BATTLE AT PORTSMOUTH HARBOUR

Roman Liburnia

Portsmouth Harbour has a very long history of use as a major port. At the north of The Harbour is Portchester Castle, the western most of the Roman Saxon Shore forts built around the Second Century.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us baldly that in 501 there was a battle at Portsmouth Harbour in which an important British prince was killed. ‘In this year Port and his sons Breda and Maegla came to Britain at a place called Portsmouth, and slew a young Welshman, a very noble man.’ This has been taken by Morris as a rare instance of the two independent traditions describing the same event. ‘Llongborth’ is not obviously the same place-name as Portsmouth, but it means ‘port of the warships’, which describes the Portsmouth Harbour of those days, and of subsequent centuries, very well. A naval station where a Dumnonian prince fell is likely to be the westernmost Saxon shore fort, Portchester, at the head of Portsmouth Harbour; this is a likely location of the battle of Portsmouth/Llongborth. The Tale tells us that Arthur was there too, as Geraint’s commander-in-chief, and shared in Geraint’s defeat with the ‘men of Devon’.

King Geraint was succeeded by Cato or Cado and both Geraint and Cato, whether father and son, uncle and nephew, or brothers, are remembered in later traditions as close associates of Arthur in war and peace. Geraint held lands on the south Cornish coast, while Cato’s lands lay on the north Devon coast.

The archaeological evidence paints a picture of an alliance between the powerful Jutes (early English) of Kent and the British kings of IW that started at the turn of the 6th Century – as evidenced by the hilltop burial on IW of a (mystical) noble Jutish woman with gold at her head, a (possibly Mithraic) key in her hand, snake ring, and a crystal ball between her legs. Such dynastic linking between Britons and English would be a typical way of normalising relations to allow resumption of coastal trade.

Looking at the sequence of events remembered by the English rather than the dodgy dates they added later(29); Portchester fell to an attack by Saxons and Britons leading to the death of a ‘very’ noble Briton(30), who has been associated with Geraint (a legendary knight of Arthur).

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THE GERMAN DEFENCES AT THE SOMME 1916

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On this map of positions as they were on 30 June 1916 and during the assault next day, the British front line appears in red and the German front line in green above it. Mametz and Fricourt are strongly fortified villages immediately behind and part of the German front line complex. Mametz Wood and Contalmaison lie beyond the shallow valley of Willow Stream and just in front of the enemy’s second line system. Rawlinson’s Fourth Army plan of attack aimed at being well beyond Mametz by 2 hours and 40 minutes after the opening of the assault. Extract from British Official History, Crown Copyright.

The Somme region of France is beautiful, undulating farmland. The region takes its name from the Somme River, a pretty, meandering stream, that is known for its fishing and wildlife. The actual river is south of where the battle occurred and never became part of it. The main cities of the countryside are connected by arrow straight Roman roads. A large amount of the fighting took place around the Roman road running along a main ridge connecting the cities of Albert and Bapaume. The countryside is dotted with small French farming villages. In 1916, these villages, such as Thiepval, Mametz, Courcelette and Pozieres, gained infamous reputations. But the villages themselves had long ceased to exist; they had been torn to shreds by the massive military onslaught.

The choice of the Somme as the location from which to launch the first major British offensive of the war is puzzling. It had no particular strategic value and possessed no breakthrough potential. It is an unlikely place to imagine an army could achieve a decisive victory. The question that has perplexed military historians is: why the Somme? Calculating the men lost in this battle, more 1,200,000, only adds emphasis to the debate. There seems to be no answer to this question, other than the Somme was a useful place to launch an attack and start a war of attrition.

As the Somme battlefield lacked any particularly advantageous physical characteristics, the Germans had built a complex series of interconnecting trenches and deep redoubts across the rolling chalk hills. They took full advantage of every contour. To protect themselves from observation, the Germans generally entrenched on the down side of a slope. The trenches were deep and solid, often strategically interconnected with other switch trenches. A warren of communication and support trenches was utilized for transporting supplies, reinforcements and ammunition. The redoubt positions were often connected by tunnels coming from a variety of places in the support lines. In front of the trenches were dense belts of barbed-wire. Farms had been fortified and linked by a maze of underground works. Each position was designed to extract a great price from any attacker.

“The modern battlefield is like a huge, sleeping machine with innumerable eyes and ears and arms, lying hidden and inactive, ambushed for the one moment on which all depends. Then from some hole in the ground a single red light ascends in fiery prelude. A thousand guns roar out on the instant, and at a touch, driven by innumerable levers, the work of annihilation goes pounding on its way.

Ernst Junger, German Army

The British strategy to capture a trench works was to plaster the German position with high-explosive shells in the hope of collapsing the trench walls, killing or wounding the defenders, and cutting the extensive barbed-wire in front of the trench with shell shrapnel. At the appropriate time, the assault troops would approach the German lines as closely as possible without being hit by their own artillery fire, and at zero hour, rush and take the position. Even if the attack were successful, it did not preclude the Germans digging another trench behind the one just captured or counter-attacking to retake the one lost. In the Battle of the Somme, the Germans did both.

More often than not, the attacks on the strongly fortified German defences on the Somme proved disastrous. The artillery bombardment rarely cut the barbed-wire and the soldiers, trapped in No Man’s Land, would be cut down in swathes by the German machine-guns. Sometimes, the Germans allowed the assault troops to enter their front-line trench. Then the German artillery would blast No Man’s Land to prevent reinforcements or ammunition from reaching the newly captured position. The reinforcements would be decimated by the German barrage when crossing the open ground and the soldiers in the captured trench would be isolated. At this point, the Germans would counter-attack via communication trenches or underground subways. The German stick grenade was the weapon of choice and was a very effective killer with good range and accuracy. These defensive techniques cost the Australians heavily at Pozieres; the Canadians on the Somme learned about these tactics the hard way.

