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Dingson 35A

ww2-infograph (6)[2]



The ten pilots of the Glider Pilot Regiment were told very little other than there was a special operation in the pipeline and that we were going to fly the Waco glider. ‘Ours was not to reason why.’ A few of the glider crews had flown the Waco in Sicily and all had flown them before. Nevertheless training commenced at once with up to six flights a day. By the time the operation got underway 84 training flight had been made.

In the morning of 4 August 1944, the Brigadier and ten jeeps crewed by French SAS (Special Air Service) drove into camp at Tarrant Rushton. These were Frenchmen who had escaped to England and had trained as special forces. Each jeep had a crew of three SAS parachutists and twin Vickers K machine guns, one mounted on the bonnet and another on the rear. They also carried explosives, sten guns and a PIAT anti-tank gun.

At the briefing the glider crews learnt that they were to fly the SAS into southern Brittany where they would cause disruption behind the German lines as the Americans, who were some 170 miles away, advanced up the peninsula. Take-off was 2000 hrs and the landing was to be at dusk on a small field surrounded by orchards at St. Helena, some ten miles or so from the town of Auray. During the mission briefing the glidermen were shown aerial photographs of the landing area and were told to watch for a small lake and then for a small fire which the Maquis (French Resistance) would light on or near the landing zone. They would escorted by 32 clipped wing Spitfires who shortly before reaching Brittany, would fly off to Brest where there was a squadron of Focke-Wolfe fighters to be kept on the ground.

Takeoff and the flight out over the Isle of Wight was uneventful. As the Channel Islands came into view the Spits arrived and took up position, circling 8 to port, 8 to starboard, 8 ahead and 8 above. The sky and sea were brilliant blue and they felt very secure and protected. As the coast of France appeared off the port wing, the tough looking SAS started to cheer and cry seeing their beloved homeland again.

They approached the coast of Brittany at 800 feet descended to 200 feet to avoid radar. At this point the Spits waggled their wings and left. They flew across Brittany over wooded countryside, fields and small villages but saw no signs of Jerry.

People in the villages were waving flags and towels as they passed overhead. As dusk came the gliders approached the LZ (landing zone); a farm building could be seen blazing fiercely at the edge of the field. It was learned later that the Gestapo had been there shortly before.

One of the pilots remembers that after,

… a quick touch down in the gathering gloom and a cloud of dust, armed figures could be seen walking towards us from the hedgerows. They were the local Maquis and our welcoming party. After many French kisses and ‘Vive l’Angleterres’ the jeeps disembarked and our transport, two very old small trucks, drove into the field. Somewhere around 2300 hrs we set off in convoy along dusty lanes, through villages, avoiding main roads, with many stops at junctions where members of the Maquis were stationed. In the early hours we arrived at an inlet near the coast where the jeeps left us and drove off into the night.

The tide was out and as our destination lay on the other side, we were taken into some nearby fishing cottages to await its return. Our hosts plied us with red wine and strong French cigarettes and eventually sleep overtook us. We were awakened at dawn to find the tide was high and the boats afloat.

We were rowed across the water to some isolated farm building on the seashore, HQ of the local Maquis. Home was a loft of new hay. Meals consisted of rye bread, tinned fish from a nearby cannery, red wine and cider and an occasional egg. One morning a very skinny bullock was led into the farm yard, slaughtered by hitting it on the head with back of an axe and cutting its throat. Beef supplemented the meals from then on.

During the days that followed the SAS in their jeeps came and went and were pleased to let us know that the Germans had put out posters offering 20,000 francs for our capture, dead or alive. One morning a member of the local Gestapo was brought in who, they said, had been responsible for atrocities in that area. That night he was stripped naked, hung upside down in a pigsty and for a time used as a punch bag before the hair on his testicles and body was burnt off with a cigarette lighter. A Frenchman with a sharp knife carved the cross of Loraine on his chest, cut him down and then took the skin off the bottom of his feet. The Gestapo man was then made to walk up and down the pigsty saluting a Maquis at each end until he collapsed, only to be revived by a boot. The following morning he was gone.

Young French ladies who had been more than friendly with the Germans were brought in, sat on a chair in the farm yard and given back to front haircuts and shaved bald. Kept in the barn, we were asked to guard them but not to fraternize—as if we would.

News came in that the Americans had reached Auray and we drove over there to a right royal welcome from the French population as we were the only British in the area. Americans were everywhere and one, rather portly built, with no rank visible, asked where we had come from and what we were doing in his sector. His aid-de-camps seemed surprised that we did not recognize General Patton.

From there we went on to Vannes and spent the night with an American company. In the morning we helped to escort German prisoners to Rennes, where we found our way to the Hotel-de-Paris, British intelligence HQ. There we were given a slap-up meal in a dining room laid out as in peace time. An interesting night was spent in the town in a carnival atmosphere. On the next day we went to Rennes aerodrome and flew in a Dakota back to Netheravon—almost a non-event!

A glider co-pilot remembers that as he and his pilot approached the LZ,

… we saw the small lake that had been identified in the mission briefing and shortly afterward saw the fire, likely the same farm-building fire seen by others on the mission. It was a long narrow field slightly larger than a football field, with a tree, where several Wacos had already landed.

Unlike the Horsa, the Waco had no flaps but a lift spoiler, which, when operated from a lever in the pilot’s cabin, would break the lifting surface of the upper wing, causing the aircraft to descend at a somewhat steeper angle, though maintaining the same gliding angle. As we came in I noticed several trees between us and the gliders which had already landed. As we made our final turn, Harry, the glider pilot, decided to land on the far side of the lone tree beyond the gliders. At the last minute he decided that we wouldn’t quite make it and if we were going to land this side of the tree we would have to lose height very quickly which meant that we would have to use the spoiler.

Harry yelled, “Spoiler” and I pulled the lever back. Seconds later, Kapow!

I was knocked senseless as the aircraft, more or less, dove into the tree. When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying on my back, possibly on a makeshift stretcher of some kind with a bandage of some kind round my head. The moon was high in the sky and I heard muttered voices close by as I drifted in and out of consciousness.

After a while we were carried to a cottage near the field but someone decided that this house was unsafe because of the close proximity of German soldiers. I was carried to another cottage about a mile away where I was attended to by a woman and a seven year old daughter, both of whom were fearful of a German raid.

Any glider pilot who was captured could expect to be taken to a prisoner of war camp. On the other hand, as far as the Germans were concerned, anyone who aided or gave shelter to members of the Resistance or Maquisards, was a terrorist and a saboteur, who, under an order from General Von Falkenhorst, could expect to be shot immediately.

During the next two to three weeks, Harry and I were hidden in various places eventually ending up in a small hospital in the town of Auray on the coast of Brittany. The building that housed the hospital was actually a convent that had been converted to serve the wounded, all the nurses, nuns. Medical supplies and medications were scarce as the Germans had commandeered almost everything. The nuns were cheerful and solicitous, but I have no idea whether they had received any medical training.

One day, to our surprise, a young British officer, in the uniform of the British Parachute Regiment and wearing the maroon beret, came into our ward. He was surprised to find that two British glider pilots were so far behind enemy lines and promised to get us back to the UK.

The next day we were put in an ambulance and driven to the airport at Vannes, which was already under control by the Maquis, loaded onto a DC-3 and flown to Down Ampney.

A trip to Hidden Valley


Margaret Hastings with souvenir spears as she prepared to leave the valley.

The commanding officer at Hollandia, New Guinea understood that from the beginning of the war one of the greatest problems affecting air operations in the Pacific area was that of morale and fatigue and that the highest rates of low morale and highest levels of fatigue occurred at base area sections where boredom, unrelieved by the stimulus of combat, was predominant. Medical staff used the term “morale” interchangeably to describe all manner of fatigue: environmental, operational, and tropical.

The tropics with the heat and humidity, mud, rain, dust, insects, the surrounding jungles and primitive natives, all contributed to deadly monotony. Illness from diseases, malaria, dengue, scrub typhus, bacillary dysentery, ulcers, fungus infections, boils and abscesses were common and the constant hammering at personnel—“take your atabrine,” “use repellent” “dress properly,” “dry out your clothes, blankets and shoes,” “drink only chlorinated water,” “stay out of the brush,” “stay away from native villages,” “don’t walk here”—aggravated the hell out of everyone and were contributing factors to the bottom dwelling morale of his unit.

The base commander had arranged for sight-seeing flights along the coastline of the island as a weapon against the calamitous enemy of his staff, boredom. Perhaps as a distant celebration of the end of the war in Europe or to take their minds off another Mother’s Day away from home, he arranged for members of his command on this Sunday the best joy ride available, a trip to Hidden Valley, an area of mystery about who or what lived there.

The flight would allow passengers to look down from the windows of a C-47 at the place that had been the subject of wild speculation since it was discovered the previous summer by Col. Ray T. Elsmore, a command pilot who was making a survey flight of a proposed north-south route over the island of New Guinea. Maps of area in which the valley lay were left blank with notes of, “UNEXPLORED” and “Estimated 14,000 foot peak.”

Col. Elsmore was curious about the fertile valley he found and sent photo squadrons to take pictures of it. The valley, about 20 miles long, and four miles wide, lay beyond the hump of the Oranje Range at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. But reconnaissance photos revealed something more intriguing than the valley’s geographical features—clusters of native huts and cultivated irrigated land. “According to Dutch and Australian authorities, no white man had ever penetrated that far into the Dutch New Guinea jungles.” It didn’t take long for stories to be told by some of the persons who had flown over the valley and romanticized about it that it was a land whose inhabitants were completely out of contact with the rest of the world, a real-life Shangri La.

