Sinking Japanese Submarine I-1

By Bruce Petty

A pair of New Zealand minesweepers teamed up to sink a Japanese submarine off Guadalcanal.

Gordon Bridson was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1909, but shortly thereafter his family moved to Auckland, where he attended Auckland Grammar School. Bridson was larger than most children his age, and into adulthood he continued to stand taller than most men.

Given the near-religious aura that rugby held in the psyche of many New Zealanders, one would think that Bridson would have gravitated toward that sport. For whatever reason, however, and in spite of his size, he gravitated toward swimming, rising to the top of that sport in New Zealand in the 1920s and early 1930s, consistently winning ribbons and cups in national competitions. In 1930, he even went to the Empire Games in Canada, where he won a silver medal. For reasons never explained or expressed, he showed little interest in swimming after that.

In 1927, aged 18 and still an active swimmer, he joined the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNZVR) and received his commission in February 1928 as a probationary sub-lieutenant. Twelve years later, almost a year after World War II started in Europe, he was promoted to lieutenant commander in the RNZVR. A month later, in May 1940, he left with the first draft of volunteers to serve with the Royal Navy in Great Britain, a common practice in those days for New Zealand naval personnel, being British Commonwealth citizens.

As was the case in the United States, when war came to England and British Commonwealth countries, they were caught woefully unprepared. They had few ships, and even fewer, once German submarines began to sink them in large numbers. Commercial vessels were therefore appropriated and converted to military use. For example, HMNZS Matai, a former lighthouse tender, was converted to military use as a minesweeper.

Once in Britain, Bridson was put in command of HMS Walnut, which was 164 feet long, had a complement of 35 men, and did a whopping 11.5 knots when the engines were in good working order. This was also the estimated top speed of mass-produced American Liberty ships that were being launched in American shipyards at about this time. Bridson commanded Walnut for 14 months, from July 23, 1940 to September 26, 1941, and as the Battle of Britain was fought between July and October 1940, one can only imagine the adventures and sights these men at sea witnessed.

The Walnut was part of a 10-ship flotilla that escorted ships in coastal British waters, and though all the ships in this flotilla were part of the Royal Navy, they were manned for the most part by New Zealand officers and ratings. They were often attacked by German ships and planes, and it was during this time that Bridson was awarded his first of many medals, the Distinguished Service Cross.

In October 1941, less than two months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and pulled the United States into World War II, Bridson took command of the newly built Bird-class minesweeper Kiwi (T102). Compared to Walnut, Kiwi was 168 feet long and was capable of a breathtaking 13 knots.

When commissioned, Kiwi’s armament consisted of one World War I-vintage 4-inch gun, a few machine guns, and 40 depth charges. With depth charge racks and “Y” launchers, these minesweepers, which were originally ordered as training vessels, were obviously prepared for a multitude of combat-related jobs, including antisubmarine warfare.

Once Kiwi and her sister ship Moa were fitted for sea, they set out on their long voyage for the Pacific. However, before becoming involved in the fighting in Pacific waters, Kiwi and Moa first had to get there. That meant surviving a crossing of a North Atlantic infested with U-boats, which at the time looked capable of crippling Britain’s war effort, as had almost happened a generation earlier during World War I.

Kiwi took up the rear of a convoy that was set to leave British waters for Halifax, Nova  Scotia, in the closing days of 1941. The thoughts of Lt. Cmdr. Bridson and his crew may have been on the threat of U-boat attacks as they set off, but what really came close to sinking them was one of the worst recorded Atlantic hurricanes of the century. South of Iceland, the weather turned nasty, and Kiwi found herself battling seas of up to 80 feet. The crew was confined below decks, except when one of the depth charges broke loose and a work party had to be sent on deck to secure it. Then, on January 9, Kiwi rode the crest of a monster wave and then was sent airborne by a following sea that almost sank her. The damage was severe with bulkheads crumpled and flooding in various parts of the ship, including the bridge where windows gave way. Abandoning ship in Arctic waters would have spelled doom for any crewmen who attempted it, unless they were picked up almost immediately, and being at the end of the convoy, that was not likely. Thanks to skilled seamanship and perhaps a bit of luck, however, Kiwi survived.

A lull in the storm came on January 11, allowing temporary repairs to be made to damaged parts of the ship. Other members of the crew were sent topside to chip away the tons of ice that had accumulated on the rigging and other parts of the ship. With all the damage done to the ship below decks, Kiwi did not need the risk of capsizing from the added weight of accumulated ice topside.

On January 16, Kiwi and her crew were in sight of Newfoundland. Escaping attack from patrolling U-boats in the area, Kiwi put into port where the ship spent two weeks in drydock having emergency repairs done. Likewise, the crew relaxed and caught up on much-needed sleep after the many stressful days and nights of fighting the hurricane.

On January 30, Kiwi left Newfoundland bound for Boston. She left through U-boat-infested waters but arrived without incident. In Boston, Kiwi spent an additional month in Bethlehem Shipyard undergoing further repairs before she was deemed seaworthy again. She was a lucky ship in more ways than one. Not only had she survived one of the worst hurricanes to hit the North Atlantic that century, but she also evaded the U-boats that dominated Atlantic waters at that time. In January 1942, a total of 46 ships were lost to U-boat attacks, and most of them were lost in the North Atlantic.

After a month spent in Boston to repair not only Kiwi but also give her crew a rest, the ship set out again, but this time for warmer waters. Kiwi sailed through the Caribbean and transited the Panama Canal on its long voyage to Auckland before setting off to join the U.S. Pacific Fleet in its struggle to turn the tide against Japan in the waters around the Solomon Islands.

Being a small ship that needed regular refueling stops along the way, Kiwi took a circuitous route to New Zealand, sailing up the west coast of Latin America to San Diego, California. She then headed west to Hawaii, then southwest to Fiji before reaching Auckland and what must have been a welcome time at home with friends and family. Bridson and many others in his crew had been away from home for almost two years.

Tulagi, a small island off the coast of the larger Florida Island in the Solomons, became the first home port for New Zealand’s 25th Minesweeping Flotilla in the South Pacific Theater, then under the command of U.S. Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey. They may have been a minesweeping flotilla, but in the early days of the Pacific War, there were not enough ships of various types to satisfy the myriad needs of a navy unprepared for a world war. As a result, these New Zealand corvettes served a variety of functions, including antisubmarine patrols.

The 25th Minesweeping Flotilla was made up of six ships. Matai, originally commanded by A.D. Holden, was the command ship of the flotilla. Prior to the war, Matai served at various times as a lighthouse tender and a governor’s yacht before being requisitioned for wartime use. Likewise, HMNZS Gale and Breeze served as coastal cargo vessels and were owned by the Canterbury Steamship Company before being put to military use. Comparatively speaking, only HMNZS Kiwi, Tui, and Moa were what one might refer to as purpose-built, though even they were constructed on trawler hulls. All three were built in the Henry Robb Shipyards in Leith, Scotland.

Kiwi and Moa were the first of the New Zealand corvettes to see action in the South Pacific. With little in the way of armament, Kiwi and Moa, literally days before going into combat for the first time, traded several bottles of rum (some say it was gin) for some 20mm Oerlikons. As Leading Signalman J. Slater recalled, “The Kiwi mounted one of hers straight in front of her 4-inch gun on the foredeck, and we [aboard the Moa] mounted ours slightly to starboard of the 4-inch.” However, Ewan Stevenson, an underwater archaeologist who has explored and photographed the sunken Moa more than once, says it is mounted on the bow forward of the 4-inch gun and on the centerline.

Thanks to the success of Allied code breakers, Admiral Halsey’s command knew that the Japanese were reinforcing and resupplying their troops on “Starvation Island,” as the Japanese came to call Guadalcanal. This was because they had failed not only to eradicate the Allied presence on Guadalcanal, but had also lost the ability to resupply their forces by conventional means. They were thus forced to pull not only many of their destroyers from their designated task of engaging the enemy but also many of their submarines in an effort to save the situation and avoid defeat. However, what Allied intelligence did not know was that at about this time the Japanese had concluded that the situation on Guadalcanal was not salvageable. The resupply efforts would soon give way to evacuating as many troops as possible, something that was soon to be accomplished at night using destroyers.

On the night of January 29, 1943, though, Kiwi and Moa were directed by the commander of Naval Base Cactus to patrol on a line off Kamimbo Bay on the northwest coast of Guadalcanal for a distance of two miles on either side of the bay’s center line. As Lt. Cmdr. Bridson related in his after-action report, Kiwi proceeded with Moa and commenced patrolling at 6:30 pm. Both Bridson aboard Kiwi and Lt. Cmdr. Peter Phipps (later admiral), skipper of Moa, agreed beforehand to patrol line-abreast with a distance of approximately one mile between them. Less than five hours into their patrol, Able Seaman E. McVinnie, the ASDIC operator aboard Kiwi, made a contact at 9:05 pm at a distance of 300 yards and identified it as a submarine. Soon thereafter, Moa confirmed the contact, and Kiwi then altered course 10 degrees to starboard in order to pass ahead of the submarine. Kiwi then attacked with depth charges, while Moa stood back and directed Kiwi with her sonar.

Interestingly enough, the submarine detection gear known as ASDIC, or sonar, was in part the World War I-era invention of a New Zealander: Ernest (later Lord) Rutherford, born near the town of Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island. Rutherford today is referred to as the father of nuclear physics and won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908. During World War I, he turned his attention to submarine detection, resulting in the development of sonar, and it was this innovation that came to be used by all the navies of the world to detect enemy submarines. It was sonar that allowed Kiwi and Moa to first find and then depth-charge the Japanese submarine I-1.

At the time neither Bridson nor Phipps knew that their adversary was the I-1. Nor did they know it was faster than and also twice as big as their two small minesweepers. All they knew was that they had found a submarine and that it was most likely Japanese. Nonetheless, they were committed, and retreat appears not to have been an option. I-1 also had a deck gun that was much larger than anything either Kiwi or Moa had. Still, following the phosphorescent wake of the submerged submarine, Kiwi moved in and dropped six depth charges.

