French Navy – The Liberation Of The France I

When the 2nd Armored Regiment of Marines, wearing their sailor hats with red pompons, led the liberating troops into Paris on August 24, 1944, it marked the return of the Navy of France to its native country. The City Hall was reoccupied that night at 10 o’clock to the clamor of bells announcing the news from every belfry. But the German troops still held several blocks of buildings in the heart of the city, and well into the middle of the next afternoon a piece of white bunting quartered with a black cross flew over the building that was the traditional home of the Ministry of the Navy, just off the Place de la Concorde. The flag was the personal emblem of the German Naval Command in France—“Admiral, Frankreich.”

However, for days the building had been under the secret surveillance of a group of men lurking in the adjoining buildings. These were all officers and men of the French Navy who, under the command of Commander Paul Hébrard, had organized a secret Navy headquarters in the city. With them were a number of ordinary seamen who had spontaneously collected around the French Navy group and who were identified by the makeshift uniform of blue and white striped jerseys which they wore under their jackets.

The object of their surveillance was the old Ministry of the Navy building in the Rue Royale.

Below, in the Place de la Concorde, General Leclerc’s tanks opened fire on the German admiral’s headquarters around three o’clock in the afternoon of the 25th. Under cover of this diversion, Commander Hébrard and his companions crossed over by a precarious temporary footbridge thrown across from the neighboring building, and infiltrated into the headquarters of the unsuspecting defenders. Within two hours the battle was over and the flag of France once more flew over the historic Ministry of the Navy. Hastily the Navy captors threw a guard around the premises, so that they might turn the building over, intact, to the new leaders when they should arrive.

The first of these was Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu, who had been appointed Vice Chief of Naval Operations at the beginning of the month. Landing in Normandy with General de Gaulle, the admiral had accompanied De Gaulle on his entry into Paris on the 26th, when the admiral took command of all naval establishments in the liberated regions of the north.

On receipt of the news that Paris had been liberated, the members of the Provisional Government, along with the officers of the Consultative Assembly and a few other high officials, had embarked on the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc at Algiers on August 29, to make the passage to Cherbourg. On September 2, the Commissioner of the Navy, Louis Jacquinot, installed himself at the Rue Royale headquarters, where he was joined in a few days by Rear Admiral Lemonnier, coming by plane from the naval front in Provence.

But even while Paris and southern France were being liberated and the great inland drives of the Allies from Normandy and Provence were starting, the movement had begun to clear the invader from the Channel and North Atlantic ports also.

North of the Seine estuary, the Canadian First Army, under General H. D. G. Crerar, headed a drive along the coast to the north and east. Rouen was liberated on August 31, and Dieppe fell the next day without a fight.

The French Captain of the Port at Dieppe, Mr. Quesnel, had succeeded in convincing the German harbormaster that, in times of alert, the drawbridge which straddled the entrance to the wet basins should always be left open. Then, when the Germans were about to depart, he wrecked the bridge machinery while the bridge was in the open position, with its ends resting on the dock, so that when the Germans came along to blow it up in the entrance channel, they were unable to do so.

At Dieppe, also, the French intelligence network to which one of the authors of this book belonged had made contact with a young French woman for whom the German general commanding the division at Dieppe entertained very warm feelings. In accordance with instructions she constantly preached to her admirer on the uselessness of trying to defend Dieppe. Whether the general was convinced, or whether his instructions were different from those issued to other German commanders along the coast, the fact remains that Dieppe was abandoned without a fight, although pretty strong defenses had been erected there.

The Mayor of Dieppe was very indignant that this woman, who had publicly consorted with the enemy, was being protected by a prominent member of the Resistance from the harsh treatment that was given to other women who had shown a weakness for the enemy. He was amazed when the author pointed out to him that it was due to her that he still had his roof over his head, instead of lying under its debris, like his colleagues in other less fortunate cities.

After Cherbourg, Dieppe was the first French port to be reopened to Allied shipping. Though the Germans here, as elsewhere, had tried to destroy the installations, the French Captain of the Port had ingeniously prevented the sabotage from being effective. Three days after Dieppe had passed into Canadian hands, the Allies were unloading 6,000 tons of military supplies there daily.

The small port of Fécamp was also taken by the Allies without a fight. But stern fighting lay ahead at Le Havre, Boulogne, and Calais in the north, and even bloodier fighting for the ports of the Bay of Biscay, to the south.

The capture of Le Havre was almost a repetition of the assault on Brest. Throughout the Normandy campaign the port had served as a base for a small flotilla of German torpedo boat destroyers, which, along with the Schnell Boote of Cherbourg, harassed the invasion fleet like hornets until they were finally blasted to the bottom, one after another. To capture Le Havre required nine days of heavy fighting, supported by more than 10,000 tons of heavy bombs and the powerful guns of HMS Warspite and the British monitor Erebus. Almost 9,000 civilians paid the penalty for being caught in a city blasted by bombs from planes of friends.

The British had other and even more important reasons for a quick capture of Boulogne and Calais. First of all, these fortresses protected the several German V-1 launching sites in the vicinity—and these long-range flying bombs were causing serious damage and casualties in the English capital. Next, here and there about Cape Gris-Nez were the large German guns that not only menaced all passage through the Strait of Dover, but also threw shells into Dover roads as well.

Boulogne had been cut off from the rest of German-held territory by September 7, but it was not until ten days later that the heavy siege guns which had been used in taking Le Havre arrived and were emplaced. The assault lasted six days and ended with the surrender of the 10,000 German soldiers garrisoning the port. Calais fell on September 30, and the first troops entering the city were guided in by Engineer Officer Robert Levert and his Boulogne detachment of naval firemen.

The rest of the story of the liberation of the north and northwest of France belongs largely to the armies, except in part for those warriors of both sea and land, the Marines. For, when General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division landed at Omaha Beach on August 2, to help drive the Germans back to the Rhine and beyond, his forces included the 2nd Armored Regiment of Marines, equipped with tank destroyer weapons, each of which had been christened with the name of a former French destroyer. Clad in British battle dress, but still obstinately wearing their sailor hats with red pompons, they participated, under the command of Captain Raymond Maggiar, in the pursuit of the retreating Germans. They distinguished themselves at the capture of Alençon. They were the first to march by the Arch of Triumph in Paris. It was in one of the closing engagements on the outskirts of the Bois de Boulogne that Lieutenant (junior grade) Michel Vassal fell. He had been one of the survivors of the tragedy which had befallen the French submarines in Morocco, two years earlier, at the time of the American landings. And it was still another Marine crew that manned the first French tank to reenter Strasbourg, on November 22, 1944.

But the war was far from over.

“We have found again the France of victory, but we do not forget that the war continues,” wisely declared the Chief of Naval Operations of the French Navy.

Still ahead were some of Germany’s most deadly surprises: on land, the great offensive in the Ardennes, the “Battle of the Bulge”; at sea, the advent of the snorkel and the Walther hydrogen peroxide engine which would give a new lease on life to the U-boat warfare; in the air, vastly increased airplane production (3,031 fighter planes in September as compared to 1,016 the preceding February) and the appearance of the revolutionary jet propelled Messerschmidt 262—“the most sensational fighter plane ever produced up until now.”

This was the opinion of the French aviator, Pierre Closterman. General Carl A. Spaatz, Chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, had been warning America against this plane ever since July, and had pressed for early delivery of American jet planes to counter it.

The French Navy’s job in this final period was tremendous. There were captive ports still to be liberated; there were construction and repair jobs to be done in those already freed; there was liaison to be maintained with the empire; there were already omens of the coming trouble in Indochina; and, last but not least, there was the clearing of mines along the coasts.

Of all the Navy’s tasks this was the most thankless, yet the one that required the most men and ships; the least spectacular, yet the one most arduous and urgent. During the whole past four years the shallows, the harbor entrances, and the estuaries had been crammed with mines, laid by the Allies as well as by the Germans. So enormous was the task that, even with the assistance of the Allies, it would be impossible to clear the whole coast immediately. Accordingly certain “red zones,” forbidden to shipping, were left alone and every effort given to clearing, on a priority basis, the shipping lanes most urgently needed for the war effort and the civilian subsistence.

In the Mediterranean, the shores of Sète were swept between October 22, 1944, and February 12, 1945—at the cost of the French minesweeper D-202. Port Vendres was tackled next; that took from December 4 to March 28, and resulted in the severe damage of the D-252 by an acoustic mine. Other French sweepers were operating in the region of La Ciotat and Sanary, and in still unsafe corners of the Toulon roadstead.

All the Mediterranean sweeps were accomplished with equipment furnished by the Allies. But in the northern zone—the Atlantic and the Channel —there were available some nine old sweepers of the 1940 fleet, returned by the British but with their machinery well worn out. The Allies, however, agreed to sweep the entrances of the ports north of Brest, while the French undertook to clear those of Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, although to do so they had to call in some of the sweepers from the Mediterranean.

In addition there was convoy escort duty, which had to be kept up as long as the enemy had U-boats at sea. In this duty the Enjoué (ex-P.C. 482), commanded by Lieutenant Georges Decugis, was sunk with all hands by the U-870 off Cape Spartel on January 9, 1945. Twenty-two days later the Ardent (ex-P.C. 473) went down in collision with a British freighter off Casablanca, but fortunately without loss of life. Another two months saw the destroyer Combattante blown up on a mine off the entrance to the River Humber, with a loss of 68 killed or missing out of a crew of 185.

But while the French Navy was defending against enemy submarines in the Channel and the Atlantic, its own submarines were operating against whatever German ships could still be found anywhere. In the eastern Mediterranean, the Curie, commanded by Lieutenant Pierre Chailley, sank two German transports of 2,000 tons on October 2, 1944. Off the Norwegian coast the Rubis closed its glorious career by laying four minefields between September 24 and December 9, 1944. These reaped a harvest of seven victories, bringing the total of the Rubis’ victims to fifteen.


