Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Low Bridge Ahead!

In April 1892 Christopher Draper was born in Cheshire. He would lead an eventful life, centred on flying. He first became interested in flying in 1909 when Louis Blériot flew across the Channel. Lacking the funding to obtain a flying licence he wrote to a friend of his father, the ex-MP and insurance broker Joseph Hoult. This gentleman gave the young Draper £210 on the strict conditions he told no one about the gift. 
Hoult worked in the insurance industry, giving cover to ships during war time. He also donated a large sum of cash to attempt to get Liverpool ready for the First World War, and during that conflict was one of the opening backers of the idea for making payments to merchant captains who rammed and sunk U-boats (for further reading either see the piece on Bell's Submarine, available here or here). 
Now that Draper had the money he obtained his pilot's licence, however he was now unemployed. He then took up a short service commission with the Royal Navy starting in January 1914. After the war broke out Draper was stationed in Scotland for anti-submarine patrols and home defence. During this time, he flew a seaplane under a bridge over the Firth of Tay. 

Later on in the war Draper and his squadron were sent to France. As he was picking up his Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter from the Sopwith works he saw a low footbridge between the hangars of the works and a nearby race course and promptly flew under it. 
During his time overseas he had quite a few encounters, including forcing down Werner Voss. He also spent time bombing enemy airship sheds, and balloon busting. In total he would get twelve victories during the war. Some of his pilots after the event describe a great many patrols where no enemy was sighted, which have led some to consider Draper lacking the warrior instinct to fight. However, he clearly would fight if called upon to do so. He also didn't take well to discipline. 
Draper was transferred back to Britain after a blazing row with one of his commanding officers. It wouldn't do his prospects any harm however. At the end of December 1917 he was promoted to Major and proceeded to command Naval Squadron Number Eight. On the first of April the RNAS became merged with the RFC and became the RAF, Naval 8 became No 208 squadron. Most of the pilots and ground crew kept calling it 'Naval 8'. Major Draper refused to change his uniform from the black naval dress to the new RAF blues. Equally he kept referring to himself as a Major, not a Squadron Commander. 
A week after this amalgamation the Germans launched their spring offensive and tore through the front lines. At the time No 208 was stationed at La Gorgue supporting the Portuguese troops to their front. At about 0400 the Squadron was roused by the sounds of heavy fighting at the front line. This was somewhat muffled by the dense fog that lay over the aerodrome. Slowly heavy shelling began to pick up hitting nearby towns and villages. Soon French civilians were fleeing past the squadron's position, followed closely on their heels by Portuguese troops, who had no visible officers and had abandoned their arms and equipment. Draper ordered the planes moved out of the hangars and dispersed, and for the squadron to begin packing. 
Most of the Squadron asked to be allowed to try and take off in the dense fog, however Draper refused seeing the risks were too great. He ordered all the aircraft collected in one point at the centre of the airfield so that a single officer with a motorcycle could remain and fire the aircraft and escape should the Germans overrun their position. With these precautions in place Draper attempted to contact his HQ, however, the phone lines were down so the switchboard was ordered to pack and leave. The ammunition supply column and the ground crew had lost a lot of their equipment but had gotten most of their personnel out. The squadrons mounts were fired and the last personnel left by 1130. It says much of the disparity between the Germans and the Allies considering the fact that No 208 was fully re-equipped and flying again within 48 hours. 
After the war Draper tried to become a second-hand car sales man, but this venture soon folded and he became a test pilot. In 1920 he was part of the RAF aerobatics display team, and took part in the first Hendon air show in 1921. He resigned in October. For the next few years he became an actor and stunt pilot. However, by 1930 he was unhappy with the treatment of war veterans (at the time the world was in the grip of the great depression so everyone's situation was looking bleak). He rented a Puss Moth and set out to make a demonstration by flying under all 14 of the bridges over the River Thames. Due to the weather conditions he only managed to fly under two. 
 His action did have positive benefits, it was caught on film and Draper received more offers of employment and had a more successful acting career from then on. In 1932 Draper was invited to take part in the 'Aces of the Air' tour. In Germany he was introduced, and spent half an hour talking to a German politician named Adolf Hitler. As Hitler was a veteran Draper was quite vocal in his views about how the British government was lacking in supporting veterans. 
When back in the UK Draper was written to by a German doctor asking him to spy for the Germans. Draper immediately reported this series of events to MI6, and thus became a double agent. This lasted for another four years before the Germans just simply stopped responding. 
During the Second World War Draper re-enlisted in the RAF and spent a lot of time in Coastal Command and Africa. 
 After the war Draper was once again upset about the discrimination against people over the age of 45. As part of the Over 45s Association, Draper decided it was time for another protest. He rented an Auster and decided to fly under all eighteen of the bridges over the Thames. He managed fifteen aborting on three due to the wind conditions. When interviewed afterwards about the aborts on some of the bridges Draper retorted 'I only had one engine you know!' 
Draper was arrested for disturbing the peace. He fully expected to have his pilots licences revoked and declared: 
'I did it for the publicity. For 14 months I have been out of a job, and I'm broke. I wanted to prove that I am still fit, useful and worth employing. They tell me I can be jailed, possibly for six months. It was my last-ever flight- I meant it as a spectacular swansong.' 

