Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Chocolate War

Today's article is another contest entry. This one came from Azaz129 on the NA server.

There are three things universal to all wars: soldiers, weapons, and food - though not many tend to focus on the latter.

The US military generally issued five different rations during World War Two: A-rations, B-rations. C-rations, K-rations, and D-rations. A-rations are fresh, refrigerated, or frozen food that is served to troops after being prepared by a field kitchen or transported from fixed facilities. B-rations are foods that come canned, preserved or pre-packaged and do not require the use of refrigeration. C-rations were individually issued rations that were pre-cooked and canned for soldiers out in the field where A-rations and B-rations were impractical, they were replaced in 1958 by the Meal Combat Individual (MCI), which was later replaced by the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) in 1981. K-rations were meant to be issued to mobile forces, such as paratroopers and the tank corps, for short durations, contained three boxed meals, the military declared it obsolete in 1948 due to inadequate caloric content. Finally, D-rations were meant for emergency situations and consisted of concentrated chocolate bars designed to provide maximum calories for soldiers in need.

Even before the start of World War Two, the United States was looking for a way to supplement soldiers' rations with a nutritious, lightweight food. In 1937, Captain Paul Logan of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General's office went to Hershey Chocolate Company President, William Murrie, about creating a chocolate bar to be included in military rations. The requirements presented to Hershey were simple, lightweight, high energy, and (in order to ensure consumption only in emergencies) tasting slightly better than a boiled potato.
D-Ration... Looks tasty? So palatable you need to eat it over the course of 30 minutes.
The result was a viscous paste that had to be hand packed into molds. Called D-rations, the bar had to have pieces shaved off for consumption and possessed an extremely bitter taste. Soldiers called it “Hitler's Secret Weapon” and would often times throw them away as soon as they received them. Later, in 1943, the government would ask Hershey to design a new bar that could hold its shape for an hour in 120 degree heat and would have a somewhat improved taste, eventually resulting in the Tropical Chocolate bar.
Around the same time as this, Forrest Mars, son of the creator of the rival Milky Way bar, was working on developing a sugar-coated chocolate candy designed to resist heat, after having seen a similar sugar coated chocolate being eaten by soldiers in the Spanish Civil War. Unlike Hershey, Mars was trying to create a commercially available product in addition to a snack for servicemen. With this in mind, Mars approached William Murrie's son, Bruce, about a partnership. For a 20% stake in the product, Murrie secured a steady supply of chocolate from Hershey, which was in charge of U.S. sugar and chocolate rationing at the time. The product was named M&M's after Mars and Murrie. Though Mars would buy out Murries's share shortly after the war ended, the name would remain.
Shortly after release, the U.S. military became the exclusive customer for Mars' new product and would remain so for the duration of the war. Unlike the modified Hershey bar, M&M's were included in soldiers C rations in cardboard tubes and were intended for regular consumption, which allowed for a taste that didn't cause the troops to want to immediately throw them away. After the end of the war, as well as rationing, the newly returned soldiers continued buying M&M's and by 1954 M&M's were the number one candy in the United States. To this day, various chocolates are still included in soldiers' regular rations.

Image credits:
www.schaakstukkenmuseum.nl, www.historicreproductions.com and amhistory.si.edu/

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The only Tank in the Village

Here’s the first of the Competition articles. This was originally written by NAKKE_FIN from the EU server. With his permission I’ve gone through and tweaked some of the English for a better flow, and added some bits I found on the subject.

During the Continuation War approximately 500 000 Finnish soldiers and 200 000 Axis soldiers fought against 1 500 000 Soviet soldiers. The Finnish side had only one armoured division (Finnish Armoured Division) at the beginning of the Continuation War, consisting of obsolete T-26 and Vickers 6 ton tanks. Meanwhile the Soviet Union had approximately 4900 tanks on the Finnish front. The Finns also lacked the modern anti-tank weapons needed to deal with the Soviet tanks. Instead the Finns had to rely on the bravery of their troops armed with improvised weapons such as packs of explosive and smoke grenades to obscure the vision of the tanks. To encourage the soldiers even further, rewards such as extra leave, were offered for destroying enemy tanks.

 The Finnish military began an offensive in July 1941 at Ladoga Karelia.  Later in July the offensive at East Karelia was started.  On the northern front at the village of Salla (often called Alakurtti, which appears to be the region, not the village) the Finnish JR 33 1st battalion meet with a lonely KV-2. The KV-2 had been born out of the trouble the Soviets had encountered when facing the Finnish defences during the Winter war.
The first sign of the battle was when the lone KV-2 appeared to the front of the Finnish trenches. The monstrous heavy tank rolled out of the woods and down the road towards the Finnish lines.

