Mail Armour


In the Song of Roland there are references to “double mail” and “triple mail”, while in his account of the fight between Richard of England and William of Barres, the poet Guillaume le Breton refers to the “thrice-woven hauberk” of the combatants. In terms of the usual way of making mail, in which each ring was threaded with four others, this is a nonsense. It is equally unlikely that anyone would have worn three full hauberks. It is possible to weave mail very densely so that each ring is interlocked with six others, but no Western example is known: however, that does not mean it did not happen. Perhaps Guillaume meant that these two wealthy and important men had reinforced the chests of their hauberks with additional strips of mail. In this same passage, Guillaume le Breton speaks of plates of steel being inserted under the hauberk and the aketon. This is the earliest evidence for the use of plate armour. Gerald of Wales describes the Norse wearing coats of “iron plates skilfully knitted together” when they attacked Dublin in 1171, but this anticipation of the later medieval “coat of plates” never seems to have become popular. Furthermore, another layer of protection was introduced by the mid-thirteenth century, when the padded surcoat was being replaced by one in which strips of iron were riveted to its inside.

Mail provided protection to the wearer while leaving him freedom to move. Those who have worn modern examples of chain mail stress that a belt helps to redistribute weight and makes the garment more comfortable to wear. No belts are shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, but they do appear in later illustrations. Differential ring sizes were a way of tailoring the hauberk to the contours of the human body, but they may also have served to lighten it – in the St Petersburg armour, heavier rings occur high on the chest and smaller, lighter ones lower down. Even in crusader settlements in the East where heat might have inclined men to lighter forms of protection, the Franks clung to Western mail. They did adopt the hazagand, a mail jerkin covered with fabric on the outside and padded within, first mentioned in the Chanson d’Antioche, but the general preference for Western armour suggests that it was effective.

Contemporaries, indeed, commented how well knights were protected, although presumably wealthier men had the best armour. At the siege of Falaise in 1106, Robert Fitzhamon received a heavy blow on the helmet which left him an idiot until his death, but Henry I survived a serious strike at Brémule in 1119. In his memoirs, the Arab nobleman Usamah tells us of an encounter with Franks in which his cousin was thrown from his horse and repeatedly stabbed by their footsoldiers before being rescued, and comments that he was saved by his mail. On another occasion, he jabbed his lance at a Frankish knight who seemed to be wearing only a surcoat. The knight was so badly hurt by the blow that he doubled up in the saddle, dropping his shield and helmet. However, the man recovered, because under the coat he was wearing mail. But the mail had to be properly prepared. When Earl Patrick of Salisbury was ambushed and killed in Aquitaine, William Marshal (Guillaume le Maréchal) managed to slip on his hauberk and fight, but this did not protect him from a severe sword-wound in the thigh, for he was not fully equipped. Usamah says that his father was badly injured by an enemy spear because a groom had left undone the fastening of his hauberk.

The constant effort to improve protection which ended with the knight swathed in many layers – steel plates, padded a aketon, mail, perhaps sometimes in double or triple layers, a leather breastplate and a padded and later armoured surcoat and coat of plates – is suggestive of the shortcomings of mail. It is difficult to see how any mail could resist a direct hard thrust from a couched spear, backed by the momentum of a mounted man. Guillaume le Breton says that Richard I and William of Barres galloped at each other, spears lowered, and only the plate armour finally stopped the lance, which had pierced the shield, torn the “thrice-woven” hauberk and holed the aketon. The consequences of such a blow could be terrible:

Nought for defence avails the hauberk tough,

he splits his heart, his liver and his lung

And strikes him dead, weep any or weep none. (Sayers)

Our best evidence of the ferocity of medieval warfare comes from the injuries inflicted on the victims of the Battle of Wisby in 1361. These caused an eminent anatomist to remark: “It is almost incomprehensible that such blows could be struck” and he explained their effectiveness by suggesting that attackers “stepped or jumped forward” as they struck their blow. Wisby was a largely infantry battle, and perhaps a man on horseback could not strike so hard, but cavalry engagements involved extremely close-quarter fighting. Usamah reports how one of his men escaped after his head was caught under the armpit of a Frank in a skirmish. The Bayeux Tapestry shows that arrows could penetrate mail, and crossbow quarrels must have been deadly. The likelihood is that while it could not stop a true blow, mail was very effective against glancing blows which, in the confused hacking-match of battle, must have been far more common.

How to Make Chain Mail Armor from Start to Finish

USS Monadnock (BM-3)


Monadnock crossing the Pacific Ocean during the Spanish-American War. This must have been an ‘exciting’ crossing…

A monadnock of more than 3,100 feet in southern New Hampshire close to the border of Massachusetts; often called Grand Monadnock to distinguish it from Little Monadnock which lies nearby to the east.

The second Monadnock, an iron‑hulled, twin‑screw, double‑turreted monitor, was laid down by Phineas Burgess at the Continental Iron Works, Vallejo, Calif., in 1874; launched 19 September 1883; completed at Mare Island Navy Yard; and commissioned there 20 February 1896, Capt. George W. Sumner in command.

After fitting out Monadnock served as a unit of the Pacific Squadron along the west coast. During the next 2 years exercises and training cruises sent her along the Pacific coast from Puget Sound to Baja California. After the outbreak of war with Spain, she was ordered to join Dewey’s fleet in the Philippines. She departed San Francisco 23 June 1898, touched at Hawaii early in July, and reached Manila Bay 16 August. She operated on blockade duty in the Manila‑Marviles‑Cavite area, with brief voyages to Hong Kong, until December 1899. On 26 December, she sailed for Hong Kong and for the next 5 years, cruised the rivers of China, particularly the Yangtze, and along her coast to protect American interests. Between 27 January and 7 October 1901, she stood almost continuous duty at the mouth of the Yangtze protecting the foreign settlement at Shanghai, operating similarly on four other occasions: 6 December 1902 to 8 April 1903; 18 September 1903 to 10 March 1904; and 8 April 1904 to 28 November 1904.

