21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg

A collection of some pics of Albania during the Fascist era and WW2

The historical and political precedents for the creation of a greater Sqiperia or Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions along with territory Southwest of lake Skutari from Montenegro and the western region of Southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija (now part of Macedonija), were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers led by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, under a plan devised by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler to dismember and to destroy the Serbian Nation and people, which the Germans and Italians perceived as the main threat to the axis powers and to the Third Reich in the Balkan.

On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded and occupied Albania forcing the Albanian ruler King Zog I Ahmed Bey Zogu, to flee to Greece. Italy formally annexed into the Kingdom of Italy under the Italian king Victor Immanuel and established a military government and viceroy. The Italian began a program to colonize the country when thousands of settlers emigrated to Albania. An Albanian Fascist Party was established with Albanian Black skirts based on Italian models. The Albanian Army consisted of three infantry brigades of 12 000 men.

On October 28 1940, Italy invaded Greece from Albania with 10 Italian divisions and the Albanian Army but were driven back.

Germany sought to assist the Italian-Albanian offensive by operation Alpine Violet, a plan to move a corps of tree German mountain divisions to Albania by air and sea. Instead German built up a heavy concentration of the German Twelfth Army on the northwest Greek Border with Bulgaria, from where the German invasion was launched.

On April 6, 1941, Nazi Germany and the axis powers invaded Yugoslavia, Operation Punishment, and Greece forcing the capitulation of Yugoslavia on the 17th, and Greece on the 23rd. Yugoslavia was subsequently occupied and dismembered. The Axis powers established a greater Albania or greater Shqiperia at the expense of Serbia and Montenegro. Territory from Montenegro was annexed to Greater Albania. From Serbia, the Kosovo and Metohija were ceded to greater Albania, along with the western part of Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija), now part of Macedonia, an area which was part of Stara Srbija (Ancient Old Serbia). This Kosovo-metohija region and the surrounding territory annexed to Greater Albania was called “New Albania”.

To create an ethnically pure Shqiptar Kosovo, which Albanian called “Kosova”, the Shqiptari (Albanians) launched a widescale campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija regions were massacred, and their homes were burned, and survivors were brutally driven out and expelled in policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The Balli Kombetar (BK or National Union) was an Albanian nationalist group led by Midhat Fresheri and Ali Klissura whose political objective was to in incorporate Kosovo-Metohija into a Greater Albania and to ethnically cleanse the region of Orthodox Serbs

The Abanian Committee of Kosovo organized massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian inhabitants of Kosovo- Metohuja. A contemporary report described the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Serbs as follows:

Armed with material supplied by the Italians, the Albanians hurled themselves against helpless settlers in their homes and villages. According to the most reliable sources, the Albanian burned many Serbian settlements, killing some of the people and driving out others who escaped to the mountains. At present other Serbian settlement are being attacked and the property of individuals and of communities is either being confiscated or destroyed. It is not possible to ascertain at the present time the exact number of victims of those atrocities, but it may be estimated that at least between 30.000 and 40.000 perished.

Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National committee, called for the extermination of Ortodox Serbian Cristians in Kosovo Metohija and for a union of a Greater Albania with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia, into a great Islamic state. The grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini was presented to Pejani a plan which he approved as a being in the interest of Islam. The Germans however rejected the plan.

On September 3, 1943, Italy capitulated by signing an armistice with the Allies. The German were now forced to occupy Albania with the collapse of the Italian forces. The Germans sent the 100th Jaeger Division from Greece and the 297th Infantry Division from Serbia and the German 1st Mountain Division to occupy Albania. These troops were organized into the XXI Mountain Corps which was under the command of General Paul Bader.

Additional security forces for the interior were needed, however, to free up Germans troops for defense of the coastline. The decision was made to form an Albanian SS mountain division for this purpose. In April in 1944, recruitment for the Albanian SS division began under direction of the newly formed Albanian Nazi party, which has been formed through the efforts of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Acting upon instructions of Reichsfuehrer SS Henrich Himmler, the SS main office ordered the formation of an Albanian volunteer mountain division on April 17, 1944. SS Brigadefuehrern and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who Headed the Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, oversaw the forming and training of the division.

The SS high Command planed to create a mountain division of 10.000 men. The Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, in conduction with the Albanian National Committee, listed 11.398 possible recruits for the Waffen SS mountain division. Most of these recruits were “kossovars”, shqiptar Ghegs from Kosovo Metohija in Serbia. The Shqiptar Tosks were found mainly in southern Albania. Most of the Shqiptar collaborators with the nazi forces were theNazi forces were the so-called Kossovars, ethnic Shqiptars from the Kosmet of Serbia. The Nazi German-sponsored Albanian gendarmes, special police and para-military units were made up by Kossovars. The Kossovars were under the direct control of the Albanian Interior Minister Xhafer Deva.

The Skanderbeg Division was formed and trained in Kosovo and was made up mostly of muslim Shqiptar Kossovars. There were only a small number of Albanians from Albania proper in the division. The Skanderbeg Mountain Division of the Wafen SS was thus essentially a Kosovo or Kosmet Division. The Division was stationed and operated in Kosovo and other Serbian regions almost exclusively.

