The French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, has announced that the launch of the Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptere Interarmées Léger; HIL) programme has been brought forward to 2021. The HIL programme, for which the Airbus Helicopters’ H160 was selected in 2017, was initially scheduled for launch in 2022 by the current military budget law. Launching the programme earlier will enable delivery of the first H160Ms to the French Armed Forces to be advanced to 2026. During a visit to the Airbus Helicopters headquarters, the Minister also revealed the full-scale mock-up of the H160M that will be presented on the Ministry of the Armed Forces stand at the next Paris Air Show. The helicopter was also given its official name and will be designated as “Guépard” (“Cheetah”) by the French Armed Forces. The H160 was designed to be a modular helicopter, enabling its military version, with a single platform, to perform missions ranging from commando infiltration to air intercept, fire support, and anti-ship warfare in order to meet the needs of the army, the navy and the air force through the HIL programme. Built around a platform that will enter service next year, the HIL programme will benefit from many of the advantages inherent in the civil H160, particularly in terms of support, with simplified maintenance and lower operating costs than the previous generation of helicopters in this category.

The first examples will go to the French Army, followed by the French Navy in 2028 and then the French Air Force. The army is set to receive 80 examples, the navy 49 and the air force 40. Certification of the 1,280shp (941kW) Safran Arrano engine was completed last June. Further developments have included modifications to the airframe and addition of new Thales FlytX avionics. Under the nose of the mock-up on display at Donauwörth was a Safran Euroflir 410 and a Thales three-podded tactical radar. The naval version will have folding rotor blades and reinforced landing gear. Armament will include the MBDA Sea Venom anti-ship missile and the HForce kit with 12.7mm calibre machine guns and capacity for laserguided rockets and 20mm cannon. Cabin-mounted armament could include a pintle-mounted 7.62mm calibre machine gun or sniper rifle.

H160M Guepard joint light helicopter design and features

H160M is a military version of the H160 medium-lift utility helicopter, which was first unveiled at the Heli-Expo show held in Orlando, Florida, US, in March 2015. Based on a civil platform, the H160M will ensure simplified maintenance and reduced operating costs than the old-generation of rotorcraft in its class.

The modular design of the H160 also allows for the integration of mission systems to configure the H160M platform for deployment in multiple missions.

The H160M will feature a composite fuselage to achieve weight reductions and fuel savings. It will be equipped with cutting-edge technologies such as Blue Edge five-bladed main rotor, which can reduce the acoustic signature by 50% and increase the lift by 100kg when compared to conventional rotor blades.

The helicopter will also feature a Spheriflex bearingless main rotor hub, which is designed to minimise weight and optimise damage tolerance. Its main rotor will have a diameter of 13.4m. The tail assembly will include a canted Fenestron anti-torque tail rotor.

H160M’s undercarriage will feature a tricycle-type landing gear with a nose unit and two main units. The nose wheel will be fitted with twin wheels, while the main units will be installed with a single wheel unit each.

The helicopter can be armed with MBDA’s Sea Venom (ANL) anti-ship missiles (ASMs) to perform anti-ship warfare missions. The over-the-horizon missile can engage targets within the range of 20km.

H160M’s cockpit will accommodate up to two crew members. It will be equipped with the Helionix avionics suite, which integrates up to four multi-functional displays.

The spacious cabin offers an internal volume of more than 7m³ and can house up to 12 armed personnel.

The H160 Guepard will be powered by two Safran Arrano turboshaft engines supplied by Safran Helicopter Engines. The engine will feature a two-stage centrifugal compressor, a reverse-flow combustion chamber, and a single-stage power turbine. It is expected to deliver a maximum power output of 1,300hp.

The power-plant will reduce fuel consumption by 15% when compared to its counterparts and will also increase the payload-range performance of the H160M. The time between overhauls (TBO) of the Safran Arrano engine is 5,000 hours.

The French armed forces are to procure 169 H160Ms as part of the Hélicoptere Interarmées Léger (Joint Light Helicopter) programme, which will replace older rotary fleets across all three services

Gazelle Helicopters in service with the French Army

A total of 340 Gazelles were procured for the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre (ALAT), 171 SA.341Fs with the Turboméca Astazou IIIC turboshaft, which entered service in 1969, and 161 of the later SA.342M that was a dedicated anti-tank variant with the more powerful Turboméca Astazou XIVH engine.

The SA.341Fs ended up being modified to three different configurations. Sixty-two were converted to support gunships with an SFOM 80 sight and a fixed GIAT M621 20 mm cannon mounted on the left, designated SA.341F/Cannon. Forty were converted to anti-armour gunships with an SFIM optical sight above the cockpit and armed with four HOT anti-tank missiles (ATMs) on pylons, designated SA.341M. They could also be equipped with two rocket launchers for eight SNEB 68 mm EAP unguided rockets. Many of the rest of the SA.341Fs were configured as unarmed scouts with an SFIM M334 Athos sight.

Gazelles could be fitted with an upturned exhaust diffuser to reduce the helicopter’s infrared (IR) signature from heat-seeking missiles and sand filters for desert warfare. Some Gazelles were later updated with the advanced composite rotor blades of the Aérospatiale Écureuil helicopter.

The ALAT obtained a variant of the SA.342L that featured an improved Fenestron tail rotor and was powered by the 859-shp (641-kW) Astazou XIVM engine for improved hot and high operations. Designated the SA.342M, it first flew on 11 May 1973. The SA.342M featured a revised instrument panel, a SFIM PA 85G autopilot, Sextant Avionique Nadir self-contained navigation system and Decca 80 Doppler night-flying equipment.

Fitted with an M397 optical sight, the SA.342M could carry up to 1,540 lbs (700 kg) weapons payload that included four or six Euromissile HOT or Aérospatiale AS11 short-range, wired-guided ATMs, 7.62-mm machine guns or a 20-mm GIAT M621 single-barrel revolver cannon mounted on the skids or on external weapons pylons. Up to seventy were upgraded in the 1990s with a SAGEM Viviane stabilised direct view/IR/laser roof-mounted sight to allow night firing of HOT missiles, designated as SA.342M1 Gazelle Viviane. Thirty were retrofitted with the Astazou XIV M2 turboshaft, designated SA.342M ATAMs, and were armed with four Matra/MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles (AAMs) that were first fired from a Gazelle in 1990 with a Sextant T2000 sight.

By the mid-1980s a number of the Escadrille d’Hélicoptères Légères (EHL) of the ALAT’s Régiment d’Hélicopteres Anti-char (RHC) were each fully equipped with ten Gazelles. These included 1 and 2 EHLs of 5 RHC with SA.341F Gazelles for liaison and forward observation based at Pau in the south of France, and 6 RHC with 1 EHL with SA.341F Gazelles and 2 Escadrille d’Hélicoptères Anti-char (EHA) with SA.342M Gazelles with HOT for anti-tank duties based at Compiègne.

Other major units were the Groupes d’Hélicoptères Légères (GHL)s that carried out liaison duties with the Gazelle. These included 11 GHL at Nancy/Essay and 12 GHL at Trier, each with three EHLs equipped, and 13 GHL at Lers Mueaux with one EHL each equipped with ten SA.341F Gazelles

The ALAT training system started at the École de Spécialisation de l’ALAT (ESALAT) at Dax, where SA.341F Gazelles were used for basic training. At the Groupement ALAT de la Section Technique de l’Armée de Terre (GALSTA) at Valence, experienced co-pilots could qualify as captains on the SA.341F. The École d’Application d’ALAT (EAALAT) at Luc/Le Cannet carried out instrument and tactical training with fifteen SA.341F Gazelles, and later SA.342Ms. Smaller Gazelle units included the Escadrille ALAT de l’Armée (EALAT 1A) at Baden-Oos, the Escadrille de la Direction Centrale du Matérial (EDCM) at Bourges and the Escadrille de l’Ergm Alat (EERGM) at Montaubin.

During the Cold War, ALAT regiments were part of larger airmobile units. The 4th Division Aéromobile (4 DAM), which was created in 1985, specialised in airmobile combat within the French Rapid Reaction Force. It was set up to conduct autonomous combat operations and stood ready to engage WARPAC armoured units if they launched an attack on the West from beyond the Iron Curtain.

