Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Right Maur-ling

The Malayan campaign started on the opening of hostilities in December 1941. This long battle started with a Japanese invasion at one end, and ended with the surrender of Singapore at the other end of the peninsula two months later. However the Japanese didn't have it all their own way. In Mid January 1942 with the Japanese forces crashing down the length of the country the Commonwealth defenders decided to try a large scale ambush. The province of Maur was chosen for this plan, and as it turned out it was the last major battle of the Malayan campaign.

On the 14th of January at the Gemencheh bridge a large force of Australian Infantry was well dug alongside the road, in with artillery support. As the Japanese column approached the company of Australians let the advance guard pass their positions and cross over the bridge. Then as the main column crossed the bridge the Australians detonated their explosives, shredding the head of the column. This was the signal to pour fire into the column. Caught utterly unaware the Japanese column started taking heavy casualties.
However their advanced guard upon hearing the firing dismounted from their bicycles, and by a stroke of luck found the telephone wire that ran between the Australians and their supporting artillery, so the gunners played no part in the battle. Japanese artillery began to land on the column, further raising the damage done. After the Japanese withdrew, the Australians broke contact and retreated.

Elsewhere along the river the Japanese managed to flank the dug in Indian forces, defending the river bank by dragging several barges further along the river and crossing unopposed. With their flank gone the Indians were forced to retreat.
By the 17th of January an Australian force was in position blocking the Japanese advance. This force consisted of a battalion of Australian infantry and two anti-tank guns. It was further reinforced by three war correspondents. Which is where all the photographs in this piece come from.
The leader of the anti-tank guns was greeted by the battalion commander, and bluntly told:

"I have orders from the General that I should be accompanied by a troop of anti-tank guns, but as far as I am concerned, you’re not wanted.  I don’t want you to interfere with us in any way. I don’t expect the Japanese to use tanks, so for my part you can go home."

However the platoon leader ignored his orders and set up his anti-tank guns covering the road. The first was about 400 yards from a bend in the road, the other was 400 yards further back. After dark both sides tried probing attacks; a Commonwealth armoured car was sent forward, but encountered an enemy machine gun, a short while later a Japanese patrol was repulsed by the Australians. Then the Japanese put in a much larger night attack with quite a large amount of mortar fire in support. After some frantic fighting, some of it close quarters the Japanese were forced to retreat.
However in the dark after the attack a truck bringing rations up to the front line drove through the front without realising it. It ran straight into a Japanese machine gun and was quickly knocked out.

The next morning, the Australians stood too at 0530, at 0600 was first light. Then at 0645 the Japanese launched a major attack, lead this time by tanks. The commander of the lead gun held his fire until the tanks were almost on them, then let fly. His armour piercing shell flew flat and slammed into the side of the lead tank, and immediately the gun swivelled on its turntable to hit the second one. However the gun was a 2 pounder, and the targets were Type 95 Ha-Go's. The two pounder was a phenomenal gun, possibly one of the best of the early war period. The rounds just knifed straight through, although they blew some shrapnel out the other sides of the tanks and killed some Japanese infantry. Seeing this the gun commander ordered HE rounds to be loaded. The two tanks which had been hit continued forward, penetrating the Australian front line. The second gun opened fire and knocked both tanks out. Then Indian sappers climbed on the first three tanks, and pried open the hatches and dropped grenades inside. This might seem like overkill, however Japanese rules and regulations made it clear that tank crew could not abandon their tank in the face of the enemy and they had to keep fighting it as long as they were able to do so*.
Meanwhile at the first gun position the two pounder kept a steady stream of HE rounds pouring into the next three tanks. At such short range and against such light armour the HE rounds acted like an APHE round, punching through the armour before detonating inside. The gun commander was hit by enemy return fire in the hip after immobilising an enemy tank, but he remained at his station and the tanks were quickly knocked out.
Later on another three tanks tried to charge along the road, but met the same fate as the first five. At this point the Australians dropped several large trees onto the road to block any more tank assaults. Later on more Japanese infantry assaults were carried out, but all were repulsed.
With the situation in hand, the war reporters drew lots and then one of their number advanced forward to take the pictures you see in this article. While this was going on on the battalion commander returned to his headquarters to file his report. As a mode of transport he was riding pillion on a dispatch riders motorcycle. On his way back they were ambushed by Japanese infantry. Wounded just a few hundred yards short of the battalion he fell from the motorcycle. The dispatch rider gunned his engine and roared into camp.

The battalion sent out a Carrier to find and rescue their commander. As he lay there wounded the battalion commander asked to see the anti-tank troop commander, the one whom he had dismissed earlier.

"I’m so sorry that I acted as I did. Only for your persistence in defying my orders and positioning your guns where you did, there would have been wholesale slaughter”

The battalion commander died shortly afterwards of his injuries. The attack by the Japanese had been a holding attack, while that battle was raging they had infiltrated around the flank through thick jungle. With the Australian's position now cut off they had little chance, although they fought for several more days they were cut off. The survivors broke up into small detachments and filtered through the Japanese line before linking up with the main British force as they retreated further south.

Edit: Somewhere along the line I lost the footnote. So here it is.

*Japanese tank crew orders forbade dismounting in the face of the enemy under all circumstances. If the tank was disabled out of combat the orders were for the crew to dismount the tanks machine guns and continue the attack on foot.

Image credits:
Australian War Memorial via http://www.andrewwarland.com.au

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Burlington Pageant

Thanks to all the members of the NDA Discussion for their help in this article. 

