Air-Combat in the Ludendorff Offensives

The German Flying Corps had failed to achieve the air superiority that was necessary to the success of their offensives of March and April 1918. Had the Jagdgeschwader been able to avail themselves, at the start of the Ludendorff Offensives, of the new combat aircraft that were at last beginning to reach the front-line units in late April, it might have been a different story.

The first of the new types was the Fokker D.VII, which had its origins late in 1917. At that time the German Flying Corps was beginning to lose the ascendancy it had enjoyed for nearly three years, as Allied air units became equipped with more modern aircraft such as the SPAD, SE5 and Camel. The German High Command considered the situation to be so serious that it ordered German aircraft manufacturers to develop new fighter types without delay. The various fighters would take part in a competitive fly-off at Johannisthal, and the winning firm would be awarded large production contracts for its design.

Anthony Fokker’s contender, the D.VII fighter biplane, was completed in November 1917 in something of a hurry, as Fokker later described.

‘The competition date arrived several days sooner than I found desirable. I was working day and night on the plane, but in order to be represented at all I had hurriedly to finish off a model considerably short of what I had in mind. It was a biplane and, in deference to conservatism, the wings were connected near the tips by single ‘N’ struts. The fuselage section I left square to facilitate manufacture. I retained the tiny aerofoil surface (which had characterized the D.VI and other Fokker scouts) which streamlined the landing gear axle, and the whole plane was designed around the coveted 160 hp Mercedes six-cylinder motor, for it was part of the competition rules that every entrant should use this engine – the only one available in quantity! With only just enough time to make a sketchy test hop at Schwerin to determine whether my plane would fly at all, we loaded it on a truck and raced to Johannisthal.’

Even the hasty trial had shown that the aircraft had an excellent all-round performance, but it was very sensitive, with tricky habits, and a tendency to spin on the slightest provocation. It was much too responsive on the controls, particularly in turns. The rules of the competition permitted manufacturers to demonstrate their entries either personally or with an official test pilot, and Fokker took advantage of this on the first few days to make a thorough investigation of the aircraft’s faults. Subsequently, all manufacturers were to be barred from Johannisthal and the aircraft turned over to operational pilots for a comparison of their fighting qualities. The judges were the cream of Germany’s fighter pilots.

Fokker, as it turned out, was the only manufacturer to fly his own aircraft.

‘I flew each day, learning as much about the ship as possible, and showing by direct comparison that it would out-perform any other plane in the sky. Keeping it well in hand, watching its tricks, I played with the other pilots, diving on them, circling them, swooping in under their tails, looping around them, driving their planes down to earth and in general enjoying myself to the utmost while displaying my ship to best advantage. The manoeuvrability of my plane in short, sharp turns at low altitudes was particularly impressive. At the same time I began to realize that if one of the operational pilots took the ship up in its present form and endeavoured to emulate my performance, he would probably kill himself. Finally, I concluded that the fuselage lacked sufficient rear side area, had too much front side area, and that the fin and rudder were too small. Something had to be done for, on Monday, the planes were to be turned over to the operational pilots.

‘That Saturday I telephoned Schwerin for two of my best welders to come at once. As soon as night fell we locked ourselves in the dim hangar to reconstruct the ship. In its cavernous depths we laboured like gnomes under the violet glare of acetylene torches, cutting through the fuselage to weld in another bay of two feet, and enlarging the fin in equal ratio. It was a long, exhausting job all through the night and lasting until Sunday noon. In the end the fabric was patched so smoothly that nothing appeared to have been done to the ship. Weary though I was, I had yet to take my ship up once more to determine whether the alterations had remedied its faults. In the main they had. The fighter was no longer dangerous to its pilot, though it still swung around corners at a fast clip. Properly employed, this characteristic was an asset. The spinning tendency had disappeared . . . in the hands of an experienced pilot, aware of its weakness, that sensitivity of control became its strength.

‘With a lighter heart I landed, and next day my plane was turned over to the Contest Committee. Before leaving the field for good, however, I sauntered over to a group of pilots who were waiting to test the various planes. I pulled Oberleutnant Bruno Loerzer, who commanded a front-line Jagdstaffel, on one side. ‘You’ll notice a special feature of my ship, Herr Leutnant,’ I said, ‘its quickness in turns. Let the others in on it so that they can show it off to best advantage.’ Then I left, having put them on their guard without their realizing it, ostensibly to seek some much-needed sleep.

‘With that little tip, they demonstrated the plane as well or better than I could have done myself. At altitude the plane’s performance was particularly good because of the thick wing, and this factor was highly important.’

Fokker secretly took off from the other side of the airfield on an old experimental aircraft which he had planted there earlier and climbed to 15,000 feet to watch the fly-off.

‘I was delighted with the manner in which the Fokker was showing up the others. None of my chief competitors, the Rumpler, the LFG, the Albatros or the Pfalz was in the running. The pilots, following Loerzer’s tip-off, flew my ship in much the same way as I had done from the first day, playing with the other planes and out-manoeuvring them all the way down from 15,000 to 1,000 feet, displaying in every way the unmistakable superiority of the Fokker. The Rumpler was much faster and had a nice climb but suffered a rather high wing loading. It was my most dangerous competitor. The arrangement of the radiators on the fuselage sides, however, disturbed the airflow around the control surfaces so that it handled badly at awkward moments. Otherwise it was a clean ship and gave a good account of itself.’

By the fourth day of the fly-off it was clear that the Fokker was by far the best all-round design, and superior to the other prototypes in mock combat. At high altitude the Rumpler slipped away in turns, losing height rapidly while the Fokker stayed firmly under control; the Albatros DVI was almost a duplicate of the earlier DV and showed no improvement, the Pfalz showed dangerous structural weaknesses, the Roland-designed LFG had hardly any visibility from the cockpit, and the AEG contender was a hopeless failure on all counts.

Nevertheless, Fokker was staggered when Captain Falkenhein, adjutant to the German Flying Corps C-in-C, General von Hoeppner, asked him to name a price for building four hundred aircraft. Up to that time, the largest order Fokker had ever received for a fighter aircraft had been for sixty DRI triplanes. He told the officer that the total cost would be ten million marks. Falkenhein agreed without hesitation, and told Fokker that the Albatros factory was also to build the new aircraft on a royalty basis.

‘Momentarily I was stunned,’ Fokker admitted. ‘Although all efforts had been directed towards staging a comeback, the thoroughness of it rather swept me off my feet. After nearly a year as the front-line favourite, the Albatros was scrapped and the Army was forcing the Albatros Werke to build my plane on a five per cent royalty basis. Soon the so-called Hindenburg Programme was to come into effect, calling for an enormous expansion of the air arm, and the AEG factory was also to be ordered to build my D.VII.’

Despite all the priority given to the production of the D.VII, it took time to set up the necessary machinery and it was not until the last days of April 1918 that the first examples were delivered to Jagdgeschwader 1, which was now commanded by Captain Wilhelm Reinhard. The new aircraft cost Reinhard his life, for he was accidentally killed while flying one a few days later. So JG 1 received its third and last commanding officer, a leader of proven worth who had twenty victories to his credit and who wore the Pour le Mérite: Lieutenant Hermann Goering.

Other German pilots, however, believed that the finest fighter at the front in the summer of 1918 came from a different stable. This was the Siemens-Schuckert D.III, a stubby, compact little biplane of wooden construction powered by a 160 hp Siemens-Halske rotary engine. During flight trials in October 1917, the prototype D.III had reached a level speed of 112 mph and climbed to 19,600 feet in less than twenty minutes, a performance good enough for it to be ordered into production. At the same time, the IDFLIEG – Inspektion der Fliegertruppen – placed orders for two further developments, the D.IV and D.V.

The first batch of thirty SSW D.III fighters were delivered for operational trials in January 1918, and in February the IDFLIEG ordered thirty more aircraft. Beginning in late April, forty-one examples were sent to the Western Front; most of them went to Jagdgeschwader 2, which equipped its Jasta 15 with the type. The pilots were delighted with the new aircraft, and a typical verdict on the SSW D.III was that it was highly sensitive on the controls, possessed excellent flying qualities and climbed like a rocket.

One German ace who firmly advocated the SSW D.III was Captain Rudolf Berthold, a talented pilot who had begun his combat career with Fliegerabteilung 23 in 1916, scoring his first victories while flying a Fokker Monoplane. He survived a series of close shaves – including a tricky forced landing after a fight with three BE2Cs and a crash while testing a Pfalz Scout – and in October 1916, while commanding Jasta 14, he scored his tenth victory and was awarded the Pour le Mérite. In August 1917 he assumed command of Jasta 18, and in one month he destroyed fourteen RFC aircraft before being shot down himself and severely wounded in the right arm.

Returning to action in the spring of 1918, he took command of Jagdgeschwader 2, comprising Jastas 12, 13,15 and 19. When JG 2 received the Fokker D.VII, he had his aircraft specially modified so that he could fly and fight with his one good hand and the limited use of the other. He was in constant pain from his injury and his determination was greatly admired by his fellow pilots, who nicknamed him the ‘Iron Knight’. His SSW D.III, which he tested in action during the first weeks of May 1918, was distinctively painted with a red and blue engine cowling and a flaming sword insignia.

Berthold’s report on the aircraft, which he submitted to the IDFLIEG on 23 May, read:

‘Basically the new Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine is sound and the pilots have faith in it. One particular advantage is that engine power remains constant even at high altitude. After rectifying the defects reported to the Commanding General of the Air Service by Jagdgeschwader 2 on 17 April 1918, and particularly after reducing the control forces and the excessive left-hand torque suffered by the aircraft, the SSW D.III can be considered a perfectly acceptable front-line machine, but the aircraft cannot be used at the present time as, after seven to ten hours’ running of the Sh.III engine the pistons seize, the crowns being torn off and the pieces dropping into the crankcase.’

Berthold went on to list the possible causes of this major defect, including inadequate engine cooling, inferior castor oil substitute and weakness in the alloy used for the pistons, and concluded: ‘It is urgently required that this fighter be made available again for front-line use as quickly as possible, for after the elimination of its present faults it is likely to become one of our most successful fighter aircraft.’

As a result of Berthold’s report, the thirty-five SSW D.IIIs were withdrawn from front-line service at the end of May and returned to the Siemens-Schuckert factory for airframe and engine modifications. It was to be two months before they returned to operational service, and then they were used mainly for home defence duties. Jasta 15 reverted to the Fokker D.VII, and it was while flying one of these, on 10 August 1918, that Rudolf Berthold scored his last two victories, bringing his final tally to forty-four. Soon afterwards, in a fight with Sopwith Camels, he was shot down and suffered yet more injuries. He survived them only to be murdered by German Communists in Harburg on 15 December 1919.

The French were among the first to encounter the new Fokker D.VII. On 6 May 1918, sixteen SPADs of Lieutenant Jean Chaput’s SPA 57, operating in support of the 8th French Army on the Oise, encountered an equal number of D.VIIs. This time the French came out on top, claiming five Fokkers in a dogfight that left the pilots utterly exhausted. One by one they straggled back to base, but one pilot was missing. Troops in the French front line saw a SPAD spiral down and make a heavy landing in no-man’s land. They rushed to drag the pilot from the wreck, but there was nothing they could do. Jean Chaput had three bullets in him, and he was dead. He had sixteen victories.

Three days later, Chaput’s death was avenged by René Fonck, who equalled the record of RAF pilots John Trollope and Henry Woollett by shooting down six aircraft in a single day, three of them in the space of a minute. These were all two-seaters, which he caught flying in formation over Grivesnes. The first one went down before his guns at 4.05 pm, the next one ten seconds later, and the third after a forty-second running battle. He landed to refuel and have something to eat; then, on a second patrol, he sighted a formation of Pfalz Scouts and engaged them at 6.40, shooting down the first one almost immediately. He destroyed a second at 6.45, and another ten seconds later. The destruction of all six aircraft had cost him just fifty-two rounds of ammunition.

If May 1918 was René Fonck’s month, the same was certainly true for Mick Mannock, whose No 74 Squadron was everywhere in the thick of the fighting. A glimpse at the official record for the month tells its own tale.

‘May 6th. Captain E. Mannock . . . engaged one EA triplane and forced it into a spin. He followed the EA down, firing short bursts and the EA finally turned over on its back and crashed.

‘May 12th. Captain E. Mannock, 74 Sqn, with his patrol, encountered a formation of eight EA scouts; he attacked the rear machine at close range and at right angles, and the EA side-slipped underneath him and collided with another enemy scout, both enemy machines falling to pieces in the air. Capt Mannock then engaged another EA scout from behind and fired a long burst into it from both guns; the EA went down vertically and was seen to dive into the ground.

‘May 16th. Capt E. Mannock, 74 Sqn, fired about 40 rounds at one EA scout which went into a vertical dive and broke to pieces in the air.

‘May 17th. Capt E. Mannock . . . attacked the rear machine of a formation of EA scouts and fired a long burst from both guns into it, and the EA spun down out of control. Capt Mannock was then attacked by another EA and forced to spin away, but 210 Squadron confirm the first EA attacked by Capt Mannock as having crashed in flames. Later in the day Capt Mannock observed an EA two-seater crossing the line near Ypres. He climbed north and then east and approached the EA at which he fired approximately 200 rounds at close range during a fight which lasted about one minute, the EA going down alternately diving and spinning. At about 4,000 feet the EA burst into flames and was seen to crash and to burn itself out on the ground.

‘May 18th. Capt E. Mannock engaged an enemy two-seater at right-angles, firing a burst of 40 rounds into it. The EA went down in a vertical dive and crashed near Steenwerck, and burst into flames on hitting the ground.

‘May 21st. A patrol of 74 Squadron encountered six Pfalz Scouts, upon whom they dived, shooting down five of them – of which Major K. L. Caldwell destroyed one, Captain E. Mannock three, and Captain W. E. Young one. Captain Mannock also destroyed another EA earlier in the day.’

Mannock’s young pilots were justifiably proud of their leader’s prowess in action. One of them, Lieutenant Ira ‘Taffy’ Jones, who himself was to destroy forty enemy aircraft before the war’s end, noted in his diary on 25 May:

‘The CO saved Giles’ skin today. Giles very carelessly allowed a black Albatros to pounce on him while he was concentrating on the destruction of a silver-grey two-seater. Giles has had his leg pulled unmercifully; we declare he was decoyed. Pilots hate admitting that they have been taken in as a sucker!

‘Clements tells me that Mick saved his life tonight, too. Mick and Clements went up for a bit of fun after tea. They each got what they wanted . . . Clements spotted a large formation of Huns obviously making a beeline for them. Clements put on full throttle . . . to catch up to Mick, who as usual was wasting no time in getting at his enemy. Mick had seen the Hun formation all the time . . . he turned west quickly and dived, the Huns following and firing. Mick saved Clements by losing height directly beneath them and so drawing them on to him, while Clements got clear. Clements says it was a rotten sight to see one SE being attacked by such a bunch, and that had it been anyone except Mick, he would have been anxious about his safety. (We all believe that no Hun will ever shoot down Mick.) One Pfalz followed him very closely, and suddenly Mick went down out of control; on his back – spinning – and doing everything imaginable from 8,000 to 4,000 feet. At 5,000 feet the Hun, completely fooled, flattened out to watch the crash. Mick then decided he had had enough, and flattened out too and made for our lines – diving hard.’

Four days later, on 29 May, Jones wrote:

‘Mick took Clements and me up at 7.00 pm . . . Mick spotted about a dozen Huns coming from the direction of Roubaix; we were then over Lille. As we had not too much time for a fight, having already been up for over an hour, he decided to go straight at them, as we had a slight advantage of height. The Huns, who were Albatros Scouts, were of the stout variety, and they accepted our challenge. Both Mick and the Hun leader opened fire at one another as they approached from about 300 yards’ range, but nothing happened. This burst of fire was the signal for a glorious dogfight – as fine and as frightening a dogfight as I’ve ever been in. Friend and foe fired at and whistled past one another at a tornado pace . . . I have never been so frightened in my life. Of late I have been able to keep very cool during the actual fight, but tonight I became so flustered that occasionally I fired at my own pals in an effort not to miss a chance – thank God, my shooting was erratic. How terrible it would have been if I had, say, shot Mick down! The thought gives me the very creeps . . . Mick sent two slate-blue Albatros down out of control, and Clements crashed his first Hun. He is very bucked about it. It is wonderful how cheered a pilot becomes after he shoots down his first machine – his morale increases by at least a hundred per cent. This is why Mick gives Huns away – to raise the morale of the beginner.’

Taffy Jones himself destroyed his first enemy aircraft on 8 May and ran up a steady score during the remainder of the month. He drove an Albatros down out of control the next day, and on the 17th, with his patrol, attacked ten Pfalz Scouts. During the battle he saw a two-seater slightly in front and just below him, and opened up with both guns. He saw hits on the engine and both cockpits and the enemy went down vertically, trailing smoke and eventually bursting into flames, to crash near Estaires. On the following day he attacked another two-seater, which was being engaged by anti-aircraft fire at the time, and fired 250 rounds into it from underneath its tail. There was an explosion and the enemy aircraft caught fire and crashed. More anti-aircraft bursts led him to another two-seater over Hazebrouck; he attacked this aircraft too from below but ran into heavy defensive fire from its observer, who was shooting through a hole in the fuselage floor. Jones described what happened then:

‘Very suddenly he tilted his machine very steeply, and it seemed as if a black object had been deliberately thrown at me. I thought at first it was the observer’s gun, so I slithered quickly to the other side and as I did so, looked for the object. To my amazement, I saw the body of the observer, falling with arms outstretched and legs wide apart, and going down in a series of tumbling circles. It was a horrifying sight. He fell in the trenches near Meteren.’