ALAT SA.341F/SA.342Ms were deployed to Operation Desert Storm from 4 DAM/5 RHC with Task Force Alpha based in Saudi Arabia, close to the Iraqi border. As part of the French Operation Daguet, the Gazelles supported the French Army during the brief ground phase of the war in February 1991, destroying a number of Iraqi tanks with HOT missiles. The 4 DAM was disbanded in 1995.

In February 1997, Ploče Airfield in Croatia became a French-led Multinational Army Aviation Battalion of Multinational Division – Southeast (MND–SE) of the NATO-led Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR). The base operated the French Bataillon de l’Aviation légère de l’Armée de Terre, or BATALAT, with four SA.330 Pumas and four SA.342M/M1 Gazelles until November 2002.

Helicopters from 4 RFHS are frequently deployed to the French Navy’s Mistral-class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) as part of a Helicopter Strike Group. Training is focused on all aspects of helicopter operations from an LHD, including low-level navigation over the sea in radio silence and day and night deck landings in all weathers. In 2010 Gazelles from the LHD FS Tonnerre deployed to Operation Atalanta, the EU anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa, fired missiles at a Somali pirate mother ship.

During Operation Harmattan, the 2011 Libyan campaign, LHDs FS Mistral and Tonnerre launched a series of daring ALAT helicopter raids to destroy hostile armour hidden in the desert. Gazelle and Tiger attack helicopters took off for a series of night missions, during which the Gazelles fired 431 HOT anti-tank missiles at a large number of targets, including armoured vehicles and artillery positions.

The annual Jeanne d’Arc exercise is a five-month amphibious deployment that takes a French LHD and its Helicopter Strike Group to the Far East, during which the vessel conducts multilateral exercises to develop cooperation and knowledge of this area of deployment. The ports of call provide an opportunity to strengthen defence ties with Djibouti, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Japan and Australia during the 24,000-mile (40,800-km) round trip.

The ALAT’s permanent DETALAT based in Djibouti fulfils a crucial mission for the projection of the French forces in the Horn of Africa and its helicopters have accumulated more than 90,000 flight hours since 1977. It is currently equipped with four SA.330B Puma helicopters and two SA.342M Gazelle/HOT helicopters. Djibouti is the ideal location for tactical training in a desert environment; the nights are very dark in Djibouti, providing ideal conditions for NVG operations. The DETALAT regularly supports the 5eme Régiment Interarmes d’Outre Mer (5e RIAOM), which is a French marine regiment stationed in Djibouti that carried out joint exercises with the Armée de l’Air 1/88 Corse fighter squadron of Mirage 2000s.

The ALAT’s Bataillon Mousquetaire 5 (BATHELICO) is located at the ISAF base at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan. The battalion was deployed in June 2012 until December 2014 with four Gazelles and four Tigers to undertake ground attack, close combat air support, escort, reconnaissance and overwatch duties. During the deployment, the Gazelles conducted 7,000 flight hours during 5,000 missions and fired some sixty HOT guided missiles in support of ground troops or in the destruction of ‘high-value targets’, including weapons caches and vehicles.

Operation Barkhane was launched in August 2014 as the successor to the French Operation Serval, which began in January 2013 against Islamist terrorists in northern Mali with twenty-eight ALAT helicopters, including eight HOT-armed Gazelle Vivianes based at Gao Airport. At the same time the ALAT deployed another four Gazelles and six Pumas out of its base at Bangul in the Central African Republic as part of Operation Sangaris. The helicopters in the theatre were used to escort convoys, perform reconnaissance missions and, when necessary, to combine forces with ground troops. The helicopters spend days far away from their home base, moving between locations in the field with the ground troops. France ended this operation in October 2016, while Operation Barkhane continued into 2019.

In July 2016, 1, 3 and 5 Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat were formed based at Phalsbourg, Étain and Pau respectively and currently operate a total of seven Escadrilles equipped with Gazelle Vivianes. Also based at Pau is 4 Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces Spéciales with one flight equipped with Gazelles. In the field, 4 RHFS aircrews operate in small detachments, each comprising a Gazelle and Puma. Air and ground crew train in all environments – arctic, desert, mountain, jungle and at sea. A Gazelle can deliver a team of two combat swimmers close to a hostile shore or river estuary to carry out undercover reconnaissance and sabotage.

Equipped with twenty-three SA.342M Gazelles, 3 RHS is taking the lead in ALAT Manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) trials of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations. In 2018 its aircraft were deployed to the Sahel region of Chad, Mali and Niger, Djibouti and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, while its base at Étain is now part of the future CAP HNG 2021 project, which includes opening up to civil and commercial aviation and the renewal of infrastructure, facilities and equipment.

Six of the 3 RHS Gazelles were also modified to carry out trials of a new multi-functional information system, two of which were deployed to the Système d’Information Terminal de l’Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre (SIT-ALAT), while another two were deployed to the Central Africa Republic (CAR). A GPS tracker gives a real-time 3D view of the battlefield to the crew of the helicopter, with all the information being displayed on a single screen, giving the patrol leader the position of each of his operational elements and the real-time tactical situation. This information is accessible not only by aircrews but also by the chain of command. Mission planners can customise maps with additional data as the enemy positions, undercover corridors and other strategic elements and all this data can be updated during the mission.

The data can be downloaded for after action reviews (AARs). This modern tool has been designed to be compatible with the next generation of helicopters, as well as the Tiger and the NH90 Caiman, and will be compatible with the new Système d’Information du Combat Scorpion (SICS) that will be one of the main components of the French Army’s next generation of land vehicles.

The SIT-ALAT system is the most significant element of the Gazelle’s current upgrade programme, which will allow it to remain relevant despite the age of the platform. A total of fifty-eight SA.342M1 and twenty-three SA.342MAs, which are used for crew training and as an airborne sniper platform equipped with the M134 Gatling MiniGun, are being fitted with the SIT-ALAT system. The ALAT is also modernising its Gazelle helicopter fleet to meet the ICAO standards that regulate aviation across the world. As a consequence of the legal aspects of coalition-led operations, they will also receive the Système d’Enregistrement en Vol d’Images Référencées (SEVIR) system, which provides real-time recording of all gun and missile firing actions.

More than 100 SA.342L/M Gazelles remained in ALAT service in 2018, plus another twenty SA.341Fs in secondary roles. They are intended to remain in service for at least another decade before being fully replaced in the scouting and anti-tank missions by the EC665 Tiger HAD and the future light helicopter, the H160M.

Airbus Helicopters is working with the French Ministry of Defence to develop the H160M, which was selected to fulfil a French Armed Forces tri-service requirement for almost 170 rotorcraft. In April 2017, the H160M was selected by France as the basis for its hélicoptère interarmées léger (HIL) programme, which seeks to replace multiple fleets of aged types, including the SA.342 Gazelle, which will be a hard act to follow. A firm contract to officially launch the H160M is expected in 2022, supporting first deliveries after 2025.



A decade after his lucrative dealings in India came to an end, Dupleix died a broken man, his wealth spent and honor impugned.

(1697–1763), influential governor-general (1742–1754) of the French East India Company. During his three decades in India, the Marquis Joseph François Dupleix expanded the commercial, political, and military operations of the French East India Company (La Compagnie perpétuelle des Indes), and his administration marked the apex of French colonial ambitions in India. His accumulation of an enormous personal fortune led to suspicions about his integrity and, eventually, his recall to France. Nonetheless, Dupleix successfully protected French interests from threats from local authorities such as the Marathas, the nawābs of Arcot, and nizams of Hyderabad. His lifestyle and methods defined the paradigm of the “Nabob Game.” He also led the French in a war with the British East India Company and prevailed on the ground at first. The high point occurred in 1746, when French forces captured nearby Madras (Chennai) and held it until the Treaty of Aix-la- Chapelle restored it in 1748. Many of Dupleix’s practices were imitated by the British East India Company, most notably by Robert Clive.

As did many of those who went to India, Dupleix came from the merchant class; he was the second son of an ambitious tax farmer and capitalist who aspired to the minor nobility. His father, a director of the French East India Company in 1721, arranged an appointment for Dupleix to the Superior Council of Pondicherry, the governing council of the nexus of the company’s Asian trade. Dupleix soon caught his stride as a merchant, rapidly proving his worth to the company while simultaneously engaging in the lucrative “private” or “country trade,” that is, trading between ports east of the coast of Africa.

