Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Miss Fit Mavis

On 23 October 1942 a PBY-5a Catalina was flying over the Solomon Sea. Around lunch time she became embroiled in a vicious gun battle with a Japanese H6K4 "Mavis" flying boat, the flying boats battered at each other with their machine guns, the PBY horribly outclassed in firepower and performance by the Japanese plane. The PBY had to stay away from the tail of the H6K4, otherwise the deadly 20mm cannon mounted there would rip them apart. As it was the machine guns would do enough damage. As ponderous dogfight pulled close to a squall, the bright sunlight glinted off the wings of a third plane overhead, which broke off to join in, the crew of the PBY saw the four engined plane in a very steep dive towards them, then lost sight of it.
Moments later the plane burst out of the squall, about fifty feet away from the PBY's tormentor. It had used the cloud to close up with the combat unseen. It was a B-17E, named Miss Fit after a series of faults and one short landing which ripped off the tail. When the prototype B-17 was unveiled it was described by the Seattle Times as a "fifteen ton Flying Fortress", simply because of the large number of guns it carried, Miss Fit now put its arsenal to work. Both the B17 and the H6K4 swung their turrets to bear and began to hammer at each other. Tracers crisscrossed the gap, the planes were almost wing tip to wing tip, and both were shuddering from the vibrations of the guns and the pelting of the bullets. Tracers could be seen ricocheting from both planes like hail.
The H6K4 pulled a tight turn away from Miss Fit, this was to bring the 20mm cannon into play which would have ended the fight straight away. The pilot of Miss Fit increased speed and had to follow the turn on the outside, in a deadly aerobatic manoeuvre. Tracers continued to flash the short distance between the planes, when nature decided to join in. The turn had brought them into the squall, and a torrential downpour lashed both sides. The H6K4 kept on using the rain and cloud to break contact, but every time Miss Fit would chase after him, and each time would catch up. This happened five times. By now the H6K4 was low to the water to prevent the B-17 from getting under him. Then the Japanese plane started to smoke, one of its engines failed and it crashed into the sea. The entire engagement had taken forty-four minutes from start to finish. The bombardier and navigator were both wounded by the storm of fire, although the navigator had remained at his gun. The H6K4 was flown by Takeshi Shimoyamada.
Back at the Shortland seaplane base in the Solomon Islands the 851 Kokutai were awaiting the return of Shimoyamada. When he failed to return the squadron commander was beside himself with anguish. Shimoyamada's plane was the latest to have just vanished while on a mission. All that the base would receive was a morse code signal from the flying boat saying "plane", then silence. A month later the total of lost planes was sixteen, when Lieutenant Tsuneo Hitsuji lifted his H6K4 into the sky on a routine patrol.

Around 0700 Lt Hitsuji's plane spotted another, it was Miss Fit. Lt Hitsuji put his plane into a dive to get as low to the sea as he could, while ordering his crew to battle stations. Miss Fit remained flying above the flying boat and slightly off to the rear starboard. Lt Hitsuji felt that she was radioing in his position. Lt Hitsuji threw his plane into a tight starboard turn, which caught the pilot of Miss Fit off guard, and allowed the H6K4 to pass under the B-17. As she entered the rear gunners arc the 20mm cannon scored several hits causing one engine to start smoking. Miss Fit broke contact and headed for home, while Lt Hitsuji continued his patrol.
The crew of the H6K4 ate their breakfast, then just after they had finished, off to the port heading right towards them came another B-17. The crew manned their guns, and Lt Hitsuji activated a CO2 fire extinguisher in the fuel tanks to fill the tanks with inert gas to prevent a fire, and they were ready. At a height of 30 meters Lt Hitsuji turned for a squall. The B-17 flew alongside out of gun range, then passed in front of the H6K4. Both planes made a head on pass, but neither side scored any hits despite filling the air with as much firepower as they could. The B-17 made several passes, each time from a slight angle to avoid the tail gun. Each time Lt Hitsuji saw the sea behind them turn white with foam from near misses. On the fourth pass the situation deteriorated, Lt Hitsuji could smell smoke, and two crew were wounded. Equally the fuel tank was hit and began to leak into the cockpit. On the sixth pass a .50 round smashed a hole next to Lt Hitsuji's foot which he could see the waves through. 
Sensing the end was near Lt Hitsuji grabbed his pistol and announced his intention to ram if the opportunity presented itself.

The B-17 came thundering in from the side, the co-pilot suddenly dived, which meant that the B-17 crossed directly astern, at a range of 30m. The 20mm in the rear could never ask for a better target and raked the B-17. Lt Hitsuji even leant out of the window and fired a few rounds from his pistol. The B-17 pulled into a turn next to the H6K4, but was not firing as all his gunners were injured or out of ammo. At that point the H6K4 entered the squall and the B-17 was lost from sight. Leaking fuel it limped back to base, where ninety-three holes were counted in her fuselage.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Grand Theft Pig

 Part one can be found here.

