On this day – The German Spring Offensive begins – 21 March 1918

British Troops moving up

On this day one hundred years ago the Germans launched Operation Michael, part of the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle).

Kaiser with Ludendorff

Also known as the Spring Offensive it was actually a series of attacks along the Western Front between March and June 1918 during the First World War and marked the deepest advances made by German forces since 1914.

The surrender of the Russians as a result of the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk at the beginning of March 1918 allowed Germany to move nearly 50 Divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front as they realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the arrival of large numbers of American soldiers in France. The Spring Offensive actually consisted of four different operations codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau, and Blücher-Yorck.

Operation Michael was the main attack intended to break through the Allied lines then outflank and defeat British forces holding the front from the Somme River to the English Channel. Once this was achieved, it was hoped that the French would seek terms for an armistice. The other offensives were subsidiary to Operation Michael and were designed to divert Allied forces away from the main offensive on the Somme.

German Spring Offensive Map Use this One

No clear German objective was established before the start of the Spring Offensive and they changed constantly as the tactical situation developed. In contrast, the Allies concentrated their forces to defend critical areas like the vital rail junction at Amiens and the approaches to the Channel Ports leaving other areas lightly defended.

Panoramic attack

The Germans were unable to move supplies and reinforcements fast enough to maintain their advance and each offensive subsequently petered out. By late April 1918, the danger of a breakthrough had passed with the German army suffering heavy casualties and now occupying ground that would prove impossible to hold.

Haig 2

At the height of the fighting in early April where the outcome was in the balance, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (shown above), Commander in Chief (CINC) of the British Army in France issued his famous ‘Backs to the Wall’ special Order of the Day (shown below):

‘There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.’

Special Order of the Day

In August 1918, the Allied counter-offensive began with the support of almost two million American soldiers. The ‘Hundred Days’ Offensive resulted in the Germans retreating or being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line and the capitulation of the German Empire, resulting in the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

8 August 1918

You can find out more about the German Spring Offensive here: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/1918-victory

Army News – Australian Government award LAND 400 Phase 2 (Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability) to Rheinmetall Boxer CRV

Boxer 2

The Australian Government announced on Wednesday 14 March 2018 that Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles has been selected as the successful bidder for Phase 2 of the LAND 400 Project to procure 211 Boxer CRVs (shown above) to fulfill the Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability requirement. BAE Systems bid with the  AMV35 (shown below) was unsuccessful.


The Boxer will replace all variants of the ASLAV (shown below) which have been in service since 1997 with the following Regiments of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC):

  • 1st Armoured Regiment (based at Chauvel Lines, RAAF Edinburgh, Adelaide)
  • 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) (based at Light Horse Lines, Gallipoli Barracks, Brisbane)
  • 2nd Cavalry Regiment (based at Waler Lines, Lavarack Barracks, Townsville)


You can find out more about the LAND 400 project here: http://www.defence.gov.au/dmo/equippingdefence/land400

You can find out more about the Boxer CRV here: https://boxercrv.com.au/



On this day – The Battle of the Ruhr begins – 5 March 1943

S Sugar 467 Squadron RAAF

On this day 75 years ago the Battle of the Ruhr began, a five month campaign of strategic bombing during the Second World War against the heavily defended Ruhr Valley, the industrial heart of Nazi Germany.

The campaign bombed 26 major Combined Bomber Offensive targets including the Krupp armament works at Essen, the Nordstern synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen and the Rheinmetal–Borsig plant in Düsseldorf.

Bomber Command Badge

The British bomber force that took part came from RAF Bomber Command and consisted mainly of the twin-engined Vickers Wellington medium bomber and the four-engined Short Stirling, Handley Page Halifax (a famous example ‘Friday the 13th‘ from 158 Squadron RAF is shown below) and Avro Lancaster.


Friday the 13th

RAF Bomber Command operations were conducted at night with the use of newly developed navigational and blind bombing aids like Oboe, H2S and Gee. The force was also supported by the newly formed 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group RAF (under the command of Australain Air Commodore Don Bennett DSO) to mark the route and aiming points to guide the main Bomber force to the target.

8 Group RAF

The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was responsible for the daylight bombing campaign and used two 4-engined bomber aircraft, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (shown below) and Consolidated B-24 Liberator.


