FROM PEENEMÜNDE TO EL PASO

ORIGINAL PEENEMUENDE TEAM

The amalgamation of German rocket scientists into the American space program yielded benefits for the US, while giving the Germans a safe haven. Wernher von Braun became the spokesman for imaginative space-travel stories on American television in the 1950s, his previous association with the Nazi regime largely forgotten and forgiven.

Beginning in the fall of 1945, the arrival of more than 100 German scientists in El Paso, Texas, as invitees of the US Army, at Fort Bliss happened with little fanfare – a deliberate US Army action. Fort Bliss’ huge open range area abutted the White Sands Proving Ground (to become the White Sands Missile Range) in adjacent New Mexico, giving vast isolation in which to conduct missile launches with little fear of collateral damage or prying eyes. Some of the Germans were amazed at the expansiveness of the American west – easily capable of swallowing up all of Germany’s area many times over. Also curious to them was the ease with which they, with their US Army escorts, traveled thousands of miles across many state lines with no policed border crossings.

The Germans were guests of the US Army who arrived without the normal processing of foreign visitors to the United States. They had one-year contracts. Initially they were closely watched and escorted by their US Army hosts any time they wanted to go off Fort Bliss. Over time, the restrictions relaxed. Von Braun, in particular, urged his German associates to learn English, which many of them accomplished with the colorful inflections of the American southwest. Some of the men initially felt their talents were underutilized at Fort Bliss. Von Braun did what he could to keep them focused and motivated, discussing their unifying vision of space travel. During their first Christmas in America in 1945, some of the Germans, including Wernher von Braun’s younger brother Magnus, devised a skit foretelling the first launch of man into space from White Sands in the year 2000. Little did they know then how the American-Soviet space race would buoy many of these same German émigrés on an aggressive adventure to put men on the moon by 1969.

The first year for the Germans in El Paso saw some of them assist the US Army in early V2 launches. For the Germans, the future was in new missiles and new goals in space, while for the Americans, self-sufficiency with the V2s was a worthy milestone. Before the first year-long contracts were up, it was evident the Germans possessed knowledge and skill levels not yet attained by their American counterparts. In an effort to retain the services of the Germans, five-year contracts tied to civil service wage rates were offered. In addition, the scientists and engineers could bring their families from Germany. The rocket men did what they could in those first few postwar years in El Paso, caught in a limbo where some American decision-makers did not want to fund extensive new missiles as a military venture, and the notion of non-military manned spaceflight was too far-fetched to gain traction. But in 1949, Soviet testing of their first atom bomb, coming on the heels of the contentious Berlin blockade and airlift the year before, prompted a change in thinking. The Germans would be employed initially in the creation of a new ballistic missile with a 200-mile range and nuclear capability. Longer-range missiles were expected to follow this initial effort. Col Holger N. Toftoy, the US Army ordnance officer entrusted with leading this effort, needed a better physical plant than the makeshift operation he had at Fort Bliss. When his request to build proper rocket research facilities was turned down for other operational requirements at the Texas site, he inspected, and then requested, two mothballed US Army arsenals in Huntsville, Alabama. His plans for the US Army missile facility survived some challenges to become funded at Huntsville.

In 1949, with multi-year work agreements and a planned move in the following year to the green hills of northern Alabama, the German scientists encountered a new dilemma. Their status as invitees of the US Army had circumvented normal immigration processes. They could not apply for US citizenship because they were technically illegal aliens. In a bit of old west choreographing that met the letter of the law, the Germans in El Paso simply stepped into neighboring Mexico and returned to Texas, this time as recognized aliens seeking American citizenship.

If a summation of the German rocket scientists’ experiences can be made, it must include recognition of the team spirit they managed to hold on to, in spite of their upheaval in Germany, and perceptions of underutilization early in their U.S. sojourn. Their integration into US Army ballistic missile programs of the 1950s gained for them the next new missile program, the Redstone, followed by the Jupiter. But much more fortuitously, it kept them available to form a cadre at NASA for developing the space exploration vehicles and rationale they had dreamed of since the 1930s. In 1960, with President John F. Kennedy’s stirring challenge to the United States to put a man on the moon within the decade, much of the US Army’s missile development team at Huntsville transferred over to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who created the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville to enable creation of the Apollo Saturn V multi-stage moon rocket. Naturalized US citizen Wernher von Braun was selected to become the first director of the new Hunstville NASA center.

If the spectacular acceleration of America’s space program outstripped the efforts of early V2 launches in the New Mexico desert under the overarching moniker Project Hermes, those flights nonetheless set the stage for what followed. After a number of basically stock V2s (albeit usually with some American-made components) reached various altitudes and achieved differing levels of upper atmospheric research over New Mexico, scientific and engineering entities in the United States began modifying the German war booty in an effort to make the V2s more effective research vehicles.

The US Navy’s Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) accepted the US Army’s invitation in January 1946 to become involved with V2 research in the New Mexico desert. The NRL held a key position in the US V2 program, conducting upper atmospheric science and developing the technology to enable this research. The NRL logged 80 experiments between 1946 and 1951. Major accomplishments included the first photos of Earth from altitudes of 40, 70, and 101 miles; the first detection and measurement of solar X-rays; the first direct measurement of atmospheric pressure higher than 18 miles; the first photography of the ultraviolet solar spectrum below 285 angstroms; the first detection of solar Lyman-alpha radiation; and the first direct measurement of the profile of ionospheric electron density versus height.

The NRL’s Richard Tousey took advantage of the V2’s altitude capability to design special spectroscopes to measure solar ultraviolet radiation from above the filtering blanket of Earth’s atmosphere. His first instrumentation package was destroyed in a shattering desert crash, but in October 1946, the device survived and provided the first solar spectrum in the far ultraviolet range.

The military V2 s had warhead nose cones that were ill suited to housing scientific payloads. The Naval Gun Factory in the District of Columbia manufactured new lookalike nose sections that had appropriate access panels and the ability to better accommodate research packages. The 7½ft-long science noses initially answered the need. As science flights continued, instrumentation packages in the extreme nose of a V2 were sometimes irretrievably damaged on impact with the ground. Researchers noted the lower sections of the rocket body tended to survive the return to Earth better than did the nose cone. Some effort was made to use explosives to separate the rocket nose from the rest of the body, and to mount instrumentation in the lower body areas for an increased chance of data survival. Launches of anesthetized monkeys provided data on weightlessness and other phenomena that increased the scientific confidence level that humans could survive the rigors of spaceflight.

Navalized V2s included a trio of the missiles trucked from New Mexico to Norfolk, Virginia in 1947. The three V2s were loaded aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41) for Operation Sandy, the shipboard launch of a V2. A US Army team familiar with the German rockets assembled the V2s for the US Navy and trained a US Navy launch crew. While Midway cruised in calm waters a couple of hundred miles off the east coast of the United States, Operation Sandy launched one of the V2s on September 6, 1947. The launch succeeded, but the missile destroyed itself at about 12,000ft. With little delay, Midway began aircraft launch operations once the V2 was gone. The test was called successful because it showed the possibility of handling a large rocket like the V2 aboard a ship at sea, then launching it without impeding the ship’s normal operations. The US Navy’s missile aspirations were whetted by the Operation Sandy flight. But what if rough seas caused a calamity in which a V2-type missile tipped over on deck after being fueled? Operation Pushover used a replicated section of steel aircraft-carrier deck installed at White Sands, plus two V2s that were deliberately toppled at different times in the pre-launch sequence to gain an appreciation for the inferno a fully fueled missile could cause. Ultimately, the US Navy’s unique leg of the strategic triad in American nuclear deterrence would come in the form of specialized submarine-launched Polaris missiles.

The USAAF’s (later USAF’s) Cambridge Research Laboratories in Massachusetts participated in upper-atmosphere measurements made aboard V2s launched over New Mexico. Instrumented balloons of the day typically only reached about 19 miles high; the V2s promised altitudes of 100 miles or more. It was in the service’s interests to quantify as much as possible the characteristics of the upper atmosphere and near exoatmosphere, to aid in the development of viable high-altitude aircraft and even higher-flying missiles.

Records show seven V2s were assigned to the Cambridge labs, under the name Blossom. They were modified by lengthening them about 5ft 5in. in the midsection, as well as extending the nose cone and developing parachutes for instrument and experiment recovery purposes. Their modifications were designed to cause the Blossom V2s to break up in flight, separating research sections for, hopefully, survivable landings in the desert. Four of the seven Blossom V2s were considered to have successful missions.

The American testers of V2s in the desert gained valuable experience with large-rocket staging when they mounted an American product, the WAC Corporal rocket, to the nose of a V2. The staging and separation enabled the WAC Corporal to ride aloft, boosted by the massive liquid-fueled V2, and then accelerate ahead to achieve research altitudes unattainable by other means of the day. Suggested in mid-1946 by Col Toftoy, the ensuing lash-up of the American and German rockets constituted the first multi-stage liquid-fueled rocket tested in the United States. The modified missiles were operated under the project name Bumper. The existing WAC Corporal was modified with the addition of another fin and the enlargement of all fins to help stabilize it in the extremely rare atmosphere in which it would begin its solo boosted flight after separation from the V2. As the WAC Corporal eased out of the V2 nose cone on rails, two small rocket motors imparted a gyro-stabilizing spin to the smaller missile to enhance the accuracy of its flight into space. The first Bumper launch was on May 13, 1948. It was a test of the system. The Bumper team made several launches of varying degrees of success leading up to Bumper 5 on February 24, 1949. The full-up V2 and WAC Corporal combination delivered as designed, and after leaving its V2 booster behind, the slim Corporal reached the then-astounding altitude of 244 miles above the stark desert, and a speed of 5,150 mph. It was the highest a man-made object had soared at that time.

