Over the millennium of its existence, the Byzantines faced a vast array of peoples who threatened its territory and people. Several of these proved militarily superior and dealt heavy defeats on the empire. In the end, however, the Byzantines generally gained the upper hand, often through decades or even centuries of defense, stabilization, assimilation, and counterattack. The Byzantines learned a great deal from their enemies; indeed the ability to adapt to the challenges posed by opponents was one of the great pillars of Byzantine military success.


The Gothic tribal confederacies posed the most serious challenge to the late antique Roman state of any Germanic group. The Goths comprised coalitions of tribal groups, mostly from the east Germanic peoples who by the third century A.D. inhabited a vast swathe of territory from the Oder and Vistula rivers to the southern steppes of Russia, the Crimea, and the Carpathian basin. East Germanic peoples had posed a significant threat to the eastern provinces of the Roman state from the third century. In 267, Goths and Heruls burst through the Danubian defenses and ravaged Thrace and much of the Balkans, sacking Athens before the emperor Claudius Gothicus dealt them a stinging defeat in 269. Following their defeat by the Huns, large groups of Goths migrated south to the Danube where they were admitted as suppliants to Roman territory. Their provisioning was bungled due to corruption, and an underdeveloped transportation response led to starvation among the Goths and rebellion that culminated in the armed confrontation at Adrianople. At the end of the sixth century, after its recovery from the Goths, the empire had to concede the loss of most of Italy to the newly arrived Lombard confederation, whose grip on the peninsula spread throughout the seventh century. The Byzantines also entered sporadic conflicts with the Franks from the sixth century and even fought against Charlemagne (801–10) for control of the Istrian and Dalmatian coasts.


The Goths were organized in decimal units with major groupings of “hundreds” (hundafaþs) as were their Germanic relatives, the Anglo-Saxons and their Roman neighbors, whose centurions were well known to the eastern Goths. Gothic mercenaries served in the Roman army throughout the late third century, and by the time of the emperor Constantine, Gothic elements were settled in Transdanubia. By the fourth century Gothic military organization had evolved at least in part under the influence of Roman practice. Gothic tribal raiders crossed into Roman territory and proved a sufficient nuisance to attract the interest of Constantine, who waged multiple campaigns against them. By now the Goths probably included and coexisted alongside elements of several ethnic Iranians (Sarmatians), Slavs, Romano-Dacians, and Getae. The remains of a commonly articulated material culture from the second through fifth centuries (the Chernyakhov culture) indicate broad contact and exchanges; such adaptations were not always peaceful and the transferal of knowledge from one people to another certainly included warfare. According to Maurice, the “fair-haired races,” especially the Lombards, grouped themselves not into numerically ordered units but according to kin group.

Methods of Warfare

The Goths fought as both cavalry and infantry. Until the last few decades, historians have viewed the Goths as primarily a cavalry army and attributed to this their shattering victory over the infantry legions in 378 at Adrianople. Their numbers were probably never as numerous as some Roman authors would have us suppose—Heather estimates that in sixth century Italy and Gaul there were about 15,000 Gothic elite males.1 When the Gothic king Theodoric reigned over the united Gothic territories in Spain, Gaul, and Italy, his Gothic subjects numbered about 200,000 people. However, although we have few contemporary sources, the majority of Goths seem to have often fought as infantry spearmen and swordsmen. Certainly the Goths served in large numbers in the legions as infantry. At Adrianople the Goths had perhaps 5,000 cavalry and probably twice as many infantry. According to Vegetius, the Goths possessed numerous archers, who fought on foot. In the sixth century, Prokopios provided a clearer picture of the Gothic army, which fielded a large cavalry component who fought in massed formations as lancers, while the infantry seem to have been mainly skirmishers armed with javelins and archers. Other infantry fought as spearmen and swordsmen equipped with a spatha and carrying shields. Given the high casualty rate caused by Roman archery among the Goths, it is doubtful that they were more heavily armored than their Roman foes. In fact, the Goths closely resembled their late Roman counterparts.

Byzantine Adaptation

Since after Adrianople the empire was too weak to destroy the Gothic confederacies, the Romans sought to neutralize them by treaty. The emperor Theodosius recruited numerous Goths into the Roman army, as an expedient means to replenish the devastated ranks of the eastern field forces, but also as a way to weaken the Goths, whose presence in the Balkans created a state of emergency. Theodosius recruited numerous Gothic federates who fought loyally for him and of whose lives the Roman high command was apparently none too careful—a contemporary panegyrist acclaims the emperor for using barbarian to fight barbarian, thus bleeding both of them. Nonetheless the Goths formed a sizable but not dominant portion of the eastern field army. By 400 A.D. the Gothic warlord Gainas dominated imperial politics in the capital of Constantinople, but his unpopular policies led to his downfall and a riot of citizens who trapped and massacred 7,000 of his Gothic troops. The Gainas affair marked the apogee of Gothic influence in the imperial center; the Romans countered Germanic elements in the army by recruiting Isaurian highlanders from Asia Minor. Finally, the last major elements not assimilated or settled within the Roman Balkans or Asia Minor were sent to Italy under Theodoric the Amal. Justinian renewed the Gothic conflict, invading Italy and conquering it. In 554 the Roman general defeated a Frankish-Alemanni force at Volturnus through his combined arms approach—horse archery again proved a major Roman tactical advantage over the Frankish infantry force. Though the Byzantines lost most of Italy to the Lombards in the later sixth and early seventh centuries, they created the exarchate of Ravenna with several dukes under its control to check the Lombard advance. The exarch held joint civil and military power and, as viceroy of the emperor, was free to respond to crisis without direct orders from Constantinople. These reorganizations helped the Byzantines maintain territory in portions of Italy until 1071.


The most sophisticated, rich, and militarily threatening power that the Romans faced in the early part of their existence was the empire of Sasanian Persia. Founded after victory in a civil war in 226 A.D., the Sasanian dynasty ruled territory stretching from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Their propaganda declared dynastic ties to the Achaemenid Persian Empire destroyed by Alexander the Great and consequently the rights to the former Persian territories of Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Mediterranean coast. While the Sasanians acted on these grand claims on only one occasion, during the mighty conflict that raged with Rome in 603–28, clashes over strategic borderlands and satellite peoples were frequent. The frequency and intensity of these conflicts rose from a simmer to a steady boil by the sixth century, culminating in the Persian conquest of most of the Roman east in the following century.


The Sasanian shah Kosrow I (531–79) reformed the Persian military and in doing so created several Roman-style structures. Kosrow divided the empire into four army districts in which he stationed army corps under the command of four spahbeds (field marshals). Along the border, the king established margraves, marzbans, who administered sensitive border districts and commanded the frontier forces stationed there. The Eran-ambaragbed, “minister of the magazines of empire,” was, like his Roman counterpart, the praetorian prefect, in charge of arming and equipping the troops. The general (gund-salar) led individual field armies on campaign; sometimes under the authority of the spahbed. By the sixth century the army was largely professionally recruited and paid; there was a professional infantry commander in charge of standing guard units, but in the sixth century the Persians apparently continued to rely on conscripts for a large portion of their rank-and-file infantry. Mailed cavalry units and the royal guard formed the crack troops of the empire; these were generally drawn from the Persian nobility or from aristocratic allied families, such as the Hephthalites and Armenians, with whom the Persians had close contacts.

Methods of Warfare

The proportion of infantry to cavalry in the Sasanian army is unknown, but the Persians relied to a large degree on heavy horsemen, who could both shoot the bow and strike with heavy lances. The Persians favored direct massed cavalry assaults to break up enemy formations; the shock of their horsemen proved decisive against the Romans on several occasions. Normally the Sasanians drew up their forces in three cavalry lines. The Sasanians occasionally employed elephants in combat, but though they made a great psychological impression, they were not an important part of their military. The left of the Persian line was traditionally manned by left-handed archers and lancers who could thus strike effectively across the face of the enemy formation (right-handed mounted archers especially had difficulty shooting to their right). The left of the host formed the defensive anchor, whose role was to avoid enemy flanking maneuvers and to support the offensive right of the formation, where were stationed the best noble cavalry. The Sasanian right typically tried to outflank the enemy left, though the heavily armed kataphracts, covered from head to toe in mail and bearing lances, could be used in frontal assaults on infantry and cavalry groups. Behind the center line of regular cavalry were stationed the infantry formation, which supported the cavalry and sheltered retreating horsemen in case their attacks failed. In addition to their archery and horsemanship, the Sasanians were outstanding siege engineers. From the fourth through seventh centuries they seized some of the best defended and most powerfully built Roman fortress cities.

Byzantine Adaptation

The Sasanians and Byzantines knew one another well and there was considerable exchange of military knowledge and practice across the frontiers. Militarily, each side came to resemble the other. In early twentieth-century excavations at Dura Europus, a Roman frontier city on the middle Euphrates taken by Sasanian assault in the year 256 archaeologists discovered the remains of at least nineteen Romans and one Sasanian attacker. The Sasanian wore chain mail, carried a jade-hilted sword, and wore a pointed ridge-type helmet with a prominent center piece whose rivets joined the two lobes of the helmet together. Such gear was typical in Roman armies by the third century. In 533 at the battle of Dara, Belisarios countered Sasanian superiority by limiting their cavalry and playing to their psychological sense of superiority. In subsequent battles he used the Sasanians’ wariness of his stratagems to force their withdrawal by aggressive posturing. The Persians, used to the traps and feigned retreats of their nomad enemies, could be made too cautious by aggressive maneuvers. They could be thwarted by the commander’s well-chosen battlefield that cut off the Persians’ ability to place their weaker elements on protective rough ground. The poor soldiers among the Sasanians did not fight with spear and shield, but seem to have been mainly skirmishers and archers. They were therefore susceptible to Roman cavalry charges delivered over level ground. The Romans thus relied on strategems, strategic maneuver, tactical coordination, and discipline to defeat the Persians. When Roman commanders selected the battlefield, they were able to neutralize or defeat these stubborn eastern opponents.


Throughout its existence, the empire confronted a vast array of steppe nomad military powers. The Byzantines fought major wars against the Huns, Bulgars, Avars, Khazars, Hungarians, Pechenegs, and Cumans and numerous minor conflicts with a host of other groups. Nomads were generally bent on plunder of imperial territory and rarely sought to settle on lands south of the Danube, only a small portion of which were suitable for the transient, cattle-herding life of pastoralists. However, both the Huns and Avars posed existential threats to the empire, as they sought to dominate the lands south of the Danube and to destroy the Roman power that contained them north of the river. Nomadic confederations formed under charismatic leadership or during periods of environmental or physical stress. Maurice stressed in the Strategikon that nomads typically fought in kin-based tribal or extended family groupings, and this contributed to the nature of their tactics.


Nomadic society was based on nuclear families and wider, extended kinship ties. Like other tribal societies, blood relation or imagined genealogical connections helped to smooth political dealings and allow for larger groupings or “super tribes” that made massive nomadic military enterprise possible. The Huns under Attila formed an effective monarchy and Maurice stressed that the Avars, unlike many nomads, possessed a kingship. Undoubtedly the power of the central figures within a hierarchy during the Hunnic and Avar episodes of Byzantine history bolstered the barbarians’ military effectiveness. After they settled north of the Danube in the late sixth century, the Avars conquered and coopted elements among the Bulgars, Slavs, and Hunnic and Germanic peoples in Transdanubia. The Byzantines portray a grim fate for those whom the Avars conquered, especially the Slavs who served as hard laborers and pressed soldiers during the siege of Constantinople in 626. According to Maurice, the Avars arranged themselves by tribe or kin group while on the march. Their social structure made them vulnerable to desertions and divisions within the ranks, which the Byzantines sought to exploit.

Methods of Warfare

Steppe nomads fought primarily as lightly armed horse archers. Speed and surprise were cornerstones of their strategic and tactical success. Their ability to swarm and the firepower they brought to bear could break up enemy formations and drive the enemy from the field. In the fourth century, when the Romans had little experience dealing with the tactical swarming attacks, war cries, strange appearance, and mobile horse archery of the Huns, these nomads struck terror into the hearts of many soldiers and won numerous victories across the length of the empire. In addition to horse archers, the Huns and Avars deployed heavier lancers who bore a resemblance to the Sasanian hybrid cavalry, armed with bow, sword, and lance. The Strategikon notes that the Avars carried a lance strapped on their back which freed them to operate their bows. In addition to the lance and bow, Avar warriors carried swords; they seem to have been more heavily armed than their Hun predecessors, as Maurice noted that they wore chain mail coats. The Avars wore long coats of mail or lamellar split at the crotch, with panels on each side to protect the leg. The famous Nagyszentmiklós Treasure includes a gold plate depicting what is probably an Avar or Bulgar warrior wearing such a coiffed mail coat, splinted greaves, helmet, and carrying a pennoned lance.

