Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6





A Xian H-6K bomber


One of Russia’s first effective jet bombers, the Tupolev Tu-16 has enjoyed a frontline service career matched by few other types.

The Tu-16 was made possible by the development of the Mikulin AM-3 turbojet, which also powered the four engined Myasishchyev M-4 ‘Bison’. A prototype designated Tu-88 and powered by AM-3A turbojets flew for the first time on April 27 1952. A second, considerably lightened prototype flew later that year and the type was subsequently selected for production ahead of the rival llyushin II-46.

Early production Tu-16s covered by NATO’s ‘Badger-A’ designation include the Tu-16A nuclear bomber, torpedo armed naval Tu-16T and the Tu-16N tanker for other Tu-16s (using the unique wingtip to wingtip method). Of the ‘Badger-A’s, only Tu-16Ms survive in service, although over 100 Chinese built Xian H-6s remain in service.

The first anti-ship missile launching Tu-16 was the Kh-1 (AS-1 ‘Kennel’) firing Tu-16KS-1 ‘Badger-B’ with retractable radome (now retired). The Tu-16K-10 ‘Badger-C’ is identifiable by its large, flat nose radome housing the l-band ‘Puff Ball’ radar and carried a single Kh-1 OS (AS-2 ‘Kipper’) missile semi recessed under the fuselage (modified to Tu-16K-10-26 ‘Badger-C Mod’ standard it could carry a single Kh-26/AS-6 ‘Kingfish’). The similar Tu-16K-11-16 ‘Badger-G’ was developed to carry the 320km (170nm) range Mach 1.2 Kh-11/ Kh-15 (AS-5 ‘Kelt’). ‘Badger-G’s modified to fire the Kh-26 are designated Tu-16K-26 ‘Badger-G Mod’.

Many of the 1800 plus Tu-16s built were converted to Elint/reconnaissance platforms. The Tu-16Ye is an elint conversion of ‘Badger-C’s, as is the Tu-16P ‘Badger-K’ and Tupolev Tu-16P ‘Badger-L’, while the Tu-16R ‘Badger-E’ and Tu-16P ‘Badger-F’ are optical reconnaissance variants.

Finally the Tu-16PP ‘Badger-H’ and Tu-16RM and Tu-16KRM, both ‘Badger-J’, are EW jammers.

Xian H-6 medium bomber

In early 1956 the Soviet Union agreed to licence production of the Tupolev Tu-16 medium bomber (NATO reporting name Badger) in China. The aircraft, which first flew in April 1952 and entered Soviet Air Force service in February1954, represented the then-latest state of the art in Soviet bomber design. The Tu-16 had mid-set wings with moderate sweepback and conventional swept tail surfaces; the four-wheel bogies of the main landing gear units retracted aft, somersaulting through 1800 to lie in large fairings projecting beyond the wing trailing edge. The powerplant consisted of two Mikulin RD-3M-500 axial-flow turbojets with a take-off thrust of 9,520 kgp (20,990 Ibst) placed on the fuselage sides immediately aft of the rear wing spar so that the inlet ducts passed through the wing roots, the fuselage being ‘pinched’ in accordance with the area rule. The crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator/bomb-aimer (sitting in an extensively glazed nose), a dorsal gunner/radio operator sitting behind the pilots, plus two more gunners sitting in a separate pressure cabin in the rear fuselage. The defensive armament comprised three powered barbettes with twin 23-mm AM-23 cannons and a single fixed cannon of the same type in the nose.

The actual licence agreement for manufacture of the Tu-16 was signed in September 1957. Under the terms of this, China received two production Tu-16 bombers as pattern aircraft, a further two aircraft in the form of a semi-knocked-down (SKD) kit and a CKD kit, essential for mastering the assembly of the first examples, and a set of blanks and raw materials for parts manufacture together with the necessary technical documentation. All of this was supplied by plant No. 22 in Kazan’, the main manufacturer of the type.

In 1959 the decision was taken to begin licence production in China, and in the same year a large technical team left the USSR for China to assist in setting up series production. It remained in China until the autumn of 1960.

The Bureau of Aircraft Industry (BAI) allocated two factories in Harbin and Xian (sometimes spelled Xi’an) for Tu-16 production. A major reconstruction of the Harbin Aircraft Factory, in the course of which the shop floor area was doubled, began in 1958; the plant received assistance in the form of 200 qualified workers seconded from the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. In May 1959 the Harbin plant took delivery of the two Tu-16 pattern aircraft and the CKD kit, and assembly of a bomber from the kit began immediately. The first Chinese Tu-16 was assembled in just 67 days (28th June – 3rd September), making its maiden flight on 27th September 1959, and was handed over to the PLAAF that December.

In 1958 the large aircraft factory at Xian was completed, and to assist in Tu-16 production there 1,040 skilled technical and engineering staff and 1,697 other workers were transferred from Shenyang. In 1961 the BAI decided to concentrate all work on the Tu-16 at the Xian factory so that the Harbin plant could concentrate on the H-5; the transfer of production took place in 1962-64. The Chinese licence-built version was briefly designated Feilong-201 (Flying Dragon-201) but became the H-6 in 1964. The RD-3M-500 was built under licence at the Xian Engine Factory (with assistance from the Harbin and Shenyang plants) as the WP-8.

In 1964 the plant began manufacturing the jigs and tooling for series production of the H-6; new production methods differing from the Soviet ones were used, including explosive forming and epoxy resin male moulds instead of metal ones. In October 1966 the first airframe assembled from Chinese parts was finished, one year ahead of schedule; it underwent static tests at the BAI’s Aircraft Structure Analysis Research Institute in December 1968.

On 24th December 1968 the first Xian-built production H-6 bomber completely manufactured in China (with Chinese-made WP-8 engines) made its first flight The crew was commanded by test pilot Li Yuanyi, with Xu Wenhong as co-pilot After this, full-scale production of the H-6 in China got under way.

The reason that it took so long to establish H-6 in production in China was the disorganisation of the Chinese aircraft industry caused by the spread of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. A lot of design documentation was lost during the transfer of production from Harbin to Xian, and it took forever to restore it.

The London Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that approximately 120 H-6 bombers in various versions had been built up to 1987 when production was interrupted. It was resumed several years later.

The standard H-6 was 34.8 m (114 ft 2’Y64 in) long and 9.85 m (32 ft 35Y64 in) high, with a wing span of 34.2 m (112 ft F%4 in). The normal and maximum take-off weight were 72,000 kg (158,730 Ib) and 75,800 kg (167,110 Ib) respectively; the bomber could carry a normal weapons load of 3,000 kg (6,610 Ib) and a maximum weapons load of 9,000 kg (19,840 Ib). The maximum fuel load was 33,000 kg (72,750 Ib). The H-6 attained a maximum speed of 1,014 km/h (630 mph) at 6,250 m (20,500 ft), a cruising speed of 786 km/h (488 mph) or Mach 0.75 and a service ceiling Of 13,100 m (42,980 ft). The ferry range was 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and the combat radius was 1,800 km (1,120 miles).

