Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On Both Sides

Joseph Beyrle was born on the 25th of August 1923 to a second generation immigrant family in Muskegon, Michigan. His grandparents were originally from Germany, and so Beyrle learned German as a second language. Beyrle's childhood was not an easy one, as the great depression hit his family hard, causing them to lose their house. Despite this Beyrle graduated from school and immediately joined the US Army. Beyrle volunteered for parachute training, whereupon he was posted to 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Beyrle arrived in the UK in September 1943 as part of the build-up in preparation for D-Day. However, he was to reach France earlier than that. Twice in 1944 he was selected to drop into France as part of covert supplies of gold coins to the resistance. After being sheltered for a couple of days in France he would be returned. After his last mission he returned to his unit just in time for the isolation that all soldiers were put into in the run up to D-Day.
On D-Day itself Beyrle was part of the miss-drop, and he hit the roof of the church at Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Here he had his first near miss, as there was a German soldier in the tower of the church, who started shooting at him at a range of only a few meters. Beyrle made it to the ground in one piece and set off towards the objective, a pair of bridges nearby. As he was leaving he used his demolition training to blow up a power-substation for the village. Whilst he was heading for his objective Beyrle's luck ran out, when he stumbled into a German machine gun nest, and was promptly captured.

As a POW Beyrle and a large number of other captured US paras were sent in a column towards Carentan. On the way they were struck by friendly artillery and Beyrle took a wound to his posterior. After providing first aid he used the chaos to escape from captivity, however after just a few hours he was recaptured. This time the captives were dispatched to St. Lo by train. On the way the Allied air forces attacked the train but caused no damage. Beyrle arrived at St. Lo just in time for a large US air raid to hammer the town flat, again the Allied aircraft managed to miss the POW's. The same could not be said some weeks later when put on a train for Germany. Again, the Allied air forces attacked the train, this time causing several casualties amongst the POW's.
Once reaching Germany the POW's were moved further east into Poland, arriving at Stalag III-C. After several weeks Beyrle worked out a plan for escape. He, along with another POW, would bribe a guard with cigarettes to allow them to cut the wire fence whilst he was on duty. Then they would conduct the escape after the guards had changed. The POW's carried out this plan and managed to jump on a train nearby which they had been told was heading east. The next morning they peeked out from their hiding place and found themselves in Berlin. Not knowing what to do the POW's hid all day in the train. Then that night the RAF launched a bombing raid. Realising they were in danger they set off to find some cover, and ran into an elderly German. Eventually the German agreed to help, and gave them a secure place to hide and some food. The next evening, he returned and transported them to a German underground safe house.

The following morning the safe house was stormed by the Gestapo, and Beyrle and the other POW were captured. The Gestapo thought he was an American spy and began to torture him for several days until the German armed forces asserted their jurisdiction over him as a POW.

At Stalag III-C the hospital for prisoners was outside the wire to the compound. This allowed Beyrle and three others to conduct a plan for escape. During the exercise period one of them would fake a heart attack, the other two would arrive with a stretcher. Then as they went past the gate to take the injured POW to the hospital a fight would break out distracting the guards. The plan worked perfectly and the three POW's hid themselves inside barrels on a supply wagon and waited.

As the wagon was leaving it took a sharp turn too hard and spilled the barrels from its bed, and the three POW's were spotted. As they were some distance away from the camp the POW's began to run for it. The Germans opened fire, hitting Beyrle's two comrades. Beyrle managed to throw off his pursers, and headed east to find the Russian forces.
For several days he moved towards the sounds of the fighting, eventually just behind the front line he hid in a hayloft and waited. After a while he could hear Russian voices and the sounds of tanks. Beyrle very carefully made contact with the Russians, who were of course suspicious of his story. However, after a long discussion Beyrle was issued a PPSH-41, and assigned as a hull gunner on one of the Soviet tanks. These were actually M4 Sherman's, so Beyrle knew how to operate and clean the machine guns. Beyrle's demolition training also came in useful, as it allowed him to blow up German roadblocks. This knowledge was very useful several days later when the tanks arrived at Stalag III-C. The Russians had been issued with US explosive, however, they had no idea of how to use it but Beyrle did. He used it to blow open a large safe in the commandant's office. Inside were stocks of valuables seized from the POW's, this included large sums of western currency, which Beyrle was allowed to keep, while the Russians took any Roubles or gold that was found.
Beyrle continued to fight with the Russians until early February 1945 when he was caught in a Stuka attack and badly wounded. Whilst at the hospital Marshal Zhukov conducted a visit, and was surprised to find an American there. He ordered Beyrle returned to the US embassy in Moscow, and thus to be returned home. When Beyrle arrived home he was surprised to find that he had been declared dead in 1944, as his dog tags had been found. Beyrle actaully died aged 81 in 2004.

Image credits:
www.dc3dakotahunter.com

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hunter's Dawn

India and Pakistan are two countries who share a common border but have been to war with each other many times. In 1971 there was another outbreak of fighting, but things did not go as well as the Pakistani planners had hoped. The plan was to launch a lightning attack into Indian territory seizing as much ground as was physically possible before the international community could react and impose a cease fire. This would allow bargaining chips for other lands lost in the previous war. With this in mind the Pakistanis planned an armoured offensive aimed at Ramgarh.

