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  1. One of the most crucial conflicts of the Second World War was between the air forces of Britain and Germany. The Royal Air Force (RAF) and Luftwaffe adapted to this in different ways. The Importance of the Air War Air power first became a significant part of warfare during WWI, but it was in WWII that it came to the forefront. Long range bombing allowed nations to attack each other’s industrial bases. Fast attack fighters let them fight back. Air power was used to support ground offensives and challenge enemy power at sea. Following the fall of France, the war in the west was largely between Britain and Germany, and air power was central. The armies of the two nations were facing each other on the ground in North Africa. The Germans had support from the Italians, and the British were aided by imperial forces and ex-imperial Allies. The North African war did not directly threaten Britain or Germany. The air war did. This made it crucial both in strategy and for morale. Different States of Readiness In air power, as in so much else, the two nations entered the war with very different preparations. Germany had been gearing up for war for years. Adolf Hitler’s expansionist and militaristic ideology had led to substantial investment in all branches of the military. The result was an air force that was ready for war. Not only had the Luftwaffe benefited from military investment in the 1930s, but some of their pilots had gained live combat experience. The Spanish Civil War of 1936-9 had seen the Germans and Italians provide air support for Franco’s right-wing coup. It included the bombing of Republican strongholds. The RAF, on the other hand, lacked both experience and equipment. Bomber Command did not have enough planes to fulfill its strategic goal of demolishing German industry. Many of their planes were two-engine bombers, rather than the four-engine bombers which enabled heavy bombing later in the war. Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C “Condor” in Flight. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Different Purposes The RAF and the Luftwaffe initially approached the war with very different mindsets. Successes late in the First World War had shown the Germans the value of sharp, decisive tactical strikes. Air support had played a part, with the German air force bombing and strafing Allied targets as the German infantry made breakthroughs in their spring offensive. That experience fed into the Blitzkrieg tactics used by Hitler a generation later. The primary role of the Luftwaffe was to cooperate with the army, helping to achieve success on the ground. It was how they had been used in the swift conquest of Poland. The RAF, on the other hand, were geared toward acting independently from the army. Bomber Command provided a long-range strike force capable of targeting the enemy at home. Fighter Command provided support for the bombers and defense for the homeland. The Trenchard doctrine, which had dominated since the previous war, stated heavy bombing alone could win a war if the RAF committed to it. In the end, both sides used elements of both strategies. Plans to invade Britain forced the Luftwaffe to become a long-range strike force, acting independently of the army in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Responses to Intelligence These different doctrines also shaped responses to military intelligence. RAF Bomber Command was convinced that bombing German industry could win the war, and interpreted information in that light. It reached the point of absurdity when Sir Arthur Harris, the head of Bomber Command, claimed that photographic evidence of ineffective bombing could not be trusted, based purely on his belief in his strategy. Although the RAF learned to gather and use intelligence, selective blindness to its implications existed throughout the war. The Luftwaffe was more open to learning from intelligence. However, German intelligence gathering was less effective than that of the Allies, so they had less to work with. Focus on Technology Both sides recognized the value of new technology, but the technology available to them varied. The most significant new British technology was radar. A network of listening posts across the south of England allowed them to detect incoming German air raids. It meant pilots could set out as the enemy were approaching, rather than exhausting themselves in air patrols or setting out too late. The Germans lacked radar. For them, one of the key breakthroughs was beam-based bomb targeting, which they used early in the war. The Allies learned about it and found ways to counter it. The Luftwaffe lost what technological edge they had. Heinkel He 111 bombers during the Battle of Britain Interference from Above One thing that the two forces experienced in different ways was interference from their political superiors. It brought little benefit to either. In Britain, it came from Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As the Germans overwhelmed France and threatened to invade Britain, he needed to show it could retaliate. It led to support for Bomber Command’s strategic bombing agenda, to show that something was being done. Later on, it turned into prevarication, as Churchill dithered on who to believe about whether the mass bombing was effective. His interference was enough to give Harris cover for his bloody-minded approach, but not enough to force the RAF down a more effective path. For the Luftwaffe, the crucial intervention came during the Battle of Britain. The accidental bombing of British civilians let Churchill turn his bombers against a German city, rather than military and industrial targets. Enraged, Hitler turned the Luftwaffe to the same approach. Terror bombing replaced strategic bombing. It undermined efforts to destroy the RAF and so helped ensure British victory in the air. Source: Ralph Bennett (1999), Behind the Battle: Intelligence in the War with Germany 1939-1945. Nigel Cawthorne (2004), Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War. Martin Marix Evans (2002), Over the Top: Great Battles of the First World War. View the full article
  2. As soon as horses were bred strong enough to carry a human, they have been used in war. From the horse archers of the Asian steppes to the sabre-wielding cavalry of the 19th century, their prowess came from the leadership of great commanders. Here are eight of those commanders, each a reflection of his time. Alexander the Great One of the most extraordinary military leaders of the ancient world, Alexander forged an empire that stretched halfway across Asia. Abandoning heavy supply trains for fast movement, he pushed relentlessly into new territory, achieving greatness many considered impossible. Always ready to adapt, Alexander created and led an elite strike force, the Companion Cavalry. It was an age of heroic leadership when a commander could inspire his men by leading from the front. Alexander draped himself in a beautiful cloak, mounted his famous steed Bucephalus, and led the Companion Cavalry in perilous charges. It was the sort of leadership that beat the mighty Persian Empire at Granicus, Issus, and Gaugamela. Charlemagne The emergence of strong nations from the chaos after the collapse of the Roman Empire was closely tied to cavalry. A social and militarily elite of heavily armored mounted troops evolved into the class we know as knights. It began in the Carolingian Empire during the 8th century. Under Emperor Charlemagne, those forces became the most robust and effective part of the army. At their head, he roamed across Europe, creating the first great European empire of the post-Roman period. Charlemagne’s stables were renowned for their fine horses. He was a bold and courageous commander in the field, riding alongside his men as Alexander had done. Statue of Charlemagne by Agostino Cornacchini (1725), St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican, Italy. Myrabella – CC BY-SA 3.0 Genghis Khan The Asian steppes had long been home to a horse-based culture. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan built an empire upon it. Genghis’s people, the Mongols, were raised from birth as horsemen. They made natural cavalry, both because of their skills and because they had plentiful horses. They were not the lithe racers or heavy chargers favored by European aristocrats. They were sturdy ponies that flourished in conditions that would have left European horses cold and hungry. For most armies, commanding cavalry meant leading a small portion of the troops. Under the Khans, the army was almost entirely cavalry. Genghis conquered a continent from the saddle. William Marshall In the 12th century one of the most famous knights in English history, William Marshall exemplified chivalric culture at its height. Due to him, cavalry command narrowed to one single function – leading a charge without hesitation or fear. Marshall earned a reputation as a brave, skilled and upstanding knight long before he took the mantle of command but it is as a commander that he is best remembered. Following the death of King John at the height of the civil war and French invasion, the aging Marshall became regent and commander of the royalist forces. He led the charge at Lincoln that broke the invasion and also the remnants of a revolt. He was not an innovator nor was he a renowned tactician but he was the best at what he did. Oliver Cromwell During the English Civil War i, an obscure member of the country gentry named Oliver Cromwell raised a force of cavalry in the flat lands of East Anglia. His successful command took him from local militia leader to being the leading general of the Parliamentary armies, and finally to be king in all but name. Cromwell was a military reformer who brought uniformity and discipline to the troops. Strongly principled and staunchly disciplined, one of his most important characteristics as a cavalry commander was his ability and willingness to rein the troops in. Prince Rupert, the commanding officer of the Royalist cavalry, broke through an enemy line and then lead his men off in pursuit or to raid the baggage. Cromwell broke one formation and then turned back to take on the next. Marshal Joachim Murat One of Napoleon Bonaparte’s staunchest supporters, Murat became the emperor’s brother-in-law and the King of Naples. A good leader and one of France’s leading marshals, it was as a cavalry commander that he truly excelled. During a battle at Alexandria, he led his cavalry in breaking through all three lines of Turkish forces in a swift and ferocious attack. He fought the Turkish commander, Mustafa Pasha, was injured by a shot to the face and captured Pasha after cutting off two of his fingers. José Antonio Páez A Latin American herder, Páez became a cavalry officer during the continent’s wars of independence in the 19th century. A gifted rider and leader, he was known as the Centaur of the Plains. Like many of the best cavalry commanders, his greatness came from boldness. He led revolutionary forces to success in six major battles, helping Simon Bolivar to ensure independence from Spain. He then led Venezuela in breaking away from the larger Gran Columbia. J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA, unveiled May 30, 1907. Jeb Stuart Flamboyantly dressed and endlessly daring, Stuart embodied the romantic image of both the Southern aristocracy and the dashing cavalier. As a commander of Confederate cavalry during the American Civil War, he literally rode rings around Union armies. Stuart’s swift movement and daring raids helped to unsettle the enemy. He came into his own as a source of intelligence through cross-country dashes keeping Confederate armies informed about the actions of their opponents. Stuart’s fatal wounding at Yellow Tavern, outgunned by a Union force twice the size of his own, was a symbol of the dying days of cavalry. In the age of the machine gun, there would be no more flamboyant cavaliers. History had seen many great cavalry commanders, but there would be no more. Sources: Philippe Contamine, translated by Michael Jones (1984), War in the Middle Ages Mike Duncan (2013-2017), Revolutions Podcast Robert Harvey (2006), The War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France: 1789-1815 Philip Haythornthwaite (2004), The Peninsular War: The Complete Companion to the Iberian Campaigns 1807-14 Ann Hyland (1994), The Medieval Warhorse, From Byzantium to the Crusades John Keegan (1987), The Mask of Command James M. McPherson (1988), Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War View the full article
  3. Fighting between planes began in daylight which allowed pilots and gunners to see what was going on so they could target their prey and see enemies attacking. There were advantages to flying at night though, so work began on the techniques and technology of night fighting. Night Fighting in WWI The first serious night fighting took place over Britain during WWI. German airships, sent to bomb British cities, made use of the darkness to provide cover. They were flying over enemy territory far from home and needed every advantage they could get. The British responded as well as they could with the resources they had. Bristol Fighters and Sopwith Camels soared into the sky, just as they did during the day, to take on the aggressors. They had no specialist equipment to help them see in the darkness. They had to rely on their eyesight, hoping for a bright moon to illuminate the bombers. Their successes were small. Camels being prepared for a sortie. The Start of WWII During WWII night fighting was much more significant. Huge waves of bombers used darkness to protect their lumbering and vulnerable frames from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns, as they pounded their enemy’s military and industrial facilities. First in the Battle of Britain, then in Allied strikes against Germany, and then in attacks on mainland Japan. Night-time bombers struck the heartland of all the combatants. Technologically, things had changed a little. Bright searchlights scoured the skies above cities, trying to illuminate bombers as they came in on their attack runs. It was a hit or miss business. Radar was a more important step forward. Ground-based radar stations identified incoming enemy aircraft and directed fighters to them. Once the planes were in the sky, everything was much as it had been during WWI. Pilots rushed around in the darkness, flying the same planes they used in daylight, trying to shoot enemies illuminated by the moon and stars. ATS officers-in-training crew a searchlight in Western Command, 1944. Enter Airborne Radar America, Britain, and Germany were all working on technology that would change the game entirely. It was airborne radar. If a plane could be equipped with its own airborne radar, then it could target enemy aircraft without having to see them. The gun sights of planes had already moved away from basic physical ones. It was the logical next step. The British, working in secret, were the first to achieve success with airborne radar. They had already moved Bristol Blenheim fighters, outclassed in daylight by the German Bf109, into a night fighting role. They equipped some of those planes with radar. In July 1940, a Blenheim destroyed a Dornier Do 17 in a night fight. It was the first successful intercept using airborne radar. Night fighting was coming into its own. The nose of a Lichtenstein radar-equipped Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter. The Bristol Beaufighter Retro-fitting radar onto existing planes was a useful step, but what was really required was a purpose-built night fighter. Designed for the unique circumstances of fighting in the dark, with its radar equipment built in, it would give its pilots a huge edge. The British, building on their success with the Blenheim, were the first to field a high-performance purpose-built night fighter. It was another Bristol model; this time named the Beaufighter. The Beaufighter was fast and maneuverable if a little difficult to handle on takeoff. With four 20mm cannons and six 7.7mm machine-guns, it had the heaviest armament of any fighter in the air. Its radar had a range of four miles, allowing pilots to close in on their enemies for the kill. Bristol Beaufighter Mk X, NE255/EE-H, of No. 404 Squadron RCAF at RAF Davidstow Moor. American Efforts Beaufighters were purpose built for night fighting, but it was not the role the aircraft had originally been designed for. Instead, they were a purpose-built variant on an existing model. The first purpose-designed night fighter was American. The Northrop P/F-61 Black Widow was designed in response to the RAF’s night fighter success in 1940. It entered production late in 1943 and first saw action in July 1944. In its first European engagement, the Black Widow destroyed four German planes. Around the same time, it had its first successes against Japanese planes in the Pacific. Interim measures were needed while the Black Widow was designed and produced. For the first few years of the war, American forces used the Douglas P-70 as an adapted night fighter. In Europe, they also used British Beaufighters. The first YP-61 Black Widow night fighter to arrive at Orlando Army Air Base, November 1943 is met by a 349th Night Fighter Squadron Douglas P-70 “Black Magic”. German Nightfighters Although ahead of the Allies in many areas of military technology, the Germans were behind in the race to field airborne radar. They spent the first few years relying on day fighters, ground radar, and searchlights. It was not until the summer of 1942 that they started fielding fighters that carried their own radar. Two German planes became particularly noteworthy night fighters. The Messerschmitt Bf110 had served well during the early days of the war, escorting bombers on their missions. Enemy fighters outclassed it and, like the Bristol Blenheim, it was relegated to night-time defense duties. When the first German airborne radar became available, it was fitted to the latest model, the Bf110F-4. With its four machine-guns and two cannons, it became a hard hitting night-time interceptor. Also noteworthy was the Junkers Ju 88. A versatile three-seater aircraft, it carried several guns that fired diagonally upward, allowing it to attack high-flying bombers from below. It was one of Germany’s most effective defensive measures. Bf 110 G-4. Countering the Nightfighters The success of the night fighters led to counter-measures. Among them was “Window,” an RAF technique in which bundles of aluminum strips were dropped from bombers. They confused the radar, making it hard for the Germans to attack them. Such simple measures could not change the fact that night fighting was here to stay. Purpose-built planes with purpose-built equipment could fight each other effectively at night. The war in the skies would never be the same. Source: Francis Crosby (2010), The Complete Guide to Fighters & Bombers of the World View the full article
