Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Alphabet Soup

The Angolan Civil War was the usual nasty bush war you get when various factions are supported by larger countries. In this particular case it was another war by proxy between the Communist and Western countries. However not all the Western nations supported everyone of the factions. As we'll be talking about a large mechanised battle in this war it seems like a good idea to have a look at the factions involved.

Cubans in Angola
 MPLA: Communist government of Angola supported directly by Cuba, and semi directly by the Soviet Union.
FAPLA: Army of the MPLA
UNITA: Supported by both the South Africans and the United States. These were Anti-Communist guerrillas who had fought alongside the MPLA against the Portuguese before Angolan independence. The US crucially supplied UNITA with Stinger missiles. Of course due to the UN arms embargo they wouldn't support South Africa.
SADF: South African Defence Force, armed with weapons from France and home grown weapons.

Also involved, but not appearing in this article:
FNLA:  supported by the West, sort of.
SWAPO: A large group of communist guerrillas, from Nambia. The MPLA allowed SWAPO to use bases in Angola to launch attacks on South Africa.

The civil war was a bloody affair that kept flaring up into large scale battles and it lasted from 1975 until 2002, although by the late 80's most of the large backers were no longer involved, apart from cash injections. But just before the ceasefire and withdrawal there was a series of large mechanised battles where the SADF and UNITA took on the Cubans and FAPLA. One of these occurred on 3rd of October 1987.
It all started when FAPLA launched a sweep of mechanised forces through the UNITA heartland trying to wipe them out completely. The FAPLA units were backed by armour with about 150 T-54's and a smattering of ancient T-34/85's. SADF and UNITA infantry forces backed by aircraft and pinpoint artillery fire slowed and then eventually halted the advance. One SADF trick to make the FAPLA waste expensive Soviet supplied modern SAMs was to tie tinfoil strips to balloons and release them over the enemy lines.
With the grand offensive halted, the FAPLA forces fell back across the Lomba River. The SADF decided to concentrate on destroying the FAPLA's 47 Brigade before it made it back across the river. To get there the battalion had to cross a marshy area. To facilitate this the 47 Brigade created a road with wooden logs. Unfortunately for them SADF observers were in position to direct artillery onto the log road. This road was finished by the 2nd of October.

The first of 47 Brigades vehicles started across the log road. They were a pair of SA-9 Gaskins. The SADF observer managed to score a direct hit on the second moving vehicle with a G-5 155mm round, blocking the path to safety. Several other attempts were made to shift the wreck, however the artillery opened fire whenever movement was spotted.
The next morning the joint SADF and UNITA forces mounted entirely in Ratels arrived. Most of the Ratels were armed with 20mm cannons, but some were fire support versions with 90mm guns. The approach of the column caused some panic amongst the 47th Brigade's soldiers. Suddenly three armoured recovery vehicles burst from cover, using these like Churchill ARK's from the Second World War they quickly formed an improvised bridge. Several 47 Brigade vehicles made it across, however two collided in a scramble to reach safety, and blocked the makeshift bridge.
This vs a T-54...
With UNITA forces blocking any escape route 47 Brigade was now forced to fight. They turned and sent their T-54's to attack the Ratels. Although the Ratel crews were not happy with being forced to take on the T-54's they had no choice. The FAPLA forces were used to the UNITA forces breaking contact at the sight of tanks advancing on them, so they were really surprised when the thinly armoured Ratels charged at their tanks. The Ratels had no stabilization to their guns so they couldn't fire on the move, however, they were lighter and faster than the tanks. This mobility along with the higher silhouette gave the Ratel's an advantage in the thick brush. The Ratel crews could stand on the hull of their charges, and see the dust plumes of the lumbering T-54's. Then they could either avoid them or get into a better position to destroy them. The Ratel would race towards the T-54, then slam on the brakes and halt almost touching it, then start to fire its 90mm at point blank range into the sides and rear of the tank, before racing off again at full speed into the bush. Some of the T-54's were destroyed from a range of just 15 metres.
Even the Cuban air support failed to hit anything, although the MIG's flew around sixty missions they were afraid to drop to low altitude because of UNITA's US supplied Stinger missiles. And so consequently their bombing accuracy was woeful.
The Ratel's suffered one man killed when a T-54 fired at his speeding vehicle. The round hit the ground and ricocheted up into the turret severely wounding the commander, whom later died. Several more were wounded.
On the FAPLA side the 47 Brigade all but ceased to exist, with a vast list of equipment captured by the SADF forces. Included in this haul was one of the Soviet Union's newest and most secret weapons, an SA-8 Gecko. This was captured intact with all documentation. However this didn't end up in the hands of the west as one might expect. Remembering how the US treated them and some other actions in the region the South Africans kept the Gecko for their own and used it in their weapons research programs.

