Features of an Atlantic Wall Bunker

Features of an Atlantic Wall Bunker

The bunker was primarily an instrument of defence. For that purpose, most but not all Regelbauten included a number of standard features. The fortress engineer staff selected designs they needed and adapted them to local conditions. As a result, some bunkers in areas that were less vulnerable might lack some of the standard features designed to counter any assault. Shortage of construction materials also affected the design.

Whether the bunker was a weapons position, an Unterstand or a supporting position, the desired features included a protected entrance, and some bunkers had two. The simplest Regelbau bunkers had a 3cm-thick steel armoured door usually located inside a protected entrance hall with an open entranceway in the outside wall.67 The hallway connected at right angles to a small corridor with the door at the end. An embrasure for small arms covered the outside access to this corridor. A grating gate often closed off the open access to the entrance corridor. In some instances, where an entrance corridor was not present, the armoured door was on the outer wall. Often the armoured door was a heavy ‘Dutch Door’ that allowed the top half to open if the bottom section were blocked by rubble resulting from damage. The armoured doors included a double lever lock system and a rubber seal lined the edges to render them airtight and gas proof. A peephole with a cover allowed the occupants to inspect newcomers before letting them in. Except in the H-702, the armoured door opened into a gas lock for added protection. These entrance corridors included a decontamination niche, usually located at the opposite end from the entrance to the air lock.

Some bunkers included a close-combat room, a defensive position for a light machine-gun or small arms on a wall section that projected slightly beyond the outside wall so that its embrasure could cover the entire exposed wall and the entrance. One or two Tobruks at the rear of the bunker served as observation positions and provided additional protection for the entrance.

All bunkers, except the smallest, had some type of ventilation system. Armoured grilles covered air intakes on the outer walls. Larger bunkers included steel air ducts suspended along the ceilings and a ventilation system to which air filters could be introduced in the event of a gas attack. In multi-room bunkers and bunkers with gunrooms there were valves on the internal walls to control the internal air pressure, to provide gas protection and to reduce the effects of blasts on the human body. In the case of the latter, it proved not to be very effective. Most Regelbauten had additional heating vents, especially in the crew quarters. Although the larger, more complex bunkers usually had a form of central heating (even air-conditioning for cartridge rooms), most bunkers used a small standard type of heater, a WT80, in the crew areas; this type of heater had a roof vent that was designed to trap a grenade should the enemy get that close. Many of these features, including the anti-gas protection, were common in the permanent fortifications of most nations during this era.

Although the size of the bunkers varied widely, the height of rooms was established at 2.1–2.3 metres. The number of rooms was determined by the size and purpose of the bunker. Usually the interior walls were of concrete poured during the construction of the bunker, but in some cases they were made of brick. The interior doors, if armoured, were of thinner steel, but wooden doors were also common, especially if the door was for a brick wall. Normally, wood lined the walls and served as insulation because bunkers were cold and often damp. A standard concrete thickness was prescribed for all floors, but some were also covered with asphalt tiles to counter blast pressure effects from a direct hit on the bunker. These floor coverings enhanced the protection provided by the pressure valves between rooms.

Almost every type of Regelbauten had an emergency exit that consisted of a well on an exterior wall that led to the roof. This well had handrails for the troops to climb out, but it was filled with sand or gravel. The emergency exit was accessed through a small door on an inside wall. One or two small brick walls beyond this door had to be broken to allow the contents of the escape well to spill on to the floor of the bunker. The men inside would have to clear away the debris before they climbed out the escape well.

Larger bunkers normally included some type of communications equipment. For internal communication between rooms, the voice pipe was a standard feature. This fast and effective method was found in the many permanent fortifications of other nations as well. For external communication, the most common method was by runner, but telephones or even radios linked most large bunkers, especially artillery bunkers, to their command post. When a radio was present, the antenna was often located in the entrance hallway. The antenna extended and retracted through a tube in the ceiling. The command post usually had a telephone and radio link to higher headquarters. Telephone cables buried about 2 metres deep linked most of the bunkers in a strong-point to one another and to a higher headquarters.

Some combat bunkers and the larger Unterstände included a periscope for all-round surveillance. In the smaller bunkers the crews had to rely on the few embrasures to survey their surroundings. Most weapons embrasures had a stepped opening that narrowed towards the armoured embrasure. This feature, known as an anti-ricochet device, prevented enemy rounds from being funnelled into the embrasure. Some types of casemate with a large opening that allowed the gun a field of fire of up to 120° sometimes did not have or could not accommodate the stepped anti-ricochet device. Additional protection for large gun artillery bunkers often consisted of a stepped carapace extending beyond the roof. Some observation bunkers had cantilevered roofs to protect the observers.

Bunkers were usually covered with earth. Only their roof positions, walls with embrasures and entrances were exposed fully or partially. For additional protection many of the post-West Wall era bunkers had a stepped entranceway so that their floor level was below ground level for additional protection. In some locations it was not possible to cover the bunkers with earth because the terrain lacked relief. In some cases an artificial hill was raised around the bunker. In other cases the engineers employed various types of camouflage, even disguising the bunkers as civilian structures with a judicious coat of paint. Exposed walls received a camouflage paint job. Different types of texturing on the concrete surface were done in the mould when the concrete was poured. Bunkers that were not earth-covered and those with exposed walls had rounded corners to deflect enemy shells.

The interiors of the bunkers were rather spartan. Whenever possible there was electric lighting, but kerosene and/or acetylene lamps were the only light sources available in isolated areas. The men ate at wooden tables, slept on steel bunks and stored their personal effects and equipment in lockers. The soldiers cheered up their environments with wall paintings, but they were not allowed to conceal the painted wall signs that identified the rooms, the instructions for operating equipment, the warnings or the components of the bunker. Most interior rooms were painted white; it is believed that green and black were used on most of the metal components. A personnel shelter often had a nearby water source, unless it had its own well. While a large bunker normally had latrine facilities, most combat bunkers and Unterstände had none. Instead, the troops used a latrine bucket with a seat (a portable toilet) that was often located in the close-defence position, which gave the soldiers some privacy. Otherwise, the gas lock or the decontamination niche served as a latrine. The men probably used the latrine bucket only during combat. Most Wn would have some type of latrine facilities outside the bunkers for the troops. The StP was likely to have a latrine bunker.

The German Infantry Company and Platoon in Coastal Defence

The actual composition of German infantry units in coastal defence is a bit confusing. The organization of the company changed after 1940 when its standard composition was three rifle platoons and a heavy weapons platoon. In 1939 the platoon or zug (Schutzenzug or rifle platoon) consisted of a three-man light mortar section with a 50mm mortar and three thirteen-man rifle squads, each of which had a light machine-gun – an MG-34. Between 1941 and 1944 modifications took place, which reduced the rifle squad to ten men. A complete reorganization in 1943 introduced the ‘1944 Infantry Division’ with platoons of four rifle squads. The squad leader carried a submachine-gun. The standard rifle squad was referred to as gruppe (Schutzengruppe or rifle squad), which translates as ‘section’ instead of ‘squad’ and causes some confusion in written accounts. In 1944 many platoons numbered only three squads, which reduced their firepower to three light machine guns. The platoon’s mortar team initially had light 50mm mortars that were eventually replaced with 81mm mortars, and then eliminated in the ‘1944 Division’. The infantry company also included a machine-gun section with two heavy machine-gun teams. The heavy machine-guns were the same MG-34 or MG42s used in the rifle platoons, but with different mounts. In the battalion heavy weapons company, which had a heavy machine-gun platoon and two 81mm mortar platoons before 1944, one of the mortar platoons received 120mm mortars.

The change in the organization and appearance of the ‘1944 Infantry Division’ had little effect on the divisions assigned to coastal defence since most were static formations. The companies and platoons of these old divisions did not update to the new standards and they received older weapons and captured foreign models. Thus a rifle platoon assigned to beach defence might have more than the allotted number of machine-guns and could even have heavier weapons. Since their primary mission was to defend a Wn or StP, their internal organization was modified based on the position they held. The elements of these divisions that were not assigned to a Wn or StP and were held as reserve units conformed more closely to the standard table of organization for the pre-1944 division.

Atlantic Wall: Bunkers and Organization for Defence

Regelbau M162a fire-control bunker for gun battery at Frederikshavn, Denmark, in the summer of 1945. This photo was taken by Frits G. Tillisch, a Danish army officer serving in the Danish Resistance.

Cross-section of one of Mirus Battery’s gun emplacements. Modified drawing from Report on German Fortifications (Office of Chief of Engineers, US Army, 1944). (J. Kaufmann)

When the Germans went over to the defensive in the West after 1940, they increased the number of batteries to protect the ports and deter an Allied landing. However, even if the guns were able to damage some enemy ships or sink them, it is doubtful whether they alone could have stopped a raid or major landing. The Germans, therefore, had to create additional defences and protect the likely invasion beaches adjacent to or near ports and their gun batteries, which represented possible targets for an enemy landing operation. As a result, they established a complex of bunkers and other fortifications around each battery that included, in addition to the gun casemates, personnel shelters, supporting facilities and bunkers for machine-guns and other infantry weapons. Eventually this led to the formation of strongpoints (StP) and strongpoint groups. Smaller groupings of infantry bunkers and associated supporting positions formed resistance nests (Wn) charged with holding the key beaches or adding to the all-round defences for a fortress or smaller position. A variety of specialized bunkers existed for machine-guns, anti-tank guns, infantry guns and so on.66 The Tobruk pit, introduced in 1942, greatly enhanced all-around security in Wns and StPs. Each position required wire obstacles and, where possible, minefields and field fortifications.

The naval engineers determined where to deploy their heavy coastal batteries and the layout of their gun emplacements and associated supporting positions while the army engineers created the defensive scheme for protecting these batteries. In Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, Colin Partridge reveals that OB West issued Basic Order number 7 on 28 May 1942 establishing four categories of coast defences. The types of defensive positions from smallest to largest were:

1. Widerstandsnest (Wn) or Resistance Nest

2. Stützpunkt (StP) or Strongpoint

3. Stützpunktgruppe or Strongpoint Group

4. Küstenverteidigungsabschnitt and Verteidigungsbereich or Defence Area

The Widerstandsnest – often referred to on maps as ‘W’ or ‘Wn’ with a number designation – varied in size, but were the smallest defensive positions. The smallest Wn was manned by a squad-sized unit of approximately ten men, while the largest required up to a platoon-sized unit of thirty to forty men. In 1944 a German squad consisted of nine men, and a platoon comprised three squads, but many squads were not at full strength.68 Squad weapons included the squad leader’s 9mm MP-40 machine pistol (submachine-gun), a 7.92mm MG-42 light machine-gun and K-98 Mauser 7.92mm bolt-action rifles. Some units still used the older MP-38 and MG 34. Other types of machine-gun and assault rifle were issued during the war, but most went to SS units, which never served in coast defence, and to other specialized Wehrmacht formations. Three squad members served the machine-gun. These included a gunner, his assistant and an ammunition carrier. The two gunners carried pistols and the ammunition carrier a rifle. The remaining men in the squad were riflemen, so a reduced squad was short of riflemen.69 The infantry platoon also included a three-man light 50mm mortar team. Some of the troops in a Wn came from the battalion’s machine-gun company, which included three heavy machine-gun platoons (two squads, with two heavy machine-guns each) and a heavy mortar platoon (three squads, with two heavy mortars each). The heavy mortar was an 81mm mortar with a three-man crew. However, by 1944 it was replaced with a 120mm mortar in many units and the 81mm mortars were assigned to the infantry platoons to replace their inadequate 50mm mortars.