“If you want to find the old battalion,

I know where they are, I know where they are,

If you want to find the old battalion,

I know where they are,

They’re hanging on the old barbed-wire,

I’ve seen em, I’ve seen em,

Hanging on the old barbed-wire.”

First World War Song.

The only flaw in the German method was that the counter-attacker often suffered more casualties than the attacker. Germany could not win a war of attrition.

The Canadians arriving at the Somme could not believe the devastation. Even compared to the horrific standards of Ypres, the sights were shocking. It was their first view of total destruction; villages razed, the battlefield a lunar landscape of interconnected shell holes, destroyed trenches, sandbags spread everywhere, old equipment scattered, and thousands of bodies, decomposing in the summer sun. But they did not have much time to mull over these images of immense destruction. They were immediately put in the line in support of the Australians.

“Through a gap between two sandbags I was shown the village (Pozieres), where smoke was drifting across skeletons of trees on a torn-up mound. An uneven line of sandbags, stretching across piles of bricks and remnants of houses, faced our way… The ground between our trench and the ruins beyond was merely a stretch of craters and burnt-up grass broken up by tangled wire… The dead were lying in all conceivable attitudes; rotting in the sun… with the heat the smell had become very trying.”

Paul Maze, French Army attached British Army.

Despite serving in a secondary role, Canadian losses were considerable. Between September 4th and 7th, the 1st Canadian Division’s 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) supported the Australian Infantry attack on Mouquet Farm and other German positions north of Pozieres. The Canadian battalion suffered 349 casualties. On September 9th, the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario) attacked a German trench work south of the Pozieres windmill. The attack was only a local action; one meant to improve the jump-off position for the up-coming major assault.

In this fierce action, Corporal Leo Clarke won the Victoria Cross. Clarke, and a section of bombers, were confronted by 20 Germans. Clarke attacked the attackers, emptied his revolver into them, killed four and captured another. Single-handedly, he had stopped a German attack. Clarke was one of three men from the same street in Winnipeg to win the Victoria Cross in the war. Sadly, two of the three did not survive. Leo Clarke was wounded later in the Battle of the Somme and died of his wounds. He was 24.

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The Anglo-French armies had advanced some 10 kilometres (6 miles) at their point of deepest penetration, on a 40-kilometre (25-mile) front. Losses remain controversial. The British suffered nearly 420,000 casualties, their French allies just over 200,000. The German losses were at least 400,000 men, possibly as many as 650,000.

Although the German army did not collapse in 1916, in A.J.P. Taylor’s phrase, at Verdun and the Somme the German army ‘bled to death’. Its 1917 recruits were already in the line by the end of 1916. In spring 1917 it was obliged to withdraw its untenable front in Picardy to the prepared positions of the Hindenburg line, to liberate manpower for a renewal of the attritional struggle. Nor could it compete in the battle of matériel (materialschlacht) which the allies forced it to fight. The allied blockade was starting to impact heavily on productivity and morale on the home front. In December 1916 the new duumvirate at the head of the German army, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, intensified mobilisation with a new Auxiliary Service Law conscripting labour on the home front into war industries. The year of attrition had cost the already tired French army and nation equally dearly. Only the British emerged from the Somme with credit. The ordinary soldiers had borne the heavy sacrifice with stoicism, and after initial failure the inexperienced army had learned to fight with skill and determination. The expectation of rapid military victory disappeared. After 1916 the war became a struggle to outlast the enemy in a brutal ‘total war’. In this the allies had the upper hand.

THE “NIGHT” FIGHTER IN THE MODERN ERA


Stealth also applies to fighters, so in 1991 the USAF launched the programme for an ATF (advanced tactical fighter). Prototype contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin for the YF-22 and to Northrop Grumman for the YF-23. Two examples of each were ordered, one to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney YF119 and the other by the General Electric YF120. Though the YF-23 was judged stealthier, and the YF120 the more powerful engine, the winner was the YF-22 powered by the Pratt & Whitney engine. Among many other challenging requirements was the ability to supercruise, to sustain supersonic speed with the two engines in dry (non-afterburning) thrust. Cutting a huge story short, while the engine was refined into the F119-PW-100, with rectangular vectoring nozzles, the aircraft was almost completely redesigned into the F-22A Raptor. The enormous wing (840 square feet is roughly the same as five Bf 109s!) has sharp taper but no sweepback. As far apart as possible, the twin vertical tails are canted outward and are fixed, incorporating powered rudders in the traditional way. In contrast, the tailplanes are fully powered and incorporate some sweepback. Overall the shape is very like that of the Russians of the previous generation, but an innovation is to preserve stealth by carrying missiles in three internal bays, a big one underneath between the engine air ducts and a shallow bay on each side outboard of the duct. When stealth does not matter, two pylons can be attached under each wing, each rated at 5,000 lb, principally for air-to-ground stores. The planned initial buy of 648 F-22As had by 2003 been reduced to 339, with the prospect that it might be increased again by funding for a Naval variant and for an enlarged attack version. Price of the latest batch in production in 2003 was US$3,920 million for thirteen aircraft.

