the failure of the attacks on either flank and the infantry withdrew and consolidated on the Blue Line, 547 ignored the general order for all tanks to withdraw and remained behind to cover the consolidation, eventually withdrawing into Flers after dark.

Summary

Intended: 4

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 4

Ditched / Broke Down: 0

Hit and Knocked out: 2

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

 

C Company, 1 section, with 2nd Canadian Division, Canadian Corps, 3rd Army

C Company, 1 section, intended to get 6 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

C Company, 1 section, Capt Inglis AM

C1, 709, “Champagne”, Lt Wheeler AGC

C2, 522, “Cognac”, Lt Bluemel FW

C3, 701, “Chartreuse”, 2Lt Clark SDH

C4, 503, “Chablis”, 2Lt Campbell GOL

C5, 721, “Creme de menthe”, Capt Inlis AM

C6, 504, “Cordon Rouge”, 2Lt Allan J

Notes:

Trevor Pidgeon gives C1 the number 721, this must be a Typo. Inglis’ report (in the Canadian Divisions War Diary) states it was number 709.

Orders

Northern Group, 709, 522, 504, were to cross the Canadian front line about R35a.0.3. and then follow sugar trench to R30c.5.3, immediately north of the factory. They were to help cover the left flank of the advancing infantry, assist in mopping up and, once at the Sugar factory, deal with any MGs therein or in Courcelette

Southern group 721, 701, 503, to start from near Pozieres Windmill, advance down the road to the sugar factory, one tank on the road and one 30 yards either side of it. The tanks were to proceed to R36a.5.5 where, at z + 43 mins a male tank was to detach itself and assit the infantry in capturing the ruins. The other two tanks, a male and a female, were meanwhile to continue down the road to Candy trench at R36a.8.7 then follow the trench down towards Martinpuich. Once the infantry had gained their final objectives the tanks were to return and rally.

Account of operations

522 and 709 both started on time, at Zero, and advanced along routes close to one another. 522 was faster and ditched at R35a.3.9 ten minutes before 709 ditched at roughly the same location. 522 was unditched but ditched again permanently at R29b.5.1. Both crews attempted to unditch their machines whilst under fire, 709’s crew gave up after four fruitless hours and abandoned the tank, the driver being killed in the unditching attempt. 522’s crew worked all day but were also unable to save the tank which was abandoned.

504 meanwhile entered no mans land and, under heavy fire, advanced along Sugar trench silencing several Mgs therein thus enabling the infantries advance. The tank reached R30c.5.3, north of the Sugar factory and joined in the latter part of the attack on the factory blocking the Germans escape route.

701 ditched and 503 threw a track, both thus failed to reach the start point.

721 reached the start point at 2am and started forward at Zero, having been joined by 2Lt Campbell but having lost one of its tail wheels to an enemy shell.

The tank was possibly photographed and filmed whilst advancing: IWM FLM 2044, X1.p129

The infantry advanced well ahead, the tank eventually catching them up in the Sugar Factory where it helped subdue the defenders with 6pdr and MG fire. The Germans in the factory surrendered, 721 and 504 returned down the Albert Road, 721 laying 400 yds of cable en route, both tanks rallied.

The infantry launched a further attack in the afternoon and captured Courcelette village.

Summary

Intended: 6

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 2

Ditched / Broke Down: 2

Hit and Knocked out: 0

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

The tanks were thus far from impressive in their debut, mostly because they were too widely dispersed and not used according to any plan. Their crews were also not well trained, and there was the spate of breakdowns. Regardless, the few tanks that did get into action had a profound impact on Haig; five days after the attack he urgently requested 1,000 more. Haig also demanded the establishment of a new central office charged with improving their fighting ability. Even before the end of the Battle of the Somme, Haig had created the Tank Corps Headquarters.

Invasion of Java (1811) Part I

19-java

The invasion of Java in 1811 was a successful British amphibious operation against the Dutch East Indian island of Java that took place between August and September 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars. Originally established as a colony of the Dutch Republic, Java remained in Dutch hands throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, during which time the French invaded the Republic and established the Batavian Republic in 1795, and the Kingdom of Holland in 1806. The Kingdom of Holland was annexed to the First French Empire in 1810, and Java became a titular French colony, though it continued to be administered and defended primarily by Dutch personnel.