It was intended as a joy ride, a sight-seeing trip, an attempt to boost the morale of a commander’s troops. It would become an incident in the war that received wide news coverage from both the civilian and military press. A Yank magazine staff correspondent, Sgt. Ozzie St. George, recorded the news-making story for his military readers.

It was Sunday, May 13, 1945, at 2:15 in the afternoon when the C-47 took off from the Sentani Strip at Hollandia for a flight over the 14,000-foot hump of the Oranje Range, about 130 air-miles away. Counting the crew members there were 24 persons aboard, including eight WACs of the Far East Air Service Command, eight enlisted men and eight officers.

The plane got over the hump and began its descent into the valley for a closer look at Elsmore’s Shangri La. It crashed, nose on, 300 feet below the top of a ridge line, mowing through the jungle of New Guinea, fire breaking out, the tail section snapping off.

Five managed to survive the crash and fire, one of the officers, 1st Lt. John McCollom, who was uninjured, an enlisted man, T/Sgt Kenneth Decker, a gash in his head, and three WACs, one of whom was able to make her way out of the crash despite having burns on her legs and having had her shoes burned off. The other two WACs were pulled from the wreckage, and administered morphine by Lt. McCollom for the pain from their burns, however their wounds were so grievous that they both died within two days of the crash.

When the C-47 did not return to its base from the sight-seeing trip to Hidden Valley, base personnel at Hollandia checked other nearby airstrips but none reported that the plane had landed there. A search plane was sent out with no sightings of a downed C-47. Other planes joined the search on the following day.

The three survivors, their only food hard candies from the crash and water from on-board canteens and a nearby creek could see search planes circling overhead. The native inhabitants of the area could be heard moving closer to their tiny encampment, the three survivors not knowing if they were head-hunters or cannibals. After spending two days at the crash site and seeing the search planes overhead they realized that if they were to have any chance of being seen by those looking for them from the air they would have to move to open ground. They started out for a clearing lower down the ridge, going slowly and eating the candies. It took a day and a half to make the two and a half mile journey. An hour after their arrival they were spotted by a B-17.

Two life rafts were dropped as markers by the 17, whose crew charted the location before flying back to Hollandia. There they reported they had seen three people dressed in khakis waving from a small clearing on the uphill side of a ridge about 10 air miles northeast of the valley proper. But the weather closed in solidly over the hump and a return flight that day was impossible.

An hour after being spotted by the B-17 they were approached by the local natives. The universal language of the smile signaled both from the natives and from the crash survivors that for the moment at least that neither group was hostile against the other.

Communication between the native inhabitants of the valley and the pale skinned visitors progressed through sign language. The natives built a fire by rubbing sticks together like an Eagle Scout and put bananas and a variety of sweet potatoes to roast in the coals. When it began to rain the three survivors crawled under the tarps stretched over the life rafts dropped by the B-17 and were dismayed to see the natives leave, taking the chow with them. Their fourth night in the New Guinea jungle was cold and wet and they were hungry and in pain. They were greatly cheered by the fact that they had been found, but they had no idea how their ultimate rescue from the jungle was to be achieved.

On the Thursday after they were spotted, they received the first of what would become a regular parachute drop of supplies: first aid kits, a walkie-talkie and 10-in-1 rations (US Army field rations designed so that one unit could feed ten men). Later that same day a second supply drop included enough equipment to stock a good-sized country store including lipstick and bobby-pins for the WAC, shoes and walkie-talkie batteries. Before they were rescued and brought out of the valley, they would receive tents, mosquito bars, cots, signal panels, 20 pairs of shoes, 300 pounds of medical supplies, 14 .45 caliber pistols (the standard Army issue sidearm), six Tommy guns, 3,000 rounds of .45 ammunition, coffee, bacon, tomato juice, eggs that landed unscrambled, pineapple juice, 75 10-in-1 units; knives and machetes, clothes for the survivors, lap-laps (a waist/loin cloth) for the natives, stoves, canteens, water, gasoline, 75 blankets, magazines, rice, salt, shells for trading with the natives, mail, at least three cases of beer, and for the WAC, scanties (women’s panties), although she later denied having received any intimate apparel during her stay in the survivor’s camp.

Five days after the disaster, two medics of the First Filipino Reconnaissance Battalion volunteered to parachute into the valley and provide medical support for the three survivors. Two days later their battalion jumpmaster and eight paratroopers dropped into the main valley near the mouth of the canyon where the C-47 had crashed and established a base camp where they received by air drop 21 flags, twenty crosses and one wooden Star of David, used in the burial of the victims of the crash.

Thirty-five days after the crash another person joined the rescue team by parachute, a Canadian newsreel photographer, who worked for the Netherlands East Indies Government, with the intent of making a documentary of the Hidden Valley crash, survival, and rescue. During this entire time suggestions for methods of rescuing the group, now numbering 15, were being evaluated in Hollandia, including an overland trek that was estimated to take up to a month each way and would have required the services of 150 natives.

Rescue by aircraft of various sizes and types were suggested but the terrain, distance from Hollandia, altitude and the unpredictable weather all worked against this rescue method. However, one air based rescue idea did emerge as possible, the use of gliders to snatch out the survivors and their rescuers. Work began at installing the snatch pickup equipment on a C-47 that would be used in the pick-up. Trial snatch flights began at an air base in Hollandia at the same time that a 400-yard glider landing strip was being prepared at the rescue site by burning off vegetation and marking the landing area with parachutes that had been used to drop in supplies to the Hidden Valley encampment.

A glider snatch at the altitude of Hidden Valley was a dicey operation at best—at over a mile in elevation, the lift required to bring the glider airborne was greater because of the thin air of the valley’s location. And, the unstable weather over the hump of the surrounding mountains was a factor that would always be a factor that would threaten to cancel any glider pick-up or smack one down that was being attempted.

It was decided that it would take three flights in and three snatches out to bring the team back to civilization; bringing the entire group out at once would put too much weight in the glider and the snatch would not be successful. Everybody in Hidden Valley was ready to get the hell out of their alleged Shangri La.

On June 28th, the weather cleared, and a C-46 towed a CG-4A Waco glider to the valley where it released from its tow plane and landed without incident.

The glider was turned around, and immediately prepared for the next phase of the rescue, the snatch by the C-47equipped with the special snatch winch and pickup hook. The snatch was made, the C-47 pulling the glider off the floor of the valley and over the menacing mountain walls that marked its boundaries.

During the take-off a parachute that had been used as a field marker became snagged up against and through the floor of the glider. Lt. McCollom pulled the silk up through the hole in the floor of the glider, handful by handful, until it was completely inside the Waco and stowed. A little more than an hour later, the glider landed at the Sentani Strip, the same strip where the sight-seeing flight to Hidden Valley had begun.

They had made it. After 45 days in their Shangri La, Lt. McCollom said, “I want a shave.” Sgt. Decker said, “I want a shower.” And WAC Cpl. Margaret Hastings said, “I want a permanent.”

The three survivors met one last time nearly three decades later when they were made honorary members of the National World War II Glider Pilots Association at the group’s reunion in 1974.

Roman Forts And Fortresses in Britain

Forts and fortresses still provide the most conspicuous structural remnants of Roman Britain. This is partly due to the sheer scale of the remains, especially in the north. Even in the south, the coastal forts like Pevensey and Portchester have survived in far more dramatic form than the villas and towns. But in the north, stone was more readily available, and the remoteness of these areas made them less susceptible to robbing. The developing interest in Roman antiquities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to a great deal of excavation, uncovering buildings which were often left exposed. This is particularly evident on Hadrian’s Wall, where the central sector has some of the best-preserved forts in Britain, including Housesteads. Paradoxically, the much less well-preserved forts at Wallsend and South Shields have now become home to the more imaginative efforts to reconstruct Roman buildings.

Military bases absorbed a huge amount of resources, ranging from deforestation to generate massive timber stocks, to large-scale stone quarrying. According to one estimate, Caerleon is thought to have used up 150 ha (380 acres) of woodland just in being built, quite apart from the requirements of long-term maintenance. A writing tablet from the fortress, dated to c. 75–85, refers to the organized collection of wood by troops. The army was a hive of industrial activity, and remains of massive works-depots have been found, such as the mid-first-century vexillation fortress and depot at Longthorpe, near Peterborough, and the works-depot of the XX legion at Holt, near the legionary fortress at Chester. At Caerleon, large quantities of roofing and other tiles made for the II legion have been found, all stamped with the legion’s titles and manufactured in the fortress’s works-depot on an industrial scale.

Southern Britain was only briefly occupied by the army during the first few decades of the conquest. A variety of relatively short-lived forts and fortresses, including the legionary fortress at Colchester and the vexillation fortress at Longthorpe, were used for variable periods from the late 40s on into the 70s. By the 70s, the bulk of the army’s activity was in the west and north. This was where it established its hold by building permanent bases in timber and turf, later consolidated in stone. The only known permanent forts in the south until the third century were at London, built to house the governor’s garrison from the early second century, and Dover.

