Part Two continues the story of the Wustennotstaffel in May 1942. Featured stories include the Wüstennotstaffel‘s role in the British capture of General der Panzertruppe Ludwig Crüwell during the Battle of Gazala, and the dramatic escape by a Wüstennotstaffel pilot and German doctor from the feared and renowned British Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service. Perhaps the most surprising story is that of a nocturnal sabotage mission undertaken by the Wüstennotstaffel.
The article includes numerous photos, two colour profiles of Fieseler Storch aircraft and five maps. Also featured are two detailed appendices – one with unit losses and one with known desert rescues.
Page from the illuminated manuscript of Jean Froissart’s “Chronicles’ depicting a medieval naval battle.
King Edward’s flagship, the Cog Thomas.
The leading authority on the naval history of Britain, N. A. M. Rodger, has pointed out that there was no Royal Navy in the fourteenth century, that the monarchy had little understanding of the importance of sea power, and indeed that honours were even at Winchelsea; but Froissart had no doubt that the English had won; and he even spiced up his story with a jolly tale relating to his hero Sir John Chandos:
The King posted himself in the fore part of his own ship: he was dressed in a black velvet jacket, and wore on his head a small hat of beaver, which became him much. He was that day, as I was told by those who were present, as joyous as he ever was in his life, and ordered his minstrels to play before him a German dance which Sir John Chandos had lately introduced. For his amusement, he made the same knight sing with his minstrels, which delighted him greatly.
The story seems to indicate a close and friendly relationship between King Edward and Chandos, both of whom are said to have had a common interest in music; but, depending on how one reads it, the episode may suggest that Edward was less like Old King Cole than Joseph Stalin – who habitually forced his generals to perform for him, when they were drunk.
The jovial (or drunken?) atmosphere on the ship moored off Winchelsea did not last long. Hostilities soon began. An engagement at sea resembled a very large tournament and the tactics employed differed little from those used by the knights at a joust. The fighting was done by soldiers rather than sailors:
When the King of England saw from his ship their order of battle, he ordered the person who managed his vessel, saying
`Lay me alongside the Spaniard who is bearing down on us; for I will have a tilt with him’.
The master dared not disobey the King’s order, but laid his ship ready for the Spaniard, who was coming full sail. The King’s ship was large and stiff; otherwise she would have been sunk, for that of the enemy was a great one, and the shock of their meeting was more like the crash of a torrent or tempest; the rebound caused the castle in the King’s ship to encounter that of the Spaniard: so that the mast of the latter was broken, and all in the castle fell with it into the sea, when they were drowned. The English vessel, however, suffered, and let in water, which the knights cleared, and stopped the leak, without telling the King any thing of the matter. Upon examining the vessel he had engaged lying before him, he said;
`Grapple my ship with that; for I will have possession of her’.
His knights replied `Let her go her way: you shall have better than her’.
That vessel sailed on, and another large ship bore down, and grappled with chains and hooks to that of the king. The fight now began in earnest, and the archers and cross-bows on each side were eager to shoot and defend themselves.
Fought on 29 August 1350 in the English Channel within sight of the English port of Winchelsea, the naval battle of Winchelsea (also known as Les-Espagnols-sur-Mer) was a result of EDWARD III’s attempt to clear the Channel of Castilian raiders. Although the bloody encounter was an English victory, the Castilian fleet remained in existence, and the threat to English shipping and cross- Channel communications was not eliminated.
Despite being included as French allies in the June 1350 extension of the Truce of CALAIS, the seamen of Castile felt no obligation to honor an undertaking of PHILIP VI of France. Accordingly, a Castilian fleet of about forty vessels, operating out of Sluys and other Flemish bases and carrying a large contingent of Flemish adventurers, launched attacks on English shipping throughout the summer of 1350. To end this threat to his vital lines of communication and supply, Edward assembled a fleet of almost fifty vessels at Sandwich. With the king commanding from his cog Thomas, the English fleet set sail on 28 August. Among those commanding squadrons were the king’s eldest son, EDWARD, THE BLACK PRINCE; HENRY OF GROSMONT, duke of Lancaster; and Thomas BEAUCHAMP, earl of Warwick. JOHN OF GAUNT, Edward’s ten-year-old third son, was with his father, while John CHANDOS accompanied Prince Edward.