Jones turned back to engage the two-seater, which was heading east at high speed, but a shortage of ammunition and a gun jam compelled him to break off the action and the enemy got away. A Pfalz Scout which he engaged on 22 May was not so lucky; its wings broke off and the fuselage went down like a bomb to explode on impact.

Another leading pilot who added to his score during the hectic air fighting of May 1918 was Captain A. W. Beauchamp-Proctor of No 84 Squadron (SE5as), a South African who was to end the war as the fifth-ranking RAF ace with fifty-four victories. On 10 May Beauchamp-Proctor stalked a two-seater which he had sighted climbing for altitude before crossing the British lines and fired fifty rounds into it, killing the observer. He then closed right in and opened fire again, at which the two-seater went into a vertical dive. The RAF pilot watched it fall through 4,000 feet until he lost it in the haze, but it was confirmed as having crashed by another 84 Squadron pilot.

Five days later, Beauchamp-Proctor took off from No 84 Squadron’s airfield at Bertangles in the darkness before dawn to intercept enemy bombers that had been attacking Amiens. He failed to find them, so flew east in the hope of catching them over their airfield as they returned from the bombing mission. Landing flares led him to the enemy aerodrome; he throttled back and glided down to 3,000 feet, then circled a few miles west of the enemy field to await events. A few minutes later a twin-engined aircraft – probably a Gotha – flew just over him and he turned to intercept, but its gunner was on the alert and opened up. Proctor fired a long burst and the enemy gunner fell silent. Proctor’s own gun then jammed, and by the time he had cleared the stoppage the enemy aircraft was almost over the airfield. He opened fire again and saw the enemy machine shoot off a red flare, which was answered from the ground. The next instant all hell broke loose and Proctor found himself flying through a storm of heavy machine-gun fire and tracer shells. He was forced to break off the combat at 2,000 feet, having driven the enemy aircraft some distance away from its aerodrome. He later reported that it was in a dive when he last saw it, and although it was still probably under control it had almost certainly suffered heavy damage.

It was the Canadian, Captain D. M. MacLaren of No 46 Squadron (Sopwith Camel), who was to share joint fifth place with Beauchamp-Proctor at the end of hostilities. MacLaren’s first success in May came on the 3rd, when he fired 75 rounds into a two-seater from a range of fifty yards and sent it down in flames. Almost immediately afterwards he shared in the destruction of a second two-seater with another 46 Squadron pilot, 2nd Lieutenant V. M. Yeates.

On 6 May MacLaren, together with Yeates and three other 46 Squadron pilots, harried another two-seater to destruction, and in that same week MacLaren drove two more enemy machines down out of control, but was unable to confirm them as positive victories. A few days later he shared another with Lieutenant C. R. Chapman, and on 20 May he shot down two enemy observation balloons in flames.

Major Roderic Dallas of No 40 Squadron entered May’s air combats in determined fashion by shooting down a Pfalz Scout on the morning of the 2nd. Later in the day, he took his SE5 to the enemy airfield at La Brayelle and attacked it at low level, strafing the hangars. Ignoring desultory fire from the ground, he turned and flew back over the aerodrome to drop a parcel. In it was a pair of army boots and an accompanying message which read: ‘If you won’t come up here and fight, herewith one pair of boots for work on the ground. Pilots – for the use of.’ Circling in the haze, he waited until a party of Germans had gathered to examine the parcel and then made another low-level run, firing 100 rounds of ammunition and dropping two Cooper bombs on their heads. To complete his day’s work, he caught an Albatros Scout on his way home and sent it down in flames.

Dallas destroyed two more enemy aircraft in mid-May, and another on the 27th. It was his thirty-ninth and last victory, although some sources put his score at fifty-one. His SE5, always in the thick of the fighting, was well known to the enemy; instead of the drab khaki upper surfaces and cream underside that was the standard British colour scheme, he had it painted in a distinctive green and brown pattern resembling that which the RAF was to adopt many years later.

On 1 June 1918 Dallas set out on another of his lone patrols, intending to lurk up-sun over the front line and trap an unsuspecting enemy observation aircraft. He never returned. Later, his wrecked aircraft was found near the village of Lieven. A German account later told the story of Dallas’s last minutes. It appeared that he had dived down to attack a solitary Fokker Triplane, unaware that two more were cruising several thousand feet higher up, waiting for just this moment. They pounced on him and the SE went down, its pilot riddled with a score of bullets.

Captain R. A. Little of No 203 Squadron also scored his last victory in May. On the 22nd, having been forced to leave his patrol because of oil pressure trouble, he was on his way home when he encountered an Albatros CV two-seater. He attacked it at close range and sent it down at St Leger, watching it crash into a railway cutting.

The next day, the Australian pilot was shot down and killed in the course of an offensive patrol. He had forty-seven victories to his credit.

Other leading RAF scorers in May were Major James Gilmour of No 65 Squadron (Sopwith Camel) and Lieutenant A. C. Atkey of No 22 Squadron (Bristol Fighter). Gilmour destroyed a pair of two-seaters on 2 May, and on the 9th he shot down another and damaged a fourth. On the next day he and his patrol caught a lone Albatros Scout and shared in sending it down, and on 18 May he led his patrol into an attack on twelve enemy fighters, causing one to break up with his first burst of fire. Soon afterwards he dived on a two-seater and fired a long burst into it; it turned away eastwards and went into a long dive, then crashed and burst into flames on the ground.

Atkey, who had previously flown DH4s with No 18 Squadron and who had been awarded an MC in April, was posted to No 22 Squadron at the end of the month and teamed up with Lieutenant C. G. Gass as his observer. A formidable team they proved to be, as an air battle of 7 May showed. That morning, Atkey and Gass were in one of a pair of Bristol Fighters patrolling in showery weather when they ran into a formation of seven Albatros and Pfalz Scouts in the vicinity of Henin-Liétard. The two Bristols – the second aircraft was crewed by Lieutenants J. E. Gurdon and A. J. H. Thornton – immediately went into the attack and soon found themselves in the middle of a fierce fight, for the original enemy formation was quickly reinforced by two others which brought the number of enemy aircraft involved to twenty. Of all battles, this one proved conclusively that the Bristol Fighter, in expert hands, could more than hold its own against a far superior enemy force. During a dogfight that lasted half an hour, Atkey and Gass shot down two enemy aircraft in flames and saw three more crash, while Gurdon and Thornton disposed of three more, two of them in flames. The remainder did not stay to fight.

Two days later, the same team of Atkey and Gass destroyed another enemy scout, and on a second patrol that day they carried out a single-handed attack on a formation of eight enemy machines, Atkey firing fifty rounds into one at close range. Flames burst from the fuselage behind the pilot’s seat and it went down to crash. Later in the week they drove three more enemy aircraft down out of control – which, in the parlance of the First World War, meant that they were probably destroyed – and on 19 May they shot down a two-seater near Douai. During the next few days they drove four more Germans down out of control, and rounded off the month with a spirited engagement on the 25th. The official record tersely tells the story:

‘A patrol of 22 Squadron, led by Captain A. C. Atkey and 2nd Lt C. G. Gass, while escorting DH4s of 18 Sqn, encountered a large formation of about 40 EA. A fierce fight ensued, in the course of which so many EA were seen spinning and diving away that it was impossible to tell whether they were out of control or not. At the conclusion of the fight four EA were seen crashed on the ground, and in addition, one Albatros Scout, attacked by Lt S. F. H. Thompson and Sgt R. M. Fletcher, was seen to go down in flames.’

During May, the German Flying Corps did what it ought to have done during the crucial weeks of March and April: it launched a determined bombing campaign with the object of disrupting the British lines of communication, which were now heavily congested as a result of the earlier retreats. On the night of 19/20 May, fifteen Gothas attacked a vital railway bridge at Etaples over the Canche Estuary. They failed to hit the target, but their bombs fell on a nearby military hospital, killing 182 patients and injuring 643. The crew of one of the bombers, which had to make a forced landing after being hit by anti-aircraft fire, expressed incredulity that the British authorities had placed a hospital so close to a vital military objective, maintaining that they had no prior knowledge of the hospital’s whereabouts. There is no reason to doubt their claim. On the last night of the month the German bombers had better success against their assigned target, destroying one span of the bridge.

The bombers’ real success, however, was against the British ammunition and supply dumps. On 19/20 May, in conjunction with the Etaples raid, Gothas dropped some 500 bombs on No 12 Ordnance Depot at Blarges, which contained 27,000 tons of explosive. In all, 6,000 tons were destroyed. One dump containing mortar bombs received a direct hit and simply vanished, leaving a crater fifty yards wide and ten deep. On the next night the bombers attacked No 20 Ordnance Depot at Seigneville, wiping out 5,600 tons of ammunition including 69 million small-arms rounds. Now the Allied line in the north was stabilizing, these losses were severe, though not critical. Had they occurred a few weeks earlier, with the field commanders crying out for supplies of ammunition and equipment to sustain their battered and retreating armies, they would almost certainly have been disastrous.

Some British divisions, which had suffered particularly severe losses in the spring fighting, had been sent south to rest and recuperate on the Aisne. They were accompanied by a single RAF squadron, No 52, with RE8s. On 22 May the squadron’s crews reported large clouds of dust swirling over the roads in the German rear areas, a sure sign of large-scale troop movement. They reported the same phenomenon the next day, and the day after that. The British commander in the area brought the RAF reports to the notice of the French general commanding the 6th Army, under whose orders he was serving, but the general took no notice.

Soon after midnight on 27 May, one of the heaviest bombardments of the war thundered down on the luckless British divisions. Two were virtually wiped out and a third suffered heavy losses. The fourth British division, in reserve, remained intact and was thrown into the battle, together with French reserves. By the time the German advance was halted it had penetrated the Allied front to a depth of twelve miles and had reached the Marne. The disaster prompted a stern reminder from the RAF C-in-C, Major-General Salmond, who ordered that in future every likely approach route was to be reconnoitred twice nightly and again just before dawn, the pilots flying at low level. ‘The responsibility that the British Army is not surprised,’ said Salmond, ‘is on the Royal Air Force.’

Never again, in this war, would British troops in the field suffer through lack of adequate air reconnaissance; and never again would an Allied field commander fail to act upon the information supplied by the crews of the observation aircraft who daily risked their lives over enemy territory.

“The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan Depends on This One Battle” Part I

IJN Junyo

IJN Shokaku

Movement of opposing forces, 16—17 June 1944.

Movement of opposing forces, 18 June 1944.

On the morning of 11 June Admiral Ozawa received the first reports of TF 58’s strikes on the Marianas. At first he thought these raids were nothing more than diversionary attacks meant to take the heat off the Biak landings. The next day, however, brought more detailed reports about the American forces attacking the islands.

Japanese reconnaissance planes had snooped TF 58 and had estimated the composition and position of the attacking forces as: two carriers, one light carrier, and one battleship ninety miles east of Saipan; two more carriers ninety miles northeast of Saipan; a third group of two carriers, two light carriers, and three battleships ninety miles southeast of Saipan; and a final group of five carriers at an unreported position.

These reports painted an accurate picture of the disposition of the American forces, and Ozawa now knew that TF 58 was out in force. However, until it could be clearly confirmed that the Marianas were actually the target of a full-scale invasion, Ozawa was limited in his actions. Biak was still a slim possibility for a fleet action, and Ozawa’s big battleships, the Yamato and Musashi, were tied down at Batjan for the KON Operation.

On the 13th the situation became clearer to the Japanese. American battleships were reported shelling Saipan. It was now obvious the island was to be the target for an amphibious landing. At 0900 on the 13th the Mobile Fleet weighed anchor and began to sortie from Tawi Tawi, bound for Guimaras anchorage between Panay and Negros. Actually this sortie was not a reaction to the U.S. incursion into the Marianas, as it had already been planned. The increasing attention U.S. submarines had been paying to the area—and the paucity of destroyers to combat them—along with the lack of airfields for the training of the green flight crews had made Tawi Tawi a poor spot for massing the Mobile Fleet. Therefore, on 8 June Ozawa decided to move his fleet to Guimaras, or even Manila. That same day the 2nd Supply Force, which had been sent to a position east of the Philippines on the 3rd, was ordered to Guimaras.

As the Mobile Fleet steamed out of Tawi Tawi on the 13th, it was picked up by the submarine Redfin. Commander M.H. “Cy” Austin, the sub’s skipper, attempted to close the advanced force—destroyers and a pair of heavy cruisers—but their maneuvers kept him out of range. Two hours after the first vessels left Tawi Tawi, the main body came steaming out. Again Austin was unable to get into an attack position, but he could observe the movements of the Japanese and was able to send a vital contact report at 2000 that night. Nimitz, Spruance, and Mitscher now knew that six carriers, four battleships, several cruisers, and a number of destroyers were on the move.

Ozawa began consolidating his forces on the 13th. At 1727 the order “Prepare for A-GO Decisive Operation” was sent. Five minutes later the KON Operation was “temporarily” suspended and the Yamato, Musashi, Myoko, Haguro, Noshiro, and five destroyers were told to rendezvous with the rest of the Mobile Fleet in the Philippine Sea. Both supply forces were put on a thirty-minute standby status, and the battleship Fuso began transferring most of her fuel to the oilers of the 1st Supply Force at Davao. This last step is an indication of how strapped the Japanese were for oil.

The sortie of the Mobile Fleet was cursed by misfortune from the start. Just after the fleet left Tawi Tawi an inexperienced pilot made a bad landing on the flagship Taiho and crashed into some parked aircraft. The ensuing fire destroyed two Zekes, two Judys, and two Jills. This accident was thought to be a bad omen; a bad beginning for this all-important battle.

A second mishap struck the Japanese one day later. The 1st Supply Force departed Davao late on the 13th bound for a refueling rendezvous in the Philippine Sea. Just after midnight on the 15th sailors on the destroyer Shiratsuyu thought they detected an enemy submarine and the destroyer began to maneuver radically. Unfortunately, one of her turns brought the Shiratsuyu close, too close, across the bow of the Seiyo Maru. The oiler sliced the fantail off the destroyer and the Shiratsuyu quickly went down. There was no time to set depth charges on “safe” and these exploded as the ship sank, killing many in the water. Over one hundred of her crew were lost.

Ozawa’s main force reached Guimaras at 1400 on the 14th and began fueling from the Genyo Maru and Azusa Maru. The fueling and resupply was quickly and efficiently done. Early the next morning Ozawa was ready to leave Guimaras.

Marines of the 2nd and 4th Divisions had waded ashore on Saipan at 0844 on the 15th against heavy opposition. At 0855 Admiral Toyoda sent Admiral Ozawa the following message: “On the morning of the 15th a strong enemy force began landing operations in the Saipan-Tinian area. The Combined Fleet will attack the enemy in the Marianas area and annihilate the invasion force. Activate A-GO Operation for decisive battle.”

Five minutes after this order Toyoda sent a further message; one that all Japanese knew by heart: “The rise and fall of Imperial Japan depends on this one battle. Every man shall do his utmost.” Thirty-nine years earlier, Admiral Togo had uttered these same words just before his fleet crushed the Russian Baltic Fleet at Tsushima.

With fueling completed, Ozawa led the Mobile Fleet from Guimaras at 0800 on the 15th. The force crossed the Visayan Sea and headed for San Bernardino Strait, between Samar and Luzon. Although neither man probably expected the Mobile Fleet to escape being spotted early on, Admirals Toyoda and Ozawa hoped that the sortie would be undetected until the Japanese were upon the Americans. Their hopes were not to be realized.

Filipino coastwatchers kept an eye on the Mobile Fleet as it moved into San Bernardino Strait. At 1100 one such watcher reported three carriers, two freighters, and sixteen other vessels. Seven and one-half hours later another coastwatcher reported three battleships, nine carriers, ten cruisers, eleven destroyers and two submarine chasers passing through the strait. (Unfortunately, it took two days for these reports to reach Spruance.) In the strait itself was a U.S. submarine, the Flying Fish. Lieutenant Commander Robert Risser had brought his submarine to the area for the very purpose of watching for the Mobile Fleet.

On the afternoon of the 15th the Flying Fish was submerged just inside the eastern entrance to the strait. At 1622 he saw the Japanese ships passing about eleven miles away. They were staying close to shore. Risser’s mouth watered as he counted the juicy targets—three carriers, three battleships, and the usual cruisers and destroyers. But his orders were to report first, attack later. Risser tried to stay with the enemy as best he could, but the submarine’s best submerged speed was no match for Ozawa’s ships. That evening Risser surfaced and sent his important contact report. His message would be the first received by Spruance showing that the Japanese were definitely approaching the Philippine Sea.

As Risser took the Flying Fish back to Brisbane low on fuel, a second U.S. submarine was watching another part of the Japanese forces. Lieutenant Commander Slade D. Cutter was bringing the Seahorse up from the Admiralties to cover Surigao Strait at the southern end of Leyte. At 1845 Cutter saw smoke on the horizon. The Seahorse was about two hundred miles east of Surigao Strait at the time.

Cutter immediately went to his best surface speed and started to close with the target. As the Seahorse drew nearer, Cutter was able to figure the course and speed of the enemy force. Then, when the Seahorse was 19,000 yards away, one of her motors cut out, and the sub’s speed dropped off to 14½ knots. The Japanese ships pulled away into the darkness.

