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  1. In 1943, a US Navy destroyer engaged a Japanese submarine during the Solomon Islands Campaign. What should have been a skirmish between equals turned out to be a one-sided affair, however, because the Americans had a deadly weapon at their disposal, one that allowed them to sink the sub and send its crew to a watery grave. And what, you ask, was this devastating weapon? Potatoes. The USS O’Bannon (DD-450) was a Fletcher-class destroyer and the second one named after Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, a decorated war veteran of the First Barbary War (1801 to 1805). Built in Maine in 1941 and launched the following year, it went on to become the most decorated American destroyer during WWII. By the end of its career, it had earned 17 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Our story’s background begins in 1942 as the O’Bannon was making its way to the island of Guadalcanal. The Japanese had completed an airbase there in April of that year and named it Runga Point. Since the Allies were trying to dislodge the Japanese from the Solomon Islands, they took Runga Point four months later in August and renamed it the Henderson Field. The Japanese were rather upset about that, of course, and wanted it back. A photo of Henderson Field in late August 1942, shortly after it was taken by the Allies Fast forward three months. The O’Bannon was providing escort duty for a fleet of supply ships headed toward Henderson Field when a Japanese submarine surfaced to take them out. The O’Bannon fired at the sub, forcing it to stay under till the convoy had passed. On November 12, the convoy was attacked by 16 Japanese torpedo bombers, 11 of which were destroyed, four by the O’Bannon. But the Japanese had put too much into Henderson Field and sent over a larger convoy made up of a light cruiser, two battleships, and 14 destroyers. If they couldn’t take the airfield back, they intended to destroy it so it couldn’t be used against them. The Allied fleet, composed of the O’Bannon, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers were outnumbered. The two sides met at Iron Bottom Sound (so named because of the many ships sunk there) on the morning of November 13. The O’Bannon damaged the battleship Hiei so badly that she had to be scuttled the next day. By day’s end, the Allies had won, and Henderson Field remained theirs for the remainder of the war though the Japanese kept their grip on other islands. Ironbottom Sound with the positions of known sunken ships. The O’Bannon, therefore, spent the rest of the war helping to bombard those remaining Japanese positions, as well as providing escort duty for ships that supplied the Allied-held islands. It was during such a run, the following year, which it found itself having to use its secret weapon. On the evening of 4 April 1943, the Destroyer Squadron TWENTY-ONE (DesRon 21), a fleet of destroyers which included the O’Bannon, had shelled Japanese bases in the New Georgia area. Early the following morning, they were returning to base at Nouméa, New Caledonia, when the O’Bannon’s radars picked up a large Japanese submarine. It was cruising along on the surface, seemingly oblivious to the oncoming American ship. Commander Edwin R. Wilkinson ordered the O’Bannon to speed up and ram the sub, but as they got closer to it, caution won out. What if it was a minelayer? If it was, then ramming it would be suicide as the resulting explosion would destroy the destroyer. O’Bannon leads Chevalier and Taylor, August 1943. But the ship had already built up a momentum. So they turned the rudder so hard that the O’Bannon groaned while a large wave surged ahead to bash at the sides of the cruising sub. The maneuver worked. Instead of hitting the Ro-34, they banked sharply and found themselves sailing parallel to it. Still no response from the Japanese. Looking over their railing, the Americans found out why. On the sub’s deck were sailors dressed in dark shorts and blue hats. And all of them were asleep. The Allies’ fascination with the sleeping Asians couldn’t last, of course. First one, then another, and finally, the rest woke up. Pandemonium broke out as the Japanese stared up at the gawking enemy looming over them. The American sailors wanted to open fire, but they had no guns among them. The Japanese also wanted to shoot, but they, too, were unarmed. According to Ernest A. Herr (who was aboard the O’Bannon that day), silence descended as the two sides ogled each other wondering what to do next. Military protocol didn’t cover such situations, apparently. Japanese submarine Ro-34 That, too, couldn’t last. The Ro-34 was armed with a 3” deck gun, and once the initial shock had passed, the captain realized that it might be a good time to use it. Although the O’Bannon also had deck guns, it was too close to the sub and perched too high to do any good. The Japanese ran toward their deck gun. The Americans ran to their storage bins. No guns or grenades. Only potatoes. Desperate, they reached in and threw as many as they could at the Japanese below, hoping to keep them away from their deck gun, but knowing it was a useless gesture. They were wrong. The Japanese panicked. The brave among them picked the potatoes up and threw them overboard. Others threw them back at the Americans who threw them back at the Japanese. Plaque commemorating the Potato incident. It reads: “A tribute to the officers and men of the USS O’Bannon for their ingenuity in using our now proud potato to “sink” a Jap submarine in the spring of 1943. Presented by the Potato Growers of the State of Maine June 14, 1943.” It took the Americans a while to realize why the Japanese were so panicked – they probably thought that the potatoes were hand grenades. To this day, Herr isn’t sure why the Japanese were so afraid of the potatoes, but he’s grateful they were because they never made it to their deck gun. The O’Bannon, meanwhile, used the potato war to distance itself from the sub. It got far enough away to use its deck guns, taking out the Ro-34’s conning tower. The sub dived, so the destroyer surged forward again, passing overhead and dropping depth charges that destroyed the Japanese vessel. When the Association of Potato Growers of Maine heard about the incident, they sent the O’Bannon a plaque to commemorate the event. She went on to serve in the Korean War and when she was decommissioned in 1970, the plaque was still aboard. View the full article
  2. Tunneling through walls, or through cement flooring. Dissolving metal bars with salsa, or the rough end of a nail file. A simple, quick slip through an accidentally opened window. Prison escapes and their masterminds are always creative, the stories both incredible and unbelievable. How is it possible that men could slip out of sight, out of the confines of their cells or restraints, unnoticed by anyone? Almost magical, and indeed mysterious, a successful prison break becomes a bit of lore – and countless other prisoners use them as inspiration when they, too, wish to break beyond the bars of their confinement. Such is the case with the Great Papago Escape. Under the cover of a wintery night in 1944, a group of 25 men escaped from a prison camp in Phoenix, Arizona, while the Allied Forces and Germany fought World War II an ocean and a nation away. However, this prison escape was not like those in prisons around the world – it was one led by Nazi prisoners of war, by a man known as a “Super Nazi” by American military officials. This prison break, now known as the Great Papago Escape, was the most significant escape by Axis prisoners of war to take place during the war. A Notorious Prisoner Begins Planning In 1943, the American military built Camp Papago Park in Phoenix, Arizona. Initially known as Papago Park, the site was designed and used as a recreational area for the city’s residents. However, with the onset of World War II, Papago Park was turned into a camp at which to keep Italian prisoners of war. In January of 1944, the camp’s purpose changed: it became designated as a camp for Germans instead. Many of those who spent time at Camp Papago were members of the Kriegsmarine. Papago Park POW camp Camp Papago was like so many other prisoner-of-war imprisonment camps throughout America and other nations. Surrounded and enclosed by barbed wire fences and watchtowers, its residents stayed in one of five compounds on the grounds – one for officers only, and the rest for other soldiers. Approximately 370 U.S. guards and officers watched over the Germans. However, Camp Papago was somewhat unusual in that none of its prisoners were required to work in any manner. Traditionally, prisoners were put to work to stave off boredom; at Papago, the men chose whether or not they wanted to volunteer at nearby workplaces like cotton fields. During its peak years, Camp Papago interred about 3,100 German prisoners, many of whom were U-boat sailors. One of these men was quite well-known: Captain Jürgen Wattenberg, the highest-ranking German official in the camp. Wattenberg was the commander of U-162, a ship sunk near the Bahamas in September 1942 by the British Royal Navy. The British, fearful that keeping Wattenberg in their care would lead to problems, passed him and his crew along to the United States. Considered a “Super Nazi” who caused trouble in every prison he spent time in, no nation wanted the responsibility of imprisoning Wattenberg; after being passed from camp to camp, he finally landed at Papago. Although American military officials believed Wattenberg could do no harm in the barren Arizona desert, the commander of Camp Papago made one serious oversight: all of the camp’s most problematic, most escape-prone soldiers were kept together in the officer’s compound. Rather than separating these dangerous men from one another, they were instead sharing each other’s company. Wattenberg, of course, began plotting his escape as soon as he took up residence in camp. He discovered that the officer’s compound featured a very fortunate blind spot – there was one area of the building that the guard towers couldn’t see, one small section hidden from all sight. That was the spot in which Wattenberg decided to begin constructing an escape tunnel. The Tunnel Grows With no tasks or work to complete and some German masterminds at his employ, Wattenberg had the perfect storm of luck. Immediately upon determining where he would create his escape tunnel, he and his fellow prisoners got to work. The blind spot provided by the officer’s compound also happened to be close to Camp Papago’s bathhouse, where the men showered – and this was the closest building to the camp’s eastern perimeter, so the men could tunnel from inside the bathhouse, underneath its barbed-wire fence, and out into freedom. Whenever Wattenberg and his men visited the bathhouse under the pretense of showering, they instead worked on their ingenious tunnel. Hidden beneath a box of coal was the Germans’ tunnel entrance; they pushed the box aside, removed a section of the wooden wallboards, and slide into the tunnel to continue working. The tools to complete the task were readily available – in fact, American officers and guards were more than willing to give Wattenberg and his men shovels and rakes. Wattenberg simply told the Americans that he and his men were constructing a volleyball field at the compound. The entrance to the tunnel was concealed by a large box of coal. Wattenberg organized his men to dig effectively and efficiently. Sticking to a schedule of three-man shifts, each group of Germans worked for 90 minutes at a time every night. As they removed the rocky Arizona soil, the men flushed the dirt down toilets, hid it in locations around the camp, and even down the legs of their pant legs. As the tunnel grew, they even began hiding the excess dirt in plain sight – right on the volleyball field, the Germans claimed to be building. American guards never noticed all of this extra dirt. Though they began the tunnel in September 1944, their efforts grew it quickly; by December 20 of that same year, it measured 178 feet (54 meters) in length, which reached from the bathhouse to the Cross Cut Canal beyond Camp Papago’s borders. Once the tunnel was ready for use, Wattenberg began preparing post-escape plans to get his men back to Germany. He successfully arranged for clothing, fake identification documents, and even contacts in Mexico for all 25 men. The rest of the Germans in Camp Papago’s