Byzantine Adaptation

The Byzantines relied on diplomatic means to buy off and deflect Hun designs on imperial territory. The defensive posture of the empire throughout the fifth century precluded decisive confrontations against a superior enemy in the open field, and the massive defenses of Constantinople shielded the eastern territories from Hun penetration and conquest, though most of their European possessions were ravaged and slipped from Byzantine control. Although our sources provide no insight into the exact mechanisms of the adoption of steppe nomad tactics and equipment, the Byzantines recruited Hunnic horse archers into their armies and probably from these and deserters derived the knowledge of horseback archery. By the sixth century, the hybrid horse archer and lancer cavalry among the armies of Justinian were the most important tactical elements within the Roman army. The Byzantines adopted the stirrup from the Avars and this provided Roman cavalry with a more stable fighting platform. Maurice’s Strategikon notes that the thonged Avar lance and Avar-type tents and riding cloaks were also adopted directly from their steppe enemies. Lamellar cavalry armor also became more prominent in the panoply of Roman soldiers in the sixth and seventh centuries and this, too, indicates that the Byzantines borrowed extensively from nomads. The use of the feigned retreat, while known to classical armies, was a common steppe nomad tactic that the Byzantines perfected under steppe influence and employed throughout their history. The adoption of nomadic equipment, tactics, and strategy were among the most important adaptations of the Byzantine army and proved critical to the long-term survival of the empire.




By the time of the rise of Islam in the early seventh century, the Romans possessed extensive military experience with the Arabs. Arab scouts and light troops had served as guides and auxiliaries almost from the beginning of Roman rule in the Near East. By the sixth century, the Roman system of paying subsidies to allied tribal confederations to maintain law and order along the frontier from the Red Sea to the Euphrates was integral to the governance of the eastern provinces. The powerful Christian tribal confederation of Ghassan, which included both settled and tribal elements, largely managed the eastern periphery of the empire, and despite the general hostility of Greek-speaking elites to their Arab allies, these clients were both effective and reliable. Ghassanid auxiliaries defeated their Persian-sponsored counterparts and provided valuable light cavalry raiders and skirmishers to the eastern field armies on campaign in Syria and Mesopotamia. At the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 the Ghassanids fought alongside their Roman masters and though many subsequently converted to Islam and remained in Syria, a sizable group migrated to Roman territory. The Muslim Arab victors at Yarmuk overran the whole of Syria, Mesopotamia, and eventually wrested Egypt, Libya and North Africa from Roman control. Muslim Arab attempts to conquer Constantinople and thereby destroy the remnants of the Roman Empire unfolded in the epochal sieges of the seventh and early eighth centuries in which the empire emerged battered but intact. With the overthrow of the Umayyad dynasty and shift of the locus of Muslim government to Mesopotamia, the threat to the existence of the Roman state diminished, and as the Abbasid caliphate unraveled politically, the Byzantines mounted a sustained counterattack to recover lost territories in the east.


Arab armies of the conquest were organized along tribal lines, though it is uncertain if these were grouped into units of 10–15 soldiers called ‘arifs known from just after the conquests. Muslim Arab armies were recruited mainly from Arabic-speaking family and tribal groupings. But soldiers were also raised from among Byzantine and Sasanian deserters, as well as non-Arab clients (mawali) dependent on regional Arab lords. Larger tribal groups fought under the banners of their tribal sheikhs in army groups of varying strength, usually numbering 2,000–4,000 men. On rare occasions, as at Yarmuk, combined commands could field as many as 30,000 or 40,000 soldiers. In 661, the Battle of Siffin was fought between the Syrian forces under Mu ‘awiya and the Iraqi Arabs led by the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali, said to have comprised 150,000 and 130,000 men, respectively; these numbers are inconceivable and could probably safely each be reduced by a factor of ten. During the Umayyad era, when the Syrian army provided the main prop to the caliph’s authority, armies of 6,000 Syrian troops are commonly mentioned and these may represent standard field force groupings, not dissimilar in size and equipment from their Byzantine neighbors. In 838, the caliph al-Mu ‘tasim (d. 842) led an army of up to 80,000 men against Amorium, a number that represented a large force and among the largest the Byzantines ever confronted.

Methods of Warfare

Although the commonly held perception of early Muslim armies today is of swift-moving horsemen mounted on Arabian chargers, the armies of the conquest era were mainly infantry forces fighting as spearmen and archers. Arab archery was particularly deadly to both the Byzantine and Persian forces encountered during the first campaigns of the conquest. Early Muslim armies generally lacked heavy cavalry, and they eagerly accepted the Sasanian horse who deserted to their ranks following the initial encounters in Mesopotamia. Infantry continued to form an important part of Arab armies up to the end of their military encounters with the Byzantines. Nikephoros Phokas noted that the Arab raiders who penetrated the Byzantine borderlands included a mix of cavalry and infantry; like their Roman counterparts, the infantry formed a foulkon, a dense mass of infantry spearmen, and supported the cavalry who formed the major offensive wing of Arab armies. Regular Arab cavalry fought primarily as lancers, while missile support was provided by foot archers. The Arabs never mastered horseback archery and instead relied on Turkic troops to provide mobile fire. The light cavalry encountered by the Byzantines in their reconquest of northern Syria and Mesopotamia were Bedouin light horse riding swift Arabian mounts. Nikephoros advised to keep them at bay with archery rather than chase them, since even the best Byzantine horses, encumbered as they were with heavily equipped fighting men, would not be able to catch them and the danger of being cut off and overwhelmed was a persistent peril of pursuit. Well led and generally possessing superior numbers, training, and equipment, the Arab armies of the early medieval period repeatedly exposed Byzantine weaknesses. Decisive engagements nearly always ended with Arab victories; only when the empire recovered somewhat economically and demographically while the caliphate began to fragment did the initiative return to the Romans.

Byzantine Adaptation

Given the asymetrical nature of the encounter between the Byzantines and Arabs after the initial clashes of the early and mid-seventh century, Byzantine commanders responded in the only way they could, via a strategy of defense coupled with limited, punitive raids to keep the enemy from settling in the strategic Anatolian highlands and to maintain the appearance of Byzantine power among the populations of the border lands. Imperial troops, seriously degraded through the loss of many men in the defeats in Syria and Egypt, underpaid, poorly equipped, and scattered throughout the provinces, were scarcely a match for caliphal field armies. The Byzantines often found themselves paying tribute to convince the Arabs not to attack them—a humiliating concession that drained both the fisc and morale. But the sieges of 674–78 and 717–18 revealed that without achieving naval dominance the Arabs had to conquer the Anatolian plateau if they were to achieve their objective of outright conquest of the Christian empire. Yet, due to their organization of the themes, whose armies could shadow and harass Muslim raiding columns and sometimes defeat them, the Romans made penetration of their territory hazardous. Stubborn Byzantine forces, although no match for grand caliphal campaign armies, often held their own against raiding columns and themselves raided exposed regions when Arab field forces were engaged elsewhere. By the tenth century, the centuries of incessant warfare had helped to create a warrior caste among the frontiersmen of the eastern marchlands who would remake the Byzantine army based on their experiences fighting the Arabs. Their combined arms approach and their use of psychological terror, scorched earth, and incremental advancement of imperial territory by sieges marked the apogee of the practice of Byzantine arms in the medieval east.


The Turkic Bulgars appeared in the sixth century, first as a rump of the so-called Old Bulgarian Empire, the Kutrigurs, defeated by Belisarios outside Constantinople in 559, settled north of the Danube and were absorbed by the Avars. Following the collapse of Avar power in the eighth century, new Bulgar arrivals and existing elites in Transdanubia gradually formed the Bulgar khanate, which adopted Slavic language and customs. Given their cultural origins in the Eurasian steppe, it is unsurprising that throughout the medieval period the Bulgarian social elite fought mostly as heavy armed cavalry lancers. Bulgaria formed the most important state to the north of the empire. Though there were long stretches of peace between the two peoples and even alliance, Byzantine-Bulgar relations were strained by their fundamental conflicting goals—both empires sought to dominate the Balkans and each considered the presence of the other unacceptable. Thus the Bulgars sought to capture Constantinople or subjugate the Byzantines militarily, while the latter sought to contain or even annex Bulgaria outright.


Initially the Bulgars organized themselves along the lines of most steppe empires, with “inner” and “outer” tribes whose power relationships were articulated through marriage alliances, genealogies, and material exchange. Beneath the outer tribes in the pecking order were subject groups like Slavs, Greeks, and the mélange of Avar, Hunnic, and Germanic remnants that rendered the rich cultural matrix of the Danube basin. The khan stood at the pinnacle of an increasingly sophisticated hierarchy that developed under steppe and Byzantine influence. Senior “inner” nobles, called boilas (often Anglicized as “boyar”), and junior “outer” nobles, bagains, formed the elite of the Bulgar state and provided both the military leadership and elite troops of the khanate. The Bulgars matched their Byzantine foe with a strong hierarchical military organization with the khan in overall command while his leading generals, the tarqan, commanded his administrative regional center and presumably took the center of the battle line as well. The targan’s subordinates included komites (sing. komes), after Byzantine usage, who commanded the wings of the army. The highest-ranking Bulgar nobles were heavily equipped cavalry with barded mounts and relied on heavy household cavalry and lighter armed horse archers as did their steppe nomad ancestors.

Methods of Warfare

The Bulgars employed mass conscription to fill out the ranks for their armies. Fear was the main tool used to compel men to enlist and show up equipped for the occasion. Khan Boris Michael (d. 907) ordered that men who arrived for muster without proper equipment or unprepared for campaign were to be executed, as were those who deserted before or during battle. The rank and file included many Slavs who fought as light infantry, carrying shields and javelins. Bulgar cavalry resembled both their Byzantine enemy and other steppe nomads. The Bulgars were expert in their use of terrain, relying on ambush and surprise in their confrontation with the enemy. They demonstrated a high level of strategic planning, strong discipline, and military cohesion, and on numerous occasions were able to confront and defeat imperial field armies, as they did at Varbica in 811 when they trapped a large force led by the emperor Nikephoros I and destroyed it by hemming the Byzantines against a wooden palisade and surrounding it. The emperor himself was killed and his heir mortally wounded. The Bulgars were intimately acquainted with Byzantine military strategy and tactics and, unlike the fragmented Arab emirates to the east, formed a more unified foe unbowed by the shock of repeated defeats.

Byzantine Adaptation

The Byzantines dealt with the Bulgars via a full range of economic, diplomatic, and military strategies. Trade was limited by treaty to designated zones and monitored by imperial officials. Spies were maintained at the Bulgar court at Pliska; the Bulgar khan Telerig (768–77) tricked the emperor into revealing the identity of Byzantine agents among the Bulgars by the ruse of his promised defection, then slaughtered those in the pay of the empire. Byzantine failures against the Bulgars were often due to weakness in strategic and battlefield intelligence that resulted in the surprise of imperial field forces. Experienced and cautious commanders found warfare in Bulgaria perilous. Thus, in the ongoing dispute over control of lands in Thrace and Mesembria on the Black Sea coast, the emperor Nikephoros II Phokas mounted a brief campaign in which he found the the Bulgars’ skillful use of the mountainous terrain and difficulties of supply and communication hard to overcome. Nikephoros therefore induced Sviatoslav I of Kiev to invade Bulgaria; the Rus’ captured scores of Bulgarian towns and fortresses and overwhelmed Bulgar resistance, which led to a direct confrontation between the Rus’ and their new Bulgar subjects and Byzantium. John I Tzimiskes’s defeat of the Rus’ at Dorostolon in 971 opened the way for Byzantine annexation of Bulgaria. The subjugation of Bulgaria took decades, however, with persistent and arduous campaigning by the emperor Basil II, who reduced each quarter of the Bulgar state through sieges and attrition, finally grinding down Bulgar resistance. Bulgaria provided another test for Byzantine strategies of attritive warfare: imperial forces used sieges, scorched earth, and incremental capture-and-hold methods to gradually expand their bases of operations and finally wear out a formidable, skillful, and disciplined opponent. Although the empire possessed a dominant position in Bulgaria by the death of Basil II in 1025, serious resistance continued to the death of the Bulgarian tsar Peter II in 1041. Byzantine control of Bulgaria, won over decades of bitter warfare, lasted for nearly a century and a half.


