Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tank Hell

On the 16th of January 1991 the Coalition began operation Desert Storm, which resulted in one of the most comprehensive defeats in modern times. It was later said that as most of the forces and firepower were from NATO, they simply took the plan they had for fighting the Russians in Europe and applied it to the Russian equipped Iraqis. A key part of the air war were precision guided weapons. The effectiveness, and ability to stand-off from targets and reduce the threats from enemy air defences increased interest in many countries. Operation Desert Storm was often considered the first media war, and towards the end of the war the second Highway of Death (the first was in 1941) received massive coverage when the Iraqi's contributed to the cessation of hostilities. This media influence of wars also promoted the importance of precision guided weapons, as they potentially allowed a significant reduction in collateral damage, and thus not give negative press.
The Highway of death, or a repeat of the lesson on what happens if you try to manoeuvre an army in the open under hostile skies.
Before Desert Storm, since about 1978, the British had been researching and developing a new generation of standoff weapons. Two had been selected, one was called SWAARM, the other Brimstone. The latter was originally meant to be based off the US Hellfire missile, but over the course of the project the entire missile had eventually been redesigned, and so only bore a passing resemblance. However, in the 1990 the defence spending cuts... err... "review" (I've never seen a Defence review from the UK government that didn't cut the MOD's budget!), called Options for Change, the standoff missile project was terminated. It's interesting to note that this was published around the 25th of July in 1990, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which was the catalyst for Operation Desert Storm, happened on the 2nd of August 1990. After Desert Storm ended the MOD conducted the usual reviews and processes to determine what it needed in a future a war, and the idea of the stand-off precision missile reappeared. The MOD then began working on what the weapon would look like, and the project was dusted off and revived in 1992. By 1994 requirements had been issued for the weapon. Some five competitor entries were submitted, two of which were the SWAARM and the Brimstone. SWAARM is a really curious weapon made by Hunting Engineering Ltd. It seems to have drawn on the companies experience in submunition dispensing containers (Hunting Engineering was responsible for the JP233 airfield denial weapon). The weapon was lobbed into the area using a toss bombing technique. The cannister was unpowered, and would then glide to its target area, where it would start dispensing self-targeting submunitions. In the end Brimstone got the development contract in 1996. First launch, from a static ground mount was in 1999, and an air launch from a Tornado was in 2000.

The new wonder weapon, Brimstone in all its glory.
Brimstone entered service in 2005 and has been involved in several operations. A key point about the missile is that it is designed to limit collateral damage. If the missile fails to find a target, it will fly itself off to somewhere safe and self-destruct. Even if it does find a target, its extreme accuracy and specially designed warhead means that it prevents collateral damage. In 2011 the British were taking part in air strikes against Libyan forces, this was named Operation Ellamy. In July a Libyan tank decided to shelter inside an alley way between two houses, assuming it would be safe from Allied air attacks as any attempt to destroy it would cause significant damage to the houses. A single Brimstone destroyed the tank and caused no damage to either property.
A RAF Tornado showing off its payload of Brimstone.
 Later on, in September, the Libyans moved a large concentration of their tanks to the south of the country. They surrounded them with air defence units, meaning any attack would have to face significant fire. Two Tornadoes were despatched, each carrying twelve Brimstones. At a range of twenty-five miles two Tornado's ripple fired their missiles, one of the two planes only launched ten, the other all twelve. At the Libyan tank concentration, there was extremely bad weather, so the Brimstones arrived, locked on and began their attacks. Twenty-two tanks were destroyed, utterly without warning or even a defence being offered.


MBDA's tracked Brimstone launcher. I suspect someone had played 40K as a child.
Brimstone has recently been undergoing some developments, and the parent company MDBA has been pushing ground-based solutions. These would give ground forces the ability to break up enemy tank formations before they could normally engage. Most recently they have shown a small tracked remote-control vehicle with a box of six Brimstones on the back. This seems aimed at light infantry formations giving them some serious firepower. At the same time, they showed a fully tracked chassis mounting three box launchers, each containing eight missiles. Being able to annihilate twenty-four enemy tanks, per friendly vehicle, before the battle is joined certainly tips the balance of power back towards quality over quantity. There is, of course a downside. In this particular case a full load of ammunition for one vehicle would cost £2,520,000, or about half an MBT.

