In late 1938 the supreme command of the German Navy (Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine) began to examine the application of air power to naval operations, although, since the Third Reich confidently expected at this stage to avoid a war with Britain, planning would have been for a worst-case scenario, rather than to meet a specific expectation. Initially therefore the main task of the air units assigned to the Kriegsmarine was coastal reconnaissance.

Using improved and better aircraft, including land-based types such as the Ju 88 that exhibited far better performance characteristics than the then current maritime types, more effective methods of maritime warfare were explored. Different plans worked out by the Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine attempted to achieve closer aerial co-operation with vessels of the German navy. Air power could, for example, potentially be harnessed to provide timely reconnaissance to allow surface raiders to reach the Atlantic without detection and, if necessary, provide air intervention. It could also be used to provide targets for U-boats, although in the vast expanse of the Atlantic this was often less than useful; it could be used to carry out direct attacks on enemy surface assets; and it could be used in mine laying to inhibit enemy movements. Nevertheless, in early 1940 co-operation with Kriegsmarine surface vessels and U-boats was almost non-existent.

Early in WWII, attacks on British ground targets were prohibited by the German Supreme Command. Permission to resume these attacks was finally granted by the German naval staff, following which He 59s were used to lay naval mines in the Downs, Thames Estuary and off Sheerness. After experiencing a number of technical difficulties, the operations then declined. Important targets, such as Liverpool and Belfast, were out of range for the slow He 59. Subsequently, aircrew flying the He 111 carried out mine laying operations.

Operating at night, the aircraft available at this time, such as the He 59 and Do 18, would have been fairly adequate in laying mines in shipping lanes or harbour approaches. However, until the He 115 entered service in late 1939, there were no suitable torpedo bombers and the German air torpedoes then available were not of a suitably reliable standard. Meanwhile magnetic mines, although initially successful, were recovered by the British, enabling them to devise countermeasures against these devices. Despite this, it seemed nevertheless to be possible to attack smaller enemy vessels by day or at dawn. Unfortunately, the inventory of then available twin-engined maritime aircraft of the German Marineflieger under the command of the Führer der Luftstreitkräfte (the A.O.C.’s Fleet Air Arm) was too short in range to be able to action orders for missions over all the seas bordering Europe.

Additionally, the aircrafts’ reconnaissance capabilities did not allow many missions a day due to a limited number of experienced, fully trained crews; also the navigation systems for these kinds of mission were still under development.

The obsolescent twin-engined He 59 floatplanes and reconnaissance aircraft such as the He 60 and the Do 18 flying boat did not seem to be sufficiently powerful to play an important role quickly enough in the modern conflict emerging over the seas of Western Europe.

In 1939 it was suggested that fourteen carrier-borne units be raised, so-called Trägerstaffeln, to be used for the sole German aircraft carrier then under development, the Graf Zeppelin.

Additionally, a new schedule spoke about establishing not less than fifty units (Staffeln) including seven reconnaissance units stationed on big Kriegsmarine vessels (so-called Bordfliegerstaffeln) to be built up by 1942. Of the remaining units, sixteen should belong to the German coastal command structure consisting of sea reconnaissance units equipped with flying boats and float planes, the others being equipped with land-based long-range combat aircraft.

Six offensive units, called Fernkampfstaffeln (Land) (land-based long-range combat units), were estimated to be sufficient to attack enemy forces all over the North Sea and Baltic Sea over the following few years; in fact these units did achieve some good results.

On 24 November 1938, Kapitän zur See Fricke of the German Seekriegsleitung (Supreme Command of the Navy) and Oberst (Colonel) H.G. Jeschonnek (General Staff of the Luftwaffe) discussed the need for the growth of the Luftwaffe over the coming years. Besides attacking the Soviet Union, both believed that potential future enemies could be France and Great Britain. In order to eliminate the powerful British Navy and destroy merchant ships arming the British Isles, both agreed that some thirteen Luftwaffe Geschwader would be needed. A further thirty Geschwader should attack harbours, airfields and industrial targets all over England. This projection was in fact optimistic. As of 1940, only fourteen Kampfgeschwader were ranged against England, totalling forty-two Gruppen, plus nine Gruppen of Stukas and two coastal Gruppen. Because Germany believed that England could be assisted by the USA, it became obvious that well protected convoys would be used to support the besieged British Isles. However, it seems that both German officers thought that it was inevitable that the Luftwaffe would be successful. Only later would it become apparent that there was a great need for long-range land-based combat aircraft operating over both the North Sea and the Atlantic.

One of the units urgently needed was Kampfgeschwader (KG) 40. This combat unit was under the command of X. Fliegerkorps led by Generalleutnant Flans Geisler who had joined the Kriegsmarine on 1 April and who had become the Führer der Luftstreitkräfte of the Kriegsmarine on 1 October 1935. From 3 October 1939 he became responsible for X. Fliegerkorps, a position he held until August 1942. Because the tactical range of the Do 17, Fie 111 and Ju 88 were all poor for the maritime missions he had in mind, General Geisler had no opportunity to carry out offensive raids west of England and Ireland. However, the large four-engined Fw 200, a former transport aircraft of Deutsche Lufthansa, did offer sufficient range (but rather poor performance) to conduct a maritime air offensive far away from Germany. Besides this aircraft, only the Ju 90, of which only two had been available in 1939, seemed also to represent a step in the right direction.

Major Edgar Petersen, the leader of the first Gruppe of KG 40, which was established on 1 November 1939 near Bremen, flying the He 111 E, suggested using modified Fw 200s to carry out long-range raids. From this idea, a limited number of Fw 200 B-ls, some constructed for the fleet of Deutsche Lufthansa, were subsequently handed over to the Luftwaffe as Fw 200 C-s.

Following attempts to build a Fw 200 for the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Fw 200 V10, an armed long-range version of the aircraft, was constructed. Later, the Fw 200 VI1 followed as a prototype for a long-range maritime bomber. From 1 April 1940, the first Staffel of KG 40 was the initial unit to receive this new combat aircraft, designated the Fw 200 C-1 “Condor”. Most of the personnel of this Staffel were taken from all-weather flying schools all over the Reich. After a few flights, the unit was used for transportation duties between Germany and Norway; taking off from Lüneburg, three Fw 200s of KG 40 headed for Narvik in Norway to support the German mountain soldiers of General Dietl. Simultaneously, bombs fell on British vessels on which personnel and material were being brought to Norway and the British positions in that theatre of the war. After the Wehrmacht had won the war in Northern Europe, the Fw 200 C “Condors”, based at Gardemoen in Norway, flew armed reconnaissance missions over Scotland, the northern isles and over the North Atlantic. On 12 June 1940, after mine-laying missions along the British east coast, I./KG 40 was transferred to Bordeaux in France. During the summer of 1940, the crews flew reconnaissance missions up to 24 degrees west. Normally, their long-range aircraft started late in the evening and then headed for Iceland, after that turning southeast and later landing at Stavanger or Gardemoen in Norway. After two days of repairs they then moved back to Bordeaux. Because a vast area was controlled from the air, these missions were potentially very useful for the C-in-C of the German submarine service, Konteradmiral Karl Dönitz. However, Dönitz’s U-boats were usually too distant to be able to act upon any information gathered.

I./KG 40 also had to assist other German forces attacking the city of Liverpool in August 1940 with bombers of Luftflotten 2 and 3. After the failure of that mission, Kampfgruppe 40 continued with its missions over the Irish Sea, the Northern Channel and the area west of Ireland. Between September 1940 and August 1941, I./KG 40 succeeded in the destruction of many merchant ships on their way from and to the British Isles since most of these ships were unarmed and moved without any protection whatsoever from the Royal Navy.

Up to 31 December 1940, I./KG 40 alone sank more than 800,000 tonnes of civil shipping around England without itself suffering many losses. Over a short period of time, between January and March 1941, nearly ninety merchant vessels with a total tonnage of 390,000 tonnes were claimed to have been destroyed in combat. On 26 October 1940, the 42,000 tonne Empress of Britain was set on fire by Hauptmann (Captain) Bernhard Jope, belonging to 2./KG 40. Taken in tow, it was torpedoed and sunk two days later by a U-boat. Additionally, Hauptmann Fliegel and Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Buchholz, both later missing in action over the Atlantic, achieved great successes. Hauptmann Daser and Oberleutnant Verlohr, similarly successful, were decorated with the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) for their exploits.

Throughout this period, the “Condor” crews mounted their attacks at very low-level, typically releasing a stick of four SC 250 bombs hundreds of metres from the target ship. Often, one of the bombs would hit the ship’s side above, sometimes just below, the waterline. Thus the ship’s structure collapsed, breaking apart and sinking immediately, frequently within a few minutes of the initial explosion.

In December 1940, the number of forces being used against maritime targets was enlarged; Kampfgeschwader 40 received a staff unit, the Geschwaderstab, and further operational groups, II.- and III./KG 40 were added.

The main focus of the U-boat and air operations during 1941 and early 1942 lay on the convoy routes from the USA, the South Atlantic and those around Gibraltar. The greatest weight of operations during this time lay with those forces under the command of the Fliegerführer Atlantik, Gustav Harlinghausen. In 1939, Harlinghausen was one of the pioneers of attacking ships with bombs. In the Norwegian campaign he was Chief of Staff of Fliegerkorps X. From March 1943 his anti-shipping forces comprised some 20 “Condors”, 24 He 115s and a mixture of Ju 88, Bf 110 and other aircraft used for reconnaissance duties over the sea. Altogether 83 aircraft belonged to Fliegerführer Atlantik at that time. Subsequently, the number of aircraft available for armed reconnaissance missions increased to more than 150, most of them Fw 200s and Ju 88s.

