80cm K(E) railway gun


A brief history by the late Robert D Fritz

Work on the giant weapon begun as far back as 1934, when German army ordnance enquired of Krupp’s the weight and speed required of a projectile to demolish the massive defences of the Maginot line which the French were then in the process of completing. Preliminary blueprints for an 80cm siege gun were compiled by Krupp’s ballistic experts, but nothing more was heard from the authorities about it even during Hitler’s visit to the works at Essen, in March 1936, during which he enquired into the giant guns feasibility, nothing was commissioned. It wasn’t until October, 1939, that Hitler, in preparing his plans for attacking Russia, initiated orders for the production of the 80cm guns.

After orders in 1939 were given to develop and produce the gun, Krupp built a test model (late 1939) and sent it to Hillersleben. After the test programs for the gun were completed (mid 1940) and the results sent back to the Wafruf office in Berlin, the gun and its carriage were removed and presumably scrapped. The test results were favourable and contracts were let to Krupp at Essen for the manufacture of two of the guns in late 1940-41, and a third in 1944. This last one was found unfinished in its shop at Krupp, when the American forces swept through Essen.

Krupp was thoroughly equipped to turn out munitions. Among its facilities were open hearth and electric steel furnaces, foundries, forge and press shops, armour plate rolling mills, plate and spring shops, testing laboratories, low pressure vessel shops, and a large number of machine shops devoted to specific tasks. These buildings and the others were listed numerically in classes: e.g., machine shop 10, 11, 12, etc.; foundry 3, 4, 5, etc.; armour plate mill 1, 2, etc.

It was in machine shops 20, 21 (heavy gun shop and machine shop respectively), that the tube for the 80cm gun was made. The shells for this gun were made in draw and press shop 1; its carriage was made in machine and erecting shop number 1 (for gun mounts and gun carriages).

In machine shops 20 and 21, there were large gun lathes and milling machines for production of heavy gun tubes. In draw and press shop 1, there were three piercing presses from 250 to 1,500 tons, three drawbenches from 500 to 2,510 tons some turning lathes, five furnaces, and one 800 ton vertical drawing press. The power plant which was part of this shop provided the air, water, and electric power for the draw and press shop. Railroad tire shop 3 was also used in producing big shells. In this shop were 25 miscellaneous lathes, grinders, one shell bander, 12 car wheel lathes (not used), and six vertical mills. These two shops turned out the 80cm shells for the Gustav Geschutz and the Dora. In the machine and erecting shop 1 were 90 miscellaneous lathes, planers, milling machines, horizontal boring mills, grinders, and drill presses. This shop machined and assembled the parts for the 80cm gun railway carriage.

The two 80 centimetre guns which Krupp produced in 1941-1942 were the largest guns in the world. They were identical railway pieces but were different from conventional single track railway guns in that a 4 track system was needed for emplacement. The first gun produced was named Gustav Geschutz, after an engineer at Krupp; the second one produced was named the Dora, for the wife of the engineer who built it. Each gun was put under the command of a major general, and crews were selected and trained in the operations of the gun: presumably these crews had nothing to do with the construction of the gun emplacements, for this was probably a job of the German engineers, because of the road bed and track construction involved.

Invasion of Russia

The invasion of Russia started at 3:00 a.m. on June 22, 1941. The Russians were taken completely by surprise, and because of this the fast advancing German panzer columns met little resistance. Counter attacks made by the Russians quickly turned into envelopments by the Germans. But as the germane armies continued to penetrate deeper and deeper into Russian territory, their advance began to slow down. Losses in men and equipment mounted steadily on both sides, although in most cases Russian losses far exceeded those of the Germans. As the war progressed, Hitler decided on a feint toward Moscow, while concentrating his main forces for a push far to the south, through the Ukraine. The Russian high command failed to see through this ruse until it was too late.

As the German forces pushed closer and closer to the Crimea, plans were drawn up for the occupation of that peninsula. Included in these plans were the heavy siege artillery to be used against the fortifications at Sevastopol -and Kerch, the two strongholds in the Crimea.

Sometime in February of 1941, the Gustav Geschutz, one of the siege guns to be used at Sevastopol, started its long ride from Germany to the Crimean front. The train, 25 cars long, included gondolas, special flat cars, accessory cars, ammunition cars, and two cranes for emplacing the gun. The probable route taken was through southern Poland to the Ukraine, using the rail links between captured cities. Along the way in the Ukraine the gun was transported on the new German railway built from the Ukraine to the Crimean isthmus.

The gun reached the Perekof isthmus around the early part of March, 1942. Here it was held with the other siege artillery and ammunition, which were accumulating, until early in April when the siege artillery was moved into the Crimea, to the north of Simferopol (southern Crimea ). As the German forces drew closer to Sevastopol, preparations were made for the coming siege. The port had already been blockaded so that no reinforcements could be landed. As the Germans closed in, the siege artillery was moved into position. A railway spur was built to the Simferopol-Sevastopol railway, ten miles north of the target area. At the end of this spur were built the four semicircular tracks for the Gustav Geschutz. The train was moved down the Simferopol – Sevastopol line and onto this spur. The emplacement of the Gustav was then begun (early May). By June 5 the gun was ready to fire. On June 6 all of the siege guns began the reduction of fort Stalin.

The target area was a line of thick-walled forts built into a steep ridge which overlooked the north shore of Sevastopol bay (two thousand meters to the Southwest, across the bay, was Sevastopol). Immediately north of the ridge, flowing west to the Black Sea, was the Belbeck River with the town of Belbeck on its north bank. The mission of the siege artillery (and the Luftwaffe) was to neutralise all fortifications on the ridge and especially those across the river from the town. A beachhead was to be established on the south bank of the river, from which shock troops and tanks would storm the middle fort on the ridgeline, fort Stalin.

On June 9 the north attack, was started, preceded by strong air and artillery preparation. Meanwhile, Rumanian troops further south were preparing to launch an attack to the west across the Bayadar River. From June 10 to June 13 the north beachhead gained ground until, on June 14, fort Stalin was finally captured. The shock troops pushed over the ridgeline at this point and swept down to the north shore of Sevastopol bay.

On June 15 the Rumanians in the south launched their attack (with air support from the north) westward. They made a deep advance toward Balaklava, on the Black Sea.

On June 18 the breach in the ridge line in the north was enlarged. A heavy bombardment was made against fort Maxim Gorki (really two adjacent forts). There was an internal explosion and the fort was quickly captured. On the 19th Sevastopol itself was brought under fire from the siege artillery. Since there was only a slight increase in range, the siege guns did not have to move their positions. Also on the 19th the attack was begun against the fort on the cape above Sevastopol bay. On June 20 after air force and artillery preparation, the attack was made on fort Lenin. This was the easternmost fort of those on the ridge. Because its bombardment had been thorough, it was quickly captured.

On June 21 the cape fort fell. Now the entire ridge was in German hands. Sevastopol was being subjected day and night to intensive artillery fire. Under the shells of the 80 centimetre gun and the 60 centimetre mortar (Thor) and other guns, the city was beginning to disintegrate. On this day the Russians abandoned their positions north of the Chernaya River to set up a defence line along its south bank.

Consequently, on June 22, 23 and 24, the Germans pushed to the head of Sevastopol bay, reaching Inkerman on the 25th,

In the south during these three days the Rumanians were still advancing on Balaklava. However, the next day they took not only Balaklava but also Kadikoi. On the 27th the Rumanians were driving on mount sapeum at Inkerman; on the 27th the Germans were preparing to attack Southwest toward Sevastopol.

June 28 saw the siege of Sevastopol rapidly drawing to an end. The Germans at Inkerman began their drive toward Sevastopol. At the same time the Rumanians and Germans in the south started their push west. Under both of these drives the Russian lines gave way, allowing the two advancing forces to take considerable gains.

On June 29 the northern and southern armies consolidated along one front. Malakov hill, a flat-topped fortress, in the way of the Germans advancing along the south shore of Sevastopol bay, was shelled by artillery batteries on the north side of the bay. It fell after a short but heavy bombardment. After seizing the entire remaining defence line, the Rumanians and Germans pushed to the eastern city limits of Sevastopol. The city surrendered on July 1, thus ending the siege, although some Russians held out in the Khersones peninsula until July 4. Sevastopol was a vast pile of rubble and of the 80,000 population only 200 were left. In all, over 30,000 tons of artillery ammunition were used in the siege, or 50 tons day and night for 25 days. Twenty-five tons of bombs were dropped during the siege. Three hundred rounds were fired by the Gustav Geschutz alone. One of its gun tubes was worn out, and this was sent back to the Krupp works where a liner was added. This tube came back to the Crimean front, where its parent gun was using the spare tube which was brought along.


Little could be found on the deployment of the Dora at Stalingrad. It was presumably constructed in Germany later than the Gustav Geschutz, and transported to the Russian front. It arrived ten miles to the west of Stalingrad sometime in mid-august of 1942 where it was emplaced and ready to fire on September 13. On September 14 the siege of Stalingrad began. It lasted until November 19, when the German Sixth Army under General Paulus, smashing at Stalingrad with everything it had, was finally routed by the Russian counter offensive which began on November 20. The German left flank was quickly enveloped and the Russian armies driving from the Southeast closed the last possible corridor of retreat, when they met the Russian armies from the north, at Marinovka. Paulus did not realise the strength of the encircling Russians until too late. The German perimeter began to diminish in spite of the stubborn counterattacks. Paulus refused the Russian demand to surrender, and because of this, on January 8 and 9, 1943, his Sixth German Army was annihilated. Paulus himself was captured in the business district of southern Stalingrad, on February 2.


When the remaining German armies began their long retreat from Stalingrad, the Dora was taken from its emplacement and transported west to prevent its capture by the Russians. At about the same time the Gustav Geschutz was dismantled in the Crimea and sent west also. As the Russians swept into Poland and north-eastern Germany, the two guns were moved southward into Germany from their respective positions in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

In April, 1945, the American forces were also making considerable headway against the Germans. The US ninth army was advancing on Magdeburg; the U.S. first army had reached the Mulde river south of Dessau, and was pushing on Halle and Leipzig (which it captured on April 19 and 20, respectively), and the U.S. third army was sweeping through Bayreuth toward Chemnitz. At Oberlichtenau, just north of Chemnitz, the Germans, realising that capture of the Dora was not far off, destroyed it with demolition charges and dispersed the parts.

In early June, 1945, an ordnance intelligence team, upon discovering parts of the Dora in the railway yards at Chemnitz, could only photograph the guns’ wreckage, as the Russians had already occupied the city (given to them by the Yalta conference), and had posted guards around the area of the wreckage.

The third army was pulled out of the Chemnitz region, and redeployed to the south in preparation for an attack on Regensberg.

One of the first Americans to see and examine the Gustav Geschutz was Colonel FB Porter, FA then commander of the 416th field artillery group. On April 22, he was passing along a little used road through a forest ten miles north of Auerbach (about 30 miles southwest of Chemnitz), on his way to assist in the attack on Regensberg, when he came to a small dirt road which led through the forest to the village of Metzenhof (or Metzendorf). There he met an American soldier who said that there were some big guns back in the woods. He followed the indicated route for about a half a mile until he came to a single track railway along which were the remnants of fourteen cars of the Gustav Geschutz. In this train, near Metzenhof, he found the Gustav’s two gun tubes, one cradle, the right bottom carriage half, and other parts and accessories for the gun. One tube was intact (the spare tube), but the rest of the parts had been hurriedly damaged by the fleeing Germans.