On 3 February 1905 she returned to Cavite. Operating out of Olongapo, she remained in the Philippines, with two interruptions for brief visits to Hong Kong, until decommissioned at Cavite 10 March 1909. Recommissioned in reserve 20 April 1911, she resumed operations out of Olangapo, until placed in full commission 31 January 1912 at Cavite. For the next 7 years she cruised with submarines, and towed targets. Decommissioning for the last time 24 March 1919, her name was struck from the Navy list 2 February 1923, and her hull was sold, on the Asiatic Station, 24 August 1923.


In the Philippines, the U.S. government simply substituted its rule for that of Spain. Whereas the Cubans reacted more or less docilely, Philippine insurrectionists under Emilio Aguinaldo waged a bitter struggle against what came to be an American garrison of more than sixty thousand men. Forty-two hundred Americans and about five times that many Filipinos died during a four-year guerilla war. Ambush was countered by burning villages and crops; torture became routine on both sides; atrocity was met with counter-atrocity. The conflict generated sensation, courtsmartial, prisoner-of-war issues, and growing anguish in both the islands and the United States that eerily prefigured the Vietnam years. For the first but not last time in the twentieth century the United States found itself caught up in a dehumanizing Asian campaign. Commenting on the infamous “Samar Expedition” by soldiers seeking bloody and somewhat indiscriminate revenge against insurrectionists who had massacred an army patrol, a young marine—conveniently ignoring two hundred years of mutually vicious frontier warfare with Native Americans—wrote that “subduing savages is a new thing to the American people and they will howl at the necessary adjuncts.” But the commander of the punitive Samar raid had done only “what others have done—except that he failed to kill them all—if he had done the latter, who would have told the tale? Whatever you do; do thoroughly.”

The navy and its marine corps performed a wide variety of blue- and brownwater tasks all over the archipelago. Amphibious assaults were launched at Lingayen Gulf and elsewhere as the army sought to flush out the guerrilla enemy. Monitors and destroyers bombarded rebel strongholds, while shallow-draft gunboats and other craft were employed in search-and-destroy operations “upriver.” When Aguinaldo was at last captured by ruse in his mountain stronghold, he was hustled to the closest beach and taken away in the cruiser Vicksburg.

As Kenneth Hagan has observed, the Philippine campaign, like Vietnam later, was no battleship war. Unlike Vietnam, however, the island insurgents enjoyed no adjacent sanctuary, no “impregnable base” next to the battlefields, as the Viet Cong and later North Vietnamese Army did after 1965. Aguinaldo and his people were sealed off and isolated by the United States Navy, allowing the army to encircle and gradually destroy them.

Suez Operation I





On 2 August 1956 the British cabinet approved military preparations to overthrow Nasser and seize the Canal. This was the antithesis of appeasement, itself condemned by most British newspapers. None wrote with more vim than The Times, eager to compensate for its pusillanimity towards Nazi Germany:

Nations live by vigorous defence of their own interests…Doubtless it is good to have a flourishing tourist trade, to win Test matches, and to be regaled by pictures of Miss Diana Dors being pushed into a swimming pool. But nations do not live by circuses alone. The people, in their silent way, know this better than the critics. They still want Britain great.

Eden flattered himself that he “had one outstanding quality and that was his capacity to gauge public opinion.” Yet only a third of the population supported the use of force (though that figure rose to just over a half after the conflict ceased). And some people in the know, such as Sir Dermot Boyle, Chief of the Air Staff, quickly concluded that “Eden has gone bananas.”

Eden’s mental state was not improved over the next three months by having to deal with Dulles, whom he compared unfavourably to Ribbentrop. The Secretary of State’s leaden manner was tiresome enough: his speech was slow, Macmillan memorably observed, but it easily kept pace with his thought. Still more exasperating, though, were Dulles’s tortuous opinions. His message, delivered at Eisenhower’s behest, was that Britain should not try to “break Nasser” by force; but it contained enough ambivalence to foster Eden’s illusion that he might secure American acquiescence, if not support. Dulles’s initial response was that Nasser must be made to “disgorge his theft” so that the Canal could be internationalised and oil supplies secured. After his first meeting with Eden at the start of the crisis, Dulles concluded that Britain and France (intent on ending Egypt’s aid to Algerian rebels) would invade the Canal area. He told Eisenhower, “I am not (repeat not) sure from their standpoint they can be blamed.” But he added, with characteristic contrariness, “I believe I have persuaded them that it would be reckless to take this step.”

Eisenhower himself was addicted to “zigging and zagging” and averse to making categorical statements. The President later claimed that he had told Eden of “our bitter opposition to using force.” But he expressed no bitterness. Eisenhower said that force was justifiable as a last resort and, the soul of Rotarian affability, he never threatened a hostile American response to British aggression in Egypt. Furthermore, after seeing him in September, Macmillan confirmed the President’s soft line. They had been comrades in the Mediterranean theatre of war, where Macmillan learned the “strange language of his own” that Eisenhower spoke. Macmillan had also learned a more crucial lesson after narrowly surviving a plane crash in Algiers—he emerged from the wreckage with his moustache “burning with a bright blue flame.” In hospital he read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, concluding from it that Britons were the Greeks in America’s new Roman Empire and that they must surreptitiously direct their brash masters just “as the Greek slaves ran the operations of the Emperor Claudius.” So Macmillan wilfully misinterpreted the President’s words. He reported, “Ike is really determined, somehow or other, to bring Nasser down.”

