Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Veritable Victory

As 1945 opened the Allies had stabilized the setbacks caused by the Battle of the Bulge. Equally their supply woes had been somewhat improved by the opening of Antwerp. Now they had only the Siegfried Line to breach and they could push into Germany. The British and Commonwealth forces decided to do this around the Reichswald forest. The attacks for this would be launched at the start of February and were known as operation Veritable.
To start proceedings a huge array of guns was to be laid on. As well as over a thousand regular artillery pieces, 80x 4.2" mortars, 114x 40mm Bofors guns, a regiment of Sherman's and 24x 17-pounder antitank guns were to be used to batter the German positions. In addition, the Commonwealth had the use of their newest weapon, the Land Mattress. These were a British 3" rocket, with a 29 lb warhead taken off a Hedgehog anti-submarine launcher strapped to it. Detonation was done by a fuse the British Army had deemed unsafe, but the Canadians considered adequate. The Land Mattress came in two forms, all were scratch built prototypes, ten of one variant, two of another. These launchers could land a huge volume of fire in a very short time. In an earlier battle a single troop of launchers landed 128 rockets in just 20 seconds on a target.

But there was still more metal raining from the sky. The British during The Second World War had a habit of using their Vickers heavy machine guns to fire indirectly, as I have mentioned before a Vickers gun with sufficient supply of ammunition and water could fire for extraordinary periods of time. This rain of small arms ammunition would also suppress the Germans.

To cap it off the two main towns in the area, Goch and Cleve, were to be visited by the bombers of the RAF and USAAF. This bombardment started at 0500 on the 8th of February.
9RTR in the Reichswald forest
The plan of attack called for this bombardment to last for about five hours. Then heavy tank forces would be sent in supported by infantry. Most of the tanks were Churchill's, with the 6th Guards heading towards Cleve, and the 9th RTR covering the other side of the Reichswald. The ground was frozen hard in the run up to the operation, which would give the tanks maximum room to manoeuvre. In addition, an absolutely huge smoke screen was to be laid and maintained to protect the lines of advance from being observable by German outposts on tall factory chimneys nearby.
Archer trying to advance in the flooded areas.
As the attack started mid-morning on the 8th a light rain began to fall, it would continue for the next five days. As well as the rain the temperature rose, and the ground thawed out. To make matters worse the Germans had blown dams and levees on the rivers flooding the entire area. Soon the ground was nothing but a waterlogged swamp. It got so bad that DUKW's had to be used to keep the Churchill tanks of the 6th Guards resupplied.
The rain caused some minor problems for the Germans as well. One unit, the 655 Schwere PanzerJäger Abteilung had ended 1944 in Prussia, then had been shifted over to the Western front via Berlin and Hanover to Paderborn. Shortly afterwards they were moved to Speyer, where they had painted their tanks white in readiness for the fighting. However, they were then moved north to defend the area around the Riechswald, as they arrived they realised their camouflage needed to be washed off.

They arrived in the area with two companies on the morning of the 9th of Feb. The two companies were 2nd Company, which had thirteen Jagdpanthers in four platoons of three and a command tank. The 3rd Company was equipped with Stug IV's.
One of the first actions happened early in the afternoon on the 9th. The infantry of the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment were in an exposed position, on a track running north east on the edge of the Riechswald. When two of the Stug IV's opened fire this threatened heavy casualties.

Luckily for the infantry a platoon of Canadian M-10C's were nearby. These belonged to D Troop of the 56th Self Propelled Anti-tank battery. They were commanded by Lieutenant Charles Hewson-Captain Kydd, aged just 33. Lt Kydd had been born in Oregon before moving to Nova Scotia as a child. From there he had joined a bank, before joining the Canadian Army in 1941. Lt Kydd's M-10C was sitting in the middle of the track. Without seeking to find cover he immediately returned fire on the two Stugs, quickly destroying both whilst staying out in the open.

The following day D Troop’s M-10C's and the 2nd Monmouthshire's continued to advance, they encountered stiff resistance from German paratroopers armed with Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks. One of D Troop’s M-10C's was hit four times, another only once. But incredibly both tanks remained in action throughout the day.
Late in the afternoon the advancing 2nd Monmouthshire’s came under long range high velocity gun fire, the rounds were coming from a place called Dammershof, some reports say a farm near the village. They halted on the reverse of a crest. We now know it was one of 655th's Jagdpanthers, but at the time it was reported as a Jagdtiger. Again, D Troop was in support of the 2nd Monmouthshire. First Lt Kydd moved his troop to a concealed position to ensure they were protected. Then he set out on foot alone to hunt the Jagdpanther. Moving across the boggy terrain, with constant mortar bursts nearby and small arms fire whipping past, Lt Kydd found the Jagdpanther.

