Monday, 25 February 2013

Justinian II - Mad, Bad and Dangerous

History is littered with infamous rulers; despots and madmen who brought terror and ruination to their subjects. One could endlessly debate the list of those whose deeds earn them a place in the Mad, Bad and Dangerous Hall of Fame. Here is the case for Justinian II; Emperor of Byzantium from 685 until his deposition and exile in 695. Following his bloody return to power in 705 his reign of terror continued until his final overthrow in 711.

Justinian came to power aged just sixteen; an age at which it seems that the world is at your feet even without the additional encouragement of imperial power being bestowed upon you. He bore a famous name and followed a very capable father whose achievements were considerable. Constantine IV had both defeated a mighty Arab host sent to lay siege to Constantinople and had presided over the reconciliation of the eastern and western Churches. He had been the epitomy of a Christian warrior emperor. Now his son was left with the unenviable task of filling his father’s prematurely vacated purple buskins.

The young emperor made a very promising start; securing an advantageous peace with his counterpart Abd al Malik, the newly established Caliph in Damascus. Abd Al Malik was in the process of fighting for universal recognition of his right to succeed his father as Commander of the Faithful and his need to secure his frontiers in order to focus on his internal problems obliged him to agree to the continuing payment of tribute to Byzantium. Empire and Caliphate may have been at peace for the moment, but Justinian was taking no chances.

He therefore embarked upon an effort to repopulate and restore the defences of Anatolia through large scale resettlement; strengthening the bulwark against future Arab attacks should the peace fail to hold up. In search of settlers Justinian had looked westward, to the burgeoning Slavic population in Thrace and the Balkans. Thousands of Slav families were relocated to Anatolia where they were given land in exchange for military service, replenishing the manpower reserves of the empire with hardy soldier farmers who had a real stake in defending the land from invasion, not that they had been given much choice in the matter.

Justinian II

It was not long however before the cracks began to appear. The young emperor was determined to live up to the memory of his illustrious predecessors; his namesake Justinian I, his great-great-grandfather Heraclius, his grandfather Constans II and of course his father Constantine IV. In his youthful ambition to emulate the deeds of these forebears he was driven to rash acts. He spent vast sums which his treasury could not support on ostentatious building projects in imitation of the first Justinian. He antagonised the Pope and unsuccessfully sought to have him arrested after a trivial dispute over matters of doctrine; seeking to repeat both Justinian I’s and Constans’ bold exercises of imperial prerogative when recalcitrant Popes had defied them. He rejected the Caliph’s tribute payment which came in the form of unfamiliar new coins and tore up the treaty upon which the ink was barely dry; launching expeditions to attempt to regain control of Armenia and Cyprus in search of a war with the infidel to make his name glorious like that of his father. His insatiable demand for money to fund all of these enterprises prompted him to unleash a reign of terror upon his subjects, both rich and poor alike. The newly transplanted settlers were taxed beyond their means whilst the wealthy of Constantinople were forced to part with vast sums through a campaign of intimidation, arrest, torture and imprisonment. The loyalty of both was stretched to breaking point.

Justinian II well and truly staked his claim for inclusion in the Mad, Bad and Dangerous Hall of Fame following the defeat of his army at Sebastopolis on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia. The Muslims advanced with copies of the defunct peace treaty attached to their spears and were victorious when twenty thousand Slavic troops understandably deserted the imperial cause and joined them. In the aftermath of this military disaster  the ruler of Armenia transferred his undivided allegiance to the caliph. The emperor did not take the news of this development well. The defeated Byzantine commander Leontius was flung into prison and in his fury Justinian ordered the massacre of the families of the Slav deserters in Nicomedia. Thousands of women and children were slaughtered and their bodies thrown into the sea; innocent victims of the emperor’s impotent rage.