French Navy – The Liberation Of The France II

On land, the French naval infantrymen, even if they did not have ships’ decks under them, had no cause to complain of lack of action. Lieutenant Commander Kieffer’s battalion, which had been engaged at Ouistreham, continued its operations with the British 1st Brigade of Commandos, and distinguished itself at the taking of Walcheren Island, blocking the mouth of the Scheldt, in November, 1944, and in raids on the companion island of Schouwen in December. The Naval Armored Regiment, forming part of the French 2nd Armored Division, participated in the drive to the Rhine. By February 9, 1945, they had destroyed 57 enemy tanks, 11 half-tracks, 27 armored vehicles, and caused numerous enemy casualties, at a cost to themselves of only 5 tanks, and 51 men killed and 215 wounded.

After being recalled westward for the Royan operation, the Naval Armored Regiment returned to the eastern front and was in on the taking of Berchtesgaden on May 5, 1945.

The 1st Naval Infantry Regiment, after its operations at Toulon, participated in the hard fighting in Alsace at the end of the year, and finally ended its activities in the Aution Mountains in the Italian theater. The 4th Naval Infantry Regiment was occupied in keeping the Germans shut up in Lorient. The 3rd and 5th Regiments were just being organized in the region of Arcachon, and would become the nucleus of the future Brigade of the Far East.

Although the Germans had been driven out of southern France they still held strong positions in northern Italy, where they remained a constant menace to Provence. After the American Army had driven north from the Provence beaches toward the Rhine, the only troops left to meet any eruption of the Germans were General Paul Doyen’s force, which was largely infantry, with practically no artillery and only a very small air force. What he needed badly was the support of naval ships.

Up until October 16, 1944, that support was provided by Rear Admiral Davidson’s Task Force 86. On that date Rear Admiral Auboyneau succeeded Admiral Davidson in command of the force, which was now largely made up of French ships. Less than three weeks later the force was reorganized and redesignated the Flank Force with a new commander, Rear Admiral Jaujard, flying his flag in the Montcalm. Although the composition of the force varied from time to time, it usually included 4 or 5 French cruisers, half a dozen French destroyers, and a number of escort ships, patrol craft, and minesweepers. In addition to the French ships, the Flank Force at the beginning included 4 destroyers, 12 minesweepers, some escort ships, and a flotilla of MTBs from the U.S. Navy.

Admiral Auboyneau had left on the Emile Bertin on a mission to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

French ships that served at one time or other with the Flank Force included the cruisers Montcalm, Georges Leygues, Gloire, Emile Bertin, Jeanne d’Arc, and Duguay-Trouin; the super-destroyer Tigre, and the destroyers Alcyon, Basque, Fortuné, Simoun, Tempête, and Trombe.

The cruisers, based on Toulon, constituted the bombardment group. The destroyers making up the support force also operated from Toulon. All ships of the force cruised continually, during daylight hours, some ten miles off the coast, between Ventimiglia and Cape di Nola. At night the destroyers took over the job of blockading the Gulf of Genoa.

At Cannes there was based a patrol group consisting, on the average, of four escort vessels and submarine chasers. This group was particularly effective against the floating mines which the enemy released in the westward current in the hope that they would interfere with the traffic out of Toulon.

Sometimes as many as 40 of these mines were destroyed in a single day; in all, 430 were destroyed in the approaches to Toulon.

Finally, the MTBs based at Golfe Juan, near Cannes, carried out night raids along the Italian coast.

It would be useless to try to describe all the various occasions on which the Flank Force fired against German batteries, communication centers, amunition dumps, and other such targets in support of the Allied armies operating ashore. The figure of 3,766 shells fired by the cruisers and 6,392 by the destroyers will give some idea of their activities.

But one of the most useful activities of the patrol craft of the Flank Force was the interception of “human torpedoes,” which made their appearance off the Provence coast subsequent to the landings. Three of these torpedoes, ridden and steered by enemy swimmers, were sunk on September 5, 1944, by the U.S. destroyer Ludlow and the French Malin. The Cimeterre also sank a human torpedo, and in December and January the Sabre and the Fortuné destroyed three Italian MTBs of the 10th MAS. The Javelot, the Cimeterre, and subchaser No. 105 each sank an explosive-laden motorboat also.

This flotilla was a part of the small fraction of the Italian Navy which remained loyal to the Fascist Republic created by Mussolini in the brief period after his spectacular liberation from the Gran Sasso on September 12, 1943.

After February of 1945, when Germany’s situation was becoming rapidly worse, the Flank Force had to redouble its activities in order to check any last minute acts of desperation on the part of the Germans. The cruisers stepped up their bombardments, the destroyers worked in closer to the shore. Three more enemy MTBs were sunk—one by the Lansquenet on March 15, another by subchaser No. 25 on April 11, and the third by the Trombe on April 16. But in the engagement the Trombe was struck by a torpedo from the enemy MTB which killed 19 men, probably the last casualties to be suffered by the French Navy at sea during the war. Eight days later the subchasers No. 112 and No. 122 and the Lansquenet sent six more MTBs to the bottom. Three others (two Italian and one German), which had left San Remo to carry out a raid on the Corsican coast, scuttled themselves in the Gulf of Porto on April 24, with all the crews being made prisoners. The war was nearing its end for Hitler’s forces in Italy as well as elsewhere, but, before evacuating the Italian Riviera, the Germans sank the last of the French ships scuttled at Toulon and later refloated by the Italians and towed to Genoa or La Spezia.

But before the Flank Force was dissolved on May 13, 1945, it had had to log one major disaster to its forces, and that was not caused by enemy action. On Christmas, 1944, the Terrible and the Malin, of the 10th Light Cruiser Division, were in collision during exercises off Naples. The Malin lost its bow as far back as No. 1 gun.8 The Terrible had one fireroom flooded and her superstructure razed from the after stack to No. 3 gun. After the collision, 69 men were reported dead or missing, of whom 61 were from the Malin.

The Malin was repaired by replacing the damaged section with the bow of the Indomptable, which had been scuttled at Toulon on November 27, 1942.

By now the dread German war machine that had once swept over most of Europe had been pushed back completely out of France except for strongly fortified pockets along the Channel coast south of Brest. Here they were hemmed in by 80,000 French fighting men coming for the most part from the former French Forces of the Interior (F.F.I.). But the improvised armaments of these besiegers would not permit their taking the offensive against an enemy so well entrenched, so well provided with artillery, and constantly in touch with its homeland by air. Furthermore, the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of French civilians had to be considered. They were, in effect, hostages in these German-held cities.

These communication lines were kept open by planes taking off at night from the base at Friedrichshafen, on Lake Constance.

The cost of taking such grimly defended fortresses, only to win a wrecked city and an unusable port, had been only too well learned at Brest. That was the reason besiegers had refrained from assaulting Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, La Pallice, and La Rochelle.

Bordeaux, as described before, had fallen, intact, to the F.F.I. on August 28, 1944. But lying almost 100 kilometers up a river easy to mine, the port had never been used by the Kriegsmarine other than as an entry port for blockade-runners and, from September, 1940, to September, 1943, as a base for Italian submarines operating in the Atlantic. This last activity had brought down on the city some heavy Allied air attacks, one of which, on May 17, 1943, had caused the death of 172 civilians. The Allied bombs had destroyed the locks to the drydocks, leaving five Italian submarines stranded, and halting use of the harbor by the Axis for several months.

To avoid the dangerous passage of the Strait of Gibraltar after each patrol, the Italian Navy had obtained permission from the Germans to establish an Italian submarine base (Betasom) at Bordeaux. Twenty-seven Italian submarines from the Mediterranean were based here, as well as three others which joined from the Red Sea after General Wavell had captured their bases in Eritrea. Of these 30 submarines, three were sent as cargo carriers to Japan or the Indian Ocean, a few returned to Italy, and 16 were lost while on patrol. At the time of the Italian armistice there were only two at Bordeaux, both undergoing major overhaul.

It was from Bordeaux that Lieutenant Commander Prince Valerio Borghese, in the Leonardo da Vinci, carried out the trials of a small “pocket” submarine, which was to be carried on the deck of a large submarine to the entrance of the Hudson River in order to attack the ships in New York harbor. The trials were completely successful but the sudden turn of the war in Italy prevented the project ever being carried out.

When General von Blaskowitz had received the order from Hitler’s headquarters to withdraw his forces on August 17 and to regroup them where needed, he had given General Albert Nake, commanding in the Bordeaux region, the order to destroy all the harbor installations before leaving. But after negotiations with the encircling F.F.I., General Nake had agreed not to carry out this destruction in exchange for the pledged promise of the F.F.I. not to harry his troops in their retreat. The Germans probably thought that the obstructions they had already placed in the Gironde below the town would effectively prevent its use by the Allies. The F.F.I. promise had been kept, the Germans had moved out, and the national flag of France had again been run up over the city hall by Lieutenant Commander René Jalabert, who at the time was serving with the Maquis of Dordogne.

These obstructions consisted of seven ships, varying between 40 and 140 meters in length, sunk in two parallel rows across the axis of the channel. Although the work of clearing them away was begun in late 1944, it was not completed until February of 1946.

Even without the obstructions, the harbor of Bordeaux would have been unusable by the Allies as an unloading port, because the Germans still had strong garrisons heavily dug in at Point de Grave and around Royan, on both banks of the Gironde near its mouth.