Image credits:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Two Legends

A little while ago during one of the Quiz questions I occasionally write I asked about a shooting record for the SMLE. In the answer I mentioned a Sergeant Major Wallingford who put 37 rounds into the bull's eye of a 12" target at 300 yards, in one minute. To put that in perspective he'd have had to reload the bolt action rifle four times. With that kind of skill it's no surprise that Wallingford had a fearsome reputation during the First World War.

Jesse Wallingford was born in London in 1872. Britain before World War One had a small army, but its soldiers were very well drilled, to the extent that the Germans got a very bloody nose at the battle of Mons. Before the war Wallingford put his considerable talents as a shooter to good effect commenting in various competitions, including the 1908 Olympics. crucially he competed with both pistol and rifle.

Wallingford joined the New Zealand army before the start of the First World War, and taught their infantry to shoot. When the New Zealanders were deployed he went with them, landing at Gallipoli as a machine gun officer. He was responsible for the sighting of his weapons at the Apex on 10th of August 1915, where the Turks launched what can only be described as a human wave attack. Wallingfords machine guns were arrayed to fire across the Turks line of advance. It's estimated that in that 30 minutes of continuous firing the Turks lost around 5000 men. Which brings me onto the next legend the Vickers heavy machine gun.
There are many machine guns in the world, but despite what their manufacturers say most are not sustained fire weapons. I recall speaking to a veteran who once put 3000 rounds through a GPMG non-stop. He said the barrel had a distinct curve to it after that. A Vickers HMG was a true sustained fire weapon due to its water cooling. Here is an account of a sustained fire demonstration with a Vickers gun.
"First day, gauging limits and setting the gun up. (We spent two days hand filing feathers [the square projection] on cross pins to close tolerances so guns and tripods could be assembled without play!) at the end of the day, the instructor told us to draw out one of the guns that we had been working on, [and] one of the lads pulled a gun out of the rack. We were told that this gun was to be fired for the remainder of the course, day and night.

The gun, stores spares, etc, were put onto an Austin Champ and driven onto the range. We mounted the gun onto a tripod in a gun pit. A 4-ton Bedford had been unloaded of a load of ammo. There were stacks of ammo, after cans and barrels. (We had to pack all the rear grooves with asbestos oiled string!) The 2 man crew was relieved every thirty minutes. A third body shovelled empty cases from under the gun with a malt shovel and threw the empty belts clear of the pit. We never heard the gun not firing in anything but the shortest time while the barrel was replaced (every hour). The gun fired 250-round belts without stopping: not in 20, 50 or whatever bursts, but straight through: we could hear it rattling away from the lecture room/workshop, and went to see it between work.
 At the end the gunpit was surrounded by mountains of boxes, belts, cases, debris; a large cleft had appeared in the stop butts where the bullets had destroyed the butts. We took the gun off its tripod and back to the workshop. We inspected and gauged. No measurable difference anywhere. It had eaten barrels, they were changed every hour to 1½ hours, but mechanically [the gun] was unchanged. It had consumed just under five million rounds of .303", non-stop (my notes were for Mk VII, not Mk VIIIz, so I presume zones etc were for Mk VII).

That episode was to show nine armourers the ability of the hallowed Vickers. Only after an excellent course result did my Staff Sergeant boss let me work on our battalion guns, which had smooth water jackets."