In 1730 Dupleix became the company’s governor of Chandarnagar, a remote and rough trading post near Calcutta. Its trade was small, competition stiff, disease rampant, and security tenuous: a perfect opportunity for energy and ambition if tempered with good judgment. Over the next dozen years, Dupleix turned Chandarnagar into a profitable and habitable trading colony by linking the Ganges country trade with the rest of Asia and Europe. He made a considerable fortune participating in country trade. He found new goods and markets and increased the volume of established items such as cottage industry silks and cottons from Bengal and saltpeter from Patna. Because of his improvements to the trading and living facilities, he was able to attract and retain good agents.

To improve security, he developed diplomatic relations with Mughal authorities. Contact with the Mughal seat of power in Delhi allowed Dupleix to play an instrumental role in obtaining the Mughal rank of mānsabdār for Governor-General Pierre-Benoist Dumas. The title bestowed upon the company official stature, land revenues, and the legal right to maintain armed forces, greatly increasing the impact of the French in India and greatly changing the rules of the Nabob Game.

In 1739, already in his early forties, Dupleix married Jeanne Vincens, a Creole of Tamil and Portuguese extraction and the widow of his best friend. For the rest of his life, Jeanne provided invaluable insight and advice and reputedly drafted much of his most sensitive correspondence in Persian and Tamil. Dupleix was also enormously aided in Pondicherry by his dubash (interpreter and agent), Ananda Ranga Pillai, whose diaries provide invaluable insights into Dupleix’s commercial and political affairs.

The following year, the directors in Paris appointed Dupleix governor-general in Pondicherry. When he finally arrived in 1742, he was faced immediately with several perils that characterize his tenure. Dupleix was facing potential threats from Indian forces, especially the Marathas, and was soon presented with a potential threat from the English. Unfortunately, the company was passing through one of its periodic crises in cash flow, and both the directors and the king opposed spending on Pondicherry’s defenses. Dupleix therefore drew funds from his own considerable fortune to strengthen the bulwarks. This act was praised at the time but later became the basis for his lawsuit against the company.

Threatened depredations from Indian armies were only part of his security concerns, however. More dangerous perhaps was news of the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). When the news of war between France and England arrived in 1744, Dupleix proposed that the French and British East India Companies remain neutral, but he was rebuffed. When the news arrived that the British Royal Navy had taken French East India men as prizes, war with the English was inevitable. In league with a French fleet commanded by Mahé de la Bourdonnais, Dupleix’s forces and captured Fort St. George (Chennai) in 1746.

The fighting provoked the nawāb of Arcot, Anwārud- din, who had forbidden both sides to fight, to issue an ultimatum demanding the French withdraw. When Dupleix refused, Anwār-ud-din dispatched an army to take it. A thousand soldiers under French command dispersed the enemy host, and the already intimidating reputation of European military might was reinforced; henceforth European armies were rarely challenged.

Dupleix then engineered the overthrow of Anwār-uddin by backing a rival for the throne of Arcot, Chanda Sahib. Two years later, Nizām al-Mulk, the nizam of Hyderabad, died, and Dupleix cultivated the successors on the throne, propping them up with French soldiers and installing French political agents in the court. With French puppets now on the thrones of two of the most powerful states in South India, Dupleix was at the top of the Nabob Game.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) returned India to the status quo ante. The English quickly emerged as implacable competitors for power and trade. They challenged the installation of Chanda Sahib as nawāb of Arcot by backing Muhammad Ali, Anwār-ud-din’s son. When Chanda Sahib laid siege to Muhammad Ali in Trichinapoly (Tiruchchirappalli), English forces under Robert Clive boldly counterattacked Arcot. Eventually, Marāthas decided the succession by killing Chanda Sahib, but the struggle between the French and the English in India was now for complete control.

Meanwhile, the directors in Paris had become deeply concerned with the mounting expenses of war even while trying to recover from trading losses suffered during the War of the Austrian Succession. Dupleix was dramatically recalled to Paris in 1754, his successor handing him the letter as he stepped off the ship. Thenceforth, French influence in India vis à vis the English declined ceaselessly throughout the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). Pondicherry was captured in 1761 and although returned with the peace never again posed a threat to British interests.

Dupleix had returned amid hints that his wealth had been obtained by abusing his position and privileges. A scandal erupted when Dupleix submitted a demand to be repaid for the vast out-of-pocket expenditures he had incurred building defenses for Pondicherry and purchasing cargoes during the years of conflict with the English. His lawsuit alienated many friends and allies and dragged on until his death in 1763. He died a broken man, his wealth spent and his honor impugned.

Dupleix’s role in the colonization of French India is cloudy even today. Clearly, as the governor-general in dynamic times, he rose heroically to the challenges posed to him. It is not as clear, however, whether Dupleix was a grand visionary of empire, designer of the Nabob Game, brilliant military commander, and shrewd businessman, who redesigned the paradigm between European and Indian powers, or merely an opportunist reacting to events. Dupleix’s legacy is an ironic one: to be the intellectual founder of Britain’s Indian empire.

Automitrailleuse Panhard et Levassor Type 178


A Panhard 178B. The APX3B turret is of the latest type with a rear episcope. Rear view showing the position of the second driver; the hull, despite having been repainted with a number belonging to the third production batch. Panhard 178B/FL1, French Indo-China, 1947.


Panhard 178 tank hunter with the Renault turret designed by Engineer J. Restany and 47 mm (1.85 in) SA 34, 1st DLC, France, June 1940.


Panhard 178, early production, 6th GRDI, 2nd Sqdn, France, May 1940.

The Automitrailleuse Panhard et Levassor Type 178 armoured car was first produced in 1935, and was developed from a design known as the TOE-M-32, which was intended for use in the French North African colonies and mounted a short 37-mm turret gun. Panhard used this design as a basis for a new French army requirement but gave the new vehicle a 4 x 4 drive configuration and moved the engine to the rear of the vehicle. The result was the Panhard 178 and the armament varied from a single 25-mm cannon on some vehicles to two 7.5-mm (0.295-m) machine-guns on others, while some command vehicles had extra radios but no armament.

The Panhard 178 was known also as the Panhard Modele 1935. The Panhard 178 was put into production for the French infantry and cavalry formation reconnaissance groups. Production was slow, but by 1940 there were appreciable numbers available for the fighting which followed the German invasion in May. Many of the Panhard 178s were in widely scattered units and were unable to take much part in the fighting that ensued, so many were seized intact by the victorious Germans. The Germans liked the sound design of the Panhard 178 and decided to take it into their own service as the Panzerspähwagen P 204(f), some of them being rearmed with 37-mm anti-tank guns and/or German machine-guns. Some of these were retained for garrison use in France, but others were later sent to the USSR, where the type was used for behind-the-lines patrol duties against Soviet partisans. Some were even converted for railway use, having their conventional wheels changed to railway wheels, and many of these ‘railway’ conversions were fitted with extra radios and prominent frame aerials.

Perhaps the most unusual use of the Panhard 178s took place in 1941 and 1942, when 45 vehicles, hidden from the Germans by French cavalry units following the defeat of 1940, were prepared by Resistance personnel for possible use against the Germans. These vehicles had no turrets, but these were manufactured under the nose of the Germans and fitted with 25-mm or 47-mm guns and/or machine-guns. The armoured cars were then secretly distributed throughout centres of resistance mainly in unoccupied France, where many were subsequently taken over by the German forces when they took over the unoccupied areas of France in November 1942.

After the Liberation the Panhard 178 was once more put into production during August 1944 at the Renault factory outside Paris. These new vehicles had a larger turret with a 47-mm gun, and were later known as the Panhard 178B. The new vehicles were issued to the new French cavalry units and were used for many years after 1945. Some saw action in Indo-China, and it was not until 1960 that the last of them was taken out of service.


Panzerspahwagen Panhard 178-P204(f)

The Panhard P-178 was the most advanced medium armoured car of the French Army when the German forces invaded France. In 1940, 360 units were already in service, and a large number of these were captured by the Wehrmacht in a serviceable condition. Before the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, 190 Panhard cars were issued un-modified to German units. In addition to the standard Pz Sp Wg, there was the radio-vehicle which served in small numbers as Pz Sp Wg (Fu). Forty-three cars were converted as railway-protection vehicles, fitted with rail wheels, and additional radio equipment which necessitated a frame aerial. The final development was the conversion in 1943 of some cars to a self-propelled gun, by removing the turret and replacing it by an armoured superstructure mounting the German 5cm KwK L/42, which was available in numbers following the up-gunning of the Pz Kpfw III.


