Categories
This great Nation & Its People War

The Death of Stonewall Jackson: Lee Loses His Strong Right Arm by WILL DABBS

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson has been described by some historians as the finest General the United States ever produced.

Thomas Jackson’s great grandparents were criminals. John Jackson and Elizabeth Cummins were both convicted of larceny in England and were punitively dispatched to the New World in 1749 alongside 150 other convicts. On the voyage across the Atlantic, John and Elizabeth fell in love.

18th-century America was a rugged place.

Once their obligatory bond service was complete in 1755 they were married. Their grandchild Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born in 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia. He was the third child of Julia and Jonathan Jackson. In his youth, Thomas went by the nickname “The Real Macaroni,” though the origins and significance of that term are not well understood.

Thomas Jackson’s commitment to the Confederacy created a schism with his sister that was never mended.

Typhoid took his six-year-old sister in 1826 and his father some three weeks later. The boy’s remaining sister Laura Ann was born the day after her father died. Thomas and Laura Ann were close as children, but Laura Ann ultimately sided with the Union. Thomas grew to become a Confederate General of some renown. As a result, their relationship remained fractured until his death.

Military Service

LT Thomas Jackson served in Mexico after he was commissioned from West Point.

Thomas Jackson entered the US Military Academy in 1842. Jackson’s lack of formal education hamstrung him upon his arrival at West Point, but his legendary dogged determination compensated. He graduated 18th out of 59 in his class of 1846.

Thomas Jackson was a driven instructor at VMI. His students frequently thought him overly demanding.

Jackson got his formal introduction to war in Mexico. As a young officer, he distinguished himself at Chapultepec. For a decade starting in 1851 he taught at Virginia Military Institute where he was unpopular with his students. Along the way he was twice married. His first wife died in childbirth. His second, Mary Anna Morrison, lived until 1915. When the South seceded in 1861 following the attack on Fort Sumter, Thomas Jackson threw his lot in with the Confederacy.

The affectionate moniker “Stonewall” Jackson stuck with him to his death.

In July of that year, Jackson commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. At a critical moment in the fight, Jackson beat back a determined Union assault. Barnard Elliot Bee, himself a distinguished Confederate General who ultimately lost his life in combat, referred to Jackson as a “stone wall” in the face of the enemy. The name stuck.

General Thomas Jackson was veritably deified in the Confederacy.

After an initial setback attributed to flawed intelligence, Stonewall Jackson dominated the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1862. Through truly exceptional tactical acumen, Jackson and his troops defeated three separate Union armies in the field. He exercised his martial gifts at places like Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, developing for himself a reputation as a cunning and insightful combat leader. At Chancellorsville Jackson’s 30,000 Confederates launched a devastating surprise attack against the Federal flank that drove the Union troops back fully two miles.

The General’s Theology

General Jackson prayed frequently with his staff and men. A truly pious man, Jackson was also acutely self-conscious and ever attempted to avoid the limelight.

Thomas Jackson has been described as a fanatical Presbyterian. His deep and sincere faith drove everything about his life while making him all but fearless in battle. He once opined, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me…That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

Stonewall Jackson’s arm was ultimately interred 115 miles away from the rest of him. The details are coming directly.

Like most exceptional personalities, Jackson was also a bit strange. He held a lifelong belief that one of his arms was longer than the other. He would frequently hold the perceived longer of the two aloft for long periods in an effort at equalizing his circulation.

Behold Stonewall Jackson’s kryptonite. The esteemed General purportedly loved these things.

General Jackson highly valued sleep and was known to fall asleep at times while eating. His prior service as an artillery officer had severely damaged his hearing. This made communication difficult at times. He also had an abiding passion for fresh fruit like peaches, watermelons, apples, and oranges. His real weakness, however, was lemons. When they could be found Jackson would frequently gnaw whole lemons in an effort at soothing his digestion. General Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor and a colleague, wrote, “Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.”

Stonewall Jackson and Slavery

One man’s hero is another man’s goat. Jackson’s dashing visage adorns the rock face at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Completed in 1974, this sculpture is so large that a grown man could stand in the mouth of the largest of the three horses. These three figures span three full acres across the mountainside.

No information age treatise of a prominent Confederate can be complete without dragging slavery and race into the narrative. In the late 1850s, Jackson owned six slaves. Three of these–Hetty, Cyrus, and George–were received as part of a dowry from Mary Anna’s father upon their marriage. Two others supposedly requested that Jackson purchase them based upon his purported kindly local reputation. Of the two, Albert was purchased and worked to gain his freedom. Amy served as the Jackson family cook and housekeeper. The sixth was a child with a learning disability who was received as a gift from an aged widow.

This is Major Jackson in 1855 when he taught Sunday School to local slaves.

In what was considered a fairly radical move for the day, in 1855 Jackson organized and taught Sunday School classes for blacks at his Presbyterian Church. Of this ministry, Pastor William Spotswood White said, “In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind…His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father…He was emphatically the black man’s friend.” I obviously cannot speak to what any of that was really like, but Reverend White was clearly a fan. Not diminishing the repugnant nature of slavery as an institution, but it was clearly a different time.

The Death of Stonewall Jackson

General Jackson fell victim to the fog of war.

After a wildly successful engagement against Joe Hooker’s forces during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson and his staff were making their way on horseback back through friendly lines. They encountered sentries from the 18th North Carolina Infantry who mistook the party for Union cavalry. The pickets shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” but fired before receiving an adequate response.

General Thomas Jackson was considered invincible in his day.

Frantic remonstrations from the command group were answered by Confederate Major John D. Barry’s command, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” During the course of the two volleys, Stonewall Jackson was struck three times.

Several of Jackson’s staff officers were killed in that final fateful exchange.

Two rounds shattered Jackson’s left arm. One ball entered at the left elbow and exited near the wrist, while another struck his left upper arm three inches below the shoulder. A third ball struck his right hand and lodged there. Several members of Jackson’s staff along with their horses were killed. The poor visibility and incoming artillery fire added to the confusion. Jackson was dropped from his stretcher at least once during the subsequent evacuation.

These ghastly things got ample exercise in the horrific field hospitals of the Civil War. Roughly 75% of amputation patients ultimately died.

Battlefield medicine during the Civil War was unimaginably crude in comparison with today’s state of the art. The standard treatment in the face of significant damage to an extremity was amputation. As there were no safe and effective anesthetics available these surgical procedures were typically fast, frenetic, and fairly imprecise.

This is the outbuilding where Stonewall Jackson died.

A Confederate surgeon named Hunter McGuire took the arm, and Jackson was moved to the nearby Fairfield Plantation for recovery. Thomas Chandler, the plantation owner, offered the use of his home. However, Jackson, ever concerned about imposition, insisted he be maintained in a nearby office building instead.

Civil War-era hospitals were truly horrible things.

The germ theory of disease had not yet come to drive battlefield surgery, so secondary infections of combat wounds were ubiquitous. Jackson developed a fever and pneumonia as a result of his injuries and succumbed eight days later. As the end approached he said, “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

This iconic photograph of Stonewall Jackson was shot seven days before his fatal injury.

General Jackson’s final words, uttered in a delirium immediately preceding his demise, lend further insight into the man’s character. Attended by Dr. McGuire and a trusted slave named Jim Lewis, his final words were, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…” Then he paused and uttered, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Stonewall Jackson then breathed his last.

The soft lead projectiles fired by Civil War-era arms inflicted truly devastating injuries.

The fatal bullet was ultimately recovered and identified as a .69-caliber projectile. Union troops in this area typically fielded .58-caliber weapons. The 18th North Carolina Infantry was most commonly armed with older larger-caliber muskets. This discovery sealed the suspicion that Jackson had been felled by friendly fire. This was one of the first incidents wherein forensic ballistics identification was used to establish the circumstances surrounding a violent death.

Most Civil War-era long arms were single-shot rifled muskets.

While the American Civil War ultimately saw the introduction of cartridge-firing repeating rifles like the Henry and Spencer, most combatants on both sides were armed with single-shot, muzzleloading rifled muskets of various flavors. Union troops had the luxury of greater standardization due to their more advanced state of industrialization, while Confederate units frequently had to make do with a hodgepodge of weapons. Regardless, in this particular circumstance, the science of ballistics told an unfortunate tale.

The Rest of the Story

The loss of Stonewall Jackson to friendly fire represented an incalculable blow to the Confederate cause.

Upon learning of his friend’s injury Confederate General Robert E. Lee wrote, “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”

He sent this message to Jackson via a courier after his surgery, “Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right.”

When told of his death Lee confided to a friend, “I am bleeding at the heart.”

Jackson’s service as Lee’s primary Lieutenant could not readily be replaced.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place a mere two months after the death of General Jackson. As any student of Civil War history will attest, Gettysburg was an iffy thing indeed. The entire outcome of the war potentially turned on a handful of decisions made under the most arduous of circumstances.

Lee was forced to fight at Gettysburg without his most capable subordinate. Stonewall Jackson was only 39 years old when he died.

Had Stonewall Jackson been at Lee’s side during the chaotic maelstrom of Gettysburg the battle might very well have turned out differently. Had Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia been able to take the day and subsequently march on Washington, Lincoln could have been forced to sue for peace on the steps of the White House at the point of a Confederate bayonet. Had that been the case our world would obviously be all but unrecognizable today. Sometimes the most momentous events turn on the smallest things.

Here is one of Stonewall Jackson’s monuments being dismantled, brought down by enraged social justice warriors who likely fancy themselves paragons of tolerance.

Ripping down historical monuments in a fit of emotion strikes me as viscerally unsettling. In 2001 the Taliban blew up the 6th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan and were rightfully reviled as a result. It really should be possible to appreciate historical figures without dogmatically embracing the causes they represented or obliterating the evidence of their existence. For all have sinned, even in modern woke America. If left intact alongside contextual information these monuments could serve as object lessons to enlighten generations yet to come. If freedom from moral stain becomes a prerequisite for veneration then I fear we may be destined to become a nation bereft of monuments.

Categories
War

Abu Khayr al-Masri and the Ginsu Missile by WILL DABBS

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is one of the most revolutionary weapons ever developed.

A friend of mine was one of a group of five military officers who first developed the concept of arming an unmanned surveillance drone. The Predator was originally simply a remote ISR platform. ISR stands for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. In this role it revolutionized command and control on the asymmetrical battlefield by allowing covert intelligence gathering without physical risk. Then these guys decided to hang a couple of missiles under the wings, and the whole earth moved just a little bit.

The AGM-65 Maverick is an immensely capable weapon. However, it is also huge, heavy, and expensive.

My buddy told me they first considered Mavericks. However, the AGM-65 Maverick is eight feet long and weighs around 650 pounds. That’s just too big to use on a small aircraft like the Predator. The solution came not from the Air Force, but from US Army Aviation.

The AGM-114 Hellfire was originally contrived to arm the AH64 Apache attack helicopter so it could sweep Western Europe clear of the Soviet armored menace during the Cold War.

The AGM-114 Hellfire was first introduced in 1984. Hellfire stands for Heliborne Laser, Fire and Forget. The Hellfire weighs about 100 pounds and is 64 inches long. Modern versions sport a semi-active laser homing capability as well as a millimeter-wave radar seeker and can reach out to around eleven kilometers. Originally designed to kill tanks in Western Europe when launched off of AH64 Apache gunships, it turned out that the Hellfire held so much more promise if really cleverly wielded. Now hold that thought.

Some Folks Just Need Killing

This furry turd is Abu Khayr al-Masri. The world is way better off without him.

