Major military engagements of the Taiping Rebellion

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The Xiang Army recapturing Jinling, a suburb of the Taiping capital, July 19, 1864.

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The Taiping Rebellion devastated the landscape of southern China, causing widespread bloodshed and famine.

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Detail from The suppression of the Taiping Rebellion.

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Imperial troops during the Taiping Rebellion, China the wounded musketman is a Taiping rebel.

One of the primary goals of the Taipings was to create a Christian kingdom in China. Clearly, this was an ideology that originated from the West. Therefore, like the British, the Taipings had first to face and defeat the Manchu Dynasty. Unlike the British, the Taipings’ goal was not treaty revision but was political in nature—taking control of China. The military overthrow of the Manchus, and the establishment of a new Han Chinese Dynasty to take its place, soon became the single most important ideology uniting the Taipings.

To carry out this goal, Hong Xiuquan and his cousin Feng Yushan soon realized the need for a strong military. In 1844, the two men traveled to Guangxi Province to look for a suitable base for the future Taiping Army. Feng is also given credit for devising a military system, supposedly based on the military administration of China’s founding Qin Dynasty, in which fixed armies of 13,155 men were subdivided into divisions, brigades, companies, platoons, and squads. In addition to the military command, which had administrative and training responsibilities, there was a separate strategic “army inspector” who could issue orders to the army commander. When several armies were gathered, a commander-in-chief gave the orders and reported to his superiors, who in turn went up the chain of command to the Heavenly King, Hong Xiuquan. Discipline was strictly enforced by corporal punishment, public shaming, beating, or loss of rank, and the Taiping troops were regulated by a strict code composed of sixty-two rules, most of which emphasized loyalty to the movement and its leaders.

Even the Taipings’ enemies, such as the Imperial commander Zeng Guofan, came to admire the Taipings’ military structure and determination. According to Jen Yu-wen, the secret of the Taipings’ military success was their common religious beliefs:

The whole army kept up the religious practices of their early days as God-Worshipers, assembling to worship God in the morning and evening, saying prayers before meals, gathering to listen to sermons on Sundays, kneeling in prayer before going to battle, etc. This was the real secret of their strength—a secret known to the Imperialists but dismissed as a kind of witchcraft.

In the beginning, the very weakness of the Taipings also forced them to be innovative, such as allowing Hakka women to fight with the men. They appealed to patriotic Han Chinese to join them in overthrowing the Manchus, and the Taiping army quickly grew to 50,000. In battle, the Taipings also made use of a wide variety of military technology. For example, when they attacked Guilin, the Taipings used towering siege equipment, ladders, and rockets. When besieging Chuanzhou, they tunneled beneath the city wall and blew it up with gunpowder.

The Taipings employed diverse offensive strategies. For example, in taking the small town of Yung’an Zhou on 25 September 1851—the first walled town to be controlled by the Taipings—the Taiping commander, Lo Dagang, ordered his troops to light firecrackers and throw them over the city wall as if they were explosives. In the midst of the ensuing panic, the Taipings scaled the city wall and occupied the town virtually unopposed. Eighteen months later, while advancing down the Yangzi River on Nanjing, the Taipings filled empty ships with mud and rocks and sent them downstream past the Imperial garrisons. Only after the Imperial troops exhausted their ammunition on the decoys did the real Taiping ships appear. In traditional Chinese fashion, based on Sunzi’s Art of War, the Taipings also took care to use the terrain to their advantage. Once they were forced to evacuate, the Taipings ambushed the Imperial forces along narrow mountain paths, where their superior weapons and horses did them little good.

Although the Taipings did not carry out their original strategic goal of moving quickly against Changsha, the capital of Hunan, they did settle temporarily in southern Hunan in the smaller city of Daozhou, from where they reorganized and strengthened their army to include about 70,000 troops. After failing to take Changsha, they marched south and west, eventually taking the city of Hankou by the end of December 1852. Linking boats to form a bridge across the Yangzi River, the Taipings laid siege to Wuchang for twenty days, finally conquering it on 12 January 1853. From this position, the Taipings virtually controlled the upper Yangzi River and its trade, thus cutting off China’s interior from the coastal regions.

Although they considered heading straight for Beijing, reports of a large Imperial force blocking the way persuaded the Taipings to turn to the east. Since Wuchang was a good strategic base from which to attack down river, the Taipings decided to attack and consolidate their control in Nanjing, the heart of the Yangzi River valley. This decision has been criticized by one military historian as “one of the greatest strategic errors in the history of the movement,” since the Taipings threw away their first, and best, chance of marching on Beijing and overthrowing the Manchus. It is important to note that seventy years later, during the Nationalists’ (Guomindang or GMD) Northern Expedition to oust the Beijing warlords, the GMD leaders copied this strategy almost step for step, and also based their new capital in Nanjing. Some of the significant differences between the Taipings and the Nationalists included the GMD’s adoption of a nationalist ideology, as versus religious ideology, its willingness to make and break political alliances with western powers—especially the USSR—and, most importantly, its more highly modernized military structure.

On 8 February 1853, the Taipings’ estimated 500,000-strong force left Wuchang, crossed the Yangzi River, and burned their floating bridges after them. This action was not merely symbolic, but delayed an advancing Imperial army under the commander-in-chief of Hubei Province, Xiang Rong. Splitting into two groups, a small land-based force on the northern shore forged ahead to clear the river of obstacles, while the majority of the Taiping Army floated down river in the 20,000 boats they had requisitioned and provisioned in Wuchang. Virtually unopposed, the Taipings easily took Jiujiang, in western Jiangxi Province, and Anqing, the capital of Anhui. After reprovisioning from the abandoned Imperial storehouses, the Taipings moved on to Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province.

By the time the Taiping Army reached Nanjing on 6 March 1853, their numbers had swelled to three-quarters of a million. Although poorly defended, the enormous city wall kept the Taipings at bay for thirteen days, during which time tunnels were dug. By 19 March, with explosives prepared in three tunnels under the wall, hundreds of Taiping paper effigies carrying torches appeared riding by the western end of the city. Not until it was too late did the defending troops realize that this was merely another Taiping ruse to draw as many opponents on to the wall as possible. Two massive explosions soon breached the city gates, while a third tunnel exploded late, killing many advancing Taipings.

Although there were sufficient defenders to stop the Taipings’ attack, the chance death of the Imperial commander, Lu Jianying, demoralized his troops and they fled in panic. After taking the outer walls of the city, the Taipings advanced on the inner Imperial City—also known as the Manchu City—on 20 March. Refusing to surrender, the 40,000 Manchu Bannermen and regular troops inside the Imperial City fought desperately, but quickly fell before the human waves that the Taipings were able to send against the inner city’s walls. This offensive ended in massacre, with about 30,000 Manchu deaths.

The battle for Nanjing was over quickly, and resulted in a major Taiping victory after a relatively short siege. One possible reason for this rapid victory may have been the Taipings’ use of spies, since about 3,000 Taiping troops successfully entered Nanjing disguised as Buddhist monks. This tactic closely followed Sunzi’s advice to use spies and unorthodox methods: during the city’s siege, these Taiping supporters set fires and signaled to the outside forces where the weak points were along the city walls.