He returned to his troop, again exposed to enemy fire the entire way. He selected one of his undamaged M-10C's and took it forward. Pressing on alone and unsupported into no-man’s land over incredibly boggy ground Lt Kydd managed to get the M-10c onto the flank of the Jagdpanther at a range of just 400 yards. He opened fire and after four shots disabled the tank by knocking off its tracks. However, the Jagdpanther was still able to fire, and it was already covering the main Commonwealth force. Lt Kydd moved his tank back towards his front line and began to shell the Jagdpanther with HE. After several rounds the periscopes and gun sight were smashed and the crew blinded. The Germans bailed and hid in a near-by barn. With this monster removed from the battle the British infantry were able to advance and capture the German tank crew.
Thought to be Kydds Jagdpanther
There is one more thing to mention for this account. There was a nearby incident where a 9th RTR Churchill knocked out a Jagdpanther. The crews from that incident are reported as hiding in a barn until captured. There are two possibilities, first the 9th RTR kill is the same tank destroyer that Lt Kydd engaged, and they fired the HE into the front of the Jagdpanther. Or that the combats were separate, but the fate of the crew was attributed to both combats.
The back end of the above Jagdpanther
Lt Kydd was awarded a Military Cross at some point in his career, but the exact details of when are hard to find. He survived the war, and was demobbed on 2nd of February 1946, where upon he returned to work in the bank.

Image credits:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Prickly Problem

In 1941 three ships were launched which would touch upon each other. These were U-380, launched on 5th of November and U-603 on 30th October. The ship that links them is HMS Porcupine, whom was launched on 10th of June.
HMS Oribi, a sister ship to HMS Porcupine
HMS Porcupine was a P class destroyer, after commissioning in August she took part in the Torch landings, acting as an escort to the surface group that provided cover against enemy surface attacks during the landings. On the 11th of November at 1242 U-380 fired a spread of four torpedoes at the troop ship Nieuw Zeeland, returning from the Torch landings. One of the torpedoes slammed into the ship, crippling her. At 1308 the captain of U-380, Josef Röther fired another torpedo to secure the kill. Fourteen men died, the other 256 abandoned ship in just twelve lifeboats. HMS Porcupine was one of the three ships that responded to the distress call. She picked up six of the lifeboats, a further five were saved by HMS Albrighton, a Hunt class destroyer. The final boat was picked up by the Dutch destroyer HNMS Isaac Sweers.
Nieuw Zeeland sinking
 Of U-380 there was no sign, she was to continue to serve throughout the war until 11 March 1944 when she was struck by bombs whilst in harbour from a USAAF air raid at Toulon. Josef Röther survived the war dying in February 1988, aged 80.
Josef Röther
 HMS Porcupine had one more battle to fight. In December she was formed into a convoy with HMS Antelope, Vanoc, Boreas and the Polish destroyer Błyskawica. Together they were to escort the SS Ontario, Tegelbug and depot ship Maidstone, these ships were destined for Oran. En-route U-602 fired a spread of three torpedoes at the convoy, aimed at the Maidstone. None of the escorts saw the torpedoes, and there had been no ADISC contacts to warn of the submarines presence. Only one of these torpedoes hit, and that was on HMS Porcupine. This hit on the port side in the engine room. The detonation ripped the floor out, and caused her port engine to drop out the bottom of the boat. With this massive weight gone she began to list to starboard, a list that was slowly increasing. Her rear decks were under water after a few hours, as the flooding caused the list to worsen.