Two Bumpers were earmarked to explore flight dynamics around Mach 7. This required a flatter trajectory and not maximum altitude, which translated into a long 250-mile downrange profile. Even the vast reaches of White Sands could not contain a run that long, so Bumpers 7 and 8 were launched from the USAF’s newly designated overwater range at Cocoa Beach, Florida, on Cape Canaveral. They inaugurated the Florida facility. One of the Florida Bumpers boosted its WAC Corporal in a trajectory that enabled the smaller rocket to reach nine times the speed of sound – a record.

Seventy-two Americanized V2s are counted in the launch statistics between April 16, 1946 and September 19, 1952. Of these, only 68 percent were called successful launches, although some of the failed missions still yielded useful information and experience. If the scientific research was sparse over this large batch of V2s, the experience gained in missile operations and how to conduct missile research was very valuable, and is generally credited with saving the US years of delay in maturing its missile development program.

One can only imagine the excitement of US Army, US Navy, and industry rocket testers as they pondered the availability of as many as 100 supersonic German V2 missiles in 1946. These early American rocketeers were fresh from victory in the most technologically complex war the world had known. Yet by their very use of appropriated German technology, they had to be cognizant that even as they were pioneering new experiments, they were doing so with a design made by their erstwhile mortal foe. Subsequent space developments would show just how important the sometimes-controversial decision to bring German rockets and rocket scientists into the United States would be.

If Wernher von Braun’s enthusiastic, upbeat, yet authoritative persona made him the natural leader of the transplanted German rocketeers in America, he wisely kept his wartime deputy, Dr. Eberhard Rees, close at hand and in pivotal positions in the nascent postwar American rocketry discipline. Rees, a mechanical engineer by training in Germany in the 1930s, was summoned to join the rocketry team at Peenemünde in February 1940. It would be his introduction to rocketry, and to Wernher von Braun. Years later Rees recalled how he and von Braun discussed the spaceflight potential of rockets – the kind of talk that once got von Braun incarcerated for a brief time. Both men agreed that their peacetime vocations would involve development of rockets for spaceflight.

When Wernher von Braun was chosen to be the first director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, he tapped his old colleague Eberhard Rees to be deputy director to handle technical and scientific issues. At Marshall in the 1960s, Rees and von Braun were seminal to the success of the evolutionary Saturn I, I-B, and Saturn V that were required to boost manned Apollo vehicles to the moon. Rees would later say the Saturn development was the most interesting work in his career. When von Braun departed Marshall, Rees assumed duties as director until his retirement in 1973.

Nor did the early American rocket breakthroughs end with the last captured V2 launch in 1952. General Electric built upon another German rocket, the unfielded surface-to-air Wasserfall. Smaller than a V2, but with similar aerodynamic shaping, the Wasserfall silhouette had German research to back up its reasoning; General Electric capitalized on this research, but improvised with a different internal motor system in their variant known as the Hermes A-1. The wealth of experience General Electric gained in its White Sands V2 and Hermes efforts can be traced through several iterations, each more original than the previous, leading to the US Army’s successful Redstone surface-to-surface missile.

The Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Company – Convair – was, like all American aircraft manufacturers after war’s end, in search of new business. Convair diversified its aviation portfolio with contracts for the giant B-36 strategic bomber, forays into twin-engine airliners, and exploratory military work. When the USAAF solicited proposals for projects as part of a decade-long study of guided missiles, Convair received approval to explore a theoretical 5,000-mile-range ballistic missile projected to deliver a nuclear warhead with an accuracy of just under one mile. The first step in this ambitious plan was creating a smaller liquid-fueled missile to validate the use of swiveling rocket nozzles instead of movable vanes for control. The use of telemetry, and improvements in guidance systems also were to accrue from this demonstration missile, given the USAAF project designator MX-774.

Convair’s Vultee division undertook the challenge. Vultee lead engineer Karel Bossart began with a known quantity – the V2 – and his resulting MX-774 bore a strong resemblance to the German wartime product. But Bossart and his team made a salient change that saved substantial weight. Where the V2 had a steel shell housing separate fuel and oxidizer tanks, the Convair engineers reasoned that the external skin of the rocket body could be the outer wall of integral tankage for the two fuel components. The pressure of the liquids in the tanks lent rigidity to the missile while on the ground; in ascent, the loss of fluids due to fuel burn was offset by gas pressure to maintain rigidity. This clever mating of German silhouette as a design shortcut, plus revolutionary integral tanking and swiveling nozzles, permitted the MX-774 to be built in less than two years. After static engine tests, the first launch of an MX-774 took place at White Sands on July 13, 1948. It and two other copies suffered problems in their flights, but they validated two key concepts – swiveling nozzles and thin-wall integral fuel tank/rocket body construction.

The Germanic connection does not stop there; photos of MX-774 launch recovery operations show what appear to be German-inspired ribbon parachutes intended to slow the fall of the instrument-laden missiles.

Convair MX-774 Vultee “Hiroc” Missile

The innovative design of the MX-774 gave Convair and the USAF sufficient confidence to proceed with an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) derivative – the much larger, and finless, Atlas. Late variants are still in use as satellite boost vehicles at the time of writing. Visitors to the Atlas assembly plant are surprised at the hollow, vibrating drum-like sensation that comes from thumping the skin of a cradled and unpressurized Atlas. The original Atlas missiles deployed by the Air Force as ICBMs in October 1959 no longer looked like V2s, but they owed their successful development time to the use of V2 aerodynamics in the MX-774 more than a decade earlier. Withdrawn from USAF service as an ICBM in the middle of the 1960s, the Atlas will forever be associated with its decades-long service as a boost rocket, including the mission that put John Glenn, America’s first orbital astronaut, aloft in 1962.

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Air Offensive Over Lebanon 1982

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On June 9, 1982, three days after the start of the first Lebanon War, IAF pilots waited with great tension and suspense for the signal to embark on one of the air force’s most complicated missions: attacking Syrian missile batteries in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. In Jerusalem, the government continued to discuss the operation, struggling over fears of an escalation with the Syrians, who were politically and militarily involved in Lebanon. The debate was tense and stretched on for many hours. The time set for the start of the operation was pushed back, and Air Force Commander David Ivry retired to his office to concentrate on the latest flashes from the battlefield. Colonel Aviem Sella, the head of IAF operations, circulated among the pilots, checking their readiness, providing encouragement and trying to ease the tension.

At 1:30 P.M., IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan called the air force commander from the prime minister’s office, telling him, “Time to act. Good luck!” At two, the offensive got under way.

When the green light was given, twenty-four F-4 Phantom jets from IAF Squadron 105 took off, armed with missiles. Soaring alongside them were Skyhawk fighter aircraft, Kfirs—Israeli-made combat jets—and F-15s and F-16s armed with heat-seeking air-to-air missiles. For Israel’s electronic-disruption effort, the air force had enlisted Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, Boeing 707s and Zahavan drones. At the peak of the action, approximately one hundred Israeli planes were in the air.

The Syrians likewise threw roughly one hundred aircraft into battle—MiG-21s and -23s. Nineteen surface-to-air-missile batteries had been spread across the Beqaa Valley, where they were ready to launch SA-3, SA-6 and SA-8 surface-to-air missiles, among the most advanced, state-of-the-art engines developed by the Soviet Union.

Surface-to-air missiles were still a source of trauma for Israel’s air force. The war of attrition with Egypt, followed by the Yom Kippur War, had left behind bad memories and a sense of powerlessness against Egyptian missiles. The former defense minister, General Ezer Weizman, had coined the famous phrase “the missile that bent the plane’s wing,” which had motivated IAF commanders to look for a solution to this difficult problem. For five years, the top minds in the air force had labored with members of the military industry to develop a technological response that would protect the planes from the enemy’s missiles and bring the plane’s wing back to its natural place.

Now the hour of judgment had arrived: Would the Jewish brain again come up with an answer? Would the pilots’ nightmare come to an end? Would the IAF reestablish control over the region’s skies?

The attack’s opening move was the launch of drones over the Beqaa Valley, an act of misdirection. The aircrafts’ radar profile had been designed to resemble that of fighter jets, and the Syrians fell into the trap. As Israel’s military planners had thought, the Syrians immediately launched surface-to-air missiles at the drones, exposing the precise locations of their batteries, which in turn became targets for Israeli radiation-seeking missiles. Simultaneously, the IDF ground electronic sensors pinpointed the batteries’ locations and its artillery began shelling them.

Twenty-four Phantoms then suddenly appeared, each carrying two “Purple Fists,” anti-radiation missiles that zero in on radar installations by detecting the heat from antiaircraft systems. The planes launched the missiles at the batteries from nearly twenty-two miles away; also fired were Ze’ev surface-to-surface missiles, a sophisticated short-to-medium-range weapon that had been developed in Israel. The entire time, drones circled above the area, transmitting the results back to the operation’s commanders.

After the attack’s first wave, the Syrian batteries went silent for several minutes, and then the second wave arrived. Forty Phantoms, Kfirs and Skyhawks fired various types of bombs, among them cluster bombs that destroyed the batteries and their crews. The third wave took on the few remaining batteries, and within forty-five minutes, the attack had ended as a complete success. Most of the batteries had been wiped out.

During the offensive, the Syrians had fired fifty-seven SA-6 missiles but had managed to hit just one Israeli plane. For several long minutes, the Syrian command had been in complete disarray, and when it realized its battery system had collapsed, scrambled its MiGs. During the aerial battles that ensued, Israel’s F-15s and F-16s brought down twenty-seven MiGs using air-to-air missiles.

“From an operational standpoint, in contrast to what was planned, the attack on the missile batteries was one of the simplest missions I ever oversaw,” said Colonel Sella, who had been charged with the operation’s ground management. “Everything went like clockwork. As a result, even after the first planes successfully attacked the batteries, I ordered their continued bombing. The perception was that any change, any pause or shift, could only create turmoil that would disrupt the progression of matters.”