  4. The excitement of war had no doubt enthralled the young Smedley Butler. He became a US Marine Corps Major General, the highest rank achievable at the time, and when he died, he was the most decorated Marine in US history. However, he was a vociferous critic of the wars America raged and their consequences, and he exposed a plot by wealthy businessmen to overthrow the US government. Born into Privilege Smedley Butler was born on July 30, 1881, in West Chester, Pennsylvania into an influential Quaker family. His father served as a US Congressman for over 30 years, and his grandfather served two terms in Congress. Butler attended the elite Haverford School and was set for a life of privilege and power. However, much to the angst of his father, just 38 days before turning 17, Butler dropped out of High School to enlist in the Marine Corps during the Spanish-American War. Lying about his age, he received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Marines. Following training, in 1898 Butler was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba after it had been captured. He did not see action during that war, and after a brief stint on the cruiser the USS New York, he returned home to be discharged. However, in 1899 Butler was commissioned as a First Lieutenant, and a long and legendary career in the Marine Corps began. In 1899 Butler was sent to Manila in the Philippines where he became bored with garrison life. Opting to pass the time with alcohol, he was temporarily relieved of his command. In October he finally saw action and got to do what as it turned out he did well – lead Marines in combat. With 300 Marines under his charge, he set out for the little town of Noveleta to quell a group of Filipino rebels. With his first taste of combat, Butler established himself as a capable leader. War, War, and More War In 1900 Butler was about to leave the Philippines for Guam when he was redirected to China. The Boxer Rebellion had erupted, and the Marines were sent into the fray. He took part in the Battle of Tientsin in July and then the Gaselee Expedition. Butler was shot in the thigh when he climbed out of a trench to save a fellow officer who had been wounded. His action saved the officer and Butler was promoted to Captain by Brevet. He was one of only 20 marines to receive the Marine Corps Brevet Medal when it was created in 1921. During his next session of combat, Butler proved his legendary abilities; as well as his disdain for war. Known as The Banana Wars, they were a series of conflicts spanning 30 years in Central America and the Caribbean. Butler took part in occupations, police actions, and interventions on behalf of the US. Butler (far right) with three other legendary Marines. From left to right: Sergeant Major John H. Quick, Major General Wendell Cushing Neville, Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune. In 1903 Butler was sent to Honduras to defend the US Consulate during a revolt. At Trujillo, Bonillista Rebels and Honduran soldiers were fighting. At the sight of the Marines, they stopped. Butler found the US consul hiding under the consulate floor boards and rescued him. They then left the area, and the fighting resumed. From 1909 to 1912, Butler served as the muscle for US policy throughout Nicaragua and Panama. He led his Marines from one battle to the next. In 1914 Butler was in Mexico on a spy mission. He traveled to Mexico City incognito as a railroad employee. There he ascertained the strength of the Mexican Army and returned with the necessary information for a US military invasion. In April, a force of nearly 6,000 US troops landed in Veracruz. After days of intense fighting and heavy sniper fire in the streets, Butler’s men were once again victorious. The US Government changed its plan from a full invasion of Mexico to maintaining control of Veracruz. For his actions, Butler was awarded the first of his two Medals of Honor. Critic of War In 1915, the Haitians decided it was their turn to revolt. Once again, Butler (now a Major) was sent in with a contingent of Marines to intervene. In October, leading a patrol of 44 mounted Marines, they were ambushed by over 400 Cacos fighters. Throughout the night, the Marines held their position until at daybreak they charged the superior enemy force which fled. By November only the rebel mountain stronghold of Fort Riviere remained. With about 100 men Butler led his Marines through a small hole in a wall of the Fort. They fought the Cacos in a short, intense hand-to-hand combat. One marine was injured, and all 51 Haitians were killed. For his actions that day, Butler was one of only two Marines to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice. MArines from a sergeant’s course form up for a run at the Memorial at Quantico. Photo by Lance Cpl. Cuong Le. In October 1918, aged 37, Butler was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. In France, during WWI he was given command of a debarkation depot which sent American forces to the battlefields. Despite his petitions to be moved to the front, he was given a reserve role as he was considered brilliant but unreliable. Following the war, he was Commander General of the Marine Barracks at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. From 1927 to 1929, Butler was Commander of the Marine Expeditionary Force in China. When he returned to the US in 1929, he was promoted to Major General, becoming, at age 48, the youngest major general of the Marine Corps. After his career in the Marines Butler’s outspoken criticism of war earned him equal notoriety. For all his actions in the wars, Butler had become disenfranchised with it all. While touring the country speaking against war, one of the nation’s finest warriors had this to say about it: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism… Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” View the full article
  5. In the early days of the Normandy campaign 20 Canadian soldiers, members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and 27th Armoured Regiment (part of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment), were captured and executed by Waffen SS forces in a monastery near Caen, France. The incident was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention, which was signed by Germany before the war. The executioner was the infamous SS Standartenfuhrer, Kurt Meyer. Meyer was in charge of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and under its wing, the fanatical 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. The Hitlerjugend Division was comprised of ex-members of the Hitler Youth, who were sent to Caen to participate in combat against the invading Allies. Their senior officers were battle-hardened Waffen SS members. Among them was Kurt Meyer, nicknamed Panzermeyer. Before the war, he was trying to establish a career as an apprentice shopkeeper, road builder, and a postman, but was unable to keep a job. He joined the Nazi Party in 1930, three years before Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Soon after the beginning of the war, in 1939, Meyer was awarded the Iron Cross and quickly rose through the ranks. He fought on battlefields all over Europe ― he fought in Poland, Netherlands, the Balkans, the Eastern Front and finally France during the Allied invasion. Meyer excelled in battle but also gained a reputation as a war criminal, executing civilians and prisoners alike. Canadians on Juno Beach, June 1944. The captured Canadians were all young men, barely out of school, with no combat experience. They were outmanoeuvred and captured in June 1944. The headquarters of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment was located in the Ardenne Abbey, so the soldiers were taken there. The rest of the story is based on evidence gathered during an investigation of the massacre. Their bodies were discovered on July 8th, 1944, after the Abbey had finally been liberated by the Canadian Army. First, they found the body of Lieutenant Thomas Windsor. Some of the bodies were found by the villagers around the premises. Examinations of the remains revealed that the soldiers had either been shot or bludgeoned directly in the head. After the discovery, their bodies were properly buried. Further investigations concluded that the soldiers were shot during the evening on June 7th, and on the following day. In addition to the 20 confirmed cases, two more Canadian soldiers are believed to have suffered the same fate on June 17th, also on the premises of the Abbey, but their bodies were never found. Kurt Meyer. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de After a year of investigation, in the period between 1944 and 1945, the Canadian War Crimes Commission, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce Macdonald, managed to put together the pieces of who was responsible for the murders. Kurt Meyer remained the prime suspect. The Ardenne Abbey massacre was only one of several war crimes of which Meyer was accused. In total, five charges were laid against him in relation to the Ardenne Abbey massacre: Inciting and advising soldiers under his command to refuse quarter to Allied troops. Commanding his troops to kill 23 POWs at or near the villages of Buron and Authie on 7th of June 1944. Commanding his troops, on 8th of June 1944, to kill seven prisoners of war at the Abbaye Ardenne, and as a result of such orders, the prisoners were shot and killed. (Alternative to the third charge) Responsibility for the killing of seven Canadian POWs at the Abbaye Ardenne on 8th of June 1944. Ordering the killing of 11 Canadian POWs at the Abbaye Ardenne on 7th June 1944. Meyer (right) with SS high ranking officers Fritz Witt and Max Wunsche in Caen, 1944. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de One of the main witnesses to the case was the SS Private Alfred Helzel, who confirmed to the Canadian authorities that he and other soldiers under Meyer’s command were given orders not to take prisoners. However, Helzel withdrew his claim in court but was later convinced to confirm it again. Citizens of the towns of Authie and Buron testified against the 12th SS and to the various atrocities committed against Canadian soldiers. Various Canadian soldiers also testified, and most important among them was Private Stanley Dudka. He was taken a prisoner and witnessed the German military police pick ten random prisoners who were later taken to an unknown location. Among the ten men was Private Moss, whose body was identified in Ardenne Abbey. The central witness in the case was Jan Jesionek, a Polish soldier who had been pressed into service by the Wehrmacht. Jesionek confirmed that he overheard Meyer say to his fellow officer: “What should we do with these prisoners; they only eat up our rations?” They settled on the “no prisoners” policy afterwards. Jesionek then saw each prisoner being questioned and led to the garden of the Abbey. The soldiers were shot in the back of their heads, one by one, as they finished questioning. This was done to six prisoners. Jesionek and three fellow drivers examined the bodies after execution, all lying in the garden and surrounded by blood. According to Jesionek, the Canadians realized what was happening, each prisoner shaking hands with his comrades before walking to the garden and being shot. Uncertainty over Meyer’s commands remained since Jesionek never heard Meyer give the order to kill the Canadians. Meyer defended himself, claiming he had no knowledge of the executions. He said that he had seen the bodies in the garden two days after they were shot. By his own testimony, he was disgusted and ordered the bodies to be buried. He also claimed that he even tried to punish the ones who killed the Canadians, but was unsuccessful in conducting the punishment. These claims were refuted by French teenagers, however, who lived in the Abbey and testified that no bodies were visible in the garden when they went there the day after the murders. Meyer was found guilty of inciting his troops to commit murder and of being responsible as a commander for the killings that happened in Ardenne Abbey. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Kurt Meyer was set free on 7th September 1954, after serving nine years in prison in Canada. Ardenne Abbey Memorial. By Burtonne – CC BY-SA 3.0 In 1984, a monument was erected for the victims of the Ardenne Abbey massacre. The inscription, followed by the names of those killed, reads: “IN MEMORIAM. ON THE NIGHT OF 7-8 JUNE 1944, EIGHTEEN CANADIAN SOLDIERS WERE MURDERED IN THIS GARDEN WHILE BEING HELD HERE AS PRISONERS OF WAR. TWO MORE PRISONERS DIED HERE, OR NEARBY, ON 17 JUNE 1944. LEST WE FORGET.” View the full article
  6. Some commanders achieve exceptional results by following the rules and sticking with the normal approach. Others achieve greatness through innovation and outlandishness. These are some of those mavericks. Alexander the Great Building on his father’s achievements, this Macedonian leader transformed his army. He abandoned heavy supply trains for fast movement, pushed relentlessly into new territory, and did what others considered impossible. Always ready to adapt, he adopted new weapons and fighting styles, including turning his shield-bearers into a commando-style strike force. As he roamed the world, he was always ready to embrace new ways of fighting. Oliver Cromwell An unshakable personality in a time of substantial change, Cromwell rose from obscurity to become king of England in all but name. He achieved it through decisive command of his cavalry and dedication to professionalism. Under him, England developed a highly trained, uniform standing army for the first time in its history. He was a leader people would look back on and emulate. Napoleon reviewing the troops Napoleon One of Cromwell’s admirers, Napoleon began his career as a swift and cunning commander. In Italy, he darted around the country, dividing and conquering. In central Europe, he defeated superior numbers through battlefield cunning and an army transformed by his leadership. Although his tactics later stagnated, he had a metamorphic effect on European command. Shaka Zulu One of Africa’s most daring commanders, Shaka Zulu inherited a tribe and forged an empire. Like many military greats, he instilled discipline and strict training. His work went far beyond that in reconstructing Zulu society to support his armies. He abandoned long throwing spears for short stabbing ones making his troops deadly in close quarters fighting. He trained his men to run dozens of miles barefoot and then immediately fight in battles. Simón Bolívar The man known as the Great Liberator, Bolívar believed with unswerving passion in the cause of Latin American independence. When Spanish control of its colonies began to waver, he led armies that freed an area now occupied by a dozen different countries. He marched his men through mountains and jungles, taking enemies by surprise, and emancipated the region’s slaves to ensure support for his war. Stonewall Jackson Perhaps the most eccentric commander of the American Civil War, Jackson was also one of the war’s greatest generals. A strict disciplinarian, he offended his men with his harsh punishments even as he won them over with concern for their welfare. Through fast and unexpected maneuvers, he consistently outflanked and surprised his enemies. He defeated four Union armies in the Valley Campaign alone. In a time of industrialized war, he served near the front, sometimes taking part in hand to hand fighting alongside his troops. Giuseppe Garibaldi More than any other figure, Garibaldi was responsible for uniting Italy. He raised an army of volunteers that became a movement, outfought professional armies, and drove the Habsburg Empire out of Italy. Uncompromising in his principles, he forced the hands of politicians through successes they had not sought and thereby created a nation. Lawrence of Arabia T. E. Lawrence was a British officer working in the Middle East during the First World War. Deeply attached to the Arab people, he led their forces in a succession of raids against Turkish supply lines. He adopted Arab culture to the extent it shocked his superiors and he became caught between the two cultures. As Britain reneged on promises to its Arab allies, Lawrence kept fighting for their rights. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck The commander of German forces in East Africa in World War One, Lettow-Vorbeck knew he was completely outnumbered by the British. He, therefore, reorganized his men for guerrilla fighting and withdrew into the interior. Through four years of rough living and guerrilla raids, he distracted armies a dozen times the size of his own. The Red Baron Baron Manfred von Richthofen was the greatest air ace of the First World War. His daring, cunning, and mastery of aerial tactics were unmatched. He began a trend among German fliers for brightly painted planes, earning his unit the title of the Flying Circus. Serving as a mobile force up and down the lines, they struck terror into their enemies. Manfred von Richthofen (in the cockpit) by his famous Rote Flugzeug (“Red Aircraft”), with other members of Jasta 11. His brother, Lothar, is seated on the ground. Photographed 23 April 1917. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Heinz Guderian Having seen British tanks at the tail end of World War One, Guderian became fascinated by them. He developed the tanks and used tactics that brought Germany so much early success in World War Two. He was also one of the few officers able to stand up to Hitler, repeatedly arguing with the Fuhrer and yet surviving. George Patton Trained as a cavalry officer Patton, like Guderian, saw the rise of tanks and knew he wanted to make use of them. He became America’s most gifted tank commander and one of its leading generals in the Second World War. In France in 1944, he advanced so decisively that his tanks ran out of fuel. His swift maneuvers saw the Americans race through Germany and defeat Hitler’s counter-attack. Colorful and opinionated, Patton clashed with colleagues and superiors and was relieved of his command on more than one occasion. Orde Wingate A singular figure who did not get on well with his peers, Wingate was a great commando leader. Leading British Chindit forces in World War Two, he launched penetrating attacks far behind Japanese lines. His created strongholds deep in the jungle, untouchable by conventional forces. He repeatedly clashed with his more traditional peers, who undid much of his work after he died in service. Vo Nguyen Giap Vietnam’s greatest general, Giap led his nation to success against the French and Americans, reuniting north and south. His supply systems and guerrilla tactics allowed him to strike deep into enemy territory. He cut off heavily armed opponents and achieved significant victories with inferior technology. Sources: David Chandler and Ian Beckett (Eds) (1994), The Oxford History of the British Army. Charles Rivers Editors (2014), The Red Baron: The Life and Legacy of Manfred Von Richthofen. Mike Duncan (2013-2017), Revolutions Podcast. Alan Forrest (2011), Napoleon. David Rooney (1999), Military Mavericks: Extraordinary Men of Battle. View the full article