H-6A nuclear-capable bomber

Even before production of the H-6 had been fully implemented, the modification of a Tu-16 assembled from Soviet parts into a carrier for the Chinese atomic bomb started at Xian under the codename ‘Mission 21-511’. The bomb bay was heat-insulated and air-conditioned to provide the correct environment for the nuclear weapons, the bomb release system was modified and the necessary monitoring and recording equipment for nuclear testing was installed. To all intents and purposes this aircraft was the counterpart of the Soviet Tu-16A. The modification work was supervised by Li Xipu.

The modified aircraft was the prototype of the nuclear-capable H-6A. On 14th May 1965 this aircraft captained by Li Yuanyi successfully carried out the third Chinese nuclear test, dropping a 20-kiloton atomic bomb over the Lop Nor nuclear test range in western China. The flight crew received a collective government award for this mission. On 29th September 1969, an H-6 bomber dropped China’s first thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 3,000 kilotons.

H-6D (H-6 IV, B-6D) missile strike aircraft

In 1975 work began on an anti-shipping missile strike version of the H-6A for the PLANAF. The carrier, given the designation H-6D (orginally H-6 IV), featured a missile guidance system, an automated navigation system and a new Type 245 surveillance radar in a much-enlarged flat-bottomed chin radome linked to the missile guidance system. At an altitude of 9,000 m (29,530 ft) the radar could detect a surface target with a radar cross-section of 7,500 m2 (80,645 sq ft) from a maximum range of 150 km (93 miles). The wings were strengthened for carrying two YJ-6L anti-shipping cruise missiles which were suspended on pylons resembling those of the Soviet Navy’s Tu-16KSR-2 missile strike aircraft.

The YJ-6L air-to-surface missile (export designation C-601, NATO codename CAS-1 Kraken) was developed in China from the HY-2 ship-/land-based anti-shipping missile – a copy of the Soviet P-15 supplied to China at the end of the 1950s. The missile was powered by a liquid-fuel rocket motor and fitted with a 513-kg (1, 131-lb) high-explosive warhead; it had a range of 120 km (74.5 miles) and a speed of Mach 0.8. The H-6D reportedly also retained a level bombing capability.

The first flight of the experimental H-6D took place on 29th August 1981 with Zhai Xijie in the captain’s seat. The first launch of a YJ-6L instrumented test round followed on 6th December; all four tests of inert missiles were reportedly successful. The test program for the aircraft and the ASM complex as a whole was concluded by live missile tests at the end of 1983. In December 1985 the new anti-shipping complex entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF).

In May 1985 the H-6D with its C-601 missiles was exhibited at the Paris Air Show.

Later, the YJ-6L was replaced by the more modern YJ-61 (C-611) missile which has a range of 200 km (124 miles). The export version of the H-6D was designated B-6D (B for bomber); four were supplied to Iraq.

The dimensions of the H-6D were identical to those of the standard bomber, and the performance was similar. Differences included a service ceiling reduced to 12,000 m (39,370 ft).






The war chariot was made possible by two inventions, the spoked wheel and the bit. Complete chariots have been found in Egyptian tombs. The frame was made of wood covered with leather. It had two wheels, each with four (later six) spokes, and an axle placed at the very rear of the body for stability on fast turns. Attached to the sides were one or two quivers, each containing thirty or forty arrows, a bow case, and sometimes a quiver for javelins.

In the late eighteenth century BC both the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and the Babylonian Empire fell apart. Everywhere records failed, leaving the seventeenth and much of the sixteenth century a dark age. In the old centres of civilization alien conquerors took over, and new powers arose in the north. Amorite and Hurrian invaders, called by the Egyptians hyksos (‘foreign chieftains’), established themselves in the Nile Delta and in about 1650 BC proclaimed a new dynasty with its capital at Avaris – the first non-Egyptian dynasty in the history of Egypt. At about the same time a Hittite king called Hattusilis created a powerful state, controlling central Anatolia from his citadel at Hattusas. His successor Mursilis extended Hittite rule over northern Syria, and in 1595 BC performed the most spectacular military exploit in history to that date, when he led his army all the way to Mesopotamia, sacked the great city of Babylon and carried off the statue of its god Marduk, doubtless accompanied by much booty of a secular nature. As a result, the enfeebled dynasty of Hammurabi vanished and was soon replaced by barbarians known as Kassites from the Iranian hills. Like earlier barbarian invaders of Mesopotamia they were quickly Akkadianized; their king called himself ‘King of the Kassites’, but also ‘King of Sumer and Akkad’; and the dynasty lasted longer than any of the native dynasties of Sumer and Akkad, though next to nothing is known of its history. The Hurrian princes took advantage of the general disorder: in about 1550 BC a great Hurrian kingdom called Mitanni arose in northern Mesopotamia and soon contested the domination of Syria with the Hittites.

All these kingdoms relied upon a new military technology, the horsed chariot and the composite bow. Early evidence for chariot warfare links it to the Hittite kingdom. The hyksos princes introduced it to Egypt, and then it became common all over the Middle East. But it is unlikely that the Hittites invented it. There is a mysterious but definite connection between chariot warfare and people of Aryan heritage that is, speaking dialects ancestral to the Aryan or Indo-Iranic division of the Indo-European linguistic family. Today Aryan languages are spoken in Iran, much of Central Asia and most of the Indian subcontinent. The oldest literary evidence for an Aryan language is the collection of Sanskrit hymns called the Rig-Veda, composed in about 1500 BC. Most of the people of the kingdom of Mitanni spoke Hurrian, but the aristocracy, all chariot warriors, had Aryan names and worshipped the same gods – Indra, Varuna, Mithra – who appear in the Rig-Veda. Many cities in Syria and Palestine acquired dynasties with Aryan or Hurrian names at this time. Some scholars have thought that even the Kassites of Babylonia (whose original language is obscure, but could not have been Indo-European) paid homage to some Aryan gods. Everywhere the Aryan word maryannu (young warrior) was used for chariot fighters. There survives a Hittite treatise on the training of chariot horses, translated from Hurrian, which is studded with Aryan technical terms. In the fourteenth century, when this treatise was written, Aryan may no longer have been spoken in the Middle East, but it was still the international language of chariotry, as Italian is of music.

