Inchon and Seoul, 1950 I


A Marine squad, supported by an M-26 General Pershing tank of the 1st Marine Tank Battalion, moves through Seoul under fire. (USMC)


After World War II the American military jettisoned the vast bulk of the superb ground force that had fought and won the war. By 1950 that force was a hollow shell of its former self. The only remaining remnants of the combat-experienced ground forces were the non-commissioned officer and officer leadership of the skeleton divisions that remained in the force. The bulk of the force in 1950 was draftees with no experience, and in some cases their equipment wasn’t even the best of the World War II equipment. In the late summer of 1950, this force found itself in the midst of another large-scale urban battle against a wholly unanticipated foe in a theater of operations that many Americans had never heard of and would have a hard time finding on a map.

A Hot Cold War

In June 1950 the forces of Communist North Korea launched a surprise attack on the forces of South Korea. The military forces of the North, well trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, vastly outnumbered those of the South. In addition, though there were US Army advisors with the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) military, the US vision for the ROK Army (ROKA) was as a large military police force; which meant that there were no heavy weapons, tanks, heavy artillery or antitank weapons among the small South Korean force. Because of this, and the surprise of the attack, the North Korea People’s Army (KPA) was very successful, and in just six weeks managed to push the combined South Korean and American defenders back to a small perimeter at the toe of Korea around the important port city of Pusan.

At the end of the first week of the surprise attack, the US military entered the war decisively on the side of South Korea. The most effective and responsive weapon that the US had in Asia was the US Air Force, and air attacks against the advancing North Korean columns began on June 27. However, air attacks could slow, but not stop the North Korean advance. Therefore, the US Eighth Army, stationed in Japan, began to deploy to Korea. The problem was that the Eighth Army in 1950 was a shadow of the great American army that had fought its way across the Pacific Ocean under General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. Still under MacArthur’s command – MacArthur was the Supreme Commander Allied Powers in Japan, and Commander US Forces Far East – the Eighth Army was greatly debilitated by post-World War II defense cuts. The Eighth Army had four divisions organized into two corps. However, each of the army’s infantry divisions comprised only two regiments instead of the doctrinal three. Likewise, each regiment had only two battalions, and each battalion only two companies. Similarly, division artillery was reduced to two battalions, all the medium and heavy artillery had been removed from the force at all levels, and each battalion only had two firing batteries of light howitzers. The medium-tank battalions supporting each infantry division was similarly reduced to light-tank battalions of only two companies each. Finally, if the numbers alone were not bad enough, budget and facility constraints greatly inhibited training, leaving the units in a poor state of readiness. Though a formidable force on paper, the Eighth Army and all its subordinate forces were in reality only about 50 percent as capable as the World War II version of the army. This army was thrown as fast as possible into the path of the advancing North Koreans.

General Walton Walker commanded the combined US and South Korean armies on the peninsula. In the last weeks of August 1950 he managed to stem the North Korean onslaught around the city of Pusan. However, in the first eight weeks of the war the Communists captured over 80 percent of the land of South Korea. Clearly, Walker and his commander, General Douglas MacArthur, could not sit passively on the defensive. As early as the end of July, as Walker fought desperately to maintain a toehold in Korea, General MacArthur was thinking in terms of a counterstroke.

End Run to Seoul

MacArthur, in keeping with the operational thinking he had developed during the Pacific campaign of World War II, was keen to avoid the hard campaign that a counterattack back up the mountainous Korean peninsula would entail. He set his staff to investigating the various possibilities of an amphibious operation to bypass the major North Korean forces and land in their rear. This would avoid the tremendous casualties of a frontal assault, save invaluable time, and guarantee the complete destruction of the bulk of the North Korean army. The only problem was there was no suitable landing site for a major amphibious thrust along Korea’s very formidable coastline. The closest that the planners could identify was the city of Inchon on Korea’s west coast.

The command faced several significant problems executing a major amphibious assault at Inchon. These included the difficulty of the local tides, lack of suitable beaches, the difficulty of achieving surprise, and a shortage of trained troops available. MacArthur carefully considered the problems but also weighed the points in Inchon’s favor. The difficulty of the operation would lend itself to surprise and thus lessen opposition to the landing. Inchon’s geographic position put it close to Seoul. Thus, a successful landing at Inchon could easily lead to a quick conquest of Seoul. Seoul was MacArthur’s ultimate objective. The city’s geographic location put it astride the only important north–south maneuver corridor on the peninsula. Control of Seoul meant control of South Korea. More important than its position, which was extremely important, was that Seoul was also the capital city of South Korea. To many, the loss of Seoul had represented losing the war in the first week: recapturing Seoul represented snatching victory from apparent defeat. MacArthur recognized that the political and psychological importance of Seoul were beyond measure. MacArthur understood that the value of Seoul outweighed the operational risks inherent in an amphibious assault and therefore determined that the operation proceed over the objections of key subordinates and experts on amphibious operations.

To execute the operation to capture Seoul the Americans assembled a new unit, separate from the US Eighth Army fighting the battle at Pusan. This new unit, X Corps, was tailored for the amphibious operation, and reported not to Eighth Army, but directly to General MacArthur’s Far East Command. The two major subcomponents of the X Corps were the 1st US Marine Division, and the US Army 7th Infantry Division, all under the X Corps commander, Major General Edward Almond. In addition to the two infantry divisions, the corps had the direct support of the Marine Air Wing of the 1st Marine Division. It also included two ROK military units: the ROK Marine Regiment attached to the 1st Marine Division, and the ROK 1st Infantry Regiment attached to the 7th Infantry Division. These latter two units were critical for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to improve the flagging prestige and morale of the ROK military, and also to highlight the important political objectives which were an important goal of the operation.