  7. During WWII, the US Army and its justice department dealt with many offenses carried out by the men in their ranks. From petty theft to rape and murder, life on the frontline sometimes caused soldiers to turn to crime for personal gain. But the army also had another problem ― one that was much more common during wartime ― desertion. Around 21,000 American soldiers faced charges for desertion, and 49 of those were given severe sentences. Out of those 49 soldiers who were sentenced to death, only one was executed. His was the first death sentence for desertion that was carried out since the American Civil War. His name was Eddie Slovik. Slovik was a troubled youth and was frequently arrested as a minor. At 12 years of age, he was arrested after he had broken into a foundry with several accomplices to steal brass to sell on the black market. Between 1932 and 1939, he was apprehended several times for crimes such as petty theft, breaking and entering and disturbing the peace. Slovik’s last adventure into disobeying the law during peacetime happened in 1939 when he and a few friends stole a car and crashed it while extremely intoxicated. Having spent three years in jail, Slovik was paroled in 1942. He found a job in a plumbing company, married and sort of backed down from his turbulent life. As he had a criminal record, he was at first classified as unfit for duty by the authorities. But as the war progressed and the US Army was in need of fresh recruits for the invasion of France, Slovik was reclassified in January 1944 and drafted. In August he was sent to join the 109th Infantry Regiment, US 28th Infantry Division in France, as part of a 12-man replacement detachment. En route to his unit, somewhere in France, he was met by an enemy artillery barrage. It was his first encounter with the reality of war, and his first instinct was to hide. Together with a friend he had met in basic training, Slovik found refuge in an improvised cover. As a result, the two men became separated from the rest of the detachment. A German heavy mortar firing in defense against a U.S. attack on 22 November 1944 in the Hürtgen forest. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J28303 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. It was there that he witnessed the true horror of war. Later, he stated that his christening in the barrage of fire was the moment when he realized that he “wasn’t cut out for combat.” Slovik and Private John Tankey, the friend with whom he sought cover during the bombardment, wandered around for a while. Eventually they encountered a Canadian military police unit. They spent the next six weeks with the Canadians, after which they finally joined their designated unit. Slovik became persistent in his attempts to avoid combat in any way possible. When he was refused transfer in a rear unit, he became determined to desert. On October 9, that was exactly what he did. In order to make his intentions clear, he wrote a letter which he handed to an enlisted cook at his headquarters detachment, who was to serve as his messenger: I, Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion, we were in Albuff in France. I came to Albuff as a replacement. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night. The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out, I couldn’t move. I stayed there in my foxhole till it was quiet and I was able to move. I then walked into town. Not seeing any of our troops, so I stayed overnight at a French hospital. The next morning I turned myself over to the Canadian Provost Corp. After being with them six weeks I was turned over to American M.P. They turned me loose. I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I’d run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND I’LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE. — Signed Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik A.S.N. 36896415 He was soon captured and taken into custody. Slovik was then brought before Lieutenant Colonel Ross Henbest, who offered him the chance to return to his unit and forget about deserting. The cook and the military policeman whom he had met before his capture both advised him to do so as well, before it was too late. A United States wartime poster deprecating absence What constitutes as bravery, in this case, was the fact that Slovik refused to stand down from his decision, no matter the price. On the other hand, he was also aware that, given the circumstances, the worst thing that could happen to him was a dishonorable discharge and a prison sentence, all of which he considered far more acceptable than combat. After he refused all of his chances to return to his unit, Slovik was court-martialed. His trial could not have occurred at a worst time. In November 1944 the Battle of Hurtgen Forrest, which proved to be the longest and perhaps the bloodiest battle that the US Army faced during WWII, was entering its third month. The fear of desertion was becoming a real threat to the American war effort, as the winter weather was taking its toll on an otherwise successful campaign in continental Europe. Slovik was court-martialed and sentenced to death, partially as an example to others who thought desertion was an option. Once he realized he was actually going to be executed, Slovik wrote a plea addressed to General Eisenhower. His desperate last attempt to preserve his life was rejected and on January 31, 1945, just a few months before the war ended in Europe, Edward Donald Slovik was executed by firing squad. As noted earlier in this article, a number of other soldiers were sentenced to death for desertion, but their sentences were all revoked due to different reasons. The US Army certainly did not feel comfortable with killing their own men. But Slovik’s case was different. The way he acted, his nonchalance towards authority and the fact that he had even written a stubborn explanation for his decision apparently triggered his superiors much more than he expected. Slovik was buried in the notorious Plot E of Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in Fère-en-Tardenois, alongside 95 other members of the US Army; all of whom were sentenced to death due to crimes such as rape and murder. This decision sparked sympathy after the war, as Slovik’s honest statement was perceived as an act of a true pacifist by some and not that of a coward. Somewhere in between, Slovik’s soul still roams. Before we cast the stone of judgment concerning his fate, we must first realize how absolutely horrendous it is to witness the devastation of war. Slovik’s rational fear overcame his sense of duty which was not at all uncommon during the time. However, the combination of circumstances made him the only one who had to pay for his decision with what he considered dearest ― his own life. View the full article
  8. Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Andy Robertshaw on either side of the pond where he reminds us that the Great War experience for many soldiers wasn’t about combat, despair or all that nonsense about futility that drives fiction writers and other propagators of myth and legend who have done so well out of the conflict in recent years. The army called up a whole lot of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers for their trade skills. Soldiers needed bread, their horses needed blacksmiths and farriers and in this book by Jeremy Gordon-Smith we learn that the dead needed photographers. Well, actually, that isn’t quite correct. The dead didn’t need anything; it was their grieving relatives and the great bureaucratic machine that was the British Expeditionary Force that needed the snappers. One of them was Ivan Bawtree, an employee of Kodak in London who went out to Flanders to work for the Graves Registration Commission to record the tens of thousands of graves, the cemeteries and workings of the people making sure all the king’s men were afforded a decent burial. This was a gargantuan task that led to the construction of hundreds of war cemeteries dubbed the greatest architectural project of the age and if you ever see these places as they are today with their lovely lawns and shrubbery, you do have to marvel at how it all got done so promptly in the twenty years following the Armistice. Ivan Bawtree was a good church going man from Surrey who understood the importance of community and doing things right. He was devoted photographer from a young age and this book will confirm he was also a very good one. He did us the service of leaving a very accessible diary in which he had the ability to describe places, people and events in some style. He had the photographer’s eye for detail and he cared about what he was doing. The author is his great-great nephew and enjoys that slightly frustrating pleasure of knowing his father and uncle had the chance to spend time with Ivan before he died in 1979 and it is obvious he was a fascinating man who influenced people who knew him. I only had one Great War veteran in my family circle as a child and the only thing he ever said about those years was when I saw the scars on his chest and arms one day when he was rummaging around for a lost packet of cigarettes early one morning. “He pointed to the marks made by shell fragments and said “Don’t you ever get any of these, boy!” and that was it. Nothing else. He died in 1972 when I was 12 years old. But Ivan left much more of a physical reminder and this book is the sum of much of it. Mr Gordon-Smith writes from the heart as he tells Ivan’s story and those of other relatives who experienced the war to end all wars. We learn about the daily grind of travelling around the battlefields visiting cemeteries and individual graves to photograph the spots where men were buried. Some of this was done under shellfire and always with an element of risk when working in the Ypres Salient. The difficulties of doing the work, building dark rooms and drying facilities, handling glass plate negatives and even the simple act of getting from A to B are all included in Ivan’s story. The author does a lot to get things into context and is careful to remember many of his readers will have only a minimal understanding of the war and its phases. I found the diary entries and the day-to-day stuff to be quite enthralling and the book really came alive for me after the Armistice when Ivan, who served with the Royal Engineers, began working for the nascent Imperial War Graves Commission. We see all the grizzly stuff of men going out to recover the dead and bringing them in for burial. The author recalls the work of Chinese labourers involved in clearing the battlefield and just what a dangerous place it could be even after the guns had fallen silent. I’ve reviewed a lot of Great War books and talked often about battlefield touring and the cemeteries. Rudyard Kipling had insured each man could at rest under a headstone confirming he was known unto God and that his memory was not blotted out. The thing that hit me hardest from reading this book was appreciating there are still over 160,000 men out there in France and Belgium who have no grave at all save for the patch of ground they may one day be found in. I’ve heard stories about rich farmland that shields thousands that may never be exhumed. One man who does have a decent grave is my uncle Leslie. He can be found in Divisional cemetery at Vlamertinghe just a mile and a bit west of Ypres. Ivan almost certainly took the photographs used on one or both of the graves registration cards for my uncle that are treasured items in my family archive. He had been working in that area and the village is referred to a number of times in his diary and other writing. The fact he was there gives this book extra resonance for me. We won’t all have that connection, but if you are looking for more from your Great War reading in the form of books that add depth and new dimensions to your understanding of the conflict, then this book really is ideal. Aside from the information, it also happens to be a good read and the photography is outstanding. The author has been busy with Photoshop merging the old and the new to make interesting montages of well-known locations. He is a genuine battlefield pilgrim and this book is not just an exercise to take advantage of the centenaryfest now, happily, in it’s final year. The book acts as a battlefield guide of sorts and will fit well into your bookshelves filled with traditional guides and gazetteers of the war. Above all it is a tribute to the hardy and sensitive men of the Graves Registration units who built the silent cities, the brilliance of Fabian Ware and the IWGC and the on-going work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. And then there is Ivan, a man I would like to have known. That he was a good man shines through the pages of this lovely book. It is fitting to know that he rests in peace. Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online PHOTOGRAPHING THE FALLEN A War Graves Photographer on the Western Front 1915-1919 By Jeremy Gordon-Smith Pen & Sword Military ISBN: 978 1 47389 365 8 View the full article
  9. The Romans generally tolerated other religions, allowing and even welcoming Egyptian gods into their pantheon. Though they viewed the monotheistic Jews as being odd, they left more or less free to practice their own religion. The great Jewish revolt was not a religious war, but a war against Roman imperialism and unfair taxation. In the 60’s CE a financial crisis forced Rome to raise the taxes throughout the empire. The Jews in Jerusalem resisted the extra taxes heavily and fighting broke out after Roman forces looted a temple and killed as many as 6,000 citizens. This massacre prompted a region-wide revolt and the roman garrison of 30,000 was ambushed as they tried to retreat from the area. Several thousand Romans were killed and their weapons and armor were used by the Jewish militia forces. With the garrison defeated the Emperor Nero sent in accomplished general Vespasian to handle the rebellion. Vespasian had a great deal of success as he focused out securing many of the smaller cities and forts in the region before focusing on Jerusalem. Vespasian had to return to Rome to ultimately be proclaimed the next Emperor and left his son, Titus, to finish the war. Titus began the siege of Jerusalem in 66 CE. Titus surrounded the city and even with it surrounded he allowed travelers to enter the city. This was to strain the supplies of the city in the event of a lengthy siege. Jerusalem was a heavily fortified city with several sets of walls built in harmony with the many hills and steep valleys of the area. The source for the war, Josephus, describes the three walls of Jerusalem as being as magnificently constructed as the temples they protected. Broad walls were protected by towers 40 feet and higher and the natural valleys made many approaches uphill. Model reconstruction of a section of Jerusalem’s walls. Picture taken by deror avi Despite the fortifications of the city, Titus decided to attack the city in February of 66 CE, his decision affirmed after one of the negotiators was wounded by a missile. Several siege engines worked to launch stones at the fortifications and rams approached to breach the walls. The defenders sent forth many assault parties to dismantle the siege weapons and had enough success that the breach was postponed for several months. Same model, with a view of the fortress and the connected temple wall. Picture taken by deror avi When the Romans finally breached the first wall of the city, they gained access to the most recent expansion of the city and were faced with the two other walls and the Antonia fortress which stood at the end of the second wall and protected the great temple of Herod. The Romans were again stalled by the stout walls, they had breached the second wall within days, but that only led to an inner neighborhood confined by the third wall and the fortress. Bitter street fighting pushed the Romans back through their breach of the second wall and though the Jews fought desperately at the breach, Roman siege engines were able to widen the breach and take the inner neighborhood. Though the Romans had the first two walls breached and portions of the city captured they remaining city was well defended and supplied. To solve the problem of new supplies getting into the city Titus built a siege wall that looped around the valley outside the unbreached third wall and through the Roman held sections of the city, thereby fully containing the city. Titus personally did rounds of the wall during the construction to ensure its completeness and raise the men’s morale. This did put a strain on the defenders, but they had able rainwater cisterns to hold out their defense. Titus then sent forces on the outside facing sections of the first wall and against the inner Antonia fortress. The Romans concentrated a huge assault against the fortress with stones thrown from siege weapons and battering rams, but the defenders caused a great deal of damage on the Romans by throwing rocks and missiles down from the tower. A few sections were damaged in the fortress but very little was accomplished. The assault on the old outer wall also failed. Seeing that it may not be taken by force, Titus sent men to take it in a nighttime sneak attack. It was initially successful but once the alarm was sounded the fortress defenders put up a fight that lasted through the night and well into the next day. The Romans had gotten a piece of the fortress and they steadily pressed forward to take the whole thing. The fortress fell in late July. Herods temple in Jerusalem, model based on texts of Josephus The fortress was attached to the walls around the great temple and a fierce fight raged at this junction. Titus had expressed a desire to preserve the temple, likely with thoughts of turning it into a Roman pantheon of sorts as it was a magnificent building. Unfortunately for Titus’ plans a soldier threw a torch onto the temple and started a frenzied fire that quickly consumed the temple. The Jews were forced to withdraw due to the fire but they were able to bait the Romans into over-pursuing them and spread the fire quickly into the advancing Romans. Many perished in the rapidly spreading fire and the remaining Roman advanced force was cut off from reinforcements and, with their backs to the fire, were slaughtered by the Jews. Map of the siege of Jerusalem with movements of Roman army. By Barosaurus Lentus CC BY-SA 3.0 When lines of attack were reformed the Romans powered through the temple district and into the lower areas of the city. Resistance was fierce only in the higher upper city containing Herod’s palace. Many days of urban combat followed and the Romans assaulted from many sides as they were finally able to breach the inner walls in multiple areas. Eventually, by September, the city was taken completely. Underground tunnels helped many escape, but the city had been harboring a great many rebels and refugees from the rebellion and many could not escape in time. As many as a million people, civilians and soldiers, both Roman and Jewish perished in the lengthy siege. After taking Jerusalem, Titus left a small force to defeat any remaining strongholds including the mountain fortress of Masada. The brutal force utilized in the siege of Jerusalem and the ruthless nature of the campaign was a definite show of force for the Roman Empire. Though the Levant was farther from Rome than many of their other territories, they were adamant about keeping the area as a well behaved and profitable territory of their empire. By William McLaughlin for War History Online View the full article
  10. The Ace Fighter cult came to prominence during the First World War, which was the first conflict that utilized the use of aircraft in a larger scale. The notorious Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen was one of the first to establish the “ace” tradition within the German Air Force. He was dubbed the ace-of-aces with 80 credited aerial victories. Prior to WWII, Luftwaffe underwent serious changes, disobeying the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that forbade Germany to develop an air force. Hermann Goering ignored the agreement and started to build up for a future war in the 1930’s. The German air armada produced 119,871 airplanes in a period between 1939 and 1945. The pilots who manned those planes were respected and popular in the Third Reich and the stories of their victories were often part of the Nazi propaganda campaign. The Luftwaffe operated with 3,400,000 personnel throughout the war. German day and night fighter pilots claimed roughly 70,000 aerial victories during World War II, 25,000 over British or American and 45,000 over Russian flown aircraft. Their losses, on the other hand, were high as well ― approximately 14,800 day and night pilots lost their lives and 6,900 were wounded in action. The Luftwaffe had 103 pilots who shot down over 100 airplanes. Note that a fighter ace needs to shoot down five or more enemy aircraft to earn his title. 10. Theodor Weissenberger – 208 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Weissenberger’s military career began in 1936, when he volunteered in the Luftwaffe, after gaining experience as a civilian glider pilot. He was attached to the heavy fighter squadron Jagdgeschwader 77 in 1941, just after finishing his training. Weissenberger claimed his first victory on the skies over Norway against the RAF on October 24, 1941. From that point on he carried out 23 more aerial victories and received the German Cross in Gold. In 1942, he was transferred to another unit, Jagdgeschwader 5, where he received another prestigious medal ― the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, after achieving 38 kills. Later, in November 1944, he took additional training to master the Me 262 jet fighter, thus becoming the commander of the first operational jet fighter unit in the world. During this period, he was credited with 8 more victories when he downed seven B-17 bombers and P-51 fighter aircraft. He survived the war as a Me 262 fighter pilot with 208 certified aerial victories and 33 more possible, in total, in his 375 combat missions. He died in a car crash during a racing incident on June 11th, 1950 in Nurburgring. 