Such aircraft are too costly for all but a handful of nations, but in the late 1980s several US teams began studying smaller and more affordable aircraft, which included jet-lift Stovl (short-take-off, vertical landing) versions to replace the AV-8B (Harrier). After the merger of several studies the result in 1995 was the JSF (joint strike fighter). Following competitive tests of very different prototypes made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the former was chosen in October 2001 to develop three versions of JSF with the designation F-35. These are the F-35A, a conventional long-runway aircraft for the USAF; the F-35B, a jet-lift Stovl aircraft for the Marine Corps, RAF and Royal Navy; and the F-35C, a big-wing carrier-based version for the USN. The original partners require 3,002, and it is expected that this number will be doubled by other customers, which are expected eventually to include about half the world’s air forces.

There is always unlimited scope for new possibilities and new problems in ECM. For example, several SAMs are guided not by pulsed radar but by CW (continuous-wave) illuminating sets. So are several AAMs, such as Sparrow. Not until the CW-guided lethality of the Soviet ‘SA-6 Straight Flush’ SAM radar became apparent in the Middle East war in October 1973 did the United States suddenly wake up to the fact it had no ECM capability except against pulsed radars. Today even quite small tactical aircraft are being outfitted with complex passive warning receivers, active jammers, IR deceivers, and RF deception jammers which send back hostile radar signals with steadily increasing delay on each pulse to make the enemy think the aircraft is further away and moving faster than is actually the case.

Some modern fighter radars no longer have parabolic or Cassegrain dish reflectors, but flat ‘planar arrays’. These make better use of available space, have a lower moment of inertia and, for a given gimbal geometry and radome size, have about ten to twelve per cent bigger aperture (ie, the scanner can be larger). They should not be confused with phased-array radars, which are exceedingly complex though they also have flat faces. Unlike the phased array, the planar aerial is still scanned mechanically.

We have come a long way in fighter radars in thirty years. The number of electronic components per cubic foot in AI.IV was about 198. In SCR-720 it was about 600, and in AI.IX it reached 3,300. In the Hughes E-1 and Westinghouse APQ-35 the figure rose to over 60,000. In the MG-10 it went to 330,000, and in MA-1 it almost reached a million. The AWG-9 of the F-14 hit 3 million, and the APQ-63 of the F-15 reached 7 million. Today’s radars, such as the Westinghouse chosen for the F-16, invariably use LSI (large-scale integration) and advanced constructional forms in which the circuit forms the structure and also serves as a cooling duct, and 20 million components per cubic foot is now a good figure. This is the main factor underlying the sheer cleverness of today’s radars. Earlier sets had ‘blind velocities’ like radial spokes along which targets could not be seen. They were unable to see moving targets against clutter; or, having got MTI (moving-target indication), they were unable to see hostile aircraft against any background of fast vehicle traffic on the ground. STAE (second-time-around echoes) and MTAE (multiple-time-around echoes) kept on appearing at two, three or more times the true range, causing more clutter. Even rain clutter was often a severe problem. But with 20 million components per cubic foot, today’s night-fighter pilot can see a picture on which positively nothing appears except the precise items he needs.

To every radar there is appropriate ECM. To every ECM – if we can quickly find out all about it – there is the appropriate ECCM. It is the situation of weapon and counter-weapon that has characterized the history of warfare, and which re-emphasizes its ultimate futility. I like the story about the Luftwaffe night-fighter pilot who in 1944 was posted from the Soviet Union to Germany to help shoot down the lavishly equipped RAF heavy bombers. He found it a marvellous change from the Eastern Front. ‘The task there’, he said, ‘was terribly difficult. The Russians were so backward they had no radar.’

1817-1860: KINGDOM OF THE TWO SICILIES I

The general restoration of Europe’s monarchies that followed Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo was confirmed by the Congress of Vienna (1815), and the exiled king of Sardinia was not forgotten. He recovered his lost lands, returned to Turin, and promptly attempted the restoration of the status quo ante. Yet post-Napoleonic Europe was very different from pre-revolutionary Europe. Many of the ideas spawned and exported by the French Revolution continued to circulate, posing a near-ubiquitous challenge to the natural conservatism of the restored monarchs. The ideas of ‘the nation’, endowed with a life of its own, and of the inborn right of its inhabitants to liberty, equality and social fraternity, were particularly strong, beginning to undermine the post-Napoleonic order as soon as it was established. Three parts of Europe where ‘the nation’ felt most excluded from politics were specially susceptible; and popular demands grew for the creation of nation-states on the French model. Poland, which had been carved up by three neighbouring empires, was to strive in vain throughout the nineteenth century to win back its independence; but Germany and Italy were to succeed where Poland failed. Germany was divided by the intense rivalry of Protestant Prussia and Catholic Austria; advocates of the German national movement, the Vormärz (‘pre-March’), could at first see no easy way to do so. Italy’s divisions were still more marked. The north was dominated by the Austrian Empire, which held onto both Venice and Milan; the centre was run by a gaggle of reactionary monarchs, including the Roman pontiff in his Papal States; and the south remained in the grip of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In face of the restored hereditary rulers, the advocates of the Italian national movement, the Risorgimento or ‘Resurgence’, did not possess a common strategy.

For Italian nationalism encompassed several competing interests. One wing placed the emphasis on cultural objectives, notably on education, the promotion of a single, standardized Italian language, and the promotion of national consciousness. The central figure in this was the Milanese writer, Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873), author of the first novel written in standard Italian, I promessi sposi (The Betrothed, 1827). Another wing was dedicated to political radicalism. Here the central role was played by the secret and revolutionary Society of the Coalburners, the Carbonari, whose activities were formally banned; one of its members, a Sicilian soldier called Guglielmo Pepe (1783– 1855), launched the first of many abortive risings in Calabria in 1820. There was even a tradition of support for the Risorgimento by ruling monarchs; Napoleon’s stepson and viceroy in Italy, Eugène de Beauharnais, had set the example, which was followed by the emperor’s brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, when King of Naples. It seemed to create the perceived need for a political patron of established authority, who could curb the hotheads while giving heart to the moderates and negotiating with the powers.

