Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Some of our planes are Missing

Warfare is full of stories of friendly fire, however when both sides are using the same weapons it causes problems of its own. One small engagement, when three sides were using the same planes nearly caused a significant change to history.

In 1949, as the Israeli War of Independence was coming to a negotiated truce Israeli ground forces were pushing into Egypt. The British still maintained control of the Suez Canal.
However feelings were running high between the RAF and the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF) after an incident a year earlier at the start of the War of Independence.  The REAF had attacked the British airbase at Ramat David airfield and killed four service personnel in three attacks. In the two follow on attacks five Egyptian aircraft had been shot down, one by a pair of RAF Regiment soldiers with Bren guns, and the remainder by standing patrols of fighters over the airfield after the first unprovoked attack.

The Egyptians launching subsequent official complaints that the RAF had defended itself did nothing to soothe tensions between the RAF and the Egyptians.

On January 7th 1949 at 1115 in the morning, the RAF launched four photo reconnaissance Spitfires on a patrol along the Egyptian border from Fayid Airfield, with orders to gather as much information as possible on the current situation. During the course of the patrol, as they approached the Rafah area the pilots saw columns of smoke rising and decided to investigate.
By bad luck that smoke was coming from an Israeli ground column that had been only minutes before been attacked by REAF Spitfires, leaving several casualties and a few vehicles on fire. When the soldiers below heard and saw more approaching Spitfires, they naturally assumed the REAF had returned, and lept to defending themselves. They put up a storm of machine gun fire that lightly damaged one of the planes. However one of the Israeli tanks managed to hit a second Spitfire, which burst into flames. With no other choice the pilot bailed out.
The remaining three Spitfires came around again, and were concentrating on finding out what had happened to the shot down pilot.
However this is where bad luck happens again. About 3000 feet above the RAF pilots were two Israeli Air Force  (IAF) pilots. They had been attracted by the smoke columns as well. One of the two pilots was a Canadian, who had won a Distinguished Flying Cross in the defence of Malta, the other was an American, who had been a test pilot on the Bell X-1.
Seeing the unknown Spitfires flying over the burning column, and seeing the flash of tracer fire the Israeli pilots immediately jumped to the conclusion the aircraft were attacking their ground forces. The RAF pilots were looking out for their shot down friend and as they were pulling out of their dives they got bounced from above. The IAF pilots opened fire at a range of about 200 yards. The shells from the 20mm cannons smashed into one of the RAF planes cockpits instantly killing the pilot. The second RAF plane was heavily damaged as well by the second IAF Spitfire, and the pilot bailed out safely.

The final RAF Spitfire being a later model immediately power climbed with one of the IAF planes in hot pursuit, and gained enough lead time to flip over and make a head to head pass. While the later model RAF plane had more power it was less manoeuvrable, meaning the IAF Spitfire could out turn it in a dogfight. The IAF Spitfire managed to get several hits on the British plane which made it unflyable, and the pilot also had to bail out.
It was only as the last RAF Spitfire tumbled down that the IAF pilot saw the RAF roundels and realised what a mistake they'd made. When they returned to their base, one of the IAF pilots pulled a victory roll over the airfield. When his fellow pilot informed him of what had happened he initially refused to accept it, claiming the planes they'd intercepted had no markings.

Of the three bailed out RAF pilots, two were captured by the Israelis and taken for interrogation and then released, the other was rescued by Bedouin tribesmen and then handed over to the Egyptian Army, and then released back to the British.
However all that took time, for the moment all the British knew was four of their planes were missing, and they were going to find them.

Part two will be in two weeks.



Image credits:
spyflight.co.uk and spitfiresite.com

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beetle and Ferret

Everyone is aware of the Goliath, and its larger cousin the Borgward IV. Its commonly thought that it was a uniquely German series of developments. However as I showed with the Edward program, the British at least were thinking along the same lines. Equally they had a similar device to the Goliath, which I’ll talk about today. All this comes from a recent dive into the archives.
German Borgward IV
But first I’d like to cross the Channel to France. At some point in the late 1930’s the French inventor Ernest Alphonse Derungs invented a way of controlling a craft by remote. Whilst it might not seem odd nowadays, the device was controlled by wire. However these were designed for use with full size vehicles, including aircraft. The principal aim was for ships. As a fleet approaches a mined area the remote control ship is sent on ahead and used to find a safe passage which the rest of the force would then follow.
Three of these control units were built and fitted to tanks in 1940, before the German invasion, and a demonstration was held for both the British and French officers at the Bourges Arsenal. None of the dignitaries were impressed.

It is claimed by the French Colonel “Martin-Prévell” (presumably a typo for Col. Jacques Martin-Prével), that remote controlled demolition vehicles were used successfully to destroy German armour hiding in a defile, during the fighting at Sedan in 1940. The document which mentions this has a huge warning on it, that MI10 (the British intelligence service concerned with technical developments) could find no evidence of the event happening. Equally Col. Martin-Prével crops up elsewhere in Canada where he seems to have convinced the Canadians of his expertise in armour design, and was involved with the ill-fated Wolf 1 armoured car project.

