THIEVES UNITED The First Balkan War, 1912-1913
WAR CAMEL The real The hidden secret William Wallace of the desert www.milita story.org Arabs BRAVEHEART
1944: THE FIGHT FOR ROME
CRAC N CAS
Patrick Mercer analyses the most gruelling struggle of the Second World War in Italy
The First Balkan War, 1912-1913
The real William Wallace www.milita
WAR CAMEL The hidden secret of the desert Arabs
1944: THE FIGHT FOR ROME
Patrick Mercer analyses the most gruelling struggle of the Second World War in Italy
ON THE COVER: The British 8th army with an anti-aircraft gun amid the ruins of Monte Cassino. Photo: akg-images
Who we are: Military History Monthly aims to cover conflict on land, at sea, and in the air through all periods of history, with expert commentary written in an intelligent and accessible way. Editorial Advisory Board: Martin Brown Archaeological Advisor, Defence Estates, Ministry of Defence, Mark Corby Former Army Officer, military historian, lecturer, and broadcaster, Paul Cornish Curator, Imperial War Museum, Gary Gibbs Assistant Curator, The Guards Museum, Angus Hay Former Army Officer, military historian, and lecturer, Nick Hewitt historian, Research and Information Office, National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, Nigel Jones historian, biographer, and journalist, Alastair Massie, Head of Archives, Photos, Film, and Sound, National Army Museum, Gabriel Moshenska Research Fellow, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, Colin Pomeroy Squadron Leader, Royal Air Force (Ret.), and historian, Michael Prestwich Emeritus Professor of History, University of Durham, Nick Saunders Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol, Guy Taylor Former Army Officer, military archivist and archaeologist, Julian Thompson Major-General, and Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, London University, Dominic Tweddle Director-General, National Museum of the Royal Navy.
Welcome By Dr Neil Faulkner
The First World War marked the start of the modern era. It was destined to sweep away half the states in Europe. Antiquated autocracies, broken by the strain of industrialised war, would fall like skittles in 1917 and 1918. Yet many of them entered the war precisely to avoid such a fate. Despots from another age, who found themselves under siege from socialists and nationalists at home, hoped that foreign war would unite their countries. For a while it worked. The flags came out in July and August 1914, and millions went to war imbued with a chocolate-box image of what it would be like. But after years of carnage on the battlefields and hunger at home, Europe exploded into revolution. We begin our series on the five Great Powers that went to war in 1914 with one of those that would not survive: the creaking dynastic empire of the Austrian Habsburgs. We also anticipate the centenary with the first of two articles by Julian Spilsbury on the savage Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, and our Second World War feature this time is the first of a short series by Patrick Mercer analysing the long struggle for Cassino between late 1943 and the end of May 1944. With a nod towards the Scottish independence referendum later this year, Jeffrey James assesses the military career of William Wallace. For our final feature, we take a thematic look at the role of the camel in war over some two millennia â€“ and discover the technological secret of its long supremacy in the desert.
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10 Cracking Cassino: Part 1
The Battle for the Mignano Gap
ON THE COVER
Marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, Patrick Mercer begins a four-part analysis of the pivotal struggle of the Italian Campaign.
Prison-house of nations
MHM Editor Neil Faulkner explores the inner workings of the Habsburg Empire in the lead-up to the First World War.
William Wallace The Great Patriot? Jeffrey James assesses the career of another of Scotlandâ€™s greatest leaders, William Wallace, in the context of his two greatest battles: Falkirk and Stirling Bridge.
Thieves United The First Balkan War Continuing our Road to War series, Julian Spilsbury takes us deep into the labyrinth of early 20th-century Balkan politics.
48 War Camel
Secrets of the desert
MHM looks into the hidden weapon of the desert Arabs, and its efficacy through the ages.
Military History Monthly Issue 42, March 2014 www.military-history.org
EDITORIAL Editor: Neil Faulkner firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviews Recommended Read
Jules Stewart recommends Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in power 1799-1815 by Philip Dwyer.
62 3 6 8
Welcome Behind the Image WMD
MHM Events Guide
Neil Faulkner leads with a review of Mapping the First World War by Peter Chasseaud. Plus Chris Bambery on Claudio Pavone’s A Civil War and James McCall on John Mosier’s Verdun.
Military History Monthly ’s summary of the best events this March.
Tom Farrell explores the first museum devoted to the 1979-1989 Soviet clash with Afghanistan.
Julie Dunn pays a visit to Cyprus to unearth the history of the Green Line through Europe’s last divided capital. www.military-history.org
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BEHIND THE IMAGE
RACE TO THE SEA The 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers (3rd Cavalry Brigade) advancing from the Marne to the Aisne September 1914 At first this seems a quiet, almost static photograph, dominated by the horizontals of earth and sky. But our eyes are drawn from left to right as a series of diagonals converge at a clump of trees at the picture’s right edge. Bank, shadow, verge, track, line of horsemen, hedge – all head towards those trees. The scale of the lancers thus rapidly diminishes, suggesting both large numbers of men and distances to be travelled. The lances of the cavalrymen provide a minor diagonal counterpoint to the strong lines of road, hedge, and bank, forming a series of light ‘v’ shapes arrowing towards the vanishing point, underlining the sense of movement to the right.
Yet there seems no urgency in this movement of men. A mixed detachment of French mounted troops wait while the Lancers pass unhurriedly by. Perhaps the French soldiers have pulled on to the verge to let the Lancers through, or perhaps they are taking a break. A group of French villagers watch from the bank to the right. One or two of the lancers appear to look at their French allies, maybe passing a friendly comment or two. The hindmost of the lancers, though, has definitely seen the photographer and manages a nice cheery grin for the camera. However, the vertical of the young, recently planted tree creates a note of unease. Placed roughly a third in from the right, a traditionally
important compositional placement, it partially obscures one of the French riders and his horse. The vertical also interferes with that general sense of left-to-right movement: a note of disharmony in a picture of otherwise gentle movement. This photograph of the Lancers and mounted French troops tells the story of the first couple of months of the Great War, when the conflict on the Western Front was still a war of movement. The 16th were the British Army’s second ever light-cavalry regiment, raised in southern England in 1759 by the cavalry officer John Burgoyne, who served as its commander for 16 years. The regiment deployed to France under the command of Hubert Gough – later to become commander of the British 5th Army – as part of 3rd Cavalry Brigade in August 1914. On 16 September, the Cavalry Brigade became part of the newly created 2nd Cavalry Division. This was just after the First Battle of the Marne, 5-12 September 1914, often referred to as ‘the Miracle of the Marne’. This Allied victory effectively ended the month-long campaign that opened the war, with the German Imperial Army having reached the outskirts of Paris.
The counter-attack of six French and one British army along the Marne River forced the Germans to abandon their push on Paris and retreat north-east. The Battle of the Marne was an immense strategic victory for the Allies, wrecking Germany’s bid for a swift victory over France. In the photograph, we see the 16th Lancers making their way to the Front at Aisne, where the German Army had dug in along the commanding heights north of the river. The war of movement of the early weeks of World War I would now give way to four years of static, attritional trench warfare. The uncomfortable feeling caused by the placement of the sapling would be born out for the Lancers during much of the rest of the war. Indeed, the 16th Lancers would spend much of the remainder of the conflict fighting in the trenches as infantry. By the end of the war, the traditional roles of the cavalry would be superseded by new technologies: the cavalry’s speed and their use in scouting and reconnaissance roles were usurped by the tank, motor transport, and the aeroplane.
JAPANESE TYPE 93 ‘LONG LANCE’ TORPEDO David Porter gives the lowdown on a deadly marine weapon.
he Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) first became interested in heavy torpedoes shortly after the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, when an experimental 61cm (24-inch) weapon was ordered from the Whitehead torpedo factory at Fiume. The IJN’s first operational heavy torpedo, the 61cm (24-inch) Type 8 No.1, entered service in 1920 aboard destroyers and light cruisers. While this was larger than any contemporary torpedo except for the British 62.2cm (24.5-inch) Mark I, it was not considered powerful enough to counter the US and British superiority in capital ships. Rear Admiral Kaneji Kishimoto’s design team at Kure began work on a weapon that would be sufficiently powerful in 1928, and by 1933 had produced 61cm (24-inch) Type 93 torpedo prototypes for fleet trials. The weapon was extremely temperamental and potentially dangerous to its users, largely due to the use of compressed oxygen instead of compressed air in its propulsion system. The oxygen was highly explosive unless the torpedoes were carefully handled and well maintained, but gave the Type 93 performance well in excess of its US and British counterparts. During the 1930s the IJN developed highly sophisticated night-fighting tactics to exploit the torpedo’s capabilities, which proved extremely effective in many actions during the first 18 months of the war in the Pacific. Japanese destroyers and cruisers were frequently able to launch torpedoes from about 20km (12 miles) at unsuspecting Allied warships attempting to close to gun range. Given the limited range of their own torpedoes, Allied navies could not believe that the IJN had the capability to launch torpedo attacks beyond 10km (6.2 miles). They attributed the great number of torpedo hits suffered by Allied warships in these actions to undetected Japanese submarines operating in support of their surface forces.
The true capabilities of the Type 93 (dubbed ‘Long Lance’ by the Allies) were largely unrecognised until intact examples were captured in 1943. The list of Long Lance successes was impressive, with 23 Allied warships sunk following Type 93 hits: 11 cruisers, 11 destroyers, and a fleet aircraft carrier. Of this total, 13 succumbed solely to Type 93 hits, with the rest being sunk by a combination of bombs, gunfire, and torpedoes.
Battle of the Java Sea, 27 February-1 March 1942 r Dutch cruiser HNLMS Java by IJN cruisers Haguro and Nachi r Dutch cruiser HNLMS DeRuyter by Haguro and Nachi r Dutch destroyer HNLMS Kortenaer by IJN cruiser Haguro r British cruiser HMS Exeter by IJN destroyer Ikazuchi r Australian cruiser HMAS Perth (D29) by IJN cruisers Mogami and Mikuma r American cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) by IJN cruisers Mogami and Mikuma
r r r r
Battle of Savo Island, 9 August 1942
r US cruisers USS Quincy (CA-39), USS Vincennes (CA-44), and USS Astoria (CA-34) by IJN cruisers Cho¯ kai, Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa, and Furutaka.
Battles of the Solomons/ Tassafaronga/Guadalcanal/ Kolombangara/Ormac Bay/ Santa Cruz Islands/Vella Lavella r Dutch destroyer HNLMS Piet Hein on 19 February 1942 by IJN Asashio
y (DD-387) on 22 August 1942 by IJN destroyer Kawakaze Aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) on 26 October 1942 by IJN destroyers Akigumo and Makigumo Cruiser USS Atlanta (CL-51) on 13 November 1942 by IJN destroyer Akatsuki Destroyer USS Barton (DD-599) on 13 November 1942 by IJN destroyers Destroyer USS Laffey (DD-459) on 13 November 1942 by IJN destroyers Destroyer USS Walke (DD-416) on 14 November 1942 by IJN destroyers Destroyer USS Benham (DD-397) on 14 November 1942 by IJN destroyers; later scuttled by USS Gwin (DD-433) Cruiser USS Northampton (CA-26) on 30 November 1942 by IJN destroyer Oyashio Destroyer USS Strong (DD-467) on 5 July 1943 by IJN destroyer Cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) on 5 July 1943 by IJN destroyers Suzukaze and Tanikaze Destroyer USS Gwin (DD-433) on 12 July 1943 by IJN destroyer Destroyer USS Chevalier (DD-451) on 6 October 1943 by IJN destroyer Yugumo Destroyer USS Cooper (DD-695) on 3 December 1944, probably by IJN destroyer Take.
SPECIFICATIONS (Type 93 ‘Long Lance’ Torpedo) Length:
8.99m (29ft 6in)
Type 93 petrol/liquid oxygen
Maximum speed: 91kmh (49kt, 56mph) Warhead weight: 498kg (1,100lb)
40,000m (43,744 yards) @ 67kmh (36kt, 41mph) 32,000m (34,995 yards) @ 74kmh (40kt, 46mph) 22,000m (24,059 yards) @ 89kmh (48kt, 55mph)
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Cracking Cassino PART 1: THE BATTLE FOR THE MIGNANO GAP
ilitary icons – you cannot get away from them. There were hundreds of ‘D-Days’ during WWII, but now there is only one: the start of the Normandy invasion. So widespread, indeed, did the perception become that this was the great battle that British troops in Italy, with typically wry humour, referred to themselves as ‘D-Day Dodgers’. Yet they had their own icon: the vast, louring monastery of Monte Cassino, which dominated the approaches to 10
the Liri Valley and thus to Rome. So Cassino became synonymous with the whole, grinding campaign, while the slaughter at Salerno and Anzio, let alone the butchery on the Gothic Line in the autumn of 1944, have largely been eclipsed. In three articles I am going to attempt to explain not just the fighting immediately before the assault on the fulcrum of the Gustav Line – Cassino – but also the much-neglected battles above and below the great monastery. Then, in a fourth and final article, I will concentrate on operations around Anzio, which, though almost 70 miles from Cassino, were an integral part of the Allies’ assault on the Gustav Line. Now, I must come clean. I grew up with my father’s memories of the Italian campaign, the successful conclusion of
which seemed to be entirely due to him! Despite being highly intelligent, to his dying day he clung to the theory that his muddy, mountain war had been decisive in the defeat of Hitler. If only it had been.
The hard underbelly The decision to invade mainland Italy was a mixture of Churchill’s imperial interest in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Balkans; America’s interest in drawing off German forces from their future main point of effort in France; the airmen’s wish to seize airfields closer to the Reich; the generals’ wish to wrest Rome from the Axis and garner the glory of liberating ‘the Eternal City’; and the Western powers’ grand strategic aim of doing something in late 1943 that would demonstrate their mettle to Stalin and the Soviets. March 2014
All images: © WIPL, unless otherwise stated
Patrick Mercer begins a four-part study of the pivotal struggle of the WWII Italian campaign.
Left Map of the Italian campaign, showing the major defensive lines constructed by the Germans.
My father argued that it was nothing so trivial, but I fear he was wrong. Here is the judgement of General von Senger und Etterlin, the commander of XIV Panzer Korps in the early phases of the Italian campaign: The classic teachings of war stipulate that the enemy should be attacked at his weakest points, not his strongest. Our softest spots were Sardinia and www.military-history.org
Corsica. These were unsinkable aircraft carriers which the Allies could have used as basesâ€Ś for fighter cover for an operation between Pisa and Elba. Even the enemy seem to have agreed that the whole campaign was misconceived. After their defeat in North Africa and Sicily, and once it was clear that an assault on mainland Italy was intended,
the German generals differed on how the ground should be defended. FieldMarshal Albert Kesselring, latterly a Luftwaffe officer, believed that every inch of ground should be contested as far south as possible, while Rommel was convinced that any defence much below Florence and the Apennines would preclude effective concentration of force and be vulnerable to amphibious outflanking operations. MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
Above Italy was supposed to be ‘the soft underbelly’ of Axis Europe. It was the opposite: its narrow width and rugged terrain provided the outnumbered but superbly professional German Wehrmacht with a series of strong defensive lines from which to contest the Anglo-American advance up the peninsula. Here, British troops of the 5th Army move forwards at Monte Camino.
Though Kesselring considered Hitler ‘obsequious’ towards Rommel, on this occasion the field-marshal’s views prevailed and, as Commander-in-Chief South, he was handed the opportunity to test his judgement. One of many misconceptions about the campaign is that the Germans constructed and fought from only a handful of deep defensive lines. In fact, over 40 separate lines were built, the skill of Wehrmacht engineers being combined with the work of forced labour battalions supplied by the Todt organisation in a massive, rolling operation. Some lines were 12
immensely strong, while others were hasty constructions. After Salerno (September 1943) and the opposed crossing of the Volturno, the Allies’ strategic aims became very clear to the Germans. While Montgomery’s smaller British 8th Army would push along the Adriatic Coast, Mark Clark’s stronger Anglo-American 5th Army would stick to the opposite coast, with Rome as the Allies’ ultimate goal and Clark better placed to secure it. To stop them, Kesselring made reinforcement of the Gustav Line, which was anchored on Monte Cassino, his main effort. To buy more time, he established a delaying line to the south-east, which the Germans called the ‘Bernhardt’, and the Allies the ‘Winter Line’.
The Winter Line The Winter Line was so-named because of the dreadful weather that all sides
faced in November and December 1943: incessant, sheeting rain, sleet, and low cloud. As well as making life miserable for the troops on the ground, it made it very difficult for the Allies to exploit their air superiority. Even in winter, though, the massifs around the Mignano area are magnificent. This little town lies astride Route 6 at the narrowest part of a flat-bottomed valley which, once the rivers Rapido, Garigliano, and Gari have been crossed, turns into the Liri Valley and provides excellent going for vehicles on the route to Rome. Mignano, though, is overlooked by the towering Monte Sammucro in the north, and the solid block of Monte Camino in the south; they stand there like two sentries. Tantalisingly, to the north-west, the Monastery of Cassino can be seen. But running along the base of the valley like an angry hedgehog is the spine of Monte Rotondo and Monte Lungo, lower than the surrounding ground but providing a natural barrier. Indeed, the whole place is a defender’s dream, a playground for gunners, mortar-men, and their observers, and a hell-hole for tanks and infantry. When von Senger took over XIV Panzer Korps in October just as the Allies closed with the eastern flank of the Winter Line, he adjusted the deployment of his troops. In the south, 94th Infantry Division held the shore around the mouth of the Garigliano and the lower defensive positions where the Winter and Gustav lines merged into one. To their north was 15th Panzer Grenadier, whose sector stretched up to the slopes of Monte Camino, where they flanked 3rd Panzer Grenadier, about whom von Senger had doubts. He correctly predicted that the Allies would attack the centre of his position, held by 3rd Panzer Grenadiers, but the division contained a large proportion of mainly Polish Volksdeutschen who were serving on probation, could not be promoted, and had performed badly at Salerno. The more reliable 305th Infantry Division held the northern sector.
Razorback On 3 November, the fighting around Pozzili prompted von Senger to say this: I noticed the enemy was swift in the attack and did not shun close-in March 2014
The winter war in the mountains. Men of the Green Howards advance through snow-covered hills in winter 1943/1944.
fighting. Evidently, the Americans were no longer affected by the novelty of battle… in Sicily they had hardly learnt how to adapt themselves to the conditions and their attacks still lacked spirit. Here they showed no such shortcomings. So, with his troops facing rapid advances, he reinforced with 26th Panzer and the famous 29th Panzer Grenadiers under Fries, while the 15th Panzer Grenadiers were realigned to defend the whole of Monte Camino. The weather worsened, but the Allies’ key battle-winner, Enigma and Y Force (the special signals unit that had cracked the Germans’ VHF codes), gave them the intelligence edge. They decided to launch 56th (London) Division against the Camino position, with 36th Texas Division poised to assault across the Mignano Gap and up towards the village of San Pietro. Veterans of Salerno and the Volturno, the Londoners were destined to become one of the hardest fighting divisions in the whole campaign. Camino cemented their reputation. I have stood at the south-eastern approaches to Monte Camino and find it hard to believe that infantry could attack up such rocky precipices. Indeed, www.military-history.org
if I had not found a live .303 round with headstamp 1943, I would have doubted my map reading. But, on 6 November, 201st Guards Brigade launched their attack, with 3rd Battalion The Coldstream Guards assaulting and seizing the village of Calabritto before 6th Battalion The Grenadier Guards passed through and began the first of many climbs up those dreadful slopes. The Guards dubbed the rocky landscape ‘Razorback’, ‘Barearse’, ‘Twin Tits’, and other picturesque names, before struggling up the steep slopes Right German heavy artillery in the Italian campaign. Secure in rock-cut bunkers and emplacements, Kesselring’s outnumbered men were able to exact a heavy price in Allied casualties for each position gained.
MIGNANO TODAY Mignano and the surrounding villages are a busy community, but do not look here for beautiful Medieval buildings or atmospheric Baroque churches – Allied and German high explosive destroyed them all in the Second World War. There are, however, monuments aplenty. There is a balcony below the little museum in San Pietro dedicated to the 36th Texas Division, while hidden deep in the bush above Guards Wood in the lee of Monastery Hill is one of the most remarkable monuments I have ever seen. A simple concrete plaque remembers the British who fell here, erected by the troops who followed on behind 56th Division and who buried their dead. Yet it is in French, as it was erected by the Moroccan Division. I had never heard of ordinary French troops commemorating ordinary British troops anywhere, but they did it here, in honour of a sacrifice obviously so heavy.
Above Plan of the Mignano campaign, Nov-Dec 1943. The Germans improvised defensive lines so as to slow the Allied advance and provide them with the time they needed to perfect the Gustav Line anchored on Cassino.
towards the tiny chapel at the highest point on ‘Monastery Hill’. Between dawn on the 7 and on the 11 November, an epic as grand and awful as anything that has ever happened in the Guards’ history took place. Grenadiers were reinforced by the Scots and followed by the Coldstreams as 201st Guards Brigade first threw itself against the German high-points, and then stubbornly refused to give an inch of ground as the Panzer Grenadiers counter-attacked. Just as Sandbag Battery at Inkermann became synonymous with Guardsmen’s grit, so a scrubby patch between and below the heights won the soubriquet ‘Guards Wood’. Stand there today and you can still see the rings of rock sangars that the soldiers built, find scraps of barbed wire and litters of spent cartridges, and almost hear the bangs of grenades and the howls of the wounded. The charge of Guardsman Beale, 3 Company, 6th Battalion, Grenadier 14
Guards, says it all. He and Guardsman Hollis had been firing a 2-in mortar with surprisingly ineffective results when a Scots Guardsman asked if they could spare some HE rounds. Beale leapt up from his sangar yelling, ‘Those things are no fucking use. I’m going to get the bastards with this.’ He then lunged towards the nearest enemy brandishing his entrenching tool. But two mortar rounds landed either side of him as he forged up hill and no trace of his body was ever found.
Bloody Camino The 7th Ox and Bucks Light Infantry and machine-gunners from the 6th Cheshires were thrown into the maelstrom. It was no good. By last light on 12 November the Guards had been withdrawn, and a day later 56th Division was ordered to break off the attack. They did so with remarkable skill, the Germans still believing the British held the position up until 14 November, when Panzer Grenadiers began to advance tentatively and discovered that the bird had flown. So ended the first, brave, bloody attempt on Camino, 6th Grenadiers’
history stating that, ‘Four hundred and eighty-three Grenadiers had gone up Camino and only 263 returned.’ Just as the British had found Camino almost impregnable, so too had US forces been battered in the centre and on the other shoulder of the gap. Where the western slopes of Camino run into the cliffs of Monte La Difensa, the US 7th Regiment had tried both to outflank Camino and to conform to the attacks on Monte Rotondo by other units operating in the valley bottom. But they had failed. Clark had swallowed the bait as the Germans had hoped: having thrown his men against their rock-like defences and found them unbreakable, he relapsed for the time-being into passivity. With little aircraft activity because of the weather and only sporadic shelling to harass the Germans, for about two weeks 5th Army caught its breath while XIV Panzer Korps dug like demons. The Cassino position was extensively improved, while the little village of San Pietro on the southern slopes of Sammucro was turned into a bastion and eventually garrisoned by the March 2014
crack 2nd Battalion of the 15th Panzer Grenadiers, reinforced with plenty of artillery, sappers, and armour. The village was destined to be fought over three times, and has been left as a monument to this day. Standing among the ruins and thinking about the number of lives lost in taking San Pietro and cracking the much-improved Gustav Line as a whole, one wonders about Clark’s inactivity. In his autobiography Calculated Risk, Clark makes little of this lack of momentum, but it must rank as one of the worst mistakes of his time in command, a fearful piece of ‘brass-hats’ disease’. The dust-devil of maps and air-photos, planning data, ammunition and logistics calculations, meetings and conferences can only be imagined. Clark was soon under mounting pressure to act, as Montgomery announced his intention of attacking www.military-history.org
the Sangro positions on 20 November. Clearly, a combined effort by both Monty’s 8th and Clark’s 5th Armies should over-stretch the Germans. But while hundreds of pencils were being blunted in the preparation of complex orders, offensive operations all but ceased. The combat troops and airmen were only too pleased, but they had no knowledge of the difficulties they were storing up for themselves.
The Second Battle of Camino Operation Raincoat was launched after two days of clear weather in which the Allied air-forces hammered all known enemy positions and a feint was carried out by VI Corps. On 1 December, the 36th Texas Division moved against Monte Sammucro above San Pietro, which, if heavily defended, would be attacked in due course. Simultaneously, 46th North Midland Division moved against
Above British and Canadian soldiers in action during the struggle to break through to the Gustav Line in late 1943.
