Operation DRAGOON, (15 August 1944)

Allied amphibious operation in southern France originally intended to support and coincide with the June 1944 invasion of northern France-Operation OVERLORD-although it could not be mounted until 15 August 1944. Operation DRAGOON had its genesis under the code name ANVIL during strategic planning in 1942 as the Allies considered operations to invade continental Europe. Tied to operation SLEDGEHAMMER, the cross-Channel plan for 1942, ANVIL was to be a diversionary attack on the Mediterranean coast of France to either draw German forces there or, at a minimum, hold those already there so they could not reinforce the defense against an attack on the Channel coast.

Operation DRAGOON was also entangled in European strategic discussions related to Allied planning: the direct route across the Channel pressed by the Americans, or the peripheral approach through North Africa and southern Europe urged by the British. When British Eighth Army forces were defeated in June 1942 in the Battle of Gazala in Libya and their forces at Tobruk were forced to surrender, pressure built to act against the immediate threat, and the western Allies decided on Operation GYMNAST (later renamed TORCH,) the Allied assault on North Africa. This decision canceled SLEDGEHAMMER and delayed planning and consideration for operation ROUNDUP, the autumn 1943 cross-Channel operation with which ANVIL was still loosely associated.

Debate continued between the Americans and British over the timing and even the feasibility of a cross-Channel attack into northwest France, to which ANVIL always was linked. As operations first in Sicily and then in Italy evolved from TORCH and Operation ROUNDUP gave way to OVERLORD, debate continued as the British pressed to reinforce Italian operations at the expense of ANVIL and delay OVERLORD. Finally, at Combined Chiefs of Staff discussions in the Cairo Conference in late November 1943 in preparation for the Allied Conference in Tehran, the decision was made to take Soviet views into account.

At Tehran, Soviet leader Josef Stalin came down in favor of a cross-Channel attack against Germany in northwest France. Stalin believed that ANVIL, considered a diversionary attack in southern France by the western Allies, was an integral part of the overall pincer movement against German forces. When British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill suggested that operations in the eastern Mediterranean might take immediate pressure off the Soviets even if it meant delaying OVERLORD, Stalin replied that it was not worth scattering British and American forces. Before leaving Tehran, the Allies committed themselves to mounting OVERLORD with a supporting operation against southern France during May 1944. The problem then became how to conduct both OVERLORD and ANVIL with the resources available.

As planning for OVERLORD and ANVIL proceeded, it became apparent that the limiting factor would be the shortage of landing craft. Seizing the opportunity, the British again pushed for cancellation of ANVIL, not only to provide landing craft for OVERLORD but to divert manpower to the Italian Campaign, which had bogged down. So severe was the landing-craft shortage that Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower found himself in favor of at least postponing ANVIL until after OVERLORD. This weakened the U. S. argument that ANVIL was necessary to divert German troops away from Normandy’s beaches, but the British argument for needing additional forces in Italy evaporated with the Allied liberation of Rome. The Americans still argued they required the major Mediterranean port of Marseille to bring resources ashore for the drive against Germany.

On 10 August, the British reluctantly agreed to give ANVIL the go-ahead. Renamed because of security problems, DRAGOON (Churchill said the name was apt because he had been dragooned into agreeing to it) began five days later on 15 August 1944. Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commander of the Eighth Fleet, had charge of the landing, and four naval task forces supported the invasion. Participating ships included 5 battleships (the Lorraine, Ramilles, Texas, Nevada, and Arkansas), 24 cruisers, 7 escort carriers, and numerous smaller ships from the British, U. S., French, and Greek navies. A total of 881 ships took part, along with 1,370 landing craft. In the skies, 4,056 Allied aircraft provided support.

At dawn, contingents of three American divisions-the 3rd, 45th, and 36th-and a French armor task force came ashore on beaches between Saint-Tropez and Cannes on the French Riviera, while a combined British and American airborne task force landed to seize bridges and cut roads inland. U. S. Seventh Army commander Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch Jr. led the Allied force. Major General Lucian Truscott Jr., VI Corps commander, was the ground force commander. Seven Free French divisions under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny came ashore the next day and headed west to seize the ports of Toulon and Marseille.

Although DRAGOON was dwarfed by the Normandy Invasion two months earlier, the Allies nonetheless ultimately landed 250,000 American and French ground troops. German forces in southern France amounted to no more than 210,000 troops in eight and two-thirds divisions, and these were mostly second-rate formations. By the end of the first day, all three Allied divisions had secured their beachheads, and 86,000 men, 12,000 vehicles, and 46,000 tons of supplies had come ashore.

By 17 August, the Allied advance had reached 20 miles inland. Facing the possibility of substantial Germany army units being trapped in France, German leader Adolf Hitler ordered Army Group G commander General Johannes Blaskowitz to withdraw, leaving sufficient troops behind to deny the major ports to the Allies. The most serious fighting took place at the two ports of Toulon and Marseille, but within two weeks on 28 August, both fell to the French divisions of General de Tassigny’s newly designated First French Army.

Operation DRAGOON cost the Allies more than 13,000 casualties (more than half of them American) but resulted in a 400-mile advance that liberated virtually all of southern France. It also hurried the introduction of Free French troops into combat and opened additional ports for supporting the drive across France into Germany. It also netted 79,000 German prisoners and sped the collapse of the Third Reich.


On 4 August 1943, a new French army came into being, consisting of eight infantry divisions, four armored divisions, four regiment-sized groups of French North African troops, six commando battalions, and one parachute regiment. Under the terms of an inter-Allied agreement, the United States assumed responsibility for rearming, reequipping, training, and supplying the French forces. Language problems and the emphasis on fielding the greatest number of combat units possible at the expense of support units were the most prominent obstacles encountered. Other problems arose over weapons (the French never received the excellent U. S. M1 Garand rifle) and supplies (the French never received tanker jackets and, more seriously, initially received a smaller ration scale than American troops). Eventually most problems were resolved.