The Siege of Badajoz: March-April 1812


Storming of Badajoz by Chris Collingwood.


The last siege of Badajoz conducted by Wellington’s army was typified by a failed main assault on the breech and a successful secondary assault on the castle. The Allies had failed to take Badajoz before, and the lack of an adequate British siege train, along with qualified engineer officers and engineer troops, would make infantry assaults the major instrument in the siege. The gallantry of the British infantry is legendary, and Wellington undoubtedly felt grief over the horrific losses. The skilled defence of Badajoz by General Phillipon and his garrison is contrasted with the amaterish way in which the British engineering arm conducted the siege. The heavy losses prompted the British to create the Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners.

There were four sieges of Badajoz during the Peninsular War, all taking place in 1811-12. The initial siege was undertaken by the French and was a success; it was followed by two failed British attempts. The fourth and last of these operations was also undertaken by the British. This time they carried the day, but it was a very bloody episode and the superb performance of the British infantry was marred by their disgraceful conduct afterwards. They indulged in a three-day orgy of rapine, drunkenness and plunder against an allied and friendly population that had not opposed the British siege operations in any way.

Wellington’s sieges in Portugal and Spain are not noted for the skill and thoroughness with which they were conducted. Many of them were failures, and those that succeeded were usually marked by heavy casualties incurred by the besiegers because the cities had to be taken by storm. Badajoz was one of the keys to Spain; it had to be taken so that the Allied army could continue into the interior and eventually into southern France. It stood on the Guadiana River and water formed a natural obstacle on two sides. The city was strongly fortified and had formidable outworks called the Pardaleras and the Picurina. Across the Guadiana was San Cristobal and the fortified bridgehead for the bridge over the river. The works were garrisoned by about 5000 men ably commanded by General Armand Philippon (1761-1836), who proved a redoubtable adversary.

Siege works were then opened against the eastern side of the fortress on 15 March 1812 amidst terrible weather that made construction difficult at best. The troops that worked on the first siege parallel laboured in water up to their waists and were under heavy French fire from the outset. The French sortied from the fortress on 19 March but were repulsed, and work continued.

Batteries were built to fire on the fortress and on 24 March six batteries opened fire on the Picurina as well as on the San Roque lunette. Additionally, artillery bombarded the main walls, or curtain, of Badajoz between the bastions of Trinidad and San Pedro.

Stolid Defence

Major-General Thomas Picton’s (1758-1815) division assaulted the Picurina on the night of 25 March and took it after a desperate fight; Picton’s casualties were heavy. The next day the British siege guns opened fire on Badajoz once more, this time bombarding the curtain between the Trinidad and Santa Maria bastions. The city wall was formidable however, and it was not until 5 April that two breeches were opened that were believed to be passable by an assault force. Still, Wellington ordered that another breech to be opened before an assault could take place.

Wellington underestimated the lengths to which the defenders had gone to make an assault upon Badajoz if not impossible, then at least as expensive as possible for any attacker. Obstacles had been built in the ditch to render it unusable as a customary rallying place. Although the walls had been breeched, the defenders had erected more obstacles within them and had shored up the defences behind the breeches to stop any penetration of the fortress.

Wellington had planned a main attack by two columns, consisting of the Light Division and the 4th Division, which would go for the breeches. A supporting attack against the fortress’s castle across the Roillas, which was flooded and could only be crossed by a dyke that was 60cm (2ft) under water, was to be made by Picton’s 3rd Division. Other, smaller supporting attacks were to be made on the Pardaleras, the San Vicente bastion and the San Roque lunette.

The attacks jumped off at 8 p.m. on 6 April. The assaults on the breeches were expensive failures, the defenders not only causing the attacking columns horrendous casualties but also taunting the attackers throughout the fighting. The performance and sacrifice of the British officers and men was exemplary, but the defence was too professional and savage, and the breeches were choked with British killed and wounded.

Picton’s attack on the castle at first failed, and Picton himself was wounded. He rallied his men, however, and they gained a foothold on the lower walls. Scaling ladders were raised and the British poured over the parapet. Again, resistance was savage, but the British fought through adversity, taking the castle but with heavy casualties. The San Vicente bastion was also taken, and the heart went out of the defenders.

General Philippon and the garrison withdrew into San Cristobal, where they surrendered the next day. Badajoz thereby fell, and the British troops who had behaved so well in the mayhem of the breeches now went wild and sacked the city. The orgy continued until it finally burned itself out and order was restored. The same would happen when San Sebastian was taken the following year.

The Siege of Orleans

The Regent of France, John, Duke of Bedford, returned to France in March 1427, accompanied by a man from the Welsh Marches who was to become one of the most redoubtable soldiers of the War—Lord Talbot. They took with them a pitifully small new army, 300 men-at-arms and 900 archers, though they also brought a new artillery train. The English were lucky that during Bedford’s absence the Dauphinists had not taken advantage of the defection of the Duke of Brittany, a shifty intriguer. In 1426 Duke John of Brittany had signed a treaty with the Dauphin at Saumur while his brother with a mixed force of Bretons and Scots had seized the important English fortress of Pontorson and massacred its garrison. Furthermore, because of Gloucester’s meddling in Hainault, Anglo-Burgundian co-operation was almost non-existent. Bedford acted swiftly. In May Lord Warwick captured Pontorson, after which Duke John veered back to the English and in September 1427 formally reaffirmed his allegiance to the Treaty of Troyes. In June the Regent and his wife visited Duke Philip of Burgundy at Arras and began to restore good relations; Bedford stopped a new English expedition to Hainault and then arranged a truce between Gloucester and Burgundy. Humphrey abandoned Jacqueline of Hainault and her claims, obtaining a Papal Bull which declared their marriage invalid (his chief reason being that he now wanted to marry her lady-in-waiting Eleanor Cobham). By the end of 1427 Bedford had entirely restored the Triple Alliance.

A further 1,900 troops had arrived from England in the spring but before launching a major new offensive it had been necessary to capture a number of enemy strongholds. Among them was the town of Montargis, sixty miles south-east of Paris, which dominated the Yonne valley. It occupied an extremely strong position on a headland completely surrounded by the rivers Loing and Vernisson, while the approach was criss-crossed by canals which hindered the besiegers. It had a resolute garrison under the Sieur de La Faille who was well liked by the townsmen. Lord Warwick pitched his camp on the road from Paris, on both sides of the river, and possessed a good supply line. He had brought only 5,000 men but he had an adequate artillery train and on 15 July began a methodical bombardment of the town. Nevertheless, after six weeks he had made little progress. He could hardly have expected that the Dauphinists could produce a commander capable of taking him by surprise.

John, Bastard of Orleans (popularly known later as the ‘bon et brave Dunois’ from his county of that name) was the left-handed son of the Duke of Orleans who had been murdered in 1407. A penniless adventurer, the Bastard became a professional soldier and fought at Baugé and Verneuil. He was now twenty-four years old. In September 1427 he and another good soldier, La Hire, were sent to reinforce Montargis with 1,600 troops. The Bastard had obviously studied the battle at Cravant, and a messenger from him reached the town with a plan of concerted action. Suddenly the Bastard and his men appeared in full view of the English on the road south of the town. Warwick’s troops rushed to attack them, whereupon the townsmen opened the sluice-gates and the ensuing flood carried away the wooden bridge over the river, cutting the English forces in two and drowning many. At the same time the defenders sallied out to attack them from the rear. Warwick lost a thousand men, the rest fleeing in panic and abandoning their artillery.

On the same day as the débâcle at Montargis, Sir John Fastolf and a small force were defeated at Ambrières in Maine, and all Maine rose in revolt. The Regent, coldly determined, at once recommenced the siege of Montargis and began to put down the rising in Maine. He showed himself no less merciless than his brother: the town of La Gravelle did not honour its promise to surrender by a given date, so he beheaded the hostages which it had given as a surety. Lord Talbot was also beginning to show his quality. When La Hire seized Le Mans, Talbot retook it and rescued the garrison with only 300 men, going on to capture Laval which was one of the keys to Maine. By the spring of 1428 the situation had been restored and the way was now open for the long-hoped-for offensive.

