Frederick the Great’s Last Two Years of the Seven Years’ War


Frederick II, King in Prussia, ‘Frederick the Great’: picture by David Morier


1761 turned out to be a year without a major battle on the main eastern front. There is a weary sense of déjà vu about the allied strategy. Marshal Daun, still recovering from the wound sustained at Torgau, anxious to resign and more static than ever, was in command in Saxony. His more enterprising subordinate, Laudon, was to join forces with a Russian army, now commanded by the tsarina’s favorite, Count Alexander Borisovich Buturlin, and seek to win a second Kunersdorf. Frederick left Prince Henry and 28,000 in Saxony to keep an eye on Daun, while he headed off to Silesia with the main army of about 55,000. His attempt to keep his two enemies apart failed, not least because he ducked an opportunity to attack the Russians at Liegnitz on 15 August. As things turned out, this was probably wise. Buturlin linked up with Laudon four days later but then proved very reluctant to go on the attack. On the day before their junction, Frederick told Prince Henry that “the Russians still have no desire to attack, but I think Laudon will force them to.”

The Austrian commander certainly tried but Frederick mounted a persuasive counterargument by taking his army into a fortified camp at Bunzelwitz to the northwest of Schweidnitz. Nature was given a helping hand by intensive spadework. Working in twelve-hour shifts around the clock, the Prussian soldiers created a formidable network of trenches and palisades. The Saxon Captain Tielke reported admiringly:

In this location the Prussian army stood on a series of low and mostly gentle eminences, which were utilized in a masterly fashion. The approaches were by no means physically insurmountable, but what rendered them difficult to reach were the little streams, the swampy meadows, and the enfilading and grazing fire from the batteries on every side.

Breaking into this fortress would have proved extremely costly, given the 460 pieces of artillery that guarded it. The Russians blinked first. First Buturlin told Laudon he would cooperate in a joint attack, then he had second thoughts. On 9 September he finally gave up and took his army back east to the river Oder and beyond.

At this point, this uneventful campaign should have come to an end with the two sides going into winter quarters. Frederick certainly thought it was all over. From Pilzen on 27 September he wrote to Prince Henry that it was next to impossible that the Austrians in Saxony would attempt another raid on Berlin, now that the Russians had gone, and as for those in Silesia “I believe you do not need to have any worries about us because essentially the campaign is over, given that neither we nor the Austrians intend to undertake anything.” He was wrong. There were three more incidents to come, one welcome, the other two decidedly not. The first was a brilliant piece of work by General Dubislav Friedrich von Platen and a corps of about 8,000, sent by Frederick to harry the retreating Russians and already underway. On 15 September they had attacked the main Russian supply base at Gostyn in Poland, destroying 5,000 wagons and taking 1,845 prisoners and seven artillery pieces. From there they moved on towards the Prussian fortress of Colberg (often spelled Kolberg) on the Pomeranian coast, disrupting the Russian supply lines as they went. But no sooner had Frederick sent off congratulations on this coup than the truly terrible news arrived that on 1 October Laudon had taken the great fortress of Schweidnitz with a sudden night attack. Frederick was completely nonplussed by this “so extraordinary and almost incredible turn of events.” It was indeed a devastating blow, for Schweidnitz covered the passes from Bohemia via Friedland and so was “the key to Lower Silesia,” especially since Glatz, which covered the routes from Königgrätz to Neisse, was already in Austrian hands. Given all he had suffered at Laudon’s hands in the past, most notably at Glatz and Hochkirch, Frederick’s complacency was as surprising as it was damaging. The third piece of bad news which arrived just before the end of the year was that Colberg had fallen to the Russians on 16 December, which gave them for the first time a port through which they could bring up supplies. For the first time, the Russians could winter in Pomerania and the Austrians in Silesia. Meanwhile in Saxony, Prince Henry had been forced out of his camp at Meissen by Daun.

The only chink of light was visible in the west, where the French had gone into winter quarters in the middle of November, having achieved nothing durable in the course of a long campaign. This was all the more disappointing for them because a major effort had been made that year. Two large armies were sent east, one totaling c. 95,000 from the Lower Rhine commanded by the Prince de Soubise and the other with some 65,000 from further south commanded by the Duc de Broglie. They thus outnumbered Prince Ferdinand’s forces by at least two to one. What then followed was a bewildering succession of marches and countermarches, maneuvers and countermaneuvers, the only real point of contact being the battle of Vellinghausen near Hamm on the river Lippe on 15–16 July, which was a clear victory for Prince Ferdinand. Although this did not end the campaign, it helped to ensure that there would be no conquest of Hanover in 1761.


On 6 January 1762 a depressed Frederick wrote from Breslau to his chief minister, Finckenstein, that if the Turks could not be induced to open a second front against the Austrians in the Balkans, he was finished. So negotiations would have to be initiated in the hope of saving something from the wreckage for his successor, which was a hint that Frederick was contemplating suicide—again. Just two weeks later, on the 19th, he received news from his man in Warsaw that at long last the Tsarina Elizabeth had died, on the 5th. His immediate reaction was cautious. He wrote to Finckenstein that they could not be sure how her successor, Peter III, would act and whether he would succumb to the blandishments of Russia’s existing allies. The indolent British ambassador in St. Petersburg, Sir Robert Keith, should be stirred up to counter French and Austrian influence. He ended by adding gloomily that he did not suppose this change of ruler would do him any more good than had the accession of Charles III in Spain three years previously.

He could not have been more wrong. As the French complained, the new tsar had not so much an attachment as an “inexpressible passion” for Frederick, whom he hailed in a personal letter “one of the greatest heroes the world has ever seen.” He often wore the uniform of a Prussian major-general, displayed in his apartment all the portraits of his hero he could find and repeatedly kissed Frederick’s image on a ring sent from Potsdam as a present. This was partly hero worship and partly motivated by Peter’s need for Prussian assistance in regaining the duchy of Schleswig from Denmark for the House of Holstein from which he descended. It was not long before very good news was bringing cheer to Frederick. At a dinner at the Russian court on 5 February, Peter had expressed himself so intemperately about the shortcomings of his Austrian ally that the Austrian ambassador, Count Mercy, felt unable to repeat his actual words in his dispatch to Vienna. Orders were sent to the Russian generals to cease all hostile action against Prussia. The Turks and Tartars were encouraged to attack Austria. A treaty of alliance with Prussia was signed on 5 May. Peace between Prussia and Sweden was brokered by Russian diplomats and signed on 22 May. Frederick had to rub his eyes. Within just a few weeks, the north and east had been neutralized and Russia turned from enemy into ally. No wonder that he exulted when he came to write up his history of the episode:

The summary of events we have related will present to our view Prussia on the brink of ruin, at the end of the last campaign; past recovery in the judgment of all politicians, yet one woman dies, and the nation revives; nay is sustained by that power which had been the most eager to seek her destruction…What dependence may be placed on human affairs, if the veriest trifles can influence, can change, the fate of empires? Such are the sports of fortune, who, laughing at the vain prudence of mortals, of some excites the hopes, and of others pulls down the high-raised expectations.

Whether or not Frederick was saved by the death of the tsarina is so contentious an issue that it deserves separate treatment. Here it need only be remarked that Frederick was overdoing it. Had he known just how desperate was the situation of his enemies, he might have modified his view. When he heard that 20,000 men had been discharged from the Austrian army, he assumed it was because Maria Theresa was so confident of total victory. In fact it was because there was no money to pay for them. So many new taxes had been imposed and so many old ones increased, so many loans had been raised, that the Austrian well was bone-dry. Around 40 percent of annual revenue was now needed just to service the accumulated debt. By the time the war ended the following year, the debt had reached a total equivalent to seven to eight years’ regular income. The situation was no better in France, where a state bankruptcy began to look like a real possibility. When the Austrian financial expert Count Ludwig Zinzendorf was asked by the French ambassador about the fiscal structure of the Habsburg Monarchy, his response was: “Can one blind man show another the way?”

Once it became clear just how much had changed in St. Petersburg, Frederick turned positively jaunty. On 6 March 1762 he wrote to d’Argens that peace with Russia was certain, that this had caused great alarm in Vienna and that “the storm clouds are breaking up and we can look forward to a beautiful calm day, shining with rays bursting from the sun.” But there was still work to be done. Pomerania was being evacuated by the Russians. That left Silesia and Saxony to be regained. The chief target had to be Schweidnitz, for if the Austrians remained in control of Lower Silesia, they would have a strong hand to play at the peace negotiations. Leaving Prince Henry and 30,000 to keep an eye on Saxony, Frederick took an army variously estimated at between 66,000 and 72,000 to Silesia, where he found Daun and about 82,000 in defensive positions around Schweidnitz. There he was joined by 15,000 to 20,000 Russians under Chernyshev. Together, they pushed Daun back to Burkersdorf, southwest of Schweidnitz.



During the first two weeks of July, Frederick tried to induce Daun to move away by sending General Franz Karl Ludwig von Wied zu Neuwied (the younger son of a German prince) and a corps of 20,000 to cause mayhem in northeastern Bohemia. Daun appeared not to move, so most of this force was recalled. In fact, substantial numbers had been sent off to guard communications, with the result that when battle was joined at Burkersdorf, Frederick for once enjoyed numerical superiority. This would have been even greater if the Russians had been actively involved. On 18 July, however, Chernyshev had to tell Frederick that a palace revolution in St. Petersburg had deposed and killed Peter III and that he and his army had been recalled. With the aid of what amounted to a large bribe, Frederick persuaded him to stay put for three days, albeit in a noncombatant role. In fact, Chernyshev’s corps played a crucial role when the battle began on 21 July. Frederick placed it, together with eleven battalions of his own, opposite the Austrian army to fool Daun into thinking that it was there that the main attack would be launched (see map). Meanwhile, the main Prussian brigades were sent off to take up positions to the northeast and east, which were weakly guarded. It was their assault which threatened to turn Daun’s flank and forced him to order a general retreat. As battles of the war went, this was a relatively bloodless affair, with each side suffering around 1,600 casualties but the effects were of the greatest political and strategic importance. Burkersdorf would also turn out to be Frederick’s last battle. Daun was pushed back into the Bohemian mountains and was cut off from Schweidnitz. The siege lasted sixty-three days, as the Austrian garrison commanded by General Peter Guasco, an experienced engineer, defended the fortress with enterprise and resolution. Only after a lucky Prussian bomb blew up a magazine and opened the way for an assault did he surrender, on 9 October. This was a crucial moment, for in effect it returned Silesia to Prussian control. Commenting on Daun’s inactivity as the siege progressed, Jomini wrote: “Modern history offers no comparable example of cowardice.” In the west, the campaign ended with the capitulation of the French garrison at Kassel on 1 November.

By this time, Kaunitz’s great coalition was falling apart. It was clear that Great Britain and France would soon negotiate a peace (a preliminary treaty was signed on 3 November 1762) and also that the new ruler of Russia, Peter’s widow, Catherine, would not resume hostilities against Frederick, for the good reason that Russia was financially exhausted. Austria was soon going to be on her own. The last straw was the decisive victory achieved by Prince Henry on 29 October at Freiberg, southwest of Dresden, which in effect restored Prussian control of Saxony. An exultant Frederick wrote to tell him that the news had made him feel forty years younger: “Yesterday I was sixty, today I am eighteen again.” He told the Duchess of Saxony-Gotha that Fortune, having persecuted him for seven campaigns, now seemed to have decided to treat him more leniently, and that peace was within his grasp. He was right. At Vienna, even the hardest of hardliners could now see that he could not be defeated. Of all the combatants, it was Saxony which had suffered most and so it was appropriate that a Saxon, Karl Thomas von Fritsch, should have been chosen to inform Frederick that Austria was ready to negotiate. That happened on 25 November at Meissen.






During the Java War (1825–1830), the Dutch government was forced to create a new type of military force to deal with that rebellion. This military force consisted of a professional army of Dutch officers, coupled with native Indonesian troops. These troops made up an army that operated against native populations, and a force that was not dependent on Dutch citizens to maintain its strength.

In 1830 Governor-General Johannes van den Bosch (1780–1844) officially organized these colonial forces into the Oost-Indisch Leger (East Indies Army). This army operated as the military arm of the colonial administration, with naval assistance provided by the Royal Netherlands Navy. From 1830 to 1870, the Oost- Indisch Leger was employed to control the numerous rebellions cropping up throughout the physical territory of the colony. Many wars, such as the Padri War (1821– 1836), were ongoing conflicts that were downgraded to allow the Oost-Indisch Leger to concentrate on more pressing matters, like the Java War. In the case of Bali in 1846 and 1848, the Oost-Indisch Leger, or Leger, was employed to force the local raja to honor agreements, and to prevent other nations from influencing Indonesian trade.

In 1867 the ‘‘Accountability Law’’ separated the finances of the Netherlands and its colony in the East Indies. This ruling enabled the East Indies to create its own Department of War (Department van Oorlog), and the colony became responsible for its own financing of military operations.

Beginning in the late 1860s, the problem of Aceh, a province on the island of Sumatra, began to rise to prominence within the colony. Aceh had operated independently for several decades, but the opening of the Suez Canal renewed its importance to trade within the Dutch East Indies. The rising influence of other nations in the internal politics of Aceh compelled the Netherlands Indies to send forces to control the region and force its submission to Dutch authority.

The Aceh War lasted from 1873 to 1903, and the conflict forced the Oost-Indisch Leger to change its tactics in the field. Initially, efforts were made to control Aceh’s territory through the use of a fortified line of outposts intended to contain the guerillas and marshal the limited resources of the colony. Soon, the Geconcentreerde Linie (Concentrated Line), which was a fortified line of sixteen forts protecting the town of Kutaraja, operated more as a prison for colonial troops that were constantly being harassed by Acehnese guerillas. The Leger employed a more modern force in the field that was made up of infantry battalions supported by artillery, cavalry, and engineers who were led by more professional officers like Colonel J. B. van Heutsz (1851– 1924). These officers were also employed as civilian administrators (officier-civiel gezaghebber) as a way to control the outer reaches of the colony. These officers acted as civil administrators during times of peace, and as military officers during war.