Because of effective jamming by the Japanese, Cutter was unable to get off a contact report until 0300 on 16 June: “At 1330 GCT task force in position 10-11 North, 129-35 East. Base course 045, speed of advance 16.5. Sight contact at dusk disclosed plenty of battleships. Seahorse was astern and could not run around due speed restrictions caused by main motor brushes. Radar indicates six ships ranges 28 to 39,000 yards. Carriers and destroyers probably could not be detected at those ranges with our radar.”

Cutter had found the Yamato and Musashi racing north from Batjan.

Back off Saipan much had been happening the past few days. When TGs 58.1 and 58.4 had steamed north to attack the Bonins, the other two task groups had remained off Saipan to support the landings. Although most of the close support work was now being done by the “jeep” carriers of TG 52.14 (the Fanshaw Bay, Midway, White Plains, Kalinin Bay) and TG 52.11 (the Corregidor, Coral Sea, Gambier Bay, Nehenta Bay), the fast carriers were also kept busy.

Destroyers were fueled on the morning of the 14th while both groups sent strikes against all four of the major islands. Over four hundred sorties were launched during the day with few losses to the attackers. The two groups then retired to the west of Rota for the night.

15 June 1944, D-Day (or Dog Day, as it was known for this operation), was a beautiful day, but it is doubtful if many of those present were thinking how lovely it was. When the Marines stormed ashore in the morning they found that many targets had not been touched by the prelanding bombardment or the aerial strikes. Fighting was savage and losses heavy. By the 18th, though, the beachhead was secure and the Marines were there to stay.

Task Groups 58.2 and 58.3 were active on the 15th supporting the landings. Ninety-five sorties were sent over the beaches by TG 58.2 at H minus 90, followed by sixty-four Lexington and Enterprise planes at H-Hour. The two groups flew 579 target sorties. Only three planes and one pilot (all from TG 58.3) were lost during the day, but a number of others received varying degrees of damage from the still-heavy flak.

Around dusk Japanese planes began congregating near the American ships. The two U.S. groups were recovering planes about forty miles west of Saipan when the first group of enemy planes was detected. At 1800 a division of San Jacinto planes was vectored out to investigate a bogey at 20,500 feet. A “Nick” was found and quickly shot down. Ten minutes after the first vectors a second division was sent to investigate bogeys fifty-two miles away. At 1820 the San Jacinto planes contacted six “Tonys.” (Again misidentifications. These planes were probably Zekes or Jills.) In the ensuing combat at 22,000 feet, five of the enemy planes were destroyed and the last one damaged. One of the Fighting 51 pilots had stayed high with a malfunctioning engine when the other pilots jumped the enemy planes. He was in a good position to see two more Japanese planes—Hamps—diving on his friends below. Pushing over, he got on the tail of one Hamp and splashed it. The other plane fled.

A big attack sent in from Yap came shortly after the sun went down. Task Group 58.2 beat off an attack by a few planes with accurate antiaircraft fire, but the main attack was against the carriers of TG 58.3. A pair of Enterprise F4U-2N Corsair night fighters had been launched at 1845 and at 1905 were vectored toward some bogeys. The target was only five miles away. Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Harmer and his wingman, Lieutenant (jg) R.F. Holden, soon picked it up—eight of the new Frances bombers with four or five fighters as escorts.

Harmer attacked the formation from the side but could not see the results of his attack in the darkness. Then Holden warned him of a fighter on his tail. Tracers streaking past Harmer’s fighter confirmed this warning. As Harmer tried to evade the enemy fighter, 20-mm fire from one of the bombers hit his Corsair, shorting his formation lights “on.” Holden finally knocked the enemy plane off Harmer’s tail, the fighter corkscrewing down from 1,500 feet. Two more enemy planes attempted to get the Americans, but they were easily evaded. Harmer, unable to turn his lights off and feeling highly visible not only to the Japanese but to the gunners on the ships below, retired from the arena with Holden, and got out of the battle.

Now without any fighters to harass them, the Japanese circled the American ships (prudently out of antiaircraft gun range) and prepared to attack. The usual flares and float lights were dropped and then the Frans darted in. The North Carolina and Washington opened fire shortly after 1900, followed by the destroyers in the screen. At 1907 Princeton lookouts sighted seven planes low on the water dead ahead. But the Japanese fliers were not interested in the light carrier. They were after bigger game, the Lexington and Enterprise. The task group began to maneuver drastically while at the same time firing radar-directed 5-inch and 40-mm shells that engulfed the enemy planes.

Five planes made runs on the Lexington to no avail. Four were quickly slammed into the water. The other was stopped in mid-air by the wall of fire, and fell into the sea without burning. The enemy pilots were brave. One Frances almost hit the Lexington’s bridge before falling in flames off the starboard quarter. Another “streaked like a fire ball, close aboard to port, flaming so hotly he warmed the faces as well as the hearts of the gunners.” This pilot desperately tried to crash his doomed aircraft into the planes parked aft on the flight deck. He almost succeeded. His right engine suddenly stopped and he crashed only a few yards from the stern.

Torpedoes were slicing through the water now, and all the ships were heeling over to miss them. At one point Captain Burke had to lean over the wing of the Lexington’s bridge to see one torpedo flash past. The Enterprise had two “fish” miss her by less than fifty yards.

The surviving enemy planes scuttled out of the area and by 2230 all radar scopes were clear. Only thirteen of the attackers were able to return to Yap. Lexington gunners claimed five planes, while the Enterprise claimed two and the Princeton one. No ships were lost but there had been casualties. Three sailors were killed and fifty-eight wounded, when antiaircraft shells were accidentally fired into other ships. The casualties had been caused by those almost inevitable (and unavoidable) incidents that had happened before in the fury of battle and would happen again.

D plus 1, the 16th, was a day of decision, planning and fighting for the Americans. Fueling took up part of the day as TG 58.2 fueled from TG 50.17’s oilers in the morning and TG 58.3 did the same in the afternoon. The seemingly ever-present Copahee was again on hand to deliver replacement aircraft to some of the fast carriers and to receive their flyable “duds” in exchange.

The reports from the Flying Fish and Seahorse had finally reached Spruance and Mitscher, and they now knew the Japanese were coming out. The day before, Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner (the Expeditionary Force commander) had recommended to Spruance that the landings on Guam be set for the 18th. (At this time it had seemed that the landings on Saipan were going fine, and there was as yet no firm word on the direction the Japanese Fleet was taking.)

When the reports of the Mobile Fleet’s sortie into the Philippine Sea were received, it became obvious that some major decisions and replanning were needed. On the morning of the 16th Spruance boarded Turner’s command ship, the Rocky Mount. In conference with Turner and Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, USMC, overall commander of the troops ashore, Spruance made several critical decisions. It was decided to:

1.Land the 27th Division immediately. Since with this action there would be no reserve force, the Guam landings were cancelled and the Southern Attack Force was to stand by as a floating reserve.

2.Augment TF 58’s screen by detaching some cruisers and destroyers from fire support TGs 52.10 and 52.17.

3.Unload supplies and troops until dark of the 17th, after which the transports would be sent 200-300 miles east for safety.

4.Send the old battleships and screens of TGs 52.10 and 52.17 about twenty-five miles west of Saipan to cover the island in case the Japanese got around TF 58.

5.Use the jeep carriers exclusively for close air support.

The day before, Spruance had asked General MacArthur to have his Wakde- and Los Negros-based PB4YS stretch their searches to the limit, about 1,200 miles. The Liberators did not pick up anything, however. On the 14th Spruance had directed Vice Admiral John H. Hoover at Eniwetok to send a patrol-plane tender forward and to prepare a patrol squadron when ordered. Now Hoover was ordered to send six radar-equipped PBMs of VP-16 from Eniwetok to Saipan. The PBMs were to be used for long-range searches from Saipan.

Spruance returned to his flagship the Indianapolis and prepared to join TF 58. Because the reports from the Flying Fish and Seahorse seemed to indicate that two separate groups of enemy ships were out, Spruance felt the Japanese would probably be following their usual tactics of dividing their forces. This appreciation of the enemy’s intentions, perhaps influenced by the Z Plan translation in his hands, was to color Spruance’s decisions throughout the battle.

Some very good advice reached Spruance on the 16th. Admiral Nimitz, on the recommendation of Vice Admiral John H. Towers (Nimitz’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief), told Spruance and Mitscher to watch out for the possibility that the Japanese might try to keep their carriers out of range of TF 58’s aircraft, and instead shuttle their planes back and forth to Guam.

From earlier reconnaissance and intelligence reports the Americans had a pretty good idea of the composition of the Mobile Fleet. Admiral Reeves, TG 58.3’s commander, said in his operations plan: “Any resistance to the operation by way of surface engagement or carrier attack will probably be from part or all of the new Japanese First Striking Fleet. This fleet is thought to contain five fast battleships and possibly the Fuso as well. Carrier Divisions One, Two, and Three (nine CV and CVLs with a total complement of 255 VF, 177 VSB, 99 VT and 9 VSO) and about eleven heavy cruisers, 35 DDs are believed assigned to this fleet.”

Mitscher’s appraisal was pretty much the same: “For the first time in more than 18 months the enemy has a large carrier force in fighting condition. His 3 CVs, 2 XCVs, and 4 CVLs which are ready for combat carry planes equivalent in number to those carried by 4 Essex and 3 Independence class carriers. . . . If the enemy uses all his carrier-based planes in conjunction with the land planes based in the Marianas, he will still have fewer aircraft available for attacking our ships than we will be able to employ against him. Enemy task force action will give our own task forces a chance to close the enemy, bring his force into action, and perhaps score a crippling victory.”

Mitscher’s operation plan also considered three possible courses of action the Japanese could take if they sortied for battle: “(A) They could approach from the general direction of Davao under their air cover from the Philippines, Palau and Yap and strike the fleet from a southwesterly direction. (B) They could approach around northern Luzon and strike from a northwesterly direction. (C) They could approach easterly and strike from a position west of the Marianas.”

Mitscher and his staff thought (A) was most likely, though (C) was possible. The other possibility was considered very unlikely. While a southwest approach might be a diversion or a flanking route, Mitscher thought it not a “serious consideration so long as the major portion of the fleet could be engaged to the westward.” He also felt that as long as the new Japanese battleships (the Yamato and Musashi, in particular) were not in this attacking force, the old battleships, escort carriers, and screening vessels of the U.S support force could handle them.

On the morning of 16 June Mitscher informed his ships of the possibilities, saying, “Believe Japanese will approach from southerly direction under their shore-based air cover close to Yap and Ulithi to attempt to operate in vicinity of Guam. However, they may come from the west. Our searches must cover both possibilities. Will ask Harrill and Clark to search north and west of us tomorrow.” As related earlier, Clark’s and Harrill’s groups searched to the southwest of their position and found nothing. Clark’s imaginative plan to “trap” the Japanese was stillborn, and the two forces raced south to join the rest of TF 58.

Mitscher was taking no chances and ordered his planes to hit the airfields on Guam and Tinian in an attempt to neutralize them. A total of 332 sorties were flown during the day and most of them met heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. Six planes were shot down, including one by friendly antiaircraft fire, but only one pilot and two crewmen were lost. One of the luckier pilots, who was not without a sense of adventure, was Ensign W.R. Mooney. This San Jacinto flier was hit by flak over Guam but was able to set his plane down in the water and climb into his raft. Though about fourteen miles offshore, Mooney paddled his raft to Guam where he scrambled ashore undetected by the enemy. At night he would hide in the undergrowth, and just before dawn he would take his raft back down to the shore and paddle out to sea, hoping some friendly search plane would spot him and bring rescue. Mooney followed this ritual for over two weeks before finally being picked up on 3 July.

Another pilot shot down on the 16th was Commander William R. “Killer” Kane, CO of Air Group 10. Kane was to be air coordinator for the first strikes of the day. As he and his wingman approached Saipan shortly before 0600, the sea below was still dark. Only a few ships could be seen. Nervously, both pilots rechecked their IFF transmitters.

Not wanting to fly over the invasion forces, Kane began a turn back to the west. Suddenly, a big burst of flak exploded under the left wing of his Hellcat. The plane pitched over violently and Kane’s goggles flew off his head. The Hellcat’s engine began smoking and Kane started thinking about bailing out. More bursts appeared nearby and tracers were weaving around the plane.

Kane opened his canopy and released his seat belt. As he prepared to go over the side, he discovered his fighter was not on fire and the engine was ticking over smoothly. He settled back into his seat—forgetting to refasten his seat belt—and led his wingman out of the antiaircraft fire. But as he tried to climb back to his original altitude, the black puffs cracked around the two planes again.

As Kane called angrily over the radio for the ships to knock off the shooting, he saw his oil pressure drop to zero. He decided to ditch near some transports. The antiaircraft fire followed him down but stopped as he put the Hellcat into the water. The big fighter skipped once, then dug its nose into the water. Without his seat belt fastened, Kane slammed forward against the gunsight. Groggy and with blood streaming from his head, Kane pulled himself out of his sinking plane and clambered into his raft. Before the destroyer Newcomb picked him up, Kane had a few choice words—and many ugly thoughts—about gunners who did not know aircraft recognition and sailors who could not read IFF signals. That afternoon, with a splitting headache, he was returned to the Enterprise.

Mitscher kept his planes pounding Guam and Tinian throughout the day, but as soon as the attackers departed, the Japanese rushed to work and quickly had the airfields back in service. Following a day of bombing, Tinian reported to Tokyo that the field was back in operation as of 1800.

Another disturbing observation was made by Commander Ernest M. Snowden, skipper of Air Group 16. During a strafing pass of the Ushi Point field on Tinian, Snowden noticed quite a few enemy planes parked around the field. Many appeared to be untouched by bullets or shrapnel. Although twenty-four planes were claimed destroyed on the ground and many others damaged, there were too many untouched planes left for comfort.

“The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan Depends on This One Battle” Part II

In the meantime, after Admiral Mitscher told TF 58 that it appeared the Japanese were coming their way, Gus Widhelm had been having a hard time getting takers for his $1,000 wager that the Japanese would be heading out for a carrier duel.

Far to the west of Saipan, Ozawa’s forces were plowing deeper into the Philippine Sea. At 1000 on the 16th, Admiral Ugaki’s battleship force rendezvoused with the 1st Supply Force at 11°00′N, 130°00′E. Fueling began immediately while the two units headed north toward the rest of the Mobile Fleet. At 1650 Ugaki joined Ozawa and the entire Mobile Fleet was finally assembled.

After the rendezvous, 1st Supply Force began fueling the rest of the Mobile Fleet in preparation for the coming action. Fueling was leisurely, not being completed until 1300 the next day, at which time the Mobile Fleet was at 12°15′N, 132°45′E. The oilers then broke off to join with the 2nd Supply Force which had left Guimaras on the 15th and had since been bringing up the rear of the Mobile Fleet. When the two provisioning units met, they turned northeast and headed for a position at 14°40′N, 134°20′E, where they were to stand by for further use. Ozawa was now a little over 750 nautical miles from Saipan.

Ozawa was biding his time. He and most of his other top commanders had great faith—misplaced, as it turned out—in the operations of their land-based planes in the battle. These planes would severely damage the U.S. forces, thus facilitating the Mobile Fleet’s later attacks. Ozawa also knew that he could stay out of range of TF 58’s planes because his planes had a much greater radius of action than the Americans. (Generally, they had an advantage of 350—560 miles in the search role, and 200—300 miles in the attack role.) One other advantage fell Ozawa’s way. The prevailing wind was from the east, which meant that he could launch and recover planes while heading toward the enemy. Mitscher, on the other hand, would have to keep turning east while air operations were in progress and would not be able to make much headway to the west.

A canny sailor, Ozawa was also pretty sure he knew the psychological makeup of his opponent, Spruance. The Japanese admiral figured that Spruance was a conservative and deliberate commander—one not inclined to take risks. He fully expected Spruance to sit close to Saipan and take no offensive action unless he had to.

Even though he was outnumbered fifteen carriers to nine, and two to one in planes, because of the “advantages” mentioned above Ozawa felt he had a fighting chance to destroy the Americans. The one factor that limited Ozawa was fuel. He had only enough to come straight at the enemy (a fact of which the Americans were, naturally, unaware), and the elaborate and complicated plans the Japanese loved to use could not be employed this time.

It appeared to the Japanese that part of their plans was already working, for on the 16th a Betty from the 755th Naval Air Group and four Jills of the 551st Group (all based at Truk) reported attacking U.S. vessels off Saipan. One cruiser was claimed sunk and two others damaged. Fifth Fleet kept operating, though, not even knowing it had been attacked.

Another of the ubiquitous U.S. submarines came across the Japanese on the 16th. The Cavalla (a new sub commanded by Commander Herman J. Kossler) was patrolling 360 miles east of San Bernardino Strait in company with the Pipefish. Although intelligence reports had presumably put them right on the track of the Mobile Fleet, a fruitless day of searching had turned up nothing. That evening Kossler headed for San Bernardino Strait to relieve the Flying Fish.

Shortly after 2300, while proceeding on the surface, Kossler got a radar contact. It was a small force, only four ships. Kossler brought the Cavalla in for a closer look. It was two oilers escorted by a pair of destroyers. He had stumbled on the 2nd Supply Force! Kossler ran ahead of the enemy ships and dived about 0340. Submerged, the Cavalla sneaked in for an attack. Just as Kossler was about to fire at an oiler, one of the destroyers charged. Kossler went deep to evade the attack. When he brought the Cavalla back up at about 0500, the enemy was nowhere in sight.

