Dutch Army 17th – early18th Centuries

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Dutch Infantry 1701-1713.

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PIKE AND SHOT SOCIETY SALES

Control of the Dutch Army, or “Army of the Generality” of the United Provinces, as it was formally known during this period, initially lay with the Regents of the States of Holland, most notably Jan de Witt. Later, this control shifted to William III, and still later to Marlborough, though the Regents never surrendered their power over the Army’s purse. This powerful lever gave the Regents of Holland effective control of wider Dutch politics and foreign and military policy. Command of the Army was an endless source of political conflict between dynasts and the merchant elite. Orangists sought always to secure command for sons of the House of Orange, while the republican, or States’ party, faction was equally determined to deny command to Princes of Orange, even if that meant granting it to a foreign general. French maréchal Turenne and General Wrangel of Sweden were both proposed, and Marlborough was ultimately accepted. The Army was woefully unprepared for the start of the Dutch War (1672-1678). In the actual fighting against French invaders, badly beaten Dutch troops had to be rescued by town militia, including many women, who stiffened the resistance. Within two years the Army recovered, and thereafter maintained a high level of professionalism and proficiency. The Dutch Army also increased greatly in size, reaching 100,000 men by 1675. Under William III (then still Prince of Orange), many of its officers were German nobles, as William found these easier to influence and control than Dutch officers. With the return of peace in the late 1680s the Army was temporarily reduced to 40,000 men. Its numbers rose commensurately with the threat from France from 1688 onward, swelling throughout the Nine Years’War (1688-1697). It formed the core of William’s force for the invasion of England in 1688 (though many mercenaries accompanied him as well). Some 17,000 Dutch regulars remained there, or fought in Ireland, until 1691. It reached its peak strength of 119,000 men in 1708, compared to just 70,000 British soldiers on the continent that year. This Dutch force was importantly supplemented by another 42,000 Germans and Swiss hired with Dutch taxes and acting under Dutch command. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Dutch forces agreed to serve under overall command of Marlborough, although he was not permitted to move or commit the Army to battle without prior consent of the States General, which was represented in the field by several Dutch sub-commanders. Troop numbers were reduced from 130,000 (including foreigners) in 1712 to 90,000 in 1713 and just 40,000 in 1715, with the latter force an admixture of Dutch, Swiss, and Scots. In 1717 the Army was reduced by another 6,000 men to a standing force of 34,000.

Godard van Reede, 1st Earl of Athlone (1644-1703).

Dutch general. Having served in the several wars of the United Provinces against Louis XIV, including the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), Athlone sailed with William III for England during the Glorious Revolution. He was most effective fighting Jacobites and the French expeditionary force in Ireland after the Boyne (July 1/11, 1690). In 1691 he captured the town of Athlone, in whose name he was later ennobled. He commanded well and won at Aughrim (July 12/22, 1691), where he inflicted enemy casualties at a rate ten times his own (7,000 to just 700). That forced the remnants of the Irish and French armies to retreat to Limerick. He took the fortress city in October 1692, after a lengthy siege. Athlone then left for the Netherlands and the war against France. He fought at Steenkerke (July 24/ August 3, 1692) and the siege of Namur (July 2-September 1, 1695). He might have commanded the Dutch Army during the first years of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), but instead magnanimously deferred to Marlborough, whom he served as loyal lieutenant.

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William of Orange’s Invasion of Britain

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In the face of the Dutch invasion, some people rallied behind their beleaguered king. In early October, the grand jury for the county of Cumberland drew up an address against the Dutch, and similar addresses followed from the city of Carlisle and the common council of Exeter. Several members of the nobility and gentry pledged their support for James, offering to raise men on his behalf, though for some this was merely a subterfuge: the London Gazette announced that one of those who had pledged was Danby. One manuscript poem, which circulated in the West Country and seems to have been designed to appeal to dissenters, urged ‘Good people’ to ‘Throw the Orange away’, since it was ‘a very sowr fruit’: ‘Lob, Pen and a Score / Of those honest men and more’, the rhymester predicted, ‘Will find this same Orange exceedingly sowr’.What impresses, however, is the speed and ease with which William gained control over England following his landing. It would certainly be wrong to imply that the English immediately, and en masse, went over to William. There were many whose instincts were to be loyal to their king and who tried to do what they could to resist the Dutch invader; there were even more who initially were unsure how to act and were reluctant to engage in an act of treason by declaring themselves for William until they could see which way the tide was turning. Rather, we should think in terms of an expedition that quickly developed a momentum of its own: William’s initial successes, together with early manifestations of support for him, soon induced more and more people to declare their sympathy or go over to his cause, until in the end James himself came to realize that there was no way he could halt the Dutch advance.

William did not, of course, just invade and hope for the best. He and his agents had been conspiring for some time with leading dissidents in England to ensure that he would meet with limited resistance from James’s armed forces and that leading members of England’s politically and economically important classes would rally to his cause. Such was the disillusionment with James among the English merchant community that many helped provide funds to finance William’s invasion, pouring some £200,000 into William’s coffers in just six weeks in July and August 1688. A Williamite conspiracy within the navy was designed to ensure that William met with limited resistance as he attempted to cross the Channel. Arthur Herbert, the former admiral whom James had replaced with the Catholic Roger Strickland, had gone over to William in the summer and was to lead the Dutch invasion force; he was also able to ensure that many of the sea captains who had previously enjoyed his patronage pledged not to fight William. In the end, the fruits of the conspiracy were never put to the test, since unfavourable winds meant the English fleet was unable to get out of the Thames estuary and engage the Dutch. Disaffected nobility in the north of England were also conspiring to secure the north of the kingdom for William. However, again, the wind dictated that William’s armada did not head up the east coast to link up with these dissidents, but instead sailed down the English Channel. William also came over with a sizeable contingent of discontented English and Scottish exiles – ‘disgruntled peers, redundant MPs, proclaimed traitors, escaped spies, fugitive rebels, suspected republicans, renegade officers, and mischievous divines’ – among them lords Cardross, Leven, Macclesfield, Mordaunt, Shrewsbury and Wiltshire, Sir Rowland Gwynne, Sir John Hotham, Sir Robert Peyton, Sir William Waller, Sir James Dalrymple of Stair, Gilbert Burnet, Robert Ferguson, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, John Locke, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and John Wildman, to name but a few. This was not merely a foreign invasion force, akin to the Spanish Armada of 1588. Rather, this was a British conspiracy in which discontented English and Scots utilized the resources available to a man who, although head of a foreign state, was nevertheless married to the next-in-line to the English, Scottish and Irish thrones (barring the supposedly supposititious Prince of Wales) and who was third-in-line himself, in order not to subject the three kingdoms to foreign rule but rather to free them from perceived tyranny, in accordance with the desires of the vast majority of British Protestants. To claim that 1688 should be seen ‘as an instance of what had last been seriously attempted a century earlier’ is to get it seriously wrong.

Upon landing, William managed to secure control over the West Country fairly easily. He gained Exeter on 9 November, and although the magistrates of the recently restored corporation tried to stop him from entering and the clergy subsequently refused to read his Declaration in their churches, the ordinary citizens gave him a tumultuous reception. William was to stay at Exeter until the 21st, ‘to refresh the Army after it had been so long on Shipboard, and to recover the Horses to their former Strength, as also for the Gentlemen of the Country thereabout to come and join his Highness there’, as one of the chaplains of his expeditionary force put it. He was soon joined by the Whigs Lord Colchester, Lord Edward Russell and Thomas Wharton (the sons and heirs of the Whig peers Earl Rivers, the Earl of Bedford and Lord Wharton), and the Tories Sir Edward Seymour and William Portman. To cement support for William across the nation, Burnet, at the instigation of the Tory MP Sir Edward Seymour, penned an Association for ‘pursuing the ends of the prince’s declaration’, which was then printed and circulated for general subscription. Edward Russell and Lord Leven negotiated the surrender of the garrison at Plymouth from the Earl of Bath on 18 November, Bath himself going over to the Prince, while Shrewsbury was sent to secure Bristol. With William’s rear now safeguarded, the way was clear for a march on London. Lord Lovelace was foiled in his attempt to bring some seventy ‘well appointed men’ to link up with William by the Gloucestershire militia under the command of the Duke of Beaufort, the only Lord Lieutenant to make any concerted effort to stop supporters from joining the Prince; they came to blows, and a couple of the militia men were killed and half a dozen more were injured, but Lovelace and thirteen of his followers were taken and sent to Cirencester jail and, subsequently, Gloucester castle. However, in Dorset, the local nobility and gentry began to organize the militia and the collection of taxation for the benefit of the Prince, while ‘many of the greatest quality and estates’ in Somerset and Devon also joined with William, as did the local populace.