After three years Leontius was released from gaol since Justinian had need of his generalship in the Balkans. If the emperor thought that there would be no hard feelings he was very much mistaken for Leontius was feeling somewhat bitter after his incarceration and lost no time in setting out to overthrow the man who had unjustly locked him up. The emperor’s behaviour had not improved in the interlude and support for a coup was not difficult to find. Leontius and his supporters forced their way into the prison of Constantinople and released all those held there at the emperor’s pleasure. Arming themselves they then went forth into the city and called upon the citizens to make their way to the great cathedral of Hagia Sofia. There Leontius was crowned as emperor by the patriarch and the mob then set off to storm the palace of Justinian. Those cronies who had earned the hatred of the people through carrying out  Justinian’s bidding were dragged through the streets and burned at the stake whilst the erstwhile emperor was brought  before the jeering crowds in the hippodrome and publically mutilated. He suffered a fate known as rhinocopia; the slicing off of his nose. This grizzly operation was intended to render him physically imperfect and therefore unfit for imperial office. Justinian then received the sentence of exile and was dispatched to distant Cherson in the Crimea; there to reflect  on his misfortune, nurse his resentment and contemplate his revenge.

The fall of the isolated imperial outpost of Carthage to the Arabs in 698 precipitated further upheaval in Constintinople. A relief force had been dispatched to reinforce Carthage but had arrived too late to save the city. With a large military force at their disposal and nothing to show for their efforts, the Byzantine commanders had reservations about returning to Constantinople to report the failure of the expedition. It would be far better they decided, to make use of their forces to rebel against the incumbent emperor. Electing one of their number whom they declared as Emperor Tiberius III, the fleet turned for home flying the flag of revolt. In the city the Green faction rose up in support of the rebel fleet as it sailed into the harbour and Leontius was overthrown with minimal resistance. He now suffered the same fate which he had inflicted upon Justinian and was banished, noseless, to a monastery.

 Meanwhile in Cherson the exiled Justinian, complete with golden false nose, was plotting his comeback. After eight years of languishing in this backwater on the edge of the empire his desire for revenge was undimmed and he had made no secret of the fact. Fearing that he may be returned to Constantinople and deprived of his head as well as his nose by the new regime of Tiberius, Justinian  decided that it was time for a change of scene and slipped away, taking ship eastwards along the Black Sea coast to the land of the Khazars. These were a formally nomadic people who had settled around the northern shores of the Black Sea and had curiously embraced the Jewish faith. Their ruler the Khagan was happy to receive Justinian as an honoured guest and even married his sister to the fugitive emperor.

For the next two years Justinian lived the quiet life of a happily married man but then the assassins came; sent by the Khagan in response to demands from Constantinople to surrender Justinian dead or alive. Justinian however was ready for them and was able to dispatch his two would-be killers with his bare hands. The time had clearly come for him to make his attempt to regain his throne and there was no time to waste. Stealing a boat, he made his way back to Cherson and was able to make contact with his supporters in the city. With this single vessel and a handful of companions Justinian set out across the Black Sea, into the teeth of a fearsome storm. As the storm raged and the waves threatened to swamp the boat, Justinian was encouraged by one of his companions to made a pledge to forgive his enemies if God should spare them from the sea. ‘If I should spare a single one of them, then may God drown me!’ spat the emperor by way of response.

Justinian and Terval
Bedraggled and vengeful, Justinian fetched up on the western shore of the Black Sea in the domain of the Bulgars. Here too he was welcomed with open arms and soon he had contracted an alliance with their Khan Tervel, promising him the title of Caesar as well as the hand of his daughter from his previous marriage if the Bulgars would march on Constantinople. Naturally Terval agreed to help Justinian regain his throne and prepared for war. All at once the former emperor had gone from being a hunted man fleeing for his life in a lonely boat to having an army at his back. He knew however that it was one thing to appear before the walls of his capital at the head of a horde of barbarians but it was quite another to actually take the city. It had been tried unsuccessfully before and so the gates remained closed in the face of Justinian’s demands for surrender as Tiberius determined to resist. The wily Justinian therefore once more took his fate in his own hands and boldly led a small raiding party which made its way through a water conduit under the defences where the Theodosian Walls met the sea walls along the Golden Horn. Emerging on the other side, Justinian’s force surprised and killed the guards and took control of the Blachernae Palace. The city awoke to a fait accompli. Justinian was now inside the walls and was quite able to admit his Bulgar allies to wreak destruction if he met with any resistance whilst Tiberius had fled. The usurper was soon run to ground as was his predecessor Leontius and both were brought before the baying crowds of the hippodrome and there beheaded.

