James Longstreet and Ambrose Burnside, principal commanders of the Knoxville Campaign.

Knoxville was the major city of eastern Tennessee, the mountainous region for which Lincoln felt such concern as it was the centre of Union sentiment inside the Confederacy. From the beginning of the war, he was anxious to bring it under Federal control, and throughout 1862-63 he urged a succession of Union commanders to move against it. In March 1863 General Ambrose Burnside, who had been so heavily defeated at Fredericksburg the previous December, was transferred to the West. He was ordered to move against Knoxville as quickly as possible, while General William Rosecrans was ordered to operate against Braxton Bragg in what became the Tullahoma campaign. Burnside commanded the Army of the Ohio, Rosecrans the Army of the Cumberland.

Burnside intended to advance from Cincinnati with two corps, the Ninth and the Twenty-third, but lost the Ninth when it was given to Grant for the campaign against Vicksburg. While awaiting the return of the Ninth Corps, Burnside sent a brigade and some cavalry to advance on Knoxville. During June, this force, led by General William Sanders, destroyed railroads around the city, where General Simon Buckner was in command.

In August Burnside began his advance on Knoxville. His direct route ran through the Cumberland Gap, heavily defended by the Confederates. To avoid them Burnside made a flank movement to the south, by forced marches through the broken country. As the Chickamauga campaign began, Buckner was ordered to take most of his troops to join Bragg at Chattanooga and was left with only two brigades, one in the Cumberland Gap, on the northeastern border of the state, and another east of Knoxville. In these circumstances Burnside pressed forward and was able to send a cavalry brigade into Knoxville on September 2. It was unopposed and found the city empty of rebel troops. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the loyal population. Burnside arrived with his army the next day.

He then set about dealing with the Confederates at the Cumberland Gap in order to open up a more direct route to Kentucky. He had two forces in position to confront the new Confederate commander, General John Frazer; though outnumbered, Frazer refused to surrender. Burnside then led a brigade from Knoxville to the gap, making a march of sixty miles in fifty-two hours. On his arrival, Frazer, accepting that he was hopelessly outnumbered, surrendered on September 9. Burnside recruited new units of Tennessee volunteers and set about clearing the roads and gaps leading northward towards Virginia. Meanwhile, Grant, who had now captured Chattanooga, was preparing to fight at Chickamauga, to which Lincoln and Halleck ordered Burnside to detach troops in order to support Rosecrans, who was in difficulty. But, unwilling to surrender Knoxville, Burnside procrastinated; he was having difficulty supplying his troops in the desolate country to the east of Knoxville. During September and early October he was forced to fight two small battles, at Blountsville and Blue Springs, both minor victories, which led to the reestablishment of Union authority in eastern Tennessee.

Braxton Bragg, fearing that Burnside might reinforce the Union troops at Chattanooga, asked Jefferson Davis to order Longstreet to concentrate against him. Longstreet objected, knowing he would be severely outnumbered, since large Union reinforcements were approaching Chattanooga to add to the imbalance. He also objected to the division of force involved, which, he said, would expose both Confederate commanders to defeat. He therefore resumed his preparations to move against Knoxville. The move was to be made by rail, but the journey proved difficult. The trains did not arrive on time, so that the advance had to begin on foot. When the trains did arrive, the locomotives proved underpowered, forcing the troops to dismount on the steeper gradients. They also had to collect wood for the engines. Food ran short. Longstreet’s advance nevertheless cheered Lincoln, who, having previously told Burnside to leave Knoxville, now ordered him to stay and defend the city. Grant prepared to send reinforcements from Chattanooga, but Burnside now convinced him that he could detach sufficient troops to hold Longstreet at a distance. Grant willingly concurred. Next the Confederates attempted to encircle Knoxville with cavalry, but Union resistance thwarted their plan and the cavalry joined Longstreet in the north. Burnside manoeuvred outside the city and successfully reached a vital crossroads. Burnside won a brisk minor victory at this point, Campbell’s Station, which allowed him to withdraw his strength inside Knoxville. On November 17 Longstreet laid siege. His assault on the defences was delayed, and Longstreet took advantage of the opportunity to strengthen his earthworks. Longstreet eventually attacked a week after the siege had begun, at a point he judged weak, Fort Sanders, but which was deceptively strong. The Union had surrounded the earthworks with a network of telegraph wire strung between trees. The Confederate attack launched on November 29, 1863, was effectively checked by the defences and Union covering fire. There were 813 Confederate losses, only 13 Union.

The defeated Longstreet considered his options. He had been ordered to join Bragg, who had just been defeated at Missionary Ridge on November 25. He felt that move impracticable and told Bragg that he would withdraw with the Army of Tennessee to Virginia, but would keep up the siege of Knoxville as long as possible, to prevent Grant and Burnside concentrating against him. Longstreet’s stubbornness had the effect of causing Grant to send Sherman with 25,000 men to raise the siege of Knoxville. Longstreet accordingly abandoned the siege on December 4 and retired northwards to Rogersville, Tennessee, where he prepared to go into winter quarters. Sherman left part of his force at Knoxville and took the rest back to Chattanooga. General John Parke, Burnside’s chief of staff, pursued the retreating Confederates with 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, though he did not press the pace. Longstreet’s route took him through Rutledge and Rogersville, followed by General John Shackelford with 4,000 cavalry and infantry. On December 9, he was near Bean’s Station when Longstreet decided to turn and attack. The Confederates got Shackelford in a pincer movement but the Union troops defended so stoutly that they repelled all Confederate attacks until reinforcements joined in. Shackelford was then forced to withdraw to Blain’s Crossroads. Longstreet followed but declined to attack their entrenchments. Both sides withdrew and left the area to go into winter quarters. Longstreet, who blamed subordinates for his failures in the campaign, asked to be relieved of command but was refused. His troops suffered in a severe winter, and he was unable to return to Virginia until the spring. His reputation and self-confidence were damaged by the campaign, while Burnside’s reputation was restored. The campaign of Knoxville, together with Grant’s victory at Chattanooga, returned eastern Tennessee to Union control for the rest of the war.

The battles of Chattanooga, Knoxville, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge had now altered the balance of advantage in Tennessee very much in the Union’s favour. With Rosecrans in strength at Chattanooga, Burnside operating in upper eastern Tennessee, and Grant free to strike in several directions from Tennessee eastward or southward, Lincoln’s long-cherished ambition, to liberate Unionist Tennessee from the Confederacy, could be safely regarded as achieved. Grant, as overall commander in the western theatre, was now at liberty to propose, if he so chose, a broad strategy for the Union’s conduct of the war in the western theatre. In the spring of 1864 he did so choose. Grant did not affect to be a high-level strategic thinker. Nothing in his manner or appearance suggested that he was anything but a commonsense, down-to-earth fighting soldier. Common sense and down-to-earthness are among the most valuable qualities, however, that a strategist can possess and he possessed them in abundance. What is valuable to those who interest themselves in his career is that in his Personal Memoirs he describes with engaging frankness how he formed his way of thinking. Grant also preferred to attack, if possible. He was not a “wait and see,” but a “go and see” general, as his conduct after Chattanooga showed. He then decided to lay plans before Lincoln for the next stage of the campaign in the West. He may have done so because he had at his headquarters a “special commissioner” from Washington, Charles Dana, formerly of the New York Tribune. Dana had been sent partly because a trickle of unflattering reports about Grant continued to reach Washington about his bad habits and Lincoln, who already wanted to promote Grant, sought his own source of information. Grant used Dana as a messenger to take his ideas for the West to Washington. He proposed leaving a reduced Army of the Tennessee to watch Bragg and to take the largest part down the Mississippi to New Orleans and then via the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile, Alabama, whence he would strike at important points in Alabama and Georgia. He had proposed such a scheme before and continued to believe in it. Those in power in Washington, however, did not. Lincoln, Halleck, and Stanton feared that if Grant’s force was moved so far away, the rebels would reawaken the war in eastern Tennessee. Communication with Washington had the result, however, of involving Grant in highlevel strategic discussion. Halleck explained to Grant that the president’s anxieties in the West remained fixed on Tennessee and its Unionists, and that before any move was made elsewhere he wanted the surviving Confederate forces in Tennessee chased down and defeated; he also wanted the Confederate army in southern Georgia pushed far enough away from the Tennessee border to ensure that it could not intervene in the state; only when those things had been achieved would he consider approving wider operations in the West.

