Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115) ruled over a vast territory in northern Italy and played a major role in the Investiture Controversy, supporting Pope Gregory VII and his reform party in their struggle against the German Emperor Henry IV. She was the sole surviving child of Boniface of Canossa and Beatrix, daughter of Frederick II of Lorraine. After Boniface’s death in 1052, Beatrix married her cousin Godfrey the Bearded of Lorraine, a close kinsman of several contemporary reform popes. Just before her stepfather’s death in 1069, the young Matilda married his son, Godfrey the Hunchback. Matilda left him after only two years in his duchy of Lorraine, refusing all efforts at reconciliation. She returned to her mother in Italy and began to share the duties of the ducal office. As tensions grew between pope and emperor over who had the right to appoint bishops, the ladies of Canossa attempted to mediate. In 1076, the unsolved murder of her estranged husband left Matilda a widow, while her mother’s death left her sole ruler of Tuscany. The following year Matilda hosted the famous reconciliation between Henry IV and Gregory VII at her own stronghold in Canossa.

The peace was short-lived. When mediation failed, Matilda sided unwaveringly with Pope Gregory. In 1081 the emperor marched into Italy and declared Matilda’s lands forfeit. For nearly two decades Matilda struggled against imperial forces and occasionally her own rebellious subjects to regain and hold her lands. Her court became a refuge for exiled Gregorian bishops, including Anselm of Lucca, who became Matilda’s chief spiritual advisor. After many defeats, a victory in 1084 helped her gradually to win back her towns, although she never regained her full domain. Aside from a brief and mutually unsatisfactory second marriage to Welf, teenage son of the duke of Bavaria, the last decades of Matilda’s rule were less turbulent. In 1111 she officially reconciled with the new emperor, Henry V. Matilda died in 1115 at the age of sixty-nine, leaving generations of emperors and popes to fight over the right to her vast fortunes.

Matilda’s rule was not an unmitigated success. Her domain was considerably smaller at her death than at her accession. She alienated many of her barons, in part through her support for the Pataria, a populist religious reform movement. Although she was in part responsible for the successes of the Gregorian faction, she did not so much defeat her enemies as outlast them. Nevertheless, she retained in a strong if diminished position for nearly forty years. Her influence was widely felt, from the election of popes to the dissemination of Gregorian political propaganda to the movements of the emperor’s armies.

Matilda is a particularly remarkable figure in women’s history. At a time when most powerful women achieved their status through marriage, Matilda ruled over an inherited domain in her own right and managed to keep it out of the hands of both of her husbands. That she was able to extricate herself relatively painlessly from both marriages, though inviting the enmity of two powerful ducal houses in the process, points to the strength of her position. All evidence suggests that Matilda ruled with the same authority as her male counterparts, holding law courts, settling disputes, and levying armies. She took an active role in her military campaigns, and some contemporary sources claim that she led her own armies into battle.

In spite of her worldly accomplishments, Matilda nourished a life-long yearning for the religious life. The duties of marriage followed by the weighty responsibilities of rulership prevented her from realizing her desire. She accepted that she was needed in the secular world, fighting the “heretics and schismatics.” This tension between the active and contemplative life, one longed for, the other undertaken out of duty, characterizes many contemporary portrayals of the countess. She strove to reconcile a life of pious spirituality with a life of leadership and warfare, making her a perfect heroine for a reform movement that was rooted in monastic ideals but condoned bloodshed on behalf of the Church. Matilda may have embraced this role as champion of the Church and “daughter of St. Peter” (symbol of the papacy) in part for the special legitimacy it conferred upon her, for the extent of her power and influence was largely unprecedented for women of her era. Her sex does not seem to have impeded her exercise of authority, yet she must have felt some uncertainty about her official position, as expressed in her subscription on official documents: “Matilda, by the grace of God, whatever I am.”

References and Further Reading Donizo of Canossa. Vita Mathildis celeberrimae principis Italiae carmine scripta a Donizone presbytero qui in arce canusina vixit, edited by Luigi Simeoni. Bologna: N. Zanichelli, 1940. Duff, Nora. Matilda of Tuscany, la gran donna d’Italia. London: Methuen & Company, 1909. Ghirardini, Lino Lionello. Storia critica di Matilde di Canossa: Problemi (e misteri) della piu’ grande donna della storia d’Italia. Modena: Aedes Muratoriana, 1989. Goez, Elke and Werner Goez, eds. Die Urkunden und Briefe der Markgräfin Mathilde von Tuszien. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1998. Goez, Werner. “Markgräfin Mathilde von Canossa.” In Lebensbilder aus dem Mittelalter: Die Zeit der Ottonen, Salier und Staufer, Darmstadt: Primus, 1998, pp. 233-254. Overmann, Alfred. Gräfin Mathilde von Tuscien: Ihre Besitzungen. Geschichte ihres Gutes von 1115-1230 und ihre Regesten. Innsbruck: Verlag der Wagner’schen Universita “ts-Buchhanoling, 1895. Reynolds, Rosalind Jaeger. “Reading Matilda: The Self- Fashioning of a Duchess.” Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002): 1-13. Studi matildici: atti e memorie del III Convegno di studi matildici, Reggio-Emilia, 7-8-9 ottobre 1977. Modena: Aedes Muratoriana, 1978.

Chieftain Mark 11 MBT



andys chieftain

Chieftain Mk.11: Mark 10 upgrade, searchlight replaced with the Thermal Observation and Gunnery System (TOGS), manufactured by Barr and Stroud.

Like its European competitors, Chieftain found a large export market in the Middle East, but unlike Centurion, it was not adopted by any other NATO or Commonwealth countries.

Chieftain proved itself capable in combat and able to be upgraded with enhancements both for overall improvement and to meet local requirements. The marque was continuously upgraded until the early 1990s when it was replaced by Challenger 1. The final Chieftain version used by the British Army until 1995, incorporated “Stillbrew” armour named after Colonel Still and John Brewer from the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE), the Improved Fire Control System (IFCS) and the Thermal Observation Gunnery Sight (TOGS).

The initial Chieftain production mark was the Mk 1 which served in 40 delivered examples utilized primarily for trials and tanker training beginning in 1965. The Mk 2 became the initial service-ready model and these were supplied with 650 horsepower Leyland engines. A new commander’s cupola was devised, an uprated engine introduced and additional equipment added to make the Mk 3 variant. The final definitive Chieftain production model became the Mk 5 and these added NBC protection units at the turret bustle as well as further uprated engines.