Of the 11.398 recruits listed for the Division, 9.275 were ascertained to be suitable to draft in the Waffen SS. Of those suitable to be drafted, 6.491 Albanian were chosen and inducted into the Skanderbeg Division. To this Albanian core were added veteran German troops primarily Reichdeutsche from Austria and Volkdeutcshe officers, NCOs, and enlisted men, transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen” which was stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Kosovo Albanian 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” consisted in total of 8.500 – 9.000 men of all ranks. The 6.491 Shqiptar recruits were assembled at depots in Kosovo where the formation and the training of the division began.

The official designation for the division was 21 Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (Albanische Nr 1). The SS Main Office designed a distinctive arm patch for the division, consisting of a black double-headed eagle on a red background, the national symbol of Albania. The word “Skanderbeg”, embroidered in white, appeared above the eagle and was warn on the left sleeve. The right collar patch consisted of a helmet with a goat’s head on top, the helmet supposedly worn by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, after whom the division was named. The Shqiptars recruits in the division wore a white skullcap, the national attire of the Shqiptar Ghegs. The SS main office also issued gray skullcaps with the Totenkopf (death’s head) insignia sewn on the front below the Hoheitszeichen (the national symbol of Nazi Germany, consisting of a white eagle over a Nazi swastika).

Division was named after George Kastrioti, or Gjergj Kastriota, also as Kastriotis (1405-1468), national hero of Albania, who fought for the Ottoman Turks. As a child, Kastrioti was given as a hostage to Sultan Murat II to be brought as a Muslim at Adrianople (Edrine). Kastrioti became an officer in the Ottoman Turkish army and led the Turkish forces in many victories over Christian troops. Murat II was impressed with his valor and bravery in his battle for Islam and gave him the name Iskander Bey in Turkish, from “Iskander”, Aleksander the Great, or prince Aleksander, and “bey”, master. The name was shortened to Skanderbeg, beg being the local variant of bey. Later Kastrioti renounced Islam and converted to Christianity and attacked his former Ottoman Turkish masters. He captured the Albanian capital Kroja from the Turkish governor and proclaimed a revolt against the Turks in 1442. Sultan Mohammed II sent Turkish armies to defeat the renegade Kastrioti, but he was able to defeat Turkish forces, wich besieged Kroja but could not capture it. Kastrioti died in 1468. Kroja surrendered in 1479 and the Turks occupied Albania.

The Albanians in the Skanderbeg Division were mostly Muslims, of the Bektashi and Sunni sects of Islam. The division contained several hundred Albanian Catholics, followers of Jon Marko Joni.

The first commander of the Skandereg division was SS Brigadefuehrer Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitshum, who commanded the division from April to June 1944. After the Juli 20, assassination plot against Hitler, Fitzhum was appointed supreme commander in Albania. In June, SS Stardentenfuehrer August Schmidhuber was appointed division commander, a post would hold until August 1944. On June 21, 1944, Schmidhuber was promoted to SS Oberfuehrer and later in the war, he would be promoted to SS Brigadefuhrer. SS Oberstrumbannfuhrer Alfred Graf commanded the reorganized remnants of the Skanderbeg Division from August 1944, to May, 1945.

The Shultzstaffel or SS was created in the period 1923-1925 and was initially known as the Stosstrupp (Shock troop) “Adolf Hitler”. On January 16, 1929, Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler leader of SS, Reichsfuehrer SS. The SS was envisioned as an elite troop of the Party, a praetorian bodyguard to Hitler and the Nazi leadership. The SS was a formation “composed of the best physically, the most dependable, and the most faithful men in the Nazi movement. In 1940, combat units of the SS were formed, collectively termed the Waffen SS. Approximately 30-40 Waffen SS divisions were formed during the war, divided into three groupings, Waffen divisions made by Germans, those made up of ethnic Germans outside the Reich, and those made up of non-Germans. “Divisions der SS”, Divisions of the SS.

On September 27,1939, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler as Chief of German Police consolidated the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD under an SS Main Office of Reich Security, or the RSHA. The RSHA was the actual body entrusted with the overall administration of the final solution at the Jewish Problem, what became known as the Holocaust. The SS Economic and administrative Main Office or WVHA, run the concentration camp system. Nazi concentration camp personnel and guards, although not under the command of the Army or the Kommandoamt der Waffen SS, nevertheless, wore Waffen SS uniforms and received Waffen SS paybooks. Reichfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler oversaw a program that resulted in the extermination of millions of men, women and children. Himmler was the Architect of genocide and of the Holocaust and the Wafen SS was his “private army”, the black angels”.

In June,1944, The Skanderbeg Waffen SS Mountain Division engaged in large-scale field maneuvers in the area between the towns of Berane and Adrijevica in Monte Negro (Crna Gora). Garrisons of Skanderbeg division were established in Kosovo towns of Pec, Jakova, Prizren, and Pristina. Further training of the division continued in August as new recruits were inducted in the division. An artillery battalion of the division, consisting of two batteries, was located in Gnjilane.

The first major action of the division occurred in August, 144 in Kosovo. In September, 1944, the Skanderbeg division occupied the Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija) region now part of the communist created republic of Macedonia, and helped to garrison the region. The Skanderberg division was ordered into the areas surrounding the towns Skoplje (or Skopje), Kumanovo Presevo and Bujanovac. Sanderbeg operated in Stara Serbija (old and Ancient Serbia) region, in the towns of Pec, Gnjilane,Djakovica, Tetovo Gostivar, and Kosovska Mitrovica, then part of Kosovo Metohija and Southern Serbia.