Some forts were in use only for a year or two, while others were built, occupied, abandoned, reoccupied and rebuilt before being permanently given up. This particularly applies to the south in the conquest phase, where major forts rapidly gave way to towns, for example at Cirencester, and where campaign forts might be used for as little as one or two seasons before being dismantled and levelled. During the Agricolan campaigns in Scotland, many forts were built that became redundant when Roman forces were withdrawn by the late 80s. The timber fortress at Inchtuthil, and the timber auxiliary forts at Strageath, Elginhaugh and Fendoch, were amongst those carefully dismantled shortly after they had been built.

Some of these Scottish forts were rebuilt in the 90s, usually to different plans and configurations to accommodate different garrisons in different circumstances. Newstead had already had four Agricolan phases, and would go on to have two Antonine stone periods before being finally given up. The excavation of many of these bases has shown how difficult it is to be certain about the garrisons, since the numbers of barracks and arrangements almost always varies from ‘textbook’ plans. The excavators of the Agricolan and Antonine fort phases at Strageath struggled to make sense of what they had found, and their published discussion is a classic example of the problems faced. The plans of the various timber phases at Strageath show that the basic layout survived through several phases, but also show that some of the fort’s principal buildings were laid out on surprisingly irregular plans.

Even where new forts were built in stone, construction work was prone to suspension, sometimes for very long periods. This has been observed in the archaeology at Birdoswald, and also in an inscription from Netherby. Occupation was episodic in some cases, while inscriptions show (or at least claim) that major structures in the fort had been allowed to decay to the point of being ruinous before being repaired. At long-term forts, this often results in extremely complicated archaeology. Birrens, in southwest Scotland, started life as a 0.5-ha (1.3-acre) Flavian fort. It was replaced under Hadrian with a 1.7-ha (4.2-acre) fort, as an outpost for Hadrian’s Wall. This version was timber, but the main central buildings were made of stone. The Hadrianic fort was demolished when the Antonine Wall was built, and replaced with a 2-ha (4.9-acre) stone fort with turf ramparts, later destroyed by fire. Birrens was rebuilt again in around 158, but the new structures were in some cases built right onto the remains of the earlier buildings.

Buildings from a fort’s earliest phases were often altered over time, if not completely demolished. Structural components can turn up reused in later phases of entirely different structures. At Birdoswald, a section of stone screen, probably from the headquarters buildings, was found in one of the granaries, reused as a threshold. Inscriptions usually only survive because they were reused in later building work. An inscription of c. 297–305 from Birdoswald, recording repairs to the headquarters, the commandant’s house and possibly the baths, had been reused as a paving slab in a late fourth-century barracks. At South Shields in the fourth century, an impressive new commandant’s house replaced third-century barracks.


The Marching Camp

Marching camps were overnight bivouacs for the Roman army, and were modelled on the same principles as permanent forts. In the second century BC, Polybius provides the earliest detailed account of a marching camp, designed to accommodate two legions and around the same number of auxiliaries. It was square, measuring 2,017 Roman feet (596 m, or 1,955 ft) on each side creating an area about 36 ha (88 acres) in size. Once the spot for the commanding officer’s tent had been chosen, the fort was laid out and was based on a regular grid with specific areas allocated for each unit, its officers and troops. The fort’s borders were marked with a ditch, and a rampart made from the spoil with a stockade along the top. An internal intervallum created a buffer zone between the fortifications and the internal accommodation.

The idea was that when the camp was built, every man knew what his job was. The process was therefore efficient, and could be executed under duress. Internal communications and systems could be repeated nightly, regardless of whether the army had moved on or not. In the third century AD, Hyginus described a marching camp for a large army of around 40,000 men, but the basic principles remained the same, though at 33 ha (81 acres) it was obviously rather more congested. Here, the fortifications included a ditch measuring 1.5 m (5 ft) wide by 0.9 m (3 ft) deep, and a rampart about 1.9 m (6 ft) high and 2.4 m (7 ft 8 in) wide. The ditches were of two types: the fossa fastigata, which was V-shaped, and the fossa Punica, which had a steep outer slope and gentle inner slope. Some ditches had square-cut trenches along the bottom, now believed to have been caused by using shovels to clear silt from the bottom of the trenches. Special arrangements were used at fort gateways. The ditch and rampart could curve in or out from the fort to cover an entrance (clavicula), a type mainly first century in date, or there could be a small section built outside the fort entrance (titulum), a type used from the first to the early third centuries.

Only the defences of a marching camp leave traces, but these are normally only detectable from the air as the army levelled the defences when it moved on. Dozens of camps are now known, with new ones being discovered almost annually. There were endless variations in dimensions and shapes of the defences. The successive camps at Y Pygwn (Powys) show that a 15.2-ha (37.6-acre) camp was followed, on a slightly different alignment, by a 10.3-ha (25.5-acre) camp. On the Hyginus model, these were theoretically big enough to accommodate up to 20,000 men, suggesting that at the very least one legion and several auxiliary units could have used the bigger one.

Marching camps are almost impossible to date, but those in north Wales probably belong to the campaigns of the first century. Either the II or XX legions could have been responsible, but it is no less probable that vexillations from both, and even from XIV, were involved. Just how difficult it is to attribute these camps to a particular period, let alone a campaign, is evident in Scotland, where two main marches north are known to have taken place: under Agricola (77/78–83/84) and Septimius Severus (208–11). Many marching camps have been detected up the east coast. Testing by excavation has produced the theory that camps with clavicula are late first century, those with titula are either late first century or Antonine, while the large irregular camps around 48 ha (118.6 acres) in size are thought to be Severan.


The Permanent Fort

The permanent fort was a consolidated form of marching camp. Buildings and troops were distributed within the fort in similar positions, but no two forts or fortresses are the same. Before the mid-first century, forts were often polygonal or irregular rectangles. The ‘playing-card’ shape then became normal and lasted until the mid-third century. These forts had regular street grids dividing the fort into square and rectangular plots, within parallel ramparts built in a playing-card shape with curved corners and at least one gate in each side. Forts often had annexes, a kind of fortified appendix to the main plan that could be used for a variety of ad-hoc purposes.

Every Roman fort represented a unique combination of factors: location, available materials, the intended garrison, and the preferences of individual fort surveyors and architects. Hod Hill, an early conquest-period fort, was built into the corner of an Iron Age hillfort in Dorset and utilized some of the old ramparts. The Period 2 fort at the Lunt, built in the mid-60s, had a very peculiar shape dictated by the reduction of the previous fort’s plan, while still accommodating a circular gyrus from the earlier fort built c. 60.

When permanent forts in stone were built along the northern frontier there were fewer major variants. It is usually possible to predict the main features of fort plans once the basic dimensions have been established. But forts could still buck the trend. South Shields, in its third-century guise, retained a stereotypical outline, but was extended and had many of its internal buildings replaced or moved about to accommodate an exceptional number of granaries. South Shields is a conspicuous reminder of the fact that forts rarely (if ever) remained in the form in which they were built. Forts that remained occupied were almost invariably modified in some way, with structures being rebuilt or falling out of use, and ramparts extended or reduced.

Several surveyors and architects are attested in Britain, all in a military context, though in no case can we associate an individual with his work. An inscription from Piercebridge records Attonius Quintianus, a military surveyor (mensor), who would have laid out the ramparts and street grid of a fort, and allocated plots for each building. The building work was probably planned by the architectus, though in a military context this is better translated as ‘engineer’, rather than ‘architect’. At Birrens, the arcitectus [sic] Amandus left a dedication to Brigantia [109], and another, Gamidiahus, left one to Harimella. The only other architect we know about is Quintus, at Carrawburgh.


Stephen, count of Blois



On the death of a king, law was lost. When the king died, the peace died with him. Only on the accession of a new sovereign did law return. Knights fled back to their castles in fear of losing them. It was a question of saving what you could at a time when order was suspended. On receiving the news of King Henry’s death his nephew, Stephen, count of Blois, left France and sailed to England quickly. He rode to London with his knightly followers, and the citizens acclaimed him as their king according to ancient custom. Whereupon he rode to Winchester and claimed the treasury.

As the son of Henry’s sister, Stephen had for a long time been associated with the royal court. He was, after all, the grandson of William the Conqueror. Clearly he considered himself to be Henry’s proteégeé and, in the absence of any legitimate royal sons, perhaps his natural heir. He persuaded many of the leaders of the kingdom that this was so. One person needed no persuasion. His brother, Henry, was bishop of Winchester. It may even have been he who prompted Stephen’s decision to claim the throne. He entrusted his brother with the keys of the treasury and, three weeks after the death of the king, on 22 December 1135, Stephen was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

The magnates had sworn fealty to the king’s daughter, Matilda, but in truth many of them had no wish to be governed by a woman. No queen had ever ruled in England, and in any case Matilda was known to be of imperious temperament. It was reported with much relief that, on his deathbed, Henry had disinherited his daughter in favour of his nephew. The report may not have been true, but it was highly convenient.

So Stephen was set for a fair start. He was not treated as a usurper, but as an anointed king. He also had the immense advantage of a well-stocked treasury, amassed through Henry I’s prudence in years of peace. The money allowed him to recruit large numbers of mercenary troops with which to defend his lands in France and the northern frontier with Scotland. The king of Scotland, David, claimed the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland as part of his sovereign territory; he was inclined to demonstrate the fact by marching south. At the battle of the Standard in 1138, named after the fact that the banners of three English saints were carried to the scene of combat, Stephen’s army under the leadership of northern lords defeated the Scots. A chronicler, John of Worcester, rejoiced that ‘we were victorious’; the use of the first person plural here is significant. The English were coming together.