Seoul was a city of over a million people when the war broke out – the fifth largest urban population in Asia. It was the ancient capital of the Korean peninsula and thus was extremely important to both North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK) and to South Korea. As the North Korean forces poured across the border in the summer of 1950, the population had panicked and attempted to flee. However, over a million people – largely without automotive transportation – cannot quickly pick up and move. So, as the Americans began to execute operations to recapture the capital, there were hundreds of thousands of South Korean civilians still living in Seoul under the occupation rule of North Korea.

The initial landing area at Inchon was opposed by about 2,000 troops. The KPA had a total of about 16,000 troops in the Inchon–Seoul area. This was a relatively light defensive force given the area’s strategic importance, but it reflected the North Korean high command’s focus on the battles in the south around the Pusan perimeter. In addition to the 2,000 troops positioned in the area of Inchon, another 2,000 troops of the 87th Infantry Regiment were positioned to defend the major suburb of Seoul at Yongdungpo. Additionally, Seoul was garrisoned and defended by the Seoul Defense Division, a unit of approximately 10,000 troops. The remainder of the initial KPA forces around the capital were various support units. Not part of the Seoul garrison, but able to respond quickly to any threat to the city or an amphibious landing, was the KPA’s theater reserve, the 105th Tank Division, equipped with T-34/85 tanks. This unit was the premier unit of the KPA, equipped with over 50 tanks, supporting artillery, and antitank and infantry subunits. It was refitting near Seoul when the landings at Inchon occurred.

The March to Seoul

On September 15, the 1st Marine Division landed two regimental combat teams (RCTs), the 1st and the 5th Marine Regiments, south and north of the city of Inchon respectively. The landings, unusually, took place late in the afternoon, due to the tides. The two regiments secured their initial objectives quickly, overcoming relatively light resistance in Inchon itself. The North Korean defenders were surprised, shocked by the pre-invasion naval and air bombardment, and gave up all resistance during the night. The next day the 5th Marines marched through the abandoned city of Inchon to link up with the 1st Marines and begin the 18-mile movement to the capital of Seoul. The 1st Marines were directed to advance directly west with the objective of securing Yongdungpo, the major suburb of Seoul on the west bank of the Han River. The 5th Marines veered north to secure Kimpo Airfield, the major air terminal of the capital and the largest and most modern airfield on the peninsula, also on the west side of the river.

By September 17, the 5th Marines were in position to attack Kimpo Airfield. Fighting through scattered North Korean strongpoints, the RCT secured the southern edge of the airfield by the end of the day. To the south the 1st RCT fought its way through a series of North Korean roadblocks on the main Inchon–Seoul highway. By nightfall the 1st RCT had advanced about two miles.

During the night the North Koreans defending Kimpo staged several small-scale counterattacks against the Marines, all of which were beaten off successfully. In the morning of September 18 the Marines advanced across the airfield against light resistance and by 10am the airfield and surrounding villages were secure. On September 18 the first troops of X Corps’ 7th Infantry Division began to land at Inchon. Their mission was securing the major highway south of Seoul that was the lifeline of the North Korean army fighting desperately at Pusan.

As the Marines closed in on the west bank of the Han River north of Seoul, the plan to recapture the city developed. The first phase of the plan involved securing a bridgehead on the east bank and bringing the entire west bank under control of the Americans. On September 20, the 5th Marine RCT crossed the Han north of Seoul and then wheeled right and began to attack the city from the north to the south. Simultaneously the 1st RCT entered Yongdungpo and began a building by building attack to clear the west bank of the Han. By September 23, the 1st RCT had accomplished its mission and was prepared to join the 5th Marines on the east bank.

The river assault of the 5th RCT was only lightly opposed. The Marines were mounted in LVTs (Landing Vehicles Tracked), literally amphibious armored personal carriers. These vehicles and crews were provided by the Marine 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion, and the US Army’s 56th Amphibious Tractor Company. In addition, some Marines at Inchon and at the crossing of the Han River rode in army DUKW amphibious trucks of the 1st Amphibious Truck Company. Importantly, X Corps had no assault-bridging capability, so they could not put a military bridge over the Han. This meant that it was very time-consuming to move the important M-26 tanks of the 1st Marine Tank Battalion across the river to support the 5th RCT. Finally, as the plan was fashioned, four RCTs would participate in the battle of Seoul, each attacking in a set sequence. The sequencing of these attacks was all determined by the requirement that all four RCTs be moved across the river by the same single LVT battalion. Thus, the Han River obstacle shaped the assault on Seoul more than any other single factor.

The intent of the attack of the 5th RCT was to get behind the defenses of Seoul as the assumption was that the North Korean forces would be oriented south and southwest towards the approaches directly from Inchon. What the planners of the operation failed to account for was that the area northwest of Seoul was a former Japanese army training area, and had been improved by the South Korean army as a defensive line, so the positions were oriented north against attack from North Korea. Those prepared defensive positions were still in place and the North Korean army occupied them in defense against the attack of the 5th RCT. In addition, the North Korean army moved approximately 10,000 troops into these positions just prior to the Marines crossing the Han. Thus, though the 5th RCT covered 4 miles on the afternoon of river crossing, September 20, it then ran into stiff resistance. It would take the Marines five more days to fight their way across the last four miles of ridges between their landing site and Seoul.

