The successful defence of Belgrade in July 1456 exemplified just such limited crusading. Mehmed II advanced up the Danube in the summer of 1456, laying siege to Belgrade in the first week of July. He hoped, once the city had fallen, to press on to Buda before the campaign season ended. Facing him at Belgrade, the modest garrison was minded to come to terms. However, unexpected reinforcements arrived, led by John of Capistrano, a seventy-year-old Observant Franciscan with a long history of enthusiasm for crusading and moral rearmament. His interest in the recovery of the Holy Land and the Turkish question stretched back to the 1440s, part of his order’s longstanding involvement in preaching against enemies of the church, including heretics and Jews. Well connected, John had visited the Burgundian court in March 1454 and attended the German imperial diet at Frankfurt in November. He began preaching the crusade. By the spring of 1455, John was in Hungary concocting with a probably sceptical Regent Hunyadi an absurd plan for a huge international crusade of 100,000 men. More constructively, John toured the region preaching and establishing his credentials as a religious reformer. Credibility among crusade preachers assumed great importance. A few years later Pius II acknowledged the damage from past deceit, corruption and idleness: ‘People think our sole object is to amass gold. No one believes what we say. Like insolvent tradesmen we are without credit’. Only ostentatious displays of simplicity and sincerity could anaesthetize such feelings. John exuded the right balance of personal holiness and practical direction.

John’s preaching in Hungary, begun in May 1455 but reaching a crescendo of intensity between February and June 1456, was carefully orchestrated. Reflecting both his age and careful organization, progress was measured: 375 miles in fourteen months, less than a mile a day. In February 1456, in a well-publicized ceremony at Buda, John took the cross from the papal legate, John of Carvajal. According to John, at least, his evangelism was enormously successful, especially with ‘the lesser folk’. Hunyadi’s strategy appeared to have two elements. He concentrated on enlisting a reluctant nobility while John and his fellow preachers provided the focus for raising the general popular military levy, based on the so-called militia portalis system in use for a couple of generations. This system of peasant military levy meant these nonnoble recruits possessed at least rudimentary arms and probably some basic training. John’s transparent sincerity mitigated any social or fiscal resentment a summons from the nobles may have aroused, his appeal deliberately transcending secular hierarchy. Little was left to chance. Local bishops lent their support. News of his preaching was carefully spread before his arrival. Sometimes, congregations were disappointed, one being kept waiting for over a week without John appearing. Recruits also came from outside Hungary, mainly Austria and Germany, including, apparently, hundreds of students from Vienna university, perhaps seeking a glamorously adventurous summer vacation away from the lecture halls. John’s efforts formed only the centrepiece of a campaign that led to a summer of cross-taking in parts of Hungary, attracting very positive reports. Observers may have been pleasantly struck by the focus on raising men rather than the more usual touting for money. John’s contribution may have been exaggerated in his own writing and the hagiographical accounts that soon clustered around the events of 1456. Nonetheless, he raised a significant army, perhaps some thousands strong, even if its cohesion suggests it was held together by more than the friar’s personality alone.

Despite apologists’ sentimental insistence on the wondrous and miraculous, John of Capistrano’s crusader army, while not necessarily the collection of inspired and devoted civilian innocents of propaganda and legend, played an important role in the defence of Belgrade. They supplied numbers and vital morale. The Hungarian garrison was too small to combat the Turks outside the walls of Belgrade and, without relief, was unlikely to have withstood Turkish bombardment indefinitely. Mehmed may also have relied on the longstanding reluctance of elements in the Hungarian nobility to fight if an accommodation were available. The arrival of John’s troops from 2 July onwards allowed for more aggressive tactics. They helped Hunyadi break the Turkish naval blockade around the city on 14 July. A week later, on the night of 21–2 July, they stood with the garrison in the breaches of the battered city walls to repulse the main Turkish assault. The following day, as Mehmed began to organize his retreat, they formed a major element in the counter-attack that swarmed over the Turkish forward positions, inflicting further heavy casualties and seizing large amounts of matériel. The success of John’s recruiting effort seems to have wrong-footed Mehmed, whose plans depended on a relatively rapid seizure of Belgrade if his further targets were to be met. The crusaders’ appearance in strength dashed hopes that his initial superiority of numbers and control of the rivers would force Belgrade’s surrender. That Ottoman forces were stretched is confirmed by their precipitate withdrawal once the desperate ploy of a night-time frontal assault failed.

The well-attested tensions between John’s crusaders and Hunyadi added lustre to the image of a providential force whose faith triumphed where military prowess and professionalism had failed. In fact, much of the antagonism between the two groups revolved around the disposition of booty and Hunyadi’s lack of control over the crusaders, a consequence of the decision earlier in the year to give John a measure of autonomous authority over his recruits. However, John showed his understanding of the proper relationship of his army to Hunyadi when, the day after the Turks’ departure, he summarily disbanded his troops when they tried to assert their independence by claiming sole credit for victory and, thus, ownership of its spoils. John and his crusaders’ reputation owed most to the search, then and since, for heroes who could be shown achieving temporal success through living up to the highest spiritual standards crusade rhetoric demanded. Undoubtedly, John’s spiritual charisma helped bond his army together and to the cause. His banners spoke both of crusading and the morally strict programme of his order. Revivalism had perennially fuelled crusade enthusiasm, especially in default of the secular discipline or coercion of enforceable lay hierarchies and secular lordship. But such effervescent popular crusading tended to evaporate quickly, John of Capistrano’s crusade proving no exception. His army disbanded and he himself died of the plague in October 1456. Thereafter garrisons and truces kept the Ottomans at bay and out of Hungary until the 1520s, not crusaders, indigenous or foreign.

The more conventional efforts of Calixtus III wholly failed to defend Hungary. His fleet only managed to set out in August 1456, meeting with modest success during a tour of duty that lasted until late 1457. Lemnos, Samothrace and Thasos were recovered in the Aegean; a Turkish fleet was defeated at Mytilene in the summer of 1457, and an uplifting but pointless raid was conducted down the Levantine coast to Egypt. Pope Calixtus milked these successes. The naval victories were commemorated by a medal, that at Belgrade by the institution in 1457 of general observance of the Feast of the Transfiguration on 6 August, the day news of the triumph had reached Rome a year before. It was also the date of the battle of Mytilene. Yet such gestures did little to deflect the consolidation of Ottoman power south of the Danube and in Greece. The flow of the Ottoman advance may have been stemmed, but there was no counter-attack. The overwhelming presence of Turkish dominion from Serbia to Cilicia remained unaltered, a fact that preyed heavily on Calixtus III’s successor, called by some ‘the last crusader’.

Armies of El Alamein I


Was there another battlefield in modern times when the armies were so diverse yet so small? El Alamein brought together men from around the world in a profusion of cultures, each secure in their own sense of identity and ready to assert a particular point of view as the occasion arose.

There were, in fact, not two armies, but two groupings of armies.

In theory North Africa was the Italian theatre, and the Germans came reluctantly and then sent no more than three divisions as a ‘blocking force’ except near the end, when it was too late. The Italians had most of their front-line forces there, and the Commander-in-Chief was an Italian, though once the Germans arrived, Rommel in effect ran the Desert war for the Axis.

On the British side it was very much a Commonwealth and ‘Empire’ war, with Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Indians joined with United Kingdom formations, supplemented by Free French and Poles, though none of the latter two fought at Alamein in July. Army and corps commanders were from the British and Indian Armies.

Looking at the many nationalities involved, the obvious curiosity is that the North African campaign became essentially a struggle between the Germans on the one side and the British and the Commonwealth forces on the other. The Germans were always the shock troops and it was the Germans who at times of crisis rushed hither and thither to plug holes and fling in counter-attacks.

At best the Italians were regarded by friend and foe with wry amusement, at worst with contempt. While this must be accepted as wartime stereotyping, it is true that Rommel had to interlace Italian troops at Alamein with Germans to prevent the line from giving way. It is also true that Italian units quickly collapsed before determined attack, and that they were sometimes absent when their German allies needed them. It may even be true, as Desmond Young reports, that in the face of an Australian attack outside Tobruk in 1941, the Italian troops fell on their knees with cries of ‘Sancta Maria’. Rommel, so the story goes, crisply told the Italian commander to ‘stop them praying and persuade them to shoot’.