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The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was widely regarded, in Italy as in the rest of Europe, as a place of sloth and squalor, of grandeur and poverty, a place where landless labourers kept themselves just alive by scratching the parched soil of distant noblemen, where street urchins in the city picked the pockets of wealthy tourists and bands of brigands roamed with impunity in the hills outside, a land exploited and oppressed by an indolent monarchy, a frivolous aristocracy and a swarm of grasping clergy.

This picture was inherited and preserved by generations of historians until recently the stereotype was re-examined. Then it transpired that the kingdom was not just a land of latifondi, of vast desiccated estates in the interior that contained little except scrub for goats and some thin soil for wheat. Naples may not have had the irrigation or the natural advantages of Lombardy, but it was not an entirely backward place; wheat yields there were higher than in the Papal States. As for the latifondisti, it emerged that they were not all absentee landlords frittering away the produce of their workers by living in luxury in the capital. The latifondo was part feudal and part capitalist, part social structure and part business enterprise. Owners used their lands to feed themselves and the people who lived there, but they often grew food for foreign markets as well. The exported produce of the Barracco family, latifondisti from Calabria, included liquorice, olive oil, fine wool and cacciacavallo cheese.

The state of industry in Naples has been similarly disparaged: travel accounts of the period leave the impression that the inhabitants had never heard of the spinning jenny or the steam engine. Yet a modernized textile industry, aided by a sensible tariff policy, existed in the Apennine foothills in the early nineteenth century; not much later, an engineering industry was established around the capital. Naples in fact enjoyed a number of industrial ‘firsts’. It possessed the largest shipyards in Italy, it launched the first peninsular steamboat (1818) and it enjoyed the largest merchant marine in the Mediterranean; it also built the first iron suspension bridge in Italy, constructed the first Italian railway and was among the first Italian cities to use gas for street lighting. Admittedly, not all these achievements were as impressive as they sound. Naples may have built the first railway, but it was a short one, and its construction did not lead to a rapid expansion of the network. Most of the other states soon caught up and overtook it: by 1860, when the whole of southern Italy had only 125 miles of track, Lombardy had 360 and Piedmont, after a slow start, possessed over 500.

A glance at its economic statistics reveals how separate Naples as a trading partner was from the rest of Italy. In 1855 85 per cent of its exports were sent to Britain, France and Austria, while only 3 per cent crossed the border into the Papal States; Neapolitan trade with Britain was three times greater than that with all the other Italian states added together. Feelings of separateness were not confined to commerce; Naples possessed its own remarkable legal system, widely regarded as superior to any other in the peninsula. Outsiders noticed that the place was different, a distinct, cosmopolitan entity, a kingdom (with or without Sicily) with an ancient history and borders which, almost uniquely in Italy, were not subjected to rearrangement after every war. Moreover, Naples itself was still by far the largest city in Italy – indeed the third-largest in Europe after London and Paris – and had been a capital since Charles of Anjou had established himself there 600 years earlier. It was the only Italian city, thought Stendhal, that had ‘the true makings of a capital’; the rest were ‘glorified provincial towns like Lyon’. Before 1860 hardly anyone contemplated the idea that the kingdom might be destroyed and its territory annexed by an all-Italian state; and little in the subsequent history of that state indicates that the Neapolitans would have been unhappier if they had been left to govern themselves.

In their propaganda Italian patriots of the nineteenth century identified the Neapolitan Bourbons as the chief home-grown tyrants and Austrian Habsburgs as their foreign equivalents. Yet even they were unable to convince themselves that the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was an oppressive state. It was governed by Ferdinand III, son of the great Peter Leopold and brother of the Austrian emperor whose armies had lost four wars against Napoleon and whose daughter had been sacrificed to the French emperor’s desire to beget an heir. Ferdinand’s return to Florence in 1814 did not lead to a persecution of bonapartists or to the abolition of reforms. As in the eighteenth century, Tuscany was a tolerant and civilized place that preferred Jews to Jesuits and welcomed exiles from Piedmont and from other states. Tariffs were low, censorship was feeble, and the armed forces were almost non-existent, though in an emergency the state could call for Austrian troops. Ferdinand was succeeded in 1824 by his son Leopold II, another benevolent ruler until the revolutions of 1848 converted him – along with Pope Pius IX and the King of Naples – to conservatism. In the early part of his reign he reduced taxes, carried out liberal reforms, encouraged science and returned to that perennially elusive project of Tuscan rulers, the draining of the Maremma marshlands on the Tyrrhenian coast.

CHECKPOINT CONFRONTATION – Ich bin ein Berliner

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (1)

U.S. tanks facing Soviet Union tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, 1961.

As assessments of the balance of power were being traded at one level and private correspondence at a higher one, a minor crisis erupted in the middle of Berlin. On 19 September 1961 General Clay had reappeared in Berlin, now as a special adviser to Kennedy, but clearly expecting to call the shots. He was a tough hard-liner, popular with the Berliners as one committed to their cause. His relations with all the other American generals in Europe with responsibility for Berlin, from Norstad down, were poor, and those with the State Department were no better. Clay did admire Acheson, and Kennedy may have wanted to use him in the same way, to demonstrate the participation of all shades of opinion, but like all his personal appointments that cut across formal bureaucratic and military lines of command, it sowed confusion and complicated policy making.

