Praetorian Guard – From Julianus to Severus

Didius Julianus secured his position as emperor by promising the Praetorian Guard 25,000 sestertii each. It was a generous offer, but proved too generous because Julianus had failed to consider whether he could pay it. He was gathered up by the praetorians who, displaying their standards, escorted the new emperor to the forum and the senate. The public display of power was deliberate and obvious and had the desired effect. Julianus indulged the conceit that he had come alone to address the senate while a large number of armed troops secured the building outside and a number came with him into the senate. It was a clear demonstration of where the real power lay, reminiscent of the accession of Otho in 69. Under the circumstances it was hardly surprising that the senate confirmed by decree that Julianus was emperor. He also ingratiated himself, or tried to, with the Guard by acceding to their personal nominees for the prefecture, in this case Flavius Genialis and Tullius Crispinus. His limited coinage focused to some extent on the army, with ‘Harmony of the soldiers’ being the principal offering. Conversely, Pertinax’s coinage had been far more general in its themes. Unfortunately for Julianus, not only did he lack the personal resources to fund the donative, but the imperial treasuries also remained barren after Commodus’ reckless reign. The praetorians were infuriated and started publicly humiliating Julianus, who was already gaining a reputation as greedy and indulgent.

Didius Julianus’ short-lived regime was already crumbling. In the east, Pescennius Niger, governor of Syria, had been declared emperor by his troops after news of the murder of Pertinax reached them. News of Niger’s ambitions reached Rome, where a frustrated populace started to protest in his favour. Part of the reason appears to have been a belief that Pertinax had been capable of arresting the rot that had set in under Commodus but had not been allowed to finish the job by the otiose and wasteful Julianus. Fighting broke out between the crowd and ‘soldiers’, which probably included the urban cohorts and the praetorians. Niger was by no means the only potential challenger. Lucius Septimius Severus, governor of Upper Pannonia, had allied himself to Pertinax, but on the latter’s death Severus had been declared emperor on 9 April 193 by his own troops. There was an irony in Severus’ status. He had been made one of twenty-five consuls appointed by Cleander, just before the latter was made praetorian prefect. In the west, Decimus Clodius Albinus, the governor of Britain, had also thrown his hat into the ring. The stage was set for another civil war. Severus was an arch manipulator. First he bought Albinus’ cooperation by offering him the post of heir apparent. Next, he set out first to secure Rome and then to destroy Niger. Severus was confident that in the meantime Julianus would be deposed; he could then turn against Albinus, destroy him and emerge, as Vespasian had in 69, as the supreme power in the Roman world.

For the moment Julianus depended almost entirely on the fragile loyalty of the praetorians, men to whom he had promised a vast sum of money that he was unable to pay. His first move was inevitable, but futile. He ordered the senate to declare Severus a public enemy. His second was to have a defensible stronghold constructed and prepare the whole city for war, which included fortifying his own palace so that he could hold it to the end. Rome filled up with soldiers and equipment, but the preparations turned into a farce. Dio mocked what the praetorians and other available forces had become. Years of easy living, cultivated in the indulgent days of Commodus’ reign, had left the soldiers without much idea of what they were supposed to do. The fleet troops from Misenum had forgotten how to drill. According to Herodian, the praetorians had to be told to arm themselves, get back into training and dig trenches; this implies that they were accustomed to being unarmed and were completely out of condition. This depiction of the Praetorian Guard, however, suited the purpose of Dio and Herodian. A stereotyped derelict and incompetent Guard amplified the impression of the decadence of Commodus’ reign and the incompetence of Didius Julianus, as well as creating a gratifying image of grossly overpaid and indolent public servants getting their comeuppance. Nevertheless, the indolence probably had a basis in truth and might also have been linked to a conservative attitude to equipment. By the end of the second century AD praetorian infantrymen were still habitually equipping themselves with the pilum, while legionaries had spurned this in favour of various new forms of javelin.

The praetorians became agitated. Not only were they completely overwhelmed by all the work they had had to do, but they were also extremely concerned at the prospect of confronting the Syrian army under Severus that was approaching through northern Italy. Julianus toyed with the idea of offering Severus a share in the Empire in an effort to save his own skin. The praetorian prefect Tullius Crispinus was sent north to take a suitable message to this effect to Severus. Severus suspected that Crispinus had really been sent on a mission to murder him, so he had Crispinus killed. In his place Julianus appointed a third prefect, Flavius Juvenalis, whose loyalty Severus secured by writing to him confirming that he would hold the post when he, Severus, took power. There is some confusion here. The Historia Augusta calls the third prefect Veturius Macrinus, so conceivably two new prefects had been appointed, both of whom seem to have transferred to the Severan regime. Severus sent letters ahead, perhaps via Juvenalis, promising the praetorians that they would be unharmed if they handed over Pertinax’s killers. They obliged, and this meant that Julianus was finished. Severus also sent an advance force to infiltrate the city, disguised as citizens. The senate, realizing that the praetorians had abandoned Julianus, voted that Julianus be executed. This happened in short order on 2 June 193. Next they declared Severus to be the new emperor. Didius Julianus had reigned for a little over two months. In the space of five months in 193 the Praetorian Guard had played their first truly significant role in imperial events for well over a century. They had toppled an emperor and installed another, only to abandon him with unseemly haste, contributing significantly now to the inception of a new dynasty whose members would rule the Roman world until 235. Not since 69 had the praetorians made so much difference, though, ironically, it seems that in 193 as troops they were no more than a shadow of their former selves. They were to pay a heavy price for their interference in imperial politics.

The transition of power was not as smooth as the praetorians hoped. Their tribunes, now working for Severus, ordered them to leave their barracks unarmed, dressed only in the subarmilis (under-armour garment) and head for Severus’ camp. Severus stood up to address them but it was a trap. The praetorians were promptly surrounded by his armed troops, who had orders not to attack the praetorians but to contain them. Severus ordered that those who had killed Pertinax be executed. This act was to have consequences forty-five years later when another generation of praetorians believed they were about to be cashiered too. Severus harangued the praetorians because they had not supported Julianus or protected him, despite his shortcomings, completely ignoring their own oath of loyalty. In Severus’ view this ignoble conduct was tantamount to disqualifying themselves from entitlement to be praetorians; oddly, the so-called ‘auction of the Empire’ seems to have gone without mention.

Severus had a very good reason for adopting this strategy. It avoided creating any impression that he was buying the Empire as Didius Julianus had, even though previous emperors, including very respectable ones like Marcus Aurelius, had paid a donative. Firing the praetorians en masse also saved him a great deal of money, in the form of either a donative or a retirement gratuity. Given the cost of Severus’ own war, and the appalling state of the imperial treasuries, this must have been a pressing consideration. The normal practice would have been for the emperor to pay a donative out of his own pocket. Severus was prepared to spare the praetorians’ lives but only on the condition that they were stripped of rank and equipment and cashiered on the spot. This meant literally being stripped. They were forcibly divested by Severus’ legionaries of their uniforms, belts and any military insignia, and also made to part with their ceremonial daggers ‘inlaid with gold and silver’. Just in case the humiliated praetorians took it into their heads that they might rush back to the Castra Praetoria and arm themselves, Severus had sent a squad ahead to secure the camp. The praetorians had to disperse into Rome, the mounted troops having also to abandon their horses, though one killed both his horse and then himself in despair at the ignominy.

Only then did Severus enter Rome himself. Rome was filled with troops, just as it had been in 68–9. This agitated the crowd, which had acclaimed him as he arrived. Severus made promises that he did not keep, such as insisting he would not murder senators. Having disposed of the Praetorian Guard in its existing form, Severus obviously had to rebuild it. He appears to have done so with Juvenalis and Macrinus still at the helm as prefects in reward for their loyalty over the transition. Severus’ new Praetorian Guard represented the first major change in the institution since its formation under Augustus and amounted to a new creation. Valerius Martinus, a Pannonian, lived only until he was twenty-five but by then he had already served for three years in the X praetorian cohort, following service in the XIIII legion Gemina. XIIII Gemina had declared very early on for Severus so Martinus probably benefited from being transferred to the new Guard in 193 or soon afterwards. Lucius Domitius Valerianus from Jerusalem joined the new praetorians soon after 193. He had served originally in the VI legion Ferrata before being transferred to the X praetorian cohort where he stayed until his honourable discharge on 7 January 208. Valerianus cannot have been in the Guard before Severus reformed it in 193, so this means his eighteen years of military service, specified on the altar he dedicated, must have begun in the legions in 190 under Commodus. Therefore it is probable most of his time, between 193 and 208, was in the Guard under Severus. One of the most significant appointments to the Guard at this time was a Thracian soldier of epic height who began his Roman military career in the auxiliary cavalry. In 235 this man would seize power as Maximinus, following the murder of Severus Alexander, the last of the Severan dynasty.