Calabritto on the far left of the Allies’ assault, shielding 56th London Division, which, led by 169th Queen’s Brigade, was to attack Camino again. As the two flanking moves developed, on 2 December it was planned that the newly arrived 1st Special Service Force would scale Monte La Difensa. They were allowed three days for this before the (untested) Italian 1st Motorised Brigade was scheduled to attack Monte Lungo in the centre of the gap. One of the most glamorous units in the Italian campaign, 1st Special Service Force were a mixture of US and Canadian men who, their recruiting pitch said, should come from an outdoor, woodsman, explorer, or hunting background, and who were carefully trained for mountain MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
MONTE CASSINO and cold-weather operations. Consisting of two battalions, their only combat experience had been in the Aleutian Islands, which they had taken with hardly a shot fired before being sent to Italy and then attached to 36th Division. The story of the assault on La Difensa is a book in itself, and it must rate as one of the most daring and successful special forces’ attacks of the whole war. All the Forcemen’s training was put to use, as ropes had to be rigged for many of the ascents, while first-class scouting and recce work kept the enemy at bay. A forward patrol base was established in a scrubby pine wood after the first day’s climb, but as 1st Special Service Force approached the summit, German artillery found them and the fighting soon became general. La Difensa and the neighbouring peak, Remanata, had to be taken if the Queen’s Brigade assault on Camino was not to be shot to pieces. Eventually, after a stream of gallant acts, both peaks were taken and on 8/9 December, 1st Special Service Force was relieved. But at what a cost: they had lost 511, almost 50% of their strength, with 73 dead, 9 missing, and 313 wounded or injured, many with pneumonia and trench foot. Their sacrifice had more than paid off, however, for without their daring the Camino Massif could not have been taken.
Squirrel Nutkin So it was that, during the second attack on Camino proper, one of the most gifted commanders of the campaign emerged. Lieutenant-Colonel J Y Whitfield had assumed command of 169th Queen’s Brigade when its commander was wounded, and in the succeeding attack he lived up to his nickname of ‘Squirrel Nutkin’, being everywhere at once, building confidence and morale, leading from the front, and burnishing a fast-growing reputation that was to see him leading his division against the Gothic Line. Like the Difensa action, the Queen’s Brigade’s daring is an odyssey in its own right which can only be appreciated by standing on the ground and gasping at its boldness. Slightly higher than the little chapel, the Germans had built a concrete emplacement known as ‘The Watchtower’ that commanded all the approaches to the peak. Its foundations are still there, as are the machine-gun emplacements that were blown out of the solid rock. The whole complex is remarkably strong, and covers ground that is desperately difficult for infantry to assault – something that would 16
have been wholly impossible without precise artillery support. Too often, the guns and the Gunners are taken for granted in accounts like this, but the Allied ‘terror crashes’ caused von Senger to remark, ‘what I saw astonished and dismayed me. The Camino Massif was under a bombardment of an intensity I had not witnessed since the big battles of the First World War.’ Finally, by dint of crawling and dodging, by sharp dashes covered by Bren and Vickers fire, with grenade and bayonet but above all magnificent leadership and guts, the Queen’s drove the enemy out. By the night of 6/7 December, the whole of the Camino and Difensa position was in Allied hands. The Queen’s, though, had paid as heavy a price as 1st Special Service Force had:
Two mortar rounds landed either side of Guardsman Beale as he forged up hill and no trace of his body was ever found.
2/5th Queen’s, for instance, lost 26 killed, 53 wounded, and 19 missing – some of whom were crushed to death when the roof of the chapel was blown in on them in the final dash.
Sam Huston and the Texans The fortunes of the Texans, or ‘T Patchers’, over the same few days are equally chilling. Not only do the ruins still stand, but Sam Huston made the eponymous Battle for San Pietro film while the dead were still being cleared from the village – and sobering stuff it is. Designed as propaganda, Major Huston, as he then was, chose to take close-up film not only of the smashed bodies of Germans, but also of dead GIs being laced into bloodstained, white body bags. The commentary is remarkably restrained, and if some of the more mawkish footage of smiling, skipping Italian children is ignored, it gives a much clearer account of the fighting than anything I can write. But I will try. The three battalions of 36th Division’s 143rd Regiment (US regiments were the
equivalent of British brigades) were the first to attempt San Pietro. Recce patrols were sent out on 8 December and over the next few days, trying to assess the strength of 2nd Battalion, 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (the Germans likewise had regiments equivalent to British brigades). This was the 143rd’s old enemy from the Salerno battles. On 8 December, 1st Battalion 143rd made some progress on Monte Sammucro, but 2nd and 3rd Battalions failed to penetrate the wire and mines as they approached from the south-east. A second assault was tried the next day, led by 2nd Battalion, and Corporal Gallagher, who had been at Salerno and would fight at Anzio, said it was the ‘most terrible concentration of fire’ he had ever seen: ‘it was constant, never ending’. By 10 December, this attack had also stalled. General Walker, the divisional commander, was horrified by the 61% casualties that his battalions had suffered. Clark, though, when Walker went to see him and explained the situation, had little sympathy. He found Walker ‘low in mind’, remarking, ‘I don’t see why, as his division hadn’t been in action long.’ On 14/15 December, 36th Division tried again. As the Italians were launched once more against Monte Lungo in the valley and 1st Battalion 143rd against the slopes of Sammucro, 16 tanks were sent at San Pietro from the east. The advance failed hopelessly, as much from the unsuitability of the ground as from enemy action, but this did not stop the two battalions from throwing themselves time and again at the village. It would be satisfying to report that the 143rd Regiment finally took San Pietro, but when they entered it on 17 December it was in fact because the enemy had withdrawn rather than be outflanked from north and south. A much-depleted division pushed on to the next objective, San Vittore. But on 30 December the T-Patchers were relieved in the line by 34th Division, the ‘Red Bulls’. After one of their hardest fights of the campaign, the Texans were down to 33% of effective strength, the 143rd needing 1,100 replacements. But at last the way was open for 5th Army to close with Cassino and the Gustav Line.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Patrick Mercer is a former soldier turned military historian. March 2014
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Left Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (1848-1916).
Hungary T PRISON-HOUSE OF NATIONS
In anticipation of the centenary of the First World War, we begin a five-part series on the Great Powers of 1914, and the July crisis that led to war. MHM Editor Neil Faulkner analyses the internal workings of the Habsburg Empire. 18
he Emperor closed his eyes for several minutes and was lost in thought, before exclaiming, ‘Horrible! The Almighty permits no challenge… A Higher Power has restored the order that I was unhappily unable to maintain.’ It was a bizarre response to the news that his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, had been assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist student on 28 June 1914, and one that reveals much about the anachronistic character of the dynastic regime of Franz Josef.
The Serbian viper Austria-Hungary, centrally placed in Europe and a multinational empire strapped together by nothing more than a dynasty and an army, was beset by enemies, both within and without. It was a brightly coloured glass bauble liable to shatter into fragments at a single blow. It was this that made Franz Josef an arch-conservative, Europe’s foremost March 2014
All images: © WIPL, unless otherwise stated
Franz Ferdinand’s death had erased the stain of illegitimacy from the Habsburg succession caused by his morganatic marriage to Sophie Chotek, and in this restoration of ‘order’ his uncle detected the hand of God: such, at first, was the chief significance given by the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the assassination at Sarajevo. Franz Josef had come to the throne as the 1848 revolutions were smashed by the cannon and gallows of reactionary Europe. He lived in and ruled AustriaHungary for the next 68 years, but he remained always in the shadow of the events of his accession, acutely and eternally aware of the fragility of the state. It was a relic of a distant age, a time when states were mere amalgams of bits, assembled by the chances of dynastic inheritance and intrigue. It had begun in 1526, when Ferdinand Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, had become King of Bohemia and King of Hungary, though it was to be 300 years before the German, Czech, and Magyar subjects of the Habsburgs were to be united in a single polity. Perhaps it was for this reason – the fact that the empire he ruled was a creaking anachronism in an age of nation-states – that Franz Josef never evolved into an archetypal tyrant. Instead, though convinced of his divine right to rule, of the greatness of the dynasty, and of his paternalistic duties as emperor, he was less a dictator than a feudal bureaucrat – a dim, unimaginative, desk-bound official, devoted to his work. Cocooned in palaces, official functions, and court pomp, he looked out with uncomprehending bitterness at the threatening world beyond.
WAR defender of the status quo, a ruler who prized international peace and order above all else. So at first he missed the significance of his nephew’s assassination; he thought it a private matter between the family and their god. His military chief-of-staff had other ideas. ‘We must crush this viper, Serbia,’ announced Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who is recorded pressing for war against Serbia in the councils of the Austrian state no less than 25 times between his appointment as head of the army in 1906 and the outbreak of war in 1914. Conrad, like many of Europe’s political and military elite, was a Social Darwinist, who believed that history comprised an elemental struggle for existence between nations, and that recognition of this was ‘the only real and rational basis for policy-making’. For Conrad, there was no idealism in international affairs, simply force. National strength rested on military power, nothing else, and the army should be used to defend the monarchy, the empire, and its ruling Austrian and Magyar élites against the threat of insurgent nationalism. Serbia was Slav nationalism’s centre of gravity, as well as Russia’s Trojan Horse in the Balkans. A victory for Teutonic blood and iron, followed by dismemberment of Serbia, would cow Slav nationalism in Central and SouthEastern Europe for a generation. Or so Conrad professed to believe.
The Dual Monarchy The Emperor Franz Josef – cautious, conservative, of limited vision, above all deeply fearful – had consistently resisted Conrad’s calls to arms. For him, the essence of statecraft was to avoid any sudden move that might destabilise the delicate framework of Habsburg power. For 66 years, this policy had kept the genie of 1848 bottled up. Excluded from the rest of Germany by their defeat in the six-week AustroPrussian War of 1866, Austria’s 12 million Teutons could not have hoped, in an epoch of nationalism, to dominate indefinitely the empire’s 39 million or so others – 10 million Magyars (Hungarians), 6.6 million Czechs, 5 million Poles, 4 million Little Russians/Ruthenians www.military-history.org
(Ukrainians), 3.2 million Croats, 2.9 million Romanians, 2 million Slovaks, 2 million Serbs, 1.3 million Slovenes, and 0.7 million Italians. Their solution was to incorporate the 10 million Magyars of Hungary as a second ruling nation. The Ausgleich (‘Compromise’) of 1867 created a Dual Monarchy, in which Franz Josef served as both Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, while each state had its own government, assembly, and courts. There were common ministers of foreign affairs, war, and finance, but other ministries were paralleled in the two states. Two prime ministers for Austria and Hungary respectively, and the three common ministers, together formed the joint council of ministers accountable to the emperor.
The Hungarian élite The Ausgleich was a gilded cage. Roughly one in ten of the Magyars were ‘nobles’: feudalists who paid no land-tax, sat in county assemblies, and voted in national elections to the Hungarian Diet. They ranged from great magnates to decayed gentry with holdings smaller than the better-off peasants. Only a third of this class was viable – able to live on the income from private estates – so that incorporation into the AustroHungarian state came as salvation to the lesser Magyar gentry, many of whom were now transformed into government functionaries. By the early 20th century, the expanding bureaucratic apparatus had found employment for a quarter of a million of them. Local government, the police force, state railways, the post office, education and health services, all offered a subsidy to Magyar feudalism, making the descendants of those who had fought for Hungarian independence in 1848 into dependants of the Habsburg dynasty.
The fact that the Magyars were a bare majority in the Kingdom of Hungary – 10 million as against 8 million others – had the further consequence of dividing the peasantry on ethnic lines and encouraging Magyar peasants to identify with their own nobles and officials as security against dispossession in a race war. The Magyars were transformed from potential rebels into the hussars of Habsburg repression. The Ausgleich locked up about 15 million Central European peasants in a bureaucratic, sectarian, semi-feudal state.
The Polish élite From 1867 onwards, two large iron trusses, and a third of medium size, propped up the rotting hulk of Habsburg power. The first was the Germanspeaking ruling class of landowners, bourgeois, and state functionaries in the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy. The second was the Magyar nobility in the Hungarian half. The third was the Polish nobility of Galicia. The mountains and marshy plains on the northern side of the Carpathians were, like the Hungarian Plain to the south, little developed: Galicia was a landscape of estates, farms, and tradition. The landowners and officials were Polish, and the Austrians ruled here with a light touch. Like the Magyars, the Poles faced an enemy within, in this case some 3 million Little Russians; and the effect, as in Hungary, was to afford the Polish nobility a mechanism for dividing the peasantry on ethnic lines. Moreover, as they looked across the border at the other two fragments of their long-sincedismembered national state – to the German- and Russian-occupied parts of the former Kingdom of Poland – the
We must crush this viper, Serbia. Count Conrad von Hötzendorf Austro-Hungarian Chief-of-Staff
Dictatorship and force are justified. Count Czernin Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister
of industry and proletarian power. With 2 million inhabitants, it was the fourth largest city in Europe, and though, by Austrian standards at least, ethnically homogeneous – about 80% of the residents were German – in other ways Vienna was deeply divided.
Belle époque Vienna Poles observed forms of Prussian and Tsarist oppression that contrasted notably with the ramshackle and relatively accommodating rule of the Austrian Habsburgs. So the Polish landlords of Galicia had little taste for nationalist revolution. In its final decades, therefore, the Habsburg dynasty, with its traditional entourage of Teuton notables, was able to confront the challenges of modernity in alliance with the relics of Magyar and Polish feudalism.
The Czech canker The 6.6 million Czechs of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia were another matter. Though ‘trialism’ had been much mooted – the idea that the ‘dualism’ enjoyed by German and Magyar might be extended to the Czechs – the concept had been still-born. The dynasty’s efforts at reform had foundered on the rocks of German and Magyar opposition to dilution of national privilege. For sure, watered-down autonomy had won the endorsement of a layer of conservative Czechs, who formed a loyalist establishment in alliance with the leaders of the 3 million German-speakers in the three provinces. But the collaborationist ‘Old Czechs’ were firmly opposed by a ‘Young Czech’ movement agitating for real independence and gaining in strength by the year. Jaroslav Hašek, the dissolute bohemian anarchist who created The Good Soldier Švejk, was born in Prague in 1883. The repressive political atmosphere of a city dominated by an alliance of dynasty, church, bullying German officials, and smug Czech bourgeois radicalised the teenage Hašek. When clashes between Czechs and Germans escalated, and Prague was flooded with police and troops, Hašek and his gang were in the midst 20
of it, hurling paving stones at dragoons charging with drawn sabres, then clambering over garden walls to escape. The drop-outs and radicals of the Prague cafés were merely the most flamboyant expression of a deep social malaise. The coalminers and textileworkers of northern Bohemia were a new working-class. Torn from the traditional life-ways of peasant villages and thrust into the squalor of primitive capitalism, the workers’ elemental protests found voice in anarcho-syndicalist doctrines that stressed direct action and spontaneous struggle. Czech nationalism was energised by social protest.
An industrial revolution Austria-Hungary’s industrialisation was late-starting and uneven, but substantial nonetheless. Between 1890 and 1914, Austrian railway construction matched that of Germany, creating a network one-third as dense as that of the industrial colossus to the north. Austria’s merchant marine tonnage was doubling every ten years, and her fleet had surpassed that of Russia by 1914. The urban population had grown during the 19th century from 5% to 20% of the total, and in the first decade of the new century the proportion of the workforce employed in agriculture dropped below 60%. True, one in three of the industrial workforce was employed in domestic or ‘sweated’ industries – typically women (and children) doing miserable underpaid piece-work in cottages, tenements, and backyards – but there were also the mines, the railways, the textile-mills, the arms-works, and other big factory complexes. Vienna encapsulated the dynamic mix of old and new. Sparkling belle époque Vienna was at once the ancient seat of the Habsburgs and a new centre
The Ringstrasse defined official Vienna. A wide, curving boulevard constructed around the old town in 1857, it was lined with grand neo-classical buildings, and enclosed the palaces and churches of the Medieval core of the city. Here was the Vienna of the Habsburgs, the imperial aristocracy, and government bureaucracy. Beyond the Ringstrasse were the theatres, art-dealers, cake-shops, and ample apartments of the minor nobility and the bourgeoisie. This was a city of burgeoning modernity and culture, of trams and telephones, of opera and cabaret, of Brahms, Mahler, and Strauss. It was the Vienna that professed to be scandalised when Isadora Duncan danced barefoot, and Sigmund Freud explained the sexual complexes of children; yet also the Vienna that sheltered and applauded them. Beyond the bourgeois districts, in narrow streets of terraces and tenements, was yet another Vienna: that of the workers, the poor, and the decayed petty-bourgeoisie. Among the residents was a self-obsessed loner, drifter, and failed artist, who, having dropped from the lowest ledge of the middle-class into a doss-house, was fast morphing into a visceral racist: Adolf Hitler. Well before the outbreak of war, the 25-year-old Hitler had found his enemy: ‘Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity.’ In Hitler’s mind – the mind of a little man driven mad by failure – the ubiquitous Jew was both a capitalist profiteer and a labour agitator propagating ‘the Jewish doctrine of Marxism’.
The red spectre If embryonic Fascism was one symbol of the empire’s decay, the spectre of proletarian revolt was another. When the Socialist Party announced that it would march down the Prater on 1 May – down March 2014
WAR a tree-lined boulevard where usually only the carriages of the rich were to be seen – there was panic in official Vienna. Merchants put up iron shutters. Parents locked children indoors. Not a carriage appeared on the streets. The entire city police force was deployed in the Prater, and troops stood ready in reserve. In the event, the workers came with their families, the men and women marching four abreast in closed ranks, wearing the red carnations of their party and singing the Internationale, while their children gambolled around them in the green and open spaces of downtown Vienna. No one was insulted or threatened; no windows were smashed or shops looted. And the workers and their families soon marched back to their districts. For now. Leading members of the Habsburg élite sensed the rising tension. The growth of Austro-Hungarian capitalism had created new class forces, new discontents, new fracture-lines; and these modern conflicts had reconfigured and recharged the old antagonisms between the dominant and oppressed nationalities of the empire. When Bohemian miners took on the coal-bosses, they faced Habsburg police. In back-street Vienna, socialist workers confronted German nationalists. The Czech radical Hašek, for whom ‘the spirit of alien authority’ pervaded the local police station, was both nationalist streetfighter and labour agitator.
An unstable regime The Habsburg regime responded with faltering reform, gradually extending the right to vote, finally introducing full universal suffrage in 1907, and granting enhanced powers of self-government where, as in Polish Galicia, it seemed safe to do so. But still the tension rose. The 1905 Russian Revolution triggered major clashes in Vienna and Prague that year, and in 1912 rioting broke out in Budapest: all three major cities of the empire were cauldrons of discontent. Yet the space for further compromise was shrinking, as Teuton and especially Magyar chauvinism gained traction from the crisis, and as Habsburg hardliners grew fearful that reform under pressure would communicate weakness – especially when reform did not work. www.military-history.org
The extension of the franchise – an attempt to suffocate popular resistance in a blanket of liberal constitutionalism – failed; instead, politicians divided on class and ethnic lines into intractable blocs that paralysed the assemblies. In 1909, parliamentary government in the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke down completely. ‘The duty laid upon the ruler by God’, announced Count Czernin, the Foreign Minister, ‘is to lead his people, and if the people – as in our monarchy – are not ripe to behave with reason, then they must be compelled. Dictatorship and force are justified… The monarchy’s way to health lies along the path of Caesarian absolutism!’
Government by decree The now-discredited Austrian Prime Minister who had introduced universal suffrage was sacked, and the empire was henceforward ruled by emergency decree. Five years later, in March 1914, with parliamentary debates as rancorous and inconclusive as ever, the Austrian Reichstag was suspended. But if the hardliners were in control of the government, their authority was challenged in the streets by a wave of protests that summer. It was, therefore, a weak, unpopular, embattled regime that received the news on 28 June 1914 that the heir to the throne had been assassinated in Sarajevo. Pervading the upper ranks of the imperial state was a sense of drift, of being buffeted by events, of a government
that lacked direction and resolve. Because of this, in the days following the news, the hardliners’ insistence that it was necessary to act, and act decisively, gained ground. Domestic weakness engendered a bullish response to the Bosnian crisis. Conrad’s vision was of a world remade by war. The contradictions of the AustroHungarian Empire’s existence were to be resolved by the military destruction of Serbia and the remodelling of the Balkans under Habsburg hegemony. The Dual Monarchy would be replaced by a ‘Triple Monarchy’ of Austria-Bohemia, Hungary, and South Slavia. ‘Only an aggressive policy with positive goals can save this state from destruction,’ he announced. Others agreed. If the moment passes without action, men told each other, AustriaHungary’s weakness will doom her to dismemberment by rival states and national revolts. ‘Serbia must learn to fear us again,’ wired the Austrian representative in Belgrade. ‘Otherwise, our old border regions, and not just the annexed provinces, will be in danger.’
The Russian Bear But what would Russia do? Austrians and Russians had clashed before in the Balkans, and the Tsar, posing as protector of the Slavs, was patron to the Serbs. It would be as damaging to Russian prestige to do nothing if Serbia were attacked, as it would be for the Austrians to refrain from attacking. And Austria could not risk a war against both Serbia and Russia.
A strange light began to fall and grow upon the map of Europe. Winston Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
The AustroHungarian Empire in 1914 CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF (de facto Army C-in-C)
HEAD OF STATE Emperor and King Franz Joseph I
Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf
MILITARY EFFECTIVENESS The sheer number of nationalities within the army posed considerable problems – basic commands were given in German, but each regiment had at least one officially recognised ‘regimental language’ for day-to-day use (some had as many as three!). Friction between the various nationalities was commonplace, and did nothing for overall efficiency. Soon after the war began, it was found that units with a high proportion of certain Slav nationalities (primarily Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) were prone to desert, or at least readily surrender to the Russians, with whom they sympathised as fellow Slavs. However, almost all the peoples of the Empire united to fight fiercely against Italian forces following Italy’s declaration of war in 1915. Economic problems bedevilled the army throughout the decade before the war – its limited budget restricted the numbers of conscripts who could be fully trained. The lack of funding also imposed serious delays on the programme to modernise the Empire’s artillery, which, apart from the formidable 305mm super-heavy howitzers, was largely obsolete by 1914.
By 1914 the Empire’s railway network had a total of
(over 90,600 miles) of track
Hungarians 20% Czechs 13%
WAR INDUSTRIES SˇKODA WORKS Pilsen, Bohemia – the Empire’s major source of artillery and ammunition. STEYR MANNLICHER Steyr, Upper Austria – manufacturer of rifles and pistols for the Austro-Hungarian armed forces. AUSTRO-DAIMLER Wiener Neustadt, Lower Austria – a major manufacturer of military and civilian motor vehicles. GANZ WORKS Budapest – the largest engineering consortium in Hungary, producing motor vehicles and aircraft. NATIONAL RAILWAYS WORKSHOP Pilsen, Bohemia – the largest rail-repair shop in the Empire. STABILIMENTO TECNICO TRIESTINO Trieste, Istria – the Empire’s largest ship-building company, producing naval and merchant vessels.
Poles 10% Ukrainians 8% Croats 6% Romanians 6% Slovaks 4% Serbs 4% Slovenes 3% Italians 1% Bosnians 1% March 2014
8mm Schwarzlose MG M07/12
Sˇkoda 305mm Mörser M11
Sˇkoda 240mm Mörser M98
FIELD ARTILLERY MOUNTAIN ARTILLERY
150mm schwere Feldhaubitze M94
100mm Feldhaubitze M14 100mm Feldhaubitze M99 80mm Feldkanone M05
100mm Gebirgshaubitze M8 8mm Steyr70mm Gebirgsgeschütz M99 Mannlicher M1895
440,000 RISING TO
ON MOBILISATION NAVAL STRENGTH
ARMY ETHNIC MIX Austrians 29% Hungarians 19%
6 operational pre-dreadnought battleships
Croats 5% Romanians 5% Slovaks 4.5% Serbs 1% Slovenes 2.5%
3 dreadnought battleships, plus 1 under construction
39 operational aircraft 15 destroyers
6 older pre-dreadnought battleships
9 light cruisers
Italians 1% Bosnians 1% www.military-history.org
8 river monitors (the Danube Flotilla) MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
The Serbs could put 350,000 men into the field, and their army was ethnically homogeneous, highly motivated, and battle-hardened from experience in the Balkan Wars. Serbia was not expected to be a push-over. The Austrian high command was in no doubt that it could not defeat Serbia in the south and at the same time block a Russian invasion in the east. But did Austria stand alone? On 5 July, the Austrian ambassador to Berlin delivered a letter from Emperor Franz Josef to Kaiser Wilhelm II, along with a memorandum setting out his government’s case for military action against Serbia. In the light of this, he needed to know, would Germany support Austria against Russia in the present crisis? Could Austria seek the ‘final and fundamental reckoning’ with Serbia that she desired, secure in the knowledge that Russian intervention would be checked by her ally? Germany’s leaders had little choice. Austria-Hungary was now their sole steadfast ally in an otherwise hostile or lukewarm Europe. Germany in 1914 faced a hostile coalition of Russia, France, and perhaps Britain, confronting her with the daunting prospect of a war on two fronts against superior numbers, and quite possibly a crippling naval blockade. In raw numbers, some 70 million Germans faced 160 million Russians in the East, and, in the West, 40 million French, 45 million British, plus the vast manpower reserves of the French and British colonial empires. The effect of the Austro-German alliance was to place the 51 million people of the Habsburg Empire in the service of Prussian militarism. The 39 million non-Germans whom the dynasty had strapped around a kernel of 12 million Germans – ‘historical manure for the field of German culture’ in Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s phrase – constituted a Central European manpower reserve that had become a vital German national interest. So much so that it was Imperial Germany, the empire of blood and iron, now the greatest industrial and military powerhouse in Europe, that proved more resolute, steeling the decaying, creaking empire of Franz Josef for a firm 24
Now or never! The Serbs must be disposed of, and that right soon! Kaiser Wilhelm II
stand against the nationalist tide that threatened to engulf it.
