Battle of Sept-Îles

22/23 October 1943

The English Channel’s importance as a transit route for British and German shipping made it one of the war’s most bitterly contested bodies of water. When the blockade runner Münsterland and its escort of six minesweepers and two patrol boats departed Brest on October 22, 1943, the Royal Navy’s Plymouth Command ordered the antiaircraft light cruiser Charybdis (senior officer, Captain G. A. W. Voelcker); the fleet destroyers Grenville and Rocket; and the escort destroyers Limbourne, Wensleydale, Talybont, and Stevenstone to intercept the German convoy. Because Plymouth was a transit point, it often tried to maximize resources by using ships that were passing through, such as the Charybdis, but this practice had its dangers, as became clear in execution.

The British warships arrived off the Breton coast shortly after midnight on October 23 and, with the cruiser in the lead, began sweeping west. Meanwhile, the German 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla, T23 (Korvettenkapitän Franz Kohlauf ), T26, T27, T22, and T25 reinforced the escort. Based on past operations, the Germans had a good idea when and how the British would come. When T25’s hydrophone detected ships to the northeast, the 4th Flotilla turned toward the contact.

At 1:30 a. m., the Charybdis’s radar detected the Germans 14,000 yards ahead. As the columns rapidly converged, Captain Voelcker ordered his column to come to starboard and increase speed, but there was confusion and only the rear ship received his signal. A minute later at 1:43 a. m., the German commander saw the cruiser’s large silhouette illuminated against the lighter northern horizon only 2,200 yards distant. He ordered an emergency turn to starboard. As they came about, the T23 and then T26 emptied their torpedo tubes toward the enemy.

British radar was registering contacts and the British were intercepting German radio traffic. The Charybdis fired star shell, but the rockets burst above the clouds and only brightened the overcast sky. The Limbourne, which had lost touch with the flagship, plotted a contact off its port bow and, unsure whether it was hostile, likewise fired rockets. The fleet destroyers came to port and crossed ahead of Limbourne. Then lookouts aboard the Charybdis reported the tracks of torpedoes.

The cruiser came hard to port, but at 1:47 a. m., a torpedo struck it on the port side. As this happened, the German column was still turning and both the T27 and T22 fired full torpedo salvos as they came about. Only the T25 failed to launch. At 1:51 a. m., the German column withdrew on an easterly heading.

Another torpedo struck the Charybdis, and within five minutes its deck was under water. A minute later, a torpedo slammed into the Limbourne and detonated the small destroyer’s forward magazine. The Grenville and Wensleydale barely avoided the massive explosion. The Charybdis sank at 2:30 a. m. Attempts to tow the Limbourne failed and it was scuttled.

The British force was an improvised one following a scripted plan and had blundered into a massed, close-range torpedo salvo. The British were fortunate in that they only lost two ships. Admiralty staff studied the action off Les Sept Iles intensely and drew many of the right conclusions. Not coincidentally, it was the last clear victory German surface forces would win during the war.

References Smith, Peter C. Hold the Narrow Sea, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945. Ashbourne, UK: Moorland, 1984. Whitley, M. J. German Destroyers of World War Two. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991

Blockade Running

In the early stage of World War II, the main lines of communication between the Axis powers were either over land via the Trans-Siberian Railway or, when Japan entered the war in December 1941, across the sea by surface blockade runners. Japan used German blockade runners to send such goods as rubber, cooking oil, lead, tin, and tea to Germany. In return, the ships carried industrial products such as locomotives and machinery and various pieces of technical equipment, scientific instruments, and chemical and pharmaceutical products to Japan. In addition, ships carried supplies and spare parts for German warships in the Far East. Some blockade runners also supplied German armed merchant cruisers operating in the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Pacific.

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union (Operation BARBAROSSA ) in June 1941, the continental line was cut, and only sea routes remained. Blockade running that began in April 1941 and ended in October 1943 involved a total of 36 ships traveling from Asia to Europe. Six of them were recalled or returned after sustaining damage, and, of the 30 that remained, 11 were sunk by Allied forces or were scuttled by their own crews to prevent capture. Another 2 were accidentally sunk by German submarines, and 1 was seized by a U. S. cruiser. Thus, 16 ships actually completed their voyages and delivered their cargo to the port of Bordeaux in German-occupied France.

In the other direction, 23 ships, including 5 fleet supply ships, were sent from Europe to the Far East between September 1941 and April 1943. Of these, 16 reached Asian ports, 5 were sunk or scuttled, and 2 were recalled or returned to port.

Overall, 45.8 percent of the blockade runners on the Far East route were lost. However, annual ship losses rose dramatically over the course of the war. Between April 1941 and October 1942, only 12.1 percent were lost, whereas in 1943, losses rose to 85.7 percent. Of 104,700 tons of materials loaded on the ships, only 26,600 tons reached their destinations. In addition to raw materials and equipment, these ships also transported passengers. Some 900 passengers embarked to travel from the Far East to Europe, but fewer than half of them arrived safely. A total of 136 died when their ships were sunk, and the remainder became prisoners of war or remained in the Far East after their ships turned back.

From early 1944, submarines took over the blockade runners’ mission. Between then and early March 1945, 16 German U-boats sailed to the Far East as combat cargo transporters. But only 8 actually arrived in Far Eastern ports, carrying some 930 tons of cargo. The other 8 boats were lost, most of them to hostile action. Through the end of 1944, only 3 submarines reached Europe, but none got to Germany: the U-843 arrived at Norway but was sunk in the Kattegat Straits; the U-510 and U-861 reached French ports.

Under the code name AQUILA, 5 Italian submarines also participated in blockade running. Departing France, they carried some 500 tons of supplies for German/ Italian submarine bases in the Far East as well as personnel and cargo for Japan. None of them returned to Europe. The Japanese also sent five submarines to Europe to transport German military technology and to exchange personnel. Ultimately, four of them reached the Continent, but only three returned: two to Singapore and one to Japan. All these submarines had Japanese and German technicians, liaison officers, and equipment and blueprints of German’s newest weapons. Of 89 passengers aboard Axis submarines traveling from Japan, 74 arrived in France; the remainder died when their boats were sunk. A total of 96 passengers sailed in the opposite direction, 64 of them arriving safely; 22 were lost while under way, and 10 others fell into U. S. hands.

References Boyd, Carl, and Yoshida Akihiko. The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002. Krug, Hans J., and Yoichi Hirama. Reluctant Allies: German-Japanese Naval Relations in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002.

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Battle of the Bay of Biscay

28 December 1943

After the invasion of the Soviet Union severed German land access to strategic raw materials such as rubber and tin, blockade runners became essential to the Axis war effort, and the Kriegsmarine maintained destroyers and fleet torpedo boats on the French Biscay coast to escort blockade runners into port during the dangerous final leg of their voyage. On December 27, 1943, two German flotillas sortied to meet the blockade runner Alsterufer, not realizing that Allied aircraft had surprised and sunk it the day before. The German units were the 8th Destroyer Flotilla (Kapitän zur See Hans Erdmenger) with the Z27, Z23, Z24, Z32, Z37 and the 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla (Korvettenkapitän Franz Kohlauf ) with the T23, T22, T24, T25, T26, and T27. Two British light cruisers, the Glasgow and Enterprise, which had been hunting the Alsterufer, were south of the Germans, and, learning of their mission from signals intelligence, they steered to intercept.

The German flotillas united just after noon on December 28 and swept eastwardly. It was a rough day in the Bay of Biscay with a strong easterly wind. Conditions were difficult aboard the German Type 36A destroyers, which were poor sea boats, and they were worse for the torpedo boats, which had green seas breaking over their bows and spray inundating their bridges.

At 1:32 p. m., the Glasgow spotted the Germans, and eight minutes later, the Z23 saw the British cruisers bearing down. At this point, the Germans were steaming south-by-southeast in three columns. Almost immediately, Erdmenger ordered a torpedo attack, which was impractical due to the range and rough seas. Meanwhile, the British closed, and at 1:46 p. m., Glasgow’s forward turret fired the first salvo from a range of 18,000 yards.

Initially both forces ran south-southeast trading long-range broadsides. At 1:56 p. m., Erdmenger ordered another torpedo attack, and the Z32, Z37, and Z34 took station to port and edged toward the cruisers. At 2:05 p. m., a shell from the Z32 struck the Glasgow, killing two men. At 2:15 p. m., the Z37 fired four torpedoes from 14,000 yards.

While this futile barrage churned through seven miles of stormy water, Erdmenger decided to divide his force, even though German shooting had been at least as good as the British. At 2:19 p. m., the T26, T22, T25, Z27, and Z23 turned north as Z32, Z37, Z24, T23, T24, and T27 continued southeast. The Z27 turned toward the British rather than away, and the flagship became the first German vessel damaged when a 6-inch shell from the Enterprise penetrated a boiler room and ignited a huge fire.

As the Germans divided, the Glasgow joined Enterprise and ranged its turrets on the three torpedo boats heading north. At 2:54 p. m., the Glasgow damaged the rear warship, the T25. Then the Glasgow shifted fire to the T26 and hit its boiler room.

After temporarily disengaging to clear some gun defects, the Enterprise joined the Glasgow, and the two cruisers sank the T26, the most southerly of the three damaged ships at 4:20 p. m. The Enterprise dispatched the T25 at 4:37 p. m. with a single torpedo. Finally, the Glasgow found the Z27 drifting with all guns silent. It closed and exploded the German destroyer’s magazines at 4:41 p. m. The British cruisers then made for Plymouth. The Glasgow had been hit once, while the Enterprise received minor splinter damage from numerous near misses. The rest of the German force safely made port.

The Germans fired 34 torpedoes from impossibly long ranges in eight separate attacks, but in rough conditions with extended visibility the better gun platform prevailed. The German commander’s decision to divide his flotilla also proved ill-advised as afterward ranges dropped. In the engagement, the Germans lost three ships.

The two British cruisers met up once more and, seeing no further signs of the German squadron and having accounted for three of them at no significant damage to themselves, withdrew toward Plymouth. They arrived on the evening of 29 December, low on both fuel and ammunition. Glasgow had received one hit that killed two crew members and wounded another three, while Enterprise had no real damage except for shell splinters.

The two German survivors, T22 and Z23, reunited and headed towards Saint-Jean-de-Luz near the Spanish border. The rest of the German ships headed back to the Gironde.

Only 283 survivors of the 672 men on the three sunken ships were rescued: 93 from Z27, 100 from T25 and 90 from T26. British and Irish ships, Spanish destroyers and German U-boats took part in the rescue. About 62 survivors were picked up by British minesweepers as prisoners. 168 were rescued by a small Irish steamer, the MV Kerlogue, and four by Spanish destroyers, and they were all interned.

References Koop, Gerhard, and Klaus-Peter Schmolke. German Destroyers of World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2003. O’Hara, Vincent P. The German Fleet at War 1939-1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004

Postscript

On the 26th December eleven German destroyers and torpedo boats sailed into the Bay of Biscay to bring in the blockade-runner “Alsterufer”. however she was sunk by a Liberator bomber of RAF Coastal Command on the 27th, and next day as the German warships return to base they are intercepted by 6in cruisers “Glasgow” and “Enterprise”. Although outnumbered and out-gunned they sank the 5.9in-gunned destroyer “Z-27” and torpedo boats “T-25” and “T-26”.

Regarding the blockade-runner “Alsterufer”….Sunderland aircraft operating from Castle Archdale…201 & 422/423 RCAF also helped in the tracking and took part in several attacks on the ship.

‘Sixty-four survivors were rescued by the cruisers and several more by an Irish steamer, a Spanish destroyer and U-boats.