Abdullah Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Rajab Abd al-Rahman was also known as Ahmad Hasan Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. For ease of discussion we’ll shorten all that to simply Abu Khayr al-Masri. Abu Khayr al-Masri was a very bad guy. As the general deputy to the notorious al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Masri had his diabolical fingers in all manner of gory chaos.

You can’t keep up with who’s who among these guys without some sort of program. They hate pretty about everybody. These maniac dudes even vent their wrath on their fellow lunatics with surprising frequency.

Al-Masri was an old school villain who cut his teeth as a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He fled Egypt in the 1980’s to become an international slayer in the bloodthirsty terrorist game. Alongside al-Zawahiri and others, al-Masri fomented chaos from Afghanistan to Sudan.

If your dark god is telling you to kill innocent women and children you might want to ask yourself if you’re really worshiping the right one.

Al-Masri did a little hard time in Iran before being released in March of 2015 as part of a prisoner swap. Anybody who gets arrested for being a terrorist in Iran has got to be a pretty horrible person. He then travelled to Syria to join the Al-Nusra Front of al-Qaeda. The following year the Al-Minaret al-Bayda media wing of the Syrian al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra announced that the Nusra Front had severed its connections with al-Qaeda and rebranded itself the Fateh al-Sham Front. Apparently folks whose primary pastime is slaughtering innocent people struggle with their professional relationships as well.

The Hit

If you piss off Uncle Sam there really isn’t anyplace you can hide that he won’t eventually find you.

Abu Khayr al-Masri had long since passed Uncle Sam’s threshold for needing to die. On February 26, 2017, al-Masri was riding in a car alongside another Tahrir al-Sham militant in al-Mastumah in the Syrian province of Idlib. Unbeknownst to these two hardened terrorists, across the planet a highly-trained group of Air Force pilots, intelligence operatives, and electronic systems operators was quietly keeping an eye on things from high above.

Holy snap. The Ginsu Missile ushered in a whole new era of precision killing.

The area in and around al-Mastumah was fairly densely populated. Syria is in the running for ghastliest place on earth these days. If misery was a mineral this is the place you would go to dig it out of the ground. Bystanders later reported a loud noise, and al-Masri’s car ground to a halt amidst a brilliant flash of sparks. In a land characterized by institutional violence and martial chaos aplenty, there had been no explosion per se. In an instant, however, Abu Khayr al-Masri and his scum-sucking buddy were simply pulverized. The United States had just given the world its rude introduction to the Ginsu Missile.

The Weapon

The 1980’s-vintage AGM-114 Hellfire has evolved into a remarkably versatile weapon system.

The AGM-114 began as a dedicated anti-armor weapon. The AH64 Apache or AH1Z Viper can carry up to sixteen of these puppies. The Hellfire can also be launched from ships, trucks, and manned fixed-wing aircraft in addition to UAVs. The Hellfire employs a top attack profile wherein the round climbs to a high altitude and then plunges toward a target to defeat the thinner roof armor of most modern armored vehicles.

Before it met a Hellfire, this was a perfectly serviceable 72,000-pound Iraqi Main Battle Tank.

In its terminal phase the missile is supersonic at a speed of around Mach 1.3. There was a report that came out of the First Gulf War claiming that a Hellfire with a malfunctioning warhead still successfully de-turreted a T72 tank based solely upon kinetic energy alone.

Solid-fuel rocket motors require minimal maintenance. Just keep them dry and they’re ready to go.

All Hellfires employ a solid rocket motor that lends itself to long-term storage. The semi-active laser homing capability allows the Hellfire to ride a laser beam fired from either air, sea, or ground designators and strike a target with simply breathtaking precision. Typical cost for a single Hellfire missile ranges from $99,600 up to $150,000 per round.

All modern guided missiles are complicated. However, given its production volume the AGM-114 enjoys a certain economy of scale.

Hellfire warheads typically weigh about twenty pounds and come in a wide variety of flavors. The original HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) round employed a shaped charge to defeat conventional armor. Current Hellfire II variants are modular to accommodate an array of payloads. A subsequent round employs a tandem charge to defeat explosive reactive armor systems of the sort widely used on Combloc tanks. Once the Hellfire began to be used against individuals, however, the shaped charge warhead was found to be suboptimal.

There is a bewildering selection of warheads available for the AGM-114 Hellfire.

The initial solution was simply to encase the warhead in a metal sleeve formed from either steel or tantalum. This material would fragment upon detonation and significantly increase the round’s antipersonnel effects. Later dedicated versions employed thermobaric warheads to sterilize enclosed spaces like vehicles and caves. The AGM-114N (MAC) was designed for use against soft-skinned targets like buildings and ships and utilizes a Metal Augmented Charge that creates a sustained pressure wave with delayed fuse capability. The most modern Hellfire variants even sport a programmable warhead that can be optimized for various targets on the fly.

Hezbollah apparently packed a Cessna with explosives in Southern Lebanon and tried to turn it into a poor-man’s cruise missile.

The Israelis have even used the Hellfire to score air-to-air kills. One round destroyed a UAV while another was used to violently disassemble a weaponized Cessna flying out of Lebanon into Israel presumably as an airborne suicide bomb. In both cases the Hellfire antitank missile did a fine job in the air-to-air role.

This is the aftermath of Operation Meetinghouse wherein Curtis LeMay’s B29’s burned Tokyo to the ground with incendiary bombs. Thankfully, we don’t fight wars like this anymore.

One of the perennial challenges associated with using the Hellfire in a built-up area was minimizing collateral damage to nearby noncombatants. In wars past such stuff was a secondary consideration to accomplishing the mission. The incineration of both Dresden and Tokyo during World War 2 stand as stark examples. Nowadays, however, on a battlefield liberally populated with cell phone cameras and embedded reporters a civilized nation can lose a war based upon a handful of poignant images. These concerns drove the development of the AGM-114R Hellfire II (Hellfire Romeo).

Modern warfare demands a degree of precision not available in generations past.

The AGM-114R employs a multi-function warhead with a reduced explosive weight specifically designed to minimize collateral damage. This weapon is not nearly so destructive as more conventional Hellfires, but it yet remains a fairly blunt instrument, particularly in a congested urban space. The answer to this timeless quandary is the AGM-114R9X.

The Ginsu Missile

The Hellfire R9X is a simply inspired killing machine.

The DOD is justifiably tight-lipped about this thing. The AGM-114R9X was purportedly first deployed in 2017. As of September 2020 it was estimated that this specialized weapon had only been used operationally maybe half a dozen times. The Hellfire R9X eschews a warhead of any conventional sort. In lieu of explosives this diabolical rascal employs six deployable blades that pop out of the central chassis of the weapon just before impact.

The R9X kills just as might ancient knights, albeit with a bit more precision and from a much greater distance.

A 100-pound cluster of knives travelling at Mach 1.3 makes an undeniable mess, but it does indeed minimize destruction outside the immediate footprint of the impact point. The R9X spawned from an Obama-era initiative to rein in the sort of rampant destruction American drone strikes were inflicting in war zones around the globe. By all accounts the R9X has been fabulously successful.

The Strike

Seeing your bloodthirsty terrorist buddies pureed with these things has got to be demoralizing.

Post-strike photos of Abu Khayr al-Masri’s car are insightful. The vehicle appeared to have been struck by two of the weapons. There is a brace of star-shaped holes in the roof of the car, one of which extends into the windshield. However, the windshield wipers remain intact despite their obvious close vicinity to the impact point. A shot from the outside of the car shows where at least one round penetrated all the way through and left a crater in the ground. The car seemed to have rolled a short distance past the impact point prior to stopping.

Abu Khayr al-Masri’s car was hit by two of these high-tech kinetic rounds.

I thankfully haven’t encountered any photos taken of the inside of the car before what remained of al-Masri and his buddy was removed. However, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to visualize what that must have been like. Suffice it to say a top-down strike from a pair of AGM-114R9X missiles didn’t exactly enhance the car’s resale value.

Ruminations

Ginsu knives were sold by the zillions via early infomercials.

The term Ginsu Missile is drawn from the family of Ginsu knives that was sold via 1980’s-era infomercials back in the days before the Internet. I recall these preternaturally sharp knives being used to cut such stuff as rope, tree branches, tomatoes, and beverage cans purportedly without losing their edge. The AGM-114R9X has also been called the Ninja Bomb.

This is what’s left over after an R9X strike. The blades are purportedly those perforated appendages. They need not be terribly sharp.

As a former soldier myself, I am a great fan of drone strikes. Such technology allows us to neutralize those who wish us ill without risking warm vulnerable American flesh in the process. Not surprisingly, those on the receiving end find lethal American drone capabilities a wee bit disturbing.

The very existence of the Hellfire R9X Ginsu Missile has got to make these guys jumpy. As the terminal phase of the weapon’s trajectory is supersonic they quite literally would never hear what hit them.

Imagine living in a world wherein you could be driving in a blacked-out vehicle across the open desert at 0200 in the morning only to find a whirring four-foot cluster of hardened steel blades crashing down on your head at 1.3 times the speed of sound. That the enemies of our Great Republic find such an eventuality unduly frustrating isn’t the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. The Ginsu Missile is the sort of advanced Information Age weapon for which I might be willing to pay extra taxes. ‘Merica.

Categories
War

Intercolonial Conflict: French and Indian Wars | US history lecture

Categories
All About Guns Allies Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Soldiering War

Who Dares Wins: 22 SAS and the Pebble Island Raid by WILL DABBS

Desolate and remote, the Falkland Islands have been held by the British since the early nineteenth century.

8,000 miles South of the UK and 400 miles east of Argentina lie the Falklands Islands. The UK has held possession of the Falklands since 1833, and the islands are liberally populated with British subjects, some three thousand or so by 2006.

The Falkland Islands should be a fairly cold but idyllic place. However, folks have been squabbling over these barren rocks for centuries.

Starting with British Captain John Strong in 1690, various despots, regents, and tin pot administrators alternately claimed, occupied, or stole this desolate piece of dirt. At 4,700 square miles, the Falklands enjoyed a fair amount of space. However, its brutal Southern latitude made it an inhospitable sort of place. One of the first commercial endeavors back in the early 19th century actually involved the exploitation of feral cattle.

Margaret Thatcher wasn’t called the Iron Lady for nothing.

Now fast forward to 1982, and the nearby Argentines had their sights set on the windswept rocks of the Falkland Islands. The British had long since passed the apogee of their remarkable empire. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice if Argentina’s military junta government dispatched a few thousand troops to snatch up the Falklands. Sadly, Argentina’s Leopoldo Galtieri woefully underestimated the Iron Lady’s resolve. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was having none of that.

Buildup for War

The British Harrier jump jet was a capable and effective air superiority fighter when deployed against 1980’s-era Argentinian air assets. However, they still needed all the help they could get.

With 8,000 miles of open ocean across which to stage a proper response, the Brits knew that air superiority during the upcoming amphibious counter-invasion was going to be critical. British Sea Harriers would bear the brunt of the air-to-air responsibilities. However, every Argentine airplane that could be neutralized was one less that the Harrier drivers would have to burn out of the sky.

The Argentine-manufactured IA 58 Pucara was a twin-turboprop Close Air Support aircraft.
The Beechcraft T-34 Turbo Mentor was an armed version of a two-seat military training plane.

On the Northern aspect of the western Falklands chain lies Pebble Island. This forsaken spit of dirt was home to some twenty-five English subjects and another 2,500 very English sheep. Since the Argentine invasion, the Pebble Island Aerodromo Auxiliar Calderon airfield also housed six FMA IA 58 Pucara twin-engine turboprop ground attack aircraft, four T-34 Turbo Mentor counterinsurgency attack planes, and a single Coast Guard Skyvan transport. Servicing, supporting, and defending these eleven aircraft were about 150 Argentine Marines and aviation personnel.