The resulting underwater detonations knocked sailors aboard I-1 off their feet, and a leak appeared in one of the aft provision spaces. Kiwi then pulled away to make sonar contact again. At about 400 yards, Kiwi reestablished contact and moved in to drop another pattern of depth charges. Further damage was done to the steering engine and port shaft of I-1. Pumps were disabled, and a high-pressure manifold was ruptured, filling the control room with a watery mist. The main switchboard was damaged as well, and all the lights went out on the sub. She then developed a 45-degree down angle and plunged well below her designed limit to an estimated depth of 590 feet. Leaks then appeared in her forward torpedo room. Her captain, Lt. Cmdr. Sakamoto Eiichi, ordered the forward group of main ballast tanks blown and a full reverse on the remaining drive shaft. As a result, the loss of I-1 was prevented, if only temporarily.

I-1 surfaced, but seawater had damaged her batteries. That left only her starboard diesel engine operational, and with Kiwi 2,000 yards away, I-1 made a run for it on the surface at 11 knots. Sakamoto then took the helm and ordered the sub’s 125mm deck gun manned, as well as its machine guns. Simultaneously, Kiwi opened up with her 4-inch gun, manned by Leading Seaman W.I. Steele, Able Seaman J.W.C. Kroening, and Able Seaman J. Washer. Likewise, Kiwi’s 20mm Oerlikons opened up while Leading Signalman C. Buchanan illuminated I-1 with Kiwi’s 10-inch searchlight. Moa lent a hand by firing off star shells that not only illuminated I-1 further but also illuminated Kiwi for the Japanese.

The opening barrage of what proved to be a close-in surface battle reminiscent of a bygone era worked to Kiwi’s advantage. Almost immediately, Lt. Cmdr. Sakamoto and the entire Japanese bridge crew were mowed down, including most of the gun crew. Barges lashed to the sub aft of the conning tower filled with supplies for the stranded and starving Japanese troops on Guadalcanal were set alight.

With the bridge crew either dead or wounded, I-1 started to lose speed and drift to starboard. Lieutenant Koreeda Sadayoshi, I-1’s torpedo officer, then came topside and took command. (Koreeda survived the sinking of I-1 and commanded a number of other subs later in the war, including RO-115 and RO-63.)

With Kiwi close aboard, Koreeda concluded that the enemy was planning to capture the sub. He ordered a reserve gun crew on deck and brought up others with rifles in an attempt to prevent the unthinkable from happening. He even sent the officers to fetch their samurai swords.

Sometime during this action, one of the gunners aboard Kiwi testified that he saw somebody in the conning tower of I-1 throw a box overboard that sank immediately. Whether the box contained codebooks or other documents was never ascertained. According to W.J. Holmes in his book Double Edged Secrets, escaping crewmembers of I-1 took “current code books” and buried them ashore, but left behind “call lists, old code books, and charts.” Allied divers later salvaged these, and they proved of great value.

At 9:20 pm, Kiwi altered course to ram I-1, hitting the sub on the port side abaft the conning tower. Soldiers meant to land on Guadalcanal along with the supply barges were seen jumping overboard at this point. Bridson in his after-action report observed as he backed off I-1 that she was “definitely holed.” Kiwi’s 20mm Oerlikons again raked the sub in an attempt to suppress any further return fire. However, I-1 continued to make good speed at an estimated nine knots.

Bridson decided to ram her a second and then a third time. The second attempt was a glancing below, and Bridson reported that it was at this time that Kiwi suffered her first and only casualty of the battle. Leading Signalman C. Buchanan, who was manning the 10-inch searchlight, was wounded, but he continued to man his post until relieved at the conclusion of the battle. He died of his wounds two days later and was honored by both the New Zealand and American navies. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, one of only nine non-Americans to be so honored in World War II.

Although Bridson was formal in his after-action report of the events that took place on the night of January 29, 1943, another account, this one by Admiral Halsey, gives a livelier picture of the events: “The skipper immediately put his helm over and rang up full speed on his telegraph, which so astonished the chief that he yelled up the speaking tube, ‘What’s the matter, you bastard? Have you gone crazy?’ ‘Shut up!’ the skipper yelled back. ‘There’s a weekend’s leave in Auckland dead ahead of us! Give me everything you’ve got, or I’ll come below and kick hell out of you!’ Then Bridson rams again, this time ‘for a week’s leave.’ Ramming I-1 for the third time, he is reported as correcting himself in saying, ‘Once more for a fortnight!’”

In addition to Halsey’s account, another version that added to the reputation, if not the mystique, of Gordon Bridson was shared some years after the war by David Graham, who served on HMNZS Kiwi with Bridson. He described in part the encounter with I-1 as follows: “He [Bridson] shouted down the voice tube, ‘Stand by to ram!’ When the voice replied back from the engine room, ‘What the hell do you do when you ram?’ he [Bridson] replied, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never done it before.’”

Also at this time, Lieutenant Sakai Toshimi, I-1’s navigator with sword in hand, tried to board Kiwi but fell into the sea as it pulled away. He was later rescued and served out the war on two other subs before going down with RO-114 the following year.

Kiwi’s third ramming of the I-1 punctured one of the sub’s main ballast tanks, and the minesweeper’s hull slid up onto the sub’s after deck. She tilted precariously to one side before sliding off. Her stem was badly damaged, as was her sonar gear.

By this time the battle had been going on for almost an hour, and Kiwi’s guns had overheated, forcing her to withdraw. Moa then took up the chase, firing all she had and making more hits on the sub. At 11:15 pm, I-1 ran aground just inside Fish Reef north of Kamimbo Bay. The after part of the sub filled with water and sank, while the bow rose at a steep angle above the reef. Lieutenant Koreeda, the senior surviving officer aboard I-1, ordered his men to abandon ship. Sixty-six soldiers and sailors aboard the stricken I-1 escaped to shore and were later evacuated to Rabaul.

In an interview that appeared in The New Zealand Herald the following March, Bridson reported that aboard Kiwi during this battle, there were two Guadalcanal islanders. No explanation was given for why they were aboard, other than to say that during the battle, they joined in by passing up ammunition for the guns. When Kiwi returned to port, the relatives of the two men came aboard “and completely ignoring George and Benny asked me if they had shown fright in front of the Japanese. I assured them they had not, and immediately the pair became centers of attention of an admiring throng.”

In another interview that same month with The Auckland Star, Bridson expressed thanks to the Americans for always giving them timely warning if anything too big to handle might be coming their way. “They didn’t waste any time,” he said. “If they told us to scram, we scrammed.”

Today, we know that these warnings came as a result of Allied efforts at breaking the various Japanese codes, efforts that went back to World War I when the Japanese diplomatic code was first cracked. If Bridson suspected as much, he never expressed it. At the very least, individuals serving in the Solomon Islands knew about the work of the coast watchers and, of course, Allied submarines and aircraft, many with photoreconnaissance capability, which supplemented what the codebreakers could not always provide. At the same time, the intelligence people and high-ranking military personnel on the receiving end of intelligence made sure that snooper aircraft were spotted by the enemy, making them think that their movements were detected by means other than a compromise of their codes.

Although the two minesweepers suffered only one casualty, there easily could have been more. After the battle and damage to both ships was assessed, it was found that one of the 20mm Oerlikons had been hit more than once either by machine-gun bullets or shrapnel. Able Seaman Dalton, who was manning one of them, was therefore one lucky lad.

Besides damage to the forward part of Kiwi from ramming I-1, she also suffered damage to her stern, but not from I-1: it resulted from the premature detonation of one of her own depth charges. In addition, bullet holes were found above the waterline on the port bow, the shrouds on the starboard side of the foremast were shot away, windows on the starboard side of the wheelhouse were shattered, and the winch and wheel covers on the foredeck were destroyed. Most of the damage appears to have been on the starboard side of Kiwi, but how much was the result of hostile gunfire or of the ramming action was not made absolutely clear in the report.

Moa, on the other hand, came out relatively unscathed, even though she joined in the final stage of the battle after Kiwi’s guns overheated. The down side for Moa, however, was that she had to remain on station while Kiwi returned home for repairs and a hero’s welcome for the officers and ratings. The sailors were greeted by large crowds and marched through Auckland in a parade dedicated to them, and this after less than two months in a combat zone. Moa was later sunk off the coast of Tulagi in April 1943 as a result of enemy action.

Even before the sinking of I-1, these little New Zealand ships had a reputation in the South Pacific. Part of it stemmed from envy by their American allies, because the New Zealand Navy, being part of the British Commonwealth, was “wet” (i.e., they allowed liquor aboard their ships), but the U.S. Navy was “dry.” As a result, American naval officers were more than willing to ingratiate themselves to their counterparts in the Royal New Zealand Navy in order to receive invites to the ship’s pub when in port. Of course, a couple of bottles of rum had bought 20mm Oerlikons for Kiwi, and another two bought some for Moa, making a big difference in the battle with the Japanese submarine.

Likewise, the ratings in both navies engaged in a barter system that was symbiotic. Most New Zealand Pacific War veterans confessed that American chow was head and shoulders above anything they were served in their messes, whether aboard ship or ashore. Additionally, American servicemen were paid more than New Zealand servicemen, moving the enterprising New Zealanders to find a variety of ways to supplement their comparatively low wages. Robert Gordon Dunlop, who served in the Solomon Islands as part of the only New Zealand Army division to serve in the Pacific (the 3rd), related the following in a 2007 oral history interview: “We had a camp [on Guadalcanal] that was almost backed on to an American rations store, and a couple of our fellows set up a still. We would go over to the American camp and get a lot of grapefruit juice tins and put it through the still—the distiller—and then sell it back to the Yanks. They gave $30 a bottle for it. It was their own ingredients they gave to us, and then bought it back at $30 a bottle. You could put a match to it and get an almost colorless flame—pretty pure spirits, really.”