Toward 4:00 P.M., Sella reached a decision that he later described as the most significant of his life: to halt the operation. “At this stage, we had already destroyed fourteen batteries. We were an hour before last light, and we hadn’t lost a plane. I believed we couldn’t achieve a better outcome. When I leaned back for a minute in my chair, I took in some air and said to myself, ‘Let’s stop—we’ve done our work for the day. They’re going to bring more batteries tomorrow in any case.’”

Sella went to David Ivry, who was observing the mission with Chief of Staff Eitan. Sella leaned into Ivry’s ear so that Eitan wouldn’t hear and said, “I’m requesting authorization to stop the operation. We won’t accomplish more today. We’ll destroy the rest tomorrow.”

Ivry thought for a moment and nodded in agreement. The handful of planes then en route to an additional attack returned on Sella’s orders to their bases. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon didn’t love the decision, to put it mildly, even criticizing it harshly during a meeting with Eitan. But Sella’s theory that the Syrians would move additional batteries to the Beqaa Valley overnight proved correct.

Over the next two days, Israeli bombers, escorted by fighter jets, set out to strike the new SA-8 batteries relocated by the Syrians. Because of the paralysis of Syria’s defensive batteries, its air force dispatched planes to intercept the Israeli aircraft. In the battles that followed, Israel’s pilots again had the upper hand: eighty-two Syrian aircraft were downed over the course of the first Lebanon War. The Israeli Air Force lost two planes to ground fire. During the campaign, what became known as the “biggest battle of the jet age” took place, involving approximately two hundred planes from the two sides.

“This situation, in which our planes were dominant and the Syrians were in a state of panic, gave us a huge psychological advantage,” Ivry said. “The aerial picture on the Syrian side was very unclear. We added in electronic means for disrupting their ability to aim and keep control, meaning that the Syrians entered the combat zone more as targets than as interceptors.”

When Ivry, who had also been the air force commander during Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor, was asked what his most exciting moment had been, he answered without hesitation that it was the end of the missile attack during the first Lebanon War. “When it became clear that we had succeeded in destroying the Syrian missile apparatus and that not one of our planes was damaged, it was a moment of true spiritual transcendence. This was a struggle involving the entire air force—a big concert with lots of instruments of various types, and everyone needed to play in perfect harmony.”

The operation’s success gave Israel complete control over the skies of Lebanon and made it possible for air force planes to freely assist IDF ground forces. Nevertheless, the air force abstained from striking Syrian ground troops, in keeping with a decision made by the cabinet, which feared sliding into an all-out war with Syria. On June 11, 1982, following mediation by the American emissary Philip Habib, a cease-fire between Israel and Syria took hold.

The mission, Operation Mole Cricket 19, was considered one of the four most important in the history of the air force. (The other three were Operation Focus, the assault on the combined Arab Air Forces during the Six Day War; Operation Opera, the attack on the nuclear reactor in Iraq, in 1981; and Operation Yonatan, the rescue of hostages in Antebbe, in 1976.) Western air forces regarded the mission as an example of the successful use of Western technology against Soviet defense strategy. The results of the attack caused a great deal of astonishment among the military leaders of the Warsaw Pact, overturning their sense of confidence in the USSR, and particularly in the Soviet bloc’s surface-to-air-missile apparatus.

AVIEM SELLA, SQUADRON COMMANDER

“For the sake of this operation, we developed, with the help of a great team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute, a computerized control and planning system that would make it possible to prepare and command a multivariable campaign: to manage hundreds of planes with hundreds of weapons facing dozens of missile batteries and dozens of radar installations. It was a dynamic system operating in real time with thousands of variables. The primary and most outstanding programmer was a Haredi [Orthodox Jew] who lived in Bnei Brak, Menachem Kraus, who had no formal education but immense and unique knowledge. He was involved in all of the operational programs and, at the moment of action, sat with us in the Pit, in his civilian clothes.

“At the end of the day, we would conduct a nighttime debriefing and discuss what we had learned. I arrived at one debriefing where all the squadron commanders were participating, as well as all the wing commanders and former air force commanders. And, all of a sudden, everyone is standing and starts to applaud me for the perfect operation. I was very moved, because this sort of thing is quite rare in the middle of a war. I also got a little statuette, which was inscribed, ‘To Sella, the thinker behind the fight against missiles, your vision has been fulfilled and we’re standing tall once again—the fighters of Air Force Base 8.”

Kuwait 1990-92 I

In the early morning hours of August 2 1990, tens of thousands of Iraqi troops crossed into Kuwait in a dash to occupy the oil-rich state. The shocked residents of Kuwait were the first to find out. Jehan Rajab, a school administrator in Kuwait City, recalled: “At 6:00 A.M. on 2 August I got out of bed as usual, opened the window and looked outside. To my consternation I heard the sharp staccato sounds of gunfire, not a shot or two but sustained firing, which was being answered back. The sounds resonated off the walls of the mosque beside us and it immediately and horrifyingly became obvious what was happening. Kuwait was being invaded by Iraq.”

Telephones began to ring across the Arab capitals. King Fahd was awakened with the news at 5:00 A.M. Having just seen off the Iraqi and Kuwaiti negotiators in Jidda the night before, the Saudi king could scarcely believe that Iraqi troops had invaded Kuwait. He immediately tried to contact Saddam Hussein but could not reach him. His next call was to King Hussein of Jordan, who was known to be closest to the Iraqi leader.

An hour later, aides woke the Egyptian president, Husni Mubarak, to report that Iraqi troops had occupied the amir’s palace and key ministries in the Kuwaiti capital. The Arab leaders had to wait until mid-morning for the first explanation from Baghdad: “This is just part of Iraq returning to Iraq,” Saddam’s political envoy explained to the incredulous Arab heads of state.

The international community now faced the first crisis of the post–Cold War era. News of the invasion reached the White House at 9:00 P.M. on August 1; the Bush administration issued a robust condemnation of the Iraqi invasion that same night. The next morning it referred the matter to the UN Security Council, which swiftly passed Resolution 660, calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces.

Undaunted, Iraqi forces sped into the capital, Kuwait City, in a bid to seize Kuwait’s amir, Shaykh Jabar al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and his family. Had they successfully captured the ruling family, the Iraqis would have enjoyed far more control over the country, holding the amir and his family hostage to secure their objectives. However, the amir had been warned that the Iraqis were on the move and left with his family to take refuge in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The Kuwaiti crown prince, Shaykh Saad, returned from his Jidda meeting with the Iraqi vice president to learn that the invasion was already underway. He immediately called the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait and officially requested American military support to repel the Iraqi invasion, before joining the rest of the royal family in exile in Saudi Arabia. By these two simple acts—the request for American assistance, and taking exile—al-Sabah managed to foil Saddam’s invasion just as it was starting. Yet the Kuwaiti people would face seven months of horror before the ordeal of occupation would end.

Given the authoritarianism and political double-talk of the Ba’thist regime, the first days of the occupation seemed to emanate straight from the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. The Iraqis preposterously claimed to have entered Kuwait on the invitation of a popular revolution to overthrow the ruling al-Sabah family. “God helped the free people from the pure ranks in Kuwait,” a communiqué issued by the Iraqi government explained. “They have swept away the old order and brought about a new order and have asked for the brotherly help of the great Iraqi people.” The Iraqi regime then installed what it called the Provisional Free Kuwait Government.

With no obvious Kuwaiti revolutionaries to support Iraq’s claims, however, Saddam Hussein’s government quickly abandoned the pretense of liberation and announced the annexation of Kuwait. On August 8 it was declared the nineteenth province of Iraq. The Iraqis went to work erasing Kuwait from the maps, and even redesignated the capital Kuwait City by a name of their own coining—Kazimah.

By October, new decrees were issued that required all Kuwaitis to change their identity papers, as well as the license plates on their cars, to standard Iraqi issue. The Iraqis tried to force compliance by denying services to Kuwaitis without Iraqi papers. Ration cards for basic foods like milk, sugar, rice, flour, and cooking oil were only issued to people with Iraqi papers. People had to present Iraqi identification to get medical service. Gas stations would only serve cars with Iraqi license plates. Yet the majority of Kuwaitis resisted these pressures and refused to take Iraqi citizenship, preferring to trade for essentials on the black market.

The invasion of Kuwait was accompanied by the wholesale looting of shops, offices, and residences by Iraqi forces, much of it for reshipment to Baghdad. Watching the truckloads of stolen goods depart for Baghdad, one Kuwaiti official questioned an Iraqi officer:

“If you are saying that this is part of Iraq, why are you taking everything away?” “Because no province can be better than the capital,” the officer replied.

The brutality of the occupation grew more intense with each passing day. Toward the end of August, Saddam Hussein appointed his notorious cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid, grimly nicknamed “Chemical Ali” for his use of gas warfare against the Kurds in the Anfal campaign, as military governor of Kuwait. “After the arrival in Kuwait of Ali Hassan Al Majeed,” Kuwait resident Jehan Rajab noted in her journal, “the reign of terror intensified, as did the rumours of possible chemical attacks.” Those who could, fled. “Escape was on everyone’s mind,” reflected Kuwaiti banker Mohammed al-Yahya. He described cars from Kuwait four abreast at the Saudi border, backed up for 30 kilometers (about 19 miles). Al-Yahya, however, chose to remain in Kuwait.

As the full repression of Iraq’s political system took root in Kuwait, its people rose up in nonviolent resistance. “Within the first week of the invasion,” Jehan Rajab wrote, “Kuwaiti women decided to demonstrate on the streets against what had happened.” The first demonstration was held on August 6, just four days after the invasion. “There was a feeling of tension and expectancy: it was almost as if the crowd subconsciously realized that even peaceful demonstrations would not be countenanced by the Iraqis.” As many as 300 people took part in the march, carrying banners, posters of the exiled amir and crown prince, and Kuwaiti flags.