On the evening of the 14th of January 1942 the mission, codenamed Operation Postmaster, began and it soon went wrong. The operation was timed perfectly to start at 2330, as that was when the islands power was cut off for the night. This gave lights to steer by in the run up, and then darkness to complete the operation in. However, planning had missed one important fact. Instead of being on the local time, the island was running to Spanish time, and thus the lights would be on for another hour. Luckily the two tugs were able to abort and loiter unseen offshore for an hour.

Ashore a local had been contacted by an SOE agent. The local was deeply opposed to the Nazis and wanted the Axis powers gone from his home island, so was very willing to play along. Through this intermediary a party was arranged for all of the officers from the three Axis ships, and they were all there getting drunk. To ensure the party kept going he had arranged for a supply of paraffin lamps, so there was no need to stop at 2330. Equally the seating plan had all the officer’s backs towards the windows, which looked out onto the harbour. The local agent had also supplied an 'Unusually large amount of alcohol', to quote one of the serving staff. To make matters even better, a large thunderstorm had appeared off the coast, with rolls of thunder in the distance. The SOE agent took a stroll down to the harbour and found many of the Spanish Guardia asleep at their posts.
In the harbour the two tugs entered. One stopped near the harbour mouth to allow canoes to be launched, while the other made a beeline to the Duchessa d'Aosta, and laid alongside she made contact. Immediately the raiders swarmed aboard, covered by Bren guns on the bridge. Despite the gentle contact the tug rebounded after only five men had boarded, so she was nudged in allowing a few more to jump across, then a third such manoeuvre deposited the last of the raiders. The lead commando racing forwards in the dark suddenly crumpled to the deck with a cry. He had not been shot but had tripped over a pig that was wandering around the upper deck. The commando suffered a minor injury in his fall. Storming the bridge, it was found to be deserted, a sweep of below decks found the remaining crew asleep or passed out from that evenings drinking. A few did try to resist, but the coshes soon drummed that idea out of them.
Quickly the commando's slapped plastic charges onto the mooring chains and triggered their detonators. One chain refused to be cut and required a second charge. Then the tugs made for open water, one towing the Duchessa d'Aosta, the other towing the German craft, at the heady speed of three knots.

Ashore the explosions were taken as an air raid, and AA guns opened fire as cries of "Alerto!" could be heard echoing through the city. The Guardia raced to its armouries and every man checked out his rifle, as their officers tried to determine what had happened. At the party, most men were too drunk to stand, although some had staggered to the local brothel. The officers of the two ships collected themselves and in a swaying mass staggered, half undressed, to the harbour, where much to their surprise and incomprehension their ships had simply disappeared. After the confusion had died down both the locals and the Spanish worked out what had happened and were laughing themselves silly at the Axis officers, who were still very very drunk.
At about 0130 the still rather drunk German captain of the Likomba burst into the British consulate and demanded to know what had happened to his ship. The Consul ordered the German out, at which point the German punched the Consul. The Scottish Vice-Consul punched the captain, knocking him to the floor, and ripped out his trusty revolver. Staring down the barrel the German wet himself and followed up by defecating as well. It was in this state he was handed over to the local police.

No trace of the ships, or their attackers could be found. Various rumours were flying around the next day, pinning blame on the Vichy-French, the Free French, the British and even the US or local anti-Spanish pirates. Indeed, the skeleton crew placed on the Duchessa d'Aosta replaced the Italian flag with a skull and crossbones.
The Germans immediately started accusing the British of piracy, stating that a "British destroyer had entered the harbour and dropped depth charges to blow up the anchor cables and the ship's crew were shot"
In reply Britain pointed out that no British ships were in the area (all very true), but reconnaissance had spotted a large ship in the area and ships had been dispatched. In fact, HMS Violet, a Flower Class corvette was planned to bump into the Duchessa d'Aosta, seemingly by accident, as part of the plan, and this response to the Germans gave them a perfect cover story.

HMS Violet
In total twenty-seven Italian men and one female, an African and one pig were taken prisoner. Apart from the injuries suffered by the commando tripping over, and a few bruises for the Italians no injuries to either side were suffered. All the prisoners, (minus the pig I expect) were interned in a special internment camp in the middle of the jungle, about 150 miles from anywhere. This was done to prevent word of the raid leaking out, they remained there for the rest of the war.

The Duchessa d'Aosta was sailed to Scotland, in July she caught fire and sunk, but was refloated, and renamed to Empire Yukon. She then served for the rest of the war before being sold off to a Canadian company. In 1951 the Canadians sold her back to Italy, and a year later she was scrapped.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

U-boat Safari (Part one)