Even to say there were times when the Italians did fight with ferocity is to sound patronising, and does not alter the fact that in 1940 a massive Italian army advanced only hesitantly into Egypt and was then overwhelmed by an opportunist British force a fraction of its size.

The truth of that, though, is that the Italians had no tanks or anti-tank weapons that could touch the British infantry tank, the Matilda, and even the British cruisers ran rings around them. Ill-armed, poorly equipped with transport and badly led, the Italian forces could neither stand and fight nor flee, and had no choice but to throw up their hands – gratefully, perhaps, because there was no enthusiasm among them for fighting. These days that might be seen as a virtue rather than a vice, but in the 1940s such liberality was not highly regarded. The stakes were too high. Yet it was more complicated than that.

The Italians were truly not interested in war, and their militaristic image of pre-war years was no more than a Fascist charade. So far as the alliance with Germany is concerned, not even the Fascists were wedded to the idea of a neighbour dominated by a Teutonic version of their own totalitarian creed. Liaison between Italians and Germans was poor, sometimes non-existent, and the Pact of Steel that created the Rome-Berlin Axis was as phoney as Mussolin’s bluster. This antipathy penetrated to the lowest levels.

The adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 5th Panzer Regiment, noted in his diary after visiting an Italian shop in North Africa on 2 September 1941, ‘… any nationality is served more cheerfully than a German’. His own view of the Italians is reflected in an entry for 30 August when he recorded: ‘An English U boat damaged an Italian vessel. The Italians took revenge – excelled themselves by shooting down a plane – unfortunately a German Ju88.’

All this was read with pleasure after the diary’s capture, and related in British intelligence summaries.

The plain fact is that the Italians were unprepared in mind and equipment for war and, thanks to Fascism, which perpetuated privilege, a strong caste system dominated the army command structure. Many Italians had an affinity with the English that leached away enthusiasm for a war with Britain, and considering that Mussolini was once highly regarded in England, the alliance might well have gone the other way.

Even Rommel, who was caustic in his criticism of the Italians, offered a plea in mitigation for the Italian soldier. He was, he said, poorly equipped and poorly led by a privileged officer class who did not always consider it necessary to make an appearance in battle, and who enjoyed the luxury of having meals of several courses while the troops did not even have field kitchens. He might also have added that the officers’ life-style included flamboyant wardrobes and travelling brothels.

There is very likely a cultural component in this, too. Italians are people who express their every emotion, often with no restraint. By contrast, the Germans, British and Commonwealth troops came from more phlegmatic traditions, and this is a distinct advantage when death or mutilation threatens. To release emotion is to invite panic, and when everyone around about is doing the same, only disaster can result.

Moreover, the making of a soldier demands more than putting a man into uniform, giving him a gun, filling him with propaganda and pointing him towards the enemy. There’s a necessary conditioning, a delving into the psyche for primitive drives that enable a man to thrust a bayonet into another human being and put his foot on the corpse while he pulls out a blade dripping red. Soldiering is not about brass bands and heroics, or even impersonal killing at a distance. It’s a bloody business that requires a man to be prepared to kill or be killed, and in the process put aside all other considerations, including thought for the future. The British, too, had no great heart for the war, at least until it started, and they did not properly prepare for it. Their forces were to some extent blighted by the class system, and great losses were suffered in consequence. Auchinleck was hard put to find a good army commander, and at Alamein, where he himself commanded, his subordinates failed him.

In the House of Commons, during the debate on a motion of censure during July 1942, while the battle raged at Alamein, one speaker scathingly suggested that there were generals in the Czech, Polish and French forces in Britain who could do better than the British generals then engaged in Egypt. If Rommel had been in the British Army, he said, he would be no more than a sergeant, and there was in fact a sergeant in a British armoured brigade who had been chief of staff in the Spanish Civil War and had won the Battle of Ebro.

‘The fact of the matter is,’ he said, ‘that the British Army is ridden with class prejudice.’

The British, though, had a commitment to the war the Italians lacked, and they were not shackled to a partner who despised them. And for the British, winning was a matter of survival. It’s doubtful if the Italians could see any good for themselves whichever way the war went. They were in a no-win situation, and once the sense of adventure was gone they lacked motivation.

In short, a significant factor in Rommel’s failure in North Africa was not simple Italian unwillingness to fight but a tangled complex of political and sociological factors that hobbled the will of the men with the weapons.

Of course the Italians suffered by comparison with their German allies, who must be considered the best soldiers in the world. Though they may not have been the supermen we sometimes thought, they were remarkable in both attack and defence, and no less than astonishing in their ability to fight much stronger forces on so many fronts, and in their tenacity in the face of their country’s ruin. In the Desert, Rommel was able time and again, in a manner that seemed almost miraculous, to pull together scratch German forces to repair holes punched in his line by the Eighth Army.

‘The German soldier always seemed capable of making one more supreme effort,’ says the official British history.

An American writer, Colonel T.N. Dupuy, who has done some scientific modelling on this subject, reckons that in 1943 German soldiers had a 20 per cent superiority over American and British fighting men. In other words, 100 Germans roughly equalled 120 American or British soldiers. He attributes this superiority not to any innate propensity for fighting, but to the effectiveness of the German General Staff. It is difficult not to feel, however, that this superiority does not also relate to the Germans’ strong sense of national identity, of being Germans, to their tradition of obedience to authority, and the powerful military ethos established by that General Staff – not something for which they were admired but it served them well when they were beset by enemies.

The Germans had never before fought a desert war, though they had campaigned elsewhere in Africa. Officers sent to Russia viewed the African adventure with a jaundiced eye and accused those who went there of ‘unauthorised absence’ from the Eastern front, but in their isolated world, and commanded as they were by a general who was a national hero, the ‘Africans’ wrapped themselves in their own sense of elitism. In Africa they were cut off from their familiar world, with no nearby compensations of civilisation available on leave, such as the Eighth Army had in Cairo, and no comfortable alternative theatre to which they could be posted, such as the British had in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Once in North Africa they were trapped in the heat and sand, fighting often without reserves and existing on rations that did little to preserve good health.

But lest he seem larger than life, it should be said that the German soldier could find the prospect of fighting for victory daunting. On 21 August 1941, our panzer regiment diarist wrote: ‘I often wonder how this war, which must be victorious, is to be carried on. Such vast spaces to be conquered against that huge power, England, with her inexhaustible resources. We can only match her with our very best soldiers. But there is a shortage of everything – of material; of reserve manpower; our very vehicles are on their bare rims. Poor rations have made more than 80 per cent of the regiment unfit to be sent forward.’

The German soldier shared, too, the irreverence men of all armies have for the army in general and their superiors in particular. Our diarist perhaps had a stomach ulcer as he recorded breakfast as being ‘carbolic flavoured coffee and mouldy bacon with dauerbrot, the very thing for my stomach!’ and this may explain his description of general staff officers as ‘old bald-headed bureaucrats and conceited young whippersnappers’.

The Germans’ sense of isolation is reflected in a satirical story found sewn into the lining of a coat worn by a prisoner of war describing the return of the Afrika Korps to Berlin ‘long after the war’, when Hitler and Goering are enjoying the quiet of a Europe at peace. The leaders spare the time for an occasional glance out of the window, and then suddenly ‘a caravan of wild-looking creatures comes around the corner driving along crowds of donkeys, laden mainly with stones and sand, others rusty tins which on closer inspection, are found to be Italian AM meat’.

These ‘wild looking creatures’, though German, speak only Arabic, and Goering wonders who they can be. Then a light glows in his memory. Of course, Germany fought a war in North Africa. But what to do with these long forgotten men? Because they could not be integrated into a normal life, they are put on Huneberg Heath, where ‘owing to the absence of sand storms and AM tinned meat, it was not long before their miserable existence terminated’.

The prize for sardonic humour, though, must go to The Desert Song, a poem that was apparently the cause of a German court of inquiry. It bewails the fate of the ‘compulsory volunteers’ of the Desert, badly fed, without pay and deprived of the company of women, and with victory columns ‘just another tale’. One verse portrays Rommel as a hard task master in these terms:

Came dear old Papa Rommel to see this front one day.