Besides mortar ammunition, the German rifle platoons needed only 7.92mm ammunition for their rifles and machine-guns and 9mm rounds for the few sub machine-guns and pistols they used. The squads stationed in a Wn or StP often ended up with foreign weapons requiring other types of ammunition. Some of the platoons were equipped with older or captured weapons instead of the standard issue, which complicated the ammunition requirements.

According to Colin Partridge, the 1942 directive called for the Wn to be manned by one or two squads with anti-tank gun, machine-gun and mortar positions. Except for the machine-gun, these weapons were not of the type found in an average German infantry squad since many were foreign-made. Since the platoon only had one mortar, these squads had to receive additional weapons. In some cases the troops in the company’s weapons platoon had to be augmented.

The crew of the smallest type of Wn, which comprised only one or two bunkers and associated field fortifications, consisted of a squad-sized formation. Probably half of the men took up posts in the weapons bunker and the remainder manned the rest of the bunkers and/or field fortifications in the complex. The squad often had a second machine-gun. A resistance nest, consisting of several bunkers and field fortifications, required up to a platoon. This type of position could include an antitank gun or cannon. Except for the Tobruks – most of which were one-man open firing positions – weapons bunkers normally needed three to eight men. A typical Wn comprised a personnel shelter (often with an associated Tobruk), an artillery or infantry observation bunker, a bunker for an anti-tank gun and one or more Tobruks. These resistance nests served individually in an interval between stronger sectors or were associated with other Wns to create a defensive barrier along a section of coast.

The Stützpunkt (StP) or strongpoint consisted of several Wns. The 1942 directive ordered the StP to provide protection for artillery or flak positions. This entailed a higher command system and usually required a company-sized unit. Field fortifications surrounded the entire position and often consisted of a couple of personnel bunkers, three or more weapons bunkers and associated Tobruks. The StP were armed with anti-tank guns, light anti-aircraft guns and multiple machine-guns for defence. Often heavy coastal batteries were incorporated into a strongpoint.

The Stützpunktgruppe (StP Gr) or Strongpoint Group was a collection of several strongpoints and Widerstandsnests that often required from two companies to a reinforced battalion-sized force. Generally this type of position included a bunker for the battalion headquarters for command and communications, a medical bunker, flak positions and/or other supporting facilities. Many coastal batteries were surrounded by a strongpoint group or were part of it. The strongpoint group covered a vulnerable landing area or held a key position like a small port.

These three types of defensive position could be grouped into an even larger fortified position known as a Verteidigungsbereich (VB) or Defence Area. In Der Atlantikwall, Rudi Rolf points out that ‘fortress construction work’ was begun on the sectors encompassed by the ports of Calais, Boulogne, Le Havre, Cherbourg and the area around Cap Gris-Nez in 1941. In the spring of 1942 these locations were identified as a Festungsbereich (FB) or Fortress Area. In 1943 this term was dropped and replaced with Verteidigungsbereich. The formation of the Verteidigungsbereich led to the designation of Festung or Fortress for the former FBs that included several major ports with U-boat or S-boat bases. Not every major port was designated as a VB or Fortress, however; Ostend in Belgium, for instance, is a notable exception.

Thus in 1943 and 1944 sections of the coast of France, the Low Countries, Denmark and Norway were identified as

1. Festung or Fortress;

2. VB or Defence Area; or

3. Freie Küste (literally ‘Free Coast’) – the area not covered by a Festung or VB, but which may have included StP or StP Gr.

Norway, Denmark and the German Bight had no officially designated Festung, but a few historians claim that some VBs were really Fortresses. Denmark included four VB (Frederikshavn, Hansted, Aalborg and Esbjerg). In Mur de L’Atlantique en Norvège, J.B. Wahl lists at least eighteen Festung in Norway, but none is comparable to those in France and the Netherlands.70 The Netherlands included one VB (Den Helder) and two Festung (Ijmuiden and Hoek van Holland). The mouth of the Schelde, including Walchern Island, was included in a KVA (see below). The remainder of the Dutch coast consisted of sections defended by StPs and sometimes StP Groups. A port that was not a Fortress or VB was usually protected by a StP Group.

In France and Belgium OB West divided the entire coastline into Küstenverteidigungsabschnitt (KVA) or Coastal Defence Sectors, which might include any of the above types of sections in the sector and facilitated command and control problems. Initially, in 1941 the FBs were created mainly around ports. Most of the construction involved naval positions. The FBs were still under the command of a naval officer in 1942. The designation changed to VB in 1943 when most of the Regelbauten construction was for army positions. Prior to this, the army had relied mainly on field fortifications built by the regimental troops of a division. Usually, a VB included one of a division’s regiments and its colonel was the designated commander of the VB. The FBs that had been designated as Festung created a special command problem because the Kriegsmarine had divided the coastline into sections commanded by Seekommandant (Seeko). This naval commander, usually an admiral or captain, was in command of all naval land forces, including the naval coastal batteries. The harbour commanders were subordinate to him. The Seekommandant’s port commanders, usually naval captains, often outranked the army Fortress commanders, the latter often having the rank of colonel. Most Fortress commands included naval units and naval ground units, and the special detachments assigned to the fortress by the army and the Luftwaffe. In some cases an army division was assigned to a fortress, putting its general in command. This often happened shortly before and after the Allied invasion of Normandy. A KVA was supposed to be defended by any army division that included troops to hold the various fortifications, augmented by troops from the higher Corps and Army commands. The artillery batteries, which did not belong to an army division, and the coastal artillery units came under Corps command. Hitler decreed that after the enemy landed on the beaches, the naval coastal batteries came under army command.

OB West created twenty-one KVAs in France and three in the Low Countries. Letter designations from A through to J (the letter I was not used) were used in the Fifteenth Army command that included all of Normandy in 1942. The Seventh Army command (Brittany to the Spanish border) began its designations with A at St Malo in Brittany and ended them with F on the Spanish border. In May 1942, after reorganization, First Army took over a section of the Atlantic coast, including the corps of the Seventh Army stationed in KVA D through to KVA F. Seventh Army retained command in Brittany and took over Lower Normandy (Fifteenth Army’s KVA H through to KVA J), including a corps from Fifteenth Army assigned to that region. Some KVA were subdivided when a second or even third division took over part of its coastal defence after 1942. The Fifteenth Army’s KVA A in Belgium was divided into KVA A3 and A2. KVA A1 in the Netherlands included the mouth of the Schelde. Thus, there was one division in each of the three parts of KVA A. KVA D and E in Fifteenth Army command, KVA J and C in Seventh Army command, and KVA E in First Army area were divided into 1 and 2 each. These were not subdivisions but new KVAs. This was done to avoid having to re-letter the entire system.

‘Mulberry’ Floating Harbours

Co-ordinating the effort required awesome organisation and logistics. The Allies had to marshal and maintain over 2 million men, 11,000 aircraft, and 7,000 ships in England. The prodigious industrial output to meet their requirements had to be matched by efficient distribution. The engineering work behind the landings was staggering, and thousands of construction workers were recruited to work night and day. The Petroleum Warfare Department pioneered PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean), ready to pump millions of gallons of petrol across to the invaders. To get the astonishing volume of men, equipment and supplies ashore in north-western France, Churchill’s pet project, the technologically ingenious ‘Mulberry’ floating harbours, were essential. Two were to be constructed off Normandy. Over a hundred enormous 6,000-ton reinforced concrete caissons called ‘Phoenixes’ (each 60 feet high, 60 feet wide and 200 feet long) would be towed across the Channel from Selsey Bill and Dungeness by some of the fleet of 132 tugs and then filled with sand from ‘Leviathans’ so they sank to form a breakwater in the Bay of the Seine. Outside this artificial reef was a floating line of ‘Bombardons’ towed from Poole and Southampton to calm the waves, and inside, in shallower water, a line of ‘Gooseberries’, formed from two dozen redundant merchant navy vessels, Liberty ships and one old dreadnought that were scuttled and sunk where needed. In the calmer waters within the two-square-mile Mulberry harbour, strong Lobnitz or ‘Spud’ pier heads were sunk deep into the sand which allowed long bridges or floating roadways to the shore, known as ‘Whales’, to float up and down with the tides. The menagerie of code-names was augmented by power-driven pontoons called ‘Rhinos’ and amphibious vehicles known as ‘Ducks’.

Artificial Ports

When the Allies prepared for the Normandy landing, it became evident to them that the Germans would do everything possible to prevent their French ports from falling into enemy hands. They consequently decided on a surprise approach, which involved bypassing existing ports and landing on a bare expanse of beach. Two structures were designed to accomplish this purpose: landing craft of various types that were to be deliberately run aground on the beach and then opened to discharge their cargo, and artificial ports.

Churchill had conceived the idea of artificial ports as far back as 1915. In 1940, as prime minister, he thought of it again. On May 30, 1942 he elaborated on his concept in a note dispatched to Mountbatten, who for some time had pondered over the problems that would be posed by a military landing. During a meeting of the chiefs of staff, Mountbatten declared; “If there are no employable ports, we can build them piece by piece and tow them over.” After reconnaissance information about Dieppe confirmed the need for “mulberries” (the code name given to these artificial ports), two of them were constructed in June 1944 for use at Arromarches and Vierville. Their use came as a complete surprise to the Germans, who had never even suspected their existence. Carried over the English Channel piece by piece, these two ports, complete with breakwaters, loading platforms and mobile jetties almost Vs of a mile in length, had a storage capacity exceeding the port of Dover. They could handle daily cargo unloadings of 6,000 tons of equipment and 1,250 tons of vehicles. The construction of these brilliant examples of British naval engineering in gcnuity, weighing one million tons each, required the labor of 20,000 men over a period of eight months, as well as 100,000 tons of steel and 8.75 million cubic feet of concrete. The Vierville port, constructed under extremely bad weather conditions, turned out to be useless. So did the Cherbourg “mulberry,” which was finished on June 27, 1944. But the Arromanches mulberry was able to discharge cargoes of 680,000 tons of equipment, 40,000 vehicles and 220,000 men between mid-July and October 31, 1944.

