2/25/16

Book Review: Redeye: Fulda Cold, A Novel By Bill Fortin

Redeye: Fulda Cold, A Rick Fontain Novel. Written By Bill Fortin, 2013, (Cold War Publications, June, 2015). Available in print or as an eBook.

Fortin's Redeye: Fulda Cold

Redeye: Fulda Cold is author Bill Fortin’s military history novel detailing events during the Cold War 1969-1970. FIM-43 Redeye designed by General Dynamics from 1959-1967, lends its name and iconography to this exciting and personal military history fiction story filled with action-adventure, Cold War military intrigue/tactics & strategy, and the everyday high and lows of military life. As this novel depicts, the Cold War was not so stagnant for the men and women who served on both sides of the conflict during the 1960’s-1980’s. Throughout this story the reader follows Sgt. Rick Fontain, call sign Sparrow6, of the HHC 1st/48th Infantry Brigade stationed in West Germany as he leads the “Redeye” Fire Team at the Fulda Gap, the strategic bridge between East and West at the height of the Cold War the late 1960’s.

US Airborne Soldier with a FIM-43 "Redeye"

Fortin most certainly utilized his own experience stationed in Germany from 1968-1970 (the same time frame that the book takes place), in the Army’s 3rd Armor Division, in writing this book. More than 260 and citations and footnotes give the reader a great influx of definitions and explanations of various military procedures, jargon, historical notes of importance, and the author's own observations. This novel rectifies many similar works by other authors which often lack background material on the relating subject, Redeye: Fuld Cold War offers the reader a varied but complete and engaging work of historical military fiction. Through Sgt. Fontain’s eyes the reader sees the stark reality of danger (MAD) faced by the military forces of both sides during the Cold War.

We travel with Fontain throughout his training, personal, and military life, depicted in daily journals and memos which are mostly cleverly written; visiting a multitude of foreign and domestic armed forces bases. The two most important being Fort Bliss, Texas, and the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico, basic training and live fire testing for Redeye gunners respectfully. Private First Class (PFC) and eventually Sergeant Fontain quickly learns the weapon system’s intricacies despite the steep learning curve and is soon after posted to Germany, where the reader is treated to a well written story line overall and plenty of military action along the way.

US Army Test of XMIM-43A, precusor to the Redeye used by Sgt. Fontain

In the early stages of research and development the “kill probability” of FIM-43 Redeye tested very high against drones and enemy helicopters but much lower against Russian MiG 22/23’s and comparable jet aircraft. Eventually however the Redeye does see real world service with the Dutch and West German armies as allies of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe, in Nicaragua in the 1980’s during their civil war, and in Afghanistan where the mujahideen used them to shoot down dozens of Soviet aircraft (mostly helicopters) in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

Fortin’s novel is highly recommended to anyone looking for a easy reading, thorough, and thoroughly engaging Cold War history novel that is not at all espionage or spy related. This story may interest those who would like to learn more about hand held surface-to-air technology and its first applications, Cold War military doctrine and procedures, or for those who just want to read an engaging and fictional but informative U.S. military chronicle.

2/8/16

Odd Fighting Units: Trotsky's Red 100 and Armored Trains of the Russian Civil War

During the Russian Civil War of 1919-1921, the Bolshevik-Russian politician and military leader Leon Trotsky (b.1879-1940) rode throughout Russia in his great armored train visiting towns, settlements, and the front lines to meet with soldiers and officers. His armored train, a massive armored rail cruiser was staffed by the Red Sotnia, the Red One Hundred, elite and oddly dressed soldiers who were charged with defending Comrade Trotsky, his staff, and his armored train.

Leon Trotsky and his Armored Train

In the long bloody struggle between the Red & White, Leninist-Bolshevik communists and pro-Tsar forces sworn to uphold a minority representative democracy and/or monarchical/aristocratic hegemony-armored trains and fortified railway cars became the ironclads and dreadnoughts of their time and place. They also became symbols of warfare, death, and tyrannical rule, in addition to becoming a decisive factor in a Red Army victory over the Tsarist White armies.

