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The M60 is Hungry For More Upgrades

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 12:00

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

The M60 was used in every conceivable role for a machine gun.

Key point: The M-60 is iconic because it was a very good weapon that all knew to beware of.

The time was early 1967, the place a crowded square over a body of water on a narrow bridge in downtown Saigon. A 19-year-old American Army gun jeep commander in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade stood at his post in the rear of the vehicle. Both he and the driver wore .45-caliber pistols and carried M16 rifles. Besides the pistols and rifles, the Americans also had an M79 grenade launcher on the floorboards of the jeep, covered with heavy sandbags in case the vehicle hit a Vietcong landmine.

The jeep’s principal weaponry that day was the deadly United States Army standard-issue M60 machine gun, which—like the M14 rifle—fired the basic NATO round of 7.62mm ammunition. With the exception of the 1911-introduced .45, the other three weapons had been brought into the NATO arsenal at about the same time, in the early 1960s. The reason was simple, to ensure that all NATO armies were armed with the same weaponry and ammunition for ease of common supply in case a land war erupted in Europe with the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Surrounded by a Sea of Swarming Humanity

Instead of Warsaw Pact soldiers, however, American weapons that day were being employed against two Communist armies on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia: the North Vietnamese Regular Army and the South Vietnamese civilian guerrilla forces, the Vietcong. As combat military policemen, the Americans in the jeep had been assigned to road convoy duty, getting infantry into and out of the field under fire. The young lieutenant was somewhat alarmed to be surrounded by a sea of swarming humanity, their intentions unknown. On the other hand, he knew that he was armed with one of the best machine guns in the world, mounted on a cast-iron swivel just under his right armpit. If he and his men had to fight their way out, they were ready. As it happened, they were in luck; the Vietnamese allowed them to pass unharmed.

The M60 machine gun was what the military called a “crew-served weapon,” requiring a team of three soldiers to transport, load, and fire it. It was capable of several types of fire: grazing, plunging, flanking, oblique, and enfilading. Aside from vehicular-mounted fire, it could be fired from the shoulder (kneeling and standing) and from a prone position as well. Its available ammunition consisted of ball (for use against light materials and personnel and for range training); armor-piercing (for use against lightly armored targets); tracer (for observation of fire, incendiary effects, signaling, and training); dummy (for use during mechanical training); and blanks (for use during training when simulated fire was desired; a blank firing attachment was required to fire this ammunition).

WWII Origins

In any modality, the M60 machine gun was a fearsome weapon of great potency. Like other weapons in the American military inventory, the M60 general purpose machine gun (GPMG) began its evolution at the end of World War II. The Allies had been impressed with the flexibility provided by the German GPMGs, and the American M60 incorporated a modified feed mechanism based on that of the German MG42, with the operating mechanism of the FG42 assault rifle. The initial version of the M60 was officially adopted by the U.S. Army in 1957.

Eventually, the M60 would go on to replace both the Browning light and heavy machine guns in the American arsenal, with its initial prototype being the T44. Its feed mechanism was bettered with two more variants until the T161 was produced and was introduced into the U.S. armory as the M60 GPMG. It could be used in both a bipod configuration for rapidly advancing infantry on the move or for defense when mounted on a M112 tripod as a heavy machine gun.

Some Drawbacks to the Design

The M60 was 42 inches long and weighed a little over 23 pounds. It was gas operated, with a 50-round link belt of 7.62mm ammunition and a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second. Its maximum effective range was 1,200 yards with the bipod and an additional 329 feet when the tripod was added. Optimal operating range was about 3,900 feet. Moving away from the recoil mechanism of the Browning machine guns, the M60 was designed as a gas-operated weapon. As the first round traveled down the barrel, it pushed gas into the gas cylinder through a hole in the bore. The pressure in the cylinder then forced a piston down the chamber, moving back the bolt and chambering the next round into place. The cycle could be repeated for as long as the trigger was depressed.

With no gas regulator on the gun, however, there were drawbacks to the mechanism. Accumulated dirt or dust could slow down the piston and result in the M60 jamming or “running away”—continuing to fire even when the finger was removed from the trigger. This could prove unnerving during the heat of battle, when the assistant M60 gunner would be forced to hold onto the ammunition belt manually to stop it from feeding. One distinctive feature of the M60 was the chromium-plated barrel and satellite liners for the first six inches along the muzzle from the chamber. The nonferrous lining considerably increased the lifespan of each barrel although there were complaints that the barrel was heavy.

Used in Every Conceivable Role in Vietnam

The M60 was used in every conceivable role for a machine gun: mounted on trucks, jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and other vehicles; on tripods inside fortifications; on aircraft and boats. The M60 saw its widest use with American infantry forces on the ground in Vietnam. An infantry machine-gun section officially consisted of three soldiers: the gunner, the assistant gunner, and the ammunition carrier. In practice, all members of a patrol carried extra machine-gun ammunition, which was passed up to the gun crew when needed. American infantrymen carried belts of ammunition draped around their bodies. This was the easiest way to carry the heavy load, and it left the soldiers’ hands free to use other weapons.

The most common complaint about the M60 was that it was heavy, particularly when humping through the Southeast Asian jungle. It was also prone to jamming, especially when dirty. The safety was awkward to operate and worked opposite the M16 rifle, requiring an upward movement of the thumb to free the safety and make the gun ready to fire. Fired cartridges could also become torn and required extra time to remove an empty case—a less than ideal situation in combat. Marine units in particular resisted using the M60, preferring their longtime BARs.

100 Rounds Per Minute

The weapon had a sustained rate of fire of 100 rounds per minute, with a recommended barrel change every 10 minutes. It could also rapid fire at a rate of 200 rounds per minute with two or three seconds between bursts and a barrel change recommended every two minutes, and at the cyclic rate of approximately 550 rounds per minute, with a barrel change every single minute. The M60 had a bandolier capacity of 100 rounds, with a tracer round burnout of approximately 3,300 feet.

The M60 operator’s manual recommended that soldiers not open ammunition containers until the ammunition was to be used, noting that ammunition removed from the airtight containers, particularly in damp climates, was likely to corrode. The manual further directed: “Do not expose the ammunition to the direct rays of the sun. If the powder is hot, excessive heat may be developed when the gun is fired. Do not oil or grease ammunition. Dust and other abrasives collecting on oiled or greased ammunition will damage the operating parts of the gun, and oil on cartridges will produce excessive chamber pressure.”

Some Short-Lived Variants

Variants of the M60 included the short-lived M60B, which was designed to be fired by hand from helicopters. The B model had no bipod and featured a different rear stock than the regular model; it retained its pistol grips. The M60C lacked pistol grips, but its main difference was the electronic control system and hydraulic swivel system, which allowed it to be fired from cockpits on OH-13 Sioux, OH-23 Raven, UH-1B Huey, and Ov-10 Bronco helicopters.

This article by Christopher Miskimon originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Empire's Hubris: Imperial Japan Was Destined for Defeat

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 11:33

Warfare History Network

Security, Asia

Twelve years of unabated Japanese military triumph came to an end during a period of only 90 days.

Key Point: Japanese aggression and territorial expansion had been justified as a crusade to rid Asia of European and American colonialism.

Since 1931, Japan’s army had asserted control over territory on the continent of Asia, brushing aside Chinese resistance, condemnation and political pressure from other nations, and most recently, the Allied military. Further, Japan had gained control over a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, creating an outer ring of defenses extending thousands of miles from the home islands.

Japanese aggression and territorial expansion had been justified as a crusade to rid Asia of European and American colonialism. Their slogan “Asia for the Asians” actually meant “Asia for Japan.” Years of conquest led to the creation of the so-called “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” a weak attempt to legitimize Japan’s preeminent position in the region.

As the Japanese government debated the future of relations with the United States, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned that the prospect of a protracted war would surely end in defeat for his country. Yamamoto had visited the United States. He had served as a naval liaison officer and even attended Harvard University, studying English and petroleum management. He had seen firsthand the industrial might of America and warned that the only hope Japan had for ultimate victory would be to strike at Pearl Harbor, crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and following that up with a string of rapid victories.

Yamamoto prophesied that in the wake of Pearl Harbor he would run wild in the Pacific for six months. After that, he made no guarantees. That prophecy proved eerily accurate. Following great victories in Burma and the fall of Singapore and Hong Kong, the terrific blow to Allied morale with the sinking of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, the seizure of the Philippines, the capture of thousands of American soldiers on Corregidor, and the Bataan Death March, Yamamoto was poised to seize Port Moresby at the tip of the island of New Guinea. From there, he would threaten Australia.

Yamamoto’s Prophecy was Eerily Accurate, Almost to the Day

During the first week of May 1942, however, the Japanese endured their initial setback as the Port Moresby invasion force was obliged to retreat following the Battle of the Coral Sea. A month later, Yamamoto again went on the offensive, this time with Midway Atoll as his objective. The capture of Midway would provide a staging area for a potential invasion of Hawaii, just 1,100 miles to the southwest.

During the first week of June, the complicated Japanese plan of attack unraveled. At Midway, the loss of four aircraft carriers and hundreds of combat aircraft compelled the Japanese to relinquish the initiative. From that time on, the Imperial forces would be fighting a defensive war. Yamamoto’s prediction was accurate almost to the day.

During the first week of August, American troops splashed ashore on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Their task was to capture the island, particularly its unfinished airfield, from which the Japanese had hoped to provide aircover for operations in the Southwest Pacific. The Guadalcanal campaign was the first offensive land action by U.S. soldiers during the War in the Pacific. The loss of the island after six months of bloody struggle sealed the fate of Japan.

Halted at the Coral Sea, soundly defeated at Midway, and confronted at Guadalcanal, the Japanese were astonished that their timetable of conquest could be upset so thoroughly and so quickly. Yamamoto did not live to see the final defeat of his nation. In April 1943, two months after the loss of Guadalcanal, his bomber was ambushed by a flight of American fighter planes and sent crashing into the jungle on the island of New Britain.

Twelve years of unabated Japanese military triumph came to an end during a period of only 90 days. The island road to Tokyo was long and costly for the Allies; however, from the summer of 1942 forward, the outcome was never in doubt.

Originally Published December 11, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Le monde vu de Moscou

Politique étrangère (IFRI) - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 11:00

Cette recension a été publiée dans le numéro d’été 2021 de Politique étrangère (n° 2/2021). Florian Vidal, chercheur au Centre Russie/NEI de l’Ifri, propose une analyse de l’ouvrage de Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, Le monde vu de Moscou. Dictionnaire géopolitique de la Russie et de l’Eurasie postsoviétiques (PUF, 2020, 680 pages).

Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, géopolitologue et spécialiste de la Russie, nous présente ici un ouvrage qui, sous la forme d’un dictionnaire, rassemble les clés de lecture de la vision du monde selon le point de vue russe. Empruntant la forme d’un guide de référence, l’auteur détaille toutes les notions qui entourent la politique étrangère du pays et les concepts géopolitiques mis en œuvre.

Ce dictionnaire, bien fourni, ne se lit pas de façon linéaire : comme tout guide, il se parcourt selon les besoins et les curiosités du lecteur. L’introduction constitue néanmoins l’étape incontournable qui donne au lecteur les bases du démarrage. Les propos liminaires de l’auteur remettent en perspective les récents développements diplomatiques russes : tensions avec l’Occident, rapprochement avec la Chine, retour au Moyen-Orient depuis l’intervention en Syrie, place de l’Ukraine dans l’identité géopolitique russe… Avec le renouvellement géopolitique de la Russie au xxie siècle, l’auteur met en abîme les débats ouverts dans l’élite du pays sur l’orientation stratégique à adopter.

Par ses multiples entrées de lecture et ses renvois, l’ouvrage nous rapelle certains fondamentaux – eurasisme, heartland, panslavisme –, mais aussi la découverte de personnes, d’organismes et de lieux incontournables, qui pèsent dans les bases géopolitiques contemporaines de Moscou. L’itinérance suivra le seul intérêt du lecteur. À la fin de chaque entrée, l’auteur renvoie le lecteur aux thèmes associés, ce qui incite à une lecture personnalisée et assez libre.

On relèvera que les différents thèmes abordés sont de longueurs inégales : l’entrée miagkaïa sila – pouvoir doux – est définie sur deux lignes, tandis que celle sur la Lettonie s’étend sur plus de quatre pages. De la définition d’un concept à la compréhension de l’importance d’un pays, cet ouvrage recense tous les paramètres influençant la diplomatie et la stratégie russes à l’international. Ainsi la lettre « r » passe-t‑elle en revue les relations diplomatiques entre la Russie et de nombreux pays à travers le monde. L’entrée Russie/Éthiopie, par exemple, rappelle les liens noués entre les deux pays pendant la guerre froide. À présent, Moscou assume cet héritage et s’appuie sur les liens humains comme la formation d’étudiants pour maintenir une action diplomatique solide sur ce pays de la Corne de l’Afrique. L’auteur aborde aussi des lieux déterminants, comme le laboratoire Vektor, centre de recherche pour la virologie et la bactériologie, fondé à l’époque soviétique, situé dans la région de Novossibirsk en Sibérie, et qui héberge une souche de la variole.

On regrettera seulement que l’ouvrage ait fait le choix d’une organisation alphabétique simplifiée, sans appliquer de filtre thématique, et donc valoriser la richesse du contenu. L’effort de l’auteur qui n’omet aucun détail dans la description des dynamiques à l’œuvre doit pourtant être loué. En offrant un consistant outil intellectuel, ce livre constitue un manuel de géopolitique indispensable pour les étudiants et tous ceux qui travaillent sur l’espace eurasiatique.

Florian Vidal

>> S’abonner à Politique étrangère <<

The U.S. Navy Had Some Truly Insane Ideas to Modernize Its Battleships

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 11:00

Kyle Mizokami

Nuclear Weapons, Americas

The service developed many schemes over the span of 30 years to modernize the most powerful American battleships ever built.

Here's What You Need to Know: These ideas were dead in the water.

In the early 1980s, four Iowa-class fast battleships originally built during World War II—IowaMissouriNew Jersey and Wisconsin—were taken out of mothballs and returned to active duty.

Nearly 900 feet long and displacing close to 60,000 tons, the battlewagons could fire a nine-gun broadside sending 18 tons of steel and explosives hurtling towards their targets.

The battleships were modernized to include cruise missiles, ship-killing missiles and Phalanx point-defense guns. Returned to the fleet, the ships saw action off the coasts of Lebanon and Iraq. At the end of the Cold War the battleships were retired again. All were slated to become museums.

Few knew, however, that returning the battleships to service in the ’80s had been only part of the plan. The second, more ambitious phase was a radical redesign of the massive warships that would have combined the attributes of battleships and aircraft carriers.

The resulting ship, a “battlecarrier,” was merely one of many schemes over the span of 30 years to modernize the most powerful American battleships ever built. The various proposals—all of them nixed—had the World War II-era ships carrying hundreds of U.S. Marines or launching Harrier jump jets or even firing atomic projectiles.

A Hole in the Navy:

Before World War II, planners had assumed that the big-gun ships would win wars by duking it out with enemy vessels of the same kind. Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway dispelled that notion, as the flexibility and long-range striking power of aircraft carriers proved superior to battleships’ broadsides.

The battlewagons were relegated to a secondary role in the fleet, shelling shore defenses ahead of landings by the Army and Marines. And after the war, the Navy shed most of its heavy cruisers and battleships while retaining its aircraft carriers. The rush to embrace missiles further reduced the influence of the big-gun vessels, and the era of the battleship appeared to be over for good.

For the U.S. Marine Corps, this was a worrying trend. The seaborne invasion of Inchon during the Korean War showed that the age of amphibious assaults was not yet over. Military planners liked aircraft for their flexibility, but from the Marines’ perspective a ship that could sit off a coastline and bombard it with heavy guns for hours on end was vital.

There was a solution. The four Iowa-class battleships, in mothballs since World War II, were briefly reactivated during the Korean War to provide gunfire support for U.N. forces—and retired again after the war was over.

For some Navy planners, battleships were back in vogue. There were frequent attempts to return the battlewagons to service.

Nuclear Battleship:

In 1958, the Navy proposed overhauling the Iowa-class ships by removing all of the 16-inch guns and replacing them with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine missiles.

The new “guided missile battleships” would also carry four Regulus II cruise missiles, each of which could flatten a city a thousand miles distant with a nuclear warhead more than 100 times as powerful as the bomb used on Hiroshima.

The result would have certainly been the most powerful battleship ever, but the concept was riddled with inefficiencies. Under the proposal, 2,000 sailors would have had to sail into hostile waters in an expensive, 900-foot vessel to attack just four targets with nuclear weapons. An Air Force bomber could attack as many targets, at a greater range, with fewer than a dozen crew.

And at $1.5 billion in today’s dollars, the conversion would have been expensive.

At the same time, the Navy had put in orders for submarines to carry Polaris ballistic missiles. The proposed missile submarines could attack targets more than twice as far away as the Regulus II-armed battleship could, while carrying four times as many missiles and spending most of their time underwater avoiding detection.

The nuclear battleship concept was dead in the water.

Amphibious Battleship:

In 1961 a new proposal would have utilized the Iowa-class battleships to increase the navy’s troop-carrying capability. The rear turret and its three 16-inch guns would have been removed. In its place would be a hangar and a flight deck capable of carrying 30 helicopters.

The ship would also haul 14 landing craft to bring tanks and vehicles ashore. Accommodations for 1,800 Marines would be added.

Each of the amphibious Iowas would have been a one-ship expeditionary force.

Capable of laying down its own fire support with the remaining six 16-inch guns and deploying a battalion-sized Marine amphibious unit by air and sea, the ship would have been a hive of activity.

But it would still be expensive to convert and operate, and the Navy had many surplus aircraft carriers that could more cheaply be converted to amphibious platforms. Three such older carriers were modified, and the Iowa-class again stayed in mothballs.


The cost of the Vietnam War put a temporary hold on talk of reviving the Iowas in some new form. One of the battleships, New Jersey, was briefly reactivated to serve in Vietnam.

In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration began an ambitious shipbuilding program. It was decided to yet again bring back the four Iowas. In phase one, the ships were modernized with the addition of Tomahawk land attack missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Phalanx defense guns. By the mid-1980s, all four had returned to duty.

There was a phase two that was never executed, and it was more interesting.

This phase again involved removing the rear 16-inch gun turret. In its place would be built an overhanging flight deck and two forward-facing ski jumps that would hurl Marine Corps Harrier jump jets into the air. The ship would carry up to 20 Harriers, as well as a hangar and an aircraft elevator.