Dio’s reference to there being ten thousand men in ten cohorts in AD 5 is sometimes assumed to be a reference really to the organization of the Guard in his own time, the early third century. It is possible that ten praetorian cohorts had been in existence from Flavian times on. It is beyond doubt, however, unusually for this topic, that from Severus onwards, the Praetorian Guard consisted nominally of ten thousand men in ten milliary cohorts as Dio had described. Diplomas of the third century certainly confirm that thereafter there were ten cohorts. A crucial change made by Severus was to abolish the rule that the praetorians were only recruited from Italy, Spain, Macedonia and Noricum. Instead any legionary was eligible for consideration if he had proved himself in war. This had the effect of making appointment to the Guard a realistic aspiration for any legionary. The idea was that by recruiting from experienced legionaries, the Severan praetorian would now have a far better idea of how to behave as a soldier. This was not always the case. By the time Selvinius Justinus died at the age of thirty-two in the early third century, he had already served seventeen years in the VII praetorian cohort. Unfortunately, there was an unintended consequence, or so Dio claimed. Italians who might have found a job with the Guard now found themselves without anywhere to go and resorted to street fighting, hooliganism and generally abusive behaviour as a result. Rome also now found itself home to provincial soldiers whose customs were regarded as lowering the tone. The reports seem likely to be exaggerated. A Guard of around ten thousand men would hardly have absorbed all of Italy’s disaffected young men. Nor would ten thousand provincial praetorians have changed the character of Rome, especially as many of the new praetorians clearly spent much of their time on campaign. An interesting peripheral aspect to this story is that the paenula cloak, apparently part of the Praetorian Guard’s everyday dress, seems to have dropped out of use by the military by this date; it had, perhaps, become discredited by association with the cashiered praetorians.

Severus had more pressing concerns for the immediate future. He had to dispose first of Niger and then turn on Albinus. Niger was defeated at Issus in Cilicia in 194. He fled to Parthia but was caught by Severus’ agents and killed. Severus was distracted by various rebellions in the east before he was able in 196 to turn his attention to Clodius Albinus in the west, still nursing ambitions of becoming emperor after Severus even though Severus had withdrawn the title of Caesar from him. The climax came at the Battle of Lugdunum (Lyon) in Gaul in a vast engagement in which the Praetorian Guard played an important part. The figure claimed by Dio for the battle of 150,000 men in each army is simply enormous and equivalent to around thirty legions each, an implausibly vast number. It is better interpreted as the figure for both armies together, but there cannot be any doubt that the engagement was of major significance.

The battle began badly for Severus because Albinus had placed his right wing behind concealed trenches. Albinus ordered the wing to withdraw, luring the Severan forces after them. Severus fell into the trap. His forces raced forwards, with the front lines crashing into the trenches. The rest stopped in their tracks, leading to a retreat with a knock-on effect on the soldiers at the back, some of whom collapsed into a ravine. Meanwhile the Albinians fired missiles and arrows at those still standing. Severus, horrified by the impending catastrophe, ordered his praetorians forward to help. The praetorians came within danger of being wiped out too; when Severus lost his horse it began to look as though the game was up. Severus only won because he personally rallied those close to him, and because cavalry under the command of Julius Laetus, one of the legionary legates from the east who had supported Severus in 193, arrived in time to save the day. Laetus had been watching to see how the battle shifted before showing his hand, deciding that the Severan rally was enough to make him fight for Severus. It is a shame we do not know more about how many praetorians were present, and exactly how they were deployed but, given the claimed numbers involved in the battle, it seems very likely that all, or at least most, of the praetorians were amongst them. If so, the reformed Praetorian Guard must have been very nearly destroyed within a very few years of being organized because it is certain the body count on the battlefield was enormous.

The Battle of Lugdunum marks a point in the history of the Praetorian Guard when it seems to have become normal for all or most of the Guard to be deployed away from Rome as part of the main army. Conversely, it also represented a return to the way praetorians had been deployed during the period 44–31 BC. The only praetorians likely to be left in Rome during a time when the Guard was needed for war were men approaching retirement. The II legion Parthica, formed by Severus, was based at Albanum, just 12 miles (19 km) from Rome from around 197 onwards. The legion would clearly have helped compensate for the absence of the Guard so long as some of the legion was at home. It also bolstered the number of soldiers immediately available to the emperor as a field army, without having to rely entirely on the Guard or troops pulled from frontier garrisons. Alternatively it could fulfil some of the Guard’s duties if the emperor took praetorians on campaign with him. A praetorian in Severus’ Guard could expect to see a great deal of action. Publius Aelius Maximinus was a soldier in the V praetorian cohort under Severus. On his tombstone he was said to have participated ‘in all the campaigns’, which suggests that going to war had become routine for praetorians, though it simply could have been a stock, rather than a literal, claim. Since the tombstone was found in Rome, Aelius Maximinus had presumably lived to tell the tale, expiring at some point after his return, though he was only thirty-one years and eight months old when he died.

The soldiers who took part in Severus’ wars and who earned the right to transfer to the new Praetorian Guard found that a further Severan change in terms and conditions was an increase in length of service to eighteen years. This could include the time spent as a legionary. Lucius Domitius Valerianus was discharged in 208 after serving eighteen years. He had been recruited into the VI legion Ferrata in around 190 under Commodus, from which he transferred to the X praetorian cohort at an unspecified later date, serving in the century of Flavius Caralitanus. The date of discharge is provided by the reference to the joint consulship of Severus’ sons, Caracalla and Geta, which they held that year. The VI legion Ferrata had been based in Syria since at least AD 150 and had formed part of the eastern army supporting Severus, being awarded with the title Fidelis Constans (‘always faithful’) for not siding with Niger. The funerary memorial of another praetorian of this era, Lucius Septimius Valerinus of the VIIII praetorian cohort and formerly of the I legion Adiutrix, shows him bareheaded in the traditional praetorian tunic with sword at his side and holding a spear.

The Praetorian Guard as an institution survived to fight another day for Severus. It remained an important symbol of imperial power and Rome’s military strength. A praetorian standard was featured on the so-called Arch of the Moneylenders, dedicated in Rome in 204. With Albinus destroyed and his supporters executed, Severus returned to Rome before turning his attention to Parthia in 198. A cash handout to the Roman people was accompanied by a large payment to ‘the soldiers’, as well as a pay rise and other privileges, such as being able to cohabit with wives. These must have included praetorians, but quite to what extent is unknown as the reference is to the army in general. Herodian was acutely critical of how the new arrangements could undermine military discipline.


Russian Army of Ivan the Terrible

A policy change introduced at this time was of major importance in the evolution of the relationship between the Tsar, the landowning class and the armed forces. For most of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the main fighting force had been composed of cavalry, largely based on the princely appanages with little centralized organization. By the mid-sixteenth century these princely private armies were to be found only, if at all, in the appanages of Lithuanian origin, such as those of the Bel’skys and Mstislavskys, and in the retinues of the Russian ‘service’ princes of the Upper Oka, such as the Odoevskys and the Vorotynskys.

The development of a Russian army dependent on the grand prince alone began in the reign of Ivan III, who had already extended the grand prince’s control over the armed forces where he had been successful in absorbing a principality and destroying its separate identity. Princes and boyars, when not acting as governors and local commandants, were usually absorbed as commanders and senior officers in grand princely regiments, in accordance with the ranking laid down by the code of precedence, or mestnichestvo. The general run of service gentry, originally of mixed social origins, was gradually sorted out into those who served the grand prince directly, as members of his dvor, received estates in service tenure (pomest’ia), and were merged into the dvoriane or future service gentry, and those who had served local princes and boyars and who continued to carry out their service as pomeshchiki on a provincial basis. Lower-ranking cavalry officers were thus attached to provincial towns, resided on their estates and were summoned when required by the grand prince, bringing their servants with them. Both these groups received lands on a service tenure which in the early days of the system could not be sold or pledged, but could be passed on the death of the holder to a son or son-in-law fit to perform service. The service to be given was strictly calculated in terms of the amount and quality of land.

The system of pomest’ia was devised to enable cavalrymen to serve when called upon, and was to remain the basic way of paying for the cavalry army until the reign of Peter the Great. The Pomestnyi Prikaz, or Estates Office which administered the recruitment and the provision of land to the mounted cavalry, was founded in 1475. Further distribution of lands as pomest’ia took place under Vasily III and Ivan IV from a variety of sources. The estate was not regarded as the private property of the pomeshchik; it provided a fixed income for his maintenance and his equipment, and he was not expected to concern himself with its exploitation. He was not therefore a landowner in the Western sense of the word, but a land user entitled to a certain income from the land. It was thus quite distinct from the votchina or the patrimonial estate which formed the basis of the wealth of the aristocracy and the service gentry, which many pomeshchiki owned in addition to the land granted by the government.

