China Report

The Chengdu Wing Loong II (‘Pterodactyl II’), military designation GJ-2, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group in the People’s Republic of China. Intended for use as a surveillance and aerial reconnaissance and precision strike platform, Chengdu unveiled the concept of Wing Loong II at the Aviation Expo China in Beijing on September 2015. Wing Loong II has long range strike capability with satellite link.

In 2019, China’s Central Military Commission and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remained focused on reaching the goal of achieving mechanisation of the PLA’s ground forces by 2020, improving `informatisation’, and working towards achieving the 2035 goal of armed-forces modernisation and dominant regional power-projection capabilities. The 1 October 2019 parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic reflected the breadth of China’s defence modernisation, with particular attention paid to new additions to China’s missile, uninhabited-aerial-vehicle (UAV) and hypersonic capabilities. Apart from hardware, the parade also seemed to reflect the organisational and doctrinal shifts in the PLA. The inclusion of personnel from all branches in the Strategic Support Force (SSF) and Joint Logistics Support Force sections of the parade, for example, sought to highlight China’s progress towards joint operational capability across services. Meanwhile, the presence of officers and scientists from the National Defense University, University of Defense Technology and Academy of Military Sciences highlighted China’s focus on civil- military integration.

The PLA continues its efforts to improve combat capabilities under realistic training conditions. The navy and air force were particularly active in 2019, though the PLA Rocket Force and SSF also conducted drills. The PLA Army conducted the Firepower-2019 exercise in Inner Mongolia, while the PLA Navy (PLAN) conducted multiple exercises in the East and South China seas, as well as near Taiwan. The PLA Rocket Force practised its ability to withstand an attack and launch a counter-strike. The SSF remains little discussed publicly, though reports point to it having also participated in joint-operations exercises and drills. The navy has been active in joint exercises in the East China Sea and around Taiwan through 2019, timing these `routine drills’ with political developments in the region. On 15 April, the day before Taiwan and the United States marked the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act with a high-level forum in Taipei, the PLA held `necessary drills’ with warships, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft around the island. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has focused on continuing to develop offensive and defensive air and space integration. Chinese media reports points to the PLAAF’s `circle of friends’ growing larger, with joint exercises with the air forces of Brazil and Russia in 2019. In 2019, Beijing also acknowledged for the first time the existence of theatre-level joint exercises, code-named North, East, South and West. A possible example is the July 2019 exercise involving all five service branches off China’s southeast coast, although there was no official confirmation of this.

China’s latest defence white paper, released in July 2019, constituted a progress report on PLA reforms, with attention given to the specific strengths and weaknesses of each service branch. Though the PLA is making progress across the board, the white paper notes that mechanisation and informatisation were behind schedule – in contrast to President Xi Jinping’s statement in 2017 at the Army Day Parade when he announced that the PLA had already achieved mechanisation and made rapid progress towards informatisation. The 2019 white paper is likely to be more accurate in its description, and it signals that the 2020 goal of achieving mechanisation and making significant progress towards informatisation may not be met. Beijing’s definition of these two goals remains unclear.

However, a breakdown of defence expenditure was provided for the first time since the 2010 white paper. The new detail, and the framing of China’s defence modernisation and military spending as `reasonable and appropriate’, signals an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to quell external criticism of China’s military build-up. While the 2019 white paper compares China’s defence spending to that of other countries, to highlight that it represents a relatively small percentage of GDP, it is also presented in a domestic context alongside the budgets of the other government ministries with which the PLA competes for resources.

The white paper emphasises increasing instability in various geographical regions. It portrays China as the architect of, contributor to and mediator within the `community with a shared future for mankind’ in the `new era’. The US-led alliance structure in the Asia-Pacific is considered outdated and ill-suited. Although the white paper considers the regional security situation `generally stable’, it suggests that Asia-Pacific states have become `increasingly aware’ that they are part of this regional community of shared destiny. Bilateral negotiations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China over a code of conduct for the South China Sea would likely be Beijing’s preferred model for any such `regional’ security architecture.

Nevertheless, for the moment the regional security architecture is unlikely to expand to include new arms-control regimes. Following the dissolution of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between Russia and the United States, the US indicated any new arms-control treaty could usefully expand beyond the original two signatories and include China as well. However, Beijing has made it clear that INF and post-INF Treaty arms-control issues should be resolved first between Russia and the US. While China is concerned about the consequences of potential US deployment of intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific, in the wake of the INF Treaty, China’s missile development has generally been in line with `China’s national defense policies’ (for instance, a large number of its missile systems are based within range of Taiwan) and Beijing has stated that it will `in no way agree to making the INF Treaty multilateral’.

While mentioning a range of challenges, the 2019 white paper reaffirms that the status of Taiwan remains one of China’s main national-security concerns. In his New Year address for 2019, President Xi emphasised that resolving the Taiwan question and completing reunification was a historic task and could not be stopped. `One country, two systems’ and peaceful reunification were the best paths to China’s national reunification, Xi said, though he made `no promise to renounce the use of force’ and reserved `the option of taking all necessary means’. This sentiment was echoed in Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s speech at the 2019 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. Despite numerous military exercises and live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait and off Taiwan’s east coast throughout 2019, Beijing faces a difficult choice. As President Tsai Ing-wen gears up for the 2020 presidential election in Taiwan, China’s military drills and political unrest in Hong Kong are reinforcing narratives that reunification is not in Taiwan’s interest. Indeed, in response to Xi’s speech on Taiwan, both the Democratic Progressive Party and Kuomintang have stated that one country, two systems is no longer a viable option.

The Chinese Type 99A2 is the most modern Main Battle Tank in service with the Peoples Liberation Army.  Development started in 2003 with trials of the vehicle starting sometime in 2007 or thereafter. In comparison to earlier Type 99 Tanks it has a number of changes in terms of firepower, mobility, protection and technology resulting in dimensional changes in the hull and turret sizes.

 PLA Army

The process of re-equipping the PLA Army continues, with a focus on the objectives of completing basic mechanisation and improving informatisation by 2020. Legacy equipment, such as the ZTZ-59 tank and PL-59 howitzer, is now being cycled out of frontline units, although it is unlikely that all of it will be replaced by the 2020 target date. Additional heavy combined-arms brigades in the Central and Northern theatre commands are now finally receiving the long-awaited ZTZ-99A main battle tank. However, the Eastern and Southern theatre commands will likely continue to operate lighter tank designs – primarily the ZTZ-96A and ZTQ-15 – because of the terrain in those areas. The Central Theatre Command’s 161st Air Assault Brigade has begun taking delivery of the Z-20 medium transport helicopter – an indigenous version of the US Black Hawk design.

The army’s Stride series of exercises for its combined-arms brigades continues, albeit not at a fast pace, with only one exercise at Zhurihe (for heavy brigades) and two at Queshan (for medium and light brigades) completed by September 2019; these all involved Central Theatre Command formations as the `Red Force’ (friendly) under evaluation. Following the PLA’s participation in Russia’s Vostok-2018 exercise, China once again sent a relatively small contingent of 1,600 personnel to participate in Russia’s Tsentr-2019 exercise in September, primarily drawing on a heavy combined-arms battlegroup and aviation detachment from the Western Theatre Command’s 76th Group Army.

The Dongfeng-41 (DF-41, CSS-X-10) (‘East Wind-41’) is a fourth-generation Chinese solid-fuelled road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile operated by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (formerly the Second Artillery Corps). DF-41 is the fourth and the latest generation of the Dongfeng series strategic missiles developed by China. The missile was officially unveiled at the China National Day military parade on October 1st, 2019.

PLA Rocket Force

New missile systems were publicly unveiled in October at the parade marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. This underscored the PLA Rocket Force’s continuing expansion and highlighted priority areas of capability development. The DF-41 (CH-SS-20) road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), like the existing DF-5B and DF-31A(G) ICBM variants, is believed to have the capacity to carry either multiple warheads or a single warhead and multiple jammers, penetration aids and decoys. The parade also featured two new highspeed conventional systems: the DF-17 medium range ballistic missile and hypersonic glide vehicle, and the CJ-100 cruise missile. This emphasis on additional capacity and higher speed for nuclear and conventional systems respectively reflects the Rocket Force’s approach to retaining credible capabilities in light of the improving missile defences of potential adversaries.

While the DF-17 was described at the parade as a purely conventional system, media reports in 2019 quoting unnamed officials at the China Aerospace and Industry Corporation suggested that in future the system may have both nuclear and conventional payload variants, much like the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile before it.

The DF-41, DF-17 and CJ-100 are all now believed to have officially entered PLA service with Rocket Force brigades. However, there is traditionally a lag between a system’s official entry into PLA service and the declaration of initial operating capability, and it is unclear if any of these new systems have reached that stage.

The Type 055 destroyer (NATO/OSD Renhai-class cruiser) is a class of stealth guided missile destroyers being constructed for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force. It is a multi-mission design; the combination of sensors and weapons suggests a main role of area air defence, with anti-submarine warfare capabilities surpassing previous Chinese surface combatants

PLA Navy

The PLAN continues to make significant strides in filling the gaps in its capabilities in order to operate as a blue-water navy. In 2019, these included the public debut of the first Type-055 (Renhai-class) cruiser at the navy’s 70th-anniversary fleet review in April. In September, China launched the fifth of eight Type- 055s that are either currently under construction or already complete.

Another important milestone in the development of the PLAN’s power-projection capability was the launch in September of the first Type-075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) large amphibious-assault ship. Another Type-075 is under construction and it is thought that at least one more is planned; the ships are estimated at around 30,000 tonnes fullload displacement. Meanwhile, the sixth Type- 071 (Yuzhao-class) landing platform dock entered service in January, with at least two more under construction.

Beyond the Type-055, China’s output of surface combatants remains striking, with the 19th and 20th Type-052D (Luyang III-class) destroyers launched in May and a 63rd Type-056/056A (Jiangdao I/II-class) corvette later in August. Meanwhile, the PLAN also retired a number of older destroyers and frigates. The PLAN’s focus so far seems to have been more on raising the capability levels of its platforms rather than just boosting inventory numbers.

In this context, speculation continues regarding China’s aircraft-carrier ambitions. In some respects, progress remains cautious – for example, in the relatively modest operations so far of the first carrier, the Liaoning (RUS Kuznetsov class), and the extended initial sea trials of the second, as-yet unnamed ship (RUS Kuznetsov mod). A third, larger vessel is under construction. China may still be struggling with the challenge of creating an effective carrier capability, and so there is uncertainty over when the PLAN might be able to achieve a step change in capability, particularly in terms of long-range carrier deployments or integrated task-group operations. Similarly, bringing the complex Type-075 LHD into full operational service may take some time. A second Type-901 (Fuyu-class) fast large under way replenishment vessel, perhaps intended to accompany the carriers, entered service in February. However, the PLAN will need more such vessels if China maintains ambitions to deploy a truly global multi-carrier capability in the future.

While China’s defence minister gave a forthright speech at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2019, blaming tensions in the South China Sea on `foreign’ naval deployments, China’s own naval activities in the region appeared more assertive and in July it reportedly carried out a drill that included what appeared to be a first salvo-launch of anti-ship ballistic missiles in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, two tests were reported of the navy’s new JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which is intended for its next-generation ballistic-missile submarines – these may be the Type-096. This combination has the potential to provide Beijing with significantly longer-range submarine-based ballistic missile capability sometime in the next decade.

At the same time, there continues to be increased focus on Chinese `hybrid’ or `grey zone’ activities, highlighted by the tensions raised by Beijing’s deployment into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone of a survey vessel with coastguard escort. Increasing attention has been paid to the maritime militia, which is based chiefly on large numbers of supposed fishing vessels. The latest US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) `China Military Power’ report stated that the PLAN, the coastguard and the maritime militia are increasingly visible throughout the region.

J-20As fitted with the original AL-31 engines

PLA Air Force

It is known that China has been developing a next-generation `strategic’ bomber, but the US DIA in 2019 also suggested that a `tactical bomber’ in the same class was part of the PLAAF’s acquisition programme. The `China Military Power’ report characterised the latter project as a `fighter-bomber’, capable of carrying long-range air-to-air missiles (AAMs).

New air systems displayed during China’s 70th-anniversary parade included the WZ-8 high-speed reconnaissance UAV and the GJ-11 uninhabited combat air vehicle. A new variant of the Xian H-6 bomber, the H-6N, was shown for the first time. This airframe was observed with a large under-belly recess, although the anti-ship ballistic missile that some analysts contend may be associated with this new variant was not displayed.

Meanwhile, the successor to the H-6 series, likely to be designated the H-20, is anticipated by the US Department of Defense to enter PLAAF service around the middle of the next decade. Some reports suggest the H-20 is a low-observable flying-wing design. While senior Chinese officials have confirmed that a new bomber is in development, at the time of writing there has been no similar comment regarding a tactical bomber.

The tactical bomber’s association with a long-range AAM may be an allusion to the PLAAF’s PL-17 very-long-range dual-mode AAM, now in development. This missile is likely fitted with an active electronically scanned-array radar and an imaging-infrared adjunct seeker. The PL-17 appears to be aimed at countering high-value low-density targets, such as tankers, but also airborne early-warning and control, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, aircraft. The PL-17, and a rocket-ramjet-powered AAM possibly known as the PL-21, could enter service in the early years of the next decade.

The first operational Chengdu J-20A fighter/ ground-attack aircraft PLAAF unit was formed in 2019, and production of the type is likely to increase over the next few years as more units are re-equipped with it. At the same time, the Shenyang J-31 multi-role combat-aircraft project continues, but at a slower pace than that of the J-20A.

Great-power competition and cooperation

Intensifying US efforts to clamp down on economic, technological and knowledge flows to China – based on a widening interpretation of US national-security considerations – are another obstacle to the long-term development of China’s defence and strategic capabilities. This was underscored in 2019 by US efforts to isolate Huawei by excluding the firm from access to US markets or technology. US export-, investment-, and academic-exchange controls have also been significantly tightened. In response, Chinese leaders have urged the country’s S&T establishment to step up their efforts to develop indigenous technological capabilities, particularly in emerging core areas such as AI, semiconductors and 5G.

The defence white paper makes clear that China is in long-term military-technological competition with the US and that `the PLA still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries’. The white paper warns that the Chinese armed forces need to make `greater efforts to invest in military modernization to meet national demands’ and are at risk of being surprised by technological developments elsewhere and a widening generational gap in technologies. As Sino-US military-technological competition intensifies, Beijing and Moscow are forging closer defence-technological cooperation. China is reportedly examining whether to purchase another 24 Su-35 combat aircraft to complement those it has already received. Russian arms-export officials have also been keen to market the export version of the Su-57 fifth-generation combat aircraft to the PLA Air Force, although there are no indications that a deal is close.