9. Heinrich Ehrler – 208 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Ehrler spent most of his wartime experience on the Eastern Front, where he claimed the majority of his victories. Nine more victories were attributed to him on the Western Front, eight of which were achieved flying the Me 262 jet fighter. He joined the Wehrmacht in 1935 and served as an anti-aircraft gunner in the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. In 1944, his name was slurred as he was used as a scapegoat after the disastrous sinking of a Bismarck-class battleship, the Tirpitz, during an RAF bombing raid. He was put to house-arrest. At that time he was nominated for the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, but, because of the incident, was never awarded it. He was court-martialled, stripped of command over his fighter unit and put under house arrest. The High Command later called him to fill in the ranks, for the war was rapidly approaching its end. His fellow pilots reported that Ehrler took the job with apathy as the once glorious triumphs of the Luftwaffe deteriorated to suicide missions by the end of the war. He himself ended his life by ramming into an American bomber. Ehrler’s last radio transmission was: “Theo, I have run out of ammunition. I’m going to ram this one. Good bye. We’ll see each other in Valhalla.” “Theo” refers to Theodor Weissenberger, the number ten on our list. 8. Hemann Graf – 212 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Hermann Graf was, like many others, achieved his ace status in the bloody air battles above the Soviet Union. There he claimed 202 victories, becoming the first pilot in history to gain such score. Prior to the war, Graf was a football player and a glider pilot-enthusiast. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1935, where he was initially selected for transport aviation, but transferred to Jagdgeschwader 51 in 1939. Just before the war, he was stationed on the Franco-German border where he did patrol duty. He also served as a flight instructor in Romania, where he provided training for Romanian pilots. During the occupation of Crete, he supported the ground forces in the final stages of invasion. Graf flew 830 combat missions and won 10 more aerial victories on the Western Front, which includes six four-engine bombers and one Mosquito. After the war, he was captured by the Americans but handed over to the Soviets. He survived the Soviet POW camps and returned to Germany. Hermann Graf died in 1988, in his hometown, Engen. 7. Heinrich Bär – 220 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Bär fought on all major German theaters of war ― he flew missions on the Mediterranean, Eastern and Western fronts with a total score of more than a thousand flights. He was shot down 18 times and was wounded three times and survived. Bär claimed 220 or 221 aerial victories, 16 of which were achieved while flying the Me 262 jet fighter, which was, at that time, fairly difficult to man. Bär was a Saxon, proud of his thick accent, who joined the Reichswehr in 1934 and transferred to Luftwaffe in 1935. Initially serving as a mechanic, he gradually managed to pilot a transport aircraft, while informally training for a fighter plane. He achieved his first aerial victory on the French border in a skirmish in September 1939. From that moment on, he went to become one of the leading aces of the Luftwaffe. During the Battle of Britain, his score reached 17. When the invasion of the Soviet Union started, Bär he transferred to the Eastern Front, where he accumulated further kills. In February 1942, Bär was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. During the last years of the war, Bär also flew in the Me 262 jet fighter, claiming 17 victories. At the end of the war on May 4, 1945, Bär ordered his pilots to surrender, after destroying their Me 262 jets. This decision wasn’t taken lightly by his commanding officers and he was almost shot for insubordination. He avoided the firing squad, surrendered and survived the war. 6. Erich Rudorffer – 222 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Major Erich Rudorffer was certainly one of the most dedicated German aces. He served in all theaters of war, since the very start in Poland. Similar to his colleague, Bär, Rudorffer also flew more than a thousand missions and was shot down 16 times, during which he parachuted nine times and the rest included crash-landing. He holds the seventh place on an internationally recognized list of best pilots in the history of aerial warfare. More than 300 of his flights included combat. In the Eastern Front, he claimed 58 victories over the feared armored IL-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft. On one occasion, in 1941, he claimed that he had sunk a British submarine near the Isle of Portland, but the Royal Navy claimed otherwise. The Luftwaffe gave him credit only for damaging the submarine. Erich Rudorffer is the last living recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. The award was given during WWII for extreme bravery on the battlefield or for outstanding military leadership. 5. Wilhelm “Willie” Batz – 237 kills Wilhelm Batz (on the right) in conversation with Hptm. Gerd Barkhorn. Wikipedia / Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Willie Batz flew 445 combat missions. More than a half of them were his aerial victories. The vast majority (234) of his victories were achieved on the Eastern Front, where he battled Sturmoviks and four-engine bombers on the regular basis. An interesting fact is that Batz was rejected several times for combat assignments in the early stages of the war, as he served as a flight instructor at fighter pilot schools in Kaufbeuren and Bad Aibling. When the US bombers started raids on Romania’s Ploesti oil fields, Batz fought them off, downing three American bombers. In March 1944, he received the famous Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords for his service. In 1945, he was stationed in Hungary. He managed to extract his men back to Germany where they surrendered to the Allies, avoiding Soviet imprisonment, of which many Germans feared.Otto Kittel – 267 kills. 4. Otto Kittel – 267 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 The man who opened the hunting season on the Eastern Front was Otto Kittel, who earned his first aerial victory on the first day of Operation Barbarossa. In total, he flew 583 combat missions with a score of 267 victories. His tally was fairly modest during his use of the Messerschmitt Bf 109. By 1943, his count was 39, which is relatively insignificant in comparison to the other aces at that time. When he acquired the Focke-Wulf Fw190 fighter plane, the number of his aerial victories tripled before the end of the same year. He received both Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Kittel became famous for battling the armored Sturmoviks and earned himself the nickname “Butcher Killer” since “Butcher” was the unofficial name for the Sturmovik, an airplane that caused many troubles for the Wehrmacht. During one of his missions, Kittel was forced to land 80 km behind enemy lines. He managed to avoid detection disguised as a Russian peasant. Kittel was familiar with the Russian language and spoke Czech very well in addition. He passed several checkpoints and even received food from other peasants who couldn’t see through his disguise. Three days later, he reached the German lines. After a short leave, he was back in the cockpit. Otto Kittel was the highest-rated German fighter ace that died in combat, after being shot down by a Sturmovik gunner in February 1945. 3. Gunther Rall – 275 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 Gunther Rall became famous on the Eastern Front, where he often engaged in dogfights with Soviet fighter planes. He flew 621 combat missions and earned 275 aerial victories in total. On the Eastern Front alone, he achieved 272 of them and 241 were against other fighter planes. He first saw action during the Battle of France in May 1940, when he successfully defended a reconnaissance plane from three French P-36 Hawk fighter planes. He managed to down one of them. Soon after he was on the Eastern Front where he scored victories on a daily basis. Rall was shot down eight times and wounded three times. After one of his crash-landing, he was hospitalized and the doctors concluded that his back was broken in three places. He was sent to a hospital in Vienna and was told that he could never recover enough to fly again. Gunther Rall proved them wrong and he was back in the saddle, just a year after the accident. In 1942, he received his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross medal, to which were later added the Oak Leaves and Swords. He was presented with the award by Adolf Hitler himself. In April 1944, Rall was called back to participate in the Defense of the Reich against the Allied bombers. On one of his flights, he was once again shot down. Rall suffered minor injuries which included his left thumb being shot off. Due to infections, he was forced to step down from combat mission for a while. During this time, Rall studied the American planes that the Germans managed to capture. He was impressed with the luxury and performance by the enemy planes. Rall used his research to improve the tactics of his own pilots. After the war, Gunther Rall managed to find a job in the newly-established West German Army. He later became a General-Lieutenant and a military attaché in the NATO forces. 2. Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn – 301 kills Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 The number two on our list was a pilot who flew 120 combat missions all over Europe, before finally shooting down an enemy plane. After he found his “shooting eye”, as he himself called it, his tally began to constantly rise. Gerd flew with the famed Jagdgeschwader 52 squadron on the Eastern Front where he scored the majority of his aerial victories and a price was put on his head by the Red Army. He was responsible for the death of Nikolay Klepikov, the Hero of the Soviet Union and a Soviet fighter ace. Barkhorn’s awards include, of course, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, later adding the Oaks and Swords. Despite being the second most successful ace in the history of aviation, he was not awarded Diamonds in addition to his Knight’s Cross, after reaching his 300th kill. After being shot down several times, Barkhorn developed anxiety and combat stress which became especially apparent during his missions in defense of the Reich. In the last year of the war, he was surrounded by inexperienced pilots who were dropping like flies against the battle-hardened Allied crews. His mental instability increased and he was hospitalized. After a short leave, he returned as a pilot of the Me 262 jet fighter but didn’t score any victories with the new plane, which he considered too hard to control. Gerd Barkhorn died together with his wife in 1983, after a fatal car accident. 1. Erich “Bubi” Hartmann – 352 Bundesarchiv CC-BY-SA 3.0 The Germans called him Bubi, but the Soviets called him the Black Devil. He was the highest scoring pilot fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. He was only 20 years old, when he engaged in combat, in 1942, immediately becoming one of the best. Hartmann downed 345 Soviet aircraft and 7 American. He was loved and respected among his fellow-Luftwaffe pilots and Gerhard Barkhorn even served as best man on Hartmann’s wedding. Hartmann was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords and Diamonds for his immaculate record. Of all of his accomplishments, the one that he was most proud of was the fact that he had never lost a wingman. This, fairly, is something to be proud of, but history buffs couldn’t let it slide ― he did lose one of his wingman in 1943. His name was Major Gunther Capito. Other than being a pilot, he was also a great tactician. In his own words, we offer you a glimpse inside the mind of the greatest fighter pilot that ever lived: “Once committed to an attack, fly in at full speed. After scoring crippling or disabling hits, I would clear myself and then repeat the process. I never pursued the enemy once they had eluded me. Better to break off and set up again for a new assault. I always began my attacks from full strength, if possible, my ideal flying height being 22,000 ft because at that altitude I could best utilize the performance of my aircraft. Combat flying is based on the slashing attack and rough maneuvering. In combat flying, fancy precision aerobatic work is really not of much use. Instead, it is the rough maneuver which succeeds.” In his later years, after his military career had ended, he became a civilian flight instructor. He died of natural causes on 20 September 1993. View the full article
  11. Diesel-powered U-boats had to surface every day for four hours to recharge the batteries. It significantly increased their exposure, and hence vulnerability. Even after the invention of the snorkel, a method for underwater operation while using diesel the engine, the problem was solved only partially. Snorkels had imposed operational and habitable penalties on the submarine’s operations. While snorkeling, submarines couldn’t move at high speeds and extended cruising on diesel underwater led to a dangerous CO2 build-up of in the submarine’s compartments. The real breakthrough in submarine capabilities came with the development of a nuclear submarine, which could be underwater for several months. The Cold War between two superpowers, U.S. and USSR, had many “fronts”. The competition involved all three elements: space, land and water, and even underwater. The invention of the first nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was so important that it could be compared with the first human flight to the moon. It is hard to imagine the emotions of the people who were the first crew of this submarine. What could be the effects of radiation on sailors who had to undergo a long-term stay in the reactor proximity? How safe was it really? A big government project could become a real triumph or a terrible catastrophe. The submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) got its name from the famous novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, as well as in honor of the other submarine which was involved in World War – II USS Nautilus (SS-168). The vessel design efforts were led by Hyman George Rickover (January 27, 1900 – July 8, 1986) – four-star admiral of the US Navy who is known as the “Father of the nuclear fleet.” Admiral Hyman Rickover was born in a Jewish family in the town of Makow Mazowiecki (these days it was part of the Russian Empire, now Poland). Forced by the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1905, the family emigrated to the United States. After four years following the Congressional approval of a nuclear submarine program for the US Navy, “Nautilus” was ready for its maiden sail, and Eugene Wilkinson, its first Captain, transmitted a historic message: “Underway on nuclear power.” A view through a porthole aboard the large harbor tub PUSHMATAHA (YTB 830) of the nuclear-powered attack submarine ex-USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571) Eight months later, September 30, 1954, the submarine was approved by the US Navy. The crew of “Nautilus” consisted of 13 officers and 92 sailors. The submarine was equipped with six 533-mm bow torpedo tubes and carried 24 torpedoes aboard. Contrasted with the diesel-electric boats, “Nautilus” was characterized not only by the presence of a new power plant, but also by the housing design, the location of cisterns, premises, and other facilities. Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, 1957 Nautilus had a deadweight of about 4,000 tons, it was equipped with twin-shaft nuclear power plant with total capacity of 9860 kW and was capable of reaching a speed of over 20 knots. On August 3, 1958, Nautilus accomplished the first undersea voyage to the geographic North Pole. The “Nautilus” design had significant shortcomings. The mass-to-power ratio of the nuclear power reactor had been vast, so designers failed to house a part of the intended arsenal. The reactor shell alone weighed about 35 tons, while the weight of the biological protection, which comprised lead, steel, and other materials layers, reached about 740 tons. Interior space on board ex-USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571), 1985. Another problem was the noise that came from the working generator turbines. They produced a vibration that made boat’s sonar useless at a speed of 4 knots: the submarine became “deaf” while the noise-exposed it to enemy sonars. This major disadvantage was taken into account in the next generation nuclear submarine design. Starboard quarter view of the nuclear-powered attack submarine ex-USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571) moored at the Naval Shipyard. On May 8, 2002, submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) ended its service and went into retirement in the same city where it launched on 21 January 1954: Groton, Connecticut. Nowadays Nautilus is one of the exhibits of Submarine Force Library & Museum that is located next to the Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut. Aerial starboard quarter view of the nuclear-powered attack submarine ex-USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571) being towed under the Golden Gate Bridge, 1985 See more images of the legendary submarine at PICRYL, the largest public domain repository and search engine. Author: Tatiana Kiryukhina Picryl is a cross-platform application that allows finding traces of history in rare, ancient books, photos, posters and postcards from hundreds of sources like Library of Congress, The Internet Archive, and NASA. With convenient search tools and crowd-sourced tags — it’s one place for all your historical photography research needs.Follow them on Facebook or Twitter. All pictures provided by the author. View the full article
  12. During WWII, the American government tricked him into going on a secret and dangerous mission to save lives. After the war, only France and Russia thanked him. Robert Matlack Trimble was born on October 5, 1919, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He later joined the Boy Scouts, little knowing how well it would serve him. In the war, he served as a bomber pilot with the US 8th Air Force in England. When his tour of duty ended in December 1944, he was given a choice: return to America on a 21-day furlough to see his wife and newborn daughter, or go to a small US Airbase in Russia as a ferry pilot retrieving downed planes. He and his wife agreed that the latter option was best. Germany was losing, by then, and there was no more fighting in Russia. Such a posting would keep him safe until the war was over. Or so they thought. Britain, the US, and the USSR had become Allies against Nazi Germany and had agreed, amongst other things, to take care of each other’s troops. The USSR, however, had different ideas about what that meant. By 1945, the Soviets controlled all of Poland as they advanced towards Germany. They had no qualms about freeing civilians from concentration camps. However, they felt differently when it came to Soviet POWs. As far as they were concerned, the latter were not victims. They were traitors who deserved to be punished further. They did not care about the British, American, and other Allied POWs either. Those trapped in Soviet territory (including Poland) were left to fend for themselves; if they were lucky. Some were robbed and even killed by Soviet soldiers. Others were imprisoned as potential spies. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (seated left), US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference in Crimea in 1945 The Allies were in a tight spot. With the war still raging, they needed the Soviets and could not afford to annoy them. Pleas to release Allied personnel trapped behind Soviet lines fell on deaf ears. There was the same reaction with requests to bring in rescue teams to retrieve them. This was why Trimble was lied to. In early February 1945, Trimble was sent to an airbase in Poltava, Ukraine – the HQ of the Allied Eastern Command. It had been used as a staging post for bombing operations between England and Italy. Now, with the Italians subdued, it had become obsolete. Trimble was not there to salvage planes. He was the rescue mission – armed with only his diplomatic status, cash, his wits, and his Boy Scouts training. With these, he had to find Allied soldiers and get them to Odessa where British ships were waiting to take them home. He had to do all this under the watchful eye of the NKVD – predecessor of the KGB. Trimble was not happy. Neither were the Allies. They had no intelligence network within Soviet territory, and without a viable cover story, he could not go to Poland. Fortunately, the Soviets gave him one. Auschwitz survivors liberated by the Red Army in January 1945 On January 26, 1945, the Red Army discovered Auschwitz and wanted the Americans to see it. Trimble was horrified at what he saw, but was his intelligence correct? The Soviets were kind to the prisoners, doing what they could to feed and care for them. Surely they did the same for Allied soldiers. Getting away from the camp and his Soviet escorts, he found a farm building with about 50 men – all former Auschwitz prisoners, one of whom was an American. He offered to get them to Krakow, but they asked about the women and children at another camp. They took him there and found another 25 emaciated survivors. “They come with us?” one of the men asked pleadingly. “They come with us,” Trimble replied as he held Kasia, a baby who had been born in the camp. He got them to the train station and bought everyone tickets to Odessa – all but one. Kasia did not make it. Although furious at having been tricked by his government, he resolved then to do what he could – sometimes camping out in the frozen countryside to find more victims. Back in Ukraine, he heard that some foreign men were living in a barn. He found all 23 of them, emaciated and struggling to stay warm – all British and Americans. He put them on a horse-drawn cart and sneaked them into the City of Lviv by bribing the guards with cash and alcohol. They also went to Odessa. Then he found more British soldiers in the city, wandering around begging for food. He sent them to the British Embassy in Moscow, but he still had to fulfill his cover story. In mid-March, he retrieved a B-17 bomber that had crashed in Poland following a bombing raid on Germany. Despite their agreement, the Soviets were giving him a hard time because they wanted it for themselves. After threatening the Soviet captain, he repaired the plane and got it flying as Soviet reinforcements arrived. Unfortunately, he could not go far as it did not have much fuel. Worse, he hit a snowstorm, forcing him to stay in Poland at the Hotel George. There he rescued another 22 Allied soldiers who had escaped from a Soviet camp. That same month, a French woman dressed in rags went to his hotel. Isabelle had heard that an American was saving Allied soldiers. She asked if he would make an exception for her. She had been taken to Poland by the Nazis to work on a farm and wanted to get back home. “Of course,” said Trimble as he counted out money for train tickets. “Who else is with you?” “400,” she replied. Their guards had abandoned the farm, so the women were hiding in the woods outside the city. He had never rescued that many at once, but Isabelle refused to abandon them – it was all or nothing. Trimble bribed train workers to stop their vehicle outside the city and let the women board. After the war, he found out what happened to them. He was flown to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where the French Ambassador presented him with the Croix de Guerre for rescuing the women. As his mission was secret, no one knows how many he saved. In 1995, the new Russian government also awarded him for what he did. The US only gave him a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal, and a Bronze Star. They have yet to acknowledge the rest. Trimble kept his story a secret until just before his death. He was still haunted by the horrors of what he saw and his conviction that he could have done more. His amazing legacy was entrusted to his son, Lee Trimble, who teamed up with Jeremy Dronfield to relate his feats in “Beyond The Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot’s Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front.” Hopefully, Captain Trimble will get the official recognition he so truly deserves. View the full article
  13. Reprinted with permission from Australian Bunker and Military Museum Milne Bay is located on the south-eastern tip of Papua. Before World War II, most of the area’s inhabitants were local Papuans, the only Europeans being a few missionaries and plantation managers. The area came to the attention of senior Allied officers in May 1942, when General Douglas MacArthur decided that an airbase should be established so that aircraft could patrol over the eastern seaward approaches to Port Moresby and raid Rabaul. Development of the first airstrips at Milne Bay began in July 1942. Australian infantry and American engineers were sent to begin clearing land for the airstrips and the base that would support them. Over the following weeks, more ships arrived, bringing more men, supplies, and equipment for base development, and by the end of August nearly 9000 Allied personnel, mostly Australian, were based at Milne Bay. The environment at Milne Bay was unpleasant and depressing. It rained every day during the construction period, and the few roads became impassable to vehicles. Living in rain-soaked tents on muddy ground, the men felt that ‘even Hell would be preferable,’ at least they would be dry. The area was also one of the worst places in the world for malaria, and many men became infected during the first weeks there, though it would take a couple of months before an epidemic broke out. Papua Attacks 1942 The Allies expected an attack. The inexperienced militia infantry brigade that had previously served only in Australia was now reinforced by a veteran Australian Imperial Force (AIF) brigade that had served in the Middle East. Unfortunately, their training in jungle warfare was hindered by the requirement to lend many men to the construction effort. Australian troops at Milne Bay, 1 October 1942 On 25 August, Kittyhawk fighters of 75 and 76 Squadrons RAAF, based at Milne Bay, attacked Japanese barges that had been intended for use in an attack on Milne Bay. In spite of the loss of these barges, on the next night, the Japanese landed a force of some 2000 marines at Milne Bay in an attempt to seize the airstrips and secure a base from which to provide naval and air support for the battle on the Kokoda Track. Believing that only a few infantry companies protected the area, the Japanese landed just before midnight on 26 August. They landed east of the Allied airfields and had to advance 11 kilometers to capture them. The Japanese troops overwhelmed and pushed back the first Australian battalions encountered, the 61st and 2/10th Battalions, but began suffering heavy casualties when the Kittyhawk fighters of 75 and 76 Squadrons RAAF began bombing and strafing them. Nevertheless, they continued advancing for a few days and reached the edge of one of the airfields, No 3 Airstrip, where the attack was turned back by Australian and American troops who were dug in and armed with artillery, mortars and heavy machine-guns. A Kittyhawk comes in to land at No. 1 Airstrip, guarded by a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun of the 2/9th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery. The Australians then counter-attacked, pushing the Japanese back towards their original landing area. Finally, 12 days after that landing, after bitter fighting along the coastline, the Japanese evacuated the survivors of the attack on the night of 6-7 September. The Australians had suffered 373 battle casualties, of whom 161 were dead or missing. Several captured men had been bayoneted. The Japanese death toll was at least 700. Although the battle was relatively minor in scale, it was a significant morale booster as the first real land defeat suffered by the Japanese. The Allied victory at Milne Bay showed that the Japanese soldier was not invincible. After the battle, the Allies continued to develop the base at Milne Bay to support the counter-offensive along the northern coast of Papua and New Guinea. The Australian Bunker & Military Museum is dedicated to All the Australian and Allied Servicemen who were not recognized for the part they played in defense of Australia. Seeing that underground installations were top secret, still to this day the Servicemen that are remaining feel that they cannot speak of one of the greatest feats undertaken on Australian soil. View the full article
  14. The Fall of Rome is a heavily debated topic with an extraordinary range of theories as to how such a great power ultimately fell, and how it either limped on or even how it still lives today. Some theories, such as contamination from lead pipes, seem outrageous, while others, such as the loss of civic virtue, could be applied to some modern nations. Here are some of the most common ideas about the Fall of Rome. Keep in mind that many of the reasons identified for the fall are given as important contributors, not the sole cause. Most historians acknowledge that, while a variety of problems plagued Rome, the Barbarian invasions were the literal cause of Rome’s fall in the West. 1. Lead Poisoning Let’s get this one out of the way first. Lead poisoning is often dismissed as a major cause for the decline of Rome, but the theory does have some merit. The Romans used lead in a variety of ways, many involving food and water. A particular sweetener and preservative, Defrutum, was boiled down in specific lead pots, where extended cooking times aided in the lead contamination. This mixture was added to many wines and to extend the life of soldier’s rations. It was also mixed with a fish sauce whose popularity roughly equates to that of modern ketchup. It was also used in animal feed, where the lead could easily contaminate the meat and be absorbed by humans. In addition, many water pipes were lined with lead and lead was used in storage amphorae. Lead also found its way into Roman makeup. Though all these cases only provide small amounts of lead, it could still prove to be dangerous. Lead stays in the body for a long time and even tiny amounts on a regular basis can build up to toxic levels. Dioscorides noted lead’s effect on the mind in the first century A.D. Lead poisoning would have caused infertility, a loss of memory and reduced cognitive ability, among many other symptoms, largely among the nobility. It is easy to see that if the population wasn’t sustained and the ruling classes were becoming steadily less intelligent, that could very well cause a breakdown leading to a much easier barbarian conquest. Roman lead water pipes with taps. Photo source: G.dallorto This theory has been heavily debated. Notably, the Romans were aware of lead and its impact on health. Lead pots seemed to have made the best tasting Defrutum, though it seems that other metals proved more practical or common. Not all aqueducts had lead pipes, and even so the manner of water travel was not likely to pick up the lead. The water traveled fast enough to not stagnate over the lead but slow enough that crusts of sediment often built up in the pipes, naturally preventing most contamination. Though the debate continues, it is plausible that lead poisoning did have at least some impact on Roman people sometime during their decline. 2. Decline of Civic Virtue and Adoption of Christianity Edward Gibbon, despite his many errors uncovered over the years, is still considered essential reading for a student of ancient Rome. His famous claim is simply that the Romans became soft. Romans of the Republic were brutal and stubborn; their stout resistance in the face of such legends as Pyrrhus and Hannibal built their future empire. The most embarrassing story of early Rome was the paying off of Brennus during his sack of Rome. After the encounter, the Romans treated the Gauls with extreme hatred and fought many successful campaigns against them. Portrait, oil on canvas, of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792). Eventually, however, the Romans adopted Germans and others into their military. Despite early examples of the disadvantages of this – shown, for example, at the Teutoburg ambush – the Romans continued to employ foreign troops. True Romans were then too relaxed and weak to defend their empire, and paying off barbarians became a more common practice. Gibbon also was a major proponent of how Christianity contributed to the decline of Rome. He essentially discussed how Christianity was a more accessible religion and the focus was too much on finding the happy afterlife than living in the present. Though Gibbon’s views on the decline of civic virtue still hold some weight, the view on Christianity is often dismissed, especially as the Byzantine Empire was functionally a Christian Roman Empire in the East and had periods of great success. Civic virtue is harder to pin down than lead poisoning but often sounds reasonable in theory. 3. Military, Political and Economic Decline Apparent bust of Sulla in the Munich Glyptothek. Though each of these can be seen separately, they all fit well together to explain the fall. The Barbarism of the army is also used here, but the military decline can be traced back to the period before the Empire even started. Roman armies after Marius eventually became more loyal to their commanders than to Rome itself. This led to, for example, the seizing of Rome under Sulla, and Caesar’s ability to start a civil war. This leads us on to the issue of political decline. Some historians, such as Adrian Goldsworthy, maintain that the Roman army was still effective and won great victories late into its lifespan, but that repeated civil wars greatly weakened the empire until its fall was inevitable. This weakening is best exemplified by the crisis of the third century where the Roman empire erupted into civil war between three warring factions, leading to many opportunistic foreign invasions. The crisis was eventually resolved and many of the invading forces were soundly defeated by Rome’s armies, but the internal damage was done. The Crisis of the Third Century is not often discussed but put an incredible strain on the Roman Empire. historicair – CC BY-SA 3.0 Lastly, the economic decline of Rome is another important aspect. Rome’s economy had depended on plunder and slavery for centuries, so when conquests stopped, so did the economy. Influxes of gold and slaves could no longer stimulate an economy that had masses of poor crowding the cities and living on government rations. The wealthiest elite was often exempt from the taxes which fell on middle-class farmers, forcing them to sell their property to be incorporated into the massive holdings of the rich. The out-of-business farmers moved to the city and contributed to the state problem of feeding the masses. Emperors often had to put a ridiculous amount of money into the army, particularly the Praetorian Guard, just to ensure that they would not be assassinated, though many still were. Rampant spending led to the debasement of the currency, which in turn led to escalating inflation. In addition, corruption was endemic, especially in the west, making reforms to taxation even more difficult as administrators would still seek their illegal cut. 4. Disease An interesting facet of the decline the impact of disease on the Roman Empire. It is agreed that depopulation of the West was a major occurrence, though how severe it was is still debated. It has been argued that sustained disease hit the Roman population hard enough to allow the barbarians to invade. The geography of the Roman Empire is vital to this theory as many diseases are, at least at the start, confined to a localized region. The heart of Rome was Italy, which provided various diseases that the Romans were likely well resistant too. The borders of Africa brought about all sorts of tropical disease through trade. The Middle East provides its own types of disease and the Romans often traded as far as India and China and down the eastern coast of Africa. Ancient plagues could be absolutely devastating due to the close quarters and lack of sound health practices. Two major plagues, the Antonine and Cyprian plagues, possibly of Smallpox, tore through the Roman empire in the second and third centuries. The cramped cities and extended trade networks contributed to their spread. Exact death tolls are difficult to know, but incursions by the Germans and Parthians were hard to counter because of the shortage of healthy troops. One historian also reported that many towns were abandoned because they lost so many of their inhabitants. Unfortunately, the lack of hard numbers makes it hard to say how much disease impacted the actual fall, but from the sources, it seems to have been quite influential. It is quite common to lump many of these theories together. The unqualifiable loss of civic virtue mixes with the cognitive and fertility declines of lead poisoning to weaken the very people who were the leadership of Rome. Added to that, unceasing civil wars, bringing about the deaths of countless Romans, and plagues which kill even more. Corrupt emperors who constantly debased the currency and bankrupted the treasury combined with the lack of driving ambition brought by Christianity. Put all these together and it’s a wonder the Empire lasted as long as it did. It’s also a pointed reminder that each individual factor could not have held as much sway as their authors argue. If they had, it’s hard to imagine the empire functioning for more than a year, let alone centuries. The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome; engraving by Levasseur after Jules-Elie Delaunay. Wellcome Images – CC BY 4.0 But Did the Empire Even Fall? To this question, some would say unequivocally yes, it fell in 476, when Odoacer deposed Emperor Romulus. However, there is much more to the Roman Empire. As for the West, a few believe that the Empire was not replaced by conquering barbarians, but that the Romans and Germans transformed and merged cultures. A widely held opinion is that the invading tribes often did not seek to destroy Rome, but rather to enjoy the benefits of the Roman Empire. This is often seen in the many examples of tribes simply requesting permission to settle just inside Roman territory. Indeed, even after barbarians settled all of the Western Empire they still lived in a very Roman fashion in many places. Northern Africa plodded along in the Roman way for centuries in towns relatively untouched by the invasions. Charlemagne as a true Roman Emperor is a bit of a stretch but the idea does have some following. The Byzantine Empire held great power through their history, and they would have been insulted to be referred to as anything but Romans. Tataryn – CC BY-SA 3.0 The most obvious argument for the continuation of Rome is found in the Byzantine Empire, firmly known by its inhabitants as the Roman Empire. Those living under its rule had no doubt that they were Roman. The Byzantine Emperors ruled as Roman Emperors, and the people behaved as Romans, still obsessed with chariot races and grand buildings. This empire survived for many hundreds of years, though eventually came to an end with the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Lastly, we have the shadow of the empire in the Catholic Church. Starting with the titles, the emperor of Rome had the title of Pontifex Maximus, chief priest. The title is often used for Popes now and throughout much of papal history. In fact, even the Pope’s Twitter handle is @pontifex. The structure of the Catholic Church is also very similar to the imperial governmental structure, especially with the central ruler of the Pope and the Cardinals as the Senate, though their roles do not have the same function. The Entry of the Crusaders in Constantinople, by Eugène Delacroix. There are multiple theories on the Fall of Rome, and some may have not even been discovered or discussed yet. Some have a great deal of merit, some seem incredibly far-fetched, some must be applicable and it is almost inevitably some combination of these factors which led to the final end of the western roman empire. It seems sensible that the Empire continued in some fashion with the Byzantines. One could trace the impact, legacy and its very continuation down to the Holy Roman Empire and even in the Russian title of Czar, though doing so can lead to the twisting of what the Empire really was. By William McLaughlin for War History Online View the full article
