Battle of Langensalza

The Seven Weeks War in 1866 was chiefly fought between the armies of Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Prussian army was by far the superior and its generals had planned the war down to the smallest detail, making sure that Austria-Hungary’s defeat was both rapid and total.


On June 2 1866, with the approval of War Minister von Roon, the King issued a brief but momentous order. Until further notice, the Chief of the General Staff was authorized to issue orders directly to subordinate units in the Prussian Army, without the delay of getting the approval of either King or War Minister.

It was a substantial command, stretched in an arc more than 300 miles long, from the Neisse River on the east to the Aller River in the west. In central Silesia was Crown Prince Frederick William’s Second Army of about 115,000 men. Based on southern Brandenburg, and now sweeping through eastern Saxony, was the First Army, 93,000 strong, under Prince Frederick Charles. Farther west, marching south from Torgau on Dresden, was the Army of the Elbe, 48,000 men under General Karl Eberhard Herwarth von Bittenfeld. General Vogel von Falckenstein’s Western Army, about 50,000 men, was concentrated in Prussian Saxony.

Vogel von Falckenstein’s mission was to knock Hanover out of the war, to turn south to repeat the process against Hesse-Kassel, then to advance in a southeasterly direction to attract the attention of Bavaria (and incidentally of Hesse-Darmstadt, Baden, and Wurttemberg) away from the main theater of operations in Bohemia. The three main Prussian armies were meanwhile to advance into Bohemia, converging east of Prague, then to march eastward toward Olmiitz, the expected concentration center for General Benedek’s Austrian Army.

During the mobilization and preliminary operations Moltke remained in Berlin, tied to the telegraph, making certain that his dispositions were going according to plan. It was fortunate that he did because the irrepressible Chancellor again interjected himself into the military picture.

On June 19 Bismarck, without notifying either the King, Roon, or Moltke, sent a telegram direct to Vogel von Falckenstein, now in southern Hanover, suggesting that an advance southwestward to Frankfurt would prevent the concentration of the Confederation armies and “would easily lead to a second Rossbach.” Vogel von Falckenstein had just discovered that the Hanoverian Army was moving south toward Bavaria, and had begun pursuit. While pondering over this message from Bismarck, he lost contact with the Hanoverians on the twenty-second. Never having been sympathetic to the General Staff, and holding a grudge against Moltke since the Danish War, when Moltke had taken his place as Chief of Staff of the Field Army, Vogel decided to follow Bismarck’s advice. He began marching toward the southwest. Not surprisingly he did not bother to inform Moltke.

Moltke soon realized, however, that something was seriously wrong in the area of the Western Army. The Hanoverians, taking advantage of Vogel’s disappearance, were marching southward unopposed, across the western tip of Prussian Saxony, toward a possible junction with either the Bavarians or the Austrians. Moltke rushed several contingents of garrison troops to delay the Hanoverians, and peremptorily ordered Vogel to return to carry out his assigned mission. The result was a battle at Langensalza just north of Erfurt, on June 27, where General Alexander von Arentschildt’s Hanoverians sharply defeated Vogel von Falckenstein’s advance guard. Before the day was over, however, the remainder of Vogel’s Army reached the field, blocking further advance by the outnumbered Hanoverians. On June 29 blind King George V of Hanover surrendered his Army to Vogel.


Also called the Austro-Prussian War, this brief conflict was a key step in Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s (1815–98) campaign to establish Prussia as the preeminent German power, the nucleus around which a genuine German nation would coalesce. Prussia’s archrival for dominance was Austria, and Prussia attacked it vigorously. Aside from the war’s crucial political significance, it would prove a tactical milestone as well, as the first European war in which railroads played a major role. Prussia used its extensive rail network to maneuver and advance quickly. This immediately gained Prussia the advantage, and the general in chief, the brilliant Helmuth von Moltke (1800–91), never let the advantage slip. Second only to the Prussian railroads in tactical significance was firepower. Prussia had advanced artillery and breechloading small arms. The Austrians had older artillery and still labored with slow, muzzle-loaded rifled muskets. Of the war’s eight major battles, the Prussians suffered a reversal only at the first, Langensalza (June 27–29, 1866), and this at the hands of the Hanoverians, not the Austrians. Even so, the Hanoverian victory was a hollow one; that state’s king was forced to surrender in the face of an overwhelming Prussian concentration.

Hanover began in an excellent position as the Prussian attack happened to occur during Hanoverian summer exercises and their army was already mobilized. Realizing the vast size of the total Prussian force, King George directed his 19,000 man army under General Alexander von Arentschildt to quickly withdraw and march south to link up with Bavarian allies.4 Prussia pressed 40,000 total troops into Hanover, which then split into four detachments under Generals Falckenstein, Goeben, Flies, and Beyer. General von Falckenstein, recognizing the absence of an army to fight, marched unopposed into the Hanoverian capital, north of the marching Hanoverians. General Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian theater commander, also ordered Goeben to the north, and in turn deployed Beyer to the Hanoverians’ south and Flies, with 9,000 troops, quickly marched around to the west. This formed a box around the Hanoverian army with Prussia itself forming the Eastern side.

Moltke ordered Flies to hold fast and intercept Hanoverians trying to break through westward as Falckenstein’s force performed the main Prussian assault from the north. In direct defiance of his orders, General Flies gathered his detachment and directly attacked the Hanoverian army. Following a feint toward Thamsbruck to the North, the Prussian forces under Flies made a concentrated assault toward Merxleben. The much larger Hanoverian force and artillery fire drove them back toward the actual city of Langensalza. Having a force more than twice the Prussian detachment’s size, Arentschildt severely routed Flies’ troops, capturing more than 900 men.

Although the Hanoverians attained a decisive victory in the actual battle, the fighting halted their movement and allowed the other Prussian forces from the north and south to converge on the battle site. Out of options, King George and the Hanoverians pulled back to the East, further from their Bavarian allies. Pinned down against the Harz Mountains and out of options, King George surrendered in Nordhausen two days after the battle

The Battle of Langensalza was a near disaster in the Hanoverian campaign for the Prussians. It wiped out Flies’ detachment of troops and could have allowed an avenue of escape for the Hanoverian army. At the same time, this battle provided just enough time for the northern and southern Prussian contingents to link up at the battle site, which ultimately forced Hanoverian surrender.

Langensalza was an important aspect of the Austro-Prussian War as it led to a quick Prussian occupation of Hanover, both taking the Austrians by surprise and greatly weakening their position in the war. The Prussians also quickly overran Kassel and Saxony at the same time they were attacking Hanover. All together these small states could have contributed more than 100,000 good troops to Austria’s cause, but they were destroyed before they could unite and fight jointly. If the Hanoverians had successfully reached other allies on the Austrian’s side, the Austro-Prussian War may have gone very differently.

Another long lasting result of the Battle of Langensalza is the use of the “Red Cross” by medical personnel. Created by the First Geneva Convention in 1864, the Red Cross began an international humanitarian aid group. This organization, which would later greatly expand in size, was originally very small. Involving just thirty trained volunteer nurses from Gotha, the first actual combat mission of the Red Cross occurred on the Prussian side at Langensalza. Although Austria and Hanover were not involved at the time, in 1866 Prussia was a member of the Red Cross Convention. Prussian medical personnel worked on the battlefield wearing the sign of the Red Cross on their arms and providing critical aid to wounded soldiers. Their legacy continues today in the form of the International Red Cross.






The failure of the Second Crusade was demoralizing for everyone involved. In its wake the Europeans searched for someone on whom to fix the blame. Some said that a traitor had been bribed to encourage the armies to attack at the wrong place. Others said that Raymond of Antioch, angry that Louis hadn’t agreed to his plans, had used his influence to cause the disaster. Bernard of Clairvaux was castigated for preaching the crusade; his reputation never recovered completely. As the news of the disaster spread west, the rumors grew. Many believed that it was the sinful behavior of the participants that caused their downfall. Conrad blamed the Jerusalemites. Gerhoh of Reichersberg was certain that all had been led astray by the Devil. None of these allegations were backed up with facts.

It didn’t help that a much less prestigious Christian army had invaded the Spanish peninsula and taken the city of Lisbon from the Moors. Their feat was celebrated in the West as the Reconquista of Spain continued. This made the contrast to the failure in the East all the more striking.

Before everyone left the Holy Land for Europe, Baldwin III made an attempt to convince the Crusaders to try again. This time they would attack Ascalon he insisted. He knew it would work. But no one was willing to make the attempt. The young king did not have the military prestige of his father and grandfather.

Although Melisende was at the council at Acre, we don’t know if she agreed with the decision to attack Damascus. Her father had tried more than once to take it and settled for tribute and truce. Of all the unconquered Muslim cities, it was the one that had always been most willing to compromise and arrange treaties with the Latins. But it was also a tempting prize. Whether she was for or against the attack, she was never accused of being part of any plot to thwart the crusaders.

The Muslims were cheered by the fact that the rulers of Europe were unable to defeat them, but this didn’t change the political dynamics of the region as much as some may have thought. The main result of the Second Crusade was that Nur ad-Din gained more influence in the region and, eventually, he was able to absorb Damascus into his lands.

The real disaster was the reaction of the faithful in Europe. The story of the failures and infighting among the leaders of the crusade disgusted many who might have donated to the cause or come to fight. Writing thirty years later, William of Tyre notes that fewer pilgrims of any sort came to Jerusalem even in his time, and “those who do come fear lest they be caught in the same toils [as the armies of Louis and Conrad] and hence make as short a stay as possible.”

In terms of manpower and funds for arms, the Latin States had always been dependent on frequent infusions from the West. Despite this uncertain support, the Franks continued to attempt to expand their power. But the attack on Damascus had triggered something that had been growing by fits and starts among the Muslims for several years. The opposing Sunni and Shi’ite sects and feuding families began to form serious non-aggression pacts and, even more, promises of mutual aid. So when, in June 1149, Raymond of Antioch set out to lay siege to the Aleppan fortress of Neva, Nur ad-Din wrote Damascus for help. The emir, Anar, was busy arranging for grain from the area to be brought for storage in Damascus, but he sent a battle-hardened lieutenant and army at once. It seems to have been enough to keep the emir of Aleppo content.

Raymond of Antioch may have made too many enemies among his own people, or, as William suggests, “he was a man of undaunted and impetuous courage who allowed himself to be ruled by the advice of no one in matters of this kind.” He didn’t bring enough soldiers to accomplish his mission and didn’t bother asking any of the other lords for help. Raymond and his outnumbered army met Nur ad-Din and the armies of Aleppo and Damascus on June 29, 1149. The Antiochenes were routed. Raymond was killed and his head and right arm sent to Baghdad as trophies. Antioch was once more left with a young woman and minor child in authority.

Raymond may have had character flaws, but his military reputation was impressive. Far away in England, William of Newburgh had heard of his valor and had a fond memory of hearing tales of his exploits from a monk who had once been in Raymond’s service.

Unlike her mother, Constance was the reigning princess. She was barely into her twenties and had already produced four children, two girls and two boys. After Raymond’s defeat, Nur ad-Din advanced to Antioch, camping outside the gates in the hope of starving them out. Constance had few defenders of the city since most of the forces of Antioch had gone with Raymond. It’s not certain how many soldiers returned, but not enough. She sent messengers to her aunt and cousin in Jerusalem asking for help. In the meantime, she organized the people to keep the enemy from breaking into the city.

Meanwhile Nur ad-Din scoured the area around Antioch and went as far as the sea, which he had never seen before. He raided monasteries and fortresses, gathering booty to pay his army and provisions to keep them during a siege of Antioch.

Constance and the Latin Patriarch Aimery, as well as most of the townspeople, prepared to defend the city, although they also sent offers of treasure to bribe Nur ad-Din to retreat to Aleppo and leave them in peace. Constance knew well what measures to take to save her city.

When he received word of Raymond’s death, King Baldwin III was called upon to go up to Antioch as his father and grandfather had done, to sort things out. But the young king wasn’t made of the same stuff. He did what he could, gathering what men he had available, and headed up to Antioch. In an effort to encourage the people of the city to take heart, Baldwin laid siege to the nearby Muslim fortress of Harim, hoping to draw Nur ad-Din from Antioch. But, “after spending several days there without success, he gave up and returned to Antioch.” Nur ad-Din eventually lifted the siege once he felt that he had depleted their supplies and will power, satisfied that he had crippled his nearest enemy. Antioch would not pose a threat to Aleppo for years.

It’s not clear if Baldwin assumed any formal authority in Antioch. William says that he “remained at Antioch until affairs were reduced to order as far as time and place permitted.” Constance, with the help of the citizens of Antioch, then took over governing the principality, but they were still very short of manpower.

Another casualty of Raymond’s death was Jocelyn II, former count of Edessa. The prince of Antioch would have been pleased that his old nemesis suffered as a result of his downfall. Upon learning of Raymond’s defeat, the sultan of Iconium, north of Edessa, decided to take advantage of the confusion and attack Jocelyn’s home of Tel Bashir, which he still held. In response to Jocelyn’s call for help, Baldwin, busy at Antioch, sent his constable, Humphrey of Toron, to assess the military needs there.

This action shows the first major crack in the joint rule of Melisende and her son. Manasses of Hierges was still Melisende’s constable in Jerusalem, but it appears that Baldwin was spending more time in Acre, setting up a rival court, which he took with him to Antioch. Now nearly twenty, the young king was tired of ruling only with his mother’s consent. But the defeat at Damascus and the young king’s failure in subsequent endeavors had not allowed him to gain the support he needed to take over on his own.