After the fall of French colonies in the West Indies in 1809 and 1810, and a successful campaign against French possessions in Mauritius in 1810 and 1811, attention turned to the Dutch East Indies. A expedition was dispatched from India in April 1811, while a small squadron of frigates was ordered to patrol off the island, raiding shipping and launching amphibious assaults against targets of opportunity. Troops were landed on 4 August, and by 8 August the undefended city of Batavia capitulated. The defenders withdrew to a previously prepared fortified position, Fort Cornelis, which the British laid siege to, capturing it early in the morning of 26 August. The remaining defenders, a mixture of Dutch and French regulars and native militiamen, withdrew, pursued by the British. A series of amphibious and land assaults captured most of the remaining strongholds, and the city of Salatiga surrendered on 16 September, followed by the official capitulation of the island to the British on 18 September. The island remained in British hands for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars, and was restored to the Dutch in the Treaty of Paris in 1814.

The invasion

The column of soldiers moved silently through the forest, picking their way along muddy trails between dense stands of betel-nut trees. Already the thick tropical heat was rising, and their red jackets were sodden with sweat.

It was an hour before dawn on 26 August 1811, and the men – British redcoats and Indian sepoys – were heading for the formidable fastness of Meester Cornelis, the great redoubt of Batavia, grand old capital of the Dutch East Indies. Inside the fortifications was a massed force of Dutch, French, and Javanese troops. In the words of one British participant, the ‘day that was to fix the destiny of Java’ had arrived.

The prize

British Invasion Of Java- Todaís Indonesia – the former Dutch East Indies – lies largely beyond the horizon of the English-speaking imagination. But in the second decade of the 19th century it was the scene of a dramatic episode of British colonial history.

The five-year British interregnum in Java, which began with the battle for Batavia in August 1811, was a period of furious controversy that would have a lasting impact on Indonesian history. It also marked a significant chapter in the life of the man best known today for the founding of Singapore: Thomas Stamford Raffles.

Holland, in the form of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company, had been involved in Indonesia for more than two centuries. The company had established Java, the 600-mile long lodestone of the Indonesian archipelago, as the hub of its nascent empire, naming Batavia on the north coast of the island as capital, and setting up a network of outposts across the region.

Britain, meanwhile, was increasingly entrenched in the Indian Subcontinent, and had little interest in South-East Asia. But war in Europe changed all that.

In the winter of 1794, Napoleon invaded Holland and installed a puppet republican regime. For the British authorities, all Dutch overseas territories became de facto enemy territory – though pressing concerns closer to home meant that it was not until 1810 that the British East India Companís governor-general in Calcutta, Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, received instructions to ‘proceed to the conquest of Java at the earliest possible opportunití. The following year a fleet of 81 troop-ships departed India on course for Batavia.

Minto and Raffles

Lord Minto

The advance on Java had the air of a Sunday outing. Lord Minto -a dandyish 60-year-old civilian -had taken a personal interest in the project, and together with his collaborator, the 30-year-old Thomas Stamford Raffles, a former clerk in the administration of Penang, he had developed a wildly Romantic view of java as ‘the land of promise’.

Regimental wives and civilian hangers-on had tagged along for the adventure, and as the fleet lumbered across the Java Sea, they were entertained by the antics of strapping young sailors dressed as ‘young, accomplished, and generally sentimental ladies of quality.

On 4 August the fleet dropped anchor in the murky waters of Batavia Bay, and the 12,000-strong invasion force was landed at the undefended fishing village of Cilincing, eight miles east of Batavia. The forces were evenly split between British regiments and units from the Bengal Presidency Army.

Batavia’s climate was notoriously unhealthy, and it was hoped the Indians would fare better than Englishmen; in the event, they began to succumb to fever before the first shot was fired.

The commander-in-chief was the New York-born veteran Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, and the commander of the forces in the field was the feisty 45-year-old Irishman Colonel Rollo Gillespie.