The Normans arrived in the Byzantine world not as enemies, but as valued mercenaries esteemed for their martial prowess. The settlement of Scandinavian raiders created the duchy of Normandy, when the region was ceded to their war leader Rollo (d. ca. 931) by the Carolingian king Charles the Simple (898–922). Rollo’s descendants mingled with the local French population to create the Normans, a people thoroughly Christian, doggedly militaristic, and unfailingly expansionistic. Norman soldiers entered Italy around the start of the eleventh century where they served as mercenaries for various Lombard princes. By the 1050s large numbers of “Franks,” as the Byzantines called them, had served as mercenaries in Byzantine armies from Syria to Bulgaria, and Normans served as part of the standing garrison of Asia Minor. In the 1040s the Normans began the conquest of south Italy, establishing several counties in the south and finally invading and conquering Sicily from the petty Muslim dynasts there by 1091. Since the late 1050s the Normans had challenged Roman interests in Italy and Robert Guiscard led a Norman invasion of the Byzantine Balkans in 1081. In the ensuing conflict the Normans defeated Alexios I Komnenos, who expelled them only with great difficulty. Two more major Norman invasions followed over the next century, and the Norman kingdom of Sicily remained a threat to imperial ambitions in the west and to the imperial core until the Hauteville Norman dynasty failed in 1194. By this time all hope for the Byzantine recovery of south Italy and Sicily had vanished, thanks to Norman power.


The Normans served under captains who rose to prominence due to birth or their fortunes in war. Minor nobility like Tancred of Hauteville, who founded the dynasty that would conquer much of Italy and Sicily, was a minor baron in Normandy and probably the descendant of Scandinavian settlers. The warriors who carved out territory within Byzantine Anatolia seem to have been either petty aristocrats or simply successful soldiers. One such Norman was Hervé Frankopoulos, who in 1057 led 300 Franks east in search of plunder and territory. After initial successes around Lake Van, he was delivered to the emperor and eventually pardoned. Thus, Norman companies were of no fixed numbers, and it seems that each baron recruited men according to his wealth and status. Norman lords in Italy raised the core of their army from men to whom they distributed lands and wealth in exchange for permanent military service. Lords were required to provide fixed numbers of troops, either knights or infantry sergeants. Other Normans served for pay and plunder, including conquered lands to be distributed after successful occupation of enemy territory. The Normans that the Byzantines encountered were a fluid group—some fought for the empire and then against it; their interests were pay and personal advancement rather than any particular ethnic allegiance. In this the Normans who warred against the Byzantines resembled the later free companies of the late medieval period—variable in numbers, generally following a capable, experienced, and charismatic commander, and exceptionally opportunistic. As a warlord’s success grew, so did his resources. Thus Robert Guiscard rose from the leader of a band of Norman robbers to be Count and then Duke of Apulia and Calabria; in 1084, following his defeat of Alexios at Dyrrachium, Guiscard marched on Rome with thousands of infantry and more than 2,000 knights, a far cry from the scores or hundreds with which he began his career.

Methods of Warfare

The bulk of the Norman fighting forces were infantry, but they formed a largely defensive force that operated in support of the cavalry. Norman infantry fought generally as spearmen—the Bayeux Tapestry shows many Normans on foot wearing the nasal helm and mail hauberks, but it is unlikely that the majority were so armed. Most were probably unarmored and relied on shields for protection like most of their counterparts throughout Europe. Light infantry archers fought with little or no armor, and missile troops played a role in their Balkan campaigns as well—the Byzantine commander George Palaiologos suffered an arrow wound to his head in battle at Dyrrachium in 1082, but generally the Byzantines relied on superior Turkish archery in order to unhorse the Normans and immobilize the knights. Norman knights wore heavy mail hauberks and mail chausses with in-pointed mail foot guards, which Anna Komnene noted slowed the Norman cavalry down when they were unhorsed. These mounted men carried lances and swords. The weight of their mail made them relatively safe from the archery of the day. Norman knights usually decided the course of battle; it was the shock cavalry charge delivered by the Norman knight that delivered victory in battle after battle. Unlike the Turks and Pechenegs with whom the empire regularly contended and whose weaponry was lighter and who relied on mobility, hit-and-run tactics, and feigned retreat, the Normans preferred close combat. They fought in dense, well-ordered ranks and exhibited exemplary discipline. In an era when infantry were generally of questionable quality, most foot soldiers throughout Europe and the Middle East could not stare down a Norman frontal cavalry charge. Norman horsemen punched holes in opposing formations and spread panic and disorder that their supporting troops exploited. By the end of the eleventh century, Norman prowess on the battlefield yielded them possessions from Syria to Scotland.

Byzantine Adaptation

The Byzantines avidly recruited Normans into their armies. Though critics have unfairly blamed the medieval Romans for not adapting their warfare in light of the new western techniques and technologies to which they were exposed, fully equipped and well-trained kataphraktoi could match the skill and shock power of the Norman knight. What the Byzantines of the Komnenoi era lacked were the disciplined heavy infantry of the Macedonian period and combined arms approach of mounted and dismounted archery that could blunt enemy attack and cover infantry and cavalry tactical operations. Alexios I relied on Turkish and steppe nomad auxiliaries and patchwork field armies assembled from mercenaries drawn from the empire’s neighbors. As with other intractable foes, the Byzantines relied on a combination of defense and offense—the Normans were contained in the Balkans allowing space for an imperial recovery and the time to muster new forces following the heavy defeat late in 1081 of the Roman army at Dyrrachium on the Adriatic. Alexios allied with southern Italian nobles and the German emperor Henry IV (1084–1105) who menaced the Norman flanks. The death of Robert Guiscard in 1085 removed the most serious threat to Byzantine rule since the seventh century, but Guiscard’s son, the redoubtable Bohemund, renewed war against the empire in 1107–8. Alexios had learned from his twenty years of dealing with the Norman adversary and returned to the traditional Byzantine strategies of defense, containment, and attrition. The Byzantines relied on their Venetian allies to provide naval squadrons on the Adriatic that interfered with Norman shipping and resupply, and Alexios’s forces blocked the passes around Dyrrachium; the emperor forbade his commanders to engage in a large-scale confrontation with the Normans. In the skirmishes and running battles against Norman scouting and foraging parties Byzantine archers shot the enemy mounts from beneath their riders and then cut down the beleaguered knights. Hunger, disease, and lack of money undid Bohemund, who was forced to sign a humiliating treaty and return to Italy. Thus the ages-old Byzantine principles of indirect warfare proved triumphant against a stubborn and superior enemy.

Battle of Slankamen

August 19, 1691

The battles with the Turk were not just a success for the Habsburgs but for much of Christian Europe, aside from France. 7 On 5 March 1684, Pope Innocent XI had sponsored a new and highly effective Holy League for a war that was to last until final victory, and no party was to make a separate peace with the Ottomans. Even the Czar of Muscovy was invited to join. This alliance was to produce immediate, concerted action – the Habsburgs in Hungary, the Poles in lands north of the Dniester and the Venetians in the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, and in Greece. 8 The strategic concept – squeezing the Ottomans on every side – put decisive pressure on the Turks. The decade of active campaigning seasons after the occupation of Buda was marked by a series of extraordinary victories in the field. The common name now given to this period of war in Austrian history is the `Age of Heroes’ (Heldenzeitalter): the heroes included Charles of Lorraine, `Türkenlouis’ – Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden, Guido von Starhemberg (cousin of Rüdiger), Florimond de Mercy, and many others who had made their names in the east, but later also fought with equal success against the armies of France in Western Europe during the War of the Spanish Succession. Thereafter, with the exception of the spare figure of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the greatest hero of all, they grew old and fat, died or retired, and Austria stultified. There had been a string of six miraculous victories, which people could recite like a litany. The first, of course, was the salvation of Vienna by King John Sobieski of Poland. The second was Charles of Lorraine storming Buda in 1686 with the old pasha lying dead by the gate. The third was the Battle of Nagyharsany in 1687, often called `the second Mohacs’, the capstone to Charles of Lorraine’s triumphs; the memory of Suleiman I destroying the old Kingdom of Hungary at Mohacs in 1526 had finally been redeemed. The fourth victory was the Elector Max Emmanuel of Bavaria’s who captured Belgrade, the city of battles, in 1688; the Turks recaptured it the following year. `Türkenlouis’ destroyed the Turkish army at the Battle of Slankamen in 1691. In the sixth battle at Zenta in 1697 Prince Eugene of Savoy humiliated the Sultan Mustafa, who fled from the battlefield in panic, leaving the River Tisza filled with the Ottoman dead. Fourteen campaigning seasons finally brought a settlement, and in a little pavilion by the town of Karlowitz near Belgrade peace was signed in 1699.

These victories were the more remarkable because they were gained with limited resources. The renewal of war in the west against France meant that the Habsburgs, like the Ottomans, were now fighting two enemies at once. So at Slankamen, forty miles north of Belgrade, on 19 August 1691 Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden had only twenty thousand men against a much larger Ottoman army, led by another vigorous Köprülü, Fazil Mustafa Pasha. `Türkenlouis’ won, in part because the Ottomans lacked the vital Tartar component of their army, which was still travelling south, and partly because his small but battle-hardened regiments could respond precisely and effectively to his command. But perhaps most important of all was a lucky chance of war. A stray bullet killed the Ottoman commander and his army immediately disintegrated, abandoned all its artillery and even the army war chest, and fled back towards the safety of Belgrade. Had the reverse happened, and `Türkenlouis’ ended his days on the battlefield, his small force would not have fallen apart. Another senior officer would have assumed command and carried on the battle, while planning the withdrawal. This fragility was inherent in the Ottoman system: an Ottoman army without its head was no more than a rabble. But as the Habsburg army dwindled in numbers (mostly through sickness) and lacked men, food and money, it was soon just as demoralised. One Englishman said that the army protecting the bridge at Osijek `look generally like dead men’

The Campaign

At the outbreak of the Nine Years War, caused partly by Louis XIV’s mounting anxiety at Habsburg gains in the Balkans. The withdrawal of the Kreistruppen and most of the other Germans reduced the imperialist to barely 24,000 effectives and undoubtedly robbed Leopold of the best chance to extend his conquests. It was only thanks to the continuing chaos in the Ottoman empire that any further advance was possible. The margrave of Baden-Baden, the new field commander, pushed south seizing Nis (Nish) in Serbia in September 1689. Marshal Piccolomini was then detached southwards into Bosnia and Albania, while Baden captured Vidin in northwestern Bulgaria. Piccolomini was welcomed by the Serbian and Albanian Christians but had to abandon Skopje because of the plague. He succumbed on 9 November, robbing the imperialists of an able negotiator, skilled at striking deals with local leaders. By January 1690 the imperialist position was beginning to crumble when 2,200 men were lost at Kacanik, representing nearly a third of the force in Bosnia and a sizeable proportion of the now much-reduced army. To sustain the momentum, Leopold issued his famous declaration to the Balkan Christians guaranteeing them religious freedom and preservation of their privileges if they accepted him as hereditary ruler. The response was disappointing. The Bulgarian Catholics had been massacred after the failure of the Ciporvci rising and the Macedonians who rebelled in 1689 met a similar fate. The faltering Habsburg advance discouraged others from attempting the same. Meanwhile, the sultan had recovered control of his army and proclaiming Thököly prince of Transylvania, he sent 16,000 troops to overrun that country in August 1690. To counterattack Baden turned north with 18,000, defeating Thököly by September. It proved a pyrrhic victory. In his absence the Ottomans invaded Serbia with 80,000 men, recapturing all the towns along the lower Danube, including Belgrade guarding the entrance to the Hungarian Plain. The rapid loss of this great city was a major strategic and psychological blow, triggering a wave of refugees from the areas south of the Danube.

By now, Leopold’s western allies had become concerned that Austria had become too deeply embroiled in the Balkans to prosecute the war on the Rhine with the necessary vigour. However, the Anglo-Dutch-sponsored peace talks broke down in 1691 because both sides still believed they could win an outright victory. Determined to succeed, Leopold did just what William III feared and recalled all but five and a half regiments from his force on the Rhine. New treaties were concluded with Brandenburg and Bavaria to obtain additional assistance, and Baden advanced to defeat the 120,000-strong Ottoman army at Slankamen on 19 August 1691. Fought in almost unbearable heat, the action proved costly to both sides, Baden losing 7,000 to the 20,000 of his opponents. By the end of the year Baden’s army had fallen to only 14,000 effectives, but the victory stabilized the Hungarian front and secured the imperial recovery in Transylvania.