And that’s not all. Nestled between the two ski jumps would be a large field of missile silos, each holding Standard anti-aircraft or Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles.

The firepower of the battleships—and their destructive range—would have increased substantially. Trading one turret for 20 Harrier jets was a pretty good deal. Add the Tomahawks and their ability to strike with precision at a thousand miles and the improvements looked even better. The resulting warship would have equaled the firepower of a Nimitz-class supercarrier.

But as before, the Iowas’ inherent inefficiencies worked against them. With a crew of nearly 2,000 each, the ships’ high personnel costs made them prohibitively expensive to run in an all-volunteer navy. Harrier jets could already be carried by the Tarawa-class landing ships, and missile silos were proliferating across the fleet.

The Navy came to the conclusion that if the country was going to get its money’s worth from the four battleships, the vessels had to concentrate on their unique abilities: firing massive artillery shells at the enemy.

That meant keeping all three main gun turrets. The cool conversion schemes would have to stay just that, schemes.

Future Battlewagon:

Today the naval gunfire argument rages on. Even in the age of drones and precision warfare there are still occasional calls to bring the heavily manned, imprecise Iowa class back to service. There’s a certain romance to battleships, and having four Iowas sitting around in good condition has beguiled naval enthusiasts and planners for more than 60 years with schemes to bring them back.

The Zumwalt-class destroyers will go a long way towards providing battleship-quality naval gunfire support for the Marines. Minimally manned, relatively small, stealthy and precise, the Zumwalts are the antithesis of the Iowas, but functionally their successors.

Although each Zumwalt can only provide the explosive mass of a single one of an Iowa’s 16-inch guns, the newer ship can fire its smaller shells with GPS-aided precision up to 83 miles away, versus 20 miles for an Iowa.

Should the Zumwalt design be successful, the torch of the battleship could finally be transferred to them, and the Iowas can finally slumber in peace as museums, safe from the schemes of those who would revive them.

This article appeared earlier in 2019.

Image: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

What Happened? This Goliath Plane Was Set to Rule the Skies

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 10:33

Warfare History Network

Security, Americas

The week of May 4-10, 1942, saw the loss of 300,000 deadweight tons of Allied shipping to German U-boats, loss rates that were twice new ship launches.

Key Point: Hughes settled on a design gross weight of 400,000 pounds.

The Time magazine article was titled “It Flies!” It was a note of triumph and vindication, but also an epitaph, of an aircraft that was five years in the making—the “Spruce Goose,” a plane that should not have existed. Many things were against it, even, to a certain degree, its creator.

The week of May 4-10, 1942, saw the loss of 300,000 deadweight tons of Allied shipping to German U-boats, loss rates that were twice new ship launches. Imaginative use of America’s industrial and technological strengths to deal with such problems was the mission of the War Production Board’s planning committee.

On May 22, F.H. Hoge, Jr., a member of the committee, proposed the use of extremely large flying boats, pointing out that current aircraft on transoceanic flights devoted 38 percent of their takeoff weight to fuel and oil, but that a 300,000-pound plane would use only 20 percent, and, that since flying boats did not require landing gear, an additional 15 percent in aircraft weight would be saved.

But it was the industrialist Henry J. Kaiser who saw the opportunity. He approached such problems with big schemes, limitless energy, and a genius for organization and improvisation. He had moved from constructing mammoth hydroelectric dams, such as the Hoover and Grand Coulee, to shipbuilding in 1941.

Faced with the terrible loss of shipping that was threatening the Allies, Kaiser suggested two possible solutions. One was to convert some of his shipyards to the mass production of giant seaplanes. The other was to mass produce antisubmarine aircraft carriers on Liberty Ship hulls. In the latter case, Kaiser facilities would produce some 70 escort carriers during the war.

But in the summer of 1942, after the Germans sank 681 Allied ships in the first seven months of the year, the idea of flying boats captured the nation’s imagination. In July, Kaiser outlined plans for flying boats of 200 to 500 tons and launched a publicity and lobbying campaign telling the press that he envisioned a fleet of 5,000 flying boats.

He followed with a proposal to the Army and Navy. And, though they considered it impractical, they knew that the public and some members of Congress believed otherwise. The Aircraft Division of the War Production Board was asked to review Kaiser’s proposal.

Merrill C. Meigs, deputy director of the board’s Aircraft Division, told Kaiser that it took more than four years to develop a new aircraft, but Kaiser was undaunted. Regarding possible resource requirements, Kaiser said he would build a steel foundry and educate and develop technicians and engineers in support of his proposal.

Meigs then set up a committee of aircraft manufacturers to hear Kaiser’s plans. But the manufacturers were not enthusiastic about the possible entry of another aircraft company into their industry. Donald Douglas, head of Douglas Aircraft, advised that to prepare a preliminary design for a 200-ton aircraft would require at least 100,000 engineering hours.

During July and August, Kaiser made two proposals—mass production of the Martin Mars flying boat and the design and development of the 200-ton flying boat––both taken under consideration by the War Production Board, headed by Donald Nelson. The Mars, first flown in June 1942, was a four-engine, 200-foot wingspan, 75,000-pound aircraft capable of carrying a 32,000-pound payload, or 133 troops, over a range of 5,000 miles. But Nelson was concerned about the possible impact on existing programs by manufacturers working at full capacity.

Kaiser then approached the well-known aviator, Howard Hughes, with a pitch to jointly develop the large flying boat. Though aware of the problems in designing a new aircraft, Hughes was intrigued with the possibility of coming up with the world’s largest airplane, especially after being told that the Douglas, Martin, and Northrup aircraft companies all thought that it couldn’t be done.

By August 22, 1942, after several weeks of discussion, a handshake agreement was reached—Hughes would design the plane and Kaiser would build it. Subsequently, a written contract between Hughes and Kaiser called for the design and construction of 500 aircraft.

The Gigantic Spruce Goose

On September 17, Kaiser-Hughes received authorization to proceed with design engineering and construction of three prototype flying boats. Among the conditions imposed were that all construction would use a minimum of any critical or strategic materials, that no engineers or technicians working for manufacturers already engaged in the war effort could be employed without the permission of their employers, that they could spend no more than $18 million, and that the program would be limited to 24 months. But the Kaiser-Hughes partnership soon dissolved and Hughes proceeded alone. During the first seven months of the project, Hughes acted as general manager. Kaiser, unsuccessful in his attempt at combining forces with Hughes, had nothing more to do with the project except to help out with providing a few personnel.

Design presented several challenges— such a plane would require an overhang wingspan 50 percent greater than the Martin Mars, which would present new torsional, wing flutter, vibration, deflection, and control problems never before tested.

Seven aircraft configurations were drawn up, including twin-hull and single-hull designs with four to eight engines. Hughes settled on a design gross weight of 400,000 pounds. This number was reached based on creating the largest aircraft possible using eight of the largest engines then under development. Eight was considered the maximum number of engines that seemed practical.

In the final design, the HK-1, as it was called, would be built mostly of wood, its elevators and rudder fabric covered. It was referred to as the “Flying Lumberyard” by critics, while Hughes detested the other nickname, “Spruce Goose.” To him she was “The Flying Boat,” though one story was that Hughes’s nickname for the plane was the “Jesus Christ,” since those were the first words out of the mouths of individuals when Hughes took them into the hangar where the plane was being built.

The giant airplane was made mostly of birch, not spruce, with a wingspan of 320 feet, a vertical fin of 85 feet, and a weight of 300,000 pounds. It was designed to carry 120,000 pounds of cargo, or 750 combat-ready troops, or two Sherman tanks. Its eight massive engines, with 17-foot propellers, generated over 3,000 horsepower each. It was to have a range of 3,000 miles at a speed of approximately 200 mph.

The Project That Wouldn’t Die

During the design phase, Hughes was rarely seen by other members of the team. He was a night owl, had a penchant for secrecy, and was involved in multiple simultaneous projects, as well as a reluctance to delegate authority. Key decisions were delayed for days in some cases because of problems contacting Hughes. Even as the project began to fall behind schedule, Hughes refused to relinquish control. He continued to be involved in the smallest of details but then would disappear for weeks.

Despite Hughes’s management style, some progress was made during 1943 on the aircraft’s design, but major problems resulted from combining wood construction with the plane’s giant size. Elaborate and costly jigs had to be devised and new glues and gluing processes developed. Development of new tools, materials, and methods was by trial and error, consuming time, material, and money.

Years later Hughes partially blamed delays on the requirement that he build the plane of nonstrategic materials; however, government records indicate that Hughes was given the option of switching to metal, but declined. Given the progress that had been made in pioneering innovative methods in wood construction, and Hughes’s attraction to the smooth finish of the Duramold plywood used, he was reluctant to change materials. Hughes was meticulous regarding materials, workmanship, and appearance.

Numerous elements lined up against the project. In October 1943 the Aircraft Production Board proposed cancelling the contract because it offered no useful contribution to the war effort. In early 1944 it was determined that successful development of the Mars flying boat would make the HK-1 unnecessary. In March 1944 the Cargo Plane Committee of the War Production Board was of the opinion that a change in the character of the war had abated a need for a giant cargo aircraft.

The War Production Board dispatched Grover Loening, seaplane designer and consultant to the board, to evaluate the plane’s design. But his report called the plane’s design amazing and the most remarkable flying boat he had ever seen.

On March 17, Hughes advised the board against stopping construction,saying, “If we are going to keep abreast of development in aviation, then we must reconcile ourselves to the necessity of building bigger and bigger airplanes.”

Despite the many efforts to kill the project, highly placed administration officials renewed it, though the plan was reduced to one plane.

At the same time that the HK-1 was under development, Hughes was also active in pushing development of the Lockheed Constellation—a postwar, four-engine transport and civilian airliner.

The First and Last Flight of the Spruce Goose

The project continued into 1947, when a Senate committee began investigating Hughes for defense contract irregularities. Hughes was called before the Senate War Investigating Committee in the late summer of 1947. During testimony Hughes stated, “The Hercules was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That’s more than a city block. Now, I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it’s a failure, I’ll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.”

During a break in the Senate hearings, Hughes returned to California to run taxi tests on the renamed H-4 Hercules. On November 2, 1947, the taxi tests began with Hughes at the controls. His crew included Dave Grant as co-pilot, two flight engineers, Don Smith and Joe Petrali, 16 mechanics, and two other flight crewmen. In addition, the H-4 carried seven invited guests from the press and seven industry representatives.

After the first two taxi runs, Hughes made a third and surprised all the onlookers and crew as the Hercules lifted off, remaining airborne at 70 feet off the water at a speed of 135 miles per hour for around a mile. Having proven to his detractors that the aircraft was flight worthy, Hughes felt vindicated in the development of the aircraft and receipt of the government’s $18 million funding.

But the flight was not without concerns. Harry Kaiser, engine man, went down to the cargo deck after touchdown and saw the tail twisting around. Bill Noggle, hydraulic mechanic, posted in the tail, reported, “It’s about ready to leave us.”

After landing, Hughes was asked if he had expected to get the plane airborne. “Exactly,” said Hughes. “I like to make surprises.” Carl Babberger, Hughes’s chief aerodynamicist, stated, “All the factors were present for take-off—a high head wind, the 15-degree flap setting, and a light load. It probably got airborne before he expected it to, but on the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me that being under fire from Senator [Ralph Owen] Brewster, he was prepared to gamble. If it took off, fine. If it didn’t, fine.”

Several months after the test, through a spokesman, Hughes wanted it understood that the Hercules was only a research aircraft. That it would never be used in competition with military or commercial planes, but would help to deal with the problems of large aircraft—that the Hercules would point the way for big planes.

After the test a full-time crew of 300 workers, all sworn to secrecy, maintained the aircraft in flying condition in a huge, $1.75 million, climate-controlled hangar. A million dollars a year was spent maintaining the plane, as the engines were cycled and flight controls exercised weekly. Many modifications were designed and installed. For several years the crew expected that it would fly again as several more test flights were scheduled, then cancelled.

There was a great deal of speculation about why the aircraft was never flown again. Some said Hughes was afraid to, but his closest associates denied this.

The aircraft did have its weaknesses. According to one of Hughes’s mechanics, “Maybe one of the reasons why they didn’t fly it [again] was there was a little fluctuation in the tail, and maybe it wasn’t beefed up enough to suit him.”

But there was also no reason to continue the project because the need for big seaplanes had evaporated, especially an aircraft made of wood.

Even before the flight Hughes admitted that the plane was too large to be economical. However, claiming there were still research lessons to be learned, he stubbornly kept the work going. But he was distracted by other ventures and increasingly reclusive. After Hughes’s death on April 5, 1976, the plane was put on exhibit at Long Beach, California. In 1977, the U.S. Navy considered test flights with the H-4 as part of its research into low-altitude transoceanic flight, but never carried out the tests. The plane was moved from Long Beach to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, southwest of Portland, in 1992.

Perhaps the key reason Hughes continued maintenance of the plane was that he saw it as his greatest aviation achievement. Despite being a short flight, the one and only flight of the Hercules may have been Hughes’s finest hour.

Originally Published December 31, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Flickr.

Could A Mexican Invasion Have Changed The Outcome Of World War I?

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 10:00

Michael Peck

History, Americas

American troops helped to support their European allies across the Atlantic, but what would have happend had those troops been forced to stay in America to fight an invading army from the south?

Here's What You Need to Remember: The focal point of global events in 1918 was France and Belgium, not Mexico or Texas. Russia, gripped by Bolshevik revolution, had pulled out of the war by 1918, leaving Germany free to transfer fifty divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front. In spring 1918, the Germans launched a massive offensive in France that nearly won the war.

It was one hundred years ago when Mexico almost invaded the United States.

In January 1917, German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann dispatched a coded telegram to Heinrich von Eckardt, the German ambassador to Mexico. With Germany locked in bloody stalemate with the Allies in France, and Britain’s naval blockade strangling the German economy, Kaiser Wilhelm’s government was about to make a fateful decision: declare unrestricted submarine warfare, which would allow U-boats to sink merchant ships on sight.

That also meant sinking the ships of neutral powers, most especially the United States, which would likely respond by declaring war on Germany. But Zimmermann had instructions for his ambassador: “We make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.”

This was the famous Zimmermann Telegram. Decoded by the British, who passed it on to  the Americans, it became a justification—along with unrestricted submarine warfare—for the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April 1917.

In the end, Mexico turned down the proposal. But what if Mexico had declared war on the United States?

In fact, Mexican president Venustiano Carranza did order his government to study the German offer, according to Friedrich Katz, in his book The Secret War in Mexico. Carranza’s decision wasn’t surprising. In Mexican eyes, the United States had illegally seized one-third of Mexico’s territory during the 1847 Mexican-American War, including what are now the states of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. In 1916, a U.S. Army expeditionary force had entered Mexico in pursuit of the notorious revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had raided American territory.

However, when Mexican officials studied the proposal, they concluded that Germany would never be able to ship sufficient munitions (especially given the inevitable American blockade), and that annexing three U.S. states would lead to permanent conflict with America. Ironically, given the current furor over Mexican illegal immigrants in the United States, the Mexican government worried in 1917 that adding millions of Americans to Mexico’s population would mean that Mexicans couldn’t be sure “whether we had annexed them or they had annexed us.”

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As Katz, an Austrian refugee from Hitler who became one of Mexico’s most important historians, put it: “All these reports show that Carranza did not want to rush into war with the United States, and certainly not on the basis of a German offer of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. But it can also be surmised from these indications that he wanted to keep Germany in reserve for the eventuality, which Carranza considered a probable one, of an American attack on the Mexican oil fields.”

So what if Carranza had decided to ally with Germany and attack the United States, either to recover lost territory or to preempt a feared American seizure of Mexican oil? In 1917, the Mexican army numbered perhaps sixty-five thousand to one hundred thousand soldiers. In 1914, the U.S. Army had just ninety-eight thousand men. By the end of 1918, it had swelled to four million, of which two million had been sent to France. America also had tanks and aircraft (provided by the British and French while American industry geared up for war), a huge navy and plenty of money.

Short of Kaiser Wilhelm’s spike-helmeted legions storming New York and Baltimore, there was no way Mexico could seized the southwestern United States. Yet this didn’t matter to Germany. What Mexico could do was tie down American troops and equipment that otherwise would have been sent to Europe. Not that many U.S. troops would have been needed to stop a Mexican invasion, though recent history warns that many, many troops would have been needed to occupy Mexico. But a second Mexican-American war could easily have triggered a disproportionate response, as the American public demanded that the troops stay home and defend the nation.

And that’s where history might have changed. The focal point of global events in 1918 was France and Belgium, not Mexico or Texas. Russia, gripped by Bolshevik revolution, had pulled out of the war by 1918, leaving Germany free to transfer fifty divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front. In spring 1918, the Germans launched a massive offensive in France that nearly won the war.

What helped revive the exhausted British and French armies were the divisions of fresh Yank troops streaming off the transport ships and into the trenches. If those troops had stayed in America, it is possible that World War I might have ended later than it did, or perhaps even in a compromise peace instead of a German defeat.

Fortunately, none of this happened. In the end, the Zimmermann Telegram did accomplish something: it hastened Germany’s downfall.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in 2017, the 100th anniversary of the Zimmerman Telegram. It is being reposed due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

These Are the 5 Deadliest and Most Consequential Naval Battles in Human History

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 09:33

James Holmes

Naval Warfare, Global

Hint: none of them are really modern.

Here's What You Need to Know: Topping the list are naval actions that decided the fates of civilizations, empires, or great nations. This is decisiveness of the first order.

Ranking battles by their importance has been a bloodsport among military historians as long as there have been military historians. Creasy's classic Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World (1851) set the standard for the genre.

But what makes a battle decisive? And what makes one such test of arms more important than another?

Defining the term too loosely produces howlers like a recent US News catalogue of decisive battles of the American Civil War. By the US News count, 45 engagements qualified as decisive during that four-year struggle alone. Zounds!

The term must be defined less cavalierly than that to be meaningful. If every battle is decisive, no battle is. That's one reason I always ask students whether some legendary triumph—a Trafalgar, or a Tsushima Strait—was decisive, or just dramatic, or just featured the star power of a Nelson or Togo.

Even the masters of strategy, however, appear ambivalent about what constitutes decisive victory. Carl von Clausewitz supplies a working definition, describing a decisive engagement as one that leads directly to peace. This implies an action carrying not just tactical but strategic and political import. Such an encounter impels the vanquished to accept the victor's terms at the bargaining table, whether because he's no longer capable of fighting on, believes he stands little chance of turning the tables and winning, or estimates that victory will prove unaffordable. A decisive battle, in this expansive interpretation, is the chief determinant of a war's outcome.

