Conspiracy Theory

The British security situation deteriorated in the 360s. At the start of the decade we are told that `savage tribes of the Scots and Picts, who had broken the peace that had been agreed upon, were laying waste the regions near the frontiers’. Worse followed in 367, when a crisis known as the `barbarian conspiracy’ unfolded. Raids by Franks and Saxons targeting Gaul, and Picts, Attacotti, and Scots striking Britain brought devastation and suspicions of collusion. In Britain, one high-ranking Roman commander was slain and another, by the name of Fullofaudes, was `cut off by enemy ambush’. Fullofaudes was a dux, and therefore quite possibly the dux Britanniarum responsible for the Wall zone. His fate is not clear, but potentially he, too, was killed. Meanwhile, the attackers were `ranging widely and causing great devastation’ as far south as London, while scores of surviving Roman soldiers aggravated the catastrophe by deserting. In response, a force perhaps 2,000-strong under the command of Theodosius – the father of a future emperor with the same name – was dispatched from the Continent.

By the time Theodosius arrived, the enemy forces had splintered and were seeking out booty. To restore the situation, his soldiers adopted tactics once considered borderline banditry. They `secured beforehand the places suitable for ambushing the savages’, rather than – so far as we can tell – fighting setpiece battles. This approach proved provident and, after the danger had passed, Theodosius is credited with protecting `the frontiers with watch-posts and defence works’, and disbanding a group referred to as the areani. Its members reportedly ranged far and wide to gather information, making it likely they were a late incarnation of the Wall’s intelligence-gathering apparatus. If so, they expose an inherent danger of such outfits, as the areani were reportedly turned by the enemy and bribed into betraying Roman secrets. That assumes, of course, they were not simply singled out as a convenient scapegoat for a spectacular military catastrophe.

Although we do not know whether the 367 invaders directly targeted the Wall garrisons, or sought to bypass them, the killing of one senior Roman commander, and ambushing of another, emphasises that the attackers were powerful enough to inflict serious losses. There is no sign in the written sources that the Roman forces in Britain could have salvaged the situation without aid from overseas. If securing booty was the attackers’ principal aim, attempting to bypass the Wall garrisons would have an obvious appeal. Theodosius’ strengthening of the frontier defences may be relevant here. There is no sign of major upgrades to the Wall, but a chain of fortifications was raised along the north-east Yorkshire coast at around this time. These small installations are recognisable as a variant of a fortification type popular on the Continent and comprise stout stone towers set within high masonry ramparts boasting projecting bastions. Creating such a cordon could fit with the 367 conspirators simply sailing past the Wall and landing to its south. One complication is that the garrisons of these new coastal stations are unlikely to exceed about eighty soldiers, which would leave them wellsuited to counter small-scale incursions, but powerless to repulse a fullblown invasion. They do, though, perfectly match the implication of the western coastal forts at Maryport and Lancaster: it was securing the shore that warranted heightened protective measures during this era. Even so, this developing threat may be partially attributable to Hadrian’s Wall curtailing overland raiding so effectively it incentivised striking by sea.

Religious practices were also changing during the final decades of Roman Britain. At Corbridge, temples were torn down after 370, with elements reused in the road. Offerings at Coventina’s shrine seemingly cease sometime around 388, while broken fragments of superstructure were reportedly found in her well, which would fit with a deconsecration ceremony analogous to those sometimes found in fort headquarters buildings. This suppression of longstanding ritual sites can presumably be attributed to Christianity. With occasional exceptions, official tolerance for the religion had grown since Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge. In 391, an edict made sacrifice illegal and closed the temples. The degree to which Christianity penetrated the Wall communities remains unclear, and some see the military garrisons as bastions of the old gods. However, the evidence for a military uptake of Christianity seems reasonably good. A few overtly Christian objects have been found, perhaps most obviously those bearing the chi-rho emblem. This device superimposes the first two Greek letters for Christos and is sometimes set within a circle. On such occasions it evokes a six-spoke wheel, which would surely have elicited knowing smiles from any remining adherents of the Celtic sky god. Recent excavations at Maryport revealed a cluster of graves, some of which might have a Christian origin. These lay near an enigmatic concentration of large pits, many of which contained earlier altars reused as packing to support sizeable timber uprights for some sort of monumental structure erected during the twilight of Roman control. As this complex occupied the highest point of the local topography, it was presumably intended to be as visible as possible. Churches are suspected within South Shields, Housesteads, Vindolanda, and Birdoswald forts, while Christianstyle gravestones are known at Vindolanda and Maryport. Although these memorials probably date to the century or so after the end of Roman Britain, if Christianity was being practised by the descendants of fort garrisons, it seems reasonable to propose that the religion took root during the Roman era.

Magnus Maximus, an important commander in Britain and possibly another dux Britanniarum, is known to have been baptised in 383. He is also credited with successes against the Picts and Scots, but in 383 was proclaimed emperor by his troops. Maximus initially proved a proficient usurper, and successfully took Gaul and Spain, before invading Italy in 387, where he was captured and executed. It is likely that his continental adventures were powered in part by troops withdrawn from Britain. Thereafter, pressure on the island continued to mount. In around 398, reinforcements were sent against perils including a sea that `foamed with hostile oarsmen’. Less than a decade later, the army in Britain mutinied in 406 or 407, setting up a succession of usurpers as the situation on the Continent steadily deteriorated. In around 409, it was either invaders from beyond the Rhine frontier or perhaps even a desire to remove unwelcome military units brought in by the army that sounded the death knell for Roman Britain. Zosimus records that they `made it necessary for the inhabitants of Britain and some of the nations among the Celts to revolt from Roman rule and live on their own, no longer obedient to Roman laws. The Britons therefore took up arms, and braving danger for their own independence, freed the cities from the barbarians threatening [or billeted in] them’. While this passage implies that Roman Britain came to a neatly defined end, archaeology demonstrates the reality was less clear cut.

Rather than the Wall garrisons being withdrawn and the forts abandoned around 409, evidence for continued occupation is mounting. The classic sequence was teased out at Birdoswald during Tony Wilmott’s trailblazing 1987-1992 excavations. There, important changes to the two fort granaries began c. 350, when the subfloor spaces in the southern structure were filled in, while its northern counterpart collapsed at around this time. That the refurbishing of the southern granary marks a shift from storage to highstatus activity is implied by what is probably either a foundation or abandonment deposit: a gold earring, glass ring, and silver coin of 388-395, found near hearths. The last two continue the round objects theme, while the earring is hexagonal, but features a decorative scheme vaguely evocative of wheel spokes. Sometime afterwards, a new floor surface was laid on top, before the south granary was seemingly abandoned in favour of a timber building inserted into the shell of the northern granary. This was, in turn, superseded by a sizeable timber hall, which stood on postpads. Wilmott observed that the adapted granaries are explicable as venues where the unit commander could address his troops, while the final timber edifice resembles an early medieval chieftain’s feasting hall. The chronology fits this, with the adapted southern granary probably not abandoned until 420, the first quasi-timber structure lasting to perhaps 470, and the timber hall standing until 520 or later. This puts us over a century beyond the end date of Roman Britain. Crucially, though, no break in occupation was detected at the fort. Instead of marching away, the Roman garrison seemingly stayed put, gradually mutating from a regular army unit into an early medieval warband.

The centre cannot hold

The Wall changed immensely over the course of the 4th century. Failure to upgrade the military posts with cutting-edge new defences left them resembling relics from a bygone era. But inside, change was underway. Fort layouts designed to reinforce a hierarchy stretching all the way to the emperor, and hold storage and workshop facilities commensurate with sophisticated long-distance supply lines, were morphing into something new. Ruined or redundant monumental architecture could be quarried to patch humdrum but essential structures, such as defences and roads, or surrendered to industry, thereby helping to tackle the immense logistical challenges associated with becoming more self-sufficient. This shift surely involved local producers in the vicinity of forts supplying more goods for the military market, suggesting close links with rural communities. Currently, we can only see hints of this, but in the west, it is likely that some late Roman sites south of the Wall were successors to longstanding settlements with prehistoric origins. In the east, the endurance of Local Traditional Ware also supports a degree of continuity. A chronic reduction in overseas imports, and indeed products from southern Britain, robbed Wall life of a distinctive facet over the course of the 4th century. Yet transitioning to regional supply probably enabled soldiers to weather the early-5th-century turmoil. Rather than the end of Rome’s financial and material support forcing an abandonment of the forts, local suppliers offered a lifeline. In turn, the protection fort garrisons could extend provided an incentive for rural producers to nurture this relationship.

Severing links with Rome spelled fundamental change for existing power structures. No longer were unit commanders beholden to a distant dux, probably based in York, who was in turn just another cog in the imperial hierarchy. Instead, individual unit commanders would have had greater autonomy than ever before. Even this development, though, seemingly has its roots in the later 4th century. If the refurbishment of the southern granary at Birdoswald was designed to create a venue where a commander could address his men, it marked an important shift from the arrangement in previous centuries. Once, such gatherings occurred in the headquarters building, beside the unit shrine and the trappings of imperial power. The new arrangement at Birdoswald would have increased the focus on individual commanders. By this reading, the eventual shift to a timber feasting hall symbolises how regular military commanders gradually transformed into early medieval chieftains. The end of Roman authority over the Wall, then, was not accompanied by an evacuation of the heavily armed soldiers manning its forts. Instead they remained, to become part of the region’s future.




Origin: Wehrkreis VI

Composition: 1944: Pz. Gr. Rgt. 60, Pz. Gr. Rgt. 156, Pz. Rgt. 16, Pz. Aufkl. Abt. 116, Pz. Art. Rgt. 146. Pz. Jag. Abt. 228, HFlakart. Abt. 281, Pi. Btl. 675, Nachr. Abt. 228, Kdr. Pz. Div. Nachsch. Tr. 66.