The Mk 6, Mk 7, Mk 8 and Mk 9 marks were essentially upgrades of earlier production models that introduced improved engines. The following Mk 10 was based on the Mk 9 upgrade and included the “Stillbrew Crew Protection Package” (SCPP) along the turret as well as an improved fire control system. The Mk 11 was itself an upgrade of the Mk 10 which saw the original IR/white light searchlight replaced with the Barr & Stroud “Thermal Observation and Gunnery System” (TOGS). TOGS allowed for adverse weather and night fighting capabilities which expectedly broadened the tactical scope of Chieftains for the better. The Mk 12 and Mk 13 variants were proposed Chieftain upgrades that would have featured additional improvements throughout but these marks were done in by the arrival of the excellent Challenger 2 series main battle tank.

The first model was introduced in 1967. Chieftain was supplied to at least six countries, including Iran, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan. An agreement for sales to Israel was cancelled by the British Government in 1969, despite considerable Israeli technical and tactical input into the development of the tank, especially in desert environments, and the use of hull-down to maximum effect in the final design. This experience spurred the creation of the indigenous Israeli Merkava, the development programme of which was led by General Israel Tal, who had worked closely with the British in the Anglo-Israeli Chieftain project. The largest foreign sale was to Iran, which took delivery of 707 Mk-3P and Mk-5P, 125–189 FV-4030-1, 41 ARV and 14 AVLB before the 1979 revolution. Further planned deliveries of the more capable 4030 series were cancelled at that point. The tank was heavily used during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980-88 with mixed results, engine breakdowns being a common issue. Chieftains participated in the biggest tank battle of the war in early 1981. Iran lost 200 Chieftain and M60A1. In return, Iraq lost 50 T-62 tanks.







Numantia (Celtiberian) finally falls in 133 to Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus

Date: 134–133 b.c.

Location: on the Duero River, near present-day Soria in northeastern Spain.

Forces Engaged:

Roman: 60,000 legionnaires. Commander: Scipio Aemilianus.

Celtiberian: 4,000 troops. Commander: Avarus.


The fall of Numantia marked the end of organized Celtic resistance to the Roman occupation of Spain.

Historical Setting

The Roman Republic first showed an interest in Iberia in the wake of the First Punic War. Iberia had long been the major source of mercenaries for the Carthaginian army, as well as a source of natural resources. For a time Carthage controlled the southern part of the peninsula and Rome the upper part near the Pyrennees. The Second Punic War began over a border dispute in Iberia, and in the wake of Rome’s victory at Zama all of Iberia fell under Roman sway. Unfortunately, the inhabitants, a mixture of Celts and local populations, were fiercely independent and resisted Roman rule at every turn.

The First Celitiberian War was fought in the years 181–178 b.c. Roman forces under the leadership of Tiberius Gracchus subdued many of the tribes, and he developed a reputation for fairness in dealing with his defeated enemies. Until 155 the region remained fairly peaceful, as the Romans consolidated their hold on the coastal regions and the interior tribes recovered from the war. In 154 the Lusitani (of modern Portugal) attacked Roman territory but in 151 they were defeated by the Roman Sulipicius Galba. He offered them terms of surrender that they accepted; he then slaughtered 8,000 men who had given up their weapons. This act of treachery was unfortunately not uncommon, for most officials sent to Spain had little desire to be there and faithlessness in their dealing with the Celtiberians was a regular practice.

Along with the Lusitanian uprising, the Aravaci tribe of northeastern Iberia also made war against the Romans. They joined with the Lusitanian leader Viriathus and for a few years made life miserable for successive Roman officials, until the consul Q. Serivlius Caepio bribed two of Viriathus’ officers to assassinate him in 139. The Aravaci continued their resistance after Viriathus’ death. Their main city was Numantia, on the Duero River. When the Third Celt- iberian War broke out in 143, the Romans attempted to reduce Numantia by siege. Because the city was located on steep bluffs overlooking the river and garrisoned by aggressive warriors, the Romans had no luck. Quintus Pompeius Metellus was the first to try in 143, and all he could achieve was an agreement to leave the city independent. He violated that agreement in 139, and the Numantines appealed to the Roman Senate for justice. They got none. Pompeius was removed and replaced by Marcus Popilius Lenatis. He made no headway against the city either, so was succeeded by Caius Hostlius Mancinus, who ordered a number of assaults on the city, all of which were repulsed. His army was ambushed and he was obliged to sign a treaty very favorable to the Numantines.

The Senate in Rome rejected that treaty and in 136 another commander tried to take the city, then another in 135. Increasingly dissatisfied with the progress in Iberia, the Senate finally gave in to public demand to reappoint Scipio Aemilianus Africanus to the consulship. He was the victor over the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War and captor of the city of Carthage itself in 146. If anyone could overcome the strong defenses of Numantia, he would be the man.

Scipio was indeed the man for the job, but he had obstacles to overcome before he confronted Numantia. The army’s morale was extremely low, and getting recruits to go to Iberia was difficult. The Celtiberian guerrilla tactics frustrated most Roman soldiers, so veterans had little desire to reenlist. As the countryside had been fought over continuously for decades, and the population was tribal rather than urban, potential recruits could not be lured by the promise of plunder, for almost none existed. Scipio had to raise an army on his reputation, and he managed to amass a force of 20,000 Romans. This was expanded by a further 40,000 allies and mercenaries, mainly locally recruited but also including cavalry from Numidia in North Africa.

Scipio’s first task was to whip his army into shape. He drove his new recruits and the troops he inherited upon his arrival in Iberia, making them march, dig in, and then march some more. He hardened their bodies and their spirits, and occasional skirmishes with Iberian tribes enhanced their morale while decreasing that of the locals. In the fall of 134 he was ready. He marched to Numantia and began encircling it. Knowing the Numantines’ vaunted aggressiveness, he decided to neutralize their fighting spirit by not letting them fight. He would not storm the city, but lock it up and starve it out.