Wallingford himself also operated a Vickers gun, during an earlier occasion at Gallipoli on April the 27th the ANZAC's were pinned down, outnumbered and in danger of being over run. Wallingford determined that the ANZAC's only chance was to launch a spoiling attack. So he lept out of the trench and charged forward. As he advanced through the Turkish fire he found a disabled machine gun with a single wounded crewman in a small patch of dead ground. He quickly brought the Vickers into action, between himself with his rifle and the wounded man on the machine gun they kept the Turks at bay for several hours until a relief force moved up. For these actions Wallingford was awarded the Military Cross.
Wallingford also distinguished himself with small arms, dealing with Turkish snipers. If a sniper was causing casualties he would be requested. Upon arriving he would expose himself briefly, and using his fearsome knowledge about musketry would be able to pinpoint the snipers hiding location. Once he'd spotted the snipers hiding place he would engage them. The rapid accurate rate of fire mentioned earlier would soon result in Wallingfords victory. On one occasion Wallingford's sixth sense told him that a nearby bush was acting suspiciously. It was about 60 yards from the ANZAC trenches. When the soldiers with him saw it move slightly they confirmed Wallingfords suspicions. Wallingford hefted his service revolver and said "I think we'll give him a chance!" and fired once killing the Turkish infiltrator.

Wallingford died on 6th of June 1944, having reached the rank of at least captain.

Image credits:
www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info, bbci.co.uk, www.mercurynie.com.au and www.forgottenweapons.com

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Artillery Issue

Today I want to do something a bit different and talk about game play and ideas. Next week we'll be back to normal with a history article.

There has been, and always will be an argument about artillery in games like World of Tanks. On one hand you have the ability to utterly one shot people and ruin their game. Part of that issue is the feeling that there was nothing you could do. That issue has been about for many years, many old FPS’s where you had one camping sniper felt the same. Equally it's a kind of jump scare, which makes you feel bad. On top of all that you have the habit of humans to highlight when it happened. As an example I bet most of you can remember the last time your tank just exploded from an arty hit. How many of you remember the shots that missed from artillery? Did you even notice them?
On the other side of the coin you have the poor arty player who is sprinkling his rounds gleefully about the countryside and watching his shells which he sends off and promptly lands in the wrong post code. This is hardly fun for him either.
Perfectly aimed shot
So I've been playing computer games for a lot of years and working with table top war games companies for just as long. So I've had a bit of experience in systems, especially on the wargame system of mechanics that aren't working right within the system. I had a bit of a brain storm and came up with the following idea.
Hip shot!
The idea draws upon artillery from War Thunder, and some ideas taken from the Steel Panthers series. In those games artillery isn't complained about anywhere to the same degree it is in WOT or Armoured Warfare (yes, I spell it correctly…). But is a useful tool. It also draws upon ideas from World of Warships carrier gameplay, introducing a strategy game for those who want it.
Throughout this proposal I'll be using examples to illustrate the point.
As with any plan it never survives first contact with programmers or the enemy. Game engines might just say "nope" can't be done like that. So don't think of this as an exact detailed plan for fixing, more of a general "hey wouldn't it be cool if" idea. Equally any graphics are not intended to be 100% final but are entirely nebulous to show how the idea might look.

I realise this is a significant shift in direction for the arty class. For that reason alone it might be unfavourable, but I feel that at the least this suggestion should be made to get the idea out there, simply because almost none of the game developers seem to have thought of it in this way.

The idea is basically to make artillery an off map asset. Much like throughout the Second World War, artillery was rarely on the front line, unless something went very very very badly wrong. Instead the player drives an observer vehicle, which are always about.

Observer vehicles simply provide a spotter at the forward edge of battle to guide artillery in successfully, leaving combat arm commanders free to fight the battle. They carry the communication, spotting equipment and maps needed for this task as well as the trained specialists in relative safety. To make room for those items the vehicle itself if it is based off a tank often has its guns removed. However to most people they're often invisible. Take the following photograph. It's a famous picture from the battle of Villers Bocage. How many of you have seen it before? How many knew, before now, that this is an observer tank? You can see the wooden dummy gun barrel on the floor in front of it.
You'd drive one of these observer vehicles instead of the artillery gun.

From this vehicle the off map artillery can be directed. However due to certain limitations you will need to drive the vehicle about the battlefield, to the best position to use the artillery. This means there's no camping at the back. Equally you will have to manage the guns within the supporting battery to ensure they don't all get knocked out.
Instead of "gun" modules you'd have upgrades to the number and type of artillery tubes in your supporting battery.