Had not the ports of Cherbourg and Dieppe in the north been available to the Allies for supplying their armies as they drove inland, there might have been good reason for giving first priority to recapturing some of the large ports on the Atlantic coast of France. But thousands of tons of cargo could be poured in through those two channel ports alone every day, and, in addition, Marseilles was rapidly being restored to usefulness. Hence, despite the impatience manifested in some Government circles for “reasons of prestige,” the Allies had wisely decided to make the attack toward the Rhine their first concern, and leave the recapture of the Atlantic ports until more forces were available.

With the end of the land campaign on the Provence and Languedoc coasts, it seemed as though that time had come. The Moroccan 1st Infantry Division, from De Lattre de Tassigny’s Army, and the 1st Naval Infantry Regiment were detached for that purpose and ordered to the southwest front on December 18.

Then, within less than 24 hours, the Germans had erupted in that desperate winter offense in the Ardennes, with its ensuing threat against the pivot point of Strasbourg. The 1st Naval Infantry Regiment was immediately recalled to the threatened eastern front, and the projected attack against the coastal ports had to be postponed, even though an actual date— January 10—had been set for its beginning.

Through some error never explained, the air attacks which the Allies had been asked to make as preliminary bombardments on the Gironde pockets were never cancelled. On January 5, 1945, some 175 British bombers came over as originally planned, and dropped tons of bombs— not on the German pockets, but on Royan itself, which was destroyed from top to bottom, with 1,000 of its inhabitants dead in the ruins.

The French naval forces, not being able to do anything about the battles in the Ardennes and at Strasbourg, continued to plan for the eventual campaign against the German-held strong points on the coast. On the Gironde front, ever since October of 1944, there had been the 1st Regiment of Naval Gunners, commanded by Commander Charles Touraille. For air support there was Naval Air Group No. 2, commanded by Commander François Lainé, which had been organized in November, 1942, by combining Lieutenant Félix Ortolan’s Fighter Squadron 3F with Lieutenant Raymond Béhic’s Fighter Squadron 4F.

Originating as a battery of four 155-mm. guns, and designated as the 1st Battery of Naval Gunners, it received an addition of four 90-mm. batteries after the Italian campaign and had been redesignated the 1st Regiment of Naval Gunners.

From December 9, 1944, until May 8, 1945, this air group carried out 1,108 sorties and dropped 532 tons of bombs. Its missions varied from reconnaissance and patrols over the lines and at sea to bombing the German defenses in the pockets. It lost altogether eight planes and four crews, but among its losses was Warrant Officer Paul Goffeny, who had already distinguished himself in Syria. On New Year’s Day of 1945 he and his whole plane crew were lost in the resulting explosion when he bombed a German tanker off Point Coubre at almost masthead height.

His name was honored by being given to the ex-German aircraft tender Max Stinsky, which had escaped from one of these German pockets and was interned in Spain until it was eventually turned over to France in 1946. As the Paul Goffeny it took an important part in the war in Indochina, and is today still in commission.

For the projected attack on the Atlantic pockets, the Navy had organized a French Naval Task Force (F.N.T.F.) on December 15, 1944, and had placed it under the orders of Rear Admiral Joseph Rue, flying his flag in the Lorraine. While waiting to take its part in the final assault operations, the F.N.T.F. had the responsibility of blockading the German pockets to prevent the Germans from bringing in supplies—often in neutral ships— or of escaping after destroying everything.

In a letter dated February 5, 1945, Admiral d’Argenlieu called attention to the constant traffic between the German pockets and the Spanish ports. He stressed the strength of the German force of 8 submarines, based at Saint-Nazaire and La Pallice, plus numerous armed trawlers and minesweepers, as compared to the French force of only 8 MTBs at Brest, plus a few submarine chasers and armed trawlers.

The F.N.T.F. had assembled at Cherbourg in December, when first organized. It consisted at that time of the Lorraine, Duquesne, Gloire, some 1,500-ton destroyers, and a group of minesweepers that had just come from the Mediterranean. But the German Christmas offensive had so disrupted the original plans that the Gloire and the destroyers had to rush back to the Mediterranean.

An attempt to begin operations on a limited scale in December had turned out badly also. The objective had been the recapture of the small islands of Houat and Hoedic, off the mouth of the Loire River. But the French armed trawler Abel Alain, with a small assault force of sailors, had run unto a flotilla of Germans who were on their way to Houat with a much larger body of reinforcements. The encounter, which had been brought about by a fog, resulted in the Abel Alain being beached, its commanding officer killed, and some 30 French sailors captured.

Later, an attempt by the Duquesne, with the destroyer escorts Hova and Somali, to bombard the German defenses of Belle Isle was thwarted by another fog. For the time being, the only activities continued were the duels between the batteries of the 1st Regiment of Naval Gunners and the German antiaircraft guns on Point de Grave and in the La Rochelle-Royan region.

During this lull in the hostilities along the coast, the local French commanders and the German leaders of the garrisoned pockets—Vice Admiral Ernst Schirlitz at La Rochelle, and Colonel Hartwig Pohlmann and Rear Admiral Hans Michaellis at Royan—had made agreements aimed at reducing the suffering caused by the sieges. These agreements provided for the exchange of many prisoners, the evacuation of the civilian population who wished to leave the cities, and the preservation of La Rochelle and La Pallice from the destruction that had been visited upon other French cities by their German defenders.

This state of affairs, in which the Germans were being hemmed into their fortifications without loss of lives, could just as well have continued right up to the capitulation of Germany, of which many unmistakable signs were beginning to appear. Nevertheless, on April 13, at a time when the American armies were within 100 kilometers of Berlin and the Russians less than 50, General de Larminat, commander of the French forces in that sector, launched “Operation Vénérable,” intended to clear the entrance to the Gironde. And, 15 days later and only one week before Germany’s capitulation, he ordered the attack on the Ile d’Oléron designated as “Operation Jupiter.”

Although not in favor of these operations, the Navy carried out its commitments. The Lorraine and the Duquesne made up the bombardment group of the F.N.T.F., along with the destroyers Fortuné, Basque, Alcyon, the destroyer escort Hova, the frigates Aventure, Découverte, and Surprise, and the sloop Amiral Mouchez, plus eight French and a dozen British minesweepers. A squadron of seaplanes based on Hourtin and Lieutenant Béhic’s 4F Squadron from Cognac also played a prominent role in the operations.

The blockade of the German positions which had been carried out by light craft from Brest was augmented each night by the 23rd Flotilla of MTBs. Armed pinnaces patrolled the mouth of the Gironde. Fourteen enemy vessels which attempted to evade this blockade were captured, and only five slipped through to Spain.

On the night of April 5, the Surprise drove two German Class M minesweepers to shelter behind the German minefields, and on the following night the pinnace Coccinelle captured an enemy picket boat with two officers. On April 10 the Fortuné and the Hova captured the German-manned trawler Hasard off Les Sables d’Olonne. Another German trawler was captured by one of the French seaplanes, and six other ships were intercepted on April 18. The only active reply from the Germans was a very accurate salvo from the German batteries on the Ile de Ré which made the Surprise draw off to safer distance.

For Operation Vénérable, General de Larminat had considerable forces: 42 infantry battalions, 23 artillery groups, the equivalent of 4 armored regiments, and 2 engineer battalions—a total of 50,000 men, 300 tanks, and 280 guns, of which 190 were larger than 75-mm. In the artillery was the 1st Regiment of Naval Gunners with four batteries of 155-mm. guns. For air support there were 100 French planes plus innumerable Allied planes so that on certain days there were “more friendly airmen in the skies than there were enemy troops in the defenses below.” Altogether these planes made 5,400 sorties, during the course of which they dropped 10,000 tons of bombs!

Such was the case on April 14 and 15, when the Royan pocket, with a total of only 4,600 defenders, was assailed by 1,000 Flying Fortresses and 8000 troops.

To prepare for the assault, the minesweepers had swept and bouyed the firing stations of the large ships on the night of April 14. The bombardment force, departing from Plymouth, arrived on station at 0745 on the 15th, and at 0800 the Lorraine, Duquesne, and the destroyers opened fire on Point de Grave. One of the main reasons for this bombardment was to draw the defenders’ attention to the Point de Grave side while the land troops assailed the Royan area. For two days the bombardment group kept up their fire without the slightest response from the enemy—no enemy planes, no submarines, no enemy shellfire, even. Then, informed that they were no longer needed, the F.N.T.F. returned to Brest, lighter by several hundred tons of powder and shells!

Seven magnetic or acoustic mines were swept from the stations which the bombardment ships were to occupy.

The defenders of the Royan pocket surrendered on the evening of April 17, Admiral Michaellis being captured in his own command post at Pontaillac. But on Point de Grave the fighting continued until the 20th. There a German lieutenant commander, commanding the Narvik Battalion, refused to surrender, and it became necessary to blast him out with one-ton bombs and tank destroyers.

Four thousand and six hundred Germans were captured at Royan, of whom 150 were officers. At Point de Grave the prisoners numbered 3,500. But the price paid for the victory was high—369 men killed and over 1,500 wounded, to say nothing of the obliteration of the communities and the casualties in the civilian population. And all of this was done simply to open, 15 days ahead of VE-day, a river which was so obstructed that it could not be cleared for traffic until the following year!

Although equally useless, Operation Jupiter, begun on April 29, at least had the merit of being less costly. The Lorraine’s big guns were not deemed necessary, so Admiral Rue had shifted his flag to the Duquesne. While covering the landing of the troops on the southern end of the Iie d’Oléron, the Duquesne expended five hundred and fifty 8-inch shells on the German batteries, and the destroyers fired 100 shots each. The following day, May 1, 1945, Oléron capitulated.

At La Rochelle, at Saint-Nazaire, and at Lorient, the French commanders had the intelligence to sit tight and wait for the end of the war when Germany as a whole would capitulate and these cities could be regained without bloodshed and without mass destruction.