The Siege

Scipio established two camps immediately upon his arrival at Numantia, and over the course of the siege he set up five more. Between the camps he built a wall, ultimately with seven towers interspersed along it. The walls were 10 feet high, and from the towers Roman archers and slingers could hit targets within the city. Where the Romans could not build a wall because of a swamp, Scipio had a dam constructed to back up the water flow, which created a lake between his walls and those of Numantia. The Duero, which had protected the city, now encircled it. At the river’s entry and exit points Scipio had towers constructed on both banks, between which was strung a cable. Dangling from the cable were beams with sharp blades embedded in them, hanging into the water, to block both boats and swimmers. The Numantines were well known for their ability to swim the river, but now their only points of egress were blocked. Further, Scipio had his men build walls of contravallation, to defend against any relief force.

The defenders grew increasingly hungry and frustrated with the inaction. Only once did they attempt a sally, and it was easily repulsed. One of the leading Numantine warriors, Rhetogenes, led a small party over the walls, down the river, and through the barricade. They went to their fellow tribesmen for aid, but the Aravaci were too fearful of Roman power to join the conflict. Rhetogenes then went to the Lutians, where he got a more positive response from the younger warriors of the tribe. The older citizens counseled against aid, however, and they warned Scipio of the planned relief. Scipio left a holding force at Numantia and marched to Lutia and surrounded it. He demanded and received the 400 young men who responded to Rhetogenes, then cut off their hands so they could offer no assistance. He then resumed his siege at Numantia.

Seeing his hope of aid gone, the Numantine leader Avarus sent envoys to negotiate with Scipio. Thy offered to surrender in return for their city’s liberty. Scipio refused, demanding unconditional surrender. When the envoys returned to the city with Scipio’s response, the population did not believe their report. Thinking the envoys had cut a separate deal, the people killed them.

Unable to sally and unwilling to surrender, the Numantines starved. Anything that could be used for food was consumed, even the bodies of their own dead. There are reports of some people killing weaker citizens for consumption, rather than waiting for them to die. Disease soon compounded the starvation process, and the few remaining citizens began considering conceding to Scipio’s demands. Rather than face the shame of such an outcome, many of the survivors chose death over dishonor, killing their families and then themselves. The last survivors surrendered to Scipio, but only after setting their city ablaze.


Sources differ on the length of the siege, some saying eight months and others sixteen. Late summer 133 b.c. is the generally accepted time of the surrender. Upon receiving the surrender of the remnants of the population, Scipio ordered the ruins of the city leveled. For a cost of virtually no casualties of his own, Scipio removed the Numantine threat from Roman occupation of Iberia. By the time of the Third Celtiberian War the Aravaci had been a serious local power; after Numantia’s fall what resistance remained was scattered.

In 77 b.c. another Iberian rising challenged Roman power in the Numantia area, and the general who suppressed it was Pompey, one of the Triumvirate that was instrumental in Julius Caesar’s rise to power. Caesar later was appointed consul in Iberia and in order to enhance his own military and political reputation, he raised a local force and conquered Galicia, the last holdout of Celtic resistance in the peninsula. It was that conquest, in 59 b.c., which finally secured Roman rule over all Iberia.

Invasion of the Sea Peoples




Sherden Pirates

They were a group of sea-roving marauders on the Mediterranean coast during the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B. C. E.). In the Nineteenth Dynasty, they began raiding the Egyptian Delta. A stela from TANIS stated: “none were able to stand before them.” RAMESSES III (r. 1194-1163 B. C. E.) defeated the Sherden Pirates and incorporated them into his military forces. Carrying round shields and large swords, some of these buccaneers became Ramesses III’s personal guards. They received land grants in repayment. Rameses II (r. 1290-1224 B. C. E.) also fought the Sherden Pirates.

Sea Peoples

They were a confederation of various groups who were active as pirates and marauders in the Ramessid Period, the Nineteenth Dynasty (1307-1196 B. C. E.) and the Twentieth Dynasty (1196-1070 B. C. E.). RAMESSES II (r. 1290-1224 B. C. E.) sought a pact with the HITTITE ruler HATTUSILIS III, in defense against these wide-ranging attackers, and MERENPTAH (r. 1224-1214 B. C. E.) faced one contingent of them during his reign. The actual listing of the Sea Peoples, however, dates to RAMESSES III (r. 1194-1163 B. C. E.), who destroyed them.

The Sea Peoples recorded on the walls of MEDINET HABU at THEBES include the Ekwesh, believed to be Greek Achaeans; Teresh, Anatolian sailors, possibly the Tyrrhenians; Lukka, an Anatolian coastal people; Sherdana, probably a group of Sardinians; Shekelesh, identified as members of the Sicilian Siculi; Peleset, from Crete and the ancestors of the Philistines. Others not identified with certainty were the Kizzuwatna, Arzawa, Zakala, Alasiya, Tjeker, and Denyen. The MESHWESH, Libyans who were always active in Egypt’s Delta, were also listed.

Originally some of the groups had fortified cities and worked copper mines. Displaced, the Sea Peoples conquered CYPRUS and blockaded Syrian ports. They began their first campaigns near their homelands. The Mycenean Greeks repulsed them, but other nations, including the Hittites, endured their aggression.

In Ramesses III’s eighth regnal year, the Sea Peoples had attacked Cilicia, CARCHEMISH, Palestine, Arzawa, CYPRUS, Amurru, and the HITTITES and had arrived in the Delta region with the Libyans. These marauders came in carts, bringing their entire families to the invasion. They wore kilts and headdresses of feathers or pleated stiffened cloths and they carried spears, short swords, and round shields. The Great HARRIS PAPYRUS adds other details.

Ramesses III met the Sea Peoples who were entering Egypt as migrants, not as marauders. Crop failures in the eastern Mediterranean region caused these nomads to destroy entire cities in their movement. They sought the safety of the Nile, and Ramesses III had to repel land and sea assaults. He moved defensive units to the eastern border and fortified the Nile branches in the Delta. By allowing the Sea Peoples to enter certain Nile branches and then moving floating islands and debris behind them, Ramesses III trapped entire contingents and annihilated them. Others he took as prisoners and forced them into his armed forces or made them slaves.

Egypt withstood their assaults, but the Sea Peoples changed the political matrix of the Mediterranean. One group that managed to escape Ramesses III’s assaults were called the Peleset. These are believed to have been the Philistines documented in Palestine. Some records indicate that the Peleset, or Philistines, were sent into Palestine to control the area there for Egypt.