The use of observer vehicles has one major advantage, in many cases they're based off an existing tank within game meaning you're essentially re-using assets. It would save modelling the SPG models, just needing to tweak a few models already in game.
It also allows you to use other off map assets such as air support, which would function similarly to artillery, but have a more exciting visual effect as the attack plane swoops over the battlefield (hey we have to do something with all those WOWP models!). Other options could be multiple rocket artillery salvos. Imagine seeing the streaks of flame and smoke from a salvo launching on the maps sky box and know that someone on your team is about to get some good news?
Chew on this O-I!
To illustrate the ideas I have I've made a crude graphic of what I would think the artillery interface would look like. The elements of it will be explained below.
Yeah, I never passed art class...
The basic core idea is: Artillery acts like that of War Thunder. If you're connected to the War Thunder community, you'll note one massive difference: No one in War Thunder rages about artillery.
 A brief description of their system is: You press a button and a map comes up on screen with a cursor. When you click on the map, an artillery barrage will land on that area in the game world. First a couple of ranging shots will land, giving people a warning artillery is on the way. If that’s too subtle giant red words saying "Artillery Fire!" also flash. This gives the player time to react, if they sit and take it then they only have themselves to blame for any damage. After firing the main part of the barrage the artillery support will enter a cooldown before it can be used again.

To prevent bombardment of spawn areas and to prevent camping the range at which the the artillery can be called in is limited. This is represented by the area of the green circle. This forces the observer vehicle to have to move and keep up with the battle line.

The above is the basic core idea. The parts below are for making life a bit more interesting and introducing a smaller strategy game for the artillery players so they have something to keep them playing the game instead of knocking off to make a sandwich while all their guns are on cooldown.
The basic idea is based around counter battery fire missions. Do you allocate all your guns to on map fire, and risk having them knocked out thus leaving the enemy artillery a free reign? Or do you try to counter and block enemy artillery to defend your own forces? Some of each and succeed at neither? Is the enemy waiting to counter battery you?

On the graphic above you'll notice a panel marked "battery orders" on the top right. Below the title is a drop down menu, one for each gun. Here you can order your guns and their crew to do one thing. Some suggestions would be:

Direct Support

The gun crew concentrates on loading and firing at targets on map. This gives the gun its maximum rate of fire, but will of course leave it vulnerable to counter battery fire.

Shoot and Scoot
After firing a bombardment the gun crew moves their gun a short distance to prevent being knocked out by counter battery fire. This means a longer cooldown time between shots on map, but gives a higher resistance to counter battery fire.

Counter battery fire
The gun crew will not respond to fire missions aimed at the map, instead they'll wait until enemy artillery fires then try to knock them out. As this succeeds then the enemy guns start taking damage (as shown in the bottom left panel, for example Gun #2 has taken two hits).
Should have left it on shoot and scoot orders!
When the player clicks on the map to call in the fire mission all the guns with "Direct Support" or "Shoot and Scoot" orders, that are off cooldown will fire a barrage at the target area. This is an area of effect around the centre point the artillery player clicked on the map.
Like in War Thunder a warning flashes up on anyone caught in the area of effect about incoming artillery, along with a couple of ranging shots. Then a short while later the main barrage will arrive.
The number of guns available for this will determine how deadly the barrage is. After this there is a cooldown period before the guns are available to be used again, these would be affected by the orders.
If a player is clever he can stagger his guns reloading times, so he can get a higher rate of fire up, but each barrage will cause less damage.

In short you get an aspect that actually potentially lowers the amount of modelling work and makes the community happier. On the downside of course it does mean re-working the coding behind artillery, and so is likely more coding work up front.

There are plenty of ideas to go with this, different ammo types and an absolute plethora of weapon types. Each nation had its own school of thought when it comes to artillery, and you can build those int othe system its that flexible. This idea could easily be applied to modern games as well.