Similarly, Charles Laid, who was in a Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron of Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats based near Tulagi, commented, “The 505 Seabees were the Americans that did the net and boom [on Tulagi], and they used to come to our base. As you know, the American Navy is dry, but every week the Seabees used to bring a barge-load of booze over to us, and then on Wednesday and Saturday nights, the American servicemen would come over to our base and help us drink it. The incongruity of it occurred to me only after the war.”

In the case of HMNZS Kiwi, the sailors from New Zealand were well known for another reason. The skipper of Kiwi, Lt. Cmdr. Bridson, was not as stiff and formal as one might expect from a naval officer, especially one brought up in the tradition of the Royal Navy. Talking to his oldest son Nils, one is left with the impression that he was a big man with a big heart, and also had a sense of humor that helped him and his crew through some difficult times a long way from home and loved ones. To relieve some of the tension and perhaps even some of the boredom, Bridson and two of his fellow officers aboard Kiwi took to holding three-man parades while in port.

Again, Admiral Halsey in his autobiography relates having been witness to at least one of these parades: “Three of the Kiwi’s officers—the captain, the medical officer, and the chief engineer—were famous from the Solomons to Auckland. Everyone knew them at least by sight. Not only were they the most mastodonic men I ever laid eyes on—their combined weights were close to 800 pounds—but whenever the Kiwi put into Noumea, these monsters would stage a three-man parade through the town, one of them puffing into a dented trombone, another tooting a jazz whistle, and the third playing a concertina.”

Admiral Halsey also felt that the actions of Kiwi and Moa on the night of January 29 were important enough to deserve some recognition, not only from the New Zealand Navy, but also the U.S. Navy. He therefore recommended Bridson and Phipps for the Navy Cross. Engineering Officer W. Southward was awarded the Silver Star.

Regardless of the honor of being among the few non-Americans to be so awarded in World War II, the three New Zealanders arrived at Admiral Halsey’s office for the ceremony prelubricated. As Admiral Halsey put it, “I had to support them with one hand while I pinned on the crosses with the other. They thanked me, saluted, and rumbled away. The last I saw of them, they picked up the medical officer and their musical instruments, and were forming another parade.”

Bruce Petty is the author of five books, four of which concern World War II in the Pacific. He is a resident of New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt Bf 109 – Early Development




Supermarine Spitfire

Probably the most successful British fighter of World War II; placed in front-line service throughout the war. At least 22,759 Spitfire and Spitfire variants (photo-reconnaissance aircraft and naval fighters) were built between March 1936 and March 1949 in 54 major marks (not counting variants in engine fit and prototypes).

The Spitfire was a pilot’s airplane—a very responsive aircraft with superb control harmony that gave the pilot plenty of feedback as manoeuvre limits were approached. The ability of the Spitfire’s airframe to accept progressively more powerful engines was a major factor in its continued success. Its only real fault was a relative lack of range on internal fuel (approximately 490 miles for a Mk.1, 660 miles for a Mk.VIII/IX with fuselage tank).

The Spitfire Mk.I was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin III producing 990 bph using 87-octane fuel. It was armed with eight 0.303-inch Browning machine guns and played an important part in the Battle of Britain. A number of performance improvements were made during 1940, including the use of 100-octane fuel. From November 1940, all Spitfires were retrofitted with metal ailerons that increased the roll rate at high speed. The Mk.II was fitted with a 1,140-bhp Merlin XII. Tactical comparisons with a captured Messerschmitt Bf 109E showed that the Spitfire had a much better turning circle, was generally more manoeuvrable (particularly at high speed), and that the Bf 109 had a slightly better climb below 20,000 feet and was able to accelerate faster in a dive.

Photo-reconnaissance Spitfires were stripped of nonessential equipment and received a highly polished paint finish. They carried two F.24 cameras and were 10–15 mph faster than standard Spitfires. Subsequent versions carried much more fuel, increasing range to a respectable 2,000 miles. The Mk.V entered service in February 1941 and had a 1,450-bhp Merlin 45. It served in every theater during World War II and fought with distinction during the defense of Malta.

Most Mk.Vs were armed with two 20mm Hispano cannons and four 0.303-inch Browning machine guns. The Mk.V was comparable to the Messerschmitt Bf 109F2, but it was severely disadvantaged by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A, which outclassed the Spitfire V in every department except turning circle. The Spitfire LF Vb with a 1,580-bhp Merlin 50M redressed the performance balance at low altitude at the expense of performance above 12,000 feet, and a much higher rate of roll was achieved by removing the detachable wing tips.




Messerschmitt Bf 109

Willy Messerschmitt began developing his benchmark fighter in 1933 once the Luftwaffe desired to substitute its Arado Ar 68 and Heinkel He 51 biplanes. The prototype flew in 1935 as a rather angular, low-wing monoplane with a fully enclosed cockpit and narrow-track landing gear. Results were impressive, and in 1937 the new Bf 109B fighter outpaced all other rivals at the International Flying Meet in Zurich, Switzerland. By 1939 the first production model, the Bf 109E, was introduced, featuring a bigger engine and heavier armament. As a fighter, the diminutive craft flew fast and maneuvered well, features that helped secure German air superiority at the start of World War II. Simply put, Bf 109s annihilated all their outdated opposition until encountering Supermarine Spitfires during the 1940 Battle of Britain. Although speedier than its British opponent, Bf 109Es turned somewhat slower and never achieved superiority.


The most famous fighter of the German Luftwaffe, produced in greater numbers (in excess of 30,000) than any other fighter aircraft. Created by Willy Messerschmitt and his chief engineer, Walter Rethel, the Bf 109 was the world’s most advanced fighter at the time of its first flight in September 1935. A development of the very successful four-place touring Bf 108, the Bf 109 featured retractable landing gear, an enclosed cockpit, all-metal stressed-skin construction, heavy armament for the time, slotted trailing-edge flaps, and automatic Handley Page leading-edge slots.

Despite the pressures for ever-increasing production, the Bf 109 went through a long series of modifications, the last production version being the Bf 109K. In the process, horsepower was increased from the prototype’s 695-hp Rolls- Royce Merlin to the 2,030-hp Daimler-Benz DB 605 engine in the Bf 109K.

The aircraft served in every theater in which the Germans fought and was used by many nations allied to Germany. In the early months of the war, it reigned supreme over the battlefield until it met its match in the Supermarine Spitfire. As the war progressed and new Allied fighters such as the Soviet Yak-3 and U.S. North American P-51 were introduced, it became increasingly difficult for the Bf 109 to compete on equal terms. Nevertheless, in the hands of a capable pilot it remained a dangerous weapon until the end of the war. Versions of the Bf 109 were produced in Czechoslovakia and Spain, and it fought again in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

Although it was the favorite mount of many top German aces, Allied pilots who flew test versions had mixed feelings. The cockpit was cramped, with visibility limited by the heavy frames of the canopy. By Allied standards, the control harmony was poor, a problem that was amplified by the inexplicable lack of a rudder-trimming device. At cruising speeds, the Bf 109 was generally considered delightful to fly, but its controls became very heavy as speed increased. The most notorious aspect of the Bf 109 was its appalling takeoff characteristics. An estimated 3,000 aircraft were lost during takeoffs in which the pilot lost control. Landing characteristics were also challenging, but a skilled pilot could land in a relatively short distance, using heavy braking once the tailwheel was firmly planted on the ground.



Artist’s rendering of the Colosseum during a naumachiae. The Water Battles at the Colosseum were documented by Ancient Roman writers who recorded that the Colosseum was used for naumachiae (the Greek word for sea warfare) or simulated sea battles.

The greatest structure erected during the age of the Flavian emperors (69-96 A.D.) and arguably the finest architectural achievement in the history of the Roman Empire. The Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater, but it became known as the Colosseum after a colossal statue of Nero that once stood nearby. Its origins are to be found in the desire of the Emperor VESPASIAN to create for the Romans a stadium of such magnitude as to convince both them and the world of Rome’s return to unquestioned power after the bitter civil war.

Construction began in 72 or 75 A.D. Vespasian chose as the site a large plot between the Caelian and Esquiline hills, near the lake of Stagnum Neronis and the GOLDEN HOUSE OF NERO. His intent was obvious – to transform the old residence of the despot Nero into a public place of joy and entertainment. He succeeded admirably, and his achievement would be supplemented in time by the Baths of Titus, built in order to use up the rest of the Golden House. The work proceeded feverishly and the tale that 30,000 Jews were pressed into service persists. Yet Vespasian did not live to see its completion. Titus took up the task in his reign, but it was Domitian who completed the structure sometime around 81 A.D. The official opening, however, was held on a festal day in 80. Titus presided over the ceremonies, which were followed by a prolonged gladiatorial show lasting for 100 days.

The Colosseum seated at least 45,000 to 55,000 people. Vespasian chose an elliptical shape in honor of the amphitheater of Curio, but this one was larger. There were three principal arcades, the intervals of which were filled with arched corridors, staircases, supporting substructures and finally the seats. Travertine stone was used throughout, although some brick, pumice and concrete proved effective in construction. The stones came from Albulae near Tivoli. The elliptically shaped walls were 620 feet by 507 feet wide at their long and short axes, the outer walls standing 157 feet high. The arena floor stretched 290 feet by 180 feet at its two axes. The dimensions of the Colosseum have changed slightly over the years, as war and disaster took their toll. Eighty arches opened onto the stands, and the columns employed throughout represented the various orders – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian – while the fourth story, the top floor, was set with Corinthian pilasters, installed with iron to hold them securely in place.

The seats were arranged in four different sections on the podium. The bottom seats belonged to the tribunes, senators and members of the Equestrian Order. The second and third sections were for the general citizenry and the lower classes, respectively. The final rows, near the upper arches, were used by the lower classes and many women. All of these public zones bore the name maeniana. Spectators in the upper seats saw clearly not only the games but were shaded by the velaria as well, awnings stretched across the exposed areas of the stadium to cover the public from the sun. The canvas and ropes were the responsibility of a large group of sailors from Misenum, stationed permanently in Rome for this sole purpose.