The artificial port used at Arromanches consisted of four basic elements. The first was breakwaters of three different sorts. One line of breakwaters was formed by filling 60 old ships with 500,000 tons of cement, which, of course, caused them to sink. Next came 146 open caissons of reinforced concrete. Six different types of caissons were made, ranging in weight from 1,672 tons to 6,044 tons; they were deployed at different levels as the depth of the ocean floor increased. The largest could be used where the ocean floor reached a depth of 30 feet. These caissons, armed with Bofors guns to protect personnel, were towed across the Channel by 1,500-horsepower tugs. At the proper moment the caissons’ valves were opened; they then filled with water and sank. The outermost breakwaters, cylindrical metal floats 225 feet long and 16 feet in diameter, were assembled side by side in groups of three and supported by a concrete “keel” weighing 750 tons, the upper part of which emerged six feet from the surface of the water. Anchored at a depth of 65 feet, they were placed end to end to form a floating breakwater a mile long, which took the first shock of the waves, before they struck the caissons.

The second element of the mulberries was fixed oi sheltering jetties. Floating caissons were placed end to end and sunk in lines at right angles to the shore. They protected the port from waves, and from attacking midget submarines or frogmen, and served as loading platforms for small ships.

Next were wharves made of pontoons. To keep the floating platforms at a steady horizontal level, which was necessary to avoid complications in unloading ships, they were anchored to steel braces on the ocean floor by a system of pulleys and cables. To compensate for the tides, pontoons were raised or lowered by winches. The winch operation was controlled by extensometers that were connected to the cables securing the pontoons to the steel braces.

The most difficult problem was how to maintain a continuous connection between the pontoons and the shore, which, at high tide, was about 3,000 feet away.’ In spite of the breakwaters the sea was in such constant turmoil that there was doubt as to how long floating jetties made up of several sections would behave. Exhaustive studies beginning in 1941 led to the construction of a jetty supported by floating caissons. Each 100-foot section was composed of two girders in an extremely rigid “bowstring” form, transversely connected at the center by an equally rigid strut and at different points on the strut by a number of articulated braces. The striated sheet metal deck was fixed to the various braces in such a way as to permit expansion. Thus, the ends of the two master girders could take various positions relative to one another. The whole structure was made of high-elasticity steel; its components were riveted together.

The variation of the tides was such that the floating jetties needed the capacity to lengthen or shorten. For this purpose they were fitted with telescoping sections, each consisting of twin girders whose ends were enclosed in a central unit into which they could slide. In this way each section could be lengthened by nine feet.

The installation of an artificial port required a graded shoreline, depending on its composition-i. e., whether it was primarily wet sand, pebbles, marsh etc. Roads in some cases needed to be constructed from prefabricated material shipped across the English Channel and swiftly laid by engineering crews. The road-building material was sometimes prefabricated metal mats, or perhaps of mineral or vegetable origin. In this last instance a British Valentine tank was sent forward with an enormous drum dispensing several hundred feet of coconut matting. A roadway laid down in this fashion over wet or dry sand proved excellent for wheeled and tractored vehicles.

Further amazing engines onshore also sprang from Churchill’s ‘inflammable fancy’: armoured tank bulldozers and ploughs, special fat-cannoned Churchill tanks for blasting blockhouses, other ‘Crocodile’ Churchill tanks that could squirt petrol and latex flames over a hundred yards, great machines for laying fascines across mud or barbed wire, or for thrashing their way with flailing chains clear through exploding mine fields. These devices came from Churchill’s direct encouragement and protection of a brilliant maverick, Major General Sir Percy Hobart of 79th Armoured Brigade, and were collectively known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’.

The deception plan for NEPTUNE, the cross-Channel attack, was called Plan FORTITUDE, and its object was ‘to induce the enemy to make faulty dispositions in North-West Europe’. FORTITUDE NORTH aimed to keep Hitler worrying about Scandinavia, and the danger to Germany posed by an Allied attack on Norway and Denmark. Dummy wireless traffic and bogus information from double agents indicated that the (notional) British Fourth Army in Scotland, supported by American Rangers from Iceland, was going to attack Stavanger and Narvik and advance on Oslo. British deceivers also worked hard on the neutral Swedes. The commander-in-chief of the Swedish Air Force was asked for ‘humanitarian’ assistance in the event of an Allied invasion of Norway. As his office was being bugged by the pro-Nazi chief of Swedish police, this information went straight to Berlin. When Hitler read the transcript he ordered two more divisions to reinforce the ten already in Norway. Thus 30,000 more soldiers were diverted away from France.

The Sea Battles for the Dardanelles I

Fort Seddulbahr before the bombardment on 19 February 1915.

Reconstructed Turkish heavy gun site at the Dardanelles Straits before the bombardment by the British and French fleets

Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers did not bring about the strategic advantage for which Germany had hoped. Bulgaria and Romania did not join the alliance with the Central Powers and remained neutral. Thus a direct overland transportation link between these allied states was still missing and this was of decisive importance for delivering essential weapons and ammunition to Turkey. Even Romania insisted on its neutrality and no longer permitted freight from Germany to pass through its territory, which had previously been possible by paying bribes.

In mid-November 1914, based on reports from Istanbul, the Foreign Ministry emphasised in a memorandum to the German High Command that the number of mines in the Dardanelles and the army’s ammunition would hardly suffice for two battles, so that ensuring a transit route to Istanbul through Serbia became one of the most important tasks of German war planning. The document pointed out that should Turkish requirements not be fulfilled due to shortage of ammunition, then the possible negative consequence could be the mobilisation of the entire Balkans against the Central Powers. On the other hand, as a positive effect of a campaign against Serbia, and thus by keeping the Turkish army as an ally, then 700,000 Turks as well as a further 400,000 men of the Bulgarian army could be made ‘usable’ for German purposes. Towards the end of November 1914 Austro-Hungarian troops tried to defeat Serbia but during the first half of December this offensive ended in a severe rout and the Central Powers’ withdrawal from Serbia. The overland route to Turkey remained blocked.

Field Marshal von der Goltz was again posted to Istanbul in November 1914, transferred from a controversial period as military governor of Belgium. This assignment had been engineered on the initiative of Ambassador von Wangenheim, who evidently wanted to be rid of the recalcitrant General Liman von Sanders and hoped that he would be better able to exercise influence on the conciliatory old Field Marshal. When von Sanders learned of Wangenheim’s efforts to bring back von der Goltz, he tried to dissuade the head of the Military Cabinet in Berlin and stated that, in his view, his relationship with the Ambassador was not as bad as was apparently mistakenly assumed. Von Sanders received support through a letter that Lieutenant Colonel Thauvenay, a member of the Military Mission and now quartermaster at Turkish Headquarters, wrote to the Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. In the letter, Thauvenay tried to excuse the conflicts between the Head of the Military Mission and the Ambassador, indicating that it was due to the General’s military integrity and straightforwardness. He considered von der Goltz was unfit to have an active role in the Turkish military, since he had already ‘sinned enough in the Turkish army’ and what was needed was ‘not a smiling advisor but a firm hand’. This entreaty was unsuccessful however, and von der Goltz arrived in Istanbul on 12 December 1914. But not even von der Goltz himself knew for what purpose he had been assigned to Turkey. He had received no clear instructions or support from either Germany or the Turks. Von der Goltz was not made subordinate to the Military Mission, had no other powers and was therefore not suitable for the German Ambassador’s intention, which was namely that he should act as a replacement for Liman von Sanders. On the contrary – in a telegram on the departure of the Field Marshal from Berlin, it was said that the posting was ‘merely an act of courtesy and has nothing to do with warfare or military operations’. This was understandably unsatisfactory for von der Goltz, who still regarded himself as the figurehead of German-Turkish cooperation and was now bitterly disappointed with his dubious status and lack of recognition:

‘Here I am only to hold a purely honorary position. Not even an adjutant was to be allocated to me. […] Any rights, powers or courses of action to gain influence have not been granted to me. I was not authorized to recruit other officers. All these rights, especially a significant monetary fund, however, were placed at General v. Liman’s disposal, were contractually guaranteed to him, and the Military Cabinet nervously ensured that I was not interfering with these rights.’

Nevertheless, at the beginning of February 1915 the Sultan gave von der Goltz the function of an advisor at the Turkish headquarters and let him take part at General Staff meetings. Although he felt like a ‘spare wheel’ in this position he nonetheless gave expert advice to the Turkish leadership and wrote assessments and reports to Berlin. Thus during these weeks von der Goltz principally viewed his task as explaining to Istanbul the war question against Serbia and in supporting the new Chief of the General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, with his assessments. He saw the advantage of a military operation against Serbia as of grand strategic effect, both in Turkey and in the Balkans, and wrote to Falkenhayn:

‘If, on the other hand, we succeed in bringing the Balkan states over to our side through early success in Serbia, our prevalence over Russia would be finally settled. We have Bulgaria and as soon as we or our allies are with strong forces in Niš the rest will follow on. Then the well-equipped Turkish army of six corps, now inactive in Thrace and Constantinople, can be used.’

Von Falkenhayn was not against this line of reasoning, but had to keep his eye on all the theatres of war and thus saw no possibility of carrying out a major offensive against Serbia. Even the Austrian Chief of the General Staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, saw no chance of even a limited operation against Serbia in order to open just a single corridor as a transport route.

Meanwhile, on 3 November 1914, the Allies had launched a first attack on the entrance to the Dardanelles – apparently, however, more with the intention of probing the defence capability or damaging installations than trying to make a breakthrough. Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle reported:

On the morning of the 3rd at 7 o’clock, 10 English[sic] and French ships of the line were lying in two semicircles at the entrance of the strait, and fired at the two forts at Kumkale and Seddulbahr from a position 16,000 metres away, where no Turkish guns could reach. Out of the slight morning mist, muzzle flashes constantly light up, the forts are shrouded in smoke and dust from which continuous tongues of flame rise up. Half an hour later a tremendous white cloud of smoke appears over Seddulbahr, and stayed in the air for minutes. A [sound like] heavy thunder is heard. The ships peel off and disappear in the haze. That was the start, but a bad start. Through an incomprehensible act of carelessness by a coastal battery, many hundreds of hundredweights of old gunpowder had remained piled up in an underground storage area. This storage area was hit by a shell and the whole battery, along with 5 officers and 60 men, were blown to pieces.’

After this attack and during the following weeks it remained quiet in the Dardanelles. This afforded the Turks more time to continue their preparations for defence. An additional Turkish artillery battalion had been assigned in mid-December for the defence of Beşika Bay (just slightly north of Nagara); Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle first of all had to put this unit through some basic training:

‘Simply looking at them, my head was shaking in disbelief and even my Turkish battery commanders, who were used to many things, remained speechless at this pile of military destitution. The battalion was taken in hand and two days were needed to restore order and bearing. First, everything went to the delousing facility, which was set up in a bakery. Meanwhile officers and NCOs of the Howitzer Regiment were tasked to inspect materiel and equipment, any items deficient were noted and indents placed with the quartermaster. Fourteen days later Marshal Liman v. Sanders visited the battalion in its firing position. Chance would have it that just at the time, when we were standing in one of the batteries, a destroyer was approaching the shore. The Marshal gave the order to fire. This battery had never before fired a single live shot. I prompted the battery commander, checked the sighting and the first shot near the target caused the boat to turn off. The battery was praised and was very proud. The following day, a French cruiser appeared and gave us thanks with 60 heavy shells, which it fired – not at the battery but against a dune 200 metres away, which I had set up at night, using tree trunks as a decoy.’