But the English were still bedevilled by lack of money. Although taxed to the hilt the conquered territories could not provide enough, while in England Parliament had shown itself unco-operative despite Bedford’s pleas. In July 1427 he had sent Salisbury home to beg the Council for help, and eventually the Earl obtained £24,000, though he had to lend part of it from his own resources. He sailed from Sandwich in June 1428 with 450 men-at-arms, 2,250 archers, ten miners, over seventy masons, carpenters and bowmakers and a new artillery train. Meanwhile the Regent had been assembling troops and supplies. Salisbury marched into Paris in July. He and the Regent differed over the objectives of the forthcoming campaign—the former wished to capture Orleans, the key to the Loire and from whence he could strike over the river into the Dauphinist heartland ; Bedford, on the other hand, wanted Angers which would give the English complete control of Anjou and enable them to link up their northern territories with Guyenne. Moreover the Regent had scruples about attacking Orleans ; to do so was to breach a treaty, and as its feudal lord the Duke of Orleans was a prisoner in England, the assault would be against all the rules of chivalry. Salisbury prevailed, but Bedford seems to have kept his misgivings ; some years afterwards he wrote to his nephew Henry VI how the Plantagenet cause had prospered everywhere in France until the siege of Orleans, ‘takyn in hand God knoweth by what avys’.

The Earl began his offensive in mid-August, capturing more than forty towns and fortresses, ‘somme wonne be assault and somme otherwyse’ as he put it. They included the towns on the Loire nearest to Orleans—Beaugency and Meung downstream and Jargeau upstream. On 12 October he invested Orleans. On the northern bank of the Loire, the city must have presented a daunting spectacle. Its thirty-foot-high walls were so long that the English were unable to surround them with siege works and had to rely on patrols. Inside there were more defenders than the besiegers outside—2,400 troops and 3,000 militia, commanded by the same Sieur de Gaucourt who had been at Harfleur ; they had 71 guns mounted on the walls, some firing stone shot weighing nearly 200 lbs and far outnumbering the English artillery. Nor were the English troops, who had dwindled to 4,000, of the best quality; they had been looting and deserting ever since they landed and had sacked an especially holy shrine at Cléry. As for Burgundians, Salisbury had a mere 150, hired from the Duke. The Earl had no hope of blockading the city with so few men, and the defenders could obtain supplies and reinforcements without difficulty. Not in the least deterred, ‘mad-brain’d Salisbury’ decided to batter his way over the main bridge across the river, a structure 350 metres wide which stretched from the south bank to the centre of the city. It was defended on the bank by an earthwork and then by two massive towers over the first arch, known as the Tourelles. A bombardment followed by an assault was unsuccessful, but when the towers’ garrison realized that miners had tunnelled beneath the foundations they fled in panic, demolishing two arches of the bridge behind them.

Salisbury climbed up on to the third floor of the Tourelles to have a closer view of Orleans and decide where to attack next, ‘looking very attentively on all sides to see and devise in what way he might surround and subdue it’. An apocryphal story says that an English captain, Sir William Glasdale, said to the Earl: ‘My Lord, you see your city.’ Suddenly a schoolboy set off a small bombard on the walls whose gunners had left it during dinner. Salisbury heard the report and ducked. The gunstone came through the window, killing a gentleman next to him, and an iron bar flew off, hitting Salisbury’s visor and slicing away half his face. To the genuine sorrow of his men ‘who both feared and loved him’, after a week’s agony he died at Meung on 27 October, his last words being to beg his officers to continue the siege. Wavrin believed that had Salisbury lived another three months he would have taken Orleans. His death was a calamity for the English.

The Earl of Suffolk took over the command. This great-grandson of Edward III’s moneylender was a very different man from Salisbury. Although a veteran of Harfleur who had seen many campaigns, he was an unimaginative and unenterprising soldier, averse to taking risks, and above all unlucky. He continued the siege, after a fashion ; a garrison was left in the Tourelles under Glasdale while Suffolk and the rest of the troops went into winter quarters in nearby towns. However, Lord Talbot and Lord Scales brought them back on 1 December, surrounding the city with a line of sixty stockaded earthworks, known as bastilles, linked by communication trenches. As a blockade it was hardly adequate, for there was a wide gap to the north-east. In any case the defenders inside the city had plenty of food, and were reinforced by the Bastard of Orleans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles and 500 fresh troops. But the English hung on grimly during the winter. The courtesies of chivalry were scrupulously observed. On Christmas Day Suffolk sent some figs to the Bastard and received a fur coat in exchange while the city lent the besiegers an orchestra.

We know the names of Sir William Glasdale’s garrison in the Tourelles, and they sound astonishingly modern and ordinary—they would not have been out of place at Torres Vedras or Tobruk. Among them were Thomas Jolly, Bill Martin, Davy Johnson, Walter Parker, Matthew Thornton, George Ludlow, Patrick Hall, William Vaughan, Thomas Sand, Dick Hawke, John Langham, William Arnold, George Blackwell, and John Reid from Redesdale.

On 12 February 1429 Sir John Fastolf, who was taking a convoy of Lenten food—herrings and lentils—from Paris to the English at Orleans, learnt at Rouvray near Janville that he was about to be attacked by a Dauphinist force of 4,000 men under the Count of Clermont. Fastolf, who only had 500 English archers and 1,000 Parisian militia (probably crossbowmen) immediately halted and laagered his wagons, leaving two narrow entrances fortified by the pointed stakes of his archers. Clermont had some small cannon and began to use them on the laager with considerable effect. But then a Scots detachment under Sir John Stewart of Darnley insisted on attacking on foot, and the French men-at-arms joined them, though remaining on horseback. They were bloodily repulsed by arrow-fire, whereupon Fastolf mounted his archers (who almost certainly carried lances) and charged out to complete the enemy’s rout, killing about 500—mainly Scots. Fastolf lost only four men, apart from some wagoners who had tried to run away. It was heartening that the Parisians should have shown themselves so loyal. The Regent had a service of thanksgiving held in Paris and paid special honour to the militia men.

By the spring of 1429, the English were still no nearer capturing Orleans. In April Bedford begged the Council for more men and was sent only 100 men-at-arms. The Dauphinists then made a shrewd diplomatic move by ceding Orleans to the Duke of Burgundy, on the pretext that its lord the Duke of Orleans was a prisoner in England. Philip was eager to accept but Bedford, although concerned at putting the alliance with him at risk, refused to agree. Angrily Philip ordered Burgundian troops to leave the siege. By 15 April the Regent was again writing to the Council, deploring the low morale of his army, pleading for reinforcements and warning that without military or financial assistance he would be force to raise the siege.

The walls were still unbreached. Suffolk held on, without much hope. He had forgotten to put chain-booms across the Loire, so the enemy were able to use the river for moving troops and supplies. On 29 April barges laden with food sailed from Chézy only five miles upstream and, while the English were distracted by a mock assault on one of their earthworks, got through to the city. Next day, accompanied by a small escort, the leader of an army of relief rode into Orleans on a black charger, carrying a small battle-axe. She was Joan of Arc.

‘The Witch of Orleans’

The relief of the siege of Orleans by a French army under Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was the decisive event of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between the French and the English. The course of the war had to that point constantly shifted. On October 25, 1415, King Henry V of England defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt. Five years later French king Charles VI agreed to the Treaty of Troyes whereby his daughter Catherine was to marry Henry V. Charles VI also repudiated the dauphin, his son Charles, as illegitimate and acknowledged Henry as his heir. Henry V then campaigned successfully against French forces loyal to the dauphin until his untimely death in August 1422 reopened the matter of succession. The

English named Henry’s nine-month-old son as king of France and England. Charles VI died that October, and many French supported his son Charles, the former dauphin, as the rightful king. Charles, however, was weak, degenerate, vacillating, and utterly incapable of leadership.

In these circumstances the regent for the young Henry VI, the Duke of Bedford, allied England with the powerful Duchy of Burgundy and on July 21, 1423, defeated the French at Cravant, establishing English rule over all of France north of the Loire River. On August 17, 1524, Bedford annihilated a French force at Ver-neuil. In the autumn of 1428 English-Burgundian forces launched an offensive to secure the crossing of the Loire River at Orleans to campaign in Armagnac, the heart of Charles’s territory.

Orleans was a large city and one of the strongest fortresses in France. Three of its four sides were strongly walled and moated, and its southern side rested on the Loire. The city walls were well defended by numerous catapults and 71 large cannon, and stocks of food had been gathered. Jean Dunois, Comte de Longueville, commanded the city’s garrison of about 2,400 soldiers and 3,000 armed citizens.