The Indians spotted the build-up, and matched it with their own. At the border guard post at Longewala the border guards were replaced by a small force of infantry. When the Indian infantry (who were Sikhs) took over, the outgoing border guards (Hindu) worried about the state of their small shrine. However, they were re-assured by the Indian commanding officer, Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, that it would be looked after. Indeed, Major Chandpuri even assigned one of his sergeants to look after the shrine. Major Chandpuri pointed out that the Indian Army was well trained in diversity as it had several religions as part of it.
Major Chandpuri
The force of Indians consisted of 120 soldiers on foot, and one jeep mounted M40 106mm recoilless rifle. Some sources state there were two jeep mounted weapons, others one. The border guard post was on top of a hill surrounded by steep sand dunes, at the base of the hill was a small helicopter pad. The Indians laid some barbed wire around the border post.

On the 4th of December 1971 a patrol from the Longewala outpost heard noises of engines from across the border. An air observation post was directed into the area and soon confirmed that it was a large column of tanks. Major Chandpuri contacted his headquarters to report. He was given the option to retreat, however, as his companies only transport was the Jeep and ten camels from the border force he decided to stay where he was, instead of being cut down in the open. While on the radio some Indians went out to lay a few mines. Sometime between 1230 and 0230 the attack on the border post opened with Pakistani artillery firing on the position. Under the cover of this bombardment a column of tanks advanced. The Indians waited until the Pakistani Type 59's were at point blank range before opening fire with their PIATs and recoilless rifles. The leading two tanks were hit and destroyed, blocking the trail.
Over the next few hours several attacks were made on the outpost, each one from a different direction as the position was slowly encircled. These were thwarted by the horrible going for the tanks, with several becoming bogged in the sand. One attack was stalled when it reached the wire, which the Pakistani's mistook for a minefield. The Pakistani attack halted and waited some two hours for sappers to advance.

To make matters worse the Indians had moved up two artillery regiments that the Pakistanis were unaware of. Major Chandpuri acted as a FAO for these guns throughout the night. The defenders spotting was made easier as several of the tanks they hit burnt in the darkness which, along with the full moon gave them good vision on the battlefield. However, it was not perfect. As the sun rose a single tank was spotted sitting some 50 meters away abandoned by its crew. During the night the Indians had knocked out twelve enemy tanks.
With the morning the Indian response arrived. With a screeching roar several Hawker Hunters thundered over the battlefield. The Pakistani tanks began to drive about wildly before the outpost trying to make themselves as difficult a target as possible for air attack, and cause confusion. Major Chandpuri watched as the Hunters circled the battlefield several times waiting them to begin their attack. In the end he contacted their FAC who was orbiting in a small spotter plane and asked why were they not attacking?
The response was that the pilots had found it impossible to separate Indian tanks from Pakistani ones. When updated on the situation on the ground and the absence of Indian armour, the pilots began their attack.
The first two Hunters screamed in each loaded with twelve T-10 rockets, the first Hunter selected a tank nearing the outer perimeter of the outpost and loosed half its payload setting the tank on fire. The second Hunter picked a tank that had made it onto the outpost's helipad with similar results. This support had arrived not a moment too soon as the Indian recoilless rifles were down to their last round.
Shot from the air of Longewala, showing the track marks of the Pakistani tanks as they tried to avoid the hunters.
Later that morning Wing-Commander Suresh took off as part of a strike package. Like the others his Hunter was armed with twelve rockets. After expending these in three passes Suresh switched to the 30mm guns. As he barrelled in on a tank, coming in low and fast he found his target pointing its main gun towards him. The tank fired, its round missed the incoming plane. However, the blast and dust slapped the plane and the flash momentarily startled and dazzled Suresh. Out of control the plane skimmed over the tank and hit a sand dune with its tail. Heartbeats before Suresh had recovered and tried to pull up but too late to avoid the impact, but just enough to avoid crashing the plane. Even at full power his plane would not get above 250 knots. Suresh managed to limp his aircraft home and land safely.
I have no idea! It is what google gave me when I asked it for pictures of Indian Hunters at low altitude!
Back at Longewala the battle ended with the Pakistani's withdrawing. In total they had lost 36 tanks, 500 other vehicles and about 200 men. On the Indian side only two men had been killed, (along with five camels) and one of the Jeep mounted recoilless rifles. It might be the last loss that caused many accounts to state only one M40 was at the battle. The small shrine also came through unscratched.

Image credits:
www.indiatimes.in

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Inverted Skyscraper

The Atlantic Wall is often held as a mighty fortress of concrete, and a perfect example of this would be the Radar station at Douvres. The site was first occupied in 1940, when two Freya radars were installed, later these were upgraded to Wassermann 3. As the war went on the site was expanded to include Wurzburg sets. By the time 1944 rolled around the station consisted of two sites either side of a main road to the west of Douvres. The first site was a smaller location to the north of the road, while the much larger site was to the south. 
Today the radar site at Douvres is actually a museum.
The site was described as an inverted skyscraper by one reporter who saw it. Extending some 50ft deep it was fully climate controlled with central heating and air conditioning. There were comfortable spacious rooms with hot water and electrical supplies delivered from a diesel generator. The site was stocked to the brim with ammunition, food and a large water reservoir. It had numerous defences including a thick belt of mine fields and wire. Multiple machine gun emplacements were dotted throughout the site along with several mortar posts. Firepower wise there were twelve 37mm FLAK 43 and two 20mm AA guns. There were also five 50mm anti-tank guns of varying types and a PAK-40. The site also had a buried phone line extending to Caen. This fortress was home to some 238 Luftwaffe personnel, and after the opening of D-Day some members of the 716th Infantry Division had also ended up there. 