other compounds were also helping the officer’s compound escape; they planned to throw a loud, raucous celebration on the night of the escape in hopes of distracting the guards. But Wattenberg wanted to ensure that he and his men could gain much ground upon their escape. If the Americans realized their absence quickly, they would more easily recapture the Germans. So, Wattenberg decided to excuse himself and his men from roll call – he had four U-boat captains tell American officer that German officers wouldn’t appear for roll call. This set off a 16-day prisoner strike until a compromise was reached: German officers were excused from Sunday morning roll call. Wattenberg’s Success – and Ultimately, Failure With roll call altered, the tunnel completed, and post-escape plans prepared, Wattenberg and his men were ready to make a break for their freedom on Saturday, December 23. At 9:00 on the evening of that Saturday, Wattenberg, and 24 fellow German officers successfully walked through their handmade tunnel and into the Arizona desert, free from Camp Papago by 2:30 in the morning on December 24. The men divided into small groups, and walked away from camp, purposely avoiding any form of public transportation. However, Wattenberg’s luck turned by 7:00 PM that day. One American officer, Captain Parshall, noticed that some of Camp Papago’s prisoners were missing. Just a few hours later, American soldiers, FBI agents, and even Papago Indian Scouts mobilized for what became known as the greatest manhunt in Arizona’s history. Luckily for these skilled search teams, the prisoners faced obstacles that led them to be recaptured quickly: they were hungry, freezing in the cold, wet weather, and confused by Arizona’s desert landscape. Only a few of the Germans attempted to evade escape for weeks. By January 8, all of the men were recaptured before reaching the Mexican-U.S. border. Only three holdouts remained – Wittenberg and two others. Captain Wattenberg, was captured over a month after the escape on January 28, 1945. Instead of heading south, Wattenberg and two of his subordinates, Walter Kozur and Johann Kremer, made shelter out of a cave in the mountains north of Phoenix. From there they explored the area and even dared to venture into the city. According to author Ronald H. Bailey, Kremler “pulled off the most bizarre caper of the entire escape.” Every few days he would make contact with one of the German workers sent outside of the camp’s perimeter and exchange places with him. The exchanged prisoner would spend the night in the cave with Captain Wattenberg while Kremer slipped back into camp. Inside, Kremer would gather food and information. To deliver the food he would either join a work detail and escape again or send it out with another worker. This continued for some time until January 22, when a surprise inspection revealed Kremer’s presence in camp. Kremer must have given his captors information because on the following night Kozur was captured by three soldiers at the abandoned car used to hide the provisions. They quickly captured the other escaped prisoner hiding with him; Wattenberg then chose to head into the city of Phoenix, where he ate at a restaurant, slept in a hotel lobby, and then ran into a street cleaning crew once night fell. After speaking with one member of the street cleaning crew, Wattenberg’s fate was sealed – finding his accent odd, the street cleaner notified the police. By 9:00 AM the following day, American officials had Wattenberg in custody once again. With all of the escaped Germans safely back in imprisonment, the men expected to be punished for their actions. The Germans had a history of executing Allied prisoners of war, and Wattenberg and his men assumed their fate would be the same. However, the Americans did no such thing; they simply reduced the men’s rations to bread and water for a period of time. The war continued, a great distance away, and the prisoners were held until the end of World War II. Today, little remains of Camp Papago Park and its great escape. The camp has become a site for the Arizona National Guard, and the Arizona Military Museum, in which the story of Wattenberg’s Great Papago Escape lives on in a historical display. View the full article
  3. Many probably don’t realize that what they’ve learned about history, especially when it comes to WWI, is not necessarily true. Here are the top 10 misconceptions about WWI: The Schlieffen plan allowed Germany to invade Belgium and France Although it is true that the Germans intended to use what was called the Schlieffen plan, in practice, the plan was changed by the strategy of Helmuth von Moltke. Keeping the right flank strong was the focus of Schlieffen’s strategy, which would demolish the Allied forces in the north while luring the French into undefended German territory and directly into envelopment from the strong right flank. Moltke, however, drew forces away from the right flank to reinforce German territory and defend it from an attack from the west, which divided forces into two weaker flanks instead of one strong one. The plan is still argued about today between historians. While some believe Schlieffen’s plan would have worked if Moltke hadn’t meddled, others believe the plan would have failed with or without Moltke’s changes. Von Schlieffen, who gave his name to the German invasion plans. However, it is true that Moltke’s version certainly didn’t work. The Germans advanced through Belgium and northern France against the Belgian, British and French armies and reached an area 30 kilometers (19 mi) to the north-east of Paris, without managing to trap the Allied armies and force a decisive battle on them. The German advance outran its supplies and Joffre was able to use French railways to move the retreating armies and re-group behind the river Marne. They did this faster than the Germans could pursue and the French defeated the faltering German advance, with a counter-offensive at the First Battle of the Marne, assisted by the British. All of the fighting happened in the trenches Soldiers in the trenches on the southern section of Gallipoli Peninsula during World War I. The men belong to the Royal Irish Fusiliers. This may have been true for a while in the west. After the First Battle of the Marne and the Race to the Sea, the war turned into aggressive trench battles on this front. A majority of the fighting stayed that way until 1918 when the German army was depleted and close to giving up. But in the fighting in the east and south, and mostly because of the landscape, troops fought on the move. The battles that took place in Prussia, Poland, and Ukraine took place along an extended front, so they never were in the trenches for a long time. Russian General Alexsei Brusilov had developed tactics by making broad-front deployments that forced the enemies to spread out, covering a wider front. And battles that were taking place in the Italian offensive during 1916 and 1917 forced soldiers to fight on the Alpine glaciers, mountains, and even caves. All trench warfare involved “going over the top.” Infantry from the British Royal Naval Division in training on the Greek island of Lemnos during the Battle of Gallipoli, 1915. Men of the Royal Naval Division leaving the trenches in Gallipoli to attack the Turk with cold steel. On the extreme left the officer is seen leading the attack, while the hills in the background are typical of the difficult country to be traversed before Constantinople falls to the Allies. While trench warfare did consist of waves of soldiers coming out of the trenches when ordered, there was much more to it than that. Artillery barrages, increased reliance on air warfare, flexible defensive configurations, and use of stormtroopers were more highly-efficient tactics for targeting the weak points in enemy lines. Soldiers lived in the trenches for long periods Life in the trenches, mud, mud and more mud. A soldier usually never stayed in a trench for longer than three days at a time, being regularly rotated due to the harsh conditions there. To improve morale, troops were never put in the first line trenches for very long, being moved further away from the fighting as time went by. For example, during the Battle of Verdun, French troops were moved down a four-line series of trenches once a week for a one-month cycle. British troops spent ten days per month in the trenches; only three days were spent in the front line trenches. World War I was a single, coherent conflict Generally, people think of the WWI as two forces fighting for supremacy. But it became more than that as different countries were moved to enter into conflict for different, individual reasons. Besides being a bid for hegemony against an attempt to stop this aggression, the war involved another rationale in other areas, including imperialistic expansion and sociological revolt. Most men were killed by machine guns Vickers machine gun Although it is true that during WWI machine guns were put to deadly use, ever since the American Civil War men have been confronting the enemy with an impenetrable wall of bullets. The big change in WWI was the use of artillery, which claimed nearly two-thirds of all of the casualties. On some days nearly 40,000 shells might be fired. The war in the desert was made up of isolated skirmishes This is entirely false. Isolated insurgent skirmishes were made popular by T. E. Lawrence and the movie Lawrence of Arabia, but were never the whole story of the fighting in the desert campaign. Archeologists are still uncovering facts throughout the desert to support whether or not the Lawrence stories were true. What is known is that by 1918 the desert war was a large and impressive operation that included the use of Arab regular forces, light armor, truck-mounted artillery, an increasingly sophisticated use of artillery and support weapons, and the integration of aircraft. The tactics were a precursor for the strategy of desert war during WWII. Lions led by donkeys During WWI many countries had to change their fighting tactics, forcing the generals to abandon their favorite strategies and fighting techniques; stepping back, rethinking the tactics, and coming up with new ones when needed. Sometimes this would give the impression that they were incompetent or weak. But the generals’ goal was not only to win battles but also to preserve their forces. New, deadly technologies such as the introduction of aircraft, tanks, and unfamiliar defensive and siege techniques forced the generals to adapt quickly and, in the process, appear to have been undecided. The battle that many use as an example is the Battle of Somme. It was, and still is, dubbed one of the worst catastrophes of WWI. However, this very battle shows just how much war had changed and evolved in just two short years since the start. Many chalked the massacres up to incompetent generals. However, they did not take into consideration that the generals who were thrown into battle did not understand the need for updated techniques. It was the deadliest war until the start of the Second World War. The Menin Gate in Ypres – War History Online It is still not certain today just how many men lost their lives in the war. Historians are still trying to figure out the exact numbers, but the estimated death toll is from 9 to 17 million people, counting military and civilian deaths. This is devastating, and a great tragedy but those who think it’s the biggest human loss in war history are mistaken. One historian points out that one ancient war alone, China’s 14-year Taiping Rebellion from 1850 to 1864, claimed 20 to 30 million human lives. The First World War was futile Hitler reviews troops on the march during the campaign against Poland. September 1939 – Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 2.0 It is understandable to feel, now that we can look back on it, that nothing was gained or altered because of WWI. After a cost of millions of military and civilian lives, and after all the destruction and waste of national treasure, it’s often claimed that, politically, the war made no real difference in the world. What’s needed is a look into the future as if the war had come out with anything less than a full Allied victory. The 20th century would be a drastically changed setting in a vastly different geopolitical venue. The fact that it seems like the whole thing had to be redone with the onset of WWII a generation later makes the trials and agonies of the first world war look like a total failure, but that was mostly a lack of the victor’s will to enforce the treaty that ended it. View the full article