The Dutch settlement of Batavia formed a linear development, running inland from the mouth of the Ciliwung River, eight miles west of the British landing spot. First came the walled city of Old Batavia, built in the early 17th century; three miles inland was the modern garrison of Weltevreeden; and a further three miles towards the mountains stood the fortress of Meester Cornelis.

Auchmuty and Gillespie had expected first to engage enemy forces in Old Batavia, but when they reached the city -the eight-mile advance took several days, so intersected with canals and fishponds was the country – they found that the Dutch had already abandoned it.

Dutch ploys

Jan Willem Janssens

The Dutch-Napoleonic army in Batavia amounted to a mixed force of some 18,000 men. At their head was the governor-general Jan Willem Janssens, a committed Dutch republican who wrote his letters in florid French. He had already presided over one notable defeat at the hands of the British at the Battle of Blaauwberg in South Africa in 1806, and it was said that Napoleon had despatched him to Java with an ominous warning: ‘Know, sir, that a French General is not offered a second chance.’

Janssens had abandoned Old Batavia as a deliberate ploy, hoping that the British would rapidly succumb to the malaria endemic there, and could then be pinned down in the pestilential alleyways. As an imaginative additional measure, he had ordered that copious quantities of alcohol should be left in the abandoned houses, in the hope that the British would drink themselves into a stupor.

Gillespie issued strict orders for sobriety. A tentative Dutch assault on the southern gates of the walled town was seen off. And the best efforts of a requisitioned French servant to fell the top brass with a batch of poisoned coffee had only limited results. Then, before dawn on 10 August, a 1,500-strong British force moved south along the road to Weltevreeden. But once more, the British found that Janssens had already pulled back his forces.

An elusive foe

Some of the British began to wonder if they would ever get the chance to fight in Java. But as they pressed on, now heading northwards through a dense stand of pepper trees, they finally came under sustained fire for the first time. The Dutch had set up field guns on either side of the road, and had felled trees to block the way.

Gillespie, who was still vomiting from time to time as a result of the poisoned coffee, ordered two parties to loop out left and right to attack the enemy positions from the flank, while a third party scrambled forward under covering fire to haul the trees out of the way.

It was all over in minutes, and the Dutch forces were soon fleeing through the forest towards Meester Cornelis, despite the best efforts of their officers to rally them.

At one point, Janssens’ chief of staff, General Alberti, who had become separated from his own men, ran into a small party of the green-coated British 89th. Mistaking them for his own troops, Alberti began upbraiding them angrily for retreating without orders – at which point a private of the 89th shot him in the chest (though he ultimately survived).

The problem that Janssens faced was not one of numbers; it was a question of loyalty and quality. Many of the Dutchmen were aging veterans of the former VOC army -the VOC itself having been disbanded shortly after the French invasion of Holland – and they had little, if any, commitment to the Napoleonic cause. The Javanese conscripts had still less interest in fighting.

A number of French soldiers had been shipped out in recent years, but they were reportedly the dregs of the Republican army, deemed of little use on European fronts. Now they bolted for the final fastness of Meester Cornelis, where Gillespie and Auchmuty set up a siege.

Cannonade

Marshal Daendels

Rach_-_Fort_Meester_Cornelis

Meester Cornelis was a formidable fortress. Built by Janssens’ predecessor, Marshal Daendels, it comprised five miles of fortifications studded with 280 pieces of heavy cannon, and was flanked to the west by the meandering Ciliwung River, and to the east by a deep canal called the Slokan. The surrounding countryside, meanwhile, was ‘intersected with ravines, enclosures, and betel plantations, resembling hop-grounds, many parts of which could only be passed in single file’

Over the coming days the British kept up a heavy cannonade against the northern walls of Cornelis. Gillespie and Auchmuty were sensitive to the dangers of a stalemate in the morbid Javanese climate. They had arrived with the advantage of energy and health, but by mid-August heat and fever were taking their toll, and they knew they must act. And so, in the early hours of the morning of 26 August, the final stealthy assault began.

Small parties were sent out to attack the fortress from all angles, while the bulk of the British forces under Gillespie headed off through the forest to launch a surprise assault across the Slokan from the east, the point they had judged the weakest. The plan was to launch simultaneous operations at first light.