But the money began to run out. Stephen had been too generous for his own good. A poor king is a luckless king. He debased the currency, to pay for his troops, but of course the price of goods rose ever higher as a result. Then, in the autumn of 1139, Matilda arrived to claim her country. In her company was her bastard half-brother, Robert, whom the late king had ennobled as earl of Gloucester. This was a war between cousins that became also a civil war. Matilda was strong in the west, particularly around Gloucester and Bristol, while Stephen was dominant in the south-east. In the midlands and in the north, neither party was pre-eminent. In those regions the local magnates were the natural rulers.

The instinct of the Anglo-Norman lords was for battle; like the salamander, they lived in fire. William I had realized that, and had ruled them like a tyrant. He had said that his lords were ‘eager for rebellion, ready for tumults and for every kind of crime’. They needed to be yoked and held down. Norman kings had to be strong in order to survive. But Stephen was not strong. By all accounts he was affable and amiable, easy to approach and easier to persuade. More damning still, he was lenient towards his enemies. There could be no greater contrast with the kings who had preceded him. He surrendered to the pope the power of appointing abbots and bishops; he also agreed that the bishops should wield power ‘over ecclesiastical persons’. At a stroke the prerogative of kings was diminished. He struck bargains with his great lords that rendered him merely the first among equals.

The barons knew well enough that loyalty and discipline had been undermined by the arrival of Matilda. Here was a welcome opportunity to extend their power. Their castles were further strengthened, and became the centres of marauding soldiers. For the next sixteen years, neither peace nor justice was enjoyed. Private wars were conducted between magnates under the pretence of attachment to Stephen or Matilda. Skirmishes and sieges, raids and ambushes, were perpetrated by the armies of the two rivals. Churches were ransacked, and farms were pillaged. Battles between towns, as well as between barons, took place. The men of Gloucester, supporting Matilda, marched upon Worcester and attempted to put the town to the torch. They also took prisoners, leashing them together like dogs, while most of the people of Worcester took refuge with their belongings in the cathedral.

A brief chronology of warfare can be given. The arrival of Matilda in England had not created any overwhelming enthusiasm for her rule; the barons of the west largely supported her, but her principal ally was still her bastard half-brother. Robert of Gloucester became the leader of her army of mercenaries. Her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, was detained by wars of his own.

After her landing at Arundel in 1139 numerous small battles erupted in the western counties, such as Somerset and Cornwall, with castles being taken and recaptured. Sporadic fighting continued in the following year, with incidents occurring in regions as various as Bristol and the Isle of Ely, but without any definite victory or defeat. The great lords of England were confronted with a situation of insidious civil war without precedent in English history; some took advantage of the chaos, while others were no doubt anxious and dispirited. Stephen was widely regarded as the consecrated king, and there seems to have been no great popular support for Matilda’s title; even her supporters were instructed to style her by the essentially feudal name of domina, or ‘lady’, rather than queen. Stephen himself was possessed of remarkable stamina, moving across the country almost continually, but his progress was abruptly curtailed when he was captured at Lincoln in the beginning of February 1141.

He was taken prisoner and confined to a dungeon in Bristol; a few weeks later, Matilda was hailed as ‘lady of England’. She was never crowned. Nevertheless this was a disturbing moment for those who believed in the sacral role of kingship. No king of England had ever before been imprisoned in his own country. Matilda herself became more vociferous and imperious in her triumph, demanding money and tribute from those whom she believed to be her defeated adversaries. She was admitted into London reluctantly, its citizens having been enthusiastic supporters of Stephen, but she proceeded to alienate the Londoners still further by angrily asking for money. A few days after her arrival in the city, the bells of the churches were rung and a mob descended on a banquet at Westminster where she was about to dine. She took horse and rode precipitately to Oxford. It was one of her many fortunate escapes. On one occasion she retreated from the castle at Devizes in the guise of a corpse; she was wrapped in linen cerecloth, and tied by ropes to a bier. Subsequently she was besieged in the castle at Oxford on a winter’s night; she dressed in white, and was thus camouflaged against the snow as she made her way down the frozen Thames to Wallingford.

Despite Stephen’s capture his army, under the nominal command of his wife, took the field. Matilda retreated further and further west. Many of her supporters fled for their lives. But Robert of Gloucester was captured in the same year as Stephen. He was the unofficial leader of Matilda’s forces, and it seemed only natural that he should be freed in exchange for the king. So Stephen was released and reunited with his kingdom. There resumed the deadly game of chess, with knights and castles being lost or regained. War continued for twelve more years.

Some parts of the country suffered more than others. A monk of Winchester describes the effects of famine, with villagers eating the flesh of dogs and horses. Another monk, from the abbey at Peterborough, reports in some detail the depredations of the lords of the castles; they taxed the villages in their domains to such an extent that the villagers all fled leaving their fields and cottages behind. Yet the actual incidents of violence were local and specific.

This short period has been called ‘the Anarchy’, when Christ and his saints slept, but that is to underestimate or altogether ignore the underlying strength of the country. The administrative order of the nation, built over many hundreds of years, remained broadly intact. The walls of most of the towns were fortified in this period, but urban activity continued as before. It is even more surprising, perhaps, that in the years of Stephen’s rule more abbeys were built and founded than at any other period in English history. The Cistercians continued to flourish. The tower of Tewkesbury Abbey and the choir of Peterborough Cathedral were completed in the years of warfare.

War itself was not incessant. All hostilities were suspended in the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent. While Matilda’s mercenaries and the Anglo-Norman barons fought one another, the English people for the most part went about their business. Of course there were casualties and victims of civil war, adumbrated by the monks of Peterborough and Winchester, but there is no need to draw a picture of universal woe and desolation. It is perhaps worth recording that in the years of ‘the Anarchy’, the umbrella was introduced into England. It has outlived cathedrals and palaces.

One singular change was wrought by the intermittent warfare. The king no longer trusted the centralized bureaucracy established by Henry I, and he arrested its leading members in the persons of the bishops of Salisbury, Ely and Lincoln. He may have believed that they had secretly taken the side of Matilda and Robert of Gloucester. He also captured their castles; in this world bishops owned castles, too. Then in difficult and unusual circumstances, by instinct or design, he reversed the policy of the former king and devolved much of his power. He created earls as leaders for most of the counties; they were charged with political and military administration of their territories, and represented the king in all but name. There is in other words nothing inevitable in the growth of the English state; what can be proposed can also be reversed. That is why, on his accession, Henry II determined that he would return to the principles of his grandfather. He was a strong king, and therefore a centralist.

In 1147, at the age of fourteen, he had come to England as Henry of Anjou. He commanded a small army of mercenaries, ready to fight for Matilda’s claim, but he did not materially benefit his mother. He was defeated at Cricklade, by the Thames, and in a characteristic act of generosity Stephen himself helped him to return to Normandy. In the final years of the conflict it was apparent to everyone that Stephen was the victor, but it was also agreed that Henry of Anjou was his natural and inevitable successor. The magnates of the land were now largely supporting his claims.

So with the aid and entreaty of prominent churchmen, an agreement was drawn up at Winchester in 1153; it was settled that Stephen would reign, but that he would recognize Henry as his heir. Henry gave homage to Stephen, and Stephen swore an oath to maintain Henry as son and successor. The custody of the important castles – Wallingford, Oxford, Windsor, Winchester and the Tower – was secured, and the pact was witnessed by the leading barons on both sides of the dispute. Matilda retired to Rouen, where she devoted her remaining years to charitable works. Sixteen years of largely futile struggle had finally been resolved. The fighting was worse than useless. It had solved nothing. It had proved nothing. In that sense, it is emblematic of most medieval conflict. It is hard to resist the suspicion that kings and princes engaged in warfare for its own sake. That was what they were supposed to do.

Stephen had sworn that he would never be a dethroned king, and indeed that fate was averted. Yet he did not enjoy his unchallenged royalty for very long. He began the process of restoring social order but, less than a year after the signing of the treaty at Winchester, he succumbed to some intestinal infection; he died in the Augustinian priory at Dover on 25 October 1154. It is possible that he was carried off by poison. There would have been many longing for his death and the rule of a young king, including the young king himself. The life and death of monarchs can be stark and dangerous.

Kriegsmarine Cruiser Warfare






As Operation Sealion petered out during the autumn of 1940, Admiral Raeder and his colleagues in the Kriegsmarine began to focus on the kind of warfare they believed in. Following the damage sustained in the spring of 1940, a sense of optimism was renewed when many ships returned from the shipyards. Among the ships expected to be fully serviceable soon were the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. They had formed a task force during the attack on Norway in April 1940, when Admiral Marschall had been in command. If sent to the Atlantic together, they would form a powerful group, menacing British merchant shipping. The long winter nights would also improve chances of them being able to break out undetected into the Atlantic. Finally Raeder could embark on the large-scale warfare against merchant shipping that he had advocated for so long. His intention was not only to sink merchant ships; Raeder hoped that the countermeasures that the Royal Navy would be forced to take would also disrupt British trade.

The German Navy had deployed surface ships against British merchant shipping since spring 1940, but these were not regular warships. Instead, the Germans had employed Hilfkreuzer—armed merchant ships not unlike the British Rawalpindi. By fitting the weapons behind doors and other forms of cover, they could be effectively disguised, yet quickly made ready to fire on prey as it appeared. Mostly, the ships sailed under false colours, to avoid recognition. Their combat capabilities were far too low to engage regular warships and the German Navy did not expect any grand achievements from them. However, by sailing outside normal convoy routes, the Hilfzkreuzer could search for merchant ships sailing alone, approach disguised and when they had approached close enough, sink or capture them. Usually the Germans preferred to employ their armed merchant ship in areas like the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, where many ships sailed unescorted. Protected convoys were left to the regular German warships, which had not appeared in the Atlantic since the autumn of 1939.

The first German warship to reach the Atlantic Ocean in 1940 was the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. She had been at Wilhelmshaven when the war broke out, as she needed a major overhaul. Her antiaircraft artillery shot down a Wellington bomber while she was at the yard, but otherwise she took no part in combat during the first year of the war. When she was at last fully refitted, her crew needed training to attain combat readiness. She was sent to the Baltic for a month of intensive exercise, before finally being declared ready for operations. On 23 October, 1940 she weighed anchor at Gdynia and steered west on the Baltic. After passing Denmark, she sailed north. Undetected she continued towards the Atlantic and a week after departing from Gdynia, she passed through the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. The first phase, regarded as the most difficult part of the operation by the Germans, had been successfully completed. The Admiral Scheer could begin searching for prey.

She did not have to wait long. Early on 5 November she discovered the lone Mopan and promptly sank her. A few hours later the lookouts on board the Admiral Scheer caught sight of an even more tempting quarry, the convoy HX84—a British convoy numbering no less than 37 merchant ships. The escort consisted of only a single ship, the armed merchant ship Jervis Bay. Since the sun was about to set, the commander on board Jervis Bay, Captain Edward Fegen, decided to accept battle with the Admiral Scheer, hoping that the convoy could scatter and as many merchant ships as possible disappear in darkness before the German ship got too close. Fegen’s decision doomed his ship. The battle was hopelessly uneven. A sailor in the convoy thought the action resembled a bulldog attacking a bear. The 40 year old, 152mm guns fitted to Jervis Bay did not even have the range needed to successfully engage the German warship. Nevertheless, the British fired incessantly, while laying smoke to protect the ships of the convoy. The battle could only end in one way and after 24 minutes it was over. The Jervis Bay had become a burning wreck. Admiral Scheer sank five merchant ships and another three were damaged, but the rest of the convoy escaped. Later, 65 men from the gallant crew of the Jervis Bay were saved by the Swedish freighter Stureholm.

A few uneventful days followed, until on 12 November Admiral Scheer met with the tanker Eurofeld and the supply ship Nordmark. A few days were spent bunkering diesel oil and taking on supplies. Also, 68 prisoners from the Mopan were transferred to the supply ship, before the Admiral Scheer resumed her search for prey. The results were not impressive. After almost a month had passed, she had only been able to add another two ships to her tally. Again, the pocket battleship met with the supply ship to bunker. On this occasion, the opportunity was used to perform some maintenance on her diesel engines, before the Admiral Scheer set course for the southern Atlantic on 15 December.

While the Admiral Scheer operated in the Atlantic, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was prepared for the same purpose. In fact, she had sailed already on 24 September, with the intention of reaching the Atlantic, but before passing the Skagerrak she had problems with her machines. She was forced to return to Germany and spent two months in the yard, until she was finally fit again. On 30 November she left harbour, commanded by Captain Wilhelm Meisel, to attack convoys in the Atlantic. The operation was called Nordseetour. At first she searched in vain for Allied shipping and had to survive extremely bad weather. Problems with her machinery ensued, but they could at least be temporarily repaired. The Admiral Hipper bunkered fuel oil from German supply ships, first on 12 December, then on 16 and 22 December, but after three weeks at sea not a single enemy ship had been seen. However, on the night before Christmas Eve, her radar finally picked up an echo. She had found the British troop convoy WS5A about 600 miles west of Cape Finistere. Unlike HX84, which had been attacked by Admiral Scheer seven weeks earlier, the WS5A was escorted by regular British warships: the heavy cruiser Berwick and a few smaller ships. Captain Meisel did not become aware of the British escort, and shadowed the convoy with the intention of attacking it after dawn. While it still was dark, Meisel closed the distance to the convoy and fired a number of torpedoes, but none hit. The German commander was not deterred and pursued his intention to attack at dawn, this time relying on his guns. Almost immediately the lookouts on the Admiral Hipper found the Berwick. Meisel decided to attack the British cruiser. In the ensuing battle, Berwick was damaged and forced to withdraw from the battle, but enough time had passed to allow the convoy to scatter and all merchant ships evaded the Admiral Hipper. The German cruiser had not been hit, but nevertheless Meisel decided to break off the operation and steer towards Brest. His decision was based mainly on the defects in the machinery, which he wanted to correct. On Christmas Day the lone freighter Dumma was found and sunk. It was the only success scored by the Admiral Hipper during Operation Nordseetour. She reached Brest on 27 December.

Operation Nordseetour and the battle between the Admiral Hipper and the Berwick exposed shortcomings in the German Navy’s concept of cruiser warfare. Although the German ship came out unscathed, the action had certainly put her at risk. When encountering an escort of equal strength, the German ship might at least suffer damage and impaired mobility. This was a serious risk, considering the kind of warfare Raeder intended to conduct.

On the very day the Admiral Hipper reached Brest, a meeting took place in Berlin, attended by Hitler, Raeder and a few other high ranking naval officers. The German Navy was already planning for the Admiral Hipper’s next voyage and Hitler wanted to know the purpose. Raeder explained that the Admiral Hipper was only to attack enemy supply lines, concentrating on the convoys as the main target but avoiding the escorts. She should only accept battle with the escort if it was clearly inferior in armament. Hitler concurred. It is possible that this discussion resulted from discontentment with Meisel’s decision to engage a British heavy cruiser.

The Admiral Scheer spent the last weeks of 1940 without much drama. The only exception was on 18 December, when her floatplane found the refrigerator ship Duquesa, which carried food, including about 15 million eggs and 3,000 tons of meat. She was captured and her cargo came in handy for the German ships operating in the Atlantic. In addition to the Admiral Scheer and the Admiral Hipper, the armed merchant ships Thor and Pinguin, several blockade runners and captured ships were also operating in the Atlantic. The Duquesa supplied several German ships with food, before she was finally sunk after two months.

While the Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper ravaged the Atlantic, the two battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst also prepared for an operation in the same waters. They sailed on 28 December, but very bad weather caused damage to the Gneisenau and both ships had to return at an early stage. The Gneisenau was quickly repaired, but the operation was postponed for a month.

Meanwhile the Admiral Scheer patrolled the South Atlantic. She did not score any notable successes. No convoy was found, but a Norwegian tanker was captured and sent to Bordeaux on 17 January. Three days later two freighters were sunk, but subsequently the Admiral Scheer ran out of luck. Late in January she set course for the Indian Ocean, hoping to find better opportunities for success there. On 3 February the Admiral Scheer passed south of the Cape of Good Hope.

Major accomplishments had thus far eluded the German naval ships in the Atlantic, but Raeder indulged in expectations of more success when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau reached the transatlantic convoy routes. Due to the mishap with the Gneisenau, Admiral Lütjens, who commanded the squadron, was given more time to think about the best way to use his two battleships. As they were much more powerful than the Admiral Hipper and Admiral Scheer, Lütjens could attack escorted convoys without hesitating. When Meisel had attacked WSA5, despite the cruiser included in its escort, his action had bordered on the foolhardy. Considering the scarcity of German heavy vessels, it was imperative to keep them ready for action, or else it would be impossible for the German Navy to maintain the threat against the British convoy routes. With two battleships at his disposal, Lütjens would be in a very different position, as the British could hardly be expected to include stronger ships than cruisers in their escorts. However, damage to the German ships still had to be avoided. Prudence suggested that combat had to be conducted at long range, to avoid the menace from torpedoes.

Lutjens did not have to answer the question of how to attack convoys until his squadron reached the Atlantic, and he had a difficult journey ahead of him. The main problem was the ice in the Baltic, the Danish Belts and the Kattegat. The severe cold in January 1941 had resulted in ice with a thickness of about 30cm in the Danish Belts. Under normal conditions, Lütjens would have preferred to pass through the Belts in darkness, to avoid being seen from the coast, but in the present icy conditions it seemed impossible to sail through the narrow straits during night. The German squadron would have to make the passage in full daylight, when Allied agents as well as men and women from the Danish resistance could easily see the ships. When he had passed through the Great Belt, his two battleships would sail towards the Skagen, where escorts would join them, before continuing in the direction of Norway.

The forthcoming operation was given the name ‘Berlin’ and was a much more whole-hearted attempt to implement the cruiser warfare concept, compared to the small-scale operations conducted so far. Lütjens was a good choice to lead Operation Berlin, since he was the German naval officer with most experience at sea. In 1914 he commanded a torpedo boat unit and saw frequent action in World War I. When the Germans invaded Norway in April 1940, Lütjens commanded the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, which had been tasked with the mission to protect the landings at Narvik and Trondheim.

Lütjens was a purposeful and calculating commander who carefully considered his alternatives. He preferred to retain freedom of action for as long as possible and was not given to impulsive decisions. Rather, he carefully weighed risks and opportunities. Success in Operation Berlin would depend greatly on the squadron’s ability to remain unobserved on the high seas and to maintain the element of surprise. The commander would have to display good judgement in estimating when the British convoys left ports, what course they followed and how fast they sailed, so as best to assess the risks of attack. Errors of judgement would severely curtail prospects of sinking a significant amount of British shipping. Lütjens seemed to possess exactly the traits needed to plan and conduct the kind of operation envisaged.

Operation Berlin provides the best example of the realisation of the German concept of cruiser warfare. The first phase of the operation was the actual break out into the Atlantic.

The passage from Kiel and, further on, the Kattegat and Skagerrak were narrow, icy and partly mined, requiring coordination with icebreakers, minesweepers, antisubmarine units and other escorts to get the squadron through safely, without jeopardizing secrecy. Tankers and supply ships had to be stationed in the Atlantic, to enable the battleships to remain there for months. Rendezvous places and signals had to be established well in advance, in order to minimize radio communication that could be intercepted by the British.

Radio traffic was a major concern. To reduce the risks of British interception the Germans used a large number of code names for various coordinates. A number of locations at sea had been assigned brief codes, such as ‘black 3’ or ‘red 15’. Without the specific tables needed, it was impossible to interpret the content of the messages. Furthermore, the actual transmissions could be briefer with the aid of the codes, making it more difficult to obtain bearings and estimate the position of the sender.

Several frequencies and types of transmitters were used. The two battleships used ultra short wave for communication between them, as it was very difficult to intercept at longer distance. For reporting between the ships and the shore staffs, other frequencies were used. The weather forecasting used its own specific frequency band, as did communication between the ships and the Luftwaffe. Considering the geography, it was unlikely that the battleships would cooperate with the Luftwaffe far out on the Atlantic, but during the initial and the final phases of the operation, coordination with air power might be needed. Communication with the supply ships was governed by special regulations, as was the use of special crews that were to sail captured ships to German-controlled harbours in the Bay of Biscay. All of these details had to be specified and included in the orders issued before the operation began. However, once the battleships had reached the north Atlantic, Lütjens emphasized that he would make the decisions as the events unfolded.

England Raids Post-First Armada


Battle of Cadiz Bay by Aert Anthonisz

By the mid-1590s, Spain’s naval rebirth was not only rumored, but also evident from the turning tide of her adventurers at sea. While Philip’s health continued to deteriorate, his anger against England remained hearty. Drake had been a landlubber for six years, and he longed to feel the boards beneath his feet, the stiff sea breezes in his face, and the thrill of the attack again. The ghost of Thomas Doughty had finally been laid to rest, though his younger brother, John, still rotted in prison for his attempt on Drake’s life. Now in his mid-fifties, with the help of his cousin, Sir John Hawkins (in his sixties himself), the two veteran sea dogs persuaded the queen to allow them a nostalgic revival of their “troublesome” 1568 adventure, but this time the purpose was to capture Panama. If Hawkins’s blockade couldn’t stop the silver shipments, surely their landing at Panama would. The queen allowed them to go, wanting to believe in them more than truly believing. Perhaps this was why she wanted them to adopt the tactics that had been so successful in their youths—the surprise smash-and-grab raids that had so inspired her younger, ambitious adventurers. And so, after much preparation, they set sail with the old queen’s blessing.

The result was catastrophic. When the two former pirates heard that a great silver carrack had been crippled in Puerto Rico, they naturally attacked. It had been over ten years since Drake had last seen the West Indies, and in that time, Spain’s fortifications against the return of El Draco proved more than effective. Hawkins was killed by a direct hit in November 1595. Two months later, in January 1596, Drake had his stool shot out from under him while eating dinner. But his luck would not hold this time. Within weeks, he was dead of the bloody flux, probably brought on by an infection of his wounds. Starved of the threat of El Draco—whether real or imagined—all looked lost to the despondent queen.

But just as this devastating news reached court, worse was yet to come. Henry IV of France had decided that “Paris was worth a mass” and converted to Catholicism, ending decades of civil war. The effect on Elizabeth was profound since Henry had been her hope for a Protestant, and thereby benign, France. In reply to this, she urgently sent Gilbert Talbot, seventh Earl of Shrewsbury, to obtain Henry’s oath to observe the conditions of their league against Spain and to invest him in the Order of the Garter. “And by this means you will shade if not cover my error,” she wrote to Henry, “if such I may call it, who was the first to present to you my faith, assuring you that if all pacts were as inviolate as this one will be on my side, everyone would be astonished to see such constant friendship in this century.” Her words still ring true today. Catholic France and Catholic Spain would assuredly form a league against England, the queen feared. Time was of the essence if Philip, France, the pope, and any other takers of her crown were to be stopped.

Elizabeth knew that her only alternative was to continue to prosecute her war against Spain, and so she agreed to send out an expedition from Plymouth bound for the Spanish coast and bent on capturing and destroying as many ships as it could at Cadiz, then Lisbon. Leading the voyage was the lord admiral himself with the queen’s charismatic favorite, the handsome, hotheaded Robert, Earl of Essex. Raleigh, freshly returned from his Guiana voyage (which had not been successful in finding the mythical El Dorado, nor had it been of any real significance as a voyage of discovery), had been asked to join the fleet as its rear admiral. Funding for the expedition came directly from the queen, with Howard and Essex as her joint shareholders. A stunning fleet of around 150 sail with 18 of the queen’s ships among them, along with 18 Dutchmen and 12 outsized Londoners all bristling with the latest firepower. A landing force of ten thousand soldiers of England’s “choisest men” was mustered and taken aboard. They would be led by Essex, Vere, Blount, Gerrard, and Cumberland.

As with Drake nine years earlier, Cadiz was miraculously caught sleeping. Two of the king’s galleons were destroyed and two others captured. When the town surrendered to the swashbuckling Essex for an agreed ransom of 125,000 ducats ($7.59 million or £4.1 million today) the best terms they could get from the English was to allow all but the top 150 citizens of the town leave, along with all the women, before the sack began. In addition, the Spaniards had to leave all their worldly possessions behind. As soon as the women left town the queen’s soldiers sacked it, in an ecstatic, raging free-for-all lasting two weeks. So far as they were concerned, their voyage was made.

Incredibly, while the sack of the town was taking place, the lord high admiral and his men did not have their eyes on the richly laden India fleet in port. To prevent them from stealing it and using the proceeds against Spain, Don Luis Alfonso Flores, the admiral of the flota, ordered the ships to be destroyed. The estimated value of the ships’ cargoes alone amounted to around 4 million ducats ($240.32 million or £129.9 million today) according to Medina Sidonia, but the Spanish merchants would later claim 12 million ducats in losses. As to personal effects of the townspeople and churches, no accurate estimate of either the value, or the inventory of what was taken or destroyed, survives. Loot was, after all, how all nations paid their soldiers for the risks they took.

What had originally been intended as an act of war with strict instructions by the queen was again sidetracked by private interest and plunder. The lord admiral had persuaded the queen that a mission entirely funded by her as a royal expeditionary force, and not as a joint stock company, would stop the increasing lawlessness of her mariners and achieve her war aims. Indeed, his instructions ordered, “by burning of ships of war in his [the King of Spain’s] havens before they should come forth to the seas, and therewith also destroying his magazines of victuals and his munitions for the arming of his navy, to provide that neither the rebels in Ireland should be aided and strengthened, nor yet the king be able, of long time, to have any great navy in readiness to offend us.”

Still, it was Essex’s shining hour—a brilliant, magnificent knight at the head of an army defeating the queen’s greatest foe. He was like a fire-breathing dragon in the face of the enemy, demanding the council of war to hold on to the port of Cadiz to stop trade from the Mediterranean and both the East and West Indies, “whereby we shall cut his [Philip’s] sinews and make war upon him with his own money.” More is the pity that he was overruled by “wiser” heads since by occupying the port—even for a short period of time—all shipments by sea could have been halted, turning the thorn in Philip’s side into a massive bellyache. This was Essex’s first and best moment as a soldier. Even his great rivalry with the disgraced Walter Raleigh (who famously cried Entramos! while attacking the town) showed Essex to be an inspirational leader of men at Cadiz, while Raleigh was shown to be a great talker at them.

Yet this “great” victory did not achieve Elizabeth’s aims. The Indies fleet was in harbor—some forty to fifty vessels fully laden and ripe for the plucking—but while the soldiers ravaged Cadiz, the Spanish captains were given all the time they needed to destroy the fleet themselves to prevent an English capture. To compound their error, no attempt was made to take Lisbon or any other Iberian port, and no thought was given to try to intercept the incoming treasure fleet. Essentially, the “famous victory” pointed up in red-letter terms that soldiers were not mariners, and that Lord Admiral Howard was no sailor. To make matters worse, their booty was embezzled by underlings at the cost of the adventure’s promoters. The queen, naturally, was left distinctly unamused, despite the fleet’s returning to England with two new Spanish warships, some 1,200 Spanish pieces of ordnance and £12,838 in gold, plate, sugar, hides, silks, and jewels ($3.09 million or £1.67 million today).

She was all the more angry since her spies reported that the next Armada was now ready to sail from Lisbon. But no one seemed to know for certain if the plan was to reach England, or to land a force to fight and meddle in the continuing troubles in Ireland. Half of her advisors felt that Philip could not let the defeat of the “Invincible” lie, especially as it was compounded by the ignominy of Cadiz for a second time. Other voices were certain that the King of Spain meant to attack her at her rebellious postern gate. Then, mercifully, word came through that the fleet had sailed from Lisbon, but had been shipwrecked by Atlantic storms off Finisterre that October. Again, the weather seemed to conspire in England’s favor, at least for a little while.

Essex, never one to miss a fresh rush of blood to the head, felt invincible himself after Cadiz. In a quickly cobbled together action, he embarked his forces to meet the remnants of the failed second armada—the “Invisible”—scattered along the coast at Ferrol and Corunna. But Essex was essentially a soldier and not a sailor—a common error in thinking among Elizabethan fighters—and he had paid little attention to the time of year for launching such an ill-conceived attack. Naturally, the weather had turned again, and Essex’s army was driven back to Plymouth by the autumn equinoctial storms, his ships battered and troops dreadfully seasick.

The year 1596 was another watershed in the prosecution of the war against Spain: there was Essex’s role as national hero, taking over Drake’s position, the end of France’s wars of religion by the conversion to Catholicism by Henry IV, and Philip’s second failed Armada attempt. Nonetheless, it was apparent that England could not deliver a knockout blow to Spain unless it had a base in the heart of the enemy’s territory. And England’s last chance of doing this ended when Essex was overruled by his own council of war at Cadiz.

Yet in many ways, it was probably the right decision to abandon Cadiz. The unruliness of the soldiers and seamen fighting seemingly endless years of war had produced an expectation of mountains of plunder as their just payment for serving their country. This expectation in turn had created an underclass of English seaman who, when viewed through the eyes of their superior officers, did not make a pretty picture in the light of day. “They rejoiced in things stark naughty, bragging in his [sic] sundry piracies.” The only thing that kept their officers safe from attack was a strict disciplinarian regime. Whipping at the capstan, keelhauling, or hanging were always options. Drake hanged a man for sodomy, and Cumberland a member of his crew for rape. Crews of less well-regimented vessels were not above murdering their own masters for victuals or casting their captains adrift to die in despair—as happened later to the explorer Henry Hudson.

From the sailors’ standpoint, however, they deserved better. “What is a piece of beef of half a pound among four men to dinner,” one seaman asked, “or half a dry stockfish for four days in the week, and nothing else to help withal: yea, we have help—a little beverage more than pump water. We were pressed by Her Majesty’s press to have her allowance [take her pay], and not to be thus dealt withal—you make no men of us, but beasts.” Still, the better ships allowed the men to swim and play music to help wile away the lonely hours in healthy undertakings rather than drinking and gambling. Music became part of the daily routine to help the men perform their chores, and their sea shanties had begun to be sung ashore in taverns.

What emerged as the Royal Navy then was a group of men who were not born to the gentleman class, serving alongside gentlemen and noblemen of the realm. For those lucky enough to survive, and wanting to better themselves socially and financially, the navy was their respectable “leg up” into the higher echelons of society. For those who thought only of plunder and swag—irrespective of their social standing—their place was frequently found lashed at the mizzen mast or clapped in irons before being killed or escaping into out-and-out piracy. Above all, there was evidently truth on both sides of the argument.

The harsh reality was that there were no more Drakes after 1596. Instead, private interests investing in joint stock companies continued to dominate not only Elizabethan foreign trade but also Elizabethan adventuring. Though still alive, the ailing William Cecil, Lord Burghley, had by now ceded most of his duties to his intelligent younger son, Robert. Unlike his father, the ambitious Robert Cecil was a strong proponent of adventuring; and he, like the queen, was as guilty as the seagoing adventurers in hoping that treasure would come his way. As a younger son, Cecil, like all adventurers, was looking to build up his personal fortune, and he succeeded admirably. Elizabeth was trying to keep the country afloat, praying (as it turns out in vain) to avoid the further sale of crown lands. Both Elizabeth and Cecil invested heavily in the Earl of Cumberland’s adventures of 1589 and 1593, but it was their support of the lord admiral and the Admiralty that brought them their most lucrative source of income.


Alba Undone – Royal Rivals


Ultred the Bold – Earl of Northumbria


Constantine mac Áeda had been able to concentrate on events along his southern border because few serious threats were made against him from the far North, from lands across the Mounth. The Viking colonies in Orkney had seemingly given little trouble during his reign, perhaps because their leaders were now exposed to the political ambitions of Norway’s kings. Scandinavian lords had evidently ousted the Pictish or Gaelic elite of Caithness, but their immediate neighbours southward were still the Cenél Loairn rulers of Moray. There is no record of conflict between Constantine and the Moravians, the latter presumably concentrating their energies on the Viking menace in Orkney and Caithness. By contrast, Constantine’s successor Malcolm seems to have encountered more than one instance of trouble beyond the Grampians. We have already noted his expedition to Moray and it was while on another northward venture that his life was ended. In 954, the year when the kingdom of York came to an end, he was killed near Dunnottar. His slayers were not foreign marauders but local inhabitants of the district. The nature of their grievance against him is a mystery, but it is possible to imagine them as supporters of the man who replaced him on the throne of Alba: his kinsman Ildulb, a son of Constantine mac Áeda. Ildulb’s name is a Gaelic spelling of Germanic Hildulf and was arguably bestowed on this mac Ailpín prince in memory of some earlier bearer of English, Scandinavian or Continental origin. Little is known of Ildulb’s eight-year reign except for one significant event: the transfer of Edinburgh to the kingdom of Alba. The details are sketchy, but the wording of the source suggests that this iconic stronghold, formerly the chief citadel of Gododdin, was evacuated by the English and handed over to the Scots. There is no hint of a siege or any other hostile action. On the contrary, it would seem that the ancient fortress – in Northumbrian hands since the seventh century – was granted to Ildulb by peaceful agreement. Its occupants at the time may have been answerable to a West Saxon overking through a Northumbrian lord – perhaps the ruler of Bamburgh – but we cannot be certain that this was the case at a site on the furthest limit of English authority.

Ildulb eventually met a violent demise, perishing in 962 at Viking hands near Cullen on the coast of Moray. Following his death, a violent power-struggle broke out between rival branches of the mac Ailpín dynasty, the main protagonists being sons of the two most recent kings: Malcolm’s son Dub and Ildulb’s son Cuilén. Dub emerged victorious after a battle at the unidentified Ridge of Crup in which the abbot of Dunkeld and the provincial ruler or mormaer (‘great steward’) of Atholl, both of whom presumably fought alongside the defeated Cuilén, were named among the casualties. Dub reigned for five years until kin-strife flared again, at which point he was ejected from the throne in favour of Cuilén, who in turn ruled for a further five years. After Cuilén took the kingship, Dub sought exile in Moray, seeking sanctuary with its Cenél Loairn rulers, before being slain there in 967. His death at Forres was attributed to ‘men of Alba’ in one source but to ‘the treacherous nation of Moray’ in another, the former account suggesting that the land of the Moravians was at that time regarded as being as much a part of Alba as the Perthshire domains south of the Grampians. It seems likely that both regions were now under mac Ailpín sovereignty. A story attached to one record of Dub’s death speaks of his unburied corpse lying hidden under a bridge at Kinloss, two miles north-east of Forres, an incident curiously reminiscent of a sculptured cameo on the nearby monolith known as Sueno’s Stone. Cuilén, meanwhile, continued to reign as king of Alba. He perished in 971 at the hands of the Strathclyde Britons, having incurred their wrath by violating one of their princesses. The girl’s father, a son of the aforementioned King Dyfnwal, sought vengeance by slaying Cuilén in battle. This took place somewhere in Lothian and may have marked Strathclyde’s rejection of Cuilén’s overlordship as much as punishment for a shameful deed. It provides clear proof of the Clyde kingdom’s resilience at a time when other once-powerful realms such as Mercia and Northumbria were struggling to retain their identities. The devastating siege of Dumbarton in 870 had severely damaged the Britons, but, as the events of the tenth century confirmed, they eventually recovered their power. Their destruction of Cuilén testifies to their remarkable longevity as a potent force in northern politics. Despite intense pressure from Vikings, Scots and West Saxons, the kings of Strathclyde even managed to expand their hegemony by encroaching on lands formerly held by English Northumbria. By c.970, a wide swath of territory in what is now south-western Scotland had reverted to the Britons. Many parts of this region were restored to native rule for the first time in three centuries.

Cuilén’s death was followed by the accession of Dub’s brother Cináed to the throne of Alba. He and Dyfnwal of Strathclyde were among a group of Celtic and Scandinavian kings who met with King Edgar of Wessex at a ceremony near Chester in 973. The attendees boarded a boat which they rowed along the River Dee, Edgar taking the helm and his fellow-kings hauling the oars. Later English chroniclers portrayed the event as an act of submission to Edgar, but it was more plausibly a display of co-operation between rival kings. The short voyage along the river no doubt represented the symbolic or ritual aspect of a mutual peace accord. In addition to Dyfnwal, the Strathclyde delegation at Chester included his son Malcolm, a brother of the prince who had slain Cuilén of Alba two years earlier. Malcolm may have been the acknowledged king of the Britons in 973, his father perhaps serving as advisor and mentor. No source describes the political relationship between Strathclyde and Alba at this time, but it was not necessarily warmer than it had been during Cuilén’s reign, despite Cináed being the brother of Cuilén’s rival.