KERLOGUE, Wexford S.S. Co. Built in Holland in 1938 for the Wexford S.S. Co. In 1957 the KERLOGUE was sold to Norwegian interests and wrecked in 1960 off Tromso.”

All Irish ships leaving Ireland had to call at Fishguard to obtain a British Navicert before proceeding and likewise when returning to Ireland. In the early hours of the 29 December 1943 when the Irish Vessel Kerlogue was enroute from Lisbon a Focke Wulf 200 circled and signalled ” SOS follow” the ship picked up 168 survivors from the encounter with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise. The little ship with a crew of 12 under Capt Donohue set course for Ireland direct. The senior German officer Kplt. Quedenfeldt requested that they be taken to Brest but he refused. They Irish crew could have been easily overpowered but the refusal was accepted. Despite repeated requests by Lands End radio, to proceed to Fishguard they continued to Ireland and landed the survivors there. They were interned. The Irish captain was at the receiving end of a very abusive Naval officer when he next called to Fishguard, who threatened to have him interned for his humanitarian act.

Bay of Biscay Offensive (February-August 1943)

Major anti-U-boat operation conducted by the British and U. S. air forces. Beginning in January 1942, Allied maritime patrol aircraft carried out air antisubmarine transit patrols in the Bay of Biscay. The advent of the new 10-cm radar in late 1942 and new methods of operations research encouraged a fresh approach to the flagging campaign there. The revised concept foresaw a continuous barrier patrol of the U-boat transit exit routes from the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic by a total of 260 aircraft equipped with brand-new ASV Mk. III 10-cm-band radars. Operational command would lie with the Number 19 Group of the Royal Air Force’s Coastal Command. Allied projections for success were vague and excessively optimistic, but the planners assumed correctly that it would take the Germans at least four months to respond effectively to the new 10-cm radar.

The actual offensive was preceded by three trial phases: Operations GONDOLA (February 4-16, 1943), ENCLOSE I (March 20-28, 1943), and ENCLOSE II (April 5-13, 1943). Beset by difficulties, such as the withdrawal of the U. S. Army Air Force’s B-24 Liberator bombers, slow delivery of the ASV Mk. III radar, and lack of aircraft, the operations were nonetheless a success in that they demonstrated an increased efficiency in aircraft allocation and in U-boat sightings.

Air Marshal Sir John C. Slessor, head of Coastal Command, decided to launch the full-scale offensive (Operation DERANGE ) on April 13 with 131 aircraft. The repeated, accurate night attacks by the Vickers Wellington medium bombers of Number 172 Squadron, then the only Coastal Command aircraft equipped with new ASV Mk. III radars and Leigh lights, produced instant, although unforeseen, results. The failure of the German threat receivers to warn the U-boats of the incoming aircraft and the success of two U-boats in shooting down the attacking planes convinced the German U-boat command that the remedy was to give up the night surface transit and to order the U-boats to fight it out with aircraft while on the surface during daylight hours.

Coastal Command aircraft wreaked havoc among the grossly overmatched U-boats during those daylight battles. In May alone, six U-boats were destroyed and seven so severely damaged that they had to return to their bases. In turn, the U-boats accounted for only 5 of 21 aircraft lost by the Coastal Command in the Bay of Biscay that month.

The German withdrawal from the North Atlantic convoy routes following the “Black May” of 1943 allowed Slessor to step up the operation with additional air assets. The Germans took to sending the U-boats in groups in order to provide better antiaircraft defense, yet in June, four U-boats were lost and six others severely damaged. DERANGE peaked in July, when Allied aircraft claimed 16 U-boats- among them three valuable Type XIV U-tankers-compelling Grossadmiral (grand admiral) Karl Dönitz to call off a planned operation in the western Atlantic.

German losses in the Bay of Biscay dropped considerably thereafter, but the air patrols remained a formidable obstacle throughout the remainder of the war by forcing the U-boats to stay submerged for most of the time during transit. Although the Battle of the Atlantic was ultimately won around the convoys, the Bay of Biscay Offensive contributed to the success by preventing many U-boats from reaching their operational areas in time to saturate convoy defenses as they had done in March 1943.

References Blair, Clay. Hitler’s U-Boat War. Vol. 2, The Hunted, 1942-1945. New York: Random House, 1998. Gannon, Michael. Black May. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 10, The Atlantic Battle Won, May 1943-May 1945. Boston: Little, Brown, 1956. Roskill, Stephen W. The War at Sea, 1939-1945. Vols. 2 and 3. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1957 and 1960

The British War in Iraq 2003 Part I


Alliances are compromises in self-interest. Some alliances are less self-interested than others. The Anglo-American alliance is one of the least. The United States and the United Kingdom have been allies since 1941 and, with understandable ups and downs, have been good friends ever since. It is a unique friendship. In 1941 Britain, battered by Hitler’s and Hirohito’s attacks as it was, still thought of itself as a great world power. Sixty years later, with America the only superpower, that illusion has withered. The British now realistically regard themselves as a power of the second rank. Nevertheless they take, with reason, great pride in the competence of their armed forces. The Royal Navy, the army, the Royal Air Force, greatly diminished in size though they are since they struggled to victory in the Second World War, remain military instruments of exceptional quality. They have retained the ability to motivate the young men and women they recruit to the highest level of achievement, with results that are admired by the nation and its friends and feared by its foes. Wherever they are deployed, and for whatever purpose, British forces succeed in their mission. In none of the dozens of small wars they have fought since 1945 have they been defeated. To many of the countries in which they have operated they have brought the benefits of restored peace and security.

The United States military has come to appreciate the qualities of the British forces with growing enthusiasm ever since the termination of the Cold War in 1989. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, which inaugurated the collapse of the Soviet Union and its client Warsaw Pact states, America was able to count on many allies in the Western world. As the Soviet threat fell away, most of its Cold War allies proved fair-weather friends. Self-interest reasserted its influence. The financial costs of sustaining forces of comparable quality to those of the United States seemed a burden better shed. It became more alluring to pursue policies that diverged from those that had assured collective security before the spectre of Communism. In 1990, when the United States called for a coalition to oppose Saddam Hussein’s illegal annexation of Kuwait, most of its Cold War allies, and some newfound Middle Eastern friends, responded. When in the crisis of 2002–03, America again appealed for support against Saddam, the ranks suddenly thinned. At the roll-call before hostilities commenced, only three countries came up to the mark: Australia, Britain and Poland, though it made a token contribution. The Australians, with skeletal armed resources, could only offer special operations troops and some ships and air support. The British, however, responded as they had done in 1990. They offered, besides sizeable naval and air components, a whole division of ground troops. They had done the same in 1990 but then that British contribution was matched by France and Syria, outmatched by Egypt and dwarfed by the Americans, who provided no less than eight divisions. In 2003 Britain’s division amounted to almost a third of the coalition force deployed and was appreciated by the Americans as much for the military contribution it represented as for the moral commitment its presence displayed.

The division had the same title as in 1990–91, the 1st (UK) Armoured Division, but was an unorthodox formation, the result of its having been hastily improvised from units in Britain and Germany. Its core was 7 Armoured Brigade, the ‘Desert Rats’, which had fought in the First Gulf War, but the rest of the division was not made up of other armoured and mechanized brigades, as would have been normal, but of two elements of Britain’s rapid reaction forces, 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade. The air assault brigade consisted of 1st and 3rd Battalions the Parachute Regiment and the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment; its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins, would become famous by making an inspiring eve-of-battle speech to his troops which President George W. Bush had displayed on a wall in the Oval Office at the White House. The air assault brigade’s artillery was provided by 7 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, and armoured reconnaissance by the Household Cavalry Regiment. The commando brigade comprised only two of its normal three units, 40 and 42 Royal Marine Commando; 45 Commando was not deployed. A Commando is equivalent in size to an infantry battalion but on lighter scales of equipment and without tracked transport. The Commando brigade had, however, brought its organic gunner unit, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery.

The 1st (UK) Armoured Division also had attached to it for Operation Iraqi Freedom (Operation Telic to the British, who avoid descriptive codenames) parts of 20 Armoured Brigade and a number of individual units, allotted as required. Whilst the Desert Rats officially comprised the 1st Battalion Black Watch, the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the last two tank regiments, also at the division’s disposal were the Queen’s Dragoon Guards and the Queen’s Royal Lancers, also armour, and four infantry battalions, 1st Light Infantry, 1st Black Watch, 1st Irish Guards and 1st Duke of Wellington’s Regiment; the latter was brigaded with the Commandos for the assault on the Fao peninsula. Additional batteries of Royal Artillery provided fire support and the Royal Engineers the essential combat engineering skills. Signals, transport and maintenance were provided by the Royal Corps of Signals, Royal Logistic Corps and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

American army regiments, formerly transient organizations, have in recent years deliberately sought to create permanent identities for themselves, the high command having recognized that tradition is an important factor in fostering regimental morale. It seems to work. The parachute regiments in the 500 series, for example, take enormous pride in their histories, which began in Normandy, and they remain among the most effective and self-confident in the US infantry. The US Marine Corps has preserved its long-established regiments as a matter of policy, with highly beneficial effects on Corps morale. In both cases the Americans have been influenced by British example. British regiments glory in their antiquity: the oldest, the Royal Scots, dates from the early seventeenth century and is older than many of the key institutions of British public life, such as the Bank of England and, indeed, the reigning House of Windsor. By some mysterious chemistry, antiquity does not condemn regiments to senility, but seems to work as an elixir of youth. The long histories of the more senior seem to challenge fresh generations of soldiers to match the standards of courage set by their predecessors in battles long ago and challenge younger regiments to emulate them. Thus to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards the regiment’s capture of an eagle standard from the enemy at Waterloo is a triumph which demands repetition; while the Irish Guards, a comparatively young regiment founded only in 1900, is constantly in competition with the Grenadiers, the personal guard established by Charles II at his restoration to the throne in 1660.

When the British go to war, therefore, commanders do not waste nervous energy in concern over their soldiers’ morale. They know that, given efficient subordinates and services of supply, they will fight with spirit and effect. The regimental system ensures that. High morale and self-confidence describe the mood of the 1st (UK) Armoured Division as it deployed for the second time in little over a decade to the head of the Gulf in 2003. The Gulf is one of the British army’s historic campaigning areas. It had fought and won an eventually victorious, if difficult, campaign there in the First World War. It had put down a pro-Nazi rising in Iraq in 1941. It had fought again victoriously in 1991, beside its American comrades-in-arms, in whom it had confidence. It expected that the new campaign would have the same outcome.

General Franks allotted the British a special and separate task from that of his American formations. He correctly recognized that the American divisions, with their unmatched capacity to cover ground and to resupply themselves while doing so, were the best suited to make the long-distance strike up the central valley to Baghdad. He equally recognized that the British, with their long experience of pacification operations and their historic connections with the Gulf region, would be better suited to tackling the problem of taking and holding Basra. Iraq’s second city had never fully acceded to the Ba’athist system. Its Shi’a population resented control by the Sunni of the central region. On the other hand, through its commercial association with the British, which went back as far as the days of the East India Company, it was used to their presence as traders and, indirectly, to their political and naval influence over the Gulf waters at their doorstep. General Franks’s calculation that the British were the best qualified of the contingents at his disposal to deploy to the Shatt el-Arab and Basra was therefore well judged.