Armored Trains, 1919-1921

Armored Trains were a fascinating bi-product of the technological innovation of railroads in the 19th and early 20th century. The American Civil War of 1861-1865 saw the first use of armored railway cars and they were first used in combat as early as 1862. In 1864 the Union Army developed an improved armored battery railway car to bombard the city of Vicksburg, Virginia. Armored trains were used in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and the British deployed them with success in Egypt in the 1880’s and in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

White Russian Civil War armored train circa 1918-1919

The train as an offensive weapon truly came into its own during World War I with both the Austro-Hungarians and Russians using them to some degree of success. The Austro-Hungarian Panzerzugs were quite formidable serving with distinction on the Italian, Romanian, and Russian fronts from 1914-1916. During the Russian Civil War the armored train became one of the most potent and deadly weapons to be used by either side. Roads were few in number and often untraversable and so the railways became critical to the control of the Russian heartland during the conflict.

From 1916-1918 the best armored trains were christened ‘armored rail-cruisers’. These were massive heavily fortified and armored behemoths. Self propelled rail-cruisers were quick for their size; armored with thick metal and dotted with slots for rifles or machine guns. The armored rail-cruisers best weapons were heavy artillery pieces, mostly naval or field guns from the Great War as well as turreted gun emplacements which could fire in a 360 degree motion.
A White (pro-Tsarist) Panzerzug armored car with turret guns

Machineguns and mortars were also copiously added to the many armored trains used by the Reds and the Whites. Many of these turreted rail cruisers proved to be precursors to modern armored car and tank designs. When the Russian Revolution began in 1917 an explosion of armored train and car design began to take hold. It should be noted that both armored trains and mounted railway guns were in use throughout the the Russian Civil War and its outlying conflicts.

White Russian officers posing on the tracks with a railway gun and armored carriage

In 1918 the Red Army had just 23 operational armored trains but by the end of the year 1920 they would have some 103 armored trains and cars operational. According to author Steven J. Zaloga, the Red Army’s armored trains were the “most complicated and expensive [tool of war] operated by [them] and undoubtedly the most effective.” The armored trains used by both sides were a diverse rag-tag lot. Many were formed by former soldiers, sailors, workers, peasants, or tradesmen with little knowledge of industrial design and train mechanics let alone engineering. They often changed hands multiple times as armies, factions, warlords, and movements waxed and waned during the conflict.

Bolsheviks posing with battle standard in front of captured railway cruiser "Volf" c.1920

They became tools of war and destruction during the Civil War in Russia and in associated conflicts in other countries including Poland and the Ukraine in 1919-1920. Armored trains were feared wherever they went and Trotsky’s train, Revvoyensovet, was especially feared, even by his own Red Army comrades. Often times wherever an armored train went, death and hardship followed. A critical tactical component linked to the effectiveness of most of the armored trains in this period was the raiding party.


Trotsky on his train near the front-lines c.1919-1921

Raiding parties were used in concert with the natural defensive abilities and offensive capabilities of the armored train. Used first by the Imperial Russian army as shock troops who could be off loaded by train to attack or raid enemy positions during the Great War, the Red Army utilized raiding teams (desantniy otryads) on most of their large armored cars. A company of 165 troops plus 45 or so cavalry troopers with machine gun support from a mobile tachanka (horse-drawn machinegun cart) was the standard armored train raiding team.

They essentially had to fulfill three main objectives when in service, to protect the train when it was not moving down the tracks, raid enemy positions following an armored train attack, and to scout for enemy positions beyond the sight of the railway.

Red Army armored train with raiding party during the Russian Civil War

Trotsky’s Red 100

Known as the Red Sotnia or the “Red One Hundred”, Commissar Trotsky’s armored car personnel and train bodyguards were uniquely dressed and heavily armed to protect the Secretary of Defense and his staff while on riding in his armored train touring the battlefront in official and non-official capacities. They defended him with their lives and could be most certainly considered ‘crack’ or elite troops.