So far, so good. But how direct must direct be for a battle to earn the lofty status of decisive? Must peace talks take place immediately following the clash of arms that precipitates them? Can a settlement come weeks or months afterward, so long as the cause/effect relationship is clear? What's the time horizon?

The great Carl is silent on such matters. It's possible he's too casual about them. Combat, methinks, can be decisive while achieving more modest goals than winning a war outright. To see how, interpret the word literally: something decisive decides something. (Admittedly, this is probably how the US News team got in trouble. Every action decides something in a tactical sense, no matter how mundane or inconsequential. If nothing else, it determines who holds the field of battle at day's end, or reveals that the fighting stalemated. This says little about its larger meaning, if any.) Armed clashes can yield decisive results on different levels of war. A tactical encounter could decide the outcome of a campaign or the fate of a combat theater without leading directly to peace. Right?

In short, it appears wise to define a decisive victory more three-dimensionally than Clausewitz does, namely as a trial of arms that lets a belligerent accomplish some positive or negative aim beyond mere tactical results. Winning the war would still qualify, obviously, but the broader view would allow historians to rate a Battle of Trafalgar as decisive.

Fought in 1805, Trafalgar scarcely brought about final peace with Napoleonic France. That took another decade of apocalyptic warfare. But it did settle whether the French could invade the British Isles and, through amphibious conquest, crush the offshore threat to French supremacy. The heroics of Nelson, Collingwood, and their shipmates decided the outcome of Napoleon's scheme while enabling Great Britain to persevere with the struggle. Trafalgar, then, directly accomplished the negative goal of keeping French legions from invading Britain. That must qualify as decisive in the operational sense.

Speaking of pugilism on the briny main, here's another wrinkle in this debate. Clausewitz says next to nothing about maritime conflict. Water barely exists in his writings. Fin de siecle historian Sir Julian Corbett, the best in the business of sea-power theory, doubts naval warfare is ever decisive by itself, except perhaps through gradual exhaustion. Close or distant blockades, however, grind down not just the enemy but your allies and your own businessfolk who rely on seaborne trade. They impose costs on everyone.

Like Clausewitz, Corbett thus seems skeptical about the decisiveness of any single engagement. Sure, a dominant seafaring state can and must make the sea a barrier to invasion and other direct assaults on its homeland. That's the Trafalgar model. At its bottom, though, maritime strategy is the art of determining the relations between the army and navy in a plan of war. It's ultimately about shaping affairs on land, which, after all, is where people live. But how do you rank a purely naval engagement on the high seas against an army/navy operation that unfolds at the interface between land and sea?

Tough question. So there's a lot to ponder in the seemingly simple question, what is decisive? To rank naval battles against one another, let's assign a pecking order among degrees of decisiveness. Derring-do, tactical artistry, or gee-whiz technology are not among the criteria. Nor are lopsided tactical results enough to lift an encounter into the upper echelon. That's why the Battle of Tsushima, which left wreckage from the Russian Baltic Fleet littering the Yellow Sea floor in 1905, doesn't make my list.

Topping my list are naval actions that decided the fates of civilizations, empires, or great nations. This is decisiveness of the first order. Such encounters stand in a category apart. Next come engagements that reversed the momentum in a conflict of world-historical importance. They set the endgame in motion, even if a long time elapsed between the battle and the peace settlement it helped set in motion. Direct needn't mean fast. And if battles meeting one of those standards don't exhaust the field—read on to find out—last come tests of arms that settled the outcome in a particular theater of war, helping set the stage for eventual victorious peace.

So, this leaves us with a rough hierarchy of sea fights. The more fateful and enduring a battle's ramifications, the higher it stands on the list. All of which is a roundabout way of getting to my Top Five Naval Battles in World History. In order from least to most important:

5. Lepanto (1571). The Battle of Lepanto stemmed the westward spread of Ottoman power across the Mediterranean Sea. With papal sanction, the Holy League, a consortium of Catholic seafaring states, assembled a navy to engage the main Ottoman fleet in the Gulf of Corinth, off western Greece. Lepanto was the last major all-galley naval engagement in the Mediterranean. The League put its advantages in gunnery and ship types—notably the galleass, an outsized galley bearing heavy armament—to good use against the Turkish fleet, which disgorged far less weight of shot. The Ottomans lost the bulk of their vessels to enemy action. More importantly, they lost experienced crews. They found that regenerating human capital isn't as easy as fitting out wooden men-of-war. Shipwrights soon built new hulls, letting the Turkish navy reassert its supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean for a period. By 1580, however, the new navy was left to rot at its moorings. Galley warfare assured permanent European, not Ottoman, command of the middle sea. That's a decisive result by any measure.

4. Battle of Yamen (1279). Sometimes dubbed “China’s Trafalgar,” this clash between the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and the beleaguered Southern Song determined who would rule China for nearly a century. It was far more decisive than Horatio Nelson’s masterwork. Over one thousand warships crewed by tens of thousands of men took part in the engagement. Yuan commanders deployed deception and bold tactics to overcome at least a 10:1 mismatch in numbers. Most important, Yamen claimed the life of the Song emperor, clearing the way for Kublai Khan’s dynasty to take charge of Asia's central kingdom. The results of Yamen thus reverberated throughout Asia for decades afterward.

3. Quiberon Bay (1759). The year 1759 has been called a year of miracles for Great Britain. Land and naval operations determined whether Britain or France would emerge triumphant in North America. British troops under Wolfe subdued Montcalm's defenders at Quebec and Montreal, sealing the fate of New France. France stood little chance of recouping its fortunes because Admiral Sir Edward Hawke's Royal Navy fleet ventured into Quiberon Bay that November—in a westerly gale, no less—and put paid to the French fleet in its home waters. Having wrested away command of Atlantic shipping lanes, Britain could bar access to the Americas. Lesson: to score decisive victories, hire commanders with fighting names like Wolfe and Hawke. British exploits settled the destiny of a continent while setting a pattern for North American politics that persists to this day.

2. Spanish Armada (1588). This was the duke of Medina Sidonia's purportedly invincible fleet, ordered by Spain's King Philip II to cross the Channel and land in England. There Spanish forces would unseat England's Queen Elizabeth I. By installing a friendly regime, the expeditionary force would terminate English support for the Dutch revolt roiling the Spanish Netherlands while ending English privateering against Spanish shipping. The Catholic Philip sought and obtained papal approval for the enterprise against the Protestant Elizabeth. Weather, however, conspired with English seamanship and gunnery tactics to condemn the expedition. The Spanish host was unable to land. Instead Medina Sidonia found himself compelled to circumnavigate the British Isles under foul conditions to reach home port. The failed cross-Channel crusade heartened the English crown. Had the Armada replaced a Protestant with a Catholic monarch, it's conceivable that the British Empire never would have been founded—and certainly not in the form it actually took. How would Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean history have unfolded then? The implications of that question boggle the mind—and qualify the Armada's defeat as decisive in the largest sense.

1. Salamis (480 B.C.). Taken in tandem with its immediate precursors, the sea battle of Artemisium and the land battle at Thermopylae, the Battle of Salamis was part of a joint campaign that would gladden Corbett's heart. Themistocles, the founder of the Athenian navy, led an outnumbered, outmanned allied fleet against King Xerxes' Persian armada. Artemisium kept Persian sea forces from linking up with the colossal horde that had crossed the Hellespont and was lumbering overland through Greece, with the ultimate goal of conquering Europe. Themistocles' fleet then retired to the waters off Salamis Island to defend the Athenian populace, which had abandoned its city to the Persians. Guile and artful tactics let the allies overcome Persian numbers in this narrow sea. If not for Spartan and Athenian audacity, at sea as on shore, Xerxes may have throttled Western civilization in its infancy. Fending off the Great King's onslaught entitles Salamis to enduring fame. It was the most decisive naval battle in history.

Needless to say, drawing up a list like this one is tough. Many worthy candidates ended up on the cutting-room floor. China's Ming Dynasty was born through inland naval warfare, at the Battle of Lake Poyang (1363). The Battle of the Virginia Capes (1781) doomed Lord Cornwallis' army at Yorktown and assured American independence. The naval battles at Guadalcanal (1942-1943) reversed the tide of war in the Pacific, while the Battle of the Philippine Sea (1944) doomed Japanese naval aviation—paving the way for history's last major fleet engagement, at Leyte Gulf later that year. None, however, compares to the top five for world-historic significance.

Lastly, it's fun and enlightening to speculate about the dogs that didn't bark. About, that is, the naval engagements of immense consequence that could have, and perhaps should have, yet never did take place. For instance, the U.S. Navy just celebrated the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie. Despite the dismal results of the War of 1812, small-scale engagements such as Lake Erie and the Battle of New Orleans impressed the British leadership with the United States' latent military and naval strength. Trivial-seeming U.S. victories implanted the idea among British statesmen that a conciliatory policy toward Washington was more prudent than trying to outmatch a republic predestined for primacy in North America and its marine environs.

Why the rise of America didn't produce a cataclysmic naval war with the supreme sea power of the day is worth mulling over. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and author of “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” in the current issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. The views voiced here are his alone.

This article first appeared in October 2013.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Civil War Secrets: This Woman Posed as a Man to Spy for the Union Army

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 09:00

David Axe

History, Americas

She was an expert of disguise named Emma Edmonds.

Here's What You Need to Know: Edmonds wanted revenge on the Confederacy.

In 1862, Confederate authorities captured a Union spy in Richmond, Virginia and executed him. The agent’s death created a job opening in the secret service of the United States—one that the unlikeliest candidate ultimately filled.

The Union’s new spy was a woman and an expert of disguise named Emma Edmonds. In the spring of 1862 she infiltrated Confederate lines by dyeing her skin black with silver nitrate, donning a wig and posing as a male slave.

Edmonds was Canadian. Born in 1841, in 1861 she enlisted in a Michigan infantry unit while disguised as a man. The secret woman soldier was on the front lines around Fortress Monroe, on the Virginia coast, when she learned of the spy’s execution in Richmond.

She applied to fill the agent’s position—a gambit she recounted in her bestselling 1864 memoir Unsexed, or the Female Soldier. Historian Philip Van Doren Stern included a chapter from Unsexed in his 1959 book Secret Missions of the Civil War.

Edmonds had an ulterior motive in wanting to be a spy. During the fighting around Fort Monroe, Confederate sharpshooters had killed a Union lieutenant named James Vesey. Edmonds was “obviously in love” with Vesey, Stern wrote.

She wanted revenge. And to get it, she would pretend to be a male slave and enter Confederate territory.

First, she had to prove to Union spymasters that she was loyal … and could use a firearm. She attended her interview in her “normal” disguise as a man. “My views were freely given, my object briefly stated, and I had passed trial one,” Edmonds wrote.

Next, she demonstrated her prowess with a weapon. “I sustained my character in a manner worthy of a veteran,” she crowed.

Federal spymasters gave her three days to prepare for her first mission into Confederate-held Virginia. “I purchased a suit of contraband clothing, real plantation style, and then I went to a barber and had my hair sheared close to my head.”

With silver nitrate she dyed her “head, face, neck, hands and arms” black. To test her disguise, she approached a Union postmaster who knew her as a white man.

Edmonds asked the postman to bring her a wig from Washington. The postman did not recognize the apparent black man standing before him and demanded to know what the whig was for.

“No matter, that’s my order,” Edmonds recalled saying. The postmaster agreed to fetch it. Edmonds was confident her disguise would work. Pocketing a revolver, she slipped through the Union picket outside Fortress Monroe and strolled into Confederate lands.

After a cold, sleepless night, Edmonds encountered a group of slaves carrying coffee and supplies to rebel pickets. She fell in with the slaves and wound up as part of a work party building fortifications for the Confederate army.

For two days no one saw through her disguise. While working, Edmonds noted the positions of the Confederate artillery. She sketched a map of the rebel defenses and slipped into her shoe for safekeeping.

On the third day, one of the slaves in Edmonds’ work party looked at her curiously. “I’ll be darned if that fella ain’t turning white,” the man commented. Catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror, Edmonds realized with horror that her silver nitrate skin dye was wearing off. She hurriedly reapplied her disguise.

Returning to Confederate positions, Edmonds observed rebel soldiers gathering around a civilian man. She recognized the man’s voice—he was a peddler who also frequented the Union Fort Monroe.

“There he was, giving the rebels a full description of our camp and forces,” Edmonds recalled. The peddler boasted that he had tipped off rebel snipers to Vesey’s position. “They lost a splendid officer through my means,” the peddler said.

Finally, Edmonds could have vengeance, by warning the Union of the peddler’s betrayal. “I thanked God for that information,” the spy wrote. Handed a rifle and commanded to stand guard, Edmonds instead seized the opportunity to slip away into the forest … and return to her own army.

David Axe served as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

This article first appeared in March 2020.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Air Force Skyborg AI Flight Program is Getting Smarter, Stealthier

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 08:33

Caleb Larson

Artificial Intelligence,

The artificial intelligence piloting program is rapidly gaining experience and could fly alongside manned pilots in the not-so-distant future.

The artificial intelligence pilot is steadily gaining experience and expanding the number of drones it can fly.

The United States Air Force successfully conducted an unmanned test flight of a General Atomics Avenger drone—controlled not by a pilot on the ground, but rather by the Skyborg autonomy core system. The flight came several months after the Skyborg technology flew a Kratos UTAP-22 Mako drone, and marked the second kind of aircraft that the autonomous piloting program is able to fly.

“This type of operational experimentation enables the Air Force to raise the bar on new capabilities, made possible by emerging technologies,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Dale White explained in an Air Force press release about the recent flight. “And this flight is a key milestone in achieving that goal.”

The Air Force Skyborg effort is in essence a complex artificial intelligence system that hopes to eventually allow low-cost, unmanned aerial platforms to fly in tandem with manned fighters. Having an autonomous, intelligent plane in the air alongside other Air Force platforms is of obvious benefit: by flying ahead of manned airplanes, unmanned and expendable airframes can be placed in high-risk airspace to fly scout and reconnaissance sorties to evaluate potential threats—or even, in theory, to pull the trigger on enemy aircraft or ground installations.

The Skyborg program however would like to take unmanned flight a step further. Rather than flying just one or several autonomous airplanes, the Air Force hopes that Skyborg could enable larger swarms of unmanned aircraft to fly in coordinated teams rather than just solo multiplying their combat effectiveness.

The General Atomics Avenger drone is one  of the company’s most advanced—and though company material on the drone does not state it explicitly—is thought to incorporate some radar-mitigating stealth features into its airframe. The Avenger utilizes a serpentine air intake duct intended to hide the engine's compressor blades from enemy radar and reduce potential radar return. In addition, the Avenger’s fuselage appears to be contoured in a stealthy fashion, and incorporates rectangular exhaust nozzles which are useful for preserving rearward stealth.

Air Force material on Skyborg is careful to state that Skyborg-flown unmanned systems would compliment rather than replace manned pilots, but will “provide them [pilots] with key data to support rapid, informed decisions.” In this way, Skyborg could “provide manned teammates with greater situational awareness and survivability during combat missions.”

“Flying the Skyborg ACS on platforms from two different manufacturers demonstrates the portability of the Government-owned autonomy core, unlocking future multi-mission capabilities for the Joint Force,” Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory as the Skyborg Technology Executive Officer explained.

So while the Air Force Skyborg autonomy core system is still in its infancy, the artificial intelligence piloting program is rapidly gaining experience, and could fly alongside manned pilots in the not-so-distant future.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Child Tax Credit Drops Soon: How Will Parents Spend Their Stimulus?

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 07:33

Trevor Filseth

Child Tax Credit,

Traditionally, the Child Tax Credit has been a rebate on a family’s taxes, deducted from their final balance when the family files their taxes in April. In previous years, the payment has been $2000 per child per year. However, as part of his COVID-19 relief plan, President Biden increased the payments.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The parents’ spending choices illuminate one of the strongest arguments in favor of a larger Child Tax Credit: parents tend to spend their credit money in ways that cause the money to return quickly to the economy, stimulating it and creating more total added value.

One of Biden’s most significant accomplishments from his first 100 days in office was the passage of the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. The $1.9 trillion legislation provided for, among other programs, the third round of stimulus payments, which sent out $1400 to all eligible American adults and their dependents. The payments were credited with keeping roughly 16 million American adults out of poverty, and according to one survey, roughly 90 percent of Americans saw a noticeable financial benefit after receiving theirs.

Biden has attempted to replicate the success of the stimulus checks through his expansion of the Child Tax Credit, enacted under the same plan. Traditionally, the Child Tax Credit has been a rebate on a family’s taxes, deducted from their final balance when the family files their taxes in April. In previous years, the payment has been $2000 per child per year. However, as part of his COVID-19 relief plan, President Biden increased the payments to $3000 per year – with an extra $600 per year for children under the age of six, who are typically more expensive for families to pay for. The objective of the measure is to offset some of the costs of raising children, as parents have struggled financially during the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan Act also called for the novel measure of sending out half of the tax credit payments in advance throughout the year. The first one is scheduled to be mailed on July 15 by the IRS. Observers have therefore compared the Child Tax Credit payments to small, monthly stimulus checks, targeted towards families. (The upper-income limit for the full credit is $75,000 per year for single parents or $150,000 per year for couples. In a perfect world, this would weed out parents who do not need the money, although in practice this means-testing does not always work.)

A simple fact often lost in the discussion, has been the human element and the needs of individual parents. Parents interviewed by USA Today were asked what they intended to spend the extra cash on; their responses were mostly mundane items, such as grocery bills, rent, and car repairs, although some parents expressed interest in recreational activities such as vacationing that they had gone without for the duration of the pandemic.

The parents’ spending choices illuminate one of the strongest arguments in favor of a larger Child Tax Credit: parents tend to spend their credit money in ways that cause the money to return quickly to the economy, stimulating it and creating more total added value. The objective of any “stimulus” payment is to increase cash flow, and one of the concerns that stimulus opponents had was that the money given out was not actually being immediately spent. For parents receiving the advance payments of the tax credit, however, this does not seem to be a problem.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for The National Interest.

Image: Flickr

British Legend: The Sun Never Sets on the Lee-Enfield Rifle

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 07:00

Warfare History Network


Outside of England, at least 46 nations adopted the SMLE in its various guises, according to one estimate.

Key Point: Outside of England, at least 46 nations adopted the SMLE in its various guises, according to one estimate. India and Pakistan continue to use thousands of SMLEs, though they are no longer frontline weapons. Some Afghan fighters prefer the Lee-Enfield for its superior range compared to the AK-47.

(This first appeared several months ago.)