The Battle for Mountains Surrounding Stanley I

Major General Moore had summoned his two brigade commanders to Division Headquarters aboard LPD Fearless early on 8 June to discuss options for the final attack on Stanley. Unlike his staff, Moore had not been so upset about Brigadier Wilson’s surprise move to Fitzroy nearly a week earlier. Risky though it had been, 5 Brigade’s leap forward fixed the enemy’s attention all the more closely on the southern approach to Stanley. The Argentines had been thinking for some time that the British would launch their main assault from a route through Fitzroy, despite reports of British advances to the west of Stanley near Teal Inlet. And to be sure, they did not know that activity to the south had become a frantic struggle to reduce the vulnerability of 2 Para without supplies and supporting arms. Increased activity around Fitzroy further promoted the perception that it would become the springboard for the final attack. Fitzroy was not, however, part of a deception plan to mask a commando attack from the west. Quite the contrary, it was intended to play a significant role in the final attack. Just how prominent that role would be was one of the main issues at Moore’s meeting with his commanders.

The contentious issue at his meeting that day was whether British ground forces would conduct their final assault through the mountains near Stanley on a broad or a narrow front. The broad front in question started with Mount Longdon to the north-west of Stanley and included high ground starting a few miles south of Longdon and extending eastwards to Stanley: Two Sisters, Mount Harriet, Tumbledown Mountain, Mount William and Sapper Hill. Should Mount Longdon be an objective, then another prominent feature known as Wireless Ridge stood between Mount Longdon and Stanley. In that case, the British would need to take Wireless as well. The narrow option excluded Mount Longdon and Wireless Ridge.

Brigadier Thompson objected to the narrow front option for reasons both tactical and logistical. Since the Argentines were expecting a thrust from the south now more than ever, concentrating the attack into a narrower front from the west and south of Stanley would play into their suspicions. From a logistics standpoint, very importantly, the narrow front option with British forces bypassing Argentine forces on Mount Longdon posed significant risks. For days the Division had been concentrating on getting supplies into the FBMA at Teal Inlet. That area now served as the forward sustainment base for 3 Commando Brigade. Thompson’s 3 Para and 45 Commando had moved east from there several days before and taken the high ground of Mount Estancia and Mount Vernet to the north-west of Longdon. The track from Teal Inlet through a small settlement called Estancia House near Mount Estancia now became the critical ground supply route for his units, regardless of where they were attacking.

Opposition astride this supply route, most notably from Argentine units at Mount Longdon, had to be neutralized in order to ensure continuity of support to 3 Commando Brigade units during the final battle. From a logistics perspective, Thompson’s battle plan enabled interior rather than exterior lines of communication, thereby enabling 3 Commando Brigade to maintain the security of its only ground and helicopter resupply route from the FBMA at Teal Inlet through a distribution point at Estancia House and from there to combat units. The Brigade could not rely on the few available helicopters to move supplies forward from Teal Inlet. Combat units would carry considerable supplies with them, but approach marches would be long, and once fighting started the units would require reliable resupply. During the final battle, helicopters would focus on resupply if possible, but mainly on movement of artillery ammunition and medical evacuation. Mount Longdon, therefore, became a critical objective from Thompson’s perspective, and 3 Commando Brigade had to control it to protect logistics sustainment for the battle for Stanley.

Some at division level clearly did not share all of Thompson’s concerns. While Moore was chairing his meeting aboard Fearless that day, other members of the Division staff and Commando Logistic Regiment were forward at Fitzroy assessing the potential of that area as a sustainment base. Shifting supplies forward from Ajax Bay could shorten distances significantly between the bulk of stocks and combat units, even though there were risks in moving large quantities of supplies that near to Stanley; but getting supplies there was challenging. Distances by sea from the Ajax area were twice as long to Fitzroy as they were to Teal Inlet.

As Moore, Thompson, Wilson and others were discussing tactical and logistical options for the final battle, Argentine observers were, unfortunately, peering down from their observation posts to discover and eventually report the arrival of the LSLs Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad at Fitzroy. Word arrived about the Argentine air attacks as the meeting on Fearless was still in session. The session ended abruptly, and the leaders returned to their units as LFFI shifted its focus to saving lives and restoring order at Fitzroy. Moore had reached no decisions about the plan for a final attack before the hasty adjournment.

By 9 June, as the extent of losses at Fitzroy became fully known, the location’s appeal as a large support area vanished. Planning shifted toward establishing only another FBMA at Fitzroy, this one for 5 Brigade. While staff and units were adjusting to the magnitude of losses, Moore shifted his attention to 3 Commando Brigade as the main effort for the upcoming final battle. When arriving on East Falkland ten days earlier, he had anticipated that his brigades would be beginning the final battle by this time. Now, however, Moore still faced requirements to get artillery and ammunition forward for both brigades to support the attack. Additionally, something had to be done to reconstitute the combat strength of 5 Brigade, given the large number of casualties sustained by 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards and the stocks that had been lost. He would focus deliberately on building up logistics capabilities in forward areas before launching the final assault and on ensuring that logistics remained integrated fully with tactical plans through all phases of the battle plan until his forces captured Stanley.

That day, Moore flew forward to 3 Commando Brigade’s headquarters at Teal Inlet to meet with Thompson and tell him that 3 Commando Brigade would be the Division main effort in an attack that would include Mount Longdon. The plan would contain three phases: during the first phase, 3 Commando Brigade would attack Mount Longdon, Two Sisters, and Mount Harriet; during the second, 3 Commando Brigade would continue its attack to take Wireless Ridge while 5 Brigade attacked Tumbledown Mountain and Mount William; Thompson’s Brigade would then continue the attack in phase three to seize remaining high ground south of Stanley, beginning with Sapper Hill. The hope was that the Argentines would surrender before phase three became necessary.

Thompson’s units had been planning towards this end for some time and hoping for such a decision. To add more punch to his main effort, Moore attached 2 Para back to 3 Commando Brigade. He also attached 5 Brigade’s 1 Welsh Guards, which was augmented now by two companies from 40 Commando, because the approach route for the commando attack on Mount Harriet would cross into its sector. Helicopters would lift the paratroopers from their current location near Fitzroy to an assembly area aside Mount Kent, where they would be in reserve initially. Moore, however, did not let Thompson retain control of the remainder of 40 Commando, which had been providing security around the beachhead since D-Day because of continuing concerns about a possible attack on rear areas. Thompson’s units were prepared and eager to get on with it. They had been forward now for well over a week, and although there had been some skirmishes with Argentines, most of their time had been spent patrolling to determine enemy dispositions and vulnerabilities.

Conditions in forward areas had taken a distinct turn for the worse since commandos had moved away from the San Carlos beachhead, particularly for those units in hills approaching Stanley. Lieutenant Colonel Nick Vaux’s 42 Commando probably had been withstanding the worst of it. His men had been patrolling in and around Mount Kent since the end of May and at Mount Challenger since the first days of June. Some of his units had waited several days for their packs to get forward and still longer for resupply of food. Although there remained tons of food and supplies at both Ajax and Teal Inlet, bad weather had complicated efforts to get supplies forward by helicopter. When supplies did arrive, commandos then had to man-pack them further forward at night to unit positions. The dried Arctic rations being provided contained over 5,000 calories but required water and cooking fuel to reconstitute them. Units generally ran short of both; and as a result, men were starting to suffer from diarrhoea and dehydration. Consequently, many relished finding captured enemy rations, because they came with fuel tablets called hexamine for cooking and sometimes with a small bottle of whisky and cigarettes.

As Vaux recalls, ‘Each day brought blizzard, squall and downpour in relentless sequence.’ His commandos would attempt to erect poncho shelters, only to have the fierce winds buffeting the mountains change direction and rip them apart. Only occasionally would the sun break through to provide them with temporary warmth and a chance to dry out clothes. They had come to despise the standard issue military boot that soaked up moisture like a sponge; these boots were now making cases of trench foot a real problem. When packs containing their extra clothing and personal items finally arrived on 7 June, Vaux’s men could hardly contain their enthusiasm: ‘For a brief, carefree spell the atmosphere was reminiscent of opening presents at Christmas, with weather-beaten marines gleefully extracting “dry sox and clean nix”, caches of nutty (chocolate), even the odd battery-powered razor.’

Making matters worse, though, 42 Commando had suffered several casualties when marines stumbled on to Argentine mines as they patrolled areas around Challenger. The difficulty of evacuating these casualties from points of injury to aid stations foreshadowed the difficulties all British units would face during the final battle. At the same time, however, it proved again the wisdom behind the detailed medical training marines and soldiers had received while sailing south from the United Kingdom. One illustrative case in point is that of Marine Mark Curtis of 42 Commando, who was on patrol when he stepped on a mine. Curtis described what happened:

It was at the bottom of a little slope that I stepped on a mine; “Cuth” and the other marine had walked over it. I seemed to be thrown up in the air and fell on my right side. I took the gun off my shoulder and pointed it forward, waiting for someone to fire at us; I still thought it was the ambush. My foot started to feel numb. I tried to feel down but my trousers were all torn round the bottom. The middle of my foot had been blown off; the toes were still there, connected to my shin by a fleshy bit of skin. It looked weird. Half an inch of my heel had been ripped back. That was all there was left – the toes and the back of the heel. “Cuth” shouted, asked what was going on – a bit of heavy language. I told him I’d had my foot blown off, but I didn’t put it quite like that. Everything was quiet then. He crawled over on his hands and knees, looking for mines. He tried to bandage my leg and I gave myself some morphine. You keep it on your dog tag – like a little toothpaste tube with a needle. I couldn’t get the plastic cover off and had to bite it off. I injected myself in the muscle of the thigh. It didn’t seem to have any effect for half an hour; the pain had started after five minutes. “Cuth” picked me up and carried me out.

Medical training and toughness helped Curtis stay alive until his comrades could get him to medical specialists. It took them seven hours to carry him back to the first aid station; from there, it took another eighteen hours to get him to the field hospital. He lost his foot but lived.

Caring for wounded weighed heavily on the minds of many throughout the Land Force. No one doubted there would be casualties. What concerned everyone was the difficulty of getting casualties off the battlefield. Whereas the men were well trained in keeping themselves and their comrades alive until help arrived, the rocky and hilly terrain would make it very difficult for units to extract casualties down the sides of mountains to level locations, from where they could be evacuated further to the rear by helicopter. Making matters worse, hilltop vantage points would enable Argentines to observe helicopters landing and possibly call for fire. Thompson had successfully resisted efforts by the senior doctor at Division to close down 3 Commando Brigade’s small field dressing station at Teal Inlet and to consolidate it with the one being established at Fitzroy to support 5 Brigade, thereby forming one larger divisional field hospital. Although such a proposal seemed advantageous from a resource standpoint, it disregarded the conditions which made evacuation so difficult around the mountains, something which some commanders had come to experience at first hand in recent days. Foggy weather near the mountains surrounding Stanley frequently resulted in conditions that prevented helicopters from flying. Medical evacuation across or around the several mountains separating 3 Commando Brigade units from a Fitzroy field hospital, therefore, became totally contingent upon weather. Of even more immediate concern to combat units was the lack of lightweight but sturdy collapsible stretchers to assist men in carrying casualties from points of injury to locations for treatment or further evacuation. Rocky slopes would make it difficult enough for men to fight their way through Argentine positions, let alone carry stretchers up and men down the slopes under fire. To facilitate casualty evacuation, as well as for forward resupply of ammunition and other critical supplies, units organized ad hoc litter-bearer teams from personnel not directly involved in the fight. The teams would shuttle supplies forward on whatever stretchers they had and carry casualties back.

By this time, another potential problem needed to be solved. Commando Logistic Regiment and its Medical Squadron had been rushing from emergency to emergency since D-Day, as they worked to care for casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Hellberg had found himself under pressure on almost a daily basis from Northwood to release details of those who had been killed or wounded. To control the flow of such sensitive information, he established a Field Records and Reinforcement Holding Unit next to the Red and Green Life Machine, to stay abreast of developments, maintain accurate information about casualties and ensure that notifications to next of kin were completed before divulging any information to others. The Brigade had first implemented this centralized operation during an exercise the previous year. Before the amphibious landings at San Carlos, it had earmarked staffing for this unit for contingency purposes. Some clerks came from parachute battalions and commandos. After the war, 3 Commando Brigade recommended that organizations continue fulfilling these very important but easily overlooked requirements.

Thompson called his commanders together for their ‘O Group’ briefing on 10 June, the day after his meeting with Moore at Teal Inlet. The Commando Brigade plan pivoted on three sequential attacks on the evening of 11 June, beginning in the north with Mount Longdon: 3 Para received the mission to seize that key piece of terrain and prepare to exploit forward on to Wireless Ridge to the east; 45 Commando would attack to defeat enemy forces on Two Sisters directly to the south of Mount Longdon and prepare to exploit forward on to Tumbledown Mountain; and 42 Commando, further south still, would seize Mount Harriet and prepare to follow 45 Commando through Tumbledown to take Mount William. Once the battle started, all units would have to share the single bridge across the Murrell River to shuttle supplies forward. That bridge would remain critical as long as fighting continued, since it enabled the only ground line of communication between 3 Commando Brigade’s distribution point at Estancia House on the west side of the Murrell River and combat units, whose objectives were on the east side. Brigade objectives were to be taken by first light the next day. Two of the attacks were to be silent in order to achieve surprise, meaning that there would be no artillery preparation. The attack on Mount Harriet would be ‘noisy’ to cover the move of 42 Commando around the flank to hit Argentines from the rear. When artillery fire began, Argentines occupying British objectives would feel the full weight of more than 11,000 rounds of 105mm artillery ammunition now positioned forward for this first phase of the battle. Additionally, some Task Force warships were dedicated to support the units: Avenger would provide naval gunfire for 3 Para; Glamorgan for 45 Commando; Yarmouth for 42 Commando; and Arrow for special forces that would be conducting some small operations closer to Stanley. Together, these four ships had 1400 rounds for their 4.5-inch guns to supplement the artillery on land.

