The Armada – Failure Guaranteed?


Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada; the Apothecaries painting, sometimes attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. A stylised depiction of key elements of the Armada story: the alarm beacons, Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury, and the sea battle at Gravelines.

Strategically, the determination of Spain’s Philip II to destroy his chief Protestant and maritime rival-Elizabeth I of England-made sense. The problems the Spanish faced in the Netherlands, where the Dutch were in revolt; in the Caribbean, where the English chipped away at Spanish strength; and in the contest for the souls of Europe’s rival Catholic and Protestant communities, could all seemingly be solved if England could be brought low.

Such a strategic goal necessitated an ambitious operational plan. “The Enterprise of England,” as the proposed invasion was known, had long been a subject of speculative discussion. The attractions of the concept were matched only by the difficulties inherent in the undertaking. But in 1587 a variety of events conspired to transform the “Enterprise” from a scheme into a plan. Suddenly an invasion of England seemed part of “God’s obvious design.”

At Philip’s behest, his two ablest commanders-Don Alvaro de Bazan, marquis of Santa Cruz, the foremost Spanish naval commander of the day; and Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma, the commander of Spanish land forces in the Netherlands-produced estimates of the necessary forces and sketched out preliminary plans for an invasion. Santa Cruz’s proposal that he command a huge fleet of more than 500 ships, manned by 30,000 sailors, transporting 65,000 soldiers, ignored the financial and practical realities facing Philip. Parma’s suggestion that a force of 30,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, under his command, traverse the Channel in 700 or 800 small boats, without a covering fleet, depended upon complete surprise, a factor Philip himself labeled “Hardly possible!” With two such proposals in hand, Philip might well have dismissed “The Enterprise of England” as a worthy but impracticable idea. Instead, as Garrett Mattingly writes, “Out of the plans of his two ablest commanders Philip made a plan of his own.”

In the security of the monastery of San Lorenzo Escorial, Philip concocted a new scheme. He decided that a powerful naval armada, though one far smaller than that recommended by Santa Cruz, would sail from Spain with a small land force and enter the English Channel. There the armada would rendezvous with Parma’s army, less than half the size Parma had proposed, transported in small craft built or requisitioned in the Netherlands. The army would cross the Channel, disembark, and begin the conquest of England.

Several practical problems marred what Mattingly describes as “a complicated and rather rigid plan, without much allowance for mistakes or accidents.” The amalgamation of two impractical plans did not ensure a positive result. Philip’s design addressed neither Santa Cruz’s concern about the need for an overwhelming naval force nor Parma’s demand for troops and emphasis on the need for surprise. Philip skirted the problem at sea by urging his naval commander to avoid combat. But, without at least temporary Spanish control of the Channel, how could Parma transport his army in small craft to England? The navy could escort the army across, but that would be an exceedingly difficult task in the face of a strong English fleet. And how could Parma prepare such a large force for the crossing without alerting the enemy? The English and Dutch would certainly notice the assembly of hundreds of small craft and any movement of the army toward the coast. There also were critical questions concerning the rendezvous of the fleet with Parma’s flotilla. The Spanish possessed no deep-water ports where the Armada could safely join up with Parma’s transports. Thus Parma would have to make his own way into the Channel to effect the rendezvous. But he controlled no naval force of his own, and swarms of small, shallow-draft Dutch warships infested Flemish coastal waters.

Given these ambiguities and uncertainties, without an effective system of command and control of Spain’s naval and land forces, an invasion of England was unlikely to succeed. Moreover, the command structure outlined, by default, in Philip’s plan exacerbated the problems of command. Santa Cruz’s and Parma’s proposals, whatever their weaknesses, had at least embraced the principle of unity of command. Both men had envisioned a unitary invasion force, based in either Spain or the Netherlands, descending upon England under the direction of a single individual. Philip’s plan involved the movement of two forces-one mostly naval and the other mostly land; one coming from Spain and the other from the Netherlands-commanded by two men, neither of whom could command the other. Philip, in his spartan quarters in the Escorial, was both the head planner for the operation and the commander in chief, despite the fact that he was half a continent distant from Parma and would be just as far from his Armada as it entered the Channel. Since the king did not intend to accompany either Parma’s army or the Armada, there was no prospect of his actually directing the operation once it began. In his absence, the commanders would be left to their own devices. As David Howarth noted: “This was the intrinsic reason why the armada failed: the king’s belief that he could organize a huge operation of war without leaving his study, without consulting anyone, without any human advice, without allowing his commanders to discuss it . . . Especially, he did not understand seafaring or navigation-he had never embarked in a ship except as a passenger.”

Philip’s plan manifested a lack of clarity, not a lack of flexibility. The king had good reason to draft a design that was elastic enough to account for myriad unforeseen circumstances. His on-scene commanders could best judge the situation as it developed. But those same commanders, if they were to operate effectively together, needed a directive written clearly enough to be understood and to be interpreted by both in the same fashion. They also needed some secure and reliable means of communicating from ship to shore.

Unfortunately for Philip, the campaign unfolded with his subordinates confused and virtually incommunicado. The Armada’s commander- Alonso Pérez de Guzman (“El Bueno”), duke of Medina Sidonia, who reluctantly accepted the position when typhus carried off Santa Cruz in February 1588-sailed from Spain in May expecting to rendezvous with Parma’s force somewhere in the English Channel. Parma believed that Medina Sidonia’s Armada would meet the transports at the coast and shepherd the army along the entire route to England. At no time during the planning or execution of the operation were Medina Sidonia (or before him Santa Cruz) and Parma able to communicate with each other in a timely and effective manner. In the planning stage, both Parma and the Armada’s commanders communicated almost exclusively with the king, who alone understood, to the extent that anyone did, the entire situation. Medina Sidonia received only a single message from Parma, and that shortly before the Armada sailed. As Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker commented: “Here was an extraordinary situation: the joint commanders of the greatest amphibious operation in European history were not in effective contact with each other.”

From the start, problems of command and control plagued the Spanish effort. The Armada, in a series of inconclusive but demoralizing running battles with the English, fought its way into the Channel. Medina Sidonia did manage to alert Parma to the approach of the fleet. But the Armada’s captain-general received little news from Parma, whose army was not yet prepared to strike out for England. As a result, when the Armada neared Calais and Parma’s coastal encampments, Medina Sidonia faced not only the threat posed by the English navy but also a communications debacle that guaranteed the failure of an overambitious and ambiguous plan. As Howarth wrote: “If the two dukes had met for ten minutes, they could surely have sorted it out and agreed how to make an attempt, if it was to be made at all . . . But twenty miles of sea still separated them, and an even wider gulf of misunderstanding. The misunderstanding was mutual, and the fault for it lay far away in the secret rooms of the Escorial; for the king had given each of them false information, or no information at all, about the other.” By the time Parma began what may have been a pro forma embarkation, the moment had passed. The Armada, weakened by battle, subjected to attacks by English fireships in an unprotected coastal anchorage, slipped its cables and headed eastward for the North Sea and hoped-for safety. Instead, the fleet’s epic return voyage around the northern extremes of the British Isles turned a defeat into a naval disaster.