It is widely supposed that the ancestors of these Aryans had come from the north, and likewise the horse and the war chariot. The dissemination of the horse preceded the other two. The original range of the wild horse (Equus caballus) lay on the Eurasian steppe, where domesticated horses were being ridden as early as the fourth millennium BC. By 3000 BC there had developed a nomadic pastoral culture exploiting the deep steppe with riding horses and ox-drawn wheeled carts, stretching across the European steppe from the Dneister to the Ural River, and soon to spread across the steppes of Central Asia. Horse nomadism was never suitable for the arid steppes of the Middle East, but by the Middle Bronze Age Syrian and Mesopotamian princes were importing horses from the north and occasionally riding in horse-drawn chariots. These were prestige vehicles, with no military function.

The war chariot of the High Bronze Age was a much more specialized vehicle and could not have come from the European steppes, which lack the necessary woods. Many scholars think the likeliest place for its invention lies in the mountainous regions south of the Caucasus, where the high pastures were famous for horse-breeding in antiquity. Some think that we should also look there for the homeland of the Aryans. It seems certain that by around 1700 BC horsemen in that part of the world developed a chariot built of lightweight hardwoods, with two spoked wheels and a leather-mesh platform on which a rider could stand, the whole thing light enough (about 60 pounds) for one man to carry, and pulled by two fast horses. It was the first effective use of the horse as a draft animal, and the swiftest vehicle ever designed. It was surely invented for hunting, which always remained one of its main uses, but some enterprising highland chieftain soon experimented with using such chariots in war: that is, as a galloping archery platform, carrying two athletic young men, one an expert driver and the other an expert archer armed with a composite bow, firing a steady stream of arrows with a range of several hundred feet. The basic principle of the composite bow had been known in the Middle East for some centuries, but it was an expensive weapon requiring years to manufacture; like the rifle of the eighteenth century AD, it was probably used for hunting by kings and nobles, and in war by certain highly trained specialists. The weapon may not have been perfected, nor its full military potential realized, until it was mounted on a mobile platform. These inventions eventually spun off a third invention, the first real body armour: the archer, and sometimes the horses, were protected by leather tunics sewn with bronze or copper scales.

It has been suggested that chariot warfare was first tested early in the seventeenth century at Troy, which at that time was taken over by the conquerors who built the citadel known to archaeologists as Troy VI. Knowledge of the new art had spread far by about 1650 BC, when upstart regimes in Anatolia and Egypt used it in their rise to power. The long Hittite march to Babylon in 1595 BC demonstrated its full potential. Over the next century Aryan and Hurrian adventurers seized power in cities all around the Fertile Crescent.

These conquests were not mass migrations; rather, we should imagine quick takeovers by small military elites, resembling the Norman conquests of England and Sicily in the eleventh century AD. There was relatively little destruction; the transition from Middle to High Bronze Age was not marked by any general decline in material civilization, such as had accompanied the transition from Early to Middle Bronze Age. Like the medieval Norman knights, the chariot conquerors were soon absorbed culturally by the conquered. Only in two places did these conquests lead to lasting cultural and linguistic change. In the west, around 1600 BC, a band of Indo-European (but not Aryan) charioteers established themselves in Greece, and two centuries after that took over the more advanced Minoan civilization on Crete, adapting the linear Cretan script to write a language that was turning into Greek. In the east, a larger migration spread over the Iranian plateau and during the latter half of the second millennium overran northern India, taking over the remnants of the Indus River civilization, whose people became the lower castes of Hinduism; the oral poetry of the conquerors preserved faithfully an Aryan dialect that was turning into Sanskrit. But in the Middle East the upheavals were over by about 1550 BC, when the native Eighteenth Dynasty expelled the hyksos from Egypt. By that time the barbarians had been assimilated and a new pattern of interstate affairs had taken shape.

Aztec Warfare



The Aztecs, who became established in central Mexico in the early 1300s and whose empire flourished from 1430 to 1521, made the last major weapons innovations. Under their empire, a preindustrial military complex supplied the imperial center with materials not available locally, or manufactured elsewhere. The main Aztec projectiles were arrows shot from bows and darts shot from atlatls, augmented by slingers. Arrows could reach well over a hundred meters-and sling stones much farther-but the effective range of atlatl darts (as mentioned earlier, about 60 meters) limited the beginning of all barrages to that range. The principle shock weapons were long, straight oak broadswords with obsidian blades glued into grooves on both sides, and thrusting spears with bladed extended heads. These arms culminated a long developmental history in which faster, lighter arms with increasingly greater cutting surface were substituted for slower, heavier crushing weapons. Knives persisted, but were used principally for the coup de grace. Armor consisted of quilted cotton jerkins, covering only the trunk of the body, leaving limbs unencumbered and the head free, which could be covered by a full suit of feathers or leather according to accomplishment. Warriors also carried 60-centimeter round shields on the left wrist. Where cotton was scarce, maguey (fiber from agave plants) was also fabricated into armor, but the long, straight fiber lacked the resilience and warmth of cotton. In west Mexico, where clubs and maces persisted, warriors protected themselves with barrel armor-a cylindrical body encasement presumably made of leather.

City walls and hilltop strongholds continued into Aztec times, but construction limitations rendered it too costly to enclose large areas. Built in a lake, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan lacked the need for extensive defenses, though the causeways that linked it to the shore had both fortifications and removable wooden bridges.

By Aztec times, if not far earlier, chili fi res were used to smoke out fortified defenders, provided the wind cooperated. Poisons were known, but not used in battle, so blowguns were relegated to birding and sport. Where there were sizable bodies of water, battles were fought from rafts and canoes. More importantly, especially in the Valley of Mexico, canoe transports were crucial for deploying soldiers quickly and efficiently throughout the lake system. By the time of the Spanish conquest, some canoes were armored with wooden defensive works that were impermeable to projectiles.

The Importance of Organization

Despite the great emphasis placed on weaponry, perhaps the most crucial element in warfare in Mesoamerica was organization. Marshaling, dispatching, and supplying an army of considerable size for any distance or duration required great planning and coordination. Human porters bearing supplies accompanied armies in the vanguard (the body of the army); tribute empires were organized to maintain roads and provide foodstuffs to armies en route, allowing imperial forces to travel farther and faster than their opponents; and cartographers mapped out routes, nightly stops, obstacles, and water sources to permit the march and coordinate the timely meeting of multiple armies at the target.

What distinguished Mexican imperial combat from combat in North America was less technological than organizational. More effective weapons are less important than disciplining an army to sustain an assault in the face of opposition; that task requires a political structure capable not merely of training soldiers, but of punishing them if they fail to carry out commands. Polities with the power to execute soldiers for disobedience emerged in Mexico but not in North America; those polities had a decisive advantage over their competitors.