By the end of the third week in November it was said that William had enlisted some 12,000 recruits, so great an army that he wished many would offer ‘to repair home’ until he told them they were needed. What he wanted was not civilians but deserters from James’s army, as promised in the letter inviting him to invade, and he expected much from a Williamite conspiracy brewing amongst certain army officers. The first of the major desertions occurred on 12 November, when Viscount Cornbury, Clarendon’s eldest son and commander of the royal dragoons, and Thomas Langston, with the Duke of St Alban’s regiment of horse, deserted the royal army at Salisbury Plain and crossed into enemy lines, although in fact they carried few of their troops with them. Others began to run from their colours over the next few days. The most significant blow came in the third week of November: in the early hours of Saturday the 24th, Lord Churchill, the Duke of Grafton and Colonel Berkeley crossed into enemy lines, and they were rapidly followed by the young Duke of Ormonde (the grandson of the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who had died in July 1688), the Duke of Northumberland, Prince George of Denmark (the husband of James’s daughter, Anne) and Lord Drumlanrig. The total number of desertions was not particularly large. The effect on morale within the army camp, however, was devastating, as no man could be sure of the loyalty of his neighbour or of his commanding officer. The mood of the army was further swayed by the publication, in October 1688, of Thomas Wharton’s anti-Irish song ‘Lilliburlero’. Although originally written in early 1687 in condemnation of Tyrconnell’s appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland, it was now printed for the first time and enjoyed enormous popularity. A sequel was immediately published, making direct references to the events of the autumn of 1688, while supporters of James II even wrote some anti-Dutch words to the tune, although the attempt to appropriate the song for the government seriously backfired since it only served to remind the public of the original. Burnet, despite thinking ‘Lilliburlero’ ‘a foolish ballad’, nevertheless admitted that it ‘made an impression on the [King’s] army that cannot be well imagined by those who saw it not’, and observed that ‘the whole army, and at last all people both in city and country, were singing it perpetually’. Wharton himself boasted that the tune ‘sung a deluded Prince out of three kingdoms’.

There was a series of risings in support of William in the north of England, where William had initially been expected to land. Lord Delamere raised a regiment of some 300 ‘Noblemen and divers Gentlemen of great Quality’ in Cheshire and declared for the Prince on 15 November; ‘great numbers’ of countrymen and freeholders apparently volunteered to join with him, but Delamere sent them home, ‘promising to give them notice’ if he had ‘any further occasion of their service’. Not that the upper-class nature of his regiment meant that it acted in a particularly respectable way; according to one report, Delamere took to riding about the country ‘like a mad man’, seizing horses belonging to Catholics and despoiling their chapels. The Earl of Devonshire raised his tenants and marched into Derby on 17 November, where he declared for a free parliament, before proceeding to Nottingham, which he entered on the 20th and where he was joined by Delamere the following day. On the 24th Delamere and his supporters headed south to join up with the Prince, passing through Lichfield, Birmingham and Worcester, before arriving at Bristol (which was by now under Williamite control) on 2 December. Devonshire remained in Nottingham, where he was joined by reinforcements from the south Midlands (particularly Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire) on 29 November and then, on 2 December, by James’s own daughter, Princess Anne, and Bishop Compton of London (who had fled the capital a few days earlier). On 22 November, Danby seized York and declared for ‘a free parliament and the Protestant religion and no Popery’, and by the beginning of December he had also secured the capitulation of the important garrison at Hull. Other areas followed suit. On learning the news of William’s landing, William Rowland of Hexham in Northumberland gathered together a band of Protestants and proceeded to disarm all the papists’ houses in the vicinity. Rowland then went off to London, presumably to assist in the campaign against popery in the south. In East Anglia, the Duke of Norfolk raised the militia for William and took Norwich and King’s Lynn, ‘whereupon the Tradesmen, Seamen and inferior sort, put Orange Ribbons in their Hates, shouting and echoing Huzzas for the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Norfolk’. On the Welsh borders, Lord Herbert of Cherbery and Sir Edward Harley, together with ‘most of the gentry of Worcestershire and Herefordshire’ entered Worcester and seized Ludlow castle. Everywhere the insurgents took measures to disarm the local Catholics.

Others joined in the demand for a free parliament. Those close to the King saw it as the only hope for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Thus on 17 November, seven bishops (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) and twelve temporal peers (among them Clarendon and Rochester) petitioned the King for a free parliament as ‘the only Visible way to preserve your Majesty and this your Kingdom’ and avoid ‘the Effusion of Christian Blood’; the King replied that he could not call a parliament while there was an invading army in the West, but he would do so ‘as soon as the present troubles were appeas’d’. Similar addresses came in from across the country: from Westmorland and Cumberland and Lancashire in the north, to Norwich in the east, and Gloucestershire and Devon in the west. By early December, as the Countess of Huntingdon put it, the nobility and gentry were up ‘in all Counties’, having all declared ‘for a free parliament and the protestant religion and many for the Prince of Oreng’.

How did those who had orchestrated the uprisings on William’s behalf justify engaging in active resistance against their king? For Whigs this was fairly straightforward, since they had always held that tyrants who broke the law could be resisted. Justifying his active resistance in a speech to his tenants in Cheshire in November 1688, Delamere proclaimed that he had to choose whether he would be ‘a Slave and a Papist, or a Protestant and a Freeman’; if the nation were to be delivered, ‘it must be by force or by miracle’, he said, but ‘it would be too great a presumption to expect the latter, and therefore our Deliverance must be by force’. In their declaration, the nobility, gentry and commons assembled at Nottingham claimed that although it was rebellion ‘to resist a King that governs by Law… he was always accounted a Tyrant that made his Will the Law; and to resist such an one’ was ‘no Rebellion but a necessary Defence’.

For others who joined with the Williamite resistance movement, however, the situation was a little more complicated. Let us take Gilbert Burnet, for example. He was one of William’s chief propagandists and thus clearly a Whig in his politics. Yet he was also a churchman who, after earning his MA in his native Scotland, had served as a licensed preacher in the Scottish Episcopalian Church and then as Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow before moving to England, where he had been a royal chaplain and then chaplain to the Rolls Chapel and a lecturer at St Clement Danes, London, before falling out of royal favour and opting to withdraw to the Continent upon the accession of James II. Under William he was to become Bishop of Salisbury. A self-appointed apologist for the Church of England against the errors of Rome, back in December 1674 he had even preached a sermon entitled Subjection for Conscience Sake Asserted.36 One of the first to hint at the necessity of resistance to James II in print, in the autumn of 1688 he produced his Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to complement William’s invasion manifesto of 30 September. It was quite overtly an Anglican resistance tract.

Burnet began by asserting that all men were ‘born free’ and had a ‘duty of Self-preservation’. Although ‘Considerations of Religion’ did indeed ‘bring Subjects under stricter Obligations, to pay all due Allegiance and Submission to their Princes’, they did ‘not at all extend Allegiance further than the Law carries it’. Under the English system of government, the king’s authority was limited: if he acted ‘beyond the limits of his Power’, subjects lay under no obligation to obey; and if any, acting illegally in the king’s name, sought to ‘Invade our Property’ they were ‘violent Aggressours’ and the principle of self-preservation allowed for ‘as Violent a resistance’. Burnet was also adamant that England was ‘a free Nation’ with ‘its Liberties and Properties reserved to it by many positive and express Laws’; if ‘we have a right to our Property, we must likewise be supposed to have a right to preserve it… against the Invasions of the Prerogative’.

The difficulty was that there were ‘many express Laws’ that made it ‘unlawful upon any pretence whatsoever to take Arms against the King, or any Commissioned by him’, and that all office-holders in Church and state had sworn an oath to this effect. ‘And since this had been the constant Doctrine of the Church of England’, Burnet continued, in a vein designed to reveal his own sincere commitment to the teachings of the Anglican Church as well as his intent to reach out to those with Anglican convictions, ‘it will be a very heavy Imputation on us, if it appears, that tho we held those Opinions, as long as the Court and the Crown have favoured us, yet as soon as the Court turns against us, we change our principles’. There was a tacit exception, however, Burnet insisted: whenever liberty and resistance came into conflict, liberty took priority. ‘The not resisting the King’ applied only ‘to the Executive Power’, that is, we could not resist upon ‘pretence of ill Administrations in the Execution of the Law’. But this did not extend ‘to an Invasion of the Legislative Power, or to a total Subversion of the Government’, for the law ‘did not design to lodge that Power in the King’. It followed that if the king tried ‘to Subvert the whole Foundation of the Government… he annuls his own Power; and then ceases to be King, having endeavoured to destroy that, upon which his Authority is founded’. Burnet then went on to consider whether the foundations of the government had been struck at under James, and concluded that they had, rehearsing in full the case made against James by William’s invasion manifesto.