Commanders: Oberst Gerhard Müller (28. III.-30. IV. 1944, m. d. F. b.), Gen. Lt. Gerhard Graf von Schwerin (1. V.-13. IX. 1944), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Siegfried von Waldenburg (14. IX. 1944-V. 1945).

116. Pz. Div. was raised in France on 28 March 1944 from the remnants of 16. Pz. Gr. Div. and 179. Res. Pz. Div.

The division was stationed north of the Seine River when the Allies landed. But it was not committed until the end of July. According to the written testimony of its commander, Count von Schwerin, it was being held in reserve for the “20 July plotters” and that is why it was not thrown into the battle of Normandy although quite close to the front. It finally moved into the combat zone at the end of July. In August, it counter- attacked in the Mortain sector but failed in its attempt to cut off the Americans. It was caught in the Falaise pocket and only managed to break out by suffering heavy casualties.

In mid-September, the division fought in the Aix-la- Chapelle region. It was around this time that its commanding officer, General von Schwerin, was relieved of his command for ordering the division to evacuate the town of Aix. In September-October 1944, it was part of I. SS-Pz. K. (7. Armee). It was repatriated to re-form in the Düsseldorf area. It joined Pz. Brig. 108 but, owing to shortages, the number of tanks per company was restricted to 14. Its strength was increased to 11,500 men. In November, it left for the Cologne area, then was engaged in the Ardennes as part of 5. Pz. Armee. It sustained heavy losses during that offensive. In January 1945, it retreated to Cleves, and fought in Holland, making a vain attempt to halt the advancing British and Canadian troops (February 1945). 116. Pz. Div. ended the war in the Ruhr pocket where it was wiped out.

In its one-year existence, 116. Pz. Div. produced 13 Knights of the Iron Cross.


An interview with Genmaj Rudolf von Gersdorff – C of S, 7 Army Genmaj Siegfried von Waldenburg – Cmdr 116 Pz Div 1.

Q : What was the mission of 116 Pz Div when it was committed in the Vossenack – Schmidt area?

A : (Waldenburg) The immediate task was to halt your attack and then counterattack with the mission of clearing the American penetration. (Gersdorff) At Army level, we felt that the effort should divide itself in two phases. First, we wanted to cut off and destroy your troops southeast of the Kall, using principally 89 Inf Div. and the tank regiment of 116 Pz Div. Secondly, by using the reminder of 116 Pz Div., we hoped to drive you off the heights at Vossenack and eventually re-establish the front in the woods west of Germeter. For us, it was advantageous to fix the battle line in the forest as it limited the use of your air power and your tanks.

1. Q : Was our attack a surprise in timing and / or direction? A : (Gersdorff) We knew, generally, that an attack was forming. Our agents in Roetgen reported the presence of numerous reserves and artillery observation planes, but we did not know the specific date. We believed the main thrust would be headed northeast through Huertgen onto Dueren. At the same time, we believed you would send a force through Schmidt and go for the Dams. The tremendous artillery preparation, of course, showed your hand and we know the attack was on. (Interviewers’ Note: See Gersdorff’s account of “Kriegsspial of Model.”)

1. Q : (Interviewers’ Note: The account of 116 Pz Div’s action is contained in ML – 1039) When your reconnaissance battalion drove from Mestringer Muehle, did 89 Inf Div launch an attack from the south to join them?

A : (Waldenburg) I believe so. Our elements did make contact, but 89 Inf Div was very weak at the time and no strong link was formed. A patrol from my reconnaissance battalion, consisting of an officer and 4 or 5 with a radio, made its way to this point of woods south of Vossenack (Ed: coordinates 0232). From here, they could easily observe movement from Germeter to Vossenack and adjust artillery fire.

1. Q : Our troops in Vossenack, having been shelled almost continually for four days, were unnerved by the quiet on the morning of 6 Nov 44. Was the absence of an artillery preparation a planned tactic?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. We hoped to gain surprise.

1. Q : Did your troops find stiff resistance from our forces in Vossenack?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. There was hand – to – hand combat. We did get many prisoners, but the farther we went, the more resistance stiffened. During the attack, we smoked the Germeter area. Finally, when your armour and reinforcements arrived, we could not get beyond the church.

1. Q : Did you plan to renew the attack on 7 Nov 44?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. As a matter of fact, I believe the artillery preparation for our attack caught your troops as they were getting ready to attack us. Your troops (Interviewers’ Note: 146 Engr C. Bn) that retook Vossenack with those tanks did an excellent job.

1. Q : After we had repulsed your second effort to take Vossenack on 7 Nov 44, we brought up an infantry battalion to replace the engineers. The relief was made hurriedly and the infantry, on 8 Nov 44, was not ready for action. Did you plan another attack for that day?

A : (Waldenburg) Unfortunately, you didn’t notify me of this situation. No, our troops were very tired and had suffered heavy casualties.

A : (Gersdorff) You must remember this Vossenack fight was considered the second phase of our action, so most of our concern was across the Kall; then too, we could not move tanks up to Vossenack.

A : (Waldenburg) I tried to build a road from Huertgen through the woods towards Vossenack, but it was not suitable. A couple of assault guns got through, but the heavier, bigger tanks became stuck in the mud.

1. Q : At this time, we committed a new regiment (Interviewers’ Note: 12 Inf Regt of 4 Inf Div (US)) in the woods above Germeter. They were to attack towards Huertgen. Was this area under your control? A : (Waldenburg) Initially, my zone was south and east of there, but on 6 or 7 Nov 44, this area also became my responsibility. On 10 Nov 44, while you were attacking west to clip off the Weisser Weh salient, I launched an attack. Following a heavy artillery preparation, elements of both 156 and 60 Pz Gren Regts, followed by some engineers, were committed and cut off your troops. They passed through the engineer battalions who were holding the line.

Q : On 13 Nov 44, after two unsuccessful efforts to improve the situation of the isolated force, we made a withdrawal. Not a shot was fired. Were you aware of this?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. We got a report on what you were doing, but the local commanders said the woods were so thick and the debris so prohibitive that they could not stop you.

1. Q : Having failed to cut off the Wiesser Weh salient at its base, we finally began on 14 Nov 44 to attack directly up it. How strongly was it defended at that time?

A : (Waldenburg) We merely maintained patrols behind the wire obstacles and mine fields. All this time I was making daily requests to be relieved from this sector. It was not suitable for the employment of a panzer division.

A : (Gersdorff) We also wanted to withdraw the unit so that it could be refitted for the Ardennes Offensive, but we had no one to fill the hole. Finally, we managed to relieve a battalion at a time. The Division Artillery stayed on an extra three or four days so that you would not notice a slackening in the fire and realize what we had done.

1. Q : On what date did your troops leave the Vossenack area?

A : (Ed: probably answered by Waldenburg.) Approximately 13 Nov 44.

1. Q : What do you estimate as your casualties in the battle for Schmidt and Vossenack and in the fighting between Germeter and Huertgen and between Huertgen and Kleinhau?

A : (Waldenburg) Without data of any kind, it is, unfortunately, impossible for me to give a detailed description of the looses suffered by the Division in the fighting in the Huertgen Forest and at Schmidt. The casualties in personnel, especially of officers and non-commissioned officers, were heavy. The two panzer grenadier regiments were particularly hard hit and the reconnaissance battalion to a lesser degree. The panzer regiment, as far as I remember, suffered only small losses in the Schmidt area, with only three or four tanks being put out of action. The artillery had hardly any casualties or any losses in material. The antiaircraft battalion lost two guns through air attacks. Even though the losses in personnel of the Division could be made up on the whole by fresh replacements before the Ardennes Offensive, the casualties in officers and non-commissioned officers and enlisted men with battle experience could no longer be replaced. This lack of experienced personnel made itself felt considerably in the Ardennes campaign. Weapons lost or put out of action generally could be completely replaced. The motor vehicle situation, however, had further deteriorated and the Division moved into the Ardennes Offensive with only about 60% of the vehicles it should have had.

1. Q : How seriously did your engagement in the Huertgen Forest affect your efficiency and strength for the Ardennes Offensive?

A : The loss of experienced leaders and battle – hardened veterans was certainly felt. Our losses in material were replenished, except in trucks. In that category, we went into the Ardennes at only 60% of our T/O strength. Source: Foreign Military Studies – Ethint -56 (Headquarters United States Army Europe – 15 Dec 1945)

Support Operations at Ascension Island during the Falklands War I

If the world understood little about the Falkland Islands before the Argentine invasion, it knew even less about the remote island in the Atlantic towards which the British Task Force was now heading. Ascension Island had not figured prominently in history since its Portuguese discovery in 1501. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame was that Royal Marines had garrisoned the island in 1815 as precaution against French occupation after Britain and her coalition allies exiled Napoleon to the nearby island of St Helena. In years that followed, Ascension became little more than a temporary way station for passing slave traders and merchant ships, until the 1940s, when the United States began leasing it from Britain. Americans constructed an airfield there at the time to serve as a staging base and to interdict German ships in the Atlantic during the Second World War. In the 1970s, their focus evolved to deep-space tracking, but the island remained largely unchanged, sparsely populated and with few resources. Until April 1982, the only occasional visitors to Ascension were naturalists looking for its green turtles, wild donkeys and sooty terns. In coming weeks, though, it would contribute so significantly to overall British planning and war efforts that some would claim, ‘If Ascension Island had not existed, we would have had to create it.’ There can be little doubt that the British would have created it differently had they had the power to do so. But although far from ideal, this little island made the Falkland Islands War possible.