The fully blown AFV that MBDA pushed for sales. 1x Platoon of these = 1 destroyed enemy battalion.
 Despite that there have been other ground uses suggested. Recently a British tank unit has been involved with experimenting with technology. The soldiers of the unit have had a small budget and have been trying out ideas on tanks. Their most recent submission has included a pair of Brimstone missiles attached to the back of the turret. Interestingly this idea was muted for Swingfire and Chieftain. However, in that case it was found to overwork the commander, expose four very expensive missiles to enemy action and the 120mm main gun could do everything Swingfire could. So, it remains to be seen how useful (and cheap) this option would be.
Brimstone is also currently under development as a naval missile, with a larger warhead.

Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks.

Image credits:
www.overtdefense.com and www.militaryimages.net

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Deaths Halifax

Close to midnight on the night of the 5th/6th of September 1943 a young German girl in the village of Waldsee borrowed the key to the Church steeple from her mother. She climbed the stairs to the top, and peered north across the darkened countryside looking towards the town of Mannheim. The city could be seen, despite the darkness and the blackout, because it was receiving the attention of a bomber command mission and was blazing. A stream of some 600 bombers were hammering the city. The girl had family in Mannheim. To the south of Waldsee beams of light from a searchlight unit were criss-crossing the sky, and would have given her some light to dimly perceive her surroundings. Then just after 0100 a blazing roaring fireball approached from the north west. It hurtled directly towards the young girl, was this some new English weapon? Transfixed with terror the girl watched the monstrosity approach, it only took a few heartbeats. The blazing apparition skimmed past the church steeple, missing by only a few yards. In these moments the young girl was able to see it was a night-black, four-engined plane, its wings ablaze. With a loud rending crash it smashed into the ground beyond Waldsee.

P/o D'Eath
The plane in question was a Halifax bomber, registration JD322, from 10 Squadron, based at RAF Melbourne in Derbyshire. It was flown by Pilot Officer D D'Eath, who I recently found out was a distant relative to my wife. JD322 had taken off at around 1930 the previous day. It had formed into the bomber stream and proceeded to bomb Mannheim. Then it had turned north to head home. At 0057 a BF110 night fighter flown by Oberfeldwebel Richard Launer, from I Gruppe Nachtjagdgeschwader 6 (which had only been formed in August) had spotted JD322, and moved in for the kill, setting the Halifax on fire, which had spiralled downwards and ended up in the field near Waldsee.


Many locals approached the burning JD322, in an attempt to rescue the crew. However, the craft was fully on fire and nothing was to be done, as all seven of the crew were dead. Shortly afterwards the soldiers from the searchlight position arrived and secured the site moving the locals away from the danger. Machine gun rounds had been cooking off in the heat of the fire.

After the fire died down the bodies were recovered, as they were carted to a nearby road fragments of bone, uniform and personnel possessions fell off, these would be discovered many years later. The  wreck was continuously guarded. However, one night some local children approached, and like the Robert Westall book The Machine Gunners, stole one of the Browning machine guns from the front turret, along with some of the surviving ammunition. After hiding the haul in a bush, they took the gun home. Whereupon they decided to see if they could fire it. Realising it needed bracing they decided a tap in the garden would do for their experiment and used this as a mount. They had even chosen a strong stone backstop of a wall, which promptly received several .303 bullet holes, until the police were called, and the gun confiscated.
The garden tap, still remains today, as does the backstop.
In 2015 a Dutchman living in the area heard of the bomber crash and began the task of setting out to find it. He conducted a lot of research and leg work, which lasted until last year. This work allowed him to find the site. His website can be found here, detailing all the evidence he collected. In August last year a memorial stone was erected, and a small ceremony held.  He also talks about another aircraft crash nearby later in the war, of a P-47.

Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Making Makin

The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (remember the date line, so this event happened on the 9th of December), the Japanese took control of Butaritari Island. The Japanese troops would leave again in short order, only to return on Christmas Eve. Almost immediately they began construction of a seaplane base in the lagoon of the island.