Trotsky's Bodyguards & Armored Train personnel, the Red Sotnia by A. Karachtchouk

As the head of the young Red Army from 1918-1922 during the Russian Civil War, especially during its decisive fateful years from 1919-1920, Trotsky was a top strategist, diplomat, and politician. He was a VIP and his protection was of the utmost importance to the Red Army and to the Russian Soviet's political leadership. In modern days parlance Trotsky's White (pro-monarchy/Tsarist) enemies would have considered him a high value target-his capture or death in an asymmetrical or traditional military operation would have been a most desired outcome in 1919 or 1920. 

The Red 100 staffed Trotskys armored trains’ and oversaw the heavily laid out defenses and offensive capabilities. They also protected him with their lives. They ensured that the ‘bandit’ anti-revolutionary army and their elite Tsarist cavalry could not kill or capture Trotsky in a lucky ambush or calculated assassination attempt. His train was arguably the best guarded in all of Russia or the world for that matter, during this time.

 Trotsky standing next to a Red Sotnia c.1920

Their uniform and equipment, as depicted above by illustrator Andrei Karachtchouk, consisted most typically of a dyed red leather overcoat and red leather pants. Leather was prized by Red Army officers, elite troops, and armored train personnel who must have reveled (in the midst of widespread war, famine, and death) in wearing fine tailored items which offered some protection from the cold and blustery Russian weather but which were also very much in style.

His badge depicts Commander Trotsky’s armored train, Revvoyensovet, in silver and red. This soldier would have served from 1918-1922 during Trotsky’s time as chairman and head of the Red Army. This Red Sotnia soldier is armed with a Mosin-Nagant carbine of World War I vintage, two German style stick grenades, and a Nagant M1895 seven shot revolver, though the semi-automatic Mauser C-96 was often the more desired sidearm. He has two cartridge pouches on his belt and sports a red budenovka cap, the official head wear of the communist party and the Red Army until the late 1930’s.

Suggested Further Reading

Armored Trains Steven J. Zaloga (New Vanguard, Osprey Publishing, 2008)

The Russian Civil War (1) The Red Army M. Khvostov & A. Karachtchouk (Men-at-arms, Osprey Publishing)

Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War 1918-1921 W. Bruce Lincoln (Da Capo Press, 1989-1999)

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7/10/15

Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864: The Opium Conflicts & Early Western Military Influence in China

The Taiping Rebellion was one of the largest and bloodiest civil conflicts in modern world history; though seemingly forgotten today, in the 1850's-1860’s the small but prominent role played by many Westerners in the conflict was nearly a decisive factor. This conflict is remembered in China and Asia today as a bloody holy war inspired by the desire of some Chinese to escape the Imperial domination of the Manchu minority and to attain religious and cultural freedom.

Named for the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, an unrecognized state ruled from 1851-1864 by a charismatic peasant and former low ranking civil servant named Hong Xiuquan (b.1814-1864) who claimed to see visions from above and who also claimed to be the blood and spiritual brother of Jesus Christ. Support swelled for the rebellion of Xiuquan allowing for his forces to capture Nanjing in southern China as their capital in the year 1851, severely threatening the Qing Empire’s rule throughout China for the next ten years. The military of the Taiping rebels in the rebellion's later stages was led by General Li Hsiu-Ch'eng known commonly as the Chung Wang (Loyal Prince). Chung Wang won most of the Taiping's later victories in the years 1858-1860.

Hong Xiuquan

The roots of the Taiping Rebellion are grounded in the opening of China to Westerners for the first time to import and trade. By the mid to late 1840's Chinese port cities were flooded with Westerners, mostly British, French, and Americans. The Chinese absolutely hated the Westerners referring to them frequently as “barbarians”. Imperial China under the Qing emperors was dieing a slow death while the last royal family' of China rapidly lost control of its more than 400 million inhabitants. At least part of the Qing Empire's woes lay in the illicit opium trade which was gaining popularity worldwide since the British controlled the poppy grown in India and Pakistan and had control of the seas they willingly imported opium into China starting the Opium Wars.

