Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

O the Wild Charge

The area we now know as Jordan was in between the wars a British mandate called Trans-Jordan. The local forces here were known as the Arab Legion. They had a mechanised component known as the Desert Legion, or Mobile Mechanised Force.

The force was formed in the 1920's by a British officer called John Bagot Glubb, known locally as Pasha Glubb. During the Second World War he led the Mechanised Force. The British at first didn't know the quality of these Arabs, and often referred to them as "Glubbs Girls" due to the soldiers of the Arab legion, but not the Mobile Mechanised Force, wearing mostly Arab dress.
John Bagot Glubb
 The force consisted of Ford trucks (known as scout cars) fitted with a machine gun, and handful of armoured cars built by a local firm, run by a German called Wagner. Small arms were limited to rifles. Glubbs Girls proved their worth to the British during the Golden Square Revolt (Anglo-Iraqi War) in 1941, serving alongside the similarly equipped British Cavalry (also mounted in trucks) as part of Habbforce. The Desert Legion guided the British column to RAF Habbaninya and played a key role in the defeat of the German inspired Iraqi forces.
Arab Legion in Iraq.
As part of the spoils of victory the British cavalry replaced their antique Hotchkiss LMG's with Bren Guns captured from the much better equipped Iraqi forces, these LMG's were gifted to the Desert Legion. After a brief rest the next operation hove into view. A major reason for the sudden and dangerous Iraqi war was the ability of Germany to stage through Vichy French owned Syria. So a plan was drawn up to deal with French Syria; Operation Exporter.

Several weeks of fighting would then follow, to recount the entire campaign would take too much space. However as part of Habbforce the Desert Legion ended up around the ancient city of Palmyra. On the 29th of June the Desert Legion took the settlement of Sukhna (some sources give the name Sukhne or As-Sukhna).
Early on the morning of the 1st of July the Desert Legion were getting ready for breakfast. About 30 men and three of the Wagner armoured cars were covering the approach to Sukhna, the rest of the men were gathering brushwood for the cooking fires. Suddenly a dust cloud was spotted approaching. Unsure of whom the column of vehicles belonged too Glubb sent a scout car with two men in to investigate. Meanwhile he positioned his men on a ridge, and dispatched another scout car to recall all the men. The first scout car came under fire from the approaching column.
The attackers were the French 2nd Light Desert Company, with six armoured cars, and about a 100 men in trucks. Glubb immediately sent word of the contact to the British cavalry who were nearby, however as it would turn out the British were too far away to take part in the battle.

The French forces dismounted and launched an attack up the slope towards Glubb's 30 men. However the fire-power the Arabs laid down pinned and halted the attack. Glubb wanted to hold on until his reinforcements arrived, either the British or the rest of the Desert Legion. However neither showed up. At this point an impetious Arab yelled "Where are the Gallants?!" leapt up and charged down the slope waving his rifle.
Wagner armoured car
The rest of the thirty men Glubb had with him joined in this headlong charge against an enemy three times their size. Even the armoured cars lurched forwards with their motors revving.
Surprisingly this headlong charge caught the French battle line completely off guard. The sudden fierce charge routed the French forces, who turned and bolted. As if on queue the rest of the Legion roared into sight in their scout cars. Glubb describes what happened next:

"By this time a number of [Legion] infantry trucks had overtaken us and were driving parallel to us on the right and left. Many of the men were standing up, their long hair flying in the wind. They brandished their rifles and shouted: ‘Where are they? The gallants, where are they?’ My own car was full of people. I did not know how they got there. Several were soldiers who seemed to have borrowed a lift. We were still followed by tribal volunteers from the Howeitat. One of these, Jazi ibn Isa, was standing on the running board of the car, making it remarkably difficult to drive. He was in a paroxysm of excitement, shouting his war-cries, Every now and then he thrust a tousled head in at the window and bellowed exhortations into my ear. At intervals he fired a rusty rifle into space as no particular target."

The French in their haste drove into a dead end in the shape of a Wadi, and were promptly surrounded. The French column surrendered, only one of the trucks escaped the rout, which had a knock on effect. When the French forces holding Palmyra heard of the capture of their relief column,and after witnessing an aerial battle that ended decisively in the allies favour, the garrison of Palmyra surrendered.
The Desert Legion suffered one killed and one wounded, the French lost eleven killed.

Image credits:
homepages.force9.net, forums.justoldtrucks.com, www.morvalearth.co.uk and www.jordanjubilee.com

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Explosive Challenger

At the moment, there's several sites around the internet which claim that modern British tanks, such as the Challenger 2 use Explosive Reactive Armour. I believe this is wrong, and that the Panels used are solid blocks of Composite armour. The only conclusive evidence I've seen for ERA are the various websites, all seemingly quoting each other, saying its ERA. The only reason I can see for this is that the blocks look sort of like ERA panels. Now there's the obvious issue that this is current or semi-current equipment so it's all wrapped up in operational security issues. So this argument against ERA is based on purely publicly available sources.