Non-critical crew were offloaded to HMS Vanoc, while the frigate HMS Exe took her under tow. Furious efforts to save the ship included trying to seal off the flooding and jettisoning any weight in the upper super structure. She was ordered to head not for Oran, in fact she was forbidden to head for that port as it was too far away. But instead she was sent to the tiny port of Arzew, which was the closest berth possible, and if need be she could be beached there. Throughout the night the crews sat and waited as they made painfully slow progress, expecting a torpedo at any time. The next morning the hulk was still afloat and the tow was transferred to a French tug. After two days at sea HMS Porcupine made it to shore.
Stern half of HMS Porcupine being towed to the UK
 For the next three months she was prepared for towing to Oran, and in March she set sail arriving on the 28th of March 1943. She was then cut in half with both parts being towed in separate convoys to Gibraltar, and then onto the UK. When she arrived in the UK the two halves were used as accommodation ships, and on the 14th of January 1944 became part of the landing craft base at stokes bay. Even accommodation ships need names and the two halves were recommissioned as HMS Pork and HMS Pine. These two ships served until August 1946 when the two halves were decommissioned, sold off and broken up for scrap in 1947.
HMS Pork in the UK

During the torpedo attack seven of HMS Porcupines crew were killed. Of the U-602 and her captain Philipp Schüler, they went missing in 19 Apr 1943, and no one knows their fate.
Philipp Schüler

Image credits:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

IS-3's missile Opponents

Recently I've been doing a lot of research on early British anti-tank missiles, namely the Malkara, Orange William and Swingfire. However, I won't be going into detail on those, as they're destined for a book. I figured however I could talk about the era and anti-tank missiles. In the early 60's the British were looking at what to do next in regard to ATGM's. This discussion leads directly to the Swingfire.
Quick, Kill it with a missile!
At the time the big scary monster that was used as a target for all British anti-tank projects was the IS-3. It was the IS-3 that drove development of the 183mm guns the British looked at. Now it was time for the IS-3 to face the ATGM. But first what are we dealing with?
Well luckily, I have an assessment conducted in 1966 about HEAT warhead lethality against an IS-3. The method of damage was assessed from a HEAT warhead. The after armour effects (no matter what War Thunder would tell you) was described as the line of penetrating jet, and a 45 degree cone of spall. If this behind armour effect hit the ammunition it was deemed to have killed the tank. Which included ammunition stored on the back wall of the fighting compartment. However, the damage model did include all the components and crew which would absorb the spall and other behind armour effects. Needless to say, its lots of complicated maths with funny symbols that aren't numbers. Luckily the maths produce an understandable simple final number to kill a tank. These results are based upon the diameter of the HEAT warhead.
Probability of impacting a set thickness of armour on an IS-3
After about six inches the probability starts to drop, despite large increments. This means that a 5.5 to 6 inch warhead is about the optimum calibre. Which explains why so many missiles are about that calibre these days.
Approximate numbers, the line graph was at an angle...
However back then you had a lot of ATGM's being produced by a lot of countries, and the British considered each one to fulfil their requirements. General Staff Operational Requirement 1013 asked for a maximum range of 4200 yards, with a minimum range of 320 yards. There was a rate of fire that needed to be met, and so assuming maximum range the missile had to travel over, that distance at a speed of 550fps, so that the controller had time to fire the rest of the missiles and guide them onto target. Equally to meet the requirements the missile needed at least a 17lbs HEAT warhead with 10lbs of explosive. This was to ensure sufficient penetration and damage inside the tank, as it would be no good to have a weapon that can get through the armour but only provide extra ventilation to the crew.
Irritatingly for our purposes the GSOR expresses its need in lbs, while the other, much later document expresses in calibre. I suspect this is down to a maturing of the knowledge regarding how to achieve the best effects. But in this case, I suspect that the numbers would at least be close. However, there are a lot of factors involved here so this might be a bit of a simplistic explanation.

The issue the British had was none of the other missiles fit their needs. The missiles that came under review were these ones:
The Penetration value are rough numbers, and not included in the original document but come form other sources and so might be suspect.
Most of the missiles were too small in warhead size and lacked the range. Some had rather large minimum ranges as well. One oddity when looking at these missiles is that nearly all of them looked visually similar, a simple tube (ENTAC was a tear drop shape) with four very large fins at the base.


Borfors ANti-TAnk Missile (BANTAM)
As it stood none of the existing weapons would fit the bill, so the British moved ahead with the Swingfire development. This fell into two parts, a medium range version for infantry use and a long-range version for vehicle use. The main difference was the weight of the complete missile, the medium range version was to be able to be carried by a single man. However, that project failed and eventually the British brought the Milan to fulfil their infantry needs.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Russia vs France