Inchon and Seoul, 1950 II




On September 24, the 1st RCT crossed the river, assaulting directly from Yongdungpo into the heart of the city. With three battalions abreast, the 1st RCT attacked directly east through a series of roadblock barricades that the North Koreans had constructed on the major thoroughfares through the city. The 5th RCT wheeled left, and advanced on the left flank of the 1st RCT as both Marine units systematically cleared barricades, buildings, culverts, and sewers. Both regiments used their M-26 Pershing tanks extensively. Typically a single tank led a Marine infantry platoon as it systematically cleared the interiors of the buildings. The Marine tanks were virtually unstoppable, and easily brushed aside North Korean infantry, and also made short work of a few Soviet-built T-34/85 tanks found in the city.

On September 25, two additional regiments entered the battle for Seoul. One was the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the US Army’s 7th Infantry Division. The other was the 1st ROK Infantry Regiment, attached to the 7th Infantry Division. These two regiments, using the same LVTs as the 1st and 5th RCTs, crossed the Han River into the southern part of Seoul. Thus by September 25, the four allied regiments were on line advancing across Seoul. On the night of September 25–26, the North Korean army mounted a last major counterattack against the 5th, 1st, and 32nd Regiments. The attack against the 1st Marines was led by T-34 tanks and self-propelled assault guns. In the morning the two Marine regiments counted almost 500 enemy dead as well as nine destroyed armored vehicles and eight antitank guns in front of their positions. The steady advance of the three major regiments, supported by the 17th ROK Army Regiment, continued on September 26, and on September 27 the major portion of the city was cleared of communist forces and the X Corps lead elements were pursuing the enemy north through the mountains toward the 38th parallel. It had required 12 days for the X Corps to achieve its objective after landing at Inchon.

The only other major combat formation involved in the battle for Seoul was the 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. This regiment was still en route to Korea when the initial Inchon landings occurred. It landed at Inchon on September 21. The 7th Marines’ role in the Seoul operation was to isolate the city and prevent North Korean forces from escaping the city to the northeast. As the 5th Marines attacked into the city from the north the 7th Marines passed behind them and attacked east. Unfortunately, the direction of attack to the east was across numerous valleys divided by very rugged mountains aligned north to south, and the area was virtually unsupported by roads. Thus, though not strongly opposed, the attack proceeded very slowly. It was only on September 28 that the northeast escape routes were closed, and by then some of the best North Korean troops defending Seoul had escaped.

On September 29, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur and South Korean president, Syngman Rhee, arrived in the capital and General MacArthur declared the city secure. In fact, significant fighting continued as the American units in the city, aided by South Korean forces, continued to systematically clear buildings and streets. Nonetheless, the city was declared secured exactly 90 days after the outbreak of hostilities. The major portion of the 1st Marine Division moved to the eastern portion of the city and prepared to pursue the North Korean army north. Earlier, on September 26, at Suwon, 30 miles south of Seoul, elements of the US Eighth Army linked up with X Corps’ 7th Infantry Division. Between Seoul and Pusan, the North Korean army was completely shattered.

A Fluid Battle

Large urban areas are very difficult objectives to seize except at great cost both in resources and time. The key to the successful capture of a large city, quickly and with minimum expenditure of resources, is to seize it before it is adequately defended. This is extremely difficult to do and can only be accomplished through one of three types of operations: airborne assault; amphibious attack; or a deep rapid armored thrust. General MacArthur recognized that a counteroffensive launched from the Pusan perimeter alone would likely devolve into a long and costly battle of attrition through the Korean mountains, and through numerous large urban areas, including Seoul. The Inchon landing operation, at some significant risk, avoided a war of attrition and resulted in the fall of Seoul in just over 10 days with minimum losses. Unlike most World War II urban battles, the battle for Inchon and Seoul was a battle of maneuver. This was primarily because the attacking force was able to achieve strategic surprise and thus the defender did not have the time to assemble forces and could not establish a comprehensive defense of the entire city area.

The US Marine approach to urban warfare in Seoul was relatively straightforward. Seoul was a huge city which, with Yongdungpo, covered about 80km2 (30 square miles). Despite having more than 20,000 troops available, the North Korean Army had insufficient manpower to defend a continuous line of buildings. The North Korean forces in the city choose to defend fortified barricades oriented on the major avenues and significant natural and city terrain features. The fight for the city became known as the battle of the barricades. Along the city streets the North Korean army erected barricades, constructed of whatever material the North Koreans could find within the city. This included rubble and dirt-packed rice bags, bricks, household furniture, old cars and buses, and any other obstacle-making device they could find. These were torn down by the US and ROK infantry and engineers, or driven over by US tanks. The Marines developed a standard approach to the barricades: artillery fire on the area followed by mortar fire on the position; machine-gun and bazooka fire to suppress the enemy while engineers cleared mines; and finally with the mines removed, the tanks moved forward. The powerful US M-26 tanks were often able to simply plow through the assorted debris. With the tanks came the Marine infantry armed with semiautomatic rifles, fixed bayonets, and grenades. Marine scout-sniper teams overwatched all operations and took a deadly toll on any enemy not behind cover. Each barricade was stoutly defended by North Korean infantry supported by antitank guns, machine guns, and snipers; and took about 45 to 60 minutes to reduce. Thus the movement through the metropolis was of necessity slow, but steady.