One of the 50mm emplacements at Douvres. It is actually a KWK not a PAK.
The village of Douvres (renamed in 1961 to Douvres-la-Délivrande, which is how you see the later name in many accounts) was a first day objective for the Canadian forces. As history records they were unable to make these objectives. On about D+2 the Canadians had reached a nearby village, and ran into fierce resistance. After clearing that village, they had stopped to re-organise. Then were ordered to halt and an attack to be launched on D+3, with the radar station as an objective. The morning of D+3, was spent dealing with a strong enemy position, and an exploding ammo dump, as well as dodging sniper fire. Even with a Sherman squadron in support, as well as a regiment of 25 pounders, the Canadians were unable to make any headway. None of the guns were big enough to dent the concrete emplacements. As the day wore on the Canadians simply surrounded the position and pushed on. The Black Watch was brought up with a pair of AVRE's to take the position, however the AVRE's were destroyed by an 88mm gun sighted in the village of Douvres, and the Scots were unable to make any progress. 
Commando's in Douvres
On the 10th of June 41st Commando took over the positions surrounding the station. For the following week the commando's mounted aggressive patrolling over the area to harass the Germans, including patrols of the radar station at night. They were so close that the German speakers in the commando ranks were able to listen to Germans talking within the bunkers. On one occasion a frustrated commando banged on the door of the bunker with his sub-machine gun and yelled 'Come out you silly bastards!'.

During the day the commando's used their 2" mortars, PIATs, small arms and a captured anti-tank gun to harass the German positions. As a more pointed reminder sometimes Typhoons would strafe and rocket the site. In return the Germans would take pot shots at Typhoons landing and taking off from the forward airstrip a short distance away.
Not actually Douvres
On the 14th intelligence suggested that the smaller northern site was abandoned, so a probe was made to capture the site if possible. This had support of a handful of AVRE's. However, the Germans had not left and after a brief firefight the attack was cancelled. Two days later the Germans attempted to air-drop supplies to the garrison, but a commando patrol reacted first and carried the containers away. Inside were spare parts for the German's guns and extra instruments. The latter item was to help the Germans maintain their observation equipment. Throughout this period at least some of the radars were still active to some degree. Plus, the Germans were able to observe Allied movements and report them back.

This along with the attempts to shoot up the planes using the airfield and growing space pressures within the bridgehead meant that the Germans had to be silenced. So, a major assault was planned. An artillery barrage would be laid on, this included 7.2" pieces. Then some 44 tanks, a mix of Crabs and AVRE's would assault the position along with the men of 41st Commando.

At 1630 on the afternoon of the 17th the assault began with the thirty minute bombardment. This largely proved irrelevant, as even the 7.2" shells proved ineffective against the bunkers. At 1700 the flails moved out, each kicking up a huge column of dust and smoke from exploding mines. More flails covered the advance elements and once the flails were inside the enemy lines the AVRE's moved up to batter the Germans into surrender. As they entered the swept lanes one Churchill managed to get itself stuck as its track slipped sideways into a trench and the tank bottomed out. The following AVRE then turned to go around but was struck by an anti-tank round. The shot hit the co-driver in the head killing him outright and set the tank on fire. As the driver scrambled out the BESA ammo detonated injuring him in the leg. Two others scrambled out of the doomed tank and second later the main ammunition exploded blowing the turret clean off and rupturing the hull.
Despite this the other AVRE's arrived in the radar site, and began to fire. Soon afterwards the Germans began to surrender. The site was policed up and secured by 1830, and some 227 Germans were captured. The Commandos lost one man, while the flails had four tanks damaged by mines. The AVRE's had lost seven vehicles with four total losses.

Image credits:
warfarehistorynetwork.com

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Low Bridge Ahead!

In April 1892 Christopher Draper was born in Cheshire. He would lead an eventful life, centred on flying. He first became interested in flying in 1909 when Louis Blériot flew across the Channel. Lacking the funding to obtain a flying licence he wrote to a friend of his father, the ex-MP and insurance broker Joseph Hoult. This gentleman gave the young Draper £210 on the strict conditions he told no one about the gift. 
Hoult worked in the insurance industry, giving cover to ships during war time. He also donated a large sum of cash to attempt to get Liverpool ready for the First World War, and during that conflict was one of the opening backers of the idea for making payments to merchant captains who rammed and sunk U-boats (for further reading either see the piece on Bell's Submarine, available here or here). 
Now that Draper had the money he obtained his pilot's licence, however he was now unemployed. He then took up a short service commission with the Royal Navy starting in January 1914. After the war broke out Draper was stationed in Scotland for anti-submarine patrols and home defence. During this time, he flew a seaplane under a bridge over the Firth of Tay. 