Caught by surprise by the Nazi-Soviet pact, the Poles resisted valiantly as the two powers seized their homeland. For Europe, it was the first opportunity to witness the blitzkrieg in full effect.

At 0440 hours on 1 September 1939, German aircraft of the Luftwaffe bombed air bases in Poland. Five minutes later, German ground forces rolled over the border into Poland, while the old German battleship Schleswig-Holstein emerged from the early morning mists and started shelling the Polish fortress on Westerplatte. World War II had begun.

The first fatality of the war had, in fact, occurred the previous evening when a German concentration-camp prisoner was murdered by an SS commando unit during a staged attack on a German radio station at Gleiwitz near the Polish border. Organised by the Gestapo chief, Reinhard Heydrich, the raid was a German attempt to provide some kind of justification for Hitler’s unprovoked attack on Poland.

A small group of SS men, dressed in Polish army uniforms, attacked the isolated transmitter, fired shots into the air and took over its running. Listeners to the station heard the shots and a voice, speaking in Polish, declare: ‘People of Poland! The time has come for war between Poland and Germany. Unite and smash down any Germans, all Germans, who oppose your war!’ To complete the charade, the unfortunate concentration camp inmate who had been forced along by the SS troops and dressed in civilian clothes to look like a radio operator – was shot and his body left at the scene of the attack for later inspection by the world’s press. The following day, Hitler proclaimed a state of war between Germany and Poland, citing the Gleiwitz incident as one of the reasons for the invasion.

Although the Polish high command had ordered a general mobilisation on 30 August, the German invasion still came as a surprise. Many Polish reservists had yet to reach their units, and many of these units were in the process of moving to their mobilisation areas when the German maelstrom struck. The invaders soon swept aside the Polish frontier troops, and during the late afternoon of 1 September they began to make contact with forward elements of the Polish army.

The Luftwaffe strikes

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe had been in action in earnest. The initial task for the German air crews was the destruction of the Polish air force on the ground. All the major bases were heavily bombed, as were air strips in the regions where German advances were expected. Some Polish aircraft did manage to get airborne, but they were either shot down or driven off from the German areas of operation. The old fighter aircraft fielded by the Poles were hopelessly outclassed by the Messerschmitt Bf-109s of the Luftwaffe. Low flying German aircraft reported that Polish light anti-aircraft and small arms fire was fairly accurate, but at medium and higher altitudes the Luftwaffe could operate with relative impunity.

Despite a belief to the contrary, the Polish air force was not destroyed in the first day of fighting, and it continued to mount operations as best it could. The fighter defences over Warsaw continued to offer resistance for three days, and fighter patrols flew over Silesia and Bohemia-Moravia, while a bombing mission was made against East Prussia. But by 3 September, the Polish air force had ceased to exist as a coherent force, and from then on the German bombers had a virtual free hand over the whole of Poland.

Once the Polish air force had been dealt with, the Luftwaffe could concentrate on ground targets. Particular emphasis was paid to the destruction of road and rail bridges, rail heads and other forms of communication. Subsequent bomber waves attacked administrative and industrial centres, and the masses of Polish troops attempting to fend off the German ground invasion faced near constant bombardment from the air. Attacks on civilian targets were not neglected, and Warsaw was heavily bombed on the first day of war. Central to the German blitzkrieg philosophy was the spread of fear and confusion among the general population, and the long columns of refugees fleeing into central Poland were too easy and tempting a target for the air crews of the Luftwaffe to resist (although, in fairness to the Germans, it was often difficult to distinguish between evacuees and legitimate military targets).

The two armies of Army Group North found their operational areas shrouded in mist during the early morning of 1 September, which aided concealment but caused some early confusion with units firing on each other. The German Fourth Army drove directly eastwards from Pomerania to cut off the Polish Corridor, while the Third Army divided its forces between an attack southwestwards (to link up with the Fourth Army in the corridor) and a drive southwards towards the Polish capital. Further north in the corridor, Danzig was secured with little resistance by a brigade of German infantry, although Polish strong points along the Baltic coast continued to offer resistance.

Rapid German success

Spearheaded by General Heinz Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps, the German Fourth Army met only limited resistance during the first day of the invasion. The German command believed the Poles would fall back to the River Brade and there establish a defensive line, but on 2 September German tanks crossed the Brade with minimal opposition. The only problem occurred when tanks of the XIX Corps ran out of fuel and ammunition, and were stranded for a time behind what remained of the Polish front line.

The advance of Army Group North had gone almost like clockwork – a tribute to the excellence of German staff work. For the troops at the cutting edge, however, the experience of combat for the first time could cause problems. FW Mellenthin, then an intelligence officer in General Hause’s III Corps with the Fourth Army, described one such incident:

Very early in the campaign I learned how ‘jumpy’ even a well-trained unit can be under war conditions. A low-flying aircraft circled over corps battle headquarters and everyone let fly with whatever he could grab. An air-liaison officer ran about trying to stop the fusillade and shouting to the excited soldiery that this was a German command plane – one of the good old Fieseler Storke. Soon afterwards the aircraft landed, and out stepped the Luftwaffe general responsible for our close air support. He failed to appreciate the joke.

The surprised troops of the Polish Pomorze Army were only able to mount sporadic resistance against the relentless German assault. In one such engagement (1 September), a unit of German infantry was charged by mounted troops of the Polish 18th Lancer Regiment. During the fighting, the Poles suddenly found themselves outflanked by German armoured cars which inflicted heavy casualties on the Polish cavalrymen, forcing them to retreat in disorder with the loss of their commander, Colonel Mastalerz.

This incident formed the basis of the legend of Polish lancers attacking German tanks. Later in the campaign, there were a number of actions where mounted Polish troops became involved in fighting with German infantry, and in other instances German tanks attacked Polish cavalry units. Although the Poles had a reputation for reckless courage, their officers were not so foolish as to knowingly commit flesh and blood directly against hard steel. But given the nature of national stereotypes, the story swiftly gained wide credence.