Thompson’s commanders had had plenty of time to think about the missions before them and to develop plans during the final days of the supply build-up. Their units nevertheless faced daunting tasks as they attacked up hill, over generally unfamiliar and rocky terrain, and at night. Although some had experienced skirmishes with Argentines over the past week, this would be the first real fighting for most units since arriving on East Falkland. Meanwhile, 2 Para would remain the Brigade reserve.

As commanders finalized details of their respective portions of the plan, Commando Logistic Regiment at Ajax, in its new role supporting both brigades, and brigade support echelons at Teal Inlet and Fitzroy maintained a constant flow of supplies to forward positions, using the Division’s helicopters in preparation for the final attack. There were about forty helicopters of all types available at the time, including four more Wessexes that arrived at San Carlos on 9 June aboard the RFA support ship Engadine. Hopes of providing scheduled maintenance services to them, as would have been strictly enforced in peacetime, had long since vanished. Now, pilots pushed their helicopters to the limits. The single CH47 Chinook, which had been pressed so hard following the loss of the other heavy-lift helicopters aboard Atlantic Conveyor, flew 109 hours without servicing. Since pilots flew virtually nonstop during the limited daylight hours, checks for leaks and structural cracks became limited to those times when pilots brought their helicopters in for a hot refuel, or at night. Checks at night, made with the aid of low-intensity red-lensed flashlights, were not always capable of detecting serious faults. Nonetheless, the British succeeded in maintaining a near 100 per cent operational rate of their helicopters through to the end of the war. ‘Band-Aid fixes’ became more than a figurative expression for many helicopters, as masking tape was used to cover bullet holes. If something was not damaged severely enough to prevent take-off, pilots took the risk.

The Battle for Mountains Surrounding Stanley II

The British had taken to heart the sobering lessons of Goose Green. Moore was resolved not to start the attack before the required support was in place for his brigades. Expectations for combat units were no different than they had been on D-Day. Each man was to carry two days of supplies and ammunition. All vehicles were to be topped off with fuel. The major difference was the deliberate build-up of artillery ammunition to provide overlapping coverage of fire for battalions. Previously, 2 Para had gone into battle man-packing ammunition and only a portion of its organic mortars. Units would bring all their organic weapons to bear on objectives this time. Additionally, the British would press all of their 105mm artillery batteries into action. The intent was for each battalion to receive support from at least one battery of six guns and possibly from another battery (for a total of twelve guns) at any one time, depending on commitments. Moore directed that there be 500 rounds of ammunition at every gun position, backed up by 500 more rounds per gun in forward support areas at Teal Inlet and Fitzroy. Supplementing the artillery would be naval gunfire and Harrier groundattack aircraft. The Royal Engineers had completed landing platforms and jet refuelling capability at San Carlos on 5 June. Harrier pilots could now stay on station longer to provide support because they did not have to return to ships to refuel as before. The plan was for combat units in brigades to have two days of supply. Each FBMA would have an additional two days’ on hand. Backing them up would be the support area at Ajax Bay, now the sustainment base ashore for all land forces. Commodore Clapp remained prepared to provide additional resupply from ships in Falkland Sound or at sea to the Force Maintenance Area as needed. His LSLs would be pushing supplies from Ajax to the FBMAs at Teal Inlet and Fitzroy on alternating days to keep forward areas well stocked.

A considerable amount of ammunition had already been shifted forward to Teal Inlet and Fitzroy by the time the exact plan of attack became clear. Before the build-up was complete, Commando Logistic Regiment would move over 1,000 tons of ammunition to each location, almost exclusively by sea. A Sea King helicopter, after all, could carry only about sixty rounds of 105mm ammunition per lift. Helicopters became indispensable, however, in moving ammunition from the forward support areas to gun positions. It was a slow process. And it became slower still at times, when units on the ground tried to retain slings and nets for their own use after receiving ammunition and other supplies. The British had not deployed with as much sling-load equipment as they would have liked. The frustrations among logisticians of not getting sling-load items back would continue as attacks started and it became necessary to relocate both guns and ammunition.

By the time the build-up was complete, Teal Inlet and Fitzroy had both become hubs of activity. Forward arming and refuelling points had been established at each location to eliminate the need for helicopters to return to San Carlos. Local settlements pressed their equipment into service to help soldiers. Before long, tractors and Volvo tracked vehicles, which had become the most desirable means to move supplies, had churned the peat into seas of mud. By 11 June, the now famous Red and Green Life Machine, which had taken considerable pride in its inter-service medical teams, had largely disbanded to relocate medical troops and surgical teams to Teal Inlet and Fitzroy so that increased lifesaving care and surgical capabilities would be far forward to care for casualties. Only a single surgical team remained at Ajax. The hospital ship Uganda would come close to shore in the final days, as a precaution, to receive casualties if required.

Support plans for the two brigades were based on comparable principles. The bulk of 3 Commando Brigade stocks would remain at Teal Inlet under control of the Commander, Transport Squadron from Commando Logistic Regiment. From there, supplies would move, either by Rigid Raider boat or four-wheel drive/tracked vehicles further east to a distribution point at Estancia House, where approximately sixty tons of supplies were stashed and camouflaged before the attack commenced. Combat unit support echelons, split between the Teal Inlet support base and the Estancia distribution point, would provide supplies to their respective units from the distribution point. Together, they would transport supplies by whatever means they could overland from the distribution point, using the single-width muddy track. Helicopters would supplement unit efforts whenever possible, bringing casualties back from aid posts to field surgical teams on return flights. The bulk of stocks for 5 Brigade remained at Fitzroy under control of the Commander, 81 Ordnance, who had further assistance from a small command post from Commando Logistic Regiment. He and battalion quartermasters from 5 Brigade units would then coordinate movement of supplies to a distribution point at Bluff Cove, the initial location of the Scots Guards. From there, they would take supplies forward to unit locations. The intent was to move supplies between Fitzroy and Bluff Cove both by land and sea. The bridge crossing the inlet and connecting the settlement and distribution point, however, still was under repair from damage caused by Argentine explosives. Rough seas in coming days also would limit the use of landing craft to transport supplies to the distribution point. These situations necessitated greater reliance on helicopters to shift supplies forward from Fitzroy. Both 5 Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade units obtained supplies from the distribution point. Logisticians would attempt to orchestrate the throughput of supplies by helicopter, direct from the forward support base to units or gun positions, based on helicopter availability and weather.

Rapier air defences were in place and operational at both forward support base locations by this time, but the Argentines did not take action to disrupt the final build-up, either by air or on the ground. Argentine pilots attempted to attack 3 Commando Brigade’s distribution point at Estancia House on a couple of occasions, but they failed to find targets because of the camouflage commandos had erected. Although Argentine pilots had inflicted heavy losses on the British Task Force during the past month, serious threats to British ground forces, except that during 2 Para’s fight at Goose Green, failed to materialize. Argentine leaders never employed forces on the ground to disrupt the initial British build-up in the San Carlos anchorage after the June 8 air attacks at Fitzroy, or now, as logisticians laboured to get supplies to forward areas.

Argentina’s hopes of defeating the British, in fact, had vanished. Some simply had not realized it. They had started with more than a two-to-one numerical advantage in ground forces. Now both sides had about 9,000 soldiers getting ready to confront each other. Argentina’s Junta had foregone many opportunities. Its ability to inflict further damage now was significantly less than it had been. Naval vessels remained berthed in mainland ports after the intimidating and costly loss of General Belgrano a month before. Since then, Argentina had lost nearly a hundred planes in attempts to break through British air defences. It was becoming clear that the prize they had snatched so effortlessly from a reinforced platoon of marines on 2 April was now in jeopardy. Menendez had sent his chief of staff to the mainland on 8 June, the same day that Argentine pilots set back the British at Fitzroy, to ask Galtieri to make some move at the British rear area still at San Carlos. When Galtieri refused, Menendez urged him to accept the terms of UN Resolution 502 demanding an immediate withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falklands, but Galtieri again refused. Now Menendez’s troops, still largely facing south in and around Stanley, were about to feel the full strength of Moore’s two combat brigades and the supporting arms of the entire British Task Force. The assault would start with ferocity when 3 Commando Brigade units attacked in rapid succession not from the south but from the west.

It had taken the British a little over two months to get to this point, at a cost of a half dozen ships lost and many more damaged, a dozen planes and helicopters downed, and a couple hundred lives. The efforts of every person in the Task Force had focused on setting the stage for the battle for Stanley, which the British had regarded from early on as the centre of gravity in winning the war. Those involved in logistics operations at Ascension Island or in the United Kingdom were probably unaware of that, or of what was about to transpire. Shipbuilders, stock handlers and lorry drivers back in England; frustrated cargo handlers sweltering in the heat of Ascension Island; pilots and ground crews who had kept tankers and resupply planes in the air; crews on a hundred ships both commercial and military; and countless logisticians working in and out of their specialties throughout the theatre – all had contributed to a line of communication that now stretched from distribution points at Estancia House and Bluff Cove 8,000 miles back to the United Kingdom to make the battle possible. It had not been easy getting this far, and their jobs were not yet done, but there was no doubt that they had contributed immeasurably to the British victory that was about to arrive.

From vantage points away from the Falklands, and decades after the war, the short-lived ground war provides the impression that the British victory was not only swift but also easy. This could not be further from the truth. The British would reach their planned objectives, but not without heroic fighting. Thus 3 Commando Brigade would not be ready to exploit their first successes uniformly across the front; nor would 5 Brigade be ready to begin its attack in the second phase of the Division’s plan to take Tumbledown Mountain and Mount William. The attack by 3 Para on Mount Longdon provides an illustration of the difficulties that 3 Commando Brigade units faced the night of 11/12 June both in terms of tactics and logistics. The fight for control of Mount Longdon would become the costliest ground engagement of the war.

Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike’s plan for taking Mount Longdon was simple yet challenging, and it took into full account the terrain and anticipated enemy positions. Because there was a large minefield to the south of Mount Longdon, it would not be possible for his units to outflank the Argentines from that direction without taking considerable risks. The mountain’s summit, on the west side, provided a commanding view of the surrounding open ground for several thousand metres, both to the west, from where the British would attack under cover of darkness, and to the east, where the British would have to clear Argentines from fighting positions extending eastward to Wireless Ridge. Because the terrain surrounding Longdon was open, paratroopers could become exposed once fighting started, particularly if the Argentines were able to illuminate the area. The British believed that the Argentines were holding the summit and the north ridge of Mount Longdon. Pike planned to dedicate a company to take each of these areas, to hold his third company in reserve to assist as needed and to be prepared to exploit successes. The support company would establish a base of fire from the west/north-west to support attacking infantry companies with mortars, machineguns and MILAN missiles. Pike’s paratroopers would be going up against men from the enemy’s 7th Regiment, which was known to be holding Wireless Ridge as well. The fight for Mount Longdon was anticipated to be a tough one. After action reports indicated that the paratroopers confronted strong defences manned by a company and reinforced by engineers, snipers and machine-gun crews. The fight for the summit proved to be the fiercest.

Logistics support for 3 Para’s attack was organized with both a forward and rear element. The unit’s regimental aid post was likewise split into forward and rear aid stations to provide for continuous care to casualties. The forward logistics element was to travel with the support company on foot as it moved to establish its fire support base. It consisted of stretcher-bearers, who carried ammunition forward atop stretchers, and the forward aid station under control of the Regimental Medical Officer. The rear logistics element, under control of the battalion’s executive Officer, had the benefit of five tracked Volvo vehicles, three civilian tractors with trailers and four civilian Land Rovers. They would carry the bulk of additional ammunition and supplies as well as the rear aid station, which included an extra doctor as well as medical specialists and supplies. The vehicles would not go forward until the fight was underway, so that 3 Para’s approach march and attack could remain silent. Complicating matters for 3 Para’s rear element as well as for others in 3 Commando Brigade, however, was the lone bridge over the Murrell River. The vehicles of 3 Para could not cross the bridge until 45 Commando, the unit to its immediate south that would attack Two Sisters just 2km from Mount Longdon, had crossed its start line as well. Thompson had prescribed precise times for his units to cross their start lines to sequence the Brigade attack properly: 3 Para, to be exact, was scheduled to cross its start line at 2001 hrs that evening, followed by 45 Commando at 2100 hrs.12 Getting the rear element forward did not seem to be a problem. Men had to carry their heavy loads 5km or more over the rough East Falkland terrain in the dark just to get from assembly areas to start lines. From start lines, they had several more kilometres to go to find the enemy. Needless to say, a lot could happen to cause plans to unravel and to delay support from getting across the bridge.

The bulk of Pike’s support was not only contingent upon 45 Commando crossing its start line. If 45 Commando’s attack on Two Sisters did not go favourably, then that also could affect 3 Para’s ability to get its rear logistics element forward, since Argentine defenders on Two Sisters would be close enough to observe it and call for fire. Likewise, if 3 Para’s attack on Mount Longdon did not go as planned, Argentine defenders there would remain in overwatch positions to do the same to 45 Commando’s rear element. The two units were clearly dependent upon each other for both timeliness and success. As so often happens on battlefields, friction disrupted plans and timetables, but it did not stop British success that evening.

Pike’s paratroopers forded the Murrell River and crossed their start line only a few minutes behind schedule. As companies started toward their objectives in the dark, their paths inadvertently crossed, creating some confusion; and then, less than an hour after units crossed the start line, a platoon leader stepped on an anti-personnel mine. The explosion ended 3 Para’s hopes of a silent approach and attack. Within minutes, as the support company and the forward logistics element were still en route to their positions, the fight was underway and 3 Para started taking casualties. Fighting would continue throughout the night as paratroopers fought up the craggy slopes of Mount Longdon, often exposed by illumination rounds fired by Argentine artillery. Meanwhile, 3 Para’s rear logistics element was experiencing significant delays getting across the Murrell Bridge. One of the companies from Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Whitehead’s 45 Commando did not reach its start line for the attack on Two Sisters until 2300 hrs, two hours later than scheduled, which eventually altered that commando’s plan for attacking in the south. The delay now meant that 3 Para’s rear logistics element could not get across the Murrell River until well after midnight. By then, 3 Para had been fighting for over three hours. When the rear portion of the regimental aid post managed to join its forward counterpart at the base of Mount Longdon after midnight, the battalion was in dire need of medical support and supplies. Two company medical assistants had already been killed on the mountain as they tried to help the wounded.