At court he was only fined ten guineas. His protest also served its cause creating much more publicity for the older person, and generating a wave of offers of jobs to the Over 45's Association. Draper kept his licence until 1964, and in his career flew seventy-three types of aircraft with some 17,000 hours flight time. Draper died in 1979 aged 86. 

Image credits:

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Quick and Dirty

Due to several things, but mostly Christmas and obtaining some actual historical consultancy work with a short deadline, I am unable to do a full article this week. Normal service will be resumed next week. But here is a quick piece.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the first tank battle China took part in. Where a lone Vickers 6 ton got involved with Japanese armour. But what happened to the Chinese Vickers afterwards? Seon has once again passed me some info on the subject.

After the battle it seems like it ended up in a museum in Japan.

It survived at least until 1952, when the following two pictures were taken. They are of the tank in a scrap yard about to be broken up.

They come from the Australian War Memorial site:


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Tank Log

In 1939 a lone road ran from the Soviet/Finnish border. It's in the north of Finland and it heads through the village of Alakurtti and on to a place called Salla. At Salla the road splits in two, with the northern leg describing three sides of a square, before re-joining Kemijärvi. From there the road leads west and then south west, across Finland's narrowest point to the Gulf of Bothnia.
Along the northern road lies the village of Pelkosenniemi, and the southern route has the village of Kemijärvi.

The Soviet planners looked at this and saw a steady supply line that enabled them to cut off the most northerly third of the country. When, on the 30th of November, the Soviets invaded Finland without warning, they threw a force along this road.

Initially all went well, as the Finns had wanted to avoid provoking the Soviets they hadn't stationed any military forces near the border. So the initial skirmishes were with a few poorly armed border guards vs the might of the Soviet armies.
To give you an idea of how badly prepared Finland was there is this excerpt from a youth during the winter war. He like many others his age were part of a civil defence organisation (sorry Finns, Google translate failed me here and I might have gotten it wrong), not to dissimilar to the British Home Guard or the German Volkssturm. His name is Antti Henttonen, and the full account of his experiences can be found here.
'Enemy fighter machines flew over us, in the tops of the trees artillery shells burst. We only had pieces of crispbread in our pockets, and no protection against the temperature that sunk below -30 degrees. Many boys suffered frostbite with their toes turning grey and falling off. My toe was rescued by a neighbour's boot made of jacket cloth. Two of my fingers became swollen so that later they felt like leather. The metal parts of the rifle were so cold that they just "burned".'
Note: I've tried to tidy up the English from Google's offerings, so some of the details may be wrong. 

Back in northern Finland, the Soviets reached Salla village by the 9th of December. The Finns, as they went had been forced to burn their own villages in a form of scorched earth, that would prove devastatingly effective during Finland's harsh winter. The Finns managed to form a scratch defence line, however the Soviets were able to smash through with their armour. From here they swept along the roads both north and west.
The Soviets reached Pelkosenniemi on the 16th of December. Here they met a Finnish line at hill 44.8 near the Lampestenoja brook and the Finns attempted to hold the Soviets. However, they couldn't dig in as they were trying to defend a swamp. At best the Finns were able to use some logs to form field obstacles. The Russian's 9th Rifle Division attacked the Finns 13th Infantry Regiment. As the Russians approached the Finnish defenders put up a storm of fire. This caused the Russian attack to become pinned. Six tanks were ordered forward. As they approached through the heavily wooded area they were hit at a range of just 50 meters. One after another four T-26's were knocked out by the few anti-tank weapons the Finns had.
The last two tanks gunned their engines and pushed on. Both made it to the Finnish lines. Prior to the war the Finnish infantry had been given manuals that said tanks were not something to be scared of. You could cause them to throw a track with a crowbar or a log. 
To that end Private Vieno Loimu of the 7th company grabbed a crowbar and charged the nearest tank. He heaved the crowbar into the moving wheels and there was a loud clanging sound and the crowbar was hurled out. Undaunted he grabbed a nearby log and heaved it into the tracks, only to see the log splintered into a thousand bits. As the tank moved deeper into the lines it was attacked by satchel charges and destroyed, as was the second tank to reach Finnish lines. For now, the Finns had held.
The Finns then planned an attack for the next day. A Jaeger battalion had been sent to help the front. The plan was for the defenders to launch an attack the next day, while the Jaeger's, who lacked any heavy weapons would move through the wilderness and hit the Russians from the rear. As it turned out both sides launched their attacks at the same time and blundered into each other. However, the Jaeger's managed to get behind the Soviet lines and hit a supply depot and the Russians reserve battalion. The sounds of bitter fighting from their rear and the panicked reports caused the Soviets to panic and fall back.

On the main road the Finns were also having successes turning back the Russians. Eventually the Russians were pushed back to Salla, where the front stabilised until the Winter War ended.

Image credits:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Shrapnel, I presume?