He said, No more I’ll permit that, here my army stay.

Advance, those armoured cars and roll on this wheeled host,

I’ll see you devils sweat and toil, I’ll make you devils roast.

Which is pretty much a picture of the man as history portrays him.

A more prosaic but equally telling view of German feelings was given by a German captured during the July fighting. This talkative prisoner told his captors that before the fighting began at Gazala in May 1942, German soldiers could be divided into three categories – the ‘old Africans’, proud of their self-invented title but ‘browned off with the climate and lack of leave; recent reinforcements combed out from desk jobs, young and confidently ignorant; and those who had come from Russia, believing, to the annoyance of the ‘old Africans’, that their new theatre was a rest cure. Since then, the ‘old Africans’ had found this the most arduous campaign yet experienced, the young and confident had had ‘the surprise of their young lives’, and, to the unrepressed delight of the ‘old Africans’, the others had realised their mistake and were yearning for the ‘joys of Russia’.

Yet in the face of hardship, German discipline held.

Armies of El Alamein II


he oddity of the Eighth Army was that though this was essentially Britain’s war, at Alamein in July the infantry almost all came from the Dominions, with divisions present from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Small in population and remote from the centre of conflict, these countries had sent their men from the security of distance to fight what truly in those days was seen as a crusade. Even with all the disillusionment of 1914–18 behind them, there was a sense of urgency and necessity that drove these countries to commit themselves to a war that did not directly threaten them, in the beginning at least, and if there was a degree of self-interest centering on trade in this willing support, there was also an element of idealism, naive though it might seem in our more cynical times. However brutal and unnecessary the Kaiser’s war may have seemed, Hitler’s was inescapable. The Nazis truly were bent on world domination, bolstered by an evil theory of racial superiority, and nothing that has come to light since the war has changed that. Without this understanding the commitment of men to a battle in a North African desert against an enemy they grudgingly respected cannot be appreciated.

Until the disasters of the Battle of Egypt, when an intense bitterness was generated, there was a degree of benevolent tension between Commonwealth troops and those from Britain. Though they respected veterans like the Desert Rats (the 7th Armoured Division, which was created in the Desert), they affected a mild arrogance towards ‘the Poms’, born partly, perhaps, from their sense of national identity, and partly from the fact that, being men accustomed to the open spaces of their own countries, they saw United Kingdom troops as being more at home in big cities and out of place in the wilderness. Moreover, UK troops, for their part, tended to regard those from the Commonwealth as ‘colonials’ and in their vast ignorance of places on the other side of the world were apt to ask galling questions. Commonwealth nations were self-governing democracies, and though they might have lacked some of Europe’s sophistication, they were civilised countries with all the amenities this implies, and Commonwealth troops were scathingly amused to receive inquiries suggesting that their homelands resembled darkest Africa.

The fact that the Eighth Army was run by the British probably didn’t help, either, especially when things went wrong and it was clear that army command was at fault. This is not to suggest that Commonwealth and British troops were at daggers drawn, but there was tension.

For whatever reason, Rommel appears to have regarded the New Zealanders as the elite of the Eighth Army. Certainly they were different, and in some ways more like a tribe or a family, with the huge Bernard Freyberg VC, affectionately known as Tiny, as a father figure at their head. Freyberg, who began life as a dentist, had been a strong swimmer in his youth and gained some fame during the Gallipoli campaign, where he served with the Hood Battalion, when he swam ashore on a mission. He gained a VC in France, and after the war stayed on in the British Army. Though Surrey born, and truly a British Army officer, he grew up in New Zealand, and soon after the outbreak of the Second World War was appointed to command the New Zealand Division.

Wounded during the abortive defence of the Mersa Matruh positions in June 1942 he handed over to the pipe-smoking Inglis, a barrister by profession, promoted to major-general for the occasion.

The New Zealanders came from one of the most geographically isolated countries on earth, just a few blobs of land in the South Pacific, almost on the International Date Line and nearly 2,000 kilometres from the nearest neighbour, Australia. In this fastness, an ambivalent culture was suspended half way between the nostalgia of those who still called England Home, with a capital H, and the realism of an enforced growing South Pacific identity. Though there were some regional rivalries among the New Zealanders – those from the sparsely populated South Island liked to say theirs was the mainland – they hung together as a de facto national army of a country of only 1.6 million people, no more than a medium-sized European city, and while there were also many New Zealanders serving in the air force and navy, the army was the centre of attention at home, and this enhanced their self-awareness. It was a larger division than the normal British formation, as it came with supplementary fighting units and all its own back-up services, its own ‘cavalry’ – a reconnaissance unit in light tanks – and even a spare battalion – the 28th (Maori) Battalion, established especially for the country’s ethnic minority. The Maoris at one time or another were posted to different brigades and were in the thick of the fighting.

So pervasive is wartime propaganda (and what country will denigrate its soldiers either during a war or afterwards?) it is hard even now to say how good the New Zealanders really were. Tuker thought the division was ‘a very ponderous affair … like dear old Freyberg’, and Dorman Smith considered it had not responded easily to the ‘scrambling, impromptu’ sort of fighting of July. Auchinleck, if he did not regard the New Zealanders as the best, at least used them as a criterion by which others could be judged. Writing in 1942 to Sir Walter Monkton, Minister of State in Cairo, he said ‘The Indian Army, as you know, has gained a name for itself which is second to none, not even the New Zealanders.’

Like the Australians and South Africans, the New Zealand Division enjoyed a degree of independence and could refuse an order or ask for Government approval, though this was not something done lightly. The primary political concern was that so small an army should not be annihilated in a single action, and the New Zealanders had vivid memories of a sequence of disasters that had accumulated enormous casualties in dead, wounded and prisoners of war.

The Australians, coming from a larger, more self-confident country, were more flamboyant, and they had a reputation for indiscipline. But according to the wartime writer Chester Wilmot their commander at Alamein, Morshead, was ‘something of a martinet’, and the troops, he said, responded to discipline.

Known to his troops as Ming the Merciless, Morshead was certainly the antithesis of the Australian stereotype. In the words of Australia’s military historian, Dr C.E.W. Bean, he was a ‘dapper little schoolmaster’, a dumpy man with a toothbrush moustache and a quick temper. Originally the Australians had three divisions in the Middle East, and when two were taken home after Japan entered the war, Morshead became, like Freyberg, the protector of his nation’s one division in this theatre.

The Australians liked to rough up the Italians, who greatly feared them, though according to Desmond Young, Rommel was amused by this and felt that it did not show a ‘bad heart’. When the Italians discovered on 10 July that they had been attacked by Australians, their incredulity, according to the commander of 2/24th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Hammer, ‘was almost pathetic’. The Germans were surprised, too, thinking all the Australians had gone home, and a message from the commander of the 86th Infantry Regiment to a battalion commander on 20 July, warned, ‘Div has just rung up at this very moment to say that units in front of you are Australians – notable patrollers. Keep your eyes open. Don’t withdraw your patrols further than 100 metres from the strong-point or you will find yourself left high and dry and with only an alarm bell for protection.’

The Australians were no lesser soldiers than the New Zealanders, and their part in the 242-day seige of Tobruk fully established their credentials. Indeed, at Tobruk they bested Rommel by having the troops lie low while the panzers went by, to emerge to fight off the surprised following infantry. The tanks, meanwhile, charged on into a trap of guns from which the survivors escaped only by retreat.

Barrie Pitt says they lacked the hard professionalism of regular soldiers but made up for it in sheer size and physical strength, and he describes them as being of immense physique, with rifles in their hands looking ‘like boys’ air guns’. Of course, many Englishmen could not tell Australians and New Zealanders apart – they still can’t-just as many of us can’t distinguish Canadians from Americans, but the story of Australians using captured enemy guns in Tobruk is unadultered Okker. As the guns lacked sights, the procedure for changing elevation was ‘Cock the bastard up a bit’, and when the gun appeared to be on target, ‘Let her go, mate.’