The Plan

22 SAS laid the basis for modern Special Operations back during World War 2. LTC Stirling is shown here alongside some of his boys in North Africa.

22 Special Air Service Regiment was the foundation of the world’s modern Special Operations units. 22 SAS hearkens back to the Second World War and its first flamboyant commander, LTC Archibald David Stirling. Stirling’s mob of misfits tormented the Nazis from North Africa across Italy and occupied France. Subsequent generations of SAS men were shooting and scooting back when special operating wasn’t cool. In 1982 D Squadron 22 SAS Regiment stood ready to visit their own unique brand of chaos upon the Argentines.

The Klepper canoe is a non-metallic collapsible boat that breaks down into two man-portable components.

The plan was audacious. After an eyes-on recce conducted by Boat Troop of D Squadron 22 SAS via Klepper canoe, it was determined that there were severe headwinds near the target area. This would ultimately limit the amount of time the commandos could spend on the objective. The operational objectives were therefore reduced from the destruction of the garrison to simply neutralization of the aviation assets.

The Mission

The Westland Sea King HC4 was used for combat assault operations.

On the night of 14 May 1982, forty-five SAS D Squadron operators inserted via two Westland Sea King HC4 helicopters under cover of darkness. A single HC4 has the capacity to lift up to 28 combat-equipped troops. Members of the aforementioned Boat Troop provided approach navigation.

The SAS always had a fondness for the M203 grenade launcher as shown here in the hands of this modern-day re-enactor.

The SAS strike force landed six clicks from the airfield and unloaded some one hundred L16 81mm mortar bombs, demo charges, and a buttload of L1A1 66mm LAWs (Light Anti-tank Weapons). The SAS operators carried American-made M16 rifles along with a disproportionate number of M203 grenade launchers.

The capacity to march extreme distances while carrying ridiculously heavy loads is the bread and butter of the British SAS.

SAS operators are notorious for their simply breathtaking capacity to tab. Tab is short for Tactical Advance to Battle. This is British slang for a forced march across hostile terrain. The SAS assault force successfully infiltrated the airfield, avoiding the Argentine sentries on duty. They eventually set charges on seven of the Argentine aircraft without being detected.

The 22 SAS operators destroyed or disabled all of the combat aircraft on the airfield.

On cue, the SAS operators blew the charges and opened up on the parked aircraft with small arms and LAW rockets. At the same time, naval gunfire from the British destroyer HMS Glamorgan joined in targeting the nearby fuel stores and ammo dump. The preponderance of their ordnance expended, the SAS raiders exfilled to the PZ (Pickup Zone) where they were extracted by the waiting Sea Kings to the HMS Hermes.

The Weapons

The L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle was the standard Infantry weapon of the UK Armed Forces during the Falklands war.

The standard British Army rifle at the time of the Falklands War was the L1A1 SLR (Self-Loading Rifle). This Anglicized FN FAL was used across Her Majesty’s armed forces. However, the SAS opted for the US M16 for its lightweight and high-capacity magazines. Today’s SAS operators wield Canadian-made versions of the M4 Carbine made by Diemaco.

The British SAS appreciated the modest weight and superb maneuverability of the US M16 rifle.

The M16 has served in sundry guises for more than half a century in the US military and should be established dogma to anybody frequenting GunsAmerica. The M203 was the only component of the US Army’s long-running 1960’s-era Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program to see adoption. Pronounced “Spew,” the SPIW had to have the coolest acronym in modern military history.

The under-barrel M203 grenade launcher adds a significant indirect fire capability to the individual trooper.

First adopted in 1969, the M203 fired the same 40x46mm grenade as did the standalone M79 break-open grenade launcher. The M203 mounted underneath a standard M16 and allowed the grenadier ready access to an automatic rifle in addition to the single-shot grenade launcher.

The M433 HEDP (High Explosive Dual-Purpose) round fired by the M203 has an effective casualty radius of five meters and will penetrate two inches of rolled homogenous steel armor.

The 40mm grenades fired by these weapons operate on the High-Low Propulsion System first developed by the Germans during World War 2. The Germans referred to this concept as the “Hoch-und-Niederdruck System,” and it allows a relatively-heavy, low-velocity round to be safely fired via a handheld weapon.

The disposable L1A1 LAW is a relatively lightweight anti-armor weapon that is also useful against fixed fortifications and material.

The L1A1 LAW is a single-shot disposable 66mm unguided antitank weapon. Originally an American contrivance, the US designation was the M72. The solid rocket motor was developed in 1959 at Redstone Arsenal, and the M72 first saw service in 1963. The M72 replaced both the M31 HEAT (High Explosive Antitank) rifle grenade and the cumbersome M20A1 Super Bazooka.

The aluminum inner tube of the L1A1 LAW telescopes into the fiberglass outer shell.

The L1A1 LAW consists of a telescoping aluminum tube within an external fiberglass cylinder with pop-up front and rear sights. When collapsed and sealed the LAW is waterproof. A percussion cap firing mechanism ignites the rocket, and a mechanical setback safety built into the warhead does not arm the piezoelectric detonator until the rocket has accelerated out of the tube.

The spring-loaded cover drops away when the rear cap is pivoted open.
The spring-loaded sights deploy when the LAW is extended for use. The black rubber device in the middle is the trigger bar. The manual firing mechanism on the far right is pulled forward to arm the rocket.

To fire the L1A1 LAW you pull the safety pin and remove the spring-loaded back cover. This allows the front cover to drop away as well, while the rear cover pivots down to serve as a shoulder brace. Grip the front and back of the weapon and extend it briskly. This movement releases the spring-loaded front and rear sights to deploy. Put the weapon on your shoulder, pull the striker handle forward to arm the mechanism, point the thing at something you dislike, and squeeze the trigger bar.

There is a great deal of violence inherent in firing a LAW rocket. This thing veritably explodes off your shoulder.
Care must be exercised to avoid the backblast area upon firing.

Firing the LAW is nothing like the movies. The entirety of the solid rocket motor is consumed prior to the rocket’s leaving the launch tube, and the open back of the tube makes the LAW essentially recoilless. The backblast, however, is subsequently ferocious.

The fins remain folded until the rocket leaves the launch tube.

Once the weapon is fired, six folding fins deploy to stabilize the rocket in flight. Muzzle velocity is 475 feet per second, and the thing makes a simply incredible racket.

The LAW is a proven and effective weapon system.

Max effective range is 200 meters, and later versions of the standard HEAT warhead will burn through about 12 inches of rolled homogenous steel armor. The LAW rockets used in the Pebble Island raid weighed about 8 pounds and cost about $750 apiece. Though augmented in US service in 1987 by the Swedish AT-4, the LAW remains in use around the world today.

The Rest of the Story

Subsequent aerial reconnaissance verified the destruction of all Argentine aircraft on the airfield.

As a result of intense shelling by the HMS Glamorgan the defending Argentines remained under cover for the most part throughout the raid. Presuming the attack to be the opening salvoes in a general invasion, the Argentine commander ordered the runway destroyed. The Argentines detonated prepositioned area denial charges underneath the runway and cratered it. Shrapnel from these charges injured one of the SAS operators. The Argentinian commander was subsequently killed by British small arms fire during the attack.

The tactical aircraft on Pebble Island were all rendered unusable for the duration of the Falklands War.

The original plan had the assault force redirecting their fire on the Argentinian garrison after ensuring the destruction of the attack aircraft. However, after exfilling the wounded man the ground force commander made the decision to return to the Hermes. This on-the-spot decision no doubt ultimately saved a great many lives.

The Pebble Island raid accomplished its primary objective without loss of life among the British attackers.

The Pebble Island raid accounted for all eleven aircraft as well as the ammo and fuel dump and was considered a rousing success. Considering that destroying airfields full of Axis aircraft during WW2 was considered a bit of an SAS specialty, the Pebble Island raid seemed fitting.

CPT Gavin John Hamilton commanded the ground element during the Pebble Island raid. Killed in action less than a month later, he was 29 years old.

Sadly, CPT Gavin John Hamilton, the ground force commander, was killed three weeks later while on a covert reconnaissance mission some forty miles behind Argentine lines. Colonel Juan Ramon Mabragana, the commander of the Argentine Commando unit that killed CPT Hamilton, later described him as “the most courageous man I have ever seen.”

The British SAS is justifiably viewed as one of the world’s premiere Special Operations units.

Who Dares Wins.

Brutally selected and exquisitely well-trained, 22 SAS is the tip of the spear.
Categories
War

The Ragtag Army That Won the Battle of Kyiv and Saved Ukraine

Tetyana Chornovol took out a Russian tank from this spot east of Kyiv.

Citizen volunteers teamed up with soldiers to turn the tide in the most consequential European battle since World War II

KYIV—Outside the Giraffe shopping mall on the western edge of Ukraine’s capital, a group of locals prepared to meet the Russian armored column thundering their way.

It was late February, and the Russians, from an elite airborne unit, were riding atop their vehicles, as if expecting a warm greeting. One wore a Cossack woolen hat instead of a helmet. Another hadn’t loaded his rifle.

The few dozen Ukrainians from the towns of Irpin and Bucha had other intentions, which they had written on the cement mixer and bulldozer that blocked the road: “Welcome to hell.”

After Russia launched an all-out invasion on Feb. 24, a 32-year-old Ukrainian city council member and solar-power entrepreneur named Volodymyr Korotya had led preparations for a fighting stand. The men were brandishing a grab bag of weapons, including pump-action shotguns and a handful of rocket-propelled grenades. Many were dressed in jeans, and few had body armor. Around half of their number, which included a psychotherapist, a firefighter and a bus driver, had never fought before.

“Look what I do and do the same,” Mr. Korotya, who had seen combat during his time in the Ukrainian army, told the new recruits.

As a vanguard of a dozen armored vehicles rumbled over the bridge between Bucha and Irpin and began to climb the hill toward them, the Ukrainians opened fire.

After a fierce three-hour battle, the Russian vehicles were destroyed or abandoned, and the soldiers were dead or in retreat. The Ukrainians set off across the bridge to finish off the rest of the column.

The Russians never crossed that bridge in their monthlong attempt to seize Kyiv.

Part of the Russian convoy destroyed by volunteers early in the conflict.


It’s hard to know how people will react to a huge invasion force. Resistance requires a core of people in villages, towns and cities to find enough courage and motivation to fight rather than flee. Confidence in communities large and small grows with each person who stays and picks up a weapon.

That’s especially true in a country like Ukraine, whose national anthem starts: “The glory and freedom of Ukraine have not yet perished.” That line reflects the nation’s painful attempts over centuries to establish itself as an independent country in the maw of empires.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his army into Ukraine to snuff out its latest, 30-year attempt to establish full-fledged independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He had boasted that it would take only days for his powerful army to take Kyiv.

Over the next month, enough Ukrainians found the will and means to resist him. They formed armed groups with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on. They fed and equipped fighters and billeted them in their homes. They shimmied up trees in search of cellphone reception to report on enemy movements. The result looked like something little seen in modern warfare—a domestic insurgency fused onto a traditional army.

“We are like a hive of bees,” said Yaroslav Honchar, head of an attack-drone crew who make their own armed craft. “One bee is nothing, but a thousand can defeat a big force.”

To a degree not fully appreciated, it was these citizen soldiers, teaming up with active-duty personnel, who turned the tide in the most consequential battle in Europe since World War II and preserved Ukraine’s status as a sovereign nation. The defense of Kyiv allowed the president to stay and rally national support. He could also then procure the weapons from the U.S. and Europe that are now helping the army to dislodge Russian forces in the east and south.

Without Kyiv’s defenders securing crucial spots around the city in the war’s early days, none of that would have been possible.