Located just below the Equator, midway between South America and Africa as well as between Britain and the Falklands, Ascension is a small volcanic outcrop of about thirty-eight square miles, a place of dramatic contrasts. Its highest point, the 2,800ft Green Mountain, presents a tropical appearance from far away, with a small bamboo rain forest on its upper slopes. But lush vegetation atop the mountain belies both the barrenness of lower slopes and the dryness of the entire island. Green Mountain, as its name implies, claims the only greenery on Ascension Island. It is the single place high enough to capture rainfall sufficient for vegetation to grow. The trade winds, which slap the coastline at about eighteen knots every day and help maintain temperatures of 18° to 24° Centigrade year-round, deposit a mere six inches of annual drizzle elsewhere on the island. Little fresh water accumulates routinely on Ascension, forcing inhabitants to rely mostly upon distilled seawater. Although one can spot occasional sandy beaches along the rugged coastline, getting to them is quite another matter because of large swells, themselves teeming with sharks and other voracious sea life, that unpredictably pound the shores. Those swells prevent conventional landing craft from coming ashore anywhere but at a place called English Bay on the north-west coast, and even there the beach is sufficient for only a single landing craft. In 1982, there were no fixed ports on the island to offload vessels, just a single stone jetty at the capital, Georgetown. Severe sea swells forced ships carrying supplies to anchor nearly half a mile off the coast and then shuttle goods ashore by lighter to the jetty. The island may have offered a great geographical location, but up close it looked like a barren landscape of volcanic ash, jagged rock and clinker, all surrounded by an unforgiving sea.

At the time of the Falklands invasion, a thousand people inhabited Ascension, all of whom were employed by or were contractors for British and American companies on the island. Over half of these, dubbed ‘Saints’, were from the island of St Helena, 700 miles to the south-east. Employers included Cable & Wireless, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Pan American Airlines, South Africa Cable and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). There remained no indigenous population. All residents lived in housing built and furnished by their employers in one of three settlements: Georgetown on the west coast, Two Boats in the centre and an American camp near the airfield called Wideawake, operated by Pan American. There were no hotels, buses, taxis, or rental car firms. Visitors were not allowed on the island without permission from the British Administrator. Children reaching eighteen years and unemployed, as well as pensioners, were required to return home. Food and other goods came from either American or British commissaries or from a couple of shops supplied by steamer twice a month. Sea passage remained the primary link to the outside world for many, particularly those with homes on St Helena since no airfield existed there. Life on Ascension was isolated. Although there was a golf course, it was reputed to be one of the worst in the world due to its lack of greenery. Consequently, residents expected to see few visitors.

Life for those on Ascension that spring changed dramatically. Inhabitants enthusiastically supported British efforts to transform their curiously remote island into a vibrant launch pad for British forces and supplies. Despite the eagerness of its inhabitants to assist, though, the island simply could not sustain large numbers of support personnel. There was little extra accommodation and insufficient fresh water for large numbers of new residents, however temporary their presence might be, since the island relied upon desalinated water. Limited plant output meant that freshwater production alone would necessarily restrict military presence on the island. The British had lots of men and supplies heading toward this island now, but there was only so much the islanders and their island could do. The rest would take careful planning and improvement in the weeks ahead.

Whatever challenges Ascension posed, the British welcomed its ideal location and availability with open arms. They had no alternatives for providing operational sustainment to the Task Force heading toward the South Atlantic. Countries in South America were not about to offer their ports and airfields as platforms for launching a war against neighbouring Argentina, whether or not they agreed with what Argentina had done. Even countries in Africa were unwilling to face the political uproar that might ensue. Fortunately, the continuing lease to America now left the island open for British use. In an Exchange of Notes in 1962, the two nations had agreed that the United States would grant such ‘logistic, administration or operating facilities at the Airfield … considered by the Government of the United Kingdom to be necessary in connection with its use by United Kingdom military aircraft’. Britain invoked its prerogative to utilize the airfield according to these agreements immediately following Argentina’s invasion of East Falkland. They knew the Americans had improved and extended the airfield to 10,000 feet in 1966 as US Air Force needs arose in the Eastern Test Range, making it capable of accepting the world’s largest aircraft. Despite having a first-class runway, though, Wideawake offered only a small hardstand area for parking and no parallel taxiways. Thick layers of volcanic dust prevented helicopters from using adjacent areas for landing without ingesting dust into their engines. Fuel storage capacity and aircraft maintenance facilities remained limited. Wideawake simply was not designed for heavy air traffic or for an influx of lots of supplies, but it would become the salvation for a task force that had departed so quickly.

The United States government started helping the British the same weekend that Argentina invaded the Falklands. The bottom-line directive to the US Air Force’s single military representative at Ascension, a lieutenant colonel controlling operations at Wideawake as part of the Air Force’s Eastern Test Range, was reportedly to provide all the help the British needed ‘but not to get caught doing it’. He and numerous other United States government employees there provided considerable help during the hectic months to follow. Other agencies of the United States government would assist as well by secretly pushing thousands of tons of supplies and millions of gallons of fuel to the island to help the British, while Secretary of State Haig continued his shuttle diplomacy between London and Buenos Aires.

The first British personnel departed the United Kingdom for Ascension on 3 April aboard a C–130 Hercules routed through Gibraltar and Dakar. Their task was to establish an airhead at Wideawake and prepare to offload about a dozen other C–130s that would start arriving later that day with supplies. The initial organization was small: two officers from the Royal Air Force’s 38 Air Support Group, an officer and six airmen from the United Kingdom Mobile Air Movements Squadron, an officer and six sailors to form a forward logistics unit for the Royal Navy and an officer and eight sailors to support naval helicopters.4 Known as the British Forces Support Unit or BFSU, this organization expanded considerably in weeks to follow. Since initial members of the unit and the bulk of the Task Force were from the Royal Navy, it was not surprising that the commanding officer came from the Navy too. When Captain Robert McQueen arrived to take command, he brought authority to the small organization. His chain of command went directly through the Vice Chief of Defence Staff for Personnel and Logistics to the Chief himself. McQueen later recounted some of the specific guidelines he received at the MoD before departing: ‘The first was that tri-service numbers on the island would not be more than about two hundred and the second that I should have the power of veto on anyone sent there.’

The responsibilities of the BFSU were to get a forward sustainment base started and then to keep logistics operations going. They had to initiate logistics operations within hours of arrival and then start coordinating operations for days ahead, not knowing necessarily what would be arriving, since much of that was still being determined back in the United Kingdom. They had to decide what improvements were needed to administer logistics operations and to prepare to supervise the implementation of those improvements when resources arrived. They also needed to start planning a defence of the island in case that became necessary. There was not much time. What resulted from their efforts was a forward sustainment base that provided five distinct military benefits. Firstly, Ascension provided an anchorage for the fleet as it headed south, a place where ships could take on additional supplies that might have been consumed in getting that far south or left behind for any number of reasons upon departure. Secondly, it provided the airfield needed by the Royal Air Force to cut flight distances to the Falklands. Wideawake would become indispensable to sustaining long-range reconnaissance missions within days of the invasion, and for Vulcan bombing missions in a matter of weeks. For pure logistics reasons, it became essential for maintaining an air bridge to the Task Force. No matter how good logistics planning might become, ships and ground units would eventually need quick replacement of critical stores and perhaps people. The fastest way to achieve this would be by airdrop from planes launched out of Ascension. Thirdly, the island would provide a place for the Task Force to get supplies left behind and to sort out the mess that was then crowding the galleys of ships. The waters off Ascension, in spite of irritating and unpredictable swells, were far more welcoming than the barren ocean extending from there southward. Fourthly, Ascension Island provided a place where soldiers and marines of all specialties could hone skills required later if political efforts to resolve tensions failed. Not much space ashore was available, but it would have to suffice. And finally, it became a location where senior leaders of the Task Force could rendezvous to discuss developments and finalize plans before it proceeded further, while politicians continued to try to avoid war. There would be no other place to huddle before the Falklands.

Members of the BFSU scarcely had time to drop their bags in the small room of a hangar that would be their headquarters, before the airflow started. They would eventually opt for a tent a little further away to avoid some of the noise and bustle of activity at Wideawake. Three Lynx helicopters arrived that same day by C–130 from Lyneham, complete with air and ground crews and supporting supplies. Modified to carry Sea Skua air-to-surface missiles, the Lynxes flew on board RFA Fort Austin as she passed Ascension heading south to support Endurance. They would provide some much-needed protection for this unarmed stores ship heading alone toward the possible war zone. Three naval Wessex 5 transport helicopters arrived on April 4 aboard a civilian Short Belfast cargo plane. The BFSU made them operational by the time two more arrived on 6 April. Nimrods of 42 Squadron from St Mawgan and Kinloss followed the Belfast to provide communications links to nuclear submarines and to assist in any search-and-rescue missions that resulted from other aircraft flying to and from the island.6 The Nimrods were just the first of a steady stream of planes landing at Wideawake and occupying the limited tarmac.

The BFSU did not arrive with much organic capability to conduct extensive airhead operations. Instead, they were dependent on assistance from people and equipment from the United States who were already there, to include two Pan American air traffic controllers accustomed to seeing only a couple of hundred aircraft landings annually. Soon, however, they would see as many as 250 in a single day of April, reportedly making Wideawake busier than Chicago’s O’Hare at the time.

As ships of the Task Force arrived, the overcrowding would seem even worse as everyone scurried to juggle both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in and out of the airfield as replenishment operations got underway. The work started with the arrival of Fort Austin, which also took on added supplies and dozens of Royal Marines who would participate in the plan to recapture South Georgia. Fort Austin then continued south on 9 April. The following day, the destroyer Antrim with the frigate Plymouth and RFA tanker Tidespring arrived to embark stores as well.

