Japanese Bombing of Darwin

On February 19, 1942, the war-crowded northern Australian harbor of Port Darwin was struck by 198 Japanese bombers. This coordinated land and naval-based air strike surprised the ill-prepared defenders and devastated the port and the shipping concentrated within its harbor. Arriving in two waves, the forty-five minute attack sank eight ships, ran four aground, and severely damaged another eleven. More than 240 people were killed, mostly aboard the ships. Two more ships were destroyed as the planes transited home. They also struck the nearby Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base, destroying all the aircraft on the ground and downing all but one of the Australian fighters in the air. A follow-up raid finished off the base and inflicted so much wanton destruction that its military personnel fled to the south in panic. Total Japanese losses were only two aircraft. Darwin and its surrounding area endured more than a dozen air raids over the next fifteen months, but none would be as devastating as this first raid nor even approach its psychological impact.

Darwin’s defenses had been neglected during the prewar period, but the most glaring deficiency in the port s defenses was the almost total lack of cooperation among the agencies involved. The resident administrator, Charles Abbott, aloof and ineffectual, had antagonized the local population, including the civil defense and military leaders. Lacking the cooperation of the local population, he had failed to evacuate nonessential personnel, organize the civil defense organization, or establish communications with local military leaders. For their part, the local unions openly thwarted Abbott’s authority, and the civil defense officials blatantly ignored him when he did attempt to organize matters. The local military leaders also made their preparations separately. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) had established a potentially effective system for protecting shipping offshore and in the port but had not established communications with the RAAF’s warning network. Thus, RAN forces could neither receive early warning of attack nor coordinate their activities with the air force. The RAAF’s only radar set in the area was inoperable on February 19. Moreover, the air force had a policy of withholding air warning until incoming aircraft were indisputably identified as Japanese, which meant that the bombs were practically falling before air-raid alarms could be issued. None of the defense agencies had practiced together or conducted an air-raid drill since the early weeks of December. That left them ill-prepared and confused as the attack developed. Finally, a series of false alarms had worn down local morale, undermined alertness, and led to the RAAF’s tightening its already stringent identification procedures.

Darwin had become a target because of its importance as an Allied forward base and logistics center. It was the only significant port in northern Australia and the only one from which the Allies could support their forces in Java and the southwest Pacific. The Imperial Japanese Navy staff had argued that Australia had to be seized, but the army had resisted, indicating that the continent required more troops to subdue and garrison than Japan had to expend. So Australia’s northern ports had to be neutralized instead, and the islands above it had to be seized as a buffer to prevent Allied counterstrokes against Japan’s intended “inner perimeter” of vital islands and resource centers. Destroying Darwin was the first step in that process and offered the additional advantage of diverting Allied resources to Australia’s defense and away from the fighting in Southeast Asia.

The air strike was planned and led by the same team, Commanders Genda and Fuchida, that had struck Pearl Harbor in Hawaii some two months earlier, using roughly the same methods and enjoying roughly the same results for roughly the same reasons (but the garrison at Darwin did not have the excuse that defenders had no idea they were at war). As far as the Japanese were concerned, the Allies were slow learners, particularly in light of the quite similar near-obliteration of U.S. air power in the Philippines by the Japanese raid on Clark Air Field. But in the Darwin strike the sea-based air wing was supported by a land-based element operating out of the recently captured airfields in the Dutch East Indies. The carrier-based aircraft would strike first, taking out the port, its shipping, and its defenses. They were escorted by thirty-six Zeros— arguably the best fighter aircraft in the Pacific at that time. The land-based horizontal bombers would then launch the second-phase attack, taking out the airfields and supporting facilities. The Japanese hoped to catch the Allied fighters on the ground, being serviced after the first raid. The plan succeeded beyond their fondest hopes.

The carrier aircraft took off at 8:45 A.M. and formed up for their one-hour flight to Darwin. Interestingly, both the carrier- and land-based aircraft were detected and reported by Australian coastwatchers some thirty minutes before they arrived over Darwin (again like the Pearl Harbor raid). Also, the carrier aircraft had struck an Allied convoy north of Darwin the previous day, and its surviving elements had sought refuge in the port. Although the convoy commander expected the Japanese to finish them off in Darwin, he never passed this assessment on to local officials. Instead, he despatched two destroyers and an oiler to refuel east of Darwin, and he placed his crews on alert. Coastwatchers’ reports were ignored pending further verification, and authorities ashore remained unaware of the convoy commander’s assessment. As a result, the raiders arrived unexpectedly and uncontested.

The ferocity and effectiveness of the Japanese attack stunned Australian authorities, but in the long run the surprise may have served them better than it did the Japanese (again as at Pearl Harbor), for it energized the Australians into action. No longer were civil defense officials ignored, Air-raid drills began in earnest throughout the country. Nonessential personnel departed Darwin willingly—indeed, enthusiastically (the exodus was sometimes termed “the Darwin Races”)—and a new, more effective administrator was appointed. A royal commission was formed to study what went wrong, and despite the obstruction and outright falsification of records by local authorities, the commission discovered the problems and made some specific recommendations to prevent similar disasters in the future. The local RAAF commander was replaced, the services were forced to establish a common air-defense reporting network, and warning procedures were liberalized to ensure earlier response. Now false alarms were preferable to further surprises. Although the Japanese continued their sporadic attacks against Port Darwin over the next fifteen months, as time went by the raids inflicted significantly less damage and led to higher losses for the Japanese.

FURTHER READINGS

Connaughton, Richard. Shrouded Secrets (1994).

Hall, Timothy. Darwin: Australia’s Darkest Hour (1980).

Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. The Air War 1939–1945 (1985).

LINK

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GAZ-2975 “Tiger” or Russian Tigr Part I

The GAZ `Tigr’ or `Tiger’ is a Russian 4×4, All-Terrain Infantry Mobility Vehicle manufactured by GAZ, first delivered to the Soviet Army in 2006. Primarily used by the Russian Federation’s armed forces, it is also used by numerous other countries. The Tiger was first shown at the IDEX exhibition in 2001, and production started in 2004 with ninety-six vehicles. The Russian Army officially adopted the GAZ- 2975 into service at the end of 2006 and was then officially manufactured in 2007. China co-produced the GAZ Tiger with Russia after it initially refused to grant them a full license. 110 Tigers were delivered from 2008-2010 and are in service with the Chinese Public Security Police. Some saw use publicly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in the 2009 Xinjiang riots. Five Tigers, fully assembled, were delivered with five more in kit form for assembly while 100 were assembled in China under Beijing Yanjing Motor Company. Yanjing Motor-made vehicles are known as YJ2080C and YJ2081C, the difference with the engine installed and the weight.

During the 2010 Interpolitex exhibition, MIC presented the upgraded version of GAZ Tiger-the VPK-233114 Tiger-M-with a new YaMZ-534 diesel engine, additional armour and an NBC protection system. This new GAZ Tiger-M entered service with the Russian army during the irst half of the 2013. Mass production and the export version have already been launched with a 205hp engine. Tiger armoured cars were reported to be among the AFV’s deployed by Russia in the Crimean crisis. They seemed to belong to the Russian Naval Infantry, but that combat arm had not been previously identified as a Tiger user, suggesting that the examples spotted near Sevastopol on the night of February 28, 2014, were vehicles transferred or on loan from their primary military user, the Russian Army. In early March 2015, OSCE inspectors spotted `a camoulaged GAZ Tiger-type armoured personnel carrier guarding a DPR Checkpoint, close to the village Shyrokyne east of Mariupol, and since 2015, Tiger vehicles have been used by the Syrian Army in fight with opposition and extremist groups.