So is it an idea, or should I stick to doing history and leave the games design to the professionals?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Courage or Desperation

The crew of U-570 were in an odd mood. First they had the overwhelming belief that they would soon be home with a German victory, but they were also surprised at the amount and range of food available in the UK. They had been lead to believe that the German submarine blockade was so overwhelming, and was choking the UK to her knees. In addition they were glad to be off the U-570. Life on board had never shaped up to the life they were promised by the recruiting propaganda. Equally they were out from under the thumb of their officers. One in particular had been seen as a problem, the 2nd in command of the U-boat, 25 year old  Lieutenant Bernhard Berndt.
Lt Berndt's brief command
An appraisal of him by British intelligence found him arrogant, uninteresting and "a difficult and nagging superior, but neither efficient nor knowledgeable." He unfortunately reflected the crew of the boat, with nearly all being inexperienced. Lt Berndt had joined the Kriegsmarine in 1935. He had served on destroyers until joining the submarines, and after training went directly to U-570. Some sources say it was Lt Berndt whom was responsible for surrendering U-570 when her Captain was incapacitated by gas during her capture.
Grizedale Hall POW camp
After their capture the crew of U-570 were held in London and interrogated by the British after which they were split up and sent to various camps. The officers, not including Cpt Rahmlow, were sent to No1 Camp (Officers) at Grizedale Hall. This was also known as U-boat Hotel, due to the large number of U-boat men imprisoned there. As the story of U-570 had been widely reported by the British press the members of the camp had heard the story by the time the three U-570 men arrived. There was a general air of hostility to the newcomers, and eventually a secret, illegal trial was arranged by the senior members of the camp, despite the British forbidding such activities. The court was presided over by U-boat ace Otto Kretschmer. They added Cpt Rahmlow to the charge sheet, despite him not being present.
Otto Kretschmer
Lt Berndt tried to defend himself, arguing the circumstances and the utter inexperience of the crew lead to the capture, not cowardice. However both he and Cpt Rahmlow were found guilty. The British were aware of such goings on, and took measures to keep the Officers of U-570 safe. Including a three man detail escorting Lt Berndt about the camp during times such as visiting the shower blocks where he might be vulnerable. In a coded letter to Admiral Donitz, Kretschmer informed him of the outcome assuming that after the Germans won the war Cpt Rahmlow and Lt Berndt would be found, tried and executed.

Things took a fateful turn when British newspapers reported that U-570 had arrived at Barrow-in-Furness, a mere 30 odd miles from Grizedale Hall. Lt Berndt proposed a plan to regain his honour. He would escape, make his way to the U-570 and destroy her. Kretschmer was also in charge of the German escape committee, and passed the plan. A number of items were manufactured by the Germans including a uniform of some sort.
The camp at Grizedale Hall was a double line of wire fencing with a few guard towers and a collection of huts for the Germans. On the night of 18th October 1941 Lt Berndt crawled out to the wire and used a pair of homemade wire cutters to make a hole big enough for him to crawl to freedom.

However the camp commander was aware of the escape almost immediately. Had Lt Berndt been spotted by a sentry? Or had someone in the camp informed on his escape? Either way the local Home Guard was alerted and they began patrolling the area. In the morning of the 19th a patrol searching a nearby farm raised the corner of a tarpaulin and looked underneath it, they found a shivering Lt Berndt in hiding. After his arrest the Home Guards started to lead him back to Grizedale Hall, upon realising his fate was to be returned to that hostile environment Lt Berndt broke away from his guards and fled across the fields. The Home Guards fired a volley of warning shots, which Lt Berndt ignored, the next volley was not aimed to miss.

He was buried locally, with full honours at the insistence of Kretschmer. However due to an error and the locals unfamiliarity with German ranks and names, the last part of Lt Berndts German rank of "Oberleutnant zur See" was mistranslated as his first name. This meant that his burial record read "Lee Bernhard Berndt". It's curious to note that despite the thousands of men involved in the entire story of U-570, including several exchanges of fire Lt Berndts is the only death involved with the submarine, including with its three war patrols under Royal Navy Service.

Image credits:
s.hswstatic.com and www.newsandstar.co.uk

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Development of the Scherz-Weapon

The following, although short is funny enough that several people I know demanded I turn it into an article. This is all true, and is filed in a report I recently read.
In 1936 a British military mission was heading to Russia to observe manoeuvres at Minsk. It consisted of General Wavell (better known for his time in the desert in 1940, and then in Burma), Lieutenant General Martel (the famous British tank officer and engineer, also commanded the British forces at Arras) and a Major Hayes. The Air Force was represented by Wing Commander Wigglesworth.