Grant’s plan for an operation against Mobile was—surprisingly, given how clearly Grant thought—not a sound one. The Union lacked the troops in the West to mount two large operations at the same time. It could not move on Mobile and yet continue to menace the Confederates in Georgia. To attempt to find the necessary troops would inevitably result in weakening the position around Chattanooga and so encourage Johnston to strike into Tennessee. Chattanooga was that rare thing in strategy, a genuinely critical point. Held by the Union, it allowed the retention of Tennessee and the menacing of Georgia. Should it pass back into Confederate possession, Tennessee would be lost and so would the future dominance of Georgia. Halleck wrote to Grant vetoing the plan, on the grounds that the president would not approve it, a perfectly legitimate thing for Halleck to say, so perfectly did he understand Lincoln’s mind.

Later in January 1864, Grant wrote again to Halleck outlining a plan for the next stage of operations in the East. He proposed abandoning the direct advance upon Richmond for an indirect approach. The navy should embark 60,000 troops of the Army of the Potomac and land them on the coast of North Carolina, whence they could march to sever the Confederate capital’s rail connection with the Lower South and so force Lee to abandon Richmond. Halleck answered Grant as he had done earlier in January: Lincoln would not approve, since the scheme would encourage Lee to move in force against any Union army in the Carolinas; moreover, it would weaken the defences of Washington. He pointed out to Grant that his scheme contained no plan to fight Lee’s army, which should be the proper object of an eastern strategy, and was the president’s favoured aim. The best way to defeat Lee, he insisted, was to fight him in the open field near Washington. He concluded his second letter to Grant, however, by hinting that he would soon have a hand in drafting strategy for the eastern theatre, a closer hint that Grant was about to be appointed to the supreme command.

There had been strong rumours circulating to that effect, of which Grant cannot have been unaware. In February Congress passed an act reviving the rank of lieutenant general. The Confederacy appointed generals in the rank of brigadier, major general, lieutenant general, and by 1864 (full) general. In the Union army, however, major general was the highest rank granted and most Union generals held the rank in the United States volunteers, as Grant had done until his victory at Vicksburg. Then he was made a major general in the regular army. The new rank of lieutenant general was open to regular major generals, so Grant qualified for the promotion. The law allowed the lieutenant general to be appointed general in chief. In early March, Grant, still in Tennessee, received orders to go to Washington, where he arrived on March 8. He stayed first at Willard’s Hotel, where he received an invitation to attend a reception at the White House that evening. On his arrival there was a rise in the noise level. Grant knew almost no one in the capital, but since Vicksburg he was widely known there. The president recognised the signal and approached Grant with the words, “This is General Grant, is it?” After a few words, Grant was drawn away by the crowd, but later that evening Lincoln and Stanton took him into the Blue Room, where he was told that Lincoln would present him with his commission in the morning. The president also said that he would show him beforehand the draft of the short speech he would make. Lincoln may also have already known that Grant was tongue-tied and a hopelessly inept public speaker. He did, however, suggest that Grant should say something to forestall jealousy among other commanders and something to please the Army of the Potomac. It was entirely characteristic of Grant that when the time came he did neither. When nominated for the presidency, in 1868, his speech of acceptance ran to five words. On this occasion, when appointed by Lincoln in the White House room where the cabinet met, the president made a short but elaborate speech. “With this high honour devolves upon you also a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need add that with what I here speak for the nation goes my own hearty personal concurrence.”2 Grant had an answer written on a half sheet of paper but read it so haltingly that his words were not recorded.

The day after his appointment the U.S. War Department announced the termination of Halleck’s position as general in chief but his reappointment in the new office of chief of staff. Thus was inaugurated in the United States what would become the normal arrangement of a modern command system, with Lincoln as supreme commander, Grant as operational commander, and Halleck as principal military administrator. Over the course of the next century the high command structure of all large armies would be adjusted to conform, beginning with the Prussian, where, in 1870-71, Bismarck acted as supreme commander and Moltke the elder as chief of operations. The rationalisation of the Federal or, as Grant called them, the national armed forces was essential, for under him, on his assumption of the generalship in chief, there were seventeen different Union commanders overseeing 533,000 men. The most important was the Army of the Potomac, which still lingered in northern Virginia opposite Lee’s army but was not at that time undertaking active operations. Elsewhere the military situation was determined by the Confederate deployments, which principally included that of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia, on the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which ran from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The other large Confederate force in the West was the cavalry corps under Nathan Bedford Forrest, located in eastern Tennessee. Forrest was a potential threat since he might raid as far as Cincinnati but as long as he was detached from either of the big Confederate armies, Lee’s and Johnston’s, he did not really multiply Confederate power.

Grant, as general in chief, could now consider what large operations he might launch. His first act in high command was to return to the West, to confer with Sherman, who, at his behest, had been appointed to succeed him. Grant had already identified Sherman as the most competent of his subordinates, a true battle-winning soldier of indefatigable temperament. He had also secured the advancement of Sheridan, another western general who had won his good opinion, to come east as commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry, replacing Pleasanton, who was competent but lacked the aggressiveness by which Grant set such store.

On his visit to Sherman, Grant outlined his general philosophy for what he intended to be the closing stages of the war. It coincided with and may have been inspired by what was now Lincoln’s fixed conception of strategy, formed by trial and error in three years of frustration. Lincoln in 1861 had known nothing of war, but harsh experience had now taught him some essentials which he held with the force of unshakable conviction. He had abandoned altogether the conventional thought that the capture of the enemy’s capital would bring victory. Instead he now correctly perceived that it was only the destruction of the South’s main army that would defeat the Confederacy and he had enlarged that perception to believe that it would be achieved by attacking the enemy at several points simultaneously.

This is what the French have called a “rich solution” to the problem of the Civil War, open only to the side with greater numbers and several armies, as opposed to the South’s strategy of a “poor power” with weaker numbers and effectively only one or at most one and a half armies. Halleck, an extremely orthodox military thinker, had replied that the proper response to the rebellion was to concentrate the North’s force at decisive points: “To operate on exterior lines against an enemy occupying a central position will fail, as it has always failed, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. It is undermined by every military authority I have ever read.” Lincoln had read almost no military textbooks while Grant had profited from the notoriously patchy West Point syllabus by avoiding most of them also. It was a merit of West Point that its teaching, though dusty to a degree, was practical—mathematics and engineering—which were actually useful, particularly during his efforts to alter the geography of the Mississippi Valley in 1863. A doctrine that Grant might have imbibed but did not was that of the climactic battle, which at a single strike resolved a conflict and ended it. The doctrine has been called Napoleonic, and with reason. Napoleon was the master of the great battle and his name was associated with several which had ended conflicts and altered history. Lee aspired to fight such battles and to end the war with the Union by a single overpowering act, as Napoleon had ended the conflict with Prussia in 1806 by winning the battles of Jena-Auerstedt and had almost ended the war with Russia by fighting at Borodino in 1812. Ultimately Napoleon, however, had been the victim of his own method, Waterloo having been the outstandingly decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Since 1815, moreover, there had been few, if any, decisive battles. Indeed the era of decisive battles was drawing to a close. There would be several during Prussia’s wars of unification in 1866-71, notably the victory of Königgrätz-Sadowa against Austria, and Sedan against France in 1870. At the end of the era, states were learning to deny an enemy the chance of decisive battle by enlarging the size of their armies to a point at which it became difficult, if not impossible, to dispose of them in a single passage of fighting, while at the same time resorting to unorthodox tactics which would involve an opponent in guerrilla warfare or the tactics of protracted warfare should the main field army suffer defeat. France would cheat Prussia of a clear-cut decision in 1870-71 by resorting to a war in the provinces with irregular forces after the defeat of Sedan.