Antonov

Airport

KYIV

Area of

detail

HOSTOMEL

Bridge

HORENKA

RUSSIAN

ADVANCE

BUCHA

IRPIN

1 mile

KYIV

1 km

Saving the Airport

The Ukrainian special-forces team needed to get to Kyiv fast. But the roads from their base in western Ukraine were choked with cars heading the other way.

Civilians were panicking. Russian armored columns were streaming toward the capital from Belarus, less than 100 miles to the north. Information was scarce and often contradictory.

Marik, the team’s 32-year-old leader, focused. He needed to locate the sharpest Russian thrust toward Kyiv and figure out how his team could blunt it, he explained later, using only a pseudonym as required by Ukraine’s military.

A cyberattack had cut communications between commanders and units in the field, leaving unsecured cellphones as the only link. But Marik saw no reason to panic. He stuck to his mantra: You can’t win the war on your own; everyone has his own small front.

As the team threaded its way toward Kyiv, Marik saw videos posted online by civilians of around 30 black Russian helicopters swooping low toward the capital from the north. Their target was Antonov Airport in Hostomel, a cargo and testing airstrip about 20 miles from central Kyiv.

Marik’s commanders ordered him there. An understrength National Guard unit and another special-forces team at the airport had managed to shoot down three helicopters and hold off 200 elite paratroopers for nearly three hours before withdrawing when they ran out of ammunition. They had lost the airport but won time.

The Russians set up machine-gun nests and secured airport buildings in preparation for transport planes to land a larger force to thrust into the heart of Kyiv.

Marik had to get there and stop them. Arriving near the airport as darkness fell, he learned that others were also gunning for the Russians.

This would be no repeat of 2014, when Russian irregular fighters seized the city of Slovyansk in Ukraine’s east, igniting a war that was still simmering when Russia’s new invasion force rolled in.

Back then, when Marik was sent in to reclaim the city, his unit was equipped mostly with Soviet remnants, including metal helmets and rubber tourniquets that could snap when pulled tight. Now Marik’s men had Kevlar helmets, fitted body armor and secure American radios with headsets. Western training had helped accustom him to working autonomously in small groups. Special forces’ new motto, taken from a 10th-century Kyiv leader called Svyatoslav the Brave, announced their readiness for violence: “I come at you!”

An array of Ukrainian units, aided by civilian volunteers, threw themselves into a haphazard counterattack.

Forty-eight Ukrainian paratroopers landed in three helicopters to the southwest, while another assault team approached from the north. They used brief cellphone messages to direct artillery forces to pound Russian positions. Under assault from several angles, the Russians couldn’t safely land planes.

The counterattack had bought time. But Russian armored columns were advancing quickly by land.

Around dawn, commanders ordered Marik to pull back to a new defensive line along the Irpin River to the northwest of Kyiv. Sappers told him they were preparing to detonate the nearest bridge in 10 minutes, and couldn’t wait.

“Blow it,” Marik said. “We’ll find another way out.”

Lt. Col. Yaroslav Honchar, commander of the Ukrainian Aerial Reconnaissance group, left, and Marik, leader of a special-forces team.

The explosion rang out as the vehicles sped off. They looped south, but for a second day were delayed by civilians: not ones fleeing, but those who had stayed, picked up assault rifles at their local recruiting offices and set up roadblocks. They wanted to check his documents and, when they found out who he was, pestered him to help them man the barricades.

It was early afternoon by the time he made it to the village of Horenka on the other side of the river, the last significant natural barrier on the western approach to Kyiv. His team hid its vehicles and crept 300 yards onto the bridge.

There, they found corpses in uniforms and burnt-out vehicles—the aftermath of a battle. Documents on bodies from both sides revealed that Ukrainians from the 72nd Mechanized Brigade had held off Russians from police special forces, apparently deployed for a public-order operation in anticipation of a quick military victory.

Civilians were picking their way across the bridge on foot, on bikes and in cars. There was a hole on one side of the road, but it was still passable. Marik called for explosives to finish the job, to deny the Russians the bridge.

The explosives arrived packed in a white van. With the Russians on the far bank, Marik couldn’t risk trying to lay charges under the bridge. Instead, they would have to drive the van onto the side that was still intact and detonate the load.

“Has it all been checked?” he asked the soldier who brought the explosives and detonators.

“Yes, all of it,” came the reply.

Russian helicopters were circling Antonov Airport. The enemy appeared to be in control and bringing forward reserves. There was no time to waste.

Two of Marik’s men drove the van onto the bridge, parking it on the right side and sprinted back, unspooling the detonator wire. With everyone clear, Marik plunged the detonator.

Nothing happened.

Marik cursed.

With every minute that passed, he worried that the Russians, lurking somewhere on the far bank, would launch an attack.

Marik grabbed a detonator set to five minutes and sprinted onto the bridge. He primed it then ran back to cover.

Three minutes had passed when the machine-gunner covering the bridge radioed Marik.

“Civilians moving toward the bridge,” said the soldier, known as Vova.

“Vova, just shoot,” Marik said. “Scare them.”

Vova fired two bursts of bullets. The civilians hit the deck. Seconds later, the van exploded.

Ukrainian troops managed to destroy this bridge in Hostomel to slow down the Russian advance.

After the dust settled, Marik sent up a quadcopter, a small drone with four rotors, to check the damage. There was a big hole in the bridge surrounded by fissures. Tanks wouldn’t be able to pass.

Commanders then ordered him north to prevent the Russians from crossing the river at another spot.


RUSSIAN

ADVANCE

Dam

KYIV

KYIV

RESERVOIR

DEMYDIV

Area of

detail

RUSSIAN

ADVANCE

MOSHCHUN

5 miles

KYIV

5 km

The Dam

Marik needn’t have worried. A 44-year-old property developer named Oleksandr Dmitriyev was already on the case.

A thickset man with a mop of brown hair and blue eyes, Mr. Dmitriyev for years had organized off-road races on the boggy land along the Irpin River.

He knew the Irpin had thwarted German invaders in 1941. Soviet bunkers still dot the eastern bank, part of a defensive stand that forced the Nazis to loop around Kyiv to take it.

When a reservoir was created on the Dnipro River to the capital’s north in the early 1960s, a dam was constructed at the mouth of the Irpin to prevent flooding. Pumps force water from the Irpin into the reservoir, whose level was several meters higher.

If the dam stopped holding the water back, it would flood the banks and create a natural barrier to the Russian advance. Mr. Dmitriyev’s audacious plan: Blow up the dam.

Mr. Dmitriyev headed a volunteer group of auto enthusiasts that had helped re-equip the army after Russia’s first invasion in 2014. He drove to the headquarters of Ukraine’s Ground Forces to pitch his idea.

Army Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskiy listened intently as Mr. Dmitriyev explained with the help of a map. The commander gave the go-ahead.

Soldiers loaded hundreds of pounds of explosives into two of Mr. Dmitriyev’s sport-utility vehicles.

Blowing a dam at the mouth of the Irpin River changed the course of the war.

Photographer Oleksandr Aleksandrovych stands on the bank of the river he helped to flood.

Mr. Dmitriyev called Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, a 41-year-old photographer who was another member of the volunteer group. The photographer made his way to the dam, where his first task was to explain the plan to the two men on duty at the pumping station.

“Are you crazy?” one of them exclaimed. Unleashing the water from the reservoir would flood people’s homes on the river banks.

“I know,” Mr. Aleksandrovych countered. “But this could save their lives.”

A local car mechanic who was part of Mr. Dmitriyev’s group tried an angle grinder and a blowtorch on the sluice gates. No luck.

There was only one option left, Mr. Aleksandrovych told Mr. Dmitriyev by telephone: “We need to blow it.”

As dusk fell, sappers detonated the charges with a bang heard in nearby villages.

Mr. Aleksandrovych went to inspect the result of their work. Water was gushing through a 5-foot hole.


Area of detail

KYIV

Drone squad

RUSSIAN

ADVANCE

MOSHCHUN

1 mile

1 km

Drone Strike

Early the next morning, on Feb. 26, a group of civilian drone enthusiasts stood on the edge of Moshchun village to the south, staring at images streamed from an octocopter hovering over the opposite bank.

“Jackpot,” said Mr. Honchar, 42. He was a former IT entrepreneur who used technology to make foreign pharmaceutical businesses more efficient. At that moment, dozens of Russian armored vehicles were loitering in fields on the opposite bank, apparently unsure where to go now that the bridges were blown.

It was the moment the Ukrainians had been training for since 2014, when Mr. Honchar and an investment banker friend launched Aerorozvidka, or Aerial Reconnaissance, to give the battered Ukrainian Army an eye in the sky to combat the Russian forces in the east.

The drone pilot known as Frodo played a key role in several engagements.

Mr. Honchar and fellow drone missionaries would travel the front lines sharing images of enemy positions. They weren’t officially part of the army at first, but they had badges made to look the part, and soldiers and commanders were hungry for their pictures.

They initially used commercial drones and ordered models made by cinematographers. Then they constructed their own R18 octocopter from off-the-shelf and custom-made parts, improving it bit by bit with new components, including a thermal-imaging camera. That allows it to operate under cover of darkness.

The real MacGyver moment was when they figured out how to drop Soviet-era antitank grenades from the drones, using an attachment made from a 3-D printer.

As they stood in the village, Mr. Honchar looked at the drone pilot, a baby-faced 40-year-old known as Frodo, and they grinned. “Now we’re going to blow someone up,” said Mr. Honchar.

A Ukrainian Aerial Reconnaissance member tests a drone in the countryside near Kyiv.

The aerial reconnaissance group built its own drones using off-the-shelf parts and fashioned an attachment from a 3D printer to drop antitank grenades.

An underground command center used by the aerial reconnaissance team.

Through military contacts, Mr. Honchar had secured five boxes each containing six RKG-3 grenades. They loaded three onto the craft and sent it streaking over the river. Frodo positioned it over a tank, then pressed the button to release the grenade.

They heard an explosion and saw smoke billowing from the vehicle. It was the first time they had taken out a tank. The crew cheered. They reloaded and went out again. On the opposite bank, the tank crews had dismounted and had spotted the noisy craft in the dawn light. On the screen, Frodo saw a crowd of Russian soldiers firing their automatic rifles at the octocopter. Suddenly, they started to lose the connection. The drone went down, but it was a trade they would make any day.

“It wasn’t about how many we killed,” he said, “but letting them know that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.”


Antonov

Airport

KYIV

Area of

detail

Station St

BUCHA

RUSSIAN

ADVANCE

Giraffe mall

IRPIN

KYIV

1 mile

1 km

Giraffe Mall

On the other side of the river the morning of Feb. 27, outside the Giraffe shopping mall in the city of Irpin, the local militia was bracing for battle. Its leader, Mr. Korotya, had dusted off his old nom-de-guerre, Insurgent, which he took on during his youth as a fan of the soccer team Dynamo Kyiv, when he brawled with fans from rival teams.

Now a city councilor in neighboring Bucha, Mr. Korotya had spent the prior three days scrounging for men and munitions.

On the day of the invasion, he met with fellow veterans, then headed to the local military office to ask for rifles. Officers there refused and told them to go to their former army units. Late that evening he took a dozen veterans to the National Guard base in Irpin, which appeared deserted.

The armory was locked, but there were two armored personnel carriers in the garage. They wouldn’t start, so the men brought spare parts from an auto repair shop and set to work fixing them as mortar fire exploded close by.

Volodymyr Korotya, who adopted the nom-de-guerre Insurgent, talks by phone on a street in Irpin.

They got the vehicles running and were preparing to leave when a handful of National Guard troops showed up, stunned to find armed men on their base with the dud vehicles running.