Soon after the Taipings took Nanjing, the cities of Zhenjiang and Yangzhou fell without opposition. This gave the Taipings control over the Grand Canal, “the great medium of communication between the southern provinces and the capital, and the route by which all of the grain supplies were conveyed to the north.” Although the Taipings quickly organized and dispatched expeditions to the north and west, Nanjing itself was soon surrounded and besieged by Imperial troops. However, by incorporating elaborate defensives, and a military communication system based on flags and drums, the Taipings survived three Imperial sieges and held Nanjing for the next eleven years.

THE TAIPING REBELLION

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The Xiang Army recapturing Jinling, a suburb of the Taiping capital, July 19, 1864

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Taiping soldiers, male and female, outside Shanghai

The Taiping “Rebellion” (1851–64), or “Revolution,” was a religious-based domestic uprising with ethnic—Han versus Manchu—overtones. Fought mainly with traditional Chinese weapons and tactics, it corresponded and overlapped with the Arrow War (1856–60), or second Opium War, which was China’s second anti-foreign trade war. The Manchus lost the Arrow War, but in the interim created China’s first modernized armies—the “Ever-Victorious Army” and the Xiang Army—in order to defeat the Taipings.

Although the military aspects of the Taiping and Arrow conflicts differ greatly, they will be treated together for several reasons. First, both conflicts owed their origins to the first Opium War. Second, both involved the use of military forces to oppose the Manchus’ Qing Dynasty in Beijing. Third, the Manchu Dynasty succeeded in using trade—in this case, the opium trade—to convince the foreign powers to oppose the Taipings, and in so doing retained their political domination over China.

The origins of the Taiping Rebellion can be traced to Britain’s victory over the Manchus in the Opium War, which revealed the Qing Dynasty’s internal weakness. The British victory gave Han Chinese hope that the Manchus had finally lost the “Mandate of Heaven” and that a new Han Dynasty might soon take its place. The effect of the Opium War on the Han Chinese leader of the Taipings, Hong Xiuquan, was especially profound: while Hong appears to have blamed himself for failing the Imperial Examinations three times during the 1820s and 1830s, after failing for the fourth time, in 1843, he angrily vowed to overthrow the Manchu government. Hong’s subsequent conversion to Christianity and the Taipings’ adoption of a unique mixture of Christianity and Confucianism also suggests the important impact of the Opium War on the Han Chinese people’s perception of westernization—in this case Christianity as the symbol of European culture—as a means of obtaining their political and cultural liberty from the Manchus.

The Arrow War similarly owed its origins to the Opium War. Unlike the Taiping conflict, the underlying issue in the Arrow War was the defense of foreign trade in China by insuring the safety of foreign ships from Taiping pirates. To guarantee free trade required treaty revision, prompting Great Britain and France to launch a military campaign, their main goal being to obtain greater trade privileges from the Manchus. In a marked departure from the Opium War, the Manchu Dynasty proved willing for the first time to adopt western military methods. During the Arrow War, the major military engagement—and one of the few in which the Chinese were victorious—was called the “Dagu Repulse.” However, in the long run the foreign forces outmaneuvered and defeated the Manchu military, even sacking and burning the Summer Palace during the fall of 1860.

Faced with international and domestic foes, the Manchus adopted a policy of playing the western nations against the Taipings by making major trade concessions—including legalizing opium in 1858. This was in marked contrast to the Han Chinese leaders of the Taipings, who, for religious reasons, adamantly opposed the importation and sale of opium. In return for trade concessions, therefore, the foreign powers sided with the Manchus and used their superior military might to oppose the Taipings.

By pitting the two sides against each other, the Manchus were able to defeat the Taipings while granting to the western nations only nominally greater trade advantages than they had held before. From a purely military viewpoint, the Manchu Dynasty in China was far too weak to oppose effectively any alliance between the Taipings and the western nations; but by exploiting the opium trade as its key negotiating point, Beijing not only kept the two groups apart, it eventually pitted them against each other. This policy ultimately led to the total defeat of the Taipings and to the formation of a new modus vivendi based on free trade with the western nations. The trading system that was put in force following the Arrow War would continue unchallenged for the next half-century. China’s diplomatic victory also gave new life to an Imperial dynasty that had seemed to be on the verge of collapse.

Death toll
With no reliable census at the time, estimates are necessarily based on projections, but the most widely cited sources put the total number of deaths during the 15 years of the rebellion at about 20–30 million civilians and soldiers. Most of the deaths were attributed to plague and famine. At the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864, more than 100,000 were killed in three days.
The rebellion happened at roughly the same time as the American Civil War. Although almost certainly the largest civil war of the 19th century (in terms of numbers under arms), it is debatable whether the Taiping Rebellion involved more soldiers than the Napoleonic Wars earlier in the century.

‘The Profit That God Shall Give’

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A typical 12th century Genoese trader, at this time merchant ships relied on sails rather than oars. Such vessels displaced between 10-30 tons and were crewed by 40-60 men.​

The principal route followed by the First Crusade bypassed the Mediterranean and took the army overland through the Balkans and Anatolia; many crusaders never saw more of the sea than the Bosphorus at Constantinople until, much reduced in numbers through war, disease and exhaustion, they reached Syria. And even in the East their target was not a maritime city but Jerusalem, so that its conquest in 1099 created an enclave cut off from the sea, a problem which, as will be seen, only Italian navies could resolve. Another force left from Apulia, where Robert Guiscard’s son Bohemond brought together an army. The Byzantines wondered whether he was really planning to revive his father’s schemes for the conquest of Byzantine territory, and so, when he reached Constantinople, he was pressed to acknowledge the emperor’s authority, becoming his lizios, or liegeman, a western feudal term that was used because Bohemond was more likely to feel bound by oaths made according to his native customs than by promises made under Byzantine law. When in 1098 he established himself as prince of Antioch, a city only recently lost by the Byzantines to the Turks, the imperial court made every effort to insist that his principality lay under Byzantine suzerainty. It was amazing that a vast rabble of men, often poorly armed, proved capable of seizing Antioch in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099, though the Byzantines were more inclined to regard this as a typical barbarian stroke of fortune than as a victory masterminded by Christ. Seen from Constantinople, the outcome of the crusade was not entirely negative. Western knights had installed themselves in sensitive borderlands between Byzantine territory and lands over which the Seljuk Turks and the Fatimid caliphs were squabbling Bohemond’s religious motives in joining the crusade should not be underestimated, but he was a pragmatist: he saw clearly that the crusader armies would be able to retain nothing without access to the Mediterranean, and without naval support from Christian fleets capable of keeping open the supply-lines to the West. He would therefore need to build ties with the Italian navies. He could count on the enthusiasm that had been generated in Genoa and Pisa by the news of Pope Urban’s speech, conveyed to the Genoese by the bishops of Grenoble and of Orange. The citizens of Genoa decided that the time had come to bury their differences and to unite in a compagna under the direction of six consuls; the aim of the compagna was primarily to build and arm ships for the crusade. Historians have long argued that the Genoese saw the crusade as a business opportunity, and that they were hoping to secure trade privileges in whatever lands the crusaders conquered comparable to those the Venetians had recently acquired in the Byzantine Empire. Yet they could not foresee the outcome of the crusade; they were willing to suspend their trading activities and pump all their energy into the building of fleets that were very likely to be lost far away in battles and storms. What moved them was holy fervour. According to a Genoese participant in the First Crusade, the chronicler Caffaro, even before it, in 1083, a Genoese ship named the Pomella had carried Robert, count of Flanders, and Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Latin ruler of Jerusalem, to Alexandria; from there they had made their way with difficulty to the Holy Sepulchre, and had begun to dream of recovering it for Christendom. The story was pure fancy, but it expresses the sense among the Genoese elite that their city was destined to play a major role in the war for the conquest of Jerusalem.