Every arch had a number corresponding to the tickets issued, and each ticket specifically listed the entrance, row and number of the seat belonging to the holder for that day. There were a number of restricted or specific entrances. Imperial spectators could enter and be escorted to their own box, although Commodus made himself Can underground passage. Routinely, the excited fans took their seats very early in the morning and stayed throughout the day.

The stories told of the games and of the ingenious tricks used to enhance the performances and to entertain the mobs could rarely exaggerate the truth. Two of the most interesting events were the animal spectacles and the famed staged sea battles of Titus, both requiring special architectural devices. In the animal spectacles the cages were arranged so expertly that large groups of beasts could be led directly into the arena. Domitian added to the sublevels of the arena, putting in rooms and hinged trapdoors that allowed for changes of scenery and the logistical requirements of the various displays. As for the sea fights, while Suetonius reports that they were held instead in the artificial lake of Naumachia and not in the amphitheater, Die’s account disagrees. The Colosseum did contain drains for the production of such naval shows, although they were not installed until the reign of Domitian. The abundance of water nearby made the filling of the Colosseum possible, although architecturally stressful. The drains routinely became clogged, causing extensive rot in the surrounding wood. The year 248 A. D. saw the last recorded, sea-oriented spectacle called a naumachia.

A number of other practical features were designed for the comfort of the thousands of spectators. Spouts could send out cool and scented streams of water on hot days, and vomitoria (oversized doors) were found at convenient spots for use by those wishing to relieve themselves of heavy foods. Aside from the statues adorning the arches, the Colosseum was solid, thick and as sturdy as the Empire liked to fancy itself. The structure was Vespasian’s gift to the Romans, whose common saying remains to this day: “When the Colosseum falls, so falls Rome and all the world.”

Although the Colosseum is the most famous Roman amphitheater, nearly 200 others survive archaeologically throughout the former Roman Empire, mostly in its western provinces. Factors of urban topography or available building materials create variations and regional groupings among surviving amphitheaters. Architects in Britain and other northern provinces used turf-and-timber construction – but this cheaper construction material did not lessen the building’s status as a prestige project or a symbol of connection to Rome. Specialized structures to control wild animals appear only in North Africa and sites on the shipping routes from North Africa to Rome, not in the rest of the empire. Thus, the amphitheaters at Capua and Pozzuoli (south of Rome) have extensive subterranean passages and other features for handling animals, while the equally luxurious amphitheaters at Arles and Nîmes do not. In the east, there was less need for purpose-built gladiatorial structures since preexisting theaters and stadia could be adapted to the same purpose. Once again, eastern and western provinces show different forms of adaptation to Roman rule.



Sea Battles of the Vikings


The tale of the battle of Svöldr mentions one Einar Tambarskelve, who stood beside King Olaf Tryggvasson. After he had narrowly missed Eric Haakonsson, a leader of the enemy, his bow was broken by an arrow hit. Olaf asked him what had burst with such a noise: he replied, “It was Norway, Sire, that sprang from your hands.” King Olaf Tryggvason,s last stand. Battle of Svolder, 999 or 1000. Painting by Angus Mcbride


The Battle of Svolder (Svold, Swold) was a naval battle fought in September 999 or 1000 in the western Baltic Sea between King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway and an alliance of his enemies. The backdrop of the battle was the unification of Norway into a single state, long-standing Danish efforts to gain control of the country, and the spread of Christianity in Scandinavia.


The sea battles of the Vikings were fought according to the same principles as battles on land. Each side roped most of their ships together side by side to make a platform on which to form a shield wall. The attackers tried to storm this platform, as e. g. in the battles of Hafrsfjord in 872, Svöldr in 1000 and Nissa in 1062. Ship after ship was taken and then detached from the formation to drift away. Both fleets used to keep some ships outside the formation to manoeuver; these were used to attack the enemy by going alongside and boarding, in a hailstorm of arrows, stones and spears from both sides. If the defenders succeeded in killing the attacking rowers, or if the oars of the attacking ship were broken, the attack often failed through inability to manoeuver. However, the elements of a real naval battle of the Classical age – outmanoeuvering, ramming, forcing the opponent to sail against the wind, or the use of catapults – were unknown among the Vikings. Most sea battles took place in quiet coastal waters or river mouths, where there was no space for such tactics.

When fighting amongst themselves, the Vikings’ major battles almost invariably took place at sea- witness Hafrs Fjord in 872, Svöldr in 1000 and Nissa in 1062, to cite but three examples. Nevertheless, they made every effort to ensure that a naval action was as much like a land battle as possible, arranging their fleets in lines or wedges; one side-or sometimes both-customarily roped together the largest of their ships gunwale to gunwale to form large, floating platforms. The biggest and best-manned ships usually formed the middle part of the line, with the commander’s vessel invariably positioned in the very centre, since he normally had the largest vessel of all. High-sided merchantmen were sometimes positioned on the flanks of the line too. The prows of the longer ships extended out in front of the battle-line and some of them, called bardi, were therefore armoured with iron plates at stem and stern, which bore the brunt of the fighting. Some even had a series of iron spikes called a beard (skegg) round the prow, designed to hole enemy ships venturing close enough to board.

In addition to this floating platform there were usually a number of additional individual ships positioned on the flanks and in the rear, whose tasks were to skirmish with their opposite numbers; to attack the enemy platform if he had one; to put reinforcements aboard their own platform when necessary; and to pursue the enemy in flight. Masts were lowered in battle, and all movement was by oar, so the loss of a ship’s oars in collision with another vessel effectively crippled it. Nevertheless, the classical diekplus manoeuvre, which involved shearing off an enemy vessel’s oars with the prow of one’s own ship, does not seem to have been deliberately employed, and nor was ramming.

The main naval tactic was simply to row against an enemy ship, grapple and board it, and clear it with hand weapons before moving on to another vessel, sometimes cutting the cleared ship loose if it formed the wing of a platform. The platforms were attacked by as many ships as could pull alongside. Boarding was usually preceded by a shower of arrows and, at closer range, javelins, iron-shod stakes and stones, as a result of which each oarsman was often protected by a second man, who deflected missiles with his shield. On the final approach prior to boarding, shields were held overhead ‘so closely that no part of their holders was left uncovered’. Some ships carried extra supplies of stones and other missiles. Stones are extensively recorded in accounts of Viking naval battles, and were clearly the favourite form of missile. The largest were dropped from high-sided vessels on to (and even through) the decks of ships which drew alongside to board.


King from 995, probably brought up in Russia after the killing of his father. He took part in raids in the Baltic and on expeditions to England. He was probably the victor of Maldon in 991. He allied with Sweyn Forkbeard. Olaf converted to Christianity in England, promising not to return. He overthrew Hakon to become King of Norway, encouraging the conversion of Norway and Iceland. He was killed at Svöld, fighting an alliance of Danes and Swedes. It was said that, recognising defeat, he leaped from his ship the Long Serpent (the largest ship recorded in the sagas) and drowned. Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga is part of the Heimskringla. There were tales that he survived.


King from 987, son of Harold Bluetooth from whom he seized the Danish throne. He led raids against England in 991 and 994 with Olaf Tryggvason. He opposed his former comrade in Norway. Sweyn’s ally, Jarl Erik of Lade, defeated Olaf at Svöld in 1000. As king Sweyn took over Hedeby and dominated the Wends. He led expeditions to England in 1003 and 1006. In 1013 he came to defeat Aethelred II, who fled. He controlled England but died in February 1014 at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. In Denmark his son Harold succeeded but his most famous son was Cnut the Great.


French Air Force 1940 – Analysis

From 10 May until 11 June, the British and French air forces lost around 1,850 aircraft in combat, of which some 950 were French. Luftwaffe losses were around 1,100. These figures suggest a clear victory for the Luftwaffe, but even they give no idea of the scale of the defeat suffered by the Allied air forces. Such heavy losses, indeed even heavier losses, would have been perfectly acceptable if they had enabled the Allied armies to avoid such a total and catastrophic rout.

Most French problems stemmed from the way long-range bombing dominated French thinking at all levels, political and military. The threat the bomber posed to French cities was overestimated and what it might achieve on the battlefield underestimated. Paranoia over the long-range bomber had emerged long before the outbreak of the First World War. In 1914–1918, the needs of the front prevented this from dominating military thinking, but in peacetime, the theory and the fear were able to flourish. French politicians assumed bombing could bring swift and total defeat and ruin to their country.

The idea that bombers alone would decide future wars was a far more radical notion than the blitzkrieg that would eventually defeat France. The German strategy was just a restatement of the importance of mobility, with the internal combustion engine replacing the horse. Douhetism envisaged an entirely new form of warfare in which armies would be irrelevant. It is perhaps no coincidence that these theories took root most strongly in the democracies (France, Britain, and the United States) where public anxiety over aerial bombardment could find an effective political voice. In the totalitarian states (Germany, USSR, Italy, and Japan), where public opinion had less influence, more pragmatic military uses of air power prevailed.

The French are often accused of trying to fight the Second World War with the weapons and ideas of the First World War. This is true for some aspects of policy, but as far as the air war is concerned, in 1940, France needed the sort of Air Force it had in 1918. The Great War had underlined the value of aerial reconnaissance and the need for the strongest possible fighter force to enable the reconnaissance fleet to operate. The Air Division had demonstrated how effective air power could be as a flexible defensive and offensive weapon. In 1940, the French did not have enough fighters, they had no equivalent of the Air Division and were completely taken by surprise when the Luftwaffe turned their very similar VIII Air Corps on the French Army. Instead of building on the close air support tactics developed in the First World War, the French focused on developing a long-range deterrent bomber force. How fast, how far, and how many tons bombers could carry became the yardstick for measuring French air strength. Ironically, once the country was at war, it was the Ju 87, the slowest German bomber with the least range and lowest bomb load, that proved so decisive.