Thus encouraged, Eden cooperated with Dulles’s various attempts to find a peaceful solution. There were conferences of interested parties and appeals to the United Nations. A Canal Users’ Association was formed and the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was sent as an envoy to Cairo, where he decided that “These Gypos are a dangerous lot of backward adolescents.” Nothing came of these efforts. Nasser stood firm, encouraged by the fact that, contrary to western prognostications, Egyptian pilots proved quite capable of running the Canal on their own. So Anglo-French military preparations continued, plagued by predictable snags. The invasion was at first code-named “Hamilcar” but only after British soldiers had painted large capital aitches on their vehicles for aircraft recognition did they realise that the French spelled it “Amilcar.” Although equipped to fight guerrillas in Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya (to which Cairo Radio beamed pro–Mau Mau propaganda in Swahili), British forces were ill prepared to mount a major seaborne invasion. The army had to hire civilian lorries, Coca-Cola trucks and Pickford’s furniture vans to help transport munitions. Moreover, its old breech-loading rifles were inferior to the semi-automatic Czech weapons of the Egyptians. The RAF was beset by technical problems and an acute shortage of transport aircraft; and beside those of the French its planes looked “almost Victorian.” The navy was obliged to requisition freighters and passenger ships and to bring back into service Second World War landing craft that had been pensioned off as ferries and pleasure boats. An American admiral thought the British capacity for amphibious lift “nothing short of pitiful.” In the days of the Raj London would have expected India to make good some of its military deficiencies. Shrewd observers reckoned that it might recruit Israelis to fill the role of sepoys.

An emissary of the French Prime Minister, Guy Mollet, suggested the idea of a clandestine Anglo-French pact with Ben-Gurion during a meeting with Eden on 14 October 1956. The proposal attracted him. It offered an end to Dulles’s interminable negotiations and an instant pretext for Britain and France to intervene in Egypt. While Israel thrust across the Sinai Desert, its main object being to smash Nasser’s blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba and gain permanent access to the Red Sea, the two European powers would have a justification for “protecting” the Suez Canal, separating the combatants and ousting Nasser. Eden thus embarked on his fatal course. Goaded by the Suez Group, desperate to assert his political virility, convinced that the Empire would rot away unless it took a firm stand, he brushed aside all obstacles. He dismissed political and military reservations. He got an obliging Lord Chancellor to rule that Nasser’s confiscation of the Canal Company was illegal and that the “infringement of an international possession is the equivalent of an attack on national property giving one the right to self-defence.” The Prime Minister also overcame the few scruples of his Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, who was described by an English diplomat as Eden’s “bell-hop” and by an American diplomat as a “crooked Welsh lawyer.” In tribute to his glossy pliability, Churchill called him “Mr. Celluloid.”

Lloyd was secretly dispatched to a villa at Sèvres, near Paris, with orders to take matters forward with Mollet and Ben-Gurion. The Foreign Secretary disliked foreigners—a positive advantage in such a job, Churchill allegedly told him. Furthermore, Lloyd later wrote, France and Israel were “the two nations in the world I most mistrust.” He made his feelings plain after opening the conclave with a joke that fell flat, to the effect that he should have worn a false moustache. According to General Moshe Dayan, Lloyd gave the impression that he was “bargaining with extortionate merchants” and showed a distaste for “the place, the company, and the topic.” Nevertheless, progress was made and the negotiations were ratified at a subsequent meeting. To the cynical amusement of the French and the angry scorn of the Israelis, the Foreign Office’s main concern was that Albion’s perfidy should never be divulged. Clearly this was Eden’s chief anxiety, as evidenced by his efforts to purge the written record. He revealed little or nothing to officials. He informed few ministers about the Sèvres protocols, merely getting the cabinet to accept that “in the event of an Israeli attack” Britain would join France to separate the belligerents. He misled parliament and the press, though he did confide in the gentlemen of The Times, rightly thinking that they regarded discretion as the better part of journalism. He kept Eisenhower in the dark. Eden did not even take the high command into his confidence. General Sir Hugh Stockwell, the land task force commander, only gathered from the French three days before the event that Israel would assail Egypt. The British invasion fleet itself could not set off from Malta until the expiry of the Anglo-French ultimatum demanding Nasser’s withdrawal from the Canal. In short, the whole enterprise was vitiated by hypocrisy.

So Britain’s military operation, unlike that of its allies, was initially hamstrung and ultimately doomed by the need to conceal its true purposes. The Israelis stormed into the Sinai on 29 October and, after some fierce battles, soon had the Egyptians retreating to guard the Canal. France did not wait for the expiry of the ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of both sides and hardly bothered to hide the fact that it was fighting on behalf of Israel—to Eden’s acute embarrassment. But from its congested base at Akrotiri in Cyprus the RAF was hesitant about unleashing its squadrons of Canberras and Valiants on Egyptian military targets, which prompted Ben-Gurion to impugn Britannia’s virtue: “The old whore!” Moreover, the British armada of 130 warships, sailing from their deep harbour at Valletta in Malta at the pace of the slowest landing craft, could not reach Port Said until 6 November. During that week the military were hampered by contradictory and unpremeditated orders from their political masters, who wanted them to win the war while pretending to keep the peace. Meanwhile, there was ample time for opposition to coalesce at home and abroad.

It began in the Tories’ own ranks. Anthony Nutting resigned, unwilling to reveal his motives at the time but unable to stomach what he later called “this squalid piece of collusion.” Others followed suit. Foreign Office mandarins protested about a conspiracy that one junior minister called “the most disastrous combination of the unworkable and the unbelievable.” Eden’s press secretary quit, evidently thinking that the gods wished to destroy his beleaguered boss, who was now “mad, literally mad.” There was also disaffection in the services, Mountbatten begging Eden to “turn back the assault convoy before it is too late.” The Labour Party, led by Hugh Gaitskell, made a cogent case against the so-called “police action,” which was really an undeclared war in breach of the United Nations charter and other covenants. Moreover, the ultimatum was self-evidently absurd, since if each side moved ten miles from the Canal Nasser’s forces would have to retreat while Ben-Gurion’s advanced into Egyptian territory. Bombing Egypt, the victim of aggression, rather than Israel, its perpetrator, indicated that Britain’s peace-keeping role was a sham. Using its veto to defeat the motion for a cease-fire in the UN Security Council showed that Britain’s true object was to seize the Canal. Grey aced, red-eyed and hoarse-voiced, Eden was pushed on to the defensive in parliament. And Selwyn Lloyd was obliged to assure the Commons that there had been “no prior agreement” with Israel—a lie that did not prevent him from later becoming Speaker of that honourable House.