Since not enough help was forthcoming, Jocelyn managed to pay off the sultan with suits of armor and the return of prisoners taken in one raid or another. Afterward, the count went to Antioch to thank Baldwin personally for sending Humphrey and perhaps to see if his experience was needed in protecting the principality. Baldwin and Constance turned down his offer.

On his way home, Jocelyn was captured by Nur ad-Din’s men. Ibn al-Athir says that he was out hunting and a local Turkomen took him prisoner, knowing that Nur ad-Din would pay a high price for him.13 Michael the Syrian says that God caused a tree to grow where there had never been one before so that Jocelyn fell over the roots and was captured for his many sins. William, who disliked Jocelyn more than either of the others did, tells us that he was taken when he “turned aside to relieve the needs of nature.”

Taken to Aleppo in chains, Jocelyn eventually died in prison. His wife, Beatrice, was left to hold Tel Bashir as best she could, “far beyond the strength of a woman, she busied herself in strengthening the fortresses of the land and supplying them with arms, men and food.” Eventually, she would be forced to sell her estates to the Greeks in return for a pension to support herself and her children.

William laments the fact that the two remaining Latin States in the north were now under the control of women, “in punishment for our sins.”

Edessa was lost but in Antioch the archbishop, Aimery, took charge of the military, using his own money to pay mercenaries and to feed the regular guards until Nur ad-Din decamped. Constance assumed the civil power and governed with no known complaint from the Antiochenes.

Once things were less chaotic, the threat from Nur ad-Din over and daily life back to normal, the next important task was to find a new husband for Constance. Baldwin III and his counselors felt that it was essential to select someone who could defend the territory as well as remain loyal to the king, unlike too many of the other men who had controlled the principality. The emperor Manuel also felt he had a stake in whom the next prince would be. Since Raymond had been forced to submit to Manuel’s suzerainty to avoid invasion, Antioch was technically a vassal state of the Byzantine Empire.

They forgot that Constance was no longer a child and had ideas of her own.

The Assisses of Jerusalem, laws compiled in the thirteenth century but based on early customs, have a section that is unique. There is no parallel in Western Europe, Byzantium, or the Muslim world. I believe that it grew from the abundance of women in the Latin States who were in charge by default. It also may have had something to do with the number of them who refused to be treated as marriage pawns. This law states that an heiress must be offered three choices of a husband by the king. If none appeal to her, then the king must find three more men. If she refuses them all, she is allowed to choose her own husband.

That is just what Constance did. The king chose three men that he knew would be loyal to him: Ives de Nesle, Walter of Falkenberg, and Ralph de Merle.19 She turned them all down. The Emperor Manuel sent a certain John Roger to Antioch to marry Constance. She took one look at him and announced that he was too old. Poor John Roger returned to Constantinople and entered a monastery.

“The princess dreaded the yoke of marriage and preferred a free and independent life,” William of Tyre said with scorn. He believed that she was shirking her responsibilities, but I certainly don’t blame her. She had already been cast upon the altar of duty once. Like her mother and aunt, Constance may have been confident in her own ability to make decisions. No outside lord could understand her principality as well as she. Her first charter, made at Latakia, undid a gift her mother had unjustly made to Guarner of Burgo of land that belonged to Ralph Boer. Unfortunately, Guarner’s children had already sold the land to the Hospitallers. Constance, “who had the jurisdiction of this land,” decided how the case should be settled and “confirmed it with the seal of the principate.”

That doesn’t sound as if Constance was living a “free and independent life.” It sounds as if she was attending to her responsibilities as princess of Antioch.

Nevertheless, her cousin Baldwin and many others felt that she needed a man. The king called a council that met in Tripoli in 1150. Melisende attended, although by then there was an open break between her and her elder son. They had set up separate chanceries and were each issuing their own charters.

Aimery, Patriarch of Antioch, came to the council along with many other church officials. How he felt about Constance remaining single isn’t known, but a new prince would reduce the current power that the Patriarch was wielding. The assembly had many pressing matters to discuss, including Baldwin’s desire to invade the territory of the Fatimids and capture Ascalon. But the main goal of the meeting was to force Constance to come to a marriage decision. Jerusalem couldn’t concentrate on southern expansion if the northern border state of Antioch had no able military leader.

Constance held firm. “Neither the king, nor the . . . queen nor the countess of Tripoli, her two aunts, was able to induce her to yield and thus provide for herself and her land.” Brava Constance!

It’s possible that neither Melisende nor Hodierna tried very hard to make their niece marry against her will. Neither of them had found much joy in marriage, Hodierna was at that time at the point of leaving her husband, Raymond of Tripoli.

The council broke up, chagrined at the young princess and at a loss as to what to do next. Constance went back to Antioch. If she remarried, the choice would be hers. In 1153, she married a charming newcomer who had fought with Baldwin III. His name was Reynaud de Chatillon. He seems to have been disliked by most of the men he knew but women adored him.

After the council, Hodierna refused to stay any longer in Tripoli with her husband. No one seems to know what had happened between the couple. I’ve found no account that says what Raymond might have done. Hodierna would have known from the women around her that a husband’s adultery was not cause for a wife to leave. My guess is that it might have something to do with the ferocity that Raymond showed after his father, Pons, died. He may have had a temper that was let loose on his wife and children as well as Syrian villagers. But that’s only a guess. Melisende seems to have reconciled the pair somewhat, but it was decided that Hodierna would benefit from an extended time away from her husband. Raymond apparently made no effort to keep his wife in Tripoli.

Melisende offered to let Hodierna come live with her in Jerusalem. The count either rode with them for a while and turned back home or was out on another task. The two women were still on the road when a messenger raced after them with the news that Count Raymond of Tripoli had been murdered by a party of Assassins at the Tripoli city gates as he was returning with two friends, who died with him. This unexpected tragedy brought about a torrent of xenophobia in Tripoli, in which mobs of Franks “without discrimination put to the sword all those who were found to differ in language or dress from the Latins.”




The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Crusader states, with Muslim states (in shades of green) in 1135 during the reign of Melisende.

Someone may have paid the Assassins to kill Raymond, although they had never been known to target Christians. Or he may have done something to antagonize them. It’s also possible that he was assassinated by people dressed as Batini or using their methods. They could have been supporters of Bernard, the illegitimate son of the count of Toulouse, Alphonse-Jordan, who also claimed the lordship of Tripoli. Bernard had recently died under suspicious circumstances and it has been hinted that Raymond had something to do with his demise.

No one seems to have suggested that Hodierna sent men to murder her husband. She does not seem to have had the force of will of her older sisters, but it is interesting that the attack came just at the point when she had decided on a separation.

On receiving the news, Hodierna immediately returned to Tripoli with her children, Raymond and Melisende. Raymond was about twelve, close to the age Baldwin III had been when Fulk died. King Baldwin ordered that all the nobles of the land swear allegiance to Hodierna and her children. She assumed the regency of Tripoli. Since she wasn’t the heiress, no one seems to have demanded that she remarry for the defense of the county. Perhaps Guillaume Duc, viscount of Tripoli, assumed that responsibility.

It was also possible that Raymond had been involved in a dispute with another faction in Tripoli. The composition of the county was much different from Jerusalem or Antioch. The “Franks” were mainly Provençals, and spoke a form of French very different from that of the northerners. There was a large Italian contingent, many from Genoa, including the lords of the town of Gibelet, who gave military assistance when required but were mainly engaged in trade. The main Jewish community of the county was also in Gibelet.

Tripoli produced a number of luxury goods. It was famous for the silk made there along with a dye made from rose madder, grown in the region. Sugar cane was grown and processed and soap and oil made from olives. The wines from the grapes of the surrounding countryside were considered excellent. Citizens also wove cotton and carpets (something not common in the West) and made high-end glass and ceramics. In this manufacture, Jews, Syrian Christians, and even a few Muslims became rich. Tripoli was probably the most cosmopolitan of the Latin States.

In the mountains of the county lived the Muslim Druze and some Ismali’ites, who may have been part of the Assassins. The largest Christian group was the Maronites, whose dogma had formed in the seventh and eighth centuries. They followed the Eastern rite of the church but, as early as 1182, reunited with Rome and acknowledged the pope as head of their faith. Most of the Christians of Lebanon today still follow Maronite practices.

Hodierna’s regency was intended to preserve the count’s share of the wealth for her children. Her understanding of the diverse population helped her to govern. It was likely through her influence that Raymond III and Melisende became fluent in Arabic.

Baldwin was now titular regent of Antioch and Tripoli, as well as king of Jerusalem. At the moment, Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, and what was left of Edessa were being governed by women. Baldwin must have felt outnumbered by his female relatives.

Now a grown man, Baldwin had been chafing for a while at the reins his mother kept him under. But Melisende wasn’t interested in abdicating in his favor. If she had been regent, instead of queen by inheritance, there would have been no question of her stepping down. Baldwin would have ruled alone from the age of about fifteen. The fact that it took another two years for him to attempt to take sole power may say something about his abilities and Melisende’s. His military career had been a series of failures. He had not yet married. But at the time that he and Melisende were at the council in Tripoli, he was already planning a palace coup.

Melisende had fought many battles in her life. She had successfully resisted the attempts of her husband to shut her out of the government. She had supervised the reconstruction of Jerusalem and several fortresses between the city and Muslim territory. For five years past her son’s coming of age, she had ruled the kingdom. By all contemporary accounts, she was a competent ruler.

What she had no way to fight was the blackening of her reputation by later historians. In the twentieth century alone, she has been called a “power-hungry Queen Dowager and “an authoritarian, even vindictive, woman.” Eminent Crusade historian Hans Eberhard Mayer, in the only serious monograph written on Melisende’s rule, persists in calling her the “Queen Mother.” While he admits that Baldwin’s military career had been a series of defeats, he still sees Melisende as woman who plotted to keep her son from power.

I have read the same charters and chronicles as other historians and come to a different conclusion. I believe that Melisende and a large part of the nobility of the kingdom did not think that Baldwin was ready to be the sole ruler. As she reminded those who wanted her to abdicate, Melisende was not regent for her son. The fact that she had been crowned jointly with him showed that. She was not a dowager, nor a queen mother. Those titles, had they been in existence then, were for queens who were the widows of reigning lords. Alice and Hodierna were regents; Melisende and Constance were heirs. In Steven Runciman’s interpretation of the events, he points out that, “legal opinion seems to have been that right, if not expediency, was on her side.”

In other words, as Baldwin’s opposition to his mother grew, most of the nobility moved to his side because he was male, but it was acknowledged that Melisende did have the right to rule with him or on her own.

Aware of the growing dissension, Baldwin arranged for a second double coronation to be held on Easter Sunday, 1150, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, unbeknownst to Melisende, he “deferred the time for the ceremony in order that his mother should not be crowned with him. Then, unexpectedly, on the following day, without summoning his mother, he appeared in public, crowned with the laurel.”

The secrecy of this act indicates to me either that he didn’t want Melisende to make a scene, which would accord with the negative opinions of her, or that he knew that her supporters would protest and perhaps stop the coronation altogether.

After much negotiating, Baldwin and Melisende agreed to split the kingdom. He would have Tyre and Acre and she Jerusalem and Nablus, a town that, I believe, had been Morfia’s dower land. Melisende retired for the time being to Nablus.

This division didn’t last for long. Considering the pressure being exerted upon the Latins by Nur ad-Din, it wasn’t feasible to have two competing governments.

Melisende had many supporters. Not least among them was her younger son, Amalric. At the moment he was the count of Jaffa, the old county of Hugh of Le Puiset. There is little mention of Amalric up to this point. He is mentioned in a few of his mother’s charters but I have none that he issued alone.

William, who was writing for Amalric, puts the blame for Baldwin’s actions on friends of his who had conceived a hatred not of Melisende, but of her constable, Manasses. He insists that they were responsible for what happened next. It wasn’t enough, he says, to make her divide the kingdom, “Not even in this was the persecution against the queen stilled. On the contrary, the still-smoldering fire was rekindled on trivial pretexts and blazed forth into a conflagration far more dangerous than before.” At the instigation of his friends, Baldwin demanded that Melisende give up all her land to him.

Baldwin and his followers, many from the area around Tyre, such as the Ibelin family, set out to besiege Melisende in Jerusalem. She and her supporters, including Aimery, Philip of Nablus, and the Templar Andrew of Montbard, took refuge in the Tower of David. Baldwin fired at her with catapults but didn’t make a dent in the fortifications. This bombardment lasted a few days when the Patriarch of Jerusalem, along with other neutral parties, intervened.

They managed to convince Melisende to surrender Jerusalem to her son and retire to Nablus. Baldwin swore that he would not bother her there in any way. Baldwin III at last was sole ruler of Jerusalem.

From France, Abbot Bernard wrote Melisende that he had heard rumors of her troubles. There must have been negative gossip about her determination to keep power. In the light of the recent civil war in England over the right of Henry I’s daughter, Matilda, to the throne, people may have had a jaundiced view of female rule. Bernard tells her that he might have believed the stories if not for a letter from his uncle, Andrew of Montbard, explaining the situation and praising her behavior. The abbot gives her what encouragement he can.

Melisende did not issue any more charters without the assent of Baldwin, much as Fulk had done after his abortive attempt to assert his power. But the mother and son seem to have had some sort of reconciliation. She was his mother, after all. Amalric and Phillip of Nablus also re-entered Baldwin’s circle. After the death of his wife, Phillip joined the Templars and eventually became grand master. Always loyal to the family, Phillip eventually retired from the Templars at Amalric’s request and died on a mission to Constantinople in the king’s service.