A potentially major threat to the US operation was the Soviet-built T-34/85 tanks of the North Korean People’s Army 105th Tank Division. In the march from Inchon to Seoul, 53 of these lethal machines were thrown into counterattacks against the Marines. These tanks had been extremely effective combat vehicles against the best German armor in World War II just five years before. They also furthered their reputation in the first weeks of the North Korean invasion. However, after the initial encounter, the Marines were completely nonplussed by their arrival on the battlefield. They were easily destroyed by a combination of Marine close air support, Marine M-26 tanks, and antitank weapons. By the time the Marines secured the west bank of the Han River, 48 had been knocked out by the Marines and five were found abandoned. In the battle for Seoul itself, the 1st Tank Battalion destroyed 13 T-34 tanks or Soviet-built self-propelled guns and 56 antitank guns, for the loss of five Pershing tanks and two Shermans (most of the American tank losses were to mines and at least one was lost to one of the frequent attacks by North Korean sappers armed with satchels of explosives). Importantly, North Korean armor was of sufficient strength that it could have completely disrupted the US operation, had the US not enjoyed close air and armor support. Thus, armor and close air support were again proven to be very important factors to successful urban combat.

The relatively small size of the US attacking force was possible due to effective air, naval, armor, and artillery support. The air support of the Marines in the Inchon-Seoul operation was particularly effective and noteworthy. Marine aviation units perfected the art of close air support during the Korean War, beginning in the Inchon–Seoul battles. That support was far more responsive and closely coordinated than that achieved by the Marines in World War II. Six Marine squadrons (four day-fighter and two night-fighters) supported the 1st Marine Division and X Corps during the operation. They were controlled by the 1st Division’s 1st Marine Air Wing. They had no other mission other than close air support of the ground forces. Initially the Marines flew in support from two navy escort carriers, the USS Badoeng Strait and the USS Sicily, but once Kimpo airfield was captured, the five F4U Corsair squadrons and the one F7F Tigercat squadron operated from that base, literally minutes from their targets. Close air support was coordinated by Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 2, which commanded tactical air control parties (TACP) located in each Marine infantry regiment and battalion headquarters. When the US Army 32nd Infantry Regiment entered the battle for Seoul, a Marine TACP was attached to the regiment to give it the benefit of close air support. During the 33-day campaign, September 7–October 9, the Marine aviation units flew almost 3,000 ground-support sorties, including over a thousand in support of the Army’s 7th Division.

Aviation support was critical to the advance from Inchon to Seoul. It was particularly critical to the 5th RCT’s difficult attack south on the east side of the Han River. However, once units entered the city proper the use of close air support became increasingly difficult because of the difficulty of identifying the front line from the air and the danger to the friendly civilian population. Still, even as the battle raged inside Seoul, close air support played an important role aiding the advance of the 7th Marine Regiment through the mountains north of Seoul, isolating the city from reinforcements, and destroying KPA units attempting to retreat from the city.

Politics and Urban Warfare

One of the major characteristics of the fight for Seoul was the intense pressure put on the Marine division to capture the city quickly. This pressure was resented by the Marine officers because speed often caused them to take risks with the lives of their Marines. Often this was viewed as General MacArthur placing politics before the tactical considerations of urban combat. However, there were good reasons to take the city quickly. First, the military advantages of cutting off the bulk of the KPA south of Seoul were obvious. Second, and perhaps most important, were the psychological and political advantages to be gained by recapturing the city less than three months after its capture by the KPA in June. The capital of Seoul defined the allied government of the Republic of Korea and restoring that city to allied control was extremely important strategically to the prestige and legitimacy of the South Korean government. MacArthur understood how strategic Seoul was to the South Korean government, as well as to the UN cause and to the US home front, which desperately needed positive war news. Thus, like many important capital cities in warfare, the strategic value of the city was worth the tactical sacrifices necessary to capture it, and capture it quickly.

Vichy France and the German Wehrmacht


Soldiers of the Légion des Volontaires Français, when still part of the Wehrmacht

Charlemagne poster 4

Vichy France occupied a unique position in Hitler’s Europe. Neither a fascist ally nor an occupied state, Pétain’s France was relatively autonomous. Soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, a French legion was formed to fight on the Eastern Front. Thereafter, Vichy France supplied a steady number of volunteers to fight for Germany against the Red Army. Elements of the Charlemagne Division would also fight in Berlin in 1945.

After the defeat and occupation of France in May 1940, an armistice was declared in June between the French and German governments. France was split into two zones. The northern industrial region remained occupied and was placed under German administration. In the southern region, a collaborationist government had established itself in Vichy under the leadership of World War I hero Marshal Philippe Pétain, who was 84 years old.

When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, it caused great excitement among French collaborationist political parties and paramilitary home-based formations. In response, the first recruiting centre was opened at 12 Rue Auber, Paris, with additional recruiting centres placed all over France. On 7 July, all the leaders of these parties met at the Hotel Majestic in Paris to create an anti-Bolshevik formation; and on 18 July 1941, the grandly titled Légion des Volontaires Français contre le Bolshevisme (LVF) was formally established.

Initially, the Vichy Government had enacted a law that forbade Frenchmen from enlisting into “foreign armies” to prevent them from joining the Free French forces of exiled General Charles de Gaulle. Since the LVF was a private affair, Marshal Pétain amended the law so there would be no barrier to Frenchmen enlisting in the LVF. Hitler approved, but stated that membership be limited to 15,000. However, the LVF received a total of only 13,400 applications and, of these, 4600 had to be refused on medical grounds and a further 3000 on “moral” grounds. Many came from the militias of the collaborating political parties, prominent among them the men from Doriot’s Parti Populaire Français, include Doriot himself. Eventually, 5800 Frenchmen were accepted into the LVF and trained at the Borgnis-Desbordes barracks at Versailles.