To further control areas occupied by the government, a force known as the Korps Marechaussee (District Police) was created in 1893. This corps consisted of select native infantrymen commanded by Dutch officers. These companies were armed with carbines and klewangs (native short swords), and operated without coolie trains (supply trains consisting of forced native labor), which allowed them to rapidly move against a native threat. The operations of the Korps Marechaussee were mostly directed toward the native population in an effort to control the resistance. These light troops committed atrocities against local tribes in their attempts to control the Acehnese people and find suspected guerrillas.

By the twentieth century, the Leger began to change its focus from subjugation of rebellious island natives to the control of Indonesian society. The colony was nearly pacified, but the influence of Islamic and communist groups began to grow into a source of trouble for the colony. The Leger began to experiment with aircraft in 1914, and an airborne auxiliary was soon started for field service. To maintain force levels, laws were soon passed to make military service mandatory for Dutch citizens, and native conscription was being considered by the colony.

In the 1920s, two attempted revolts by the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia) signaled efforts by both the colony’s police and army to control dissent within the islands. Units were established to monitor political groups with the threat of exile or imprisonment in the Boven Digual Prison for political prisoners. In 1927 the Hague government set down the ‘‘Principles of Defense,’’ whereby the colony was to protect Dutch authority within the islands against possible rebellion first, before assisting the Netherlands in its national obligations.

In 1933 the Oost-Indisch Leger was renamed Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indsch Leger (KNIL), or the Royal Netherlands Indies Army. During that time, the KNIL numbered around 35,000 men, of which 5,000 were deployed from the Netherlands. In addition, there was a militia (landsturm) that fielded a force of 8,000 men. The KNIL operated training facilities at Meester Cornelis and Magelang on the island of Java for all branches, as well as its small armor force. The air forces of the colony operated second-rate aircraft from counties such as the United States and Great Britain. The navy remained under the control of the Royal Netherlands Navy, and consisted of three cruisers, seven destroyers, a number of smaller ships, and fifteen submarines.

With the German invasion and occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, the colony became one of the last areas of Dutch control. But the East Indies soon found itself facing an outside foe in Japan. The Netherlands declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, but faced invasion in January 1942. The Japanese conquest of Indonesia lasted roughly three months. The KNIL found itself overwhelmed by the Japanese military forces, and the fighting renewed regional guerrilla activity in the field. The Dutch prisoners were sent to labor and prison camps, and native KNIL troops were given the opportunity to join the Japanese local forces, known as PETA (Pembela Tanah Air).

In 1945 Australian and Dutch forces landed in Tarakan to begin the liberation of the Dutch colony. The Japanese formally surrendered, and agreed to return the East Indies to the Dutch in August 1945. PETA units soon converted into an active revolutionary front against the Allied forces to win freedom for Indonesia. A month later, the government of the Netherlands East Indies was formally back in power, and KNIL prisoners were ordered back into service to regain control over the colony.

For a period of five years, the KNIL units fought to reestablish their colony against the Indonesian independence movement. Regular Royal Dutch Army units soon joined the KNIL in an attempt to win back their former colony. The KNIL units were mostly made up of troops of Dutch citizenry, and the total Dutch commitment ranged from 20,000 to 92,000 troops fighting in Indonesia. One of the worse units was the Korps Speciale Troepen, which was led by Captain Raymond Westerling (1919–1987). This force was similar to the Korps Marechaussee, and war crimes were committed to control the growth of the rebellion. In 1947 roughly 3,000 people were executed by elements of the KNIL over a period of two months. Due to pressure from the international community and a successful guerrilla movement, the Netherlands agreed to transfer control to the new Republic of Indonesia on November 2, 1949.

On July 20, 1950, the KNIL was officially disbanded by the government of the Netherlands. The effects of this force on Indonesian politics were still being felt after the collapse of the Dutch colonial administration. Much of the military training of the early leaders of the Indonesian independence movement was obtained when the men served as privates and noncommissioned officers of the KNIL. One example was Suharto (b. 1921), president of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, who rose from private to sergeant in the KNIL before World War II.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Brown, Colin. A Short History of Indonesia: The Unlikely Nation? Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2003. Gimon, Charles A. ‘‘Sejarah Indonesia: An Online Timeline of Indonesian History.’’ Available from Klerck, E. S. de. History of the Netherlands East Indies, Vol. 2. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Brusse, 1938. Poeze, Harry A. ‘‘Political Intelligence in the Netherlands Indies.’’ In The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies, 1880–1942, edited by Robert Cribb, 229-243. Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV, 1994. Vandenbosch, Amry. The Dutch East Indies: Its Documents, Problems, and Politics. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942. van den Doel, H. W. ‘‘Military Rule in the Netherlands Indies.’’ In The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies, 1880–1942, edited by Robert Cribb, 1-75. Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV, 1994. Willmott, H. P. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies to April 1942. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982.





Charleston defenses, Belmont battlefield.


On the evening of the 6th of November, 1861, I received instructions from General Grant to proceed down the Mississippi with the wooden gun-boats Taylor and Lexington on a reconnaissance, and as convoy to some half-dozen transport steamers; but I did not know the character of the service expected of me until I anchored for the night, seven or eight miles below Cairo. Early the next morning, while the troops were being landed near Belmont, Missouri, opposite Columbus, Kentucky, I attacked the Confederate batteries, at the request of General Grant, as a diversion, which was done with some effect. But the superiority of the enemy’s batteries on the bluffs at Columbus, both in the number and the quality of his guns, was so great that it would have been too hazardous to have remained long under his fire with such frail vessels as the Taylor and Lexington, which were only expected to protect the land forces in case of a repulse. Having accomplished the object of the attack, the gun-boats withdrew, but returned twice during the day and renewed the contest. During the last of these engagements a cannon-ball passed obliquely through the side, deck, and scantling of the Taylor, killing one man and wounding others. This convinced me of the necessity of withdrawing my vessels, which had been moving in a circle to confuse the enemy’s gunners. We fired a few more broadsides, therefore, and, perceiving that the firing had ceased at Belmont, an ominous circumstance, I returned to the landing, to protect the army and transports. In fact, the destruction of the gun-boats would have involved the loss of our army and our depot at Cairo, the most important one in the West. Soon after we returned to the landing place our troops began to appear, and the officers of the gun-boats were warned by General McClernand of the approach of the enemy. The Confederates came en masse through a corn-field, and opened with musketry and light artillery upon the transports, which were filled or being filled with our retreating soldiers. A well-directed fire from the gun-boats made the enemy fly in the greatest confusion.

Our men charged through, making the victory complete, giving us possession of their camp and garrison equipage, artillery, and everything else. We got a great many prisoners. The majority, however, succeeded in getting aboard their steamers and pushing across the river. We burned everything possible and started back, having accomplished all that we went for and even more. Belmont is entirely covered by the batteries from Columbus, and is worth nothing as a military position – cannot be held without Columbus. The object of the expedition was to prevent the enemy from sending a force into Missouri to cut off troops I had sent there for a special purpose, and to prevent reinforcing Price. Besides being well fortified at Columbus, their number far exceeded ours, and it would have been folly to have attacked them. We found the Confederates well-armed and brave. On our return, stragglers that had been left in our rear (now front) fired into us, and more re-crossed the river, and gave us battle for a full mile, and afterward at the boats when we were embarking. There was no hasty retreating or running away. Taking into account the object of the expedition, the victory was complete.

Admiral Foote was at St. Louis when the battle of Belmont was fought, and, it appears, made no report to the Secretary of the Navy of the part which the gun-boats took in the action. Neither did he send my official report to the Navy Department. The officers of the vessels were highly complimented by General Grant for the important aid they rendered in this battle; and in his second official report of the action he made references to my report. It was impossible for me to inform the flag-officer of the General’s intentions, which were kept perfectly secret.

During the winter of 1861-2 an expedition was planned by Flag-Officer Foote and Generals Grant and McClernand against Fort Henry, situated on the eastern bank of the Tennessee River, a short distance south of the line between Kentucky and Tennessee. In January the iron-clads were brought down to Cairo, and great efforts were made to prepare them for immediate service, but only four of the iron-clads could be made ready as soon as required. They were the Essex, Captain Wm. D. Porter, mounting four nine-inch guns; the Cincinatti; flag-steamer, Commander Stemble; the Carondelet, Commander Walke; and the St. Louis, Lieutenant-Commander Paulding. Each of the last three carried four seven-inch rifled, three eight-inch shell, and six thirty-two-pound guns.
On the morning of the 2d of February, the flag-officer left Cairo with the four armored vessels above named, and the wooden gun-boats Taylor, Lexington, and Conestoga, and in the evening reached the Tennessee River. On the 4th the fleet anchored six miles below Fort Henry. The next day, while reconnoitering, the Essex received a shot which passed through the pantry and the officers’ quarters and visited the steerage. On the 5th the flag-officer inspected the officers and crew at quarters, addressed them, and offered a prayer.

Heavy rains had been falling, and the river had risen rapidly to an unusual height; the swift current brought down an immense quantity of heavy drift-wood, lumber, fences, and large trees, and it required all the steam-power of the Carondelet, with both anchors down, and the most strenuous exertions of the officers and crew, working day and night, to prevent the boat from being dragged down-stream. This adversity appeared to dampen the ardor of our crew, but when the next morning they saw a large number of white objects, which through the fog looked like polar bears, coming down the stream, and ascertained that they were the enemy’s torpedoes forced from their moorings by the powerful current, they took heart, regarding the freshet as providential and as a presage of victory. The overflowing river, which opposed our progress, swept away in broad daylight this hidden peril; for if the torpedoes had not been disturbed, or had broken loose at night while we were shoving the drift-wood from our bows, some of them would surely have exploded near or under our vessels.

The 6th dawned mild and cheering, with a light breeze, sufficient to clear away the smoke. At 10:20 the flag-officer made the signal to prepare for battle, and at 10:50 came the order to get under way and steam up to Panther Island, about two miles below Fort Henry. At 11:35, having passed the foot of the island, we formed in line and approached the fort four abreast, — the Essex on the right, then the Cincinatti, Carondelet, and St. Louis. The last two, for want of room, were interlocked, and remained in that position during the fight.

As we slowly passed up this narrow stream, not a sound could be heard or a moving object seen in the dense woods which overhung the dark swollen river. The gun-crews of the Carondelet stood silent at their posts, impressed with the serious and important character of the service before them. About noon the fort and the Confederate flag came suddenly into view, the barracks, the new earthworks, and the great guns well manned. The captains of our guns were men-of-war’s men, good shots, and had their men well drilled.

The flag-steamer, the Cincinatti, fired the first shot as the signal for the others to begin. At once the fort responded from her eleven heavy guns, and was ablaze with the flame of cannon. The wild whistle of their rifle shells was heard on every side of us. On the Carondelet not a word was spoken more than at ordinary drill, except when Matthew Arthur, captain of the starboard bow-gun, asked permission to fire at one or two of the enemy’s retreating vessels, as he could not at that time bring his gun to bear on the fort. He fired one shot, which passed through the upper cabin of a hospital-boat, whose flag was not seen, but injured no one. The Carondelet was struck in about thirty places by the enemy’s heavy shot and shell. Eight struck within two feet of the bow-ports, leading to the boilers, around which barricades had been built — a precaution which I always took before going into action, and which on several occasions prevented an explosion. The Carondelet fired one hundred and seven shell and solid shot; none of her officers or crew was killed or wounded.

The firing from the armored vessels was rapid and well sustained from the beginning of the attack, and seemingly accurate, as we could occasionally see the earth thrown in great heaps over the enemy’s guns. Nor was the fire of the Confederates to be despised; their heavy shot broke and scattered our iron-plating as if it had been putty, and often passed completely through the case-mates. But our old men-of-war’s men, captains of the guns, proud to show their worth in battle, infused life and courage into their young comrades. And when these experienced gunners saw a shot coming toward a port, they had the coolness and discretion to order their men to bow down, to save their heads.

After nearly an hour’s hard fighting, the captain of the Essex, going below, addressed the officers and crew, complimented the first division for their splendid execution, and asked them if they did not want to rest and give three cheers, which were given with a will. But the feelings of joy and the bright anticipations of victory on board the Essex were suddenly changed by a terrible calamity, which I cannot better describe than by quoting from a letter to me from Jarnes Laning, second master of the Essex. He says:

“A shot from the enemy pierced the casemate just above the port-hole on the port side, then through the middle boiler, killing in its flight Acting Master’s Mate S. B. Brittan, Jr., and opening a chasm for the escape of the scalding steam and water. The scene which followed was almost indescribable. The writer, who had gone aft in obedience to orders only a few moments before (and was thus providentially saved), was met by Fourth Master Walker, followed by a crowd of men rushing aft. Walker called to me to go back; that a shot from the enemy had carried away the steam-pipe. I at once ran to the stern of the vessel, and looking out of the stern-port, saw a number of our brave fellows struggling in the water. The steam and hot water in the forward gun-deck had driven all who were able to get out of the ports overboard, except a few who were fortunate enough to cling to the casemate outside. When the explosion took place Captain Porter was standing directly in front of the boilers, with his aide, Mr. Brittan, at his side. He at once rushed for the port-hole on the starboard side, and threw himself out, expecting to go into the river. A seaman, John Walker, seeing his danger, caught him around the waist, and supporting him with one hand, clung to the vessel with the other, until, with the assistance of another seaman, who came to the rescue, they succeeded in getting the captain upon a narrow guard or projection, which ran around the vessel, and thus enabled him to make his way outside to the after-port, where I met him. Upon speaking to him, he told me he was badly hurt, and that I must hunt for Mr. Riley, the First Master, and if he was disabled I must take command of the vessel, and man the battery again. Mr. Riley was unharmed, and already in the discharge of his duties as Captain Porter’s successor. In a very few minutes after the explosion our gallant ship (which, in the language of Flag Officer Foote had fought most effectually through two thirds of the engagement) was drifting slowly away from the scene of action; her commander badly wounded, a number of her officers and crew dead at their post, while many others were writhing in their last agony. As soon as the scalding steam would admit, the forward gun-deck was explored. The pilots, who were both in the pilot-house, were scalded to death. Marshall Ford, who was steering when the explosion took place, was found at his post at the wheel, standing erect, his left hand holding the spoke and his right hand grasping the signal-bell rope. A seaman named James Coffey, who was shot-man to the No. 2 gun, was on his knees, in the act of taking a shell from the box to be passed to the loader. The escaping steam and hot water had struck him square in the face, and he met death in that position. When I told Captain Porter that we were victorious, he immediately rallied, and, raising himself on his elbow, called for three cheers, and gave two himself, falling exhausted on the mattress in his effort to give the third. A seaman named Jasper P. Breas, who was badly scalded, sprang to his feet, exclaiming: ‘Surrendered! I must see that with my own eyes before I die.’ Before anyone could interfere, he clambered up two short flights of stairs to the spar-deck. He shouted ‘Glory to God!’ and sank exhausted on the deck. Poor Jasper died that night.”