In 1940 in Britain, Metropolitan Vickers had come up with a new idea. A small tracked vehicle, with each track driven by an electric motor, carrying a 140 lbs of explosive. It was controlled by wires that spooled out the back of the tank. Originally it was nicknamed Beetle, but was later changed to “Mobile Land Mine”.
The only known photograph I can find of the MLM
After initial successful trials in August 1941, admittedly held under ideal conditions, an order for 50 was placed so that further trials could be carried out. These trials also required that the MLM be fitted with brakes and a safety. The trigger for the explosive was a tiller bar on the front of the device, and something like it bumping into a tree could see it explode early.

On 22nd of September further experiments were carried out with a waterproofed version for use near shore. Floats were fitted and the MLM could be deployed as a floating mine, or the floats jettisoned and an attack run made along the bottom of the sea bed. Trials were successful and a landing craft was hit.

On land however things weren't going so well. The MLM lacked the ability to pass through a fence, although later on this was fixed. 45 degree slopes would stop it, as would mud or an 18 inch vertical surface. Equally its speed of 5 mph initially, and later 12 mph was insufficient to allow it to catch other tanks and “torpedo” them. One observer reports that they watched a MLM try and catch a Universal Carrier, until the Carrier simply drove out of range dodging every attempt with ease. By 9th of March 1942 the troop trials had been completed and it wasn’t looking good for the MLM.
It is interesting to note that on the 2nd of April a hair brained scheme for the employment of the MLM was suggested. A trip wire was to be laid, and when the enemy tank drove over it, it would become entangled. The MLM would then reel in the tripwire and thus track onto the target. However it seems that this idea was not pursued.

There’s a long political side to the MLM’s story, in short Metropolitan Vickers had enlisted the support of their local MP, Mr Ellis Smith. For some reason he was really impressed by the device and so began a campaign that lasted until May 1942 where he was badgering for further orders despite the horrible performance and trial reports. His campaign of letter writing included the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Under Secretary for State and a few others. It ended up with one of the people involved stating that Mr Smith’s statement was a “complete travesty of the true state of affairs.” Which in civil servant speak is rather strong wording.
John Allen and Sons site
Finally while on the subject I need to mention the Ferret. It was another private venture by John Allen and Sons, of Oxford. It was about three times the length of the MLM, and about twice the width and height. But was a true land torpedo, it had no guidance or remote control it would just run on a course until it hit its intended target. Its three ton weight was powered by a 5 bhp engine with some extreme gearing, this managed to move the projectile at ¼ mph. Due to its speed it was given heavy armour for its size. It was found to perform well, being able to smash through wire with considerable ease, and even though not waterproofed it was able to operate in up to 2ft of water.

However its peculiar noise and slow speed meant that it was tactically limited, and it was felt that remote control devices were a better idea, which of course this tiny company couldn’t have known about.






Image Credits
aviarmor.net, johnallenofoxford.webs.com







Sunday, December 7, 2014

Armans Raid

The Russian ship MV Komsomol arrived at Cartagena on 12th October 1936. In her hold were 50 brand new T-26's. Later in December the Komsomol was challenged by a Spanish cruiser, and in light of its past cargo the crew were taken off and the Komsomol was set on fire by the cruiser’s main batteries.  She sank later that night.
The MV Komsomol on fire.
 However by that point Komsomol had played her part. The T-26's were destined for the Republican forces fighting the Spanish Civil War. At this early stage in the war most of the Republican forces were untrained civilians. And they were facing off against the might of the Spanish Moroccan Army, with its years of experience fighting in Morocco. In addition those forces had been bolstered by both German and Italian arms and advisers. The Russians had also sent their advisers.  And is often the case the advisers started to train the locals but had to take up arms and fight with their students.

On towards the end of October 1936, 15 of the T-26's were dispatched to the front line. They were led by the Soviet officer,  Major Pavel Arman. Of the rest of the crew the majority were Russian, with only eleven of the most advanced students serving as loaders. Things started to go wrong immediately when the entire battle plan was read aloud by the Republican Mayor of Madrid, and the same information was issued in a press release to all the papers. The only piece of information not given was the date, which was to be the day after, the 29th.
At 0630 to enthusiastic applause by the infantry of Brigade Lister, whom were to be supporting the attack, the column of T-26's arrived. A brief speech was given where Maj. Arman said the following:
"The situation is not so hopeless. They have 15,000 soldiers, we have 15 tanks, so the
strengths are equal!"
Major Pavel Arman
The T-26's moved forward towards the town of Seseña, their terrible luck continued as three of the tanks hit anti-tank mines and were disabled. However the tanks continued on and skirted the area and by 0645 the tanks had entered the town. In front of them they saw a field gun covering their approach, none of the T-26's fired. As they approached a Spanish officer walked out in front of them and raises his hand to halt the column. Maj. Arman leans out of his turret to hear what the officer has to say, the question is simply "Italiano?"
Maj. Arman dropped into his turret and opened fire on the surprised officer and field gun, then led his tanks roaring into the town. As they approach the town square they ran into a mounted company of Moorish cavalry. As always with tanks vs horses, the tanks win with little difficulty leaving a huge bloody mound of dead horses and cavalry men blocking the road where the tanks’ machine guns had chewed through the charging mass. With no other option the tanks have to drive through the pile of dead, liberally coating their hulls with the churned up blood and gore.