The first major initiative in the remodelling of the armed forces taken in Ivan IV’s reign occurred in 1550. The Tsar’s dvor numbered some three thousand all told, and a specific group of one thousand cavalrymen, divided into three categories, was now provided with pomest’ia in the central provinces to enable them to lodge in Moscow and provide all their supplies from lands relatively near to the capital. They were to be available for immediate service as required, serving on a rota. The estates they were allotted were provided mainly from the Tsar’s own lands or from lands of free peasants around Moscow.46 Aleksei Adashev was one of these cavalrymen.

A corps of infantry equipped with firearms was also formed by Ivan, pishchal’niki, or ‘harquebuzzers’, as Jerome Horsey, a later English visitor, called them, who had already been used in 1480 in the nonexistent battle of the Ugra and who were replaced in 1550 by musketeers or strel’tsy, also on foot. These, together with Ivan’s chosen one thousand cavalry corps, formed his personal guard, ‘the forerunners of Peter I’ s guards regiments’, presumably to protect him against the sort of rioting which had so frightened him in 1547. The strel’tsy were to be part of the military scene until the reign of Peter the Great. Their function was not to fight with cold steel or pikes in hand-to-hand combat, but to use firepower. Their numbers fluctuated and probably reached some twenty thousand by the end of the sixteenth century. They were, unlike the cavalry levy, a permanent uniformed corps. Unlike the Ottoman janissaries they were free men; they received salaries in money and goods according to rank, but also maintained themselves and their families partly by artisan production and small-scale trading activities. Their officers belonged to the gentry and were allotted pomest’ia as well as salaries. The whole corps came under the authority of a new Streletskii Prikaz.

Artillery was also extensively and effectively used in Russia, and Ivan may have taken a personal interest in the manufacture of guns – from Russian-produced iron ore – and their utilization by his army. Each regiment was allocated a certain number of guns in the 1550s. Ivan took 150 heavy and medium pieces of artillery to Kazan’ with him in 1552, and in this respect Russia was not inferior to her Western enemies, though supplies of gunpowder and lead had to be imported and could therefore be subject to enemy blockade on land.

The origin of the idea of this corps of strel’tsy has been much debated in Russia. Clearly Russia needed more modern weaponry, namely firearms and heavy artillery, for her wars against Poland, Sweden and in Livonia, rather than cavalry armed with bows and arrows. Contemporaries and many military specialists have speculated on whether the new formations were borrowed from the Ottomans through the writings of a certain Ivan Semonovich Peresvetov, which may perhaps have been known to Ivan IV. For a long time Peresvetov’s very existence was in doubt and he was thought to be an assumed name or a collective personality. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century was his existence actually established. In the 1950s he was unfortunately treated as one of the powerful humanist thinkers of sixteenth-century Europe, comparable to Machiavelli or Bodin. A revision of his human and intellectual qualities has not yet been undertaken, nor is it certain that all his alleged writings can be attributed to him; thus his influence still needs to be questioned.

Born and bred in Lithuania, conditioned by life in this borderland, divided between Polish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, offering his sword as a Polish cavalryman now to the Hungarian Jan Zapolya, a vassal of the Ottomans, now to the Habsburg King of Bohemia, now to the voevoda Peter IV Raresh of Moldavia, Peresvetov was a fairly senior officer serving with six or seven horses and the corresponding number of grooms and servants. Evidently resentful at his failure to make good in service, and distrusting boyars and their ilk, he attempted to enter Russian service in 1538, during the regency of Elena. He may have been attracted to Russian service by his connexion with Peter of Moldavia, whose wife was Elena’s cousin by marriage. He tried to interest the Russian court in a model shield ‘in the Macedonian manner’ which he had invented, and was taken up by the boyar M. Iu’rev Zakhar’in, the uncle of the future Tsaritsa Anastasia, and provided with a workshop and a pomest’ie. Unfortunately for Peresvetov, Zakhar’in died, he lost his patron, and all interest in his patent shield evaporated.

Peresvetov continued in increasingly impoverished circumstances for some ten years, after which all traces of him vanish. This was not surprising since he had no connexions in Russia with any of the boyar clans, or even with the gentry, who tended also to be united by fairly close local associations. Reduced in his own eyes to poverty, in 1549, at the time of the gathering of the so-called ‘assembly of reconciliation’, he personally submitted a petition, together with a number of other written works, to Tsar Ivan, accusing the ‘great’ of having despoiled him of his land, leaving him naked and destitute, without even a horse. Peresvetov’s not unjustified hope of achieving more in Russia, where a simple horseman could now count on some support as a pomeshchik, was not to be fulfilled, and as a man he disappears from sight. But the various writings attributed to him survived in a number of manuscript copies of the early seventeenth century and have led to a belated acceptance of his existence as a man and his importance as a ‘spokesman’ of the gentry or the holders of pomest’ia, as against the rich and powerful, in the sixteenth century.

It is this interpretation of the ‘class’ role of Peresvetov, considered to have been insufficiently appreciated by pre-revolutionary historians, which has contributed to his great importance in Soviet historiography. The relevant texts attributed to Peresvetov are ‘On the conquest of Tsar’grad by the godless Tsar Magmet Amuratov, son of the Turkish Tsar’, ‘The Tale of Magmet Saltan’, and ‘The Great Petition’, which contains Peresvetov’s account of the five months he spent in the service of Peter IV Raresh, his only Orthodox patron. Mehmet II’s victory over the last Paleologus emperor, Constantine, was in great part attributed by Peresvetov to the selfishness, cowardice and incapacity of the ‘great’ men surrounding the Emperor and his failure to support the more lowly men-at-arms. (‘The rich never think of fighting, they think of peacefulness and gentleness and rest.’) He argued in favour of a centrally recruited, controlled and paid army, like the Turkish janissaries, but he also argued that free men fight better than slaves, and the Russian cavalry was free, while the janissaries were slaves as were all the civil employees of the Ottoman court. In Russia the kholopy or bondsmen of various kinds in the armed forces were at this time mainly employed either in the transport of food, fodder and munitions, or in labouring on engineering projects.

Another great virtue of the Ottoman system in Peresvetov’s eyes was its concentration on pravda rather than vera – truth or justice, rather than faith. This makes one wonder whether the long years in foreign parts, before he came to Russia, had somewhat dented the purity of Peresvetov’s Orthodox faith. The sense of the Russian word ‘pravda’ is impossible to convey in English, where in dictionaries the emphasis is almost always on the notion of truth, whereas in Russian the notion of justice or righteousness is fundamental. The most articulate expression of Peresvetov’s ideas (if they were his ideas) comes in his version of the tale of Prince Peter IV of Moldavia, where the Prince praises Mehmet the Conqueror for having restored justice to Constantinople, and explains that ‘God does not love faith, but pravda or justice’. Through his Son he left us the gospel of truth (pravda), loving the Christian faith above all other faiths, and showed us the path to heaven. But the Greeks, though they honoured the gospel, listened to others and did not carry out the will of the Lord and fell into heresy (i.e. the decision to unite with Rome, taken at the Council of Ferrara/Florence).

But Peresvetov was primarily concerned with the practical problems of governing a warlike society. He favoured the institution of a professional army (like the Ottoman janissaries), but free, government by state employees, and the bridling of the high nobility. It is difficult to see in him the spokesman of the gentry, he seems rather to place his faith in a state ruling by ‘groza’, terror or awe. Mehmed was again quoted as an example, for when he discovered that his judges were being dishonest he had them flayed alive, saying:

if their flesh grows back again their crime will be forgiven. And he ordered their skins to be stretched out and ordered them to be stuffed with cotton and ordered them to be affixed with an iron nail in places of judgment and ordered it to be written on the skins: without such terrors, justice and sovereignty cannot be introduced.

Mehmed was also praised for being dread, or terrible, in fact ‘grozen’: ‘If a tsar is mild and peace-loving in his realm, his realm will become impoverished and his glory will diminish. If a tsar is dread and wise, his realm will expand and his name will be famous in all lands.’ ‘A kingdom without terror [groza] is like a horse without a bridle.’ Peresvetov’s admiration for the efficiency of Ottoman rule is by no means unique at that time, when it was very much a lieu commun in that part of Europe which had had dealings with the Porte.

To be ‘dread’ Ivan did not need any advice from Peresvetov, and there is not in fact any evidence that Ivan IV ever read anything written by Peresvetov; and if the idea of creating the corps of musketeers came from outside Russia, a more convincing source is in fact Moldavia, where voevoda Peter Raresh had introduced a corps of musketeers who were not slaves like the janissaries, but free like the strel’tsy, and with which of course Peresvetov would have been familiar. It seems, therefore, unlikely that Peresvetov exercised any influence on Ivan’s policy in the 1550s as a spokesman for the gentry.