Butaritari seen from above during the later invasion in 1943
In 1942 the USMC were given the task of raiding the island, mainly to capture enemy POW's and intelligence material. The task was given to the 2nd raider battalion. Around 200 men of the battalion were loaded onto two submarines, which then sailed for the island. During the nine day journey the Marines on board were allowed one hour a day with the submarine surfaced for exercise. The submarines arrived off Butaritari on the 16th of August 1942. The following morning, at 0330 the submarines surfaced and began to land their troops. Things went wrong from the outset, the heavy swells meant that the boats were swept away before they could be manned, this included a large portion of the unit’s machine guns. The rubber boats then chugged through the dangerous surf, it took nearly 40 minutes to travel just 500 yards due to the conditions, even then it would not be until 0500 before everyone was ashore and the rubber boats stowed and camouflaged. Originally two landing beaches had been selected, but this idea was abandoned due to the difficulties at sea. One boat, however, did not get the message to divert and continued on its way to land at the original beach. At 0530 as the raiders advanced one of the BAR gunners had a negligent discharge, which alerted the Japanese garrison. Things continued to go wrong when one raider saw shapes moving ahead of him and fired on them with the shotgun he was carrying. Luckily the shot missed as these were USMC raiders as well, this was the first of several friendly fire incidents.
 Butaritari as seen through the periscope of one of the transport submarines.
There had still been no contact with the Japanese forces, however, local natives were soon contacted who informed the US troops that the Japanese were near the seaplane base, some 2,000 yards away.
Then a Japanese truck appeared, and soldiers began to disembark. The lead platoon of the raiders laid a very careful ambush, which the Japanese force walked right into and were mown down. The truck was destroyed by a weapon the raiders called the "Elephant gun". This was a Canadian manufactured Boys anti-tank rifle. They had been purchased specifically for the raiders and would continue to crop up in raider operations throughout 1942 and 1943.
Reported to be a Boys rifle team. The SMG pouches were apparently the right size to store a spare round or two.
From this initial contact a front-line began to establish itself, with the raiders pinned down by the Japanese riflemen’s high degree of marksmanship. Japanese training had three core areas of competency. Marksmanship, bayonet work and night fighting. This is why you will often hear about Japanese "snipers". In reality it is likely that the rifle fire from a lone Japanese soldier was often very accurately aimed but lacking in rate of fire.

This skirmishing lasted until about 1130, when several things happened at around the same time. First, the boat that had not diverted to the new landing beach had actually made it to the planned destination. The twelve men in it had pushed inland and became lost. They found themselves behind the Japanese line, as they advanced they bumped into a small group of Japanese at a building, whom they killed, one of which was the Japanese commander. At the main line, the Japanese troops tried to charge into contact with the raiders. However, they were outnumbered, and the US force had a large number of automatic weapons and the charge was annihilated.
The lost squad pushed towards the battlefield blowing up targets of opportunity including radios and supplies. These repeated blows lead to the Japanese forces more or less disintegrating and only being able to provide limited skirmishing for the rest of the time.

At around the same time two Japanese reconnaissance planes started to circle the island for about fifteen minutes before leaving.
At 1255 a mixed gaggle consisting of twelve assorted types of Japanese aircraft appeared overhead. These loitered overhead conducting strafing and sporadic bombing for over an hour. Then ten of them turned for home, while two seaplanes attempted to land. The first one to land, was met with a salvo from the Elephant guns, as well as some machine gun fire, and burst into flames before sinking. The second seaplane attempted to make a wide turn and take off again. It too was engaged by the Boys rifles. Panicked by the incoming fire the pilot attempted to lift before building enough speed, whereupon it stalled and crashed into lagoon.
A Japanese Seaplane destroyed in the later invasion.
The raiders began to withdraw at this point, however the Japanese skirmishing was still an irritation. By 1900 the men had reached the boat, despite being under sporadic, but prolonged air attacks. That evening they tried to reach the submarines by paddling their boats out. However, the strong waves battered them and very few would make it. To make matters worse constant air patrols disrupted the attempt to evacuate. Only the lack of organised large-scale Japanese forces prevented the raiders being wiped out. The next morning a few men managed to make it to the submarines before they had to dive for the day to avoid the air attacks.

Finally, that night the raiders managed to link up with the submarines by using their rubber boats, some native canoes and tying each boat together. Despite this one boat was lost and the raiders in it were never seen again. Both submarines made it back to Pearl Harbour unscathed, and the first land based counter attack against the Japanese was completed.

Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks.

Image Credits:
www.worldwarphotos.info, www.j-hangarspace.jp, www.ibiblio.org and www.warhistoryonline.com

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Tiny Erinyes

Last week I posted a collection of plans I had found lurking on my hard drive. Well I didn't post them all, as I wanted to use the last ones to add to this week’s article. That's because the subject of this week’s piece is a bit of an enigma, and not a great deal of information exists upon it. I am talking about the Alecto (The name comes from the Greek Erinye of the same name). I hardly need tell you that it uses the same skid steering as the A.17 Tetrarch, however the rest of the vehicle was based upon the A.25 Harry Hopkins light tank. You can see that the claim of many sites that the A.25 is a modified form of the Tetrarch is dubious from the suspension drawings, when you can see that the sides of the hull are very different shapes. I would suggest the only thing that is shared between all three vehicles is the suspension style and the wheels.