The Essex before the accident had fired seventy shots from her two nine-inch guns. A powder boy, Job Phillips, fourteen years of age, coolly marked down upon the casemate every shot his gun had fired, and his account was confirmed by the gunner in the magazine. Her loss in killed, wounded, and missing was thirty-two.

The St. Louis was struck seven times. She fired one hundred and seven shots during the action. No one on board the vessel was killed or wounded.

Flag-Officer Foote during the action was in the pilot-house of the Cincinatti, which received thirty-two shots. Her chimneys, after cabin, and boats were completely riddled. Two of her guns were disabled. The only fatal shot she received passed through the larboard front, killing one man and wounding several others. I happened to be looking at the flag-steamer when one of the enemy’s heavy shot struck her. It had the effect, apparently, of a thunder-bolt, ripping her side timbers and scattering the splinters over the vessel. She did not slacken her speed, but moved on as though nothing unexpected had happened.

From the number of times the gun-boats were struck, it would appear that the Confederate artillery practice, at first, at least, was as good, if not better, than ours. This, however, was what might have been expected, as the Confederate gunners had the advantage of practicing on the ranges the gun-boats would probably occupy as they approached the fort. The officers of the gunboats, on the contrary, with guns of different caliber and unknown range, and without practice, could not point their guns with as much accuracy. To counterbalance this advantage of the enemy, the gun-boats were much better protected by their casemates for distant firing than the fort by its fresh earthworks. The Confederate soldiers fought as valiantly and as skillfully as the Union sailors. Only after a most determined resistance, and after all his heavy guns had been silenced, did General Tilghman lower his flag. The Confederate loss, as reported, was six killed and nine or ten wounded. The prisoners, including the general and his staff, numbered about eighty, the remainder of the garrison, about 3100 men, having escaped to Fort Donelson.
Our gun-boats continued to approach the fort until General Tilghman, with two or three of his staff, came off in a small boat to the Cincinatti and surrendered the fort to Flag-Officer Foote, who sent for me, introduced me to General Tilghman, and gave me orders to take command of the fort and hold it until the arrival of General Grant.

General Tilghman was a soldierly-looking man, a little above medium height, with piercing black eyes and a resolute, intelligent expression of countenance. He was dignified and courteous, and won the respect and sympathy of all who became acquainted with him. In his official report of the battle he said that his officers and men fought with the greatest bravery until 1:50 P.M., when seven of his eleven guns were disabled; and, finding it impossible to defend the fort, and wishing to spare the lives of his gallant men, after consultation with his officers he surrendered the fort.

It was reported at the time that, in surrendering to Flag-Officer Foote, the Confederate general said, “I am glad to surrender to so gallant an officer,” and that Foote replied,” You do perfectly right, sir, in surrendering, but you should have blown my boat out of the water before I would have surrendered to you.” I was with Foote soon after the surrender, and I cannot believe that such a reply was made by him. He was too much of a gentleman to say anything calculated to wound the feelings of an officer who had defended his post with signal courage and fidelity, and whose spirits were clouded by the adverse fortunes of war.

When I took possession of the fort the Confederate surgeon was laboring with his coat off to relieve and save the wounded; and although the officers and crews of the gun-boat gave three hearty cheers when the Confederate flag was hauled down, the first inside view of the fort sufficed to suppress every feeling of exultation and to excite our deepest pity. On every side the blood of the dead and wounded was intermingled with the earth and their implements of war. Their largest gun, a 128-pounder, was dismounted and filled with earth by the bursting of one of our shells near its muzzle; the carriage of another was broken to pieces, and two dead men lay near it, almost covered with heaps of earth; a rifled gun had burst, throwing its mangled gunners into the water. But few of the garrison escaped unhurt.

General Grant, with his staff, rode into the fort about three o’clock on the same day, and relieved me of the command. The general and staff then accompanied me on board the Carondelet (anchored near the fort), where he complimented the officers of the flotilla in the highest terms for the gallant manner in which they had captured Fort Henry. He had expected his troops to take part in a land attack, but the heavy rains had made the direct roads to the fort almost impassable.

The wooden gun-boats Conestoga, Commander S. L. Phelps, Taylor, Lieutenant Commander William Gwin, and Lexington, Lieutenant J. W. Shirk, engaged the enemy at long range in the rear of the iron-clads, After the battle they pursued the enemy’s transports up the river, and the Conestoga captured the steamer Eastport. The news of the capture of Fort Henry was received with great rejoicing all over the North.

On the 7th I received on board the Carondelet Colonels Webster, Rawlins, and McPherson, with a company of troops, and under instructions from General Grant proceeded up the Tennessee River, and completed the destruction of the bridge of the Memphis and Bowling Green Railroad.

On returning from my expedition up the Tennessee River, General Grant requested me to hasten to Fort Donelson with the Carondelet, Taylor, and Lexington, and announce my arrival by firing signal guns. The object of this movement was to take possession of the river as soon as possible, and to engage the enemy’s attention by making formidable demonstrations before the fort, and prevent it from being reinforced. On February 10th the Carondelet alone (towed by the transport Alps) proceeded up the Cumberland River, and on the 12th arrived a few miles below the fort.
Fort Donelson occupied one of the best defensive positions on the river. It was built on a bold bluff about one hundred and twenty feet in height, on the west side of the river, where it makes a slight bend to the eastward. It had three batteries, mounting in all sixteen guns; the lower battery, about twenty feet above the water, had eight 32-pounders, and one 128- pounder; the second, about fifty feet above the water, was of about equal strength; the third, on the summit, had three or four heavy field-guns, or siege-guns, as they appeared to us from a distance.

When the Carondelet, her tow being cast off, came in sight of the fort and proceeded up to within long range of the batteries, not a living creature could be seen. The hills and woods on the west side of the river hid part of the enemy’s formidable defences, which were lightly covered with snow; but the black rows of heavy guns, pointing down on us, reminded me of the dismal-looking sepulchers cut in the rocky cliffs near Jerusalem, but far more repulsive. At 12:50 P. M., to unmask the silent enemy, and to announce my arrival to General Grant, I ordered the bow-guns to be fired at the fort. Only one shell fell short. There was no response except the echo from the hills. The fort appeared to have been evacuated. After firing ten shells into it the Carondelet dropped down the river about three miles and anchored. But the sound of her guns aroused our soldiers on the southern side of the fort into action; one report says that when they heard the guns of the avant courier of the fleet, they gave cheer upon cheer, and rather than permit the sailors to get ahead of them again, they engaged in skirmishes with the enemy, and began the terrible battle of the three days following. On the Carondelet we were isolated and beset with dangers from the enemy’s lurking sharp-shooters.

On the 13th a dispatch was received from General Grant, informing me that he had arrived the day before, and had succeeded in getting his army in position, almost entirely investing the enemy’s works. “Most of our batteries,” he said, “are established, and the remainder soon will be. If you will advance with your gun-boat at ten o’clock in the morning, we will be ready to take advantage of any diversion in our favor.”

I immediately complied with these instructions, and at 9:05, with the Carondelet alone and under cover of a heavily wooded point, fired one hundred and thirty-nine seventy-pound and sixty-four-pound shells at the fort. We received in return the fire of all the enemy’s guns that could be brought to bear on the Carondelet, which sustained but little damage, except from two shots. One, a 128-pound solid, at 11:30 struck the corner of our port broadside casemate, passed through it, and in its progress toward the center of our boilers glanced over the temporary barricade in front of the boilers. It then passed over the steam-drum, struck the beams of the upper deck, carried away the railing around the engine-room and burst the steam-heater, and, glancing back into the engine-room, “seemed to bound after the men,” as one of the engineers said, “like a wild beast pursuing its prey.” I have preserved this ball as a souvenir of the fight at Fort Donelson. When it burst through the side of the Carondelet, it knocked down and wounded a dozen men, seven of them severely. An immense quantity of splinters was blown through the vessel. Some of them, as fine as needles, shot through the clothes of the men like arrows. Several of the wounded were so much excited by the suddenness of the event and the sufferings of their comrades that they were not aware that they themselves had been struck until they felt the blood running into their shoes. Upon receiving this shot we ceased firing for a while.

After dinner we sent the wounded on board the Alps, repaired damage, and, not expecting any assistance, at 12:15 we resumed, in accordance with General Grant’s request, and bombarded the fort until dusk, when nearly all our ten-inch and fifteen-inch shells were expended. The firing from the shore having ceased, we retired. We could not ascertain the amount of damage inflicted on the fort, but were told by its officers, and by correspondents who visited it after the capture, that we disabled three guns and killed an engineer. The whole number of the killed and wounded could not be ascertained. The commander of the Confederate batteries acknowledged that the casualties were greater and the damage to the guns more serious on the day of the Carondelet’s attack than on the following day, when the whole fleet was engaged. The practice of the gunners of the Carondelet, being much more deliberate on the first day of the battle (owing to ample time and a partly sheltered position), must have been far superior to the practice of the gunners of the fleet on the second day, under the excitement and hurry of an attack at close quarters, with the enemy’s heavy shot constantly striking and crashing through the sides of their vessels.

At 11:30 on the night of the 13th Flag-Officer Foote arrived below Fort Donelson with the iron-clads St. Louis, Louisville, and, Pittsburgh and the wooden gun-boats Taylor and Conestoga. On the 14th all the hard materials in the vessels, such as chains, lumber, and bags of coal, were laid on the upper decks to protect them from the plunging shots of the enemy. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon our fleet advanced to attack the fort, the Louisville being on the west side of the river, the St. Louis (flag-steamer) next, then the Pittsburgh and Carondelet on the east side of the river. The wooden gun-boats were about a thousand yards in the rear. When we started in line abreast, at a moderate speed, the Louisville and Pittsburgh, not keeping up to their positions, were hailed from the flag-steamer to “steam up.” At 3:30, when about a mile and a half from the fort, two shots were fired at us, both falling short. When within a mile of the fort the St. Louis opened fire, and the other iron-clads followed, slowly and deliberately at first, but more rapidly as the fleet advanced. The flag officer hailed the Carondelet, and ordered us not to fire so fast. Some of our shells went over the fort, and almost into our camp beyond. As we drew nearer, the enemy’s fire greatly increased in force and effect. But, the officers and crew of the Carondelet having recently been long under fire, and having become practiced in fighting, her gunners were as cool and composed as old veterans. We heard the deafening crack of the bursting shells, the crash of the solid shot, and the whizzing of fragments of shell and wood as they sped through the vessel. Soon a 128-pounder struck our anchor, smashed it into flying bolts, and bounded over the vessel, taking away a part of our smokestack; then another cut away the iron boat davits as if they were pipe-stems, whereupon the boat dropped into the water. Another ripped up the iron plating and glanced over; another went through the plating and lodged in the heavy casemate; another struck the pilot-house, knocked the plating to pieces, and sent fragments of iron and splinters into the pilots, one of whom fell mortally wounded, and was taken below; another shot took away the remaining boat-davits and the boat with them; and still they came, harder and faster, taking flag-staffs and smoke-stacks, and tearing off the side armor as lightning tears the bark from a tree. Our men fought desperately, but, under the excitement of the occasion, loaded too hastily, and the port rifled gun exploded. One of the crew, in his account of the explosion soon after it occurred, said: “I was serving the gun with shell. When it exploded it knocked us all down, killing none, but wounding over a dozen men, and spreading dismay and confusion among us. For about two minutes I was stunned, and at least five minutes elapsed before I could tell what was the matter. When I found out that I was more scared than hurt, although suffering from the gunpowder which I had inhaled, I looked forward and saw our gun lying on the deck, split in three pieces. Then the cry ran through the boat that we were on fire, and my duty as pump-man called me to the pumps. While I was there, two shots entered our bow-ports and killed four men and wounded several others. They were borne past me, three with their heads off. The sight almost sickened me, and I turned my head away. Our master’s mate came soon after and ordered us to our quarters at the gun. I told him the gun had burst, and that we had caught fire on the upper deck from the enemy’s shell. He then said: ‘Never mind the fire; go to your quarters.’ There I took a station at the starboard tackle of another rifled bow-gun and remained there until the close of the fight.” The carpenter and his men extinguished the flames.