Justinian’s revenge against all those whom he felt had betrayed him was terrible and his list was long. Executions, burnings, blindings, hangings and drownings ensued by the hundred as the emperor settled every last score. As the reign of terror continued, it became apparent that the emperor was losing his grip on reality. Soon his malice was being unleashed against whole cities as reason steadily abandoned him. In 709 Ravenna was sacked on his orders after its bishop had displeased him. Two years later it was the people of Cherson, against whom he had long held a grudge from his days of exile, who felt his wrath.

The Byzantine chronicler Theophanes the Confessor probably gets a little carried away relating the terrors perpetrated on the citizens of Cherson on the orders of the emperor during his final descent into raving madness, but even allowing for some artistic licence it is clear that a monster was reigning in Constantinople. Arriving in Cherson, the punitive expedition rounded up every civilian they could find and put them to the sword, sparing only the very young who were enslaved. The leading citizens were put to death either by being roasted alive on spits or tied up on board a ship which was taken out to sea and sunk.

On its return voyage the Byzantine fleet was wrecked in a storm and thousands of sailors were drowned. When he was brought the news of the disaster Theophanes tells us that Justinian burst into hysterical laughter; his mind utterly unhinged. Dissatisfied with the level of bloodshed inflicted in Cherson Justinian ranted and raved. Soon he was planning a second expedition to return to the city and finish the job; wiping out the population and leaving not a stone standing.

The majority of the citizens of Cherson had sensibly taken to the hills upon the approach of the first Byzantine fleet, forewarned of the emperor’s intentions. Not surprisingly, having so far escaped Justinian’s  wrath they now rebelled against him and sought an alliance with the Khazars who sent an army to the defence of the city. An exiled Byzantine general named Philippicus was proclaimed as a rival emperor and when Justinian’s second fleet arrived in Cherson in 712 charged with its total destruction, their commander soon decided to side with the rebels since the Khazars were too numerous to be defeated. The emperor’s fate was sealed as the fleet turned about and sailed back to Constantinople to overthrow him. Justinian was in Sinope on the Black Sea when he heard news of the rebellion and by the time he had hurried back to Constantinople he was too late for Philippicus had already taken the city. Abandoned by his troops, the emperor was apprehended outside the city and summarily executed. His six year old son Tiberius, the offspring of his second marriage to the Khazar princess, was dragged from the church where he had been taken for sanctuary and had his throat slit ‘like a sheep’.

So ends the story of Justinian II; a cautionary tale that if you overthrow a tyrant you should cut off more than just his nose.

Sack of Ravenna 709 by Scarpelli

I was lazy for this article and reused material from my own book The Battles are the Best Bits, but if you liked it please check out the book. 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Eastern Front Aces

I've decided to combine two popular posts about the top scoring German and Soviet aerial and tank aces of World War II.

First up  - the tank aces.

They were, so the readily available statistics tell me, Dmitri Lavrinenko and Kurt Knispel.

Statistics however do not tell much of a story on their own. There is a dearth of information online in English on Lavrinenko, whose 52 confirmed kills make him the highest scoring allied ace of the conflict. This is due to two reasons. Firstly in comparison to a number of German tank aces Lavrinenko’s tally is quite low. The reason for this and for his relative obscurity is that Dmitri Lavrinenko lost his life early in the war; being killed by flying shrapnel from an exploding mine on 18th December 1941. At the time of his death the twenty seven year old former school teacher had been at war for just two and half months and had seen action on 28 occasions. He was therefore a remarkable tank fighter indeed.

Lavrinenko had endured a baptism of fire in Ukraine, nursing his damaged tank back to safety as the Russians retreated before the German blitzkrieg.

As the Wehrmarcht closed in on Moscow, Lavrinenko joined the First Guards Brigade charged with the defence of the capital. He found himself almost constantly in battle as the German attempt to capture Moscow gradually bogged down in the face of the fearsome Russian winter before the defenders began to turn the tide as the counter-offensive commenced in December. Fearless in engaging the enemy and prodigious in the accuracy of his aim, on one occasion taking out seven enemy tanks with seven rounds when ambushing a German column in the open field; his white painted T34 invisible against the snow, Lavrinenko soon came to the attention of his superiors and shortly before his death had earned the Order of Lenin. He was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1990 having played a significant role in the salvation of his nation’s capital.
In contrast to Larinenko the top scoring German tank ace of the war Kurt Knispel survived to within days of the war’s end. The former mechanical apprentice joined the German army in 1940 and trained as a gunner and loader, seeing action for the first time in a Panzer IV during operation Barbarossa in 1941. By the time his unit reached the gates of Stalingrad, Knispel was a tank commander with 12 credited kills. Knispel escaped the debacle of the defeat at Stalingrad, having been returned to Germany for training in operation of the new Tiger tank. He was back on the eastern front in time to take part in the Battle of Kursk and its aftermath before being transferred west to fight in the defence of Normandy, seeing fierce fighting around Caen.