 The first shot of the 152mm cannon started to spread fear amongst the Finnish soldiers. The KV-2 found a gap in the Finnish mine fields and started to push through the lines, defensive fire ricocheting off the tanks armour. Even the few dedicated anti-tank weapons the Finns possessed had no effect. As the behemoth loomed over them with the ground trembling under the roar of its engines and the monstrous turret blocking out the light, the Finns threw grenades at the tank but they seemed to do no harm. The Finnish line bent under the pressure.

For some reason after few hours the KV-2 stopped the assault and fell back. Finns started to place mines in the gap in their minefield which the KV-2 had found. Just as they were finishing the task in the distance they heard the squeak of the tanks tracks as it roamed out of its forest lair once more.
 The KV-2 reappeared and drove directly towards the Finnish lines again. The sound of mines exploding filled the air, but the mighty fortress of a tank was impervious to the anti-personnel mines the Finns had placed. The horror filled the minds of the Finnish soldiers. Finally when the KV-2 drove over eight mines it lost its tracks and had to stop. Still the tank was capable of firing towards the Finnish lines. No gun the Finns had could penetrate the hide of the KV-2, so the Finns had to wait for the night to close with and destroy this beast.
 When the darkness came the Finns formed a group to destroy the immobilized tank. The Finns were armed with iron bars, Molotov cocktails, smoke caskets and explosives. The assault party sneaked through the still night, if the KV-2 saw them it would open fire with that devastating cannon. Finally they were close to the tank, and leapt onto it. First the machine gun barrels of the KV-2 were smashed with iron bars to prevent the crew from shooting at the close targets. They then tried to set it on fire with Molotov cocktails but the tank was not lit regardless of several attempts. The smoke caskets were triggered to drive the crew out of the tank but the persistent crew remained inside the tank. Finally the explosives were set on the ground next to the tank and the tank tilted towards the ground by the impact but still the crew remained alive inside the tank.
The Finns were afraid that KV-2 would soon receive help; therefore the attempts to wreck the tank were hastened. The tilted tank was unable to defend itself against Finnish combat engineers who placed 30kg of explosives on the turret. The tank was lit up by the explosion and moments later blew up. 
The actual remains of the KV-2 after the explosion.
The battle against the steel monster was over. Several Finns were wounded in the battle but only one combat engineer was killed when placing the mines.This was the only time the KV-2 saw action in Finland.

Image credits:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Competition Aftermath

Two weeks ago I ran a little competition with the prizes supplied by the Wargaming EU office. Now its my first time doing something like that, and I made a few mistakes. So  for the answers and to find out if you're a winner, to see some of the odd answers, or to see where I dropped a clanger read on!

World of Warships closed Alpha test access.The question I asked you to answer was:

"Name the only capital ship that has directly sunk a Submarine."

I got a mind blowing 171 entries, and most of you said HMS Dreadnought, which was of course the answer I was after.
However a few of you said other ships which I went and had a look at, and in a couple of cases they had rammed and sunk friendly submarines. Obviously it was my fault as I had missed out the word "Enemy" from the question; the only fair way around the problem was to count the alternative answers as correct.

The two alternative answers where the French battleship Saint Louis, which had an unfortunate habit of bumping into allied ships and on June 8th 1912 she rammed the submarine Vendémiaire. That one was submitted by farmpunk from the NA server.
The second alternative answer was the USS New York, which hit something, judged to be a submarine, however it wasn't actually confirmed. But I was willing to give it possible credit. However I didn't need to, as when I randomly rolled up which number entry was the winner both had said HMS Dreadnought.

Congratulations to Nabusco, (NA) and Ghanschje, (EU). You were both selected by random drawing to get the prize from the list of people who answered the question.

But lesson learned, I will make sure I write the wording in the questions more carefully in future!

Quite a number of you misread the question and listed ships that had been sunk by submarines. Of which the most common were the Japanese ship Kongo, HMS Royal Oak and HMS Barham. A few answered HMS Warspite (which was my answer when I first heard the question), but she didn't sink the Submarine, it was one of her aircraft.

A couple of you named craft that sunk a submarine, such as PC-566. But that's a patrol craft, not a capital ship. Equally one person named a Q-ship (HMS Farnborough). Again even with the best will in the world a Q-ship isn't a capital unit.

We had 44 entries for this, of which three of you got all five questions right, and eleven got four questions right.

I) Name the World War Two German armoured fighting vehicle that had the knocked out the most enemy tanks

Answer is of course, the humble Stug III.

II) Name the most produced armoured vehicle in history.

A lot of you answered T54 series, which is most produced tank, but is still about 10-25 thousand (depending on which source you use) units behind the correct answer, which is the Universal Carrier, racking up an impressive 113000 units produced.