The demise of the Spanish Armada cannot be attributed solely to problems of command and control. The tactical and operational efficiency and aggressiveness of the English fleet, its commanders, and its seamen played the major role in the campaign. But poor planning, questionable selection of senior commanders (namely Medina Sidonia, who considered himself ill-suited to the job), failure to appoint a commander in chief, nearly total lack of coordination, and poor communications contributed to the debacle. As Mattingly concluded: “It is hard to believe that even Horatio Nelson could have led the Spanish Armada to victory in 1588.” Even if the Spanish had fended off the attack of the English fireships at Gravelines, for practical and logistical reasons Medina Sidonia could not have kept his fleet in place long enough to await Parma, assuming the ground commander could even get his ill-fitted flotilla to sea past the Dutch. A failure of coordination would have brought “The Enterprise of England” to an ignominious conclusion.



Legacy –Total English Failure!

In England, the boost to national pride lasted for years, and Elizabeth’s legend persisted and grew long after her death. The repulsing of the Spanish naval force may have given heart to the Protestant cause across Europe and the belief that God was behind the Protestant cause. This was shown by the striking of commemorative medals that bore variations on the inscription, “1588. Flavit Jehovah et Dissipati Sunt” – with “Jehovah” in Hebrew letters (“God blew, and they were scattered”), or He blew with His winds, and they were scattered. There were also more lighthearted medals struck, such as the one with the play on the words of Julius Caesar: Venit, Vidit, Fugit (he came, he saw, he fled). The victory was acclaimed by the English as their greatest since Agincourt.

However, an attempt to press home the English advantage failed the following year, when the Drake–Norris Expedition of 1589, with a comparable fleet of English privateers, sailed to establish a base in the Azores, attack Spain, and raise a revolt in Portugal. The English Armada, led by Sir Timothy Walter, raided Corunna, but withdrew from Lisbon after failing to co-ordinate its strategy effectively with the Portuguese.

In 1596 and 1597, two more armadas were sent by Spain but were scattered by storms.

The Spanish Navy underwent a major organisational reform that helped it to maintain control over its trans-Atlantic routes. High-seas buccaneering and the supply of troops to Philip II’s enemies in the Netherlands and France continued, but brought few tangible rewards for England.


Cold War – Diesel-Electric Submarines


HMAS Ovens – Royal Australian Navy

Diesel-electric submarines, which were also known as ‘conventional’ submarines, played a significant role in the Cold War from the very start. When NATO became operational in the early 1950s the Soviet surface fleet was generally considered to be of minor importance, since it had achieved little of strategic significance during the Second World War and by the late 1940s most of its ships were obsolescent, if not obsolete. The Soviets were outnumbered in every category, and had no ships at all to match the West’s aircraft carriers and amphibious shipping. There was, however, one area in which they were believed to pose a significant threat: that of attack by diesel-electric submarines on Allied sea lines of communication across the Atlantic. With the memories of the German U-boat attacks in the north Atlantic still fresh, this perceived Soviet threat became one of the driving influences in NATO fleet development and deployment throughout the Cold War.

Fortunately for the Allies, the revolutionary new German submarines, the ocean-going Type XXI and the coastal Type XXIII, were only just entering service as the war ended, but there was no doubt as to their excellence. Both were real submarines, whose natural habitat was below the surface and which surfaced only when forced to do so. Compared with its predecessors, the Type XXI had a stronger and much more streamlined hull, a larger battery and new control systems which enabled it to fight underwater, and its snorkel tube enabled it to recharge its batteries while remaining submerged. Its underwater speed of 17 knots made it faster than most contemporary ASW ships, especially when there was bad weather on the surface. The Type XXIII was a smaller, coastal equivalent; it too was fast and capable, although its value was limited by its ability to carry only two torpedoes.

At the war’s end, the victorious Allies shared forty U-boats between them, with top priority being given to the Types XXI and XXIII; they then scuttled the rest. On receipt of these prizes, only the French and the Soviets put a few Type XXIs into service, while the Americans and British, after very careful examination and trials, used the design innovations, first to adapt their existing submarines, of which both had very large numbers, and subsequently as the basis for new designs.


The US navy found itself in 1946 with a vast stock of very recently built and virtually identical Second World War submarines, and a wide variety of conversions was made to these between 1946 and the mid-1950s. Most were modified under the Greater Underwater Propulsive Power (the so-called ‘Guppy’) programme, in which they were streamlined, given much more powerful batteries, and fitted with sonars and snorkel tubes. These conversions remained in service with the US navy until the early 1970s, and many were transferred to overseas, navies, within NATO in particular, where for some (e.g. Greece and Turkey) they formed the backbone of the submarine service for the remainder of the Cold War.

Numbers of Second World War submarines were also converted for special roles. These included radar pickets, which were fitted with large radars to enable them to give mid-course guidance corrections to carrier-launched bombers and, later, to the Regulus submarine-launched cruise missile. Some were converted to troop transports to deliver covert parties to hostile shores, and others as seaplane refuellers.

One development in early US Cold War naval strategy was a plan to prevent Soviet submarines leaving their home ports in war by positioning large numbers of specially-developed ‘hunter/killer’ ASW submarines outside the ports. In 1951–2 three such submarines (Barracuda class) were commissioned. These were intended to be prototypes for a large class which would have been built during a future mobilization process, but the whole scheme was dropped in 1959. Meanwhile, a new class of attack submarines was built (Tang class), which incorporated the design lessons of the German Type XXI. Only six were built, followed by three of the more advanced Barbel class, before the US navy abandoned diesel-electric submarines altogether in favour of nuclear propulsion.


IN 1945 THE Soviet navy operated some 285 submarines, all of Soviet design and manufacture, of which 159 were ocean-going and 126 coastal types. These were, however, all of pre-war design and lacked modern refinements such as streamlined hulls and snorkel tubes, having been, like the submarines of other Allied navies, outdated at a stroke by the German Type XXI.

Soviet submarines were supplemented in 1945–6 by a number of ex-German submarines. Twenty Type XXIs were found incomplete when the Red Army captured Danzig, and it was assumed by Western intelligence that these were completed and pressed into Soviet service. With the knowledge available at the time, this was a reasonable conclusion, but it has since come to light that they were scrapped, still incomplete, in 1948–9. In addition, four serviceable Type XXIs and one Type XXIII (plus four Type VIIc and one Type IXC) were handed over to the Soviet navy in 1945–6 from the stock of captured U-boats administered by the British on behalf of the Allies, and all served in the Baltic Fleet until the mid-1950s. The Soviet navy also received two Italian submarines as part of the peace settlement with Italy.

Design of the first post-war submarines began in 1946, and these, based on earlier Soviet designs, entered service in the early 1950s, quickly building up in numbers. The early versions of the two larger classes, Whiskey and Zulu, were armed with deck guns but did not have snorkels. Contemporary Western intelligence assessed that these types were Soviet adaptions of the German Type XXI, but this was incorrect: they were developments of previous Soviet designs, but incorporating a few German ideas.

Western intelligence was convinced that the Soviet navy was intent on repeating the German U-boat war on the NATO sea lines of communication across the Atlantic, and the large-scale production programmes for the Whiskey and Zulu classes appeared to reinforce this theory. There was therefore some surprise when the production of both types ceased in 1957–8, and this was thought to be a prelude to production of the first Soviet SSNs, until it was discovered that a new conventional submarine was in production: the Foxtrot class.

The Foxtrot design was larger, and was in fact the first Soviet design properly to incorporate all the lessons of the Type XXI. Sixty-two were produced for the Soviet navy, and the type became the workhorse of the fleet, being found in every ocean of the world. A second, and very similar, class, the Romeo, was produced by another design bureau, but presumably the Foxtrot proved the better boat, as production of the Romeo finished with the twenty-first unit. The Romeo was, however, exported and the design and tooling were sold to China, where it was built in large numbers.