A small party of about 40 German soldiers had infiltrated the Australian lines around the besieged town of Tobruk, Libya, during the night of April 13, 1941. They began setting up a half dozen machine guns, several mortars, and even a pair of small infantry guns laboriously dragged through the desert sands. It was a foothold the Germans could use to expand into the perimeter and capture the town. They began firing at the nearest Australian unit, B Company of the 2-17 Infantry Battalion. The Aussies replied with rifles and machine guns, but it was tough going. A party consisting of Lieutenant Austin  Mackell and five privates, along with Corporal John Hurst Edmondson, decided to mount a counterattack to drive the Germans back.

The men clutched their bayoneted Lee-Enfield Rifles tightly and moved into the darkness, attacking the enemy fiercely despite the machinegun fire thrown at them. Edmondson was hit twice but continued on, killing one enemy with his bayonet. Nearby, Mackell fought as well, but soon he was in dire need of help. His bayonet broke and the stock of his Lee-Enfield was shattered while fighting the Germans, at least three of whom were now attacking the young officer. Edmondson waded into the fray without hesitation, shooting or bayoneting all of them with his rifle. During the action he was mortally wounded. His comrades, saved by his actions, carried him back to their own lines, where he died four hours later. The Germans were defeated and the line was restored. Edmondson’s feat of bravery was the talk of Tobruk afterward and he would be the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War II.

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The Lee-Enfield rifle is one of the most widely used bolt-action military rifles in the world, surpassed only by the Model 1898 Mauser and its derivatives in sheer numbers. Entering service at the dawn of the 20th century, it is still seeing active use well into the present century. It is the iconic rifle of the British Empire and it is still seen everywhere the Empire went, from Europe to remote regions in Africa and Asia. Soldiers in Afghanistan today are still being fired upon with the same Lee- Enfields British troops carried over the top in World War I.

The Lee-Enfield had its origins in the late 19th century, when repeating rifles firing full-powered cartridges were coming to the fore. Its direct predecessor was the Lee-Metford, a similar bolt-action design that brought the British military a state-of-the-art weapon comparable to the latest Mausers. The rifle used a magazine and bolt system developed by American inventor James Lee. Approximately 13,000 were built in 1889 and distributed to the army for field testing. A gradual series of product improvements led to an upgraded model being standardized in 1892, but the rifle still suffered from a few weaknesses such as barrel wear and

poor sights. After testing, further refinements were made to the weapon, resulting in the Lee-Enfield Mark I in 1895. The name combined James Lee’s design with the Royal Small Arms Factory’s location at Enfield Lock, Middlesex. Thus the name of the famous rifle was established, even though further refinement continued over the following decade.

The standardization of the Lee-Enfield into its most long-serving form took a number of years and is a reflection of the state of rifle development in the early 20th century. At the time there was considerable discussion about the use of rifles versus carbines, the rifle being a full-length weapon with a barrel length of 30 inches or more for use by infantry. Carbines were intended for cavalry use and had shorter barrels for more convenient use on horseback, with lengths of 16 inches to 22 inches being common. Full-length rifles had the advantage of greater accuracy at long ranges. Most designs of the period had sights graduated for distances of 2,000 yards or more, but some critics felt that was too far for any sort of accurate fire and recommended a shorter rifle, which would save production material and lighten the soldier’s burden. Opponents of this view felt the rifle could be effective at long distances using volley fire and loathed any decrease in accuracy.

Eventually the argument for a shorter rifle prevailed, particularly as even a shorter rifle’s barrel was still capable of greater accuracy than the average conscript could achieve. In this era many armies were slowly transitioning to large forces of conscripts who would transition into the reserves for long periods after a few years of active service. Although Great Britain’s army was still a relatively small professional force optimized for securing a far-flung empire, it still took the new lessons to heart and set about perfecting its rifle design.

The result was the Short Magazine Lee- Enfield No. 1 Mk. III, standardized in 1907 and often abbreviated as the SMLE. The soldiers who carried it soon modified this acronym into the nickname “Smelly,” which bore no relation to their opinion of the weapon. As adopted, the rifle weighed just under 8 3⁄4 pounds with a barrel length of 25.2 inches. It had a detachable magazine that held 10 cartridges of .303-caliber ammunition, though in practice the magazine was most often reloaded using stripper clips rather than swapped out for a new one. A magazine cut-off device could be used to block the firer from loading fresh rounds from the magazine. This was thought to allow a more controlled rate of fire by making the shooter load a single cartridge at a time. The contents of the magazine could then be saved for heavy combat requiring a higher rate of fire or when ordered by a superior.

The Lee-Enfield’s sights were graduated to more than 1,000 yards. Originally, an unusual long-range sight was also added to the left side of the rifle’s stock for use in extended-distance volley firing. During World War I this volley sight, along with the magazine cut-off, would be deleted to simplify production. The bolt action was simple; in practice the user would chamber a fresh round by rotating the bolt handle upward and then drawing the bolt backward. This would eject a fired cartridge case. Pushing the bolt forward strips a new cartridge out of the magazine and pushes it into the chamber. Pushing the bolt handle down locks the bolt into place so the rifle can be fired. Critics state that the bolt design of the Lee-Enfield is weaker than the German Mauser’s. Although there is some truth in the assertion, it only comes into play with extremely high-powered cartridges such as those used to hunt large game. In practice, using standard military ammunition, the SMLE’s bolt is strong enough to handle the load.

Upon entering service, the Lee-Enfield went through a round of criticism, not unusual for a new weapon in any age. Shooting was a serious sport in England at the time and pundits criticized the Lee-Enfield for problems with accuracy, recoil, and weight. As expected, some took issue with the shorter barrel, claiming it was responsible for the accuracy issues. Most of the complaints came from expert riflemen, armorers, and similar experts. The average soldier seemed to have few such qualms, however, and the weapon soon gained an increasingly good reputation among them. For service use, it was robust, reliable, and effective. Its bolt action was quick and smooth, allowing a soldier to make fast followup shots. Its 10-shot magazine had twice the capacity of its contemporaries, enabling small units to lay down an impressive rate of fire and keep it up longer.

The first major test for the design came with World War I in August 1914. The British Army was small at the time, about 247,000 strong and fully half that number went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Shooting skills had been emphasized after marksmanship problems were noted during the Boer War over a decade earlier, so the average English soldier was highly skilled with a rifle. It was not unusual for a soldier to achieve 25 aimed shots or more per minute. This came in handy during the first months of the war, when armies on the Western Front still maneuvered into battle, before the stalemate of the trenches trapped men below ground for four long years.

Private Frank Richards of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers used the Lee-Enfield in the First Battle of Ypres in the autumn of 1914. His unit was advancing by platoons across open fields when they took rifle fire from a wooded area 600 yards ahead. The platoon went into a prone firing position and opened fire with their Lee- Enfields. Soon a group of Germans began advancing toward the British, who poured fire into them. Richards recalled “We had our rifles resting on the bank … and it was impossible to miss at that distance. We had downed half a dozen men before they realized what was happening; then they commenced to jump back into the trench … but we bowled them over like rabbits…. We had expended our magazines, which held ten rounds—there wasn’t a live enemy to be seen and the whole affair had lasted half a minute.”

In the German Army the First Ypres became known as the “Massacre of the Innocents” due to the 25,000 student volunteers who fell to British musketry during the fighting. The amount of fire British units could produce was so heavy German General Alexander von Kluck reportedly believed his opponents were armed completely with machine guns. In fact, British battalions had only two apiece and were often short even that paltry number. Casualties were made worse by the close order troops often used when advancing early in the war.

By 1915 the days of mobile columns were over and the armies settled into trench systems that extended hundreds of miles. British casualties were heavy, which diluted the army’s overall skill level as quickly trained replacements took over for the now lost regulars. Still, a few skilled marksmen remained, appearing from their trenches to take snap-shots at the enemy before ducking back down. A Canadian, Private Henry Norwest, was famed for his quick-shooting skills. He was a Metis Indian who was noted for his ability to rise, aim, fire, and reload before aiming and firing again in less than two seconds. Over time he is known to have killed at least 115 enemy troops before a sniper felled him in August 1918. Such shooting became harder as more German snipers were equipped with telescopic sights for their weapons. The SMLE saw its own sniper version as well, known as the No. 1 W (T).

Conditions in the trenches were hard on rifles and the SMLE was no exception. Mud could clog the action or the barrel. As a countermeasure, soldiers would plug the barrel with a cork or place a sock over the muzzle. A canvas breech cover was produced that could be clipped over the bolt and receiver to protect it from dirt and the elements. Keeping a weapon clean was a true challenge in the filthy conditions of trench warfare; soldiers could be charged with an offense for having a rusty or dirty rifle so maintenance took an even larger part of an infantryman’s time. The Lee-Enfield was a quality weapon with close tolerances in manufacturing, so extra care had to be taken, but if care was given the rifle stayed in action. Rifles with worn-out barrels were used to launch rifle grenades.

The disadvantage of having such a well-made weapon came on the production end. Only 108,000 rifles were made annually before the war began, not enough to equip the British Empire’s forces once the war was underway. Great increases were made once the conflict started; for example, from August to December 1914 approximately 120,000 SMLEs left the production line. This still was not enough so older Lee-Metfords were used for training and other designs were adopted as substitute standard weapons, in particular the P-14 Enfield made in the United States and called the No.3 Mark I in British service. Rifles were even ordered from as far away as Japan. SMLE production continued to increase. In 1917 more than 1.2 million rifles left the factory and more than 1 million in 1918.

After the war the SMLE again became the standard for the army with the substitute designs being placed in storage. While development between the wars did occur in semi-automatic weapons and new cartridges, scarcity of funds and abundance of rifles and leftover ammunition meant the Lee-Enfield served on in the hands of Imperial troops around the world. The biggest advancement was in redesigning the rifle to simplify production in the event of another war. The barrel was made slightly heavier to improve accuracy, and the sights were reconfigured and the muzzle was changed so that the barrel protruded slightly and was fitted with a new spike bayonet instead of the long blade-type from the previous conflict.

The improved SMLE was designated the No. 4 Mark I. It was approved for service just as World War II began. Initially, many soldiers did not take to the new rifle, preferring their old No.1 Mark IIIs. Despite this, more than 4.2 million No.4s were made by the end of World War II. Only about 10 percent of them were made at Enfield while the rest were made at the various factories set up around the Empire to increase production. The Australians continued to make the older Mark at their Lithgow Arsenal, having never adopted the No. 4. The Ishapore Rifle Factory in India also turned out the No. 1. The newer Mark was made in Canada at the Long Branch Factory near Toronto and in the United States by the Savage Arms Company. The American-produced rifles were stamped “U.S. Property” to help justify their distribution through the Lend-Lease program. The SMLE had truly become a worldwide rifle.

Most of the combatants started World War II using rifles very similar to those they used to fight the previous conflict, and often they were the same designs. A few semiautomatic rifles made their appearance early in the fighting, such as the American M1 and Soviet SVT-40. As the war continued, other nations, such as Germany, put forth their own new designs, including the first true assault rifle, the STG- 44. Nevertheless, most of the war’s riflemen still carried bolt-action weapons and the SMLE still outshone them all. The days of volley fire and rows of men in trenches were gone, but the Lee- Enfield’s smooth action and 10-round magazine still allowed Commonwealth soldiers to put out effective fire.

The SMLE No. 4 was also used to create variants, including a sniper model, the No.4 (T). It was a respectable long-range shooter, with good accuracy well past 600 yards. More than 24,000 were made and the design survived in British service into the 1970s and beyond. Two soldiers of the Cambridge Regiment, named Arthur and Packham, used their sniper SMLEs while hunting for a German sniper who had shot a British officer. For three days they stalked their opponent with no luck. But near the end of the third day Arthur spotted a wisp of smoke rising from some cover. The enemy marksman was having a cigarette. While Arthur spotted, Packham slowly slipped his rifle through their camouflage net. He took careful aim but could not get a good shot at the German. Now they knew the sniper’s hiding place, so they returned before dawn the next day and got ready. Shortly after 6 AM a German appeared. Just his head and shoulders were silhouetted in an opening in the vegetation. It was enough. Packham fired and was rewarded with a view of the enemy sniper’s rifle flying into the air as he collapsed.

The other major variant was the No. 5 Mk. 1, popularly known as the Jungle Carbine. It had a shorter barrel with a flash hider and cut down stock. It was lighter and handier but its recoil was harsh, which made it unpopular with the troops. Most were issued to troops in the Far East though the British 6th Airborne used them in Europe at the war’s end.

After the war ended the British Army retired the remaining No. 1s and retained the No.4 as its primary rifle. While the service experimented with a replacement, its soldiers took the SMLE into action again in Korea. In April 1951 the Gloucestershire Regiment’s 1st Battalion had to defend Hill 235 against several days of determined attacks by Chinese troops. Their Vickers machine guns ripped apart the enemy formations while the riflemen fired their SMLEs until the rifles were too hot to hold any longer. When that happened they picked up cool weapons from the dead and wounded. Sometimes a single bullet would fell two of three Chinese, so tightly packed together were the attacking regiments. The British eventually had to withdraw but they left behind some 10,000 enemy casualties.

Outside of England, at least 46 nations adopted the SMLE in its various guises, according to one estimate. India and Pakistan continue to use thousands of SMLEs, though they are no longer frontline weapons. Some Afghan fighters prefer the Lee-Enfield for its superior range compared to the AK-47. They still show up across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Even the Canadians still give them to rural northern militiamen known as the Canadian Rangers.

The British Empire created a rifle that has endured for more than a century. It is said the sun never set on the British Empire. Unlike the days of empire, the sun still has not set on the life of the SMLE for soldiers still carry it into combat in Asia and Africa. It shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.

This article by Lee Miskimon originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Flickr. 

See This Picture? The Mortar is Launching Something a Lot Scarier Than You'd Think

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 06:33

Warfare History Network


As the Allied offensive continued into Germany itself, the chemical mortar battalions moved forward.

Key Point: While the mortar units were a valuable asset, they were not without their problems.

In the last days of March 1945, a soldier named Carl Getzel sat on a hill outside the city of Aschaffenburg and watched as it was slowly destroyed. The young private was part of the American 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division. His unit was tasked to take this town but it had been hard going; the German troops inside the city were putting up a determined defense.

At echelons far above Carl, the decision was made to bombard the city. Artillery and air strikes pounded the once-beautiful town, but from his vantage he saw the a third, little known weapon wreak its own havoc. Not far behind him sat Company C, 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, equipped with the M2 4.2-inch mortar. Bombs from the mortars flew overhead to land in the city. As he watched, the projectiles crashed into buildings, bringing several down. It was an awesome display of firepower; Company C would fire 1,519 rounds of ammunition into Aschaffenburg during the last three days of March alone.

The Making of the Chemical Mortar

Although this account describes the 4.2-inch mortar (commonly nicknamed the “four-deuce”) as a close support weapon for frontline troops, the weapon was originally conceived for delivering poison gas and smoke munitions. Development of the M2 began after World War I as an attempt to improve the British-designed Stokes-Brandt 4-inch mortar. Since the intent was to utilize the new mortar solely for chemical weapons (smoke being considered a chemical weapon of sorts), the weapon came under the control of the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service. That branch wanted a weapon that had a longer range and was more mobile than the Stokes design. In addition, it wanted a weapon that had the normal advantages of a mortar: high rate of fire, the ability to deliver firepower quickly and to go into action in a short time.

Mortars are smaller and lighter than cannon of comparable caliber and fire at a high angle, their rounds arcing high into the air and coming down at a nearly vertical angle to the ground. This enables mortars to fire at targets in defilade, hidden behind objects such as buildings or hills that would mask artillery fire. Mortar ammunition, technically called “bombs,” is not subjected to the same pressures as artillery shells so it can be made with thinner walls and of cheaper metals, enabling it to carry higher payloads of explosives or chemicals. The primary disadvantage of a mortar is its relatively short range.

Initial experiments conducted after World War I used leftover Stokes weapons and munitions, but these trials resulted in the improved 4.2-inch model’s appearance by 1924, under the tutelage of Captain Lewis McBride. Like many of the weapons destined to play a part in World War II, the M2 suffered from the curtailed defense budgets of the 1920s and 1930s. Only a few of the mortars were produced, and they remained largely experimental with trials continuing essentially up to the war’s beginning.

One set of experiments beginning in 1934 involved creating a high-explosive round despite the M2 being earmarked as a chemical weapon delivery system. While no one at the time wanted to give up the M2’s primary role of launching gas and smoke, it would prove a fortuitous decision, making it a true dual-purpose weapon when war arrived years later.

Despite this extensive testing and planning, the four-deuce almost did not survive to see combat. In 1935, the War Department stopped all production of the weapon and later designated

the smaller 81mm mortar as standard issue for chemical battalions. The 81mm was an excellent light weapon for the infantry, but for the chemical branch it was considered much less capable. It was not until war clouds were looming close that the 4.2-inch was resurrected after a meeting between General George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff, and the commander of the Chemical Branch.

The M2’s potential as a close support weapon was obvious, and the chemical branch immediately began campaigning to adopt the high-explosive ammunition; while smoke munitions were of obvious use, the war thus far had seen no use of poison gas. It would be a waste of resources to relegate the mortar to screening missions only, and soldiers in the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) saw it as a way to increase the role their branch would play in the war.

This would not be the last bureaucratic stumbling block for the M2. When the CWS presented the case for the mortar to the Army ground forces, it recommended the Field Artillery Board test the weapon first. Should the artillery approve the M2, it would be used as a substitute for the 105mm howitzer in theaters where that weapon was not in use.

Since there were few places the 105 did not go, it would be the death knell for the mortar. The services of Supply Branch supported the CWS, citing the mortar’s higher firepower, lighter weight, and lower manpower requirements for crews as reasons to adopt it alongside cannon. In the end, opposition simply died out, and high-explosive ammunition for the M2 was approved on March 19, 1943. The four-deuce was going to war.

The mortar that had been the center of such controversy had a caliber of 4.2 inches or 107mm. It was a conventional design in that it was muzzle loaded; the crew dropped rounds into the tube from the muzzle. The bomb would slide down the barrel, and its end would strike a firing pin that would detonate the propellant, sending the round back up the tube and on its way.

Unlike most mortars, the M2 had a rifled barrel to impart a spin to its projectile, increasing accuracy. The weapon was composed of three parts—the 175 pound baseplate that sat on the ground and absorbed the recoil of firing, a barrel 40.1 inches long, and the standard. This piece is connected to the baseplate by two connecting rods and has a single vertical piece that houses the elevating mechanism. The mortar is also equipped with an optical sight that lines up on aiming stakes similar to artillery. The entire assembly weighs 330 pounds.