When within four hundred yards of the fort, and while the Confederates were running from their lower battery, our pilot-house was struck again and another pilot wounded, our wheel was broken, and shells from the rear boats were bursting over us. All four of our boats were shot away and dragging in the water. On looking out to bring our broadside guns to bear, we saw that the other gun-boats were rapidly falling back out of line. The Pittsburgh in her haste to turn struck the stern of the Carondelet, and broke our starboard rudder, so that we were obliged to go ahead to clear the Pittsburgh and the point of rocks below. The pilot of the St. Louis was killed and the pilot of the Louisville was wounded. Both vessels had their wheel-ropes shot away, and the men were prevented from steering the Louisville with the tiller-ropes at the stern by the shells from the rear boats bursting over them. The St. Louis and Louisville, becoming unmanageable, were compelled to drop out of battle, and the Pittsburgh followed; all had suffered severely from the enemy’s fire. Flag-Officer Foote was wounded while standing by the pilot of the St. Louis when he was killed. We were then about 350 yards from the fort.
There was no alternative for the Carondelet in that narrow stream but to keep her head to the enemy and fire into the fort with her two bow-guns, to prevent it, if possible, from returning her fire effectively. The enemy saw that she was in a manner left to his mercy, and concentrated the fire of all his batteries upon her. In return, the Carondelet guns were well served to the last shot. Our new acting gunner, John Hall, was just the man for the occasion. He came forward, offered his services, and with my sanction took charge of the starboard-bow rifled gun. He instructed the men to obey his warnings and follow his motions, and he told them that when he saw a shot coming he would call out “Down” and stoop behind the breech of the gun as he did so; at the same instant the men were to stand away from the bow-ports. Nearly every shot from the fort struck the bows of the Carondelet. Most of them were fired on the ricochet level, and could be plainly seen skipping on the water before they struck. The enemy’s object was to sink the gun-boat by striking her just below the water-line. They soon succeeded in planting two thirty-two pound shots in her bow, between wind and water, which made her leak badly, but her compartments kept her from sinking until we could plug up the shot-holes. Three shots struck the starboard casemating; four struck the port casemating forward of the rifle-gun; one struck on the starboard side, between the water-line and plank-sheer, cutting through the planking; six shots struck the pilot-house, shattering one section into pieces and cutting through the iron casing. The smoke-stacks were riddled.

Our gunners kept up a constant firing while we were falling back; and the warning words, “Look out!” “Down!” were often heard, and heeded by nearly all the gun-crews. On one occasion, while the men were at the muzzle of the middle bow-gun, loading it, the warning came just in time for them to jump aside as a thirty-two-pounder struck the lower sill, and glancing up struck the upper sill, then, falling on the inner edge of the lower sill, bounded on deck and spun around like a top, but hurt no one. It was very evident that if the men who were loading had not obeyed the order to drop, several of them would have been killed, so I repeated the instructions and warned the men at the guns and the crew generally to bow or stand off from the ports when a shot was seen coming. But some of the young men, from a spirit of bravado or from a belief in the doctrine of fatalism, disregarded the instructions, saying it was useless to attempt to dodge a cannonball, and then would trust to luck. The warning words, “Look out!” “Dow’n!” were again soon heard; down went the gunner and his men, as the whizzing shot glanced on the gun, taking off the gunner’s cap and the heads of two of the young men who trusted to luck, and in defiance of the order were standing up or passing behind him. This shot killed another man also, who was at the last gun of the starboard side, and disabled the gun. It came in with a hissing sound; three sharp spats and a heavy bang told the sad fate of three brave comrades. Before the decks were well sanded, there was so much blood on them that our men could not work the guns without slipping.

We kept firing at the enemy so long as he was within range, to prevent him, if possible, from seeing us through the smoke. The Carondelet was the first in and the last out of the fight at Fort Donelson, and was more damaged than any of the other gun-boats, as the boat carpenters who repaired them subsequently informed me. She was much longer under fire than any other vessel of the flotilla; and, according to the report of the Secretary of the Navy, her loss in killed and wounded was twice as great as that of all the other gunboats together. She fired more shot and shell into Fort Donelson than any other gun-boat, and was struck fifty-four times. These particulars are given because a disposition was shown by correspondents and naval historians to ignore the services of the Carondelet on this and other occasions.

In the action of the 14th all of the armored vessels were fought with the greatest energy, skill, and courage, until disabled by the enemy’s heavy shot. In his official report of the battle the flag-officer said:” The officers and men in this hotly contested but unequal fight behaved with the greatest gallantry and determination” The casualties on board the boats were ten killed and forty-four wounded.

Although the gun-boats were repulsed in this action, the demoralizing effect of their cannonade, and of the heavy and well-sustained fire of the Carondelet on the day before, must have been very great, and contributed in no small degree to the successful operations of the army under General Grant on the following day.

After the battle I called upon the flag officer, and found him suffering from his wounds. He asked me if I could have run past the fort, something I should not have ventured upon without permission.

The 15th was employed in the burial of our slain comrades. I read the Episcopal service on board the Carondelet, under our flag at half-mast; and the sailors bore their late companions to a lonely field within the shadows of the hills. When they were about to lower the first coffin, a Roman Catholic priest appeared, and his services being accepted, he read the prayers for the dead, and in the course of his remarks said: “although the deceased did not die like Christians, they died like heroes, in defense of their country and flag.” As the last service was ended, the sound of the battle being waged by General Grant, like the rumbling of distant thunder, was the only requiem for our departed shipmates.

On Sunday, the 16th, at dawn, Fort Donelson surrendered and the gun-boats steamed up to Dover. After religious services, the Carondelet proceeded to Cairo, and arrived there on the morning of the 17th, in such a dense fog that she passed below the town unnoticed, and had great difficulty in finding the landing. There had been a report that the enemy was coming from Columbus to attack Cairo during the absence of its defenders; and while the Carondelet was cautiously feeling her way back and blowing her whistle, some people imagined she was a Confederate gun-boat about to land, and made hasty preparations to leave the place. Our announcement of the victory at Fort Donelson changed their dejection into joy and exultation. On the following morning an order congratulating the officers and men of the Carondelet was received from Flag-Officer Foote.

A few days later the Carondelet was taken up on the ways at Cairo for repairs; and a crowd of carpenters worked on her night and day. After the repairs were completed, she was ordered to make the experiment of backing up stream, which proved a laughable failure. She would sheer from one side of the river to the other, and with two anchors astern she could not be held steady enough to fight her bow-guns downstream. She dragged both anchors alternately, until they came together, and the experiment failed completely.

On the morning of the 23rd the flag-officer made a reconnaissance to Columbus, Kentucky, with four gun-boats and two mortar boats, accompanied by the wooden gun-boat Conestoga, convoying five transports. The fortifications looked more formidable than ever. The enemy fired two guns, and sent up a transport with the pretext, it was said, of effecting an exchange of prisoners. But at that time, as we learned afterward from a credible source, the evacuation of the fort (which General Grant’s successes at Forts Henry and Donelson had made necessary) was going on, and the last raft and barge loads of all the movable munitions of war were descending the river, which, with a large quantity previously taken away, could and would have been captured by our fleet if we had received this information in time. On the 4th of March another reconnaissance in force was made with all the gun-boats and eight mortar-boats, and the fortress had still a formidable, life-like appearance, caused by Quaker guns, however, as it had been evacuated two days before.

On the 5th of March, while we were descending the Mississippi in a dense fog, the flag-steamer leading, the Confederate gunboat Grampus, or Dare-devil Jack, the sauciest little vessel on the river, suddenly appeared across our track and “close aboard.” She stopped her engines and struck her colors, and we all thought she was ours at last. But when the captain of the Grampus saw how slowly we moved, and as no gun was fired to bring him to, he started off with astonishing speed and was out of danger before the flag-steamer could fire a gun. She ran before us yawing and flirting about, and blowing her alarm-whistle so as to announce our approach to the enemy who had now retired to Island Number Ten, a strong position sixty miles below Columbus (and of the latitude of Forts Henry and Donelson), where General Beauregard, who was now in general command of our opponents, had determined to contest the possession of the river.
By Admiral Henry Walke

Operations of the Western Flotilla




USS Carondelet

At the beginning of the war, the army and navy were mostly employed in protecting the loyal people who resided on the borders of the disaffected states and in reconciling those whose sympathies were opposed. But the defeat at Manassas and other reverses convinced the Government of the serious nature of the contest, and of the necessity of more vigorous and extensive preparations for war.

Our navy yards were soon filled with workmen; recruiting stations for unemployed seamen were established, and we soon had more sailors than were required for the ships that could be fitted for service. Artillerymen for the defences of Washington being scarce, five hundred of these sailors, with a battalion of marines (for guard duty), were sent to occupy the forts on Shuter’s Hill, near Alexandria. The Pensacola and the Potomac flotilla and the seaboard navy yards required nearly all of the remaining unemployed seamen.
While Foote was improvising a flotilla for the western rivers he was making urgent appeals to the government for seamen. Finally someone at the Navy Department thought of the five hundred tars stranded on Shuter’s Hill. And obtained an order for their transfer to Cairo, where they were placed on the receiving ship Maria Denning. There they met fresh-water sailors from our great lakes, and steam-boat hands from the Western rivers. Of the seamen from the East, there were Maine lumbermen, New Bedford whalers, New York liners, and Philadelphia sea-lawyers. The foreigners enlisted were mostly Irish, with a few English and Scotch, French, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes. The Northmen, considered the hardiest race in the world, melted away in the Southern sun with surprising rapidity.

On the gun-boat Carondelet were more young men perhaps than on any other vessel in the fleet. Philadelphians were in the majority; Bostonians came next, with a sprinkling from other cities, and just enough men-o’-war’s men to leaven the lump with naval discipline. The St. Louis had more than its share of men-o’-war’s men, Lieutenant-Commander Paulding having had the first choice of a full crew, and having secured all the frigate Sabine’s reenlisted men who had been sent West.

During the spring and summer of 1861, Commanders Rodgers, Stemble, Phelps, and Mr. James B. Eads had purchased, equipped, and manned, for immediate service on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, three wooden gunboats — the Taylor, of six eight-inch shell guns and one thirty-two pounder; the Lexington, of four eight-inch shell-guns and one thirty-two pounder, and the Conestoga, of three thirty-two pounder guns. This nucleus of the Mississippi flotilla (like the fleets of Perry, Macdonough, and Chauncey in the war of 1812) was completed with great skill and dispatch; they soon had full possession of the Western rivers above Columbus, Kentucky, and rendered more important service than as many regiments could have done. On October 12, 1861, the first of the seven iron-clad gunboats ordered of Mr. Eads by the Government was launched at Carondelet, near St. Louis. She was named the St. Louis by Admiral Foote; but there being another vessel of that name in the navy, she was afterward called the De Kalb. The other ironclads, the Cincinnati, Carondelet, Louisville, Mound City, Cairo, and Pittsburgh, were launched soon after the St. Louis. Mr. Eads having pushed forward the work with most commendable zeal and energy. Two of these were built at Mound City, III. To the fleet of iron-clads above named were added the Benton (the largest and best vessel of the Western flotilla), the Essex, and a few smaller and partly armored gun-boats.

Flag-Officer Foote arrived at St. Louis on September 6th, and assumed command of the Western flotilla. He had been my fellow midshipman in 1827, on board the United States ship Natchez, of the West India squadron, and was then a promising young officer. At Pensacola, in the fall of 1828, the ship was visited with yellow fever; and we had to go ashore and encamp on Santa Rosa Island, clean out and disinfect the ship, and sail to New York to escape the pestilence. From the Natchez Foote was transferred to the Hornet, of the same squadron, and was appointed her sailing-master. After he left the Natchez, we never met again until February, 1861, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he was the executive officer. Foote, Schenck, and myself were then the only survivors of the midshipmen of the Natchez, in her cruise of 1827, and now I am the only officer left.
During the cruise of 1827, while pacing the deck at night, on the lonely seas, and talking with a pious shipmate, Foote became convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, of which he was an earnest professor to the last. He rendered important service while in command of the brig Perry, on the coast of Africa, in 1849, in suppressing the slave trade, and he greatly distinguished himself by his skill and gallantry in the attack upon the Barrier Forts, near Canton (1856), which he breached and carried by assault, leading the assailing column in person. He was slow and cautious in arriving at conclusions, but firm and tenacious of purpose. He has been called “the Stonewall Jackson of the Navy.” He often preached to his crew on Sundays, and was always desirous of doing good. He was not a man of striking personal appearance, but there was a sailor-like heartiness and frankness about him that made his company very desirable.

Flag-Officer Foote arrived at Cairo September 12th, and relieved Commander John Rodgers of the command of the station. The first operations of the Western flotilla consisted chiefly of reconnaissances on the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers. At this time it was under the control of the War Department, and acting in cooperation with the army under General Grant, whose headquarters were at Cairo.

By Admiral Henry Walke

Khalkhin-Gol (1939)


Khalkhyn Gol, August 1939. Offensive of Soviet BT-7 tanks.


Grigori Shtern, Khorloogiin Choibalsan and Georgy Zhukov at Khalkhin Gol.




Lieutenant General M. Komatsubara’s 23rd Infantry Division had been destroyed utterly – scarcely one man in a hundred escaping – on the empty borderlands of the Khalkhin-Gol river between Outer Mongolia and Manchuria. It was late in 1939, while half a world away Poland bled from the new German Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East) and the Western democracies indulged themselves in the “Phoney War” along the new Siegfried Line, a lonely and disgraced officer of Imperial Japan brought his life to a private end. Komatsubara might now find redemption in the agonizing rite of seppuku: only by ripping out his own entrails with his own short sword might he “prove his sincerity” to the Emperor and his ancestors. But the Khalkhin-Gol disaster was too great to be atoned for by a general’s suicide. It was better that it had not happened at all, and the less attention drawn to it the better. Komatsubara, announced Tokyo inscrutably, had died of “an abdominal ailment”.