Suez Operation II




Professed patriots of all classes and political persuasions rallied behind the embattled government, regarding the Gaitskellite assault as treason. Lord Home, an appeaser at Munich but an aggressor at Suez, assured Eden: “If our country rediscovers its soul and inspiration, your calm courage will have achieved this miracle.” The Suez Group cheered the affirmation of imperial power, one of its members asserting that the area around the Canal was “in some essential sense part of the United Kingdom.” The Beefeater press was equally staunch. Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express declared that Eden was acting to “safeguard the life of the British Empire.” It was aptly said, though, that no cause was truly lost until it won the backing of the Express. Even more telling than its support was the defection of The Times, whose recent history, Beaverbrook wrote, “was also a history of the decline of the British Empire.” The Thunderer rumbled about the damage done to Anglo-American relations by deceiving Eisenhower. Britain was “not a satellite” of the United States but an ally, it stoutly maintained, and what that alliance “cannot stand is a lack of candour.”

Eisenhower too reckoned that “nothing justifies double-crossing us.” Actually both he and Dulles would have accepted even the duplicity if Britain and France had presented them with a swift fait accompli. As it was, the President had to face a fraught hiatus during which Russia crushed the uprising in Hungary (2 November), Dulles went into hospital for a cancer operation (3 November) and he himself was fighting for re-election (6 November). During that critical week he quelled his rage and excelled himself as a global statesman. Freezing out Eden politically, “Ike” affirmed that their personal friendship remained warm. He even professed to understand why the Prime Minister had responded to Nasser’s affront “in the mid-Victorian style,” while wondering if “the hand of Churchill might not be behind this.” The President opposed Russian intervention in the Middle East and rejected Moscow’s proposal that the Soviet Union and the United States should make common cause against Britain and France. To enforce his will he deployed America’s overwhelming economic might, instantly transforming Harold Macmillan from hawk to dove. “We must stop, we must stop,” the Chancellor exclaimed, “or we will have no dollars left by the end of the week.”

Eisenhower not only refused to buoy up sterling but insisted that “the purposes of peace and stability would be served by not being too quick in attempting to render extraordinary assistance” to Britain over oil supplies. He took advantage of the hostility to the Suez operation in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, India and Pakistan. And he mobilised support in the United Nations, not only the forum of world opinion but a body capable of imposing sanctions on pariah states. In the face of this pressure Eden crumbled. He held a cabinet meeting on 6 November at which Macmillan’s warning about a run on the pound proved decisive. Eden therefore telephoned Mollet and told him that he could not continue. A French official recorded this frantic outburst of despair:

I’m finished. I can’t hold on. The whole world reviles me…I can’t even rely on all Conservatives. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church, the oilmen, everyone is against me. The Commonwealth is tearing itself apart. Nehru wants to smash its bonds. Canada and Australia no longer follow our lead. I can’t dig the Crown’s grave…I can’t make England the only champion.

So a cease-fire was announced on the very day when the seaborne invasion took place at Port Said. Eden had deemed the Egyptians yellow but they resisted strongly and the Allied forces could only occupy the northern tip of the Canal, itself now blocked with ships sunk by Nasser. So abruptly did hostilities cease that the first British troops were being withdrawn as later units were landing. General Stockwell wryly informed the War Office, “We’ve now achieved the impossible. We’re going both ways at once.”

Eisenhower single-mindedly pursued his own course, determined to restore the status quo. He bullied and cajoled the Israelis until they withdrew from Sinai. He refused to supply a financial “fig leaf” to hide Anglo-French nakedness until Suez was handed over to a UN force. This was agreed within a month. The British government did its best to present retreat as victory, even claiming that the intervention had saved the situation in the Middle East by bringing in the United Nations—a conceit punctured by the future Labour Chancellor, Denis Healey, who said that it was “like Al Capone taking credit for improving the efficiency of the Chicago police.” In fact, Nasser only let in the UN peacekeepers on sufferance. His prestige waxed as Eden’s waned. The Prime Minister had conducted, as a Labour MP said, the most spectacular retreat from Suez since the time of Moses. The Suez Group had nothing but contempt for his weakness. Churchill’s verdict was widely quoted: “I doubt whether I would have dared to start; I would never have dared to stop.” To mount the invasion and then call it off almost at once, said the Minister of Defence, was “like going through all the preliminaries without having an orgasm.” Eden further demonstrated his impotence by flying off to recuperate in Jamaica, despite a friend’s warning that “all the doctors were black.”

On his return Conservative daggers were out for him, the sharpest wielded by Macmillan. Enough time had elapsed, in the prophetic words of that radical firebrand Aneurin Bevan, “to permit the amenities of political assassination. Even a minor Caesar is entitled to be despatched with due decorum.” Ill health provided a genuine excuse for Eden’s resignation. Conservatives preferred Macmillan to R. A. Butler as his successor. So did Eisenhower, who extolled Macmillan’s straightness but failed to recognise his Janus face. But on the very day when Queen Elizabeth asked Macmillan to form a government, 10 January 1957, the President had second thoughts. He said that Butler would have been easier to work with because “Macmillan and Eden were somewhat alike in the fact that both could not bear to see the dying of Britain as a colonial power.” Although the French, incensed by the desertion of their ally, had other ideas, Eisenhower himself reckoned that Britain’s post-imperial destiny lay in Europe. A possible “blessing” might emerge from Suez, he said, “in the form of impelling them to accept the Common Market.” The corollary of this, he considered, was that America would have to fill the vacuum left by Britain (and France) between the Mediterranean and the Gulf “before it is filled by Russia.” So early in 1957 he enunciated the so-called “Eisenhower Doctrine.” In the name of the global struggle against Communism, it stipulated that America would give economic aid and, if requested, military assistance to Middle Eastern countries. Few welcomed this neo-colonial overture. Nasser condemned it as an informal version of the Baghdad Pact. The Arab world in general feared, and had some reason to fear, the imposition of a new overlord, Uncle Sam instead of John Bull.