As the Soviets advanced into Czechoslovakia, Knispel once more found himself on the eastern front, resisting the Soviet onslaught, in one engagement his Tiger was hit 24 times. Finally his luck ran out. On 28th April 1945 even as Hitler was making his preparations for suicide, Knispel was fatally wounded in an explosion during fighting near Wostitz and died shortly afterwards in a field hospital. He was just 23 years old. During his remarkable career as a tank commander Knispel is credited with an incredible 168 kills. In spite of this achievement and of being recommended for the Knights Cross on four occasions, Knispel never received the honour. His general lack of military bearing and respect for authority have been blamed for this. His assault on an SS officer whom he witnessed mistreating Soviet POWs especially blotted  his copybook with officialdom. In the eyes of posterity however it is this incident which stands out as the mark of the man and it is for that rather than the number of tanks that he destroyed that we can respect him as a man and as a soldier.

Kurt Knispel and Dmitri Lavrinenko

Battle for Moscow



Now to the aerial aces.

In the summer of 1943, as the greatest tank battle of the Second World War raged in the  Kursk salient, a twenty three year old pilot named Ivan Kozhedub serving with the 240th Fighter Air Regiment claimed the first of his 62 ‘kills’ in a career which would see him become the highest scoring Soviet ace of the war and would see him remarkably awarded with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union on no less than three occasions.

Ivan Kozhedub
Kozhedub’s first success; downing a Ju-87 ‘Stuka’ dive bomber was followed within days by three more kills as he began to master his craft.

Kozhedub’s ability had long been recognised but his value as an instructor in preparing new pilots for aerial combat had kept him away from the front lines until now. As his pupils had gone off to win glory in the skies, Kozhedub had chafed at being kept behind the lines and had repeatedly requested a transfer to combat duties. In March 1943 his wish was finally granted and he found himself transferred to the Kursk sector of the front.

At the conclusion of the Kursk campaign, Kozhedub, now a squadron leader, was transferred to the Dnieper front where his prodigious efforts in aerial combat soon gained recognition. In February 1944 Kozhedub was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for the first time, having claimed 27 combat kills. His feats included downing 11 enemy planes in the space of 10 days.

 In July 1944 Kozhedub joined the 176th Fighter Guards Regiment on the Belorussian Front as Vice Commander. Here he conducted ‘lone wolf’ operations, flying against a Luftwaffe increasingly on the back foot in the face of growing Soviet air superiority. Flying his trusty  Lavochkin La-7 ‘no. 27’ which he would keep until the end of the war, Kozhedub continued to add to his victory tally, claiming another fifteen kills including downing three of the highly rated German Focke Wulf 190 fighters in a single day. His efforts would earn him in August 1944 the accolade of Hero of the Soviet Union for a second time.

As the air war pushed on into Germany in 1945, Kozhedub scored one of his most notable victories by shooting down a Messerschmitt 262 jet near Frankfurt.

Legend also has it that Kozhedub was forced to shoot down two US P51 Mustangs over Berlin which mistook his plane for a German one.

Kozhedub survived the war, receiving a third gold star as a triple Hero of the Soviet Union at the conclusion of hostilities. In total he flew 326 combat missions, fought 126 combats and claimed 62 kills, making him the highest scoring Allied ace of the war, his refusal to share kills; crediting the other pilot instead, meant his official tally could have been much higher. He remained in the air force and commanded a clandestine unit during the Korean conflict. Kozhedub went on to reach the rank of General in the Soviet air force and died in 1991.
Ivan Kozhedub 1920-1991

At around the same time as Kozhedub was making his first combat sorties over the Kursk salient, a young German pilot named Erich Hartmann was making his return to active duty in the same sector of the front. Hartmann had suffered a nervous breakdown after being shot down no less than five times during his baptism of fire on the Russian front in the previous year. His experience now proved to be invaluable as he embarked on an incredible run of success against the less experienced Russian pilots many of  whom proved to be no match for Hartmann in his Me109. On the first day of the German ground assault alone Hartmann claimed four kills and by August 1943 had amassed no fewer than 90 combat victories. In the course of his baptism of fire Hartmann had learned from his mentors to attack enemy aircraft by firing only at point blank range. This technique helped to garner him his incredible kill-rate but was also high risk and resulted in Hartmann being forced to land his plane, damaged by flying debris, behind Russian lines.