Dunkirk also capitulated in the same manner, though here things were somewhat different. Whereas elsewhere the German defenders had remained within their fortifications and waited to be attacked there, Admiral Friederich Frisius, commander at Dunkirk, was a man of another caliber. He had formerly been the commander of the German naval forces on the Pas-de-Calais coast. When he had been forced to fall back to Dunkirk in September of 1944, he had drawn to himself all the German units on the Belgian coast which had been unable to withdraw to the Breskens pocket or to escape across the Scheldt. Now, during the closing days of hostilities, he enlivened matters by making audacious sorties that aroused quite a commotion in that region.

For instance, on April 9, he sent out a strong raiding party to disturb the sleep of the Allied troops. At that time the low lands behind Dunkirk were all inundated, as the Germans had blown up the dykes in order to have the additional protection of the flooded areas. The ground beyond was held by the siege lines made up of a Czech brigade, a few elements of British artillery, and three French battalions, formerly of the F.F.I.

Coming down a canal silently in rubber boats, the Germans scattered two companies of newly arrived besiegers and penetrated several miles inside the Allied positions. In the panic of surprise the English engineers blew up several bridges at Gravelines. Seasoned reinforcements had to be hurried up; these were found in a group of naval infantrymen whom the Commandant of the Navy at Boulogne had organized. Even so, the besiegers never did manage to dislodge the Germans from the strong positions they had taken, regardless of how many bombs the Allied planes rained upon them.

Admiral Frisius caused more troubles to the Allies than did his colleagues at Lorient and La Rochelle put together. In a way, it may be said that he never surrendered. When, in Germany, Marshal Alfred Gustav Jodl signed a capitulation on May 7, 1945, for all the armed forces of Germany everywhere, the redoubtable Admiral Frisius consented to quit fighting—two days later.

Fighting with Hedgehogs

USS England off San Francisco, 9 February 1944.

Hedgehog thrower on HMS Westcott, November 1945.

Secretary Margaret Jackson was able to provide Colin Gubbins, Special Operations Executive, with remarkably accurate briefs on the success or failure of the sabotage missions that were by now taking place on a nightly basis. Wireless transmissions were received by the various country sections, where they were collated and forwarded to her. She, in turn, handed them to Gubbins when he arrived for work at Baker Street.

The situation at the first was rather different. It was a source of continual frustration to Stuart Macrae not to have any idea as to how and when their weapons had been used. In part, this was because they were too busy to enquire. As summer yielded to autumn that year, 1943, they found themselves working on ‘all manner of remarkable projects’. There were ‘bombs which jumped about on the ground, bombs which leaped in and out of the sea and rockets which fired bridges over roads’ – the latter being the latest invention from the drawing board of Cecil Clarke. Yet news of operations hardly ever reached the sheds and workshops at the far end of the lower lawn.

Macrae tried to keep tabs on successful limpet attacks, but even this proved difficult. Unlike Gubbins, he was not in regular contact with the army high command. As for Jefferis himself, he didn’t seem to care. Macrae increasingly found himself in the role of ‘a theatrical producer who had found an unwilling star’ – Jefferis – ‘and forced him to fame’. He felt rather guilty, for ‘whereas I had succeeded in making myself happy, it was obvious that I had done the opposite for Millis’. Jefferis wanted nothing more than to be left with his mathematics, his coloured chalks and the occasional tumbler of whisky.

His most complex invention, the anti-U-boat Hedgehog mortar, had started life when the two of them were still working in the War Office back in the early days of war. It had originally been intended as a sabotage weapon to be used in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain, but had slowly been transformed into an instrument of such complexity that it had required more than two years of fine tuning. The principal difficulty had been to calculate the recoil accurately, essential to the stability of any ship. One newly recruited engineer who found himself travelling in the company of Jefferis said that he ‘spent most of one train journey between Bath and London sketching furiously on empty cigarette packets’. As the train pulled into Paddington, Jefferis gave the hint of a smile: the mathematics finally made sense. And by the time the sea trials took place, the Hedgehog was near perfect. The mortars dived downwards in their streamlined casings and then homed in on their underwater foe.

This all took time and it was not until the spring of 1943 that the first Hedgehogs were being installed on Royal Navy vessels. When Commander Reginald Whinney took command of the HMS Wanderer , he was told to expect the arrival of a highly secret piece of equipment. ‘At more or less the last minute, the bits and pieces for an ahead-throwing anti-submarine mortar codenamed “hedgehog” arrived.’

As Whinney watched it being unpacked on the Devonport quayside, he was struck by its bizarre shape. ‘How does this thing work, sir?’ he asked, ‘and when are we supposed to use it?’ He was met with a shrug. ‘You’ll get full instructions.’

Whinney glanced over the Hedgehog’s twenty-four mortars and was ‘mildly suspicious’ of this contraption that had been delivered in an unmarked van coming from an anonymous country house in Buckinghamshire. He was not alone in his scepticism. Many Royal Navy captains were ‘used to weapons which fired with a resounding bang’, as one put it, and were ‘not readily impressed with the performance of a contact bomb which exploded only on striking an unseen target’. They preferred to stick with the tried and tested depth charge when attacking U-boats, even though it had a hit rate of less than one in ten. Jefferis’s technology was too smart to be believed.

The Americans proved quicker at embracing the Hedgehog, equipping large numbers of their ships in the final months of 1943. Among them was the USS England, which went into service in the Pacific shortly afterwards. She was soon to find herself caught in the opening shots of Operation A-Go, the Japanese quest for the total destruction of the American Pacific fleet in the spring of 1944. It was an operation driven by Admiral Soemu Toyoda, who knew that submarines would play a central role in the battle ahead. Indeed he said that ‘the success or failure of Operation A-Go depends on the submarines’. What he didn’t know is that he would be pitting his fleet against Jefferis’s mathematical genius.

Admiral Toyoda issued his pre-battle orders to Rear-Admiral Naburo Owada on 3 May 1944. Owada was commander of the Japanese submarine force, Squadron Seven, and he was instructed to launch ‘a surprise attack against enemy task forces and invasion forces’.

The Americans were quick to intercept the Japanese wireless transmissions: one of the first intercepts revealed that a lone Japanese sub, I-16, was heading towards the Solomon Islands. The I-16 was an enticing prize, one of the largest submarines ever built in Japan. She was almost 350 feet long and heavily armed with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. She was so big that she could carry a small supplementary sub in her deckhouse. Moreover, she was commanded by the brilliantly gifted Yoshitaka Takeuchi.

American intelligence discovered not only the sub’s destination, but also her intended route and speed. This was immediately forwarded to the USS England, which set out in hot pursuit.

The England ’s executive officer, John Williamson, was one of the new breed of navy men: savvy, clean-shaven and passionate about the latest gadgets. With his large ears and goofy smile, he looked like a typical college geek. But he was a geek who was hungry for victory. And in Jefferis’s Hedgehog, he smelled triumph. Long before his vessel set sail from San Francisco, he had instigated a series of test firings in the harbour. ‘If it hit,’ he noted, ‘the concentrated power of its thirty-five pounds of TNT was enough to blow a two- or three-foot hole in a submarine’s three-quarter-inch rolled-steel hull.’ Unlike the depth charge, the Hedgehog only detonated on making contact with the submarine. ‘You knew you had scored a hit, and a devastating one.’

Now, as Williamson went in search of the Japanese sub, he felt ‘a heady mixture of excitement, eagerness and trepidation appropriate to new boys on the block’. One slip on his part and the England herself would come under attack from Commander Takeuchi’s torpedoes.

At exactly 1.25p.m. on 18 May, the England ’s soundman, Roger Bernhardt, gave a shout from the bridge. ‘Echoes sharp and clear, sir!’ The echo detection equipment revealed that the submarine was just 1,400 yards away. The chase was now on and the vessel began to shudder as the engines were cranked to full throttle.

Williamson was impressed by Takeuchi’s reactions, for he proved a skilled quarry. ‘At four hundred yards, the target turned hard left and kicked his screws.’ Takeuchi was making his escape, using a procedure known as ‘kicking the rudder’. This threw up disturbances in the water, distorting the sonar echoes and making the sub’s position impossible to pinpoint with accuracy. But Williamson had made it his business to locate subs, even in turbulent water. He studied the Doppler machine intently as he tried to calculate the exact depth of Commander Takeuchi’s sub. At precisely 2.33 p.m., he got a fix. A split-second later, he fired his weapon and the Hedgehogs roared away from the ship and upwards into the clear blue sky, forming themselves into a perfect ellipse and then entering the sea in symmetry, just as Millis Jefferis had intended.

‘No one said a word. All eyes were fixed on the water’s surface, everyone imagining the huge steel fish below.’ Everyone knew that unlike the old depth charge, the Hedgehog would only explode if it hit the sub.

Silence. Tension. And then – ‘V-r-r-oom ! We heard it again and again, in rapid-fire succession, four to six hits coming so fast on top of one another as to seem almost simultaneous.’ Williamson had just one word in his mind: ‘Bull’s-eye!’

Deep below the surface, Commander Takeuchi had been engaged in a desperate struggle to evade the England when his submarine was hit by six shattering explosions. Jefferis had spent months calculating the mathematical equation that would ensure his Hedgehog would strike with deadly precision. Now, that mathematics reaped dividends. As the I-16’s steel hull was punctured by multiple spigots, the rigid hull instantly and violently crumpled in on itself like a tin can crushed by a giant fist. Commander Takeuchi and his crew were engulfed in a catastrophic decompression that sucked in a high-velocity avalanche of water, along with twisted shrapnel from the crippled outer shell. Death was mercifully quick. There was no hope of escape.

There was jubilation aboard the England at the sound of the underwater explosions. The crew ‘broke out in cheers, everyone jumping and slapping one another on the back like a team that had just won a tournament game’. The cheering continued for fully two minutes, ‘and was just beginning to die down when all of a sudden we heard a giant wham !’ The sea erupted into angry wavelets and the England ‘shuddered violently and started rocking and reeling’.