Within NATO ERA is classified as an ammunition type which when you think about it makes sense. Therefore you have to provide "re-loads". Equally it obviously contains explosive, so you need to deal with it like you would any large amount of explosive. So with that in mind, let's take a look at the arguments against the upgrade armour being ERA.

First off, as is often the case when dealing with governments, it's best to follow the money. This link is the National Audit Office's report into Operation Telic, which was the codename for the UK's part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Page 19 states:
"In October 2002, the Department approved a separate Urgent Operational Requirement to fit a new generation of appliqué armour to 137 Challenger 2 tanks, of which 116 vehicles were deployed to theatre. The total cost of this package was £8.8 million"
The important part is in bold. "Appliqué armour" indicates it is an inert set for each tank. You'll also note the utter lack of mention of reloads. Just the one set for each tank. That would indicate to me that it's not ERA.

Next we look at the one Challenger 2 destroyed during Operation Telic:
 A modern armour expert I know points two things out here. ERA doesn't explode when set on fire, instead the explosive provides added fuel for the fire, which means there would be increased scorching. This increase of burning appears to be absent. He also points out that the blocks look too thick for ERA.

Finally we have the safety aspect. ERA is dangerous to those squishy human things around the tank when it goes off. So in consequence you don't want to operate it around or near civilians after a shooting war is over, otherwise you might blow some of them up, which sort of wrecks the hearts and minds approach.
Here we see Challenger 2's in very close proximity to civilians in Iraq, all with the armour packages fitted:
But you might argue that depending on the threat state the tanks would take the risk, putting protection of the tank and their crews over the safety concern. Fair enough. What about Europe?
However, I will admit the location could be anywhere, maybe Germany, or maybe Kosovo. So the protection might be required. But as a final clinching proof, here's a picture of a Challenger 2 driving around Bovington tank museum arena:
Now I'm qualified in Health and Safety, and on a professional level I'd love to read a risk assessment for driving several pounds of explosive around in a small crowded area with several thousand members of the public...

As a supporting point, here is a picture of a Warrior that took an RPG hit to the side:

Now there's only a few mm of armour underneath that panel. Yet the RPG didn't penetrate, and the panel obviously didn't explode. Can anyone find a picture of a Challenger 2 with a panel that has exploded? Or any data to support the claim it is ERA?
Its also worth bearing in mind that the original NATO briefing (Would you like to know more?) on ERA mentioned Burlington as small blocks that could easily be replaced, or mounted on existing tanks and AFV's.
Two Slides taken from the original Burlington presentation.
Finally, I've never ever seen a picture of a AFV so fitted, with a panel that has exploded. Can you find one?
So for all the reasons above I think that most of the internet is wrong, the add on armour packs are not ERA, but solid lumps of composite armour.

Image credits:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Atomic Horror

Thanks to  Nemo (Us server) for his help with this.

One thing I remember as a child at school was reading a history textbook that contained an apocryphal letter from a US Farmer sometime in the 1950's to the US Department of Defence. It was asking if they had any nuclear explosives that he could employ to uproot a stubborn old tree stump. All this was due to the Atomic Dream, or Atomic Age of the 1950's when it was considered that the power of the atom would change everything, and led to the very particular feel of the period. Modern games like Fallout took these ideas and ran with them. But in military circles, fiction is often a lot closer to truth.
One of the most well known examples of this is the XM28 and XM29 Davy Crockett. Born of science improving the technology behind atomic weapons it enabled a small lightweight atomic bomb to be developed that could be fired from a recoilless rifle. On May 4th 1960 the Davy Crockett was unveiled to the public. The secretary of defence had this to say:

".... dwarfs in firepower anything we have ever known in the immediate area of the battle line. DAVY CROCKETT will significantly enhance the military posture of US ground forces. With this weapon small combat units will have organic atomic power that they will be able to take with them to any trouble spot in the world in a matter of hours. On the battlefield, the small unit will have within its own ranks, firepower that formerly could be obtained only from heavy artillery."

The idea behind this weapon was that large formations of Soviet troops could be attacked breaking up the initial invasion allowing conventional allied forces a 48 hours breathing space to react.

The Davy Crockett came in two calibres, 120mm and 155mm and both used the same warhead. The complete rounds were modified as they were spigot weapons. Mounts included a ground tripod that only weighed 20 lbs, a mount for a Jeep and a set of racks to allow the weapon to be carried in an APC. The 51 lb warhead gave a yield of about 18-20 tons of high explosive. Although that doesn't sound that much, the added radiation would provide the devastation. Anyone within 150m would be killed instantly, within a quarter of a mile you'd get a lethal dose, but that would take a few days to kill.