In January 2017, Tiger-Ms entered service with the Russian Army mounting the Arbalet- DM remote weapon station (RWS). This can hold a Kord 12. mm machine gun carrying 150 rounds of ammunition or a PKTM 7.62mm machine gun carrying 250 rounds. The module has TV and thermal imaging cameras allowing target identification out to 2.5km and 1.5km respectively, an integral laser rangefinder, and the ability to lock on and track targets. The vehicle was designed to transport troops and various equipment quickly on road and of-road. It has a chassis frame construction, with a traditional layout of front engine, middle crew compartment, and rear cargo area. Standard features include: power steering, independent all- wheel torsion suspension with hydraulic shock absorbers and stabiliser bars, a transfer case with a locking centre differential, limited slip differentials, two-speed transfer case, automatic tire inflation, engine block heater, and electric winch. The GAZ-233001 has optional air conditioning, stereo, electric windows, and an anti-lock braking system. Armoured versions of the Tiger feature 5mm or 7mm for the SPM-2, heat-treated and stress-relieved armour plates. The Tiger can also carry a half ton of cargo. In 2011, the Tula Instrument Design Bureau demonstrated an upgraded Kornet-EM anti-tank missile system. Two such units were mounted on a modified chassis of the SPM-2 Tiger. The machine is equipped with two retractable launchers for eight missiles and gunnery equipment (remote weapons control with screens to display images from the sighting systems), as well as eight additional missiles. Designed for performance in mountain, arctic, and desert environments, the Tiger is capable of operating at ambient temperatures ranging from -14-50 °C (7-122 °F).

GAZ Tigr

GAZ Tigr (Tiger)

Tigr GAZ-2330 light armored vehicle personnel carrier

South Korea Sends Its Forces Into The Strait Of Hormuz After Iran Seizes Tanker

By Thomas Newdick and Joseph Trevithick January 4, 2021

Iran has been demanding South Korea release frozen assets and the seizure also comes amid a flurry of Iranian threats aimed at the United States.

The South Korea’s government says it has dispatched military forces into the strategic Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, seized a South Korean-flagged tanker ship earlier today. Officials in Seoul are also demanding the immediate release of the vessel, which Iranian authorities say they detained over alleged maritime pollution.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued the statement regarding the chemical tanker MT Hankuk Chemi on Jan. 4, 2021. The vessel, which Iran says is carrying 7,200 tons of “oil-based chemicals,” had been traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates when the IRGC took control of it at around 10:00 AM local time. Official pictures of the operation show multiple small Iranian boats swarming the commercial ship, which is now anchored near the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The entire crew, 20 individuals in total, including 5 Korean nationals, 11 sailors from Myanmar, two Indonesians, and two Vietnamese, has also reportedly been arrested.

The IRGC said that it had seized the ship, which has a gross tonnage of 9,797 tons, after receiving a request from the country’s Ports and Maritime Organization, which was acting on a warrant issued by the coastal Hormozgan province’s prosecutor’s office. Hormozgan is situated along the Strait of Hormuz.

The incident was further confirmed by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) body, which monitors maritime security in the region. “As a consequence of this interaction, the vessel made an alteration of course north and proceeded into Iranian territorial waters,” it said in a statement.

The Hankuk Chemi’s South Korean-based operator, DM Shipping, has denied the ship violated any environmental protocols.

It’s unclear what forces South Korea has now sent the area and what actions they may be authorized to take. In January 2020, South Korean officials announced that they would expand their Cheonghae military unit, which has previously been focused on anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden in cooperation with the U.S. Navy-led Combined Task Force 151, to also cover operations in and around the Strait of Hormuz. South Korean Navy destroyers make rotational deployments in support of the Cheonghae unit, and form the core of that force, but it is unclear which of the country’s warships is in the region now.

The South Korean military is not technically part of the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct, which was established in 2019 specifically to patrol in and around the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere in the Middle East and monitor Iranian activities.

This is certainly not the first time the Iranians have seized a foreign-flagged tanker in the region. In July 2019, the IRGC notably took control of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, officially over allegedly breaking maritime rules. On the same day, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also briefly detailed the Liberian-flagged tanker Mesdar, which is owned by a British company. Iranian officials later claimed they had only stopped that ship to inform the crew of environmental and other maritime regulations.

The seizure of the Stena Impero was seen as direct retaliation for British authorities in Gibraltar detaining an Iranian tanker, then named Grace 1, earlier in that year. The U.K. government released Grace 1 in August 2019 and Iran let Stena Impero go the following month.

This latest incident comes as Iran and South Korea are currently at loggerheads over the status of Iranian funds worth $7 billion that are frozen in South Korean banks due to sanctions imposed by the United States. South Korea’s deputy foreign minister was reportedly planning to visit Tehran soon to discuss Iranian demand for the release of the funds.

It’s also worth noting that South Korea, one of the world’s top 10 oil importers, had been a major customer of Iran’s before agreeing to halt those purchases in May 2020 under pressure from the U.S. government. The IRGC detaining the Hankuk Chemi could offer a way to put pressure on both countries simultaneously, or even seek to drive something of a wedge between them, especially over the issue of sanctions.

The incident comes amid a surge in geopolitical friction between Iran and the United States. On Jan. 3, the Pentagon announced that the supercarrier USS Nimitz would return to Middle Eastern waters in response to threats from Iranian officials, including some directed specifically at President Donald Turmp, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the U.S. military’s killing of IRGC General Qassem Soleimani. An American drone strike killed Soleimani, then-head of the Quds Force, the IRGC’s external operations arm, in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2020.

Trump himself reportedly directed Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller to order the carrier back to the Middle East. Just days earlier, Miller had announced that the Nimitz, which had been sailing in the Indian Ocean in support of the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, would be heading home after a particularly lengthy deployment. That move was also said to be aimed to be a de-escalatory move after weeks of signaling to the regime in Tehran in the form of multiple long-range B-52 bomber sorties and the extremely rare public transit of the Ohio class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait of Hormuz.

The U.S. intelligence community has reportedly seen a recent increase in the alert posture among Iranian military units, including air defense and maritime elements. However, it is unclear whether or not this in preparation to respond to any American retaliation to an attack from Iran or its regional proxies or if this is a reaction to threats from the U.S. government, real or otherwise.

Iranian-backed militant groups throughout the Middle East have issued their own calls for justice and revenge while commemorating the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. In Iraq, in particular, militias that Tehran supports have stepped up rocket and other attacks aimed at U.S. interests in that country in recent weeks.

There is also the matter of Iran resuming enriching uranium at up to 20% purity, reducing the time it would take for the regime in Tehran to produce weapons-grade level material for use in a weapon, should it choose to do so. The enrichment work is being carried out at Fordo, in a site buried within a mountain, which provides significant protection from aerial attack.

This is in clear violation of the controversial international deal that Iran made with the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, in 2015. In May 2018, Trump announced that the U.S government would pull out of that agreement and the U.S. government subsequently reimposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran informed the United Nations about the uranium enrichment last week, after a parliamentary decision in response to the killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The details of this assassination, which Iran has blamed on Israel and claimed involved a gun in either a remote-controlled or entirely automated mount on a pickup truck, is something The War Zone has discussed in detail in the past.

Iran actions with regards to its nuclear program, as well as other activities, such as the seizure of the Hankuk Chemi, could be part of an effort to prepare the ground for the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has indicated that it would be willing to rejoin the nuclear deal. The Biden offering has been billed as a “compliance for compliance” deal, which would see economic sanctions on Tehran lifted if the country accepted the restrictions outlined in the original deal, including uranium enrichment.

No matter what the IRGC’s exact reasons for seizing the Hankuk Chemi may have been, and how it might be intertwined with the large geopolitical picture, this incident, as well as South Korea’s immediate response to move military forces into the area, underscores just how complex and potentially dangerous the situation in the region is at present.

UPDATE: 6:15 PM EST

The U.S. State Department, in a statement to South Korean news outlet Yonhap, has now also called for the immediate release of the Hankuk Chemi.

“The United States is tracking reports that the Iranian regime has detained a Republic of Korea-flagged tanker,” a State Department spokesperson said, using South Korea’s official name. “The regime continues to threaten navigational rights and freedoms in the Persian Gulf as part of a clear attempt to extort the international community into relieving the pressure of sanctions. We join the Republic of Korea’s call for Iran to immediately release the tanker.”