The clash between the two forces took place on the west side of the Danube, opposite the outlet of the Tisa. Both armies deployed near Zemun, but the superior Ottoman army at first didn’t attack for two days. Then Baden-Baden tried to provoke the attack, by withdrawing slowly to a fortified position near Slankamen. The Ottomans followed and surrounded the Imperial Army. By August 19, the heat, disease and desertion had reduced both armies to 33,000 and 50,000 able men. On that day the Ottoman cavalry finally attacked.

These were unorganized charges, however; although huge, the Ottoman forces were poorly armed and no match for the firepower of Louis of Baden’s German-Austrian infantry and field guns. Additionally, the Ottomans’ supply system was incapable of waging a long war on the empty expanses of the Pannonian plain. Initially the Ottomans were at an advantage, as they advanced and burned 800 supply wagons of the Imperial Army. Louis of Baden, in a desperate situation, broke out of his position, besieged by the Ottomans, and turned their flanks with his cavalry, inflicting fearful carnage. After a hard battle, the 20,000-man Imperial Army with 10,000 Serbian militia led by Jovan Monasterlija was victorious over the larger Ottoman force. The death of Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Pasha during mid-battle caused the Ottoman morale to drop and the army to disperse and retreat.

Without adequate forces, Baden could do little more than hold the line and he was soon transferred to the Rhine for a similar holding operation against the French. The stalemate was sustained in the Balkans by the arrival of more German auxiliaries in 1692-6. Attempts to take Belgrade (1693), Peterwardein (1694) and Timisoara (1696) ended in failure, while the Turks continued to inflict minor defeats on isolated imperial detachments. Though the commanders were repeatedly blamed for the setbacks, the real problem was insufficient manpower.

A very rare broadside with Ottoman script showing the Battle of Slankamen was made in the series of large separately published maps by the Turkish War Office the late Hamidian period as a part of intellectual propaganda to revive patriotic sentiment.

Louis-Guillaume (Ludwig-Wilhelm), Margrave of Baden (1655-1707), born in Paris, was an Imperial field commander with a long military career and well-established reputation in fighting the Ottomans in southeastern Europe. He earned the nickname `Turkenlouis’ and won a significant victory at Slankamen in 1691. Baden captured the fortress of Landau in Alsace from the French in 1702, but was subsequently defeated at Friedlingen by Villars, a victory which earned the French commander his marshal’s baton. Although overly proud and sensitive, and difficult to deal with, Baden was brave enough, and his assistance was crucial to the success of Marlborough’s attack on the Schellenberg, where the Margrave was shot in the foot, a wound that refused to heal properly.

His assignment in August 1704 to lay siege to Ingolstadt on the Danube excluded him from the victory at Blenheim, and it is often said that this was deliberate policy on the part of Marlborough and Eugene to keep Baden out of the way. This seems improbable as the fortress was an important place, the possession of which would have been crucial if Marlborough had not been able to bring the French and Bavarians to battle and win so decisively. Accordingly, the margrave’s task was not a trivial one, and it is unlikely that Marlborough and Eugene foresaw the chance of decisive action on the plain of Höchstädt quite that clearly and so far in advance, or that they would lightly give up a numerical advantage of almost 15,000 troops in order to sideline their colleague. Baden’s failure to rendezvous with Marlborough in 1705 led to the abandonment of the Moselle campaign (which was languishing anyway), but the margrave was undoubtedly a sick man, with a festering wound. His lameness, however, did not prevent his showing Marlborough around the ornate gardens of his home on one occasion. Baden died three years later, a disappointed man, snubbed and ignored by the emperor in Vienna to whose family he had rendered long and loyal service.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, the highest level of command came to be that of Generalleutnant who was the acting commander-in-chief. After the Thirty Years War this position was held successively by Ottavio Piccolomini (1648–56), Raimondo Montecuccoli (1664–80), Charles V Duke of Lorraine (1680–90), Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden (1691–1707) and Eugene of Savoy (from 1708 until his death in 1736).

The most important battles of the “Türkenlouis” – LUDWIG WILHELM VON BADEN-BADEN

In the French-Dutch War (1672-1678)

1676: Siege of Philippsburg

In the Great Turkish War (1683-1699)

1683: Battle of Kahlenberg near Vienna

1683: Battle of Pressburg (Slovakia)

1684: siege of Gran (Hungary)

1684: 1st Siege of Buda (Hungary)

1686: 2nd Siege of Buda

1687: Battle of Mohács (Hungary)

1688: Battle of Derventa (Bosnia)

1688: 1st Siege of Belgrade (Serbia)

1689: Battle of Nissa (Serbia)

1690: 2nd Siege of Belgrade

1691: Battle of Slankamen (Serbia)

In the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714)

1702: Battle of Friedlingen (Baden-Württemberg)

1704: Battle of Schellenberg (Bavaria)

1705: Battle of Pfaffenhofen (Bavaria)

Operations Plan No 19

Map showing schematic of proposed German Fleet raid of October 1918 and possible British response.

In early 1918, the future seemed brighter than at any other time during the war. After Russia collapsed in 1917, Germany dictated a peace with Russia in March 1918 and with Romania two months later. These agreements gave Germany direct or indirect control of huge territories on its eastern border and in the Balkans. Thus, the dreams of many annexationists seemed to be coming true. After this victory in the east, the Imperial High Command was also confident that it could risk playing its last card in the west by launching a new offensive, `Operation Michael’, in March 1918. With this offensive, the High Command hoped to gain victory before US troops arrived on the continent and turned the numerical scale in favor of the Allies. Despite great initial success, the offensive finally ended in military disaster and defeat, culminating in the famous `black’ 8 August 1918. Slowly, the German armies, which were exhausted after four years of fighting and whose strength was dwindling at an alarming rate, had to retreat on the Western Front. The Allies proved overwhelming in terms of numbers and, more important, materiel. At last, on 29 September, the Imperial High Command, which had slowly begun to realize that the war was lost and that the army, whose soldiers had already begun a `hidden military strike’, was broken, had no choice but to admit defeat and ask the government to negotiate an armistice.

While a newly appointed coalition government, which even included leading Social Democrats, tried to pave the way for peace, the Supreme Navy Command, which had been established only in August, drew different conclusions from these events. Forced to give up unrestricted submarine warfare in mid-October, its chief, Admiral Scheer, regarded these developments as an almost golden opportunity for a final sortie against the Grand Fleet. Against the background of its nearly complete lack of success during the war, the Supreme Navy Command believed that only a gallant fight could justify the build-up of a powerful new navy after the war. As early as September 1914, Tirpitz had written to his wife: `With regard to the great distress after the end of the war, the navy will be lost in my eyes, if it cannot prove some success at least.’ The fact that the High Seas Fleet was unable to break the British blockade of the North Sea further diminished its reputation among the populace, as well as within the political and military establishment. This nightmare of complete failure had haunted the navy’s leadership throughout the war. Despite great efforts it had been unable to turn the tide.

In October 1918, however, danger was in many ways imminent. Both the end of the war, in which the navy had not proven its right of existence yet, as well as a far-reaching reform of the old system, which had been the basis of the navy’s position within the military establishment and within German society, were now in sight. For the navy, defeat would be even more humiliating. In early October, General Ludendorff, Quartermaster-General of the Imperial High Command, had pointed out to a representative of the Supreme Navy Command that the navy would probably be extradited to Britain and that `it would mainly have to pay the bill’ for defeat.

The Supreme Navy Command was by no means willing to accept this fate. Scheer tried to continue unrestricted submarine warfare for as long as possible, but the Emperor finally ordered its suspension on 21 October. More important, as soon as the opportunity arose, Scheer was determined to fight a final battle against the fleet it had challenged for almost two decades-in vain as it seemed so far.

On 30 September 1918, Scheer had already ordered the High Seas Fleet to assemble on Schillig Roads. This was indeed remarkable, for during the war this meant that a sortie was imminent. Several days later, Trotha, the chief of staff of the High Seas Fleet, put forward a memorandum-significantly called `deliberations in a critical hour’. In this memorandum, Trotha suggested that, `From an honorable fleet-action, even though it was a death-struggle in this war, would arise-unless the German people failed-a new future navy.’ Another high-ranking officer and former chief of staff, Captain Michaelis, also proposed a death sortie, though for different reasons. Since defeat was inevitable, he thought that a success at sea might be a means to achieve a change of mood at home and thus help reach a peace that, while bad, still seemed preferable to a total catastrophe.

Scheer immediately accepted the idea of a final sortie by the High Seas Fleet, for this was the only alternative to a humiliating defeat at the hands of its greatest enemy. Moreover, having grown up, like Trotha, in the Tirpitz tradition, Scheer likely shared the latter’s view that only a navy that had gone down fighting bravely could hope to rise again. To disguise its plans, the Supreme Navy Command informed neither the Chancellor nor the Supreme War Lord, the Emperor. Moreover, the final order for Operations Plan No. 19 was passed orally to the newly appointed C-in-C of the High Seas Fleet, Admiral von Hipper, in order to maintain secrecy and avoid interference either from politicians or the Emperor himself, as had happened so often before.

Some historians have argued in recent years that this motive played only a minor role in launching an attack, which made sense neither militarily nor politically. Instead, they assume that the Supreme Navy Command tried to initiate a coup d’état against the Imperial government, which was to be transformed into an institution responsible to parliament in the future. However, there is no proof that this motive was important when the Supreme Navy Command decided upon its last sortie.

The U-boat campaign had failed, even though, in terms of personal courage, the officers and men in the submarine service achieved incredible results. Between 1914 and 1918, 104 U-boats destroyed 2,888 ships of 6,858,380 tons; 96 UB boats 1,456 ships of 2,289,704 tons; and 73 UC boats 2,042 ships of 2,789,910 tons. In addition, the undersea raiders sent to the bottom 10 battleships, 7 armoured cruisers, 2 large and 4 light cruisers, and 21 destroyers. But the cost ran high: 178 boats were lost to the enemy, and with them 4,744 officers and men.

German naval leaders, who as late as August 19 I 8 had been planning amphibious operations against Kronstadt and Petrograd (Operation Schlussstein), proved surprisingly willing to cease the unrestricted submarine warfare. “The Navy”, Scheer’s planners lustily announced, “does not need an armistice.” In fact, a new bold design had entered their heads: the fleet could be hurled against the combined British and American surface units stationed at Rosyth. Admiral v. Hipper concluded that “an honourable fleet engagement, even if it should become a death struggle”, was preferable to an inglorious and inactive end to the High Sea Fleet. Rear-Admiral von Trotha was equally adamant on this matter, arguing that a fleet encounter was needed “in order to go down with honour”. And Admiral Scheer was not the man to stand in the way of such an adventurous undertaking. “It is impossible that the fleet … remains idle. It must be deployed.” Scheer concluded that the “honour and existence of the Navy” demanded use of the fleet, even if “the course of events cannot thereby be significantly altered”.

Hence, for reasons of honour and future naval building (Zukuntsfiotte), it was decided to launch the entire High Sea Fleet against the enemy in a suicide sortie. It is revealing that on 22 October 1918, Levetzow verbally passed on word of the projected sortie to Hipper. The new head of the Army, General Groener, was not brought into these discussions. Nor were the Kaiser or the chancellor informed of the planned operation; despite this, Germany’s admirals at one point considered taking Wilhelm on board for the final naval assault. Scheer, however, simply did not think it “opportune” to inform political leaders of his designs.

On 24 October 1918, the Supreme Navy Command formally adopted Operations Plan No 19 (O-Befehl Nr 19). It called for one destroyer group to be sent to the Flanders coast and another to the mouth of the Thames, while the High Sea Fleet took battle station in the Hoofden, the North Sea between the Netherlands and Great Britain. Twenty-five U-boats were in position to intercept the British and American surface units in the North Sea. The Grand Fleet, the Germans argued, would rush out of its Scottish anchorages in order to attack the two destroyer “baits”, which thereupon would draw the British and American fleets to Terschelling, a Dutch island in the North Sea, where the naval Armageddon would take place.

Execution of Operations Plan No 19 was set for 30 October 1918. With it German naval strategy in desperation returned not only to Tirpitz’s dream of the Entscheidungsschlacht in the southcentral North Sea, “between the Thames and Helgoland”, but also to the conviction of Baudissin, Fischel and Wegener, among others, concerning the need for an offensive in the North Sea in order to force the approaches to the Atlantic Ocean.