Meanwhile, new calls for help went out from Istanbul to Berlin. On 30 December, Ambassador von Wangenheim announced that, with the continuing geographical isolation of Turkey, ‘the moment could be foreseen where Turkish thirst for action and will to fight may cease’. On 4 January 1915 Falkenhayn was notified about a meeting of the generals and admirals stationed in Istanbul regarding the ammunition situation in Turkey, where they concluded that even with the most economical consumption, ‘the ammunition for the army and navy would only last until mid-March’. Admiral von Usedom, who was responsible for the defence of the Dardanelles, had also stated that ‘he could vouch for the defence capability of the Dardanelles against a first attack, but that he could not give the same guarantee for a repeated attack’.

Churchill had discussed the question of opening the Dardanelles in November 1914 in the context of a new strategic offensive in southern Europe to win over the Romanians, Bulgarians and perhaps the Greeks as allies; however, this plan was not pursued due to a lack of available forces. Only at the beginning of January 1915, in response to a request from Russia, who wished to take the pressure off their Caucasus front, was further planning resumed in London. However, since the British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, did not want to make troops available for the Orient Front, the commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, Vice Admiral Sackville Carden, was asked how this task could be achieved. He replied on 5 January that although he could not take the Dardanelles by a surprise rush attack, he could take them with the fleet in a large and extended operation. This statement formed the basis for the decision of the British Military Council on 28 January 1915, which recommended an attack on the Dardanelles solely as a fleet action. Preparations for this attack took several weeks. In mid-February it was believed that the plans for attack were ready. On 19 January, Russia had been informed of the intended operation; in London it was expected that with the operation to force the Dardanelles, Russia would at the same time carry out a naval attack on the Bosphorus and a landing on the Turkish Black Sea coast. This, however, was rejected by Moscow due to insufficient forces being available.

Meanwhile the Allied fleet, lying off the Dardanelles, had been considerably strengthened. In addition to the sixteen large British battleships and cruisers, four French battleships and the Russian protected cruiser Askold arrived in January, so that at least twenty-one large warships were now off the Dardanelles. At first the Allied fleet limited itself to continuous monitoring of the entrance to the Dardanelles. From mid-January 1915, there were signs that the Western powers intended an attack on the Straits. On 15 January a French submarine broke through the defensive anti-submarine net stretched across the Dardanelles. Through the courageous intervention of Navy Lieutenant Prince Reuss, who set course in a small ship towards the submarine and dropped depth charges, the submarine was forced to surface at Nagara and fired on by coastal batteries. The Austro-Hungarian Military Representative in Turkey, Field Marshal Lieutenant (Feldmarschalleutnant) Josef Pomiankowski, reported:

‘As an enemy submarine appeared shortly thereafter, it was immediately fired upon and severely damaged, leaving the commander with no choice but to surrender. The crew was captured, but the boat – it was the French submarine Saphir – was towed to Constantinople, where I had the opportunity to inspect it. Saphir belonged to a very outdated type, and was also much neglected. German naval officers told me that in the German fleet boats of this type no longer existed.’

Beginning on 2 February, individual ships began to shell the outer fortifications. On 19 February the Anglo-French fleet again shelled the outer fortifications of the Dardanelles with twelve warships. Admiral von Usedom described this in detail and thus gave an example of the leadership qualities of the German forces taking part:

‘The French used their heavy artillery, the Englishmen [sic] followed soon thereafter with their medium artillery, so that now broadside salvoes were being fired at three minute intervals against all four forts. The batteries were heavily hit; and clear hits could be made out in the fort at Seddulbahr and in the Kumkale battery. At Fort Orhanié the clouds of smoke from the explosions were right in front of the traverses. The ships came closer and closer to the forts. Apparently they believed the batteries to have been fully destroyed. This now gave Orhanié and Ertugrul the opportunity to counter-fire at 16.45 hrs. At the same time all hell broke loose, in which all the ships now seemed to take part. At intervals of 40 seconds, salvo followed salvo. At times, the forts were completely obscured by the black clouds of the explosions. Nevertheless, Orhanié and Ertugrul continued firing. Towards18.00 hrs, the enemy broke off the bombardment. The battery commander of Orhanié, Lieutenant Hans Woermann, as well as the Turkish interpreter and telephonist, who had been in the second observation station of the battery, were killed at 16.10 hrs by 2 shells of 15 cm calibre, after being forced to abandon the first observation post as a result of it being hit. Deputy Ordnance Technician Joerss, sheltering with others outside the battery, assumed the post of the dead battery commander. Since the phone line was out, he no longer had communications with the other batteries. On his own initiative, when the second enemy ship came into bearing from the left, he opened fire at a distance of 44 hm [4400 metres]. Then the Englishman immediately turned to starboard to increase the range.’

The losses caused by this attack totalled four dead, including two Germans, and nine wounded on the Turkish side. Lieutenant Colonel Kannengiesser wrote about this attack:

‘The first attack on 19 February 1915 was aimed at the outer forts of Seddulbahr and Kumkale at the entrance [of the Dardanelles], which were fired at from long range, and vanished under a dense hail of shells, smoke, dust and splinters. Aircraft directed the fire. How can 30-year old guns with quite outdated traverse and firing methods counter this? As Carden withdrew his ships when darkness falls, the loss of people and materiel is insignificant.’

The destruction was judged to be low in relation to the estimated 800 to 1000 shots fired by the Allied naval guns. At Kumkale, only a 28-cm gun had been permanently knocked out, but Fort Seddulbahr had suffered greater damage. In preparation for the breakthrough and also for landing operations, the forts at Kumkale and Seddulbahr were systematically bombarded almost every day. With field artillery support, the forward Turkish infantry managed to beat off the smaller Allied daylight landings, which were aimed at demolishing gun barrels and ammunition bunkers in the forts. On 25 February 1915 the Allied fleet made another attack on the outer forts, which were almost completely destroyed after a seven-hour bombardment.

These initial experiences of the Allied fleet and their limited visible successes led to new British operational planning. The experience during the British fleet’s 1807 Dardanelles breakthrough was also remembered, in which, after entering the Marmara Sea, fleet re-supply was disrupted by Turkish troops on either side of the Dardanelles. Therefore land forces had to be included in the planning to secure the coastal areas after the breakthrough. The basic decision was made on 16 February 1915, but it was only on 10 March that the total strength of the Expeditionary Force was finalised: four English divisions and one French division. However, the exact operational role for this force had not yet been defined. It should follow the outcome of the fleet operations, which were maintained. Thus there was still no joint or coordinated operational planning for the deployment of Allied naval and land forces.

Despite the Entente’s limited success so far, the attacks on the Dardanelles had caused great concern in Istanbul. Although Turkey had already been a Central Powers’ alliance partner for several months, deliveries of much needed supplies from Germany still could not be transported there and unrest began to grow against the background of the imminently anticipated attack on the Dardanelles. On 1 March Enver wrote to von Falkenhayn that the situation was serious, as the Allied fleet was gradually destroying fortifications and could thus force a passage through the Straits. In a second telegram of 8 March, Enver recalled the precarious situation and described the opening-up of an overland transportation route through Serbia as the ‘vital question for Turkey’.300 On 10 March, Admiral von Usedom wrote to von Falkenhayn: ‘Despite the relatively meagre success of the enemy, destruction of all the Dardanelles fortifications cannot be prevented in the long run, if the munitions and mines which have been on order for months do not arrive as soon as possible.’

The Foreign Office warned:

‘Should the Dardanelles and Constantinople fall, this would not only signify a great moral boost for the Entente, with immense repercussions for all of Islam and for Turkey’s existential endangerment, but also a revitalisation of the war effort in Russia and France, thus not only prolonging the war but also driving all the Balkan states (Bulgaria and Romania) into the arms of the Entente.’

The Sea Battles for the Dardanelles II

A naval artillery observation post on land: standing left, Lieutenant Franz Wodrig, right Lieutenant Rolf Carls.

Meanwhile, a major Allied landing operation at Kumkale on 3 March underlined the urgent nature of the munitions question. The almost 400 man strong landing detachment of the Royal Marine Light Infantry was, however, beaten back. The attackers suffered casualties totalling seventy dead and wounded. From the equipment left behind, the Turks concluded that this was not just a temporary landing but was apparently intended to occupy permanently the extreme tip of the Asian side of the Dardanelles.

However, the attacks now beginning to be made against the inner defensive positions only made little progress. To carry these out the fleet had to enter into the waters of the Dardanelles and thus loose its freedom of movement and ‘passive’ protection. In addition to the danger from the guns of the defence emplacements and the minefields in the waterway, the attackers also faced the threat of the mobile 15 cm howitzer batteries on both sides of the coast. The ships were therefore forced to manoeuvre quickly, which consequently reduced their firing accuracy. Thus they succeeded in neither destroying the Turkish batteries nor in clearing the numerous minefields.

On 5 March the batteries at Kilid Bahr, on the opposite side of Canakkale, were shelled by indirect fire. This attack was reciprocated by indirect fire from the Turkish ships of the line, Barbarossa and Torgut. In anticipation of these battles, the German captain of the Barbarossa, Lieutenant Commander Joachim von Arnim, had already been ashore to set up a fire control observation post on the heights of the southern peninsula. Although this post came under fire later, as it had revealed its position by the use of signal ammunition, by a rapid relocation the post could continue support the Turkish ships for effective fire. In the days which followed these observation posts were expanded, surveyed and connected to telephone exchanges. Lieutenant Rolf Carls, the gunnery officer of the Breslau, was commended for his actions in this work.

On the morning of 7 March, two large British warships, the Agamemnon and the Lord Nelson, accompanied by several French vessels, entered Karanlik Bay and began shelling Dardanos and the inside forts. Firing at the same time from Kaba Tepe, the Queen Elizabeth bombarded the forts, while HMS Dublin shelled the Bulair fortifications from the Gulf of Saros. The British warships moved inside the straits to push closer to the forts, but then they came within range of the Turkish coastal artillery. The naval guns fired in quick succession, but the warships withdrew after a short time because of the hefty resistance and without having inflicted (or incurred) any significant damage. During the bombardment it was observed that the Allied ships remained mostly in the Bay of Erenkeui, where they were largely outside the range of the fortress guns. Again and again, the 15-cm howitzers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle, expending the then huge tally of 800 shells, had fired on the enemy warships in the Dardanelles, which forced them to keep moving and thus ensured that the ships simply ‘wasted ammunition’.

