Purpose of this blog

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

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.

Part two will be next week. 

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The last Battle

If I were to ask you when the final battle between a Panzer IV and a Sherman took place, what would be your answer?

How many people said 1945? Well it was later than that, a lot later. During the 1967 Six Day War in fact. After their defeat in the Israeli War of Independence and the following years the Syrians brought in advisers to help train their army. These were predominantly German ex-soldiers. These advisers convinced the Syrians they needed more armour. So the Syrians went shopping and from about 1959 they started to acquire Panzer IV's, Stug IIIG's, a handful of Jagdpanzer IV's and even the odd Hummel. The tanks seem to have been sourced from both Czechoslovakia and France, although some may have come from Spain as well. They saw action on the Golan heights during the War over Water. However when the Israelis deployed Centurions the old German tanks were forced back. The Syrians then started to receive Russian support, such as T-34/85's and T54's. From then on the tanks remained in positions on the Golan heights.
At the start of the Six Day War the Syrians tried a limited offensive. However due to a variety of reasons (and a good study of "how not to do it") the attack was defeated. One of the reasons was bridge width, as the tanks advancing were too wide for the bridges, and the Syrians lost several tanks drowned in rivers. The other major factor was the Israeli Air Force mounting a sustained and deadly attack after catching the Syrian Air Force on the ground. After the attack was defeated the Syrians restricted themselves to firing bombardments into Israel. For their part the Israelis didn't want to push the Syrians to avoid fighting on too many fronts. However this changed on the 9th of June when the Israelis attacked.
The 8th Armoured Brigade consisting of M50 and M51 Shermans attacked. Around Tel Faher and  Tel Azaziat there were several Panzer IV's, and at least one Stug III. One source suggests there was four Panzer IV's at Tel Faher.  All the German tanks were well dug in with minefields and infantry. The infantry were armed with Soviet anti-tank weapons.
The view from the trenches of Tel Azaziat looking into Israel
The Israelis attacked with eight Sherman Dozer's leading the advance to clear the minefields, however five were destroyed by defending fire. The 8th Brigade also took heavy losses in Shermans.
In the early afternoon after pushing forward in half tracks the Israeli forces had reached the base of the hills that the Syrian positions were on. However the crawl across the open ground had cost them dearly. Only 25 soldiers remained combat ready. These were split into two groups who stormed the two fire bases. At Tel Azaziat of the 13 men who attacked only three survived the assault. At Tel Faher the casualties were worse. Of the 12 attackers only one man survived.
During this battle at least one of the Sherman's destroyed a Panzer IV. A study of the wrecks in the area shows that one of the Stugs was hit three times by a Sherman, and a fourth hole was caused by ammunition cooking off and punching out from the inside of the vehicle.

Image credits:
www.ww2incolor.com, i2.guns.ru and idf-armor.blogspot.co.uk

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cars and Bridges

Today is another request, I was asked about armoured cars. Reconnaissance units often roam ahead of the main forces, but don't hang about once the heavy mob show up in tanks, so finding accounts of battles is actually quite tricky. However I did find the following video from a British army training film.

This is an organisation from earlier in the war. The motorcycle elements of the platoon were removed for the later war. To give you some idea of the life of an armoured car unit here's a series of extracts from the 11th Hussars war diary.

I'm scouting for Tigers! Maybe a captured dingo. Or maybe the Autoblinda Lince. An exact copy of the Dingo built by the Italians. Which goes to show you how useful a little vehicle the dingo was.

During the 21st Army group's advance across Europe after D-Day one of the major tasks armoured car units had was to find suitable bridges. Shortly after they arrived in Normandy the 2nd Household Cavalry squadron was due to take part in Operation Goodwood, however due to the nature of that battle the light armoured units were not deployed. The next major operation was Operation Bluecoat, and this time the 2nd Household Cavalry were deployed.