In mid-1863, the Union was approaching the point where it would have to decide by what military means the war was to be concluded: by pursuing the object of the final decisive battle or by some less direct method. Likewise, the Confederacy, which was rapidly losing the power to fight and win large-scale battles, would have to consider whether it should turn to protracted guerrilla tactics if it was to stave off defeat. The instructions Grant gave to Sherman on his visit to the western armies following his appointment as general in chief would soon confront the Confederacy with the necessity of fighting a small-scale, low-level war within its own territory, as opposed to a conventional army-to-army war on its frontier. Grant’s written instructions to Sherman were “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.” Sherman was perfectly willing to carry out such instructions since he had already formed the conclusion that the quickest way to break the Confederacy was to make its ordinary people suffer.

To Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, Grant sent the order, “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Grant had already decided, with Lincoln’s approval, to make his headquarters with Meade, while leaving him as much freedom of action as possible. That would require nice judgement, not always achieved. Meade would complain frequently in his letters to his wife that any achievement of the Army of the Potomac was credited by the press to Grant, any failure to himself. Still, Grant’s intentions were fair and honest, and the two men would sustain an equable working relationship throughout the rest of the campaign in the East.

Meanwhile, in the West, Sherman was beginning what would become the culminating campaign of the war.


MacArthur and the Battle of the Coral Sea 1942

Senior Allied commanders in New Guinea in October 1942. Left to right: Mr Frank Forde (Australian Minister for the Army); MacArthur; General Sir Thomas Blamey, Allied Land Forces; Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, Allied Air Forces; Lieutenant General Edmund Herring, New Guinea Force; Brigadier General Kenneth Walker, V Bomber Command.

MacArthur’s PR machine needed no cover: it was already on the offensive. In fact, under the auspices of Pick Diller, with heavy contributions from MacArthur himself, it had continued its Manila and Corregidor practice of cranking out ubiquitous press releases from the moment the Bataan Gang landed at Batchelor Field. On the one hand, Japanese propaganda boasted verbosely about the triumphs—real and imagined—of the Japanese army and navy, and MacArthur appears to have felt that part of his charge was to counter this stream with propaganda of his own. But on the other hand, his communications were released so quickly that they frequently did not have all the facts straight. In addition, they sometimes reported results for operations over which MacArthur had no direct command, and their revelations threatened to undercut the top-secret code-breaking operations being performed not only by the US Navy but also by his own intelligence unit.

Marshall called MacArthur to task for just those reasons after a press release datelined “Allied Headquarters, Australia, April 27,” reported in great detail on the buildup of Japanese forces at Rabaul. The Japanese had to suspect, Marshall told MacArthur, that reconnaissance alone could not have gathered such information and that their codes were compromised, if not broken. “This together with previous incidents,” Marshall admonished, “indicates that censorship of news emanating from Australia including your headquarters is in need of complete revision.”

MacArthur replied that after what he termed had been “a careful check,” the material in question had not been announced “by direct communiqué” from his headquarters. He professed to have Marshall believe that the term “Allied Headquarters, Australia,” had been loosely appropriated by reporters—despite MacArthur being so particular about such things—and that its use did not imply his control or approval. MacArthur blamed an Australian censor for the release, then pointedly noted, “As I have explained previously, it is utterly impossible for me under the authority I possess to impose total censorship in this foreign country.” But then the stakes got higher.

The US Navy’s code-breaking unit in the Philippines, code-named Cast, had been a high-priority evacuation from Corregidor early in February. A similar army unit, Station 6, delayed leaving until after MacArthur’s departure but was partially evacuated late in March. Both units reassembled in Melbourne and continued deciphering signal intelligence. The center of Pacific intelligence against the Japanese, however, was Station Hypo, located at Pearl Harbor under the leadership of Lieutenant Commander Joseph J. Rochefort.

Based on Rochefort’s intercepts, Commander Edwin T. Layton, Nimitz’s chief intelligence officer, sent a message through channels that advised Sutherland that the Japanese appeared to be preparing to extend their reach from Rabaul and that Port Moresby might be attacked by sea as early as April 21. MacArthur ordered an aerial reconnaissance of Simpson Harbor at Rabaul, but General Brett’s pilots found no concentration of ships that would suggest a major amphibious operation.

On April 22 in Hawaii, Layton reaffirmed his suspicions to Nimitz: despite the reconnaissance results, he still anticipated an imminent Japanese offensive from Rabaul, either against southern New Guinea or eastward into the Solomons. Given the predilection of the Japanese navy to advance under the protection of land-based air—the Battle of Midway was soon to be a major exception—Layton suggested that the target was Port Moresby.

Willoughby read the same decoded message and came to a different conclusion. Noting the reported presence of four Japanese carriers, Willoughby predicted an attack beyond the cover of land-based air, either against the northeastern coast of Australia or on New Caledonia, the critical link in the West-Coast-to-Australia lifeline. When Port Moresby remained quiet, additional naval intelligence convinced Sutherland that the attack had only been delayed a week or two. Willoughby backed off his appraisal and revised it: thereafter he expected a landing in division strength at Port Moresby between May 5 and May 10.

In response to Layton’s intelligence, Nimitz ordered the carriers Lexington and Yorktown, under the command of Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, to rendezvous and venture into the Coral Sea. Convinced by Layton that the Japanese were making a major offensive thrust, Nimitz also ordered the carriers Enterprise and Hornet, which were returning from the Doolittle Raid under Bill Halsey’s command, to join Fletcher. Bunching the only four American carriers in the Pacific into one force marked a major shift in the way the US Navy deployed its carriers—even though Enterprise and Hornet would arrive too late to engage—and, to Nimitz’s credit, it signaled his emergence as an aggressive theater commander. Nonetheless, it took Nimitz’s muscular lobbying with King to persuade him to do the bundling—and to do it without the millstone of lumbering battleships slowing him down.

The Japanese sortied three main groups: a battle, or “striking,” force from Truk under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi, including the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku; an invasion force from Rabaul bound for Port Moresby containing seven destroyers, five transports, and several seaplane tenders; and an escort, or “covering,” force that shadowed the invasion force and included the light carrier Shoho along with four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and a squadron of submarines.

The architect of the Japanese attack was Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue, the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Fourth Fleet, based at Truk. In addition to Port Moresby, Inoue had his eye on a seaplane facility at tiny Gavutu, near the island of Tulagi, at the far eastern end of the Solomons. Capturing Gavutu and Tulagi would allow Japanese seaplanes to patrol the eastern reaches of the Coral Sea while an airfield for land-based air was constructed nearby on the larger island of Guadalcanal.

As a small force wove its way through the Solomons from Rabaul and made the Tulagi landings, Takagi’s striking force would sweep around the eastern end of the islands, sprint westward across the Coral Sea, and launch a surprise attack against the Allied airfields at Townsville, on the Australian mainland, crippling a chunk of MacArthur’s air force prior to the Port Moresby landing. Inoue did not expect that Takagi would encounter American carriers until Takagi moved northward after the Townsville raid to cover the Port Moresby landings. At least that was the plan.

On May 2, the small Royal Australian Air Force detachment at Tulagi learned of the advance of the Japanese landing force and escaped to the New Hebrides after demolishing some facilities. The following day, the Japanese force, landing unopposed, was observed by SWPA reconnaissance planes. MacArthur passed the report to Admiral Fletcher, who, unbeknownst to Inoue, was cruising on the Yorktown in the Coral Sea south of the Solomons. Fletcher ordered Yorktown north and launched a raid against Tulagi that returned with high boasts but did little actual damage to the invasion force. The result, however, was to warn Takagi of the presence of an American carrier and expedite his approach with the Shokaku and Zuikaku around the eastern end of the Solomons and into the Coral Sea by midday on May 5.