Insurgent gave them one of the APCs but took the other and hid it behind the Giraffe mall.

As morning broke, he heard of more abandoned vehicles up the road toward Antonov Airport. Insurgent’s men set to work getting them moving when an elderly man approached and quizzed them about who they were.

“Gramps, go away,” Insurgent said.

“No, listen,” the man persisted. “We’ve got paratroopers in our basement.”

Insurgent followed him to a house a few hundred yards closer to the airport, where they found eight Ukrainian paratroopers with rifles, a machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Insurgent’s group: Lieutenant Volodymyr Korotya shows a picture on his phone about a comrade moving ammunition in a shopping cart. A soldier of territorial defense gets out if his car in a street in Bucha.

Their war had started near Chernobyl on the Belarus border, but they had quickly withdrawn as Russian armored vehicles threatened to overrun them. Part of their unit had been sent to assault Antonov Airport. The remainder set off toward Bucha but was ambushed by mortar fire around 5 a.m.

Insurgent brought the reinforcements and the vehicles that could drive or be towed back to Giraffe.

Other fresh troops were trickling in. Among them was Oleksandr Kotenko, a 42-year-old psychotherapist with a dark goatee and long hair pulled back into a ponytail. He took the name Tango for his love of dancing.

They brought a cement mixer and a bulldozer to block the road. They set up the machine gun and hid their four armored vehicles behind buildings around the mall. Around half of the 70 men were veterans, the rest were raw recruits like Tango who received a few quick tips about fighting, mainly about the importance of avoiding friendly fire.

It was just after 7 a.m. on Feb. 27 when Insurgent got word from an acquaintance at the northern end of Bucha that a huge Russian column was heading toward Station Street.

The roar of dozens of diesel engines grew louder. Then a vanguard of around a dozen vehicles rumbled across the bridge.

As the first vehicle started crawling up the hill, one of the Ukrainian paratroopers fired a rocket-propelled grenade, destroying it in one blow. He quickly picked up another RPG, already loaded, and fired again, hitting a second vehicle.

Oleksandr Kotenko, known as Tango for his love of dancing, fought in the battles of Irpin and Bucha.

The destroyed Giraffe mall in Bucha.

The rest of the ambush team opened fire with everything they had. The Ukrainian armored vehicles darted forward and let loose with their machine guns, then ducked back behind cover. One of the novices fired a machine gun from behind the roadblock, fed by Tango. When he got shot, Tango dragged him away and patched him up.

The Russians were in disarray. Their vehicles that could still move careened off the road and sought shelter behind buildings, including the shopping mall.

Soon after the shooting began, the mayor of Irpin, city councilors and utilities workers sped up and joined the fight with AK-47 rifles in hand.

With no radios other than the ones in the vehicles, Insurgent yelled commands or passed them on via a runner. Artillery began firing. Insurgent marked coordinates on Google maps and sent them to councilors he knew, who passed them to the military. At one point, they heard violent explosions from the other side of the bridge.

Tango shows images of his dance sessions.

Some Russian soldiers tried to flank the Ukrainians through a deserted brick factory, but Insurgent’s men pushed them back. More than a dozen Russians took shelter in the shopping mall. They appeared unprepared and terrified. One came running out of the building on fire and shooting, until he was cut down. Another who had lost the bottom parts of his legs crawled out and opened fire. Lacking modern tourniquets, the Russians had bound their wounds with tape.

After more than two hours, the fight was over. Insurgent picked through the detritus of battle. Documents identified the Russians as members of the elite 76th Guards Air Assault Division.

He gathered a team of around 30, including newly arrived reinforcements from special forces. “Let’s go and finish them off,” he said.


RUSSIAN

ADVANCES

Area of detail

ZALISSYA

BOHDANIVKA

KYIV

SKYBYN

BROVARY

5 miles

KYIV

5 km

‘It’s Begun’

Ukrainian forces on the eastern flank of Kyiv didn’t have a river for protection. But they had time.

Russian columns were trundling along a highway from the east. It would be almost two weeks before the first one approached.

A battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade, which defended the capital’s flanks, had set up an ambush there in the first days of the war. Reinforcements arrived in the shape of Tetyana Chornovol, a 42-year-old former investigative journalist.

As a reporter, she scaled the wall of a corrupt, pro-Russian president’s mansion to photograph its opulence. She was beaten by thugs during street protests that ousted that leader. After becoming a lawmaker, she promoted domestic weapons production.

As the Russians gathered forces around Ukraine’s borders last year, she had grown certain they would invade, and she had recently completed a training course on a Ukrainian antitank weapon called a Stugna.

Tetyana Chornovol was an investigative journalist before the war.

She had been drinking wine with a companion until the wee hours on Feb. 24 and had barely slept when she was roused by a phone call.

“It’s begun,” a friend told her.

Moments later, a missile exploded nearby.

She jumped in her ruby-red hybrid hatchback and set off for the Stugna factory to pick up some missiles.

After a few days searching for action, Ms. Chornovol called an officer in the 72nd Brigade who directed her to Brovary, a city on the eastern edge of Kyiv. A Russian armored column from the 6th Guards Tank Regiment was heading along a highway from the east toward the city.

Preparing its defense was softly spoken 29-year-old Lt. Col. Roman Darmohrai, a battalion commander whose military career had been forged in war. He graduated from the National Army Academy in 2015 and went straight into battle in eastern Ukraine with the 72nd, whose badge bears a skull and the phrase “Ukraine or death.”

After arriving in Brovary, he began laying a trap. The Russian tanks would vastly outnumber his vehicles, so his plans would rely on antitank weapons, surprise and local assistance.

Locals armed with backhoes and shovels helped them dig in.

Lt. Col. Darmohrai positioned Ms. Chornovol in a field near the village of Skybyn, at the front of the main ambush team. They couldn’t light a fire for fear of giving away their positions, so took shelter from the freezing wind in a small concrete irrigation station. She set up her Stugna, an export version that had a digital control screen with text in Arabic, and waited.

Lt. Col. Roman Darmohrai helped lead the 72nd Brigade’s defense of eastern Kyiv.PHOTO: EMANUELE SATOLLI FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

They knew the column was coming. Villagers were sending updates by phone and an app that computer whizzes had helped create for the Security Service of Ukraine. On March 9, a column of around two dozen vehicles rolled through the village of Zalissya in the direction of Brovary.

Part of the ambush team was ready at the side of the road, guided by a reconnaissance team using a drone. As the vehicles emerged from behind the tree line, a soldier who until recently had worked as a barista took aim with his NLAW, a shoulder-fired antitank missile provided by the U.K. government.

The missile slammed into the side of a tank. A couple of vehicles veered off into surrounding fields, while others returned fire on the Ukrainian position.

Stunned, most of the column halted. When it regrouped, it was moving in a single line rather than spreading out into a battle formation. As the vehicles approached the next village of Skybyn, Ms. Chornovol opened fire.

Her first shot missed. Her second was a direct hit, her first in battle.

This Russian tank was destroyed in an ambush near Brovary.

As Ukrainian Korsar missiles landed and artillery guns boomed, the Russian tanks careened onto the muddy roadside. Trying to spin around, they clumped together, providing even juicier targets for Ukrainian gunners.

By the time the column retreated, it had lost 17 tanks, three other armored vehicles and dozens of men.

The vehicle of Russian Army Col. Andrei Zakharov, commander of the 6th Guards Tank Regiment, was among those hit. His men sped him to Bohdanivka, where they pulled up outside a house and ordered the gate opened. The owner, Serhiy Bobko, was a member of the local militia who had fled, but his wife opened up.

“Get us an operating table or something,” ordered one Russian soldier.

Soldiers pulled Col. Zakharov from the vehicle. He was covered in blood that had soaked into the sheet covering him. They were taking him to Mr. Bobko’s barn when he died.

As the Russians carried Col. Zakharov’s body away, one of them turned to Ms. Bobko.

“We no longer have a commander,” the forlorn soldier said. “We don’t know what to do: go forward or back.”


KYIV

MAKARIV

Area of detail

Zhytomyr Highway

RUSSIAN

ADVANCES

Dachas

Bridge

1 mile

1 km

Greek’s Group

Yuriy Ulshyn, better known as Greek, was in Mariupol when the war started, but changed plans when he saw Russian invasion forces streaming toward the capital.

“Guys, let’s go to Kyiv,” he told the dozen teammates on his informal commando team. “If they take Kyiv, then it’s pointless defending elsewhere.”

Yuriy Ulshyn, a geologist known as Greek.

The 47-year-old geologist, who took his alias from his Greek mother, had been at war for eight years and gained a reputation as a skilled army scout and sniper. He wanted to take the fight to the Russians but despised the paralyzing bureaucracy of the military and preferred to serve as a volunteer, picking where he and his men could work most effectively.

In the early days of March, Greek spotted a weak point that he and his couple of dozen men could help plug. The bridge over the Zhytomyr Highway near Makariv was a prime target for Russian forces seeking to cut off weapons deliveries from the West and advance toward the highway leading south to Odessa. There was a gap there between the 72nd Brigade and its neighboring unit.

He went to see the commander of the 72nd. “Sanya, I’ll go to the other side of the highway,” he said, calling Col. Oleksandr Vdovychenko by his familiar name. “There’s a hole near Makariv.”

His team was small, but then he received an offer of reinforcements from Vasyl Virastyuk, winner of the World’s Strongest Man contest in 2004, who was elected to Parliament in 2021. Mr. Virastyuk recommended a powerlifter called Andriy Kotovenko, better known as Cat, a short, stocky man who used to work at Epicenter, Ukraine’s equivalent of Home Depot.

Cat had been planning to head to Columbus, Ohio, to take part in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s renowned strength competition. Instead, on the first day of war, he went looking for the fastest way onto the front lines.

Powerlifter Andriy Kotovenko took the name Cat.

He called Mr. Virastyuk, who directed him to Greek’s freewheeling band of commandos.

Days later, Cat arrived with his team of six, including a former colleague from Epicenter and an ex-foodstore manager who had fought with him in the east.

They were a neat match: Greek a cerebral player-coach, Cat spoiling for a fight.

“I wake up thinking about killing Russians, and I go to sleep thinking about killing Russians,” Cat would say.

Eight years earlier the military recruiting office had refused to take him because he had no military experience. Instead he had joined Right Sector, a nationalist militia, which was the fastest way to get to the front line.

Right Sector became a boogeyman for the Russians, like the so-called Banderites who followed a nationalist leader and fought the Soviets into the 1950s.

Members of Greek’s group posed for photos at an undisclosed location in Kharkiv.

Cat learned to operate a mortar and fought in several hot spots before he was badly injured after a soldier close by stepped on a land mine. He had fought back to health after 22 operations and started a new career as a competitive powerlifter.

Cat got hold of a 120 mm mortar and ammunition that an army unit had seized from the Russians. With the help of volunteers he acquired a Ford Ranger pickup to transport the mortar, and a Land Rover for the rounds.

Operating out of a house offered by a local in a village just to the west of the Makariv bridge, they worked in the gray zone, finding targets for the army’s artillery and for Cat’s mortar. They pushed the Russians back from the bridge to the woods and a hamlet known as the Makariv Dachas.

The Russians moved into houses there and dug into the woods, burying their tanks deep.

“We’ve dug in so well that the Banderites won’t see us,” one of the soldiers told a local villager.


BELARUS

Chernobyl

Bridge

Farm

POLISKE

ZIRKA

Area of detail

KYIV

RUSSIAN

ADVANCES

BAZAR

5 miles

5 km

Chernobyl’s Shadow

Frodo, the drone pilot, was in a village nearby, just south of the Zhytomyr Highway, bristling with frustration because wet and foggy weather meant he couldn’t fly his drones.