Kossler decided not to chase the oilers. His orders were to relieve the Flying Fish, and he had already wasted a day and a lot of fuel in the fruitless attack on the supply group. However, when he radioed his decision to Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, ComSubPac and also commander TF 17, a quick change of orders came flashing back: “Destruction these tankers of great importance. Trail, attack, report.”

Kossler turned around and took his submarine back down the supply force’s estimated track. It took some time, but at 2000 on 17 June Kossler hit the jackpot. While the Cavalla was proceeding on the surface, her radar picked up seven large “blips” about twenty thousand yards away. Kossler dove and closed with the target.

The Mobile Fleet steamed by the Cavalla as Kossler took in the parade with interest. Although he could have attacked, Kossler knew he had to get the information out first. After surfacing at 2245, he reported fifteen or more ships doing 19 knots and heading due east. Their position was reported as 12°23’N, 132°26’E. (Actually, the Mobile Fleet was about sixty miles northeast of that position.) Because it was dark, Kossler missed many of the ships as they ran past, but the number of ships he did report—fifteen—would worry Spruance.

Although Lockwood appreciated the information Kossler had sent, he thought it was now time for action. He told Kossler and all the other submarine skippers in the area to shoot first and talk later. For his skippers’ further edification another message said, “The above list of enemy ships does not frighten our varsity. We have all that and plenty more ready and waiting and they are all rough, tough and nasty.” Lockwood further ordered Kossler to, “Hang on and trail as long as possible regardless of fuel expenditure. . . . You may have a chance to get in an attack.” Kossler had lost the Mobile Fleet by the time he got Lockwood’s message, but he determinedly took his boat toward where he thought the Japanese would be. He would be rewarded for his chase and the Cavalla’s crew would yet see some action.

Both sides were busy making final plans on the 17th. Operating under radio silence, Ozawa sent a Judy to Peleliu just before noon with a request for land-based air operations. Ozawa told Combined Fleet Headquarters and Fifth Base Air Force:

The First Mobile Force, being at location ‘E’ on the evening of the 17th and having finished supplying operations, will advance to a general location west of Saipan by dawn of the 19th, going via point ‘O’ [possibly a translation error for ‘C’] at 15.0 N latitude, 136.0 E longitude. In the meantime, this fleet shall guard against westerly advances of the enemy and their movements from the north. The objective is first to shell regular aircraft carrier groups and then, by employing all fighting power, to annihilate the enemy task forces and their invading forces. The following are the requests made of land-based air units:

1. It is requested that, from the evening preceding the decisive battle, you shall maintain a constant reconnaissance of the regular aircraft carriers of the enemy in the vicinity of the Mariana Islands. If this is impossible, notify us immediately of the condition and deployment of regular aircraft carriers as of noon.

2. We request intensified patrolling of the area west of the Marianas by each base on the day previous to the decisive battle. Special attention shall be paid to carry on reconnaissance in the sector from 160 degrees to 210 degrees from Iwo Jima. [Ozawa was figuring on the possibility of just the sort of end-run Jocko Clark had in mind.]

3. If the forces of the Yawata unit are not deployed on time, it is believed we shall be forced to delay the decisive battle by one day. Please notify us of such a probability.

Ozawa was as yet unaware that the land-based phase of A-GO had gone seriously awry. Kakuta certainly was not telling him.

Off Saipan, Reeves’s and Montgomery’s task groups finished fueling shortly after midnight. The two groups wound up much farther east than planned, and Mitscher ordered them to make 23 knots to the west. Task Force 58 had to get as far west as possible because launching and recovering its planes meant the carriers would have to turn back into the easterly wind and, consequently, would not make good much distance toward the enemy.

Because of their distance to the east, TGs 58.2 and 58.3 sent night searches out 270—350 miles at 0200, half an hour later than planned. The two groups kept heading west until 0430. At 0700 the searchers were recovered. They had not seen anything. As the first searchers returned, another group of Helldivers and Avengers were launched to search to the west and southwest, to a distance of 325—350 miles. A third search, launched at 1330 by the Bunker Hill and Lexington, was as unsuccessful as the earlier attempts. Clark and Harrill, meanwhile, were ordered to search as far west as possible and to keep the area east of 138 degrees and south of 12 degrees covered.

Admiral Spruance ordered a minimum of air operations for the day, primarily search missions, but Mitscher thought it necessary to send in more strikes over Guam. About seventy-five sorties were flown in the afternoon. The strike “temporarily” closed Agana, but was costly to the Americans; several planes and pilots were lost to the deadly flak. The fliers were somewhat bitter, feeling that TF 58’s battleships (at this time only preparing to form TG 58.7) should have been used to knock our the antiaircraft guns before the planes went in.

In the afternoon Mitscher radioed Spruance giving him the present and planned dispositions and movements of TF 58,

1.Present status:

(a)Task Group 58.2 is 12 miles south of Task Group 58.3

(b)Task Group 58.3 will be in Lat. 15°N, Long. 144°30’E at 1600 today.

(c)A search was launched at 1330 distance 325 miles, betweeen bearings 215—285. This search is to be recovered about 1830 in vicinity Lat. 15°N, Long. 144°30’E.

2.Recommended disposition upon the joining of forces from Task Force 51:

(a)Task Group 58.2 composed of carriers, CruDiv 13, DesRon 52, DesDiv 1; 12 miles south of Task Group 58.3.

(b)Composition of Task Group 58.3: carriers, CruDiv 12, DesRon 50 and DesDiv 90.

(c)Task Group 58.7 composed of battleships, CruDiv 6, DesDiv 12(16 torpedoes each), DesDiv 89, and DesDiv 106; stationed 15 miles west of Task Group 58.3.

3.(a)If battle is joined before Task Groups 58.1 and 58.4 join us, Task Group 58.2 will be designated battle line carriers.

(b)When Task Groups 58.1 and 58.4 join, propose to put Task Group 58.1 12 miles north of Task Group 58.3, and Task Group 58.3 and Task Group 58.4 12 miles south of Task Group 58.2.

(c)As soon as Task Groups 58.1 and 58.4 join, propose to have San Juan join Task Group 58.2 and Reno join Task Group 58.3 so that one CL(AA) will be with each carrier group.

(d)If battle is joined after Task Groups 58.1 and 58.4 join us, Task Group 58.4 will become battle line carrier group.

(e)After first air battles have been fought and we have control of the air, recommend CruDivs 10, 13 and 12 and DesDivs 11, 1 and 90 be released from carrier groups to join Task Group 58.7.

(f)After initial air battle, or before if it becomes feasible, recommend Task Group 58.1 take station about 50 miles to the northwest of Task Group 58.3 in order to hit Japs from northern flank and cut them off from escaping to the north.

4.Recommended movement tonight; at 1800 course 310° until reaching Lat. 16°N, then course 270° until after daylight launch. It is hoped this will permit us to flank the enemy, keep outside of 400 miles range of Yap and keep as far from other shore-based air flown in to Rota and Guam as practicable, and still be in position to hit enemy carrier groups (downwind from us).

5.As soon as things quiet down a bit, one Task Group at a time should be refueled in vicinity of Marianas, during which time it can assist Task Force 51 on Guam, Rota, or Saipan as directed.

Spruance initially approved Mitscher’s plan, but late the next day would change his mind and hold TF 58 close to Saipan. Mitscher, in the meantime, was going ahead with his preparations: “Proposed plan for strike on enemy surface forces,” he signaled his carriers. “Make deck load launch from CVs consisting of 16 VF, 12 VB and 9 VT. Second deck load prepared for launch as second wave unless situation indicates delay advisable. Augment VT from CVLs as practicable. Arming VT half torpedoes, VB half GP, half SAP. Later strikes include AP as targets indicate.”

Admiral Spruance issued his battle plan at 1415, saying, “Our air will first knock out enemy carriers as operating carriers, then will attack enemy battleships and cruisers to slow or disable them. Task Group 58.7 will destroy enemy fleet either by fleet action if enemy elects to fight or by sinking slowed or crippled ships if enemy retreats. Action against the retreating enemy must be pushed vigorously by all hands to insure complete destruction of his fleet. Destroyers running short of fuel may be returned to Saipan if necessary for refueling.”

This “bare bones” plan sounded aggressive enough—but, like so many good plans, it never bore fruit. Also striking, given Spruance’s concern about such a tactic, is the fact that this plan makes no mention of a Japanese end run. A message to Spruance from Admiral Nimitz in the afternoon should, nevertheless, have given the Fifth Fleet commander some thoughts about sticking with his battle plan. “On the eve of a possible fleet action,” Nimitz radioed, “you and the officers and men under your command have the confidence of the naval services and the country. We count on you to make the victory decisive.”

At 1741 Spruance in the Indianapolis, plus CruDiv 12 (the Cleveland, Montpelier, Birmingham), joined TG 58.3. After joining, Spruance signaled Mitscher, “Desire you proceed at your discretion, selecting dispositions and movements best calculated to meet the enemy under the most advantageous condition. I shall issue general directives when necessary and leave details to you and Admiral Lee.”

This message left Mitscher in a quandary. It had been sent by Spruance in reply to a query by Mitscher regarding the tactical command of TF 58. The tenor of the message, however, suggested to Mitscher that he would not have complete control over TF 58. Spruance would be continually hovering nearby to approve or disapprove any orders. To preclude any conflict between Mitscher and Spruance, the TF 58 commander “preferred to submit his proposed courses of action to Admiral Spruance before they were put out of order, which meant that Admiral Spruance, although not taking OTC, was actually operating as OTC.”

During the afternoon Mitscher sent word to the two task groups at hand to prepare to dispatch their battleships and some escorting vessels to form the battle line, TG 58.7. Mitscher figured that with the usual confusion when ships move in and out of formation, it would be better to form TG 58.7 early, rather than wait until the Japanese were nearby to interfere with this movement. At 1730 the seven fast battleships (the Washington, North Carolina, Iowa, New Jersey, South Dakota, Alabama, and Indiana), along with four heavy cruisers and thirteen destroyers, left the carrier groups and formed the battle line. Able and aggressive Vice Admiral Willis A. “Ching” Lee commanded the task group. After all the ships had rendezvoused, they took up station fifteen miles west of TG 58.3. Mitscher had made his final dispositions and was now awaiting the return of his two other groups the next day.

The searches during the day had turned up no ships, but the afternoon search had run into several enemy planes which had soon been shot down. Surprisingly, it appears that the American commanders took little note of these planes. The positions of the air actions and the apparent direction the Japanese planes had come from did not lead anyone to guess the line of advance of the Mobile Fleet. Captain Burke said only, “those enemy planes probably did report our position.”

While the Americans were still vague about the position of the Mobile Fleet, Japanese land-based air knew full well where the action was. On the evening of the 17th, several heavy attacks were launched by the Japanese Base Air Force against U.S. forces off Saipan. At 1750 five Jills and an Irving night fighter from Truk attacked an “enemy transport convoy.” What they actually found was Captain G. B. Carter’s tractor group (TG 53.16) of sixteen LSTs, seven LCI(G)s, nine sub chasers, and the destroyer Stembel. The group was part of the Southern Attack Force and was killing time waiting for the expected Guam invasion. The Japanese fliers claimed that they sank “thirteen transports and left one destroyer listing heavily.”30 What they actually got in return for the loss of three planes was a torpedo hit on LCI(G)-468. The explosion killed fifteen men and wounded three. The gunboat was severely damaged and eventually had to be scuttled.

A second, larger attack hit the Americans unloading at Saipan around dusk. This attack was apparently picked up by TG 58.2 radars about 1735, heading toward Guam. Because the estimated twenty to thirty planes were over one hundred miles away, no interception was attempted. But there were more than thirty planes. Thirty-one Zekes, seventeen Judys, and two Frans from Yap ignored the fire-support group and went for the ships unloading off Charan Kanoa. An LST was hit and caught fire, but the blaze was put out and the vessel salvaged. Turning back from this attack, the enemy planes ran across the jeep carriers maneuvering offshore. Although radar picked up the incoming planes, the fighter direction was inaccurate, and forty-six Wildcats went off on a wild goose chase.

Now, with only the ships’ antiaircraft fire to confront them, the Japanese attacked. In the dim light many of the pilots thought they were attacking the fast carriers of TF 58. Bombs just missed Gambier Bay and Coral Sea. But the Fanshaw Bay was not as lucky. A 550-pound bomb sliced through her after elevator and exploded on her hangar deck. Eleven men were killed. The fires caused by the explosion were quickly put out by her crew, but the Fanshaw Bay had to retire to Eniwetok for repairs.

Five of the Judys and several Zekes landed after dark on the “temporarily out of commission” field on Guam. The other planes retired to Yap. The Japanese fliers were jubilant, thinking they had sunk two or three fast carriers and had left another burning. To the Japanese, who were not yet aware of the miscarriage of the land-based phase of A-GO, it appeared that these planes were doing their job well.

The problems for the escort carriers were not over yet. As two White Plains Wildcats were returning to their carrier, they were fired on by “friendly” ships, then jumped by four other Wildcats of the CAP. Although neither of the two fighters was shot down, one was so badly damaged that on landing it crashed into five other aircraft and all six had to be written off.

Affairs around Saipan finally quieted down during the night, but tension was steadily building among the sailors of TF 58. Where were the Japanese? It was not too long before TF 58 found out where the Mobile Fleet had been. The Cavalla’s contact report reached Spruance at 0321 on the morning of the 18th, and Mitscher had it twenty-four minutes later. But now a divergence of viewpoints between the two commanders emerged.

Mitscher and his two “braintrusters,” Burke and Hedding, did some quick figuring. If the Japanese kept coming at 19 knots, they would be about 660 miles from Saipan at dawn and 500 miles from TF 58’s proposed 0530 position. That was still too far for any attack on the enemy, but by steaming directly for the enemy’s estimated 1500 position, TF 58 might be able to get in one strike in the late afternoon. But TF 58 was then widely separated, with TGs 58.1 and 58.4 far to the north of the other two groups. A noon rendezvous was planned and Clark and Harrill were ordered to link up with the rest of TF 58 as soon as possible. Mitscher could have headed west with the two groups he had on hand, letting the other groups catch up as best they could, but he preferred to be sure all his forces were concentrated for the coming action. When all his ships were together Mitscher would take TF 58 westward for the attack on the Mobile Fleet.

Admiral Spruance had other plans. By the evening of 17 June he was worrying about a flank attack. He later commented, “At dark on 17 June the situation appeared to be as follows: Enemy forces probably consisting of 5 BB, 9 CV, 8 CA and a number of destroyers were at sea east of the Philippines for the purpose of attacking our amphibious forces engaged in the capture of Saipan. The task of Task Force 58 was to cover our amphibious forces and to prevent such an attack. The enemy attack would probably involve a strike by carrier-based aircraft, supported and followed up by heavy fleet units. The possibility existed that the enemy fleet might be divided with a portion of it involving carriers coming in around one of our flanks. If Task Force 58 were moved too far from Saipan before the location of the enemy was definitely determined, such a flank attack could inflict heavy damage on our amphibious forces at Saipan. Routes of withdrawal to the northward and to the southwestward would remain open to such a flanking force. The use of enemy airfields on Guam and Rota were available to the enemy except as our carrier-based aircraft were able to keep these fields neutralized.”

The fifteen ships that the Cavalla had reported also worried him. “It appeared from the Cavalla reports, however, that the entire enemy force was not concentrated in one disposition; that if the force sighted by the Cavalla was the same as that sighted by the Flying Fish in San Bernardino Strait, a speed of less than 10 knots had been made good; and that the position of the Cavalla contact indicated a possible approach to the Marianas by this task group via the southern flank.”

Spruance apparently did not consider that in the darkness the Cavalla could have missed many of the ships (which she had). Forty ships spread over a wide expanse of ocean cannot be easily seen by a submarine at periscope depth. He also reasoned that if the force the Cavalla sighted was the same one the Flying Fish had reported, it had made only a very slow advance. Even with the sighting of oilers nearby, it apparently did not occur to Spruance’s staff that this slow advance could have been because the Japanese were fueling (which they were). And always there was Spruance’s extreme concern, almost obsession, with the possibility of a flank attack. Yet this concern did not cause him to modify his battle plan, which never mentioned that possibility. Despite his aggressive battle plan of the day before, Spruance was beginning to settle into a defensive posture.

“The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan Depends on This One Battle” Part III

In the meantime, both sides were busily preparing for an action which appeared likely the next day. With the Cavalla’s report in hand, Admiral Lockwood shifted the four submarines of his Pentathalon Group (then scouting northwest of Saipan) one hundred miles south. He told them, “Indications at this end that the big show may be taking place at the present time. Exact location unknown but possibly Finback, Bang, Stingray and Albacore may be the corner post of the boxing ring. . . . Do not miss any opportunity to get in a shot at the enemy. This may be the chance of a lifetime.” Working a “square” scouting line, these subs would be athwart the track of the Japanese force. It turned out to be an excellent move and would indeed provide one of the subs with the “chance of a lifetime.”