English troops under the Earl of Salisbury arrived at Orleans on October 12, 1428. Because he had only about 5,000 men, Salisbury was not able to invest Orleans completely. Nonetheless, on October 24 the English seized the fortified bridge across the Loire, although Salisbury was mortally wounded in the attack. In December William Pole, Earl of Suffolk, took over command of siege operations. The English constructed a number of small forts to protect the bridge as well as their encampments.

Although the French in Orleans mounted several forays and were able to secure limited supplies, by early 1429 the situation in the city was desperate, with the defenders close to starvation. Orleans was now the symbol of French resistance and nationalism. Charles was considering flight abroad, but the situation was not as bleak as it appeared. French peasants were rising against the English, and only a leader was lacking.

That person appeared in the young illiterate peasant girl, Jeanne d’Arc. She informed Charles that she had been sent by God to raise the siege of Orleans and to lead him to Reims to be crowned king of France. Charles allowed Jeanne, dressed in full armor, to lead (as chef de guerre) a relief army of up to 4,000 men and a convoy of supplies to Orleans. The Duc d’Alengon had actual command.

Jeanne’s fame quickly spread far and wide, and her faith in her divine mission inspired the French. As the relief force approached Orleans, Jeanne sent a letter to Suffolk demanding surrender. Not surprisingly, he refused. Jeanne then demanded that the army circle around and approach the city from the north. The other leaders agreed; the French army was ferried to the north bank of the Loire and entered the city through a north gate on April 29.

Jeanne urged an attack on the English from the city, assuring the men of God’s protection. On May 1 Jeanne awoke to learn that a French attack against the English at Fort St. Loup had begun without her and was not going well. She rode out in full armor and rallied the attackers, who were then victorious. All the English defenders were killed, while the French lost only two dead. Jeanne then insisted that the soldiers confess their sins and ban all prostitutes from the army and promised the men that they would be victorious in five days. Another appeal to the English to surrender met with derisive shouts.

On May 5 Jeanne led an attack out of the south gate of the city. The French avoided the bridge over the Loire, which the English had captured at the beginning of the siege. The French crossed through shallow water to an island in the middle of the river and from there used a boat bridge to gain the south bank. The French captured the English fort at St. Jean le Blanc and then moved against a large fort at Les Augustins, close to the bridge. The battle was costly to both sides, but Jeanne led a charge that left the French in possession of the fort.

The next day, May 6, Jeanne’s troops assaulted Les Tournelles, the towers at the southern end of the bridge. Jeanne was hit by an arrow and carried from the field, but the wound was not major; by late afternoon she had rejoined the battle. On May 7 a French knight took Jeanne’s banner to lead an attack on the towers. She tried to stop him, but the mere sight of the banner caused the French soldiers to follow it. Jeanne then joined the battle.

Using scaling ladders, the French assaulted the walls, with Jeanne in the thick of the fight. The 400-500 English defenders attempted to flee on the bridge, but it was soon on fire and collapsed. On May 8 the remaining English forces abandoned the siege and departed.

In his official pronouncements Charles took full credit for the victory, but the French people attributed it to Jeanne and flocked to join her. In successive battles, most notably at Patay on June 19, the French routed the English from their Loire strongholds. In July the French took Reims from the Burgundians, and there, on July 16, Charles was anointed king, with Jeanne in attendance in full armor and with banner in hand. The moral effect of this coronation was vast. Given the circumstances, few could doubt that Charles VII was the legitimate ruler of France.

Jeanne called for an immediate advance on Paris. Charles, however, wanted only to return to the Loire. Jeanne’s attempt to capture Paris failed, and Charles signed a truce with the Duke of Burgundy. Charles ordered Jeanne to cease fighting and had her army disbanded. In May 1430 Jeanne was taken prisoner by the Burgundians. When Charles refused to ransom her, Duke Philip of Burgundy sold Jeanne to the English, who put her on trial at Rouen for heresy and sorcery and executed her in May 1431.

Although the Hundred Years’ War continued for another two decades, the relief of the siege of Orleans was the turning point in the long war. Jeanne’s death checked for a time the uprising of French nationality, but peace between France and Burgundy in 1435, Charles VII’s effective advisers (he became known as “Charles the Well-Served”), and military reforms in France that provided for a standing army and infantry militia finally brought the expulsion of the English. The Hundred Years’ War ended with the fall of Bordeaux to the French in 1453.


Gies, Frances. Jean of Arc: The Legend and the Reality. New York: Harper and Row, 1981. Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years’ War: The English in France, 1337-1453. New York: Atheneum, 1978.

Sumption, Jonathan. The Hundred Years’ War: Trial by Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

Warner, Marina. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Puma Helicopter


In 1962, the French Army issued a requirement for a French-produced tactical helicopter that could transport twenty soldiers and perform a variety of cargo-carrying duties. The SA 330 Puma, a completely new design, resulted. In 1963, with French government funding, the design process began; the first prototype flew in April 1965. The successful prototype resulted in an order for six preproduction machines. The Puma’s twin Bastan VII turbines were mounted on top of the fuselage, leaving the internal fuselage unobstructed for cargo, or for eighteen troops plus two pilots. Replacing the Bastan engines on production models, two Turbomeca Turmo 3C 1,320-horsepower turboshafts drove the 49- foot, 3-inch four-bladed main rotor and five-bladed tailrotor. The Puma exhibited a maximum speed of 150 knots and a range of 340 nautical miles.

Impressed by the Puma, both the French Army and the UK Royal Air Force placed substantial orders. On February 22, 1967, SudAviation entered into an agreement with Westland Helicopters to coproduce the Puma. Under the contract the companies jointly manufactured the SA 330 Puma, the SA 341 Gazelle, and the WG Lynx. Thus all Pumas were partially manufactured in England; Westland assembled completely the forty-eight HC1 Pumas ordered by the British military, and the first was delivered on July 30, 1968. The agreement that also allowed the French to build forty units of the Westland Lynx remained in force until 1988. On January 1, 1970, Sud-Aviation, Nord Aviation, and SEREB merged to form the Société Nationale Industrielle Aerospatiale, which honored all contracts previously signed with other manufacturers.

Several other countries purchased military variants of the Puma, including Chile, Indonesia, Morocco, South Africa, and Spain. Romania built the SA 330 under license as the IAR-330 and produced about ninety military and civilian models that were used by Romanian military and commercial operators, as well as the militaries of Ethiopia and Guinea. Established in 1963 as the major maintenance support for the South African Air Force (SAAF), Atlas Aircraft Company Ltd. completed a major modification of the SAAF Pumas, first known as the Gemsbok, then the Oryx. Atlas installed the more powerful Makila 1A turboshafts, new gearboxes, and extensive upgrades of weapon systems and avionics, including a nose-mounted radar. Atlas subsequently developed a gunship version of the Puma designated the ZTP-1 Oryx, on which the company installed external stub wings, with FFAR and machine gun pods, and a TC-20 20- mm cannon mounted under the fuselage. Bristow Helicopters also ordered a number of Pumas for off-shore work in the rough weather of the North Sea.

Super Puma

First flown in 1965, the Aerospatiale-designed “Puma-type” aircraft remained in production until 1987, but in 1974 the company initiated an improvement program that led to the AS 332 Super Puma. In September 1977 a prototype SA-331, equipped with an improved transmission and two 755-horsepower Turbomeca Makila turboshafts, completed its first test flight. On September 13 of the next year the prototype AS 332 Super Puma appeared with increased engine power and a more aerodynamically efficient fuselage. Aerospatiale engineers installed new composite main and tailrotors that increased lift efficiency, service life, combat survivability, and ended the problem of metallic blades corroding in maritime operations. The Super Puma featured an extended fuselage capable of hauling troops and cargo, a wider energy-absorbing retractable landing gear, armored seating for passengers and crew, and greater fuel capacity. The AS 332 reached a range of 532 nautical miles at maximum speeds of 141 knots. From 1978 until 1987 the company introduced five military and civilian variants of the 332, two with extended fuselages. In 1980 the 332 replaced the standard AS 330 Puma as the primary utility helicopter produced by Aerospatiale. The company manufactured 670 of the type, and the aircraft remained in limited production in Rumania into the twenty-first century.