It was then expected in the West, once again, that the Soviet navy would follow the US lead and build only nuclear-powered submarines in future, but this too proved to be erroneous, and twenty Tango-class boats were built between 1971 and 1982. Displacing 3,900 tonnes, these were the largest diesel-electric submarines to be built during the Cold War and were intended to contribute to the ASW defences for the SSBN bastions. Significantly, although all other Soviet diesel-electric submarines were exported, no Tango-class submarine was ever passed to another navy.

Construction of diesel-electric submarines continued with at least twenty-four Granay-class (NATO = ‘Kilo’) boats built from 1979 onwards for the Soviet navy. A very similar but less sophisticated design, the Washavyanka class, was designed for the export market, particularly for Warsaw Pact navies.

The Soviet navy also experimented with unconventional, but non-nuclear, air-independent propulsion systems. Thirty Quebec-class boats were built in the 1950s which ran on a Russian-developed ‘Kreislauf’ system, using liquid oxygen, while the German Walter hydrogen-peroxide system was tested in the single Project 617 submarine. Neither type proved successful, but intelligence reports of the existence of the Walter project caused some alarm in the West.

Perhaps the greatest significance of the Soviet submarine fleet was that throughout the first twenty years of the Cold War its strength, capabilities and intentions were consistently overestimated by Western intelligence. This was partially due to the imposition of an information blackout by the Soviets themselves, which led to Western naval experts taking the worst-possible view (from the Western aspect) of Soviet capabilities and production, as was their wont. These estimates were reinforced by debriefings of repatriated German prisoners of war and scientists who were abducted to the USSR in 1945 and returned in the 1950s. These men gave reports which were frequently incorrect or exaggerated, or were based on the knowledge of just one element of a large programme. Western intelligence, alarmed by other elements of the Soviet threat, extrapolated from these and all too often came up with conclusions which were widely wrong. The Soviets, of course, did nothing to contradict the Western estimates.


In 1945 the British had the third largest submarine fleet and, as in the USA, early post-war efforts were devoted to converting Second World War boats. The hulls were streamlined, new and more powerful batteries were fitted, and new sensors were installed – all of which enabled these boats to serve until the 1960s and 1970s.

The British pursued the Walter hydrogen-peroxide design (and even used the services of Dr Walter from 1945 to 1948), mainly because they thought that the Soviets had a similar design and they required fast underwater boats with which to train their ASW forces. One ex-German Type XVIIB was trialled, and two British-designed boats were built. The Walter system proved to be very hazardous in service, however, and (to the great relief of the crews involved) further development was dropped.

Another British idea was to deliver 15 kT nuclear mines to the entrances to the main Soviet ports, such as Kronstadt, using specially built mini-subs, designated ‘X’ craft. These would have been towed to the vicinity of their target by a larger submarine, as had happened during the war in attacks such as that on the German battleship Tirpitz. Although four of these mini-subs were completed, the project was cancelled in 1956.

Despite developing nuclear-powered attack submarines, the British did not follow the US example by ceasing to construct diesel-electric submarines, since they considered the conventional boats to have continuing roles in the hunter/killer role (e.g. in the Greenland–Iceland–UK gap) and in clandestine operations. Accordingly, they built the eight-strong Porpoise class between 1956 and 1961, the twelve-strong Oberon class between 1957 and 1967, and, after a long gap, the four-strong Upholder class between 1983 and 1992.fn3


In 1946 France operated a small number of pre-Second World War submarines and received five ex-German U-boats in the Allied share-out, only one of which was a Type XXI. Study of the latter boat led to the Narval class, six of which were built between 1951 and 1960 and remained in service to the late 1980s. A class of four smaller boats was built at the same time, the Arethuse class; these were enlarged and much heavier-armed versions of the German Type XXIII, designed to prevent Soviet submarines attacking French convoys between North Africa and France in war. Two more classes, the Daphne class (eleven boats, 1958–69) and the Agosta class (four boats, 1972–8), completed the post-war rehabilitation of the French navy’s submarine arm.


Germany was banned from constructing U-boats after the Second World War, but when the Federal Republic entered NATO it was decided to create a new submarine service, whose mission would be to defend the Baltic and North seas in co-operation with other NATO navies. Whereas the German surface fleet was restarted using foreign ships, the submarine service used entirely German-designed and -built boats. To start with, three sunken Second World War U-boats were raised, repaired and returned to service: two Type XXIIIs in 1956 and a single Type XXI in 1958.

All post-war U-boats for the West German navy have been relatively small, with the largest, the Type 206, displacing only 500 tonnes. Twelve boats were originally to have been constructed of the first post-war design, the Type 201, but the hull was constructed using non-magnetic steel, which suffered from severe corrosion, and a new type of steel had to be developed, resulting in the Type 205. This was succeeded by the Type 206, eighteen of which were built between 1971 and 1974, and which then served as the navy’s main submarine for the rest of the Cold War.

The German submarine industry, however, remained extremely healthy, owing to orders for some seventy-three boats from overseas customers, both within NATO and from some twenty customers in South America and Asia. The main NATO customer was Norway, which purchased fifteen Type 207s, followed by six of a new design, the Type 210, for service in the fjords and the Norwegian Sea.


Other NATO navies started their post-war submarine arms using American Second World War boats supplied under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Italy, which had the world’s largest submarine fleet in September 1939, subsequently produced its own submarines in small numbers, as did Denmark. Greece and Turkey both opted for the German export submarine, the Type 209, with the former buying complete boats from Germany, while the latter bought a few boats direct and then undertook its own production at the navy yard at Gölcük. Spain and Portugal both bought French designs. The Netherlands produced their own, very sophisticated submarine designs, albeit in small numbers.

Thus, although the largest navy ceased to build diesel-electric submarines, the type remained very active in other navies. All Warsaw Pact members with navies operated them, as did all NATO navies except that of Belgium.

Italian-occupied Corsica WWII

Frankreich, Italienische Offiziere und Soldaten

Italian-occupied Corsica refers to the military (and administrative) occupation by the Kingdom of Italy of the island of Corsica during World War II. It lasted from November 1942 to September 1943.

After an initial period of increasing control over Corsica, Italian forces started losing territorial control to the local Resistance, and in the aftermath of the Italian capitulation to the Allies various units took different sides in the battle between newly landed German troops, on one hand, and resistance fighters and Free French Forces, on the other hand.


On 8 November 1942, the Allies landed in North Africa. In response, Nazi Germany formulated Operation Anton, as part of which Italy occupied the island of Corsica on November 11 (Italian operation codename: “Operazione C2”), and some parts of France up to the Rhone river.

The Italian occupation of Corsica had been strongly promoted by the Italian irredentist movement during Italy’s Fascist period. The occupation force initially included 30,000 Italian troops and gradually reached the size of nearly 85,000 soldiers (reinforced in June 1943 by 12,000 German troops). This was a huge occupation force relative to the size of the local population of 220,000.

The VII Army Corps of the Regio Esercito was able to occupy Corsica, which was still under the formal sovereignty of Vichy France, without a fight. Because of the initial lack of perceived partisan resistance and to avoid problems with Marshal Philippe Pétain, no Corsican units were formed under Italian control (except for a labour battalion formed in March 1943). Corsican population initially showed some support for the Italians, even as a consequence of the irredentist propaganda.