Whenever you read about modern tanks then the term "Chobham armour" comes up time and again. The way the term is generally used makes it sound like all Chobham armour is equal. Its not. Its also very hard to prove or research, as most governments have spent a considerable time keeping the exact composition a secret, some with less success than others. So this little article may contain much that is speculation, or picked up from bits of information that is fragmentary.
First things first, Chobham armour isn't an accurate term, it's like a family name for modern composites. It's often used by the Press to describe the concept if not the exact detail to its readers, nearly all of whom couldn't tell a Tiger from a Sherman reliably. Composite armours are nothing new. In the 1930's Vickers designed some of its tanks with thin layers of high quality armour plate over thicker layers of much softer quality armour. Or in World War One some British tanks were tested with oak planking as backing to their steel armour. If you push back as far as the medieval period, chain mail and the padded jacket was technically a composite armour. However the post war composites were generally designed to defeat warheads, such as siliceous-core armour, which was great against HEAT warheads but was pretty useless against kinetic energy rounds.
T-72 Glacis plates, with their siliceous-core insets. The Polish army did look at removing the inserts and putting a more advanced armour type in, which would probably have been called Chobham by the press, even though it had no direct link.
And now for some speculation, there are a few files in an archive here in the UK which are still closed under the national security clause. They're part of Project Prodigal, and come from the atomic weapons research establishment and are talking about defeating projectiles. The interesting thing is the date on these files starts in 1950. It may well be this is the birth of modern composite armours. Anyway the first official work on what was to become the first of the Chobham family, then named "Burlington" started around 1960 or 1961, although the exact date is hard to pin point. Over the next fifteen years a lot of research was done.  In 1971 the British started to share some, but not all, of their research with West Germany and the United States. The data given to Germany had an immediate effect on their new tank design, the Leopard 2.
Leopard 2 prototype before Burlington...

...and after.
As the new German tank, and the new US tank, the XM-1 neared entry into service the British were considering their position. Firstly they were worried that the designs of the new allied tanks, especially the Leopard 2, would give away some of the secrets involved in the armour. Equally there had been several security leaks by the allies. British Intelligence also reported that even the Swedish Army had found out some details of Burlington and were considering it for the tank due to replace the S-Tank.
Finally the British were about to start construction of phase 3 FV4030 Shir tanks for Iran. This was equipped with armour called Pageant, although that seems to have been identical to Burlington. The size of the construction order meant that more and more people would be exposed to the secrets. All these factors combined with the risk of losing the prestige of this development meant that the British decided to make an announcement on 15th June 1976 to NATO about the special armour. The day before they decided to give Iran, Germany and the United States a warning that they were going to make the announcement, to prevent them from stealing the British thunder. The following day there was to be a press release.
Something missing from this M1? Maybe the armour inserts have been removed?
For the briefing they test fired some rounds to demonstrate the effect of the armour. A 152mm HEAT warhead, 120mm HESH round and a 120mm APDS round were all fired at a slab of Burlington. They also fired the same rounds at an identical weight slab of normal steel. Against the normal steel all rounds penetrated, against Burlington only the APDS created a slight bulge.

One of the earlier mentioned security breaches is rumoured to be a sample of the armour stolen from a West German lab in 1975. Its rumoured that elements of that sample influenced the T-80B's armour. However one big difference is the T-80 doesn't have the square sided look of modern western MBT's, so its unlikely it's the same armour.
Other changes include the US taking their version of the special armour and adding in layers of depleted uranium, there have been at least two upgrade packages in this. It also explains why US tanks have been heavier than their British counterparts. The British themselves continued to develop Burlington into Dorchester armour.
Nowt to do with the article, just a gratuitous tank photo...
There's one last thing to say. There is another secret file that is closed to the public sitting in an archive here in the UK. From the title it's a project designed to defeat Burlington armour. The title implies it somehow turns elements of the armour against itself to aid in its destruction. The project lasted from 1972 to 1979.

Of course all the above is likely to be in part wrong. As wrong as the experts who are quoted in this 1980's article on the M1 tank. Its well worth a read, just for some of the Chrysler responses.

Image credits:
media.moddb.com and www.panzerpower.de

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Last Iron Blow

Today's article was a request, sometimes on my Facebook page I ask for help selecting what articles to do. And someone asked for an article about an artillery duel. Well I finally got around to writing it!

In early May 1939 a brief but bloody war broke out between the Japanese and the Soviet Union, it was a fight over an utterly unimportant border area that ballooned out of all proportion. It escalated from a small action involving a couple of companies, over an undefined area of sandy desert into a huge war with multiple divisions on each side. This was called the Nomonhan incident (Or Khalkhin Gol to the Soviets).
The reason for the fight was a badly defined border. Simply put both sides thought the border ran elsewhere. So when a group of cavalry entered the area to look for grazing for their horses it started the ball rolling.

As the action escalated the Japanese had their first taste of employing tanks in modern combat. After the tanks had been withdrawn it left the Japanese infantry with a few light field guns on the battlefield. The Soviet forces had overwhelming support from heavy artillery. Unable to compete with this fire-power the Japanese couldn't operate during the day. Luckily the Japanese infantry was extensively trained in fighting at night, and so using these skills the Japanese managed to slowly push the Soviet forces back. The normal cycle of events would be a night time Japanese advance and close quarter fighting. Then the Japanese would fall back a short while and take cover and dig in during the day. If they stayed close to Soviet positions they'd get destroyed by the Soviet gunners. By creating a larger no-man's land they avoided the worst of the Russian fire.

As they neared the river the Japanese sent out infiltration parties to destroy Soviet bridges over the river. Most got through, although it's not possible to say how many Russian bridges there were, it may be that the Japanese got all but one of them. Certainly it looked that the Japanese could have won with another few nights of fighting. Then the Japanese were ordered to pull back, much to the infantry’s shock and dismay. The Japanese High Command had decided to try a grand offensive, instead of smaller skirmishing attacks. For this they'd decided to bring in the big guns.
A Selection of Japanese artillery captured at the end of the war
At the end of June the 3rd Heavy Field Artillery Brigade received orders to move out. Based at Ichikawa in Japan it moved to Osaka, then to Pusan, and finally by train to Hailar, the nearest railhead to the Nomonhan fighting. It was equipped with sixteen 15 cm type 96 howitzers and a similar number of Type 92 10 cm guns. Its personnel were well trained regulars and it was considered a model, if not even an elite unit of the Japanese Army. One of the Imperial Princes even served as an officer.
Another artillery unit with four 15 cm Type 89 guns, and a pair of unknown guns taken from the Port Arthur Fortress also joined the 3rd Heavy. Together, with the 1st artillery intelligence regiment, they formed an Artillery Corps.
Type 89 15cm Cannon in travel position
The Nomonhan front had many problems, for all forces. Such as very few landmarks, which made navigation tricky, or the lack of cover. For artillery there were added issues such as heat haze and incredibly clear air. The latter meant that visual ranging was often very imprecise, with errors of up to 4000 meters.
The lack of landmarks caused lots of trouble even just moving into position. The lone staff officer who was sent ahead to scout locations for the gun regiments to occupy had many false starts, and got lost several times before he found three suitable locations. Even then they were far from ideal. The officer then led each regiment into position personally, which meant him staying awake for several days in a row.