Back in 1784 a young British officer holding the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Artillery finalised the design of his new type of ammunition. His name was Henry Shrapnel, and the ammunition he'd invented was, unsurprisingly, called the Shrapnel Shell. Since then armies of the world have worked very hard to place shrapnel into enemy soldiers, and over the last few years a new weapon of war has emerged and become viable.

Lt Gen Shrapnel
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a video clip on Skype. It was a demonstration of modern airburst munitions in action, which can be seen below. These are projectiles fused to explode above the enemy, thus bypassing any cover they might have. I mused at the idea of an article covering the development of the newest weapon, but immediately ran into a disagreement with another friend.
He claimed, with some justification, that the technology to explode a shell at a set range had been around for ages, pointing to the heavy German AA guns such as the 10.5 cm FlaK 38 and 12.8 cm FlaK 40. Both had a special device that would automatically alter the fuse for bursting distance before loading. My friend suggests the bigger more important step was measuring the speed of the round while it’s travelling down the barrel, and programming its fuse just as it leaves the muzzle, such as the new German IFV the Puma. This is due to even modern rounds having minor manufacturing differences which can lead to changes in the ballistics and muzzle velocity.  I personally felt it was more interesting to cover rounds programmed in the breech. Because there's more material on those, some have even seen combat. 

Where to start? Well I think the first mention I've seen of a programmable airburst munition was in the mid 1960's. The British were drawing up the requirements for their next generation of MBT's, the ones to follow on from the Chieftain. They were looking at something light, about 40 tons, well protected and with great firepower. The firepower was provided by its main gun, which also included the use of a programmable munition that would automatically be fused over the heads of the target, and if needed fractional yield nuclear warheads. Obviously, none of that came about, but the idea was there. It appears in more modern times, that the German DM11 120mm HEAT round can be programmed to explode early at a set range and spray tungsten balls about.

 Next into the ring was the infamous Objective Individual Combat Weapon, or OICW. This began life in the 1986, and consisted of a 20mm semi-automatic grenade launcher, with a laser range finder and scope. Under this was a pretty standard 5.56mm assault rifle. The laser would automatically measure the range to the target and then the fire control computer would set the fusing on the grenade to explode above the target. There was a similar crew served weapon, to replace the .50 calibre HMG as well, named the XM307 Advanced Crew Served Weapon.
One problem with the OICW was the small grenade size, only 20mm. There's not much bang in that warhead, so over time the weapon had its grenade size increased to 25mm. The other rather serious issue was the all up weight of the weapon, coming in fully loaded at an astonishing 7 kg. To put that in perspective that's not far off two bolt action rifles of WWII, or two to three M16 rifles. This lead to the apocryphal story about one soldier during the testing phase. After lugging it around for several miles the soldier is asked for his views on the weapon. Saluting smartly the soldier replays. "The best way to use it, sir, is to give it to the enemy. He'll injure himself when lifting it. Injure himself as he tries to carry it to the front line. Then, if he can get it pointed at an enemy, he will drive himself nuts trying to work out how to fire the damn thing!". An equally suspicious story says that a grizzled USMC sergeant was heard to ask "Where does the bayonet go?"
However slightly more gown up sources were aware of the weapons spiralling costs, weight and complexity. There was also a legal question, as the 20mm could be used direct fire for use against personnel. This means it’s an exploding bullet under the Geneva Accords and hence very much banned in legal terms.
To this end the project was split in 2002 into the XM-8 assault rifle and the XM-25 grenade launcher. The XM-25 was re-worked both in a legal sense to create a weapon that was used to attack an area not an individual, and is therefore all nice and legal. Its description was changed to Counter Defile Target Weapon, to indicate the change in its legal stance.
In 2010 the XM-25 was the first of these types of weapons to see combat. US soldiers deployed to Afghanistan started a 14 month Forward Operational Assessment. Its first action was on the 3rd of December. It utterly changed the way the war was fought. Soldiers reported that normally the enemy would take cover behind solid objects and there would be a long firefight of 15-20 minutes. With the XM-25 these engagements would be over in moments. In all during the assessment there were 55 engagements, all of which were successful. The soldiers called this weapon "The Punisher".

However, in 2013 during another testing phase during a live fire exercise an XM-25 loaded a second round into the gun which caused both rounds to detonate. Luckily only the propellant detonated, not the warheads due to safety systems in the weapon. This caused minor injuries to the soldier manning the gun. This along with even more costs caused the project to receive several funding cuts, but it is still ticking along at current.
The modern programmable airburst munition is here to stay, most modern IFV's have a round that can be so programmed from their cannons. There seems to be several countries developing weapons similar to the OCIW, such as North Korea, although its yet to be proved those weren't made by Fisher Price.
North Korea's OICW copy. Compare if you will the size of the optics with 1980's US tech above. Also consider the US weapon was way to heavy, and yet seems to be smaller.
But with the prevalence of modern airbursts it will change the face of infantry tactics, mostly on the defence. I wonder how many nations are training their infantry to face such a threat?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Argyll Lanchester's