In September 1944 the Russians finally managed to partially achieve one of their aims, they knocked Finland out of the war. The peace settlement called for the Finns to demobilise their troops and to evict the Germans at the same time. For most of September the two forces worked together with the Germans falling back, and the Finns advancing behind them at the same pace. There had been a few minor battles, but no major conflict. All this changed towards the end of the month. The Allies began to put pressure on the Finns. If they failed to get to grips with the Germans the Russians would lend military aid, in the form of Russian troops on Finnish territory. I'm sure you can see how unacceptable that would have been to the Finns. Thus, the Finns began to prepare for an actual move against the Germans. The dead line for the fighting to start was given as 0800 on the 1st of October.
Finnish Troops loading onto their transports.
The plan called for three transport ships to land a force of Finnish infantry at Tornio on the Finnish-Swedish border and get around behind the retreating Germans, cutting them off. To help with this the Finns re-mobilised a handful of T-26's, a tank they had declared obsolete in July. The T-26's had one advantage, they were small and light, and so would be easier to transport. The force of Finnish troops arrived in Tornio at 0750 on the 1st of October. At the time a local Civil Guard had organised a uprising against the Germans and fighting was going on throughout the area. The Finns arrived and started to spread out. One regiment was embarked upon a train that had been sent to meet them by the Civil Guard and this enabled it to move with speed to capture the station.

Despite this initial success the situation was very confused, and the Finns were expecting a much larger force of Germans to launch their counter attacks. Indeed, the Germans were concentrating forces, however these would not be in position for a day or so. To add to the problems the Finnish troops were not the crack disciplined force that had fought the Soviets to a standstill twice. When the Finnish soldiers captured a stockpile of German alcohol at a supply dump several of the infantry units involved became drunk. Finally, the Germans were sending forward envoys to try and negotiate a return to the previous way of fighting.
All these factors added up and the Finnish force became pinned in place, while the Germans massed about them. The Germans had artillery and air superiority, with the port taking damage from the direct fire of a German 88mm battery, and being attacked by Fw200 Condor bombers. They could also call upon the striking power of a flight of Stuka's.
German S-35 with Zimmerite
The Germans also had armour. Panzer Abteilung 211had been fighting in Finland from the start of the Continuation War and had taken part in the invasion of the Soviet Union. As a minor unit the tanks it was equipped with were old French captured tanks, mostly Hotchkiss H39's and Somua S35's. The latter were used as command tanks. In 1943 Pa. Abt. 211 was reorganised and supplied with about six Panzer III Ausf N. In September 1944 the battalion had taken a beating against the Russians, losing some eleven tanks. With the battle of Tornio brewing the 2nd Company was dispatched to assist in the fighting.

On the Third of October the German counter attack was launched. Initially the fighting was stalemated, and several German tanks were knocked out by Panzershrecks used by the Finns. Both sides attempted to launch flanking attacks with a battalion of infantry, however both battalions ran headlong into each other. Meanwhile in the main battle the German superiority in firepower was beginning to tell, and they began to push the Finns back. Eventually the Finns halted the German attack. During the days fighting two German tanks had been knocked out by PSK-40 75mm anti-tank guns, a pair of S-35's had fallen afoul of some Finnish anti-tank mines and one tank had to be scuttled after it got stuck in a ditch.
The two S-35's knocked out by AT mines.
The heavy fighting had slowed the Germans and eventually halted them. The Germans prepared for another series of attacks, however the Finns were also bringing in reinforcements, including the T-26's. At about 1500, on the 5th of October 1944 Finland fought its last tank battle. Oddly it was between two contemporary opponents, A Finnish T-26 and a German H38. 

There was a brief exchange of fire, two shots from both sides, with each tank firing after the other side. The German fired first, but missed, as did his next shot. The first Finnish shot hit but bounced off the armour of the H38. The last shot from the Finn set the H38 on fire.
The H38 knocked out by the T-26
 The following day the Germans launched another round of attacks, however by now there were some ten regiments of Finnish troops holding the ground and the attacks failed. By now the Germans had begun to abandon the area and by using a road around the area they were able to withdraw. The Finns were not able to get into position to block the German retreat to Norway.