The South Africans were Africans, and they were committed only to the defence of the African continent, a condition imposed so literally that when Auchinleck made plans to withdraw from the Delta should the Axis break through at Alamein, part of his army would have had to withdraw south up the Nile. To have taken the South Africans east across the Suez Canal would have required them to enter Asia.

The South Africans were commanded at Alamein by the prickly Dan Pienaar, who had been appointed as recently as March. He was a student of the Bible and a fatalist, but in his approach to the enemy he exercised a Gilbertian sense of humour. He had German mines sewn in front of Italian troops and Italian mines sewn in front of Germans, and when he learned that the Germans listened to Lili Marlene singing love songs on their forces radio at midnight, he instituted a shelling programme at 11.57 pm.

The South Africans were a people apart among the Commonwealth troops, and their distinctive culture came through in their long ‘a’ and rolled ‘r’, the pace and music of their speech, their exotic songs, and their frequent use of the Afrikaans language, through which they wove army colloquialisms in English. They were, incidentally, the natural rugby rivals of the New Zealanders. They, too, had their sense of identity, and they came to the Western Desert with a successful campaign in East Africa behind them.

After the fall of Tobruk in June 1942 a fairly savage antipathy developed between the South Africans and Australians, who felt their own record entitled them to pass judgement, and the story is told of an Australian who offered a South African a seat in a Cairo bar because, he said, ‘you must be tired after running all the way from Tobruk’. A monstrous brawl ensued.

The Indians were Empire rather than Commonwealth, the last vestiges of the greatest empire the world has known. They were professionals under British command, and in this they contrasted with the more relaxed attitude of the so-called colonials, who were in the army for the duration only.

The Indians had served in East Africa, too, and at Keren had won a battle not many people know about, even today. Here, in rugged terrain, they had battled against tenacious Italians to fight their way up through the Dongolass Gorge to achieve one of the memorable victories of the war. Not all the Indians who came to Alamein were veterans, and some who had never previously heard a shot fired in anger were to stake their own claim to fame by stopping the panzers.

The Indian Army was not entirely made up of Indians, and included British regiments.

It is difficult to generalise about the troops from the UK in the Middle East because they were less homogeneous, a mixture of crack professional regiments and run-of-the-mill support units whose manpower ingredients were English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh, each with their individual regional origins, a combination of dialects and identities that invited rivalries and even a degree of antipathy. Rommel dismissed them as promising amateurs. To the Commonwealth troops, the British, with their ‘funny’ way of talking, were quite strange beings, and as the British ran the army and as it was the British Red Caps and British punishment centres that imposed general discipline on free ranging ‘colonials’, they commonly appeared as authority figures to be resented. It has to be remembered that in pre-war days, tourism was a pastime mainly for the rich, and there was no television to provide us with daily images and sounds from around the globe. For New Zealanders and Australians living at the far end of the Earth, Britain was at least a month’s steaming away, and there was a rich folklore from earlier times of ‘new chums’ from ‘Home’ trying awkwardly to cope with what we now recognise as a culture shock, and the ‘Empire’ was sometimes used as a refuge by misfit Englishmen who hadn’t been able to cope with life in their own country. British kinsfolk in general were almost foreigners, regarded rather patronisingly by New Zealanders and Australians. After the disasters of July, they came to be regarded rather more angrily as ‘Pommie bastards’.

Armies of El Alamein III


The United Kingdom forces contained a rift of another kind: the perpetual division between infantry and armour – the cavalry, who saw themselves as a kind of military aristocracy. It was all a curious extension of the English class system based on the cult of the horse.

Not that there were many United Kingdom infantry there in July. Those that were came in the form of a rebuilt brigade and various mobile columns from 50th Division, which had suffered severely in the Gazala fighting and lost one entire brigade. But infantry officers held sway in army command, and the rift between infantry and armour can be inferred from Dorman Smith’s caustic reference, following an unpleasant scene on 4 July, to ‘temperamental cavalry generals’, his allusion to ‘gross snobbery’ in cavalry regiments and his belief that those in armoured regiments regarded infantry battles as ‘vulgar brawls’.

And he quotes with implied approval a statement attributed to Wavell in 1932: ‘I was once attached to a cavalry regiment. I only heard one order given at any time. It was, “Trot on, Algie”.’

For its part, the cavalry made its own implied reference to this rift in a memorandum by Lieutenant-Colonel E. O. Burne of 12th Lancers, who presumably wished his views to be known to posterity. He appears to have been in a state of explosive anger when he tore off his protest against army reforms that curbed the cavalry practice of seeking out and recruiting the brightest young officers, a custom he justified with the argument that the Englishman was the inventor of the club, the club system was in his blood, ‘and not unnaturally he likes to belong to the best club. A good regiment is regarded as a good club by both officers and men, and round it are built up innumerable welfare associations and social societies’.

‘The argument that popular regiments get a monopoly of the best class of officer is but a point in favour of the old system,’ he wrote. ‘Under the new system the RAC will not get the good officers at all. The powerful trade unions of the Guards Brigades and Rifle Regiments will see to that.’ Trade unions, indeed!

Such were the divisions on both sides. Dorman Smith blamed many of the July failures on the pig-headed independence of the Dominion formations, and in particular accused the Australians of causing the final catastrophe on 27 July. He mourned the absence of ‘docile, obedient, bull-headed British divisions instead of these brave but temperamental Dominion troops, each totally different from every other contingent’. ‘Eighth Army,’ he was to write, ‘was very distinctly labelled, “Handle with care”.’

Auchinleck, too, had his reservations about his Dominion troops. In a letter to Brooke on 25 July, reviewing the recent disastrous events and the absence of trained mobile troops, he complained that despite their ‘magnificent material’ they were ‘very hard to teach’.

They are apt to think that once they have been in battle they have little to learn and are on the whole suspicious of any attempts to teach them. Some of them say quite openly that we are incompetent ourselves and so unfit to teach them or anyone else. They are not alone in this, of course.

‘… there is no doubt that their intensely democratic feelings make it most difficult for their officers to insist on real hard work being done when they are out of the battle zone. They simply do not understand the meaning of continuous and intensive training. Freyberg is an exception, of course, and does insist on hard training, but he has very few trained or experienced officers to back him up and he has to send the best of his leaders back to New Zealand.’

Rommel, for his part, intoned his own lamentation over the Italians, who undeniably were resistant not just to work but also to accepting the dangers of battle. Whatever Auchinleck may have thought of his Dominion troops, they faced up to shot and shell and could be relied on to fight with spirit.

This mix of nationalities imposed its own pattern on the battles of July.

The initial Axis attacks fell on the South Africans and Indians. By the second day of battle the British were in the field with their tanks and some battle groups, while the South Africans held on in and around Alamein. As the Eighth Army turned to counter-attack, the Australians, New Zealanders and more Indian units took up the fight, with the British tanks more or less nibbling at the edges, at least until the arrival of a brand new armoured brigade that threw itself into the fray with such abandon that it disintegrated on impact. Remembering that Germany’s foe was, as the German song had it, England, Rommel might reasonably have wondered where his true enemy was.

But then he really had little time to ponder such niceties of identification. The British shrewdly hacked away at the Italians, whom Rommel ruefully confessed were ‘easy meat’, with the intention of so isolating the Germans that they could be more easily overcome. To strengthen his positions, Rommel was compelled to take away formations from his already weak German units and scatter them among the Italians. The pattern for Rommel became one of frenetic mobility as crisis followed crisis and the collapse of the Axis positions seemed imminent.

Looking at the relative strengths of the two armies, we might wonder why there was so much panic at the time. But of course those in Egypt did not have our perspective, and Pienaar, the South African commander, and Gott, the 13th Corps commander, both feared the worst, while in Cairo there was a distinct impression that the gothic hordes would soon be tramping down the coast road to Cairo. Around the world people held their breath.

Yet Rommel reached the Alamein defences with minuscule German forces, to be opposed by an army superior in numbers and fire power, and in much better physical shape. The German forces consisted, supposedly, of three divisions – 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, which made up the Afrika Korps, and the 90th Light Division, normally under direct Army control. Between them they could not muster the strength of one division. At full strength they would have fielded 37,000 men, 371 tanks and 466 anti-tank guns, plus artillery, and in addition there would have been the army artillery with another 3,000 men. The head count on 1 July would be no more than a tenth of that number.