Historians have seen Melisende’s actions through a lens of centuries of primogeniture. If she had been male, then Baldwin would have been seen as an upstart and a traitor. As it was, it is clear that there were many who were satisfied with her governance and not comfortable with allowing Baldwin complete control. None of the chroniclers living at that time in the Near East have said that she was power hungry. In a time and place where nearly every ruler spent most of his time trying to expand his territory, she was fairly consistent. If her son’s forays into enemy territory had been successful, she might have decided on graceful retirement. Or she might have arranged, like Emperor Alexis and his mother, that he handle military matters and she run the home front.

But one thing still makes me wonder: why wasn’t Baldwin married as a teenager? Even if he had been homosexual, he could have done his duty and produced heirs, as other homosexual kings had done. I haven’t found any reference to ambassadors making the rounds looking for acceptable brides. Was Melisende so determined to hold onto her son that she didn’t want to compete with a wife? I doubt it. Baldwin didn’t marry until 1158, long after Melisende had lost control over his actions. It took the urging of the Haut Court, made up of the nobility of the realm, before he agreed to take a wife.

His bride was Theodora, a cousin of Emperor Manuel. She was about thirteen at the time of the marriage and very probably did not speak French or Arabic. The couple had no children in the five years of their marriage. William of Tyre doesn’t even mention that Baldwin III had a wife. What made Baldwin wait so long to marry? Was something wrong with him that no one would talk about? Unless new sources are uncovered, I’m doomed to ignorance.

There is no indication that Melisende was relegated to a backwater, nor that her followers were punished. By 1152, both Philip of Nablus and Amalric are witnessing Baldwin’s charters. That same year Melisende adjudicated between citizens and canons of Nablus, “with the consent of her sons, King Baldwin and Amalric, Count of Jaffa.” By 1154, she even appears again in Baldwin’s charters, giving her consent to one of his donations.

In 1153, Baldwin finally succeeded in capturing that long-desired prize of Ascalon. He must have been elated to have achieved a goal that all the previous kings of Jerusalem had attempted and failed. This made the threat of attack from Egypt negligible and sealed Baldwin’s status. Nur ad-Din did not come to the aid of Ascalon as his father had; he was busy taking control of Damascus. While Baldwin was away, Melisende returned to Jerusalem as regent, or perhaps she saw it as taking up her rightful duties once more. But she went back to Nablus after Baldwin’s triumphal return.

Melisende continued to keep an eye on the kingdom from Nablus. She remained a patron of artists and religious institutions. Her last charter is from 1160, in which she gives property to the monastery at Josaphat. But sometime later that year, she had a stroke that left her helpless. Yvette, now abbess, brought her to the convent of Bethany that Melisende had founded for her. By that time, Fulk’s daughter, Sybille, had come to Jerusalem and also entered the convent. They, along with Hodierna, “watched over her with unremitting care,” until her death in 1161. She was buried at the abbey of Josephat, near the tomb of her mother.

Her elder son Baldwin survived her by only a year. Her second son, Amalric, became king.

Melisende has been considered as someone who put her own ambition above the good of her kingdom and her son. I disagree. Baldwin III was a capable king, eventually, but he needed to grow into the role. If he had been competent at the beginning, then she might have been willing to step aside for him. But why should she have done so? Melisende was queen of Jerusalem and she was good at her job. She, her sister Alice, and too many other women who governed have been slandered and ignored, not by the people of their own time, but by later historians, up to the present day.

William’s epitaph sums up the opinion of her contemporaries. “For thirty years and more, during the lifetime of her husband, as well as afterwards, in the reign of her son, Melisende had governed the kingdom with strength surpassing that of most women. Her rule had been wise and judicious.”

William was mistaken only in that Melisende’s strength was not uncommon. Her mother and sisters demonstrate such strength, as did many others, including the woman who walked alone into an enemy camp to retrieve her stolen child. Melisende’s legacy was in setting an example for another generation. She only had three grandchildren, two girls and a boy. Her grandson was the tragic leper king, Baldwin IV. Amalric’s two daughters, Sybille and Isabella, each became queen. Alice’s daughter, Constance, ruled Antioch until well after her son Bohemond had come of age. Eventually he had to prove he could rule before she would retire to Latakia.

The damage done by the failed Second Crusade led to the rise of the emir Saladin and the fall of the city of Jerusalem to him twenty years after Melisende’s death. But the coastal cities remained in the hands of the Franks. The last foothold, Acre, survived until 1291.

The histories of the Latin States have too often ignored the contribution made by women, and also the effects of the constant warfare on the diverse population of the region. A new look at the variety of peoples and the interactions among them, male and female, will not only revise our image of the Crusades but bring about a better understanding of conflicts in the Near East today.


Off California…

Sinking of the SS Montebello by George H. Cooper.

Japanese 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein had come up with a further innovative use for submarines that had already been employed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The seven submarines of 1st Submarine Squadron were given a new task, and were to bring the war in the Pacific to America’s doorstep. Joined by the I-10 and I-26 from the original Pearl Harbor Reconnaissance Unit, Vice-Admiral Shimizu ordered the nine submarines to pursue the enemy eastwards and to patrol off the American west coast. The American public and military were already jittery following the audacious Japanese aerial and submarine attack on Hawaii, and rumours abounded of the likely next move by the Japanese towards the mainland of the United States. Perhaps an enemy landing on the lightly defended Pacific coasts of California or Oregon was a distinct possibility? The Japanese knew of American invasion fears and the redeployment of Japanese submarines close to these very coasts would hopefully have an adverse effect on civilian morale far outweighing any strategic or military impact they would have been able to make with the limited resources placed at their disposal.

Each of the eventual eight Japanese submarines that moved into position was ordered to interdict American coastal shipping by lying off the major shipping lanes, such as those located off Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rear-Admiral Sato, commander of 1st Submarine Squadron, was aboard his flagship, the I-9, directing operations at sea. It was expected that each skipper would make each of his seventeen torpedoes tell, and 6th Fleet had ordered them to only expend one torpedo per enemy ship. The submarine captains had also been ordered to expend all of the ammunition for their submarine’s 140mm deck-gun before returning to base. This would be achieved by supplementing the limited supply of torpedoes carried onboard by blasting merchant ships to pieces with the submarine’s artillery piece, and then turning the gun on vulnerable American coastal installations. It was a plan intended to spread fear and panic along the huge Pacific Ocean coast of the United States, a plan to set the inshore waters and shoreline ablaze.

The I-17 was a Type-B1 Japanese fleet submarine skippered by Lieutenant-Commander Kozo Nishino, an example of the most common and numerous class of submarine employed by Japan during the Second World War. Between 1940 and 1943 twenty were constructed, earlier examples such as the I-17 being equipped with the ingenious Yokosuka E14Y1 floatplane used for reconnaissance. A watertight hanger was fitted aft of the conning tower, the aircraft being launched by means of a catapult and ramp built into the submarine’s deck. Each B1 submarine was 356.5 feet long with a top speed on the surface of 23.5 knots, or 8 knots submerged and running on electric motors. Prior to the introduction of nuclear-powered submarines in the 1950s the vessels that fought in the Second World War were essentially submersibles rather than true submarines. Japanese, German, British and American submarines, and the submarines of every nation able to maintain undersea fleets, were all limited by their central power sources. Submarines at this stage were powered by diesel engines while they were at the surface, making them relatively fast and ideal platforms to launch anti-commerce and anti-warship attacks from, especially when cloaked by the cover of darkness. The power of large Japanese diesels fitted to many types of their submarines produced enough speed to allow the vessels to keep pace with the surface battle fleet – which remained a primary consideration of Japanese submarine designers throughout the Second World War. If forced below the surface of the water, or if attempting a submerged attack, the submarine was powered by electric motors running off cumbersome and space consuming batteries. The submarine immediately lost its speed and agility beneath the sea, and could only remain submerged while the air aboard remained breathable for the crew. The Japanese would not be able to match the Germans in advanced submarine design during the Second World War to overcome the twin problems of increasing underwater speed and staying semi-permanently submerged during patrols, and their submarine force would pay a heavy price as Allied anti-submarine technology developed exponentially as the war progressed. The Germans went some way to overcoming the problems of extended periods spent below the surface and running on electric motors by the incorporation of a Dutch design known as the snorkel. Basically, a submarine was fitted with a large mast that could be raised until the head was above the surface of the water, the submarine remaining submerged. Air would be sucked into the snorkel head, allowing the diesel engines to be run while the submarine was submerged, and the boat aired, theoretically enabling a German U-boat to conduct its patrol entirely submerged and therefore rendering it less vulnerable to Allied attacks. Fitted to most late-war German U-boats the snorkel often malfunctioned due to poor construction or components, and if waves splashed over the snorkel head the diesel engines would suck air from inside the U-boat, causing the crew great discomfort, especially to their ears and occasionally causing unconsciousness. Allied warships could also locate the snorkel head in the same way as a periscope mast, and the submarine would be attacked. Most Japanese submarines were not fitted with this technology, even though the Germans gave the Japanese detailed plans of the apparatus as part of ongoing German-Japanese trade and military technology exchanges between 1942 and 1945.

If a Type-B1 submarine was run at full speed on the surface the skipper would have rapidly used up his available diesel fuel, severely curtailing the boats operational potential, so a top speed was simply the boats potential power. Rather, a sensible skipper would be able to take his B1 on a round-trip patrol of approximately 14,000 nautical miles at a conservative 16 knots without requiring a single refuelling pit stop. This would make the Bl submarine the ideal platform with which to sail across the Northern Pacific to the west coast of the United States, and bring the war to America’s doorstep. Added to the potency of the B1’s great range was a 140mm deck-gun designed to assist a skipper in sinking ships. The deck-gun fired armour piercing anti-ship ammunition, designed to penetrate the steel hulls of ships and explode within. Pump a sufficient quantity of these cheap shells into a merchant ship and the result was a foregone conclusion, and just as effective as a torpedo. It was a more economical option than expending one of the seventeen torpedoes carried aboard the B1 through one of the boat’s six torpedo tubes. Ninety-four officers and men crewed the Bl, including two pilots and two observers to man the Yokosuka floatplane (one pilot and observer acting as a reserve crew).

Although the Bl was not the biggest submarine type employed by the Imperial Navy, the Japanese nonetheless cornered the market in producing large submarines during the Second World War. The Bl was bigger, better armed, quicker and with a greater range than the closest comparable German U-boat type. For example, the Type IXC U-boat had given the Germans the ability to take the war to the east coasts of the United States, Canada and all around South Africa by 1942 and could motor an impressive 11,000 nautical miles at 12 knots before requiring refuelling. However, the Type IXC, at 252 feet long, was nearly 100 feet shorter than the Japanese Bl, and was armed with fourteen torpedoes and a 105mm deck-gun and anti-aircraft weapons. Importantly, although German U-boats were smaller, had a shorter range and carried less munitions than their Japanese counterparts, they were quicker to submerge and were progressively equipped with superior technology such as radar detectors and snorkels that increased their survivability. The fundamental difference between a Japanese submarine and a German U-boat was not so much the technical specifications and technologies utilized in creating them, but the method in which they were employed. The Japanese viewed submarines as essentially fleet reconnaissance vessels to replace cruisers in that role, whereas the Germans saw submarines as the tool with which to sink millions of tons of enemy merchant shipping in order to reduce the industrial/military output of their opponents, and create hardship on the enemy home front.

Nishino aboard the I-17 was proceeding on the surface in the pre-dawn darkness fifteen miles off Cape Mendocino, California on 18 December 1941, lookouts armed with powerful binoculars patiently scanning the barely discernable horizon on all points of the compass, and studying the sky in case of air attack. They were quiet, speaking only briefly in hushed tones, using their ears as well as their eyes to search out engine noises above the rhythmic reverberations of the I-17’s twin diesels as they lazily pushed them through the dark Pacific waters. The eerie red glow of low night lighting crept up the conning tower ladder from the control room below, etching the faces of the Japanese submariners into fixed masks of concentration and anticipation. Suddenly, as the first glow of dawn began to rise on the eastern horizon a lookout let out a guttural exclamation. His arm shot out in the direction of the approaching ship, a compass bearing relayed to the helmsman below, as Nishino ordered his vessel closed up and made ready for action. In normal circumstances a submarine captain would attack his intended target with a spread of torpedoes, a staggered shot that would fan out to intercept the intended target(s) after calculations of the speed and direction of the prey had been computed into the attack plot. Nishino was under strict orders to only expend a single torpedo per enemy ship, which did not give him much latitude for attack, and meant that the Japanese submarine would have to move up very close to the target ship to be sure of not wasting the valuable mechanical fish. Nishino decided that the best method of attack as the merchant ship hove into view was the employment of the deck-gun for the time being. If he could inflict sufficient damage to the freighter with his gun, enough to stop her, he could then decide whether to finish her off with more armour-piercing shells or close in for a single torpedo strike against a static target. The I-17, however, was rolling heavily in the swell as crewmen busily prepared the deck-gun for immediate action, manhandling shells from the gun’s ready locker, ramming home a round with a solid thump as the breech was closed and the gun commander awaited the signal from the bridge to open fire.

The ship in the gunners’ sights was the American freighter Samoa under the command of Captain Nels Sinnes, who was about to be abruptly awoken by the report of a submarine close by. The Samoa had already sustained damage, but not from enemy action. She had been caught by a heavy storm which had washed away one of the ship’s lifeboats. The Samoa also had a noticeable list to port, as the engineers had been shifting water in the ballast tanks following the battering from the ocean. The pronounced list, and the remnants of the wooden lifeboat hanging from its launching davits, would be providential in saving the ship from the attentions of the I-1 7 in the minutes that followed.