Thanks to Manxboz of the Tanks Encyclopedia team who tipped me off to this story.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

U No Go

On the 8th of March 1944 the Japanese forces in Burma launched operation U-Go. Their aim was to smash through the Allied lines and claim a stunning victory over the Allies, and hopefully to reverse their fortunes in the war. However, by now the Allied forces had worked out how to defeat the Japanese, and a bitter five month battle followed. The Japanese' initial thrust towards Imphal wound along the valley floor, by mid April the Japanese had fought their way to the town of Ningthoukhong. There a bitter grinding fight ensued, and the town gained the distinction of the most bombarded place in India. The presence of the road leading along the valley also allowed the Japanese to bring forward their tanks. From the Japanese arrival to the start of June the Allies tried repeatedly to shove the Japanese out of their half of the town. At the start of June, the Japanese began to build up for a major assault.
On the night of the 6th of June, the Japanese moved a fresh battalion forward. Their plan was to hook around the side of the Allied position and hit the defenders in the flank. The attack would link up with an armoured thrust from the main Japanese lines.
Well aware of the Japanese penchant for infiltrating a position the Allies had established a blocking force on the flank. This blocking party consisted of a platoon of the 1st Battalion, The West Yorkshire Regiment. The initial attack fell on them just after midnight, and almost destroyed the platoon in the opening salvo. A barrage of point blank small arms fire and hand grenades killed or destroyed all but one of the platoon's Bren guns. Stunned the survivors were about to break when a lone Sergeant stepped forward. His name was Hanson Victor Turner.
Sgt Turner
Sgt Turner had been born in April 1910 in Halifax, later they moved to Copley. There when old enough Sgt Turner had worked as a bus conductor. He had joined up in 1940 and had been sent to India in 1943. Rallying the platoon and realising that they were unable to hold their current position in the face of a battalion strong attack, Sgt Turner ordered his platoon to fall back about 40 yards, opening up a killing ground. The Japanese were unable to close up, and so began to try to infiltrate around the flank of the platoon. Sgt Turner upon seeing this grabbed a bag of hand grenades and advanced on the Japanese flanking force alone. After bombing the Japanese to a standstill Sgt Turner returned to his lines to collect more grenades, and once again advanced, alone, into the night time. In total he returned for more grenades six times. On his sixth counter attack he was hit and killed. Almost single-handed Sgt Turner’s repeated counter attacks halted the Japanese. For his actions he was awarded a Victoria Cross.

The Japanese tried again on the 12th of June. This time a frontal assault with infantry and armour, under the cover of a precise, well aimed and effective mortar bombardment. Six Japanese tanks roared down the road towards a paddy held by the 7th Gurkha Rifles. The tanks rolled up to the front line and then turned along it blasting the bunkers there at point blank range, along with the following infantry they forced the Ghurkha's back about 200 yards. The next line had a 2-pounder gun, when the Japanese tanks approached the gun opened fire. Its first shot disabled the gun on the leading tank. Its next shot destroyed the second tank. Two more tanks attempting to avoid the gun bogged in the paddy field and a fifth that had sneaked up the road rushed the gun ramming it and destroying it. Shortly afterwards this tank bogged down as well but was put out of action by a PIAT.
B Company was ordered to mount a counter attack and drive the Japanese back. They still had several tanks bogged down in their lines, whose armament still worked. When the Ghurkhas launched their counter attack they met a barrage of machine gun fire, which held them back. The tanks were acting as machine-gun bunkers and immune to the weapons that could be brought to bear on them. Then a soldier named Gyamtso Shangderpa stepped forward, he was armed with a PIAT.
Gyamtso Shangderpa
Gyamtso Shangderpa had been born in Sangmo, which is in Sikkim, not Nepal. However, during the war non-Nepalese were allowed to join the Gurkhas, and Gyamtso was just one of these recruits.

He crawled forwards, the Japanese saw him crawling through the rice and filthy muddy water, and so began to fire on him. He was hit and wounded three times, once in the leg, once in the arm. He also suffered a broken left wrist. Despite this he pressed forwards, leaving a trail of blood behind him. At a range of just 30 yards he opened fire with his PIAT, destroying the first tank. He then reloaded, while under concentrated point-blank fire, and destroyed a second tank. The third tank was knocked out by an anti-tank gun. Japanese standing orders required that crews stay with their vehicles, or if this was impossible to dismount their machine guns. Knowing this Gyamtso grabbed his grenades, and with just one arm working, went after the Japanese tank crews killing or wounding all of them. The removal of the Japanese machine guns allowed the rest of the company to push forward and retake their position. Only then did Gyamtso allow himself to be evacuated.
Two of the tanks knocked out by Gyamtso
Gyamtso was also awarded a Victoria Cross, although it was under another name. When he joined up the clerk who took his details wrote down his name as Ganju Lama. He died in July 2000.

Image credits:
www.nam.ac.uk and www.findagrave.com

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:

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.

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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.

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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. 

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