Operations Plan No 19, seen in retrospect, was anything but foolproof. In the first place, it is highly doubtful whether the Grand Fleet would have reacted to the advance of the two destroyer flotillas and the submarines in the prescribed manner; British naval leaders had ignored similar German sorties before. Secondly, the expectations which German admirals placed on the U-boats were not sound. By the end of October, only twenty-four submarines were in position and six were heading for their stations. While in the process of heading out to battle stations, seven U-boats were rendered hors de combat owing to mechanical breakdowns, and two were destroyed by the enemy. The weather was also against the submersibles: “Rain and hail showers, hazy, high seas and swell; dismal, stormy November ~weather. No visibility, no possible forward advance, no worthwhile targets for attack could be recognized in the haze.” Finally, the Germans failed to appreciate that apart from Great Britain there was another major sea power involved in the war. In fact, German naval leaders throughout 1917-18 persisted in their claims that United States naval forces as a whole were not worthy of their consideration, and hence paid no attention to the five United States battleships attached to the Grand Fleet, to the three others stationed in Ireland, or to the entire capital-ship strength of thirty-nine units.

Of far greater ultimate effect was the deteriorating internal structure of the Imperial Navy. The naval reorganization of 1I August 1918, which had brought the triumvirate of Scheer, Trotha and Levetzow to the fore, had also caused apprehension concerning planned changes and discharges. Even Admiral v. Hipper noted: “I dread the next few days.” Trotha spoke to Levetzow of “insecurity” and “uneasiness” among commanders and begged for the return of “at least a few leading figures” to the fleet. “We cannot discharge our duties … with only mediocre and bad materiel.” On numerous surface vessels, both captain and first officer had recently been replaced. Nevertheless, when Levetzow asked Trotha on 16 October if he believed that naval personnel could be relied upon for a major sea battle, Trotha “answered without reservation in the affirmative”. This miscalculation was to prove decisive within a fortnight.

The High Sea Fleet, according to Operations Plan No I 9, was to assemble in Schillig Roads on the afternoon of 29 October. Two days before, the crews had already appeared anxious and excited. News had leaked out, especially from Hipper’s eager staff, that a major battle with the British was in the offing. Men in both Kiel and Wilhelmshaven nervously spread the word of a “suicide sortie” planned by the executive officers to save their “honour” at the eleventh hour – a notion not without ample basis.

By the 29th, ratings from the battle-cruisers Derfflinger and Von der Tann failed to return to their posts from shore leave. Sailors assembled to demand peace and to cheer Woodrow Wilson. Insubordination quickly spread to the Third Squadron battleships Kaiserin, Konig, Kronprinz Wilhelm, and Markgraf as well as to Thuringen and Helgoland in the First Squadron. The Baden’s crew also seemed on the verge of revolt, and the battle-cruisers Moltke and Seydlitz were rendered inoperative because of rebellious sailors, as were the light cruisers Pillau, Regensburg and Strassburg. Only the men on the torpedo-boats and the U-boats remained calm and loyal to their officers.

The disturbances in the fleet on 29 October caught naval leaders off-guard and unprepared. Hipper initially cancelled sailing orders late in the evening of the 29th, but reactivated them later as he was unaware of the extent of the rebellion. Trotha at first agreed that the revolt was only temporary and that discipline could be restored shortly. But when disorder spread on 30 October to Friedrich der Grosse and Konig Albert, the game was up. Hipper now realized that Operations Plan No 19 had been stillborn. “What terrible days lie behind me. I had really not thought that I would return [from battle], and under what circumstances do I return now. Our men have rebelled.”

One of Hipper’s last acts as Chief of the High Sea Fleet was to disperse the rebellious ships, sending the First Squadron to the Elbe, the Third to Kiel, where it surprised an utterly unprepared Admiral Souchon, and the Fourth to Wilhelmshaven. He could hardly have made a more grievous miscalculation. In the various ports along both Baltic and North Sea shores, the sailors incited local uprisings and there found mostly hospitable receptions. Sea battalion soldiers refused to fire on them. Executive officers did not oppose them. A mere four Seeoffiziere were wounded in their efforts on behalf of the Kaiser.

Admiral von Trotha quickly informed Scheer, on 2 November, that the rebellion was a “Bolshevist movement”, but one that was directed against the government rather than against the officer corps. One day later, Trotha met with Levetzow to co-ordinate their stories concerning Operations Plan No 19. It was placed entirely in a defensive light, with stress placed primarily upon the submarines in the North Sea; the anticipated British advance from the north was sold as an attack on the German fatherland. Trotha even visited the offices of the Social Democratic newspaper Vorwarts to make quite certain that this official line was properly played up. Not yet knowing of the official line, the State Secretary of the Navy Office, Vice-Admiral von Mann, told the rebellious sailors of the Third Squadron that the sortie against the British had been designed to bring the U-boats home safely.

Admiral Scheer was not quite as inventive. He placed the entire blame for the failure of the operation upon the Social Democrats, and specifically upon the government’s inability in the autumn of 1917 to suppress the USPD. Scheer wrote after the war: “It still appears almost incomprehensible to me: this reversal from certain victory to complete collapse, and [it is] especially degrading that the revolution was planned without haste, and in thorough detail, right under our eyes.” At least the Navy’s liaison officer at Army headquarters, Lieutenant-Commander von Weizsacker, grasped the meaning of the events in the fleet: “We do not even know the state of mind within the naval hierarchy; this has been demonstrated during the planned assault.”

The aftershock of the mutiny continued a long time. Even many months after the revolution and as far away as Scapa Flow, many sailors still hated their officers. For example, on board the battleship Friedrich der Große, the former fleet flagship, men roller-skated on top of officers’ cabins day and night in order to break their nerves. Against this background, it is hardly astonishing that the great majority of the old officers corps regarded the mutiny and the revolution as a stain on the navy’s shield.

In the eyes of the officer corps, the mutineers and their-alleged – political leaders were nothing but `November criminals’, who had stabbed a proud and almost-victorious army and navy in the back. As soon as possible, they were to take revenge for this infamous crime. As early as October 1918, a high-ranking naval officer had written to the chief of staff of the Supreme Navy Command: `Unfortunately, we have been unable to keep the shield shining, which we took over from our ancestors stainless; our sons will have to wash off this stain. They shall work and hate.’ Subsequently, in 1919-20 naval officers conspired against the democratic Weimar Republic. They only failed because the trade unions proclaimed a general strike. Nevertheless, in this respect, the brutality of Scheer’s former chief of staff, Admiral von Levetzow, when fighting demonstrating workers in Kiel in 1920, was only an example of worse developments to come.

Not surprisingly, the idea of a future revenge also included acting against its former wartime enemies. In 1936, when Admiral Beatty, the C-in-C of Britain’s Grand Fleet in the final years of the war, died, Grand-Admiral Raeder refused to comply with the latter’s last wish that the C-in-C of the German Navy take part in his funeral. Thus, Raeder finally made clear that he still had not forgiven Beatty for the order he had signaled to the vessels of the Grand Fleet when the High Seas Fleet was approaching the Firth of Forth in November 1918, `that the enemy was a despicable beast’.

Not surprisingly, when Hitler came to power in 1933, the navy firmly supported his regime. Although he reckoned with a much longer period of peace in order to build up a powerful navy, Raeder left no doubt that the navy fully endorsed Hitler’s plan of establishing German hegemony on the continent and of challenging Britain. More important, still suffering from the traumatic events of November 1918, the navy tried to be more loyal than either the army or the air force. In his memoirs, Raeder admitted that `every officer had sworn a silent oath that there would be no November 1918 in the Navy again’. This refusal to acknowledge either their own shortcomings or the structural problems of Wilhelmine society blinded naval officers to the prerequisites of a modern democratic society. In 1945, the wheel finally came full circle: there could be no doubt that the navy’s leadership also bore responsibility for this second catastrophe in German history in the twentieth century.




AD 68, to serve new emperor Galba.


Initially, Gallia Narbonensis and Italy.


Misenum, Spain, Mogontiacum, Sirmium, Brigetio, Dacia, Parthia, Brigetio.


Battle of Old Camp, AD 70.

Trajan’s Dacian Wars, AD 101–106.

Trajan’s Partian Campaign, AD 114–116.

Marcus Aurelius’ German Wars, AD 161–180.


Publius Hevius Pertinax, future emperor.


Thrown together during the war of succession, fighting on Otho’s losing side before making a name for itself under Trajan, it would be one of Stilicho’s legions in the last desperate battles before the fifth-century fall of Rome.

A legion with surprising beginnings

In the late spring of AD 68, in a desperate bid to keep his throne, the 30-year-old emperor Nero raised a new legion, taking the unprecedented step of enlisting sailors from the Roman battle fleet based at Misenum, on the east coast of Italy, for legionary service. But the sailors could not save him; or would not. With both the Praetorian Guard and his German Guard bodyguard deserting him, and with the Senate declaring him an enemy of the state and sending troops to arrest him, on June 9 Nero apparently committed suicide. The Senate had already recognized the claim to the throne of 70-year-old Sulpicius Galba, governor of the province of Nearer Spain, and that autumn Galba came marching to Rome from Spain, attended by an entourage which included a new 7th Legion he had raised there, and a large body of cavalry.

In the meantime, Nero’s legion of seamen had sat stubbornly in Rome awaiting developments. With no quarters, they slept wherever they could around the city. At the time, Rome was crowded with legion detachments summoned to Rome by Nero during the last gasps of his reign; those troops, including men from the 11th Claudia and 15th Apollinaris legions, had resorted to sleeping in temples and public buildings. [Tac., H, I, 31] The seamen from Misenum had not been presented with an eagle and standards to signify that their legion was officially constituted, but they were determined to gain recognition of their unit; with that recognition would come a grant of Roman citizenship to each of them.

At this time, seamen and marines serving in Rome’s navy were not citizens. Neither were they slaves. Contrary to the erroneous picture painted by nineteenth-century authors, Rome’s sailors of this era were salaried free men who possessed neither Latin status nor Roman citizenship. [Starr, III, 3, and V, 1] Once the much valued prize of citizenship had been dangled before them by Nero, the seamen from Misenum were determined to win it from the new emperor Galba. Consequently, when news reached Rome in October AD 68 that Galba and his column from Spain were approaching, the 5,000 sailors of the new legion went flooding out of the city gates, joining the thousands of civilians gathered there to greet him.

Three miles (4.8 kilometers) north of Rome, this “disorderly rabble of the seamen,” as Plutarch described them, “those whom Nero had made soldiers, forming them into a legion,” crowded around Galba and loudly demanded “to have their commission confirmed.” [Plut., Galba] Preventing the emperor from being seen or heard by the crowds lining the route into the city, the ex-sailors “tumultuously pressed him, shouting loudly to have colors for their legion and quarters assigned to them.” [Ibid.] Galba tried to put them off, saying he would consider the matter later, and rode on.

But the seamen were not satisfied with this response, “which they interpreted as a denial” of their request. [Ibid.] Growing “more insolent and mutinous” and “some with drawn swords in their hands,” they continued to follow him, yelling their demands. [Ibid.] The sight of the sailors’ drawn swords frightened Galba, and as the column approached the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber river he “ordered the cavalry to ride over them.” [Ibid.] The seamen, the vast majority of whom were unarmed, “were soon routed” by the cavalry. Not a man stood his ground, “and many of them were killed, both there and in the pursuit” as they tried to flee back to the city. [Ibid.]

According to Tacitus, the affair resulted in “the slaughter of thousands of unarmed soldiers” of the unofficial legion by Galba’s cavalry. [Tac., H, I, 6] Cassius Dio, writing of the event more than 150 years later, estimated that “about 7,000 perished on the spot, and the survivors were later decimated,” with one in ten executed. [Dio, LXIII, 3] But 7,000 was certainly an exaggerated figure; an imperial legion only numbered a little over 5,200 men. And there is no other record of the decimation.