Another problem was the lack of ammunition. Japan had never needed large amounts of artillery in the war against China and therefore her production of rounds wasn't great. To compound the issue the rail head was 200 miles away from the fighting. Each day the supply trucks left Hailar at 0900, they reached the gun positions about 1600, where they unloaded and immediately returned to the railhead to load up again. Even so by late July 4800 rounds of 10 cm, 900 rounds of 15 cm cannon and 4000 rounds of 15 cm howitzer ammunition had been stockpiled.
With these supplies in position, and having completed surveys and registering locations of possible targets, the Japanese could prepare their grand offensive. For X-Day the following was planned:
1). All units ready and in position by 0500.
2). At 0730 preparation fire to draw enemy artillery fire and confirm their locations for 30 minutes.
3). At 0800 two hours of intense bombardment to destroy the enemy guns.
4). Finally at 1000 the infantry assault will be launched to clear the enemy from the Chinese side of the river.

The Japanese were expecting to cover the distance of several miles to the river in two hours, and herein lies one of the flaws of the Imperial Japanese Army; massive over confidence.

After three days of delays X-Day arrived on the 23rd of July 1939. When the guns opened fire there were cheers and applause from the Japanese infantry who had suffered for several months under Soviet bombardment.
The Japanese guns fired as fast as they could. The Type 92 10 cm guns on the first day fired about 117 rounds per gun, sometimes at the rate of one shell per minute. The guns became red hot. The Type 89 15 cm guns, firing two rounds every three minutes, became so hot they had to have wet rags wrapped around their gun barrels and water poured on them, slowly turning the guns from black to white. One battalion had to halt firing because the guns were so hot the shells were not ejecting, as the heat caused them to become stuck in the breeches. The empty cases had to be rammed out from the barrel end.
On the Soviet side when a gun pit was hit you could see parts of bodies, gun carriage and wheels thrown up into the air through six power binoculars. The Russians could be seen trying to move their guns back out of range of the Japanese artillery, although several 152 mm howitzers were sited in very strong positions and could continue to operate without interference. Russian counter fire was light and only a handful of casualties were sustained. Some of the casualties were self inflicted, at the end of the day the order to cease fire was given, however a shell had just been loaded into a gun. The officer in charge of the gun paused to ask permission to fire the last shell, when the hot gun caused the round to cook off in the chamber.
The Japanese officers were confident they'd utterly destroyed the enemy artillery, however in reality they'd had much less effect. This was partly due to the difficulty in reconnaissance. The lack of landmarks and the confusion between spotting and airborne photography, plus the Soviet habit of building dummy gun positions and guns had caused an element of confusion to creep into the target selection. In some cases multiple batteries were identified as one, in others one battery became several.
When the infantry assault was launched it ran straight into a whirlwind of Soviet artillery fire, and despite the best efforts of the Japanese infantry they couldn't advance. In the end the attack was called off.

The next day the orders were issued for "a last iron blow" to knock out the Soviet guns. During the night some officers of the force had requested that the Japanese guns be moved up right behind the infantry line, to push their range backwards. After a long argument some guns were moved forward. However these guns were spotted moving into position, and when they fired their first two rounds they were brought under heavy and accurate fire. One Russian shell landed just 5m from the command trench and the command staff for the unit deployed forward was nearly buried. The forwards guns played no further part on the 24th. Japanese accuracy was further degraded when the Russians blew up one of the few landmarks, the Sambur Obo. More Russian counter battery fire fell on this day, and the casualties were much higher. By the end of the day eight of the sixteen Type 92 10 cm guns were out of action.
Type 89 15cm ready to fire.
On the 25th the artillery duel was less intense. Despite its best efforts the Japanese infantry were unable to advance still, and the grand offensive was called off. The Japanese army would never again mount an offensive in this war. With the passing of the initiative the Soviet commander, Georgy Zhukov, was able to mass planes, armour and guns to utterly overwhelm the Japanese positions in August.

Image Credits:
http://www3.plala.or.jp/takihome/ and http://www.ww2incolor.com

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Killa Sherman

Once again I should caution you about taking everything here at face value. This article has been compiled from multiple sources, many of them contradictory about which types of tanks were knocked out. So just be aware of this, and that a lot of accounts seem to have used a drop of poetic licence, even reputable sources seem to have some of the facts wrong.

George Dring was born on 28th of May, 1917, to a blacksmith in the village of Fulbeck. As a blacksmith's son George had a lot of time with horses and became an accomplished horsemen. Because of his love of horse riding it's no surprise that in 1935 when he joined the army he joined a cavalry unit, namely the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry. His first role was that of farrier.
Sgt George Dring
The Yeomanry mustered in 1939 and was deployed to Palestine. In between 1939 and the outbreak of the North African War the Sherwood Rangers were converted to tanks. As is often the case looking into British units they pick up local words and turns of phrases that make it into the regimental speak. One word, still used in slang English today is "shufti". It comes from the Arab word "Shuf-tee" or "to have a quick look". Sgt Dring used to use the word to describe his habit of dismounting from his tank and reconnoitring ahead on foot before exposing his tank. Sgt Dring fought through all of North Africa, winning a military medal in 1943 when his actions made it possible to keep an advance going after flanking a German position that was holding up the squadron on his flank, despite being the focal point for the enemy's return fire. After North Africa the Sherwood Yeomanry was returned to the UK for the Invasion of Europe.