In North America, chiefdoms dominated the Southeast beginning after 900 CE, and wars were waged for status and political domination, but the chiefdoms of the Southwest had disintegrated after 1200 CE, and pueblos had emerged from the wreckage. (We use the term pueblos to refer to the settled tribal communities of the Southwest, but chiefdom is a political term that reflects the power of the chief, which was greater than that exercised by the puebloan societies after the collapse around 1200 CE.) There too warfare played a role, though for the pueblos wars were often defensive engagements against increasing numbers of nomadic groups. The golden age of North American Indian warfare emerged only after the arrival of Europeans, their arms, and horses. But even then, in the absence of Mesoamerican-style centralized political authority, individual goals, surprise attacks, and hit-and-run tactics dominated the battlefield, not sustained combat in the face of determined opposition.

Further Reading Andreski, S. (1968). Military organization and society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Ferguson, R. B., & Whitehead, N. L. (1992). War in the tribal zone: Expanding states and indigenous warfare. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. Hassig, R. (1988). Aztec warfare: Imperial expansion and political control. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Hassig, R. (1992). War and society in ancient Mesoamerica. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Hassig, R. (1994). Mexico and the Spanish conquest. London: Longman Group. LeBlanc, S. A. (1999). Prehistoric warfare in the American southwest. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. Otterbein, K. F. (1970). The evolution of war: A cross-cultural study. New Haven, CT: HRAF Press. Pauketat, T. (1999). America’s ancient warriors. MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, 11(3), 50-55. Turney-High, H. H. (1971). Primitive war: Its practice and concepts. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. Van Creveld, M. (1989). Technology and war: From 2000 b. c. to the present. New York: The Free Press

Pope Julius II – the warrior pope

Agony Harrison

Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) from the film The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)


Pope Julius II, known as the warrior pope, involved himself in several wars in defense of the church and its land. Although his military actions damaged the holy reputation of the papacy, he successfully protected its interests. In addition, Julius was one of the leading patrons of the arts in the Renaissance.

Julius was born Giuliano della Rovere in Albissola, a town in northwestern Italy. He owed his career to a wealthy uncle who financed his education. In 1471 this uncle became Pope Sixtus IV, and shortly after that Giuliano became a cardinal. This new position led him to France and other countries to serve as an official representative of the pope.

In 1474 Giuliano went to war-torn Umbria, part of the Papal States, to end the fighting there. In Umbria he gained a taste for battle, which suited his energy and strength. He remained in Rome until his enemy ALEXANDER VI became pope. Feeling unsafe, Giuliano went to France and later to northwestern Italy, where he lived until Alexander’s death.

In 1503 Giuliano returned to Rome and was elected pope. His strong character and his reputation as a defender of the church helped him win the position. As Julius II he struggled to recover some lands that Venice had taken in the Romagna, a part of the Papal States. In order to defeat the Venetians, Julius joined the League of Cambrai in 1509. This alliance combined the forces of the French king Louis XII, Spain’s FERDINAND OF ARAGON, and the emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire, MAXIMILIAN I. The group effectively pressured the Venetians into returning the land. However, Julius continued his battle to protect papal interests. Wanting to ensure Italy’s safety from the mounting French threat, he turned against his former ally and joined the anti- French Holy League. The League, which consisted of leaders from Spain, England, and other countries, fought to drive French troops from Italy. Julius was finally victorious in 1512.

In addition to his military actions, Julius II was one of the most important artistic patrons of the Renaissance. He commissioned one of the most famous works of the Renaissance, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI. Julius also employed RAPHAEL to paint several frescoes*, including the famous School of Athens for his Vatican apartment. Raphael’s portrait of Julius influenced the way artists portrayed popes for centuries.

League of Cambrai, (1508-1510).

An alliance of Pope Julius II (r. 1503- 1513), Louis XII (1462-1515) of France, Emperor Maximilian I, and Ferdinand II of Spain, as well as several Italian states. In name it was a treaty that aimed at punishing the Ottomans. In fact, it was an aggressive alliance that aimed to dismember Venice and divide the carcass of that watery empire. A French army defeated the Venetians at Agnadello in 1509. The alliance quickly collapsed, however, as a result of too many competing ambitions and interests among the allies. Spain withdrew into neutrality and the Papal States switched sides upon receiving some concessions from Venice, and in order to forestall further French advances in Italy.

Port of London in The Great War

The Royal Docks after 1921.

London was the largest city in the world as well as the leading manufacturing centre in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century. When Britain went to war with Germany from August 1914, factories that made certain products switched instead to making munitions, or those producing garments to military uniforms. Economically, and leaving aside the great loss of lives of those who went to fight, London generally prospered from the Great War of 1914–18.

In the first years of the conflict, trade in the Port rapidly increased. Continental ports closed and shipments from allied countries were diverted to London. Troops and supplies were also being ferried to France from the Thames. The Port’s warehouses were soon unusually full with produce. There were so many vessels coming and going in the first months that there was congestion, with queues of ships at anchor in the Thames Estuary waiting for berths. Fortunately, at around that time, improvements initiated by the PLA at the East India, London, West India and Tilbury Docks were coming to fruition to ease the situation. As labour became scarce, dredging of the river ceased early in the conflict.

The PLA was directly employing around 4,500 men prior to the war and that increased to 8,000 in 1915. With the port so important to the war effort, workers were selectively exempted from being drafted into the armed services. Many anyway signed up or left to work in local munitions factories where high wages were on offer. Over 1,200 were enlisted to assist in French ports. To best regulate traffic throughout the country, the Port & Transit Executive Committee was formed in November 1915, with Lord Inchcape as chairman. One of its initiatives was to form mobile Transport Workers’ Battalions, consisting of soldiers, to provide labour whenever there was a shortage in a port. On occasion as many as 1,000 men from the battalions were employed in the Port of London.

In October 1914 the PLA’s engineers were requested to create a temporary pontoon bridge across the Thames at Gravesend, supported by seventy lighters, to prevent enemy ships entering the river. It opened to shipping for three hours on each high tide. Torpedo nets and booms were also set up at dock entrance locks. The Admiralty sought additional equipment in the Port’s dry docks for the repair of ships damaged by torpedoes but the PLA’s facilities were at that time intended primarily for painting and cleaning. Following negotiation it was agreed that the Admiralty would pay half the cost of the equipment. Security of the Port became even more important during the war. It was a task entrusted to the PLA police force who worked together with government Alien Officers. Of particular interest were foreign nationals, especially sailors arriving on alien vessels.

Britain had a superior navy and, despite some setbacks and losses, generally kept the German surface fleet in check. Much of the nation’s food and raw materials were imported, all of that arriving by sea, and it was therefore vital that the enemy was not able to blockade the ports. Understanding the importance of the Port of London to Britain, it became the target of Zeppelin air raids from the summer of 1915. The giant airships were notoriously ineffective in hitting targets and the damage was mostly psychological rather than physical. By 1917 the airships were being superseded by fixed-wing Gotha bombers. A shrapnel bomb dropped from one of them in the first big raid, in June of that year, hit a school in Poplar near the docks, killing eighteen of the children and causing shock and anger throughout the country.