Word of Galba’s cold-blooded act of brutality against his own men at the Milvian Bridge soon spread around the empire, and did nothing to endear their new emperor to the Romans. The event was so impressed on the mind of Plutarch, who was at the time a young man in his twenties, and that of fellow historian Tacitus, then in his early teens, that both would observe that this was a bad omen for the new emperor’s reign “that Galba should make his first entry [to Rome] through so much blood and among dead bodies.” [Plut., Galba] Despite this lethal treatment, the surviving seamen hardened their resolve to gain recognition. The legion “which Nero had levied from the fleet” still remained in the congested capital, albeit in custody, and significantly reduced in numbers. [Tac., H, I, 6, 87]

This legion’s tortured beginnings were now about to take another turn. Tacitus wrote that, several months later, the city of Vienna “had recently raised legions for Galba.” [Tac., H, I., 65] This was not today’s Vienna in Austria, but present-day Vienna, in southern France. Roman Vienna was a leading city of the province of Narbon Gaul, through which Galba had passed on his march from Spain to Rome. [Plut., Galba] Situated on the south bank of the Rhône, Vienne, the capital of the powerful Allobroges tribe in Celtic times, had become one of the wealthiest cities in Gaul, even advertising its wealth with an inscription above the city gates, “VIEN FLOR FELIX,” which declared that Vienna was rich and flourishing. Such riches, and such boasts, could only attract the avaricious attention of neighbors who coveted “the gold of the men of Vienna.” [Tac., H, II, 29] And so it was to prove.

From AD 67 to AD 69, Vienna and the neighboring city of Lugdunum, today’s Lyon, were in a state of “perpetual feud.” [Tac., H, I, 65] Rivalry between the two went back as far the first century BC, when Vienna had expelled Roman colonists, who had subsequently been taken in by Lugdunum. When Gallic governor Vindex rose in revolt against Nero in AD 67, Lugdunum immediately threw its support behind Vindex, while Vienna retained its loyalty to Nero. During this period, Vienna had even sent armed men to raid Lugdunum. To keep the peace following the Vindex Revolt, Nero’s Palatium stationed the new 1st Italica Legion in Lugdunum, supporting the 18th Cohort of Rome’s City Guard, which was there to guard Lugdunum’s imperial mint. In an ironic twist, Lugdunum had then switched its support to Nero, and Vienna to Galba.

According to Tacitus, the people of Lugdunum now “began to work on the passions of individual soldiers, and to goad them into destroying Vienna.” [Ibid.] Tacitus says that in trying to coerce the 1st Italica legionaries into attacking Vienna, the people of Lugdunum claimed that while their city had begun as a colony of Roman legion veterans, the people of Vienna were foreigners. This potential threat, of an attack by the 1st Italica Legion, appears to have spurred the people of Vienna to come up with a novel solution, the formation of the first of their “legions for Galba” mentioned by Tacitus, levying young men locally.

Vienna’s first objective was the creation of a force to protect their city from attacks sponsored by Lugdunum, but the elders of Vienna would claim that they were merely creating legions in support of the nearby 1st Legion, the Italica, out of loyalty to their new emperor. Hence, the name taken by this, the first of Vienna’s new legions for Galba, was the 1st Adiutrix, or 1st Supporter Legion; literally, the legion in support of the 1st. Several months later, as Galba passed through their province on his way to Rome, the Viennase would have presented him with their new legion—a unit with perhaps a name but without an eagle, standards, or official standing—and Galba would have added Vienna’s recruits to his train as he marched on.

On December 22, apparently in a Saturnalia Festival act of clemency connected with his birthday, which was just two days away, Galba released some of the imprisoned seamen who had survived the massacre in October outside the city, discharging from military service those considered too old or too unfit to be of further use to the State. [Starr, VIII] The discharge diplomas issued to these men show that up to that point they had not received the Roman citizenship promised by Nero. Meanwhile, the remaining seamen from the Milvian Bridge massacre continued to languish in prison.

At this same time, Galba conveyed eagle and standards to the new legion, officially commissioning it into service as the 1st Adiutrix Legion. [Ibid.] That the legion was officially constituted by Galba, not Nero, is confirmed by Cassius Dio. [Dio, LV, 24] The December 22 timing of this formal presentation ceremony meant that from this time forward the legion would display the astrological birth sign of Capricorn.

Meanwhile, the remaining seamen of Nero’s legion enlistment were still imprisoned. [Tac., H, I, 87] So who was filling the legion’s ranks? It would seem that it was Vienna’s citizen recruits. Twenty-four days later, on January 15, AD 69, Galba was assassinated in Rome by a disaffected soldier of the 15th Apollinaris Legion. The Praetorian Guard at once hailed as their new emperor Otho, the former governor of Lusitania, who had marched to Rome with Galba the previous autumn. The Senate endorsed their choice.

Knowing how unpopular Galba had become with the military, one of Otho’s first acts was to win the loyalty of the fleet at Misenum. Tacitus records how Otho achieved this: Otho “enrolled in the ranks of the legion the survivors of the slaughter at the Milvian Bridge, who had been retained in custody by the stern policy of Galba.” [Tac., H, I, 87] That is, Otho added to the already existing 1st Adiutrix Legion the sailors he now released from custody. On being taken into the legion and joining the Viennase recruits, these seamen would be granted the Roman citizenship for which they had hungered. This diverse mix produced 1st Adiutrix soldiers who were, according to Plutarch, “strong and bold.” [Plut., Otho] As for the rest of the sailors of the fleet at Misenum, to them Otho “held out hopes of a more honorable service in the future”; they, too, might aspire to citizenship eventually. [Ibid.]

With the unit’s official commissioning by Galba, the name of the 1st Adiutrix Legion was formalized, as was its emblem, Pegasus the flying horse. In mythology, Pegasus was the son of Neptune, god of the sea, which would seemingly make the flying horse an appropriate symbol for a legion whose first recruits had come from the navy. Yet, as Starr points out, the seamen of Rome’s battle fleets showed no inclination to worship Neptune. [Starr, IV, 2] Neither did they worship Castor and Pollux, the patron deities of merchant sailors. In fact, the men of the fleet at Misenum venerated Isis, the patron goddess of sailors in Hellenistic times, who was believed to control the weather. [Ibid.]

Another new legion to adopt the Pegasus emblem, the 2nd Adiutrix, was raised the following year. This unit would also have a connection with both Vienna and the Roman navy. Apart from these two units, only one other imperial Roman legion is known to have employed the Pegasus emblem, and that was the 2nd Augusta Legion—a long-established and renowned unit known to use Gallia Narbonensis, a maritime province, as a recruiting ground. It may be that, rather than as a symbol of veneration of Neptune, both Adiutrix legions instead took Pegasus as their emblem in emulation of the 2nd Augusta, the “home” legion of Narbon Gaul, where they began life.

The 1st Adiutrix Legion spent that winter at Misenum, using the fleet’s quarters. Less than two months after the seamen officially joined the unit, the legion was ordered to prepare to march; its first battle was just weeks away. Ironically, the 1st Adiutrix faced the 1st Italica Legion, which it had been founded by Vienna to counter, in its first battle in April AD 69. It fought for Otho against Vitellius’ army at the First Battle of Bedriacum in northern Italy. Otho’s army lost; the 1st Adiutrix surrendered, after which Vitellius sent it to Spain.

In AD 70, the new emperor Vespasian transferred the 1st Adiutrix from Spain to Mogontiacum on the Rhine. Domitian stationed it in Pannonia. By the reign of Nerva it was at Brigetio, on the Danube. From there it took part in both of Trajan’s Dacian Wars, after which Trajan took it to the East for his Parthian campaign. From the reign of Hadrian the legion was back at Brigetio in Lower Pannonia, where it remained for the next 200 years defending the Danube.

In AD 193 the legion joined the march to Rome by the Pannonian legions that installed Septimius Severus on the throne after the Praetorian Guard murdered the popular soldier emperor Pertinax.

The Notitia Dignitatum shows the legion still in existence early in the fifth century, as part of the army of the Eastern Roman emperor, and stationed in the center of modern-day Hungary under the command of the Duke of Valeriae Ripensis.

Navy Patrol Squadron 16

A great deal has been written about the battle for Saipan, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, remembered today as having included “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” However, certain events that could have turned the battle in any number of directions are often mentioned only in passing.

One of these events is the role played by one Martin PBM-3D Mariner aircraft of Navy Patrol Squadron 16 (VP-16) in locating the Japanese fleet as it sailed east for what both sides hoped might be a decisive naval battle. Admiral Raymond Spruance, in overall command of Operation Forager, the campaign for the capture of the Mariana and Palau island groups, was receiving reports from American submarines as to the movement of Japanese ships under Admiral Jizaburo Ozawa that were heading in the direction of the Marianas. However, Spruance’s carrier-based planes under Admiral Marc Mitscher of Task Force 58 had limited range and little luck in pinpointing the exact location of the Japanese ships.

Likewise, Spruance, always the cautious warrior trying to think like his Japanese opponent, was concerned that Ozawa might try to draw him west while splitting his force to do an endaround and attack the U. S. transports off Saipan. That is when he ordered a number of available PBM-3D flying boats up from the Marshall Islands. His hope was that with their longer range they might locate the Japanese fleet and thus help him make his decision as to how best to meet the coming threat.

By the summer of 1944, the United States and its allies were no longer just holding the line but pushing back on all fronts. The Russians were advancing west and closing in on the German homeland. In the Southwest Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur had advanced along the north coast of Papua New Guinea and, in late May of that year, made landings on the island of Biak as part of the final effort to return to the Philippines. A week later, on June 6, Allied forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower began the liberation of Western Europe with landings in Normandy.

As the Japanese were putting together a relief mission to stop MacArthur at Biak, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief Pacific Ocean Areas, gave them a right hook with Operation Forager. With the exception of Guam, the Japanese had been in control of the Marianas since 1914 during World War I, when they simply sailed in and seized the islands of German Micronesia without firing a shot. Thirty years later they would have to give up those islands, but the process would be anything but bloodless. On Saipan alone, the Japanese would lose more than 40,000 of their nationals, including civilians. The Americans suffered roughly 15,000 casualties, almost a third of them killed in action.

For almost 300 years the Philippines and the islands of Micronesia had been Spanish colonial possessions. This all changed in 1898 with the war between Spain and the United States that resulted in Spain giving up the Philippines and also the island of Guam in the Marianas. Guam was taken because it was needed as a coaling station for U. S. ships sailing to the newly acquired colonial possessions in the Philippines. A year later, Spain, in need of capital, sold the rest of Spanish Micronesia to Germany. Germany’s interest in the islands was economic but short lived, being forced out by the Japanese just 15 years later.

With America’s entry into World War II following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Guam, just a few miles south of Japanese-held Saipan, fell within hours to a superior Japanese force and would not be liberated until July 1944, a month after Saipan had been secured. Although American offensive operations in the Central Pacific got off to a rather late start compared to other theaters, once they got going with landings in the Gilbert Islands there was no slowing them down. Soon the Marshall Islands fell at minimal cost compared to the bloody three days required to take Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. As a result of these successes, Admiral Nimitz felt comfortable in advancing the date for operations in the Marianas, which both the Japanese and Americans knew would put the Allies within striking distance of the Japanese home islands. More than 500 ships-most sailing from Hawaii-and more than 127,000 men were involved in the operation to wrest Saipan, an island only 15 miles long and eight miles wide at its widest point, from the Japanese.

War came to the Japanese on Saipan when U. S. carrier planes struck in February 1944. The enemy garrison then had just over three months to prepare for a tsunami of fire and steel that would soon turn this tropical paradise into a broken and burned wasteland.

In the months before U. S. Marine and Army forces assaulted Saipan, the Japanese were moving to evacuate some of the thousands of civilians living on the island. At the same time they were attempting to bring in more military personnel and equipment to fend off what was obviously going to be an attempt to break what the Japanese considered their outer ring of defense in the Pacific. However, by this point in the war U. S. submarines and aircraft dominated the waters and skies throughout most of the Pacific. As a result, most of the ships evacuating civilians, while at the same time attempting to reinforce island garrisons, were being sunk in record numbers

Heavy carrier air strikes against Saipan began several days before the American landings on June 15 and continued throughout the campaign. Likewise, to prevent Japanese land based planes from disrupting the landings, planes from Mitscher’s fast carriers attacked island airfields on nearby Guam and Rota, and also those farther to the north in the Bonin and Volcano Islands.

Meanwhile, Spruance, in overall command of Operation Forager, started receiving reports of the Japanese fleet movements. The first report came from the submarine USS Bowfin. Even before the landings started, Bowfin reported a large number of Japanese ships off the northeast tip of Borneo. This was followed by another report from the submarine USS Flying Fish, this time of a Japanese fleet that included aircraft carriers exiting San Bernardino Strait in the Philippines. Later, the submarine USS Sea Horse reported another group of Japanese ships approaching from the west and slightly south of Spruance’s Fifth Fleet.

