Torpedo [Sea Mine]

Confederate President Jefferson Davis hoped for quick victories that would sap the will of the Union to fight. He also needed a defensive strategy to counter the North’s “Anaconda Plan,” a naval blockade aimed at crushing the rebellion. To forestall this scheme, the Confederates put gunpowder to work in a class of weapons whose use inflames controversy even today.

During the Civil War, the word “torpedo” meant a device containing a charge of gunpowder and intended to sink or disable a ship, or a similar type of buried explosive that we would call a land mine. The idea was not new. Mines had been used in China as early as the thirteenth century. The steamboat inventor Robert Fulton had experimented with torpedoes, and they had been used in the recent Crimean War.

The question of whether such a device was an ethical means of waging war was not a settled question. The torpedo and related weapons were sneaky and indiscriminate. Gunpowder had already expanded the distance at which a man could kill. Some thought that torpedoes made war unacceptably mechanical, anonymous, and inhuman. Like guns before them, they were disparaged as the tools of cowards, offenses against decency and civilized warfare.

The man most responsible for this ingenious and remarkably effective Confederate use of gunpowder was General Gabriel Rains, older brother of the South’s explosives wizard. That both men were involved with gunpowder was something of a coincidence: Fourteen year apart in age, they had scant personal relationship and never worked directly together.

In the spring of 1862, with the Confederates retreating from Yorktown, Virginia, the elder Rains commanded an ineffectual rearguard. To gain time he ordered his troops to bury 8-and 10-inch artillery shells with detonators attached “simply as a desperate effort to distance our men from the pursuing Union cavalry.” The shells exploded and whole companies of Yankees bolted in panic. Union general George McClellan roared that “the rebels have been guilty of the most murderous and barbarous conduct.” General James Longstreet, Rains’ superior officer, forbade the further use of gunpowder in this manner. He condemned the mines as not a “proper or effective method of war.” Longstreet’s view did not win out. Rains was put in charge of a broad program that would make use of torpedoes, mines, and similar gunpowder devices.

The urgent military situation spurred Southerners to the resourcefulness of the desperate. “Many an ingenious mind turned its attention to . . . inventing some machine infernale,” a contemporary observer noted. The Confederate war department, like its northern counterpart, was plagued by proposals, particularly after the government offered a reward for any ship sunk or Union facility ruined. Inventors envisioned torpedo boats powered by rockets, diving apparatus for attaching explosives to ships, balloons for dropping bombs on enemy targets. A man named R. O. Davidson proposed a “Bird of Art.” This was “a machine for aerial locomotion by man” carrying a 50-pound load of exploding shells. A thousand of the birds, he was sure, would put an immediate end to the war. He called on every southern patriot to send him a dollar so that he could start building them.

Gabriel Rains was more practical. He focused on land mines and on mechanically operated floating torpedoes, which were touched off by contact with a ship’s hull. The fulminate that Reverend Forsyth had used to ignite his fowling piece offered an ideal substance to incorporate into a torpedo fuse. A hard knock would set off the primer, which would transmit flame to the main powder charge.

Rains countered arguments that this method of warfare was ignoble by answering that it was justified in “defense against an army of Abolitionists, invading our country.” His confidence in the technique was as boundless as his hatred of Yankees. “No soldier will march over mined land,” he asserted. A corps of sappers armed with mines “could stop an army.”

The justification of torpedoes resulted in some fine distinctions. “It is admissible to plant shells in a parapet to repel assault, or in a road to check pursuit,” Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph concluded. “It is not admissible to plant shells merely to destroy life and without other design than that of depriving the enemy of a few men.”

Among those with mixed feelings was Confederate Lieutenant Isaac M. Brown. He had helped set up the defenses of a makeshift shipyard on the Yazoo River in Mississippi. In December of 1862, his mines blew up the U.S. ironclad Cairo, the first ship sunk in combat by an electrically detonated torpedo. Brown said he felt “much as a schoolboy . . . whose practical joke has taken a more serious shape than he expected.”

The most famous incident of torpedo warfare took place at Mobile Bay on August 4, 1864. Though a native of Tennessee, 63-year-old Admiral David Farragut had remained loyal to the Union. His actions in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Mississippi had contributed to the capture of New Orleans and Vicksburg. The tightening naval noose had reduced the ports available to southern blockade runners to a handful. Farragut was determined to erase Mobile from the list.

The rebels had floated numerous torpedoes in the harbor mouth, leaving a channel protected by the guns of Fort Morgan. Farragut directed a flotilla of four iron-clad monitors and fourteen wooden warships up the channel, led by the armored Tecumseh. He loathed the hidden weapons as unworthy of a “chivalrous nation.” As he watched from the rigging of his flagship, the Tecumseh steered out of the channel and exploded a torpedo. Its propeller rose from the water still turning and in two minutes the ship had disappeared, taking 120 men from a crew of 141 to the bottom. More torpedoes were spotted in front of the squadron. Indeed, the ships’ crews could hear detonators snapping against their hulls. The admiral had already decided to press ahead, forcing as many ships through as he could. “Damn the torpedoes!” he shouted. “Four bells! Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!”