M-16 Fiasco in Vietnam or Not?!

In January, the South Vietnamese army, equipped with M-14s, was defeated at Ap Bac by Vietcong carrying AKs. The reports of this automatic weapon’s devastating effects worried U.S. commanders. It was becoming clear that an automatic weapon was crucial for winning in Vietnam because of a new pattern of warfare starting to emerge. Confrontations often consisted of what were termed “meeting engagements,” in which jungle patrols from both sides found themselves unexpectedly face-to-face, and the side that could pump out the most rounds in the shortest amount of time won the skirmish. The M-14 was no match for the AK in these close-quarter encounters.

Again, U.S. military planners were caught unprepared for a different kind of warfare that took place in dense jungles against an enemy that you could not track in advance. Superior airpower was often ineffective, so battles would come down to the infantryman carrying the best weapon for the environment. The United States lagged.

On November 2, 1963, South Vietnamese generals assassinated President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother and advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu. Diem was a heavy-handed dictator whose regime so enraged the majority Buddhist population that monks set themselves on fire in the street to protest their oppression. The Kennedy administration expressed shock at the public immolations and dismay at the assassinations, but did nothing to discourage the generals’ actions. At the time of Diem’s death, the United States had about sixteen thousand advisors in South Vietnam. Now, with Diem gone, and American casualties beginning to mount, the nation was getting sucked into a larger combat role as the South Vietnamese government foundered and a string of corrupt generals ruled the country.

Only three weeks after Diem’s death, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson soon escalated his predecessor’s policies. In August 1964, Pentagon officials said that U.S. warships had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese patrol boats. These attacks prompted Congress to give President Johnson a free hand in Vietnam, through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This incident was later revealed to be a fabrication of the administration. No matter. The war was now in full swing and Special Forces, CIA operatives, and other elite units received the AR-15 to help counterbalance the AK.

Still, most U.S. forces were issued the M-14, and General William Westmoreland, who took command in Vietnam in June 1964, replacing General Paul Harkins, held a meeting of his commanders in Saigon in November 1965 to discuss how poorly the weapons fared against the AK. Congressional hearings held years later noted that GIs were buying black-market AR-15s for $600, compared to a list price of $100.

Back home, more testing of the M-16 continued, but McNamara was in a rush and so was Westmoreland. More than a hundred thousand M-16s were ordered by summer 1966. By October, however, some unexpected reports came in.

M-16s were jamming in combat.

American soldiers were found dead with their rifles in mid-breakdown. They were trying to undo the cause of the misfire while under attack.

Morale plunged as many soldiers felt they could not trust their weapon. Some anecdotal reports indicated that as many as half of M-16s were prone to jamming, but this number was probably too high. The real number was irrelevant, because soldiers never knew if their own weapon would perform as expected, and so every rifle was suspect. As the Vietcong learned of these problems, they were less in awe of the weapon. The sight of the “black rifle,” as the Vietcong had dubbed it in the early days, was now less threatening, and it empowered them. Reports indicated that Vietcong stripped dead GIs of their AR-15s and other equipment but were purposely leaving behind the M-16s.

Although the army tried to minimize the public relations fall-out, reports reached Congress through the parents of men serving in Vietnam as well as from soldiers themselves who felt they had been betrayed. Small-town newspapers ran letters from local soldiers about the failing new rifle. National media also covered the story. Soldiers and their parents inundated congressional representatives with letters and phone calls, and they wanted answers. With more and more Americans uneasy about the nation’s growing role in Vietnam, Congress began an investigation in May 1967. Under Democrat Richard Ichord from Missouri, a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee shed public light for the first time on the inner workings of the Ordnance Department and its archaic method of developing small arms.

The subcommittee called hundreds of witnesses, including Macdonald, Stoner, and other representatives of Colt, who testified about their shabby treatment by the army. Military personnel described how the Ordnance Department tested rifles, although many stated they did not recall the fine technical details of the M-16 program. One of the most dramatic moments in the hearings came when a letter from a soldier was entered into the record. This poignant letter read in part, “Before we left Okinawa, we were all issued this new rifle, the M-16. Practically every one of our dead was found with his rifle torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.”

The subcommittee visited Vietnam to interview soldiers firsthand. They heard stories about how men routinely took AKs off of enemy dead and used them instead of their M-16s. This practice had became so commonplace that soldiers in the field officially were banned from using AKs, because those rifles’ distinctive sound attracted friendly fire. In the heat of a close-quarters jungle firefight, American soldiers had little to go on to identify enemy positions other than the sound of their weapons. The other reason the AK was banned was that carrying it further stigmatized the M-16. In defiance, many soldiers still carried AKs. Indeed, special covert units of the military and CIA were sanctioned to carry AKs on their secret missions because of the weapon’s reliability.

In his best-selling book Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts, Colonel David H. Hackworth told the story of bulldozers during a base construction project uncovering a buried Vietcong soldier and his AK. Hackworth yanked the weapon out of the mud and pulled back the bolt. “Watch this,” he said. “I’ll show you how a real infantry weapon works.” With that he fired off thirty rounds as if the rifle had been cleaned that morning instead of being buried for a year. “This was the kind of weapon our soldiers needed and deserved, not the M-16 that had to be hospital cleaned or it would jam,” he wrote.

The Ichord hearings continued through the summer. In October 1967 the Special Subcommittee on the M-16 Rifle Program issued a six-hundred-page report highly critical of the Ordnance Department in general and its handling of the development of the M-16 program in particular.

The culprit, it turns out, wasn’t the gun but the ammunition, and it was the result of a bad decision by Ordnance. The report concluded that the M-16s jammed because the Ordnance Department insisted on changing the cartridge propellant from extruded or stick-type powder to ball-type powder, which tended to leave a residue in the rifle after repeated firing. Although both powders are made of the same components, stick powders are shaped like tiny cylinders, extruded, and cut to length. Ball powders are extremely small spheres of propellant. One major difference is that stick powders rely primarily on the grain size and surface area to control the burn rate. Ball powders rely more on a slow-burning covering and need a hotter primer to ignite.

Stoner specified that stick powder be used in his weapon, and it is not fully understood why Ordnance insisted on changing his recommendation. The subcommittee noted that the army had a cozy relationship with Olin Mathieson, the ball-powder manufacturer, which may have influenced the decision to change powders. The subcommittee also noted that because of the powder change, mechanical modifications had to be made to the M-16, and these last-minute changes may also have hurt its performance.

These revelations finally killed the Springfield Armory. After almost two hundred years of operation, it was closed by McNamara at year’s end.

The M-16 controversy was not over, however. Although Congress cited the change in powder as the reason for jamming, not everyone was satisfied. Some ballistics experts contended that the jamming was due to barrel corrosion from humid jungle conditions. This may well have been true, and would have indicted the Ordnance Department even more, because it understood the detrimental affects of barrel corrosion on M1 rifles from fighting in the Pacific during World War II. Ordnance knew that the cure was to chrome-plate the barrel, standard procedure for the AK.

Another contributing factor to jamming was that the army did not issue gun cleaning kits to troops, which gave the impression that the weapon never needed cleaning. Why the kits were not issued also was never made clear. Only speculation exists. One explanation was that McNamara’s Whiz Kids wanted to save money; another is that the Ordnance Department wanted the M-16 to fail; other speculation hinged on an overconfidence in the weapon itself.

Perhaps all three reasons played a role, but the reputation of the M-16 was irrevocably sullied. Even after these issues were addressed and the M-16 proved itself a formidable weapon, it was too late. Its main rival the AK was perceived by many as the world’s best infantry weapon, and the one that could beat the West’s best offering. It was low-tech Soviet style versus high-tech U.S. style, and the Communists won the war of perception, especially among third world nations whose leaders were carefully watching the conflict.

By 1973, the U.S. presence in Vietnam was winding down, with soldiers officially withdrawing in March after reaching a peak of 535,000 in 1966. Without a decisive Western victory, U.S. combatants left Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975 as the last Americans and many Vietnamese evacuated the country. Stunning television shots of desperate people clinging to helicopters taking off from Saigon building roofs only served to raise the stock of Communist fighters and their AKs.

To this day, one of the most contentious arguments in military circles is, “Which is the better weapon, the M-16 or the AK?” The argument will never be resolved, and it is moot. The AK’s reputation as the underdog’s weapon was born in the rice paddies of Vietnam, given a boost by an unwitting U.S. military.

The lesson of Vietnam is that determined soldiers with simple, reliable arms can beat a well-trained military force despite its sophisticated weapons, like the M-16. In the years that followed the Vietnam War, the larger-than-life AK spread around the globe, giving power and prestige to ad hoc armies, thugs, and terrorists who would change the face of the world forever.