These reports and Spruance’s own contemplation led him to believe that the main Japanese objective was to disrupt the landings on Saipan by drawing the Fifth Fleet west, allowing Ozawa to split his forces and attack the U. S. transports under Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, which were off the coast of the Marianas. Mitscher, on the other hand, saw the Japanese move as an opportunity for a decisive fleet engagement that had the potential of putting the Imperial Japanese Navy out of the war completely. However, Spruance’s caution and focus on protecting the landings prevented Mitscher from doing what he wanted. Instead, Spruance ordered him to sail west during the day and east during the night to protect the transports still offloading men and supplies in a battle that was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Mitscher was sending out carrier aircraft to try and locate Ozawa’s fleet. However, given the limited range of U. S. carrier aircraft and the vastness of the seas west of the Marianas, he was not having any success, prompting Spruance to order up from the Marshall Islands the available PBM- 3Ds of Navy Patrol Squadron 16.

Patrol Squadron 16 was formed in December 1943 at Harvey Point, North Carolina. The PBM-3D Martin Mariner was a larger but less reliable cousin to the Consolidated PBY Catalina that was first developed in the early 1930s. The PBMs, unlike the PBYs, did not become operational until the early 1940s and suffered a number of problems common to a new type of aircraft. Besides design and structural issues, the underpowered Wright R-2600-22 engines were a source of constant worry to those who flew in the Mariner. Engine failures were common, and few PBMs could boast making it back to base on just one. The failure of both often resulted in the loss of all aboard. The one thing the Catalina and the Mariner had in common, however, was that they were both slow, with maximum speeds of around 200 miles per hour and a normal cruising speed of well under that. Put another way, they were both meat on the table for any fighter plane of that era.

William Sheehan was born in Oakland, California, in 1922. He wanted to enlist in the U. S. Navy right out of high school, but his mother would not sign for him until after he received his draft notice. Thinking he was better off in the Navy than in the Army, his mother readily signed on the dotted line. In October 1943, he entered the Navy and was sent to boot camp in Farragut, Idaho, probably not an ideal location for a California boy not used to cold winters.

After boot camp, Sheehan was sent to aviation mechanics school in Norman, Oklahoma, and from there to PBM School in Banana River, Florida, now better known as Cape Canaveral. He then joined VP-16 in North Carolina. The squadron’s commanding officer was Lieutenant William Scarpino, and the executive officer was Lieutenant Ralph John. Sheehan’s patrol plane commander was Lieutenant K. O. Hotvedt. The bureau number of the PBM-3D nicknamed Boomerang that Sheehan would fly in for the duration of the war was 48198, a number that Sheehan remembered for more than 50 years.

After a brief period of training out of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, VP-16 received orders in April 1944 to Naval Air Station Alameda in California for deployment to the South Pacific. From Harvey Point, North Carolina, the squadron flew to Eagle Mountain, Texas, before setting off the following day for San Diego. On the way, Lieutenant John’s PBM- 3D lost an engine. In spite of every effort to stay in the air on the one remaining engine, within five minutes the plane crashed with the loss of all aboard. This would not be the last time VP- 16 had to either abort a flight or a plane was lost because of engine failure. On the way to Hawaii from California in May, Lieutenant R. W. Briggs and his crew had to ditch and spent almost two days in rubber life rafts before being rescued.

From Hawaii, VP-16 flew to the Marshall Islands via Palmyra Island and Canton Island, where airfields had been built before the war in anticipation of their use in case of conflict with Japan.

When the first five PBMs arrived in the waters off Saipan late on June 17, 1944, the men were based aboard the destroyer USS Ballard but later transferred to seaplane tender USS Pokomoke (AV-9). Almost immediately upon arrival they were sent out on patrol. In the early morning hours of June 19, Lieutenant Arle, flying one of the PBMs, made radar contact with 40 ships 470 miles west of Guam. However, the radio operator aboard the PBM, Chief Petty Officer Tibbets, could not make radio contact with the Fifth Fleet. He said he had a problem with what was called “skip distance,” bouncing the message off the ionosphere. It was picked up in places such as Pearl Harbor and even Washington, D. C., but not by the ships off Saipan. Those who did receive the message did not forward it to Spruance. Had they done so, the history of the Battle of the Philippine Sea might well have been different.

In desperation to get the news to Spruance, the message was then sent “in the clear.” Still, it was not received. As a result, Arle immediately headed back to Saipan to deliver the news in person. However, that was more than a seven-hour flight, and by that time it was too late. As a result of not receiving this information in a timely fashion, Spruance launched his fighters late, not to attack the Japanese fleet as Mitscher had hoped, but to engage carrier aircraft launched by Ozawa before they could do any damage to the ships of the Fifth Fleet. Because of the inability to radio the contact with the Japanese fleet in a timely manner, the Americans had lost an opportunity to inflict an even greater defeat on the Japanese. It is possible that the enemy fleet might have been annihilated along with the many enemy planes that were shot down.

When the initial Japanese airstrike of the Battle of the Philippine Sea approached Task Force 58, most of the attacking planes were shot down by U. S. carrier-based Grumman F6F Hellcats or the massive antiaircraft fire thrown up by Fifth Fleet’s escorting ships. The few Japanese planes to survive the ordeal either headed back to their carriers or fled to one of the Japanese-held islands in the Marianas. Even then, there were patrolling Hellcats waiting to do them no good when they attempted to land. One Japanese pilot landed on Saipan after the main airfield had fallen into American hands. His fighter was shot to pieces as he landed, but the pilot somehow managed to walk away from his wrecked plane without injury. When asked why he landed on Saipan, he said he was told that the island was still in Japanese hands. He was one of the few Japanese airmen to survive the battle.

Admiral Spruance was criticized by some for his cautionary approach to the battle that allowed Ozawa to escape with most of his fleet intact, just as some had criticized him after the Battle of Midway in June 1942, for not chasing the Japanese after they had lost four aircraft carriers. However, as any number of Pacific War historians have pointed out, regardless of the caution that Spruance displayed both at Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, both were one-sided victories for the Americans.

In October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Admiral Spruance’s good friend Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, mindful of the criticism leveled at Spruance for being overly cautious at both Midway and Saipan, did just the opposite and suffered criticism of his own. Upon General MacArthur’s return to the Philippines with landings on the east coast of the island of Leyte, Halsey was lured away from the San Bernardino Strait to the north. Ozawa, who had lost most of his planes in combat earlier in the year, was used along with his now nearly empty carriers to lure Halsey away from his guard duties. Halsey took the bait, and as a result Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, with his force of battleships and cruisers, came within a breath of wiping out the landings on Leyte. Guarding those landing beaches was something Spruance felt was his priority earlier in the year at Saipan, yet he was criticized for being too cautious.

VP-16 had other problems besides not being able to report the position of Ozawa’s fleet. One of its planes became a casualty of the air battle, but not as a result of enemy fire. On the contrary, one of VP-16’s PBMs returning from a patrol was mistaken for a Japanese Kawanishi flying boat by a group of F6F Hellcats and was attacked. Before the offending pilots had realized their mistake, one of the crew, Gilbert Person, was dead. Then on June 22, another PBM, this one piloted by Lieutenant Harry R. Flashbarth, was shot down while on a night patrol by a destroyer of Task Force 58. There were no survivors.

After most of the excitement was over, Sheehan and the crew of Boomerang finally arrived off Saipan on June 24, having been forced to wait in the Marshalls to have a damaged propeller replaced. Sheehan noted that at this time it was not unusual to see bodies floating in the water off the coast. If the bodies were Japanese, they were left alone. If they were American bodies they were retrieved for possible identification and a proper burial.

Toward the end of the fighting on Saipan, one of the damaged PBMs was hauled ashore at the former Japanese seaplane ramp in Tanapag on the west coast of Saipan, and Sheehan was sent ashore to guard it until it could be cannibalized for spare parts. There were still unburied Japan ese bodies lying around from the fighting that had recently taken place in the area, and some diehard enemy soldiers remained active. One Japanese soldier had been hiding under a wrecked plane near the ramp. When he thought it was safe, he made a run for it but was killed by Marines before he could get very far.

On August 1, 1944, VP-16 was relieved by VP-18. VP-16 then regrouped at Ebeye Island in the Marshalls for engine overhaul and replacement and other much-needed maintenance. On August 21, the squadron was sent to Kossol Passage in the Palaus west of the Marianas. The crews conducted routine patrols until late November 1944, when they were ordered home. The pilots flew from the Palaus back to Hawaii and eventually to Alameda. However, they again were plagued by engine problems. Boomerang, with Lieutenant Hotvedt still at the controls, made three attempts to get home. The first two attempts resulted in turnarounds to Kaneohe Naval Air Station in Hawaii because of engine problems. When Boomerang was finally nursed home the plane was scrapped. Sheehan spent the rest of World War II at Alameda and was discharged in November 1945.

If remembered at all, VP-16 is probably recalled as just one of many seaplane squadrons that served in the Pacific in various roles. The fact that one of its PBM-3Ds spotted Admiral Ozawa’s Japanese carrier force in the opening moments of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, well in advance of its last-minute location by Fifth Fleet radar, is mentioned only in passing in most histories of the Marianas campaign. The incident remains one of many what-ifs of the Pacific War.

The Suez and Cyprus Crisis I

Senior officers discuss plans for Op Sparrowhawk against EOKA terrorists, Cyprus, October 1956.

(September to December 1956)

The international crisis in the Near East had sharpened after Colonel Nasser officially assumed power as President of Egypt on 23 June 1956. He had then blockaded the Suez Canal with sunken ships and crippled the vital arterial trade route between Europe and the Middle East and Far East. Hostilities apparently imminent with Egypt, Lieutenant General Keightley was warned to prepare Cyprus and Malta as invasion assembly points for 80,000 troops. Since the RASC remained vital in ferrying men, equipment and supplies to and from the embarkation ports, 1 Transport Column was reformed into RASC Cyprus East and Cyprus West.

Determined to ensure that Cyprus remained in the international limelight, Grivas kept up the pressure on internal security with hit-andrun attacks and ambushes. Between 7 August and 15 September, which was the scheduled D-Day to land in Egypt, EOKA carried out fifty-six bombings of military targets including eighteen directed at Dhekelia, Akrotiri, Episkopi and the 625 Ordnance Depot in Larnaca and fourteen against camps in the Nicosia area. There were twenty attacks on military logistic facilities at Famagusta, Limassol and Paphos. An Army Field Security launch was also sunk. Most of the devices were delivered by employees. At least twenty were defused. There were twenty ambushes of military vehicles. In August, twelve loyalist Greek-Cypriots were murdered. As part of the plan to seize hostages in retaliation for the imminent execution, on 4 August, of the three EOKA who had killed Lance Corporal Morun, on the 3rd, Mr John Cremer, an elderly retired civil servant thought by EOKA to be an intelligence agent, was kidnapped as he walked to teach English in the Turkish hamlet of Temblos, west of Kyrenia. The authorities responded that the ‘course of justice would not be affected’ by the kidnapping, and Grivas’s strategy backfired when Andreas Zakos appealed from his death cell that Cremer should be released, which he was three days later. When the three were hanged on the 9th, the expected retaliation did not materialize; instead, a week later, Grivas suspended operations to allow Archbishop Makarios to negotiate ‘a free Cyprus’. The reality was that some communities fed up with the collective fines, roadblocks, cordon-andsearches, curfews and EOKA executions and punishment squads in the mid-summer heat, quite apart from the withdrawal of business investment, were challenging his orders for diversionary operations to deflect the pressure from the mountain Guerrilla Groups. The flow of informant information also increased.

On the 22 August Field Marshal Harding surprised diplomats by offering EOKA the option of either renouncing their British citizenship and being deported to Greece until the Emergency was resolved or taking their chances in court. To prevent the British claiming victory if EOKA accepted, the Greek Government offered safe passage to Grivas and his men. But Grivas, feeling that the struggle was by no means lost and judging the offer to his men to keep their British citizenship to be a touch arrogant, stuck to his principle of diplomacy through force by announcing next day, ‘My reply to the Government is No! Come and take it’ and that operations would resume on 27 August. Harding then revealed on 26 August that a week earlier a patrol had found diaries belonging to Grivas in jars near Lysi. For a few weeks after 1 April 1955, Grivas had stayed with a cousin of Afxentiou, who had become a bodyguard to Grivas. The bodyguard and his brother had undertaken to take the diaries to Lysi where they buried them in a field. In the same period, Grivas had also stayed with a man who knew where they were buried and had sold them to the British. They proved to be an intelligence coup of some significance because they described the organization, methods and personalities of EOKA during the run-up to the outbreak of the violence in April 1955. The extracts again undermined Makarios by proving that he was deeply involved in the insurrection and that it was he who had invited Grivas to form a clandestine army to liberate Cyprus. For the third time Grivas had compromised EOKA in ignoring his own principles by failing to destroy correspendence and documents. His claims that the diaries were forgeries were largely ignored.