The Italian troops grew to encompass two Army Divisions (the “Friuli” and the “Cremona”), two coastal Divisions (the Italian 225 Coastal Division and the Italian 226 Coastal Division), eight battalions of Fascist Militia, and some units of Military Police and Carabinieri. In July 1943, after Benito Mussolini’s fall, 12,000 German troops were sent to Corsica.

These Italian troops were commanded by General Mondino since the occupation until the end of December 1942, then by General Carboni until March 1943 and later by General Magli until September 1943.

Some Corsican military officers collaborated with Italy, including the retired Major Pantalacci (and his son Antonio), colonel Mondielli and colonel Simon Petru Cristofini (and his wife, the first Corsican female journalist Marta Renucci). Cristofini, who even met Benito Mussolini in Rome, was a strong supporter of the union of Corsica to Italy and defended irredentist ideals. Indeed Cristofini actively collaborated with the Italian forces in Corsica during the first months of 1943 and (as head of the Ajaccio troops) helped the Italian Army to repress the Resistance in Corsica before the Italian Armistice in September 1943. He closely worked with the famous Corsican writer Petru Giovacchini, who was named as the potential “Governor of Corsica” if the Kingdom of Italy should have annexed the island.

Rise of the Resistance

The French Resistance was initially limited, but it started taking shape immediately in the aftermath of the Italian invasion. This initially led to the development of two movements:

A network operating under the codename mission secrète Pearl Harbour (mission Pearl Harbor), which arrived from Algiers on 14 December 1942 aboard the Free French submarine Casabianca, the elusive Phantom Submarine. Under chief of mission Roger de Saule, they coordinated various groups that merged in the Front national. Communists were most influential in this movement.

The R2 Corse network was originally formed in connection with the London-based forces immediately under General de Gaulle in January 1943. Its leader Fred Scamaroni failed to unite the movements and was subsequently captured and tortured, committing suicide on 19 March 1943.

In April 1943 Paulin Colonna d’Istria was sent by Charles de Gaulle from Algeria and united the movements.

By early 1943, the Resistance was organized enough that it requested arms deliveries. The Resistance leadership was reinforced and the movement’s morale was boosted by six visits by the submarine Casabianca carrying personnel and arms, and it was later further armed by Allied airdrops. This allowed the Resistance to increase its activities and establish greater territorial control, especially over the countryside in summer 1943. In June and July 1943 the OVRA (Italian fascist police) and the fascist Black Shirts paramilitary groups started a large-scale repression. According to General Fernand Gambiez, 860 Corsicans were jailed and deported to Italy. On 30 August, Jean Nicoli and two French partisans of the Front national were shot in Bastia by order of an Italian Fascist War Tribunal.

Liberation of Corsica

Following the imprisonment of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, 12,000 German troops came to Corsica. They formally took over the occupation on 9 September 1943, the day after the armistice between Italy and the Allies. While their leaders were ambivalent, most of the Italian troops remained loyal the Italian King Victor Emmanuel II and some fought (mainly at Teghime, Bastia and Casamozza) alongside the French Resistance against the Nazi troops until the liberation of Corsica on 4 October 1943. Meanwhile, the French resistance aimed to establish control of the mountains in the island’s center, with the goal of preventing the occupying forces from moving from one coast to the other and thus facilitating an Allied invasion.

The liberation of Corsica began with an uprising ordered by the local Resistance on 9 September 1943. The Allies did not initially want such a movement, preferring to focus their forces on the invasion of Italy. However, in light of the insurrection, the Allies acquiesced to the landing of elements of the reconstituted French I Corps on Corsica in September 1943, starting with one division of elite French troops being landed – again – via submarine Casabianca at Arone near the village of Piana in the North West of Corsica. This prompted the German troops to attack Italian troops as well as French resistants in Corsica. The Corsican and French Partisans and the Italian 44 Infantry Division Cremona, 20 Infantry Division Friuli engaged in heavy combat with the German Sturmbrigade Reichsführer SS and 90th Panzergrenadier Division, supported by the Italian 12th Parachute Battalion of the 184th Parachute Regiment), which came from Sardinia and retreated through Corsica from Bonifacio towards the Northern harbor of Bastia. On 13 September elements of the Free French “4th Moroccan Mountain Division” were landed in Ajaccio to support the efforts to stop the 30,000 retreating German troops. During the night of 3 to 4 October the last German units evacuated Bastia and left for northern Italy, leaving behind 700 dead and 350 POWs.


Major-General Sir Andrew Russell


Major-General Sir Andrew Russell, GOC the NZ Division in France. This driven perfectionist succeeded in forging his division into an elite fighting force; but although he was superior to Gen Godley as a fighting commander, he was little warmer as a personality – he was very sparing with praise, and refused to recommend any deserving officer for a Victoria Cross. After an excellent performance in the planning and execution of the Messines Ridge attack in June 1917, he was judged to have let his men down at Passchendaele that October. Aware that his troops were exhausted, and would have insufficient artillery support, he failed to advise his superiors or to seek a postponement of the attack. The losses suffered threatened to break the morale of the `Silent Division’, but after being rebuilt it performed excellently in 1918.

Andrew Russell (1868-1960) was the first New Zealand-born commander of the NZ Division, and proved to be its most effective. He had been born into a military family, and after education in England at Harrow and Sandhurst he was commissioned into a British regular battalion, serving in India and Burma. He later resigned from the regular army to take up sheep farming on the family estate in New Zealand. He became active in the Volunteer and Territorial forces, eventually being selected by Godley to command the 2nd (Wellington) Mounted Rifle Bde in 1911. He declined a regular commission in the NZ Staff Corps prior to the war, but sailed with the Main Body of the NZEF in October 1914 as the highest-ranking Territorial officer, as the brigadier commanding the NZ Mounted Rifle Brigade.

At Gallipoli, Russell earned a reputation as a professional and competent commander. His brigade disembarked on 13 May 1915 at Anzac Cove, where it was employed as infantry in the northern section of the beachhead. Russell established his HQ only 25 yards from the support trenches, on a plateau that became known as Russell’s Top; it was here that his men repelled a large Turkish attack on 19 May, securing the area for future operations. In the August offensive Russell’s brigade seized the formidable foothills of Chunuk Bair, allowing the infantry to assault the strategic summit. Australian war correspondent C. E. W. Bean proclaimed this action to be a `magnificent feat of arms, the brilliance of which was never surpassed, if indeed equalled, during the campaign.’ For such feats Russell was knighted, and he assumed command of the ANZAC division in November 1915. His performance as one of the few commanders to establish a favourable reputation on the peninsula made him the obvious choice to command the New Zealand Division when it was later formed in Egypt.

Leading the NZ Division on the Western Front, Russell was determined to produce the best fighting division in France, and developed his command from a raw and inexperienced formation into an elite veteran force. He was ruthlessly efficient in ensuring that the troops were led by competent officers, and that the men received the appropriate training before any offensive. This was especially true after the division suffered heavy casualties when thrust ill-prepared into the Somme fighting in September 1916. Russell was a hard task-master; he sent back to New Zealand officers who had not performed to the required level, and he regularly made unheralded inspections of front-line units to promote discipline and efficiency.