Captain Sinnes quickly dressed and, grasping a life jacket, ordered his crew to muster at their lifeboat stations. The sailors frantically stripped the covers from the open boats and began swinging them out on their davits ready to launch when the Japanese opened fire. Five times the I-17’s deck-gun barked, its flat high velocity report sounding out across the empty sea, the armour-piercing shells tearing towards the defenceless Samoa. Four missed to fountain in the choppy ocean, the Japanese gunners pitching hot, steaming shell cases overboard as others fetched fresh shells from the ready locker. The fifth shell exploded above the Samoa with an ear-splitting crack, white-hot shrapnel pummelling the deck. The Japanese submarine was rolling erratically on the disturbed sea, making it difficult for the gunners to accurately target the American ship, and they were reduced to flinging shells in the general direction of the enemy vessel and hoping for a lucky strike. Commander Nishino quickly tired of this pointless shooting and ordered a surfaced torpedo attack, the fish leaving the I-17’s bow with a hiss of compressed air and a trail of bubbles, quickly crossing the barely seventy yards that separated hunter and prey. In the early dawn light it appeared to the crews of both vessels to be a foregone conclusion.

Incredibly, as the crew of the Samoa braced for impact and a thunderous explosion, nothing happened. The torpedo passed clean underneath the merchant ship. The blind torpedo cruised on a short distance and then erupted in a massive tumult of water, smoke, fire and flying shrapnel. Fragments of the torpedo thumped harmlessly onto the Samoa’s deck, the I-17 a low black shape that drifted ominously closer to the American ship. Officers aboard the submarine attempted to assess the damage the torpedo, which they erroneously assumed had struck the Samoa, had caused. Now perhaps no more than forty feet from the side of the merchant ship, the early morning gloom frustrated their efforts. Still the I-17 closed with the Samoa, coming to within fifteen feet of the hull. Someone aboard the I-17, according to the Americans, yelled out in English ‘Hi ya!’ Captain Sinnes yelling back ‘What do you want of us?’ when he already knew the answer. From his position alongside the Samoa Nishino observed the vessel’s heavy port list and assumed she was doomed. The I-17 slowly pulled away and disappeared. Nishino instructed his radio operator to report a successful kill to the I-15, coordinating submarine operations from her position off San Francisco.

The Samoa arrived safely in San Diego on 20 December after her close encounter, saved by storm damage and the poor early dawn light. On the same day Nishino redirected his submarine to its original position off Cape Mendocino, some twenty miles from the American coast. The crew of the I-17 awaited another target of opportunity, buoyed up by their apparent first successful sinking of an enemy vessel of the mission. The day wore on with no sightings of American merchant ships, until, bathed by early afternoon winter sunshine, the lookouts were once more laboriously scanning the horizon and biding their time. Nishino made no attempt to disguise his presence so close to the coast, believing he had little to fear from American naval or air forces still reeling from the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor fourteen days previously. Just after 1.30 p.m. the sight of the oil tanker Emidio heading towards San Francisco rewarded Nishino’s patience. The Emidio was only carrying ballast, returning empty from Seattle’s Socony-Vacuum Oil Company facility.

Captain Clark Farrow reacted as swiftly as he could to the report of a submarine gaining on his ship. Nishino aboard the I-17 ordered full power, the big diesels churning confidently ahead, the submarine making fully 20 knots, her exhausts trailing blue clouds of fumes into the clear Pacific air. Captain Farrow lightened his ship, dumping ballast that made the Emidio steady in the water but painfully slow, frantically ringing ‘full speed ahead’ on the engine room telegraph. The I-17 cut through the water, closing rapidly on the Emidio’s stern, crew racing to man the deck-gun as Nishino manoeuvred his boat for the attack. It was imperative that the American ship be prevented from radioing for assistance, and therefore reporting Nishino’s position to United States forces. Captain Farrow was already a step ahead of Nishino, however, as he had ordered his radio operator to send the following short Morse message: ‘SOS, SOS: Under attack by enemy sub.’

Nishino ordered the gun crew into action, the first shell exploding close to the Emidio’s radio antenna, blowing the fragile communication mast into useless scrap. In rapid succession the submarine’s gun banged twice more, the shells screaming across the ocean into the defenceless Emidio, a lifeboat exploding into smouldering matchwood. Ashore, the US Army Air Corps were already scrambling a pair of medium bombers following the receipt of the Emidio’s distress signal and position, in the hope of destroying the Japanese submarine. Captain Farrow realized his ship was doomed, as the bombers would take some time to arrive, and he ordered the engines stopped. Meanwhile, the plucky radio operator had managed to restore communications with the shore by erecting a makeshift antenna. A white flag was hastily run up a mast and the tanker gradually slowed. The crew worked feverishly to swing out the remaining lifeboats while under constant shellfire from the I-17, Nishino ignoring the white flag and refusing to give the merchant seamen time to depart in the boats. It was not long before another shell found its mark, blowing three unfortunate crewmen into the water as it ploughed into their lifeboat. Twenty-nine crewmen were crowded aboard the lifeboats and pulled hard on the oars in an attempt to get clear of the Emidio, while four men, including the resourceful radio operator, remained aboard the ship, perhaps from a refusal to give up the vessel, or out of ignorance of the order to abandon ship issued by the captain.

On board the I-17 lookouts had reported two black dots approaching from the mainland, which could only mean aircraft. Nishino ordered the bridge cleared, the submariners hastily clattering down into the pressure hull, securing the hatches as the submarine blew its tanks and slid beneath the waves in a swirl of white water. The Emidio’s remaining crewmen now turned their eyes skyward as the American bombers roared in low over the stricken merchantman. The two aircraft circled the spot where the I-17 had a moment before submerged, eventually releasing a single depth charge. The I-17 lurched violently as the depth charge detonated, but it was not close enough to cause the submarine any damage. Perhaps realizing that the American aircraft lacked the wherewithal and experience to launch a more devastating and coordinated anti-submarine attack Nishino did the opposite of most submarine skippers in his position. Ordering the I-17 to periscope depth Nishino swiftly relocated the fully stopped Emidio. Orders were issued to partially surface the boat, and a torpedo was launched at the stationary American ship 200 yards distant. The torpedo ran true, impacting in the Emidio’s stern and detonating inside the ship with a massive blast of fire, smoke and debris. The Emidio lurched over as the engine room rapidly filled with freezing seawater. The torpedo claimed two of the four crewmen who had not vacated the ship earlier, and a third was injured. The radio operator, topside in his shack, frantically transmitted ‘Torpedoed in the stern’ before throwing himself clear of the ship into the sea. The surviving engineer, though wounded, also managed to struggle clear of the Emidio, and along with the radio operator he was plucked to safety by the small flotilla of lifeboats standing off the tanker.

The I-17 slipped once more beneath the waves as the two American bombers roared in to resume their ineffectual attack. Another depth charge plummeted into the sea and detonated in a giant plume of white water, concentric circles created by the sonic force of the explosion pushing out from the epicentre. The I-17 escaped damage once more and motored quietly away from the scene, sure again of a confirmed kill.

The Emidio, though grievously wounded and abandoned by her crew, drifted off with the current. Lost for several days from human eyes, this Second World War Mary Celeste eventually ground up against jagged rocks opposite Crescent City, California, over eighty miles from her encounter with the I-17. As for her crew, their ordeal was to be sixteen hours in open boats and battling through an unsettling rainstorm before rescue by the US Coast Guard lightship Shawnee located off Humboldt Bay.

The I-23, another Type-B1 Japanese submarine with orders to sink unescorted American merchant ships, was active at the same time as the I-17 was attempting to sink the tanker Emidio. Constructed at the Yokosuka Navy Yard, the I-23 had entered service in September 1941. She was just in time to play a crucial part in ‘Operation Z’, the submarine contribution to the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor. On 13 December the I-23 began her relocation from the waters off Hawaii for the west coast of the United States.

On 20 December the I-23 was approximately twenty miles off Monterey Bay, California, and with a target in sight. The American tanker Agwiworld, a 6,771-tonner belonging to the Richmond Oil Company was the Japanese target. Like a fighter pilot swooping down on a hapless rookie opponent, Lieutenant-Commander Shibata approached the oblivious Agwiworld with the early afternoon sun behind his boat, a classic attack from out of the sun. Coupled with a heavy swell the big Japanese submarine’s approach behind the tanker was unobserved. The first the Agwiworld and her captain, Frederick Goncalves, knew of the presence of the Japanese submarine was the thump of the impact and explosion of a 140mm armour-piercing shell in the ship’s stern. The I-23 moved into a firing position to enable her deck-gunners to blast the tanker to scrap. However, due to the rough conditions, the Japanese sailors experienced difficulties loading and aiming the deck-gun. The I-23’s deck was awash as the boat rolled and pitched in the swell. Captain Goncalves did everything he could to make the Agwiworld as difficult a target as possible to hit, zigzagging through the whistling shells, probably eight or nine of them, before the I-23 was seen to submerge. Commander Shibata had clearly lost interest in his prey. The heavy seas and the fact that in order to achieve a good attacking position he would have had to have driven the I-23 harder would have risked the lives of his gunners, who could have been swept overboard. A further factor which precluded a more determined assault on the tanker originated in the submarine’s own radio room. The operator alerted his captain to the fact that the enemy ship had reported the Japanese submarine’s attack to the US Navy, and assistance in the form of anti-submarine assets were undoubtedly on their way.

Shibata and the crew of the I-23 were frustrated as they departed from the scene of their first attack on an American ship to search out further prey. Some time later Shibata encountered the 2,119-ton American merchant ship Dorothy Phillips. Employing an identical method of attack as that used against the Agwiworld, gunners again pumped high velocity armour piercing rounds into the hapless steamer. Although the I-23 successfully disabled the Dorothy Phillips’s steering by wrecking the ship’s rudder with a shell strike, a torpedo attack was not pressed home, presumably because the sea conditions were still unfavourable. Nevertheless, the Dorothy Phillips eventually ran aground so Shibata had scored a victory of sorts.

Lieutenant-Commander Kanji Matsumura was an experienced submarine skipper, having previously commanded the RO-65, RO-66 and RO-61 before commissioning the I-21 into service on 15 July 1941. As with the other boats assigned to operations along the United States west coast, the I-21 was formerly part of the submarine task group that made up an element of ‘Operation Z’. On 9 December the submarine I-6 had reported a Lexington-class aircraft carrier and two cruisers heading north-east. The Japanese were well aware that although they had scored a notable victory against the US Pacific Fleet’s battleship squadron they had failed to sink or damage a single American aircraft carrier. It was imperative that American carriers be sunk or damaged wherever found for the Japanese themselves had already demonstrated the power of naval aviation in this new conflict, and the days of the big-gun battleship appeared to be numbered. Vice-Admiral Shimizu at 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein, on receiving the intelligence report from the I-6, immediately ordered all submarines not involved with the launching of the midget submarines during the Pearl Harbor operation, known as the Special Attack Force, to proceed at flank speed and sink the American carrier. The I-21 was included in Shimizu’s force sent to intercept the vessel later identified as the USS Enterprise, but her progress was hampered by problems with the submarine’s diesel engines and electrics. Carrier-based Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft spotted the I-21 on the surface on a number of occasions, necessitating Matsumura to crash-dive. Matsumura became increasingly fed up with constantly being forced beneath the waves by patrolling American aircraft. He decided upon a bold course of action – to remain surfaced and take on the enemy aircraft with his anti-aircraft armament. Motoring on the surface at 1 p.m. on the afternoon of 13 December a lone Dauntless attacked the submarine from the port side, but the accuracy of the Japanese anti-aircraft barrage caused the pilot to abort his attack run and go around for a second attempt. Diving towards the port side of the submarine again the American aircraft released a single bomb which slammed into the sea close to the I-21, but which failed to detonate.

Following the unsuccessful operation to intercept and sink the Enterprise and her escorts, on 14 December Matsumura and the I-21 were assigned a new patrol area off Point Arguello in California, a promontory of land fifty-five miles north of Santa Barbara. Motoring just below the surface close to the shore on the morning of 22 December, Commander Matsumura spotted the H. M. Story, a Standard Oil Company tanker, as he scanned the horizon at periscope depth. For two days the I-21 had waited in this position, only coming to the surface at night to recharge the submarine’s batteries and air the boat. Lookouts aboard the H. M. Story never spied the periscope mast cutting through the waves, as the instrument’s blank gaze determined the American ship’s speed and course. Matsumura now seized his opportunity and ordered the I-21 to surface. The bulky submarine rose majestically to the surface, ballast tanks blowing noisily and hatches clanking metallically as officers and men manned the conning tower bridge and the deck-gun, the air thick with bellowed commands. As Matsumura and his officers fixed the H. M. Story in their binoculars the submarine’s deck-gun blazed into life.