Twelve galleys and one smaller vessel set out from Genoa in July 1097. The crew consisted of about 1,200 men, a sizeable proportion of its male population, for the overall population of the city of Genoa may have been only 10,000. Somehow the fleet knew where the crusaders were, and made contact off the northern coast of Syria. Antioch was still under siege, and the Genoese fleet stood off Port St Symeon, the outport of the city that had functioned as a gateway to the Mediterranean since the Bronze Age. After the fall of Antioch in June 1098, Bohemond rewarded the Genoese crusaders with a church in Antioch, thirty houses nearby, a warehouse and a well, creating the nucleus of a merchant colony. This grant was the first of many that the Genoese were to receive in the states created by the crusaders. In the early summer of 1099 members of a prominent Genoese family, the Embriachi, anchored off Jaffa, bringing aid to the crusader army besieging Jerusalem – they dismantled their own ships, carrying the wood from which they were built to Jerusalem for use in the construction of siege engines. And then in August 1100 twenty-six galleys and four supply ships set out from Genoa, carrying about 3,000 men. They made contact with the northern French ruler of the newly established kingdom of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, and began the slow process of conquering a coastal strip, since it was essential to maintain supply-lines from western Europe to the embattled kingdom. They sacked the ancient coastal city of Caesarea in May 1101. When the Genoese leaders divided up their loot, they gave each sailor two pounds of pepper, which demonstrates how rich in spices even a minor Levantine port was likely to be. They also carried away a large green bowl that had been hanging in the Great Mosque of Caesarea, convinced that it was the bowl used at the Last Supper and that it was made of emerald (a mistake rectified several centuries later when someone dropped it, and it was found to be made of glass). Since the bowl is almost certainly a fine piece of Roman workmanship from the first century AD, their intuitions about its origins were not entirely wrong. It was carried in triumph to the cathedral in Genoa, where it is still displayed, attracting attention as one of several candidates for the title Holy Grail.

The green bowl was, for the Genoese, probably as great a prize as any of their commercial privileges, all of which were celebrated in the city annals as signs of divine bounty. The Genoese made friends with the rulers of each of the crusader states (Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch) that needed help in gaining control of the seaports of Syria and Palestine. In 1104 their fortunes were further boosted by the capture of the port city of Acre, with an adequate harbour and good access into the interior. For most of the next two centuries, Acre functioned as the main base of the Italian merchants trading to the Holy Land. The Genoese produced documents to show that the rulers of Jerusalem promised them one-third of the cities they helped conquer all the way down the coast of Palestine, though not everyone is convinced all these documents were genuine; if not, they are still evidence for their vast ambitions. They were even promised a third of ‘Babylonia’, the current European name for Cairo, for there were constant plans to invade Fatimid Egypt as well. To all this were added legal exemptions, extending from criminal law to property rights, that separated the Genoese from the day-to-day exercise of justice by the king’s courts. The Genoese insisted that they were permitted to erect an inscription in gilded letters recording their special privileges inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Whether or not this inscription was ever put in place, the demand for such a public record indicates how determined the Genoese were to maintain their special extra-territorial status in the kingdom of Jerusalem, which never developed a significant navy of its own.

Focke Wulf Fw 190D-9 Dora

Arguably, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 evolved into wartime Germany’s most effective fighter, offering the Luftwaffe the benefit of manoeuvrability combined with stability as a formidable gun platform and the flexibility to perform as an air superiority fighter, a heavily armed and armoured interceptor and as an ordnance-carrying ground attack aircraft. However, this superlative machine had its Achilles’ heel, for when the first Fw 190A-2s entered operational service with Stab/JG 26 and I./JG 26 on the Channel Front in July 1941, it became apparent quite quickly that the type’s performance at high-altitude was weak.

The Fw 190A-2 was powered by the 1,500hp BMW 801C-1 and 1,600 hp C-2 radial engines. From the start, and during initial testing in 1940 and early 1941, this engine was plagued with faults. Crews and technicians of the Luftwaffe’s dedicated test unit Erprobungsstaffel 190 at Rechlin, therefore, were forced to undertake considerable trouble-shooting. Finally, by August 1941, the engine was deemed safe enough to allow the first Fw 190A-1 production machines to be handed over to 6./JG 26, which at the time was based in Belgium. Unfortunately, the problems persisted, with nine Fw 190s crashing in August–September 1941. The finger of blame was pointed at BMW, whose engines continued to be plagued by overheating and compressor damage.

There were also delays in deliveries associated with failings afflicting the anticipated 1,700hp BMW 801D. This engine, fitted in the Fw 190A-3 (in production from late 1941), benefited from uprated power achieved by increasing the compression ratio in the cylinders and refinements to the two-speed supercharger. Nevertheless, it was found to suffer from a fall in performance above 19,750ft.

Despite this worrying scenario, since early 1941 Kurt Tank had been working on a re-design of the Fw 190 that would incorporate a different powerplant capable of functioning effectively at altitudes higher than those then achievable. In his post-war memoirs, Tank summarises succinctly the prevailing situation at the time:

Hardly was the Fw 190 flying at the beginning of the war before it had to be extensively redesigned, enlarged and made more powerful still. In no time at all, the requirements of very many pieces of auxiliary equipment connected with the armament and communications of the plane forced up its weight, and at the same time new and more powerful engines were becoming available.

In November 1941, under the project designation ‘Ra-8’, Focke-Wulf decided to install a Junkers Jumo 213A inverted V12 engine into the airframe of an Fw 190, while tests also proceeded with a Daimler-Benz DB 603 inline inverted V12 – this option was ultimately dropped in favour of the Jumo unit. The Jumo 213’s edge came in the form of a pressurised cooling system and, with high boost settings, was designed to produce 1,750hp at 3,250rpm. In a clever move, the Junkers design team placed the mounting points in exactly the same locations as those for the DB 603. Although this meant easy interchange, the supercharger intake was to be found on the left side of the DB 603, while in the case of the Jumo it was on the right. The Jumo 213 also had a strengthened crankshaft and engine block, with smaller external dimensions than the Daimler-Benz motor, although it did retain the same bore and stroke.

The first aircraft to be fitted with a Jumo 213A was Wk-Nr. 0039 CF+OX, which was prototype V17. This Fw 190, with its ‘Langnase’ (‘long nose’) as a result of the engine installation, also featured a tail unit that was similar in shape to what would appear in the later Ta 152 high-altitude interceptor. It took to the air for the first time on 26 September 1942 from Hannover-Langenhagen, flown by Focke-Wulf chief test pilot Flugkapitän Hans Sander. There were some initial teething problems with the installation, and after Kurt Melhorn had made the eighth test flight in V17 on 4 December 1942, he reported that ‘the engine is still running very roughly so that proper testing cannot be carried out.’ In January 1943 the aircraft was returned to the workshops for fitting with a pre-production Jumo 213A-0.