Fort Austin was the first Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel to take supplies to the South Atlantic with the help of the BFSU. It is worth taking a moment to trace her path on that first resupply mission, because Fort Austin’s typical missions after departing Ascension accentuate aspects of the war often overlooked: the seemingly endless work performed by auxiliary vessels to sustain fighting ships in the Task Force and the corresponding work that the BFSU performed to keep a single auxiliary vessel supplied. During the three-day passage south, the crew of Fort Austin started preparing their first loads for delivery both by jackstay and helicopter. After linking up with Endurance, whose supplies were down to two days of food, they delivered 200 loads before receiving passengers and stores for backhaul to Ascension. The crew then worked most of the night preparing loads for the Antrim group heading south from Ascension. Fort Austin linked up with the ships the next morning and worked nonstop until about midnight, delivering over 300 more loads to them. On the afternoon of the following day, 14 April, she received directions to rendezvous with Sheffield, Brilliant, Glasgow, Coventry and Arrow. Fort Austin’s crew scrambled to prepare another 380 loads for issue as demands kept coming in. After conducting two jackstay transfers for each ship, one for general stores and one for ammo, she received another 200 loads of backhaul material ranging from training ammunition to excess paint. Then it was back to Ascension, just at the time Royal Marines were arriving, to get as much as possible from the BFSU in forty-eight hours before heading south again. Helicopters and lighters shuttled 450 loads of supplies to the ship and took 120 backhaul loads to the island during those two days. Fort Austin then returned south. In these first two trips, she discharged over a thousand loads to keep other ships going. She embarked another thousand in return, most of which the BFSU would see at Ascension. There are countless other stories just like that of Fort Austin – resupply ships who were able to keep others supplied because of the base at Ascension and which, at the same time, became only part of an immense workload developing ashore.

In less than a week, the small BFSU had started fulfilling the first of its logistics functions. Dozens more ships arrived at Ascension to take on supplies and then continue southward. A challenge for British logisticians now became keeping these ships resupplied without complete reliance on much slower sea lines of communication. The Royal Air Force’s C–130 Hercules, the primary British aircraft for delivering supplies by air, became the solution to that challenge.

People back in the United Kingdom had been working on modifications to the C–130 at this time, to increase its ability to ‘keep up with’ the Task Force. The C–130 had a range of about 2,000 miles depending on payload. This meant, unfortunately, it could get only a quarter of the way to the Falklands from Ascension before having to turn around. Ascension Island had halved the distance between the United Kingdom and the Falklands, making it possible to continue airdrops of critical supplies to ships. But now something had to be done soon to increase the operating range of aircraft so that air dispatchers could get supplies further south. The Royal Air Force had in the past thought of having its C–130s fitted for air–to–air refuelling, but the value of this did not justify the cost, given the comparatively short range within NATO areas. Now the situation was different. Three modifications to the C–130 commenced to enable it to cover more distance.

Starting on 16 April, the Engineering Wing at Lyneham began devising auxiliary tanks for installation in forward cabins of C–130s to add more internal fuel capacity. Some cylindrical tanks with a capacity of 825 Imperial gallons happened to be on hand. Within five days, the Wing fitted a pair into a C–130 and found they could increase its range by three to four hours. They later determined that installing four tanks increased the range further but limited payload to about twenty–five per cent of the aircraft’s original maximum. Modifications proceeded to create both two– and four–tank models. The modified aircraft were nicknamed LR 2 (for Long Range) or LR 4, depending on the number of tanks installed. The insides of these C–130s started to take on the appearance of airborne fuel depots. Cargo was stored on ramp doors only since no room remained in cargo bays.

Support Operations at Ascension Island during the Falklands War II

Ascension Island and Britain’s presence in the South Atlantic

The second modification was aimed to give the C–130 air–to–air refuelling capability. Marshall of Cambridge (Engineering) Ltd, which had been designated the technical support centre for the Royal Air Force’s C–130 fleet in 1966, had no previous direct experience in the installation of flight refuelling probes when it received the go–ahead to get involved. Probes for refuelling were then standard items in the Royal Air Force, but none were designed for C–130s. Therefore the British decided to use probes from Vulcan bombers, and the call went out accordingly all over the United Kingdom: ‘If you have a Vulcan please remove the refuelling probe.’ Probes were in such short supply that a maintenance crew took a Concorde shuttle to the United States, changed planes in New York for San Diego and, with permission from the Pentagon, removed the probe from a Vulcan mounted on display there. By 28 April, the first probes had been fitted on some LR 4 models, as day and night training of crews commenced. The third modification was to provide some C–130s with air–refuelling capability themselves. Marshall completed this modification to an LR 4 model as well by 8 June, but this capability was not needed before the end of the war a week later. By then, the other modifications had already enabled the British to maintain continuous air resupply to the Task Force from the sustainment base at Ascension.

Ascension became irreplaceable for maintaining aerial resupply of critical items to Task Force ships moving south to the Falklands. Members of the Royal Corps of Transport’s 47 Air Dispatch Squadron had departed England for Ascension on 5 April aboard Fearless. Their mission was to airdrop small loads to special forces if required. On 19 April, they were joined at Ascension by others from their squadron, and the next day they made their first air drop of high priority supplies to Invincible and Alacrity. The first LR 2 Hercules reached Wideawake on 12 May. On 16 May, in a flight lasting more than 24 hours and covering a total of 6,300 nautical miles, the modified C–130 dropped 1,000lb of supplies to Antelope. By 1 June, 47 Air Dispatch had flown on 47 similar sorties, dropping 163 tons of supplies to the Task Force. The ability of the British to airdrop supplies into the war zone permitted them to reduce order–receipt time for high priority items from about two weeks to less than two days. By the war’s end, high priority cargo out of Ascension, ranging from critical electronic components to missiles, was being dropped off East Falkland within forty hours of request. Flights were exceeding twenty–eight hours by then. Each Hercules, with two crews aboard, needed two refuellings for such trips. Because Victor tankers also required refuelling on these flights, it took five Victors to get one C–130 near the Falklands to airdrop supplies. Together, pilots of these aircraft helped establish a new world endurance record for the C–130 Hercules.

Needless to say, these logistical feats were not achieved without considerable bravery on the part of pilots and dispatchers. The C–130 Hercules became the first prop–driven airplane to refuel from Britain’s Victor tankers. Differences in air speeds of these two aircraft made it impossible to refuel at level flight. The technique eventually perfected was for the Victor tanker to approach the Hercules from above and behind at a height of 23,000 feet. When the Victor was about a mile behind, the Hercules would start descending at a rate of about 500 feet per minute. The Victor then would overtake the descending Hercules and release a drogue to enable the fuel transfer. Refuelling lasted about fifteen minutes as both aircraft few at 230–240 knots, the minimum speed for the Victor tanker. The Hercules, however, had to be at full throttle in its descent to maintain this speed. Temperatures rose dramatically at times, leading to burnout of several C–130 engines over the course of the war. The refuelling process usually ended at about 8,000 feet above the sea, but slow delivery on occasion meant that drogues were not withdrawn until 2,000 feet above the sea! There were other instances where C–130s, even after successful refuelling, consumed more fuel than expected due to strong headwinds or requirements to loiter near drop zones for tactical reasons; but their pilots calmly landed them back at Ascension with little fuel remaining.

Aerial resupply operations would produce friction between 47 Air Dispatch Squadron and the BFSU Commander that eventually had to be resolved at the MoD. Because of the Commander’s insistence that space was limited at Ascension, the MoD was enforcing a policy that all airdrop loads had to be rigged in the United Kingdom rather than at Ascension, against the air dispatcher objections. Such a policy simply failed to recognize that requirements for supplies and priorities often change. Faced with the already long flight times to get supplies to Ascension, the British could ill afford to spend additional time at the last-minute disassembling and reassembling loads for airdrop. Admiral Fieldhouse therefore changed the policy on 6 May, permitting loads to be rigged at Ascension. Disagreements about this BFSU–influenced policy were only one of the frustrations then developing at the forward sustainment base.

Complicating matters on a daily basis for BFSU after its arrival was a steady flow of passengers and cargo from the United Kingdom, much of which appeared to be uncontrolled. Units and depots started dispatching supplies to the island at the same time as ships were starting their two–week journeys there. Military personnel who did not sail with the Task Force began arriving individually or in units, carrying with them whatever equipment commanders deemed necessary. There were even reports of men arriving at the Royal Air Force base at Lyneham, signing up for open passenger lists to Ascension, getting themselves aboard airplanes and heading south without proper orders. Although instances of personnel arriving at Ascension without authorization were probably rare, there undoubtedly remained a lack of appreciation by some in the United Kingdom of actual limitations on the island. The flow of personnel and equipment into the island in those first weeks proved steady, and soon space was getting tight. The build–up of support personnel on the island had ballooned to nearly a thousand during this time as well. Roughly eighty per cent of these were members of the Royal Air Force.

The BFSU commander, knowing constraints on the island and trying to keep his operation going in accordance with MoD guidance, implemented procedures that to some seemed draconian. Until portable cabins arrived and were erected, accommodation and subsistence existed for only 200 people at Ascension, all provided by Pan American. Fresh water supplies remained critically short. As a result, Captain McQueen instituted a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy as the maximum number of personnel who could be accommodated was reached. One unfortunate military chaplain, after enduring the exhausting flight to get to Ascension, arrived unannounced only to discover himself heading back to the United Kingdom on the next returning aircraft. Brigadier Thompson had arranged for a Royal Army Ordnance team to come to Ascension and help with supply operations. McQueen sent them back as well. Others who showed up and found accommodation discovered themselves pressed into service to meet workload needs. Captain McQueen occasionally commandeered vehicles and other equipment upon arrival to shift supplies around the limited area of hard standing. His unit learned to make do with whatever they could muster.