90th Light, which should have had 12,000 men, attacked on 1 July with 76 officers and 1,600 other ranks, of which just over 1,000 were infantry. They had a mixed bag of British, Russian and German artillery pieces, and only 32 anti-tank guns, of which two were British six-pounders and 12 were Russian guns, booty from the Russian front.

The two panzer divisions had between them only 55 tanks, all that was left of the 332 tanks with which they had begun the offensive at Gazala on 26 May, and 15 armoured cars.

On 8 July, when there had been a long enough pause to take stock, the Germans found they had 50 tanks between the two divisions, with each division having a rifle regiment of 300 men and ten anti-tank guns, and two batteries of artillery. 90th Light had an overall strength of 1,500 men, 12 per cent of establishment, 30 anti-tank guns, two batteries and three reconnaissance battalions with 15 armoured cars between them. Then there was the army artillery, which had 11 heavy and 4 light batteries, and the army anti-aircraft artillery with 26, 88 mm and 25, 20 mm guns.

The Italian XX Motorised Corps, which should have had 430 tanks among 3 divisions, Ariete, Littorio and Trieste, could field only 54 tanks and 8 motor battalions with an overall strength of 1,600 men. Also present were ‘elements’ of X and XXI Corps consisting of 11 infantry battalions, each of about 200 men.

In the course of July reinforcements did come forward, though casualties largely offset these and Rommel’s forces did not gain in strength either in men or tanks. By 15 July more than 2,000 Germans had flown in from Crete and a start made with bringing in the 164th Light African Division. Towards the end of July the Ramcke Parachute Brigade arrived, an event that led Auchinleck to warn his army of a possible airborne attack.

The Italians were making arrangements to bring in substantial forces that included tanks, armoured cars and self-propelled guns. Seven infantry regiments and 4 artillery regiments were flown in. The Folgore Parachute Division was to come at once, to be followed by Pistoia and Friuli Divisions. But all this would take time, and throughout July Rommel watched his Italian forces diminish and his German forces barely hold their own.

But if the British overestimated their enemy, so also did the Germans, though Rommel believed – or perhaps hoped – that he could drive right through to Cairo. Rommel saw a continuous defence line across his path, yet the number of British and Commonwealth troops who stood to at first light on 1 July would probably total no more than 25,000. This was few enough, but there was a good concentration in the north at least, and to a greater or lesser degree all units were dug in.

The only complete division, less a small number of companies that had been sent to the rear, was the 2nd New Zealand, which had reassembled after a wild break out by two of its brigades from Minqar Qaim, south of Mersa Matruh, a few days earlier. The 1st South African was a coherent division, but two of its brigades had been converted to battle groups. There were two Indian brigades, the 18th and 6th, in different areas, and 7th Motor Brigade, a remnant of the veteran 7th Armoured Division, able to field only light tanks and armoured cars. The only armoured forces available on that first morning were 18 tanks of 1st Armoured Division. The rest of the division’s forces, which were, in any case, in a more or less dazed state after a fighting withdrawal, were either trapped in soft sand or awaiting repair. The 1st Armoured Division was really a division in name only, as its two brigades were a make-and-mend job from the fragments left over from the Gazala battle. It was not a force with the coherence that comes from long training together.

There were therefore strengths and weaknesses in the Eighth Army of which Rommel was unaware. Auchinleck had reinforcements close at hand in Syria, Iraq and Persia (now Iran) in the shape of formations stationed there to ward off any German incursion from the north, and through force of circumstances he was compelled, with reluctance, to call them down. While the outside world worried about what might happen at El Alamein, the strategists were also concerned about what would happen should the Russians give way, and Auchinleck was in effect fighting with the occasional glance over his shoulder. His hope was to achieve a quick decision in the Desert and return the borrowed units to the north, and this was an unseen factor in what happened during July.

The New Zealanders had come from Syria, and the Indians from Persia. Back at the Delta and soon to come forward was the 9th Australian Division, fully manned but short of equipment, which had also come from Syria. Further Indian brigades were brought down from the north during the month.

Eighth Army’s ace card should have been its tank reserves. 1st Armoured quickly built up its numbers to easily outnumber Rommel’s few panzers, and another armoured division, the 8th, was already on its way from Britain. Part of this new division was sunk, part sent to India by mistake, and part delayed at Durban for ship repairs, but by some miracle of efficiency one brigade, the 23rd, arrived early in July and was flung into the fray on 22 July. At that time, its arrival brought Auchinleck’s tank numbers up to 450 compared with Rommel’s 33 on that day. A cynic might argue, however, that the enemy profited most from this disproportionate number of British tanks; they provided him with excellent target practice for his anti-tank guns.

In looking at the armies of July, an obvious question that comes to mind is why was Rommel left to languish with so slender resources when victory in Africa would have yielded such rich prizes. In a sense, Alamein was to become a German Gallipoli, an alternative front where opportunities were lost for lack of military commitment and political will.

The reason for this neglect, according to a German admiral, was that the German Army was obsessed by a Continental attitude. Germany was a Continental power experienced in Continental wars, and engaged in a Continental struggle with Russia. Vice-Admiral Weichold, Chief German Liaison Officer in Rome and Flag Officer, German Naval Command, 1940–43, asserted in a post-war essay that Germany’s failure to understand the importance of sea power deprived her of the will to seize control of the Mediterranean, which would have enabled more ready supply and reinforcement of Rommel, and blinded her to what could be achieved in North Africa. The Italians, who had a fleet in the Mediterranean, might have pulled it off, but, as with their army, the fleet’s technology and command structure were both outdated, and there was a ‘silent admission’ of British naval superiority in experience and achievement in battle. We might feel that the Italians saw the Royal Navy as we, in our more pessimistic moments, saw the German Army.

Rommel complained constantly and bitterly about his army’s neglected supply position, blaming those in Rome who did not recognise that the North African war had reached its climax, and the ineffectual Italian navy, a great many of whose officers, he believed, ‘like many other Italians’, were not supporters of Mussolini and preferred German defeat to victory. Even Fascist authorities, he asserted, were too pompous and corrupt to help. For whatever reason, Rommel never had enough of anything, and at Alamein he wrote despairingly of how the British were sparing no effort to master the situation.

‘The peril of the hour moved the British to tremendous exertions,’ he wrote. And he viewed with despair his ‘Africans’, as he called them, moving up time and again to fight yet another engagement, while the British, as he saw it, were able to bring up fresh units and withdraw others for rest.

This view of the British situation was a rosy one, but certainly things were in better shape on the Delta side of the line. Rather than a few brave survivors standing with Alexandria at their backs, the Eighth Army was still full of fight, though anyone seeing the helter-skelter flight of broken remnants down the coast road as the enemy drew near might reasonably have assumed that the end was near. Of course, the end was near, but it was not what anyone was expecting.

Korea 16th Century: The Japanese And Manchu Invasions



After a century and a half of peaceful relations with its neighbors Korea suffered from a destructive series of invasions. The first, and most devastating, came from the Japanese. In Japan, a bloody struggle for power among feudal lords temporarily ended when a powerful warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598), unified the country. Hideyoshi then launched an invasion of Korea with the intention of using the peninsula as a base to conquer China. It is unclear if he was motivated by megalomania or a desire to direct the energies of warriors harmlessly abroad. Or perhaps the invasion of Korea was merely a continuation of his drive to extend his power, the next step after he had brought the autonomous domains of western Japan under his control. Hideyoshi assembled a quarter of a million men for what was probably the largest overseas invasion in history before the twentieth century. Korean officials received rumors of preparations for an invasion by 1591, but debated among themselves over the reality of the threat and only made some inadequate efforts to strengthen their defenses. When the initial contingent of 52,000 troops landed in Pusan on May 23, 1592 (by the solar calendar), they overran the coastal fortifications that were defended to the death by the local commander. The Japanese forces then advanced quickly up the peninsula. Their foot soldiers were armed and well trained in musketry, which they used to great effect. One unit of Japanese would fire volleys of muskets into the Korean forces, overwhelming them with musket power, while other units would attack with swords on the right and left flanks, decapitating as many as they could. Korean troops, who would defend themselves by massing together, were then slaughtered in great numbers. So effective were Japanese tactics that three weeks after the start of the invasion the Japanese captured Seoul and then pushed north.