However, from mid-1941, unsustainable losses during low-level attacks forced KG 40 to level bomb from high altitude. These losses were due to the fact that the British Admiralty assembled their merchant ships to form convoys, well escorted by frigates and destroyers of the Royal Navy and Allied maritime powers. Furthermore, the convoys were protected by AA-cruisers and ship-borne barrage balloons to hinder German bomber crews attempting to mount a low-level attack.

Additionally, some of the merchant ships were equipped with Hawker Hurricane fighters mounted on and launched from catapults. On 3 August 1941, the first Fw 200 “Condor” was shot down by a Hurricane pilot who had taken off from such a merchantman.

Despite far better defences, the German flyers were still achieving successes. On 1 March 1941, Major Edgar Petersen took over command of the whole of KG 40. By this time the number of losses had grown steadily. Additionally, from summer 1941 onward, the Royal Navy fielded escort carriers to protect the Allied convoys on all their routes. Due to the increased defensive capability of the enemy forces therefore, the German Führungsstab ordered the Luftwaffe units based in France to fly horizontal attacks from a greater ceiling using the Lotfe 7 bombsight instead of the more common low-level raids. Also, it was suggested to introduce an air-launched torpedo using a limited number of KG 40’s bombers to deliver this new weapon, thereby achieving, it was hoped, even greater success in action over the Atlantic. Because the LT F5 torpedo was not very reliable in operation however, all attempts to sink further British ships using it failed.

On 1 September 1941, Major Petersen left KG 40, becoming the new leader of the Erprobungsstelle der Luftwaffe at Rechlin. The new commanding officer of KG 40 was to be Oberst (Colonel) Dr. Pasewaldt.

Since the air defence capability of enlarged Allied convoys grew increasingly effective, German aircrews hoped to receive the more powerful and well protected He 177A as soon as possible. From July 1942, I./KG 40 handed over its remaining Fw 200s to III./KG 40 while Staffel by Staffel, KG 40 received its first He 177As. Due to many technical problems, the operational career of this new, more powerful combat aircraft was rather limited.

The second Gruppe of KG 40 was re-equipped with Do 217 bombers from 1 May 1941 and achieved combat status again in August of that year over the western approaches. Their Staffeln were then sent to Grossetto for aerial torpedo training and exercise duties. In spite of this, II./KG 40 was then placed under the command of Angriffsführer England in March 1943, to be used for level bombing raids over England. In June 1943 the unit was renamed V./KG 2 and left KG 40 entirely. In September 1943, the He 177 A-equipped I./KG 50 was redesignated II./KG 40 at Burg, near Magdeburg, Germany. Assigned to Luftflotte 3, it arrived in Bordeaux on 25 October.

At Bordeaux the crews were trained to operate the rocket-powered Hs 293 A-1 missile, one of which was carried under each wing. Meanwhile, II./KG 100 was using the Do 217 / Hs 293 combination over the Bay of Biscay from August 1943.

After suffering heavy losses during the invasion struggle in June and July 1944, the new second Gruppe was withdrawn to Gardemoen in Norway. The third Gruppe of KG 40 was mainly used over the Mediterranean Sea and operated from various bases in France. After the battle of France was lost the few remaining aircraft of KG 40 were flown to Norway.

In order to intercept Allied convoys headed for Murmansk and Alchelansk in the northern part of Russia, the Luftwaffe operated from newly constructed airfields on the Norwegian-Finnish border. Early in 1942, sixty long-range bombers, thirty dive-bombers and fifteen He 115 floatplanes were based there. However, in spite of bad sailing conditions and several successful attacks, they were unable to stop the convoys from entering Russian waters, and a well prepared AA defence network prevented the Luftwaffe bomber forces from destroying the infrastructure of the two major harbours.

That the German Luftwaffe was unable to sink more ships on their way to Russia was due largely to the convoys’ close protection and the number of aircraft used. The convoys also turned as far north as possible, making it difficult for the Luftwaffe to follow them throughout their entire journey. Only the attack mounted against PQ 17 was very successful; more than seventy long-range reconnaissance aircraft (BV 138s, FW 200s and Ju 88s) together with nearly one hundred other combat aircraft (mainly Ju 88 A-4s) and the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine succeeded in destroying several ships.

On 10 July 1944, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe decided to bring I./KG 40 back to full combat strength and to commence delivery of the Me 262 A-1a jet fighter. Flowever, after all attempts to prosecute an offensive air war against the Allies in late 1944 failed, its personnel were dispersed among other units.

The first elements of a fifth Gruppe of the then famous Kampfgeschwader 40 were established in July 1942 near Bordeaux in France. The crews of a few Ju 88 C-6 Zerstörer (destroyer) aircraft became responsible for protecting all German-held areas over the Bay of Biscay against enemy fighters, including well-armed de Flavilland Mosquito and Bristol Beaufighter aircraft belonging to the Royal Air Force and British Coastal Command respectively.

From January 1943 the number of these destroyer aircraft available was increasing steadily. This enabled V./KG 40 to fill the lines of three Staffeln which operated under the command of Luftflotte 3. In August 1943 an additional (fourth) Staffel was established, but only a few weeks later this unit left KG 40, their crews being transferred to other destroyer units.


Operational maritime patrol Junker Ju 290 A-3 used by FAGr 5 on the ground.


Besides KG 40, Fernaufklärungsgruppe (FAGr.) 5 assisted German submarine forces by flying reconnaissance missions over the Atlantic Ocean. This unit was commanded by Major Fischer and was established on 20 May 1943 after German sinkings of Allied ships had become fewer and fewer. However, more than three units were needed to train and supply the first crews flying the Ju 290 A-3s and A-4s that were used to mount widespread reconnaissance operations over the Atlantic. After a few training missions carried out from Achmer, the aircraft, being fitted with FuG 200 Hohenthwiel anti-shipping radar and an increased defensive armament, were sent to Mont de Marsan in France.

In July 1944, Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5 was equipped with its largest number of Ju 290s; a total of seventeen aircraft was used in two Staffeln, but only eight of them survived to September 1944 when a huge Allied invasion forced the commander of FAGr. 5 to withdraw his unit back to the Reich. There the former reconnaissance aircraft were handed over to both KG 200 and Deutsche Lufthansa.

During a total of 191 missions, FAGr. 5’s crews had spent more than 2,438 hours flying over the Atlantic. Their reconnaissance flights covered a distance of 640,750 kilometres, though many of these ended without any enemy contact. Only twenty Allied convoys were found, fourteen with the eyes of Ju 290 aircrew and no more than six with the help of FuG 200 radar installations carried aboard the aircraft. Acting in unison, the German submarines, Fw 200s and He 177s only succeeded in sinking eight destroyers and three (perhaps a few more) merchant vessels; this was due in large measure to splendid air defensive tactics employed by Allied fighting ships, fighter aircraft and AA-guns mounted on the merchantmen.


Ju-88H-1 long range bomber/recce aircraft.

The Ju 88 H-1 long-range reconnaissance aircraft played a limited role during the struggle. When it was first suggested establishing a few units using this lengthened variant of the Ju 88, only a limited number of ten aircraft (two prototypes [Ju 88 V89 and -V90] and an additional eight series aircraft) had been completed. After the first successful flight of a Ju 88 H-1 Atlantikaufklärer (Atlantic reconnaissance) aircraft on 2 November 1943, it was proposed to build a series of Ju 88 H-2 Atlantikzerstörer (Atlantic destroyer) aircraft, fitted with up to six 20 mm MG 151/20 guns and constructed using parts from the Ju 88 G-4 and Ju 88 S-5 aircraft. Because the flight characteristics of the H-1 and the H-2 were so different, the complete series was stopped. Of the first H series produced, most were handed over to Fernaufklärungsgruppe 123. During May 1944, five of them operated over the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay to escort German vessels heading for the French coast. However, due to overwhelming air superiority of Allied fighter units, most of the Ju 88 Hs were lost, and by September 1944 all Ju 88 Hs had disappeared from the German order of battle.

Several other aircraft had been suggested to continue air reconnaissance duties despite the enemy’s strength. Besides the Ar 234, which was designed, amongst other things, to carry out reconnaissance duties over England and the seas around, a radical version of the Do 335, called the Do 635, was tabled by the Supreme Luftwaffe command. After development was handed over to Junkers, a conversion based on two joined Do 335 A fuselages was proposed but due to Germany’s final defeat in the war only a mock-up was ever finished. Final production of the twin Do 335 failed along with that of another four-engined long-range aircraft, the Me 264. Only a few Ju 188 D-2s fitted with FuG 200 radar were used for further reconnaissance missions, and these only occurred over the North Sea, since the Atlantic Ocean was out of range of German aircraft (flying from Germany, Denmark and Norway) by early 1945. After the production of the Ju 388 was cancelled early in February 1945, a few further missions were carried out by the less powerful Ju 88s, Ju 188s and jet-powered Ar 234 B-2bs. A few remaining aircraft were captured by advancing Allied units up to May 1945 in the northern part of Germany, as well as in Denmark and Norway.

The American War of Independence Begins I



Congress had met behind closed doors, and the congressmen had taken a vow of secrecy, but someone had been blabbing. The Earl of Dartmouth, the American secretary, had been kept abreast of what was occurring. The most likely suspect was Joseph Galloway, who may have tattled to his friend William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s son and the royal governor of New Jersey. Young Franklin in turn probably passed along the information to Dartmouth, which included damaging revelations of the bitter divisions among the congressmen.