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) also told ABC News that it was monitoring the situation.

Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet

As is often the case, wartime accelerates the development of new technology, and World War II was no exception. For Germany, this took the form of the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, the first operational rocketplane in human history. Like its immediate predecessor the He 176, it used liquid propellants in a Walter rocket engine. The Me 163 set a world airspeed record in 1941 of 1004.5 km/h. The Komet played the role filled in later years by the surface-to-air missile. It would take off with the help of a wheeled dolly that remained on the ground, make a steep ascent to high altitude, and level off in preparation for a high-speed attack run on American or British bomber formations. Within 8 min, all propellants would be gone, turning the Komet into a glider. At this point, the pilot had to set up the correct glide path, find his home airfield, and land by means of a single tail wheel and extendable skid. As a combat aircraft, the Me 163 had the dubious distinction of killing more of its own pilots than the enemy, typically during landing. But as a rocketplane it earned its place in history. It was the first rocket-powered airplane to be used operationally, officially entering service for the Luftwaffe in 1944. Although other flying test beds had been fitted with rocket motors prior to the Me 163, this was the first time a rocket-powered aircraft had been designed for regular operational use.

The Luftwaffe experimented with other jet designs, as well as the ultraradical tailless flyingwing, the Me 163, which used a liquid-fueled rocket motor instead of an air-breathing jet engine. The Me 163 could fly at nearly 600 miles per hour and quickly climb above bomber formations, then attack from above-the ideal approach against bombers.

A training unit was formed in late 1942, well before the first powered flight, operating from Peenemünde airfield. The first operational missions of the Me 163B were in May 1944, but its short range and low reliability did not allow actual engagements until August. The Me 163Bs never became a significant threat, although 279 Komets were delivered before the end of the war.

Ten Me 163A training gliders were completed by the Wolf Hirth-Werke and the trials programme continued with these and with about thirty Me 163B-0 aircraft, which were allocated V (experimental) numbers. The training programme was under the direction of Wolfgang Späte and Rudolf Opitz, the former a fighter ace with seventy-two victories. In September 1942, after many delays, the rocket motor that was to power the Me 163B became available; this was the Walter 109-509A-1, which continued to use T-Stoff but switched from Z-Stoff to C-Stoff (hydrazine hydrate, methyl alcohol and water).

The programme entered a new phase early in 1943, when some Me 163Bs were fitted with two 20 mm MG 151 cannon and, redesignated Me 163Ba-1, were assigned to an operational evaluation unit called Erprobungskommando 16 (EK 16) under the command of Major Wolfgang Späte. On 18 August 1943, following a massive night attack in which much of Peenemünde was obliterated by the RAF, EK 16’s aircraft were evacuated to Anklam, about 20 miles to the south, the Me 163s being towed by Bf 110s. From there the unit redeployed to Bad Zwischenahn, which was to be its principal training establishment.

Meanwhile, Späte had been recruiting a nucleus of experienced pilots. One of them was Leutnant Mano Ziegler, who had been flying Bf 109Gs on hazardous Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) missions against the RAF’s night bombers. Ziegler arrived at Bad Zwischenahn to begin his training, first on gliders. Ziegler described his training:

To simulate the high approach speed of the Me 163, which came in at between 100 and 130 mph, we used a number of Habicht (Hawk) sailplanes, which had had their wing spans reduced to 19 ft 6 in. Later, the wing span of these Habicht sailplanes was further reduced to 13 ft, by which time they had been dubbed the Stummel-Habicht (Stump-Hawk). Towed aloft by a Bf 110, the Stummel-Habicht was released and dived towards the airfield at about 125 mph, side-slipping on to the ground. After several weeks we were all adept at the art of making a fast, power-off landing.

During this flight training, we were given theoretical instruction in the Me 163. There was much to learn, particularly concerning the highly volatile fuels. Soon my head was spinning with formulae and figures, and I was more than aware of the lethal nature of T-Stoff and C-Stoff, some 4400 lb of which were to be housed in the Me 163B’s tanks… The slightest fracture in a fuel pipe and both pilot and aircraft would disintegrate in the subsequent blast. One of our technical instructors gave a graphic demonstration of what could happen by pouring a thimbleful of C-Stoff into a similar quantity of T-Stoff. A searing flame shot several yards across the room – a happy augury for the future…

None of us pilots had anticipated the necessity for training which, to us, seemed more suited for engineers and analytical chemists, and, as day after day passed, our impatience grew. At last, the day before our introduction to the Me 163A arrived. For the last time we operated the rocket motors on the test rigs, and the CO ordered us to assemble for a final briefing. He made no bones about the dangers that lay ahead; he stressed the vital importance of guarding against any irregularities in take-off or touchdown; a slight swerve during take-off, premature jettisoning of the undercarriage, any negative acceleration, and we would be sent back to our relatives in matchboxes!

Landing, he pointed out, was the most dangerous phase of a flight in the rocket fighter. We had to caress the runway with our Me 163 as tenderly as a lover’s kiss…

What could happen to an Me 163 pilot in an accident was illustrated in gruesome fashion a while later, when Oberleutnant Josef Pöhs lost his life. He was killed when, on take-off, the jettisonable trolley rebounded and struck the aircraft, cutting the T-Stoff fuel lines. The aircraft crashed and, although there was no fire, the hapless pilot, trapped in his cockpit, was literally dissolved alive when the T-Stoff tank ruptured and showered him with fuel.

Ziegler described what it was like to make a powered flight in the Me 163.

Thumbs up! With a whistling the turbine in the fuel pump started revolving: the whistle became a whine, the whine a howl. I glanced at the rev counter. All correct. I signalled to the mechanic to switch off. I freed the throttle and waited for the detonation of the blending fuels.

Bang! The first three nozzles had ignited. So far so good. The Komet was still at rest, two small blocks no more than two inches in height holding her steady until the desired thrust was attained. I glanced at the pressure indicator and threw the switch for the second stage. Two seconds later the third stage, and with a deafening roar the rocket motor opened up at full blast, the wheels jumped the tiny blocks and the machine was gathering speed down the runway. During the first two hundred yards of my take-off run I was preoccupied with the pressure indicator. The pressure in the rocket’s chamber had to be 340 lb/sq in, and it was vitally necessary to ensure that it did not drop below 256 lb/sq in. In such an eventuality I had to switch off the engine immediately and just hope for the best. Simultaneously, I had to ensure that my take-off run was perfectly straight, but this was not difficult once the Komet had reached speed.

The needle of the airspeed indicator flickered to the 190 mph mark and I felt the wheels leave the runway. I threw the switch jettisoning the undercarriage and my Komet lurched forward, the acceleration forcing me back into my seat. A hurried glance at the airspeed indicator – 435 mph – and I gently pulled on the stick, flashing upwards in a near vertical climb, the earth receding at a startling speed.

The exhilaration of that first climb is indescribable. For the first time I felt at one with this remarkable aircraft. The Walter rocket thundered away behind me, but its deafening roar did not reach my consciousness, and I gave no thought to those lethal T-Stoff tanks on either side of my seat, which could turn me into a ball of fire without a second’s warning. I was completely lost in the ecstasy of that seemingly endless climb. Above me stretched the wide violet canopy of the sky, and I felt completely detached from the earth below…

My Komet shuddered slightly and the rocket motor cut out. My fuel was exhausted and the drag was straining my body against the seat straps. I eased the throttle back to zero, levelled off, and reported to the control tower. I pushed the nose down slightly and now had some ten minutes of gliding flight available to examine the fighter’s behaviour. I trimmed the plane carefully and then pulled the stick back slowly to discover what would happen in a stall.