On the evening of 29 August, the English fleet intercepted a southbound Castilian squadron of about twenty-four vessels off Dungeness. Although the English had the advantage of numbers, the Castilian vessels were larger, stronger, and higher, allowing their crews to sweep the crowded English decks with crossbow bolts and catapult missiles. Lacking ARTILLERY, the only way to engage an enemy at sea was to grapple his vessel with hooks and chains and send boarding parties of men-at-arms to fight an approximation of a land battle on the ship’s decks. This the English did, taking heavy casualties until they were close enough to board, when the advantage turned to them. By nightfall, at least seventeen Castilian vessels had been taken, with most of their crews slain and thrown into the sea-few onboard being deemed worthy of capture and RANSOM. English losses in both ships and men were high. With the prince’s ship sunk and the Thomas severely damaged, both the king and his son were forced to transfer their flags to captured vessels.
Although Winchelsea was an impressive naval victory, many Castilian ships either escaped or avoided the battle and continued, in concert with French vessels, to prey upon English shipping. The Castilians might have been reduced in numbers, but their mere presence in the Channel disrupted trade and, by the end of the year, forced the English to organize a convoy system, which was costly in men, money, and time, to protect merchant fleets crossing the Channel.
Further Reading: Burne, Alfred H. The Crecy War. Ware, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1999; Sumption, Jonathan. The Hundred Years War. Vol. 2, Trial by Fire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
U. S. 14th Armored Division Infantry of the 19th Armored Infantry Bn. with supporting M4 medium tanks from the 47th Tank Bn. (both units of the 14th Armored Division), during the successful drive to Hammelburg, 5 April 1945, following the failed Baum Task Force of March.
It was unfinished business from Africa that now distracted Patton, ensuring that things would not “keep smooth” and marring the start of his drive into the German heartland. His beloved son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John Knight Waters, a West Point cavalryman, had been captured in Tunisia on Valentine’s Day, 1943, during the early hours of the German offensive that culminated at Kasserine Pass. Waters eventually found himself interned as POW No. 4161 with fifteen hundred other American officers in Oflag 64, a prison camp in northern Poland, where listening to the BBC on an illicit radio was known as “reading the canary”; where a hissed warning of “Goon up!” signaled an approaching guard; and where “kriegies” (from Kriegsgefangenen, or war prisoners) organized a dance band, a theatrical troupe, a glee club, a camp newspaper, and a five-thousand-volume library.
Waters kept a pocket notebook, titled “Remembrances,” which began with a laconic scribble on February 14, 1943: “Captured. Night in cactus.” For the next two years his spare entries recorded events small and large, including Red Cross and Swedish YMCA inspections, and, on June 6, 1944, the one-word annunciation: “Invasion.” Each calendar day was crossed off in red pencil as it ended. Rarely did Waters give voice to the drear monotony of Oflag 64, as in his October 1, 1944, entry: “And so another month begins. When will this end?”
He also maintained a “Wartime Log,” wrapped in brown burlap with a liberty bell drawn on the front cover and an epigraph from the British novelist Henry Seton Merriman: “War is a purifier; it clears the social atmosphere and puts womanly men and manly women into their right places. It is also a simplifier.” Here Waters kept a meticulous chart of “P.O.W. Rations,” showing daily allotments that typically included 35.7 grams of meat per man—a bit more than an ounce—plus 318 grams of barley bread, 200 grams of cabbage, 100 grams of carrots, 143 grams of cow turnips, and so forth. He carefully peeled food labels from relief-package cans and pasted them into the volume—Top-O peanut butter, Kroger’s Country Club Quality Fruitcake, Richardson & Robbins plum pudding—as if to extract a few final calories of nourishment from the memories. Each letter to POW No. 4161 was carefully listed by date, travel time, and censor number. Every parcel from home or the Red Cross was logged, with notations such as “badly damaged” or “good shape,” and a catalogue of the contents, which ranged from pencils, shoelaces, and vitamin pills to a cribbage board, MacDonald cigarettes, and, oddly, ice skates.