The French Army never believed the long-range bomber could be decisive; they had no doubts that wars would still be won or lost on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the zeal with which the Douhet-style conflict was promoted induced a scepticism within the Army about all forms of bombing, strategic and tactical. Battlefield bombing in direct support of ground forces proved to be far more effective than the generals imagined, and, more importantly, meant armies did not have to wait for artillery. The French found themselves facing a German Army that could advance far more rapidly than they believed possible. This was at least as significant as the actual damage bombing inflicted.

Yet developing a long-range bomber force was not a mistake. It might not decide the outcome of a war, but it did have huge influence in peacetime. Politicians needed the security a powerful bomber fleet provided. Bargaining positions were determined by how many bombers you had. Foreign policy was shaped by the bomber. The value of a powerful bomber fleet was amply demonstrated during the Rhineland and Sudetenland crises. Hitler got his way without firing a bullet. At the time, it did not occur to the Air Force or the politicians that the long-range bomber was not a decisive war winning weapon, that its value was political and psychological rather than military. Without fully understanding what was happening, it was difficult to see that a balance was required between what the politicians needed in peacetime and the military needed for fighting a war. Attempts to match the German bomber fleet led to far too much effort being devoted to strategic bombers at the expense of shorter-range tactical bombers. It was the latter that France would need when it came to war. They also happened to be much easier to build. The LeO 451 was not only the least effective and suffered the highest loss rate of any French bomber, but it also required far more resources to build.

The lack of trust between Army and Air Force was another major problem. Even in the tactical domain, the Army felt that in the First World War, the Air Force had tended to disregard Army needs and go its own way. The Air Force focus on independent strategic air warfare in the interwar years increased the mistrust. The more independent the Air Force became, the less the Army trusted it. The Army had good reason not to trust their sister service. Even in the May–June campaign, d’Astier tended to run air operations as he thought best, rather than as the Army wanted.

As far as the Army was concerned, centralised control meant Air Force control, and the only way the generals felt they could be sure of getting the air support they needed was to attach squadrons permanently to army units, even though this made it even more difficult to focus air effort where it was needed. Ironically, as the Army did not think tactical bombing was so important, control of the bomber force was centralised, and it could be switched to where it was required. Fighter squadrons, however, were attached to armies, which stretched available resources along the length of the front. Fears that French cities and industry would be wiped out by German bombing meant fighters also had to defend these targets. In the end, French fighter resources were stretched in two directions: along the front and deep into the French rear. Even if the French fighter force had matched the Luftwaffe in terms of quality in 1940, it would have still been at a disadvantage numerically because of the way it was dispersed.

The inability to secure local air superiority meant that the large fleet of reconnaissance planes the French had assembled, and into which so many resources had been poured, could not function. The French were quite right to emphasise the importance of reconnaissance, but a smaller reconnaissance fleet with a larger fighter force to protect it, would have enabled the French to gather more information.

On the technical side, the French fascination with large multi-seater, multi-purpose planes proved particularly unfortunate. France missed out completely on the Blenheim and Dornier Do 17 generation of bomber design and as a result, the French bomber force had nothing suitable to fly by day when war broke out. Even in the 1940 campaign, the products of the multiplace de combat era flew nearly as many sorties as the French bombers that were supposed to replace them. Perhaps more significantly, the low speeds expected of the turret laden bombers, meant required fighter speeds were too low, and although the BCR multi-purpose plane was abandoned in 1934, French fighter design never quite caught up with what was being achieved elsewhere.

France started rearming much later than Germany, but it was not fatally late. The mistake was the planes the French decided to build. The RAF and Luftwaffe fought the air battles of 1940 largely with planes conceived in the early thirties or upgrades of these designs. For France, this was the Amiot 340, M.S.406, Potez 63, and Mureaux 113 generation. France, however, decided these were not good enough and placed all their trust in the next generation. This was not necessary. The makeshift Potez 633 was a reasonable equivalent to bombers like the Dornier 17. The Mureaux 117 was no more obsolete than the Henschel Hs 126 the Luftwaffe used successfully. An upgraded M.S.406 could not have matched the Bf 109, but it might have been good enough. These were the only planes that France could have built in sufficient numbers in time for the 1940 campaign.

In peacetime, there was a case for waiting for the very latest designs, but once war broke out, continuing to rely on the 1936 generation became a fatal mistake. The Dewoitine D.520 and Bloch MB.174 were excellent planes that would have played an increasingly important role from mid-1940 onwards. The Martin 167 and Douglas DB-7 did go on to have very successful careers with the RAF. They were all capable of making some contribution in the spring of 1940, but it was too soon to be relying on them. New planes invariably have teething problems and aircrews need time to become familiar with them. In the end, the Dewoitine D.520 was no more successful than the Curtiss H75, because the H75 pilots had learned how to get the best out of their fighters. Fighter production plummeted when the M.S.406 was phased out. The Potez 633 was easy to build and could have been built in large numbers. In the end, France fell between two stools: it did not have enough combat planes of either the old or the new generation.

Even with the resources that were available in 1940, the French could have done better. No battle is lost before a shot is fired. On the ground, there were opportunities for the French to rescue the situation even after the breakthrough at Sedan. Once it was obvious how serious the situation was, there was plenty of urgency, but little flair or improvisation. During the 1918 crises, doctrine had been ditched and instinct took over. Fighters and reconnaissance planes, as well as bombers, were thrown into the ground-attack role, regardless of doctrine. In 1940, everything was done by the book. Tremendous risks were taken by committing large ungainly multi-seaters and floatplane bombers to daylight operations. Frantic efforts were made to make obsolete long-range bombers available for operations, but there was no thought about how smaller, more manoeuvrable fighters or reconnaissance planes might be used for ground-attack. A striking feature of the campaign was how obsolete biplanes like the Henschel Hs 123 and Fokker C.V could be used for ground-attack, provided they were not expected to attack targets far beyond the front line. The way French aircraft were used was determined by what they were designed to do rather than what they might be capable of doing. The French had far more useable planes than they imagined but the lure of the ultra-modern that had led them to reject the 1934 generation of combat planes also blinded the French to how even older equipment might make a contribution.

The strange contrast between frenzy and inaction was another striking feature of the French reaction to the crisis. Rear defence flights were formed and squadrons converted to new equipment in days, but elsewhere, trained foreign and French aircrews were left kicking their heels with nothing to fly. Army and Air Force commanders called for maximum effort, but at the height of the battle, some units remained unused and with those that did operate, sortie rates throughout the campaign were low by comparison with other Allied and enemy air forces. D’Astier placed too much emphasis on using his squadrons in a controlled, measured way, but in some ways, it was too measured. He insisted that available planes had to be used correctly, when the crisis facing the French demanded a more radical approach. The way any combat planes are used has to depend on the situation and how what is available can make a contribution rather than peacetime practice, doctrine and theories about how planes ought to be used.

Much is often made of various quotes which seem to prove that French Army generals did not understand the importance of air power. Although they underestimated the value of close air support, they never doubted the need for a powerful air force. The Army’s fierce fight to retain control of the Air Force is proof of that. Many of the quotes were provoked by frustration at the constant talk of bombers deciding wars on their own. The expressions ‘lutte aérienne’ or ‘bataille aérienne’, were standard ways of describing the Douhetian aerial struggle. Those who use these quotes tend to confuse these references to battles fought by opposing bomber fleets, with the battle for air superiority fought by rival fighter forces. It was the former the Army opposed, not the latter. On hearing the dreaded Douhetian ‘bataille aérienne’ mentioned yet again at a lecture in the summer of 1939, a frustrated Gamelin famously interrupted to point out that ‘There is no such thing as the “aerial battle”, there is only the battle on land.’ This did not mean he saw no need for fighters to secure the skies above the battlefield. He was just objecting to the idea that bombing cities wins wars. He was right. The Second World War was decided on the battlefield by all arms working together, not by air forces fighting their own independent bombing war.

The French Air Force failed in 1940, not so much because it was stuck in the past, but because it had been seduced by radical and unproven theories on the way air power would develop in the future. In the process, it forgot how it had used air power successfully in the First World War. France was not alone. For most of the interwar years even the German military did not believe bombers were a battlefield weapon. Initially, the fighter force had a low priority in the new Luftwaffe. Both Germany and France began revising their ideas about the same time. Crucially, the Germans had the experience in Spain and Poland to speed up the process. Even so, in 1940, the gap was not as wide as it might appear. As Liddell Hart put it, the German Army was successful not because ‘it was overwhelming in strength or thoroughly modern in form, but because it was a few vital degrees more advanced than its opponents’. With their superior tanks and growing appreciation of tactical air support, the French were arguably more than a just few degrees ahead of their British ally. In June 1940, French Army and Air Force commanders were a lot closer to understanding what was required to defeat the German Wehrmacht than their British counterparts. The loss of this expertise was as big a blow to the Allied cause as the lost manpower resources and industrial capacity. If France had managed to hang on, the war would have been won a lot sooner.

“Ernie King’s beloved ocean”

In 1921 a Marine staff officer by the name of Major Earl “Pete” Ellis made an ominous forecast: the assignment of Germany’s former island colonies in the Central Pacific to Japan under the League of Nations mandate would one day make war in the Pacific inevitable. Over two decades later Ellis’s prediction came true.

Ellis, however, was not just a doomsayer. After studying islands and distances, he expanded on a plan by the Naval War College (War Plan Orange) and established a groundbreaking blueprint-Operation Plan 712, Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia-for defeating Japan. Twenty-three years later the Navy’s drive across the Central Pacific followed the essential details of his plan.

Despite Ellis’s prescription for success, the invasion of the Central Pacific never would have happened without the persistence and vision of Admiral Ernest King, Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations. The Central Pacific, the blue-water highway to Tokyo, was his baby.