One of the many factories that switched to producing explosives for the military was the Brunner Mond & Co. caustic soda works in the densely-populated suburb of Silvertown, close to the Royal Docks. The company was requested by the Ministry of Munitions to produce the volatile explosive TNT, which began in September 1915. In January 1917 a fire broke out in the plant during the evening and a massive explosion occurred just before seven o’clock, which devastated not only the factory but much of the surrounding neighbourhood. Seventy-three people were killed including seven PLA staff, and ninety-four seriously injured. It would have been worse if the works had not been closed for the night. The explosion was so great that it could be heard up to 100 miles. Nearly 1,000 homes, many housing people who would have worked in or around the docks and wharves, were totally destroyed and a further 70,000 damaged. Fires broke out along the Thames-side wharves. Sheds and other buildings were damaged or destroyed in the Victoria Dock, taking up to two years to re-erect or repair. The grain silos around Pontoon Dock were particularly badly damaged. One of the two gas-holders at the East Greenwich Gas Works on the opposite side of the Thames at the Greenwich Peninsula, at that time the largest in the world, was damaged and was thereafter reduced in size. A payment of £250,000 was made by the government to the PLA for repairs. This was a time when bad news was covered up or heavily censored and the Ministry of Munitions merely issued a simple statement. The following day the local council began to organize the clearance of the damaged area and provide temporary housing for those displaced. A relief office was set up at Canning Town where residents could apply for aid and seek compensation, which eventually amounted to £3 million. It was never established as to what had caused the explosion. The resulting enquiry, which was not made public until the 1950s, criticized both the Ministry of Munitions for producing explosives in a heavily populated area and the Brunner Mond management for not keeping a round-the-clock watch for fires. The immediate area remained undeveloped for many decades and is now the site of the Thames Barrier. A stone memorial marks the location of the explosion and there is a plaque in Postman’s Park in the City in memory of a policeman who died during rescue operations.

Germany had developed submarine technology. In the first months of the war they restricted their attacks to Allied naval vessels but from October 1914 they were also intermittently targeting cargo and passenger ships. A London-bound ship carrying food was sunk as it left Falmouth. The government therefore decided it was safer for shipments to be sent to ports on the west coast of Britain and their cargoes forwarded on to London by rail. In March 1918 it became necessary to entirely close the Straits of Dover to shipping. As the West Coast ports were generally not suited to the types and volume of cargoes, however, the policy led to congestion and food shortages during 1917–18. Ongoing improvements to London’s port facilities were put on hold from the beginning of 1916 as it became difficult to obtain suitable machinery. By 1918 the Port was handling only half the pre-war tonnage.

In May 1917 the British Workers League organized a great rally in Hyde Park in support of their comrades in the military at which one of the speakers was Ben Tillett of the Dockers’ Union. Over 400 PLA employees lost their lives serving in the war, as did an unknown number of casual dock workers and those involved in other Port-related industries.

The threat of industrial action by British merchant seamen led to the government forming the National Maritime Board in November 1917 to regulate wages and working practices. The board brought together under government control the Shipping Federation from the employers’ side and the National Union of Seamen and National Union of Ship’s Stewards from that of the employees. It was intended as only a wartime initiative but in 1919 was re-established as a permanent organization for joint consultation, without government involvement.

The King George V Dock

Ships continued to increase in size and at the beginning of the twentieth century some were too large even for the Royal Albert Dock, which was restricted to those of 12,000 tons and 500 feet in length. Prior to their demise, the East & West India Company had planned to create a new Royal dock. Plans by Frederick Palmer were completed in 1911 for a dock to the south of the Royal Albert, where the PLA owned land acquired by compulsory purchase orders obtained in an Act of 1901, and contracts placed the following year. Work slowed down during the Great War as men went off to join the services and materials became scarce.

In 1918, when the Admiralty was in need of additional dry-docking facilities, a new priority was given to the planned dock. Displaced residents were provided with 204 newly-built homes on the west side of Prince Regent’s Lane, opposite Beckton Road recreation ground. The existing road from the City to the Royal Docks was carried over the new basin by a bascule bridge. The King George V, the most modern dock in the world at that time, was finally opened by the King, accompanied by Queen Mary, in July 1921. They arrived on a steam yacht flying the white ensign that cut through a ribbon, watched by 8,000 invited guests, as well as crowds who lined the river to see them pass by. After berthing in the dock, the King and Queen disembarked to inspect the premises. As the King declared the new dock open, a gun salute was fired from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich on the opposite bank of the river.

Six two-storey warehouses with storage space of 700,000 square feet stood along the northern quay of the George V Dock. The southern side of the dock was lined with ‘dolphin’ berths. These 520-foot-long jetties lay parallel to the main quays at a distance of thirty-two feet, allowing lighters to pass between jetty and quay. Forty-nine cranes on the dolphin berths allowed cargoes to be simultaneously discharged or loaded onto lighters on both sides of a vessel, which moored on the outside of the jetties, or onto the quayside. The dock was created with the most modern facilities of the time for loading and unloading, storage and transport, including large transit sheds with twenty-seven electric cranes of five-ton carrying capacity. Railway lines served both north and south quays as well as behind the warehouses. The cost of the project was £4,500,000.

At 64 acres the King George V was smaller than its neighbouring Royal Docks. Its length was 4,500 feet, the width varying between 500 and 700 feet, and with over 3 miles of quays, able to accommodate up to 15 of the largest ocean-going vessels of the time, of up to 35,000 tons. A passage linked it to the Royal Albert Dock. It also contained its own entrance lock onto the river at Gallions Reach of 800 feet by 100 feet, operational at all tide levels. In 1939 the Cunard liner RMS Mauretania, the largest ship to pass up the Thames, was able to enter through the lock. Harland & Wolff operated a ship-repair workshop from within the dock that could accommodate vessels up to 25,000 tons. The combined size of the three Royal Docks measured 230 acres, the world’s largest surface of impounded water, with 11 miles of quays. The George V remains the only London dock to be created as part of a public service.

The PLA also considered the idea of siting a larger dock on open land to the north of the Royal Albert and Lord Devonport arranged the purchase of 202 acres of land and various shops and houses. A plan was drawn up in 1919 by Cyril Kirkpatrick, successor to Palmer, but by the time the project was revisited in the early 1920s the priority had changed to Tilbury so the north dock was never built.


Units of the expanded Turkish fleet sortie: from the left the light cruiser Midilli (ex-Breslau), the destroyer Basra and the battleships Turgut Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin.

Goeben/Yavuz in dock at Sevastopol in June 1918, with boards rigged for painting ship.