In 1927 a contract was placed for a pair of prototype armoured cars. Most armoured cars of the time were built upon truck chassis with an armoured body dropped on top. This pair of prototypes were on custom built chassis, with the structure made out of high quality steel. Despite this the two prototypes were reviewed and the frame was strengthened along with several minor modifications. From there the two prototypes became the Lanchester Armoured Car. Orders were placed from 1928 until 1932 although most of the cars that were ordered were in the first batch. These served around the world including the Middle East and in the Saarland during the plebiscite. When the Second World War broke out most of the surviving cars were in Malaya.
Four of these cars were serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Argyll's had a long history with these large robust cars. However, by now they were distinctly temperamental when it came to reliability. In 1941 the Japanese launched their invasion. During the long fighting retreat the Lanchester armoured cars severed the defenders well. The cars saw action throughout the campaign. On the 19th of December the Argyll's were able to field one armoured car to support an armoured counter attack.
This was launched by assorted lightly armoured vehicles, mostly Bren Gun Carriers. It was thrown at a Japanese armour column in desperation when the Japanese armour smashed into the Allied front lines, and penetrated towards Daipand Bridge. The Lanchester was commanded by Sgt Albert Darroch. Unsurprisingly a charge of Bren Gun Carriers agaisnt actual tanks was only going to end one way. Soon the Argyll bugler sounded the regimental call followed by the Stand Fast order, the Argyll's began to fall back. This was the way the Argyll's communicated in the dense brush, they also used the wrong signals such as "Stand Fast" for retreat so that the Japanese would be confused. Often a Lanchester was left behind as a rear guard. However, on this occasion Sgt Darroch's Lanchester was facing off against Japanese tanks. Using his .50 Vickers gun sparingly as not much ammunition remained for the weapon, he attempted to hit the tanks vision slits to cause splash casualties to the enemy crew. He also drove about to attract the Japanese attention towards himself, all the while the Boys Rifles in the carriers were bouncing ineffectively off the enemy armour.
After ten minutes of this Sgt Darrochs Lanchester was hit by a 37mm shell. Sgt Darroch slumped forwards onto his driver, who shoved him off. As he scrambled into the rear drivers position the driver saw, with some horror, an eyeball lying on the floor of the vehicle. It had belonged to Sgt Darroch, who was dying from the head wound. Once at the rear driving seat he managed to get the Lanchester to safety, despite the turret being utterly wrecked. For his actions Sgt Darroch was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

As the campaign progressed the Argyll's were battered to pieces, at one point the entire formation was just 94 men strong. However, reinforcements were on hand. 250 Royal Marines, survivors from HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales along with fresh weapons were incorporated to the unit. Among the reinforcements were some more Lanchesters. Many of these were taken over from another unit that was unable to keep them running. One however had been "pirated". A sergeant in the Argyll's had ordered the crew locked away in the guardhouse, because they weren't fighting the Japanese. By the time the men had been released their Lanchester had gone missing. By pure coincidence a new Lanchester  had shown up on the Argylls roster at the same time, it bore the name Stirling Castle.

It's not recorded which Lanchester was involved in the following incident, nor the exact date or location for it. A Lanchester with a company commander and a couple of extra men was delivering rations to a section acting as an outpost. The men in the outpost reported seeing that a large patrol of Japanese had passed them by and gone into the nearby local railway station. The company commander ordered that the section and the Lanchester begin to take the railway station under fire to attract the enemy's attention while himself and the two other men would sneak round behind them.

Thus the base of fire was set and began its work as a distraction. After negotiating a swampy area and two sentries (whom were shot) the three British soldiers arrived behind the railway station. They could see the Japanese hiding against the brick wall facing the barrage of fire, and were shooting back.
This, and the following pictures are all fro ma sequence showing an Argyall patrol and their Lanchester setting up a road block. Of particular note is the machine gun their dismounting. Its actually a Vickers tank machine-gun, not some half baked concept of a Vickers LMG.
The three men stormed into the building, the commanding officer emptied his 50 round Thompson drum into the Japanese, then seeing a sixth man raise and turn towards him, the officer grabbed the barrel of his red-hot Thompson and waded in swinging it like a club. Several more broke and ran and were shot by one of the British. Four more became entangled at close quarters in a wrestling match with the third British soldier. However, this soldier was a rugby forward, and it became a desperate fight. The British soldier managed to gain the upper hand when he got hold of his steel helmet, which he used to end the fight.
With more Japanese approaching the three men grabbed the least wounded Japanese soldier they could and retreated.
The last account is from the dying days of Singapore. Stirling Castle was the last remaining Lanchester the Argylls were operating. It had helped by suppressing the Japanese forces and dissuading them from crossing the causeway into Singapore. It had driving up firing off several bursts at the Japanese then pulling away before retaliation. When the Argylls were sent to Bukit Timah they took Stirling Castle with them. As before the Japanese launched tanks against the position, one was knocked out by an anti-mine as it approached the roadblocks the Argylls had set up. Stirling Castle attempted to engage the rest, but like before it was hit by return fire and destroyed.
After the fall of Singapore any remaining Lanchesters were captured by the Japanese and their fate is unknown. Although there were a few examples scattered throughout the world, and are the likely source of ones that can be found in museums today.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wild Carrot