Even though by night there were entire flotillas of ships, protected by smaller vessels and destroyers, trying to clear the minefields, the Turks were constantly laying new mines. A special line of mines, which had been laid in the turning circle of retiring Allied warships, was to acquire decisive significance. The planning was carried out by Major Nazim Emin, the Chief of the Dardanelles Mine Service, who had a comprehensive knowledge of the currents and depth conditions. The Coastal Inspectorate assigned the minelayer Nusret for this task, while Naval Engineer Lieutenant Commander Arnholdt Reeder, of the German Imperial Navy, represented the SoKo (Special Command) on board. A torpedo specialist, Lieutenant Commander Paul Gehl, was assigned by the Straits Command to be on board Nusret as well.

Lieutenant Commander Reeder submitted his report to the MMD on this operation, which made a major contribution to thwarting the Allied naval attack of 18 March 1915:

‘On 7 March, at 11.30 in the afternoon [sic], I went on board the minelayer Nusret with Hafis Nasimi, the Turkish Mine Captain and Petty Officer Rudolf Bettaque, the German torpedo-man, to make the necessary preparations for minelaying. While I was personally double-checking the engine room and then got the boilers ready for smokeless sailing, the torpedo-man, Bettaque, and the Turkish mine-laying crew cleared the mines ready for launch. Two German NCOs and stokers were at my disposal for the operation of the engines and boiler. This was to guarantee that my commands were executed quickly and correctly. At 5 o’clock in the morning I had the anchor raised. The weather was good for this operation. A light mist lay on the water, which gradually turned into a steady rain. With an average of 140 revolutions, the minelayer made its way from Nagara along the Asian coast.

Since it was still dark and several minefields had to be negotiated, great caution was needed. However, the Turkish Mine Captain knew the critical points exactly, and so Nusret arrived safely at its destination. Throughout the voyage, [engine] revolutions were maintained according to my orders. This enabled me to sail completely smokeless, although the Turkish Eregi coal is very unsuitable for this purpose. At 07.10 hrs I had us turnabout and bound for home; simultaneously, I had the mines laid at 15 second intervals by Hafis Nasimi, the Turkish Mine Captain. Overall, 26 mines were laid in the general direction of SW-NE. Meanwhile the morning was already beginning to turn grey. The enemy guard piquet had apparently already withdrawn; within the Dardanelles no enemy ship could be seen. The visibility towards Canakkale was too low due to the rain and the dark background. With reasonable certainty I can therefore assume that the laying of the mines was not noticed by the enemy. At 8 o’clock in the morning, I was able to anchor again at Canakkale.’

This line, which had been laid with twenty-six Carbonit mines supplied from Germany, remained undetected until the attack on 18 March 1915. Churchill later wrote that ‘the Nusret may have changed the world’, as these mines shattered the dream of reaching Istanbul. This example of effective cooperation between Turkish and German military personnel has unfortunately been wholly ignored since by the Turks and this successful minelaying operation attributed exclusively to the Turkish crew.

The Allied fleet attacks on the Dardanelles, as well as mine clearance, were therefore far less successful than was assumed by the British and French. Nevertheless, rumours were heard in Istanbul that a successful attack by the Entente was imminent, causing unrest and sometimes panic in the city. When an official visit to the fortifications by the Diplomatic Corps was organised, the Austro-Hungarian Military Attaché, Josef Pomiankowski, reported:

‘We left Constantinople on the morning of 14 March. As far as I could tell, Enver Pasha had organised this excursion mainly for the American Ambassador, Mr. Morgenthau, who spread the most alarming rumours among the diplomatic corps, about the hopeless situation of Turkey and the forthcoming appearance of the Anglo-French fleet off Istanbul. […] The greatest interest was aroused by the battery at Dardanos, so named after the still visible ruins of the eponymous city of antiquity. This battery was located at the top of the heights and visible from afar, consisting of a one-metre high earthen breastwork of the ordinary type, behind which cannons were placed so that the barrels could shoot just above the ridge line. To protect the gun crew, they were provided with small steel shields., The enemy ships (especially on 7 March) had already bombarded this battery with a thousand shells, without somehow damaging it. By contrast, the entire area in front, as well as the forward part of the earthworks, were literally ploughed up and turned over by shells. On the protective shields one noticed only two dents, which apparently originated from exploding fragments. The crew serving the guns had suffered no losses; however, on 7 March, a shell had hit the observation post of the battery commander, which was about 15 steps away, and had killed him, along with other soldiers near him. In the afternoon we visited the forts of the European side, then returned aboard the Jürük, which started the journey back in the evening and arrived in Istanbul on the morning of the 16th.’

On 18 March the major Allied naval attack began, aiming to force a passage through the Dardanelles. Sixteen large warships, accompanied by many destroyers and minesweepers, approached the entrance of the Dardanelles. However, their approach had already been discovered in the early morning of that same day during the first flight of the new squadron at Canakkale. Captain Erich Serno, together with Lieutenant Commander Karl Schneider, the 2nd General Staff Officer at von Usedom’s headquarters, had made a reconnaissance flight. They spotted the enemy fleet and immediately afterwards warned of the apparently imminent attack. Schneider reported:

‘Early in the morning, we climbed up […]. We were flying at an altitude of 1,600 metres. The aircraft was at its ceiling. We realised that we had just flown over old Troy. At Tenedos we easily counted forty ships at anchor. All types were represented […]. Six battleships now headed in line towards the mouth of the Dardanelles. The battleship Inflexible led with the admiral’s flag flying.’

Both knew what this gathering of ships meant and flew back immediately to report the impending attack. As far as was possible in the short time available, coastal batteries and artillery units could be forewarned, Six large British battleships, including the Queen Elizabeth, with her 38-cm guns, started to attack the defences at Canakkale and Cape Kephes at around 11.30 am – initially staying out of range of the forts.

The Turkish coastal batteries and the mobile artillery units returned fire at the incoming French squadron, which consisted of four battleships and passed the line of British warships at about noon. All the battleships now came closer to their targets – but also within the range of the defending artillery. At around 2 pm the French squadron, which was under great pressure, was relieved by a squadron of six older British battleships. The battle then took an unexpected turn for the Allies, as the French battleship Bouvet hit a mine at about 2 pm, capsized in just two minutes and dragged almost the entire crew of 600 men down into the depths with it. Some of the other French ships were badly damaged and retired; the Gaulois was heavily damaged by artillery and a mine explosion and had to be beached at Tenedos. At 4 pm the Inflexible hit a mine and was barely able to escape out of coastal artillery range into safe waters. Shortly after, the Irresistible was hit so badly that she was abandoned and sank in the evening. These heavy losses caused the Allied Fleet Commander to break off the attack at 5 pm. When trying to take the Irresistible in tow, the Ocean also hit a mine and later had to be abandoned as well. The remaining nine English warships departed the Dardanelles westwards at full speed.

That date, 18 March 1915, marked an unforgettable day of victory for the defenders of the Dardanelles and is still celebrated every year in Turkey – especially in the Armed Forces – as ‘Canakkale Day’. The attackers had suffered heavy losses and forfeited the initiative, while the defenders had suffered relatively little damage. Admiral Souchon wrote home about the day’s events:

‘Yesterday’s heavy attack by the English [sic] and French on the Dardanelles ended as a great success for us. Here there is a great joy of victory. The French battleship Bouvet ran on to one of the mines laid on 6 March, and sank immediately. The English [sic] battleship Irresistible remained shot up, lay immobilised, the English [sic] battleship Ocean managed to steam away slowly with a heavy list. A destroyer sunk. Minimal loss on the Turkish side. In total, 2 heavy guns are damaged, of us Germans 2 dead, 7 badly, 7 slightly wounded. Hopefully the Englishmen [sic] will come again today and suffer such losses again. If they really want to succeed, they will have to do it before all the damage to the earthworks, telephones, etc. is completely repaired. Patching up will naturally be the case again this morning.’

As recognised later, the losses suffered by the Allies had been achieved to a large extent by the mines laid on 8 March by the Nusret. The Allied fleet had thought this area was already swept clear. In addition, in the days prior to 18 March, there had been no incidents in the area of this particular line of mines. However, it is not clear whether all the ships that sank were all as a result of mines. Von Usedom wrote about this in his report:

‘When Bouvet came into sight of the headquarters observation post at around 14.00 hrs, a strong smoke emission and listing could be observed, which got bigger and bigger. Three minutes later, Bouvet sank. From the speed of its sinking it was concluded that it had run into one of the mines set in the Erenköy Bay on 8 March, especially as it was also in the longitudinal location of this barrier. From later reports by the forward observers and Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle, commanding the howitzer batteries on the European shore, it became clear that the ship had suffered its heavy damage, whilst east of the mines, through artillery fire from Fort Anatoli Hamidié, causing the rapid sinking. It can also be concluded from the behaviour of the other ships that the enemy itself had not reckoned with the presence of mines, for Triumph, Majestic, Suffren, Gaulois and Charlemagne were heading for the scene of the accident. Suffren launched a boat. Motor boats, destroyers and later some mine-sweepers were trying to fish out survivors. In the process, a destroyer sank when hit by shells from the howitzer batteries, and sometime later a mine-sweeper. […] During this time, Dardanos had been able to clear its guns and at 6 o’clock in the evening, opened a lively and effective fire against Irresistible, which was sunk at quarter-past seven in the evening.’

This report puts into better perspective the sometimes over-exaggerated performance and impact of the mines laid down by the Nusret. It also shows the viciousness of this merciless battle, as even vessels that were clearly engaged in saving the lives of shipwrecked sailors and which had already put themselves into the minefield danger zone were nevertheless fired upon. Today this would be a clear violation of international military law, which prevailed at that time. This indictment must be made against the German and Turkish forces that took part in this battle and, in retrospect, casts a shadow on their victory over the Allied fleet.

The losses of the Allied fleet were high. Of eighteen ships, six had sunk or been put out of action for a long time. On the side of the defenders, however, only 114 men, including twenty-two German soldiers, were killed or wounded. Of a total of 176 guns, including those of the mobile howitzer batteries, only nine were destroyed. The forts had not been substantially damaged – even though massive numbers of shells had been fired at the fortifications. Of the ten lines of mines in the Dardanelles, nine were still intact. However, the ammunition situation on the Turkish side was critical after this battle. The medium howitzers and minefield batteries had fired half of their ammunition. The five 35.5-cm guns of the fortress artillery had only rounds left; for the eleven 23-cm guns there were only between thirty and fifty-eight rounds available per gun; while the reserve of high-explosive shells, the only effective munition against the battleships, was almost completely used up. A second, similarly heavy, attack would therefore have been difficult to fend off due to a lack of ammunition; a third attack would probably not have been opposed.