Clay also had a different attitude to risk taking than Kennedy. He outlined his theory to Rusk:

Harassments not in direct conflict with our basic rights do not worry me although I think they should be checked as they occur to the extent possible without show of force. To show force when we do not intend to use it is one thing we must avoid. However, I cannot accept the escalation theory that any reaction on our part leads to further actions and possible war. The complete acceptance of this policy would lead to the continuing erosion of an already eroded position.

On his return to Berlin Clay decided to prepare for a big confrontation by ordering the U.S. military commandant, General Watson, to get his engineers to build a replica section of the wall in a secluded part of West Berlin in order to experiment on various ways to break it down. When the Commander in Chief (CINC) Europe, General Bruce Clarke, heard of this, he demanded that the experiment be stopped and the replica dismantled, but not before it had been photographed by Soviet intelligence. The news reached Moscow on 20 October. It was in this context that the communists viewed Clay’s moves. Washington was ignorant of this episode.

Clay wanted to probe the limits of communist tolerance, just as Ulbricht wanted to do with the West. Khrushchev was blustering to obscure what was in effect a retreat, but the East German leader was still bent on eroding the Western position in Berlin. This was a gradual campaign, independent of Soviet direction, and the target of its next stage was the rights of allied civilian personnel to move in and out of East Berlin.

On 22 October the State Department’s Allen Lightner was stopped going to the opera in East Berlin with his wife. He refused to show identification. To assert his rights, Lightner returned, this time accompanied by military police, and went into East Berlin. Ulbricht then issued a decree stating that allied civilians would have to identify themselves. Though the British and French had already allowed their officials to show passports to East German guards, the Americans continued as before, with an armed patrol. On 25 October, as the latest American probe was following its customary procedure, Clay asked General Watson to place U.S. tanks on alert near the sector boundary at Checkpoint Charlie. This appeared in Moscow as potential confirmation of Clay’s intentions to move against the wall. Coupled with Gilpatric’s speech, this all began to look sinister in Moscow. Had easing the deadline emboldened Kennedy?

Civilians showing identification was not an issue upon which many others than Clay wanted to make a stand, yet he was allowed to continue. On 27 October American tanks once again drew up to back a patrol, but this time Marshal Ivan Konev, like Clay taken out of retirement to add weight to the Soviet military command, decided to respond by pushing his own tanks up to face the Americans. The East Germans announced that the checkpoint would be closed until the American tanks were removed. Clay responded by moving some tanks directly onto the demarcation line, to be followed by Soviet tanks moving to a hundred yards from the Americans. So on 28 October at Checkpoint Charlie, the new flash point of the cold war, American and Russian tanks pointed their guns at each other.

Kennedy rang Clay to compliment him on his nerve. The general responded that he had not lost his but he was worried about those in Washington. “I don’t know about those of my associates,” replied the president, “but mine are all right.” This was highly unlikely. This was the sort of situation Kennedy dreaded: a contrived incident over a secondary issue that could lead to a tank battle in the middle of Berlin with who knew what consequences to follow. It is likely that Clay was told that an opportunity to withdraw would soon come. The previous day Robert had got in touch with Bolshakov to pass on the message to Khrushchev that American tanks would withdraw if Soviet tanks did so, and that it would be possible for the two leaders to have a productive exchange of opinions. Soon Russian tanks were pulled back a bit, and American tanks followed suit. The communists did not, however, back down on their demand for identification.

Clay’s view was that the Soviet Union was not going to let the East Germans lead them to war barely fifteen years after the last one, and so he was looking for ways to limit the ability of the East Germans to operate unilaterally. The issue of who was in charge in Berlin was a sensitive one for the Russians, and in this incident they attempted to hide their role by obscuring unit markings on tanks and dressing the crews in overalls rather than uniforms. Reporters still noted that officers directing the tanks were wearing Soviet uniforms. In this way the exercise proved a point and may have sown distrust between the East Germans and the Russians. For their part the Russians may have felt that they had thwarted an American escalation of the crisis. Both leaders had noted the utility of “back-door diplomacy.”

The episode was an “exercise in military theatricality.” Ausland reports that American officials in Berlin believed that the conflict would have been contained but notes that “Kennedy and Khrushchev proceeded thereafter with even more caution regarding Berlin.” A lasting legacy of the dramatic images of confrontation left over from this episode was that Checkpoint Charlie became the starting point for war-gamers, novelists, and documentary makers when they were trying to work out how to start a third world war.

Focke-Wulf 190 A-6/R11 – all weather and night fighter

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Fw 190A-6/R11 – all weather and night fighter, with exhaust glare shields, landing light, autopilot device PKS 12 and heated windscreen windows.

Some planes mounted a FuG 217 Neptun J-2 radar. Generally, these planes used droppable fuel tanks mounted on the ETC 501 bomb rack.

The Fw190A-6 was essentially a Fw190A-5 airframe with greater strength added to the wing structure to accommodate the escalation in weight resulting from constant upgrading. Wing armament was improved by replacing the A-5’s drum fed 20mm outboard cannons with heavier belt fed 20 mm cannons with longer barrels. The wing root cannons and fuselage mounted machine guns remained unchanged.

The majority of A-6s were deployed in the West in Defence of the Reich missions against Allied bomber formations, with some finding their way to Nachtjäger (night fighter) units defending against nocturnal RAF bomber attacks. Some A-6 nachtjägers were equipped with FuG 217 Neptun radar (the R11 Rüstsätze, or field conversion) to help pilots locate bombers in the dark. During 1944 the single-engined night fighters were gradually replaced by twin-engine radar equipped aircraft like the Ju.88G and Bf110G.