In the town's square the T-26's find another battery of field guns and quickly open fire on them, several are destroyed as the Soviet tankers use their tanks as wrecking balls and ram the guns. The column of T-26's push out of the town and drive around behind it before re-entering from another direction. This time the situation has changed as some of the Nationalist guns have been mounted on the roofs of buildings to fire on the tanks. However the T-26's quickly shoot out the roof supports of the buildings causing the guns to fall through.
During the brief lull the Spanish Nationalists had prepared Molotov cocktails and managed to knock out three of the rampaging T-26's. Maj. Arman quickly realised that the enemy defences are beginning to stiffen, and with no sign of friendly infantry, leads his remaining nine tanks out of the village and deeper behind enemy lines.

As they push deeper into enemy territory they spot dust in the distance.  They decide to quickly set up an ambush on a blind corner and the tanks destroy the motorised infantry that are rushing to help defend Seseña.  Again the tankers use their tanks to ram trucks and guns, while the turret crews fire as fast as they can. The column continues its advance, as it enters Esquivias one of the tanks gets stuck in an anti-tank ditch so Maj. Arman leaves two tanks to help the stuck one and continues onwards.

In the distance Maj. Arman sees more dust approaching, and as they crest a rise they see three Italian CV3/35's at short range. One is armed with a flamethrower and immediately tries to close the range to bring its flame gun to bear on the tanks. Spotting the threat the the 6 T-26's all turn their main guns on the tank as it races forward. The lightly armoured vehicle is easily destroyed by the powerful 45mm guns at such short range. The remaining Italian tankettes are now at the mercy of the T-26's, one gets rammed and then pushed into a small ravine.


However by now the crews of the T-26's are exhausted, with low ammo supplies and they have been baking in the Spanish heat for many hours. Maj. Arman orders the tanks to fall back to their starting point. When they arrived they found Brigade Lister sitting around as if nothing had happened. When Maj Arman demanded to know what had happened the Brigade Commander Enrique Lister said that once his men had covered about 1500m they'd lost sight of the tanks, felt tired and just sat down for a rest in small groups scattered over the area.
Brigadier Enrique Lister

Despite the failure of the infantry Maj. Arman’s column of T-26 tanks had wreaked a huge toll and caused massive damage on the local Nationalist forces, even if they'd never captured any ground.


Image credits:
kbismarck.org, warheroes.ru, Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The British Battle of Stalingrad

Stalingrad is a battle that needs no introduction, a place where the Red Army dug in and held the German tanks attacking the city.  However 23 years earlier the Red Army had tried to hold Stalingrad against attacking British armour. By a curious coincidence the date it happened was the anniversary of the Somme, the first time the tank had been used in battle. Equally interestingly using the Russian calendar of the time the date was different, and was the anniversary of Waterloo.

As World War One came to a close there were large amounts of armaments going spare in the west.  Most of these countries viewed the Communist menace with suspicion and concern, so the obvious answer was to supply these arms to the White Russians.  Unlike the French who demanded payment, the British shipped over their supplies, along with advisers and teachers.
In April 65 men and officers, along with six of both Medium A Whippets and MKV Hermaphrodites arrived in Southern Russia, aboard the transport ship Sacred Heart. The school was set up in Ekaterinodar later that month and later it moved to Taganrog. By the end of the year the school would produce over 200 trained crew.

At the front lines, on June 15th, the White Russians launched an attack of Tsaritsyn (Stalingrad). The Reds had dug in, and had large amounts of artillery. The latter of which halted the White advance, then two days later the Red Army launched its own attack and shoved the Whites back over 15 miles. On the Red side there was one well known person who would later rise to fame, a young officer called Joseph Stalin...

As the Reds dug in the Whites requested tank support. A number of machines were dispatched with Russian crews. However one tank was crewed by British, despite being ordered not to take part in the fight. Captain R.W Walsh commanded the British MKV.

The plan was for the tanks (three Whippets and two MKV's) and infantry to smash the Red defensive line and then for cavalry to attack through the gap to take Tsaritsyn. Each tank had a oxcart detailed to follow it carrying supplies of fuel.

At 0200 on the 19th of June the tanks moved out, for secrecy they had been stationed some distance from the front line and only reached it at 0230. Their march was not without losses as one of the Whippets had broken down.
As the tanks rumbled over the front line, the Reds began to fire everything they had at them, and the tanks attracted a hail of machine-gun fire, which of course had absolutely no effect. It took them about ten minutes to cross no-mans land. One of the Whippets became entangled in wire, and the Russian crewed MKV moved to its assistance.

The British tank continued forward, and after crossing the line swung to the left and travelled along the Red trench line blasting out any resistance. Meanwhile the infantry advanced into the shattered Red line as they fled wherever the British MKV approached. At about 0530 Captain Walsh dismounted from the tank to confer with some White infantry, and was wounded by shrapnel. This left Captain McElvaine in charge.

It was at this point the British tank found itself alone, the Russian crewed tanks had returned to the starting point. Luckily there was plenty of infantry around and some Russian armoured cars had moved up and were pursuing the Red Army as they routed back towards Tsaritsyn. A British major back at the starting point ordered the Russian tanks to advance again. This tour caused another Whippet to break down. By midday the tanks had linked up and been resupplied by their carts.