In the event Gillespie almost met with disaster. As the first section of the advance huddled in the trees just a few hundred yards from the first Dutch pickets, they realised to their horror that the thousands-strong column that should have been snaking up behind them was nowhere to be seen: they had got lost in the betel plantations.

It was, in the words of Captain William Thorn, a close confidant of Gillespie, ‘One of those pauses of distressful anxiety, which can be better conceived than described.’

Unable to communicate with the other parties, Gillespie decided on a typically brazen course of action: he attacked anyway, sneaking unspotted past the first Dutch sentries, and then launching an unsupported rush on the first redoubts.

Invasion of Java (1811) Part II

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An almighty explosion

As the sun slipped up over the lush green Javanese countryside, the battle for Meester Cornelis got under way. Gillespie and his men forced their way across the Slokan and overwhelmed Redoubt Number Four in a welter of close combat.

Eventually the missing columns appeared from the forest and joined an attack on the next redoubt. But on the brink of storming it, the British were subjected to an almighty explosion. A pair of French captains, in an early instance of a suicide bombing, had immolated themselves in the powder store – with dramatic consequences, as Captain Thorn recorded: ‘The ground was strewn with the mangled bodies and scattered limbs of friends and foes, blended together in a horrible state of fraternity.’

Despite this shocking incident, Gillespie’s men pushed on, deeper into the Cornelis fortifications. More redoubts fell. Guns were seized. An attempted Dutch cavalry charge from the bowels of the fort faltered fast under fire.

Very soon the assault had triggered a rout, and the defenders were fleeing south through the forest, heading for the Dutch hill-station of Buitenzorg, with the British in furious pursuit. By the time they had gone ten miles, the British had taken 5,000 prisoners.

Once more, it was shaky loyalties that had caused Janssens’ defence to collapse. One appalled Napoleonic officer recorded the scene as he was dragged back towards British lines: ‘With a feeling of shame and indignation I saw more than one [Dutch] officer amongst them trample on his French cockade, to which he had sworn allegiance, uttering scandalous imprecations and swearing and assuring the English: “I am no Frenchman, but a Dutchman.” ‘

Lord Minto, who had been safely ensconced offshore during the worst of the fighting, visited the battlefield the following day, and was horrified: ‘The number of dead and the shocking variety of deaths had better not be imagined.’ But in truth the outgunned British had achieved victory at minimal cost. Just 62 British soldiers and 17 Indian sepoys had died in the attack on Meester Cornelis.

Janssens and a small body of Napoleonic officers had escaped and fled east to Semarang, where they attempted to organize a second line of defence. Auchmuty set out in pursuit.

Eventually, on 18 September, at the little upland garrison of Salatiga, Janssens – who was almost alone by the end – ceded control of the Dutch East Indies to the British. He stressed, however, that ‘as long as I had any [men] left me, I would never have submitted’.

The British interregnum

The five-year interregnum that followed the fall of Batavia was, in truth, a rogue operation. Lord Minto’s instructions from the Supreme Government had ordered him to organize only ‘the expulsion of the Dutch power, the destruction of their fortifications, the distribution of their arms and stores to the natives, and the evacuation of the Island by our own troops’.

But with his Romantic notions of ‘the land of promise’, as well as supposed concern for the fate of Dutch civilians, he unilaterally decided to retain the territory. He and Auchmuty returned to India in October 1811, leaving the inexperienced Raffles as lieutenant-governor, with Gillespie as his military counterpart.

Today Raffles is best remembered for the subsequent founding of Singapore, and is usually portrayed as a liberal reformer, a gentleman scholar, and an acceptable counterpoint to the more aggressive aspects of British colonial history. His actions in Java, however, reveal him to have been a personification of the shift from the earlier 18th-century style of ‘company colonialism’ towards the grand imperialism of the coming Victorian Age.

During the previous century, in both British India and the Dutch East Indies, there had been room for compromise. The agents of the Dutch and British East India Companies had often tried to further European commercial interests without seeking to overturn the sovereignty of native courts. Some of their number had engaged with Asian cultures in a manner that would be anathema in a later epoch, participating in local society, legitimately marrying Asian women, and even converting to Islam.