A French Expeditionary Corps of five divisions was formed on 18 May 1943. Commanded by Major General Juin and sent to Italy in late 1943 and early 1944, it was instrumental in winning the Fourth Battle of Cassino, outflanking the German position by moving through the mountains as Juin suggested. A reinforced Free French division liberated the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Elba in September 1943 and June 1944, respectively.

On 15 August 1944, what became the French First Army under Major General Jean Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny landed in southern France as part of the U. S. Sixth Army in Operation DRAGOON. Its eight divisions and 200,000 men fought their way up the Rhone Valley, arriving on the right flank of U. S. Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s Third Army. The French First Army advanced into southwest Germany, and by the end of the war it had reached the Tyrol in western Austria. In addition, Major General Philippe Leclerc’s Free French 2nd Armored Division served with the U. S. First Army, liberated Paris, and joined the French First Army in February 1945. By the end of the war, the rebuilt French air force consisted of 25 fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance squadrons equipped with American and British aircraft. The Free French navy, which initially consisted of only three ships, had grown by war’s end to a total of 240 warships.

At a cost of 23,500 killed and 95,500 wounded, the Free French Forces demonstrated a will to fight that impressed their Allied counterparts. Although it was significant, the Free French contribution to the Allied victory in Europe is not generally recognized.

Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny, (1889–1952)

In September 1943, de Lattre escaped from Riom Prison, evading capture with the help of the maquis (guerrillas), until he was evacuated to England on 17 October.

On reporting to the head of the Free French government in Algiers, General Charles de Gaulle, de Lattre took charge of training French forces in North Africa. He then commanded French troops in the June 1944 invasion of Elba. He led the Free French First Army into southern France in Operation DRAGOON, and his subsequent capture of the fortified ports of Toulon and Marseille proved a brilliant feat of arms. The First Army fought on the Allied right flank through Alsace. By occupying territory technically within the Allied boundaries, de Lattre reached the Franco-German border abreast of the Americans, rather than behind them as he had been ordered. Among his successes was the capture of the fortress of Belfort at a cost of only 1,000 French casualties. He then pushed nine divisions into Germany by the armistice, helping to secure for France a substantial role in the postwar occupation of Germany.

References Breur, William B. Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France. Navato, CA: Presidio Press, 1987. Harrison, Gordon A. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations: Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1951. MacDonald, Charles B. The Mighty Endeavor: American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Matloff, Maurice. United States Army in World War II, The War Department: Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944. Washington, DC: U. S. Army, Center of Military History, 1959. Wilt, Alan F. The French Riviera Campaign of August 1944. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981.


Japan Triumphant, December 1941 to Spring 1942

Between December 1941 and early 1942, while Japan made its lightning conquest of Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, its navy and army appeared invincible to the Allies. Indeed, the Japanese victories owed themselves largely to skilful planning, along with the tactical and technological efficiency of their armed forces. The weak state of the US and British Empire also played an important part in facilitating Japan’s successes. Yet, as early as March 1942, the high command had to contend with many of the weaknesses which plagued its war machine, the most important of which was that neither the IJN nor IJA had the capacity to defeat the Western powers in a prolonged conflict. The Imperial forces were overstretched, and America had not been knocked out of the war. On the contrary, the US was preparing to strike back, and most importantly, it possessed the industrial resources to build a military force that was far superior to anything the Japanese could deploy. Yet the military leadership failed to comprehend the predicament it faced, and maintained that Japan could deal a crippling blow on its opponents and thereafter secure its conquests against enemy invasions. The misperception led the Japanese to embark on a number of failed ventures in the Indian Ocean and Pacific areas which eventually culminated with the IJN’s defeat at Midway in June 1942. The latter encounter was arguably the single battle which turned the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor, and emasculated Japan’s capacity to conduct further territorial conquests.


Reasons for Japanese Successes

The success achieved by the Imperial navy and army in securing control over an area stretching thousands of miles from Burma, all the way through the East Indies to the islands of the Pacific, in such a short period of time can be attributed to effective strategic and operational planning on the part of the high command, coupled with the fighting skill of the Japanese forces at the battlefront level. In addition, the poor level of preparedness which the Allied defenders demonstrated in areas such as Malaya and the Philippines played a distinct role in helping the invaders.

At the strategic and operational levels, the Japanese succeeded primarily because the navy managed to attain complete command over both the sea and airspace in the areas they intended to conquer. Furthermore, the IJN made good use of its limited strength by concentrating on key positions in the western Pacific. Throughout the period prior to the war, the navy strived to develop a way to optimize its resources. Commanders realized that a numerically inferior fleet had to rely on the element of surprise if it was to have any prospect of defeating its opponents, and focused on commencing wars with a preemptive strike. The idea was to destroy the American fleet before it could threaten Japan’s home waters. Indeed, the Pearl Harbor operation was among the most notable examples of how the attacking side could use secrecy and deception to catch the defenders off guard and inflict a devastating blow. With the navy able to achieve supremacy over the Pacific regions, the IJA could be assured that transports were able to carry troops to the areas of operations without facing any significant Allied interference. The army was also supported by a secure supply line which stretched back to the home islands. This meant that once onshore, troops received a steady flow of reinforcements and equipment to sustain their advance.