In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq there was quite a bit of confused fighting that carried on for a period. A prime example of this was in the north of the country, where during the war the US 173rd Airborne Brigade was landed and fought several actions with local Kurdish forces, resulting in the capture of Kirkuk. In the weeks after the war the US brigade concentrated in Kirkuk to ensure the city’s security, and move it towards a stable elected form of government. However due to lack of man power this meant the surrounding areas were without policing, and so became safe havens for Ba'ath party and Sunni Muslims dedicated to the old regime. This included members of the armed forces that were now part of the growing insurgent movements.
You, on the right, what are you doing with that rifle?
Towards the end of May 2003, the US forces began to draw up plans to deal with these outlying areas, the US forces planned to launch an operation against one of these outlying areas called the City of Hawija (Translation is, according to wiki: "Wild Carrot"). Two battalions would advance in two separate columns and form a cordon around the city. Then further smaller cordons would be set up inside the city and a series of intelligence led targets would be assaulted to clear out the pockets of insurgents, and hopefully capture a few escaped high-ranking Ba'ath officials. One such target that was suspected to be in the area was Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, whom to this day still hasn't been captured. For armoured support was provided, it was to consist of a platoon each of M1A1 Abrams, M2 Bradley's and M1064 mortar carrier's with 120mm mortars. This team would remain in a central location equidistant from each infantry battalion, and should either force run into difficulties it could call upon the fire-power of this mobile column.
Leading this support team, was a scout platoon, consisting of ten Humvee's. This was back in 2003, so the protection for these was minimal. The weapons fitted were evenly split between M2 .50 calibre machine guns and Mk-19 40mm grenade launchers. The scout platoon was to proceed the attack, scout the main line of march for the armoured team and then secure their forward assembly area, where the armour would wait until it was called into action.

The scout platoon set off at 2000 on May the 19th, and would be the first US units to approach the enemy held area. As they travelled down the main road they kept their lights on and were driving normally as the main road was often used by civilians however, ominously, tonight there was absolutely no traffic on the road. For this reason the night vision gear wasn't switched on in case it got burned out by all the ambient light. Even so the street lights were all on as normal. The plan was to reach a rally point, some six kilometres from the planned assembly point then switch lights off and proceed cross country.
The impending sense of trouble continued as every few kilometres a spray of tracer fire would mark the sky, as Iraqi observation posts would signal the scout platoon's progress to their allies. 

Due to intelligence estimates that there would be little or no enemy action it was decided to not establish a radio link site. Radios often have limited range which can lead to scouting forces becoming disconnected from their parent units. In World War Two for example, it was often the case where a couple of tanks from an armoured unit would be detailed to be the "rear link" vehicle and would thus ensure the forward units transmissions. In the modern US army such a role is called a "Retrans" location. As expected the scout platoon was out of contact after about 30 minutes.
When the scout platoon reached its rally point, the location where it was to switch off its lights and continue across country, the commander saw a small settlement some distance away that had sent up warning tracer fire. He ordered his platoon to advance a bit closer, moving some 2 km, to assess the likelihood of a threat from this location. About 2100 the scout platoon crossed a ravine with an embankment via a bridge and halted, the vehicles pulled into a standard herringbone formation and prepared their night vision equipment. Due to the location, the commander set up a hasty roadblock to secure the area for the ten or so minutes he expected to be in the area. Shortly afterwards the street lights were cut plunging the scout platoon into total darkness.

Over the next eight minutes these roadblocks stopped and halted five vehicles, loaded with men and an array of ordnance including machine guns and RPG's. One of the vehicles was filled with men wearing webbing. When stopping one of the vehicles, an Arab in the back was waving a white flag he'd improvised from his Keffiyeh, all the time keeping his other hand out of sight. This tense situation was broken when the platoon commander fired a single round past his ear at a distance of about two inches, which promptly caused the man to surrender.

All the men were detained, due to suspicions about their motives. By this point the scout platoon had some twelve prisoners, and was unable to continue its mission. The commander decided to await the follow-on forces, by holding their position, and then hand the prisoners over before continuing. The prisoners were in a holding area outside the perimeter formed by the vehicles.

At this point a barrage of small arms fire came flying out of the desert. After a brief exchange one of the gunners on the Humvee's reported he could see six enemies through his night vision, and he was given permission to fire. Two other Humvee gunners were told to watch the first gunners fall of shot then engage the same area with their .50 calibre machine guns. After another thirty second or so of fire flashing back and forth one of the US gunners fell forward out of his Humvee and slid down the front of the vehicle after being hit in the torso. As he lay in sight of the enemy he was quickly dragged behind cover and given first aid. For the next ten minutes or so the three heavy machine guns would keep up a running fight with the six enemy infantry.
Then reports came in of more trucks dropping off men at another two locations, further enemy personnel were moving towards the scout platoons position from a nearby mosque and cluster of buildings. The latter groups of enemies were trying to flank the scouts position. Soon everyone was firing at targets. Suddenly the senior NCO ran along the line of vehicles gathering up the drivers, and told them to bring their vehicles M240 machine guns. The NCO had spotted a group of enemies trying to get into the ravine, where they could have moved with impunity to the embankment and enfiladed the scouts position. They managed to establish a gun line with five M240's which checked the movement of the enemy. 