During 1916, Turgut Reis was re-gunned with weapons removed from her German sisters, the aft turret receiving 35-calibre weapons, as fitted in the midships turret, leaving forward one as the odd one out with 40-calibre guns; she was then laid up at the Haliç. In September 1917 it had been formally agreed between Germany and Turkey that at the end of the war, Germany would not only formally sell the ex-Goeben and ex-Breslau to Turkey, but also add a dozen destroyers and submarines. On 15 December 1917, the end of hostilities seemed to get closer as the armistice between Russia and the Central Powers brought fighting in the Black Sea to an end. It thus released the Ottoman Navy to carry out operations to the west for the first time.

Thus, on the morning of 20 January 1918, Goeben/Yavuz and Breslau/Midilli sailed out of the Dardanelles to carry out a raid on the British blockading force at their bases off the island of Imbros, and at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos. However, not long after their departure, Goeben/Yavuz struck a mine, in spite of the force’s possession of a captured British sketch-map of the minefields in the area. However, damage was minor, and the ships pushed on, finding the Aliki anchorage empty, but bombarding the radio station at Kephalo en route to the anchorage at Kusu Bay.

There, they first sighted the patrolling destroyer Lizard and then the 14in [356mm]-gunned monitor Raglan,9 the only big-gun ship present, the battleship Agamemnon being at Mudros and her sister Lord Nelson having gone to Salonika four days earlier. Lizard’s attempts at launching a torpedo attack were repulsed, while Raglan failed to hit with her initial salvoes; likewise the 9.2in [234mm] monitor M28 was unsuccessful. A shell from Breslau/Midilli wrecked Raglan’s fire control, while further hits from the cruiser penetrated the engine room. A 28cm shell from Goeben/Yavuz then hit the monitor’s barbette, causing an propellant fire; Raglan then took more hits, being eventually sunk by the explosion of her 12pdr [76mm] magazine. M28 was stricken with an ammunition and oil fire after a hit amidships from Breslau/Midilli, blowing up and sinking at 07.27, twelve minutes after Raglan.

The Turco-German ships then sailed to attack Mudros, under ineffectual attack by British aircraft. However, they soon found themselves in a minefield, Breslau/Midilli exploding a mine with her starboard screw at 07.45, leaving her immobile. While attempting to pass a tow, Goeben/Yavuz struck a mine on the port side amidships, the latter causing sufficient flooding to cause a list. Breslau/Midilli subsequently struck four more mines from 08.00, and sank at 08.07. Goeben/Yavuz managed to extract herself from this minefield, but struck yet another – on the starboard side – at 08.48 close to the location where she had been mined on the outward voyage. Still under air attack, but escorted by four Turkish destroyers, she managed to reach the Dardanelles Narrows where, however, she ran aground off Nagara Point at 10.30, following the mistaken identification of a marker-buoy. Goeben/Yavuz’s forward third was aground, and an attempt by Turgut Reis, withdrawn from reserve for the specific purpose of acting as a tug, to tow her off was unsuccessful.

With the ship immobilised, air attacks began at dawn on the 21st, but ongoing fog contributed to a lack of hits. However, on the next day a DH4 aircraft struck Goeben/Yavuz with a bomb on the after funnel, making a 3m hole, while a hit on a tug alongside caused damage to the bridge. By this time the destroyers Samsun and Mauvent-i Milliye were standing by the stricken ship, with the destroyers Nümune-i Hamiyet and Tasoz and the torpedo boat Akhisar providing a screen. On the 23rd, nine air attacks were made, but only one hit was scored, on the port side aft. The British launched an attack by the 9.2in-gunned monitor M17 on the evening of the 24th, firing indirectly from the other side of the Gallipoli peninsular. This did not, however, score any hits, and fire from Turkish batteries forced the monitor’s withdrawal. Poor weather frustrated further air attacks, including a planned torpedo attack by an aircraft from the seaplane carrier Manxman.

The following day, Turgut Reis and the tugs İntibah and Alemdar arrived to make a new attempt at towing Goeben/Yavuz off her sand-bank, with other ships’ washes being used to erode the bank and a dredge employed to remove material from each side of the vessel. An attempt on the morning of the 26th failed to move her, but that afternoon Turgut Reis was lashed to Goeben/Yavuz’s starboard side, with the battleship’s engines run at full power to loosen the sand. Goeben/Yavuz came free at 16.47 and proceeded to Constantinople. The British were not aware of her departure for two days, launching an air attack on her former location on the 27th and on the 28th by the submarine E14, which was lost on her way back. Turgut Reis then returned to lay-up.

Although significantly damaged by the mines, with a number of wing compartments flooded, her main compartments and machinery remained dry, and thus Goeben/Yavuz could still be regarded as operational. Nevertheless, docking remained highly desirable, the opportunity arising as a result of the German advance across Ukraine that followed the withdrawal of Russia from the war, which did not cease even with the signature of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

German troops occupied Odessa on 13 March, followed by Nikolayev on the 18th, crossing into the Crimea and entering Sevastopol on 1 May. In anticipation of this, Goeben/Yavuz had sailed towards the port on 30 April, where her crew initially undertook work in connection with the occupation. Preparations were also made for docking the ship for the first time in four years, this being achieved on 7 June. No attempt was made to repair the mine damage in the time available, work being restricted to cleaning and repainting the ship’s bottom, plus some minor repairs.

At its occupation by the Germans, Sevastopol contained much of the Black Sea Fleet, in particular the battleships Borets za svobodu (ex-Panteleimon), Ioann Zlatoust, Evstsafii, Rostislav and Tri Sveatitelia, which were all seized. In addition, the brand-new battleship Volia (ex-Imperator Aleksandr III) returned to Sevastopol late in June. She had spent the previous few weeks at Novorossiysk whence she had been evacuated on 1 May with her sister Svobodnaia Rossiia (ex-Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaia), which had been scuttled there on 19 June.

Following considerable debate, it was been decided that Germany should establish a Black Sea squadron, comprising Volia, five destroyer10 and three or four submarines, to aid the Turks in defending the Dardanelles, and perhaps eventually acting in an offensive role. There was also a thought to use Ioann Zlatoust and Evstsafii as floating batteries in the Dardanelles, supported by six ex-Russian destroyers. Volia was formally taken over on 1 October and made some brief trial voyages after the 15th, but was handed over to the British on 24 November, having never been formally commissioned or renamed by the Germans.

Goeben/Yavuz was undocked on 14 June, sailed on the 26th in the company of the ex-Russian German destroyer R10 (ex-Zharkiy, seized on 1 May), and proceeded to Novorossiysk, where they were joined by Hamidieh and Berk-i Satvet. Goeben/Yavuz returned to Sevastopol on 1 July, sailing to Odessa on the 7th, and back again to Sevastopol on the 9th. The following day, Hamidieh towed the recovered cruiser Mecidiye (which had been mined off Odessa on 21 March 1915, salved on the 25th and commissioned into the Russian Navy as Prut on 12 February 1916) out of Sevastopol en route back to Constantinople, Goeben/Yavuz following them on the 11th. Between July and October, work on repairing the mine damage was carried on using cofferdams, but this was brought to an end by the Turkish armistice on 1 November. As a consequence, the German crew left the ship the following day, which was then laid up off İzmit on 9 November to await her fate.