Japanese operational planning was also helped by an efficient intelligence network. For example, Colonel Tsuji Masanobu, chief of the Twenty-fifth Army’s operations staff, recalled how his officers conducted a detailed survey of the landing beaches in Malaya, and meticulously verified the possible routes for the inland advance. Japanese agents also carried out sabotage operations, destroying installations such as air bases, oilfields, and railway lines in a systematic manner. Equally impressive were their subversive activities. Winning the hearts and minds of the indigenous people in Southeast Asia had been a key objective for years. By the time the war broke out, the intelligence services had forged connections with key leaders of the Nationalist movements in most of the European colonies, and extensively spread anti-Western propaganda to the local population. As a result, the invasion received widespread local support. When the Imperial army entered the East Indies and Philippines, the colonial administrations collapsed almost overnight. In Malaya, thousands of Indian troops deserted the British army, and joined forces with the conquerors.

The Imperial forces also successfully devised tactics and weapons which enabled them to out-maneuver their opponents. In particular, the navy demonstrated how it had made a fruitful effort to develop the fighting capacity to secure control over the western Pacific areas. The Japanese sought to circumvent the disadvantages arising from their inability to match Western levels of ship construction, by building vessels with greater firepower and endurance. By the late 1920s, technicians and engineers had developed a number of sophisticated armaments that placed the IJN in a good position to compete with its US and British rivals. Battleships and cruisers were fitted with guns and torpedoes that outranged most of their opponents, as well as larger propulsion systems to increase their velocity and cruising radius. 6 In order to enable gun crews to deliver accurate fire, control towers were constructed with extra elevation so that they could house various pieces of equipment such as range finders, searchlight directors and firing calculators. Officers in the bridge were also able to locate their targets from a longer range. Naval ordnance performed well. The long-lance was the most advanced torpedo to be constructed for the duration of the conflict, and could hit targets up to 10,000 yards away at a speed of 45 knots. Torpedoes were also oxygen-propelled, which meant that they did not produce a wake, thereby rendering them difficult to detect. In the area of tactics, the Imperial fleet developed innovative ways of using modern technologies. Crews were adept at conducting night operations. This was an aspect which most navies, including the British and Americans, had neglected, mainly because maneuvers under the cover of darkness were deemed to be too complicated. Radio silence was also maintained in order to avoid revealing the ships’ positions. The Japanese fleet’s advantages became fully apparent at the Battle of the Java Sea, when they frequently managed to locate and sink Allied forces before the latter could react.

The IJN also made a painstaking effort to build up its air power. Under the 1937 fleet replenishment program, the 25,000 ton carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, were constructed. In the same year, the navy air staff established the specifications for the Zero fighter, which was designed to fly with greater range, speed, and maneuverability than any rival interceptor. Mitsubishi was commissioned to construct the new fighter, and by September 1940, the first completed machine entered service in China. As a result, the Japanese were able to attain control over the skies in the areas where they conquered, and eliminate their opponents’ air forces. Bombardment operations were also carried out effectively. Aircraft manufacturers assembled a number of bomber types which launched torpedo and aerial attacks with a high level of accuracy. Naval pilots in particular were well trained, and demonstrated their capacity to take out enemy vessels both in port as well as in the open sea. The sinking of the British capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse off the coast of Malaya demonstrated the skill and accuracy of Japanese bombardment techniques. Aircrews often used several types of maneuvers in conjunction in an effort to overwhelm the defenders. Horizontal bombers initiated the raid, attracting the attention of anti-aircraft crews. Torpedo planes and dive bombers then followed, and were often able to operate without interference. Pilots pressed home their raids, even when they faced opposition. The result was often a highly efficient bombing pattern. The naval air service also provided support for the amphibious operations in the Dutch East Indies and Malaya, with good results. Flying boats conducted reconnaissance missions, while heavy air attacks were launched to take out communications facilities and coastal defense batteries. In order to achieve air superiority over the vicinity of the landing beaches and thus protect the landing parties from aerial opposition, the Japanese undertook to neutralize the nearby aerodromes.

Although the Imperial army was not as technologically advanced as the navy, its tactics nevertheless showed finesse. The most decisive advantage was the maneuverability and fighting skill of Japanese infantry units. In the area of amphibious operations, landing parties rarely faced troubles in securing a foothold on their objectives. The Japanese developed suitable equipment, including landing craft with hinged bows that allowed the quick unloading of troops and supplies. In Malaya, amphibious forces often chose beaches which the defending forces had considered unsuitable for landings, owing to the steep gradient and choppy tidewater. Adverse terrain and weather were not an obstacle, and on the contrary, the Japanese deliberately carried out their operations in such conditions so that they could appear where their opponents least expected an attack. The army also proved adept at conducting overland advances, particularly in the jungle terrain which prevailed in the Far East. Troops did not depend on motorized transport, and could overcome any natural feature, including hills, wooded country, and river crossings. By doing so, the attackers circumvented the main roads, where Allied forces had concentrated their defenses. Within days after the landing at Malaya, the IJA’s skilful outflanking moves left British forces with few choices apart from withdrawing and consolidating themselves in more tenable positions at the southern portion of the peninsula. The Japanese also regularly infiltrated their enemy’s positions. In the Philippines, small parties often broke through the gaps in the US army’s lines, remaining silent, and waited for reinforcements to arrive until a sufficient force was gathered to launch a small assault. Firecrackers and other types of ruses were then set off to confuse the defending troops over the location of the attacking force. Thereafter, the invaders overwhelmed the disoriented American soldiers by launching a full-scale advance. The Imperial army was also aided by the strong morale which prevailed within its rank and file. Troops conducted their advances with little concern for losses, and demonstrated an unquestioned dedication towards their organization. Lieutenant-General Hutton, who commanded the British forces in Burma, noted that the fundamental cause for the Japanese success was the extent to which soldiers had been imbued with an “offensive spirit.”