To some on the ground, running Wideawake at that time was like ‘operating a large aircraft carrier’. As flight missions were tasked from the United Kingdom, the senior Royal Air Force representative on the ground at Wideawake juggled resources, shifting aircraft already on the ground or even flying them out if necessary, to make maximum use of the limited hardstand parking. At any one time, Wideawake could house up to thirty aircraft depending on size. There were times, though, when some planes were returned to the United Kingdom or sent to Gibraltar for short periods of time to create space at the airfield for higher priority aircraft. Planes departing the United Kingdom generally flew routes through West Africa, stopping at Gibraltar en route depending on prevailing winds. Movement planners in the United Kingdom specifically coordinated refuelling in Dakar, Senegal or Banjul, Gambia to help ease aircraft demands on fuel stocks at Ascension. Aircraft would then top off at Ascension with lesser amounts before departing on return legs.

There was only so much that the BFSU and planners elsewhere could do to make operations efficient in receiving the personnel, supplies, and equipment that were arriving. Before operations got too far out of control, major installation improvements had to occur on the remote island. These requirements, ranging from establishing messing facilities for support personnel to installing a pipeline system to pump millions of gallons fuel to Wideawake, would also compete for transportation, space, and manpower.

Solving the fuel shortage problem took high priority. A request for a million gallons of aviation fuel soon arrived at the Pentagon in Washington DC. Caspar Weinberger, then the US Secretary of Defense and not a supporter of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s shuttle diplomacy, helped immediately. The British could have obtained the fuel on the open market then, but it would have taken more time. Getting large quantities of fuel to Ascension now became relatively easy. The Pentagon just replaced tankers dispatched to Ascension as soon as they were empty. The main problem became getting the fuel to where it was needed. The pipeline then connecting Catherine’s Point, where tankers discharged fuel through a floating pipeline into an American receiving point, and the airfield had common discharge and reception piping. This meant that when fuel was discharged from tankers it could not be pumped to the airfield three and a half miles away. Initially, the British transported fuel to the airfield using tankers, but the steep, rough road proved inadequate to handle the traffic.

The MoD knew something had to be done to improve fuel supply and storage capabilities on the island because of the anticipated airflow. Sailing toward Ascension in lead vessels of the Task Force at that time were sufficient pumps, pipes, and tanks with the Tactical Supply Wing, Royal Air Force to create a small forward airfield installation to receive fuel. Soldiers from 1 Troop, 51 Squadron, Royal Engineers arrived to complete a temporary pipeline connecting the fuel farm near the bay to storage tanks by the airfield. It took the engineers only ten days to make their assessment, develop plans and lay the three–mile pipeline. By the time it was completed, soldiers from 12 Petroleum Operations Section, Royal Army Ordnance Corps were arriving to take control of the US shore installation. The Section took over the two boost pumps at the installation and another half way up the line to the airfield. Then, with the arrival of piping and 30,000–gallon collapsible pillow tanks, the Section helped enlarge the fuel farm at the airfield before taking over its operation as well. Within weeks, British soldiers and airmen had installed a fuelling system for Wideawake that included 180,000 gallons of storage capacity and a pipeline to maintain a constant flow of fuel. With the help of their American allies, they now had a steady flow of aviation fuel from tankers anchored off Georgetown. Demand from the new system was so great that, in subsequent weeks, some of the 30,000–gallon tanks would start splitting and leaking from constant emptying and filling under the tropical sun.

After completing the pipeline, engineers shifted their attention to other needs to accommodate the island’s increased population of workers. Again with the help of American suppliers, they installed a new desalination plant at English Bay, which would eventually become the site of the main transient tent camp. They renewed the sewage system there; renovated derelict buildings loaned by Cable & Wireless, making use of whatever was available; and put into operation enough portable power sources to take care of a small village. Engineers also improved the road to a remote valley so that the BFSU could move the massive build–up of ammunition further away from the airfield. The United States Air Force flew in fourteen planeloads of portable living accommodation, consisting of thirty–one twelve–man living modules. Each expanded into air–conditioned living quarters with bunks, showers, and lavatories. Originally intended for use by the United States Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, these modules were just what the British needed to house support and transit personnel. British and Americans erected them in five days. When it was all over, the British had created another small village on Ascension and nicknamed it ‘Concertina City’.

Lots of other changes were occurring elsewhere on the island. A detachment from 30 Signal Regiment arrived the weekend of the invasion. Using Cable & Wireless circuits, they established communications direct to telephone circuits in the United Kingdom, through which people at Ascension could get quick access to worldwide outlets. During the next four months, these circuits would handle about six hundred calls per day. Then 2 Postal Regiment arrived to provide mail and courier service to those in the Task Force, to include free newspapers and magazines. By the first part of May, about two and a half tons of classified mail alone were arriving weekly. By June, the Regiment handled 20,000 mailbags through Ascension. A four–man detachment from 9 Ordnance Battalion arrived to establish a laundry service for those on the island; they planned to use a 1939 mobile laundry trailer being flown out from the United Kingdom. Before the trailer arrived, though, the detachment discovered an unused laundry in Two Boats Village and restored it to working condition instead. A detachment from Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) had come and set up small facilities in Georgetown, in Two Boats Village and at English Bay. And a tri–service mess team worked nonstop, preparing a thousand meals a day from three field kitchen sites.

Despite these and countless other heroic efforts, the fledgling sustainment base was starting to crumble in the face of the massive workload just as 3 Commando Brigade arrived. The original six–man movement control detachment had become so overworked that two more teams eventually deployed to assist them. Furthermore, it was slowly becoming apparent that store handlers were having difficulties identifying and sorting military supplies that had started arriving since the weekend of the invasion.

The first vessel from the Task Force to arrive was the flagship for Admiral Woodward, the aircraft carrier Hermes, on 16 April. The following day, the amphibious force started arriving aboard Fearless, Stromness and the five LSLs. Canberra and Elk followed on 20 April after refuelling in Freetown. For days thereafter, dozens of ships of various sizes, shapes and colours would pass near or anchor in Ascension waters. It was a curious looking armada indeed. Many ships were stopping for quick replenishment of stores before continuing their passage south toward the Falklands. Routine naval procedure called for vertical replenishment by helicopters to ships in such instances. But what was then bobbing in Atlantic swells off the rocky coast of Ascension was not part of a typical Royal Navy exercise. The assembly formed a complex mixture of units from several services aboard a variety of ships, about which little was known by logisticians who had been working so frantically in and around Wideawake Airfield ever since the first planes landed on 3 April. About 500 tons of assorted supplies were waiting for these ships when they started arriving.

The Royal Navy had controlled receipt and issue of supplies on Ascension with considerable help from civilians ever since the first day. Pallets were taken from aircraft as they landed and placed in areas adjacent to the apron. Then they were sorted and moved by materiel–handling equipment to waiting or storage areas before helicopters flew them to ships. Navy teams ashore, however, were not very familiar with the Army supply system or with 3 Commando Brigade units. Adding to the confusion was the two weeks’ worth of supplies rushed helter–skelter from the United Kingdom and stacked wherever space allowed. Some of it had been destined originally for ships at ports in the UK. This cargo was relatively simple to identify and transship. Knowing what went to whom once it arrived on ships, however, was another case entirely. Most ships were transporting multiple units. Consequently, packages consigned to ships rather than units presented problems. Pallets arrived off planes without paperwork, some unmarked and others with only bar code labels on boxes. Incompletely labelled ammunition pallets made it difficult if not impossible to distinguish War Maintenance Reserve ammunition from training ammunition or, in some cases, ammunition for Royal Marines from ammunition for the Royal Navy or Royal Air Force. It was not unusual to find addressees like ‘Royal Marines Ascension’ or ‘3 Commando Brigade South Atlantic’ scribbled on pallets. As a result of all this, supplies at the airhead had become quite a mess.

Some of that might have been prevented, perhaps, if logisticians in the United Kingdom had anticipated the difficulty of conducting logistics operations under the conditions prevailing at Ascension. The rush to get things to the Task Force as quickly as possible, all too often in complete disregard of the disciplined supply system that had characterized British forces in the past, certainly created part of the problem. Sloppy supply control over the first weeks at Ascension made matters worse. There was little accounting for what arrived. Supplies were not logged in or out, and therefore it was not possible to tell where a particular item was unless someone was actually looking at it on the ground. That is to say, if a box was not in the holding area, you did not know whether it had arrived, been delivered, misplaced or even stolen. Regrettably, the latter case became reality at times. Since there was no security at the airfield holding area, supplies were subject to pilfering.

Support Operations at Ascension Island during the Falklands War III

Resolving the supply problem would not be achieved without adding to the friction between logisticians afloat and those ashore. Soldiers from Ordnance Squadron, Commando Logistic Regiment came ashore eventually to take over supply operations around the airhead under the supervision of Captain McQueen. A composite supply team from Kineton and Donnington depots in the United Kingdom later reinforced the commandos. Together, these men, using materiel–handling equipment drawn from various units, sorted through the maze of pallets and boxes. Some remained on Ascension for the duration of the war to receive, sort, hold, repack, and repalletize supplies as necessary. If items were to be taken further by helicopter, as was often the case, then rigging teams at the airfield prepared the supplies in appropriate nets. In a relatively quick time, the detachment restored order to the supply situation on Ascension. A major headache for them soon became not what was on hand but priorities for issue. Virtually everything arriving from the United Kingdom had been labelled with the highest priority, whether it was ammunition or ironing boards.

Sometimes units’ actions exacerbated the situation. An episode related a decade later by retired Major General Ian Baxter, then the colonel directing administration and logistics for Major General Moore, regards the Rapier air defence missile system being deployed for the commandos. Baxter indicated that, in 1982, Royal Marines, including himself and Brigadier Thompson, knew little about the Rapier system. They were dumbfounded to discover the assortment of equipment that accompanied the system to keep it operating. When senior leaders saw the extent of these support necessities, they scarcely believed their eyes and doubted all was needed. And so they directed much of it right back to England, at the time not understanding the importance of it all. Eventually, the Rapier equipment had to find a way back to Ascension and on to ships. It intentionally became stowed in bottom cargo holds to prevent damage by salt water, which meant it would take more time to offload later.