The attack in the south was nevertheless to begin as a joint American-British operation. The decision was taken in December 2002, while the attack on Iraq was in the planning stage, to assign a US Marine Corps formation, 15 Marine Expeditionary Unit (15 MEU), to 3 Commando Brigade. Essentially a strong infantry battalion, with attached helicopter squadrons, 15 MEU combined with the commanders to land on the Fao peninsula and seize the oil facilities, while other elements of the force, reinforced by US Navy SEAL units, landed on the oil platforms twenty-five miles offshore, the points where oil pumped from the land was transferred to tankers. At the outset 40 Commando succeeded in securing two key oil installations near the town of al Fao. When its position was judged precarious, it was reinforced by 42 Commando, flown in by USMC helicopters. The operation was supported by fire from batteries of the Royal Artillery and ships offshore, the frigates Marlborough and Chatham; another Royal Navy frigate and one from the Royal Australian Navy were also involved. After securing the wellhead facilities, 3 Commando Brigade and 15 MEU proceeded up the Fao peninsula, to take Umm Qasr and Zubayr. Coalition casualties incurred in the whole operation were light, while at least thirty Iraqis were killed and 230 made prisoner.

The American Marines commented in an after-action account on the excellence of the co-operation arranged with the British. The two corps have a long association, train together frequently and cross-post personnel to each other as a matter of course. For once it is not a cliché of alliance-speak to say that they enjoy each other’s company. It is easy for them to do so, for they are similar in ethos and even in appearance; ceremonially, in dark-blue uniforms and white-topped caps, they are almost indistinguishable and in recent years the Royal Marines have adopted a semi-formal dress, greenish in hue, which closely resembles its USMC equivalent. Their rank structure, based on the primacy of long-serving senior sergeants, is similar and so is the training, with this difference: all Royal Marines have to complete the gruelling commando course, which commands high prestige in USMC eyes. The commando green beret, gained also by US Marines who successfully survive the course, is highly prized and is eagerly sought in barter for USMC kit when the two corps operate together.

The commander of the 15 MEU reported after the joint operation that co-operation had gone well from the start, when it had passed through the berm, the military sand bank on the Iraqi border, via gaps blown in it by the commando squadron of Royal Engineers, a joint task they had rehearsed together. The USMC reconnaissance unit was supported in the preliminary stage by fire called down from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery. Once inside Iraq, 15 MEU was opposed by the 45th Brigade of the Iraqi 11th Infantry Division but it soon melted away as its conscript soldiers deserted the ranks. Their place was taken by fighters in civilian clothes who waved white flags but continued to deliver sniper fire without surrendering. The marines pressed on though, to seize Umm Qasr and then, after ninety-six hours of combat with the enemy, to take the Iraqi naval base of Zubayr where they were relieved by British commandos. They then departed the battle zone by helicopter to join 1st Marine Expeditionary Force fighting on the road to Baghdad.

The British marines, in their own report, paid generous tribute to the assistance received from their American comrades. The Americans provided helicopter transport, which the British lacked, as well as a great deal of electronic reconnaissance and surveillance, which the British also lacked the equipment to acquire. The information ‘philosophy’ of the two corps is, moreover, strikingly different. The British operate a traditional ‘top-down’ network, by which superiors inform subordinates of what is judged necessary. The Americans operate a ‘flat’ system, through a commonly available website to which all who have clearance have access. As the two corps are likely to co-operate more rather than less in the future a switch to the American system seems eventually essential. It will, however, need expensive re-equipment, a programme from which the Ministry of Defence will shrink, since it has only just completed a costly programme of radio purchase; it will also be important, as the Americans themselves recognize, to avoid increasing reliance on a system that threatens information overload. The British, in American eyes, work with too little information, the Americans, in the British view, with too much. No mastermind has yet suggested an effective compromise.

With the completion of the operation to secure the Fao peninsula, and the departure of 15 MEU to join the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, taking with it G Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, which continued to provide it with fire support as far north as Nasiriyah, the thrust of the campaign in the south changed focus. Important results had been achieved. The Fao peninsula, the mouth of the Shatt el-Arab and the platforms and terminals at the head of the Gulf were essential to the export and distribution of oil from Iraq’s southern fields. They had also been highly vulnerable to sabotage by Saddam’s officials. In the event, only a handful had been set alight, while the essential pumping and separation plants had been captured undamaged. The Fao operation had been an outright success. The task following was to repeat it in Basra, which had a population of one million people.

The British War in Iraq 2003 Part II


It had not originally been intended that the British should be responsible for securing Basra. When planning began at Central Command for Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2002, the only task allotted the British, and that to 3 Commando Brigade, was the seizure of the Fao peninsula by amphibious assault, while other British forces participated in the drive north to Baghdad. While the Americans wanted the British to participate, their military participation, as opposed to their presence for political reasons, was not judged essential. It was thought, probably correctly, that the United States had sufficient available force to liberate Iraq without allied assistance. By June, however, the plan changed. The moving force seems to have been General David McKiernan, nominated as the general commander (CFLCC – Combined Force Land Component Commander), who knew the British well from his involvement with NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) in Germany, liked them and was liked in return. He now offered the British not only a part in but control of operations in northern Iraq, through the ARRC, which has a British commander.

His proposal then encountered political objections. The northern operation, to include not only the British but also the American 4th Infantry Division, could only be mounted with the consent of the Turkish government, which would have to approve its transit from Mediterranean ports and airfields to and across the Iraqi border. Even before the Turks began to make general difficulties, they were expressing particular objection to admitting British troops to their territory. The Americans found the Turkish attitude difficult to understand. The British planners involved, through consultation with the Foreign Office, were able to offer what seemed a persuasive explanation. The Turks are deeply sensitive to British involvement in their internal affairs. In 1919, after the First World War, in which they had been enemies, the British installed an army of occupation in western Turkey, the Army of the Black Sea. It had only been removed by armed confrontation. Throughout their administration of the League of Nations mandate for Iraq, the British had managed the affairs of Iraqi Kurdistan in a manner the Turks found hostile to their national interest. Most important, in 1932, the British had argued for and successfully achieved the award of the Mosul region, with its rich oil fields, to its client kingdom of Iraq by the Treaty of Lausanne. Turkey’s attitude in 2002 may have been tit-for-tat. It may have expressed some deeper-seated suspicion of British motives. Whatever the explanation, the Turks were immovable. Even before they had made it clear that they would not allow American troops to traverse their territory, they had definitively excluded any British. As a result, an alternative front of operation for the British complement had to be found. On 28 December 2002, the British told the Americans that they would deploy the bulk of their forces to Kuwait and take part in operations in the south.

That left time short. While the political crisis between Saddam and the West dragged out, with the Iraqis seeking to demonstrate that there was no justification for the taking of military measures against them, and with the Americans and British insisting the opposite, planning at Central Command went on. British planning had suddenly to accelerate. Though no deadline had yet been set, it was prudent to suppose that an invasion of Iraq would occur, without a satisfactory political settlement, by early spring. The Americans were speaking of March. That left only ten weeks for a deployment, a far shorter period than had been available before the First Gulf War of 1991. Fortunately there had been an extended exercise in Oman earlier in 2002, which had revealed certain necessary measures to be taken, including that to ‘desertize’ the Challenger tanks. The exercise had also left one of the units of 3 Commando Brigade in the area. Hastily the Ministry of Defence began to reinforce, sending ships and aircraft and speeding the dispatch of ground forces. Ever since the Falklands crisis of 1982, when Britain had had to assemble a long-range expeditionary force at a few days’ notice, the planning organization had been honing its skills of improvisation. Now, in a hurry, another Commando was sent out to join its sister unit; 16 Air Assault Brigade, which was not encumbered by armour requiring heavy lift, was despatched, and 7 Armoured Brigade, the most experienced and readily deployable major formation on hand, was shipped from Germany. By February Britain had the makings of a respectable intervention force in place. No other European country could have achieved the same results in the time available, not the French and certainly not the Germans. British troops, though few in number and less technically advanced than the American, had once again demonstrated their formidable readiness to respond to a challenge and competence to meet it.

Their competence was particularly suited to the problems presented by the need to isolate, enter and subdue the resistance in Basra. The British cannot match the Americans at the highest level of modern military performance. Shortage of funds deprives them of state-of-the-art equipment in the fields of target acquisition, reconnaissance, surveillance and intercommunication. In certain military tasks, however, they are without equal. Special operations is one, as American emulation of the SAS demonstrates. Counter-insurgency is another. Thirty years of engagement with the Irish Republican Army, in the grimy streets of Northern Ireland’s cities, has taught the British, down to the level of the youngest soldier, the essential skills of personal survival in the environment of urban warfare and of dominance over those who wage it. Every man covering another on patrol, watching the upper window, skirting the suspicious vehicle, stopping to question the solitary male: these are the methods the British army knows backwards. Painfully acquired, they have resulted in a superb mastery of the technique of control of the streets. The army has created an artificial urban training ground where these skills can be taught. As a result they have become expert at reading the geography of an urban area – which are the likely ambush points, where bombs are likely to be planted, what observation point must be entered and occupied – and have used their mastery of urban geography to dominate. Irish Republicans hate those they call ‘Crown forces’ for their professionalism, since it has blocked their ambition to control the Northern Irish cities themselves. As the entry into Basra was to prove, the British army’s mastery of the methods of urban warfare is transferable. What had worked in Belfast could be made to work also in Basra, against another set of urban terrorists, with a different motivation from the Irish Republican though equally as nasty.

Basra’s inhabitants occupy an area about two kilometres (1.24 miles) square, with a sprawl of suburbs on the southern side. The eastern boundary of the built-up area is formed by the Shatt el-Arab, the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. The old city, a warren of narrow streets, is not, however, on the water. The modern city has grown up to enclose it. There are a number of tall buildings but they are few and scattered; nothing in Basra resembles the government quarter in Baghdad, with its complex of towers and ultra-modern buildings. It is a shabby, traditional Middle Eastern town, overgrown by the influx of population and bewildering to an outsider who does not know its street pattern at first hand.

Fortunately, in the years since the First Gulf War, the British intelligence services had done a great deal to set up a comprehensive network in Basra, in the expectation that, if trouble with Saddam continued, the largest concentration of Shi’a in the country could be turned against him; it would certainly yield useful information if properly exploited. It was greatly to the advantage of the British that, despite their withdrawal from empire in the 1960s and ’70s, they had never fully lost touch with the region. Their long association with the Indian subcontinent and with the Gulf principalities provided a bedrock of familiarity with the political and ethnic realities; their commercial involvement in Iraq, particularly through the oil industry, sustained personal contacts; and the British services’ provision of equipment and training programmes to the Gulf principalities’ armed forces kept in being a body of local experts who knew the terrain and the tribes and, above all, spoke the local language. Knowledge of Arabic was a not uncommon language skill in the British army, particularly in its Special Forces and Intelligence Corps.

After the British parted company with the US Marine Corps on 23 March, their conventional ground forces were quite well prepared to undertake the isolation and capture of Basra; 7 Armoured Brigade took over the positions vacated by the 7th Marine Regiment, 16 Air Assault Brigade those of 5th Marines. They did not, however, immediately close up to the city, but remained at a distance, forming a cordon outside the built-up area to put it under surveillance, prevent the passage of reinforcements into the city and monitor the inhabitants leaving. Each flank of the cordon rested on the river, the opposite bank of which was held by 3 Commando Brigade, while the cordon itself, about twenty miles long in circuit and crossing all the roads into the city on the west bank, was maintained at a distance of about two miles from the outskirts. The plan formed by Major General Robin Brims, the 1st (UK) Armoured Division commander, was at first to wait and watch and to gather as much information as possible from fugitives about points of resistance, whereabouts of armed bodies of fighters and the identity of leaders, military and political. Despite the efforts of the Ba’ath organization to control the population, fugitives soon began to trickle out, progressively in larger and larger groups. They sought safety, but also food and water, and were ready to talk to the British, who spread the word by mouth and printed leaflet that they had come to stay, would protect civilians and could be trusted. Meanwhile SAS and SBS teams penetrated the built-up area under cover, to reconnoitre and make touch with intelligence contacts in the city.