General Brett’s bombers, flying out of Townsville and Port Moresby, caught glimpses of the Port Moresby invasion force slowly making for Jomard Passage, between the New Guinea mainland and the Louisiade Archipelago. Repeated air attacks over the course of three days ended with little damage to the Japanese ships, but inexplicably, Brett, or perhaps it was MacArthur, did not relay any of these sightings or actions to Fletcher—just one consequence of a less-than-unified command.

Carrier USS Lexington under Japanese Attack.

MacArthur’s Navy

Elements of what would come to be called MacArthur’s Navy were, however, on the scene. Admiral Leary had sent the bulk of his SWPA naval forces—two Australian and one American cruiser and three destroyers—to assist Fletcher, but on the morning of May 7, Fletcher detached them westward to protect Port Moresby from any force steaming out of Jomard Passage. Successive waves of Japanese medium and heavy bombers found the ships and pressed attacks dangerously close, at one point straddling Rear Admiral John G. Crace’s Australian flagship with a spread of bombs. Barely had these planes departed when three more medium bombers dropped bombs from twenty-five thousand feet on one of the destroyers.

“It was subsequently discovered,” Crace later reported, “that these aircraft were U.S. Army B-26 from Townsville.” Photographs taken as the bombs were released left little doubt that they had attacked their own ships. “Fortunately,” Crace concluded, “their bombing, in comparison with that of the Japanese formation a few moments earlier, was disgraceful.”

Records showed only eight Allied B-17s then engaged anywhere in the vicinity. General Brett flatly denied that his planes—B-26s, B-25s, or otherwise—had attacked Crace’s command and rejected an offer from Leary to work on improving the air forces’ recognition of naval vessels. MacArthur seems to have stayed above this fray, but he held conferences with both Brett and Leary the next day, and the affair likely did not improve his regard for either man.

Meanwhile, both Fletcher and Takagi launched search planes to find each other’s carriers. They found targets, but not the ones they were looking for. The first strike from the Japanese carriers mistook the destroyer Sims and oiler Neosho, idling by themselves waiting for a refueling rendezvous, for a carrier and cruiser and sank them after a furious onslaught. The Americans fell victim to a similar problem of misidentification and launched full complements of aircraft from Yorktown and Lexington against reports of “two carriers and four heavy cruisers” 175 miles to the northwest. The nervous pilot had meant to encode “two heavy cruisers and two destroyers,” but dive-bombers from the Lexington stumbled upon the light carrier Shoho in the covering force, sinking it to one pilot’s cry of “Scratch one flattop.”

Finally, on the morning of May 8, planes from the two principal carriers on each side found their targets, leaving the Lexington and the Shokaku the most heavily damaged of the four and proving that carrier aircraft could fight major encounters without surface ships ever coming into direct contact with each other. The Americans made headway to save the Lexington, but gasoline vapors from ruptured fuel lines ignited and started a series of chain explosions. Sailors lined the flight deck in a calm evacuation, and Fletcher had the grim duty of ordering a destroyer to sink the flaming wreck to avoid any chance of its salvage by the Japanese.

Having already been instructed by Admiral Inoue to abandon the raid against Townsville, Takagi turned northward with the Zuikaku to follow the wounded Shokaku. The loss of the Shoho prompted a similar recall as both the Port Moresby invasion fleet and the remnants of its covering force turned around and sailed back to Rabaul. Tactically, the Americans had sustained heavier losses, but strategically, they had dealt the first major setback to Japan’s unchecked post–Pearl Harbor romp and managed to blunt the Japanese drive to cut Australia’s lifeline. King would never forgive Fletcher for the loss of the Lexington, but five months after Pearl Harbor, Fletcher had taken on a slightly superior force and, at worst, emerged with a draw. At best, he had saved Australia.

But the Battle of the Coral Sea was not quite over. There was to be a secondary fight of press releases between MacArthur and the American navy. During the course of the running naval battle, the Australian Advisory War Council had taken the unprecedented step of granting MacArthur just the sort of supreme censorship over SWPA operations that MacArthur had just told Marshall was “utterly impossible” to enforce. News was to come only from Diller’s SWPA communiqués. The first two dispatches of May 8 reported ten enemy ships sunk and five badly damaged in the Coral Sea action, with MacArthur’s bombers playing a leading role and without any mention of specific American losses, including the Lexington. It was an egocentric way for MacArthur to show he was “in the know,” but it had just the opposite effect. Such shabby reporting sparked criticism from the Australians and outrage from the American navy.

The Lexington had barely settled beneath the warm waters of the Coral Sea when Marshall told MacArthur that King and Nimitz were quite disturbed by his “premature release of information” concerning forces under Nimitz’s command because it imposed “definite risks upon participating forces and jeopardize[d] the successful continuation of fleet task force operations.” King decreed that thenceforth, news of Nimitz’s forces would be “released through the Navy Department only.”

Predictably, MacArthur took affront and immediately dispatched a characteristically lengthy reply: “Absolutely no information has been released from my headquarters with reference to action taking place in the northeastern sector of this area except the official communiqués. By no stretch of possible imagination do they contain anything of value to the enemy nor anything not fully known to him.” The forces so engaged, MacArthur noted, included a large part of his air force, a major portion of the Australian navy, and his heavily Australian ground forces at Port Moresby and elsewhere. The battle involved “the very fate of the Australian people and continent,” MacArthur maintained, “and it is manifestly absurd that some technicality of administrative process should attempt to force them to await the pleasure of the United States Navy Department for news of action.”

In response to this tirade, Marshall took his usual calm approach—he did not reply. It is difficult to imagine that Marshall would have brooked such insolence from another subordinate. Far from being cowed by MacArthur, Marshall was simply following the party line. The president had decided that MacArthur’s worth as an asset outweighed his liabilities, and Marshall would do his best to follow suit. That did not mean, of course, that Roosevelt did not share Marshall’s frequent exasperation.

“As you have seen by the press,” Roosevelt wrote Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King on May 18, “Curtin and MacArthur are obtaining most of the publicity. The fact remains, however, that the naval operations were conducted solely through the Hawaii command!”

Far from shying away from Nimitz, MacArthur complimented the admiral on the manner in which his forces were handled and announced he was eager to cooperate. “Call upon me freely,” MacArthur wrote. “You can count upon my most complete and active cooperation.” Meanwhile, MacArthur regaled his staff with stories of how his planes had discovered the Japanese invasion fleet. “He told it all in the most wonderfully theatrical fashion,” Brigadier General Robert H. Van Volkenburgh, his antiaircraft chief, remembered years later. “I enjoyed every second of it.


Mercia-Anglo-Saxon Kingdom



Since Bede observed in about 731 that the provinces of England’s bishops `south of the river Humber and their kings, are subject to Æthelbald, king of the Mercians’, historians have generally looked upon the eighth century as the great period of Mercian domination in Anglo-Saxon England, at least south of the Humber. That Æthelbald was duly followed by the greatest of the Mercian kings, Offa, and that between them their reigns spanned eighty years of the century, merely reaffirms the point.

Over the course of the century the confederation of peoples that Penda and his heirs had forged under their overlordship was to be converted into an enlarged and consolidated kingdom with a strong and increasingly centralised kingship. But how was this achieved, against a backdrop of emerging dynastic rivalries and the scrutiny of churchmen, and what did Mercian supremacy look like?

Mercian Exiles

When Æthelred abdicated his throne in 704 he appointed his nephew Coenred in his place. His reign was short but well-regarded. Mercian authority was maintained in the satellite provinces, Coenred confirming or making grants of land in Middlesex, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Herefordshire, and contending with attacks by the Welsh; even the demons that Saint Guthlac confronted in the Fens were British-speaking. Coenred’s reputation for piety and `ruling nobly’ would seem to be consistent with his decision after five years to abdicate, and with Offa of the East Saxons, to depart for Rome where he took the tonsure and died not long afterwards. No fewer than six Anglo-Saxon kings, two of them Mercian, decided to abdicate their thrones for the religious life between 685 and 710.