The recruits wore standard German Army uniforms and had the French national arm shield inscribed “FRANCE” placed on their right sleeve (the Germans made it clear that unless France actually declared war on the Soviet Union there could be no question of sending combatants to the front in French uniform). Colonel Roger Labonne, a 60-year-old military historian, assumed command of the legion.

On 4 September, the first draft of volunteers – 25 officers and 803 men – left Paris for Debica in Poland. On 20 September, a second contingent of 127 officers and 769 men, including Sergeant-Major Doriot, followed them to the same destination. By October 1941, the LVF comprised two battalions: 181 officers and 2271 other ranks, with a liaison staff of 35 Germans. The LVF was registered as the 638th Infantry Regiment of the German Army.

By the end of October, both battalions proceeded by rail to Smolensk and then by truck and on foot towards the frontline near Moscow, joining the German 7th Infantry Division near Golokovo. In early December, a third battalion of 1400 other recruits to the LVF was sent to the Debica troop training facilities. In February 1942, the 1st and 2nd Battalions were caught up in the Soviet winter counteroffensive. During the fighting, the 2nd Battalion was overrun by Soviet forces near Djunovo and virtually annihilated. The LVF lost half of its strength either due to enemy action or frostbite.

In March 1942, Colonel Labonne was recalled to Paris and relieved of his command. The LVF was pulled out of the frontline and for the next 18 months ceased to function as a unified formation but operated as two separate battalions – the 1st under Major Lacroix and the 3rd under Major Demessine – the 2nd having been virtually wiped out. The unit had no overall French commander and was employed on anti-partisan operations. During the summer of 1942, the 1st Battalion was subordinated to the German 186th Security Division and was deployed in anti-partisan activities, while the 3rd Battalion was southwest of Smolensk engaging partisans near Volost, where it suffered heavy casualties.

On 24 June 1942, the Controlling Committee of the LVF sent Prime Minister Laval a memorandum proposing that the unit be taken over as an official military force, be allowed to wear French uniforms, receive French decorations, be financed by the Ministry of War, and be made available for active duty “on any front where the national interest is at stake”. It further suggested that a new name, the Legion Tricolore, be adopted “to underline the stoutly national ideal which inspired the legionary unit”. These ideas were agreed four days later, the Legion Tricolore being financed by the Vichy Government and headed by Raymond Lachal, Pierre Laval’s right-hand man. The unit lasted only six months before being dissolved. Hitler did not approve. After all, if the LVF became a French-controlled unit what power would the Wehrmacht have to prevent it being withdrawn from Russia and brought back to France? Such a prospect could not be tolerated. The Führer decreed that the French volunteers must remain under German authority.

Former members of the Legion Tricolore were allowed to rejoin the LVF. By June 1943, after active recruiting and reorganizing, the LVF was refitted and prepared to serve under the German 186th Security Division at Smolensk.

Thus, at the end of December 1942, the Legion Tricolore was disbanded and its personnel transferred to the LVF. In June 1943, the 1st and 3rd Battalions were brought together under the 286th Security Division, and a reconstituted 2nd Battalion was added so that by the end of the year the LVF became a single regiment. It was commanded by Colonel Edgar Puaud, a regular soldier and former Foreign Legion officer who had spent most of his service career in North Africa.

In January 1944, the LVF was once again engaged in anti-partisan operations in Russia, in the forest of Somry. The operation was a success: out of the 6000 partisans estimated to be active in that region, 1118 were killed and a further 1345 captured. In April 1944, the 4th Battalion was added to the LVF from excess personnel from the disbanded LVF artillery detachment.

In June 1944, after the collapse of the German Ninth Army, the regiment found itself in the path of a major Red Army offensive (part of the massive Russian offensive codenamed Bagration). To stem the Soviet attack, a battalion of 400 Frenchmen under the command of Major Bridoux, plus various ad hoc German units, formed a battle group near Bobr, Ukraine. This unit fought so well that it enabled much of the Ninth Army to break out of a Soviet encirclement at Bobruysk. Withdrawn from the front, the regiment was regrouped at Greifenberg in East Prussia. In September 1944, the LVF ceased to exist. It found itself absorbed into the Waffen-SS (see below).

A small number (perhaps no more than 300) of Frenchmen succeeded in being accepted into the ranks of the Waffen-SS after 1940. They served mainly as private soldiers in the Wiking and Totenkopf Divisions rather than a national legion. It wasn’t until July 1943 that full nationwide recruitment began in France, with a Committee of the Friends of the Waffen-SS being established under the sponsorship of Vichy Propaganda Minister Paul Marion. The committee’s main recruitment office was located at 24 Avenue du Recteur Poincaré in Paris (where some 1500 applications were received), with regional offices distributed throughout the larger cities of France.

Volunteers were required to be “free of Jewish blood”, physically fit, and between the ages of 20 and 25. The initial recruits were drawn from members of Vichy youth movements, various collaborationist militias, right-wing politicals, plus a large number of university students.