After landing on D-Day the Rangers took part in Operation Epsom. And here’s where a few sources start to get mixed up. Some say Sgt Dring was in command of a Firefly. His tank originally was called "Achilles", however by now Sgt Dring had the nickname "killer" as soon his tank was renamed "Akilla". Pictures of Sgt Dring and his tank clearly show it to be a 75mm armed Sherman.
Akilla and crew, Sgt Dring is on the left.
During Operation Epsom Sgt Dring was advancing with the rest of his squadron, when he saw a glint in the tree line ahead. It was light reflecting off the tracks of a Panzer IV. Sgt Dring's first round went through the driver’s vision port causing the tank to catch fire as the crew bailed out.
The advance continued, then suddenly Sgt Dring spotted the boxy shape of a Tiger at about 1000 yards. He began to traverse his turret when the Tiger fired, the round went whistling past his tank, and Akilla was able to return fire. The Sherman’s 75mm fired five rounds in rapid succession, the fifth round hit the driver’s periscope, which caused the crew to bail out in panic.

As Sgt Dring approached a crossroads his habit of getting out for a shufti payed off. He sneaked through a cornfield and saw five tanks in a copse of trees below him, suddenly one started moving out. This is where some confusion comes in. By Sgt Drings words it appears he thought it might be a new tank that had recently been reported by intelligence, a Jagdtiger. However with hindsight we know it can't have been. Sgt Dring does say it was a very large tank, which he'd ever seen before. However a later intelligence report simply calls it a "Panther", but Sgt Dring was familiar with Panthers. So your guess is as good as mine as to what it could have been, a King Tiger? A Jagdpanther? Or a normal Panther? Either way it was bad news for a 75mm armed Sherman! Sgt Dring reversed his Sherman a little way up a side road and waited, the enemy tank moved out in front of him, and his first shot hit it in the drive sprocket shredding the track and immobilising the tank. The crew promptly bailed out.

Next on his tally during this long day's fight is a Tiger at 1400 yards. Sgt Dring was engaging it, when his troop commander remarked that he was hitting a wall behind the tank. Sgt Dring fired again and replied:
"You don't see a brick wall spark like that!"
Of the six rounds fired at the tank four hit and the tank brewed up. Finally Sgt Dring spotted a Panzer IV, and fired two HE rounds at it to get the range of 1200 yards, and then a round of armour piercing that went through the tracks and destroyed the tank.
The shot up Tiger.

Sgt Dring had several other battles, however he was finally wounded near Germany when out for a shufti, he spotted a Panther which he thought had been killed. The Panther fired its main gun, and Sgt Dring lost three fingers on one of his hands.

Afterwards he worked with POW's, learning German. This set him up to for his work with the British Immigration Service in later life. Its sorry to say that George Dring suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for several years afterwards.
Shortly before his death on 12 January 2003 Mr Dring attended a renaming ceremony at the Imperial War Museum Duxford. The owner of the Duxford Sherman had links to the Sherwood Rangers, and so renamed the tank to Akilla. Mr Dring attended the ceremony, and deftly climbed into his tank again after many years.

Right tanks knocked out, and an explanation of the disclaimer. Which I want to talk you through to give you some idea of why I made the call I did within the narrative. We actually have several tanks that could be getting mixed up.
First you have a source saying:
"Then a Panther tank burst across the front from the right flank at full speed. Just about every tank in A Squadron fired at the new arrival." (Call this Right Tank)

Next you have the mystery tank from the story which I used in the article. Finally you have these outtakes from an intelligence report (which I must stress I've not seen myself, but I trust the guy who posted them).

"Next he came on a Panther at the crossroads, This he got with one shot with APC in front of sprocket and the crew baled out. Hit at normal and at about 500yds range. It brewed up"
"Next he took on a Tiger at 1400 yds just outside Rauray.
This tank has been seen and is much shot up. It now has one scoop in front
vertical plate, five penetrations in rear, four strikes with no penetrations in rear,
plus a scoop and one plate of engine hatch smashed."

So due to the similarity of the hit to the drive sprocket I lumped the mystery tank and the "Panther" together. I'm also wondering if the "Right Tank" was actually the Tiger, as it shows considerable damage like the entire squadron took a pop at it. Hope you understand why it's tricky sometimes to be certain, and why I sometimes include these disclaimers.

I should also point you towards one of my very earliest articles of another British tank Ace.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Gibraltar Fence (Part 2)

Seeing another pattern of smoke floats being laid HMS Anthony came steaming back into the area. The MAD Cats radioed that they were beginning their attack run, and HMS Anthony slowed to seven knots and shifted her course a little away so as not to interfere, although she was about 300m away when Lt Wooley dropped his payload. At 1656 Plane 15 made the first MAD attack run in history, firing 23 of his 24 retro bombs. One had failed to fire.
You can see the smoke floats, and the impacts from the two planes Retro-bomb attacks. The Wake belongs to HMS Anthony. In the distance another British destroyer approaches (HMS Wishart)
Ten seconds later Lt Baker's plane passed over the contact point and he dropped a smoke float on the MAD signal, looping round he made his attack run firing all 24 of his retro bombs about 120 seconds after Lt Wooley. Seeing both planes completing their runs HMS Anthony steamed in, laying a pattern of charges on the same point as the two planes had about 20 seconds after Lt Baker.

On U-761 the crew were utterly unaware of what was going on above them. Due to several thermal layers they were having difficulty with their depth. The bow was unexpectedly heavy and so they trimmed her off by blowing air. That's when the bombs started exploding. At 1702 U-761 bobbed to the surface, as she was a lot closer than expected, upon realising their mistake the crew quickly dove her down again.

U-761 bobs to the surface
By now another destroyer, HMS Wishart had arrived and made a depth charge attack, followed closely by HMS Anthony a second time.