Spirited Polish defence

The German Third Army’s advance towards Warsaw was briefly halted by troops of the Modlin Army, holding defensive positions in the Mlawa area. The Poles resisted for three days until a German outflanking movement forced a withdrawal southwards. The troops appointed to the other area of operations assigned to the Third Army – the westwards drive into the Polish Corridor – met fierce resistance around Graudenz, a town on the Vistula, while further north the key bridge over the river at Dirschau was destroyed by the Poles. Fortunately for the Germans, their armed forces had long experience in the use of pontoon bridges, and the Vistula was promptly bridged at Meve.

On 3 September, Third and Fourth Armies met at Neuenberg, trapping Polish forces in the north of the corridor. At the same time, the Germans began to push back what remained of the disorganised Pomorze Army towards Bromberg. The city of Bromberg had a large German population, and when news of the invasion reached the German community, there was an uprising. Polish troops and other Polish inhabitants put down the uprising with considerable bloodshed, an incident which received wide coverage in the German press and broadcasting services.

The old animosity between Poles and Germans re-emerged in this campaign, and was stoked-up by Hitler and the Nazi propaganda machine. A week before the invasion, Hitler had harangued his senior generals with the details of how he would send SS units into Poland ‘to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish race or language’. Hitler’s hatred of the Slav peoples would ensure that the war in the East would be fought with the utmost severity.

During 4 and 5 September the remnants of General Bortnwoski’s Pomorze Army began to retreat back towards Warsaw. For the first time in three days the exhausted Polish troops were not harried by the Germans. The bulk of the German Fourth Army was redeployed eastwards, instead of following the Poles along the plain of the Vistula, and began an advance into East Prussia behind the advancing formations of the Third Army, driving on Warsaw from the north and northwest.

General Rundstedt’s Army Group South was responsible for the destruction of the Polish armies across the Silesian border and the seizure of Warsaw from the south. The sky during morning of 1 September was clear over southern Poland, and German reconnaissance aircraft had little difficulty in picking out the long columns of German troops crossing the border. In the centre was General Reichenau’s Tenth Army, whose seven mechanised divisions (followed by six infantry divisions) made it the most formidable of the various armies attacking Poland, and reflected its key role in leading the German advance on Warsaw. Protecting the Tenth Army’s left flank was the Eighth Army, whose own objective was the capture of Lodz. On the right of the German advance was the Fourteenth Army, which protected the southern flank of the invading forces as well as being assigned the responsibilities of overrunning Cracow and the industrial regions of Galicia.

Continued German success Advance elements of Army Group South penetrated up to 15 miles into Poland on the first day of hostilities. Among the lead units to cross the border was a reconnaissance company of the 2nd Light Division (Fourteenth Army) led by Hans von Luck. He described the ease with which the Germans advanced into Poland:

We fell in with the armoured reconnaissance regiment. The frontier was manned by a single customs official. As one of our soldiers approached him, the terrified man opened the barrier. Without resistance we marched into Poland. Far and wide there was not a Polish soldier in sight, although they were supposed to have been preparing for an ‘invasion’ of Germany.

The following day, however, resistance increased and the German advance slowed. The Polish army hoped to form a defensive line along the River Warta and southwards to Tschenstochau, but the confusion caused by the surprise and power of the German attack made such an undertaking impossible. Early on 3 September, Tschenstochau was taken by the Tenth Army, and German mechanised units secured bridgeheads over the Warta. To the south, the German Fourteenth Army commenced its drive on Cracow, while additional mountain units began to debauch from the high passes in Slovakia’s Carpathian Mountains, thereby outflanking forward Polish units defending Cracow.

General Polish withdrawal

Aware that both the southern and northern fronts were in danger of total collapse, the Polish high command issued orders on 5 September to begin a general withdrawal towards the Vistula, which was modified the following day to the adoption of a new defensive line running from the Narew river in the northeast, along the Vistula and back along the River San. Marshal Smigly-Rydz had to face the fact that the battle for the frontiers had been a total disaster, and his only hope was to withdraw as many formations as possible to the relative safety of eastern Poland before they were destroyed piecemeal by the marauding panzer columns and Luftwaffe. The first three days of combat had come as a sickening blow to the Polish high command, and help from Poland’s allies in the West had become ever more vital if the Polish state was to survive at all.

The French ‘invade’ Germany

As a token gesture, French troops advanced into German territory in the Saar region on 7 September. The advance was slow and careful; casualties were avoided and German frontier troops fell back in good order. The French had advanced a mere five miles by the 12th when the Saar ‘offensive’ was called to a halt. There the French adopted a defensive position until withdrawing all their forces on 4 October. Although the Polish high command held the realistic expectation that help from the Allies would not come in a few days but take several weeks, the inactivity of France and Britain in September 1939 was a bitter pill to swallow.

The declarations of war by Britain and France did, however, have consequences for future German strategy in Poland. The planners at OKH were fearful that the Allies might launch an attack in the west, and consequently were reluctant to send large numbers of troops deep into Polish territory. OKH argued that if the Allied attack did materialise, then Germany’s elite formations would have to be transferred westwards as quickly as possible. By contrast, the German commanders on the ground wanted to develop the encirclement of Polish forces well to the west of Warsaw.

In keeping with this idea, General Bock, commander of Army Group North, intended to redeploy the Fourth Army through East Prussia to new positions on the left (eastern) flank of the Third Army to prevent the Polish army from adopting new defensive positions east of Warsaw. It was an imaginative proposal, but OKH considered it to be too risky in the light of the new threat to the Germans’ rear in the west, and accordingly vetoed the plan. In the debate that followed, a compromise measure was adopted, and on 5 September OKH permitted a reinforced XIX Corps, led by Guderian, to make the crossing through East Prussia and attack the Polish forces behind the River Narew. The remainder of the Fourth Army would resume its role of pushing the Poles back towards Warsaw on the right bank of the Vistula.



Guderian’s potent army Guderian now had four mechanised divisions under his direct command: the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions and the 2nd and 20th Motorised Divisions. It was an extremely potent force, made more effective because Bock allowed Guderian a free hand both tactically and logistically. As it was not tied down to the slow pace of infantry supply lines, XIX Corps could act as a fully independent mechanised army – the first such force in the history of warfare. For Guderian, it was the ideal weapon to maintain the German invasion’s momentum.