The Union forces continued on and captured the fort that dominated the mouth of the bay. The city of Mobile held out, but its usefulness as a port had ended.

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8.8 cm Raketenwerfer 43

The 8,8 cm Raketenwerfer 43 (German: “Puppchen”) was an 88 mm calibre reusable anti-tank rocket launcher developed by the Nazi Germany during World War II.

It was given to infantry to bolster their anti-tank capability. The weapon was fired from a small two-wheeled gun carriage which fired a rocket-propelled, fin-stabilized grenade with a shaped charge warhead. Approximately 3 000 units were completed from 1943 to 1945. It was made in much smaller numbers than either the Panzerschreck, which was based on the American Bazooka, or the Panzerfaust, which was a disposable recoilless rifle firing an anti-tank grenade. This is partly because it was realized that a simple hollow tube with an ignition device was all that was needed to launch the 88 mm rocket, rather than an elaborate miniature artillery piece with carriage and breech.

Puppchen: In 1944 the Anhaltisch/Westfalische Sprengstoff AG of Reindorf (also known as WASAG), submitted a design for the German Army requirement for a light anti-tank gun. This particular design, by Dr. Erich Von Holt, was original in its approach. The idea was to use a “Raketen Panzerbuchse 54”, better known as an “Ofenruhr” or “Stove Pipe”. Similar to the American 2.36 inch Bazooka. The tube, unlike a pipe, had a simple sliding breach block, which, when closed, sealed the rear of the weapon. This gave the specially prepared 88mm hollow charged rocket a greater velocity and range than the standard Panzerbuchse 54, which had a velocity of 110 meters/second and a maximum range of about 150 meters. The Raketenwerfer 43 “Puppchen” (doll), had a considerably better performance with an improved muzzle velocity of 180 meters/second and an effective range of 700 meters. The ring stabilized 88mm rocket projectile was competent to perform admirably alongside its conventional cousin in penetrating armor plate up to 160mm thick with the advantage of a single round only weighing 2.60 kg. About 1,000 “Puppchens” were believed to have been manufactured. The accuracy and the high performance of the weapon were quickly learned by the OKH Oberkommando des Heer, (Army High Command) on July 1st, 1944 stating that “The special badge awarded for single-handed destruction of an enemy was not applicable when a Puppchen was used in its destruction”. So good was this weapon. The advantage of the Puppchen, with the breach loading arrangement, presented several disadvantages over conventional light anti-tank weapons. A relatively high recoil required the weapon to be mounted on a wheeled box section carriage which increased its weight considerably. However, as a mobile weapon it proved itself to be relatively easy to maneuver and bring into action quickly. The Puppchen could be fired with or with the wheels being mounted. On the Russian Front it was often mounted on skis. They were very popular with the German paras, as they were lighter weight and easier to maneuver than the Pak38’s etc they were otherwise issued with. With a rat of fire of 10 rounds a minute and the free-floating nature of the barrel aiming, them to aim and bring it to bear upon a target was lightning quick. Easily pulled by two men, and its small compact size meant it was ideally suited to the bocage fighting. So, the same AT/AP values as the Panzershreck.

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Bloodhound

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A Bloodhound missile at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London.

British surface-to-air missile. One of the world’s most successful surface-to-air missiles, Bloodhound employs ramjets to achieve long range. First evidence that Britain had embarked on research in this direction came in 1952 when a ramjet test vehicle, JVT-1, was exhibited at the SBAC Show at Farnborough. Developed by the old Bristol Aeroplane company from an RAE Farnborough design, its purpose was to obtain information on the behaviour of the ramjet in free flight at supersonic speeds.

The wingless test vehicle had two 6-in (15. 2-cm) diameter propulsive ducts’ mounted at the tail on aerodynamic stubs. The centre body housed fuel, fuel-system controls and automatic measuring and radio- telemetry equipment. The JVT-1 was launched from a twin-railed ramp by a pair of 7.5-in (19-cm) cordite rockets which separated well above the speed of sound, leaving the ramjet sustainers to continue to accelerate the vehicle.

Development of Bloodhound proper (under the code name Red Duster) followed extensive tests with prototypes both in Britain and Australia. Bloodhound Mk 1 entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1958 and was subsequently ordered by Sweden and Australia. Bloodhound is ramp-launched by four Bristol Aerojet strap on boosters, each of which has a large fin to assist launch stability. The missile takes the form of a cylindrical body with a dielectric pointed nose housing the semi-active radar seeker. Thor ramjets of 16-in (40.6-cm) diameter are mounted above and below the rear fuselage and flight control is achieved by all-moving wings in conjunction with fixed rectangular tail fins. The wings can move together or differentially to achieve control on the ‘twist-and-steer’ principle.