On the morning of 9th of August 1941 a 65 ton Brixham trawler named Maid Honour chugged slowly out of Poole harbour. Its destination was the west coast of Africa, to target the U-boats that were prowling around the area. These U-boats had been reported as using the rivers of Vichy French controlled areas as refuelling and rest stops. Here they could tie up on the surface and relax without the threat of a British escort heaving into view over the horizon. The plentiful cover would also keep them safe from aircraft observation. Maid Honour however had a trick up her sleeve. Looking utterly innocent with nothing warlike on deck other than winching gear, she was shallow draught and could too sail up the rivers. Upon spotting a U-boat one of the pieces of winching gear would suddenly turn out not to be so innocent. The trawler was fitted with a Blacker Bombard, which to the casual observer, would look nothing like a gun. In fact, it could quite happily fire a 20lb HESH round several hundred yards. With said weapon the Maid Honour could happily mallet any submarine with a few swift blows.
The main armament of the Maid Honour.
On board as crew were five men of the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF), armed to the teeth with Bren and Tommy guns, as well as lots of knives and some explosives. Another fifty men were to travel by other means to rendezvous with the Maid Honour at Freetown in Sierra Leone. Described as a 'Bunch of Hooligans', all the men had gone through Commando training, and were recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Their commander was briefed that should opportunities for other mayhem occur that he was to use his initiative.
I'm no expert on fishing boats, but this is the closest of what I think the Maid Honour would have looked like.

After a six-week voyage around the coast of France, looking like an innocent trawler sailing along, the Maid Honour arrived unmolested by the Germans, and the search for U-boats began. It soon became apparent that there were no U-boats using the rivers of West Africa. But other opportunities for mayhem were present. The Spanish owned harbour of Fernando Po, on the island of Santa Isabel off the coast of Africa held three vessels of interest. These were the Italian merchant Duchessa d'Aosta, weighing in with 8,500 tons. Her manifest was given as a variety of wools, textiles, leathers, asbestos and 1.1 million ingots of copper. However, SOE agents were able to find out that the first page of the manifest had not been submitted and the suspicion rose that she was carrying arms and ammunition. She also had a powerful radio transmitter fitted that could pass on ship movements. The rules of neutral ports stated the radio should be blocked while in port, but this one was still in operation. The Duchessa d'Aosta had arrived some time in 1940, and not yet left. Equally she was captained by a hard-line pro-Nazi. All this led to the suspicion she was a spy ship. There was also a German ship called the Likomba. Some sources describe it as a tug, others as a supply ship. There was also a third ship in the port, also German, which was a large barge called Bibundi. A plan was drawn up to sink the German and Italian vessels, as the Maid Honour had limpet mines and collapsible canoes it would be simplicity itself to sink all three vessels. However, the fear was such an action would cause Spain to enter into the Axis.
The Admiralty thought this operation sounded like a brilliant idea and gave the go ahead in November. However, the commander of West Africa refused to co-operate warning this was an action against a neutral power and might look like piracy. He found allies in the Foreign Office, who were worried about the Spanish reaction. Eventually after several months of negotiations the go-ahead was given. The Foreign Office demanded that there be no evidence of British involvement.

Thus, the SOE began gathering intelligence. First airborne photographs were obtained, by a local agent hiring a Spanish pilot for an airborne tour of the island, during which he took some pictures of the harbour which just happened to show the ships locations. This agent’s camera skills also came into use when he took some photographs of the Spanish governor, quite naked, with his mistress. These were discretely shown to the Governor, who very graciously agreed to relax security surveillance against the British community on the island. This gave the SOE more room to operate.
Captioned to be Axis ships in Fernando Po. If so the main vessel might be the Duchessa d’Aosta, although there are differences between the above picture and the one posted earlier. So this maybe the German contingent.
A British priest was then contacted, who rather joyfully agreed to assist the war effort. In a disguise he got onboard the Duchessa d’Aosta and found some useful information. The crews of the ships were essentially sitting in a safe port, getting paid to do nothing. Thus, they spent most of their time partying, whoring and drinking. Indeed, all three captains had become regular drinking buddies and would spend most nights ashore. In such an environment security was utterly lax as nothing would ever happen to them in their safe port...

In 11th January 1942 Operation Postmaster was commenced. Maid Honour was utterly unsuited to this mission so had been sold. In her place were two tugs graciously donated by the Governor of Nigeria, along with seventeen men handpicked by the SSRF's leader. These joined four SOE men, and eleven SSRF commandos. Training carried on throughout the journey, until on the 14th they were in position to strike. On the day, in sight of the volcanic cone of Santa Isabel, cold rations were issued, as the galley was being used to shape explosive charges. In addition to other weapons, coshes were issued. These were made from 12in steel bolts sheathed in rubber.

Part two can be found here.

Image Credits:
www.britishempire.co.uk and www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Happy Birthday

Those of you whom have read my articles for a long time will have spotted a trend not to cover German forces in the Second World War too much. There is a reason for this. Most simply, German forces tend to be over represented and covered already, and analysed to a ridiculous degree, so the likelihood is that the article is not that new. Equally, for some reason exploits of the SS forces tend to attract even more coverage than you would expect. A few times I've been looking at an interesting article, until I find out the German involved is in the SS, and instantly gets himself deleted from the to do pile. While there is some mileage in the Wehrmacht not being bad guys, and I have covered Wehrmacht soldiers before when they have a good story, for those in the SS there is no defence (although many have tried). However, I recently stumbled across a story about a SS bloke, which I thought I really should cover, so please hold your nose (maybe even literally) and read on.