The Choson court fled ahead of the enemy advance, abandoning the defense of the capital to slaves and commoners. Disgusted onlookers jeered and even threw stones at the royal entourage as it made its way to Uiju on the Chinese frontier. Slaves in Seoul took advantage of the chaos to burn palaces and offices and to destroy the registers that documented their status. After a pause for regrouping and supplying their forces, the Japanese under General Konishi Yukinaga captured P’yongyang on July 23. A second wing under General Kato Kiyomasa and General Nabeshima Naoshige advanced northeast to the Yalu and Tumen rivers. The Korean army disintegrated under this massive and well-organized invasion. In desperation the Koreans appealed to China for help. The Chinese, fearful of this new threat from the east, responded with assistance. Led by General Li Rusong, himself of Korean descent, the Ming forces entered in January 1593 and defeated Konishi in battle at P’yongyang in February. The Chinese then advanced south, but did so too fast and were halted. Then the war began to stalemate in a way similar to the later Korean War.

Unlike the Korean War where Koreans fought on both sides, Koreans were united in their resistance to Japan, and after a poor initial showing they resisted more effectively. Peasants often fiercely fought to defend their villages from these strange, dangerous outsiders. Local yangban, monks, and others formed resistance bands called uibyong (“righteous armies”). Among the more effective groups were ones led by Cho Hon in Ch’ungch’ong province in south-central Korea, Kwak Chae-u in the southeastern province of Kyongsang, and Kwon Yul in the southwestern province of Cholla. While most were defeated, they made the Japanese position difficult, and along with the pressure from the Chinese forces they forced Hideyoshi’s troops to withdraw to the southern coastal areas. Especially successful was Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545–1598), who waged a naval campaign that destroyed hundreds of Japanese ships and made supplying and reinforcing Japanese troops costly. Yi came from a family of civil officials but chose to take the military rather than the civil examinations. He served as an officer along the northern frontier and later in Cholla. Alarmed by the reports of a possible invasion, he launched a last-minute shipbuilding effort. Yi experimented with new weapons and tactics. His most ingenious innovation was the kobukson (“turtle ship”), an ironclad ship designed to withstand Japanese cannon fire and to ram and sink its opponents’ vessels. These were the world’s first ironclad ships. The turtle ships proved to be highly effective. The first ship was completed just days before the Japanese landed. Yi with the help of his turtle ships led an effective naval campaign that prevented the Japanese from using the western coastal route to transport supplies and reinforcements to their army in the north of Korea, making resupplying their army in Korea from Japan hazardous.

With the war stalemated by 1594, the Chinese withdrew their forces to Manchuria and the Japanese to the southern coastal ports. A period of diplomacy began. Chinese diplomats came to Japan, but the negotiations revealed how little the Chinese and Japanese knew each other. The Chinese were willing to recognize Hideyoshi as the “king” of Japan and allow the Japanese to enter the Chinese tributary system. Hideyoshi in turn offered to form a marriage alliance with the Chinese emperor. Interestingly Hideyoshi offered to divide Korea, with the southern provinces coming under Japanese control and the northern parts under Chinese authority, thus roughly anticipating the division of Korea that the United States and the Soviet Union carried out three and half centuries later. Eventually negotiations broke down and the Japanese launched a second massive invasion in 1597. This time the Koreans and the Chinese under General Yang Hao were better prepared and limited the advance of the Japanese. Meanwhile, Yi Sun-sin, who had been removed from his post due to court intrigue, was given back his naval command. He scored a major victory at Myongnyang near Mokp’o. While chasing the retreating Japanese ships he was killed by a chance shot. Today he is remembered as a national hero and one of the world’s great naval geniuses. Suffering defeats at sea and stalemate on land, the Japanese generals withdrew their forces to Japan to participate in the jockeying for power that followed Hideyoshi’s death in late 1598.

The invasions, while a failure, were highly destructive, since the Japanese, like the Mongols earlier, used a scorched-earth policy to overcome resistance. As a result, they left behind a ruined countryside and a legacy of bitterness and fearfulness of the Japanese among Koreans. The viciousness of the conflict was symbolized by the 38,000 ears of Chinese and Korean forces sent back to Japan by military commanders as proof of their military successes. These were pickled and buried in Kyoto in the Mimizuka (Mound of Ears). The conflict provided later generations of Koreans with heroes from the fighting monks and peasants to Admiral Yi. It also led to a temporary and partial breakdown in the social order as slaves took advantage of the war to seek freedom. A court in desperate need of money sold official titles to commoners and even outcastes. These titles, however, did not become hereditary. While the Ming only intervened when it became clear that the Japanese were a threat to Chinese security, the invaluable assistance of China reinforced Korea’s tributary ties and its emotional connection with the Middle Kingdom. The conflict also brought Korean influence to Japan. Japanese forces brought back thousands of Korean captives. These included the scholar Kang Hang, who played a major role in introducing Neo-Confucian philosophy to that country, and potters whose rough-hewn Korean wares would influence Japanese ceramic traditions.

Hardly had Korea recovered from the Japanese invasions when it faced a new threat to the north with the rise of the Manchus. The Manchus were a Jurchen group who under their leader Nurhaci united the tribal peoples of what is now called Manchuria. In 1616, Nurhaci established the new state of Later Jin, a name derived from the Jurchen state of the twelfth century that conquered northern China. The Manchus then began attacking Chinese garrisons in the northeast. The Ming court called upon the Korean king for assistance. Realizing how vulnerable Korea was to a Manchu invasion, King Kwanghaegun (r. 1608–1623) sought to avoid becoming involved. When he sent forces to assist the Ming he secretly instructed his military commander to observe which way the battle was going, and when Manchu forces appeared to be emerging victorious the Koreans surrendered without fighting. Korea did not remain neutral for long. Kwanghaegun was overthrown in a power struggle led by some who were angered by his lack of support of the Ming, who had a generation earlier come to Choson’s rescue. The new group that placed Injo on the throne in 1619 pursued a pro-Ming, anti-Manchu policy.

Shortly afterward, Yi Kwal, a military officer who felt that his family had not been properly rewarded for his part in the coup, seized control of Seoul, forcing the court to flee. Yi Kwal was soon defeated. The new pro- Ming court then provoked a Manchu invasion of Korea in 1627. The court fled to its traditional refuge of Kanghwa Island while the Manchu forces looted P’yongyang. Bowing to reality the Koreans negotiated a tributary relationship with the Manchus, recognizing them as elder brothers and agreeing to make tribute payments of gold, cloth, and horses. The Korean court, however, still pro-Ming, broke off its tributary relations and allied itself again with the Ming in 1636. Nurhaci’s successor Abahai, who now styled himself emperor of the Qing dynasty, invaded Korea to secure his southern flank as he struggled to conquer China. Crossing the frozen Yalu River in the winter of 1636–1637, Manchu cavalry forces advanced quickly and captured Seoul. Injo (r. 1623–1649) retreated to a fortress south of the capital while members of the royal family and their entourage fled to the safety of Kanghwa. Injo and his forces, after holding out against a Manchu siege for weeks, surrendered when news arrived that the Manchus, succeeding where the Mongols had failed, had captured Kanghwa and with it the royal family. Injo then pledged his loyalty to the Manchu rulers. Seven years later the Manchus captured Beijing and the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) replaced the Ming.

For the next three and a half centuries Korea served as a tributary of the Qing dynasty. The Koreans, however, entered the relationship unwillingly, and hostility toward the Manchus remained strong. Some, such as the military commander Im Kyong-op (1594–1646), sought to renew hostilities. A number of Koreans were held hostage, including two princes, Sohyon and Pongnim; the latter became King Hyojong (r. 1649–1659). Hyojong upon becoming king prepared to support Ming loyalists who were fighting the Qing in China and planned for an attack. The Qing, however, eventually put down the loyalists and Koreans came to accept the reality of Manchu rule. The Koreans thereafter maintained correct if not enthusiastic relations with the new dynasty.