However the Red Army had by now reached a second line of defence and those positions had stopped the pursuing Whites.  At about 1500 the remaining tanks were ordered forward again, with the tanks arriving at about 1700 just in time to meet a fierce counterattack from the Reds.  As the tanks crossed a ridge line they were engaged by about twelve 4" guns using direct fire, these may well have been gunboats out on the Volga. This bombardment knocked out a Whippet with shrapnel penetrating the engine compartment, and the Russian MKV developed ignition trouble. With the Red attack halted the tanks withdrew for the night.

The next day the assault continued, however the carts with the tanks supplies had disappeared. Without any fuel the tanks couldn't join in the assault on Tsaritsyn, and they were sorely needed. The Reds were all in the buildings and the White infantry and dismounted Cossacks were taking heavy casualties. However by 1900 enough fuel had been located so both the MKV's hurried up the road to join in the fighting. Shortly after they arrived the Red Army broke and routed. Over 40,000 POW's were taken along with a huge supply of weapons, material and several armoured trains. But the White forces were too exhausted to pursue them.

The tanks returned to Taganrog, and later in the month more tanks arrived, bringing the total to about 57. However despite the enthusiasm of the White Russian commanders, one of whom announced a general march on Moscow, the forces on the ground just weren't up to the task and quickly reached what is often thought of as the high water mark of the Whites.
General Anton Ivanovich Denikin, the White Russian who ordered his forces to march on Moscow
 Its at this point I feel I should mention a quote by Bernard Montgomery:
"Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: "Do not march on Moscow". Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good."

Image sources:
britishbattles, wio.ru, i2.guns.ru, wwiivehicles.com

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Glorious Glosters

If you mention the Gloucestershire Regiment, most people immediately think of the Battle of the Imjin River during the Korean War. This battle occurred in 1951, a battalion from the regiment stood on top of hill 235 and bore the brunt of the Chinese human wave attacks as 40,000 soldiers advanced on the UN lines. Their tenacious stand won the battalion a US Distinguished Unit citation, and several of its members won Victoria Crosses. 
What's not commonly know is eleven years earlier the Gloucesters were involved in another heroic stand, holding up the onrushing Germans at a critical point in the battle of France.

In May 1940 the Germans were pouring into France and throwing the Allies back. The Gloucesters found themselves at the village of Cassel on the 25th of the month. The 2nd Battalion’s "A" company was dispatched to hold Zuytpene. From that company a platoon was sent to hold a bunker covering a road some distance away. That road lead to a little known coastal town called Dunkirk.
The bunker at Cassel
The above paragraph does give a misleading impression of the situation. The platoon of men was depleted from the previous weeks of action, and the entire platoon was only 13 men strong. It was led by 2nd Lieutenant Roy Cresswell.

Additionally the term bunker is somewhat misleading. It was designed to hold twin 25mm anti-tank guns and two machine guns in armoured housings. The roof was topped by an observation tower. However as work on it had only started on January 20th as part of Frances expansion of the Maginot line it was still largely unfinished. When Lt Cresswell and his men arrived they found a building site. None of the components were on site, leaving huge holes in the walls where the guns were to be mounted. The observation tower wasn't finished and was wide open, with no door inside to close off this opening. It even lacked a front door. The bunker was clad in wooden scaffolding and there was a temporary hut erected by the Spanish workmen right in front of the bunkers firing ports.
Off to one side was a stack of fuel drums to provide for the construction machinery. When the platoon arrived they found numerous Belgian and French refugees who were using the bunker as a shelter.

Through out the 25th and 26th the fourteen men worked on the position. The openings in the wall were turned into firing slits using sandbags and the scaffolding was cut away. They filled as much of the observation towers doorway with sand and gravel as they could, they even knocked down the workers hut and made a makeshift door. However they couldn't solve the biggest issue of the position, that there were no openings to the sides or rear.
Damage to the Bunker
About 1800 on the 27th the Germans announced their presence with a furious barrage of 20mm shells raking the position. As the Germans launched an attack, the defenders poured fire out of their gun slits, and largely kept the Germans away. However one German closed up to the bunker, as he tried to smash down the door one of the defenders tossed out a Mills bomb, which halted the Germans efforts. As the firefight continued the barrage of light shells punched through the improvised protection set up by the defenders, spraying splinters of wood around the inside of the bunker. These huge lances of wood killed one of the defenders. However as night fell the Germans retreated. During the firefight a nearby hay stack had been set on fire which burned throughout the night giving the defenders enough light to spot any approaching Germans.

The following day the Germans launched a second attack, which was kept at arms length by the fire the defenders laid down. Despite this the number of wounded was increasing and now supplies such as food and water were beginning to run out.


On the 29th the Germans were becoming desperate, as long as the blockhouse held it commanded the road to Dunkirk and the retreating British.  Being unable to use the road meant that their advance was slowed down. So they devised a new ploy.
At 0900 a figure hobbled into sight of the defenders and before they could fire he shouted out "A wounded British officer here!"
The figure was a Captain called Lorraine. He'd been dragged out of an ambulance shortly after being captured and ordered to convince the defenders to surrender. As he approached Lt Cresswell started to speak, to which Cpt Lorraine snapped "Don't answer back!". When he was close enough Cpt Lorraine stood beside the body of a German, looked down and said "There are many Germans like that round here."  He then stared at the roof.
Lt Cresswell immediately took that to mean the Germans were on the roof and waiting to ambush his men should they surrender. Cpt Lorraine then returned to German lines. The Germans immediately launched a furious assault, its only effect was to kill or wound the ambushers on the roof of the bunker.