The protesters combined chants in honor of Kuwait and the amir with condemnations of Saddam Hussein: “Death to Saddam” and, incongruously, “Saddam is a Zionist.” The first two demonstrations met with no Iraqi reaction, but by the third consecutive day of protests, the swelling mass came face to face with armed Iraqi soldiers who fired straight into the crowd. “Pandemonium broke out,” Rajab recorded. “Car engines roared as they tried to back wildly down the road, people screamed and the shooting continued.” Dead and wounded demonstrators littered the ground outside the police station in downtown Kuwait City. “That was the last of such marches in our district, and probably the last anywhere, for the Iraqis shot to kill or maim. Kuwaitis were beginning to understand just how ruthless the invaders were.”

Yet nonviolent resistance activities continued throughout the Iraqi occupation. The resistance movement changed tactics to avoid the risk of Iraqi gunfire. On September 2, the Kuwaitis marked the end of the first month of the occupation with a show of defiance. The plan spread by word of mouth for all residents of Kuwait City to climb to their roofs at midnight and cry out “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” At the appointed hour, thousands joined in a chorus of protest against the occupation. For Jehan Rajab, it was a shout of “defiance and fury at what had taken place—at the invasion, the brutality that had followed, the killings, and the torture centres that had been set up in various places around Kuwait.” Iraqi soldiers fired warning shots to the rooftops to silence to protest, but for one hour the people of Kuwait successfully defied the occupation. “Some say Kuwait was born anew that night,” the banker al-Yahya claimed.

Many Kuwaitis mounted armed resistance against the Iraqis as well, led by former police and soldiers who were trained in the use of firearms. They ambushed Iraqi troops and ammunition stores. The road that ran past Jehan Rajab’s school was a main thoroughfare for Iraqi military vehicles and became the focus of many resistance attacks. In late August, Rajab was shocked by an enormous explosion from the main road, followed by a random volley of rocket fire. She soon realized that the resistance had struck Iraqi ammunition trucks and detonated the ordinance they were carrying. She only dared to leave her apartment when the explosions died down. She found fire engines dousing the flaming wreckage of the Iraqi army trucks. “There was little left to be seen other than scattered and blackened skeletal remains,” she noted in her journal. “Anything human must have been blasted into infinity.”

The attacks placed the residents of her neighborhood at grave risk, both from the fallout of the attacks and from the retaliation of the Iraqis. “After this particular incident,” she noted, “in which a few houses had been hit and, worse, the Iraqis had threatened to kill everyone in the area if anything like it happened again, the Resistance tried to protect ordinary civilians by keeping its explosions further away from residential districts.”

The residents of Kuwait took Iraqi threats very seriously. The stench of death hung heavy over the occupied country. Death had literally come to the doorsteps of many Kuwaitis: one of the Iraqis’ tactics was to return a detainee to his home and gun him down before his family. To compound the horror, the authorities threatened to kill all members of the household if the body was moved. The dead were often left for two or three days in the heat of summer to serve as a grisly warning to others who dared to resist.

Yet in spite of Iraqi efforts to intimidate the Kuwaitis into submission, resistance continued unabated throughout the seven months of occupation. Jehan Rajab’s claims of “continued resistance during the long months” of the occupation are corroborated by Iraqi intelligence documents, seized after the liberation of Kuwait, that tracked resistance activities through the seven months of the occupation.

In the early days of the occupation, there was no reason to believe that Iraq would confine its ambitions to Kuwait. None of the Arab Gulf countries had sufficient military strength to repel an Iraqi invasion, and following the fall of Kuwait, both the Americans and the Saudis were concerned that Saddam Hussein might attempt to occupy nearby Saudi oil fields.

The Bush administration believed a large American presence to be the only deterrent against Saddam Hussein’s ambitions. It wanted base rights for U.S. troops in the event of military action to displace the Iraqis; however, the administration would need a formal request from the Saudi government for military support before any troops could be dispatched. King Fahd demurred, fearing a negative domestic public reaction. As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia has always been particularly uncomfortable with a non-Muslim presence on its soil. Furthermore, never having been subject to foreign imperial control, the Saudis guard their independence from the West jealously.

The prospect of American troops flooding into Saudi Arabia rallied the country’s Islamists to action. Saudi veterans of the Afghan conflict, flushed with their successes against the Soviets, were adamantly opposed to an American intervention in Kuwait. Osama bin Ladin had returned from the Afghan jihad and had been placed under house arrest by the Saudi government for his outspoken speeches, which were enjoying wide circulation by cassette recording.

When Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait, Bin Ladin wrote to the Saudi minister of interior, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz, to suggest mobilizing the mujahidin network that he believed had been so effective in driving the Soviets from Afghanistan. “He claimed he could muster an army of 100,000 men,” recalled Abdul Bari Atwan, one of the few journalists to interview Bin Ladin in his hideout in the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan. “This letter was ignored.”

On balance, the Saudis believed the Iraqis to pose the greater threat to their country’s stability, and opted for American protection in spite of domestic Saudi opposition. Bin Ladin denounced the move as a betrayal of Islam. “Bin Laden told me that the Saudi government’s decision to invite U.S. troops to defend the kingdom and liberate Kuwait was the biggest shock of his entire life,” Atwan recorded.

He could not believe that the House of Al Saud could welcome the deployment of “infidel” forces on Arabian Peninsula soil, within the proximity of the Holy Places [i.e., Mecca and Medina], for the first time since the inception of Islam. Bin Ladin also feared that by welcoming U.S. troops onto Arab land the Saudi government would be subjecting the country to foreign occupation—in an exact replay of the course of events in Afghanistan, when the Communist government in Kabul invited Russian troops into the country. Just as bin Laden had taken up arms to fight the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, he now decided to take up arms to confront U.S. troops on the Arabian Peninsula.

His passport confiscated by the Saudi authorities, Bin Ladin had to exploit his family’s close ties with the Saudi monarchy to secure travel documents and go into permanent exile. In 1996 he declared jihad against the United States and declared the Saudi monarchy “outside the religious community” for “acts against Islam.” Yet his alienation from the United States and the Saudi monarchy, his former allies in the Afghan jihad, dated to the events of August 1990.

The Kuwait crisis opened a new chapter of Soviet-American cooperation in international diplomacy. For the first time in its history, the Security Council was able to take decisive action without being undermined by Cold War politics. Over the four months following the swift passage of Resolution 660 on August 2, the Security Council passed a total of twelve resolutions as the crisis deepened without the risk of a veto. On August 6 it imposed trade and economic sanctions on Iraq and froze all Iraqi assets abroad (Res. 661); the UN tightened the sanction regime again on September 25 (Res. 670). On August 9 the Security Council declared the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait “null and void” (Res. 662). A number of resolutions condemned Iraqi violations of diplomatic immunity in Kuwait and upheld the rights of third-state nationals to leave Iraq and Kuwait. When on November 29 the Soviets joined with the Americans in passing Resolution 678, authorizing member states “to use all necessary means” against Iraq unless it withdrew fully from Kuwait by January 15, 1991, the Cold War in the Middle East came to a formal end.

What most surprised Arab statesmen—and the Iraqis in particular—was the Soviet position. “Many in the Arab world assumed that even if Moscow refused to help Iraq after the invasion it would at least remain neutral, and they were surprised when the Soviet Union helped the Americans to pass resolution after resolution through the UN Security Council,” Egyptian analyst Mohamed Heikal recalled. What the Arab world had not reckoned on was the weakened state of the Soviet Union and its concern to preserve good relations with Washington. Given America’s geostrategic interests in the Gulf, the Soviets knew they could either support the U.S. or confront it, but they could not deter it from action. With nothing to be gained from confrontation, the Soviets opted for cooperation with the United States and left their former Arab ally totally exposed.

The Arab world was slow to recognize the reorientation of Moscow’s policies in the post–Cold War age. As Iraq turned a deaf ear to the UN, and as the United States began to mobilize a war coalition, the Arab world still expected the Soviet Union to prevent the United States from taking military action against its ally Iraq. Instead, Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze worked closely with U.S. secretary of state James Baker in drafting the very resolution that authorized military action. “To the amazement of Arab delegations,” Heikal claimed, “it became clear that Moscow would give Washington a license to act.”

Whereas the Americans and the Soviets enjoyed a moment of unprecedented cooperation over the Kuwait crisis, the Arab world had never been so fragmented. The invasion of one Arab state by another, and the threat of outside intervention, provoked deep divisions among Arab leaders.

Egypt, recently rehabilitated after a decade’s isolation for its peace treaty with Israel, took the lead in organizing an Arab response to the Kuwait crisis. President Mubarak convened a snap Arab summit, the first to be held in Cairo since the Camp David Accords, on August 10. The Iraqis and Kuwaitis faced each other for the first time since the invasion. It was a tense moment. The amir of Kuwait gave a conciliatory speech, trying to mollify the Iraqis and to advance a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. He hoped to return to where negotiations had left off in the August 1 meeting in Jidda. The Iraqis, however, took an intransigent line. When the amir finished his speech and sat down, the Iraqi delegate Taha Yassin Ramadan protested: “I don’t know on what basis the sheikh is addressing us. Kuwait does not exist any more.” The amir stormed out of the hall in protest.

 

Breaking into the South I

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Sherman’s men destroying a railroad in Atlanta.

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Map of Sherman’s campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas, 1864–1865.

General William Tecumseh Sherman, who had been left by Grant to command in the West—a term used during the war to signify the campaigns not fought in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, but geographically in the beginnings of the Deep South—received on April 4 and 19 two letters in which Grant outlined his plans for the conclusion of the western campaign. Grant’s order to Sherman and his armies in Tennessee for the campaign of 1864-65 had been to “move against Johnston’s army, to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” In addition to the Army of the Potomac, Grant had three other armies to employ in 1864: those of Banks at New Orleans, Butler on the Virginia coast, and Sigel in West Virginia. Sigel was responsible for the Shenandoah Valley, from which Lee drew many of his supplies; Butler was to operate on the James River near Richmond, with the object of cutting the city’s rail communications with the rest of the Confederacy; Banks, Grant hoped, would get into Mississippi and seize Mobile, an important naval and rail centre.