Virtually nothing happened. The airflow broke away, but the plane remained horizontal, dropping gently like an elevator. I pushed the stick forward, and immediately the speed began to build up. Port wing down, and I was in a steep dive, the airflow sounding like a hurricane against my canopy… by now the altimeter indicated some 25,000 feet, and at the speed of 560 mph that I had attained, my Mach number was 0.82, not much below the Komet’s limiting Mach number, so I pulled back on the stick before compressibility began to manifest itself. As the nose came up the fighter began to climb, and despite the lack of power, I had soon regained most of the altitude that I had lost in my dive…

1/JG 400

‘White 14’ – an Me 163B-1a of 1/JG 400, which operated from near Leipzig between July 1944 and April 1945, defending the Leuna-Merseburg refinery complex. Two Me 163B-las were handed over to a special Luftwaffe unit early in 1943 to allow pilot familiarisation to begin, though it was July before training actually commenced. The high landing speed of the ‘Komet’ (around 220km/h; 140mph) combined with the fact that the pilot was committed to it from the outset, having no power available to allow him to regain height for a second attempt, resulted in many accidents, most of them fatal. The first operational unit, equipped with Me 163B-la aircraft, with a pair of 30mm cannon in the wing roots and a considerable degree of armour protection for the pilot, began forming at Wittmundhaven in May 1944, and first went into action as 1/JG400 on 16 August. It scored its first success some days later, when Leutnant Hartmut Ryll downed a B-17 near Leipzig.

The Me 163B-1a fighters first flew operationally on 6 August 1944, 2 Me 163s reportedly claiming 3 P-51 Mustangs of the 352nd Fighter Group. JG 400 intercepted formations of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers for the first time on 16 August 1944. Leutnant Ryll engaged the B-17s but was shot down and killed by two P-51s of the 359th Fighter Group.

On 24 August 1944, Several B-17’s were attacked, with Fw. Schubert claiming two B-17s downed (another is claimed by other pilots). His wingman also downed a B-17. One Komet was shot down by bomber gunners.

On 11 September 7 aircraft attacked a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) bomber formation, and 3 B-17’s were claimed shot down. On 7 October two B-17s were claimed, but two more Komets were lost. By 24 September JG 400 had 11 serviceable Me 163s available, but was short of competent pilots to fly them. The Komets flew operationally on 5 days during the month, but highest number of rocket fighters involved was on 28 September, when 9 were committed. During the same month the two main factories producing the volatile fuel were seriously damaged in bombing raids, and the resulting shortage of fuel would hamper JG 400 for the rest of the war

Tactics were soon developed; typically to zoom through the bomber formations up to an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,000 m), and then to power-dive down through the formation again. This theoretically gave the pilot two chances to aim and fire a few bursts of 30mm cannon fire before gliding back towards the home airfield.

Allied fighter formations countered the Komet in several ways; the extremely short endurance was soon noted, and once in a glide the Komet was highly vulnerable to any escort fighter. Brandis was quickly identified as JG 400’s home airfield and strafing attacks curtailed operations.

Many other tactical issues faced the JG 400 pilots apart from the inherent instability of the aircraft and its fuel. It was found very difficult to aim and fire the guns accurately at such high approach speeds. A number of solutions were tried out, the most innovative being fitting a battery of six 50mm mortars, firing upwards. The mortars were fired by activation by a photocell in the upper surface of the aircraft. When the Komet flew under the bomber, the shadow of the aircraft above triggered the mortar rounds to be fired. Research suggests this arrangement was only used once in combat, reportedly destroying an Royal Air Force (RAF) Halifax bomber.

Although over 300 Me 163B’s were produced (including a few Me 163-Cs with increased fuel), only 9 confirmed air victories were credited to JG 400 by the end of the war, for 14 Komets lost from all causes ( mainly crashes and accidents).

1./JG 400 was disbanded at Brandis in April 1945, while II. Gruppe disbanded at Husum.

THE RUSSIAN OGRE

Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tauricheski (1739-1791)

The British Foreign Office had perhaps unrivalled powers of analysis and intelligence at the time – its detached view of the European theatre was the best anywhere on the continent. The trouble was that this calculated objectivity was always designed to lead to a single conclusion: to take any action short of war. This suited Pitt’s own preoccupations with domestic affairs, and in ordinary times was probably the right policy. However, the French Revolution had entirely reshaped the map of Europe to a much greater extent than anyone was aware of at the time.

The Foreign Office analysis, shared by Grenville although his suspicion of the French was much more pronounced than that of his subordinates, was more or less as follows: continental Europe was a patchwork, and an extraordinarily complex one at that, of a kind enormously satisfying to the largely classically educated minds running the Foreign Office. What was needed was to preserve the balance of power through an alliance here, a subsidy there, a nudge somewhere else. The British empire offered scope for bold and imaginative ventures. By contrast Europe was a mass of moving diplomatic pieces and a chessboard on which there were multiple players. Before, and all the more so immediately after, the French Revolution, complacency simply oozed from the diplomatic mandarins: the Revolution had brought low Britain’s greatest rival, a belated revenge for the French support of America in the War of Independence. This, in brief, was their view of the continental quilt.

Towards France, Britain’s oldest antagonist and rival, there was a scarcely disguised contempt. The country had been virtually bankrupted by the Seven Years’ War and then the American War: the events of 1789 appeared to have removed it as a player from the European stage. This was immensely agreeable to the British. Then there was another traditional enemy, Spain. This was in a state of seemingly unstoppable decline. Both of these maritime rivals were on the wane.

The real threats to European stability were at arms’ length: Russia, which was growing steadily more assertive under the initially anti-British court of Catherine the Great; and the newly emergent Prussia which, however, challenged the power of an old British enemy, Austria. Austria had long vied with Britain for control of the Low Countries and traditionally tended to side with France. Finally, Poland and Sweden were two smaller but at the same time somewhat assertive powers in their own right, while the Low Countries, the German states of central Europe, the Italian states and the Balkans were prizes to be argued over. The Ottoman empire in the east was also in decline.

The trouble with this complacent traditional analysis is that it took no account of two sea-changes now occurring: the first was the French Revolution itself; the second was the modernization of the rest of Europe. For Britain and France were not alone in being affected by the new political ideas after the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Liberalism and reaction were almost at war in Spain and Portugal; the Swedes, Prussians and Poles regarded themselves as newly modernizing societies. Catherine the Great and her ministers considered that they were at the forefront of an enlightened autocracy. Joseph II of Austria had just introduced sweeping reforms across his huge Habsburg possessions.

With commerce and trade spreading exponentially across the continent, all Europe was convulsed – as indeed France had been through the centralizing reforms of the French monarchy and the hostility they had aroused among the nobility. The British believed all they had to do was ensure freedom of commerce for British goods and for navigation; the rest could more or less look after itself. To understand how England blundered its recalcitrant and belated way into war in 1793, a quick look is necessary at the rather modest crisis which preceded it, before returning to continental Europe in which revolutionary France sprang up like a lion in a herd of gazelles.

Pre-revolutionary France, although always treated with a wary eye, was not seen as much of a threat to European peace immediately before the Revolution. By contrast, Russia and Prussia were the new troublemakers, and each was to play a part in the subsequent crisis. As Rosebery pithily wrote of the former:

If there is one point on which history repeats itself, it is this: that at certain fixed intervals the Russian Empire feels a need of expansion; that that necessity is usually gratified at the expense of the Turk; that the other Powers, or some of them, take alarm, and attempt measures for curtailing the operation, with much the same result that the process of pruning produces on a healthy young tree. One of these periods had occurred in 1791.

More than that was happening in Catherine the Great’s Russia. On 6 December 1788 her chief minister, Prince Potemkin, as part of a concerted strategy of Russian advances to the south, had won the greatest victory of his life in securing the huge fortress of Ochakov which controlled the mouths of the strategically crucial Dnieper and Bug rivers. With around 15,000 men, he had attacked in the early morning and slain some 10,000 Turks. As Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote of this strategic triumph:

The Turks were killed in such numbers and in such density that they fell in piles, over which the Comte De Damas [A French adventurer and cousin of Talleyrand who commanded one of Potemkin’s armies] and his men trampled, their legs sinking into bleeding bodies. ‘We found ourselves covered in gore and shattered brains’ – but inside the town. The bodies were so closely packed that Damas had to advance by stepping from body to body until his left foot slipped into a heap of gore, three of four corpses deep, and straight into the mouth of a wounded Turk underneath. The jaws clamped so hard on his heel that they tore away a piece of his boot.