Dartmouth had despaired when he learned in early October that Congress had endorsed the Suffolk Resolves. “They have declared war on us,” he said immediately. However, once aware of the Galloway Plan and its narrow defeat, Dartmouth saw a glimmer of hope for Anglo-American reconciliation if the ministry could exploit the disparate viewpoints in the colonies. Dartmouth urged Lord North to send a commission to America to open negotiations. North had no interest in bargaining, though given his close ties to the American secretary, the prime minister agreed to take the matter to the monarch. Although George III had questioned neither Parliament’s authority over the colonies nor the wisdom of sending troops to Boston in 1768, for the most part he had come down on the side of leniency when responding to colonial provocations. The Boston Tea Party brought about a sea change in his attitude. Thereafter, the monarch was stern and unbending, regretted the earlier appeasement of the colonists, and saw no alternative to using force to bring his rebellious subjects in line. The colonists were in “a State of Rebellion,” he said before Congress met, adding even then that “blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this Country or independent.” On another occasion he had remarked that the “dye is cast,” the “Colonies must submit or triumph… . [W]e must not retreat.” Not surprisingly, the king rejected discussions with the colonists. “I do not want to drive them to despair but to Submission,” he told North.

Once formal word of the steps taken by the Continental Congress was received in December, the ministers took up the American crisis but deferred a decision on how to respond until after the holidays. They chose this course because the monarch insisted that “reason not passion” must be their guide. But opinion in England was hardly dispassionate. Throughout the Christmas season and into January, most of the press and numerous pamphleteers assailed the “wicked and treasonable” colonists. Samuel Adams came under fire, but no one was savaged like Franklin, who was limned as “Old Doubleface” and “Judas.”

Dartmouth aside, the ministers required no exhortations to be firm. They reached a decision on how to respond to the defiant colonists in the course of three meetings in January 1775. From the outset, all signs pointed toward the use of force. The ministers were influenced by numerous Crown officials in the colonies who painted a picture of a widespread and intractable insurgency that could be put down only by armed forces. The most influential was General Gage, who had been in Boston since June. The time for “Conciliating, Moderating, Reasoning is over,” he advised. “Nothing can be done but by forcible Means.” The “popular Fury was never greater,” he went on. He reported that the Yankees were preparing for war. They “threaten Resistance by Arms,” he warned, adding that backcountry inhabitants had vowed “to attack any Troops who dare to oppose them.” Although he acknowledged that the Yankees might field a capable army, Gage left no doubt that the rebellion could be crushed militarily. The Americans would “be lyons whilst we are lambs but if we take the resolute part they will be very meek,” he had long insisted, and now he predicted that a successful “first strike” would “be fatal” to the rebels. Even if the rebels persisted after the first engagement, the troops “would be able to overcome them, no doubt, in a year or two.” If the ministry took in what Gage said about the projected ease of crushing the rebellion, it ignored what he said about the need for a great many troops to do the job. “If Force is to be used … it must be a considerable one,” he counseled, adding that he would need 20,000 British troops—he had only 4,521 at the time—and those must be supplemented by several thousand troops obtained from somewhere in Europe. Sending a sufficient army, he said, would “save both Blood and Treasure in the End.” But if too few were sent, it would only “encourage Resistance.”

The ministers had contemplated war a year earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. In its deliberations in January 1775, the ministry went back over the same ground and in greater depth. Overconfidence was rife. The colonists had militias, but there was no American army and no colonial soldier had ever commanded an army of the size that would have to be created. It was implausible that America’s untrained and undisciplined soldiers would be a match for Britain’s professional troops. Indeed, the consensus among Britain’s officers who served in the colonies during the Seven Years’ War had been that the Americans were a “poor species of fighting men.” Some in the cabinet may have agreed with many in the House of Commons who openly derided the colonists as lazy and cowardly, even that it was “romantic to think they would fight.” One British general publicly remarked that he could march from one end of America to the other with an army of five thousand; another was known to have observed that “the native American is an effeminate thing, very unfit for and very impatient of war.” An MP exclaimed that “a good bleeding” would “bring those Bible-faced Yankees to their senses.” In addition to their alleged shortcomings as soldiers, the colonists had no navy and no manufacturing sector that could arm and clothe those who served. It was doubtful that the colonists under the best of conditions could finance a war, but with the Royal Navy blockading the coast and shutting down American trade, it was inconceivable that the colonies could wage a war of any length. Furthermore, the thirteen colonies had long been so disunited that to many it seemed unimaginable that any degree of solidarity could be sustained in the face of adversity.

The cabinet mulled over two troubling questions, though both were ultimately brushed aside. Some ministers wondered whether the British army could campaign in the backcountry, where it would not only lack naval assistance but also have to maintain long supply lines in hostile territory. Those fears were laid to rest largely by the belief that simply taking control of the coastal cities would bring to heel the colonists in the hinterland. Some in the cabinet also found the possibility that France and Spain might aid the colonists, or even enter the war as America’s allies, to be unsettling. However, few thought Britain’s European rivals would act swiftly. They would watch and wait, and while they did so, Britain’s military would suppress the colonial rebellion. The American war would be over while Versailles and Madrid were still contemplating belligerency.

Foreseeing that the ministry would opt to use force and that the monarch would be cool toward opening negotiations, Dartmouth in November—prior to the first cabinet sessions—conceived a last-ditch effort to avert a war. He saw Benjamin Franklin as his only hope. Dartmouth knew enough about Franklin to realize that he remained ambitious and he wanted to live out his life in London. If Franklin could be persuaded—“baited,” might be a better word—to propose terms for reconciliation, the king might yet agree to pursue negotiations along those lines. Even if talks with the colonists never led to an accord, the slightest sign that London was willing to yield a bit might drive a wedge between the various factions in America, shattering colonial unity and sapping the will for armed resistance.

Dartmouth selected two English Quakers with ties to Pennsylvania to approach Franklin. After meeting with them, and at their behest, Franklin responded with what he called “Hints … of Terms” that might resolve the crisis. Franklin proposed that Massachusetts or the Continental Congress make restitution to the East India Company for the property lost in the Boston Tea Party; that the conditions of Britain’s regulation of imperial trade be decided through Anglo-American negotiation; that the restraint of colonial manufacturing be “reconsider’d”; that British troops could henceforth be deployed “in any colony [only] with the Consent of its Legislature”; that the Tea Act and Coercive Acts be repealed; and that in wartime, the king might requisition revenue from the colonial assemblies.

Straightaway, Dartmouth saw that Franklin’s terms would go nowhere with North’s ministry. But he did not give up. He had his intermediaries arrange for Lady Caroline Howe, the sister of General William Howe and Admiral Richard Howe, to invite Franklin to her home to play chess. Franklin accepted the invitation and enjoyed himself so much that he returned for a second match and, on Christmas night, for a third game. During the last visit, Admiral Howe himself dropped in, “accidentally” bumping into Franklin. Howe apologized for the treatment that Franklin had endured in the Cockpit a year earlier and said that if the Pennsylvanian played along, he could “expect any reward in the power of government to bestow.” If Franklin had not previously known that he was being used, he surely did now. He would not sell out America, perhaps because it was his native land, perhaps as he sensed that he had a brighter future there than in England. Franklin held fast to the decision he had likely made at the time of his savage humiliation in the Cockpit: he would leave England and cast his lot with the colonies. Over the next few days, Franklin drafted another set of conditions for settling Anglo-American differences. Largely scrapping his original proposals, Franklin submitted to Howe a list of terms that essentially dovetailed with the demands of the Continental Congress.

Dartmouth now realized that peaceful reconciliation was hopeless. Nevertheless, he proposed one last time in the cabinet meetings that commissioners be sent to America to open negotiations. It was a futile gesture. The cabinet adhered to the hard line from which it had never budged throughout the month of discussions, its inclinations bolstered by the support of the monarch, who later declared that no nation had ever entered into more justifiable hostilities than did Great Britain in 1775. With the use of force agreed to, North’s ministry in January bolstered the Royal Navy and voted to bring Gage’s manpower strength up to 7,500. This was only about one-third the number of redcoats that the general had said he would need and a fraction of the manpower he had envisaged as necessary for putting down such a widespread rebellion, and it would take months to get these reinforcements to him. Its final decision was to order the arrest of the leaders of the rebel government in Massachusetts and to command General Gage to use force to suppress the rebellion.

In a cruel turn of fate it fell to the gloomy American secretary to dispatch the order to Gage. Thus Dartmouth, nearly the lone voice among the ministers in opposing war, wrote and sent the directive that would launch hostilities. On January 27, 1775, he ordered “a vigorous Exertion of … Force,” adding for good measure that Gage was to be “active & determined,” and not to hesitate to send his army into the interior of Massachusetts to smash the rebellion. What is more, Gage was to “arrest and imprison the principal actors & abettors in the [Massachusetts] Provincial Congress.”

From word of the first American protests against the Stamp Act in 1765 to the receipt of the promulgations and entreaties of the Continental Congress a decade later, Britain’s leaders had never sought to redress the colonists’ fundamental grievances. With a fatal intransigence, they had refused to reconsider the framework through which power and wealth flowed within the British Empire, and in 1775 they gambled that they could salvage everything by bludgeoning the colonists into submission in a war they were convinced would be short and easy. After all, as Dartmouth stated to Gage in a remark that summarized majority sentiment in the ministry, the colonists were “a rude Rabble without a plan, without concert.” Success should come from “a single Action.” It was even conceivable that American resistance would end “without bloodshed” once those Yankee farmer-militiamen glimpsed the unnerving sight of British regulars bearing down on them.

Given the lag time in communicating from one side of the Atlantic to the other, Lord North knew that Gage would not receive Dartmouth’s order for four weeks or more. (Bad weather that winter played such havoc with shipping that ten weeks elapsed before Gage received his orders.) That gave the prime minister ample time to unveil the administration’s response to events in America, though in all that he said to Parliament in January and February, North never divulged that Gage had been ordered to use force.