He continued on his way south, to the Regensberg area where the 416th field artillery group participated in the capture of that city.

Later in June, when colonel porter moved his group headquarters back to Auerbach, he again investigated the railway spur near Metzenhof. This time he found the other parts of the gun scattered along some fifty miles of railway track. In a further check down the track, on a siding at the village of Vorra, colonel porter found the Gustav’s breech ring, the bronze recoil jacket, the left bottom carriage half, the trunnion bearings, and the second gasoline-electric generator. Investigating further, he found, in a railway tunnel twenty-five miles south toward Weiden, the remainder of the twenty-five car train for the gun. The parts on these cars had been damaged also. It was apparent that the Germans had hurriedly sabotaged the gun, for there were still demolition charges on the various gun parts.

When colonel porter went to Paris, he informed ordnance intelligence of his discovery. With the knowledge of the damaged gun plus that supplemented by a captured German officer (who had been with the Gustav Geschutz in the Crimea), colonel porter wrote reports for the British and French ordnance. When he came back to the United States, he wrote another report which has been published in many of the military and scientific magazines.

What finally happened to these giant guns? The parts of the Gustav Geschutz at Metzenhof were scrapped on the spot and probably sent to German steel mills in the Ruhr. The cars at Vorra and those in the railway tunnel near Weiden were also scrapped and sent to the Ruhr to be melted down.

And the Dora, captured by the Russians? No one knows, except the Russians, what happened to it. It might have been melted down also, or it might have been reconstructed.

Specifications not found elsewhere

weight of gun 1,344 tons

length overall of gun 164 feet (49.98 m)

height overall of gun 35 feet (10.66 m)

weight of projectile with windshield 16,540 lbs

diameter of projectile 31.5 inches (80 cm)

weight of explosive charge 2,400 lbs. of RDX

length overall of projectile 11 feet 6 inches (3.50 m)

weight of propellant charge 2,500 lbs. in 3 increments

muzzle velocity of gun 2,500 ft per sec

maximum range 51,000 yds. 30 miles

maximum elevation 48 degrees


Robert D. Fritz wishes to thank the following

Charles H. Yust, Jr.

  1. B. Jarrett, (Colonel U.S.A. Retired)

Frederick B. Porter, Colonel U.S.A. Retired


Ordnance museum U.S.A.O.C.& S., Aberdeen proving ground

Imperial war museum, London, England for their kind help in furnishing material for this reconstruction.

Republic F-105G “Thunderchief”, “Hanoi Hustler”


Republic F-105G “Thunderchief”, “Hanoi Hustler” of the 562nd TFS, 35th TFW, converted from F-105F-1-RE now F-105G-1-RE 63-8320 Although often incorrectly credited with 3 MiG kills (indicated erroneously on painting with three stars below cockpit), indeed it had none. F-105D 62-4284 was the sole Thud triple-MiG killer. Two MiG17s were downed by Brestel on 10MAR1967, and a third MiG17 was downed on 27 OCT 1967 by Basel. All three kills were with the 20-mm cannon. 4284 survived the war, but crashed during an air combat maneuvering training flight on 12 MAR 1976 near Clayton, OK. Capt. Larry L. Kline was killed in the crash.  19 DEC 1967 Maj Robert Huntley and Capt Ralph Stearman (in 63-8320), encountered several Mig 17s and fired at one hitting it. They claimed credit for a Mig kill but after a two-year investigation, the claim was disallowed by Seventh Air Force’s Enemy Aircraft Claims Evaluation Board.


Another Incarnation: F-105G-1-RE 63-8320 “Cooter”, assigned to Maj Wallace and Capt Hoynacki of Takhli’s 333rd TFS, tops off its tanks in January 1970 en route to North Vietnam. This aircraft is armed with both Shrike and Standard ARMs. It also boasts three MiG kill stars beneath the forward cockpit, none of which were officially confirmed. The jet served with the 49th TFW in Germany, the 23rd TFW at McConnell AFB, the 4525th TFW at Nellis AFB and the 355th and 388th TFWs in Thailand (undertaking six years of wartime flying). Finally retired by the 35th TFW after completing 5,765 hrs of flying, 63-8320 was put on display in the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in February 1980. (USAF)

Despite initial losses on their hazardous missions, the Wild Weasel III crews proved the concept sufficiently for the USAF to order a total of 86 conversions to destroy and suppress SA-2 radars and protect the F-105 strike forces as hunter-killer flights with F-105D bombers. A further development was the move to equip Wild Weasel F-105Fs with self-protection jamming. This didn’t require external pods using pylons that could carry fuel or Shrikes. The solution was a pair of external blister fairings on the lower central fuselage, housing a QRC-380 (later ALQ-105) system with QRC-335 jammer devices. Essentially, it was a pylon-mounted ALQ-101 ECM pod divided between the two “scabbed” fairings.

To improve the Wild Weasels’ hitting power, General Dynamics produced the AGM-78A Mod 0 antiradiation missile in 1967, and it entered service with the 355th TFW’s F-105F Weasels in February 1968. However, the termination of bombing north of the 19th parallel on April 1, 1968 halted its combat use by USAF aircraft until 1971. Later in 1968 modification work began to incorporate the improved AGM-78B Mod 1. At the same time, Weasel F-105Fs were reequipped with improved APR-36 and APR-37 sets, replacing the APR-25 and APR-26. A better panoramic scanner, the APR-35, replaced the ER-142 version, and the electronic warfare officer’s (EWO’s) panels were redesigned. The improvements were sufficient to warrant a redesignation as the F-105G from October 1969. Funds were made available to update all surviving Weasel F-105Fs to this standard, and 65 aircraft eventually became F-105G-1-REs.

The first F-105Gs began operations from Takhli in mid-1969, moving to Korat when F-105s left Takhli at the end of 1970 after 101,304 combat sorties against 12,675 targets, which included 20 MiGs destroyed in the air and eight on the ground. With the 6010th WWS they took part in the Son Tay POW rescue attempt, and later, as the 17th WWS, continued to support Arc Light and reconnaissance flights during 1971. Bombing of the North resumed in April 1972 in Operation Linebacker I, when F-105Gs flew as hunter-killer teams with F-4E Phantoms, and continued through the Linebacker II raids of Christmas 1972. McConnell AFB sent its 561st TFS with more F-105Gs to share the 17th WWS missions from Korat. Lt Col Barry Miller was the squadron’s intelligence officer at the time, and he recalled some of the new challenges of this last phase of the “battle of the beams” for F-105G crews, including optically guided SAMs using a “radar-less” visual tracker mounted on the “Fan Song F” radar van. The dual Shrike launcher using an ADU-315/316 adapter allowed all F-105Gs to carry pairs of Shrikes on their outer pylons. However,

it was not popular with pilots. It produced increased drag, and at least one case where a Shrike failed to separate gave it a bad reputation. Even one of its early advocates, the 17th WWS, turned against it by mid-1972.

There was also the “Black SAM” crisis in 1972, when it was feared that North Vietnam had received new missiles, possibly the Soviet SA-4 and the T8029 radar from China, all of which would require new tactics and technology to defeat. These fears were soon allayed and attributed to sightings of SA-2s with unfamiliar camouflage.

Somehow the dark paint scheme made the missile look different in flight to the crews who were used to seeing gray SA-2s. They also felt the missile maneuvered differently. Finally, we recovered warhead fragments from an F-105G damaged by a reported “Black SAM” and analysis revealed them to be from a standard SA-2.

Sadly, the optical “Fan Song F” technique proved fatal for Lt Col Scott McIntire on December 10, 1971. He was the EWO in F-105G 63-8326 with pilot Maj Bob Belli, supporting a B-52 strike near the Mu Gia Pass where SA-2 sites had been detected in southern Laos. Warren Kerzon:

Bob and Scottie were working a “Fan Song” signal at their 12 o’clock. Scottie picked up a “launch” signal that was not synced with the signal in front of them. Their wingman called a SAM coming up and Bob started a turn to pick it up visually. The next thing Bob recalls is tumbling through the sky with no aircraft behind him, just the cockpit plus him and Scottie. He called for Scottie to eject but Scottie was slumped over with no response. Bob ejected, which blew Scottie out first. The Jolly Greens [helicopters] got Bob out that day and a para-rescue man got close enough to Scottie to declare him KIA. The post-mission brief established that they had been hit by an optically guided SAM, so there was no “Fan Song” signal from the side, only a launch light that wasn’t synced with the tracking signal [from another site] ahead of them.

When the last 17th WWS F-105Gs returned from Thailand in October 1974, the surviving Thunderchiefs had already entered the final stage of their service. The 23rd TFW ended F-105 operations in July 1972, and in 1973 both F-4 and F-105 Wild Weasel activities were centralized at George AFB, California, with the 35th TFW up to 1980. The 561st TFS was joined by the 17th WWS as the 562nd TFS from October 1974, making several deployments to Europe. Weasel development work continued with the 57th FWW at Nellis AFB until 1975 when it too moved to George AFB.

The limited MiG threat on early Rolling Thunder missions was usually handled by MiGCAP flights of F-100Ds or F-104Cs. As the VPAF gathered strength and introduced the faster, missile-firing MiG-21, the MiGCAP role was passed to F-4C units based at Ubon and Da Nang. While Thunderchief pilots measured success via the number of missions flown and their bombing accuracy, the F-4 crews’ reputations depended more on MiG kills. Despite this, in Rolling Thunder F-I05 pilots encountered MiGs more often than any other US aircrew.

The Thunderchief was not designed for the close-quarters, maneuvering air-to-air combat that agile MiGs could perform. Even so, crews were credited with 27.5 confirmed MiG-17 kills between 29 June 1966 and 19 December 1967, with credible claims on at least four more. During this period the USAF’s designated MiGCAP fighter, the F-4 Phantom II, destroyed 21 MiG-17s, but also downed an equal number of supersonic MiG-21s, using missiles – MiG-21s seldom entered the F-105’s gun envelope. Their usual ‘one pass, haul ass’ tactic meant that they did not stay to fight. In the same period, 70 F-105s were lost, but only 15 to MiGs. The rest fell to the enemy’s AAA and SA-2 defences.


Radar Use: Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, 1827 May 1941


Portrait of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen during the Battle of the Denmark Strait by Michel Guyot. (Image courtesy of Michel Guyot) © Michel Guyot all rights reserved

Late in the evening of 18 May 1941 two new units of Raeder’s surface fleet left their Baltic port after completing careful shakedown cruises and training. They were the 15 inch battleship Bismarck and her consort, the 8 inch heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. The former was named for the chancellor whose foreign policies had made friendship with England a vital element, attained by avoiding naval and colonial rivalry. The latter was named for the comrade-in-arms of Winston Churchill’s ancestor, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Eugen’s partner in a long and successful struggle by the Germans and the British against Louis XIV’s attempts to subjugate Europe. Both ships were the ultimate of naval architecture. Both were equipped with Seetakt; both had special radar rooms as a part of the original design. Their assignment was commerce raiding under the command of Admiral Lütjens. More was expected of them than of previous surface actions, for with their armor, speed and radar they would be difficult to stop, an opinion shared in Berlin and London.