Lieutenant Dickie Powell, of C Squadron was leading his armoured car troop of two Daimler Dingos and two Daimler Armoured Cars through the narrow Bocage country. The rear most Daimler broke down and blocked the road, and prevented the Dingo bringing up the rear from passing.
Lt Powell continued on with his mission. Their first contact was a German sentry who tried to flee, but a grenade from the Dingo stopped him dead. Grenades were often used as a random explosion near the front is hard to identify and reduced the risk of giving the location of the patrols away.
Coming round a corner they quickly came across a large number of anti-tank guns, however the patrol managed to charge through the AT gun's killing zone, leaving a few more grenades with the German gunners. Still probing forward they found a bridge over the River Souleuvre still intact, this bridge was six miles behind enemy lines. Unbeknownst to Lt Powell however, a number of Panther tanks were covering the bridge.

The Daimler set up covering the bridge, and the tiny Dingo scuttled across. Quickly hiding in a bush the crews from both cars dismounted and with only small arms they held the bridge, with two men at each end. The 5th man stayed in the Daimler to use the radio and try and get the vital information through to headquarters. The dismounts had to dispose of several Germans quietly, holding on for several nerve wracking hours until an armoured spearhead arrived.
Born on February 2nd 1923, Rupert Buchanan-Jardine was also serving in the 2nd Household Cavalry, as a Lieutenant in D Squadron. As well as being a keen rider, Jardine spoke fluent faultless German, having picked up the language from his German nanny. He'd joined the Cavalry straight from school due to a love of horses and riding. However his first taste of action was when a German bomber scattered its payload of incendiaries over his boarding schools roof. Jardine was part of the fire watch and had scaled up onto the school's roof to tackle the fires. He was commissioned in 1942, and then deployed with the 2nd Household Cavalry to Normandy.
Lt Jardine (Standing outside he Dingo), with the group of Dutch Civilians.
In early September Lt Jardine was the first Allied soldier to enter Holland. Riding in a Dingo, and accompanied by a Dingo from another troop Lt Jardine led a patrol into occupied Holland to check on a bridge south of Eindhoven.
Shortly after crossing the border Jardine came under heavy enemy fire. Like Lt Powell Jardine used the small size and the Dingo's excellent mobility to just charge through the lines. The tough armour on the Dingo kept the German bullets away, and its speed meant that the German anti-tank weapons never came close.
The Crew of the other Dingo in Lt Jardine's patrol. Again Photographed with the Dutch Civilians. Lance corporal of horse Brook (The one with the mosutache big enough to put the fear of god into the Germans!), and Trooper Bateman.
Five miles later they approached the bridge they stopped to observe and they saw a Panzer IV guarding the bridge. They remained in that position for about half an hour. While waiting a crowd of local civilians approached them thinking liberation had come. One of the locals had a camera, which is where the photographs here come from.
With the Germans approaching, time to leave.
The civilians warned Lt Jardine that the Germans were approaching and trying to catch them after blowing through their front line. With this warning Lt Jardine led his patrol back towards Allied lines. Again they roared through the Germans that were hunting them with no casualties, although almost every item carried outside of the armour was shredded by German small arms. Incensed by the escape of the patrol the Germans shot several of the civilians. 
For his role in this reconnaissance he was awarded a Military Cross, and for being the first soldier into Holland, The Bronze Lion of The Netherlands.

Lt Jardine used his German on a couple of occasions. Once he was ordered to find out how strongly a town ahead of the advance was held. Instead of a classic reconnaissance which would put his men at risk he simply phoned up the German commander in the next town, and started shouting questions down the phone in perfect German. Amazingly this trick worked and he was able to find out all the information on the strength of the defending forces.
Another time Lt Jardine headed into the woods after breakfast to relieve himself. As he squatted behind a tree a German raced up to him trying to surrender. Lt Jardine's only response was "Go and wait over there until I have completed my business!"

Lt Jardine retired from the army in 1949 as a Major. He then studied Estate Management and Forestry, before moving back to his family's home in Scotland where he ran their lands, and became master of their hounds. He died aged 87 on August 24 2010.