In the course of the battle, Major Binhold, a German commander of a field artillery battery, experienced an example of the Turkish custom whereby it was not common practice to pass on bad news. Binhold despatched his Turkish aide-de-camp to find out what had happened to a 15-cm howitzer that was being brought forward. The adjutant found the gun; it had fallen down a slope and the crew were in the process of recapturing the oxen. Returning to his CO, the ADC reported that the howitzer was not far off. Hours later, the aide was sent again to look for the long overdue howitzer. He found that the recovery work was still in progress, but reported back that the howitzer would arrive soon. Not a word of the accident was mentioned as such, as it would surely just lead to trouble. As more time passed by, Binhold set off on horseback himself during a lull in the fighting and saw that the ox-team was finally approaching the position. The circumstances of the delay were eventually explained; because he was familiar with the Turkish mentality, Major Binhold took a lenient view and closed the matter with a simple admonition.

After the 18th, the Commander-in-Chief of the Straits sector, Admiral von Usedom, immediately transferred the remaining ammunition available in the Bosphorus batteries to the Dardanelles. He also had ammunition from the fleet reworked for the calibres in use at the Straits. Mines were brought from Trebizond and Smyrna, even though they were indispensable there too. Although some stocks could be replaced from the modified munition factories in Istanbul, the Turkish government continued to urge Germany finally to provide adequate supplies.

Three days after the Allied naval attack, von Falkenhayn again tried to persuade his Austrian ally to campaign actively against Serbia. Enver Paşa also urged support for the opening of the land route to Germany and said optimistically in a letter to von Falkenhayn on 23 March:

‘I do not want our alliance with Germany and Austria to be a burden for these powers, but I am only anxious to help the allies with all we have at our disposal. This would be done to a much greater degree if Serbia is subjugated, thereby ensuring a reliable Bulgaria, as well as making Romania docile, and establishing an open route between us and Germany-Austria. I hope to be able to make other significant forces available for common purposes. Turkey still has half a million trained soldiers in reserve, who can be deployed immediately if armaments are available.’

This letter underlined the strategic importance of Turkey and strengthened von Falkenhayn in his planning. The resulting demand by the German government to the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorff, to carry out the Serbian campaign was answered with requests for troops from Turkey. Austria thought such an advance would be possible if Bulgaria took part, Germany provided four divisions, and Turkey ‘[protects] Bulgaria against Greece and Romania if they intervene and […] as far as possible, with about two corps [participate] under the Bulgarian Supreme Command directly.’ At the beginning of April 1915, von der Goltz was able to deliver a letter from the Kaiser to the Sultan, which announced the start of a Serbian campaign in the ‘near future’. This came after von der Goltz himself had been appointed as mediator to Conrad von Hötzendorff to explain the necessity of the war option against Serbia.

Enver responded to the demand from Vienna for troop dispositions on 12 April. In a letter to von Falkenhayn, Enver agreed to ‘provide two Army Corps to the Bulgarian Army for a joint operation against Serbia’.315 But once again the campaign against Serbia did not materialise, which is why Berlin had to think of different ways of solving the transportation problem for ammunition. It even considered using Zeppelins and large aircraft but, unsurprisingly, these methods were rejected because they were impractical.

The defence against an Allied landing operation at the Dardanelles, which was growing more likely with each day that passed, now had to be planned quickly, taking into account the lack of material support from Germany.

Island Castle of Trakai

The most successful example of exporting the castle-building skills of the Teutonic Order may be seen at the island castle of Trakai in Lithuania. Begun by Grand Duke Kestutis, Trakai was completed by his son Grand Duke Vytautas the Great. Taking advantage of a period of truce between Lithuania and the Order, the Order’s stonemason Radike was sent to supervise the construction. Trakai is like a miniature Marienburg situated on a tiny island.

Town located in a lake region 23 kilometers (14 miles) southwest of Vilnius; 2007 population: 5,400. Trakai is historically significant as the residence of medieval Lithuanian rulers, who often lived there even after the establishment of Vilnius as the country’s capital in the early 14th century. Trakai was the island castle of Grand Duke Kestutis and his son Vytautas and the center of a principality that occupied most of central Lithuania. An early 15th-century account of the town and castle were provided by the Burgundian traveler Ghillebert de Lannoy. In the early 16th century, Trakai lost importance as a political and military center, especially after the construction of the royal residence in Vilnius during the reign of Sigismund II Augustus; the town and castle were substantially destroyed during the Muscovite invasion of 1655-1666. Trakai was part of Poland between 1920 and 1939.

In 1951, restoration of the island castle was begun, and much of the former ducal residence was rebuilt, serving as a site for historical exhibits and artistic performances. The island castle of Trakai and its picturesque environs are visited by hundreds of thousands of domestic and foreign tourists every year. Trakai is also home to one of the last surviving communities of Lithuanian Karaim, also known as Karaites, a people of Turkic language related to the Tatars but practicing a form of Judaism.

KESTUTIS (c. 1300-1382).

Polish: Kiejstut; Russian: Kestovt. Duke of Trakai, c. 1338-1382, and Grand Duke of Lithuania, 1381-1382. Kestutis was the fourth or, according to some sources, fifth son of Gediminas. While little is known of his early life, it is well established that by the time of his father’s death in 1341, Kestutis was the ruler of Samogitia, Trakai, and Grodno. In 1345, he joined his brothers in a coup that removed Gediminas’s ineffectual youngest son Jaunutis from the throne in Vilnius and transferred power to Algirdas (R. 1345-1377). Kestutis was given the task of defending Lithuania’s western border against Polish and, especially, Teutonic Knight attacks. During the nearly four decades of his rule, he cooperated closely with his brother, Grand Duke Algirdas, and some historians consider this period as practically one of joint rule.

Between 1345 and 1380, the chronicles recount almost 100 incursions by the Prussian and Livonian branches of the Teutonic Order into western Lithuania, and 40 campaigns by Kestutis and the Lithuanians against the Knights. In 1361, Kestutis was reportedly captured by the crusaders, but he escaped the following year. Kestutis was also involved in several campaigns against the Poles who competed with the Grand Duchy for the lands of Volhynia and Galicia; in 1362, he also assisted Algirdas in the latter’s victorious battle against the Tatars at the Blue Waters (Russian: Sinye Vody) in present-day Ukraine. In addition to his military campaigns, Kestutis attempted to deflect the Teutonic Order’s attacks by negotiating the Christianization of Lithuania. In 1358, Algirdas and Kestutis offered to accept baptism on the condition that the lands seized by the order since the 13th century be returned to the Lithuanians and that the Knights be transferred to the east to defend Christendom against the Tatars, but these negotiations failed.

With the death of Algirdas in 1377, Kestutis became involved in a struggle for power with his nephew Jogaila. In November 1381, he seized Vilnius and proclaimed himself grand duke, accusing Jogaila of secret dealings with the Teutonic Knights. Jogaila continued the struggle against Kestutis and his son Vytautas, but a full-scale war was averted in July 1382 when a truce was proclaimed as a prelude to negotiations. About mid-July, Kestutis died under mysterious circumstances. Some chroniclers claim he was murdered by Jogaila, who violated a solemn pledge of safe conduct, while others suggest suicide. Kestutis’s death triggered a decade-long civil conflict between Jogaila and Vytautas. Kestutis’s passing marked the end of an era: he was Lithuania’s last non-Christian ruler and the last to be ritually cremated according to ancient custom.

VYTAUTAS (1350-1430).

Russian: Vitovt; Polish: Witold. Grand Duke of Lithuania (1392-1430), often termed Vytautas the Great in Lithuanian historical literature and widely acknowledged as medieval Lithuania’s most important ruler. Vytautas was born about 1350, probably in Trakai, the oldest son of Kestutis. He first achieved prominence as an ally of his father in the struggle for power that followed the death of his uncle, Grand Duke Algirdas. Following the death of his father in 1382, Vytautas was imprisoned in the castle of Kreva by his cousin Jogaila. He escaped and sought refuge with the Teutonic Knights, with whose support he waged a lengthy campaign against Jogaila, who had seized the grand ducal throne. In 1383, Vytautas was baptized and added the Christian name Alexander to his signature. He secretly reached reconciliation with Jogaila in 1384 and turned against the Teutonic Order. Upon his return to Lithuania, Vytautas was given the lands of Grodno, Brest-Litovsk, and Podlachia, later acquiring Volynia as well.

Vytautas was a prominent participant in the signing of the Act of Kreva, Jogaila’s coronation as king of Poland in 1386, and the formal re-Christianization of Lithuania in 1387. However, Jogaila’s decision to appoint his brother Skirgaila as viceroy in Lithuania provoked a fierce rebellion from Vytautas, who once again turned to the Teutonic Knights for assistance, initiating a destructive civil war that ended with the Treaty of Astravas (Russian: Ostrov) in 1392. By this agreement, Vytautas was given the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to rule as Jogaila’s vassal, but he later took the title of grand duke and, in effect, ruled Lithuania without any significant interference from his cousin.

During the 1390s, Vytautas undertook the Grand Duchy’s expansion to the east. His daughter Sophia married Grand Prince Vasili I (R. 1389-1425) of Moscow in 1390. Vytautas then shored up Lithuanian power in Smolensk and extended the Grand Duchy’s influence to Riazan and Tula. But Vytautas’s plans to subdue the Golden Horde were undone when his army suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Tatars at the Battle of Vorksla in 1399. Muscovy took this opportunity to roll back some of Lithuania’s gains in the Russian lands, but Vytautas renewed his campaigns in the east and by 1408 had recovered the territories lost after Vorksla. In order to pursue his ambitions in the east, Vytautas had ceded Samogitia to the Teutonic Order in 1398, but in 1409 a massive rebellion of the Samogitians against the Knights elicited his support and led to a joint Lithuanian-Polish campaign against the order, culminating in the decisive victory over the Knights at Grunwald on 15 July 1410.

In his relations with Poland, Vytautas always sought to rule Lithuania independently. He achieved this by the Act of Radom in 1401, which made Vytautas supreme ruler of Lithuania during his own lifetime, and the Acts of Horodlo in 1413. During the 1420s, Vytautas’s relations with Poland grew more acrimonious as the grand duke began to entertain the idea of acquiring a royal crown, a plan opposed by the Poles. He was married twice to Russian princesses, first to Anna, who bore him Sophia, and in 1418 to Juliana, who was childless.

During the reign of Vytautas, Lithuania reached its greatest territorial expansion and influence, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. He succeeded in ending the centuries-old Teutonic threat and redefined Lithuania’s relationship with Poland. In domestic affairs, the ethnographically Lithuanian lands began an irreversible Christianization during his reign. Vytautas constructed a number of churches and oversaw the introduction of ecclesiastical administration. He also strengthened the nobility by granting it lands and peasants in return for their loyalty and military service. Vytautas fostered trade and encouraged Jews to settle in Lithuania by granting them extensive privileges. He died on 27 October 1430 amid preparations for his coronation.


Trakai is in Lithuania, 17 miles west of Vilnius. Because the town was set within a group of lakes, it was known as the “Town on the Water.” The castle was built on one of the islands of Lake Galva, probably on a previously fortified site, by Witold, Duke of Lithuania (1398-1430), during the struggle of the Lithuanians and Poles with the encroaching Teutonic Knights. The surviving castle dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. Its curtain walls have three large circular towers, and there is an impressive donjon.