Finally, the Imperial forces were aided because the defending Allied forces were in a weak state. In regard to naval and air forces, the British and Americans not only lacked adequate strengths, but were poorly equipped and inefficiently trained. Part of the problem was that Western personnel held condescending views of the Japanese, and thought that the latter were incapable of putting up a serious contest. A more serious problem stemmed from the fact that the bulk of the Allied navies and air services were committed to the Atlantic theater, which meant the Pacific areas could not be defended with large forces. The most scathing criticisms, however, were directed at the armies. In many cases, the Americans and British outnumbered the Japanese, but lacked the tactical skill to forestall the invaders. Troops were inept at fighting in undeveloped country. In order to ensure that their positions could be defended, soldiers had to adopt more imaginative methods. Many British army officers conceded that their traditional procedures of employing fixed defenses were unlikely to work if the positions could be bypassed and were not held with adequate strength. Defending forces needed to conduct an aggressive patrol of their surroundings, and in situations where difficult terrain restricted the use of motorized transport, the proper deployment of foot soldiers was vital.

Allied commanders also conceded that their failures were due to a prevailing lack of discipline. A US officer who served in the Philippines noted how the morale of troops was unsatisfactory, and insisted that soldiers needed to undergo a “spiritual training” along the lines of the Japanese, in order to develop a more aggressive attitude. Likewise, General Pownall pondered how British troops were overly dependent on creature comforts and held an aversion to strenuous work, both of which gave rise to a situation where training was conducted without preparing troops for battle conditions. Western personnel who lacked the fortitude to fight in the trying conditions which prevailed in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the islands of the western Pacific were simply no match for the efficiently trained Japanese army, whose troops held a high level of stamina.

Mercenaries – During the Middle Ages

The “Saubannerzug”, an irregular military formation carrying a wild boar and a club on its banner, aproaching the City of Bern in 1477 A.D.

Professional soldiers (or sailors) who fought for pay or plunder, not for any national or religious cause or because they were conscripts. Mercenaries have been found garrisoning forts or on the battlefield almost as long as men have made war: they marched alongside Roman Legions as auxiliaries, and fought against them; Song emperors deployed mercenaries in China in distant garrisons and used them in field armies from the 12th century; they guarded the great trans-Saharan trade routes for the African slave empires of Mali and Songhay; they fought for the Crusader states of the Holy Land, as well as against them in several Muslim armies. The Aztec Empire was built in blood by a ruthless people who began as tributary soldiers in the paid service of a more advanced and wealthy city-state, Tepaneca, in the Central Valley of Mexico. In parts of Medieval Europe primogeniture ensured that many young men were forced to turn to arms to earn a living. This produced the necessary forces to eventually defeat the great waves of invasions over some 600 years by Vikings, Mongols, Arabs, and other warlike raiders. A growing surfeit of warriors produced by a whole society structured for war but with a newly rising population was then sent off to fight the Crusades, while others went mercenary and fought ever closer bound to the king’s war chest at home.

The collapse of the monetary economy in Western Europe following the fall of Rome left just two areas where gold coin was still used in the 10th century: southern Italy and southern Spain (al-Andalus). Ready gold drew mercenaries to wars in those regions as carrion creatures draw near dead flesh. Also able to pay in coin for military specialists and hardened veterans was the Byzantine Empire, along with the Muslim states it opposed and fought for several centuries. The rise of mercenaries in Western Europe in the 11th century as a money economy resumed disturbed the social order and was received with wrath and dismay by the clergy and service nobility. Early forms of monetary service did not necessarily involve straight wages. They included fief money and scutage. But by the end of the 13th century paid military service was the norm in Europe. This meant that local bonds were forming in many places and a concomitant sense of “foreignness” attached to long-service soldiers. Mercenaries were valued for their military expertise but now feared and increasingly despised for their perceived moral indifference to the causes for which they fought. Ex-mercenary bands (routiers, Free Companies) were commonplace in France in the 12th century and a social and economic scourge wherever they moved during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). Their main weapon was the crossbow, on land and at sea. In the galley wars of the Mediterranean many Genoese, Pisan, and Venetian crossbowmen hired out as specialist marine archers. Much of the Reconquista in Spain was fueled by the mercenary impulse and concomitant necessity for armies to live off the land. The hard methods and cruel attitudes learned by Iberians while fighting Moors were then applied in the Americas by quasi-mercenary conquistadores. Mercenaries- “condottieri,” or foreign “contractors”-also played a major part in the wars of the city-states of the Italian Renaissance.

French “gen d’armes” and Swiss pikemen and halberdiers fought for Lorraine at Nancy (1477). By the start of the 15th century Swiss companies hired out with official Cantonal approval or as free bands who elected their officers and went to Italy to fight as condottieri. With the end of the wars of the Swiss Confederation against France and Burgundy, Swiss soldiers of fortune formed a company known as “das torechte Leben” (roughly, “the mad life”) and fought for pay under a Banner displaying a town idiot and a pig. Within four years of Nancy some 6,000 Swiss were hired by Louis XI. In 1497, Charles VIII (“The Affable”) of France engaged 100 Swiss halberdiers as his personal bodyguard (“Garde de Cent Suisses”). In either form, the Swiss became the major mercenary people of Europe into the 16th century. “Pas d’argent, pas de Suisses” (“no money, no Swiss”) was a baleful maxim echoed by many sovereigns and generals. Mercenaries of all regional origins filled out the armies of Charles V, and those of his son, Philip II, as well as their enemies during the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries. By that time Swiss mercenaries who still used pikes (and many did) were largely employed to guard the artillery or trenches or supplies. Similarly, by the late 16th century German Landsknechte were still hired for battle as shock troops but they were considered undisciplined and perfectly useless in a siege.