As the 120mm XM2 launcher only had a range of 1.25 miles the launcher crew could be exposed to serious dose of radiation. For that reason it was advised to fire the shot over an intervening hill or terrain feature. The 155mm XM29 had a longer 2.5 mile range so this wasn't so much of an issue.
Later when the XM28 was withdrawn the remaining XM29 was fitted with a 37mm spotting rifle. However this was rifled, whereas the Davy Crockett round was fired from a smoothbore. This lead to a large degree of inaccuracy, however as you're firing a nuclear weapon with a half mile blast, inaccuracy isn't much of an issue. The Davy Crockett served in Germany with as part of the support companies in so called "Atomic Battle Groups".
The idea of of atomic projectiles received a brief revival in the 60's when the British started looking at tiny nuclear weapons for anti-tank work. But those are for a later date.
The NB-36
Another idea was atomic powered bombers. These could stay airborne for weeks ready to respond to an attack. The first tests were on Convair B-36 Peacemaker. The plane selected was damaged in a tornado. It was fitted with a nuclear reactor in the bomb bay. The forepart of the plane had a 12 ton lead shield installed to protect the crew from radiation. The tests were just to monitor radiation, and the reactor wasn't linked to the engines. The NB-36H as the modified plane flew 47 missions amounting to 215 flight hours. During this period the reactor ran for 89 hours. The projected nuclear powered bomber would have been so heavy it was predicted to need a five kilometre runway, the facilities for the bomber project were constructed apart from the runway. The entire project was cancelled in 1961.
The TV-1 does share somewhat of a resemblance to the APC at the start of this article.
In June of 1954 the army got in on the act. They started working on nuclear powered tanks. The first one on the drawing board was armed with a 105mm gun, fourteen inches of armour, and weighed about 70 tons. Called the TV-1 it had the reactor upfront, which is an interesting choice. On one hand the armour plate would act as shielding to prevent heavier weight needed in areas of the tank where you'd normally have thinner metal. Equally the internal shielding would act as a solid bulwark if the front armour was penetrated. On the down side any round penetrating the reactor would make the area very radioactive very quickly. Operational range was also quite long, running at full output for 500 hours. To further increase the road range an idea of a vehicle with a separate larger reactor was envisioned. Using overhead wires this would provide power for entire columns of tanks meaning they could save their reactors for when they were not in the march.
Just over a year later a new proposal was put forward. Due to improving technology again the vehicle's weight was down to 50 tons estimated, and it was armed with a 90mm smoothbore. Armour was down to 4.6 inches sloped at 60 degrees. But like the earlier tank this one never came to anything.

Image credits:
www.globalsecurity.org, fallout.wikia.com and Wikipedia.com

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Not yet Dead

Back in the colonial period India was much larger, it incorporated the countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan. So when I talk of today's soldier, he was born in Hoshiarpur District of Punjab, but he served in a regiment that is now in the Pakistani Army. Fazal Din was born on 1st of July 1921. At the outbreak of the Second World War having just finished his schooling he joined the Indian Army. I've been unable to find out about his career in the army, due entirely to his later exploits, which clog every page of Google. However by 1945 he'd risen to the rank of Acting Naik (Corporal in the West) in the 7th Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment.
Naik Fazal Din
In 1945 the Japanese Army was slowly being defeated on mainland Burma. However even then the Japanese were resisting with all their might. Often Japanese forces would use the terrain to slip around the Allies flank and cut them off. They'd been doing this since the war started, and it had led to the 14th Army developing the system of boxes. Whenever the Japanese cut off a unit, instead of retreating the forces still in contact with each other would dig in covering a 360 degree arc and hold their position. The total control of the air meant that the Allies could be resupplied. One of the first, and most famous battles of this type is the Battle of the Admin Box.

Meiktila was a town that had a slightly cooler climate than the rest of Burma, due entirely to the rivers around the area. The settlement had been battled over in 1942 when the British fought a delaying action allowing a routed Chinese army to get clear of the pursuing Japanese. In 1945 the British were back and pushing on the town. The Japanese had dug in well, and the countryside was littered with bunkers and defensive positions. Using their superiority in armour they began to force the Japanese back, despite losing several tanks to Japanese anti-tank ambushes. On 26th of February 1945 the Allies captured one of the airfields around the town, allowing more troops and fuel to be airlifted in.
The Allies closed in from several sides, and had pushed up to the railway station by the 1st of March, yet the risk of Japanese tank hunters infiltrating in darkness meant the armoured spearhead had to pull back during the night meaning the fierce fighting had to be repeated the day after. Meanwhile the Japanese forces had cut off the lines of supply and had hence isolated the Allied spearhead.
British Soldiers mopping up in Meiktila
During the 2nd of March the operation to clear the town continued. Naik Din was leading his section, they had been accompanied by a tank earlier in the day but had been separated from it. It was at this point they ran into a killing zone, with three Japanese bunkers on one flank, and a fourth on the other. It was the key enemy position in the area and had resisted an earlier attack.

The first hint of trouble was a burst of Japanese machine gun fire and a flurry of grenades. Naik Din immediately charged the nearest bunker and using several grenades he silenced the position. The rest of his section caught up with him and they moved to assault the next bunker, all the while under heavy continuous fire. Then from a near-by red bricked house a group of Japanese emerged. Unable to kill their attackers with fire two Japanese officers had gathered some six men and led them to wipe out Niak Din's section. The section Bren gunner opened fire at the charging Japanese, killing one of the officers and another soldier. Then his magazine ran dry and the gunner was killed by the second Japanese officer wielding his sword. Naik Din was in the process of charging to the rescue of the Bren gunner, when the Bren gunner was killed. The Japanese officer saw Naik Din rushing at him, spun and ran him clear through the chest with his sword. Several witnesses saw the sword point protruding from Niak Din's back. Staggering Naik Din dropped his weapon, and the Japanese officer ripped his sword out of the Indian's chest.