The key operation, however, was that of Sherman, who commanded, as a combined force, McPherson’s own Army of the Tennessee (24,465), Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland (60,773), and John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio (13,559), total strength 98,797. Its task looked simple enough: to push forward from the neighbourhood of Dalton to Atlanta, ninety miles to the south, dispersing Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, only 60,000 strong, and beating its component units as he went. Easier said than done. Part of Sherman’s problem was his very long and attenuated line of communications, which stretched back along the Western and Atlantic Railroad 470 miles to his main base at Louisville, Kentucky, much of its length running through hostile or at least dangerous territory. Forward of Dalton, moreover, the defenders enjoyed the use of several strong defensible features, notably the Oostanaula, Etowah, and Chattahoochee rivers and the steep slope of Kennesaw Mountain. Johnston’s favoured strategy, moreover, was perfectly suited to the terrain, since he believed in avoiding battle when possible and extracting advantage by manoeuvre.

Sherman began his advance into the South on May 4, 1864, leaving Chattanooga to confront Johnston on the route that led to Atlanta (not then Georgia’s state capital, which was Milledgeville). The fighting opened at Tunnel Hill, one of the features of Lookout Mountain, captured by Sherman the previous month. After some vigorous outpost skirmishing, Thomas, with General Oliver Howard, one of his corps commanders, spent May 7 and 8 trying to clear the Confederates off the high ground, so as to open a way forward. Johnston opposed him very effectively, until McPherson, whose corps was principally engaged, was forced to withdraw and wait between Sugar Hill and Buzzard-Roost Gap for a better opportunity. Johnston denied one until May 12, when, in what Howard called “one of his clean retreats,” he left the way open. Sherman’s men caught up with his at Resaca on May 14 and found that by entrenchment and barricading, Johnston had made the position as strong, in Howard’s opinion, as Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. While the army was advancing, Sherman, who had spent the night at his map table, took the opportunity to snatch a nap against a tree trunk. A passing soldier remarked, “A pretty way we are commanded.” Sherman, who was less asleep than he appeared, called out, “Stop, my man. While you were sleeping last night, I was planning for you, sir; and now I was taking a nap.” Least pompous of men, Sherman left the exchange there. He was sometimes mistaken for a young junior officer, since he stood less than five feet, six inches tall and weighed under 150 pounds.

The Confederate commander opposite at Resaca was Leonidas Polk, the Episcopalian bishop-turned-general. During the evening of May 14, he attempted to drive McPherson’s men away, but his effort was defeated. The Confederates lost 2,800 men to the Union’s 2,747 at the battle of Resaca. Sherman had a thoroughly realistic attitude towards losses: “A certain amount of … killing had to be done, to accomplish the end.” At Resaca Sherman fought offensively, Johnston defensively, aided by earthen parapets. Johnston then fell back to Calhoun, Adairsville, and Cassville, where he halted for the battle of the campaign, but then he continued his retreat beyond the next spur of the Appalachian chain to Allatoona.

Sherman, who knew Allatoona from a previous visit, decided not to fight there. After repairing the railroad he pushed on to Atlanta by way of Dallas. Johnston divined Sherman’s intention and forced him to fight at New Hope Church on May 25-28, a slight Union victory. Sherman remarked that “the country was almost in a state of nature—with few or no roads, nothing that a European could understand.” Johnston continued to retreat, picking up reinforcements as he went to raise his strength to 62,000. His route took him to Marietta, between Brush Mountain and Lost Mountain. Johnston’s line was too long for his numbers so he drew in his flanks and concentrated on Kennesaw. Sherman repaired the railroad up to his camp, awaiting a battle he knew must come. During the preliminaries, there was continuous skirmishing, with the batteries and line of battle pushed right forward. Sherman’s effort to carry the Kennesaw position failed, however, with a Union loss of 3,000 to the Confederates’ 630. Yet Johnston was so shaken that he abandoned his lines and retreated to the Chattahoochee River. After a skirmish at Smyrna Church, he was driven across the Chattahoochee on July 10. Sherman paid tribute to Johnston’s conduct of the retreat, saying his movements were “timely, in good order and he left nothing behind.” The Union “had advanced into the enemy’s country 120 miles, with a single-track railroad which had to bring clothing, food, ammunition, everything requisite for 100,000 men and 23,000 animals. The city of Atlanta, the gate city opening the interior of the important State of Georgia, was in sight; its protecting army was shaken but not defeated, and onward we had to go,” illustrating the principle that “an army once on the offensive must maintain the offensive.”

The fighting along the Oostanaula River was heavy. On July 15, Sherman committed the troops commanded by Hooker, who since being relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac had reverted to corps commander, with remarkable equanimity. After a heavy day’s fighting, he carried most of the ground before him. Sherman committed cavalry and laid pontoons over the Oostanaula, thereby achieving superiority of numbers. During the night Johnston decided he could no longer hold the Resaca position and withdrew the Army of Tennessee. In the day following, the Confederates completed an extended withdrawal, to the line of Rome-Kingston-Cassville, along the Etowah River. Oliver Howard, with Sherman in his command party, pressed forward and was fired upon by rebel artillery, which killed several Union horses. The enemy, however, was now badly demoralised by the successful Union advance from Resaca. Howard captured about 4,000 prisoners, including a whole regiment.

His engineers were also energetically repairing the railroad running back to Nashville and Louisville. On the morning of July 18, word arrived by the repaired telegraph from Resaca that bacon, hardtack, and coffee, the essentials of the Union soldier’s fare, were already arriving. The Confederates continued to fall back, all the more eagerly when Johnston, on the Etowah, discovered that the Union’s advance guards were south of him in force at Cartersville and Kingston, where Sherman had set up his headquarters. General Howard found the countryside of farm and woodland about here so picturesque that it was as if there were no war, and the surroundings encouraged Sherman to give his troops three days’ rest. Nevertheless, the abundance of timber allowed both armies to construct strong defences both in attack and defence and, when fighting broke out, to inflict heavy casualties on each other. It was in this region that, as Sherman pressed his advance towards Atlanta, Bishop Polk was shot through the body by an artillery round, dying instantly. By further disengagement, Johnston had now established his line on high ground at Kennesaw Mountain, one of the last peaks of the Appalachian chain, an obstacle which at last gave him a holding place Sherman could not turn. Sherman was in practice more concerned with Hood’s suddenly evinced determination to cut the Army of the Tennessee’s connection with its distant base, an aim that had drawn Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry into an attack on the Union’s railroad link. Sherman had despatched a counter-attack force from Memphis to run Forrest down, angrily proclaiming that there would never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest was dead. The Memphis force brought Forrest to battle at Brice’s Crossroads in Mississippi, where it was badly defeated. At a second encounter Forrest was defeated at Tupelo and wounded, but he did not die. There was a lot of life in the old hellhound yet.

Johnston’s success in holding the Kennesaw position came, however, too late to save his own position. Jefferson Davis had an old grudge against him, over a trifling dispute about rank, but the real cause of his fall was popular dissatisfaction with his strategy of evasion and delay, which was almost universally misunderstood as reluctance to risk battle. He was now removed from command in the West and replaced by Lieutenant General John Bell Hood, who, by contrast, was aggressive, bold, and personally brave. Sherman, a friend and intimate of Grant’s recorded his feelings as he embarked on his first major independent campaign:

We were as brothers, I the older man in years, he [Grant] the higher in rank. We both believed in our hearts that the success of the Union cause was necessary not only to the then generation of Americans, but to all future generations. We both professed to be gentlemen and professional soldiers, educated in the science of war by our generous government for the very occasion which had arisen. Neither of us by nature was a combatative man [this was disingenuous of Sherman since the two were to prove themselves the most ruthless commanders of the whole war]; but with honest hearts and a clear purpose to do what man could, we embarked on that campaign which I believe, in its strategy, in its logistics, in its grand and minor tactics, had added new luster to the old science of war. Both of us had at our front generals [Lee and Johnston, then Hood, respectively] to whom in early life we had been taught to look up to,—educated and experienced soldiers like ourselves, not likely to make any mistakes, and each of whom had as strong an army as could be collected from the mass of the Southern people,—of the same blood as ourselves, brave, confident, and well-equipped; in addition to which they had the most decided advantage of operating in their own difficult country of mountain, forest, ravine and river, affording admirable opportunities for defense, besides the other equally important advantage that we had to invade the country of our unqualified enemy, and expose our long lines of supply to guerrillas of an “exasperated people.” Again, as we advanced we had to leave guards to bridges, stations and intermediate depots, diminishing the fighting force, while our enemy gained strength, by picking up his detachments as he fell back, and had railroads to bring supplies and reinforcements from his rear. I instance these facts to offset the common assertion that we of the North won the war by brute force and not by courage and skill.

Johnston’s last act before his dismissal was to defend the earthworks he had built at the crossings over the Chattahoochee above Atlanta, which the Union overcame by finding crossings elsewhere, and then to withdraw into the defences of Atlanta itself. His conduct in the preceding weeks had been by no means contemptible; he had forced Sherman to spend seventy-four days in advancing a hundred miles, and was still in fighting form.

Bars Class Russian Submarine 1915

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Grand Duke Konstantin also gave his support to the Polish-born engineer Stefan K. Drzewiecki’s submarine projects. Again, conflict provided the immediate impetus, in this instance the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. Drzewiecki built and tested two successive designs for small, man-powered submersibles that led to the construction of a series of 50 production units for the war ministry by the Nevskiy Shipbuilding and Machinery Works at St. Petersburg between 1879 and 1881. The army deployed these craft in the defense of Kronshtadt and Sevastopol until they were transferred to the navy in 1885, whereupon they were discarded as ineffective. Drzewiecki himself moved to France in 1887, where he proposed several semi-submersible designs for the French Fleet, none of which were built, and also developed his very successful drop-collar torpedo launch system that saw extensive use on both French and Russian submarines into the 1920s.