The empty steppe country around the Khalkhin-Gol river had represented the farthest fringe of Japanese expansion. China, invaded in 1937, was still unsubdued but the Imperial grip on Manchuria, annexed in 1931, was firm. Here, in the wilderness of the Mongolian Republic, might Soviet strength be tested. Thirty-five years before, Japan’s crushing defeat of the old Tsarist armies had astounded the world; now, perhaps, a border pinprick might develop into a deep thrust at the Trans-Siberian Railway, severing Russia’s spinal column and allowing the rich Soviet Far East with its port of Vladivostok to fall into the lap of the Emperor.

For years, Japan’s highest military councils had been divided into factions advocating either a “Strike North”, at Russia, or “Strike South”, at the western colonies. Emperor Hirohito had already decided upon “Strike South”, which would in the next few years lead to Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore, and ultimately Hiroshima. But in the Army many officers still hankered after an attack on Russia, and the High Command of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria was no exception.

“Border incidents” spanning July–August 1938 at Lake Khasan, near Vladivostok, had shown real Soviet weakness after Stalin’s terrifying purges of the Red Army. A Russian general, Lyushkov, had defected to the Kwantung Army with details of dispositions and stories of discontent. Acting first without Hirohito’s knowledge, and eventually in direct disobedience, the Kwantung command launched an attack on the Russian forces which met with some success until it ran up against superior Soviet armor and airpower. Enraged, Hirohito refused to allow his air force to fly in support of his own disobedient army, and the situation was eventually settled by a diplomatic return to the status quo. But to save his officers from a catastrophic loss of face, the constant problem of the Japanese Imperial regime, he had to let them try again. After a formal ceasefire had been agreed at Lake Khasan, Hirohito approved a General Staff plan for an organized trial of strength farther west, in Mongolia, during the following summer.

The border area chosen by the Japanese staff was beside the Khalkhin-Gol river, for much of its length a frontier between Japanese-occupied Manchuria or Manchukuo to the east and the Outer Mongolian People’s Republic, closely bound to Russia by a mutual-assistance pact in March 1936, to the west. At one point, however, the border bulges east of the river around the village and hill of Nomonhan. On this shallow salient, 46 miles wide, the Japanese planned to test the Soviet pledge to defend Mongolia. The country was steppe, blue-green in the summer with sturdy grass, and populated only by a few tribal herdsmen. East of the river it was more broken, with gullies, dunes, and even a few quicksands.

On 11 May 1939, a few hundred Inner Mongolian horsemen under Japanese control and accompanied by “advisers” from Komatsubara’s 23rd Division, crossed the frontier and rode as far as Nomonhan itself before the villagers alerted their border guards, based in a log fort five miles away on the west bank of the river. The following day, the invaders were driven back across the border in an action that resembled an ancient tribal feud rather than a clash between two twentieth-century super powers: whooping Tskirik horsemen riding rings around their Japanese-led Bargut enemies.

But on 14 May the Inner Mongolians reappeared in strength, and this time they had 300 Japanese cavalry as stiffening. Within a few hours the Tsiriks had been driven back to their garrison positions, and that night the local Russian adviser, Major Bykov, was called in. When he reached the picturesque border fort next morning, he found that the twentieth century had arrived at last in the shape of a Japanese air raid which terrified his Mongolian charges and left the place a ruin. Taking no chances, Bykov at once called in 6th Mongolian Cavalry Division and the few Red Army detachments available. But as these troops massed on the Mongolian side of the Khalkhin-Gol, the Japanese on the east bank melted away. On the night of 22 May, Bykov made a cautious reconnaissance in force across the river. In the quiet rough pasture of Nomonhan the Japanese were waiting. Only after fierce hand-to-hand fighting was Bykov able to fall back to the Khalkhin-Gol.

The game of cat-and-mouse continued. On 25 May Bykov cautiously moved his full strength forward and over the next two days cleared the east bank and reoccupied the deserted village of Nomonhan. By now, about 10,000 men had been involved on the Mongolian side, mainly “constabulary” troops with a few specialist Russian companies. The border incident was rapidly escalating, and at dawn on 28 May it went a stage further. Five thousand Japanese regulars, with an accompanying tribal horde, fell on Bykov’s troops before daybreak. Only the veteran Russian’s canny dispositions enabled him to fall back once more to the river without complete destruction. But the panic button had already been pressed in Moscow and that same evening troops of the Soviet 149th Motorized Infantry Regiment began to arrive, to be sent straight into the fight from their trucks. All that night the battle continued, and the following morning a Soviet–Mongolian counter-attack pushed the Japanese back, once more, to the border with a loss of 400 men.

By now, Moscow was feeling real alarm. Despite accurate intelligence from his master spy Richard Sorge in Tokyo on long-term Japanese planning, Stalin understandably feared the possibility of a disastrous two-front war with Japan and Germany. Accordingly, no effort was to be spared in crushing this Japanese adventure before it threatened all of the Soviet Trans-Baikal. The first step was to release troops from the interior for the mission, and the second was to appoint a commander, someone new, outstanding, trusted, and with a fighting reputation to make. The man Stalin picked was Corps Commander Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov.

Zhukov in 1939 was a tough, 43-year-old cavalryman turned “tankist” and Deputy Commander of the key Belorussian Military District. Squat, barrel-chested, heavy-browed (his name came from the Russian word zhuk, meaning “beetle”) he had fought his way up from the ranks of the Red Army in the Civil War to distinction in every peacetime command he had held. He had been in China, perhaps in Spain; he had survived the bloodletting of the 1937 purges unscathed and was already well-known in the Red Army for his short-tempered, no-nonsense thoroughness. As “the general who never lost a battle” Zhukov was to direct forces and fighting of unsurpassed dimensions in the Russo-German war: 1941 would see him halt Hitler’s offensive outside Moscow, in 1942 he would mastermind the Stalingrad campaign, and in 1945 he would meet the Western Allies in the wreckage of Berlin as the epitome of the ruthless, crushing might of the Soviet war machine. But in June 1939, as he flew out with a small staff to Mongolia, his future career and quite possibly his life depended on victory at Khalkhin-Gol. And victory alone would not be enough. Only the utter destruction of the Japanese would satisfy Stalin.

On 5 June Zhukov arrived at HQ, Soviet 57th Special Corps, the only major Red Army formation in the area. There he found little cheer. The command was hopelessly out of touch with the front, there was not so much as a kilometer of telegraph wire in the area, co-ordination of troops was poor and reconnaissance, though inadequate, clearly showed a Japanese build-up far greater than any mere border conflict would require. Furthermore the Japanese were making full use of air superiority, both for bombing and reconnaissance. Zhukov, with papers in his pocket appointing him local C-in-C if need be, at once took charge. The Corps commander was relieved and sent home and Zhukov threw all his characteristic energies into organizing a defense.

By early July, the Japanese had about 38,000 men, 135 tanks and 225 aircraft concentrated on the frontier east of the Khalkhin-Gol. Soviet and Mongolian forces together amounted to only 12,500 men, though Zhukov had 186 better tanks and 226 armored cars. He would need them. The Japanese plan involved sending a strong force wide around the Soviet left flank, across the river to seize the dominating high ground of Mount Bain-Tsagan. Then, as the main tank-led force attacked along the general front, this outflanking force would surround and destroy the east bank salient from its rear.

According to the Japanese schedule, offensive operations would be over by mid-July and the campaign wound up before the autumn rains. On 2 July, the first attacks pressed into the weak east bank positions and by the end of the day Japanese tanks and infantry were on the river in the Russian third line at some points. But Zhukov was too shrewd a commander to commit his reserves prematurely. Shortly before dawn on 3 July, the Soviet Colonel I. M. Afonin, Chief Adviser to the Mongolian Army, was inspecting Mongolian 6th Cavalry Division defenses on Bain-Tsagin when he stumbled upon Japanese troops who had made a surprise river-crossing by pontoon bridge. The Mongolians, without the training or equipment of their Red Army mentors, were driven off.

As the sun rose the following morning, Zhukov could not fail to appreciate the danger of the situation. The Japanese only had to roll on to the south for the hard-pressed Soviet forces on the east bank to be completely cut off. At once he ordered his armor – practically his only reserve – into action; 11th Tank Brigade was to attack from the north, 7th Mechanized Brigade from the south, and 24th Motorized Infantry Regiment from the NW through the retreating Mongolians. These forces together deployed over 300 fighting vehicles: the Japanese, on both sides of the river, had less than half that. Zhukov wrote in his 1969 memoirs: “It was impossible to delay a counterblow since the enemy, who saw the advance of our tanks, rapidly began to take defensive measures and started bombing our tank columns. The latter had no shelter whatsoever: for hundreds of kilometres around there was not even a bush in sight.”

The speed of the triple-pronged Soviet thrust first startled, then demoralized the Japanese. From 0700 Zhukov’s entire bomber force had been pounding them, and for the first time they felt the weight of the brilliantly organized Russian heavy artillery. By 0900 the advance detachments of Russian armor were arriving in the combat area and at 1045 the full attack went in. The Japanese had had little time to dig in thoroughly; their anti-tank training had always been a weak spot and now they paid the penalty. As the battle raged all that day, it was no longer the Russians who were in danger of encirclement.

An attempt at counter-attack on 4 July was broken up by Red Army aviation and artillery; worse, the single pontoon bridge they had laid across the Khalkhin-Gol was destroyed by Russian bombs. Hundreds of soldiers drowned trying to escape, and Komatsubara was lucky to get across with his HQ. Most of the 10,000-strong Bain-Tsagan assault force lay dead and wounded on the slopes of the little mountain, and when the heaviest fighting ended, on the night of 4–5 July, the Japanese had little cause to celebrate, having lost half the tanks available in Manchuria. And though Soviet 3 July tank losses had been over a hundred, the Red Army had successfully exploited glaring Japanese deficiencies in field and anti-tank (AT) artillery.

But the Kwantung Army was by no means willing to abandon its Mongolian campaign. During the remainder of July, it doubled the force committed, stripping divisions elsewhere of AT units to strengthen the Khalkhin-Gol positions. On 10 August, two full Japanese infantry divisions (7th and 23rd), a Manchukuoan brigade, three cavalry regiments, 182 tanks, 300 armored cars and three artillery regiments with over 450 aircraft were combined into the 75,000-strong Sixth Japanese Army under General Ogisu Rippo. A final general offensive along a 43-mile front was planned for 24 August, after an attack on 23 July got nowhere under Soviet bombardment.

On the Russian side of the hill final victory was far from certain. Powerful reinforcements had to be brought over poor communications from the Soviet heartland. But Stalin knew that Soviet international prestige was at stake and his new negotiations with Hitler, no respecter of weakness, had reached a critical juncture. Neither blood nor treasure would be spared. “For Stalin,” wrote one former Red officer, “the losses were of no importance whatsoever.”

Throughout July and August three infantry and two cavalry divisions with seven independent brigades, including five armored, as well as artillery and air force units, were assembled. This was in itself no mean feat. The Japanese, in the year before their attack, had built a railway to within a few miles of the Mongolian border. The nearest Russian railhead from which the new First Army Group could be supplied was 403 miles away. For Zhukov’s coming offensive, 55,000 tons of supplies, including 18,000 tons of artillery ammunition, had to be carried along rudimentary Mongolian roads, the overworked trucks and drivers further tormented by late summer heat and the piercing dust storms of Central Asia. Such was the shortage of trucks that gun-towing tractors from the front had to be pressed into service as supply carriers.

So Zhukov laid his plans. The Japanese had attempted a great envelopment; very well, Zhukov would show them how it was done. He organized his new forces into three groups, North, South and Central, with his armored units, ready to move fast and deep, on the wings. He would be ready by 20 August, four days before the enemy. Until then he kept his plans, his troop movements, and thus his future surprise well masked by painstaking and ingenious deceptions. Fake radio signals ordering large quantities of engineering equipment misled the Japanese into thinking the Russians were digging in for the autumn. Sound effects gave the impression of heavy pile-driving work. The night movements of armored and motorized units were covered by air and artillery bombardments. All day a few tanks stripped of their silencers drove up and down until the Japanese got used to the noise. Zhukov even solemnly issued to his troops the official handbook What the Soviet Soldier Must Know In the Defence. By Sunday 20 August, unknown to the Japanese, quietly waiting in the jump-off positions were 35 infantry battalions, 20 cavalry squadrons, 498 tanks, 346 armored cars and 502 guns of all types.

The first the Japanese knew of the coming storm was at 0545 when 150 bombers, escorted by 100 fighters, launched a saturation raid on their forward defenses and artillery positions. Before the stunned Japanese had recovered, Zhukov’s 250 heavy guns and mortars were playing on their close reserves and at 0845 his yelling infantry were surging forward behind the tanks. All along the front, the Russian waves broke through the Japanese front. The defenders were “morally and physically suppressed” by the three-hour Red Army artillery bombardment, delivered by twice the number of defending guns which anyhow lacked the wealth of Russian ammunition.

Not that the Japanese crumbled easily. At one point a divisional attack on Japanese fortifications was bloodily repulsed and the division, probably the raw 82nd Infantry sent from the Urals, pinned down under heavy fire. Its commander begged Zhukov for new orders; Zhukov told him to continue his attack. When the divisional commander doubted the possibility, Zhukov said coldly: “I hereby relieve you of command. Give me your Chief of Staff.” The Chief of Staff agreed to continue the attack, but the attack failed to materialize. Zhukov picked up the telephone once more: “I hereby relieve you of your command. Wait for the arrival of a new commander.” An officer from Zhukov’s own staff was sent over, and with reorganized artillery and air support, the attack succeeded despite appalling losses.