Josef Dietrich, born on the 28th of May 1892, was an over promoted chauffeur and thoroughly unlikeable bloke. Yet somehow, he managed to end up in charge of 1st SS Panzer Regiment. This unit's main claim to fame was the number of innocent Polish who were massacred by the thugs in uniform during the Polish campaign. In time for the invasion of France and the low countries, the unit had been increased in size to a motorised rifle regiment. During which this force managed to arrive at its primary objective, a bridge, which the Dutch had already blown up. From then on, they just sort of motored about the countryside, once shooting a German student (by accident). Thus, in the 1940 campaign they had never really faced any serious opposition, until they ran headfirst into the rear-guard from the BEF at a place called Wormhout.
After having the town flattened by the Luftwaffe, the 1st SS began to get ready for their assault, which occurred on the following day the 28th of May (yes, Dietrich's birthday). The Germans advanced under cover of artillery and close air support and took over the neighbouring town of Esquelbecq. The British forces there had partially evacuated the previous night, and the HQ had abandoned the chateau. Now Dietrich took it over as his command post.
All the while this was going on Wormhout had been attacked by Stuka's around 0600, with the main advance of the 1st SS arriving at 0745. The town’s defenders are a mixed force taken from the  2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and 2nd Battalion of the Cheshire’s Regiment. In total there seems to have been some two companies of men, with a couple of heavier weapons, such as machine guns and a 2-pounder or two.

By 0900 the might of the 1st SS division was still being held by the stubborn resistance, and they were losing precious armoured vehicles. About thirty minutes later German infantry try to work their way around the flank of Wormhout, and promptly run in to a Vickers machine gun platoon, which halts any advance on that flank, and indeed keeps the German infantry pinned down in place for the entire morning.
By about midday Dietrich was frustrated by the lack of progress and decided that what the front lines needed was his chauffeur training, and so summoned his personnel vehicle, and an escort and headed for Wormhout.
As they charged forward, they turn a corner and run into a roadblock across the carriageway. A 2-pounder gun immediately started knocking out the escort vehicles, while Dietrich's personal vehicle is riddled with Bren Gun fire from the defending infantry. His driver is killed, and Dietrich and an officer with him are forced to leap out and take cover in a shallow ditch beside the road. Any attempt to move is met with a hail of very accurate Bren Gun fire. What's more, burning fuel from the devastated column started to drain into the ditch, the 2nd officer in the ditch was able to crawl away from the fire to hide in a culvert. However, the burning fuel was between Dietrich and this means of survival. It slowly spread towards him. Dietrich's only course for survival was to smear himself in the mud of the ditch to keep from burning in the heat. As an added bonus, the water, slime and mud in the ditch was actually the runoff form a nearby pig sty so included liberal amounts of pig droppings.
Captioned to be Dietrich's car.
As the day wears on the German advance is going nowhere, to make matters just that bit worse for them the Royal Artillery joins in. Some units try to bayonet charge the defenders yelling "Heil Hitler", and are cut down. However, the constant pressure and lack of ammunition means the defenders start to break. Around 1400, armoured units manage to get round the south of Wormhout and begin to enter with supporting infantry. Around the same time Dietrich was rescued, although the Germans lost a further three armoured cars doing so.
For the next few hours the British defences were mopped up and a large number of prisoners were collected. orders were given for the prisoners to be shot, and the Wormhoudt massacre occurred.

After the war Dietrich was accused of the massacre, his defence was it was not him, as he was still in the ditch when the orders occurred. At the time there was no way to disprove this, although recent discoveries show Dietrich issuing orders at 1500, and thus before the massacre. Another officer who was on the hook for the war crime was captured by the Soviets and wasn't released until after the Nuremburg trials were completed. The British, and then the Germans, did try to convict, however, there was a serious problem in acquiring evidence, and despite several attempts no conviction was possible.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Firsts

At the outbreak of the First World War the Austro-Hungarians immediately attacked their neighbours. The attack went badly. There is a story that the Austro-Hungarians by accident ended up charging across one of the few artillery ranges the Serbians had. This meant the Serbian gunners had some very precise ranging information already known, and thus caused heavy casualties. However, the Austro-Hungarians also had some achievements in the early years of the First World War.

The first was against the Kingdom of Montenegro. Over their artillery positions, in the first days of the war the Austro-Hungarians flew Lohner L flying boats from Kumbor. These planes took pictures of the enemy gun positions below and was arguably the first use of aircraft in the First World War.
Lohner L in flight.
The other first again involved the Lohner L flying boat, flown from the same base. On the morning of 16th September 1915, a flying boat (number L132) was returning from a mission to Durrës. On the way back its observer was scanning the surrounding sea, when he spotted a submarine. Upon landing the information was passed to their commanders who checked to see if it was a friendly submarine. The results were soon back, it was a negative, the submarine was an enemy vessel. The submarine was the French Foucault (Q70).