By now the fire fight had been going on for some twenty minutes, and the US soldiers were running low on ammunition with a persistent enemy pressuring them. There were also reports of enemies bringing up technicals (pick-ups with mounted weapons on the back). One of the night sights fitted to the Humvee's heavy weapons had been hit square in the lens by enemy fire.
That's when the radio squawked to life. The armoured support team was some 10km away, could see the fire-fight and the tanks were in the lead charging down the road at best speed using their normal white lights to aid their movements. Furthermore, there was an A-10 overhead. The scout platoon commander passed the information on that anything or anyone south of their position was hostile (the prisoners were held to the north), the A-10 pilot identified several targets and made a pass, loosing off a seven second burst from his 30mm cannon. This caused the enemy to break contact, and the scout platoon was saved.
The operation didn't end there though. The tank platoon roared through the scouts position, and actually missed them in the darkness, it halted about 1km further down the road. The Bradley's arrived and orientated to face the north, not the enemy to the south, which caused some confusion until the scout platoon leader got them turned around. They then dismounted and covered by the Bradly's 25mm's, cleared the mosque and nearby buildings after the M2's destroyed two enemy technicals. There they found several more weapon dumps, and a tripod mounted FN-MAG machine gun that had been laying some very accurate fire onto the scouts during the engagement. The one US casualty got evacuated and survived his wounds.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Have Faith

The route to Russia in World War Two was particularly harsh, it was even worse in winter, as Convoy PQ13 found out. Two weeks after leaving Scotland on 10th of March 1942, the convoy was scattered by a storm, which lashed the ships for four days. The Germans of course lost no time in capitalising on their good fortune with submarines and aircraft attacking the merchants.
Three Narvik class destroyers were sent to hunt the convoy down. These were Z24, Z25 and Z26. They first stumbled upon the SS Bateau, which they sunk. Of the 47 crew on board only six were rescued. Ploughing through a heavy snow storm on the morning of March 29th the crew of Z26 saw another large ship appear in front of them, just 4000 yards away.
HMS Trinidad
 Suddenly the ship spouted fire. It wasn't another victim, it was the Crown Colony class cruiser HMS Trinidad (motto "Have Faith"). Using her radar, she had picked up the closing destroyers and moved to block them from attacking the convoy. When she ran into Z26 she was fully armed and alert, and began to pummel the unlucky Z26. After only a few salvos the destroyer Z24 emerged from the snow and launched a torpedo attack at HMS Trinidad. The appearance of Z24 gave Z26 a respite as HMS Trinidad was forced to dodge the torpedoes and switched fire onto her new attacker. The two Germans managed to hit HMS Trinidad with a few shells which caused a small fire, which was quickly controlled. Z24 broke contact with the British cruiser, but Z26 was not so lucky. She was quickly chased down by HMS Trinidad and HMS Eclipse, a destroyer, and shelled until she stopped. The cruiser moved in to finish the German with her torpedoes, after they were lined up the crew in charge of the torpedoes opened fire. Two of the torpedoes failed to launch, frozen into their tubes by the bitter cold. Z26 was then sunk by gunfire. Of her compliment of 240, only 96 were rescued by the other destroyers after the battle.
Z26 sinking
On HMS Trinidad, suddenly there were cries of warning about a torpedo track in the water, heading right for her. The torpedo slammed into the cruiser on the port side near the bridge. It ripped a massive hole in the side of the ship, flooding the forward boiler room, and setting fire to her as well. The torpedo was later determined to have been a British one, the same one that had been fired at Z26. Its gyroscope had malfunctioned in the cold and drawn a giant semi-circle, which by incredible bad luck had managed to hit the ship that launched it. This impact caused he loss of all power, and killed 32 of the ship’s company. The bodies were not recovered until in port, and were later buried at sea by the British minesweeper Niger. HMS Trinidad was taken under tow until the damage control measures restored power and she was able to limp into Murmansk on her own on the 30th.

What followed was a month of repairs, with the repairs being completed on the 2nd of May 1942. It’s an interesting, if ill-fated piece of news, that the replacement steel plates used in repairs were brought to Murmansk by HMS Edinburgh, before she returned to the UK to load up on another type of metal for her final voyage.

After HMS Edinburgh was sunk twenty of her survivors were to hitch a ride on HMS Trinidad on her return journey, which began on the 13th of May. She was accompanied by HMS Foresight, Forester, Somali and Matchless, the first two destroyers were veterans of the HMS Edinburgh's sinking. The journey was to take longer than normal as HMS Trinidad was limping along on just one boiler room, and so was reduced to just 20 knots speed.