The German defence consisted of anti-aircraft artillery (also called “flak”) and day and night fighters. The Kammhuber Line (a section of which is shown below) used radar to identify Allied bombers and then controllers directed day and night fighters onto the bomber stream.


During the battle RAF Bomber Command estimated that 70% of the aircraft lost were due to German fighters. British aircrew called the area ‘Happy Valley’ or the ‘Valley of no Return’.


The Battle of the Ruhr severely disrupted German industry with steel production falling by 200,000 tons, leading to the armaments industry facing a 400,000 ton shortfall. This disruption resulted in the Zulieferungskrise, or sub-components crisis, with monthly armaments production failing to increase between July 1943 and March 1944.

Bomber Command Memorial

RAF Bomber Command losses during the Battle of the Ruhr were estimated at 4.7% over the 43 attacks with 18,506 sorties flown. Some 5,000 aircrew were lost. In 2012 the Queen unveiled the RAF Bomber Command Memorial (shown above) on Piccadilly at Green Park in Central London. It commemorates the sacrifice of 55,573 aircrew from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries of the Commonwealth who lost their lives during the war serving in Bomber Command.

One of my favourite military artists is Piotr Forkasiewicz with some of his imagery shown above. You can see his portfolio of work and purchase prints here: http://peterfor.com/albums/31856

You can find out more about Australian aircrew’s experiences in the Battle of the Ruhr here: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E213

You can find out more about the Bomber Command Memorial here: https://www.rafbf.org/bomber-command-memorial

On this day – The loss of HMAS Yarra (U77) – 4 March 1942

HMAS Yarra Canberra Times 14 March 1942

On this day in 1942, HMAS Yarra (U-77) was lost defending a small allied convoy south of Java against overwhelming odds.

A ‘Grimsby class’ sloop, HMAS Yarra was launched at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, in March 1935 and commissioned the following January. Displacing more than 1,000 tons, she was over 80 metres long with a beam of 11 metres and armed with three 4-inch anti aircraft guns, four 3-pounder guns, a quadruple .5-inch anti aircraft machine-gun, and depth charges. She had a top speed of 16.5 knots and a complement of 151.

HMAS Yarra‘s initial war service was in Australian waters, on patrol and escort duties. In August 1940 she left for the Middle East. In April 1941 she escorted a convoy from Bombay to the Persian Gulf followed by service again in the Mediterranean in November-December 1941.

With the outbreak of war with Japan, HMAS Yarra left the Mediterranean for now Indonesian waters, arriving in January 1942. She carried out escort and patrol duties, including the successful rescue of over 1,800 survivors from the troopship Empress of Asia, which was sunk along with many other ships in the convoy BM 12 off the southwest coast of Singapore.

On 27 February 1942 orders were given to clear all remaining allied ships from Batavia (now Jakarta). At about midnight HMAS Yarra and another sloop HMIS Jumna sailed escorting a convoy to Tjilatjap.


Arriving off Tjilatjap (modern day Cilacap) at 11am on 2 March 1942, the ships were warned not to enter harbour. HMAS Yarra was ordered to take the convoy, which consisted of the depot ship Anking, the tanker Francol and the motor minesweeper MMS 51, to Fremantle in Western Australia while HMIS Jumna sailed for Colombo. No time was to be lost, as powerful Japanese naval forces were known to be operating in the waters south of Java.

Steaming south east at an average speed of 8.5 knots, HMAS Yarra and her convoy made steady progress during the night of 2-3 March 1942.  The following morning two lifeboats were sighted and HMAS Yarra picked up survivors of the Dutch merchant ship Parigi, which had been sunk by the Japanese two days earlier.

At 6.30am on 4 March 1942, the lookout in HMAS Yarra sighted a Japanese heavy cruiser squadron to the north-east consisting of the IJS Atago (pictured below), IJS Takao and IJS Maya, each armed with ten 8-inch guns, and two destroyers.

IJS Atago

Immediately the commander of HMAS Yarra, Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin (pictured below) made a sighting report, ordered the convoy to scatter and, placed his ship between them and the enemy, laying smoke and preparing to engage.

Robert Rankin

HMAS Yarra was out-gunned and out-ranged. Against such odds her task was hopeless, yet she kept fighting even as her convoy was overwhelmed and sunk, ship by ship.