The great Russian winter offensive had abruptly put the kriegies of Oflag 64 on the road, under guard, with millions of other refugees, war prisoners, and concentration-camp inmates trudging west ahead of the Red Army. On January 21, Waters and his comrades marched out of the camp, carrying stolen cutlery stamped with swastikas and with the secret radio hidden inside an officer’s bagpipes. For five weeks they tacked across northern Germany in a horrid three-hundred-mile anabasis. “Zero weather & blizzard,” Waters scrawled in his journal on January 28. Men died, or were shot, or vanished. “Toughest day yet,” he wrote on February 22. Survivors studied their own stool like sheep entrails, for portents of illness; some chose not to wash rather than sponge away body oils that might provide a thin film against the cold. Starving men described the lavish meals they intended to devour when they got home, or concocted elaborate menus and lists of memorable restaurants where someday they hoped to dine again.
On February 26, the column was herded into boxcars to travel by rail at a glacial pace for another ten days to an eighth-century Bavarian town fifty miles east of Frankfurt. “Reached Hammelburg at 6 P.M.,” Waters wrote on March 8. “Deloused, etc.” Marched from the rail yard down Hermann-Göring-Strasse, the men found themselves entering a constellation of prisons that included a vast compound with thirty thousand enlisted men, mostly Soviets. Also here was Oflag XIII-B, a cantonment of five thousand Allied officers, including Serbs held since 1941 and fifteen hundred Americans captured during the Bulge from the 28th, 99th, and 106th Infantry Divisions, as well as the star-crossed 14th Cavalry Group. The camp’s senior officer was Colonel Charles C. Cavender, who had surrendered his 423rd Infantry Regiment on the Schnee Eifel nearly three months earlier.
Conditions at Hammelburg were wretched: a diet of beet or cabbage soup, black bread, and turnip marmalade; a single, cold, four-minute shower each week; eighty men wedged into each shabby hut; and the risk of accidental slaughter by marauding Allied aircraft. “Air alerts all day. Worse than ever,” Waters wrote on March 19. “Distant rumbling.”
* * *
Patton had hoped to hear of Colonel Waters’s liberation in mid-January. But SHAEF on February 9 advised him that Soviet intelligence listed Waters among a number of American prisoners apparently spirited westward. Fragmentary Allied intelligence and Red Cross reports more than a month later suggested that he might be among new arrivals at Hammelburg. On March 23, the day Third Army crossed the Rhine in force, Patton wrote Bea, “We are headed right for John’s place and may get there before he is moved.” Two days later he added, “Hope to send an expedition tomorrow to get John.”
The dubious honor of rescuing the commanding general’s kinsman sixty miles behind enemy lines fell to a tall, tough, redheaded captain from the Bronx named Abraham J. Baum. The twenty-four-year-old son of an immigrant Russian Jew, Abe Baum had studied costume design and worked as a pattern cutter in Manhattan’s Garment District; he enlisted after Pearl Harbor and rose through the ranks as a decorated officer in the 4th Armored Division. Without disclosing his blood interest, Patton ordered XII Corps to dispatch an armored column to Hammelburg and stage a raid that he privately hoped would eclipse Douglas MacArthur’s recent rescues of imprisoned Americans at several camps in the Philippines. To ensure that Waters could be recognized, he pressured his aide, Major Alexander C. Stiller, a former Texas Ranger, to accompany the column, ostensibly “for the thrills and laughs.” Only en route would Stiller confess to Baum that one of the prisoners they hoped to free was the husband of Patton’s only daughter.
Patton had proposed sending an entire four-thousand-man armored combat command eastward but was persuaded that a smaller, nimbler task force would have better odds of success. Baum’s column comprised just over three hundred soldiers in sixteen tanks, twenty-seven half-tracks, three motorized assault guns, and seven jeeps. Exhausted from the Rhine crossings, with little sleep in the past four days, the men carried but fifteen maps among them. Some of Patton’s subordinates harbored serious doubts about the foray, not least because Hammelburg lay east of a corps driving north. Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams, whose unit was to provide much of the armored firepower, smacked his fist against a field table during a planning meeting late Monday afternoon, March 26. “What the hell is this all about?” he demanded. “It just doesn’t make sense.” As Baum’s force galloped away a few hours later, Patton wrote Bea, “I have been as nervous as a cat all day as everyone but me thought it was too great a risk. I hope it works.… If I lose the column it will possibly be a new incident.” To his diary he added, “I do not believe there is anything in that part of Germany heavy enough to hurt them.”