Hartmann was captured by Russian ground troops but by faking injury he found himself placed on a stretcher and put into the back of a truck. When the truck came under attack from German aircraft, Hartmann made a break for freedom and was able to make it back to his own lines.

Hartmann continued to serve on the Russian front as the tide of war gradually turned against the Germans, nevertheless maintaining his amazing rate of victories over enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Knights Cross in October 1943 and went on to be awarded the additional ‘oak leaves’ and ‘diamonds’; meeting Hitler on both occasions. On both occasions he caused something of a furore; on the first occasion by turning up drunk and on the second by refusing to surrender his side-arm in order to meet the Fuhrer.

In the last days of the war Hartmann found himself facing both US and Russian forces. In an engagement over the Romanian oilfields, he fought on against a squadron of P51 Mustangs until his plane both ran out of fuel and ammunition and was forced to bail out.

Hartmann claimed his last kill on the very last day of the war before surrendering his squadron to US forces. Under the terms of the Yalta agreement the German airmen were handed over to the Russian forces. Hartmann had received orders to fly west and surrender to the British but had refused to leave his comrades.

He was to spend a decade in Russian prison camps before finally being repatriated in 1955. By the end of the war Hartmann had amassed a total of 352 confirmed kills, a higher total than any other fighter pilot in history. He served for a time with the West German air force and died in 1993.

 Random picture of an Me109 not related in any way to Erich Hartmann.


More on WW2 flying aces

Very interesting interview with Ivan Kozhedub

Profile of Erich Hartmann

Battle of Kursk

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Iconoclasm – a Byzantine Tragedy – Part Three

In the last post I told of how the empress Irene overturned iconoclasm only to be consumed by her lust for power. Following Irene’s deposition and exile in 802 the reins of power in Constantinople had been taken up by a one-time treasury official named Nicephorus. Having been driven to take action by the empress’ fiscal abuses, the new emperor swiftly found himself having to put aside his ledger and take up his sword in defence of the empire against a potent new threat.

Krum is brought the skull of Nicephorus

The rise of the Bulgars under their charismatic and warlike leader Krum would prove to be the greatest challenge for the house of Nicephorus and would ultimately bring about its downfall. Krum had succeeded in uniting his people as never before, bending petty warlords to his will in order to assemble an unprecedented level of military might. Nicephorus had faced the challenge head on, but his pre-emptive strike against the Bulgars had ended in the slaughter of his army and the sack of the imperial city of Serdica. Nicephorus soon struck back, leading his armies in person against the Bulgar capital Pliska and razing it to the ground. Two years later in 811 he returned with a greater army still and repeated the exercise, pursuing Krum’s forces into the mountains. As he encamped in the pass of Verbitza however, the emperor found his army entrapped and encircled by the Bulgars who then fell upon them with great slaughter. Nicephorus was killed in the fighting and Krum later had the emperor’s skull fashioned into a drinking cup in celebration of his victory. His son and successor Stauracius lingered on for six months, paralysed by his wounds until he too succumbed. The empire then passed to Nicephorus’ son in law Michael who proved an incapable ruler. Having failed to inspire his troops to follow him against Krum, Michael returned to Constantinople following a mutiny. He nevertheless rejected peace terms from the Bulgar Khan, but then vacillated as Krum laid siege to and captured the city of Messembria on the Black Sea.

It seemed that the military fortunes of the empire were at an all-time low. The depredations of Harun al Rashid had been ended only by that great Caliph’s death and now a barbarian chieftain was rampaging across imperial  territory with impunity, swigging his wine from a dead emperor’s skull. It was to their sins that the people of the empire must look for the reason for their misfortune and many concluded that it was the resumption of the veneration of icons that had so displeased the almighty and caused him to turn his face from the Romans. During a service in the Church of the Holy Apostles a mob surrounded the tomb of Constantine V; loudly imploring the iconoclast emperor to rise from his tomb and lead them in battle against the Bulgars.