The battalion had designated a landing site just to the west of the Murrell Bridge for helicopters to pick up casualties in need of evacuation to 3 Commando Brigade’s field dressing station at Teal Inlet. The forward aid post had been treating casualties for some time before the rear aid post arrived with the vehicles needed to get casualties to the helicopter-landing site. Before first light, approximately twenty casualties had been evacuated by vehicles from the regimental aid post at the base of Mount Longdon to the landing site, from where they were transported to Teal Inlet, initially in reconnaissance helicopters fitted with night vision devices for flying in the dark. Each brigade had been allocated Wessex helicopters specifically to assist in evacuation of casualties. They could call these helicopters forward now, using their own radio nets and without coordinating with a higher headquarters, a different procedure from that which had plagued 3 Commando Brigade during the Goose Green fight. Regrettably, the Wessex helicopters were not equipped for flying at night. By first light, when these and other helicopters without night-flight capabilities could be used, a backlog of casualties awaited evacuation at the landing site.

None of the helicopters providing evacuation from the battlefield to field dressing stations were configured with equipment or personnel to provide continuous medical treatment for casualties. The British had no pure medical evacuation helicopters with them. The light helicopters like Gazelles and Scouts flew patients in rear compartments from which seats had been removed. Space was so restricted that stretchers would not fit. As was the case when they hurriedly came to the aid of 5 Brigade following air attacks at Fitzroy, British helicopter pilots landed, took on casualties wherever they could and flew them as directly as possible to the nearest dressing station. Air crewmen did whatever possible to look after casualties en route. Not being trained medics, though, they could render little assistance. Fortunately, distances to field dressing stations at both Teal Inlet and Fitzroy were less than 20km, even from the most distant of objectives. (The bodies of those less fortunate who had been killed outright or who had died from wounds were isolated from the injured and, as time permitted, normally evacuated on vehicles heading overland to rear areas.) Evading artillery fire became a challenge in itself for helicopter pilots, as Argentine field artillery observers atop surrounding hills spotted them in the daylight and called for fire. Consequently, the sighting of British helicopters landing to evacuate casualties often prompted shelling from Argentine artillery able to range the Mount Longdon area from Stanley.

By late morning, having fought all night over the crags and through the rocky crevasses of Mount Longdon in, around and through positions that Argentines had been preparing for over a month, the paratroopers had won. But 3 Para now found itself the target of well-planned and discouragingly accurate artillery and mortar fire, making it difficult to exploit their hard-fought success toward Wireless Ridge. The battalion did not receive the order to continue the attack that day. Had they received it, it is likely that they would have advanced further only with difficulty and after some reconstitution. The fight to take Mount Longdon had cost 3 Para seventeen lives and over forty wounded. Holding on to it for the next forty-eight hours would cost them another six lives, as paratroopers fell victim to continuing Argentine artillery attacks. Some of them, as commonly cited in reports following the war, were stretcher-bearers and other medical personnel trying to evacuate or treat the wounded. The after action report of 3 Para following the war reveals the difficulty units faced getting the wounded further to the rear: of the twenty-three paratroopers who died taking or consolidating their position on Mount Longdon, eighteen lost their lives before arriving at the regimental aid post. Given the remarkable medical training the unit received aboard ship when en route to the Falklands, which gave individuals the confidence and ability to take care of themselves and others on the battlefield, the experience of 3 Para on Mount Longdon accentuates the difficulty of extracting casualties from points of injury to locations for further treatment or evacuation, even when the distance to those locations is only a matter of several hundred metres. The battalion’s forward medical station was located against the rocky base of Longdon, just a short walk from the summit on a normal day, perhaps. That evening, it probably seemed like miles away.

The Battle for Mountains Surrounding Stanley III

Fights on adjacent mountains had progressed to quicker conclusions than on Mount Longdon that evening, and losses were considerably less. Men in 45 Commando preparing to attack the adjacent Two Sisters witnessed the fierce Fighting underway to their north, as did the Argentines they were about to assault. Lieutenant Colonel Whitehead, the commander of 45 Commando, had planned the attack on Two Sisters so that one of his companies would attack first to seize the high ground on the western slope, thereby fixing the enemy’s attention on that direction. Once on the high ground there, that company would provide a base of fire for the commando’s main effort, consisting of two companies attacking from the north-west. The company that was to initiate the attack, however, was the same one that failed to reach its start line until three hours after the appointed time, thereby delaying logistical elements of 3 Para from crossing the Murrell River Bridge. The men in that company had been struggling under the weight of MILAN missile launchers and dozens of missiles to reach their start line at the appointed time. The unit had planned for a three-hour approach march. Instead it took them twice as long to traverse the rough Falklands terrain in the dark with their loads. When the company arrived around 2300 hrs, Whitehead opted to have his companies attack simultaneously. They did so to very good effect. Within a little over four hours, his men had fought their way up the western slope of Two Sisters and cleared Argentines from positions extending eastwards on Two Sisters toward Tumbledown. Artillery fire from both sides was heavy during the attack. The commandos confronted preplanned Argentine artillery fire, just like that which paratroopers on Mount Longdon were experiencing, once they overran enemy positions. Argentine indirect fire had a particularly devastating effect on the commandos, though. Four men died during the taking of Two Sisters, all felled by Argentine artillery or mortar bombardments. Ten others were wounded throughout the Fighting that night.

The success of Lieutenant Colonel Nick Vaux’s 42 Commando on Mount Harriet, 2km to the south of Two Sisters, was no less impressive. After spending nearly two weeks patrolling and battling the elements, men from 42 Commando implemented a bold plan to outflank the Argentine defenders. His units planned to cross their start line at 2030 hrs. Vaux had received permission from Thompson to forego a silent attack by using preparatory artillery fire on enemy positions on the mountain to distract the Argentines from his real intentions. As that was being implemented, one of his companies was to create a diversion to the west of Mount Harriet as his other two, having skirted the mountain to the south on a long approach march, attacked from the east into the enemy rear. The distance from its assembly area near Mount Challenger to the start line east of Mount Harriet in the Welsh Guards sector was 7km. It would seem like twice that distance, though, because the route crossed several long stone runs, slowing movement considerably and making it difficult to keep quiet. To ensure men would have back-up supplies during the attack, the commando formed a 34-man ‘portage troop’ from its headquarters company to carry ammunition and critical equipment and to be prepared to backhaul any casualties. The ad hoc transport troop consisted of administrative specialists, cooks and whoever else was available and not otherwise directly involved in the Fighting. During 42 Commando’s Fight for Mount Harriet, this human supply train trailed the two companies in the south by about an hour to get in position to support Vaux’s main effort. During that approach march, commando companies would cross 5 Brigade’s boundary before turning north to attack objectives on Mount Harriet. Accordingly, it was agreed beforehand that a reconnaissance platoon from the Welsh Guards would secure the start line for the marines and guide them initially on their final approach. The guardsmen were not at the appointed place for the link-up, though, which delayed the attack for over an hour. Nonetheless, Vaux’s plan worked to perfection. The diversionary attack from the west fixed Argentine attention, while the other two companies surprised defences from the rear. By daylight, after eight hours of Fighting, 42 Commando had seized its objective at the loss of only a single commando and the wounding of twenty others. In attacking from the east, Vaux’s men had cut off the escape route of the surprised defenders. As a direct result, they captured 300 prisoners from the defending Argentine 4th Infantry Regiment, including its commanding Officer.

By daylight, 3 Commando Brigade had secured all of its objectives. Units had received sustained and exceptionally effective naval gunfire from Woodward’s Battle Group. The destroyer Glamorgan and frigates Yarmouth and Avenger fired hundreds of high explosive rounds in support of the ground attacks. Unfortunately, the support was not given without significant cost. As some commandos were Fighting up the slopes of the mountains, they witnessed a land-based Exocet missile fired from the outskirts of Stanley slam into the side of Glamorgan. Although the ship survived, a dozen sailors did not and another dozen were wounded. She became the final ship casualty suffered by the Royal Navy. Woodward had been concerned for some time about his ships being vulnerable to land-based Exocets. His concerns proved to be valid. An hour later, the Royal Air Force completed its seventh Black Buck bombing run. Although all twenty-one bombs missed their intended targets, there can be no doubt that the impacts rattled the nerves of Argentines in Stanley, particularly amidst the reports that Longdon, Two Sisters and Harriet had fallen to the British.

Thompson decided not to have his commanders exploit their hard fought successes by continuing the attack toward their secondary objectives, feeling that they would become unnecessarily exposed if attacking in daylight. The brigade also needed to re-stock gun lines with ammunition. He had relocated his reserve battalion, 2 Para, from its previous area near Mount Kent to Mount Longdon during the night. After a 15km march with equipment, paratroopers were soon digging in on the western side of Mount Longdon. It became clear soon after daylight, though, that Argentines, particularly those atop Tumbledown Mountain, had not only spotted the 3 Commando Brigade units but were able to bring effective mortar and artillery fire upon them. Accordingly, Thompson ordered his units to consolidate near their objectives and prepare for possible counter-attacks. Although there are some indications that the Argentine Army’s central command post in Stanley ordered several counter-attacks for that day, none materialized. That provided units with the opportunity to evacuate their casualties from the three mountains and get their support echelons forward with needed resupply. Additionally, it permitted helicopter pilots to start the time-consuming process of relocating artillery batteries for the next phase of the battle and re-stocking gun lines with ammunition from back-up stocks at Teal Inlet.

Major General Moore had monitored the 3 Commando Brigade engagements closely from the small forward headquarters he had established at Fitzroy. He had hoped to continue attacks without interruption on to Tumbledown Mountain, Mount William and Wireless Ridge, thereby hastening a situation in which Argentines would be forced to surrender. Meanwhile, 5 Brigade had sought an extension so that they could complete plans for attack and the forward stocking of artillery ammunition, which Moore granted. For the next day, efforts refocused on shifting equipment and supplies for the next phase of the battle, and on taking care of immediate unit requirements. All available helicopters laboured to replenish ammunition for artillery batteries dispersed throughout the battle area. Limitations on cargo loads went by the wayside, as they had done so often over the past several weeks. As one pilot put it, ‘We just kept pulling at the stick to see if the aircraft would come up. If not, we threw off a box and tried again.’ Because brigade support bases at Teal Inlet and Fitzroy had established helicopter arming and refuelling locations by this time, pilots did not have to fly the hundred miles to Ajax and back for fuel, as they had so many times the week before during the initial forward build-up.

Supplies moved forward on the surface as well, particularly from 3 Commando Brigade’s units in the north, since they had consumed considerable amounts of small arms ammunition and other supplies during their Fights. The Brigade’s support base at Teal Inlet continued to move supplies forward to the distribution point at Estancia both by vehicle and Rigid Raider boat. From there, unit support echelons picked up supplies and transported them to forward locations along the single track crossing the Murrell Bridge. While resupply by ground was underway, the bridge over the Murrell River collapsed under the weight of an armoured recovery vehicle laden with ammunition, thereby closing 3 Commando Brigade’s only land supply route. Royal Engineers had been labouring in previous days to repair the bridge across the inlet connecting 5 Brigade’s supply base at Fitzroy with its distribution point at Bluff Cove. Now, they focused on this new problem in the north. The engineers built an air-portable bridge at Fitzroy to replace the one damaged across the Murrell River and flew it there by Chinook to reopen 3 Commando Brigade’s supply route.

With the local populace continuing to provide tractors and manpower to shuttle supplies, units were again poised to resume the offensive. Argentine pilots made two last attempts during the final hours of preparation to disrupt British plans, but they were not successful. In the first attempt, during the day of 13 June, Skyhawks attacked the 3 Commando Brigade headquarters near Mount Kent and 2 Para at its new position near Mount Longdon; they damaged three helicopters but produced no additional British casualties. Then, later that night, Harriers intercepted Argentine planes attempting another raid, downing one of them.

The plan for the next phase would get 5 Brigade into the ground war for the first time. The 2 Scots Guards would start it off by attacking an estimated two companies from the 5th Marine Battalion, reputed to be the best Argentine unit in the Falklands, on Tumbledown Mountain. Assuming success by the Guards, the 1/7 Gurkhas would follow to attack Mount William. In the north, 2 Para, still operating under the command and control of 3 Commando Brigade, would assault Wireless Ridge. With these three objectives taken, the Division would then continue attacking Argentine forces into Stanley. If it became necessary, responsibility for taking the town would shift to Thompson. He intended another multi-phase attack. It would start with 3 Para securing areas around the old racecourse on the west side of Stanley. Then 45 Commando would seize Sapper Hill and pass through 42 Commando to secure areas immediately to the south of Stanley. The Welsh Guards would revert back to his control and secure areas to the south-east of the capital, cutting off access to the airport. The British would now have surrounded Stanley to force a surrender, hopefully without having to Fight in the town itself and put civilians at risk.

Brigadier Wilson issued orders to his three battalions on the afternoon of 12 June. The timing and success of the fight for Tumbledown affected the other attacks. Argentine forces on that mountain would be able to influence action on the adjacent Mount William and on Wireless Ridge, just a few kilometres north. If the Scots Guards did not achieve their objectives by daylight, then 2 Para on Wireless Ridge would be exposed and vulnerable to Argentine marines remaining on Tumbledown. The Argentines had viewed Tumbledown from the start as a key to the defence of Stanley because it so dominated other surrounding hills. Accordingly, they had prepared a stiff defensive network on the mountain and littered approach routes with mines. The British had little hope of avoiding the full force of Argentine defences. The north face of the mountain yielded sharp drop-offs, significantly limiting any approach from that side. Other Argentine defenders on Mount William to the east protected that flank and maintained observation over the more open terrain to the south of Tumbledown. All this enabled the Argentines to concentrate their defences in the west and south. Consequently, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Scott, commander of 2 Scots Guards, planned to attack Tumbledown directly from the west, with three of his companies passing through each other as the fight progressed to maintain momentum in reaching the top of Tumbledown. His reconnaissance platoon reinforced with a troop of two Scorpions and two Scimitars would create a diversionary attack to the south on the most likely approach route. He had not received much intelligence about Argentine battle positions, though. The diversion would start at 1900 hrs on13 June, with the main attack commencing two hours later. British artillery, naval gunfire and Harriers pounded Tumbledown on the day of the attack.

When the diversion started, the platoon of slightly more than thirty guardsmen initially had difficulty locating the enemy. Once they did, they encountered fierce resistance from Argentines in dozens of bunkers designed to block any approach to Stanley from the south. Before the engagement was over, they were fighting for their lives as they struggled to withdraw, eventually finding themselves in a minefield, where Argentines then tried to target them with artillery fire. What was intended as a diversion had proven very costly. Two were killed; a dozen were wounded. One of the Scorpion armoured vehicles from the Blues and Royals hit an anti-tank mine and had to be abandoned. The next day, sappers would discover fifty-seven mines embedded in the ground near the Scorpion as they tried to recover the vehicle.