III) By the end of World War Two almost every country in the world that had a tank arm had used a single model of tank, or a derivative. Name that tank.

This one got your brains going! It was also the one most people got wrong. There's some very good guesses, such as the Vickers 6 ton. Sherman's, Stuarts and T-34's were all also suggested.
The correct answer was the FT-17, or a derivative of it, such as the Ford 6 ton or the Fiat 3000. If you look into almost every army in the world it's likely their first tank was the FT-17. Even Germany used FT17's that they'd captured during WWII.

IV) during April 1943 a British officer's body was washed up on the coast of Spain. On his body were top secret documents about the upcoming invasion of Greece. What was the bodies real name.

I asked for the bodies name, not the officers name. The answer is of course (To quote one of you who got it right) "The unpronounceable Glyndwr Michael."

V) Name the highest scoring British Empire ace from World War One.

This one caught me out as well. When I first thought it up I went and checked scores. An old book I had listed the person as Major Edward "Mick" Mannock. However recent research shows that it wasn't Maj Mannock but William "Billy" Bishop who was the top scoring Empire ace.

I got the dates on question VI wrong. The question originally read:

"From the End of World War Two until the start of Operation Desert Storm how many tank on tank engagements had American forces fought in?"

And I utterly forgot about the Korean War. Whoops. It should have had "World War Two" replaced with "Korean War", and the answer was two.

So T-127's to the following people:
GrumpyStranger (EU), perdi (EU), Invictus97 (NA), ZdeSpi (EU), Dominatus (NA), Iceclouds (EU), Rossignal (NA), jerze75 (EU), nekojima (NA) and The_MythMaker (EU).

Write an Article
Again forty entries, ranging in subject from chocolate to gun stabilization. It was harder than I expected to pick four winners. However you'll be seeing the results of that over the next few weeks.

I am sorry to say that four people tried to plagiarize, and win with entries copied from other peoples work. All were caught out, and had their entries for all the other competitions removed. One particularly bad cheater failed on three points. First he ripped off someone else's work. Second he only copied 300 odd words and finally he picked a subject that very little is known about. Unfortunately for him I was a consultant on that subject for another company a few years ago so I know rather a lot about it...

Over all however thanks for the entertaining answers, the great articles, and for giving me a bit more experience in this kind of thing. Hopefully next years will run smoother.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Oncoming Tempest

Two weeks ago we looked at the events of the morning of  7th of January 1949. Here's the Afternoon of that ill fated day.

Back at Fayid Airfield the leisurely pace of operations continued unaware of the crisis they were hurtling towards. The two Tempest squadrons based at the airfield had returned from their morning flights, and the pilots had retired to the mess for the afternoon.
However normal operations were disturbed during lunch when it was realised that the four Spitfires on reconnaissance were overdue, and all four pilots were missing. The Squadron Commander for the missing planes immediately started preparations for another flight of four Spitfires to look for their colleagues.
However understandably he wanted to bring along as much fire-power along as he could, so he started phoning around the messes of the Tempest squadrons looking for pilots still fit to fly.
Unsurprisingly the search mission soon had fifteen Tempest pilots volunteering to join in, along with the four Spitfires. The formation rendezvoused above the airfield and set off to look for the lost Spitfires at 1500. The formation flew with the Spitfires at 500 feet, followed by a flight of Tempests, with seven at 6,000 ft and eight at 10,000 ft, each formation was staggered back from the previous one to cover the rear of the previous flight.

As they neared the area where the missing flight had seen the convoy, the middle flight of Tempests were bounced by four Israeli Spitfires diving out of the sun. One of the pilots spotted the attack and yelled a warning. However the tail end Charlie of the Tempests was a a very new and inexperienced pilot. The lead Israeli Spitfire riddled his plane with gunfire killing the pilot before he could react, his plane was seen to flip onto its back and crash into the ground.

The Tempests suddenly found a new problem, none of their guns were working. So even when they had a Spitfire in their sights they were unable to fire. The reason for this seems to have been the drop tanks. For some reason the ground crews had over tightened the locking pins on the drop tanks to keep them secure, this prevented the tanks from being released. In turn the added weight and drag from the tanks during high G manoeuvres meant that it stressed the wings more than normal, preventing the guns from firing.
Upon hearing the shouted warning the high cover Tempests dove into the fight, and the Spitfires clawed their way up to altitude as well. In the ensuing short brawl the IAF Spitfires got hits on one Tempest, causing light damage. However one IAF Spitfire dove on a Tempest, but the Israeli pilot was carrying too much speed. The IAF Spitfire flashed underneath the Tempest and then pulled up in front of the RAF plane allowing the British pilot to put several bursts into the passing IAF Spitfire.