Williamson’s first thought was that they had been torpedoed. He feared that Commander Takeuchi had somehow detonated his on-board torpedoes as a final, desperate act of revenge. In fact, it was the violent implosion of the submarine that caused the shockwaves. The men on the England were nevertheless terrified. The fantail of the ship ‘lifted as much as a foot, plopped heavily back in the water, while men throughout the ship were knocked off their feet and deck plates sheared loose in the engine room’. Williamson concluded that the aftershock marked the ‘cataclysmic certainty that we had heard the last of the Japanese submarine’. It left the men ‘sobered and subdued’. The Hedgehogs had made their job of killing very easy.

The submarine had been sunk at more than 500 feet below the surface and almost twenty minutes were to pass before the first wreckage began to appear. Williamson was staring intently at the sea when he saw some shredded cork insulation pop to the surface. It was followed by deck planking and the remnants of a filing cabinet. Next to float up was a prayer mat decorated with Japanese characters, a lone chopstick and a large rubber container holding a seventy-five-pound bag of rice.

There was increasing excitement on deck as more evidence of their ‘kill’ started floating to the surface. Everyone was awaiting the inevitable appearance of human remains. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, but they never arrived. John Williamson peered into the water and was quick to see why. ‘Soon a dozen or so well-fed-looking sharks were milling around the vicinity.’ Commander Takeuchi and his crew had fallen prey to two different enemies, one above water and one below.

A small oil slick soon appeared on the surface, evidence that the Hedgehogs had ruptured the sub’s fuel tanks. ‘The slick grew steadily in size until profuse amounts of oil were bubbling to the surface, along with more debris.’

All the detritus needed to be collected, for the US Navy would only confirm a ‘kill’ if there was evidence. One of the England ’s whaleboats was lowered and a few of the crew began collecting relics of the sub. Williamson was concerned for the men’s safety, for ‘there were a dozen or more huge sharks swimming excitedly through the floating debris, looking for blood and shredded limbs.’

Over the course of the next twelve days, Williamson achieved a record unbeaten in the history of naval warfare. He and his men sank a further five submarines, all destroyed by Hedgehogs. Each time, the effect was the same: a deep-water vroom, an oil slick on the surface and dozens of marauding sharks. One young mariner aboard the England confessed to being upset at the ease with which their Hedgehogs were destroying the subs. Williamson had a ready answer. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘war is killing. The more of the enemy we can kill, and the more of his ships we can sink the sooner it will be over.’ He added that ‘we are in a war that we must win, for to lose it would be far worse.’ It was a sentiment that could have come straight from the mouth of Millis Jefferis.

At the naval headquarters in Japan, Admiral Soemu Toyoda was still unaware of the catastrophe that had befallen Squadron Seven. He was eagerly anticipating the onset of Operation A-Go, aware that his submarines had a unique role to play. At 9 a.m. on 15 June he gave the order for battle, using exactly the same words as Admiral Togo had used to address his fleet on the eve of the famous Battle of Tsushima, thirty-eight years earlier. ‘The fate of the empire rests on this one battle. Every man is expected to do his utmost.’

As part of the general deployment, he sent an urgent directive to Admiral Owada: ‘Submarine Squadron Seven is to be immediately stationed east of Saipan, to intercept and destroy American carriers and transports, at any cost.’ Admiral Owada’s reply was succinct. Squadron Seven, he said, ‘has no submarines’. Jefferis’s Hedgehogs had claimed the lot.

Stuart Macrae was delighted when he was brought the news: indeed, it would remain with him for years. ‘The hedgehog was an out and out winner,’ he wrote. ‘It went into service rather late in the day, but was credited with thirty-seven confirmed submarine killings.’ What had begun as a sabotage mortar for use against the Nazis in Kent had been transformed by Jefferis into a devastating weapon of destruction.

Royal Navy Wartime Experience and Analysis

Until at least 1936, the Royal Navy did not try to interest the British Air Ministry in the development of high-performance fighters for its aircraft carriers, because the RN’s air officers did not think that an effective combat air patrol could be mounted around a carrier. By the time approaching bombers could be sighted and identified, it would be too late. Consequently, the RN carriers that followed Ark Royal, which was laid down in 1935, had armored flight decks so that they could absorb punishment and still operate attack aircraft. The advent of shipboard air-search radar in the first year of World War II, however, changed the situation, and the RN procured Royal Air Force (RAF) and U.S. Navy fighters and experimented with the central control of fighter defenses.

The RN also did not expect before World War II to have to operate its carriers against waves of high-performance land-based bombers—as it would be forced to do first in Norway in 1940 and then, in 1941, in the Mediterranean. The RN’s decision to construct carriers with armored flight decks restricted the number of aircraft such carriers could operate, so it chose to emphasize strike aircraft over fighters. The RN projected the logic of its own decisions about carrier-based strike aircraft upon the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Accordingly, it was surprised by the IJN’s very effective carrier-based attacks in the Pacific and the Bay of Bengal in the spring of 1942.

The leaders of the RN responded to the challenges to the Fleet Air Arm posed by operations against the Germans in the Mediterranean and the Japanese in the Indian Ocean by creating the Future Building Committee (FBC), chaired by the Deputy First Sea Lord, in July 1942. The FBC was “the only organization within the Admiralty charged with the overall review of British naval requirements,” and its deliberations supported those of the Joint (i.e., Royal Air Force/Royal Navy) Technical Committee. At the end of 1942, the Joint Technical Committee had accepted the idea that future strike aircraft would be significantly heavier, and it recommended that all future carrier aircraft therefore be designed to use rocket-assisted takeoff equipment. The committee also approved an increased carrier-landing speed for all aircraft. In February 1943, the FBC specified that “carrier interceptor fighters should be the equals (in performance) of their land counterparts,” which implied significant increases in the size and weight of carrier fighters. In March 1943, the Aircraft Design Subcommittee of the FBC was split off to become a distinct organization—the Naval Aircraft Design Committee. This committee was an “early proponent of the catapult as the primary means of launching aircraft” from carriers.

Also in 1943, the RN’s famous test pilot Eric Brown successfully landed a combat-loaded, twin-engine Sea Mosquito fighter on a carrier, and the Future Building Committee recommended that the Mosquito design be modified to create a long-range carrier fighter equipped with radar.

The resulting aircraft, christened Sea Hornet, first flew in April 1945. In September 1944 the First Sea Lord, Adm. Andrew B. Cunningham, asked the chief of the RAF’s Air Staff to provide the RN with Mosquitoes modified for use on carriers. Admiral Cunningham was thinking in early 1945 about long-range attacks from RN carriers against Japanese bases like Singapore. The Admiralty asked for two hundred Sea Mosquitoes “for delivery in 1945 and 250 to follow in 1946.”

That same month (September 1944), the Naval Aircraft Design Committee recommended to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) that it develop a jet interceptor for use from carriers. The members of the committee were aware that “such a fighter would demand catapult-only launching and that no other aircraft could be within thirty feet of it when its engine opened up to full power,” but they felt that the better air-to-air performance of the jet would more than compensate for the problems created by operating it from existing and planned carriers. By late 1944, the MAP had stopped work on new piston-engine designs and was focused on jet turbines and turboprops. In December 1944, the Naval Aircraft Design Committee “proposed that future naval aircraft be designed without undercarriages, to land on soft (flexible) decks,” and in February 1945 the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough “concluded that any future high-performance naval fighter would have to be a pure jet, and that requirements for takeoff, military load, and landing speed would have to be modified.”

Things were moving fast. By 7 June 1945, the Naval Aircraft Department of the RAE had developed a “Proposed Programme of Experimental Work” for determining whether a carrier could operate jets without undercarriages. The “target for flying trials under seagoing conditions” was May 1946. This project was sent forward to the MAP with an endorsement by the director of the RAE two days later. On 4 July, engineer Lewis Boddington, who headed the Naval Aircraft Department at RAE, completed a paper entitled “Assisted Take-off for Future Naval Aircraft,” which he presented on 17 July to the Naval Aircraft Research Subcommittee of the Naval Aircraft Design Committee. He put his main point right up front: “The large increase in take-off speed which will result from the developments in the aircraft and its power plant, and the resulting necessity to remove the present free-deck take-off restrictions will demand assisted take-off under all conditions.”

Boddington’s paper laid out many of the engineering problems entailed by operating jets from carriers, especially the need for catapult launchings that would not be so violent as to damage an aircraft’s structure and the need safely to recover planes landing with their engines running. He argued, first, that “future aircraft will have no undercarriage and will land on flexible decks,” and, second, that “the solution of the problem giving the best handling and deck operating conditions will be a landing deck immediately under which will be the take-off deck. Ranged aircraft for take-off will not obstruct any landing operations.” By 12 July, the deputy director of RAE’s Panel on Flexible Landing Decks had reviewed the feasibility of an approach technique for a carrier with an (as yet only conceptual) flexible deck and had decided to recommend trials of actual landings using jet aircraft.

On 18 September 1945, Boddington presented a second paper for the Naval Aircraft Research Subcommittee, “Landing of Future Naval Aircraft.” As he observed, “The object of this note is to briefly present the problems of landing on a carrier deck in the future and discuss the effects on the equipment and carrier design.” His argument was that the development of jet aircraft “will result in a new approach technique ending in flight parallel to the deck and engaging the mechanical arresting gear under ‘flying’ conditions.” His paper provided the conceptual justification for the angled flight deck. As he noted, “To cover for the baulked landing, the jet engine will be running at 90% full revs….Non-engagement of the wire will allow the pilot to take-off [sic]again depending on the deck arrangements (barriers, parks, etc.) and the carrier design.” To allow a plane that had missed the arresting gear to get back in the air safely, the flexible deck that Boddington advocated would have to be located away from the deck park. His solution—already proposed—was to have “separate landing and take-off decks.”