The semi-active radar homing system responds to reflected radar energy from the target when illuminated by ground radar, and the high-explosive warhead is detonated by a proximity fuze. In the forepart of the body are flexible rubber tanks for kerosene fuel, pressurized by ram air from the rear.

So effective was the performance of the original missile that a Mk 2 has been supplied to the air forces of Switzerland, Australia and Singapore.

The Mk 2 has greatly improved performance and is more effective at lower altitudes. Not only is it air-transportable for rapid deployment overseas-in 1964 it was deployed in Malaysia-but it has a more powerful Thor ramjet, more powerful boosters, and continuous-wave radar guidance.

It would be wrong to suppose that this potent weapon system is limited to high and medium-altitude targets. Trials have shown that it can deal effectively with fast targets at altitudes below 305 m (1000 ft).

Bloodhound had an important role in the NATO defence of Western Europe. RAF No 25 Squadron operated Bloodhounds at Briiggen, Laarbruch and Wildenrath, whilst No 85 Squadron had home defence responsibilities in Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and elsewhere.

(Bloodhound Mk 1)

Length (with boosters): 7.7 m (25 ft 3 ­ in)

Diameter: 54.6 cm (21.5 in)

Range: 80-96 km (50-60 miles)

(Bloodhound Mk 2)

Length: 7.67 m

(25 ft 2 in); with boosters 8.45 m (27 ft 8 in)

Diameter: 54.6 cm (21.5 in)

Wing span: 2.83 m (9 ft 4 in)

Range: 96-161 km (60-100 miles)

Speed: Mach 2

Guidance: target-illuminating (CW) Ferranti ‘Firelight’, vehicle mounted, and GEC/AEI ‘Scorpion’

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CASTING CANNON

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While barrels for small artillery pieces were easily cast as early as the 13th century, most larger cannon and the great bombards were constructed by the hoop-and-stave method. It was not until improved casting techniques and mature foundries were developed that large barrels could be made as single pieces of cast metal, first in iron and bronze, and later still in brass. By c. 1550 cast barrels of muzzle-loaders were cooled as a single, solid piece, after which the bore was reamed and a touch-hole drilled. Iron cannonballs were also being cast from greased, clay molds. Women from among the camp followers were frequently employed as laborers to dig the pit in which the mold was cast, gather faggots for the casting fire, dig out the gun after the metal cooled, and drag it to its siege site or for emplacement on the walls of a nearby castle or fort. During the 17th century Jesuit priests taught Chinese gunsmiths and generals up-to-date Western casting methods. English gunsmiths worked with local forges in India, and Dutch traders and governors brought the new technology to the Spice Islands, where guns of varying caliber were cast in local forges for use in Dutch fortifications and ships. Late medieval and early modern artillery varied greatly in size, caliber, and utility, but over time certain locales gained reputations as centers of quality gun manufacture. Permanent, large-scale foundries were set up and an international trade in cannon, it must be said, boomed. Northern Italy, Flanders, and Nuremberg were known for casting the best bronze guns. England and Sweden grew famous for casting cheap iron cannon in very large numbers that were nonetheless of excellent quality.

As cannon grew in importance in land and sea warfare in the mid-16th century the Spanish crown set up arsenals and foundries at Medina del Campo, Malaga, and Barcelona, and another at Seville in 1611. However, Spain lacked the skilled labor to meet its foundry needs-partly because its economy stagnated after expelling the Jews and Moors-and so remained dependent on additional purchases from the cannon markets of Flanders, Italy, and Germany. This lack of foresight and strategic planning cost Spain dearly as the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) led to an acute crisis in armaments that was compounded by war with Elizabethan England and later also with France. This lack of cannon hamstrung Spanish armies and fleets. Due to shortage of skilled labor, Spain’s foundry at Seville barely produced three dozen average caliber guns per year during the first half of the 17th century. In contrast, England, the Netherlands, and Sweden each had multiple foundries that cast 100-200 cannon per year. Spain was cut off from these northern markets by its wars with England and the Dutch rebels, although merchants in England sometimes sold to Spain in evasion of royal bans on exporting cannon outside the realm. Portugal also failed to develop a serious cannon production capability. Its chronic shortage of cannon for ships and fortified bases overseas was a significant factor in the loss of empire in Asia to the better armed Dutch and English in the 16th-17th centuries.

During the 15th and 16th centuries German foundries cast guns for use in Italy, by Spanish armies, and in the Netherlands. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) created a huge domestic demand for cannon, but so disrupted the metals trade and skilled labor markets that German production declined. English, Dutch, and Swedish guns were imported and dominated that war. German cannon foundries recovered quickly after 1648, however, and soon challenged England and Sweden in international gun exports.