A commander he knew from his service in the east called with an offer: Would he like to join a team hunting Russians near Chernobyl?

From the first day of war, Russian armored columns had been rumbling toward Kyiv from Belarus down two roads through the area around the defunct nuclear plant.

With the Russian army stuck on the edge of Kyiv, huge tailbacks formed, one of which stretched 40 miles back from Antonov Airport.

Firing on Russian vehicles, the 72nd Brigade’s artillery chief said, was like playing Tetris, the Soviet-designed computer game where a player lines up blocks to make them disappear.

“We eliminated them,” he said, “then new ones appeared.”

The commander who called Frodo, the Russia-born son of a Soviet airman, wanted him on a team of special-forces soldiers, hunters and poachers who would attempt to pinch the flow of vehicles at the source, starving the Russian units ranged around Kyiv of reinforcements, fuel and ammunition.

Frodo and the team of around 20 loaded pickups with equipment including remote-controlled mines and rifles. They also took five Starlink terminals, provided by SpaceX after a Ukrainian minister tweeted a request to Mr. Musk. Russia was targeting cell towers and using jamming to cut mobile communications, but Starlink would keep them connected.

Artem Sandratskiy helped the Ukrainian army with reports about Russian military positions.

They headed toward the village of Bazar in the wooded and sparsely populated area to the west of Chernobyl, where they linked up with Artem Sandratskiy, a 43-year-old hunting-lodge manager who knew the area well.

When Russia invaded, he helped around 1,500 people to flee Russian-held territory via Bazar, which remained under Ukrainian control. He arranged accommodation at the local school and food and clothes from volunteers. He also coaxed information from them, asking them to point to the spots on Google Maps where command posts and vehicles were located.

“I helped everyone,” he said, “and almost everyone helped me.”

He would double check the information with informers on occupied territory. Contacts clambered up trees in search of phone signal to send him messages. Oleksandr Rakov, a 47-year-old baker in the village of Krasyatichi, would share information he had collected on his rounds delivering bread.

Oleksandr Rakov’s shop in Krasyatychi, was occupied by Russian soldiers.

Frodo and his crew arrived around March 10. By then, he and other members of Aerorozvidka had signed up with the Security Service of Ukraine to make their service official.

Their first target was a bridge near Poliske, a town near the Belarusian border that was abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.

They moved carefully. Frodo sent his drone up to check ahead for enemy troops every half-mile or so. They carried boxes of explosives on quad bikes fitted with mufflers and used them to blow the bridge.

Ideas for missions came thick and fast. They would sit around a table at Mr. Sandratskiy’s house and draw up plans on a map. They sought to target high-value Russian vehicles and equipment, sometimes staying in houses abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster, living right under the Russians’ noses. It wasn’t long before they were targets in a cat-and-mouse game with Russian helicopters, drones and special forces hunting them.

Locals informed them of a juicy target: dozens of ammunition and fuel trucks at a farm near the village of Zirka.

Mr. Sandratskiy points out the position of Russian soldiers.

If they could get howitzers close enough and coordinate fire from a drone, it would be a turkey shoot. To succeed, they would have to take the howitzers, which weigh more than six tons each, into a gray zone controlled by neither side without being seen and keep a connection between the drone and the artillery commander giving the orders.

The commander persuaded an army general to provide three 152 mm howitzers with a range of 11 miles. Frodo arranged for a Ukrainian fixed-wing drone called a Leleka, or Stork, to provide live video. Frodo would be in charge of making sure they had a link.

Special-forces soldiers used chain saws to carve a path through the woods for trucks to drag the guns.

Russian vehicles at this farm near Zirka were destroyed by a howitzer strike guided by Frodo and others.

In the early hours of March 16, the trucks pulled the guns forward. Frodo went with them. In position a few miles from Zirka, he couldn’t get the Starlink powered from his car, as he’d planned, and had to call for a generator, which was rushed to his position.

As the Leleka was approaching the target around 10 a.m., the connection suddenly appeared.

The artillery commander standing next to the drone pilots called the gunners on Signal on his cellphone and gave the order to fire, directing their aim using the picture from the drone.

A video from the craft posted later on Facebook by Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, shows the destruction. Truck after truck is blown up as the howitzers score 47 hits from 52 shots. Gen. Zaluzhniy’s video is set to the song “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC.


Dam

KYIV

KYIV

RESERVOIR

DEMYDIV

Area of

detail

Approximate

flooded areas

CHERVONE

Sluice gate

Forest

MOSHCHUN

5 miles

KYIV

5 km

Peat Bog

By the start of March, the blown bridges had halted the Russians on the Irpin River. The flooding had prevented them from crossing in the north.

Over the following days, Mr. Dmitriyev observed drone footage that showed the river spreading from a channel of some 10 yards, submerging fields and bushes and leaving trees and pylons sticking out.

But there was a stretch of a few miles where the Russians could attempt a crossing. The peat bog was absorbing water like a sponge. Another sluice gate near the village of Chervone was blocking the flow. The Ukrainians tried and failed to destroy it with shelling.

Spotting their opening, the Russians’ began laying pontoon bridges. Dozens of vehicles came across through channels of water, thick woods and Ukrainian machine-gun positions.

A scene of destruction in Moshchun.

The Ukrainian defenders, including a battalion of the 72nd Brigade and Marik’s special-forces team, withdrew to defensive positions on the edge of the village and the forest, where villagers had used a backhoe to help them dig trenches. The Russians took control of an area filled with cottages that is on the river’s edge in front of the village, where the drone team had fired from on the first day.

Concerned by the Russians’ progress, Gen. Zaluzhniy, came to the 72nd Brigade’s command post at the tennis academy in a nearby Kyiv suburb.

“You must stop them here,” Gen. Zaluzhniy told Col. Vdovychenko. “Kyiv is right behind you.”

Col. Oleksandr Vdovychenko, commander of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade, inspects destroyed Russian vehicles outside Moshchun.

By then, the Russians had dug trenches in a forest on the village’s northern flank and sought to thrust into central residential areas. Battles raged in the streets and forests around the village. Ukrainian forces later found the bodies of 27 Russians that their comrades had not recovered.

Forced back into the ruins of the village ravaged by artillery strikes, the Ukrainians held firm.

“There was nowhere for us to retreat to,” said Col. Vdovychenko. “If the enemy could have created a bridgehead and regrouped its forces, it would certainly have entered Kyiv.”

But help was at hand. On March 8, sappers had returned to the dam at the mouth of the Irpin River and blown it wide open.

The fresh flow of water overwhelmed the sluice gate at Chervone and rendered the pontoon bridges largely unusable. Marik saw from surveillance drones that Russian vehicles were stranded on the bridges or washed into the river. They couldn’t get them onto the bridges on boggy ground. With no reinforcements able to cross, never mind tanks, the Russian assault petered out.

The Irpin River, said Marik, “changed the direction of the whole war.”


Area of detail

ZALISSYA

BOHDANIVKA

KYIV

SKYBYN

BROVARY

5 miles

KYIV

5 km

‘They were like rabble’

For the Russian troops under Col. Zakharov, who had died in the yard of a village house, things quickly went awry.

Following the battle, they rammed their vehicles through villagers’ gates and parked them in their yards.

A group returned to Mr. Bobko’s house with some Champagne looted from a foodstore and offered it to his wife as an apology for troubling her with their bloodied and dying commander a day earlier.

“We don’t need it, we have some,” she told them.

“Oh, you have some?” one soldier replied.

The next day, the soldiers returned, asking for alcohol. She gave them a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of cognac to get rid of them.

A Russian commander died in Serhiy Bobko’s yard.

An hour later, there was a noise outside. One of the soldiers had scaled the brick wall, apparently in search of fresh supplies, and fallen asleep on top.

The occupiers had a brutal streak. They held captives, including the local Orthodox priest, in various cellars across the city. One Russian soldier killed a man and raped his wife, according to Ukrainian prosecutors.

Many of the troops were young men. They would shoot from their tanks a few times in the direction of Ukrainian positions in the morning and a few in the evening, but didn’t try to advance. Instead, they spent their time scrounging cigarettes from locals, arguing over looted goods from stores and stealing items such as sneakers, jeans and a garden trimmer.

“They didn’t look like soldiers,” said Nataliya Landyk, a 67-year-old retiree. “They were like rabble that had just gotten out of jail.”

On the roadside near her house, the Russians dug in a few tanks and covered them with branches. They set up a dining area with beer crates for seats, polishing off bottles of beer, wine and brandy.

Vadym Horbach, the 44-year-old owner of a car-repair yard, asked one officer of around his age what he was doing there.

“I myself don’t know what I’m doing here,” the officer responded. But, he said, he was a military man and had no choice but to follow orders.

Mechanic Volodymyr Horbach watched a tank column pass.

The Russians made one more halfhearted effort to advance to Brovary on March 19. As the tanks began firing at the railway bridge where Ms. Chornovol was positioned, she got off a shot that hit the first tank. The rest retreated.

Afterward, the soldiers from the 72nd Brigade and Ms. Chornovol piled into Khutorets, a cafe near the bridge where the cooks would serve them coffee, tea and potato pancakes.

The women had baked a cheese pie, but were refusing to hand it over to Ms. Chonovol’s teammates.

“It’s for the guy who took out the tank,” one of them said.

“It wasn’t a guy,” Ms. Chornovol exclaimed. “It was a gal!”


KYIV

MARAKIV

Area of detail

Zhytomyr Highway

Dachas

Bridge

Radio tower

1 mile

1 km

The Powerlifter

The Russian attacks in the east and west were stalled. The main remaining hope was somehow getting around Kyiv to the south and cutting off the Odessa Highway.

Around the bridge near Makariv, Cat and Greek were going on the offensive. They were outnumbered, which meant they would have to work harder.

The first target was a radio tower deep in the woods. Greek took a team there on foot, leaving a video camera at the top of the tower and setting up observation posts. He tried to leave as much evidence of his presence as possible to trick the Russians into believing that the Ukrainian force was larger than in reality.

The Greek installed video cameras on this tower to spy on Russian troops.

There were about 30 of them at that stage, while the Russians numbered hundreds.

In mid-March, Greek decided to go for the dachas where the Russians had dug in. Some were living in basements. They had taken a calf from a nearby field and slaughtered it for meat. Packages of looted food lay everywhere, as well as a few green Russian Army ration packs.

Most of the reconnaissance for Greek’s Group was carried out by a drone pilot who would fly for hours on end sitting on a plastic garden chair with a rug over his legs. He would pause only to charge his vehicle.

Cat’s team of six would speed into position just south of the woods and have their mortar, with an accurate range of around 2 miles, ready to fire in around 15 minutes.

Cat was firing his mortar like a sniper, taking out Russian vehicles and infantry just a few dozen yards away from Greek’s advancing men.

They were moving around and firing in quick bursts, seeking to confuse and startle the enemy in a cold foreign wood.

After around six hours, the Ukrainians pulled back.

Destroyed Russian tanks near the village of Kopyliv.

Near the end of March, the Russians suddenly launched an assault on the bridge with armored vehicles. The regular Ukrainian troops were wavering.

“Damn, Greek, send a group,” the local commander pleaded with him by phone.

They rushed there and used a machine gun to down a Russian drone, halted four tanks with missiles and called in artillery fire.

They were working round the clock.

“We wanted them to feel like they were in hell and wouldn’t get through,” said Greek. “We didn’t let them rest for a moment. We exhausted them.”

On March 29, they assaulted Russian positions with the help of paratroopers, but lost a tank and suffered casualties, and withdrew.