The German Eagle ‘Now or never!’, the Kaiser had exclaimed on 4 July. ‘The Serbs must be disposed of, and that right soon!’ When the Austrian appeal was presented the following day, he offered, after only the briefest hesitation, Germany’s unconditional support for action against Serbia. This ‘blank cheque’ was endorsed by Wilhelm’s senior advisors the same afternoon. Both the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and Army Chief-of-Staff Helmuth von Moltke supported the Kaiser’s decision. They knew the risks. ‘An action against Serbia can lead to world war,’ announced Bethmann-Hollweg two days later; the Central Powers were making a ‘leap into the dark’. But Germany’s leaders half-hoped that swift action by Austria would present Europe with a fait accompli, and that Russia and France, eager to avoid war, would seek a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. ‘Austria must beat the Serbs and then make peace quickly, demanding an Austro-Serbian alliance as the sole condition,’ proclaimed Moltke. The decision made, Gemany’s leaders left for their summer vacations. Europe was still run by wealthy gentlemen, and July was holiday time. Except for the Austrians. They stayed at their desks that summer: they had a blank cheque to process. Even so, they moved slowly: there were other hurdles to surmount. The backing of the German government for action against Serbia had been secured, but not that of the Hungarian government.
Magyar wobbles When a Council of Ministers was convened in Vienna on 7 July, Count István Tisza, the Hungarian Prime Minister, argued that a strike against Serbia would provoke Russian intervention and ‘the dreadful calamity of a European war’. The crisis was revealing cracks in the empire’s ruling coalition of Habsburg dynasty, German bourgeoisie, and Magyar gentry. The latter, a class of decayed landowners propped up by government salaries, lived in fear that their national privileges might be diluted by the further incorporation of Slavs into the Habsburg polity. Tisza – horse-breeder, Bible-basher, Habsburg loyalist, implacable enemy of the empire’s subject peoples – was their fitting representative. Tisza viewed with particular suspicion plans for the dismemberment of Serbia, the annexation of territory, and moves towards a ‘Triple Monarchy’ of Germans, Magyars, and South Slavs. Conrad’s vision of a south-eastern Europe remodelled by war seemed to threaten Magyar national eclipse. But what was the choice? Serbian nationalism rampant was as much a threat to the Hungarian élite as to the Austrian; and the fate of both groups hinged on the survival of the dynasty. Tisza was eventually won over by agreement that Austria-Hungary would not seize any Serbian territory for itself. Magyar opposition to war was not the only reason for delay. Most of the empire’s soldiers were busy gathering the annual harvest: they would not be available for service until late in the month. And the French President and March 2014
WAR Prime Minister were on a state visit to St Petersburg: better to wait until they were en route back to Paris, lest the crisis break with the two allies fortuitously placed to concert action. So time passed.
The Austrian ultimatum Most Europeans, enjoying the fine weather, went about their daily affairs without any sense of crisis. There was a crisis, but few yet knew it, for the drama was played out at first among tiny groups of statesmen and generals meeting in secret conclaves. One such took place in Vienna on 19 July, a reconvened Council of Ministers, and it was here that a critical decision was taken: an ultimatum would be delivered to the Serbian government on 23 July, one so contrived that it would be impossible for the Serbian government to accede to it. In general terms, it demanded of the Serbian authorities that they condemn anti-Austrian propaganda, suppress anti-Austrian agitation, and withdraw recent anti-Austrian statements by government officials. More importantly, it demanded a full enquiry into Serbian involvement in the assassination at Sarajevo, and insisted that Austrian officials be allowed to participate in this. The Serbian government was given 48 hours to respond. The ultimatum was a diplomatic time-bomb. Few European leaders can have doubted its significance when they read it. The British Cabinet had been debating Ireland on Friday 24 July, when, as Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, recalls, The quiet grave tones of Sir Edward Grey’s voice were heard reading a document which had just been brought to him from the Foreign Office. It was the Austrian note to Serbia… This note was clearly an ultimatum; but it was an ultimatum such as had never been penned in modern times. As the reading proceeded, it seemed absolutely impossible that any state in the world could accept it, or that any acceptance, however abject, would satisfy the aggressor. The parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded back into the mists and squalls of Ireland, and a strange light began… to fall and grow upon the map of Europe. www.military-history.org
The Serbian reply The Serbian reply was due the following day, and until then Belgrade – not Vienna, Berlin, St Petersburg, Paris, or London – was Europe’s centre of gravity. How would the Serbs respond? The Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašic´ had no desire for war, but he found minimal room for manoeuvre between the hawkish belligerence of Vienna and the red-blooded nationalism of the Serbian press, the officer corps, and an electorate that, as chance would have it, was about to go to the polls. Perhaps Russia would come to Serbia’s aid? But the Tsar offered only moral support and advised against war. So it seemed that Serbia, in the event, would be on her own; and in that case, she would surely be crushed. Pašic´ had no choice except, at great political risk, to concede all that he possibly could. This was almost everything, but not quite, and the modest reservations included the demand that Austrian officials participate in a government enquiry on Serbian soil; he presumably figured that he could not have survived the domestic political storm that such a gross violation of national sovereignty would have unleashed. It hardly mattered. When Pašic´ arrived in person to deliver his government’s reply, the Austrian ambassador had destroyed his papers, packed his bags, and had his official car waiting to take him to the station. Vienna had already made its decision.
Austro-Hungarian mobilisation On 28 July, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ordered partial mobilisation of its armed forces, declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia, and opened fire on Belgrade across the Danube. The Third Balkan War had begun. It was a panic reaction to the moderate mood that the conciliatory tone of the Serbian reply had engendered in European capitals – not least in Berlin. ‘A great moral success for Vienna,’ the Kaiser declared on the very day the first shots were fired, ‘but with it all reason for war is gone…’. The growing sense among Austria-Hungary’s leaders that the hostile forces ranged against it had to be shattered by violence
and restructured by diktat had, since the Council of Ministers on 19 July, hardened into a determined will to war. They were not now to be restrained. The face of Austria was transformed in an instant. The streets filled with flags, ribbons, and bands playing martial music, with columns of marching soldiers in blue-grey uniforms, with crowds of patriots urging them on with shouts of ‘Death to the Serbian dogs!’ ‘This country’, noted the British ambassador, ‘has gone wild with joy at the prospect of war with Serbia, and its postponement or prevention would undoubtedly be a great disappointment.’ Many felt a sense of relief, as if society was at last climbing out of a dark vale of ennui to a bright upland of clear purpose. ‘Things couldn’t have gone on like this,’ wrote Alexander Freud from Vienna to his brother Sigmund, who, like much of middle-class Europe, was on vacation. The great psychoanalyst shared his brother’s enthusiasm for the Habsburg cause: ‘Perhaps for the first time in 30 years,’ he declared, ‘I feel myself an Austrian…’. The nationalist mood was widespread, extending across class and national lines that had of late become increasingly embittered. The writer Stefan Zweig was struck by the popular unity and enthusiasm on display when he returned to Vienna a few days after the declaration of war. ‘All differences of class, rank, and language were flooded over at that moment by the rushing feeling of fraternity.’ All the little people seemed to have lifted themselves up to meet this moment of world history, as if each one ‘was called upon to cast his infinitesimal self into the glowing mass, there to be purified of all selfishness.’ From 28 July, Vienna and Budapest wore the festive colours of dynastic and imperial power. Discord and disunity had been cauterised by the red heat of militarism. This much of Conrad’s project had been accomplished in a trice. But at what price, and for how long? Everything now depended on what Russia would do. And news of Austria’s mobilisation had been met in St Petersburg with deep unease.
NEXT MONTH RUSSIA: gendarme of Europe
WAR ON FILM Left Columbia Pictures insisted that Peter Sellers appear in the movie due to the success of the previous Kubrick film he had appeared in: Lolita. Sellers ended up playing three characters in total, including the bizarre title role.
DR STRANGELOVE OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB Taylor Downing delves into the weird world of Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War black comedy.
fter making his First World War epic Paths of Glory (see MHM 40), Stanley Kubrick directed two movies, Spartacus (1960), again with Kirk Douglas, and Lolita (finished in 1961), with Peter Sellers in a supporting role. Then, during the early 1960s, he became fascinated by the escalating tension of the Cold War. 26
In the spring of 1960, the Russians shot down an American U2 spy plane, capturing its pilot and all his cameras. In the presidential election of that year, the Cold War loomed large, as the Americans (wrongly) feared a ‘missile gap’, believing that the Soviets had more nuclear missiles than they did. In 1961, a CIA-supported invasion of Cuba backfired, and the ultimate
Cold War symbol, the Berlin Wall, was built. Behind this growing tension was the macabre shadow of the thousands of nuclear weapons accumulated by the Soviets and the Americans, and the possibility that they would one day be used, possibly by accident, resulting in nuclear Armageddon. By the early 1960s, the Americans were keeping a dozen B-52 bombers, fully armed with nuclear weapons, constantly airborne on patrol ready to strike at targets within the Soviet Union, an operation known as ‘Chrome Dome’. Kubrick read avidly about the mechanics of the nuclear threat, and subscribed to journals and magazines about military weapons. Then he read a novel by a British writer, Peter George, who had been a flight lieutenant in the RAF, but who had become thoroughly disillusioned with the whole concept of nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction. The novel Two Hours to Doom (Red Alert in the US) imagined a scenario in which a commander of an American air-base became depressed after being diagnosed with a fatal illness, and ordered his B-52 bombers to attack targets inside the Soviet Union. The commander sealed his base, knowing that an attacking force would soon arrive to try to discover the recall code that only he knew. In the War Room under the Pentagon, the American President and his chiefs of staff eventually decided to help the Russians shoot down the B-52 bombers, but agreed with the Soviets that if a Russian city was bombed, Strategic Air Command would itself bomb Atlantic City. In the end, the only bomb that got through the Russian defences landed in open country and there was no need to nuke Atlantic City. The book ended on an optimistic note, with the American and Russian leaders agreeing they must avoid such risks in the future.
Preparing to film Kubrick purchased the film rights to the book for the laughably low sum of $3,500. Peter George flew to New York, where he started to work with Kubrick on writing a screenplay based on his scenario. The script remained totally serious, but Kubrick began to think that maybe a subject as March 2014
OPERATION CHROME DOME In the 1950s, the US estimated that they would have between four and six hours’ notice of the approach of Soviet bombers. With the advent of missile technology at the end of the decade, this was reduced to a matter of minutes. So an entirely new defensive structure was created. The US built a new Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, with three linked radar tracking-stations at Thule in Greenland, Clear in Alaska, and at Fylingdales Moor on the east coast of England. The signals picked up on these three radars were sent back to a giant computer system that would plot any incoming missile and predict trajectory and impact point. This was co-ordinated by the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, which would instantly inform the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in their command bunker at Omaha, Nebraska. From 1961, SAC kept at least 12 giant B-52 bombers constantly airborne on patrol, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to be able to strike at targets inside the Soviet Union with only a few minutes’ notice. This was known as Operation Chrome Dome. Each bomber refuelled in mid-air, and flew on 24-hour patrols either on a northern route around the Arctic or a southern route around the Mediterranean, within easy striking distance of the Soviet border. Each B-52 was armed with three or four thermonuclear weapons, and carried a series of codes with pre-assigned targets across the Soviet Union. Only a tiny number of people had access to the ‘go-codes’, as they were known, but President Eisenhower at the end of his presidency authorised B-52 station commanders to use the ‘go-codes’ in the event of some sort of decapitation strike that knocked out Washington or the political leadership. The B-52 that appears in Dr Strangelove was flying one of these 24-hour patrols circling over the Arctic. The purpose of Chrome Dome was to indicate to the Soviets that if they launched a missile attack against the United States then massive nuclear retaliation would be immediate. The thinking behind it was that this fact alone would deter the Soviets from ever launching an attack. The system was known as ‘mutual assured destruction’ – abbreviated to MAD.
awesome as global nuclear destruction needed a different approach – perhaps the only way to treat something on this scale was through humour. Kubrick started to prepare for filming, and began casting just as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded, bringing the real possibility of a nuclear conflagration into the headlines. At this point, Kubrick met Terry Southern, a freelance Texan writer with a penchant for surreal black comedy. Kubrick decided to ask him to work on the script, and with Kubrick he transformed the film into a nightmarish comedy satire. The film could not be made in the United States, so Kubrick decided to film in London at Shepperton Studios. Columbia Pictures provided the finance, but were convinced that the success of Lolita was largely down to Peter Sellers, so they made it a condition of their involvement that Sellers not only star in the film but play several roles in it. Kubrick and Southern decided to turn this to their advantage, and cast Sellers in four roles: an RAF liaison officer, the melancholy American President, his sinister German security adviser, and www.military-history.org
Below Unable or unwilling to master the Texan accent, Sellers’ potential fourth role was snapped up instead by a character-actor who had been the star of a number of Westerns: Slim Pickens. He brought to the role the Stetson-wearing, gung-ho cowboy attitude that Kubrick was after.
the gung-ho Texan pilot of a B-52. In the end, Sellers found the multiple roles too demanding, and could not or would not master the Texan accent, so an American rodeo cowboy named Slim Pickens was cast as the B-52 captain. There are three principal sets for the film: the air-base, the B-52 interior, and the War Room. Kubrick chose as his set designer the German-born Ken Adam, who had just created the magnificent sets for the first James Bond movie, Dr No. In particular, Kubrick loved the set of the evil scientist’s laboratory, and he asked Adam to expand on this for the War Room, the central location where American President Merkin Muffley would meet with his chiefs-of-staff. Adam’s set had at its centre a huge round table, lit from above by a circuit of hanging lights that lend a sinister glow to proceedings. On the walls were giant maps of the Soviet Union, with flashing lights to represent the path of American aircraft. Steven Spielberg later described it as the best set ever designed.
Accuracy meets humour The US Air Force provided no assistance to the film of any sort, so Kubrick and Adam had to invent what the interior of a B-52 cockpit looked like using technical manuals. They managed this with such accuracy that bomber crews later thought they had somehow infiltrated an American B-52 base. It is this combination of total realism and grotesque humour that gives Dr Strangelove much of its haunting appeal. The film opens with footage of B-52s flying over the Arctic icecaps and refuelling in mid-air, cut to the song
WAR ON FILM
Above The War Room provides the final principal setting for the film. Here the characters fight one another and talk on the phone to the drunk Russian premier Dmitri. Right Kubrick and Ken Adam recreated the inside of a B-52 so accurately that the US Air Force bomber crews were later convinced that they had managed to infiltrate an American B-52 base.
‘Try a Little Tenderness’. At Burpleson airbase, RAF Liaison Group Captain Lionel Mandrake is quietly checking the station computers as the story unfolds. The base commander, General Ripper, played by Sterling Hayden with superb paranoia, believes the Soviets have fluoridised the water supply and thereby polluted the ‘precious bodily essences’ of the American people. So he has sent the ‘go-codes’ to his B-52s, putting them on airborne alert to attack targets in the Soviet Union. In the next main location, the cabin of a B-52, the crew are listlessly whiling away the long, tedious hours on patrol. The captain, Major ‘King’ Kong, reads Playboy, while the radio operator plays with a deck of cards like a Mississippi gambler. Then the radio bursts into life with the code that tells the crew they must now set their course for a target inside the Soviet Union. Slowly convincing themselves that this is for real, they head off for Russia and nuclear annihilation to the tune of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. 28
The imbecilic Major Kong puts on his Stetson and tells the crew, ‘There’ll be some important promotions an’ citations when we come through this.’ The film now comes to its third and final principal setting. General Buck Turgidson, played beautifully by George C Scott, is the chief of the US Air Force – his character loosely based on the legendary, bullish commander General Curtis Le May. Kubrick later said that if you confront a man in his office with a nuclear alarm, you will have a documentary; confront him
in his living room, you have a drama; but if he is in the lavatory, you have a comedy. So when the call comes through that a squadron of B-52s are en route for the Soviet Union, Turgidson is emerging from the ‘john’. His mistress, played by Tracy Reed, is tanning herself in a bikini under a sun lamp. Reluctantly, Turgidson announces he has to leave her to report to the War Room. Then we are introduced to the central Ken Adam set, which contains enough to make it feel real, and enough to make it look like a surreal fantasy. March 2014
No fighting in the War Room
The staff gathered in the War Room are told what has happened, and debate what to do. General Turgidson suggests the launch of the B-52s offers an opportunity to destroy the Soviet Union at last. The risk to America will only be ‘10 to 20 million people killed, tops’. The bald-headed President Muffley, played by Sellers, refuses. He emerges as the sanest person present in a War Room filled with insanity. The Russian ambassador is called in. This figure, played by Peter Bull, is based on Anatoly Dobrynin, the long-standing Soviet ambassador in Washington who had provided Kennedy with secret backdoor access to the Kremlin during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Turgidson spots the ambassador taking photographs of the War Room with a camera hidden in a matchbox and physically tackles him, leading to one of the most exquisite lines in the film, when the President approaches them and says emphatically, ‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room.’ The action moves forward rapidly. The US Army is tasked with capturing the sealed-off air-base, where General Ripper shoots himself rather than reveal the recall codes. From Ripper’s doodlings, Mandrake calculates what the recall code is, but only has access to a public phonebox to communicate the vital code. As no one has any cash for the phone, a sceptical Colonel Bat Guano, played by Keenan Wynn, has to shoot open a Coke machine. As the world faces nuclear annihilation, Guano tells Mandrake, ‘You’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola company for this.’ Meanwhile, in the War Room, President Muffley has the most surreal conversation of all, when he calls the Russian premier on the hotline. There had been a hotline between London and Washington in the Second World War, but a direct phone link between Washington and the Kremlin was only installed after the Cuban Missile Crisis. With everyone listening in, the President talks calmly with the premier, Dmitri, who turns out to be drunk and takes some time to understand what is happening. As though talking to a child, Muffley tries to make it clear, ‘Now, Dmitri, you know we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The BOMB, Dmitri, the hydrogen bomb…’. They try to shoot down the B-52 force, but only one missile connects, which merely puts out the radio system of Major Kong’s aircraft. As the recall code suggested by Mandrake is used, all the B-52s turn about – except for Kong’s plane, which is unable to receive the signal and carries on.
The Soviet leader makes it clear that they have just installed a Doomsday Machine that automatically launches a full nuclear retaliation if the Soviet Union comes under attack. No human intervention can stop it happening. This was an idea Kubrick picked up from a book by Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War. The film now introduces the most bizarre and absurd character of all: Dr Strangelove, played with mad intensity by Sellers. He was partly based on Edward Teller, the man behind the hydrogen bomb, and partly on Wernher von Braun, Hitler’s rocket scientist who had gone to the States to lead the American race to the moon, but he was mostly the invention of Kubrick and Terry Southern. Sat in a wheelchair, he has a gloved right arm that functions uncontrollably and repeatedly goes into a rigid Heil Hitler salute. He even refers to the President as Mein Führer. The weird doctor calls for a selection of men and some of the most beautiful and fertile women to be sent underground to repopulate the earth once the nuclear Armageddon has passed. Meanwhile, Major Kong finds his hydrogen bomb has stuck in the bomb bay of his B-52. Ken Adams had a problem with this scene, as no one knew what a hydrogen bomb looked like. He imagined it like a large, sleek Second World War bomb. Kong goes on to set it free, then rides it to earth whooping as though on a bucking bronco. Kubrick had scripted and shot an entire sequence in the War Room in which everyone engages in an elaborate custard-pie fight. He agonised over whether to leave this in or not, but eventually edited it out. The final shots of the film are of the ultimate image of the Bomb: one mushroom cloud after another, as the Doomsday Machine automatically ignites a nuclear holocaust. On the soundtrack we hear Vera Lynn singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The US Air Force asked the film to state that such a sequence of events could never happen. We know, of course, that in the Cold War there was no nuclear accident, although we are now coming to realise quite how close the world came to destruction. But Dr Strangelove is the ultimate black comedy, detailing how human systems can suffer from human failings, and how, when nuclear weapons are at stake, the endgame is extinction. That surely is still relevant more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War.
‘BOMBS AWAY WITH CURT LE MAY’ In the Second World War, Curtis Le May commanded a B-17 Flying Fortress unit that flew bombing missions over Germany from England, and he helped to shape the policy of strategic bombing. In 1944, he transferred to the Pacific where he directed the American B-29 Superfortress night-bombing campaign against 67 Japanese cities, which resulted in fire-storms and some of the highest casualties of any wartime bombing. His policy was summed up as ‘Bombs Away with Curt Le May’. In 1948, Le May took charge of Strategic Air Command (SAC), the US Air Force’s nuclear strike-force. He transformed SAC into a well-trained force of men who felt themselves to be an elite within the American military. By 1952, SAC had identified 6,000 targets within the Soviet Union, ranging from military bases to nuclear installations, oil fields, and communication centres. This kept up the need for more and more nuclear weapons, and the stockpile rose from 298 atomic bombs in 1950 to 27,100 thermonuclear bombs by 1962. Through the 1950s approximately, 40% of all American defence expenditure went on the air force. At the end of the decade, Le May set up Operation Chrome Dome with B-52s on constant airborne alert. In 1961, Le May became Chief of Staff of the US Air Force and as such adopted a consistently belligerent line. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, he urged President Kennedy to bomb the Soviet missile sites on the island. Kennedy resisted his pressure, and Le May concluded the President was a coward. In the mid-1960s Le May advocated heavy bombing of North Vietnam, which President Johnson agreed to. He retired in 1965, and in the presidential election of 1968 stood as the runningmate of right-wing candidate Governor George Wallace. Le May was usually guarded in his public comments, but was accused of having said that the US ‘should bomb the Soviet Union back into the Stone Age’. He denied this. The character of General Turgidson in Dr Strangelove, who argues that the President should let the B-52 bombers attack the Soviet Union and risk a few million American casualties, is loosely based on Curtis Le May.
DR STRANGELOVE Director: Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Peter George, and Terry Southern. Starring: Peter Sellers, George C Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens. Distributed by Columbia Pictures. A Columbia DVD.
GREAT COMMANDERS GREAT COMMANDERS
Following our feature last month on Montrose, Jeffrey James takes a look at another of Scotland’s great commanders, William Wallace, and his two great battles at Stirling Bridge and Falkirk.
he battles of Stirling Bridge and Falkirk, fought at the end of the 13th century, marked the first phase of Scotland’s struggle for independence. The aim was to prise her free of the unwelcome attentions of her stronger neighbour to the south: specifically, to escape the clutches of King Edward I of England – known to history as ‘the Hammer of the Scots’. The sudden death of the Scottish King Alexander III in 1286, and the equally unexpected demise of his granddaughter and heir Margaret ‘the Maid of Norway’ four years later, had engulfed Scotland in a dynastic crisis. Known to his contemporaries as ‘Longshanks’ because of his exceptional height, Edward’s aim had for some time 30
been the unification of Britain under the English Crown. Even before the Maid’s death, the English king had candidly stated his intention of bringing the realm of Scotland under his dominion. A few years later, having arbitrated in the election of a new Scottish monarch, he went so far as to assert his overlordship of the country, demanding military support for his war with France. Instead, the Scottish Council – sidelining their newly elected and more compliant king, John de Balliol – refused. Moreover, they declared forfeit the lands of English nobles in Scotland. Infuriated by this unexpected turn of events, Edward delegated operations on the Continent to his brother and immediately rode north to join an army
Above William Wallace (died 1305) became a Scottish folk-hero. He appears here in two imaginative reconstructions, one a 19th-century book illustration, the other as played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. They offer radically contrasting interpretations: we have Wallace as a noble knight in the style of Medieval romance, and we have Wallace as the nationalist freedom-fighter. What was the truth about him, and how does he rank as a military commander?
assembling at Newcastle, determined to bring the Scots to heel.
The armies Forget the depiction of wild, face-painted, kilted Scots in Braveheart. Scottish warriors of the late 13th century looked much the March 2014
All images: © WIPL, unless otherwise stated
Images: © Alamy.
Others were drowned in the swollen river, their linenpadded gambesons – having become waterlogged – dragging them down.
same as their English counterparts. The main difference between the rival armies was their composition. The Scots relied heavily on spearmen, supplemented by archers and a small number of heavy cavalry, while Edward’s armies relied on a combination of missilefire and shock – employing large numbers of both archers and heavy cavalry. An example of an English army of the period is provided by one raised for service on the Continent in 1297, comprising 870 heavy cavalry, 5,297 Welsh archers, 2,285 English archers, 150 Irish foot-soldiers, and a smattering of crossbowmen. English and Scottish knights and squires rode warhorses, donned long mail coats known as hauberks, or wore thick padded linen doublets beneath a breastplate of iron. A variety of types of helmet were in use, including ‘flat-topped helms’, ‘roundtopped helms’, and ‘conical helms’. The infantry on both sides wore the ubiquitous gambeson, made of quilted linen and covering its wearer from neck to knee. Cheaper than chain-mail, less exhausting to wear, it also provided better protection from arrows. Illequipped levies, on the other hand, particularly the Welsh, may have gone into battle wearing nothing more than a simple woollen tunic and a cloak.