Having smashed through the Polish army’s cordon defence during the first two to three days’ fighting, Army Group South prepared to exploit its victory. In the centre of the advance, Tenth Army’s mechanised divisions began to race ahead of the infantry formations, bypassing strong points and the masses of Polish infantry streaming back towards Warsaw. To the dismay of the Polish high command, Germany’s panzer forces were invariably ahead of the retreating Polish infantry, thereby preventing the Polish commanders from having sufficient time to reorganise their battered forces.

Following behind, or sometimes alongside the panzers, were the combat engineer units whose responsibility was to remove obstacles, dismantle booby traps and build bridges. The Poles had anticipated that the German advance would be slowed by the many wide rivers that ran through their country, but German combat engineers were past masters at constructing pontoon bridges. One such engineer was Paul Stresemann. Although a reluctant soldier, his background in construction led him to be posted as an engineer officer, which ensured that he would be in the forefront of the advance when rivers needed to be crossed.

The Pilica River was crossed on 5 September, and the Tenth Army began to wheel around in a northeasterly direction towards Warsaw and the Vistula. At this point the Germans received reports that the Polish army was frantically attempting to organise a new army based around Radom (due south of Warsaw). The army was being assembled from various sources, including troops from the retreating Cracow Army and from the general reserve provided by the Prusy Group.

Encirclement at Radom

Rundstedt instructed the Tenth Army’s commander, General Reichenau, to envelop the Polish forces around Radom from the north, south and west. Reichenau’s intention was to destroy this last major concentration of Polish forces that lay between the key German objectives of Warsaw and the Vistula. Three army corps (IV, XIV and XV) were assigned to the battle which began late on 8 September. The Poles fought with determination, but the better-armed and better-trained Germans relentlessly ground them down with air support from the Luftwaffe. On 11 September, Radom was captured along with 60,000 Polish prisoners of war (although a few Polish units managed to break out to nearby forested regions where they continued resistance for several more days).

While the battle for Radom was in progress, panzer units of the Tenth Army reached the Vistula and secured the vital bridgehead at Pulawy on 8 September, and later at Gora Kalwarja. The hopes by the Polish high command of establishing a defensive line on a major river had been dashed once again. When the German infantry had caught up with the tanks (which were temporarily immobile due to fuel shortages), then the panzers would be clear to resume operations east of the Vistula.

The honour of reaching Warsaw fell to General Reinhardt’s 4th Panzer Division. Reinhardt’s tanks had reached the outskirts of the Polish capital late on 8 September, and an assault was ordered for 0700 hours the following morning. Supported by divisional artillery, the German tanks began to drive into the city, but Polish resistance was fierce, and after three hours’ fighting – with the advance completely stalled – the order was given to retreat. The Germans had learnt the dangers of using unsupported armoured units in built-up areas the hard way.

Polish countermoves.

To the south, the Fourteenth Army captured Cracow on 6 September, and, following a reorganisation of the army’s mobile formations, the mechanised XXII Corps advanced eastwards across the River Dunajec to cut off those Polish units escaping to the east of the Vistula. On 9 September, OKH instructed XXII Corps (followed by the rest of the Fourteenth Army) to break through the defences on the River San and wheel northwards towards Chelm with the final aim of making contact with Guderian’s XIX Corps advancing southwards from East Prussia. Thus, XXII and XIX Corps would become the two pincers conducting the encirclement of the Polish army east of Warsaw.

The German Eighth Army – on the Tenth Army’s northern (left) flank – was also making good progress and closing on Lodz. As a consequence, its own left flank was becoming dangerously exposed, especially from the Polish Poznan Army (directly to the north). German frontier units were assigned to protect the Eighth Army’s exposed flank and were later reinforced by two reserve infantry divisions to form Group Gienanth. But the potential threat posed by the Poznan Army was not fully comprehended by either OKH or the advancing Germans. While the frontier battles were raging along the Polish border, only the Poznan Army, commanded by General Kutrzeba, had not been fully engaged; the German planners at OKH had decided to bypass this force in favour of swift penetration into the heart of Poland. Once the nature of the German advance had become clear to the Poles, Kutrzeba requested the Polish high command for permission to attack the Eighth Army advancing eastwards below his southern flank. The request was refused as Marshal Smigly-Rydz was determined to get as many troops back behind the Vistula as possible, and so the Poznan Army began a long retreat eastwards towards Warsaw, attacked by the Luftwaffe but without interference from German ground forces. Meanwhile, remnants of the Pomorze Army were also retreating towards Warsaw, the two armies meeting up around the road and rail junction at Kutno, roughly half way between Poznan and Warsaw.

On 8 September, Kutrzeba again requested permission to attack the Eighth Army, using both the Poznan and Pomorze Armies. This was a substantial and still largely intact body of troops, consisting of ten infantry divisions and two-and-a-half cavalry divisions. Although any attack would delay the eastward retreat, the Polish high command was in a desperate position, its troops constantly being overrun by the German panzers. They reasoned that a major counter-attack might slow the advance of Army Group South in general, thereby allowing other Polish forces a breathing space, with time to retreat and regroup. Accordingly, permission to attack was finally granted.

Group Gienanth, originally responsible for the protection of the Eighth Army’s flank, had been left behind by the speed of the main German advance. As the Eighth Army neared the River Bzura, its flank guard consisted primarily of the 30th Infantry Division, which was spread out along a front of 20 miles and in no position to mount a coordinated defence. The Polish counter-attack was launched on 9 September, southeast across the Bzura, the only major offensive conducted by the Polish army during the campaign. The next day, the German 30th Infantry Division reported back to Eighth Army Command that it was under attack, suffering heavy casualties and was being forced backwards. Throughout 10/11 September, the Battle of the Bzura raged with great intensity. Although the Poles had managed to force the Germans back, they were short of food, ammunition and other military supplies. One Polish officer engaged in the fighting explained some of the special problems facing him and his men:

There were dead Germans lying everywhere, on the road and in the ruined buildings. I gave my men orders to go through the Germans’ map and trouser pockets in the faint hope of finding the maps which we needed so desperately. At last our search was rewarded: we found a map of the Brochow-Sochaczew area in the pocket of a dead NCO. For us that was the most valuable booty of the entire war.