Battle of Quatre Bras, (16 June 1815)



Fought two days before Waterloo, the Battle of Quatre Bras took place around the crossroads of the highways from Nivelles to Namur and Brussels to Charleroi, on the same day in which Napoleon was engaging the Prussians at Ligny. The forces engaged included parts of the left wing of the (French) Army of the North (Armée du Nord) under Marshal Michel Ney and elements of the Anglo-Allied army (British, Dutch-Belgian, and various German troops: Hanoverians, Brunswickers, Nassauers, and others) under the Duke of Wellington. Despite being outnumbered, Wellington held this position that day.

Napoleon had crossed the frontier between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Belgium having recently been combined with Holland) on 15 June, driving back the Prussian outposts. Napoleon’s intention on the sixteenth was to crush the Prussian army, now assembling in the Sombreffe position. He sent Ney to brush aside Wellington, preventing him from linking up with the Prussians. Quatre Bras marked the hinge between the two Allied armies. If the French were to take it, the Allies would be separated from each other and unable to bring the superior numbers of their united forces to play against Napoleon, who could then defeat each of their armies alone.

The affair at Quatre Bras was unexpected and took Wellington by surprise. Until 16 June, this important road junction on the line of communication between Wellington’s headquarters in Brussels and that of Field Marshal Gebhard Fürst Blücher von Wahlstatt, commander of the Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine, was held by men from the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd (Dutch-Belgian) Division. These were Nassauers from a German state on the Rhine under the command of Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Although Wellington had ordered this force to join the remainder of the division at Nivelles on the evening of 15 June, the commanders on the ground, General Baron de Perponcher-Sedlnitzky and General Baron de Constant Rebecque, used their initiative and did not carry out this instruction. Thanks to them, Wellington was in a position to fight a battle there on the sixteenth.

The hamlet of Quatre Bras consisted of one large farmhouse, an inn, and several smaller buildings. The surrounding countryside was undulating. The other solid buildings included the farm of St. Pierre at Gémioncourt, the village of Pireaumont, and the farm of Grand Pierre Pont. South of the Nivelles road and west of the Charleroi road was the Bossu Wood. The Delhutte Wood was to the southeast. Ney had his headquarters in the village of Frasnes.

The forces at Ney’s disposal that day included I Corps under General Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d’Erlon, although this never arrived on the battlefield; II Corps under General Honoré, comte Reille; and General François Etienne, comte Kellermann’s III Cavalry Corps; around 25,000 men, excluding d’Erlon (20,000 men).

At daybreak, Perponcher reinforced Saxe-Weimar with men of the 1st Brigade. He had around 7,000 men in position. At 6:00 A. M. the Prince of Orange arrived from Brussels and expressed his satisfaction with the dispositions. There were some brief exchanges of fire but nothing serious.

On the morning of the sixteenth, Wellington rode from Brussels to Quatre Bras to inspect the situation there. Arriving about 10:00 A. M. he observed the French activity at Frasnes, and judging them to pose little threat he merely ordered up Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton’s division (5,000 men) to support the Netherlanders. The duke then rode to Blücher’s headquarters at the Mill of Bussy, near Brye, to confer with him.

While Wellington was absent, Ney’s forces formed up for the attack. The Prince of Orange perceived the danger and ordered up further forces. The prince’s nine battalions, supported by sixteen guns, were spread thinly over a front of 3.5 kilometers. At the commencement of the battle, part of the Dutch-Belgian artillery was deployed in the center of their position, across the Charleroi road. Some guns were left to cover Quatre Bras. A battalion of Nassauers was posted south of the Bossu Wood. A battalion of Jäger (light infantry) was placed between Gémioncourt and Pireaumont. Part of a militia battalion held the farmhouse at Gémioncourt, while the main part of it took up positions on the hilltop 150 meters northwest of the farm. Four battalions were deployed along the eastern edge of the Bossu Wood. Three battalions were held in reserve.

Facing the Dutch-Belgians were 9,600 infantry and 4,600 cavalry with 34 guns. The French assault commenced around 2:00 P. M., with Reille personally leading his divisions into battle. General Jean-Baptiste Jamin’s brigade opened the assault, attacking part of the 27th Jäger. Gilbert, comte Bachelu’s division advanced on Pireaumont, forcing back other elements of the Jäger. The artillery of the 9th Division (General Maximilien, comte Foy) engaged the Dutch-Belgian batteries, causing heavy losses. General Maximilien Foy’s columns then moved up the Charleroi road, with General Jean-Pierre Gauthier’s brigade engaging the defenders of the Bossu Wood, forcing back the first line. Saxe-Weimar led a counterattack that drove the attackers out of the Wood. The Prince of Orange reinforced this position just before Prince Jérome Bonaparte’s division (8,000 men) arrived.

While weight of numbers told, Saxe-Weimar conducted a skillful defense, only relenting to the pressure slowly. Gauthier used the respite to rally his men. Howitzer shells rained down on the militia battalion, softening it up for an attack from Jamin’s brigade. The 5th Militia fell back to Quatre Bras. With 22,000 men engaged against 8,000, the position of the Dutch-Belgians was critical. However, General Jean-Baptiste van Merlen’s cavalry brigade arrived shortly after 3:00 P. M., followed by Picton’s division. They were able to stabilize the position.

Picton reinforced the Allied left, deploying his battalions along the Namur road to the east of Quatre Bras. General Carl Best’s Hanoverian brigade also arrived, bolstering the position further. The Allies now had 12,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 27 guns available. The 5th Militia counterattacked, recapturing the farm of St. Pierre. With the Prince of Orange at their head, they fought off several French cavalry charges with volley fire.

Jamin now moved east of Gémioncourt with cavalry support. The Jäger and militia fought them off, but an attempt to charge the retiring French with the 6th (Dutch- Belgian) Hussars did not fare well. A countercharge by two regiments of French cavalry scattered them. This movement continued into the Dutch-Belgian artillery. Losses were heavy, and the Dutch-Belgians were routed. It was at this moment that Wellington returned.