Coenred’s abdication brought his cousin, Ceolred, to the throne, remembered rather less favourably by posterity. His authority and lordship seem to have echoed that of his predecessor although he also campaigned into Wessex in 716, fighting in Wiltshire. However, his reign marked two developments that pointed to the future. Firstly, as the direct line of Penda weakened and became more `distant’ there are indications of growing discontent among other branches of the royal kin, with their own claims on power and subsequent dynastic rivalries. One of these rivals was Æthelbald, forced into exile and `driven hither and thither by King Ceolred and tossed about among divers peoples’ (Felix). He went into the Fens and sought out the `holy man Guthlac’ from whom he took comfort and the prophecy that with God’s help, he would overcome his enemies and gain the Mercian throne. Guthlac had himself been an exile during the reign of Ceolred’s father and may have had little love for Penda’s descendants.

The second pointer to the future is revealed in Ceolred’s reputation. Although not universally adopted, there was a tradition that regarded him as profligate, a visionary at Much Wenlock during the king’s lifetime proclaiming that the angels surrounding him had removed their protective shield and abandoned him to demons because of the many crimes that he had committed; the story prompts a suspicion of dynastic interests at play. At the heart of this uncomplimentary tradition lay the testimony of Saint Boniface, set out thirty years after Ceolred’s death in a letter to King Æthelbald. The theme of the letter was a call for reform, in the course of which the example was raised of Ceolred, who, prompted by the devil, set a wicked example with `an open display of [the] two greatest sins in the provinces of the English’. These sins were described as `debauchery and adultery with nuns and violation of monasteries’. Personal immorality aside, Boniface was concerned with what he saw as the violation of church privileges, and although there is no further explanation as to what these violations were, it seems probable that the secular `abuse’ of minsters and their lands was among these, a recurrent theme later in the eighth century. As a consequence of his sins, while feasting in splendour with his companions, Ceolred was seized by madness and without repentance or confession he died `conversing with devils and cursing the priests of God’, to be buried, according to William of Malmesbury, at Lichfield.

The last of Penda’s direct descendants passed with Ceolred’s death in 716. The suggestion in a Worcester regnal list that he was succeeded by a man named Ceolwald cannot be otherwise verified, and if it was the case it can have been only fleetingly as in 716 Saint Guthlac’s prophecy, given to Æthelbald while in exile, was fulfilled.

A New Dynasty

Æthelbald’s accession marked the triumph of the Mercian royal lineage that traced itself back to Eowa, a brother of Penda, as did his successor, Offa. The two kings were first cousins, twice removed, and so the eighth century saw the replacement of one lineage with another. Barbara Yorke has suggested that there may have been mutual co-operation between these two branches of the family, and certainly signs of rivalry are lacking. Æthelbald, for instance, made a grant to Offa’s grandfather, Eanulf, whom he described as his kinsman and companion.

Æthelbald secured his position by favouring and promoting his kinsmen and friends to positions of power and influence in his service. A `gesith’ or retainer of Æthelbald during his years of exile was a man named Oba (Ofa) who at one point was healed by the touch of the sheepskin rug in which Saint Guthlac was accustomed to pray. Ofa regularly appeared as a witness to Æthelbald’s charters, on one occasion in 742 being described as `Ofa, patricius’, a title of distinction that probably signified his charge of the royal household. Another regular witness was the king’s brother, Heardberht, often described as `dux’ but more prestigiously in 749 as `primatum’, of pre-eminent rank.

In the early years of his reign it is probable that Æthelbald could do little more than ensure his position within Mercia until wider opportunities presented themselves with the death of Wihtred of Kent in 725 and the subsequent partition of his kingdom between three sons; and the abdication of King Ine of Wessex, whose probable ambitions on London and Essex were dissipated by a disputed succession. Even so, historians have recently urged a more considered and `defined’ view of Æthelbald’s overlordship around 731.

Securing the Mercian Heartland

Fundamental was the absorption of Mercia’s former satellite provinces into an enlarged and integrated kingdom, a phenomenon of Æthelbald’s reign that was continued under Offa, in both cases reflected by the way in which previously independent rulers became increasingly subordinated in their status, and their titles, descending from `king’, to `under king’ and then `ealdorman’. This latter vernacular title was used of royal kin, formerly autonomous rulers, and distinguished nobles to denote the king’s most important and prestigious officers. They had delegated powers of governance, military command and administration in the Mercian provinces, the precursors of the later shires.

The last independent ruler of the Magonsæte was a son of Merewalh, Mildfrith, regulus (sub king) but after about 740 this former province was integrated into the Mercian kingdom under a subordinate ruler, by Offa’s time, an ealdorman. Similarly, the Hwiccian royal family was gradually subordinated and their province integrated, reflected by Æthelbald and Offa regularly granting land within their province; indeed one of the earliest of the charters to survive from Æthelbald’s reign concerned an exchange of salthouses and furnaces near Droitwich with the church of Worcester. Among the witnesses when Æthelbald granted land at Stour in Ismere to his companion Cyneberht in 736 was Æthelric, `sub-king and companion of the most glorious prince Æthelbald’.

By Offa’s time there was a further but significant shift in how the Hwiccian rulers were described. For instance, there were several charters where Ealdred (fl. 757-790) was described as an under-king of the Hwicce, but in 778, in a charter of Offa granting land in Sedgeberrow (Worcestershire), he was described more precisely as `subregulus’ and `dux’ of the Hwicce, that is, under-king and ealdorman. The transformation of this province into a Mercian scir or shire was effectively marked by the synod of Brentford in 781 settling a dispute between Offa and the church of Worcester, but after which there were no further Hwiccian charters. The Mercian kings first made the authority of Hwiccian rulers dependent upon their support and confirmation, which Æthelbald and more particularly Offa took further by completely transforming the basis of their subordinate authority, now entirely derived from the Mercian king until they effectively became his officers. Something similar is thought to have occurred among the Middle Angles and in Lindsey.

Mercia’s Neighbours

As in the seventh century Mercian interests were greatly affected by relations with their neighbours, among them the East Anglian and East Saxon kingdoms where international trading networks were focused on the major entrepots of Ipswich and London. Similarly important was the kingdom of Kent, with links to Francia and the seat of the southern archdiocese at Canterbury.

The fact that Saint Guthlac’s Vita was dedicated to King Ælfwald of the East Angles, and the popularity of his cult in East Anglia, suggests crucially important cordial relations between the East Angles and the Mercians. Beyond the supposed implications of Bede’s statement, there is little to suggest direct East Anglian subordination to Æthelbald, other than perhaps his seniority within the community of kings. We might here envisage influence rather than direct control and it was Æthelbald’s good fortune that Ælfwald did not die until 749, after a reign of thirty-six years.

Among the East Saxons Æthelbald’s authority was more tangible. Mercian control of London was reasserted and Middlesex was effectively annexed into the Mercian kingdom, all at the expense of the East Saxon kings. Æthelbald may be found remitting tolls at London for the benefit of the churches of Rochester and Minster-in-Thanet (Kent) without any need to associate an East Saxon king, at least not in the surviving versions of the grant, although a clause admonishing any future attempts by kings or their deputies to invalidate the gift might prompt speculation. Of course, with London came the particular demands of a major trading centre, among these the need for large quantities of coin. From as early as around 720 Æthelbald was striking a silver Mercian coinage with his most important mint in London, but there is nothing to suggest that he sought to enforce or control the minting of coin by other kings.

Mercian control of London and interest in cross Channel trade must have affected the kingdom of Kent and influenced relations, but the evidence is equivocal and it is difficult to demonstrate that the Kentish kings were subordinate. Mercian influence, however, might be reasonably supposed, as when in 731 the priest Tatwine, from the monastery of Breedon-on-the-Hill (Leicestershire), was elected archbishop of Canterbury. This was not an isolated instance; in 734-5 Nothelm, a priest of London, and again in 740, Cuthbert, a probable former bishop of Hereford, were elected to Canterbury.