Anking received many hits before sinking 10 minutes later. By that time HMAS Yarra was also on fire and listing heavily to port. MMS 51 was on fire and sunk by close range automatic gunfire from one of the Japanese cruisers. The Francol was also hit many times but still remained afloat, finally sinking at about 7.30am. HMAS Yarra, shattered by numerous hits, was the last to go.

HMAS Yarra 2

Soon after 8.00am, Lt Cdr Rankin ordered abandon ship. Minutes later he was killed when an 8-inch salvo hit the bridge. HMAS Yarra‘s end, which came after close-range shelling by the two Japanese destroyers, was witnessed by 34 survivors on two rafts.

HMAS Yarra Ships Crest

After sinking HMAS Yarra the Japanese cruisers made off to the north-east, picking up one boatload of survivors from Francol as they departed. A collection of boats, rafts and floats was left scattered over a wide area. Before dusk a passing Dutch vessel, Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from Anking. However, in spite of frantic signals, she failed to sight two Carley floats containing 14 men from MMS 51. For the next two and a half days they drifted about until picked up by the Dutch steamer Tjimanjoek on 7 March.

Meanwhile Yarra’s men, their numbers sadly reduced by wounds, exposure, and thirst, continued to drift helplessly. On 9 March, 13 of the sloop’s ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine KlL. Of HMAS Yarra‘s complement of 151, 138 (including the Captain and all of the officers) were killed in the action or died subsequently on the liferafts.

Rankin crest

In commemoration of Lieutenant Commander Rankin’s leadership commanding HMAS Yarra (II), the sixth and final Collins class submarine (commissioned in 2003) was named in his honour (HMAS Rankin (SSG-78) is pictured below).

HMAS Rankin at Beuaty Point TAS

On the 4th of March 2014, the then Governor General of Australia, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AO, CVO presented the current HMAS Yarra (IV) with the Unit Citation for Gallantry (UCG) (insignia shown below) in commemoration of the loss of her predecessor.

Unit Citation for Gallantry

You can find out more about HMAS Yarra (II) here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-yarra-ii

You can find out more about HMAS Rankin here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-rankin

You can find out more about the presentation of the Citation here: http://news.navy.gov.au/en/Mar2014/Events/890/Brave-crew-recognised-for-extraordinary-acts-of-gallantry-in-1942.htm#.WlLvzFWWbIU

On this day – The Battle of the Sunda Strait – 28 February 1942

HMAS Perth Sunda Strait.JPG

The naval Battle of the Sunda Strait began on this day 76 years ago.

Sunda Strait lies between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. On the night of 28 February-1 March 1942 it was the location for a fierce naval battle between the Australian modified Leander class light cruiser HMAS Perth (shown above during the battle) and the American Northampton class heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), and a numerically superior Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) task force.

Following the disatrous Battle of the Java Sea the day before, late on 28 February 1942, USS Houston and HMAS Perth received orders to sail through Sunda Strait to Tjilatjap, on the south coast of Java.  They departed without any escort at 7pm under the command of Captain Hector Waller (shown below), the Commanding Officer of HMAS Perth.

Hec Waller

At 10pm that night the Japanese invasion convoy of over 50 transports was entering Bantam Bay near the north west tip of Java. The convoy was escorted by the 5th Destroyer Flotilla (8 destroyers) and 7th Cruiser Division (3 cruisers).



At 11.15pm the Japanese destroyer IJS Fubuki sighted the allied Cruisers halfway across Bantam Bay. In the ferocious action that followed both HMAS Perth and USS Houston (shown below) were sunk with the loss of 1,071 sailors lives. Japanese losses were two Transports and a minesweeper.

USS Houston Sunda Strait

The Captains of both Allied ships were among those lost. Captain Albert Rooks of USS Houston was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

You can find out more about HMAS Perth II here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-perth-ii

You can find out more about USS Houston here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Houston_(CA-30)

Famous Squadrons – 450 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) – ‘The Desert Harassers’

450 Sqn RAAF Operation Bowler

450 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was formed on 16 February 1941 at RAAF Williamtown near Newcastle in New South Wales as the first Australian squadron established under Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS).