Netherlands foundries supplied the Dutch army’s growing need for artillery, which was driven by its prolonged war with Spain, its ultimately very large blue water as well as coastal navy, and the huge requirements of fortifying border towns as well as a growing overseas empire. The Netherlands also became a major exporter of first-rate artillery pieces of all calibers. This was not the case at first. The Dutch rebellion cut off the northern provinces from the industries of southern Flanders and the important metals market of Antwerp, which the Spanish still occupied. Over much of the last four decades of the 16th century, until foundries were built north of the rivers and skilled labor imported or trained, the Dutch imported cast iron cannon from England that were happily supplied by Elizabeth I to a Protestant ally against Spain. By 1600, Dutch foundries were so efficient they met domestic needs and began exporting ordnance to other European markets. Eventually, the Dutch set up a system whereby bronze ordnance was cast at home while iron cannon were cast in Dutch-owned foundries in Germany and at overseas bases. In Asia, the Dutch cast bronze cannon in Batavia for local use using “red copper” from Japan, but cast iron cannon wherein sufficient ore was available and nearby forests provided charcoal fuel.

Sweden and Russia were late starters in the foundry business. Both had great natural advantages-large deposits of iron, copper, and tin, and rich and abundant forests to produce charcoal for the blast furnaces of their great foundries-but only Sweden took full advantage in the 16th and 17th centuries to catch up to the rest of Europe, once social and military-cultural inhibitions to the adoption of gunpowder weapons were overcome. In Sweden the crown played a central role in encouraging casting of guns. Wrought-iron cannon were made from the 1530s; casting of bronze ordnance began in the 1560s; cast iron foundries overtook the older method of making iron cannon after 1580. By the time of Gustavus Adolphus, Swedish foundries were among the world’s best. Using both local labor and imported “Walloons” (gunsmiths from the Low Countries), Sweden emerged as a leading maker and exporter of cast guns in the 17th century. Tolerance of imported Catholic master gunsmiths in Sweden contrasted sharply with Spain, where Protestant gunsmiths eventually refused to work because they were not exempted from torments and execution by the Inquisition. The Dutch brought iron casting techniques to Russia, establishing a foundry at Tula in the 1630s. As skilled labor did not exist in Russia at that time, gunsmiths were imported from the Low Countries and Sweden, while unskilled peasants hewed the forests and worked the charcoal pits. Despite foreign aid, Russia remained a minor power in terms of both gun casting and artillery deployment until the great military reforms of Peter the Great around the turn of the 18th century.

English gun casting declined in the 17th century as the countryside was badly stripped of forests to feed the blast furnaces of the foundries and the shipbuilding industry. England’s long continental peace also sapped innovation and profit from its military industries. France similarly went into decline after an early lead in gun design and manufacture. The great French siege trains of the early Italian Wars (1494-1559) were no longer seen in the 17th century, as royal armies declined and skilled workers left for better-paying markets or to escape religious persecution of the French Civil Wars (1562- 1629), during which Frenchmen killed each other mainly with imported cannon. This situation was not reversed until Richelieu reestablished the French cannon industry to meet the demands of the Thirty Years’ War on land, and of a vastly expanded French navy.

Suggested Reading: Carlo Cipolla, Guns, Sails, and Empires (1965).

Instruments of Darkness

THE “BERNHARD/BERNHARDINE” SYSTEM

LORENZ

A prewar, civilian radio beam navigation system adapted as a bomber aid by both the RAF and Luftwaffe. It comprised a radio signal broadcast by the airfield and received passively by approaching aircraft. It had a limited range of about 20 miles. Its main importance was to aid wartime development of the Knickebein and X-Gerät beam systems.

KNICKEBEIN

A Luftwaffe electronic navigation aid for night bombers in which two directional radio beams were broadcast to intersect over a target in Britain. The bombers followed one beam—guided by Morse dots and dashes—until it met the second, then released their bomb load. It was an advance in both range and accuracy on the prewar Lorenz blind-landing system used by civil aviation. By July 1940, the RAF developed a counter, code-named “Aspirin,” which imposed a British beam atop the German beam in a process called “bending the beam,” although the German beam was never actually “bent.” The Luftwaffe next moved to the X-Gerät system, as the “battle of the beams” continued.

ASPIRIN

The centrepiece of the British Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) effort was however ‘Aspirin’, a high power transmitter which emulated the signals from the dot modulated lobe of the Knickebein. This had the effect of confusing German pilots, who even when centred in the Knickbein beam would hear the dots emanating from the Aspirin jammer. By October 1940 the British had deployed fifteen Aspirin jammers to frustrate the Knickebein system. The stakes were high. Estimates of the accuracy of the Knickebein suggested that it was capable of putting a 300 m x 300 m box around an intended target, which when saturated with bombs from a mere 40 aircraft would put the bombs down on average 17 metres apart.