As this platoon was trying desperately to extricate itself from the minefield, the main attack commenced from the west. The guardsmen reached their first objective without much contact. Then, as the second phase began and companies started passing forward, they encountered heavy defences sheltered by rocks and crags to the top of Tumbledown. The Scots Guards did not reach the summit until 0600 hrs, at which time they faced more Argentines fiercely resisting from other fighting positions. Finally, after ten hours of tough combat, much of it at close quarters, the Scots Guards gained control of Tumbledown. Lieutenant Colonel Scott had ordered his men not to wear their helmets during the attack, although they carried them on their packs for the expected artillery fire that would follow when they reached their objectives – his thought being that wearing the more distinctive berets would help morale and also aid in identification. At least one of his platoon commanders sustained serious head wounds during the fighting. It is perhaps surprising that many others did not. Although aid stations were echeloned, getting the wounded down the mountainside so that they could be treated and evacuated plagued the guardsmen just as it had the commandos two nights previous. They would lose two more to mortar fire as men tried to retrieve their wounded comrades after the Argentines had fled. Nine men lost their lives; another forty-three were wounded. Fully half of all those killed or wounded were Officers, warrant Officers or noncommissioned Officers, a clear testament to these having led from the front. This fight had been a tough one, too.

Meanwhile, the men of 1/7 Gurkha Rifles had been freezing as they waited in an area west of Tumbledown throughout the night for word that the Scots Guards had taken their objectives. The plan had been for them to pass through the guardsmen after Tumbledown was secure. Although they had been without ration resupply for two days, the proud Gurkhas remained poised to start their advance toward Mount William. The duration of the Scots Guards’ attack meant, however, that if they waited much longer they would be attacking Mount William in daylight. Therefore Wilson ordered them to move out on a different route. They were circling Tumbledown under cliffs to the north when they encountered a minefield. An Argentine forward observer detected the formation and called for fire support, which injured eight of the Gurkhas. As fighting waned on Tumbledown and daylight approached, they finally reached the east side of Tumbledown and prepared to assault William, only to discover most Argentines had already fled. After brief skirmishes resulting in no further casualties, they soon were atop Mount William. After the war, their commander showed his good humour by crediting his men with the collapse of the defences:

Our boys were not just ‘disappointed’ at not hitting the enemy, they were livid, but it is some consolation that we heard later from several sources (rarely admitted in the press) that it was our arrival on the battlefield from the north in the way that we did that caused the final collapse. I am not too confident that that is so, but we certainly contributed to the rout. The Argies were scared stupid of the Gurkhas and the former’s rapid disappearance from the battlefield was probably the best, and certainly the most nicely timed decision of their war.

By this time, 2 Para had overwhelmed the Argentines on Wireless Ridge. The paratroopers had learned many lessons from their fight at Goose Green, where, through no fault of their own, they did not have the benefit of much supporting fire. Lieutenant Colonel David Chaundler could now enjoy an extensive artillery preparation to precede his attacking soldiers. Unlike his predecessor H. Jones at Goose Green, he had two batteries of artillery with thousands of rounds to support his battalion for this fight. The attack by 2 Para would be ‘noisy’, with preparatory fire starting before men crossed their start lines. In addition to the artillery, the frigate Ambuscade with her 4.5-inch guns, all of the battalion’s organic mortars, support platoons with bunker-busting MILAN missiles and machine guns, and armoured vehicles would support the attack, which was planned in four phases. Companies would start their attacks from positions north of Wireless and, after reaching first objectives, turn eastwards and continue attacking from the west over the ridge. Preparatory fire pounded Argentine positions as paratroopers started crossing start lines just after 2100 hrs on 13 June. One account indicates that the artillery fired so much ammunition during the paratroopers’ attack that helicopters fitted with night vision devices had to keep ammunition flowing between forward supply points and gun lines; and that, as the fight progressed to the top of the ridge, the tanks of the Blues and Royals had to go back to rear supply points themselves to replenish the large quantities of ammunition they had expended. The barrage of fire demoralized Argentine defenders. Soon they were abandoning positions in an attempt to survive, often leaving their equipment in place. Although companies faced some resistance, the combination of heavy supporting fire and an aggressive ground attack soon overcame Argentine defences. As paratroopers succeeded in closing ranks, the remaining defenders broke and ran. When the fighting ended, 2 Para had suffered three killed and eleven wounded. Estimates of Argentine casualties were 25 killed and 125 wounded, the vast majority by the effective supporting fire.

The last shots of the war would come on Sapper Hill. With Tumbledown and William now secure, Wilson ordered Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Rickett, the commander of 1 Welsh Guards, to attack and secure that piece of ground. Two companies from 40 Commando reinforced Rickett’s battalion. Helicopters moved them to two different landing zones in the vicinity of Sapper Hill. Those landing at the first found themselves on a tract of land surrounded by minefields. Helicopters erroneously landed others too far to the east in full view of the few Argentine defenders still on the hill. Three Argentines were killed in a brief firefight. The rest quickly abandoned their positions and fled toward Stanley. The Welsh Guards and commandos had secured Sapper Hill despite the errant landings. The fighting was over.

By daylight, British units started to see Argentines retreating in disarray throughout the battlefields. Their attacks clearly had succeeded in overthrowing defences and creating near panic in Argentine ranks, despite the heroic resistance of some. Although some British artillery batteries were now down to just a few rounds, they would not need to hurry to re-stock gun lines. Those who could view the ground stretching from surrounding hilltops to Stanley realized that the fighting was over. Before long, hundreds of Argentine soldiers were dropping their weapons, discarding other equipment and fleeing towards the capital.

For the inhabitants of Stanley, it had been a terrifying four days. Most had fled for safety to makeshift bunkers in basements, crawl spaces, under porches or in other protected areas. Although they knew the battle for the mountains was underway, they had no idea how it was going. Argentine 155mm artillery rattled their houses as it fired large shells toward the mountains at the advancing British. The sounds of battle had become deafening. The mountains, quite visible from many places in Stanley on clear days, now were obscured by smoke and dust from the constant shelling by the opposing forces. Argentines had taken up positions in and around houses and buildings as well as on rooftops in Stanley. British Harriers had become a common sight for residents as pilots flew nearly nonstop trying to destroy or soften up Argentine positions. Naval gunfire had been pounding areas around the town to eliminate other key defences. Unfortunately, errant British shells also struck some houses in the town, killing three residents.

It had not been easy for either the military or the people of Stanley. For the British Task Force, the two months since they had departed the United Kingdom had been especially difficult. Hundreds on both sides had lost their lives or been wounded. Still more wounded waited on mountain slopes to be treated and evacuated. Now, as victors, the British were about to transition to one of the most difficult phases in war – when fighting men have to work to implement a disciplined peace in a community ravaged by war. They had the advantage of knowing that the citizens of Stanley would welcome their arrival; but those same citizens also needed their help, as did thousands of defeated and dejected Argentines. The transition and ultimate return to normalcy in Stanley would bring additional challenges and concerns for the war-weary British and, in particular, for the men of logistics and support units.

Russia and China Report I

These debates take place in an environment where potential adversaries continue to accelerate their military modernisation. The fortunes of Russia’s Su-57 Felon multi-role fighter improved in May 2019 when President Putin increased the order in the current State Armament Programme from 16 to 76. It is also moving ahead with the development of faster and wholly new weapons. Its Burevestnik nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed cruise missile, and the Status-6 nuclear armed long-range autonomous underwater vehicle, may have seen only halting progress, but hypersonic plans are firmer. The Avangard system (SS-19 Stiletto mod. 4) was on the brink of service entry at the end of 2019. The Kinzhal air launched ballistic missile has been observed on MiG-31s, while Moscow has spoken of further integrating precision weapons on naval vessels. The `Kalibr-isation’ of the fleet has been noted in recent years; Moscow is now discussing fitting to its naval vessels the 3M22 Zircon high-speed anti-ship cruise missile.

China’s October 2019 military parade, marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic, highlighted the breadth of its military modernisation process and showcased systems designed to achieve military effect faster and at greater range than before. The DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle was displayed at the anniversary parade. China’s system is intermediate range, while Moscow’s Avangard may be intercontinental. Concerns over China’s military modernisation loom large in Washington’s policy considerations, and they are driving many equipment and procurement decisions both in the US and elsewhere.

Systems like these pose additional challenges for air defences. They complicate early detection, target acquisition and successful intercept. Achieving all three is not impossible, though the number of targets that may arrive fast or slow, high or low, perhaps with signature-management features, means that investments will be needed in better radars, interceptors and command and control, all underpinned by ever faster computing power and better coordination with partner countries. These weapons are being integrated in order to rapidly achieve destructive effect but perhaps also because this will help to outpace and undermine an enemy’s decision-making cycle; this might, in turn, have implications for strategic stability.

Both China and Russia continue to modernise their conventional military forces. Moscow is improving its air assault forces’ mobility and striking power and also its artillery capabilities, among other areas. It is more closely integrating UAVs into its artillery find-fix-strike complex. China, meanwhile, stood up the first operational unit with its Chengdu J-20A combat aircraft, and has maintained recent progress in developing and fielding air-launched missiles. It also continues to build increasingly sophisticated naval vessels, which is an important factor motivating other Asian states to do the same. Both China and Russia aspire to improve their military capability by integrating emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

States including Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey and the United States are increasingly seeking to integrate active protection systems (APS) onto their armoured fighting vehicles, either as retrofits to existing designs or as integrated systems for future vehicles. The proliferation of highly capable man-portable anti-tank weapons has increased the demand for protection from this kind of threat in both low- and high intensity conflicts. Many countries are looking to counter these weapons with APS. With many legacy platforms approaching their upper weight limits, these systems offer increased protection for relatively little weight gain, when compared to traditional armour.

China, Russia and the US are all now at various stages of developing, testing and deploying truck-borne gun-howitzer systems. These are more easily transportable, including by air, than traditional tracked armoured systems, and offer integral mobility, potentially making them less vulnerable to counterbattery fire than their towed counterparts. This makes them particularly attractive to light- and medium-weight rapid-response units in need of fire support.

China and Russia appeared to be in the process of deploying hypersonic glide-vehicles as 2019 drew to a close. The US is also expected to put its own hypersonic glide-vehicles and hypersonic cruise-missile systems into operational service in the early 2020s, and a number of other states are currently conducting research in this area. The performance characteristics of these systems further complicate an already demanding environment for missile defences.

The relatively easy availability of uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) for both state and non-state actors has led to renewed military interest in both hard- and soft-kill counter-UAV systems. Both Russia and the US have deployed systems to the Middle East to protect their facilities and/or vessels from attack and are likely to feed the lessons of their experiences into future development work.

China Modernisation

Amphibious-warfare capabilities are again subject to close attention, especially in Asia. China is continuing to boost its capacity with more and larger vessels, Japan has established its amphibious rapid-deployment brigade and Australia is developing its navy as a task-group-focused force, centred on its landing helicopter docks. The United States, meanwhile, has issued a new operating concept and is looking to exploit new technologies and systems to enable integrated operations in contested environments.

An officer in the People’s Liberation Army’s Electronic Engineering Institute wrote that `the ultimate purpose of information dominance operations is to influence or destroy an enemy’s decision-making process’. Primary targets, the article continued, should include enemy command-and-control centres, communication nodes, radar stations and computer-network systems. However, China’s 2019 defence white paper is not as fulsome as the 2015 white paper on the centrality of cyberspace as a new arena for international strategic competition, a decision perhaps influenced more by presentational considerations than by any weakening of the momentum towards military cyber power.

China’s military-modernisation process was motivated in part by its observation of the changes in modern warfare since its forces were last involved in major combat; this was in 1979, during the short war with Vietnam that principally involved ground forces. In particular, the 1991 First Gulf War against Iraq and, later, the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo provided the PLA with a clear example of how far it had fallen behind modern military forces. The PLA has also studied Soviet and Russian military modernisation.

The PLA had hitherto operated according to the strategy of `People’s War’ and `war under modern conditions’. However, the First Gulf War highlighted that modern technologies could be a force multiplier on the battlefield and that the PLA needed to boost the integration of its military systems and improve joint operations. Chinese thinking reflected this lesson shortly afterwards. Assessments were conducted and in early 1993 a new `strategic guideline’ was adopted by the PLA, indicating it would look to `win local wars under modern high-technology conditions’.

The Kosovo intervention led to a study by China’s National Defence University (NDU). This study, analysts noted, highlighted the centrality of `information superiority’ and paid close attention to how NATO forces used technology to suppress Serbia’s command centre and telecommunications. China’s 2004 defence white paper reflected the lessons drawn from Kosovo, and perhaps also Iraq in 2003. China’s armed forces aspired, it said, to win `local wars under informatised conditions’, giving priority to `building joint operational capabilities’. The assessment of the white paper was that information connects military domains and acts as a force multiplier but could also lead to more integrated force development.

China’s 2015 defence white paper assessed that China’s external environment was going through `profound changes’ and that threats were more diverse – and not necessarily local or indeed short term. China would, it said, take advantage of a period of strategic opportunity to build strong military forces. This white paper highlighted the increasing sophistication of long-range, precise, stealthy and uninhabited weapons and equipment, also noting that outer space and cyberspace were `new commanding heights’ in strategic competition. Ultimately, it noted, `the form of war is accelerating its evolution to informatisation’.

In October 2017, Xi delivered a speech at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in which he set out a timeline for the PLA to achieve its modernisation goals. By 2020, mechanisation should be `basically achieved’, `information technology (IT) application’ should also have progressed and strategic capabilities should have seen significant improvement. By 2035, he said, `basic modernisation of our national defense and our forces’ should be `basically’ complete, and at the same time the PLA should have modernised their `theory, organisational structures, service personnel and weaponry’. By the middle of the next century (perhaps 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic), he said the PLA should have fully transformed into `world-class’ forces.

China’s approach to future warfare and military modernisation seems to have heavily leveraged the lessons it observed when studying other modern militaries. Informatisation is similar to that of the US conception of network-centric warfare, utilising the employment of ICT-enabled modern weaponry and equipment, as well as improving C2. The PLA has focused on improving the capability and quantity of its precision-strike systems and its missiles, with emphasis on increased range and improved accuracy. It has pursued developments in the electromagnetic spectrum, in cyber and in space systems. In a way, the thoroughgoing ambition outlined for China’s informatisation process reflects the PLA’s understanding of its position relative to advanced Western militaries.