Parliament’s final peacetime debate on the American question was launched by a dramatic address by the Earl of Chatham, five days after Dartmouth penned his secret order. As he was old and ill, this was to be Chatham’s last great speech. He counseled against war. The Americans would not back down, he said. They were driven by a sense of honor and the belief that their rights as Englishmen had been violated. It had taken an army of forty thousand men to defeat the French in America, but an even larger army would be required for suppressing the colonial rebellion, if it could be put down. A better course than war was to “restore America to our bosom”

through dispelling its “fears and … resentments.” Chatham essentially urged Parliament to acquiesce in the wishes of the Continental Congress, for he asked his colleagues to remember that “taxation is theirs, commercial regulation is ours.” Specifically, he advocated for the removal of the army from Massachusetts and the repeal of the Tea Act and Coercive Acts.

North answered in two long addresses in February. In the first, he revealed that reinforcements were being sent to Gage and vowed to redress American grievances once order was restored. In his second speech, on February 20, he offered what soon was popularly called the North Peace Plan, although the prime minister never for a moment expected that his supposed concessions would assuage the colonists. In fact, he told the king that his actual strategy was to win public support in England for the war that was coming once the Americans had spurned his offer. North’s so-called conciliation would have permitted the colonial assemblies to decide what sort of tax to levy once Parliament had stipulated the amount of revenue to be raised by each colony. (One member of the House of Commons who saw through North’s chicanery said that the prime minister was really saying: “give us as much money as I wish, till I say enough, or I will take it from you.”) Desultory debate followed off and on for a month. In the early going, the highlight was an exchange between Baron Camden and the Earl of Sandwich, the first lord of the Admiralty. Camden warned that Great Britain could never subdue more than two million free people who lived behind a coastline that stretched over 1,800 miles and were united in quest of “liberty and justice.” Sandwich responded that the “American heroes” were “raw, undisciplined, cowardly men” who would take flight at the “very sound of a cannon.” Erroneously charging that Franklin had written Chatham’s recent speech, Sandwich went on to label the Pennsylvanian “one of the bitterest and most mischievous Enemies this country had ever known.” Franklin, the guest of Chatham, happened to be seated in the gallery that day and heard this latest blast directed his way by a high British official.

Edmund Burke’s remarks were the most thoughtful offered that month in the House of Commons. In the second of his three major speeches on America prior to independence, Burke, like Chatham had earlier, advised that the colonists would not back down. The “fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people of the earth.” The time had come to rethink the relationship between colonies and the parent state. Though guarded and opaque, Burke hinted at something of a federal system in which the largely autonomous colonists were bound by loyalty to the king. Above all, however, he dreamed of a return to pre–1763 practices, a time before “little minds” had threatened the dissolution of “a great empire” through attempts to levy parliamentary taxes on the colonists.

In the end, by a nearly four-to-one margin, the House of Commons turned its back on those who opposed war and endorsed the purported concessions offered by the prime minister. Parliament had committed the nation to the war that the ministry had already covertly ordered.

The American War of Independence Begins II



There were colonists who believed that the mother country would back down in the face of the resolution and unity exhibited by the Continental Congress, and some hoped the appeal to the monarch would lead him to intercede, pointing the way to an accommodation. Few were so sanguine, however, and the colonists prepared for the worst. Long before Congress adjourned, Massachusetts was readying its militia. The colony’s Provincial Congress directed each town to organize and regularly train its militia, and as speed would be essential in responding to a threat by the British army, it further stipulated that “one-third of the men of their respective towns, between sixteen and sixty years of age, be ready to act at a minute’s warning.” These men would come to be known as “minutemen.” In the other colonies, militia training—or at least some degree of organizing—followed the Continental Congress’s “earnest” admonition that in each province “a Militia be forthwith appointed and well disciplined.” By early 1775, militiamen were training on muddy drill fields in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia. The latter also created companies of riflemen. They were to consist of those who could “procure Riphel Guns,” were capable marksmen, and were distinguished from other militiamen in that they were to wear “painted Hunting-Shirts and Indian Boots.” Connecticut, which had ordered three days of training each month for its militiamen, also commissioned two independent, or volunteer, companies. Independent companies similarly sprang up in several counties and towns in Virginia, including one in Alexandria that George Washington helped drill and outfit. Virginia and Massachusetts also began producing gunpowder, and some colonies looked into the possibility of acquiring ordinance and munitions from western Europe.

While some men drilled, others sat on the Continental Association committees that Congress had ordered into being to enforce the trade boycotts. Hundreds of committees sprang up in the weeks following Congress’s adjournment; twenty-eight were up and running in Connecticut within two months. For the most part, they variously styled themselves as committees of observation, inspection, or safety, though some called themselves “committees for the detection of conspiracy.” Several colonies created large committees consisting of dozens of members, a step deliberately taken to deepen support for the insurgency. New Jersey and Pennsylvania both had more than five hundred Association committeemen, and some three thousand manned the approximately three hundred committees that came into being in the four New England colonies. Boston’s committee consisted of sixty-three members, including representatives from the Loyal Nine and assorted caucuses.

The Association committees acted with such zeal that the value of British imports during 1775 was just 5 percent of that of the previous year. Taking to heart Congress’s instructions to “observe the conduct” of the citizenry, many committees searched for enemies of the American cause, hoping to identify them through the use of loyalty oaths. Those who refused to sign the oaths were considered Loyalists or Tories. They were placed under surveillance in some locales, disarmed in others, jailed in rare instances, not infrequently harassed and threatened, and here and there “ordered to depart.” Joseph Galloway, now retired, savaged the committeemen as being “drunk with the power they had usurped” and said they “aimed at a general revolution.”

The Association committees were a vital stage on the road to revolution. As historian T. H. Breen has observed, they fostered the “sobering lesson … that the people were ultimately accountable for the common good.” In addition, as most committeemen had never before held power, each had to know that his days as a suddenly influential local figure would come to an end the moment the American insurgency ended. Some were radicalized through their service on committees, while at the same moment the committees—bodies in which power flowed up from the people—provided a legitimacy to the insurgency. Whether by accident or design, Congress’s creation of the Association put in place a structure that nourished intemperate feelings toward the mother country. Within six months of the meeting of the Continental Congress, it was apparent that in much of the country the populace harbored a far more radical outlook than had most of the congressional delegates and that the citizenry was in control of local government throughout America.

Other changes were apparent as well. Shortly before Congress adjourned, the annual October assembly elections in Pennsylvania swept anti-British representatives into control of the legislature. The new majority dumped Galloway from the speakership that he had held for years, immediately added John Dickinson to the province’s delegation in Congress, and ultimately approved the steps Congress had taken. Refusing to concede defeat, Galloway made one final effort to prevent a war that he feared would be catastrophic. He and Governor John Penn drafted a petition to the king. However, whereas Galloway once had been assured of having his way in the Pennsylvania assembly, that no longer was the case. Galloway’s once subservient assembly repudiated the appeal to the monarch by a vote of 22–15.

In New York, where the port city was heavily dependent on British trade, much of the elite feared a rupture with the mother country, anxiety that was also widespread among those who held power throughout the hinterland. During that fall and winter, only three of New York’s thirteen counties adhered to the Continental Association. What is more, New York’s colonial assembly refused to endorse the actions taken by Congress, balked at electing delegates to a second intercolonial congress that was to meet in May if necessary, and adopted a servile appeal to the king similar to the one that Galloway had sought in Pennsylvania. In the spring, however, more radical New Yorkers—acting through an extralegal Committee of sixty—responded as Philadelphia’s radicals had a year earlier. They bypassed the assembly and held elections for a provincial convention. The colonial assembly last met on April 3, 1775, about the time that the provincial convention met and elected delegates to the next congress.

During this period, the final flurry of peacetime pamphleteering occurred. A bevy of Tories assailed Congress and were in turn answered by Whigs. Vitriol flowed, but little new light was shed on Anglo-American differences, and it is unlikely that many minds were changed. As was often true of pamphleteering, readership was probably small, and in Massachusetts the turgid, legalistic essays of John Adams, who wrote as “Novanglus,” and Daniel Leonard, a conservative Taunton lawyer who used the pen name “Massachusettensis,” must have assured a limited audience. In New York, Alexander Hamilton defended Congress, calling those who assailed it “bad men” with “mad imaginations” who engaged in “sophistry” to “dupe” and “dazzle” the American public. Hamilton’s tracts were less sophisticated but more readable than Adams’s, which was all the more remarkable considering that the New Yorker was a nineteen-year-old college student. Remarkably, too, Hamilton served up something novel in the literature of the American insurgency to this point. He may have been the first in print in America to maintain that Britain could not win a war with the colonists. He predicted not only that France and Spain would assist the colonists, but Hamilton also envisioned that by using what were called Fabian tactics, America could prevent a British victory. The colonists could “evade a pitched battle” and instead “harass and exhaust the [British] soldiery.” Attrition suffered by the superior redcoat army would eventually force Britain’s leaders to abandon the war.

Galloway wrote the pamphlet that gained the most notoriety. In A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great Britain and the Colonies, he broke Congress’s code of silence, revealing the terms of his plan of union and its narrow defeat by those who favored “measures of independence and sedition … to those of harmony and liberty.” Virtually alone among the pamphleteers, Galloway also offered more than the vilification of his political enemies and the monotonous rehashing of familiar issues. His was a thoughtful essay on the need for a strong central government both within the empire and within America. As historian Merrill Jensen observed, Galloway “was concerned with the same problem and used many of the same arguments” that were employed by the authors of The Federalist Papers more than a decade later. For Galloway, however, his essay had calamitous personal consequences. His betrayal of congressional secrets resulted in death threats. Tired and frightened, he retreated to the safety of Trevose, his estate well north of Philadelphia, and when hostilities erupted, he quit the assembly in which he had sat for two decades, unwilling to hold office in a colony that was at war with the mother country.