The centerpiece of Admiral King’s plan was the Mariana Islands, a chain of fourteen volcanic islands, including Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, most of which were uninhabited, situated north of the island of New Guinea and south of Japan in the Philippine Sea. Ellis had excluded the Marianas from his proposal, but King believed that they were the key to ultimate victory in the Central Pacific. Other islands would come first, but upon seizing the Marianas, the United States could either starve Japan by isolating it from its resource base in the Southwest Pacific or threaten Japan directly with aircraft carriers, long-range submarines, and bombers. With a range of 3,500 miles, and a bomb capacity in excess of four tons, the heavily armed B-29 was America’s newest and mightiest weapon. By turning the Marianas into giant air bases, the U. S. could send bomber crews to the home islands of Japan, only 1300 miles away, and possibly put a quick end to the war.

Admiral Ernest King’s year-long campaign to get the Joint Chiefs of Staff to recognize the strategic validity of the Central Pacific campaign began in Morocco in early 1943. The first of many top-secret conferences, during what journalists called the “Year of the Conference,” this one took place in the French colonial city of Casablanca. For King and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their British counterparts, Casablanca kicked off a year of horse-trading, arm-twisting, and compromise in which tempers frequently spilled out of the well-appointed meeting rooms.

In the conference room, King warned against allowing Japan to consolidate its conquests. Using rough graphs to show that the Allies had directed only 15 percent of all resources in money, manpower, and weapons to the Pacific war, he lobbied for greater resources. He proposed a 15-percent increase, which, though modest, would support a series of campaigns designed to illustrate Allied resolve in the Pacific.

King irked the Brits. They found him hot-tempered and singularly absorbed with war against Japan. British general Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff and the top military man in England, insisted that for King “the European war was just a great nuisance that kept him from waging his Pacific war undisturbed.” Prime Minister Churchill called the Central Pacific “Ernie King’s beloved ocean.”

President Roosevelt, however, regarded King as the “shrewdest of strategists,” and a man of extreme competence. After the debacle at Pearl Harbor, he knew that the admiral was the only person who could rebuild the Navy. Secretary Frank Knox agreed. Giving him powers that no other chief of naval operations had ever enjoyed-King was the most powerful naval officer in the history of the country-the executive order that Roosevelt issued made King responsible only to the president.

Reluctantly the British delegates listened to King, though Churchill and his advisers had no intention of giving much ground. Ultimately, however, they made a small though ambiguous concession to the admiral. They prepared a brief compromise document, which the Brits hoped might temporarily placate King. “Operations in the Pacific and Far East,” the document said, “shall continue with the forces allocated, with the objective of maintaining pressure on Japan, retaining the initiative and attaining a position of readiness for a full-scale offensive against Japan by the United Nations as soon as Germany is defeated.”

In early February 1943, King flew west to San Francisco to meet with Admiral Nimitz, the commander of his Pacific Fleet. Satisfied with his minor victory at Casablanca, King and Nimitz sat down to fashion a plan for the Central Pacific. Nimitz, too, had good news to share. Intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese had abandoned the southern Solomons, and after a battle as savage as the one fought by the Marines at Guadalcanal, MacArthur’s troops had defeated Japanese Imperial forces on New Guinea’s Papuan Peninsula. Both leaders knew, though, that the Japanese would not rest. Nimitz suspected that already they were planning another attack-on Samoa, perhaps-in order to sever the Allied supply line to the South Pacific. It was not hard to convince King; he had been warning against this threat since the early days of 1941. Though King, as always, wanted to “keep pressure on the Japs,” Nimitz cautioned him. A Central Pacific push was ill-advised until war production was at full capacity and they had the ships-and forces-to pull if off.

Several weeks after returning from California, King penned a letter to Roosevelt. King’s memorandum to the president again emphasized the importance of securing the lines of communication between the West Coast of the United States and Australia by way of Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia. King added that it was essential to protect Australia and New Zealand because they were “white man’s countries.” Losing them would provide the “non-white races of the world” enormous encouragement. King concluded his “integrated, general plan of operations” with three directives: “Hold Hawaii; support Australasia; drive northwestward from New Hebrides.”

Not long after Roosevelt received the admiral’s memo, Churchill and more than one hundred advisers and staff members arrived in New York aboard the Queen Mary for a series of meetings to be held in Washington. Hard-nosed bargaining marked the conference.

On May 21, 1943, more than a week into the Washington conference, dubbed “Trident,” King announced his plan to split the Japanese line of communications, separating the home islands from Japan’s southern resource colonies. He proposed to starve the Japanese into submission. The key to doing this, he informed the Brits, were the Marianas. By capturing the islands, especially Saipan, the Allies could cut off Japan’s access to its raw materials in the Southwest Pacific and isolate the Carolines and the great base at Truk. They could then move forces westward into the Philippines and China or northwestward into Japan. The offensive, King speculated, might even compel the Japanese navy to challenge the Allies to the decisive naval battle that he wanted. His ideas, King explained, were not novel. The Naval War College had developed them decades earlier, and most naval officers regarded them as articles of faith.

Predictably, the Brits balked at committing to anything that authorized in writing an offensive campaign in the Central Pacific. King’s temper flared more than usual when American general Richard Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, seemed to have persuaded the Combined Chiefs that King’s plan would constitute a series of “hazardous amphibious frontal attacks against islands of limited value,” and that its reliance on carrier-based aircraft operating far from their sources of fuel and ammunition made it unworkable. Seizing the opportunity, Sutherland again argued that the best line of approach, which could make use of Australia as a war base and could be supported by a large reserve of land-based aircraft, was from New Guinea to Mindanao. However, when the Combined Chiefs took the time to study the Army plan in detail, realizing that it would require thirteen new combat divisions and nearly two thousand planes along with landing craft and naval support ships, a colossal undertaking, they cooled. Sutherland’s request far exceeded American capacity.

In the end, Trident gave formal agreement to a series of compromises whereby Roosevelt and his commanders agreed to eliminate Italy from the war in return for a firm date-spring 1944-on Marshall’s coveted cross-Channel invasion. The other British concession, “Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan,” formalized the Allied commitment to the Pacific, giving King the green light for his long-sought invasion of the Central Pacific. The caveat? The Combined Chiefs would have final say over the offensive, and King would have to agree to seize the Gilberts before the Marshalls. Nevertheless, King emerged victorious. He had come to the conference intent on establishing the necessity of a “master plan” for the Pacific, and the British had conceded.

In August 1943, five months after Trident, the Combined Chiefs assembled again for the year’s third major conference-Quadrant-held in Quebec. Much had transpired during the months leading up to Quadrant. The Allies had captured Sicily, the Italian government had overthrown Mussolini and was threatening to leave the Axis, the Red Army had crushed Germany’s last strategic offensive in the east at Kursk, American offensives in New Guinea and the Solomons had gained considerable momentum, and the 7th Infantry Division had recaptured Attu in the Aleutian islands of Alaska. Little, though, had changed between King and the British. King hammered at old themes-more resources for the Pacific theater and the need for a broad strategy-and the British, again, resisted. Undeterred, King reiterated his plan for the Central Pacific, underlining the importance of the Marianas. Its loss, King said, would constitute an enormous strategic and psychic blow for Japan. For the second time, King outlined a scenario in which the Japanese Combined Fleet would be compelled to challenge the U. S. Navy, which with its new Essex-class carriers and F6F Hellcats, would have the chance to administer what might be the final blow to the Japanese.

What also emerged at Quadrant was King’s growing support for MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific initiative. King explained that he now saw the wisdom of a dual offensive, stretching Japan’s defenses and its fuel-starved Imperial Navy to the breaking point. By virtue of their stunning early war victories and an empire that now stretched over one sixth of the earth’s surface, the Japanese were especially vulnerable to this two-pronged strategy. King called it the “whipsaw plan,” and was convinced that it would keep enemy intelligence wondering where the next American blow would come. MacArthur, however, opposed King throughout the second half of 1943 (and the early months of 1944), and continued to try to make the case for supreme command of the Pacific theater and a single offensive led by the Army.

Ultimately it was President Roosevelt, in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who declared that the offensive would be two-pronged and simultaneous, with two separate commanders: MacArthur would fight his way across New Guinea and toward the Philippines while Admiral Chester Nimitz, King’s commander-in-chief for Allied air, land, and sea forces in the Pacific Ocean, slashed and pounded across the Central Pacific, capturing tactically important islands, en route to the innermost reaches of the Japanese empire. At the Cairo-Teheran conferences in late November and early December 1943, the Combined Chiefs gave formal approval to the two routes in a master plan titled “Specific Operations for the Defeat of Japan, 1944.”

MacArthur, who did not attend the conference, electing instead to send Sutherland, was furious at the outcome. The Central Pacific, Sutherland had argued, should be abandoned for three reasons: it could be carried out only by massive and costly amphibious operations; it relied too much on carrier-based aviation; and finally, because of the distances involved, the Central Pacific offensive would involve an agonizingly slow series of stops and starts. MacArthur’s proposal called instead for Nimitz, after taking the Marshalls, to assist the general’s forces in pushing on to Mindanao.

In another blow to MacArthur, the Combined Chiefs not only gave their approval to the Central Pacific offensive, but gave seizure of the Marshalls, Carolines, Palaus, and Marianas priority in scheduling and resources. “Due weight,” the Chiefs said, “should be accorded to the fact that operations in the Central Pacific promise a more rapid advance toward Japan and her vital lines of communication, the earlier acquisition of strategic air bases closer to the Japanese homeland and are more likely to precipitate a decisive engagement with the Japanese fleet.” Based on this decision Nimitz sketched out a tentative timetable for the drive across the Central Pacific: Kwajalein would be invaded on January 31, 1944, Eniwetok on May 1, Truk on August 15, and Saipan, Tinian, and Guam on November 15.