  4. This is not the story of a pet pony, an amusing tale of a Mr. Ed companion, or even the story of an amusing diversion for war-weary soldiers. This is the story of a highly decorated, twice-wounded, always faithful, brave Marine that served through gunfire, in darkness, and at great odds alone and most often at night. Sergeant Reckless was first known as “Flame of the Morning.” The red mare with white blaze was a racehorse in Seoul when a young Korean boy, Kim Huk Moon, saw her at the track and began dreaming in earnest of one day owning a horse just like her. He spent the next few years doing everything in his power to earn money to save for the purchase of a horse and he did so while being as near to Flame as he could. Beginning with scrounging for goods and coins dropped from the stands to his eventual acceptance as a groom for Flame and then moving up to apprentice, young Kim – with a determination not present in many eight-year-olds – eventually got his wish and became her owner. It wasn’t through luck or even his savings that Kim got his wish. It was through great adversity and trial. When Japan became involved in WWII, the horses of the racetrack were requisitioned for work in rice paddies. Kim’s superiors had gone off to fight and so he, along with the other grooms, went with the horses to work in the fields. He was devoted to Flame and trained her to work and cared for her as best he could. During all of this, he was disturbed by the treatment of American POWs in the camp in which he was working, especially that of Sergeant Bill Duffy of the Marines. Kim did all that he could to make Duffy’s life easier – on one occasion Kim was beaten to unconsciousness and left nearly blind in one eye. Flame bucked and screamed while her groom was beaten and for the days, he was out she wouldn’t let anyone harness her. When the war was over and the American soldiers released, Duffy asked the young boy what he would most like in the world. Of course, his answer was Flame, and so she was given. Kim and his beloved horse returned to the races. Sadly, over the next seven years, Kim Huk Moon lost family to death, including his mother and father. At the beginning of the Korean War, his remaining sister lost her leg in a land mine accident. They had no money, but Kim vowed he would find a way to get her an artificial leg. Soon after, Kim was at the track when Marines in need of a horse for carrying ammunition arrived. Lt. Eric Pederson needed a way to move guns and ammo without further burdening the backs of his soldiers. He so believed in this mission that he put up his own money – $250 – to do it. Kim was torn. His beloved Flame meant almost everything to him, but so did his sister. He very reluctantly sold his biggest dream and best friend to the Americans. Reckless wearing a hat Renamed Reckless, the mare made a home with the “Reckless” Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. She slept with them, ate with them, and even drank beer and Coca-Cola with them. More importantly, she served with them. The Marines trained her to learn her supply routes – usually with just two trips – and going forward; she traveled them alone. She brought supplies and ammunition and carried the wounded on her trips back. She gave cover when necessary. This small mare, standing only 56 inches high, took on the weight of war and never faltered. Her rank was not a nickname – it was real. She was given the rank of corporal in 1953, sergeant in 1954, and staff sergeant in 1959. She served in combat for nine months. Luckily, Reckless had a great Marine trainer. Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham taught her to how to avoid entrapment and injury from barbed wire and how to duck and cover – both by lying down and by running for shelter whenever she heard the “incoming” warning. Reckless under enemy fire Reckless was not merely reckless; she was steadfast. During the Battle for The Outpost Vegas, she made 51 solo trips alone over one very long day. That day she carried nearly five tons of ammunition up a mountain – again – 51 times under heavy enemy fire at 500 rounds per minute. The soldiers revered her so much that whenever she made the journey through heavy fire, they sacrificed their own flak jackets to cover and protect her. Still, she was wounded twice – but she kept going. When combat ended, and Reckless was brought to the United States, she attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ball as the guest of honor. She rode the elevator to the ballroom dressed up in a dress blanket decorated with ribbons and insignia and ate cake and flowers. Reckless spent some time with Pedersen and his family before moving to Camp Pendleton where she gave birth to four foals in-between duty and a very few television appearances. Her last promotion to staff sergeant was a full official ceremony with a 19 gun salute and a 1700 man parade, officiated by Commandant Randolph M. Pate, who had been the first to promote her on the battlefield a few years prior. She retired from active duty with full military honors in 1960 with a Purple Heart, 3 Bronze Stars, and several other awards. In lieu of monetary compensation for her retirement, Marine documents list her pay as free quarters and feed. Kim’s Flame of the Morning and the Marine’s beloved Reckless was buried with full military honors at Camp Pendleton in 1968. In 2013, she was honored with a statue in Semper Fidelis Park that depicts her carrying ammunition and combat equipment. Through sentiment and reverence, the Marines kept a lock of her hair for nearly 50 years. It now rests in the base of the statue. View the full article
  5. The biggest, most advanced, most expensive, and most daunting war machinery of World War I was the super-dreadnought battleship. These great sea beasts were near unsinkable and, in fact, only one was sent to the bottom during the entire war. And it was practically sunk by mistake, at that. This ship, the British HMS Audacious, was a King George V-class battleship, the peak of naval size, power, and capability and it barely made it off the shores of Britain. Imagine the Kaiser’s delight. The naval power of Britain and Germany was a very contentious area during and leading up to WWI. Before air power was seen as crucial, ruling the waves was the key to controlling an empire out of Europe. Bismarck had actually warned the Kaiser not to build up the German Imperial Navy to such a great strength for fear that the British, by far the naval powerhouse of the age, would notice and act accordingly. The HMS Audacious was laid down in 1911, launched in 1912, commissioned to the 2nd battle squadron in 1913, and on October 27th, 1914, was sent out for gunnery exercises in preparations to meet the Imperial German Navy in the great war. Several years earlier, in 1906, the HMS Dreadnought was launched. This ship had massive guns, steam turbine propulsion, massive, heavy armor, and instantly became the terror of the seas. Battleships that were built before this became simply known as pre-dreadnought class. Some advancements, including 2,000 tons more displacement, even bigger guns, and the placement of these guns on the centerline of the ship, which came five years latter with the Orion Class ships, introduced the next level of behemoths known as super-dreadnoughts. The HMS George V made some improvements to the Orion and it was in this fashion that the Audacious was built. The Audacious had 23,400 long tons of displacement, 10 13.5” guns, 16 4” guns, 3 21” torpedo tubes, and Krupp armor up to 12” thick. This armor wasn’t always continuous, however, and much thinner in some places, which would be the ship’s downfall. The Audacious carried a crew of 900. One improvement these King George V class battleships had over the Orion class was that the foremast was put ahead of the first smoke funnel, so visibility from the firing platform was vastly improved. HMS Audacious The total cost of the Audacious was £1,918,813, which would be over £200 million ($300 million) today. Under the command of Captain Cecil F. Dampier, the Audacious left Lough Swilly in Scotland early in the morning for its gunnery exercises North of Ireland with six other super-dreadnoughts, including the King George V and the Orion. At 8:45, as the ship was turning, it struck a German mine. A few days earlier, the German ship SS Berlin, a passenger liner recommissioned as a mine-laying vessel for the war, had laid a minefield right in the British shipping lane that runs between Ireland and Britain and through which crucial Atlantic travel and trade traversed. The Berlin had been ordered to slip past the British sea blockade and lay mines in crucial areas the British were docking their ships on the West coast of Britain in the Firth of Clyde. Captain Pfundheller managed to guide the Berlin to the West coast, but couldn’t get close enough to his targets for fear of being discovered. He settled for mining the shipping lane and sailed off. This, oddly enough and despite its success, was a failure which lost Captain Hans Pfundheller his command as he, due to lack of fuel, had to sail to the neutral port of Trondheim where he, his crew and his ship were interned for the rest of the war. King George V Class Battleships in the background and Chantham Class light cruisers in the foreground in Kiel, 1914. Two British merchant ships struck mines and sank, but the Admiralty didn’t hear the news in time before the Audacious and its battle squadron sailed through. When the Audacious first felt the blast of the mine, Captain Dampier, fearing a German U-Boat assault, sent up the signal, and the rest of the Squadron steamed away. Audacious attempted to limp its way the Ireland and beach there, but water continued to flood in and by 11:00, the central turbine was submerged. By 14:30, Captain Dampier had ordered all non-essential crew off the ship. As fate would have it, the RMS Olympic, of the same White Star line as the Titanic, was sailing through and offered to tow the massive battleship. But the ship was too unmanageable and the tow line parted. At 17:00, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet Sir John Jellicoe, heard news of the ships that had been sunk by the minefield the previous day and night and, though he had only ordered destroyers and tugs to assist the Audacious before, now was sending larger ships to assist. All efforts were in vain, however, and at 19:15, with night falling, Captain Dampier, and the remaining crew abandoned ship. At 20:45, the Audacious capsized. At 21:00, a massive explosion tore through the vessel and shook the seas. There were 474,800 lbs. of explosives on the ship. The blast sent shrapnel thousands of yards. On the light cruiser HMS Liverpool, 800 yards away, a petty officer was struck by an armor plate and killed, the only causality of the the whole incident. Auxiliary cruiser “Berlin” of the Imperial German Navy, interned at Lofjord, in Trondheim, Norway. British command quickly put full restrictions on any reporting of the Audacious’ sinking. Through the remainder of WWI, the British kept the ship on public lists of movements and activity. In 1918, the Secretary of the Admiralty released a “delayed announcement” of the sinking and even noted that the press “loyally refrained from giving it any publicity.” Unfortunately, the Olympic had been carrying passengers from America. Many people took pictures and even motion film of the event who weren’t under British authority. By November 19th of that year, German Admiral Reinhard Scheer had heard word of the Audacious, but after the war commended the British for not wanting to reveal weakness and hide from their enemy their true strength and abilities. View the full article