Some 3000 applicants visited the assorted offices in the first few months. The first 800 volunteers were trained at Sennheim in Alsace, and following basic training another 30 were chosen as officer candidates and sent to the SS Junkerschule Bad Tölz. Another 100 were sent to specialized NCO training in Posen. In March 1944, 1538 French recruits, plus their officers and NCOs, were assembled at the Waffen-SS training ground at Beneschau near Prague. It was designated a sturmbrigade, and was commonly referred to as SS Sturmbrigade Frankreich.

In August 1944, the sturmbrigade was attached to the 18th SS Panzergrenadier Division Horst Wessel, and thrown into the fierce rearguard fighting against the advancing Soviets in Galicia. The new unit took heavy casualties, with 15 of 18 officers dead or wounded, and 130 dead and 660 wounded among the other ranks. Following its baptism of fire, the sturmbrigade returned to barracks for refitting and eventual amalgamation with the soldiers of the disbanded LVF.

The Charlemagne Division

By this date, much of France had been liberated by the Allies, giving Himmler the opportunity to combine the assault brigade, French Navy personnel and members of the LVF into a Waffen-SS grenadier brigade. By 1 September 1944, he had combined the remnants of Vichy military personnel into the SS Brigade Charlemagne. It consisted of 1200 former sturmbrigade soldiers, 2000 former LVF, 1200 former Kriegsmarine, 2300 former NSKK and Organization Todt members, and 2500 former Militia Police and new recruits.

In late 1944, these disparate elements were assembled for training at Lager Wildflecken, northwest of Frankfurt-am-Main. At Wildflecken, the volunteers were sorted out and assigned to their respective units. In February 1945, the brigade was formed into the 33rd SS Waffen Grenadier Division Charlemagne, but training was cut short when the “division” was sent to the Eastern Front.

On 25 February 1945, as the trainborne elements of Charlemagne Division pulled into the railhead at Hammerstein, Pomerania, armoured spearheads of the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front unexpectedly smashed into the division. The result was disaster, with the ill-trained French unit being split up into three battle groups. One group, commanded by General Krukenberg, made it north to the Baltic coast where it was evacuated to Denmark and sent back to refit at Neustrelitz in Mecklenberg. Another battle group, commanded by General Puaud, was cut to pieces by the Red Army soon afterwards. The third group, nearly wiped out at the railhead, conducted a fighting retreat west towards German lines, being destroyed in early March 1945.

At Carpin, Mecklenberg, the remnants of the Charlemagne Division – 1100 men – gathered to rest and refit. In early April, Krukenberg released the disillusioned and demoralized from their oaths of allegiance, which cost him a third of his men. On the night of 23/24 April, the remaining 700 were summoned to the defence of Berlin. Krukenberg organized a vehicle column, but because of enemy action and mechanical problems only 330 men were able to enter the northwestern suburbs of Berlin just hours before the Soviet encirclement of the city.

They were engaged immediately upon their arrival. They fought brief and bloody counterattacks at the Hasenheide and Tempelhof airfield, withdrawing back across the Landwehr Canal, and fighting through the district of Kreuzberg into the city centre. The Frenchmen continued to battle the Red Army until the general order of surrender announced by General Weidling on 2 May, when some 30 surviving Charlemagne members went into Soviet captivity near the Potsdamer station.

French Naval Volunteers

In February 1944, the German Navy began to appeal for French volunteers, the main recruiting office being at Caen in Normandy. But, as with other branches of the German armed forces, individual enlistment had certainly taken place before that late date, especially in the traditional coastal regions of Brittany and Normandy. Up to 2000 Frenchmen served in the German Kriegsmarine in World War II. In France, the German Navy also raised an indigenous naval police known as the Kriegsmarine Wehrmänner.

Another separate naval police unit of French volunteers was the Kriegswerftpolizei. This unit consisted of some 259–300 Frenchmen who assisted in guarding the important U-Boat base at La Pallice near La Rochelle in the Bay of Biscay. The Allied invasion of France in June 1944 does not appear to have deterred the German Navy from continuing its attempts to recruit Frenchmen. For example, the Journal de Rouen dated 29 June 1944, three weeks after the Allied landings, carried an advertisement urging young Frenchmen to join the Kriegsmarine. It stated: “To be a sailor is to have a trade, enlist today in the German Navy.”


Arab soldier in Greece late 1943, note “Legion Freies Arabien” sleeve shield

In May and June 1941, an unsuccessful German-backed uprising took place in British-occupied Iraq led by Rashid Ali el-Kilani. The Germans and many of the coup leaders fled to Greece and found themselves in a training camp at Sunion near Athens under the command of Helmuth Felmy and Sonderstab F (Special Staff F). Berlin decided to form an Arab-speaking unit for clandestine operations in North Africa – Battalion 845 of the German Army was born.

By April 1942, the battalion contained volunteers from Algeria, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq (Tunisians did not volunteer for frontline duties but offered their services as labourers and security troops). Some 400 Arabs living in occupied areas were drafted into a local force called Phalange Africaine, who were all incorporated into a new unit called the Deutsch Arabische Lehrabteilung (DAL). The unit first saw action on the coast of the Gulf of Hammamet where a British commando team landed to blow up the headquarters of the German Brandenburg commando unit. The Arabs fought the British for 48 hours, taking 3 casualties and inflicting 8 on the enemy.

In total, 6300 Arab-speaking volunteers passed through the ranks of the German and Vichy forces. The frontline Arab volunteers were issued with the Bevo sleeve shield, and the auxiliary Arab volunteers with a printed sleeve shield. These shields were made in very limited numbers, and are now one of the rarest of all volunteer sleeve shields.



The general appearance of such a metalled road and footway is shown in an existing street of Pompeii.

  1. Native earth, leveled and, if necessary, rammed tight.
  2. Statumen: stones of a size to fill the hand.
  3. Audits: rubble or concrete of broken stones and lime.
  4. Nucleus: kernel or bedding of fine cement made of pounded potshards and lime.
  5. Dorsum or agger viae: the elliptical surface or crown of the road (media stratae eminentia) made of polygonal blocks of silex (basaltipositionc lava) or rectangular blocks of saxum quadratum (travertine, peperino, or other stone of the country). The upper surface was designed to cast off rain or water like the shell of a tortoise. The lower surfaces of the separate stones, here shown as flat, were sometimes cut to a point or edge in order to grasp the nucleus, or next layer, more firmly.
  6. Crepido, margo or semita: raised footway, or sidewalk, on each side of the via.
  7. Umbones or edge-stones.

A roman road. Roads were usually very straight and carefully built with a camber (hump) so that rainwater drained off into ditches. This made the roads usable in all weathers. They were made up of several levels, with a firm foundation. Gravel or stone slabs covered the surface.


The Romans were not the first people in the ancient world to build large-scale roads. The Assyrians, Persians, Etruscans, and Greeks constructed roads, and the techniques they used directly influenced Roman road builders. However, the road systems of these earlier peoples paled in comparison with those built by the Romans. Large numbers of Roman roads were expertly paved and graded for great distances and proved so durable that some are still in use today. Moreover, the sheer size of the Roman road system dwarfed all others constructed in the world until the twentieth century. By about A. D. 300, the Roman Empire had over 370 fully or partially paved major highways, totaling some fifty-three thousand miles in all. Thousands of smaller roads branched out- ward from these main roads, creating a total mileage, in all likelihood, in the hundreds of thousands. An engineering achievement of the first order, this road system not only facilitated trade and tourism, but also, by allowing the swift movement of armies, proved a crucial tool for maintaining and expanding Rome’s vast Mediterranean realm.

The Romans built various kinds of roads, with numerous names and classifications. One of the more familiar road names, via, meant a road (or sometimes a city street) wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other; this is the term that be- came most commonly applied to major highways, such as the first major Roman road, the Via Appia (or Appian Way), begun by and named after the censor Appius Claudius Caecus in 312 B. C. The general term for a city street was vicus, while the term agger, which meant an embankment or mound, was often applied to a road built atop a raised mound or causeway. A single-lane country road, usually originating as a trackway for cattle and other animals, and almost always having a dirt rather than a paved surface, was called an actus.

In addition to these and other individual names for roads, the Romans had general road classifications. A first-century A. D. Roman surveyor named Siculus Flaccus wrote a treatise that lists the four official classes of road recognized in his day. This breakdown was based on which party or parties bore the financial responsibility for the road and included public highways (viae public ae)\ military roads (viae militares), which were originally built for the army but later came into general use; local roads (actus)’, and private roads (privatae), which were paid for by private parties. Still another way the Romans classified their roads was by the ways these routes were surfaced. The term via terrena, for example, referred to a simple dirt road. A via glarea strata, on the other hand, had a more durable surface of gravel. More durable still was the surface of a via silice strata, a road or stretch of road paved with blocks of stone. By the first century B. C., most of the streets in the larger Roman cities were paved, as were large sections of the Via Appia and other major high- ways leading to and from the capital city.

During the Republic, the responsibility for the building of public roads fell on the censors, who decided on new construction projects and awarded the contracts for them. On the other hand, resurfacing, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining public roads were the tasks of the aediles, who maintained public works. In 20 B. C., at the dawn of the Empire, Augustus set up a special board of curators-the curatores viarum-to manage public highways in Italy. In the provinces, the governors had overall charge of roads; customarily, a governor contacted a local community and ordered its magistrates either to repair an existing road or to construct a new one in the vicinity of that community.

Roman roads featured many conveniences and amenities. Major roads were cambered (curved so that the middle was slightly higher than the sides) to make rainwater drain away from the surface. Also, in stretches where a road was steep, prone to being slippery, or otherwise dangerous, the builders carved artificial ruts into the surface to guide the wheels of carts and chariots, ensuring that these vehicles would not skid. They also placed high, flat-topped stones at intervals along the roadside so that travelers with horses could mount their steeds easier (since stirrups, taken for granted today, had not yet been invented). In addition, milestones (miliaria) marked intervals of one Roman mile. Like modern road signs, these provided information about distances between towns and cities along the road.

In time, other, more elaborate amenities sprang up alongside the major Roman highways to give aid and comfort to the many kinds of travelers who frequented these roads. Such facilities included posting stations, inns, eating places, stables, markets, chapels, and so on, clusters of which often developed into full-fledged villages and towns. In this way, travel along these roads became more inviting to even more people, who built still more roads, which stimulated the growth of more towns, and so forth, continuing the development of formerly undeveloped regions. Moreover, as the major roads carried their services and amenities to distant parts of the realm, these microcosms of Roman life and customs spread Roman civilization far and wide.