The red-brick castles of Prussia share a stylistic unity with certain structures in Lithuania, the state that was for much of the period under question the Order’s deadliest enemy, although sometimes its closest ally. Kaunas is a prime example, but the most successful example of the direct export of the castle-building skills of the Teutonic Order may be seen at the island castle of Trakai in Lithuania. The first foundation at Trakai is the so-called Peninsula Castle, which is mentioned in the records of crusades to Lithuania from about 1384.

The picturesque island castle was begun by Grand Duke Kestutis and completed by his son Grand Duke Vytautas the Great. Taking advantage of a period of truce between Lithuania and the Order, the Order’s stonemason Radike was sent to supervise the construction.

Trakai is like a miniature Marienburg situated on a tiny island opposite the ‘peninsula castle’. The Flemish traveller Gillibert de Lannoy described it in 1414 as follows:

The old castle stands on one side of the lake, in open ground. The other one stands in the middle of a second lake, and is within a cannon shot of the old one. It is completely new, built from bricks following the French pattern.

Ironically, this was four years after Grand Duke Vytautas the Great had marched out of Trakai to begin the campaign that led to the battle of Tannenberg, where he crushed the members of the Teutonic order whose master stonemason had in happier times designed his castle for him.


Cannon were first introduced into Lithuania in 1382, being given to Grand Duke Jogailo as a present by the Teutonic Knights during one of their rare detentes. The Lithuanians were using these guns successfully by 1384 at the latest, when they were employed (along with trebuchets) in the siege and capture of the Teutonic Knights’ fortress at Marienwerder. In 1385 Hochmeister Zöllner von Rotbenstein was turned back from a river crossing by Jogailo’s brother Skirgailo ‘with innumerable bombards’, and in 1388 was repulsed from Skirgailo’s fort on the same river by what were presumably the same guns. Vytaurus bad as many as 15 large cannon in his fortress at Trakai, and a cannon foundry at Vilnius, and was probably the first Lithuanian commander to take artillery into the open field, as he did against Timur Kutluk at Worskla in 1399.

On the subject of Lithuanian artillery, Eric Christiansen observes in The Northern Crusades that since guns ‘could only be transported long distances by water, … the power upriver had the advantage of the power downriver when it came to sieges; the Lithuanians could get their cannon to the Order’s forts quicker than the Order could haul its cannon to Lithuania.’


Trakai Peninsula Castle (the Great castle) stands in the town of Trakai, 100 m to the north of the beginning of Karaimų St at the end of Kęstučio St on a peninsula between Lakes Galvė and Bernardinų in the territory of the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Cultural Reserve. On the northern promontory is a small wooded hill called Aukos (Victims’) Hill. In the western and north-western part the castle is cut off from the town by the remains of a defensive ditch or fosse. Fragments of a mid-nineteenth-century park survive on the castle territory.

Construction work on the castle was begun by Prince Kęstutis around 1350-77. It is mentioned in the List of Rus’ian Towns (compiled 1387-1392). This castle was part of a defensive ensemble that guarded Trakai and Vilnius that was attacked by the Teutonic Order and ruined in 1382, 1383 and 1390.

Research on the castle began in 1854 when W. Tyszkiewicz, a member of the Imperial Archaeological Commission excavated Aukos Hill from which, in the opinion of certain researchers, work had begun on building the Peninsula Castle. Unfortunately when 582 m² were excavated in 1962 no earlier finds were made, apart from the ruins of the cellars of the renaissance grand-ducal residence which was built before the seventeenth century.

At present an area of some 3,500 m² has been excavated in the Peninsula castle. During archaeological research it was discovered that work began on building the castle after a wood was felled and great labour was expended on dealing with the soil in the territory of the front bailey. During this stage a fosse 12-14 m broad was dug to separate the castle from the town on the southern and north-western side and another fosse around 15 m wide to separate the southern bailey from Aukos Hill. To flatten the castle bailey its edges were filled with a layer of soil up to 2.3 m deep. On the eastern and western edges of the bailey and around Aukos Hill and the second bailey embankments were filled with gravel and clay. There were wooden defences on top. In the preliminary phase of the castle’s existence it had no towers, apart from an entrance tower in the southern brick wall during the first phase of construction to cut the castle off from the town.

Taking into account defensive needs the embankments with wooden palisades were changed for brick walls with corner towers and fosses strengthened with brick support walls. It seems that when the Teutonic Order besieged the castle in September 1385 it was already built of brick because sources record how the walls were bombarded.

In the early fifteenth century a two-bailey defence complex was built covering around 4 ha and having eleven towers of various sizes. The castle was cut off from the town by a deep moat. The plan and structure of the castle were determined by people’s ability to use difficult natural conditions for their own defence needs.

The front bailey in the southern part of the castle, according to research data, was defended by seven towers. The towers were linked by walls of around 10 m in height. All the towers were quadrangular and built of stones and bricks. The first floor was built of stone with the gaps filled with bricks and crushed stone. Bricks were used to form spaces for windows and doors and build the corners and to decorate the upper storey walls. The bricks are laid in Gothic style. The joists between the storeys were wooden.

The three largest towers formed the most important south-western flank from the town side. The towers measured 15 x 15 m with walls on the first storeys of a width of 3.8 – 3.4 m. The best preserved southern tower is supposed to have been five storeys high. It is the only one in the castle corners to have had buttresses. It is thought that the ruler dwelt on the top floors.

The south-eastern flank separating the southern and eastern parts of the castle has smaller towers measuring 10 x 11 m with walls 2.5 – 2.8 m thick. The present northern tower was built on the ruined and burned foundations of the tower.On the northern flanks there used to be smaller intermediary towers at a distance of 30-40 m from the corner towers. They were 7.8 – 8 m in area with walls that were 2.2-2.4 m thick.

The front part of the castle was separated from the second bailey and Aukos Hill by a defensive moat which had a bridge. Aukos Hill was girt by a defensive ditch with small brick walls. The second bailey and Aukos Hill were protected by the castle walls with three towers.

For a long period the castle bailey was not built up and the garrison lived in the towers.

Research shows that there were three clear stages in constructing the Peninsula Castle:

• the first stage saw the building of a guard-type castle, ca 1375-83, probably;

• the second stage saw the formation of the front castle with seven towers and defensive walls (end 14 cent.)

• during the third stage the front part of the castle was finished and curtained with walls.

Work began on building up Aukos Hill and this stage can be associated with Grand Duke Vytautas reconstruction of the castle before the Treaty of Melno (1422) that ended the wars with the Teutonic Order.

There is not much information about the use of the castle after the death of Vytautas (1430). We do know that building work was interrupted by squabbles over the succession to the throne of the Grand duchy. We know that Grand Duke Žygimantas Kęstutaitis (1432-1440) lived there and that it was in this castle that he was murdered on Palm Sunday (March 20) 1440.

The castle lost its significance. In the early 16 century it was a place where high-ranking prisoners were held and plots of land began to be carved off for donations to noblemen. After 1655 buildings that were seriously damaged during the war with Muscovy were left derelict and unused. In the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries a few single buildings appeared near the walls and at the end of the eighteenth century the castle became home to the Dominicans who began to build their church.

Interest in the castle grew after 1817 when the Vilna Gubernia surveyor, STR. Velikorodov, measured out the southern tower and prepared a sketch of it. The 1827 Atlas of Castles of the Vilna Gubernia presents a plan and sketch of the castle that were made in 1826 when the tsar commanded the old buildings of the Russian gubernias to be surveyed and described. When preparations were under way in 1838 to publish a supplement to the old buildings’ atlas the Trakai surveyor I. Wroblewski made three sketches of the castle. In the second half of the nineteenth century the Peninsula Castle and nearby wooden buildings were sketched by V. Gumiński and in 1872 by the artist E. Andriolis. After the Germans occupied Trakai during the Great War, German specialists came to research the castle and write several articles about how best to preserve it. In 1928 the engineer W. Girdwejn drafted a plan of the Peninsula Castle and under the leadership of J. Borowski he strengthened the northern tower and cleared away the debris from other towers. In 1930 before the visit of the Polish president the castle bailey was tidied but this work did not continue for lonstr. Only on the initiative of the Vilnius conservationist S. Laurenc was the castle declared a national monument in 1933. After Lithuania took the Vilnius District from Poland in 1939 care for the castle was taken over by the Vytautas the Great Cultural Museum (Kaunas) which in 1940 drew up a work agenda for the castle for 1941-49 but after the Soviet Union and Germany went to war this work was not begun. Work continued only in 1953 when the eastern tower was restored partially. In 1953-61 the remains of the castle were recorded, conservation and restoration projects were drawn up and work in these areas began and are still being continued according to the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Reserve directed maintenance and use programme as approved by the Lithuanian minister of culture in 2000.

A dossier was drafted on Dec. 10 1996 and Protection Regulation 81 was drawn up on July 5 2002. At present work is under way on drafting a detailed plan for the Trakai island and Peninsula Castles Cultural Reserve. The castle is the property of the Lithuanian Republic and lies in the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Cultural reserve.

Turuturu Mokai Pā

This massive pā, still visible today and situated 3 km from the Tawhiti Museum, in the Taranaki region, was built over 400 years ago by Ngatī Tupaea, a hapū (sub-tribe or clan, the basic political unit within Māori culture) of Ngāti Ruanui.

Wherever possible a pa would take advantage of natural defences – steep hills and cliffs, river or coastal perimeter etc. However there was almost always a need to improve defences with strong wooden fences (tuwatawata ) and deep trenches. Turuturu Mokai was not a particularly steep site, so great effort went into triple rows of trenches and palisades.

The site is an extremely large and awe-inspiring set of Maori earthworks built in the 17th century by the Ngāti Tupea, and restored in the 1930s. In pre-European times a battle was fought there between the Ngati Tupea garrison of about 1000 men and a raiding party of Taki Ruahine (a sub-tribe of the Ngāti Ruanui).

A strategem was used during a time of relative peace, and Tūraukawa Poroa, a Ngāti Taki Ruahine rangatira (chief), organised a tohunga-te-moko, or Maori tattoo artist to be placed at the pā, offering to tattoo the warriors of the garrison, in particular on the buttocks and thighs. They accepted. Maori facial and body tattooing is a long and painful operation, after which the tattooed is incapacitated for a few days.

With the Ngāti Tupea so rendered, the Taki Ruahine came and took the pa with great slaughter. They decapitated the Ngāti Tupea dead and impaled their severed and smoke-dried heads on stakes thrust into the ground. Soon afterwards the pa was declared tapu and vacated, a tapu not removed until 1938. The name Turuturu Mokai indicated the stakes on which the heads of the slain enemy were mounted to warn prospective attackers of their likely fate.

Built in a loop of the Tawhiti stream, the main pā was ringed by five adjacent smaller pā – only one of which exists today. One of those was connected to the main pā by a tunnel under the Tawhiti stream.