On the 30th the Germans found another weapon to smoke the British out. They used straw and the fuel left from construction to light a massive fire inside the open observation tower. With no way of fighting the fire, and getting suffocated by the smoke Lt Cresswell also knew his men were out of food and water (the previous day the men had been drinking rum to keep their thirst at bay but even that was now gone), and they had almost no ammunition.
With his situation hopeless he ordered his men to try and break out and reach friendly lines. Even in the confusion of the smoke and flames Lt Cresswell's men didn't get very far and they were all captured almost instantly. The road to Dunkirk was now open, although the Germans had been held up for four vital days.
The fire in the observation tower continued to burn for a week after the position fell.

Image credits:
BBC, Flickr, Wikipedia

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Defence Capabilities Centre Shrivenham

About a year ago myself, Jingles and another EU Community Contributor, Ed Francis, were invited along to the Defence Capabilities Centre at Shrivenham. This is a teaching environment for the UK military, and other nations. It has a huge selection of tanks, guns and defence related items. Last week myself and a few others, including Quickybaby were invited back. All arranged by Ed.
Obviously I had my camera along with me, and while the others spent their time hugging the tanks, I had a root around and found some of the interesting smaller stuff.

The first piece is almost art like, its the shrapnel generated by a shell. I have no idea how they created it though.

Next we have something that looks like a missile, next to some normal 81mm mortar rounds. Well the "missile" is actually a Merlin round for 81mm mortars. You can see the size difference between it and a normal round. It was an attempt in the 80's to give the standard British infantry mortar a guided anti-tank (AT) weapon. It uses radar in the nose to guide itself into a hit the top armour of a tank. Now imagine the rate of fire of an infantry battalions support mortars with each one firing a guided AT missile. Its range was 4 km.
The trouble was the unit cost was very high, so it was dropped. A project that came slightly afterwards, but made it to service was the Swedish Strix 120mm round that used a IR sensor.
Many, many years ago I saw this picture:

Now at first glance you'll think its a British soldier with an L85, but then those of you up to speed on uniforms and weapons will start spotting the mistakes. Well the Armoury at Shrivenham has these:
 They're EM-1 and EM-2 rifles, from the mid to late 1940's. The British conducted several studies into small arms and produced a .280 calibre, with excellent ballistics. However for NATO standard ammunition the US  would accept nothing other than 7.62mm, and the rifle and the round were consigned to history. Recent trends in small arms have been heading back towards the intermediate rounds, however.

Next we have this large green collection of tubes, I was quite surprised when I found out what it is, its a Bangalore torpedo. I blame Hollywood. The traditional image I've got from films like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan is this giant drainpipe being lugged about, but no its actually quite compact.

A mysterious bag of white powder, but I wouldn't go near it if I was you, its 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, more commonly know as "CS" or tear gas.

Now we come to the meat of the article. You're all aware of the Tier 2 French tank destroyer the Renault UE 57. Well it did exist, here's a picture of it alongside its larger cousin a Lorraine 37L fitted with a 17 pounder gun. The thing you instantly spot is the muzzle brake.
Well they have one of those muzzle brakes at Shrivenham. Last year they had only snippets of information on the subject. Myself and Ed Francis were plugging away at it trying to find more information, unbeknown to us two Shrivenham were also working on the problem, and they got a lot further than we did!

So here is the story of the Galliot muzzle brake. Now I would say there's still a lot of confusion about the exact details, so please keep this in mind.
After the First World War a pair of French men, one of whom was called Galliot, the other's name is given as "Borg" or "Bory" were working on a new muzzle brake. In 1919 experiments were held in the US, and in 1924 the results of the experiments were submitted to the US authorities. The muzzle brake worked by directing the blast backwards through a series of fluted spiral channels. It was an incredibly complex piece of equipment that several UK manufacturers point blank refused to build.

After the fall of France Commandant Galliot ended up in the UK. The first attempts made were fitting a Galliot muzzle brake to rifles. In 1941 it was fitted to a 6 pounder. During 1942 there were several trials with the weapon but while the recoil was reduced by 81% the back blast was tremendous. All in all it would require a redesign of the gun mounts. In late 1942 the Free French forces produced a 17 pounder fitted with the brake which was subsequently trialled. However the British considered the brake utterly impossible to mass produce and halted work on it.
I assume that this is where the two AFV's pictured above came from. One would obviously ask: Where did the French vehicles come from? There are suggestions that about seventeen Renault UE's made their way to Britain after the fall of France, but I've no idea on the Lorraine 37L.

However from 1943 the idea of fitting it to a Mosquito FB Mk XVIII (Tsetse) came about. Trials may have been considered as well. However one final oddity, there is a persistent rumour that a 32 pounder gun was fitted to a Mosquito Tsetse, although very little is known of this. Some sources suggest that the Galliot muzzle brake was used. There is a document in the archive about a 32 pounder fitted with a Galliot style muzzle brake, but I've yet to view that document and so can't say what information it contains.
In 1948 the muzzle brake design was patented, we think it was by the Commandants son, Jules Andre Norbert Galliot.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Horror at 25,000 feet (part 2)

A few weeks ago I posted part one of a story about a B17 bomber. When we left the bomber was damaged, with two very seriously wounded crew on board.