Image credits:
daimler-fighting-vehicles.co.uk (Note: This is a very good site for all things Daimler armoured car/Dingo related. Well worth a visit) and warlordgames.com.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sticks and Stones

Before we get on with today's article, I'd like to ask your opinion. Earlier in the week I mentioned I'm working on some books. My current plan is here. However what I'd like to know is which book should I do second?
You can vote here

Today's article is another request.

 In 1935 the Italian armed forces launched an invasion of Ethiopia. Whilst the Italians were a modern army with all the aspects we'd recognise today the Ethiopians had manpower and a few antiquated guns. While it appears some weapons were centrally sourced, most were acquired from arms dealers, and the price for even basic small arms in the opening days of the war in Addis Ababa reached astronomical levels. The Italians also had modern artillery, air forces and tanks. Ironically the Ethiopians had Italian tanks as well, but from a generation earlier. The Imperial bodyguard had four FIAT 3000's. One, a 3000A had been gifted to the Emperor in 1925. In 1930 three FIAT 3000B's were purchased.
Eritrean Elephants towing artillery during the invasion
The Ethiopians lost the war, and almost every battle. On occasion they were able to inflict large casualties. One large attack by the Ethiopians led to a sixteen hour slugging match in which their FIAT 3000's were deployed, to no effect.
But during one battle the Ethiopians did win, and push the Italians back, this battle happened at the start of the Christmas offensive, and despite the presence of Italian tanks the poorly armed Ethiopians were able to win. This is known as the battle of Dembeguina Pass.

15th of December 1935 was the middle of the dry season. The river Beghemder in the valley of Takazze was very low due to the lack of rain, a pair of fords crossed it separated by nine miles. At one ford, on the main mule track in the area stood a small stone fort manned by Italian troops.
In the early hours of the morning a large force of Ethiopians led by Fitaurari Shifferaw, and accompanied by his 80 year old father Fitaurari Negash, arrived at the ford after a long night march. The Ethiopians quickly overran the surprised defenders and wiped the fort out, then pushed on towards Dembeguina Pass.
Ethiopian Troops
The pass was held by a force of Italian and Eritrean infantry, who formed colonial regiments and a large part of the attacking Italian force. The Italians also had eight CV-35 tankettes nearby.
As the Ethiopians approached the unaware Italian forces, the Italians had the luck to send out a routine patrol. As soon as the Ethiopians spotted this patrol they fired on them from extreme range, the Italian patrol immediately turned and fled back to its larger force. The undisciplined Ethiopians started a headlong charge after their fleeing enemies.
Major Crinti, the Italian commander at the pass immediately radioed for help, and the eight CV-35 tankettes commanded by Capitano Ettore Crippa responded. When they arrived on the scene the Ethiopians hadn't arrived so one of the tankettes was sent forwards to find out what was happening. As it advanced it ran into the leading elements of the Ethiopian Army. The little tank began to chop up the charging Ethiopians with its twin machine guns. The Ethiopians lacked anything bigger than a rifle and so couldn't knock it out. All of their bullets and arrows were turned aside by its armour. In the face of this obstacle the Ethiopian vanguard began to retreat.
One Ethiopian soldier whom had been one of the lead element was armed with nothing more than a sword. His name was Tashemm. His rank was Balambaras, which has no real equivalent that we might recognise. It essentially means he was a trusted person. Tashemm crawled out of the tankettes line of fire and moved round behind it. Sneaking closer he concocted his plan. He climbed up on the rear of the tank and hammered on the hatch with his sword pommel yelling in Italian "Open! Open!". Immediately the crew of the CV-35 opened their hatches with fatal results.

You might ask why the Italians opened up their hatches. The answer is these simple machines lacked radio's and so had to communicate by word of mouth. At another battle later in the war a large number of tankette crews were killed and wounded simply because they had to open their hatches to communicate.
With the guarding CV-35 tankette knocked out the Ethiopian army swept forward. Maj Crinti then lead his forces forward to meet the attacking Ethiopians. The Italian's sharp and aggressive attack came very close to routing the Ethiopians, it was only the presence of Fitaurari Shifferaw, their chief that held the force together. As more pressure was brought on the Italians they realised they couldn't continue the attack and fell back to a hill. The Italians then tried to entrap the Ethiopians by sending forth their baggage train, hoping the ill disciplined Ethiopians would attack it and loot it. However the Ethiopians saw the danger and failed to take the bait, and a very intense firefight erupted.