Relations with Wessex seem to have been largely framed by border disputes in which Æthelbald was successful in gaining territory, perhaps previously contested land. He appears disposing of lands in West Saxon areas and this, alongside the fact that Æthelbald and the West Saxon king Cuthred fought together in 743 against the Britons, leads some to suggest a Mercian overlordship of Wessex at this point; but that need not be so, and in any case, by 752, Cuthred put the Mercians to flight at Beorhford. However, Æthelbald still appears witnessing land granted in Wiltshire as `king not only of the Mercians but also of the surrounding peoples’.

Perceptions of Æthelbald’s Kingship

There can be no doubt that royal authority in Mercia itself was strengthened and the kingdom enlarged as former satellite provinces were incorporated with the Mercian heartlands, but what of the rest of southern England?

It has recently been suggested that Æthelbald’s ambitions were relatively limited, represented essentially by a `corridor’ of territory that ran south eastwards along the line of Watling Street towards London. Beyond this, there is little to suggest direct control in Kent, among the South and East Saxons, or in the East Anglian kingdom. Still more limited were Mercian ambitions north of the Humber, with only two raids into Northumbria, in 737 and 740; nor is there much evidence regarding Wales, although the border areas had become more volatile by the early eighth century.

Can we reconcile this more circumspect evaluation with the testimony of Bede, as a direct and well-connected witness, well able to appreciate the contemporary scene; and one subsequently borne out by such as Æthelbald’s confirmation of privileges to the churches of Kent in 742, the kind of act that we might associate with a king thought to wield real authority? Direct authority over the lands between the Mercian heartlands and London was essential, but elsewhere negotiation and fluctuation were possible based on influence, friendship and strength. Æthelbald pursued kingdom building in central England and secured its frontiers while elsewhere, to borrow a nineteenth-century phrase, he maintained `spheres of interest’.

Æthelbald’s aspirations and `profile’ may, to some extent, be reflected in the titles that he adopted, but such material must be treated with caution. The practices of individual scriptoria, particularly Worcester, played a part here and the styles they used need not have always represented the reality. The title of `rex Britanniae’, king of Britain, used in 736 is hardly credible, whereas in the text of the charter is found, `king not only of the Mercians but also of all the provinces which are called by the general name south English’, a description that comes closer to what Bede described a few years earlier. More commonly, as for Offa later, he was styled `rex Merciorum’, `king of the Mercians’, a more accurate reflection of Æthelbald’s authority, status and ambition.


The Unbelievable True Story of a Lone Soviet Tank’s Raid on Nazi-Occupied Minsk

Military journalist Alexander Khrolenko looks back on the incredible story of how a lone Soviet T-28 medium tank conducted a daring raid on Nazi-occupied Minsk in the early weeks of the Great Patriotic War.

On Sunday, Russia celebrates Tankers Day, the official holiday for tank crew established in 1946 in honor of the achievements of armored and mechanized forces in the Great Patriotic War. In light of the celebration, RIA Novosti contributor Alexander Khrolenko penned a piece about one of the most striking episodes of the tank crew heroics during the war: an incredible raid by a single Soviet T-28 crew on German-occupied Minsk in July 1941.

It Was the 12th Day of the War

In early July 1941, a T-28 medium tank commanded by Sargent Major Dmitri Malko was struck by a Luftwaffe raid as it made its retreat along with a column of other Soviet mechanized units near Berezino, about 90 km east of Minsk, which had been occupied by the Nazis soon after the start of the war. The tank’s engine was damaged. Malko, an experienced mechanic, managed to repair it, but ended up hopelessly behind the rest of the column. Rather than try to catch up, the officer and his crew decided to head west and pay a visit to the Germans in Minsk. Stocking up on ammunition at an abandoned military warehouse, the T-28 headed west to the Belarusian capital.

Field Marshal Hans Guderian’s tank forces had already advanced east, and the lone Soviet T-28 driving along the roads did not attract much attention from the Germans, who were used to seeing trophy enemy armored vehicles.


A Soviet Т-28, one of the world’s first medium tanks, created in 1932

Fiery Breakthrough

Making their way west, Malko’s tankmen hit upon a column of German motorcyclists about 40 km outside Minsk at a bridge over the River Svislach.

Khrolenko wrote: “The T-28 crashed into the column, shooting up enemy forces with its cannon and four machine guns. After that, the crew destroyed two German trucks, a Hanomag armored personnel carrier and dozens of troops in front of a distillery. Moving further into the city, the T-28 ran over and shot Nazi troops in the streets and in Gorky Park (which contained a military encampment).”

‘Even the Stones Burned’: 75 Years On From Worst Bombing of Great Patriotic War

“In the course of their raid on Minsk, the six Soviet tankmen destroyed or disabled about 10 enemy tanks and armored vehicles, 14 trucks, and three artillery batteries. German troops suffered heavy losses totaling about 360 soldiers and officers.”

The brave crew of the T-28 drove through central Minsk, firing until it ran out of ammo, before German command finally realized what was going on. A lone Wehrmacht anti-tank gun fired on the Soviet tank, but its frontal armor absorbed the blow, after which Major Vasechkin returned fire, destroying the gun.

Khrolenko wrote that after their mission was complete, “the T-28 nearly managed to break out of the city, but on its outskirts, in the area of the Kalvariyskoe Cemetery, it got hit by flanking fire by enemy artillery and caught fire. The Red Army troops managed to escape the burning tank.”

Fate of the Crew

The tank’s crew would face differing fates. Tank driver Major Vasechkin left the tank through the commander’s hatch, firing from his TT handgun before being shot down by the Nazis. Cadets Alexander Rachitsky and Sergei (surname unknown) were also killed in the battle. Cadet Nikolai Pedan was taken prisoner and held for four years in a Nazi concentration camp. He was eventually freed, reinstated in the army, and demobilized in 1946. Cadet Fyodor Naumov went into hiding, joining Belarus’s powerful partisan movement. He was heavily wounded in 1943, and evacuated east.


Sergeant Major Malko managed to escape Minsk and headed east, meeting up with Soviet troops. Khrolenko writes: “He fought in the tank troops for the rest of the war, his tank catching fire sixteen times…He met Victory Day in East Prussia, promoted by that time to deputy commander of a tank company. Exactly three years after the 1941 raid, on July 1944, Senior Lieutenant Malko found himself in liberated Minsk, and saw the burnt out husk of his T-28.”

“Later, in the spring of 1945, US counterintelligence interrogated German Major Rudolf Hale, who had been taken prisoner in the Ruhr area. During his interrogation, the major told the Americans that in the summer of 1941, his company and its equipment were almost completely destroyed after the unexpected appearance of a Soviet T-28 in Minsk. US command handed this testimony to the appropriate organs their Soviet counterparts. However, no one believed the stories of Tankman Dmitri Malko or German Major Rudolf Hale. Only in 1966, when Nikolai Pedan confirmed the story, would Malko be awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st Class.”


Dmitry Ivanovich Malko, T-28 tank driver who destroyed over 300 enemy troops and 10 armored vehicles in occupied Minsk.

Overshadowed by its younger cousin, the legendary T-34, the T-28 was one of the most formidable medium tanks in the world during the early war period. The steel monster had 80mm thick frontal armor, and 40mm side and rear armor. The tank’s unusual multi-turret configuration included a 76mm cannon and four 7.62mm machine guns. The tank’s cannon could penetrate armor up to 50 mm at distances up to 1,000 meters. Its 500hp engine allowed it to move at speeds of over 40 km/h, and successfully cross ditches, escarpments and other obstacles. The onboard radio station allowed for communications at a range of up to 60 km. The tank had a standard crew of six. In June 1941, the Red Army fielded about 250 serviceable T-28s. The last combat use of the T-28 would be reported in 1944.