This map shows the German nightfighter defences in early 1942. The coastal chain of dark fighting Freya-AN Dunaja zones is backed by a line of Himmelbett boxes ranging from Denmark into France. Each Freya and Himmelbett station could control only one fighter at a time. By mid-1942 the searchlights had been withdrawn to the cities, creating large illuminated zones (here marked in a lighter green) where Konaja, and later Wilde Sau, fighting could take place.

Luftwaffe night fighter control methods.

On 14 May 1940 the Luftwaffe set out to break the dogged Dutch hold on the north bank of the Maas by a mass attack on Rotterdam. As the bombers neared their target, the Dutch opened negotiations for surrender. The Luftwaffe recalled its bombers, but one unit – the fifty-seven Heinkels of KG 54 – had already done its work and started fires which gutted the heart of the Old City. Far worse attacks had been made on Polish cities, and later on Belgrade, but for some reason this incident made the Allied leaders recoil in horror. On the following day Winston Churchill, just appointed British Prime Minister, announced that henceforth the RAF could bomb Germany. That night ninety-six heavies set out against specific oil and rail targets in the Ruhr. Only twenty-four even claimed to have located their objectives.

Later, a bomber pilot visiting TRE said, ‘They used to tell us to bomb Krupps, but we were lost as soon as we left the aerodrome.’ Clearly, Bomber Command had a long and difficult road ahead; but so did the Luftwaffe. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, the famed head of the Luftwaffe, had promised in August 1939, ‘We will not expose the Ruhr to a single bomb dropped by enemy aircraft.’ He had just inspected some of the Luftwaffe’s heavy Flak emplacements near Essen, with 88, 105 and 128 mm guns radar-directed by the new Würzburgs. By a very wide margin indeed, it was the best AA artillery in the world. But radar-directed Flak took a long time to come into general use, and the Luftwaffe had no night-fighter aircraft at all. In its first four months of unrestricted bombing of Germany between May and mid-September 1940 the RAF lost only 163 aircraft, about two per cent of the 8,000-odd sorties. Goering was bothered, because the occasional bomb was falling on the Ruhr; one or two even hit their intended targets. In July 1940 he instructed Colonel Josef Kammhuber to form a special force of night fighters.

Kammhuber was not impressed by the existing German defence system. The Würzburgs and heavy Flak formed a formidable combination, but there were still only 450 guns and a mere handful of radars. Night fighters were another story. Nobody in the Luftwaffe had even dreamed of putting radar into a fighter, and the only method of operation was Helle Nachtjagd (illuminated night fighting). A few day fighters, nearly all Bf 109s flown by bolder or more experienced pilots, would take off on radar early-warning of a British raid and orbit a radio beacon. Often they would keep their navigation lights on to avoid a mid-air collision, and sometimes they would have to fly to a second beacon and orbit again. Interceptions were achieved solely by watching the searchlights and trying to see the enemy bombers. Throughout the summer this method resulted in just one success: on 9 July 1940 Feldwebel Foerster of JG 2 managed to shoot down a Whitley. He would probably have admitted that this was mainly by luck.

Kammhuber could see the need for bigger twin-engined night fighters, with adequate endurance for the long night patrols. The Bf 110 was an obvious choice, but an even better one might be the Ju 88C. This sub-type had begun life as a long-range day and anti-shipping fighter, with the Ju 88V7 prototype flown on 27 September 1938, which had an unglazed nose mounting two cannon and two machine-guns. Some pre-production C-0 fighters were used for ground attack during the Polish campaign, but plans to build the fast C-1, with two BMW 801 radials, were shelved to enable all effort to be applied to building A-series bomber versions. In 1940 the BMW 801 went into production, but with priority for the Fw 190 single-seater, so the C-1 was abandoned and instead the Luftwaffe began to receive the Ju 88C-2, a rather hasty conversion of the A-1 bomber with Jumo 211 engines and a nose armament of one cannon and three machine-guns. Instead of being ordinary day Zerstörer (destroyer) fighters, these were now regarded as primarily for use by night. They were the forerunners of the aircraft that were to play the biggest part in the biggest night air battle in history.

While giving much thought to the last long-term system for the night defence of the German-controlled continent, Kammhuber acted quickly to create a night-fighter force. On the day of his appointment he picked the premier Bf 110 Staffel, I/ZG 1 commanded by Major Wolfgang Falck, and transferred it to Düsseldorf to serve as the nucleus of a night-fighter research and training school, with the unit designation of NVS 1 (Nacht und Versuchs Staffel). Three days later it was redesignated I/NJG 1 (Nacht jagdgeschwader = night fighter wing), on 20 July 1940. Falck was promoted Geschwaderkommodore of NJG 1, and a second squadron, II/NJG 1, was formed with twenty newly delivered Ju 88C-2s. Hauptmann Gunther Radusch took over I/NJG 1, and the force swiftly expanded by adding III/NJG 1 with Bf 110Cs from IV(N)/JG 2, and IV/NJG 1 from Zerst Sta/KG 30 with Bf 110Ds; a fifth staffel was also added, partly based on a special unit that had been formed to operate the first Dornier night-fighter conversions, the Do 17Z-6 Kauz 1 (Screech Owl I) and Do 215B-5. On 11 September II/NJG 1 was redesignated as the nucleus of the second wing, I/NJG 2, and a new II/NJG 1 was promptly formed from I/ZG 76, one of the most famous Bf 110 units (they shot down the twelve Wellingtons in December 1939) under Hauptman Graf von Stillfried. Another unit became the nucleus of a third wing, I/NJG 3, with Radusch taking over as Kommodore.

Kammhuber was eventually promoted Major-General and set up his HQ in the beautiful castle at Zeist in Holland. He reported to Colonel-General Hubert Weise, in overall command of the German air-defence organization. With constant changes and improvements, the main effect in the first few months, in the autumn of 1940, was the rapid build-up of a well-equipped force of large night fighters, each with a pilot and observer (and gunner, in the case of the Ju 88s and Dorniers), heavy nose armament and endurance of seven hours. In general, the Bf 110 units were deployed geographically to intercept bombers already over Germany, and were alerted by Freya early warning and guided to their targets by the Freyas and the searchlights. The bigger Ju 88 and Dornier aircraft operated around the periphery of Europe in the intruder role, unhesitatingly following bombers right back to their English bases if necessary, and using bombs as well as guns. At this time the Luftwaffe was indisputably the supreme air force in the world. It was easily the best equipped, and the unpalatable failure to subdue the RAF by day had not noticeably affected its morale. It had an abundance of skilled crews, and it was still conditioned to believe in a succession of swift victories (one of its few shortcomings was that no provision had been made for a long war). Not least, it had the backing of a large and competent equipment and radio industry, and by a rapidly increasing margin the world’s best aircraft guns.

What was less good was the makeshift night interception system. None of the fighters yet carried their own radar, so they were strongly dependent upon the searchlights. The latter were grouped around the target cities, so not much could be done to intercept the bombers on their flight to and from their targets except as they crossed the belt of searchlights along the coastline. Over the target the sky was full of Flak, and at that time there was no way for the German Flak to tell which were RAF bombers and which were NJG fighters. Accordingly, during September 1940 Kammhuber took the bold decision to move nearly all his searchlights from the cities to a single dense belt stretching from Liège (Belgium) to Schleswig-Holstein (near Denmark). Virtually all RAF bombers had to pass through this belt, within which no German aircraft were permitted after dark except NJG fighters on patrol. This immediately stopped the wastage of night fighters shot down by their own Flak, but it was by no means a complete solution. The Flak gunners now had hardly any searchlights, and were still waiting for their Würzburg radars. And it needed only a thin cloud layer to wreck the whole system.

It was obvious that what was required was a more sophisticated defence using Würzburgs not only to direct the Flak but also to direct individual night fighters. This radar sent out a fine pencil beam focused by a large circular dish reflector. Nothing like it had been seen before, and as the movable dishes gradually appeared all over northern Europe they excited much comment, most of it concerned with ‘giant mirrors’. The bearing and elevation of the aerial could be read off with great accuracy, and the discrimination was good enough to distinguish two aircraft less than 500 feet apart at over 20,000 feet. On the other hand Würzburg’s extreme limit of range of 25 miles meant that Freya would be needed to give early warning, and get the Würzburg and night fighter into the right positions beforehand. Perhaps the biggest problem was the inability of Freya to indicate the hostile target’s altitude. The night fighter would therefore have to scramble and climb up to a likely altitude by guesswork. In 1940 a good attacking height for a Wellington or Hampden was 15,000 feet, with a Whitley appreciably lower. Only in the final few minutes could the Würzburg suddenly pass an accurate height.