The Polish counter-attack across the Bzura had come as a surprise to the Eighth Army, but there was no panic and orders were issued to contain the Polish attack. At the headquarters of Army Group South, Rundstedt and his chief of staff, Manstein, saw the Polish attack not so much a problem, but more an opportunity to fulfil the original OKH plan of destroying the Polish army west of the Vistula.

By now, approximately 170,000 Polish troops were concentrated around Kutno. If they could be encircled, contained and destroyed, then the Polish army would have lost over a third of its ground forces at a stroke.

German redeployment

The redeployment of the German army to deal with the Polish counter-attack was a masterful display of the ability of German general staff officers to move large, complex forces with economy and swiftness. On 11 September, General Blaskowitz was given control over the operation and was assigned formations from both the Tenth Army to his right, and from the Fourth Army advancing from the north. The Eighth Army had doubled in size almost overnight and had six corps working under a single command. One consequence of the coming battle was that the pressure on the Poles in Warsaw was temporarily eased, while German operations on the Vistula were also scaled down.

On 12 September, General Kutrzeba was informed that the remnants of the Lodz Army were retreating towards Modlin, and that any hope of their forces meeting up was no longer feasible. More ominous still were the manoeuvrings of the German forces around Kutno, which threatened the Poles with encirclement. Kutrzeba was in danger of being trapped. On 12 September the Poles attempted to break out of the encirclement with an offensive to the southeast. The Germans lost some ground but the ring held firm, and by the 15th the Polish attack had been exhausted. On the same day, the German Tenth Army was ordered to advance northwards to the west of Warsaw to block off any escape route from the Kutno pocket towards the Polish capital.

The Poles made a further attempt to break out on 16 September, to the northeast, in the hope of crossing the Vistula and reaching Modlin. The attempted break-out was once again repulsed, with heavy Polish casualties. The fighting enabled the Eighth Army to further tighten its grip on the Kutno pocket, the Polish troops being compressed into an ever smaller area, which in turn made them highly vulnerable to aerial attack. On 17 September, the Luftwaffe broke off its bombing operations against Warsaw to concentrate all its efforts against Kutno. The trapped Poles suffered heavy losses as 328 tons of bombs rained down upon them in the pocket.

The Polish defences began to collapse during the 17th: 40,000 men were captured by the Germans on that day, and one last break-out attempt by two Polish divisions was crushed by Tenth Army guarding the approach to Warsaw. The only troops to escape were in small units, most slipping away through the cover provided by the Kampinos forest. Increasingly, the Polish army was breaking down into isolated groups capable, at best, of only guerrilla operations.

German respect for the Poles

Although Hitler had reprimanded his generals when the Poles managed to slow the advance towards Warsaw, for the German high command, the battle of the Bzura was a monumental success, one that even surpassed Hannibal’s victory at Cannae – a battle that Prussian staff officers had studied for decades as the benchmark of military triumph. For the ordinary German soldier it had been a tough engagement. Kurt Meyer, later a general in the Waffen-SS but then a junior officer in the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, had fought in the battle attached to the 4th Panzer Division. Despite being a fanatical Nazi, Meyer paid his respects to the Polish soldier: ‘It would not be fair on our part to deny the bravery of the Polish forces. The battles along the Bzura were fought with great ferocity and courage.’

While the Poles in the Kutno pocket were still fighting, the Polish high command fell back on a last expedient: the general retreat of all forces towards the southeast of Poland to form the ‘Romanian bridgehead’. Although the German Fourteenth Army had been pressing directly eastwards along the northern edge of the Carpathians, southeast Poland was the last area where a new line of resistance might be formed, centred around Lwow and the oil-rich region bordering Romania and Hungary.

In the northern theatre of operations, the Polish Modlin Army and the Narew Group began to retreat on the night of 9/10 September, closely followed by the German Third Army. On the Third Army’s eastern flank, Guderian’s XIX Corps exploited the gap opening up between the two Polish formations. A counter-attack by the Narew Group was repulsed with the Poles suffering heavy casualties. The two panzer and two motorised divisions of XIX Corps were suffering from shortages of fuel and ammunition, and the wear and tear of campaigning was beginning to take its toll of the armoured vehicles, and yet Guderian’s miniature ‘panzer army’ still had the firepower and mobility to overwhelm virtually anything it encountered.

Although Guderian wanted his tanks to operate in a drive east of the River Bug towards Brest-Litovsk, OKH still remained cautious of committing its armoured forces so far east. The original plan was for Guderian to drive south to Siedice, but OKH’s realisation that the Poles were attempting to form their ‘Romanian bridgehead’ forced a change of mind. Guderian was now allowed to follow his preferred plan to drive southwards along the east bank of the Bug, which would eventually enable him to outflank this last Polish defensive line.

On 14 September, advance units of the 10th Panzer Division reached the edge of Brest-Litovsk, Army Group North’s most easterly objective. The following day, the city was captured, although the Polish defenders retired into a fortification known as the Citadel. There they repulsed several more German attacks from the 10th Panzer and 20th Motorised Infantry Divisions. But on the 17th, as the Poles were attempting a break-out, German infantry finally secured the Citadel. The 3rd Panzer Division moved southwards to Wlodova, in the expectation of meeting up with advance panzer units driving northeast from Army Group South.

Although the two great pincers that trapped the Polish forces to the east of Warsaw did not meet physically, they remained only a few kilometres apart, maintaining contact through radio – a fitting tribute to a communication device that had been so important in the success of the German mechanised formations. Actual contact occurred in the original pincer movement towards Warsaw, when elements of the two army groups met at the Vistula bridgehead at Gora Kalwarja, just south of the Polish capital.

Viking Invasions of Ireland



Ireland had known no invaders since prehistoric times. The Vikings, who arrived quite suddenly at the end of the eighth century, sent shock waves through a society in which Christianity had been left to organize itself, exercise its influence, and cultivate its artistic treasures largely undisturbed for more than three centuries.

Marauding seafarers from Norway and Denmark brought ruin and confusion, but they also made a positive contribution to subsequent Irish history in founding the first towns. They tied the island to a continental empire of far-flung places where the Vikings raided and traded, launching both the first large-scale outside contacts and the beginnings of commercial life. In time, like their predecessors before them, they too conformed to Ireland’s demographic pattern in assimilating with the natives, becoming Christians, and adopting the Irish language and Irish customs. Initially an independent force sitting behind the defensive walls of their coastal and riverine settlements, they began trading with the interior and soon found themselves drawn into dynastic struggles, which marked the politics of this period just as they had politics for centuries before.