Naik Din wasn't dead though, He grappled with the Japanese, snatching the sword from the startled Japanese officer, then killing the Japanese officer with his own weapon. He then set about the Japanese infantry man, killing two. The second man he'd killed was about to kill one of his own men. Then standing in the middle of the bloody battlefield brandishing the captured sword he yelled encouragement to the men around him, he directed the squad’s sergeant to take over and continue the attack. He returned to the headquarters, insisting on completing his report before he allowed himself to take first aid.
However despite the best efforts of the medics, Naik Fazal Din died shortly after reaching the aid post. On 24th of May 1945, he was awarded the Victoria cross for his actions.
In the overall picture the Japanese had lost the town of Meiktila, however they were now besieging the Allies. Two weeks of fierce fighting carried on, with air supply keeping the Allied forces in the fight. However on the 15th of March the Japanese had begun to close on the landing strip, meaning that planes could no longer land. Casualties had to be evacuated by Auster's from a small makeshift air strip, but supplies had to be parachuted in. Allied forces eventually relieved the defenders of Meiktila around the 24th of March.

Image credits:
www.worcestershireregiment.com, ww2today.com, d.ibtimes.co.uk and www.nam.ac.uk

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Enemy of my Enemy

Part one.

At the Age of 18 Josef Gangl had joined the Wehrmacht in 1928. Ever since then he'd been in uniform. Some how, even as an artillery officer, he'd won two Iron Crosses for his action in the war to date. Having served in all the major European theatres (although not Poland). Now at the end of the war he found himself with his troops in an Austrian town. All about him there were SS men who were terrorising the town, shooting anyone they disliked under the guise of calling them a Deserters, and machine gunning any house that dared to display an Austrian flag. At this point Major Josef Gangl refused an order to retreat, and joined the local Austrian resistance. As he was an experienced military officer he was immediately given command of the local area. Last weeks article explained how he came to Castle Itter.

At about 2300 on the 4th SS troops occupied a ridge line and began to take the castle under fire. As this wasn't much of threat Cpt Lee eventually went to sleep. At about dawn on the 5th the tempo of fire increased suddenly, and a anti-tank gun slammed a round into the castle. The shell hit Gen. Maurice Gamelin's room, which luckily he wasn't in at the time. Cpt Lee lept out of bed and rushed to the gatehouse holding a M3 SMG. Almost instantly a second anti-tank gun shell hit and destroyed the Sherman parked outside the gate.

There had been one man in the Sherman, who had been trying to raise American forces on the radio when the shell hit. The crewman jumped out of the tank, and ran for the gate. He'd just reached its cover when the tank exploded. The Waffen SS tried to rush the gatehouse but were stopped by a volley of fire.

The SS troops carried on assaulting, each time being forced back. Michel Clemenceau, aged 72 who was the son of Georges Clemenceau, remained at the barricade next the the gatehouse blazing away at the charging Germans with a captured MP40, quickly reloading before opening fire yet again.
As ammunition began to run low at about midday, ex-Vichy Minister for Sport, and former tennis star Jean Borotra approached Cpt Lee. Earlier in the day he'd volunteered to leap over the castle wall and make a dash through the surrounding SS forces to try and raise help, but Cpt Lee had refused. Jean Borotra again made his offer, with options rapidly running out Cpt Lee relented. Borotra picked his spot and jumped, when he hit the ground he dashed across the dry moat and 40 meters of open ground before reaching cover. Shortly afterwards Cpt Lee spotted a column of US tanks advancing off in the far distance. It was just coincidence, while Borotra had survived he'd not had time to reach anyone.
Cpt Lee worried about the tanks, did they know about the situation at the castle? Or were they treating it like every other German castle they'd found, as a potential German strong point that would need blasting. With this in mind, Cpt Lee, and General Maxime Weygand manned a .30 cal machine gun. They sent a long burst into the trees well in advance of the Sherman tanks.
It worked, just as Cpt Lee had feared the US tankers had regarded the Castle Itter as hostile, and had their guns registered on it. The long burst from what sounded like a .30 cal, that had clearly been deliberately aimed to miss was taken as a signal. The US forces then began to push towards the castle.

The ceaseless attacks by the SS, and the fact the defenders were almost out of ammunition (some guns were down to their last magazine) had forced the defenders back. The SS troops had unslung their Panzerfausts and were lining up to blow the doors of the castle gates in when a salvo of machine guns hit them from behind. The US column had reached the defenders literally in the nick of time.
Over 100 SS troops surrendered.
French Prisoners leaving the Castle.
 Its interesting to note that during the battle, at 0800 the Flensburg Government officially surrendered.
The defenders despite several wounded had only suffered one man killed, Major Josef Gangl, aged 34, had been killed by a sniper.

Image credits.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Besotten Jenny

Thanks to Madest (EU server) for mentioning this story.