Perhaps the pamphlet that came closest to expressing the outlook of most Americans—more so than the steps taken by the compromise-driven Congress—was authored by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson penned his essay in the summer of 1774 to instruct Virginia’s delegation to the Continental Congress, taking the trouble in large measure because he badly wished to be included among the delegates. Illness prevented him from attending the Virginia Convention that selected the congressmen, and Jefferson was not included in the delegation. But several members of the convention saw to the publication of what he had written, and at year’s end it appeared in print as A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

Jefferson’s handiwork stood out for several reasons. It was composed in a crisp, lucid, and flowing style that made it one of the more readable pamphlets. In addition, he took issue with the nearly universal belief in England (and among Tories) that the mother country had nurtured the colonists from infancy. In Jefferson’s version, several generations of Virginians, with next to no help from England, had repeatedly fought and defeated the Indians, opening one new western frontier after another. America was made by American colonists, he insisted. He denied that Parliament had any authority over the colonies, including the regulation of trade or restraints on manufacturing. Americans, he said, had a “natural right” to “a free trade with all parts of the world”; he labeled bans on manufacturing “instance[s] of despotism.” The most cogent portion of his essay was his charge that the monarch was complicit in Britain’s iniquitous designs on America. Abandoning the customary servile language the colonists used when writing of the monarch, Jefferson alleged that the king had strayed beyond his legitimate executive role to cooperate with Parliament in its “many unwarrantable encroachments and usurpations,” especially its “wanton exercise of … power” in sending troops to the colonies in peacetime and disallowing legislation enacted by colonial assemblies. He excoriated George III both for having ignored the colonists’ petitions for redress and for his blind indifference toward American interests, including the Crown’s refusal to permit the colonists to migrate across the Appalachians. The monarch’s behavior, Jefferson wrote, threatened to leave his reputation as “a blot in the page of history.”

No one knows how many colonists read Jefferson’s pamphlet, though large numbers of congressmen and provincial assemblymen probably perused it, and most may have read it after hostilities began. Timing is everything in politics, and for many readers Jefferson’s powerful language, captivating story of American prowess, and direct confrontation with the monarchy stood out a crucial moment.

The pamphlet that may have reached the largest audience at this juncture was Strictures on “A Friendly Address to all Reasonable Americans.” It was written by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Lee, a native of Great Britain and for two decades an officer in the British army. Lee had resigned his commission and moved to Virginia in the early 1770s. Spurred by the likelihood of hostilities, his tract—which appeared a few months after Hamilton’s—contended that the colonists could win a war against the mother country. British soldiers were overrated and often led by incapable officers, he asserted, adding that the colonists could quickly raise and train a viable army. Furthermore, Americans would have a psychological advantage. They would be fighting for something tangible and invaluable: their liberty.

As wintry March gave way to April’s softer spring weather in 1775, nearly six months had elapsed since the adjournment of Congress. America and the colonists had changed during that period, and the political changes in the year since news arrived of the Intolerable Acts had been especially breathtaking. Royal authority had disappeared throughout much of the American landscape, the importation and sale of British goods had ended, and citizen-soldiers were training. A transformation appears to have occurred as well in the thinking of many colonists. The emphatic good will, even deep affection, that once had existed toward the mother country had been replaced by a sour mistrust that often bordered on loathing. Whether or not they fully understood it, the colonists were coming to see themselves more as Americans than as British-Americans, and increasing numbers were, like Jefferson in A Summary View, no longer willing to acquiesce in “160,000 electors in the island of Great Britain … [giving] law to four [sic] millions in the states of America.” Most may not yet have come to long for American independence, but the vast majority desired greater independence from the sway of the mother country and were willing to fight for it. Once again, it may have been Jefferson who best captured the spirit of the moment. The colonists, he had written, felt that submission to what they saw as tyranny was “not an American art.”


The American War of Independence Begins III


In an engraving by Amos Doolittle, British Major John Pitcairn and Col. Francis Smith survey Concord from a hill in the town cemetery.



After reaching Concord, the Redcoats found themselves surrounded by thousands of armed and angry militia. The march back to Boston, 20 miles away, became a fierce, running battle all through the day. From behind trees, houses, and stone walls, militiamen fired at the troops, who burned houses along the way and often counterattacked.

General Gage had all along been making preparations to use military force against the colonists. He had long since requested additional troops, and during the summer of 1774, with the First Congress looming, he had deployed regiments from Halifax and New York to Boston. At that juncture, Gage may have acted more from hope that his steps would induce the colonists to back down, but after Congress embraced the Suffolk Resolves, he expected war. He began to fortify Boston, digging trenches and gun emplacements, and exercising his men. But Gage was not going to start the war. He was a soldier. He awaited orders, knowing they would come and certain they would direct him to use force. In the meantime, he assembled a network of spies and sent out reconnaissance parties to learn as much as possible about the country surrounding Boston.

Numerous incidents occurred between soldiers and civilians in the city during that winter—one altercation ended with several soldiers tarring and feathering a citizen—but Gage miraculously defused each episode before serious trouble resulted. Nevertheless, Gage came close to igniting the powder keg on February 26 when he sent to Salem 240 regulars under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie. They were on a mission to seize eight cannon that British intelligence learned had been sent from Europe to the coastal town. Warned that the regulars were coming, a tense standoff took place when the redcoats were greeted (surrounded, in fact) by local militiamen who had been joined by Marblehead militiamen and minutemen from as far as twenty-five miles away. Either because he was outnumbered or had orders not to fire the first shot, Leslie ultimately marched his men to their ship and sailed empty-handed back to Boston.

Six weeks later the inevitable occurred. On April 14 the HMS Nautilus arrived in Boston with Dartmouth’s orders to use force, drafted more than seventy-five days earlier. Gage was not surprised. He in fact had already prepared plans to destroy a rebel arsenal in Concord. He had considered other arms depots, but settled on Concord. Assuming that the countryside would be alerted and that minutemen would descend on Concord to save the ordnance, Gage knew that speed would be crucial to his success. Concord was only twenty miles from Boston, and a spy in the village had passed on information about the location of stockpiles of cannons, mortars, tents, lead balls, medicine, linen, rum, grain, vegetables, and salt fish in and about the town. Gage’s intelligence had additionally reported that Samuel Adams and John Hancock were in Lexington, which the British strike force would pass through en route to Concord, and Dartmouth had ordered the arrest of the leading rebels. Expecting the operation to proceed under a cloak of secrecy, Gage was confident that he could rapidly get his men to Concord and back to Boston. Immediately after the Nautilus docked in Boston Harbor, Gage set April 19 as the date for his lightning strike.

Gage’s force could march across Boston Neck to Roxbury, skirting the Back Bay before turning north and heading through Cambridge toward Lexington and Concord. Or, the regulars might proceed to the Charles River, only a few blocks from their barracks, where the Royal Navy would be waiting with longboats to convey them to the northern shore. The latter option was thought to be the speedier of the two, and it was the one that Gage fixed on.

Unfortunately for General Gage, he was not alone in using spies. The rebels had their own surveillance network, and through an array of clues—and loose lips—they learned when and where the regulars were going, though not which of the two routes Gage had chosen. But they posted Paul Revere in Charlestown and contrived a simple system of signal lights. Lanterns were to be placed in the belfry of Christ Church (also called North Church), the meetinghouse with the tallest steeple in Boston. If one lantern was hung, the regulars were taking the land route via Roxbury; two lanterns would indicate the soldiers were being rowed across the Charles. It was a clear night. Revere saw two lanterns. Not long after the British soldiers had moved out of their barracks, Revere set out on his most famous ride, spurring on Brown Beauty, reputedly the fastest horse about, to alert Hancock and Adams—who were indeed in Lexington—and the militiamen in both that village and Concord. Others riders also mounted up and sped away along other routes to sound the alarm in towns throughout the hinterland.

Gage had dispatched a formidable force of more than nine hundred men—some infantrymen and some grenadiers, the elite of the British army. Filing out of their quarters about ten P.M., the soldiers had been ordered to walk in small parties toward the river, the better for muffling noise and not arousing the suspicions of any Bostonians still awake at such a late hour. All went well until the regulars reached the Charles River. The navy had sent out too few boats. More had to be found. Four hours were lost. It was nearly ten A.M. before the soldiers completed the crossing of the river and started again on their march, slogging along roads made soft from spring rains, past silent fields and dark trees that had stood stark and bare since late in the previous autumn.

Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight and the alarm bell began to ring its tidings of impending danger. Hancock and Adams tarried until nearly dawn, but ultimately fled to the safety of Woburn, northwest of Lexington. Revere, meanwhile, had set off from Lexington for Concord. He never made it. He was captured by a British patrol. Though released after a brief time in custody, his role of spreading the warning on this historic night was over. Dr. Samuel Prescott, a Concord physician who had been visiting his fiancé in Lexington, carried the news back to his village that the redcoats were coming.