  15. Shifting Propellers The propellers of WWII planes were significantly more advanced than those of previous generations. Variable-pitch propellers, developed in the late 1930s, increased the efficiency of the propeller blades at different speeds. The number of blades had also been increased since WWI, adding to a plane’s power. Flyers Over Poland During the invasion of Poland, the Germans had better fighter aircraft and more of them. The Polish air force still put up a valiant struggle. The pilots of their best fighter, the PZL P.11, destroyed 126 Luftwaffe aircraft. Fighters Over Britain The number of fighters in the Battle of Britain was surprisingly small, given the enormous significance of the battle. At the start, the RAF had 600 front-line fighters, the Germans 1,200. Both sides churned out replacements as quickly as they could, but it was difficult to keep up with the losses. Pilots were even more difficult to replace than planes. He 111 production in 1939. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-774-0011-34 / Hubmann, Hanns / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Flying Around the Clock In mid-September 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, the RAF’s fighters were in almost constant use. Each one was flown several times a day, every day, wearing out the machines and exhausting the pilots. Radar Interception At the start of the war, no nation had radar fitted in their planes. Aiming by sight, it was hard to attack enemy aircraft at night. The British were the first to deploy airborne radar on a night fighter successfully. In late July 1940, a Bristol Blenheim IF shot down a German Dornier Do 17 during a night attack, using radar for targeting. The Blenheim, unable to match the Germans in daylight, had found a new use. The first high-performance purpose-built night fighter followed. It was the Bristol Beaufighter, equipped with a devastating array of four cannons and six machine-guns. Self-sealing Fuel Tanks The Germans fitted many of their planes with self-sealing fuel tanks. They were made with light-weight metal covered in layers of vulcanized and non-vulcanised rubber. If shrapnel or a bullet pierced the fuel tank, then the leaking fuel would make the non-vulcanised rubber expand, sealing the gap. Many aircraft and their pilots were saved from a fiery end by those tanks. Planes the Allies recorded as “probably destroyed” managing to limp back to their base. Manufacture of self-sealing gas tanks at Goodyear, 1941. Electric Reflector Sights WWII saw the introduction of electric reflector sights, the predecessors of modern head-up displays. A circle of light on a small glass screen replaced simple ring-bead sights, allowing pilots to aim better while retaining situational awareness. The Deadly Zero The Mitsubishi Zero was the primary fighter used by the Japanese to protect their bombers in the Pacific. Its excellent maneuverability made it a challenging opponent. That maneuverability was at a price. Everything that could be done to reduce its weight was. No armor protected the pilot, and some did not carry radios. The War-Winning Carrier Fighter The decisive fighter in the Pacific was the Grumman F6F Hellcat. Hurried into production to counter the Japanese, it first arrived in the war zone in August 1943. The tough fighter was capable at all altitudes and was a game-changer in the Pacific. The F6F’s first major air battle took place on December 4, 1943. On that day, Hellcats destroyed 28 Zeros, losing only two planes. The tables had been turned on the Zero. Over 300 pilots became aces, destroying five or more enemy aircraft while flying the Hellcat. A section of Fleet Air Arm Hellcat F Mk.Is of 1840 Squadron in June 1944. The Ever-Changing Spitfire Perhaps the most famous plane of the war, the Spitfire was the symbol of British superiority during the Battle of Britain. Although not able to climb as fast as some German planes, the Spitfire was the most maneuverable plane in the air. With its eight machine-guns, it also had the firepower to take down opponents. The Spitfires that won the Battle of Britain were mainly Mk Is, with some Mk IIs. The plane continued to evolve throughout the war. By late 1944, Mk XIVs were in action, carrying out the heaviest fighter-bomber raid of the war. Spitfires served all over the world, from Russia to Africa to the air defenses of Australia. Ejector Experiments The higher speed of WWII fighters meant parachutes became increasingly insufficient in providing an escape from a damaged aircraft. The Germans responded by developing compressed air ejector seats first fitted to the Heinkel He219A-0. The first pilot to have his life saved by an ejector seat was Flugkapitan Otto Schenk. During a test flight in January 1942, he lost control of his Heinkel jet but survived after ejecting. Machine-guns Versus Cannons Many planes, such as the first Spitfires, were equipped with multiple machine-guns. As the war progressed, improved aircraft armor and advances such as the self-sealing fuel tank meant heavier firepower was needed. Manufacturers moved toward fitting planes with cannons that fired exploding shells. There was a balancing act in deciding which to use. The Messerschmitt Bf109’s cannon could fire five explosive shells a second. The Hurricane’s eight machine-guns could shoot 160 bullets in the same amount of time. It was a choice between quantity and quality. The British compromised, fitting later Hurricanes and Spitfires with mixed weapons. P-39Q Airacobra weapons bay showing M4 cannons “horse-collar” drum magazine. Photo: By Kogo – Own work, GFDL. Unguided Missiles By the end of the war, some planes had been equipped with air-to-air missiles. They were much less sophisticated than those that followed, lacking guidance systems to bring them in on their target. The warheads were typically impact-fused, meaning that a direct hit was needed. Although crude, the missiles could be deadly. Late in the war, Luftwaffe fighters were often equipped with 24 missiles which were a deadly menace when fired as a salvo. Jets Towards the end of the war, both sides fielded early jet fighters. Their more powerful engines gave them better speed than their propeller-driven predecessors. The P-51 Mustang had a top speed of 437mph, while the Messerschmitt Me262 managed 540mph. Sources: Nigel Cawthorne (2004), Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War Francis Crosby (2010), The Complete Guide to Fighters & Bombers of the World View the full article
  16. “A visually impressive Hollywood calling card” – The Hollywood Reporter A star-studded account of the real-life Operation Anthropoid, the audacious World War Two mission to kill top-ranking Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, based on the international bestseller HHhH. Synopsis: Prague, 1942. The Third Reich is at its zenith, controlling most of Europe. Reinhard Heydrich, dubbed “the man with the iron heart” by Hitler, has risen to the top of the Nazi Party as head of the SS, the Gestapo, and the seemingly unstoppable architect of the ‘Final Solution’. However, a small group of Czech Resistance fighters are about to attempt the impossible – a veritable suicide mission to assassinate this embodiment of evil. We like it because: “This is not an ordinary mission.” Based on Laurent Binet’s internationally bestselling book HHhH, THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART tells the incredible true story of how the brave men and women of the Resistance sacrificed everything in the name of freedom. Still from the trailer Director Cédric Jimenez, following up his acclaimed 2014 crime film The Connection, has assembled an absolutely sterling cast for this handsomely mounted, brilliantly absorbing biopic. Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is mesmerising as the title character, the steely-eyed and unflinching Reinhard Heydrich, also known as ‘the blond beast’ and behind some of the worst atrocities of the war; Rosamund Pike (Oscar-nominated for Gone Girl) is impeccably unpleasant as Heydrich’s wife Lina; and Stephen Graham (Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire) is outstanding as the diabolical SS general Heinrich Himmler. Meanwhile, BAFTA-winner Jack O’Connell (Starred Up, ‘71), Jack Reynor (Free Fire) and Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre) make up the resistance fighters intent on halting evil in its tracks. Still from the trailer In part a chilling portrait of the rise of the Nazis, as well as an inspiring account of an extraordinary attempt to stop them by striking at their very core, THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART is a bold, superbly made war film that ranks alongside the likes of Dunkirk and Valkyrie. Still from the trailer Hot quotes “A visually impressive Hollywood calling card” The Hollywood Reporter RELEASE DATE On DVD & Blu-ray 8th January 2018 Runtime 115 mins approx View the full article
  17. The Battle of Britain was one of the most important aerial campaigns in history. It stopped Nazi Germany’s westward expansion and prevented the invasion of Britain in WWII. Preparing for Invasion The Battle of Britain was a precursor to Operation Sealion, Hitler’s planned invasion of the British Isles. A directive from July 16, 1940, ordered the German military to start preparing for the invasion. Hitler knew his troops would have to get past the formidable Royal Navy. That would not be possible without the domination of the air. Overconfidence The Germans were confident of their ability to beat the British and the Allied pilots who flew with them. Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, believed his forces would easily smash the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was proven wrong. An Observer Corps spotter scans the skies of London. The Number of Planes For such an epic confrontation, the Battle of Britain involved a surprisingly small number of planes. The Germans deployed around 1,300 bombers and dive bombers to try to take out British installations. They were supported by 1,200 fighters. The RAF had only around 600 front-line fighters, most of them Hurricanes and Spitfires. An International Air Force At the start of the conflict, the RAF did not have enough trained pilots. They looked elsewhere to make up numbers. Some were drawn in from the Fleet Air Arm and from Coastal Command. Others were pilots from countries that had fallen to the Nazis. Enough escaped to Britain for four squadrons of Polish pilots and one of Czechs. 126 German aircraft or “Adolfs” were claimed by Polish pilots of 303 Squadron during the Battle. Differences in Planes The RAF had fewer planes but they were generally better. German planes included “Goering’s Folly”, the slow and unwieldy twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 “destroyer”. The Messerschmitt Bf 1o9E was better – as fast as any British plane and able to climb faster than a Spitfire. The British Spitfire, however, was the decisive weapon. The most maneuverable fighter in the air, armed with eight machine-guns, it was unrivaled in the skies. Radar It was the first time that radar played an important part in war. The British radar network stretched from the Shetlands to Land’s End, covering the whole coastline, and was the most advanced in the world. It allowed the RAF to see attacks approaching and get fighters into the air to face them. British planes were not caught on the ground and destroyed as Hitler had hoped. There was no need to keep men constantly in the air, exhausting the limited supply of pilots. Control stations used information from the radar network to direct planes in the air. They could see where the Germans were going and send fighters that way, sometimes catching the Germans by surprise. The tall towers of the Chain Home system allowed them to detect targets as far as 100 miles away, over France. Countering Bomb Targeting German bombers had access to more advanced targeting technology than the British. They had secretly developed a system that used a pair of radio beams to bring the bomber in on its objective. In June, just before the Battle of Britain broke out, Dr. R. V. Jones, an Air Ministry scientist, worked out what was going on. Bringing together intelligence gathered from prisoners of war, captured material, and decrypted enemy signals, he realized the Germans had the technology. Within ten days, he not only identified the problem but developed counter-measures, blocking the radio targeting. Shifting Targets From July 10 until August 11, the Germans attacked ports and airfields to draw the RAF into battle. From August 12 to 23, they launched Eagle Attack, focusing on radar stations and trying to destroy fighters in combat. Then the biggest change came in September. Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight. Men Flying Every Day Even with their allies, British Fighter Command had less than a thousand pilots. By September, 15 to 20 a day were being killed or injured. Fighting over their home ground, they could retrieve downed pilots, unlike the Germans. The relentless attacks though gave the men no rest. They were flying into combat every day, several times a day. They were exhausted. Terror-Bombing On August 24, a German bomber accidentally hit civilian buildings in London. In response, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered a retaliatory strike against Berlin. The next night, 81 bombers set out from Britain. Only 29 reached the German capital and they did not do much damage. The attack provoked Hitler, who had promised the Germans that it would never happen. Abandoning his focus on destroying the RAF, he started bombing British cities. From September 7, hundreds of tons of bombs fell on London and other cities. It was the beginning of the Blitz. By taking pressure off the RAF, it gave them time to recover. A week later, the tide began to turn. Heinkel He 111 bomber over the Surrey docks and Wapping in the East End of London on 7 September 1940. The Auxiliary Fire Service To deal with the bomb damage to cities, the British relied on the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). Founded at the end of 1938, the organization was made up of civilian volunteers trained in fire-fighting and rescue work. They had little equipment and many of their fire engines were repainted taxi cabs. Several thousand of them were seriously injured in the course of the war and over 300 were killed. The Critical Date of September 15 In early September, it looked like the Germans were about to launch their invasion. The fighting intensified and British forces went on high alert. On September 15, the air war reached its peak. The RAF claimed 185 German planes destroyed that day. The actual number turned out to be 56, but the details did not matter. They were destroying Luftwaffe planes faster than the Germans could build them. It became clear that the Luftwaffe would never gain domination in the air. The weather turned against the invasion fleet, and Hitler turned his eyes to the east. Sources: Ralph Bennett (1999), Behind the Battle: Intelligence in the War with Germany 1939-1945 Gordon Brown (2008), Wartime Courage Nigel Cawthorne (2004), Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War Francis Crosby (2010), The Complete Guide to Fighters & Bombers of the World View the full article
  18. During the dying days of WWII, both sides fielded jet fighters, but they were experimental aircraft. Propeller-driven fighters still dominated the skies. The first jet versus jet air war came five years later when war broke out in Korea. Jets Versus Propellers In the summer of 1950, the Korean war began. The nation was already split into the communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea. The North’s military advanced across the border, hoping to reunite the peninsula under their rule. Diplomatically, the situation quickly escalated. United Nations forces, primarily made up of American troops and equipment, were sent to support the South. Chinese troops crossed the border to fight for their North Korean allies. At first propeller-driven fighters such as Lavochkin La-7s and F-51 Mustangs took to the air on both sides. Then the United States Air Force (USAF) brought in the F-80. It was a straight-winged jet that had been developed too late to be used in WWII. Five years later, it was virtually obsolete by American standards but was powerful enough to dominate older style aircraft. Other planes followed. On July 3, 1950, US Navy jets went into action for the first time, in the form of F9F-3 Panthers on an escort mission. For the first six months of the war, the UN had the edge in the skies. Until the end of October, they ruled the air over Korea. A North Korean Ilyushin Il-10 attack aircraft in a damaged hangar at Kimpo airfield, South Korea, on 21 September 1950. Enter the MiG On November 1, 1950, six swept-wing jets attacked a group of USAF Mustangs. The aircraft were later identified as Russian-made MiG-15s. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 was a formidable fighter that utilized the technology of several different countries. Its swept wings were based on research captured from the Germans at the end of WWII. Its RD-45 engine was an illegal copy of Britain’s Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet. The whole was completed by Russian engineers and flown out of bases in China, to avoid UN attacks on North Korean air bases. At the time, Stalin was making a point of not becoming involved in the war. The official story was that Russian advisers were helping the Communists, but no Russian troops were in the area. As the war progressed, it became apparent that some planes were flown by Russian pilots, as they reverted to their native language over the radio. South Korea and her Allies chose not to challenge the deceit. The risk of bringing Russia fully into the war was too high. MiG-15 delivered by the defecting North Korean pilot No Kum-Sok to the US Air Force The First Jet Fight The first jet versus jet fight took place on November 8, 1950. Four MiGs flew across the Yalu river into South Korean airspace. There, they were challenged by a USAF group of F-80C fighters, from the 51 Fighter-Interceptor Wing. Lieutenant Russel J. Brown got the historic first fighter versus fighter kill when he shot down one of the MiGs. Not to be outdone, the US Navy had its own first jet versus jet encounter the next day. Lieutenant Commander W. T. Amen shot down another MiG-15. The gun camera of a United States Navy F9F Panther fighter from the aircraft carrier USS Leyte (CV-32) took this photo of a Chinese MiG-15 as the Panther’s pilot shot it down over North Korea near the Yalu River during the Korean War. America Ups Its Game Despite their high-status victories, UN forces were challenged by the presence of the Russian jets. The MiG was a powerful aircraft which could match almost anything the western powers had. USAF B-29 bombers, previously able to fly with impunity, were vulnerable to attacks by MiGs. The MiGs also defended North Korean bases when they were attacked. UN air superiority was under threat. Something had to be done. In response to the events of November 8, the USAF ordered the 4th Fighter Group to travel from the USA to Korea. The unit was equipped with F-86A Sabres, the most advanced fighter in the American arsenal. It was soon followed by the 27th Fighter-Escort Wing, flying F-84 Thunderjets. Individually, MiGs performed slightly better than that particular type of F-86. The Sabre had a stable gun platform, but the MiG had heavier weaponry. Despite the disparity, the Americans usually performed better in the fighting. The Communists flew in formations of 20 or more aircraft while the western forces used agile four-man wings. U.S. Air Force North American F-86 Sabre fighters from the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing Checkertails are readied for combat during the Korean War at Suwon Air Base, South Korea. A Battle for the Skies During the three years of the Korean War, the UN forces fielded different jets. The Republic F-84 Thunderjet served as a fighter-bomber. Its pilots took down several MiGs, the first after the MiGs interrupted a bombing attack on January 21, 1951. The Royal Australian Air Force entered the war with American-made propeller-driven F-51 Mustangs. Finding themselves challenged by the MiGs, they switched to the Gloster Meteor F.8; a British jet fighter descended from the only jet to see action in WWII. However, it was no match for the MiGs. A bomb-laden U.S. Air Force Republic F-84E-15-RE Thunderjet (s/n 49-2424) from the 9th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing/Group, taking off for a mission in Korea. This aircraft was shot down by flak on 29 August 1952. More Than Just Jets Despite the prevalence of jet fighters, the propeller-driven craft still played a part. The most successful British aircraft was the Royal Navy’s Hawker Sea Fury. Of all the non-American planes, it destroyed the most Communist ones, despite being propeller-driven. Sea Furies even destroyed several MiGs. Over the course of the conflict, USAF Sabres shot down 757 planes for only 103 losses. Good tactics had proved as important as advanced technology, giving the Americans an edge. It was not the only lesson learned from the war. The age of straight-winged jets had gone. The F-80, F-84, and Meteor were about to be consigned to history, while swept-winged aircraft came to the fore. The Americans had proved the power of the USAF and the Russians had proved the power of the MiG. The jet age had arrived. Sources: Francis Crosby (2010), The Complete Guide to Fighters & Bombers of the World Richard Holmes, ed. (2001), The Oxford Companion to Military History View the full article