For Danby, who led the resistance movement at York, the problem was especially intellectually taxing. In effect, Danby had been the original Tory: the founder of the Church and King party under Charles II in the mid-1670s and, as the leading minister at the time of the Popish Plot, he was the focus of the Whigs’ wrath during the earliest phase of the Exclusion Crisis. His motives are easy to understand. In the mid-1670s, he had sought to tie the crown to a pro-Anglican and anti-French policy; he had arranged the marriage between William of Orange and James’s daughter, Mary, to whom he expected the succession would pass after James’s eventual demise; and he had even proposed limitations on a popish successor to guarantee the Church would be safe should James inherit the throne. James’s policies as king had undermined his entire political agenda. He had also been made a sacrificial lamb in the wake of the Popish Plot, when the Commons had tried to impeach him for allegedly trying to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical form of government, and although he had escaped impeachment, he had spent five years in the Tower and was not to regain royal favour after his release. Yet back in 1675, Danby had sought to impose a non-resistance oath on those who sat in the Lords and had launched a propaganda offensive designed to promote the English sovereign as a divine-right, absolute monarch. One might think this should have made it impossible for him later to contemplate active resistance to James.

A justification of Danby’s northern resistance movement appeared in print in 1689. Published anonymously, it has been attributed to Danby himself, and it was certainly intended to offer a vindication of the justice of the undertaking that could appeal to Tory-Anglican consciences. Laws, the author states, were supposed to be supportive, not destructive, of man. When a man cannot defend himself by law, ‘he may by the Law of Nature… smite his Adversary to save his own life’. If some set about trying ‘to destroy the Rest’ it was ‘lawful by the Laws of God and Man, for the injured to defend themselves’. ‘Arbitrary Princes’ might have ‘a Political power to treat a Subject cruelly and inhumanely’, but this was not true of those supposed ‘to rule by Laws made for the Publick Good, and such as render the Subjects Freemen, not Slaves; such as secures their Religion, Liberty and Property’. If such princes, ‘contrary to Law’, imprison their subjects or seize their estates, ‘they do it unjustly, without God’s Warrant, or any Political Authority, and may be resisted’. The author accepted that government was ordained by God; but God had left it to the people to decide which type of government to erect. If the governor tried to assume more power than his people had given him, then ‘Subjects may by the Laws of God and Man deny to yield to it’. In answer to the Pauline injunction that ‘the powers that be’ were ordained of God and thus could not be resisted, the author maintained that governments had ‘God’s warrant to proceed according to the Frame of the Government, to the End of the Government, which is the publick Good’, but ‘if the Governor proceed neither according to the frame of the Government, nor to the End, but against it, such Process cannot be the Ordinance of God’. It did not follow that ‘because I may not resist the Ordinance of God, that I may not resist the powerless and inauthoritative, unjust, Attempts of Superiors upon me’. Thus ‘resistance (for the Publick Good) of Illegal Commission’d Forces, is not resisting the King’s Person, but his Forces; not his Power, but his Force without power’. One certainly should not wittingly or wilfully kill the king, however, even if he joins with wicked men. Regicide was not an option.

The author then proceeded to direct his argument more specifically to the English context. England had a limited monarchy, where the king was bound, by his coronation oath, ‘to Govern by the Laws’. If a king acted against law, and not for the public good, then he was guilty of injustice. ‘Illegal force… must be resisted’, though resistance must be a last resort, and only engaged in if the cause is good and can achieve the desired end. It is not rebellion, however, because ‘Rebellion is resisting the just Power of the Government’. To the objection that only the king possessed the power of the sword, the author insisted that ‘If force be offered that wants Political Power, who ever does it, does it but in the Nature of a Private person, and Private persons may resist such.’ As for our oaths of allegiance, the author maintained that we swore to give allegiance to the frame of the government and that our allegiance was therefore ‘bounded by our Laws’, to which the king also owed allegiance, having sworn to observe them in his coronation oath. Although the king undoubtedly possessed prerogative powers, the royal prerogative could not be used against the frame of the government or the public good. ‘A Prerogative therefore cannot destroy a Law, but it may supply its defects, pardoning a Condemned innocent, or a hopeful penitent, or dispensing with a Law, to one, that by particular Accident, the Law in its rigour would undo.’ (Danby himself, of course, had received such a royal pardon back in 1679.) ‘But no Prerogative’, he continued, ‘can Impower the King to destroy the people’s Liberty or Property. That dispensing Power, that… casts all the Laws asleep’, he was adamant, in allusion to James’s Declarations of Indulgence, ‘is no Prerogative belonging to the Crown of England’. ‘Resisting Illegalities, and Misgovernment’, he concluded, was therefore ‘the way to preserve Government’, as long as the king remained safe.

The Norman Invasion of Sicily

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Noticing how narrow the sea was that separated it [Sicily] from Calabria, Roger, who was always avid for domination, was seized with the ambition of obtaining it. He figured that it would be of profit to him in two ways – that is, to his soul and to his body.

By reading Malaterra’s view of the motives behind the Norman invasion of Sicily, we understand that the decision to invade the island had been planned by Roger just a few months before the actual invasion, which is surely not the case. In fact, From the synod at Melfi in August 1059, Robert Guiscard had been invested by Pope Nicholas II as `future duke of Sicily’, thus laying the foundation for the conquest of the island which would serve both parties. The Normans would profit from the conquest of an island as fertile and rich as Sicily, while the Catholic church would reap the fruits of glory for taking the island away from the infidels after almost two centuries and not allowing it to fall under the jurisdiction of Constantinople – Sicily, along with Calabria and Illyria, had been brought under the authority of the patriarch of Constantinople by Constantine V (741-75), whose creation of Orthodox metropolitan sees there was seen as a result of the iconoclastic crisis of the period. The Norman invasion of Sicily, from the period between 1061 and the conquest of Palermo in 1072, consisted primarily of three major pitched battles between Norman and Muslim armies, two major sieges and one great amphibious operation conducted by a hybrid Norman fleet.

Sicily is covered with mountains (25 per cent) and hills (61 per cent). Etna dominates the geography of the island on the east coast (3,263 metres), while in the north there are three granite mountain groups, covered with forest, just short of 2,000 metres. These cover a zone from Milazzo to Termini and spread as far inland as Petralia and Nicosia. The coastlands of the northern part of the island, from Taormina to Trapani, present an alternation of narrow alluvial plains and rocky spurs which significantly hinders communications. The interior of Sicily is dominated by impermeable rocks and rounded hills separated by open valleys, with the harsh climate characterised by long summer droughts and low rainfall, creating a sharp contrast with the coast. Finally, along the southern shore, low cliffs alternate with alluvial plains, while between Mazara and Trapani a series of broad marine platforms can be identified.

The enemies that the Normans were to face in Sicily were the Muslim dynasty of the Aghlavids, who by the beginning of the ninth century had overwhelmed all of modern Tunisia and Libya and were launching numerous raids on Calabria and Sicily itself. They established themselves permanently on the island in 827 when, taking advantage of a local rebellion by the governor Euphemius, they landed in full strength and stormed Palermo in 830. Their progress was slow, a prelude to the Norman pace of conquest; in fact, it took them five decades to subdue the island, which eventually capitulated because of poor leadership and the empire’s much more pressing wars in the East against the Arabs. The Aghlavids were eventually ousted in 909 by the Fatimids, who directly ruled the island for almost four decades. In 947, they dispatched a governor from Ifriqiya to crush a local rebellion at Palermo, and his governorship was to lead to the establishment of the local Muslim dynasty of the Kalbites, which ruled for more than ninety years. Nominally still vassals of the Fatimids and, practically after 972, of the Zirid viceroys in Ifriqiya, the Kalbites enjoyed a significant degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency.