Korea: The Russo-Japanese War And The Protectorate


The end to Korea’s effective independence came as a result of the Russo- Japanese War. A major imperialist power in the age of imperialism, Russia took advantage of the retreat of Japan in 1895 to advance in northeast Asia. It concluded a secret treaty with China to build part of the Trans- Siberian Railway it was constructing across Manchuria. The Russians also acquired twenty-five-year leases on Port Arthur and Dalian, and began a program to build a rail line linking these warm-water ports to the Trans-Siberian. In 1900, Russian forces entered Manchuria during the Boxer Rebellion. These forces were supposed to be withdrawn after the rebellion ended, but in fact they remained there, alarming Britain as well as Japan. In 1902, to counter Russian expansion in the East, Britain abandoned its long-held policy of avoiding formal alliances by concluding the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Britain agreed to acknowledge Japan’s interest in Korea in exchange for Japan’s recognition of British rights and interests in China. With its position strengthened, Tokyo demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Manchuria. Russia, however, reneged on promises to do so. Instead, in July 1903, a small group of Russian soldiers entered Korea at Yongnamp’o, a trading port at the mouth of the Yalu, and started constructing a fort. At Japanese insistence, they withdrew. Many Japanese had hoped to work out an agreement with Russia—a free hand in Manchuria for Russia in exchange for a Japanese free hand in Korea—but nothing came of this. Instead Russia’s provocations were such that Japan decided to take military action to prevent Korea from falling into Russian hands. In February 1904, the Japanese carried out a surprise attack on the Russian naval facilities at Port Arthur.

Korea declared its neutrality in January 1904 in the wake of rising tensions between the two imperialist powers. When hostilities broke out, Japanese troops entered Seoul, as they had done at the start of the Sino-Japanese War, and compelled the Korean government to bow to its wishes. The Korean foreign minister signed a protocol in February that in effect made Korea a protectorate of Japan. It gave the Japanese government the right to take any necessary action to protect the Korean imperial house or the territorial integrity of Korea if threatened by a foreign power and gave the Japanese the right to occupy certain parts of the country. In another agreement signed in August 1904, Korea agreed to appoint a Japanese advisor to the Ministry of Finance and a non-Japanese foreigner recommended by the Japanese government to advise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It also required Korea to consult with Japan before signing any treaties or agreements with other countries, or any contracts or concessions to foreigners. A Japanese, Megata Tanetaro, became financial advisor, and an American, Durham White Stevens, became the foreign affairs advisor. In effect, the Korean government had conceded control of its financial and foreign affairs to Japan. Meanwhile, a pro-Japanese association called the Ilchinhoe (Society for Advancement), under the leadership of Song Pyong-jun, was actively advocating the union of Korea and Japan. This group received support from nationalist, pro-expansionist groups in Japan. The purpose was to give an impression that the Japanese takeover of Korea had popular support among Koreans. Many Japanese nationalists became involved in the project to bring Korea under Japanese rule, sometimes working in tandem with their government, sometimes running ahead of it.

To the surprise of many observers and largely to the delight of the British and Americans, Japan emerged victorious in the war. Facing overly extended supply lines and revolt at home, Russia concluded the Treaty of Portsmouth with Japan in September 1905, with President Theodore Roosevelt acting as mediator. Russia withdrew from Manchuria, and Japan acquired Port Arthur and was now unchallenged in its efforts to achieve domination over Korea. The United States tacitly accepted the transfer of Korea to Japan in the Taft-Katsura Memorandum of July 1905. In this exchange of views between American secretary of war William Howard Taft and the Japanese prime minister Katsura Taro, the United States recognized Japan’s right to take appropriate measures for the “guidance, control, and protection” of Korea; in exchange, Japan recognized America’s position in the Philippines. Britain, renewing its alliance with Japan in 1905, also tacitly accepted Korea as being in Japan’s sphere. The way was diplomatically prepared for Japan to take a free hand in Korea.

In November 1905, Ito Hirobumi, one of the principal architects of Meiji Japan came to Seoul to conclude a treaty establishing a protectorate. On November 17, 1905, with Japanese troops displaying a show of strength on the streets of the capital, the Korean foreign minister, Pak Che-sun, signed what has been called the Protectorate Treaty of 1905. The acting prime minister, Han Kyu-sol, refused to sign it. This agreement transferred all foreign relations to Japan. A Japanese resident-general (tokan) was to be stationed in Seoul with direct access to the Korean emperor. According to the treaty, his role was to manage diplomatic affairs, but his authority soon expanded to include most aspects of the country’s administration. Beginning with the Americans, the international community closed its legations in Seoul, and the country was now only nominally independent. Most Korean officials such as Pak Che-sun, who became prime minister, simply accommodated themselves to the new reality. A few were despondent. Diplomat and official Min Yong-hwan committed suicide in protest; others went into exile. In reality, Korea was under Japanese control since the start of the Russo-Japanese War in early 1904, so the formal protectorate was not a sudden change or traumatic event but simply one in a series of steps by which Japan consolidated its rule over Korea. The process, however, did not end with the protectorate; rather, it was another step in Japan’s absorption of Korea.





Spanish Conquest of Peru, 1532

Francisco Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory ever taken in a single battle when he defeated the Incan Empire at Cajamarca in 1532. Pizarro’s victory opened the way for Spain to claim most of South America and its tremendous riches, as well as imprint the continent with its language, culture, and religion.

Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the New World offered a preview of the vast wealth and resources to be found in the Americas, and Hernán Cortés’s victory over the Aztecs had proven that great riches were there for the taking. It is not surprising that other Spanish explorers flocked to the area—some to advance the cause of their country, most to gain their own personal fortunes.

Francisco Pizarro was one of the latter. The illegitimate son of a professional sol- dier, Pizarro joined the Spanish army as a teenager and then sailed for Hispaniola, from where he participated in Vasco de Balboa’s expedition that crossed Panama and “discovered” the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Along the way, he heard stories of the great wealth belonging to native tribes to the south.

After learning of Cortés’s success in Mexico, Pizarro received permission to lead expeditions down the Pacific Coast of what is now Colombia, first in 1524–25 and then again in 1526–28. The second expedition experienced such hardships that his men wanted to return home. According to legend, Pizarro drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited anyone who desired “wealth and glory” to step across and continue with him in his quest.

Thirteen men crossed the line and endured a difficult journey into what is now Peru, where they made contact with the Incas. After peaceful negotiations with the Incan leaders, the Spaniards returned to Panama and sailed to Spain with a small amount of gold and even a few llamas. Emperor Charles V was so impressed that he promoted Pizarro to captain general, appointed him the governor of all lands six hundred miles south of Panama, and financed an expedition to return to the land of the Incas.

Pizarro set sail for South America in January 1531 with 265 soldiers and 65 horses. Most of the soldiers carried spears or swords. At least three had primitive muskets called arquebuses, and twenty more carried crossbows. Among the members of the expedition were four of Pizarro’s brothers and all of the original thirteen adven- turers who had crossed their commander’s sword line to pursue “wealth and glory.”

Between wealth and glory stood an army of 30,000 Incas representing a century- old empire that extended 2,700 miles from modern Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. The Incas had assembled their Empire by expanding outward from their home territory in the Cuzco Valley. They had forced defeated tribes to assimilate Incan traditions, speak their language, and provide soldiers for their army. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Incas had built more than 10,000 miles of roads, complete with suspension bridges, to develop trade throughout the empire. They also had become master stonemasons with finely crafted temples and homes.

About the time Pizarro landed on the Pacific Coast, the Incan leader, considered a deity, died, leaving his sons to fight over leadership. One of these sons, Atahualpa, killed most of his siblings and assumed the throne shortly before he learned that the white men had returned to his Incan lands.

Pizarro and his “army” reached the southern edge of the Andes in present-day Peru in June 1532. Undaunted by the report that the Incan army numbered 30,000, Pizarro pushed inland and crossed the mountains, no small feat itself. Upon arrival at the village of Cajamarca on a plateau on the eastern slope of the Andes, the Spanish officer invited the Incan king to a meeting. Atahualpa, believing himself a deity and unimpressed with the small Spanish force, arrived with a defensive force of only three or four thousand.