The regulars reached Lexington around four thirty. In the first orange streaks of daybreak, they could see some sixty militiamen arrayed on Lexington Common. It is a mystery why the commander of Lexington’s militia, Captain John Parker, a tall, forty-six-year-old farmer-mechanic who had fought in several engagements in the Seven Years’ War, had not marched his men to Concord to join with other colonists to defend the arsenal. Parker may have kept his men in town to protect the inexplicably dawdling Hancock and Adams, though it is more likely that he and his men had remained in Lexington in the hope of defending their families. It is also puzzling why only some 40 percent of Lexington’s militia of 144 men had turned out and were posted on the common when the redcoats arrived. Gut-wrenching fear probably kept most away. After all, the militiamen were not hardened soldiers. Until a few hours before, they had been farmers working their fields or tradesmen toiling at their workbench. Aside from Captain Parker, few, if any, had experienced combat. Standing up to formidable, well-equipped British regulars not only was a daunting prospect, but it was also illegal, and no one on Lexington Common on that chilly spring morning could have known what lay ahead in America’s relations with Great Britain.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, whom Gage had put in command of the operation, detached six companies totaling 238 men to clear the village green. He gave the assignment to Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines. As the regulars advanced, Captain Parker, anxious and uncertain, in all likelihood not feeling very brave but trying to stand tall in his soiled and well-worn daily work apparel, supposedly told his men: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they want to have a war let it begin here.” Pitcairn, immaculately turned out in his gaudy, impeccably tailored red uniform, rode to within a few feet of the citizen-soldiers and in the curt, biting manner and tone customarily used when ordering about cowed subordinates, brusquely bawled a command: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels.” Parker had no wish to defy the British officer, much less to order his men to fire on the King’s soldiers. Had he done so, Parker would have been taken into custody and charged with a capital crime. Parker ordered his men to step aside. He did not direct them to surrender their arms. None did so.

At this moment, already fraught with unbelievable tension, someone squeezed off a shot. Perhaps a militiaman fired; maybe it was a soldier. Later, some said they thought the shot was fired by someone hiding behind a nearby stone wall. No one then or later knew for sure who had fired the first shot of the Revolutionary War, or whether the gun had been discharged deliberately or by accident.

What was clear was that once the gunshot rang out, a volley of shots was fired into the ranks of the militiamen. Jitters may have led some redcoats to fire, but others deliberately charged toward the citizen-soldiers, the faint light of sunrise gleaming off their shiny bayonets. It took only a minute or so for the officers to restore order, but by then eight colonists were dead and nine others had been wounded. Two regulars had been shot, one in the hand, one in the leg.

Though speed was imperative, a considerable period passed before the regulars resumed their march to Concord, six miles on down the road. Much of that time was squandered in the futile search for Adams and Hancock. As it was apparent that the element of surprise had long since been lost, several officers who suspected rough going ahead urged Colonel Smith to return to Boston. He refused. Orders were orders. But he sent to Gage a request for reinforcements. The regulars reached Concord in mid-morning, some twelve hours after setting out from their barracks in Boston.

The regulars entered Concord without incident. The town’s militia had long since been called out, assembling on their training ground across the Concord River, nearly a half mile north of the heart of the village. Outnumbered nearly three to one, they were in no position to offer resistance. Besides, their commander, Colonel James Barrett, a sixty-five-year-old miller who wore his leather apron this day as he commanded his troops, was no more eager than Captain Parker to order his men to fire on British regulars. Throughout much of the morning, the impatient militiamen remained at a distance, leaving the redcoats to work unhindered under a bright spring sun. But as the soldiers toiled industriously to destroy powder and ordnance in the arsenals, minutemen continued to arrive. As the size of the colonial force swelled, many of the militiamen implored Barrett to act. Barrett held firm until around eleven A.M., when it not only became apparent that his force was probably larger than that of the enemy and when a column of white smoke was spotted rising above the town. Although the regulars were only burning wooden gun carriages, the militiamen feared that the village had been torched. At last, Barrett ordered his men to advance toward the center of Concord.

As they approached the North Bridge, which spanned the gently flowing river, the militiamen saw 115 British infantry posted on the other side. The regulars were scattered and relaxing. On spotting the approaching rebels, however, the British soldiers hurriedly assembled at the foot of the bridge. If the Americans were to reach the center of the village, they would have to fight their way through the king’s soldiers. Barrett ordered his men to advance. Men on both sides were anxious and excited. Both Barrett and the British commander called on those on the opposite side to disperse. No one backed off. Suddenly, a shot was fired. It came from within the British ranks—again, whether by accident or design know one ever knew. In an instant, the nervous redcoat commander ordered his men to fire. Colonial citizen-soldiers began to fall. Only then did Barrett give the order to fire. Twelve regulars were hit, three fatally. Badly outnumbered, the redcoats broke and ran. The militiamen did not pursue them. Having at last done something, and ascertained as well that Concord was not burning, they retreated to their training ground.

By then, Colonel Smith had done all the damage in Concord that was possible, and he shortly ordered his force to begin the trek back to Boston. They set off down what to that day had always been known to Bostonians as the Concord Road. After April 19, 1775, it would be called “Battle Road.” For Smith and his exhausted men—already that day they had marched twenty miles and labored in Concord for a couple of hours under a warm sun —their ordeal was just beginning.

By the time the redcoats began their return march, more than a thousand American militiamen had gathered in Concord. Their numbers grew throughout the afternoon, eventually reaching about 3,600. The colonial force fanned out with febrile intensity, taking positions down Battle Road. Men hid behind stone fences, unpainted barns, leafless trees, and haystacks. Smith sent out flanking parties to root out the militiamen, but he had too few men to do an adequate job. It was a bloodbath. Every few minutes during the fourteen-mile march to Lexington, the redcoats ran into another ambush, though sometimes the militia stood and fought. Not a few of the regulars were surprised by how well the rebels were led and by the valor of the citizen-soldiers. The militiamen were not an “irregular mob,” one British officer accurately remarked. He thought they must have been commanded by officers who had learned the art of war while fighting the French and Indians. “They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about,” he said of the colonial force. The militiamen had performed well under fire, testimony to their leadership, days spent on the drill field during recent months, daring born of the knowledge of the enemy’s vulnerability, conviction bred by rage toward Great Britain, and understanding that were indeed fighting to protect nearby loved ones.

At times, it seemed that every redcoat would be a casualty before the force could reach Boston, and that might have been the outcome of the bloody day had these frightened soldiers of the king not been joined in Lexington by the reinforcements that Smith had called for at daybreak. Around seven A.M. Gage had ordered a brigade under Lord Hugh Percy to march for Lexington. Impeded by one thing or another, the first units in Percy’s force of more than one thousand men did not set off until about two hours later; others began their march throughout the morning. All the men in Percy’s brigade had finally reached Lexington in mid-afternoon, only shortly before the battered, retreating regulars from Concord also arrived. The British force now totaled roughly 1,800 men.

The presence of a larger enemy force notwithstanding, the militia persisted in fighting, and some of the hottest action of the day occurred late that afternoon. The Americans suffered heavy losses at Menotomy, about halfway between Lexington and Boston, losing twenty-five killed and nine wounded; the regulars lost forty dead and eighty wounded in the brawl at Menotomy. Further down the road, at Cambridge, the fighting was no less intense, for several regiments of militia from Cambridge and Brookline joined their comrades. Faced with somehow getting across the wide Charles River in the face of growing numbers of the enemy—an unlikely prospect—Percy changed his plans on the spot. He abruptly ordered his men to march eastward, hopeful that with his artillery he could fashion a defense perimeter in the hilly terrain of Charlestown. That might permit him to hold off the militiamen until the rapidly approaching night came over the region, and by the next morning’s dawn he could be reinforced and protected by the heavy guns of the Royal Navy. The regulars barely made it to safety. Fresh units of militia from Marblehead and Salem were streaming in to join the fight. Had they been thrown into the fray, it appears likely that the entirety of the two forces that Gage had dispatched during that blood-stained day would have been destroyed. But the commander of those troops, Colonel Timothy Pickering, a lukewarm rebel who yearned for a negotiated solution to the Anglo-American breach, withheld his men. The redcoats slipped through. As darkness closed in, the regulars took up positions at a place that the colonists knew as Bunker Hill. Percy and his men were safe for the time being.

This nightmarish day for the proud British army had at last drawn to a close. Later that night, Gage received the appalling butcher’s bill for the day of fighting. To his horror, Gage learned that 65 of his men were dead and 207 had been wounded, the equivalent of nearly one-third of the initial force he had dispatched and roughly 15 percent of all the men sent out that day were casualties.

Americans bled as well. Ninety-four militiamen from twenty-three towns were casualties, including fifty who were known to have died. In addition to the colonial soldiers, civilians also perished when regulars stormed houses along Battle Road in search of ambushers—civilian and militia—whose firing “galled us exceedingly,” in the words of a regular. Afterward, a militiaman who entered a home found carnage beyond belief. The dead were everywhere and the “Blud was half over [my] shoes,” he said.

Years later, Captain Levi Preston of Danvers was asked why he had risked his life in fighting the regulars that day. Was it because of the Stamp Act? No. The Tea Act? No, again. Was it from reading Locke, Trenchard, and Gordon. “I never heard of these men,” he responded. Then why did you fight? He answered, “[W]hat we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

The Dardanelles Campaign (Gallipoli)





In 1915, the Entente launched naval and land operations to knock the Ottoman empire (Turkey) out of the war with a single decisive blow. The brainchild of the mercurial British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, the initial plan took advantage of the Entente’s naval superiority. Obsolescent Entente warships were to force the narrow Dardanelles Straits, after which warships could threaten the Turkish capital, Constantinople (Istanbul). An Anglo-French fleet assembled off the Gallipoli peninsula and in February–March 1915 it fought its way up the Dardanelles, in the face of fixed and mobile Turkish and German shore batteries, three shore-mounted torpedo-tubes and minefields. While the larger ships engaged the shore batteries, trawlers swept for mines. This was a slow process, with the capital ships retiring at dusk to return the following day. The naval force made steady progress, passing the outer forts, and was approaching the final set of defences at the Chanak (Canakkale) narrows on 18 March 1915 when it hit a recently laid undetected minefield. The French battleships Bouvet and Gaulois and the British Ocean, and the British battlecruisers Irresistible and Inflexible, were sunk, beached or badly damaged. The British admiral, John De Robeck, withdrew his fleet and on 22 March he met Ian Hamilton, in charge of land forces, to tell him that a naval assault was impossible. While bolder spirits pointed out how close they were to breaking through the Straits, with the Turks demoralised and low on ammunition, De Robeck’s cautious counsel prevailed and the British and French planned an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula.