The Vikings brought a nautical technology and superior weaponry, which facilitated the ability to do battle across wider territories with more deadly means. Irish royal dynasties, fewer in number but richer in resources, fought to acquire whole kingdoms, and the first efforts to claim the title of high king by actually possessing the requisite geographical territory were made. Because the stakes were higher, the clashes grew more intense, and the bitterness engendered by those who found themselves on the losing end of the ceaseless dueling stung with more lasting effect. The enmity harbored by the king of Leinster, banished from Ireland in the summer of 1166, would lead to a train of events that carried consequences for the country unlike any other.

The Era of the Viking Wars

In 795 long low-slung ships, fitted with wide, decoratively patterned sails, appeared from off the ocean’s horizon and ran their pointed bows onto the rocky beach at Iona. Warriors wearing round or horned helmets, armed with heavy swords and iron spears, rushed into the monastic village and, in a frenzied fury, ransacked the settlement, carrying away slaves and booty, including altar shrines and vessels, their surfaces glittering with the gems with which they had been so painstakingly inlaid. In the same year, seafaring raiders burned the community at Rathlin and attacked those at Inishmurray and Inishbofin.

The Vikings were bands of warriors from Scandinavia who set sail from its shores with but one purpose in mind-to seize whatever plunder they could find. The ships they manned were the most technically advanced of their time, designed by skilled Nordic craftsmen to provide the maximum in mobility. Whatever the reasons that led the Vikings to set out on their quest for riches-and they remain obscure-raiding that had begun in the Baltic Sea spread outwards from there at the end of the eighth century. Over time these men from the far North (Norsemen) ranged as far east as Moscow and Constantinople and as far west as the North American continent. In the 790s fleets attacked Ireland, Britain, and France simultaneously.

Pagan farmers and fishermen and, at home, many of them dexterous craftsmen, the Vikings were the penultimate pirates. Led by their kings and nobles, they are said to have delighted in destruction for destruction’s sake. Wielding their terrifying signature weapon, the broad battleaxe, raiders returned to Iona in 802 and again in 806, this time murdering 68 of the monks. The great monasteries, the centers of wealth, were the targets of attacks again and again during the first 40 years of the ninth century. Fear pervaded the atmosphere wherever they roamed, for the Vikings would appear suddenly without warning at any time, ready to wreak havoc without scruple.

By 823 they had completed the circumnavigation of the Irish coast, in 824 even sacking bleak Skellig Michael. Most of the raiders to Ireland came from the fjords of Norway, and during the first decades of the 800s they never tarried long, operating as small, quick-moving forces striking in hit-and-run attacks. The Irish fought back as best they could. Monks moved to inland areas. After the raid of 806 the abbot at Iona, Cellard, carrying with him the revered relics of Columbanus, traveled with his companions 20 miles inland from the Irish coast to Kells, where they founded a new monastery. Kings from Ulster to Munster battled the invaders when they could catch up with them.

In the end, however, the search for security proved elusive. Raids intensified in the 830s, and now roving bands began moving inland. In 836 the first Viking land raids on record occurred on lands of the southern Ui Néill, and much of Connacht was also devastated. The following year the course of invasions began to change character. A mighty fleet of 60 ships appeared on the river Boyne and another 60 on the Liffey. Norsemen pillaged churches, fortresses, and farms in the Liffey valley, and they sailed up the Shannon and the Erne as well, defeating the forces of the Irish kings wherever they went. Viking ships plied the Shannon lakes in the very heart of the country. They appeared to be unbeatable. In 841, at Linn Duachaill (present-day Annagassan, County Lough) and at Dublin they set up defensive bases as footholds from which to mount invasions deep into the interior. At Dublin, the Vikings wintered for the first time in 841-42, building a stockade around their ships and thus laying the foundation of the city.

In the middle of the ninth century, Vikings from Denmark began to arrive, adding another element to the mayhem. The Vikings on the scene resented the interlopers and battled them in a fighting stew that included old and new combatants both native and foreign-Viking against Viking, Viking against Irish, and Irish against Irish.

No one anywhere was safe, but Irish kings kept up running battles against the invaders. They gradually began to achieve greater success, measured both by victories in battle and by a decline in the number of attacks. In 835 the Vikings were defeated at Derry, and in 845 Mael Sechnaill mac Maéle Runaid, king of Meath, captured and drowned the Viking leader, Turgeis. Fleets were still arriving in 849-51, but by a decade later the great raids were over.

That the Irish had found it difficult to resist the invaders stemmed in part from their inability to unite to meet the common threat. The peak of the Viking incursions found the Ui Néill, based at Tara in Ulster, and the Eoganacht, at Cashel in Munster, clashing for the first time on a large scale. And the Scandinavians proved more than willing to join in the local strife. The Vikings very quickly-by the mid ninth century-assumed an active role in the local interdynastic warfare. The first Viking-Irish alliance is recorded in 842, and accounts speak increasingly of these pacts from 850 on.

Battles followed battles both within and between kingdoms, and the power of kings waxed and waned. The Ui Néill kings at Tara built up their power gradually in the second half of the ninth century, and the Vikings in Ulster were largely brought under control. The Vikings remained strongest at Dublin, where they frequently allied with surrounding rulers.

The close of the ninth century saw a slackening in Viking activity; however, the respite proved but a brief interlude. A second period of major incursions began in the second decade of the 10th century and lasted for 25 years. The storm to come gathered force in 914 when a great fleet of ships massed in Waterford harbor. In 915 they set out to attach Munster and, later, Leinster, yet again laying waste monasteries at Cork, Aghaboe, Lismore, and elsewhere. And once again, the Irish counterattacked. Niall Glundub mac Aedo (d. 919), overking of the Ui Néill, chased the Viking raiders through Munster in 917 but failed to stop them, his allies from Leinster meeting heavy defeat. He himself fell victim two years later when he and many leading aristocrats of the Ui Néill were defeated and killed by the Vikings at the Battle of Dublin. Triumphant yet again, the Norsemen, secure in their base at Dublin, set about consolidating control of outlying settlements in Limerick and Waterford. By about 950 the second great wave of raids was largely over.


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