Nassau and British infantry fought off the attacking French. The Brunswickers, nearly 7,000 men, now arrived, the Prince of Orange having ordered them up. With fresh troops, the situation could again be stabilized. Two companies of Brunswick Jäger moved into the Bossu Wood, much to the relief of the Nassauers, who were low on ammunition. The 2nd Light Battalion was sent toward Pireaumont. The remainder, four battalions of infantry and four squadrons of cavalry, drew up between the Bossu Wood and the Charleroi road.

Ney now decided to move on the crossroads at Quatre Bras. Bachelu advanced from Pireaumont against the Allied left, covered by artillery and with Jamin in support. Wellington now took tactical control of the battle. He drew up seven of Picton’s battalions 500 meters south of Quatre Bras. Best’s men were used to defend the Namur road, supported by the 95th Rifles and Captain Thomas Rogers’s Battery. Just as Bachelu crossed the Gémioncourt brook, Picton’s men fired a devastating volley, followed by a bayonet charge. The French retreated, but the 2nd Cavalry Division under General Hippolyte Marie, comte Piré, halted the pursuit and counterattacked. The square of the 42nd Highlanders was broken, and the color of the 44th Foot fought over. The British held on, but only just.

About 4:00 P. M. Wellington ordered the Brunswickers into the fray. They were deployed west of the Charleroi road, near Gémioncourt, and along the northern bank of the brook. The light companies of the vanguard passed through the Bossu Wood to link up with the Jäger. The Life Battalion deployed in line 250 meters south of Quatre Bras at the sheepfold. They re-formed in square, as French cavalry threatened them. By 4:30 P. M. the Brunswickers had taken up their positions. The 42nd and 44th Foot, now having rallied, moved up on their left. A battalion of Hanoverian militia covered this flank. The Brunswick cavalry covered the right. Two battalions were held in reserve, the 3rd Line taking up positions in the farm buildings at Quatre Bras, with the 2nd Line to its right and the 92nd Foot to its left.

Ney now deployed a battery of 12-pounders along the path from Gémioncourt to Pierrepont. These heavy guns opened fire on the Brunswickers, while skirmishers from Foy’s division moved forward, toward the Gémioncourt brook. This bombardment lasted an hour, inflicting heavy casualties. To keep his young and experienced troops calm, the Duke of Brunswick stayed on his horse, smoking his pipe.

Had d’Erlon’s Corps come up as ordered, Ney could have finished the job. Instead, the British 3rd Division now arrived, which the Prince of Orange had also ordered up. It was now after 5:00 P. M. and the Allies had 24,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 39 guns available. The affair was slowly going their way, and the French only had one fresh reserve at hand, a division of cavalry. Ney sent in Foy’s men for another attack. They advanced between the Charleroi road and Bossu Wood, which was now largely in French hands. Piré’s cavalry moved up in support. The ten battalions of French infantry here amounted to nearly 5,000 men. There was little two battalions of Brunswickers could do to stop them. They fell back under the cover of cavalry charges led by the Duke of Brunswick.

The French pressed on, forcing the Duke of Brunswick to seek shelter in the square of his Life Battalion. He then moved forward, leading two battalions in a counterattack, but was mortally wounded by fire from some French lancers. The Brunswickers were demoralized and fell back.

About 6:00 P. M. the British 5th Brigade (Major General Sir Colin Halkett) now went into action. The Brunswickers were rallied and moved up in support. They had only just reached their positions in a field of tall rye when Ney staged his last desperate attack, throwing in what was left of Reille’s corps. Several battalions of Hanoverians and of the King’s German Legion met the French. The British Guards fired several effective volleys. This attack, too, was driven back.

Ney was still expecting the imminent arrival of d’Erlon’s corps. However, a messenger then arrived to inform him that d’Erlon was moving on Ligny. Napoleon had ordered him there without telling Ney. The French had now too few men to win at Quatre Bras. Nevertheless, Ney sent in two regiments of cuirassiers in another attempt to beat a hole through the Allied position. They closed in on Halkett’s brigade. The 69th fired a volley at 30 paces, but the French troopers rode into them, taking a color and scattering the 33rd Foot. Piré’s lancers and chasseurs followed up, but the squares of the 30th and 73rd remained steady. The French cavalry then tried to find a way through the brigades of Major General Sir Denis Pack and Major General Sir James Kempt, but musketry drove them off. The Allied center held firm.

About 6:30 P. M. more Allied troops arrived in the form of Major General Sir Peregrine Maitland’s 1st Brigade of Guards (2,000 men) and two batteries. The infantry moved into the Bossu Wood, clearing most of it of the French, while the artillery deployed east of Quatre Bras. The Dutch-Belgians, Nassauers, and Brunswickers took the opportunity of recovering much of their lost ground.

At 7:00 P. M. the remainder of the Brunswickers arrived and was placed in reserve. An hour or so later, more Nassauers arrived. Wellington, now having some 30,000 men available, staged a general attack, throwing back the French. The battle ended with both sides holding their original positions. The Anglo-Allies lost around 4,800 men, the French just over 4,000. With more troops on their way, particularly his cavalry, Wellington would have been able to go over to the offensive the next day, had Blücher held his positions at Ligny, where the Prussians were fighting ferociously at the same time as the Anglo-Allies were engaged at Quatre Bras. As, however, Napoleon broke Blücher’s center, forcing him back, Wellington was obliged to withdraw the next morning to Waterloo. Here, the Prussians joined him and avenged their defeat at Ligny.