For the difficult task of launching an amphibious assault, Hamilton had at his disposal six divisions: the British 29th Division and Royal Naval Division, two divisions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and two divisions of the French Corps expéditionnaire d’Orient. From 22 March to 25 April, these units gathered on the island of Lemnos, while Hamilton devised a hasty plan to assault Gallipoli. With poor intelligence on the Turks, and eschewing a landing at Bulair, Hamilton decided to make his main assault on the relatively flat tip of Cape Helles, with French forces making a diversionary landing at Kum Kale. The ANZACs would land at the one practicable landing site on the seaward side of the peninsula (famous as Anzac Cove) while the 29th Division landed at five sites from west to east around Cape Helles: Y, X, W, V and S beaches. Hamilton’s plan made little sense. His force was inadequate to clear the peninsula, but without doing this, the Turkish shore forts remained to bar the naval route to Istanbul. A landing at Bulair might have cut off the peninsula but Hamilton’s force was too weak to advance across the rough terrain separating Bulair from Istanbul. Only if the Turks chose to do nothing could Hamilton succeed. But forewarned of the preparations for an amphibious assault the Turks busied themselves building defensive works on Gallipoli, under the command of a German general, Otto Liman von Sanders.

On 25 April, an invasion armada gathered off Gallipoli. After a naval bombardment, steam-powered pinnaces towed boats full of troops ashore, casting them adrift close to the shore to be rowed to the beach. There was only one specialised landing ship with holes cut in her bows for landing troops, the old collier River Clyde, to be landed at V beach. The ANZAC troops got off to a bad start, landing 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) north of the planned landing site (for reasons which have never been properly explained) below steep, tangled bluffs. Unless the ANZACs could reach the crest of the high ground they ran the risk of being hemmed in, dominated by an enemy holding the high ground. In the dense gullies above their landing site, the ANZACs proved unable to dominate the high ground and were forced to establish a shallow defensive perimeter overlooked by the enemy.

While the landings at Kum Kale and Y, X and S beaches at Cape Helles were largely unopposed, at W and V beaches the few Turks present put up fierce resistance, raking the landing beaches with concentrated machine-gun fire with devastating results. But by the evening of the 25 April men were ashore at all the beaches. The Turks rushed the 19th Division to the area, under the command of Mustafa Kemal, to take up positions on the high ground. Helped by Hamilton’s lack of offensive momentum, Kemal’s men held the ANZACs, but were unable to push them off their beachhead. At Cape Helles, the 29th Division, reinforced by the French and the Royal Naval Division, attacked the village of Krithia, 6 kilometres (4 miles) inland. Soon western-front style trench deadlock set in as the British struggled unsuccessfully to take Krithia.

To break the deadlock, Hamilton devised a new amphibious assault at Suvla Bay for 6/7 August that would link up with an attack from Anzac Cove. But the new landing at Suvla Bay achieved little, a hastily assembled force led by Kemal blocking the dilatory British advance. After the Suvla Bay fiasco, Charles Monro replaced Hamilton and he recommended withdrawing from a lost battle. The British evacuated Suvla/Anzac Cove and Cape Helles (10 December 1915 to 8 January 1916), without a man being lost, the one successful part of the ill-fated campaign. Turkish casualties numbered some 300,000 to Entente losses of 265,000. Although their casualties were relatively slight, for the ANZACs Gallipoli became a symbol of their coming of age as nations; for the Turks, Gallipoli was a material triumph that saved their country; for the British, it was one of the most poorly mounted and ineptly controlled operations in modern British military history.

Building V-2s in White Sands

V-2 Rocket, White Sands, NM 1946/11/21

The original stated purpose of the German team’s work was to train Americans, both civil and military, in the assembly, checkout, and launch of the large rockets they had designed. In the process, they would use the big V-2 rockets and their parts to gather data on the physical environment and radiation of the upper atmosphere.

On May 10, 1946, the first A-4 was launched to carry scientific instruments into the upper atmosphere. Several more followed that year, and, as always, the team had many failures as well as successes. The highest altitude attained by a U.S. A-4 was 132 miles (212 km). (By contrast, the experimental high-flying rocket plane known as the X-15 could fly only about half that high, and weather balloons reached altitudes only one-fourth that high.)

Demands for experimental space aboard the A-4s from government research agencies, the military, universities, and industry became so great that the A-4 Upper Atmosphere Research Panel was formed on January 16, 1947, to arbitrate requests and allocate space on flights. Between 1946 and 1951, the Hermes program, as it was known, launched 67 V-2s.

Another project developed during this period used specially adapted A-4s with modified nose cones. Called “Project Blossom” and sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Air Materiel Command and the Aero-Medical Laboratory, this program sent up canisters containing insect and plant life to study the effect of radiation on life forms at very high altitudes. Several rockets also carried mice and monkeys. In these earliest U.S. attempts to test the effects of ascent to extreme altitudes on living organisms, the nose cones were supposed to return to Earth via parachute. But the parachutes kept fouling and the ejection mechanism was not perfected, so the recovery method was poor, and few primate test animals survived.

In a project promoted by Toftoy, the team at White Sands also developed the Bumper missile, of which eight were launched between 1947 and 1950. The Bumper was a two-stage rocket—the A-4 was the first stage and a WAC-Corporal sounding rocket, weighing only 661.5 pounds (299.8 kg), was the second stage. These rockets could go higher than the A-4 alone and could measure temperatures and cosmic radiation at much higher altitudes. Bumper No. 5, launched February 24, 1949, reached an altitude of 244 miles (392 km), a record at that time. It marked the first U.S. experience with large two-stage rockets.


Following the war, in an effort to acquire the know-how of this clearly revolutionary new technology, the U.S. and other Allies scrambled to capture as much V-2 hardware, documents, and V-2 technicians as they could. This included the British, French and Soviets. The British, under Operation Backfire, succeeded in examining and experimentally test launching, with the assistance of German technicians, three V-2 rockets. The Backfire launches took place in the British zone of occupation, at a former Krupp armament proving ground at Altenwalde, near Cuxhaven, Germany, on the North Sea coast. The launches were made on 2, 3, and 15 October 1945. The last launch was known as Operation Clitterhouse and included foreign (U.S., French, and Soviet) observers. The data acquired from all the launches and contained in five illustrated manuals was shared with the U.S. The French obtained the services of Wolfgang Pilz and other V-2 researchers who helped them build their first liquid-fuel missiles. The French Veronique sounding rocket, which outwardly resembled the V-2, also resulted from these efforts.

London Bombing




As the political centre for Great Britain and the British Empire, London was a prominent target for Germany after the declaration of war in September 1939. London was a large and populous city, with the Greater London region home to approximately eight million people. Consequently, there was a high risk for considerable destruction of infrastructure and loss of human life. The eventual effect of World War II proved less costly in human fatalities than the wider societal transformations engendered by daily efforts to survive the war. However, the war also brought about large-scale physical destruction, which helped to foster the regeneration of London as a city.

One of the central features of the war for London was the Blitz, the bombing campaign by the German Luftwaffe in 1940 and 1941. The Blitz began in September 1940, approximately one year after a period of relative calm known as the “phony war.” The purpose of the Blitz was to demoralize the population and make London vulnerable to a German invasion. Hitler also hoped that it would destroy much of the Royal Air Force (RAF), the main defensive shield for London.

An immediate effect of the Blitz and subsequent attacks was the spatial transformation of the city. The Blitz of 1940–1941 as well as the “Little Blitz” of 1944 and the V1 (pilot-less planes known as “Doodlebugs”) and V2 rocket attacks of 1944–1945 destroyed large parts of London. The first bombing campaign targeted the docks and factories in East London in 1940, and the area was to continue to receive the brunt of the aerial assaults on the city. In addition, the initial Blitz and later V1 and V2 attacks targeted many civilian areas in the city, including central London. Millions of homes in greater London were damaged or destroyed between 1940–1945.

To demoralize Londoners, the Luftwaffe also bombed important national symbols. German planes damaged or destroyed Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and banks and vital institutions in the city of London—the financial centre. Indeed, one attack on the city of London on the night of December 29, 1940, caused fires and widespread destruction. Many churches designed by the famous architect Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 were themselves destroyed by fire that night. However, St. Paul’s Cathedral, perhaps the most famous Wren church and a symbol of religion and politics in Britain, miraculously survived the war, although it was deliberately targeted in various bombing missions. With one-third of all buildings in the city of London and nearly all the buildings around St. Paul’s destroyed or damaged beyond repair, the Cathedral’s survival helped raise the morale of Londoners, who rallied around it as a symbol of resistance.

Before the war began, political leaders feared that tens of thousands could die weekly from German attacks. Thus, officials evacuated many women and children in September 1939, although most people continued to live in the city. The total number of casualties due to raids on London during the war was significant; approximately eighty thousand were killed or seriously injured. Yet these numbers were far less than the original estimates before the war. One of the main reasons for the lower number of casualties was the ability of Londoners to mobilize defences for the attacks. Families with yards installed corrugated steel Anderson shelters outside, three feet below ground. The many Londoners without yards relied on the Morrison shelter, a steel box used within their house or flat. People sought shelter under railway arches or in basements. Some people also slept in public shelters, and many chose to sleep in stations of London’s Underground. However, these experiences also proved difficult. Although several Underground stations eventually were equipped with beds, many people had to bring their own bedding or sleep on concrete, platforms often became overcrowded, and there were constant problems with sanitation due to the lack of washing facilities.