  6. John W. “Jack” Hinson, better known as “Old Jack” to his family, was a prosperous farmer in Stewart County, Tennessee. A non-political man, he opposed secession from the Union even though he owned slaves. Friends and neighbors described him as a peaceable man, yet despite all this, he would end up going on a one-man killing spree. Jack’s plantation was called Bubbling Springs, where he lived with his wife and ten children. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was fiercely determined to remain neutral. When Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant arrived in the area in February 1862, the Hinsons hosted the man at their home. The general was so pleased with the plantation that he even turned it into his temporary headquarters. Even when one of their sons joined the Confederate Army, while another joined a militia group, Jack remained strictly neutral. They were content to manage their plantation despite the ongoing conflict. Grant had stayed at the Hinson estate after capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. In taking the last, he secured a vital gateway to the rest of the Confederacy. The Union’s victory at the Battle of Fort Donelson was also its first major one since the start of the Civil War. His victory also meant that Union troops became a permanent fixture in the Kentucky-Tennessee border where the Hinsons lived. While the family had no problem with that, others did – and the Hinsons would pay dearly for it. In the end, so would many Union soldiers. Since many in the region were sympathetic to the Confederacy, some turned to guerrilla tactics to deal with the better armed and trained Union soldiers. These were called bushwhackers, because they hid in the woods where they could attack Union troops before fading back into the wild. The only known image of Jack Hinson It wasn’t just soldiers they went after, however. There were many cases where they’d target Unionist farmers and sympathizers, as well. Still others were not so politically motivated. Some bushwhackers were bandits who took advantage of the deteriorating law-and-order situation to prey on isolated homesteads. In some cases, they even attacked entire communities. After the fall of Fort Donelson to Union troops, guerrilla attacks on Union soldiers and their supporters increased. As a result, it became policy to torture and execute any suspected bushwhackers without a trial. In the fall of 1862, Jack’s 22-year-old son George Hinson, and his 17-year-old brother, Jack, went deer hunting about a mile from their home as they always did. Unfortunately, they came across a Union patrol who suspected them of being bushwhackers. The boys were tied to a tree then shot, after which their bodies were dragged back to town. There the corpses were paraded around the Dover courthouse square as an example of the Union’s zero-tolerance policy toward resistance. The remains were then decapitated and left there, while the heads were brought to the Hinson plantation. Ulysses Grant went on to become the 18th president. This picture of him taken between 1870 to 1880 is his official presidential portrait Before the entire family, the heads were stuck on two gate posts as an example of Union justice. The lieutenant in charge wanted to arrest the Hinsons for their relationship to the two alleged bushwhackers but was informed about Grant’s stay on the property. He was also told that the major general would not take kindly to any mistreatment of the surviving Hinsons, so they were left alone. That was the lieutenant’s second mistake of the day. Of Scottish-Irish descent, Jack could not let the murders of his sons go unpunished. He buried his children’s remains, then sent the rest of his family and slaves to West Tennessee to stay with relatives. He then commissioned a special 0.50 caliber rifle with a percussion-cap muzzle-loader. Besides its lack of decorative brass ornamentation, this rifle was also unique because it had a 41” long octagonal barrel that weighed 17 pounds. The length of the barrel ensured that he could accurately hit targets from half a mile away. As to the octagonal shape, it was based on the Whitworth Rifle. With its hexagonal barrel, it could shoot farther (2,000 yards) and more accurately than the Pattern 1853 Enfield (1,400 yards) with its traditional round rifled barrel. Moving into a cave above the Tennessee River, Jack became a bushwhacker at the age of 57. His first target was the lieutenant who ordered his sons shot and beheaded. The man was killed as he rode in front of his column. The second target was the soldier who placed the heads on the gateposts. It didn’t take the Union long to connect the dots, so they burned down the abandoned Hinson plantation. The British Whitworth sharpshooting rifle which served as the basis for Jack’s own The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were major transport hubs, so he frequented both. From his higher vantage points, he targeted Union boats, picking off captains and officers, as well as disrupting the flow of river traffic. The most spectacular story of his sniping career was when an entire boat of Union soldiers surrendered to him. After Jack fired on the boat, the captain thought he was being attacked by Confederate soldiers. To avoid further bloodshed, the captain beached his boat, raised a white tablecloth, and waited to be captured. But Jack couldn’t possibly handle them all, so he retreated and let them wait. Though he remained apolitical, he began helping the Confederate Army. In November 1864, for example, he guided Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest to Johnsonville to attack its Union supply center. Jack died on 28 April 1874 and lies buried in the family plot in Cane Creek Cemetery. With help from the locals and by constantly staying on the move, he avoided capture despite the massive manhunt for him. His family was not so lucky, however. Two of his younger children had died of disease, while the son who joined the army also died, as did another during a guerrilla raid. Jack survived the war and cut 36 circles in the barrel of his rifle to mark the number of Union officers he killed. Union records, however, blame him for over 130 kills – though it’s believed that he may have killed “only” a little more than 100. View the full article
  7. The term Pyrrhic victory can be used where someone technically “wins”, or achieves their objective, but the cost makes the victory almost not worth the trouble. The term is most often applied to warfare where a victory is won, but at such a high cost to the victor that they may rethink their goals, or they may lose strategic advantages that lead to them ultimately losing the war they are in. The ramifications of Pyrrhic victories could take several years to actually appear, or the victory could be costly but ultimately still lead to an overall victory. Here are a few key Pyrrhic victories of history. 280-275 BCE: Heraclea, Asculum, Beneventum These three battles are lumped together because they represent the collective origin of the phrase “Pyrrhic victory”. The battles were part of the Pyrrhic War between the well-known general Pyrrhus of Epirus and the fledgling Roman state. Pyrrhus had invaded southeastern Italy and moved against the Romans, expecting his well-organized, professional army to make quick work of the almost barbarian and tribal Romans. On the eve of the first battle, Pyrrhus was surprised when he saw the strict organization of the Romans marching camp and remarked that he was facing no mere barbarians. The ensuing battle of Heraclea was a decisive victory for Pyrrhus, who employed a tight phalanx formation with elephant charges. Though this win was complete, the Romans fought for a long time before they finally broke, causing disproportionally high casualties for Pyrrhus’ best troops. The next battle of Asculum was a similar result; the Romans attempted to repulse the elephants with impressive war wagons but failed. The Romans withdrew to higher ground and fought on until both sides had to withdraw. The Romans definitely were worse off in the loss, but Pyrrhus lost thousands of men and many good officers. When he was congratulated on his victory by one of his officers, he reportedly responded by saying: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined” (there are multiple varying translations). Pyrrhus of Epirus. Pyrrhus’ words would prove prophetic for, after a detouring campaign in Sicily, he fought the Romans again at Beneventum. The battle of Beneventum has been claimed as either inconclusive, a Roman victory and as a victory for Pyrrhus. The Romans were finally able to repulse the elephants and send them rampaging through Pyrrhus’ lines. Pyrrhus could not take the Roman positions but seems to have maintained his army’s cohesion. In is likely that the battle resulted in over ten thousand casualties for Pyrrhus and nearly as many for the Romans. Pyrrhus simply could not expect to continue if this was the amount of loss he could expect for a battle that gave no real strategic gain and so he left Italy for good, leaving the Romans free to claim it as their own. Pyrrhus’ route and a depiction of the Romans attempting to repulse one of the elephants. Piom – CC BY-SA 3.0 480 BCE Thermopylae Jumping back two centuries, the battle of Thermopylae was a Pyrrhic victory before the term even existed. Almost everyone has heard the basic story of the vast army of Persians being fended off by the 300 Spartans and their allies. Over the course of several days, a total of around 7,000 Greeks held out against the Persian Emperor Xerxes and caused heavy losses to his troops, including his many of his most elite fighters. Xerxes seems to have had around 200,000 men and lost as many as 20,000 of them. He eventually trapped the Spartans and killed almost all of them (one Spartan and many of the other Greek allies escaped). The battle gave the Greeks hope, a feeling that though they were outnumbered, one Greek warrior was worth several of the best Persians. Greek phalanx formation. The will of the Greek nations to continue the fight under all sorts of unfavorable circumstances was sparked by the engagement at the hot gates of Thermopylae. The battle cemented the reputation of the Spartans as the stoutest fighters in all the land and all of the Greek soldiers wanted to live up to their example. The lone Spartan survivor was so ashamed of his survival that he went on an ultimately fatal rampage during the later Persian ousting at the battle of Plataea to reclaim his honor. The Persians could not hope to defeat such a unified and determined foe after Thermopylae. 1775 Bunker/Breed’s Hill Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull. “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.” These were the words of British General Henry Clinton after the battle of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill was a battle fought during the United Colonies’ siege of British-controlled Boston. In an effort to secure Boston harbor the British set out to take Bunker and Breed’s Hills which prompted their fortification by the besieging colonials. Breed’s Hill was heavily fortified and that is where many of the British regulars were sent. The British landed largely unopposed on the peninsula and marched straight up as well as around Breed’s Hill. The fortified militia gunned down the tight British formations coming up the hill while the British attempting to circumvent the position were repulsed by hastily built, but effective fortifications. The Battle of Bunker Hill was devastating to the early British momentum during the war. The loss of so many officers was difficult to recover from especially as their home base was across the Atlantic. Three attacks were launched against the colonials with the British incurring heavy losses, particularly among the officers as they were specifically targeted. Eventually, the Colonials ran low on ammunition resulting in the iconic command “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” – though that may not have actually been said during the battle. Once the colonials ran completely out of ammunition they were repulsed by the British but led an orderly retreat out of the peninsula. The British had won, but at the cost of over 1,000 killed or wounded, compared to less than 500 for the colonials. The British lost dozens of officers, including two majors and a lieutenant colonel. The battle was a loss for the colonials but gave them hope that they could stand up to the powerful and professional British army. The British were eventually forced out of Boston as well. 1939-40 The Winter War Group of the Red Army with the captured flag of Finland. They say you should never invade Russia in winter. Well, it could also be said, “never invade Finland in the winter.” Russia decided to do just that in late November 1939. The invasion started based on Russian claims to nearby territory and a desire to have protection for their city, Leningrad, so close to the border, though Russia may have had their sights set on conquering or controlling all of Finland. Finland was given little hope at the outset; Russia had vastly greater numbers of men, aircraft, and tanks. The tide quickly turned as the Russians entered Finland. Though the war front was vast, there were few points where an army could realistically push through. The Finns were at home in their harsh winter environment and used white camouflage as well as skis to ambush Russian columns either in sporadic incidents or as part of larger battles. The temperature dropped as low as -45 Fahrenheit and many Russians were seriously wounded or killed simply from frostbite. A Finnish ski patrol, lying in the snow on the outskirts of a wood in Northern Finland, on the alert for Russian troops, 12 January 1940. Russian morale was terribly low while Finnish spirits were high. The Soviets were thwarted several times but eventually pushed through and forced peace talks. Russia ultimately gained a sizable chunk of Finnish land but paid a huge price in manpower as well as international reputation. The Finns had a high amount of national pride, being able to at least preserve much of their small nation against the giant Soviet Union. Finland lost around 70,000 killed or wounded, but Russia lost over 300,000 men. By William McLaughlin for War History Online View the full article