Italian Colonial unit (Eritrean's)
This firefight ended when the Italians tried to surrender, as their position became more desperate. The Italians tried to surrender, by standing up from their positions behind the rocky cover with their hands up.
This gesture had no meaning to the Ethiopians, and not understanding what the Italians were trying to do, just saw it as an opportunity to kill more enemy.

After the attempted failure to surrender the Italians launched another assault, during which they killed Fitaurari Shifferaw. As the vicious battle waged around Fitaurari Negash, he was mourning the loss of his son and the Ethiopian troops again started to waver. Fitaurari Negash was approached by the forces Confessor, who told him
"I will take care of your son, but you will be damned if you don't avenge him!"
Ethiopian Leaders
Fitaurari Negash immediately began to rally his son's forces and close in on the Italians.
The Italian’s assault had been a breakthrough aiming to get from their position to a place where their trucks and the remaining tankettes were in order to retreat from the enemy. The rallied Ethiopians didn't give them the breathing space needed to mount the trucks and were on them instantly.
The lorries were easily burned by the Ethiopians but the tanks took more work. Using levers and weight of numbers the Ethiopians wrestled with the three ton CV-35’s. Three of them were turned on their side using nothing more than sturdy sticks. As they tipped the fuel tanks on the CV-35's began to leak, and a small pool of fuel surrounded each one. The Ethiopians happily set fire to this to destroy the tanks. Another CV-35 threw a track, and a final one had the crew killed.
The last two CV-35's were captured intact around 1600 when a second force of Ethiopians who had been sent to the other ford over the river arrived at the battle.
The Italian forces began to run back down the road on foot, towards Enda Selassie with the Ethiopians in pursuit. The Italians were unable to break free when they reached the town so they halted and a vicious close combat fight developed. The Italians had no hope and were defeated. However the days fighting and the long distances it covered meant that the Ethiopians were exhausted, so they halted for the night.

The following day the Italians deployed a Blackshirt unit in trucks supported by even more CV-35's. From the descriptions of what happened next it seems the column was driving along a road on the side of a ridge or rocky hill when the Ethiopians ambushed them. They started by rolling large boulders down the hill, which blocked the road and smashed into the leading CV-35's. The driver of the lead tankette was also killed.
Two CV-35's slipped (or were hit by the boulders) and fell off the road and became bogged down on the hillside. Two more had torches thrown under them which caused them to catch fire. With the road blocked and the column being destroyed the Italians retreated.
(Actually a picture from Greece in WWII I think)
This marked the high point of the Ethiopian attack. It also had much worse consequences. With the very real threat of an Ethiopian offensive keeping the momentum the Italians deployed chemical weapons from bombers. Against mustard gas the Ethiopians had no defence whatsoever. From then on in the war the Italians reigned dominant, although as I said earlier they occasionally took heavy casualties. That said the battle of Dembeguina pass wasn't that bloody, despite its close combat and the forces measuring in the thousands on both sides. Only 382 Ethiopians were killed with 256 wounded. The Italian casualties are harder to assess, due to the Italians trying to downplay their losses and the Italians blind spot for losses their colonial regiments took. So a best guess is about 250 killed on the Italian side.

Image credits:
ecadforum.com, amedeoguillet.files.wordpress.com, media-3.web.britannica.com, martinplaut.files.wordpress.com, wikimedia.org, tanks-encyclopedia.com and avalanchepress.com

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hail Hydran!

 Thanks to Vollketten from the NA server for his help with this article.

Tiny engineering companies sprang up all over the place before the Second World War. Some make it big and expand into the giant companies with names we all recognise such as Vickers, however, many are lost to history. One such company was Hydran Products Ltd. This company sticks in your mind simply because of the work of one of its designers, Mr Lewis Motley.
I can't give you much details about either the company or Mr Motley, as this information is lost. I know both their addresses, as it's listed on their patents. Hydran Products was based at the Hydra Works, Gresham Road, Staines. Mr Motley's address was at Clapham Common, some 17 miles away, so he had a daily commute of about an hour; assuming the Germans hadn't bombed his railway. The earliest mention of Hydran Products was in 1937, when they started producing oil burners to provide heat.