The breakdown of the political consensus at the beginning of the eleventh century and the emergence of separatist forces were also combined with a great migration from North Africa, because of civil-religious conflicts between Sunni and Shi’a factions. Several Muslim naval raids also took place, aiming at southern Italy and western Greece. When the last Kalbite emir, al-Hasan, was assassinated in 1052, the island was divided into three contending principalities: the south and centre was ruled by Ibn al-Hawas, who also commanded the key fortresses of Agrigento (in the west coast) and Castrogiovanni (in the centre), the west by Abd-Allah ibn Manqut and the east by Ibn al-Timnah, based in Catania. Ibn al-Timnah emerged in the Sicilian political scene in 1053 and in the following years he established himself in Syracuse. His conflict with al-Hawas and his gradual loss of power in the east of the island forced the Muslim emir to contact Roger Hauteville in February 1061. Al-Timnah actively assisted the Normans in their invasion of the island by providing troops, guides, money and supplies until his death in 1062, in the vain hope that his allies, once defeating al-Hawas, would hand the island back to him.

Prior to the main invasion of the island of Sicily in May 1061, two other reconnaissance missions took place, one conducted by Roger with a force of sixty knights who landed close to Messina in the summer of 1060, and a second taking place two months before the main invasion and led by Guiscard, who targeted the surrounding areas of Messina. For the main amphibious operation in May 1061, Roger landed his troops in the Santa-Maria del Faro, just a few kilometres south, in order to avoid the Muslim ship-patrols which were sweeping the coasts. His advance guard took the Muslim garrison of Messina by surprise and overran them.

Malaterra notes a military tactic employed by Roger to enter the city by force, according to which his troops performed a feigned retreat in order to draw the Muslim garrison out of the city, and then turned back and attacked them fiercely. Whether this was, indeed, a military tactic well practised and employed by Roger or was just presented that way by the chronicler we will never know for sure; what is certain, however, and has to be underlined, is the frequency with which Normans were using this particular tactic, with the most characteristic examples being those of Hastings and Dyrrhachium.

Following Roger’s success at Messina, Guiscard crossed the straits of Scylla and Charybdis with the main Norman force of 1000 knights and 1000 infantry. The Norman army marched west, capturing Rometta with no great difficulty, but then failed to take Centuripe because of the city’s strong fortifications, the lack of time and the danger of a relief army arriving. Their next target was Castrogiovanni, the headquarters of the local emir, Ibn al-Hawas, and of great strategic importance for the control of the central plateau of the island, situated as it was west of Mount Etna and Val Demone in central Sicily. As the Normans were far away from their bases in the north-east and in hostile territory, largely relying on the local Christian Orthodox population for supplies, and because of the menacing approach of winter, they could not afford to stay in Sicily for long. In their usual non-Vegetian tactics, Robert and Roger were active in seeking battle with their enemy, who was nowhere to be found, pillaging their way down to Castrogiovanni and killing many of the inhabitants in order to provoke the emir to face them in pitched battle.

In the summer of 1061 the first of the major pitched battles between the Normans and the Muslims took place close to the fortress of Castrogiovanni and on the banks of the River Dittaino. The heavily outnumbered force commanded by Robert Guiscard inflicted a heavy defeat on the Muslim army, a tremendously important victory for Norman morale, considering that the Norman conquest of Sicily was still in its very early stages. There were no significant gains for the Normans, because with the escape of many Muslims (including Ibn al-Hawas) back to their base and with the campaigning season almost over, they could not afford to stay in hostile territory any longer. Hence, we are informed of Roger’s decision to retire back to Messina after a successful pillaging expedition to Agrigento.

Despite such a promising beginning, the conquest of Sicily proved a very lengthy process. By the end of 1061, the Normans had managed to take control of most of the areas of the north-east of the island, mainly inhabited by Greek Orthodox Christians.

The anti-Muslim feeling amongst the local population had emerged as a decisive factor from the Byzantine expedition of 1038-41, owing to the aggressive Kalbite policy of extending the Muslim colonies in the south and east of the island. But once the Muslims had recovered from their initial shock, they resisted stoutly for many more years. The main reason for the difficulty in conquering the island was certainly the scarcity of occasions when the Normans could deploy enough of their forces to Sicily, with Roger having just a few hundred knights to maintain his dominions and launch plundering expeditions when necessary. Throughout the year 1062, no major conflicts between the Normans and the Muslims occurred, mostly because of Roger’s strife with his brother.

In order to understand why Robert Guiscard could ill-afford to send many troops to his brother in Sicily, apart from their strife in 1062, one has to consider how Apulia was a far more important operational theatre than Sicily. Looking at Guiscard’s operations in the region, he had to deal with the conquests of Brindisi (recaptured by the Byzantines soon after) and Oria in 1062, along with a serious rebellion at Cosenza in Calabria in 1064-5, which took several months to suppress. Robert’s attention turned to Apulia once again after 1065, capturing Vieste and Otranto by the end of 1066. Soon afterwards, however, he was about to face the most dangerous rebellion against his power in Apulia, headed by Amicus, Joscelin of Molfetta, Roger Toutebove and two of his own nephews, Geoffrey of Conversano and Abelard. The way in which the operational theatres of Apulia and Sicily are connected is clear. Thus, in order to examine properly the Norman invasion of Sicily a close eye should be kept on the political and military developments across the straits of Messina.

After the settlement of the strife between Robert and his brother Roger in the spring of 1063, we can observe a slight change of tactics used by Roger to conduct his warfare in Sicily. In order to diminish his disadvantage of having a very small number of stipendiary knights at his disposal, he used the mobility and speed of the horses to ambush the Muslims, with the most characteristic example being that of the Norman victory at Cerami, in the early summer of 1063. Important as it was, however, the victory at Cerami did not bring the Normans closer to conquering the island but merely confirmed their hold on the north-eastern part. Roger simply maintained his army on a hand-to-mouth basis, relying on plundering raids in the south and southwest of the island, with his brother very rarely being able to send reinforcements from Apulia.

Following the events at Cerami in 1063, we have very little information on what took place in Sicily over the next four years. This suggests either that Roger had only a few troops at his disposal, or that the Muslims were putting up a vigorous resistance to the Norman expansion. Nonetheless, we are informed that Roger maintained pressure on his enemies and carried on with his advance, albeit gradually, along the north coast towards the capital. The town of Petralia, which had been abandoned in 1062, was reoccupied and converted into Roger’s main base in Sicily, with its fortifications being improved in 1066; in fact, Roger’s attention to the west and north is marked by his moving of his main base from Troina to Petralia. By 1068, the raids conducted by Roger were affecting the entire northern coast, reaching close to Palermo itself and, in that year, he was able to inflict a bloody defeat on the Muslims at Misilmeri, only 12 kilometres south-east of the Muslim capital of the island, Palermo.

Crews in Byzantine fleets

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A modern depiction of a Byzantine flamethrowing warship, using Greek Fire against an enemy ship (probably of the opponent Muslim fleets). In the foreground: the mechanism and the siphon of ejection of Greek fire in the interior of a Byzantine Dromon (artwork by Giorgio Albertini)

By John H. Pryor

In spite of the fact that some crews in Byzantine fleets at various times were well regarded, for example the Mardaites of the theme of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, there is little evidence to suggest that, in general, Byzantine seamen were so skilled that this gave Byzantine fleets any edge over their opponents. It is true that Byzantine squadrons managed to defeat the Russians on all occasions when they attacked Constantinople: in 860, probably in 907 under Oleg of Kiev, in 941 under Igor, and in 1043 under Jaroslav. A fleet also defeated the Russians on the Danube in 972. However, rather than being attributable to any qualities of Byzantine seamen, these victories were due to the triple advantages of Greek Fire, dromons and chelandia being much larger than the Norse river boats of the Russians, and (except in 972) being able to fight in home waters against an enemy far from home. The last is true also of the defeat of the Muslim assaults on Constantinople in 674–80 and in 717–18. In both cases, it was the advantage of home waters against the disadvantage of campaigning hundreds of miles from sources of supplies, the problems faced by the Muslims of surviving on campaign through the winter, and Greek Fire that proved decisive. The same is probably true of the victories over the fleets of Thomas the Slav in 822–3.

In general, the record of Byzantine fleets from the seventh to the tenth centuries was hardly impressive. To be sure, they did achieve some notable victories: the defeat of the Tunisians off Syracuse in 827–8, the defeat of a Muslim fleet under Abū Dīnār off Cape Chelidonia in 842, the victory of Nikētas Ooryphas over the Cretans in the Gulf of Corinth in 879 and of Nasar over the Tunisians off Punta Stilo in 880, the victory of Himerios on the day of St Thomas (6 October), probably in 905, the defeat of Leo of Tripoli off Lemnos in 921–2, the victory of Basil Hexamilitēs over the fleet of Tarsos in 956, and the defeat of an Egyptian squadron off Cyprus in 963. Against that record, however, have to be balanced many disastrous defeats: of Constans II at the battle of the masts off Phoeinix in 655, of Theophilos, the stratēgos of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, off Attaleia in 790, a defeat off Thasos in 839, the defeat of Constantine Condomytēs off Syracuse in 859, the annihilation of a fleet off Milazzo in 888, a defeat off Messina in 901, the disastrous defeat of Himerios north of Chios in 911, the defeat of a Byzantine expedition in the Straits of Messina in 965, and of fleets off Tripoli in 975 and 998.