A major task facing Commodore Clapp at this time was re–stowing the thousands of tons of supplies that had so hurriedly been stashed aboard ships in the United Kingdom. During the two weeks at sea, logisticians recorded most storage locations. At Ascension, they commenced the complex process of shifting items between ships and relocating them within ships so that, if war became a reality, what was needed would be ready. By this time, Wideawake Airfield had been averaging eight cargo planes per day packed with supplies and equipment. About 1500 tons of supplies had arrived, a third of which were waiting for 3 Commando Brigade upon its arrival. Logisticians afloat worked with those ashore to shuttle supplies to ships. Priorities were to issue two days of ammunition and rations to units, to configure LSLs with another two days of supplies for backup, to make sure artillery ammunition was loaded with guns and to consolidate demolitions and other engineer stores with 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers.

Complicating matters at first was the inability of LPD Fearless to dock herself down to release her LCUs. Since she arrived so low on fuel after foregoing bunkering, she was now too high in the water to release the landing craft. Consequently, re–stow started without the benefit of the only LCUs in the Task Force at the time. Helicopters ferried stores from island holding areas to ships and between ships. Soon, floating parking lots of mexeflotes were bobbing up and down in the Atlantic swell among the strange array of ships off Ascension. Mexeflotes moved to and from ships and became floating staging areas, as men removed layers of supplies to get at what was needed. Logisticians worked as fast as they could. They redistributed War Maintenance Reserves between ships while trying to preserve some flexibility to support eventual tactical plans. Their focus remained on configuring two of the LSLs – Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale – with two days of supplies for the brigade, consisting mainly of ammunition, packed fuel and rations, a total of 200 tons. Another four days of supply would be on Stromness, with sixteen additional days on Elk. These two ships would keep backup supplies available at the edge of the Total Exclusion Zone for re–stocking LSLs as required.

Another aim of the re–stow was to issue first–line supplies to units. Up to this time, many units had been separated from supplies they would require when landing in the Falklands. Units now needed their initial issues of ammunition, food and other selected items on the same ships that would carry them south. That way, they would have what they needed for the amphibious assault.

Re–stowage took a full eleven days. The BFSU’s helicopter support element ashore prepared hundreds of loads during this time. In all there were six helicopters supporting the re–stow: two Wessexes, three Sea Kings and one heavy–lift CH47 Chinook. In one day pilots few 138 Wessex, 40 Chinook, and 40 Sea King sorties with supplies from the airfield to ships. Helicopter pilots routinely refuelled hot at the airfield with engines running amidst fixed wing aircraft, all without mishap. A shortage of lifting gear and cargo nets slowed operations at times. If loads were prepared and requirements changed, then the loads had to be dismantled and repackaged. It was, as one member recalled, ‘damned hard work’.

The work was no easier on ships anchored offshore. The only way of lifting items on or off most ships was by air. Considerable work had to precede the arrival of helicopters. Because items had been stuffed every which way in vessels, it was routinely the case that supplies on upper decks had to be repositioned to create space before cranes could lift supplies up from lower decks for the helicopters to move. The passage south had not been kind to the haphazardly loaded supplies either. As men moved cranes to retrieve ammunition from MV Elk, they discovered ‘rough seas had dislodged some of the load, so instead of neat pallets, everything was stuck in the middle. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.’

Nor was it easy for soldiers on mexeflote platforms bobbing up and down in swells to ferry stocks. One crew had just retired for the night aboard Sir Lancelot after finishing a long day of moving cargo throughout the anchorage. The Officer of the Watch roused them out of their bunks after a few hours and informed them that the LSL had to move to sea because hostile ships were in the area. To save time, Lancelot was to sail without mexeflotes and crews. So the crew was cast afloat on its mexeflote to fend for themselves. Conveniently for them, they found a mooring buoy in the dark, close to the beach, and secured themselves to it. The only protection for them on the floating raft was a few cargo nets and ammunition boxes, which they quickly formed into a shelter.

The threat never materialized, but the British took few chances. They had no viable defence in place at Ascension at the time, and they knew Argentina was capable of ranging large aircraft to the island or discharging special forces from ships. Its merchant vessel Rio de la Plata passed within four miles of Ascension on 25 April. Two days later, another Argentine merchant ship showed up in the area. Then, on 2 May, a Soviet spy trawler appeared in the distance. Such developments combined to create concern for the security of the Task Force. The British already were planning to deploy more Harriers to Ascension to link up with Task Force shipping. Eventually, some would be used to provide protection for ships operating in the area. As an interim precaution, ships received instructions to weigh anchor and steam out to sea at the end of each day; unfortunately, this slowed the re–stow process even further by preventing shuttling of supplies at night. Eight Harrier GR3s arrived for the Task Force on 5 May, and three remained at Ascension until Phantom interceptors eventually replaced them. That same day, the British installed a radar system on top of Green Mountain, using a Chinook helicopter disembarked from Atlantic Conveyor. They then announced a 200–mile ‘terminal control area’ around Ascension and required prior notification of all flights into the area.

The majority of Task Force marines and soldiers not involved in the re–stow engaged in training both afloat and ashore. Troops needed to zero weapons and armoured vehicles. The BFSU, with assistance from the manager of Pan American, set up several training areas for use, to include a live–fire range for armoured vehicles. Commanders made the most of the time available. Troops were ferried ashore to English Bay by helicopter or landing craft and practised assaults. They conditioned themselves by marching the six miles to ranges to zero their weapons and then back to English Bay. Training ashore provided a premonition of likely ammunition expenditure rates. For example, 45 Commando fired a nine–year allocation of MILAN anti–tank training ammunition at Ascension in a single day.

Rehearsing procedures for disembarking transport ships into amphibious landing craft was also an important unit training priority. STUFT vessels posed particular concern. These ships lacked the internal communication systems found on amphibious ships to facilitate such operations. Units therefore needed to practise getting off the ships into landing craft quickly and safely. If they did not, then any amphibious assault could degenerate into a disorganized struggle to get ashore and would almost certainly jeopardize the success of the operation. Some Royal Marines had trained in similar procedures, but disembarking from STUFT would be new for all of them. Amphibious operations would be a completely different experience for paratroopers, though, since their skill was in jumping out of airplanes on to battlefields. They did not train to disembark ships to assault beaches. Consequently, everyone needed some degree of training, and so they practised disembarking into landing craft when ships were stationary and also when they were moving. Landing craft and helicopter availability constrained the time available since these movement assets were stretched already in the re–stow operation. Logistics requirements retained priority. Thompson allocated each battalion/commando one day and one night for landing craft rehearsals.

As logisticians were just starting to shuffle around supplies, Admiral Fieldhouse and Major General Moore arrived at Wideawake for a series of briefings as planned on 17 April aboard Hermes. Over a hundred commanders and staff crowded into a small briefing room on the carrier, where briefers shared assessments of the situation. Fieldhouse listened carefully to Woodward’s concerns about timing and the eventual maintenance needs of ships. They assumed the two carriers would stay operational until mid–June and agreed on the need to liberate Stanley before then. They decided that the amphibious assault must take place by the third week in May and that special forces would land in the Falklands by 1 May to allow sufficient time to gather intelligence. The group concluded that the Carrier Battle Group should proceed south immediately to enforce the TEZ blockade and insert those special forces. Fieldhouse ruled out an amphibious landing at any place other than East Falkland. The exact location of the landing on East Falkland, however, remained unspecified. All agreed that Clapp and Thompson would continue evaluating options for landing areas and that special forces would provide intelligence regarding locations under consideration. By the end of the meeting, Fieldhouse stated categorically, for the first time, that Woodward’s Carrier Battle Group would win the air and sea battles before any amphibious landing took place. Few, however, believed that would be possible. The Amphibious Task Force would remain at Ascension for the time being to carry out its re–stow of supplies and equipment.

The meeting produced several important decisions with implications for Task Force logistics. Fieldhouse agreed that 3 Commando Brigade needed reinforcement by another parachute battalion, an additional battery of 105mm light artillery guns, more engineers, medics, Blowpipes for air defence and light helicopters. Most of these reinforcements were, in fact, already being mobilized. This would bring the strength of the Land Force to about 5,500 men spread over five battalion–sized units with twenty–four 105mm light guns, eight tracked armoured reconnaissance vehicles, a battery of Rapier surface–to–air missiles and fifteen light helicopters. Moreover, the assembly concluded that another brigade was required to increase overall ground combat strength, since 3 Commando Brigade, even when reinforced with a second parachute regiment, remained only half the size of the 10,000–strong Argentine force anticipated in the Falklands. The British Army’s 5 Infantry Brigade would become that additional force. Previously known as 8th Field Force until it was renamed in January 1982, it was quite different from 3 Commando Brigade. Until its redesignation, the brigade had been a mixture of Regular Army and Territorial Army units, with a primary focus on homeland defence and secondary focus on out–of–area contingencies. It was a new formation that had not trained together before. Two of its famous units, the parachute battalions, were now deploying as attachments to the more prestigious 3 Commando Brigade.