Another Lohner L, number L135, was armed and dispatched to search for the submarine. About ten nautical miles south-west of Cape Oštro, the submarine was spotted. It seems likely that the aircraft was spotted, although several sources give differing accounts of the exact sequence of events. However, what the accounts do agree on was the submarine was only at around 10 meters depth when the L135 released its two 50kg bombs. These were dropped from an altitude of 200m. Each bomber had a delayed action fuse, which was set to 10 meters as well. Both bombs missed by some 7 meters. Another source has the ship diving after one bomb attack, and then later a second bombing run is carried out.
Either way, the Foucault was diving when the bomb exploded near her stern. The blast caused serve damage, and the submarine started shipping water. A fire is reported in some accounts, and water damage to the electrics in others, which in turn released poisonous fumes. In the choking atmosphere the submarine began to sink into the darkness. At 40m the Foucault passed her test depth, and kept going, the hull creaking and groaning in the fume ridden darkness with water sloshing around the feet of the crew. The 29 souls onboard faced one of several unpleasant deaths.
The Submarine Foucault.
Then, the lights flickered on and the pumps began to whir. By a miracle the engineers had managed to fix the circuits. The Foucault began to ascend and when it finally breached the surface around 30 minutes had gone past. L135 had been joined by L132, both planes were on the verge of abandoning the hunt. The crew began to abandon ship into the rough waters of the Adriatic. The last man off was the captain of the Foucault, who had plunged into the choking atmosphere and opened the seacock to scuttle his boat.

Here the two pilots of L135 and L132 showed their bravery. In the flimsy biplane flying boats they set down on the choppy seas. There was no way they would be able to load all the submarines crew and take off again. Instead they acted as floats, allowing the Frenchmen to cling onto the wings, floats and hull as best they could. After a short while later an Austro-Hungarian torpedo boat arrived to take the crew off. The two officers of the submarine were flown back to Kumbor aboard the flying boats. In this entire encounter not one person had been injured. This was the first recorded sinking of a submarine at sea by an aircraft.
Postcard of the saving of the crew.
The first recorded sinking of a submarine also went to the Austro-Hungarians, when on the night of 9th August 1915 21 aircraft attacked the port of Venice. One of the bombs hit the submarine HMS B10, which sunk. Later she was salvaged, and the Italians began to refit her. The British cautioned against this, however, the warnings were ignored. Then an Italian workman drilled into one of the HMS B10's fuel tanks, which caused an explosion and subsequent fireball. The fires it started could not be controlled, and so the dry-dock had to be flooded, utterly wrecking the HMS B10 again. At this point the Italians stripped the submarine of whatever they could and scrapped the rest.

Image credits:
www.flymag.cz and www.wrecksite.eu

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Destruction of History

US Residents, please read this to save your history.

I did have a nice article planed out for today, however, a story broke in the week that I felt needed more coverage, so we’re doing that today. For those of you who saw my Facebook post, scroll down a bit there’s some history stuff in there as well, although we have some more information. The details around this story come off social media, as for some reason the Organisations involved don’t want to publicly announce they’re being tits, so there may be other factors to this story.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin.

Here we have a very nicely preserved MBT-70, at TACOM and the Centre for Military History. As far as I can tell at the time of this picture there were five MBT-0 still in existence. Two German versions, two complete US versions and a wrecked hulk rusting away somewhere. This particular one was owned by the US Army and stored at TACOM. Here’s what was left of her a couple of weeks ago:

Although it’s likely that the turret is gone as well now. That’s right, they’ve scrapped her. Chopped her up into tiny pieces and melted her down. Why? No one seems to know. It’s even more curious that at least one other collection was offering to buy/home her. If you wanted the space move it to the other museum! But no, apparently its much better to destroy it. Sorry, are you afraid someone will be robbing the local bank with it?

But wait, there’s more! The “Centre of Military History” apparently has destroyed rather a lot of items of late. Either by scrapping, or dispatching vehicles to be hard targets on ranges. That I can find mention of are assorted rare M60 sub variants and a perfectly preserved, all original parts Sherman were all sent to the target range and are now, likely to be somewhat less pristine. In the latest round of scrapping apparently the following items were destroyed by the Centre for Military History.

  • A large calibre gun or arty piece
  • A “Spahpanzer”, possibly a Luchs?
  • A M109
  • A Swedish APC
  • Some 4x4 mobility vehicle with what I guess is a 106mm Recoilless rifle on the back.

Now to be fair, not all of these exhibits are rare, although the M60 variants were. They included the only two M60A1E2 in the world. Luckily a few individuals managed to save one of the doomed tanks, the other was destroyed.

So what can we do about it? If you’re outside of the US, not a thing. If you’re in the US however, you can start making a noise! I would suggest writing to your state representatives. A quick letter takes you a few minutes or so. Apparently Robert Sampson (senator for Connecticut), has been written to by one guy, and he's unhappy. SO the ball is rolling, lets see if we can get more going!

Hopefully if enough people kick up a stink then we can prevent any other rare tanks being destroyed. At the moment the damage to history has been limited, but who knows what irreplaceable exhibits will be next?