Although the tide of Byzantine naval success ebbed and flowed over the centuries, as other circumstances dictated, nothing suggests that the quality of the Empire’s seamen was in any way decisive. Indeed, there are occasional pieces of evidence that suggest that all was not always happy in the fleets. Some time between 823 and 825, John Echimos, the ‘deputy governor’, (ek prosōpou), the acting stratēgos, of the theme of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, confiscated the properties of seamen of the fleet. After he had become a monk and taken the name Antony, later to become St Antony the Younger, he was interrogated as to his reasons for doing so on the orders of the new emperor, Theophilos (829–42). According to the author of his Life, his explanation was that they had been partisans of Thomas the Slav in his rebellion of 821–3 and were ‘hostile to Christians’, thus implying that they were iconoclasts, and that he had confiscated their property and given it to supporters of Theophilos’ father, Michael II (820–9). In spite of this explanation, the emperor initially imprisoned him and had him interrogated, suggesting that there was more to the story and that he rejected the explanation. The fleet of the Kibyrrhaiōtai had, indeed, joined Thomas the Slav, as it was also later to join the rebellions of Bardas Sklēros in 976–9 and Bardas Phōkas in 987–9, and it is clear that, at times, there must have been serious disaffection in what was the front-line fleet of the Empire in the ninth and tenth centuries.

In 880, the expedition sent under the command of Nasar, the droungarios touploimou, to counter an attack in the Ionian sea by a Muslim fleet from Tunisia was forced to a temporary halt at Methōnē by the desertion of a large part of the crews. Why they deserted is unknown, but we can be fairly sure that it was not a simple question of their having ‘lost their nerve’, as the Vita Basilii suggested.

The Byzantine warships and their tactics

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Reconstruction of an early 10th-century Byzantine bireme dromon by John H. Pryor, based on references in the Tactica of Emperor Leo VI the Wise. Notice the lateen sails, the full deck, the fore- and mid-castles, and the Greek fire siphon in the prow. The above-water spur is evident in the bow, while the captain’s tent and the two steering oars are located at stern.

The typical high-seas elite warship of the empire in the period was the dromon (from the Greek dromeas, meaning `the runner’). This was a two-masted fully decked bireme with two banks of oars, one rowed from below the deck and one from above it. There were twenty-five oarsmen on each side of each deck, thus raising the total number of oarsmen to a hundred, all fully seated. The marines and the officers of the ship numbered around fifty men, while the ousia, the standard complement of a war galley (its crew excluding the marines and the officers), totalled 108 men. Another type of warship that had the same features as the dromon was the khelandion; both Ahrweiler and Pryor consider these two types of vessel to be almost identical. However, although the Greek primary sources used these two terms indiscriminately, it is interesting to mention that Theophanes identifies the khelandia primarily as horse transports. The Arabic primary sources, however, use only the term khelandion to describe Byzantine warships.

A smaller but much faster type of ship compared to the dromon and the khelandion was the galea. It derived from the same design mentality for a war ship and it had two sails (the one amidships being smaller by a third) and probably one bank of oars on the deck. Because of its speed, however, this type of ship was used primarily for courier service and, during campaigns, for the transport of orders. There is also mention of galeai being used in espionage. Other types included the supply and carrier ships like the pamphylos, which was `like a baggage-train, which will carry all the equipment of the soldiers, so that the dromons are not burdened with it; and especially in time of battle, when there is need of a small supply of weapons or other materiel, [these] undertake the distribution’.

In the non-tidal waters of the Mediterranean war galleys, like the dromons and the khelandia, would have been suitable for any sort of landing on a hostile beach, unlike the heavy and round-hulled pamphylos, which required a dock. The horse-transport units of the Byzantine fleet had been equipped with a climax since at least the early tenth century, which was a ramp used for the loading and unloading of the horses from the ship’s gunwales, either from the stern or usually from the bow. This term is mentioned in the De Ceremoniis for the Cretan expeditions of 911, 949 and 960/126 and reveals the necessary modifications to the ships when they had to carry horses, such as hatches not just to the sides but also on the decks, leading down into the holds, while further modifications would have been engineered in the hulls of the ships concerning the stabling of the horses. According to Pryor, the khelandia were indeed specialised horse transports, able to carry between twelve and twenty horses. But these must have been built differently from dromons when it comes to the dimensions of the ship’s beam, which would have been much wider to accommodate both the lower bank oarsmen and the horses. A significant structural difference between the tenth-century Byzantine transport ships and their Italian counterparts in the twelfth century was that the latter placed both banks of oarsmen on the upper deck, thus making more room for the horses in the ship’s hull.

Turning to the battle tactics of the Byzantine navy, the existence of an above-water beak in the larger warships reveals a fundamental difference between the ancient Greek and Roman naval tactics and those used by the Byzantines, at least after the early tenth century. This beak, replacing the below-water ram, possibly as early as the sixth century, indicates a change in the objectives of naval engagements, from penetrating the enemy ship’s hull below the water line to damaging the ship’s oars and upper hull and bringing it to a stop in order to board it and capture or burn it.

What is obvious in all contemporary treatises of naval warfare is the same spirit of avoidance of battle at all costs, identified as Vegetian strategy by modern historians, which characterised the Byzantine attitude towards warfare on land. The basic idea of Byzantine warfare at sea follows the simple dicta by Syrianus Magister (c. 830-40s) that `if the enemy is overwhelmingly stronger than us and a great danger hangs over our cities, then we should avoid war and overcome the enemy by wisdom rather than might’. Leo VI also strongly urges an admiral that:

You must indeed deal with the enemy through attacks and other practices and stratagems, either with the whole of the naval fleet under you or with part of it. However, without some urgent compelling reason for this, you should not rush into a general engagement. For there are many obstacles [in the workings] of so-called Tyche [Luck] and events in war [are] contrary to expectation.

When a decision to engage the enemy was taken by the senior officers, then the fleet would deploy its squadrons in several formations depending on a series of factors such as `time, by attacking the enemy at a moment when we have the winds as allies, as happens frequently with off-shore winds; place, [by using] the sea between two pieces of land, or a river, [areas] in which the numbers of the enemy are useless because of the narrowness of the sea’. The author of the Taktika provides his readers with a variety of naval formations to engage the enemy (§§50-6); the two most commonly used were the crescent-shaped and the straight line:

Sometimes [you should draw up] a crescent-shaped or sigma-shaped [i. e. C-shaped] formation in a semi-circle, with the rest of the dromons placed on one side and the other [i. e. of the flagship] like horns or hands and making sure that the stronger and larger [ships] are placed on the tip. Your Gloriousness [should be positioned], like a head in the deep of the semi-circle [. . .] The crescent arrangement should be such that, as the enemy attack, they are enclosed within the curve. Sometimes you will form the ships on an equal front in a straight [line], so that, when the need calls, [you can] attack the enemy at the prow and burn their ships with fire from the siphones.

The tactical objective of the crescent-shaped formation was for the stronger ships on the sides of the formation to overwhelm the enemy ships and then turn around and attack the rest of the formation on their exposed flanks where they were most vulnerable. Once the opposing units came into close proximity with each other they would attack the enemy ships and their crews with bows and arrows, snakes, lizards and other dangerous reptiles, pots with burning lime or tar and, of course, with Greek fire, projected either through the ship’s siphones, through small hand-siphons or thrown against the enemies in a form similar to small hand-grenades. The importance of the proper management of the preliminary missile phase was indicated by the emperor’s insistence on using the projectiles effectively, not wasting them against an enemy protected by shields, and ensuring that neither supplies were exhausted nor the crews exhausted themselves in hurling them. When the ships were close enough, boarding detachments were sent to the enemy ship and the result of the naval battle largely depended on the courage and the fighting abilities of the boarding teams. For that reason,

apart from the soldiers or the upper oarsmen, [all others] however many there might be, from the kentarkhos down to the last [man], should be kataphraktoi – having weapons such as shields, pikes, bows, extra arrows, swords, javelins, corselets, lamellar cuirasses, helmets, vambraces – especially those engaged in fighting hand to hand in the front line of attack in battle.