Most successful was Zhukov’s Southern group. Its powerful armored forces, which included a battalion of SP guns and a company of flamethrower tanks, swept clear around the left and by 21 August were solidly established behind the Japanese operating south of the Khalkhin-Gol’s east-west tributary, the Khailastyn-Gol. Two days later the Northern group, as-sisted by Zhukov’s reserve 212th Airborne Brigade (fighting on the ground) cut its way across the Palets Heights round to join them, and the enemy were surrounded. The fighting was bitter and by no means over. Japanese in dug-outs had to be burned out by the flame-throwing tanks, and surrenders were rare. But the Red Army too had a determination which took a heavy toll of 600 dead in the savage hand-to-hand fighting in the dug-outs and gullies of the Palets Heights as the pincers of encirclement closed.

After a Japanese relief attempt had been beaten off by 6th Tank Brigade on 26 August all hope for the trapped troops was gone. The growing Russian air superiority alone was enough to prevent the movement of fresh Japanese troops into the battle zone. In the first week the Soviet Air Force flew 474 sorties and dropped 190 tons of bombs, modest by later standards but some of the most intense air fighting since 1918. In the dogfights of the first day five Polikarpov 116 fighters shot down two Mitsubishi A5M fighters with 82 mm RS82 rockets – the first likely instance of air-to-air rockets being lethal against aircraft.

But neither Zhukov nor his government were content with a passive containment. With bloody impatience, he set about planning the liquidation of Japanese units trapped on various patches of high ground within the perimeter. For a week the savage business of mopping up went on. In this phase too, Zhukov demonstrated his tactical skill and the technical superiority of his army. Japanese troops on the Remizov Heights had relied on the muddy bottom of the shallow Khailastyn-Gol to protect their southern flank from attack. But by night Zhukov’s engineers reinforced the river bed and the tanks with their terrifying flamethrowers drove straight across, as one of the three converging assaults on the last pocket of resistance.

By the morning of 31 August, any Japanese remaining on Mongolian territory were either dead or prisoners. Of 60,000 troops trapped in the cauldron, 50,000 were later listed as killed, wounded and missing. Casualties in the veteran 23rd Division ran as high as 99 per cent. The Russians admitted casualties of 10,000 in killed and wounded throughout the campaign, but it seems likely that this was a considerable underestimate. The outnumbered Japanese Army Air Force claimed to have downed 1,200 Soviet planes (the Russian figure for their “kills” was 660) in the four months of hostilities, but in the days before instant close-support on the battlefield this could not sway the ground-fighting.

Now, on the last day in August, Zhukov’s dog-tired, grimy tank crews stared east from the border they had regained, waiting for the order to go on, while the frantic Kwantung Army HQ scraped the depots of Manchuria to find troops to stem what many feared would be a Red flood.

That order never came. In that autumn of 1939, Moscow and the world had other, more urgent problems. On the day Zhukov’s pincers met behind the Japanese, Stalin and Hitler had published their Non-Aggression Pact: the Soviet dictator now believed, with unusual trustfulness, that he had bought the time he needed to prepare Russia against war. On 1 September the German Panzers rolled into Poland and within a few days the victorious Soviet armor was rattling back across the Trans-Siberian Railway to the new Soviet frontier in Eastern Poland – just in case.

Hirohito had to face up to more than the shock of military disaster. The Non-Aggression Pact surprised no one more than the Japanese, to whom it was a baffling breach of faith. The Prime Minister resigned in shame. Hirohito would have been more than just puzzled and disappointed had he heard Hitler ranting to his generals a few days before. “The Japanese Emperor . . . is weak, cowardly, and irresolute. . . . Let us think of ourselves as masters and consider these people at best as lacquered half-monkeys, who need to feel the knout.” To Hitler, the Japanese defeat was no surprise. But thanks to Khalkhin-Gol, the confidence he had in his invasion of Russia was not shared by the Japanese.

Hirohito was on his own. Yet that was not entirely unsatisfactory. The “Strike North” army faction was discredited at last. The Kwantung Army begged to be allowed one more offensive to save its face, but this time the Emperor was firm. In Moscow once more the diplomats took over, and once more the status quo was resumed. A ceasefire was signed on 15 September. In April 1941, a Russo-Japanese Non-Aggression Pact was signed. The Soviet Far East remained safe from Japanese Imperial ambition, and throughout the coming war with Germany, American ships under Soviet flag would sail unhindered from United States arsenals to Vladivostok. Japan would strike south.

First Strike

2 Cdo trng


As the last survivors from Dunkirk were coming home and three weeks before France bowed out of the struggle – leaving her entire coastline in German hands – the vital spark of aggression, motivated by the political as well as military need to maintain an initiative, however slight, had been struck by certain unorthodox people scattered around Whitehall. Their existence sprang from a move in 1938 to examine means to influence German opinion by ‘attacking potential enemies by means other than operations of military forces’, and this led, among other avenues of approach, to the General Staff at the War Office forming a research section called GS(R) and consisting of one General Staff Officer Grade 2 and a typist, to study subversion and sabotage. Under Major J. C. F. Holland in the months preceding the outbreak of war in September 1939, GS(R) began to expand rapidly both in size, influence and activity. Holland had experience of guerrilla warfare in Ireland and attracted others with enthusiasm for explosives, unorthodox weapons and irregular methods – men such as Major C. McVean Gubbins who had also seen service in Ireland and in Russia during the Revolutionary War in 1919. It was in his first pamphlet, called The Art of Guerrilla Warfare, that Gubbins pronounced the vital doctrine of this kind of subversive combat: ‘Guerrilla actions will usually take place at point blank range as the result of an ambush or raid… Undoubtedly, therefore, the most effective weapon for the guerrilla is the sub-machine-gun.’

But it was Holland who provided the driving force at GS(R), which was re-named MI(R) in 1939. As Professor M. R. D. Foot wrote in SOE in France,

Holland was both brilliant and practical; he was also quite unselfish. He saw MI(R) as a factory for ideas: when the ideas had been worked up to the stage of practicality, his aim was to hive off a new branch to handle them… Early in the war he and his lively and enterprising staff launched interesting and secret organizations.

These included escape lines, ‘mosquito’ sabotage parties and much larger fighting forces known as Independent Companies – a typically British last-minute improvisation to cope with circumstances for which the nation, having neglected the armed forces in peacetime, had done nothing to prepare. The Independent Companies were intended to stage amphibious guerrilla attacks against the Germans invading Norway in April – a task which the War Office was compelled to undertake because, as Lieutenant-General A. G. B. Bourne, the Adjutant-General of the Royal Marines, wrote,

There were no Royal Marines available at that time. The strength of the Corps at the outbreak of war was roughly 10,000, the sea commitments for the war roughly 11,000… Actually, when I took over, apart from 260 officers and men sitting on sandbags waiting for anti-aircraft guns in the Middle East, I had 95 officers and men on which to raise the Mobile Naval Base Organisation of 250 officers and 5,000 men, and 50 of the 95 were mounting guns for the Army on the coast of England.

Ten Independent Companies were recruited from volunteers drawn mainly from Territorial Army infantry divisions stationed in the United Kingdom.

Each Brigade found a Platoon and each Battalion a Section. The Sections were led by officers… There was no ‘Q’ side proper, but between 50 and 60 tons of stores of all description were allocated and administered by Headquarters. The idea was that each Independent Company should be organized as a ship-borne unit. The ship was to be their floating base and to take them to and from operations. For this reason they were not provided with any transport. The Force became operational very soon after formation and was called ‘the Gubbins Force’ after the name of its commander, Brigadier Gubbins.

Gubbins Force, consisting of six companies, landed at Bodö, south of Narvik, and was almost at once involved in a rearguard action under heavy air attack and much skilful enemy pressure by Alpine troops. Yet the action at first went in Gubbins Force’s favour, ‘so much so that we disputed the order to retire when it came’. There was indeed a remarkable spirit of individual gallantry bordering upon a bravado which some might have called amateurish. ‘The trouble with the Independent Companies,’ as one of the founders of the Commando Force who was present was soon to minute, ‘was the low quality of their personnel, as no Regulars were included.’ The officer concerned was, of course, reflecting the ingrained scepticism of nearly all Regulars for irregulars at that time. There were failures at all levels, and the men of the Independent Companies were just as scathing in their criticism of the Regulars they fought alongside – but even at this early stage there emerged a spirit of sacrifice which was to become typical of the Commandos, as the Independent Companies would soon be known. Take, for example, the report on a platoon commander of No. 1 Company when under attack by three or four hundred Germans:

He caused a lot of casualties to the Germans, but suffered severe losses himself and when he realized that it would only be a question of time before he was wiped out, he gave the order to withdraw to the northern shore of the peninsula on which Hemnesberget stands. Before leaving, he ordered Private Howie, a Signaller, to destroy the local telephone exchange… Howie ran up the hill towards it and was at once pursued by two Germans who opened fire on him and ordered him to stop. By this time he had reached the telephone exchange. He made no attempt to return their fire, but instead turned his back upon them and emptied his revolver into the telephone apparatus. He was shot and killed.

The campaign in Norway was not the most meritorious of those conducted by British forces, severely damaging though it was to the German naval forces involved. But by the time the remnants of the six Independent Companies returned to Scotland at the end of May, this setback had merged into the pall of disaster which had overcome the Allied armies in Europe. Yet already Holland, at the request of the Chiefs of Staff, was casting around for ways of sticking pins into an enemy who was all too obviously armed and armoured with such strength as to make him almost invulnerable.

No sooner had the Germans reached the Channel coast west of Abbeville on the evening of 20 May and begun to advance northwards toward Boulogne than, by the quite illegal employment of prisoners of war, they began to erect defences and mount batteries to fend off the raiders from the sea whom they expected at any time. They had but a short time to wait. As the rearguard was sailing away from Dunkirk on 2/3 June a trawler commanded by Lieutenant-Commander J. F. W. Milner-Gibson was going in the opposite direction, bound for Boulogne, to drop off three officers in a rowing boat to spy out the land ashore. It was a pity that two of the party were lost and a stroke of luck that the third, after rowing hard for 13 hours, was picked up in mid-Channel on the 10th. But it was contradictory as well as churlish for the Prime Minister to call this escape a ‘silly fiasco’, for already Winston Churchill was looking forward to the day when a great Allied armada would place vast armies ashore in France. A start had to be made somewhere, sometime, and, to begin with, by a few courageous individuals.

One such was Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Clarke, the Military Assistant to General Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. How much assistance he ever gave to Dill during this period is hard to gauge. As Bourne wrote:

He was, I am told, detailed from the War Office to give instructions to the Army Officer going to Andalsnes. This he was supposed to do in the train going to Scotland. He decided that … he had not given sufficient instructions so he sailed for Norway. After a short time there he was recalled to the War Office. A few days later a Marine Officer at Andalsnes was told that an individual was floating about in the fjord in a rubber boat. He was brought ashore and turned out to be Col. Clarke who had been apparently deposited by seaplane. When asked why he had come back, he remarked, ‘I left my sponge behind,’ which was a fact but a poor excuse for getting into the front line.

In London on 4 June Clarke reflected upon the disastrous situation in which Britain and her armed forces found themselves, and recalled his own experiences from the Middle East in 1936 when ‘a handful of ill-armed fanatics’ had been able to ‘dissipate the strength of more than an Army Corps of regular troops’. That night he jotted down a plan for small forces raiding across the Channel and presented it to the CIGS the next morning, who in turn mentioned it to the Prime Minister. Permission was instantly granted ‘and Clarke was given a free hand provided … that no unit should be diverted from its essential task, the defence of Britain … and secondly that forces of amphibious guerrillas would have to make do with minimum arms’. Attached to this permit came two orders: first to mount a raid across the Channel at the earliest opportunity; second to set up a new branch in the War Office called MO9 to control ‘uniformed raids’. One suspects that the CIGS was slightly relieved to see the back of his belligerent MA and there is, indeed, ample evidence that he was opposed to the specialized ‘shock troops’ which Clarke now strove to form and launch prematurely into action.

It was to Nos. 8 and 9 Independent Companies – which had not gone to Norway – that he turned for volunteers. Within a week those volunteers had been formed into a new No. 11 Company. As one member recalled.

We moved to Southampton and spent some ten days firing on ranges and practising embarking and disembarking from Royal Air Force high speed launches. These were very fast and did not hold more than six to eight men. One day we were told to bring haversack rations as we were going to be all day on the ranges. We were taken there in buses, but they did not stop and the next thing we knew was that three parties of us were at Dover, Hastings and Ramsgate.

Strictly in line with the CIGS’s restraining conditions, the army gave minimum support, the 20 Thompson sub-machine-guns supplied being ‘on loan’ only from a central pool of these weapons which consisted at that moment of only 40. But the Second Sea Lord welcomed an opportunity to strike back at the enemy at a time when all else was defeat, and the Royal Navy rose to the occasion. Without delay a strange collection of craft, mostly private motor boats of dubious sea-going qualities, were assembled under Captain G. A. Garnons-Williams to join the trawler which was going across the Channel every other night under Milner-Gibson’s command. The RAF ‘crash’ speed boats were pressed into service because the rest of the motley fleet were too slow. In the same way in which the Independent Companies were recruited from part-time soldiers, the naval crews were mainly made up of part-timers, some from the RNR, most from the RNVR, among them a number of capable small-boat men with knowledge of inshore waters. In order to control a force which, from the outset, had to be Joint Service, a new organization had to be created under General Bourne.

I was told on 12 June that the Chief of Staff had decided that I should be in command of Offensive Operations, as it was called at that stage… I got, as being the quickest method of starting, an allotment of four rooms in the Admiralty and Captain L. E. H. Maund RN and Captain Garnons-Williams appointed… Next morning I arranged for Major A. H. Hornby, RA to be put on my staff … and later the Senior Air Officer became S/Ldr. Knocker.