At Dunbar, an English army, commanded on the day by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, an elderly veteran of the battles of Lewes and Evesham, scattered an opposing Scottish feudal array ‘like straw in the wind’, capturing over 100 knights and squires, and leaving 3,000 Scots dead on the field. Only two English knights were admitted as having been wounded in the fighting. The disparity in losses implies a remorselessly one-sided battle. After Dunbar, many Scottish nobles, especially those with estates north and south of the border, paid homage to Edward. King John de Balliol became, in effect, a prisoner: a client-king under English control. His surcoat was stripped of its royal arms, earning him the inglorious nickname ‘Toom Tabard’ – meaning ‘empty coat’. Edward I appeared to have achieved his objective of punishing the Scots and bringing them into line with consummate ease. But embittered Scotsmen, now suffering under heavy-handed English rule and increased taxation, rallied to challenge the new administration, sparking a national revolt. Battles henceforward would be fought between patriot and oppressor.
Above & below The English armies of Edward I comprised archers, spearmen, and armoured cavalry, but it was the combination of massed archery and mounted charges that were decisive. (Note that the armour depicted here is somewhat later than the late 13th century.)
The Battle of Stirling Bridge The first of these occurred at Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297. Two or more insurgent bands of indeterminate size combined to confront the occupying forces there. One was led by the veteran
The Battle of Dunbar The first battle of what became known as the Scottish War of Independence occurred at Dunbar, south of Edinburgh, on 27 April 1296. The Scottish border town of Berwick had earlier been savagely occupied and sacked by the English, with the civilian death toll running into the thousands. www.military-history.org
GREAT COMMANDERS GREAT COMMANDERS
WALLACE Left Plan of the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297. It shows the heavily defensive ground, the English attack on a narrow front across the ford, and the Scottish counter-attack when the opposing army was divided by the river.
Andrew Murray (or Moray), a nobleman of some standing, with experience of fighting the English further up country around Inverness. Another was led by William Wallace, the younger son of a minor Scottish landowner from Strathclyde. Murray was probably the senior of the two; nobody knows for sure. By joining forces and closing the road from Stirling to Perth, the pair effectively isolated English garrisons in the north â€“ something the occupying army could not countenance. Overlooked by its castle atop a dramatic outcrop of rock, the bridge at Stirling spanned the meandering River Forth. Across the river on the north bank lay a narrow causeway, dense woodland, Below The English are thrown back, and hundreds are slain or drowned as they attempt to escape the attack of the Scottish pikemen.
Right Plan of the Battle of Falkirk on 22 July 1298. It shows the Scottish line, which was formed of alternating pike schiltrons and archer pelotons, and the attacks of the English cavalry against the Scottish flanks, backed by massed archery.
hilly ramparts, and the road to Perth, now held by the rebels. The approaching English column must have stretched back several miles. It comprised mounted knights and men-at-arms, spare horses under lead, English and Welsh infantrymen, and baggage and camp-followers. Its leaders, John de Warenne and Hugh Cressingham, cannot have considered there to be any great threat of attack. In unfamiliar territory, they may have underestimated the danger posed by the enemy’s irregular forces. Their army probably numbered close to 10,000 men, greatly outnumbering the Scottish insurgents. Given the odds, the Scottish leaders had earlier dismissed any thought of offering battle in the traditional manner. They had decided instead on guerrilla tactics, laying ambuscades and launching sudden sorties from woods or dead ground.
The English attack The Scots were aided by the incautious approach of the English. Though warned by scouts of the dangers they faced crossing the river on a narrow front, and offered an alternative fording point further to the north-west where men might cross 60 abreast, Cressingham (Surrey, apparently, was asleep) settled on a staged crossing at Stirling Bridge – vanguard first, main body following. Out of sight, perhaps a kilometre or so distant on the opposite bank,
The knight’s body was flayed after death and strips of his skin were despatched around Scotland to mark the victory. www.military-history.org
Scottish foot soldiers, supported by a cut-throat levy of locals and several squadrons of mounted men-at-arms, were massing in the woods near Abbey Craig (where a monument marks the spot today). When the English vanguard eventually forced a crossing of both bridge and causeway, the Scots attacked before the English could draw up into battle array. Chroniclers stress the suddenness of the attack. Less than half the English army had made it to the north bank when the ambush was sprung. The resulting fight may therefore have been waged between roughly similar numbers. Bottled-up at the causeway-head, the English were cut down in droves. Others were drowned when herded back into the swollen river flowing close by. Their linen-padded gambesons quickly became waterlogged, dragging them down.
to escape back that way. Contemporary chroniclers reckoned 100 knights were captured or killed on the north bank. An unaccounted number of common Englishmen and Welshmen were also slaughtered. Others were cut down during the defeated army’s shambolic retreat to Falkirk. Below At first, the English cavalry was unable to break the solid phalanxes of pikemen.
Slaughter on the bridge Awake at last, and seeing the battle lost, Warenne ordered the bridge to be pulled down. How successfully this was done is not clear. At least one knight, Sir Marmaduke Tweng – detailed later to garrison Stirling Castle – managed MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
GREAT COMMANDERS GREAT COMMANDERS
WALLACE sufficed had that been the case. Urged on to some extent by his compatriots, he probably planned to attempt to surprise and defeat the English vanguard if and when it struck inland toward Stirling. The previous year, 1297, the same year as his success at Stirling Bridge, another English army had had its vanguard routed when surprised by the French at Bellegarde in Gascony. The Scots would have been well aware of the fact. Moreover, Wallace may have feared that his army would disintegrate if he did not acquiesce in confronting the invaders. Raising new levies in the future might have proved impossible had he caved in now.
The Battle of Falkirk
Among the dead was Hugh Cressingham. Legend has it that the knight’s body was flayed after death: strips of his skin were despatched around Scotland to mark the victory. Scottish losses are unknown, but they included Andrew Murray, mortally wounded during the fighting. Had Murray lived, William Wallace might have struggled to emerge from the obscurity to which history normally condemns subordinates. Buoyed by success, Wallace and his followers spent the next few months terrorising English border communities, launching a series of chevauchées. They fell on villages and farms, driving off cattle and seizing foodstuffs and forage: standard Medieval havoc tactics, designed to weaken an opponent’s resolve and gain an advantage in any subsequent settlement. Now knighted and the official guardian of Scotland, Wallace was described as ‘a king in all but name’ (a position to which he perhaps aspired in reality). However, viewed by the English and by some Scottish nobles as a dangerous insurrectionist, Wallace was not a man with whom Edward Longshanks could ever be expected to parley. Instead, the English King raised a large army and invaded Scotland at midsummer 1298. The size of Edward’s army has been assessed as over 25,000 strong. Not all these soldiers would later have been committed to battle, however: some 34
Above Edward used massed archery to decimate and demoralise the densely packed Scottish ranks. When he unleashed his cavalry again, they broke into the schiltrons and destroyed them.
would have been detailed to garrison strongpoints along the way, and wastage to desertion may have been high. Nonetheless, in Medieval terms this was a massive deployment of force.
Scots’ resolve Wallace’s army came close to avoiding the disaster that was to follow. Foul weather prevented the English army from being provisioned from the sea. Poor roads made the overland carriage of goods problematic. A Scottish scorched-earth policy had denuded the countryside of supplies. Starvation threatened. A man of lesser resolve than Edward I might have called it a day, re-crossed the border, and secured his supplies. He well might have done so had not the enemy army soon been located nearby in the vicinity of Callendar Wood, near Falkirk. News of Wallace’s whereabouts and his strength was brought back to Edward’s camp by the earls of Angus and March. Both men were Scottish adherents of English rule. It seems likely Wallace remained unaware that the location of his forces had been compromised. By ‘hiding out’ in Callendar Wood, the canny Scotsman did not mean to avoid contact with the English. Putting the River Forth between himself and the invaders would have
On discovering Wallace’s position, King Edward at once resolved to fight, marching his men via Linlithgow to confront them. Despite knowing the enemy’s whereabouts, Edward’s army nevertheless approached with caution. They need not have worried. Wallace was not on hand when the English first came into sight, having to hurry back when alerted to the fact. Too late safely to break contact, and with all hope of surprising the English lost, the Scots had to make the best they could of the ground they held, using stakes with ropes tied between them against the English cavalry. A morass secured Wallace’s front and woodland buttressed his rear, but both his flanks were vulnerable. Contemporary accounts indicate the battle was fought on hard ground on the side of a hillock to the east of the Medieval town of Falkirk. Marching westward from Linlithgow, the English at once saw the Scots massing in the distance. On the day of battle, 22 July 1298, the Scottish army mustered only a few hundred mounted men-at-arms; its strength rested in its spearmen, formed up in four compact divisions called schiltrons, each containing around 1,500 men. Archers under the command of Sir John Stewart of Jedburgh were interspersed in between and on the flanks. Though an imposing sight for the oncoming English – described as ‘a living cheval de frise’ – the Scots were probably heavily outnumbered, perhaps in the ratio 2:1 or more. It is reckoned that approximately 8,000 Scotsmen faced up to 15,000 English, Welsh, and Gascons at the Battle of Falkirk. What is more, March 2014
Edward’s knightly army was the better balanced of the two, with many more archers, and up to 2,500 heavy cavalry.
The English attack The evening before the battle, Edward had been injured, breaking two ribs when trampled by his charger. The attack on the Scottish position was therefore entrusted to the earls of Norfolk and Hereford (left wing), and the warlike Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham (right wing). The King, nursing his bruises, initially remained with his reserve, before later marching to reinforce Bek on the right. Wallace had no choice but to fight a defensive battle. Military historians have likened his situation to that of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. A parallel might also be drawn with the Earl of Lincoln’s ill-fated stand against Henry VII’s legions at the Battle of Stoke in 1487. Realising his army to be trapped, outnumbered, and outclassed, the Scottish leader is reported as somewhat resignedly saying to his commanders, ‘I have brought you to the ring, now hop if ye may.’ The swampy ground that protected Wallace’s front naturally funnelled the English cavalry attacks toward his flanks. The few Scottish cavalry drawn up to the rear of the schiltrons immediately high-tailed it, and it was only a matter of time before the pelotons (platoons) of Scottish archers were overrun and Sir John Stewart killed. Bishop Bek had at first halted his division, awaiting the support of Edward’s archers. The headstrong barons accompanying him urged an immediate assault, one saying, ‘Stick to your mass, bishop, and don’t try to teach us the art of war.’ But when the English cavalry attempted to crush the hedgehogs of spears, they came unstuck. The Scottish infantry – described as formed in tight circles, with spears bristling ‘thick like a forest’ – could not be broken by cavalry alone.
Massed archery There was a brief impasse. But on the arrival of the King, the order was given for the archers to advance. The closely packed ranks of Scots were at the mercy of the missile-men. Slingers, or perhaps bowmen who had used up their arrows, are said to have joined in, hurling stones into the discomfited masses. Gaps soon appeared where men had fallen or fled. www.military-history.org
The English heavy cavalry immediately burst in on them. Wallace and much of the nobility escaped into the forest nearby. Others fled back along the road to the west. The rest of Edward’s reserves, mainly Welsh auxiliaries held back until then, were let loose or broke ranks to join the pursuit. Over 2,000 Scots perished. The English lost 100 chargers, impaled on spears or brought down by bowmen, along with two men-at-arms and an unknown, but probably relatively small number, of common soldiers. Superior numbers and the combination of missile-fire and shock action had won the day for Edward. The Scots were hamstrung by their over-dependence on spearmen. Against a better-balanced army they could never take the initiative.
The Scottish infantry – formed in tight circles, spears bristling ‘thick like a forest’ – could not be broken by cavalry alone. Although the longbow had been used extensively during Edward I’s Welsh wars, Falkirk was the first important battle where it was used en masse. As a consequence of the victory, the weapon would underpin English battlefield tactics for the next 200 years or more. After Falkirk, Edward ransacked and torched Perth and St Andrews. The English nevertheless retained only a tenuous hold on their conquered territories: not helped, perhaps, by such deliberate outbursts of vandalism. Though the Scottish uprising had been defeated, the torch of freedom once lit could not easily be extinguished.
Wallace the guerrilla For the next seven years, Wallace operated as a guerrilla leader. He was sometimes exiled. At other times he remained in hiding, a wanted man. A detailed narrative
of those years is not possible, so little is really known of Wallace’s life. It seems, however, that the fugitive steadfastly refused to submit to foreign rule, and at one point came close to securing French support. In the end, however, he was betrayed by his own countrymen and handed over to the English. In summer 1305 he was summarily tried in London, and then hanged, drawn, and quartered at Smithfield. Parts of his body were later impaled at London, Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth. The Stone of Destiny – the coronation stone of Scottish kings – had, after the Battle of Dunbar, been seized and transported back to England, along with the Black Rood of St Margaret, a crucifix alleged to contain a fragment of the ‘True Cross’. They were punitive acts, like Wallace’s execution, intended to humiliate the Scots; but they most likely had the opposite effect.
Wallace the patriot? Was Wallace the selfless patriot of legend or an opportunistic insurgent, who was briefly catapulted to prominence by fast-moving events? Opinions differ. What seems clear, however, is that he was a soldier and a strong-arm man first and foremost: a seal said to belong to him bears an archer’s insignia. Today, Scots regard him as their foremost champion – an enduring vindicator of their nation’s bid for self-determination. It is easy to debunk the highly romanticised image of Wallace in Braveheart, but more difficult to undermine his continued patriotic appeal. The Wallace Monument at Stirling is a fittingly sited memorial to both man and times. The Forth flows close by. Within sight lie the fields of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn – the latter arguably the most important of Scottish battles, where in 1314, nine years after Wallace’s death, the more high-born and politically savvy King Robert Bruce decisively defeated the English and sent England’s second Edward ‘homeward tae think again’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeffrey James is a freelance military historian with wide-ranging interests. His latest book, An Onslaught of Spears: the Danish Conquest of England, deals with events a millennium ago at the time of King Cnut. MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
THINKERS AT WAR
HITLER Cambridge philosopher Iain King continues his series on thinkers at war with a hard look at how the First World War turned Hitler into a Fascist.
If freedom is short of weapons, we must compensate with willpower. Speech in Landsberg
5 November 1925
Above A posed propaganda postcard depicting Hitler in Landsberg Prison in 1924. The impression is of a visionary thinker, imprisoned for his ideas. Right Hitler at war (shown on the right). He spent most of his time in a relatively cushy post as regimental dispatchrunner. His mediocrity must have been apparent to his superiors: he was never promoted beyond lance-corporal, despite massive casualties in four years of attritional warfare.
The ‘Great War’ had a profound effect on all the countries that took part. Most European empires were so shaken by the conflict that they changed their whole system of government. Perhaps the country which had most reason to be shocked by the outcome was the Continent’s most formidable land power: Imperial Germany. German armies had hoped for a swift triumph over France, just as in 1870, when they managed to crush their rivals with just six weeks of fighting and a five-month siege of Paris. But in late summer and autumn of 1914, the rapid German advance was stalled at the Battle of the Marne. The Kaiser’s plan for a quick ‘knock-out blow’ failed and was replaced by a grim war of attrition. It was the years 1915-1917 that provided the Western Front’s haunting images of trench warfare. In lines stretching from neutral Switzerland to the Channel coast, millions of troops opposed each other across no-man’s-land, which was in places only tens of metres wide. Even though little ground was gained, and then only at great cost, tactics did evolve during these three years. The Germans suffered fewer losses than the Allies, partly because they tended to have better positions, partly because they defended more than they attacked. But the German Imperial Army did sometimes launch deadly offensives, such as at Verdun in 1916, where they lost almost as many men as the French. And even defending ground was costly: their determination to hold the Somme against a British assault cost them some half-a-million casualties. German strategy changed in 1918, and the Germans went onto the offensive. Newly formed units of stormtroopers overran the Allied trenches. Movement returned to the Western Front, and in spring 1918 it looked as though the Germans might win. But, just as in 1914, the Kaiser’s generals pushed their men too far. Overstretched and outnumbered – especially as American troops started to arrive – the Germans were halted. The Western Front stabilised, then swung back east, as the Allies returned to the attack against a nowexhausted opponent. After fast-moving
Allied victories in the summer and autumn, Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate on 9 November 1918, and the whole German nation to accept an armistice two days later.
A war hero? Before the war, Hitler dodged the draft. Conscripted to serve his native Austria in 1910, he failed to report for duty. He did this at least three times, and it was probably to avoid military service that he moved from Vienna to southern Germany. Only in February 1914 did he surrender himself to the Austrian authorities, who deemed him medically unfit for duty. (He later tried to cover this up – through lies in Mein Kampf, and by trying to destroy the relevant official papers when Germany was united with Austria in 1938.) When the First World War started six months later, Hitler volunteered to serve in the German Army. After several weeks training, Hitler and his regiment were sent to the front, and experienced their first battle on 29 October, outside Ypres, in one of the most critical engagements of the war. Two weeks later, Hitler helped save the life of his regiment’s new commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Engelhardt, and was awarded the Iron Cross (Second Class). But from then on, Hitler was based at the regimental HQ, several miles behind the frontline. There he lived in relative safety and comfort, only occasionally venturing near the trenches: usually he was just delivering messages to and from the regiment’s administrative base, even further away from danger. Later in the war, Hitler even seems to have turned down opportunities for promotion to keep this precious role as a regimental dispatch-runner. Hitler was called into the frontline only when German manpower was stretched. This meant that he served at the Battle of the Somme, but only for four days. He suffered a ‘light wound’ in October 1916, and was gassed in October 1918, which meant he was in hospital on the days his March 2014
regiment faced its worst battles. He missed other crucial days because he was on leave.
Hitler’s war Hitler’s ideology was shaped by war, but not in the way he claimed. Although he blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat, he spent much of the war ingratiating himself with the regimental adjutant Hugo Gutmann – who was Jewish. It was a citation from Gutmann which led to Hitler being awarded the Iron Cross (First Class); he won the honour just after the Kaiser had demanded that more privates be nominated. Based in regimental HQ, Hitler heard the officers’ view of bad morale on the frontline – that it was shameful cowardice. Much less than other soldiers did he witness the appalling conditions that drove many in the frontline to despair. This might help explain why, as Führer, Hitler demanded absolute loyalty and steadfastness, and remained particularly unsympathetic when his military began to buckle. Most of the ‘eye-witness’ testimonies to his bravery under fire do not bear close scrutiny: many were embellished by the Nazis, or by storytellers hoping to place themselves close to a celebrity. The dictator and his acolytes made sure less-glowing accounts of Hitler’s war service were not heard. In the months immediately after the war, Hitler was trained by the army in propaganda. That – not his war service – taught him the lessons he used most in his rise to power. His
description of the war in Mein Kampf was largely fiction; and it turned out to be far more dangerous than anything he faced as a soldier.
WAS HITLER A THINKER? Rabble-rouser, dictator, conqueror, architect of genocide… Hitler was many things, but can he really be described as a ‘thinker’? There is no evidence of great thought in any of Hitler’s writings, including Mein Kampf, his newspaper articles for the Nazi press, or even his ‘Second Book’, dictated in 1928 and finally published in 1961. Nor did he display any great artistic talents when he applied to study at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, from which he was twice rejected. Even Hitler’s rhetoric, which was tremendously motivating to his audiences, had a traditional structure. So can Hitler really be described as a ‘thinker’? He can because he had a unique role in forging diverse ideas into a single ideology – even though many of his ideas were appalling, and they actually originated with other people. Nazi dogma emerged from several other belief systems, including nationalism and antimilitarism, but its roots lie in a misinterpretation of evolution. In 1859, Charles Darwin had shown how species adapt to their environment: plants
and animals best suited to their habitat are most likely to reproduce, while the others die off. Nazis twisted this idea of ‘survival of the fittest’. For them, evolution did not drive towards adaptation, but perfection. With their own view about what perfection meant – able-bodied heterosexual ‘Aryan’ men – they believed they should ‘advance’ society by improving its gene pool. Genocide had been used before – as a mass punishment or a precaution against an ethnic group rising up in the future. What made the Nazi Holocaust unique was that it sought to engineer a ‘better’ human race: mass slaughter with a ‘scientific’ basis. Millions were exterminated not for what they had done or might do, but simply because of who they were. Hitler’s ideology is now so totally discredited that related doctrines, like political racism, are condemned by association. Hitler did not advance civilisation as a great thinker. But civilisation advanced despite him – through the understanding of ‘Social Darwinism’, racism, and genocide which we have gained from his career.
HOW HITLER’S IDEAS WERE SHAPED BY WAR In his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf, Hitler described his time as a soldier on the Western Front from 1914-1918 as ‘the greatest of all my experiences… the most memorable period of my life’. He likened the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment in which he served to a ‘university’ in which he learned about war; it transformed him from a ‘young volunteer into an old soldier’. Most important of all, Hitler claimed it was his experiences as a soldier that inspired his future career in politics. Some of the soldiers who worked alongside him praised Hitler for his courage. The regimental staff sergeant described him as ‘courageous and stood up well under strain… he showed a passion for war’. Another colleague said he was ‘brave, fearless, and outstanding’. Nazi propaganda made much of claims like these. In the 1935 book The Story of Adolf Hitler told for Children, Hitler is described running ‘straight through machine-gun fire’ to deliver messages between outposts on the frontline, and as ‘one of the bravest soldiers in every battle’. Hitler’s service for Germany became an essential part of his political message: he had served his nation in the most selfless way possible; now he demanded the nation should serve him in return. But just how patriotic was he, and could the young Adolf be considered a war hero?
WORLD WAR I
Thieves United THE FIRST BALKAN WAR 8 OCTOBER 1912 - 30 MAY 1913 In south-eastern Europe, the First World War was also the Third Balkan War. Continuing our ‘Road to War’ series, Julian Spilsbury takes us into the labyrinth of early 20th-century Balkan politics.
All images: © WIPL, unless otherwise stated
efeated by the Italians in North Africa, the Turks found themselves – in October 1912 – under attack in Europe too. Emboldened by Italian successes in Libya, the Balkan Kingdoms – Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria – had formed the Balkan League in spring and early summer. Their aim was to ‘protect’ the majority Christian population of Macedonia, and to carve up between them the carcass of ‘Turkey in Europe’. This was the first and only time these four monarchies – Serbia and Montenegro led by native dynasties, Greece and Bulgaria by former German princelings – ever co-operated; their failure to agree in advance over the division of the spoils set the scene for future conflict between them. It was King Nikita of the mountain Kingdom of Montenegro who opened hostilities on 8 October, sending his troops into Novi Bazar and Albania, after which the Turks found themselves assailed by a three-front blitzkrieg. The Ottoman Army was halfway through a major reorganisation. Commanders had little experience in handling large numbers of men. The regular troops were demoralised, the reserves largely untrained, and supply and medical 38
services utterly inadequate. Moreover, the army contained, for the first time, a good number of under-motivated non-Muslims (military service had not previously been required of the religious minorities within the empire). Nevertheless, the Turks’ military reputation was as high as that of their enemies was low, and the world, not least the Turks themselves, confidently predicted a march on Sofia. The reality was very different: the Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians had modernised their armed forces, and the Turks were not only outnumbered, but also outmatched.
The war at sea Greece was the only member of the League to possess a fleet capable of matching the Turks at sea. On 21 October, the Greek fleet seized Lemnos as an operating base, and inaugurated a watch on the mouth of the Dardanelles. The Turkish fleet, though more numerous, failed to come out and engage the Greeks in the weeks that followed. Greek dominance at sea meant that the Turks could not reinforce their Balkan armies with troops from Asia Right The Bulgarians charge the Ottoman Turkish lines at the Battle of Kirk-Kilisse on 23-24 October 1912, during the First Balkan War. March 2014
THE ROAD TO
WORLD WAR I
Above The First Balkan War, showing the major attacks of the combined Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek, and Montenegrin forces, and the main Ottoman counter-attacks. The exceptional strategic vulnerability of ‘Turkey in Europe’ in a multi-front war of this nature is immediately obvious.
or North Africa. It was the opinion of the Bulgarian General Ivanov that this was the deciding factor in the war. When, on 15 and 16 December, four Turkish warships did emerge, they were badly mauled by the Greek fleet, and driven back to the Dardanelles.
The Greek front Ottoman intelligence imagined that the Greeks would divide their forces equally between Epirus and Macedonia. Accordingly, the Turks divided their own seven divisions equally to meet these two threats. In fact, the Greeks had decided to concentrate their efforts on Macedonia and merely hold the Epirus front with battalion-strength detachments. The Greeks’ main effort was towards Salonika (Thessaloniki), the Turks’ central arms-depot in Europe and the vital link between their Macedonian, Thracian, and Vardar armies. Salonika, the great port of the north Aegean, was also the much-desired prize of both Greeks and Bulgarians. 40
On war being declared, the Greek Army of Thessaly, under Crown Prince Constantine, advanced north from Larissa towards the Straits of Santoporo, the gateway of southern Macedonia. Here the main road, after crossing a plain bisected by ravines, runs up against a mountain wall; further progress is only possible through a narrow winding pass. On 22 October 1912, the Greeks arrived on the plain to find the Turks, under Hassan Tahsin Pasha, in a strong position on the heights. Their artillery confined to the road by the terrain, the Greek left and right were forced to advance through the foothills without artillery support, under heavy fire from Turkish rifles and artillery. The Greek infantry, most of them under fire for the first time, were seen to waver until the commander of the III Division and his officers rode among them shouting, ‘Embros, paithia, embros!’ (‘On, boys, on!’). As darkness fell, although the Greeks had advanced to within a few hundred yards of their lines, the Turks were still in position.