By committing U. S. forces to a two-pronged war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz knew that he would be placing enormous pressure on American industry. To outproduce Japan (and Germany, too), the country’s war effort would have to reach unprecedented new heights. Dockyards, working round the clock, would be called upon to assemble a steady stream of submarines; amphibious vehicles; large new destroyers; Independence-class light carriers; fast, well-armed Essex-class carriers, capable of hauling eighty to one hundred aircraft and over three thousand men; and cargo ships. Factories would be ordered to churn out planes and tanks. Arsenals would have to produce huge amounts of ordnance, which West Coast ammunition depots, like Port Chicago, would have to load onto Liberty, Victory, and Navy ships speeding for the Pacific.

Constantius Stabilises Roman Britain


In AD 270 Aurelian became emperor, the Gallic Empire collapsed and Britain was once more subsumed into the Roman Empire. Aurelian, however, lasted only five years before his assassination and a period of turmoil led to the murder of his successors Tacitus and Florianus. Probus assumed power in AD 276 and over the next six years succeeded in giving the empire some stability, though not in Britain, where there was rebellion. Probus sent Victorinus, a Moorish officer, to sort out this problem. Zosimus said that Victorinus put down the rebellion by a clever trick but unfortunately does not elaborate on this. Probus also used Britain as a place to send captives including Burgundian and Vandal prisoners, intending that they should settle in the province; whether the intention was to get rid of them or, as Zosimus said, to use them to assist in putting down the rebellion is not clear. Probus lost the empire to Carus, his Praetorian Prefect, in AD 282 and Carus’s son Carinus took charge of the western part of the empire, assuming the titles of Britannicus Maximus and Germanicus Maximus.

Stability was not restored to the empire until Diocletian secured the imperial throne in AD 284. The next year he appointed Maximian as Caesar, his deputy with control over the western part of the empire. A year later, because of his successful rule in Gaul, Maximian was elevated to the position of joint emperor. A signet ring found in Britain portrayed their relationship. Diocletian was represented as Jupiter making decisions while Maximian was Hercules roaming the world to protect the empire against the forces of destruction. As Maximian had married Diocletian’s daughter this also indicated the link with Hercules as a son of Jupiter.

Maximian’s main task was to prevent pirate raids, which were increasingly occurring along the coasts of Britain and Gaul. This brought him into conflict with M. Aurelius Mausaeus Carausius, a Menapian from a region within modern Belgium. With his command covering the coasts of Belgica and Armorica and probably Britain, he was in charge of a fleet to drive off the pirates, mainly Franks and Saxons.

From his base at Boulogne, Carausius was successful in putting down piracy, so much so that he made himself a wealthy man. He was accused of letting pirates raid the coast, then capturing them when they left, and seizing their booty. This did not fit in with Maximian’s scheme of government for the west. He put a price on Carausius’s head whereupon Carausius, in either AD 286 or 287, sailed for Britain and declared himself emperor. Britain was now a province worth governing, as it was one of the most secure, prosperous and relatively peaceful in the empire. Why, therefore, it supported Carausius is not clear. He may have secured enough wealth to pay subsidies to troops to bring them over to his side or the troops in Britain may have become alienated towards, or indifferent to, the present imperial government. Carausius might have been an officer in a Roman legion for part of his career and was therefore known to the troops. Civilians, such as wealthy villa owners or merchants, may have resented paying taxes to Rome and taken an opportunity to rid themselves of this burden.

Maximian could not move against Carausius immediately as he was concerned with suppressing rebellions on the Rhine frontier. By 289, however, he had gathered a fleet but Carausius’s sea tactics ensured that he drove off the Roman fleet and Maximian appears to have been unable to secure a decisive victory. Instead, he put the best face he could on the matter and gave Carausius the title of Augustus. How far Carausius’s empire extended is uncertain. He had control of Britain and possibly the coastal areas of Gaul – coinage found in northern Gaul has his name stamped on it. The coins had been struck at several mints, one being in London and another at Rouen. He needed this coinage to pay his troops but the coins also show his imperial expectations. Early ones depict him clasping hands with a figure of Britannia and the legend ‘Expectate veni’ (Come, we have expected you). Others legitimate his authority with the words ‘Pax AUGGG’ (Peace of the three emperors).

Carausius’s empire was not destined to last. He was assassinated by Allectus, his financial officer, whose plot against him succeeded in AD 293, probably because Carausius had been weakened when Constantius, elevated by Maximian to the post of Caesar, seized Boulogne. This had loosened Carausius’s grip on the coast of Gaul. Constantius was now determined to seize back control in Britain, but he did not organize an attack until AD 296, possibly finding it difficult to raise sufficient ships until then. He divided his fleet into two separate parts. One, led by Constantius himself, sailed from Boulogne towards the Thames estuary; the other, under the command of the Praetorian prefect, Asclepiodotus, sailed from the Seine estuary. He was extremely lucky for a thick sea mist enabled him to avoid been seen by Allectus’s fleet, which was stationed off the Isle of Wight. He landed somewhere in the region of the Solent and, once he had embarked, ordered his men to burn the boats. He may have wished to prevent the enemy getting hold of them or perhaps he did not have enough men to leave some to guard the ships. Burning the boats also ensured that his men knew there was no way back.

Constantius’s fleet had been delayed by bad weather and only a few ships got through to land troops near Richborough. The greater danger, however, came from the troops of Asclepiodotus, who was advancing towards London. Allectus may not have been with his fleet but was somewhere in the south-east, for he was able to raise an army to meet the oncoming forces. The two armies met either in Hampshire or West Sussex. The battle resulted in the total defeat of Allectus and his subsequent death. The remnants of his forces retreated towards London, only to be trapped by those soldiers who had managed to land from Constantius’s ships. Allectus’s forces included Frankish soldiers who sacked the city before probably intending to return to their homes across the North Sea. They were slaughtered without mercy.

Constantius quickly sailed for Britain and was able to enter London in triumph. A bronze medallion, struck at Trier, records his entry. On one side is the head of Constantius with his titles. The other shows him riding into a walled city identified by the letters ‘LON’ for Londinium underneath. Before the wall kneels a figure with arms raised in supplication at his entry. His fleet, represented by a boat, has obviously sailed up the Thames. The inscription Redditor Lucis Aeternae (Restorer of the light that burns for ever) indicates the gratitude of the citizens.

Constantius immediately focused his attention on ensuring control over the army as well as securing the defences of the province, for Irish pirates were now menacing the west coast, the Picts were restless in the north and there were also pirate attacks on the eastern seaboard. A number of forts had already been constructed on the south-east and south coasts of Britain and these were reconditioned. These have been called the Saxon Shore forts but they were not built at the same time to form one coordinated defensive structure. Brancaster (Norfolk) and Reculver were built about AD 230. To these were added Burgh Castle (Norfolk), Walton Castle (Suffolk), Bradwell (Essex) and Lympne (Kent) in the 270s. At that time the small fort of Richborough was given more defensive walls and Dover was refortified. Carausius may have added Portchester but the fort of Pevensey (East Sussex) was not built until AD 370.

These were not forts in the strict military sense of housing units of troops trained to attack. Their stout walls and formidable turrets seem to have been designed for defence. Ballistae and catapults could be placed on these turrets. Soldiers and their families, who normally lived outside the forts, could take shelter in them. Their defences were against raiders coming across the North Sea, drawn by the wealth of the province. Yet raiders could easily slip between the forts and land anywhere along the undefended parts of the coast so it would have been necessary to construct a unified system of command that would ensure the defence of the whole eastern coast and its hinterland. It is also possible that a line of watchtowers was constructed along the Thames estuary, as one has been excavated at Shadwell. London would have been a great prize for seaborne raiders and early warning of their coming was essential. The western coastline was not left unprotected. Forts were built to guard the estuaries from Cardiff to Lancaster from raiders coming from Ireland and Scotland.

All these forts would have had to be used by the fleet. The Classis Britannica (the British fleet) already had bases at Dover and Richborough and after Carausius’s rule the latter became its chief base. Gaius Aufidius Pantera, prefect of the fleet, dedicated an altar to Neptune at Lympne, which suggests it was another base. Other forts would have provided facilities to moor and repair ships. It would have been easy to link the forts by sea and arrange patrols along the coast. There is no evidence of a road system linking one with another. In the south roads lead from Richborough, Dover, Reculver and Lympne to Canterbury, which has been suggested as being an off-duty station for the troops.

The northern frontier required extensive restoration, not because of destruction, but from decay. There had been no programme of repairs since Severus’s reign. It was time for intensive refurbishment and this was continued beyond Constantius’s visit. Some forts had their garrisons reduced; at Wallsend and Chesters buildings were demolished in one area of the fort and not rebuilt. In other forts, buildings were abandoned. It has been suggested that these open spaces were to house the tents of mobile forces that could move out quickly to put down uprisings. Constantius appeared to have ordered forts to reduce in size their principal buildings, as happened at Great Chesters and Housesteads. At Birdoswald the principia (headquarters), the praetorium (commander’s residence) and the baths needed extensive repair.

There were also differences in how the troops were housed. At some forts, such as Housesteads, rather than restore the barrack blocks, ‘chalets’ were built, laid out in rows, as if indicating that soldiers and their families could live there. Alternatively these may have housed the exploratores (scouts) whose duties took them into the Scottish lowlands. Restoration was also made to the south of Hadrian’s Wall at Lanchester, Binchester, Malton and Ilkley. In addition the walls of the fortress of York were rebuilt and the riverfront enhanced with a series of multangular towers, both for protection and to demonstrate the power of military might. This restoration took place over a long period and extended into the fourth century.

Constantius returned to Gaul in AD 297 to concentrate on the problems there. He took skilled men from Britain to rebuild part of the city of Autun in France, which may indicate that the towns in Britain had not suffered during Carausius’s rule. A panegyric on Constantius Caesar, compiled in AD 297, recorded that the Britons had greeted him, ‘with great joy after so many years of most wretched captivity … At last they were free, at last Romans, at last restored afresh by the true life of the empire.’ Allowing for the hyperbole it would seem that a new era had begun in Britain but to ensure that it would continue to be a prosperous province its defences had to be secured. That all was not yet secure is indicated by the return of Constantius in AD 305 to sort out further problems in the north.