T-28s parading along Red Square, November 7, 1939




Hitler’s Plan to Attack America




Picture Credit: Life, 1942

by Gerhard Weinberg

Gerhard L. Weinberg is emeritus professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Editor’s Note (1999): In his new book, A Republic, Not an Empire, Patrick Buchanan claims that as of mid-1940 Hitler “was driven by a traditional German policy of Drang nach Osten, the drive to the East.” He did not want war with the West, insists Buchanan. (Pp. 268-69.) Why then did Hitler, following Pearl Harbor, declare war on the United States? Buchanan insists this was the irrational act of a madman. In fact, insists Gerhard Weinberg, it was consistent with an objective Hitler had long nourished.

It had been an assumption of Hitler’s since the 1920s that Germany would at some point fight the United States. As early as the summer of 1928 he asserted in his second book (not published until I did it for him in 1961) that strengthening and preparing Germany for war with the United States was one of the tasks of the National Socialist movement. Both because his aims for Germany’s future entailed an unlimited expansionism of global proportions and because he thought of the United States as a country which with its population and size might at some time constitute a challenge to German domination of the globe, a war with the United States had long been part of the future he envisioned for Germany either during his own rule of it or thereafter.

During the years of his chancellorship before 1939, German policies designed to implement the project of a war with the United States had been conditioned by two factors: belief in the truth in the stab-in-the-back legend on the one hand and the practical problems of engaging American military power on the other. The belief in the concept that Germany had lost the First World War because of the collapse at home — the stab in the back of the German army — rather than defeat at the front automatically carried with it a converse of enormous significance which has generally been ignored. It made the military role of the United States in that conflict into a legend. Believing that the German army had not been beaten in the fighting, Hitler and many others in the country disbelieved that it had been American participation which had enabled the Western Powers to hold on in 1918 and then move toward victory over Germany. They perceived that to be a foolish fable, not a reasonable explication of the events of that year. A solid German home front, which National Socialism would ensure, could preclude defeat next time; the problem of fighting the United States was not that the inherently weak and divided Americans could create, field, and support effective fighting forces, but rather that they were so far away and that the intervening ocean could be blocked by a large American fleet. Here were the practical problems of fighting America: distance and the size of the American navy.

To overcome these practical obstacles Hitler built up the German navy and began work on a long-range bomber — the notorious Amerika Bomber — which would be capable of flying to New York and back without refueling. Although the bomber proved difficult to construct, Hitler embarked on a crash building program of superbattleships promptly after the defeat of France. In addition, he began accumulating air and sea bases on the Atlantic coast to facilitate attacks on the United States. In April 1941 Hitler secretly pledged that he would join Japan in a war on the United States. This was critical. Only if Japan declared war would Germany follow.

As long as Germany had to face the United States essentially by herself, she needed time to build her own blue-water navy; it therefore made sense to postpone hostilities with the Americans until Germany had been able to remedy this deficiency. If, on the other hand, Japan would come into the war on Germany’s side, then that problem was automatically solved.

Hitler was caught out of town at the time of Pearl Harbor and had to get back to Berlin and summon the Reichstag to acclaim war. His great worry, and that of his foreign minister, was that the Americans might get their declaration of war in ahead of his own. As Joachim von Ribbentrop explained it, “A great power does not allow itself to be declared war upon; it declares war on others.” He did not need to lose much sleep; the Roosevelt administration was quite willing to let the Germans take the lead. Just to make sure, however, that hostilities started immediately, Hitler had already issued orders to his navy, straining at the leash since October 1939, to begin sinking American ships forthwith, even before the formalities of declaring war. Now that Germany had a big navy on its side (Japan’s), there was no need to wait even an hour.

This article is excerpted from Gerhard Weinberg’s Germany, Hitler, and World War II (Cambridge University Press: 1995).




Moth at Darwin

RAAF Anson


Planning for the first permanent RAAF involvement in Northern Australia began in 1937, and by late December of that year, had reached the stage where design drawings for an Air Station to be established at Darwin were sent from the Defence Department to the Department of Interior.

In April 1938, the Chief of Air Staff advised Wing Commander George Jones, then Director of Personnel Services at RAAF Headquarters at Laverton, and Squadron Leader Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton, then Station Headquarters Staff at Laverton, that they were to be appointed Commanders respectively of the new Northern Station and the Squadron. It was anticipated that this would come into being as early as September. These two Officers worked together over succeeding weeks in developing plans for the Station, and in mid-May flew to Darwin in Avro Anson A4-1 to carry out an inspection on the ground.

Despite the time-frame originally envisaged, matters progressed slowly. It was not until 21 February 1939, that the Air Board had estimates from the Works Branch of The Department of Interior for the construction of major buildings of the new Base. The Board was horrified to discover that the cost of two hangers was £95,000, but the Minister approved the project on 8 March 1939, directing that the Board’s concern regarding the cost should be referred to the Department of Interior.

By this time W/C Jones was posted to RAAF HQ, but S/Ldr Eaton was still appointed to command No 12 General Purpose Squadron, when it was formed at Laverton on 6 February 1939. Eaton was promoted to Wing Commander in March, and his Unit Equipment Officer, Flying Officer Arthur Hocking was ordered to form the Squadron immediately, and prepare to proceed to Darwin at short notice.

The new Unit was rapidly built up with equipment and personnel, and a week after formation, had a total of 14 officers and 120 airmen, along with 4 Avro Ansons and 4 Hawker Demon fighters. Preparations for the move north continued throughout the following week, and on 8 March, 250 beds were shipped on the steamer Montoro, followed a month later by 100 tons of barracks equipment on the Marella.

Three trucks were also dispatched, and other advance stores were packed in readiness for shipment. Delays continued to be experienced due to a shortage of aircraft. Four more Avro Ansons were awaited to complete the Squadron establishment, but it was not until the end of May that a further 3 machines were allotted from No 1 AD.

On 1 July, the move to Darwin finally began with the dispatch of an Advance Party of 30 NCOs and airmen. This group under Flying Officer Hocking, left Melbourne on board the Marella, being farewelled by 5 Avro Ansons and 3 Hawker Demons of the Squadron, flying in formation over the vessel. In Sydney the party transferred to the Montoro for the leg to Darwin, and was joined before departure by Flying Officer William Frogatt, the Unit Barracks Officer, who travelled up from Melbourne by train. Arriving at their destination on 24 July, the 32 members of this first element prepared the way for the drafts of personnel which were to follow.

Until the buildings of the permanent station, were completed by the Department of Interior, and available for occupation, the Squadron had to be accommodated in a temporary camp of field-huts and Bellman hangers at Darwin’s Civil Aerodrome at Parap. This camp had to be specially constructed, and it was this work which was the primary task for the Advance Party. This arrangement had allegedly been arrived at with the Department of Interior, both to expedite the work and to provide RAAF personnel with experience in handling and assembling reserve equipment used by their Service.

At a ceremony on 29 July 1939 the personnel of the advance party paraded for the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Mr Abbott, who formally welcomed them and turned the first sod at the site of the hutted camp. Meanwhile another party of 4 NC0s, (Sergeants H Hope and WC Hamilton with Corporals JL Truscott and JC Kane) had been sent by rail to Brisbane on 7 July 1939 for instruction in erecting Bellman hangers. Remaining until 3 August, when they flew to Darwin on board a QANTAS flyingboat, this group was accommodated in tin huts at the Acetate & Lime Factory, Cannon Hill in Brisbane, which proved to be excellent preparation for what awaited them at Darwin.

Until the advance party had finished erecting living quarters, its members were housed at the old meat works built during WW1, by the Vestey Pastoral Company to process and export beef. The enterprise was unsuccessful as these works had been closed for many years. As Darwin was then a town with a European population of less than 2,500, the range of options in temporary accommodation for a large influx of servicemen was limited. In fact, the advance party did rather well in having the substantial buildings of the meat works to begin with.

An Army artillery Unit had been sent to Darwin on HMAS Albatross to mount six-inch guns in defensive emplacements, and provide the town with a permanent garrison in September 1932. At that time FI/Lt Joe Hewitt of the ship’s RAAF detachment was intrigued with the lavish layout and potential uses of Vestey’s brick buildings. Darwin township, with its decrepit, ill-kept, corrugated iron buildings haphazardly fronting untidy dusty roads, could not compare with the prospects Vestey’s vacated meatworks offered with a clean up.