References and further reading Boulger, Demetrius Charles. 1915. The Belgians at Waterloo. New York: Scribner. Clay, Matthew, and Gareth Glover, eds. 2006. A Narrative of the Battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo, with the Defence of Hougoumont. Huntingdon, UK: Ken Trotman. De Bas, F., and T’Serclaes de Wommersom. 1908. La campagne de 1815 aux Pay-Bas. Vol. 1, Quatre-Bras. Brussels: Albert Dewit. Delhaize, Jules, and Winand Aerts. 1915. Études realtives a la campagne de 1815 en Belgique. Vol. 1. Brussels: A. de Boeck. Hofschröer, Peter. 1998. 1815 The Waterloo Campaign: Wellington, His German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras. London: Greenhill.—.2005. Waterloo 1815: Quatre Bras and Ligny. London: Leo Cooper. Houssaye, Henry. 1900. 1815 Waterloo. London: Adam and Charles Black. Lettow-Vorbeck, Oscar von. 1904. Napoleons Untergang 1815. Vol. 1. Elba-Belle-Alliance. Berlin: E. S. Mittler. Pflugk-Harttung, Julius von. Belle Alliance. Berlin: R. Eisenschmidt. Robinson, Mike. 2005. The Battle of Quatre Bras, 1815. Stroud, UK: Spellmount. Siborne, William. 1848. History of the War in Belgium and France in 1815. London: T. and W. Boone. Weller, Jac. 1992. Wellington at Waterloo. London: Greenhill.





The Nordenfelt machine-gun was designed by H Heldge Palmcrantz. However, Thorsten Nordenfelt, who had provided the financial and marketing assistance, demanded that the gun bear his name. It did, but this did not help sales of the ‘organ gun’ and even though the team built versions in a wide range of calibres they came too late in a century that had seen dramatic advances in artillery and small arms. In the 1890s Nordenfelt teamed up with Hiram Maxim the doyen of automatic weapons design, the intention being to market larger-calibre guns. The partnership was, however, short-lived and unproductive and was wound up in 1897.

At the same time that U. S. inventors were striving to produce a reliable fast-shooting single-barreled gun, European engineers continued to improve volley-fire weapons. The Nordenfelt gun was invented by British engineer Helge Palmcrantz and financed by Thorsten Nordenfelt, a Swedish banker in London who put up the money and whose name was therefore attached to the gun. The Nordenfelt could be described as a mechanized battery gun that was essentially a hybrid of the Mitrailleuse and the Gatling gun. It was another multiple-barreled gun, but the barrels, which varied from two to 12, were mounted laterally side-by-side. In the three-barreled version, 27 brass cartridges were mounted on a wooden strip that could feed the gun at a rate of 350 shots per minute. Regardless of the number of barrels, the loading mechanism was essentially the same. An overhead hopper magazine carried as many columns of cartridges as barrels and delivered them into a carrier block operated by a hand lever. This lever was pushed forward to take the carrier block forward until the cartridges were lined up in their chambers. A breech block then moved forward to force the cartridges home, and an action block containing the firing pins moved in behind the breech block and lined up with the caps of the cartridges. At the end of the forward stroke of the handle, the firing pins were tripped, which fired the rounds. On the return stroke of the lever, the action block moved away, and the carrier block pulled clear and ejected the empty cases, moving back to pick up a fresh load of cartridges. The greatest advantage of this gun was that it weighed only 13 pounds.

The weapon was first shown to a committee of Swedish and Norwegian military personnel in 1870-1877. This committee established a set of criteria for subsequent tests of the Nordenfelt that would serve as a model for the development and adoption of the machine gun, not only in Sweden and Norway but also throughout Europe and in the United States. These requirements would serve as design parameters for additional improvements to the machine-gun concept. They included:

  1. Rapidity of fire (which should reach the rate of 300 or 400 rounds per minute).
  2. The mechanism should not be easily put out of order, even if the rapidity of fire occasionally exceeded the normal standard.
  3. The gun, with a considerable number of rounds (say, 4,000), should be capable of draught by two horses.
  4. The piece should be readily separated, if necessary, from its carriage and be capable of conveyance by hand should the place desired be inaccessible to horses. No special tools should be required for this, save for a powerful screwdriver or hammer.
  5. It should be furnished with an automatic apparatus for giving and regulating the horizontal spread of bullets, at various angles, and be capable of easy elevation throughout a sufficient height.
  6. The ammunition used should, if possible, be interchangeable with that of the infantry.
  7. Two men should be capable of performing all the duties of the piece when under fire.
  8. Some sort of rangefinder should always be employed with the weapon.

The Nordenfelt passed the test with flying colors. The Swedish-Norwegian Committee reported that the gun was capable of firing 450 rounds per minute and was very reliable, even under damp conditions and with less-than-thorough cleaning between firings. Despite the advantages, military authorities in most European armies still looked at machine guns with suspicion and were less than interested in the Nordenfelt gun for ground combat.



WEIGHT: 372 lbs (168.74 kg) with shields, hoppers, cone, and empty distributor

LENGTH: 46″ (1168mm)

RATE OF FIRE: 600 rpm

FEED: 50-round hopper; 50-round distribution box




NOTES: The Nordenfelt machine gun is a battery gun invented by a Swede, Helge Palmcrantz, and was named for the Swedish banker who set up a factory in England to build Palmcrantz’s design. The Nordenfelt could be described as a mechanized battery gun that was essentially a hybrid of the Mitrailleuse and the Gatling. There were versions of this design that had from two to 12 barrels mounted laterally on a pedestal or a carriage. The Nordenfelt gun saw service in navies in Europe, as well as in the United States.

Soviet policy and strategy in the Mediterranean



Since the end of World War II Soviet policy and strategy in the Mediterranean has undergone several major changes. After the defeat of Nazi Germany the Soviet position in the Black Sea was greatly strengthened by the establishment of the communist-led rebellion in Greece. Turkey’s geostrategic position in the Aegean would have been considerably weakened in the case of a communist victory in Greece. Hence, the ability of the US and its allies to come to Turkey’s aid would have been made considerably more difficult and costly. However, Moscow’s strategic aims during Stalin’s era seem to have been focused on acquiring a foothold in the straits, or at least to modify the Montreux Convention to secure complete Soviet dominance in the Black Sea. Accomplishment of that strategic aim was a prerequisite to the projection of Soviet military power into the Mediterranean.