HMS Wishart and HMS Anthony make repeated attack runs on U-761
On U-761 all the electrics were out, and only emergency lighting was working as well as a host of other damage, including in one compartment the smell of chlorine. At 1710 U-761 surfaced and the crew immediately began to abandon ship. The Chief Engineer attached a scuttling charge to a torpedo in the stern of the submarine. Captain Geider was the last man off, however the Chief Engineer became confused and began to swim towards the stern, he was mortally wounded by the detonation of the scuttling charge, and was rescued by Captain Geider.
Abandon Ship!
At this point a USAAF Ventura and a RAF Catalina appeared and put in attacks on the submarine, at 1717 and 1719 respectively. At about 1720 the submarine sank by the stern, leaving most of the crew in the water. The majority of the crew were rescued by HMS Anthony and HMS Wishart.
U-761 can be seen in the mist from the explosions in between the two Destroyers.
Following this encounter the patrol ships covering the Strait were given a more detailed briefing on the system being used, and what to do in its presence. However on March 16th another attempt to sneak into the Mediterranean was discovered. As the MAD Cats worked out their plots a French sloop escorting a French submarine entered the area and despite requests to abort they blithely sailed through the area ignoring all attempts to communicate. However after 30 minutes they re-acquired the track and made an attack. Nearby escorts heard the impacts on the submarine and moved in to also mount their attacks. The submarine never surfaced, but with wreckage and body parts seen in the water it was judged likely the attack had been successful.

HMS Wishart rescues the survivors.
 The Germans knowing something was up, but not exactly what tried again to sneak a boat into the Mediterranean on May 15th. This time they got two Spanish fishing boats to sail above the submarine. Presumably they assumed it was some sort of acoustic detection that was catching their submarines. However the wooden boats didn't mask the magnetic field of the submarine. The submarine was promptly attacked and after some hits surface vessels were requested. The surface vessels attacks sank the submarine causing a 12 mile oil slick.

Further reading/Image credits:
U-boat Archive has a full stack of documents and photographs, which is too much data for me to reproduce here, on the incident. For example: Want to know what type of camo scheme the MAD Cats had, its all there. It includes full reports from both pilots, and interrogation reports of Cpt Geider.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gibraltar Fence (Part 1)

U-761 hadn't had a glorious war. She was a VII C type U-boat built at Wilhelmshaven and commissioned on 2nd December 1942. During her first patrol under the 26 year old Captain Horst Geider she'd had a few close meetings with destroyers but was able to slip away in bad weather. Captain Geider wasn't exactly popular with his crew, he was seen as uncharismatic and overly cautious. While in port before their first patrol during a social evening, the Chief engineer had gotten a little drunk and had exchanged insults with Captain Geider. This had resulted in Captain Geider having the man arrested and court martialed, resulting in a three month prison sentence and a reduction in rank.
Captain Horst Geider
During U-761’s first patrol in winter 1943 in the North Atlantic, a period of stormy weather occurred. Cpt Geider ordered his boat to run on the surface in the face of the winter storms for several days. This left the crew soaked, five men were injured and the gun shield on the submarines quad 20mm mount was so damaged and warped the gun couldn't have been used.
At 0025 on 17 December 1943 the cook was in the forward battery compartment when the batteries exploded, injuring the cook, and releasing a large quantity of smoke. The fumes also  overcame an Engineering Officer. One suggestion was the heavy seas had prevented sufficient ventilation which had in turn caused the explosion. This caused U-761 to call short its patrol and return to base. At the base it received a retrofit, where the 88mm gun was removed and a new 37mm AA gun fitted, along with a general re-work of her smaller AA armaments.
VII C type U-boat similar to U-761's original set up
 On the 8th of February 1944 the refit was finished and she left Brest, with orders to slip into the Mediterranean, with the destination of Toulon. Cpt Geider was confident and upbeat about this, however some of his crew had served in that sea before, and the crew accepted the veterans experiences and soon became pessimistic. Around 35 U-boats had already made the passage of the Straits of Gibraltar, by approaching at night on the surface and then diving during the day and sailing through the deep water channel.
Even before U-761 reached the straits of Gibraltar things began to go wrong. Cpt Geider had complete faith in his airborne radar warning gear, and trusted it implicitly. So when he was subsequently illuminated on the surface by a Wellington bomber from 179 squadron at 0414 on the 19th, it came as a bit of a shock. Cpt Geider ordered all of the submarines AA weapons fired, however, the 37mm jammed immediately and the crew took cover. Another crew member came up from below decks and cleared the jam as the Wellington went hurtling overhead. Luckily for U-761 the Wellington had released its payload to late and the salvo of depth charges had sailed over the sub. U-761 promptly dived to safety.
 About 0500 on the 24th U-761 took its final bearing and submerged, at least twice more Cpt Geider raised his periscope to check his position. This would later be blamed by the crew for the fate that befell them. For U-761 was approaching its place in the history books, and heading directly towards a pair of MAD Cats.
The MAD Cats in this case belonged to the USAAF's 63rd Patrol Squadron. They were Catalina flying boats fitted with a Magnetic Airborne Detector, or MAD ("Anomaly" was used after the Second World War). Two of the squadron’s planes were on a continuous circuit over the deep water channel in the Strait of Gibraltar looking for any German submarines. This was known as the Gibraltar Fence. They'd been operating for over a month without a hit. Then at 1559 plane number 15 flown by Lieutenant Wooley got a signal. He was joined by another MAD Cat flown by Lieutenant Baker in plane number 14. One of the crew in Lt Baker's plane had a camera with him, and documented the rest of the action.

Both pilots began to fly a cloverleaf search pattern, on each pass they'd drop a smoke float which would mark the position of the strongest return on the MAD. After several passes you'd get two lines of smoke floats indicating the submarine’s course and speed. The pilot then could set the MAD to automatically fire its bombs on the next pass, or it could be done manually.
Lt Wooley performing a Cloverleaf patten. You can see the line of smoke floats dropped to mark the course of the U-761
 One oddity was the bombs used; as the MAD would fire when the signal was strongest then the bombs would have forward momentum and fly over the target. To prevent this the bombs known as retro bombs or officially as "Contact VAB MKVI" were used. These were rocket propelled bombs that fired backwards off the planes wing at around 100 knots. This meant that they had a forward speed of effectively nil, and would fall straight down. Each 65 lb retro bomb had a contact fuse, so if they touched the submarine they'd detonate.