The weapon could traverse seven degrees to the left or right, and elevation was between 45 and 60 degrees. Up to 20 rounds per minute could be fired for short periods, though this was often exceeded in combat. Minimum range was 600 yards. Maximum range, initially just over 2,000 yards, was improved by war’s end to 4,500 yards, again commonly exceeded in action. High-explosive bombs weighed in at about 25 pounds, while smoke rounds were heavier at 32 pounds. In practice the weapons were often called “chemical mortars” since they were only used by the CWS.

The early chemical mortar units varied in size from company to regiment. Standardization was soon introduced with the battalion as the standard unit, though a few separate companies did see service in the Pacific theater. Battalions had four companies, each with two platoons. A platoon was further divided into two sections, each with three mortars, totaling 12 weapons per company and 48 per battalion. By mid-1942, six battalions existed: the 2nd, 3rd, and 81st through 84th. Four more were created by mid-1943, the 85th through 88th.

Combat Debut in Italy

The baptism of fire for the M2 came with the invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky. Four battalions—2nd, 3rd, 83rd, and 84th—were chosen to go ashore. There were two weaknesses. Only two companies of the 3rd Battalion had received amphibious training, and only the 2nd had conducted training alongside infantry units. Time limitations before the landing meant little work could be done to correct the problems.

Nevertheless, the mortar units went ashore and quickly proved their worth. When the Rangers fought at Gela, the 83rd supported them, helping repulse enemy tank and infantry attacks. The 2nd Battalion finished off a disabled German armored vehicle that was firing on American troops, firing eight rounds that all landed in an area only 15 yards in diameter with one round going right into the open top of the vehicle. The mortarmen also laid large smokescreens to screen friendly movements, in one case keeping the screen up for nearly 14 hours. Unit commanders were generally very positive about the effectiveness of the chemical mortar support, smoke, and high explosive, one even calling it “the most effective single weapon used in support of infantry.”

Still, as with any weapon new to combat use, some shortcomings were noted. Users wanted a longer range. At this point the M5A1 propellant gave a maximum range of 3,200 yards (the 4,500-yard M6 propellant was not yet available). The sight was also criticized as having too small a traverse and lacking illumination for night firing. Using typical G.I. ingenuity, Americans adapted captured Italian 81mm mortar sights, which proved to be a better piece of equipment.

After Sicily, chemical mortar battalions went on to serve at Salerno, Anzio, and throughout the Italian campaign. One battalion, the 83rd, became known as the “Artillery of the Rangers,” beginning its relationship with Colonel William Darby’s Ranger force at Gela on Sicily. The Rangers had no organic heavy weapons, and the M2’s firepower was a welcome addition. During the first two weeks of the Salerno campaign, C and D Companies alone fired more than 14,000 rounds. When the Rangers seized Chuinzi Pass and Mount Saint Angelo, they faced heavy counterattacks from German forces. The fighting became so desperate that mortarmen had to take their place on the line as infantry. Many targets were engaged up to 2,000 yards beyond the four-deuce’s range. The strain of such hard usage caused large numbers of breakages in mortar parts.

Still, the mission was accomplished and Colonel Darby later said the mortar battalion was instrumental in the success. In November, when the Rangers were fighting on the Winter Line, Company B supported them against a German counterattack with over 3,700 rounds. So many rounds were fired so quickly that one of the firing pins in an M2 fused from the heat. In return, German counterbattery fire destroyed two of the company’s ammunition dumps, sending more than 1,000 mortar bombs up in smoke.

When the Rangers went to Anzio in January 1944, the 83rd was still with them. Two companies, A and B, went ashore in the second wave, carried by DUKW amphibious vehicles. Their first fire mission was against an enemy 88mm gun that was shelling the beachhead, and fire from Company B drove it away. Darby ordered the mortars that had already landed to simply start firing in the direction of the Germans, saying, “I want the bastards to know I have something heavy, so they will start digging in. That will give me a chance to maneuver.”

As the Rangers moved inland, the mortarmen went with them although the soft ground played havoc with the weapons themselves, causing more breakages. When Darby’s Rangers made their ill-fated attack upon Cisterna, their “personal artillery” fired for them, trying in vain to cover their withdrawal from the Germans, who had encircled the embattled Americans. Only a handful of Darby’s men avoided death or capture.

While the mortar units were not likewise trapped, tragedy did strike them when the LST (landing ship, tank) carrying Companies C and D to Anzio struck a mine and sank. Even worse, many of the survivors were picked up by another vessel that itself struck a mine and sank with no survivors. The sad episode cost the lives of 293 soldiers; both companies were returned to Naples for replacements and reorganization before joining their battalion at Anzio in April.

The 84th Battalion also landed at Anzio and did its share, firing both high-explosive and smoke missions during the dreadful slugging match that became the battle for the beachhead. It fired over 50,000 rounds during the fighting through May 1944. Other chemical mortar units saw similar action throughout the Italian campaign, including the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion that took part in the fighting around Monte Cassino.

The M2 in Western Europe

When American forces landed in Western Europe, chemical mortars, having proven their worth, went with them. There was a shortage of trained units available, however, so only four battalions—the 81st, 86th, 87th and 92nd—were in theater for the Normandy invasion. The 81st landed on Omaha Beach with the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, while the 87th landed at Utah Beach with the 4th Division.

Once off the beaches, the mortarmen found themselves in the bocage country, fighting hedgerow to hedgerow with their comrades in the infantry. Casualties were heavy among the forward observer parties, and unit officers each took turns in that role. The chaotic nature of hedgerow fighting often meant the mortar crews had to fight as infantry and defend themselves when German troops infiltrated American positions or when the confusion of battle simply left a gap in the line.

When Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout from Normandy, began, Companies A and B of the 92nd were firing missions to support the 30th Division, itself poised to advance. A massive bombardment by Allied bombers took place to further soften German defenses. In a tragic miscalculation, some of the bombers dropped their payloads over American lines. Both mortar companies were hit with over 200 bombs falling in their battalion area. Beyond the 28 casualties the mortarmen suffered, General Lesley McNair, the Army ground forces commander, had come to France to observe the offensive and was in a position in front of A Company. He, too, fell to the errant barrage.

On August 15, 1944, Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, began. Two chemical mortar companies were selected to undergo glider training and land with the airborne forces taking part in the assault. These were D Company of the 83rd Battalion and A Company of the 2nd. They landed on the afternoon of D-day near Leluc, France. The next morning they fired concentrations against the town of Le Muy and supported the paratroopers during their missions afterward, Company A remaining with the airborne troops until mid-September.

As the Allied offensive continued into Germany itself, the chemical mortar battalions moved forward. At Aachen the 92nd fired an intense barrage to break up German wire barriers and then began a rolling barrage a mere 150 yards ahead of advancing infantry. When Third Army launched its assault on the fortress city of Metz, the M2’s fire proved ineffective against concrete bastions, but its ability to lay smoke provided much needed concealment during the frustrating and difficult attacks. Chemical mortar battalions served right up to the end of the fighting in Europe.

Problems With the M2

While the mortar units were a valuable asset, they were not without their problems. As the war continued, finding replacements for dead and wounded mortarmen became critical. Many new officers lacked thorough training, and enlisted men were scraped up wherever they could be found. Even when properly trained soldiers arrived, the replacement system often sent them anywhere but where they were most needed.

Another problem was the reliability of the M2 itself. Parts such as elevating screws and springs were breaking far too often, leaving units short of weapons. The screws seemed to be breaking because units were firing their mortars beyond maximum range, putting the weapons into unusual firing positions or using additional propellant. The springs, however, were criticized as being poorly made. If the spring did not work right, it placed added stress on all the other components of the weapon. Spare parts quickly became scarce.

The baseplate was also subjected to scrutiny, and an improved model, larger and heavier than the original, was produced in theater at a steel mill in Belgium. Another partial solution was to attach additional maintenance personnel to the battalions.

A third issue to arise was with the ammunition. Bombs were exploding either in the tubes or just after exiting upon firing. Suspect ammunition was impounded, but the problem continued to occur. Faulty fuses were the culprit, and artillery fuses were substituted.

The M2 in the Pacific

In the Pacific, the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion first saw action in New Georgia in September 1943. It went on to fight at Bougainville, where captured Japanese documents stressed to their own artillery to concentrate fire on mortar units whenever possible.

More mortar battalions and companies saw action in the Philippines. The weapons were even used to seal cave entrances, entombing Japanese defenders who refused to surrender. Similar to Europe, problems were encountered with the fuses, especially in the wet, humid conditions of the Pacific. At times ammunition shortages were the biggest handicap.

An innovative use of the M2 was as a fire support weapon for amphibious landings. This gave troops assaulting beaches a weapon to fill the gap between the time shore bombardment stopped and artillery was in place ashore. Mounted on LCIs (landing craft, infantry), the chemical mortars first saw action at Peleliu. The LCIs each mounted three mortars that fired forward over the bow. They would accompany the assault waves toward shore, firing preplanned bombardment on the beach and inland just ahead of the troops. Their fire proved so effective that the original group of four LCI(M)s (the M standing for mortar) was expanded to 60 boats by the end of the war. Many of these took part in the invasions of the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Though originally intended to fire only gas and smoke rounds, the four-deuce proved itself a valuable close-support weapon with the firepower of an artillery piece. It was so useful that a succeeding design, the M30, served the U.S. Army into the 1990s in the battalion mortar platoons of armored and mechanized units before being replaced by a 120mm weapon. The M2 helped prove the utility of the large- caliber mortar.

Originally Published December 31, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons. 

A True Hybrid: Meet the Iranian-Russian Raad-1 Self-Propelled Howitzer

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 06:00

Caleb Larson

Iran, Middle East

Much of Iran’s ground (and air!) equipment is quite old, and some of it a strange combination of Russian main guns and other parts mated hulls the guns were never intended for.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Raad-1 is a classic example of Iranian weapon platforms—a strange mixture of legacy equipment repackaged and spun as “Iranian.”

The Iranian arms industry is a mashup of vintage American systems, legacy Soviet equipment, and a smattering of Chinese and North Korean imports. Much of Iran’s ground (and air!) equipment is quite old, and some of it a strange combination of Russian main guns and other parts mated hulls the guns were never intended for. The Raad-1 is just such a system.

The Raad-1 is a mixture of Soviet and domestic Iranian equipment. For a turret, the Raad-1 has a 2S1 Gvozdika turret mated to an Iranian Boragh armored personnel carrier hull. Though the exact specifications of the Raad-1 are hard to determine with certainty, a good estimate of its capabilities can be inferred by looking at what is known about the domestic hull and foreign turret.

2S1 Gvozdika

The Gvozdika is a 122 millimeter self-propelled howitzer that was originally fielded in the early 1970s. Interestingly for a self-propelled howitzer, it’s amphibious. The Gvozdika had decent range for its time, firing a standard high-explosive projectile 15+ kilometers, or over 9 miles. This range could be extended with rocket-assisted projectiles out to nearly 30 kilometers, or 13+ miles.


Now things get confusing. The Boragh is believed by some to be an improved Iranian version of the Chinese Type 86 APC—which is itself a copy of the Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle. In addition to this convoluted pedigree, the Boragh may even use road wheels from the American M113 APC. It’s thoroughly confusing.

There are several Boragh variants that differ slightly, but generally fall into an anti-tank role, anti-aircraft, armored personnel carrier, or a mortar carrier. As I previously wrote, the anti-tank capability is ensured by the Toophan missile, a high-quality reverse-engineered copy of the American TOW missile.

The Boragh is equipped with a diesel engine that has a respectable 330 horsepower output, giving it good on and off-road capabilities. It has enough internal volume to carry 8 fully equipped troops in addition to three crew members.


The Raad-1 fuses these two very different technologies into one platform that apparently works. The crew of four (loader, gunner, driver, and commander) have access to the interior via the rear. Modest rolled steel armor protects the crew, though only from small arms and artillery shell splinters.

The Raad-1’s engine is housed in the front of the hull, giving the crew a slightly better amount of protection than if they rode in a forward configuration. The turret is mated to the hull near the rear, above the crew compartment. 

Judging by the Gvozdika, the Raad-1 probably has a similar maximum firing range of 15-plus kilometers or so, though the Raad-1 may suffer from reduced range and mobility, thanks to insufficiently wide tracks that may sink in soft or loose soil.

Either way, the Raad-1 is a classic example of Iranian weapon platforms—a strange mixture of legacy equipment repackaged and spun as “Iranian.”

Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image, Reuters.

Intelligence Coup: Winning this Nazi Submarine Helped End World War II

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 05:33

Warfare History Network

World War II, Americas

After about two minutes of machine-gun and cannon fire, men began popping out of hatches and jumping into the sea.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The intelligence materials taken from U-505 allowed Allied Naval Intelligence to read U-boat signals as fast as the Germans themselves, which helped them in their already successful war against Admiral Dönitz and his submarine fleet. All the elaborate grids and tables the Kriegsmarine had been using to track Allied shipping were now used against the U-boats.

“Frenchy to Blue Jay—I have a possible sound contact,” squawked from USS Guadalcanal’s bridge intercom at 1110 hours. It meant that “Frenchy,” codename for the Destroyer Escort USS Chatelain, had located something during a sonar sweep.

But Captain Daniel V. Gallery, commander of the escort carrier Guadalcanal (BlueJay) was not going to get excited, at least not yet. The sound contact could be a whale, a layer of cold water, or any number of other things. On the other hand, a “possible” was always treated like the real thing until found out to be otherwise.

“Left full rudder,” Captain Gallery ordered. “Engines ahead full speed.” He also sent two other destroyer escorts (DE) in to assist Chatelain, put two of Guadalcanal’s Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters over the sound contact, and “got the hell out of there at top speed.” Gallery knew that an aircraft carrier, even a small escort carrier, would only be in the way if the contact turned out to be a U-boat. “A carrier smack on the scene of a sound contact is like an old lady in the middle of a bar room brawl!” he once remarked. “She’d better move fast and leave room for the boys who have work to do.”

Captain Gallery knew about these things from experience. On his last cruise, Gallery and his hunter-killer group had sunk two U-boats, U-68 and U-515, within the space of 12 hours. He was well versed on how German submarine commanders behaved. This trip had begun on May 15, 1944, when Gallery departed Norfolk, Virginia, aboard Guadalcanal with five destroyer escorts: Chatelain, Pillsbury, Pope, Flaherty, and Jenks. His orders were to take his U-boat hunting group, officially known as Task Group 22.3, out into the Atlantic to look for more enemy submarines.

This time, though, Captain Gallery had something different in mind. During the last cruise, U-515 surfaced right in the middle of the task group. The escorting destroyer escorts hit the U-boat with every caliber gun they had, from five-inch to .50-caliber machine guns, before the boat sank. This gave Gallery an idea. “Suppose we hadn’t been so bloody minded about sinking her,” he thought. Before leaving Norfolk, Gallery assembled the captains of all the escort ships in his group and told them that they would try to capture a submarine, if possible, on this cruise.

If a U-boat came to the surface, as U-515 had done, everyone was to assume that the captain had come up to save the lives of the crew. Instead of sinking it, the destroyer escorts would open up with .50-caliber machine guns. This would keep the crew away from the U-boat’s deck guns and would also “encourage them to get the hell off that U-boat.” After the crew had abandoned the submarine, a boarding party would be sent over to disarm any booby traps, close all scuttling valves, do everything possible to keep the boat afloat, and rig it for towing back to the United States.

From the expression on their faces, Captain Gallery could see that some of the destroyer escort captains thought he must be crazy. Everyone present kept their mouths shut. They all organized boarding parties as ordered and waited to see what might happen.

Throughout the month of May, the possibility of capturing a U-boat remained a moot point. Captain Gallery’s hunter-killer group looked for submarines in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands, but could not find a thing. The results were “unproductive,” Gallery wrote with disgust in his report. Naval Intelligence sent word that a submarine was within 300 miles of the group, and Guadalcanal picked up radio transmissions on the U-boat frequency, but there had been no contacts. By May 30, the ships were all nearing the safe limit of their fuel. Gallery had no choice but to leave the area and head for Casablanca to refuel.

The task group started for Casablanca but kept a lookout for submarines along with way. On the night of June 2, radar contacts were reported about 50 miles east of the group’s position. Encouraged by these reports, Captain Gallery decided to spend another day on the search, even though it meant stretching his fuel.

When the Chatelain reported a possible sound contact at 1110 hours on June 4, Gallery gave the order to investigate the contact. As Guadalcanal left the area, Pillsbury and Jenks rushed over to help Chatelain. Chatelain’s captain fired a salvo of 20 hedgehogs, small, forward-firing depth bombs, and missed the target—if there was a target. At 1116 hours, all doubts ended abruptly. The pilots of the two Wildcat fighters positively identified a submarine running below the surface and advised Chatelain to reverse course toward it. The fighter pilots also fired bursts of machine-gun fire to indicate the submarine’s position.

The captain of the Chatelain followed the pilot’s advice and, aided by the machine-gun fire of the two planes, fired a full pattern of shallow-set depth charges. From the bridge of his flagship, Captain Gallery felt the deck underneath him rock as the depth charges exploded and a dozen geysers sprouted into the air. A minute later, after the explosions subsided, one of the fighter pilots shouted, “You’ve struck oil, Frenchy, sub is surfacing!” As personnel from every ship in the group looked on, the U-boat broke the surface 700 yards from Chatelain. Captain Gallery could see white water pouring from the submarine’s deck and conning tower. He had his quarry.

The reaction of the destroyer escorts was to start shooting as soon as soon as the boat came up. No one knew for certain whether the U-boat captain had come up to surrender or to fire a spread of torpedoes. Gunners aboard Chatelain, Pillsbury, and Jenks opened fire with a murderous barrage of .50-caliber machine-gun fire along with 20mm and 40mm shells. Larger caliber guns also began shooting but missed their target. The circling Wildcats came down to strafe.

"I Want to Capture That Bastard if Possible."

Shortly after coming to the surface, the U-boat began to circle to the right, making it look as though she was maneuvering to bring her torpedo tubes to bear. After about two minutes of machine-gun and cannon fire, men began popping out of hatches and jumping into the sea. It was obvious that the submarine had no intention of fighting it out with the group and was getting ready to surrender. Captain Gallery did not want the gunners to sink his prize. He broadcast to the escort ships, “I want to capture that bastard if possible.”