Despite the odds, Pizarro decided to act rather than talk. With his arquebuses and cavalry in the lead, he attacked on November 16, 1532. Surprised by the assault and awed by the firearms and horses, the Incan army disintegrated, leaving Atahualpa a prisoner. The only Spanish casualty was Pizarro, who sustained a slight wound while personally capturing the Incan leader.

Pizarro demanded a ransom of gold from the Incas for their king, the amount of which legend says would fill a room to as high as a man could reach—more than 2,500 cubic feet. Another two rooms were to be filled with silver. Pizarro and his men had their wealth assured but not their safety, as they remained an extremely small group of men surrounded by a huge army. To enhance his odds, the Spanish leader pitted Inca against Inca until most of the viable leaders had killed each other. Pizarro then marched into the former Incan capital at Cuzco and placed his handpicked king on the throne. Atahualpa, no longer needed, was sentenced to be burned at the stake as a heathen, but was strangled instead after he professed to accept Spanish Christianity.

Pizarro returned to the coast and established the port city of Lima, where additional Spanish soldiers and civilian leaders arrived to govern and exploit the region’s riches. Some minor Incan uprisings occurred in 1536, but native warriors were no match for the Spaniards. Pizarro lived in splendor until he was assassinated in 1541 by a follower who believed he was not receiving his fair share of the booty.

In a single battle, with only himself wounded, Pizarro conquered more than half of South America and its population of more than six million people. The jungle reclaimed the Inca palaces and roads as their wealth departed in Spanish ships. The Inca culture and religion ceased to exist. For the next three centuries, Spain ruled most of the north and Pacific coast of South America. Its language, culture, and religion still dominate there today.

AMX-30B2 and the Gulf War 1991


The French participation in the Gulf War, codenamed Opération Daguet, saw the deployment of the 6e Division Légère Blindée (“6th Light Armored Division”), referred to for the duration of the conflict as the Division Daguet. Most of its armored component was provided by the AMX-10RCs of the cavalry reconnaissance regiments, but a heavy armored unit, the 4e Régiment de Dragons (“4th Dragoon Regiment”) was also sent to the region with a complement of 44 AMX-30B2s. Experimentally, a new regimental organisational structure was used, with three squadrons of thirteen tanks, a command tank and six reserve vehicles, instead of the then normal strength of 52 units. Also six older AMX-30Bs were deployed, fitted with Soviet mine rollers provided by Germany from East German stocks, and named AMX 30 Demin. The vehicles were all manned by professional crews, without conscripts. The Daguet Division was positioned to the West of Coalition forces, to protect the right flank of the U. S. XVIII Airborne Corps. This disposition gave the French commander greater autonomy, and also lessened the likelihood of encountering Iraqi T-72s, which were superior both to the AMX-10RCs and the AMX-30B2s. With the beginning of the ground offensive of 24 February 1991, French forces moved to attack its first target, “Objective Rochambeau”, that was defended by a brigade from the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division. A raid by Gazelle helicopters paved the way for an attack by the 4e Régiment de Dragons. Demoralized by heavy coalition bombardments, the Iraqi defenders rapidly surrendered. The following day, the 4e Dragons moved on to their next objective, “Chambord”, where they reported destroying ten tanks, three BMPs, fifteen trucks and five mortars with the assistance of USAF A-10s, and capturing numerous prisoners. The final objective was the As-Salman air base (“Objective White”), that was reported captured by 18:15, after a multi-pronged attack, with the 4e Dragons attacking from the South. In all, the AMX-30s fired 270 main gun rounds in anger.

Technical specifications of the AMX-30 B2

The AMX-30 B2, announced in June 1979, is essentially an AMX-30 with an integrated fire control system based on a laser rangefinder and an LLLTV system, a new transmission and other improvements (suspension, NBC system, gun stabilization,…).

The COTAC FCS, officially designated the APX M581, has been designed by the AMX-APX in collaboration with the Ateliers de Construction de Tarbes. Its main components are the gunner’s APX M544 telescopic (x10 magnification) sight which is combined with an APX M579 electronic control system and an APX M421 optical module containing a computer- controlled graticule. The laser rangefinder is the APX M550 and is made by CILAS under the designation TCV80. It has a maximum range of 10.000 m and is accurate to ± 5 m. The SOPELEM telescopic sight has a magnification of x10 and is directly coupled to the main armament. In addition to the M581 rangefinder telescope the gunner has a rotatable M282 periscope, a fixed M223 periscope and a tv monitor associated with an LLLTV monitor.

The COTAC FCS also incorporates an accelerometer-type trunnion tilt sensor and a control panel. The tank commander manually inserts information via the control panel concerning the type of ammunition being fired, drift and jump angles, cross wind velocity, altitude and ambient temperature. Apart from the ammunition details, most of this information has to be inserted only once a day. To determine lead angles for the engagement of moving targets, a two-axis gyroscope is mounted on the sight to measure target tracking rates in both azimuth and elevation.

Other parameters are automatically acquired by the gunner’s rangefinder telescope including target distance, its displacement speed in elevation and azimuth and turret slant. These parameters are processed by a lead computer built into the telescope which transmits the elevation and azimuth corrections to the gunner’s day sight by means of an optical compensator and the graticule of the LLLTV camera for engaging targets at night.

In addition to the 10 M268 periscopes in his cupola the commander also has an M496 telescope with a x8 magnification for firing the 105mm gun, for the secondary armament (20mm cannon and 7,62mm machine gun) and aiming assembly comprising an M591-02 prism head and an OB 49 monocular telescope.

Mounted externally on the right side of the turret is the CASTOR (Thales) thermal camera with both the tank commander and gunner being provided with a tv monitor screen. The screens display an aiming mark which enables the commander or gunner to engage targets at ranges of up to 4.000 m.

The loader has a rotatable M282 periscope and two fixed M223 periscopes with the driver having a central M223 periscope (or an OB 31A image intensification periscope) and two fixed M223 periscopes.

To allow the AMX-30 B2 to fire the newer APFSDS ammunition a new gunner’s sight graticule is fitted to match the ballistics of the rounds while the turret and ammunition racks have been modified to accept the different shaped APFSDS round.

Mounted on the left side of the turret, coaxial with the main armament, is a SOPELEM PH-8- B searchlight, which has a maximum range of 2,000 m when used in the white light mode and a range of 1,000 m in the infrared mode.

The engine of the AMX-30 B2 has been developed from that of the AMX-30 and develops 700 hp @ 2.600 rpm. The HS-110-2 is fitted with new and more powerful turbo-compressors which provide a 45 hp increase as well as improving the operational life of the engine and its torque characteristics. A new hydrostatically-controlled engine system incorporates oil heat exchangers cooled by air instead of engine coolant. The air filters have removable covers to facilitate field maintenance.

The SESM ENC-200 is a gearbox of the lock-up torque converter type with five forward and reverse speeds and hydrostatic steering controlled by a conventional steering wheel instead of sticks. This system allows on-the-spot turning and gear changing in bends.

The suspension is improved by adopting new torsion bars and shocks which increased the vertical deflection range of the road wheels, thereby improving the tank’s cross-country mobility.

The AMX-30 B2 is also fitted with a new collective pressurization system with two circuits, one with complete filtration for improved NBC protection.

French Army AMX-30 B2s have the OB 49 roof-mounted sight with two day and one night channels. This can be replaced by the M427 with day and image intensification night channels and a laser rangefinder or a roof-mounted SFIM M527 gyro-stabilized sight also fitted to AMX-32 and AMX-40. The gunner on French Army AMX-30 B2s has an M581 rangefinder telescope but this can be replaced by an OB 47. The driver’s infra-red periscope can be replaced by an OB 31 or CN2-516 image intensification periscope. Other options include new 125 Ah batteries with a longer life and needing less maintenance, new filters, DUK DUR 440 radiation counter, air-conditionning system and three different land navigation systems developed by Crouzet.

French Army AMX-30 B2s have a thicker gun shield. In place of the standard bank of two electrically-operated smoke dischargers either side of the turret, the GIAT/Lacroix GALIX AFV protection system can be fitted. This can fire a wide range of different types of grenade to meet various battlefield threats. An exhaust smoke generator system can also be fitted.