Discussions have been observed in China, in places such as the Academy of Military Sciences and the NDU, concerning the possible decentralisation of command structures and the potential degree of automation in future weapon systems. But while the drive for informatisation might have led the PLA to consider the need for greater flexibility in its decision-making and military-training requirements, Xi’s tightened grip over the PLA has led to greater centralisation in the CMC. While the process of `informatisation’ may be improving PLA capabilities, in tandem with the development and introduction of more advanced military systems, this does not mean that the PLA is combat ready or that the benefits of informatisation are being felt rapidly. These concerns are borne out by what can be observed of the PLA’s self-reflection as it goes through this process. At the same time, the degree to which the integration of more intelligent capabilities, such as big data and AI, will influence and improve Chinese weapons developments remains unclear. Although concerns have arisen about the degree of automation in Chinese weapons systems, because of centralised decision-making, Chinese discussions seem to still anticipate having a human in the loop. It is possible that the initial benefits of intelligent capabilities may be felt more in areas such as logistics support and C2. It is not yet clear whether `informatisation’ and `intelligentisation’ will give the PLA a comparative advantage over potential adversaries, some of which are modernising in similar ways. As such, the PLA will be careful about the risk of introducing into its own systems the vulnerabilities it looks to exploit or target in others. This may explain reports of China’s forces conducting exercises in a degraded electromagnetic environment.

At the same time, while the PLA has looked to US performance in recent conflicts to inform its military-modernisation plans and objectives, it will in future likely also look towards the military-modernisation programmes of other Asian states that are looking to integrate emerging-technology developments into their military thinking, equipment and forces. For China, however, realising the full potential of these developments will likely take longer than was first envisaged.


Mechanisation: Analysts assess that the term `mechanisation’ refers broadly to ambitions to modernise and replace the PLA’s legacy equipment across all services and branches, though with significant focus on the ground forces. It is also understood to be closely linked to the reorganisation of the PLA Army from 18 to 13 group armies, which was intended to improve quality and military efficiency.

Informatisation: The 2000 defence white paper stated that the PLA should transform from using `semi-mechanised and mechanised weapon systems to automated and informatised systems’. By the time of the 2004 defence white paper, informatisation had `become the key factor in enhancing the warfighting capability’ of the PLA. According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), in its 2019 report on China’s Military Power, the term `informatisation’ is `roughly analogous to the U. S. military’s concept of netcentric capability: a force’s ability to use advanced IT and communications systems to gain operational advantage over an adversary’. China’s view of informatised local wars was, the DoD said, `defined by real-time, data-networked command and control (C2) and precision strike’.

According to PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF) personnel and the Science of Military Strategy publication, informatisation provides the PLA with military capabilities that allow it to `leapfrog’ the capabilities of currently technologically superior adversaries. Space-, cyber- and electromagnetic-warfare capacities have the potential to paralyse a high-tech enemy’s `operational system of systems’ and undermine their command-level `system of systems’.

However, the PLA also intends to harness these technologies to help it better collect, analyse, share and train with data and information. It aims to make `basic progress’ by 2020 by introducing additional information and communications technologies, including cyber capacities, across its theatre commands and forces, in order to improve information-enabled capabilities and to boost command, control and communications. Informatisation is also important to the PLA’s efforts to improve its military education and training.

Intelligentisation: `Intelligentisation’ is a newer concept. China’s 2019 defence white paper said that `intelligent warfare is on the horizon’. It is understood to be based on the premise that military systems will be enhanced by the integration of advanced automation, big data and artificial intelligence (AI). The use of big data has increasingly been highlighted in PLA debates as central to the development of more powerful platforms and systems enabled by AI. Some Chinese sources have also indicated that harnessing these technologies might provide a means by which to `leapfrog’ the capabilities of other military forces.

During a late 2019 forum on military big data, researchers from the Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) discussed aspects of the collection and processing of data, whether derived from reconnaissance, surveillance or intelligence, but also using data from geographic information systems and `human social and cultural data and social media data’. As military forces try to integrate big data into their structures, they said, operations would increasingly be characterised by human-machine interaction, combinations of human-machine intelligence, data-centric analytical processing and, ultimately, independent decision-making and autonomous-attack capabilities. In short, `the key to winning quickly is how to shorten the “OODA [observe, orient, decide, act] loop” and revolutionising C2′. However, while debates in China recognise that big data-driven research and development and AI-enabled technologies will result in the PLA’s acquisition of `smarter’ and more autonomous platforms and systems, the AMS researchers emphasised that `big data and AI technology cannot completely replace people and cannot change their decisive position in war’.

China EW capabilities

China is also overhauling its EW capabilities – perhaps even more so than Russia – as it modernises its armed forces. The US Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) 2018 China’s Military Power report said that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) considered EW a key aspect of modern war and that `its EW doctrine emphasizes using electromagnetic spectrum weapons to suppress or to deceive enemy electronic equipment. Potential EW victims include adversary systems operating in radio, radar, microwave, infrared, and optical frequency ranges, as well as adversarial computer and information systems.’ Cyber actions, meanwhile, could attack an enemy’s C2 system, with the potential to `completely disrupt’ these systems, thereby `gaining battlefield superiority’. They would also be useful for other purposes including espionage. EW features in recent Chinese military exercises designed not only to improve the PLA’s ability to use EW but also to enhance its capacity to operate in a contested electromagnetic environment. Its EW units routinely train, according to the DoD, in order to `conduct jamming and anti-jamming operations against multiple communication and radar systems or GPS satellite systems in force-on-force exercises’. In 2019, meanwhile, reports that the accuracy of satellite-navigation systems was being degraded offshore Shanghai indicate growing Chinese capabilities, possibly in the civil sector as well as the armed forces.

Russia and China Report II

Russia’s progress

In the decades prior to Russia’s deployments to Ukraine (2014-) and Syria (2015-), its armed forces used EW to varying degrees during conflict in Chechnya in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as during its short war with Georgia in 2008. In Chechnya, it is thought that the gathering of communications intelligence (COMINT) on opposing forces, particularly in geo-locating sources of communications transmissions, was vital in finding and fixing enemy positions for targeting by artillery or airstrikes. In contrast, in Georgia Russian efforts to gather electronic intelligence (ELINT) on and direct jamming against ground-based air-surveillance and fire-control radars was said to have been poor, though this may have also been due to Georgian countermeasures.

Russia has since made efforts to regenerate its EW capabilities, and the deployments to Ukraine and Syria have provided an operational laboratory for the armed forces to refine and develop their EW doctrines. At the same time, they have to some extent offered a window to observe Russian capabilities. The US armed forces’ Asymmetric Strategy Group, writing in the publicly available study of Russia’s `new generation warfare’ (published 2015), said that Russia had observed, and looked to exploit, Western strategies. For instance, `because of maneuver warfare’s reliance on communication, Russia has invested heavily in Electronic Warfare systems which are capable of shutting down communications and signals across a broad spectrum’.

Russian EW in Ukraine was overtly offensive. Jamming helped sever Ukrainian military radio communications in Crimea, as Russia occupied and annexed that territory in early 2014. This was supported by the RB 314V Leer-3 uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV)-equipped system, which was used to jam cellular networks, and the RP-377LA Lorandit COMINT system, which targeted high-frequency and very-/ultra-high-frequency communications. Jamming also affected the RF links used to control S-100 Camcopter UAVs assisting the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe observation mission in Ukraine. Russia looked to integrate these capabilities to improve its `reconnaissance-strike complex’. The Asymmetric Strategy Group stated that, in Ukraine, Russia used `a sophisticated blend of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, electronic warfare jamming equipment, and long-range rocket artillery’.

In Syria, Russia’s EW posture generally focused on force protection. The loss of a Russian Air Force Su-24M Fencer D combat aircraft to two Turkish Air Force F-16C fighters in November 2015 prompted Moscow to deploy additional EW systems. One month earlier, Russia had deployed the 1RL257 Krasukha-C4 jammer, which targets the X-band and Ku-band airborne radars typically used by combat aircraft and missiles, to protect Khmeimim air base in northern Syria. The Krasukha-C4 was supplemented by L-175V/VE Container/Khibiny and Leer-3 systems. The L-175V/VE jammer can be carried by Russian Air Force Su-30SM Flanker-H, Su-34 Fullback and Su-35 Flanker M combat aircraft.

Leer-3 may have been deployed to support Syrian Army operations by jamming insurgent mobile phones. It may also have been used to deliver morale-sapping text messages to opposing forces. Reports have circulated of the Russian armed forces also deploying equipment such as the RB-301B Borisoglebsk-2 COMINT system, which has also been used in the Ukraine theatre, and the Repellent-1 counter-UAV system, which is designed to interrupt the RF links between a UAV and its ground station. In June 2019, reports emerged that Israeli airspace had experienced GNSS jamming, possibly caused by Russian Army R-330Zh Zhitel systems being used to protect the Russian deployments at Khmeimim air base. Whether this jamming was deliberate, or an unintended consequence of operations, remains unclear.

Russian EW effects have also been observed in Europe. Moscow has been accused of using jamming against Norway and its Baltic neighbours. In March 2019, Oslo claimed that the Russian military had jammed GNSS signals in the country’s north during NATO exercises in October-November 2018. Russia’s earlier Zapad 2017 exercises saw EW used to prepare Russian forces for fighting in an electromagnetically contested environment. These EW efforts have not been performed in a vacuum. Operations in Ukraine and Syria showed that these form part of a wider strategy involving cyber attacks. Moscow has been accused of performing cyber attacks against Ukrainian critical infrastructure, and of targeting non-governmental organisations and opposition groups with cyber activity during its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Russia’s Armament Development

The year 2020 was meant to end a decade in which the Russian Army had started to field a significant number of T-14 Armata main battle tanks in front-line units. However, by the end of 2019 none had entered operational service. Development and production challenges are contributory factors, as is cost, and instead the army has resumed upgrades to armour already in service, in particular the T-72B3 mod. and the T-80BVM. ­

Russia’s president announced during the June 2019 Army Military Show that 76 Sukhoi Su-57 Felon multirole fighters were to be delivered by the end of 2027. When it was finalised at the end of 2017, the State Armament Programme to 2027 only covered the manufacture of up to a further 16 of the aircraft in the early 2020s. Around 60 Felons were originally to have been delivered by the conclusion of the 2020 State Armament Programme; realising this ambition was difficult even when the plan was drafted in 2010. ­

Moscow continued during 2019 to pursue a number of nuclear-delivery systems intended to defeat US missile defences, including some beyond New START definitions. These included the Burevestnik (SSC-X-9 Skyfall) nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed long-endurance cruise missile, despite a series of test failures. While the Burevestnik remained some way from service entry, the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide programme was on the brink of entering the inventory. The MiG-31K variant of the Foxhound modified to carry the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile was also near to service entry as 2019 concluded. The Status-6/Poseidon nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered autonomous underwater vehicle remains in development. ­

Most Eurasian states continue to rely on ageing Soviet-era combat aircraft that are only slowly being replaced with more capable types. Belarus will become the second regional export operator of the Su-30SM Flanker H alongside Kazakhstan with the delivery due by the end of 2019 of the first four of 12 on order. A number of countries continue to operate early-model MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker B aircraft in the fighter role including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

New weapons and research and development

The new strategic systems announced by President Putin in 2018 were already at an advanced stage of development when the announcement was made. Further progress has been made, but there have also been evident problems.

Tests of the Burevestnik (SSC-X-9 Skyfall) missile resumed in 2019. However, US sources indicate that nearly all the test launches failed. In August 2019, an accident occurred when a team was recovering wreckage from a previous missile test. Seven people were killed and there was localised radiation contamination. It is not surprising that the defence ministry has not elaborated on the nature of the problem, but it has said that further design development will take place before testing resumes.

Development of the Avangard glide vehicle is, however, more advanced. At least officially, development is complete and series production has begun. The weapon was successfully tested in December 2018, being launched from an RS-18 (SS-19) ICBM. It was announced that the first of these missiles with the Avangard glide vehicle will be deployed by the end of 2019. Russian analysts understand, based on unofficial data, that GPV 2027 includes equipping two RS-18 (SS-19) regiments. It is possible that the Avangard could also be fitted to other launch platforms, such as the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM that is currently under development.

Meanwhile, an experimental squadron of MiG-31K aircraft equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles reportedly made more than 400 flights over the Caspian and Black seas in 2018, while the first Peresvet laser systems have been on trial combat duty since the end of 2018 with two divisions of the Strategic Rocket Forces. It is unclear whether these are operated by troops from the Strategic Rocket Forces or by air-force personnel, but Russian analysts understand that a Peresvet training centre is being built at the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre at Sarov. In February 2019, range trials were reported completed on the Poseidon UUV, and two months later the much-modified Project 09852 Oscar II-class submarine Belgorod was launched. This may be the first delivery platform for Poseidon.

2019 also saw construction continue at the Era military-technology park at Anapa on the Black Sea coast. Six additional research disciplines were also announced, including the development of weapons with novel physical principles (such as lasers and plasma), small satellites, geo-information systems and work on the use of artificial intelligence for military purposes.

Russia and future conflict

Since 2014, Russia has made increasingly visible use of its armed forces as a tool of national policy. Its military actions in Ukraine surprised transatlantic leaders, even though Russia had used military force before, in Georgia in 2008. John Kerry, the then US secretary of state, called Russia’s occupation of Crimea a `stunningly wilful choice’. Moscow’s actions led to speculation about how its leadership was `reinventing war’ and assessments about how Russian ways of war were evolving. Some of the more prominent of these, arguing that Russia was waging a form of `hybrid war’, emerged after Crimea was annexed, and after a retrospective reading of a 2013 article signed by General Valery Gerasimov, then newly appointed as Russia’s chief of the general staff. Entitled `The Value of Science is in the Foresight: New Challenges Demand Rethinking in the Forms and Methods of Carrying out Combat Operations’, this piece appeared in the 27 February 2013 edition of the Military Industrial Courier. Commentators introduced a range of catchy epithets – some coined by Western authors, others picked from the discussion among Russian sources – such as `war in the grey zone’, `non-linear war’ or `new generation war’, generally labelled as the so-called `Gerasimov doctrine’. These views have remained prominent, updated with `new’ or `2.0′ following another speech by Gerasimov in March 2019.