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Dirty Weather Fighter

FW 190 A-8/R2    Bomber-destroyer with two outboard MK 108 30 mm cannon

FW 190 A-8/R11  Dirty weather fighter with BMW 801 TU/TS ‘Dirty weather’ fighter with special radio and automatic pilot.

FW 190 A-8/R12  Combination of R2 and R11 with BMW 801 D-2

FW 190 A-9/R2    Bomber-destroyer with two outboard MK 108 30 mm cannon

FW 190 A-9/R11  Dirty weather fighter & BMW 801 TS ‘Dirty weather’ fighter with special radio and automatic pilot.

FW 190 A-9/R12  Combination of R2 and R11

FW 190 D-9/R11  Dirty weather fighter with FuG 125 VHF radio beacon receiver

FW 190 D-12/R11  Dirty weather fighter

FW 190 D-13/R11  Dirty weather fighter

R2: Addition of an MK 108 cannon pod mount under each wing (as fitted to the FW 190A-6 and A-8)

R2: Outboard wing mounted MK 108 cannon (as fitted to the FW 190A-7, A-8 and A-9)

R2: Addition of wing mounted MK 108 cannons and a fuselage center line mounted WGr (Werfer-Granate) 21 rocket (as fitted to the FW 190A-8)

R11: Addition of FuG 125 VHF radio beacon receiver, PKS 12 autopilot, and window heaters (as fitted to the FW 190A-8 and A-9) and D-series airframes (also used for the Ta 152).

R12: Addition of FuG 125 VHF radio beacon receiver, PKS 12 autopilot, window heaters and wing mounted MK 108 cannons (as fitted to the FW 190A-8)

FuG 125 – which is known as “Hermione” device was a VHF radio beacon receiver, the frequency range from 30 to 33.3 MHz was, the device weighed about 10 kg and had a range of 200 km

The PKS 12 was probably the world’s first operational autopilot for single-seater fighter aircraft and was envisaged to be used in all-weather interceptors. It was used operationally in versions of the Bf 109, Fw 190 and Ta 152 fighters (and probably tested on some other types as well).

Burma Air War 1943 Part I

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With the withdrawal of many JAAF units in 1943 to bases beyond the reach of the medium bombers available, in May AOC-in-C Sir Richard Peirse switched attention to ‘Lines of Communication’ targets such as roads, railways, the military transit camps at Prome and Taungup, and Rangoon. For these targets the twin-engine Beaufighter and the single engine two-seat Vengeance dive-bomber proved highly successful. Like so many aircraft the Vultee Vengeance did not initially take to the dank humidity of Burma/India and hard work was needed by maintenance units and ground crew to sort out the problems. In time, however, fitted with British 0.303 (7.7mm) machine guns in the rear cockpit to replace the original unreliable American weapons, the Vengeance proved itself an extremely effective aircraft in the hands of RAF and IAF squadrons. In fact so successful was the Vengeance and so urgent the requirement for dive-bombers and ground-attack aircraft that a number of pilots were put straight onto operations without the formality of undergoing a conversion course. They trained themselves in action. Beaufighters also excelled in the ground-attack role, strafing roads and railways, and setting fire to the oil installations at Yenangyaung. During the Allied exodus from Burma five sizeable river steamers, each able to transport large bodies of troops or tow hundreds of tons of supplies in barges, were left along the Irrawaddy. Beaufighters now accounted for four of these boats, leaving their hulks burning on river sandbars. After two or three months of monsoon storms roads became flooded and impassable and large tracts of the country reduced to waterlogged swamp. At this time the Japanese were obliged to switch to water transport, providing tempting targets for Beaufighters and Hurricanes, which duly took the opportunity to destroy 182 motorized river craft and sampans, and around 2,000 smaller craft in the Arakan and on the Irrawaddy. To put this loss into perspective a sampan carried three days’ supplies for seventy soldiers, and the building of just one such craft took twenty men a month.

Despite being pretty well obsolete and marked down for early replacement the Blenheims continued in operation for the time being, and far from cursing their temperamental charges the ground and air crew redoubled their efforts to keep their aircraft in the air. The squadrons themselves became famous for their good-humoured camaraderie and were sought after as postings regardless of the venerable age of their aircraft.

Night bombing raids by Wellingtons and Liberators were made more hazardous as a result of the navigational aids fitted to the aircraft being far below European standards, navigators often having to calculate their course by the stars, which were not always visible. The Allied commanders’ decision, in contrast to their opponents, to continue air operations where possible during the monsoon imposed yet more difficulties. Aircraft crashed in the mountains or were lost in the jungle, and of the 111 crewmen from the twenty-seven aircraft that came down in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, only sixty-nine were rescued. Burma propped up the bottom of the list of priorities for Air-Sea Rescue crews and equipment as for everything else. The effort had its beneficial effects, however, for Japanese aircraft were kept back in Siam and Allied army bases and airfields were free from attack as a result. USAAF Liberator attacks on shipping and attacks by both the RAF and USAAF on Rangoon made use of the port a very hazardous undertaking.

In June 1943 General Sir Claude Auchinleck, an old hand in the subcontinent having had a successful army career there pre-war, replaced Wavell as C-in-C India. The post was by this time mostly administrative but Auchinleck showed considerable energy in ensuring the adequate training of troops, and mobilizing India’s resources.