The 18th saw a miminum of air activity on the Americans’ part. PBMs from the Saipan roadstead flew searches 600 miles west, while PB4YS from the Admiralties also flew missions 1,200 miles to the northwest—all with no success. Unfortunately, one of the Liberator’s search patterns extended only 1,050 miles. As luck would have it, it was through this area that Ozawa led the Mobile Fleet on the evening of the 18th and the morning of the 19th. The carrier-launched searches fared no better. The first planes lifted off the decks at 0532. Narrow ten-degree legs were flown to a limit of 325-350 miles and covered an area between 195 degrees and 280 degrees. No ships were seen, but several enemy planes, obviously out scouting, were picked off.

Essex searchers scored two kills. At 0755 Lieutenant (jg) R. L. Turner, flying a Helldiver, spotted what he identified as a Jill but was probably a Kate. Turner and his fighter escort gave chase. The enemy pilot did not see the Americans until it was too late. After a pass by the Hellcat pilot which started a fire in the plane’s left wing root, Turner punched home about a hundred rounds of 20-mm fire into the Kate’s fuselage and wings. A large piece of the left wing suddenly ripped off, almost slamming into the “2C”. As Turner passed over the Kate, he could see the gunner hanging out of the cockpit and the pilot desperately trying to get out. Flames surrounded them and their clothes were burning. Then the Kate’s left wing dipped and the plane spun into the sea. About an hour and a half later, Ensign K. A. Flinn, escorting another SB2C, slammed a Betty into the water with his .50-calibers.

Meanwhile, Lieutenants (jg) Charles E. Henderson and Clifton R. Largess, flying Torpedo 10 Avengers, sandwiched a twin-float Jake between them and dropped the burning floatplane into the sea. Another pair of Jakes were the victims of a Yorktown fighter pilot.

Obviously, the Japanese had been busy launching searches, and with better luck than the Americans. Ozawa’s force was making 20 knots and heading 060 degrees when he sent his first reconnaissance missions out at 0600. Fourteen Kates and two Jakes were to cover an area between 350 and 110 degrees to a distance of 425 miles. (Note that this was almost one hundred miles farther than the American searchers.) By 0800 two of the planes had sighted enemy carrier planes. The first contacts between the two sides had been made.

When the Japanese planes returned to their ships, the two Jakes and a Kate did not come back. (There is a discrepency between the number of Jakes launched and those claimed shot down. Where the extra Jake came from is unknown.) At noon Ozawa sent off another search. This one consisted of thirteen Judys and two Jakes. Ozawa was sure this search would turn up something. At this time the Mobile Fleet was at 14°40’N, 135°40’E (about 120 miles northeast of its 0500 position). As soon as the search was launched the fleet changed course to 030 degrees.

It was not long before a number of contact reports came filtering back to Ozawa. The first few sightings were of enemy aircraft and served only to heighten the tension on Ozawa’s flagship, the Taiho. One report was of a PB2Y Coronado flying-boat (more likely a PB4Y from the Admiralties). At 1445 eight fighters were, rather unusually, sent out in a vain attempt to catch it.

The really important sightings began reaching Ozawa shortly after the abortive try to find the “flying-boat.” The pilot of Plane No. 15 had reached his search limit of 420 miles and was on the dog-leg portion of his pattern when he sighted TF 58. At 1514 he began transmitting to Admiral Ozawa “enemy task force, including carriers” at 14°50’N, 142°15’E. The Americans had been found.

Forty-six minutes later Plane No. 13 also reported enemy ships, including carriers, heading west. The conclusive sighting came from the crew of Plane No. 17, searching the sector north of Plane No. 15. Shortly after 1600 they reported sighting TF 58, amplifying this at 1640 with

“UI2CHI—1st group—2 regular carriers, 10-15 destroyers.

URA4E —2nd group—2 seemingly regular carriers, 10 others.

URA1A —3rd group—2 seemingly carriers, 10 others.

This sighting put TF 58 at 14°12’N, 141°55’E. Plane No. 17 also reported that the enemy ships were heading west, that there were cloud layers at 29,500 and 3,300 feet and the cloud cover was 7/10s, and the wind was from 100 degrees at 11 mph. It was a good, solid sighting and report.

Ozawa received Plane No. 15’s report at 1530 and began making his final plans for the battle. At 1540 he ordered course changed from 030 degrees to 200 degrees and for his forces to prepare to shift into battle disposition. At this time the Mobile Fleet was about 360 miles from the “15-I” position. Ozawa had no intention of getting any closer than necessary to TF 58. By remaining 400 miles away, he could stay out of range of enemy planes, yet his own planes would still be able to strike.

But while Ozawa was patiently awaiting the proper time to attack, a number of his subordinates were anxious to take action. Rear Admiral Sueo Obayashi, 3rd CarDiv commander with his flag in the Chitose, readied the planes of his three carriers for an attack on the ships seen by Plane No. 15. Sixty-seven planes were spotted for takeoff and launchings began at 1637. However, only three Jills, fifteen bomb-carrying Zekes, and four Zeke fighters from the Chiyoda were airborne when Obayashi received Admiral Ozawa’s Operation Order No. 16, which had been sent at 1610. This order read: “1. At around 1500 enemy task forces believed to be, one, 350 miles bearing about 220° from Iwo Jima, and the other, 160 miles west of Saipan. 2. Mobile Fleet will retire temporarily, after which it will proceed north and tomorrow morning contact and destroy the enemy to the north, after which it will attack and destroy the enemy to the northeast.”

The north sighting was a phantom. Admiral Toyoda, in Tokyo, had sent Ozawa a land-based search plane’s garbled transmission. A short time later Ozawa received a corrected report that showed there was nothing in that direction. At 1817 Ozawa issued Operations Order No. 19 which announced that the only target for the next day would be the enemy force west of the Marianas.

When Admiral Obayashi received Operations Order No. 16, he immediately recalled his strike force. All the Chiyoda planes landed safely except one of the bomb-carrying Zekes, which crashed. Not everyone was happy with the recall. Although most of the senior officers believed that a late-afternoon or early-evening attack followed by a night landing on Guam (required because of the late takeoff) would be asking too much of the green aircrews, many of the junior officers thought otherwise. In their enthusiasm and zeal—and rashness—they were sure they could destroy the enemy that day.

The “Impressions and Battle Lessons (Air) in the ‘A’ Operation” written after the battle conveys the feelings of these younger officers. Regarding the recalled strike, it says: “On the 18th the 3rd flying squadron was determined to attack the enemy as soon as sighted and prepared to return to the carrier, if it was not later than 1400, and to land on Guam, if it was after 1500. But by order from the operational unit the attack was cancelled. Although the outcome of the attack could not be predicted, a surprise was planned before sunset. If it had been carried out, it could certainly have been a surprise attack, as compared with the attack carried out next morning. Under these conditions it would be better to be prepared for an attack immediately after discovery of the enemy. And in case there is a risk of our operation being already known to the enemy on the day of the attack, it is admittedly necessary to launch a night flanking movement on a large scale in order to administer the first blow on the enemy. If the 3rd flying squadron under the circumstance had reported its plan of attack to the flag commander of the fleet, there would not have been any blunder [on Ozawa’s part, presumably]. And in receiving the order of cancelling, if it had any confidence in itself at all, it should have proposed its opinion.”

These statements are to the point. However, the top commanders from Toyoda on down disagreed with the conclusions. First, because of the fuel problem a flanking attack was out of the question. Then, surprise might have been achieved, but this is very doubtful; United States radar techniques were too good by this time. The raid would have been discovered even if the Japanese had attacked out of the sun. Mitscher was not going to let his guard down just because his planes had not yet spotted the Japanese. Finally, the Japanese fliers of June 1944 were generally not the same caliber as those of June 1942. Would a surprise attack on the evening of the 18th have been better handled than the disorganized mess of the next day? This is extremely doubtful. Ozawa was probably right in saving his aircraft for one big blow. It was no fault of his that although he got in the first strike on the 19th, it turned into a disaster.

While Obayashi’s carriers trailed behind recovering planes, the rest of the Mobile Fleet headed 200 degrees. At 1900 course was changed to 140 degrees and speed was reduced to 16 knots. At 2020 Ozawa took a calculated risk and broke radio silence to inform Admiral Kakuta on Tinian of his proposed plans for the next day. It was a risk, but one that Ozawa thought necessary to gain the proper coordination with his land-based air for the next day’s fighting. Unfortunately, Base Air Force was in no condition to provide much help, and Kakuta remained reluctant to tell Ozawa and Toyoda the truth of his situation.

This transmission, probably of just a few minutes duration, could have led to the destruction of Ozawa’s fleet. A U.S. naval “Huff-Duff” (HF/DF—high frequency direction-finding) shore station picked up the message and identified the sender as Ozawa. The station also pinpointed the Mobile Fleet’s position as 13°N, 136°E.41 This was good sharpshooting; Ozawa’s ships were only about forty miles away from that spot, and about three hundred miles from TF 58. The fix was passed on to Spruance.

Ozawa split his forces at 2100. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s powerful Van or C Force headed due east, while the other two units changed course to 190 degrees. Eventually Kurita’s force would be stationed one hundred miles ahead of the rest of the Mobile Fleet and therefore closest to the enemy. With this formation Ozawa figured that any attacker would have to fly through a wall of fire thrown up by C Force and would thus probably be decimated before reaching his large carriers. C Force was the largest of the three units Ozawa utilized during the battle. Along with the light carriers Chitose, Chiyoda, and Zuiho were four battleships (including the monsters Yamato and Musashi), eight cruisers, and eight destroyers.

At 0300 on the morning of the 19th, the Mobile Fleet turned to a course of 050 degrees and speed was upped to 20 knots. The three forces shifted into their battle formation, and by 0415 all was in readiness. Following behind C Force was Admiral Ozawa and A Force. (Besides commanding the Mobile Fleet, Ozawa was in tactical command of all the carriers and also commander of A Force.) A Force consisted of the big carriers Taiho, Shokaku and Zuikaku, three cruisers, and seven destroyers. Nine miles north of A Force was B Force, commanded by Rear Admiral Takaji Joshima. It was made up of the carriers Junyo, Hiyo and Ryuho, battleship Nagato, heavy cruiser Mogami, and eight destroyers.

Ozawa sadly lacked destroyers for screening and antisubmarine work. And this shortage would cost the Japanese dearly. The Harder (and other U.S. subs throughout the war) had hurt the Japanese greatly with their attacks on destroyers.

Back with TF 58, the 18th would be a day of momentous and controversial decisions. After huddling with his staff over the Cavalla’s contact report and a later one which Admiral Spruance thought added “little to the information previously received,” Mitscher decided a late afternoon air strike would be possible and a night surface action a very good possibility. Mitscher signaled Admiral Lee, “Do you desire night engagement? It may be we can make air contact late this afternoon and attack tonight. Otherwise we should retire to the eastward for tonight.”

“Do not (repeat, not) believe we should seek night engagement,” was Lee’s disappointing reply. “Possible advantages of radar more than offset by difficulties of communications and lack of training in fleet tactics at night. Would press pursuit of damaged or fleeing enemy, however, at any time.”

If there were any need for confirmation that the battleship was no longer the ruler of the sea, Lee’s statement certainly provided it. In no way was Lee afraid of the Japanese; he had shown that at Guadalcanal. But he respected them as fighters, particularly in night battles. By this stage of the war also, the battleships had been reduced to spear carriers for the flattops. Their primary job was to protect the carriers with their awesome array of antiaircraft weapons. The fast battleships had not had the time to perfect tactics for a surface action; they had been too busy escorting the carriers. However, Lee must surely have been aware that in a hostile air environment, a night battle would be the only way his battleships could ever fight a purely surface action.

The battleships would stay tied to TF 58.

Shortly after 0700 Bataan pilots sighted a life raft a short distance from TG 58.1. The raft appeared to be populated with dead men. The destroyers Bell and Conner were sent to investigate and discovered the men, eighteen in all, were alive. They had been members of a small Japanese cargo ship sunk enroute from Woleai to Guam on 13 June. They were later transferred to the Hornet to enjoy the amenities of the brig.

At noon the four task groups rendezvoused, with the antiaircraft cruisers San Juan and Reno joining TGs 58.2 and 58.3 respectively. For the impending action TGs 58.1, 58.3, and 58.2 were placed twelve miles apart on a north-south line. Fifteen miles west of the Lexington was Admiral Lee’s TG 58.7. About twelve miles north and slightly east of TG 58.7 was TG 58.4.

Before the rendezvous Spruance made one of the most important decisions of the battle. “Task Force 58 must cover Saipan and our forces engaged in that operation,” he told Mitscher and Lee. “I still feel that main enemy attack will come from westward but it might be diverted to come in from southwestward. Diversionary attacks may come in from either flank or reinforcements might come in from Empire. Consider that we can best cover Saipan by advancing to westward during daylight and retiring to eastward at night so as to reduce possibility of enemy passing us during darkness. Distance which you can make to westward during day will naturally be restricted by your air operations and by necessity to conserve fuel. We should however remain in air supporting position of Saipan until information of enemy requires other action. . . . Consider seeking night action undesirable initially in view of our superior strength in all types, but earliest possible strike on enemy carriers is necessary.”

The decision had been made. Instead of pursuing an offensive course as his battle plan had stated, Spruance was pulling back into a basically static defensive position. There would really be no possibility of “earliest possible strikes” now, and TF 58’s “superior strength” was being wasted. Spruance was doing exactly what Ozawa thought he would.

Mitscher and his staff were dismayed. They “could not understand why the Commander Fifth Fleet would throw away the tremendous advantages of surprise and initiative and aggressiveness.” But Spruance was a “Big Gun” man (as was most of his staff). His experience in carrier warfare was primarily on a lofty plane. When Lee said he would not fight at night, Spruance was left, figuratively, at sea. Now without his beloved battleships to fight the battle, Spruance was unsure how to use his carriers. His choice—wait and let the enemy attack him.

More searches were flown at 1330. Though ranging out 325 miles, the planes again missed the Mobile Fleet, but this time by only sixty miles. Confrontations between opposing search planes again took place. Hornet planes bagged another of the vulnerable Jakes 240 miles out, and another Jake and a Judy were downed by aircraft from TG 58.3. Only thirty miles from TF 58, a number of Hellcats on CAP were run ragged by a single Judy.

This Judy first ran afoul of a division of Monterey Hellcats. Although the Americans were able to hole the enemy plane a few times, the Japanese pilot evaded them by the judicious use of cloud cover. Then, four more F6Fs from the Cowpens and six from the Langley began queuing up. Still, the Judy “evaded no less than twelve passes by doing a startling and expert series of maneuvers, including snap rolls, spins, split ‘S’s, falling leafs, and one snap loop that would have pulled the wings off a less sturdy plane.”48 VF-25’s Lieutenant (jg) Frederick R. Stieglitz finally popped out of a cloud directly behind the Judy. Firing almost continuously, he poured 750 rounds into the dive bomber. The Judy caught fire and fell into the sea.

Flight operations continued until dusk. Mitscher then headed TF 58 into the setting sun so any enemy planes trying to sneak in would show up easily. This was just the time that Obayashi’s planes would have been attacking if they had not been recalled.

The Japanese had been attacking throughout the day, but not with carrier-based planes. A number of the aircraft that had gotten into Guam the night before went out again on the morning of the 18th. This day they were unsuccessful in their attacks and suffered additional losses. One of the pilots was picked up by the Americans, to become one of the few Japanese aviators to survive the air battles around the Marianas. Enemy aircraft flying from Yap and Palau were also still active. An early-morning reconnaissance by nine Bettys found the jeep carriers southeast of Saipan. A large strike of six Franceses and eleven Zekes from Yap, and one Judy and thirty-eight Zekes from Palau, was directed against the carriers, but the pilots could not find their targets. Some, however, did run across some oilers of TG 50.17, the Fueling Group.

The oilers Saranac, Neshanic, and Saugatuck were fueling four destroyers and destroyer escorts about forty miles southeast of Saipan when they were attacked by five planes shortly after 1630. The attackers did quite well, hitting all three of the oilers. The Saranac had eight seamen killed and twenty-two wounded and was so badly damaged she had to head back to the rear areas for repairs. The Neshanic was hit by a bomb that exploded drums of gasoline stowed on deck. Flames boiled up to the top of the mast, but the ship’s damage-control party had the fire out in seven minutes. She and the Saugatuck were repaired at Eniwetok.

Events began speeding up on the evening of the 18th. Far to the west of TF 58 the submarines Finback and Stingray were patrolling. Shortly after 2000 the Finback was traveling on the surface at 14°19’N, 137°05’E, when her lookouts saw a pair of searchlights stab the sky to the south. Full speed ahead was ordered, but the sub was unable to close fast enough to pick up any targets on her radar. The lights had apparently come from one of Admiral Obayashi’s carriers as it recovered some late returning planes. (The Japanese analysis of the battle later showed great concern with this and other breaches of security in the Mobile Fleet.) There was some delay in sending a contact report, and it was not until 0150 on 19 June that Spruance received it. By that time he had already made the important decisions.

While the Finback was watching the lights, the Stingray had been having problems. A small fire had broken out in the conning tower but had soon been extinguished. The fire apparently affected the submarine’s radio equipment, for a routine incident report to ComSubPac was badly distorted. Admiral Lockwood thought the Japanese had jammed the transmission. While Lockwood was trying to figure out what the Stingray was saying, the Huff-Duff stations had picked up the Mobile Fleet.