The large-scale destruction also created enormous social problems. The war proved dislocating to Londoners, as many people lost their homes, pre-war lifestyles, and jobs due to the destruction of factories and businesses. Hundreds of thousands of people became homeless after the first months of the Blitz alone. Transport was difficult, especially at night due to the blackout imposed on the streets to prevent German planes from finding targets and the bombing of rail and Underground tracks. Societal behaviour changed, including norms regarding the roles of men and women. Food, clothes, supplies, and even paper were all rationed. The government created rest centres for those who lost housing and improvised social services. However, such services could hardly deal with the various social problems associated with the war.

Londoners attempted to maintain some sort of normalcy to minimize the effects of the war. Although some Londoners left the city during the war, those who remained sought out entertainment and other pleasures to ease their troubles and raise morale. For example, people attended the theatre in London’s West End (although theatres were initially closed in 1939 out of fear of attack) or went to restaurants if they could afford such luxuries. Films were popular when cinemas reopened to the public, and music performances, literature gatherings, and pubs also offered valuable escapes.

The responses to the war helped foster long-term societal transformations as well. Although social distinctions, especially class, did not disappear, and the wealthy could afford more comforts and pleasures, many Londoners understood the need to unite for survival. Thus, the war encouraged a new spirit of community as all groups contributed to the war effort, and the need to ration supplies and food promoted a greater sense of equality. East London, a traditionally working-class area, received some of the worst bomb damage. However, the Germans eventually targeted wealthier areas in central London. In addition, the King and Queen often made appearances in East London to show solidarity and support. When Buckingham Palace eventually was attacked, Elizabeth, the wife of King George, famously stated that she could finally, “look the East End in the face.” Many Londoners also joined the Home Guard, a civilian force that sought to defend London from a possible invasion. Overall, wartime circumstances challenged ideas of social status and mobility, and women entered the workforce in large numbers. An important exception was the treatment of foreigners. Italians and Germans (including Jewish immigrants and refugees) faced various difficulties, including discrimination and violence.

Londoners remained defiant throughout the war, although the psychological effect was nonetheless momentous. With many dead or injured people, and with large numbers of buildings and houses destroyed, entire generations never forgot their war experiences. “The War,” as those still alive refer to that time, helped to redefine their physical, intellectual, and emotional space. London was rebuilt within a new modernist framework, as city planners took advantage of the need to develop new housing and reorganize the city’s infrastructure. People were ready to explore new opportunities, and established social hierarchies began to appear outdated.

REFERENCES Creaton, Heather. Sources for the History of London, 1939–1945: A Guide and Bibliography. London: British Records Association, 1998. Holden, C. H., and W. G. Holford. The City of London: A Record of Destruction and Survival. London: Published on behalf of the Corporation by the Architectural Press, 1951. Johnson, David. The London Blitz: The City Ablaze, December 29, 1940. New York: Stein and Day, 1982. Mack, Joanna, and Steve Humphries. London at War: The Making of Modern London, 1939–1945. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1985. Sheppard, Francis. London: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Ziegler, Philip. London at War: 1939–1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Capturing Tobruk, 21–22 January 1941


Soldiers fighting with Australia’s 6th Division dealt a huge blow to the German/Italian strategy for controlling North Africa when they caught the Italian garrison by surprise and captured Tobruk.


After Major John Copland led a successful attack on an Italian post defending Tobruk, helping his men to enter the town where Allied forces took thousands of Italian prisoners, his comrades from the 2/4th Battalion captured the municipal flag of Tobruk, holding it up as a trophy outside the town hall. AWM


Senior officers of the 6th Division. Front row, left to right: Brigadier Arthur Allen, 16th Infantry Brigade; Major General Iven Mackay; Brigadier Horace Robertson, 19th Infantry Brigade. Back row, left to right: Colonel Frank Berryman, GSO1; Brigadier Stanley Savige, 17th Infantry Brigade; Colonel Alan Vasey, AA&QMG. All six had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the Great War.

map The attack on Tobruk Situation at 11 a m 21st January

The Italians had been at war with the British and Commonwealth forces in North Africa since June 1940. Italian forces in Libya, an Italian colony since 1912, had started what would become known as the Desert War by attacking British troops stationed in Egypt in the latter half of 1941. Benito Mussolini, also known as Il Duce, the fascist dictator of Italy, wanted to push east from Libya through Egypt, which for years had been home to a small contingent of British troops, and take control of the strategically important Suez Canal.

After a series of skirmishes around the Libyan border, Mussolini ordered a large and concentrated offensive into Egypt on 8 August. Though initially successful, the Italian offensive was opposed by British and Commonwealth forces in Operation Compass, a large-scale counterattack designed to push the Italian army out of Egypt and then Libya itself, on 9 December. The operation was immediately successful: by 10 December more than 20,000 Italians had been taken prisoner.

Advancing west along the North African coast from Egypt to Libya, Australian men of the 6th Division soon found themselves on the outskirts of Tobruk, an important Libyan port town with a natural, deep and protected harbour, perfect for resupply and reinforcement. This was the sole major harbour on that part of the North African coast, and along with it came jetties, great depth close to shore and one of the few reliable sources of fresh water for nearly 1300 kilometres. Controlling the harbour would be of great benefit to any army waging a war in the North African theatre.

Manned by a strong force of Italian soldiers under the command of General Manella, Tobruk had become a fortress for the Italians. Designated as the defensive nerve-centre of their Libyan colony, it provided a good shelter for battleships and submarines and allowed the Italians to be reinforced and resupplied when necessary. It was the perfect base from which to wage war in the desert.

Over the previous three decades the Italians had poured huge amounts of energy and resources into constructing strong defences on the outskirts of the town, including an anti-tank ditch, endless lines of barbed wire, booby traps and fortifications from which men could sweep the desert with their machine guns.

Rolling steadily west through Libya, the Australian 6th Division, led by Major General Iven Mackay, soon found themselves approaching the perimeter of Tobruk. It was January 1941, and the men of the 6th Division were charged with penetrating the perimeter, charging into Tobruk and occupying the town and its harbour.

The first to move in was a small group from the 2/1st Field Company. Just after midnight on 21 January 1941, these men set off to crawl along the desert floor, their faces blackened with paint, to find and ‘de-louse’ the area of the mines and booby traps scattered around the Italian defensive line. In silence, the sappers stealthily got on with their all-important work.

The rest of the 6th Division waited behind the lines for the attack, showing typical Australian calm. After watching the Australians prepare for the attack, Chester Wilmot, the Melbourne-born ABC journalist, later reported to his listeners that the men ‘might have been more worked up before a football grand final’.

At 5.40 a.m. the Allied artillery barrage began. As Wilmot later described it, ‘great clouds of dust like huge waterspouts marked each explosion and in the still morning air these took some time to drift away, so that for a few minutes they looked like silver poplars’. This ‘arty’, as the Australians called it, would provide cover for the sappers still out in the open and smash the Italian barbed wire, clearing a path for the Australian infantry.

The barrage ceased at 6.05 a.m. and, as the smoke cleared, the assembled Australians began to make out the gaps in the defensive wire. Suddenly a voice rang out from behind: ‘Go on, you bastards!’ And they did. Yelling as they charged, the Australians stormed towards Tobruk.

Stunned by the artillery barrage and terrified by these rampaging Australians, Italian soldiers appeared from holes all over the desert waving white handkerchiefs and crying ‘Ci rendiamo! Ci rendiamo!’ Radio announcers in Rome had for days been predicting that Australian ‘barbarians’ were about to be ‘turned loose’ by the British at Tobruk. These barbarians had indeed been turned loose, and the Italians wanted no part of it.

Those posts that did offer any resistance were quickly silenced, though many brave young Australians were cut down by Italian machine-gun fire and tank blasts. One soldier, Sergeant Burgess of the 2/8th Battalion, ran towards an Italian tank holding up the Allied advance and, trying to heave up the lid to drop in a grenade, was hit by a spray of machine-gun fire. As one of his mates wrote in his diary, ‘his last effort before he died was to struggle to put the pin back and throw the grenade clear of his comrades’.

It was during this advance that Copland captured the tearful Manella. Even with Manella’s surrender, however, pockets of resistance remained, and spasmodic fighting continued during the day and night. Although Manella had surrendered himself, he had refused to order the surrender of the rest of the Italian force guarding Tobruk.

It was the capture of yet another Italian commander the next day that saw the Allies finally take control. On 22 January a group of surrendering Italians approached two men of the 2/4th Battalion, Lieutenant Hennessy and Sergeant Mills, who were both in the advance guard of a party heading into the old Libyan town. Asking their captors to follow them, the Italians led Hennessy and Mills to Admiral Massimiliano Vietina, the commander of the naval garrison.

When it was offered first to him in surrender, Hennessy did not accept Vietina’s sword. He thought it more proper that his CO, Brigadier Horace Robertson, take it. The men would wait for Robertson.

The rest of the 6th Division didn’t really care for such formalities. As far as they were concerned, the supplies left in the deserted town by nearly 25,000 Italians were more important. Among the spoils were Italian cheese, red wine and fresh water, not to mention silk shirts, blue cavalry cloaks and elaborate leather toilet sets.

While Hennessy, Mills and Vietina waited for Robertson to arrive and formally accept the Italian surrender, one Australian did, however, take it upon himself to perform a symbolic act to mark the Australian triumph.

Climbing up a flagpole just off the main street of the old Italian fortress, he hoisted and ran his slouch hat from the mast. The Australians were in Tobruk.