In September 1940 the first trials took place using night fighters directed by a ground controller. Luftwaffe fighter pilots argued heatedly about the supposed loss of initiative and freedom of action in accepting such control – a psychological problem that was much less evident in Britain at this time – and the record shows that the Germans were at first far from eager to accept any of the new radar methods. The first GCI radar tried by the Luftwaffe was a Freya, excellent for early warning but hopeless in the GCI role, because no controller could separate the fighter’s blip from that of the bomber once the range had closed within a mile. Despite this, it was a Freya that was rigged up near Zwolle, Holland, together with a naval height-finding radar, and trials began against ‘Auntie Ju’ (Ju 52/3m) transports. On the whole they were as unsuccessful as those in Britain at this time, but on 16 October 1940 Leutnant Ludwig Becker of IV/NJG 1 suddenly found himself in visual contact with an unidentified aircraft flying east over Holland. Flying a Do 215B from Gilze-Rijen, Becker closed slowly and identified the aircraft as a Wellington. With little difficulty he hit it hard in a five- or six-second burst and watched the bomber eventually spin into the ground. But this was the exception that proved the rule, and it was gained in bright moonlight.

By 1941 Kammhuber had masterminded a completely new defence system, and his organization had placed large orders for an improved GCI radar, Gigant (giant) Würzburg. The need for such a radar was obvious, because Freya had inadequate accuracy and discrimination, and Würzburg had inadequate range. It was not uncommon for RAF bombers to pass through the defence belt while the NJG fighters were still trying to reach the same approximate position and height. A further problem with Würzburg was that reflections from the ground began to mask the target blip at flight levels lower than 6,000 feet (though, of course, few RAF night attacks came down as low as this). Gigant Würzburg accordingly had a much larger aerial dish, roughly twenty-five feet in diameter compared with Würzburg’s ten feet, which concentrated the energy into a narrower beam capable of giving a clear blip at a range of more than forty miles with typical aircraft targets. Telefunken hurried the improved set into production at the end of 1941, by which time the Luftwaffe had placed large orders.

Kammhuber needed several hundred Gigant Würzburgs to equip his grand design to defend the Reich, which became popularly known to the RAF as the Kammhuber Line but was officially designated Himmelbett (heavenly bed, i.e., a four-poster). This code-name stemmed from the fact that Kammhuber divided up the airspace round the north and west sides of Germany into notional boxes, each having a rectilinear shape like an old four-poster. Each box was about twenty miles wide, and there were 750 of them strung in a vast curve from Denmark round the north of Germany, across the Low Countries and south through eastern France to Switzerland. Somewhere in each box was a GCI station equipped with a Freya early-warning radar, a Gigant Würzburg to track a chosen bomber, and a second Gigant Würzburg to track the NJG fighter assigned to that box. At least, that was the intention; the tracking radars were mainly earlier Würzburgs until well into 1942.

Himmelbett had many good features. First, each box was a definite functioning system, technically capable of putting a night fighter very accurately onto the tail of a hostile bomber. It had enough width, something like 150 miles of electronically guarded sky, for there to be plenty of time to set up the interception long before the raider had passed out of the box, let alone out of radar range. And as Kammhuber set up the line just outside his searchlights, the latter were ready to take care of any bombers that the night fighters missed under GCI. By this time the searchlights were arranged in groups of five, one of which was a radar-directed master. The latter, with a brilliant beam having a bluish tinge, was alight all the time, normally pointing straight upwards. Once the associated Würzburg had locked-on to the bomber, the master searchlight would suddenly swing right onto it, much too fast to be dodged. At once the other four beams would snap on and light up the unfortunate bomber; then the master would return to the vertical, waiting for the next customer. Whether this was done to aid fighters or Flak, it was heartily disliked by the Bomber Command crews. Only an exceptional pilot could shake off the cone of beams on a clear night, and it made night-fighter interception almost easy.

On the other hand, there were plenty of shortcomings in the system. It could handle only one bomber at a time per box, and the most rapid interception rate a skilled set of Himmelbett and night-fighter crews could possibly hope for was six aircraft per hour for any single box. In 1941 this was not a serious problem, because the lumbering twin-engined heavies crossed enemy territory at about 165 mph in a thin stream, often many miles apart, generally unsure of their position, and often having to spend as long as an hour taking astro shots, working out revised winds and searching for their target. One crew in a Whitley actually spent over 2¾ hours in the general target area trying to find the place they had been sent to bomb (München-Gladbach). In its first eighteen months the Kammhuber Line was able to pay close attention to the majority of the RAF bombers that attempted to cross it, but the situation was to change dramatically.

A less apparent drawback was that, almost unbelievably, the Gigant Würzburg perpetuated a basic feature of the earlier radar which made it unsuitable for the GCI function. The original Würzburg had been designed for directing Flak, and accordingly gave its information in the form of numerical bearings and ranges. This could easily have been converted in Gigant Würzburg into the ideal form of presentation, the PPI, such as was being used in Britain. Such a display had been developed between 1936 and 1939 by Baron Manfred von Ardenne in his laboratory at Lichterfelde (Berlin) under the name Panorama Sicht Gerät (panorama display equipment). By 1940 he and the short-wave expert Dr Hollmann had prepared this for production with the Radio-Loewe company, and at Christmas in that year a deputation made a presentation to Goering. They explained it in such simple terms that even Goering – the epitome of the technology illiterate, whose opinion of radar was that, ‘It consists of boxes with coils . . . I do not like boxes with coils’ – could not fail to see the advantages. With PPI a controller has a perfect real-time picture, with the aid of which he can use his judgement to tell the night-fighter pilot exactly when to turn, onto what heading, and at what rate, to bring him up astern of the bomber. Goering gradually saw how it worked and what it did, and even he was forced to admit that it was better than a mere list of ranges and bearings. But it was Christmas 1940, and he told the electronics expert, ‘Such a comprehensive development is no longer worth while; the war is already as good as won!’ So Gigant Würzburg provided nothing but ranges and bearings. To provide a PPI picture for the controller, a clumsy device called a Seeburg table was necessary. An operator was told the ranges and bearings of the bomber by telephone, set them up on a rotary and sliding scale in front of him and, in doing so, moved a red spotlight on a large ground-glass table at an upper level. A second operator, connected by telephone to the radar tracking the fighter, moved a spot of blue light in the same way. At the upper level, a third operator with red and blue wax crayons marked the tracks of the two aircraft. The mind boggles at the number of places where errors and inaccuracies could be introduced.

Despite this, the Himmelbett system worked. By the end of March 1942 Kammhuber had about half his initial order for 185 Gigant Würzburgs, and Telefunken was delivering thirty a month. But by this time, in a single bold stroke, the British had made up for their amazingly inept radar intelligence, and learned all they needed to know about the original Würzburg. Though a slight digression from night fighters, it is a thrilling story. For years the British learned nothing about German radar, despite the valuable clues in the Oslo Report. In February 1941 a low-flying reconnaissance Spitfire brought back pictures of circular objects at Auderville, west of Cherbourg, and an interpreter noticed that a narrow object in one of the circles had changed its bearing between one exposure and the next. The British had at last discovered Freya. In November 1941, when a number of Freyas had been pinpointed, interpreters became interested in a small black blob on a path trodden between the cliffs and a large house, at another Freya station at Bruneval, north of Le Havre. Flight Lieutenant Tony Hill went and took pictures at low level with his Spitfire (twice, because the cameras failed the first time) and also had a good look himself. The upshot was one of the earliest and most successful Commando raids ever mounted. On 27 February 1942 twelve Whitleys dropped 119 paratroopers near Bruneval. Next day the 111 survivors, seven of them injured, landed back in Britain with all the vital parts of the Würzburg, plus three prisoners, one of whom was a skilled radar operator. In subsequent weeks the Luftwaffe showed the British the locations of all its other coast radars by surrounding them with masses of barbed wire, which showed up beautifully in reconnaissance photographs. (The Bruneval raid alerted the British to the exposed position of the vital TRE, and it was accordingly moved to Malvern.)

Of course, by this time Würzburg was an old set, fast being supplemented or replaced by the Gigant variety. For better early warning, Freya was being supplemented by a huge new radar called, appropriately, Mammut. This had an aerial like two bedsteads back-to-back measuring 45 feet high and 90 feet wide, with electronic switching through an arc of 100°. This rapid switching, which was much later to become a feature of night-fighter radars, allowed the beam to sweep across the sky while the aerial stayed fixed. The other early-warning set was Wassermann, with a rotating aerial about 130 feet high and 30 feet wide. Both the new sets had narrow beams enabling them to see aircraft 150 to 200 miles away. In most respects, they were superior to Britain’s prehistoric CH system, though neither was a patch on the monster MEW (Microwave Early Warning) radar developed in the USA. This was first installed at Start Point, Devon, where it could see every aircraft in southern England and northern France on D-Day.