Two fuel-efficient Turbomeca Makila 1,877-horsepower turboshafts turned the 51-foot, 2.2-inch four-bladed main rotor mounted atop the elongated rectangular fuselage, accommodating up to twenty-four troops. A longer tailboom and vertical fin supported a four-bladed composite tailrotor mounted on the starboard side and a horizontal stabilizer on the port. Depending on the version, in addition to more troops and twelve litters, or SAR equipment, the Super Puma could carry a 10,000-pound slingload, or an assortment of weapons for land or sea warfare. Weapons included gun pods for 7.62/.50-caliber machine guns, or 20-mm cannon and 70-mm FFARs. The ASW version carried a search radar in an extended nose, a dipping sonar, and homing torpedoes. For antiship operations the aircraft carried two AM 39 or MM 40 Exocet, BEA Sea Skua, or Harpoon missiles. Transport versions were armed with pintle-mounted 7.62-mm or .50-caliber doorguns. Bristow Helicopters Ltd., acquiring more than thirty aircraft for offshore operations in the North Sea and IPTN (Industri Pesawat Terbong Nasantara) in Indonesia, which also built the SA-330 under license, manufactured several Super Pumas for domestic civilian and military use. In all, thirty-eight countries bought variants of the AS 332-532, including Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chad, Chile, China, Djibouti, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Togo, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Zaire.


French troops wade through water during an amphibious landing. Official caption on front: “MM-44-1431.” Official caption on reverse: “Sig Corps photo-17-6-44. Elba invaded! French troops wading ashore from landing craft in the invasion of the tiny island of Elba. White smoke billowing from stern of ship caused by smoke pot.” Elba, Italy. 17 June 1944

On 18 November Auchinleck’s troops in North Africa, now designated the Eighth Army, commenced Operation Crusader, designed not only to relieve Tobruk but also to smash the Axis forces in Cyrenaica. During its advance, the Eighth Army, commanded in the early stages of the operation by Lieutenant-General Sir Alan Cunningham, the admiral’s younger brother, and later by Major-General Neil Ritchie, bypassed the fortified frontier zone of Sollum-Halfaya Pass-Bardia, and advanced on Tobruk along two separate axes; simultaneously, the Tobruk garrison commenced a break-out operation intended to effect a junction with the relief force. The battle proved to be a far tougher and more protracted struggle than anyone had imagined, so that it was not until 7 December that Rommel took the decision to abandon Cyrenaica in order to save the remnant of his army. His isolated frontier garrisons, beyond hope of relief, were then methodically crushed. Overall, Axis casualties amounted to 38,000 killed, wounded and missing as against 18,000 British and Commonwealth; some 300 German and Italian tanks were destroyed compared to 278 British, although a high proportion of the latter could be recovered and repaired.

During the battle, Aphis, now commanded by Lieutenant John Cox, shelled the Gazala airfields on the night of 24/25 November, evidently to such good effect that over the next two days Tobruk harbour was subjected to a vindictive bombardment. Secure beneath their camouflage nets in Gnat Cove, Aphis’s crew watched the shells burst among the wrecks littering the water. On the night of 1/2 December, Aphis sallied forth again, but this time set her course eastwards to Gambut, around which elements of the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions were leaguered. During an hour-long shoot, eighty-four 6-inch shells slammed into these already mauled formations. The treatment was repeated on 4 December, and again three days later. Aphis supported the Eighth Army’s advance as far as Derna, ferrying stores and personnel as well as escorting smaller vessels. While so engaged, she contemptuously evaded a torpedo dropped by a Heinkel He 111, turning so quickly on to a parallel course that the pilot was mortified to see his fish miss by a good 50 yards.

By now the ship’s 6-inch guns were completely worn out. They were replaced by Cricket’s, which retained their accuracy but were so slow to run out from full recoil that they required manual assistance. On 31 December, while the 2nd South African Division was fighting its way into Bardia, Aphis, Southern Maid and the cruiser Ajax of River Plate fame provided gunfire support. As the enemy’s return fire was falling uncomfortably close, Cox led the two smaller ships out to extreme range, dropping a smoke float which effectively distracted the enemy’s gunners. The 8000-strong garrison surrendered at dawn on 2 January. The South Africans also took Sollum, although Halfaya Pass held out until 17 January, by which time many of its garrison were close to dying of thirst.

With the relief of Tobruk, the most important function of the Inshore Squadron came to an end. Three of the four gunboats to serve with the squadron had been lost and, for the moment, Aphis alone remained, her contribution eclipsed by great events on land and the epic siege of Malta.

Just as, a year earlier, Wavell had been forced to send troops to Greece, so now Auchinleck was required by Japan’s entry into the war to despatch reinforcements to the Far East, thereby weakening the Eighth Army. In the third week of January 1942, Rommel, having himself been reinforced, returned to the offensive. He did not achieve quite the same runaway success as he had the previous year, but he did recover the Benghazi Bulge. The line was stabilised at Gazala and a new front established, running south to Bir Hacheim. Both sides prepared for the next round but it was Rommel who struck first, on 26 May. During the ensuing Battle of Gazala/Knightsbridge the Eighth Army sustained the worst defeat in its history. It was during this that one of the Royal Navy’s most famous gunboat captains, Admiral Sir Walter Cowan, whom we have already met bombarding the Mahdi’s tomb and in the Baltic, went into captivity. Although long retired and in his seventies, the outbreak of World War II provided him with a chance for yet more fighting. He was absolutely adamant that he was not going to be left out and in due course he was found the task of naval liaison officer to an Indian brigade with the honorary rank of commander. His duties cannot have been exacting, for during the Gazala battle the brigade was operating 40 miles from the sea. When it was overrun, Cowan climbed stiffly from his slit trench and emptied his revolver point blank at a German tank. Gentlemanly instincts still existed on the battlefield, for the crew did not return fire and led him away with the respect due to his age and rank. The following year he was exchanged for an Italian officer of equivalent standing. On his return he swore to Admiral Cunningham that if he had been properly supported, and possessed a few more rounds of ammunition, he would have captured the tank!

In the immediate aftermath of his victory Rommel stormed Tobruk, an event which won him his field marshal’s baton. He then decided to use the huge quantities of captured fuel and stores to pursue the badly rattled British into Egypt. As his advance rolled eastwards beyond the frontier, it captured Mersa Matruh, the former base of the Inshore Squadron. Auchinleck assumed personal command of the Eighth Army and in the month-long, bitterly contested First Battle of Alamein fought the Axis army to a standstill. Despite this, Churchill felt that a change at the top was needed. General Sir Harold Alexander took over as Commander-in-Chief Middle East while Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery arrived from England to command the Eighth Army.

Across the lines, Rommel was beginning to regret his opportunism. He now lay at the end of a long and very difficult supply line, had burned most of the fuel captured at Tobruk. and was receiving barely sufficient to meet his daily requirements. At Alam Halfa on 31 August, he made one last attempt to regain the initiative but was thwarted by a rock-solid defence.

Montgomery continued to restore his own army’s morale, building up its strength until he was confident of victory. The Second Battle of Alamein, commencing on 23 October, reduced Rommel’s German divisions to skeletons and destroyed most of the Italian divisions where they stood. Rallying such survivors as he could, Rommel began his long retreat, knowing that this time there could be no halting on the Egyptian frontier or on the border of Tripolitania, for on 8 November the Anglo-American First Army had landed in French North Africa. In such circumstances the best he could hope for was to reach Tunisia, which Hitler and Mussolini had decided would become a Fascist redoubt.

During the final stages of the North African campaign, Aphis, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Frank Bethel, was based first at Tripoli and then at Sousse. On 21 March 1943, as part of a feint to distract the enemy’s attention while Montgomery outflanked the prepared defences of the Mareth Line, she carried out a bombardment of Gabes, flattening the railway station and reducing a staff officers’ accommodation block to rubble. More importantly, wild rumours circulated that the entire Mediterranean Fleet was firing the preparatory bombardment for a landing resulted in troops being withdrawn from the Mareth Line, as intended.

Following the Axis surrender in North Africa, plans were immediately made for the invasion of Sicily. Before they could be activated, however, the heavily fortified Italian island of Pantellaria, lying between Sicily and Tunisia, would have to be neutralised. On 11 June Aphis formed part of the bombardment force which softened up the defences, firing accurately at targets in the harbour area. Hardly had the assault wave gone in than the island’s commander, Admiral Pavesi, indicated that he wished to surrender because of a water shortage. This was simply an excuse, for his men were already giving up in droves, providing a clear indication that the average Italian was no longer interested in fighting for Hitler and Mussolini.