  8. Karl Donitz, the Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine (Navy of the Third Reich), served as the last president of Nazi Germany. He was also the creator of the Reich’s German U-boat fleet and a very proactive naval leader. 1.Donitz was not a member of the Nazi Party However, though he wasn’t officially a Nazi Party member, he was antisemitic and a loyal follower of Hitler. In a speech to the Commanders in Chief in February of 1944 he said: “German men and women! What would have become of our country today if the Fuehrer had not united us under National-Socialism? Split into parties, beset with the spreading poison of Jewry and vulnerable to it, and lacking, as a defense, our present uncompromising world outlook, we would long since have succumbed to the burdens of this war and been subject to the merciless destruction of our adversaries.” 2. He was a prisoner of war at the end of WWI In 1916, having served on battlecruisers and at an airfield, Donitz asked to be transferred to submarines. Two years in, aboard the UB-68 in the Mediterranean, he was sunk and taken prisoner near Malta. Even though the war ended during his imprisonment, he wasn’t released from the POW camp near Sheffield in Great Britain until 1920. Detention report and Mugshots of Karl Dönitz, 1945 3. He devised his best strategy while a POW – the Wolfpack method Karl Dönitz during war meeting. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Donitz’s strategy was to have several U-boats lurking and waiting for Allied ships, preferably in convoys, to pass. The first boat to spot an enemy ship would rally the others to converge like a wolf pack and then attack. The tactic worked well for him – until the Allies invented microwave radar. 4. His ultimate plan was to starve Britain Karl Dönitz in the U-Boat base, St. Nazaire. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de During the first world war, Donitz had brought Britain to the edge of starvation with intense submarine warfare, keeping supply ships from Britain. His strategy was to sink as many ships as possible to cut off Britain’s food sources. 5. His micromanagement of his boats made work easier for Allied codebreakers Colossus computer at Bletchley Park Donitz was so particular about knowing everything his boats were up to that he contacted them over 70 times a day. He wanted to know where they were, how much fuel they had, and other small details. Those 70 or more communications had 70 or more replies, and all of that back and forth gave Allied codebreakers a lot of material to work with. It also allowed Allied naval ships to ascertain their position and attack them easily. 6. Donitz wasn’t one for compassion or honor While there are stories of Nazi officers, pilots, and soldiers valuing the lives of wounded enemy soldiers, civilians caught in crossfire, or pilots and sailors shot down or sunk, Donitz wasn’t one of them. “No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk,” he said, “and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats, and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the most primitive demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews. Be hard; remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when he bombs German cities.” Dönitz and Hitler in 1945 in the Führerbunker.By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de 7. He shared control of Germany through Adolf Hitler’s last will and testament – until Goebbels committed suicide Hitler’s last will and testament showing that Dönitz was chosen to succeed Hitler as Germany’s president In his last days, Hitler became disenchanted with his top men, Goring and Himmler, and penned a will that would name Donitz as President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Joseph Goebbels as Chancellor and Head of Government. When Hitler and Goebbels both committed suicide, Donitz stepped into leadership and appointed Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk as leading minister. Together they tried to keep the government intact. Both made a hasty retreat from advancing forces and from their secured position in Flensburg-Murwik, they oversaw the surrender of the German armies to British or American forces, rather than to the Russians, as he feared the Soviets would deal with them more harshly. 8. He was shocked to be tried for war crimes Karl Dönitz (center, in long, dark coat) is followed by Speer (bareheaded) and Jodl (to the left of Speer) during the arrest of the Flensburg government Donitz believed it was ridiculous to try a head of state for war crimes. Additionally, he claimed that he knew nothing of the treatment of the Jews and that in his service he committed no crime. “The trial can only end in a mistake because it is founded on one. How can a foreign court try a sovereign government of another country? Could we have tried your President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Secretary Henry Morgenthau, or Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, if we had won the war? We could not have done so and would not have. The trying that went on would have to be done by the nation itself and the courts set up there.” “I accept responsibility for U-boat warfare from 1933 onward, and of the entire navy from 1943 on, but to make me responsible for what happened to Jews in Germany, or Russian soldiers on the east front — it is so ridiculous all I can do is laugh.” 9. Support from U.S. Admiral Nimitz may be why Donitz only got 10 years While on trial at Nuremberg, Donitz said this in his defense: “Your American admiral said that he held me in the highest esteem, and thought that I conducted my defense perfectly. He said through his chief of staff that my conduct was beyond reproach and he had the greatest admiration for me.” Nimitz did provide an affidavit that stated that he too had engaged in unrestricted submarine warfare and that he supported its use. This is seen as one of the major reasons Donitz received a far lighter sentence than other German officers, despite his being close to Hitler. Großadmiral Karl Donitz wearing both the World War II and World War I versions of the U-boat war badge on his tunic 10. He received a pension until his death in 1980 The government of West Germany didn’t think that Donitz deserved anything more than the pension of a captain, but Donitz fought that decision. The government’s position was that he only reached the rank of admiral because Hitler favored him, and not on his own merit. Donitz took it to court and won, receiving the full pension of an Admiral until his death from a heart attack in the small village in which he lived out his remaining quiet years. Karl Donitz never believed that he should be held responsible or be placed under societal judgment for the atrocities performed by the Nazis. He believed that he lived up his own convictions as an officer, dedicated to duty. View the full article
  9. The Roman army is often remembered as a highly professional force, with legionaries in segmented armour organised into centuries for close order combat. In reality, the Roman army changed a lot over the many years it dominated Europe and the Middle East. Their evolution can be divided into three broad phases – the Republican army, the reformed professional army that served the late republic and early emperors, and the army of the later empire. The Republican Army The army of the Roman republic was not the Roman army as we usually picture it. It was an army similar to others of the period, but their style of combat led Rome from an obscure city-state in the 8th century BC to the dominant force in Italy and beyond by the end of the 2nd century BC. The republican army was a militia rather than a professional force. Roman citizens were duty-bound to fight when called upon, and to answer this call they were expected to use equipment appropriate to their station in society. The wealthier and more influential the citizen, the better they were to be equipped. The first significant shift in the way this army fought came when they adopted hoplite tactics, as used by Greek colonists in Italy. They equipped themselves with shields, long spears and body armour in the form of bronze or hardened leather cuirasses. Forming phalanxes, they fought in the sort of tight formations that would become the hallmark of the Roman legions. The growing number of men fighting in these phalanxes gave great political influence to the farmer militiamen, who became part of the fighting elite. The sixth century BC king Servius Tullius was credited with first organising this army into five classes of soldiers, each carrying equipment based on their wealth, and creating units of a standard size from these men. By the 3rd century BC, this had evolved into the system Polybius recorded a century later. In this, the core of the army were the legions, each consisting of 30 maniples of 60 or 120 men, with two centuries in a maniple. They fought in three lines of maniples with offset gaps between them, the units of youngest soldiers at the front. Most soldiers carried an oval shield, a sword called a gladius, and two javelins, though the rear formations still carried long spear. The Post-Marian Army The late 2nd Century saw the birth of the Roman army, in the form that most people recognize today. War with Carthage for domination of the Mediterranean tested Rome’s strength, and the citizen militia was not strong enough. A series of reforms, often attributed to the Commander Caius Marius, created an army mostly made up of professional soldiers drawn from Rome’s lower classes, each serving for 25 years. These men were equipped by the army, rather than bringing their own weapons, and permanent service meant they gained more training, experience and continuity of command. Officers remained aristocrats, whose careers combined war and politics. A legion now consisted of ten cohorts, each made of six centuries of 80 men. These cohorts provided formations used to fighting together that were large enough to be effective when separated from the rest of the legion for smaller operations. All were trained and equipped in the same way as each other so that they did not have to take a specific position in the line to be effective. Each century was led by a centurion with a support staff that included a standard-bearer with his distinctive animal-skin helmet covering. At first these soldiers wore chain mail, though around the 1st Century AD they began wearing segmented armour which reduced flexibility in favour of greater protection. Helmets developed in quality and design over time, but the men were always equipped with plate armour helmets that included neck and cheek protection. Most carried a scutum – a rectangular shield that curved back around the soldier. This provided maximum protection and allowed a tightly packed legion to form a solid wall of shields in the face of attacks. The gladius was still the weapon of choice for close combat, allowing short under-arm thrusts in melee. Legionaries still carried javelins, which could be thrown at the enemy to break-up their formations before an attack. By MatthiasKabel – CC BY-SA 3.0 The legions were supported by cavalry formations and non-Roman auxiliary troops, who fought in less tight-packed