Signals and communications proved to be almost as much of a problem for the Allied air forces during the 1943 monsoon as hitherto. The exceptionally long distances involved, the wide dispersal of squadrons and the usual shortages of suitable equipment meant that landlines were largely impractical. One squadron kept in contact with its Wing HQ entirely by W/T, with all the disadvantages and time delays that system’s dependency on Morse code inevitably brought with it. Typex machines were one method of speeding up the W/T process but between June and November 1943 only seventy-eight units were received for the entire command, consequently the tried and tested – and painfully slow – method of referral to book cipher was the order of the day.

Landlines and communications were the responsibility of four Indian Air Formation signals units and all were heavily committed, one in Ceylon, two in the Bengal area, with the final unit left to cover the whole of the remainder of India. By November two additional units were raised and trained, one more for Bengal and one for southern India, but a shortage of trained Indian operators prevented their full implementation.

Coordination of the signals effort along the crucial Bengal front was an imperative and to achieve this plus bring closer and more effective supervision of maintenance and administration of the system, three Signals Wings, Nos 180, 181 and 182 were formed to operate from Calcutta, Imphal and Chittagong respectively, their principal duties being the administrative and technical control of all early warning equipment, permanent W/T and D/F stations. An immediate improvement was noticed, the Imphal area doubling its efficiency while on 20 October an air raid on Chittagong was detected at the previously unheard of range of 115 miles.

A network of some seventy Air Ministry Experimental Stations equipped with radar stretched from the Assam–Burma border south to Akyab, and continued on to cover Calcutta and coastal areas that might be subject to attack. Forward of the stations in Eastern Bengal were the Wireless Observer Units, with posts across the Manipur Road and southward through the Chin Hills as far as the Arakan Hill tracts. These units were in the process of replacement by Indian Mobile Wireless Observer Companies manned by personnel employed on Observer Corps duties in and around Calcutta, Vizagapatnam and Madras. Reports flowed through a number of filter rooms:

Imphal, Chittagong and Calcutta covering Bengal.

Vizagapatnam, Madras and Trincomalee covering the Eastern seaboard.

Cochin and Bombay covering the Western seaboard.

Ground-to-air communication improved but was still greatly hampered by shortage of equipment. Thirteen Direction Finding stations were established on the trans-India reinforcement route, while a number of fighter stations were equipped with Very High Frequency Radio Transmitters. Shortages were apparent, however, in the supply of aircraft Ground Control Interception equipment necessary for operations rooms to direct fighters on to hostile formations. With approximately half the required units available care had to be taken that for each section of two fighters one should be fitted with the necessary apparatus.

With the impending arrival of modern bombers to swell the command, experience with the operation and maintenance of their specialized communications equipment in the difficult climatic conditions to be encountered was needed. To this end No. 1577 Flight was formed and equipped with the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax but the inevitable shortages of equipment meant that development of advanced radio aids to navigation, submarine detection and precision bombing remained in the overloaded ‘pending’ tray.

A number of circumstances led to a reduction in usage of the venerable Blenheims, which were in any event in short supply. Vultee Vengeance squadrons, training since the beginning of the year, began to achieve operational status in addition to which a substantial reserve of Hurricanes accelerated the switch in roles from the Hurricane as fighter to the ‘Hurribomber’ fighter/light bomber, a move made more practical toward the end of the monsoon when Spitfires at long last began to appear in India in some numbers. As a result Blenheim Squadron Nos 11, 34, 42, 60 and 113 RAF converted to Hurricane Mk IIC fighter/bombers, while Nos 607, 136 and 615 Squadrons RAF converted from Hurricanes to Spitfire Mk VCs, which entered service in Europe at the end of 1941. Wilfred Goold recalls the inevitable ups and downs when 607 took delivery of their new aircraft:

On September 25 a bunch of us flew to Karachi in a Short Empire flying boat, it took 11 hours and 55 minutes. Having assembled our new ’planes we then flew back to Alipore without any hitches, only to find on arrival that we couldn’t fly the Spits as some clown in Area Headquarters had consigned all the spares back to the Middle East because he ‘knew we didn’t have Spitfires in this area’! In October the Squadron flew to an Air Fighting Training Unit at Armarda Road to get used to the Spitfire in combat roles. Armarda Road was a place where only the best was accepted. It was staffed by experienced operational pilots; the Chief Instructor was Frank (Chota) Carey, DSO, DFC Bar, DFM, Bar and so on.

We spent about 14 days doing all sorts of attacks, and we felt very comfortable with our new ’planes.

Flight Lieutenant Goold here mentions the refresher courses in gunnery and tactics at Armarda Road headed by Group Captain Frank Carey, a highly experienced pilot deservedly credited with much of the exceptional improvement in the standard of RAF and IAF fighter pilots in the Burma campaign. Group Captain Carey and his team were constantly engaged in a battle of wits to counter changes in the tactics of the enemy and improve those of the Allies.

A fully equipped and operational Beaufighter Mk VI Squadron, No. 89 RAF, arrived from the Middle East and celebrated by shooting down a JAAF reconnaissance aircraft within days. Newly formed within India Command, No. 211 Squadron RAF was also equipped with Beaufighters. Lack of available aircraft meant that only one heavy bomber squadron, No. 355 RAF equipped with Liberators, was formed within the command between June and November.

Hurricane Mk IIBs found a vital new niche as Fighter Reconnaissance aircraft, Nos 135 and 261 Squadrons RAF taking on this role plus No. 5 Squadron, which had been equipped with Hurricane Mk IID ‘tank busters’ but re-equipped due to a lack of suitable targets in the India/Burma theatre.