It was now apparent that impending naval operations in the Mediterranean theatre of war would again involve a considerable amount of inshore activity. Because of this two more Insect class gunboats, the Cockchafer under Lieutenant Arthur Dow, RNVR, and the Scarab under Lieutenant E. Cameron, RNZVR, were detached from their station at Basra in April 1943 and sent under tow to join the Mediterranean Fleet. They joined Aphis at Malta, where final preparations for the invasion of Sicily were under way. As a result of experience, the Insects’ light automatic anti-aircraft weapons had been augmented, most being mounted forward. In addition to her heavier weapons, Aphis now possessed an Oerlikon and two 20mm Bredas, while Cockchafer and Scarab, having disposed of their pom-poms, mounted seven Oerlikons each.

Thereafter, the Insects took part in the preliminary bombardment for the landings in Sicily, where Cockchafer’s gunners shot down an enemy aircraft off Catania, and in the toe of Italy, being joined sometimes by the monitor Erebus, sister ship to the Terror. By now, however, the elderly gunboats were beginning to show their many years of hard usage, Cockchafer’s engines in particular giving much cause for anxiety. In normal circumstances the Insects would have been scrapped long since, but the fact was they were doing a useful job and, since they could not be replaced, they were sent to Egypt for overhaul. As part of this they were each rearmed with a later and more powerful mark of 6-inch gun.

During the autumn of 1943 the French had gained control of Corsica. The following spring it was decided that this would serve as a base from which the island of Elba, lying off the west coast of Italy and dominating the coastal shipping routes between with its coastal batteries, could be captured. Elba, once the pocket kingdom of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first exile, is eighteen miles long, nine miles across at its widest point, and mountainous. Its garrison was said to consist of some 800 Poles and Czechs who had been conscripted into the German Army and whose morale was low. The truth was that there were 2600 good-quality German troops manning well-prepared defences throughout the island.

Nevertheless, nothing was left to chance. The assault force, consisting of French Commandos and the French 9th Colonial Division, would receive gunfire support from Aphis, Cockchafer and Scarab, the last now commanded by Lieutenant E. A. Hawksworth, RNVR. Having completed their refit, the gunboats sailed via Malta to Porto Vecchio in Corsica where the invasion fleet was assembling. It consisted of the headquarters ship Royal Scotsman, flying the flag of Rear Admiral Thomas Troubridge, 124 landing craft of various types and a flotilla of minesweepers, escorted by 28 British and American torpedo boats.

The invasion force sailed on 16 June, approaching Elba during the early hours of the following day. The gunboats commenced their bombardment and the commandos slid ashore in their assault boats to neutralise the coast defence batteries. Then, as in any military operation, unforeseen events induced a radical change of circumstances. At Marina di Campo, the principal landing area, a British naval beach commando unit stormed into the harbour to capture an armed lighter and cut the wires of the enemy’s demolition charges on the mole. Unfortunately, enemy artillery fire detonated the charges. The immediate result of the explosion was that 35 of the beach commando were killed and 18 wounded; furthermore, as the light strengthened, yet more enemy guns began concentrating on the area and the landing craft standing off the beaches. At this point the Insects, which had been engaging their designated targets, joined in the fray, systematically eliminating the enemy’s field batteries one after another under the direction of their Royal Artillery Forward Observation Officers, enabling the landing to continue. Elsewhere, although a commando attack on a coast defence battery at Cape Enfola destroyed four of its 6-inch guns, a similar battery at Cape Ripalti beat off its attackers and was only neutralised when the gunboats intervened. Throughout the day, while the French consolidated their gains ashore, the Insects continued to engage numerous targets, earning the highest praise from the FOOs for the accuracy of their shooting. By evening they had expended a total of some 500 rounds of 6-inch ammunition. Scarab, her magazine empty, returned to base to replenish, followed the next day by Aphis and the day after by Cockchafer, which at one stage had become the target of heavy coast defence guns firing from Piombino on the Italian mainland. On the morning of 19 June the remnant of the garrison surrendered, having sustained the loss of over 500 killed. French casualties amounted to 400 killed and 600 wounded, while those of the Royal Navy were 65 killed and 58 wounded. The operation had succeeded, but at such a price that it was later described as ‘a bloody little sideshow’.

In the wider sphere the Allies were now firmly ashore in Normandy, though facing a fanatical defence. The Supreme Command decided that the moment had come to activate Operation Dragoon, a landing on the French Riviera by the French First and US Seventh Armies which would effectively turn the flank of the German army groups in northern France. As Cockchafer’s engines were again giving trouble, Aphis and Scarab alone were detailed to work under American naval command as part of a group known as Task Force 80.4, the function of which was to jam the enemy’s radar and, using reflector balloons, create false radar targets with the object of confusing the Germans as to precisely where the landings would take place; once this phase had been completed, the two Insects were to close the range and bombard targets between Antibes and the River Var for an hour. Operation Dragoon took place on 15 August and was a complete success. According to German radio broadcasts seeking excuses for the invaders’ success, Antibes and Nice had been shelled by four or five battleships, a claim which gave the gunboat crews much satisfaction.

On the misty, drizzling morning of 17 August, Task Force 80.4 was approaching the main assault area when one of the American torpedo boats picked up strange contacts on her radar. When challenged, the strangers opened fire. The PT boat turned away, signalling a warning of the hostile presence to those astern.

The enemy ships were the former Italian corvette Capriola, armed with two 3.9-inch and eight 37mm guns, and an armed yacht, the Kemid Allah, both now flying the German naval ensign. Hoping to make a killing among the smaller craft, they pursued the retreating PT boat. Simultaneously, Aphis and Scarab broke out their batde ensigns, working their speed up to a rivet-rattling 15 knots for which they had not been designed. Some 20 minutes after the initial contact report they had the enemy in sight and opened fire at a range of 12,000 yards.

During the ensuing battle most of the technical advantages lay with the enemy, for although the British ships threw the heavier weight of metal, the Germans had the better fire control system and were much faster. Soon the gunboats’ decks were being lashed with spray and shell splinters. It was known that the American destroyer Endicott, with Lieutenant Commander John D. Bulkeley, Task Force 80.4’s commander, aboard, was coming up fast, and that she would soon be in a position to cut off the enemy’s retreat. To conceal the fact, the Insects made smoke. From time to time they would emerge from the screen to loose off a salvo or two, then retire into concealment. An hour after the engagement had begun, one of their shells penetrated the Capriola’s hull amidships. The corvette blew up in a tremendous eruption of flame and smoke.

Simultaneously, another 6-inch shell burst on the foredeck of the Kemid Allah. The auxiliary made off to the west as fast as she could go but she was already too late. With her ensign streaming and a bone in her teeth, the Endicott was already closing in at 36 knots. Three of her four 5-inch guns were overheated after bombarding coastal batteries at La Ciotat and the fourth could only be operated with difficulty, firing one round a minute, so Bulkeley also engaged with his 40mm anti-aircraft armament. Within an hour the gunboats and the destroyer had reduced the German ship to a burning wreck. Over 200 survivors were picked up, the older hands pleased that their war was over, the younger still sufficiently self-confident to give the Nazi salute as the Kemid Allah rolled over on her way to the bottom. It was a reaction that the gunboatmen found difficult to understand, given that the days of Adolf Hitler and his evil regime were now so obviously nearing their end. During the battle the only casualties sustained by the Allies were three of Endicott’s men wounded by shell splinters. In passing it should be mentioned that Bulkeley was a distinguished PT boat commander who, two years earlier, had rescued General Douglas MacArthur from the besieged fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay, for which feat he was awarded the Medal of Honor; also that one of the PT boats forming part of Task Force 80.4 was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, the film star.

Aphis and Scarab were rewarded with permission to splice the mainbrace, followed by a rest period in Naples. Shortly after, they moved to a new base at Ancona on the Adriatic coast of Italy. During the autumn of 1944 they provided gunfire support for the Eighth Army as it fought its way through the formidable defences of the Gothic Line. There we shall leave them to fade away, as old warriors do, for early in 1945 they were, like Cockchafer, reduced to care and maintenance status.

The Insect class, hard working and hard hitting, had served their country well throughout two world wars and the years between. Scarab was the last of them to go, being sold for scrap at Singapore in 1948.