In the early hours of 2nd of May 1945 two gunshots rang out through the darkness at the Castle Itter in Austria. The castle was lit by candles and lanterns due to lack of fuel for the castle's generator. As the Germans searched for the source of the gunshots they found the body of Eduard Weiter, the ex commander of Dachau Concentration Camp. He'd been killed by a bullet to the heart and one to the head. Some suggest he'd committed suicide, and managed to shoot himself a second time after shooting himself in the heart. Others say he was killed by one of his retinue for deserting from his post as commander of Dachau, which had just been liberated by the Allies. When the Germans tried to bury him in the local churchyard the priest refused to sully his graveyard with the body. In the end his retinue dumped the body into hole in the ground, tossed a few handfuls of dirt on top, and they then fled.
This left the commander of Castle Itter, Sebastian Wimmer, feeling a little worried and concerned. The castle had been transformed into a prisoner camp in 1943, previously it had been the home for the German Association for Combating the Dangers of Tobacco. As a camp, for purely administrative purposes it had been in the hierarchy of Dachau. But as it housed political prisoners who were deemed useful by the Nazi's it was a vastly more pleasant incarceration. About twenty of the guest rooms were converted to cells and the rooms held a large number of French politicians, and their wives. The castle also had a small number of guards and some prisoners from the main camp who acted as menials.
French Detainees
Now Wimmer knew the Allies would be arriving shortly, and his boss had just died on his doorstep. Equally he was, without doubt an SS member. Through the previous weeks he'd seen a steady stream of Nazi party officials using his castle as a staging post as they fled the Allied advance. It was at this point Wimmer decided to join the exodus.
As he fled the prisoners grabbed what weapons had been left behind and decided to prepare to defend themselves. The French had a variety of backgrounds and included the French former Prime Ministers Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud. Equally former Commander in Chiefs of France's military Maxime Weygand and Maurice Gamelin were held there. Even some ex-Vichy politicians. Needless to say there were bitter differences between the group. However when faced with an imminent threat these elderly gentlemen stepped forward.

The group had sent out a pair of volunteers to seek help from the nearby Americans. One, Zvonimir Čučković had bluffed his way out of the castle claiming to be on an errand for the commander, he had left the day before Wieters death. Unknown to the castle's inhabitants he'd actually made contact with American forces, who'd sent out a force to liberate the castle. However they quickly realised they'd cross a divisional boundary. Even in modern warfare crossing a unit boundary like that is considered a bad idea, as the chain of command is fragmented and it massively increases the likelihood of friendly fire incidents. For that reason the force was recalled.
The second volunteer was a Czech named Andreas Krobot, who approached the village of Wörgl on the 4th of May. There he found a Wehrmacht force that was attempting to defend the area from roving bands of Waffen SS. It was working with the local Austrian resistance. The motley band was under the command of Major Josef Gangl.
Major Josef Gangl
 Maj Gangl had known of Castle Itter and its status as a camp, and had wanted to free it. However, being short of manpower he was unable to assault the place. The news that the castle was now held by friendly forces altered matters. Knowing he'd have to assault through hostile territory he marched out to find the nearest US forces to surrender and propose a joint rescue attempt. He found such a unit eight miles north, the leading element of the US 12th Armoured Division, which was one of the few American combat units that allowed coloured troops to serve in the front line. The unit was led by Captain Jack Lee.
Captain Jack Lee
The confused situation in the area between the front line of the US forces, and the Castle Itter meant that only one Sherman tank, Cpt Lee's "Besotten Jenny", seven coloured US soldiers, Maj. Gangl's Kubelwagen and a German truck with ten German artillery men arrived at Castle Itter to join the fourteen or so prisoners.
While Maj Gangl was unfailingly polite it appears that Cpt Lee got on Paul Reynaud's neves. After the war Reynaud described Cpt Lee as "Crude in both looks and manners, if Lee is a reflection of America’s policies, Europe is in for a hard time."

With the war about to end, at 0800 the next day, what could go wrong?
Part two.

Image Credits:
www.slate.fr and www.warhistoryonline.com

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Eight East

In the cockpit of the jet bomber only faint luminescence comes from the dials. Outside the cockpit it's pitch black. Every 90 seconds the plane banks to avoid any SAM missiles. The powerful SAMS' that could reach its altitude would be moving so fast they'd not be able to track onto the bomber as it jinks its way across the sky. The vast plane levels out from its final bank, and ahead of it, four miles and 33,000 feet below the lights of a city blink away. The pilot adjusts his course slightly lining up for the target point. Between the wings of the bomber is its payload consisting of a single hydrogen bomb. The crew in the back squint at their radar screens, preparing for their radar bombing sight drop on the city ahead. As they approach the drop point, the pilot presses a button to arm the weapon. Shortly, as they reach the exact point required the navigator-plotter will press the second button of the two stage release. The jet bomber will buck upwards freed of the huge weight of its bomb.
The inhabitants of the city below go about their business, most sleeping, no-one aware of the free-fall Hydrogen bomb plummeting towards the point where its pressure switch would trip, utterly destroying their city. The plane turns away, at 140 degrees and climbing its crew await the blast wave that stands a good chance of pitching their bomber into the ground. Equally they have an uncertain future, what of their home country and their families? Some of the bombers lacked enough fuel to make the return trip, their only hope was to get as close to friendly territory as possible and bail out.