To get to these manoeuvres they travelled via Berlin where they met Colonel Hotblack, who won a DSO in the First World War. He had a background in reconnaissance and intelligence and spoke fluent German. Col Hotblack was the lead military attaché to the Berlin embassy, over dinner he entertained his guests with a recent occurrence in the German Army.
Hitler is confused!
Apparently the Germans kept on receiving reports of British inefficiency. This confused Hitler greatly, because despite the inefficiency the British armed forces carried on succeeding. Obviously he wanted to find out how the British achieved this, and apply it to their army to make it more efficient. To this end Hitler ordered an inquiry into the subject. After its deliberations the German inquiry came to the conclusion that it was the British sense of humour that was responsible.

And so, somewhat predictably Hitler decreed that the Germans should try to install a British sense of humour into the German army, only they did it in a very German way. First they tried to teach jokes by numbers. You'll never guess what, that plan failed miserably.

So undeterred they tried a new approach. The idea was to let the soldiers soak up the humour naturally. So they took a number of Bruce Bairnsfather's cartoons (creator of the "if you know of a better hole" cartoon) and translated the jokes directly into German. Every week a new poster would be displayed in all the barracks across the German Army. Col Hotblack asked if he might view the first trial carried out by the Germans, which the Germans happily agreed to.
The cartoon selected for the first German trials.
When Col Hotblack arrived he found the German translation of the poster, only at the bottom the Germans had had to add another line, to explain the joke. In this case the German addition read "Of course the hole was not really made by a mouse at all!"
With a straight face Col Hotblack stood aside and the first unit of Germans were marched, turned to face the poster, and ordered to read the writing so they might absorb the British humour. After they had dutifully done so, they were marched out. Not one of them had so much as smiled.

Would you like to know more?

There is one other incident about German Army humour. They did try again 73 years later in Afghanistan, putting this t-shirt on sale on German Army bases.
Nope, can't see how this will go wrong...
It references the 2009 Kunduz airstrike. When it was reported in Germany there was a total and utter sense of humour failure on behalf of the German politicians and German high command. The German regional high command ordered the t-shirts to be removed from sale, banned their wearing, and launched an investigation into the t-shirt. They promised if any German soldiers had been involved in the design or manufacture they would be brought up on disciplinary charges.

However the German soldiers tried again with another t-shirt. This one read “My Grandpa never got this far east!”. Looks like the German army finally deployed humour!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

On both Sides

Kapitänleutnant Hans-Joachim Rahmlow had joined the Kriegsmarine in 1928, and had served nearly all of his career in coastal artillery. However around November 1940 he first set foot on a submarine. His first boat had no patrols under his leadership and he moved to U-570 in May 1941. U-570 was a brand new build Type VIIC U-boat, on her commission date KptLt Rahmlow took command. In August U-570 was ordered to take part in an operation to sink a concentration of allied shipping in the Atlantic.
Plan of U-570
 The Icelandic Gap is the stretch of water between Iceland and the UK. It's a strategic position, during the cold war it was the Royal Navy and RAF's main duty to seal this gap and keep Russian forces, especially submarines, bottled up and out of the Atlantic. The same applied in the Second World War, if the British could close this location, then the Kriegsmarine would be contained and unable to get at the supply convoys crossing the Atlantic. In late August 1941 U-570 tested her mettle against the formidable forces arrayed against her.

The weather, as it often is in the Atlantic, was horrific. Four days into her patrol (August 27th) the seas had battered the submarine and most of her crew were seasick. In addition she'd been attacked by a RAF Hudson bomber from 269 Squadron in Iceland, however during the attack run the bombers depth bombs had failed to release, allowing U-570 to escape. So KptLt Rahmlow ordered the morning to be spent submerged. At about 1050 she re-surfaced to face the battering of the sea.
U-570 in heavy seas, you can see the waves over the deck.
Many miles away in the grey stormy sky another Hudson bomber was pitching in the storm. On its sides were the code letters B-L, it was another plane from 269 Squadron, piloted by Squadron Leader James Thompson. Sqn Ldr Thompson had been called to assist the other Hudson after its earlier aborted attack. Suddenly a blip appeared, at a range of 14 miles, on the airborne radar. Sqn Ldr Thompson set up his approach run.