The Greek breakthrough While the fighting had raged on the right and centre, however, the Greek IV Division – nine battalions and three mountain batteries – had pushed forward over an unguarded mountain path to the west of the main road. All through the night, as their comrades shivered in front of the Turkish lines, they pressed on through rain and fog for 20 miles, arriving above Rahovo, at the northern end of the pass, at 7am. Having driven off a Turkish force approaching from the north, they soon saw, below them and coming through the pass from the south, a larger force. This was the main Turkish force from the heights of Saranadaporon, from which, overnight, Hassan Tahsin Pasha had decided to withdraw. Demoralised by defeat and taken unawares, the Turkish force disintegrated, abandoning the whole of their artillery, 24 field-guns, as well as their ammunition wagons and baggage. Eight days later, the Greeks were advancing through mountainous terrain towards Verria, which, after a brief and ineffective resistance, fell to them on 29 October. Hassan Tahsin Pasha now March 2014
THE ROAD TO
WAR concentrated his forces at Yenitza, in the foothills of a range of mountains which barred any approach to Salonika. At Bourgas, in front of Yenitza, where the main road crosses a river, the Greek II Division was brought to a halt by Turkish guns on the heights beyond, and there followed a lengthy artillery duel. According to W H Crawford-Price, a British correspondent with the Turks, ‘it was obvious that while the Greeks were making exceedingly effective practice, a great proportion of the Turkish shells failed to explode.’ After a Greek advance in strength on the Turkish right, the bridge at Bourgas was taken. A last despairing Turkish attack the following morning was repulsed, and soon the Greeks were raining shrapnel on the town’s station. ‘The Turkish gunners’, wrote Crawford-Price, ‘brought their guns into action with commendable bravery,
but they were an already a beaten rabble… officers and men rushed pell-mell for the shelter of a departing train.’ The retreating Turks left behind 3,000 prisoners and 14 field-guns.
The fall of Salonika By 8 November, with 60,000 Greeks approaching from the west, a Greek fleet off the coast, the Serbs in the Vardar valley to the north, and a Bulgarian column (specially detached from Thrace to be in at the kill) approaching from the north-east, Hassan Tahsin Pasha surrendered Salonika to Crown Prince Constantine. This did not prevent the Bulgarians, who had force-marched practically unopposed from the Struma River, from firing on Turkish troops the following day and demanding, on account of their ‘heavy losses’, the right to bring
LEADING PROTAGONISTS 1) Field-Marshal Radomir Putnik (1847-1917), Serbian Chief-of-Staff during the First and Second Balkan Wars, and again during the First World War. 2) Hussein Nazim Pasha (1848-1913), the Ottoman Chief-of-Staff during the First Balkan War. He was assassinated in an internal coup following the Turkish defeat.
two battalions into the city. After some diplomatic wrangling, Prince Constantine assented and two Bulgarian battalions marched into Salonika, soon followed by eight more, as well as guns and cavalry and the Bulgarian Princes Boris and Cyril. Less than a week earlier, the deposed Sultan Abdul Hamid and his 13 wives, exiled to Salonika by the Young Turks in 1908, had slipped away from the harbour on a German ship. Three days later, King George of Greece was riding his charger, amid cheering crowds, through the streets of the city. Meanwhile, in Epirus, Greek forces had succeeded in capturing Preveza on the 21 October, and then pushed on north towards Ioannina. With the end of the campaign in Macedonia, Crown Prince Constantine took command in Epirus and captured Ioannina on 6 March 1913. At Fort Bizani, outside Ioannina, a
3) King Constantine of Greece (1913-1917 and 1920-1922), commander of the Greek forces in the Balkan Wars. He succeeded to the throne after his father was assassinated by an anarchist in January 1913. 4) King (or Tsar) Ferdinand of Bulgaria (1908-1918), for whom the First Balkan War was a crusade, ‘a just, great, and sacred struggle of the Cross against the Crescent’. 5) King Nicholas of Montenegro (1860-1918), who led his small mountain kingdom to independence in 1878, and then to victory in the First Balkan War.
WORLD WAR I
Russian airman, N de Sackoff, earned the dubious distinction, on 8 February, of being the first combat pilot ever shot down, when his biplane was brought down by Turkish ground-fire after a bombing run on the fort.
The Serbian-Montenegrin front The fall of Salonika sealed the fate of the Turks’ northern (Vardar) army. On the declaration of war, three Serbian armies (First, Second, and Third) under General Putnik advanced southwestwards into northern Macedonia by three separate routes, planning to encircle the Turks south-east of Uskub, the ancient Serbian capital. While General Yankovitch’s column captured Pristina, the key to Uskub, the central column, under the Serbian Crown Prince Alexander, encountered Zeki Pasha with the main Turkish force, strongly entrenched at Kumanovo. Serbian artillery soon gained the upper hand, enabling their infantry to seize two important earthworks. A Turkish night-attack had just regained these, and the Crown Prince was about to order a withdrawal, when he heard the guns of General Stepanovitch’s column on his left. Outflanked, the Turks withdrew, pursued by Serbian cavalry.
After the battle, the debris seen by a ‘special correspondent’ with the Serbian forces bore witness to the demoralisation of the Turkish Army. ‘Swords and bayonets which one could pick up by the handful could never have seen a grindstone for years. The rifles were a curious collection of mixed types and patterns; in fact, the battlefield was not unlike a vast rag and bone shop.’ The Serbs, by contrast, seem to have been men inspired. A Serbian private swore to war correspondent W H Crawford-Price that ‘during the combat we all saw St Sava, robed in white, and seated in a white chariot drawn by white horses, leading us on to victory’.
The Serbian breakthrough Serbian fears that Zeki Pasha might turn Uskub into another Plevna (whose defence by the Turks against the Russians in 1877-1878 had entered legend) were soon dispelled when, on 26 October, foreign consuls came out of the town and invited the Crown Prince to occupy the city. Falling back to Kuprilli in the Vardar valley, Zeki Pasha now decided he would withdraw westwards towards Monastir. Having thus left Salonika to its fate, he took up a position on the heights of the Babouna mountains at th ancient Serb town of Pri Here, in the opinion of one correspondent, ‘ battalion or two of boy scouts with a few Maxims could have kept an army at bay Right The Balkan Wars, and later the First World War, activated latent intercommunal tensions across the region. Taken from a contemporary magazine, this image, ‘Turkish Atrocities’, is typical propaganda of the period.
Left Another kind of propaganda was that focused on ‘heroes’ and military glory – in this case a Montenegrin single-handedly attacking an Ottoman blockhouse in an incident during the First Balkan War.
But the pass was stormed at bayonet-point by two Serbian divisions, the Morava and the Drina, in the teeth of Turkish artillery and Maxim fire. By 18 November, the Serbs had captured Monastir, along with 10,000 prisoners and scores of cannon. The remainder of the Ottoman Army escaped into central Albania, where they remained until the conclusion of peace. Urged by Serbian Premier Pašic´ to take part in what was developing into a ‘race for Salonika’ among the allies, General Putnik declined – sensing that a future Greek/Bulgarian rift over that prize would aid Serbian aims in Macedonia’s Vardar Valley. Instead, Serbian forces pushed on into Albania to link up with the Montenegrins, who were now besieging Scutari (which surrendered in April 1913).
The Bulgarian front If by blockading the Dardanelles and capturing Salonika the Greeks made the major contribution to the allied victory, it was the Bulgarians who bore the brunt of the fighting on land. In Thrace, Ottoman intelligence again proved defective. Assuming that the bulk of Bulgarian forces would be deployed alongside Serbian forces in
THE ROAD TO
WAR Macedonia, the Turks deployed the bulk of their own forces there. But instead of facing three Bulgarian divisions in Thrace as they had expected, they found themselves confronted by three full armies (First, Second, and Third), comprising nine divisions – or 346,000 men against 105,000 of their own. In addition, the Bulgarians had the advantage of attacking over relatively short distances. The Turks’ forward bastions in Thrace, Adrianople, and Kirk-Killisse, were only two short days’ march from Bulgaria’s southern frontier. These two Turkish fortresses blocked the two main routes to Constantinople from the north. Convinced of the need for a swift, decisive victory, the Bulgarians planned to attack towards Kirk-Kilisse on a front 60 miles to the east of Adrianople, defeat the Turkish forces there, and then push on towards Constantinople, while a subsidiary force invested Adrianople.
The Battle of Kirk-Kilisse The Turkish strategy was to defend their two forward bastions and a further one to the south-east at Lule Burgas. This was sound, though based on the flawed assumption that Kirk-Kilisse was as strongly fortified as Adrianople. In fact, engineering work on KirkKilisse had never been completed, and all it could boast in the way of defences were three outdated forts and some hasty entrenchments. Thus the main Bulgarian offensive was directed at the Turks’ weakest point. Furthermore, such was the overconfidence of Turkish commanders and their misreading of the Bulgarians’ intentions that they initially adopted an offensive strategy. From the opening clashes, it was clear that this was pure fantasy. After some hard initial fighting when the armies came into contact on the 23 October, panic broke out among the Turks, and they were soon in headlong retreat. By that evening, Bulgarian troops were on the outskirts of Kirk-Kilisse. By morning, they were in possession of the heights to the north of the town, from which their artillery began to bombard the town centre. By midday, with the town ablaze, it was all over. A ‘fortress’ that had been expected at www.military-history.org
Above A Bulgarian trench in front of Adrianople in the winter of 1912/1913. The siege of the city heralded the intensive trench warfare that was soon to have the whole of Europe in its grip.
the least to delay the Bulgarians for several weeks had fallen in 24 hours, with the loss of seven batteries of quick-firing guns, 18 field-guns, and 12 heavy siege-guns, plus masses of stores and equipment, two aircraft, and 1,500 prisoners. Bulgarian casualties were heavy – due to their preferred tactic of massed, Russian-style bayonet charges. Lieutenant Hermengild Wagner, war correspondent of the Reichspost, witnessed one such on the Adrianople front. The Bulgarians attacked in dense masses, in which the Turkish shrapnel tore great gaps. Nevertheless, the charge was not checked; the gaps were at once filled up, and on it went… This was no ordinary
human courage. It was a disdain of death that bordered on fanaticism.
The retreat from Thrace With the fall of Kirk-Kilisse, the Turkish position in Thrace became desperate. As the Bulgarian Second Army began the investment of Adrianople, and the First and Third prepared to continue their advance south, the Turks fell back to a new position on a line between Lule Burgas and Bunarhissar. The battle that followed was the biggest fought in Europe between the Franco-Prussian War and the Great War, involving some 200,000 combatants. This time, although the Bulgarian infantry again attacked en masse with the MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
WORLD WAR I
Left Bulgarian soldiers endeavouring to keep warm in the winter of 1912/1913.
bayonet, shouting their battle-cry ‘Na nos!’ (‘With the knife!’), it was their artillery that ensured victory. Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett was the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent with the Turkish forces. The whole of the battle front for 20 miles was clearly shown by the masses of bursting shrapnel shells… Never before have I seen such an artillery fire… whereas the Turkish fire was desultory and generally ill-directed, the Bulgarian shells burst in a never-ceasing storm on the Turkish positions with a maximum of effect. By the morning of 30 October, the Turks were again in full retreat towards their final defensive line before Constantinople – the Lines of Chatalja. These ran 22 miles from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmora, and guarded the peninsula on which Constantinople stands. Here, under War Minister Nazim Pasha, the Turks, bolstered at last by reinforcements from Asia, prepared to defend their capital, only 22 miles to their rear. At Bulgarian headquarters at Stara Zagora, King Ferdinand read despatches from the front with mounting excitement, bouncing, as one observer put it, ‘like an india-rubber ball’. Grotesque, effeminate, and with a gift for making himself loathed by his fellow monarchs, he had long dreamed of entering Constantinople as a conqueror. In more sober moments, however, even he was appalled by Bulgarian casualties, which were already being replaced by under-age conscripts, volunteers, and Serbian troops. Exhausted, the Bulgarian First and 44
hird Armies’ advance had owed, and Nazim Pasha sed the respite to strengthen he Lines of Chatalja – entrenching, creating new batteries, bringing up ammunition and supplies, and stationing warships in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora to cover each flank. On 17 and 18 November, the Bulgarians made attempts against two parts of the lines. Both were driven back by Turkish field artillery and naval gunfire. After these bloody repulses, the Bulgarian staff deemed all further attempts to force the lines impracticable.
Armistice and Ottoman counter-offensive Believing that things had gone far enough, and unwilling to allow the Balkan allies to dictate their own peace terms, the Great Powers now took a hand. Each had their own concerns. Neither Austria-Hungary nor Italy (nor France, nor Great Britain, for that matter) relished the prospect of a Serbian – which in practice would mean Russian – fleet based in the Adriatic. For their part, the Russians had no intention of allowing Bulgaria to control the Sea of Marmora. An armistice was declared and peace talks began in London. But Adrianople proved a sticking point: the Turks would not yield it; the Bulgarians would not accept peace without it. The conference was then interrupted by another Young Turk putsch in Constantinople, during which War Minister Nazim Pasha was shot dead. Hostilities resumed on 3 February 1913. Seemingly reinvigorated by a change of government, the Turks now launched two counter-offensives – against the Bulgarians along the Lines of Chatalja and out of the Gallipoli peninsula, both designed to take pressure off Adrianople. The Gallipoli offensive soon bogged down under Bulgarian artillery and machine-gun fire. The attack out of
the Chatalja Lines – against an enemy now ravaged by cholera – succeeded in driving the Bulgarians back ten miles. But this operational victory could not now affect the outcome of the campaign.
Adrianople With the Turkish counter-attacks contained, the Bulgarian Second Army now proceeded to the reduction of Adrianople. This was made possible by the arrival of the Serbian Second Army, equipped with heavy siege artillery. After a two-week bombardment, the city was finally stormed by a Serbo-Bulgarian force of some 160,000 men on 26 March. So far, King Ferdinand had shown little inclination to visit the front, but the opportunity to enter Adrianople as conqueror proved too tempting. It was a low-key, private triumph. Wearing civilian clothes, he had himself driven into the city the following day. As he drove away from the city’s famous Sultan Selim Mosque at the end of his visit, a black cat was seen slinking across the courtyard to his left. Morbidly superstitious, Ferdinand ordered the animal killed. As the cat died under the boots and canes of his entourage, Ferdinand was heard to whisper to himself, ‘I shall lose Adrianople.’ Further pressure from the Great Powers finally brought peace on 30 May 1913. By the Treaty of London, the Turks lost virtually all of their territory in the Balkans and ceased to be a power in Europe. Albania was declared an independent state, and Greece and Serbia began withdrawing their troops. In northern and southern Macedonia, the Bulgarians were already at odds with the Serbs and Greeks respectively, and were transferring troops there from Thrace. The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans 500 years earlier had been made easier by dissension among Christian princes. What was to follow now would prove that that, at least, had not changed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Julian Spilsbury is a former army officer and now a freelance writer and military historian. His books include The Thin Red Line, The Indian Mutiny, and Military Disasters. March 2014
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BLIND VETERANS UK: life beyond age-related sight loss MHM ’s homage to Britain’s war charities and the people they support.
MHM looks at the excellent support this charity offers veterans with sight-loss.
o you know anyone who served in the Armed Forces, including for their National Service, and is now battling with age-related sight loss? If so, Blind Veterans UK can provide them and their family with lifelong support and services – for free. Blind Veterans UK believes that no one who has served our country should battle sight loss alone. Blind Veterans UK, formerly St Dunstan’s, is the leading organisation supporting vision-impaired ex-servicemen and -women, regardless of how they lost their sight or how long they served. Helping veterans to regain their independence and discover a life beyond sight loss, the charity’s top-quality free services include independent living and welfare support, nursing care, and vital life-skills training. They also help blind veterans to learn new hobbies and encourage them to participate in recreational activities, whatever their age. Bob Early from Berkshire is a 99-year-old WWII veteran, who was instrumental
Top & above 99-year-old veteran Bob Early uses his computer after receiving IT training from Blind Veterans UK. Bob is one of many veterans who receive free support from the charity.
in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. Now he suffers with age-related macular degeneration and receives free support from Blind Veterans UK. ‘When I realised my sight was going, I knew it was a terrible thing. I felt very sorry for myself. But then I got in touch with Blind Veterans UK, and that really changed my life. They helped me learn all these different ways to cope with my sight loss and regain my independence. Bob commented, ‘Blind Veterans UK gave me all these useful gadgets, for free, and they taught me the skills to use them. They taught me how to use a computer at the age of 93, which I would never have
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War Camel MHM Editor Neil Faulkner reveals the secret weapon of the desert warrior. 48
Left Sudanese Dervishes charge a British zariba (thorn-hedge defencework) during a battle in eastern Sudan in 1885. As traditional desert warriors, many Sudanese were camel-mounted.
ur scheme is to try and make a mobile force of two divisions and two mounted brigades, for which, as far as our present estimate goes, some 60,000 camels will be required.’ So wrote Major-General Sir Arthur Lynden-Bell, Chief-of-Staff, Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), to the War Office in London on 16 January 1916. The British were holding a line a few miles east of the Suez Canal – too close for safety – and the aim was to push de into the Sinai Desert to keep the Ottoman Turks beyond effective raiding distance. For more than a year, the British garrison in Egypt had done little more than man trenches along the line of the Cana Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, had been prompted to enquire, somewhat acidly, whether the Canal was protecting the troop or the troops the Canal. So now there was movement. But always there was the camel problem. Lyndon-Bell – ‘Belinda’ t his friends – returned to it again and again. Mobile columns were the key, he repeated on 27 March 1916, but there were not enough camels. ‘Of course the only way to catch these blighters [the Turks] is to be mobile,’ he wrote again on 10 June. ‘The great difficulty has been to get hold of riding camels.’ By September the ambition had soared: the aim now was 14 divisions ‘mobile with camels’ and ‘a mounted force of about 12,000 men’.
All images: © WIPL, unless otherwise stated
Desert mobility So it went on. The Egyptian Camel Transport Corps (ECTC) had officers working across the Delta and down the length of the Nile buying up camels. By the last two years of the war, 35,000 transport camels would in service at any one time, managed by 400 officers, 500 NCOs, and around 25,000 Egyptian cameldrivers. A standard division was served by up to 2,000 transport camels. The role of the ECTC was to facilitate desert movement of water and supplies, and to evacuate the wounded. In addition, there were 5,000 riding camels in service with the Imperial Camel Corps (ICC), giving the British a deep-penetration capacity that they would otherwise www.military-history.org
Camels of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the First World War: (top) an Australian Camelier of the Imperial Camel Corps, (above) camels with ‘cacolets’ for the evacuation of the wounded, and (right) camels mounted with ‘fantasses’ for the transport of water.
have lacked. The ICC would, for example, be found fighting alongside Lawrence’s Arab irregulars on the Hijaz Railway in the final stages of the war. As late as 1918, then, the mechanisation of war in the desert was incomplete. Just as the war in Europe required the services of hundreds of thousands of horses and mules, so the war in the desert could not yet be fully motorised – as it would be 20 years later. The wheel was yet to replace the camel in Sinai, Palestine, and Syria.
The ancient Arabs This was the end of a 2,000-year-old story that begins with the Nabataeans of Petra, the first great camel-based Arab civilisation. The camel seems to have been domesticated in southern Arabia between c.3000 and 2500 BC, but its use was limited to the provision of milk until c.1200 BC, when a serviceable saddle was
developed. This transformed the camel into a baggage animal – ‘the ship of the desert’ – facilitating long-distance nomadic movement and the desert caravan-trade. But still, and for another millennium, the Arabs remained a marginal people, making a living by breeding camels and carrying cargoes in exchange for the foodstuffs, textiles, metalwork, and other necessities supplied to them by the settled peasants of the desert fringes. For a thousand years, ‘the desert and the sown’ existed in uneasy symbiosis. Relations were generally peaceful, since there was mutual advantage, but there was always a degree of suspicion and prejudice, and occasionally violence would flare when a rogue tribe raided a settlement, plundered its grain, and drove off its animals. The Arabs could be a nuisance, but they were not yet a menace. MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
ANIMALS AT WAR The Assyrian kings (based in northern Iraq) occasionally depicted them on their triumphal reliefs. An especially interesting image dates from the reign of Assurbanipal (668-631 BC). It shows two Arabs mounted on a camel, one the driver, the other an archer shooting backwards at pursuing Assyrian soldiers. The Arabs are in full flight; the camel is being urged to a gallop. Other images show Arab camels in the context of attacks on encampments, refugee columns, parades of booty, and the levying of tribute. The problem for the Arabs was their saddlery. The South Arabian saddle had limited load-bearing capacity, and the alternative cushion-saddle for riding provided only a precarious perch. Fighting as an archer, the camel-mounted man wobbled about too much; fighting as a lancer, he was as likely to topple off as to impale his enemy.
A camel charge It goes without saying that the camel was superbly adapted to provide long-range strategic mobility in the desert, and, in certain circumstances, tactical mobility
on the battlefield. Arabs who could afford them owned horses and would ride these into battle. But horses could not cross the desert without camels to carry water and fodder. And most Arabs were too poor to own horses, so they either fought on foot or, occasionally, mounted their camels for a charge. T E Lawrence provides a first-hand description of a combined charge by 50 horsemen and 400 camel-men in his account of the Battle of Abu Lissan on 2 July 1917. A day-long firefight in blistering heat that had rendered rifles too hot to handle culminated in a ferocious attack on a Turkish infantry battalion holed up in a village at the base of surrounding hills. We kicked our camels furiously to the edge, to see our 50 horsemen coming down the last slope into the main valley, like a run-away, at full gallop, shooting from the saddle. As we watched, two or three went down, but the rest thundered forward at marvellous speed, and the Turkish infantry, huddled together under the Left An Assyrian relief-sculpture of Assurbanipal (668-631 BC) showing Arab camel-men in action. The two riders appear to be mounted on a South Arabian cushion-saddle, though we cannot be certain. The archery would not have been very accurate!
Below A more common military use of camels was as baggage-animals. Here baggage-camels are shown being used to form a defensive laager during fighting between the Persian Emperor Cyrus and the Lydian King Croesus in 546 BC.
cliff ready to cut their desperate way out towards Maan, in the first dusk began to sway in and out, and finally broke before the rush, adding their flight to Auda’s charge. Nasir screamed at me, ‘Come on’… and we plunged our camels madly over the hill, and down towards the head of the fleeing enemy. The slope was not too steep for a camel-gallop, but steep enough to make their pace terrific, and their course uncontrollable: yet the Arabs were able to extend to right and left and to shoot into the Turkish brown. The Turks had been too bound up in the terror of Auda’s furious charge against their rear to notice us as we came over the eastward slope: so we also took them by surprise and in the flank; and a charge of ridden camels going nearly 30 miles an hour was irresistible. My camel… stretched herself out, and hurled downhill with such might that we soon out-distanced the others. The Turks fired a few shots, but mostly only shrieked and turned to run: the bullets they did send at us were not very harmful, for it took much to bring a charging camel down in a dead heap. I had got among the first of them, and was shooting, with a pistol of course, for only an expert could use a rifle from such plunging beasts; when suddenly my camel tripped and went down emptily upon her face, as though pole-axed. I was torn completely from the saddle, sailed grandly through the air for a great distance, and landed with a crash which seemed to drive all the power and feeling out of me. Lawrence had fallen off his charging camel only because he had accidentally shot it in the back of the head. He could hardly have kept his seat at all had he been mounted on a South Arabian cushion-saddle. But, as we shall see, he was not.
The ship of the desert Much more important than the occasional charge was the strategic mobility afforded by the camel, both as a mount for riders (usually the more tractable females) and as a baggageanimal for carrying water and supplies (usually the heavier males). ‘Traditional wisdom’, explains Richard Bulliet, author of The Camel and the Wheel, ‘holds the wheel to be one of mankind’s cleverest inventions and the camel to be one of God’s clumsiest.’ Yet, between the end of the Roman period and the invention of the 50
Above & inset When, in the race to relieve General Gordon under siege at Khartoum in 1884, Sir Garnet Wolseley organised a flying column to march directly across the Nubian Desert, he was forced to improvise the British Army’s first camel corps. Only the camel made the march possible (though, in fact, the column arrived too late).
internal-combustion engine, the wheel disappeared across a vast swathe of the Middle East. Unlike in South America, where it was never known at all until the coming of the Conquistadors, the absence of the wheel had nothing to do with ignorance. It had once been used in the Middle East, and it continued to be used in surrounding regions with which the Middle East was in regular contact. The wheel was not used because it was not wanted. It is not difficult to work out why. The camel is a superb example of evolutionary adaptation. Food in the form of fat is stored in humps. Water is stored throughout the body tissues. Superefficient kidneys create high-concentrate waste so as to conserve liquid. Blood temperature rises to absorb heat and reduce perspiration. The animal has feet that are both spread for walking on sand and padded for walking on stones. It has a long neck for efficient foraging on desert trees and scrub. The result is an ideal mode of transport for off-road movement in desert and semi-desert environments; indeed, for any kind of movement in the Middle East and North Africa as a whole before the laying of modern roads in the last century or so. www.military-history.org
Camels can go for about a week without water, and can then consume up to 30 gallons at a single watering. They can survive much longer without food, and can subsist on stuff of the most forbidding nature, as anyone knows who has seen a camel eat a prickly-pear cactus – flesh, leathery skin, and thorns like large needles, the whole lot as if were ice-cream. And yet, at the same time, a camel can be expected to travel up to 30 miles a day carrying a load of up to 350lbs.