General Brims was resolved not to provoke a fight for the city until he was certain that it could be won quickly and easily, without causing serious damage or heavy loss of life, particularly civilian life. The policy was particularly necessary in view of the hostile attitude of much of the British media, the BBC foremost, to the war against Saddam; unlike their American counterparts, who generally supported the war and their President, home-based British journalists – not those travelling with the troops – regarded it as a neo-colonialist undertaking, doubted official justifications for its launch, particularly that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, and were eager to report anything that smacked of atrocity. Ali Hassan al-Majid, ‘Chemical Ali’, the senior Ba’athist in the city, was for his part anxious to keep the population within the city bounds and hoped to provoke a bout of street fighting in the narrow byways that would feed Western media prejudice. He also hoped that the British forces would suffer heavy casualties, with a consequently bad effect on British public opinion at home.

‘Chemical Ali’s’ capacity to achieve the effects he desired was, however, severely limited by the means available to him. He was personally intensely unpopular with the Shi’a population, which he had slaughtered in large numbers after the Basra uprising of 1991. His Ba’ath party organization was thinly spread in a city where it had always been regarded as an instrument of Sunni dominance. He had, finally, only the sketchiest military apparatus with which to operate. The 11th Division, the local formation of Iraq’s so-called regular army, had already largely dissolved. Those soldiers who remained could be made to fight only by terror methods, which provoked farther desertions. As a result, those who would do his will were either local Ba’athists, all too aware of the fate that awaited them if the fight for the city was lost, and fedayeen sent from Baghdad by Qusay Hussein, Saddam’s son. Many were foreigners; few had any training beyond a sketchy course in firing the Kalashnikov assault rifle and the RPG-7 grenade launcher. Of the skills at which the British infantry excelled – marksmanship, mutual support and massing firepower when attacked – they had no knowledge whatsoever.

Between 23 and 31 March the siege of Basra took the form of a stand-off, with ‘Chemical Ali’ trying to tempt the British inside and the British refusing to move major units downtown. They waited and watched, gathering intelligence and interrogating fugitives. Small units infiltrated the city, SAS and Royal Marine Commando SBS teams, patrols from the regular units and individual snipers, who chose fire positions and observed. The Iraqis tried to provoke a fight, by launching sorties with tanks and armoured vehicles and by mortaring the British lines. Sometimes they overreached themselves. On the night of 26–27 March a column of Iraqi tanks headed out into open country. At daylight it was intercepted by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, who destroyed all fifteen tanks at no loss to themselves. The Iraqi tanks involved were Soviet T-55s, when built after the Second World War excellent fighting vehicles but, by the twenty-first century, museum pieces. The British Challengers, with their 120mm guns, could destroy them at ranges too great for their own guns to reach.

By 31 March the British were becoming more aggressive. General Brims decided that his intelligence picture was sufficiently clear for him to begin infiltrating larger units into the city. One task given them was to attack Ba’ath party leaders, whom snipers were able to identify by their habit of using cell phones on the streets and visibly issuing orders to people around them. Engaging at several hundred yards, with an updated version of the bolt-action Lee-Enfield rifle, in use in the British army for over a century, they achieved a dominant psychological effect. Major Ben Farrell, a company commander in 1st Irish Guards, described the technique to The Daily Telegraph: ‘Our snipers are working in pairs’ (one man used the rifle, the other a telescope), ‘infiltrating the enemy’s territory to give us very good observation of what is going on inside Basra and to shoot the enemy as well when the opportunity arises.… They don’t kill large numbers but the psychological effect and the denial of freedom of movement to the enemy is vast.’ An Irish Guards sniper later described to a Daily Telegraph reporter how their missions worked. ‘It’s a bit scary going into buildings because they haven’t been cleared and we don’t know if they have left any booby-traps for us. But once we are here they don’t know where we are and it feels OK. We can report back what is going on – to call in air strikes or direct artillery – and if they are within range of our rifles we will shoot them.’

This sort of operation – targeting armed terrorists acting singly or in small groups, without causing harm to the civilian population – is one at which British troops excel. They have learnt the skills in many terrorist-ridden environments, including Beirut and Sierra Leone as well as Northern Ireland, over the last thirty years and more.

British technique paid off in Basra, in what could be viewed as a repetition of the success of Operation Motorman against the Irish Republican Army in Londonderry in 1972. There the IRA had seized control of a large area of the city, proclaimed it to be ‘Free Derry’ and denied entry to the security forces. Anxious to avoid both the widening of disorder and a bad press, the army did not intervene. Over several months, however, it constructed a detailed intelligence plot and secretly rehearsed a plan to retake ‘Free Derry’ without provoking a costly fight in the narrow streets. When ready, it struck. Early one morning, columns of military vehicles penetrated ‘Free Derry’ from several directions simultaneously and within a few hours had reoccupied the whole area and re-imposed civil order, without provoking armed resistance. Motorman was the indirect inspiration of the operation to take Basra.

Because Basra is much larger than Londonderry, with a far greater population, its capture could not be staged as a single coup. Having assembled an intelligence picture of where the Ba’ath power structure was located and how it worked, 1st (UK) Armoured Division began in early April to launch raids into the city, down the main roads leading into it, by columns of Warrior fighting vehicles. The Warrior is well adapted to such tasks. Relatively well-armoured and well-armed, with a 30mm cannon in its turret, and capable of speeds of 50 miles per hour or more, the Warrior has the capacity to make quick penetrations of a position and speedy withdrawals. For several days the Warriors raided in and out, destroying identified Ba’athist positions and adding to the divisional staff’s stock of intelligence. Such intelligence, amplified by information gathered by the SAS, SBS and Secret Intelligence Service teams, allowed point attacks to be launched by artillery outside the city and by the coalition air forces. Among the successes achieved was the destruction of a building in which the Basra Ba’ath leadership was meeting, causing many fatalities, and another attack on what was believed to be the headquarters of ‘Chemical Ali’ on 5 April. It was later found to have been based on false intelligence but it was for a time believed by the population to have been successful and so helped to weaken Ba’athist control.

Finally, on 6 April, General Brims launched a full-scale assault. The city was now ringed with British units, the 1st Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to the northwest, the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment to the west, the Black Watch with the 1st Royal Tank Regiment to the southwest, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to the south and the Royal Marines across the river, but with amphibious capability, to the east. The original plan was that, after the units had launched simultaneous but individual drives down the streets leading to the centre, they should withdraw and wait the night outside before repeating the procedure. The initial penetration, however, went better than expected: in an uninhabited factory complex, where there was no risk of causing civilian casualties, it proved possible to call in helicopter gunship strikes directed by Air-Naval-Gunfire Company (ANGLICO) liaison teams of US Marines allotted to the British armoured division. The firepower deployed inflicted heavy losses on Ba’athists and fedayeen defending the complex.

Such was the early success achieved by his forces that General Brims decided to persist. They were organized in ‘battle groups’, an improvised formation much favoured by the British and viable in a small army where everyone knows everyone else. General Brims’s battle groups consisted typically of one or two companies of infantry mounted in Warrior armoured vehicles and a squadron of Challenger tanks. One battle group, which had cleared out the factory complex, was switched to attack the area of the College of Literature, a university campus occupied by 300 fedayeen, mostly non-Iraqi Islamic terrorists from other Arab countries, including Morocco, Algeria and Syria. Reducing the resistance of the fedayeen, who lacked military skills but were eager to fight to the last, took four hours, in a battle in which the British troops could not call on fire support, because of the danger of causing civilian casualties, but had to depend on their own infantry skills.

By the evening of 6 April the British were largely in control of Basra and 7 Armoured Brigade, the core of 1st (UK) Armoured Division, set up its headquarters on the university campus. The next morning, 7 April, 16 Air Assault Brigade, with two parachute battalions and the 1st Royal Irish Regiment under command, entered the narrow streets of the old city where armoured vehicles could operate only with difficulty, and set about chasing the remnants of the Ba’ath and the fedayeen out of the area. It proved that there was little to do. Saddam’s régime recognized that it was beaten and its representatives were leaving the city.

On 8 April the British began to adopt a postwar mode. Anxious to reassure the Shi’a population that they had come to stay, they took off their helmets and flak jackets, dismounted from their armoured vehicles and began to mingle with the crowds. Soon afterwards General Brims withdrew his armoured vehicles from the city centre altogether, leaving his soldiers to patrol on foot, with orders to smile, chat and restore the appearance of normality. It was an acknowledgement that the war in the south was over. The struggle to win ‘hearts and minds’ – a concept familiar to British soldiers in fifty years of disengagement from distant and foreign lands – was about to begin.

The British campaign had been an undoubted success. They had secured all their objectives – the Fao peninsula, the Shatt el-Arab, the oil terminals, Iraq’s second city – quickly and at minimal cost. British loss of life was slight. They had also conducted their war in a fashion that appeared to leave them, as the representatives of the coalition, on good terms with the southern population of defeated Iraq. The inhabitants of Basra made it clear, to the British soldiers who took possession of their city, that they were glad to be rid both of the representatives of Saddam’s régime and of the foreign fighters who supported it. If a new Iraq were to be created from the ruins of the old, Basra seemed the most promising point at which to start.

The Suez and Cyprus Crisis I

Senior officers discuss plans for Op Sparrowhawk against EOKA terrorists, Cyprus, October 1956.

(September to December 1956)

The international crisis in the Near East had sharpened after Colonel Nasser officially assumed power as President of Egypt on 23 June 1956. He had then blockaded the Suez Canal with sunken ships and crippled the vital arterial trade route between Europe and the Middle East and Far East. Hostilities apparently imminent with Egypt, Lieutenant General Keightley was warned to prepare Cyprus and Malta as invasion assembly points for 80,000 troops. Since the RASC remained vital in ferrying men, equipment and supplies to and from the embarkation ports, 1 Transport Column was reformed into RASC Cyprus East and Cyprus West.

Determined to ensure that Cyprus remained in the international limelight, Grivas kept up the pressure on internal security with hit-andrun attacks and ambushes. Between 7 August and 15 September, which was the scheduled D-Day to land in Egypt, EOKA carried out fifty-six bombings of military targets including eighteen directed at Dhekelia, Akrotiri, Episkopi and the 625 Ordnance Depot in Larnaca and fourteen against camps in the Nicosia area. There were twenty attacks on military logistic facilities at Famagusta, Limassol and Paphos. An Army Field Security launch was also sunk. Most of the devices were delivered by employees. At least twenty were defused. There were twenty ambushes of military vehicles. In August, twelve loyalist Greek-Cypriots were murdered. As part of the plan to seize hostages in retaliation for the imminent execution, on 4 August, of the three EOKA who had killed Lance Corporal Morun, on the 3rd, Mr John Cremer, an elderly retired civil servant thought by EOKA to be an intelligence agent, was kidnapped as he walked to teach English in the Turkish hamlet of Temblos, west of Kyrenia. The authorities responded that the ‘course of justice would not be affected’ by the kidnapping, and Grivas’s strategy backfired when Andreas Zakos appealed from his death cell that Cremer should be released, which he was three days later. When the three were hanged on the 9th, the expected retaliation did not materialize; instead, a week later, Grivas suspended operations to allow Archbishop Makarios to negotiate ‘a free Cyprus’. The reality was that some communities fed up with the collective fines, roadblocks, cordon-andsearches, curfews and EOKA executions and punishment squads in the mid-summer heat, quite apart from the withdrawal of business investment, were challenging his orders for diversionary operations to deflect the pressure from the mountain Guerrilla Groups. The flow of informant information also increased.