Constantius had to leave Britain in AD 297 to deal with events in Gaul. Soon after Diocletian and Maximian abdicated and Constantius was proclaimed as Augustus with control over the west while Galerius ruled as Augustus in the east. One of their purposes was to separate the civil and the military administrations. The provincial governor was no longer a legate at the head of his troops but a civilian officer with total control of administration and the empire was split into dioceses under the control of vicarii (governors).

Renewed fighting in the north of Britain forced Constantius to return in AD 305 to lead a campaign against the Picts who had moved towards Hadrian’s Wall from their area of eastern Scotland. His son Constantine joined him but the details of their campaign are unclear. A panegyric to Constantius suggested that he penetrated into the furthest parts of Scotland, probably moving up the east coast. Other literary sources suggested that he moved north against the Picts and the Caledonii, and pottery evidence from this period found at Cramond on the Forth and Carpow on the Tay suggests that if he did move north he was making use of the fleet to bring supplies.

Either Constantius did not intend to complete the conquest of the north or he realized that he could not do this. He returned to York where, in AD 306, he died. According to Eutropius, his son Constantine, the offspring of a somewhat undistinguished marriage, was made emperor. Zosimus added a little more. He implied that Constantine had joined his father in Britain with the intention of seeking the empire. When Constantius died the next choice to succeed him as the western Augustus was Flavius Valerius Severus, Constantius’s Caesar. In Rome, the Praetorian Guard had already moved to declare Maximian’s son, Maxentius, as Augustus and this was supported by the Senate. The army in Britain, deciding that the son of Constantius was capable of ruling, had declared him to be emperor but for a while he was forced to accept the lesser rank of Caesar. Severus eventually was accepted as Augustus and Constantine became his official Caesar, which gave him some legitimacy. In AD 307 Maxentius moved against Severus and deposed him. Constantine gathered troops from Germany, Gaul and Britain, marched from Gaul across the Alps into Italy and decisively defeated Maxentius and his troops at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312.

Constantine was, however, forced to share authority with Licinius as co-emperor. They divided the empire between them with Constantine basing himself in Milan not Rome. In AD 324 Constantine finally seized complete control and forced Licinius to commit suicide. Licinius had based himself at Byzantium on the Bosporus and in AD 330 Constantine moved his court there, proclaiming it to be the New Rome, and with great ceremony decreed that it should be called Constantinople.

Eusebius said that Constantine did return to Britain at least once in his reign but once ‘he had subjugated it’ he returned to Rome and concentrated his attention on other parts of the world. Coins produced at the London mint were struck with the legends Constantinus Aug (ustus) and Adventus Aug (the arrival of Augustus). The implication is that there were problems in the province but what they were is unclear. There may have been other visits. Coin evidence suggests that these were in AD 307, 312 and 314. He also declared himself Britannicus Maximus, suggesting that he had won a victory.

It may have been on one of these visits that he made changes to the government in Britain. About AD 312–14 Britain was split into four provinces, which are recorded in the Verona List. Two might have been named after the two Caesars – Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis; the other two were Britannia Prima and Britannia Secunda. Maxima was to the south-east with its capital as London. Prima was in south Wales and the south-western part of Britain. An inscription found at Cirencester, which formed the base of a Jupiter column, was dedicated by ‘Lucius Septimius … Governor of Britannia Prima’, which seems proof that Corinium was the capital. Flavia Caesariensis, possibly created from land in both the provinces of Britannia Inferior and Britannia Superior, covered the centre of Britain from north Wales to the Lincolnshire coast with its most important town of Lincoln as the capital. It may have included some of East Anglia in its territory but Maxima Caesariensis may have included the whole of that area. Britannia Secunda covered the northern area of Britain including the Wall with York, headquarters of Legio VI, as its capital.

Confirmation of these provinces is given by the report on the bishops attending the Council of Arles in AD 314. Eborius was Bishop of York in provincia Britannia. Restitutus was Bishop de civitate Londiniensi (London) in provincia suprascripta. Adelphius was bishop of civitate colonia Londiniensium, probably a mistake for Lindinensium as Lincoln was a colonia while London was not. He was accompanied by a priest and a deacon, which might indicate his superior status.

Collectively these provinces formed one of the twelve dioceses of the empire so that Britain was ruled by a vicarius. The British diocese was under the overall command of the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul who also controlled Transalpine Gaul and Spain. This effectively eliminated the direct access that governors of Britain had once had to the emperor. Equally, it increased the possibility of more taxation being imposed on the diocese, money that was needed to support the military forces.

Constantine also seems to have instigated other reforms such as improving the road system, judging by the number of milestones attributed to his reign and the following one. These would have helped communications between the forts. The army was reformed following the work which Diocletian had begun in two areas. Firstly, the officer class became more professional so that now they served their entire career in the army without alternating it with civilian office. Secondly, greater mobility was ensured with increased mobile field units (limitanei) being placed on the frontiers and their hinterlands. Evidence for this comes from the Notitia Dignatatum, which listed chains of commands and detailed civil and military officials of the empire and the units controlled by them. This is assumed to have been completed by AD 395 with corrections and alterations over the next thirty years. How far it was kept up to date is uncertain.

The forces in Britain were listed under three commands. The south and east were under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore (Comes Litoris Saxonici) who obviously controlled the Saxon Shore forts and the areas between them. The northern area, which included Hadrian’s Wall, was under the control of the Duke of Britain (Dux Britanniarum) with his headquarters at York. Both of these commands had extensive forces on which they could call against attacks from the sea or from the north. Much later, probably on the command of Stilicho in AD 395, a new command was instituted, the Count of the Provinces of Britain (Comes Britannarium). These commands came into being over several years. Constantine had given the first two commands roving commissions by creating more cavalry and infantry regiments. The army had moved from being a garrison army to mobile units trained to move swiftly to counter any attack. These commands were not linked to the civil administration but covered wide areas across frontiers.

Constantine died in AD 337 and the empire again fragmented when his three sons divided it between them. Britain, Spain and Gaul were under the control of Constantine II, who invaded Italy in AD 340 to attack his brother Constans, who ruled Italy, Africa and the Illyrian provinces. Constantine II was defeated and killed at Aquileia. In spite of this warfare Britain seems to have remained relatively peaceful until about AD 342 when Libanius reported that Constans crossed to Britain in mid winter ‘with everything, cloudy, cold, and swell roused to total fury by the weather’. Julius Firmicus Maternus confirmed his ‘crossing the swelling, raging waves of Oceanus, in winter time, a deed unprecedented in the past, and not to be matched in the future’. As the Romans disliked crossing the sea during the winter storms the implication is that the revolt in Britain was serious; in fact, Libanius said that Constans did not announce his coming or give any warning. Possibly Constantine II had withdrawn troops from Britain in his bid for complete command of the empire and the northern tribes had taken the opportunity to revolt.




Fulton’s Demologos (1813 preliminary design).

During the final months of the War of 1812 against Britain, the United States made the first use of a steamship in a military campaign and also laid down the world’s first steam-powered warship. In January 1815 General Andrew Jackson used the Mississippi river steamer Enterprise to transport troops and supplies and to carry dispatches before the Battle of New Orleans. Meanwhile, the American steamship pioneer Robert Fulton, whose earlier river boat Clermont (1807) was the first commercially successful merchant steamer, in June 1814 laid down the steam warship Demologos at New York. The innovative 1,450-ton vessel was designed to defend New York harbor against British ships of the line and frigates. It had a centerline paddle wheel between twin hulls, engines placed below the waterline capable of 5.5 knots, wooden “armor” five feet thick, and thirteen 32-pounders in each broadside. Fulton died shortly before the Demologos made its first sea trial in June 1815; by then the War of 1812 was over, and it was never commissioned. The last of three trials took place that September, after which it was laid up in reserve. The Demologos made only one further voyage under its own power, in 1817, when it ferried President James Monroe from New York to Staten Island. Its engines were removed in 1821 and it served as a receiving ship until it blew up in an accident in 1829.

In the years after 1815, a slow and subtle revolution in naval ordnance coincided with the gradual acceptance of the steamship as a potential warship. Except for Fulton’s Demologos and Cochrane’s Rising Star, the first generation of armed steamers consisted entirely of vessels with side paddles.

With anti-Mexican sentiment running high in the wake of Texas’ successful war for independence (1836), the United States chose not to invoke the Monroe Doctrine in defense of Mexico. If it had, the American navy may have been hard-pressed to do battle on even terms with Baudin’s squadron. After the engines were removed from the Demologos in 1821, the US navy was without an armed steamship until the 1,010-ton Fulton of 1837. This unsuccessful ship was in commission just five years before being laid up for a decade and eventually re-engined. Its failure may have set back the introduction of steam in the US navy if not for the sensation created by the maiden voyage of Isambard Brunel’s Great Western, which arrived in New York in April 1838. The 2,370-ton Atlantic liner was an excellent advertisement for steam power, built to naval standards and equipped with powerful engines, capable of steaming continuously for three weeks. It influenced the construction of large paddle steamers in the British, French, and American navies, the latter leading the way with the Missouri and the Mississippi, 3,220-ton warships designed by a committee chaired by the captain of the Fulton, Matthew C. Perry. Reflecting Paixhans’ concept of the future capital ship, upon their completion in 1842 they were armed with two 10-inch and eight 8-inch guns. The engines, a British-style side lever plant in the Mississippi, an American design in the Missouri, were built by Merrick and Towne, and were capable of almost 9 knots. The vessels were monuments to the progress of American industry but their domestic construction and components made them the most expensive warships of their era. Tragically the Missouri had a very short service life, burning accidentally at Gibraltar in 1843. The loss left the Mississippi as the navy’s only active steamer. Later in 1843, amid rumors of an impending British annexation of Hawaii, the United States defended its interests there by sending the United States and the Constellation, sailing frigates completed in 1797.