450 Sqn Kittyhawks

Nicknamed the ‘Desert Harassers’, the Squadron was one of the most famous RAAF units of the Second World War and derived its nickname from taunts made by the German propaganda broadcaster ‘Lord Haw Haw’ who, during the squadron’s operations in the Western Desert branded it a band of “Australian mercenaries whose harassing tactics were easily beaten off by the Luftwaffe”.

450 Sqn crest

Motto: ‘Harass’

Battle Honours: 10

  • South-East Europe 1942-1945
  • Egypt and Libya 1940-1943
  • El Alamein
  • El Hamma
  • North Africa 1942-1943
  • Sicily 1943
  • Italy 1943-1945
  • Gustav Line
  • Gothic Line
  • Syria 1941

450 Sqn Bombing up a Fighter Bomber

450 Squadron’s war ended with the surrender of German forces in Italy on 2 May 1945. It was disbanded at Lavarino in Italy on 20 August 1945.

450 Sqn Plaque

The 450 Squadron ‘number plate’ was inadvertently given to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) after the Second World War. Although Canadian squadrons were numbered from 400 to 449 during the war, an unusual twist of history resulted in the number 450 being allocated to a Canadian heavy transport squadron. Nevertheless, Canada received permission to adopt the number and 450 Heavy Transport Helicopter Squadron was formed at RCAF Station St. Hubert, Quebec on March 29, 1968. Whilst the Squadron inherited the 450 number plate it did not inherit the above Battle Honours.

You can find out more about the 450 Sqn RAAF Assocation here: http://www.450squadronraaf.org.au/

Customs and Traditions – Naval Pennants

HMS Ocean

With HMS Ocean (L12) entering Portsmouth for the final time late last week flying her paying off pennant, before she is decommissioned and transfered to the Brazilian Navy, it is worthwhile looking at the naval tradition of flying pennants.

A pennant is a flag that is larger at the hoist than at the fly, and can have several shapes, such as triangular, tapering or triangular and swallow-tailed.

In the days of chivalry, knights carried pennants on their lances, just as men-of-war flew pennants from their masts. During the conflicts of the thirteenth century, when merchant ships were commandeered and placed in command of military officers they transferred their pennants from their lances to the mastheads of the ships they commanded. The tradition continued until the end of the Napoleonic Wars when the Royal Navy adopted the style of pennants used today.

Today the pennant is hoisted on the day a warship or shore establishment commissions and is never struck until the day of decommissioning. Onboard ship the pennant is flown at the masthead, for which reason it is also commonly referred to as a ‘masthead pennant’. In the Royal Navy (RN) today there are two types of pennant – a ‘Commissioning pennant’ and a ‘Paying off’ pennant.

In the RN the commissioning pennant (shown below) is flown continuously in every ship and shore establishment in commission unless displaced by a senior officer’s Rank flag. The masthead pennant is a cross of St George in the hoist and a white fly.


It is the custom in many navies for a ship which is ‘paying off’ to wear an extremely long commissioning pennant, which is normally at least the length of the ship, and the length of which reflects the length of service. HMS Gloucester (D96) is shown below flying her paying off pennant in 2011 when she decommissioned.

HMS Gloucester Paying Off Pennant

The term ‘paying off’ refers to the fact that RN ships formerly ‘paid off’ each time they returned home after a commission overseas. The ship’s sailors were not paid until the ship returned home, to avoid desertion.

In the US Navy (USN) the commissioning pennant is ‘blue at the hoist, bearing seven white stars; the rest of the pennant consists of single longitudinal stripes of red and white’. Like their RN cousins, ships of the USN fly the commissioning pennant from the moment of commissioning until the decommissioning ceremony. The commissioning pennant of USS McInerney (FFG 8) is shown below.


The US Navy has no tradition of flying a paying off pennant before decommissioning. US Navy ships maintain a separate tradition of flying a ‘Homeward Bound’ pennant when returning from a deployment to their home port. The dimensions of the pennant are not prescribed by regulation, but the customary practice is one white star for the first nine months of continuous service outside the US, plus another for each additional 6 months. The overall length of the pennant is one foot for each member of the ship’s company on duty outside the United States for more than 9 months, but not to exceed the length of the ship itself. Below is a picture of USS George Washington (CVN-73) flying her 297 foot ‘Homeward Bound’ pennant returning from deployment in 2015.

USS George Washington Homeward Bound Pennant