On the 22 August Field Marshal Harding surprised diplomats by offering EOKA the option of either renouncing their British citizenship and being deported to Greece until the Emergency was resolved or taking their chances in court. To prevent the British claiming victory if EOKA accepted, the Greek Government offered safe passage to Grivas and his men. But Grivas, feeling that the struggle was by no means lost and judging the offer to his men to keep their British citizenship to be a touch arrogant, stuck to his principle of diplomacy through force by announcing next day, ‘My reply to the Government is No! Come and take it’ and that operations would resume on 27 August. Harding then revealed on 26 August that a week earlier a patrol had found diaries belonging to Grivas in jars near Lysi. For a few weeks after 1 April 1955, Grivas had stayed with a cousin of Afxentiou, who had become a bodyguard to Grivas. The bodyguard and his brother had undertaken to take the diaries to Lysi where they buried them in a field. In the same period, Grivas had also stayed with a man who knew where they were buried and had sold them to the British. They proved to be an intelligence coup of some significance because they described the organization, methods and personalities of EOKA during the run-up to the outbreak of the violence in April 1955. The extracts again undermined Makarios by proving that he was deeply involved in the insurrection and that it was he who had invited Grivas to form a clandestine army to liberate Cyprus. For the third time Grivas had compromised EOKA in ignoring his own principles by failing to destroy correspendence and documents. His claims that the diaries were forgeries were largely ignored.

The day of 27 August was tense, particularly in Ledra Street where businesses had enjoyed a week of welcome trading during the ceasefire, including from Service families, even though the street now had achieved international fame as Murder Mile. The street ran through Old Nicosia. At 57 Alexander Road, a few steps from Ledra Street, lived Dr Michael Grivas, elder brother to Colonel Grivas. The narrowness and hustle and bustle of the street in Old Nicosia allowed gunmen to identify their target, usually approach from behind, shoot at point blank range and then disappear, guns sometimes being handed to EOKA women who concealed them in shopping bags. Patrols were also easy targets. RASC Private Douglas Laventure was the first off-duty soldier to be murdered on Murder Mile, while he was purchasing a present eleven days before Christmas 1955. Private Raymond Banks, of 1 South Staffords was killed on 21 May 1956 when a grenade was dropped into his vehicle from an upper storey of a house. In mid-June 1956 a Warwicks patrol was ambushed, and although the radio operator, Private Ray Watkins, was badly wounded in both arms and legs, he maintained contact with Battalion HQ. It was not uncommon for Greek-Cypriot residents and shoppers to walk past victims lying in the road and pretend to know nothing about it. Patrols and families soon learnt that if shops were closed and there were few shoppers at times when it should be busy, then something was amiss.

Within hours of the ceasefire being lifted, a bomb exploded at an officer’s house, a tank landing ship was damaged by a limpet mine, a fire destroyed the new Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes at Episkopi and power lines near Paphos were sabotaged. A new dimension to Service life in Cyprus emerged when Greek-Cypriot NAAFI employees deposited bombs in Army married quarters. In another engagement in central Nicosia, two Service wives were caught in crossfire during a thirty-minute gun battle in which a patrol was ambushed.

When Polycarpos Georghadjis, the young hard-core guerrilla who had developed an intelligence network among the Cyprus Police, was detained in Nicosia Prison, Grivas considered him to be of such importance that he instructed the Nicosia EOKA murder group led by Nicos Sampson to rescue him. Born Nicos Georghiades in Famagusta, Sampson changed his name when he began working as a photojournalist for the Times of Cyprus in order to distinguish himself from others with the same surname. The Times of Cyprus, was edited by Charles Foley and since it was pro-enosis was known by British soldiers as the EOKA Times. Also locked up in Nicosia Prison after her failed kidnap plan was Nitsa Hadjigeorghiou. She managed to contact Georghadjis and when she learnt on 30 August that he had convinced the prison authorities that he was unwell and was going for an X-Ray at Nicosia General Hospital on the next day, she persuaded a Greek-Cypriot warder to let Sampson know of Georghadjis’ appointment. Next day, Georghadjis and two other detainees arrived at the hospital escorted by Sergeants Tony Eden and Leonard Demmon (both Metropolitan Police). One of the detainees was Argyrious Karadymas, the Greek owner of the caique Ayios Georghias boarded by the Royal Navy in January 1955, and he had been sentenced to six years as an agitator. As the prisoners and escorts came down the stairs from X-Ray, four gunmen who had been waiting in the main entrance hall opened up with revolvers that had been smuggled into the hospital by EOKA women. Demmon returned fire with his Sterling but he had been badly wounded and accidently shot two hospital orderlies as well as one of the terrorists. Eden shot a second terrorist and killed a third by clubbing him with his revolver when his ammunition ran out, but he was unable to prevent Georghadjis and Karadymas from escaping through the back entrance. Eden was awarded the George Medal and, although a marked man, he refused to return to the UK. In December he was killed when his cocked revolver fell from his shoulder holster while he was playing with his puppy. Demmon was later posthumously awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry. A week later, Pavlos Pavlakis and Antonios Papadopoulos of the Famagusta Group escaped from Pyla Detention Camp by crawling underneath the perimeter fence. Pavlakis assumed command of the Famagusta Town Group while his colleague joined Afxentiou.

As the Franco-British forces completed their final preparations for the landings in Egypt, Cyprus had become an enlarged aircraft carrier for the British and French army and air force units assembling in existing and hastily constructed camps. Among the French force was the 10th Airborne Division, which had three parachute regiments, one being Foreign Legion. It had recently been on operations in Algeria, where the French response to terrorism was considerably more robust than that of the British in Cyprus. Defending the anchorages and airfields was the 1st Artillery Group, Royal Artillery (1 AGRA) with 21 and 50 Medium Regiments RA replacing 40 Commando in Paphos and 2 Para in Limni Camp respectively, and the 16 and 43 Light and 57 Heavy Anti Aircraft Regiments RA. The naval elements were gathered in Malta where there were concerns that 3 Commando Brigade had been in Cyprus for nearly a year and had not exercised the complexities of an amphibious landing.

Much to his consternation, the influx of British and French troops forced Brigadier Baker to divert troops from some internal security operations to guard the camps springing up across the island, not only against EOKA but also the threat of Arab commando attacks. The inevitability of de-escalating internal security operations was also worrying, more so when industrial disputes and strikes led to troops being diverted to load ships at the embarkation ports. Privately, Field Marshal Harding was critical of the impact that the operation was having on his drive against EOKA, particularly as Operation Fox Hunter had dealt the Troodos Guerrilla Groups several severe blows. But EOKA would be given some respite when 16 Parachute Brigade was withdrawn from operations near Kambos and 1 and 3 Paras returned to Aldershot in several types of aircraft where, in rotation over ten days each, the soldiers carried out three training jumps and a battalion drop and had a couple of days leave before returning to Cyprus.

When in September the Limassol suburb in which he was hidden was subjected to an increasing numbers of searches, Grivas moved his hideout from the home owned by Dafnis Panayides to the house occupied by Marios Christodoules, his wife Elli and their baby daughter aged nine months, on the northern outskirts of Limassol. Ironically, Christodoules was a clerk at the Akrotiri branch of the Ottoman Bank. The hideout had been built by two members of Limassol Town Group, Andreas Papadopoulous and Manolis Savvides. Both were part of the syndicate successfully smuggling weapons with the connivance of Customs, indeed it was Savvides who had persuaded Christodoules to shelter Grivas. The hideout was accessed through a trapdoor under the kitchen sink and, dug under the garden, was topped by a concrete roof on which sat a poultry run. Behind the house was an escape route across fields. Inside there was sufficient room for two camp beds, a desk and a chair and an electric fan for ventilation. Grivas usually spent the day in the house; he rarely went out. As with other dynamic guerrilla leaders, Che Guevera being a classic example, some young women focused on Grivas, now aged fifty-eight years, among them Louella Kokkinou, whom he trusted highly as a courier. She claimed that her front teeth had been knocked out during an interrogation in May 1956 – until dental records proved they had been extracted in June. To help protect the bunker, Christodoules purchased a small black mongrel whose irritable, high-pitched barking warned of strangers approaching the property. Grivas’ presence in the bunker was known only to Dafnis and Maroulla Panayides, who had sheltered him previously and brought his correspondence, Demos Hjimiltis, the Limassol Town commander and his fiancée, Nina Droushiotou, who became the principal courier for Grivas, and the two builders. Elli Christodoules also seems to have hosted Grivas.

Grivas stepped up the campaign of terror, with Greek-Cypriots again taking the brunt of civilian deaths. During the afternoon of 8 September, eight EOKA from the Tassos Sofocleus Group breaking into Kyrenia Police Station were interrupted when Captain de Klee, Scots Guards attached to the Guards Independent Parachute Company, and Cornet Gage of the Royal Horse Guards, walked into the police station and startled the terrorists. Thinking that the two men were part of an Army patrol, the raiders scuttled past the two officers, dropping weapons and ammunition in their wake. Ten soldiers were killed in the second half of September, including during the morning of the 28th, Surgeon Captain Gordon Wilson, the Royal Horse Guards Medical Officer, shot by Nicos Sampson in his car at the junction of St Andrew and Queen Frederica Street in Nicosia soon after he had treated a seriously-ill Greek-Cypriot woman. Two shops suspected to have been involved in the murder were searched and closed. Next day, Sampson was one of three EOKA who shot Sergeant Cyril Thorogood (Leicester and Rutland Constabulary) and Sergeant Hugh Carter (Herefordshire County Constabulary) at point blank range and badly wounded Sergeant William Webb (Worcestershire County Constabulary) at the junction of Alexander the Great Street with Ledra Street while they were getting into a car after a shopping trip. Several British wives gave first aid to Thorogood and Carter while Webb, shot several times, attempted to engage the gunmen. Sampson found sanctuary in St Andrew’s Monastery. On the same day, a 14/20th Hussars sergeant was shot dead and his wife wounded in front of their young daughter as they were returning from church in Larnaca. Two Greek-Cypriots were arrested, and another suspected to have been involved was Petrakis Kyprianou, the well-educated if rebellious son of a prosperous grocer. He had volunteered to attack a Royal Navy party ashore, but when this failed he had then led grenade attacks on Army vehicles and had been involved in the execution of Greek-Cypriots. He vowed never to be taken alive and was granted his wish in an engagement with troops in March 1957.

Losing patience with Greek-Cypriots’ persistent reluctance to identify the killers and their unwillingness to help casualties, the authorities imposed a 7 am to 7 pm curfew on several Greek-Cypriot suburbs in the walled city, with a one-hour suspension at midday. Several thousand people evacuated their homes, leaving about 12,000 under curfew. Greek-Cypriot hotel bars, cabarets, cinemas and theatres and coffee shops were ordered to close, although hotels could cater for residents. On 1 October, when several hundred women intent on restocking empty larders attempted to access a Turkish vegetable market but found their way blocked by soldiers from 1 KOYLI, the District Commissioner agreed to a two-hour suspension either side of midday so that they could buy provisions from Greek-Cypriot markets. He also organized food centres along Ledra Street to ensure equitable distribution. After the Mayor of Paphos had complained that the curfew was causing excessive hardship because wage earners were unable to go to work, Harding raised the restrictions on 6 October.