The North Arabian saddle There is one proviso. You need the right sort of saddle. In the case of a horse, matters are straightforward: the saddle goes in the middle of the downward-
Camels can go for about a week without water, and can then consume up to 30 gallons at a single watering.
curving back. In the case of a camel, that is where the hump is. We are talking here about the one-humped dromedary, not the two-humped Bactrian, a heavier, shaggier, cold-adapted animal. The ‘ship of the desert’ is the lighter, taller, shorter-haired, more elegant dromedary. In relation to this animal, the saddle has to go in one of three places – in front of, on top of, or behind the hump. It is immediately obvious that the ideal must be on top of the hump, so that weight is evenly distributed and bears down on the rib-cage rather than on either the neck and shoulders or the pelvis. But the hump itself is soft tissue, so simply placing a cushioned seat atop the hump is efficient neither in terms of spreading weight nor in terms of providing a secure perch. This is the problem discussed above in relation to the South Arabian saddle: it makes a poor fighting vehicle of the camel. We do not know when exactly the North Arabian saddle was invented, but it seems to have been in use from around the 2nd century BC, and it therefore further seems highly likely that this innovation was integral to the rise of the Nabataean Arabs and the establishment of the desertcaravan city of Petra (in today’s Jordan). Like so many transformative inventions – like the wheel and the plough – the basic idea is very simple. The North Arabian saddle comprises a four-sided wooden frame which fits over the camel’s hump and rests on the top of the animal’s rib-cage. It is heavily cushioned beneath MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
ANIMALS AT WAR Below The camel-mounted warrior – in this case, Dervishes of the 1881-1898 Mahdist Revolt in the Sudan.
to prevent rubbing and sores, and can then be adapted either to carry loads, with the burden slung in equal proportions on either side, or to take a rider, who sits between raised front and back pommels on a cushioned platform supported by the frame on top of the hump.
The camel-mounted warrior The impact of this simple invention on world history is hard to over-estimate. It transformed the camel-mounted desert warrior wielding long iron sword, iron-tipped lance, or composite bow into a potential conqueror. ‘The North Arabian saddle’, says Richard Bulliet, ‘made possible new weaponry, which made possible a shift in the balance of military power in the desert, which made possible the seizure of control of the caravan trade by the camel-breeders, which made possible the social and economic integration of camel-breeding tribes into settled Middle Eastern society, which made possible the replacement of the wheel by the pack-camel.’ By shifting the military balance between the desert and the sown, Arab society 52
became more unsettled. And in places like Mecca and Medina, where nomads and peasants bartered, tribesmen and traders squabbled, and the traditions of the desert and the town collided, men discussed how the world worked – or rather, how they felt it should work. When they did this, they viewed matters in a religious frame. For, in the Early Medieval world, to consider such things was to reflect on God’s purpose. Amid this ferment, and experiencing it as inner mental anguish, was a young man of a minor Meccan merchant family. He had visions and believed that God – Allah in Arabic – spoke directly to him. He persuaded a small group of followers that this was true, and some of them began to write down the words he reported Allah as saying to him. His name was Muhammad, and his reports of Allah’s words became the Koran. The camel-men of the desert – though they did not yet know it – had acquired a leader.
The rise of Islam Muhammad’s mission began around AD 620, but he was driven out of Mecca in AD 622, finding refuge in Medina.
There he built the nucleus of what was to become one of the greatest mass movements in history. To his growing politico-religious cadre of eager young converts, he joined traders seeking commercial advantage, tribal leaders bent on plunder, and townsmen and peasants longing for peace and civil order. Returning to Mecca in AD 630, he was victorious, and the Muslims took control of the Hijaz region of western-central Arabia. When the Arab-Islamic armies of Muhammad’s successors struck north six years later, the old empires shattered. The men of the desert, the despised Bedouin, had been transformed by Islam and the North Arabian saddle into a military tornado. The great cities of antiquity fell like dominoes – Damascus in Syria in AD 636, Ctesiphon in Iraq in AD 637, Cairo in Egypt in AD 639, and Alexandria in Egypt in AD 642. Within ten years of his death, the followers of Muhammad had created a huge Middle Eastern empire. The Persian and Byzantine Empires had engaged in massive (and ultimately inconclusive) wars for centuries. The March 2014
Left The Arabian Desert extends northwards, a tongue of land between the Levant and Iraq. Down the desert caravan-routes came the Arab armies of the mid 7th century AD, striking west against the Byzantine Empire, and east against the Persian Empire, within a single generation conquering the whole vast territory shown here.
Below Within a century, Arab rule extended from Morocco and Spain in the west to Afghanistan and north-western India in the east.
most recent, between AD 613 and 628, had left both exhausted, their finances depleted, manpower decimated, and populations embittered by taxation, conscription, and forced requisitions. The empires had fortifications, armoured warriors, and high-tech weaponry. The Arabs had the desert and the camel. The Arabian desert projects northwards, a tongue of desiccated sand and gravel, between (Byzantine) Syria in the west and (Persian) Iraq in the east. In these wastes, the camel is supreme, and armies mounted on camels can move like ships at sea. From the desert, suddenly, anywhere, the Arabs would emerge. When they did, lightly equipped and highly mobile, they would destroy the ponderous armies of tight-packed foot and heavy horse deployed against them in a dust of swirling manoeuvres.
The sullen peasants of Syria and Iraq cared nothing for the defeat of their masters. Often they welcomed the Arabs as liberators. Many of the old landlords were gone. Taxes were lower. Judaism, Christianity, and Persian Zoroastrianism were tolerated; many, anyway, soon
converted to Islam. Arab rule, by and large, meant improvement. The Arab conquests continued. Arab armies swept along the North African coast, taking Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and finally entering Spain, which was completely overrun by AD 711. Meantime, other armies had pushed east: Kabul in Afghanistan fell to Islam as early as AD 664. It had been one of the most extensive, sudden, and transformative campaigns of military conquest in history. And, in a sense, one of the most enduring: the Crusaders were eventually defeated; the Turks were converted to Islam; the Ottoman Empire remained thoroughly Arab across its eastern half; and the modern Middle East, of course, remains predominantly Arabic-speaking and Islamic. It seems unlikely that any of this could have happened save for the fact that the North Arabian saddle transformed the milk camel into the war camel. Left A camel-caravan of pilgrims en route to Mecca.
Events Guide Each month, Military History Monthly’s ‘On Manoeuvres’ section brings you details of Britain’s finest history-themed activities, from lecture days and air shows, to militaria fairs and re-enactments. We take this opportunity to draw particular attention to six of the best indoor and outdoor events taking place over the coming months.
Tracks to the Trenches Tracks to the Trenches, based at the Apedale Valley Light Railway, will commemorate the vital role which light railways played in supporting the armies of all the combatants in the First World War. All of the major armies used light railways to support their operations – the Germans and the French from the outset of the campaign, with the British realising the value of this approach a little later on, and finally the Americans arriving in a big way! The Apedale site has a large collection of WW1 era railway equipment, and many guest items are expected. There will be steam trains giving rides on our ¼ mile passenger railway, model railways, re-enactors, vintage vehicles, and even a working coal mine on site! A show not to be missed, and sure to appeal to one and all. WHEN: 12, 13, and 14 September 2014 WHERE: Apedale Valley Light Railway, Apedale Community Country Park, Loomer Road, Chesterton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs. Sat nav users – use ST5 7LB. HOW MUCH: £8 adults, £4 children. Advance ticket sales will be via www. avlr.org.uk, or www.ww1-event.org. Or, call in at our shop at Apedale any Saturday. Advance tickets will be on sale from July. WEB: www.ww1-event.org, contact via website, or Facebook. PHONE: 0845 094 1953.
The Wylye Valley 1914 Project Thousands of Kitchener’s Volunteers made their way to the Wylye Valley at the outbreak of war in 1914. To mark the event, The Wylye Valley 1914 Project will exhibit an 8-metrewide map of camps, orders of battle of the first divisions, plus memorabilia, photos, three sets of models, and a film. The Project has dug a 30-metre demonstration trench, and has key information to help the public learn more about the BEF. Historians from the Great War Society, the Yeomanry, and the Garrison Artillery will be there, as well as plenty of food and drinks stalls, live bands, and a drumhead service. The Great War Society aims to portray accurately the daily life of soldiers and medical staff during WWI. The public are invited to mix with the re-enactors, enjoy displays of 1914 rifle drill and firepower demonstrations, and explore the fully equipped field operating theatre and medical living accommodation. WHEN: 26-27 July 2014 WHERE: Codford, Wiltshire HOW MUCH: Free entry
WEB: www.wylyevalley1914.org.uk EMAIL: Barbara@wylyevalley1914.org.uk
The Muckleburgh Military Collection Display Weekend This is your chance to see many of the Collection’s tanks and vehicles on the move and an opportunity to drive a tracked vehicle if pre-booked via the website. There will be displays by other military vehicle owners including the RAF and Army. There are rides around the old Weybourne Anti-Aircraft Camp to see the newly refurbished gun pits and bunkers. Shops and stalls will sell military items together with plenty of catering facilities offering much to do. Set in beautiful surroundings with lovely sea views, the weekend guarantees children and all members of the family an exciting time. Over 3,000 visitors to the event last year. WHEN: 31 May-1 June 2014 WHERE: Weybourne, Nr Holt, Norfolk NR25 7EH HOW MUCH: £12 Adults, £8 Children (Under 5’s FREE) includes free entry to the museum over the event weekend WEB: www.muckleburgh.co.uk
World War I centenary events at The British Academy Join eminent academics this summer as the British Academy hosts a series of free World War I centenary events. On 10 and 11 July experts at the free two-day conference on the emotional history of war will explore the degree to which war impacted upon the emotional world of those who lived through times of conflict, and how individuals have responded to war from the medieval to the modern period. In an evening lecture on 9 July, Professor Jay Winter will look at shell shock as a new category of emotional response to the terrors of modern war, arising not from individual war experience, but from the monstrous character of the war itself. Finally, Dr Eugene Rogan and Sir Adam Roberts will discuss Islam and the Great War in the Middle East (1914-1918), exploring how Islam had more impact on European policies than on the loyalties of the Muslim peoples caught up in the First World War. WHEN: Throughout 2014 WHERE: The British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH WEB: www.britishacademy.ac.uk/events EMAIL: email@example.com PHONE: 020 7969 5246
Colchester Military Tournament
ly and 6 July 2014 .00pm each day he Abbey Field, South circular road, Colchester, CO2 7NZ
it promises to be a great family day out. *Massed bands, pipes, drums *Red Devils Freefall Parachute Display Team *HAC Light Cavalry *Bolddog Lings Freestyle Motocross team *Essex Dog Display Team *Modern and vintage vehicles and weaponry *Laser clay shooting, mini-assault course, and mock combat village *Living History, WWI and WWII re-enactments HOW MUCH: Early bird discount rates - Adults £15. Family, concessionary, and group rates available. WEB: www.colchestermilitarytournament.co.uk EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: The News, Portsmouth
A GREAT DAY OUT FOR ALL THE FAMILY On 5 and 6 July 2014, Colchester – the oldest garrison town in England with a history of tattoos and tournaments stretching back to the Roman era – will once again be the scene of a major event with the arrival of the Colchester Military Tournament. Staged by ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, the event will be the largest of its kind in the country. ng a jam-packed performance e along with army static displays, trade ars, food stalls, funfair, zorba balls, boats, and a host of other attractions,
-Day conference at the D-Day Museum Want to find out more about the latest research into D-Day and the Battle of Normandy from experts in the field, and also about research by community groups into the D-Day connections of their local areas? Then this conference, aimed at a wide audience, is for you! The conference will also WHEN: 10 and 11 May 2014 WHERE: D-Day Museum, Clarence Esplanade, Southsea PO5 3NT
include a visit to Southwick House, where the Allied commanders met just before D-Day, and a dinner on the Saturday night with a well-known speaker. For details of D-Day 70th anniversary events at the D-Day Museum and elsewhere in Portsmouth, see our websites. A calendar of D-Day anniversary events HOW MUCH: Please register for tickets and further information. WEB: www.ddaymuseum.co.uk
throughout the South will be featured on the D-Day Museum’s website.
www.visitportsmouth.co.uk EMAIL: VIS@portsmouthcc.gov.uk PHONE: 023 9282 6722
OnManoeuvres LISTINGS | MUSEUM | WAR ZONE March Our main featured event this month is the grand opening of a major new exhibition at the British Museum. The hotly anticipated ‘Vikings: life and legend’ opens on 6 March, and will feature a 37m-long Viking longboat that has never been seen before in the UK. There are also lectures, celebrity speakers, and a 1940s jive to keep you busy throughout the month. The museum review takes us to Kiev, where Tom Farrell has been investigating the first museum devoted to the 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan which, although overshadowed by monuments to the ‘Great Patriotic War’ located nearby, proves fascinating. Julie Dunn visits the conflicted island of Cyprus for War Zone this month. There, she takes a close look at the Green Line in Nicosia, which divides the north and south of the island.
DATES TO REMEMBER THIS MARCH
War Zone MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
DATES TO REMEMBER EXHIBITION
A major exhibition on the Vikings opens this March in the British Museum’s new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. The exhibition, which was developed in collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark and the Berlin State Museum, will focus on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. The extraordinary Viking expansion from the Scandinavian homelands during this era created a cultural network with contacts from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. At the centre of the exhibition will be the remains of a 37m-long Viking longship, the longest ever found. It has never been seen before in the UK. Vikings: life and legend 6 March-22 June 2014 British Museum Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG 020 7323 8181 www.britishmuseum.org
Speak like a sailor Impress family and friends with your mastery of seafaring phrases – identify your port from your starboard side, and find out what it means to be in ‘the rattle’. This event at HMS Belfast encourages you to have a go at ‘Jack-speak’, learning the origins of navy slang and popular expressions, then to delve deeper with objects and stories from the ship’s crew.
HMS Belfast, The Queen’s Walk London SE1 2JH
020 7940 6300 www.iwm.org.uk
Fall of the Royalists
Fun of the Fayre Set up at the Warwickshire Exhibition Centre in late 2003, the National Living History Fayre should be a major event in any history enthusiast’s diary. With re-enactments, archery competitions, a market, live music, on-site bars and campsites, this extravaganza of living history is not to be missed!
Slang at Sea 8-9 March 2014
Jon Day, author of Gloucester & Newbury 1643, will give a talk at Shaw House on the decisive campaign and Battle of Newbury that marked the start of the decline in Royalist fortunes during the first Civil War. He will explain why and how the battle was fought, and its importance in determining the future outcome of the war.
National Living History Fayre 15-16 March 2014
Battlefield Trust – the First Battle of Newbury 1643 8 March 2014
Onley Grounds Equestrian Complex Rugby Warwickshire CV23 8AJ
Shaw House Church Road Newbury RG14 2DR
01844 274112 www.visitnewbury.org.uk
Turner and tunes The ‘Turner and the Sea’ exhibition at the National Maritime Museum is running a series of ‘Lates’: each Thursday, the exhibition stays open until 8pm. Even better, pianists from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance will perform informal recitals during these Thursday sessions. Each programme will either be themed to link in with the ‘Turner and the Sea’ show, or will feature music composed during Turner’s lifetime.
Turner and the Sea: piano concerts 6 March 2014 National Maritime Museum Park Row, Greenwich London SE10 9NF
020 8858 4422 www.rmg.co.uk
It don’t mean a thing… After two sell-out charity events, the York 1940s Dance is back. Featuring a live band and a great range of dance music from the Andersons, the event is a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Society and for Age UK. The evening also includes special guests and vintage stalls.
York 1940s Dance 1 March 2014
The Great Arc: military map-makers in India 27 March 2014
Melodie Park Wiggington Road York YO32 2RJ
National Army Museum Royal Hospital Road London SW3 4HT
01904 690421 www.tengreatestdays.co.uk
THE KAISER Broadcaster and historian, Nick Hewitt, will explore in the second instalment of the three-part series detailing how, in 1914, Germany’s new Imperial Navy unleashed a series of raids that threatened Britain’s war effort and challenged the power and prestige of the Royal Navy. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill led the Royal Navy against the German Navy in a year-long battle of wits that stretched across the globe, drawing in ships and men from six empires, until the ‘Kaiser’s Pirates’ had been defeated. You will be given an opportunity to view the Churchill War Rooms after the event (included in the ticket price).
020 7881 6600 www.nam.ac.uk
Churchill and the Kaiser’s Pirates 26 March 2014
Mapping India During the 19th century, the Great Trigonometrical Survey attempted to measure the earth’s circumference. Presenter John Keay explores their epic undertaking, which took 50 years to complete, at great expense and loss of life.
Clive Steps King Charles Street London SW1A 2AQ
020 7930 6961 www.iwm.org.uk
Inside aircraft Join us in March for an exclusive evening at the Royal Air Force Museum. For one night only, the museum will open its doors to allow access to some historic aircraft. Get up close and personal with these beautiful machines, and experience the collection in a new light.
Open Cockpits Evening 11 March 2014 Royal Air Force Museum Grahame Park Way London NW9 5LL
020 8358 4997
Museum of Tragedy and Valour
BELARUS RUSSIA POLAND
Tom Farrell explores the first museum devoted to the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan.
MUSEUM OF TRADGEDY AND VALOUR
probable, that many were the sons of soldiers committed to taking the Dnieper. But that generation had fought a war of national survival and were lauded for their efforts in countless monuments, movies, and ceremonies. The Afghantsy returned to apartment blocks from Leningrad to Vladivostok alone, often at night, under instructions not to talk about their experiences. Most had seen friends killed. Many had witnessed or even participated in the massacre of Afghan civilians. A Soviet system in a state of degenerative collapse was entirely incapable of offering counselling or rehabilitation. The paraphernalia of the serving soldier is ranged around the main hall of the museum. Soldiering in Afghanistan was a punishing endeavour. Aside from the prospects of being killed in battle or tortured to death should they be captured by the enemy, Soviet Army life was rife with drug abuse and ferocious bullying. The demobbed soldiers often assembled a dembelski albom (‘soldier’s scrapbook’), even though this was frowned on. Pages from these and recruitment papers are on display.
n some ways it is rather appropriate that the Museum of Tragedy and Valour in Afghanistan is dwarfed by the nearby monuments to the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Each year around 21 million people visit the latter, built on a hill overlooking the right bank of the Dnieper River, Kiev. Dominating the 25-acre display is the Rodina (‘Motherland’) Monument, an idealised representation of the Soviet Union in the form of a robed woman bearing sword and shield. She looms 62m above the city. Four million troops were committed to wresting the Lower Dnieper from German control between August and December 1943. Up to half a million soldiers were killed on both sides across a 1,400km front. The Great Patriotic War Museum, repository of 300,000 exhibits, was opened on 9 May 1981 by the Soviet premier, Leonid Brezhnev. Already chronically ill, he was just over a year from death. One of Brezhnev’s final foreign policy legacies is remembered in the ancillary museum that was opened on the other 60
side of the Rodina Monument almost exactly 11 years later. The Museum of Tragedy and Valour in Afghanistan, which commemorates the Soviet War there, is funded in part by donations from the Ukrainian Union of the Veterans of Afghanistan and the parents of the dead. It was the first museum in the post-Soviet era devoted to this brutal confrontation between a dying Communism and a resurgent Islamism. Once inside the doors, the visitor is confronted by a starkly poignant monument. A series of interlocking concrete spokes covered in the photographs of some of the 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers who were killed performing their ‘internationalist duty’ with the 40th Army. Then and now, they are known as the ‘Afghantsy’ – literally, ‘Afghans’. Some wear fur hats, others are bareheaded. A few wear bush hats, part of the summer uniform of the motor rifle unit, backbone of the war effort. Most of the dead were born in the 1960s, their lives extinguished two decades later. It is possible, even
PICTURED ON BOTH PAGES: Dnieper River during World 1. Summer uniform of the Soviet War II. Airborne forces. 5. Two of the four UV-32 rocket 2. The main hall’s roof displays pods carrying a total of 32 pictures of some of the 15,000 57mm rockets. Afghansty killed in 1979-1989. 6. The cockpit of the Mi-24 3. The Mi-24 helicopter next to displaying radar and a standard infantry fighting infra-red sensors. vehicle, the Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty (BMP). 7. The entrance hall of the Museum of Tragedy and 4. An idealised depiction of Valour in Afghanistan. the Red Army capturing the
Ground and air wars Outside the main hall of the museum sits a fully preserved Mi-24 attack helicopter. Like its Vietnam War equivalent, the American UH-1, the Mi-24 became emblematic during the war. Nicknamed the ‘crocodile’, the Mi-24 gunships carried a crew of three, with room for eight passengers or four stretchers. The drone of an approaching squadron of Mi-24s was a sound the Afghan peasantry feared like no other. Their rocket pods could blast an Afghan kishlak (village) into smoking ruins within minutes. A major turning-point in the war came on 25 September 1986, when eight of these aircraft were turning to base in Jalalabad, 75 miles east of Kabul. Suddenly a rocket streaked from the nearby hills, blasting the first of the Mi-24s to pieces. Then the second helicopter exploded. Five of the remaining Mi-24s plunged onto the landing strip, injuring passengers in the process. Another gunship attempted a counter-attack, only to be destroyed. The ‘Stinger’ missile, authorised by the Reagan administration, had just entered the war. The downing of the Mi-24s was videotaped by the Mujahedeen and replayed for the President in the White House some days later. The following week, the 40th Army issued new flying regulations to pilots. The Mi-24 had to fly above the Stinger’s 12,500ft ceiling, while firing deception flares. Descents involved making zigzags and steep spirals. That same year, the United States funnelled $500 million to the Mujahedeen with the assistance of Pakistani intelligence. www.military-history.org
6 The CIA even imported thousands of mules from Texas in order to ferry supplies across the mountains. By 1986, the Soviets were attempting to turn over the war to their local allies. For the first five years of the campaign, the 40th Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) forces controlled only around one fifth of the country. Typically, the Afghantsy engaged in small-scale fighting, very different from the vast Second World War offensives. Occasional large-scale operations were launched to storm Mujahedeen strongholds, relieve besieged bases, and cut supply routes. Three-quarters of the 40th Army’s supplies were sourced from the Soviet Union. One of the war’s characteristic images was the supply column, often consisting of up to 800 vehicles, trundling along the 450km route linking the Hindu Kush with Kabul. The rebels, despite frequent ambushes, never managed to close the road. From the upper reaches of the Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Massoud’s men were able to attack the Salang Pass, a vital supply route. The first Panjshir Valley offensive, begun in April 1980, involved three Soviet battalions backed by 1,000 DRA men. Initially, the offensive went well. A series of bases was established in the lower reaches of the valley, linked by helicopters. Over time, Massoud’s men expelled or suborned the DRA civilian and military presence that the Soviets had left behind in the Panjshir. Eight more ground offensives followed, before the objective of total control was abandoned.
7 The drudgery of war In the entrance to the main hall to the museum, one wall is dominated by a giant, ghostly black-and-white photograph. A line of troops trudge towards the mountains. It is an image that encapsulates the classic experience of soldiering: the drudgery, exhaustion, and routine, along with the risk of sudden horror and agony. Moreover, the image is sufficiently unfocused to make the dozen or so Afghantsy seem interchangeable with other foreign troops committed to Afghanistan, before and after the 1979-1989 war. Over 620,000 Soviets served in Afghanistan, most of whom suffered physical illnesses, combat stress, or addiction problems. Some historians speculate that an admitted combat death toll of around 14,000 could be as little as one-third of the actual number killed. It is when the suffering of the Afghan people is factored in, however, that the museum’s horror begins to align with that of the Second World War monuments outside. Roughly 1.3 million Afghans were killed, 2 million internally displaced, and 5.5 million refugees created in a conflict that continues today. FURTHER INFORMATION The Museum of Tragedy and Valour in Afghanistan (24 Lavrska Street, Kiev 01015, Ukraine) is open from 10am to 5pm from Wednesday to Sunday. +38 (044) 285 9452 www.warmuseum.kiev.ua
the last divided capital Julie Dunn studies the history of the Green Line on the divided island of Cyprus.
early 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, riven by conflict for over 50 years, now holds the dubious title of possessing the last divided capital city in Europe. That city is Nicosia. The first physical separation of the city was by barbed wire, during the 1955-1959 anti-colonial struggles for independence. This was named the ‘Mason–Dixon’ line by the British. In 1963, when intercommunal fighting broke out between Greek and Turkish Cypriot fighters after attempts to establish a power-sharing republic had failed, a British Army officer took a green pencil and drew a demarcation line that established a cordon sanitaire separating the two factions. In the ‘Old City’, this ‘Green Line’ followed the previous barbed-wire division of the city of Nicosia, and encircled Turkish Cypriot enclaves in Larnaca and Paphos. These, however, eventually disappeared, leaving the Green Line just 62
in Nicosia, which remained under the control of UN Forces. Following the Turkish occupation of the northern third of the island in 1974 and the subsequent conflict, a ceasefire line was drawn, creating a buffer zone, still known today as the Green Line. The new line partitioned this beautiful island, and functioned as the major barrier between Turkish and Greek communities for several decades. Despite the opening of this border for travel between both sides in 2003, Cyprus has now been partitioned for 39 years, with seemingly no end to the ‘Cyprus Problem’. Running for 180km from the north-west of the island to the east coast, and covering 3% of the island, the Green Line varies from a few meters in width in Nicosia to as much as 7km in other places. Today, the buffer zone is the responsibility of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which constantly patrols the de facto ceasefire line.