Russell showed high moral courage in rejecting Field Marshal Haig’s plan for the capture of Messines Ridge, formulating his own, which involved weeks of preparation and full-scale rehearsal over similar ground. This resulted in the rapid capture of Messines village and the ridge with minimal losses. However, Russell was not at his best at Passchendaele, which proved to be New Zealand’s worst military disaster. With only a few days available to prepare for the offensive, Russell failed to apply his usual attention to detail, and on 12 October 1917 the NZ Division suffered over 3,000 casualties. As a perfectionist, Russell drove himself to the point that he was continually ill throughout 1918. However, his relentless drive ensured that the New Zealanders were a key formation in the defeat of the German offensive of March 1918, and in the triumphant counteroffensive later that year that led to the Armistice.

The Forgotten General – New Zealand’s World War I Commander Major-General Sir Andrew Russell

Napoleon’s Escape from Waterloo


As the column of seven Guard battalions in a “dark waving forest of bear-skin caps,” seventy-five men abreast, supported by two batteries of horse artillery, advanced, they divided-apparently by accident-into two separate columns. While General Friant’s grenadiers in the front part of the column continued forward, the chasseurs under General Morand peeled off to the left. They immediately came under heavy fire by Allied guns and Chasse’s 3rd Division of Dutch-Belgian infantry, as the main body continued forward where most of Wellington’s troops still lay concealed once again behind the banks of the Ohain road, just ahead of them. Meanwhile, to their left the chasseurs unexpectedly found themselves facing General Adams’s light brigade, as it emerged abruptly from the cornfield before them, while Colonel Colborne’s 52nd fell upon their left flank with a stinging fire, startling and momentarily halting the entire French advance. Taking advantage of the moment to rise from the concealed embankment, Wellington in his blue coat, white buckskin breeches and gold Spanish sash, waved his hat, signaling the Allies all along the front to counterattack.

Less than sixty yards away, some 40,000 Allied troops appeared as if out of nowhere, firing a steady stream of lethal volleys into the exposed front ranks of the astonished Imperial Guard, and then shouting, charged with bayonets as the remaining two brigades of Allied cavalry under the command of Generals Vivian and Vandeleur swept across the road. Despite Ney’s repeated orders to advance and the Guard’s drummers rolling out the “pas de charge,” the marshal’s troops and frontline Imperial Guard broke and fled for their lives.

A desperate Napoleon hurriedly formed his last three Guard battalions into squares in the very path of his fleeing troops, but even he could not stop the massive flight, and all gave way as this immense wall of humanity poured forth, their cries of “Vive l’Empereur,” now replaced by “Sauve qui peut!” [Everyone for himself.] At the same time on the other side of the Bruxelles-Charleroi highway, the Young Guard managed valiantly to hold on to Plancenoit under a heavy Prussian barrage for another couple of hours, thereby covering the escape route to Charleroi for the precipitous retreat of the Armee du Nord.

With the Old Guard’s withdrawal completed by 8 P. M., a dazed and gloomy Napoleon Bonaparte himself turned away from the battlefield of Waterloo and his extraordinary defeat, and “entirely disappeared,” as Ney put it, without having notified him or the other field commanders of his plans. The crush of the troops in their southerly retreat became overwhelming as the imperial coaches and Napoleon’s famous dark blue and gilt berline were seen fleeing the scene. “A complete panic at once spread throughout the whole field of battle,” reported one official version of the battle, as the greatest army in the world broke and fled in “great disorder” before the “issue funeste de la bataille” [“fatal outcome of the battle”].

“In an instant the whole army was nothing but a mass of confusion . . . and it was utterly impossible to rally a single unit,” Ney admitted. Napoleon had abandoned his army in Egypt and in Russia and now again at Waterloo. “All was lost by a moment of terrifying panic. Even the cavalry squadrons accompanying the Emperor were overthrown and disorganized by these tumultuous waves,” said the official Army report. And Ney, much bruised from his last fall and limping painfully, covered in mud and exhausted-with not even one of his staff officers willing to help or offer him a mount-now followed on foot swallowed up in the mob. “I owe my life to a corporal who supported me on the road, and did not abandon me during the retreat,” that marshal acknowledged.

Meanwhile, with some British and Prussian cavalry units already hard on their heels, it took Napoleon and his staff an entire hour just to clear the bottleneck over Genappe’s narrow stone bridge spanning the Dyle, where artillery limbers, caissons, carts and horses were locked together holding back the entire French army. Indeed, with the sudden blare of Prussian cavalry trumpets and the rush of Gneisenau’s dragoons, Uhlans and Pomeranians around the imperial cortege, Napoleon himself barely escaped capture, as he leapt from his berline onto his waiting horse. Leaving behind a fortune in gold, bank notes and diamonds, including his sister Caroline’s 300,000-frane necklace, personal papers and hat, he galloped off down the Charleroi road followed by Drouot, Bertrand and his staff.

But upon reaching Quatre Bras, instead of finding Girard’s reserve division (ordered earlier from Ligny) waiting for him, he came upon over three thousand French soldiers, long dead, in immense rows, completely stripped of their clothing and possessions by scavenging French and British soldiers and local Belgian inhabitants, their white bodies bruised, mutilated and streaked in dry blood, rigid and refulgent in the June moonlight. With no organized French units left around him, nor word of Grouchy, and Gneisenau’s troopers again fast approaching, a tearful Napoleon mounted his horse and continued to lead the French retreat from Waterloo.

The frenzy and confusion Napoleon had found earlier at Genappe was now repeated at Charleroi, where he arrived at five o’clock in the morning of the nineteenth, as bands of fleeing soldiers mixing with the stream of the first convoys of the wounded and the twenty-one pieces of captured Prussian artillery blocked the sole bridge crossing the River Sambre there, some bursting its wooden parapets and plunging into the rainswollen waters below. Food, clothing, weapons, ammunition, overturned carriages and carts lay before them. And then with the tocsin sounding again to alert them to a possible Prussian approach, the soldiers turned, not to protect the column, but to plunder the Army’s treasury wagon as they hacked with swords and bayonets to grasp the heavy sacks containing 20,000 gold francs each. In the words of historian Houssaye, “Tout fut pille.” (“Everything was pillaged.”)

But as tired as he was, the dismal sight was too much for Napoleon, who, setting out an hour later, reached Philippeville at 9 A. M. (the nineteenth). Here at least he hoped to find some semblance of order and see his army units regrouping. Instead he found unabated confusion and only 2,600 men from a dozen different regiments. But at least his staff and commanders began to drift in, and he soon had with him Bertrand, Drouot, Dejean, Flahaut, Bussy, Bassano, Fleury, Reille and Soult. For the first time since the end of the battle Napoleon was able to dispatch orders to commanders he had abandoned, as well as to nearby garrisons, where he hoped to assemble his cavalry, artillery and infantry. In addition he now dictated two letters to Fleury for Joseph Bonaparte, acting as Regent in his absence: one for his ministers, the other personal. Explaining briefly what had transpired at Waterloo, he said-“I believe the Deputies will be made to understand that it is their duty to join me in saving France . . . All is not lost by a long chalk. . . . I shall call up one hundred thousand conscripts. The federes and the National Guard will provide another one hundred thousand men. . . . I can call up a levee en masse in Dauphine, at Lyons, in Burgundy, Lorraine and Champagne. . . . I shall soon have three hundred thousand soldiers under arms with which to face the enemy! . . . Then I’ll simply crush them once and for all!” Still in this defiantly optimistic mood he appointed the lukewarm Soult to take over command of the Army concentrating at Philippeville, and commandeering three of that marshal’s carriages, Napoleon and his staff set out for Laon.