Two days later, on the 15th, the group of combat ships came under attack by a force of some twenty Ju 88 bombers. The ships began to fire with everything they had. The captain of HMS Matchless kept station with HMS Trinidad. He had four signallers spot bombs. When a bomb is falling its target often losses sight of it, and so the observers on HMS Matchless were able to flash warnings of bombs that looked like they might hit allowing HMS Trinidad to zigzag out of the way of the danger.
One bomber made a dive bombing run on HMS Trinidad, missing the target aft, but as they flew away the crew hosed down the upper decks with its machine guns, all to no effect. Then torpedo bombers came in, HMS Trinidad nimbly dodged the torpedoes, all the time flak blasting from her guns. Her luck was not to hold, one of the last bombers managed to score a hit on her. The bomb penetrated deep into her hull, near the torpedo damage. The bomb exploded where the passengers were sheltering killing them all. It also caused the seal over the torpedo damage to break, and HMS Trinidad began to take on water, and started a major fire.
One of the last pictures of HMS Trinidad
With all this damage the decision was taken to abandon ship. The wounded and crews were divided into lots and evacuated one by one on the destroyers. This was particularly dangerous for the little ships, as the raging fires were nearly at the A turret magazine. Before the last group was taken off a new string of signal flags was raised on her masts, which read ‘I Am Sailing to the Westward’. With the captain of HMS Trinidad the last to leave her decks, HMS Matchless was ordered to sink her with torpedoes, which she duly did.
HMS Trinidad survivors in the UK after their return.
The escorts then came under heavy German air attack and a running battle ensued, the hard pressed destroyers under constant attack for many hours. Then suddenly heavy shells started to burst amongst the circling bombers. The destroyers had lured the bombers into range of the covering force, which consisted of the cruisers HMS Nigeria, Kent, Norfolk and Liverpool, along with a screen of escorts. The concerted fire-power caused the Luftwaffe to retreat, and the survivors of HMS Trinidad made it to the UK safely.

Image credits:
www.georgelloyd.com and iwm.org.uk

Sunday, November 12, 2017

China's first tank Battle.

Thanks to Seon, of Sensha-Manual, for providing me with the report on the Japanese tanks action used in this article.

On the 9th of August 1937 a Japanese staff car drove down a road in China. Riding in the car were the driver and one Japanese officer, First Lieutenant Isao Oyama. Lt Oyama was a member of the Japanese Marines, the SNLF, he was heading towards a Chinese airfield near Shanghai. For the last five years the Chinese and Japanese had, outwardly, been at peace. Although both sides were aware there was a continuation of their war coming, what Lt Oyama's mission was hasn't been recorded. Because both the officer and his driver were shot and killed by a Chinese solider as they attempted to gain entry to the airfield. This incident was all the casus belli the Japanese needed, and the war was back on.
After the fighting in 1932 the Chinese had been preparing for war, or at least trying too. They had obtained German advisor's and equipment. The leader of the advisor's was a German Colonel called Hans Vetter, whom, it seems, had served during the First World War (It should be noted I've been unable to find a biography for him). While the Chinese leaders did agree on the German suggestion to transform their army into a modern force, they met with some obstruction. However, at the time the Chinese army was still in its warlord period where each local warlord commanded his own troops. Any attempt to merge and create sensible divisions was met with resistance from the warlords as each saw the mergers as a risk to his position. Equally as they were embezzling money a merger would limit their income. By the time the fighting broke out only eight infantry divisions had been formed along the lines suggested by the Germans. Of these forces two divisions, the 87th and 88th were dispatched to Shanghai to push the Japanese back into the sea.
Troops defending the French Quarter
Fighting in Shanghai would indeed be difficult, as parts of the city were territories belonging to the worlds global powers. Initially the Chinese wanted to push through the French quarter to reach the river bank, and then outflank the Japanese. However, this would have created international incidents with France at the very least. For that reason the Chinese forces were limited to moving directly through the Japanese and Chinese held areas.

First of all, the Japanese moved several thousand men into Shanghai and began to bombard the city with ships. A few days later, late in the afternoon the Chinese launched their first assault which was defeated with heavy casualties. For an account of the period see here.
On the 16th of August new orders arrived. Instead of costly frontal assaults the Chinese were to try new tactics. These were instantly recognisable as the "Stormtroop" idea from the First World War. Teams of men would infiltrate forwards and launch surprise assaults on the Japanese defenders. If there was a strongpoint it was to be ignored, except for a suppressing force, and the main attack was to sweep round it. This operation was to be named Iron Fist. There is some confusion as to when Iron Fist started. Sources I've found cite the 16th, 17th and 19th. However, it seems likely that the 17th is the date.

To get into position the Chinese troops would mouse hole through building, or use beams to cross from roof to roof over alleyways. These tactics seemed to work at first. But a plane launched from one of the Japanese ships at anchor in the river spotted their movements and the Japanese were forewarned.
Even so, when the attack was launched the Chinese did make some bloody progress. The main problem encountered was a crossfire. As they advanced down streets, when they came to intersections they would suffer from enfilading fire as well as Japanese troops on the roofs of the buildings firing down.