Raffles’ arrival in Java marked an abrupt end to such acculturation, and his five-year reign on the island was a microcosm of the wider transition from the era of the ‘White Mughals’ to that of the ‘Queen Empress’.

Raffles rampant

The European enemy had been roundly trounced, but there were other powers in Java – the great native courts of the hinterland, Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Raffles decided that they constituted an unconscionable challenge to his authority.

By early 1812 he had decided that he needed to organise a crushing military defeat of one or other of these courts as ‘decisive proof to the Native Inhabitants of Java of the strength and determination of the British Government’.

In June that year he made his move, ordering an attack on Yogyakarta on the flimsy pretext of an uncovered correspondence discussing an uprising against the Europeans which had, in fact, been instigated by the Surakarta court.

Yogyakarta was the more significant of the two realms and, wrote Raffles, ‘the Sultan [of Yogyakarta] decidedly looks upon us as a less powerful people than the [Napoleonic] Government which proceeded us, and it becomes absolutely necessary for the tranquillity of the Country that he should be taught to think otherwise.’

If the conquest of Batavia had been a remarkable success for an outnumbered British force, the subsequent sacking of Yogyakarta was, on paper at least, a feat of almost superhuman status. On 20 June 1812, most of Britain’s military manpower was tied up in Sumatra, where Raffles had ordered a punitive expedition against the Palembang Sultanate. With just 1,200 men at his disposal, therefore, he now instructed Gillespie to launch an attack on the walled city of Yogyakarta, a place defended by some 10,000Javanese troops.

The storming of Yogyakarta

In truth, however, the turn of events was such an earth-shattering shock to the Javanese that their defence collapsed almost at once. Yogyakarta had inherited the mantle of past javanese kingdoms such as Mataram and Majapahit. It was a place of high protocol and of a complex Muslim-Javanese courtly culture that drew on an older Hindu and Buddhist heritage.

During the previous two centuries, conflicts between the Dutch and the Javanese courts had been typified by formalized posturing and brinkmanship, and had then usually been resolved through face-saving diplomacy. The Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono II, had never believed that the British would really attack, and once the sepoys began to surge over the walls his court descended into panic. As one Javanese prince, Arya Panular, noted, ‘In battle [the British] were irresistible… they were as though protected by the very angels and they struck terror into men’s hearts.’

The assault began at dawn, and by 9am it was all over. Though they had been outnumbered by almost ten to one, the British lost just 23 men. The Sultan was arrested and exiled, and the victors fell to enthusiastic looting of the city. Gillespie took away personal booty valued at GBP 15,000 (half a million, in modern terms) while Raffles and the British resident at Yogyakarta, John Crawfurd, stole the entire contents of the court archives. The following afternoon the Crown Prince was placed on the throne as a British puppet, and during the coronation the courtiers were forced to kiss Raffles’ knees in the ultimate Javanese act of subjugation.

Writing to Lord Minto to inform him of the victory, Raffles declared that it had ‘afforded so decisive a proof to the Native Inhabitants of java of the strength and determination of the British Government, that they now for the first time know their relative situation and importance… The European power is now for the first time paramount in Java.’

The return of the Dutch

After the fall of Yogyakarta, peace returned to Java. But the new British administration rapidly descended into disorder. A vicious clash of personalities emerged between Raffles and Gillespie.

They had been ill-suited to being left in charge of a complex colony – one man a bruising aristocratic war-hero, the other an ambitious if insecure middle-class civilian; and neither with any real experience of government. They were, according to one visitor, ‘at constant variance and daggers drawn’, and Gillespie eventually lodged formal accusations of corruption against his civilian counterpart. Meanwhile, a series of budgetary blunders and ill-planned and overreaching reforms pushed the colony to the brink of an economic meltdown.

Raffles and Minto had dreamed of making Java a permanent British possession, controlling traffic between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. But in the circumstances the higher authorities were all too eager to hand it back to the Dutch once the wars were over in Europe, and Holland had regained its sovereignty.