Later on in the war Draper and his squadron were sent to France. As he was picking up his Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter from the Sopwith works he saw a low footbridge between the hangars of the works and a nearby race course and promptly flew under it. 
During his time overseas he had quite a few encounters, including forcing down Werner Voss. He also spent time bombing enemy airship sheds, and balloon busting. In total he would get twelve victories during the war. Some of his pilots after the event describe a great many patrols where no enemy was sighted, which have led some to consider Draper lacking the warrior instinct to fight. However, he clearly would fight if called upon to do so. He also didn't take well to discipline. 
Draper was transferred back to Britain after a blazing row with one of his commanding officers. It wouldn't do his prospects any harm however. At the end of December 1917 he was promoted to Major and proceeded to command Naval Squadron Number Eight. On the first of April the RNAS became merged with the RFC and became the RAF, Naval 8 became No 208 squadron. Most of the pilots and ground crew kept calling it 'Naval 8'. Major Draper refused to change his uniform from the black naval dress to the new RAF blues. Equally he kept referring to himself as a Major, not a Squadron Commander. 
A week after this amalgamation the Germans launched their spring offensive and tore through the front lines. At the time No 208 was stationed at La Gorgue supporting the Portuguese troops to their front. At about 0400 the Squadron was roused by the sounds of heavy fighting at the front line. This was somewhat muffled by the dense fog that lay over the aerodrome. Slowly heavy shelling began to pick up hitting nearby towns and villages. Soon French civilians were fleeing past the squadron's position, followed closely on their heels by Portuguese troops, who had no visible officers and had abandoned their arms and equipment. Draper ordered the planes moved out of the hangars and dispersed, and for the squadron to begin packing. 
Most of the Squadron asked to be allowed to try and take off in the dense fog, however Draper refused seeing the risks were too great. He ordered all the aircraft collected in one point at the centre of the airfield so that a single officer with a motorcycle could remain and fire the aircraft and escape should the Germans overrun their position. With these precautions in place Draper attempted to contact his HQ, however, the phone lines were down so the switchboard was ordered to pack and leave. The ammunition supply column and the ground crew had lost a lot of their equipment but had gotten most of their personnel out. The squadrons mounts were fired and the last personnel left by 1130. It says much of the disparity between the Germans and the Allies considering the fact that No 208 was fully re-equipped and flying again within 48 hours. 
After the war Draper tried to become a second-hand car sales man, but this venture soon folded and he became a test pilot. In 1920 he was part of the RAF aerobatics display team, and took part in the first Hendon air show in 1921. He resigned in October. For the next few years he became an actor and stunt pilot. However, by 1930 he was unhappy with the treatment of war veterans (at the time the world was in the grip of the great depression so everyone's situation was looking bleak). He rented a Puss Moth and set out to make a demonstration by flying under all 14 of the bridges over the River Thames. Due to the weather conditions he only managed to fly under two. 
 His action did have positive benefits, it was caught on film and Draper received more offers of employment and had a more successful acting career from then on. In 1932 Draper was invited to take part in the 'Aces of the Air' tour. In Germany he was introduced, and spent half an hour talking to a German politician named Adolf Hitler. As Hitler was a veteran Draper was quite vocal in his views about how the British government was lacking in supporting veterans. 
When back in the UK Draper was written to by a German doctor asking him to spy for the Germans. Draper immediately reported this series of events to MI6, and thus became a double agent. This lasted for another four years before the Germans just simply stopped responding. 
During the Second World War Draper re-enlisted in the RAF and spent a lot of time in Coastal Command and Africa. 
 After the war Draper was once again upset about the discrimination against people over the age of 45. As part of the Over 45s Association, Draper decided it was time for another protest. He rented an Auster and decided to fly under all eighteen of the bridges over the Thames. He managed fifteen aborting on three due to the wind conditions. When interviewed afterwards about the aborts on some of the bridges Draper retorted 'I only had one engine you know!' 
Draper was arrested for disturbing the peace. He fully expected to have his pilots licences revoked and declared: 
'I did it for the publicity. For 14 months I have been out of a job, and I'm broke. I wanted to prove that I am still fit, useful and worth employing. They tell me I can be jailed, possibly for six months. It was my last-ever flight- I meant it as a spectacular swansong.' 

At court he was only fined ten guineas. His protest also served its cause creating much more publicity for the older person, and generating a wave of offers of jobs to the Over 45's Association. Draper kept his licence until 1964, and in his career flew seventy-three types of aircraft with some 17,000 hours flight time. Draper died in 1979 aged 86. 

Image credits:
 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Quick and Dirty

Due to several things, but mostly Christmas and obtaining some actual historical consultancy work with a short deadline, I am unable to do a full article this week. Normal service will be resumed next week. But here is a quick piece.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the first tank battle China took part in. Where a lone Vickers 6 ton got involved with Japanese armour. But what happened to the Chinese Vickers afterwards? Seon has once again passed me some info on the subject.

After the battle it seems like it ended up in a museum in Japan.

It survived at least until 1952, when the following two pictures were taken. They are of the tank in a scrap yard about to be broken up.