In Poland in the 15th century most mercenaries were Bohemians who fought under the flag of St. George, which had a red cross on a white background. When Bohemian units found themselves on opposite sides of a battlefield they usually agreed that one side would adopt a white cross on a red background while their countrymen on the other side used the standard red-on-white flag of St. George. In the Polish-Prussian and Teutonic Knights campaigns of the mid-15th century the Brethren-by this point too few to do all their own fighting-hired German, English, Scots, and Irish mercenaries to fill out their armies. During the “War of the Cities” (1454-1466) German mercenaries were critical to the victory of the Teutonic Knights at Chojnice (September 18, 1454). When the Order ran out of money, however, Bohemian soldiers-for-hire who held the key fortress and Teutonic capital of Marienburg for the Knights sold it to a besieging Polish army and departed, well paid and unscathed by even a token fight.

The social and economic dislocations caused by confessional ferocity during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) forced many men into the profession of arms, especially if they came from the fringe peoples of Europe or borderlands such as Scotland, Ireland, or the Balkans, where wars of raid and counter-raid were endemic. Thus, when a “Swedish” army assaulted Frankfurt- on-the-Oder a Scots Brigade made the attack against a defending “Imperial” Army made up wholly of Irishmen under Colonel Walter Butler. In fact, the great bulk of European armies during the first half of the 17th century were comprised of mercenaries who owed little ethnic, class, or religious loyalty to the causes for which they fought. This was because kings and great captains owed such men little more than pay, out of which soldiers were expected to buy their own food, weapons, clothing, and provide shelter. In some armies musketeers were even expected to buy their own black powder, so of course they were loathe to spend it on combat. Even this primitive system was subject to great abuse and corruption as quartermasters and colonels skimmed payrolls, troops exposed themselves to minimal danger, and captains used their tactical skills to escape rather than win battles. One result was a tendency for armies to maneuver constantly, eating out enemy territory rather than seeking out combat. The mercenary presence on the battlefield thus led to fewer pitched battles but much longer wars, conditions which best satisfied the interest of military professionals in prolonged but also cautious and relatively non-sanguinary service. During the Thirty Years’ War many top officers were mercenaries, notably on the Habsburg side under Wallenstein. Not all were Catholics-Wallenstein himself was an agnostic mystic. They came from Scotland, England, Ireland, the Swiss cantons, and the many overrun and warring German states. In 1500 most European armies contained about one-third mercenary troops. Shortly after Gustavus Adolphus intervened in the Thirty Years’ War 130 years later his “Swedish Army” had become, through casualties and new recruitment, 80 percent foreign mercenaries wrapped around a core of Swedish veterans.

Among the most important effects of large numbers of greatly skilled, highly mobile, and utterly disloyal mercenaries, combined with the lethality of the cannons and firearms they employed, was to so threaten any self-respecting sovereign that it became essential to establish standing armies to protect the dynasty and realm. The answer to the anarchy, terror, and destruction caused by “Free Companies” of heavily armed and homeless men all over Europe thus became the law of kings. This was then enforced by soldiers in royal service who dressed in the king’s colors, were paid regularly and sheltered year-round in barracks, who had stables for their mounts, magazines full of shot and powder, and national foundries and small arms industries to supply military needs. In short, the answer to mercenary anarchy was the modern state.

Suggested Reading: S. Brown, “The Mercenary and his Master,” History, 74 (1989); K. A. Fowler, Medieval Mercenaries, Vol. 1 (2001); M. E. Mallett, Mercenaries and Their Masters (1974); J. F. Verbruggen, The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages (1977); David Worthington, Scots in Habsburg Service, 1618-1648 (2004).

Pistola Automatica Beretta modello 1934

Beretta automatics were amongst the most sought after of war trophies. Although of excellent design, they were really too light to be effective service pistols, but as personal weapons to officers they were highly prized.

The little Pistola Automatica Beretta modello 1934 is one of the joys of the pistol collector’s world, for it is one of those pistols that has its own built-in attraction. It was adopted as the standard Italian army service pistol in 1934, but it was then only the latest step in a long series of automatic pistols that could be traced back as far as 1915. In that year numbers of a new pistol design were produced to meet the requirements of the expanding Italian army, and although the Pistola Automatica Beretta modello 1915 was widely used it was never officially accepted as a service model, These original Beretta had a calibre of 7.65mm, although a few were made in 9 mm short, the cartridge that was to be the ammunition for the later modello 1934.

After 1919 other Beretta pistols appeared, all of them following the basic Beretta design. By the time the modello 1934 appeared the ‘classic’ appearance had been well established with the snub outline and the front of the cutaway receiver wrapped around the forward part of the barrel to carry the fixed foresight. The short pistol grip held only seven rounds and thus to ensure a better grip the characteristic ‘spur’ was carried over from a design introduced back in 1919. The operation used by the mechanisms was a conventional blowback without frills or anything unusual, but although the receiver was held open once the magazine was empty it moved forward again as soon as the magazine was removed for reloading (most pistols of this type keep the receiver slide open until the magazine has been replaced). The modello 1934 did have an exposed hammer which was not affected by the safety once applied, so although the trigger was locked when the safety was applied the hammer could be cocked either by hand or by accident, an unfortunate feature in an otherwise sound design.

In honor of Benito Mussolini’s assumption of power, fascist-era Model 1934s are not only stamped with their date of production in Arabic letters but also the year of Il Duce’s rule in Roman numerals.

It is light and compact, weighing just 1.25 pounds, and measures 6 inches in overall length. Its simple blowback mechanism functions smoothly, and its exposed hammer allows it to be lowered on a loaded chamber for safer carrying. A catch on the bottom of the grip secures the seven-round magazine that is equipped with a finger extension to aid steadier aiming. The Model 1934 is also chambered for a much more efficient cartridge than most earlier Italian service pistols. Known in Italy as the caliber 9mm corto (short) cartridge, the Model 1934’s loading is also known as the 9mm Kurz in Germany and the caliber .380 ACP in the United States. Although not as powerful as the 9mm Parabellum, it is ideal for such a compact weapon and much more powerful in its ballistics than such cartridges as the popular caliber 7.65mm (.32 ACP). The Model 1934 was also used by Romanian and Finnish troops during World War II. Actual usage of the Model 1934 by Italian troops during World War II did little to prove its value as a combat weapon.