Russian interest in submarines revived in the 1890s, leading to the establishment of a special submarine committee on 19 December 1900, headed by Ivan Grigorevich Bubnov. It evaluated both foreign and native designs and by June 1901 had produced an indigenous design that was constructed as the Delfin . Bubnov went on to design a series of submarines for the Imperial Russian Navy, culminating with the Bars class, laid down immediately before World War I.

The 1912 construction programme for the Russian Navy included 12 submarines for the Baltic Fleet, and six for the Pacific Squadron, all of the same type. They were designed by Professor Bubnov, the leading Russian submarine designer, but did not prove suitable in service. The Drzewiecki ‘drop collars’ for the external torpedoes were sited too low, on either side of the casing, where they had an adverse effect on underwater handling.

During the autumn of 1915 work started on rebuilding the class to move the drop collars higher; in some cases they were actually sited on the casing, and the later boats were completed with the improvements. After the success of the minelayer Krab. the Ers and Forel were altered on similar lines, but neither boat entered service until after the October Revolution in 1917. The boats were built at the Baltic Metal Works yard at Saint Petersburg (Petrograd) and the Reval Russo-Baltic works.

As with many of the surface warships, the main machinery had been ordered from Germany, and at the outbreak of war all the diesels had been seized by the Germans. The early boats of the Bars Class were therefore without diesels, and it was necessary to requisition weaker machinery from the Kopje Class Amur monitors. Not until 1917 could 1320-bhp engines be obtained, and the first boat fitted with them, the Kuguar. was able to make 17 knots. Despite these problems the boats boats completed in 1915 were active against German shipping in the Baltic.

On May 17, 1917 the Volk sank the steamers Bianca, Hera and Kolga off Norrkoping. Late in May 1916 the Gepard was rammed by the German decoy-ship K while attacking a convoy, but she escaped with damage to her deck guns. During the same operation the Bars was also attacked but escaped without being hit. In the Gulf of Bothnia two more ships were sunk, the Dorita by the Volk on July 5 and the Syria by the Vepr.

The freezing of the Baltic prevented activity during the winter but in May 1917 the Bars, Gepard, Vepr and Volk began their patrols again. This time the Bars was unlucky and failed to return from a patrol. She was probably sunk by a German depth-charge attack in the Bay of Norrkoping on May 28, but she could have been rammed accidentally by a Russian destroyer. The Pantera was damaged by an airship on June 14 and the Lvitsa was sunk, probably on June 11 by patrol craft. The Vepr, however, sank the SS Friedrich Carow on August 8. The Gepard was damaged on September 20 while carrying out an attack, and in October she failed to return from a patrol. She was possibly sunk in a minefield on October 29.

Three more of the Bars Class were ordered in 1911 for the Black Sea Fleet, and were known as the Morz Class. They were followed by a further six ordered in 1915. The launch dates for this group are not known.

The Morz sank a small steamer in March 1915 while the Tjulen torpedoed a larger collier and 11 schooners early in April. The two boats were active again in May, when the Morz was damaged by a Turkish aircraft. All three were active in the spring of 1917 as well, and the new Gagara sank six sailing vessels on her first mission in August. The Morz failed to return from a patrol in May, and was probably sunk by air attack near Eregli or mined east of the Bosphorus. During the British Intervention the Pantera (of the original group) succeeded in sinking the destroyer HMS Vittoria.

Both the Baltic and Black Sea submarines of the class were victims of the chaos which followed the Revolution. The Edinorog was scuttled on February 25, 1918 and the Ugor was scrapped in 1922, the Forel, the incomplete Jaz and the Kuguar and Vepr were scrapped in 1925. The Gagara and Orlan fell into British hands at Sevastopol during the Anglo-French Intervention, and both were scuttled in April 1919. The incomplete hulls of the Lebed and Pelikan were scuttled at Odessa in 1919, and although they were subsequently raised they’ were not repaired. The Burevestnik, Tjulen and Utka followed General Wrangel into exile at Bizerta in 1920, leaving only the Nerpa in the Black Sea.

General characteristics
Displacement:
  • 650 tons surfaced
  • 780 tons submerged
Length: 68 m (223 ft 1 in)
Beam: 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in)
Draft: 3.9 m (12 ft 10 in)
Propulsion:
  • Diesel-electric
  • 2,640 hp diesel
  • 900 hp electric
  • 2 shafts
Speed:
  • 18 knots (33 km/h) surfaced
  • 9 knots (17 km/h) submerged
Range: 400 nmi (740 km)
Complement: 33
Armament:
  • 1 × 63 mm (2.5 in) or 75 mm (3.0 in) gun
  • 1 × 37 mm (1.5 in) AA gun
  • 4 × 457 mm (18.0 in) torpedo tubes
  • 8 × torpedoes in drop collars (later removed)

The Hundred Days II

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Napoleon’s return from the Isle of Elba by Ambroise-Louis Garneray. Napoleon’s ship Inconstant, on the right, crosses the path of the French ship Zéphir.

On 17 March a council of war held at Wellington’s lodgings turned into a contest between Austria and Prussia as each vied to take command of the contingents furnished by the smaller German states, in a repeat of their political scramble for Germany. Austria snatched Hesse-Darmstadt’s 8,000 men from under Prussia’s nose, and Prussia responded by demanding to command the contingents of all the north German states, bar Hanover. Wellington refused. Hardenberg tried to bribe him with a contingent of Prussian troops if he would let Blücher command all the others. General Knesebeck insisted that only if they were placed under Prussian command would the smaller contingents feel they were fighting for Germany. But at a meeting of the Five on 1 April Prussia was forced to relinquish command of the contingents of Brunswick, Oldenburg, Nassau and the Hanseatic cities, leaving it only with that of Hesse-Cassel and half that of Saxony.

In a great show of patriotism, Bavaria and Württemberg offered twice the number of troops required from them, but Metternich was not fooled, realising that they were hoping to guarantee themselves a greater say in the peace settlement at the end of the campaign. When Bavaria was invited to accede, along with all the lesser states, to the renewed alliance between the four original allies, Wrede demurred, insisting that she would only sign her own alliances with the allies, as a principal, not as one of the acceding minor powers. After much wrangling, all the Kings were allowed to sign full separate treaties. There was also the question of money.

While he bragged to Talleyrand that he would himself face Napoleon in battle, Alexander also flatly announced to Wellington that he could not make a move until British cash began to flow, and the plenipotentiaries of all the other powers which had volunteered troops took the same line. Wellington assured them that money would be found, and set about haggling with his government in London, which finally agreed to pay up to £5 million and another £2 million in lieu of its share of 150,000 extra men.

At this stage the allies still assumed that Louis XVIII would manage to contain the problem on his own. It seemed inconceivable that a man with barely a thousand soldiers could take over a kingdom with an army of 150,000 men at its disposal. But the man was Napoleon, and every one of the people sitting around the tables in Vienna, with the exception of Wellington and those of the British delegation who had not spent any time on the Continent in his heyday, had at one time or another known what it was to be gripped by the terror of his approach.

They had ample opportunity to pray to the Almighty to be delivered of the evil, as Easter was upon them. On 23 March, Maundy Thursday, the entire court assembled in the great hall in which balls were normally held, for the traditional ritual enacting Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet. Two long tables set with twelve places each, at which twelve Viennese paupers of each sex were seated, had been set up on two raised platforms. The Emperor and Empress made their entrance, attended by the archdukes and archduchesses and followed by a detachment of the Hungarian noble guard. They then proceeded to serve the paupers a three-course dinner, waiting on them like servants. ‘The tables were then removed, and the Empress and her daughters the Archduchesses, dressed in black, with pages bearing their trains, approached,’ records an English traveller. ‘Silver bowls were placed beneath the feet of the aged women. The Grand Chamberlain, in a humble posture, poured water upon the feet of each in succession, from a golden urn, and the Empress wiped them with a fine napkin she held in her hand. The Emperor performed the same ceremony on the feet of the men, and the rite concluded amidst the sounds of sacred music.’ The rites of Easter continued the next day with the Stations of the Cross, and came to a climax on Easter Sunday with a solemn Mass attended by all the sovereigns and ministers as well as the court. The ministers had briefly returned to practical matters on Holy Saturday to sign a treaty similar to that of Chaumont, but including France and the second-rank powers as well. It was a timely move.

On Tuesday, 28 March, news reached Vienna that Napoleon was in Paris. That meant that they were, in some respects, back where they had been in 1813. Among the first reactions of some of the statesmen was the fear that all they had worked for for so long and achieved at the cost of so many hours of discussion and argument might be lost. From London, Castlereagh wrote to Wellington suggesting that they sign a treaty as soon as possible enshrining at least that which had been agreed so far, so as to place it ‘out of the reach of doubt’.

His letter crossed one from Wellington which assured him that the prevailing feeling in Vienna was ‘a determination to unite their efforts to support the system established by the peace of Paris’ and that all were conscious of the importance of the situation. ‘All are desirous of bringing to an early conclusion the business of the congress, in order that the whole and undivided attention and exertion of all may be directed against the common enemy […] Upon the whole, I assure your Lordship that I am perfectly satisfied with the spirit which prevails here upon this occasion,’ he concluded.

Alexander and Francis conferred about the letters they had received from Napoleon and agreed not to reply to them. This was reassuring, as Russia and Austria were the two powers that might conceivably come to terms with a Napoleonic France. In another show of solidarity, the allies publicly brushed aside Napoleon’s declaration to the effect that nobody had the right to choose a ruler for France but the French people with a riposte that certain requirements of international law transcended a nation’s right to choose its ruler. It was the first time in international affairs that a group of states effectively arrogated the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another country in the name of the greater good of Europe.