In November, 1944, when the German armies in the Balkan were retreating from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, the Skanderbeg division remnants were reorganized into Regimentegruppe 21 SS Gebirgs “Skanderbeg” and was transferred to Skoplje, according to one account of the movements of the Battle group. This SS Kampfgrupe “Skanderbeg”, along with the prinz Eugen Divisin, defended the Vardar valley. The battle group “Skanderbeg” and Prinz Eugen held the Vardar area because it was the sole corridor of escape for the retreating German armies in Alexander Loehr’s Army Group E, which was retreating from Greece and Aegean Islands.

The Skanderbeg Battle Group along with the Prinz Eugen Division retreated to the to the Brcko region of Bosnia-Herzegovina by mid-January 1945. At this time the remaining Skanderbeg personnel were incorporated into the 14th SS Volonteer Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 7th SS division Prinz Eugen. The remnants of the Skanderbeg Division fought in this formation until the end of the war, retreating to Austria in May, 1945.

The Skanderbeg division engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Serbian Orthodox Christian populations of the regions under occupation by the division in Kosovo Metohija, Montenegro, and southern Serbia. Balkan Historian Robert Lee Wolff, in the “Balkans in Our time”, described the genocide committed against Kosovo Serbs by the Shqiptar 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Skenderbeg as follows:

In the regions annexed by the Albanians, their so-called Skanderbeg division, made up of members of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia, massacred Serbs with impunity.

Historian L.H. Stavrianos, in “The Balkan Since 1453”, described the genocide committed against Orthodox Serbs by the Shqiptar Skanderbeg Division in these terms: Yugoslav Albanians, organized in their fascist Skanderbeg Division, conducted an indiscriminate massacre of Serbians.

The Skanderbeg Division played a role in the Holocaust, the genocide if European Jewry, by rounding up scores of Kosovo Jews in a group roughly 500 persons deemed enemies of the Third Reich when the division occupied Prizren in Kosovo Metohija. The division sought to create ethnically pure Kosovo, ethnically cleansed of Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Gypsies the untermenschen (subhuman), who were targeted for extermination.

The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal declared the Shutzstaffel or SS criminal organization and every individual member of SS was found to be a war criminal guilty of “planning and carrying out crimes against humanity”. The Shqiptar Kosovars in the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division “Skanderbeg” committed war crimes and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo. The Shqiptar planned and carried out crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Orthodox Serbians of Kosovo were the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This genocide would contribute in the Shqiptar goal and policy to create an ethnically pure, Shqiptar Kosovo, in an attempt to create a greater Shqiperia or greater Albania. Following World war II, the Yugoslav Communist dictatorship allowed the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbs to continue, and indeed, gave greater impetus and legitimacy to the policy.


Battle of Gergovia




Between 58 and 53 B. C. Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul had dealt successively with the east, north, and west of Gaul, but the center had remained virtually unscathed, especially the Massif Central, the homeland of the Arverni, the most powerful tribe in Gaul in the second century B. C. and still a major force in the first century. Among the Arverni, the leader of the anti-Roman group was a young noble, Vercingetorix, who attempted a coup d’état during the winter of 53-52 B. C. but was expelled from the main town, Gergovia. The setback was short-lived; Gergovia was quickly back in Vercingetorix’s hands, and he started building a coalition with the neighboring tribal states to oppose Rome.

Caesar was in northern Italy, but he moved swiftly to combat any attack on the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul. He raised an army and, despite the fact that it was winter, crossed the Cevennes into the Auvergne. He moved on to gather his legions, which were in winter quarters around Agedincum (Sens). With these forces he was able to take the offensive, capturing the oppida (defended towns) of Vellaunodunum (Chateau-Landon), Cenabum (Orléans), and Avaricum (Bourges). Sending four legions north under Labienus against the Parisii, Caesar returned with the remaining six to attack Gergovia. Vercingetorix had arrived before him and had installed his troops in and around the oppidum.

Caesar describes the town as lying on a high, steep-sided hill, easily accessible only by a col (narrow neck of land joining two pieces of high ground) on the western side. The town was surrounded by a wall, with a second stone wall 2 meters high halfway up the slope; the Gallic forces were camped on the slopes, with garrisons on the neighboring hills. Caesar captured a poorly defended hill at the foot of the town and constructed his “large camp”; he subsequently captured a second hill “facing” the town, on which he built the “small camp,” linked with the large one by a double ditch, or “duplex” (Caesar’s use of the word “duplex” has been interpreted by some scholars to mean two parallel ditches separated by a pathway, and by other scholars as two ditches on the side facing the enemy protecting the route). Rather than attempt a siege, Caesar launched an attack; though his troops overran the outer wall, attacked the gates, and even mounted the town wall, they were forced to retreat, the only defeat Caesar suffered in the field. It led to a general revolt among the Gauls, and but for a tactical mistake by Vercingetorix, leading to the siege at Alesia, the Romans might well have been forced to retreat from Gaul. The battle of Gergovia had almost changed the course of the history of the Western world.