The exact beginnings of the Alecto are a bit hazy to find, most sites claim it as 1942. That's the year the new 95mm close support howitzer appeared so it may be correct. Now, interestingly the 95mm came in two versions. One used split cases, the other used complete rounds. The version in most British tanks was the one firing whole rounds, while the version on the Alecto used the split rounds. This allowed the Alecto to vary its range by substituting different charge sizes, much like the Royal Artillery. This points to the role it seems to have been intended for.
As we go through this article, look at the pictures and note the differences between the Alecto's. The main area of variation are on the sides of the fighting compartment, on some vehicles they are bevelled inwards, on others they have a box or other structure placed there. Also look at the muzzle brakes. I have no idea on what the minor variations mean, nor does there seem to be a set pattern.
British armoured car regiments had a heavy troop in each squadron. This was a fire support element to give the squadron a bit more firepower. The first vehicle used in this role was the US halftrack with a M1897 75mm gun on the back. Later, AEC armoured cars armed with the same 75mm from a Cromwell would be used. These later vehicles were somewhat heavy and being only wheeled, unmaneuverable. A lightly armoured tracked vehicle would certainly fulfil the need, and as it was equipped with the 95mm howitzer it could certainly provide some serious fire support.
An Alecto with a longer gun than normal. From the shape of it I would think it is a 6-pounder.
Now the first version of the Alecto was armed with the 95mm, however there is a single picture, of one mounting what appears to be a 6-pounder. Due to the lack of crew, and the driver not wearing any head gear it seems likely that this was a prototype of some form.
An Alecto in the UK. It has been suggested this is from The Great Flood in 1953 taken at Shepperton.
There are assorted other claims on the Alecto, mounting a 25-pounder and even a 32-pounder! The latter of which I would have to question. How you are going to fit a gun weighing 3.27 tons into a vehicle that weighs just over 8 tons is a bit of a question. Equally it’s likely that the gun's length will provide issues for the Alecto. I have a suspicion that this is a miss identification of the 95mm. The 95mm's calibre was actually 94mm, which is exactly the same as the 32-pounder.
A pair of Alecto's in Berlin at the end of the War. Note the lead vehicle seems to have five crew!
We do know that two Alecto's served in the 11th Hussars just after the end of the war, as there is a picture of them in Berlin on the parade to mark the British forces arrival in the German capital. This can be identified from the markings on the Alecto, and when compared to other vehicles in the event, or that we know belong to the 11th Hussars, we can see a clear link.
A known 11th Hussars Daimler Dingo, with a very interesting twin machine gun mount (Possibly twin Vickers K's). Compare the markings to those on the Alecto.
The arrival Parade on 4/7/45 in Berlin for the 11th Hussars. Again almost identical markings on the vehicle.

A small handful of Alecto’s also served in the Kings Dragoon Guards in Libya in 1947.

Thank you for reading. If you like what I do you can donate via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon.

Image Credits:
www.arrse.co.uk
Plans from the National Archives, at Kew

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Plans

In the run up to Christmas, getting some building work done, and fervently hunting for a new job I completely failed to get an article done for this week.
However, while leafing through my documents folders, in a dusty corner which I don't visit too much I found a sub-folder marked "Plans". Upon closer inspection it wasn't plans for world domination or how to make a million doing history, but plans for assorted tanks. Ah-ha I think, I know a few interested historians who'd like to see those, and so I'll post those.

Before we do, I just want to say thank you to a couple of people.


First to Dean Bartle for his generous donation through Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk).
Next to fatoler and KbdNoOni for donating through Patron


Thanks to you all for reading, and a Merry Christmas, or if it all gets on your nerves Bah-Humbug!

Right to the tanks, also, if you're using a mobile device, check your Wi-fi is on!

A.17 Tetrarch:










M10C Achilles




Now those of you who are exceptionally observant will notice a few interesting points on these plans. First it is listed as the SP3. This was a brief alternative classification used by the British towards the end of the Second World War, standing for Self-Propelled. SP1 and SP2 were, if memory serves, the Alecto and the Archer, but I forget which got which number. SP4 was a mysterious beast, a Centurion with a 32-pounder gun. While there are pictures of Centurions with 32-pounders, these seem to be separate to the SP4. So far all that has been found is a single document on the subject, which covers the ammo handling inside the vehicle, and that fails to include a picture of what the tank looked like.
The other interesting point in these plans are it includes the extra armour that the M10 was sometimes fitted with. You can just see the armour on this vehicle, under all the stowage.


A.43 Black Prince:
 

M3A3 Stuart:


A.39 Tortoise: