Captain William Hoste

Captain William Hoste had a particular distinction in that he was one of those who saw the war through from its first days to its last. He was one of Nelson’s first midshipmen, also at Tenerife, at the Nile, and flamboyantly paraded through Palermo by Emma Hamilton. Just before Trafalgar, Nelson gave him a 36-gun frigate, Amphion. To his everlasting regret, Hoste missed Trafalgar because Nelson sent him on a mission to Algiers. After Trafalgar, Collingwood moved him from one point after another in the Mediterranean, which, by the end of the first decade of the new century, Hoste probably knew better than anyone in the fleet. French activity in Calabria and the menace it represented to Sicily took Hoste into the Adriatic in 1808. Collingwood wanted him there and asked for his return from a brief visit home ‘for he is active, vigilant, and knows the coast, and more depends upon the man than the ship’. In that last phrase Collingwood concisely summarized the character and value of William Hoste.

Battle of Lissa, 13 March 1811 painting by Nicholas Pocock

The re-entry of Austria into the war in 1813 intensified Captain William Hoste, victor of Lissa on 12 March 1811, involvement as the Austrians descended to free Dalmatia and the coast from Trieste to Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Cattaro (Kotor). The years of practically uninterrupted activity had begun to tell on Hoste. As his surgeon later said, ‘During the summer of 1813 his health was manifestly declining…yet never was he more actively employed than through the whole of that summer along the Illyrian coast, most of the strong places in which we either reduced alone or assisted others in doing so.’ Then, at the end of the year, Admiral Fremantle ordered Hoste with Bacchante to capture the fortresses of Cattaro and Ragusa.

It was an unprecedented demand, to all appearances unrealistic. Cattaro mounted ninety guns, Ragusa 194. They were mountain strongholds on that high coastline, Cattaro deep inside a difficult inlet. A single 38-gun frigate with its sailors and marines was now required to lay siege to and take both citadels. No such task had ever been laid upon a single ship.

Fremantle refused any support, or was unwilling to give it. There is a suggestion in the journal kept by one of Bacchante’s officers that the enormity of the task was deliberate, perhaps vindictive in its expectation of failure: ‘Sensible of the inadequacy of his own frigate to carry on a siege against two fortresses of the strength of which they possessed, and aware that his commanding officer was alive to that in a greater degree than himself, Captain Hoste requested a body of marines, and some guns and mortars, to carry on the siege, but the admiral refused every assistance. No way daunted by an apparent determination on the part of another to prevent the success of an enterprise which himself was projecting, Captain Hoste quitted his presence with the noble determination to perform to his utmost the duty entrusted to him.’

Malice and envy were steadfastly present in that navy, as Nelson ever experienced. Hoste was always conscious that he had no ‘interest’ to back him when necessary, in promotion especially. ‘Lord Collingwood is my friend, and that is all my chance,’ he had written to his father while Collingwood was alive. With Collingwood gone, he was alone.

The broad understanding of the task was that Hoste should give the Austrians any assistance they needed in taking the fortresses. But the Austrians offered no assistance for Cattaro and Ragusa and showed no move or effort of their own in that direction. It was, therefore, not a matter of assisting them. It was doing the job for them. Here, then, was something like a repetition of the circumstances affecting Nelson in his relations with the Austrians on the Ligurian coast and Genoa in 1796, begging Hotham and Hyde Parker for more frigates, instead seeing some of his force actually withdrawn from him by Hyde Parker. As with Nelson, Hoste found himself entirely alone on his mission. Cattaro was in Montenegro, and upon the Montenegrins, Serbs, he would have to depend for any extra help he needed.

Cattaro became the first objective. Passing Ragusa on his way to Cattaro Hoste encountered a small British scouting force, the armed brig Saracen and two gunboats, which he took under his own orders. Cattaro sat at the head of the great roadstead Bocca di Cattaro, whose fortresses commanded the main approach and had to be subdued. They were garrisoned by Croats and Italians under French officers. Bacchante arrived there on 13 December 1813.

Hoste first sent Bacchante’s boats to an island where four French gunboats lay. The gunboats and the island were already in possession of Serbs who, on appearance of the British ship, threatened to kill the French officer unless he surrendered. Bacchante’s boats therefore brought back the island’s armament of twelve brass guns and a mortar. Hoste, meanwhile, had sent a demand to the Bocca fortress to surrender, which followed quicker than he expected. ‘We have been very fortunate in obtaining possession of it so soon,’ he wrote, ‘for the fort is much stronger than we fancied.’ But the assault on Cattaro was delayed for two months when Hoste was compelled to assist the Austrians at two other coastal operations.

At the end of November he was back at Bocca di Cattaro, to be again refused all assistance by the Adriatic commander in chief, Admiral Fremantle. And ‘on the side of the Austrians none came forward to share in the dangers and difficulties of regaining that territory, of which they intended finally to become possessed’.

On 12 December Hoste was trying to get Bacchante up the difficult course from the roadstead to Cattaro, through the narrow channels and against the strong currents that passed among the islands of the inlet. The ascent was achieved laboriously by alternatively warping and sailing. Once anchored closer to Cattaro, Hoste sailed up the rest of the river in his gig and then ascended to the hills adjacent to Cattaro to reconnoitre its batteries. He decided to form a battery on a mountain, Mount Theodore, that completely commanded Cattaro and its fort. The battery was to consist of two 18-pounders, long guns and two eleven-inch mortars.

The artillery was landed the following morning, 14 December, together with fifty-four officers and men. By dusk the first gun had reached the base of the mountain. More height was gained on the 15th. On the 16th a kedge anchor was buried in rock to help get the gun further. So it continued in cold and heavy rain day after day. A tent was raised under a projecting rock for shelter and stores carried up to it. ‘They have sent me here to take a very strong place without the means of doing it,’ Hoste wrote to his mother on 18 December. ‘However I can but do what lies in my power.’

As the struggle with the gun continued so did the effort to get Bacchante further upstream. Most of the crew being on shore ‘the hands were so few on board that it was to the surprise of all that she could even be got under weigh’. Cattaro had now begun to fire on her continually.

The ascent on Mount Theodore had become a desperate struggle: ‘The weather increased in fury; torrents of rain and gusts of wind, so stormy as at times to disable the men from standing up at their work. Yet the indefatigable little party, with their heavy gun, ceased not their labours through all the hardships of severe seasons; the want of shoes, which were destroyed by the rocky soil; the insufficiency of their machinery to perform so heavy a work–still encouraged by their leader, they increased their exertions, and on the 20th their efforts were rewarded by placing their gun on the summit of the mountain.’ The next day it was mounted in the battery. Through this time Hoste frequently slept on the open mountain in all that weather, so that his health grew steadily worse. Hoste’s first lieutenant, Lilas Hood, in a letter in 1830, recalled that ‘frequently for nights would his clothes remain on him, wet as they were, in a climate either at freezing point, or drenching us all in torrents of rain. How the people stood it, God only knows! And from my heart, I believe, with no other man could they have done what they did.’

Another battery, meanwhile, was built on a less precipitous hill overlooking Cattaro. Altogether four batteries of different strength were created, as well as a point for firing rockets. On 25 December all opened fire together on Cattaro, which had already itself opened constant and heavy fire on the British positions. The assault continued until 2 January 1814, when a party of Montenegrins, who had been assisting Hoste, stood ready to make an assault. Terms of surrender had been sent under flag of truce to the French commander, General Gauthier, who first refused but then decided to discuss them.

A military passenger aboard Bacchante, Captain Angelo, went to Cattaro with the flag of truce. Gauthier complained to him of the use of rockets, and described it as unmilitary. Angelo answered, ‘Do you know with whom you are contending? You are not engaged with soldiers, who do all these things in a regular technical manner: you are opposed to sailors; people who do nothing like other men, and they will astonish you before they have done with you.’

Gauthier surrendered on 5 January. Seamen and marines took possession of Cattaro. Gauthier and his garrison of three hundred were embarked. For the next ten days all the armament and stores were brought on board. The seamen and marines were withdrawn from Cattaro and the town left in the hands of its magistrates. The whole operation had taken Hoste five weeks.

Meanwhile, the Austrians had finally arrived at Bocca di Cattaro. Their general, Metutenovitch, asked Hoste to convey his troops to Cattaro, as he was fearful of being attacked by the Montenegrins. For Hoste, who had himself got no help whatsoever from the Austrians, it was too much. He replied that he had accomplished what he had been asked to do, capture Cattaro, and as soon as he had all his material on board he would sail for Ragusa, his other instructed assignment. Metutenovitch himself then decided to withdraw, being too intimidated by the Montenegrins. For that response Hoste was immediately censured by the British ambassador at Vienna, the Earl of Aberdeen, but particularly for having used the Montenegrins who, instead of the Austrians, were now in possession of the area. To that Hoste also forcefully replied: ‘I wrote repeatedly both to the British admiral and the Austrian general, requesting a force might be sent to support their interests; and to the latter particularly, that he would hasten his march…Notwithstanding this, though General Metutenovitch did advance, it was not till the place had surrendered…I do say that it is entirely their own fault that the Austrians are not at this moment quiet possessors of the province of Cattaro. I could not have acted otherwise than I did; I had no force to garrison the place, and the Bacchante was wanted for other service.’ This forthrightness in defence of actions on a lone, unsupported mission was certainly something that Nelson would have understood.

Bacchante arrived off Ragusa on 19 January. Hoste landed and reconnoitred those points from which a successful attack could be made on this town with its one hundred and fifty guns. He decided to establish three mountain batteries, and the same laborious struggle began to get the guns to their positions, six miles from the landing, passing round the back of the mountain and then up it. On the 27th the guns were placed and ready to open fire on the city when the French asked for truce and then surrendered. At Cattaro Hoste had lost only one seaman, and at Ragusa also only one. Only Nelson at Bastia and Calvi could show anything equal to this achievement of the conquest of the two Dalmatian mountain fortresses.

Admiral Fremantle had only just heard of the fall of Cattaro and the intended assault on Ragusa. And, as the memoir of Hoste’s achievement recounted, the admiral ‘struck with astonishment at the performance of what he had considered wholly impracticable with so small a force, he immediately despatched the Elizabeth frigate, Captain Gower, to assist and to supersede the command of Captain Hoste. Fortunately she only hove in sight while the capitulation was going on; and on Captain Hoste coming down from the town to give up the command, Captain Gower very properly declined to pluck away those glories which he could have no claim to, and the terms were signed by those who had conquered.’ Austria did at least express its gratitude. The emperor sent Hoste the Order of Maria Theresa.

Bacchante returned to a previous station off Corfu. Hoste’s health had deteriorated so badly from exposure at Cattaro and Ragusa that he suffered a rheumatic attack and lost use of both his legs to the point that he could barely stand.

Hoste’s last operation was on 26 March 1814, as the war was drawing to an end in Europe. Bearing up to Corfu harbour to reconnoitre the forces there Bacchante ran on to a mud bank in sight of the harbour. Hoste’s extraordinary career appeared about to end in capture. A French frigate lay off the harbour, likely to come out and get the better of the immovable Bacchante. But Hoste said, ‘Let there be no confusion; if the ship will not back off, take in all sail altogether, that the enemy may not suppose us aground, but to have only anchored for the night, for coolness must be the order of the day.’ The ship was then made to all appearances snug at anchor as every effort was made to get her off.

As Duncan had done at Camperdown, signal flags were intermittently hoisted as if in communication with ships out of sight. Anchors were carried out to try and move the ship, provisions were put aboard Turkish shore boats that were in the vicinity, the pumps worked ceaselessly, and Hoste was seated on a chair from where he supervised operations. Even in the chair, his surgeon said, he seemed scarcely able to overcome his own faintness and weakness. Main deck guns were thrown overboard and everything else done to lighten the ship.

At daylight, with high water, Bacchante floated. Then, a strangely appropriate footnote. A gunboat came out bearing a flag of truce. It was loaded with fruit and vegetables, a present from the governor of Corfu. On board the gunboat was a French army captain and his wife. The captain had come out expressly to thank Hoste for his handsome conduct to his wife when she had found herself a prisoner on Amphion in 1808. Bacchante was, of course, familiar in those waters, along that coast, so her commander was known.

Hoste was too ill to continue. Bacchante took him to Malta to await a ship home. Lilas Hood described the parting at Malta. ‘When it was known to the ship’s company that he was no longer to command them, they appeared to me no longer the same men. The people being about to cheer him, were stopped by me, in consequence of my perceiving his state of agitation on quitting us, until we had, for the last time, lowered him to his boat, when the ship was instantly manned, and I believe no man ever received three more hearty cheers. In a moment, as from sudden impulse, he rose on his legs for the first time in three months, and returned the compliment; then dropping into the arms of the surgeon as if in a fit, was rowed on shore regretted by all.’

Captain William Hoste had a particular distinction in that he was one of those who saw the war through from its first days to its last. He was one of Nelson’s first midshipmen, also at Tenerife, at the Nile, and flamboyantly paraded through Palermo by Emma Hamilton. Just before Trafalgar, Nelson gave him a 36-gun frigate, Amphion. To his everlasting regret, Hoste missed Trafalgar because Nelson sent him on a mission to Algiers. After Trafalgar, Collingwood moved him from one point after another in the Mediterranean, which, by the end of the first decade of the new century, Hoste probably knew better than anyone in the fleet. French activity in Calabria and the menace it represented to Sicily took Hoste into the Adriatic in 1808. Collingwood wanted him there and asked for his return from a brief visit home ‘for he is active, vigilant, and knows the coast, and more depends upon the man than the ship’. In that last phrase Collingwood concisely summarized the character and value of William Hoste.

The re-entry of Austria into the war in 1813 intensified Captain William Hoste, victor of Lissa on 12 March 1811, involvement as the Austrians descended to free Dalmatia and the coast from Trieste to Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Cattaro (Kotor). The years of practically uninterrupted activity had begun to tell on Hoste. As his surgeon later said, ‘During the summer of 1813 his health was manifestly declining…yet never was he more actively employed than through the whole of that summer along the Illyrian coast, most of the strong places in which we either reduced alone or assisted others in doing so.’ Then, at the end of the year, Admiral Fremantle ordered Hoste with Bacchante to capture the fortresses of Cattaro and Ragusa.

It was an unprecedented demand, to all appearances unrealistic. Cattaro mounted ninety guns, Ragusa 194. They were mountain strongholds on that high coastline, Cattaro deep inside a difficult inlet. A single 38-gun frigate with its sailors and marines was now required to lay siege to and take both citadels. No such task had ever been laid upon a single ship.

Fremantle refused any support, or was unwilling to give it. There is a suggestion in the journal kept by one of Bacchante’s officers that the enormity of the task was deliberate, perhaps vindictive in its expectation of failure: ‘Sensible of the inadequacy of his own frigate to carry on a siege against two fortresses of the strength of which they possessed, and aware that his commanding officer was alive to that in a greater degree than himself, Captain Hoste requested a body of marines, and some guns and mortars, to carry on the siege, but the admiral refused every assistance. No way daunted by an apparent determination on the part of another to prevent the success of an enterprise which himself was projecting, Captain Hoste quitted his presence with the noble determination to perform to his utmost the duty entrusted to him.’

Malice and envy were steadfastly present in that navy, as Nelson ever experienced. Hoste was always conscious that he had no ‘interest’ to back him when necessary, in promotion especially. ‘Lord Collingwood is my friend, and that is all my chance,’ he had written to his father while Collingwood was alive. With Collingwood gone, he was alone.

The broad understanding of the task was that Hoste should give the Austrians any assistance they needed in taking the fortresses. But the Austrians offered no assistance for Cattaro and Ragusa and showed no move or effort of their own in that direction. It was, therefore, not a matter of assisting them. It was doing the job for them. Here, then, was something like a repetition of the circumstances affecting Nelson in his relations with the Austrians on the Ligurian coast and Genoa in 1796, begging Hotham and Hyde Parker for more frigates, instead seeing some of his force actually withdrawn from him by Hyde Parker. As with Nelson, Hoste found himself entirely alone on his mission. Cattaro was in Montenegro, and upon the Montenegrins, Serbs, he would have to depend for any extra help he needed.

Cattaro became the first objective. Passing Ragusa on his way to Cattaro Hoste encountered a small British scouting force, the armed brig Saracen and two gunboats, which he took under his own orders. Cattaro sat at the head of the great roadstead Bocca di Cattaro, whose fortresses commanded the main approach and had to be subdued. They were garrisoned by Croats and Italians under French officers. Bacchante arrived there on 13 December 1813.

Hoste first sent Bacchante’s boats to an island where four French gunboats lay. The gunboats and the island were already in possession of Serbs who, on appearance of the British ship, threatened to kill the French officer unless he surrendered. Bacchante’s boats therefore brought back the island’s armament of twelve brass guns and a mortar. Hoste, meanwhile, had sent a demand to the Bocca fortress to surrender, which followed quicker than he expected. ‘We have been very fortunate in obtaining possession of it so soon,’ he wrote, ‘for the fort is much stronger than we fancied.’ But the assault on Cattaro was delayed for two months when Hoste was compelled to assist the Austrians at two other coastal operations.

At the end of November he was back at Bocca di Cattaro, to be again refused all assistance by the Adriatic commander in chief, Admiral Fremantle. And ‘on the side of the Austrians none came forward to share in the dangers and difficulties of regaining that territory, of which they intended finally to become possessed’.

On 12 December Hoste was trying to get Bacchante up the difficult course from the roadstead to Cattaro, through the narrow channels and against the strong currents that passed among the islands of the inlet. The ascent was achieved laboriously by alternatively warping and sailing. Once anchored closer to Cattaro, Hoste sailed up the rest of the river in his gig and then ascended to the hills adjacent to Cattaro to reconnoitre its batteries. He decided to form a battery on a mountain, Mount Theodore, that completely commanded Cattaro and its fort. The battery was to consist of two 18-pounders, long guns and two eleven-inch mortars.

The artillery was landed the following morning, 14 December, together with fifty-four officers and men. By dusk the first gun had reached the base of the mountain. More height was gained on the 15th. On the 16th a kedge anchor was buried in rock to help get the gun further. So it continued in cold and heavy rain day after day. A tent was raised under a projecting rock for shelter and stores carried up to it. ‘They have sent me here to take a very strong place without the means of doing it,’ Hoste wrote to his mother on 18 December. ‘However I can but do what lies in my power.’

As the struggle with the gun continued so did the effort to get Bacchante further upstream. Most of the crew being on shore ‘the hands were so few on board that it was to the surprise of all that she could even be got under weigh’. Cattaro had now begun to fire on her continually.

The ascent on Mount Theodore had become a desperate struggle: ‘The weather increased in fury; torrents of rain and gusts of wind, so stormy as at times to disable the men from standing up at their work. Yet the indefatigable little party, with their heavy gun, ceased not their labours through all the hardships of severe seasons; the want of shoes, which were destroyed by the rocky soil; the insufficiency of their machinery to perform so heavy a work–still encouraged by their leader, they increased their exertions, and on the 20th their efforts were rewarded by placing their gun on the summit of the mountain.’ The next day it was mounted in the battery. Through this time Hoste frequently slept on the open mountain in all that weather, so that his health grew steadily worse. Hoste’s first lieutenant, Lilas Hood, in a letter in 1830, recalled that ‘frequently for nights would his clothes remain on him, wet as they were, in a climate either at freezing point, or drenching us all in torrents of rain. How the people stood it, God only knows! And from my heart, I believe, with no other man could they have done what they did.’

Another battery, meanwhile, was built on a less precipitous hill overlooking Cattaro. Altogether four batteries of different strength were created, as well as a point for firing rockets. On 25 December all opened fire together on Cattaro, which had already itself opened constant and heavy fire on the British positions. The assault continued until 2 January 1814, when a party of Montenegrins, who had been assisting Hoste, stood ready to make an assault. Terms of surrender had been sent under flag of truce to the French commander, General Gauthier, who first refused but then decided to discuss them.

A military passenger aboard Bacchante, Captain Angelo, went to Cattaro with the flag of truce. Gauthier complained to him of the use of rockets, and described it as unmilitary. Angelo answered, ‘Do you know with whom you are contending? You are not engaged with soldiers, who do all these things in a regular technical manner: you are opposed to sailors; people who do nothing like other men, and they will astonish you before they have done with you.’

Gauthier surrendered on 5 January. Seamen and marines took possession of Cattaro. Gauthier and his garrison of three hundred were embarked. For the next ten days all the armament and stores were brought on board. The seamen and marines were withdrawn from Cattaro and the town left in the hands of its magistrates. The whole operation had taken Hoste five weeks.

Meanwhile, the Austrians had finally arrived at Bocca di Cattaro. Their general, Metutenovitch, asked Hoste to convey his troops to Cattaro, as he was fearful of being attacked by the Montenegrins. For Hoste, who had himself got no help whatsoever from the Austrians, it was too much. He replied that he had accomplished what he had been asked to do, capture Cattaro, and as soon as he had all his material on board he would sail for Ragusa, his other instructed assignment. Metutenovitch himself then decided to withdraw, being too intimidated by the Montenegrins. For that response Hoste was immediately censured by the British ambassador at Vienna, the Earl of Aberdeen, but particularly for having used the Montenegrins who, instead of the Austrians, were now in possession of the area. To that Hoste also forcefully replied: ‘I wrote repeatedly both to the British admiral and the Austrian general, requesting a force might be sent to support their interests; and to the latter particularly, that he would hasten his march…Notwithstanding this, though General Metutenovitch did advance, it was not till the place had surrendered…I do say that it is entirely their own fault that the Austrians are not at this moment quiet possessors of the province of Cattaro. I could not have acted otherwise than I did; I had no force to garrison the place, and the Bacchante was wanted for other service.’ This forthrightness in defence of actions on a lone, unsupported mission was certainly something that Nelson would have understood.

Bacchante arrived off Ragusa on 19 January. Hoste landed and reconnoitred those points from which a successful attack could be made on this town with its one hundred and fifty guns. He decided to establish three mountain batteries, and the same laborious struggle began to get the guns to their positions, six miles from the landing, passing round the back of the mountain and then up it. On the 27th the guns were placed and ready to open fire on the city when the French asked for truce and then surrendered. At Cattaro Hoste had lost only one seaman, and at Ragusa also only one. Only Nelson at Bastia and Calvi could show anything equal to this achievement of the conquest of the two Dalmatian mountain fortresses.

Admiral Fremantle had only just heard of the fall of Cattaro and the intended assault on Ragusa. And, as the memoir of Hoste’s achievement recounted, the admiral ‘struck with astonishment at the performance of what he had considered wholly impracticable with so small a force, he immediately despatched the Elizabeth frigate, Captain Gower, to assist and to supersede the command of Captain Hoste. Fortunately she only hove in sight while the capitulation was going on; and on Captain Hoste coming down from the town to give up the command, Captain Gower very properly declined to pluck away those glories which he could have no claim to, and the terms were signed by those who had conquered.’ Austria did at least express its gratitude. The emperor sent Hoste the Order of Maria Theresa.

Bacchante returned to a previous station off Corfu. Hoste’s health had deteriorated so badly from exposure at Cattaro and Ragusa that he suffered a rheumatic attack and lost use of both his legs to the point that he could barely stand.

Hoste’s last operation was on 26 March 1814, as the war was drawing to an end in Europe. Bearing up to Corfu harbour to reconnoitre the forces there Bacchante ran on to a mud bank in sight of the harbour. Hoste’s extraordinary career appeared about to end in capture. A French frigate lay off the harbour, likely to come out and get the better of the immovable Bacchante. But Hoste said, ‘Let there be no confusion; if the ship will not back off, take in all sail altogether, that the enemy may not suppose us aground, but to have only anchored for the night, for coolness must be the order of the day.’ The ship was then made to all appearances snug at anchor as every effort was made to get her off.

As Duncan had done at Camperdown, signal flags were intermittently hoisted as if in communication with ships out of sight. Anchors were carried out to try and move the ship, provisions were put aboard Turkish shore boats that were in the vicinity, the pumps worked ceaselessly, and Hoste was seated on a chair from where he supervised operations. Even in the chair, his surgeon said, he seemed scarcely able to overcome his own faintness and weakness. Main deck guns were thrown overboard and everything else done to lighten the ship.

At daylight, with high water, Bacchante floated. Then, a strangely appropriate footnote. A gunboat came out bearing a flag of truce. It was loaded with fruit and vegetables, a present from the governor of Corfu. On board the gunboat was a French army captain and his wife. The captain had come out expressly to thank Hoste for his handsome conduct to his wife when she had found herself a prisoner on Amphion in 1808. Bacchante was, of course, familiar in those waters, along that coast, so her commander was known.

Hoste was too ill to continue. Bacchante took him to Malta to await a ship home. Lilas Hood described the parting at Malta. ‘When it was known to the ship’s company that he was no longer to command them, they appeared to me no longer the same men. The people being about to cheer him, were stopped by me, in consequence of my perceiving his state of agitation on quitting us, until we had, for the last time, lowered him to his boat, when the ship was instantly manned, and I believe no man ever received three more hearty cheers. In a moment, as from sudden impulse, he rose on his legs for the first time in three months, and returned the compliment; then dropping into the arms of the surgeon as if in a fit, was rowed on shore regretted by all.’

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First Strike at Truk 1944

Almost two years underway, the war in the Pacific, the Navy’s war, was not yet total. Indeed, some were calling it a phony war. Such a term had been applied to the eight-month period of stasis in Europe between the declaration of war by the Allies and their first major operations on Germany’s Western Front in 1940. In the Pacific, the year 1943 had been, for the Navy, a year of rebuilding and waiting.

The invasion of Guadalcanal, the first Allied offensive of the war, launched in August 1942, had been carried out on a shoestring, using a back-of-the-envelope contingency plan. The six-month campaign of attrition ended in U.S. victory in February, but nine more months would pass before the Marine Corps attacked another Japanese-held island. While General Douglas MacArthur’s troops wore down the Japanese in New Guinea and the Army’s Kiska Task Force retook the Aleutians, the Navy endured an interval of gathering and adjustment, of preparation and planning, recruitment and training, construction and commissioning. Mostly the latter, and the shipyards would tell an epic tale.

The lead ship of the Essex class of aircraft carriers joined the fleet on New Year’s Eve 1942. The 34,000-tonner would emerge as the signature ship of the U.S. Navy’s combat task force. Four more would be launched before 1943 was out. A pair of Iowa-class battleships reached the Pacific that year, too, as four more of the 45,000-ton behemoths took shape in the yards. A horde of new destroyers and destroyer escorts—more than five hundred of them—were launched in the year’s second half alone. But the greatest economies of scale revealed themselves in the building of merchant ships. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had directed the Maritime Commission to produce twenty-four million tons of cargo shipping in 1943. The surge was so great that it might have strained the wine industry’s capacity to make bottles to smash against prows on launching day. Surprising shortages cascaded through the supply chain. When grease was rationed for the exclusive use of combat units, a shipyard in Beaumont, Texas, found a substitute to use in lubricating the skids of their ramps: ripe bananas. Personnel officers, short on applicants, hired women and minorities to work in the yards and looked inland from the traditional recruitment fields of the coasts on the hunch that farmers with wits enough to survive the Dust Bowl might be useful in building ships. Coming out of the Depression, no one missed the chance to earn a better wage.

It was this outpouring of manpower and industry that enabled the Navy’s long-envisioned drive through the Central Pacific to begin. Since 1909, the “Pacific problem” had been an important object of study, premised upon the Navy’s need to retake the Philippines after a Japanese attack. Since 1933, Ernest King had favored a path through the Marianas, which he considered the “key to the Western Pacific.” As commander in chief of the U.S. fleet, based in Washington, Admiral King had been pressing the Joint Chiefs to approve an invasion of the islands ever since the end stages of the Guadalcanal campaign. The size and difficulty of the island objectives seized to date—mere apostrophes of coral with little elevation or terrain—paled next to the Marianas, which lay within what Japan considered its inner defensive perimeter.

In November 1943, as Admiral William F. Halsey’s South Pacific forces attacked Bougainville, Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Central Pacific Force began its oceanic march, falling upon the tiniest and humblest of objectives: Tarawa, a coral atoll in the Gilberts. The sharp, bloody fight was won quickly by the men of the Second Marine Division. The Marshall Islands campaign was next. Spruance took the fleet there in January, delivering the Fourth Marine Division and elements of the Army’s Seventh Division to conquer Kwajalein, an infamous prison island that had been the site of many executions of captured Allied pilots and sailors.

When Nimitz, delighted, asked Spruance for his thoughts about what to do next, Spruance proposed jumping ahead immediately to capture Eniwetok, an anchorage in the western Marshalls. It would be the farthest advance by American forces in the whole war. Spruance said he could do it, but only if the carriers handled an important preliminary matter first. Any ships assaulting Eniwetok, he said, would come within aircraft striking range of the greatest Japanese base in the Central Pacific. Spruance proposed sending the fast carrier task force to strike it. Its name was Truk.

The stronghold had never before been glimpsed, much less attacked. Located in the Caroline Islands, Truk was a massive, multi-island lagoon. Its gigantic outer barrier of coral heads traced a triangle that held eighty-four coral and basaltic islands, most of which were substantial enough to mount antiaircraft artillery. Four of the inner islands had airfields. The lagoon’s harbors and anchorages were deep enough for major warships, and the base’s capacity to support such assets, and its location on the boundary of the Central and South Pacific areas, recommended it as a forward naval base, fleet headquarters, air base, radio communications hub, and supply base as well. From Truk, the Imperial Navy could muster in defense of almost any point on the perimeter of its so-called Southeast Area, all the way into the deep South Pacific.

The question of how finally to deal with Truk would be decided only after Spruance’s raid was over. Two options were on the table. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved two offensive paths across the Central Pacific: Either the Navy would assault Truk directly and seize it by June 15, to be followed by landings in the Marianas on September 1; or the Navy would bypass it, leaping straight to the Marianas, with D Day on Saipan set for June 15.

Nimitz thought Truk would have to be taken, but his amphibious planners considered it beyond their means. Truk’s barrier reef was a dangerous obstacle to assault, and its enormous radius kept the inner harbor out of range of naval gunfire from outside. The atoll’s principal islands themselves, Eten, Moen, Param, Fefan, and Dublon, were within mutually supporting range of each other and thus formidable objectives. The more Nimitz and his people looked at it, the less they liked the odds.

On February 12, Spruance and Mitscher led nine aircraft carriers to sea from Majuro, an anchorage in the Marshalls. Their mission was to stick an arm into the hornet’s nest that was Truk and rate the potency of its sting. If the raid, code-named Operational Hailstone, went well, no Japanese planes would remain on Truk to interfere with the landings on Eniwetok. The results would bear, too, on the choice of the next strategic objective.

Though Spruance had a reputation as a battleship man, he had won his greatest fame leading carriers. In June 1942, in the Battle of Midway, he exercised tactical control over the Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown while their aviators destroyed four Japanese carriers. For the loss of the Yorktown, the United States won a victory that would resound in history. Elevated thereafter to serve as Admiral Chester Nimitz’s chief of staff, Spruance commanded a desk at Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t until August 1943 that he returned to sea to command the Central Pacific Force. Its fast carrier element acquired its muscular size nearly coincidentally with Spruance’s rise. It dwarfed in every dimension the carrier group he had led at Midway. The Essex-class carriers were made mighty by their association with an air group of ninety planes, made up of a fighter squadron, a dive-bomber squadron, and a torpedo bomber squadron. By 1944 these squadrons used best-in-class aircraft, the F6F-3 Hellcat, the SB2C-1 Helldiver (or the older SBD-5 Dauntless), and the TBF-1c Avenger, respectively.

The argument about how to employ the Navy’s multiplying roster of carriers—singly, as in the past, or in groups—was settled not so much by persuasion or battle experience as by the surging output of the yards. As far as combat tactics went, the standard assumption that they had to hit, then run, because they were impossible to save against a determined air attack, was yielding to a new reality. Quantity was not merely a luxury but a revolution. By concentrating their aircraft and flak defenses, the carrier task force could hold an air attack at bay. Their planes had radio transponders that enabled specially trained fighter direction teams to recognize them and direct them using long-range search radars. New shipboard combat information centers collated and communicated this critical information. With common doctrine governing the use of combat air patrols, ship formations, and air defense tactics, the carrier task force acquired a flexibility that multiplied its reach and staying power. Several groups of three or four carriers, operating together, could quite well take care of themselves. Approaching Truk, Spruance and Mitscher were about to prove it.

They had arranged their nine carriers in three task groups, each steaming just over the horizon from the next. Spruance flew his three-star flag in the battleship New Jersey, riding in a great circle with the carrier Bunker Hill and the light carriers Monterey and Cowpens. Over the horizon to his north was the group built around the Enterprise, the Yorktown,* and the light carrier Belleau Wood. To his south came the Essex, with the Intrepid and the light carrier Cabot. Deployment in groups allowed concentration or dispersion as a mission might require. Typically the force could be seen in its totality only in an anchorage. At sea, such a spectacle required a few thousand feet of altitude.

Ninety minutes before sunrise on February 16, the fleet closed to within ninety miles of Truk and, on order from Mitscher, as tactical commander of the carriers under Spruance, turned into a force-five wind and began launching planes. One by one, with the release of chocks and the roar of Wright radial engines, a swarm of F6F-3 Hellcats took wing over the spray of onrushing whitecaps.

At the break of morning light, the leaders of each of the five participating fighter squadrons led their flights in a wide turn to the west and circled, allowing the others to join up. After the seventy Hellcats had gathered, they turned out on a heading that would take them west, harbingers of a two-day operation to neutralize Truk as a threat to U.S. ambitions in the Pacific.

The swarm had droned along for less than an hour when their target appeared before them. Illuminated by the sun just above the eastern horizon, it resembled a cluster of mountains contained in a huge coral-fringed tub. Truk’s barrier reef, a round-cornered triangle, encompassed a lagoon. As they came nearer, twelve planes from the Bunker Hill flew high cover at twenty thousand feet, while two divisions of four ranged more widely as scouts. Two dozen Hellcats from the Enterprise and the Yorktown, Mitscher’s flagship, formed the low-attack group. Like-sized contingents from the Intrepid and Essex came in at medium altitude. The boss of the Bunker Hill air group, Commander Roland H. “Brute” Dale, flew separately as the strike coordinator. His job was to make sure the remaining forty-eight planes, his strikers, found the right targets to strafe, assisted by three other air group commanders who served as target observers.

Twelve planes from the Intrepid’s Fighter Squadron Six circled the atoll at a distance, waiting for their high cover to reach its station. A pilot from this group, Lieutenant (j.g.) Alex Vraciu, was mystified to find no Japanese planes in the air to intercept. Little did the U.S. pilots know that the base’s naval commander had just relaxed his guard, a decision that was almost coincident with the arrival of enemy carriers off his shores. For the previous two weeks, Truk had been on high alert, ever since American search planes reconnoitered it on February 4.

Knowing that his pilots were exhausted, Vice Admiral Masami Kobayashi, commander of the Fourth Fleet, had ordered most of them to shore leave in the barracks district located across a causeway from the main airfield at Dublon. The subsequent lapse in air search allowed Spruance to approach Truk undetected and left a sizable portion of the available fighters on the ground when the American swarm arrived overhead before sunrise.

On a fighter sweep, U.S. Navy tactical doctrine boiled down to this: Keep your Hellcats high. Concentrate them in force. Clear out the enemy fighters first. Then get after the airfields. Don’t circle and tarry; it only gives the enemy a chance to scramble. Save for the initial five or so minutes of circling necessary to allow the Hellcats assigned to high cover to take station, this was exactly what Dale and his pilots did, if not necessarily in that order. It wasn’t until Fighting Six was pushing over to strafe that they discovered that some enemy fighters were airborne after all. Pacific Fleet intelligence had estimated that not fewer than seventy-five fighters would be on hand to defend Truk, along with twenty-eight scout bombers, twelve torpedo planes, twelve medium bombers, five large patrol planes, and fifty-eight floatplanes, a total of 190 aircraft. “Not fewer than” proved to be the operative words. The Japanese pilots indeed did in the end get to their planes. U.S. fliers would count more than three hundred of them in the air and on the ground during the day.

As flak puffed the sky around him, Alex Vraciu, with his wingman, Lou Little, found himself in the tail of a spiral of Hellcats bearing down on Moen Island, the site of one of Truk’s principal airfields. Ten Hellcats ahead of him were into their dives when, to be safe, Vraciu looked back over his shoulder. No rookie, he knew the clouds offered nooks and crannies for enemy pilots to use as cover for ambush. His caution likely saved his life. There he saw it at last, the dim form of a Mitsubishi A6M Model Zero, known as a Zeke, diving, its cowling and wings twinkling with gunfire.

Vraciu pulled back his stick, and Little followed him into a climb. Turning sharply toward the enemy plane, Vraciu maneuvered to bring the plane into his gunsight, then fired a burst that forced the pilot to break off and dive. That’s when he noticed the enemy planes above him—a gaggle of dozens that included every model the Japanese flew. The fight was on.

Alex Vraciu was just one among many similarly situated young pilots, full of ambition, in thrall of their tribe, in the grip of their squadron’s logo and mojo and full of stories about the wise old hands who had forged them. He entered pilot training while he was still a senior at Depauw University in Muncie, Indiana. Joining his first squadron at North Island, San Diego, Vraciu was singled out as a talent by the commander, Butch O’Hare, who made the rookie his wingman. The skipper proceeded to hand down the lessons of air combat as they had been taught to him—via the “humiliation squad.”

This powerful pedagogy threw new pilots fresh from training into mock dogfights against a cadre of experienced veterans. As O’Hare had learned from fighter ace legends such as John S. “Jimmie” Thach and Jimmy Flatley, now Vraciu faced his own learning curve. Flying against O’Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient, Vraciu performed well enough to raise eyebrows. And so O’Hare brought him into a new program to develop night fighting tactics. In a “bat team,” a pair of Hellcats flew with a radar-equipped Avenger to hunt enemy planes flying at night. And it was on just such a mission, one night off the Marshalls in November 1943, that O’Hare was killed while defending the Enterprise task group against a night air attack. His loss stoked Vraciu’s Pearl Harbor fever. The desire for revenge became the driving force of his life wearing wings. He was already an ace by the time the carriers reached Truk.

Sizing up the enemy formation, Vraciu knew that he had enough airspeed, about 250 knots, to lose any enemy fighter that latched onto his tail. The fast and sturdy Grumman fighter could outturn a Zeke at high speed. By diving down to gain speed, he could execute a chandelle, pulling up in a steep climbing turn that would cause his pursuer to shoot past him. By making a barrel roll, Vraciu could pounce down on the Zeke as it flew by. Vraciu had him right where he wanted him, this pilot who settled in on his tail.

As Vraciu’s opponent tried to follow him through the chandelle, the Zeke lost its grip on the air and spun out at the top of the turn. Vraciu was lining up a killing deflection shot when he noticed more enemy fighters turning down on him from above. His zeal gave way to prudence. He declined the shot, letting the enemy pilot dive out and escape while he figured out a better way to win.

Vraciu was pleased to find Lou Little faithfully holding on his wing. By scissoring back and forth in opposite interweaving S patterns, he and his wingman made the enemy think better of getting on their tails. Known as the Thach Weave after its creator, Jimmie Thach, the skipper of Fighting Three, the tactic allowed two fighter pilots to cover each other’s vulnerable six o’clock position against more maneuverable aircraft such as the Zeke. In this way Vraciu gradually coaxed the enemy to descend. Once the Japanese yielded the advantage of altitude, Vraciu noted, they seemed to lose their resolve. Gaining the tail of three Zekes in succession, he set them on fire and watched the brown-and-green-mottled aircraft splash into the lagoon. The morning belonged to the Americans. After a sharp ten-minute engagement, Vraciu noticed more than a few Japanese pilots swinging down slowly, suspended from silk. Some of them were still wearing pajamas.

The fighter sweep swarmed over the great atoll, devouring Japanese planes in the air and on the ground. Led by Fighting Six’s exec, Lieutenant G. C. Bullard, Vraciu’s squadron made twelve passes over the strip, burning row upon row of planes. Firing on a Zeke and setting it afire, Teddy Schofield of Fighting Five followed the enemy pilot in a descent toward the airfield on Eten Island. The Japanese flier was probably wounded, for he didn’t square his wheels on touchdown. His plane rolled enough to catch a wingtip on the runway, then started cartwheeling. Turning over and over, the Zeke rolled across a hangar apron, igniting three parked torpedo planes, and as Schofield watched, rooting hard for a few more turns, the Zeke came to rest, a wreck, just short of a big four-engine plane parked at the end of the flight line.

Lieutenant Bullard of the Intrepid was not among the pilots who joined up at the rendezvous area. En route to it, he had spotted a Japanese light cruiser hustling toward the atoll’s northern exit, North Pass. Rallying his division, he led a low-altitude strafing run. A burst of flak from the ship hit his Hellcat, and his engine lost power. Turning out to sea, the pilot descended and slowed, finally easing his fighter into the wave tops and jerking to a halt in an explosion of white spray. As it began to sink, he struggled free of the cockpit. Another pilot dropped a life raft and winged over to occupy the attention of the cruiser and its gunners. Strafing the ship, he set fire to its floatplane as it sat on a catapult. That excitement gave Bullard enough of a diversion to paddle toward a small islet about five and a half miles west of North Pass. He eventually made it, and he spent his considerable free time there spelling his name in rocks for the benefit of his eventual rescuers. Just a few miles away, several Japanese destroyers could be seen, apparently waiting to rendezvous with the light cruiser fleeing the harbor. These ships meant to make a break for it.

French Naval Aviation 1940 I

From the very beginning of military aviation, the French navy considered using aircraft to further carry the missions it was assigned. In World War I, it used a number of planes for coastal patrol and convoy escorts. Pilot training initially took place at a naval base as well as the French army’s Istres airfield. Soon, however, a new naval air base was set up at Berre. Most machines were hydroplanes from the Georges Lévy factory, which were soon replaced by the float-modified Farman 60 “Goliath” and various other types.

In the interwar years, the navy’s air arm also played a role in enforcing French control over its colonies, for example, by setting up bases in Indochina.

By the mid-1930s, the navy used several squadrons of torpedo-bomber hydroplanes, among them the Levasseur PL 15 and Latécoere 290. These were then replaced by the Latécoere 298, a torpedo-bomber, which first flew in 1936, entered the service in 1939, and remained active until 1950. In the meantime, the navy placed into service the Commandant Teste, a hydroplane carrier, which launched machines from special catapults and collected them through an access hangar near the ship’s waterline. French naval aviation in 1939 consisted of approximately 350 combat planes, manned by picked personnel. At the same time large plane orders, some placed with American industry, were building up the air arm at a rapid rate. The squadrons underwent intensive training, especially in reconnaissance and search, illumination, sea patrol, and anti-submarine warfare.

In World War II, the navy also used the Béarn as an aircraft carrier. Bearn was the only aircraft carrier to be built in France and completed before 1960. She was originally laid down in 1914 as a Normandie-class battleship but suspended incomplete throughout the First World War. Work on her resumed in 1919 and she was launched in April 1920. A short flight deck was erected over the quarterdeck, upon which landing trials were carried out in 1920/21. After the Washington Treaty had been signed in 1922 the French elected to complete her as an aircraft carrier. Work started on her conversion in August 1923 and was helped by the British Admiralty, which made drawings of Eagle’s aviation and island arrangements available. The ship’s side aft was plated up to the flight deck, which was constructed of 1in armour and formed the upper strength deck of the hull. Horizontal armour 2.95in thick was fitted on the lower hangar deck, with 1in armour on the main deck over machinery and magazines. The machinery was unique, comprising two inner shafts driven by steam turbines and two outer shafts driven by steam reciprocating engines, in an attempt to combine the economy of the latter with the highspeed performance of the former. The arrangement was not a success and gave a maximum speed of only 21 knots, too slow for effective operation with the 29-knot battleships of the Force de Raid in 1939. Her gun armament was conventional for the time, comprising eight 6in guns in casemates and a number of smaller anti-aircraft weapons, but unconventionally she retained four underwater torpedo tubes from her original armament as a battleship.

Like British and Japanese carriers she had a double hangar arrangement, but the lower hangar was intended as a workshop area and stowage for reserve aircraft which were only partly assembled. The upper hangar was intended for operational aircraft, and although she was officially stated to be capable of carrying forty aircraft she could realistically operate only twenty-five. The flight deck ran the length of the hull, having pronounced taper and round-downs at either extremity. Fore and aft of the central hangar block it was supported by pillars over an open forecastle and quarterdeck, but the hangars were enclosed, following standard British practice. Another unique feature was the lift design, which connected the two hangars with the flight deck. The three lifts were electrically operated and had platforms which were normally kept at upper hangar level, leaving a lift well open under them at lower hangar level. In every other navy the lift platforms formed part of the flight deck when in the raised position, leaving a hole when it was lowered. In Béarn the apertures in the flight deck were closed by ‘clamshell’ doors which opened upwards to form fore and aft windbreaks when opened to allow the lift platforms to flight deck level. This cumbersome arrangement was no more successful than the unusual machinery installation.

French naval aviation was inadequately funded between the wars, and by 1939 her operational capability was further limited by obsolescent aircraft such as the Levasseur torpedo bomber and Dewoitine D.37 fighter. After a brief spell of operational duty she was used to ferry aircraft between the USA and France until the Franco/German armistice in June 1940, after which she lay inactive in Martinique for three years. When the island changed its allegiance from Vichy to the Free French Government she was refitted in the USA and used again as a ferry carrier for a number of years before becoming an accommodation ship. She was broken up for scrap in 1967.

French Naval Aviation 1940 II

Development of carrier fighters for the French Navy followed a very distinctive course. The first type embarked on the Béarn in early 1928 was the Lévy-Biche LB2. This wooden biplane had a detachable undercarriage, a boat-shaped lower fuselage, and small floats under the lower wings to allow it safely to alight on water in an emergency. Its 300-horsepower Hispano-Suiza 8Se engine gave it a top speed of 135 miles per hour. It was replaced late in 1928 by the Dewoitine D. 1, a parasol-winged monoplane with an all-metal structure and a monocoque fuselage. With an engine similar to that powering the LB2, it attained 140 miles per hour and had a range of 250 miles. In 1931 another parasol-winged all-metal monoplane replaced the D. 1. The Wibault 74’s corrugated metal stressed skin produced a strong, light, and relatively durable structure. Using a 420- horsepower Gnome-Rhone 9Ady radial engine, its performance was almost identical to its precursor’s, but had the advantage of a much superior rate of climb and greater structural strength. The final French carrier fighter to enter service before World War II was yet another parasol-winged design. L’Aeronavale accepted two versions of Dewoitine’s D. 37 fighter, the D. 373 with fixed wings and the D. 376 with folding wings, in 1938. These aircraft were of all-metal stressed-skin construction, and their powerful 930-horsepower Gnome-Rhone 14Kfs radial engines gave them a top speed of 255 miles per hour and a range of 560 miles. Their engines, however, were unreliable and low-wing monoplanes clearly offered greater performance potential. Consequently, the French Navy ordered an export version of Grumman’s F4F-3 to replace its Dewoitines, but these Grumman Model G-36A aircraft were not delivered before France fell in June 1940 and instead served with the Royal Navy.

The French Navy also came to appreciate the potential of dive bombing. Unsuccessful trials of the prototype Loire-Nieuport LN. 140 in 1936 delayed adoption of dive bombers until just after war had begun in Europe, when the same firm’s LN. 40 entered service, albeit operating from land bases as the Béarn was occupied in transporting aircraft from the United States. It had a 690-horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Xcrs liquid-cooled engine, giving it a top speed of 238 miles per hour and a range of 750 miles with a 550-pound bomb. As a stopgap the French Navy turned to Vought’s successful SB2U instead. The Vought V-156-F, differentiated mainly from United States Navy equivalent models by its dive brakes, was just entering service as World War II began.

The French Navy after World War I maintained a dozen or more front-line land-based aviation units in metropolitan France and North Africa, seaplane units spread throughout the French Empire, and embarked aircraft aboard battleships, cruisers, seaplane carriers, and its sole aircraft carrier, the Béarn. The majority of its pilots and observers were commissioned officers, graduates of the Naval Academy at Brest, who received flight training and anticipated professional naval careers. Aspiring enlisted aircrew also received specialized training. In general, aircrew tended to remain within their specialized fields (fighters, reconnaissance, etc.) throughout their flying careers. There were some uncertainties, since naval aviation was a relatively small part of the navy and its survival was always subject to political influences.

Naval aviators, both officers and enlisted men, underwent initial flying orientation prior to beginning specialized training at the base d’aéronautique navale (BAN) Rochefort. Successful graduates then proceeded to basic flying training, officers to BAN Fréjus-Saint Raphael (1919-1922), then to BAN Istres or BAN Rochefort (1923-1930), and enlisted pilots to BAN Istres. All those who successfully completed basic flying training and who opted for carrier service then completed advanced training at BAN Fréjus-SaintRaphael. Other aircrew (non-pilots) underwent training at BAN Hourtin as observers, bombardiers, or air-gunners. In 1931 the navy merged its training system with that of l’Aviation Militaire (which became l’Armée de l’Air in 1933). Basic flying orientation took place at Versailles, with flying training at either Villacoublay or Avord, though non-pilots continued to train at BAN Hourtin. In 1933 the government transferred the bulk of the navy’s land-based units, both aircraft and personnel, to l’Armée de l’Air. Consequently, these units retained a strong naval flavor for some years afterwards and some of their members reverted to naval service when the navy was able to reestablish shore-based units in 1938. Furthermore, the French Navy never established a clear career path for its aviation officers.

FRENCH WARS OF RELIGION

French Wars of Religion: Battle of Arques, Henry IV attacks his enemies.

Huguenot Gendarmes 1567

The Battle of Ivry was fought on 14 March 1590, during the French Wars of Religion. The battle was a decisive victory for Henry IV of France, leading Huguenot forces against the Catholic League forces led by the Duc de Mayenne. Henry’s forces were victorious and he went on to lay siege to Paris.

Death toll: 3 million

Type: religious conflict

Broad dividing line: Catholics vs. Protestants

Time frame: 1562–98

Major non-state participants: Huguenot League, Catholic League

Reform

The late Middle Ages had been good to the Roman Catholic Church, which had become a transnational corporation that could stare down secular monarchs and make them blink. In addition to stirring up crusades, Rome could dodge taxes, force arrogant emperors to kneel penitently in the snow, and send out inquisitors to terrify the locals. They had armies of fighting monks such as the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights. Guilt-riddled noblemen had bribed God with tax-free donations of land, cash, art, and building funds. The details don’t matter here. All you need to know is that by 1500, the Papacy was on top of the world.

With the flood of wealth and power, the Catholic Church had become monumentally corrupted, but it always managed to squash reform movements before they got out of hand. The Czech reformer Jan Hus was captured and burned at the stake in 1415. Although the English reformer John Wyclife died of natural causes in 1384 before the church could get its hooks into him, the church had his corpse dug up and burned a few years later to show its disapproval. Finally, one reformer, Martin Luther, survived its wrath, and the Reformation was launched in 1520.

With the door thrown open, people all across northwest Europe defected from the Catholic Church. Many monarchs took their countries out of the Catholic sphere and established new national churches tailored to local needs; however, the older, more powerful nations—France and Spain especially—had long ago forced the Catholic Church to share its wealth and power with the state. Now, as full partners with a stake in the well-being of the church, these monarchs had no reason to allow the Reformation to undermine its power. In these countries, dissenters had to meet in secret if they wanted to practice the newer varieties of Christianity.

Among the new reformers shouting back and forth across Europe was John Calvin, a Frenchman who was quickly chased out of that country to a safe haven in Geneva. Whereas Lutheranism was Catholicism after the auditors have been through—cleaned up, simplified, and adapted to local needs—Calvinism was Lutheranism squared—austere, populist, and decentralized. Called the Huguenots in France and the Puritans in England, Calvinists believed in the absolute sinfulness of man, which could be redeemed only by God’s mercy. They denounced the frivolity and corruption of the human world and encouraged the godly to live in strict, smug holiness, without compromise.

Wherever Calvinism took root, civil war followed.

France on the Brink

International relations in western Europe at this time were simple: everyone hated his or her neighbor. Spain opposed France, which opposed England, which opposed Scotland. This made alternating countries into allies whose monarchs were occasionally married to each other. King Philip II of Spain was married to Queen Mary Tudor of England, while Prince (soon to be king) Francis of France was married to Mary, Queen of Scots. All of these monarchs were Catholic, although the population of Great Britain was mostly Protestant.

This unusual convergence of ruling queens—especially Catholic queens in countries that God meant to be Protestant—infuriated the Scottish evangelist John Knox into sounding The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women in 1558. France was about to join the regiment.

The current French king, Henry II, hated “Lutheran scum.” Crowned in 1547 at the age of twenty-eight, he had the political strength and will to keep his Protestant minority in line. With a young, healthy king raising four sons and three daughters, the future of Henry’s Valois dynasty looked secure, but then King Henry had his eye socket pierced in a jousting contest in 1559. After lingering in agony for several days, Henry died, leaving France to his fifteen-year-old son, Francis.*

First War

Like so many monarchs, King Francis II depended on his wife’s family to help him maintain power. His queen, Mary Stuart of Scotland, was connected on her mother’s side to the Guise family, powerful French Catholics.

In 1560, French Protestants hatched a scheme to kill as many Guises as they could and kidnap the king in order to force him to shed the remaining Guises. The Huguenots were so proud of their plan that they told everybody about it. When the coup was launched, the Guises were prepared. The conspirators were repelled and then hunted down, hanged, and dismembered, sometimes after a trial. The king and court watched fifty-two rebellious heads chopped off in the castle courtyard.

Never healthy, Francis died in December 1560 after only a year on the throne. His ten-year-old brother, the quiet, melancholy Charles IX, took the crown, but Catherine de Medici, his mother and King Henry’s previously subordinate wife, held the real power as regent. Catherine was the daughter of Lorenzo de Medici, the cold and cunning ruler of Renaissance Florence to whom Machiavelli had dedicated The Prince; however, she failed to learn from the master. Over the decades of her dominance, she hatched a series of clumsy schemes and weak compromises that steadily made the situation worse. On the plus side, Catherine was a trendsetter who introduced Italian novelties like forks, snuff, broccoli, sidesaddles, handkerchiefs, and ladies’ drawers to the relatively frumpy nation of France.

In order to cultivate support among prominent Protestant families—the Bourbons especially—and to counteract the growing power of the Guise family, Catherine legalized Protestant worship, which annoyed the Catholic majority of France. She kept it on a tight leash, which annoyed the Protestant minority.

The wars began when another Francis, the duke of Guise, was passing through the town of Vassy and stopped at the local church to hear mass. Protestants were praying and singing at a nearby barn, which served as a church because the Crown forbade the Protestants from building real churches. A scuffle broke out between rival parishioners and drew in the duke’s entourage. The fight escalated, and finally the Catholics ended up burning the Protestant barn and killing as many worshippers as they could catch.

Pretty soon Frenchmen of both religions were fortifying their towns and rushing militia into the region. The sectarian armies fought several pitched battles, but eventually, the duke of Guise was assassinated, and the leader of the Huguenots (Louis de Bourbon, prince of Conde) was killed in battle, which left both sides floundering and ready to negotiate. Gaspard de Coligny, an admiral who had served alongside Conde, emerged as the new leader of the Protestants.

Second War (1567–68)

The rivalry between France and Spain had intensified in 1494 when the heir to the Spanish throne married the heir of the house of Burgundy, uniting Spain with all of the territories that had caused the French kings so much trouble during the Hundred Years War (Burgundy, Flanders, the Netherlands). This put Spanish armies all around the edges of France. Then Calvinists in the Netherlands revolted against Spanish rule in 1567, pushing Spain and France toward a common front against Protestantism.

With the Huguenots jumpy, Catherine de Medici picked the wrong time to travel to Bayonne and visit her daughter Elizabeth, who had recently married the widowed King Philip II of Spain. To the Huguenots, this family gathering looked like scheming. It sparked a rumor among the Huguenots that the large new Spanish army that was moving to put down the Dutch Revolt was actually coming to assist the French Catholics in eradicating them.

The Huguenots launched a preemptive attack, trying to steal the king away from the Guises and keep him among the Protestants, but word leaked out, and the court reached safety. Six thousand Huguenot soldiers camped outside Paris—too few men to bring it under siege, but at Saint-Denis they beat 18,000 men of the royal army that came to chase them away. Even so, as the royal forces swelled to 60,000, the Huguenots pulled back and negotiated a cease-fire.

Third War (1568–70)

Within a few months, royal forces tried to sneak up and surprise the Protestant leaders at home, but the Huguenots escaped north where they could connect with their Dutch and English supporters. The Guises made contact with Spain and set out to crush the Protestant strongholds across southern France. Although the Protestants took a beating in the ensuing war, the Crown couldn’t afford to keep at it. Peace broke out in 1570 and the Huguenots were allowed to fortify and garrison four towns as safe havens in case of renewed Catholic aggression.

Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day

Trying to patch things up, Catherine de Medici married her daughter Margaret to the highest-ranking nobleman among the Huguenots, Henry, head of the Bourbon house and king of the small kingdom of Navarre in the Pyrenees. Catherine de Medici also tried to bring Huguenots into the government, which of course infuriated the Catholics.

When everyone gathered in Paris for Margaret’s wedding, someone tried to assassinate the military leader of the Huguenots, Gaspard de Coligny. As Coligny walked down the street, a sniper shot him from a window. No one really knows who planned it, but history has traditionally blamed Catherine. The wound was not serious, and it did nothing more than make the Huguenots angry.

Even though King Charles and his council had nothing to do with the assassination attempt, Catherine explained to them that now the Huguenots would retaliate, making a preemptive strike the only possible survival strategy. On the eve of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1572, Guise and his men burst into Coligny’s house and murdered him in his sickbed, while other death squads went hunting. In all likelihood, Catherine wanted only to decapitate the Huguenot cause by killing the leaders, but Paris exploded in hatred of the Protestants. Mobs all over Paris chased down any Huguenots they could find, killing anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 of them by whatever means were handy. Adults were hanged, beaten, hacked, and stabbed; children were pitched out windows or into the river. Over the next few weeks, Protestants were massacred in other cities all over France, boosting the body count tenfold, into the neighborhood of 50,000.

The Bourbon leader and bridegroom, Henry of Navarre, survived only by converting to Catholicism on the spot. He was moved into the palace to be closely watched; his movements were restricted.

The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre horrified Europe. Even Ivan the Terrible in Russia denounced it. It changed the nature of the French Religious Wars from a gang fight to a war of extermination.

Fourth War

When war resumed, the king’s younger brother, Henry, led a Catholic army to break the Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle. A fierce siege stretched for months, from 1572 into 1573. Sappers tried to undermine the fortifications and explode barrels of gunpowder, while artillery pounded the walls without effect. It started to look like the army outside the walls would run out of food and ammunition before those inside would. Then Prince Henry was elected king of Poland,* which gave him an excuse to lift the siege without losing face.

Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Wars

King Charles had been haunted by guilt since authorizing the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and his health deteriorated. When he died in 1574 at the age of twenty-three, the throne went to his twenty-two-year-old brother, King Henry of Poland. Henry snuck out of Poland with the Polish national treasury hidden in his baggage train and escaped to Paris to accept his promotion.

The new King Henry III was Catherine de Medici’s favorite and most intelligent son. He was a devout, cross-dressing Catholic who sometimes showed up at official functions in drag. Henry had an entourage of handsome young men called his Darlings (Mignons). He collected little dogs and hid from thunderstorms in the cellar. Catherine unsuccessfully tried to tempt Henry into heterosexuality by offering him naked serving girls at special parties she arranged for his amusement, but that didn’t work.

More dangerous, however, was Henry’s intermittent tendency toward Catholic fanaticism when he sought atonement for his sexual eccentricities. At those times, Henry endangered his health with extreme fasting and mortification. Finally Catherine had the friend (and suspected Spanish agent) who encouraged her son in these rituals murdered in an alley.

In the manner of most leaders facing civil wars all across history, everything King Henry did seemed to backfire. When the king restored freedom of worship for the Huguenots, Henry of Navarre took advantage of this new climate of legal tolerance to flee the court and reconvert to Protestantism once he was safely out of reach. Meanwhile Henry of Guise, angered at the king’s weakness, formed an independent Catholic League with Spanish support.

King Henry III was running out of money, so the king summoned parliament in hopes of a tax hike. Parliament refused to raise taxes, but King Henry scraped up enough soldiers for a few small campaigns around the Loire River.

War of the Three Henrys

Because the current king was so very gay, the next king would probably not be springing from his loins. The succession pointed to the youngest Valois brother, Francis, but in 1584 he died of fever while plotting against Protestants in the Netherlands. With no further males descended from King Henry II, the law backed up to find some other direct male line branching off from an earlier king. When royal genealogists followed the new branch forward to find the senior-most descendant, it turned out that the next in line for the throne of France was the king’s brother-in-law, Henry of Navarre, leader of the Huguenot Bourbon family.

Thus began the War of the Three Henrys, in which King Henry III and Henry of Guise tried to force Henry of Navarre to renounce his right of succession. Because the throne was at stake, the battles were especially bloody. Two thousand Catholics were killed at the Battle of Coutras, another 6,000 at the Battle of Ivry. The Huguenot losses were comparable, and neither side gained an advantage.

By now the endless wars had cut the population of France by 20 percent. In a report home, the Venetian ambassador described the state of France after a generation of fighting: “Everywhere one sees ruin, the livestock for the most part destroyed . . . stretches of good land uncultivated and many peasants forced to leave their homes and to become vagabonds. Everything has risen to exorbitant prices . . . people are no longer loyal and courteous, either because poverty had broken their spirit and brutalized them, or because the factions and bloodshed have made them vicious and ferocious.”

The Catholic League hated King Henry for not crushing the Huguenots. As far as the league was concerned, a moderate Catholic was no better than a Protestant. It agitated the Parisian citizenry, who piled up barricades and drove Henry III from the city. In rural exile, the king was forced into calling parliament for advice on the succession. When parliament suggested an heir who was obviously a puppet of the Guises, King Henry decided to work out his problems with Guise once and for all.

Two days before Christmas, King Henry III invited Henry of Guise to stop by for a chat, but when Guise stepped in the room, the doors were suddenly slammed and bolted shut behind him. Soldiers rushed up; Guise drew his sword and fought gamely, but the king’s soldiers still cut him down. His brother, a Catholic archbishop also visiting the king, was killed the next morning. They were cut apart and shoved into a roaring fireplace. The king then allied with the Bourbons against the Catholic League.

More War

Catherine de Medici died in 1589, and her last son followed shortly thereafter. In July of the same year, a Dominican friar angered by King Henry’s betrayal of Catholicism stabbed him in the stomach. After Henry III’s slow, lingering death from internal bleeding and infection, the Protestant Henry of Navarre became king of France. “I rule with my arse in the saddle and my gun in my fist,” he declared and rode out to take his capital back from the Catholic League.

The siege of Paris that began in May 1590 was brutal. For month after month, the 220,000 residents of the biggest city in Europe were locked inside with dwindling supplies. As time pressed on, dogs, cats, and rats disappeared from the streets. “Little children disguised as meat” showed up in the markets. Before it was over, 40,000 to 50,000 Parisians had starved to death. Navarre bombarded the city with cannon from the high ground, but in the end the city held and the siege was lifted in early September.

The Catholic League then called a parliament in Paris to pick a Catholic king to set up against Henry of Navarre, but when the Spaniards offered up their own princess, daughter of a Valois sister, many Frenchmen were appalled. It started to dawn on them that being French was probably more important than being Catholic. Maybe a Bourbon king was better than allowing France to become a Spanish satellite.

Suddenly, in 1593, Henry of Navarre, who had led the Protestant armies through many hard battles, announced that, well, if it really meant that much to them, he would go ahead and convert to Catholicism. He didn’t want to cause a fuss.

“Paris is worth a mass,” he is rumored to have explained.

This cleared the way for him to be a properly accepted and consecrated king, and before anyone could come up with any new objections, peace broke out. In 1598, King Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, declaring toleration for all Christian faiths. His new Bourbon dynasty wanted to start with a blank slate: “The recollection of everything done by one party or the other . . . during all the preceding period of troubles, remain obliterated and forgotten, as if no such things had ever happened.”

Vladimir Triandafillov (1894–1931)

Vladimir Triandafillov was killed in an aircraft crash on July 12, 1931 and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The quality of his work was realised late during World War II, when Georgy Zhukov said that his success was due to closely following Triandafillov’s deep operations doctrine.

First published in 1929, Triandafillov’s Kharakter operatsii sovremennykh armii (The Character of the Operations of Modern Armies) has long been considered a major and comprehensive contribution to Soviet military thought. In the introduction to the first edition, Triandafillov states that his aim is nothing more than an examination of the sum of all those elements that characterize the operations of modern armies. The extent of Triandafillov’s analysis is indeed impressive, and he provides valuable insights into how a future war could be conducted.

Based on data available in the 1920s, he begins his analysis by considering the matériel foundation of armies and weapons; then he addresses a whole series of questions pertaining, inter alia, to the conduct of deep operations. Overall, his analysis bears the stamp of Marxism-Leninism, and Triandafillov provides candid insights into the nature of war waged by the Soviet state in pursuit of its ideological goals. Triandafillov also warns that, “since the material basis being examined in the present work is mainly characteristic for the start of a future war, all the author’s tactical and operational assumptions and conclusions mainly pertain to the operations of the first period of this war.” In view of what actually occurred on all fronts during World War II, Triandafillov’s qualification proved to be accurate. Regarding later periods, all that can be established are general trends. What this implies is that any analysis of the first phase of a future war is critical for both attacker and defender. Again, this was manifestly the case after 22 June 1941 and the eventual assault on Moscow.

Triandafillov’s book was issued in three editions, the last two of which were published after his death in 1931. In view of the fact that his book was considered valuable because of “its correct [pravil’naia] Marxist methodology” (as stated in the introduction to the second edition), one might assume that this protected the author. However, even if he wrote a book that satisfied the ideologically correct requirements of Marxism-Leninism, Triandafillov shows no signs of the intellectual slavishness that would become the norm after 1937 and do such damage to Soviet military thought. One cannot know whether Triandafillov would have been cut down by Stalin’s Terror, but along with Frunze, Tukhachevskii, and others, he certainly falls into a category of Soviet military thinkers who regarded military professionalism as a virtue and as essential if Soviet goals were to be achieved. Military professionalism requires an independence of mind without which rigorous analysis becomes impossible and military theory cannot be formulated and distilled. In 1937, however, these Clausewitzian postulates, taken for granted in all other major armies, aroused Stalin’s suspicion because they were perceived as a threat to his final consolidation of power.

A key question for the modern army is whether it should be a mass army, in excess of a million strong, or whether quantity should be sacrificed or reduced for quality. A small, professional army acquires a sense that it is special, that it is an elite force. From a Marxist-Leninist perspective, this is potentially dangerous because it risks Bonapartism. To achieve the goals envisaged by Triandafillov, large armies are required, but this leads to problems of quality and training. Triandafillov argues, “The idea of conquering modern states by small numbers of troops, even if motorized is naïve. Such an army, having penetrated into the depth of an enemy country, runs the risk of being isolated, if, at the same time it is not supported by a much stronger army.”

Countering the British military theorist Fuller, Triandafillov sees specific advantages in a large, mass army—the so-called nightmare army—because it possesses all the necessary technical means to solve the problems of modern war. According to Triandafillov, Fuller’s misgivings about the nightmare army are prompted by fear of the inevitable proletarian revolution, a fear that arises from a lack of trust in the masses that have become class-conscious. In Triandafillov’s rejection of Fuller, and in Triandafillov’s less than convincing arguments about the nature of capitalist societies and their succumbing to fascism, there are ideas of merit that have special relevance for 1939–1945:

The provision of the best conditions for the conduct of freedom of maneuver and of the broad tactical and operational art will not be achieved by returning to the numerically smaller armies of armchair strategists but by the corresponding increase in the mobility of million-strong armies by means of improving the technology of transport (the use of road transport, six-wheeled vehicles, a wider development of railway communications and so on). That country which is compelled out of political considerations to return to a numerically smaller army, as a result of a lack of trust in the masses, cannot reckon with the possibility of its being able to conduct a major war.

This assessment points to the type of army that actually emerged from Germany’s final renunciation of the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler’s rise to power. The treaty provisions resulted in a much smaller German army and one that, at least for the time being, was denied a whole range of weapons. In other words, the Weimar German army bore some resemblance to the numerically small but professional army rejected by Triandafillov, even if it was temporarily denied the equipment envisaged by him. The provisions of Versailles notwithstanding, the German army was still able to study the nature of future war and conduct various exercises and small-scale trials. Guderian’s advocacy of the panzer bears witness to the fact that the theoretical analysis was conducted at the highest level and that there was openness to new ideas from whatever source. This theoretical work illustrates that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. To put it another way, time spent considering the nature of future war is not wasted and is, in fact, one of the primary duties of a professional corps of staff officers. Such work was conducted in Germany even within the limits imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.

The theoretical work carried out by officers such as Guderian bore fruit when it eventually became possible to translate plans and ideas into realities with the construction, testing, and creation of panzer divisions. Critically, the ethos of military professionalism maintained during the Weimar years not only facilitated the rapid expansion of the German army (and other service arms) when the time came but also ensured a high standard of quality. This totally vindicates the requirement for a thoroughly professional corps of staff officers dedicated to studying all questions related to war. Thus, by 1939, Germany had built a large, high-quality, and well-led army—something not envisaged by either Fuller or Triandafillov. This state of affairs strongly implies that had Stalin not succumbed to ideological paranoia and violence in 1937 and torn apart the theoretical and practical development initiated in the 1920s, the Soviet Union would have been in an incomparably stronger position in 1941.

Conceptualizing the formation and professionalism of Western armies based on the belief that their soldiers are in some way “committed to capitalism,” Triandafillov misconstrues or cannot grasp the reasons why men serve. Some soldiers serving in Western armies may grasp the fundamental differences between privately owned and state-owned means of production, but such men are not normally motivated to join the military by such bloodless, economic abstractions. Rather, they are motivated by a sense of duty, patriotism, and adventure, by the intense emotional experiences and comradeship offered by war. Even if one conceded that the motives for pursuing international revolution in accordance with Marx, Engels, and Lenin were somehow morally and intellectually superior to the pursuit of war out of a sense of patriotism and a desire for adventure, that motivation to serve in the Raboche-Krest’ianskaia Krasnaia Armiia (Workers-Peasant Red Army [RKKA]) confers no superiority when it comes to mastery of the art of war. What made the Wehrmacht so formidable was that it managed to fuse outstanding military professionalism with a commitment to the ideas of National Socialism. Here, we can see a conspicuous failing of Marxist-Leninist analysis, which had no obvious and convincing conceptual framework to accommodate or explain the masterful political manipulations of highly charismatic leaders such as Adolf Hitler and their rise to power.

The degree to which Triandafillov’s Marxist-Leninist-based analysis misconstrues the nature of Western societies—and, above all, the Soviet Union’s future opponent—is evident in his description of what he considers the main weaknesses of Western societies: “This, of course, does not mean that the bourgeoisie has succeeded in or will succeed in eradicating those preconditions determining the unreliability of the armed masses in capitalist countries. Class, national and other contradictions which are undermining the capitalist system will not only remain but in the course of a war will inevitably grow to an extreme limit of aggravation and will, in all probability, lead, and not in one country alone, to unavoidable social shocks.” This is wishful thinking born of Marxism-Leninism.

Triandafillov devotes much space to developing his ideas on the shock army (udarnaia armiia). His use of the term is based on the formation of the German army in World War I that advanced through Belgium to the Marne and the advance of the Red Army to the Vistula in 1920. A shock army is an army designed to advance on the main axis, and Triandafillov stipulates that it “must be organized in such a manner that it is able, using its own forces, to conduct a series of consecutive operations from start to finish. It must possess all the resources which would permit it to overcome any resistance on the part of the enemy both at the start as well as during the course of the operations being undertaken.” The demands on shock army commanders are considerable. They must grapple with changing circumstances after the start of the battle as the enemy reacts: the enemy gains strength, the density of the front increases, and hastily prepared defensive positions appear on the lines of advance.

With regard to the width of the front, Triandafillov, basing his analysis on the final stages of World War I, asserts that a modern defense is so resilient that it cannot be broken by attacks on a narrow sector of the front. The reason for this failure, according to Triandafillov, is that such a blow engages only an insignificant part of the enemy’s forces, and enemy reserves will be used to create a new front to envelop and quarantine the attackers. Crucial to the defender’s ability to counter a breakthrough is his use of the rail network to deploy reserves to the threatened sector. Given the defender’s ability to respond in this manner, Triandafillov concludes that an attacker can achieve a successful penetration only where he is able to pin down large enemy forces and place himself in an operational situation that gives him an advantage over the defender.

However, even when a massive concentration of force is deployed on a narrow front, a major offensive success is unlikely, mainly because of the resilience of the defense and the defender’s ability to withdraw his forces in good time. The way to break the defense is by a combination of blows, with consecutive operations carried out at great depth. The aim here is to encircle the enemy and destroy or capture his forces. Based on the mobility constraints on the western front in World War I, Triandafillov’s proposals for breaking the defense are reasonable. Unfortunately, he makes no allowance for the increased speed and armament of tanks, and since Triandafillov does not envisage tanks taking a dominant role in an assault, he makes no allowance for the effect of mass armor in contrast to mass infantry. As was the case in the summer of 1940, the speed of the German advance meant that it was able to overwhelm the defenders before they could react. Again, Triandafillov’s ideas about defensive operations—with special attention to reinforced zones and, above all, to the carrying capacity of the rail network—are silent on how these installations might be bypassed and how to counter the rail network’s vulnerability to air attack. In fact, when he considers the costs of war—resources, high casualties, and loss of equipment—Triandafillov envisages a future war as being similar to World War I, but on a far more destructive scale. Nor does he see this as a war of maneuver. On the contrary:

In the future it is necessary to expect the long-term growth in casualties. The phase of mobility in the world war cannot in this regard be considered to be characteristic for future operations. Quite the reverse in fact; the character of future battles in terms of the saturation of automatic fire, the correlation between the forces of the attack and defense, the scale of the use of airpower and chemical weapons will bear a much closer resemblance to those battles out of which were formed the operations of 1918 on the western front.

Implicit in his remarks is the recognition that casualties were reduced in the mobile phase of World War I. When contemplating the defensive systems envisaged by Triandafillov, the options for the attacker are indeed sobering, but the problems are not insurmountable. To overcome these problems, the attacker must be original, innovative, bold, and willing to try new ideas and take risks; he must develop new ways to solve problems, including the use of psychological weapons, special forces, and sophisticated deception and trickery; he must have a command system that encourages leadership and initiative at all levels. This summary does not describe the state of the Red Army in 1939–1941. For all the difficulties envisaged in the deployment of shock formations (udarnye gruppirovki), Triandafillov argues that “deep and crushing blows remain the most decisive means of strategy in attaining the goals demanded by the war.” Confronted with the apparently insurmountable problems of deep operations, military planners may succumb to what Triandafillov calls “operational opportunism,” by which he means the tendency to reject “active and deep blows” in pursuit of “the tactics of staying put and inflicting short-range attacks, operations characterized by the modish word ‘attrition’ (izmor).” The correct way forward for operational art, argues Triandafillov, is not to limit voluntarily the depth of consecutive operations but to maximize all avenues in order to destroy the enemy. In his words: “The correct resolution of this question will inevitably be linked with the total exploitation of possibilities for the development of decisive blows at a maximum depth which are permitted by the physical and psychological condition of the troops and by the conditions arising from the restoration of roads and supply.” In other words: “The art of the strategist and the operational staff is correctly to perceive the limit in the forcing of human and material resources beyond which may lead to the breakdown of the troops, resulting not in victory but in defeat.”

One of the main reasons Triandafillov so forcefully advocates the concept of deep operations is that he considers them an effective means of achieving the revolutionary goals of Marxism-Leninism. Small states—those he dubs somewhat contemptuously “Lilliput states”—can be easily crushed, whereas larger states can be destabilized and weakened. Major blows against larger states can lead to “the creation of objectively favorable conditions for societal-political shocks in the enemy’s country.” Moreover, “deep and crushing blows remain one of the most reliable ways to transform a war into a civil war.”

Triandafillov’s analyses of the “form of the blow” are remarkably prescient in terms of the German army’s actions in 1941. Operating against an enemy with a wide front and an open rear, the correct approach is to deploy concentric advances that can lead to the destruction of enemy forces. Speed of the advance is essential here, and the role of large armored formations and mechanized infantry is obvious, since they can outstrip the nonmotorized infantry’s ability to withdraw. When the enemy can be pushed back against a neutral border, sea, mountains, or impassable terrain such as marshes, one shock group (udarnaia armiia) will suffice. Whether using one or two shock groups, the aim is to destroy the enemy’s manpower. In summarizing the theoretical requirements for the conduct of such operations—well-organized rear echelons, a high level of training, troops accustomed to rapid and deep movements, and a command stratum in charge of the situation, all of which secures a high level of tactical mobility—Triandafillov provides an accurate description of what the German army achieved in 1940–1941 and the Red Army emphatically did not.

As an orthodox Marxist-Leninist, Triandafillov attaches great importance to the role of agitprop. He also envisages the possibility that troops will be cut off from their main forces and will have to fight in encirclement. Thus, Triandafillov acknowledges that encirclement (okruzhenie) is a fact of modern war; unlike attitudes in the Red Army between 1941 and 1945, it is not something that should be regarded with suspicion by Soviet security forces. Overall, the conditions of this future war will impose enormous strain on the troops, requiring that they understand the nature of the struggle. The nature of a future war waged by the Soviet Union will be a revolutionary class war, necessitating that close attention be paid to the troops’ political indoctrination before and during the war. Triandafillov concludes: “And only the army which knows for what it is fighting and knows that it is protecting its vital [krovnye] interests, is capable of that.”48 That Triandafillov can characterize these interests in terms of blood is most unusual for a Soviet military thinker espousing the Marxist-Leninist cult of class and class war, since there is a distinct echo of the themes of Blut und Boden in NS ideology.

Mindful perhaps of the role played by antitsarist subversion and agitation in undermining the Russian army in World War I, Triandafillov maintains that the same subversive activity must be conducted among enemy troops in any future war so as to exploit what he sees as the inevitable class, national, and other contradictions and, ideally, to provoke civil war. In addition, every effort must be made to win over the civilian population and explain to them the nature of capitalist exploitation, although Triandafillov makes no provision for the treatment of those civilians who remain skeptical of Marxist-Leninist promises about the socialist commonwealth. Such skeptics would be well advised to hide their views, given what Triandafillov envisages after the fighting is over: “A huge burden of work falls on the political apparatus of the army with regard to the sovietization of the territories recaptured from the enemy.” Sovietization is the process whereby all institutions in the new zones are brought into line with Marxist-Leninist ideology. It amounts to a thoroughgoing purge of all those in positions of power, influence, or authority who are deemed to be hostile, anti-Soviet elements. In practice, it meant mass arrest, deportation, incarceration, dispossession, and execution, the fate endured by Poland and the Baltic states after September 1939. Sovietization also anticipates, and provides a template for, NS Gleichschaltung.

Neate trick!

Informal group portrait of headquarters staff of the Desert Mounted Corps on the steps of the house of Lazar Slutzkin, where they were based. Identified from left to right, back row: Lieutenant (Lt) Frederick W Cox, Aide de Camp (ADC) to General Officer Commanding (GOC), 10th Australian Light Horse (ALH) Regiment; Reverend W Maitland Woods, Senior Chaplain; Lt R Rowan, Scottish Horse Attache; Major (Maj) A J Love, General Staff Officer (GSO) Second In Charge (2IC), 10th ALH Regiment; Acting Capt A M Furber, West Indies Regiment Camp Commandant; Lt D G Thomson, 6th ALH Regiment Attache; Lt W G Lyons, New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Fourth row: Maj R A Allen MC, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) Royal Field Artillery; Maj T E Robins, Assistant Provost Marshal (APM), 1st City of London Yeomanry; Capt ? W E Bruce, Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Service (DADOS); Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) R E M Russell DSO, Commander Royal Engineers (CRE); Capt Mare, 7th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, General Routine Order; Lt Col A A Corder CMG, AOD ADOS; Capt Hunter AAMC, Military Observer (MO). Third row: Capt H Astley ADC to GOC, RFA, Royal Regiment of Artillery (RA); Lt Col Paravicine ADR; Lt A Whittall, Intelligence Officer; Capt G T Leonard Corps Chemical adviser, RFA; Lt G Nicol R E DADAPS; Lt C L Gray, Adjutant R E. Second row: Lt W J Attfield, Field Cashier; Capt A C B Neate RFA, GSO (2); Maj N N C Russell DSO, Leinster Regiment GSO (2); Lt Col M McBidder DSO RE ADAS; Lt Col L Partridge DSO, Pembroke Yeomanry CMGO; Col R O Downes CMG, Deputy Director of Medical Services (DDMS), AAMC; Maj F G Newton, Assistant Adjutant General, 5th ALH Regt; Maj F P Howell-Price DSO, Australian Army Service Corps, DAST. Front row: Brigadier General R G Howard-Vyse CMG DSO, Royal Horse Guards; Lt Gen Sir H G Chauvel KCMG CB; Brig Gen E F Trew DSO, DAA and QMG Royal Marines; Brig Gen A D’a King OB DSO, GOC, RA; Lt Col W P Farr, AA and QMG, Australian Permanent Staff.

After the debacle on Gallipoli, the British were searching for a success on the battlefield that would boost morale on the home front. Perhaps they would have some good news in the Middle East, where hostilities had spread from western Europe through the Balkans and had reached as far as Egypt and Palestine.

The British feared that the Turks would now attack the Suez Canal, which the British controlled. Connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, the canal provided the quickest water route between Europe and India and other British colonies in the Pacific. The British would never allow that trade and supply route to be threatened.

As a force of twenty-five thousand Turkish soldiers began the 180-mile march across the desert from Beersheba to the Suez Canal on January 14, 1915, the British were ready to defend the canal, adding thirty thousand Indian soldiers to the Suez defense. Three weeks later, the Turks began their attack. The Indian soldiers, reinforced by Australian infantry, beat back the Turks. The Turks were “heavily reliant upon total surprise for any possibility of success, [but] the British were nevertheless warned of impending attack by reconnaissance aircraft.” After losing two thousand soldiers (to the British 150), the Turks retreated to Beersheba. However, the victory “led to pressure from the British government . . . to invade [Turkish]-controlled Palestine.”

The British army was stalled in its march from Egypt to Jerusalem by strong and well-trained German and Ottoman troops. Late in June 1917, command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) was given to General Sir Edmund Allenby, a “soldier of great vigour and imagination, who was able to create a personal bond with his troops.” Allenby was known to his men “(with both fear and affection) as ‘the Bull.’” And British prime minister David Lloyd George was counting on the Bull to change the progress of the EEF and defeat the German and Turkish forces at three spots:

•  the walled city of Gaza on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea

•  Beersheba, thirty miles to the east and one of the primary supplies of water in the desert of Palestine, with artesian wells that had been rigged with explosive charges by the Germans

•  Jerusalem

Twice, British and ANZAC troops had suffered severe casualties in their assaults of Gaza. Morale in the U.K. had dropped. The British war cabinet was “close to desperation.” The country needed a victory on the battlefield in Palestine. The prime minister left no room for doubt about what he expected from Allenby when he sent him a three-word message: “Jerusalem. By Christmas.”

But what was Allenby to do? He couldn’t get to Jerusalem without dislodging the Turkish and German troops in Gaza. And his predecessor had been beaten back twice when British forces tried to take the walled city with frontal attacks. Perhaps he could expect help from the Royal Navy off the coast in the Mediterranean. But one of the rules of thumb for an attacking army is that it must always outnumber the defenders. Any way he counted them, Allenby’s troops did not.

Allenby considered his options and decided that he would create a deception that would lead the Central Powers to believe that he was attacking Gaza, when his real target was Beersheba. With the momentum of a victory (and the water) at Beersheba, Allenby could swing to the west and take Gaza, then move northeast to Jerusalem. If he could get the enemy to believe that his primary objective was Gaza, the Central Powers would move no troops to reinforce Beersheba, Allenby’s true objective.

To draw the Germans and Turks into their bluff, the British used a strategy that became a classic deception practice: the haversack ruse. This ruse relied on the Germans and Turks believing that secret intelligence had fallen into their hands because of a mistake by the British. (The British would use the same strategy in World War II in Operation MINCEMEAT.) In this case, the mistake would be the dropping of a haversack (a canvas bag with a long strap that allowed it to be hung across the shoulders) in the desert to be picked up by a Turkish patrol. The sack would be filled with misleading documents, along with other items designed to convince the enemy that the documents were genuine.

The haversack ruse was part of an overall deception operation created by Brigadier General Sir Philip Chetwode, Allenby’s commanding officer. The haversack ruse itself was the brainchild of James D. Belgrave, a twenty-one-year-old lieutenant colonel who proposed its use, including detailed suggestions of what to include in the sack, in a long-secret memo to Allenby.

To make the ruse seem more convincing, Allenby wrote to headquarters in Cairo asking for assistance — troops, air support, field artillery — and leaked the request to German and Turkish intelligence operatives. He knew that such assistance simply wasn’t available, but he wanted to create the illusion that he didn’t have enough troops or equipment to wage a successful Palestine campaign.

One morning in early October 1917, a British intelligence officer, believed to be A. C. B. Neate, rode out into the desert toward the village of el Girheir, northwest of Beersheba, where he was certain to encounter Turkish troops. But that was part of his plan. He wanted to be noticed. Turkish scouts, as expected, gave chase, but soon lost interest in the solitary rider. Neate dismounted and fired a couple of shots at the Turks, not really caring if his aim was true. The Turks renewed the chase, this time firing at the British intelligence officer as he rode.

At a safe distance, Neate began the charade that was part of his plan. He slumped in the saddle, dropped his rifle, then slid to the sand. He appeared to have been wounded by the Turkish shots. He staggered around, making a feeble attempt to gather some items that had fallen to the ground. Then he hurriedly pulled himself back into the saddle, “accidentally” dropping his haversack, canteen, and binoculars before racing off again, hunched in the posture of a wounded soldier. He outdistanced the Turks and made it back to camp safely.

The Turks quickly recovered the haversack that he left behind. They found it filled with items of interest that had been carefully created to fool them: “all sorts of nonsense about [British] plans and difficulties.” The sack contained a number of documents, some official, others personal. All the items created a sense of authenticity: a twenty-pound Bank of England note, a “tidy sum in those days — to give the impression that the loss was not intentional”; a handwritten letter from an English woman to her husband, chatting about their baby, whom he had not seen; a letter from a resentful officer complaining about the foolishness of the British plans; information about a British code system that would allow the Turkish and German intelligence staff to decode British wireless communications; and, the most important pieces of the haversack ruse, orders and a notebook commonly used by the British staff officers.

An agenda for a staff meeting suggested that the British would mount a two-part operation in the desert. The first part would be a feint attack on Beersheba, a diversion from the major attack of Gaza. In addition, the notes indicated that the attack on Gaza would take place in November (some weeks after the date of the real attack).

Knowing that the haversack, once discovered by the Turks, would be rushed to German intelligence agents for analysis, the British wanted to add more credibility to the deception. The enemy needed to be convinced that the material in the haversack was legitimate. So, the day after the haversack was dropped, the British ordered a scouting party to search for it near the front.

To authenticate the fake code that was in the haversack, the British used it to send low-level intelligence about the offensive against Gaza. They also sent an encoded message that General Allenby would be visiting Cairo until November 7, leading the Germans to believe that any attack would not happen before that date. Finally, they sent a message stating that Neate needed to report to General Headquarters to face an investigation into the “lost secret papers.”

Apparently, the deception operation worked because the German commander, Major General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, remained convinced that the British would attack Gaza yet again. He refused to move any troops to reinforce Beersheba. He readied his troops for an attack on the fortress city from the desert and from the Mediterranean.

In the meantime, the British had an order of battle for their two attacks. The XXI Corps would feign an attack on Gaza, making as much noise as possible while, at the same time, limiting the number of casualties. The surprise attack on Beersheba would be led by General Harry Chauvel, an Australian, and his Desert Mounted Corps. On October 30, as Gaza fell under an artillery barrage from “218 guns . . . to fool the Turks into believing that a full frontal attack was imminent,” forty thousand British troops slipped through the desert, double-timing the thirty miles to Beersheba, arriving for a daylight surprise attack. The success of this march was, in part, made possible by the presence of planes from Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service that constantly patrolled the skies above Gaza. These British aircraft prevented Germans from flying and observing the huge troop movement to the east.

The march itself was remarkable because, despite the constant and deafening noise of the bombardment of Gaza that obliterated other noise, it was still extremely difficult to quietly move tens of thousands of troops and animals. The troops needed to “muffle the thud of hoof beats, the creak of leather, the snort of horses, and the bang of metal gear.”

The attack on Beersheba was an astounding success of “heroic magnitude.” The Desert Mounted Corps easily penetrated the first ring of defense around Beersheba. The Turkish commander then made a series of errors that would doom him and the precious water that he was to protect. As he looked out over the desert, he saw no large mass of British infantry that was close enough to worry him. What he didn’t know was that Allenby and Chauvel were not infantry officers. They were cavalry officers, leading thousands of troops on horseback, troops that could cover ground at an astonishing clip. And they did, quickly overpowering the Turkish troops at Beersheba with such “a spectacular charge” that the Turk commander did not have the time or the men to detonate the explosives set in the wells.

With victory assured, the British troops drank deeply from the wells that they had conquered. But, in about a week, they returned to the road, this time riding toward Gaza, a city that continued to get pounded by British heavy guns. In less than a day of fighting, the city fell and the German and Turkish troops, shocked by the defeat, abandoned Gaza and retreated in disarray into desert north of the city. But the British army had one more conquest before it could claim its final objective. Chauvel’s battle-tested Desert Mounted Corps pushed on to Jerusalem, entering the city on December 10, 1917, two weeks before the Christmas deadline imposed on Allenby by Prime Minister Lloyd George, who considered Jerusalem a “Christmas present for the British nation.”

Luckily for the British, the Germans appear to have fallen for the leaked information, the fake coded messages, and the bogus documents in the haversack because they did not stop to think that if this plan — a feint to attack Beersheba when the real target was Gaza — was a fake, then the real plan was the opposite, that is, that the Gaza attack was the diversion for the real attack on Beersheba. Had they shifted reinforcements to Beersheba and awaited the British forces, the outcome of the whole campaign could have been different. But they remained convinced that the British would attack Gaza. The early bombardment added to that conviction. As a result, they made no substantial change in the number of troops at each city, which, in a sense, weakened both. Neither Beersheba nor Gaza could withstand the ferocious attack of the Desert Mounted Corps and the other troops. In a matter of days, the Germans had lost the Palestine desert.