There was so much plunder that soldiers captured handfuls of diamonds, pearls and gold that could be bought round the camp the next day for almost nothing. No one even bothered to steal silver. Potemkin saved an emerald the size of an egg for his Empress. ‘Turkish blood flowed like rivers,’ Russian soldiers sang as they marched into the next century. ‘And the Pasha fell to his knees before Potemkin.’

Massacres are easy to make and hard to clear up. There were so many Turkish bodies that they could not all be buried, even if the ground had been soft enough to do so. The cadavers were piled in carts and taken out to the Liman where they were dumped on the ice. Still moist with gore, they froze there into macabre blood-blackened pyramids. The Russian ladies took their sledges out on to the ice to admire them.

Over the following eleven months Potemkin captured most of the lower Danube and soon there was only the Turkish stronghold of Ismail in his way. This was assailed by 60,000 ‘ursomaniacs’ as the Prussians described the Russians. Ismail assumed the incarnadine horror of a Dantean hell. As the:

‘ursomaniacs’ screamed ‘Hurrah’ and ‘Catherine II’, and the Turks fell back, they were overtaken again by the lust for havoc, a fever of blood madness to kill everything they could find. ‘The most horrible carnage followed,’ Damas recalled, ‘the most unequalled butchery. It is no exaggeration to say that the gutters of the town were dyed with blood. Even women and children fell victims to the rage.’

These spectacular victories were not about to be abandoned by either Catherine or Potemkin easily. However, in later 1790, Pitt, flushed by a minor diplomatic success over a British ship seized by the Spanish, decided to rein in the Russian bear: this was urged upon him by Britain’s unstable treaty ally, Prussia, which was deeply concerned by Russian expansion. The usually cautious Pitt took on Catherine’s Russia, which had proved unco-operative over a settlement in central Germany as well as over trade. Angry at Britain’s alliance with Prussia, Catherine had established relations with the leader of the British opposition, Charles James Fox. The Russians may even have instigated Spain’s seizure of the ship.

Deploying a large fleet of thirty-six big ships to the Baltic, Pitt blatantly threatened Russia, saying that unless Ochakov was restored to the Turks Britain would attack with the aid of 80,000 Prussians, as well as Turks and Poles, with which Russia was already at war. It was an extraordinary threat and one for which the British public was wholly unprepared. Virtually no one had ever heard of Ochakov and most people preferred the Russians to the heathen Turks. A huge outcry against war exploded around the country, and Fox made a withering speech denouncing the whole enterprise. Although Pitt won parliamentary majorities, they were by smaller and smaller margins: his aide Grenville was implacably opposed to the whole misconceived idea. Finally Pitt was forced to revoke the Anglo-Prussian ultimatum – not knowing that Potemkin was trying to persuade Catherine to give way. According to Sebag Montefiore:

Catherine and Potemkin argued for days on end. Catherine wept. Potemkin raged. He bit his nails while the tumult hit Catherine in the bowels. By 22 March, Catherine was ill in bed with ‘spasms and strong colic’. Even when they rowed, they still behaved like an old husband and wife: Potemkin suggested she take medicine for her bowels but she insisted on relying ‘on nature’. The Prince kept up the pressure.

‘How can our recruits fight Englishmen?’ Potemkin asked theatrically. Then news came of the British climb-down, which intensely angered their Prussian allies. A bust of Fox was given a special place of honour in Catherine’s gallery. This diplomatic crisis had nearly caused Pitt’s fall after six years in office. It had been disastrously mishandled from the start.

Why had Pitt undertaken such a risk? The answer was not pressure from the Prussians, but the perception in Whitehall that Russia had become the dangerous man of Europe. Under the dazzling Potemkin and the devious Catherine, it had become a serious danger to European peace both in its own right and as an example, if its expansion went unchecked.

Russia had secured at Ochakov a presence in the Black Sea which would permit it to trade valuable timber and naval supplies, hitherto the prerogative of the British and north Europeans, with France and Spain. Russia was now constructing a port at Kherson and one at Akhtiar, now renamed Sebastopol. Potemkin established Ekaterinoslav (‘Catherine’s Glory’) in the empty steppe which by 1792 consisted of some 550 state buildings and just 2,500 inhabitants, and expanded Odessa.

It seemed that Potemkin’s next ambition was to partition Poland, or even turn it into a satellite to quash its ‘revolution’ – actually the installation of a hereditary monarchy. The possibility of a war between Russia and Prussia never seemed far distant. The Russians had also recently given King Gustavus of Sweden a bloody nose during his abortive war against them.

Catherine detested the French Revolution, which she regarded as a ‘poison’ and ‘a sickness of the mind’ – although there were at this stage no thoughts of intervention against it. But with Potemkin’s huge and lethal Cossack forces in the south and the substantial and militarized Russian army in the north – partly in imitation of the Prussian example – Russia was a force to be reckoned with.

The Russian army, uniquely in Europe, was made up not of mercenaries and impressed men, but of peasants recruited in huge conscription drives, often chained when they were taken away. They lived a spartan, wretched existence under sadistic aristocratic Russian officers or German and French mercenaries, but they were extremely tough, brave and devoted to their homeland. As the Comte de Langeron, a French officer who detested the beatings and forced marches from which around half the soldiers routinely died, wrote of the Russian soldier: ‘He combines all the qualities which go to make a good soldier and hero. He is as abstemious as the Spaniard, as enduring as a Bohemian, as full of national pride as an Englishman and as susceptible to impulse and inspiration as French, Walloons, or Hungarians.’

Catherine herself presided over one of the most glittering, wealthy, intellectually stimulating courts in Europe and was a captivating, benevolent ruler. She was no liberal: she drew up 500 articles or ‘Great Instructions’ which codified the laws of Russia according to some of the principles of Montesquieu. But she refused to abolish serfdom, for fear this would turn the aristocracy against her and upset the established order – although she convened a 500-delegate assembly to have an advisory role. It was this vibrant, aggressive country that Pitt perceived as the greater danger to European peace, not France. Napoleon much later was to conclude the same.

Film: We Were Soldiers (2002)

Synopsis

We Were Soldiers is an American war film that dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965, during the Vietnam War. Directed by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson, the film is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once … And Young (1992) by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.

Background

The Battle of Ia Drang (14–18 November 1965) was the first major set-piece battle between U.S. Army forces and regulars of the Vietnam People’s Army (PAVN) during the Vietnam War. The two-part battle took place at two adjacent landing zones (LZs) west of Plei Me in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. While being ferried to LZ X-Ray by Huey helicopters, the 450 men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry were attacked by a much larger force of PAVN. After two days and nights of heavy fighting (14–16 November 1965), the Americans were able to hold out and survive as a unit. On 17 November the North Vietnamese ambushed and obliterated the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry near LZ Albany. In the end, both sides suffered heavy casualties; the U.S. side had about 300 soldiers killed, and the North Vietnamese lost more than 1,000 men. Twenty-five years later, after a research trip to Vietnam with Lt. Gen Harold “Hal” Moore (USA-Ret.), the commander at LZ X-Ray, Joe Galloway (the only journalist present at the battle), published “Vietnam Story,” a detailed account in U.S. News & World Report that earned a 1990 National Magazine Award. Galloway and Moore expanded Galloway’s article into a book: We Were Soldiers Once … And Young: Ia Drang—The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam (1992). Published a year after the stunning success of “Operation Desert Storm”—when renewed pride in American military prowess made the public more receptive to the ideological rehabilitation of the Vietnam-era soldier—We Were Soldiers sold an astonishing 1.3 million copies. Randall Wallace, a former seminarian from Tennessee turned novelist/filmmaker, read the book and was captivated by it. He approached Moore and Galloway to option the film rights in the fall of 1993, which they sold to him in 1995, some months before the release of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, a property written by Wallace, which made him a Hollywood force to reckon with.