When Butyagin reached Vienna and, on 8 April, handed Alexander the copy of the treaty of alliance against him that Caulaincourt had given him, the Tsar, who had suspected its existence for some time, took it calmly. He brandished it before Metternich in public, only to declare that he never wished to hear it referred to again. He cut short the King of Bavaria, who had come to proffer his excuses, saying that they must concentrate on defeating Napoleon. But both Nesselrode and Stein could see how angry he was.

Alexander not only reproved the British for letting Napoleon escape, he also attempted to shift blame onto Metternich and Talleyrand by accusing them of having drawn out the congress unnecessarily. On one occasion he even declared that it was God’s punishment for their having been quarrelling amongst themselves over trifles. The whole affair only served to confirm him in his conviction that he was a lone warrior for good surrounded by conniving moral pygmies.

When Metternich had come to him with the news of Napoleon’s escape, the two men found themselves alone together for the first time since their interview of 24 October 1814, and Alexander had taken the opportunity to declare that since they were both Christians they should forgive each other and embrace, which they did.

To Louis XVIII, Alexander wrote that ‘the first effect that this event has had on the sovereigns assembled at Vienna was to tighten the bonds to which Europe owes the peace and France the tranquillity which it was beginning to enjoy under its legitimate King’. He treated Talleyrand with greater cordiality than ever, and called to assure him that he had cast all their past disagreements out of his mind. ‘The incident of Buonaparte’s appearance in France, so disagreeable in other respects, will at least have that advantage that it will hasten the conclusion of affairs here,’ Talleyrand wrote to Louis XVIII on 12 March. ‘It has doubled the zeal and activity of everyone.’ A couple of weeks later he reported that the work of the congress would probably be finished by mid-April.

There were only three major questions remaining to be settled: the indemnities that would convince Bavaria to hand the Tyrol back to Austria, the German constitution and the question of what to do about Murat.

The last of these now proceeded to settle itself, as Napoleon’s escape from Elba had prompted Murat to act. His first move was to offer his services to the allies. The proposal was taken seriously, and Castlereagh, who had on 12 March written to Wellington suggesting they join with Austria in removing Murat from Naples, wrote less than two weeks later authorising him to sign an alliance with Murat if he thought the King of Naples was acting in good faith.

But long before Wellington received the second of these letters, Murat had changed his mind and marched out at the head of his army. From Rimini on 30 March he issued a proclamation to the people of Italy that was not so much a gesture of support for Napoleon as a declaration of war on Austria. ‘Providence, at last, calls you to freedom,’ it ran. ‘One cry can be heard from the Alps to the gorges of Scylla, and that cry is: the independence of Italy. Eighty thousand Neapolitans, led by their brave King, have left their home to liberate you …’

‘Murat must be destroyed early, or he will hang heavily upon us,’ an alarmed Wellington wrote on 8 May from Brussels, where he had made his headquarters. He need not have worried, as Castlereagh had, quite illegally, declared war on Murat, and Metternich had already sprung into action. Murat was declared an outlaw, like Napoleon, and the Austrian forces in Italy moved quickly. They defeated him without much trouble at Tolentino and his vaudeville army melted away. Murat himself took ship for France to offer his services to Napoleon, and Ferdinand IV returned from Sicily to resume his throne. The first thing he did was to sign, on 29 April, a convention with Austria pledging himself, in return for full military assistance, ‘to allow no change which could not be reconciled with the ancient monarchical institutions, or with the principles adopted by His Imperial Majesty [Francis] for the internal government of his Italian provinces’. Metternich had managed to ensure that, although a Bourbon had returned to the Italian mainland, he was to be entirely beholden to and controlled by Austria.

The arrangement of the rest of Italy now fell into place. Parma was granted to Marie-Louise as stipulated in the Treaty of Fontainebleau, but only for her lifetime. Her son would receive an establishment in Austria. On her death, the three duchies would pass to Maria Luisa of Spain, erstwhile Queen of Etruria, and by descent to her children. In the interim, the Queen of Etruria would have the former republic of Lucca, which would, when she progressed to Parma, be added to Tuscany, which was awarded to Archduke Ferdinand. Modena went to Archduke Francis. The Pope was given back the Legations (although Austria retained the right to garrison Ravenna), the Marches, previously occupied by Murat, as well as the duchies of Pontecorvo and Benevento – for supposedly facilitating which Talleyrand would be richly rewarded.

At first, it looked as though the resolution of the German question would also be expedited as a consequence of Napoleon’s reappearance on the scene and the sense of renewed solidarity it engendered. But it was not to be, mainly on account of Bavaria, which was still locked in dispute with Austria over compensation. In fact, Bavaria sought to exploit the crisis, and Marshal Wrede began to make increased demands for the compensation she was to receive for retroceding Salzburg and the Tyrol. He demanded more of Hanau, Isenburg and Fulda; and territory from Württemberg, from Hesse-Darmstadt and from Baden. The Bavarians had adopted the technique previously used by the Prussians, of ‘discounting’ mediatised souls – that is to say not counting those inhabitants of a given area who were subjects of a local semi-autonomous lord, on the grounds that they did not represent the same taxable potential as the others. This meant that claims could be inflated beyond measure. They had, in Talleyrand’s words, earned themselves the title of ‘Prussians of the south’ by their greed and obstinacy.

Metternich was so desperate by this stage that although the negotiations were supposedly between Austria and Bavaria alone, he laid the whole matter before the meeting of the Five on 3 April. The first thing to be settled was that Mainz was to go to Hesse-Darmstadt, while the fortress was to be a federal stronghold, garrisoned by troops drawn from the two Hesses, Nassau and Prussia, under Prussian command. After a heated discussion Archduke Charles was placed in command of the combined garrison. Furious at having definitively lost Mainz, the Bavarians upped their demands to include Mannheim and Heidelberg, but after a forceful intervention by Alexander on 5 April it was agreed that Bavaria would obtain those areas on the death of their ruler, who was the last of his line.

If this resolved the fate of Mainz it did nothing to solve the underlying problem, and the conflicting claims of Bavaria, Baden and the two Hesses on the banks of the upper Rhine remained unresolved. Meanwhile Bavaria was still in occupation of Salzburg and the Tyrol, which should have reverted to Austria. Metternich’s options for finding land with which to indemnify Bavaria were shrinking fast. In January he had been persuaded by Castlereagh to give Prussia some territory to the south of the Moselle which he had earmarked for Bavaria. Ever more arcane combinations of swaps were required in order to induce minor rulers to give up the necessary territory. The Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg was heard to complain that he had been given ‘a district in China’ when he was awarded the faraway region of Meisenheim am Glan. And as the pool of available land shrank, all those who had been left out, and particularly those who had been promised something by Alexander, gathered round expectantly.

Alexander had given Prince Eugéne his word that he would find him a fief somewhere in Europe, and was determined to stand by his promise. He had tried to find him one in Italy, but Metternich’s prevarication and Talleyrand’s opposition had prevented that. He now sought to find him one in Germany. This outraged many. Humboldt declared that if Prince Eugéne were given a principality in Germany, he would leave the congress. But Alexander was adamant that he would not leave Vienna without awarding him something. Others whom he had promised to help were the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, his brother-in-law the Duke of Saxe-Weimar and his cousin the Duke of Oldenburg.

Alexander pressed Münster to cede some border areas of Hanover to Oldenburg, for which he promised to obtain from Prussia an equivalent that could be added to Hanover on the other side, for which Prussia in turn would be compensated with some strips of territory along the Rhine formerly belonging to Oldenburg. This initiated a new bout of haggling and soul-counting.

Having recovered from their shock at Napoleon’s escape, the various interested parties had shifted attention back to their former concerns and carried on much as before, with the difference that now they seemed to be positioning themselves for a fresh contest. Hardenberg had been drawing out the negotiations for some time now, employing a variety of tricks. Clancarty complained to Castlereagh that he was tardy in delivering documents, and showed maps of proposed border settlements to him late at night, when it was difficult to distinguish the colours on the shaded areas. The Prussians also kept trying to ‘crib’ slices of French territory along the border. Hardenberg also began to stall on the question of wrapping all the agreements reached into a single treaty and signing it as soon as possible.

All this terrified Talleyrand, who detected in it a desire to keep questions open in the hope that a new war would require a new peace. And a new peace would not be as favourable to France as the Treaty of Paris. It was clear to him that the knives were out for a fresh carve-up.

The Royal Oak

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HMS Royal Oak

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U 47 – Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien

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As war approached Admiral Karl Donitz, in charge of the German U-boat arm, was already considering an attack on Scapa Flow, despite the loss of U-18 and UB-116 in the last war. After war broke out he got aerial reconnaissance photographs from the Luftwaffe and came to the conclusion:

In Holm Sound, there are only two steamers which seem to be sunk across Kirk Sound and another on the north side. To the south of the latter end and up to Lamb Holm there are: a first gap 17 m wide at low tide mark, where the depth reaches 7m; and a second smaller, to the north. On both sides the shore is almost uninhabited. I think it is possible to pass there during the night and on the surface at flood tide. The greatest difficulty remains the navigation.

Donitz offered the job to Gunther Prien, captain of U-47, who ‘possessed all the qualities of leadership and all the necessary nautical knowledge’. Prien took the charts and papers home and studied them before agreeing to go. The night of 13/14 October was chosen because slack water was in the middle of the night – the tides could be up to 12 knots and the maximum speed of a submerged U-boat was 7 knots. U-47 sailed on 8 October and four days later she was submerged off Orkney with her officers taking fixes on the navigational lights and observing shipping movements. Early in the morning of the 13th the crew were crowded into the forward compartment and Prien told them what they were going to do. There was silence, but he observed, ‘Their faces were quite calm and nothing was to be read in them, neither astonishment, nor fear.’ The crew rested until the afternoon and then were given a ‘feast’ of veal cutlets and green cabbage. They surfaced at 7.15 in the evening, German time (one hour ahead of British time), and prepared for action, getting the torpedoes ready for reloading and setting charges so that the boat could be blown up if it fell into enemy hands.