and disciplined formations. One of Marius’s most notable reforms was in equipment. Each legionary carried all he required not just for combat but for camping and basic military engineering. They carried so much that they became known as Marius’s mules. The Later Empire While the late Roman army was similar to its predecessor, it was subtly altered by the larger changes that were weakening Rome politically. By now, most of the army was professional, including its officers. Increasing numbers of legionaries were immigrants or people from the colonies, weakening the identity of the core army, previously made up of Roman citizens. The distinction between legionary and auxiliary units blurred. A wider range of different units existed, including a growing number of horse archers. There is some evidence that cavalry played a growing part in Roman warfare, though this may not have been as significant as some have claimed. The increasing prominence of cavalry was one of several changes that made the Roman armies look more like the Dark Age warbands that would follow. They carried long-bladed spatha swords and round shields, rather than the gladius and pilum. Segmented armour was now largely a thing of the past. Two types of unit existed – field troops called comitatensis and garrison troops called limitanei, usually stationed on the frontiers. The need to defend long borders forced many soldiers into stationary, defensive duty. As they connected to local areas they became the most powerful political and military forces in their localities. This may have set a precedent for later medieval warriors, who were usually military rulers dominating their surrounding communities from a fortified position. The legions that had made Rome strong had been forced to change and some of its strength went with them. While these changes may have been for better or for worse – the point is open to discussion – the evolution of the army certainly mirrored the political and social development of Roman society as a whole. Sources: Adrian Goldsworthy (2003), The Complete Roman Army. View the full article
  10. Tank construction has always been a labour intensive, expensive process. The need to manufacture far larger numbers during the Second World War saw the warring powers adapt existing factories for the job. Some, like America, had access to the expertise and facilities of a large automotive industry. Others also made use of firms that had previously built railway locomotives. Germany, with a less well-developed car industry than other nations, followed this second path. The Construction Network The Tiger I was built by Henschel at their factory in Kassel in the centre of modern Germany. This was at the epicentre of a large network of firms that produced components for the tank and transported them by rail to Henschel for final assembly. To give an idea of the scale of this network, the armour plate for hulls and turrets was made by Krupp in Essen in Western Germany. Many of the 88mm guns were built by DHHV in Dortmund, not far from Essen. Engines came from Maybach in Friedrichshafen, well to the south near the Swiss border, but the transmissions they would be connected to were built by Adler in Frankfurt, halfway back to Essen. A brand new Tiger leaving the factory. Getting the completed turrets to Henschel was somewhat easier – Wegmann Waggonfabrik was also based in Kassel. Henschel employed 8,000 workers manufacturing tanks (not just Tigers). They worked in two 12 hour shifts, with the night shift up to 50% less productive than the day shift. They also made railway locomotives, and in fact of the two production sheds used to build Tigers one was only half converted – Tigers were built on the right, locomotives on the left. Construction Stages German tank manufacture didn’t use production lines as we understand them today. Instead Tigers were built in nine stages or Takt. The tanks did move around the factory, but not generally as part of the construction process – workers moved around a static tank whilst adding parts. Takt 1 was the receipt of the unfinished hull from Krupp, and the process of moving it into the factory. The final assembly line at Henschel. Takt 2 and Takt 3 involved precisely drilling and machining holes for the suspension arms, drive sprockets and final drives. In Takt 4 the turret ring was machined on a massive lathe. These stages required careful positioning of the hull around the large, static machine tools used for this work. On average there would be 18 tanks in these stages at any one time. The next steps saw the hull move to the final assembly line. Takts 5 and 6 saw the installation of major internal components such as the engine, transmission, torsion bars and fuel tanks, and the fitting of the road wheels, drive sprockets and tracks. These stages would see a buzz of activity, with parts being craned into place and carefully fitted, welders at work around the tank and components being carefully installed all over the vehicle. Dignitaries tour the assembly line. Takt 7 was a test drive, and assuming this had gone well the final components were fitted in Takt 8. By far the largest of these was the turret, which was craned into place. Takt 9 saw final painting in red oxide primer and the prescribed base coat, either Panzer Grey or later Dunkelgelb. The finished tank would then be loaded onto a railway wagon for delivery. The final assembly line had an average of 10 Tigers being built at a time. Total construction time was around 14 days. Tiger I production ran from July 1942 to August 1944, with 1347 built. After this Henschel built 490 Tiger IIs until the end of the war, with the last 13 produced between the 1st and 4th April 1945 and handed directly over to the German forces defending Kassel. Read about the first Tiger to be made here. Find out more about the Tiger I in David Willey’s Tank Chat. A message from The Tank Museum: “Please Support Us: As a charity, we rely on public support for all our activities. Our work is funded entirely by people like you. With your support, we can continue to create content. With the right support we might be able to do it more regularly – and can be even more ambitious. Please Click on the Banner Below.” Thanks to the Tank Museum for this Blog, which originally appeared here. View the full article
  11. During WWII, the Japanese took a calculated risk by invading Singapore with far fewer numbers than the defenders. They adopted devious tactics to secure the city. Singapore was then part of Malaya, which was part of the British Empire. As early as 1936, Lieutenant General Sir William George Shedden Dobbie (the General Officer Commanding of the Malaya Command) was already concerned about Japan’s saber-rattling in the region. A veteran of the Second Boer War and WWI, he became convinced that a Japanese attack was imminent. So in n May 1938, he demanded reinforcements for “The Fortress” – meaning Singapore, since it was the site of Britain’s naval base. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was more concerned about Europe. Germany was the immediate threat, so Britain’s overseas territories were of secondary importance. This decision would hasten the end of the British Empire, since her colonies were starting to resist their second class status. Churchill’s policy made Australia and New Zealand were especially unhappy at how vulnerable they became, while Malaya would suffer because of the British Prime Minister’s lack of foresight. The crossroads between Asia and the South Pacific, Singapore was a mixture of indigenous Malays, ethnic Chinese, Indians, and European colonists. Though devoid of natural resources, its strategic value was evident to the Japanese who attacked on 8 February 1942. The man in command of the invasion was Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita. He was to engage in a massive bluff to deceive the British. Yamashita’s force had come through northern Malaya, as Dobbie had predicted. But by the time he looked across the Johor Strait toward Singapore, he was left with only 18 tanks and limited fuel. Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita, “The Beast of Bataan” Many Japanese soldiers had been lost in the swampy jungle with its few roads made muddy by the monsoon season. By the time they were ready to cross over, each of Yamashita’s 30,000 men were reduced to only 100 rounds of ammunition per day. Called the “Tiger of Malaya” in the Japanese press (and the “Beast of Bataan” by the Americans), Yamashita admitted in his diary that he was afraid. He had bragged that his men could win on only two bowls of rice a day, which was what they did since the British engaged in scorched earth tactics as they retreated back to Singapore. Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival By the time he made it to the Fortress, he had lost 4,515 men. If Singapore didn’t surrender at once, his invasion was doomed. Yamashita wanted Singapore taken and to be there by February 11 to commemorate the coronation anniversary of Jimmu (660-585 BC), the first emperor and founder of Japan. He failed to achieve his goals. Yamashita pinned his hopes on intelligence reports which suggested that the Allied forces on the island numbered only 40,000. It was wrong. There were almost 120,000 of them waiting for the Japanese. Unfortunately, the Allies were poorly led, had even worse intelligence, and lacked vital military supplies and equipment because of Churchill. Still, there was hope. On the evening of February 10, the Japanese were on the Kranji River, but were stopped by the Australian 27th Brigade. Some boats got bogged when low tide hit, and a few sailed into the wrong tributaries. Up on higher ground, the Allies lit fuel tanks and dumped them into the Kranji, setting the water ablaze and burning Japanese troops. Map of Pasir Panjang where the battle took place. By Tfitzp – CC BY-SA 4.0 Instead of pressing their advantage, however, the Malaya Command ordered the Australians to retreat. The surviving Japanese were amazed. From that point on, any hope of stopping them ended as more poured in from the Kranji. Further north, the causeway (which had been bombed), was also abandoned, allowing the Japanese entry from two points. By February 11, the Tengah Airfield was in Japanese hands, but they were desperately low on ammunition. Still bluffing, Yamashita sent Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival (commander of the British Commonwealth forces on Singapore) a letter, urging him to surrender to spare needless death. Percival refused. Memorial at Bukit Chundu, honoring the Malay regiment which held the ridge to the last. By Soham Banerjee – CC BY 2.0 On February 13, the Japanese 18th Division began attacking the southwestern coast along the Pasir Panjang Ridge. Opposing them were the 1st Malay Brigade who held their ground till the next day when the Japanese began using tanks. By 4PM, the Malay Brigade were forced to retreat uphill to Bukit Chundu (Opium Hill) where they made their last stand. They had to. If the Japanese took the ridge, they would have direct access to the Alexandra area with its military hospital, ammunition and supply depots, as well as other vital installations. They would have had Singapore at their mercy. By that point, however, it was already hopeless for the brave Malays. Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi C Company, led by Captain HR Rix, was unable to retreat further south because of burning oil in the canal. This separated them from D Company, greatly reducing their numbers. He ordered his men to hold the hill at all costs before he was shot. Command fell to Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, who ordered a retreat further uphill and hold their ground. Frustrated by this, the Japanese undressed some of their Sikh captives and had 20 men put their uniforms and turbans on. They climbed up the hill and started waving to the defenders, hoping to make a breach through their line so the rest could follow. But the Japanese made a fatal mistake. British soldiers march in a line of three, but they were approaching C Company in a line of four. As soon as they reached the Malay Brigade, Adnan ordered his men to open fire, killing most before the rest fled back downhill. Despite this, the British forces position had become hopeless. Hours later, the Japanese overran the hill, overwhelming the brigade. Then they went to the hospital and slaughtered its patients and staff. By February 15, Singapore officially surrendered. if Percival had been a stronger commander Singapore could have held out and the Japanese left in a precarious position.While many European civilians were spared, the Chinese were not. For the Malays and Indians, hell began. The Japanese occupation of Singapore was to last until 1945. After the war, Yamashita was hung in the Philippines for his many war crimes. The Pasir Panjang machine-gun pillbox View the full article