Witnesses ashore said they saw a torpedo running in the sea, as the I-21 was between the H. M. Story and the quiet beach at Point Arguello. The tanker was approximately three miles from the shoreline. What had first attracted the witnesses’ attention was the report of the submarine’s deck-gun, but the gunners view of the target was quickly obscured by thick black smoke emitted from the H. M. Story as the vessel attempted to avoid destruction. What was believed to have been a torpedo was observed rapidly exiting the smoke screen as the H. M. Story went full ahead. The Japanese Long Lance torpedo shot through the water towards the tanker, occasionally coming to the surface, slapping white spray off the tops of the waves as it did so. Matsumura was once more unsuccessful as the torpedo passed in front of the tanker. This indicates again the limiting effect of the order issued to submarine commanders to only expend one torpedo per merchant ship. If the German method of firing a spread of two or three torpedoes had been employed the H. M. Story, and probably many other merchant ships throughout the region, would have almost certainly been struck. The use of the deck-gun to attempt to wreck a merchant ship’s communications equipment, as well as hasten the ship’s sinking, was also proving to be a suspect attack method. The H. M. Story was able to radio for assistance, and shore-based US Army Air Corps bombers quickly arrived on the scene. These aircraft dropped several bombs in an attempt to destroy the now submerged I-21, but without effect. More importantly, however, was the fact that Matsumura had intercepted and failed to sink two American tankers, on each occasion being forced to give up the hunt and slink off frustrated to attempt to locate some other target.

North of Point Arguello along the coast is the little town of Cayucas, and by the early morning of 23 December the I-21 was sitting quietly on the surface off the settlement, all eyes scanning the horizon. At 3 a.m. lookouts spotted the Larry Doheny, a twenty-year old empty Richmond Oil Company tanker skippered by Captain Roy Brieland. The Larry Doheny was six miles off Cayucas when Matsumura attempted once again to disable a ship with his deck-gun. The first shot roused the crew aboard the Larry Doheny, Captain Brieland frantically ordering the helmsman to deviate from his course and begin zigzagging in a desperate attempt to throw the Japanese gunners off target. In fact, Brieland’s evasive manoeuvres had almost succeeded in stalling Matsumura’s attack, for the Japanese skipper, after two shots had missed from his deck-gun, was about to issue the order to curtail the attack. The I-21 was hampered by both darkness and by Brieland’s violent evasive manoeuvring of his ship. However, at the last moment a lookout reported the enemy ship to be less than 200 yards from the submarine, and, importantly, exposing her port side. Matsumura ordered an immediate torpedo attack, the Long Lance quickly crossing the water between the two vessels. However, luck was on Brieland’s side, for as the Larry Doheny made another turn the Japanese torpedo sailed past the tanker and exploded some way off, the massive detonation clearly audible to the citizens of Cayucas already woken by the firing of the submarine’s deck-gun. With the expending of a torpedo Matsumura followed his standing orders and broke off the attack. The Larry Doheny had survived, but was, ironically, to come to grief at the hands of another Japanese submarine the following year, also off the west coast.

At 3 a.m. that same morning the 8,272-ton Union Oil Company tanker Montebello pulled away from the dockside at Port San Luis, California. She was bound for the Canadian port of Vancouver in British Columbia with a mixed cargo of oil and petrol. The bulk of her cargo, however, consisted of 4.1 million gallons of heavy crude oil loaded into ten separate storage tanks. Her captain, Olaf Eckstrom, placed her on course, not realizing that his route would bring his ship into the sights of the I-21 less than two hours later. He, and other merchant skippers, had received no warnings from the US Navy or the Coast Guard regarding prowling Japanese submarines that had already made several attacks on coastal shipping.

Commander Matsumura must have felt a dull rage at his failure to sink two defenceless American ships, both of which should have been easy kills for the big I-21. As the I-21 motored further north the search resumed once more for targets of opportunity, and that elusive first successful kill of the mission. At 5.30 a.m. Captain Eckstrom aboard the Montebello was informed that what appeared to be a submarine was stalking his vessel. Eckstrom went immediately to investigate and there was no mistaking the size and outline of a big submarine closing on the ship’s stern. Eckstrom followed the only anti-submarine direction at his disposal and ordered the helmsman to begin zigzagging in the hope of throwing the submarine’s aim off target, the same manoeuvre that had saved the Larry Doheny from destruction. After ten minutes Eckstrom realized that the manoeuvre was a futile gesture. The I-21 was closer than ever, and a Long Lance exited the submarine when the Montebello was broadside to her. With a blinding flash and a tremendous explosion the torpedo impacted amidships, the Montebello shuddering perceptively as the tanker slowed. It seemed clear to the crew aboard that the Montebello had been struck a fatal blow from which the only recourse was to abandon ship in the four wooden lifeboats available. Incredibly, through sheer good luck, the Japanese torpedo had struck the only compartment that was empty of oil or petrol. Had it struck elsewhere it is doubtful if more than a handful of the thirty-six men aboard would have survived the resultant inferno. What many crewmen remembered most was the courage under fire displayed by their Scandinavian skipper. And Eckstrom had only been promoted to captain one hour before the Montebello had departed port, when he was serving as first mate and the original captain had suddenly resigned. Eckstrom was ‘as cool as a snowdrift’ recalled the new first mate as he stood on the deck and ordered his crew to their lifeboats, and then gave the order to abandon ship. For his part, Eckstrom was not entirely convinced the Montebello was done for, and ordered the lifeboats to be rowed a distance from the vessel, and told the crew to sit on their oars and wait. Hopefully the Japanese submarine would depart, and perhaps the Montebello could be re-boarded if she was not discovered to be foundering. Commander Matsumura, however, had darker ideas concerning the fate of the American crew.

Even as the crew was taking to the lifeboats the Japanese opened fire on the Montebello with their deck-gun, firing approximately ten rounds at the listing vessel as the crew began to lower themselves over the side in their boats. Clearly, to Matsumura’s mind, the crew was expendable as the object of the attack was to make sure the Montebello went to the bottom. This kind of coldblooded assault was characteristic of Japanese naval operations throughout the Second World War, and was repeated on countless occasions. It is in direct contrast to the behaviour of German U-boat crews, who very often gave merchant seamen time to abandon their ship before finishing off a vessel with a torpedo or the deck-gun. Eckstrom and his crew rowed a distance from the Montebello, by another stroke of good fortune suffering no injuries from flying shrapnel as round after round hammered into the stricken tanker, and within forty-five minutes the Montebello had slid beneath the waves. Eckstrom now ordered his crew to begin pulling for the shore. They were some four miles from the Piedras Biancas lighthouse.

Matsumura had achieved the first kill of his mission to the United States west coast, but what followed was an attempt to murder the American sailors in their lifeboats. Machine guns were brought up into the conning tower of the submarine and fire was poured forth on the helpless lifeboats pulling hard for the coast. It was only poor visibility that saved the crew of the Montebello from murder at the hands of the Japanese, and Matsumura eventually ordered the submarine to leave the vicinity of the attack. Machine-gun bullets had struck lifeboats, though fortunately the crewmen sheltering inside them had not been injured. Although the malevolent Japanese submarine had departed, the hapless crew of the Montebello faced a new battle for survival in attempting to row lifeboats holed by machine-gun rounds to the shore through a heavy sea. Men took turns pulling on the oars or bailing water from their boats until, utterly exhausted, around noon they washed up on the beach opposite the town of Cambria.

Why the Japanese were intent on murdering the civilian crewmen of a vessel they had successfully sunk has an explanation. It was official policy even though it violated laws to which the Japanese were themselves signatories. According to Lord Russell of Liverpool’s seminal work The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes when Japan had signed the 1922 London Naval Treaty, Article 22 of that agreement provided that submarine actions must conform to International Law, and that ‘except in the case of persistent refusal to stop on being duly summoned, or of active resistance to visit and search, warships, whether surface vessel or submarine may not sink or render incapable of navigation a merchant vessel without having first placed passengers, crew and ship’s papers in a place of safety’. A ‘place of safety’ in the case of the Montebello was the ship’s lifeboats. The Japanese had allowed the 1922 Treaty to expire on 31 December 1936, but Article 22 remained binding on all signatories, ‘by virtue of Article 23, which laid down in Part IV of the expiring Treaty relating to submarines should remain in force without time limit’. So even though Japan considered the treaty expired, the section concerning submarine action remained in force forever, because it accorded with basic International Law. Further to this, Lord Russell also points out that Japan had signed a further Protocol in London on 6 November 1936 with the United States, Great Britain (including the Dominions and Empire), France and Italy, which incorporated verbatim the very provisions of Part IV of the 1922 Treaty relating to the conduct of submarines in war. Interestingly, Commander Matsumura’s actions regarding the crew of the Montebello actually predated the accepted change in Japanese government and naval policy towards merchant ship crews. His actions, however, certainly conform to the de facto attitude of the Imperial Navy to non-combatants. It was only following talks between Lieutenant-General Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese Ambassador to Germany, and Adolf Hitler in Berlin on 3 January 1942, a little under a month after the entry of the United States into the war, that Hitler suggested murdering surviving merchant ship crewmen. Although the German Navy flatly refused to entertain such a notion, Oshima was apparently sufficiently impressed by Hitler’s argument that depriving the Americans of trained crewmen would undermine their massive shipbuilding capacity that he reported to the Japanese government that such a measure should be adopted. It duly was, in flagrant violation of the laws outlined above, on 20 March 1943, when submarine skippers were ordered to exterminate all survivors from sunken ships, and Imperial forces faithfully carried out this order. Matsumura’s actions certainly predate the official order, but it is clear that either he was unaware of International Law and the agreements his country had signed regarding the correct behaviour of submarine skippers (which seems unlikely owing to his rank and experience), or that Matsumura and his contemporaries had been given tacit approval for such measures to be taken against helpless survivors. Subordinate Japanese military officers were not generally known for thinking for themselves, and following orders to the letter regardless of cost was very much the rule (one torpedo per merchant ship for example). It appears unlikely that Matsumura decided to murder some three dozen unarmed and defenceless sailors on a whim, or out of revenge for his earlier humiliation at failing to sink the H. M. Story and the Larry Doheny. There was a certain cold, calculated method in Matsumura’s actions that could only have been sanctioned by a higher authority than he.

The consequences of Matsumura’s sinking of the Montebello are still felt today. In 1996 the wreck of the tanker was located in 900 feet of water, sitting upright on the seabed adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A preliminary investigation of the wreck by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) revealed that the Japanese torpedo had ruptured only two out of the Montebello’s ten oil storage tanks. The remaining eight tanks were still watertight, and full of millions of gallons of crude oil. As the wreck naturally deteriorates over time eventually that oil will be released into the surrounding ocean, which poses an alarming ecological issue for the nearby marine sanctuary. Salvaging the wreck has not been seriously considered due to the costs involved, so scientists can only regularly inspect the wreck for signs of degradation. Inevitably, this ghost of the Second World War sits rusting away, a potential ecological time bomb waiting to go off.

Operation ‘PX’

Japan’s submarine construction programme eventually produced the single most extraordinary class of boats conceived by any of the combatant navies of the Second World War. The I-400-class submarines were created in order to take Fujita’s original plan to attack the United States on home ground to a devastating conclusion. Fujita’s plan was dusted off, read again and evaluated, and the problems of the September 1942 missions over the forests of Oregon analysed. Solutions were sought to make any future attacks a success.

As early as April 1942 the Imperial Navy had decided to order the construction of a class of submarine that would dwarf previous Japanese creations in order to provide a far-reaching strike capacity. The problems with Fujita’s original concept were obvious and based around the equipment the Japanese had utilized when making the attacks. The Yokosuka E14Y1 floatplane was not a dedicated bomber, but a reconnaissance plane that could be used as a bomber, capable of carrying a tiny munitions payload. The bomb load was pathetically small, and getting the aircraft in range of a ground target was largely a waste of naval resources. The aircraft was also ponderously slow, with a cruising speed of only 90 miles per hour, which although making it an ideal reconnaissance platform, also made it very vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters. The E14Y1 was also virtually defenceless, armed with a single rear firing 7.7mm machine gun, so if it had encountered an enemy fighter it would in all probability have been shot down with ease. The submarines that were fitted with the E14Y1, such as the I-25, were only able to store a single aircraft inside their waterproof hangar. The only conceivable way the Japanese could have mounted a sizeable raid with these little planes would have been by gathering several submarines together off the American coast, which in itself was a waste of the submarines’ own fighting potential as they waited around for the return of their aircraft, and exposed the boats to the risk of aerial and ship attacks.

The answer to all of these problems was a single submarine large enough to both reach land targets in the United States without requiring any refuelling, and able to carry more than one aircraft. The new bombers would have to be potent weapons, able to deliver a large payload of bombs, but still retaining the floatplane characteristics enabling their operation at sea from submarines. In effect, the Japanese Navy required a submarine aircraft carrier, and this is exactly what they set about designing and constructing between April 1942 and December 1944.

Each I-400-class vessel was a monster, the largest submarines built until well into the post-war nuclear age, their size only surpassed in 1962 when the Americans commissioned the USS Lafayette. Displacing 5,223-tons surfaced, each boat was 400.3 feet in length with a beam of 39.3 feet and was powered by four diesel engines and electric motors. Atop the weather deck was a 115 feet long waterproof hanger, twelve feet wide, big enough for three specially designed torpedo bombers. In front of the hangar, bolted to the immense deck stretched a pneumatic aircraft-launching catapult eighty-five feet long, and alongside this a powerful hydraulic crane for recovering the aircraft from the sea. Through the Yanagi underwater trade in weapons and new technologies conducted between Nazi Germany and the Japanese, the Imperial Navy had copied the snorkel technology fitted to late-war U-boats, and these were fitted to all four I-400-class submarines. The snorkel mast, when extended above the surface of the water as the submarine cruised at periscope depth, enabled the boat to run on its diesel engines instead of batteries, producing a greatly increased underwater speed and protection from aerial detection and attack. Hugely capacious fuel tanks on each boat meant that each of these submarine aircraft carriers was capable of cruising an astounding 35,500 nautical miles at 14 knots before the tanks ran dry, in other words giving the Japanese skipper the ability to circumnavigate the globe one and a half times. The huge range of these vessels meant that for the first time in the war the Japanese Navy had a machine capable of not only crossing the Pacific to attack the west coast of the United States, but also, in theory, of crossing into the Atlantic via Cape Horn and unleashing air strikes against New York or Washington DC, and both cities were later seriously considered by naval planners in Tokyo for attacks. The I-400-class submarines were capable of a top surface or submerged snorkel speed of 18.7 knots, or if fully submerged and running on electric motors 6.5 knots. Radar and radar detectors, though not up to the German standard, were fitted to all four boats of the class. Although submarine aircraft carriers the I-400-class boats were more than capable of fighting like any other submarine types, having eight torpedo tubes (and twenty torpedoes) and an improved 140mm 50 calibre deck-gun. Improved anti-aircraft defences increased each boat’s chances of standing off an aerial assault, with a 25mm cannon mounted on the conning tower, and three triple barrelled 25mm cannon located on top of the aircraft hangar, giving a total of ten guns. With a maximum diving depth of almost 330 feet, each boat took slightly under one minute to crash-dive.