Prien headed into Holm Sound but was shocked that it was ‘disgustingly light’ due to the Aurora Borealis. At one stage he mistook the blockship in Skerry Sound for the one in Kirk Sound and nearly went the wrong way. But the navigator used dead reckoning to correct the course. The submarine turned sharply to starboard and headed north, then turned west into the ill-defended Kirk Sound. Prien was well prepared for the passage and went through with ‘unbelievable speed’, scraping against the cable of one of the blockships as the submarine swung violently to and fro in the currents.

Inside the Flow, Prien headed west to look around for warships. There was nothing south of Cava so he turned north to see what he believed were two capital ships, one of the Royal Oak class and the battlecruiser Repulse. In fact the second ship was the aircraft transport Pegasus, formerly the Ark Royal, an early seaplane carrier of the First World War. Prien fired one torpedo at the supposed Repulse and two at the Royal Oak. Only one struck home.

Around midnight Commander Renshaw, the engineer officer of the Royal Oak, was in his bunk when he was awakened by a violent explosion below him in the after part of the ship:

Turned out and pulled on a few clothes and hurried to the Admiral’s lobby. Saw R. A. 2 [Rear-Admiral H. E. C. Balgrove, Second Battle Squadron]. He said ‘That it came from directly below us. Locate what it is, Engineer Commander.’ I said ‘I agree Sir,’ I then opened up W. T. [watertight] door to Tiller Flat. Ordered Mr Dunstons, Warrant Engineer who had arrived to open sliding door cautiously, fully expecting to find compartment flooded. I descended into Tiller Flat, searched, found all in order and came out of it again shutting sliding and W.T. door.

Renshaw searched other parts of the ship on the captain’s instructions and found nothing. He was beginning to think it was an internal CO2 explosion. But in the meantime U-47 got ready for a second attack:

Torpedo fired from stern; in the bow two tubes are loaded; three torpedoes from the bow. After three tense minutes comes the detonations on the nearer ship. There is a loud explosion, roar, and rumbling. Then come columns of water, followed by columns of fire and splinters fly through the air. The harbour springs to life. Destroyers are lit up, signalling starts on every side, and on land 200 metres away from me the cars roar along the roads. A battleship has been sunk, a second damaged, and three other torpedoes have gone to blazes. All the tubes are empty. I decide to withdraw.

On board the Royal Oak, as Renshaw reported,

. . .  A second terrific explosion shook ship which immediately began to list to starboard. At intervals of a few seconds, a 3rd and 4th explosion shook ship and list rapidly increased and lights failed. Heard Captain say he was going up to forecastle and followed him up Forward Hatch with a number of others. Made my way aft along Port side to Quarter Deck with list increasing the whole time. Someone, I think a Warrant Officer said to me ‘What is to be done now’ I said “Nothing can save her now.’ R.A.2 emerged from darkness and said ‘What caused those explosions do you think?’ I said ‘Torpedoes, Sir.’ He said ‘My God’, turned away and walked forward. I did not see him again.

Many seamen slept through the first explosion but could not ignore the others. Leading Seaman Green was on watch on the starboard side of the flag deck when he heard the second explosion and saw a column of water alongside the forecastle, followed by more alongside the bridge. On the marines’ messdeck a big yellow flash came through the starboard door and all the hammocks caught fire. The man in the hammock next to Marine A. R. Jordan jumped out but went straight on down, for there was no deck for him to land on.14 Other survivors had equally horrific experiences as the ship turned over:

As he went, half blown, half running, it was hard to keep upright. With all dark below, the ship had begun to heel slowly and remorselessly over to starboard. It was hard to find the doors, still harder to open them, because they were no longer vertical. Several times, Wilson found himself across the diagonal of a door before he had reached out to open it. The ship was really turning now, and he knew he had a long way to go. His goal was a ladder by the galley, leading to the upper deck. About forty men were struggling round it, milling, shouting, cursing, unable to see what they were doing . . .

Also in the scrum was Batterbury. The second explosion had sent him running from forward to his chums in the mess, which was near the ladder. He had only a hundred yards to go, but some of the watertight doors were closed for damage-control purposes and others were slamming to with the heel of the ship; it was impossible to go in a straight line.

A door slammed behind him, crushing the head of a man who was trying to get through it. Batterbury saw his eyes and tongue sticking out, then came the sound of the third explosion, and the lights failed. He ran on. The anti-flash curtains in the battery aft were aflame and people were pouring up from the stokers’ messdeck below, ‘hollering and howling about men being on fire down there’. This new scrum of men, many of them dazed with horror, scrambled for the ladder. It was, said Batterbury dryly, ‘survival of the fittest’. The fear of being trapped inside the heeling ship was overwhelming. Batterbury himself was frantic to get a foot on the ladder.

Meanwhile U-47 was retreating through Kirk Sound.

It is now low tide, the current is against us. Engines at slow speed and dead slow, I attempt to get away  . . . Course 058, slow. I make no progress. At high [speed] I pass the southern blockship with nothing to spare. The helmsman does magnificently. High speed ahead both, finally three-quarters speed and full ahead all out. Free of the blockships – ahead a mole! Hard over and again about, and at 02.15 we are once more outside.

The life-saving arrangements on the Royal Oak were inadequate, as her captain had recognised before the sinking. The boats and rafts were insufficient to accommodate the whole crew and could not be launched quickly in an emergency, while requests for life-jackets for all the men had been lost in the Admiralty machine. The hero of the episode was Richard Gatt, skipper of the drifter Daisy II which was alongside the Royal Oak at the time. He backed his boat away from the sinking ship and then lit a gas lamp to alert the men in the water. About 250 were picked up. Boats from the Pegasus, anchored about half a mile away, were launched as soon as the alarm was raised, and went over to the scene, but the base at Lyness was too far away to send help in time. Most of the survivors were taken on board the Pegasus. In all, 833 officers and men were lost out of a total of 1,400.

A court of inquiry concluded that the Royal Oak had indeed been sunk by torpedoes fired by a submarine and there was no evidence of any other form of attack, though conspiracy theories involving sabotage have always surrounded the sinking. The inquiry noted that any of the seven entrances to the Flow was possible, though Switha Sound and Water Sound were extremely unlikely. For example, a U-boat might have entered by

Passing through the gap in the Flotta end of the Hoxa boom on the surface or trimmed down. This gap is [blank] wide with a least depth of water of 15 ft at High Water and considerably more over the greater part. There was no lookout on shore at the gap. One drifter was patrolling the whole entrance which is 1½ miles wide. Approaching this gap would take the submarine within 5 cables of the battery on Stanger Head.

Another possibility was ‘Passing through the opening of Kirk Sound south of S.S. “Thames” on the surface: this opening is 400 feet wide with a depth of 4 to 4½ fathoms at Low Water. There is another opening about 200 feet wide with a depth of 15 feet or more at High Water.’ It was conjectured that ‘in many respects Kirk Sound would present the least difficulty.’ The inquiry identified nine possible gaps in the defences and much needed to be done if Scapa Flow was ever to be safe again.

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When the sirens sounded over the Forth on the afternoon of Monday 16 October, two days after the sinking of the Royal Oak, it was not a false alarm. Nine Junkers 88s of the Luftwaffe were under orders to attack the great battlecruiser HMS Hood, which they knew had travelled up the east coast to the firth. But the Hood had already gone into dock at Rosyth and the raiders were instructed not to attack targets ashore, for fear of civilian casualties. Instead they bombed two cruisers, the Southampton and Edinburgh, and the destroyer Mohawk, killing fifteen men in the Edinburgh. The local squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, 602 and 603, were already on patrol and shot down two of the Junkers, after mistakenly firing on an RAF Anson. This was the first raid of the war on British territory, and the two Junkers were the first enemy aircraft to fall on British soil. The following day there were raids on Scapa Flow, though the fleet had moved to Loch Ewe by now. The Iron Duke was damaged by a near miss and beached. She was to remain in this state for the rest of the war, still serving as a depot ship.

The wide estuary of the Forth remained a tempting target for bombers, as it had been for U-boats in the previous war. In November, when the Germans first used their ‘secret weapon’, the magnetic mine, they were dropped by aircraft in the Forth and the Thames and the new cruiser HMS Belfast was blown up on the way out of the Forth on the 21st and spent more than two years under repair. It had been put in place by U-31. On 9 February 1940 the Luftwaffe lost two Heinkel 111s, the first in the sea off Peterhead and the second near North Berwick. On 16 March Scapa Flow was raided by fifteen aircraft and some bombs were dropped on land; Mr James Isbister of Bridge of Waithe ran out of his house to help a neighbour but was killed outright by a bomb – the first civilian casualty of an air raid in Britain in the war. A newspaper report of April 1940 suggested that 13 out of 25 bombing raids on Britain had been aimed at Scotland, and 28 out of 47 reconnaissance flights.

If anyone thought this was the shape of things to come, they were wrong. Eventually London was bombed, but the Forth saw very little of the Luftwaffe after the spring of 1940. It was early in 1940 before the first RAF fighters arrived at Scapa and by March three fighter squadrons were operating from the air stations at Wick and Hatston, and Fleet Air Arm squadrons, albeit with obsolete aircraft, were allocated to the air defence. Subsequent German raids on Orkney suffered quite heavy losses. The attack on the Flow intensified in April because the Germans, preparing for a campaign in Norway, had particular reasons to neutralise the Home Fleet. On 8 April a force of sixty bombers arrived, but were driven off by more than 1,700 rounds fired by anti-aircraft guns, while three bombers were shot down by fighters. They attacked again on the 10th and six German aircraft were lost, including one which crashed on landing at its base. There was a half-hearted raid on the 25th but the attack was not pressed home and the only casualty was one chicken. Scapa was no longer an easy target for the Luftwaffe, and by now their attention was diverted fully to Norway.