This seems to have been their one product until the war broke out. After the war they worked on street lighting. At some point before 1971 the company closed and vanished from our sight. However it left several ideas and patents from the years between the wars. And they all stemmed from Mr Motley's remarkable imagination.

The first entry in the war years is in 1940, when Hydran Products designed a new belt feed system for the Ministry of Aviation and its Hispano 20mm cannon. Hydran Products was also asked to design and build 3750 mountings for twin Vickers HMG's to be used in the AA role. This I suspect was the majority of the company's war work.
However in July of 1942 Mr Motley submitted an ambitious design to the Gunnery School at Lulworth, and with it roars into the historical record, showing off his special kind of genius. It consisted of a Universal Carrier, with much thicker armour to the front of the vehicle. On the rear, mounted on the engine deck, is a turntable. That turntable has four gun barrels fitted, each barrel comes preloaded and sealed at the breech end. The round inside the gun is fired electrically, and to absorb the recoil the entire barrel flies off the back of the carrier. After the four tubes have been fired the Carrier retires to reload.
Mr Motley envisioned the Carriers approaching at high speed and making attack runs like Motor Torpedo Boats do against larger ships. After all if you have Cruiser tanks in the desert, why not MTB tanks?

Mr Motley then goes quiet on the new design front until 1944, when he seems to have found out about rockets, and turned his mind to their use. Obviously what is needed is a rocket gun, but not just any old rocket gun, one that has a selectable rate of fire like an assault rifle. On April 4th 1944 Mr Motley submitted this patent:
The gun is fed from the top, with each rocket projectile dropping down into the breech. However there was one slight design flaw, if the previous rocket failed to launch the next round would cause the entire thing to explode. Additionally the soldier would be holding the weapon when the round launched and would get exposed to the full blast of the rocket motor.

To combat this Mr Motley submitted another patent on July 17th, in which he launched a liquid fuel rocket with a gunpowder charge, and once away from the barrel the rocket would ignite. In May 1945 he submitted a similar patent for the same principle with solid fuel rockets.

By December 1944 he was ready with another patent, this time to combat the issue of the exploding gun if there was a failure to launch. As you can see it's a large drum, with a "timing shoe" at the muzzle, so that the rocket during launch presses the timing shoe allowing the next chamber to move into position, and so can only be fired when the barrel is clear.
After this Mr Motley carried on working on the ideas for rockets submitting patents for a worm drive loader, feeding from multiple magazines (to save space) in April 1945. A belt feed for rocket loading, with each belt holding 100 rockets, in June. Finally in November a method of loading using something akin to the blowback principle.
Of course at this point World War Two was over, and it was a new world. Apart from the patent work on street lighting Mr Motley and Hydran Products disappears from the historical record.

Image credits:
www.vickersmachinegun.org.uk and www.gracesguide.co.uk

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hero Carrier

Mid week quiz: This week I asked you to identify this tank. Answer as usual after the article.

Last week I was asked to do an article on the humble British Carriers, so here it is.

The carrier series has several names, the two most common ones are the Bren Gun Carrier and the Universal Carrier. what many people don't realise is those two are different vehicles. But as the Universal Carrier came after the Bren Carrier was introduced, they are often misnamed Bren Carriers. The main difference is the body of the Bren Gun Carrier has a small sloped armoured compartment on the back, capable of fitting one man, while the Universal Carrier has the famous square box all the way around the back.