The US doesn’t have a monopoly on doing this. Though, here are a series of pictures from 1922 which show the Imperial War Museum scrapping a MkV tank, Medium B Whippet, A7V, FT17 and most horrifically a MkI Gun carrier, the last in the world at that time.

If you wish to see more pictures from the set, the IWM website has them.

Even more recently, in the mid to late 1990’s Bovington scrapped the prototype FV221 Caernarvon, which had been hand built as a component tester. It is entirely possible they didn’t realise what they had at the time, as the chassis had been used for a variety of roles over its life time, and it is likely that they thought it just a FV214 Conqueror chassis when they disposed of it. The life story of that particular hull starts as the prototype FV221. Then she becomes a test bed for a gas turbine for a few years. Once again, she is modified into a dynamo vehicle for use at Bovy. Later she has a driver training cab fitted, and is then used as the commentary box on the old Bovington Arena, until the new arena was built, at which point she was scrapped

Sunday, October 27, 2019

New Arivals

Before the Second World War El Alamein was little more than a railway halt, during the War it became the furthest the Germans reached into Egypt. The first battle held there had the Allies on the defensive to halt the Germans. As the situation resolved itself with the Germans held in place there was a place called Ruweisat Ridge. This would be the Germans high water mark, and they would never take one pace further into Egypt. The ridge was a bulge into the Allied lines, and so obviously they attempted to reduce it, and tidy up the battlefield, as Monty was prone to calling the act of straightening front lines.
The first attempt, on the 14th of July, had New Zealand and Indian Infantry Divisions attacking the position, with support from the veteran tank crews of the 2nd and 22nd Armoured Brigades. The plan had the infantry grabbing objectives in a night assault, with the 2nd Brigade then using those advanced positions as a springboard to launch into the German rear, while the 22nd moved up to support the infantry.
At first things looked to be going well. The New Zealander's achieved their initial objectives, although the Indians ran into stiff resistance. The New Zealanders had been forced to bypass several strong-points as well. At this point there was a general failure of communications with the armoured brigades. The scattered strong points also meant that supporting arms were unable to close up to the lead battalions. As the day wore on the tanks moved up, however the 2nd ran into a dense mine field, and being overly cautious due to months of fighting, failed to move up. Meanwhile the 22nd supporting the Indians got embroiled in a bitter tank battle with the Axis forces. This left the New Zealanders exposed and facing increasing pressure with dwindling ammunition and weapons. By the end of battle the Germans had held the position and captured around 700 New Zealand prisoners.
Plans were drawn up for a resumed offensive very quickly. the 23rd Armoured Brigade had only just arrived in Egypt that month, and was not fully constituted. However, two tank regiments the 40th and 46th Royal Tank Regiments, each equipped with Valentines, were rushed to the front. It was hopped that the green troops would be less cautious than the war weary veteran troops. These tank regiments would support an infantry assault on the base of the salient into commonwealth lines, while another regiment and infantry would attack the far side of the bulge.

On the 21st the New Zealanders advanced, starting at 1630 in the afternoon. In an almost identical replay of the first battle, several strong points were bypassed, and the objectives taken. The following day the Germans counter attacked and caused heavy casualties, over running the exposed New Zealanders. The 2nd Armoured Brigade tried to send forth support, however they ran into minefields and the strong points that had been bypassed. To save the failing situation the 23rd Armoured Brigade was brought up and would advance to the rescue on the following day. Thus the 23rd Armoured Brigade was launched into action with just fourteen days in country, on the 23rd of July.
At 0800, the 104 Valentine II's of the 23rd rumbled for,ward at a heady 15mph. First, they had to cross the minefields. Narrow gaps had been cleared, only 30m at most. Soon tanks began to lose their way along the mine free lanes and begin to strike mines. The two tank regiments did, however, push forward. Then they began to take anti-tank fire. One of the guns was the Germany newest weapon that had only just arrived in country.

The wild charge of the 23rd Armoured Brigade was aimed squarely, and entirely accidentally, at the German 104th Panzer-Grenadier regiment. The lead battalion was overrun by the marauding Valentines. However, their anti-tank platoon was still in operation. The platoon was equipped with PAK-36(r) guns, which had only been issued in the May-June period. These guns were originally Russian 76mm M1936 divisional guns, with some modifications. One of these guns was crewed by Gefreiter (Equivalent Lance-corporal/Private First Class) Günter Halm.
Halm had been born in in 1922 in Elze. He had trained as a machinist. He was conscripted in 1941, and after training posted to the Afrika Korps in 1942. Despite the storm of fire he and his comrades were putting down, the horde of British tanks soon closed up, now able to spot his gun they opened fire. A 2-pounder shot struck the gun shield and sprayed shrapnel amongst the crew wounding two. Despite this Halm carried on manning the gun and kept it in action. By the end of the day his gun had knocked out between 9-15 tanks (accounts differ, and the Germans had a habit of over claiming tank kills). For his actions in the face of a wall of Valentines he was awarded an Iron Cross 1st Class, which was later upgraded to a Knights Cross. This made Halm the youngest ever winner of the award. Halm would survive the war dying in 2017.
PAK-36(r) in action in Africa. Later versions would add a muzzle brake and reduce the size of the gun shield.
While the first battle of El Alamein had no territory captured, it had shifted the dynamic of the campaign. The Germans had held but had been battered flat suffering massive losses of men and material. The savage attacks had been conducted hastily by the 8th Army. The Germans were immobilised, stunned, and could no longer attack. Meanwhile, the 8th Army were beginning to prepare for a punch, and this time it would be properly planned. The 8th Army were going to make sure they had a brick in their hand, and the blow would start the fall of the Afrika Korps which would end in Tunisia in May 1943.