Finally, if we follow the writings of Leo VI, a potentially decisive weapon that came to the fore at this point of the naval engagement were the `gerania [cranes] or some similar contrivances, shaped like a gamma [A], turning in a circle, to pour either wet flaming pitch or the processed [fire] or anything else into the enemy ships when they are coupled to the dromons when the manganon is turning over them’. This technique was coupled with the thrusting of pikes from the lower bank of the dromons through the oarports, a tactic that Leo claims had only recently been devised.

Robin Olds – September 18, 1944

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Maj. (later Brig.Gen.) Robin Olds. 434th Fighter Squadron. P-51D 44-##### L2-W “Scat VI”. Original artwork by Fred Hayner. Profile by Nick King

Shuddering violently, the P-51 bit into the thin air and continued to climb. The pilot winced; he knew that the vibration was from his supercharger, but he still didn’t like the sound. The results were hard to beat, though, and he leaned forward a bit as the fighter passed 21,000 feet. As he bunted over a few seconds later, his butt came off the chute pack and mist spat out of the air-conditioning vents.

There!

Three distinct groups of dark flecks against the puffy clouds, about five miles away. Focke-Wulf 190 fighters. A little lower than him and not turning toward the flight of four Mustangs. He’d seen it before: they were going directly for the lumbering, slow-moving bombers. Unlike other escort missions he’d been on, these B-24s were loaded with supplies, not bombs. Operation Market Garden, an enormous Allied airborne assault, had begun the day before.

Forty thousand British and American paratroopers had been dropped along Highway 69 in Holland; the Americans were to take the bridges at Eindhoven and Nijmegen while the British 1st Airborne and the Polish Brigade would take Arnhem. Capt. Robin Olds shook his head, staring at the distant German fighters. Maybe it would work. He was a fighter pilot, not a ground pounder, but trying to move tens of thousands of troops along a single narrow road didn’t seem a great idea. Then, of course, the poor Brits and Poles landed right on top of two SS panzer divisions that had been put in Arnhem for a rest. Talk about a bad break . . .

Which was why he was here right now. The lightly armed paratroopers were running out of food, medical supplies, and, above all, ammunition. So these B-24s had to get through. As the radio erupted with chatter, he shoved his goggles up and squinted up at the deep blue sky. That was where the threat would be—the new German jet. From higher up and incredibly, unbelievably fast.

Sunlight flashed off metal to his left as the P-51s closest to the bombers ramped over and dove at the Focke-Wulfs. The 190 was an awesome aircraft, tough, fast, and heavily armed with four 20 mm cannons plus two 12.7 mm machine guns. In the right hands it was a match for his Mustang below 20,000 feet. And one just never knew these days. It was either a novice who could barely fire his guns or one of the experten, aces with years of combat experience. His job this September morning was covering the high ground against any Messerschmitts that showed up. Again, you just never knew.

Glancing down, Olds reached around the stick and touched a toggle switch on the console. It was up, where it should be, in the GUNS CAMERA & SIGHT position that armed his weapons and filmed whatever he shot. The glowing yellow dot on the combining glass could be activated with the camera for training, and it all looked the same. He wouldn’t be the first pilot to squeeze the trigger and have nothing happen because the damn switch was in the wrong position.

Methodically scanning the sky, he then glanced at the line of fighters floating loosely nearly four miles above the earth. Most retained their silver paint on the top surfaces except for a dark strip along the cowling to the cockpit. Some had the rudders painted olive drab, and a few were solid green. The rudder bars and spinners were either red or yellow depending on the squadron, and most of the 18-inch alternating black and white invasion stripes had been removed by now. It didn’t matter; they were beautiful planes. It always amazed him how motionless flying seemed to be unless you were passing a cloud or looking down at the ground.

Or in a dogfight.

Up ahead a deadly spiderweb of tracers began streaking over, into, and below the bomber formation. Darting black specks merged like a swarm of gnats and began twisting together. A bright flash popped from the mess and a fighter dropped away, burning and trailing black smoke. Then another . . . and another. His headset was alive with voices: excited yelling from the new guys and much calmer, terse directives from the veterans, who sometimes didn’t say anything at all.

Suddenly the Mustang to his left sparkled brilliantly, and he flinched, surprised, as it staggered, pieces breaking loose and fluttering away. As he opened his mouth to call out, a mottled, torpedo-shaped plane flashed past overhead, heading for the bombers.

The jet!

Actually, there were two of them. He shoved the throttle forward and dumped his nose to follow, keying the mike at the same time.

“Roundtree Lead . . . Greenhouse Yellow One’s got bandits . . . your seven o’clock level . . . inbound fast . . . jets!”

Like a thoroughbred out of the gate, the Mustang surged ahead as the Packard Merlin engine spun up. Jettisoning his own wing tanks, Olds looked left to see his wingmen do the same as the big 12-foot prop bit hard into the thin air.

“Gre—Yellow Two is hit! Hit . . . I’m . . .”

The pilot clicked his mike and shot a glance at the map on his kneeboard for an approximate position. Close to Maastricht . . . it was the best he could do. In a matter of seconds the P-51 accelerated past 400 knots, and he stared through the clear bubble canopy at the mess before him. The bombers had all turned north toward Arnhem, and he could see a few Mustangs in the vicinity. The rest were all below him, wrapped up with the Germans. Black smoke trails hung in the air, most curving straight down, but others streamed away east and west as wounded fighters tried to make it back home.

One of the B-24s was spinning in, and another looked like it had lost most of its right wing. The jets had slashed through the bomber formation then disappeared. Below to his right a dark, compact fighter turned wildly with three . . . no, four Mustangs. The yellow cowling on the Focke-Wulf was plain to see as the skillful pilot pirouetted away from the other planes. Kicking the rudder, Olds skidded his Mustang sideways and was about to jump in from above when he caught movement off to the east.

The jet again. This time he could only see one.

“Greenhouse Yellow One . . . tally bandit . . . three o’clock level . . . ah, three miles . . .”

Flipping the P-51 over, he sliced to the right as his two surviving wingmen rolled and maneuvered to stay with him. The Me 262 was about three miles away, sliding across the horizon like a cruising shark. As he watched, the thing cranked up on one wing and turned in toward the bombers.

“Yellow Three, tally one . . .”

The Liberators were heading due north. Racing in from the southeast was the jet, and the three Mustangs were right in the middle. With a combined closing velocity of 1,400 feet per second, there was less than ten seconds until firing range—no time for anything fancy.

Ten . . . nine. . .

And the German never hesitated.

Aiming straight at him, Robin Olds stared through the glass reflector of his gunsight. He’d already set the dial at 35 feet to account for the Focke-Wulf’s wingspan and didn’t bother to change it. The jet was a little bigger, but it wouldn’t matter. His throttle was all the way forward, and Olds pushed it hard enough to feel the safety wire break. It moved another two inches, and five seconds of emergency power boosted the Merlin up to maximum power. This was only used in combat, since it could, and did, burn up engines.

Six . . . five. . .

He also twisted the throttle grip counterclockwise till the range indicator read 2,400 feet. The yellow aiming pipper stayed as it was, but the circle formed by the six surrounding diamonds shrank as the range setting was increased. The K-14 gyroscopic gunsight was a marvel that compensated for bullet drop and calculated the lead required for deflection shots. All the pilot had to do was put the pipper on the target, twist the grip until the diamonds matched the wingspan, and open fire.

Three . . . two . . .

Left hand rock steady on the throttle and his right hand on the stick, the pilot instinctively nudged the controls to keep the pipper on the deadly-looking fighter. What a strange plane—no props.

One . . .

Robin kept the pipper on the pointed nose and hammered down, the Mustang instantly vibrating against the recoil of six .50-caliber machine guns. Older P-51s had dangerous jamming problems because the guns were mounted sideways so they’d fit inside the wings. Not so with this Mustang; all six guns were electrically boosted to fire 1,200 rounds per minute per gun. The tracers streaked out, and even as Olds let up, the German’s nose sparkled as he fired in return.

Olds quit firing, his two-second burst having sent more than 120 rounds at the other plane. Pushing over savagely, he kicked the left rudder and twitched the stick, skidding the P-51 down and right as the German’s shells went exactly where he’d just been.

The 262 zipped past, and the Mustang pilot corkscrewed his fighter around, nose low, and pulled. Taking a deep breath against the g’s, he felt the air bladders on his new Berger G suit inflate and for once was grateful to be wearing the damn thing. Both wingmen cross-turned above him, then sliced back to bring their noses to bear.