The Opium Conflicts 1839-1860

China was first humiliated by the British and French in 1839–42 in the First Opium War which opened up general trade concessions to most of the port cities that the Europeans desired. This was the beginning Opium Wars sagas', critical to the both the prelude and to the beginning of the end of the Taiping Rebellion. It was during the Taiping civil war that an Anglo-French alliance won yet again defeating the Qing and its antiquated navy in the Second Opium War. After landing armies on the mainland and winning a quick and decisive land campaign from 1856–60, the West (France and Great Britain) opened China to greater economic and political exploitation. The Qing empire did win a victory over the French and British at the Taku Forts in June of 1859.

During the Second Opium War the Heavenly Kingdom's armies almost continuously defeated the Imperial Armies, consolidating power and cities throughout northern and southern China. The Opium Wars opened even more of China to Western trade interests and the poor performance of the Imperial Army ‘braves’ against the Taiping rebels until the early 1860’s was proof to the world that the Qing empire was in a steep decline.

The First Opium War

Western Military Influence in China 1855-1862

Despite the Western powers remaining officially neutral during the Taiping Rebellion a number of Western officers served with distinction on both sides during the conflict. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and mercenaries served on both sides of the conflict in what was referred to by Thomas Taylor Meadows (b.1815-1868), British period author, consul in China, and Ward critic, as "foreign ruffianism". Two officers in particular are remembered to this day. Qing Imperial officials paid American Frederick Townsend Ward (b.1831-1862) and British officer Charles George Gordon (b.1833-1885) to their lead armies during the rebellion. Consequently both of these men would become legendary figures because of their service with the Imperial army corps which overtime came to be known as the Ever Victorious Army (EVA) between 1861-1864.

Charles George Gordon at the Battle of Changzhou 1864

For Gordon, it was the start of a legendary career which would end tragically in 1885 at Khartoum in the Sudan. For Ward the Taiping Rebellion would seal his legacy as a great military man and 19th century adventurer, who expired on the field of combat perhaps before the prime of his already remarkable career. With modern weapons like Colt's six shot pistols and Sharps rifles, the Chinese soldiers in the EVA became carbon copies of Western armies whose training Both of these men led diverse cadres of French and British sailors, Americans, Prussians, Chinese, Filipinos, and Indian Sepoys in service of the Qing Empire in 'anti-Pirate units and mercenary squadrons'. Ward in particular became a master of making traditional and well trained armed forces out of ranks comprised of levies and soldiers of fortune.

Ward leading his men from the front with two Colt revolvers in his hands. In reality he was almost never armed in battle in battle, preferring to wield his rattan cane opposed to a sabre or firearm

The Imperial Qing Army with the help of the EVA reversed its earlier retreat and embarrassments by smashing several larger rebel armies mostly without the use of artillery or cavalry, strategically strangling the Heavenly Kingdom with successful sieges and land battles before Hong Xiuquan committed suicide in 1864 as the Taiping Rebellion came to its conclusion. Ward’s background was complex but what is known about his early life is that he was a New England sailor and merchant by family blood and trade, he enjoyed brief stints as a French officer in the Crimea, a filibuster in Mexico, an anti-pirate auxiliary in China, and eventually a mercenary general in the Taiping conflict.

General Gordon and the EVA

In mid to late August of 1860 when Shanghai was still besieged by Taiping rebels on all sides, a British national and member of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps described seeing a "slight" officer directing some foreign men in arms in the defense of grandstand overlooking a horse-racing track in the British quarter of the city. He described him as "a man of excellent address, mild and gentle in manner, and as kind and warm-hearted as possible. His long hair and slight mustache were dark, and he habitually wore a blue coat tightly buttoned." Ward and his small Imperial army corps won their first major battle on the night of 16-17 July 1860 with the capture of forts and the city of Sung-chiang.