X-GERÄT

A sophisticated Luftwaffe beam navigation system. It was derived from the prewar Lorenz and early wartime Knickebein systems, which the RAF successfully countered by July 1940. X-Gerät used four beams and a bomb-release mechanical computer that was triggered by passing over the three cross beams. It was deployed by a special target-marking unit of the Luftwaffe, which then dropped flares and incendiaries to mark the target for follow-on bombers.

BROMIDE

The British built the ‘Bromide’ jammer, using radar hardware, to defeat the X- Gerät system. While the Bromide equipment was being developed, KG.100 conducted no less than forty raids using X- Gerät. These raids were essentially an ‘Opeval’ to determine the limits of the system and to develop tactics. KG.100 started dropping incendiaries, a tactic to mark targets for a larger bomber force. This was the origin of the pathfinder technique later used by the RAF to obliterate German cities.

Y- GERÄT

By early 1941, the X- Gerät was losing effectiveness, along with Luftwaffe command confidence in the system. The Luftwaffe was, however, deploying a third radio bombing aid also designed by Dr Plendl, named Wotan II or Y- Gerät. Y- Gerät used a similar but automated scheme for bomber heading tracking, but used a beacon transponder arrangement for measuring range between the Y- Gerät station and the bomber. Not unlike a ‘back to front DME’, the Y- Gerät station operators could track the bomber’s position and send by radio course corrections to the pilot.

DOMINO

The Luftwaffe was less fortunate with Y-Gerät than with the previous two systems. The British requisitioned a mothballed experimental BBC television transmitter at Alexandra Palace in North London, and adapted it to rebroadcast the Y-Gerät rangefinding signal. Labelled the Domino, the Y-Gerät jammer was soon followed by a second installation at Beacon Hill near Salisbury. The RAF was effectively performing ‘range gate stealing’ jamming attacks on the Y-Gerät, to completely compromise the range measurement achieved by the Germans. The German ground station receiver would lock on to the Domino jammer instead of the Y-Gerät transponder on the bomber, and the British could then manipulate its range measurement. The Domino jammer proved effective, and in the first two weeks of March 1941 only 20 per cent of Y-Gerät raids resulted in commanded bomb releases. Three Heinkels were shot down in early May and the RAF recovered the Y-Gerät receivers. They quickly determined that the automated mechanism for measuring the bearing error in the beam was susceptible to continuous wave jamming, which crippled the bearing analyser circuit.

Time had run out for the Luftwaffe, and with the buildup for Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR, the KampfGruppes were redeployed east and the Battle of the Beams was won by the British.

The Battle of the Beams is generally acknowledged to have been the first modern effort at electronic warfare, and was characterised by the Luftwaffe not attempting to seriously improve the jam resistance of their systems, but rather by deploying newer and more advanced systems. It remains an excellent case study of how the game of technical intelligence gathering and analysis is played, and how pivotal it is to success in modern warfare.

Further Reading: Price A, Instruments of Darkness, Peninsula Publishing, 1987.

Japanese adoption of Portuguese muskets

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The Japanese landing on Busan

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Japanese arquebuses of the Edo era. These types of firearms were used by Japanese soldiers during Hideyoshi’s invasions

The advances in guns there with the Japanese adoption of Portuguese muskets through Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea in the 1590s. Although guns were widely available in the struggle for supremacy in China during the mid-fourteenth century, they became a cornerstone of the Ming army only after the Ming conquest of China. Before the end of the fourteenth century, almost 10 percent of the army’s 1.2–1.8 million soldiers were armed with guns. The capital’s arsenals produced 3,000 cannon and 3,000 handguns annually from 1380 to 1488. These weapons were widely deployed and initially gave Ming armies an advantage over neighboring states that were not so armed. European advances in gun technology were quickly adopted in China, and the cannon it brought into the field owed as much to the West as did the Japanese army’s muskets.

Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea brought about a direct clash between three different gun-armed forces, the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. Japanese forces were armed with muskets and trained in volley fire; Chinese forces relied upon cannon; and Korean forces used cannon on armored warships to interdict Japanese maritime supply lines. On the strategic level, the Japanese were completely defeated, achieving none of their political or military goals at a tremendous loss of life. Tactically, the results were more mixed. Chinese armies succeeded when they brought their cannon up to the battlefield, and lost when they did not. The Korean navy defeated the Japanese navy using cannon to oppose their boarding tactics, but was ineffective when poorly commanded. Overall, the conflict demonstrated that guns, whether muskets or cannon, were now critical in East Asian warfare.