Aboard Hermes, Thompson specifically requested more load–carrying transportation to support his brigade. There being no other aircraft carriers remaining, the MoD agreed shortly thereafter to requisition the container ship Atlantic Conveyor and convert her into a platform for heavy–lift helicopters and other aircraft. Atlantic Conveyor would be modified and sail loaded from England eight days after the meeting aboard Hermes. Intrepid, the second Landing Platform Dock, would join the Amphibious Task Force as well. Hellberg and Baxter huddled separately with Major General Moore at Ascension to work on logistics issues. They agreed that the current thirty days’ supply of ammunition at Limited War Rates was insufficient. Estimates indicated that, at intense rates of fire, artillery and mortar ammunition supplies would not last a week. As a result, Baxter arranged for another thirty days of this ammunition, including 30mm armour–piercing rounds for the Scimitar light tanks and variable time fuses for artillery shells. Variable time fuses were not included in the artillery regiment’s first line issue of ammunition. These fuses, whose settings enabled artillery shells to explode above ground level, would be much more effective in the open, peat–covered terrain common throughout much of the Falklands. So Baxter got more fuses from the British Army of the Rhine in Germany.

The meeting aboard Hermes cut to the quick of some important issues, but it nevertheless left Brigadier Thompson and Commodore Clapp a little frustrated. Thompson had hoped for more specifics about what was expected. Although it was agreed that the earliest possible landing date would be 14/15 May, his mission remained vague. Where he was to land and with what objectives in mind would dramatically influence logistics requirements and the time needed to get a sustainment base ashore on East Falkland. They had to continue configuring supplies for battle largely by guesswork.

On 18 April, the day after the meeting with Fieldhouse, the Carrier Battle Group headed south. Ten days later, Task Force commanders finally received a little more guidance. It reflected the objective that Chief of Defence Staff Lewin had proposed to the War Cabinet weeks before, to avoid war by ‘bringing about the withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands and dependencies, and the re–establishment of British administration there, as quickly as possible’. Included in the guidance were requirements for Woodward to cut off supplies to the Argentines, discredit their claim to sovereignty, provoke their naval and air forces into action, and to control the sea and air for a main landing; and for Clapp to establish a beachhead close enough to exert military and psychological pressure on the main Argentine force in the Port Stanley area. The guidance expressed the hope that such actions ‘may be enough to convince the Argentines that their own position is militarily untenable and that they can honourably agree to withdraw….’ The new information probably produced more confusion than clarity. It certainly did little to help Thompson, Clapp and their logisticians assess how to configure forces and supplies for an amphibious assault. It remained clear that Thatcher and her War Cabinet were still hoping to avoid war. Until circumstances changed that perspective, guidance for planning a ground war would remain vague.

By the end of April, the re–stow operation and other tasks were nearing completion. Clapp had arranged for some experts to assess the underwater signatures of ships to reduce the risk of magnetic mines, and for others to train ship crews on damage control and repair. Royal Navy engineers had installed 40mm anti–aircraft guns on the LSLs to provide some protection against air attack and repaired the reverse–osmosis fresh water generators installed in Uganda at Gibraltar. Moore few back to Ascension Island on 29 April to update Thompson and Clapp on decisions in London. All but three of the nineteen beaches considered for amphibious landings had been eliminated. Those remaining were the ones Clapp and Thompson had been studying: Cow Bay/Volunteer Bay, Berkeley Sound, and San Carlos Bay. When Moore returned to London, he took with him an outline of operations orders for each of the three options. On 30 April, Thompson gathered his commanders together and, in strictest confidence, shared with them details of planning up until then. Many decisions still would be forthcoming, but one thing seemed sure. It started to look for the first time as if they really were going to war. The next day, Lieutenant Colonel Hellberg and the bulk of his Commando Logistic Regiment weighed anchors and headed south in their slower LSLs. The rest of the Amphibious Task Force would catch up with them before reaching the Falklands.

The other manoeuvre battalion, the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, proudly known as 2 Para, arrived aboard the ferry Norland on the morning of 7 May. Thompson urgently requested a little more time so that 2 Para also could practise disembarking into landing craft from Norland. He was granted just a few more hours before the War Cabinet in London ordered the Amphibious Task Force south. The Group sailed at 2200 hrs that evening. Somewhere out in the South Atlantic, hundreds of miles ahead, the five slower LSLs were already steaming. Few members of the Task Force now doubted they would see some action. Too much had happened since they arrived at Ascension three weeks before. Still more was to happen in the days ahead that would make war even more likely.

Royal Flying Corps (RFC) / Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) / Royal Air Force (RAF)

British military aviation has its roots in the Royal Engineers, which established a balloon corps in 1908. In May 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was established with a military wing, which worked for the army; a naval wing for operations with the fleet; the Central Flying School for instructional purposes; a repair depot called the Royal Aircraft Factory; and a reserve.

A form of interservice rivalry developed almost at once between the military and naval wings, and shortly before the declaration of war, in the summer of 1914, the naval wing broke away to become the Royal Naval Air Service.

When war was declared, the RFC deployed with the British Expeditionary Force; an aircraft park and four squadrons (Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5), each equipped with the entire mixed bag of aircraft then in the British inventory. After a series of moves necessitated by the initial British retreat, headquarters in France was established at Saint Omer, where it remained for most of the war. The first field commander of the RFC was Brigadier General David Henderson. Henderson would shortly return to England, though, leaving command in the field to Hugh Montague ‘Boom’ Trenchard.

Initially, each RFC unit acted as something of a self-contained air force, performing the complete range of activities, which at the time consisted primarily of reconnaissance duties with the occasional bombing mission. As the war progressed, the force grew in number, and by 1916 squadrons began to specialize either as fighter, bombing, or reconnaissance units, the latter role being further divided into photographic and artillery functions. As a consequence of specialization, the practice of units having a multiplicity of types was abandoned, and squadrons started to become known not only by their role but also by what type of equipment they possessed. Balloon companies using tethered observation balloons as artillery spotters began appearing in British service in 1915 and remained a fixture on the Western Front throughout the war.

Technological advances were rapid during the war, and keeping up with the enemy in the design and deployment of new types was a constant problem. The British sometimes suffered severely as a result. When the Germans were first to develop an interrupter gear — allowing a machine gun to fire through the propeller arc — the RFC found itself on the receiving end of the ‘Fokker scourge.’ During the spring of 1917 the problem reached a crisis. During the Battle of the Somme, the previous autumn, the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Service) had organized its single-seat fighter force into heterogeneous jagdstaffeln (fighter squadrons) and reequipped with the Albatros D.I and D.II. The type had been refined over the winter into the D.III.

The RFC, however, had lagged in the introduction of new types and went into the spring with the same complement of tired aircraft,mostly BE 2s that had been in use for the last two years. It paid a high price – the highest number of casualties in a single month it would suffer during its existence – a month that went down in history as ‘bloody April.’

Technological advantage was not the only factor in these losses; doctrine also played a part. Throughout the war, Trenchard followed an offensive policy. This action has attracted its share of criticism, but faced with German occupation of the high ground and the insatiable intelligence needs of the army, often only satisfied by aerial reconnaissance, the RFC seems to have had little choice but to press on with what it had.

The situation improved over the summer of 1917 with the introduction of the Sopwith Camel, the SE 5/5a, the de Havilland D.H. 4, and the Bristol Fighter; the SE 5/5a was the best design to emerge from the Royal Aircraft Factory during the war, the other three, of course, being the products of private firms. From that point on, technology remained fairly balanced, and casualties returned to a manageable level until spiking again in September 1918 following the German introduction of the BMW-powered Fokker D.VII.

The Royal Flying Corps did not operate exclusively on the Western Front, however. After some initial jurisdictional feuding with the RNAS, the RFC had assumed responsibility for the aerial home defense of Great Britain, thereafter regularly scrambling a hodgepodge of mostly second-line equipment in response to Zeppelin and Gotha attacks.

Outside of England and France, units also served in Egypt and Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Russia, providing support to British army operations in those theaters.

The Royal Naval Air Service mission was primarily, if not exclusively, the support of British maritime endeavors. This covered a wide range of activities, from antisubmarine patrols and general reconnaissance duties in connection with the fleet, to bombing missions against submarine pens and Zeppelin bases. To fulfill these missions, the RNAS developed a varied inventory that included floatplanes, flying boats, the first experimental torpedo-bombers, and lighter-than-air airships. Ships were also adapted to work with aircraft, leading to the balloon ship (which extended the effective range of vision of the group to which the balloon vessel was attached), the crane-equipped seaplane carrier, and, eventually, to the first flight-deck aircraft carriers.

In addition to new equipment, innovative techniques were also developed for work over the water, one of the most useful to the prosecution of the war being the so-called spider web. The spider web was an invisible grid over the English Channel and North Sea that provided an organized method for aircraft to use in searching for underwater mines and U-boats. Provision for aerial escort as part of the convoy scheme also contributed to the safety of Allied shipping as it crossed the Atlantic to and from North America.

As mentioned, the RNAS did not operate exclusively over the water. Throughout the war, naval units were deployed for land-based operations on the Western Front.And among the Allied forces, the RNAS could take credit for the first tentative attempts at strategic bombing. In the summer of 1916, the RNAS organized No. 3 Wing and equipped the unit with Sopwith 11/2 Strutters and Breguet bombers with the aim of attacking targets inside Germany. The group was stationed at Luxeuil, near Nancy, putting it within reach of manufacturing plants in the Saar River Valley. Bad weather – the perpetual enemy of aerial operations – kept No. 3 Wing grounded throughout much of its life, but its first – and most memorable – raid took place on 12 October 1916 when it attacked the Mauser Works at Oberndorf. The raid was a truly international operation involving not only the British naval unit but also French bombers and an escort of Nieuport fighters provided by the U.S. volunteers of the Lafayette Escadrille. By spring, however, the lackluster results achieved led to the breakup of the group and the reassignment of its crews to other units, many going to the navy’s single-seat squadrons up near the channel coast. There, some pilots, such as Canadian ace Raymond Collishaw, would go on to great success flying the Sopwith Pup, Triplane, and later the immortal Camel, supplementing the RFC in support of army operations.

Relations between the two British aviation services were always somewhat tense, accusations of various intrigues going in both directions. The rivalry heightened to the point that a government committee merged the RFC and RNAS into the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.