The role of the Bren Gun Carrier was, as its name suggests, to carry the two men of a Bren Gun or Boys Rifle team and their weapon under light armour.
The Carrier was given to infantry units to provide a utility vehicle to do several tasks, however infantry commanders often saw it as armoured, and therefore a tank. This, or dire circumstance, often led to the little Carrier being thrown into the front line of battle.
the honourable Christopher Furness
 Lieutenant Christopher Furness commanded a section of Bren Gun Carriers belonging to the 1st Welsh Guards in 1940 as part of the BEF in France. He was born in London in 1912, the son of a British Peer. In May 1940 he was at the city of Arras in the aftermath of the famous counter attack.
At some point prior to the battle that comes later Lt Furness was wounded by enemy fire, some sources state it happened on the 22nd of May, others over night on the 23rd/24th of May. Either way Furness refused to be evacuated and remained in command of the section of three Carriers.

After the Arras counter attack had failed the Germans had continued to advance deeper into France. By the 23rd of May Arras was surrounded on three sides, so the Welsh Guards had no other option but to retreat. The orders for retreat were issued about midnight, with instructions for the infantry to move out in individual companies and the first men began to move about 0200. A bigger question was what to do with the motor transport which comprised of 40 trucks. The main road was unusable, so a much narrower road was chosen. Lt Furness with his three carriers and ad-hoc formation of three Mk VI light tanks were to provide cover for the column. Luck was with the Welsh Guards, as there was a thick blanket of mist covering the area. The previous three days had all been bright and clear.
After winding their way down the road for about three miles they stumbled upon a strong German position. They were dug in on a small hill, with wire, heavy machine guns and anti-tank guns. The column was still hidden in the mist, however if the mist lifted the Germans on their hill would see the soft skinned vehicles laid out in front of them like a shooting gallery. The quartermaster explained to Lt Furness it would take some time to get the column turned around on the narrow road. Lt Furness still sporting his previous wound replied:
"Don't worry about Jerry, I'll go shoot him up and keep him busy while you turn and get out."

With that his three Bren Carriers, with the three Mk VI light tanks set out to attack the Germans.

The light tanks set up a base of fire and started shooting at the Germans, however they were all quickly set on fire by the German anti-tank guns. However the lighter, smaller and faster Carriers were able to evade the German anti-tank gun fire. Not so the colossal amount of small arms rounds the Germans fired at the Carriers. Such was the volume of fire Carrier #3 had the bi-pod shot off its Bren gun. Soon all the Carriers had wounded men on them. Lt Furness led his Carriers along until nearly on top of the German position then began to drive in a circle around the German hilltop all the while firing with every weapon they could. They managed several circuits inflicting very heavy casualties on the Germans. However the German return fire was beginning to take its own toll. In Carrier #1 Lt Furness was the only man alive, and when the driver had been killed the Carrier had halted. In Carrier #2, just behind Carrier #1, Guardsman David Williams had been killed and the other crew wounded.
At this point Lt Furness dismounted from his Carrier, and seeing the Germans only a short distance away charged, on his own, into the midst of the superior German force. During the vicious hand to hand combat that followed Lt Furness was killed. His actions had allowed the most of wounded crews from Carrier #2 and the light tanks to be evacuated.
Carrier #3 had its Bren Gun jam earlier in the battle, so had pulled back. In some dead ground the crew put their weapons back in order. Then reports that other parts of the column were under attack from a machine gun came in. This lone Carrier went out looking for the gun. However nothing could be found so Carrier #3 then returned to the original German hill to continue the attack alone. As they approached the hilltop they noticed an eerie silence. The Germans had evacuated after the losses inflicted upon them by Lt Furness and his Carriers.
As Carrier #3 was withdrawing back down the hill, picking up wounded from a nearby infantry battalion, it was hit by an enemy AT gun from a wooded area, the shot hit the rear of the carrier and knocked out the engine.

For his actions Lt Furness was awarded the Victoria Cross, the column of trucks he gave his life to defend were able to turn around, and retreat using another road. All reached their destination without a scratch.

Image Credits:
wikimedia.org, onlytruecars.com and nzetc.victoria.ac.nz

Mid week Quiz:
From the Photo the British intelligence officers had this drawing done:
Its the Type 2 Ka-Mi, Japanese amphibious tank, only its not got the floats fitted which you're more used to seeing it with. The link has pictures of it with both floats fitted and without.