The above of course is a training exercise, a city in the United States was the target of a simulated attack by an Avro Vulcan, one of several such planes taking part in the Strategic Air Command's "Bomb Comp". It was designed to promote accurate bombing and practise the skills required for the V-Bombers. Although later when Soviet SAM's improved the V-Bombers lost their anti-flash white paint job and gained a camouflaged pattern and their flight path changed to low level. During the final approach they would climb to 10-11000 feet to release the bomb. The NATO plan for the bomber attack was coordinated between the RAF and SAC. The V-Bomber force would strike targets across western Russia and the Baltics. The attacks were placed to leave corridors for SAC's force to fly through. If the SAC pilots stuck to their routes they'd be flying between the detonations of the RAF's bombs.
There was no Bomb Comp in 1962, entirely due to the Cuban Missile Crisis. During that time the V-Bomber force was at two minute readiness with the crew sitting in their aircraft, ready to go. They were fed sandwiches by their ground crew.
The pilot and others like him had previously flown many training exercises that had looked like the real thing. Often the bomber crews would be given a go order, taking off and flying their courses, not knowing if bombs were falling on their homes behind them. Longitude 8 East was considered the point of no return, if they crossed that they were at war. Luckily the recall code had come every single time. Sometimes it was instantaneously, other times it had come after half an hour of flying. As one pilot recalls, during the Cuban crisis, just before he left for the airfield he said to his wife "If you see us take off, put the kids in the car and drive to the west of Scotland. I think you'll be safe there."
If World War Three had started, nowhere in the UK would have been safe. There was a great deal of planning for Civil Defence in the UK, but most, if not all of it was simply to give the appearance of survivability to prevent panic. The government produced a series of pamphlets called "Protect and Survive" They can be read online here. While the advice is sound, it misses the point that the vast majority of the UK would be blanketed by nuclear bombs, and none of the country would have been survivable.
A demonstration of Protect and Survive
Despite this there was an effort to keep the government alive in some form, and as every government needs information the Royal Observer Corps was tasked to observe Nuclear explosions and report that back to a central post. Of course it's likely these command centres would have been obliterated in the initial exchange. These ROC posts were dotted across the country and each had three men, a phone line and a number of sensors.
Of course the phone line was only buried for about the first 100 yards. The following quote gives a description of the instruments each post had, it was written by an ROC member who served three years in these tiny positions:

"Above ground you have, from left to right, the entrance shaft, with the Ground Zero Indicator mounted next to it. The GZI was basically a third of an oil drum converted into a pinhole camera. It had four small holes in it and the GZI could only be mounted so that the holes faced exactly north, east, south and west. Inside were four "cassettes" of photographic paper which turned dark when exposed to the light of a nuclear detonation, or the headlights of a passing car, which happened at my second post. In the event of a nuclear explosion you wait sixty seconds after the last bang and then climb the ladder and change the cassettes. Good luck with that one.
You next have the cover for the Fixed Survey Meter, which measures external radioactivity. Next to that is the baffle plate for the Bomb Power Indicator, two metal discs about 6 inches in diameter (I thought twelve inches, but only sixish, which may have explained some of my problems with the ladies) about half an inch apart. When the blast from the bomb passes over the post some of it is captured by this and gives a reading on the BPI."

Image credits:
www.film4.com and Fallout 4

Other Credits.
There's several interesting threads on the subject, the one with ROC veterans accounts is here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, so as I normally do, I've selected something a bit more thought provoking than my usual fare.
Last year I visited the American cemetery at Madingley for this article. Some of the Photographs I took didn't go into the For the Record Article. They were short pieces on some of the fallen commemorated at the cemetery.

1st Lieutenant Sidney Dunagan
Pilot of a C47

Lieutenant Murray Blum
US Merchant Marine officer

Technical  Sergeant Arizona Harris 
Dorsal turret gunner on a B17

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Reich Strikes back

Part one.

The Coldstreamers then fell back from the position they'd reached to give hill 309 some safety distance because at 1500 a bomber strike was scheduled to prepare the hill. Shortly after vacating their position a pair of FW-190's appeared and launched rocket attacks on the line that the Coldstreamers had previously occupied, the attack did nothing more than plough up some fields.
The Coldstreamers found much the same problem at La Morichesse as the Scots Guards had encountered as Les Loges, they also had to detour. The terrain was particularly bad going and three tanks bogged down, one tank rolled over which set off a grenade inside the tank wounding the turret crew. The troop commander of the three bogged down tanks and one of the unwounded crew from the rolled tank set off to find medical help. However, they were unsuccessful and on their way back they ran into a German infantry platoon, accompanied by a Jagdpanther.
During battles a single Churchill tank was kept as a rear link. Its job was to maintain radio communication between the forward units and the HQ. In this case the rear link tank didn't learn of the detour around La Morichesse and entered the town, only to be destroyed by a point blank shot from a Panther tank. Despite all this by 1600 Hill 309 was occupied.