He was quite wrong. After skirmishes near Aschaffenburg, the column reached Highway 26 at 2:15 A.M. on Tuesday, March 27, making fair time while cutting phone wires and, at first light, gunning down German troops doing calisthenics on a parade ground. American tank and machine-gun fire ripped through barges, tugboats, and German trains along the Main River, east of Lohr; Major Stiller described how enemy soldiers “jumped off and scattered like quail” from an armored antiaircraft Zug. In Gemünden, defenders rallied to blow a bridge “in a spume of stone and concrete,” and Panzerfaust fire demolished three tanks while wounding Baum in the knee and hand. Detouring north onto a gravel road, the task force freed seven hundred Russian prisoners from a work detail shortly before noon on Tuesday—“Mazel tov,” Baum told a German civilian—then again pivoted east before clattering into Hammelburg around 3 P.M.
Here trouble awaited them. An American map found in the wreckage at Gemünden, and reports from a Storch observation plane tracking the olive-drab procession, suggested Hammelburg as the column’s likely destination. A German assault-gun battalion lumbered into town from the east while Baum and his men approached from the west. A running gunfight broke out when the Americans nosed up a twisting road toward the prison compound, which sat on a high plateau south of town. Enemy shells scorched through the column from below, and by the time American return fire beat back the attack, more vehicles had been demolished, including three half-tracks. Baum’s fuel reserve and ammunition track were ablaze, and camp guards armed with old Belgian rifles had tumbled into a skirmish line outside the fence. The Oflag air-raid siren shrieked maniacally.
Drumfire and coiling black smoke had roused the prisoners, and the sight of five-pointed white stars in the distance provoked jubilant pandemonium. A kriegie priest captured in the Ardennes offered absolution to those who wanted it, but most stood braying at the windows until tank rounds began to slam through the cantonment. The Shermans riddled guard towers and a water tank, and also ignited several buildings in an adjacent compound: Baum’s gunners had mistaken Serb uniforms for German. Prisoners dropped to the floor, and word circulated through the barracks: “No smoking, no lights.”
With consent from a German commandant eager to surrender, five volunteers led by Colonel Waters marched out the main gate amid the battle din and flitting tracers, waving an American flag and a bedsheet tied to a pole. Several hundred yards from the camp, making for Baum’s left flank, they passed a barnyard enclosed by a plank fence. Waters turned just as a German soldier thrust his rifle between the slats and, without aiming, pulled the trigger. The bullet hit POW No. 4161 just below the right hip, chipping his coccyx and exiting through his left buttock. He fell like a stone. Carried in a blanket sling to a nearby German hospital, where he was refused treatment, Waters was then hauled back to the camp and entrusted to Serb surgeons equipped with little more than paper bandages and a table knife for a scalpel.
Baum’s tanks meanwhile had crashed through the perimeter fence to be greeted by whooping, back-slapping prisoners. Many appeared ready to bolt, with bedrolls under their arms and pockets stuffed with Red Cross food cans rifled from the mess pantry. Baum had anticipated finding 300 American officers. Instead he confronted 1,291, according to the latest head count; the milling throng reminded him of Times Square.
It was now 6:30 P.M., with daylight fading and the enemy undoubtedly convening another attack. Clambering onto the hood of a jeep, Baum quieted the men and told them, “There are far more of you than we expected. We don’t have enough vehicles to take all of you.” He pointed west. “When I left, the lines were about sixty miles back in that direction, at the River Main.” He could squeeze a hundred or so onto his tanks and half-tracks. The rest would have to walk, or wait in Hammelburg for eventual liberation. A dismayed murmur ran through the throng.
Evening’s first stars glittered overhead as hundreds of officers, on foot and outfitted by Baum with a few compasses and maps, tramped into the gloaming, vaguely heading west. Separately, with tanks in the vanguard and every hull upholstered with kriegies, Baum’s motorized procession eventually rolled west by southwest, hoping to collide with Patch’s Seventh Army.
Instead they promptly found more trouble. Gunfire and Panzerfausts launched from the shadows harassed them. Vehicles burned, casualties mounted. Scouts reported ambushes and roadblocks with panzers ahead at Höllrich and at Hessdorf, where Baum had hoped to pick up Highway 27. Sometime after three A.M. on Wednesday, he ordered the column to shelter atop a dark knob identified on the map as Hill 427, only four miles southwest of Oflag XIII-B. The wounded were carried into a stone barn as the last gasoline was drained from eight half-tracks to fill six surviving tanks. All but a dozen of the hitchhiking kriegies formed into a column of twos and tramped back toward Hammelburg under a white flag, surely the better part of valor. They would reach the camp at 9:30 A.M. to find that German patrols had already rounded up many of the officers who had set out on foot the previous night.