In the absence of the risen Constantine, Michael would have to do and the emperor duly led his armies out once more to meet the Bulgars on the plain of Versinicia in the summer of 813. At first the battle seemed to be going well but then the entire Byzantine right wing, which consisted of the iconoclastically minded Anatolian troops, turned tail and fled the field, leaving the emperor with little choice but to follow them. This left the Byzantine left wing, who had been making good progress, to be slaughtered by the Bulgars. In the aftermath Michael, convinced that he had lost the backing of both God and his people, was persuaded to abdicate and was succeeded on the throne by Leo, the commander of the treacherous right wing.
Having escaped a Byzantine assassination attempt, Krum embarked on a campaign of devastation right up to the walls of Constantinople but with no hope of breaching them he was forced to return home and within a year he was dead.

What further proof could be needed of the support of the Almighty for the regime of Leo than this change in imperial fortunes? Iconoclasm was firmly back on the agenda and Leo, finding that the Patriarch refused to cooperate with his plans, had him arrested. Leo then summoned a synod dominated by iconoclastically minded bishops who deposed the Patriarch and condemned the findings of the Second Council of Nicaea. Those who sought to oppose the motion were beaten up and spat upon. The emperor let it be known that any holy image could be destroyed with impunity, sparking another orgy of destruction as more precious artwork was reduced to firewood. Irene was no doubt turning in her grave.
Thomas the Slav is brought before Michael II
Leo himself fell victim to a coup on Christmas day 820; cut down in the palace chapel in the midst of the service whilst desperately defending himself from his attackers with a golden cross which he had seized from the altar. His fate however did not presage a change in religious policy and the usurper Michael II maintained an iconoclast stance. He soon faced rebellion led by a charismatic rabble rouser known as Thomas the Slav who raised a large force against him and marched on the capital. Thomas succeeded in gathering his immense support through endevouring to be all things to all people; at times claiming to be the murdered emperor Constantine VI back from the dead and promising social revolution. He also promised the restoration of the icons. Thomas’ revolt was ultimately unsuccessful. This would-be champion of the cause of icon worship was defeated beneath the walls of Constantinople, run to ground and beheaded.

Under Michael II and his son and successor Theophilus, iconoclasm remained the entrenched position of the rulers of Byzantium but they did not prosecute it with the fervour of their predecessors and generally displayed tolerance to those who chose to worship icons in the privacy of their own homes. Examples were none the less made when they needed to be. A monk named Methodius who attempted to secure the support of the Pope for the restoration of the icons was scourged and imprisoned during the reign of Michael and under Theophilus the celebrated icon painter and future saint Lazarus had his hands branded with white-hot horseshoes after refusing to destroy an icon he had painted.

 The iconoclasts by Morelli shows the punishment of Lazarus

That for the most part the second succession of iconoclast emperors practiced a greater degree of tolerance towards their icon venerating subjects than had Leo III and Constantine V is perhaps an indication that they had little choice. If the first iconoclastic movement was a crusade against idolatry, the second was far more a reaction to prevailing public opinion and as a result the iconoclasts trod more carefully amongst a population which still harboured a great many icon lovers. The cause of the icons was championed by the venerable Abbot Theodore of the Studium who, having endured torture and imprisonment under Leo V, was at liberty to appeal for their restoration under his successors.
Slowly but surely, the tide began to turn in favour of the veneration of images once more.This may in part have been due to the resurgence in the east of the forces of Islam. Under Michael II, Sicily and Crete had fallen to freebooting Arab invaders. Theophilus had been obliged throughout his reign to wage war against the Abbasid Caliphs Mamun and Mutasim who led their forces deep into imperial territory. The emperor had celebrated his modest victories over the Saracens with great pomp, triumphal processions and races in the hippodrome in which he himself took part. It was an inescapable fact however that the empire was on the back foot, brought home in 838 when the emperor’s ancestral city of Amorium fell to the armies of Mutasim and was brutally sacked, with the terrorised citizens burned alive in the church where they had sought refuge. Another group of prisoners were later beheaded beside the Tigris for refusing to convert to Islam and are celebrated as the 42 Martyrs of Amorium. At such a time, with rumours of a great fleet being gathered against Constantinople, the people of the empire looked increasingly towards the familiar comfort of their icons and their saints for their salvation. They doubtless remembered how, in times of peril, the precious icon of the Virgin had been carried around the walls of the city and her divine protection had seen the terrible designs of Persians and Avars, Saracens and Bulgars brought to destruction and ruin.
The siege of Amorium