The day of 27 August was tense, particularly in Ledra Street where businesses had enjoyed a week of welcome trading during the ceasefire, including from Service families, even though the street now had achieved international fame as Murder Mile. The street ran through Old Nicosia. At 57 Alexander Road, a few steps from Ledra Street, lived Dr Michael Grivas, elder brother to Colonel Grivas. The narrowness and hustle and bustle of the street in Old Nicosia allowed gunmen to identify their target, usually approach from behind, shoot at point blank range and then disappear, guns sometimes being handed to EOKA women who concealed them in shopping bags. Patrols were also easy targets. RASC Private Douglas Laventure was the first off-duty soldier to be murdered on Murder Mile, while he was purchasing a present eleven days before Christmas 1955. Private Raymond Banks, of 1 South Staffords was killed on 21 May 1956 when a grenade was dropped into his vehicle from an upper storey of a house. In mid-June 1956 a Warwicks patrol was ambushed, and although the radio operator, Private Ray Watkins, was badly wounded in both arms and legs, he maintained contact with Battalion HQ. It was not uncommon for Greek-Cypriot residents and shoppers to walk past victims lying in the road and pretend to know nothing about it. Patrols and families soon learnt that if shops were closed and there were few shoppers at times when it should be busy, then something was amiss.

Within hours of the ceasefire being lifted, a bomb exploded at an officer’s house, a tank landing ship was damaged by a limpet mine, a fire destroyed the new Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes at Episkopi and power lines near Paphos were sabotaged. A new dimension to Service life in Cyprus emerged when Greek-Cypriot NAAFI employees deposited bombs in Army married quarters. In another engagement in central Nicosia, two Service wives were caught in crossfire during a thirty-minute gun battle in which a patrol was ambushed.

When Polycarpos Georghadjis, the young hard-core guerrilla who had developed an intelligence network among the Cyprus Police, was detained in Nicosia Prison, Grivas considered him to be of such importance that he instructed the Nicosia EOKA murder group led by Nicos Sampson to rescue him. Born Nicos Georghiades in Famagusta, Sampson changed his name when he began working as a photojournalist for the Times of Cyprus in order to distinguish himself from others with the same surname. The Times of Cyprus, was edited by Charles Foley and since it was pro-enosis was known by British soldiers as the EOKA Times. Also locked up in Nicosia Prison after her failed kidnap plan was Nitsa Hadjigeorghiou. She managed to contact Georghadjis and when she learnt on 30 August that he had convinced the prison authorities that he was unwell and was going for an X-Ray at Nicosia General Hospital on the next day, she persuaded a Greek-Cypriot warder to let Sampson know of Georghadjis’ appointment. Next day, Georghadjis and two other detainees arrived at the hospital escorted by Sergeants Tony Eden and Leonard Demmon (both Metropolitan Police). One of the detainees was Argyrious Karadymas, the Greek owner of the caique Ayios Georghias boarded by the Royal Navy in January 1955, and he had been sentenced to six years as an agitator. As the prisoners and escorts came down the stairs from X-Ray, four gunmen who had been waiting in the main entrance hall opened up with revolvers that had been smuggled into the hospital by EOKA women. Demmon returned fire with his Sterling but he had been badly wounded and accidently shot two hospital orderlies as well as one of the terrorists. Eden shot a second terrorist and killed a third by clubbing him with his revolver when his ammunition ran out, but he was unable to prevent Georghadjis and Karadymas from escaping through the back entrance. Eden was awarded the George Medal and, although a marked man, he refused to return to the UK. In December he was killed when his cocked revolver fell from his shoulder holster while he was playing with his puppy. Demmon was later posthumously awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry. A week later, Pavlos Pavlakis and Antonios Papadopoulos of the Famagusta Group escaped from Pyla Detention Camp by crawling underneath the perimeter fence. Pavlakis assumed command of the Famagusta Town Group while his colleague joined Afxentiou.

As the Franco-British forces completed their final preparations for the landings in Egypt, Cyprus had become an enlarged aircraft carrier for the British and French army and air force units assembling in existing and hastily constructed camps. Among the French force was the 10th Airborne Division, which had three parachute regiments, one being Foreign Legion. It had recently been on operations in Algeria, where the French response to terrorism was considerably more robust than that of the British in Cyprus. Defending the anchorages and airfields was the 1st Artillery Group, Royal Artillery (1 AGRA) with 21 and 50 Medium Regiments RA replacing 40 Commando in Paphos and 2 Para in Limni Camp respectively, and the 16 and 43 Light and 57 Heavy Anti Aircraft Regiments RA. The naval elements were gathered in Malta where there were concerns that 3 Commando Brigade had been in Cyprus for nearly a year and had not exercised the complexities of an amphibious landing.

Much to his consternation, the influx of British and French troops forced Brigadier Baker to divert troops from some internal security operations to guard the camps springing up across the island, not only against EOKA but also the threat of Arab commando attacks. The inevitability of de-escalating internal security operations was also worrying, more so when industrial disputes and strikes led to troops being diverted to load ships at the embarkation ports. Privately, Field Marshal Harding was critical of the impact that the operation was having on his drive against EOKA, particularly as Operation Fox Hunter had dealt the Troodos Guerrilla Groups several severe blows. But EOKA would be given some respite when 16 Parachute Brigade was withdrawn from operations near Kambos and 1 and 3 Paras returned to Aldershot in several types of aircraft where, in rotation over ten days each, the soldiers carried out three training jumps and a battalion drop and had a couple of days leave before returning to Cyprus.

When in September the Limassol suburb in which he was hidden was subjected to an increasing numbers of searches, Grivas moved his hideout from the home owned by Dafnis Panayides to the house occupied by Marios Christodoules, his wife Elli and their baby daughter aged nine months, on the northern outskirts of Limassol. Ironically, Christodoules was a clerk at the Akrotiri branch of the Ottoman Bank. The hideout had been built by two members of Limassol Town Group, Andreas Papadopoulous and Manolis Savvides. Both were part of the syndicate successfully smuggling weapons with the connivance of Customs, indeed it was Savvides who had persuaded Christodoules to shelter Grivas. The hideout was accessed through a trapdoor under the kitchen sink and, dug under the garden, was topped by a concrete roof on which sat a poultry run. Behind the house was an escape route across fields. Inside there was sufficient room for two camp beds, a desk and a chair and an electric fan for ventilation. Grivas usually spent the day in the house; he rarely went out. As with other dynamic guerrilla leaders, Che Guevera being a classic example, some young women focused on Grivas, now aged fifty-eight years, among them Louella Kokkinou, whom he trusted highly as a courier. She claimed that her front teeth had been knocked out during an interrogation in May 1956 – until dental records proved they had been extracted in June. To help protect the bunker, Christodoules purchased a small black mongrel whose irritable, high-pitched barking warned of strangers approaching the property. Grivas’ presence in the bunker was known only to Dafnis and Maroulla Panayides, who had sheltered him previously and brought his correspondence, Demos Hjimiltis, the Limassol Town commander and his fiancée, Nina Droushiotou, who became the principal courier for Grivas, and the two builders. Elli Christodoules also seems to have hosted Grivas.

Grivas stepped up the campaign of terror, with Greek-Cypriots again taking the brunt of civilian deaths. During the afternoon of 8 September, eight EOKA from the Tassos Sofocleus Group breaking into Kyrenia Police Station were interrupted when Captain de Klee, Scots Guards attached to the Guards Independent Parachute Company, and Cornet Gage of the Royal Horse Guards, walked into the police station and startled the terrorists. Thinking that the two men were part of an Army patrol, the raiders scuttled past the two officers, dropping weapons and ammunition in their wake. Ten soldiers were killed in the second half of September, including during the morning of the 28th, Surgeon Captain Gordon Wilson, the Royal Horse Guards Medical Officer, shot by Nicos Sampson in his car at the junction of St Andrew and Queen Frederica Street in Nicosia soon after he had treated a seriously-ill Greek-Cypriot woman. Two shops suspected to have been involved in the murder were searched and closed. Next day, Sampson was one of three EOKA who shot Sergeant Cyril Thorogood (Leicester and Rutland Constabulary) and Sergeant Hugh Carter (Herefordshire County Constabulary) at point blank range and badly wounded Sergeant William Webb (Worcestershire County Constabulary) at the junction of Alexander the Great Street with Ledra Street while they were getting into a car after a shopping trip. Several British wives gave first aid to Thorogood and Carter while Webb, shot several times, attempted to engage the gunmen. Sampson found sanctuary in St Andrew’s Monastery. On the same day, a 14/20th Hussars sergeant was shot dead and his wife wounded in front of their young daughter as they were returning from church in Larnaca. Two Greek-Cypriots were arrested, and another suspected to have been involved was Petrakis Kyprianou, the well-educated if rebellious son of a prosperous grocer. He had volunteered to attack a Royal Navy party ashore, but when this failed he had then led grenade attacks on Army vehicles and had been involved in the execution of Greek-Cypriots. He vowed never to be taken alive and was granted his wish in an engagement with troops in March 1957.

Losing patience with Greek-Cypriots’ persistent reluctance to identify the killers and their unwillingness to help casualties, the authorities imposed a 7 am to 7 pm curfew on several Greek-Cypriot suburbs in the walled city, with a one-hour suspension at midday. Several thousand people evacuated their homes, leaving about 12,000 under curfew. Greek-Cypriot hotel bars, cabarets, cinemas and theatres and coffee shops were ordered to close, although hotels could cater for residents. On 1 October, when several hundred women intent on restocking empty larders attempted to access a Turkish vegetable market but found their way blocked by soldiers from 1 KOYLI, the District Commissioner agreed to a two-hour suspension either side of midday so that they could buy provisions from Greek-Cypriot markets. He also organized food centres along Ledra Street to ensure equitable distribution. After the Mayor of Paphos had complained that the curfew was causing excessive hardship because wage earners were unable to go to work, Harding raised the restrictions on 6 October.

Among the military casualties in late September were Corporal Paul Farley and Staff Sergeant Joe Culkin, both of 1 Ammunition Disposal Unit (Internal Security), killed within ten days of each other while dealing with devices in EOKA hideouts. From the earliest stages of its campaign, EOKA lacked explosives. After the seizures and non-arrival of explosive during the preparatory stages, EOKA divers had recovered landmines from captured Italian stocks dumped in the shallow waters off Famagusta, and although they were usually corroded, the TNT was sufficiently stable to be extracted and hammered into small lumps of explosive or crystals. Fishermen knew where the mines could be found because they sometimes dragged them in their nets and then used the explosive to stun fish. Local information enabled EOKA to map the locations of minefields used to defend Cyprus during the war and after lifting mines they then used the serviceable ones to ambush military vehicles. Detonators and dynamite were stolen or bought cheaply from the copper mines, quarries and road works. Potassium chlorate was widely used for agricultural purposes and mixed with sugar could be converted into improvised if unstable explosive. In spite of Army objections, it was not until late in the Emergency that the supply to farmers was strictly rationed.

Hand grenades smuggled to Cyprus included the British Mills 36, one of the three types of red-painted Italian Anti Personnel bombs known as ‘Red Devils’ and post-war US grenades supplied to the Greek Army. Improvised alternatives were nails, bits of metal and iron and stones packed into a covered tin can or perhaps a parcel surrounding a tube of improvised explosive into which was inserted a fuse detonated with a match or lighter. The ‘pipe bomb’ was popular. Manufactured from standard plumbing pipe filled with TNT and fitted at both ends with screw caps, grooves weakened the pipe so that it provided the shrapnel. The detonator was a short length of crimped safety fuse taped to usually two or more matches. Pipe bombs were difficult to identify and could be transported as part of a plumber’s tool kit or a delivery to a shop or client. For devices left at targets, time delay fuses were built in. In the British L Delay detonator, a thin length of wire stretched under pressure until it snapped and dropped the striker to hit the detonator. In the Number 10 Time Pencil used by EOKA, a small glass capsule of crushed acid nibbled through the wire under tension.