  19. As Great Britain entered WWII on September 3, 1939, its trusty ally, Canada, followed, just one week later. The United States was officially neutral, but many young American men were so eager to join the fight that they crossed the border into Canada and enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces as volunteers. They became commonly known as gun-jumpers. Around 9,000 men enlisted in the Canadian military prior to the US entrance into the war. America did not enter until after the devastating blow they received at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, which finally awoke the “sleeping giant”. Men from all over America joined the ranks in Canada, as their desire to confront Hitler and his sweeping war machine was greater than their civil obedience. The main reason why the story of gun-jumpers is not widely known in the US today is the fact that the American government perceived those acts of valor as nothing more than mere adventurism. The US did not approve of the cross-border surges and they went as far as to warn the gun-jumpers that their citizenship might be at stake. Nevertheless, it did not stop the volunteers from flooding the enlistment offices in Canada’s major cities. Pilots of No. 1 Squadron RCAF with one of their Hawker Hurricanes at Prestwick, Scotland, 30 October 1940. Among them was indeed a man who had much to lose. Richard Fuller Patterson, heir to the iconic Lucky Strike tobacco company, decided that his fortune was not worth much if his conscience was not satisfied. Aged 26, Patterson, known as Fuller to his fellow-combatants, enlisted as a pilot in the Canadian Air Force, together with 840 countrymen who wanted to get their wings above the ground as soon as possible. Fuller had just finished Law School and was destined for a bright future, but unfortunately, his luck ran out on December 7, 1941, when he was shot down above Belgium while flying a sortie in his Spitfire with Canadian insignia. The tragedy of his death was that he was shot down on the same day that his home country declared war on Japan, officially joining the Allied war effort. But he was not the only one who gave his life under the Canadian banner. Sergeant Thom Wither, a crewman on board a Canadian Halifax bomber, was also there from the very start. Wither wrote to his parents explaining the reason behind his decision to run off to war: “And there is no question of serving Canada to the neglect of my mother country. He who serves Great Britain or any of its Dominions also serves the US and vice-versa. Our differences are in arbitrary boundary lines only.” He, like Fuller and around 800 other American citizens, gave his life in defense of what he believed in. In 1942, somewhere around Hamburg, his bomber was struck by anti-aircraft fire and crashed. Out of seven crewmembers, only one fellow Canadian survived. He then spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. A Royal Canadian Air Force Hawker Hurricane Mark IIE (BE485 “AE-W”) of No. 402 Squadron RCAF based at Warmwell, Dorset, in flight carrying two 250-lb GP bombs. The full sense of camaraderie between the allies was forged right there among the ranks of the volunteers. Just recently, in 2013, the gun-jumpers finally got a glimpse of the respect that they had long deserved. In Richmond, Virginia, the names of 16 locally-born RCAF pilots were added to the existing monument which commemorates the fallen US soldiers of WWII. During the opening ceremony, R. Fuller Patterson’s first cousin, 87-year-old Henry Gregory, himself a war veteran as well, was present. Just after the ceremony, he gave an interview to the Toronto Star, in which he looked back at the memories of his kin: “Fuller was a bit older than me. I was still a teenager. But I remember him vividly. He was a character, just full of life and energy, very athletic, very involved. And when he went off to Canada, that was the last we saw of him. Then Pearl Harbor happened. And then, a few days later, we got word that Fuller had been killed the same day. Our family was devastated. But there was no funeral, his body never came back from Europe. And all these years, the story was lost. So we’re very grateful that these memories are being marked today.” View the full article
  20. Military technology has a history of experimenting with novel approaches to the development of new methods of attack and defense. Some experiments are driven by necessity; others simply by speculation. Occasionally equipment from civilian life can be adapted to play a role in warfare and vice versa. Here are five examples of military ingenuity. Inevitably some have been more successful than others. Big Dog Big Dog was the brainchild of Professor Martin Butler, formerly Head of Robotics at McGill University. It was developed in the labs at NASA. Standing two and a half feet tall and almost three feet long Big Dog is more like a mule in size. The robot’s value in the military arena is its ability to cross difficult terrain while carrying loads of up to 340 pounds. It can deal with slopes of around 35 degrees without losing stability and is most useful in areas where wheeled vehicles would not be suitable. It functions as a pack horse to spare infantry soldiers having to carry heavy loads. Each of its four legs is fitted with hydraulic cylinder actuators. Movement is controlled by sophisticated computers which respond to feedback from sensors installed on the robot. This allows the computer to make the necessary adjustments to ensure maximum effectiveness. The Ball tank Inspiration can come from anywhere; perhaps from hamsters. The tireless churning of the hamster wheel could seem like such a waste of energy. What if all that energy was used to propel something forwards instead of going round and round. This was how the Ball Tank was invented. The Kugelpanzer, which means Ball Tank in German, was one of the most mysterious inventions of the Second World War. It was designed as a light reconnaissance armored fighting vehicle. Few were produced, and little is known for sure about how they worked and how effective they were. The only existing example of the Kugelpanzer. Morpheios Melas – CC BY 2.5 The idea seemed to work on the same basic principle as the hamster wheel; being propelled by the movement of the wheel which was powered by a sole occupant. They probably had a machine gun attached and would have provided protection and shelter in the event of an attack. The only example currently in existence is a model captured by the Soviet Army in Manchuria in 1945. It shows little sign of damage suggesting it was not used extensively in battle. The Scooter gun A well-preserved example of the Scooter gun. R.I.V.A.R.S. – CC BY 3.0 It is well known how much the Europeans love their scooters. The iconic Vespa can be seen scooting around traffic in the streets of Milan or Paris. It is not surprising then how someone, looking for a fast, flexible, easy to transport military vehicle came up with the idea of attaching a gun to the front of a scooter. The name “Vespa” means wasp in Italian and this one now had a deadly sting. The military version – the Vespa 150 TAP -was made in France under license from the Vespa Motorcycle Company, making its first appearance in 1956. It was designed for use by the Troupes Aero Portees carrying a lightweight 75cm anti-cannon gun. It could be parachuted into a location with a two-man team making it a very versatile piece of equipment. It was also relatively cheap as the components were already in production. The Rocket Belt Rocket Belt being used for training astronauts Although the idea of flying around attached to our personal jet packs may have figured heavily in our childhood vision of the future, sadly it has not become a reality. The closest was the Rocket Belt developed for the US military. The first designs by Bell Aeronautical in the 1950s were not a success. Rather than allowing the user to fly through the air, it provided only a powerful extended leap. It required five gallons of fuel in the form of hydrogen peroxide to complete its 21-second flight. Not surprisingly the idea was shelved for several decades. Improvements in technology allowed the idea to be revisited in the 1990’s. That design was propelled by superheated water vapor created in a nitrogen gas cylinder. Another refinement was the pilot had hand controls for steering made possible by the use of well-insulated material to protect from burns. Despite these advancements, the rocket belt’s usefulness was limited, and it has never been produced or used on a large scale. Email People nowadays wade through their overflowing inboxes and send messages to friends around the world as a way of life. It is interesting to remember email has its origins in the US defense program of the 1950’s and 60’s. The Cold War was becoming more and more a battle of technology, especially when the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957. America’s response was to invest in research to develop its own advanced communications technology. In 1963 the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network ARPANET was established. One of its projects was to look at ways to send and receive information quickly and securely using the relatively new computer technology. People working with computers would share information with large mainframe computer systems. These were then networked to small individual computers – the forerunners of modern PCs. Technology continued to develop enabling computers also to send information to ones outside their own network. At first, email addresses were military, but over time the value of this new technology for civilian society became obvious. It was necessary to find a standard way in which to identify the computer sending and receiving messages. In 1972 inventor Ray Tomlinson who was working for ARPANET suggested using the more or less obsolete @ symbol to determine the specific computer. The formula he used – “name of person”@ “name of computer” is still in use today. View the full article
  21. In 1812, Napoleon’s Grande Armée (Great Army) invaded Russia. Though made up of about 680,000 soldiers, they lost. Historians have given many reasons as to why they did – citing weather, logistics, and crazy Russian tactics which didn’t care how many of their own civilians suffered and died. While all true, a recent discovery revealed another, more devastating explanation. It was made in Vilnius, Lithuania in the autumn of 2001. Workers were destroying a Soviet Army barracks and digging trenches to lay down telephone wires when they came upon something gruesome – human bones. A lot of them. Given where they were found, everyone was convinced that they were victims of the KGB. Eight years before, they had found a mass grave filled with about 700 bodies – all confirmed KGB killings. So they called in the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s office, which in turn called on the Institute of Forensic Medicine. But the bones predated the Soviet occupation, so they called in archaeologists. Digging a little more, they discovered 3,269 bodies at one site, alone. A search through the historical records found that after Napoleon’s retreat, locals dumped 7,190 people and 12 horses in the area. Vasily Vereshchagin’s, “On the Big Road,” depicting the Grande Armée’s retreat They also found coins, medals, buttons, belt buckles, and the remains of uniforms belonging to Napoleonic France. Forensic evidence not only supported the historical narrative, but it also revealed something new. So first the history. Napoleonic France was originally allied with the Russian Empire, but there was a problem – Britain. Thanks to its vast navy, Britain ruled the waves and wasn’t happy about Napoleon. The feeling was mutual, so to force them into submission, he imposed the continental system – a trade embargo meant to isolate the British and force them into a peace treaty. But the Russians weren’t happy, either. They were rich in natural resources but were technologically backward and poor. Britain was the exact opposite, so its growing number of factories were always hungry for raw materials. Desperate for cash, Russia defied the blockade. Nikolay Samokish’s “Courage of General Raevsky,” depicting Russian forces at the Battle of Saltanovka on July 23rd, 1812. Which upset Napoleon, of course. Under the pretext of liberating Poland, he invaded Russian Poland. The bulk of his troops gathered at Kaunas and Aleksotas (both in Lithuania) and crossed the Neman River into Western Russia on June 24th, 1812. Supplying such a large army wasn’t easy, but he had expected a quick victory. It was anything but quick, as the Russians kept avoiding him save for some engagements like those at Smolensk in August and at Borodino in September. When not fighting, Russian troops would burn their own towns and fields to deprive the invaders of food and shelter. Unfortunately, it had the same effect on their own civilian populace. Starving, exhausted, and facing the brutal Russian winter, Napoleon withdrew his army to Smolensk and Vilnius with the Russians in hot pursuit. Only about 27,000 soldiers made it out, leaving some 100,000 captured and another 380,000 dead. Napoleon’s invasion ended on December 14th, 1812 – and with it, his reputation was devastated and his eventual defeat assured. John Heaviside Clark’s “Crossing the Neman,” by the Grande Armée. The mass grave proves that his army had indeed suffered from hunger, cold, and other injuries associated with war. They also came from other parts of Europe, consistent with the fact that the Grand Armée was an international force. A few were also women who served as cooks, clothes-washers, and nurses, as well as wives and camp followers. The most devastating thing the archeologists found, however, were DNA samples of the bacteria which cause trench fever and typhus. You can’t get either from cold, hunger, or injury. You can only get them from lice. So that was the other thing they found – DNA from lice. It was on everything. Sadly, even that is mentioned in the historical records. Across the river, most Russian roads were nothing more than dirt tracks. Though not a problem for the infantry and cavalry, it was a problem for the supply wagons and slowed them down considerably. Even before they reached Vilnius, records show that they lost almost 20,000 horses due to the lack of water and fodder. Men became delirious from high fever, others got rashes all over their bodies, and still others turned blue in the face before dropping dead. The doctors just couldn’t cope with the numbers. Lack of adequate sanitation, wearing the same uniform for weeks on end, as well as close quarters, made excellent breeding ground for lice, fleas, and disease. According to Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (the head military surgeon), the lice were everywhere because of the unusual summer heat. When it became too much, men would rip their off uniforms and burn them for fun. Why for fun? Because the clothes were so thickly infested that they’d first explode. Then they’d fizzle before bursting out in tiny fireworks from the burning insects. Charles Joseph Minard’s famous 1869 chart depicting the Grand Armée’s losses during the Russian Campaign. Winter took care of the insects, but most didn’t have sufficiently warm clothing to deal with the extreme cold. With supply wagons bogged down, the land insufficient to sustain such vast numbers, and the Russians burning what was left, hunger did the rest. But it doesn’t end there. The archaeologists also found that all of the bodies had been malnourished since childhood. While some may have joined the Grand Armée for glory, many must have done so in the hope of regular meals, and the chance of a glorious reward which never came. View the full article
  22. In early 1941, Adolf Hitler could look at a map of Eastern Europe and think that his plans were progressing nicely. The invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, was coming in a few short months, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had joined the Tripartite Pact, and Yugoslavia’s government signed on to the same on March 25th, 1941. Perhaps the only problem was the Italians’ stalled invasion of Greece from Albania, which began in October 1940. In fact, the Greek Army had counter-attacked and were pushing the Italians well back into Albania. But plans were already in place for the German military to sweep in from Bulgaria and take care of what the Italians couldn’t. Hitler knew he needed to control Mediterranean ports if the North Africa Campaign was to be won. But two days after Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact, there was a coup d’état by the mostly Serbian military who favored solidarity with Greece and closer ties to the rest of the Allied nations. Now, Hitler felt personally wronged and began a new plan for a simultaneous invasion of both Yugoslavia and Greece, which began on April 6th, 1941. German lines of attack into Yugoslavia and Greece, April 6th, 1941. Known as the Balkan Campaign, the German invasion of these two countries happened relatively swiftly and with great success. However, Hitler came to blame the necessity for these actions, because the Italians couldn’t conquer Greece alone, for the failure of Operation Barbarossa and the loss to Russia. Destroyed Yugoslavian Renault NC tank. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Yugoslavia, though dominated government and military by the people of Serbia was also comprised of the Slovenian and Croatian people. All these people now have their own nations as well as the other small nations of former Yugoslavia. Even before the German invasion, Croats and Slovenes began rebelling against Serbian rule. Croatia formed its own government and aligned with the Nazis. Huge portions of Yugoslavia’s army mutinied when the invasion commenced. The invasion began with a massive aerial bombing of Belgrade in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed. Very little organized resistance met the Germans outside of ethnic Serbs fighting in Serbia. So despite having 700,000 troops, though many poorly trained and equipped, before the invasion, Yugoslavian resistance crumbled very quickly and ended in just 12 days. German Panzer IV of the 11th Panzer Division advancing into Yugoslavia from Bulgaria as part of the Twelfth Army. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Yugoslavia did have a compelling strategy if faced with an overwhelming German invasion: retreat from all fronts except the Southern, advancing on the Italian positions in Albania, meet up with the Greek army and build a substantial Southern front. But due to the rapid fall of the country and inadequate gains against the Italian Army, this move failed and Yugoslavia surrendered to Germany. The Greeks fared somewhat better due in large part to a kingdom far less divided, and to substantial support from British Imperial forces, including from Australian, New Zealand, Palestine, and Cyprus. Greek soldiers retreating in April 1941. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de The British, however, were not able to commit nearly enough troops to the defense of Greece and the deployment of over 60,000 men was heavily criticized and seen as a largely symbolic gesture of support to fight a “gentleman’s war” of honor that was sure to be lost. The Greeks had a formidable front line defense along their Northeastern border with Bulgaria called the Metaxas Line. Similar to the Maginot Line in France, it featured pillboxes and other fortifications. But the Greeks, who had the bulk of their army fighting the Italians in Albania to the West, were not nearly prepared to defend it well. They did so anyway, despite British requests to form a shorter, more concentrated line further into the Greek mainland. German artillery firing during the advance through Greece. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de Germany’s blitzkrieg warfare pushed, front by front, down the East side of Greece, gradually defeating the underequipped Greeks and Numerically inferior British over several weeks. They reached Athens on April 27th. The Reich’s road to victory on the Greek mainland (Crete didn’t fall until June 1st, 1941) would have been much slower had things fared better for the Allies to the North and West. The swift collapse of Yugoslavia was not anticipated and German forces sweeping in across that border were in a position to flank the Greeks and British fighting to the East and the Greek army fighting the Italians to the West. Devastation after the German bombing of Piraeus. The Greeks, reluctant to concede to the Italian army they had been fairing so well against, wouldn’t pull back their front until it was too late and the Germans advancing from Yugoslavia flanked them and forced their surrender. There is an unconfirmed legend that when the Germans entered Athens and marched to the Acropolis to raise the Nazi flag, an Evzone soldier (elite Greek infantry) named Konstantinos Koukidis lowered the Greek flag and refused to surrender it to the German officer. He wrapped himself in the flag and jumped off the Acropolis to his death. With stories like this, a long recent history of enduring occupation by outside nations like Venice and the Ottoman Empire, and actions from Germany like allowing the Greek army to surrender to them and not Italy and to disband and go home instead of being taken as prisoners, allowed Greece to save pride. German paratroopers land in Crete. By Wiki-Ed – CC BY-SA 3.0 According to the 1995 book Greece 1940-41: Eyewitness, by Maria Fafalios and Costas Hadjipateras, on the eve of the Germans entering the capital, Athens Radio aired this message: ”You are listening to the voice of Greece. Greeks, stand firm, proud and dignified. You must prove yourselves worthy of your history. The valor and victory of our army have already been recognized. The righteousness of our cause will also be recognized. We did our duty honestly. Friends! Have Greece in your hearts, live inspired with the fire of her latest triumph and the glory of our army. Greece will live again and will be great because she fought honestly for a just cause and for freedom. Brothers! Have courage and patience. Be stout-hearted. We will overcome these hardships. Greeks! With Greece in your minds, you must be proud and dignified. We have been an honest nation and brave soldiers”. By Colin Fraser for War History Online View the full article