In the dogfight that followed the RAF Spitfires realised they were in as much danger from their fellows in the Tempests as they were from the Israelis. In a dogfight you only have seconds to react, and so the Tempest pilots would see a Spitfire's silhouette and treat it as hostile, and attempt to shoot it down. Upon realising this the order went out over the RAF radio for the four RAF Spitfires to waggle their wings so they could be identified.

At this moment the IAF Spitfires disengaged and broke for home. Once over the nearby border they were safe from pursuit. We don't know if they ran because they realised their enemy were getting organised, or if they spotted the RAF roundels and realised their mistake.

The remaining RAF planes all made it back to base safely. With the news of five missing pilots, presumably dead, tensions at the RAF base were running high. Everyone on the base stood too and prepared to throw everything they had at the fledgling IAF, to wipe it out of existence. Needless to say if the British forces had gotten involved the balance of power would have been changed and its likely the Arab nations would have attempted to wipe Israel out of existence.
That night the four IAF pilots involved in the incident stood down and agreed in the face of an RAF retaliation strike they would not offer resistance. Although these feelings were not shared throughout the IAF, and preparations were made for the upcoming strike. The IAF pilots also sent a message, intended as a conciliatory gesture. It read:

"Sorry about yesterday, but you were on the wrong side of the fence. Come over here and have a drink sometime. You will see many familiar faces."

However as you can imagine this just served as a goad and seemed like a taunt to the RAF. Luckily for everyone involved the RAF command refused flat out to authorize the strike, and history took the course we're all familiar with.

Image credits:
spyflight.co.uk, 213squadronassociation.homestead.com and wwiiaircraftperformance.org

Sunday, December 28, 2014


This week we have something a bit special. Wargaming have supplied a number of Prizes, and asked me to run some competitions to get the prize out to you.

We have three groups of prizes up for grabs. The first group of prizes consist of one of the following:
  • 4000 gold+15 days premium time,
  • 1 fury tank and garage, 
  • 1 RAM II and garage, 
  • 1 Matilda BP and Garage,
To win one of these all you need to do is write a short military history article, then of the entries I'll pick the best four and allocate prizes.

Next, because writing isn't for everyone, we'll be holding a short quiz. From the right answers I'll randomly select ten people, each will win a T127 tank and garage slot.

Finally I have two World of Warships closed alpha test keys to give out. Just answer that tricky question and you'll go into a draw for the keys.

So what do you need to do to win?

Write an article:
Write a short military history article, it can be about anything you like, as long as its related to military history. The sort of stuff I've been doing for the last 18 months. It should conform to these requirements:
The date range for the article should be 1900-1969.
The word count should be about a minimum of 500 words, and not much longer than 750 words (remember I have to read all of these!). Now that much might sound like a lot, but trust me you can dash of 500 words without even trying. I suspect you'll find it easier than you think.

Place the written article in a email, along with your WOT account name and which server you play on and email it to:

Do not send it as an attachment.
Do not send it as a link to a cloud drive.
I will not download files or click links. If the article is not part of your Email then it will not be seen and your Email will be deleted.

Finally, I may want to use your article and post it on Overlords blog. Or failing that I might want to use the idea contained in your article at a later date. you have to be ok with that to submit. Don't worry I always credit people who help out.

WOWS Alpha test key:
1: Answer this question:

"Name the only capital ship that has directly sunk a Submarine."

Place the answer in a email, along with your WOT account name and which server you play on and email it to:


Answer the following Questions:
  • I) Name the World War Two German armoured fighting vehicle that had the knocked out the most enemy tanks
  • II) Name the most produced armoured vehicle in history.
  • III) By the end of World War Two almost every country in the world that had a tank arm had used a single model of tank, or a derivative. Name that tank.
  • IV) during April 1943 a British officer's body was washed up on the coast of Spain. On his body were to secret documents about the upcoming invasion of Greece. What was the bodies real name.
  • V) Name the highest scoring British Empire ace from World War One.
  • VI) Edit: Question removed. I dropped a clanger on this question stating the wrong dates. For that reason, and to be fair to people who have already submitted answers, I'll not be counting this one for scores.
Place the answers in a email, along with your WOT account name and which server you play on and email it to:

Closing date is 1900 (7pm) GMT on Friday 2nd January, so you've got about a week! Do not Post Answers here! The only way to get into the Competition is via the Email address above!

Good luck.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Some of our planes are Missing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part two will be in two weeks.

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beetle and Ferret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits
aviarmor.net, johnallenofoxford.webs.com

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Armans Raid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The British Battle of Stalingrad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Glorious Glosters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credits:
BBC, Flickr, Wikipedia