Later La Tene Celts developed a number of specialized modes of combat. They continued the development of chariot and mounted warfare, becoming the most formidable cavalry Europe had yet seen. Their armies were highly mobile, and their two and four wheeled chariots (essenda) gave them the advantage over all but the most disciplined and well-armed infantry. Elite chariot burials have been found across Europe. By the time of Caesar’s conquest, chariots had gone out of fashion in combat on the Continent, but they were still so used in Britain.

Celtic warriors employed a wide array of weapons: arrows, javelins, short- and long-bladed swords, and-in Iberia-the falcata, a heavy cleaver- like weapon that the Roman historian Livy claimed could sever a head or a limb in a single stroke. Slings were almost certainly used much earlier but the “ammo dumps” of sling stones found beside Late Bronze and Iron Age fortifications, such as Maiden Castle, are the first clear evidence of their use in Europe. Both mounted and chariot-borne troops utilized javelins. They would rapidly advance, release their missiles, then retire to safety. The Celtiberians of Spain used a short stabbing sword, the gladius, so effectively against the Romans that the latter adopted it as their legions’ principal weapon. Celtic warriors used long shields of an oblong or rectangular shape and wore horned or plumed metal helmets. A few of these have survived, although some were so fragile they were more theatrical than protective. Ornate “jockey cap” helmets with gold plating and coral inlays, such as the splendid fourth century B. C. examples from Amfreville and Agris, France, are known from the La Tene period.

The Celts’ best warriors, called gaesatae, wore torcs, thick-braided circlets of metal, around their necks. Gaesatae usually fought naked, sometimes with their bodies painted blue with dye made from woad (a type of herb), in the front ranks of Celtic armies. Because of their reputation for ferocity, they were hired as mercenaries into many Mediterranean armies. According to classical authors, the Celts preferred to settle conflicts in single combat between opposing leaders or champions. The long blunt-ended swords, useful only for slashing, that equipped most Celtic warriors reflected this predilection for single combat. Because of their longer reach, these were best in open, uncrowded combat, but unwieldy in crowded close quarters, as the closed ranks of Roman Legions with their stabbing swords would demonstrate in many battles.


Very Early Warships

The Greek Armada sails to the city of Troy in Warner Bros. Pictures' epic action adventure "Troy," starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.

Piracy was an ancient custom in the eastern Mediterranean. But none of this normally involved fighting at sea. Pirates rarely pursued merchants on the open sea because all ships carried both sails and oars and were therefore difficult to catch. (Pure sailing ships did not appear until the late sixth century BC.) The standard piratical procedure was doubtless that described in the Odyssey: the raiders beached their boats in the vicinity of a coastal town and then captured the place by land. Raiders could also blockade harbours by intercepting ships at the harbour mouth, and we hear of Levantine ports in the Bronze Age being blockaded in wartime, but as no ship could stay out to sea for very long this strategy required prior control of the coast so that the port could be besieged by land and sea simultaneously. In all these cases it would obviously have been desirable to cut off and board enemy ships at sea, but for the reason already mentioned this was difficult to do. The relief at Medinet Habu shows Egyptian ships intercepting the invading Philistines; but that was in the mouth of the Nile, and even there the feat must have required good timing.

None of the ships in the Medinet Habu relief have rams, so this device did not exist around 1200 BC. But the evidence of Greek vase paintings shows that by around 800 BC the practice of fixing bronze rams to the prows of ships so that they could be used as weapons against other ships had become standard in the Mediterranean. Owing to the lack of pictorial records from the intervening centuries we cannot say with certainty when or where this device was invented, but it seems likely that it appeared within a century or so after 1200 BC, for much of the sacking of cities at that time was the work of coastal raiders, and there was urgent need for some method of coastal defence. It is unlikely to have been invented by the raiders, as it is not in the interest of pirates to sink their prey; but after coastguards had rams, pirates of course acquired them too. The likeliest inventors of ramming were the Phoenicians, the leading seafarers of the time.

The standard warship of the early Iron Age was the penteconter, a 100-foot galley propelled by fifty oarsmen, twenty-five on each side; the word ‘warship’ is somewhat misleading, as there was no distinction between ships of war and merchant vessels, and the penteconters were equally useful for transporting trade goods (which were of small bulk at this time) and protecting them. In such ships the Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, opened up the whole of the western Mediterranean to trade and colonization. Originally penteconters were built with only one bank of oars. The next step was the bireme, a shorter and more seaworthy vessel with its fifty oars arranged in two superimposed banks. This was in use by 700 Be; an Assyrian relief of that date shows the king of Tyre embarking in a bireme.

None of this amounted to much ‘sea power’ in the modern sense of that term; it was more like coastal power. We do not hear of sea battles before the seventh century, not even between Phoenician cities, and no big battles until the sixth, which suggests the fifty-oared galleys were for defensive purposes, to guard harbours and repel pirates. It is doubtful there were any naval tactics, which would require concerted action by a number of galleys. Real sea power had to await the invention of the trireme, a highly specialized ship with 170 oars in three banks, with more than three times the propulsive power of a penteconter, and useful for nothing but warfare. These expensive technological marvels were probably beyond the reach of a city state. They did not become common until the late sixth century, when the Persian Empire became a Mediterranean power, and the Persian king Cambyses, according to Herodotus, became the first man to aspire to command of the sea.