The modello 1934 was almost always produced to an excellent standard of manufacture and finish, and the type became a sought-after trophy of war. Virtually the entire production run was taken for use by the Italian army, but there was a modello 1935 in 7.65 mm which was issued to the Italian air force and navy. Apart from its calibre this variant was identical to the modello 1934, The Germans used the type as the Pistole P671(i). Despite its overall success the modello 1934 was technically underpowered, but it is still one of the most famous of all pistols used during World War II.


Beretta modello 1934

Caliber: 9mm Corto (.380 ACP)

Operation: blowback

Length overall: 152mm (6″)

Barrel length: 94mm (3.7″)

Weight empty: 680g (24 oz)

Magazine capacity: 7

Muzzle velocity: c. 251 mps (825 fps)

Dual-Mounted 6-pdr, 10-cwt Mk1 Twin

Adopted in 1937 and designed for defense against smaller and faster vessels, the dual-mounted 6-pdr, 10-cwt Mk1 Twin had caliber 57mm barrels with semiautomatic vertical sliding breech mechanisms. The Mk1 fired a 6-pound shell up to 5,151 yards.

Twin 6-pdr coastal guns. The short range of these guns was more than compensated for by their high rate of fire which made them very effective against MTB attacks. ‘Twin Sixes’ totally disrupted such an attack by the Italians on Malta in July 1941, sinking five boats in two minutes.

By the middle 1920s, however, some rationalization became necessary and the three roles previously referred to were firmly laid down. While numbers of the 4.7-in (‘120-mm) guns remained in use, it was considered that the 6-in (152-mm) guns could take care of most armoured vessels, but what was needed was a fast-firing weapon to deal with motorboats. After experimenting with 2- pdr pom-poms, a design of two-barrelled 6-pdr was developed, with the two guns carried side-by-side in an armoured turret.

Gun control was entirely by data transmitted from an observing station, with gun sights provided for emergency use only. The guns were capable of being moved in relation to the sights, so that the gun captain could adjust them to cater for aim-off while the gunlayers attended strictly to their dials. Two teams of gunners hand-loaded the guns and a firing rate of 120 rds/min was possible. These ‘twin sixes’ totally disrupted an Italian torpedo-boat raid on Malta in July 1941, sinking five boats in two minutes. In the years after the Second World War the coast defences were maintained for some time, but eventually it was appreciated that a 9.2-in (234-mm) gun in a concrete pit was of little use against an ICBM and in 1956 the coast branch of the Royal Artillery was disbanded and the guns scrapped.


On July 24, the merchant ships entered Grand Harbour accompanied by a number of destroyers and unloaded 65,000 tons of stores. The cargoes included 2,000 tons of frozen meat, 2,000 tons of edible oil and large quantities of sugar, coffee, tea and fats to last till October.

The Xa Flottiglia MAS, the elite unit of the Italian navy, the Regia Marina, planned a surprise attack on the ships in harbour, which fortunately failed.

On July 25, 1941, at about 10.30 p.m. the RAF radar station AMES 502 atop Madliena detected a large vessel about 45 nautical miles to the north-north-east of Malta. It was the Diana, which half-an-hour later unloaded ten MT barchini. She then retired northwards while the Xa Flottiglia MAS boats began their trip towards Malta. The route was directly southward and at about 2.10 a.m. the next day they stopped five miles north-east of Valletta.

The various craft approached Grand Harbour slowly so as not to alert the defences with their engine noises. The attack started at 4.45 a.m., but the first explosion occurred three minutes later, when a barchino hit another one; the two of them exploded and destroyed half the break-water bridge (which has just been reconstructed).

This is how Charles Grech describes the attack in his book Raiders Passed:

“It was now about 4.45 a.m. We had almost arrived near the Chalet pier, when there was what felt like a minor earthquake, followed by an explosion which seemed to come from the direction of the entrance to Grand Harbour. The searchlights of the coastal forts were lit. One of them shone from the old Sliema Point Battery close by and this was immediately followed by gunfire in a seaward direction.

“We glimpsed a small object racing on the surface of the water, illuminated by searchlights. At first, we thought this was some practice shoot because before the war, there had often been such shoots on small targets, towed by motor launches. However, that explosion soon caused us to think otherwise…”

After the first explosion, the guns of Fort St Elmo, Fort Ricasoli aided by those of Fort St Rocco destroyed or immobilised most of the craft.

At 5.40 a.m. about 30 Hurricanes took off to attack the survivors. In the attack 16 Italians were killed, 18 were taken prisoner and 11 returned to Sicily.







Scharnhorst and Gneisenau 1914

SMS Scharnhorst at sea.

Admiral von Spee’s squadron in line ahead off Chile in late November 1914: SMS Scharnhorst (the most distant ship), SMS Gneisenau, SMS Leipzig, SMS Nürnberg and SMS Dresden (in the foreground)

German armoured cruiser class, built 1904- 08. Two large cruisers, D and C, were authorized in 1904; they were launched respectively as Scharnhorst by Blohm und Voss on March 22, 1906, and Gneisenau by AG Weser on June 14 the same year. They were the last classic armoured cruisers built for the German navy.

In every respect they were a great improvement over previous German cruisers ¬and compared well with foreign contemporaries. However, the British ‘Dreadnought’ armoured cruisers of the Invincible Class rendered them obsolete by the time they were completed.

Upon completion, both ships were sent to the German colony of Tsingtau in China. In 1914 the Scharnhorst served as flagship for Commander of the East Asiatic Squadron Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee. Charged with protecting German territory in the Pacific, the squadron was regarded as the most efficient and effective in the Imperial German Navy, with long-service officers and sailors. When war began in August 1914, Spee sailed with his command from Ponape Island to avoid certain destruction by superior British and Japanese forces. He attacked Allied shipping while sailing eastward toward South America, determined to return the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau to Germany by way of Cape Horn.