At 2030 TF 58 heeled around according to Spruance’s plan and took up a course of 080 degrees and a speed of 18 knots. In the eight and one-half hours since the rendezvous, the ships had made only 115 miles to the west-southwest. At 2200 more bits of intelligence began reaching Spruance and Mitscher. The first interesting tidbit was the HF/DF fix. Mitscher got this report at 2245 and thought it good enough to take action on. Spruance, on the other hand, was unimpressed, taking the fix to be a Japanese trick. Mitscher, however, put his staff to work on the fix to see what they could come up with.

After several minutes’ work they calculated that Ozawa’s ships were 355 miles away and would probably remain there until daylight. It was still too great a distance for a strike by U.S. planes. However, by reversing course at 0130 on the 19th, TF 58 would be in an ideal striking range of 150 to 200 miles from the enemy by 0500.

At 2325, after many calculations and recalculations, Mitscher radioed Spruance, “Propose coming to course 270 degrees at 0130 in order to commence treatment at 0500. Advise.”50

Spruance and his staff mulled over Mitscher’s message. Even before Mitscher had submitted his plan Spruance had in his hand another piece of the intelligence puzzle; a piece that actually fit nowhere. About 2230 a message from Admiral Lockwood to the Stingray concerning the submarine’s earlier garbled transmission was intercepted. This message was not addressed to ComFifthFleet and was not intended for him!

Yet, surprisingly, Spruance became very interested in the Stingray. Figuring the Stingray’s patrol station as about 175 miles east-southeast of the Huff/Duff fix, Spruance concluded that the submarine had found the Mobile Fleet and her radio transmissions had been jammed for her troubles. It appears that by this time Spruance already had his mind made up, and this message to the Stingray merely confirmed his impressions of what the Japanese would do—come in two or three forces, employing diversionary tactics. After discussing Mitscher’s plan for over an hour with his staff, Spruance replied to the TF 58 commander at 0038 on the 19th.

“Change proposed does not appear advisable,” he told Mitscher. “Believe indications given by Stingray more accurate than that determined by direction-finder. If that is so continuation as at present seems preferable. End run by other carrier groups remains possibility and must not be overlooked.”

When this message reached Mitscher, both he and his staff were stunned. They were not then aware of the Stingray messages and when they did learn of them they could not believe Admiral Spruance would put such faith in a garbled transmission not even addressed to him. Disappointment pervaded the ships of TF 58. On board the Enterprise Captain Matt Gardner threw his hat on the deck and stomped on it.

Task Force 58 continued eastbound.

By shortly after midnight on 19 June the decisions had been made on both sides. No matter what new information might surface in the next few hours, no matter how many calculations could be made, the die had been cast. The 19th of June would be the day of battle and TF 58 most likely would have to take the first blow.

The army of the Catholic Liga and the Bavarian army

Maximilian I von Wittelsbach parading through his troops after the Battle of Melnik, AD 1619

If neither the Danes nor the Dutch made use of what could properly be seen as military enterprisers, developments in the Liga/Bavarian army led to a very different relationship between state power and private capital and organization.

The army of the League of Catholic German states (the Liga) had been formed in 1610 through the direct initiative of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, whose duchy also provided the majority of the troops and funding. This imported into the army Maximilian’s characteristic concern with direct control and accountability, which he was as anxious to apply to an expensive army as he had been to the financial and legal institutions of his duchy. In this concern he was abetted by his close working relationship with his lieutenant general, Jean T’Serclaes de Tilly. Tilly shared decision-making about all aspects of military policy with Maximilian in person, and with the duke’s senior military commissioners, who stood at the head of an elaborate pyramid of administrators, which reached down to the level of the individual regiments and handled issues connected with food and munitions supply and aspects of civil-military discipline. In the early 1620s the resources of Maximilian’s Bavaria and the wealthy Rhineland territories that made up the other key Liga states were sufficient to meet a high proportion of the costs of the army via self-imposed military taxes.

It might seem then that the Liga army was a straightforward precursor of the state-financed, state-directed military force, in which both officers and men were paid employees of the ruler and his state administration, where control and accountability was maintained by salaried state officials on commission, and the commanding officer himself was a willing servant of a ruler who considered that all major military decisions should fall under his purview. But underlying all of this, the essential character of the Bavarian army remained that of a force composed of enterpriser-colonels. Although they might be vetted for their Catholic credentials, and although Maximilian took a strong personal interest in the military capacities of his senior officers, the terms of the Bestallung, or recruitment contract, are recognizably those made with military enterprisers. The parallels with the Bavarian military system are not those of a modern, state-run army, but more closely those of the contemporary Venetian armies and galley fleets, based on hired mercenaries and contracted service, but supervised by state officials – the proveditore – and with a substantial element of state oversight and control over military policy-making and execution. The colonel in the Liga army received full discretion to appoint junior officers, allowing these officers in turn to recruit as they saw fit to produce good-quality recruits, a process which could well include paying above the specified recruitment sums to attract better soldiers. The colonel also held full administrative and judicial rights over his men, and had responsibility for the provision of their weapons, equipment, clothing and, in the case of cavalry, horses, much of which he would recover from their subsequent wages. Above all, although it was masked by the military successes and the relatively easy access to funds from various forms of taxes and contributions in the 1620s, the enterpriser-colonel was still entering into a financial agreement with Maximilian and the Liga in which he would, if required, advance his own capital to raise more troops, to maintain his existing forces or to meet other shortfalls.

What the Liga achieved in the financially ‘good years’ of the 1620s was control over the growth of military enterprise and the extent to which capital could be invested in the army. This was seen most clearly in the decision that none of the colonels in the Liga army should be allowed to acquire command of more than a single regiment. Such a stipulation could not be more different from the case with the armies of Wallenstein or the Swedes, where multiple contracting was the norm and colonels regularly invested in units whose actual command was placed in the hands of the lieutenant colonel. The Liga army did not wholly forbid multiple proprietorship: the cavalry general Jan de Werth, for example, held three regiments. The restriction was more concerned with the practicalities of military administration, with preventing the development of powerful interests and too much financial exposure amongst the senior officers. In a similar spirit, the Liga army stipulated at ten the maximum number of companies in a regiment. Both these policies had the same basic aims: to ensure that the colonels were present in person with the army and controlled their units directly, and that the force that they commanded and might need to finance was of a manageable size – both adminstratively and financially. The weekly salary for a colonel in the army of the Liga in 1629 was 62 talers (approximately 85 florins), while in the same period Wallenstein’s colonels were receiving 400 florins a week, rising to 500.

There were certainly opportunities for the Bavarian colonels to recover some of their investment and to meet the costs of making their units up to strength; even in the difficult winter of 1632/3, the ordinance for winter-quartering accorded the Bavarian colonels billeted on Liga territories 400 florins per month.50 Most of this was intended to assist with the recruitment and reconstruction of the regiments, but doubtless allowed the colonels some element of reimbursement for previous expenditure.

This financial structure based on moderate but regular pay was subject to slippage, above all as the Bavarian and other Liga territories suffered the blows of invasion, devastation and occupation by the Swedes in 1631–4 and again later in the war. But the major army reforms following on the Peace of Prague (1635), which abolished the Catholic Liga army but permitted the Bavarians to retain an independent army under the overall authority of the Emperor, reiterated the principles of restricted investment and a strong administrative-supervisory presence with the army. The advantages of this may have been less apparent in the campaigns of the late 1620s and early 1630s when the armies of Wallenstein, the combined forces of Christian of Denmark and the armies of Gustavus Adolphus were briefly pushing totals of troops under arms into the hundreds of thousands, but in the longer run the Liga/Bavarian model of a small and high-quality army was to prove the optimal solution to the challenges of waging the Thirty Years War, with its logistical constraints and the need to promote sustainability of financial commitments both at the level of exactions from territory and populations and from the military enterprisers themselves.

Over the period 1635 to 1648 by far the largest proportion of the financing of the army came from agreed military contributions levied by local authorities on the Bavarian and Swabian Circles. This was not a system that depended on conquest, occupation and near-confiscatory contribution demands to meet its own military costs. Between 1635 and 1648 the contributions and other local taxes levied across the two Kreise amounted to 11.7 million florins, a huge amount by the standards of pre-war taxation, but spread out across relatively prosperous territories and imposed over fifteen years, it was a sustainable burden. State-sanctioned financial support, coupled with an administrative presence within the armies, permitted the maintenance of the Bavarian system of ‘restricted enterprise’, encouraging the colonels to invest in their units, but at a sustainable level compared with the central sources of funding. This had a particularly significant consequence in maintaining the long-term existence of a significant number of Bavarian regiments.56 While the Bavarian army was not unique in its capacity to maintain a strong core of experienced career soldiers under arms, it was certainly one of the most successful of the armies of the Thirty Years War in this respect. Contemporaries largely agreed that the numbers and quality of veteran soldiers were the key to military effectiveness, and it was unsurprising to them that the Bavarian army, despite its small numbers, had an impressive military reputation.

The limits of military enterprise

The Liga/Bavarian army, with its state-funded and ultimately state-directed military organization which nonetheless recognized distinct financial and organizational benefits in encouraging regimental proprietorship and regulated private interest, is an important model in the evolution of early modern military institutions. However, its emergence depended on the particular circumstances of leadership from the ruler of the one financially robust major state in the Holy Roman Empire, on substantial financial support from other relatively wealthy fellow members of the Catholic Liga, and a political context which for the most part allowed the Liga army more initiative and latitude in deciding on its military commitments and the military scale of its responses than other powers in the war. Other states were in less favourable positions, and the temptation to establish a very different balance between the public and private elements of their military organization was correspondingly greater. The two obvious belligerents pursuing an expansionist approach to the involvement of military enterprise in their war effort were the Habsburg Imperial army and the Swedish forces operating in Germany.

Moldavia, Tatars and Cossacks I

When Bartolomeo Bruti travelled from Istanbul to Moldavia in the spring of 1580 he was not moving outside the Ottoman Empire, but he was entering a territory very different in kind from that empire’s directly governed heartland. Many histories of the Ottomans concentrate heavily on the heartland, because it was the central territories of Anatolia and the Balkans that were ruled in accordance with the classic ‘Ottoman system’, with the military-feudal estates of the spahis, the local kadis administering justice, the sancakbeyis governing their large districts, and the beylerbeyis governing groups of sancaks. Yet at the same time the Ottoman system of imperial rule, in its broadest sense, involved incorporating many other kinds of polity without directly administering them at all. The case of Dubrovnik has already been discussed; the three Romanian principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia were also self-governed; the Khanate of the Crimean Tatars, while in some ways acknowledging Ottoman suzerainty, was ruled by its own Khans; the corsair states of North Africa were essentially self-administering territories with rulers appointed from Istanbul; a dynasty of sharifs of Mecca continued to govern the Hijaz; in the Yemen the application of Ottoman rule was often little more than nominal; in parts of eastern Anatolia populated by Türkmen and Kurdish tribes there were hereditary sancaks held by traditional ruling families; and when the Ottomans acquired much of Georgia in the sixteenth century they mostly left local princes in place as tribute-paying vassals. Altogether, the Ottoman Empire was not a monolithic structure at all; the secret of its huge and rapid expansion, indeed, is to be found not only in its military strength but also in its adaptability to local conditions and traditions in the territories where it took power. As one modern historian has emphasized, some of the commonest normative phrases in the Ottoman official documents of the centuries of conquest are ‘customary practice’ and ‘the way things were done during the rule of the kings’.

In the case of Moldavia – a territory encompassing much of the modern country of Moldova, together with the north-eastern part of Romania that bears the same name – the process of absorption into the Ottoman Empire had been a very lengthy one. Its ‘voivods’ or princely rulers had paid tribute to the Sultan since 1455–6, and its two most valuable ports on the Black Sea coast, Kiliya (Rom.: Chilia; Trk.: Kili) and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (Rom.: Cetatea Alba; Trk.: Akkerman) had been seized by the Ottomans in 1484. The Ottoman conquest of much of Hungary, after the crushing defeat of the Hungarian army in 1526 at the Battle of Mohács, shifted the entire strategic balance in the region, strengthening the dominance of the Sultan over the Romanian principalities. In 1538 an ambitious maverick voivod of Moldavia, Petru Rareş, who defied Süleyman the Magnificent, was forced to flee by an invading Ottoman army. This was a turning-point in Moldavian history: a new voivod was brought in by the Sultan and installed with an Ottoman ceremony, and in the same campaign Süleyman seized the town of Bender (Rom.: Tighina; an important customs post on the river Dniester) and turned the entire coastal strip of Moldavia, including the two previously captured ports, into a directly ruled sancak. Ottoman attitudes had hardened since Mohács: whereas the tribute paid by Moldavia had originally been a kind of ransom payment for a temporary peace, it was now viewed as implying submission, like the poll-tax paid by non-Muslim subjects within the central territories of the empire. But although the military invasion of 1538 was sometimes used to imply that this was just another conquered territory, the legal-political status of Moldavia remained ambiguous for quite a long time. The whole issue is necessarily a murky one, as there is a three-way mismatch between the concepts available to the Moldavians themselves (who talked in Byzantine style about ‘bowing’, or ‘prostrating’ themselves, to an emperor), the Islamic legal theory of the Ottomans (which, in the tradition they followed, distinguished starkly between countries in the enemy ‘house of war’ and those within the ‘house of Islam’ – a territory such as Moldavia being rather obviously in neither), and Western European concepts, whether feudal (‘vassalage’) or modern (acknowledging ‘sovereignty’). What can be said is that from the mid-1560s onwards there was a definite shift in Istanbul towards seeing Moldavia and Wallachia as integral parts of the empire, within what were officially called its ‘well-protected domains’. Significantly, in 1572 Sultan Selim ordered the voivods of Moldavia to mint Ottoman coins for internal circulation. In 1574 there was a further tightening of the screw, after an anti-Ottoman revolt by the Voivod, Ioan cel Cumplit (‘John the Terrible’), was punitively suppressed by Ottoman forces. Uncertainty about the future of Poland, after its newly crowned French king absconded in that year, also made Istanbul anxious to strengthen its hold over Moldavia, Poland’s neighbour. Up until this time, the voivods had been drawn from those who belonged to, or at least claimed descent from, Moldavia’s own noble and princely families. Now the Ottomans imposed a member of the Wallachian ruling dynasty, Petru Şchiopul (‘Peter the Lame’), who had spent much of his time in Istanbul; he experienced instant unpopularity in Moldavia because he had no essential connection with that country at all.

By this stage, the degree of autonomy enjoyed by Moldavia and Wallachia was as follows. They had their own administration, their own Church and their own army. The voivod was appointed by the Sultan and could be dismissed by him, but would normally be chosen on the basis that he was of suitable lineage. He dispensed justice, and governed with his own divan or governing council – in Moldavia, an eight-member group which included leading noblemen and the Metropolitan, who was the head of the Orthodox Church in that country. There were no mosques in Moldavia, and no significant Muslim presence, beyond a few ‘scribes’ or officials seconded from Istanbul, a small guard of janissaries sent very exceptionally to assist Petru Şchiopul during his first, unpopular, period of rule, and at any given time a small number of Muslim merchants. (A sultanic decree in 1577 said that Muslims should not settle in Moldavia or Wallachia; they were forbidden to marry infidels there, and should leave when they had finished their business.) Moldavian merchants, on the other hand, were permitted to trade freely within the Ottoman Empire. Among the major duties of the voivod of Moldavia, the first was to pay the annual tribute: by the 1570s this was the equivalent of 35,000 ducats, but it underwent some fluctuations thereafter, with higher payments being promised by, or extorted from, incoming voivods, and unintended reductions following from debasements of the Ottoman coinage. Another duty was to supply troops when called upon to do so – reports in this period refer to 10,000 cavalry – though only for campaigns in the region; and at all times the voivod was naturally expected to repel any hostile forces entering his territory. He was also required to provide Istanbul with intelligence, both political and military. (A sultanic order to the Voivod in January 1566 said: ‘We have received a letter from you concerning what the spies in Germany have communicated about the gathering of the German army; in this situation do not cease to be vigilant, and make the necessary preparations against the enemy’s attack.’) The voivod was forbidden to conduct his own foreign policy – though most did keep up direct relations with their important non-Ottoman neighbours – and was not allowed to marry a foreigner without permission.

The duty to supply Istanbul with goods and provisions was less clearly defined, but it grew in importance during the sixteenth century. In wartime, Moldavia and Wallachia could simply be ordered to provide foodstuffs for the Ottoman army; for the Hungarian campaign in 1552, for instance, the Moldavian voivod was told to send 30,000 sheep, and the Wallachian one 3,000 oxen. But as the population of Istanbul grew during this century, rising from half a million in the 1550s to perhaps 700,000 by 1580, the demand for food from these fertile territories constantly increased. In 1566 the Sultan decreed that the Voivod of Moldavia must send 1,000 sheep and 1,000 head of cattle every month to the imperial capital. Official orders also went out for large quantities of grain, and for timber. Generally these products were paid for; the Ottoman system of celeps, state-appointed contractors who bought sheep locally and sent them to Istanbul, extended as far as Moldavia, where in 1591 they bought 24,500 from just one part of the country. (In the late 1580s an observer estimated that 100,000 Moldavian sheep went to Istanbul every year.) An attempt by the Sultan to impose the normal Ottoman tariff of fixed maximum prices was made, but then quickly abandoned, in the late 1570s. But the Ottomans did, in a sense, try to rig the market, by prohibiting the export of sheep, cattle and various other commodities – on the sometimes spurious basis that they were of military value – to non-Ottoman lands. No sooner had the newly appointed Voivod, Iancu Sasul (Bartolomeo Bruti’s candidate), arrived in the Moldavian capital of Iaşi, than he received a stiff decree from the Sultan complaining that the Moldavians were still engaging in the forbidden practice of selling sheep and cattle to Hungary and Poland – and, for good measure, that Iancu himself had just sent to Austria 24,000 head of cattle that he owed to creditors in Istanbul. Huge numbers of cattle were in fact sold via Poland; they were taken, on the hoof, as far as Venice, where their meat was prized more than any other. All the ‘boyars’ (nobles) of Moldavia traded livestock from their own estates, and the voivod was both the greatest landowner and the greatest trader of them all.