Previous surface raiding had found the Royal Navy radar poor and the raiders making good use of their own. Now the balance was to swing in the other direction with the Royal Navy, Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm radar equipped to some extent. The exact time and route of the pair were not known to the Admiralty, but the break-out was no surprise, and a significant reception was prepared.

On the 21st the two were sighted at Bergen by air reconnaissance. That observation had been followed up on the following day in near-impossible flying weather, and the harbor was found to be empty. The two had sailed for the Denmark Strait, at the time about two-thirds blocked by ice and with most of the remainder the recent depository of 6100 mines. Retreating ice had left a safe passage that Seetakt easily traced, allowing them to avoid the floating bergs as well as the pack ice even in the deep fog that kept British non-radar air patrols from sighting them.

The cruiser Suffolk had received one of the first two 7.5 m type 79Zs in May 1939, later upgraded to type 279, and now was also equipped with the 50 cm type 284 radar for directing the fire of her main armament. She waited at her station at the exit of the mine field. The cruiser Norfolk, which patrolled 80 km to the west, had only the 1.5 m fixed-antenna type 286M, the one that required swinging ship for direction.

At 1920 hours on the 23rd the Suffolk and the Bismarck sighted one another visually as the latter broke briefly from a fog bank. The type 284 transmitter tubes were pushed to the limit to gain the needed power at such short wavelength; this normally allowed operation for only a couple of hours at a time, not too restrictive for gun-laying but hardly suitable for searching. The vertical lobe structure of the 7.5 m set precluded using it for surface search except at very close range. It was the intermittent use required to conserve the 284 that caused the British sighting to be visual. Suffolk scurried for fog before 15 inch shells could be sent her way, got off a sighting report and began tracking the big ship with the 50 cm type 284.

The Bismarck, whose two 80 cm sets were not restricted in duration of operation, had located the Suffolk both with radar and underwater sound before the visual sighting. Fortunately for the cruiser the Seetakt did not incorporate lobe switching and thus could not direct blind fire, having a directional accuracy of only 5°. Because of iced insulators on the radio antenna the Suffolk’s first sighting report was received only by the Norfolk and the Prinz Eugen, where it was promptly decoded. The Norfolk soon had a glimpse of the battleship and narrowly escaped a salvo of heavy shells. The shock of gunfire had the effect of knocking out the forward Seetakt to Lütjens’s great displeasure, so Prinz Eugen had to lead, as both her radars still functioned. The Suffolk managed to keep her quarry in optical or radar sight and hold the Norfolk close with radio. The Admiralty soon learned of the chase and dispatched the new battleship Prince of Wales and the flagship Hood to intercept. They met the enemy early in the morning of the 24th, despite the Suffolk having lost contact a few hours before. Vice Admiral L E Holland, commanding the squadron, ordered complete radio silence for his ships, including radar, until the German ships were sighted, his fear being that with their greater speed the Germans could escape if alerted.

The Hood was the finest of that most unfortunate kind of warship, the battle cruiser. As large as a battleship with guns as heavy, it sacrificed armor to gain speed. It was a stylish idea in naval circles before the demonstration that a 5 knot difference in speed did not matter to well-aimed projectiles that easily penetrated thin steel. Three ships of this type had disappeared in the Battle of Jutland in catastrophic explosions. (The German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau traded gun power for speed rather than armor plate, having only 11 inch artillery, small for battleship-class vessels.)

The Hood had a type 279M air warning radar and a type 284 gun-laying set, but radar did not protect her from the first salvos of the two German ships, and she blew up in a mighty explosion, the presumed consequence of a heavy shell penetrating her thin deck armor and detonating the magazines. The German optical fire control was up to the same high standards it had so startlingly demonstrated in action in the North Sea in the previous war and the Bismarck’s defective radar was not missed.

The Prince of Wales had a 3.5 m type 281 air warning set and nine fire control radars, but the ship was so new that civilian workmen were still on board, as bad luck would have it, because of problems with the main armament. She was also so new that the gunnery officers had not incorporated radar into their procedures. The radar officer reported accurate ranges throughout the brief fight, but they were not used in calculating gun orders, and it was only the sixth salvo that had the correct range. So it came to pass that in the first encounter of big-gun ships equipped with radar the use of the new technique is enveloped in fog: the forward German set on which the First Gunnery Officer would have relied was dead, and the British set was ignored. What the Hood did will remain unknown, but her first salvo was not on target.

The Prince of Wales developed serious malfunctions in her artillery and sustained enough damage to cause her to withdraw behind a smoke screen. The Bismarck had unintentionally begun replacing fuel oil with seawater though retaining a speed of 28 knots. Why Lütjens did not pursue and very likely sink the Prince of Wales is a puzzle few have understood. At this point the Bismarck was sufficiently damaged that commerce raiding without repair was not possible, and sinking the two most powerful ships of the Royal Navy would have certainly justified the attempt. Lütjens detached the Prinz Eugen to proceed independently to the south and began a straight run for the safety in the Bay of Biscay.

Now the Bismarck was pursued by an ever growing assortment of very heavy ships with the Suffolk again doggedly tracking, but on the 25th she lost radar contact, the almost certain consequence of the intermittent use required of the 284. Lütjens was so impressed with the ability of the Suffolk to follow that he broke radio silence to inform his chief of the radar capability of which he had not been informed and the range capability of which he greatly overestimated. The overestimation probably resulted from navigational errors of one or both ships, as Lütjens compared his calculated position with the continual flow of messages that the Suffolk was transmitting. Lütjens’s message allowed British radio-direction finders to get a rough idea of his position, but at the time he incorrectly thought he was being held fast by British radar.

This incident is linked to reports that the Bismarck had a passive radar receiver and had monitored the tracking. If so, it must have been an experimental set of which there is no other record [14], and the passive receivers that first came into use more than a year later would not have responded to 50 cm waves. It is plausible that the radar operators, presumably briefed on British use of long waves, picked up on communications receivers some of the abundant 7.5 m transmissions, which they would have recognized as radar. Given the circumstances it is unlikely that they would have realized that this equipment was incapable of observing them at the ranges involved.

A sighting through the swirling clouds over a rough sea by a Catalina flying boat equipped with ASV mark II established the Bismarck’s position accurately enough for the cruiser Sheffield to be ordered to pick her up with the type 79Y radar, if possible. At this point aircraft from the carriers Victorious and Ark Royal were decisive. Both were equipped with the famous Swordfish biplanes, slow but very tough and possessed of a remarkably long range and a deceiving agility, if not encumbered with torpedo or bomb. They probably sank more tonnage than any other torpedo bomber during the war and were valuable participants until the very end. We shall return to them when describing action in the Mediterranean, the high point of the Swordfish’s service.

One of the Swordfish from each carrier was equipped with ASV mark II, and green fliers from the Victorious, which had not had time to work up her crews, even to allow them to practice take-off and landing from the deck, found the target and got an ineffective hit on the armor belt. The first attack by 14 planes from the much more experienced Ark Royal went after the shadowing Sheffield instead, of whose presence they had not been informed, but their torpedoes missed. Their next attack of 15 planes found the Bismarck with radar in conditions of ‘low rain cloud, strong wind, stormy seas, fading daylight and intense and accurate enemy gunfire’. One torpedo struck the armor belt, another jammed the steering gear, and with that the great ship was doomed. The radar that found the target also found the home ship, and all 15 aircraft returned, to be sure with wounded crewmen, perforated fabric and three crash landings.

With the stricken ship no longer able to reach the protective cover of land-based bombers, dawn came as a death sentence to be executed by the battleships Rodney ordered to the spot with a deck cargo for installation in America and 300 passengers and the King George V. Accurate fire, soon delivered at close range, destroyed the ship that refused to surrender. There are several accounts of this famous battle. The reader is advised to read the one by the Bismarck’s Adjutant and Fourth Gunnery Officer and that of the under-water explorer who found the wreck in 1989.

The sinking of the Bismarck put an end to German surface raiding with large ships. Even without that dramatic climax it was becoming increasingly obvious that it simply did not pay. The Scharnhorst cost as much to build as 100 submarines, required a huge crew and elaborate supply, and was not immune to sinking. There was an attempt by the pocket battleship Lützow to renew raiding, but her sortie of 10 June 1941 was countered by a torpedo-plane attack that sent her back to Kiel for months of repair. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, he required many of his surface units for the Baltic. The disguised raiders continued until the Royal Navy removed them, their tankers and supply ships from the seas. Commerce raiding would be left to the U-boats of Konteradmiral Karl Dönitz, and all traces of romance disappeared.

The use by the Kriegsmarine in 1939-1941 of Seetakt was a most impressive consequence of the power of pure radar, the result of a naked radar set mounted on a ship for which no thought had been given as to what its exact tactical function was to be. The naval personnel received little training, but the set was simply ideal for a commerce raider. It was the kind of thing that every alert officer recognized when he first encountered it the torpedo officer of the Hipper a conspicuous exception. Application came immediately and instinctively. There is no evidence of captains considering radar as just ‘an interesting device’; they regarded its malfunction to be a major problem for which they demanded the delivery of spare parts by special ship and submarine.

It had not been planned that way by Raeder. On first seeing a radar demonstration he was impressed enough not to interfere but cautioned Kühnhold that his primary research mission was under-water sound. It was the line officers who recognized the new weapon for its value, and their use of it in the few months of surface action was beyond criticism. Except for a technically dull-witted command they could have had blind-fire directed gunnery in 1938. German naval radar had a brilliant beginning that led nowhere.

Typical of the want of understanding at the top was the vacancy of the position of Chef der Abteilung Entwicklung der Nachrichtenmittel (Chief for Development of Signals) from November 1939 until April 1943! Moreover it was not until mid-1941 that the Marine-Nachrichtendienst (Navy Signals Service) was formed and with it a naval career specialty for radar, Seetaktischer Funkmessdienst (Tactical Radar Service). Progress remained slow, and Dönitz was to find his U-boats completely outclassed in either defensive or offensive radar techniques.

A comparison between the two navies offers instruction about their respective use of radar 21 months into the war. The Germans had mounted a prototype Seetakt in 1938, modified it in small ways, and haltingly made it reliable aboard a warship, the obvious responses of competent engineers; it was their only shipborne radar for months yet to come. Despite the Navy’s introduction of the equally good air-warning Freya, it was never taken to sea except on vessels in the North Sea as part of the country’s air warning system, nor was the excellent gun-laying Würzburg used aboard ship to improve AA fire, although GEMA soon adapted the Seetakt for dual purpose. The British by contrast had by May 1941 almost a dozen different kinds of shipborne radar installed, but it was not until the 10 cm type 271 appeared, with sea trials in March and April 1941, that they had a surface-search set competitive with Seetakt. In their hunt for the Bismarck only one shipborne radar set of the entire pack of hounds was effective, and its inability to maintain continuous search caused it to lose the target vessel at a critical moment, saved by the splendid ASV mark II. It remains a puzzle that a naval command that gave high priority to radar placed so little importance on surface search equipment. The answer to the puzzle probably lies in Britain’s approach to radar from the long-wave side.