Just after eight A.M., Baum and his depleted band started to edge down Hill 427. “A sheet of hell,” as he subsequently put it, abruptly engulfed the ridgeline with tank, artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire. “At daylight,” Major Stiller later wrote, “they destroyed us.” As one olive-drab vehicle after another burst into flame, a final Morse message was tapped over the radio—“Task Force Baum surrounded. Under heavy fire. Request air support.”
“Every man for himself,” Baum hollered. Into the trees he ran, with Stiller on his heels. The baying of dogs echoed across the slope. One by one the GIs were captured or shot down. A German soldier found Baum and Spiller burrowed beneath a den of leaves; when Baum fumbled for his .45 automatic, the German raised his own pistol and shot him in the left thigh, his third wound of the expedition. They, too, would return to Hammelburg, Baum sprawled in a horse cart. “Get a good sleep, boys,” a guard told the Americans. “You had a hard night.”
* * *
After his wounding, John Waters managed to scratch a few spare entries into his “Remembrances” journal:
March 27: “Shot while under white flag by German.”
March 28: “Operation & hospital. Suffering.”
March 29: “Hosp. Morphine.”
March 30: “Hosp. Suffering.”
Not for some days would Patton learn details of the failed raid, although German propaganda broadcasts celebrated the repulse at Hammelburg as a signal victory for the Reich. A few officers from Oflag XIII-B escaped their pursuers and eventually stumbled into American lines with fragmentary accounts of salvation, flight, and gunfire. Most prisoners and their erstwhile rescuers, including Stiller, were force-marched to another camp near Munich, where they would await Seventh Army’s arrival a month later. Task Force Baum had been obliterated, every vehicle lost and nearly every man captured in addition to the fifty-seven killed, wounded, or missing. An uncertain number of prisoners had died in the escapade.
Patton both evaded responsibility—blaming Major General Manton S. Eddy, the XII Corps commander, for dispatching an undersized force—and prevaricated. To reporters on March 30 he claimed that Task Force Baum was intended largely as a feint. “I felt by hazarding a small force I would confuse the enemy completely as to where we were going,” he said. “It did work, for they thought I was going to Nuremberg.” Later he would insist that he had first learned of Waters’s internment at the camp long after the raid. To Bea on March 31, he wrote:
I had known of the camp there for a week but did not know definitely he was in it. I sent a force to capture it but fear that the force was destroyed. However it was the proper thing to do.
As details of the fiasco emerged and criticism intensified, Patton unsuccessfully tried to suppress the story. “They are trying to make an incident out of my attempt to rescue John,” he told Bea. “How I hate the press.” Ten days after the raid, when troops from the 14th Armored Division overran Hammelburg, they found that those too ill or too damaged to travel to Munich had been left in the Serb dispensary, including Colonel Waters and Captain Baum. Patton sent an Army surgeon and two small planes to evacuate his son-in-law to a Frankfurt hospital; the young officer would recover from his injuries and later attain four-star rank. Baum and other wounded Americans were left behind at the camp for several more days. Eventually the former pattern cutter was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “loyal, courageous devotion to duty,” a decoration pinned on his hospital pajamas by Patton.
Patton had abused his authority, issuing reckless, impulsive orders to indulge his personal interests. As in the slapping incidents in Sicily, his deportment, compounded this time by mendacity, was unworthy of the soldiers he was privileged to lead. Yet with victory so near, his superiors had no heart for public rebukes. Bradley considered the raid “foolhardy,” but kept silent. “Failure itself was George’s own worst reprimand,” he concluded. In cables to Marshall, Eisenhower referred to the raid as “a wild goose chase” and “Patton’s latest crackpot actions.” The Third Army commander had “lost a full company of medium tanks and a platoon of light tanks. Foolishly he then imposed censorship on the movement.”
“Patton is a problem child,” Eisenhower added, “but he is a great fighting leader in pursuit and exploitation.”
The pretended panic among the Scottish baggage and its guard lured the English army over the crest of the hill into a carefully prepared Scottish ambush.
Scottish politics during the childhood of Mary Queen of Scots were notoriously complicated and treacherous. Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, played a murky and devious part in those years, but on one glorious day in 1545 he vindicated himself and his family with a military masterstroke which made him the talk of Europe.