Meanwhile, Grouchy’s right wing, down to 25,000 men, which had been fighting General von Thielemann’s 17,000 Prussians at Wavre and Limale, on learning of the defeat the next day (the nineteenth), ordered a swift and brilliant withdrawal for his army via Namur and Givet. Having defeated the pursuing Prussians in two sharp if minor battles, Marshal Grouchy’s forces reached Philippeville on the twentieth, and were then taken over by Soult, giving him a grand total of just 55,000 troops-as opposed to Blucher’s approaching 66,000 and Wellington’s 52,000 men. But “Old Nick” Soult (as his officers and men facetiously referred to him), as cold, uncommunicative and solitary as ever, personally felt the situation following the debacle of Waterloo was utterly hopeless. He only wanted to escape while he still could, and giving orders to evacuate Philippeville, he continued with the French Army on its retreat for Soissons where, a few days later, pleading “ill health,” he in turn would hand over supreme command to Grouchy and in the best Napoleonic tradition abandon them all.

By the time Napoleon himself reached Laon, after six o’clock on the evening of the twentieth, he had changed his mind again. He would not stay to rebuild the Army after all, he would go to Paris. He had to go to Paris to save the nation . . . and his throne. After traveling throughout the night from Laon, the dust-covered Emperor emerged from the caleche in the courtyard of the Elysee at 5:30 A. M. on 21 June, where he was greeted by a grim Foreign Minister Caulaincourt. “If I return to Paris,” Napoleon had told General Bertrand at Philippeville, “and I have to get my hands bloody, then I’ll shove them in right up to the elbow!” Was that his solution, after having left 64,600 French casualties-25,000 dead and seriously wounded just at Waterloo and tens of thousands of horses and 220 cannon behind him in the fields of Belgium-was he now bent on bringing down the apocalypse on France as well?

BATTLE OF MA WEI, (August 23, 1884)


The Foochow Arsenal under construction, between 1867 and 1871. Three albumen prints joined to form a panorama.


The Chinese flagship Yangwu and the corvette Fuxing under attack by French torpedo boats No. 46 and No. 45. Combat naval de Fou-Tchéou (‘The naval battle at Foochow’), by Charles Kuwasseg, 1885

The naval battle off Ma Wei, a small town at the mouth of the Min River on the east bank opposite the city of Fuzhou, was the opening of hostilities in the Franco-Chinese War. At the time of the battle, China had more than 50 ships in its navy, including German- and American-built gunboats and cruisers. About half of the ships were constructed in China, some at the Fuzhou Dockyard, near where the battle was fought. However, China had not organized its ships into a national fleet. Instead, they were controlled by regional governors-general appointed by the Qing dynasty.

The governor-general of Canton (Guangzhou) had constructed a series of fortifications along the Fujian Province coast, including along the Min River. The Fuzhou Dockyard superintendent was He Ruzhang, who had overall responsibility for the Fuzhou fleet. However, the tactical control of the fleet’s ships was the responsibility of Zhang Cheng, the captain of the fleet’s flagship, the Yang Wu.

The French fleet in Asia was dispersed off the South China and Indochina coast under the control of Admiral Amende A. P. Courbet. Although no formal state of war was declared, there were serious disputes between the French and the Chinese over control of the northern part of Vietnam (Cochin China) and the surrounding waters. The French fleet in the area in July 1884 was led by Courbet’s flagship, the Volga, and consisted of four other warships. By August 22, 1884, the French naval presence off the Min River had grown to eight warships, all anchored in the approaches to Fuzhou in the Ma Wei roads. The ships all had armor-clad hulls and were considered modern for the time. The Chinese had a fleet of 11 wood-hulled ships with modern armament at Fuzhou. In addition there were seven steam-driven launches and 12 armed junks used for troop transport. After a dispute over unimpeded access to the river for the purpose of trade, which had gone on since early July, the French initiated action against the Chinese fleet on the afternoon of August 23, 1884.

There are different accounts of whether there was any declaration of war on the part of the French before hostilities commenced. As a minimum, it seems likely that some Chinese official, if not the governor-general in Canton himself, was notified that the French would attack if a blockade of the Min River by the Chinese was not lifted. Perhaps an official of the Fuzhou Dockyard was given an ultimatum by Courbet. In any case, within about 12 minutes of the commencement of action by the French at about 2:00 P. M. on August 23, they had sunk almost the entire Chinese fleet. Varying accounts of the battle say that all 11 Chinese warships were sunk; others say that as many as 22 Chinese ships of different classes were sunk. Only five Chinese ships were reported to have gotten under way from the Fuzhou Dockyard, and only two of these escaped upriver unscathed. Command and control signals for the Chinese fleet were poor, whereas only two French ships suffered minor damage from fire.

China declared war on France on August 26, 1884.


The Fuzhou Dockyard was one of several regional weapons arsenals and shipyard facilities established in China by local officials with foreign equipment or assistance. Other arsenals and dockyards were established in Shanghai (Jiangnan), Suzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, and Jilin. The Fuzhou Dockyard was established primarily with French assistance after two Frenchmen who had helped raise armies during the Taiping Rebellion, Prosper Giquel and Paul D’Aiguebelle, signed a contract with Zuo Zongtang to operate the dockyard. The contract was signed in 1866, and the dockyard was actually established under contract to build 16 ships in 1867.

In fact, the contract with Zuo Zongtang called for more than ship construction. Giquel and D’Aiguebelle were also supposed to establish a naval engineering school and a navigation school at Fuzhou, all within a five-year period. The dockyard was to be operated by Chinese natives after the expiration of the contract. The Fuzhou Dockyard launched its first ship June 1869, the Wan Nian Qing (Ten Thousand-Year Qing Dynasty), a steam-powered, 238-foot ship with six guns, powered by a screw propeller rather than paddle wheels. By 1873, 11 warships of various classes, from corvette to gunboat, had been produced by the dockyard. The final four ships constructed at the Fuzhou Dockyard were merchant ships built to haul passengers and cargo. Three of these, the Chen Hang, Yong Bao, and Da Yu, carried troops from Li Hongzhang’s Anhui Army to Taiwan during the Formosa Crisis of 1874 with Japan.

Between 1874 and the Franco-Chinese War (1884-1885), the Fuzhou Dockyard launched an additional seven ships, which were of composite, iron frame wooden skin construction. But the dockyard was continually hampered by financial problems and, in fact, supported partially by opium taxes. After the Franco-Chinese War, the dockyard’s financial situation improved, but it had to begin procurement from sources other than France, turning primarily to England and Germany.

REFERENCES John L. Rawlinson, China’s Struggle for Naval Development, 1839-1895 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967); Bruce Swanson, Eighth Voyage of the Dragon-A History of China’s Quest for Seapower (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982). Li Hong Chang, Memories of Li Hong Chang, ed. William Mannix (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913); Prosper Giquel, The Foochow Arsenal and Its Results: From Commencement in 1867 to the End of the Foreign Directorate on 16 February, 1874, trans. H. Lang (Shanghai: 1874); John L. Rawlinson, China’s Struggle for Naval Development, 1839-1895 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967).



General Bazaine attacks the fort of San Xavier during the siege of Puebla, 29 March 1863.


The victory over the conservatives allowed Mexico to hold elections. Three candidates presented themselves-Acting President Juarez, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, author of the Lerdo Law, and General Jesus Gonzalez Ortega, a war hero. Due to his reputation achieved during the War of Reform, as well as rising anti-military sentiment, Juarez defeated Gonzalez Ortega. Lerdo de Tejada died of natural causes just before the election.