Approach to Gettysburg I

Robert E. Lee was not at his clearest in ordering Longstreet on an unsupervised offensive movement with only the general type of orders which he had used with Jackson. The year before, at Second Manassas, Longstreet had delayed so long in delivering the heavy counterstroke designed by Lee that Jackson’s men were fought to the narrow edge of collapse and probably would have lost their pivotal position under more skillfully delivered Federal attacks. But at Gettysburg Lee, forced to use the only fresh troops at hand, depended on the only system he had perfected, even though the personalities involved no longer fitted that system.

In perspective, it would appear that in the beginning cautious Longstreet would have been a wiser choice than impetuous Hill to lead an advance force doing the work of cavalry. However, all post-facto reflections reveal that Lee was suffering from, and in a way reflecting, the strain that attrition was bringing to his whole country and its best army. As his command personnel was not what it had been at its Chancellorsville peak, so the overburdened general did not have on an invasion of vast consequence the self-command that had been his in a more limited and more strictly military situation.

He was trying to do too much himself. Solving the South’s problem of self-defense was properly the function of the government. Lee had assumed responsibilities beyond his normal capacities because he alone conceived in terms of the whole. Consequently, the failures in his command, beginning with Stuart’s mysterious absence, inevitably made a constant drain on his nervous energy, despite the face of calm strength he presented to his men.

Thinking of everything from Vicksburg to North Carolina ports, further distracted and enervated by having to struggle against the constituted authority to achieve even such compromise measures as the invasion represented, the aging Lee (like Heth and young Rodes on the first day) did not think of his generals’ suitability to the nature of their assignments.

Of course, once the battle was joined on July 1, he was allowed little choice. To him, “duty” was the “sublimest word” in the language, and he extemporized battle plans in the expectation that each officer would do his duty as he did his. The soldiers would do the rest. That his reasoning was fallacious is not the point: his reasoning reflected the mental condition created by a strain too great for a mortal to carry. A powerfully built man, always very fit (his son said: “I never remember his being sick in his life”), he aged more physically than any other commander on either side.

At Gettysburg, then, Lee perfectly represented the failing condition of his army and his country.

Having allowed impetuous Hill to make the reconnaissance, Lee “suggested” that congenitally slow Longstreet move up for an early attack on the morning of the 2nd.

With Pickett only that day released from rear-guard duty back at Chambersburg, Longstreet had with him only one division with a consistently glowing record in attack. That was Hood’s. In striking power the four brigades (two Georgia, one Alabama, and Hood’s former Texas Brigade) were more typical of Jackson’s old Second Corps than of Long-street’s reliables.

They all bore the imprint of Hood’s own native aggressiveness and absolute self-expression in combat. Many finely trained general officers in both armies excelled at those aspects of warfare which were necessary adjuncts to the actual commitment of men to the business of killing. John Bell Hood was among those who were at their best when armed forces came to the ultimate test of battle. As brigade commander and division commander, he never lost his head in action, and he handled his fierce units with a sure touch.

Hood’s reputation was marred later when he essayed strategy after he was unwisely promoted beyond his capacities to army command. He was a fighter, not a thinker, and on July 2 he was at the top of his potential as a division commander and at the fullness of his tremendous physical powers.

The tall, magnificently built Hood was then thirty-one, ten years out of West Point, though his hound-dog eyes and the drooping expression of his long tawny-bearded face gave the impression of a much older man. A native of Kentucky, he had fallen in love with Texas when he went there as a lieutenant with the Second Cavalry and it became his adopted state.

Hood first came to Virginia as a cavalry officer with “Prince John” Magruder’s forces on the Peninsula. In March of 1862 he was made brigadier in command of the Texas regiments, who were to make him as famous as he made them. In the bitterly fought battle of Gaines’ Mill, in the Seven Days Around Richmond, the blond giant led his Texans to the break in the Union line which marked the beginning of the first great Confederate victory since Bull Run, the year before.

“Hood’s Texans” became a synonym for an irresistible attacking force. When he was promoted to major general (October 1862) his brigade set the pace for a division as tough as the nucleus. In 1863 the brigade included the somewhat unsung 3rd Arkansas Regiment, whose hard fighting and uncomplaining endurance made the Arkansans indistinguishable from the original troops. The brigade was then well commanded by J. B. Robertson, originally colonel of the 5th Texas.

In 1863 Hood had not yet married, though he was later to become a great homebody.

With the division of predictable Hood was the well-seasoned division of Lafayette McLaws, who was to have his troubles with Longstreet. Forty-two years old and a native of Augusta, Georgia, McLaws had been graduated from West Point in the same class with Longstreet, Richard Anderson, the Union’s Abner Doubleday, whose troops the army had fought on the first day, and George Sykes, whose troops McLaws would fight on the second.

In the old army he had fought in the Mexican War, served in the Southwest and, married to a niece of his army commander and later President, Zachary Taylor, held the rank of captain—average for his class. Coming into the Confederate army with Georgia volunteers, McLaws began as a major, advanced to brigadier after First Manassas, and in May of 1862—when the badgered Rebel forces were preparing for what seemed a last-ditch defense of Richmond—was promoted to major general on proven capabilities.

McLaws looked what he was, a solid sort of man. He was broad of face, wore a thick, wide beard, and had a heavy head of hair. His gaze was forthright, reflecting determination and intelligence but, like Hood’s, no humor. His record of personal relations in the army was good, and he was generally well liked, though he had no passionate partisans.

As a soldier he was sound rather than brilliant. His good troops were not associated with spectacular episodes such as Hood’s breakthrough in the Seven Days and the attacks of Rodes and Pender at Chancellorsville, and there would never be a line about him like “And then A. P. Hill came up.” Yet, on seniority and steady performance, McLaws merited consideration for corps command in the army’s reorganization in May, after Jackson’s death.

At Chancellorsville, however, he had not enjoyed a good day. There, with Longstreet and two divisions away, the capable Georgian had fought directly under Lee, and Uncle Robert was critical of McLaws’s failure to make an attack. In a touch-and-go situation McLaws had counted the costs, hesitated, and decided against the thrust. He may have been right, but Lee did not want his leaders to compute the casualties in advance.

Despite his disappointment at being passed over, McLaws was a dedicated Confederate. He kept fine control of his brigades (two from Georgia, one from South Carolina, and one from Mississippi), who had worked together since before the Seven Days. His division had been fortunate in having few casualties among the general officers: Kershaw, Semmes, and Barksdale had been with him from the beginning—though Paul Semmes and William Barksdale were in the last days of their life.

McLaws’s division was a typical Longstreet outfit. Not such good marchers as Hood’s men, but outstanding on defense, and led by a competent soldier, they were thoroughly dependable. With the self-reliance of old pro’s, they did what they were told, stood up under heavy casualties, and produced tremendous firepower. Their unit spirit was high, their self-confidence complete. There was never an army in the world which would not have welcomed them.

On McLaws’s and Hood’s divisions the second day would depend—on them and their commanding officer, General James Longstreet.

The men of the two divisions, around 15,000 or less, had marched into Pennsylvania, sharing the unaccustomed banqueting with the other corps, and reached Gettysburg without having seen a live enemy soldier. On the morning of July 1, fighting was so remote from their thoughts that the camps of the Texans—the most accomplished foragers in the corps, perhaps in the army—resembled a country poultry exchange opening for the day’s business. When the two divisions were started on the road to Gettysburg in the early afternoon, “the Texans moved lazily and plethorically into line.” Climbing the pass across South Mountain, they were “too heavily burdened, inside and out … to make active exercise a pleasure”

Along the road they were delayed by a tedious halt to allow the passage of the miles of wagons belonging to Ewell’s Second Corps, and it was full night when the van moved down the steep road toward the Cashtown village. Crossing the mountain, the troops had heard the distant firing of Hill’s men and had recognized the high-pitched yells of their own people, and, despite their lethargy, they had lifted a spontaneous cheer. When darkness settled over the hilly countryside however the only human sounds were wheezes and puffing as the men trudged over the narrow road in the comfortless aftermath of their gormandizing

As was habitual in Longstreet’s command, the two divisions had made a late start. The march was not one of their more inspired troop movements, and it was around midnight when the head of the column—Kershaw’s brigade of McLaws’s division—turned off the road two miles from Gettysburg. The rest of the division stretched back to Marsh Creek, two miles farther west. Without making camp, the men sprawled out on the ground and fell into stupefied slumber.

Those in the rear of the strung-out column reached all the way back to Cashtown, and they kept shuffling for another hour or so. Then Hood’s division were allowed to fall out with their van at Marsh Creek, four miles from Gettysburg. His men simply dropped beside the road where they halted.

After two hours’sleep, Hood’s troops were aroused around three in the morning, and within ten minutes the half-awake men were again shuffling along the dark-shadowed road under the stars. They had not been ordered to hurry.

First light came shortly after four thirty, and they began to see the countryside where Hill’s divisions had fought the day before. They passed farmhouses and Herr Tavern, a schoolhouse and a tollgate, and then they reached the wooded western slope of Seminary Ridge, where the cupola of the Lutheran Seminary rose above them. There the van turned off the road and moved across country until the last regiment had reached the point of the turn-off from the Chambersburg pike. It was then around seven o’clock, with two and a half hours of daylight gone.

Hood’s good marchers had taken more than four hours to move from four to six miles. The true capacity of these marchers was shown by the division’s fourth brigade, under Evander Law, which had also started out at three o’clock from its rear-guard position twenty-two miles west. Before noon they had come up and moved two miles southward, covering twenty-four largely mountainous miles in nine hours. It was the best marching of any unit in either army during the campaign.

Not only had these troops, directly under Longstreet’s own supervision, received no hurrying orders, but Longstreet personally gave a curious order whose significance was unnoted at the time. Lafayette McLaws, whose division had been nearer Seminary Ridge and had bivouacked at least an hour sooner than Hood’s, had his marching orders changed from four a.m. to “early in the morning.” Thus, the nearest and most rested troops moved last, at full daylight, after Hood’s men had passed. Then they passed Hood’s division, behind Seminary Ridge, and halted farther south around eight o’clock. McLaws’s division had used three hours to move from three to five miles.

The men in these doomed divisions were innocent of any failure in celerity. No one had urged them forward, and the unseen enemy was silent. Although the sun was growing warm, as if the day might turn into a scorcher, the countryside offered a scene of bucolic tranquillity. In fact, the Texans were thinking of food again.

They had moved into “a little valley where water and fuel were easily accessible,” and soldiers began building fires when the skillet wagon drove up and unloaded each regiment’s share of cooking utensils. It had been rumored that the commissary wagons were going to issue some of the flour gathered in Cumberland Valley. The men were greasing their skillets and hauling water when, on the edge of the low hill on the other side of their little valley, they saw Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Hood, with their staffs, pause and look toward the east. The three generals were talking earnestly in low voices.

It happened that Private Ferdinand Hahn had served all three as a clerk in the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, and enjoyed what might be called a speaking acquaintance with the generals.

“Go on up there, Hahn,” his companions urged him, “and hear what they’re saying.”

Hahn nonchalantly climbed the slope at a respectful distance from the group, and gradually edged closer. Suddenly he came scrambling back down the slope.