On 17 June Bourne received the directive which was to carry him and his successor through the formative months of what was already becoming known as the Combined Operations Directorate:

1.You are appointed Commander of Raiding Operations on coasts of enemy occupation and Adviser to the Chiefs of Staff on Combined Operations.

2.The object of raiding operations will be to harass the enemy and cause him to disperse his forces, and to create material damage, particularly on the coastline from Northern Norway to the western limit of German-occupied France…

4.Six Independent Companies and a School of Training in Irregular Operations have already been raised by the War Office. These and irregular Commandos now being raised will come under your operational command… In addition the War Office has taken preliminary steps to raise parachutist volunteers of whom a number will be placed under your command…

6.Certain raids by the independent companies have already been planned…

7.Irregular actions of various types are undertaken from time to time by the Service Intelligence Departments. There must therefore be close touch between your staff and those departments in order that your several activities shall not interfere with each other and that, on occasions, co-operation may be possible.

MI(R) had already struck; one of its agents, with the aid of half a dozen British soldiers and a Verey pistol, had put the torch to 200,000 tons of oil at Gonfreville, near Harfleur, on 9 June, and Operation Collar, Clarke’s first strike using 11 Indep Coy, was well advanced in preparation. The idea was to land fighting patrols between Étaples and Boulogne on the night 23/24 June on terrain already spied out by Milner-Gibson, who was placed in command of the six RAF crash boats, intended to save airmen shot down at sea and manned by civilians. The Commandos (as No. 11 Indep Coy already liked to be known) were under the command of Major R. J. F. Tod, but, needless to say, Clarke would not be left out and was allowed to go, providing he did not set foot ashore. Lieutenant Evill wrote,

I chose the roughest and toughest men possible. Three of them were Scotsmen. The plan was that we should land at three different places on the coast and carry out a reconnaissance of the German defences. We were armed with Tommy-guns and grenades and there was a Bren mounted on the motor boat as anti-aircraft protection… We eventually got in sight of the French coast at 2 a.m., but we did not land because we did not know where we were. As we were arguing in low tones about our whereabouts there was a terrific roar and a German seaplane took off almost beside us. With difficulty we prevented one of the Scotsmen from shooting it up with the Bren gun which would have betrayed our presence.

After trying without success to get ashore in a rubber dinghy, Evill and his party returned home. Company Sergeant-Major Parker’s party, on the other hand, did get ashore, shuttled there three at a time in a little wooden dinghy. One of his party wrote, ‘We ran across 250 yards of beach and formed a bridgehead. We sent out two patrols, one of which ran into a Jerry patrol on bicycles. Neither the Germans nor ourselves opened fire and the only enemy I saw that trip was a huge rat.’

Lieutenant Swain’s party also got ashore, but at Hardelot, which was not his proper destination. It was recalled that,

He had some tough men with him, three of them gaol birds. They got into Hardelot and saw one or two trucks… Then they ran into a Jerry patrol of two men on the beach. Swain called on them to halt; they opened fire. Swain’s pistol jammed. Two of his gaol birds fought the Jerries on the beach and killed them both. On the way back the engines of the launch failed and they got stuck on the sandbank and had to swim for it. Eventually they got off the sandbank and returned to Folkestone on one engine. There they were refused permission to enter harbour and lay off the boom covered by the guns on shore, wet through and slightly tight, having drunk the contents of two jars of rum. When they did get ashore they were arrested by the Military Police.

Near Boulogne a party under Major Tod had also been fired on and Dudley Clarke, standing up in the bows of the boat, had his ear nicked by a bullet, making him the only British casualty of the night. But at Plage de Merlimont, south of Le Touquet, the Germans suffered quite heavily, two sentries being killed outside a heavily wired house near the beach and many more hit when grenades were thrown through the windows of what was taken to be a headquarters but seems to have been a dance hall with French civilians present.

The boats which returned to Dover, unlike the ones at Folkestone, were cheered by those ashore who knew what was afoot, and who, like everybody else in Britain, were desperately in need of something to cheer about. Bourne, who was there to meet them, gave a euphoric, impromptu press conference which was blazoned across the newspapers to the disgust of the Prime Minister, the approval of the Minister of War, Mr Anthony Eden (who defended Bourne in the Cabinet) and the delight of the populace for whom Commandos, like RAF fighter pilots, had become a symbol of hope.

The Prime Minister’s initial enthusiasm for small raids was already on the ebb. It was, he said, ‘unworthy of the British Empire to send over a few such cut-throats’, and he began to seek fresh means of control and execution. Meanwhile Bourne did the best he could with the improvisations he and his staff were compelled to adopt while still working part-time for the Royal Marines and rarely getting anything like a full night’s sleep. Quite apart from shortages of weapons and craft, there were such minor deficiencies as camouflage face-cream (solved by using grease-paint supplied by a ‘Wardour Street costumier’) and escape maps, which to begin with were made up and sewn into the men’s uniforms by the ladies of DCO’s Admiralty office.

It could not go on for long like that. Even as Clarke was preparing another foray, crucial decisions for change were impending – and not all for the good of raiding.

Bronco Bustin

An air-to-air right side view of an OV-10 Bronco aircraft firing a White phosphorus smoke rocket to mark a ground target. The aircraft is used by forward air controllers in support of ground troops. Photo from November 84 Airman Magazine.


An OV-10A of VAL-4 attacking a target in Vietnam.


Soon after arriving in Viet Nam I saw an OV-10 Bronco. It was love at first sight and I was determined to get a ride in one. Luckily my job as an information officer gave me the opportunity. The ALO (Air Liaison Officer, pronounced “aye lo”) assigned to the division flew OV-10s so I tracked the unit down.

It turned out that the current commanding officer was Wing Commander Larrard, Royal Australian Air Force. He quickly approved my flight on the condition that I would come over and party with them the night before.

The next night I finished dinner and bummed a ride over to the ALO. Larrard met me with a firm hand shake and a cold can of Aussie lager. He introduced me around to other members of his crew. We soon pulled up chairs, popped more cold ones, and talked. I asked him all the usual questions regarding the operation and his tour all the while he kept handing me fresh cans of beer. Finally conversation moved on to the Bronco itself.

He loved the plane, “She’s a pilot’s aircraft. Quick, agile, plenty of power. You love to be up in her.” A frustrated killer turned spotter, he realized the unused capacity of the aircraft. “All they give me is Willy Peter (white phosphorus) rockets for spotting. She’s a great gun table, steady, lots of T.O.T (time on target) and as I said, she’s plenty powerful. They could load me down and I could still do my mission. I’d love to have a mini on her and get in there and mix it up with Charley. It’s a pure shame they won’t let me. Waste of a great aircraft if you ask me.”

With that I heard the sound of another can top being pierced and another Swan being handed to me. Good beer, ehh mate? Not like that Budweiser piss water you chaps have to drink.

I’d held my own in college drinking bouts but the Aussies were professionals. My dad had run into them in Casablanca toward the end of WWII and had been mightily impressed. “All you had to do was run the bar rag under a Frog’s nose and they’d get high, but the Aussies, well they were another story. We’re all sitting around in a bar one night in the French area and one of the guys had a fifth of bourbon we were passing around. An Aussie sergeant wandered by and we offered him a taste. The bottle must have been two thirds full. ‘Don’t mind if I do mates.’ he said, then he tipped the bottle back and damn near drank it all in one swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, smacked his lips and said, ‘Thanks, mates. Not bad at all.’ He walked away leaving all of us looking at the bottle in amazement. You don’t want to drink with those Aussies.” His wisdom was rattling around in my cranium but I was finding it more and more difficult to locate. I began trying to nurse my drinks but Commander Larrard would have none of it. “You can’t bugger off now, mate, we’ve still got a fair amount of beer to kill.”

I hung on as best I could. Somewhere along the line we all began to sing Waltzing Matilda rocking back and forth with arms draped around each other’s shoulders. I struggled to keep dinner inside my churning stomach and reason inside my head. Both insisted on being free. The night ended with a toast or two to Yank – Aussie friendship and my forced pledge that I had never tasted better beer than Australian beer: not in Canada, not in Germany and certainly not in Britain. In truth, by the end of the night, all beer was starting to taste alike and I was coming to the sad conclusion that I might never want to taste another one regardless of its nationality.

I have no idea how much sleep I got that night. The tent kept spinning in opposition to the world’s rotation. My stomach growled and pitched like an angry sea. My head throbbed, my feet and hands felt swollen and stiff. But the sun came up and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.

I cleared enough cobwebs from my mind to locate my dopf kit and towel, step into my Ho Chi Minh flip flops and aim my suffering body in the direction of the shower point. For once the breath stealing chill of the water felt good. I let it fall straight onto my noggin, the water massaging my temples, cooling my fever. I finished the shower and then, razor in hand, I acknowledged the grim face in the mirror. Thoughts of suicide were balanced against the idea of living out the work day feeling the way I did. Suicide was ahead on points going into the final round but I finally convinced myself that all of this would pass. Plus, I really did not want to miss that ride in the OV-10. I finished my shave and padded back to my hooch to dress stepping, lightly for fear I would further bruise my aching brain.

The smell of breakfast pulled me into the mess hall. I passed on the oatmeal and the S.O.S. and sought the warm comfort of greasy bacon and eggs to pour oil onto my troubled stomach waters. But though I was hungry I could not force the food down. I sat and stared at my plate wondering what had happened to my appetite between entering the mess and sitting down. I chewed on the edges of my toast, the crunch of each bite echoing painfully in my ears. I knew I had to eat something or my torture would continue unabated, but knowledge was easier to obtain than cure.

I carefully selected my route to the office tent, deliberately avoiding anyone I would either have to salute or whose salute I would have to return. I was sure the sudden lifting of my arm would jerk my stomach out of balance and bring about a sudden and violent up chuck of epic proportions. I made it to the tent unimpeded by military courtesy and sought the sanctuary of the coffee pot. Thank God Colonel Vicienza was either in a staff meeting or sleeping off his own “night before.” The office could not have contained two such hangovers simultaneously.

Willy and Wayne wandered in and we worked for a while on selecting our sound bites for the show. I was in no mood to write script and so I procrastinated, telling them I would get back to the script before we left for Long Binh the next day. Then I sent them off for more interviews while I wandered down to the PX just so I could walk around and try and clear my head. By now I had reached the point where aspirin and a cold Coke could be brought into play and speed my recovery. I got both at the PX and then headed back toward the mess hall for lunch. I was able to get the soup and sandwich down and my tummy thanked me for not putting in more poison.

I returned to the tent so that Specialist Huckaby could give me a lift to the ALO office. There I was met by Larrard and his Aussie band. They were unbelievably chipper. I tried to pretend that I had not been seriously wounded by the activities of the previous night but I’m sure I detected a few winks and smirks on their part. They knew I was hanging on, praying for the bell to save me from the knockout punch. They fitted me up with a parachute, a shoulder holster with a Smith and Wesson .38 and a flight helmet. The parachute was a flat, lumpy sort of back pack. The bottom fourth of it rested on my rump ending about three inches south of the gluteus maximus crease. I tromped around feeling like a toddler with a load in a baggy diaper, all the while Larrard and the sergeants briefed me on emergency measures. They spent time explaining how you had to grip the ejection seat ring and tug it free. I tired to imagine my willingly ejecting from a plane and always came to the same conclusion that I would end up inside a pilot-less aircraft trying to fly and land her rather than bailing out. Larrard ended my internal debate by saying, “Don’t worry mate, if we do get in a bit of a fix I’ll launch you before I go myself.” If those words were supposed to bring me comfort they failed.

We piled into their jeep and began the ride toward the aircraft. I was easily able to suppress whatever fears I harbored as I contemplated the OV-10. She looked like a P-38 from my father’s war. I felt the little boy in me imagining the exhilaration of a combat flight. I eagerly climbed into the back seat noting that the second seat sat about a foot higher than the pilots. Then I waited as the sergeant strapped me in. I listened intently to each instruction, noted the maze of controls, located the black and yellow stripped ejection seat ring and then squirmed a bit to settle the parachute into a comfortable position. I remembered there was a red arrow on the fuselage marking the plane’s center of gravity and realized the arrow pointed directly to where my hips were located. The cockpit was closed and Commander Larrard’s confident voice came through the earphones inside my flight helmet. “She’ll be a bit hot Lieutenant until we get airborne. There’s a vent you can move about but there’s not much escape from this sun.”

I hadn’t thought about such things prior to asking for a flight. The huge greenhouse on the OV-10 was designed with mission, not comfort, in mind. The inside of the plane had baked all morning as she sat on the flight line. The sun streamed through the plexiglass making a solar oven out of the cockpit. The sweat poured out of me, trailing down the sides of my face, running down my arms and legs, finding all the baggy places in my uniform to gather. Meanwhile, Larrard was going through his check list, revving the engines and talking with the tower. We taxied into position. He locked the brakes and pushed the throttle forward for one last test, then released the brakes and we began to roll. By now the heat was making things uncomfortable. I fidgeted to make the parachute comfortable and found that it wasn’t to be. I might as well have been sitting on the bare metal seat itself for all the cushioning affect the chute offered. Still, my excitement reached a crescendo as we rolled toward the end of the strip, I watched as our shadow raced along the ground after us, saw the nose tip up and felt the power and speed of the plane. The angle of climb increased and I was pushed back against the rear of the seat but I could now feel the cooler air flowing into the area. We leveled off and I began to admire the design of the aircraft. The wings were above and behind us and the greenhouse bulged out over the fuselage. From the air the view was spectacular, clear and unobstructed in all directions.

WE flew on straight and level and then Larrard’s voice came on again. “We’ll be flying out to our run here for a minute and then I’ll start my first orbit.”

I gave an “OK” back as if I understood what was really going to happen. I imagined that we would fly in straight lines following the boundaries of the division’s AO, or that we would fly in some huge, lazy circle. I had no idea of orbits.

“Here we go Lieutenant.”