When they returned in 1816, the Dutch found administrative and financial chaos; but there was also another, more useful inheritance. The great native courts had finally been hobbled. There would be no return to old modes of compromise: the European power was indeed finally paramount in Java, and the scene had been set for the coming colonial century, both in the Dutch East Indies, and in the wider Asian continent beyond.

Harlech

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Reconstruction of the castle in the early 14th century, seen from the sea.

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Gatehouses The King’s gate at Caernarfon is one of the most powerful of gatehouses, begun in 1283. In front of the entrance is a turning bridge; the front end rose up into a recess while the rear dropped into a pit behind. The passage was heavily defended: if the gatehouse had been completed it would have had no less than five wooden doors and six portsculli along its length. Evidence in the existing walls suggests that the never-completed rear section made the passage turn at right-angles, thence over a second drawbridge before arriving in the lower ward.

In order to enter the great gatehouse at Harlech, the visitor was required to pass the outer gatehouse with its twin turrets and turning bridge, the pit into which it dropped forming an additional obstacle. Then followed the main gate passage, arched throughout its length and flanked by huge towers. The first obstacle was a two-leaved door closed by a drawbar running into a slot in the wall thickness. There followed two portsculli, behind which was another door with drawbar. Further down the passage was a third portcullis, with possibly yet another set of doors in front. The room directly over the gate passage was a chapel flanked either side by a vestry but it also received the two forward portsculli when raised; the third came up into the larger of the two rear rooms. The fact that this floor housed the winches for operating the portsculli suggests it was used by the constable. Above was another floor, a residential suite laid out the same way and presumably designed for the king or some persons of rank. The rear of each tower was provided with a stair turret and, additionally, a door on the first floor at the rear led on to a platform and thence to an external stair to ground level, allowing access when all the gates were shut.

Master James of St George probably designed the splendid triple-towered gatehouse at Denbigh; once past the twin towers at the front, a vaulted hall was entered (with a chamber on the floor above). The rear tower blocked further egress, forcing a right turn into the ward.

On the estuary of the River Dwyryd, on the site of a former Welsh fort, built by Master James of St George for Edward I, 1283–90, costing £9,500. The sea was closer then to the castle. It had a concentric plan with a wide moat on two sides. A massive twintowered gatehouse faces east. The inner curtain has round corner towers. The curtain to the narrow outer bailey is low, dominated by the inner bailey. Master James became constable of Harlech 1290–3. It was besieged by Welsh rebels in 1294 but relieved. Repairs were made in the 14th century. Harlech was besieged and taken in  1404 by Owen Glendower with French allies, to become his base, and recovered by Lord Talbot in 1408. In the Wars of the Roses Harlech was taken over in 1468 by Dafydd ap Ieuan, whose men were the original ‘Men of Harlech’. The castle was besieged and taken by Yorkists under the Earl of Pembroke. It was held for the royalists in the English Civil War.

In the late thirteenth century, King Edward I of England built a sequence of castles from Caernarfon to Conwy to Harlech to secure his conquests in the north of the principality of Wales. In so far as the inhabitants of the country were the direct descendants of the British population of Rome’s province of Britannia and the last unconquered region of the empire north of the Alps, it has been said that Edward’s victories there represented the final fall of the Roman Empire in the West.

The financial outlay on these “Edwardian” castles was huge (in the 1970s it was calculated that each fortress cost in modern terms the equivalent of a Concorde supersonic airliner) not least because the most up-to-date principles and techniques of fortification were used. The strength of these places was to be demonstrated years later when in 1404 the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr laid siege to Harlech. For weeks the place was held by just five Englishmen and sixteen Welshmen—when the castellan made overtures to surrender, the garrison locked him up. In fact, the great castle fell not to assault by its Welsh attackers but because, in the end, the skeleton force defending it decided to accept terms and were bought out. Some sixty years later, it was once more in rebel hands, holding for the House of Lancaster when, in 1461, Edward of York became king as Edward IV. These “Men of Harlech” held out for seven years, harrying the neighboring countryside until in August 1468, after a protracted siege, William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, finally recovered the place for Edward. An indication of the effort involved and the obvious strength of the fortress is found in the Public Record Office, where the accounts show some £5,000 paid to the earl for his expenses.