“You might as well quit bothering with those skillets, boys —it’ll not be twenty minutes before we’re on the move again.”

His messmates crowded around the eavesdropper, and Hahn said he had heard General Lee tell Hood that Meade’s people were already up there “and if we do not whip him, he will whip us.”

Being veteran soldiers, the men put the skillets back in the wagon and readied themselves for going in.

Fatalistic about casualties, each man hoped, as before each battle, that he was to be among the spared. None suspected that their dependable-looking corps commander was in such a disturbed state that he was to send them to their doom.

By the time Longstreet’s last troops came up, their general had spent three daylight hours with Lee and had reached a point of total frustration. General Lee, intent on learning the extent to which his old friend Meade had occupied Cemetery Ridge, scarcely listened to Longstreet’s harangues about changing his battle plans.

With his collaboration rejected a second time in twelve hours, Longstreet began to grow surly. Sometime in the early morning he made the—probably unconscious—decision to shift from words to action to get his own way. He began to procrastinate as a means of obstructing the execution of Lee’s strategy.

His loyal chief of staff made a guarded reference to Longstreet’s antagonistic attitude and deliberate slowness. Colonel Moxley Sorrel, observant and thoughtful, reported that: “As Longstreet was not to be made willing, and Lee refused to change or could not change, the former failed to conceal some anger. There was apparent apathy in his movements.”

As this procrastination did not jibe with his post-war interpretation of the battle, Longstreet subsequently tried to prove that he had not delayed in getting his troops into action. He stated that Lee had not ordered him the night before to attack at daylight, as some of his enemies claimed. In this contention Longstreet was technically sound. Lee never gave such direct orders to corps commanders. But the knowledge of Lee’s desire for an attack as early as possible after sunrise was general throughout the army at staff and command level. Even if it were possible that the commander of the First Corps had been ignorant of the plan the night before, he knew it at five a.m. when he reached Seminary Ridge in the area of Hill’s troops.

Approach to Gettysburg II


Lee instead ordered Longstreet to coordinate a massive assault on the center of the Union line, employing the division of George Pickett and brigades from A.P. Hill’s corps. Longstreet knew this assault had little chance of success. The Union Army was in a position reminiscent of the one Longstreet had taken at Fredericksburg to defeat Burnside’s assault. The Confederates would have to cover almost a mile of open ground and spend time negotiating sturdy fences under fire. The lessons of Fredericksburg and Malvern Hill were lost to Lee on this day. In his memoirs, Longstreet claims to have told Lee that he believed the attack on the Union center would fail:
    General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.
During the artillery barrage that preceded the infantry assault, Longstreet began to agonize over an assault that was going to cost dearly. He attempted to pass the responsibility for launching Pickett’s division to his artillery chief, Col. Edward Porter Alexander. When the time came to actually order Pickett forward, Longstreet could only nod in assent, unable to verbalize the order. The assault, known as Pickett’s Charge, suffered the heavy casualties that Longstreet anticipated. It was the decisive point in the Confederate loss at Gettysburg and Lee ordered a retreat back to Virginia the following day.
Criticism of Longstreet after the war was based not only on his reputed conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg, but also intemperate remarks he made about Robert E. Lee and his strategies, such as:
    That he [Lee] was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st, and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.
For years after the war Longstreet’s reputation suffered and was blamed for the failed attack even though Lee ordered the advance after Longstreet’s repeated advice to cancel the attack.


Colonel Lindsay Walker, chief of A. P. Hill’s artillery, said: “We [Hill’s corps] were ready at daylight … and waited impatiently for the signal.” Brigadier General Pendleton, in his anomalous position as chief of artillery, was at the southern end of Seminary Ridge at sunrise, tracing positions for guns across from the Round Tops. Even while Longstreet stood with the commanding general’s group on the shaded area of flatland that served as a sort of observation post, Lee was waiting for the return of an engineering officer sent out at sunrise to reconnoiter the southern end of the Federal position.

But the most conspicuous evidence of Longstreet’s procrastination is the fact that, with his van six miles from Seminary Ridge at five o’clock the preceding afternoon, and sharing the common knowledge that Meade was hurrying the concentration of his army, Longstreet took fifteen hours to get his men to the field—and then not deployed for action.

In his explanation, Old Pete attempted to obscure this poor performance by advancing the superiority of his advice which General Lee ignored that morning. According to Longstreet, he urged Lee to try “slipping around” to Meade’s left, southward, and interposing their army in a strong position between Washington and the Federals. The number of latter-day supporters of this alleged plan is amazing in view of some elementary considerations.

There is a scarcity of strong positions between Gettysburg and Washington; there were the hazards of supplying the army while in contact with the enemy; and there was the extreme difficulty of making such a maneuver effective with Ewell’s corps deployed for action three miles to the northeast, the cavalry not up, and the army spread out. One of Longstreet’s own divisions was a day’s march away. With the armies in plain view of each other, there was nothing to prevent Meade from shifting to a strong position when Lee shifted and himself awaiting attack. Finally, Meade, even while rushing his troops to Cemetery Ridge, was taking precautions against such a turning movement, which he knew to be a favorite maneuver of Lee’s.

Unquestionably Lee, in considering the alternatives to his two-pronged attack on the Federals’ flank positions, had considered what Meade would do. Although he was not trying to outthink the Union commander, Lee always projected himself into his opponent’s position. He planned to beat Meade to the obvious move. In the fresh morning light, before the disrupted citizenry were stirring about their farms, he began to evolve the details of attack on the extreme Union left.

This was to come about two miles south of the threatened Federal position on Cemetery Hill, below which Ewell was preparing to renew his halted attack. The rugged boulders of the Round Tops anchored the left end of the line, and Lee reasoned that Meade, in his haste to fortify his right against Ewell, would neglect those natural bastions. Lee visualized a diagonal thrust from the southwest, with his brigades attacking in oblique line to overlap the enemy’s left flank and roll him up to the north of the Round Tops. When the enemy flank was completely turned, the Confederates would push on to the high ground of the ridge and take and hold the plateau. The Federal troops farther north on the ridge would be caught in enfilade and forced to abandon the position.

With threats at the other end of the Union line on Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, and with demonstrations in the center, the maneuver was soundly conceived. Not brilliant nor reflective of Lee at his imaginative best, the operation was within the potential of his troops and contained the elements of success.

Longstreet, in his claims for his own plan, attributed Lee’s rejection of it to a bloodthirstiness that caused him to think only with adrenalin when he was fighting. There is no question that Lee, like all great fighters, was a killer once the battle was joined. That should not be taken as meaning, however, that blood lust inundated his brain when he stared through his field glasses at “those people” gathering on the opposite ridge.

His blood might have been up after the taste of victory the day before, but, according to the enemy’s reports on his movements, Lee was “coolly calculating.” However, several of the officers standing with him while he waited for the reconnaissance report observed his tension. As of eight o’clock Lee believed the southern end of Cemetery Ridge to be unoccupied in the vicinity of the Round Tops, but he needed the report of the engineering officer for confirmation before he could order the execution of his battle plan.

Contrary to general impressions, Lee’s nervousness during this waiting period was unrelated to Longstreet. Although Longstreet’s two divisions were not ready to go in and his artillery was not up, Lee did not know this. Longstreet personally waited on the grassy knoll with the other generals and staff officers, and, within the limits of Lee’s observations, all of his lieutenants were prepared for action and waiting on his command.

Lee’s strain came from the accumulation of responsibility which he bore alone, all focused that morning in the wait for an engineering officer to do the work of the absent cavalry. As usual, he tried to conceal his tension. His face was outwardly composed in what a staff officer called “the quiet-bearing of a powerful yet harmonious nature.” As always, he was extremely neat about his person. His cadet-gray coat was buttoned to his throat, around his trim waist he wore a sword belt without sword, his dark boots were polished, and his light-gray felt hat, of medium-width brim, sat squarely on his head. His nervousness revealed itself in an inability to keep still.

A.P. Hill, partially recovered from his mysterious ailment of the day before, had joined the group, looking very slight among the large men. With Hill came Harry Heth, wearing a bandage around his head, and too shaken from the shell blow to assume command of his division. As the group was increased by arriving generals and their staffs, Lee paced up and down in the shade of a line of trees as if alone. Occasionally he interrupted his pacing to peer through his glasses across the valley where the Union troops were still gathering. Then he sat down on a fallen apple tree and began to study his map.

Although his ridge rolling southward from the seminary was lower than Cemetery Ridge, it was wooded for most of its length, and Lee seemed convinced that approaches to the attacking-point could be found which would conceal the troop movement from the Federals. According to the incomplete details of the map, the land between the two ridges at the southern end would favor his envisioned enveloping movement, once the men were in attacking position.

The Emmitsburg road ran diagonally across the shallow valley between the ridges, beginning within the Union lines. At about a thousand yards south it was still no more than two hundred yards from the crest of Cemetery Ridge. There the fence-lined road bent sharply to the southwest, toward the Confederate position. At the end of its course between the lines, the road passed below the point where Seminary Ridge faded off. In that area Lee had no troops at eight in the morning. But there the Emmitsburg road climbed the crest of a low rise, and Lee had selected this stretch of the road—where it was more than a mile from Cemetery Ridge—as an anchorage for his assault troops.

Around eight o’clock in the morning General McLaws rode up and reported that his troops were up. Lee greeted him and directed his attention to the map.

Pointing to the high part of the Emmitsburg road, Lee said: “General, I wish you to place your division across this road,” and with his finger showed that he wanted the troops placed in a line perpendicular to the road. Then, explaining that he wanted the troops to get there, “if possible, without being seen by the enemy,” he asked the direct question: “Can you do it?”

McLaws replied forthrightly that he knew nothing to prevent him, and added that he would “take a party of skirmishers and go in advance and reconnoiter.”

Lee told him that Captain Johnston had been ordered to reconnoiter the enemy’s country and said: “I expect he is about ready.”

Lee meant that the engineering officer was about to report, but McLaws, thinking Lee meant that Johnston was ready to start, said: “I will go with him.”

Longstreet, who had been pacing near by, turned and said quickly to McLaws: “No, sir, I do not want you to leave your division.”

Lee, in his absorption, apparently paid no attention to this exchange.

Longstreet then stepped up beside the seated commanding general, leaned over him toward the map, and said to McLaws: “I wish your division placed so,” and ran his finger in a line parallel to the road.

Lee raised his head and said quietly: “No, general, I wish it placed just perpendicular to that, or just the opposite.”

Longstreet turned away without answering. McLaws, perceiving that Lee had no further orders, then asked Longstreet for permission to accompany the reconnoitering party. Longstreet flatly forbade it, and to McLaws it “appeared as if he was irritated and annoyed.” McLaws rode off to his troops and made a personal reconnaissance of the woods south of Seminary Ridge in search of a concealed approach to the point of attack.

Some while after he left, Captain Samuel Johnston rode up to Lee’s group with what turned out to be the most fateful misinformation of the Gettysburg campaign. The engineering officer’s reconnaissance report also represented one of the costliest consequences of the cavalry’s absence, and the desperate expedients to which it forced General Lee. In the emergency, Lee placed his reliance on a single staff officer to perform the mission of mounted troops.