As the two planes circled laying smoke floats on their track a nearby destroyer HMS Anthony approached to see what the fuss was about. However the Captain didn't know of the existence of the MAD system or how it worked. Having an ADISC contact she moved to attack, however her presence meant the MAD system got scrambled. To make matters worse the MAD cats had to fly at just 50 feet, and so were in danger of a collision with the destroyer which meant that both pilots had to break off their search pattern.
HMS Anthony arrives on scene
 HMS Anthony announced its intention to attack, but lined up on the wrong end of the smoke floats. When it was informed it was attacking the wrong location HMS Anthony turned about and steamed for the head of the line. However she didn't attack and her wake scattered the smoke floats already laid.
When HMS Anthony cleared the area, after some choice words from the Catalina's, Lt Baker then ordered Lt Wooley to begin a spiral search pattern, while he  performed several more cloverleaf patterns. After these became fruitless Lt Baker joined in the spiral search pattern. At 1645 their patience was rewarded with another MAD hit at about one mile south-southeast of the previous locations.

 The hunt was back on.

Image credits:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Operation Sealion

This was originally meant to be a "what's gotten my attention this week" post, however it started sprawling into a really long post, so I turned it into an article. It all started when I saw a YouTuber talking about the Churchill Gun Carrier. And he said something like "If the Germans had invaded we'd have been in trouble".
Now in the past I've been part of an overly long thread (which went to nearly 15000 posts) on the subject. It came about because one of the forum users was a die hard German fanboy and wouldn't take no for an answer, so in due course the rest of us had to dig up a lot of information to prove the point. And this led us to have a pretty good understanding of the subject. The YouTuber's comment got my inner-self muttering and so, here's the abridged version of Operation Sealion.

After Dunkirk and the fall of France both sides got ready for the next battles. It was Germany with the initiative, and looking at the time it took to prepare the invasion fleet and tides and moon conditions the best sort of time for the Germans to launch the invasion is about late September 1940, with about the 21st being the best combination of factors.

Now the first, and possibly the biggest myth of the entire scenario is that the German fleet, famously assembled from river barges could be sunk by a destroyer moving at high speeds. The Germans spent about 1/3rd of their fleets total carrying capacity on weight used to make modifications to the barges to improve their sea handling abilities. Unsurprisingly they also tested them, and found they did pretty well.
German Barge modifications in progress
No; Germany’s problems lay elsewhere. First Germany lacked the manpower to crew the barges. After trawling through the entire armed forces for anyone who had any experience of ship handling, even just sailing a dinghy on a lake at weekends, they were still several thousand sailors short. To complicate matters the plan for landing required the flotilla to approach the English coast then turn 90 degrees, sail parallel to the coast then to turn again to run into shore. All of that in darkness.
Next you'd have the issue of how ready to fight would the German troops be? The flotilla would have taken 24 hours to sail across the channel.

However all these issues pale in comparison to the biggest of Germany’s problems, being outnumbered. The Germans could muster ten destroyers for the protection of the invasion flotilla. Against this, in just the waters around the UK the Allies had 104 destroyers. In the area covered by the invasion alone the British had 40 destroyers. In smaller craft, such as MTB's and E-boats the situation was if anything even worse. The Germans could muster about 200 small craft. In the invasion area the British had about 2000. Some of the German plans to address this imbalance were laughable, such as the idea of taking car ferries and deploying 88mm AA guns on the decks.
This'll stop a Destroyer!
The other thing to remember was that the British had ships all over the world. The Admiralty had a codeword, Blackbird, which when received the ship was to immediately make best possible speed for the Channel. So the British forces would rapidly swell with reinforcements, while the Germans wouldn't get anything.

What about submarines though? Well here's where it gets even more interesting. At that period in the war the British actually had more submarines than the Germans! These were on patrol watching the channel ports for the departure of the invasion flotilla. When they saw it, they would radio the news back to the UK and then commence attacks on the flotilla.
From the German side things looked bad. Due to the removal of all the river barges to form the invasion flotilla, the German economy was in a dire way. Production was dropping, and in the case of torpedoes it had dropped so badly that the German stock would have been utterly exhausted by early September.

The Germans did however also plan to mine the channel, laying huge mine barriers on either side of their flotilla giving a safe corridor. Two issues here are even adding all the mines from captured and allied nations together they only had at best, half the required mines. Secondly British efforts towards minesweeping were clearing the mines faster than the Germans could get them into the sea.
Of course there's also Germany's air force, surely they could stop the Royal Navy. Well no, at the Dunkirk evacuation against destroyers moving slowly or stationary in coastal waters the might of the Luftwaffe managed to sink four destroyers. Instead they'd be up against destroyers moving at full speed in the open sea.
 Equally it'd be at night. The timings were such that the forces from the north of the UK would arrive amongst the flotilla just as darkness fell, then have twelve hours to smash the flotilla moving at a speed of four knots, and get beyond the range of the Luftwaffe.
A final issue for the Luftwaffe was at the time they lacked any armour piercing bombs capable of hurting the deck armour of British warships.
Lets however ignore the above and assume the Germans made it ashore, and that they could even supply their forces (Consider the life expectancy of a German merchant ship in the Channel, or parked on the coast trying to unload without a port, with MTB wolf packs sailing about and bombers from coastal command overhead). First you have to consider the terrain. The area selected as the logical point for the invasion was as close to the French side of the Channel as possible. The British had known this was the biggest danger for over a century. During the Napoleonic Wars a large waterway was constructed as an obstacle to bottle any would be invader up in that area of the country and also be easily defensible. This is called the Royal Military Canal, during the period it had forces dedicated to manning it.
The British had dug in in depth, but in the Midlands there was a fully equipped Armoured Division waiting to counter attack. Its interesting to note that after Dunkirk British tank production increased, while at the same time decreasing the amount of light tanks they built. Against this wall of armour the Germans had a few Tauchpanzers and PAK-36 anti-tank guns. The British were so confident that during August 1940 they were shipping divisions out to go and fight in North Africa.