With the stick back in his lap, Olds brought the nose around in the direction of the bombers to cut off the jet, but he wasn’t there! Blinking against the glare, he swallowed. Not there. Then he saw the smoke. A thin, dark gray trail that curved around to the south. Reversing the turn, he followed the smoke with his eyes and saw the jet. Two miles away already and arcing toward the ground, now heading southeast, back toward Germany.

“Ya got ’em, Yellow One . . .”

Well . . . a piece of him, anyway.

His number three man sounded relieved. Fighting something that different was disconcerting, especially after being told the Mustang was the best fighter in the world. And the men flying the jets were no novices; the Messerschmitts were too valuable for that.

Olds shook his head and watched a second longer before banking smoothly around to the north. Pulling the throttle back, he set a cruise speed of about 350 knots and glanced over the gauges: oil pressure, rpm, and especially coolant. All good. Exhaling, he checked his fuel and then the rounds counter to see how many shells were left. Everything was fine.

For a brief moment Robin Olds felt everything: heart thudding against his chest, the deep throb of the big Merlin engine, and his quick breathing slowly returning to normal. Cool air from the vents was drying the sweat on his neck, and the pilot sighed, shaking his head. He would’ve loved to send the German down in flames and watch that beautiful jet break apart under his guns. To fight and not kill was frustrating.

But if the Mustangs hadn’t been there, then the Messerschmitt would’ve shredded those bombers and everything they carried would be lost. Squirming against the harness, he took a deep breath and shrugged. It was enough this time. And besides, Robin thought as he smiled under the mask, there would be other Germans on another day.

There always were.

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“In Scat III, Olds shot down two Fw-190s following a low-level bridge-bombing mission to Montmirail, France, on August 14. Eleven days later he and his wingman became separated from the group on an escort mission to Berlin, and attacked a large gaggle of Bf-109s, estimated at 50 or more in number. Despite severe battle damage to his own plane, including loss of a side window of its canopy, Olds shot down two during the dogfight and another on the way home to become an ace. He made eight claims while flying the P-38 </span> (five of which are credited by the Air Force Historical Research Agency) and was originally credited as the top-scoring P-38 pilot of the ETO.”

The 479th FG converted to the P-51 Mustang in mid-September and Olds scored his first kill in his new Scat V on October 6. Promoted to major on February 9, 1945, he claimed his seventh victory southeast of Magdeburg, Germany the same day, downing another Bf-109. On February 14, he claimed three victories, two Bf-109s and an Fw-190, but the latter was later changed to a “probable”.

His final aerial kill occurred on April 7, 1945, when Olds in Scat VI led the 479th Fighter Group on a mission escorting B-24s bombing an ammunition dump in Lüneburg, Germany. The engagement marked the only combat appearance of Sonderkommando Elbe, a Luftwaffe geschwader formed to ram Allied bombers. South of Bremen, Olds noticed contrails popping up above a bank of cirrus clouds, of aircraft flying above and to the left of the bombers. For five minutes these bogies paralleled the bomber stream while the 479th held station. Turning to investigate, Olds saw pairs of Me 262s turn towards and dive on the Liberators. After damaging one of the jets in a chase meant to lure the fighter escort away from the bombers, the Mustangs returned to the bomber stream. Olds observed an Me 109 of Sonderkommando Elbe attack the bombers and shoot down a B-24, pursued it through the formation, and shot it down.

Olds achieved the bulk of his strafing credits the following week in attacks on Lübeck Blankensee and Tarnewitz airdromes on April 13, and Reichersburg airfield in Austria on April 16, when he destroyed six Luftwaffe planes on the ground. He later reflected on the hazards of such missions:

“I was hit by flak as I was pulling out of a dive-strafing pass on an airfield called Tarnewitz, up on the Baltic. Five P-51s made a pass on the airdrome that April day. I was the only one to return home…When I tested the stall characteristics of my wounded bird over our home airfield, I found it quit flying at a little over 175 mph indicated and rolled violently into the dead wing (note: the right flap had been blown away and two large holes knocked in the same wing). What to do? Bailout seemed the logical response, but here’s where sentiment got in the way of reason. That airplane (note: “Scat VI”) had taken me through a lot and I was damned if I was going to give up on her…why the bird and I survived the careening, bouncing and juttering ride down the length of the field, I guess I’ll never know.”

Olds had not only risen in rank to field grade but was given command of his squadron on March 25, less than two years out of West Point and at only 22 years of age. By the end of his combat tour he was officially credited with 12 German planes shot down and 11.5 others destroyed on the ground.

Royal Navy versus Kriegsmarine, Marine nationale and Regia Marina 1940 I

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At this time. France was already stumbling towards defeat when the Italians joined the war on the side of the Axis on 10 June. Although four of its six battleships were not immediately operational, the Regia Marina Italiana (Royal Italian Navy) still had seven heavy cruisers, fourteen light cruisers, sixty-one destroyers, 144 torpedo boats and 117 submarines at its disposal from the outset. As such, its deployment in the Mediterranean and the Aegean was bound to complicate the Allied war effort in these seas and through its active presence in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean potentially compromise the safe operation of the Suez Canal as well. Dudley Pound and his trusted VCNS Tom Phillips certainly believed that with the French Navy apparently out of the equation, the Italians could make things very uncomfortable for the British in the Mediterranean. While they were in favour of withdrawing the fleet from Alexandria, neither Churchill nor his combative C-in-C Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham, would hear of it. Churchill’s fervent support for an active presence in the Mediterranean was crucial in convincing the COS to endorse the decision to retain the Alexandria base for the time being. This left Cunningham with a fleet that was certainly capable of holding its own in the Eastern Mediterranean, but whose scattered units looked acutely vulnerable at both Malta and Gibraltar without substantial French support and with the Spanish dictator General Franco weighing up the option of abandoning neutrality in favour of joining the Axis Powers as Hitler and Mussolini fervently wished he would.

Once the Reynaud cabinet fell in mid-June, the British government’s concern about the eventual fate of the French Navy grew perceptibly as Marshal Pétain – the veteran hero of Verdun – emerged to press the case for an immediate armistice and the formation of an administration that would be prepared to collaborate with the Nazis. In the days leading up to the signing of the armistice at Compiegne on 22 June, the French Navy had opted to move their larger warships from their metropolitan ports to those in colonial Africa. While it was considered essential that these vital warships should not be employed by either the Germans or their Vichy French partners in support of the Axis, the Admiralty had first to arrange for another set of evacuations to bring back 191,870 Allied troops from a total of nine ports dotted along the Channel and Biscay coasts by the time France exited from the war on 25 June.

Whilst their former Allies were engaged in withdrawing from the war, the attitude of the British hardened considerably and by the end of the month they had begun assembling Force H under Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville at Gibraltar. Flying his flag in the aging battlecruiser Hood, Somerville had a decidedly mixed force of old and limited battleships (Resolution and Valiant), a modern carrier (Ark Royal), two cruisers (Arethusa and Enterprise) and fifteen destroyers at his disposal. Force H desperately needed time to train together before it went out on any operational sorties, but that was a luxury it would not receive. Somerville’s operational brief (Operation Catapult) looked disarmingly simple and direct: he was to deal with the French warships that had gathered at the Algerian naval base of Mers-el-Kebir and its adjacent port of Oran. Ideally, Somerville ought to persuade the proud and irascible French naval commander, Admiral Marcel Gensoul, to recognise a case of force majeure and comply with the terms of a British ultimatum drawn up in order to take the French fleet out of the wartime equation. If he chose to ignore the ultimatum, however, Somerville was meant to disable or destroy these vessels so that they would not fall into the hands of the Germans and be used against the Royal Navy at any stage in the war. Although Admiral Jean-François Darlan, the C-in-C of the French Navy, had assured the British before the armistice had been signed that none of his fleet would ever be transferred to the Germans, the Admiralty – who considered him to be an Anglophobe – frankly didn’t believe him. When news emerged that he had been appointed minister of marine in Pétain’s Vichy government on 27 June, this distrust deepened. Already appalled at the post-armistice arrangements for dealing with the French fleet, the British (and in particular Churchill) didn’t trust either the Vichy regime or the Axis Powers to keep their word on the permanent demobilisation of these warships.