In the navigator's position 2nd Lt Koske was faced with the problem of SSgt Weaver. He quickly realised that SSgt Weaver's only chance of survival was the Germans. 2nd Lt Koske explained what he had in mind, and after initial resistance SSgt Weaver relented. Realising that it was good luck he couldn't give the morphine injection, as that would have rendered SSgt Weaver unconscious, 2nd Lt Koske helped c into his parachute.  He then opened the escape hatch, and set SSgt Weaver's hand on the ripcord, then pulled his hand away. However the sheer amount of blood flowing from SSgt Weaver's wounds meant that 2nd Lt Koske's glove had become glued to SSgt Weaver's who's in turn had become sealed around the ripcord. The act of pulling the hand away meant the parachute began to deploy, billowing in the storm of wind from the open escape hatch.
Imagine three men, one of whom is wounded, and a half deployed parachute in this space, while getting shot at by Germans.
A deployed parachute would seal SSgt Weaver's fate, as there'd be no way to reuse it. However luck was on SSgt Weaver's side yet again. The parachute caught on a fuse box and stopped deploying. This partial deployment even worked in their favour, 2nd Lt Koske wasn't sure SSgt Weaver had enough strength left to pull the ripcord, but now with a partial deployment the entire parachute would follow even if SSgt Weaver wasn't able to pull the cord.

As he plummeted away SSgt Weaver knew his chances were slim, if he wasn't captured immediately he would bleed to death. The same fate would await him if he landed too far away from a hospital. As he fell he saw 2nd Lt Koske's reassuring smile looking down from the hatch.  The ball turret gunner reported that he'd seen SSgt Weaver's chute open.
In December 1943 word reached the family of SSgt Weaver that their son was alive and in Stalag 7-A POW camp.

With SSgt Weaver on his way, 2nd Lt Koske scrambled back into the nose of the aircraft to find the bombardier busy manning the guns so 2nd Lt Koske rushed to help him. Throughout all this time the bombers had been under constant attack from the German fighters. They thought that the sudden manoeuvres of the plane were evasive moves from the pilot, not losses of control as the dying Lt Campbell launched another frenzied attack on 2nd Lt Morgan.
Then they were over the target, which was thickly shrouded in smoke, the bombardier dropped the load and the formation turned. After the plane was safely out over the sea 2nd Lt Koske checked on the cockpit and found out the true situation of what was going on. This was at least two hours after the initial attack. 2nd Lt Morgan explained they needed to move Lt Campbell as 2nd Lt Morgans view was obscured by the smashed windscreen, and so he couldn't see to land.
The bombardier and 2nd Lt Koske wrestled the struggling Lt Campbell into the nose of the plane where they secured him. As they descended the increased oxygen meant the crew at the rear of the plane regained consciousness, but were suffering from varying degrees of frostbite. Then 2nd Lt Morgan spotted something else, all the fuel gauges read empty. Somewhere in the unrelenting attacks the cannon and machine guns of the Luftwaffe had shredded the fuel system and they'd lost all their fuel. 2nd Lt Morgan eventually landed at RAF Foulsham, rather than fly all the way back to RAF Alconbury.

Lt Campbell died an hour after landing at RAF Foulsham. Like all service personnel who died in the UK he is buried at the American Cemetery at Madingley, Cambridge. As today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, last Friday I made a visit down to the Cemetery and found Lt Campbell's neatly tended grave.
Lt Campbell's death was reported in the US newspapers, understandably he was reported as killed immediately by the cannon shell that wounded him.

For his actions 2nd Lt Morgan was awarded the Medal of Honor. Nearly a year later on March the 6th 1944, 2nd Lt Morgan was flying his own B-17, as part of the first major USAAF attack on Berlin, when his plane was hit by flak and it was reported plunging through the formation on fire. However 2nd Lt Morgan was able to escape in his parachute, and was promptly was captured by the Germans.  He became the first ever Medal of Honour winner captured by the enemy.

Thirty six years later in 1979, Koske and Weaver held a reunion, this was the first time they'd met in all those years. Morgan died on January 17th 1991, and Weaver on Feb 20th 1993.

Image credits:
David Lister, Tom Philo Photography and Albumwar2

Sunday, November 2, 2014

.45-Zero

This article is in essence two stories, but one couldn't have happened without the other, and I'm sorry to say, one of them is not a happy story.

Bombing raid over the Pyinmana bridge
On March 31st, 1943 four aircraft of 9th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Group were sent on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge at Pyinmana, Burma. The squadron were in B-24's, and as they approached Magwe they had the bad luck to stumble across a flight of Japanese fighters.