The Earl of Angus counted himself one of the premier nobles of Scotland. His title, its wealth and lands dated back to before written history as one of the leading chieftainships of the ancient Picts. If the title had descended through women and illegitimate sons, this did nothing to diminish the wealth and power of Angus.
Angus fought and intrigued, both for and against the Regent, the Earl of Arran, spending some time in exile in France and then in England. In 1542 Angus returned to Scotland to support the plans of England’s King Henry VIII that his sickly son Edward should marry the young Mary, Queen of Scots. When the Scottish Parliament turned the idea down, Henry sent his army on a series of cross border raids which were intended to bully the Scots into agreeing. It was a time known as the ‘Rough Wooing’. Angus intrigued with the various factions at the Scottish court and with English spies. At first Angus was in favour of the English marriage, then slowly turned against it.
The final straw came in January 1545 when a column of English raiders sent from their base at Coldingham Priory struck Melrose. Not content with pillaging the town and abbey, the raiders deliberately smashed the ancient tombs and monuments of the Angus family. The Earl was in Edinburgh when he heard the news and he was furious. He rounded up 300 of his supporters and rode out of the city vowing to take bloody revenge on the English.
Angus may have been a devious courtier, but nobody doubted his skills at war. News that he was marching against the English spread quickly and men flocked to his banner. By the time Angus reached the smoking ruins of Melrose he had well over a thousand men. The survivors of the sacking of Melrose told Angus that the English army, over 5,000 strong, had left marching south-east. Undismayed by the fact he was outnumbered five to one, Angus followed. At Broomhill the Scots heard that the English had burned a towerhouse complete with all its inhabitants, including an old lady who screamed from the roof as she was consumed by the flames. Angus also learned the English force was led by Sir Ralph Eyre, a man known for his cruelty, and that it included a number of German mercenaries.
On 11 February a group of English scouts came across the small Scots force, and rode off before they could be intercepted. Later that day Sir Norman Lesley of Rothes arrived to join Angus, bringing with him some 1,200 men. As a result Angus had about twice as many men as the English thought he did. On the afternoon of 12 February scouts reported to Angus that the English were camped on Ancrum Moor. Angus led his small force up on to nearby Palace Hill from where he could look down on the enemy camp and where he could be seen. The battle he wanted was about to begin.
The Opposing Armies
The Scottish force at Ancrum Moor was a mixed one and details are sketchy. Lesley’s men were drawn from his and neighbouring estates far to the north in Aberdeenshire. Many of his men were cavalry and the remainder infantrymen, armed with spears and pikes. The cavalry seem to have been equipped with a form of half-armour, lightweight plate or scale covering their bodies and arms, but the legs left free. This gave some protection against arrows and swords, but was light enough to allow for fast manoeuvre.
The men already with Angus came from different sources, but were mostly infantry. They were equipped with spears and pikes, some up to eighteen feet long, as well as with swords and axes. Most of the Scots infantry wore helmets and many had breastplates, but few had any other armour, as extensive armour was rapidly falling out of favour. The English no longer fielded large numbers of archers, partly because few men were willing to undergo the long years of training and partly because the new firearms were replacing the longbows. These firearms were cumbersome and slow, but their use could be learned by recruits in a short space of time and the bullets smashed through light armour.
More is known about the English army. Eyre had with him 1,500 English Borderers mounted on quick, sure-footed ponies and equipped with lances and swords. The main bulk of his army was made up of 3,000 mercenaries lent to King Henry by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who wanted Henry’s help against France. The remainder of Eyre’s force was made up of some 700 renegade Scots borderers, equipped much like their English counterparts.
The Scottish army was made up of various small contingents which had come together only in the previous day or two. The Earl of Angus had had no time to train his men in any complex plans, and did not even know how well many of them would fight. He therefore decided to rely on traditional, even oldfashioned, tactics that he was confident his men would know and understand.
Angus placed his infantry in deep formations with spears and pikes bristling forward to form an impenetrable hedge of points to hold off horsemen. The same formation could be used to push forward against infantry, rolling over less disciplined troops. Those men with guns were spread along the line to pick off the enemy. The cavalry were to be kept in the rear with orders to pursue the enemy if the infantry won the main battle, or to cover a withdrawal if they lost.