Boddington also understood that jet aircraft would require more powerful catapults. In Britain, catapult development was shared between the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the Engineer-in-Chief Department of the Royal Navy. About 1943 Farnborough began experimenting with a new kind of catapult (Type K) using a flywheel to store energy. In 1946, the catapult engineers supervised by Boddington also explored the potential of gas turbines as power sources for carrier catapults.

As the Allied armies had surged across northern France in the fall of 1944, they had encountered the fixed sites built by the Germans to launch V-1 missiles against London. The missile’s pulse-jet engine could not function until it reached a set speed, about 150 mph. Thus the catapults built by the Germans were not too different from what a streamlined jet, with a similar takeoff speed, might require. Unlike the explosive-driven catapults then in use in the U.S. Navy for launching scout planes from cruisers and battleships, the German catapult applied its force directly to the airplane. It was a tube with a slot running along its upper side. A reaction in the tube pushed a piston along it, and the piston was hooked through the slot to the airplane. In the German case, the reaction was the decomposition of concentrated (“high-test”) hydrogen peroxide, which the British called HTP. This was one of several German applications of HTP, others being as an oxidant in the Me-163 rocket fighter and as an oxidant in the Walter closed-cycle U-boat. In each case, HTP showed lethal properties that more or less disqualified it if any alternative could be found.

The British report on the V-1 catapult was written by C. C. Mitchell, at that time a Royal Navy reservist but in peacetime a catapult designer in an Edinburgh engineering firm that produced what the RN referred to as “accelerators” for use on carriers. He had patented a slotted-tube catapult, which he called a “popgun” catapult, in 1938, but the RN had not adopted it. After the war, while working for Brown Brothers (also in Edinburgh), he realized that steam from a ship’s propulsion plant could substitute for the dangerous HTP. He formally proposed such a catapult (it is not clear exactly when) when trials of the Type K showed that the weight of existing hydro-pneumatic catapults was growing faster than their capacity to launch aircraft at high speeds. After 1947 the British formally chose the slotted-tube steam catapult as the sole direction for future development. By 1950, the prototype, christened BXS.1, was ready for testing on HMS Perseus, a war-built light carrier now used for experiments.

The Royal Navy used low-temperature, low-pressure steam on all of its existing carriers, as well as those under construction. Low steam pressure made it easier to build a gasket that would hold the steam inside a slotted-cylinder catapult as the steam drove the piston—attached to the airplane—forward. However, low steam temperature and pressure made for poor efficiency in ship propulsion. The U.S. Navy used much higher steam temperature and pressure in its carriers’ boilers, which made them more efficient thermodynamically and therefore increased the carriers’ endurance—a valuable capability in the Pacific War against Japan. Wartime contact with the U.S. Navy convinced the British to develop a new generation of high-pressure steam plants for their late-war and postwar fleets.

Because Mitchell’s catapult was adapted to the conditions of earlier British ships, it was by no means obvious that steam was the appropriate choice if new British carriers using higher steam pressures were built. Similarly, American observers of British catapult development knew that it was by no means obvious that a catapult adapted to British steam systems would succeed on board an American carrier. Wartime U.S. Navy boilers operated at about three times the temperature and twice the pressure of British plants, and by 1950 the U.S. Navy was contemplating doubling the pressure used during wartime, to 1,200 pounds per square inch.

British wartime analysis produced the conceptual foundation for the modern aircraft carrier operating high-performance jet aircraft. Because jets accelerated slowly, jet aircraft would need assistance at takeoff. Because jets landed at higher speeds and needed to do so with their turbines turning over at close to maximum revolutions per minute, the axial deck—with the deck park forward, shielded by a barrier—had to be modified. In effect, the Royal Navy had defined the “problem set” by the end of the summer of 1945. From that point forward, attention focused on possible solutions.

The choice of the steam catapult coincided with the beginning of design work on carrier modernization. As originally envisaged, modernization would have combined a steam catapult, new heavier-duty arresting gear, and a U.S.-style deck-edge elevator, the latter to provide an easier flow of aircraft between hangar deck and flight deck. For the British, the new elevator—the one major American-inspired element of modernization—was by far the most expensive part of the project. It was incompatible with the enclosed, protected hangars that had formed the cores of the existing British fleet carriers. To install the U.S.-style elevator the British had to remove the carrier’s flight deck and tear open its hangar deck. That they were willing to do so suggests the extent to which they considered the U.S. wartime experience, rather than their own, the key to the future In effect, the Royal Navy ended World War II with a policy of developing jet aircraft to replace propeller-driven types; experimenting with the flexible and angled flexible deck; and placing steam catapults in its new and modernized aircraft carriers. A lack of funds limited the speed with which these innovations could be developed, tested, and installed. However, incremental development of new equipment and techniques, rather than concurrent development, allowed RN engineers and aviators to identify problems and potential “dead ends” before large sums had been appropriated or spent.

A classic “dead end” they encountered was the “carpet,” or flexible, flight deck, which was tested successfully at sea on the carrier Warrior in the fall and winter of 1948-49.23 The combination of the flexible deck and jet fighters without landing gear appeared successful, but it had a major flaw. As Rear Adm. Dennis R.F. Cambell, RN, who is closely identified with the origin of the angled deck for carriers, put it years later:

It soon became obvious that there was a world of difference between one-off trials [of the flexible flight deck proposed by Lewis Boddington] and practical front-line operation. Two major points needed to be resolved—how were aircraft with no wheels to be dealt with ashore? . . . The one other big problem was how to ensure that speed of operation wasn’t to be sacrificed by imposing some elaborate mechanical substitute for the previous easy routine of just taxying [sic] forward into the deck parks; and the vulnerability of the whole scheme was surely obvious.

Moreover, it took a very skilled pilot to put his aircraft down on the “carpet” safely. For example, in the first test of the flexible rubber deck at Farnborough at the end of December 1947, RAE’s test pilot, Eric Brown, crashed his aircraft. Brown was fortunate to survive, and his description of what happened is vivid:

After crossing the arrester wire the plane continued to swing nose-down towards the deck and plunged into it with such violence that the nose completely vanished and penetrated right down to the bottom layer. . . . Then it was thrown harshly up again in a nose-up attitude. I opened it up to full power and was climbing away safely when I realized that the stick was jammed solid, with the elevators keeping the plane in a nose-up attitude. I throttled back gently and she settled on to the grass ahead of the deck. The crash split the cockpit all round me.

This initial accident, however, was followed by many successful attempts, once formal tests began again at Farnborough in March 1948. Brown says in his memoir (Wings on My Sleeve) that he made forty successful landings on the flexible deck at Farnborough in the spring and summer of 1948. By November of that year, the light carrier HMS Warrior had been fitted with a full-scale flexible deck, and Brown landed a small jet fighter (a Vampire) on it. As his memoirs have it, “The plane’s belly scraped the wire, the hook caught. The arrester wire and the deck had been deliberately set hard and the chock was uncomfortable, though only for a split second.” Not all his landings were as successful, but Brown nevertheless came away from the trials confident that the system would work. He noted in his official report, “It may even be that future swept-back and delta plan form aircraft will be forced to adopt this method of landing on carriers, since all calculations point to serious wheeled landing problems on such aircraft.”

Films of Brown landing his aircraft on the flexible deck were shown to staff in the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics when Lewis Boddington and two colleagues visited the United States in March 1949. The British team members spent most of their time at the naval aviation test center at Patuxent River, Maryland, the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, and five aircraft manufacturing firms—Grumman, McDonnell, Chance Vought, Douglas, and North American. In his report of the trip, Boddington noted that “discussions were at all times free and open” and that “in general, similar methods of solving difficulties [were] in progress in both countries.” Facilitating this exchange of ideas was Capt. Frederick Trapnell, who had commanded an escort carrier in World War II and was in March 1949 the chief test pilot at Patuxent River.

The discussions among the technical specialists went into great detail and covered such topics as carrier-landing approach techniques, the coordination problems associated with high-speed approaches, the gravitational forces imposed on airplane structures by arrested landings and catapulted takeoffs, safe and functional barriers to shield the already-recovered aircraft in the deck park from those still landing, the problems associated with getting a jet to an adequate airspeed at the end of its catapult run, and the difficulties of moving increasingly heavy aircraft around on a carrier’s flight deck. Boddington and his colleagues observed that it was evident to officers in BuAer that “the direct application of present requirements and methods for catapulting and arresting is not satisfactory,” especially for large (hundred-thousand-pound) aircraft. This need to place very large aircraft on U.S. carriers was based on the formal requirement to develop nuclear-capable bombers. It drew the Americans away from the British, though the two navies otherwise shared the same basic problems that stemmed from the innovations—jet aircraft, radar, and missiles—produced during World War II.

The parallels between the two navies in the immediate postwar period are striking. Because of their wartime experiences, both naval air arms wanted larger, heavier, and longer-range aircraft for their carriers. Both had officers and engineers who believed that it was possible to develop ways to launch and recover high-performance jet aircraft on carriers. Although, as Boddington observed, American engineers in aircraft firms and military and civilian officials were working on similar problems, it was the British who first grasped all the problems entailed in adapting existing carriers to jet aircraft. Their initial solution to this set of problems—the flexible landing deck—did not survive careful scrutiny, but the idea of the slightly offset flexible deck led to the angled deck, and it was the angled deck that opened the way for the large modern carrier.