Such superb and powerful vessels required an equally superb and capable aircraft type, and here the Japanese also excelled. Each I-400-class submarine was designed to carry a maximum of three Aichi M6A1 Seiran torpedo bombers. Seiran can be translated as ‘Storm from the sky’, and these aircraft were no ponderous reconnaissance types but sturdy birds of destruction. Still floatplanes, each monoplane measured thirty-five feet in length, with a wingspan of forty feet. Designed by Toshio Ozaki, chief engineer at Aichi, the Seiran had to conform to a series of guidelines laid down by the Imperial Navy as they sought the perfect plane for their new submarines. In late 1942 Ozaki began developing the aircraft that the navy specified must have been capable of carrying a maximum bomb load consisting of a single 1,288-lb (800kg) aerial bomb or torpedo. In the light of the desperate position Japan was in by late 1944, if a kamikaze mission was called for the floats could be detached and the fuel and bomb load increased for a one-way mission against the enemy. The navy also stipulated that the aircraft must be capable of a top speed of 294 miles per hour with floats, or 347 miles per hour with the floats detached. Under normal, non-kamikaze, operating conditions each Seiran had a range of 654 miles, which meant that the ‘mother’ submarine could sit some way off from the enemy shore when launching and recovering its air group, instead of having to come close inshore to launch and then sit vulnerably on the surface awaiting an aircraft’s return from its sortie.

The first prototype Seiran was completed in October 1943, and several others followed. The navy, however, was overjoyed with the performance of the prototype aircraft and ordered full production before testing had been completed at Aichi in early 1944. This decision was probably hastened by the deteriorating Japanese naval situation, and the necessity of getting the new submarines and aircraft into action as soon as possible. This was to prove to be no easy task as American bombing raids and even an earthquake, which completely shut down production at Aichi by March 1945, hampered production of the aircraft. In the end Aichi engineers managed to cobble together twenty-six Seiran torpedo bombers (including prototypes) and a pair of land-based trainers, the M6A1-K Nanzan. The navy no longer required a large number of Seiran aircraft as they had been forced by the weakening of Japan’s economy to scale back the number of I-400-class submarines under construction. The I-400 was ready for service on 30 December 1944, and the I-401 followed a few days later. I-402’s duties were changed from being an underwater aircraft carrier, and instead she was refitted as a submarine fuel tanker. Two other boats, I-404 and I-405 were abandoned on the slips and not completed before the Japanese surrender.

Although each I-400-class submarine’s complement was listed officially as 145 men, on operations up to 220 crewmen were carried aboard in order to make the dispatching and recovering of the aircraft as efficient an operation as possible. The Seiran aircraft were stored inside the huge hangar with their floats detached, and their wings and tails folded up. Each well-trained team of aircraft technicians and mechanics could assemble a single aircraft in around seven minutes, ready for launching. All three torpedo bombers could be assembled, fuelled and fitted with either torpedoes or aerial bombs, attached to the launching ramp and catapulted away in about forty-five minutes (close enough to the original Japanese Navy stipulation of thirty minutes). In order to maintain the air group while the submarine was at sea a special compartment was located inside the pressure hull beneath the hangar where engineers could test aircraft engines and maintain the airframes. Beside this was the aircraft magazine, containing four aerial torpedoes, fifteen bombs and ammunition for the aircraft’s cannon and machine guns.

The I-400 and I-401 were placed into a new unit alongside two modified AM-class submarines, the I-13 and I-14. Originally this type of boat had only been capable of carrying a single floatplane, but while under construction in 1944 the Japanese changed their plans and altered the configuration of the AM-class boats to take two of the new Seiran bombers. Although having a range of 21,000 nautical miles at 16 knots, the modifications meant the boats’ underwater performance suffered, making them relatively easy targets for both American aircraft and warships. Under the overall command of Captain Tatsunosuke Ariizumi, the submarines were organized as 1st Submarine Flotilla, with the aircraft and aircrew forming the new 631st Air Corps. The I-13 and I-14 would each carry two aircraft, while the I-400-class pair was loaded with full air groups of three Seiran each. The Japanese Navy now had the most potent collection of submarines yet assembled in war, and what was required now was a plan to use all of this potential against the enemy.

The Japanese Army had for years been experimenting with biological warfare at a secret research facility at Harbin in China. In 1936 the army had organized Unit 731 under Colonel Dr Shiro Ishii. The experiments had been conducted on human beings, both Chinese soldiers and civilians and American prisoners captured in the Philippines in 1942, and the results had demonstrated that various lethal bacteria and diseases could be used against civilian populaces, and delivered either by dropping infected insects or rats or delivering the bacteria in special aerial bombs. Tens of thousands died as a result of infected fleas being dropped over wide areas of the Chinese countryside. The Japanese also managed to kill around 1,700 of their own troops when the experiments backfired. At this stage of the war, with Japan clearly losing, some in the navy advocated using the ten aircraft of 1st Submarine Flotilla to drop bubonic plague, cholera, dengue fever, typhus, anthrax or a wide variety of other virulent bacterial agents on the United States in order to create widespread infection and panic among their enemies. A leading advocate of such a strategy was Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, then Vice-Chief of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo, who along with others formulated a plan codenamed Operation ‘PX’ to this end. This plan envisaged the dropping of infected fleas into the downtown area of San Francisco from Seiran aircraft, an event that would have killed thousands of Americans. However, there were those in positions of higher command who considered such a plan to be lunacy, and stated this quite emphatically at the time. A leading member of the opposition to ‘PX’ was the army’s most senior officer, General Yoshijiro Umezu. Umezu was Chief of the General Staff, and managed to quash the plan on 26 March 1945 before any move was made to carry it out.

This diabolical operation was a massive step on from Fujita’s modest bombing proposals, and even for many Japanese dropping plagues into the enemy camp was going too far. As for Unit 731, when the war ended Ishii and his group of scientists and soldiers were captured by the Americans. Instead of hauling these mass murderers before a war crimes tribunal the Americans struck a deal whereby the members of Unit 731 were granted immunity from prosecution in return for passing their germ warfare data to the Americans. The exigencies of the new Cold War with the Soviet Union meant that the United States was prepared to overlook how this data had been created in order to stay one step ahead of its enemy.

Although Operation ‘PX’ was dropped, the Imperial Navy still wanted to launch its ten Seiran aircraft against targets in America, but this time armed with conventional weapons. Various targets were placed before the naval staff, including San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, as well as the Panama Canal, ironically once Fujita’s target of choice. All things being considered, the navy eventually decided that a strike against the Panama Canal would have had the greatest effect on America’s ability to prosecute the war against Japan. The specific target that the Japanese identified as creating the most damage would have been a strike aimed at destroying the Gatun Locks. The Panama Canal is very different from its much longer cousin, the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal remains at sea level for its entire length, whereas the Panama Canal has six sets of locks to raise and lower ships along its course. Water for these locks comes from two artificial lakes, Gatun and Madden. If the lock gates could be breached Gatun Lake would empty itself, making the canal impassable for American shipping for several months and severely disrupting the American build-up in the Pacific. It was reasoned that the ten Seiran torpedo bombers would be able to breach the locks in a determined attack, and it would be the last place the Americans would expect a sudden Japanese aerial assault, so surprise might also have meant encountering little opposition at the target. It was planned that the ten Seirans would attack the Gatun Locks with six aerial torpedoes and four conventional bombs. The trip from Japan to Panama and back again would be 17,000 nautical miles, and the Japanese would require 6,400-tons of diesel fuel for the four submarines. This quantity was not available at the submarine base at Kure in Japan. Therefore, before the plan could be launched an annoying delay ensued as the I-401 was sent to Darien in China to obtain the necessary fuel and transport it back to Japan.

The I-401’s cruise across to Manchuria would take her through the. Inland Sea, where the voyage almost ended in disaster. American B-29 Superfortress bombers, as well as flattening Japanese cities in fire raids, had also been busily mining areas of the Inland Sea known to still be used by the remaining surface and submarine forces of the shattered Japanese Navy. The Americans were also, by this stage of the war, able to operate aircraft carriers off the Japanese coast with virtual impunity. On 19 March 1945 Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher led his Task Force 5811 on a devastating attack on the Kure Naval Arsenal. Over 240 American carrier planes bombed and strafed the remains of the once great Imperial Navy. As well as the huge I-400-class submarines drawn up in dry-docks, the I-13 was in the harbour and narrowly escaped damage. The Japanese battleships Yamato, Haruna, Hyuga and he were all bombed and strafed, as well as Japan’s remaining aircraft carriers Kaiyo, Amagi, Ryuho and Katsuragi.

It was onto an American aerial mine that the I-401 bumped on 12 April off Hime Shima Lighthouse in the Inland Sea, and although the damage she sustained was not terminal, the vessel had to head back to Kure for repairs. In her stead the I-400 was sent across to Darien and managed to secure the necessary fuel and transport it safely back to Japan. With the acquisition of the fuel, and the return to service of the I-401 following hasty repairs, the stage looked set for the attack on the Panama Canal. The Japanese now decided to carefully train for the proposed operation, constructing a life-size replica of the Gatun Lock gates in Toyama Bay so that the Seiran pilots could make dummy attack runs. The training period was fraught with dangers for the submarines and aircraft as the Americans had, by this stage, almost complete mastery of the air over the Home Islands and American submarines lurked close inshore sinking any remaining merchant ships with impunity. Mines dropped by B-29s littered the sea routes, and the I-401’s recent collision with one demonstrated how vulnerable Japanese submarines had become, a situation being faced at the same time by German U-boats attempting to train crews and work up their new Type XXI and XXIII electro-boats in Baltic waters, heavily mined by the RAF. Captain Ariizumi watched his squadron preparing for the forthcoming attack and he grew increasingly confident that the strike would be a success as the pilots laboured to accurately hit the mocked-up lock gates time and time again.

However bold and far-reaching a strike the Panama Canal raid would have been, it was events closer to home that diverted the Japanese High Command’s attention, and made them change the focus of the 1st Submarine Flotilla attack. Panama was a long way away in the minds of many Japanese strategists, who examined their maps with growing anxiety as they watched thousands of American and British ships congregating close to the Home Islands in preparation for the projected invasion of Japan itself. Perhaps the new submarine aircraft carriers would be better employed in attacking the enemy ship concentrations closer to Japan than crossing the Pacific to points distant? Ariizumi was astounded when he was informed that he was to abandon further training for a strike against the Panama Canal, just at the point when he believed his submarines and aircraft were ready to commence the operation, and he was directed instead to take his squadron out against the American anchorage at Ulithi Atoll. The message Ariizumi received from headquarters read: ‘A man does not worry about a fire he sees on the horizon when other flames are licking at his kimono!’ but this did little to placate the squadron commander’s anger and protestations over the change in plan. Headquarters refused to change its mind, and ordered Ariizumi to conduct an air strike against Ulithi in mid-August, necessitating a completely new plan and little time to prepare the boats or the aircrew. This was Operation Hikari, an operation that envisaged six Seirans of 631st Air Corps launching a concerted kamikaze attack on the American anchorage.

The I-13 was the first of the new submarines to proceed with the changed operation, moving to Ominato Naval Base on Honshu Island on 4 July. There she was loaded with two crated Nakajima C6N2 Ayagumo reconnaissance aircraft, the planes destined to assist the 631st Air Group pilots with finding targets at Ulithi. Once loaded aboard Commander Ohashi headed directly for the Japanese base at Truk. On 14 July the I-14 took the same route to Truk in preparation for the attack scheduled to commence on 17 August 1945.

The I-13 never made it to her destination, as she was intercepted 550 miles east of Yokosuka on the early morning of 16 July by aircraft from the carrier USS Anzio. A Grumman Avenger discovered the submarine on the surface and immediately engaged it with machine-gun fire and 5-inch rockets. The damaged I-13 crash-dived, and the Avenger pilot dropped a Fido homing torpedo in her wake, as well as several depth charges. A further two Avengers arrived at the scene and dropped another homing torpedo into the sea. Later that morning the destroyer USS Lawrence C. Taylor finished off the damaged submarine with a pattern of twenty-four 7.2-inch Hedgehog mortar bombs, killing all 140 Japanese aboard the vessel.

Commander Toshio Kusaka aboard the I-400 cruised confidently out of Ominato harbour on 23 July, followed soon after by Lieutenant-Commander Shinsei Nambu and the I-401. Both vessels were travelling on different routes for safety, but planned to rendezvous three weeks hence south-east of Ulithi. The I-14 arrived at Truk on 4 August and unloaded two crated Ayagumo reconnaissance aircraft. The waters around Ulithi were soon to be infested with Japanese submarines carrying Kaiten human torpedoes, excluding the submarine aircraft carriers, as the Imperial Navy bet everything it had on smashing the American fleet anchorage with suicide attacks.