This emphasis may derive from Western strategists’ judgement that Russia is obliged to compete in indirect, asymmetric ways since it could not hope to win a direct conventional confrontation with NATO states. According to General Sir Nick Carter, the United Kingdom’s chief of defence staff, speaking in 2018, countries like China and Russia had been studying Western states’ strengths and weaknesses and had become `masters at exploiting the seams between peace and war’. Moscow would operate below the threshold of conventional war, weaponising a range of tools to pose a strategic challenge. These tools include, but are not limited to, energy supplies, corruption, assassination, disinformation and propaganda, and the use of proxies, including private military companies (PMCs). This is understood as a new Russian way of war that corresponds to `measures short of war’, and a preference for the manipulation of adversaries, avoiding military violence.

However, as specialists have pointed out, in the Russian debate there is no formulation resembling the `Gerasimov doctrine’. Moreover, giving too much weight to terms such as `new generation war’ may also hinder an accurate understanding of Russian views of contemporary conflict. These do reflect a changing security environment and non-conventional capacities, but also reflect significant focus on the use of combat power.

Russian debate on future conflict

There was some discussion in Russia in 2013 about `new generation war’, but since then Russian practitioners and observers have tended to use the term `new type’ warfare. This is an important distinction in Russian military theory, given the extensive and long-running debates about the changing character of war, including the idea of `sixth generation’ warfare referenced by MajorGeneral Vladimir Slipchenko following Operation Desert Storm in 1991. However, even though the term `hybrid warfare’ does exist in the Russian debate, it is used in reference to Western forms of war and how contemporary warfare more generally is evolving, not as some form of particularly Russian reinvention of war. Gerasimov himself noted, again in the Military Industrial Courier but in March 2017, that while `so-called hybrid methods’ are an important feature of international competition, it is `premature’ to classify `hybrid warfare’ as a type of military conflict, as US theorists do.

Indeed, rather than implementing `measures short of war’, there is evidence that Russia’s leaders have sought to enhance national readiness, as illustrated by the many exercises that bring together all elements of the state and move the country onto a war footing. These exercises – including the Vostok, Tsentr, Kavkaz and Zapad series of strategiclevel drills – seek to prepare Russia for fighting in a large-scale war. Furthermore, as is evident from the battlefields in Ukraine and Syria, while it may be considered preferable to achieve aims non-violently, this remains a theoretical ideal and the considerable weight of combat firepower is still a prominent feature of Russian conceptions of war fighting. Indeed, the scale of Russia’s combat deployment has regularly been announced by the Russian leadership, particularly with reference to operations in Syria. It is more appropriate to think, therefore, not in terms of Russian `measures short of war’, but perhaps instead in terms of Russian `measures of war’.

Russian views of warfare have evolved considerably even since the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, with important consequences for force development and posture. The Russian defence and security landscape is changing in response and the shifting balance between military and non-military resources to achieve political ends is often referenced by senior officials. But at the same time, the role of the armed forces in ensuring Russian security is being reinforced. As such, conventional combat remains a central element in Russia’s contemporary conception of conflict, with an emphasis on long-range precision strike and massed artillery fire, enhanced by new technology developments, including uninhabited systems and better command and control, and exploited by high-mobility forces.

Piso Conspiracy (65 CE)

The evolution of the Roman Empire witnessed the Roman senators’ power diminishing during the Julio-Claudian era. The early conspiracies under Augustus posed a threat from these powerful families but did not undermine the power of the emperors. While there were other conspiracies under the early emperors, none were as serious and broad as the conspiracy of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. The conspiracy intended to use Piso as a figurehead and have power in the Praetorian Guard. The plot was exposed, and its members were executed. However, the plot showed that members of the household and the Praetorian Guard were becoming increasingly concerned with Emperor Nero’s reign, ultimately leading a few years later to whole-scale rebellion.

Piso was from a distinguished family. His grandfather, also named Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, was a friend of Emperor Tiberius. The elder Piso was implicated in the death of Germanicus and committed suicide when Tiberius refused to help him at his trial. However, the family did not suffer, as Piso’s son Lucius held the consulship during Tiberius’s reign and married well. Inheriting his wealth from his mother, the daughter of Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives, Piso was known for his generosity and beneficence to all social classes. The family was connected with other great men of the republic, including Pompey. Piso was known to be tall, good-looking, and good-natured and excelled in the courts and oratory, the ideal Roman. On the other hand, he was known for being ostentatious and giving in to sensual pleasures. Emperor Caligula desired Piso’s wife, forcing her to divorce Piso, and then Caligula banished him for committing adultery with his own wife. Piso returned a year after Caligula’s assassination. Upon his return the new emperor, Claudius, made Piso his coconsul in 41, and Piso became a leading senator; later his stature increased under Nero.

During the reign of Nero, Piso was seen as one of the leading senators. In 65 CE after witnessing 11 years of Nero’s reign, Piso plotted to assassinate the emperor and have the Praetorian Guard declare him emperor. In order to achieve this, Piso enlisted the help of Faenius Rufus, cocommander of the Praetorian Guard who had close ties and affinity with Nero’s mother Agrippina, whom Nero had executed. Other individuals such as senators, guards, and officials were also brought into the plan, and each had his own motive but seemingly were united in their hatred of Nero. While Piso was the figurehead of the conspiracy, it appears that officers in the Praetorian Guard, such as the tribune Subrius Flavus and the centurion Sulpicius Asper, were the actual driving force behind the act. Flavus appears to have used Piso as the figurehead to gather support, and according to the ancient author Tacitus, Flavus assassinated Piso and handed power over to Seneca the Younger (Tacitus 1956, 15:47-74). Flavus would later state that he hated Nero for murdering Agrippina and Octavia (Nero’s wife).

The plot was not well organized, and too much information seems to have been available. One of the fleet captains, Volusius Proculus, was told of the plot by a freedwoman, Epicharis, who appears to have been involved with Seneca’s brother. She hoped that Proculus would join the plot and bring over the sailors, but he reported it to Nero, who had Epicharis tortured. She did not give up any names and committed suicide rather than continue being tortured. Finally, on April 19, 65 CE, the plot was fully uncovered when Milichus, a freedman, was urged by his wife to report the plot. It appears from Plutarch that one of the conspirators told a condemned prisoner to have hope, as all would change (i. e., Nero would be gone). The prisoner relayed this to Nero, and the conspirator was tortured, revealing the plot (Plutarch and Babbitt 1927, 505C). From the passages of Tacitus and Plutarch, it appears that the conspirators, being so many, could not ensure confidentiality and secrecy. Nero ordered the arrest of all conspirators and forced Piso to commit suicide.

Those involved included the consul Plautius Lateranus; the prefect Faenius Rufus; the senators Afranius Quintianus and Flavius Scaevinus (master of the freedman Milichus); the equestrian Anonius Natalis; Lucan, who appears to have implicated his uncle Seneca the Younger; and Epicharis. When Milichus informed on his master Scaevinus, he then betrayed others.

The result of the conspiracy being exposed led to a series of trials, resulting in 19 being put to death or forced to commit suicide and 13 being exiled. Piso of course was implicated and allowed to commit suicide. Other important individuals who were executed or allowed to commit suicide included Subrius Flavus, who was beheaded; the prefect Faenius Rufus; and Seneca the Younger, who was probably not involved in the plot but was ordered by Nero to kill himself. Lucan, Seneca’s nephew who joined the conspiracy, implicated his mother as he lay dying, but she escaped punishment.

The conspiracy allowed Tigellinus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, to hunt down his enemies and accuse some of being involved even if they weren’t. The conspiracy showed the deep-seated hatred of Nero that would soon manifest itself in a series of rebellions throughout the empire by several of his generals, leading ultimately to Galba being proclaimed emperor and Nero committing suicide.

The final internal crisis was the Jewish Rebellion begun in 66. The rebellion, caused by high taxes and Roman abuse, led to a full-scale war; Nero dispatched Vespasian and his army from Syria to quell the rebellion. After initial setbacks the Romans were successful in taking and destroying Jerusalem, but only after Nero’s death.

In 68 a rebellion broke out in Gaul. Nero ordered the army from Germany to stamp out the rebellion, while Galba was called upon by the rebels to seize power. Although the rebellion was put down, Galba was soon hailed emperor and urged to march on Rome. When the commander of the Praetorian Guard came out in favor of Galba, Nero fled, only to be forced to return after not finding troops loyal to him. When he realized that he was abandoned, he fled the city again, arriving at a freedman’s villa. He received news that the Senate had declared him a public enemy, not true, but believing that it would kill him he decided to commit suicide but could not bring himself to do the deed; he pleaded with his secretary to kill him. When the Senate heard of his death it did declare him a public enemy to win favor with Galba, whom it had previously declared a public enemy.

While most looked to Galba as someone who would restore the sanity of the empire, they were soon disappointed. Marching from Spain to Rome with his legion, Galba exacted enormous fines from cities that did not receive him quickly. He also rescinded many of Nero’s reforms including those that benefited individuals and regions from not paying taxes. Galba also refused to grant citizenship to many who asked, since this would allow the recipient to not pay taxes. When he arrived in Rome, Galba refused to pay the Praetorian Guard its bonus, which it had been promised. He also dismissed the Batavian (German) bodyguard. Because Vindex had been defeated by the German governor and his troops, Galba did not trust them and replaced the governor with Aulus Vitellius.

On January 1, 69, the German legions did not swear allegiance to the emperor as was customary with the start of the new year. The next day they proclaimed Aulus Vitellius their emperor. When Galba heard that the Rhine legions had deserted him, on January 10 he proclaimed Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus his successor in hopes of rallying support from the upper echelons of society, since he was a descendant from both Pompey and Crassus, the triumvirs in the late republic. Marcus Salvius Otho meanwhile had been proposed as heir and was upset that he did not receive it. Galba passed him over, since he was a favorite of Nero and was known for his lack of morals. Outraged, Otho decided that both men needed to be removed and raised a rebellion. Both Galba and Licinianus were butchered in the Forum by the Praetorian Guard; supposedly 120 soldiers claimed responsibility in hopes of getting a reward. Otho wrote their names down, which was disastrous for them.

On January 15, Otho went to Palatine Hill and was hailed emperor by the Praetorian Guard, whereupon he and his forces moved against Galba and killed him. Otho was then proclaimed emperor by the Senate that very same day. Whereas Galba had not paid the Praetorian Guard its gold and the populace of Rome had still revered Nero, Otho immediately played into both camps.

In 69 CE the Roman Empire convulsed with a civil war, the Year of the Four Emperors. Nero had committed suicide in 68, and the new emperor, Galba, the governor of Spain, marched on Rome. During the year 69 four men would rule the empire, with the last, Vespasian, winning and surviving. On July 1 Vespasian was in Alexandria, Egypt, while Titus continued operations in Judea against the Jews. In Alexandria, Vespasian was in control of the grain supply going to Rome and was proclaimed emperor by the governor of Egypt. The troops in Judea followed suit, and Vespasian began his journey to Rome. By the end of the year he was emperor.

Further Reading Griffin, Miriam T. 1985. Nero: The End of a Dynasty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Pagan, Victoria Emma. 2004. Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History. Austin: University of Texas Press. Plutarch and Frank Cole Babbitt. 1927. Plutarch’s Moralia. London: W. Heinemann. Tacitus, Cornelius. 1956. The Annals of Imperial Rome. Translated by Michael Grant. Baltimore: Penguin.

Polish Armour 1939

After the First World War, Poland was revived as an independent state by grouping together the territories previously occupied by Germany, Russia and Austria. The. new Polish national army came into being soon afterwards from a nucleus formed by a Polish corps which had been organised in France. Interest in armoured vehicles soon appeared, when units of the Polish Army were sent for training periods with the French Army. One regiment of tanks, equipped with Renault FT machines, arrived in Poland in June 1919 and one of its battalions took part in the Russo-Polish conflict of 1919-20, which soon took a quite different form from the former entrenched type of warfare which had prevailed on the Western front. In Poland, small mechanised forces, combining armoured cars with motorised infantry and truck- drawn artillery, were often engaged in deep raiding parties.

The Russo-Polish War was ended by a peace treaty in 1921, and the Polish armoured forces were reorganised along French lines. While the armoured cars were given to the Cavalry, the tanks became part of the Infantry and were established into a tank regiment with three battalions.

Between 1923 and 1930, most of the activities of the Poles in the tank development field were concentrated on continuous attempts to improve the Renault FT tank. One of the first stages in this direction was by substituting new laterally flexible tracks – designed by S. Kardaszewicz – which were composed of twelve steel cables fitted with steel grousers. Although the speed was increased to 12kmh (7.5mph), the Kardaszewicz tracks were not accepted as standard and a similar fate occurred to another pattern with steel plates introduced by an officer of the 1st Tank Regiment. Later, it was decided to up-date the Renault FT, at least as far as armament was concerned, by fitting it with a newly designed turret carrying both a 37mm gun and a coaxial 7.92mm Browning machine-gun. Some other redesigns were to increase the performance to I3kmh. A number of Renault FT tanks were also rebuilt into specialised variants including smoke producer tanks and radio/command tanks.

From late 1924 onwards, numerous conferences were held by the Polish military authorities on the subject of constructing a domestic heavy tank capable of a break- through role as well as infantry support missions. A light tank was also considered as a replacement for the Renault FT. Despite opposition from the Chief of the Infantry branch, the KSUS department drew up a specification for a new tank. Dated 1925, this specification requested a weight of 12tons, an armament composed of a gun with a maximum calibre of 47mm, complemented by one heavy and one light machine-gun, all-round vision equipment and an electrically started engine which could drive the tank at a speed of 25kmh, with a range of action of 200-250km. The go-ahead was given for a competition between the Polish S. A. B. E. M. S. and ‘Parowoz’ companies and a Czech firm, for the design of a so-called WB-10 tank. Sophisticated designs and even prototypes were submitted by the competitors, but trials conducted with them revealed that they were not acceptable. The WB-10 project was therefore terminated with- out further development.

In 1928, there appeared in Great Britain the two-man Vickers Carden-Loyd Mark VI tankette, a truly outstanding design which attracted a great deal of attention. This tiny tracked armoured vehicle could be either used as a machine-gun carrier or as a light tractor, and it was sold to numerous foreign states in one form or another. Poland purchased one sample from Vickers-Armstrong Ltd and soon went on to produce a domestic development based upon a similar formula. Designated TK. 1, the Polish tankette was a 1.75ton, 2-man vehicle powered by a Ford motor. Through an intermediate model, the TK. 2, further development led to the somewhat heavier TK. 3 which was accepted as the production model. The TK. 3 became the first armoured tracklaying vehicle manufactured in quantity in Poland. It was produced under the parentage of the state-run PZI institute, and orders for 300 machines were fulfilled from 1931-32 onwards. A TK. 3 was demonstrated in Yugoslavia as a competitor for the Czech Skoda S-1 (MU 4/T-1) tankette but no order was placed for it.