With that I saw the left wing tip drop and the plane turn until I was looking almost straight down. My respect for the aircraft’s design increased as I took in the incredible size of the vista. We seemed to hang as straight as a sword, as if a giant wire were attached to the top wing dangling us parallel to earth. Once, twice, three times we orbited and then Larrard would snap her back and we would fly straight for a few minutes until the wing would drop again and we would begin another tight orbit. I soon became used to the idea that I would not fall out and that I could move my head in all directions and see even more. Larrard pointed out things he was looking for: trails, bunkers, changes in the landscape from previous missions, anything that might develop into intelligence of enemy activity or, even better, a fire mission for artillery or a ground target for a fighter bomber.

At first it was fascinating and time moved quickly. But then the continual orbits began to wear on me. The parachute had not grown any softer and the importance of that “center of gravity” marker was finally coming into play. During each orbit the G-forces went right through the center of gravity. That meant they went right through me. At the beginning of each orbit I felt myself being squeezed tighter against the bottom of my seat. I grasped the sides of the seat with my hands and pushed up, lifting my legs and my butt off of the metal but then I would have to sit down again. Circulation was cut off and I began to feel the tingle of my legs and butt “going to sleep.” I looked at my watch and swore the hands had not moved for the past half hour.

I tried to think of how to broach the subject of mission length with Larrard. “Sir, how long do these missions run?” We overlap on each end so that at least one ALO is always in the air but the basic mission is three hours unless things get hot; then you go till the mission’s over or your out of fuel and ammo.”

Any enthusiasm I might have had to get involved in a real combat mission ended with that thought. I looked at my watch again and swore the hands had moved backwards. The day was stretching toward eternity. My butt was turning into pancake and the natural force of gravity was trying to locate my stomach and bladder.

We reached the final orbit on our line and began to work our way back toward Lai Khe following the same path and the same pattern we had used on the way out. The heat, the movement and the G-force were beginning to win the uneven contest. “Sir, what do I do if I have to blow lunch?”

“We keep a bag for that, Lieutenant. Here you go.”

I saw his hand reach back and dangle a barf bag in front of me. I had no more grabbed it and brought it to my area when the headphones began to crackle. “Sidewinder 4, this is Dauntless 6. I got fire from my front. Can you take a look? Over.”

“Dauntless 6, this is Sidewinder 4, Roger that. On my way. Give me your position.”

I could hear faint sounds of small arms fire in the background. I looked down but saw nothing on the ground. The two voices, Larrard and the ground commander, calmly exchanged information. I was amazed at the lack of emotion, just direct, business like, straight forward exchanges of facts.

Before I had time to think about it Larrard spotted his target on the ground. I sensed the right wing come all the way over. All blue disappeared from my field of vision. The nose of the craft sought a point on the ground and the plane bored straight toward it. I felt the craft twist, a long smooth spiral. Sky reentered my sight but the ground was racing up to meet us. My stomach and other vital organs hung suspended inside my body cavity, that crazy feeling you can get as you crest a small rise on a country road except that this continued the length of our dive. I looked past Larrard’s head and could see the ground clearly. I spotted a few isolated figures, men in jungle fatigues either lying on the ground or moving about hunched over, all looking in the direction we were headed. A short distance behind them was a slowly rising spiral of yellow smoke, marking their position for Larrard. I heard a whoosh emerge from outside the Bronco and suddenly saw two rockets trailing smoke and flame and heading for a clump of trees. Just before they hit, the nose of the OV-10 suddenly lifted and the earth disappeared from view. I was slammed back into the seat and then felt the craft spin hard to my right. I could look back and see the white smoke rising from the green trees as the Willy Peter burned in place.

Larrard and the ground commander were talking again. We went into a tight orbit, the plane seeming to snap into various angles and flight lines. The two rockets made it easy to spot the ground troops now. I could see the bursts of red tracer from the American M-60 drawing a line a bit to the west and south of the burning rockets. I heard “Roger, out.” Through the head phones, and looked up just in time to see the right wing once more flip over my head. Again the sky disappeared, again my stomach floated, again the earth raced toward me.

Larrard adjusted his point to just where I had seen the tracer going. Then whoosh, no earth, slammed against seat, tight spin, and snap, into another orbit.

The ground commander’s voice was back in my headset. Confirming the accuracy of Larrard’s rockets. A third voice came on announcing the cooperation of an artillery unit. We moved away from the target and went into another orbit, Larrard’s eyes focused on the area we had marked. We hung around long enough to watch the first rounds slam into the enemy area, and heard the adjustments being made. Not much was needed. Seconds later the target was smothered with red orange bursts and the dark gray smoke of artillery explosions. We flew on to our next orbit.

Things had happened so fast, I hadn’t had time to be sick. I had been upside down, rolling over, diving, climbing, spinning. My stomach had no idea where it was and even less an idea of in which direction to push things in order to throw up. I felt awful but I no longer felt nauseous. I guessed that was progress.

We continued our string of orbits and then I heard the welcome voice of Lai Khe tower coordinating Larrard’s landing approach. The heat, nowhere near as bad as when we took off, began to return to the cockpit. At last we rolled to a stop and the canopy was rolled back. I was stuck to my seat almost unable to move. My legs tingled from the lack of circulation and my uniform was damp and shapeless. The same sergeant that had strapped me in was there to help me out. I stood up, felt my legs wobble a bit, and then feeling began to return.

I walked away glad to have the whole thing behind me. I climbed into the back seat of the jeep and did not turn and look longingly back at the Bronco. My Aussie friends helped me out of the parachute and shoulder harness. I was whipped. They offered another beer and I knew that this was the final test. I accepted the challenge. If the flight had not turned my insides out one more beer was not going to matter. I finished it up, thanked Larrard and the sergeants, and began to walk back toward the office.

I was glad I had gone, but one ride on the Bronco was enough for this cowboy.

Note: by Forrest Brandt

A Highland Battalion at Loos


 In 1915 – Battle of Loos Daniel Logan Laidlaw VC. Laidlaw was 40 years old, and a Piper in the 7th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division….

By C.S.M. Thomas McCall, 44th Highland Brigade, 15th Scottish Division

For a whole week before the Battle of Loos, the artillery of our Division were bombarding the German trenches night and day, smashing up the barbed wire. On September 24th, 1915, my battalion, a Highland one, was moved up into covered-in trenches ready to attack on the morning of the 25th.

At 3 a.m. we marched up the communication trenches under a heavy shell-fire from the enemy guns. Nearing the front line, we began to step over dead and wounded, and knew that it was no picnic, and that some of us would never return.

Arriving at the trench, it was over the top and the best of luck. Then we got our first taste of the real thing. Men of different battalions were lying about in hundreds, some blown to pieces lying mangled in shell holes. The platoon I belonged to arrived at a German trench, where about nineteen to twenty Jerries were shouting for mercy, after pinking some of us as we came forward. Someone shouted “Remember the Lusitania!” and it was all over with Jerry.

We moved on towards the village of Loos, where machine guns were raking the streets and bayonet-fighting was going on in full swing. Prisoners were being marshalled in batches to be sent under guard down the line. The most of the houses were blown in, but their cellars were strongly built and it was in these cellars that many Germans were hiding.

Two other sergeants and myself ran down into a cellar. To our surprise we found an old fellow in a white jacket, apparently an officers’ cook. The table was laid with plenty of eatables and wines. The officers had a pressing engagement elsewhere. As we were feeling rather hungry, and to guard against being poisoned, we forced the cook to eat and drink first, and then we all had a good tuck in and felt the better for it; and took old Jerry upstairs a prisoner.

Leaving the cellar, I kept well into the side of the street to escape the flying metal, and came to a little estaminet. By the noise going on inside I thought they were killing pigs. I went inside and opened a door where blood was running out from underneath. It was certainly a pig-sticking exhibition. I saw some Highlanders busy having it out with Jerry with the bayonet. My assistance was not required, so I set off for Hill 70, our objective.

Through some misunderstanding about 500 of us went straight ahead towards Lens and passed a German redoubt, where they were all holding up their hands in surrender, but, as things were going well at the time we did not bother with them, as we were sure they were our prisoners, and we could take them any time.

Making our way through gaps in the German barbed wire, we got into the outskirts of Lens, but were held up by machine gun and rifle-fire and had to lie down and take cover, and try and dig ourselves in with our entrenching tools, which is not an easy job when you are lying flat. The ground was soft and muddy with the rain and seemed to have been a cornfield trampled well down.

The soldier lying next me gave a Shout, saying, “My God! I’m done for”. His mate next him asked where he was shot. I did not catch what was said, but he drew himself back and lifted his wounded pal’s kilt, then gave a laugh, saying, “Jock, ye’ll no dee. Yer only shot through the fleshy part of the leg.”

Suddenly we got the order to retire and then saw the Germans sending forward strong reinforcements, and it is a wonder that any of us had the luck to get back, as the bullets were cutting the grass at our feet and flying round our heads like the sound of bees. I made for the gap in the wire I came through and found it piled with dead.

However, I made a jump and landed on top and rolled over on the other side. I felt something hot pass my neck. Putting my hand up I found no blood; the bullet had cut the neck of my tunic – a near thing.

But worse was to come. When we again faced the redoubt on the return journey, the Jerries were working their machine guns on us, knocking us down like nine-pins – a lesson never to leave prisoners behind with arms and ammunition. Only about fifty returned out of the 500 that advanced too far over the hill. I got back to the hill, and there got a chance to get my breath again. After midnight, our Division was withdrawn gradually, to allow another to take its place.

Our battalion was taken to a little village not far behind the line. There we had breakfast and a wash-up, and expected that we were going further back for a rest and reinforcements, as our strength was down to about 160. But our hopes were dashed, as the Division (what was left) was ordered back to the trenches that night, as things were not going too well on the hill. We held the trenches until the next morning when the Guards arrived and helped to put things in a stronger position.

The following day our pipe band met us at Mazingarbe and played us down to Noeux-les-Mines, where we went into billets, and had quite a nice time visiting estaminets, eating pomme-de-terres et oeufs, and speaking broken French.

Two or three days later we were entrained for Lillers, and there received our reinforcements. The new arrivals were eager to get up to the fighting line. They had their wish, for in less than a week we were back again for a spell of four days in a front-line trench beyond the village of Loos.

Before we got there we had to march up a communication trench half full of water and mud for a couple of miles, and looked like a lot of sewer rats when we reached the front trench, which had belonged to the Germans.

Then started the hard work cleaning up the muck and water, filling sand-bags and building up parts that had been blown in, and making snipers’ posts, and all the time trench mortars were hurling over their shells, causing more muck and casualties.

Being the C.S.M. of my company, my duty was to take over trench stores, post guards, and detail ration parties to go down and meet the Q.M.S. at night, bring up the bully beef and biscuits and the most important of all, the rum. The men always got their tot about 4 a.m., and I can assure you they needed it. Standing about day and night wet and half-frozen, it always put new life into them.

Drinking-water was sometimes very difficult to get, and we had to bring it up in petrol tins. One day the water did not arrive. An officer’s servant came to me and asked if he could get some to make the officer’s tea. The only water, I told him, was that gathered in a waterproof sheet which was stretched above our heads in the dug-out to keep us dry. It was the colour of stout, and I was not very sure whether there were any dead Germans buried above us or not.

“Never mind; it will do fine. The officers will never know, as I will put plenty of tinned milk and sugar in it,” and off he went with his kettle filled. The following night he brought me a small mug of hot tea which I enjoyed very much, but suddenly I remembered the water had not arrived, and asked where he got it. “Oh! just out of your sheet.” I flung the mug at his head and chased him along the trench.

One night I detailed a party of bombers to hold a sap. Later on I took a turn up the sap to see if all was well and found every man knocked out by a shell. Another lot had to be detailed at once, and a burial party to take the dead away and have them buried before daylight. This was our usual daily occurrence.

Early in the morning the snipers were at their posts, with telescopic rifles ready to put a bullet into any German that happened to look over the top.

One morning I stood beside Sniper McDonald, and watched the enemy lines through my periscope. Suddenly opposite us a box periscope went up and, after a survey of our lines, was taken down and put up again further along.

I told Mac to put it out of action next time. But instead of the periscope a Staff officer put his head up and looked around. I heard the ping of the sniper’s rifle and saw Herr Von throw up his hands and fall back into his trench. Immediately another officer sprang up and shook his fist. Another ping and that was two he bagged that morning.

I am sorry to say that sniper was killed by a shell a week later. He was sitting with me and two or three others in a cover-in, down a support trench, when a shell hit the rear of our shack, nearly smothering us with muck. He darted to the opposite side to another shelter and the second shell, following hard on the first, got him.

One night in the front line the men were sitting about the fire-trench or wading about in the water, which was up to their knees, trying to keep themselves warm. It had been sleet and snow all day, and we had another two days to go before being relieved. I was walking along in the dark when I plumped into a hole full of water up to the hips.

Some of the boys had dug it during the day to give them a drier place to stand on. I had just managed to pull myself out, when I heard a splashing and someone running towards me, shouting, “Stand to, men! And, Sergeant-Major, come quick. The enemy are advancing in thousands on the right.” I immediately ran towards the direction the noise was coming from, and found it was a young officer running about with a revolver in his hand.

How he expected me to stop them I don’t know. The men got up at once on the fire-step, getting their rifles ready and blowing on their hands.

The officer still kept shouting to me for God’s sake to come quick. I thought it was funny, if an attack was on, that the Germans still kept throwing up their Verey lights.

I looked over the top and could see nothing. Neither could the sentries. The Captain came on the scene, gave him a telling off and ordered him back to his platoon, and passed the word along for the men to stand down. I think the young officer had got a touch of the “jumps”, as it was his first spell in the front line.

Note: by C.S.M. Thomas McCall, 44th Highland Brigade, 15th Scottish Division