The Japanese had modified a torpedo as a suicide weapon and aptly christened it Kaiten (returning to the heavens). Only the Type-1 one-man model fitted with a 3,000-pound warhead was used on operations, the Japanese deploying about 100 in the dying months of the war. It was not a very effective weapon as Allied warships and aircraft easily sank them. The Kaiten only managed to sink two American ships, the USS Mississenewa on 20 November 1944 and the USS Underhill on 24 July 1945. However, the Japanese continued to deploy the Kaiten until the end of the war, a large submarine carrying up to six that could be launched while the boat was submerged.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, their huge new I-400-class submarines, and the planes they carried, were in the end destined never to see action. The attack on Ulithi Atoll had been scheduled for 17 August, but as the submarines made their way into position the Japanese government capitulated following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and surrendered unconditionally on 15 August. For Captain Ariizumi the news of Japan’s defeat just as his well-trained and committed squadron was about to demonstrate their worth to the navy and the nation was shattering. The Emperor himself had addressed the nation and its armed forces and ordered them all to cease fighting, and none of the submarine captains would go against his word. Naval headquarters in Tokyo ordered all submarines to raise a black flag and return to their home ports on the surface. All that was left for Ariizumi was to empty his vessels of anything the hated Americans might like to examine when they came to take possession of his boats. All sensitive documents, code-books and signalling equipment was pitched over the side, along with ammunition for the submarines’ weapons. In a few hours of mad activity Japanese submariners set about firing off all their torpedoes, and onboard the I-401 the crew catapulted pilotless Seiran bombers off the vessels into the sea. On the I-400 the Japanese sailors punched great holes in the three Seirans floats and then pushed the aircraft overboard. On 28 August, as the three I-400-class submarines closed on Japan they were overtaken by American forces, their colours were struck, and duly replaced with the Stars and Stripes. Taken over by the US Navy, both the I-400 and the I-401 were sailed across the Pacific, ironically to the American west coast they had been designed and built to strike. There the boats were extensively tested, and along with surrendered German U-boats the technologies of their former enemies were integrated into submarine designs for the Cold War. After they had outlived their usefulness the Americans towed the vessels out into the Pacific and scuttled them in 1946. The I-402, the only other completed I-400-class submarine, never undertook a mission to transport fuel to Japan and was also scuttled by the Americans in 1946. When work ceased on the I-404 and I-405, the former submarine was ninety per cent complete. Both vessels were later scrapped where they lay. The only survivor of the I-400-class project is a single Seiran torpedo bomber, discovered by the Americans in the ruins of the Aichi factory in 1945, taken back to the United States for testing and display, and now, after a complete rebuild, displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. In a final footnote to the story, in March 2005 a deep diving submersible from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory located the wreck of the I-401 off Oahu.

In the end Fujita’s plan of 1942, to strike against the American mainland, has been recorded in the history books as a mere two feeble aircraft sorties over the great forests of Oregon. The planned Japanese operation for 1945, striking the Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal as Fujita had suggested years before, never went ahead because the Japanese decided to confront the enemy closer to home. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the evil Operation ‘PX’, the biological warfare attack aimed at the western United States, was actually shelved by the Japanese who realized it was a step too far. Would they have been so accommodating if they had known about the American atomic bombs about to be dropped on two of their cities? The war ended just in time to prevent the I-400-class pilots from sallying forth to Ulithi on what would have been one-way missions for all of them. Fujita’s plan cast a long shadow over Japanese submarine operations, but in the end, although the technology was created in time to have made his plan an infinitely more serious proposition than his actual twin attacks in September 1942, circumstances intervened and have left us instead with a series of ‘what if scenarios which the American public fortunately never had to face on their own home ground.

The Battle of Barking Creek

Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is

Such was the threat of terror from the air in Britain that even before the Wehrmacht struck against Poland on 1 September 1939 very many thousands of people were suffering the first inconveniences of war. Not only were large numbers of militiamen and reservists called to report for fulltime duty, large numbers of children and adults were evacuated from major cities considered most vulnerable to German air attack.

That such an assault was possible and indeed probable was something Britain’s leaders had convinced themselves of. Neville Chamberlain’s government were at one with opposition parties and military experts in assessing the chances of annihilating air raids that would bring a great weight of bombs on the civilian population as almost a certainty. In 1937 the Air Raid Precautions Sub-Committee of Imperial Defence reported that based on World War I experience every ton of bombs dropped would cause fifty casualties

(seventeen killed, thirty-three injured). Therefore, a total Luftwaffe offensive using gas, explosive and incendiary bombs would bring 200,000 casualties in one week, 60,000 of those fatalities. In the event, though some night raids on cities caused more casualties even than those suffered by the Germans under far greater RAF assault, overall casualty figures were lower than expected: almost 30,000 were killed in London throughout the war, for instance, 60,000 in all. Most of the great numbers of cheap coffins quietly made and stored before the war were not needed.

Nonetheless, in 1937 the government was correct to make ARP (air raid precautions) a compulsory matter, as were the Germans. Through an Act of Parliament local authorities were compelled to take action in setting up appropriate organisations to deal with air raid emergencies. How they coped is beyond the scope of this work; what is relevant is the `knock-on’ effect which resulted from the fear of air attack at the top, leading to widespread anti-raid propaganda through various effective means such as cigarette cards. And when war finally came, the nervous state of the government resulted in the immediate closing of all places of entertainment, a panic measure that brought a depressing loss of morale and was soon rescinded. In fact, Nazi propaganda – and, of course, the terrible bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion Heinkels during the Spanish Civil War – had helped to establish the air raid neurosis in British leaders, especially Winston Churchill, who felt that in certain circumstances the Germans would be unable to resist using mass air terror to cow the enemy. All of these prognostications were not upset simply because the Luftwaffe failed to show up when war was declared. The false alarm sirens of 1 September did nothing to alleviate matters; the Lord Chancellor’s declaration in December 1938 that Hitler’s air force was capable of delivering 3,000 tons of bombs in one day was still taken seriously. News of the swift subjugation of Poland and the Luftwaffe’s part in it, including the blitz on Warsaw, simply amplified such notions.

Preparations in ARP begun in 1938 included the digging of deep trenches in public parks; these were abandoned to the elements following Chamberlain’s `triumph’ at Munich which `solved’ the crisis over Czechoslovakia. As soon as the real thing came a year later the workmen were turned out again to drain the trenches and turn them into proper air raid shelters. In the armed forces, while the Royal Navy had always been seen as Britain’s first line of defence, in the modern age the comparatively new Royal Air Force protected our skies from aerial incursion, though judging by the experts’ views on probable air raid casualties the government held little faith in the RAF’s ability to hold back enemy bombers. Aiding the 750-strong fighter force were the `barrage’ balloons of a command only set up in 1938, plus a woefully inadequate Anti-Aircraft Command. Fighter Command was organised into thirty-nine front-line squadrons, with 400 planes in reserve. Of its first-line strength 347 were Hurricanes and 187 Spitfires, the rest made up of obsolete biplanes and the new twin-engined Blenheim Mk Is. Among the biplanes were seventy-six Gladiators, some of which would be called upon to combat the modern Messerschmitts of the Luftwaffe in the Norwegian campaign the following year. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding estimated that forty-six fighter squadrons would be needed to combat German air attack on Britain, but soon after war came he was obliged to despatch some of his Hurricane units to France.

The RAF’s fighter interception force relied on a system of ground control, at the heart of which lay advanced warning of attack by the new and secret radar system: eighteen Chain Home (CH) units covering the east and south coasts of Britain, from Aberdeen to Portsmouth. The Germans also had radar (radio detection and ranging), but had so far failed to develop it into a fighter control system. British radar posts, in theory, would give warning of incoming raiders up to 100 miles distant at whatever height except low level. Aiding the existing anti-aircraft lookout posts were the highly skilled volunteers of the Observer Corps. The system was much more extensive in coastal coverage than that eventually organised in World War I when the Army and police were the chief planks of defence warning, but the radar sets themselves were untried in war and crude by later standards, and of course the operators were inexperienced, Fighter pilots, too, were quite naturally inexperienced, and would take time to learn the techniques and skills necessary for defence and survival in air combat.

It was these shortcomings that led to the so-called `Battle of Barking Creek’.

Belief that fear of air attacks was justified came early. The crowded streets of central London emptied quite rapidly when, not long after Prime Minister Chamberlain’s sombre announcement of war, the eerie cadences of the air raid sirens began to howl across the capital and southern England. Thousands hurried to the nearest shelter; the few who through bravado tried to remain, gawking in the streets, were bullied away by harassed and nervous policemen. As a demonstration of how the British public would behave under threat from the air it was admirable, and when soon afterwards the single wailing note of the `All Clear’ came, the crowds emerged relieved and smiling into the Sunday morning sunshine. The cause of the alarm had been an unidentified civil plane crossing the Channel, but that night other areas along the East Anglian coast suffered more alarms as jittery defence posts made more errors. A further alarm followed the next day.

Then, soon after six a. m. on Wednesday, 6 September, the CH radar station at Canewdon near Southend-on-Sea, Essex, began recording `enemy aerial activity’ over the North Sea. It appeared that groups of up to twenty German aircraft were heading in towards the Thames estuary. Fifteen minutes were needed to confirm that no RAF planes were in that area, so the plots were accordingly marked as `hostile’ and the air-raid sirens began to wail in the zones to be affected. It looked as if the first, expected, mass enemy air attack was becoming a reality.

Then, AA units on the Essex coast reported aircraft near West Mersea, and the whole British defensive system swung into action. The 11 Group sector controller, Group Captain Lucking, alerted the Hurricanes at North Weald to scramble a flight of fighters to investigate, put the adjacent 12 Group on alert and advised the Observer Corps of his actions. Contrary to orders, the station commander at North Weald promptly ordered his entire fighter strength into the air; twelve serviceable Hurricanes of 56 and 151 Squadrons scrambled, soon followed by two more excited pilots who flew after the main formation but trailed behind one thousand feet lower. It would be this luckless pair who suffered as the episode took on fiasco proportions.

The Hurricanes began patrolling the line Harwich-Colchester, the eyes of every pilot straining to catch a glimpse of the enemy they fully expected to see at any moment. In the meantime, at 06.45 hrs twelve Spitfires were scrambled from 54, 65 and 74 Squadrons based at Hornchurch and flew east to intercept the `enemy’ raiders. As they reached the mouth of the Thames they spotted their `prey’ and the cry `Tally-ho!’ was given by 74 Squadron pilots, who at once went into the attack. The future Air Commodore Donaldson, then the leader of 151 Squadron, watched in disbelief and then horror as immediately after he called `Bandits!’ and ordered his pilots to await verification, he realised the `enemy’ coming at them were Spitfires. Two of the latter, flown by Flying Officer Byrne and Pilot Officer Freeborn, attacked some of the Hurricanes, this despite having the rising sun in their faces which had prevented positive identification. Pilot Officer Hulton-Harrop was struck in the head by a bullet and died; his Hurricane went down in a gentle glide, over Essex and into Suffolk, to crash on Manor Farm, Hintlesham. Had his fighter been fitted with head armour it is most likely he would have escaped injury. His fellow airman, Pilot Officer Rose, escaped injury, but was forced to land at Whetstead in Essex.

More confusion occurred when AA gunners opened fire on 65 Squadron Spitfires off the coast, this despite the pilots flashing the correct recognition signal in Morse. In the subsequent inquiry, it was found that the ground gunners were young, unable to read Morse, and woefully ignorant in aircraft recognition. Indeed, the Observer Corps personnel were far from being up to standard themselves. During the episode, these watchers had received reports from the radar post of incoming enemy planes, but had been unable to see or hear any at all.

Group Captain Lucking was relieved of his command the same day and taken under close arrest to Air Vice Marshal Keith Park’s HQ. The offending Spitfire pilots were also placed under arrest, while Pilot Officer Rose flew to Hornchurch the same day to give evidence.

Reports that twin-engined Blenheims had been responsible in the first instance for this episode, a story published long after the war by one eminent researcher, seem to be untrue. As for the radar crew at Canewdon, their records, if any, have long since vanished. In his history of Hornchurch fighter base, Raiders Approach!, Squadron Leader Sutton OBE commented that it was `unsurprising’ Spitfire pilots and AA gunners should have been so trigger-happy in the first days of the war, when it seemed `inconceivable’ that Hitler would refrain from launching mass air attacks on Britain. Fighter pilots were by nature aggressive and quick off the mark, but Sutton states it was AA bursts around Hurricanes which alerted the Spits and brought about the attack. The early usage of ground-to-air radar at Canewdon had resulted in a fluke: echoes from the west were somehow reflected as if from the east and not filtered out. The incident led to better practice and the introduction of identification, friend or foe, devices in RAF aircraft.

And this was by no means the only melee of the war between friendly fighters of either side. The Luftwaffe indulged in the Battle of Koepernick, and four days after Christmas 1939, the British defence system erred again – with serious results. Spitfires of No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron were scrambled from their base at Drem, east of Edinburgh and near the sensitive Firth of Forth, after a warning of `bandits’ heading in from the sea. Although only just after three p. m., dusk was falling and there was sea mist, neither helping visibility. Despite these conditions, the intruders were spotted and the RAF pilots zoomed in for a first attack. One after another the Spits roared in, each pilot thumbing his gun button to set his eight .303 machine-guns chattering, sending streams of lead at the alarmed crews of the twin-engined, twin-tailed machines now trying to escape only one thousand feet above land. Only as the Spitfires broke away past their targets did the terrible truth dawn on their pilots: the `bandits’ were RAF Hampdens. By then it was too late; two of the friendly bombers were going down. The survivors were almost out of fuel and made emergency landings on the fighters’ own base at Drem, their crews soon facing their chastened attackers. It seems liaison between Bomber Command – who had despatched the Hampdens on an exercise – and the defence system was not as it should have been.