Even after the defeat of the conservative army, turmoil continued. There were several peasant uprisings in central Mexico. In June 1861, U. S. Ambassador Thomas Corwin sent a dispatch from Mexico City describing the conservative irregulars who continued to attack Juarez’s forces:

Since my last dispatches the country has been in a state of great disorder. Bands of armed men, in numbers varying from fifty to four thousand, have been ravaging the country in this and two or three adjoining States, pushing their operations to the very suburbs of this city.

Given the unrest and destruction, Mexico could not make payments on its public debt. In July 1861, the Mexican Congress recognized this and, as an emergency measure to permit internal reconstruction, it unilaterally suspended payments on its foreign and domestic debts for two years, but it did not repudiate the debts. This act, coming as it did during the U. S. Civil War (which prevented the United States from enforcing its Monroe Doctrine and keeping Europeans out of Latin America), gave Europe the pretext for massive intervention in Mexico.

Spain, England, and France formed an alliance to collect the debt, including the amount due on the Jecker bonds approved by conservatives battling Juarez’s forces in the War of Reform. Representatives of the three creditor nations met in England and signed the Tripartite Convention of London. Its signatories declared that they would occupy Mexico’s customs houses so they could collect funds to retire the debt owed them. However, they pledged not to “interfere in Mexico’s internal affairs in such a manner as would impair that nation’s right to freely elect and constitute its own government.”

The French, who were already expanding their empire into Algeria and Indo-China, had the most far-reaching plans. French Emperor Napoleon III planned to impose a monarchy that would provide France with markets and raw materials and prevent the spread of U. S. influence into Latin America.

Mexican conservatives welcomed France’s monarchical pretensions. Having lost in the War of Reform, they were more than willing to allow foreigners to restore them to power. They felt the early 1860s were an ideal time to install a monarchy since the United States, preoccupied with its own civil war, could not oppose an empire to its south. Also, as long as the United States remained at war, it would not compete with Mexico for European investment capital. Conservatives felt the circumstances were finally at hand to fulfill Lucas Alaman’s dream of a monarchy that would produce stability-the key to attracting foreign capital for development.

In December 1861 and January 1862, Spain landed 6,000 troops and Britain sent 800 marines. As occurred with the U. S. invasion fifteen years earlier, Mexicans failed to oppose the landing. Unlike their American predecessors, though, the European invaders remained on the coast too long and fell victim to yellow fever.

The British and Spanish soon realized that the French, the Tripartite Convention of London notwithstanding, were planning a much greater undertaking than debt collection. After the Mexican government pledged to resume debt payments as soon as possible, the British and Spanish departed. 57 The French commander, General Charles Latrille, Count of Lorencez, began an advance on Mexico City. On April 25, 1862, he wrote his minister of war, “We are so superior to the Mexicans in race, organization, morality, and devoted sentiments that I beg your Excellency to inform the Emperor that as head of 6,000 soldiers I am already master of Mexico.”

Ten days after this was written, the French force fought its first major battle at Puebla, where its advance was blocked by two forts, Loreto and Guadalupe, perched on hilltops connected by a 3,500 foot-long ridge. The 4,500-man French force had to traverse a two-mile wide plain. Then they faced withering Mexican cannon fire as they scrambled up the hills. Eventually combat extended along the ridge connecting the two forts. The French approaching the ridge were exposed to crossfire from both forts. After 475 of the attackers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, the French force withdrew. Mexican casualties totaled 227.

The battle fought on May 5, 1862, brought together diverse elements of Mexico’s population. Not only did units come from numerous states but indigenous units from north Puebla towns fought alongside mestizos, distinguishing themselves in bitter hand-to-hand combat. The victory at Puebla remains the outstanding military victory in Mexican history. Each year Mexicans, and many Americans, celebrate the Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), and Ignacio Zaragoza, who commanded the defending forces, is widely honored.

This defeat affected the outcome of the intervention since the French had to await reinforcements before they could advance. This delayed the establishment of a puppet government by a year, which left relatively little time for that government to consolidate itself before the end of the U. S. Civil War. After its own civil war ended, the United States could credibly threaten France for violating the Monroe Doctrine.

After their defeat at Puebla, the French retreated and awaited the arrival of additional troops. By January 1863, the interventionist force totaled 30,976. Then the French advanced and besieged Puebla for seventy-four days. Its residents were reduced to eating house pets and small animals that they trapped. After a lack of food and ammunition forced Puebla to surrender to the French, starving children stole corn from the fodder bags of French cavalry mounts.

As the French approached Mexico City, Juarez abandoned the practically defenseless capital and moved his government north to San Luis Potosi. For the next three years, he would govern by decree, using the extraordinary powers Congress had granted him to prosecute the war.

After arriving in Mexico City, the French created an interim government. Its officials invited all Mexicans to unite around it and urged them to cease considering themselves liberals or conservatives. Conservatives forming the interim government felt a foreign Catholic monarch would bring Mexico’s polarized society together. As a result, they invited the Austrian archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian, to become emperor of Mexico.

The person invited to assume the throne was the brother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and the son-in-law of King Leopold of Belgium. His invitation resulted from pressure exerted on Napoleon’s wife Eugénie by conservative Mexican exiles in Europe who had engaged in a prolonged lobbying effort to have a European power install a monarchy in Mexico. Eugénie influenced her husband, who insured that Maximilian received the invitation.

Maximilian did insist that a plebiscite be held in Mexico to determine whether he should assume the throne. The French obliged, allowing individuals favoring the monarchy to act as local representatives who could “vote” for the rest of the population. Sometimes the French claimed that voting, which only occurred in a state capital, represented the entire state’s population. Ultimately the French claimed that all important Mexican cities and towns had accepted the empire, even though the French had yet to extend its control to many areas.

The future emperor of Mexico accepted the plebiscite at face value. However, a somewhat more skeptical Sir Charles Wyke, the former British chargé d’affaires in Mexico City, remarked that Maximilian had been “elected” to the throne by a “majority vote from places inhabited by two Indians and a monkey.”

In April 1864, Maximilian signed a secret treaty with the French, making Mexico a virtual French colony. He agreed to pay not only the inflated debt claims of the French but also the cost of French troops occupying Mexico. Napoleon agreed to keep French troops in Mexico until 1870.

Before leaving Europe, Maximilian received the personal blessings of Pope Pius IX. The pope felt Maximilian would restore the Church to its former position in Mexico. Pius commented, “Although the rights of nations are great and must be respected, those of religion are much greater and holier.”

Even before arriving in Mexico, Maximilian began courting liberals by granting pardons to republican prisoners and reducing their prison sentences. To broaden his support, he shifted tax burdens to the rich and ended debt servitude. He also showed his moderate European liberalism by refusing to return to the Church the property it had formerly owned and by allowing freedom of worship. He abolished corporal punishment, limited hours of work, and guaranteed a minimum wage to agricultural workers. He mandated that those employing more than twenty families should provide free primary education and that Indian schools should be bilingual. He anticipated twentieth century land reform efforts by ordering that unused government land should be provided to the landless. Maximilian’s failure to embrace the conservative agenda reduced his conservative backing and won him few liberal supporters. His enactments might have been sound policy. However, quite often imperial hegemony did not extend beyond the edge of Mexico City, leaving his decrees unenforced.



The Battle of Puebla, 1862.

Maximilian attempted to hold himself above the liberal-conservative fray and invited all Mexicans to join his government. Moderate liberals did accept appointments to serve as ministers of foreign relations, interior, and justice. Again, this cost him conservative support and did little to attract other liberals.