Top The view through the barbed-wire barrier onto the buffer zone, showing abandoned buildings. Inset A sign in the buffer zone, referring to Lefkosia (the Greek name for Nicosia) as ‘The Last Divided Capital’ in English, French, and German.
Dangerous beauty There is an average of over 1,000 ‘incidents’ in the buffer zone each year, varying from name-calling to the unauthorised use of firearms. Much of the area consists of prime agricultural land, some of which is farmed by people who live nearby, although other areas are heavily mined and entry is forbidden. These wild and overgrown areas have become a haven for flora and fauna. But although seemingly peaceful, the space is still a reminder of the power of March 2014
industrialised warfare, and occasionally demonstrates that this landscape of conflict remains full of danger. During the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, both parties laid defensive minefields within and outside the buffer zone. Between 2004 and 2011, the Mine Action Centre Cyprus (MACC) removed more than 27,000 mines and items of unexploded ordnance from 74 minefields. A further 15,000 mines are estimated to remain in place. During that period, several UN de-miners were injured; in 2010, a de-miner from Mozambique was killed in an explosion in a minefield 10km from Nicosia. Ironically, most of the de-miners in Cyprus were recruited from African countries such as Mozambique and Angola, where they gained significant experience of de-mining after their own long and protracted conflicts. Together with the mines, the material culture of 20th-century conflict abounds in the zone: barbed wire, earthworks, trenches, bunkers, and watchtowers are all inscribed on the landscape.
Language of the line The ‘language’ of the line consists of military signs such as ‘Beware Mine Fields’, ‘Dead Zone’, ‘NO Entry: Occupied Zone’, and ‘No Photographs – Security Zone’ – text denoting death and destruction on an area of liminal wasteland with its own perverse beauty. In Nicosia, the divide runs straight through the heart of the ‘Old City’, which is contained within fortress walls built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Here, the buffer zone acts as a kind of time-capsule, preserving Cyprus in the early 1970s. Whole streets made up of war-marked houses and shuttered shops sit gently decaying. A school, cafés, hotels, www.military-history.org
and gardens are all deserted, and a huge underground car park and showroom is full of 1974 model cars, shrouded in dust. Also frozen in time within the Green Line are the hangars and runways of Nicosia International Airport. Originally an RAF station, the airport saw heavy use during the Second World War, and by 1974 served a thriving tourism industry. After Turkish air-raids during the 1974 conflict, the airport was declared a UN protected area, and has not been used since. Now a rusting Cyprus Airways jet lies abandoned on the runway, while, bizarrely, the UN has established there what may be the oddest golf course in the world. Fairways crisscross the runways and Below An old Turkish garage sign in an abandoned building next to the buffer zone.
Above left An unmanned checkpoint on the buffer zone. A thousand confrontational incidents occur on average every year in the buffer zone. Above United Nations sign (in English, Greek, and Turkish) delineating the buffer zone.
a clubhouse has been set up in a hut near the old control tower. Today, the Green Line is a scar on the national psyche of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, and a deep wound in the heart of all Cypriots. The relationship between people and place is deeply rooted and strongly felt. The landscape of the buffer zone is part of the identity of each person on the island, an identity that will remain contorted in pain until the border is dismantled and the island and its people become whole again.
CENTENARY SEASON Exhibitions
How will you be commemorating the anniversary of the First World War? We are continuing our Centenary Season with a series of exhibitions not to be missed during the coming months.
Thackray Medical Museum The award winning Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds is a unique visitor attraction. With nine interactive galleries, the fascinating exhibitions and collections tell a story of medicine that affects us all. To mark the centenary of the First World War, a brand new exhibition opens in July 2014 funded by Arts Council England. Focussing on the medical advances that emerged from the war, the exhibition will look at soldiers’ experiences of hearing loss, limb loss, and shell shock. Using the museum collections, the exhibition will highlight the long-term developments which followed the conflict, such as improvements in technology and rehabilitation, as well as looking at approaches to the treatment of shell shock. Created with the help of veterans and servicemen and women, the exhibition will allow the visitor to reflect on how far military medicine has come in 100 years, and the difficulties in healing the body and the mind.
This summer sees a landmark exhibition by the UK Punjab Heritage Association (ukpha. org) on how one of the world’s smallest communities played a disproportionately large role in the Great War. Although accounting for less than 2% of the population of British India at the time, Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. From the blood-soaked trenches of the Somme and Gallipoli, to the deserts and heat of Africa and the Middle East, Sikhs fought and died alongside their British and Commonwealth counterparts to serve the greater good, gaining commendations and a reputation as fearsome and fearless soldiers. Come and learn about their contribution this summer with an exhibition featuring: * rare archive footage and sound recordings * original artefacts including artworks and memorabilia * an interactive kids educational zone * a series of associated symposiums featuring expert speakers TEL: +44 (0)20 7898 4046 EMAIL: email@example.com WEB: empirefaithwar.com WHEN: 9 July - 28 September 2014
WHERE: Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG ADMISSION: Free. Groups of ten or more are requested to book in advance to avoid disappointment or overcrowding.
Heroes of Adventure This exhibition explores National Trust property Quarry Bank throughout the First World War, including stories from the Greg family, the workers, the villagers of Styal, and the Mill itself. With photos, letters, and belongings from the Gregs and the workers, it is a story of hope, courage, loss, and love.
TEL: 0113 244 4343 EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org WEB: www.thackraymedicalmuseum.co.uk WHEN: Opens July 2014 WHERE: 141 Beckett street, Leeds, W.Yorks, LS9 7LN
Empire, Faith & War: The Sikhs and World War One
TEL: 01625 445 845 EMAIL: email@example.com WEB: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank
WHEN: Saturday 7 June – Sunday 16 November 2014 WHERE: National Trust, Quarry Bank, Styal, Cheshire, SK9 4LA ADMISSION: £9.50, free to National Trust members
MHMReviews RECOMMENDED READ | BOOKS | FILM March Jules Stewart is impressed with the second volume of Philip Dwyer’s hefty biography of Napoleon, dealing with his crucial years in power, and wrestling with the question of whether Napoleon was a genius statesman or Europe’s biggest troublemaker. Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in power 1799-1815 is this month’s Recommended Read. Our book reviews include MHM editor Neil Faulkner on Mapping the First World War, Chris Bambery on A Civil War: a history of the Italian Resistance, and James McCall on Verdun: the lost history of the most important battle of World War I. The Railway Man is the harrowing true tale of how Royal Engineer Eric Lomax dealt with imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Japanese on the dreaded Burma Railway following the fall of Singapore in 1942. George Clode reviews.
Philip Dwyer Bloomsbury, £30 ISBN 978-0747578086
t is 1799. After a decade of political turmoil, more than 40,000 executions, and a brief but bloody Reign of Terror, France has at last thrown off the shackles of absolutist tyranny. Or has it? In the second hefty volume (800 pages) of his biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, the distinguished Australian scholar Philip Dwyer takes us through the crucial years of the French Emperor’s life. Dwyer presents us with a meticulously researched study, containing more than 200 pages of notes and bibliography. The book is a magisterial study of Napoleon’s years in power, his tormented obsessions and often violent nature, which nevertheless served as an inspiration to his countrymen and contributed to a legend that personified France’s most glorious days. For some, Napoleon was a statesman of genius and the most brilliant military strategist of his day; others dismiss him as Europe’s biggest troublemaker of the 19th century, the person responsible for up to 6.5 million casualties of war. Dwyer’s seminal achievement will rank alongside works such as Martin Gilbert’s eight-volume life of Churchill and Ian Kershaw’s profile of Hitler, as
the definitive biography of a man who, regardless of one’s personal opinions of his character, played a crucial role in shaping European history. The Little Corsican, who in 1804 stepped into the shoes of the guillotined Louis XVI as France’s absolute monarch, is portrayed as a hero in the eyes of his countrymen. But also as a bully, and a ruler of mercurial temperament who could win arguments through his indefatigable physical stamina even when he lacked the force of logic. Napoleon regarded himself as a self-styled representation of the French nation, ‘the patrie, dressed in imperial gold and velvet’; imperious, arrogant, and conceited. ‘Anyone would have to be totally mad to make war against me,’ he remarked months before his crushing victory over the Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz. In this case, it cannot be denied, he spoke with unerring accuracy. Dwyer begins his tour de force with a reminder that at this time Napoleon was just 30 years old. So cocksure was he of his destiny that, after escaping an assassination attempt and ignoring the insults shouted by several deputies, he turned to his secretary and said, ‘By the way, we will sleep tomorrow at the Luxembourg Palace.’ And so it was, for Napoleon overthrew the ruling Directory and had himself proclaimed First Consul. ‘No one yet knew, however,’ the author says, ‘what he was truly capable of.’
Napoleon’s downfall In the ensuing years, Napoleon’s appearance suffered a marked decline. When he stepped off the boat near Cannes after escaping from exile on the island of Elba, he was ‘corpulent, his complexion was dull and pallid, and he walked with a stiff gait’, according to contemporary reports cited by the author. It was a far-cry from the ‘relatively svelte figure’ who 15 years earlier had swaggered into the Council of Five Hundred to summarily unseat the government. Napoleon had returned to France in
March 1815 to once again seize power. Three months later, he and his delusions of imperial magnificence were finally crushed on the fields of Waterloo, and the erstwhile master of Europe was packed off by the British to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. It is still debated whether it was the French rout in Spain in 1813, or the battle of Essling near Vienna, that began to turn opinion at home against Napoleon. In his account of this French defeat, Dwyer reveals his abilities as an analyst and chronicler of military history. The detailed description of the encounter brings to light the Emperor’s battlefield indecision and his fateful miscalculation of the Austrian enemy’s ability to wage war. ‘It was the first time that the Emperor’s reputation as a military genius was tarnished, to the point that some were toying with the idea that he had gone mad,’ Dwyer tells us. From that moment forward, speculation about Napoleon’s sanity would continue to grow. It is a reflection of Napoleon’s powerful influence over the army that he never had to face a mutiny in the ranks, not even after the combined losses of about 700,000 men through the disastrous campaigns of 1812 and 1813. Despite the military calamities in Russia and Spain, Napoleon’s escape from exile in 1814 inspired officers to cheer the return of ‘the idol of the French soldier’, as one veteran who had survived the Russian
Napoleon regarded himself as a representation of the French nation, ‘the patrie, dressed in imperial gold and velvet’. March 2014
CITIZEN EMPEROR: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 Left Charge of the French Cuirassiers at Friedland (1807) by Ernest Meissonier. But was it the Battle of Essling two years later that turned French opinion against Napoleon? Below The young Napoleon cut a svelte figure, but as his power waned, so his physical appearance declined.
débâcle put it. Napoleon took care to cultivate a close personal relationship with his commanders. He understood that his political ambitions rested on army support. ‘France’s army was also his army,’ as Dwyer quotes from one contemporary observer. The army’s role as protagonist was evident from the morning in 1800 that Napoleon moved into the Tuileries Palace. In the grand procession that had been organised for the occasion, the military were present not only as an escort to the civilian authorities, and not just as an integral part of the parade. ‘They were placed at the head of the procession, signifying that they were now the premier corps in the state,’ Dwyer explains.
Tormented psyche Dwyer’s book takes us deeper into Napoleon’s tormented psyche than any previous biography. During the disastrous Russian campaign, Napoleon grew so terrified of the prospect of falling prisoner to the enemy that he ordered his physician to prepare a sachet of poison, which he kept with him until his fall in 1814. ‘Despair had set in, and was not really to leave him until his fall from power,’ says the author. This was dramatically demonstrated in a ghastly scene one night after Napoleon’s abdication. The www.military-history.org
Emperor finally decided to make use of the poison prepared by his physician. A few hours after going to bed, he placed the lethal concoction in a glass of water, took a few sips, and was only saved from death by the timely intervention of his physician, who induced vomiting. Great leaders of French history acquire an aura of grandeur that is often at variance with a rather inglorious death. Louis XVI had his head lopped off on the guillotine, Charles de Gaulle slumped over with a blood clot while watching television, and Napoleon – in his final exile, conspiracy theories of arsenic poisoning notwithstanding – died painfully of a protracted bout of stomach cancer. The greatest ignominy to befall Napoleon, who once held the greater part of continental Europe in his hand, was to be deserted by his allies, and then rejected by the people who had once worshipped him almost as a demigod. It is beyond dispute that Napoleon was not only a great European conqueror, but also a reformer who had a profound impact on both his own country and much of the rest of Europe. More controversially, he introduced a top-down system of government that to this day prevails in continental European
countries. He could be surprisingly generous to his enemies, while employing the most brutal ruthlessness in suppressing opposition at home. It will be of interest to see how his legacy is portrayed at the Napoleon theme park being erected outside Paris, an initiative which, were the Emperor alive to see it take form, might serve to reinforce his notions of enduring personal greatness. On the other hand, it could conceivably bring on another stomach cancer. Jules Stewart
Next month… Dietmar Süss, Death from the Skies: how the British and Germans survived bombing in World War II, Oxford University Press, £30, ISBN 978-0199668519
BOOKS MAPPING THE FIRST WORLD WAR: the Great War through maps from 1914 to 1918 Peter Chasseaud Collins with Imperial War Museum, £30 ISBN 978-0007522200
he First World War was a war of maps. As in so many other ways, tendencies already inherent in war were taken to unprecedented extremes in the first fully industrialised war. To a large degree, ancient and Medieval wars had been fought without the aid of maps. Roman mapping, for example, took the form not of measured surveys of the landscape as a whole, but of pictorial representations of routeways showing roads and towns and little else. Cartography began to develop rapidly with the Renaissance, and military need was a major driver. Warfare from the early 16th to the early 18th century tended to be slow and methodical, often involving sieges of fortified towns conducted in textbook manner. The requirement was for accurate and detailed maps to assist operations, especially in the placement of artillery batteries. Later, as war became more mobile and surveying techniques improved, entire landscapes were mapped in detail. The British Ordnance Survey traces its history to King George II’s decision to commission
maps of the Scottish Highlands in 1746 – a direct response to the Jacobite uprising. Continued fears of French invasion – a live danger until 1805 – meant the extension of the ‘Ordnance’ (i.e. artillery) Survey to England and Wales. But the First World War marked a transformation in scale. Particular features of the conflict made maps both more necessary and easier to produce. The static, defensive nature of the fighting made detailed mapping essential in laying out trenches, delivering artillery bombardments, and launching infantry attacks. Almost all artillery fire was indirect, making it a matter of maps, forward observation, the plotting of co-ordinates, and mathematical calculation. The vastness and ‘emptiness’ of the battlefield meant that command and control had to be exercised remotely – and therefore depended on maps. Wellington probably never looked at a map once battle was joined at Waterloo; Haig was blind without one on the Western Front. The basic equipment and techniques of modern cartography were well established by the time of the First World War, but air-reconnaissance was, of course, a major addition; indeed, it was essential once the aim was to update maps regularly with information about changing enemy dispositions. Then there was the simple matter of scale. A mere handful of surveyors had accompanied Wellington in the Peninsula. The Lines of Torres Vedras, for example, were the work of just 17 engineer officers. By 1918, on the other hand, the British Expeditionary Force’s survey personnel numbered nearly 5,000. The First World War meant an explosion in map-making. This is the subject of Peter Chasseaud’s new book Mapping the First World War. Chasseaud is a leading historian of military cartography, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and the founder of the Historical Military Mapping Group of the British Cartographic Society. His knowledge of his subject is unrivalled.
The British Expeditionary Force’s survey personnel numbered nearly 5,000 by 1918 – an explosion in map-making. The result is a book that is both a first-class reference text and a stunning collection of works of technical draughtsmanship. Needless to say, the book is lavishly illustrated, and the variety and artistic quality of the images is the making of it. As well as military maps per se, there is a wealth of commercial and popular maps produced at the time. I will mention two at random. Many newspapers and magazines produced maps so that their readers could follow the events of the war. ‘The Daily Mail General War Map of Europe’ is one example, a colour-coded map of war-divided Europe, with a pictorial representation of the ‘war strength of the great powers’ down the right-hand side. In marked contrast was ‘The Daily Mail Map of Zeppelin and Aeroplane Bombs on London’, an early post-war publication showing the locations of each aerial bomb dropped, these forming clusters and lines reflecting the movements of the attacking aircraft. Vast numbers of books about the First World War are pouring of the presses. Much of the output will comprise second-rate rehashes. One needs to be selective. This book should be high on the list of any serious reader with a general interest in the First World War. For those interested in the history of military mapping, it is essential. Neil Faulkner March 2014
Warsaw 1944: the fateful uprising Alexandra Richie William Collins, £25 ISBN 978-00007180417
mid the deluge of First World War histories that are this year packing publishers’ catalogues, Alexandra Richie has reminded us of the commemoration of a largely unsung event that took place 30 years later, in the closing days of the next European war: the Warsaw uprising, one of the most heroic and tragic episodes in the battle against Hitler. This is a blockbuster, some eight years in the making, which, across more than 700 pages, recounts the valiant struggle of the people of Warsaw in August 1944 to overthrow the Nazi occupation of their city, from the planning stages to its devastating ending. Richie is eminently qualified to tell the story. She worked for years as a consultant specialised in central Europe and now lives in Poland, where she researched and wrote the book from German, Polish, and Russian sources, as well as the private archive of her Polish father-in-law, who took part in the uprising. The author addresses a number of critical questions, the answers to which shed light on the twisted and cynical minds of the two arch-demons of the war, Hitler and Stalin. By late 1944, although there was still plenty of kick left in the Wehrmacht’s fighting machine, military commanders on both sides harboured little doubt that Germany was doomed to defeat. Yet Hitler, incited by his diabolical sidekick Heinrich Himmler, gave the order for the city to be razed to the ground. This reflected a combination of Hitler’s obsession with Warsaw as the hated city blocking Germany’s ‘path to the east’, as well as his determination to set a terrifying example for the rest of Europe. On 5 August alone, retaliation against the AK (Armia Krajowa, or ‘Polish Home Army’) resulted in the murder of more than 40,000 Polish men, women, and children at Wola, the single largest battlefield massacre of the war. Small wonder, when one considers that the Dirlewanger Brigade, perhaps the most brutal fighting unit in the German army, was unleashed on Warsaw on that day. Another question is why the Soviets stood by and allowed the Germans www.military-history.org
to flatten the city and exterminate a large part of its population. The Red Army was positioned on the other side of the Vistula River, yet the Russian commanders dithered, alleging tactical concerns, and decided not to move until 10 August or even 25 August. By the middle of the month, it had become clear that the Soviet attack had been abandoned, leaving the AK to its fate. Stalin, it has been widely alleged, allowed this to happen to prevent the AK from setting up a pro-Western democracy after the war. When all vestiges of Polish resistance had been crushed, up to 200,000 civilians lay dead in the streets, and another 700,000 had been expelled from the city, of which only around 15% remained intact. ‘The uprising was not particularly well known in the West during the war, and any memory of it quickly faded after 1945,’ Richie says. This meticulously researched, lively account restores the uprising to its proper place in the annals of Second World War history. Jules Stewart
A Civil War: a history of the Italian Resistance Claudio Pavone Verso, £35 ISBN 978-1844677504
n 8 September 1943 the Italian army fell apart. The Allies broadcast the news that the Italian government had signed an armistice with them, something the king in Rome and his new Prime Minister Marshal Badoglio wanted kept secret. Italy was an ally of Hitler’s Germany, but, two months earlier, King Victor Emmanuel III had dismissed Benito Mussolini, ending two decades of Fascist dictatorship. Claudio Pavone’s A Civil War charts the failure of the Italian officer corps to respond as German forces rushed south to occupy as much of the peninsula as possible. Some resisted, some joined the Nazis, and many were the first to flee. With no orders from above, the vast bulk of soldiers were paralysed and were rounded up by the Wehrmacht. I do feel that Pavone could have made it clear that by the close of 1943 few volunteering to serve Hitler and Mussolini could have been unaware of the barbarism of their cause. Some quarter
of a million Italians had served on the Russian front, and a similar number in Yugoslavia, and in both countries the Axis was waging a genocidal war. Knowledge of the death camps was widespread too, and Fascists rounding up Italian Jews would have known their fate. Pavone charts the dilemma facing Italians. Large numbers would form the most effective wartime resistance in Western Europe, some would see the king and Badoglio as traitors betraying their allies, while the majority looked to survive as war entered the country. This book caused a major controversy when it was first published in 1991 in Italy, because it identified the Resistance as fighting three wars – a patriotic one, a civil war, and a class war. Until then the anti-Fascists had stressed the first to the exclusion of the others. It was those who had fought on with Hitler and Mussolini (freed by the Germans) who talked of this as a civil war. For many Italians, the Resistance was a further round of the Risorgimento, the 19th-century movement that created a united Italy. But the Resistance was also largely of the Left, and Italian Fascist forces were used mainly in ‘reprisal’ actions against them. It was the Fascists who must take responsibility, though, for launching a civil war, particularly in the summer of 1944, when they deployed their new Black Brigades against the partisans. Back in the early 1920s Mussolini’s Blackshirts had met little co-ordinated resistance as they waged war on the Left, the trade unions and radical Catholics. Perhaps expecting the same again, they were shaken by the response they met in 1944-1945. After 20 years of Fascism backed by the king, the Vatican, and the industrialists, the potential for class and civil war was never far away. The Allies treated the Resistance with suspicion, despite its notable contribution to the fight against the Germans: in the end, it was the Resistance who liberated the great cities of northern Italy in 1945. It was the major component of it, the Communists, that helped ensure their struggle was limited to creating parliamentary democracy (in line with Stalin, who accepted Italy was part of the Anglo-American sphere of influence). This is not a military history as such, more a study of what drove and sustained the partisans, and, to a lesser extent, their Fascist enemies, and that is fascinating. Chris Bambery MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
ON THE HORIZON When Reporters Cross the Line: the heroes, the villains, the hackers, and the spies Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert Biteback Publishing, £20 ISBN 978-1849545839 This book offers unparalleled access to the minds of reporters and to the often disturbing decisions they make when faced with extreme situations. In doing so, it poses the fundamental question: where do you draw the line? High Flight: the life and poetry of Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Roger Cole Fighting High Ltd, £19.95 ISBN 978-0957116368 The extraordinary story of Magee’s short life, describing in unprecedented detail the events that inspired his poetry, which has now found a unique place in history. The Consequences of Honour: Bonaparte, Britain, and the peace of Amiens Mark Lucas Lulu Publishing, £13.99 ISBN 978-1304116031 Exploring the diplomatic relationship between Britain and France during the brief period of peace following the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. The internal politics are described, and a colourful cast of characters brought to life. Fight On: a GI’s odyssey back to Nazi Germany Bernard L Kahn Cable Publishing, $24.95 ISBN 978-1934980644 The story of one man’s flight from Nazi Germany, and his subsequent return as a conqueror. This riveting account of Kahn’s childhood, his emigration to the States, and his eventual return to Germany as a US soldier includes the gritty details of combat as an infantryman. Challenge of Battle: the real story of the British Army in 1914 Adrian Gilbert Osprey, £20 ISBN 978-1849088596 Challenge of Battle gives a true historical appreciation of the British Army’s opening campaign in the West, detailing both the successes and the failures of the British Expeditionary Force at war. Outside the Wire: American soldiers’ voices from Afghanistan Edited by Christine Dumaine Leche University of Virginia Press, £20.95 ISBN 978-0813934112 A riveting collection of 38 narratives by American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, offering a powerful evocation of everyday life in a war zone.