Meanwhile the Grenadier Guards had collected together the infantry and were trying to transport them to the front, first of all they got snarled up in a traffic jam, and didn't clear that until 1630. Then they ran into the stiffening resistance at La Morichesse, and were unable to bypass with the ease the Coldstreamers had done. Their problems continued to mount as ME-109's would make strafing runs on the column, orders were getting confused in the jumble and then the light began to fade.

At the hill near Les Loges the Scots were still on their own. Just as they tuned into the 1800 BBC Broadcast, they heard the news about the battle they were currently in. With curious timing the Germans then laid an artillery barrage onto the hill, followed shortly after by three high velocity cannon shots. The three rounds each knocked out a Churchill on the left flank, destroying the troop of tanks in that location, and leaving the flank open. Unable to raise anyone on the left flank the Squadron 2nd in command moved his tank over to see what was going on, and met three Jagdpanthers at point blank range.
After knocking out the flank troop the Jagdpanthers had used the cover of a hedge line, and finally a cottage to get into the wooded area on the hill. Their long 88's easily punched a round through the 2IC’s tank and caused its ammunition to detonate, blowing the turret off.
The Jagdpanthers then fell upon the Scots Guards from behind at point blank range, pushing through the line. Their fire knocked out a further seven Churchills. As the Jagdpanthers withdrew over the crest  of a nearby swell in the ground they were taken under fire by the remaining Scots Guards. The Churchills quickly knocked out two of the attackers.

By early evening the Coldstreamers had finally linked up with the infantry support, they had brought their anti-tank guns up by manhandling them as the terrain was to rough for Carriers and other tows. Even resupply was done by transferring supplies to M3 half tracks and then using those to get as close as they could to the front line; the supplies were then manhandled up to the front line.
A quiet if tense night was spent at the front. Then in the morning a Churchill was hit from the flank in the turret, the round had come from the left rear of the Churchill's position from the village of La Ferriere, thankfully it caused no damage. A brief gunfight followed and a single German self propelled gun was seen to withdraw from the position. For the rest of the day regular salvos of artillery fell upon the Coldstreamers position. But that was all that happened that day, apart from the armoured divisions moving forwards along the road to continue the attack.

On the 1st of August the dawn stillness was shattered by a massive German bombardment at 0530. Shortly after that infantry was observed leaving their positions in La Ferriere and from cover to the front. Then above the din of exploding rounds tank engines could be heard. The Germans were attacking the Coldstreamers position from the flank and to their front. The first wave of the infantry attacked at 0645. The Churchills laid down a devastating blanket of fire which stopped the attack dead.
Almost immediately a second attack came in this time with armour support. Again the firepower the Churchills put down forced the attack to retreat. The enemy then started trying to snipe tanks from long range with Jagdpanthers. The Coldstreamers returned the compliment but were aghast to see their shells bounce harmlessly off the thick armour. Even so the Churchills position meant they were difficult targets and the Jagdpanthers scored no further hits.
One thing the Coldstreamers were not short of was artillery support and they liberally applied this to the enemy positions. The quick response and famously rapid rate of fire from the British artillery severely hampered the enemy. One of the Squadron Commanders won a Military Cross for his actions in commanding his squadron and directing the artillery. Soon the Germans began to retire from the battle, one column was badly shot up by the Coldstreamers as it withdrew from La Ferriere. Everything seemed quiet for a while, then four German deserters surrendered in the evening. They warned of a German attack being prepared in an orchard  behind the Coldstreamers position. Quickly every available gun and mortar was directed towards this orchard, along with the direct fire from the Churchills. After a short while of this battering, an infantry battalion and several German Tigers retreated from the orchard.

With this last force withdrawing no more fighting took place, the base of Operation Bluecoat was secure, and later Bluecoat secured the flank of Operation Cobra.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Opening the Blue Coat

There's a famous quote by Bernard Montgomery that he wanted 1/3rd of the Churchill tanks armed with a six pounder gun. This may have had some impact on the 6th Guards Tank Brigade. In the run up to D-Day they rearmed all their tanks to the 75mm gun, including their Churchill MKIII's, but they were never deployed. The Guardsmen preferred the 75mm over the six pounder. Despite this they started rearming the required one third of their tanks back. However this may not have been enough and they still weren't ordered to cross the channel. Eventually the Brigade’s commander went to see the King, whom in turn went to see Prime Minister Churchill; Churchill then ordered the unit deployed. They landed on French soil on the 20th of July. Once in their marshalling area several officers visited tank graveyards to view the effects of German weaponry, their visits prompted a massive up armouring program across the brigade. Most of the time this was just spare track links welded all over the tank and turret but sometimes it was actual plate. There exists a few odd pictures of a Churchill MKIII*, a MKIII tank with extra armour on the front of the turret and armed with a 75mm gun.
On the 25th of July the US forces launched operation Cobra. Their famous drive to the south through the weakened German forces distracted by the British armoured drives to the east. Despite early success the operation began to look a bit shaky. The Germans on the high ground east of the penetration were causing some disruption with their fires into the flank of the advance. This ground was directly in front of the British 2nd Army, and on the 28th the US forces requested that the British deal with this problem.
A hasty plan was formed, and named Operation Bluecoat. It involved the 6th Guards, consisting of the 4th Coldstream Guards, 4th Grenadier Guards and the 3rd Scots Guards.  The orders were to push the front line back to secure a better jumping off point, followed by an armoured force pushing through the Germans to capture the high ground and hence cut off the German 7th Army. The front line at that time was along a feature called Caumont ridge, which was eight miles west of Caen. The countryside was all bocage with a road network forming a rough triangle, with the tip at Caumont ridge in the north. The 6th Guards with the 15th Scottish Infantry Division were to assault into this area and capture it.
Due to the haste required no reconnaissance time was available, and on the 28th at 1900 the order to move out was received, with the first tank moving two hours later. By the afternoon of the 29th the Brigade was in position, and the plan laid out.