At night they heard a rumbling sound. The following morning, they were preparing for another assault the drone pilot came with news: “Greek, they are gone.”

Across the whole front around Kyiv, the Russians were pulling back. From Bohdanivka on the eastern flank, from Antonov Airport in the west, and from the far side of the dam in the north.

Cat arrived back from Kyiv where he had gotten his car fixed.

Greek called him and broke the news.

“The f—ers left!” Cat told his group, his voice laced with joy and bitterness. He had wanted to go finish them off.


Aftermath

Marik had been back and forth across the dam and the wrecked bridge in neighboring Demydiv. He would cross at night in the freezing cold with a small team and, guided by locals, ambush Russian positions.

One evening, he had gone to rescue a family that had fled their home and had got lost in the dark on the water-sodden bank. By the time he reached them across the damaged bridge, it was past midnight and one of the children, a young girl, had lost consciousness. He carried her across the bridge and put her in his armored vehicle, covered her in rugs and turned on the heat. Then he went back for her family.

Marik crossed the dam one more time on March 31 after the Russians retreated, pausing to await reinforcements.

He’d done his part to save Kyiv and its people as best he could. He’d acted like a surgeon with a scalpel, making small cuts to drastically change the course of the battle.

“I don’t think one person or another can say they stopped the assault on Kyiv,” he said. “Everyone did.”

Oksana Grytsenko contributed to this article. Maps by Emma Brown.

Categories
Soldiering War

13 décembre 1952 – Indochine française. Portrait du caporal-chef Auguste Apel, légionnaire. with his Pioneer Beard

Categories
All About Guns Allies War

Fray Bentos: The WW1 British Alamo by WILL DABBS

No offense, but it seems like the British eat some stuff that just wasn’t meant to be eaten.

In 1865 a German chemist named Justus von Liebig started Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company in the UK. Liebig subsequently opened a factory in Uruguay to process beef extract products that were later sold under the trade name Oxo. One of their most popular offerings was tinned corned beef. The company marketed this stuff as Fray Bentos, so named after the Uruguayan town where the factory operated.

Fray Bentos maintains a vigorous following in the UK today. New! Improved! 33% more meat! Blech…

Fray Bentos corned beef was food for the Common Man. The company also produced glue in the same facility. Fray Bentos was delivered in one-pound tins that were easily portable. This made Fray Bentos ideal fodder for soldiers in the field. During the Boer War and later in World War 1 Fray Bentos was surprisingly popular among British Tommies. In fact, the term “Fray Bentos” made it into the informal military lexicon as a slang term for anything that was good. Now hold that thought.

The Setting

By 1917 World War 1 was in its fourth year. Strategic commanders on both sides were rabid to get the war moving again.

In July of 1917, the Allies launched the Battle of Passchendaele. This orgasmic bloodbath orbited around a campaign to wrest the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders from the entrenched Germans. Passchendaele lies on the easternmost ridge past Ypres, some five miles from the Bruges to Kortrijk railway. Seizing the Passchendaele Ridge would cut the main supply route for the German 4th Army and facilitate a continued Allied advance that was hoped might turn the tide of the war. The Battle of Passchendaele was a really big deal.

The elaborate trench systems that characterized WW1 battlefields made mobility all but impossible.

Launching a major campaign in Flanders in 1917 was not without controversy. The terrain was abysmal, particularly given the unusually heavy rains, and opinions were divided at the strategic level as to the wisdom of this grand plan. However, to the beleaguered troops on the ground little of that mattered. Their world was distilled down to a few yards of blood-soaked mud.

The Details

The male Mk IV tank carried the biggest punch. Its two 6-pounder cannon featured a 57mm bore diameter.

Tank F41 was a male Mark IV serial numbered 2329. While they enjoyed a common basic chassis, male and female Mk IV tanks differed in their primary armament. Male tanks sported a brace of 6-pounder cannon along with supporting machineguns. The female sort bristled with machineguns alone. The commander of F41 was Captain Donald Hickling Richardson. With the approval of his eight-man crew, CPT Richardson had christened their mount Fray Bentos. In combat, they all felt a bit like tinned meat.

SGT Robert Missen was one seriously bad man.

The crew of Fray Bentos was a cross-section of British culture. The second in command was 2LT George Hill, while the senior NCO was Sergeant Robert Missen. Lance Corporal Ernest Braedy was the only other Noncommissioned Officer. Gunners included William Morrey, Ernest Hayton, Frederick Arthurs, Percy Budd, and James Binley. At 0440 on August 22, 1917, these nine men left the line of departure with infantry support as part of an attack by the 61st Division near St. Julien. Their subsequent three-day ordeal became the stuff of legend.

The Fight

The British tanks advanced in good order but soon became bogged down by German action and the horrid terrain.

As Fray Bentos approached the Somme Farm they came under withering German machinegun fire. SGT Robert Missen, the gunner manning the port 6-pounder gun, silenced these Boche positions in short order. This was just the beginning of SGT Missen’s remarkable day.

Captured Mk IV tanks were actually put back into action by the Germans. Maintaining control of these advanced wonder weapons was, therefore, a priority on the 1917 European battlefield.

At around 0545 with 2LT Hill at the controls, Fray Bentos approached Objective Gallipoli, an arbitrary map reference included as part of the overall scheme of maneuver. A German machinegun slathered the tank with machinegun fire, and one round found its way through the driver’s slit. This 8mm Maxim bullet struck 2LT Hill in the neck and knocked him out of the driver’s seat. CPT Richardson immediately took his place, but the terrain was ghastly.

Trench warfare during WW1 was really about as bad as it gets. Wet, rotten, unimaginably dangerous, and horrifying, the ordeal of the trenches was a living nightmare.

It’s tough for the civilized mind to visualize what this place was like. Trenches, barbed wire, poison gas, machineguns, and death defined the World War 1 battlefields. The earth was churned into chaos by countless tens of thousands of rounds of artillery. The rains had transformed the soft Belgian dirt into a sticky, deadly quagmire. There were numerous anecdotes of infantry troops wandering off from the accepted tracks and simply being consumed by the mud. It was for this sordid world that the tanks had been developed in the first place.

Tanks during World War 1 were more like modest land ships than what we imagine modern tactical vehicles to be today.

The Mk IV tank was a 28-ton behemoth that spanned some 26 feet from front to back. These massive tanks sported half-inch steel armor and were driven by a 105 BHP Daimler-Foster 6-cylinder inline sleeve-valve 16-liter engine. The Mk IV carried 70 imperial gallons of petrol and had a top speed of 4 mph. Over rough terrain, its operational range was around 35 miles.

The interior of a Mk IV tank was a miserable place. This is a snap taken into one of the sponsons at the Tank Museum in Bovington, England. Note the Lewis gun at the top of the photo.

While the Mk IV was designed to get the British troops up and out of the trenches, life inside these early tanks was unimaginably horrible. The vehicles were cramped, miserable, and noisy. The Mk IV had no suspension, and direct fire from German artillery would burst a Mk IV like a grape. Even under peaceful circumstances, the buildup of fumes and carbon monoxide from the primitive gasoline engine would reliably sicken the crew. In combat, the interior of an operational Mk IV grew stifling hot and resembled hell.

Mk IV tanks were really designed to operate over flat ground. In the shell-torn moonscape of the typical World War 1 battlefield, they were extremely difficult to control.

Driving a Mk IV was not like operating a modern armored vehicle. These primitive tanks were all but unmanageable over truly rough terrain. While CPT Richardson struggled mightily with the controls, Fray Bentos slid inevitably sideways until it was well and truly ditched. With that, now deep behind German lines, Tank F41 became a pillbox.

The Ordeal

The ditching beam shown here would help drag a disabled Mk IV tank out of the mire. However, emplacing this device under fire was incredibly dangerous.

Soon after 2LT Hill was hit, gunners Budd and Morrey were hit as well. Mk IV tanks carried external ditching beams for just such eventualities. These heavy wooden timbers could be affixed to the tracks that spanned the entire periphery of the vehicle. Then by gunning the engine this beam would make its way around the tank and theoretically pull the heavy vehicle out of the quagmire. However, to affix the ditching beam one had to be outside the tank. With uncounted German soldiers surrounding the disabled vehicle at a range of some 30 yards, this was easier said than done. Regardless, SGT Robert Missen and LCPL Braedy tried it anyway.

The British 6-pounder gun was widely reproduced. The American version shown here in action in Italy during World War 2 was a 57mm beast known as the M1.

SGT Missen dove out of the tank on the starboard side, while LCPL Braedy performed the same maneuver to port. Braedy was cut to pieces immediately and died on the spot. Realizing his mission to be hopeless, SGT Missen returned to the tank. Both quick-firing 6-pounder cannons then went to work and effectively silenced the offending German machineguns.

The British Lewis gun was actually designed as a private venture by American Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis in 1911. The large tubular snout is a barrel shroud that surrounds a complex series of aluminum fins designed to keep the gun cool. In practice, all that bulky barrel stuff was essentially superfluous.

By 0700 the supporting British infantry had been forced to fall back, leaving Fray Bentos alone, disabled, and unsupported. The Germans smelled blood and moved in for the kill. The British crew responded with fire from their 6-pounder cannon and Lewis guns as well as individual rifles and pistols.

Though its pan magazine feed hindered the weapon in the sustained fire role, the Lewis gun was unusually portable and effective for its era.

Fray Bentos carried a basic load of 332 rounds for the two 6-pounder guns along with its three amply-supplied .303 Lewis guns. Individual weapons included SMLE (Short-Magazine Lee-Enfield) bolt-action rifles and Mk VI Webley revolvers. By the standards of the day, Fray Bentos was a formidable war machine. When they designed and equipped her nobody imagined that this isolated tank would have to stand alone and be disabled in combat for three days. However, that’s just what she did.

Things Get Worse

Over the course of some 60 hours, German infantry swarmed the disabled tank.

SGT Missen later related, “The Boche were in an old trench close in under the front of the tank and we could not get the Lewis onto them owing to the angle of the tank, but we shot them easily with a rifle out of the revolver flap in the cab.”

Voluntarily braving hostile fire outside the tank would have required some tremendous fortitude.

At this point the British presumed the tank to have been overrun and began firing on it as well. SGT Missen, a man with some truly epic stones, volunteered to exit the tank and brave the concentrated fire from both sides so as to, “Go back and warn the infantry not to shoot us as we should sooner or later have to clear out of the tank…I got out of the right sponson door and crawled back to the infantry.” By the time SGT Missen left on his suicide mission every member of the crew save Gunner Binley was badly wounded.

The crew of Fray Bentos did eventually get their own troops to stop firing on them.

The remaining crew flashed a white rag from one of the portholes on the British side of the tank. This action combined with SGT Missen’s miraculous trek across no-man’s land finally curtailed the British fire. Throughout it all the Germans attacked the disabled tank time and time again. This went on from the 22d, all day of the 23d, and well into the 24th of August. Throughout it all the valiant crew of Fray Bentos continued to fight back with every weapon at their disposal.

Epilogue

Despite their extraordinarily valiant effort, the crew of Fray Bentos was ultimately forced to abandon their machine. The Brits did effectively disable the tank’s weapons systems before leaving it.

By 9 pm on the third day, CPT Richardson concluded that further resistance was futile. Despite their cumulative grievous wounds the crew removed the firing locks from the 6-pounders to disable them and retrieved all three machineguns. Under the cover of darkness, CPT Richardson and his crew eventually made their way back to the positions of the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch. There they left their Lewis guns to be used by the Black Watch gunners.

Such an ordeal produced a bond among the crew of the Fray Bentos that defies understanding in the civilian world.