The Chinese high command was also confused about progress with conflicting reports arriving. It became so bad that one commander ordered that when a position was captured sign posts were to be taken down and the signs returned to his command post as proof. The artillery support that was meant to cover the Chinese slowly got further and further ahead as the Chinese forces were delayed. Equally the Japanese ships in the river began to fire in support of their forces.
At this point the Chinese brought up their newest weapons, two companies from the Independent Mechanized Regiment, consisting of Vickers 6 ton tanks. The tanks had been brought in 1934 and 1935 in three batches. Twelve in March, four in May and the final four in September 1935. All the tanks were single turret models with the Vickers export 47mm gun, a short barrelled weapon. Only the four ordered in 1935 came fitted with radios. Some 14,800 rounds of ammunition were also purchased for the main guns, including 2400 rounds of practice ammo.

At first these tanks began to make their presence felt, despite the lack of co-ordination between the infantry and tanks. This resulted from the tanks having just arrived, and absolutely no training, or even a meeting between the tank crews and infantry had taken place.
Towards the end of the day's fighting the Japanese had been pushed backwards. Now they occupied the last line of buildings on the water front, one more attack and they would be pushed into the river. The line of buildings were warehouses, with very thick walls. Even direct hits from 150mm artillery pieces were unable to damage the walls of this fortress, and the Japanese were dug in and not going anywhere. After a bloody assault the Chinese were unable to make any headway and with light failing were forced to call off the attack. Overnight the Japanese were able to bring in re-enforcements and push the Chinese back.
The next day the battle resumed, the Chinese counter attacks supported by their few remaining tanks began to push the Japanese back again. This time however the Japanese had brought their own tanks. A pair of I-Go tanks, one Kou model, the other an Otsu.
A picture taken looking along Wayside road, the morning after the battle
The Chinese lack of coordination between tank and infantry began to show at this point. A single Vickers tank was sitting in the middle of Wayside Road blasting any Japanese movement in the building at the end of the road. Meanwhile the same building was being attacked from a northerly direction by Chinese infantry. The Japanese made an attempt to advance down Wayside to flank the Chinese assault, however the tank's machine guns stopped that idea. The road to the north that the Chinese were trying to cross was called Ward Road.
The Otsu was sent down the left flank of the Japanese held building, which was Ho Mai Road. Fighting along it, it reached and passed Ward Road, before turning east into Kwen Ming Road. Here it ran into a large force of Chinese infantry. Although the Chinese were soldiers of the 87th Division, and so part of the Chinese new model army, they lacked any anti-tank weapons. This allowed the Otsu to reign supreme. With its infantry supporting it they managed to push down the entire length of Kwen Ming road, taking about an hour to clear it. With enemy forces flanking them the Chinese facing the Japanese held building were unable to resist a counter attack. The Japanese also had a new piece of equipment, a flame thrower. Using this they were able to push down Ward Road.

The Otsu, having cleared Kwen Ming Road took an intersection and headed south with its infantry following. It emerged onto the top of Wayside Road, and was able to see the Vickers tank in the distance. Keep in mind that by this point the Vickers tank hadn't moved for nearly two hours, mainly one suspects due to the lack of information about what the situation was between the infantry and the tanks.

Although the Otsu could see the Vickers the range was judged to be too great for the low velocity 57mm to penetrate. So the Otsu advanced with its infantry in tow once more. At a range of 500m the tank halted and fired. The round hit a nearby building causing a shower of rubble and dust. This served no other purpose to alert the tank crew that they were under attack.
Map of the battle, the location of the Vickers and the Route of the Otsu are estimates. However the range between the two is correct for the Otsu opening fire. One should also be careful of the buildings occupied. These are the only ones the reports state where captured. Its likely that there was fighting in other places.
But where was the tank under attack from? The crew were unaware of the enemy tank behind them. The next shot struck the rear of the tank's storage box on the rear of the turret. Immediately the Vickers responded by beginning to turn its turret. This was the moment the Japanese had been waiting for. The Kou, parked for the entire action at the corner of Mo Hai and Wayside Roads was signalled and it advanced around the corner and began to fire on the Vickers. Its shell hit the left side of the turret. The infantry also began to fire on the tank with their anti-tank weapons, getting a penetration on the machine gun port and the hull front.
Damage to the Vickers tank. These are shots showing the actual tank involved in the action. The damage lines up with the report precisely.  Namely a hit to the left hand side of the turret from the Kou, and infantry AT fire hitting the glacis and the Machine gun mount. THE hit to the rear turret box is taken form the report, but the Report says the hit was to the "Rear Carriage", which could mean a lot of things, and is one of the marvels of translation.
The next day Operation Iron fist was called off by the High Command. But on the 20th the Chinese tried again. Their commander, Zhang Zhizhong found a repair depot with a few tanks. He knew the commander of the unit and asked for an attack. The young officer in charge said "The vehicles are no good. The enemy fire is fierce and the infantry have trouble keeping up." However, when ordered the young officer launched his attack. By now the Japanese had been heavily reinforced, and were bristling with anti-tank weapons. They also had fire from the supporting warships. In moments all of the tanks were destroyed.

Image credits:
www.ww2incolor.com, www.tanks-encyclopedia.com and forum.axishistory.com