They come from the Australian War Memorial site:
https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/HOBJ2896/

and
https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/HOBJ2898/



Sunday, December 17, 2017

Tank Log

In 1939 a lone road ran from the Soviet/Finnish border. It's in the north of Finland and it heads through the village of Alakurtti and on to a place called Salla. At Salla the road splits in two, with the northern leg describing three sides of a square, before re-joining Kemijärvi. From there the road leads west and then south west, across Finland's narrowest point to the Gulf of Bothnia.
Along the northern road lies the village of Pelkosenniemi, and the southern route has the village of Kemijärvi.

The Soviet planners looked at this and saw a steady supply line that enabled them to cut off the most northerly third of the country. When, on the 30th of November, the Soviets invaded Finland without warning, they threw a force along this road.

Initially all went well, as the Finns had wanted to avoid provoking the Soviets they hadn't stationed any military forces near the border. So the initial skirmishes were with a few poorly armed border guards vs the might of the Soviet armies.
To give you an idea of how badly prepared Finland was there is this excerpt from a youth during the winter war. He like many others his age were part of a civil defence organisation (sorry Finns, Google translate failed me here and I might have gotten it wrong), not to dissimilar to the British Home Guard or the German Volkssturm. His name is Antti Henttonen, and the full account of his experiences can be found here.
'Enemy fighter machines flew over us, in the tops of the trees artillery shells burst. We only had pieces of crispbread in our pockets, and no protection against the temperature that sunk below -30 degrees. Many boys suffered frostbite with their toes turning grey and falling off. My toe was rescued by a neighbour's boot made of jacket cloth. Two of my fingers became swollen so that later they felt like leather. The metal parts of the rifle were so cold that they just "burned".'
Note: I've tried to tidy up the English from Google's offerings, so some of the details may be wrong. 

Back in northern Finland, the Soviets reached Salla village by the 9th of December. The Finns, as they went had been forced to burn their own villages in a form of scorched earth, that would prove devastatingly effective during Finland's harsh winter. The Finns managed to form a scratch defence line, however the Soviets were able to smash through with their armour. From here they swept along the roads both north and west.
The Soviets reached Pelkosenniemi on the 16th of December. Here they met a Finnish line at hill 44.8 near the Lampestenoja brook and the Finns attempted to hold the Soviets. However, they couldn't dig in as they were trying to defend a swamp. At best the Finns were able to use some logs to form field obstacles. The Russian's 9th Rifle Division attacked the Finns 13th Infantry Regiment. As the Russians approached the Finnish defenders put up a storm of fire. This caused the Russian attack to become pinned. Six tanks were ordered forward. As they approached through the heavily wooded area they were hit at a range of just 50 meters. One after another four T-26's were knocked out by the few anti-tank weapons the Finns had.
The last two tanks gunned their engines and pushed on. Both made it to the Finnish lines. Prior to the war the Finnish infantry had been given manuals that said tanks were not something to be scared of. You could cause them to throw a track with a crowbar or a log. 
To that end Private Vieno Loimu of the 7th company grabbed a crowbar and charged the nearest tank. He heaved the crowbar into the moving wheels and there was a loud clanging sound and the crowbar was hurled out. Undaunted he grabbed a nearby log and heaved it into the tracks, only to see the log splintered into a thousand bits. As the tank moved deeper into the lines it was attacked by satchel charges and destroyed, as was the second tank to reach Finnish lines. For now, the Finns had held.
The Finns then planned an attack for the next day. A Jaeger battalion had been sent to help the front. The plan was for the defenders to launch an attack the next day, while the Jaeger's, who lacked any heavy weapons would move through the wilderness and hit the Russians from the rear. As it turned out both sides launched their attacks at the same time and blundered into each other. However, the Jaeger's managed to get behind the Soviet lines and hit a supply depot and the Russians reserve battalion. The sounds of bitter fighting from their rear and the panicked reports caused the Soviets to panic and fall back.

On the main road the Finns were also having successes turning back the Russians. Eventually the Russians were pushed back to Salla, where the front stabilised until the Winter War ended.

Image credits:
warontherocks.com

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Shrapnel, I presume?

Back in 1784 a young British officer holding the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Artillery finalised the design of his new type of ammunition. His name was Henry Shrapnel, and the ammunition he'd invented was, unsurprisingly, called the Shrapnel Shell. Since then armies of the world have worked very hard to place shrapnel into enemy soldiers, and over the last few years a new weapon of war has emerged and become viable.

Lt Gen Shrapnel
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a video clip on Skype. It was a demonstration of modern airburst munitions in action, which can be seen below. These are projectiles fused to explode above the enemy, thus bypassing any cover they might have. I mused at the idea of an article covering the development of the newest weapon, but immediately ran into a disagreement with another friend.
He claimed, with some justification, that the technology to explode a shell at a set range had been around for ages, pointing to the heavy German AA guns such as the 10.5 cm FlaK 38 and 12.8 cm FlaK 40. Both had a special device that would automatically alter the fuse for bursting distance before loading. My friend suggests the bigger more important step was measuring the speed of the round while it’s travelling down the barrel, and programming its fuse just as it leaves the muzzle, such as the new German IFV the Puma. This is due to even modern rounds having minor manufacturing differences which can lead to changes in the ballistics and muzzle velocity.  I personally felt it was more interesting to cover rounds programmed in the breech. Because there's more material on those, some have even seen combat. 
 