In contrast, Eyre was preparing to use the most modern weapons and tactics of the day. For this he relied on his mercenaries. Many of these men were the dreaded landsknechte who dominated the battlefields of central Europe at the time. A full unit of landsknechte was about 1,000 men strong and composed of some 300 men armed with heavy muskets, 200 armed with powerful two handed swords or bills and 500 men with short swords and shields. It is not clear how complete were the landsknechte units at Ancrum Moor, nor how many of the mercenaries were less disciplined troops.
In battle the front rank was made up of the men with long swords and bills. Their task was to hold off an enemy formation with long thrusts and slashes. The rear rank was composed of the men with guns, shooting past their comrades to kill and injure the enemy. Between the two were huddled the men with short swords. They waited until the guns had disabled enough of the enemy, when they would surge forwards past their own front rank to tear the enemy formation apart. It was a tactic which had proved devastating in Europe against militia and seasoned professionals alike.
Like Angus, Eyre intended to hold back his cavalry for the later stages of the battle. Confident that the mercenaries would swiftly deal with what he saw as a rabble, Eyre gave his borderer cavalry orders to hover on the rear of the flanks and wait the chance to join the pursuit.
When the Earl of Angus appeared over the skyline on Palace Hill, Eyre sent out his scouts, then called a hurried conference with his officers. The Scots made a tempting target and Eyre was keen to attack, but his men were tired after a full day of marching and plundering. The scouts reported that only some 500 Scots were on the hilltop. This was even fewer than Eyre’s scouts had reported the previous day. Perhaps some of the Scots had deserted overnight. While the officers considered what to do, they saw the Scots begin to move off towards the rear. Convinced the Scots army was breaking up, Eyre gave the order to attack.
The landsknechte formed up in their attack lines and marched forward. Dressed in multi-coloured tunics and hose, topped by extravagantly plumed hats, the Germans were a bizarre and daunting sight. Steadily the mercenaries tramped up the hill, the Borderers riding to their sides and rear. The Germans stopped just out of range of the waiting Scots and indulged in their traditional pre-battle ceremonies. The men knelt down and recited their prayers. Then, at a given signal, they suddenly leapt to their feet screaming savage defiance at the enemy and brandishing their weapons. The Scots promptly fled back over the crest of the hill.
The mercenaries surged after them, up and over the crest running at full speed. Not wanting to be left out of the killing and plundering, the Borderers put spurs to their horses and followed at the gallop. As they topped the crest, the pursuing army found themselves hit by the full glare of the setting sun. And instead of the fleeing 500 Scots they expected, Eyre and his men found over 2,000 Scots drawn up in strong battle formation and bristling with weapons.
The cavalry hit the Scots first. Horses and men were impaled on the Scottish pikes and spears, the men cut down by swords and axes. The remaining horsemen, wheeled off and fled. Meanwhile, the landsknechte had lost all formation in the chase. Instead of ordered ranks of swordsmen and gunmen, they were a confused mass of individuals. Angus gave the order to his men with guns to fire. The gunfire cut down many Germans, and the belching smoke, tinged red by the setting sun, blinded those that still stood. Then the disciplined ranks of Scots infantry moved forward at a steady march. The German mercenaries were pushed back, many being cut down and the rest pulling back in total disorder.
Eyre tried to rally his men on the crest of the hill, but without effect. He tried again half way back down the slope, but was killed. At this point those renegade Scots on the English side promptly changed sides. Throwing aside their English badges, they cheerfully joined the charge of Angus’s cavalry in cutting down the fleeing mercenaries and Borderers. The local villagers now joined in the attack and the English army collapsed into a fleeing mob scampering across the moor in search of safety. Darkness came quickly, mercifully halting the killing.
In all about 800 men from the English army had been killed. Next day over a thousand lost and bewildered mercenaries wisely concluded that the war between England and Scotland was not their battle and surrendered. Scottish losses were small, barely a hundred having been killed.
The death of Eyre and the destruction of his army spelt the end of English raiding over the border. For a while some raiding parties tried to cross into Scotland, but all were beaten back with ease. It had been made clear to Henry that his ‘rough wooing’ had failed. If the Scots were disunited over the future of their kingdom, they were at least united in wanting it to remain a kingdom, not become a province of England.
Henry pulled back from Scotland to consider his next move. He decided on a new strategy of invasion and occupation, but never had the chance to carry it out. In January 1547 Henry VIII died and left his kingdom and his invasion plans to his son, the new King Edward VI. But Edward was only nine years old.