So where did the popular thinking on the period come from? The one about the British stalwartly defending their homes with knives lashed to broom handles? Its all a brilliant piece of propaganda designed to make the country pull together and fight. Although there was simply no threat to the UK, the appearance of a threat as displayed by the British Ministry of Information got the entire population to move from its peacetime ways of thinking onto a Total War footing, something Germany didn't manage until much later in the war. Equally the story of the few, the RAF's pilots defending the UK from certain defeat came about as the British morale needed a victory.
But of course if you don't believe me, there is one other thing to consider. In 1974 the  Royal Military Academy Sandhurst held a wargame to simulate the German invasion as best as is possible. Before any accusation of bias gets levelled at the exercise there was a team of umpires. The British umpires were:
Air Chief Marshal Christopher Foxley-Norris
Rear Admiral Teddy Gueritz
Major General Glyn Gilbert

From Germany:
General Adolf Galland
Admiral Friedrich Ruge
General Heinrich Trettner

So people who had been on opposing sides, and all in position during the war. All the umpires agreed that the German force was wiped out.

Image credits:
www.urbanghostsmedia.com, upload.wikimedia.org and www.kurkijoki.fi

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Today I need your help. I found this in a document. Anyone have any idea what it is referring to? As it doesn't seem to match any armoured car I know of. Date is April 1942, and its not a Staghound as that has different armament and was built by Chevrolet. Anyway, on with the article.

On the 31st of December 1944 a thick blanket of fog covered East Anglia. Eventually it lifted and from Thorpe Abbotts airfield the 100th Bombardment Group took to the skies. Their target was Hamburg. However first they had to get into formation. All the B-17's in the mission circled around until they broke through the cloud cover, and slowly formed up, and turned out towards the North Sea.
In the formation were two planes, the first was named Little Skipper and flown by Lieutenants Glenn H Rojohn and William G Leek. The Second was Nine Lives piloted by Lieutenants William MacNab and Nelson Vaughn. After flying over the North Sea the formation turned for Hamburg, flying directly down the Elbe river. The flak was so intense it seemed to turn the sky black.
In Little Skipper Lt Rojohn carried on losing sight of the lead plane as his B-17 was buffeted by the flak, so he had to hand over control to his co-pilot. After releasing their bombs the formation turned and headed back the way they'd flown in.
Crew of Little Skipper
As the formation crossed out to sea they were pounced upon by German fighters. In moments nine aircraft were shot down. Even as Lt Rojohn watched the plane in front of him was hammered and peeled downwards with flames spewing from her. The death of that 10th B-17 had left a gap in the formation through which enemy fighters could swarm. As a B-17's only defence was the interlocking guns of the formation, Lt Rojohn knew the gap needed to be filled and powered his plane forward to get into the position.

Suddenly the radio barked out a warning, at the same instant there was a juddering impact. Little Skipper had collided with Nine Lives. During the impact one of Little Skippers propeller blades had become wedged in the engine of Nine Lives. Her ball turret was rammed into the fuselage. And the guns from the upper turret on Nine Lives had pierced the skin of the Little Skipper. The result was that the two planes were mated together. The damage caused to Nine Live’s engine by the propeller caused it to burst into flames.
Lt Rojohn tried breaking free by flying on full power, however, the two planes were locked tightly together. In Nine Lives the ball turret gunner suddenly lost all power, so he used the emergency crank to get his turret to a position where he could get out. As he climbed out he could see the ball turret of Little Skipper wedged into the planes compartment with the airmen still trapped inside.

In the cockpit of Little Skipper Lt Rojohn and Lt Leek had feathered their engines and the two planes were now flying on the three engines of Nine Lives. To keep the planes level the two pilots had to brace their feet on the control panel and haul the steering column to their chests. They managed to wrestle the planes back towards shore as the crews from both planes began to bail out. Two of the crew of Little Skipper stayed on desperately trying to free the ball turret gunner but they were thwarted by the damage. There was nothing they could do to free the turret from the mangled skin of Nine Lives.
The German flak gunners on the ground witnessed the impact, and seeing the plight of the plane as it descended slowly streaming smoke held their fire. Despite this Little Skipper began to take incoming fire. Machine gun ammunition was being set off by the heat from the spreading fire causing bullets to randomly rip through the plane. At this point Lt Rojohn ordered Lt Leek to bail out. Lt Leek refused point blank knowing that without him Lt Rojohn's chances were none, as the plane would plummet into a nose dive as soon as he left the controls.
Together they decided to try and land the two planes. Near Tettens, not far from Wilhelmshaven at about 1300 the two planes impacted the ground. Nine Lives exploded immediately flinging the forward section away from the explosion. When this wreckage came skidding to a halt both pilots managed to scramble out through a tear in the planes skin onto the wing.
As he sat there Lt Rojohn reached for a cigarette as he watched a German soldier approach. The German shouted angrily at him, and pointed to the wing. It was at this moment Lt Rojohn noticed the whole area was covered in fuel from the ruptured wing tanks.

From both the crews, most of the airmen survived; four from Nine Lives and seven from Little Skipper. A couple landed at sea and were lost. The pilots of Nine Lives were killed, so there is no way to find out why the collision happened. Unable to be freed, the ball turret gunner on Little Skipper was killed in the impact with the ground. Lt Rojohn was interrogated by the Germans fearful of a new 8 engined super bomber coming into USAAF service, although after two weeks they realised what had happened. The survivors remained as POW's for the remainder of the war. Captain Rojohn died in 2003 and Lt Leek in 1988.

Image credits:
www.piggybackflight.com, wallpaperest.com, www.geocities.ws, northstargallery.com and www.grissomairmuseum.com

Sunday, July 5, 2015

East meets West

 Mid-week quiz: Earlier in the week I asked you what this was. Answer after the article.

Part one can be found here.