Henry V’s Fleet

The greatest problem facing Henry V was not so much acquiring the materials of war, but transporting them. An invasion of France, of necessity, demanded the use of ships, and when Henry came to the throne in 1413 the royal fleet consisted of precisely six vessels. His great-grandfather, Edward III, upon whom Henry so often seems to have modelled himself, had been able to call on between forty and fifty royal ships throughout his long reign. Within four years of Richard II’s accession, only five remained, and by 1380 four of these had been sold off to pay Edward III’s debts. Henry IV’s fleet never exceeded six ships and was sometimes reduced to two. Both kings had been forced to rely on seizing privately owned merchant vessels to supplement their fleet when required. This had caused considerable anger and hostility, not least because, until 1380, there was no compensation paid to the ship-owners. Under pressure from the House of Commons, Richard II had then agreed that 3s 4d would be paid for every quarter-ton of carrying capacity, but the usual payment rarely exceeded a paltry 2s and was regularly the subject of bitter complaints in Parliament. Another cause of tension was that the wages of seamen were not always paid from the date of their being pressed into service but from the day they actually sailed.

Henry V’s reign marked a revolution in the fortunes of the royal fleet. The six ships he had inherited in 1413 had become twelve by 1415 and thirty-four by the time he began his second invasion of France in 1417. The architects of this transformation were a clergyman and a draper. William Catton became clerk of the king’s ships in July 1413, and, like all his predecessors in the post, was a civil servant in minor orders. William Soper, who replaced him in 1420, was a wealthy merchant and Member of Parliament from Southampton with extensive shipping interests. Within weeks of his appointment, Catton was given authority to obtain all the materials, sailors and workmen he needed to perform the task of repairing and building up the king’s navy. Soper became officially involved in February 1414, when he obtained a similar commission for the specific purpose of “the making and amending of a great ship of Spain at Southampton.”

No doubt at least in part because William Soper was based there, Southampton became in effect Henry’s royal dockyard. The port enjoyed great natural advantages: protected from the Channel by the Isle of Wight, the sheltered waters of the Hamble estuary, Southampton Water and the Solent provided a mass of natural harbours and easy access to the French coast that lay opposite. On its doorstep was a seemingly limitless supply of timber from the New Forest for the building and maintenance of the king’s ships. Soper added a new dock and storehouse at Southampton and built more storehouses and wooden defences for the ships under construction at Hamble. For the first time, the English had a naval dockyard that was beginning to rival the great fourteenth-century French shipyards at Rouen.

Rebuilding a ship on the frame of an old one was a common maritime practice in the medieval period and indeed for many centuries afterwards. It was a cost-effective exercise, allowing for the sale of all the old scrap and outdated fittings, while reducing the investment needed for timber and other materials that could be reused. Much of Henry’s new fleet was built in this way, and as a high proportion of the vessels were captured as a result of either war or letters of marque (documents issued by countries authorizing private citizens to seize goods and property of another nation), this substantially increased the savings to be gained. The cost of rebuilding Soper’s Spanish ship, the Seynt Cler de Ispan, as the Holy Ghost, and refitting a Breton ship, which had been seized as a prize, as the Gabriel, amounted to only £2027 4s 111/2d. This compared favourably to the sums in excess of £4500 (excluding gifts of almost four thousand oak trees and equipment from captured shipping) spent building Henry’s biggest new ship, the 1400-ton Gracedieu, from scratch.

Unfortunately, neither the Holy Ghost nor the Gracedieu would be ready in time for the Agincourt campaign. Despite Catton’s and Soper’s best efforts, it was not easy finding and keeping skilled and reliable shipbuilders. On at least two occasions the king ordered the arrest and imprisonment of carpenters and sailors “because they did not obey the command of our Lord the King for the making of his great ship at Southampton” and “had departed without leave after receiving their wages.”

Henry’s purpose in all this was not to build up an invasion fleet as such: the magnitude of the transport required for a relatively short time and limited purpose made that impractical. His priority was rather to have on call a number of royal ships that would be responsible for safeguarding the seas. When they were not engaged on royal business, the vessels were put to commercial use: they regularly did the Bordeaux run to bring back wine and even hauled coal from Newcastle to sell in London. So successful was Catton in hiring them out between 1413 and 1415 that he earned as much from these efforts as he received from the exchequer for his royal duties. Nevertheless, their primary purpose was to patrol the Channel and the eastern seaboard, protecting merchant shipping from the depredations of French, Breton and Scottish pirates, and acting as a deterrent to Castilian and Genoese fighting ships employed or sponsored by the French.

On 9 February 1415 Henry V ordered that crews, including not just sailors but also carpenters, were to be impressed for seven of his ships, the Thomas, Trinité, Marie, Philip, Katherine, Gabriel and Le Poul, which were all called “de la Tour,” perhaps indicating that, like the king’s armoury, they were based at the Tower of London. A month later, the privy council decreed that during the king’s forthcoming absence from the realm a squadron of twenty-four ships should patrol the sea from Orford Ness in Suffolk to Berwick in Northumberland, and the much shorter distance from Plymouth to the Isle of Wight. It was calculated that a total of two thousand men would be needed to man this fleet, just over half of them sailors, the rest of them divided equally between men-at-arms and archers.

The reason so many soldiers were required was that even at sea fighting was mainly on foot and at close quarters. The king’s biggest ship in 1416 carried only seven guns, and given their slow rate of fire and inaccuracy they served a very limited purpose. Fire-arrows and Greek fire (a lost medieval recipe for a chemical fire that was inextinguishable in water) were more effective weapons but were used sparingly because the objective of most medieval sea battles, as on land, was not to destroy but to capture. Most engagements were therefore fought by coming alongside an enemy ship with grappling irons and boarding her. Imitating land warfare still further, fighting ships, unlike purely commercial vessels, had small wooden castles at both prow and stern, which created offensive and defensive vantage points for the men-at-arms and archers in case of attack.

Even with a newly revitalised and rapidly expanding royal fleet, Henry had nothing like enough ships to transport his armies and his equipment. On 18 March 1415 he therefore commissioned Richard Clyderowe and Simon Flete to go to Holland and Zeeland with all possible speed. There they were to treat “in the best and most discreet way they can” with the owners and masters of ships, hire them for the king’s service and send them to the ports of London, Sandwich and Winchelsea. Clyderowe and Flete were presumably chosen for this task because both had shipping connections: Clyderowe had been a former victualler of Calais and Flete would be sent later in the summer to the duke of Brittany to settle disputes about piracy and breaches of the truce. Flete was perhaps unable to fulfil this earlier commission, for when it was reissued on 4 April his name was replaced by that of Reginald Curteys, another former supplier of Calais.

What is interesting about this mission is that it could not have happened without the consent of the duke of Burgundy. Holland and Zeeland were technically independent counties in the Low Countries and were ruled by William, count of Hainault, a subject of the Holy Roman Empire. The two states were adjoining, Holland lying to the north of Zeeland, which was then a conglomeration of tiny islands (now much enlarged due to drainage and land reclamation schemes) in the Schelde estuary. The little principality was dwarfed and almost entirely encircled by its neighbours. To the south lay Flanders, which was ruled directly by the duke of Burgundy, whose only son, Philippe, count of Charolais, was his resident personal representative there. To the east lay Brabant, whose duke, Antoine, was the younger brother of John the Fearless. Since William himself was married to John and Antoine’s eldest sister, Margaret of Burgundy, he was part of the family network and the region was controlled by their threefold political alliance. The duke of Burgundy was unquestionably the dominant partner, summoning William, Antoine and other petty rulers of the Low Countries to assemblies over which he himself presided. Had John the Fearless forbidden William to allow English envoys to recruit ships in his territories, there is no doubt that he would have obeyed. That he therefore gave at least tacit approval must be inferred, and, if he did so, it suggests that the French were correct in assuming that secret alliances had been signed the previous autumn between the English and the duke of Burgundy.

The available records indicate that Clyderowe and Curteys spent almost £5050 (over $3 million in modern money) hiring ships in Holland and Zeeland. Although this is probably not the complete sum, it allows us to make an educated guess about the number of ships they were able to hire. If they paid the customary rates of 2s per quarter-ton, they must have secured some 12,625 tonnage of shipping; if all the vessels were the smallest considered worth hiring (twenty tons), then this suggests that, by 8 June, they had acquired around 631 ships for the king’s expedition. This exercise, and its resultant figure, is only of value in that it bears out a report of the same day that seven hundred ships were on their way to England from Holland. In view of the fact that medieval estimates of numbers are usually considered to be wildly exaggerated—and, indeed, often are—this provides a salutary reminder that they can also sometimes be correct.

This was still not enough to fulfil the king’s requirements. On 11 April he ordered that all English and foreign vessels of twenty tons or more currently in English ports between the river Thames and Newcastle-upon-Tyne were to be seized into the king’s hands, together with any others that arrived before 1 May. The news caused consternation abroad. “We know that our four merchant ships have not yet arrived . . .” the Venetian Antonio Morosini wrote in July, “and there can be no doubt that they are in danger of falling into the king’s hands, which is greatly to be dreaded. May it please the eternal God that it may not happen!” Successive intelligence reports received in Venice that month indicated that Henry’s fleet was first three hundred strong, then six hundred and finally fourteen hundred “and more.” English ships that were seized were sent to Southampton and foreign ones to Winchelsea, London or Sandwich. There, over the next three months, they were converted from carriers of merchandise into fighting ships and transports for the thousands of men, horses and pieces of equipment that would have to be carried across the Channel to France.

The Sloop Of War


The growth in the size of sloops (drawings to the same scale). Many of the Merlin class sloops of 1745 were converted to ship rig in the 1750s, although this was under consideration in the 1740s.