The first action of the day, after a pummelling artillery barrage was for the Grenadier Guards with infantry support to assault Lutain wood and Sept Vents, this frontage covered the top of the triangle. As they were the first wave Crocodiles and Sherman Crabs were provided.
The Scots Guards would then drive for a hill and a small settlement called Les Loges roughly in the middle of the Triangle. Meanwhile the Coldstreamers would drive down the west side of the triangle and capture the village of La Morichesse and hill 309 beyond. This would clear the road at the base of the triangle and allow the armoured breakout.
The quickness of the action caught the Germans off guard. The 326th Infantry Division had no warning of the impending attack, having been previously informed that they were only facing a few understrength American units. Then at dawn on July 30th a massive whirlwind of artillery fell on them, followed by a brigade of Churchill's. Almost instantly the officers broke and fled and although the infantry tried their best the wall of armour and Crocodiles brutally shoved them out of their positions. Five of the Grenadier Guards tanks were knocked out by mines, and two tank commanders were killed by sniper fire. One of them was the youngest member of the House of Commons. By 0830 both objectives were secured, it had taken less than 30 minutes.

When I say "Germans" it's not strictly accurate. The haul of prisoners consisted of Poles and "Russians". It is reported that two "Japanese" were also captured, although the former are more likely to be Eastern Europeans.
Next the Scots Guards and Coldstreamers moved out. However the next phase of the operation was dogged by one problem. Whilst the Churchill's could advance, often the Germans would lie low and let them pass. The following infantry were then ambushed and slowed. Add to that German mortar fire was also slowing the infantry down. To maintain the cover from the walking barrage that started at 0930 the Coldstreamers and Scots Guards advanced behind the bombardment, hoping their infantry support could catch up.
The Coldstreamers during their rapid advance captured a dressing station, manned by an Italian, who annoyed the Brigade intelligence officer by continually repeating "Me goes to England, you goes further away!" Despite this some valuable intelligence was gained from the prisoner.

By 1215 the Scots Guards halted and waited for the infantry to catch up. However after an hour there was no sign of the link up, so they decided not to capture Les Loges but instead swing around the position to capture the hill beyond it.

Part two  can be found here.

Image credits:
www.warhistoryonline.com, www.flamesofwar.com and www.kingsownmuseum.plus.com

Sunday, October 18, 2015


A couple of weekends ago my wife mentioned to me that a village called Holme was having a 1940's weekend. So we decided to take a trip down there. Here's some of the pictures I took. In truth it seemed to have a bit of a wider scope than just the 1940's with a large number of classic cars kicking around, and lots of reenactors. The other interesting thing that was the entire village was closed off and everyone in the village got dressed up, including one chap who amusingly was dressed as an undertaker complete with his tape measure!
It is I, Leclerc!
The reenactors and a few of the stalls had a large collection of firearms on display, so I dropped some hints about a SMLE Mk.III and birthdays, I have no idea if the wife was listening though.
No idea what this one is
Due to the quaint rural village feel and the lots of people dressed in period costume, there were quite a few opportunities if you were quick enough to get photographs that could have been taken in the 1940's.
Curse you Phone box for ruining the shot

One lady had a large collection of memorabilia which she'd selected some items from and laid out on a stall. One which caught my eye was this magazine, and the two page spread inside. Ignore what it says though, the Char 2C was never anywhere near the Germans.
As we strolled around the reenactors camp I did hear one German ask "Are we winning or losing today?" which made me chuckle. Later on there was meant to be a battle between the Germans and the Allies. Unfortunately we had been already been invited to a christening later so were unable to stay for the battle. I did suggest to my wife that she go to the christening then come back later to pick me up. This cunning and subtle plan was vetoed by the long haired CO.
As we were heading towards the car park there had been a few outbreaks of firing going on, we spotted this bunch of chaps in a field loosing off a few shots. They must have seen some Germans lurking in the bushes!
The good news is the wife enjoyed the day out. So it's likely we'll get back to another one and get a full day out of it, including the mock battle.

Some other pictures I took through the day:

Needs more armour plate.
Just can't see someone in this BMW driving like a modern one

Needs more armour plate