  12. Drugs have a long history as part of war. These days, their main role is a medicinal one, but down the centuries they have often been used to fire the fighting spirit. Viking Raids – the Drug Fuelled Berserkers The Viking legacy is a vast one. From the 8th to 11th centuries, their raids and conquests shaped the politics and culture of northern Europe. Long after their power ended, they left behind a fascinating mythology, tales of fearsome warriors, and beautiful ruins where buildings had once stood. Part of their legacy is the word ‘berserk’. The word ‘Viking’ refers to the raiders and settlers who emerged from Scandinavia from around 790 AD, spreading across the North Sea and beyond. Their arrival usual took the form of sudden, violent attacks in which local communities were pillaged. The berserkers were the ultimate expression of this wild, furious raiding. Dressed in bear skins as tribute to the god Odin, the berserkers were the shock troops of many Viking raids. Apparently losing control in the heat of battle, they moved wildly around the combat, showing no fear or mercy. Religion, psychological trauma, and shared culture may all have contributed to the behavior of berserkers, but drugs also played a part. Consuming the hallucinogenic fungus Amanita muscaria as part of their rituals, they gave in to the derangement the drug brought. It was easy to become wild and fearless when reality was vanishing behind a religious hallucination. Vikings in Battle by Jakub T. Jankiewicz. By Jakub Jankiewicz – CC BY-SA 2.0 The Crusades – Hashishin, the Orginal Assassins One of the deadliest threats the European Crusaders met in the Middle East was the order of assassins known in western tradition as the Hashishin. A group of Muslims based in Persia and Syria, the Nizari were formed in the 11th century, and soon came into conflict with other Muslim powers in the region. To defend themselves, they began training young acolytes known as fidai, turning them into covert killers. Smart and deadly, the fidai infiltrated enemy positions and took out their leaders, often at the cost of their own lives. 14th-century painting of the assassination of Nizam al-Mulk by an assassin. To ensure their cooperation in this work, the fidai had to be particularly dedicated to the cause. Exactly how this was achieved is controversial, and so many myths abound that the truth may never be known. Drugs have long been believed to have played a part. According to this version of the Hashishin story, the fidai were drugged and shown a beautiful garden, causing them to believe that they had witnessed paradise. Only once they died for the cause of their leaders could they return there. Believing that only death in a righteous cause could recreate their drug-fuelled euphoria, they were ready to die taking out the infidels. The Napoleonic Wars – Fighting Drunk British soldiers relaxing at a sutler’s booth, 1808. Alcohol has helped motivate European troops for centuries. When a town fell, the pubs and breweries were often among the first places to be ransacked by soldiers celebrating their victories. But the high point of drunken warfare was the Napoleonic Wars. Alcohol was commonly used as a reward and motivator among the armies fighting for and against Napoleon. Troops received rations of alcohol as well as food. This could be used to stiffen their resolve in particularly tough situations – some of the French divisions at Austerlitz were fed a triple ration of brandy, nearly half a pint each. This did not always work out well. Following the storming of Badajoz in 1812, the Duke of Wellington lost control of part of his army for the best part of two days, as they went on an epic drinking spree. But most notable was the case of Corporal Shaw, a cavalryman in the British Life Guards. Shaw got so drunk on the morning of the Battle of Waterloo that he went on a drunken rampaging, hacking down French cavalryman until he himself was killed. The American Civil War – a War Fought on Coffee Men of the Army of the Potomac line up for Coffee in this picture from 1863. Coffee is mostly remembered for its absence during the Civil War, as soldiers were forced to improvise substitutes to see them through. But the passion with which they sought out these substitutes highlights just how dedicated they were to getting their caffeine fix, and the generals believed it could help them to win. While the Confederates struggled to obtain coffee, the Union troops were well supplied, as it was thought that this would keep them marching. The Union Army issued soldiers around 36 pounds of coffee a year. General Benjamin Butler went so far as to order his men to carry coffee in their canteens – there would be no decaf in Butler’s force – and he planned his attacks around when the men would have the best caffeine buzz. One wartime coffee run would later become famous. On 17 September 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, a group of Ohio troops found themselves exhausted from a long morning of fighting, and the battle far from over. Suddenly, a young soldier appeared, rushing up to them under heavy fire, delivering two vats of steaming coffee to reinvigorate the troops. That man would later use the incident to help him run for political office, and is known to history as President William McKinley. Vietnam – the Herb Goes to War US Soldiers and a Helicopter In Vietnam. Sadly, drug use was rife throughout the conflict. By manhhai – CC BY 2.0 American involvement in Vietnam came just as drug culture was blooming in the United States. As a foreign extension of the USA, its armies were riddled with drugs. For the soldiers fighting in Vietnam, drugs provided an escape from a grueling, demoralizing war that many wanted no part of, and which it became increasingly clear they could never win. Marijuana was particularly popular, allowing soldiers to escape harsh reality in a cloud of pot smoke. But marijuana also helped to reduce inhibitions, turning smokers into deadly killers. The army struggled to fight drug use, even as its influence created a brand of killer far more deadly than the clean living recruits arriving from the States. View the full article
  13. Long ago a 25-year-old Roman author, poet, priest, and aristocrat was kidnapped by pirates. Rather than plead for his release, however, he ordered them to increase his ransom, even though it could have meant being their captive for much longer. His name was Gaius Julius Caesar. In the middle of the 1st century BC, the Roman republic began to break down. Its volunteer militia had evolved into a permanent force of battle-scarred professional veterans who became a force to reckon with, allowing Rome to further increase its territory. However, they were often more loyal to their Generals than the state – Generals such as Sulla; men who would often use the legions to further their own ambitions. In the city itself, however, riots and violent political upheaval became the norm as rival gangs fought for dominance in the streets. Rome was plunging into a state of near anarchic chaos. Aristocrats like Caesar vied for power, often using corruption and intimidation to get what they wanted. Caesar was born into this environment on July 13th 100 BC as a member of the Julia, an old clan of Roman aristocrats. He was named after his father, who was the governor of Asia (now western Turkey). His sister, Julia, was married to Gaius Marius, a general and statesman who held the highest office of consul seven times – a great achievement. Gaius Marius Things changed for Caesar in 85 BC when his father died, making him the head of the family at 16. Civil war broke out between his uncle, Marius, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (who twice held the rank of consul). More street battles and assassinations gripped the city until Marius won. Caesar was given the job of high priest of Jupiter and married off to Cornelia. On January 13th 86 BC, however, Marius died and Sulla rose to power. The latter purged the government and city of anyone associated with Marius, so Caesar lost his job, his inheritance and wife’s dowry, and was ordered to divorce his wife. However, Caesar refused to let Cornelia go. His mother, Aurelia Cotta, used her family’s influence (some of whom supported Sulla) to save his life. Caesar decided to play it safe by leaving Rome for Asia where he joined the army. In 81 BC, he participated in the Siege of Mytilene (now the Greek island of Lesbos), he was so effective that he received a Civic Crown – the second highest military award that a Roman could achieve. Sulla finally died in 78 BC, making it safe for Caesar to return to Rome. Unable to reclaim his inheritance, he moved into a poor district and became a famous lawyer renowned for his successful prosecution of corrupt officials. This made him very popular among many lower class Romans, despite his aristocratic heritage. Lucius Cornelius Sulla By 75 BC, he had moved up in the world and went off on a business trip to the island of Rhodes accompanied by several servants and friends. They never made it there. The Mediterranean Sea was full of pirates and they preyed on every ship that came their way. Pirates attached Caesar’s ship and he and his companions ended up becoming captives on an islet off Cilicia (now the southern coast of Turkey). All aboard were given two choices: pay a ransom or be sold into slavery. Caesar chose the former, so his captors set a ransom of 20 talents of silver – about 620 kg worth, which is roughly around $600,000 dollars in today’s values. Caesar gasped in shock. Then he burst out laughing. It wasn’t because of the exorbitant price, but rather because he was offended. The Julia family were direct descendants of Iulus, son of Aeneas, a Trojan prince. Someone with his bloodline was worth far more than the paltry sum they demanded – in his opinion. He insisted that they set his ransom at 50 talents (about 1,550 kg) of silver, instead. The remains of Miletus, today. Impressed, the pirates agreed and let some of his friends go to gather that amount, but Caesar wasn’t finished. He swore that as soon as he was free, he’d have them all crucified. Given the circumstances, the pirates roared with laughter, but it wouldn’t last. Caesar refused to play the role of a cowed hostage victim. He demanded that his servants be free to continue serving him, even ordering the pirates to shut up or lower their voices whenever he slept. He spent his days writing poetry and composing speeches, then demanded that the pirates listen carefully while he read them aloud. If they didn’t praise his work, he’d yell at them and call them illiterate savages. His uncompromising stance and haughty demeanor worked. Instead of annoying the pirates, he ended up earning their respect. He was allowed to move about freely and sometimes joined in their games. To his captors, Caesar’s attitude was either that of a simpleton, or the result of boyish playfulness. What’s left of Pergamon. By Carlos Delgado – CC BY-SA 3.0 Given the amount involved, it took 38 days to raise the money, after which Caesar and his men were finally allowed to leave. As soon as he reached Miletus (a long-abandoned port city south of present day Söke in Turkey) he began raising an armed fleet. With it, he returned to the islet, captured most of the pirates, and took their property as his own. He sailed off to Pergamon (outside the modern Turkish city of Bakırçay) and chucked them all into prison. Then he went to Marcus Junius, the governor of Asia, and demanded the right to mete out the pirates’ punishment. But Junius couldn’t stop ogling all that money, so he told Caesar that he’d have to look into the matter more fully. Yet Caesar couldn’t wait, so he returned to Pergamon, took the pirates out of prison, and ordered them all to be crucified. Some begged for mercy, reminding him of the fun times they had shared together, so Caesar’s heart melted and he decided to relent. He had their throats slit. Then he had them crucified because he prided himself on being a man of his word. With such a character, it’s hardly surprising that he would go on become Rome’s first emperor. View the full article