The submarine that Captain Gallery’s task group brought to the surface was U-505, commanded by 40-year-old Oberleutnant Harald Lange. U-505 was a Type IX-C submarine, commissioned at Hamburg on August 26, 1941. It was also the unluckiest boat in the Atlantic force. In fact, U-505 was the Typhoid Mary of Admiral Karl Dönitz’s entire U-boat fleet. Since its commissioning day, the submarine seemed to have developed the knack for having things go wrong.

Actually, U-505’s career had begun on a bright note. In November 1942, just after setting out on her first war patrol, she sank a 7,200-ton British freighter, and she eventually sank a total of eight Allied ships during her operational lifetime. Just two days after sinking her first freighter, however, she attacked another ship with four torpedoes—all four missed and her target got away. This was only the beginning of her bad luck. On the afternoon of November 10, she was depth-bombed by twin-engined aircraft and badly damaged. The captain managed to bring her back to France, but U-505spent the next seven months in the repair dock.

Her luck did not improve during her second cruise. Under the command of 24-year-old Peter Zschech, U-505 left Lorient on June 30, 1943, but had come out of the repair dock too soon and was not yet ready for the open sea, forcing a return to Lorient.

Captain Zschech set sail once again on July 3, but three days later the submarine was attacked by three British destroyers off Cape Finisterre. U-505 survived the attack but once again returned to Lorient for major repairs. Her next attempt at a war patrol came in September 1943, when U-505departed Lorient for the Atlantic shipping lanes. Two days out, one of her diesels locked up. The crew managed to repair the engine, but the main trim pump broke down three days later. Because no spare parts were on board for the pump, Captain Zschech had no choice but to return to Lorient on September 30.

The next cruise was probably the worst of all. With Captain Zschech on board, U-505 sailed for the Caribbean in October 1943. On October 9, the submarine was detected by unidentified Allied warships and attacked with depth charges. During the depth charge barrage, Zschech committed suicide with a handgun. The strain of the attack and the frustration of his failure as captain of U-505 had finally taken their toll. The executive officer assumed command and, as his first duty, buried Zschech at sea. U-505 returned to Lorient on November 7, damaged and without a commanding officer.

Oberleutnant Lange was assigned as U-505’s captain in December. U-boat command hoped that an older and steadier commander might help settle the crew after Captain Zschech’s suicide. Shortly after leaving port, the submarine picked up survivors from a German torpedo boat, T-25, and returned to France. Although this patrol was not nearly the fiasco of the previous cruise, it was still another aborted start. The crew was becoming highly frustrated with aborted war patrols, depth charges, and repair docks.

Captain Lange did not take U-505 to sea again until March 16, 1944. He patrolled the western coast of Africa for Allied shipping but never even spotted a single ship. “The hex is still with us,” a crewman complained. Actually, U-505’s failure to find Allied shipping had nothing to do with luck, bad or otherwise. Allied naval intelligence had been tracking the submarine through her radio transmissions and had diverted all shipping away from her.

At the end of May, Lange decided to return to Lorient—yet another unsuccessful patrol. The boat was low on fuel, the crew was frustrated and in low spirits, and nothing at all had been accomplished in nearly two and a half months. Lange did not know it, but Allied codebreakers were fully aware that he was returning to France and also had a good idea of the course he was taking. Intelligence passed this information along to Captain Gallery and his hunter-killer group. It was U-505 that Guadalcanal was picking up on the U-boat radio frequency.

Captain Lange had no idea that his boat was in danger until the morning of June 4, when the noise bearings of Gallery’s approaching destroyer escorts were picked up. He brought the submarine up to periscope depth and saw what he identified as three “destroyers,” along with another ship that might be an aircraft carrier. Although he ordered an immediate crash dive, the U-boat was convulsed by five explosions before it had the chance to reach a safe depth.

“Water broke in,” Lange reported. “Light and all electrical machinery went off and the rudders jammed.” The Chatelain’s depth charge salvo had found its target. “Not knowing the whole damage or why they continued bombing me,” Lange curiously noted in his report, as though he thought that shooting at his U-boat was bad sportsmanship, “I gave the order to bring the boat to the surface by [com]pressed air.”

As soon as the boat surfaced, Captain Lange was up on the bridge. He saw four U.S. Navy vessels around him, “shooting at my boat with calibre and anti-aircraft [.50-caliber machine gun and 40mm cannon.]” The nearest destroyer escort hit the conning tower, wounding Lange in his legs and also killing his chief officer. Lange ordered a turn to starboard, swinging away from the enemy and giving the American gunners less of a target to shoot at. He also ordered the boat scuttled.

At 1126 hours, 16 minutes after the first possible sound contact, Captain Gallery ordered the task group to cease fire. Immediately afterward, he sent an order over his flagship’s intercom that had not been heard on an American warship since the War of 1812: “Away all boarding parties!”

The first ship to react was the Pillsbury. Her boarding party, led by Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert David, climbed into the ship’s whaleboat and started off for the German submarine, which was still circling to starboard at five or six knots. The event reminded Captain Gallery of a scene from Moby Dick, with a boarding party chasing a U-boat instead of harpooners chasing a whale. It did not take very long for the crew to cut inside the submarine’s circle, overtake the boat, and jump on deck.

Now that they were actually on board the submarine, Lieutenant David and two other men had to take control of it. The only German they saw was dead, lying face down alongside the conning tower hatch. With David in the lead, the three men climbed through the hatch, went down the ladder, and jumped into the control room. No one was absolutely certain if any Germans were still on board or not. Luckily for the small boarding party, the compartment was deserted and silent. The only sounds came from the machinery that kept the U-boat moving in its slow circle.

Even if the Boat Sank, Saving the Enigma Machines Would Have Made Everything the Group had Done Well Worth the Effort.

It seemed as though the boat was about to sink. The submarine was about 10 degrees down by the stern and seemed to be settling deeper with each passing minute. So, the three men concentrated on saving the secret code books and the boat’s Enigma enciphering machines. They grabbed every secret document they could get their hands on and passed them up through the hatch and onto the bridge. Even if the boat sank, just saving the Enigma machines and the code books would have made everything the group had done so far well worth the effort.

Captain Gallery, however, was not satisfied with just the secret books and code machines. He wanted to save the submarine as well. Because Guadalcanal was no longer in danger from a torpedo attack, Gallery brought the carrier close enough to the U-boat to send a whaleboat with a 10-man boarding party to help David and his men. A wave sent Guadalcanal’s whaleboat crashing onto U-505’s forward deck, which thoroughly frightened the three men aboard the submarine. They had no idea that another boarding party had been sent.

The leader of the 10-man party was Commander Earl Trosino, an engineering officer and an expert on ships’ pipes and fittings. Before the war, Commander Trosino had been a chief engineer aboard Sun Oil (Sunoco) tankers. Although he had never been aboard a submarine, Trosino managed to solve a major problem within the first few minutes. An open seacock was allowing tons of water to pour into the U-boat, adding to the difficulty of keeping her afloat. Its cover was found nearby and was simply screwed back into place.

When Lieutenant David and his men began looking for booby traps, they found 13 demolition charges and disarmed them. Trosino made certain that all the valves were closed and did his best to keep the boat from sinking. He sent word to Captain Gallery that the U-boat would sink unless it was towed.

The captain of the Pillsbury attempted to come alongside the still-circling German submarine, pass a salvage pump over, and take the boat in tow. During the maneuver, one of the submarine’s diving planes punched a hole in the Pillsbury’s hull, flooding her engine room and forcing the ship to retire and repair the damage. After Pillsbury left the scene, Guadalcanal took over. Commander Trosino and his men attached their end of Guadalcanal’s cable to U-505’s bow, and the carrier began to pull.

On the evening of June 4, Captain Gallery set out for Dakar, the nearest friendly port, with U-505 in tow. He had to leave the damaged Pillsbury behind, with the Pope standing by. Captain Gallery had two problems to worry about. He was informed that the fuel situation was now critical. The task group could not have reached Casablanca even if Gallery wanted to. There was not enough fuel to make the trip.

The second problem was that U-505’s rudders were still turned to starboard. Commander Trosino reported that he had put the rudder amidships, but he had only succeeded in moving the boat’s electric rudder indicator. The indicator showed that the rudders were amidships, but they were actually still hard right. The only possible way of moving them was to use the boat’s manual steering mechanism, which was situated in the after torpedo room. Since the boat was already well down by the stern, adding the weight of a couple of men in that compartment would only make a bad situation worse. Also, Trosino reported that the aft torpedo room was flooded and that its hatch was booby-trapped.

Gallery said that he had been itching to get aboard the U-boat. The booby-trapped hatch gave him the excuse he needed. He was an ordnance school graduate and “knew as much about fuses and circuitry as anyone on board.” So, he designated himself officer in charge of booby traps and, along with Commander Trosino and four helpers, took a boat over to U-505 to investigate.

As he made his way into the submarine through the conning tower hatch, which was almost awash, Gallery began to have second thoughts about leaving Guadalcanal. The air stunk, the boat seemed on the verge of sinking by the stern, and the trip “through the control room, diesel engine room and after motor room seemed endless,” he recalled.

Finally, the party arrived at the hatch leading to the aft torpedo room. Trosino shone his light on an open fuse box and said, “There she is, Cap’n.” This was the booby trap. By the look of the box and all the wires coming out of it, it seemed to be a very cleverly devised demolition charge. To open the hatch to the torpedo room, the fuse box first had to be closed. Closing the lid might possibly close a circuit to an explosive device, which would destroy the U-boat and everyone in it.

Gallery did not believe such a connection would be made. He took a close look at the wiring and could not find anything suspicious. It seemed to him that the crew had abandoned the submarine too quickly—before they had the chance to set any charges. He thought the fuse box was harmless. As everyone held their breath, he slowly closed the cover. Nothing happened.

As soon as they opened the hatch to the torpedo room, the four men discovered that the compartment was dry. Commander Trosino had been wrong about that as well. The men entered the compartment, manhandled the steering gear to put the rudders amidships, and left as quickly as possible. The trip back to the control room was an uphill walk. As he climbed back to the bridge, Captain Gallery thought, “The fresh salt air sure smelt [sic] mighty sweet.”

Now that the U-boat was no longer turning to starboard, the next step was to pump the boat dry and bring her up to an even keel. “Junior,” as Guadalcanal’s crew now called U-505, was still half submerged, which made the boat a lot more difficult to tow. In fact, the sea was actually breaking over the conning tower hatch. When Gallery climbed through the hatch into the control room, he had to close the hatch behind him to keep from flooding the compartment.

Trosino had an idea for re-charging the U-boat’s storage batteries, even though Gallery would not let him run the diesel engines. Gallery was afraid that someone would turn the wrong valve and sink the boat. Trosino disconnected the clutch on the diesels and requested that Gallery tow the U-boat at 10 knots—quite a high speed for a tow. The forward speed turned the submarine’s propellers, which also turned the armatures of the electric motors, which, in turn, charged the batteries. With the batteries fully charged, there was enough electric current to run the boat’s pumps. The boat was pumped dry and brought up to full surface trim. U-505 was finally out of danger.

During the night, CINCLANT (Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet) sent orders to Captain Gallery. He was not to attempt taking U-505 to Dakar. Although Dakar was the nearest port, it was also full of German spies who would report the U-boat capture to Berlin. Instead, he was to take his prize to Bermuda. To assist with the long trip, the fleet tug Abnaki and the oiler Kennebeck were diverted from an Africa-bound convoy to join Gallery’s task group.

Admiral King Threatened to Have Gallery Court-Martialed for Bringing U-505 in as a Prize.

Gallery rendezvoused with the two ships in the mid-Atlantic. Ships of the group refueled from Kennebeck, while Abnaki took over towing duties from Guadalcanal. On June 9, the group formed a screen around Abnaki and U-505 and headed for Bermuda, still 2,500 miles away.

All prisoners from U-505 were safely aboard Guadalcanal; 59 German sailors out of a complement of 60, including officers and Captain Lange. Gallery decided to visit Lange in the carrier’s sick bay. He described the German captain as “a big, angular man of about 35,” who looked more like a preacher than a U-boat skipper. Lange’s leg wounds had been treated, and he was sitting up in his bunk. Gallery introduced himself as the captain of the ship and told Lange, “We have your U-boat in tow.”

Lange blinked at Gallery and shouted, “No!” Because of his wounds, he had spent all of his time below decks after being rescued, and refused to believe that his orders to scuttle the submarine had not been carried out. He would not accept the fact that U-505 was still afloat and had been captured until Gallery sent a crew member over to the U-boat to retrieve family pictures from Lange’s cabin.

Seeing his personal photographs convinced him. He told Gallery in perfect English, “I will be punished for this.” After the war, Lange wrote Gallery a letter informing him that he had landed a good job on the Hamburg docks. Apparently, his gloomy prediction did not come true.

While the remaining ships of Guadalcanal’s group escorted the Abnaki and U-505 to Bermuda, the Jenks had been sent ahead at maximum speed with the U-boat’s Enigma machines and 10 sacks of code books and secret documents, which weighed about 1,100 pounds. When news of the U-boat’s capture reached Washington, it was greeted with anything but elation. The main fear was that German intelligence would find out that one of their submarines had fallen into Allied hands and that they would immediately change all the Enigma codes. If that happened, all Allied codebreakers would be plunged into darkness for many weeks. Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, the bad-tempered chief of naval operations, was furious with Captain Gallery for jeopardizing Allied naval intelligence and their control of Enigma. He threatened to have Gallery court-martialed for bringing U-505 in as a prize.

Fortunately, no word ever reached German intelligence. Gallery told all hands attached to the task group that nothing must be said about what happened during the cruise, and amazingly the men did as they were told. The public did not find out about U-505 until after the war. Also, the Allied landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944, two days after the submarine was captured, pushed most other thoughts out of the minds of German intelligence. Berlin officially listed U-505 as sunk and made only routine changes in the naval codes.

The intelligence materials taken from U-505 allowed Allied Naval Intelligence to read U-boat signals as fast as the Germans themselves, which helped them in their already successful war against Admiral Dönitz and his submarine fleet. All the elaborate grids and tables the Kriegsmarine had been using to track Allied shipping were now used against the U-boats. Far from being the disaster feared by Admiral King, Gallery’s decision to take U-505 intact turned out to be an enormous advantage for Allied codebreakers.

On June 19, 1944, just over two weeks after Lieutenant David and his crew made their way into U-505’s control room, Gallery’s task group arrived in Bermuda. A huge U.S. flag flew above a much smaller German naval ensign on the U-boat’s flagstaff. The 59 prisoners were turned over to the commandant of the naval base. They were, in turn, kept in an isolated camp until the war ended. Absolutely no chances were being taken that might jeopardize the secrecy of U-505’s capture, including mixing the submarine’s crew with other German prisoners.

The U-boat was also turned over to the base commander, who issued a receipt: “One Nazi U-boat, U-505, complete with spare parts.” When the boat was inspected, a 14th demolition charge was found—in place and still very much alive.

For his part in the operation, Lieutenant Albert David was awarded the Medal of Honor. The two men who went down the U-boat’s conning tower hatch with him, Radioman Stenley E. Wdowiak and Torpedoman Arthur W. Kinspel, were given the Navy Cross. Captain Gallery did not receive a decoration, although he did get the Distinguished Service Medal for his work in antisubmarine warfare.

Gallery took very little credit for the success of the operation. He attributed it to thorough planning, helped along by a lot of good luck. As an afterthought, he added, “Maybe our daily morning prayers had something to do with it.”

David Alan Johnson has written extensively on World War II for more than 20 years. His book The Battle of Britain: The American Factor was well received in both the United Kingdom and the United States. He is currently working on a book about Anglo-American relations since Colonial times.

This article by David Alan Johnson originally appeared on the Warfare History Network. This piece was originally featured in 2016 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikipedia.

The Liberated of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp Was Unforgettable

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 05:00

Warfare History Network


Pure evil. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: U.S. soldiers would realize with horror the full extent of what they were fighting and why Hitler had to go. They would never forget what misery they saw.

After leading his U.S. 3rd Armored “Spearhead” Division on the longest, one-day, enemy-opposed mechanized advance in American history, Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose was killed in action on March 30, 1945, one of 30 flag officers who fell in World War II, and the only armored division commander ever lost in combat.

However, the march of the 3rd Armored Division did not end with the death of its commander or before its men confronted the full meaning of Nazism. Like other fighting divisions, the various units within 3rd Armored prepared after-action reports for April 1945 that document military operations, including liberations, but the official records, archival sources, personal memoirs, photos, etc., vary considerably concerning discovery of the atrocities and the actual places where the horror was perpetrated.

As one example, the 82nd Airborne Division final after-action report (AAR) contains a single paragraph in the Military Government section about “the discovery of a concentration camp at WOBBELIN” and the medical and humanitarian efforts undertaken, including a forced reburial of victims by the local population, a virtual constant in American AARs. In the case of the 3rd Armored Division, the recollections of individual soldiers, unit AARs, and the semi-official history, Spearhead in the West, offer a more detailed description of the liberation of a notorious concentration camp as part of military operations in the last days of the war in Germany—less than two weeks after Maurice Rose, the highest ranking Jewish American officer in the U.S. Army, was cut down in combat in the act of surrendering.

KZ (Konzentrationslager, i.e., Concentration Camp) Dora-Mittelbau was built in central Germany near the town of Nordhausen, by which name the entire camp complex is now commonly, but erroneously, known. The blandly named Mittelbau (translation, “central construction”) camp was initially established as a sub-camp of KZ Buchenwald, when the SS sent a detail of 120 slaves to expand a large underground Wehrmacht fuel depot to produce V-2 ballistic missiles after the existing production sites became the target of Allied bombers. When the main V-2 effort shifted from Peenemunde to Mittelbau, the site became an independent concentration camp in late October 1944, eventually encompassing more than 40 subcamps of its own, spread out over the immediate area. The first inmates, who built the facilities, were initially kept underground in the dark, unventilated tunnels, referred to as “Dora” in official documents of “Mittelbau GmbH,” the business unit set up by Armaments Minister Albert Speer’s vast empire, which oversaw the production site. The main factory area inside the tunnels was often referred to as Mittelwerk (“middle works.”) The SS ran all the camps, provided the slave labor at very reasonable negotiated rates, and the supply was constantly “replenished.”

Brutalized in miserable conditions, with minimal food, sanitation, heating, or light, the condemned slaves slept on wood racks, four levels high. The daily ration consisted of four ounces of black bread and a liter of potato soup—the former more sawdust than flour, and the latter diluted foul water without nourishment—which only stoked the constant hunger and dysentery. Industrial-level noise from moving and operating heavy manufacturing equipment and blasting though rock never ceased, and the air was befouled by noxious and deadly gases from explosives, fuel, and toxic metal dust. Vermin of all kinds and diseases long thought eradicated, such as tuberculosis, typhus, and pneumonia, flourished. The daily death rate during early construction and the last few months of the war soared, and the used-up slaves were “selected,” temporarily warehoused near the rail tracks, and shipped to KZ Mauthausen and other places for extermination.