By the late twenties, little progress had been made in procuring new equipment. Several foreign tanks, such as the Czech wheel-and-track KH. 50, the French Renault FT M. 26/27 (with Citroen-Kegresse trackwork) and the Renault NC. 1 (NC. 27) had been demonstrated in Poland but no procurement programme had been planned. The year 1930 was however marked by a significant event: the infantry tank regiment, the cavalry armoured car squadrons, and the artillery armoured trains, were all combined into an independent branch of the service. With a new internal organisation including two tank regiments, one armoured car group, and two armoured train groups, this was called the Bron Pancerna. The need for a more powerful armoured vehicle – the tankettes being incapable of an actual combat role – forced Poland to turn her attention to a further Vickers product, namely the Vickers-Armstrong Six-ton tank, (Vickers Mark ‘E’), which was soon to gain a worldwide reputation for a whole decade. In fact, between 1930 and 1939, Vickers-Armstrong Ltd sold over 190 machines of that type (tanks and tractors) to foreign countries – Bolivia, Bulgaria, China, Finland, Greece, Japan, Portugal, Russia and Thailand (Siam) – but the largest order came from Poland with a total of 50 (other sources give 38) tanks with either the single and twin turret arrangement.

The fact that the Vickers-Armstrong Six-ton tank was well within the capacity of the Polish technology, and as it offered some potential for further development, the PZI design bureau was entrusted with the study of a homemade copy. Subsequently PZI produced the 7 TP, a 9ton twin turreted tank which was to be a considerable step forward in design over the Vickers original. At first, the Armstrong-Siddeley engine of the Six-ton was re- placed by a licence-built Saurer 6-cylinder diesel engine which developed 110hp, so making the Polish 7 TP the first diesel-powered tank to reach production status. The 7 TP armour was also 4mm thicker than the Six-ton armour. The first 7 TP to be built by PZI left the works in 1934 and production continued at a slow tempo up to I939.

Around the mid-thirties, the question of designing tanks in Poland had become a very controversial matter. Two schools of thought were in opposition: the first one defended the launching of domestic design and production programmes while the second one, represented by the Chief of the Armoured Force himself, considered this as a waste of time and money which could be better spent in purchasing well-proven foreign tanks.

One of the favourite fads of certain tank designers between the mid-twenties and the mid-thirties were the multi-turret tanks, relying on several guns and machine- guns to be able to fire simultaneously on different targets. While Germany and Japan more or less investigated the three-turret formula, only Britain and Russia translated it into fact with their A. 9 and T-28. As late as 1936, Poland also dallied with the formula and drew up her 20/25 TP project of which three alternatives were proposed. The first one came from the government-owned BBT design bureau and was to have a weight of 23tons, a crew of seven and an armament composed of one 40mm (or 75mm) gun with three machine-guns, two of them being located into front sub-turrets. Maximum armour thickness was specified at 50mm. The second one, issued by the KSUS Committee, explored a diesel-engined 22ton tank, with a crew of six, a 35mm thick armour and the same armament as for the BBT variant. The third and last edition of the 20/25 TP project was a proposal from the PZI concern which put forward a design for a 7man, 25ton diesel-powered tank with an armour up to 80mm; being already outmoded since its design stage, the whole project was cancelled. It would have been a waste of money, and of limited Polish industrial resources.

Surprisingly enough, the development of the tankette concept had been continued in Poland over the years, through progressive steps. In 1933, the TK. 3 had given rise to the TKS, slightly heavier than its parent. Powered by a Polski-Fiat motor, the TKS had armour protection capable of withstanding small calibre AP bullets, embryonic forms of optical equipment consisting of a periscope and a sighting telescope and a strengthened suspension. This newly patterned tankette had been put into production in 1934, with an order for 390 vehicles. Following the lines already taken by Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd with their Carden-Loyd Patrol Tank (I932), the next stage in the Polish tankette development emerged during 1934. It was a turreted midget tank designated TKW, of which only a few prototypes were constructed. An ultra- light self-propelled gun, fitted with a 37mm Bofors anti-tank gun mounted in the front plate, was designed on the basis of the TKS and became known as the TKS-D. A small number of such vehicles were constructed in 1936 but the design was rejected after trials. The TK series was finalised as the TKF; this variant was powered by a Polski-Fiat engine and carried two machine-guns, one of which was capable of anti-aircraft fire. In 1936 also, it was decided to investigate the possible adaptation of either the Danish Madsen or the Swiss Solothurn 20mm cannon for this type of vehicle but the trials conducted with these foreign weapons proved to be very deceptive and a homemade weapon of this calibre was eventually conceived. The Polish 20mm FK cannon was ready in 1938 and its mounting on TK. 3 and TKS tankettes started in 1939 after suitable modifications of the vehicles. Only a few were so modified when the war broke out and brought to an end further Polish armoured fighting vehicle development.

When trying to find further successful foreign designs, Poland had turned her interest to the United States where, by 1928, J. Walter Christie introduced his fast tank chassis which utilised a new coil spring suspension acting on pivoted arms. Considerable interest in this Christie fast tank had been shown by the United States, Russia, Poland and later – via the Russian BT – by Great Britain. Orders for nine machines – five for the United States, two for Russia and two for Poland – of the newly developed Model 193I had been accepted by the firm run by J. Walter Christie, the US Wheel Track Layer Corporation, of Linden, New Jersey, USA. However, Poland defaulted to take delivery of her two samples which were later purchased by the US Army to supplement the five machines originally ordered.

Polish interest in Christie tanks was to resume in 1936 when BBT drew up plans for a wheel-cum-track fast tank of its own but based upon the American design as far as the suspension system and the twin purposes running gear were concerned. The Polish version of the Christie tank was to mount the same Bofors turret and 37mm gun as the last Polish version of the Vickers Six-ton tank and be powered by an American La France V-I2 cylinder motor developing 210hp. A prototype, designated the 10 TP, was actually built in I938 and undertook trials. It was contemplated as the main equipment for the four mechanised cavalry brigades foreseen in the modernisation programme of the Polish Army, which had been laid down in I936-7.

Some time later, a start was made on another project along the same lines but intended to run on tracks only. This 14 TP, as it was known, was to have increased armour to that of the 10 TP and therefore a greater weight. As far as the maximum speed was concerned, this would have been greatly reduced in comparison with its parent, the 10 TP which could run on wheels at a speed of 75kmh. Neither the 10 TP nor the 14 TP, of which the uncompleted prototype was destroyed in September 1939, reached production status. Such an unfortunate fate for these tanks which showed so much promise would probably not happened if the development of a Polish-made Christie tank had begun as early as 1932-3, on the basis of the 193I machine which had been ordered then rejected.

While the production of the modified twin turret model 7 TP was proceeding slowly, it was decided to introduce a single version carrying a Bofors gun (the turret being manufactured by this same concern). This variant appeared in 1937, but the production was restricted by the difficulties of making armour plates and of procuring the turrets from Sweden. Afterwards, in 1939, some quibbles about its unsuitable armour thickness brought PZI to evolve a heavier variant with an improved engine, welded armour thickened up to 40mm in front, a strengthened suspension, wider tracks and a turret with a rear overhang which could accommodate both transmitter and receiver radio sets. The up-armoured 7 TP, which now weighed 11 tons, did not have time to go beyond the prototype or, at best, pre-production stage.

Meanwhile other tanks were under development at the PZI design bureau in the form of two ultra-light tanks which came into being on a common basis, namely the Pzlnz. 130 and the Pzlnz. 140. The former was a variant developed specifically as an amphibious tank and consequently was fitted with a rudder and a three-blade propeller for steering and propulsion in water. Prototypes of both models were constructed in 1936-37, using the same Pzlnz. 425 6-cylinder engine as a power plant. Contemplated for standardisation as the 4 TP, the Pzlnz. 140 was fitted with a turret which could accommodate a 20mm FK light automatic cannon and a coaxial 7.92mm machine-gun, while the amphibious Pzlnz. 130 was intended to be fitted with the same turret but carrying only either one or two machine-guns. At one time, it was hoped that the 4 TP (Pzlnz. 140) would be amenable to a 37mm gun armament but this project was abandoned. Both models were tested during the autumn of 1937 and showed some promise but also revealed defects such as overloading of the suspension and, for the Prlnz. 130, a lateral instability when swimming. From the purely military point of view, it was evident that such ultra-light tanks would be below an acceptable level of fighting capability because they were too thinly armoured and too lightly armed. In consequence no preparations for quantity production of these models were undertaken and the final fate of both prototypes is unknown. Two self-propelled gun projects, designed along the same lines, were also dropped.

With the political crisis which arose between Poland and Germany over the question of Danzig, it became vital to complete the mechanisation programme of the mid-thirties. In 1937, two horse cavalry regiments had already been converted – on paper – into motorised units, and the 10th (Motorised) Cavalry Brigade had been raised. This was later followed by a second large unit of this type. The formation of eight independent tank battalions was also considered, but if the weak point of the motorised brigades was the lack of suitable tanks, there were no tanks at all for the independent battalions. As a stop-gap measure until a range of new tanks could be produced, the Polish Armament Ministry decided to spend a French military loan granted in 1936 for the purchase, amongst other military equipment, of the complement for two tank battalions. Purchase of the S-35 was negotiated, but since this tank was not available for export orders, 100 light tanks of the R-35 type were ordered in April 1939. By August 1939 however, only one battalion, deducted from the French orders in production, had been received.

With the advent of the Second World War, Poland had 169 7 TP tanks, 50 Vickers Six-ton tanks, 53 Renault R-35 tanks, 67 Renault FT tanks, 693 TK and TKS tankettes and 100 armoured cars. Of course the Bron Pancerna was greatly outnumbered by the German Schnelle Truppen which were able to line up no less than 3,195 tanks (1,445 PzKpfw. I, 1,226 PzKpfw. II, 98 PzKpfw. III, 2II PzKpfw. IV and 2I5 PzBfw), supplemented by a number of formerly Czech PzKpfw. 35 (t) and PzKpfw. 38 (t), organised into 6 regular panzer divisions, 1 provisional improvised division and 4 light divisions. The famous Blitzkrieg tactics – combining an armoured sword-thrust at a vital point and deep sweeping actions with air dive bombing attacks – propounded by General H. Guderian, was employed for the first time and completely decimated the Polish armies in three weeks. Strangely enough, the R-35 battalion was not engaged in action, and on 17 September 1939, was evacuated to Rumania.

The unfortunate German-Polish War did not put an end to the Polish armoured forces. Many Polish soldiers having escaped to France, one ‘brigade polonaise’, with two battalions of R-35 tanks, was raised with them from April 1940 onwards. They fought gallantly during the French disaster and a number of them were, once again, evacuated to England. They formed, via an Army Tank Brigade and a reborn 10th Cavalry Brigade, the nucleus of an armoured division. Created in the spring of 1942, with Covenanter then Crusader III tanks, and later with Cromwell and Sherman tanks, the 1st Free Polish Armoured Division fought in Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Another Polish armoured brigade, formed in 1943 from personnel saved from Russian camps, had been engaged on the Italian front and later expanded into the 2nd Polish Armoured Division. Both units were demobilised after the war. When Poland was re-established as a state closely allied with Russia, the new Polish armoured forces received Soviet patterned tanks which were later built by Poland herself.

Armoured Trains

Almost as soon as Poland was established as a nation in 1919, the new Polish army started to accumulate a number of types of armoured train with which to defend its exposed borders. The trains were initially used to take troops and heavy armament to any particular front or locality as and when required, for it was impossible to post troops to cover every potential border crossing point, especially on the wide plains of the eastern Polish frontier with the Soviet Union. In time some of these early armoured trains were withdrawn and replaced by more formal designs intended specifically as armoured trains rather than merely a collection of protected railway wagons.

Typical of these new equipments was the Pociag Pancerny nr 11 (PP nr 11) and named ‘Danuta’. When complete this train consisted of two armed wagons, an accommodation and control wagon equipped with radio, and an armoured locomotive. To these could be added two flat-bed wagons, one at the front and one at the back, which had no function other than to protect the train proper from the possible effects of mines laid under the tracks and fired by wheel pressure, Thus, from the front, such a train would comprise a flat-bed wagon, one of the two armed wagons, the control carriage (also armoured), the armoured locomotive, the other armed wagon, and the second flat-bed wagon. The armed wagon was a four-axle design with two axles at each end. At the ends were two circular turrets, one mounting a 100-mm (3.94-in) howitzer of Austro-Hungarian origins and the other a 75-mm (2.95-in) gun, A small central turret mounted a 7.92-mm (0.31-in) machine-gun.

The ‘Danuta’ was but one of many Polish armoured trains still in service in 1939 when the Germans invaded. Each of the Polish armoured trains had its own name, usually of a Polish folk or national hero such as ‘Paderewski’, ‘Grozny’, ‘General Sosnkowski’ or Marszalek’. To these were added a number of improvised trains that were hurriedly formed in 1939, usually by simply adding steel plates to existing railway rolling stock. No two examples of these armoured trains appear to have been alike other than the fact that they nearly all had two-turret wagons somewhere in their formation. Again, no two of these twin-turret wagons were identical in design although most had one 100-mm (3.94-in) turret and one 75-mm (2.95-in) turret with a machine-gun of some form or another in the small central turret. There were also a number of smaller twin-axle wagons with single turrets having 75-mm (2.95-in) guns and firing ports or small turrets for machine-guns. To add to the number of types in service there were also small wagons with their own truck-type engines carrying a small machine-gun turret. Typical of these was the ‘Tatra’ which mounted a Hotchkiss machine-gun.

One Polish innovation was the adaption of railway wagons for the carriage of light tank, often as part of armoured trains. These could carry either the light Renault M1917 tank or the little TKS tankettes that were little more than machine-gun carriers.

For all their gun power and degree of design sophistication, nearly all the Polish armoured trains lacked one key weapon and that was some form of anti-aircraft armament. In 1939 this proved to be a serious drawback for in the face of Luftwaffe air supremacy the Polish armoured trains were either unable to move or were attacked when they attempted to do so, Many of them were destroyed by air attack and the few left were taken over by the Germans, at first for internal security duties but later in the Soviet Union on anti-partisan operations.