Focke-Wulf persisted with the trials throughout 1943, Sander completing three test flights in V17 on 27 February, for example. The aircraft had its radio equipment removed and replaced by a ballast load of 290lb, with 26lb in the tail fin and 33lb in the jacking tube. Unfortunately, extreme vibration made the machine impossible to fly, casting heavy doubts over any chance of it becoming a combat-ready fighter since, primarily, such vibration would greatly hamper use of a reflector gunsight. More flights were undertaken in March by Sander, his fellow test-pilot Bernhard Märschel and Hauptmann Otto Behrens, a Luftwaffe fighter technician from Rechlin. Still the Jumo was viewed as unfavourable compared to the earlier BMW engine, despite the fitting of new bearings. Beside long-running coolant leaks, oil was now found to be routinely seeping onto the floor of the cockpit when the aircraft was aloft.

On 30 April V17 was transferred to Rechlin for further assessment in the hope of solving these problems. It was discovered that the vibration was caused by crankshaft resonance in the continuous speed range, and a solution was soon found in the form of a spoke wheel inserted between the crankshaft and the propeller. This duly shifted the resonance into an rpm range that was not disruptive. A change in the cylinder firing sequence reduced vibration levels even further, although this in turn reduced the engine’s performance by a full eight per cent because the exhaust and intake lines had been optimised for the original firing sequence. Nevertheless, by June 1943, the 185 engines thus far completed at Junkers’ Dessau plant had been modified accordingly.

During the summer V17 returned from Rechlin to Focke-Wulf, where it was fitted with a Jumo 213A-1 and a streamlined cowling but still lacked armament.

The technical issues surrounding the Jumo powerplant persisted for more than a year, prompting General-Ingenieur Wolfram Eisenlohr, head of the engine department in the RLM, to lament:

The neglect under which matters of engine development have long suffered have now led to a critical lack of developmental capacity. A glance at other countries shows that research into powerplant matters abroad have been handled much more favourably than here.

In May 1944 V17 was refitted with a Jumo 213A-2 that drove a wooden VS 9 propeller. The Junkers engine was some 24 inches longer than the BMW 801, which meant the aircraft had to be modified at the Focke-Wulf plant at Adelheide in late April. Its fuselage was extended by 20 inches just ahead of the tail assembly to offset this. In this configuration, the machine became V17/U1 – the first true Fw 190D-9 prototype. Testing went reasonably well, with Märschel completing the inaugural flight on 17 May when he flew it back to Hannover-Langenhagen. Here, it underwent extensive trials, with test pilots generally reporting that the Jumo 213A offered a great improvement at altitude over the BMW 801D. Furthermore, thanks to the D-9’s reduced drag as a result of its a narrower radiator profile, it was faster than the radial-engined Fw 190 in a dive.

In a further stage of development, in June–July 1944, because of ‘difficulties with existing prototypes’, the airframes of two early Fw 190A-8s were reconfigured under the suffix D-9 (‘D’ being given the moniker ‘Dora’) – a designation that seems to have first been used in a Focke-Wulf drawing dating from January 1944. These aircraft were to be made available ‘immediately’ at Adelheide under the prototype numbers V53 and V54. The Fw 190A-8 variant was by far the most numerous and most potent Focke-Wulf heavy fighter to be built, and it became the Luftwaffe’s main close-range interceptor for operations against USAAF heavy bombers throughout 1944–45.

The January 1944 drawing incorporated an extended fuselage and tail assembly, along with strengthening of the forward fuselage and wing centre section and provision for a Jumo 213A engine.

The first to be converted was Wk-Nr. 170003, the third A-8 to be built, which became V53 (coded DU+JC) in the D-9 programme. However, this prototype was fitted with a Jumo 213C at the Focke-Wulf plant at Sorau, in Silesia. Essentially an A-model Jumo engine with rearranged secondary equipment (such as supercharger and oil pump), it was capable of, and designed from the outset for, the fitment of a centreline cannon firing through an opening for a blast tube in the propeller hub. This had the advantage of a gun being more along a pilot’s line of sight, as well as offering less impact on speed and manoeuvrability. A disadvantage, however, was the recoil associated with a centrally-mounted weapon and the impact it had on the engine, leading to potential mechanical problems and possible damage.

When the aircraft made its first flight on 12 June 1944, it retained the original A-8 wing armament comprising four 20mm MG 151/20E cannon and a pair of 13mm MG 131 machine guns mounted over the engine. Testing of V53 was rigorous, with no fewer than 100 flights being made before it was eventually reassigned as an armaments test aircraft for the new Ta 152B-5, at which point it became V68.

Fw 190A-8 Wk-Nr. 174024, coded BH+RX, was an aircraft that had suffered some damage on 29 May. Reconfigured as D-9 V54, its maiden flight took place on 26 July 1944 and its last on 4 August at Focke-Wulf’s Langenhagen plant when it was flown by Flugkapitän Sander. The main task of V54 was to trial the MW 50 methanol-water power-boosting system, for which a 115-litre tank was installed. There is some documentary evidence to suggest that the original plan was for V54 to test the GM-1 nitrous oxide-based injection power-boosting system developed by Otto Lutz in 1940.

MW 50 was a solution of 50 per cent methanol, 49.5 per cent water and 0.5 per cent anti-corrosive fluid, the liquid being injected directly into the supercharger for limited periods not exceeding ten minutes. In air combat, the boost increased the power of a Jumo 213 engine by at least 300hp to 2,000hp for short periods. Such a system came with the added benefit of needing only the installation of purpose-made spark plugs to modify the engine. However, its one side-effect was that the corrosive nature of methanol reduced engine life.

Production of the Fw 190D-9 was planned to commence in August, but on the 5th there was a setback when both the A-8 conversions were damaged as a result of an American bombing raid on Langenhagen. V53 escaped with light damage rated at five per cent, but V54 suffered 80 per cent damage and was written off. Nevertheless, series production did start at Focke-Wulf’s Cottbus and Sorau plants later in the month, as well as at the Gerhard Fieseler Werke at Kassel-Waldau and at the Ago Oschersleben and Arbeitsgemeinschaft Roland plants. The first production machines rolled out of the assembly halls at Sorau towards the end of August, with Sander taking Wk-Nr. 210001 TR+SA up on the 31st, while Hauptmann Schmitz flew the second example, Wk-Nr. 210002 TR+SB, on 15 September. Both aircraft did suffer from minor teething problems, but series production was now underway.

Having been repaired after the August attack on Langenhagen, V53 had had its outboard wing MG 151s removed and the two inboard weapons replaced by 30mm MK 103 cannon by late 1944. In such a configuration the aircraft was redesignated V68. V17 was still available for testing, despite its ‘official’ testing life having ended on 6 July at the Erprobungsstelle at Rechlin. Wk-Nr. 210001 was fitted with two MG 131 machine guns above the engine and two MG 151 cannon in the wing roots. Problems were still being experienced with the Jumo 213A-1, however. The second machine to be turned out, Wk-Nr. 210002, had the same armament and took to the air on 15 September flown by Hauptmann Schmitz. It was found during subsequent tests in this aircraft that ‘while climbing at combat power, with all flaps set to flush at 9,000m [29,500ft], an increase of over 2m [6.5ft]/sec in the rate of climb, as well as an increase of the service ceiling to 10,500m [34,500ft], could be obtained.’