At best, Captain Johnston’s information of the Little Round area was incomplete. There were no detailed sketches of the hazardously rough ground at the southern end of the Federal line. Information obtained by an apprehensive individual crawling about on wooded precipices would naturally give an inadequate picture of the obstacles to mass troop movement. Johnston was intent on what he was to survey when he reached the top.

In addition to this incompleteness, the report of the engineering officer who personally reconnoitered the Round Tops was nullified by a stroke of incredibly bad luck. Captain Johnston had scrambled through the thickets to the choppy rock summit of Little Round Top just after the guarding troops of the night had been withdrawn and just before their replacements arrived. He started his risky journey back with the accurately observed information that Cemetery Ridge in the vicinity of the Round Tops was unoccupied by Federal troops.

Those projecting peaks had not yet been occupied, as Samuel Johnston reported to Lee. But the Round Tops were not the objects of Lee’s attack. He aimed inside of them, to the north, where his men could climb the sloping ridge and get in command of the ground before Meade concentrated there. That area of Cemetery Ridge was likewise free of blue soldiers when the engineering officer glanced along the ridge, but only because of a freak accident of timing.

To that area Meade was even then sending the bulk of Sickles’s corps, with artillery support, to extend southward the line that Hancock’s corps was forming in the center. Onto the ridge between the flank at Little Round Top, not on it, and what might be considered the center of his line—a distance of about a mile and three quarters—Meade rushed between 15,000 and 20,000 men by nine o’clock in the morning.

That was the hour when Longstreet’s reserve artillery, temporarily under young Porter Alexander, arrived at the field and at last completed the concentration of the attacking forces—except for the one brigade, Law’s that was hurrying toward Gettysburg from its rear-guard post.

By nine o’clock the time when Lee could attack with advantage had already passed. The numbers and guns of the two armies were becoming equalized on the southern ends of the ridges, and Federal troop units were constantly pouring onto the field while Longstreet’s men still lounged in groups around their stacked arms.

But, due to the report of Captain Johnston which confirmed his own appraisal of the situation, Lee assumed a condition on the Federal flank which no longer existed. He also assumed that Longstreet’s troops were ready to move out at once. After he listened to the engineer officer’s report, Lee nodded slowly, as if he had made the final decision to commit his battle plan to the test.

Then he turned to Longstreet and said quietly: “I think you had better move on.”

This first direct order to Longstreet to move out was given somewhere between eight and nine o’clock. After giving the casual order, the general mounted his iron-gray horse and rode the arc from Seminary Ridge around Gettysburg to Ewell’s headquarters north of Cemetery Hill.

By leaving the field to Longstreet, Lee showed that nothing had happened to cause him anxiety about Longstreet’s performing with his usual dependability. If, in his concentration on Cemetery Ridge, he had noticed Longstreet’s surliness, as others did, Lee ignored it. He certainly did not associate the sullenness with deliberate procrastination, nor did anyone else at the time.

Such was his trust in Longstreet that the commanding general left his command post in the expectation of a coming attack. He personally went to investigate the man who, because of his failure the day before, Lee regarded as the unpredictable corps commander.

British And Indian Mutinies – Post WWII


Some of the accused privates of the 13th Battalion Parachute Regiment in the Muar mutiny case.


In May 1946, at the Muar Camp in Malaya, over 250 privates refused to obey orders and were later charged with mutiny. Three were acquitted, eight sentenced to five years penal servitude and the rest two years imprisonment.

The British in Southeast Asia were now extremely vulnerable to any threat to internal security which might demand the use of British or Indian troops. The Allied Land Forces South East Asia were now demoralized and potentially mutinous. Many had had a very long war, and the resultant mental strain was now a major problem. Military doctors had noted the effects of this as early as 1942. By 1945 there were around 100 full-time psychiatrists in the theatre who were running between forty and fifty psychiatric centres in India, Burma and Ceylon. The troops of ALFSEA appeared to be suffering from massive psychological dysfunction. Army doctors suggested that the ‘sudden change’ in stresses of many soldiers – and particularly of the staff officers deeply concerned with the planning and liberation of Malaya – was responsible for this. They reported that Indian troops were particularly at risk: many had been in continuous service for three and a half years, with no leave for two. There were cases of suicide on disembarking in a new theatre, with a hostile climate and no prospect of return to deal with domestic problems. In October 1945 there was a minor mutiny on HMS Northway in Singapore, when sailors left their dinner uneaten on mess tables, following what the enquiry called ‘a schoolboy grouse about food’. The men were particularly aggrieved at having fish (herring in tomato sauce) for breakfast three times a week. But if this incident was relatively minor, it was one of a growing number, and it could not be attributed solely to inactivity. Across the theatre fraternization created a series of incidents, each relatively short lived, but increasingly connected. At the height of the crisis in Indonesia Mountbatten had seen the limits of what he could ask British and Indian troops to do. There was deep disillusion among British troops about the reconquest of Indonesia, and about their continued presence in Malaya. Soldiers attended political rallies and Malayan Democratic Union meetings, and much of the Malayan Communist Party’s library in Singapore was donated by servicemen. An ‘East and West Society’, begun as an Army Education Centre project, started actively to foster these links. At the time of the 29 January General Strike, there were reports in the leftist press that troops at Bukit Timah threatened to come out in support for the Malayan workers, and would refuse to put down the strike. This was perhaps wishful thinking, but at the same time a larger protest by British servicemen was already underway.

At the end of January there was a series of protests at Royal Air Force bases across the crescent. They involved perhaps fourteen stations and 50,000 men. It seems to have begun at Drigh Road, Karachi. The immediate case was poor food and living conditions, and a return to peacetime discipline, with all the kit inspections and parade in ‘best blue’ uniforms. But the underlying tension was the delay in demobilization. Men of the ‘forgotten armies’ were deeply worried about being disadvantaged in jobs or being denied places in higher education. In the petitions of the men, the use of the army in India and Indonesia was deplored, as it was seen as a central obstacle to demobilization. Men with a Labour or Communist Party background founded their own discussion groups and made contacts with the Indian Communist Party. When protests began, the ‘strike committees’ were run by men with trade-union experience; their news-sheets were run by conscripted journalists who had links with the local press. The incidents stretched across the widest arc of the British Middle East and Asia: from Gibraltar, Cairo and North Africa, to India, and through to Seletar, in Singapore, where more than 4,000 men were involved in the strike. It began with a meeting in the canteen, which was filled to capacity, on the evening of 26 January and the next day spread to Kallang aerodrome. The press reports and the incessant movement across the theatre through airbases created the sense of a connected protest across Asia. There was even some condoning of it by officers, who obstructed the enquiries into the events. Those at the forefront of the protests maintained that they were spontaneous, that their own leadership was unpremeditated and moderating. But the main figures, such as Arthur Attwood in Karachi and D. C. Brayford at Manipur, became the subject of high-profile trials. They were in correspondence with Tom Driberg, who engaged D. N. Pritt – then riding high as an independent MP – to defend them. But investigating officers felt the strikes were a communist conspiracy, ‘the work of an organisation which remained in the background and controlled both the Indian and the Middle East to suit its own ends’. This was the kind of charge the British were applying to Asian trade unionism in Malaya and Singapore.

By May 1946 the incidents spread to frontline troops. Men of the Parachute Regiment stationed at Muar in Malaya, recently returned from Java, protested at their living conditions. After a meeting in a canteen on 13 May, with the lights out, there was an assembly by the sea wall the next morning at which they refused to attend parade. They had been instructed to turn out clean, but it was impossible in the tropical mud, and there was insufficient water for washing. The men gathered in an angry mood and twice refused to obey the commanding officer’s orders to return to their companies: 258 men were taken into custody and brought to trial en masse at Kluang airfield on 12 August, where they had been detained. Some were brought in handcuffs, having slipped over the wire to buy cigarettes and necessities in the town. They termed it a strike, but were rebuked by the judge advocate: ‘The word “strike” is not in Army vocabulary,’ he said. ‘It is Mutiny or nothing else.’ Of the 258, 243 were sentenced to three or five years’ penal servitude (later commuted to two years’ hard labour), and discharged with ignominy. Their defence was that men had protested similarly elsewhere and had not been punished. There were questions in Parliament and public petitions in their support. Eventually, all convictions were quashed, due to irregularities in the trial. Churchill himself condemned the conduct of the court martial in the Commons: ‘I unhappily presided over the Army when there was a shoal of mutinies, and no one ever attempted to bring large masses of the rank and file to a mass trial.’ It was the British Army’s Red Fort Trials. To the military it was a ‘complete bombshell’. It seemed as if the new Labour government was capitulating to public opinion. The battalion was immediately despatched to a transit camp and posted out of Southeast Asia. Field Marshal Montgomery was compelled to write to all field commanders. ‘No criticism must be allowed against our new Secretary of State or against the Government… He handled the problem in a brave and determined manner.’ The commander of the Parachute Regiment, who had been in Java at the time of the ‘mutiny’, saw that it indicated a fundamental problem of peacetime operations. The local commander was a rugby international and a ‘real live wire’. But his troops were men who ‘had not the responsibilities of soldiers’. They were merely ‘civilians in uniform’: 80 per cent of those involved were aged eighteen to twenty-one, forty-five of whom had not seen active service, and included forty-seven out of fifty newly drafted from the UK.84 It was becoming dangerous to try to defend the empire with a conscript army.

Not all soldiers were so politicized. A special section of the Royal Army Medical Corps – the No. 1 Biological Research Section – distributed a questionnaire to British troops in 1946. Its results could not have been surprising to commanders, but they were nevertheless perturbing. Servicemen expressed their resentment of ‘wasting time, their sense of losing time’ – what the psychologists called ‘disuse atrophy’. The phrases that cropped up repeatedly were soldiers’ anger at ‘red tape’ and ‘bullshit’. The army struggled to interpret this latter term. The report stated that it ‘may be defined pedantically as “excessive insistence, in military administration, on the specious and showy, rather than on things really contributing to military efficiency”’. Encouraged by this, the authors of the survey expanded eloquently on what, for the serviceman, complaints at ‘messing around’, might mean:

Drafts of men roam about the country like droves of armed sheep, but more articulate – the Transit Camp, that slaughterhouse of hope, looming menacingly before them. All this fluidity gives an impression of administrative efficiency, so different from the stable, peaceful and well-oiled bureaucracy of Great Britain.

One of the symptoms of the collapse of morale, according to the army doctors, was the high rate of venereal disease. This was the era of Brian Aldiss’s ‘Horatio Stubbs’; a young man set loose in the ‘great whoring cities of the East’. The cabarets were now a huge industry. Dancing classes proliferated to train the ‘taxi-dancers’, who were often in debt for the cost of them and for the hire of their seats in the cabaret. In May the Penang Cabaret Girls Association was founded at the City Lights cabaret. A Miss Tseng Pi Chi spoke: ‘We are marching ahead in society… but although we are mere dancers we have our country behind us… We don’t want to be dancers all our lives; we want only to make a living from dancing. We are waiting till we shall be the equals of men when we shall quit dancing and seek other opportunities of making a living.’ There was a confrontation with the military over their plans to make standard the price of dance coupons. The behaviour of British troops continued to have a deep effect on locals. There was fighting in Penang when a British serviceman threw an ashtray at a Chinese boy, killing him. Civilians avoided the cabarets and girls walking with soldiers were shied with watermelon skins. In the eyes of a young Malay woman, British troops ‘were often drunk and disorderly, consorting openly with women of the streets… They flaunted their bad manners before the shocked eyes of the Asian population, and we winced at the filthy language we heard. Even to us, the new generation of Singaporeans, it was clear that these soldiers did not belong to the same world as their pre-war countrymen… The picture of the English gentleman was shattered.’