Once full V-2 production began in the autumn of 1944, the Mittelbau complex held about 20,000 slaves, most working on outdoor construction, and about 6,000 in the tunnels. Dora-Mittelwerk produced 600-700 missiles per month on average, short of the monthly goal of 900 but nevertheless a significant achievement, especially after the Luftwaffe commandeered 40 percent of tunnel capacity for Junkers aircraft engine assembly. The enterprise was a model of efficiency, earning official commendations for the top managers, engineers, and SS staff, several of whom, including the last commandant, were prominent Auschwitz veterans.

The first V-2 rockets struck London on September 8, 1944, with the final launches on March 27, 1945. In the nearly seven months of attacks more than 3,000 warheads hit Allied cities, including Antwerp, Liege, and Paris. The ballistic missiles targeting London, most of which were produced in the Dora tunnels, killed about 2,500 civilians, injuring more than 6,000. During its existence as an underground, state-of-the-art, slave-based multi-facility manufacturing site—the final evolution of the SS master-slave economic system—more than 20,000 people from all over Europe were murdered or died from starvation, disease, or random executions at KZ Dora-Mittelbau, a labor cost of seven to eight slaves per V-2 rocket, which would kill or wound three to five civilians.

In early April 1945, as the Allies approached, consistent with Reich policy to leave no evidence of the mass murder behind, the SS began evacuations of the Dora-Mittelbau inmates north to KZ Bergen-Belsen, a mass collection point for the surviving prisoners of the crumbling Nazi empire. Thousands were murdered before and during the death marches, and by the time American forces arrived at Nordhausen few living prisoners remained. The 3rd Armored Division first entered the camp complex at an accidentally bombed and ruined barracks overflowing with corpses, called the Boelcke Kaserne.

Brigadier General Truman E. Boudinot, one-time champion Army free balloon racer and veteran tank commander of Combat Command B (CCB), one of two brigade-sized striking forces of the 3rd Armored “Spearhead” Division, had been driving his men hard for weeks. Starting with the breakout from the Remagen Bridge in early March 1945, the division spearheaded VII Corps, First Army, the southern pincer of 12th Army Group’s tightening grip on the industrial Ruhr region where the remnants of several German armies were trapped. When 3rd Armored met the tanks of the northern pincer, the U.S. Ninth Army led by the 2nd Armored “Hell on Wheels” Division, on April 1, 1945, the escape route slammed shut on the greatest encirclement battle in American history, with more than 350,000 prisoners bagged and German Army Group B destroyed. Field Marshal Walter Model, known as “Hitler’s Fireman” and the longtime battlefield opponent of Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, killed himself rather than surrender. Although the bloodletting would continue without pause until 3rd Armored reached the town of Dessau on the Elbe, the original mission of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s SHAEF was essentially complete. The industrial heart and war-making capability of the Third Reich, and its armed forces in the West, had been destroyed.

A week and a half after closing the Ruhr Pocket, General Boudinot was attacking into the Harz Mountains, where the high command believed strong German forces were gathering. Early on April 11, 1945, he received orders to take the town of Nordhausen. The rest of 3rd Armored, now commanded by Brig. Gen. Doyle O. Hickey, would continue the attack toward the mountains. The two task forces of CCB were built around Colonel John C. Welborn’s 33rd Armored Regiment and Lt. Col. William B. Lovelady’s 3rd Battalion and were moving abreast on two easterly routes. Lovelady entered the town near the railroad tracks and marked it on his map as a Luftwaffe base. He reported a large prison-type compound and requested more infantry support from Maj. Gen. “Terrible” Terry Allen’s 104th “Timberwolf” Infantry Division, which was attached to VII Corps and moving to the north.

The main Mittelbau camp was surrounded by an electrified barbed-wire fence and watchtowers. A large roll call area, where prisoners were assembled and counted several times a day, was located just west of the main entrance. The SS guard quarters lay farther east, outside the wire, where resistance was scattered, disorganized, and brief. No elements from the German Eleventh Army were encountered. Northeast of the main camp, from which the slaves were marched to work at 0400 and 1600 hours for 12-hour shifts of hard labor every day, camouflaged entrances led to the underground factory manufacturing Hitler’s “weapons of retaliation” (Vergeltungswaffen), the 40-foot-high V-2 ballistic missile packing 1,600 pounds of high explosive and the V-1 early-generation cruise missile (known as the flying bomb or “doodlebug”). The capture of Dora and the V-2 assembly plant at Kleinbodungen were major strategic prizes for Allied air technical intelligence officers looking for missile and aircraft materials and personnel. Even as the war in Europe ended, each of the Western Allies and the Soviets were competing for technological advantages in the next, and colder, struggle to come.

At the deepest level of the underground complex ran two enormous shafts, dug 600 feet into a limestone ridge, each more than a mile long, more than 50 feet high, and housing a full assembly line, one for V-1s, the other for V-2s. Dozens of 500-foot-long cross-tunnels linking the main shafts were filled with machine tools and bomb-making material at various stages of production. German engineers had already begun experiments on a secret V-3 antiaircraft missile system. That program and the V-2 assembly plant and storage facilities claimed the most able-bodied of the slaves, mostly Reich political prisoners under the Nebel und Nacht edict, Polish and Soviet prisoners of war, a small number of specially selected Jews, and forced laborers from the conquered countries who dug the tunnels and were then worked to death on the production lines.

Scattered inventory, and especially German scientists, were immediately secured and put under guard. Tons of documents and as many as 100 intact V-2s were crated and shipped back to the United States. Secrecy under the code name Operation Paperclip descended on Dora-Mittelbau with the birth of the American missile and, eventually, space programs, which would be run by some of the murderous Nazi masters of the tunnels. First among the known war criminals was SS Major Werner von Braun, who was a full and willing partner in all the camp’s operations and atrocities. The American intelligence officers and government officials knew who their new partners were.  Von Braun’s deputy, Helmut Gottrup, was captured by the Soviets and became a hero of their space program.

So terrible was the magnitude of what General Boudinot saw that day that he ordered the headquarters company photographers and MPs, as well as the newsmen, to gather evidence. The dead were left where they lay. A brief film called The Liberation of Nordhausen and later film compilations showing the camp and shot by the division and corps cameramen are still powerful testimony. Even for veterans of the most gruesome armored combat, men used to violent death and the human wreckage and casual brutality of the battlefield, the conditions they encountered left them shaking with rage, some openly weeping. As they progressed through the place, the troops eventually discovered more than 5,000 bodies in the partially destroyed barracks, lying about or stacked for burning at the crematory located in the north of the main camp. The very few alive lay scattered among the mass of corpses, as described in the division official history: “Emaciated, ragged shapes whose fever-bright eyes waited passively, even in the same beds with their dead and dying comrades, too weak to move. Over all the area clung the terrible odor of decomposition and, like a dirge of forlorn hope, the combined cries of these unfortunates rose and fell in weak undulations. It was a fabric of moans and whimpers, of delirium and outright madness. Here and there a single shape tottered about, walking slowly, like a man dreaming.”

To the starving and half-crazed inmates, the arrival of the soldiers and vehicles bearing the white star was a miracle from God. Men barely able to move kissed the filthy boots of the soldiers, murmuring their prayers of thanksgiving in a Babel of languages. One group of hysterically happy liberated souls attempted to hoist Lieutenant Herbert Gontard onto their shoulders. Although he was a slim young man, the weakened laborers could not lift him off the ground. Sergeant Ragene Farris, a medic in the 329th Medical Battalion, saw “rows upon rows of skin-covered skeletons … men lay as they had starved, discolored, and lying in indescribable human filth. Their striped coats and prison numbers hung to their frames as a last token or symbol of those who enslaved and killed them…. I noticed one girl. I would say she was about seventeen years old. She lay where she had fallen, gangrened and naked. I choked up, couldn’t quite understand how and why anyone could do these things…. We went downstairs into a filth indescribable, accompanied by a horrible dead-rot stench…. One hunched down French boy was huddled up against a dead comrade, as if to keep warm…. It was like stepping into the Dark Ages to walk into one of these cellar-cells and seek out the living.”

Medics removed 250 starvation cases immediately and hastily set up emergency hospitals. Less severe cases of all sorts were treated on site, but for many there was no hope. Major Martin L. Sherman, a doctor in the 3rd Armored’s 45th Medical Battalion, estimated that even with immediate assistance no more than half the starvation patients would survive. General Hickey, teeth tightly clenched on his ever-present pipe and accompanied by his corps commander, Maj. Gen. J. Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins, toured the barracks. Collins was sick to his stomach and ordered Colonel Dell B. Hardin, his G-5 officer (civil affairs and military government) to round up all the male citizens of Nordhausen, the most prominent in the front, and force them into the camp.

That night Collins wrote to his wife, “We had the Burgomeister [sic] set aside a plot of ground overlooking the town, and these people were required to dig graves and carry every one of the dead up the hill and bury them. The local officials disclaimed any knowledge of the camp, which was, of course, tommyrot. We are going to require them to erect a monument in this cemetery as a memorial to these dead.”

Troops who liberated the camp, especially Colonel Lovelady’s men who saw the Boelcke Kaserne, were infuriated when the local citizens insisted that they knew nothing of the atrocities. Private Harold Kennedy, one of Terry Allen’s foot soldiers, saw the camp a few hours after liberation and could not believe the German civilians. “They always said, ‘Well, we didn’t know.’ And I’d say, ‘You could smell it, couldn’t you?’” Lou “Louch” Baczewski, a Task Force Lovelady Sherman tank driver, describing decades later what he saw and smelled at the ruined barracks to his grandson, was overcome several times by the telling, rubbing his forehead, repeating over and over, “It was a bad sight. It was a bad sight. It was something terrible.”

Still angry about the murder of General Rose just days before, the 3rd Armored needed no urging to get back into the fight and were in a “savage mood” as they went into the final battles. Several captured German scientists were publicly beaten for benefit of the cameras, and unconfirmed reports circulated that few prisoners were taken in the days immediately following the camp’s liberation. After pausing for several hours to refuel, reload, and grab some rest, the VII Corps advance resumed early on April 12, 1945, the 3rd Armored Division Forward HQ entering Sangerhausen, 22 miles to the east, by midday. The Ruhr Pocket battle was eventually renamed the Rose Pocket to honor the fallen 3rd Armored commander. The war—and the killing—went on for another day. But not at KZ Dora-Mittelbau.

At a veterans’ reunion to research the biography of Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, a man came up to the author and introduced himself as Michael Kane, son of Lt. Col. Matthew Kane, commander of Task Force Kane, 32nd Armored Regiment. Hero. Michael’s mother had recently told him that his father, a traditional and tough Texas West Pointer who passed away when the boy was 10, had helped liberate the concentration camp at Nordhausen. She was concerned that revisionists were already claiming that the Holocaust had never happened. He was struck by her concern—she had never mentioned it or showed any interest—in truth he thought her conventionally, and passively, anti-Semitic. But now, facing death, she wanted her son to know his father’s direct role as a “liberator.” Michael was so engaged by the experience that he went to the reunion to prepare for a trip to Germany to commemorate the liberation of Nordhausen and to see the camp for himself. He wanted to tell the story.

On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the last of the six SS extermination camps (Vernichtungslager), all on Polish soil, as well as many other horrible places in Germany. During the final six weeks of the war in Europe, American and British units liberated many of the main concentration camps as well as the network of sub-camps, slave labor, brothels, prison camps, and a dizzying array of other terrible facilities. Popular history has concentrated on a few notorious names, especially the first camps discovered, like Dachau and Buchenwald, but recent scholarship establishes that the Nazi system encompassed more than 40,000 separate installations with a death toll far beyond the latest generally accepted numbers.

Liberation was not limited to places of persecution, and a few days after taking Dora-Mittelbau the 3rd Armored Division freed 450 British POWs at Polleben, some having been captured at such early battles as Dunkirk, Norway, and Crete. The British 11th Armoured “Black Bull” Division liberated KZ Bergen-Belsen, burning that name in the British consciousness along with the image of bulldozers pushing thousands of emaciated corpses into a ditch.

On April 12, 1945, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower and Generals Omar Bradley and George Patton went to KZ Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald and the first to be liberated by Patton’s Third Army, to see for themselves. Bradley recalled the moment in his first memoir. “Eisenhower’s face whitened into a mask. Patton walked over to a corner and sickened. I was too revolted to speak.” They saw the evil they had defeated on the battlefield. As testimony, the surviving work of the U.S. and British cameramen created exactly the images that the generals and newsmen wanted and that mankind still needs to see, especially when Holocaust denial and ignorance is growing in the United States. Even more chilling, in the lands where the crimes happened, some groups celebrate the murderers with parades, statues, and dishonored flags.

The Center of Military History of the United States Army, advised by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, has credited 36 U.S. World War II Divisions—24th Infantry, 10th Armored, and 2nd Airborne—as “liberators,” and their flags, adorned with campaign streamers, stand in honor at the museum in Washington, D.C.

Author Steve Ossad has recently written a biography of General Omar Bradley published through the University of Missouri Press. He resides in New York City.

This first appeared at Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

No One In Europe Saw Hitler's Rise to Power Coming — Not Even Germany

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 04:33

David Axe


Hitler did time behind bars. But even his jailers didn't understand what he was capable of. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: Through Hitler’s arrest to his trial and sentencing, the Bavarian government had demonstrated that it was equally fearful of Hitler’s rising influence and sympathetic to his philosophy of racial bigotry.

On April 1, 1924, 34-year-old Adolf Hitler — a socially awkward painter and former soldier from Austria — arrived at Landsberg prison in Bavaria to serve a five-year sentence for organizing a failed coup that got 18 men killed, including four policemen.

Hitler stepped into Landsberg as the occasionally self-doubting head of a tiny, impoverished and amateurish anti-semitic political movement — the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. He would walk out nine months later a more self-assured figure steadily gaining prominence and power.

And arguably more importantly, Hitler left prison as the author of Mein Kampf, a two-volume memoir and political screed that, in the words of biographer Volker Ullrich, “connected [Hitler’s] biography and his political program.”

In doing so, Mein Kampf — published between July and December 1925 — did the initial work of creating a cult of personality around its author and subject. Hitler was the Nazi Party. And Landsberg was his, and Nazism’s, laboratory.

There is no shortage of books about Hitler. But Ullrich’s new biography Hitler: Ascent, 1889–1939, recently translated from German to English, stands out for its thorough research and aversion to myth-making. “The global entertainment industry has long since appropriated and transformed Hitler into a sensationalist, pop-cultural icon of horror,” Ullrich writes.

Equally troubling, studies of Hitler tend to skew toward one of two extremes — structuralism and intentionalism. That is, did larger political and cultural forces create Hitler the leader? Or did Hitler create himself?

Ullrich’s mission, he writes, is “bringing it all together and synthesizing it.” This balance is evident as Ullrich explores Hitler’s time in Landsberg. “Imprisonment only encouraged Hitler’s belief in himself and his historic mission.”

Helpfully for the budding dictator, Bavarian authorities had imprisoned Hitler and his fellow coup plotters — most notably, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s future deputy — together. Hitler’s “fellow inmates, first and foremost Hess, did everything they could to strengthen his conviction.”

The Austrian and his imprisoned compatriots met daily for lunch. “Hitler’s fellow inmates would wait, standing silently behind their chairs, for the cry, ‘Attention!’ The Fuehrer would then walk, accompanied by his inner circle, through the rows of his faithful followers and sit down at the top end of the table.”

Hitler gave a little speech. “Sieg heil!” his followers cried.

Landsberg was eminently comfortable for Hitler — more comfortable, in fact, than many of the shabby apartments and boarding houses young Hitler had lived in for most of his adult life.

This was no accident. Through Hitler’s arrest to his trial and sentencing, the Bavarian government had demonstrated that it was equally fearful of Hitler’s rising influence and sympathetic to his philosophy of racial bigotry. “I know you,” one of Hitler’s prison guards told him. “I’m a National Socialist, too.”

“Hitler enjoyed a wide variety of privileges,” according to Ullrich. “His ‘cell’ was a large, airy, comfortably furnished room with an expansive view. In addition to the hearty food cooked by the prison kitchen, Hitler constantly received care packages; his quarters reminded some visitors of a ‘delicatessen.’”

Hitler’s abortive putsch — and his commensurate prison sentence — demonstrated to the German populace that Hitler was “a man who not only talked, but acted in critical situations — and who was willing to take great personal risks.”

And for Hitler, being in prison eased the stress of daily living, allowed him plenty of time to visit with supporters — up to five per day — and afforded him the leisure and focus to write Mein Kampf, which he tapped out “hunt-and-peck” style on a typewriter that prison officials gave him.

And so Hitler relaxed, ate, honed his leadership and oratory skills, worked on his book — and behaved himself. In sharp contrast to the seditious behavior that had landed him in Landsberg, while in prison Hitler was a perfect angel. “Hitler scrupulously avoided any conflict with prison authorities.”

Behaving wasn’t just Hitler’s way of maintaining his prison privileges. Playing nice also represented a key philosophical turn for Hitler. Where before the aspiring strongman had aspired to overthrow the state, now Hitler wanted to gain control of the state … by way of the state’s own mechanisms.

“It was while imprisoned in Landsberg, Hitler recollected in February 1942, that he ‘became convinced that violence would not work since the state is too established and has all the weapons in its possession,’” Ullrich writes.

Hitler lived by that conviction. Released early from prison in December 1924, Hitler reorganized his National Socialist party, promoted his book and cultivated a mass audience that, amid economic stress and global political tensions, was becoming more and more sympathetic to anti-semitic rhetoric.

In 1932, Hitler ran for president and lost. But with Hitler’s leadership, the Nazis won the largest bloc of seats in parliament. Pres. Paul von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as chancellor. A year later, Nazi legislators passed a law that paved the way for Hitler to eventually gain dictatorial powers.

Hitler wasted no time leading his country into a genocidal war. An entirely accommodating prison term had prepared him.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here

Image: Wikipedia.

(This article first appeared several years ago and is being republished due to reader interest.)

In Afghanistan, Russia’s Su-17 Proved to Be an All-Role Fighter

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 04:00

Charlie Gao

Russia, Europe

During the majority of the Cold War, the swing-wing Su-17 (known as the Su-22 for export) formed the bulk of strike and CAS aircraft for Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Su-17 saw significant service in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It served in many roles during that conflict, including reconnaissance, strike, and minelaying. Combat experience in this conflict led to the fitting of chaff and flare dispensers and additional armor to the aircraft.