In the darkness one of the midget submarines, I-20b, crewed by Lt Akieda Saburo and PO1C Takemoto Masami slipped into the harbour. Only two ships were on patrol at the mile wide harbour entrance. It's no wonder they missed the six foot wide submarine.
Type A Midget submarine as carried by a Japanese sub.
Lt Saburo piloted his tiny craft to a point where he could get a shot in at HMS Ramillies. His first torpedo ran true and impacted just forward of A turret, ripping a 20-30 foot hole in the side of the ship. Although taking on a list and having to flood their magazines the battleship remained afloat, saved by its anti-torpedo bulges.
However the sudden loss of weight caused by the firing one of the torpedoes meant that I-20b was suddenly buoyant and floated to the surface. An Indian lookout on the nearby tanker British Loyalty spotted the conning tower of the submarine. Someone on the tanker managed to get an anti-aircraft gun pointed in the direction of the midget submarine and squeezed off a burst. The volley flew wide and the submarine submerged before he could re-aim.
Tanker British Loyalty
The British escorts then started steaming about dropping depth charges and trying to find the Japanese midget. But the shallow waters frustrated the ASDIC system. Remarkably Lt Saburo stayed in the harbour, and manoeuvred for a killing shot on HMS Ramillies. He lined up his second shot and fired. The torpedo ran true again, however just before impact the British Loyalty steamed in-between the torpedo and the battleship. The tanker had been making a break for open water to avoid being torpedoed, however, this meant that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time for her, but inadvertently saved HMS Ramillies.

With both the I-20b's torpedoes gone Lt Saburo set course for the open sea, and the rendezvous point. However they didn't get far as their batteries were depleted. With no power the two Japanese sailors set their scuttling charge and left the boat but the charge failed to detonate. Both men reached the shore, where they approached natives and asked to be ferried to the mainland, which the natives happily helped them with.
Their new plan is to reach a rendezvous point on the northern tip of the island, to be picked up by their mother submarine.
The only picture I could find of the Crew. Lt Saburo is seated.
At 1100 on the 1st of June both Japanese sailors approach locals in Anijabe village. They explained they're enemies of the British, but allies of the French and wish to avoid the British forces. They also attempted to purchase food, then leave the village.

One of the locals immediately went and found a patrol of British soldiers, these were from 5 Commando. The native explained about the visit of a pair of odd looking Chinese men, with pistols and curved swords, it appears the native wanted a payment for the information.
The Commandos set off in pursuit of the Japanese and cornered them at Amponkarana Bay. The Commandos asked the Japanese to surrender, but they ducked into cover and opened fire, killing one of the Commando's. After a short firefight there is a lull, and two shots rang out. Both Japanese sailors had shot themselves instead of risking capture.
Despite a prolonged search the Japanese mother submarines couldn't find any sign of the two midgets they launched. Eventually the subs left the area, apart from I-20 which stayed on station until the 3rd of June. On that day I-20 spent the day on the surface firing flares trying to signal the midget crew. Eventually as dark fell I-20 left the area.
In 1972 a monument was erected at the site of the Japanese officers deaths. In 1976 a more official plaque was set up.

Image credits:
www.pacificwrecks.com and www.combinedfleet.com 

Quiz answer:
It's a Challenger.... An A30 Challenger to be exact. Designed to investigate the way remote vision and laying work. The gun is a 75mm recoilless rifle.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Ironclad War (part one)

HMS Ramillies was a Revenge class battleship that was launched during World War One. Although during that war she didn't see any action, this was not to be the case during the Second World War. As an older design she was relegated to secondary roles, one of which was a very interesting campaign against the French and Japanese.
HMS Ramillies
After the Iraqi War in May 1941 it was quickly realised that the Vichy French forces controlling France's empire were an issue. It allowed Axis nations access to strategic bases across the world. Equally the French had armed forces stationed in these nations, which could pose a threat. So a series of campaigns were launched to seize French held territory. In June and July the French possessions in the Middle East were captured during Operation Exporter, removing the threat from them to the British rear in Africa, and its ability to influence the Middle East.
There remained one final French thorn, Madagascar. It sat right on the main British shipping routes between Africa and the India. Part of the force that had disposed of the Golden Square in Iraq had sailed past its shores. The French had a handful of submarines based on the island, but there was a larger threat, what if the Japanese were to station some of their formidable ocean going submarines on the island? Transport between the Middle East, South Africa and India would become vastly harder, if not impossible.
This was no idle threat either. In April 1942 the Japanese deployed a detachment of submarines and support vessels to travel to Madagascar. But due to the distances involved it would take several weeks to reach the area.

By sheer coincidence the British were also moving to Madagascar, the old warship HMS Ramillies lead a force of ships, including two carriers, to the island to conduct Operation Ironclad. This was the invasion of the island. The initial plan was for a landing at the north of the island to capture the main city and port. On the 5th of May 1942 the flotilla arrived at the island. One of the first actions was when a flight of Swordfish from HMS Illustrious attacked and sank one of the French submarines. The allies landed and began an 18 mile march to the capital city, facing fierce resistance from the French Foreign Legion.
One of the French Submarines
On May the 7th the deadlock was broken when a party of 50 Marines from HMS Ramillies was transferred to the destroyer HMS Anthony. She sailed around the north of the island and approached the capital from the seaward side. She steamed into the defended harbour under intense gunfire at about 0800 in pitch darkness. With no pilot she managed to halt next to a wharf and the Marines charged ashore. The Marines had orders not to attack the heavily defended locations in the shape of the barracks and the main armoury. However within half an hour they had captured both, causing immense confusion. After being taken by surprise in the rear by the Royal Marines the rest of the French defence crumbled, although fighting continued to the south of the island for some time, the main port was in British hands.
HMS Anthony
The following day a third and final French submarine made an attack on the carrier HMS Indomitable. She dodged the torpedo and her escorts pounced on the French submarine.

At 2230 on  the 29th of May an unknown plane was spotted above the harbour. HMS Ramillies immediately weighed anchor and began to steam about the harbour, but when no attack was forthcoming she re-anchored.
The plane was a reconnaissance plane from the Japanese submarines. Only two had made it, the other had suffered damage from bad weather. The Japanese had missed their window, if they had left a month earlier the British fleet might not have even made it to the island whilst being under attack by the Japanese submarines.
The Japanese submarines were carrying midget submarines, and an attack by these was scheduled for 0230 on May the 31st. On the evening of the 30th two midget submarines were launched. One was never seen or heard of again, and its wreck has yet to be discovered.

The tale of the other Midget Submarine can be found here.

Image credits:
Wikipedia.org, www.warshipsww2.eu, freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com and 3.bp.blogspot.com