The year 1727 saw the death of George I and the coronation of his son who, like his father, would preside over a generally peaceful period, at least until 1739 when war would erupt again, this time with Spain in the Caribbean. This war later widened into the War of the Austrian Succession, which brought France into the conflict on the side of the Spanish. In the meantime the areas of tension affecting British possessions and trade overseas remained centred on the Caribbean and the Western Mediterranean. It was protection of these areas, particularly the Caribbean and the transatlantic trade, that was to result in the ever-increasing demand for sloops and small Sixth Rates.

The pivotal point in the history of the sloop of war was undoubtedly 1732, for it was in that year that the Admiralty and the Navy Board recognised a need to establish standard requirements in terms of measurement, burthen, armament and crew for general-purpose sloops. From this time onwards the size and number of cruising and bomb sloops in the Royal Navy was set to increase massively. Why this was so, during a period of comparative peace, is the central question: the answer, putting it broadly, was that the time was ripe. British naval capabilities and responsibilities were expanding, the transatlantic trade with the Caribbean was growing, the colonies themselves were becoming better established and the Mediterranean continued to be a region of potential instability. This all added up to an environment where a small, fast and handy vessel would be of great use, one that would work under the umbrella of British naval superiority and whose employment was economical but adequate for the job in hand. In broad terms the size was to remain close to 200 tons throughout the 1730s rising to 250 tons in the 1740s when there was an increase in gun calibre from 4pdrs with the introduction of the short 6pdr. This weapon was to remain the preferred armament for the sloop until the coming of the carronade in the late eighteenth century. From the late 1740s onwards ship rig would be increasingly common, either by conversion or through new-building, and burthen would eventually rise to 350 tons.

These increases in number and size reflect the nature of the wars that were about to engulf Europe and its overseas possessions. These started with the ‘War of Jenkins’ Ear’ in 1739 between Britain and Spain. The unusual name for this war points up the root cause of the problem. Jenkins was the captain of a merchant ship which in 1731 was apprehended by the infamous Spanish Guarda Costa for dubious reasons relating to trade. In the ensuing fracas Jenkins had his ear cut off. Eight years later this incident was to become a retrospective ‘last straw’ in the British determination to harry and assault Spanish possessions and trade in the greater Caribbean.

It was essentially a war about trade and the licence that allowed Britain to provide slaves to the Spanish colonies of Central America. The conflict lasted until 1748, being subsumed in 1740 into the greater War of the Austrian Succession. Although France and Britain were engaged against each other on land from the outset, France did not declare war until 1744, following this with an attempted invasion that failed whilst still at sea. In 1740, the Royal Navy under Vernon was initially successful, capturing the small poorly defended Spanish port of Porto Bello in what is now Panama. But thereafter almost all the amphibious operations against Spanish possessions failed, not least due to the sickness and disease that invariably accompanied a long operation in the tropics, but also due to the difficulty of establishing harmonious inter-service relationships. Much of this was on the personal level.

The war in the Americas continued with the failure of British amphibious operations, largely through the afore-mentioned disease but also due to the well-defended nature of the Spanish ports. The element of surprise had been lost and the targets selected by Britain’s admiral in the region proved to be too hard a nut to crack. At sea privateers on all sides, French, Spanish and British, attacked each other’s trade, but only the British regularly used naval ships to provide escort to commercial shipping. Once again the sloop of war had the opportunity to engage her arch-enemy, the privateer.

In the Mediterranean 1744 saw a combined Franco-Spanish fleet sail from Toulon. There followed an indecisive engagement with the British fleet, based at Mahon but with orders to blockade Toulon and prevent the Spanish, with French assistance, from reinforcing their forces on the Italian peninsular. Britain, although only minimally involved in the plethora of land battles that punctuated this war, was an ally of Austria and its Hapsburg rulers and therefore as part of that alliance was committed to using its power at sea to support the Austrian cause in Italy. The Spanish interest in Italy lay in their desire to repossess the inheritance of their last Hapsburg king. The question arose over the right of a woman, Maria Theresa, to succeed to the Hapsburg Austrian Empire, an outcome unacceptable to many and providing Spain with an opportunity to grab parts of Italy.

At home, a Channel fleet under old Admiral Norris kept an eye on French moves for an invasion across the Channel or through a Jacobite rebellion in the North. In the event the invasion failed at sea and the rebellion, initially successful with Prince Charles Edward’s forces reaching Derby, turned into a rout at Culloden near Inverness.

The few naval successes in this period, apart from Porto Bello, came towards the end with the foundation of a new strategy that kept the British fleet at sea in the Western approaches when at war with France. From this position Britain could guard the Channel, since the seaborne element of any French invasion force must make use of Brest. It also allowed the British to attack French squadrons and convoys from an up-wind position; it also guarded any approach to Ireland and the Irish Sea, often a vulnerable point in the past. The difficulty was to sustain squadrons in waters that were habitually rough and gale-blown. However, Torbay, on the South Devon coast, offered a reasonable refuge in all winds except from east to south. The last major engagements of the war were fought off Finisterre, on the west coast of France, against French convoys, and both were successful. At the second Battle of Finisterre the British squadron was commanded by a young rear admiral named Edward Hawke. He destroyed the escort but the convoy escaped towards the West Indies, so immediately following the engagement he sent the fastsailing sloop Weazle III to Jamaica to warn of the arrival of an unescorted French convoy. The necessary action was taken to ‘welcome’ them.

The series of engagements of this war – at home, in the Americas, the East Indies and in the Mediterranean – can be seen as providing the British Navy and Army with experience that they would put to good use in the Seven Years War of the following decade. They also supplied the incentives to establish defensible bases capable of sustaining a large naval force and a victualling and logistic system to keep those bases and their ships in a condition to dominate their region.

At times the Royal Navy had been severely overstretched but by the conclusion of this war some hard lessons had been learned, and it had just about re-affirmed its position as the most powerful in the World. This was to be challenged in the next conflict, the Seven Years War (1757–1763), by a revitalised French Navy. Spain elected to remain neutral for most of the war, but very unwisely decided to enter it in 1761 on the side of France, which allowed a British Navy, at the height of its success and confidence, to seize both Havana and Manila. In this war Britain was to secure a dominant position in the Indian subcontinent, in North America and Canada and in the greater Caribbean. It left Britain with a global empire to protect but it provided her navy with bases from which she could dominate the seas.

Indonesian Navy 2016


The Indonesian Navy’s procurement is currently split between small numbers of ‘high-end’ vessels and larger numbers of less sophisticated patrol and missile craft. Typical of the latter is the lead KCR-60 missile-armed fast attack craft Samapri, seen here on exercises with the Royal Australian Navy’s Wollongong in March 2016. (Royal Australian Navy)


Two images of the first Indonesian ‘Sigma 10514’ frigate Raden Eddy Martadinata, being floated out from PT Pal’s dockyard in Surabaya in January 2016. Construction of two ships is currently underway and more could be ordered in what is probably the most important Indonesian surface warship construction programme. (Piet Sinke via Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding)


Indonesian naval procurement continues to be split between a small number of ‘high-end’ war-fighting vessels and large numbers of relatively unsophisticated patrol ships of various shapes and sizes for constabulary roles. 14 Further progress has been made in both areas over the last year. However, the long-term target of achieving a 274- strong fleet – including over a hundred combatants – by 2024 that was first announced in the Minimum Essential Forces modernisation programme initiated in 2009, looks set to be substantially scaled back to a little over 150 units. In effect, new deliveries are just about matching the pace of withdrawals.

The most costly front-line programme in progress is for the construction of three new Type 209 submarines to an improved version of South Korea’s Chang Bogo design. The first of these, Nagabanda, was rolled-out in March 2016 by DSME and should be delivered on schedule during 2017. DSME is also building a second member of the class, Trisula. Construction then scheduled to switch to PT PAL in Surabaya where a new facility should start work on the final boat from October 2016. The selection of the Type 209 design makes sense given Indonesia already has substantial experience of operating a pair of similar boats since the early 1980s. However, it appears that other designs are also being examined for further construction that is ultimately intended to extend the underwater flotilla to between ten and twelve submarines. These include Russia’s ‘Kilo’ class and the French DCNS ‘Scorpène’ design.

Meanwhile, construction of surface combatants is being assisted by a long-standing alliance with the Dutch Damen group, which delivered four ‘Sigma 9113’ class corvettes between 2007 and 2009. Assembly of a follow-on class of larger ‘Sigma 10514’ light frigates has transferred to PT PAL, who are currently building two units. The first of these, Martadinata, was launched on 18 January 2016. It seems that it is currently hoped to build at least six of the class to replace the elderly Van Speijk class frigates, which are reported to fall due for decommissioning from 2017 onwards.

Other surface assets include the three Bung Tomo class corvettes originally ordered by Brunei from BAE Systems and delivered in 2014 and the three older Fatahillah vessels built in the Netherlands in the late 1970s. The first of these has been completing a mid-life upgrade led by Ultra Electronics but it is not known whether this work will extend to the two other ships. Fifteen Project 1331 ‘Parchim 1’ are also still in service, although one – Pati Ununs – was partly sunk in a grounding incident in May 2016 and may not be repaired.

Turning to smaller vessels, recent years have seen an expansion in orders of fast attack craft based on the KCR-40, KCR-60 and KCR-63 designs. However, reports suggest that production of the KCR-63 Klewang class trimarans will not progress beyond a single vessel and that the SAAB combat suite envisaged for the boat will no longer be fitted. However, a fourth KCR-63 vessel has been ordered to supplement the three already in commission, whist the KCR-40 hull has been selected as the basis for a more lightly-armed patrol vessel variant.

Whilst current focus is on indigenous construction, foreign yards have been contracted for specialised ships. For example, the first of two Rigel class hydrographic ships built by OCEA in France arrived in Indonesia in May 2015. Her sister, Spica – commissioned in October of the same year – followed in December. A new sail training ship is also under construction at the Freire Shipyard in Spain for delivery in 2017.