Where to start? Well I think the first mention I've seen of a programmable airburst munition was in the mid 1960's. The British were drawing up the requirements for their next generation of MBT's, the ones to follow on from the Chieftain. They were looking at something light, about 40 tons, well protected and with great firepower. The firepower was provided by its main gun, which also included the use of a programmable munition that would automatically be fused over the heads of the target, and if needed fractional yield nuclear warheads. Obviously, none of that came about, but the idea was there. It appears in more modern times, that the German DM11 120mm HEAT round can be programmed to explode early at a set range and spray tungsten balls about.
DM11

 Next into the ring was the infamous Objective Individual Combat Weapon, or OICW. This began life in the 1986, and consisted of a 20mm semi-automatic grenade launcher, with a laser range finder and scope. Under this was a pretty standard 5.56mm assault rifle. The laser would automatically measure the range to the target and then the fire control computer would set the fusing on the grenade to explode above the target. There was a similar crew served weapon, to replace the .50 calibre HMG as well, named the XM307 Advanced Crew Served Weapon.
One problem with the OICW was the small grenade size, only 20mm. There's not much bang in that warhead, so over time the weapon had its grenade size increased to 25mm. The other rather serious issue was the all up weight of the weapon, coming in fully loaded at an astonishing 7 kg. To put that in perspective that's not far off two bolt action rifles of WWII, or two to three M16 rifles. This lead to the apocryphal story about one soldier during the testing phase. After lugging it around for several miles the soldier is asked for his views on the weapon. Saluting smartly the soldier replays. "The best way to use it, sir, is to give it to the enemy. He'll injure himself when lifting it. Injure himself as he tries to carry it to the front line. Then, if he can get it pointed at an enemy, he will drive himself nuts trying to work out how to fire the damn thing!". An equally suspicious story says that a grizzled USMC sergeant was heard to ask "Where does the bayonet go?"
XM-8
However slightly more gown up sources were aware of the weapons spiralling costs, weight and complexity. There was also a legal question, as the 20mm could be used direct fire for use against personnel. This means it’s an exploding bullet under the Geneva Accords and hence very much banned in legal terms.
To this end the project was split in 2002 into the XM-8 assault rifle and the XM-25 grenade launcher. The XM-25 was re-worked both in a legal sense to create a weapon that was used to attack an area not an individual, and is therefore all nice and legal. Its description was changed to Counter Defile Target Weapon, to indicate the change in its legal stance.
XM-25
In 2010 the XM-25 was the first of these types of weapons to see combat. US soldiers deployed to Afghanistan started a 14 month Forward Operational Assessment. Its first action was on the 3rd of December. It utterly changed the way the war was fought. Soldiers reported that normally the enemy would take cover behind solid objects and there would be a long firefight of 15-20 minutes. With the XM-25 these engagements would be over in moments. In all during the assessment there were 55 engagements, all of which were successful. The soldiers called this weapon "The Punisher".

However, in 2013 during another testing phase during a live fire exercise an XM-25 loaded a second round into the gun which caused both rounds to detonate. Luckily only the propellant detonated, not the warheads due to safety systems in the weapon. This caused minor injuries to the soldier manning the gun. This along with even more costs caused the project to receive several funding cuts, but it is still ticking along at current.
The modern programmable airburst munition is here to stay, most modern IFV's have a round that can be so programmed from their cannons. There seems to be several countries developing weapons similar to the OCIW, such as North Korea, although its yet to be proved those weren't made by Fisher Price.
North Korea's OICW copy. Compare if you will the size of the optics with 1980's US tech above. Also consider the US weapon was way to heavy, and yet seems to be smaller.
But with the prevalence of modern airbursts it will change the face of infantry tactics, mostly on the defence. I wonder how many nations are training their infantry to face such a threat?


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Argyll Lanchester's

In 1927 a contract was placed for a pair of prototype armoured cars. Most armoured cars of the time were built upon truck chassis with an armoured body dropped on top. This pair of prototypes were on custom built chassis, with the structure made out of high quality steel. Despite this the two prototypes were reviewed and the frame was strengthened along with several minor modifications. From there the two prototypes became the Lanchester Armoured Car. Orders were placed from 1928 until 1932 although most of the cars that were ordered were in the first batch. These served around the world including the Middle East and in the Saarland during the plebiscite. When the Second World War broke out most of the surviving cars were in Malaya.
Four of these cars were serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Argyll's had a long history with these large robust cars. However, by now they were distinctly temperamental when it came to reliability. In 1941 the Japanese launched their invasion. During the long fighting retreat the Lanchester armoured cars severed the defenders well. The cars saw action throughout the campaign. On the 19th of December the Argyll's were able to field one armoured car to support an armoured counter attack.
This was launched by assorted lightly armoured vehicles, mostly Bren Gun Carriers. It was thrown at a Japanese armour column in desperation when the Japanese armour smashed into the Allied front lines, and penetrated towards Daipand Bridge. The Lanchester was commanded by Sgt Albert Darroch. Unsurprisingly a charge of Bren Gun Carriers agaisnt actual tanks was only going to end one way. Soon the Argyll bugler sounded the regimental call followed by the Stand Fast order, the Argyll's began to fall back. This was the way the Argyll's communicated in the dense brush, they also used the wrong signals such as "Stand Fast" for retreat so that the Japanese would be confused. Often a Lanchester was left behind as a rear guard. However, on this occasion Sgt Darroch's Lanchester was facing off against Japanese tanks. Using his .50 Vickers gun sparingly as not much ammunition remained for the weapon, he attempted to hit the tanks vision slits to cause splash casualties to the enemy crew. He also drove about to attract the Japanese attention towards himself, all the while the Boys Rifles in the carriers were bouncing ineffectively off the enemy armour.
After ten minutes of this Sgt Darrochs Lanchester was hit by a 37mm shell. Sgt Darroch slumped forwards onto his driver, who shoved him off. As he scrambled into the rear drivers position the driver saw, with some horror, an eyeball lying on the floor of the vehicle. It had belonged to Sgt Darroch, who was dying from the head wound. Once at the rear driving seat he managed to get the Lanchester to safety, despite the turret being utterly wrecked. For his actions Sgt Darroch was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