Production

Having written the screenplay, Randall Wallace co-produced We Were Soldiers (with Mel Gibson’s partners at Icon Entertainment, Bruce Davey and Stephen McEveety). Wallace also directed the film—his second directorial effort after The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)—and cast Mel Gibson, the star of Braveheart, to play Lt. Col. Moore. After Wallace had his key players meet their real-life counterparts, he put the cast through a Hollywood version of boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia. With cinematography by Dean Semler (an action movie specialist and frequent Mel Gibson collaborator), We Were Soldiers was shot between 5 March and 30 June 2001. The battle scenes were filmed at Fort Hunter Liggett, a 167,000-acre Army training reservation in Monterey County 150 miles south of San Francisco that doubled for South Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Training scenes were filmed at Fort Benning, and domestic scenes were shot in Pasadena.

Plot Summary

Prologue: during the final year of the First Indochina War (1954), Viet Minh forces ambush a French army unit on patrol and wipe it out. Cut to Fort Benning, 12 years later. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) is chosen to train and lead a newly created air cavalry battalion. Soon after arriving in Vietnam, Moore’s unit is ferried into the Ia Drang Valley by helicopters at a site that turns out to be the base camp for North Vietnamese Army units totaling some 3,000 men. After arriving in the area, a platoon of soldiers led by 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick (Marc Blucas) is ambushed. Herrick and several others are killed and the surviving platoon members are surrounded. Sgt. Ernie Savage (Ryan Hurst) takes over the command and utilizes the darkness to keep the Vietnamese from taking over their position. Meanwhile, helicopters constantly drop off reinforcements. On the second day of the battle, the outnumbered U.S. force keeps the enemy at bay using artillery, mortars, and helicopter airlifts of supplies and reinforcements. The PAVN commander, Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An (Duong Don), orders a large-scale attack on the American position. On the verge of being overrun by the enemy and with no options left, Moore orders 1st Lt. Charlie Hastings (Robert Bagnell), his Forward Air Controller, to call in “Broken Arrow” (an emergency call for all available combat aircraft to attack enemy positions, even those close to U.S. lines). The aircraft strafe, bomb, and napalm the enemy, killing many PAVN and Viet Cong troops. The second Vietnamese attack is stopped, and the surviving U.S. soldiers, led by Sgt. Savage, are brought to safety. Back in the United States, Hal Moore’s wife, Julia (Madeleine Stowe), has taken on a leadership role among the soldiers’ wives on base. Meanwhile, Moore’s unit organizes, stabilizes the area, and waits at the bottom of a hill. Lt. Col. An organizes a final siege on the American troops and sends most of his own to stage the assault. The Vietnamese get in position, but Hal Moore and his men go on the offensive, charging forward with fixed bayonets. Before the Vietnamese can fire, Major Bruce P. “Snake” Crandall (Greg Kinnear) and other men in helicopters gun down the Vietnamese. An is forced to evacuate his headquarters. With their objective reached, Moore and his men return to the LZ for pickup. The film ends with the revelation that the landing zone reverted to the North Vietnamese as soon as the American troops departed.

Reception

Made at an estimated cost of $75 million, We Were Soldiers did quite well at the box office: $78 million in domestic receipts and $36.5 million in foreign ticket sales for a total of $114.6 million—a healthy profit after promotion expenses. The critical response was, however, mixed. Many mainstream film reviewers lauded the movie’s graphic simulated realism, narrative coherence, and even-handed depiction of the soldiers on both sides of the fighting. However, some critics found We Were Soldiers clumsy and ideologically suspect, that is, rife with John Wayne–era war clichés and nationalistic righteousness obviously designed to revise the image of the Vietnam War in the popular imagination and glorify the U.S. soldier—while studiously avoiding any hint that the war was misguided or, worse yet, a catastrophic exercise of American imperialism. Indeed, the film’s right-wing pedigree was amply demonstrated when President George W. Bush held a private screening of We Were Soldiers at the White House on 26 February 2002 (three days before its national release). In attendance were Moore, Galloway, Wallace, Gibson, and other cast members, spouses, and studio executives, as were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In all the patriotic hoopla, no one seemed to notice the exquisite irony of the occasion. Whereas Moore, Galloway, and Powell were genuine Vietnam War veterans (“heroes,” if you will), hawkish ideologues Wallace, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld carefully avoided Vietnam, though all of them could have served.

Reel History Versus Real History

Although much of the relentless combat action depicted in the film is accurate in broad terms, the decisive, culminating bayonet charge led by Lt. Col. Moore is a total, absurd fabrication. In point of fact, the North Vietnamese broke off the engagement of their own accord but not before wiping out Moore’s sister battalion, the 2/7, at LZ Albany—a crushing American defeat expunged from the movie for obvious reasons. Historian Maurice Isserman plausibly suggests that the mythical bayonet charge in We Were Soldiers was meant to evoke Gettysburg (1993): “Actor Sam Elliott, who plays a tough and gravelly voiced master sergeant [Basil L. Plumley] in We Were Soldiers, had played a tough and gravelly voiced cavalry officer [Brigadier General John Buford] in the earlier film. As a casting choice, Elliot’s presence works at a subconscious level, and probably intentionally, to link the two films and the battles they depict in the audience’s mind” (Isserman, 2002). Isserman goes on to characterize We Were Soldiers as an “idealized, abstracted, and ultimately cynically manipulative fantasy of generic American heroism under fire.”

The Soviet Black Sea Navy

Black Sea Fleet Sinking 1918

On April 23, 1918 in the face of a threat of the Crimea seizure by the German troops the RSFSR Council of People’s Commissars (CPC) issued an order on relocation of the Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk. The Central Committee of the Black Sea Navy that was vested full power from early January 1918 decided to fulfill the order of RSFSR CPC. On April 29-30 Sevastopol was left by 2 battleships, 14 destroyers, 2 torpedo boats, 1 auxiliary cruiser and 10 patrol ships making the battle core of the fleet (in total about 3,500 men of the crew). On May 1-2 they joined in Novorossiysk. In Sevastopol the German troops seized old battleships, cruisers, submarines, some destroyers and other ships that were mostly inoperative. On May 11 the German Commander-in-chief in the East front laid down an ultimatum demanding from RSFSR CPC the return of ships to Sevastopol. In order to keep the Brest Peace Treaty in force RSFSR CPC had to agree and the People’s Committee on Foreign Affairs sent the respective notes on May 13 and June 9. However, not willing to give the ships to the enemies RSFSR CPC decided to sink them about which a respective order was given (the directive signed by V. I. Lenin on May 28). On June 18 the battleship “Svobodnaya Rossia” (“Free Russia”), 6 destroyers and 2 torpedo boats were sunk in the Novorossiysk Bay and one more destroyer was sunk on June 19 in Tuapse. Eight patrol boats were transported via railroad to Tsaritsyn and they made the core of the future Volga Navy. From December 12, 1917 to June 4, 1918 the Black Sea fleet was under command of Admiral M. P. Sablin.