The pā’s fortifications included a series of ditches and palisades, augmented by watchtowers to provide early warning of attack. Stones were placed ready to hand to drop on invaders.

Two of the smaller Pā beside Turuturu Mokai Pā

Eels (tuna ) were a vital part of an inland pā’s diet, but the streams and swamps also supplied freshwater mussels and crayfish, whitebait, watercress, and a range of freshwater fish.

There were three main methods of storing food and other valued objects – in elevated store houses (pataka ), elevated platforms (whata ), and underground pits (rua ). Some pataka were elaborately carved.

The four main plants cultivated were kumara, gourd, yam, and taro. In Taranaki, sand and gravel were often added to the soil to improve drainage and help raise soil temperature. Fences were built to keep out swamp birds, to act as wind breaks, and to delineate family plots.

Cooking fires and heating meant that dry firewood was in constant demand. With a large population, it would have been necessary to gather wood from increasingly greater distances, as shown here by the people carrying bundles of firewood to the pā.

The bush would supply many foods to supplement cultivated crops – birds, berries, bats, cabbage tree and tree fern pith, fern root, fungi, honey, grubs and insects.

At strategic points in the stockade of a pā, tall towers (taumaihi ) were built to give sentries a clear view of approaching groups of people. They also doubled as a platform to hurl stones and spears at any enemy below.

The typical pā in pre-European times was built on a high prominence, with good sight lines to see anyone who approached. It needed flat, fertile soils nearby to grow food for the community, and bush close by as well to provide wood for firewood and for construction. Ideally, the pā would also have a good water supply within the outer perimeter of the pā.

Watch towers served the double purpose of early warning of people approaching, and served as defence as well, with a plentiful supply of rocks kept there to throw down on attackers, and watchers carried spears to hurl at the invaders from on high.

Since ground water follows, to some extent, the contours of the land above it, the water table under a pa was often able to be reached by a relatively shallow well. This was a very important addition to a pā, and was essential in pre-European times, when the common method of attack was a many months long seige, to starve the inhabitants out of their redoubt.

Structural Changes to the Pā during the time of the Māori Musket Wars, and the time of the Māori – Pākehā Wars

The trench as shown here was formed in a zig zag pattern to prevent the fire of attackers from travelling the length of the trench. In addition, the outer wall was doubled to help prevent accurate or effective fire from outside.

Clear lines of fire were, however, put in place from within the pā to the outside, and the trench wall was high enough to protect the defenders from enemy fire.

Inside a fort at the time of the Musket Wars. By this time barrels for storage were a normal part of traditional Māori life, and were used not just for powder and shot for the muskets, but for general storage of foods, water and so on.

The pā had to have large supplies of food and water, since a common method of conquering a pā was to starve the inhabitants out. Later, the underground rooms were expanded in size and number to provide physical protection when the British began bombing the Māori pā.

The inner defences, the fall-back positions if the outer walls were breached, were also carefully prepared.

This quote is from the time of the Māori – Pākehā wars, Cowan (1922):

The outer wall, the pekerangi, or curtain, was formed of stout timbers, most of them whole trees, sunk deeply in the ground at short intervals, with saplings and split timbers closely set between the larger posts, all bound firmly together with cross-rails and torotoro, or bush-vines.

The smaller timbers did not quite reach the ground; it was through the spaces left that the defenders fired from their shelter in the trench behind the second palisade. The outer defence was completed by the masking of the timber wall with green flax, as at Puketutu.

The stockading was 10 to 15 feet in height; it was covered from a foot above the ground to the height of 8 or 10 feet with a thick mantlet of green flax-leaves tightly bound to the palisades. This padding of harakeke not only afforded considerable protection by deadening the impact of bullets, but masked the real strength of the stockade.

The second line of stockade, the kiri-tangata (‘the warrior’s skin’), was stronger than even the well-constructed pekerangi; every timber was set in the ground to a depth of about 5 feet, and rose above ground to a height corresponding with that of the outer line. Many of the palisades so planted, set close together, were whole puriri trees a foot or 15 inches in diameter—some were even larger—and some when cut and hauled from the forest must have been quite 20 feet in length.

This line of stockade was loopholed; the apertures for the Maori musketry fire were formed by taking a V scarf with the axe out of the two contiguous timbers. These loopholes were on the ground-level; and the Maori musketeer, pointing his gun through the aperture, was thus able to deliver his fire under the foot of the pekerangi without in the least exposing himself. The distance between the two fences was 3 feet. The trench in which the musketeer squatted was 5 to 6 feet deep and 4 or 5 feet wide, with an earth banquette on which the defenders stood to fire, and traverses at intervals of about 2 yards, with a narrow communicating-trench between each, admitting of only one man passing at a time. The venerable Rihara Kou, of Kaikohe, describing it, said: ‘We could travel right round the pa in the trench, winding in and out’ (‘haere kopikopiko ana’).

Maori Forts – Pa

17th-18th Century Lines

Long, fortified lines were constructed in Europe during this period to connect forts and fortified cities, and enhance defenses for positional warfare. The most important crossed the United Provinces for 100 miles, from the Meuse to the Atlantic, in places connecting pre-existing canals and rivers as natural defenses against the French, supplemented by artificial barriers that included deepened ditches and high earthworks lined with firing steps and gun emplacements. Under Louis XIV the French built several new lines in Flanders. They built more in the Rhineland once Louis went on the defensive during the latter part of the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697). Members of the Grand Alliance erected defensive lines facing the French lines in Flanders and again along the Rhine frontier. The forward lines constructed for Louis were the Lines of Brabant, built to protect older gains and his newly claimed northern frontier as ostensible protector of the Spanish Netherlands from Allied raids and crossings-in-force during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). In 1711 the French completed still more formidable inner defensive lines known as the Ne Plus Ultra.

Like entrenchments of World War I, 18th-century lines were comprised of communications and support trenches as well as the main fighting trenches. They differed in that the armies that manned them seldom possessed enough troops to cover the whole system. This permitted breaching by surprise concentrations and forced marches, supported by good intelligence on where the defenders actually were.

Ne Plus Ultra lines.

An inner set of lines along France’s northern frontier. About 200 miles long, they were begun by maréchal Villars over the winter of 1710-1711 following the bloody fight at Malplaquet (August 31/September 11, 1709). They were made to guard France itself from invasion, following repeated defeats in Flanders in the last years of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). They were more substantial than the Lines of Brabant and reflected the fact that the Allies had already breached that forward line and the double lines of the old pré carré. Construction began after agreement to the London Preliminaries (October 8, 1711). The Lines were dubbed “ne plus ultra” (literally, “no more beyond”) by Villars to suggest that Allied armies would never advance beyond them. They ran from the coast past Arras and Cambrai to the Sambre River, then along it to Namur, incorporating some of the old Lines of Brabant.

Marlborough crossed the Ne Plus Ultra lines in their first year of existence. He bluffed Villars out of Arleux by ordering General William Cadogan to dissemble in his defense of the causeway there, before doubling back to take it a second time. Marlborough used this screen and time gained to march between Arras and Vimy Ridge (of course, unaware of how those names and places would later haunt British military history). Now in front of the surprised Villars, Marlborough broke through the Ne Plus Ultra lines without resistance or casualties, and took Bouchain on September 13/24, 1711. This directly threatened Paris. Marlborough was unable to exploit this achievement, however, as he was removed from command by Queen Anne and the Tories in January 1712, to clear the path to peace.

Lines of Brabant.

The first of a series of French defensive lines covering the northern frontier with the Spanish Netherlands. The lines of Brabant stretched for 130 miles from the Channel, passing in front of Antwerp and ending on the Meuse just below Namur and the junction with the Sambre. The Lines of Brabant presented a series of linked canal and riverine barriers intended to slow if not stop enemy advances. These were linked in continuous line with deep entrenchments, palisades, and strongpoints. However, after 1701 the French did not have enough troops to defend the whole system. The Lines were attacked by the Allies in late 1702. They were attacked again and partially forced by William Cadogan for Marlborough on July 17-18, 1705. That September, Allied military engineers razed a 20-mile section of the Lines around Zoutleeuw. This was not repaired while the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) lasted. Another Allied army razed a smaller section of the Lines near Antwerp. In 1706 Louis sent maréchal Villeroi and a large army to retake the lost ground at Zoutleeuw. That led directly to an even greater disaster for the French at Ramillies (May 12/23, 1706).

Lines of Stollhofen.

Short Allied lines in Germany built in 1703 at the start of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), and greatly strengthened in following years. They were about 10 miles long, running from the Rhine at Stollhofen to an impenetrable wood in the hills east of Bühl. They were heavily entrenched and palisaded, well gunned, and well defended. Replicating a pattern familiar in Flanders, Dutch engineers who worked on them incorporated flooded zones to impede assault. Prince Eugene of Savoy remained in the Lines of Stollhofen while Marlborough marched on the Danube, forcing French troops to cover. Eugene then left the Lines with his cavalry and some infantry, joining Marlborough to fight at Blenheim (August 2/13, 1704). Villars assaulted the Lines of Stollenhofen in May 1707 with an army of 30,000. He drew out defenders by making multiple feints across one flank along the Rhine while his main force crossed on the other. He attacked and crossed at several points at once on the night of May 22-23, while preparing his main blow the next morning at Bühl. When he arrived at Bühl, he found the Lines abandoned. The Lines of Stollhofen thus fell without the French suffering any losses. Villars proceeded to occupy and hold them.

pré carré.

The term meant “dueling field,” but became famous in reference to the open space formed between a double line of regular fortifications, part of an elaborate defense system that Vauban developed along the northern frontier of France after he broached the idea in a 1673 letter to Louis XIV. It imitated the two lines formed by infantry in battle. The pré carré on the frontier with the Spanish Netherlands linked artillery fortresses from Dunkirk through Ypres, Lille, Tournai, Valenciennes, Maubeuge, and Dinant. Among the main fortresses of the second, interior line were Gravelines, St. Omer, Aire, Arras, Douai, Cambrai, Landrecies, Rocroi, and Carleville. Its establishment involved Louis in a long-term strategy that aimed at rationalizing and straightening France’s frontiers, whether by diplomacy or, as Vauban put it, by “a good war.” The outer line was breached by the successful Allied siege of Lille (August 14-December 10, 1708). Taking the inner line was the main aim of Marlborough’ s campaign of 1710. After signing the London Preliminaries, the French began work on a new set of lines, the Ne Plus Ultra. In the last campaign of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Villars retook the lines of the pré carré, thus helping to ensure the general peace later agreed at Utrecht.

Lines of Lauterbourg.

A set of defensive lines constructed on the Rhine frontier near Strasbourg.

Lines of the Var.

These lines were constructed in 1708 in the Var Valley of Provence to hold back an anticipated Allied invasion of southern France.

IJssel line.

A Dutch set of defensive lines based on the IJssel branch of the Rhine. They were in a state of disrepair when French forces quickly outflanked and subsequently overran them at the start of the Dutch War (1672-1678).