Ever Victorious Army c.1861 (Osprey Publishing)

In the Second Battle of Sung-chiang outside Shanghai, Ward despite being injured in the shoulder by a Taiping musket ball (the first of fifteen times during his Chinese service), captured the city and occupied it. Following his victory, Colonel Ward and he was now known had hundreds of new Chinese and foreigners flocking to his expanding army. He was also paid a large bonus by his Qing handlers though he had been promised and was owed much more. In its second test of battle, the Foreign Arms Corps, as it was then officially known was defeated by the Taiping rebels outside the walls Ch'ing-p'u. A musket ball smashed through Col. Ward's jaw an exited his cheek, critically wounding Ward and forcing his defeated army to retreat back to Shanghai.

Ward in 1861

Ward's army had grown in considerable size from the summer heat of 1860 until the winter of 1861. His infantrymen wore light green tunics and khaki in the summer and his Western style Chinese artilleryman wore light blue tunics. As their headgear, Ward's corps all sported green Sepoy style turbans. He had two dozen or more artillery guns including eighteen and six pound guns. Col. Ward's most loyal soldiers and bodyguards were around 150-200 Spanish Filipinos who he commanded in Spanish and who would die for him on multiple occasions during Ward's service in Taiping conflict. Wards corps' was armed with a variety of factory new Western firearms purchased by his financiers and through his own credit including British Snider-Enfields, Prussian Dreyse needle rifles, and other assorted Western-made muskets. Locals and Western observers were shocked by the armies aptitude to learn military drill and discipline and for their loyalty to Ward and his officers during their time at the Sung-chiang drilling grounds from the summer of 1861 until June of 1862.


Conclusion

Above all, Col. Ward and Gordon were men of action and bravery in the face of combat. Ward was a particularly honest man and a stellar driller of soldiers most importantly. He disciplined all under his command fairly including his own European officers; who he flogged and even executed for a variety of military offenses. Upon his death in battle at Tzeki (Cixi) in September of 1862; he was succeeded by officer Charles Gordon after some debate amongst Wards' staff over who should succeed him directly.

What is known among several differing accounts from those who were there and were in regards to Col. Ward's death is that he was grievously wounded by a musket ball while overseeing the assault on the fortress walls of Tz'u-ch'i in the thick of the fighting. His mortally wounded body was taken aboard one of his ships, the Hardy, where he soon died from this wound though the battle was a decisive victory for his army and the Qing Empire. Rumors spread and persist to this day among scholars and popular historians of the period that he was killed by a European sharpshooter-for-hire or by his own men who had been paid off by his Imperial Qing handlers.

Frederick Townsend Ward, mortally wounded at the Battle of Cixi, September 1862

It is recounted by author Caleb Carr in his book on Ward, The Devil Soldier, that General Ward was indeed owed a considerable sum of 200,000 or more Chinese taels by his Imperial employers; equaling well over a million and half US dollars in 2015. Gordon, an officer in the Royal Engineers who became known as 'Chinese' Gordon for the rest of his life was a man of similar character; though he was most certainly a personally righteous and religious zealot of sorts opposed to the more pragmatic and professional mercenary demeanor of Ward.

The Taiping Rebellion was one of the longest, largest, and brutally fought wars in the the study of the 19th or early 20th century conflicts. It is the bloodiest Civil War ever and maybe even the deadliest conflict ever recorded in the modern era. The rebellion forever altered the Chinese diplomatic and political landscape though it ultimately ensured the survival of the Qing dynasty until the revolution of 1911-1912. The 'Great Rebellion' of China sent tens of thousands of Chinese to seek passage to America or Europe.

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Suggested Further Readings
Devil Soldier: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China By Caleb Carr (Random House, New York, 1991-1992).

The Chinese and their Rebellions by Thomas Taylor Meadows (1856)