Blockade (Strategy), 1500 to the Present


The Blockade of Toulon, 1810-14: Pellew’s Action, 5 November 1813, Thomas Luny, 1830, National Maritime Museum.


Battle of Port Royal: Harper’s Weekly, November 30, 1861 »


Isolation by a warring nation of a particular enemy area. The employment of naval blockades in war has been practiced since the beginning of recorded maritime history. The first known instances of a blockade took place during the Greek Peloponnesian War in the fifth century b.c. Warships patrolled the coastline of an enemy in order to trap an opposing fleet within its harbors and disrupt maritime commerce. Blockaders might hope that this would force the enemy fleet out to fight.

The maritime nations of Europe were aware of this ancient strategy, but it did not assume critical importance until the eighteenth century. Great Britain was the first naval power to implement a systematic blockade where squadrons of ships were devoted to a permanent blockade of an enemy’s coasts. In the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), the Royal Navy sealed major French ports by sailing within visual range of French territory. This strategy became known as a close blockade and had the same objectives as that employed by the ancient Greeks. It bottled up the French fleet in its ports, with the chance that it might come out to fight, and it caused economic dislocation through the seizure of ships trying to sail through the blockade to trade with France. Captains who captured these vessels were usually entitled to keep them and their cargoes for prize money. The effects of the first systematic blockade in history were a clear indication of the operation’s worth. By bottling up the French fleet, the blockade cut off needed reinforcements and supplies for the French forces fighting in Canada. The blockade also damaged France’s economy through the loss of maritime trade.

The British employed the blockade a second time in the American Revolution (1775–1783). This operation was also a close blockade, where British forces sealed off the entrances to the major colonial ports. Unlike the blockade during the Seven Years’ War, its goal was not bottling up a battle fleet, as that of the colonies was nonexistent. The purpose was to cut off colonial maritime commerce and prevent the coastal transport of supplies in order to cripple American armed forces. This blockade forced the Americans to rely only on overland transport for supply, disrupted colonial trade, and caused some measure of hardship to the civilian population, which in turn hurt morale.

As the empires and trade of the western European powers expanded, so did their dependence on goods from overseas. This growing need made the military and economic goals of blockade equally important. The critical nature of both of these aspects of blockade was made evident in the French Revolutionary and Napoléonic Wars (1792–1815). When the British entered the war, the Royal Navy employed a close blockade of the important French ports to bottle up the French fleet. Many of the war’s major naval engagements resulted from French fleets trying to break through the blockade. British victories in these and other battles gave the British supremacy of the sea and consequently removed any threat of invasion against Britain.

The economic dislocation caused by the blockade also contributed to the defeat of France. Napoléon spread the effects of the blockade from France to other European states when he forced them to adhere to his Continental System, which was a trade embargo against Britain that began in 1806. The economic hardship caused by this system led to Russia’s withdrawal from the system in December 1810 and a vow from Napoléon to punish Tsar Alexander I. This culminated in Napoléon’s disastrous 1812 campaign into Russia.

The growing economic importance of blockades was also evident in the War of 1812. Here the British mounted another close blockade, with the same strategic goals as in Europe. It bottled up the U.S. Navy’s ships and caused great economic distress. By 1814 U.S. merchant trade was but 17 percent of its prewar 1811 level.

The economic strategic effects of blockades in this age were particularly devastating because there were no internationally accepted rules that governed the scope of operations. Maritime laws in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were the product of commerce agreements between individual nations and did not represent a unified body of opinion. Attempts to create a more uniform code for laws that governed the use of blockades failed. An example is the 1780 League of Armed Neutrality comprising Russia, Denmark, and Sweden. Maritime powers such as Britain and France opposed this course, which led Catherine the Great of Russia to call the attempt the “Armed Nullity.”

Action taken during the 1854–1856 Crimean War resulted in the beginning of changes in this state of affairs. The British and French naval blockade of Russia damaged the maritime trade of the United States, which by this time was a force in world power politics. The Americans championed the principle of freedom of the seas, meaning the ability to conduct trade with any country in peace or war without interference. In 1854 the British tried to placate the United States by surrendering some rights in wartime, particularly the right to capture enemy property in neutral ships. This action led to the 1856 Declaration of Paris, the first attempt to place limits on blockades through the use of international law.

This legislation did little to alter any aspect of blockades in the years immediately following its adoption. The U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) was the first test of the new maritime laws. On 19 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the entire Confederate coast. It was a close blockade and its methods violated all the stipulations of the Declaration of Paris. The United States, however, had not signed the Declaration of Paris, as it prohibited the use of privateers. The Americans had relied on privateers in time of war because of their small number of purpose-built warships. As in past blockades, this Civil War operation proved crushing to the enemy and was one of the most effective weapons in the Union arsenal.

The Union violation of the Declaration of Paris did not result in a new conference to discuss further laws to restrict the strategic goals of blockades. The importance of the Civil War blockade lay in technological innovation that foreshadowed future changes. In the Civil War the first successful submarine, the CSS H. L. Hunley, which sank a Union blockader in February 1864, was deployed. In the future, technological advances would challenge the use of close blockades in wartime.