Among the military casualties in late September were Corporal Paul Farley and Staff Sergeant Joe Culkin, both of 1 Ammunition Disposal Unit (Internal Security), killed within ten days of each other while dealing with devices in EOKA hideouts. From the earliest stages of its campaign, EOKA lacked explosives. After the seizures and non-arrival of explosive during the preparatory stages, EOKA divers had recovered landmines from captured Italian stocks dumped in the shallow waters off Famagusta, and although they were usually corroded, the TNT was sufficiently stable to be extracted and hammered into small lumps of explosive or crystals. Fishermen knew where the mines could be found because they sometimes dragged them in their nets and then used the explosive to stun fish. Local information enabled EOKA to map the locations of minefields used to defend Cyprus during the war and after lifting mines they then used the serviceable ones to ambush military vehicles. Detonators and dynamite were stolen or bought cheaply from the copper mines, quarries and road works. Potassium chlorate was widely used for agricultural purposes and mixed with sugar could be converted into improvised if unstable explosive. In spite of Army objections, it was not until late in the Emergency that the supply to farmers was strictly rationed.

Hand grenades smuggled to Cyprus included the British Mills 36, one of the three types of red-painted Italian Anti Personnel bombs known as ‘Red Devils’ and post-war US grenades supplied to the Greek Army. Improvised alternatives were nails, bits of metal and iron and stones packed into a covered tin can or perhaps a parcel surrounding a tube of improvised explosive into which was inserted a fuse detonated with a match or lighter. The ‘pipe bomb’ was popular. Manufactured from standard plumbing pipe filled with TNT and fitted at both ends with screw caps, grooves weakened the pipe so that it provided the shrapnel. The detonator was a short length of crimped safety fuse taped to usually two or more matches. Pipe bombs were difficult to identify and could be transported as part of a plumber’s tool kit or a delivery to a shop or client. For devices left at targets, time delay fuses were built in. In the British L Delay detonator, a thin length of wire stretched under pressure until it snapped and dropped the striker to hit the detonator. In the Number 10 Time Pencil used by EOKA, a small glass capsule of crushed acid nibbled through the wire under tension.

 

The Suez and Cyprus Crisis II

In 1951 the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group was sent to Cyprus, but soon became involved in maintaining the security of the Suez Canal Zone between 1951-4. In 1956 it conducted anti-EOKA counter-terrorist operations in Cyprus and returned to Egypt to conduct the battalion parachute assault at El Gamil airfield and sea landings by the rest of the Brigade during the Suez Crisis.

Paratroopers search for arms and ammunition in Cyprus, 1956.

Although Soviet pressure-switches were found in several devices, improvised versions were manufactured from two hinged pieces of wood fitted with a cheap bell push and a small battery kept open at one end by small springs placed on top of a tin of explosive buried under the surface of a road. When the wheel of a vehicle passed over the wood, the weight forced the two pieces together, which then pressed the bell push to complete the circuit to the battery and detonate the explosive. EOKA also developed a simple mortar from a length of plumber’s pipe packed with explosive and shrapnel and either buried in a bank or fixed to a tree and detonated remotely from a battery at a concealed firing point. Alignment was usually pre-arranged at night using the lights of military vehicles to calculate distances. Some remotely controlled improvised devices were placed in culverts.

Initially, the Ammunition Wing, 625 Ordnance Depot had assisted the police with Ammunition Examiners attached to the Criminal Investigation Departments at Nicosia, Famagusta, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos. Their role was to accompany detectives to incidents, disarm or dispose of devices and then be prepared to give expert evidence in the Courts. This required devices to be dismantled and then examined for the signature of the person who had constructed it. The senior Inspecting Officer was Major William Harrison, who in 1956 had been seconded to the Cyprus Government as the Government Explosives Officer based at Police HQ and who would be awarded the George Medal. He insisted on attending new devices wherever possible so that he could pass on his findings to his men. In terms of bomb disposal equipment, the Ammunition Examiners usually had an assortment of screwdrivers, pliers, spanners, masking tape, fishing hooks of various sizes and string kept in an ammunition box as their tools of the trade. Protective clothing was almost non-existent, yet only three Ammunition Examiners were killed in action. When Captain J W Greenwood formed 1 Ammunition Disposal Unit (Internal Security), it was an administrative move to formalize the deployment of the Ammunition Examiners, nevertheless it was the first unit established by the RAOC specifically for bomb disposal. The Examiners laid the groundwork for the collection of forensic evidence in bomb incidents for which the Corps has since gained deserved international recognition. Between 1 April 1955 and 17 March 1959, the Ammunition Examiners dealt with 4,688 devices, attended over 3,000 recoveries of arms, ammunition and explosives and investigated 4,300 incidents. Greenwood also commanded 17 Mobile Ammunition Inspection Unit, which was part of the Ammunition Depot at the former RAF Lakatamia airfield.

Since individual ownership of wirelesses was not widespread, particularly in rural areas, the British and EOKA indulged in sustained psychological warfare campaigns throughout the Emergency, with the distribution of leaflets frequently used in efforts to discredit each other. One provocative EOKA leaflet suggested, in the autumn of 1955, that the US and Great Britain were an unholy alliance and since the UN had denied Cyprus freedom, the Cypriots had no choice but to shed blood. A British leaflet depicting a Cypriot murdered by EOKA suggested that supporting Grivas would result in the sacrificing of children for a pointless cause in which freedom of speech and religion would be denied. Other British leaflets included wanted posters, safe conduct and surrender passes and offers of rewards for supplying information. Every soldier carried a small red pocket wallet entitled ‘Wanted Men in Cyprus’ issued by COSHEG (Chief of Staff to His Excellency the Governor) which listed the details and photographs of EOKA suspects. Much of the printing was done by the RAOC Printing Unit. While Grivas was reliant on youths to distribute leaflets, the British, in a standard psychological warfare tactic, generally used Austers to drop leaflets, with the aircraft flying at low level and relying upon the breeze to help distribution. Boxes of leaflets were also dropped for troops to distribute. When two apparently loyalist organizations appeared in 1958, ‘Cromwell’ and AKOE (EOKA spelt backwards), and distributed leaflets promising retribution against EOKA operations, a military counter-intelligence operation discovered that some printing had been done on duplicating machines in British bases and several Servicemen were quietly shipped back to the United Kingdom.

On 28 September the Tassos Sofocleus Group used a site identified by Grivas a year earlier to ambush two military vehicles negotiating a hairpin on the main road between Nicosia and Kyrenia below St Hilarion Castle with heavy automatic fire, including from a Bren and a home-made mortar, killing Mrs Mary Holton of the Women’s Voluntary Service and her military driver, Private Colin Read of 1 Wiltshires, and wounding several others. Read was a professional Bristol City football player. This ambush led to HQ 16 Parachute Brigade launching Operation Sparrow Hawk One on 2 October with 2,000 troops from 1 HLI, 1 KOYLI and 40 Field Regiment searching an area of 200 square miles east of Kyrenia Pass for the Group. The Royal Navy sealed off villages along the coast. Among tactics developed to root out hideouts constructed in houses was pouring water on to the floor and watching its seepage. Next day, a C Company, 2 Para patrol commanded by Lieutenant John How was checking an isolated farmhouse about a mile from the Turkish-Cypriot village of Trapeza when Private Robert Taylor accidentally dislodged a rock to reveal a cave. Lance Corporal Staff entered and found a weapons cache buried in several oil drums, two wireless sets and clothing not normally associated with farmers. How then ordered a detailed search, and persistent patience profited for Privates O’Donnell and Pearce searching the fodder storage area in a barn. Removing a coat from a hook, they saw a hole in the wall and flashed a torch inside. On seeing a head, a shot was fired into the cavity and someone inside shouted ‘Don’t shoot! We surrender!’ But no one emerged and it was only when How fired another shot though the wall that paras in another part of the barn saw straw moving and six partially-clad men emerge from a trap door, one bleeding from his ear. Among them were Tassos Sofocleos and Fotis Christofi, his deputy commander with a £5,000 bounty on his head. Forensics on a Bren gun proved that it had been used in the Kyrenia ambushes, including the murders of Read and Mrs Holton. Several of the terrorists were convicted of taking part in the St Hilarion ambush and sent to Dartmoor Prison. The hideout was ingenious and consisted of a 8ft by 3ft cavity between two rooms with ventilation supplied through the hole. Suspicion and luck on the part of an observant soldier proved its undoing. When several more hideouts were found in the vicinity of the farmhouse, the farmer had his house blown up as a punishment for harbouring terrorists.

The next day, acting on information, the grave of the missing Lance Corporal Gordon Hill was found nearby. He had been strangled. Forensic examination of a buried Sten showed that it was his and that it had been used in several murders. Operation Sparrow Hawk One essentially destroyed the EOKA groups in the eastern Kyrenia Mountains and removed a significant threat to the road that connected Nicosia to Kyrenia and the northern coastal fringe. Operation Sparrow Hawk Two followed in mid-October for five days and focused on the western fringes of the Pentadactylos Mountains; it was supported by six Sycamores of 284 Squadron, previously the Levant Communications Flight, under the direct operational command of Brigadier Baker. The remaining three helicopters were used to enhance communications and evacuate casualties. Even though the Sycamores sometimes struggled to reach sufficient height, their ability to hover and allow patrols to abseil through the trees restricted EOKA freedom of movement. Rubber-soled boots made an appearance and the semi-automatic 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) was replacing the .303 rifle, much to the disgust of some soldiers. With his Guerrilla Groups in the mountains still under intense pressure, the diversion of terrorism ordered by Grivas continued to ravage the rest of the island, with fourteen Greek-Cypriots, including one attending a wedding reception, and six servicemen killed during the month.

Wednesday afternoon in the Forces was, so far as was possible, a sports afternoon. EOKA had noted that the units stationed in Lefkoniko regularly used the High School football field. During the night of 20 October four students dug a 400-foot long trench from the communal fountain to an olive grove and then laid cable from a car battery to a bomb hidden near the tap. On the 22nd, a football game between two 1 HLI teams was watched by the students and their teachers, but after the final whistle, as the thirsty players strolled to the fountain, teachers discreetly marshalled the schoolchildren away from it. Two teenage girls watched the soldiers gather around the fountain and then waved their white handerchiefs to two students sat by the battery. As Private Matthew Neely was about to drink from the tap, they connected the wires to the terminals, disembowelling the soldier in an explosion that wrecked the fountain. Seven Highlanders were wounded, with Private John Beattie dying the following day and Private Benjamin Doherty after he had been flown back to England. When a company of Highlanders arrived, several vented their feelings while rounding up about 100 suspects by damaging some properties during searches. Some villagers later sought £3,000 compensation until Lieutenant Colonel Noble, the Commanding Officer, angrily retorted, ‘The murders of Privates Neely and Beattie are probably one of the most dastardly acts that EOKA has committed. It was premeditated and aimed to catch soldiers when they were at play. If £3,000 are being claimed for alleged damage caused by troops, the amount is infinitesimal when compared with damage caused by EOKA to my soldiers.’ Nothing more was said.