Trenchard was ordered to run the Independent Force and General John Salmond became the RAF’s first field commander. There is little evidence to indicate that a true merger of the two services really took place prior to the Armistice, however. There was a new ‘RAF blue’ uniform issued, but not many people are seen wearing it in wartime photos,most clinging not only to the old uniform but also to the practices and brief traditions of their earlier branch. Previously, naval squadrons were renumbered, each having ‘200’ added to its original designation (e.g.,Naval Eight became No. 208 Squadron,RAF), and a few swaps of personnel were effected, probably the most notable being the transfer of RNAS ace Roderick Dallas to the command of No. 40 Squadron, an old RFC fighter unit. But these changes were largely cosmetic, and the real birth of the Royal Air Force is more likely found in the postwar struggles to remain funded and stay alive, all taking place under the stewardship of Trenchard. The fruits of his labor became apparent in 1940 when the RAF rose to the Nazi threat and achieved its finest hour during the Battle of Britain.

Did the British ever successfully bomb Berlin in WWI?

The The Handley Page V/1500, which first entered service in 1918, was the first British bomber with four engines. It was known within the fledging RAF as the ‘Super Handley’. Two squadrons were formed at Bircham Newton (No. 166 Squadron and No. 167 Squadron) with the express purpose of bombing Berlin.

The short answer is no. As to why, that requires a very long answer. Briefly, 27 Group RAF based at Bircham Newton in Norfolk was Trenchard’s chosen instrument for raiding Berlin. It was commanded by a Canadian, Col. R.H. Mulock, which was to be equipped with the Handley Page V1500 bombers (the British answer to the German Giants). The RAF planning staff projected a round trip from this base of 1000 miles; the V1500 was supposed to have an endurance of 14 hours cruising at 100 mph, and with a bomb load of about 2 tons. The V1500 had four Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines of 375 hp each.

Allied plans for 1919 would have bombing Berlin with the Handley-Page V.1500. The RAF had plans in motion to have a 200 Squadron bombing force (Independent Force) by July 1919. The pieces were coming together at war’s end, but I doubt that the date would have been met. Think of the logistics to support this force. The HP V1500 were going to bomb Berlin from bases in Scotland!

The RAF had started on the Berlin project much too late: not until 29 August 1918 was 27 Group formed, with two wings, Nos. 86 and 87. Crewing up these giants, and conducting specialized training, occupied September and early October, when the first flight testing of the V1500 took place. After some favourable results, Mulock was put to the question by Trenchard:

“Urgent your definite views as to whether the V 1500 can do the long trip … and if so the earliest it can be used.” To which Mulock replied, “Yes, it is possible under favourable weather with the figures we have at present” (This was shortly after 15 October). Trenchard responded: “I give you freedom to carry out this operation on the lines you propose when you consider you are ready”

Three V1500 were delivered to No. 166 Squadron at RAF Bircham Newton (Norfolk) during October 1918. The squadron commander did not get clear orders for his mission until November 8 due to the above debate at high level. A mission was scheduled for that night (bomb Berlin, fly on to Prague as the Austro-Hungarian forces had surrendered by then, refuel, re-arm, bomb Düsseldorf on the way back). No mission was flown – a technical expert insisted that all the engines on one aircraft be changed. The same happened the following day (but with a different aircraft). The three aircraft were about to taxi out after the second set of engine changes when an excited ground crew member ran out to stop them — the Armistice had just been declared.

So this heavy bomber was never used against Berlin, or against any other target. We do know that later on Armistice Day, one of the V1500s flew over London with ‘forty-one on board–ten girls and thirty-one men.'”


The Julius Caesar Plan

A camouflaged defensive position constructed in the north wall of Pevensey Castle, East Sussex, during the Second World War. One report states: ‘At the time of the construction of the defence works in the walls of Pevensey Castle, from late July 1940 through August and September, the infantry regiment at Pevensey had been the 4th Bn. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and the commander of this battalion, Lt. Col. Harrowing, appears to have been responsible for the siting of the machine gun emplacements, and for organising the strengthening of various of the dungeons and towers of the medieval castle to serve as headquarters buildings. This work was carried out by 562nd Field Company Royal Engineers.’

27 October 1939

Air Power Considered to Have Made the Risk of Invasion Negligible

The advent of air-power had changed the prospects for an invasion of this country. It was believed that the preparation of an expeditionary force would be unable to escape the watch of our air-reconnaissance patrols, and that the expedition could be bombed and shelled to destruction before reaching these shores.

Coastal Command R.A.F. was responsible for reconnaissance over possible invasion ports on the Continent (17 of the 19 squadrons approved for Coastal Command were ready to operate at the outbreak of war); and Bomber Command had an adequate striking force to attack any concentration of shipping. Our naval supremacy in Home waters was guaranteed by the Naval Pact with Germany in 1935.

In the circumstances the Committee of Imperial Defence had approved that “so long as our Navy and Air Force are in being, a sea-borne invasion could be defeated without the help of land forces … and the danger of airborne attack on a large scale is negligible”. The land forces to be retained in the United Kingdom needed to be adequate only “to man the anti-aircraft ground defences and to maintain order and essential services in the event of major and sustained air attacks”.

In accordance with their assurances all the Regular divisions in the country were sent to France as soon as mobilised, to be followed by Territorial divisions as they became fit for service.

Not only was the Home Army reduced to a token force of semi-trained troops, but priority was given to the Field Force in France for trained officers and the full output of equipment, artillery and transport from production. For the same reason – the belief that preparations against invasion were unnecessary – coast defence had come last in priority in defence measures, and the 28 “defended ports” were far below the approved requirement in armament.

Civil Invasion Preparations Cancelled

As the War Office did not propose to make specific preparations to deal with large scale seaborne or airborne raids, or invasion, civil defence schemes to meet such a contingency were “unnecessary and, indeed, impracticable”.

Entries in the Government War Book for civil anti-invasion measures, such as the evacuation of the population from coastal areas, removal of supplies, etc. inserted purposely after the 1914/18 War to ensure that they were not overlooked, had been cancelled in 1937.

Risk of a Large Scale Raid Considered

During the first weeks of the war the activities of German submarines off the North and West coasts resulted in a reduction of our light naval force in the North Sea to provide escorts for trade protection. When the nights began to lengthen in October, the War Cabinet agreed that a convoy of German transports might slip through our naval and air patrols, and land an armed force on the coast. The Chiefs of Staff were accordingly asked to reconsider the risk of a large scale raid, and to take the necessary steps to meet it. Our naval and air forces could be rapidly strengthened sufficiently to intercept any reinforcements of troops and supplies; but even a local success, such as the destruction of a port or of some vital objective near the coast, might have a political and moral effect sufficient to tie up many more troops at home. The requirement therefore was to destroy the landing force as soon as possible before any serious damage could be done.

The Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, was asked to “prepare immediate plans to meet an invasion on a large scale, based on a course of enemy action which had previously been ruled out an unlikely”. The outcome of that request was the “Julius Caesar” plan produced by G.H.Q. Home Forces on the 27th October

The maximum German force which might evade our sea control was estimated at a division, or 15,000 fully equipped troops, in twenty 4,000– 5,000 ton transports supported by 10,000 airborne troops in 1,000 civil aircraft.

Until the airborne troops had captured a port from the landward side, cleared opposition from the vicinity of the docks and anchorages, and from ground commanding the entrance to the port, it was considered to be “supremely dangerous for a seaborne landing to be attempted”; so that “if the initial air landing operation is a failure the operation as a whole cannot proceed and has definitely failed”. Consequently the defeat of the airborne force was the principal aim of the plan. With equipment limited to rifles and light machine guns, and a restricted ammunition supply, the airborne troops were expected to have little staying power unless quickly supported from the sea.

The most likely objective was an aerodrome, or landing grounds, near a port of considerable size, such as Harwich or the Humber, where a number of quays, wharves and cranes were available for rapid disembarkation; but defence precautions were taken at all ports between Peterhead and Newhaven where ships could come alongside, in particular Aberdeen, Dundee, Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ramsgate.

The main defence was by fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns which would destroy the troop-carrying aircraft in the air; but parties of aircraft might evade the air defence, or might land before daybreak or in bad visibility. The ground defence was based chiefly on the location of mobile reserves within call; and the success of the plan would depend upon the ability of the local coastal forces to “pin down” the German airborne formations, and upon the time taken by the mobile reserves to reach the area of operations.

To give the earliest possible warning additional air reconnaissance and naval patrols were to be ordered to cover the German coastal and North Sea areas by day and on moon-light nights; and certain bomber squadrons were to be maintained in immediate readiness to bomb ship concentrations. With those precautions it was estimated that a minimum of eight hours’ notice could be given of any attempted large scale raid. The code-word “Julius”, denoting that an invasion was impending, brought the Home Defence forces to a state of readiness at eight hours’ notice; the code-word “Caesar” signified that an invasion was imminent.

It was expected that the landing force, seaborne and airborne, would be eliminated within seven days. That calculation provided the basis for the short-term period for the immobilisation of ports and the denial of facilities to the enemy. The civil population not in immediate danger were to be encouraged to remain in their homes; but the exodus of those persons in the danger zone was to be controlled and directed so that military two-way roads into the area of operations was kept clear of all civil traffic.

The C.-in-C. Home Forces put the minimum Army requirement for the plan at seven divisions: two for the Eastern and one each for the Northern and the Scottish Commands, and three in G.H.Q. Reserve. In Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and East Anglia armoured detachments were to be ready to move at once to break up the landing force before a port could be seized. The dispositions of Home Forces early in May 1940, when nine divisions were available for the plan.

The Julius Caesar plan may be regarded as an annex to the Record of Home Defence Measures; and together they formed the foundation of the plans for Home Defence during the first Winter of the War.