Meanwhile within the palace itself, under the emperor’s very nose, his wife and mother made little secret of their practice of venerating icons. Theophilus died in 842, leaving his widow Theodora as regent for the young emperor Michael. With power in her hands the empress swiftly convened a council which deposed the iconoclast patriarch, electing in his place that Methodius who had suffered torture and imprisonment for his beliefs in the reign of Michael II and upholding the findings of Irene’s Second Council of Nicaea. The age of iconoclasm was ended and in a great outpouring of thanksgiving icons were carried high in procession through the streets to the great church of St Sofia. In time the image of Christ above the palace gate first destroyed on the orders of Leo III and torn down once more by Leo V was replaced a final time, crafted anew by the brand-scarred hands of St Lazarus.
St Lazarus

The 42 Martyrs of Amorium

To continue the story go to the Enemies at the Gate Series

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Intrepid has landed – the Apollo 12 Mission

We all know about Apollo Eleven; “One small step for man…” and all that. And we all know about Apollo “Houston we have a problem!” Thirteen. Somewhat overlooked in between the epoch-making triumph of the first moon landing and the against-the-odds survival story that made the failed Apollo 13 mission Hollywood blockbuster material, came the very successful second moon landing conducted by the crew of Apollo 12 just four months after Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins made history.

Being in the process myself of developing an interest in matters astronomical having recently acquired my first telescope I found myself wondering this very thing as I contemplated a map of the lunar surface and found that Apollo 12 has an interesting story of its own to tell, albeit without the drama of the missions which immediately preceded and followed it.

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean on the moon

Within less than a minute of the mighty Saturn V rocket carrying the crew of Apollo 12 launching from Cape Kennedy, disaster threatened the mission. Astronauts Alan Bean, Dick Gordon and Pete Conrad aboard the command module named Yankee Clipper experienced a sudden loss of power to electrical systems and controllers on the ground briefly lost telemetry as the rocket was struck by lightning. The situation proved recoverable with no permanent damage and the rocket, watched by President Nixon, continued on its journey into the heavens.  This was the first time that a serving president had been present for an Apollo launch.

Docking with the lunar module Intrepid was successful and gave the crew the opportunity to inspect the command module for damage. The onward journey to the moon passed uneventfully enough as the crew broadcast TV pictures back to earth.

On November 19th 1969 the Intrepid, piloted by Conrad with Bean accompanying him, made its descent to the lunar surface. For this second mission a landing site in the region known as the Ocean of Storms had been selected. The crew of the Intrepid were tasked with landing close to and recovering parts from the lunar probe Surveyor III. In an impressive display of pilot skill Conrad brought the landing module down within six hundred feet of Surveyor III. On stepping from the ladder Conrad commented that it may have been a small step for the taller Armstrong but it was a long one for him! Bean and Conrad spent 31 hours in total on the lunar surface, far longer than the Apollo 11 mission. During that time they conducted three moonwalks; setting up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), recovering samples from the surface and retrieving parts from Surveyor III.

Surveyor III with Intrepid in background

Having made a successful return to orbit and reunited with Gordon aboard the Yankee Clipper the crew made a photographic study of the moon from orbit to aid future landings and monitored the seismic impact of the ascent stage of the lunar module as it plummeted back to the lunar surface. On November 24th the Yankee Clipper made a successful return to earth, splashing down in the Pacific to be recovered by the USS Hornet. At this point Bean proved that misfortunes come in threes as he was hit on the head and knocked unconscious by a flying camera. Earlier in the mission Bean had accidentally destroyed the crew’s cine-camera by pointing it at the sun and had misplaced the camera timer intended to take a picture of both astronauts on the moon from the lunar module.

Both Bean and Conrad went into space again with the Skylab missions but Gordon, who was scheduled to walk on the moon with the cancelled Apollo 18 mission, never made it into space again.

Apollo 12 Splashdown in the Pacific

British Pathe footage of Apollo 12 launch

 NASA Apollo 12 Page

The Apollo 12 mission in detail