As the campaign progressed the Argyll's were battered to pieces, at one point the entire formation was just 94 men strong. However, reinforcements were on hand. 250 Royal Marines, survivors from HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales along with fresh weapons were incorporated to the unit. Among the reinforcements were some more Lanchesters. Many of these were taken over from another unit that was unable to keep them running. One however had been "pirated". A sergeant in the Argyll's had ordered the crew locked away in the guardhouse, because they weren't fighting the Japanese. By the time the men had been released their Lanchester had gone missing. By pure coincidence a new Lanchester  had shown up on the Argylls roster at the same time, it bore the name Stirling Castle.

It's not recorded which Lanchester was involved in the following incident, nor the exact date or location for it. A Lanchester with a company commander and a couple of extra men was delivering rations to a section acting as an outpost. The men in the outpost reported seeing that a large patrol of Japanese had passed them by and gone into the nearby local railway station. The company commander ordered that the section and the Lanchester begin to take the railway station under fire to attract the enemy's attention while himself and the two other men would sneak round behind them.

Thus the base of fire was set and began its work as a distraction. After negotiating a swampy area and two sentries (whom were shot) the three British soldiers arrived behind the railway station. They could see the Japanese hiding against the brick wall facing the barrage of fire, and were shooting back.
This, and the following pictures are all fro ma sequence showing an Argyall patrol and their Lanchester setting up a road block. Of particular note is the machine gun their dismounting. Its actually a Vickers tank machine-gun, not some half baked concept of a Vickers LMG.
The three men stormed into the building, the commanding officer emptied his 50 round Thompson drum into the Japanese, then seeing a sixth man raise and turn towards him, the officer grabbed the barrel of his red-hot Thompson and waded in swinging it like a club. Several more broke and ran and were shot by one of the British. Four more became entangled at close quarters in a wrestling match with the third British soldier. However, this soldier was a rugby forward, and it became a desperate fight. The British soldier managed to gain the upper hand when he got hold of his steel helmet, which he used to end the fight.
With more Japanese approaching the three men grabbed the least wounded Japanese soldier they could and retreated.
The last account is from the dying days of Singapore. Stirling Castle was the last remaining Lanchester the Argylls were operating. It had helped by suppressing the Japanese forces and dissuading them from crossing the causeway into Singapore. It had driving up firing off several bursts at the Japanese then pulling away before retaliation. When the Argylls were sent to Bukit Timah they took Stirling Castle with them. As before the Japanese launched tanks against the position, one was knocked out by an anti-mine as it approached the roadblocks the Argylls had set up. Stirling Castle attempted to engage the rest, but like before it was hit by return fire and destroyed.
After the fall of Singapore any remaining Lanchesters were captured by the Japanese and their fate is unknown. Although there were a few examples scattered throughout the world, and are the likely source of ones that can be found in museums today.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wild Carrot

In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq there was quite a bit of confused fighting that carried on for a period. A prime example of this was in the north of the country, where during the war the US 173rd Airborne Brigade was landed and fought several actions with local Kurdish forces, resulting in the capture of Kirkuk. In the weeks after the war the US brigade concentrated in Kirkuk to ensure the city’s security, and move it towards a stable elected form of government. However due to lack of man power this meant the surrounding areas were without policing, and so became safe havens for Ba'ath party and Sunni Muslims dedicated to the old regime. This included members of the armed forces that were now part of the growing insurgent movements.
You, on the right, what are you doing with that rifle?
Towards the end of May 2003, the US forces began to draw up plans to deal with these outlying areas, the US forces planned to launch an operation against one of these outlying areas called the City of Hawija (Translation is, according to wiki: "Wild Carrot"). Two battalions would advance in two separate columns and form a cordon around the city. Then further smaller cordons would be set up inside the city and a series of intelligence led targets would be assaulted to clear out the pockets of insurgents, and hopefully capture a few escaped high-ranking Ba'ath officials. One such target that was suspected to be in the area was Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, whom to this day still hasn't been captured. For armoured support was provided, it was to consist of a platoon each of M1A1 Abrams, M2 Bradley's and M1064 mortar carrier's with 120mm mortars. This team would remain in a central location equidistant from each infantry battalion, and should either force run into difficulties it could call upon the fire-power of this mobile column.
Leading this support team, was a scout platoon, consisting of ten Humvee's. This was back in 2003, so the protection for these was minimal. The weapons fitted were evenly split between M2 .50 calibre machine guns and Mk-19 40mm grenade launchers. The scout platoon was to proceed the attack, scout the main line of march for the armoured team and then secure their forward assembly area, where the armour would wait until it was called into action.