  23. In the aftermath of World War Two, most of the world wanted to punish those who had upheld the Nazi regime. The shocking revelation that Hitler had overseen the murder of millions of innocents led to war crimes trials and the hunting down of those who had assisted in these atrocities. But a small minority of Germans took a different view. Either wanting to maintain Hitler’s warped agenda or unable to face the horror of what their leader had done, they set about reinventing history and defending those who had done the indefensible. From this came Stille Hilfe, an organisation committed to supporting SS members facing punishment for their crimes. The SS The Schutzstaffel, known as the SS, was one of Hitler’s most important tools. A paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, for twenty years it inflicted surveillance and terror upon the German people and those they conquered. The violence and intimidation of the SS played a crucial role in Hitler’s rise to power, and in oppressing both his opponents and the groups he chose as scapegoats. The concentration camps that took millions of lives were run by the SS. At the end of the Second World War, the SS collapsed. Many members went into hiding, trying to evade the consequences of their crimes. Others were captured. Many faced torture, beatings and extra-judicial executions at the hands of ex-prisoners or outraged allied forces. Those who survived faced the famous Nuremberg trials and in many cases execution. The Secret Network Poster in German. Some of those still sympathetic to the Nazi cause helped SS members to escape justice. Though controversy abounds about whether there really was an organized network called ODESSA channeling fugitives to Argentina, it is clear that informal support networks did exist. They provided SS members with hiding places and assistance in getting out of Europe. Formal Founding Several organizations arose from this movement, with a focus on supporting Nazis or rewriting history to hide their crimes. Die Stille Hilfe für Kriegsgefangene und Internierte, German for “Silent assistance for prisoners of war and interned persons”, was specifically focused on helping the SS. Its name was abbreviated to Stille Hilfe. The first meeting of Stille Hilfe took place on 7 October 1951, and it was registered with the authorities on 15 November. This non-profit organization was created so that fundraising campaigns could take place, providing money to support former SS officers. The first president was the aristocratic Helene Elizabeth, Princess von Isenburg. Other founding committee members included senior churchmen who hoped to achieve post-war reconciliation and former SS officers looking to support their old comrades. Most notable was Lutheran Bishop Johannes Neuhäusler, who had been a captive in the Dachau camp, and whose presence showed that some within the organization were genuinely concerned with reconciliation rather than helping monsters escape justice. Aims The stated aim of Stille Hilfe was to support SS officers arrested for war crimes. Legal assistance was provided to those facing trial for such offenses. Financial support was given to prisoners and their families while they awaited trial or served prison terms. Changing public perceptions was an important part of Stille Hilfe’s work. Press campaigns, petitions and letters were used to try to convince people that the men on trial had only been following orders, and should be seen as innocent. Great efforts were made to avoid the death penalty. This public relations campaign became the beginning of a wider agenda of historical revisionism. Gudrun Burwitz Much of Stille Hilfe’s support from churches was withdrawn after the war crimes trials ended and prisoners were released after serving time in 1958. But the organization continued to receive support from other sources. Donations and inheritances left it with considerable funds. Gudrun with her parents. Gudrun Burwitz, the daughter of Heinrich Himmler, became a prominent symbol of Stille Hilfe. Within the organization she was a star at meetings, providing inspiration and an authoritative perspective on the SS. She also became a high profile campaigner for those put on trial. As the years passed, Holocaust deniers such as Thies Christophersen and Manfred Roeder tried to re-write history by claiming that the concentration camps were a lie. Stille Hilfe became a secretive supporter of such work, extending its previous propaganda agenda. Controversy As defenders of what most people consider indefensible, Stille Hilfe has inevitably caused controversy. Secretive and suspicious, they keep their inner workings hidden and avoid publishing details of their finances. Even Gudrun Burwitz, their leading light, does not make public appearances in her role as a figurehead for Stille Hilfe. The organization’s attempts to see history re-written in favor of the people they support have provoked outrage. Given its nature, the organization draws some of its support from neo-Nazis, an unofficial affiliation which adds to its poor public image. It has provided legal aid for neo-Nazis facing prosecution. Stille Hilfe’s charitable status has also caused controversy for public authorities. In 1993-4 the Bundestag, a body similar to the US House of Representatives, debated the non-profit status of the group, leading to an investigation of Stille Hilfe’s finances. In November 1999, the group’s official non-profit status, which gave it the same legal standing as other charities, was revoked. A Dying Breed? Stille Hilfe is on the decline. Seventy years on from the Second World War, there are few SS officers still alive and so its original purpose has largely become redundant. Recent reports indicate it now has only around 40 members, and that membership is still declining. For seventy years Stille Hilfe has stood up for men accused of the some of the world’s worst atrocities. As it approaches its end, few will mourn the organization’s passing. View the full article
  24. “Chesty” Puller is the most decorated Marine in United States history. Heroic service in Haiti, Nicaragua, the Second World War, and the Korean War earned him numerous medals and promotions. Early Years Born Lewis Burwell Puller on June 26, 1898, he grew up listening to the stories told by veterans about the American Civil War. From an early age, he wanted to be a soldier. In 1916, he asked to sign up to fight in the Border War with Mexico, but his mother would not let him; he was too young to join up without consent. In 1917, Puller joined the Virginia Military Institute. He left in 1918 to seek action in the First World War and, inspired by stories of Belleau Wood, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Too late to fight in the war, he received officer training and became a second lieutenant in the reserves. However, the Marines were shrinking in peacetime, and he was made inactive in 1919, returning to the rank of corporal. Haiti and Nicaragua Puller was sent to Haiti, where US Marines were serving as part of a treaty. He fought in forty engagements against rebels in five years. In 1924, Puller returned to the US. There he regained his rank of second lieutenant. Chesty Puller, 1932. USMC Archives – CC BY 2.0 In 1928, Puller was assigned to work with the Nicaraguan National Guard. He spent several years working with them and other American soldiers against bandits and rebels, taking a year away from 1931 to 1932 for officer training in the US. In Nicaragua, Puller was awarded the Navy Cross twice. The first came in 1930, for leading five successful fights against superior enemy numbers. The second was in 1932, for saving his patrol from a series of ambushes. China and the Pacific Over the next few years, Puller served in several different posts. He was stationed with the Marines in China twice. He served on board vessels based in the Pacific. He became an instructor at the Basic School in Philadelphia. By December 1941, Puller had risen to the rank of Major. Based in North Carolina he was in command of a Marine battalion when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States went to war. Puller at Guadalcanal Guadalcanal Like many other Marines, Puller was sent to fight in the Pacific Campaign against Japan. There he took part in one of the most famous battles in Marine Corps history – Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal was a grueling fight. Following a seaborne invasion with limited supplies, the Marines found themselves facing determined opponents. Disease, bombardment, and near-suicidal Japanese charges took a heavy toll. During fighting on the Matikanau River, Puller saved three of his companies from annihilation. Surrounded by the Japanese, they were rescued when Puller ran to the shore and signaled for help from a destroyer. Henderson Field Puller earned his third Navy Cross for action at Guadalcanal. At the time, he was serving at Henderson Field. It was the airbase from which the Americans Cactus Air Force provided air cover to the Marines. It was the target of constant attacks from air, land, and sea. On the night of October 24, 1942, a firefight broke out between the Americans and vastly superior numbers of Japanese troops. During three hours of fierce fighting, Puller commanded one of the two American units that held the airfield. Cape Gloucester After Henderson Field, Puller was made the executive officer of the 7th Marine Regiment. This role took him to Cape Gloucester in New Britain, where he participated in heavy fighting in late 1943 and early 1944. Under heavy fire from the Japanese, he reorganized a battalion and launched a successful attack against a heavily defended Japanese position. For overall service at Cape Gloucester, he was awarded his fourth Navy Cross. In February 1944, he was made a colonel and given command of the 1st Marine Regiment. Loss and Change 1944 brought a personal loss for Puller. His younger brother Samuel, also a Marine officer, was killed on Guam in the summer. In the fall, Puller, led the 1st Marine Regiment as it took part in one of the deadliest battles in Marine history – Peleliu. There, his service again earned him an award – this time the Legion of Merit. Of 3,000 men serving under Puller at Peleliu, 1,749 died. Puller’s frontal assaults against well-entrenched positions contributed to these enormous losses. Eventually, the battered regiment was pulled out of action. Returning to the United States that November, Puller was made the commanding officer of the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune. Change of Command Ceremony, 1951. By USMC Archives – CC BY 2.0 The Korean War In the Korean War, Puller returned to active service and command of the 1st Marine Regiment. In Korea, he earned four significant awards – the Silver Star Medal for his part in the Inchon landing; a second Legion of Merit for leadership; a Distinguished Service Cross for heroic actions in late 1950; and a fifth Navy Cross for heroism during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Chosin Reservoir was a tough fight for the Americans. Surrounded by the enemy, they were under constant threat and struggled for supplies. Even in such a desperate moment, Puller retained his resolve, saying: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” In January 1951, Puller was promoted to brigadier general. He temporarily led the 1st Marine Division before returning to the United States. 20th Anniversary of 2nd Marine Division, 1961. USMC Archives – CC BY 2.0 Retirement For the next four years, Puller stayed in the military, rising to major general. In November 1955, after suffering a stroke, he retired. He lived peacefully for another sixteen years. Whatever his peacetime accomplishments, he will always be remembered as a highly decorated hero and as a man who could see an advantage even in being surrounded. Sources: Nigel Cawthorne (2004), Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War. View the full article
  25. Since the early 1990s, the general public has been very aware of the term friendly fire. Incidents between coalition troops in the Gulf brought the phrase and its deadly meaning into the headlines. Suddenly, everyone knew that troops sometimes hit their own side. Friendly fire is not a new problem. As long as there have been guns, there have been friendly fire incidents. The Death of Stonewall Jackson The shooting of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is one of the most significant friendly fire incidents in history. On May 2, 1863, Confederate and Union forces began five days of fighting at Chancellorsville. The American Civil War was at its height. Although outnumbered two-to-one, the Confederate army was better led. At its head was Robert E. Lee. His right-hand man was Stonewall Jackson. On the first day of the battle, Jackson led a flanking maneuver around the Union right flank. It was a decisive move which sent the Union men reeling. Unusually, fighting went on into the night. Wanting to maintain momentum, Jackson took several officers ahead of the lines to reconnoiter for another attack. As they returned, nervous confederates mistook them for Union soldiers and opened fire. Jackson was hit twice in his left arm which was amputated, but it was not enough to save him. Pneumonia kicked in; infection was a common problem among wounded soldiers of the era. Eight days later he died. Jackson’s death deprived the Confederacy of one of its most daring, if erratic, commanders. Lee lost his good right hand. The Dogger Bank Incident On the night of October 21, 1904, battleships of the Russian fleet were caught in fog in the North Sea. When they spotted other ships in the mist, they thought they belonged to Japan, with whom Russia was at war. The Russians opened fire, hitting a group of British trawlers and two of their own cruisers. The incident almost started a war between Britain and Russia. Damaged trawlers after return to St Andrews Dock, Hull. The Arrival of Aeroplanes In August 1914, as WWI erupted, Britain’s Royal Naval Air Service sent unarmed reconnaissance aircraft to France. Unfortunately, troops on the ground had no way of knowing which side they belonged to. Friendly forces fired at the planes. The British promptly painted Union Jack flags onto the underside of their planes’ wings, so their comrades on the ground would know who they were. It was replaced by the roundels adopted by Allied flyers during the war. Falangists Versus Friends During the Spanish Civil War, inexperienced volunteers from all over the world signed up to fight for both sides. In those circumstances, it was easy for mistakes to be made. In 1937, a Falangist unit opened fire on the Nationalist Irish Brigade. Both units were there to fight for Franco’s far-right regime, and neither had seen combat before. An hour-long firefight ensued, leaving 17 dead. The Sinking of the Oxley On September 10, 1939, just after the start of WWII, the British submarine HMS Triton spotted another submarine off the coast of Norway. When that vessel did not answer their challenge, the crew of the Triton assumed it was a German U-boat. They fired two torpedoes, sinking the other boat. Unfortunately, it was not a U-boat. It was another British submarine, the HMS Oxley. Only two of its 54-man crew survived. The incident was kept secret until the 1950s. British T class submarine HMSM Triton underway. Bio-Weapons in China Between May and September 1942, 10,000 Japanese soldiers taking part in the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign fell ill. Around 1,700 of them died. It was not as the result of a naturally occurring disease. The Japanese had deliberately spread cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and plague to attack Chinese soldiers and civilians. Unable to control the diseases, they had suffered as the attack rebounded on them. Fox’s Self-Sacrifice Just occasionally, a friendly fire incident happens on purpose. On December 26, 1944, First Lieutenant John R. Fox of the US 366th Infantry Regiment was part of a forward observer group on the Italian front. His job was to call directions to artillery firing from behind the American lines. As German troops overran the village of Sommocolonia, Fox’s unit was cut off. It became apparent they would be overwhelmed. Fox called in an artillery strike on his own position. He knew he would be killed but so would the German forces around him. Fox’s self-sacrifice bought the Americans time to regroup and retake the village. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997. In 2005, toy company Hasbro produced an action figure of him. 2nd Lt. John R. Fox, a soldier in the U.S. army. Israel’s First General Mickey Marcus, a colonel in the US Army, went to Israel in 1948 to assist in the Arab-Israeli war. He became Israel’s first modern general, but his career with the Israelis was cut short on June 10 that year. Returning to an Israeli position at night, he was mistaken for an enemy infiltrator and shot. ANZACS in Vietnam In the drawn-out chaos of the Vietnam War, just as in WWII, there were dozens of friendly fire incidents. They included one such incident on February 6, 1967, when New Zealand artillery accidentally fired 12 rounds on a company from the Royal Australian Regiment, killing four and injuring thirteen. 1991 Gulf War The Gulf War was when the phrase “friendly fire” came into the public consciousness. With better awareness of what was happening and more scrutiny from the media, such incidents were more likely to be identified and reported. During the Battle of 73 Easting, there were several friendly fire incidents. They resulted in the wounding of 57 American soldiers but no fatalities. View the full article
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