Eric Stokes, a British subaltern, wrote to his sister at the end of the war that, walking along a Calcutta street, he felt ‘rather like a Nazi officer must have felt walking along a Paris boulevard’. The hatred of the clerks and professional people for him was palpable. Whatever the politicians in London and the administrators in Delhi thought, most ordinary British soldiers and businessmen in India already knew that the game was up. In 1946 the British Raj in India died and its death lay heavily on the British in Burma and Malaya. The Raj’s obsequies were not finally said until August 1947, by which time more than a million Indians were doomed to perish in a frenzy of communal killing and many millions more had fled their homes. It was in 1946, however, that the underpinnings of British rule, which had survived even the Quit India movement of 1942 and the disillusionment of 1945, finally came apart. War’s end always brings crises. India’s huge war effort had left it exhausted. More than a million army personnel needed to be repatriated to their villages. Many of these men, particularly the officers, were convinced that self-rule should come immediately. The war had awakened them to politics. If, as they had been told, they were fighting in Southeast Asia for the self-determination of Burmese, Thais, Indonesians and others against Japanese rule, why should India not be free? If most of the Burmese villages they had seen had once had schools and clean water, why should not India’s? Economic hardship drove the point home. Inflation roared away, goods were scarce and military pay did not keep pace with prices. Simmering racial tensions damped down by fear during the war flared up. A younger generation of Indian officers and men would not now put up with casual racial abuse and disdain, especially from Johnny-come-lately British officers who had not fought through the war as they had done. In the Royal Indian Navy a full-scale mutiny broke out in February 1946, fuelled by a combination of racial tension and economic frustration. A white officer had apparently called an Indian subaltern a ‘black bastard’. The fleet went on strike off Bombay. Parties of men from the ships invaded the city centre carrying Congress flags and demanding independence. Local Congress volunteers joined them, and the police, already sullen and resentful because of their own lack of compensatory pay, seemed on the point of going over to the mutineers. Wavell acknowledged that the experience of the RAF strikes had encouraged the men.

The trouble quickly spread across the country with the Congress leadership now going for the kill. Tension mounted before the March provincial elections which Wavell had announced the previous autumn. Anti-British riots convulsed Calcutta, where Subhas Bose’s brother and old allies joined the communists in demonstrations of solidarity with the INA internees. Cars were burnt out. Areas such as leafy Park Street, which had been quiet even in 1942, were invaded by crowds of youths. Shop windows were smashed. When the British authorities released Sher Khan, a colonel in the INA, he received a nearly hysterical reception in Calcutta. Denizens of the august Bengal Club looked out from the veranda in dismay as he and other reprieved officers of the INA were paraded past in triumph. The white man’s izzat or charisma had finally evaporated. Arthur Dash, a senior Bengal civil servant, recorded that Britons and Anglo-Indians walking in Calcutta’s streets were waylaid and abused. A favourite game was to purloin their regimental or club ties and topis (pith helmets) in a sort of ritual humiliation. If they resisted, they were beaten up.

The Long Turkish War I


The Battle of Keresztes (Also known as the Battle of Mezőkeresztes) (Turkish: Haçova Muharebesi) took place on 24–26 October 1596. The battle was fought between a combined Habsburg-Transylvanian force and the Ottoman Empire near the village of Mezőkeresztes (Turkish: Haçova) in northern Hungary. The battle ended with a victory by the Ottoman Empire. Lord Kinross, a early 20th-century historian, said that if the Ottoman Empire had been defeated, they would have lost Hungary and part of Bulgaria.


A New Crusade

There were few opportunities to test these tactics in large battles during the Turkish War of 1593–1606, which mainly consisted of sieges and skirmishes like the Spanish operations in Flanders against the Dutch. Hostilities arose from the systemic problem of endemic banditry and unstable frontiers. The Habsburgs could do little for the Uskoks who were facing overpopulation and were forced to intensify their piratical activities in the Adriatic. Venice, the chief target of their seaborne attacks, encouraged them to redirect their attention to Ottoman Bosnia and Hungary after 1591. The pasha of Bosnia retaliated by besieging a Croatian border fort and was captured and executed by its defenders. Sinan Pasha, the energetic grand vizier, persuaded a reluctant Sultan Murad III to agree general war in 1593. As an opening move, Sinan seized the Habsburg embassy and enslaved its staff: an occupational hazard for those posted to Constantinople.

Rudolf’s advisers believed the war offered a golden opportunity to expand Habsburg influence in the region and extend control over Transylvania. The Croats’ minor victory convinced them the Ottomans were in decline and they thought war against the Turks would rally Christians within the Empire and so reduce problems there. Certainly Rudolf was roused from his depression, and readily embraced what he saw as his traditional role as defender of the true faith. The Reichstag reconvened in 1594 and voted another substantial tax grant, renewing this four years later and again in 1603. At least four-fifths of the 20 million florins promised actually reached the imperial treasury, along with a further 7 to 8 million paid when Rudolf appealed to the Kreis assemblies as well. The Habsburg lands raised around 20 million, and another 7.1 million flowed in from the pope, Spain and Italy. Even the maverick Henri IV of France promised assistance, and many Catholics, recently defeated in that country’s civil war, now flocked to the imperial standard. Others came from further afield, including Captain John Smith, the later founder of Virginia. The princes of the three subject principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia followed suit, and although the Poles refused to help directly, their Ukrainian Cossacks attacked the Crimean Tartars and so prevented these from aiding the sultan. The imperial field army doubled to around 20,000 men, supplemented by about 10,000 Hungarians and about twice that number of Transylvanians and other auxiliaries.

After all the effort, the result was a crushing disappointment. Some of the assistance proved rather meagre in practice, as in the case of the Russian tsar who sent a huge consignment of furs that flooded the market and brought little return. Worse, imperial planning was unrealistic. Talks were opened with Morocco and Persia to open additional fronts, but an embassy from Shah Abbas did not arrive until 1600, by which time it was unlikely the emperor could win. The sultan managed to keep 60–100,000 men in the field and so generally held the initiative.

The war opened in the south, where the main Ottoman offensive made some gains at Croatian expense in 1593 before the onset of winter forced Sinan to suspend operations. Thereafter, the Croatian, Slovenian and Senj border defenders held their own. Other Ottoman assaults against both ends of Lake Balaton were driven off, and from November 1593 the Habsburgs made periodic counter-attacks from this sector, trying to seize the Turkish fortress of Stuhlweißenburg that guarded the south-western approaches to Buda. The next Ottoman offensive hit the crucial central Hungarian sector, scoring a major success with the capture of Raab in September 1594, thus outflanking Komorn and opening the way to Vienna. Habsburg efforts concentrated on reversing, or at least offsetting, this blow and Archduke Matthias managed to puncture the Ottoman salient by taking Gran and Visegrad the following year. The sultan retaliated by shifting the war north-eastwards, leading his army in person to take Erlau in 1596, and defeating a relief army at Mezökeresztes, the war’s only major field battle, that October. All attention now focused on the three principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia that had defied the sultan and entered the war on the emperor’s side.

Intervention in Transylvania

Habsburg planners saw the new Transylvanian alliance as a means of extending Habsburg suzerainty, and even forcing that country back under royal Hungarian control. The moment seemed opportune, since the current prince, Sigismund Báthory, appeared to welcome a Habsburg takeover. Polish influence had been strong under his predecessor but was now on the wane due to that country’s new preoccupation with Sweden. Imperial troops retook Raab in 1598, stabilizing the main front, while mounting difficulties in the Ottoman Empire sparked widespread revolts there from 1599. The apparent success of Catholic reform in Austria contributed to the growing sense of confidence among the emperor’s advisers, and led to the fateful decision to invade Transylvania in conjunction with Prince Michael of Wallachia, who hoped to get Moldavia out of the bargain. A period of confused fighting ended with the Habsburgs’ complete defeat thanks to unofficial Polish intervention that restored Sigismund and installed Polish puppet-rulers in the other two principalities.

Rather than cutting their losses, the Habsburgs stepped up operations in the region, entrusting new, larger forces to Giorgio Basta whose subsequent conduct earned him the reputation of a cruel tyrant among Hungarian and Romanian historians. Basta was one of the many Italians in Habsburg service and had risen from drummer boy to commander of a company of mounted arquebusiers in Spanish service in Flanders. He came to Hungary with a Spanish contingent in 1597 and soon acquired a general’s rank. Schlick, Marradas, Collalto and Ernesto Montecuccoli all served under him, but his influence spread further thanks to his numerous theoretical writings and military commentaries, many of which heavily criticized his employers for failing to pay their soldiers properly. The subsequent campaign presaged much that later followed in the Empire after 1618. As the man on the spot, Basta was forced to act quickly in rapidly changing circumstances. It was often impossible to refer back to the imperial government in Prague where Rudolf’s intentions were, in any case, far from clear. Having successfully conquered Transylvania again with Prince Michael’s help in August 1600, Basta had his ally murdered the following year, because he considered him a liability. As the Poles refused to rescue him a second time, Sigismund abdicated in return for a Habsburg pension in June 1602, leaving the Transylvanian diet no choice but to pay homage to Rudolf in return for confirmation of its privileges.

It was a pyrrhic victory. The diversion of manpower to Transylvania weakened the defence of the other sectors, and the Turks advanced up the Save in the summer of 1600, taking Kanizsa and opening the way to Styria. Though Archduke Matthias captured Stuhlweißenburg in 1601, this was lost the following year to one Turkish army, while another broke into Styria. Worsening financial problems prevented a coordinated defence as parts of the imperial army were paralysed by mutinies, with some of the French and Walloons even defecting to the Turks. Matthias retrieved the situation by capturing Pest in October 1602, precipitating a crisis for the Ottomans who now faced revolts in five provinces. Sultan Mehmet died of a heart attack and was succeeded by his thirteen-year-old son Ahmet I. Shah Abbas seized his chance and attacked from Persia, recapturing Azerbaijan and Georgia by 1604. Faced with a war on two fronts, Ahmet opened peace talks with the emperor in February 1604.

By making excessive demands, Rudolf squandered this last chance to end the war before his own position collapsed. Prolonged warfare had devastated Transylvania to the extent that it could no longer support the Habsburg garrisons. With no prospect of help from Prague, Basta resorted to seizing the property of any nobles who opposed his government. Matters spiralled rapidly out of control once the general received secret instructions from the emperor to implement the Austrian policies of Catholic renewal. As in Austria, this began with the towns, with the intention to repopulate the country with Catholic settlers and discharged soldiers after the war. Other measures targeted Upper Hungary where General Jacopo Belgiojoso began evicting Lutheran pastors from the strategic town of Kassa in January 1604, while the garrisons of 90 border posts were rotated to replace the Hungarians with 12,000 German troops. The policy of confiscations was extended to Hungary where Matthias even seized the manors of István Illésházy, a Protestant magnate who was stripped of his post as Hungarian palatine. This proved too much and the disaffected Magyars now made common cause with the oppressed Transylvanians.