Image Credits:
alchetron.com, www.worldwarphotos.info and nzhistory.govt.nz

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The CIA's Air to Air

In 1965 the US launched Operation Rolling Thunder over North Vietnam. Things went poorly for the US at first, with organisational and equipment issues, compounded by political interference. To make matters worse the monsoon weather in the region was proving a massive impediment to accurate navigation let alone bombing. There was at least an answer to the last problem, in Laos the CIA had for many years maintained a small base on top of Phou Pha Thi, a 5,800ft mountain with sheer sides all the way around. There was a single trail leading to the top of this mountain, and so it was judged secure. It was also only 125 miles from Hanoi. In August 1966 a radar beacon was installed at the base and became known as Lima Site 85. Lima was the phonetic name for L, and thus Laos. To US pilots it simply became "Channel 97" which was the frequency the radar beacon could be obtained from. It was able to tell pilots where they were with a margin of error of only a few feet. Over the next two years the system was upgraded several times, and even had the technicians at the base guiding bombing in very bad weather. Navigation and bombing results improved in very quick order.

The radar site on LS-85
It became such an issue for the North Vietnamese that they began to draw up plans to destroy LS-85. Originally the US had expected the sites destruction within six months. All buildings had been fitted with demolition charges, and the personnel were issued small arms for defence. However, it wasn't until January 1968 that the North Vietnamese started operating against the base. An NVA patrol was destroyed on the 10th of January, on the 11th there was an overflight by North Vietnamese aircraft, presumably a reconnaissance run for the mission on the 12th of January.

On that day two specially modified AN-2 Colts were sent to attack the site. These rugged biplanes had been fitted with an assortment of twelve shot 57mm rocket pods and machine guns under the wings. In addition, their cavernous fuselages had been loaded with tubes of 122mm mortar rounds. These were placed vertically with the openings pointing downwards, and a rudimentary set of bomb bay doors fitted. The mission also included other AN-2's, although accounts differ on how many. Some say one other plane, others say two. But these stood off and orbited the attack, obviously serving as either a master bomber, or equipped with navigation devices to find the site.
 As luck would have it, there was a US aircraft nearby. A lone UH-1 Huey from Air America was making a supply run to the site with ammunition. This UH-1 was flown by Ted Moore. Moore had been a UH-1 gunship pilot in the early years of the Vietnam War, before rotating back to the states as an instructor. He was then recruited to fly in Air America. As they approached LS-85 they saw the two attacking AN-2's clumsily looping and diving on the site, Moore said it looked like something out of the First World War. Unfortunately, his current Huey was utterly unarmed. Then his co-pilot, Glenn Woods, scrambled out of his seat, and grabbed an AK-47 they were carrying as a survival rifle. Woods slid open the side door and perched himself on the runner, as Moore gave chase.
A couple of Air America UH-1's at the LS-85 landing strip.
Over the next twenty minutes, the UH-1 chased one of the Colts, with Woods firing several magazines at the AN-2. Back at LS-85 a local guerrilla had managed to hit one of the Colt's with several rounds from his AK-47, which forced the attacker to break off. As Moore was flying above the AN-2 he was chasing, his downwash was disrupting the airflow over the plane and reducing its speed, so the second Colt was able to catch up. In short order both aircraft crashed, within three miles of each other presumably from the hits from small arms they had suffered. The remaining AN-2's that had been circling LS-85 left the area without taking any offensive action. This was the first (and likely only) time a biplane was shot down by a helicopter, it was also one of the few air-to-air kills the CIA has on its records (or at least admits to!). Moore would leave Air America and become a stockbroker.