Chinese Nationalist Mosquitos

A Canadian-built FB.Mk. 26, believed to be ‘B-M008’. The Nationalist Chinese purchased nearly 180 FB.Mk. 26s and T.Mk.29s from surplus Canadian stocks in 1947.

The Nationalist Government of China had shown considerable interest in the later stages of Mosquito production in Canada, and inspecting Chinese Air Force officers were seen regularly at the Toronto plant. With the end of the war, many surplus Mosquitos were stored at Downsview. In late 1947 the Canadian Government, represented by Roy Peers, and Lieutenant-Colonel R. P. Mow on behalf of the Chinese, concluded negotiations for the sale to the Chinese Nationalist Government of around 180 aircraft at knock-down prices, which cleared out almost the entire stock of Mosquitos held in reserve by the RCAF. Due to the politics of the time, the Canadian Government went to great lengths to emphasize that this was a purely commercial arrangement and did not imply aid for Chiang Kai-Shek against the Communists. De Havilland Canada provided planning and technical support, much of which came from Fred Plumb who, since the days of working in Salisbury Hall on the prototypes, had moved from England to become DH Canada’s Works Manager. The Mosquitos were dismantled at Downsview during October 1947 and packed into crates that had previously been used to ship Vampires out from Hatfield to Canada before being transported by rail to a Canadian port and then by sea to Shanghai. From there they were transferred to Tazang Air Base for reassembly and were then test- flown under the direction of De Havilland personnel before being handed over to the Chinese.

First to arrive were several T. Mk.27 trainers, followed by considerable numbers of FB.26s and some T.29s. A fair number of aircraft sub- assemblies failed to survive the winter crossing of the Atlantic, through the Suez Canal and on to Shanghai, suffering severe salt corrosion and damage to electrical and metal parts. So bad was the damage that some aircraft could only be cannibalized for spares, and the remainder of the airframes scrapped.

Training accidents were common when the aircraft were flown by Chinese Air Force instructors and students, and many Mosquitos were written off. In an attempt to reduce these accidents, a fighter-bomber (KA252) was modified into a taxi-trainer, with the undercarriage locked down and bracing tubes bolted between each undercarriage leg, the fuselage and the outer wings. Although this machine could not be flown, the Chinese still managed to write this aircraft off when it was taxied into a hole.

It was in China that the Mosquito gained yet another nickname, ‘Lin Tai Yu’ after a legendary Empress who was ‘beautiful but wicked’. The Chinese attempted to use the aircraft against the Communists, with possibly four lost in combat, but in the end they were defeated by the Communist’s guerrilla tactics. The situation within the country had deteriorated, and by late 1948 the Canadians were advised to leave. Finally the Communists overran the country and the remaining airworthy Mosquitos were evacuated to Formosa by escaping Nationalist pilots. There they were used for a short while against shipping, but nothing further is known of their fate.


George E. Stewart DFC
George E. Stewart, a Canadian, flew 50 Ops on the Mosquito with No. 23 Squadron between July-November 1944 – all by the time he was 21. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this work, which was mostly day/night intruder operations.
After the war George spent time in China training Chinese Nationalist Air Force pilots on the aircraft in an effort to reduce their frightening loss of pilots to accidents. Both his unsurpassable knowledge of flying the Mosquito and his unquenchable enthusiasm for it will be of the utmost value to The People’s Mosquito as we move forward. Already over the three years he has given invaluable advice to both the Kiwi and US pilots who have flown the recently restored FB.26 KA114, which they have all used to good effect.

MBT Revolution

The MBT Revolution is a modular upgrade package to the Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. It was developed by Rheinmetall. This MBT was first revealed in 2010. It is also referred as Leopard 2A4 Evolution. The Leopard 2A4 was the most widespread version of the Leopard 2. It is still used by a number of countries in large numbers. So the market for upgrades remains substantial.

The Revolution main battle tank is better suited for urban warfare and low-intensity conflicts. It is worth noting that original Leopard 2 tanks were developed during the Cold War and were intended for high intensity conflicts based on tank battles in open terrain. The tank has improved overall protection. It is fitted with new Advanced Modular Armor Protection (AMAP) composite armor package. It uses new nano-ceramics materials and modern titanium and steel alloys. This armor provides higher level of protection against wide range of threats. The AMAP armor can be done is different compositions and armor configuration depends on customer requirements. Various configurations do different jobs. Some are used for RPG attacks, the other are used for IED attacks. The tank is also fitted with a mine protection package. This MBT has a modular armor, so damaged modules can be easily replaced in field conditions. Tank is also fitted with new Rheinmetall ROSY smoke grenade dischargers. These set up a smoke screen within 0.6 seconds. Overall the Revolution MBT is less vulnerable to ambushes, RPG rounds, anti-tank missiles, improvised explosive devices and mines.

The Revolution MBT is only slightly heavier than it’s predecessor. It weights 60 t, comparing with 56.6 t of the original Leopard 2A4.

In 2010 Singapore upgraded it’s 96 ex-German Leopard 2A4 tanks with the AMAP composite armor, which is a part of the Revolution upgrade package. Upgraded tanks are known as the Leopard 2SG.

The Revolution MBT retains a fully-stabilized 120-mm / L44 smoothbore gun of the Leopard 2A4. The gun is loaded manually. It is compatible with all standard NATO 120-mm tank munitions, as well as the latest programmable HE rounds. These rounds enable to engage targets behind cover and within buildings. A total of 42 rounds are carried for the main gun. 15 rounds are stored in the turret bustle and are ready to use, while remaining rounds are stored in the hull.

The Revolution MBT is also fitted with a remotely controlled weapon station, armed with a 12.7-mm machine gun. There is also a coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun.

This main battle tank is fitted with new state-of-the-art fire control system. It has improved first round hit probability. The Revolution MBT also has improved reconnaissance and observation capabilities. The commander has new 360° periscope, which gives the vehicle a hunter/killer capability. The tank is also fitted with a battlefield management system.

Vehicle has a crew of four, including commander, gunner, loader and driver.

The Revolution MBT also retains the MTU MB-837 Ka501 turbocharged diesel engine, developing 1 500 horsepower. Vehicle is fitted with auxiliary power unit, which powers all systems when the main engine is turned off. Cross-country performance is similar to that of it’s predecessor.

Since 2011 a broadly similar upgrade programme is offered by the Aselsan of Turkey. These are referred as the Leopard 2 Next Generation. It was locally developed as a private venture to meet a possible requirement of the Turkish Army.

Modernizing Poland’s Leopard 2A4 Tanks

On May 16, 2014, the first shipment of 11 Leopard 2A5 tanks was delivered to the 34th Armored Cavalry Brigade in Zagan. The vehicles were acquired under a contract signed in November of 2013 on the procurement of armored vehicles from German Army reserves. The agreement stipulated that Poland would buy 105 used Leopard 2A5 tanks, and 14 2A4 tanks, as well as 833 items of technical and support assets, including 18 Bergepanzer 2 armored recovery vehicles, 120 Mercedes DB1017A heavy trucks, 40 Unimog U1300L heavy trucks, 40 Mercedes MB250 off-road vehicles, deep fording vehicles, and combat simulators. In 2014, Poland received 77 Leopard 2A5 tanks, 14 2A4 tanks, and 654 items of technical and support assets. According to the provisions of the agreement, before the end of 2015 the armed forces will receive the remainder of the contracted hardware, including 28 Leopard 2A5 tanks. The realization of the contract is proceeding as planned.

Another important assignment related to Leopard 2A4 tanks was the tender for the modernization and upgrading of said vehicles to their PL variant, opened in October of 2013. After the offers submitted in March of 2014 were examined, it turned out that only one out of the three contractors participating in the tender, a consortium comprising Polish companies, headed by ZM BUMAR-LABEDY S. A., will proceed to the next stage. This led to a series of problems, related primarily to the insufficient transfer of technologies, maintenance and service capabilities, and replacement part production capabilities of Polish defense manufacturers. Although negotiations continued into late 2014, the proceeding did not reach a successful conclusion. Some hope for a resolution of the deadlock may have been found in the offer submitted by BUMAR–LABEDY on December 5, 2014. The Armament Inspectorate, however, rejected the offer due to formal and factual errors and an insufficient level of Polonization. On February 17, 2015, it was announced that the tender procedure will be cancelled, and the Armament Inspectorate will initiate closed negotiations with a single company selected by the Board of the Polish Armament Group.

After the fiasco of the previous tender, a new round of negotiations between PAG and ZM “Bumar-Labedy” S. A. was launched on May 27, 2015. It will be up to Bumar to select its foreign cooperant, out of the three companies considered for the role. The first is the Turkish company Aselsan, offering the Leopard NG package. Its competitors include Rheinmetall Defence offering the MBT Revolution package, and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co. The new contract would also include the establishment of a Logistics and Maintenance Center with a replacement part depot, using existing facilities owned by the Polish Armament Groups, that would provide full-spectrum maintenance and repair services for all Leopard 2 tanks currently in service with the Polish Armed Forces.