Douglas SBD Dauntless (1938)

This pre-war SBD-1 wears the markings of the commander of VSB-1, a U.S. Marine Corps squadron based at Quantico, Virginia, in early 1941. VMB-1 (later VMSB-132) was the second unit to receive the SBD after VMB-2.

By the end of the war in the Pacific, the venerable Dauntless dive-bomber was showing its age, and yet its contribution to victory in a succession of key naval battles cannot be overstated and its tally of Japanese shipping is unmatched.

This SBD-4 was operated by VMSB-243, part of the 1st Marine Air Wing, based on Munda on New Georgia, part of the Solomons Islands chain, in August 1943.

 The aircraft that found fame as the Douglas SBD Dauntless began life as a product of the Northrop Corporation, which was responsible for the BT-1 carrier-based dive-bomber of 1938, 54 of which were built to serve on the USS Yorktown and Enterprise. When Douglas took over Northrop, the BT-1 served as the basis for a reworked prototype XBT-2 of 1938, which was simply a modified development of the Northrop aircraft. In April 1939 the re-designated XSBD-1 won orders from both the U.S. Marine Corps (57 SBD-1 versions) and the U.S. Navy (87 SBD-2s) in order to equip scout and bombing squadrons of the respective service.

Before U.S. forces were thrust into action in the Pacific, Douglas had flown an improved SBD-3, this being outfitted with an additional pair of machine guns in the nose, self-sealing tanks and the Wright R-1820-52 radial engine. The first SBD-3 took to the air in March 1941, and over 500 examples had been delivered by the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. It fell to an SBD from USS Enterprise to sink the first enemy vessel by U.S. air power in World War II: the Japanese submarine I-70 on December 10.

Similar to the SBD-3, the SBD-4 featured a revised electrical system and was built at the El Segundo, California factory, which delivered 780 examples in the course of 1942–43. A number of photo-reconnaissance adaptations of the SBD-1, 2 and 3 were also completed in the period up to 1942. With the establishment of a new Douglas plant at Tulsa, Oklahoma, production here switched to the SBD-5, of which 2409 examples were built. The SBD-5 produced during 1943–44 was powered by an R-1820-60 engine and was followed by the SBD-6, of which 451 were manufactured with the -66 engine installed. As employed aboard a U.S. Navy carrier, SBDs were generally assigned to one bombing squadron (VB designation) and one scout squadron (VS), part of an overall air wing that also included two squadrons of fighters and one of torpedo-bombers. In practice, both VB and VS units shared similar tasks.

War-winning Dive-bomber

The Dauntless was responsible for sinking a greater tonnage of Japanese shipping than any other aircraft and was central to U.S. naval successes at the Battles of Midway, Coral Sea and the Solomons. This was all the more remarkable considering the fact that the Dauntless was considered obsolescent at the outbreak of the war, and was generally underpowered, vulnerable to enemy fire and limited in terms of endurance. Despite its limited performance, it has been recorded that one Navy SBD crew managed to shoot down seven Japanese A6M Zero fighters in a space of just two days.

In its intended role, the Dauntless made its mark at the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942. In the course of the battle, SBD-2 and SBD-3 models from USS Yorktown combined with Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo-bombers and succeeded in putting the Japanese carrier Shoho to the bottom after a 30-minute battle that cost just three U.S. aircraft.

During the Battle of Midway the Dauntless played the pivotal role, when a force of 128 was launched from the decks of Admiral Chester Nimitz’s carrier groups to seek out the carriers of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in June 1942. The Japanese force was finally discovered with darkness approaching, and the SBDs at the limits of their range and fuel. In the process, 40 of the dive-bombers were lost. The survivors, each armed with a single 1000lb (454kg) armour-piercing bomb, pressed home attacks on the carriers Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu, sinking all four (three of them set ablaze in the space of just three minutes) and turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Subsequent actions in the Pacific saw SBD involved in combat at Rabaul, Guadalcanal and the Solomons, and Truk. By late in the war, the Dauntless had been supplanted by the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver in the dive-bomber role, but this aircraft suffered from a number of shortcomings and was never as successful as the SBD that preceded it. Once the Helldiver was on the scene, however, the earlier aircraft began to be relegated to anti-submarine patrol and close air support duties.

In addition to naval service, the Dauntless was also operated by the U.S. Army Air Forces, which designated the aircraft as the A-24 Banshee. USAAF versions comprised the A-24 (168 SBD-3As), A-24A (170 SBD-4As) and A-24B (615 SBD-5As). By the time production of all versions had come to an end, 5936 SBDs had rolled out of the factories.

Other Operators

U.S. Marine Corps SBDs, carrying centreline and underwing bombs, are seen heading for Japanese targets on Rabaul in 1944. The USMC was the second most prolific Dauntless operator, and certainly the most successful outside the U.S. Navy. In all, 20 Marine squadrons flew the Dauntless. Less auspicious was the service of the A-24, which the USAAF had ordered in January 1941. A-24s saw action in New Guinea and at Makin, but the aircraft proved vulnerable to interception by Japanese fighters. In the face of mounting casualties, the USAAF withdrew the A-24 from the front line. The UK acquired nine Dauntless DB.Mk Is (SBD-5s), but after subjecting the aircraft to test in 1944, rejected it for service. The Royal New Zealand Air Force also took the Dauntless into battle, after receiving SBD-3, SBD-4 and SBD-5 models from Navy and Marine stocks. These saw action at Bougainville. The other combat operator was France, which employed A-24s and SBD-3s at Agadir, Morocco, and in metropolitan France in pursuit of retreating German forces from 1944.

The Stunning Combat Record of the Douglas SBD Dauntless

Transportstaffel 40

The series of mountain trials, completed on 5 October 1944, would undoubtedly have contributed much to helicopter development under other circumstances. Oberst Kraitmeyer had been delighted with the results achieved, enthusiastically recommending a final series of evaluation trials before adoption of the Drache as a general-purpose transport for the mountain troops. Meanwhile, however, the Laupheim factory had, as previously related, been destroyed by bombing, a factor which obviously changed the situation. Nevertheless., the order issued by the RLM on 11 October 1944, forbidding the further testing of the Fa 223 and seconding Focke Achgelis personnel to Messerschmitt was scarcely expected.

Characteristic of the confusion that now permeated Berlin was the extraordinary volte-face performed within weeks by the RLM which not only sanctioned a resumption of flight testing, but ordered the Focke Achgelis organisation to reassemble at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport and prepare to manufacture the Fa 223 at a rate of 400 per month! Such an order was totally unrealistic at the stage reached in the European conflict-apart from the lack of sufficient machines jigs, tools and materials, such prodigious production would have demanded a labour force equivalent to the populace of a medium-sized town to undertake the work.