  14. “The Boers are not like the Sudanese, who stood up to a fair fight. They are always running away on their little ponies.” – General Kitchener, 1900 The Second Boer War (1899-1902) was a grueling campaign which the British won despite their commanders rather than because of them. British commanders were in general of a poor quality in the war. Faced with Boer guerrillas fighting a careful, tenacious campaign for freedom from Britain, the forces of the empire would have struggled at first even under forward-looking and capable officers. Instead, they were repeatedly led by men of stunning ineptitude, who cost many brave men their lives and probably prolonged the war. 1. General Sir Redvers “Reverse” Buller Once an excellent major, General Buller had been promoted far beyond his abilities. He had also been away from the action, having not commanded any troops between 1887 and 1899. He was put in charge of the British expeditionary force to put down the Boers. With little grasp of his mission, Buller failed to direct the officers beneath him, even promoting the terrible General Warren. Buller’s undoing came in December 1899 at the Battle of Colenso. There he failed to identify where the Boer troops were, despite hurling artillery shells against the hillsides to try to drive them out. His advancing columns were devastated by the dispersed Boer riflemen. In this action, some field guns were abandoned. Becoming obsessed with retrieving a set of field guns, Buller lost track of the big picture. By the time he gave in and retreated at eleven in the morning he had lost 1,139 men, compared with around 40 casualties on the Boer side. Photo of Victoria Cross recipient Redvers Henry Buller. His setbacks earned the general the nickname “Reverse Buller” among his men. 2. General William “Backacher” Gatacre Major-general William Forbes Gatacre The bearer of another unfortunate nickname was General Gatacre. He was called “Backacher” by his unhappy troops. Gatacre’s most notable disaster was when he tried to launch a surprise raid to seize the Stormberg railway junction. Taking 2,700 men on a hard night march, he failed to bring the one man who knew the terrain, leading his troops to become hopelessly lost. At dawn, Boer soldiers found themselves looking down a sheer cliff face at the lost British below. They opened fire, and those British soldiers brave enough to try climbing the rock face soon found it impossible. As his men fled, Gatacre ordered a retreat that descended into chaos. 600 men were left behind, not having been given the fallback order. Surrounded by the Boers, these men surrendered, while Gatacre ran off to lick his wounds. 3. General Lord Methuen Lord Methuen, circa 1902 Approaching a hill near Magersfontein, Lord Methuen concluded that it was defended by Boers and took the sensible decision to bombard it before advancing. Unfortunately, he failed to find out where the Boers were before putting his artillery into action. A rain of shells fell on the top of the hill while the Boers sat safely dug in in trenches at the bottom. Believing he had shaken the defenders, Methuen ordered an advance by the Black Watch through a moonless night of pouring rain. As dawn broke, the soaked Scots found themselves marching in close formation towards the bottom of the hill. From 400 yards away the Boers opened fire. Most of the Highlanders leapt for the inadequate cover of bushes and anthills. The heat of the African sun and the bites of the insects added to their misery as they lay trapped. When the Light Infantry panicked and ran many of them were shot down from behind. Of 3,500 men who advanced, 902 were killed or wounded. 4. General Sir Charles Warren Charles Warren carbon print portrait by Herbert Rose Barraud of London Following Colenso, Buller was reinforced by troops under General Warren, who had spent the previous year in retirement. While crossing the Tugela, Warren spent so much time supervising the crossing of his own baggage that the 600 Boer defenders grew to ten times that number. Buller made Warren commander at the Battle of Spion Kop. Neither Buller nor Warren ordered proper reconnaissance of the hill they were planning to attack. With little purpose, plan or information, Warren ordered General Woodgate – a man even Buller considered stupid – to lead an advance. He gave Woodgate neither machine guns nor a telegraph team to keep in touch. Ill-equipped and ill-informed, Woodgate and his men fought their way to what they thought was the top of the hill, but was actually a plateau mid-way up. The Boers took the ridges and rained down death from three sides upon the British, who could not even dig in on the rocky ground. It was nine hours before Warren thought to send reinforcements, by which time Woodgate was dead and his men in retreat. When a war correspondent named Winston Churchill had urged Warren to act earlier in the day, Warren had ordered him arrested in a fit of rage. 5. Colonel Charles Long Buller’s failings at Colenso were compounded by his subordinates below him, including Colonel Long. Long was an old-school officer who believed that “the only way to smash those beggars is to rush in at ‘em”. Ordered to keep his horse artillery at least two and a half miles back, Long instead ordered them to gallop forwards, leaving behind the infantry meant to protect them. A thousand yards from the Tugela River, Long set up his guns in what he considered a pleasingly straight line and began firing at the Boers across the river. This close, Long’s men were defenceless in the face of a thousand Boer rifles. After an hour’s firing, with no ammunition left and no cover to hide behind, they were forced to retreat, leaving behind the guns, which were later used by the Boers against the British. 6. Major-General Hart Herbert Hart, in the uniform of a brigadier general Not to be outdone, another of the officers at Colenso, Major-General Hart, ordered his men to advance towards the enemy in close order in broad daylight. Unable to cross the swollen Tugela, he kept moving along it despite warnings from other officers of Boers all along the far bank. Surrounded on three sides by Boers, the British came under deadly fire. As his officers tried to move their men into open formations, and so reduce their losses, Hart ordered them back into close order and as a result he Boers were able to pick off many British soldiers with their rifles. Of 1,139 British casualties at Colenso, 532 – nearly half – were from Hart’s brigade. The Boer War turned into a bloody conflict. If the British Army had been properly led, then it would have been shorter and far less bloody. Sources: Geoffrey Regan (1991), The Guinness Book of Military Blunders. View the full article
  15. The first battle for which we have a clear historical record took place in the Levant in the 15th century BC. Though we know that war had existed for centuries beforehand, and some details of earlier battles are recorded in folklore and religious scripture, the details remain cloudy. That changed with the Battle of Megiddo. Dating Difficulties Ancient Egyptian records, on which we rely for accounts of the Battle of Megiddo, place it in Year 23 of the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, on the 21st day of the first month of the third season. Exactly how this relates to our own dating system is uncertain, and historians have variously dated the battle to 1457, 1479 or 1482 BC. All we can say with certainty is that it took place in the first half of the 15th century BC. War in the Levant Thutmose III came to the throne at a time when Egypt controlled large swathes of the Levant – the lands of the eastern Mediterranean and the northern Middle East. Early in his reign, he found himself faced with a revolt in this region, based around modern Syria. Leading the revolt was the King of Kadesh, a city whose strong fortress gave him a secure base. The Canaanites, Mitanni, and Amurru joined his rebel alliance, as did the King of Megiddo, another ruler with a strong fortress base. Megiddo was strategically vital, controlling the main trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia, now known as the Via Maris. The rebel forces gathered there. Pharaoh on the March Statue of Thutmose III in Luxor Museum. Like many ancient rulers, Thutmose III took personal command of his forces. He gathered an army of between ten and twenty thousand men, consisting of infantry and charioteers, at the border fortress of Tjaru. This was the heyday of chariot warfare. Horses had not yet been bred strong enough to carry an armed rider, making chariots the only way to move quickly around the battlefield and deliver sudden shock attacks. The recently developed composite bow gave chariot riders a powerful weapon with which to attack infantry before galloping away. Iron weapons, which would eventually lead to the downfall of the chariot aristocracies, had not yet been developed. At the heart of Pharaoh’s army were the deadliest weapons of their day. Choosing the most direct but also most dangerous of three available routes, Thutmose took Aruna – the area now called Wadi Ara – with almost no resistance. The Kadeshi army had been sent far to the north and south to block his other routes of advance, and he could now march on Megiddo. The King of Kadesh, surprised by the Egyptians’ appearance in the center of his defensive line, scrambled to gather his troops on the high ground outside the fortress of Megiddo. Pharaoh gave him little time to prepare. Opportunity Seized Model of Megiddo, 1457 BC. Having set up camp at the end of the day, Thutmose then advanced his forces under cover of night. While the Kadeshi concentrated their troops around the fortress, Pharaoh spread his out. Two wings menaced the enemy flanks, while the core of the army advanced in the center. In the morning, he attacked. The two sides were evenly matched in numbers, with around 10,000 infantry and 1,000 chariots each. But having spread out his forces, Pharaoh was better able to make use of his numbers. While he led the attack in the center, his left wing made a fast, aggressive strike against the rebel flank. The will of the rebel flank was quickly broken by the speed and skill of the Egyptian attack. The right wing crumbled, and the rest of the army swiftly followed, morale collapsing as warriors saw their comrades flee. Some ran into the city, closing the gates behind them to keep the Egyptians out. The Egyptians now wasted the opportunity swift victory had given them. Like so many victors throughout history, they set about plundering the enemy camp, capturing 200 suits of armor and 924 chariots. But while they did this the scattered rebels found their way back into Megiddo, climbing up improvised ropes of clothing lowered by people inside the walls. Those who made it to safety included the kings of Megiddo and Kadesh. Siege and Aftermath The Battle of Megiddo was immediately followed by a siege. Pharaoh had his men dug a moat and built their own defensive wall around the city. After seven months of slow starvation, the city eventually surrendered. The King of Kadesh escaped, but the rest of those within the city were captured, and spared by a merciful Pharaoh. As well as armor and chariots, the victors took home over 2,000 horses, 340 prisoners, nearly 25,000 cattle and sheep, and the royal war gear of the King of Megiddo. More importantly, the victory at Megiddo enabled them to conquer other cities in the region, securing it once more for the Egyptian Empire. How We Know About Megiddo How has this single battle become our first clear image of the history of war? The answer lies with Thutmose III’s personal scribe, Tjaneni. Accompanying his ruler on the campaign, Tjaneni kept a daily record of the war. Years later, Thutmose wanted to have his military exploits carved into the walls of the Temple to Amun-Re at Karnak. Tjaneni’s journal allowed the events of Megiddo to be inscribed in glorious detail, which has lasted to us down the years. The Egyptian army, therefore, takes a vital place in the early history of warfare for two reasons. Firstly because they had the might to reach so far, including a successful leader and the latest military developments. And secondly, because they recorded their exploits in a form that would last – the ancient stones of Egypt. View the full article
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