In the meantime, blockade strategy remained largely the same as it had been in the eighteenth century, ignoring to varying degrees the Declaration of Paris. The Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), however, was the catalyst for additions to international law. Both belligerents engaged in war on the other’s trade, which included the Japanese blockade of Port Arthur and Russian blockades of Chinese ports supplying the Japanese. But the Russian operation proved the more onerous to neutral commerce. Great Britain, whose trade had been most affected, became a champion for the protection of neutral rights in wartime and called for new conferences on the subject. The 1907 Second Hague Peace Conference did little to change existing legislation, but the 1909 Declaration of London altered completely the employment of blockades and undermined the strategic goals of blockades. Future belligerents could only capture enemy merchant ships, an aim inadequate to justify the operation. If a state’s merchant fleet was seized, it could simply redirect its trade through neutral nations.

The British, despite being the principal advocate of the declaration, increasingly doubted the use of blockades in the years that followed. Not only did the new legislation render an effective blockade impossible, but the traditional strategy of its deployment was no longer viable because of technological advances. By the twentieth century, the modern submarine had appeared, armed with the torpedo. In addition, other technological advances, such as improved coastal artillery and mines, diminished the possibility of a successful close blockade. A blockaded power that possessed these weapons could easily inflict great damage on a battle fleet lying just off its shores.

The growth of international law and technological change produced new blockade strategies in World War I (1914–1918). The British blockade of Germany took both of these factors into account, although the British increasingly ignored international law because of the need for greater effectiveness. They initially set up a system whereby ships would be stopped, searched, and, if necessary, sent into one of many ports for examination of their cargoes. The force that performed this task was no longer a close blockade, but a distant one deployed at the passages through which neutral commerce had to pass to reach its destination.

Lacking superiority at sea, the Germans used the new technology of the submarine and torpedo to introduce yet another blockade strategy. On 1 February 1915, the Germans declared a war zone around the British Isles; any ship that entered it would be subject to attack without warning. This strategy did produce significant results for the Germans, but in the end it proved disastrous to their war effort. Both blockades contravened international law, but the German blockade led to the loss of neutral lives. When Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States responded by declaring war in April 1917.

Very little changed in the employment of blockades during World War II. In fact, the blockade strategies largely mirrored those of World War I. The British employed a distant blockade of Germany that observed to some degree the authority of international law. The Germans again employed a submarine blockade of Britain and developed it further. Technological improvements in submarine designs between the wars allowed a widening of the war zone to include the entire Atlantic Ocean.

The Germans may have been the creators of the submarine blockade strategy, but the most successful use of it came in the Pacific theater with the U.S. submarine campaign against Japan. At the beginning of the war, the Japanese possessed six million tons of merchant shipping. They built an additional two million during the war. The American submarine blockade accounted for five million tons of the eight million tons sunk during the war, thus economically starving Japan.

The use of blockades has continued in the postwar years and has changed substantially from past uses. In terms of deployment, blockades now vary between close and distant ones based on the situation. The U.S. naval blockade of Cuba during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis employed a combination of both strategies. The same situation held true for the U.S. blockade of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) during the Vietnam War (1964–1975). These endeavors also used a combination of submarines and surface vessels instead of only one or the other.

International law and neutral rights also altered blockades with the creation of the United Nations in 1946. Postwar blockades have seen many more restrictions on their use, and in the recent past they have had more of a diplomatic than a military function.

The most recent naval blockade reveals how far the operation has evolved and once again brings into question its future use. In the Gulf War (1990–1991), the navies of the coalition against Iraq deployed a blockade of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. It had little effect on Iraqi wartime operations. International law made the blockade more humane because it allowed goods with a civilian use to pass into Iraq, and any violation risked condemnation by the United Nations. But this produced the same problem that forced the British to remove these restrictions during World War I in order to make their blockade effective. Blockades, in the age of total war, are directed at civilian and soldier alike to cripple a country’s war effort. Limited blockades cannot accomplish the strategic goals of the endeavor: the total destruction of the civilian and government sectors of a country’s economy in order to cripple its capacity to wage war.


Cable, James. The Political Influence of Naval Force in History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Hampshire, Cecil A. The Blockaders. London: William Kimber, 1980.

Harding, Richard. Sea Power and Naval Warfare, 1650-1830. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

Jane, Fred T. The British Battle-Fleet: Its Inception and Growth throughout the Centuries. London: S. W. Partridge and Co., 1912.


How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy’s Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815 by Brian Arthur

Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer


Barthelemy L Joseph Schérer. Portrait by J.Baptiste Paulin


A French Revolutionary general, tactician, and war minister, Schérer was victorious at Loano in 1795 and laid the basis for Bonaparte’s first Italian campaign. Born in Alsace, Schérer volunteered for the Austrian Army in 1760 as an infantry kadett (cadet). Wounded at Torgau that November, he rose to lieutenant by 1764. After serving as an aide-de-camp (ADC) from 1770, he resigned in 1775, but joined the French Army as a captain in the Strasbourg Provincial Artillery regiment in April 1780. Permitted to join the Dutch Army in February 1785, he was appointed a major in the Maillebois Legion before becoming an ADC to the Dutch chief of staff from February 1789. Despite promotion to lieutenant colonel, he resigned in March 1790 and rejoined the French Army. Appointed a captain in the 82nd Infantry regiment in January 1792, he was employed as an ADC by General Jean Etienne de Prez de Crassier in the Armée du Midi from May and then by Prince Eugene de Beauharnais in the Armée du Rhin, where he was promoted to chef de bataillon and made a staff adjutant général in July 1793.