Somerville reluctantly anchored Force H off Mers-el-Kebir in the early hours of 3 July. He found Catapult distasteful in the extreme and his undistinguished performance over the next few hours fully reflected this fact. Before the unpalatable Churchillian ultimatum had been delivered to Gensoul at 0935 hours, the British had already seized those French warships that had been in the British ports of Dundee, Falmouth, Plymouth and Portsmouth (Operation Grasp). News of this treachery further poisoned the already strained atmosphere in Oran and gave Gensoul and his superiors at la Marine française even more reason to distrust the British. After stalling for time and with the latest and apparently final deadline looming, Gensoul finally rejected the British terms. A little while later at 1755 hours the Hood, Resolution and Valiant opened fire. It was the last thing that Somerville had wanted to happen and yet now there was nothing else that he could do. In the chaos and confusion that followed the older battleship Bretagne was blown up with the loss of 977 of her crew, two other battleships, the modern Dunkerque and the older Provence, were badly damaged and beached (with another 210 officers and crew dead on the flagship alone), the destroyer Mogador lost her stern (another forty-two dead) as a result of a direct shell hit and the aircraft depot ship Commandante Teste was set on fire. Amazingly, perhaps, the modern battleship Strasbourg and five large destroyers all made it through the thick pall of smoke and out of the harbour avoiding Force H as they did so. Somerville was slow to believe that any vessel could have escaped from the melée inside the Algerian harbour and only began to track down the coast in search of these ships at 1830 hours after receiving two aerial reconnaissance reports confirming the fact that they were out on the loose. Despite giving chase, Force H missed its quarry; even a torpedo attack by six Swordfish from the British carrier didn’t disable the Strasbourg and she disappeared into the night along with her destroyer escort and eventually reached the safety of Toulon harbour on the evening of 4 July. Somerville admitted afterwards that this had not been his finest hour in command and it wasn’t. London was not amused and Vichy was incandescent with rage – breaking off diplomatic relations with the British with immediate effect. French anger and resentment was further inflamed when aircraft from the Ark Royal launched a torpedo attack on the Dunkerque on 6 July, destroying the auxiliary ship Terre Neuve lying alongside her at Mers-el- Kebir. As the Terre Neuve’s cargo of depth charges exploded, they ripped open the side of the battleship and led to the loss of another 150 French sailors.

Fortunately, Cunningham was in a better position and had a more malleable individual in Admiral René Godfroy to effect the demobilisation of the French fleet at Alexandria. He was also given more time to bring about this desirable outcome. Notwithstanding his good personal relations with his French compatriot, however, the effect of Catapult had vastly complicated the situation. In the end, Cunningham, listened to the advice of his chief of staff, Rear-Admiral Algernon Willis, and asked his officers to make a direct appeal to the men under Godfroy’s command by sending a series of signals and arranging visits to individual ships, explaining the gravity of the situation in person and appealing to their erstwhile allies to avoid a battle that would pit them against overwhelming odds and cause unnecessary loss of life. It was an extraordinarily unconventional gesture, aided and abetted by the French naval liaison officer with the Mediterranean Fleet, Capitaine Philippe Auboyneau. Nevertheless, it succeeded. Godfroy’s captains and their crews put pressure on the French commander on 5 July to bow to Cunningham’s demands for demilitarisation and on 7 July a formal agreement was worked out between the two commanders to this effect.

On the same day the Admiralty ordered the carrier Hermes and the heavy cruisers Australia and Devonshire to impose an ultimatum on the French fleet in port at Dakar on the most westerly tip of the African continent. This ultimatum was designed to ensure that the yet-to-be-completed battleship Richelieu would not become a factor in the war. After being refused entry into the harbour to deliver the ultimatum, the British were forced to improvise. During the night of 7-8 July, a fast launch from the Hermes was dispatched with depth charges to do the job that the ultimatum was designed to arrange. Evading the boom at the entrance to the harbour and entering the inner basin swiftly and stealthily, the launch dropped her depth charges under the stern of the Richelieu and withdrew unharmed. For some reason the depth charges failed to explode, so a wave of carrier-based Swordfish bombers were sent in to torpedo the battleship. Only a solitary torpedo from the six aircraft employed in the attack scored a hit on the Richelieu, but it was sufficient to wreck the propeller shaft and cause flooding in three of her compartments – damage that would take nearly a year to repair.

It was with unalloyed relief that both Cunningham and Somerville put their recent confrontations with the French behind them and sought to take the fight to their real enemy – the Italians – in the Mediterranean during the next few weeks. An initial 105-minute engagement between the two fleets took place off the southeast coast of Calabria during the afternoon of 9 July. Although indecisive, the Battle of Punta Stilo demonstrated that Admiral Inigo Campioni’s capital ships were fast and were well supported by light forces that had `outnumbered, outgunned and outranged’ Cunningham’s own cruisers. When the numerical advantage enjoyed by the Italians in all types of aircraft was also factored in, Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet looked decidedly shorthanded and desperately in need of a modern carrier if it was do something more than merely hold its own in these waters. Churchill wanted much more than a mere stalemate in the Mediterranean and was prepared to support the call for reinforcements to be sent to Alexandria so that the fight could be taken to the Regia Marina. His enthusiasm for doing so was heightened by the action off Cape Spada (Crete) on 19 July and in the Gulf of Bumbah (off Tobruk) on the following day when a mixture of Allied warships and carrier aircraft got much the better of the Italians. What these three encounters in July revealed was an underlying inconsistency in the performance levels of the Italian Navy. While it could be good on occasion, it could also be demonstrably lame on others. It was a mercurial condition that afflicted the other services too, and left both friends and enemies alike wondering just what to expect from the Italians in the war.

Although it was tempting for those in Whitehall to dismiss the bombastic Mussolini as a preposterous poseur and his military as more of a liability than an asset to the Axis cause, the fact was that both were still perfectly capable of complicating the strategic picture for the British and they demonstrated this art to perfection by invading British Somaliland at the beginning of August. Once again the British were forced to retreat and conduct the latest of their series of evacuations – a small scale affair from Berbera to Aden – within a few days. Success in one theatre was quickly followed by failure in another. Throughout the war Italian combined arms operations routinely promised more than they actually delivered. Too often the degree of liaison between the services or the level of competence of any one of them left much to be desired. Above all, however, the failure of the Italian military to make the most of its geographical position was to be a recurring and galling theme for the fascist leadership. An early example of what was to come was shown in late August when an important Allied reinforcement convoy (Operation Hats) sailed through the heart of the Mediterranean to join Cunningham’s Fleet at Alexandria defying and evading aerial reconnaissance, submarine patrols and an Italian Fleet bristling with five battleships, thirteen cruisers and thirty-nine destroyers that had been deployed to detect and destroy it.

While the news from the naval side of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern theatre was mixed for all the combatants, the Germans were clearly in the ascendant in more northerly latitudes. Benefiting from a combination of good signals intelligence, distinct operational advantages now that they were largely based in French and Norwegian waters, and an improvement in tactics, Dönitz’s U-boat crews enjoyed a hugely destructive month (7 August-8 September) and referred to it as a `happy time’ (glückliche Zeit). It wouldn’t be their last. As long as Allied ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) remained fairly primitive, the U-boat was likely to escape detection and destruction more often than not. It would take many months for developments in centimetric radar, direction finding and range estimation to bring about improvements in detection methods even if the signals intelligence (SIGINT) coups emanating from the GC&CS cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park told the Admiralty where to start looking for them. As with the process of detection, the methods of destruction were fairly basic and essentially came down to either depth-charging or ramming, before mortars like the `Hedgehog’ were introduced in early 1942 and the aerial `Leigh Light’ came into operation a few months later to illuminate U-boats running on the surface and lead to a greater chance of successfully destroying them through aerial bombing.

Hitler’s intensification of the war against the United Kingdom both at sea and in the air during the late summer and early autumn of 1940 underlined the nature of the titanic struggle that beset Churchill’s government at this time. Alone in Europe, it remained acutely vulnerable. If the RAF lost the Battle of Britain, for example, an invasion was bound to follow. It didn’t, but the result was in doubt for several weeks. As this drama was being played out in the skies above the Channel and over the Home Counties, the grim toll at sea mounted. Already bad enough, it could have been even worse if the Germans had possessed a larger force of operational U-boats at this time. Dönitz certainly believed that a great opportunity was being missed to wreak such untold damage upon the Allied cause that the entire complexion of the war may well have been changed in favour of the Axis Powers. His frustration was not eased by the addition of twenty-six Italian submarines to his command over the next few months. Their operational performance was unimpressive in absolute terms and if viewed relative to their German allies rather pathetic. He sensed that they were too pampered in their well-appointed boats and didn’t possess the killer instinct that his own hard-bitten crews had. As a result, he deployed them well to the west of his own U-boats in the hope that they wouldn’t get in the way of those whom he could trust.