On the U-570 KptLt Rahmlow suddenly heard over the stormy weather the sound of aircraft engines. He immediately ordered a crash dive. Bursting out of the grey mist the Hudson hurtled towards the rapidly submerging submarine. Just as U-570 became fully waterlogged, Sqn Ldr Thompson released his four 250lb depth bombs in a line. They were all fused to detonate at fifty feet. One of the charges detonated just ten metres from the bow, the blast smashed into the bow of the submarine and crumpled it and shorted out the electrics. In the dark and confusion inside the metal coffin it's possible the blast may have knocked KptLt Rahmlow unconscious. The engine room crew suddenly scrambled forward yelling warnings about chlorine gas escaping. The next sound the crew heard was the clang of the watertight doors to the engine room being slammed shut. With no way to get the power back, in darkness and with the risk of choking on chlorine the crew blew ballast and surfaced. They tumbled out of the hatches to man the anti-aircraft guns and fight off the Hudson.

Sdn Ldr Thompson saw the U-570 sitting in a pool of bubbles and froth from his depth bomb and the subsequent surfacing. He turned towards her and the nose gunner fired a burst from his machine gun at the submarine. On board U-570 the crew quickly found that with the pitching of the sea and the submarine it was impossible to lay their AA weapons on the circling bomber. Expecting another stick of bombs at any second they quickly hoisted a flag of surrender.

The Surrender, the flag can just be seen
 As the Hudson circled over them the crew destroyed their radio and code books, but beforehand they sent a final message stating "Am not able to dive, and am being attacked by aircraft." This was the last the Kriegsmarine would hear from U-570. They did try to send another submarine to support U-570, however allied action meant she had to remain submerged and couldn't reach the area. Overhead the Hudson radioed for support and was joined shortly by another Hudson which had been en-route to Scotland, and about three hours later by a Catalina flying boat. As the Hudson's ran out of fuel the Catalina was left orbiting the submarine. She had orders that if no allied ships reached the scene by darkness then she was to order the crew off the boat and sink U-570. However it seems the Catalina failed to carry out these orders, as at around 10 pm an anti-submarine trawler arrived on scene and was guided in by flares dropped by the Catalina. With the submarine safely in the possession of the Royal Navy the Catalina returned to base.
The trawler, HMT Northern Chief, informed the Germans that any attempt to scuttle, submerge or any other action not ordered by the trawler would be met with gunfire, and the crew would not be rescued. Overnight several other vessels including two destroyers reached the area.
The next morning a seaplane from 330 Squadron reached the area, spotting the submarine and trawler the Norwegian pilots launched an attack on the U-570 and strafed the HMT Northern Chief, which promptly returned fire. Luckily one of the destroyers saw what was happening and ordered the plane away.
Boarding action!
Using a Carley float three sailors boarded the U-570, and attached a tow rope. The Germans were then transferred off the boat to another trawler and one of the destroyers. The U-570 was then towed by the flotilla to Iceland with a constant stream of aircraft overhead for cover. She was beached around August 30th at Þorlákshöfn.
U-570 on the beach
U-570 was later used for a number of tests and research, she also gave up a few secrets in submarine design which the allies had not yet worked out, such as rubber mountings for the U-boats engines. These meant less noise was transmitted to the hull, making her quieter.
After these tests she was renamed HMS Graph (G for "German" and from the German word Graf) and entered service with the Royal Navy conducting two war patrols. Although she made several attacks, including one on an enemy submarine she failed to score any hits. Eventually lack of replacement supplies meant she was decommissioned and used for target trials of depth charges. After resisting the battering she was sold for scrap, but broke free of the tow rope used to send her to the breaker's yard. Her hulk came to rest on Coul Point, on the west coast of Islay. She remains there to this day.

Of the people involved, the crew of the 269 Squadron Hudson, Sqn Ldr Thompson and Flying Officer Coleman (the Hudson's Bomber/Navigator), each received the Distinguished Flying Cross. KptLt Rahmlow remained a POW and died on 13th of June 1967.

Image credits:

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