Promoted to général de brigade that September, Schérer advanced to général de division in January 1794. Transferred to the Armée du Nord in April, he participated in the victory at Mont Palisel on 1 July, before commanding a division in the Armée de Sambre-et-Meuse, which took Landrecies, Quesnoy, Valenciennes, and Condé during July and August. Commanding a division, Schérer led the right wing in the victory at Spiremont on 18 September. He led the Armée d’Italie from November 1794 to May 1795, when he took command of the Armée des Pyrénées Orientales (Eastern Pyrenees). After victory over the Spanish at the river Fluvia on 15 June, he was reappointed commander of the Armée d’Italie in September. His autumn advance brought victory against the Austro-Piedmontese army at Loano on 23-29 November. He resigned, but was only relieved by Bonaparte in March 1796, following which he was appointed inspector of cavalry in the Armée d’Intérieur in June and in the Armée du Rhin-et-Moselle from February 1797. During his tenure as minister of war (July 1797-February 1799), he was widely accused of corruption and drunkenness, until he returned to the Armée d’Italie in March 1799. He was victorious at Pastrengo on 26 March, but was defeated in April by the Austrians at Verona and Magnano. On 26 April, defeat by Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov on the Adige River brought his retirement.

His army instructions, drafted over the winter of 1795-1796, formed the basis of Bonaparte’s system in 1796. Following General Jean-Baptiste Kléber, he emphasized attacks in massed battalion columns with bayonets lowered. In line, the infantry would fight in two ranks, supported by small flank columns. Schérer was the first French general to establish a formalized military espionage system, directed by an adjoint (assistant staff officer).

References and further reading Griffith, Paddy. 1998. The Art of War in Revolutionary France, 1789-1802. London: Greenhill. Six, Georges. 1937. Les générals de la Révolution et l’Empire. Paris: Bordas.



Japanese forces bombarding Wanping, 1937.


Marco Polo Bridge 1937.

Japanese called this the “China Incident” (“Shina jihen”). Shots were fired out of the dark at Japanese troops of the North China Garrison Army near the Lugouqiao-or Lugou, or Marco Polo-bridge over a tributary of the Hai River. It is not known who fi red at the Japanese. Speculation includes Chinese Communist provocateurs, Chinese Nationalist troops, or perhaps no one at all: it is possible local Japanese troops made up the incident from whole cloth. Japanese troops in the area were part of an international garrison based in the city by right of servitude under certain “unequal treaties” imposed on China many years earlier. They were allowed to maneuver under terms of the Boxer Protocol (1901), under which Japan kept troops in northern China. One Japanese private went missing for two hours, but otherwise no one was hurt. Imperial General Headquarters nonetheless determined to take advantage: an apology was demanded and the Chinese were instructed to withdraw from other key bridges, opening the road to potential conquest of Beijing and Hebei (Hopei) province. The Chinese garrison refused to move.

Japanese and Chinese troops clashed the next morning as a local squabble escalated into a Sino-Japanese crisis. The Japanese Army decided to follow the aggressive lead of its local commander and fight for full control of northern China. The initial Japanese attack was repulsed. China formally apologized in an effort to defuse the crisis. In private, Jiang Jieshi confided to his diary on July 8 that China would no longer accept humiliation at the hands of Japan, and moved to fully mobilize his forces. The mood among the Guandong Army regiments commanded by General Renya Mutaguchi was also bellicose, an attitude echoed throughout Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo. Japanese leaders were aware of the Yezhovshchina blood purge of the Red Army then underway and thought that Moscow’s terrible distraction was Tokyo’s great opportunity. Guandong officers and others in the North China Garrison Army had long hoped for a pretext for war, and this incident provided it. Tokyo sent reinforcements to the Guandong Army from Korea and three fresh divisions arrived from Japan on July 25. Two days later the Japanese attacked in force. They quickly overran the ancient Marco Polo (Lugouqiao) bridge and surrounding territory. Thus began the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).


In one of a series of border incidents that marked the mid-1930s, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed at Marco Polo Bridge (Lugouqiao), about ten miles west of Beijing, during the night of 7 July 1937. There was nothing particularly unusual about the circumstances, not even that they led to a series of clashes around Beijing. Neither Nanjing nor Tokyo wanted a large-scale war, in spite of the creation of the Second United Front a few months earlier. But the Chinese were determined not to give up this important railway junction. While Japanese naval officers and diplomats feared that the Kanto- Army’s actions might threaten war with Russia, even the army did not foresee that they would snowball into a full-scale Japanese invasion and the beginning of World War II in Asia (known as the Anti- Japanese Resistance War in China).

How had this happened? At the beginning of July, Chinese troops around the Marco Polo Bridge decided to strengthen their defenses. On 7 July the Japanese conducted night maneuvers around the bridge, firing blank cartridges. The Chinese returned fire briefly, and no one was hurt. A missing Japanese soldier at roll call the next morning, however, prompted the Japanese to begin an attack (though the man returned after twenty minutes). The Chinese successfully repulsed the Japanese. Over the next few days feints and counter feints on the ground produced inflammatory statements from Tokyo and Nanjing: demands for apologies, complaints about insults, and references to sacred territories. On 17 July, Chiang Kai-shek declared:

China is a weak country, and if, unfortunately, we should reach the limit of our endurance, then there remains only one thing to do, namely, to throw the last ounce of our national energy into a struggle for the independent existence of our nation… If we allow one more inch of our territory to be lost, then we would be committing an unpardonable offense against our race.