After the first Japanese campaign (1592–3) was driven back to the southern tip of Korea, the Ming attempted to improve the Korean army by training its soldiers to use firearms. The course of the war surprised all sides, revealing deep-seated weaknesses within everyone’s armed forces. By campaigning outside of Japan, Hideyoshi subjected the Japanese army to new military problems that it struggled to overcome. The Korean and Chinese forces suffered similar difficulties in dealing with new modes of warfare. For example, the Ming army, which possessed several different kinds of troops based upon their regional origins, had to bring southern Chinese troops, who had previously fought against ‘‘Japanese’’ pirates, to the battlefield in order to engage the Japanese in close combat. Northern Chinese troops, who emphasized cavalry and had no experience of the Japanese, were generally regarded as ineffective.

It is impossible to draw conclusions about which mode of warfare was superior without taking into account the specific conditions and commanders of a given battle. Japanese superiority in close combat, and in medium-range missile firing through their use of muskets, was negated when Chinese cannon were present on the battlefield. At the same time, the test of combat could be rendered moot by larger strategic issues. Japanese attempts to hold and control Korean territory, combined with a desire to avoid large-scale battles with the Chinese and their cannons, induced them to disperse their troops and focus on ambushes and placing small garrisons in key locations. These tactics then exposed them to even greater risk, as Korean partisans were able to ambush small Japanese units, or harass their supply lines.

Hideyoshi’s invasions, like the construction of the Great Wall, demonstrated once again the close connection between siege warfare, naval warfare, and guns. While troops in the field could maneuver to take advantage of their own strengths and avoid those of their opponents, sometimes to the extent of refusing battle entirely, siege and naval warfare quite often did not allow that possibility. Strong points had to be taken if territory was to be controlled, certain sailing routes had to be used at certain times if ships were to reach their destination. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Japanese war effort was the Japanese navy, a rather surprising circumstance given the competence of Japanese sea lords earlier in the sixteenth century.

China remained connected to the maritime world on its coast. Guns were part of the Ming response to the wokou pirates in the mid-sixteenth century, and in some ways prepared at least part of the Ming army to fight the Japanese at the end of that century. Yet larger issues of morale, training, command, and supply far exceeded the importance of guns by themselves. Better guns were not decisive on their own, though Jesuit-supplied military technology would play a significant role on all sides during the invasion of Korea.

TALE OF THE TANKS. DE MOLE’S INVENTION.

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WAR OFFICE INEPTITUDE.

(By E. Dwyer Gray, Sydney.)

It is, of course, fairly well known that the war tank was really a Western Australian invention. Those who would like to know the details of the occurrences in connection with Corporal Lancelot E. de Mole’s travelling caterpillar fort, will find them set out in the current issue of the “Australian Motor Owner,” which gives the whole story. The magazine does not, however, print the text of a certain striking letter from Perth, addressed to the British Minister for War on September 19, 1914. This not only informed the British Minister for War that the archives of its own department contained the plans for a perfect war tank, but foretold what tanks could do, exactly two years before the inferior Somme tanks appeared so belatedly on the battlefields. This letter is now made available for publication for the first time, and reads as follows:

“The question of armaments being of paramount importance to armies engaged in this great war, may I suggest your placing the plans, specifications, and model, submitted by Mr. Lancelot de Mole in 1912, before a committee of experts, with a view to the adoption of travelling forts against the German forces In my humble opinion no deadlier or more efficient war engine could be used than de Mole’s caterpillar fort, which can travel over broken ground, climb embankments., span canals, streams and trenches with the greatest of ease, and which, if armoured and manned with small quick-firing guns and maxims, will quickly turn the most stubborn of armies, even if they be most strongly entrenched.

A line of moving fortresses – no dreamer’s fancy, but an idea which can be actually materialised – adequately support- ed by artillery, will carry everything before it, and save the infantry. I sincerely trust that you will appreciate the value of my suggestion. Should you require the services of Mr. L. de Mole kindly request the Western Australian Government to communicate with Mr. H. J. Anketell, resident engineer, Department of Public Works, Perth – Yours, etc., G. W. D. Breadon.”

Mr. Breadon was a civil engineer by profession. He was a man of repute and capacity, and shortly after writing this remarkable letter he became a Commissioner for Munitions in India. The letter had no effect whatever. Apparently it went into the same sort of pigeonhole as de Mole’s plans in 1912. Today it accuses the British Minister for War in 1914, or his agents, and the accusation, though it has a particular application to 1914, goes back to 1912.

Some Tragic Questions.