On 28 October 16 Parachute Brigade was withdrawn from Operation Fox Hunter and assembled in Kykko Camp outside Nicosia to finalize preparations for seizure of the Suez Canal, giving EOKA yet another valuable respite from sustained pressure. A suspect then claimed that the wife of a wanted terrorist living in Galini, named as mother-of-four Mrs Xapolitos, was strongly suspected of supplying two EOKA with food. Shortly before dawn on the 30th, troops surrounded the village and then Company Sergeant Major Dempster and Private Thomas of the 16 Independent Parachute Brigade Provost Group and two Provost WRAC, Sergeant Birbeck and Lance Corporal White, entered the house occupied by Mrs Xapolitos. When she was awoken and told by Dempster that she was being arrested on suspicion of supplying EOKA with food and would be taken to the Platres interrogation centre, Mrs Xapolitos explained that she had not seen her husband for several months and that she was penniless. But the military police had noted that her house was neat and showed no signs of destitution. Refusing the offer to take her children to Platres and declaring that their grandmother would look after them, Mrs Xapolitos was escorted from the bedroom by Birbeck and White to the room next door. As the two military police began a cursory search prior to a detailed one later, Dempster noted that a floorboard under the bed was loose. Silently attracting the attention of Thomas, they both carefully lifted the bed to one side and then Dempster covered Thomas as he gently prised up the floor board until a small, dark space was revealed. Two men then burst out and were arrested after a brief scuffle in the bedroom. When Mrs Xapolitos realized the commotion meant that her husband had been captured, she struggled to release him but was restrained by the two WRAC. Xapolitos and Thoma, the second terrorist, both had £5,000 bounties on their heads.

Operation Musketeer began on 31 October with British and French aircraft flying from RAF Akrotiri to attack Egyptian targets, followed a week later by airborne and amphibious landings. El Gamil airfield was seized by 3 Para while the remainder of 16 Parachute Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade disembarked from landing craft, followed by 45 Commando carrying out the first British helicopter assault in history. Even after the Greeks had presented the Greek-Cypriot cause to the UN Assembly, Grivas rejected an appeal from Athens to show restraint by declaring a truce, and on 2 November he used the scaled down internal security operations to blitz Cyprus by attacking Operation Musketeer assembly areas. Fifteen Servicemen, four British civilians, eleven Greek-Cypriots and one Turk were killed in the first three weeks of November, most in the Limassol area – where Grivas was hiding. A lorry carrying some 1 Norfolks was wrecked by a mine near Polymedhia, killing Corporal Richard Chittock and Private Cook and flinging fourteen other soldiers from the wreckage.

During the autumn fruit-picking season, the roads in some parts of Cyprus became sodden with juice squeezed from the squashed grapes and oranges loaded in carts and the backs of lorries. Near Paphos, a remotely activated mine placed underneath the liquid killed Warrant Officer Martin, whose unit, 6 Royal Tank Regiment, was in Cyprus as part of Operation Musketeer. The General Practitioner Dr Bevan was shot dead by the escort of a ‘patient’ after EOKA propaganda had accused him of administering ‘truth drugs’ at interrogation centres. A senior Colonial Police officer died and an Army captain was wounded when a bomb exploded in Gordon Highlanders Battalion Orderly Room in Platres. Staff Sergeant Donald Trowbridge, of 3 Signals Regiment at Episkopi, was killed and his wife narrowly escaped injury when gunmen ambushed his car. On 12 November, a Gordon Highlanders convoy of three lorries commanded by Lieutenant Bradshaw were about four miles from Lefka on their way to collect fire wood at a mine near Pedoulas when it was ambushed by the Markos Drakos Group. Sergeant Alexander Dow in the lead lorry brought a 2-inch mortar into action until he was killed by an EOKA Bren gunner. Meanwhile, Private Symon, who was badly wounded in the arm, had managed to turn around his damaged lorry and, in spite of a shredded front tyre, drove back to Lefka to summon help. Of the four wounded in the action, Bradshaw and Symons were flown back to Great Britain for specialist treatment. The initial search of the ambush site yielded nothing, but the finding of a cache revealed arms, ammunition and explosive. Three gunners from 21 Medium Regiment were killed by a bomb placed in the NAAFI canteen juke box at Coral Bay Camp at Paphos by a Greek-Cypriot employee. An airman used his personal protection revolver to wound one of two terrorists who had just murdered a pro-British lawyer cycling to work. A Hawker Hunter blown up at RAF Nicosia was blamed on nationalists. At the end of the month, when RASC Sergeant Major Middleton was badly wounded by a gunman in the Nicosia married quarter estate, his furious wife Muriel chased the gunmen. Although she lost them, her description resulted in the arrest of two youths, one of whom, Christos Lambou aged seventeen years, was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life because of his age. Mrs Middleton received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. In early December Charles Foley infuriated the authorities by writing an article in which he implied that the British expatriate community were blaming Field Marshal Harding for the increase in sectarian attacks on their community and he found himself prosecuted for breaching censorship legislation.

A week after the Suez landings, 16 Parachute Brigade returned to Cyprus by sea and immediately began handing over its special operations role to HQ 3 Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Hopwood), which had arrived on HMS Ocean at Limassol. The Brigade was part of 3rd Division and had been deployed to defend Malta during Operation Musketeer. One of its units, the 1st Battalion, The Somersetshire Light Infantry (1 Somersets) moved into Kermia Camp at Nicosia and relieved the Gordon Highlanders in 50 Infantry Brigade District, leaving the Scotsmen to embark on the troopship Empire Ken bound for England. The troopship Dilwara landed 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshires and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (1 Ox and Bucks) who took over from the Norfolks in 51 Infantry Brigade District. 1 Suffolks took over from the two Gordon Highlanders companies in Platres. Then 3 Battalion, The Grenadier Guards (3rd Grenadier Guards) arrived a month later. In mid-December, 16 Parachute Brigade less 2 Para returned to Aldershot, followed by 1 Norfolks. Apart from the few days pre-Operation Musketeer training, 1 and 3 Para had been away from England for nearly a year.

In early December, 3 Infantry Brigade began the unfinished business left by the Parachute Brigade by launching Operation Black Mak in the south-west Troodos. By now, the troops had warmer winter clothing and sleeping bags, which if heavy and bulky, were better than blankets.

Although heavy snow and bitter winds again hampered movement, by the time the operation finished on 13 December after ten days, fifty-two guerrillas had been captured, their romantic notion of living an austere heroic life ambushing patrols dispelled by the rigours of surviving in cold hideouts in the wintry mountains, short of food, weapons and ammunition, and constantly at risk from Army patrols. Their interrogations led Brigadier Baker to conclude that the operations since Operation Pepper Pot had reduced the ability of the Troodos EOKA to take the offensive. There was also confirmation that teenage girls were supplying EOKA with information and that some were complicit in some murders and ambushes. In a sweep in the Paphos area, a 50 Medium Regiment RA and police patrol trapped the Lyso Group Leader George Raftis and two EOKA underneath a bridge near Kissonerga, not far from their hideout in an orchard. On the 23rd, a 21 Medium Regiment vehicle patrol stopped three civilians leading two donkeys staggering under heavy loads. Two of the men abandoned their colleague, leaving him to account to the gunners why a heavily-greased Bren gun and other military equipment had been found loaded on the donkeys. He turned out to be Evagoras Pallikarides, who was high on the wanted list. Aged eighteen years, he had been involved in enosis since 1953 and had been named as the murderer of two Greek-Cypriots, one an elderly man accused of collaborating with a Turkish-Cypriot policeman. When Grivas heard about the arrest, he essentially condemned Pallikarides to death by suggesting that he had been moving the Bren to a winter cache; however, it was for the murders that Pallikarides was executed in March 1957, the youngest and last member of EOKA to walk to the gallows.

Lord Radcliffe then published his Proposals for Cyprus in which he recommended a format by which the Governor would exercise executive authority over an elected ministerial assembly with a Greek-Cypriot majority. In spite of recognizing the cultural and linguistic differences between the two communities, he did not believe that the Turkish-Cypriot minority should be given equal representation because it was inconsistent with a democratic constitution and predicted that if the Turkish-Cypriots were given equal representation, it would most probably result in federal separation – a prophetic conclusion.

Of Tanks and Storm Troops I

Specialized soldiers operating with the German army in France in World War I.

It has often been said that the initial employment of tanks in small numbers on the Somme was a tactical blunder, and that it would have been better to wait until several hundred machines became available and then deliver a concentrated blow with the new weapon, so preserving the element of surprise. There is much to be said for this argument, but there is another side to the coin as well.

Once the Germans had recovered from their initial shock, they set about evaluating a number of tanks which had fallen into their hands. They found that not only were they mechanically unreliable, they were vulnerable to direct gunfire as well. In the opinion of many German officers the tank was a freak terror weapon of limited efficiency and with a strictly local potential. Special anti-tank ammunition, known as the K round, was developed for use by the infantry, and guns brought into the front line for use in the direct fire role. Of greater importance was the German decision not to divert resources to manufacturing their own tanks, a decision which seemed entirely justified by the sight of British vehicles wallowing their way into bottomless mud-holes during the 1917 Flanders offensive. But the German evaluation contained a number of blind spots. It was wrong to assume that the British would not improve the mechanical efficiency of their tanks; wrong to assume that armour thickness would not be increased, so reducing the K round to impotence almost as soon as it was issued; and, above all, wrong to assume that tanks would always be employed across the least suitable going.

The Tank Corps, as the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps became, had as its commander 36-year-old Brigadier-General Hugh Elles, a Royal Engineer officer who had advised Haig during the tank’s development stage. Elles’ Chief of Staff (GSO 1) was Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. C. Fuller, an intellectual soldier who had originally served with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and who would later become a distinguished military historian.

Fuller possessed an insight which amounted to genius. Although at first he was somewhat less than lukewarm to the tank idea, his conversion was total. Like many such men, he had little patience with those who failed to grasp what he considered to be an essential truth, treating them with caustic scorn. The cavalry he considered to be completely useless, the artillery an over-subscribed fraternity whose principal contribution was to smash up the ground which his tanks would have to cross. During the Passchendaele fighting he had a board erected outside Tank Corps HQ, saying,

DON’T BE PESSIMISTIC! THIS IS THE LAST GREAT ARTILLERY BATTLE!

Elles made him take it down; it was too close to the truth not to make enemies.

Both Elles and Fuller worked unceasingly for the chance to show what their Corps could achieve fighting en masse and on good going. Haig, more often remembered for his premature comment that the tank was “a pretty mechanical toy” than for the later support he gave to the Corps, granted their request after some prompting from General Sir Julian Byng, whose Third Army sector contained the most promising ground for the attack, consisting of rolling chalk down land as yet little cut up by shellfire.

The object of the offensive was to seize the enemy’s communications centre of Cambrai. The tanks would breach the formidable Hindenburg Line in conjunction with Third Army’s infantry, and the Cavalry Corps would exploit beyond. Artillery preparation was limited to a short hurricane bombardment at H-Hour.

The tank Corps had available a total 376 Mark IV gun tanks, plus a further 32 fitted with grapnels for clearing wire from the cavalry’s path, 18 supply tanks and a handful of communication and bridging vehicles. The Hindenburg trenches were dug both wide and deep, and were considered to be tank-proof by the Germans. To counter this many tanks carried huge bundles of brushwood, known as fascines, on their roofs, which could be released into the trenches, so forming a bridge.

The attack was to commence on the morning of 20th November 1917, and the evening before Elles sat down to scribble his now famous Special Order No. 6.

  1. Tomorrow the Tank Corps will have the chance for which it has been waiting for many months – to operate on good going in the van of battle.
  2. All that hard work and ingenuity can achieve has been done in the way of preparation.
  3. It remains for unit commanders and for tank crews to complete the work by judgement and pluck in the battle itself.
  4. In the light of past experiences I leave the good name of the Corps with great confidence in their hands.
  5. I propose leading the attack of the centre division.

Hugh Elles,

  1. G.

Commanding Tank Corps. 19th Nov. 1917

Distribution to Tank Commanders.