In 1863, French General François Bazaine, who had learned counter-guerrilla tactics while imposing French colonial rule in Algeria, assumed command of imperial forces in Mexico. The next year, he wrote Napoleon to say that Maximilian was “putting on airs; that he fails to remember that he is still dependent-dependent on France, dependent on General Bazaine, and dependent on General Bazaine’s army.”

After occupying Mexico City, the French moved north, taking Saltillo and Matamoros. Juarez retreated, eventually taking refuge in Paso del Norte (today, in his honor, Ciudad Juarez). By mid- 1864, French-installed governments controlled eighteen of the twenty-four Mexican states. By the following year, all state capitals flew the imperial flag. Imperial forces totaled 60,000 troops, of whom 30,000 were French, 24,000 Mexican, and the rest Austrian and Belgian. These forces con – fined Juarez’s regular forces to a small area bordering on west Texas and New Mexico. In December 1865, the U. S. consul in Paso del Norte reported that Juarez’s forces numbered only 300. In addition, 200 to 300 men in Guerrero and Oaxaca, led by the wily guerrilla fighter Porfirio Diaz, supported Juarez. Unlike Santa Anna in the Mexican-American War, Juarez realized that guerrilla warfare was the only way to confront a powerful foreign army.

The French occupation made elections impossible when Juarez’s presidential term expired in 1865. Juarez used the extraordinary powers granted him by Congress in 1861 to simply extend his term. Some liberals, especially those seeking power themselves, criticized this as a violation of liberal principles. Undaunted, Juarez continued to rule by decree.

Even though Juarez’s regular forces verged on annihilation, the French could not extend their control into the countryside. As soon as their troops withdrew, popular uprisings occurred. The French-organized counter-guerrilla forces were effective, but lacked sufficient numbers to dominate an area as large as Mexico.

The imperial government’s fragmentation prevented it from implementing policies that might have won it adherents. The French dominated the military and occupied the customs houses. Maximilian’s cabinet contained both conservatives and liberals and had to share power not only with Maximilian’s European-dominated private cabinet but with the French ambassador and the head of the French financial mission.

Maximilian established a royal court complete with what he considered fitting pomp and ceremony. The manual describing court etiquette, the Relgamento para el servicio y ceremonial de la corte (Regulations for Court Service and Ceremony), filled almost four hundred pages. His elaborate lifestyle made previous Mexican presidents seem positively frugal. Guadalupe Victoria had a pair of carriages, while Maximilian had thirty-three. During his last presidency, Mexicans had widely criticized Santa Anna for his spending some 8,000 to 10,000 pesos a month to maintain himself in regal style. Maximilian and his wife Carlota received an annual allowance of 1.7 million pesos for living expenses and maintaining the court, palace, and grounds.

Feeling the republican forces were almost defeated, on October 3, 1865, Maximilian signed the infamous black flag decree, published in Spanish and Nahuatl and posted throughout the empire. It decreed that any person apprehended bearing arms against the empire would be executed within twenty-four hours. Despite its widespread application to prisoners of war, this measure drove more Mexicans into the arms of the republic.

In 1866, Napoleon decided to withdraw French troops from Mexico. His decision resulted from: 1) the high cost of the war in Mexico; 2) its unpopularity in France; 3) Maximilian’s failure to develop an independent base; 4) the fear that the United States would support Juarez after its own civil war ended; and 5) Napoleon’s need for troops in Europe to respond to the threat posed by an increasingly militarized Prussia.

Upon learning that the French had decided to withdraw their troops, Carlota returned to Europe to persuade Napoleon and the pope to continue supporting her husband’s empire. Before leaving, she appealed to Maximilian to stay in Mexico and uphold Habsburg honor. The empress not only failed to rally support in Europe but suffered a mental breakdown there from which she never recovered.

At the time, Maximilian felt he could end the raging civil war by convening a national Congress that would invite both liberals and conservatives to sit down and amicably resolve their disputes. However, any chance of Juarez’s compromising with his foe had vanished, since the French departure opened the way for a liberal victory without compromise.

Bazaine sailed from Veracruz with the last French forces in March 1867-three years earlier than the departure date agreed to by Napoleon. After the French departure, Maximilian’s empire began to disintegrate with increasing rapidity. Juarez’s forces, taking heart at the French withdrawal, moved south, aided by U. S. arms and veterans who appeared in Mexico after the end of the U. S. Civil War. In January 1867, liberal forces took Guadalajara, San Luis Potosi, and Guanajuato. They occupied Cuernavaca, Morelia, and Zacatecas the following month.

The imperial forces made their final stand at Querétaro. In February, General Mariano Escobedo besieged the city with 30,000 liberal troops. Maximilian had already come north from Mexico City to personally lead his 9,000-man force. The siege lasted until May, when liberals captured the city and took Maximilian prisoner. Shortly afterward, Porfirio Diaz came from the east and captured Mexico City for the liberals.

Juarez ordered that Maximilian be tried by court martial. The former emperor faced the same criminal charges of rebellion that he had decreed Juarez’s supporters captured in battle should face. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to be executed by firing squad, along with two of his generals, Tomas Mejia and Miguel Miramon. Juarez resisted intense pressure from around the world to issue a pardon, feeling that a live Maximilian would only serve to promote further uprisings and prolong internal strife. Juarez knew that conservatives pardoned after the War of Reform had supported the empire. Liberal journalist Juan José Baz wrote, “This example will ensure in Europe we are respected and will remove any desire on the part of any other adventurer to come here.”

In July 1867, after an absence of four years, Juarez returned to Mexico City. His wife Margarita Maza de Juarez, who had spent the war years in the United States, soon rejoined him. During these years she had not only rallied support for the liberal cause in Washington but had done her best to keep her family together. Despite her efforts, two of her children died while in exile, one of dysentery and one of cholera.

Compared to Mexican resistance in the Mexican-American War, resistance to the empire was, as historian Alan Knight noted, “more prolonged, dogged, and above all, successful.” Liberal strongmen provided Juarez with crucial support at the regional level, just as they had in defeating the conservatives during the War of the Reform. Rural people generally supported the liberal cause, feeling liberalism offered greater local autonomy. Much of Juarez’s appeal was based not on his program but on his once having been a poor Indian who rose through the ranks to govern the country.

Another reason for the fall of the empire was the less than total support from France. In 1808, Napoleon I had sent more than 200,000 French troops to support his brother Joseph in Spain. Since these troops failed to keep Joseph on the throne, it is not surprising that 27,000 French troops failed to keep Maximilian on the throne in Mexico-a nation twice as large as Spain. The effectiveness of these troops was greatly reduced because guerrilla forces opposing them refused to fight the set-piece battles the European-trained military expected. Rather, they simply outlasted the French in a prolonged war of attrition.

The forging of a Mexican national identity, a spirit sorely lacking in 1847, forms a lasting legacy of the struggle against the French. After the collapse of the empire, Creoles no longer defined Mexican nationality. This role shifted to Juarez’s generation of mestizo politicians, journalists, writers, poets, legislators, and historians. They created republican institutions and a wide range of newspapers, magazines, and scientific and literary academies. They felt that history and education should form national character and wrote novels with mestizo characters and scenes.

The enhanced national identity resulting from the war came at a high cost. Approximately 300,000 died as a result of the French intervention. In addition, Mexico’s already abused and neglected infrastructure suffered extensive damage, and marketing arrangements were once again disrupted.