Black Sea Shipbuilding Yard – in Nikolaev City (Ukraine)

In 1895, a Belgian joint-stock company commenced the building of a shipyard in Nikolaev, which was subsequently called “Society of Shipyards, Mechanical and Foundry Plants”. One of the oldest shipyards. The yard was officially commissioned on October 9, 1897 as “Naval” plant (translated from French, meaning “marine”). The plant was specialized in the manufacture of military ships and vessels, ship engines, mechanisms, boilers, ship equipment, canons and ship’s artillery turrets, railway cars, bridges, cranes. The yard had shops, slipways, piers and workshops with most advanced equipment at the time, and was the foremost plant for the building of steamship metal fleet on the Black Sea. The world’s first submarine mine-layer “Krab” (Crab) was built here, along with the main seaborne machinery of the ironclad battleship “Potemkin”. Alongside the main orders, the shipyard built barges, ship’s boilers, cranes, tram cars, steam engines, railway bridges. In 1925, the first Soviet tanker “Krasny Nikolaev” was laid down at the shipyard, in 1941, the construction of the ice-breakers “I. Stalin” and “Krasin” was completed. During the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the shipyard was evacuated and turned out products for the front. In 1949, the first postwar vessel-tanker “Kazbek” was laid down. Unique vessels, like the whaling bases “Sovetskaya Ukraina” and “Sovetskaya Rossiya”, vessels for scientific expeditions and research and fishing ships of the type of “Yu. M. Shokalsky”, “Akademik Knipovich” were built at the shipyard. At present, the shipyard is busy building dry-cargo vessels, large refrigerator trawlers, container carrying ships. Also, the shipyard manufactures the newest seaborne machinery and devices, pleasure craft, ship furniture. The ship is decorated with the Order of the Red Banner of Labor (1926), 2 Orders of Lenin (1949, 1977), Order of the October Revolution (1970).

(Ivanov) Filipp Sergeevich Oktyabrskiy (1899-1969)

Soviet Admiral

In December 1918 he volunteered to serve on the Baltic Fleet. From 1920 to 1938 he served on various ships of the Baltic and Pacific Fleet. In 1939-1943 he commanded the Black Sea Fleet. In July 1940 he participated in formation of the Danube Fleet. In 1941 he was conferred the rank of Rear Admiral. By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) due to his efforts the Black Sea Fleet was ready for the war and it was the first unit that met the enemies fully armed. During the war he was responsible for laying mines, formation of sea brigades, repair of ships and evacuation of the population. He organized the aircraft and ship attacks on the oil product warehouses in Romania. At approaching of the Germans he focused his efforts on defense of Odessa and later Sevastopol. In November 1941 he was appointed the commander of the Sevastopol defense region. Near Sevastopol he organized support of the land troops by the Fleet and took part in development of the Kerch-Feodosiya operation and commanded its realization. He ensured supply of Sevastopol and actions on enemy communications. After defeat of the troops of the Crimean Fleet in May 1942 he organized their transfer to the Taman Peninsula. On 1 July 1942 he left Sevastopol on the last plane as it was impossible to defend any further. He commanded the operations of the Black Sea Fleet from the command posts in the Caucasus. After the unsuccessful attempt of landing near Novorossiysk in February 1943 he was dismissed from the Black Sea Fleet. In 1943-1944 he commanded the Amur (River) Fleet. In 1944-1948 he was again appointed the commander of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1944 he was promoted to Admiral. He took part in development of the military campaign of 1944 on the Black Sea and operation on liberation of Crimea. He commanded the actions of the Black Sea Fleet and Danube Fleet during the Yassy-Kishenev operation. In 1946 he was appointed a member of the Supreme Military Council of the Armed Forces keeping the post of a Fleet commander. In December 1948 he became Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. In April 1952 he was appointed the Chief of the Navy Research Center. In 1954-1957 he retired. In 1957-1960 he was the director of the Black Sea Higher Naval School named after P. S. Nakhimov in Sevastopol. In September 1960 he was included into the group of general inspectors of the USSR Ministry of Defense. He was awarded many orders and the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Gorshkov Sergey Georgievich (1910-1988) – admiral of the USSR Navy.

In 1926 he became a nondegree student of the physical-mathematical faculty of the Leningrad University. In 1927 he entered the M. V. Frunze Naval School. After finishing in 1931 of this school he served as a navigator on a destroyer of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1932 he was transferred to the Pacific Fleet. In June 1939 he was appointed the Brigade Commander of the torpedo boat squadron of the Black Sea Navy. From 1940-the commander of the cruiser brigade of the Black Sea Navy. In 1941 he finished the courses for command staff advancement at the Naval Academy. He was promoted to first Rank Captain. Commanding the detachment of assault landing ships he showed bravery during the landing operation at Grigorievka near Odessa. In 1941 he was promoted to the Rear-Admiral. He took command during the Kerch-Feodosia operation and during evacuation of the troops of the Crimean front in 1942 he commanded the defense of the Kerch Strait. After loss of bases on the Sea of Azov he organized pullout of a part of military ships and transport ships with their cargo. Using the forces of the Azov Navy, Kerch and Novorossiysk naval bases he took part in defense of the Taman Peninsula until the ships left the Sea of Azov and the troops retreated for defense of Novorossiysk. He commanded the Novorossiysk defense and was the last to leave it. In 1943-1944 he commanded the Azov Navy for the second time. In spring 1943 he commanded some landing operations. Among the major naval operations there were landings in Mariupol, Osipenko and Temryuk; support from the sea of the forces of the North-Caucasian front during liberation of the Taman Peninsula and, at last, a major operation in November 1943 on landing of the Detached Maritime Army on the Kerch Peninsula and its support on the conquered base area. In 1943 during the Kerch-Eltigen operation he commanded the preparation and landing of the marine forces and then crossing to Crimea of the troops of the 56th Army. From April 20 to December 12, 1944 he commanded the Danube Fleet that supported the Soviet troops in their attack of German Army in Eastern Europe. He commanded the actions of the fleet during forced crossing of the Dniester mouth, and the liberation of Bulgaria and Romania. In September 1944 he was promoted to the Vice-Admiral. In 1944 he was successful commanding the fleet during the Belgrade and Budapest operations. From 1945 he commanded the squadron of the Black Sea Navy. From November 1948 he was the Chief of the naval staff, in 1951-1955-the commanded of the Black Sea Navy. In 1955 he was appointed the First Deputy Commanded-in-Chief and in 1956- Commander-in-Chief of the Navy and USSR Deputy Naval Minister. In 1967 he was awarded the rank of the Naval Admiral of the USSR. G. advocated development of submarine fleet and guided-missile ships. He was the author of such books as “Naval Might of the State” and “In the Southern Maritime Flange. Autumn- Spring 1941” describing the army and naval operations near the coasts of the Black and Azov seas. For the achievements in the Navy development he was conferred the USSR State Award (1980) and Lenin Award (1985); he was twice Hero of the Soviet Union (1965, 1982). He was awarded many orders and medals of the Soviet Union as well as medals of other states. In 1990 his name was given to heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser “Naval Admiral of the Soviet Union Gorshkov” (former “Baku).

Kerch-Feodosiya Operation

The landing operation of the troops of the Transcaucasus Front commanded by General D. T. Kozlov in Kerch and Feodosia on 26 December 1941-2 January 1942. The Soviet command planned to capture the Kerch Peninsula and then liberate Crimea occupied by the German Eleventh Army of General Erich von Manstein. As the main forces of Manstein were engaged in storming Sevastopol the Soviet troops (more than 40,000 people) on 26-31 December 1941 landed near Kerch and Feodosia. The troops were supported with 43 tanks and 1,802 horses. This was the largest landing operation during the Great Patriotic War. Despite the winter storm, shortage of special landing facilities and resistance of the Germans the landing troops using the element of surprise on 29 December seized Feodosia and continued their attack in the northern direction. Commander of the German 42nd Army Corps Hans Graf von Sponeck fearing that his detachments on the Kerch Peninsula (up to 25,000 people) could be cut off gave an order to leave Kerch and retreated (for this act he was subject to court-martial and put to prison). Having seized Feodosia the Soviet command acted rather cautious and irresolutely which enabled the Germans to retreat without any problems from the Kerch Peninsula and to organize defense on the Parpachaisky isthmus. With the beginning of the Kerch-Feodosiya Operation Manstein had to stop the assault of Sevastopol (on 31 December) and to transfer some of its forces against the landing troops. On 15 January Manstein troops made a counterattack and broke through the landing troops positions and on 18 January they seized Feodosia back. The Soviet troops retreated to the Ak-Monaisk isthmus.