On 1 November 1914, Spee’s squadron encountered an inferior British squadron under Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock off the Chilean port of Coronel. The Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau quickly sank two armored cruisers in a stunning embarrassment for the Royal Navy. London dispatched additional ships to intercept Spee, including the new battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible. On 8 December 1914, this force under Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee pursued Spee’s squadron off the Falkland Islands and sank both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in a four-hour battle.

Battle of Coronel, (1 November 1914)

Key early World War I naval battle between the Royal Navy and the German East Asia Squadron. With the outbreak of war in August 1914, German Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee moved his East Asia Squadron of the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers Nürnberg, Dresden, and Leipzig from Tsingtao to Easter Island. There he learned that British Vice Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock’s flagship Good Hope, another armored cruiser, the Monmouth, and the light cruiser Glasgow were nearby.

The Royal Navy was aware of Spee’s presence in the area. Cradock feared that the Germans would attack the Falkland Islands, the English Bank, and the Abrolhos coaling bases, and he telegraphed London requesting that strong Royal Navy units be positioned on both coasts of South America.

The Admiralty denied the request. Instead, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered out the old battleship Canopus, armed with 4 × 12-inch guns, despite Cradock’s protest that she would slow his squadron’s speed to only 12 knots. It was unclear how Cradock would be able to engage and defeat Spee’s squadron, which was capable of 20 knots. Besides, the battleship’s guns were of an early type that could not outrange Spee’s smaller guns, and her gun crews were reservists who had not had an opportunity to practice firing. The Canopus arrived at the Falklands on 22 October and underwent maintenance there to improve her speed.

Cradock, meanwhile, left the Canopus at Port Stanley and began a search for what he assumed to be a single German ship, the Leipzig. At the same time, the Germans were hunting the Glasgow, which Cradock had detached to Coronel on 27 October under orders that she rendezvous with the rest of the squadron on 1 November. This situation, where each side was searching for a single enemy ship, brought the two enemy squadrons together off the west coast of South America, near Coronel.

At 4:40 p.m. on November 1 during his northward search for the Leipzig, Cradock’s ships sighted the German cruiser squadron. Although the two squadrons were approximately equal in total firepower, the Germans held a clear advantage. The Good Hope had 2 × 9.2-inch guns at bow and stern, and 16 × 6-inch guns; it was the only ship in the squadron with guns of that size. None of the other ships in Cradock’s squadron had guns larger than 6 inches; without the Canopus, Cradock was at a grave disadvantage.

The German force, on the other hand, had more long-range guns. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau each mounted 8 × 8.2-inch guns with a maximum range of 13,500 meters. These were the weapons that would decide the outcome of the battle. At 6:34 p.m. the Germans opened the action at 12,300 meters, barely within the 12,500-meter range of Cradock’s largest guns. Within minutes the Otranto sheered out of action; at 6:50 the Monmouth fell out of line, damaged and helpless, and 33 minutes later the Germans hit the Good Hope, which exploded. At 7:26 the German cruisers ceased fire. The Good Hope sank at about 10:00 p.m., with her total complement of 900 aboard, including Cradock.

Of the three ships in the British squadron, the Monmouth drifted until about 12:00, when the Nürnberg located and sank her in the darkness. Her total complement of 675 men was lost. Only the Glasgow and Otranto were able to escape into the night.

The Battle of Coronel was a demoralizing setback for the Admiralty and the entire British nation. The loss of two elderly cruisers could hardly affect the naval balance, but the news shocked Britain, as the public had not expected a defeat of this magnitude. German losses were trifling. More serious was the expenditure of 42 percent of the squadron’s 8.2-inch ammunition, which could not be replaced from Germany.

There was some fear in London that Spee would steam around Cape Horn and attack the vulnerable British naval installations. A month later, however, Vice Admiral F. D. Sturdee’s battle cruisers caught and defeated Spee’s squadron in the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Battle of the Falklands, (8 December 1914)

World War I naval battle. Following his victory in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914, Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee, commanding the German East Asia Squadron, decided to leave the southeast Pacific Ocean. Spee planned to move his squadron—consisting of the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and light cruisers Dresden, Leipzig, and Nürnberg—into the southwest Atlantic Ocean to meet a supply ship. After arriving in the Strait of Magellan, Spee decided to attack the Falkland Islands, burn coal stored there, and destroy the wireless station.

Meanwhile, in response to the humiliating loss at Coronel, the British Admiralty sent out additional naval assets to Port Stanley in the Falklands. Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee’s force arrived at Port Stanley on 7 December 1914. He had the modern battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible, along with the cruisers Carnarvon, Bristol, Kent, Glasgow, and Cornwall, and the auxiliary cruiser Macedonia. The old battleship Canopus was positioned on a mud flat near the harbor’s entrance to serve as a stationary fortress.

As his ships approached the Falkland Islands early on 8 December, Spee detached the Gneisenau and Nürnberg to conduct the raid. His remaining ships would search for British warships. At about 8:30 a.m. Sturdee received word of the German approach.

At Port Stanley some of the cruisers were undergoing repairs, and others were coaling. The smoke from ships trying to raise steam caught the attention of the captain of the Gneisenau as the German raiders neared the harbor mouth. Frantically, the German ships turned away as salvoes from the Canopus splashed near them. Sturdee set out in pursuit at 9:45 a.m., leaving the Kent and the Macedonia behind.

The Invincible and Inflexible were faster than the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and soon overtook them. Reversing the circumstances of Coronel, the British had the advantage in heavier, longer range guns (12-inch on the battle cruisers versus 8.2-inch on the German armored cruisers). Sturdee used this to his advantage, fighting a long-range battle that the Germans could not win.