According to current plans, the Leopard 2A4 modernization contract should be awarded before the end of 2015, and the program should conclude no later than 2020, that is two years past the preliminary deadlines established by the Technical Modernization Plan. Currently, there are no plans to overhaul Leopard 2A5 tanks, and such designs should start coalescing only after the modernization of 2A4 tanks is completed. A confirmation of that particular position can be found in state secretary Czeslaw Mroczek’s reply to parliamentary interpellation no. 32753, in which Mroczek stated that any plans to modernize Leopard 2A5 tanks are out of consideration for at least the next 15 years.

Add-On Abrams Tank Kits

U.S. Main Battle Tank M1A2 SEP Abrams Tusk II

With the heavy damage inflicted on Abrams series tanks during the close-in urban fighting in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, there developed the impetus for the US Army to authorize the funding for a new program in 2004 to better equip the tank for a type of fighting it had never been designed to take part in. The program was referred to as the Tank Urban Survivability Kit (TUSK) and was publicly announced in early 2005.

In a US Army News Service article published on 9 March 2005 is this description by US Army Program Manager Lieutenant Colonel Michael Flanagan on why the new add-on armor kit was needed and what benefits it would provide the Abrams series of tanks: ‘You have to remember, the tank was a Cold War design, aimed at threats that were always to its front. It’s still the most survivable weapon in the arsenal from the front … Today it’s a 360-degree fight, and these systems are designed to improve survivability in the urban environment.’

In 2006, the US Army ordered 505 units of the TUSK kits from GDLS. The first Abrams series tank in Iraq fitted with the kit was in 2007. By the following year, most Abrams series tanks employed in country had the TUSK kits. However, some were never fitted with the kits due to shortages. Others had only certain components of the kits applied.

Reflecting the various versions of the Abrams series tanks that were deployed to Iraq during the Iraq Insurgency, there was a TUSK I kit for the M1A1 and a TUSK II kit for the M1A2 and M1A2 SEP, which included some additional items for fitting to those tanks upgraded with the TUSK I kits.


One of the most noticeable external features of the TUSK I kit fitted to the M1A1 and M1A2 is the use of reactive armor tiles, also commonly referred to as Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), along the sides of the vehicle’s hull in place of the original armored side skirts. As listed on the American manufacturer’s website, the tiles are officially designated the XM-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tile (ARAT) and first appeared in 2006.

The first public employment of ERA occurred during the Israeli military invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when they were photographed on the exterior of American-supplied M60 main battle tanks in service with the Israeli Army (IDF). The Israeli firm that made the ERA tiles assigned them the label ‘Blazer Armor’. The original design work on the Blazer Armor was done by a West German researcher working together with the IDF.

ERA tiles consist of a steel box that contains a special plastic explosive fitted in-between two steel plates. How ERA tiles function when struck is explained in a 1988 article by then US Army Captain James M. Warford titled Reactive Armor: New Life for Soviet Tanks, which appeared in the January-February issue of Armor magazine:

… the plastic explosive inside the brick [tile] detonates. The force of this detonation is directed away from the brick’s inner steel plate, and concentrates in the opposite direction of the attacking warhead. This explosion forces the HEAT-formed jet to malform and lose its energy so that the heavily-weakened jet is not capable of penetrating the tank’s main armor.

The ARAT set applied under TUSK I consists of 64 tiles, with 32 on each side of the hull, divided into two rows of 16 each. According to the manufacturer’s website the ARAT is insensitive to bullets and other types of small battlefield fragments and will only detonate when struck by a shaped charge warhead, found on the projectiles fired from shoulder-launched rocket propelled grenade launchers, such as the RPG-7.

Tusk II

Under TUSK II, the M1A2 received a new generation of ERA tiles in 2008, labeled the XM-32. They are referred to as ARAT II tiles by the manufacturer, the original version being relabeled the ARAT I. The ARAT II set consists of 78 tiles, with 32 on each side of the tank’s hull, divided into two rows of 16 each. Unlike the ARAT I set, the ARAT II includes 14 additional tiles, 7 mounted on either side of the turret of the tank it is fitted to. Pictorial evidence seems to suggest that the turret tiles are not always fitted, for an undisclosed reason.

Unlike the large box XM-19 tiles, optimized for protection from horizontally-fired shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenade launchers, those of the XM-32 look like roof tiles. When fitted to an M1A2 SEP they are slanted downward, as they are optimized to protect the tank from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that are configured to fire an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP). These shaped charge penetrators are currently employed on a number of American military weapons, including the TOW-2B antitank missile. Those used by the Iraqi insurgents were improvised and typically emplaced at ground level to fire upwards.

TUSK Crew Protection Upgrades

Due to the high demand from the tankers in Iraq, the initial production run of 130 units of the Loader’s Armored Gun Shield (LAGS), one of the numerous components making up the complete TUSK kits, was rushed to theater in 2005, before the complete kit sets were assembled. When the complete TUSK I kits reached Iraq in 2007, the Loader’s Armored Gun Shield was fitted with a thermal sight officially designated the Light Thermal Weapon Sight (LTWS).

With the introduction of the TUSK II kit there appeared a 360 degree open-topped armor shield for the M1A2 tank commanders, which included transparent armor to improve his visibility in combat when engaging the enemy. A much simpler open-topped shield arrangement had also been provided for the M1A1 series tanks under TUSK II. Externally, it appears the only TUSK feature adopted by the US Marine Corps in Iraq was the LAGS.

Due to the large-scale use of standard production antitank mines left over from the disbandment of Saddam Hussein’s Army, and IEDs by the Iraqi insurgents, an important component that formed part of TUSK I was a V-shaped armored plate 200mm thick attached to the bottom hull plate of Abrams series tanks in-country. It weighed 2,998lbs.

Reflecting the widespread use of conventional land mines and IEDs by the Iraqi insurgents, part of the TUSK I included a new Mine Resistant Driver’s Seat that minimized the effect of the blast and resulting shock wave on the driver. No longer was the driver’s seat mounted to the floor, which would transmit a shock wave to the driver’s body, but attached to the ceiling of the front hull compartment. In addition, the driver was provided with a four-point seat belt system to prevent him from being thrown around his compartment upon driving over a mine or IED.

TUSK Vision Upgrades

As part of TUSK I the drivers on the Abrams series tanks were provided with a thermal sight, which could be installed in their center periscope station if the situation dictated. It is labeled the Driver’s Vision Enhancer (DVE).

The TUSK I kits for the M1A1 series tanks included a thermal sight for the tank commander’s .50 caliber M2HB machine gun called the Remote Thermal Sight (RTS). The M1A2 did not require the RTS as it was already designed with one.

Miscellaneous TUSK Upgrades

To facilitate communication between the Abrams series tanks in Iraq and the dismounted infantry they often worked in conjunction with, the TUSK I kit included a Tank-Infantry Phone (TIP) placed at the right rear of the vertical engine compartment. It has an extension cable to allow an infantryman attempting to use the TIP to seek nearby cover if being fired upon.

To minimize the collateral damage caused by firing the 120mm main gun of the M1A1 and M1A2 series tanks deployed to Iraq when engaged in urban combat, the TUSK I featured a remote-controlled .50 caliber M2HB machine gun and a 200-round ammunition box attached to the mantlet of the tank. It is called the Counter Sniper/Anti-Material Mount (CS/AMM).

The .50 caliber M2HB machine that is the heart of the CS/AMM is fixed in position and is aimed by the gunner using his main gun controls. It can be fired separately from the main gun. From a 19 February 2008 article by Pfc. April Campbell, written for the Army News Service, comes this quote by 2nd Lieutenant Frank Simmons regarding the introduction of the CS/AMM in Iraq: ‘We’re still lethal at long ranges without destroying everything. The sniper rifle mitigates the collateral damage.’

TUSK Features Deleted

As part of the original TUSK I there had been a slat armor kit developed to protect the rear of the vehicle engine deck from strikes by rocket-propelled grenade launchers. At least one US Army armored unit equipped with the M1A2 SEP had them fitted for a time. For undisclosed reasons, maybe based on their limited use in the field, the slat armor kit was deemed impractical, and it was deleted from being part of the TUSK program.

Another feature proposed for the original TUSK program included a remote-control mount for the tank commander’s .50 caliber M2HB machine gun on the M1A2. This feature did not make it into the final TUSK program and did not appear in service until the introduction of the M1A2 SEP V2, fitted with the CROWS. Another feature proposed for the TUSK program was a rear hull camera system. It, like the CROWS, did not make it into the TUSK program, but later appeared on the M1A2 SEP V2.