Kerch Military Operation

This was an assault on 8-20 May 1942 of the forces of the Eleventh Germany Army commanded by General Erich von Manstein against the Soviet troops commanded by General D. T. Kozlov. The 300,000 grouping of the troops of the Crimean front on the Kerch Peninsula that nearly twice the German forces was preparing to lift the siege of Sevastopol and to liberate the Crimea. But Manstein in anticipation of these attacks, made a preventive strike on May 8. Having the greater number of forces in the south of the Crimean Front the Germans broke the Soviet defense, also the Germans landed in the rear of the Soviet troops, thus, disorganizing Soviet situation. In spite of its domination on the sea, the Black Sea Fleet did not provide the expected support to the defending land troops, so Manstein forces moved freely along the coast. After the Crimean Front all but disintegrated, the German tanks attacked further Russian defense positions. First the attacking units moved along the coast and then turned northward and reached the dislocation of the Soviet reserve forces and destroyed them. As a result, the basic Soviet grouping in the north of the Kerch Peninsula (47th and 51st armies) was cut off and forced to the bank of the Sivash Lake. The troops of the Crimean Front went out of control and retreated in chaos to the east. On 15 May the Germans captured Kerch. The Soviet troops numbering about 120,000 troops were evacuated to the Northern Caucasus. Those who did not manage to evacuate (about 18,000 troops) found shelter in the Adzhimushkay rock quarry (catacombs) where they heroically resisted the German attacks until late October 1942. The German victory “buried” the Soviet plan of Crimea liberation and, in fact, decided the fate of Sevastopol. The success of the Germans in battle at Kerch in 1942 had opened the way to new victories, which could be attributed to low competence of the commanding staff of the Crimean Front that enabled Manstein, without much effort, to realize this well-prepared, but risky plan.

Kerch-Eltigen Operation

A landing operation of the troops of the North-Caucasian Front (commanded by General I. E. Petrov) with the seizure of the Kerch Peninsula that lasted from 31 October to 11 December 1943, during the Great Patriotic War. After success of the Novorossiysk-Taman operation the Soviet command put the task to seize the Kerch Peninsula and to create there a base for Crimea liberation from German Army. For this purpose two landing units went ashore. One of them landed to the northeast of Kerch, but could not take hold of the city because of the tough resistance of the Germans, but it managed to consolidate its positions on the seized area and to organize defense. The second landing unit got established to the south of Kerch, near Eltigen. After fierce battles in the early December the Germans liquidated the forces in this landing area. On 6 December the remaining landing troops attempted a breakthrough trying to reach the base to the north of Kerch. After marching for 25 km in the rear of the German positions they came to the southern outskirts of Kerch and seized the Mitridat Mountain and organized an all-round defense. But they failed to organize cordination with the northern unit. After receiving an order to evacuate on 10 December the Eltigen unit forced its way to the coast and was transferred by sea to the Taman Peninsula. The Kerch landing area held out till the Soviet troops launched an offensive in Crimea in spring 1944. It played a very important role in seizure of the Kerch Peninsula. The Soviet Army lost more than 27,000 killed.

Novorossiysk Landing Operation 1943

Amphibious operation on 10- 16 September 1943 organised by the Soviet Black Sea Fleet in Novorossiysk during Novorossiysk-Taman operation against German Army during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. As one of the largest Soviet amphibious operations, the Novorossiysk operation went down in history as one of the most well planned and prepared by the Soviet Army, and carried out jointly by the Army and Navy. It showed that with careful preparation of the landing operations their success is possible even on a heavily fortified coast.

Georgiy Nikitich Kholostyakov (1902-1983)

Vice Admiral in the USSR Fleet. In 1915 he worked as unskilled laborer. He took part in Civil War in Russia. In 1925 he finished the Naval Hydrographic College. From 1926 to 1938 he served on different submarines in the Far East. In 1938 he was arrested, accused of treason and condemned to 15 years in a correctional labor camp. He was sent to a labor camp on the Olga Bay shore of the Pacific. Later his case was reconsidered and he was returned his rank. In autumn 1940 he was appointed commander of the Third Brigade of submarines of the Black Sea Fleet. Later he was promoted to Captain first Rank. Kholostyakov was appointed the Chief of submarine division of the fleet and in July 1941 he headed the Naval Base in Novorossiysk. He supported the Kerch-Feodosiya military operation in late 1941. He took part in land-based defense of Novorossiysk. After retreat of the Soviet troops he moved to Gelendzhik from where the artillery of the Novorossiysk Naval Base shelled Novorossiysk, thus, preventing the Germans from using the port. In 1942 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. In 1943 he was in charge of the landing operation in Novorossiysk. In September under Kholostyakov command two more landing operations were conducted. The German troops left the Taman Peninsula. At night on November 1 he organized landing at Eltigen near Kerch. Regardless of the overwhelming superiority of the Germans the landing troops made strong beachhead on Ognennaya zemlya and defended this area for more than a month and then broke through the German positions and united with the main Soviet forces. In 1944 he acted as Commander of the Azov Flotilla replacing S. G. Gorshkov in this position. He organized two more landings-on the Tarkhankut Cape at night on January 10 and in the Kerch Bay on January 23. In December 1944 he was appointed to the Danube Flotilla and commanded its last operations. In 1950 he graduated from the General Staff Academy with a gold medal. In 1950-1951 he in the rank of Vice Admiral commanded the Caspian Military Flotilla and then received an appointment to the Pacific Ocean. In 1953-1969 Kholostyakov was Deputy Chief of the Military Training Department of the Navy General Staff. He took other positions of importance. In 1965 he was awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1969 he resigned. The memorial museum of Kholostyakov is opened in Baranovichi, Belorussia. He was also awarded many orders and medals.

Crimean operation of 1944

The liberation of the Crimean Peninsula by the troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front commanded by General F. I. Tolbukhin and Separate Maritime Army commanded by General A. I. Yeremenko with the support of the Black Sea Fleet commanded by Admiral F. S. Oktyabrsky and Azov Flotilla commanded by Rear-Admiral S. G. Gorshkov from German Army. This operation lasted for 36 days-from 8 April through 12 May 1944 and ended in victory of the Russian troops. They were opposed by the Romanian and German troops of the Seventeenth Army. A week after beginning of the offensive the Soviet troops came up to Sevastopol and on 5 May began the storming of the city. They fought most furiously for the Sapun Mountain-the key point of the German defense. On 9 May the Soviet assault units broke the German defense and rushed into the city. On 12 May the remaining German troops (21,000) laid down their arms on the Khersones Peninsula, as the Black Sea fleet had disrupted the enemy evacuation plans. The Seventeenth Army lost 140,000 (killed, wounded, captives, and drowned during the evacuation). If in 1941-1942 the Germans spent 250 days for seizure of Sevastopol, then in 1944 the Soviet troops needed only 5 days for the city liberation. After recovering Crimea the Soviet Union regained control of the Black Sea. The casualties of the Red Army during the Crimean operation were about 85,000.

Odessa

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Odessa fought against German and Romanian troops from August 5 to October 16, 1941. Since 13 August 1941 Odessa was completely blocked from land. Despite the land blockade the enemy failed to break the resistance of the defenders-Soviet troops were evacuated and transferred to increase 51th Special Army, defending the Crimea. In 1941-1944 Odessa was occupied by Romanian troops and was part of Transnistria. In early 1944, due to the advance of the Red Army German troops entered Odessa, and the Romanian administration eliminated. On 10 April 1944 Odessa was liberated by Red Army. During the occupation, the population of the city of Odessa was actively resisting the invaders. During the years of occupation, tens of thousands of civilians were executed in Odessa.

Warship Wednesday Aug 26, 2020: Hazard Pay — laststandonzombieisland

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger Warship Wednesday, Aug […]

Warship Wednesday Aug 26, 2020: Hazard Pay — laststandonzombieisland