The Bocskai Revolt 1604–6

Opposition coalesced around István Bocskai, a Calvinist landowner from Wardein in Upper Hungary. Bocskai’s journey from loyal servant to rebel leader encapsulates how Habsburg policies were alienating many of their most influential subjects. He had led the Transylvanian auxiliaries during the initial campaigns but was distrusted on account of his religion by Rudolf, who deprived him of his command and had him brought to Prague in 1598. He escaped execution, and retired to his estates that became a centre for malcontents. Though hailed by the local Calvinist clergy as a Hungarian Moses, Bocskai avoided inflaming religious passions for fear of alienating potential supporters, drawing instead on widespread popular discontent at the seemingly endless Turkish war. Having intercepted letters from the conspirators, Belgiojoso advanced from Kassa with his 3,500 men to arrest Bocskai, but Bocskai escaped and rallied 5,000 haiduks by granting them noble status and distributing abandoned land. Belgiojoso retired on Kassa, but the disgruntled citizens opened the gates to Bocskai who entered in triumph on 12 December 1604. The fall of Kassa severed the communications between Belgiojoso in Upper Hungary and the 5,000 Habsburg troops holding down Transylvania. As more haiduks rallied to his standard, Bocskai was able to leave a blocking force against Belgiojoso and invade Transylvania with 4,000 light cavalry in January 1605. Though the Habsburgs had the backing of the Szekler people, their troops were scattered in isolated garrisons which had all fallen to Bocskai by September. The Transylvanian diet had already proclaimed Bocskai as their new prince in February, while he was welcomed as the ‘illustrious prince of all Hungary’ when he returned westwards with the rest of his army in April.

By now, the Habsburg position was on the verge of collapse. Basta had been recalled to the main Hungarian sector in July 1604, but despite having 36,000 men, he had been unable to relieve Pest, which fell to the Ottoman besiegers. The imperial army disintegrated as it retreated northwards, allowing the Ottomans to recover both Gran and Visegrad. Bocskai captured Neuhäusel and met the new grand vizier, Lala Mehmed Pasha, outside Pressburg on 11 November 1605 where he was crowned king of Hungary with a special crown made in Constantinople.

Bowing to pressure from his relations, Rudolf reluctantly replaced Basta with Archduke Matthias who was empowered to open negotiations with Bocskai in May. The Bohemian Estates mobilized 17,000 militia, including units commanded by Wallenstein and Count Thurn, to stem the rebels’ advance into Moravia during that summer. Many of Bocskai’s aristocratic supporters were growing concerned that he was simply exchanging Habsburg rule for that of the Turks. They also doubted his ability to control the haiduks, to whom he had promised so much, and felt that the rebellion had achieved its original objectives of halting re-Catholicization and liberating Transylvania. Following a ceasefire in January 1606, the Hungarian and Transylvanian nobility concluded the Treaty of Vienna with Matthias on 23 June at the expense of both Rudolf and their own supporters. Lutheran and Calvinist Hungarian nobles received formal toleration that was extended to the royal towns and Military Frontier, but denied to peasants. Hungarian political autonomy was strengthened by restoring the post of palatine, removing financial control from Vienna, reserving administrative posts for natives, and replacing the German troops with Hungarians in the frontier fortresses. Transylvanian autonomy was also enhanced. Bocskai renounced his new Hungarian crown but kept the courtesy title of king and was recognized as prince of Transylvania by the Habsburgs, who ceded the territory another five Upper Hungarian counties east of Kassa.

While Bocskai did not live long to enjoy his success, his revolt set an important precedent. Militant Catholicism had been reversed, not by the passive resistance that had failed so miserably in Inner Austria, but by armed force. Whereas the Austrian Protestants had used their influence in the provincial Estates to bargain local concessions in the 1570s, the Hungarians and Transylvanians established a viable alliance between their countries. It was an example the Bohemians were to follow in 1618.

The Long Turkish War II


(“The Christians Before Sisak in Croatia A.D. 1593”)
(Hieronymus Oertel, Nuremberg 1665)


Europe 1600.

Habsburg–Ottoman Relations after 1606

More immediately, the Peace of Vienna cleared the way for Matthias to end the debilitating conflict with the sultan by concluding the Treaty of Zsitva Török on 11 November 1606. This fell short of a permanent peace that neither side was willing to accept. Nonetheless, both the sultan and the emperor were obliged to recognize each other as equals, and the humiliating annual tribute of 30,000 florins paid by the Habsburgs since 1547 was to be replaced by a final ‘free gift’ of 200,000. The sultan retained Kanizsa and Erlau, but had to permit the emperor to construct new fortresses opposite them. The arrangement was to last twenty years, during which cross-border raiding would be tolerated, provided no regular troops were involved.

It was the Habsburgs’ good fortune that the Ottomans were unable to renew the war after 1606. The sultan managed to suppress his own revolts by 1608, but was forced to accept peace with Persia by 1618, confirming the loss of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Persians exploited ongoing unrest within the Ottoman Empire to renew the war in 1623, capturing Baghdad and slaughtering all the Sunni inhabitants who failed to escape. The loss of Iraq triggered convulsions throughout the Ottoman Empire, including major revolts in Syria and Yemen which disrupted revenue collection and the routes to the holy sites. The sultan meanwhile lost control over the Crimean Tartars who provoked an undeclared war with Poland that lasted, intermittently, until 1621. Faced with these problems, he was only too happy to confirm Zsitva Török in 1615, accepting minor boundary adjustments that improved Habsburg defences around the Gran salient. The Bohemian Revolt coincided with Persia’s victory, and the sultan went out of his way to conciliate the emperor, even offering him a few thousand Bulgarian or Albanian auxiliaries in the summer of 1618. Though these were politely declined, Osman II sent a special ambassador to congratulate Ferdinand II on his election as emperor the following year. Ottoman benevolence was doubly welcome, because the Reichstag did not renew the last frontier subsidy when this expired in 1615. The Bohemian crisis forced the Austrians to denude the frontier of troops, raising 6,000 cavalry from Croatia and Hungary in 1619. Around 4,000 frontier troops served with the imperial army thereafter until 1624, largely under the command of Giovanni Isolano, a Cypriot with property in Croatia who established his reputation during the Long Turkish War. There was little money left to pay the remaining garrisons on the frontier, prompting mutinies in the Slovenian and Croatian sectors in July 1623. Though the Transylvanians sided with the Bohemians, the sultan refrained from exploiting the opportunity, and without his help their intervention soon collapsed.

With their respective governments distracted by war elsewhere, cross-border relations devolved to the Hungarian palatine and the Ottoman pasha in Buda. The former position was held by Miklós Esterházy between 1625 and 1645. He fostered the humanist vision of Hungary as Christendom’s bulwark and encouraged the Magyar nobility to place their faith in the Habsburgs as the best guarantors for immediate defence and the eventual recovery of the lands lost to the Turks. His negotiations at Szöny with the pasha of Buda in 1627 secured a fifteen-year extension to Zsitva Török, buying more time for the emperor to confront his Christian enemies. The Ottomans did exploit the Mantuan War to plunder fourteen villages in the upper Mur valley in 1631, but they rejected a Venetian suggestion to extend their attacks. Though Sultan Murad IV finally restored order in the Ottoman Empire around 1632, suppressing the provincial revolts, he preferred to turn against the Persians, hoping to defeat them while the Habsburgs were preoccupied in Germany. Ottoman armies recovered Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iraq, retaking Baghdad in 1638 and forcing Persia to accept these losses the following year.

The relative quiet allowed the emperor to draw more soldiers from the frontier as the war in Germany intensified from 1625. An initial Croat regiment was raised that year, followed by two more by 1630. Swedish intervention that year prompted a dramatic expansion to fourteen regiments by 1633, as well as 1,500 Kapelletten, or light cavalry recruited in Friuli and Dalmatia. The number of Croat regiments peaked at 25 in 1636, falling to 10 three years later and 6 by the end of the war. Constant recruiting nonetheless depleted the frontier garrisons, leaving only 15,000 effectives by 1641, around 7,000 below official establishment. This was still a large force, equivalent to the numbers deployed in a major battle during the latter stages of the war. It represented a major commitment in men, money and materials at a time when the emperor was increasingly hard-pressed, a factor that has been mostly overlooked when assessing the imperial performance during the conflict.

The continued military presence along the frontier indicated how deeply the Habsburgs still feared the Ottoman menace. Their concerns seemed justified when the Turks followed their peace with Persia in 1639 by launching major raids intended to consolidate their hold on Kanisza. Things might have got much worse if the Persian war had not resumed, prompting the sultan to renew Zsitva Török again in 1642, this time for twenty years. The sultan’s problems weakened his hold over Transylvania, which had remained nominally under his suzerainty after 1606. As Transylvania grew more independent, its prince felt emboldened to intervene again in the Thirty Years War in 1644–5. Thus, while Ottoman weakness kept the sultan out of the war, it paradoxically enabled Transylvania to join it. Still, it was always preferable to face the Transylvanians rather than the more powerful Ottomans. Fears that the pasha of Buda would back the prince with infantry and artillery never materialized, which rendered Transylvanian intervention in the war largely ineffective. Just as Transylvania made peace, the sultan became preoccupied with a new conflict against Venice that dragged on until 1669. Demobilization following the Peace of Westphalia obliged the emperor to withdraw his troops from the Empire, and he moved them into Hungary where they deterred further Ottoman raids until 1655. It was not until the late 1650s that the Ottomans were strong enough to pose an active threat and their attempts to reassert influence over Transylvania prompted another war with the emperor after 1662 that ended with a further renewal of Zsitva Török in modified form two years later. The stalemate only broke with the failure of the Ottoman siege of Vienna that opened the Great Turkish War of 1683–99. International assistance enabled the Habsburgs to drive the Turks from Hungary, which was converted to an hereditary kingdom in 1687, followed by the annexation of Transylvania four years later. The victory transformed Austria into a great power in its own right, lessening the significance of the Holy Roman title.

These glories would have appeared an impossible dream to the Habsburgs surveying the wreckage of Rudolf’s policies by 1606. The frontier had been weakened by the loss of two of its greatest fortresses, the dynasty had lost ground in Hungarian politics, and all influence in Transylvania had been extinguished. However, the repercussions went well beyond the Habsburgs’ eastern kingdom to shake the very foundations of their monarchy. Despite receiving over 55 million fl. in subsidies and taxes during the war, Rudolf’s debts had climbed to 12 million. Key sources of revenue, such as the Hungarian copper mines, had been pawned to raise further loans. The border troops were already owed 1 million fl. in back pay by 1601, while the field army had arrears of twice this by the end of the war. Six thousand soldiers loitered in Vienna demanding at least a million florins to disperse. Habsburg inability to keep order in their own capital underlined their failure. Disappointment and disillusionment spread to the Empire where the princes found it hard to believe that their money had not bought victory. The imperial treasurer, Geizkofler, was formally charged with embezzling half a million florins, and though he was acquitted in 1617, many princes failed to pay their share of the last border subsidy, voted in 1613, which was still 5.28 million fl. in arrears by 1619.