Here observe that on November 17. 1919, a British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, presided over by   Mr. Justice Sargant, declared:- “De Mole made, and reduced to practical shape, as far back as the year 1912, a very brilliant lank invention, which anticipated, and in some respects surpassed, that actually put into use late in 1916. Counsel for the Minister for Munitions specifically admitted: ”De Mole’s suggestions would, in the opinion of present advisers, have made a better article than those that went into action.” The Chairman said to him: ”Your suggestion is sent to the Government in 1912 and 1915. Then it gets pigeonholed. That is your misfortune, but not your fault.” But what about his country’s misfortune and the calamitous consequences to mankind? How much would the war have been shortened if Britain had possessed tanks from the beginning? Would there have been any retreat from Mons? Would the war ever have become static? Millions of men may have perished on account of this ineptitude, which in fact prolonged the war for years. Even if the British   Minister for War, or his agents, had acted promptly and with sense when Breadon’s striking letter reached London in October, 1914, the whole history of the war would have been altered, and huge savings would have been effected in human lives. Dead men tell no tales, but live ones can – and this is one of them. It is time to abolish pigeonholes and to substitute searchlights.

Churchill’s Historic Letter.

On January 5, 1915, Mr. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote his historic letter to Mr. Asquith (of “Wait and see” fame) on the subject of mechanical warfare. In this he remarked:- “The question to be now solved is not the long attack over a carefully prepared glacis of former times, but the actual getting across of   100 or 200 yards of open space and wire entanglements. All this was apparent more than two months ago, but no steps have been taken and no preparation made. Yet it would be quite easy to fit up tractors with armoured shelters, in which men and machine guns could be placed, which would be bullet proof. The caterpillar system would enable trenches to be crossed quite easily, and the weight of the machines would destroy all wire entanglements. These engines could . . . advance into enemy trenches, smash   all obstructions, and sweep the trenches with their machine gun fire.”

Mr. Winston Churchill began his practical tank activities after a Dukes’ dinner on February 15, 1915, when Major Hetherington and others suggested rolling cars, with wheels the size of the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, but the above letter shows that he had received inspiration before that date. At the moment he wrote his historic letter his colleague, the Minister for War, or his agents, had Breadon’s letter locked away and ignored, whilst somewhere else in the War Office reposed plans for a perfect war tank travelling on the cater- pillar system on a chain track of steel plates. It was only after spending mil- lions on the secret evolution of an inferior type of tank that “Mother” and its adaptation appeared 0n the battlefields in September, 1916.

The Birth of the Tank.

The standard work on these subjects is “Tanks, 1914-18,” by Sir Albert Stern, long Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, and an original member of Mr. Winston Churchill’s celebrated Landship Committee of 1915, so detested by the War Office that it refused to give it the accommodation of an un-tenanted room. Britain owed even, the Somme tanks, not to the War Office and the military authorities, who consistently ridiculed and opposed all ideas of landships or tanks, but to the grit, the commonsense, the courage, and the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, and the Naval Department. In his book Sir Albert Stern writes:- “Mr. d’Eyncourt turned down a proposed truck of Balata belting, and once more our hopes sank. Then on September 22 (1915) I received the following telegram from Lincoln: ‘To Stern, Room 59, 83 Pall Mall. Balata died on the test bench yesterday morning. New arrival by Tritton out of pressed plate. Light in weight, but very strong. All doing well, thank you. – Proud Parents.’ That was the birth of the tank.”

That statement is what Mr. Winston Churchill once described as a terminological inexactitude, only in the sense that it is historically untrue. The curious telegram of September 22, 1915, signed “Proud Parents,” was not the birth of the tank. It was only the birth of “Mother” and its adaptations. The birth of the tank took place in Western Australia in 1912. But Sir Albert Stern is not to blame. He did not know de Mole’s story when he wrote his book. That the Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department should never have heard of de Mole’s tank is, however, just one of those mysteries which should have been probed and never was. De Mole’s plans were not merely received and then pigeonholed. They were, on the contrary, examined, and deliberately rejected at least three times – once before the war and twice during the war, or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916, and 1918. There was also Breadon’s letter of September, 1914, and a working model one-eighth of the natural size, which did no more in London than the plans and was eventually found in what the London Press of 1919 described as “the neglected cellar of a Government department.” In 1916 de Mole’s tank was rejected by the Advisory Committee of Scientific Experts. They must have displayed some expert science to keep Sir Albert Stern ignorant of the fact that there was anything of the kind on the planet. But that he was ignorant of the existence of de Mole’s tank can be accepted as sure.

The Royal Commission of 1919 paid a high tribute to the driving force of Mr. Winston Churchill, and probably he deserved it. But no tribute was paid to the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, who deserved it more, and was his teacher about tanks. It is regrettable to have to add that on October 16, 1917. Mr. Winston Churchill weakly dismissed Sir Albert Stern from the Directorship of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, at the bidding of British Generals, whoso stupidity in connection with tanks he had dared to oppose and expose: appointed Admiral Moore in his place, who up to the date of his appointment had never even seen a tank, and actually referred Sir Albert Stern to America for a proper development of tanks on a large scale. But it is now a matter of history that Sir Albert Stern won through in the end.