At this time, only five airworthy Fa 223E-0 helicopters remained, the V11 not having been rebuilt and the V12 having been lost while attempting a mountain rescue. The helicopter had been flown to the Mont Blanc after a long cross-country flight from Germany to rescue 17 people trapped in snow on the mountain. During the attempted rescue, a mechanical link failed, resulting in a rotor disintegrating, and although the Drache touched down on its wheels, it was hurled against an embankment and destroyed, its crew losing their lives. It was this same helicopter that SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny had proposed to use to rescue Benito Mussolini from imprisonment in the hotel at the peak of the Gran Sasso Massif in the Abruzzi Molise in September 1943, the Fa 223E V12 becoming unserviceable at the last moment and, with no other helicopter available, use of an Fi 156 Storch was necessitated.

Three of the remaining five Drache helicopters were now issued to the first and only true Luftwaffe helicopter squadron, Transportstaffel 40 activated early in 1945 at Mühldorf, Bavaria, under the command of Hauptmann Josef Stangl, the other two Fa 223E-0s being retained by Focke Achgelis for development purposes. The Staffel was equipped with a mix of Fa 223s and FI 282s, and soon transferred for working up to Ainring, west of Salzburg and close to the German-Austrian border.

While Transportstaffel 40 was working up at Ainring, Focke Achgelis had succeeded in resuming production of the Drache at its new facilities at Tempelhof, and the first new Fa 223E-0 (Werk-Nr 00051), coded GW+PA, had been accepted by the Luftwaffe and immediately assigned by special “Order of the Führer ” 25 February 1945 to fly to Danzig on the night of 25 February 1945. In the event, the helicopter could not take-off until 0800 hours on the next day owing to necessary maintenance. Crewed by Ltn Gerstenhauer, Meister Möller and Feldwebel Friedrichs, the helicopter took-off from Tempelhof for Würzburg – although this was in virtually the opposite direction to Danzig and the reason for the detour being unrecorded but the crew lost its bearings in a storm over the Schwäbischen Alb region landing the helicopter at Crailsheim

The Fa 223 took-off again and, 30 min later, landed at Würzburg-Giebelstadt. A heavy bombing attack by the 8th Air Force on the previous day had destroyed all fuel stocks, however, and despite inclement weather, the helicopter forced to take-off once more and fly to Würzburg at an average altitude of 330 ft (100 m). Refuelled, the Fa 223 took-off yet again, flying via the Werra Valley, despite winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 km/h), to Meiningen, where it arrived after having flown a total distance of 179 miles (288 km) in three hours and five minutes.

At 0835 hours on the next day, the helicopter continued along the Werra Valley to Werder, landing en route at Erfurt and Kölleda, in continued bad weather, with a cloud barely higher than 650 ft (200 m) and strong winds. On this second day, a distance of 196 miles (315 km) was flown in two hours and 53 minutes. The next morning, at 0745 hours, the Fa 223 took-off in the direction of Stettin-Altdamm, but due to the proximity of the frontline this course could not be kept and the helicopter was therefore flown towards Prenzlau and thence along the line of the Autobahn to Stettin, deteriorating weather making it impossible to continue. Take-off on 3 March was once again 0745 hours, Ltn Gerstenhauer and his crew landing at Stolp-Reitz and then transferring to Stolp-West to refuel. With the distance flown on the previous day the Fa 223 had now accumulated a further 230 miles (370 km) in 2 hours 35 minutes. Here the crew was informed of the purpose of the mission. From a sports field near the front line at Graudenz the helicopter was supposed to fly out three prisoners. These prisoners belonged to the so-called Seydlitz Army, a battle group of former German soldiers who now fought alongside the Red Army.

Further progress was impossible owing to the weather, but on 5 March, the situation on the ground had become so serious that Stolp-West had to be abandoned, the helicopter taking off at 1330 hours for Stolp-Reitz and from there flying direct to Danzig-Praust. Fulfilment of the helicopter’s assignment to fly into the centre of Danzig was no longer possible owing to a renewed Soviet offensive in the area. Ltn Gerstenhauer had therefore to await fresh orders. In the meantime, however, the Fa 223 was to prove its worth in the search-and-rescue mission. A pilot of 1./NAG 4 had lost his bearings in a heavy snowstorm and had force-landed. The helicopter took-off and located the Bf 109 near the village of Goschin. The wounded pilot, Ltn Schadewitz was still in the cockpit and was immediately flown back to base by the Fa 223.

Danzig-Praust now had to be evacuated and the Fa 223 therefore took-off for Gotenhafen-Hexengrund. Here orders arrived from Luftflotte HQ for the helicopter to return to Werder, but no fuel was allocated for the flight. Meanwhile, all airfields between Gotenhafen and Swinemünde had either been blown up or occupied by the enemy. Ltn Gerstenhauer finally succeeded in finding some fuel and decided to take on board an extra 44 Imp gal (2001) drum plus a hand pump to transfer the contents of the drum to the main tank in flight. The helicopter finally took-off once more on 9 March, flew westwards along the Baltic coastline and landed at Garz. Bad weather delayed the start of the final phase of the journey until 0712 hours on 1 March, the Fa 223 eventually reaching Werder at 0840 hours. During this – for a helicopter – epic journey under the most adverse conditions, the Fa 223 had covered a total of 1,041 miles (1 675 km) in a total flying time of 16 hours 25 minutes; a feat that underlined the remarkable reliability and operational capability that had been achieved by the Focke Achgelis helicopter.

The Transportstaffel 40 had remained at Ainring meantime, but late in April it was transferred eastwards with three Fa 223s and five Fl 282s to Aigen in Styria (Austria). The unit was supposedly to have operated in the Alpenfestung as part of the Lw. Div. Nordalpen (as the Lw. Kdo. West had been redesignated), tasked with artillery observation, transport and liaison duties in the northern Alps. As the Aigen-im-Ennstal airfield was choked with the surviving Bf 109s of JG 27, JG 53, JG 300 and NAG 13, the Transportstaffel 40 was allocated a landing ground outside Aigen, near Putterersee, the crews and ground personnel being accommodated in lakeside cabins.

The advance of the US 80th Infantry Division over the Pyhrn Pass in the direction of Liezen early in May forced the Staffel to retire westwards along the River Enns to Radstadt at the foot of the High Alps. From here, Hauptmann Stangl tried to get back across the German border to Ainring, only to be taken prisoner by US forces near Salzburg. Only two Fa 223s succeeded in reaching Ainring, these being the V14 and Werk- Nr 00051 of Danzig flight fame, the third Fa 223 of the Staffel being destroyed by its pilot. At Ainring, the two Fa 223s were captured by the US forces.