Next morning the fighter pilots rose, went to attend to their ablutions and found all the toilet rolls gone. The bomber boys had already taken off, but soon roared back over the fighter field – to bomb it with toilet rolls.

By July 1942, the officer commanding the famous Biggin Hill fighter station in Kent was Group Captain `Dickie’ Barwell. Misidentification in air combat had become a problem: twenty-five Allied aircraft had been shot down in error. Group Captain Barwell promoted recognition contests to help counter the situation, only to become a victim himself. When a `bogey’ was reported over the sea, Barwell took off in a Spitfire Mk VI, despite the fact he had broken his back and was still in plaster; he was accompanied by Squadron Leader Bob Oxspring. They failed to find the enemy plane but were themselves attacked by two Spitfires from Tangmere. Hampered by his plaster cast, Barwell was trapped in his blazing fighter and fell into the sea.

The Third Eagle Squadron of American volunteer pilots trained on Spitfires had unfurled their flag at Biggin on 3 May in the same year. By September, these pilots were about to transfer to the US Army Air Force, and in the middle of that month flew what was to have been their final operation before donning American uniforms. It proved more than that. In one of the most incredible episodes in the history of air warfare, the whole squadron of twelve Spitfires was blown wildly off course over the Channel by a vicious headwind, and the pilots failed to realise this until they emerged from cloud to find themselves over Brest. Taken on by the heavy German flak defences, the Spits were damaged and, out of fuel, were forced to make emergency landings. The French lie de France Group would never take over the Eagles’ mounts: the aircraft and the American pilots were captured by the enemy. Only one of the pilots managed to escape. He headed north towards Cornwall, only to crash into the cliffs at the Lizard.

The Sicilian Pillbox

On 10 July 1943, No. 3 Commando landed near Cassible in Sicily, a little south of the port of Syracuse. Three days later it re-embarked and was sent up the coast to land behind enemy lines at Agnone. No. 3 Commando was charged with capturing a vital bridge several miles inland, a feat it accomplished early on 14 July. As enemy pressure mounted, the Commando was forced to withdraw, and, after splitting into small groups, the men began making their way across the hills towards the British front line near Augusta. They were dogged by enemy patrols as they went, but eventually they joined up with the advance elements of the British Eighth Army. This scene shows a small group of Commandos taking a short rest break during the withdrawal. In the background the troop commanders – a lieutenant and a sergeant – consult their map and plan the next phase of the march.

At the start of the campaign in Sicily, in July 1943, a small episode of little or no significance to the main battles on the island occurred.

The British and American armies under Generals Montgomery and Patton were to land on Sicily two months after the Axis capitulation in North Africa, where a quarter of a million soldiers surrendered, some 125,000 of these German. Coming as it did on the heels of the disaster at Stalingrad, the loss of yet another whole army came as a second terrible blow to Hitler.

There were only two German divisions on Sicily, one of them the tough Hermann Goering Panzer grenadier, the other six were Italian, most assigned the role of coastal defence and ripe for surrender before the invasion fleet came over the horizon. The two-pronged Allied assault would take on the nature of a race between the rivals, Patton and Monty. Many small encounters would never be recorded, save perhaps in abbreviated form in unit histories. One such occurred when two small parties comprising British commandos and pioneers were landed on a remote part of the island coast in order to reconnoitre any Italian resisters. Little opposition was expected in this pre-dawn landing as the soldiers scrambled ashore well ahead of the main armies then about to begin disembarking from their transports offshore. Although these were accompanied by warships, there was no pre-landing bombardment. The invasion morning produced something like an anti-climax, especially for the tough commandos who in their young zeal were fired up for action.

Obviously, the Germans had concentrated their own force inland, leaving their supposed allies to resist on the coast, though having little faith in the Italian soldiers putting up much of a fight. As the commandos climbed the bare slopes, weapons at the ready, the troopships at sea began disembarking their loads. The commandos’ enthusiasm soon evaporated as they encountered not a soul, and as they reached the clifftop, sweating and tiring from the climb, their officers commiserated with each other on the disappointment they shared. No commando had fired a shot, no pioneer had seen a chance to blow up any enemy forts and bunkers.

The two squads then pushed on along the clifftop ridge, until in a sudden dip they encountered an enemy pillbox. Uncamouflaged, its dirty-looking concrete sat among the sandy soil and scrub grass, with a steel door visible at the rear, its weapon slits placed for all-round defence. The two British parties had dropped to the ground to survey this menace, both officers peering through binoculars, trying to decide if the post was manned. No weapons poked through the embrasures. Finally, the commando lieutenant remarked, `It’s OK, old chap, we can deal with this.’

`Oh?’ the pioneer officer responded. `It’s one for us, I believe.’

So they tossed a coin. The pioneer won and brought his men forward with their explosives to set charges around the structure as the commando officer withdrew in disgust with his own troops.

Suddenly, all the British soldiers were startled to see a solitary figure in green uniform appear beside the pillbox. It was one of the Italian defenders. He peered at the invaders briefly before vanishing through the steel door again. Not a moment later a white rag tied to a stick was poked out of the doorway. The British watched with mixed feelings as several Italians, minus equipment, stepped tentatively outside. The two British lieutenants grinned and cursed mildly.

The commando officer sat down to open up his ration pack and his men started to brew some tea while their engineer comrades got on with the job. The commando officer, grinning, now suggested `tickling up’ the Italians with a Bren. His opposite number obliged, picking up their light machine-gun to send a burst of fire over the heads of the startled Italians, who rushed back into their bunker. A moment later they fired a few token shots from their embrasures, this act finally sealing their fate.

That settles it,’ the pioneer officer remarked, and he ushered his men off with their explosive charges. The pillbox door had been left ajar so that the white flag could continue to be waved in surrender. A few more rounds changed that. The door was slammed shut and the pioneers got on with their task, laying charges at intervals round the bunker and withdrawing hurriedly.

The engineer officer had never been in any doubt as to his proper course of action: every enemy fortification found had to be destroyed, with or without the enemy within. He now stood erect, contemptuous of any possible Italian fire, announcing that the commandos would now see a demonstration in the art of demolition. The wretched Italians, meanwhile, unaware perhaps that their last moments were at hand, were jabbering together inside what was about to prove their steel and concrete coffin.

And so it proved. The enemy soldiers’ arguments among themselves on the best course of action were cut short very abruptly as the charges were detonated and the whole structure, complete with occupants, was reduced to rubble in an explosion that proved most satisfying for the onlookers, who then proceeded to enjoy breakfast as they admired their handiwork and watched the troop-laden craft approaching the beaches

The Napoleon of Hawaii, Kamehameha I

Kamehameha I of Hawaii fought his way to supremacy in the Hawaiian archipelago in the 1790s in part thanks to his use of European arms, rather than spears, clubs, daggers and slingshots. His power was based on the west coast of the island of Hawaii, a coast frequented by European ships, and he employed Europeans as gunners.

The Napoleon of Hawaii, Kamehameha I, fought his way to supremacy over the archipelago in the 1790s, using muskets and cannon and winning victories such as Nuuanu (1795). The so-called unification of the Hawaiian islands was far from predetermined, however. Kamehameha won dominance of his home island of Hawaii in 1791 and of the islands of Maui and Oahu in 1795. In 1810 Kaumualii, the ruler of the islands of Kauai and Niihau, agreed to serve as a client king to Kamehameha.

Hawaiian Wars (1782-1810)

The three decades from about 1780 to 1810 that saw the Hawaiian Islands brought together into a unified kingdom for the first time by King Kamehameha “the Great” (c. 1752-1819). As in other parts of the world, this consolidation was made possible in the Hawaiian Islands in great part through the introduction of firearms.

When Captain James Cook was killed on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1778 by armed warriors of that island’s primary chief, Kalaniopuu, the islands of Hawaii were far from a unified polity. Political power and control varied from island to island, with even the Big Island divided among rival chieftains. Yet within a generation the armaments and technology that Cook and other Western traders and explorers introduced would become decisive in that archipelago’s unification. Soon after Chief Kalaniopuu’s death in 1782 a rivalry ensued between Kalaniopuu’s relations, including his sons Kiwalao and Keoua and his nephew Kamehameha, for control of the Big Island. But the rival chieftains and their bands of warriors were of relatively equal strength, and as a result their struggle persisted throughout the 1780s without conclusive results.

In 1790 an American trading vessel, the Fair American, along with its guns and two English crewmen, fell into the hands of Kamehameha after it was attacked and seized as retaliation for losses suffered in an encounter with an earlier Western ship. Such trading vessels had begun to appear with increasing frequency in the islands, a convenient watering hole between China and the West Coast of the Americas. Kamehameha would use the two foreigners to manufacture Western handguns and train his men in Western fighting tactics.

Even before establishing his power on the Big Island, Kamehameha decided to attack the neighboring island of Maui, then under the control of the most powerful chief in the islands, Kahekili. In the narrow valley of Iao on Maui, Kamehameha, employing his two Englishmen and newly acquired guns, inflicted a decisive defeat upon an army led by Kahekili’s son. Despite this victory Kamehameha returned to the Big Island, where fighting had erupted again in his absence. The renewed struggle on the Big Island was again indecisive until Kamehameha ambushed and killed his chief rival, Keoua, along with his retinue of warriors, after inviting him to meet at a newly constructed heiau (temple), dedicated tellingly to the god of war. With this death Kamehameha established himself as master of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Soon thereafter Kahekili sent a fleet of native canoes and special bands of warriors, along with his own Western vessel, to harass Kamehameha on his own turf. A sea battle was fought off the Big Island between the two rival chieftains’ vessels, which proved sanguinary but indecisive. Kahekili died on his home island of Oahu soon afterward, his domains, like those of Kalaniopuu previously, falling into dispute between his various heirs. Only in late 1794 did Kahekili’s son Kalanikupule emerge as victor, following the defeat on Oahu of his half-brother, and primary foe, with the help of guns supplied by an English merchant. In January 1795 the victorious Kalanikupule decided to take his campaigns to the Big Island of Hawaii, hoping to defeat his father’s rival Kamehameha. Now equipped with a plentiful supply of firearms and several Western vessels, his hopes of bringing the Big Island under his control were not farfetched. His luck did not hold, however, and the foreign crews of his ships, pressed into his service, mutinied and succeeded in driving Kalanikupule and his warriors overboard and back to Oahu in humiliation.

Kamehameha meanwhile had been colluding with the English. In 1794 he agreed to “cede” the Big Island of Hawaii to Great Britain and in return received English help in building a fighting ship. Eyeing his strategic opportunity, Kamehameha decided to move and in early 1795 seized Maui and the narrow island of Molokai, which lay just to its north. Despite the defection of one of his primary chiefs to Kalanikupule, Kamehameha proceeded with plans to attack Oahu and landed on that island’s southern coast near modern Waikiki. Kamehameha scattered his foe, driving many over the high cliffs of the pass, and with his victory, and the death of Kalanikupule, secured his control over Oahu.

The only island remaining outside Kamehameha’s control was the far western island of Kauai. On Oahu Kamehameha received further British help in building a 40-ton ship with which to attack Kauai. Kamehameha and his forces set sail for Kauai in summer 1796, only to have his plans postponed at the last moment by an uprising on the Big Island. Perhaps the delay was fortunate. The uprising was soon subdued but plans for the invasion of Kauai were put on hold. The interval allowed Kamehameha time to consolidate his newly won domains and to set up efficient means of administration and communication. He set up governors on each of the islands, and like resourceful rulers before him, such as France’s Louis XIV or Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Japan, he invited potential rivals to dwell with him in his capital. He also set about building a stronger navy, switching to innovative twin-hulled canoes rather than the traditional and less stable single-hulled ones. From the foreigners arriving in increasing numbers and with increasing frequency in the islands Kamehameha procured yet more armaments and foreign vessels.

In 1802 Kamehameha finally sailed again for Kauai, then ruled by the chief Kaumualii, with a fleet of nearly 800 vessels and an armed force of thousands. Kamehameha and his fleet tarried for some time on Maui, hoping unsuccessfully to threaten Kaumualii into submission, before continuing westward to Oahu. On Oahu in 1804 Kamehameha’s efforts were struck an almost fatal blow, in the form of an epidemic that wiped out many of his troops, though it spared him. For several more years Kamehameha stayed on in Oahu, which was yearly growing in population and prosperity. At this point Kamehameha let it be known that he would be satisfied with the outward submission of his rival on Kauai, and gaining it would allow him to rule on there as his governor. The two rival chieftains were finally brought together in Honolulu in early 1810. The result was the formal inclusion of Kauai as a tributary island to Kamehameha with Kaumualii as its leader. It was a diplomatic terminus to almost two decades of conflict, and with it Kamehameha secured his control over all of Hawaii and effected the first unification of the islands in their history.

References and further reading: Cahill, Emmett. The Life and Times of John Young: Confidant and Advisor to Kamehameha the Great. Honolulu: Island Heritage Publishers, 1999. Daws, Gavan. Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1968. Kuykendall, Ralph S. The Hawaiian Kingdom. 3 vols. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1967.