Despite this, life in 1939 had a distinctly raw, pioneering feel about it, for the members of the advance party. The quarters in the meatworks buildings, which were shared with personnel of the Army’s Darwin Mobile Force, wore very basic. The Air Force possibly benefited from some adverse publicity given by a Sydney newspaper as to the ’shocking conditions’ borne by the Army personnel prior to the arrival of the advance party. Even so, things remained primitive. Airmen slept on the first floor, on beds placed where-ever they could be fitted in amongst the disused machinery, and avoiding large holes left in the concrete floor where chutes or machinery had been removed.

These less than salubrious quarters were dimly lit with electricity from a diesel generator operated by the RAAF, which was turned off at 9 PM making it dangerous to move around after lights out. At 1030 PM on 9 September 1939, Air-Craftsman One PJ Hudson fell through one of the holes in the floor, sustaining injuries which led to his death on 12 September. He was buried the next day, in circumstances which graphically indicated the miserable conditions endured by the men.

“The cemetery was down below the Botanical Gardens, in from Mindil Beach, and it was raining. When we went down to bury him, the grave was filled with water. We finished the ceremony by going up to the borders of the Botanical Gardens and carrying down rocks with which to sink the coffin.”

Another member of the unit, Jim Truscott, vividly remembers the primitive conditions under which the RAAF personnel initially slept, washed, ate and worked. He recalls that there were no entertainment facilities, and only Fanny Bay beach, or camping at nearby lagoons for recreation.

“Mail, except Air Mail, was generally a month in reaching Darwin, so the airmen generally felt marooned. Despite all this, there was no serious outbreak of disease, and morale was good. We were transported daily from Vestey’s to the Civil Drome, in a light tender, to work on the buildings erection. There were no formal parades; we just boarded the tender in any old clothes, as work togs. Starting early in the morning, we worked until lunch, then had a siesta before returning to put in some more hours later. There was no undue exercise, as we were advised to conserve energy for our own health, and to ensure the work, our number one priority, was completed. Dark glasses were issued to combat glare while working on the buildings, which were all made of angle and galvanised iron. The huts had to be erected by hand, and die girders and rafters of the hangers were assembled -and hoisted by block and tackle.”

On 20 August, orders were received from the Air Board for the Squadron Headquarters and the existing aircraft of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights to make the transfer to Darwin next day. The personnel of these Flights duly left Essendon on board a civil airliner, but the departure of aircraft was delayed due to adverse weather, and finally arrived 29 August 1939. The aircraft were housed in the Civil hanger, and the Bellman hanger already put up by the advance party. The arrival of the flying party and aircraft meant that the first air patrol out of Darwin was undertaken on 31 August.

Back at Laverton, on 1 September, ‘C’ Flight received 5 Wirraway aircraft to replace its Hawker Demons. The next day, with war breaking out in Europe, these aircraft and another Avro Arson, set out on the trip north, and the same day 77 Officers and Airmen embarked at Melbourne to make the slower passage by sea around the coast to Darwin.

[Editors Note . No. 12 Squadron was to experience many changes, in bases, aircraft, and duties. Following are accounts from some of the earlier Squadron members.]


W/T Operator 1 Mechanic. Posted to the squadron May 1939.
“While the rest of the Squadron, and older units at Laverton were living high on the hog in the brick barracks close to the messes on the Station, poor old No. 12 Squadron, as a temporary unit on the Station, was housed in some old temporary hut from the. early days of the Training School, and a very long way from the messes and canteen, and the centre of life of the Station. No. 12 Squadron was formed with one immediate object in view, and that was to be the Darwin based section of the RAAF, and we were looking forward to shaking the southern dust off our shoes, and getting to grips with the realities of our tropical existence. If only we had known.

While we were only in temporary occupation of our quarters at Laverton, our aircraft created just as much hassle for the fully occupied hanger space. As a number of the members of the Service were still WWI men, with memories of the rapid development of the Australian Flying Corps and RFC Squadrons, during the latter stages of that war, their decision to house our aircraft in Bessoneaux hangers was the obvious answer. These were a canvas hanger, with wooden trusses to support the canvas walls and roof. There was no lateral timber structure, all the lengthwise stresses being taken by canvas, and the two end trusses being held down to large pegs by guy ropes.

They did a fine job with the dirt floors, but in those days little environment control was deemed necessary. Squadron offices were economically constructed from the packing cases in which the Seagull aircraft had been shipped from England.”


Cec was an Armourer with the Squadron at that time, and vividly recalls the graphic and geological difference between the tropical North and the more comfortable southern States.

“Our Commanding Officer, Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton, now happily reunited with his dog, informed us that the Squadron would have to construct its own camp, and that flying would be kept to a minimum until construction was complete, and this was vital before the full onset of the wet season. So there was the Civil Drome with heaps and heaps of sections of prefabricated galvanised iron huts with heaps of galvanised iron, angle iron struts and bearers, cypress floor joists, and six by six fabricated floor sections, with bags of round head bolts and nuts.”

Picture the scene, the area piled with this material, concrete stumps already point, whereas the miner or planter was more concerned with productivity. The philosophies of the missionaries and their more directed integration with the native, tended to estrange them from the other Europeans, particularly in the Mandated Territory where barriers of race and language were also a factor.

Most of the native population in the explored or controlled areas, adhered to one sect or another. A native mission teacher lived in most villages, teaching the rudiments of his faith under the guidance of the nearest missionary. The depth of belief varied from token adherence to complete dedication, however the influence of mission teaching was toward friendliness for and trust in, the European.

While the effect on the native of contact with whites has been studied by many learned scholars, the reverse effect rarely rates a mention in their dissertations. The Coastwatchers were conditioned by their experiences and association with natives. Europeans, who had lived four or five years in the Northeast Area, were generally known as Islanders. Constant dealing with native and having the authority over them, gave the Islander a habit of command, tempered with a sense of responsibility.

While reluctant to doing menial tasks, an Islander rarely shirked any hardship or danger, leading by example. Most were economically secure, which encouraged independence and a certain amount of arrogance; tempered with a lip-service gesture of discipline and conformity. Their own knowledge and experience indicated to them that order and system were necessary in the running of their affairs, but that enforced discipline was an impediment to natural progress. They could quickly evaluate a situation on its merits, and were intolerant of pompous officialdom.

They lived an exaggerated lifestyle and sometimes had less than harmonious relationships with their peers. However, they showed a united front to an outsider and were difficult to deal with. A feature of many Islanders was the deep friendships that developed between individuals over the years; a bonding where mutual loyalty was the paramount consideration and a friend’s weaknesses were opportunities to help, rather than reproach.

For all their acquired knowledge, it was impossible for any Islander to pass himself off as a native. The physical differences were such that any disguise would be penetrated in a short time, so Coast Watchers retained the form and status of Europeans when in enemy occupied zones.

As can be envisaged, a supply organisation was necessary, particularly for food, as the jungle is no larder, at best it can supply enough to sustain life for a short time. With the Coast watchers in their scattered and often remote locations, it was the established relationships with natives, that maintained the supply lines, These supply lines, of necessity, were a clandestine operation, and their success, not only for the logistics, but in preserving the security of the Coastwatchers, was a clear expression of the mutual respect between the Islanders and the natives.

The Islanders filled the key positions in the Coast Watchers. Without them the scheme would have been impractical and doomed to failure. Others played important roles, mainly on the staff.

Later, some naval officers and soldiers from the Independent Companies (Australia’s Commandos), after gaining experience from Coastwatchers in the field, were able to extend the operations. Some of these learnt their skills to the point that eventually they could not be distinguished from the Islanders. These men supplied the youthful energy to the Islanders, who, while sometimes hard-pressed with the strenuous duties they performed. Never flagged in their dedication and commitment.

With the drawbacks of inexperience and lack of training for a new form of warfare, the Coast Watchers to a man, put duty first and himself last.



Roman Liburnia

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

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

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

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

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