KI-43-II
The thirteen KI-43-II's (nearly all allied accounts claim Zero's) where from the 64th Sentai, and were flying on a transport mission to Chittagong. Leading the flight was the Japanese ace Captain Yasuhiko Kuroe. Cpt Kuroe and another plane targeted one of the B-24's and pressed home their attack, despite the ferocious defensive fire put up by the bombers. The bomber they targeted began to drop out of formation, whilst on fire. Inside that B-24 the co-pilot, Lieutenant Owen J. Baggett manned the dorsal gun while the rest of the crew struggled to put the flames out. However it was obvious they were doomed. The pilot Lt. Lloyd Jensen ordered the crew to bail out.
Lt Baggett
 As they hung in their parachutes Cpt Kuroe and his wingman began to strafe the helpless bomber crew. Lt Baggett was wounded in the arm by the attack. With no other choice he palmed his Colt M1911 pistol and hung limp in his harness, acting dead. Cpt Kuroe brought his fighter round, and throttled back. As he passed the group he opened his canopy, and was flying at almost stall speed.
As he passed Lt. Baggett the American raised his pistol and fired four times. The Japanese fighter peeled away. Lt Baggett and Lt Jensen were both captured. At the time they were the first B-24 pilots captured by the Japanese, and were of special interest. Eventually they were released from solitary confinement and put in with the general population of POW's.
Col Melton
Here the second story starts. Colonel Harry Ripley Melton Jr, was the commander of a squadron of A-36's (dive bomber versions of the P-51). On a mission on the 29th of November 1943, about twenty miles east of the Bay of Bengal, his plane suddenly lost power, and he was forced to bail out at 1000 ft. He too was captured, and while in the same camp as Lt Baggett they got talking. Lt Baggett told of his story, and how he got there. At which point Col. Melton confirmed the story by saying they had found a crashed Japanese plane, the pilot had been thrown out of the airframe by the force of the impact. The Japanese pilot had a single .45 gunshot wound to the head.

Unfortunately there's no other supporting evidence. Even Lt Baggett’s own remarkably slim account when he was official historian for the 9th Bomb Squadron fails to mention the details. Was it just a tale to raise morale while in a POW camp? Did Cpt Kuroe merely pull away in surprise? Or did Lt Baggett make a one million shot? Shots with longer odds have happened before.

Lt Baggett remained a POW until the end of the war. After liberation, instead of returning to his peace time job on Wall Street he decided to stay in the Air Force, and retired a colonel. He died at the age of 85 in San Antonio, Texas in 2006.
Rakuyo Maru
For Col. Melton a much unhappier fate awaited. On 6th of September 1944 he was sent to Japan. He was the only American, in 1318 POW's on the Rakuyo Maru. Six days into the journey the convoy was decisively attacked by US submarines. Sinking, the ship turned into hell and the full horrific story can be read here. Col. Melton was lost at sea, adrift in the Pacific ocean.

Image credits:
Wikipedia, The Command Post (Jan 26th, 1945), Flymag and St Petersburg Times (Dec 5th, 1943)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Armoured Soldier

From the moment at Agincourt when a single soldier was killed by a gunpowder weapon, armour protection became more and more impractical. The large scale of issue needed and the cost due to lack of manufacturing meant for most of history the best protection a soldier could wish for was a padded outfit.
This carried on into the first industrial war, World War One. In the early years of that war cloth caps were the norm, however with modern warfare modern mass production arrived and the benefits of metal helmets were realised and issued en-masse.
In the First World War several attempts at protecting the soldier from enemy fire were also tried, the best known was the German Lobster armour. However there were several other concepts tried.
MacAdam shovel in action, notice how the loophole is actually to low to the ground to be used without the mound of earth.
One was the ill-conceived MacAdam Shovel from Canada. It was designed, in 1913, to function as not only a shovel, but also as a bullet shield. The idea being that the soldier stuck the blade of the shovel into the ground, this gave him an armoured screen with a loop hole in it so he could fire at the enemy, while their return fire was deflected by the blade.
You can see how short the handle is on this picture.
To make it bullet proof it was built of very dense and heavy steel. However this was unable to stop enemy fire, and resulted in a very heavy shovel, with a short handle and a hole in the shovel blade.
In reality the shovels never made it closer to the front than England and were finally sold off as fifty tons of scrap at a massive loss to the Canadian Government.
Martel's one man tank. this is the MK2 version, made out of actual metal. the Prototype had been made of wood.
In-between the wars one British officer, Giffard Martel, came up with an idea for a one man tank. The idea is said to have come from a discussion with another British officer who witnessed a French tank attack during the First World War, and the swarm of FT-17's. When Martel pitched his idea it was laughed at, so he cannibalised an old car and rebuilt it at home in the shape of a one man tank. His plan was for each infantry unit to have a handful of these, and they would advance with the infantry giving covering fire. When the difficulties of one man doing all the jobs for the tank arose Martel countered by pointing to fighter pilots doing all the jobs required in their one man vehicles. Martel went one step further and proposed that every infantryman should be mounted in one of these tankettes.
Carden-Loyd one man tankette
As the idea was looked at other companies got in on the act, however the high point for the one man tank was the Dominion Premiers demonstration, in 1926.  The army put several of its machines, including the A1E1 Independent through a demonstration.
Dominion Premiers demonstration in 1926
 In less than a couple of years the idea had disappeared. However the one man tank does have one success story. Martel also built a two man version, and from this starting point you can trace a direct development through to the unparalleled success of the Universal Carrier. The idea of a slow moving tank to support the infantry in their advance could also be said to have resulted in the A11 Matilda Infantry Tank, however the link there is much more tenuous.