In one test to measure engine temperature during a climb in Wk-Nr. 210001 at Langenhagen on 20 October, it was noted that:

The radiator coolant inlet and outlet temperatures, as well as the lubricant and supercharger air temperatures at the engine entrance, were taken using combat power climb with 20 degrees angle radiator flap opening. Since the last flight had to be broken off because of weather and engine breakdown, the height of peak temperature was just reached at 6000m [19,685ft] altitude.

Teething problems persisted, however, as illustrated by a report prepared at Langenhagen on 24 October:

As delivered, substantial gaps were present in the engine, in particular in the connection from the cowl to the wing. In order to check for their influence on level speeds, performance comparison flights were carried out in the low supercharger range, before and after sealing of all existing gaps. After conclusion of the trials in the initial condition, an even gap width at the transition from the cowl to the wing had to be ensured, first by shifting of the lower engine cover against the propeller direction of rotation, since substantial differences arose by the engine torque in flight. Then the sealing of the fairing was made by means of rubber gaskets and metal strips.

Nevertheless, as production stepped up at Cottbus and Sorau, plans were made to manufacture four D-9s per day, but such a scale of output would not be reached until November, when, in addition to the Focke-Wulf, Fieseler and Roland plants (Ago was eventually dropped from the programme), Mimetall at Erfurt-Nord was added. The first Fw 190D-9 to be delivered to an operational Luftwaffe unit was Wk-Nr. 210003.

It was not until December 1944 that this aircraft saw operational service. The Junkers Jumbo 213A-1 engines produced an amazing 2242hp at sea level and had a methanol injection system as well. The speed at 20,000 ft was 426mph and at sea level it was 327mph. The climb rate was quite impressive from sea level to 32,000-ft it took only 7.1 minutes.

Even though the FW190D-9 “Langnasen-Dora” shared parity with many allied fighters, it also suffered heavy losses, both in the air and on the ground. Many inexperienced and poorly trained pilots, were no match and were at the mercy of the allied pilots with a great deal of flying time and combat experience.

Kurt Tank had designed this model to operate as a high-altitude fighter but the cabin design was unable to provide adequate pressurization. The aircraft was used to replace The FW 190A at lower altitudes and coincidentally was sometimes humorously referred to as “Downstairs Dora” or “Maid”.

Pilots that flew the FW 190A were somewhat distrustful and apprehensive to switch over to the new FW 190D-9 with its liquid cooled engine. Once these seasoned and operational pilots became accustomed to this new breed of fighter, they soon regarded it to be the best piston-engine fighter to serve with the Luftwaffe in World War II.

SOVIET FIGHTER ACES IN KOREA

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Russian MiG-15 Aces in Korea, from left to right: Aleksandr P. Smorchkov (8 kills), Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov (6), Semen Alexeievich Fedorets (8), Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev (19) and Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko (13).

On Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Korean Peoples Army suddenly launched its invasion of South Korea by crossing the 38th Parallel. Spearheaded by T-34/85 tanks and supported by swarms of 11- 10 Shturmovik ground-attack aircraft, the offensive rapidly pushed South Korean and UN troops back.

USAF F-80s, F-5 1 s, F-82s, and B-26s were quickly in the fray, wreaking successful havoc on Communist supply lines, and some big scores were built up against obsolescent Russian- built piston-engined aircraft; as the tide of war was beginning to turn and the North Korean advance slowed down to a halt, the advent of the Mikoyan-Guryevich MiG-15 mid-wing monoplane jets came to the Allies as one of the nastiest surprises of the war.

On November 1, 1950, UN pilots submitted first sighting reports of MiG- 15s in Korean colors and, although 12 days later the first victory was reported, it soon became very obvious that the F-80s, F-84s, and Meteors had at a stroke become obsolete. The MiGs could even outclimb the F-86s that entered combat in December, 1950, and enjoying an untouchable ceiling of 15,200 meters, they could dive down on their prey and climb back up to a safe position after striking with relative impunity. From their experience Russian pilots determined that the MiG’s main strength though lay in its enormous firepower, offered by one N-37 37mm cannon and two NS-23KM 23 mm cannon. A two-second burst would pour a devastating 14 kilograms of lead into the enemy plane, tearing it to pieces, while the MiG could take a lot of punishment from the Sabres’ .50 caliber guns thanks to its heavier armor protection.

United States military authorities have always felt certain that skilled Soviet airmen fought in Korea. The actual Soviet involvement has long been due to continuous Soviet attempts to hide their participation at all. Glasnost and Perestrojka as late as 1993 have laid Open fragments of Russian files, allow allowing to make a fairer comparison of the history of aerial warfare. Although there are many Russian participants who are still reluctant to talk freely about their experiences, there is no more denying that the combatants in Korea in terms of technical and psychological quality were actually more evenly matched, and that UN estimates of their air-to-air losses were grossly underestimated.

The VVS posted its 64 IAK on secret mission to Korea primarily tasked with blunting the Allied air offensive against the north. It was comprised of some elite fighter divisions which were rotated in and out after six to twelve months of combat. Commanding officer at its peak was General Major G.A. Lobov, late of the crack 7 GIAD of World War I1 fame with I9 air victories to his credit, who was destined to add four more kills to his already distinguished record in the ferocious air battles fought over Korea. In 1952 the 64 IAK commanded three fighter air divisions along with two antiaircraft divisions (85mm and 57mm guns), having a total of 26,000 men in strength. Recent information from Russia reveals that a total of 10 fighter divisions were committed to action in Korea at one time or another. The following units have been traced so far:

32 IAD

913 IAP

151 IAD

29 GIAP

216 IAD

518 IAP

303 IAD

18 GIAP,

523 IAP,

17 IAP

304 IAD

324 IAD

176 GIAP,

196 IAP

As the Soviet Air Force was undergoing a complete transformation in modern equipment, units were deployed not uniformly prepared, some containing a relative proportion of pilots with an all too brief training period on jets; the tough veterans of the Patriotic War, however, formed the bulk and guts of the Soviet fighter force in Korea. They devised tactics under combat conditions that put the good qualities of the MiG to best advantage. In fact, the aircraft itself was confidence-inspiring, as it proved a clear ascendancy in many respects over the best enemy fighter, the F-86.

For fear of Soviet airmen falling into enemy hands, orders were given that prohibited pilots from penetrating a restricted area 100 kilometers wide north of the 38th Parallel, and from flying over coastal areas with the risk of imminent enemy naval vessels. Some Russians said that American pilots were quick to make good use of these restrictions when things were beginning to become too rough, running for the safety of these areas.

One of the first divisions to become operational was the 324 IAD under the high caliber leadership of the legendary Ivan Kozhedub, the Allied ace of aces of World War I1 with 62 kills. The unit had distinguished itself against the Luftwaffe during the so-called Svir-Petrozavodsk campaign (June-August, 1944) and was now tasked with neutralizing the Allied bombing campaign against North Korea, producing six more Heroes of the Soviet Union, the highest Soviet military distinction; whereas Kozhedub did not see any combat in Korea, his deputy, Vitalij Ivanovich Popkov, did. Popkov, a brilliant pilot and able tactician with 41 air victories against the Luftwaffe, went off whenever the opportunity arose, reporting the destruction of three more enemy planes in the skies above Korea.

On September 19, 1950, well before the first MiG-sightings were reported by the Allies, Podpolkovnik Aleksandr Karasyov, another notable fighter ace of World War 11 with 30 kills, again proved his attributes by flaming three F-84 Thunderjets in quick succession. On December 24 Kapitan Stepan Naumenko of the crack 29 GIAP had the distinction of becoming the first Soviet fighter ace in Korea by scoring his 5th air victory.

Aggressive, flying a formidable fighting machine and almost always enjoying the advantage of height, the Russians in time enjoyed moments of glory in their principal function of stopping the B-29s from systematically bombing North Korean industries, airfields, and bridges. On April 12, 195 1, 48 B-29s were ordered off to strike the railroad bridges at Andong and Sinuiju, but 36 MiGs rose to engage them and claimed to have knocked down nine heavies, while the Americans admitted the loss of three of their number with seven more sustaining damage. On May 20 Starshij Lejtenant Fyodor Shabanov became the first fighter pilot in history to destroy five jets in air combat when he forced down an F-86 to bring his tally to six – five against jets – tying him with the American Jim Jabara of the 335th FIS, who, by coincidence, racked up his fifth and sixth victories that same day.

The MiGs appeared in increasing numbers as the war wore on, with poorly trained Chinese and North Korean units entering the fray, only to be whittled down by the battle-hardened Sabre pilots. The Allied fighters, though, again fared badly engaging Soviet MiGs on September 10, when the 64 IAK submitted claims for five F-86s, five F-84s, and one each F-80 and Gloster Meteor, all without loss; Kapitan G.I. Ges, an ace with five kills in World War 11, accounted for the Meteor. Two weeks later, on September 26, Starshij Lejtenant N.V. Sutyagin claimed another of these to raise his bag to nine as the 303 and 324 IADs were claiming a total of four F-86s, three F-84s, and two Meteors, again without loss. In fact, the Soviet fighter elite in Korea considered the Americans less aggressive and flexible when met on equal terms, and lagging behind in fighting morale considering them unmotivated, fighting without cause.

The B-29s took another terrible battering on October 23. This time the MiGs were really ready. 56 fighters were put into the air during the raid, 12 of which were kept in reserve to intercept any bombers that might break through. 44 relentlessly attacked the bombers, 12 of these being claimed destroyed despite an escort of 55 F-84s, four of the Thunderjets also being knocked down. One MiG fell victim to the screening force of 34 F-86s over North Korean territory. As is so often the case, accounts from the opposing sides vary, and the exact figures are a matter of dispute. Whatever the truth, the B-29s were relegated to night raids following their heavy losses.

The hopelessly inferior Meteors were again meat on the table on December 1, 195 1, when the glorious 176 GTAP got into its last scrap with the Australians, coming away with nine kills. Kapitan S.M. Krarnarenko was high-scorer that day with a double, while singles were turned in by Podpolkovnik S.F. Vishnyakov, Major S.P. Subbotin, Kapitan A.F. Vasko, who was a 15-victory in World War 11, Starshij Lejtenant F.A. Zubakin, P.S. Milaushkin, A.F. Golovachyov, and 1.N.Gulyj.

The number one jet ace of all time is squadron leader Kapitan Nikolaj Sutyagin. He went to war as a deputy squadron leader with the 17 IAP and claimed his first success on June 19, 195 1. Three days later he was able to bring his tally to three with two F-86s. He continued to chalk up victories on a regular basis and excelled in December, 195 1, reporting the destruction of five enemy planes in the air. He finished with a confirmed total of 22 kills during 149 sorties, his score running as follows: 15 F-86s, three F-84s, two F- 80s, and two Meteors.

The runner-up was the highly talented commander of the 196 IAP, Polkovnik Yevgenij Pepelyaev, whose score is quoted by some sources as 23, although this is considered a combined total of his personal victories and shares. Pepelyaev required only 108 sorties to amass his impressive score of 19 kills, all of which were achieved against jets: 14 Sabres, two F-84s, one F-94, and one F-80. He also made a distinguished record as leader of the regiment, which finished the conflict as one of the top-scorers with 100 air victories against 24 aircraft and five pilots lost to enemy action during the period of April, 195 1 to February, 1952. Among stellar performers in Korea was Major Dmitrij Oskin, who scored a string of eight victories in 23 days of combat between October-December, 1951 and wound up as an ace with 15 confirmed kills. Major S.A. Bakhayev is credited with 11 victories in Korea and one RB-29 intruder during the cold war period on December 29, 1950, while serving with the 523 IAP.

The Korean War produced 51 Russian fighter aces scoring five or more confirmed air victories; numerous other pilots made acedom by combining their World War II bag with credits in Korea. The 303 IAD boasted a total of 12 Heroes of the Soviet Union in MiG- 15s.

The war ended on July 27, 1953. Total losses are a matter of dispute. Material disclosed by the VVS General Staff in 1993 indicates that the 64 IAK was credited with downing 1,106 enemy aircraft, 650 of which were F-86s, in 1,872 aerial en-counters. Overall losses (conceivably not including missing in action or non-operational causes) were 335 planes and 120 pilots. Some Soviet sources quote a final score (not including Chinese and Korean victories) of some 1,300 for the loss of 345 MiGs. The Chinese and Korean air forces claimed a combined total of 231 victories at the cost of 271 of their number; the Americans reported the destruction of 954 aircraft, 827 of which were MiGs (or 893 resp. 841 as suggested by other sources), admitting the loss of 78 Sabres, 14 F-80s, and 18 F- 84s in air-to-air combat and 971 losses overall, mostly to groundfire and non-operational causes.

Holy Lance

Holy-Lance-at-Antioch

The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal.

A relic discovered at Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) on 14 June 1098, identified by many participants in the First Crusade (1096–1099) with the weapon that pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion (John 19:33–34).

According to the eyewitness chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, a week after the capture of Antioch from the Turks on 3 June 1098, a Provençal peasant called Peter Bartholomew approached Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles, claiming that he had received a series of visions from St. Andrew during the previous months. On one of these visitations, Andrew had revealed to him the spot where the lance that pierced Christ’s side lay hidden within the Church of St. Peter in Antioch. After five days of fasting and penance, twelve men (including Raymond of Aguilers) accompanied Peter Bartholomew to the church on the morning of 14 June 1098 and began to excavate the site in search of the relic. That evening the lance was uncovered by Peter Bartholomew himself. Both Raymond of Aguilers and the anonymous Gesta Francorum report that the discovery of the Holy Lance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the crusaders, at that point themselves besieged within Antioch by Turkish forces. These same sources, as well as a letter sent by the crusade leaders to Pope Urban II on 11 September 1098, relate that the lance was carried into combat when the crusaders broke the siege of Antioch on 28 June 1098. From these accounts, it seems clear that the crusaders attributed their success in that battle to the inspiration and divine protection offered by the holy relic.

Over the following months, however, while factionalism among the crusade leaders delayed the army’s departure for Jerusalem, the authenticity of the lance was called into question, particularly by the Norman followers of Bohemund I, future prince of Antioch. In addition to claiming lordship over the newly conquered city, Bohemund was vying for authority over the crusade army with Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the guardian of the lance, and his southern French supporters. This situation came to a head when certain nobles and the less privileged elements of the army beseeched Count Raymond to lead them to Jerusalem or surrender the lance to those who were willing to continue the march. Raymond acquiesced and led a substantial portion of the crusaders toward Jerusalem in early January 1099.

Nevertheless, a faction led by Arnulf of Chocques, chaplain to Robert, duke of Normandy, persisted in questioning the legitimacy of the relic. This situation encouraged Peter Bartholomew to undertake an ordeal in order to prove the lance’s authenticity. On 8 April 1099, Peter hazarded an ordeal by fire while bearing the lance. Raymond of Aguilers reports that Peter crossed safely between two piles of burning wood, but was mortally crushed by the thronging crowds that greeted him on the other side. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Peter Bartholomew died on 20 April 1099. Though this turn of events did not diminish Raymond of Aguilers’s enthusiasm for the lance, it clearly contributed to the relic’s controversial status among contemporary crusade historians. Fulcher of Chartres, who was at Edessa (mod. Şanliurfa, Turkey) when the lance was discovered, expressed his skepticism about its authenticity and wrote that Peter Bartholomew’s death was a clear sign of his duplicity in the matter, adding that the ordeal’s outcome greatly disheartened the bulk of the relic’s supporters.

Writing around 1115 in praise of the recently deceased Norman crusader Tancred, the chronicler Raduph of Caen excoriated both Raymond of Saint-Gilles and Peter Bartholomew for their fabrication of the supposedly holy relic. Raduph asserts that Peter Bartholomew’s demise was clear proof of the lance’s falsity. Writing from a less polemical standpoint, subsequent generations of crusade historians, including Albert of Aachen, Guibert of Nogent, and William of Tyre, present the discovery of the lance as a moment of great significance during the course of the First Crusade, but also acknowledge the controversy that surrounded the relic and its discoverer’s ordeal.

The question of the Holy Lance’s authenticity was further complicated by the existence of well-known competitors, including a lance kept at Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) since the seventh century and one possessed by the Holy Roman Emperors since the tenth century. The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal. According to second-hand sources, Count Raymond may have given the lance to the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, or he may have lost it during his participation in the ill-fated Crusade of 1101. If the lance discovered by the crusaders did find its way to Constantinople, it may have been the same one purchased in 1241 by King Louis IX of France from Baldwin II, Latin emperor of Constantinople.

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76-mm Sherman

Sherman-76mm-02-px800

Standard M4A2(76mm) Sherman

m4a3-76mm-w-sherman

M4A3(76mm) Sherman

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The US Army made a conscious decision in 1943: to ignore calls for rapid development of the heavy, 90mm-gun T26 (Pershing) to take on the Panthers and Tigers, and instead to mass produce the M4 – a medium tank that would do the job well enough rather than brilliantly, and at a practical cost in time, talent, treasure, and shipping weight.

Its 75mm gun and 50mm (2in) frontal armor were not good enough to take on a late Panzer head-to-head; but Sherman crews used their numbers, speed and agility to swarm round the Panthers and Tigers. The Panzer might survive long enough to kill one, maybe even two M4s; but in the meantime the rest of the platoon, working round onto its flanks, would be putting rounds into its more vulnerable sides and engine compartment from close up.

The Sherman also lent itself to adaptation. The 75mm gun was a good all- purpose weapon with a very useful HE round; but when its shortcomings against the new Panzers became evident, the British customized a proportion of their Sherman fleet by shoe-horning into the turret their big 17-pounder anti-tank gun. Probably the best Allied anti-tank weapon of the war, this 76mm (3in) gun could pierce at least 130mm of armour sloped at 30 degrees at 1,000 yards range, compared to about 60mm for the 75mm gun (the frontal armor of Tigers and Panthers was around 80mm). Sadly, there were never enough of these 17-pdr.Sherman “Fireflies” to issue more than one tank per platoon. The US Army turned them down, but late US Shermans received a new turret for the long 76mm M1 series gun.

So why go to all the trouble of installing a new gun in the Sherman when it only fired a projectile that was 1mm larger in diameter? Well, the typical AP M72 shot used with the 75mm M3 Gun attained a muzzle velocity of 2,030 ft/sec. The typical AP M79 shot, which was used with the M1A2 76mm Gun, achieved a velocity of 2,600 ft/sec. This additional speed provided a penetration difference in homogeneous armor at 30 degree obliquity from 2.4in (60mm), to 4.3in (109mm), a penetration difference of approximately 2 inches. To what was this new penetration performance due? It was mostly due to the additional powder used in the larger shell cartridge, but both the increased length of the barrel and the improved performance of the projectile itself also had some effect. The increased velocity of the round still wasn’t enough to penetrate a Panther or Tiger I head on at distance, but the improved performance was directly noticeable to the users, and it temporarily reduced American tankers’ complaints about the poor performance of their earlier 75mm M3 weapons.

One good point about the US Sherman’s guns was that their trajectory allowed indirect fire – wartime photos show tanks lined up track to track on slopes with guns elevated, firing HE barrages over crests like howitzer batteries, a tactic impossible for most German tanks with their high velocity cannon.

Of the many versions of the M4 which were produced, varying in armor, turret, ammo stowage, weapon, engine and suspension, the best – by acclamation – was the M4A3E8 (“Easy 8”) with a big liquid-cooled V8 engine, wider tracks, HVSS suspension, and enlarged turret with 76mm gun; these began to reach the troops soon after D-Day. They served on for some years, seeing combat in Korea; and they – and many earlier marks – would continue to serve in overseas armies for decades afterwards. A handful served in Israel’s 1948 war of independence, and many in her 1956 and 1967 campaigns; Shermans fought in the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971; and in odd pockets of the Third World a few may have soldiered on even later.

 

Posted in AFV

WWII USN Torpedoes

Torpedo_Exploder_Mark_6_NH-88457

“Damn those exploders…damn them all to hell!” exclaimed the skipper of submarine Jack, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Michael Dykers, on June 20, 1943, as he watched through the periscope and saw a torpedo, fired from an excellent position and at the optimal range of 1,000 yards, “premature” (explode before reaching its intended target), a 1,500-ton trawler. “Son of a bitch from Baghdad!” Dykers roared as the other two torpedoes he fired also failed to reach their target, either missing or failing to detonate.

This flawlessly executed attack, the premier combat for both the Jack and its skipper, failed because of faulty torpedoes. Very unfortunately for the U.S. war effort in the Pacific, its submarine campaigns were plagued for fully the first half of the war with torpedo problems. These problems included premature detonation, running depths deeper than specified, and failure to explode upon contact with a ship’s hull. Often one of these problems masked another, with the solution of one problem seemingly leading to the emergence of another, unanticipated one. The full extent of the torpedo problems was not known or completely remedied until the fall of 1943.