The Western Front Companion: the complete guide to how the armies fought for four devastating years, 1914-1918
Verdun: the lost history of the most important battle of World War I, 1914-1918 John Mosier
Mark Adkin Aurum, £60 ISBN 978-1845137106
et us be frank: this is an expensive ‘coffee-table’ book, and the author is not a First World War specialist, having previously published similar volumes in the same series on Gettysburg, Trafalgar, and Waterloo. Do not be put off. Mark Adkin, a former army officer and overseas civil servant, is a solid military historian, well able to manage a large mass of data and produce an accurate, well-organised, and informative volume. I decided to test it by drilling down to find answers to a specific question. I chose the development of hand-grenades. These pop up immediately in the contents, under the section ‘infantry and their weapons’, subsection ‘bombs/grenades’. I found them equally easily in the index, where the main reference is distinct from a handful of other references. I checked the latter: is the index mere hack-work, where a computer has been asked to list every occurrence of ‘grenade’ – a massive time-waster for a researcher, who wants to be directed to the substantive references without having to check every passing mention along the way? I was satisfied: I got only substantive references. The main entry was a mix of technical information, historical development, tactical use, and battlefield experience, including strong first-hand testimony. My only criticism – a significant one – is that I learnt little about either French or German equipment. This prompted a second test to establish whether this is mainly a book about the British Army. This time I chose heavy artillery, and again I found my way easily using contents and index. But my impression was confirmed: twice as much on British equipment as on French and German combined. Does this matter? Not really, provided one is aware that this is a book mainly about the British experience on the Western Front. With that caveat, I have no hesitation in recommending it to those seeking an encyclopedia of the Western Front (though the price is eye-watering). Neil Faulkner
MAL Publishing, £15.99 ISBN 978-0451414625
erdun was not one single, epic engagement like Stalingrad or Gettysburg. Despite what many enthusiasts and historians believe, Verdun is in fact a shorthand reference for nine WWI battles fought in the Lorraine region of France. Mosier explains ably why these clashes have been misunderstood. The engagements were fought on the very periphery of France, in a region in which only one in five of the population spoke French. Even today, the area – only 300km from Paris – is seldom visited by French tourists. A theatre of war larger than the British and Belgian sections put together also helps make the French experience of the war difficult to grasp. Intriguingly, the book explains how confusion about this portion of the front was caused by a deliberate policy of obfuscation carried out by the French GHQ. Only reports completed in French and examined by French censors were considered for publication, with a result that only a pro-French narrative reached the public. At the same time, French generals greatly inflated the number of German soldiers killed to excuse failures to retake territory. In this way, defeats like the 1917 battle could be largely concealed and easily overlooked by historians. These reports tended to be uncritically believed by France’s allies, including Lloyd George. John Mosier is not a professional historian: he specialises in teaching film and 18th-century literature at the University of New Orleans. In common with many academic outsiders, Mosier specialises in ‘debunking’ the work of other writers. This does mean that he spends a significant number of pages castigating historians he perceives as producing sloppy work. The reader’s level of enjoyment will depend on their willingness to put up with these observations. Verdun is the kind of polemic which is engaging to read, even if you ultimately end up rejecting its arguments. The book will serve as a useful introduction to the minds of French commanders. James McCall March 2014
The Chindits 1943 Burma The Gurkhas 1953 Tibet One mans search for redemption
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FILM THE RAILWAY MAN
LIONSGATE 10 JANUARY 2014
ased on the autobiography of WWII prisoner-of-war Eric Lomax, this moving and harrowing new film deals with the horrific torture inflicted on prisoners by the Japanese on the infamous Burma Railway. The set-up is cleverly orchestrated. The film begins as if it is going to be a saccharine love story between the charming stranger Patti (Nicole Kidman) and the awkward middle-aged train enthusiast Eric Lomax (Colin Firth). They meet, fall in love, and marry, the lighting is yellow and dreamy, the music is romantic and full of promise. But with the simple closing of a rental van’s sliding door, Director Jonathan Teplitzky transports us to the heat and chaos of Singapore, 1942. From a series of short flashbacks, we gather that the young signals engineer Lomax has been captured by the Japanese and is being transported
to the dreaded Burma Railway. Brutally tortured and beaten following the discovery of a radio, the shy and nervous Lomax (played by a jittery and endearing Jeremy Irvine) displays courage and stoicism. The effects of this cruelty manifest themselves in the older Lomax in the form of anxiety, depression, night terrors, and hallucinations. The fairytale love story begins to crumble as he distances himself further and further from Patti, seeking refuge among other former PoWs harbouring similar secrets of degradation and suffering. In her desperate attempts to connect with Lomax and to understand his
pain, Patti turns to his friend and fellow Burma survivor Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård). Cagey at first, Finlay reveals that Lomax’s chief tormentor is still alive and thriving, giving tours of the Burma Railway. Through this information, Lomax is given the chance to confront his past, to exact revenge, to put an end to his suffering. Skarsgård does an excellent job as the troubled friend and mentor, although it has been suggested that it was an odd casting. The film takes some time to arrive at this pivotal stage. Teplitzky’s build-up is slightly long-winded, so that by the time this crucial development is made, the subsequent action seems hurried and lacks the gritty realism that the rest of the film handles so well. This was a very moving film of redemption and love, given extra weight by the fact that it is based on Lomax’s actual experiences. The acting is first-class, the violent scenes are uncompromising, and the shots of skeletal prisoners working in the scorching heat under the truncheons of sadistic Japanese guards are frighteningly realistic. Although it is unlikely to reach war-classic status, The Railway Man is well-balanced film; not for the fainthearted, but highly recommended. George Clode
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CRACKING CASSINO: PART 2 Patrick Mercer continues his short series on the pivotal battle of the Italian campaign.
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YOUR MILITARY HISTORY
GLIDER PILOTS AT ARNHEM The human touch: stories of war and conflict from readers of MHM.
Alan Jamieson is a historian and the author of many books on local history and WWII.
Left The Royal Air Force airfield at Fairford. Planes and gliders are shown lined up for take-off on the first day of Operation Market Garden. Below Where it all started: Moor Park Mansion, where Operation Market Garden was conceived and planned.
Alan Jamieson tells the story of Mike Hall, a glider pilot who survived the 1944 Battle of Arnhem.
n 12 September 1944, more than 100 officers assembled in what had once been Lady Ebury’s bedroom in Moor Park, an elegant 18th-century mansion near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire. Lieutenant-General ‘Boy’ Browning and MajorGeneral Roy Urquhart, who were billeted in the mansion, stood up to face the men. They told their stunned audience that after a month’s frantic and secret planning, an airborne assault by parachute and glider would be launched to seize bridges across the Rhine. The assault was to involve a British and Polish force of 11,900 men, who would be flown to Arnhem to capture the most northerly bridge. Five days later, an air armada flew over southern England; with them, flying a Horsa, was glider-pilot Staff Sergeant Mike Hall. As war approached, Mike Hall had volunteered in April 1939 for the Army, and was enlisted in the London Irish Rifles – ‘a really rough lot’, as he remembers. After initial training, he had his first experience of Moor Park Mansion, posted there as a clerk to an officers’ training school. Earlier in the war the mansion had been a comfortable jail for German officers. Billeted in its basement, Mike worked at a desk in the Orangery, before moving on with the Rifles to other 76
bases. In March 1942, Mike volunteered again, this time to train as a glider pilot. Promoted to corporal, he trained on a small glider called a Hotspur, learning air navigation, meteorology, aircraft recognition, and flying. He continued with rifle skills because when glider pilots (still considered part of the Army, not the RAF) landed, they joined up with an infantry platoon as riflemen. In October 1942, having completed his training, Mike moved to the large aerodrome of Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Here he learned to fly a Horsa, a glider larger than a Halifax or a Stirling, which were used as ‘tugs’. The Horsa could carry 28 armed and kitted men, or vehicles such as jeeps, motorcycles, or anti-tank guns. Mike did not know then that he would fly a Horsa to Arnhem on one of the most perilous missions of WWII. Mike’s first brush with real action came in June 1943. By then a staff sergeant in the Glider Pilot Regiment, he flew a Horsa, pulled by a Halifax, for a nine-hour flight to Morocco, joining the 8th Army and the American army that had expelled Rommel from North Africa. Mike moved on to Italy, but in November 1943 he was posted back to the UK to join the 1st Airborne Division as it prepared for D-Day and subsequent operations.
The planners at Moor Park Back at Moor Park Mansion, a team of planners were hard at work in Lady Ebury’s former bedroom. Between D-Day and September 1944, 17 different operations were planned for the 1st Airborne Division. All were aborted, and the Airborne generals became impatient. After the D-Day landings – in which the Airborne, carried by gliders, played a significant role, including the capture of Pegasus Bridge – and the battle for Normandy, the Allied March 2014
advance across northern France and Belgium was swift. The Airborne were held back, much to their disgust. As crack troops, they were desperate to get into the action. Their time soon came. Operation Market Garden, proposed by FieldMarshal Montgomery and worked out at Moor Park by generals Browning and Urquhart and their staff, would go ahead. It would be a huge operation to seize the bridges across the Rhine, enabling the Allies to break into northern Germany and end the war. At 8.30am on 17 September, Mike and hundreds of other pilots had a short briefing about their target. The parachut and glider assault was to take place over three days. Enough time, General Browning said, to seize the most northerly bridge at Arnhem in Holland. Mike Hall’s flight was on the first day. He was in one of hundreds of planes – gliders ‘tugged’ by Dakotas and other aircraft, both bombers and fighters – that streamed out of 24 airfields towards the Dutch coast. ‘It was a thrilling sight to see the huge number of aircraft together with their fighter escorts,’ recalls Mike. Thrilling, perhaps, for someone then aged only 23. But dangerous too. A glider had no engine; it was pulled at the end of a rope by a ‘tug’ plane. Released, it had to be carefully flown and then landed in a field already crowded with gliders, with others coming in behind it. In Mike’s glider were 28 men of the Border Regiment, their lives totally dependent on the skill of the two pilots up front. Mike’s glider was one of the first to land in the Landing Zone, six miles from the Arnhem Bridge. The approach and landing were unopposed, unlike drops on the second and third days, when the element of surprise had been lost. On those occasions, German troops from two panzer divisions which had re-grouped north-east of Arnhem moved to defend the bridge and peppered the British troops falling from the sky. Mike and his co-pilot, their glider duties finished, became infantrymen. The task of the men of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment was to protect the landing zones for the second day’s drop, so they dug trenches and spent their first night in them. As German fighter planes appeared overhead, Mike remembers thinking, ‘I have never seen a bunch of men move so quickly. We all dived into our trenches with bullets splattering around us.’
A bridge too far On the third day, Mike was in a wood near the Hartenstein Hotel and houses wrecked by shellfire in Oosterbeek. He was given a Bren gun. However, the British infantrymen were facing 60 tanks, artillery, and panzer grenadiers equipped with machine-guns and mortars. The third day’s gliders and parachutists came in. According to Mike, ‘The reception they received from the Germans was deadly, with anti-aircraft guns taking a severe toll.’ Retreating towards the Oosterbeek church, now also a ruin, they entered a house. ‘We came across a large bowl of newly mashed potatoes. We soon demolished them, because we hadn’t eaten much since our arrival in Holland.’ On the fourth and fifth days of the battle, Mike stayed in trenches near the Hartenstein, which had been ruined by German shells and mortar bombs. German snipers picked off men www.military-history.org
Above A Halifax taking off, pulling a Horsa glider like the one Mike Hall piloted. Left A recent photo of Mike Hall.
who poked their heads above the trench rim, including the man who stood next to Mike. ‘Every day there were rumours of the 2nd Army reaching the river from the south. But they never came.’ By the end of the fifth day, the Guards Armoured Division reached the Rhine’s south bank, linking up with the brave survivors of the Polish Parachute Brigade who had landed and suffered severe casualties on the fourth day. Across the river, on the north bank, Mike Hall and the diminishing band of the 1st Airborne Division found themselves under increasing fire. On 25 September, the ninth day, General Urquhart sent orders to evacuate. During the night, in heavy rain, the survivors made their way to the Rhine. ‘We covered our boots with cloth to muffle our footsteps,’ says Mike. ‘Silently, in single file, following a white tape to mark the route, we left the Hartenstein behind and saw small boats crossing the river towards us.’ Engineers from British and Canadian companies were using stormboats as ferries – although they were no bigger than rowboats – to carry up to 12 men at a time across the fast-flowing Rhine. Some men attempted to swim and many were drowned. Mike clambered into a stormboat, and a few minutes later staggered on to the south bank where soldiers from the Guards sent him on his way, a three-mile walk to a rest centre. The British and Canadian engineers turned their boats around to re-cross the river, time and again. ‘They were brave men, and we owed them our lives,’ says Mike. Of the 11,900 men who went to Arnhem, only 3,900 (including General Urquhart and Mike Hall) escaped or were evacuated. Over 1,400 men were killed and over 6,500 exhausted and wounded survivors were left behind to become prisoners-of-war. ‘A bridge too far,’ lamented General Browning later. Glider pilot Mike Hall agrees. But his war was not over. On Christmas Day 1944, only three months after Arnhem, Mike flew in a Sunderland flying boat to Karachi, India. An adventurous journey by train took him across India to Burma, where a glider assault in support of the 14th Army had been planned. After a rigorous training course in jungle warfare, Mike flew 14 missions into Burma as second pilot in a Dakota aircraft, delivering supplies and evacuating wounded men. In the last weeks of the war in the Far East, he again crossed India by train, and it was not until February 1946 that a troopship finally took him back to the UK. He had survived six-and-a-half years of war – and he lives to tell the tale. MILITARYHISTORYMONTHLY
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A MENTION FOR GERMAN PARAS As an RAF airman, I took part in Operation Husky in July/August 1943. When our ship arrived in Augusta harbour we were welcomed by the Luftwaffe’s Fw 190 fighter/ bombers, which for the next few days carried out daylight attacks, supplemented at night by their comrades in Ju 88s. Our base was near the village of Scordia, on a landing ground that was home to the 57th Fighter Group USAAF, equipped with P-40 Warhawks. We all lived under appalling conditions, made worse by the dust, heat, and mosquitos. Day after day, the Americans carried out missions in support of our ground forces and to frustrate the German evacuation to Italy, suffering losses as a consequence. During this evacuation, the Luftwaffe carried out spoiling attacks against our landing grounds by night. Perhaps some coverage could have been given, in your article on Operation Husky (MHM 39), to the vital role played by the two German Parachute Regiments dropped in during 13 July to reinforce the German positions south of Catania. These foiled, in part, a British airborne operation on 14 July 1943, and together with other assorted German units held the 8th Army at bay before carrying out a phased withdrawal to their embarkation points near Messina. The Americans and British were to meet these men again at Cassino. Dick Harrison York
NDERSTANDING LEADERS n his criticism of Max Hastings Recommended Read’, MHM 39), our reviewer – like too many others – fails to put himself into the mind-set of our leaders at that time. Assuming they were 60s or thereabouts, they would have grown up knowing ‘Germany’ as a cluster of little states and dukedoms being scooped together by a more powerful and bullying Prussia (warlike ever since anyone could remember, and still proud of Frederick the Great). Their leader Bismarck then attacked Denmark (1862), Austria (1864), and France (1870). Finally, he brought in the remaining states, comprising ‘South Germany’, and formed the united and massive ‘Second German Empire’– the First having been the Holy Roman Empire in the 9th century! Following this alarming sign of arrogance, the Kaiser starts arming and building battleships. 78
If I was a mild-mannered 60-year-old politician in 1914, I would have been scared as hell! Tim Topps Oxford
HOSTILE BOWLING I really enjoyed Crispin Andrew’s ‘Cricket and the Second World War’ (MHM 40), and look forward to seeing a follow-up piece on cricket during WWI. Keith Miller’s famous ‘pressure’ quote deserves to be placed into context. During the 1948 Ashes tour, Australian captain Don Bradman (who had, as the author earlier identified, missed front-line service during WWII) demanded that his fast bowlers bowled with hostility to intimidate the English batters. But Miller, a tough competitor, refused to bowl in such a manner at those he saw as former comrades-in-arms. Miller’s resentment towards Bradman went back to their contrasting wartime
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experiences. A number of Australian and English cricketers who had come out of the war agreed with Miller, who felt that the sport should be played in a new spirit. To say Len Hutton scored a century in August 1938 is a slight understatement – Hutton scored 364, which would remain the highest individual score in Test cricket for two decades. David Flintham London
DUNKIRK: GREAT MILITARY ACHIEVEMENT? David Sloggett’s piece on Operation Husky (MHM 39) was excellent, highlighting the stunning performance of Oberst Ernst-Günther Baade in evacuating the bulk of the German forces, their heavy guns, and vehicles. However, surely he is mistaken to describe the Dunkirk 1940 evacuation as ‘one of the great military achievements of the war’? The British Army returned to Kent with little more than its underpants, having abandoned all its heavy equipment. A fiasco almost unparalleled in British history. No doubt the German quartermaster was delighted at not having to feed 300,000 idle mouths, as he would have been required to do under the Geneva Convention. Jules Stewart’s splendid article on the Pashtun Uprising of 1897 was faultless, except in its reference to Winston Spencer-Churchill. Described as a war correspondent, Churchill was, perhaps astonishingly, also a serving British Army officer at this time, albeit in the cavalry. Churchill’s hysterical hyperbole claiming that ‘[t]he whole British Raj seemed passing away in a single cataclysm’ is endorsed by Mr Stewart as ‘not over-dramatising the threat’. Really? The whole British Raj in jeopardy over some obscure tribal rebellion that, by Mr Stewart’s own admission, took a mere two months to crush and cost a trifling 1,150 casualties. Hardly a modern Cannae! Mark Corby London March 2014
OPENING JULY 2014
Medicine and Conflict Gallery Explore soldiersâ€™ experiences of hearing loss, limb loss and shell shock in the First World War and reflect on how far military medicine has come in 100 years. Created with the help of veterans and servicemen and women. Open daily 10am-5pm. Tickets last all year. Group discounts. On-site parking. CafĂŠ serving
www.thackraymedicalmuseum.co.uk email@example.com Thackray Medical Museum Beckett Street Leeds LS9 7LN
COMPETITION This month we have 4 COPIES of
THE LAWN ROAD FLATS by David Burke to be won
1. When was the Isokon building
completed? 2. How many apartments did the Isokon
building contain? 3. What was the surname of the family
of Soviet spies who resided there?
A modernist first, London’s Isokon building attracted writers, artists, architects – and some of the most dangerous spies ever to operate in Britain. Completed in Hampstead in 1934, the Isokon, better known as the Lawn Road Flats, contained 32 apartments and was home to, among others, Henry Moore, Agatha Christie, historian V Gordon Childe, Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, designer (and Bauhaus member) Marcel Breuer, novelist Nicholas Monsarrat, and several senior civil servants. But many of their neighbours were hiding dark secrets. Arnold Deutsch was a senior Soviet agent and controller of the infamous Cambridge spies Philby, Blunt, and Burgess. Eva Collett Reckitt, heiress and owner of Collett’s bookshop, was an active Soviet spy, and the four members of the Kuczynski family who were in residence were all agents – probably the most successful family of spies in the history of espionage. For the first time, David Burke, historian of intelligence and international relations, explains the history of this remarkable building, how it came to capture the imagination of so many important and creative men and women, and why so many spies were drawn to it.
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MHM CROSSWORD Test your military history knowledge in our regular crossword. The answers will be revealed in next month’s issue of MHM.
6 8 10 11 13 14 17 19 20 23 25 26 27
Commander of the Prussian Army at Waterloo (7) Lysander or Leonidas, for example (7) German city captured by US troops in March 1945 (7) Brother of King Harold, killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (6) Nickname of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade during the American Civil War (10) Marshal who led the rearguard during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow (3) Body of water in Northern Ireland, site of a bombing range in World War II (10,5) First word of the motto of the SAS (3) US Special Operations unit formed in 1977 (5,5) Spanish city taken from the Moors by Alfonso VI in 1085 (6) Army which defeated the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava (7) Scottish king killed in 1093 at the Battle of Alnwick (7) Edward ___, army chaplain awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916 for action near Ypres (7)
DOWN 1 2 3
Regiment raised in Scotland in 1739 (5,5) George ___, commander of the Union Army at the Battle of Antietam (9) Anchorage near Portsmouth, scene of a mutiny in April and May 1797 (8)
7 9 12
19 21 22
John ___, commander of the 2nd Parachute Battalion during Operation Market Garden (5) Battle of ___, a British defeat by Ottoman forces, fought in present-day Iraq in 1916 (4) Standard carried by an aquilifer in a Roman legion (5) Aircraft such as the Chinook and Sea King (11) First name of the CO of 617 Squadron RAF during Operation Chastise in May 1943 (3) The house in the Bavarian Alps built as a present for Hitler on his 50th birthday (6,4) French admiral, victorious in battle with an Anglo-Dutch fleet off Beachy Head in 1690 (9) A city in south-eastern France, which is the location of the Mountain Troops Museum (8) ___ Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 (3) Ditch dug as part of a fortification (5) Henry ___, 1st Earl of Northumberland, killed in 1408 at the Battle of Bramham Moor (5) Sir Charles ___, historian, whose works include History of the Peninsular War (4)
We continue our caption competition with an image from our William Wallace feature. Pit your wit against MHM readers at www.military-history.org/competitions.
WINNER The phrase ‘dance till you’re dead on your feet’ was taken a little too far at the MHM Christmas do. James Brunwick RUNNERS-UP Good God! are the Rolling Stones still going?
Mick Wyatt From the start of the gravediggers’ strike, cemeteries made do with a skeleton staff.
Think you can do better? Log onto www.military-history.org/competitions to enter the next CAPTION COMPETITION. Flex your funny bone and be in with a chance of getting your caption published in the next issue of Military History Monthly !
FEBRUARY ISSUE | MHM 41 ANSWERS
ACROSS 7 Sahagun, 8 Aachen, 10 Bertha, 11 Culverin, 12 Imola, 13 Iron Cross, 15 Ostrogoth, 19 Charleroi, 21 Grant, 23 Browning, 24 Toulon, 25 Maroon, 26 Celebes. DOWN 1 Palermo, 2 Martello, 3 Murat, 4 Rawlinson, 5 Scheer, 6 Pelisse, 9 Scarborough, 14 Athenians, 16 Hercules, 17 Sherman, 18 Andover, 20 Rowton, 22 Steel.
Dr Wi liam Penney
lliam Penney ther of the tish Atom Bomb’
Patrick Boniface begins our new occasional series profiling history’s most-prolific military scientists.
bespectacled British scientist who would one day become known as the ‘The Father of the British Atom Bomb’, William Penney was born on Gibraltar in 1909, but raised in Sheerness in Kent. He was one of only a handful of scientists to witness the explosion over Nagasaki from the air. At 1,600 feet, he saw the detonation and the bubbling mass of purple-grey smoke that soon manifested itself into the tell-tale mushroom cloud. Under ground zero, the red core of the explosion had vaporised the city and left it a burning wreck; 70,000 people were dead or dying. Dr William Penney had witnessed one of the epochal moments in the history of mankind. The nuclear bombs over Japan were a far-cry from the pure theoretical research that Dr Penney was conducting prior to the outbreak of war. His love and understanding of algebra, calculus, and partial differential equations led him to a scholarship at Imperial College London, and throughout the 1930s he was recognised as a prodigy and expected to have an academic career. However, his sharp and focused mind was snapped up by the Royal Navy, who had Dr Penney investigate explosive shockwaves to unlock the military potential of hydrodynamic and gravitational waves. This research led directly to an enhanced design of warships and torpedoes. During the lead-up to the Normandy invasion, Penney assisted Royal Navy engineers in the construction of the revolutionary Mulberry harbours. In 1943, when he returned to Imperial College London, the course of his life changed dramatically. He joined Tube Alloys, the secret nuclear-weapon directorate, which worked closely with the Manhattan Project in the United States. He assumed the role of head of the British delegation to the project, and travelled to Los Alamos where he worked closely alongside J Robert Oppenheimer’s team of scientists. On 16 July 1945, Penney was present at the Trinity test detonation, where his counsel was held in high regard by the Americans. It was on Penney’s advice that the Americans chose to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after Penney determined that the cities’ locations, surrounded by high hills, would better contain the blast effect. 82
Returning to the UK from the Far East at the end of the war, Dr Penney set his sights on returning to his academic studies, previously interrupted by the war. But successive British governments, having seen the potential of nuclear weapons, wanted to know more and to possess them as a deterrent. And meeting with the civil servant C P Snow would change the course of Dr Penney’s career. They met for drinks, and Penney was invited to take up the post of chief superintendent of armament research at Fort Halstead, just outside Sevenoaks. Initially, the United States and Great Britain worked side-by-side in developing the new weapons, and Dr Penney, again, witnessed the bomb blasts at the Marshall Islands and at Bikini Atoll. Indeed, it was his after-action reports on the two bomb detonations that landed on the Prime Minister’s desk. The period of co-operation was short-lived, however. The Truman administration threw up a wall of secrecy around atom-bomb research following the passing of the McHahon Act (Atomic Energy Act). The British were not to be privy to any new information. Clement Attlee’s reaction was to establish a British independent nuclear deterrent. Penney was crucial to its development, having submitted his plans for an Atomic Weapons Section to the Marshal of the Royal Air Force in November 1946. Such was the fervour behind the British atom bomb that Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin said, ‘We’ve got to have it, and it’s got to have a bloody Union Jack on it.’ The project was officially started in January 1947, and Penney was appointed to head-up HER (High Explosive Research) at Fort Halstead. He cherry-picked the very finest engineers and scientists to work on the project. Progress was steady, if slow, but three years later the first British atomic bomb was ready for testing. A further two years down the line, on 3 October 1952, Penney’s ‘baby’ was detonated. It was a complete success, and marked Great Britain as being only the third nation in the world to possess nuclear weapon technology. For his efforts, Dr William Penney was knighted by the Queen; he continued to work at Aldermaston until 1967. He died aged 82, in 1991, of liver cancer, probably linked to his work with uranium. March 2014