LS-85 would remain in operation for another few weeks. Unbeknown to the US forces the North Vietnamese had been planning a special forces attack for some time. Around forty men had been undergoing rigorous physical training, especially in mountaineering. They had been observing the site since about December 1967. On the 10th of March 1968 regular units of about 3,000 men surrounded the base, and began to bombard it with artillery. Overnight the special forces had been scaling the sheer cliffs, and by 0345 the next morning were within 30 meters of the base, at which point they launched their attack.
Lay out of LS-85 radar beacon
Large numbers of the USAF technicians manning the site were killed in the initial assault, all the equipment was disabled. A small group of personnel managed to form a defensive position on the edge of the sheer drop down the side of the mountain. At the airstrip the special forces assault had run into guerrilla positions and had failed, leaving the North Vietnamese fighting desperately to prevent being overrun. At around 0700, Air America helicopters arrived, the first landed at the air strip to evacuate US personnel. Later in a daring rescue attempt another UH-1 hovered, out of ground effect alongside the mountain face, while under small arms fire to pluck the last wounded personnel from the mountain. Of note, was Master Sergeant Richard Loy Etchberger. He helped load wounded onto the helicopter, at the same time kept on fighting off the attacking North Vietnamese special forces. With the last wounded man aboard Sgt Etchberger climbed into the helicopter himself, only to be hit and killed by a bullet, the same bullet over penetrated his body and stuck the co-pilot’s AK-47 shattering it. Sgt Etchberger was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour. But LS-85 had fallen and would remain in enemy hands for a few months until they abandoned it. The USAAF would return in a couple of days and flatten every building left standing.

Image credits:
www.soc.mil and www.thegtrider.com

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sabres in Hand

On September 1st 1939, A Polish cavalry regiment spotted some Germans loitering in a clearing near Krojanty. The 18th Pomeranian Uhlans launched a charge at these invaders. The infantry regiment was caught off guard and quickly over run, before breaking, leaving the Polish cavalry in charge of the battlefield. Shortly afterwards a group of German Armoured cars appeared. The Uhlans immediately, and very sensibly fled, trying to break contact, but took heavy casualties during their flight. The next day an Italian war correspondent was brought to the battlefield (presumably after a clean-up of the remains of the German infantry regiment), the Germans advanced the lies that the Poles had tried to charge tanks. The Italian then published the story as an eyewitness account, and the myth of the Polish Cavalry charge against armour was born and lives on to this day.
Polish Uhlan. That's not a lance on his back either, but an anti-tank rifle.
However, the Poles weren't stupid enough to mount futile cavalry charges. At the Battle of Mokra on the same date the German 4th Panzer Division ran into the 21st Uhlans, who fought as infantry, and their 37mm anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles gave the German armour a kicking, knocking out around fifty tanks. The Polish cavalry arm consisted of some 10% of the deployable army of the time, with about 38 regiments of cavalry. Many of these Poles would escape to the USSR, and when the Red Army formed its Polish units, cavalry formations were created as well. In the Red Army the cavalry was used more as dragoons (Equivalent to motorised infantry in more modern armies). The Polish cavalrymen were very unhappy with the horses they were given in the Red Army, seeing the horses as tiny little things, indeed one cavalry man would later state they looked like "Jesus astride a donkey!" due to the size of the mounts. After crossing into Poland, the cavalrymen were able to obtain proper mounts for themselves.

On the 1st of March 1945, as the Soviets pushed into Pomerania, the 2nd Polish Infantry Division found themselves facing the third line defences of the Germans around Borujsko. Ahead of them they could see an anti-tank ditch, and some hints of trenches. There were bunkers with machine guns as well. Manning these was the battle hardened 163 Infantry Division. What the attackers could not see was the heavily camouflaged positions, which each contained a couple of men and a stack of Panzerfausts. These littered the approach to the German front line and were described as being laid out in a chessboard like pattern. Borujsko itself sits on a low hill, and the ground around it is wet and boggy.
After an opening bombardment, that included air strikes, lasting around thirty minutes the first Polish attack was launched. Supported by four T-34/85's, with SU-85's in over-watch, the Infantry were soon pinned and two of the tanks had been destroyed. The Poles aborted their attack and fell back to re-organise and try again later. Another component of the plan was the 1st Independent Cavalry Brigade. This formation was to follow the attack in, and when the Germans broke, they were to exploit the opening. A new infantry regiment was cycled in to launch the attack, with fourteen T-34/85's, each with tank infantry riders on the back. Again, five SU-85s were to provide over-watch cover. This attack started at 1500 and was a total disaster. Over the next forty-five minutes the Polish forces tried three times to close with the German defences, and each time they were repulsed with heavy casualties. Most of the tanks had fallen prey to the Panzerfausts, and were burning away, creating a thick layer of smoke to the front of the German positions.

Suddenly, over the battlefield a single red signal rocket burst. The two lead squadrons of cavalry had worked their way forward using dead ground, now using his own initiative one of the junior commanders had yelled "Lancers! Sabres in Hand!" and signalled the charge. The two squadrons raced forward, seemingly to their doom, flowing past smashed burning tanks, and pinned infantry, who lying there would glance up as the horses thundered by.
Polish Cavalry in the late war. Picture is reportedly taken in Borujsko.
 The thick smoke thrown off from the tanks blocked all visibility from the German trench lines, and what could a man armed with a Panzerfaust do against a horse? The anti-tank ditch provided no protection either, as the horses simply leapt over them, as they did the German trenches. Any German who was found was cut down by sabre thrust. The Germans began to break and flee the charging cavalry. After breaking through the cavalry mustered at a nearby wooded area, dismounted, and leaving their horses under guard returned as infantry to attack any German strong points from behind. This coincided with a renewed attack, with extra armour from the front. By 1700 Borujsko was firmly in Polish hands.