But, as if to compensate for this American failing, the Japanese committed an equal or greater strategic blunder of their own: they chose not to make extensive use of submarine warfare against U.S. shipping. Throughout most of the war, Japanese submarines and torpedoes were superior to their U.S. counterparts. Japanese submarines, or I-boats, were bigger than the U.S. submarines, and their torpedoes were vastly superior. Even after it was perfected, the U.S. Mark-14 torpedo had a range of 4,500 yards, a warhead of 668 pounds of Torpex (a specially designed mixture of TNT, other explosive compounds, and beeswax), and a speed of 46 knots. (Fired at 31 knots, the Mark-14 theoretically had a range of 9,000 yards, but this setting was seldom used, except against anchored ships.) The electrical Mark-18–1 torpedo, which came into increasing use toward the end of the war, had a range of 3,500 yards, a top speed of only 33 knots, and a warhead of 500 pounds. By contrast, the typical Japanese submarine torpedo, the Type 95, had a range of 10,000 yards, a speed of 49 knots, and a warhead of 900 pounds. It took only three such torpedoes, fired from Japanese submarine I–19 on September 15, 1942, in the Coral Sea, to fatally cripple aircraft carrier Wasp. On the same day a Japanese torpedo blew a 32-foot hole in the hull of battleship North Carolina.

mk14

The Mark-14. The standard Mark-14, the torpedo most commonly used by U.S. submarines in World War II, had three problems: running too deep, exploding prematurely because of faulty magnetic detonation devices, and not detonating at all upon contact with a ship’s hull, because of poorly designed mechanical detonators. The first fault to be detected and corrected was running below set depths. When this problem was solved, the issue of premature detonations came next, and when this in turn was resolved, faulty mechanical detonators had to be reworked until they performed satisfactorily.

In June 1942 navy technical personnel placed a large fishnet across a bay in Western Australia and then fired three torpedoes at it. Two torpedoes set to run at 10 feet tore through the net at 18 feet and 25 feet, respectively, and a third, set to run on the surface, pierced the net at 11 feet. The U.S. Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) questioned the unsophisticated protocols of this test, but its own more careful tests confirmed that the torpedoes were indeed running deep. The reasons involved, among other things, weight differences between live and dummy torpedoes tested, improperly calibrated equipment, and inaccurate record-keeping. Instead of addressing all of these problems, submariners simply set torpedo depths for 10 feet less than they needed.

The next major problem with the Mark-14 torpedoes was the Mark-6 magnetic exploder, a device copied from captured German U-boat torpedoes and designed, at least in theory, to detonate the torpedo’s warhead just as it passed through the magnetic field beneath the keel, usually the most vulnerable and least armored part of a ship. Unknown to the Americans, the Nazis had encountered so many problems with their own magnetic exploder device that they eventually abandoned it as unreliable.

Torpedo_exploder_Mark_6_Mod_1

The Mark-6 Exploder. The most infuriating quirk with the Mark-14 torpedo equipped with the Mark-6 exploder was not that it never worked, but that it worked unpredictably. When this torpedo/exploder combination did perform as designed, it was devastatingly effective, and severely damaged or sank any vessel unfortunate enough to be its target because it broke up the ship exactly at its most vulnerable part, the keel. These successes happened with just enough frequency to convince BuOrd that the torpedoes were largely problem-free.

Predictably, skippers very quietly deactivated the magnetic exploders on their torpedoes and set them to detonate on contact only. Most did not reveal that they had done so, because tampering with the government’s ordnance was, technically, a serious offense that could get them courtmartialed. Admiral Charles A.Lockwood, commander of the Pacific Fleet submarines, eventually learned of this practice and sided with the skippers. He also decided to take his case against the faulty magnetic exploder to the commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz. After hearing Lockwood’s grievances, Nimitz directed Lockwood to issue orders for the deactivation of the faulty devices, and this Lockwood did in June 1943.

Disabling the magnetic exploders did greatly reduce the premature explosion problem, but an equally serious fault emerged: dud torpedoes. Instead of exploding prematurely, many torpedoes did not explode at all, even when they hit an enemy hull with a solid thud.

On July 24, 1943, Dan Daspit, skipper of Tinosa, was on the trail of a huge tanker of 19,000 tons, Tonan Maru III. Two of the first four torpedoes he fired at the vessel were solid hits, and smoke began billowing from the tanker. Finding no surface or air escorts for the tanker, Daspit had a matchless opportunity to send it to the bottom. In all, he fired fifteen torpedoes, the last against a Japanese destroyer. All failed to detonate. Daspit saved his last torpedo to take back to Pearl Harbor as proof that something was drastically wrong with U.S. torpedoes. At Pearl Harbor, Lockwood and others soon concluded that the contact detonators were malfunctioning, and a team of investigators was soon looking into the problem. Dummy warheads fitted with the defective exploders were dropped 90 feet from a crane onto a thick steel plate. When the warheads hit the plate at the perfect angle of 90 degrees, the contact detonators were crushed by the impact before they could strike the fulminate caps. But when the warheads were dropped onto a plate angled at 45 degrees, only about half were duds. It was clear that the detonators were poorly designed, and torpedo experts at Pearl Harbor immediately began reworking them. (Ironically, the new and improved detonator devices were fashioned out of very tough metal obtained from Japanese aircraft propellers found in the Hawaiian Islands.) Lockwood directed that all Mark-14 torpedoes thereafter be equipped with the new detonators, and told submarines still at sea to try for angled shots instead of the ideal 90 degree approaches.

By the late summer of 1943, all of the torpedo problems were remedied. Only now could submariners confront the enemy with full confidence in their ordnance. The reworked torpedoes soon led to dramatic increases in submarine sinkings of Japanese shipping, and by the first quarter of 1944, more than 1,750,000 tons of Japanese shipping were destroyed, which nearly equaled the figure of 1,803,409 sunk for all of 1943. By the end of 1944, the destruction of Japanese shipping was truly devastating: more than 3.8 million tons sunk.

Mark_18_torpedo_general_profile,_US_Navy_Torpedo_Mark_18_(Electric),_April_1943

The Mark-18. Early in 1942 the Allies had captured a German electric torpedo, and eventually Westinghouse was producing copies. One of the main advantages of the electric torpedo was its wakeless track, which made it much more difficult to spot. Westinghouse’s Mark-18 electric torpedo also proved to have none of the depth control or detonation problems of the Mark-14s, and its production costs were less. Its main immediately discernible drawback was its slower speed of about 30 knots. But as the Mark-18 was taken into combat situations, problems emerged. For one thing, it ran slower in cold water because the cold reduced the power of its batteries. Hydrogen leaks from its batteries led to several fires and explosions, and ventilating the torpedoes of hydrogen became a frequent precaution. (Later, hydrogen-burning technology right inside the torpedo itself made this unnecessary.) Torpedo technicians at Pearl Harbor quickly identified and remedied these and other problems, and by 1944 the Mark-18 was gradually gaining acceptance from submariners. Gradually a consensus arose: they would use the electric Mark-18s by day and the now reliable Mark-14s by night. Some 30 percent of the torpedoes fired from U.S. submarines in 1944 were electric, and by war’s end the figure had risen to 65 percent. By the end of the war, the Mark-18 had definitely proven its worth: it had sunk nearly a million tons, about one-fifth of the total sent to the bottom by U.S. submarines.

The torpedo was the submariners main tool of war, and its improvement was the single most important technological development in U.S. submarine warfare during World War II. But other items of equipment and improvements in them also contributed to the stealth and deadliness of the U.S. submarine.

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