The wealth of these principalities came, in the first place, from their own tremendous fertility. Stefan Gerlach recorded a comment made by his ambassador in Istanbul in 1575: ‘today my gracious lord said that nowadays Moldavia and Wallachia are nothing other than the dairies of the sultans and pashas; and their princes, as they call themselves, are their dairy-farmers.’ Moldavia exported not only the ‘dairy’ products of meat, cheese and tallow, but also grain, honey, wax, fur, wine, beer, and huge quantities of fish: a Jesuit traveller in the 1580s was amazed to discover that you could buy a quantity of dried fish as big as a man, and the equivalent of a barrel of caviar, for just one scudo. The other source of Moldavia’s prosperity was the fact that it lay on an important trade route from Anatolia and Istanbul to Poland. Goods passed from Istanbul either overland to Galaţi or by boat to Kiliya, and were then taken via Iaşi to the important Polish border town of Kamyanets-Podilskyi (Pol.: Kamieniec Podolski). From there they went to Lviv (Pol.: Lwów; now in the Ukraine, like Kamyanets-Podilskyi, but then a Polish-Lithuanian city), and on either to Kraków, for further transit to southern Poland, Austria and the Czech lands, or to Poznań, for Germany, or to Gdańsk (Germ.: Danzig), for the Baltic region, or northwards to Brest, and thence either to Vilnius or even to Moscow. Spices formed an important part of this trade for much of the sixteenth century, coming from south-east Asia via Persia. Other high-value commodities from the east included pearls and jewels, and luxury textiles such as silk, mohair and camlet.

Muslim merchants brought many of these goods to Poland. They would then travel as far as Muscovy to spend the proceeds on furs, which were greatly prized by the Ottomans. Poland was the only Christian country to be quite thoroughly penetrated by Muslim traders; mostly their presence was accepted, though sometimes they were suspected of espionage. But there were other nationalities and religions taking part in this east–west trade: Armenians, Jews, Ragusans and Greeks. In Iaşi, the Moldavian capital, there was a significant Armenian colony. Jews and Armenians were prominent traders in Lviv, where, from the second half of the sixteenth century, there were resident Spanish Jews with close links to Jewish merchant families in Istanbul. In the 1580s the Polish Chancellor arranged for a number of Spanish and Portuguese Jews to move from Istanbul to the town of Zamość, which he had recently founded, to boost its trade. The omnipresent Ragusans were involved in this commerce, especially in Iaşi and on the Black Sea coast. And Greeks, not only from Galata, Chios (Ottoman territory from 1566) and Cyprus (Ottoman from 1570–1), but also from Venetian Crete, dominated the trade in strong and sweet red wines from the Mediterranean; these commodities, much valued during the cold Central European winters, came mostly via Moldavia. There were also a few Albanian traders; and some of the ‘Greeks’, from Pogon, may have been from the territory of present-day Albania, with Vlach – a language usefully similar to Romanian – as their mother tongue.

Much has been written about the so-called ‘closing’ of the Black Sea during this period. The phrase refers only to the discouragement or prohibition of non-Ottoman traders – who, in an earlier period when important Crimean ports had been run by the Genoese, had been frequent visitors. This process seems to have been a gradual one, beginning in the 1550s or 1560s and becoming formalized only at the end of the century. Istanbul’s growing hunger for the products of the Romanian lands – and of the Tatar Khanate – was the main cause; that meant that there was less and less for foreign traders to buy. And while the Moldavians were formally forbidden to sell various commodities to non-Ottomans on their north-western borders, it would have been illogical to allow non-Ottoman merchants to come and buy them on their eastern ones. Nevertheless, some foreign traders were active. Cretans who brought wine took back cargoes of hides and caviar; in the latter part of the century French ships sometimes penetrated the Black Sea; some Venetian merchants traded there using Ottoman ships or business partners; and the Ragusans, who had an important outpost on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, were often taking the goods they acquired to Ancona and other Italian ports. If foreign traders shied away from the area in the 1590s, that was as much to do with security concerns (thanks to a new Ottoman–Habsburg war, from 1593, and the growth of piracy by Ukrainian Cossacks) as with any prohibition. What must be emphasized, at all events, is that the ‘closing’ of the Black Sea did not mean stagnation. On the contrary, the decades up to the 1590s seem to have witnessed a positive boom in the trade that passed through Moldavia.

Thanks to taxes, customs dues and his own revenues as both producer and trader, the voivod had a large income, estimated in the 1580s at between half a million and a million thalers (333,000 to 666,000 ducats). Military and other state expenditure had to come out of this, in addition to the tribute to Istanbul, but the rulers of both Moldavia and Wallachia were still rich men; it is not surprising that Venetian jewel-sellers gathered around them like wasps round a jam-jar. The high revenues, together with the increasing appetite for cash at the Ottoman court, also explain the development of the practice – in which Bartolomeo Bruti took part so successfully – of merchants and other investors paying for the deposition of one voivod and the installation of another: so long as the new one remained in power for a few years, the investors could be confident of recouping their money handsomely. But this does raise the question of why these territories, which were of such economic and strategic importance to the Sultan, were not taken over and ruled directly. The threat of turning them into beylerbeyliks was deployed from time to time, and at a moment of crisis in wartime, in 1595, it was briefly carried out; but general Ottoman policy was firmly in favour of indirect rule. One important reason must have been the cost of garrisoning such a territory with janissaries; in Ottoman-ruled Hungary in the mid-century, for example, there were at least 20,000 occupation troops, who all had to be paid for. An interesting comment was made by the Imperial Ambassador in Istanbul, David Ungnad, in January 1578: noting a rumour that the former pasha of Timişoara would be declared beylerbeyi of Moldavia, he wrote that ‘in that case Poland would be well on the way to becoming an Ottoman possession; but it seems to me virtually unbelievable, because Moldavia is the main supplier to this city of meat, lard and other foodstuffs, and the population here would be partly or mostly deprived of them, if Moldavia were possessed by Ottomans’ – meaning that the Ottoman administration would consume more of the local production, and perhaps also that agricultural efficiency would go down. His remark about the implications for the Poles is perhaps even more important. Poland’s objections to the full Ottomanization of that principality were very strong: militarily, it required Moldavia to act as a buffer state, and in political terms the Poles wanted a neighbour that they could continue to influence and manipulate on its own separate basis.

Modern histories of the Ottoman Empire in this period, written mostly by West Europeans, tend to pay very little attention to Poland. There are various reasons for this: the dominance of West European sources and secondary literature is one, and the fact that Poland was at peace with the Ottomans from 1533 onwards is another. But Poland mattered very greatly to the Ottoman Sultans; that they maintained peaceful relations with it is itself testimony to that fact. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, which united the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into a single ‘commonwealth’, the Polish state covered a huge stretch of Europe from the Baltic coast to the borders of the Crimean Khanate, embracing most of present-day Poland, all of modern Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus, and the western half of what is now the Ukraine. Thanks to its constitution, with an elective monarchy and a fractious, veto-ridden parliament of nobles, it could not and did not undergo all the processes of centralization of power that were beginning to take place in several West European states; but with the help of its powerful regional lords it could raise large military forces, which in this period were mostly directed against its eastern rival, Russia. Poland mattered to Ottoman geopolitical strategy not only because of its size, but also because it was situated between two potentially or actually anti-Ottoman powers, Russia and the Holy Roman Empire. If it conquered Russia, or was taken over by the Habsburgs, or underwent any other kind of merging or close alliance with either of those, it would pose a huge threat to the security of the Ottoman Empire. As Giovanni Barelli commented in his intelligence report from Istanbul in 1575, the Ottomans thought that Poland, being ‘rather divided’, could be defeated by them in war. But they feared that this would force the Poles to choose the Russian Tsar as their king, which would ‘give excessive power to one of their [sc. the Ottomans’] chief foes’.

Hence the concern felt in Istanbul each time an election to the Polish crown was impending. The Sultan was happy to support Henri de Valois in 1573, in view of the long-standing Franco-Ottoman alliance and French hostility to the Habsburgs. However, when Henri decamped so abruptly soon after entering his kingdom in the following year, there were real fears that the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II, might obtain the Polish crown. The upper house of the Polish parliament did vote for him, but the lower one chose Stephen Báthory, the Catholic Hungarian Voivod of Transylvania, who cemented the deal by promising to marry the late king’s 52-year-old sister. Stephen became King of Poland in early 1576; one of the reasons why many nobles had voted for him was that they wished to avoid a war with the Ottoman Empire (a strategy which, so long as Russia remained the primary enemy, was logically required). The Sultan was very content with this election. Stephen had been a reliable vassal ruler in Transylvania; he was a known quantity, and the fact that his accession to the Polish crown created a personal union between Transylvania and Poland – even though he passed the administration of the former to his brother Christopher – gave Istanbul a pretext for demanding more influence over Poland. His election also had negative consequences for the onward march of the Counter-Reformation in Central Europe; although he was a sincere Catholic, Stephen Báthory did promise at his coronation to respect the Warsaw Confederation, a recent pledge of mutual toleration by all the major Christian confessions, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, in the Polish–Lithuanian commonwealth. The Papacy was seriously wrong-footed by Stephen’s accession to the throne, not least because it had openly backed his Habsburg rival. With some grinding of gears, it now began to concentrate on promoting peace between Poland and Russia, in order to create the conditions for an anti-Ottoman alliance. Gradually, too, it began to insinuate the idea that if Poland did join a war against the Sultan, it could take Moldavia as its prize.

Moldavia, Tatars and Cossacks II

What nearly brought Poland and the Ottoman Empire into armed conflict in this period was not the deliberate policy of the King, the Sultan or the Pope, but the unpredictable actions of two mutually hostile powers: the Tatars and the Cossacks. The Crimean Tatars were at least nominally subject to the Sultan. Although the Tatar Khans collected their own taxes and minted their own coins, they did acknowledge a higher power in Istanbul; a new Khan would be elected in the Crimea from the ruling Giray dynasty, but the election would then be submitted to the Sultan for approval, and the Ottomans did sometimes depose an uncooperative Khan in order to put a more compliant one in his place. Because of their military and marauding activities, the Tatars acquired a grim reputation in Russia and Central Europe as savage Asiatic nomads. The English Ambassador in Istanbul in the 1580s solemnly reported that ‘theie are borne blynde, openinge theire eyes the thirde daye after; a thinge peculier to them onlye, a brutishe people, open vnder the ayer lyvinge in cartes covered wth oxe hides’; all the adult men, he said, were ‘theeves and Robbers’. While it is true that Tatar herdsmen did travel in carts with their flocks during the summer months, at the core of the Tatars’ territory was a settled society, with agricultural estates (worked mostly by slaves they had captured). Their ruling family and nobility contained educated men: Gazi Giray II, who was installed by the Sultan in 1588, was a poet with a good knowledge of Arabic and Persian, and the Khans’ palace contained a well-stocked library. But Tatar light cavalry (typically, a force of 20–30,000 men when led by the Khan) was a much feared auxiliary element in the Ottomans’ European campaigns, and at other times large bands of Tatars would go raiding in Polish and Russian territory for slaves and other booty.

Opposing them in the south-eastern part of the Polish state was an official defence force of roughly 3,000 men, stretched out over an area more than 600 miles across. Its efforts, very inadequate in themselves, were supplemented by those of a much more informal fighting population, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who were based in the marshy territory of the lower Dnieper river, south-east of Kiev (‘Zaporozhian’ is from a word meaning ‘below the rapids’). Like their equivalents on the southern Russian steppes, the Don Cossacks, these people developed enough of a socio-political system to form at least a loose military organization, but not enough to become a state-like entity. They enjoyed the protection and sponsorship of some powerful landowners in the region, and in normal circumstances were willing to cooperate in a broad defensive strategy with the official forces of the Crown. But their ‘pursuits’ of Tatar raiders could often turn into raiding expeditions of their own, openly supported by local lords and administrators who took their share of the booty. Twentieth-century attempts to portray them as fighting either against feudalism or for national liberation are unconvincing; raiding was primarily an economic activity, and all classes could have an interest in it. The Tatar bands not only paid a tax on their booty to the Khan, but also, in some cases, had merchant investors who would give them horses on credit in return for half of the spoils. On the Polish side, Crown soldiers would sometimes provoke raids by the Tatars and then take care to intercept them only on their way home, when they were laden with goods (which could then be appropriated, or returned to the original owners for a fee). But the larger Cossack expeditions could also have a political dimension, whether by design, as their local protectors flexed their muscles vis-à-vis the Polish government, or by unintended consequence.

To the modern eye, such raiding, even on a large scale, seems like a regrettable and peripheral phenomenon, something to be understood as a transgression of the normal system, not a component of it. Yet if one looks at all the frontier zones between Christendom and the Ottoman world in this period, from the Dnieper marshes in the north to the maritime quasi-frontier of the Mediterranean in the south, one begins to see that it was very much part of the system. On both sides of the lengthy Ottoman–Habsburg border, local auxiliary forces grew up for which raiding was a constant feature of military and economic life. In the north-eastern corner of the Adriatic a small but highly active population of ‘Uskoks’, Slavic refugees and adventurers who theoretically acted as frontier troops for the Habsburgs, caused real harm to Ottoman trading interests – and much damage to Venetian–Ottoman relations – by their corsairing and piracy. The corsairs of the Albanian coast, based first in Vlorë and Durrës and later also in Ulcinj, preyed on much Christian shipping. And in the Mediterranean, the corsairs of North Africa were pitted against another group for which raiding was a central activity, the Knights of Malta. In all these cases, booty was either essential to the economy or (in the case of Malta) a vital motive for offensive action; this in itself implied that these societies were enmeshed in a larger pattern of economic interests, as they often depended on merchants coming from elsewhere to buy the goods they had seized. Of course, organized predation of this kind was not just a border phenomenon. Communities based at least partly on raiding, or on raiding combined with a sort of protection racket, could operate against domestic targets as well as foreign ones; in the northern Albanian mountains, a group of clans led by the warlike Kelmendi developed such a practice, and other bellicose populations such as the Himariots and the Maniots may at times have been fairly indiscriminate in their choice of prey. But the advantage of a frontier was that it provided a ready-made legitimation for all activities of this kind, so long as they were conducted against the other side; and even more legitimation was available when that frontier lay between two religions.

A whole range of these raiding societies thus existed, from states and state-like entities (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Malta, the Crimean Tatar Khanate) to broad regional forces (the Cossacks, the ‘Grenzer’ communities of the Habsburg borders and their Ottoman counterparts) and small corsairing groups such as the Uskoks of Senj and their Albanian rough equivalents. Contemporaries sensed some of the similarities between them; for instance, the German writer on Ottoman affairs Johannes Leunclavius remarked that the Cossacks resembled both the Uskoks and the Morlachs (the Vlach and Slav fighters used on both sides of the Habsburg–Ottoman frontier), and Ottomans described the Tatars and the North African corsairs as the Sultan’s two ‘wings’. Modern historians seldom consider all these raiding entities together, perhaps because they do not fit the standard model of international history, based on the direct interactions of unit states, which the present naturally projects onto the past. Nevertheless, they should be regarded as an important element in the picture; one might think of them as the ‘irregular powers’, conjoined in a complex system of inter-power relations with the regular ones. Often they caused serious trouble not only to their enemies but also to their sponsors. Why did the latter tolerate them? Some parts of the answer are clear: they provided a relatively cheap form of permanent frontier defence; they became valuable auxiliaries in wartime; in peacetime their raiding activities honed the martial skills of large numbers of men; their constant probing of the enemy (or potential enemy) revealed points of weakness, while being covered by a degree of ‘deniability’; and up to a certain point, the harm they caused by their offensive actions could be useful, as the other side might offer concessions of various kinds in order to have them called off. All these points are valid, but to list them like this risks giving the impression that the irregular powers functioned as mere instruments, the tools of their sponsors’ regular power-politics. And that would be to ignore the fact that they often had interests and policies of their own, to which their protector-powers were sometimes forced, with great reluctance, to adapt.

The activities of the Tatars and Cossacks bedevilled relations between Poland and the Ottoman Empire, and sometimes carried war and rebellion into the heart of the Moldavian state. In 1575 and again in 1577, Polish territory underwent large Tatar raids, in retaliation for Cossack attacks. The Voivod of Moldavia at this time was Petru Şchiopul, the Wallachian prince who had been imposed by the Sultan in 1574 in place of the rebellious Ioan cel Cumplit. A man claiming to be Ioan’s brother, known as Ioan Potcoavă (‘John Horseshoe’ – he broke them with his bare hands), raised a Cossack army and invaded Moldavia, seizing the capital, Iaşi, in late 1577; he then withdrew to Polish territory, where the authorities arrested and executed him, but in the following year two more Cossack invasions took place under other leaders. During 1578 the Sultan warned Stephen Báthory that if the Cossacks were not restrained, he would invade Poland. Stephen’s attempt to meet this challenge by setting up a small official Cossack army and giving it strict instructions not to attack Moldavia or any Ottoman territory was largely symbolic; it staved off the threatened invasion, but it did not give him real control of these warriors. In late 1579 a local Polish grandee organized a Cossack attack on the Ottoman fortress of Akkerman (Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi). This formed the immediate context of the Sultan’s decision to replace Petru Şchiopul; for Petru was regarded as pro-Polish, and therefore not the right person to develop a more hard-line policy against the Poles. Also, because he was a foreigner from Wallachia, Moldavian boyars had petitioned at Istanbul for him to be replaced by Iancu Sasul; those boyars represented, in effect, an anti-Polish party, and granting their wishes would strengthen their position. So it was that political circumstances, as well as the large payments organized by Bartolomeo Bruti, brought Iancu to the throne.