Soviet SN-42
In World War Two body armour made another appearance. The two best known are the Soviet armours like the SN-42, or the US flak jackets worn by bomber crews. A less well known version was a Japanese attempt at body armour, looking like a direct copy of the Soviet armour, it was let down by Japanese manufacturing, proving to be extremely heavy and offering no protection.
The British also worked on body armour. During the early 40's the Medical Research Council and the army thought through the problem, and eventually produced a usable armour.
The basic problem was that technology, at the time, couldn't provide armour thick enough to provide protection to prevent high velocity projectiles from penetrating the armour and causing damage. There were also certain places where low velocity projectiles would cause fatalities. Adding to the issue was that the Army had imposed a weight limit. The armour was designed to cover the most amount of vulnerable body parts within the constraints of the weight limit.
The Armour was found to be proof against rifle fire from 700 yards, pistols at 5 yards and Thompson Submachine gun fire at 100 yards.
The armour was mostly used by the RAF and 21st Army Group. There's anecdotal reports of it going ashore on D-Day and fighting through Normandy. It was definitely used during Operation Market Garden.
MRC armour can be seen on the soldier guarding these POW's.
After the war many ideas were tried for body armour, for both police and military uses, such as this police armour:
However its only due to modern technology that effective body armour has been realised.
My thanks to Volketten from the NA server, whom is a real expert in these matters and helped with this article.

Image Credits:
Milart, Wikipedia

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Stug Ace

Hugo Primozic was born in 1914 in Württemberg, Germany to a German mother and a Slovenian father. He enlisted with the German army in May 1934 and joined the Artillery. During the Polish campaign he was part of the 152nd Artillery Regiment of the 52nd Infantry Division.
Hugo Primozic
After serving in the French campaign, he rotated through several reserve and replacement positions including a posting at the Artillery school in Jüterbog. After graduating, he was sent to join the 667th Sturmgeschutz (assault gun) battalion. He was given command of a platoon of Stug assault guns in the 2nd battery of the 667th.

After bitter fighting in August and September, the 667th halted several heavy Soviet attacks near Rzhev but was subsequently pulled back due to heavy casualties. Then on the 15th of September, the Soviets launched another massive attack. Primozic only had his platoon of three Stugs at his disposal which he promptly moved forward to face the assault.
As they approached under cover, Primozic halted his platoon and dismounted to scout out the situation facing his small force. Once this was complete, he moved his Stugs into concealed positions on the flank of the advancing Soviets tanks.

As Primozic’s platoon moved into firing positions, one of the Soviet T-34s apparently spotted Primozic and quickly swung its turret round and fired. By luck, despite the short range of the shot, the round bounced off. The Stug fired a heartbeat later destroying the T-34. Primozic's platoon began to pour fire into the sides and rear of the Soviet tanks. As the Soviets began to return fire, Primozic ordered his Stugs to pull back from their previously concealed positions and relocate to new firing positions to the left of their location. The Stugs low profile, speed and concealed positions made this manoeuvre possible despite enemy fire.
While Primozic had been moving, the Soviet tank had begun advancing towards his platoon and had closed the range so that the nearest T-34s were now only 300 yards (275 meters) away; well within optimal firing range for a T-34. Additionally, his platoon spotted KV-1 heavy tanks moving up to support the stalled T-34s. His Stug was hit by a round from a KV-1 which did no damage however Primozic’s gunner likewise bounced his shot off of the KV-1. It was now a straight reload race as the first to reload and fire accurately would likely destroy the other. The Stug's 75mm roared and the KV-1 shuddered to a halt gushing smoke.
The fighting continued with the heavily outnumbered platoon continuing to inflict damage on the T-34s and KV-1 heavy tanks until the Soviets began to retreat. The platoon had flanked the Soviet advance and used the covered, rolling terrain to maximum advantage to halt the soviet attack and destroy over 24 tanks during the engagement.

From the 15th through the 28th, Primozic and his platoon continued to fight with their battalion in repelling repeated Soviet attacks in the Rzhev vicinity. On the 28th of September, Primozic’s platoon was assigned to cover the extreme flank of their division and they proceeded to hold their position against repeated attacks conducted by Soviet tanks with infantry support. Primozic’s Stugs held their ground until they had literally fired off all of their ammunition and then attempted to withdraw to avoid being encircled. Before his platoon could disengage, Primozic left his vehicle while under fire with a steel tow cable and attached it to an immobilized Stug in his platoon to tow it from the battlefield using his own vehicle. Upon returning to his Stug, he personally covered the successful withdrawal of both vehicles against infantry attack with a machine gun.

In the five months from September 1942 to January 1943, Hugo Primozic destroyed 60 enemy tanks and was awarded both the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross and the Oak Leaves. Hugo Primozic was the first non commissioned officer in the Wehrmacht to be awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross and one of only seven NCOs in total to receive the Oak Leaves.
He received his officer’s commission in February 1943 and served as an instructor until 1945 when his training unit was deployed to face the advancing Americans on the Western front. Primozic was captured by American forces on May 8th, 1945 and survived the war. He died on the 18th of March 1996 in Fulda Germany.


(Following a suggestion last week, I'm trying something new out from today forward, if you don't like it, let me know. To stop the images in articles disappearing, I'll be copying them across to Imgur, and then giving credit to the original website.)Image Credits:
Wikipedia, Bundesarchive Photos and theatlantic.com