De Mole’s Ideal Tank.        

De Mole’s tank was intended to be 37 ft. long, with a wheel base of 25ft, travelling on a caterpillar track of steel plates. It had a double climbing face, and consequently could have reversed over the roughest battlefields, which the Somme tanks could not. It would have crossed a 16ft trench with ease, either forwards or backwards. It had a high underbody clearance to prevent bogging.

The chain track was fully protected, travelling inside the armour instead of over the top. The Somme tanks were very imperfectly steered by moving the chain track faster on one side than the other, which imposed a strict limitation in length, or they could not be steered at all. ln de Mole’s tank perfect steering was secured, for the chain track could be moved laterally, thus causing it to conform lo curves. This meant that there was no limitation to length, except that imposed by weight, and the   horse-power of the motor engine used. At least three times de Mole offered his brilliant invention to his country for nothing, and it was refused. It is terrible to think what might have occurred If de Mole had been a man of the same type as Grindell Mathews. When in June, 1913, the Director-General of Artillery, wrote to him finally from the War Office, London, definitely declining the invention, and stating “it is not proposed to proceed with the matter,” some of de Mole’s friends suggested to him that he should take copies of his plans to the German Consul in Perth. All was peace, but de Mole said he would have no truck with any foreign Government.

What even the Somme tanks and their developments actually did in the war need not be stressed here. They were one of the chief factors in the final victory of the Allies. Lord Kitchener had no time for them. As Sir Albert Stern says. He was too busy even to look at the first efforts at construction. The chairman of the alleged Australian Inventions Board, sitting in Adelaide during the war was also too busy even to look at de Mole’s plans. Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig supported Stern. When the tanks appeared at Delville Wood and other Somme battlefields in September 1916, he wrote: “We take our objectives where the tanks advance. Where they do not advance we do not take our objectives.” In May, 1917, he wrote: “The tanks are wonderful life-savers.” A British private wrote: “Before the tanks came the dead used to be strewn in front of the German gun emplacements like birds before a butt with a good shot inside. Now these tank things just walkthrough.”

The 1919 Tank Awards.

The British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors accorded the Australian credit and commiseration, to which a grateful Empire added later the sustaining letters, “C. B. E.” To the contrivers of an inferior tank they allotted £15,000 in cash. But the Commissioners had no choice. They were tied by the terms of their appointment, and could make awards only for “tanks actually used by a Government department” – that is, for “Mother” and its adaptations, or to those who could show, “A casual connection” between their conceptions and those Contrivances. The Somme tank awardees were Sir E. H. W. Tennyson-d’Eyncourt, Sir W. Tritton, Major Wilson, Lieut. McFie, and Mr. S. Newfield. A certified verbatim report of the Commission proceedings at Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster, on November 3, 1919, shows that two of these Somme awardees had, whilst controlling official positions, offered criticisms of de Mole’s tank, which “he felt he could not properly put forward to the Commission as being a reasoned and proper report on the position as it then was”, since “the criticisms contained in that report are criticism, which I am advised are not justified.”

De Mole’s Other Activities.

De Mole conceived his great tank idea or travelling caterpillar fort, while engaged in the organisation of heavy transport work in the South-Western part of Western Australia in 1911, and he first sent his plans to the British War Office in 1912. Caterpillar traction was already known, the celebrated American   Holt tractor being then on the scene. But the steering was awkward, and this was part of de Mole’s triumph. He made perfect steering quite easy. The Holt story is another instance of the ineptitude of the British authorities on some important occasions. They gave to America for nothing plans for which they had paid a prize, and which they were exceedingly glad to use on generous re- turn. In 1902 de Mole invented au automatic telephone similar in operation to that now in use, but the postal authorities would not even give it a trial. The model of his rejected war tank can be seen at the Melbourne War Museum. The British Museum wanted to buy it, but characteristically the Australian soldier refused to sell it, and presented it to the Australian War Museum as a gift. Just now de Mole is a resident of Cremorne, Sydney, and is working out two big ideas in connection with heavy traffic. In six months’ time every city in Australia is likely to know all about them, and the country, too. He is a civil engineer by profession, like his father, who is a citizen of Adelaide. His great-great-grand-father was the eminent engineer, Henry Maudesly, who invented the marine engine, etc.

A generous-minded man. Lancelot de Mole makes no grievance of his wrongs. But the mourning millions will never know what his wrongs cost the world in human lives, or how many of the dead, including 60,000 splendid Australians, would have been saved if the British War Office had been wise in time. The man actually responsible for the pigeon- holing of the Australian corporal’s tank plans in 1912 and the definite rejection of June, 1913, was the man who prolonged the war for years. Who was he?

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