Ernest Braedy’s body was never recovered. Gunner Percy Budd was killed in action a year later in August of 1918 at age 22. The rest of the crew miraculously survived the war. The 60-hour ordeal of Fray Bentos saw them become the most highly decorated Allied tank crew of the war. Their extraordinary story of valor, devotion, and brotherhood served as inspiration for the epic 2014 David Ayer WW2 movie Fury.

The classic WW2 action epic Fury was based upon the WW1 story of Fray Bentos and her crew.
Categories
All About Guns War

Vengeance is Mine: Jean de Selys Longchamps by WILL DABBS

Eve Gordon parachuted into occupied Europe while working for British intelligence during World War 2. She made a total of 112 military parachute jumps. I think she might have been the most extraordinary person I have ever known.

I once had the privilege of meeting an elderly British woman who had been tortured by the Gestapo. A British SOE (Special Operations Executive) operative during World War 2, she had been captured while serving undercover in occupied Europe. By the time they got her to Gestapo headquarters, they had already broken her legs.

This is Odette Sansom Hallowes, one of only 54 female SOE agents who operated in Europe during the war. She was captured, tortured, and imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp.

What followed was tough to hear. At the time she was young, pretty, and a trained nurse. The Germans stripped her naked, tied her to a chair, and pulled her teeth. They tore strips of skin off of her back with pliers, betting each other cigarettes who could flay the longest. They put her in front of a big clock and then crushed each of her fingers using a hammer and steel plate—one finger every fifteen minutes on the dot. If she would divulge the names of the other underground members in her cell they promised they would stop.

Behold the absolute scum of the earth. These dapper-looking guys were a blight on the species.

Amidst the expansive pantheon of loathsome personalities to have slithered across the earth from the dawn of human history, the Nazis were among the worst. I was a soldier when I met this lady. As I listened enraptured to this grandmotherly woman describe in coldly dispassionate terms what these animals did to her, I wanted to go dig up their cold rotten corpses and urinate on them. How could anybody do such inhuman stuff?

Though the woke social justice warriors on the political Left are too dim to appreciate it, this is the reason such institutional depravity will never gain a solid foothold in America.

The truly amazing thing was that it wasn’t so terribly uncommon. Ours is a violent, cruel species. You take susceptible personalities and put them in positions of absolute power and it brings out the worst of our primal natures. That fact is actually the true impetus behind the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, but that’s a conversation for another day.

My SOE pal survived the war and lived a long happy life. Her fellow operative Violet Szabo, shown here, was not so fortunate. She died at Ravensbruck.

While the existence of such darkness has been a lamentably consistent component of the human experience from the very beginning, so also has been the light. My English friend was rescued by her Resistance buddies and obviously survived the war. Hers was ultimately a warm, happy, successful life. Those underground operators were in this case the avenging angels, bringing quick justice to a group of monsters who simply needed killing. On January 20, 1943, a Belgian aristocrat named Jean de Selys Longchamps performed a similar service. However, in his case, he used an airplane.

Portrait of a Patriot

Baron Jean Michel P.M.G. de Selys Longchamps was a professional warrior who took the Nazis’ sick institutionalized misbehavior quite personally.

Baron Jean Michel P.M.G. de Selys Longchamps was born on May 31, 1912, in Belgium. Longchamps was the grand-nephew of the Belgian King Leopold III. Raised in the Old World Belgian aristocracy, Longchamps pursued a career in the military as did most of his breeding. By the onset of WW2, he was a 28-year-old cavalry officer with the 1st Regiment des Guides, an elite light cavalry unit first mechanized in October of 1937. Like so many of the Western European military formations, Longchamps’ unit was swept up in the unstoppable hurricane that was blitzkrieg.

Longchamps was a survivor of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk.

By late May 1940, Longchamps and the tattered remnants of his once-proud Belgian cavalry unit were pressed into the salient at Dunkirk. Most all of us have at least seen the Christopher Nolan movie of the same name. The Allies called it Operation Dynamo. Over the course of eight days, some 800 British military and civilian vessels evacuated 338,226 Allied troops across the channel and back to Britain. Among those 338,226 soldiers was Jean de Selys Longchamps. Roughly 40,000 troops of the French First Army sacrificed themselves in a delaying action to allow the evacuation to succeed.

The Next Phase

Longchamps spent a brief period as a POW. However, he was having none of that.

Driven by a white-hot rage, Longchamps pursued further opportunities to fight. He made his way back to the continent but was captured by the Vichy authorities and interned. Escaping from a French POW camp he again crossed the channel and volunteered for the RAF. Despite being too old, he forged the pertinent documents and was accepted for flight training. He subsequently transitioned into Hawker Typhoons.

At the controls of his Hawker Typhoon, Longchamps took the fight to the enemy.

While posted to No 609 Squadron, Longchamps regularly flew missions against German targets in occupied Europe. Throughout it all, he kept up with events back home in Belgium through his many contacts on the mainland. While serving with the RAF he received the heartbreaking news that his father had been tortured to death by the German security services. In response, Longchamps planned an elaborate operation to strike Gestapo headquarters in Brussels. His RAF commanders rejected the request, claiming it was too risky. On January 20, 1943, Jean de Selys Longchamps did it anyway.

The Operation

Longchamps planned his act of vengeance as an addendum to a scheduled ground attack mission.

Longchamps took off early that Wednesday morning alongside his wingman Flight Sergeant Andre Blanco on a mission to strike a railway junction near Ghent in Northern Belgium. Longchamps’ Typhoon fighter was packed with all the ordnance it could carry. He also took along an ample sack of small British and Belgian flags. The railway attack complete, Longchamps directed that Flight Sergeant Blanco return to base.

Longchamps took his powerful British fighter across familiar terrain to Brussels.

Flying solo and low-level to avoid German radar and air defenses, the Belgian pilot navigated his heavy fighter to Brussels. Longchamps knew the city by heart. He dropped down into the urban streets, following the Avenue De Nation to the Avenue Louise. His target was a prominent 12-story building the Gestapo had used as a headquarters since 1940.

The Hawker Typhoon was fast, powerful, and loud.

The Hawker Typhoon was powered by a Napier Sabre liquid-cooled sleeve-valve piston engine producing some 2,180 horsepower. With a maximum speed of 412 mph, the Typhoon made quite a lot of noise. When canalized through the tight thoroughfares of downtown Brussels the racket would have been penetrating. This noise brought the German officers at Gestapo headquarters out of their offices and to the windows facing the Avenue Louise.

The primary organic weaponry onboard the Typhoon consisted of four 20mm Hispano cannons.

The Typhoon weighed some 13,250 lbs fully loaded and was a legendarily stable gun platform. Jean de Selys Longchamps aligned his deadly airplane with the façade of the target building, centered the glowing pipper of his gunsight, and squeezed the trigger on his control stick. The four 20mm Hispano Mk II cannon mounted in his wings chewed into the building at an aggregate rate of nearly fifty rounds per second.

The Weapon

The Typhoon was really too heavy and sluggish to mix it up with the front-line Luftwaffe fighters of the day. However, it was pure death against tanks and similar terrestrial targets.

The Hawker Typhoon was heavy for a fighter. As a result, it struggled in one-on-one combat with Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs. However, the Typhoon was an absolute tank of an airplane. It excelled at precision ground attack missions.

The RP-3 air-to-ground rocket would burst a German tank like a grape, especially when struck from the top aspect.

Fully loaded the Typhoon could carry eight RP-3 three-inch unguided air-to-ground rockets and two 500-pound bombs. The RP-3 could be fitted with either a 60-pound HE warhead or a 25-pound solid-shot armor-piercing load. RP-3-equipped Typhoons extracted a fearsome butcher’s bill against everything from German tanks to U-boats.

The Hispano Mk II 20mm cannon was a beast of a thing. This gun was used on Amtrak vehicles as well as deck mounts on warships for antiaircraft work.

The Typhoon’s primary armament was the Hispano Mk II 20mm autocannon. The British began WW2 arming their fighters with as many as eight rifle-caliber .303 Browning machineguns. This system offered simply breathtaking close-range firepower, but it yet remained fairly ineffective against armored aircraft at anything but intimate ranges.

The American Browning M3 cycled at more than 1,200 rpm but fired a substantially smaller projectile than did the Mk II 20mm.

We Americans did love our .50-caliber machineguns. The Browning M3 recoil-operated, belt-fed .50 armed most all US combat aircraft of WW2. However, with the advent of faster, more heavily-armored enemy planes, even the venerable fifty seemed a bit inadequate.

The armament of the P38 Lightning, in my opinion, the prettiest warplane of WW2, consisted of four M3 .50’s and a 20mm Hispano all clustered in the nose.

The answer was the Hispano-Suiza HS.404. Designed by Marc Birkigt in the 1930s, the original 20mm HS.404 weighed 108 pounds and was eight feet long. The British version of the HS.404 used on the Typhoon was the Hispano Mk V. This was a gas-operated, delayed-blowback design that cycled at around 725 rpm. The US variant was built by International Harvester, was slightly smaller and shorter, and was designated the 20mm M1 Automatic Gun.

The 20mm round was obviously considerably spunkier than was the standard .50-caliber shown underneath it. Its HE projectile offered a great deal more downrange horsepower.

All of these 20mm weapons fired roughly quarter-pound projectiles charged with a high explosive filler and detonated via a direct-action contact fuse. The most common Mk I round also included an incendiary component. There was a ball round and Armor-Piercing/Tracer version as well.

The Rest of the Story

The world was definitely better off with fewer of these guys.

Longchamps chewed the face of the Gestapo headquarters to pieces. His cannon fire was so precise that the surrounding buildings remained undamaged. In that single pass, he killed four high-ranking German officers and wounded dozens more. Among the dead were the station chief, a reprobate monster named Muller, and the local Chief of the SD, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Thomas. Good riddance.

Longchamps dropped Belgian and British flags over the Royal Palace to offer hope and a tangible reminder that the Allies were coming.

On his egress, he sprinkled little British and Belgian flags across a variety of Belgian villages as well as the Royal Palace at Laeken. He also dropped a few over the garden of his niece, the Baroness De Villegas De Saint-Pierre. Half an hour after the attack in Brussels, Longchamps landed safely at his base at Manston in Kent, England. Both the Germans and his British superiors were livid.

While initially castigated by his superiors, Longchamps was ultimately decorated for his one-man act of vengeance.

The Nazis undertook the expected reprisals, further incurring the ire of an oppressed people uniformly buoyed by the audacity of the attack. Longchamps’ RAF commanders demoted him to Flight Officer and reassigned him to another squadron. However, when the true impact of his bold unconventional attack became known they awarded him the British Distinguished Flying Cross.

Though the German response was bloody, Longchamps’ flight offered hope to his enslaved countrymen.

Herman Bodson, a member of the Belgian resistance during the Second World War, recalled: “The day of the attack was a day of joy. That week, while the news was told around the country, was a week of joy.” It seems true vengeance, even a relatively little bit, was indeed fairly sweet.

The Nazis were undeniably vile. Note that the German soldiers depicted in this Russian painting are holding their MP40 submachine guns using the proper field manual technique.

Tragically, CPT Longchamps was killed seven months later on August 16, 1943, when his Typhoon, damaged on a combat mission over Ostend, crashed on landing at RAF Manston. He was an epic hero.

CPT Longchamps was an unrepentant patriot. He willingly gave his last full measure of devotion.
Categories
War

The Forgotten US Invasion of Russia (I bet that the Russians haven’t forgotten!)

Categories
A Victory! Good News for a change! Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad I am so grateful!! Leadership of the highest kind Manly Stuff One Hell of a Good Fight Our Great Kids The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War Well I thought it was neat!

CSM Franklin (Doug) Miller