For the first two years after the end of World War II the Soviets tried to obtain the acquiescence of the United States and Great Britain to change the straits regime. Moscow also exerted strong pressure on Turkey to agree to a shared control of the straits. All these efforts ultimately failed because Stalin did not dare to risk a conflict with the West. By 1948-49 the open rift between Moscow and Belgrade and the failure of the Greek communists in the civil war led to the dramatic weakening of Soviet influence and power in the Balkans. For the remainder of Stalin’s rule the Soviets did not conduct any active policy to spread their influence and power in the Mediterranean.

The first major change in Moscow’s policy and strategy toward the Mediterranean came in the aftermath of Stalin’s death in 1953. The new collective leadership in Moscow initiated several major changes in domestic and foreign policy. Initially, Moscow intended to improve its hitherto bad relations with the US and the West in general. By the mid1950s the Soviets began to court selected `progressive’ regimes in the Third World to undermine the US and Western position and to enhance Soviet influence and prestige. The Mediterranean seemed an ideal place for the Soviets to conduct their new policy and strategy. The key elements in Moscow’s strategy were arms sales, economic aid, and diplomatic and propaganda activities in support of Arab states. However, the Soviets were well aware that their objectives could not be accomplished without a credible military presence in the area. The problem for the Soviets was how to project military power into an area that is geographically close, yet difficult to reach due to the inherent weaknesses in the USSR’s maritime position. For the Soviets a major and essentially insoluble problem was how to maintain and sustain a military presence in the area, given the limitations imposed by the Montreux Convention and the long distances between the Mediterranean and the operating areas of the Soviet Baltic and Northern Fleets.

After a brief and bitter experience in Albania, the Soviets began intensive efforts to obtain access to naval facilities in Egypt and Yugoslavia. The perceived threat from US Polaris submarines was only one, not the sole reason for Moscow’s decision to deploy naval forces permanently in the Mediterranean. The principal reason for that decision was the change in Soviet policy and strategy in general that occurred in the mid1960s. The Soviets decided to implement the policy of force in the Third World that ultimately aimed to weaken dramatically US and Western influence and power world-wide. The principal Soviet aim in the Mediterranean was to bring about the withdrawal of the US 6th Fleet.

By 1965-66 the Soviets adopted a local-war doctrine as the foundation for their then evolving diplomacy of force in the Third World. The first practical test of the new activist policy came in the Middle East during and in the aftermath of the Six Day War of 1967. The Soviet ability to support `progressive’ Arab regimes rested from the outset on two factors: their naval presence in the conflict zone and a quick-reaction capability to resupply their clients with war matériel, and with troops if necessary.

Although viewed with considerable alarm by the West, the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean was not a completely new phenomenon. Whenever Tsarist Russia was strong and unopposed or co-operating closely with other European powers, it conducted assertive policies in regard to the straits and the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Soviets, after starting to build a `blue-water’ navy and laying the groundwork for more forceful policies in the Middle East, would deploy naval forces in the Mediterranean. However, perhaps too many Western observers and the public at large have taken at face value Moscow’s repeated assertions that the Soviet presence in the area was based exclusively on the need to defend the southwestern part of the `homeland’. In Moscow’s propaganda vocabulary, every Soviet military action was declared to be `defensive’. Yet it cannot be denied that in the post-Stalin era there was a dramatic expansion of the areas in which Soviet `defensive’ interests were to be found and in the number of interests considered in need of protection. This is not to deny that the former USSR had legitimate interests in the Mediterranean, specifically, to spread its influence and enhance its prestige among the riparian states and to protect shipping in the eastern Mediterranean, to name but a few.

The peak of Soviet influence in the Mediterranean was in 1972 and in the short time following the end of the October War of 1973. The Soviet naval presence and the apparent willingness to use force on the behalf of Arab states played a powerful restraining role in the Jordanian crisis of 1970 and during the October War. However, Moscow’s constant push to enlarge its foothold in Egypt came to an abrupt end in the mid1970s. Afterwards Soviet ability to influence events in the Mediterranean steadily declined. The Soviets achieved some success in obtaining access to naval facilities in Syria, Libya and Yugoslavia. However, none of these countries offered the advantages of the position and facilities of Egypt.

Soviet policy and strategy changed in the mid-1980s, when the focus shifted to improve the ties with moderate Arab states and Israel. Moscow sought in general to be accepted as a partner in the ongoing peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Soviets continued to provide economic aid and security assistance to a number of radical regimes. Some of the weapons and equipment delivered to Syria and Libya were more advanced than those provided for close allies in the Warsaw Pact. However, the Soviets ultimately did not accomplish their stated strategic goals in the area because of their inability to provide a sound economic model for the Arab states. The Arabs also perceived that in the several crises that erupted in the area Moscow’s support was mainly political and propagandist. Moreover, the prestige of Soviet weapons and equipment suffered whenever they were used against their Western counterparts.

Since 1991, the geopolitical and geo-strategic position of the new Russian Federation in the Black Sea has dramatically been weakened in comparison to the one enjoyed by the former USSR. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is a much smaller and far less effective force than the Soviet Russian Black Sea Fleet. The ultimate fate of the fleet is uncertain because of the still unresolved problem of basing on the Crimea and division of the fleet between Russia and Ukraine. Russia is also confronted by a true `arc of crisis’ (largely aggravated by Moscow’s policies in the area) along its southern borders that is unprecedented in its modern history. Central Asia and Transcaucaus, the areas once completely under the control of Moscow, are today the scene of clashes of interest among some 20 nations and several major external powers. Russia, Turkey and Iran are major factors in this still evolving struggle for regional power and influence. For Russia, the Black Sea remains the linchpin for its links to overseas regions. A major part of Russia’s trade, especially in crude oil, passes through the straits. To influence events and strengthen its influence beyond the confines of the Black Sea Russia must be able to use and sustain its military power projection capabilities effectively, especially its naval strike forces. The current military and naval weakness of Russia is transitory and will not last. Sooner or later, Russia will emerge again as a major player in Eurasia. However, as long as Turkey possesses full control of the straits and the Montreux Convention remains unchanged, Russia will find it as elusive as in the past to try to project and to sustain its military power in support of its policy and strategy in the Mediterranean.


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