Cináed bore the auspicious name of the mac Ailpín progenitor and was a man of similarly extensive ambitions. He had apparently disposed of Cuilén’s brother Olaf (Gaelic Amlaib) on his way to the throne and adopted a similarly aggressive stance throughout his reign. At some point, perhaps before the royal peacemaking ceremony at Chester, he launched plundering campaigns southward. His targets were the Clyde Britons and the Northumbrians, the former faring rather better than the latter. When he attacked Strathclyde, his army was repulsed with heavy loss in a battle at Moin Uacoruar (or Vacornar), a moin or ‘moss’ whose location is unknown. It was presumably to discourage counter-raids by the Britons that he erected defences at the ancient Fords of Frew on the River Forth, eight miles west of Stirling. His assault on Northumbria proved more successful, bringing his forces as far south as Stainmore and seizing as a high-status hostage an English prince of either the Northumbrian or West Saxon royal houses. Among Cináed’s motives in marching down to the River Tees may have been a claim to lordship over English-held estates in Lothian, in which case the prince in his custody was perhaps the son of a ‘king’ or earl of Bamburgh. If these events occurred prior to the meeting at Chester, they might even have given Cináed considerable leverage in discussions over the status of Lothian. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that later Northumbrian tradition regarded the eventual cession of Lothian to Alba as an outcome of face to face negotiations between Edgar and Cináed.

It may have been in Cináed’s time that Orkney formally became a Scandinavian earldom. The Icelandic sagas place this event somewhat earlier, in the reign of King Harald Fairhair (or Finehair) who ruled western Norway from c.872 to c.935. It is possible, however, that the thirteenth-century authors of the sagas did not know the true date, or that their sources gave inaccurate information. The first verifiable Orcadian earl was Sigurd who died in 1014. He might even have been the first formally recognised holder of the title, receiving it not from Harald Fairhair but from a later king of Norway or Denmark. If so, then the earldom may have originated in the last quarter of the tenth century, perhaps at a time when the Danish king Harald Bluetooth was pursuing expansionist policies at home and abroad. If Bluetooth engaged in warfare or diplomacy with Cináed of Alba, there is no record of any such contact. Perhaps their respective territorial ambitions never clashed?

After a reign of eighteen years, Cináed met a violent death in 995, perishing in mysterious circumstances at the instigation of a noblewoman called Finella. His assassination occurred at Fettercairn, ten miles north of Brechin, in the district of Angus where Finella’s father Cunchar held authority as a mormaer. The sources speak of Finella’s treachery and deceit in arranging the king’s murder, but she evidently had a genuine grievance, her only son having been killed by Cináed. Although later tradition wove a fictional tale around these events, we have no reason to entirely disbelieve them, nor should we deny Finella’s historical existence. A folk-memory of her name lingers today in the valley of Strath Finella, four miles north-east of Fettercairn, in what were once presumably her family’s ancestral lands. Little more can be said about her. The original form of her name in the earlier chronicles is Finuele, a form reminiscent of Gaelic Finguala (now Fionnuala), but her father’s name might represent Brittonic or Pictish-British Cincar. It is possible, then, that the stewardship of Angus was held in this period by Gaelic-speakers of Pictish origin, or by a family of immigrants from Dál Riata. The latter might seem more likely if we admit the possibility that the territorial name ‘Angus’ preserves a memory of Cenél nÓengusa, the rulers of Islay. Did some part of this kindred abandon their Hebridean home in search of new opportunities in the East?

Finella’s involvement in Cináed’s death may have arisen from more than a desire for revenge. Her political sympathies perhaps lay with his rivals in the house of mac Ailpín, namely the grandsons of Ildulb. One of these, a son of Cuilén called Constantine, made a successful bid for the throne and clung to power for a couple of years. He died in 997, another victim of the feud between royal factions, falling in battle at the confluence of the rivers Almond and Tay. The place of his death was Rathinveramon, the old Roman fort of Bertha, where a royal residence doubtless existed at the end of the tenth century. His conqueror and successor was Cináed mac Duib, a son of the Dub toppled by Cuilén in 967, whom we may here call ‘Cináed III’ for the sake of convenience. During Cináed’s reign a major assault against the Strathclyde Britons was launched by the West Saxon king Aethelred ‘the Unready’. This occurred at the turn of the millennium, in the year 1000, and resulted in a severe ravaging of Clydesdale by English soldiers. The attack could have been much worse had a fierce storm not intervened to keep Aethelred’s naval forces away from the Firth of Clyde. It would appear that the Britons got off lightly, for the English ships changed course by heading instead for the Isle of Man where their crews disembarked to plunder Scandinavian coastal settlements. Aethelred’s nickname, given above in its usual modern form, was actually Unraed, meaning ‘Poor Counsel’ in the sense of ‘badly advised’. It was a pejorative epithet alluding to his policy of paying Viking warlords large sums of money to stop ravaging his kingdom. In spite of these ‘Danegeld’ payments, his most fearsome adversary in the closing years of the tenth century was Sveinn Forkbeard, king of Denmark, who repeatedly raided the coasts of England. Sveinn’s depredations in the South seem to have drawn Aethelred’s attention away from northern events after the attack on Strathclyde, the distraction no doubt bringing relief to Britons and Scots alike.

Dynastic in-fighting within the mac Ailpín dynasty simmered for a few years before a further eruption of conflict led to yet another royal slaying. On this occasion, the warring parties sprang from the same branch of the family. The protagonists were Cináed III and his cousin Malcolm mac Cináeda, a son of the earlier king Cináed mac Mail Coluim – the proliferation of Cináeds and Malcolms in these years can seem somewhat confusing. The rivals clashed in 1005 at Monzievaird (‘Moor of the Bards’), near Crieff in Perthshire. Malcolm emerged victorious and took the kingship. His long reign of almost thirty years was punctuated by military campaigns beyond his south-eastern border, his main foes being the English earls of Northumbria, but he is also credited with wars against Vikings and Britons, both of whom he encountered on his frontiers in the West. One of his first ventures occurred in 1006 when he raided deep into Northumbrian territory. He laid siege to Durham, the seat of an important bishopric, but his army was defeated by an English counter-attack. The event and its outcome were summarised by the Irish annalists:

A battle between the men of Alba and the Saxons. And the rout was upon the Scots, and they left behind them a slaughter of their good men.

The bane of the Scottish army on this occasion was Uhtred, a young English nobleman whose father-in-law was the bishop of Durham. Uhtred’s own father was Waltheof, earl of Bamburgh, in whose domains the Durham bishopric lay. Gathering an army, Uhtred fell upon the besiegers, lifting their blockade and forcing them to flee. The army of Alba suffered heavy casualties, Malcolm himself barely escaping with his life. After the slaughter a grim fate awaited those of his warriors who lay dead upon the battlefield. A near-contemporary source, entitled De Obsessione Dunelmi (‘On The Siege Of Durham’), gives the gruesome details. It tells how Uhtred:

. . . caused to be carried to Durham the best-looking heads of the slain, ornamented with braided locks as was the fashion of the time, and after they had been washed by four women – to each of whom he gave a cow for their trouble – he caused these heads to be fixed upon stakes and placed around the walls.

Uhtred eventually succeeded his father as earl of Bamburgh. During his tenure of the earldom a major change occurred in the dynastic politics of England. The long line of West Saxon monarchs was broken when Cnut, the half-Polish son of Sveinn Forkbeard, was chosen as king by a faction among the English nobility. A rival faction supported Aethelred Unraed and, later, his son Edmund who claimed the kingship after Aethelred’s death in 1016. A brief civil war between Edmund and Cnut raged for several months before the rivals concluded a peace which partitioned the kingdom between them. Edmund died barely six months after his father, his death allowing Cnut to claim sovereignty over all of England. To Malcolm of Alba the change of regime presented an opportunity which he exploited to good effect two years later, in 1018, with an assault on Northumbria. At his side marched Owain Calvus (‘the Bald’), king of the Strathclyde Britons, as a trusted ally or loyal vassal. Against them stood the Northumbrians led by an English earl – unidentified in the sources – whom we may cautiously identify as Uhtred of Bamburgh. The opposing forces fought a battle at Carham-on-Tweed from which the northern Celtic powers emerged victorious. In the following year, Uhtred was assassinated while journeying south to pay homage to Cnut, his murder apparently being undertaken on the king’s orders. He was succeeded in the earldom of Bamburgh by his brother, Eadwulf Cudel (‘Cuttlefish’), who could only watch from the sidelines as Cnut ceded whatever remained of English-held territory in Lothian to Malcolm. The border between England and Alba was formally established along the Tweed as far as the old Bernician heartlands around the river’s lower course, thereby reducing Eadwulf’s earldom to little more than a northerly outpost of Cnut’s realm. It would have been small consolation to the disgruntled Cuttlefish that the kingdom of Owain the Bald, one of the victors at Carham, was soon to disappear completely from the political map. Owain’s successors were still ruling on the Clyde in the middle of the eleventh century, but their kingdom, the last outpost of the North Britons, fell under Scottish control before 1070. By then, the kingship of Alba had already passed out of mac Ailpín hands to Donnchad, a grandson of Malcolm mac Cináeda by his daughter Bethoc. This Donnchad is more familiar in his literary guise as the ‘King Duncan’ killed by Shakespeare’s villainous Macbeth who, in turn, was based on a historical ruler of Moray called Macbethad. By 1040, when Macbethad seized the kingship of Alba, the realm was already being referred to as Scotia, a Latin name meaning simply ‘Scotland’.