Sturdee opened fire on the trailing German cruisers just before 1:00 p.m., whereupon Spee ordered his light cruisers to disperse and attempt to escape. Sturdee sent his own cruisers in pursuit of them, while his battle cruisers chased down the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The Scharnhorst was first to sink; the Gneisenau, crippled, was scuttled.

In the battle between the German light cruisers and the heavier British cruisers, only the Dresden escaped. She remained at large for over three months before being scuttled off Chile on 14 March 1915. Sturdee’s force suffered only 6 killed and 15 wounded. Only 157 Germans survived from the ships that had been sunk; some 2,000 were lost.

The Battle of the Falklands ended the one major surface threat to the Royal Navy that was outside the North Sea.


Displacement: 11,616 tons (normal), 12985 tons (full load)

Length: 144.6 m (474 ft 5 in) oa

Beam: 21.6 m (70 ft 11 in)

Draught: 8.37 m (27 ft 6 in) max

Machinery: 3-shaft reciprocating steam, 26000 ihp=22.5 knots

Armament: 8 21-cm (8.2- in) L/40 (2×2, 4×1); 6 15-cm (5.9-in) L/40 (6×1); 18 8.8-cm (3.46-in) L/35 (18×1); 4 45-cm (17.7- in) torpedo tubes (submerged; 1 bow, 1 stern, 2 beam)

Crew: 764 (840 as flagship)






Brigadier General John Nicholson


Brigadier General John Nichols on was a dynamic, charismatic, and indefatigable Bengal Army leader, worshiped by some locals as a god named Nikalsain. He distinguished himself during the Indian Mutiny and was killed leading the attack on Delhi.

Nicholson was born in Ireland in December 1822 and was educated at Dungannon College. He received a Bengal Army cadet ship in 1839 and served in the First Afghan War. Nicholson participated in the defense of Ghazni and was taken prisoner when the garrison surrendered on 1 March 1842, although he escaped by bribing a guard. He was later appointed political officer in various regions and was assigned to the British force during the Second Sikh War. After this conflict, Nicholson became deputy commissioner of the Bannu district, where he earned a reputation as a strict but fair disciplinarian. He reportedly personally pursued criminals and displayed their severed heads on his desk.

When the Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, Nicholson was deputy commissioner of Peshawar. Actions were taken immediately to dis arm suspect native regiments, secure arsenals, and safeguard key positions. Nichols on was given command of the Punjab Moveable Column and advanced toward Delhi, disarming wavering sepoys and hanging mutineers en route.

Nicholson’s column reinforced British forces, commanded by Brigadier General Archdale Wilson, on the Delhi Ridge on 14 August 1857. On 7 September 1857, the British began preparations for besieging Delhi, which they eventually stormed. The attack on Delhi, with Nichols on leading the main column and designated the overall assault force commander, began early on 14 September. The Kashmir Gate was captured, but a number of attempts to seize the Lahore Gate were unsuccessful. Nicholson then waved his sword above his head and faced his soldiers to exhort them to follow him. As he did so, his back was momentarily presented to the rebels, who shot him. His wound was fatal, although he lingered until 23 September.

References: Edwardes (1963); Hibbert (1978); Hilton (1957); Leasor (1956); Waller (1990)


Gurkhas and British Army units, as well as the Punjab Moveable Column commanded by the inspiring Brigadier General John Nicholson, arrived in Delhi by 14 August 1857 and increased the size of the Delhi Field Force by 4,200 men. The slow-moving British siege train reached Delhi on 4 September 1857, and the siting of the artillery began on 7 September. The following day, the British artillery barrage began, and the intense fire breached the Delhi city walls in a number of locations. The British force, divided into five columns, attacked Delhi early on 14 September. The first three columns (1st Column: 75th Foot, 1st Bengal Fusiliers, and 2nd Punjab Infantry, totaling 1,000 men; 2nd Column, consisting of 8th Foot, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, and 4th Sikhs, 850 men total; and 3rd Column: 52nd Foot, Kumaon Regiment, and 1st Punjab Infantry, totaling 950 soldiers) were under Nicholson’s overall command, and their mission was to seize the Water Bastion and then the Kashmir Gate. The 4th Column (Sirmur Battalion, Guides’ Infantry, and a composite force of pickets, totaling 850 men, with 1,000 soldiers of the Kashmir Contingent in reserve), commanded by Major Charles Reid, was to cover the right flank of Nicholson’s force and capture the suburb of Kishangunj. Brigadier General Longfield’s 1,000-man 5th Column (61st Foot, 4th Punjab Infantry, and the Baluch Battalion) remained in reserve.

The British assault began on 14 September 1857 under a hail of rebel musketry fire and grapeshot, and a foothold was gained in the city after severe British losses, including the charismatic Nicholson. The Kashmir Gate was blown by sappers and created a significant breach in the walls. Confusion, poor coordination, and hard fighting followed. By the evening of 14 September, the British had established a foothold in the city, but at a cost of 66 officers and 1,104 men killed and wounded. After six days of determined (and occasionally drunken) urban fighting with no quarter given on either side, the British captured Delhi, suffering a tot al of 1,574 officers and men killed and wounded during the operation. The advance, according to many junior officers, was characterized by “the utmost incompetence” (Hibbert 1978, p. 310).The British victory was followed by looting, revenge, and the execution of mutineers.

Bahadur Shah was captured and his sons were shot after they surrendered to the British. The fall of Delhi was the turning point of the Indian Mutiny and ended mutineer dreams of a revived Mughal Empire. Moreover, it freed British troops to fight at Cawnpore and other locations.

References: Edwardes (1963); Collier (1964); Hibbert (1978); Hilton (1957); Leasor (1956)