Elles led out his men in the tank Hilda of H Battalion, proudly flying his Corps’ brown, red and green standard. He had chosen the colours deliberately as a demonstration that the tanks could and would smash through the mud and blood of trench deadlock and advance into the green fields beyond.

That morning, the Tank Corps affirmed another essential element of Blitzkrieg – overwhelming concentration of force at the point of impact. The Germans could offer little effective resistance and fled, routed and panic-stricken, leaving a huge six-mile gap yawning in their laboriously constructed defence system.

For a brief period, the cavalry had the chance to break out into open country. They did not take it, since their Corps Commander had installed himself in a headquarters several miles in the rear, and kept his subordinates on a tight rein. By the time he was fully conversant with what was taking place and authorized a general advance, the enemy had rushed in reinforcements to seal the gap, and the moment had passed; in addition, the horses had been on the move or standing to all day, and badly needed watering. Here again was a lesson that would be absorbed into subsequent Blitzkrieg techniques – that the commander of an exploitation force must travel with the leading troops if he is to make the most of the opportunities he is offered.

But for the moment that did not seem to matter; what really mattered was that at last a way had been found to break the German defences at a comparatively trivial cost in lives. For the only time during the Great War the church bells of Britain rang in joyous celebration of a great victory.

During the next few days, battle casualties and mechanical attrition progressively reduced the numbers of tanks available for action. The tempo of the battle slowed and the front seemed to reach a state of stabilization again. The tanks were gradually withdrawn find despatched by rail to their base.

Then, on 30th November, the unbelievable happened. The Germans counter-attacked with a speed and drive that had never been experienced before on the Western Front. Whole units were isolated and cut off, while others went down fighting to stem the tide. The few tanks which had not been shipped away, often battlefield recoveries, were formed at commendable speed into provisional units which succeeded in eroding the weight of the German effort, but by 7th December much of the ground taken during the great tank attack had been recaptured, and a little more besides. The Battle of Cambrai had ended with honours exactly even, and for the British this was as humiliating as it was inexplicable.

Reports were called for, containing an explanation for the disaster. Neither Haig nor Byng, nor the corps and divisional commanders, could offer any militarily intelligible explanations. To the eternal disgrace of their authors, those reports that were submitted sank to unplumbed depths of moral cowardice in that blame was laid squarely on the shoulders of the regimental junior officers and even NCOs, who, it was said, had failed to exercise proper leadership. These were the very men who had died resisting the German attack, and to whom military discipline denied any right of reply if they survived.

Obviously the general public was not going to accept this outrageous suggestion without making a great deal of trouble for the Government and the military Establishment. Some sort of quasi-plausible excuse was cobbled together, based on the lack of reserves which, it was said, had been absorbed by the Flanders sector or which were in transit to the Italian Front; but it did not explain why the German infantry had managed to break through the defences so quickly. The plain fact was that nobody really knew.

One officer, Captain G. Dugdale, diagnosed one of the symptoms when he wrote his own record of the battle. He wrote that “The German aeroplanes were very active, flying over our lines in large numbers, very low. They were shooting with machine guns at the troops on the ground, and I am quite sure this did more to demoralise our men than anything else.” Here was something that would be instantly recognizable to the Blitzkrieg generation – the use of air power in conjunction with the ground attack to eliminate centres of resistance and induce fear.

This was part of the answer, but only part. The Germans had in fact perfected their own method of breaking the trench deadlock, and the Cambrai counter-stroke was only a foretaste of what was to come.

The story began three months earlier in the most unlikely of settings, on the Baltic coast at Riga. Here the Russian Twelfth Army under General Klembovsky held a bridgehead along the west bank of the River Dvina. Their opponents were General von Hutier’s Eighth Army, which had the task of eliminating the bridgehead and capturing Riga as a prelude to an advance on Petrograd.

Klembovsky knew he was to be attacked, but imagined that von Hutier would first eliminate the bridgehead before crossing the river. He therefore retained his more reliable troops in the bridgehead itself, and detailed divisions of doubtful quality to hold the river line.

However, von Hutier’s strategy was the exact opposite. His plan was to force a crossing of the river and then swing north towards the coast, so placing the defenders of Riga inside a trap. In so doing he was employing the strategic principle of Blitzkrieg known as the Indirect Approach, a recognition that an enemy position could be made untenable as a result of successful operations elsewhere rather than by direct assault.

Apart from the overall strategy of the Riga operation, its tactical execution is of great interest as well. The first German attempts to use poison gas had been clumsy, involving the release of chlorine from cylinders in the front line when a favourable wind was blowing, but of course any change in wind direction tended to make this a very two- edged weapon. Since the early experiments chlorine had been replaced by phosgene, otherwise known as mustard gas, which required only one part to four million of air to be effective. It was, therefore, possible to incorporate a small cylinder of the gas into the filling of a conventional high explosive artillery shell, thus ensuring its accurate delivery. The beauty of the device, if that is quite the right word, was that the recipients were unaware that they were being gassed until it was too late. The results were extremely unpleasant, consisting of painful blistering and violent attacks of vomiting, with a consequent reduction in both the capacity and the will to fight. The new shell had not been used in offensive operations before, and von Hutier’s artillery was to treat the Russians to a very stiff dose.

The German infantry, too, would be employing new tactics. Once across the Dvina, the assault troops would rely on speed and infiltration to work their way through the enemy’s successive defence lines, while waves of ground attack aircraft raked the trenches with machine-gun fire.

They went in on 1st September, following a five-hour bombardment, a mere disturbance by Western Front standards, but enough to drench the Russian positions with gas, shake their occupants with high explosive and blind them with smoke. When the German infantry swarmed across the river their rapid advance past sectors which were still holding out completely unnerved the remainder of the defenders, who began streaming away to the east in panic. Within hours the front had been broken.

The very speed with which success was attained prevented von Hutier from reaping the full fruits of his victory. He had prepared a strict timetable which had been overtaken by events, and it took him some time to accelerate the northern thrust that was meant to be decisive. In that time Klembovsky, reacting with a promptness foreign to the majority of Russian general officers, re-appraised the situation and withdrew the remainder of his army through Riga and along the coast road to Pskov.

Casualties in terms of killed and wounded had been negligible for both sides, although 9000 Russians had been taken prisoner. The Kaiser, delighted at von Hutier’s almost bloodless capture of Russia’s second most important port, paid him the compliment of a personal visit.

On 24th October the same tactics were employed again, this time against the Italian Second Army on the Caporetto sector of the Isonzo front, by General von Below’s Fourteenth Austro-German Army. The Italian Commander in Chief, General Luigi Cadorna, had suspected that this sector had been chosen as a target for a major offensive, and had given instructions for a defence in depth to be prepared; his instructions were ignored, with catastrophic consequences.

The German bombardment, erupting among the surprised Italians, disrupted all communications with the rear, so that formation headquarters were left floundering in a fog of war as dense as that which enveloped their choking front-line troops. And then came the assault infantry, sinister grey ghosts flitting in groups through the zone of gas and on towards the artillery and administrative areas, followed by more substantial formations which eliminated any centres of resistance which had been by-passed. Regiments shredded away from the front, while those on either flank, bereft of instructions from the paralysed command system, were forced to conform to the movement. Soon the whole of Second Army was straggling towards the rear, thus compelling the withdrawal of Third Army on its right as well.

Cadorna hoped to check the flood along the line of the Tagliamente, but the pursuit was as rapid as it was ruthless. Crossings were forced before the Italians could reorganize their shattered forces, Second Army HQ being reduced to the common lot of fugitives, incapable of organizing a coherent front from the drifting wrack of its troops. Not until 7th November did the Italians turn and fight again, manning a hastily dug defence line which followed the southern bank of the River Piave.

In less than three weeks they had sustained a staggering 300,000 casualties, lost 2,500 guns, and been propelled back more than 70 miles from their original front line. It was a blow which almost knocked Italy out of the war, and which caused the urgent despatch of sorely needed British and French divisions from the Western Front to stiffen the defence.

The conduct of war is subject to certain inescapable rules, one of which is that the power of the attack diminishes in proportion to the distance it has covered. The operation of this rule had given the Italian Army the time it needed to form a new front; von Below had available neither armoured cars nor cavalry with which to exploit the sudden collapse, and the pursuit had been carried out by infantry who had reached the limit of their endurance.

Riga, Caporetto and the Cambrai counter-stroke all pointed to the way in which the German Army planned to fight its 1918 battles, but the evidence was too fragmented by distance for the Western Allies to draw any firm conclusions. Riga had been fought against troops already war-weary and demoralized by revolution; the Italians were not considered to have a first-class army, and anyway, mountain warfare was different; and of course Cambrai remained an enigma.

Meanwhile, the Germans were refining their techniques, forming their Stosstruppen into special battalions which would form the spearhead of their respective divisions. The Storm Troopers were chosen from among young, fit men of proven initiative and represented the cream of the army. They moved in groups, their favourite weapons being the grenade, of which each man carried at least one bag, the light machine-gun and the man-pack flamethrower. They came on at a run, rifles slung, taking advantage of all available ground cover, and if they encountered opposition they worked their way round it, jumping trenches without pausing to fight for them. Their object was to get into the enemy’s artillery zone, overrunning batteries and pressing on towards brigade and divisional headquarters with little respite. Continual movement was the essence of their tactics. On occasion, an attack might make ground so quickly that it was in danger of running into its own supporting artillery fire, and a system of rocket signals was evolved to inform the gunners when to lift onto the next target.

Behind the Storm Troops would come the Battle Groups, specially trained to reduce strong-points which had been left unsubdued, followed by the mass of the infantry divisions, which would eliminate the last pockets of resistance and secure the captured ground. The whole system resembled a gigantic snake in that once the tail had caught up, the head would shoot off again.

Overhead flew the Schlachtstaffeln (Battle Flights), more specialists who concentrated on ground strafing enemy troops in the immediate path of the Storm Troopers. Generally the Schlachtstaffeln, consisting of up to six Hannover or Halberstadt machines, attacked from a height of about 200 feet, sometimes dropping bundles of grenades to supplement the fire of their guns.

Both the Royal Flying Corps and the German Imperial Air Service had begun ground strafing in mid-1917. The RFC did not, however, believe it necessary to form special units for the work, which was considered to be an extension of normal squadron duties, and employed a variety of machines of which the best remembered is the famous Sopwith Camel. The British produced the better results by flying at ground level, there being several recorded instances of German soldiers being knocked flat by the wheels of British aircraft. The moral effect was considerable, provoking bitter complaint from the Storm Troops that the Schlachtstaffeln were not doing their job properly. An enjoyable diversion for the British pilots was the pursuit of motor-cycle despatch riders and staff cars – not quite the trivial occupation it sounds, since the undelivered message and the general prevented from exercise command can both contribute to the failure of an operation already plagued by difficulties. The French formed a large organization for heavy local ground support, the Division Aerienne, which could be moved about the front as required.

In previous offensives along the Western Front it had been the practice of the higher command to commit its reserves against the strongest resistance encountered. The strategy of infiltration differed radically in that only successful penetrations were reinforced; in this way the merest trickle through a broken defence could become a flood and ultimately a torrent. Whereas offensives had until now burst like a wave against the rock of defence, the new system could be likened to an in-coming tide, probing insidiously into the channels between sandbanks, flowing round them yet still maintaining its advance against the shore, while behind came the great mass of water under which the sandbanks would ultimately vanish.

As 1917 drew to a close it appeared that of the two alternative forms of attack, only the German method produced lasting results. For General Erich von Ludendorff, effective commander of the German armies in the west, it seemed as though the New Year was to be one of great promise.