The scout platoon set off at 2000 on May the 19th, and would be the first US units to approach the enemy held area. As they travelled down the main road they kept their lights on and were driving normally as the main road was often used by civilians however, ominously, tonight there was absolutely no traffic on the road. For this reason the night vision gear wasn't switched on in case it got burned out by all the ambient light. Even so the street lights were all on as normal. The plan was to reach a rally point, some six kilometres from the planned assembly point then switch lights off and proceed cross country.
The impending sense of trouble continued as every few kilometres a spray of tracer fire would mark the sky, as Iraqi observation posts would signal the scout platoon's progress to their allies. 

Due to intelligence estimates that there would be little or no enemy action it was decided to not establish a radio link site. Radios often have limited range which can lead to scouting forces becoming disconnected from their parent units. In World War Two for example, it was often the case where a couple of tanks from an armoured unit would be detailed to be the "rear link" vehicle and would thus ensure the forward units transmissions. In the modern US army such a role is called a "Retrans" location. As expected the scout platoon was out of contact after about 30 minutes.
When the scout platoon reached its rally point, the location where it was to switch off its lights and continue across country, the commander saw a small settlement some distance away that had sent up warning tracer fire. He ordered his platoon to advance a bit closer, moving some 2 km, to assess the likelihood of a threat from this location. About 2100 the scout platoon crossed a ravine with an embankment via a bridge and halted, the vehicles pulled into a standard herringbone formation and prepared their night vision equipment. Due to the location, the commander set up a hasty roadblock to secure the area for the ten or so minutes he expected to be in the area. Shortly afterwards the street lights were cut plunging the scout platoon into total darkness.

Over the next eight minutes these roadblocks stopped and halted five vehicles, loaded with men and an array of ordnance including machine guns and RPG's. One of the vehicles was filled with men wearing webbing. When stopping one of the vehicles, an Arab in the back was waving a white flag he'd improvised from his Keffiyeh, all the time keeping his other hand out of sight. This tense situation was broken when the platoon commander fired a single round past his ear at a distance of about two inches, which promptly caused the man to surrender.

All the men were detained, due to suspicions about their motives. By this point the scout platoon had some twelve prisoners, and was unable to continue its mission. The commander decided to await the follow-on forces, by holding their position, and then hand the prisoners over before continuing. The prisoners were in a holding area outside the perimeter formed by the vehicles.

At this point a barrage of small arms fire came flying out of the desert. After a brief exchange one of the gunners on the Humvee's reported he could see six enemies through his night vision, and he was given permission to fire. Two other Humvee gunners were told to watch the first gunners fall of shot then engage the same area with their .50 calibre machine guns. After another thirty second or so of fire flashing back and forth one of the US gunners fell forward out of his Humvee and slid down the front of the vehicle after being hit in the torso. As he lay in sight of the enemy he was quickly dragged behind cover and given first aid. For the next ten minutes or so the three heavy machine guns would keep up a running fight with the six enemy infantry.
Then reports came in of more trucks dropping off men at another two locations, further enemy personnel were moving towards the scout platoons position from a nearby mosque and cluster of buildings. The latter groups of enemies were trying to flank the scouts position. Soon everyone was firing at targets. Suddenly the senior NCO ran along the line of vehicles gathering up the drivers, and told them to bring their vehicles M240 machine guns. The NCO had spotted a group of enemies trying to get into the ravine, where they could have moved with impunity to the embankment and enfiladed the scouts position. They managed to establish a gun line with five M240's which checked the movement of the enemy. 

By now the fire fight had been going on for some twenty minutes, and the US soldiers were running low on ammunition with a persistent enemy pressuring them. There were also reports of enemies bringing up technicals (pick-ups with mounted weapons on the back). One of the night sights fitted to the Humvee's heavy weapons had been hit square in the lens by enemy fire.
That's when the radio squawked to life. The armoured support team was some 10km away, could see the fire-fight and the tanks were in the lead charging down the road at best speed using their normal white lights to aid their movements. Furthermore, there was an A-10 overhead. The scout platoon commander passed the information on that anything or anyone south of their position was hostile (the prisoners were held to the north), the A-10 pilot identified several targets and made a pass, loosing off a seven second burst from his 30mm cannon. This caused the enemy to break contact, and the scout platoon was saved.
The operation didn't end there though. The tank platoon roared through the scouts position, and actually missed them in the darkness, it halted about 1km further down the road. The Bradley's arrived and orientated to face the north, not the enemy to the south, which caused some confusion until the scout platoon leader got them turned around. They then dismounted and covered by the Bradly's 25mm's, cleared the mosque and nearby buildings after the M2's destroyed two enemy technicals. There they found several more weapon dumps, and a tripod mounted FN-MAG machine gun that had been laying some very accurate fire onto the scouts during the engagement. The one US casualty got evacuated and survived his wounds.