Iancu was generally believed to be an illegitimate son of Petru Rareş, the voivod who had been driven out by Süleyman the Magnificent in 1538 (but later reinstated); and he was called ‘Sasul’, ‘the German’, because his mother was the wife of a German leather-worker in the city of Braşov. Since the administrative records of the Moldavian government have not survived from this period, it is impossible to give any detailed and objective account of his rule. Instead, the picture is dominated by the later narrative of the Moldavian chronicler Grigore Ureche, who, writing in the 1640s, had nothing good to say about Iancu Sasul. According to Ureche, he introduced an unheard-of tithe of all cattle in the country, and this provoked a major revolt in the eastern province of Lăpuşna, which was crushed by the Moldavian army. Iancu was an evil man who ‘did not love the Christian religion’; he raped the wives of boyars, and several leading nobles consequently fled into exile. This account seems rather simplistic. We know that Iancu performed some routine acts of religious piety, donating numbers of Gypsy labourers, for example, to Orthodox monasteries – though the fact (if it is one) that he converted to Catholicism before his death may have tainted him in Moldavian eyes. It is indeed true that some leading nobles and ecclesiastics fled to Poland, but their reasons may have been primarily political, as they represented a pro-Polish lobby to which Iancu was opposed. He had a different policy which would, however, have pleased the Ottomans even less, had they known about it: from the start he was secretly in touch with the Habsburgs through their military commander in Upper Hungary. Towards the end of his rather brief rule in Moldavia he was apparently trying to acquire an estate in Habsburg territory, seeing it as a bolthole in which to evade another round of internal exile in the Ottoman Empire; but there may have been a larger strategic aspect to his cultivating these connections. When the Poles found out about them, in 1582, they were quick to inform Istanbul.

Stephen Báthory lobbied hard to get Iancu deposed; in the summer of 1582, when he despatched an envoy to a grand festivity in Istanbul celebrating the circumcision of the Sultan’s son, he sent with him, as a present to the Sultan, two captive Tatar princes. This magnanimous gesture, plus a large under-the-counter payment to Sinan Pasha, had the desired effect. Later that summer, when news reached Iancu that he was about to be recalled, the Voivod gathered all the cash reserves of the Moldavian treasury and headed for his Habsburg refuge. Unfortunately his route had to pass first through Poland. He was arrested there, and, after a brief detention, executed on the King’s orders in late September, before the Ottoman çavuş could arrive to take him back to Istanbul. Stephen Báthory offered various justifications for this: Iancu had opened his letters to the Sultan when Polish couriers had passed through Moldavia, and had added spurious passages to them; he had burnt down villages in Polish territory; and Poles who had sought justice from him had been beaten and imprisoned. (The papal nuncio in Poland also wrote, perhaps just repeating a standard line, that Iancu had made himself ‘utterly hateful’ to his people by violating their women.) Stephen did not mention the huge quantity of cash – between 400,000 and a million ducats, as rumour had it – which he expropriated. Nor did the Sultan make much fuss about that; a resetting of Ottoman–Polish relations had just taken place, and it was a sign of the Ottoman willingness to be conciliatory that the new Voivod of Moldavia was, once again, Petru Şchiopul.

Not much is known about Bartolomeo Bruti’s life in Moldavia during these years. As we have seen, a French ambassadorial despatch stated in 1580 that he was granted a boyar’s estate and an income of 3,000 ducats from the customs dues of a port – which was presumably Galaţi, the only significant port left to Moldavia, on the northern bank of the Danube. That despatch’s statement that he was also made general of the army might seem implausible, in view of Bartolomeo’s total lack of military experience; yet in January 1582 he was indeed joint commander of the Moldavian army, with the boyar Condrea Bucium, when it fought a major battle to crush the rebels of Lăpuşna. Bartolomeo had the official position of ‘postelnic’, meaning seneschal or court chamberlain, while Bucium was the grand ‘vornic’ or count palatine of Lower Moldavia; neither was ‘hatman’ (general of the armed forces), but it seems that Bartolomeo was in effect the senior minister for external affairs, and Bucium for internal ones. As the Postelnic, Bartolomeo also held the prefecture of Iaşi, the capital city, and judged its citizens. These honours – which depended above all on the fact that he was Iancu’s personal link to Sinan Pasha – represented an extraordinary transformation in his fortunes, from the ill-paid trainee dragoman and neglected underground agent of the previous years.

Bartolomeo must have found his new conditions strange as well as exhilarating. He was now in an overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox country, and its language, Romanian, would have taken some time to learn, even though his knowledge of Italian gave him a good head-start. This was a very traditional society, a far cry from the Venetianized city communities of the Adriatic that were familiar to him, with their statutes and municipal rights; the Moldavian towns and their surrounding villages were regarded as the personal property of the voivod, and the laws were customary and unwritten. Whilst the dress of the voivod and his courtiers was partly Ottoman in style, with richly decorated cloaks like caftans, the hierarchy and ceremonies derived from the Byzantine tradition. In 1574 a French traveller, commenting on court life in Iaşi, wrote that ‘they honour their voivods like God, and drink excessively’ – though a few years later Stefan Gerlach assured a friend that the Moldavians were at least more civilized than the Wallachians. In the late 1580s a Jesuit would write about Moldavia that ‘literary writing is not held in esteem there, nor is it taught’; but he added that ‘the people are excellent and talented, and shrewd rather than simple.’ The population was quite mixed, especially in the towns; the merchant community included, as we have seen, both Armenians and Greeks (some of whom, especially those from Chios, were Roman Catholic), and Ragusans were active as tax- and customs-farmers. There were Protestant Germans, Hungarians and Hussites; and although the Jews had been expelled in 1579 at the insistence of Christian merchants, some seem to have returned under Iancu Sasul. There were also Albanians – villagers, traders and others. In 1584 the Jesuit Antonio Possevino would report from Poland that ‘the Voivod of Moldavia’s guard consists of 400 Trabants [a Central European word for bodyguard], who are Hungarian, and 50 Albanian and Greek halbardiers, who live like Muslims.’ So Bartolomeo Bruti would have found some people to talk to in his native tongue. But in any case he was not leading a solitary life. In these early years, at least, his wife Maria was with him. They had a son, probably within less than a year of their arrival in Moldavia, and had him baptized in Kamyanets-Podilskyi, the nearest town with a Catholic bishop. The boy was christened Antonio Stanislao – the first name honouring Bartolomeo’s father, and the second presumably paying respect to an influential Polish godfather.

In 1582 Bartolomeo Bruti went to Istanbul as the Voivod’s envoy to attend the festivities for the circumcision of the future Mehmed III. Public celebrations of such events, and of the accessions of new sultans, were not uncommon, but this was the most elaborate and extravagant that had ever been seen, lasting more than 50 days from early June to late July; half a million akçes (more than 8,000 ducats) had been set aside for staging it, invitations were sent to rulers in such distant places as Morocco and Uzbekistan, and the preparations took several months. It is not hard to guess the underlying reason for a jamboree which entertained much of the population of Istanbul. The Persian war, begun in 1578, was proving intractable, costly and increasingly unpopular; a large and distracting boost to morale, including displays of deference by foreign powers, was greatly to be desired. Certainly, nothing larger or more distracting could have been imagined. In the early stages of the festivities, senior pashas and the ambassadors of Muslim and Christian rulers presented lavish gifts. For the viziers and beylerbeyis, this was the most demanding instance of the whole Ottoman cult of gift-giving. Sinan Pasha presented the Sultan with fine horses, large quantities of luxury cloth, a gold-illuminated Koran and a golden bowl encrusted with rubies and turquoises, while giving the Sultan’s son a bejewelled golden sword, six male slaves, three horses and four illuminated books. The gifts of some foreign states were barely as lavish as that. The King of Poland sent quantities of highly prized Russian sable fur; the Venetian envoy, Giacomo Soranzo, brought 8,000 ducats’ worth of gold, silver and silk; and Iancu Sasul’s presents consisted of a silver fountain and other pieces of silverwork, to the value of 3,000 ducats.

The celebrations were held in the Hippodrome, which had been specially fitted up for the occasion, with a three-storey wooden stand for distinguished guests. Christians, such as the Ragusan envoys and Bartolomeo, were placed in the bottom storey. For the first few weeks the formal present-givings were interspersed with entertainments, involving athletes, fighting animals (the fight between a boar and three lions was almost won by the boar), rope-dancers, musicians and others; one jaded French observer, Jean Palerne, found the music ‘tuneful enough to make donkeys dance’. Sugar animals were paraded, including life-sized elephants and camels, and in the evenings the crowds were given free food and lavish firework displays. Then there were military performances (put on, Palerne noted, by Sinan, who wanted ‘to be recognized as a great warlord’), with realistic-seeming battles involving mock-castles; the Christian castles, which were triumphantly overrun, had squealing pigs inside them. In the second week of June the processions of the Istanbul guilds began, with elaborate displays, sometimes on large carriages or floats, demonstrating or symbolizing their work. More than 200 guilds took part, including nailsmiths, bucket-sellers, javelin-makers, pickle-sellers, caftan-makers, silk-spinners, tart-bakers and snake-charmers. On the helva-makers’ carriage a man made helva in a huge cauldron; on the barbers’, a barber shaved customers while standing on his head; the Jewish gunpowder-makers’ float had a powder-mill, and a man constantly igniting little explosions of powder against his bare skin. (The helva-makers also amused the crowd by trying to blow up a live rabbit with fireworks.) The mirror-makers dressed in clothes made out of pieces of mirror, while the manufacturers of coloured paper had 130 apprentices dressed in coloured paper. When they reached the Sultan the guildsmen gave him their own presents, both symbolic (giant shoes, paper tulips as tall as trees) and real: the guild of bird-catching pedlars solemnly presented two vultures, ten partridges and 100 sparrows. In return the Sultan conferred significant cash presents on the major guilds, and threw handfuls of coins at their apprentices. After that there were more military entertainments, with Albanian horsemen jousting at each other with lances; this was not mere play-acting, as several horses were killed in the process. Morale was boosted both by processions of genuine Christian captives from the Habsburg frontier, and by mass episodes of Christian Ottoman subjects, especially Greeks and Albanians, volunteering – to the dismay of Western observers – to convert to Islam. Everything went well from the Ottoman point of view, until the very last days of the festival, when serious fighting broke out between some of the Sultan’s soldiers. It started with some young spahis (cavalrymen) who were found in a brothel by a janissary patrol led by the subaşı of Istanbul. Violence began when they resisted the round-up of prostitutes, and quickly turned into public fighting between much larger numbers of spahis and janissaries. Two of the spahis were killed. Sinan Pasha blamed the ağa (commander) of the janissaries, Ferhad Pasha, and dismissed him; Ferhad would become a redoubtable rival to Sinan thereafter.

Bartolomeo presumably enjoyed the festivities, and the experience of rubbing shoulders with West European dignitaries who would have paid scant regard to him a few years earlier. But the most important element in this visit would have been his meetings with his relative Sinan Pasha, at which the future of the Voivod of Moldavia must have been discussed. Seven years later the papal nuncio in Poland would write, on the basis of what Bartolomeo had told him, that ‘because Iancu did not observe the conditions he had promised, and did not pay the tribute he had promised to Sinan Pasha, by whose means he had been appointed voivod, Bruti in Istanbul arranged for Iancu to be deposed, and for this prince Petru, the current ruler, to be appointed.’ That a failure to make the special personal payments to Sinan was a factor is easily imagined, but the claim that Bartolomeo ‘arranged’ the deposition sounds like self-aggrandizement; and it is difficult to believe that Bartolomeo, of all people, would have promoted the reinstatement of Petru Şchiopul, who could reasonably have been expected to bear a deep grudge against him for his previous dismissal. The decision was surely taken by Sinan, who obliged Petru to retain Bartolomeo’s services. Petru Şchiopul’s investiture took place in Istanbul on 28 August 1582, and he travelled to Moldavia with Bartolomeo a couple of weeks later. The Venetian bailo reported that Petru made a grand exit from Istanbul with an escort of more than 1,000 cavalry. He also wrote – again, surely on the basis of what Bartolomeo had said – that Petru was reinstated thanks to Bartolomeo’s intercession; he added, significantly, that Bartolomeo went with him ‘and will have the most important and most valuable position, having been warmly recommended by the Grand Vizier, who told him that whether he stays a long time in office will depend on the good treatment he gives to Bruti’.

The Dragon – U-28A Draco Special Ops Aircraft

This toned-down camouflage laden PC-12 turboprop is not used to fly business executives around and about. This is a U-28A operated by Air Force Special Operations Command. Two U-28As were present at Nellis during Class 19A WSINT flying missions from the super base to desert strips in the Nevada Test and Training Range

The U-28A is a manned, tactical ISR and targeting platform based on the Pilatus PC-12. It is employed worldwide in support of special operations ground forces, humanitarian efforts, and search and rescue. Mods include advanced radio-comms suite, survivability equipment, EO sensors, and advanced navigation systems. The USSOCOM-owned aircraft are operated by AFSOC as a nonstandard fleet. AFSOC first employed the aircraft during Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom. The fleet includes 28 operational and eight training aircraft. Two aircraft were lost to fatal mishaps in Djibouti in 2012 and at Cannon in 2017. Ongoing upgrades include sensor, self-defense, remote SIGINT, and navigation mods to enable ops in GPS-degraded environments and comply with Federal Aviation Administration airspace mandates. Multispectral Targeting System installation includes FMV, EO-IR, IR real-time video, and co-aligned laser designator. New Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) includes missile, hostile fire, and laser warning. Urgent infrared suppression mods are ongoing, and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning will prevent flight-into-terrain accidents. FY20 funds additional U-28 EQ+ mods to enable deployment of four additional high-definition, FMV-equipped aircraft for extended stand-off “find, fix, finish” capabilities in support of counter-ISIS ops. AFSOC officially dubbed the type “Draco” in May 2019, but announced plans to replace the fleet with 75 “armed overwatch” aircraft capable of tactical ISR and light CAS.

The U-28A provides tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (AISR) and targeting in support of theater special operations forces (SOF). The non-standard aircraft is based on the single-engine Pilatus PC-12/45. US Special Operations Command acquired an initial batch of six PC-12s from commercial sources in 2005 and they were modified for use in support of Operations `Enduring Freedom’ and `Iraqi Freedom’. The U-28A ‑ fleet is assigned to AFSOC’s light tactical ­ fixed-wing ‑ fleet. It includes 34 U-28As that comprise 28 operational aircraft and eight tasked as training assets. The aircraft are operated by ­ five special operations squadrons at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Cannon AFB, New Mexico. The U-28A crew is comprised of two pilots, a combat systems officer (CSO) and a tactical systems officer (TSO). Since entering service the platform has ‑ own more than 500,000 hours.

Special operation forces prefer to operate at night for the tactical advantage of executing the mission with speed and surprise before detection by the enemy.

In a recent Operation Coyote mission, 20 units, nearly 30 aircraft and approximately 160 personnel assigned to various commands were vital for the mission to succeed.

Undergraduates assigned to the 14th WPS serve with the various branches of US Special Operations Command who, during WSINT missions get the opportunity to rehearse, for example, the precise, detailed planning required to design and execute an air mission supporting a hostage rescue.

During Class WSINT 19A types involved were HC-130J Combat King IIs, MC-130H Combat Talons, MH-47G Chinooks, HH-60G Pave Hawks and MH-60M Black Hawks.

In addition, two U-28As flew a series of missions during WSINT most likely in support of Operation Coyote. This modified Pilatus PC-12 turboprop is used by Air Force Special Operations Command to provide search and rescue, tactical airborne ISR to humanitarian operations, conventional and special operation missions. The aircraft is fitted with a military radio communication suite with full-motion video and secure voice communications data link capability, advanced navigation systems and electrooptical sensors.

Of the 35 missions staged throughout a WSINT, the 14th WPS participates in approximately one third of them, those that require special operation forces integration to ensure success.

Contractor: Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.

First Flight: May 31, 1991 (PC-12).

Delivered: 2006-N/A.

IOC: June 2006.

Production: 36.

Inventory: 28 (USSOCOM-owned).

Operator: AFSOC, AFRC.

Aircraft Location: Cannon AFB, N.M.; Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Active Variant: U-28A. Special operations variant of the civilian Pilatus PC-12.

Dimensions: Span 53.3 ft, length 47.3 ft, height 14 ft.

Weight: Max T-O 10,935 lb.

Power Plant: Single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67B, 1,200 shp.

Performance: Speed 253 mph, range 1,725 miles.

Ceiling: 30,000 ft.

Accommodation: Two pilots, CSO, tactical systems officer.