For many military watchers, the Sukhoi name is synonymous with the clean flowing lines of the Su-27, Su-30, and Su-35 series of Flanker aircraft or the squat and stubby Su-25 ground attack aircraft. However, during the majority of the Cold War, the swing-wing Su-17 (known as the Su-22 for export) formed the bulk of strike and CAS aircraft for Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces.

Some of these aircraft still fly today in the service of former Soviet allies. The aircraft has seen extensive service in the Syrian Civil War. But how does it stack up to North Atlantic Treaty Organization fighter-bombers of the same era?

The Su-17 was first developed as a follow on to the earlier Su-7B fighter-bomber. The Su-7B was the Soviet Union’s first jet-powered tactical bomber, coming on the heels of the Il-10 piston-powered aircraft.

However, as the Su-7B was an adaptation of the Su-7 fighter, it suffered from insufficient bomb load. When engines were upgraded to handle a higher bomb load, the Su-7B’s takeoff run became too long for most frontal airfields.

The need for heavy bomb loads and short takeoff runs was a problem for many Soviet aircraft of the era. TsAGI, one of the chief aerodynamic research institutes of the Soviet Union came up with two solutions: the addition of disposable rocket or jet thrusters or the use of a variable geometry-wing.

While the Soviets produced some disposable rockets for special purposes, the variable-wing was considered the better solution after some testing. In the mid-1960s, three Soviet aircraft would be accepted into service with the variable-wing: the MiG-23 fighter, the Su-24 strike bomber, and the Su-17 fighter-bomber.

The swing-wing American F-111 entered service around the same time, but in payload, speed, and size it was far larger than the Su-17 and even the Su-24.

Rather, the French/British SEPECAT Jaguar can be seen as the closest NATO analog to the Su-17, although it is a fixed-wing aircraft, not a swing-wing aircraft. Both aircraft can carry around 4000 kilograms of munitions and are single-engine aircraft with similar top speeds.

Both aircraft received precision-guided munition capability around the same time. However, the Su-17 received this capability in two variants, first with the Su-17M3 in 1981 and then with the Su-17M4. The Su-17M3 and M4 featured the “Klen” laser rangefinder and target designator. It was a fairly rudimentary system without a display. Aiming was conducted via a HUD reticle which the pilot pointed at a target. The system would then “lock on” and track the target with a targeting laser.

To contrast, the French Jaguars received the ATLIS targeting pod, a first-generation targeting pod with a laser designator. This integrated with a display in the cockpit so the pilot could “aim” the laser at a target through the display, slewing it on gimbals inside the targeting pod instead of pointing the entire aircraft at the target.

However, the Su-17 featured more hardpoints than the Jaguar. The Su-17 featured two dedicated hardpoints for R-60 air-to-air missiles, in contrast to the Jaguar which shared hardpoints between air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance. A Su-17 could carry a full bomb load as well as two air-to-air missiles for self-defense, in contrast to the Jaguar which would have to lose some air-to-ground ordnance to carry air-to-air missiles.

The Su-17 saw significant service in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It served in many roles during that conflict, including reconnaissance, strike, and minelaying. Combat experience in this conflict led to the fitting of chaff and flare dispensers and additional armor to the aircraft.

Su-17s left Russian service alongside their MiG-23BN and MiG-27 counterparts during defense reforms during the 1990s and 2000s as single-engine aircraft were not considered survivable enough for air-to-ground combat. In the role as a close air support aircraft, the double-engined squat Su-25 replaces it. In the role as a faster strike aircraft, the Su-34 replaced the Su-17.

Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.

Image: Wikipedia

Sorry America, But You Have Already Lost the Icebreaker Race

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 03:33

Charlie Gao

Icebreakers, arctic

Russia and China are investing more and more money into the Arctic capabilities of their militaries, including icebreakers.

Here's What You Need to Know: Resupply to such bases requires a large icebreaker fleet. If the United States or Canada wishes to operate additional bases up north to match Russia’s presence, the icebreaker fleet will likely need expansion to match the upkeep.

Recently, the state of the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet has been making waves in Washington, DC. Republicans have suggested diverting funding from the Coast Guard’s initiative to acquire a new heavy icebreaker to the border wall.

This comes at a time where Russia and China are investing more and more money into the Arctic capabilities of their militaries, including icebreakers. But what is Russia’s overall Arctic strategy? How do icebreakers fit into that picture and enable them to project power into the Arctic, and what do they stand to gain?

The current state of the relative size of icebreaker fleets is best summed up in one diagram put out by the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Waterways and Ocean Policy. There are some key points to be seen here. Only the United States and Russia operate “heavy” icebreakers, indicated in black. Those icebreakers have the highest amount of power available to them, allowing them to operate in the thickest ice sheets.

Of those heavy icebreakers, America only has one operational. Russia, on the other hand, has two operational with four more in refit. Once refits are complete, Russian heavy icebreakers will outnumber the American ones 3:1, providing Russia with better capability to run operations in heavy ice packs.

America’s only heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star is also often tasked to support international and U.S. operations on the South Pole. During these operations, the Polar Star ran into multiple operational difficulties due to its age: the USCGC Polar Star first entered service in the 1970s.

Russia’s fleet of heavy icebreakers are significantly younger than the American ships, entering service in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Russia also fields a far larger fleet of light and medium icebreakers, although these cannot handle thicker ice and mostly are used to keep trading lanes open to northern ports such as Arkhangelsk.

In addition to its already formidable fleet, Russia is planning to build some even bigger icebreakers. The “Leader”-class (LK-110Ya/Pr. 10510) of icebreakers is expected to weigh somewhere around 71,000 tons, which would make it by far the heaviest icebreaker in the world. To compare, the USCGC Polar Star weighs only around 10,000 tons.

The “Leader” would be powered by 110 MW nuclear power plant (hence the 110 in the designation) and be charged with being one of many ships keeping the North Sea route open.

While the “Leader” class is still only on paper at the moment, Russia is nearly done with the “Arktika”-class (LK-60Ya/Pr. 22220) of heavy nuclear icebreakers. These ships also are massive, weighing in at around 33,000 tons. The new Arktika-class ships are expected to undergo sea trials at the end of 2019.

Nominally, the purpose of these ships is to maintain and develop the Northern Sea Route as a cheaper alternative to going around India and through the Suez Canal. This is very important by itself as it gives Russia control over a major sea route that is becoming more accessible as a result of climate change. If Russia wants to reap the benefits of this route, it must invest money in ships to keep it open.

The Russian government has delegated control over this sea route to Rosatom, the state corporation which is overseeing the development and operation of the new and current nuclear-powered icebreakers. As such, Rosatom will grant foreign ships the right to traverse this route.

However, the Northern Sea Route isn’t the only part of Russian Arctic policy. Russian outlets have framed the “growing militarization of the Arctic” as an important issue, and the Russian military is definitely doing their part on that front, reopening many Arctic bases.

The exact purposes of these bases appear to be mostly to sit on Russian resource claims in the region, but according to a Reuters article, the movement of surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles to these remote Arctic bases gives them a strong Area Denial/Anti-Access Capability.

Resupply to such bases requires a large icebreaker fleet. If the United States or Canada wishes to operate additional bases up north to match Russia’s presence, the icebreaker fleet will likely need expansion to match the upkeep.

From this, we can see that the lower numbers of American icebreakers aren’t as serious of a strategic flaw as the numbers alone may suggest. Russia has far more missions for their icebreakers, so it needs more of them. However, the U.S. icebreaker fleet still needs increased numbers to accomplish the tasks it needs to do. Hence, having one heavy icebreaker shared between all polar missions in the Arctic and Antarctic is a big stretch on the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet.

Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national-security issues.

This article first appeared in August 2018.

Image: Reuters

Where Is the Sage of Air Power Doctrine?

The National Interest - Mon, 05/07/2021 - 03:00

James Holmes

U.S. Air Force, Global

Clausewitz felt little need to prove that armies should exist, Corbett that navies should ply the oceans, or Mao that guerrillas and other irregular fighters should bestride the field. Where is the expert on air?

Here's What You Need to Remember:  Aviators need a common vocabulary and understanding of the wild blue to debate how best to configure air forces and deploy them for tactical, operational, and strategic gain. Without that foundation partisans of contending schools of thought about air warfare tend to fling volleys of assertions and counter-assertions at one another.

Students and practitioners of air power desperately need a theorist with the stature of a Carl von Clausewitz, Julian S. Corbett, or Mao Zedong—masters of ground, sea, and irregular warfare, respectively. Aviators need a common vocabulary and understanding of the wild blue to debate how best to configure air forces and deploy them for tactical, operational, and strategic gain. Without that foundation partisans of contending schools of thought about air warfare tend to fling volleys of assertions and counter-assertions at one another. Few have sufficient firepower to convince.

Exhibit A: over at Oriana Pawlyk reports that U.S. Air Force “light-attack” experiments “appear to have lost steam as other priorities have come to the fore.” The service has convened fly-offs of inexpensive propeller- and jet-driven aircraft optimal for “close air support,” meaning airborne bombardment of hostile ground forces. On-call support to armies isn’t an orphan mission for the air force, precisely, but it does tend to rank below glamour missions such as air superiority and strategic bombing in the service’s pecking order.

Which has things backward—as a sage of air power would likely teach. Air forces exist to fight for control of embattled airspace precisely so they can support ground forces and execute other worthwhile missions in friendly skies. Air combat confers the luxury to execute humdrum functions.

Humble aircraft can perform ground-attack duty, which is probably why it excites little passion among air-force magnates. Fighters and bombers captivate them instead. Warbirds assigned to close air support may sortie out hunting for targets of opportunity, or they may loiter aloft awaiting calls for fire from ground-pounders below. Aerial fire support weakens hostile armies and hampers their maneuvers on the battlefield while protecting friendly troops, lending them a firepower advantage, or correcting a firepower mismatch so that few soldiers can stand against many. U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine aviators have spent the bulk of their time since September 11 rendering fire support in theaters from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria.

Not every such mission demands an aging A-10 Warthog, a flying tank built around a massive Gatling gun, or a pricey fighter/attack jet like an F-16 Falcon or F-35 Lighting II. Hence the recent experiments. Light aircraft could render similar assistance in uncontested or lightly contested airspace, and at far lower cost. The light-attack experiments’ overseers have designated the turboprop-driven Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano the prime candidates for the support mission—assuming the service embraces the concept of light attack.

This debate is a curious one. It has raged across commentary pages over the past couple of years, but neither proponents nor detractors of the concept situate it in the context of a larger air campaign—of what air forces exist to do, in other words. Everyone seems to assume close air support must take place in isolation, as though ground-attack planes must confront, withstand, or evade ground fire or hostile air forces all by themselves, with no help from the rest of the air fleet. Advocates stress that light aircraft are small, nimble, and evasive while critics point to the proliferation of advanced surface-to-air missiles to formerly safe theaters and intimate that light attack aircraft would surely perish from ground fire.

Partisans on both sides, then, seem to agree tacitly that attack planes must shift for themselves. They take a wholly passive view. But what sane air commander would expose close-air-support aircraft and crews thus? None, I hope. Commanders would allocate air-superiority aircraft to furnish cover, helping attack planes sporting little capacity for self-defense do their job in a tolerably safe tactical environment. If the area hasn’t yet been made safe for close air support, then the air force as a whole still has work to do. Ground-attack planes shouldn’t be sent forth unguarded.

The interdependence among the components of an air force has gotten lost in the debate over light attack, not to mention quarrels over the proper mix of stealth and non-stealthy aircraft in the inventory, methods for integrating unmanned vehicles alongside manned planes, and on and on. A robust aviation theory would illumine these exchanges of point and counterpoint. It would explain how the segments of an air arm work together for combined effect, and in the process it could help collapse the silos separating communities within the U.S. Air Force. In short, air-power theory would offer a point of departure—enriching future deliberations about force design, tactics, and operations.

A century into the air age, few would dispute the importance of aviation to military operations. And yet at the Naval War College our main text on air power remains the Italian general Giulio Douhet’s Command of the Air. Douhet’s treatise dates to 1921. While it remains the best available guide to air-power theory a century hence, few would rank Command of the Air alongside timeless works like Clausewitz’s On War, Corbett’s Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, or Mao’s On Protracted War.

Chronological age isn’t the problem with Douhet’s writings. Age is good. We read far older works with our students each term when sojourning through martial history and theory. The trouble is that Douhet wrote too soon, when military aviation remained in its infancy. Think about it. Only in 1903 did Orville and Wilbur Wright take to the skies above Kitty Hawk, NC, ushering in the era of heavier-than-air flight. The first military aircraft, another brainchild of the Wright brothers, debuted in 1909. Command of the Air thus debuted a mere eyeblink into the age of military aviation.

This is no slight to Douhet. Somebody has to be first to say something meaningful about a new topic, and all honor to those with the courage to do it. But twelve years supplies too little history to plumb. A century on we should temper our enthusiasm for findings about air warfare distilled from the First Balkan War (1912-1913) and World War I (1914-1918), when rudimentary planes first dueled one another and ground forces. That’s far too sparse a storehouse of data to yield insights of enduring value.

Do a thought experiment. Military thinkers would lampoon the idea that some scribe could have written the definitive treatise about land warfare within a few years after cavemen first lobbed stones at one another, or about naval warfare in the seventh century B.C., after triremes from Corinth and Corcyra collided in history’s first recorded sea battle. The notion that Douhet uttered the final word about air power is likewise laughable.

This is doubly true because Command of the Air is less a work of strategic theory than a manifesto on behalf of an independent air force. Douhet sought bureaucratic goals as much as he sought to enlighten airmen about the nature of their profession. In short, Douhet had baggage to tote that didn’t encumber fellow theorists. Clausewitz felt little need to prove that armies should exist, Corbett that navies should ply the oceans, or Mao that guerrillas and other irregular fighters should bestride the field. These seers could get on with explicating strategy. To my mind this element of special pleading sets Douhet’s writings apart from—and on a lower plane than—rival classics.

Until some writer does pen an authoritative treatise about air power, though, why not conscript sea-power theory as a substitute? The analogy between water and sky is inexact but serviceable. Julian Corbett delineated the phases of sea combat, and he broke down navies into their constituent parts while explaining how those parts should interact with one another. First, naval commanders could dispute enemy “command of the sea” if they headed the weaker force. They could balk the stronger foe by various stratagems while building up sufficient strength to seize the offensive. Once strong enough, second, they could venture a fleet battle. Depending on the scale of their victory, they would wrest partial or complete, temporary or permanent control of important waters from the antagonist. “Permanent general control” of the sea constituted the gold standard for Corbett.

And third, they could harvest the fruits of maritime command after winning it. The victor could guarantee friendly use of the sea lanes, bar seaways to antagonists, land troops on foreign shores, or otherwise project power inland from offshore. In so doing naval forces would help win the war on land—which, Corbett hastened to assure readers, is where wars are won. After all, people live on dry land. It only makes sense that great matters of state are decided through terrestrial combat.

To accomplish all this Corbett urged fleet designers to partition the navy into “capital ships” fit to battle hostile heavy ships; “cruisers” that were light and cheap enough to build in bulk to police seas scoured of enemy ships; and “flotilla” craft that might or might not be armed and, like cruisers, could be constructed in large numbers to perform the routine administrative errands all sea services must perform. Striking a balance among these ship types was central to fleet design.

Corbett divined a hierarchy among the elements of the navy. Military forces exist to fight, don’t they? That would imply that capital ships, the fleet’s heavy hitters, embody the navy’s purposes. Wrong, says the English theorist. Capital ships may be the fleet’s chief repository of combat power, and they may exude sex appeal because they are big and impressive, but he insisted they’re support ships! Defeating the enemy fleet, he says, is merely an enabler for all good things that follow. Cruisers patrol the sea and project power, exercising command, while flotilla vessels carry out mundane functions. These ships—not ships of the line, the glamour ships—are the ones that perform the “special work” that constitutes the true purpose of naval strategy. Capital ships are merely their guardians.

Now substitute air for sea, aircraft for ship, air force for navy. Teleporting Corbett’s ideas skyward reveals that air forces contest and confound enemy air superiority when weaker, fight for air superiority or supremacy when able, and reap the benefits of aerial command once it has been won. Lending close air support to ground forces is something air forces that attain superiority or supremacy do. It ranks among the true purposes of air power, much as bombarding foreign shores from the sea represents one of the true purposes of sea power. Fighter aircraft vie for aerial command and thus equate to capital ships of the sky. By Corbett’s logic they are the protectors of aircraft that exploit command of the air—including the ground-attack contingent, the aerial counterpart to cruisers or flotilla ships.

Here’s the rub, though. Like command of the sea, command of the air may be incomplete, impermanent, or both. A defeated foe may still have options. Its air force may have been driven off yet escape destruction to fight again another day. The vanquished could rebuild. They could find allies boasting strong air forces of their own. Thus the fighter community’s work is never done. Ground-attack planes could find themselves in trouble from hostile aircraft or ground fire. At that point fighters must resume their all-important support function, succoring their vulnerable brethren and thence the army. They resume the struggle for air supremacy just as a navy’s battle fleet may find itself forced to renew the fight against a rejuvenated enemy fleet.

Close air support in embattled skies most closely resembles a close naval blockade of coasts that bristle with gun batteries and may harbor fugitive enemy ships intent on breaking the blockade or denying the triumphant fleet the harvest of victory at sea. Naval commanders wouldn’t withdraw the battle fleet from such a scene even after trouncing the enemy in action. They would instruct the fleet to remain vigilant in case cruisers and flotilla craft needed protection afresh. Similarly, air commanders ought not assume they are entitled to permanent, absolute air supremacy by virtue of a victorious air battle. Instead they should choreograph operations so fighter forces are positioned to defend aircraft performing their special work. In other words, they must manage the symbiosis among the components of the air force.

Bottom line, the elements of air forces are interdependent just as capital ships, cruisers, and flotilla craft prowling the sea are interdependent. To circle back to where we started, the U.S. Air Force should evaluate candidates for the light-attack mission as part of a larger flying force—not as aircraft that must fight or die bereft of support from fellow airmen. Surveying them in a vacuum begets an abstract, artificial, and misleading way of thinking about air power—as would be immediately apparent to aviators steeped in air-power theory.

We can—and must—do better. Will the Corbett of air power please step forward?

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and author of “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” in the current issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. The views voiced here are his alone.

Image: Reuters