By the end of the month, calculated feints had been replaced by continuous, fierce fighting, and the Beijing-Tianjin corridor had fallen to the Japanese. Japan’s massive invasion of China in the second half of 1937 was not thoroughly planned, but it was the logical result of an unstable situation. What Japan persisted in calling the “China incident” years into the Sino-Japanese War quickly turned into a quagmire. At first, events seemed to be falling Japan’s way. Japan’s best hope was that quick victories might pressure the Nanjing regime into accommodation with Japan. World opinion was sympathetic to China, but China was isolated. Yet the Nationalists would not surrender.




Fulk Nerra’s fortress strategy greatly expanded Anjou. He constructed a network of castles, fortified houses, and towns no more than a day’s march apart, to surround and isolate his enemies. The map shows the defensive beginnings and later offensive momentum which this strategy of conquest generated.

For over half a century, from 980 to around 1030, Fulk Nerra dominated his county by means of a fortress strategy. At first this was defensive. His greatest competitor was Odo I, count of Blois, and ruler of the important city of Tours. Odo also controlled Saumur, so cutting off Angevin contact with the Touraine. In 992-94, Fulk constructed Langeais to secure a route south from Angers. He also drew upon his father’s alliance with Bouchard of Vendome to outflank Tours. His prime aim was to establish lines of communication with his southern fortresses of Loudun, Loches, and the Vienne valley. There was a risk that Fulk’s vassals might transfer their allegiance to the count of Blois to preserve their lands; their defenders could submit to a besieger without penalty – only if they held out would they suffer massacre. So, Fulk’s fortifications acted as staging posts, both defensible refuges and bases for supporting advances. They needed to be within a day’s march of one another; no more than 20 miles (32 km) apart.

The sudden death of Odo in 996 allowed Fulk to take the initiative. He seized control of the Loire valley from Montsoreau to Amboise; but he had overreached himself. The new king of France, Robert, married Bertha of Blois and recaptured the city. Fulk learnt his lesson and was a most scrupulous vassal thereafter. He worked instead on developing a secure route through the northern Touraine to Amboise, constructing and rebuilding castles a day’s march apart at Semblançay, Chateau-la-Valliere, and Bauge. Once again this was defensive, while the fortification of a domus (house) at Morand to harass communications between Tours and Chateau Renault was aggressive.

South of the Loire, Fulk was strong in the valleys of the Indre and Vienne, but lacked a good link from Angers to Vihiers above the Layon. The situation was worsened by the defection of his previous ally, viscount Aimeri of Thouars, in 994. Needing a link to Loudun, Fulk began by fortifying Passavant and Montglan, a little further east. Montreuil-Bellay was only constructed c. 1030, after the fall of Saumur. Its castellan, Berlaius, and his garrison of caballarii (mounted warriors) were tasked with protecting the area from attacks by the men of Thouars.

Meanwhile, following the loss of Tours in 997, Fulk began to encircle the city, building Montbazon in the same year. The castle also operated against the Blesois communications between Tours and lIe-Bouchard and, in co-ordination with the garrison of Langeais, against Chinon. Soon after 1000, Fulk established a castle southeast of Tours at Montresor. Montrichard was constructed c. 1005 to increase the pressure on St Aignan, a castle captured later and used as a base for further penetration of the Cher valley. Odo II’s campaigns to recover St Aignan led to his defeat by Fulk at the battle of Pontlevoy in 1016.

In the west, Fulk used his vassals effectively, with Renaud controlling Champtoceaux c. 998, and Drogo in Chateaupanne c. 1006. Montjean was constructed shordy afterwards. St Florent-le-Vieil completed the defence of the Loire in the 1030s. Pushing south, Montrevault was established at the same time and later, in the 1020s, Montfaucon and La Tour Landry stood against hostile Thouars. Mirebeau, built c. 1000, protected the southern march from attack from Poitiers. Fulk’s influence may have spread even further south, supporting the lord of Parthenay in constructing that castle (c. 1012) and later an outpost at Germond (1026). The strength of William V, count of Aquitaine, meant that it was advisable to use a less direct strategy than that employed against the count of Blois.

In the north, Fulk built upon the position established by his father at Sable. Chateau-Gontier, on the Mayenne, and Chateau du Loir were constructed after 1005 against Le Mans. Most of the castles were built in the 1010s and 1020s, establishing a deep frontier, or limes, along the river Loir. It is possible to identify several strategic groupings of castles in a similar fashion, defending Fulk’s territories. Of course, these did not form a rigid defensive line, rather a flexible defence-in-depth against the chevauchee. In 1026 and 1027, Odo II of Blois penetrated as far as Saumur, which had fallen to Fulk in the former year – but to no avail.

Castle garrisons were not intended to challenge an invading force, rather to harass it. Unless the attacker wished to commit his forces to siege, and risk being surprised by a relief force, he could achieve little. Fulk avoided battle and preferred to develop a strategic stranglehold through his fortifications. The final result, although not in his lifetime, was the conquest of Tours in 1044, after a half-century of pressure.