In March 1942 India was able to offer sixteen all-weather airfields of which only four were considered operational in all respects by the standards of the day, plus twenty fair-weather strips. By November 1943 the total had risen to 285 airfields plus fifteen under construction. Of these an impressive 140 were complete in all respects, 64 had one all-weather runway prepared, and a further 71 could provide fair-weather strips plus dispersals and domestic/technical accommodation in varying stages of readiness. A number of airfields were constructed on behalf of the USAAF airlift to China and by November 1943 thirty-four all-weather airfields plus eleven fair-weather strips had been handed over, in addition to which facilities were offered at a number of RAF airfields. The airfield construction programme was a mammoth undertaking costing some £50 million and brought to light a number of difficulties, notably a shortage of heavy construction equipment, engineers and supervisors. Work sub-contracted to civilian construction companies was not always up to standard and everywhere delays were experienced due to poor communications or inadequate control. Despite the problems by the end of the 1943 monsoon the Allied Air Forces in India were in a position to continue their rapid expansion in the knowledge that suitable bases existed from which to operate.

On the far side of the hill the JAAF also busily repaired and constructed airfields. As the Allies retreated through Burma destruction of the country’s industry and infrastructure, including airfields, had taken place to the extent that on the final withdrawal of the Allied armies the JAAF estimated that only fifteen to eighteen airfields were in operable condition. By August 1943 that total had risen to 100.

During 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army and the JAAF in Burma received the bulk of its supplies by sea more or less without hindrance, but by 1943 Allied attacks on sea lanes had grown in intensity until the JAAF estimated that less than one third of the resupply required actually arrived, leading to an inevitable diminution of strike power. Japanese transportation within Burma was chiefly by rail, but again Allied air raids were greatly disrupting the service and necessitating a switch to road and air, 4th Motor Transport Company designated to the former and 11th Air Transport Unit designated to the latter by 5th Hikoshidan.

A welcome but temporary reverse of the draining away of units from 5th Hikoshidan occurred towards the end of the year, reinforcements arriving in the shape of the 33rd and 204th Fighter Hikosentai.

At the Quebec Conference the formation of South East Asia Command was agreed, bearing overall responsibility for military operations in the Burma/India/China theatre with at its head Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and on entering the Royal Navy saw action during the First World War aboard Admiral David Beatty’s flagship, the battlecruiser Lion. By 1937 he was promoted Captain and in June 1939 was given command of the destroyer Kelly, becoming Captain (D) of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla in September that same year. Mountbatten’s career at sea was undoubtedly spectacular – in short order the Kelly had nearly capsized, been in collision with another destroyer, was mined once and torpedoed twice. Finally she capsized off Crete under full helm at 34 knots while under attack by German aircraft. Anxious for senior officers with undimmed offensive spirit, in April 1942 Churchill made Mountbatten Chief of Combined Operations with the rank of Vice Admiral, and a de facto member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. At forty-three years of age Mountbatten was young for a position as important as Supreme Commander SEAC but he cut a dashing figure that appealed to both Churchill and to the Americans – an important consideration as he would have US forces under his command. The device chosen by Mountbatten to represent the new command was the phoenix, a fabulous bird of Arabian mythology that rose from the ashes of its own funeral pyre with renewed youth. The symbolism was self-evident and the device doubly appropriate as the coming campaigns could only be carried forward on the wings of the air forces.

Another vitally important Allied appointment took place in October 1943 with the appointment of General Slim to command of the newly formed Fourteenth Army, effectively giving him control of all Allied ground forces in the theatre, his task the re-conquest of Burma.

For the air forces Mountbatten’s plans were to be bold and controversial, the new C-in-C proposing nothing less than the full integration of all RAF, USAAF and IAF units under a single unified command, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse as Allied Air C-in-C. General Stilwell, until that time in overall command of US Air Forces – and a well known Anglophobe – became Mountbatten’s Deputy Supreme Commander while retaining his autonomous role in China. Once again the often stated US position – that they were only in India to supply the Chinese, not help the British reinstate Burma into their Empire – raised its head. Given the long-term US antipathy towards ‘empires’ in the military sense this was scarcely a surprising, or unreasonable, attitude for them to take, but it did place significant obstacles in the path of the unified air command that would provide the best means of beating the Japanese.

As thunderclouds from the argument replaced the waning monsoon, lengthy discussions between Peirse and Stratemeyer to try to resolve the problem came to nought, the American refusing to be budged from the position that he and Stilwell had adopted that there should be two parallel commands, not a single unified command. Mountbatten took up his position as C-in-C on 16 November and on 12 December issued the directive integrating the theatre air forces. Finding himself faced with threats from both Stratemeyer and Stilwell to go over his head to Washington, Mountbatten states that he ‘read the Riot Act to both’, as a consequence of which the American generals agreed to carry out the directive but asked that their objections be passed to Washington, which Mountbatten did together with his reasons for refuting them. The new C-in-C SEAC believed himself to be on pretty firm ground as he had already sounded out General Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, and General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, Commanding General of the USAAF. The American stance concerning Burma notwithstanding, the two senior US officers appreciated the necessity for the command structure to be as streamlined and uncomplicated as possible, and gave their unofficial backing. Official confirmation came on 4 January with Mountbatten’s receipt of a letter from General Marshall confirming the approval of the US Joint Chiefs for the unified command, while retaining the right to transfer units from the Tenth and Fourteenth Air Forces should it become necessary. Given the lead by his superiors General Stratemeyer grasped the new realism, issuing a General Order which included the phrase ‘we must merge into one unified force, in thought and deed neither English nor American, with the faults of neither and the virtues of both.’