What kind of prospering worldwide empire, then, did Hadrian’s Wall enclose at its northernmost point? A thumbnail sketch of the empire at peace might begin with the soldiers inhabiting the barracks close to the wall. The Latin accents and second languages that would have been heard paint a picture of extraordinary fluidity. The soldiers came not only from Britain, but from Belgium, Spain, Gaul and Dacia. Stationed at Arbeia (the fort at present-day South Shields) there was even a naval auxiliary unit from Mesopotamia. The beautifully sculpted tombstone of Regina, the British wife of a man called Barates, tells an equally fascinating story. It shows how this man, possibly a soldier or camp follower, came all the way from Palmyra in Syria, fell in love with his female slave from Hertfordshire, freed her and settled down to married life in Britain. His valedictory inscription to his dead wife is written in Aramaic, his native tongue. The name of one Arterius Nepos is similarly revealing. It crops up in records in both Armenia and Egypt, before finding its way to northern Britain.

The theme of fluidity is important. The Roman armies on the frontiers were not fixed garrisons. Locally, and from province to province, the legions and the auxiliary units were recruited and deployed with great flexibility; they were constantly on the move. The visibility and presence that this mobility gave them was the key factor in the Roman army successfully controlling an area far larger than it was possible to garrison.

At one fort near the wall, Vindolanda, an unprecedented discovery was made in the 1970s and 1980s – a haul of several hundred wooden writing tablets all found at the one site. Many record administrative matters, such as financial accounts and requests for leave. Others make for more entertaining reading. For example, there is an affectionate invitation to a birthday party from one garrison commander’s wife to another, and a soldier’s receipt of fresh supplies of socks, sandals and underwear to keep out the winter chills. These letters would have reached the forts from the wider empire through the imperial postal service. Coursing along a network of roads some 90,000 kilometres (56,000 miles) long and connecting Carlisle to Aswan, the letters reached Hadrian’s Wall courtesy of the cursus publicus (the postal service for official Roman business). Replies were dispersed in exactly the same way. The postmen who collected and delivered these letters stayed at inns en route, and the roads they travelled on were designed for easy drainage and marked by milestones.

The correspondence filtering into the channels of the imperial post also reveal how Hadrian’s empire was run. It is extraordinary to think that any one of the empire’s 70 million Roman citizens could in theory appeal to the emperor for help. He was the final arbiter. It’s no less surprising that citizens could expect a response. As we shall see, emperors such as Hadrian liked to cultivate an ideology of accessibility. The reality of course was very different. The sheer numbers of petitions and requests for imperial favour from this or that community, for adjudication in a matter of law for this or that individual is salutary. Exact figures are not known, but in this period of Rome’s golden age the governor of Egypt is said by one source to have fielded an extraordinary 1208 petitions in a single day. One can only imagine how many the emperor Hadrian in Rome received.

Clearly, in order to process all the petitions, the emperor and his provincial governors relied on a huge bureaucracy of administrative advisers with wide, albeit circumscribed, areas of responsibility. The preserved correspondence between the Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus, Pliny the Younger, and Trajan reflect the vitality of that relationship and where those limits of accountability lay. Pliny’s letters to Trajan and others are works of world literature. There was, however, no space for creative flourishes in the bulk of functional, administrative correspondence. In one letter Pliny complains that one of the chores of being a public servant was having to write a vast amount of ‘highly illiterate letters’.

Although one might imagine the Roman emperor, governor or commander perfunctorily signing off the replies to the mass of mundane requests that either they or their subordinates had dealt with, one thing is certain. The replies and the resolution of the problems presented – be it a dispute over land, a question of divorce or the matter of citizenship – would transform the lives of the petitioners. The successful running of the empire and the happiness of its citizens thus depended on delegation on a massive scale.

How could the Roman emperor, the Roman governor or the Roman commander be sure that decent, deserving people were appointed to posts in the imperial administration and were able to discharge their duties effectively? As the wooden tablets found at Vindolanda reveal, the imperial post also delivered the all-important letters of recommendation. Among them one can read the advocacy by one friend to another of the virtues and qualities of yet another friend. Such references were vital in selecting people to play a part in the pyramids of bureaucratic administration. In short, what your friends said about you established your reputation and trustworthiness. The logic of this system was simple and effective. The more people wanted to protect their reputation, the less likely they were to recommend a bad egg and thus jeopardize their own standing in the future.

In the hands of administrators appointed by this highly personal Roman system of hiring, most issues were dealt with locally. Only when a matter became a crisis did it come to the attention and decision of the emperor. Beyond this basic prescription for government, Hadrian had also found another way of bringing his rule closer to the citizens of his empire. Under his reign, the presence and visibility of the emperor were stronger than under his predecessors for one simple reason: he liked to travel.

Hadrian spent no less than half of his twenty-one-year rule abroad. Between 121 and 125 his travels took him from his wall in northern Britain to southern Spain, North Africa, Syria, the Black Sea and Asia Minor. Later, the period 128–32 saw him in Greece, Judaea and Egypt. Whether in York, Seville, Carthage, Luxor, Palmyra, Trabzon or Ephesus, Hadrian was always within the bounds of one political state, where Greek and Latin were the commonly spoken languages and over which he was the supreme ruler. He travelled always with his wife Sabina, and their imperial cavalcade of friends, baggage-carriers, guards, slaves and secretaries stayed in the palace of the local governor or of a prominent figure from the local élite. Sometimes, in a carefully planned and executed itinerary, the imperial community set up a camp of royal tents en route.

Accordingly, and in contrast to Nero who left Italy only once (for Greece), Hadrian was seen by and interacted with more of his subjects than most Roman emperors. This contributed to his popularity and the image of an accessible, approachable emperor. One anecdote reveals how that visibility mattered. An old woman was said to have spotted the emperor’s entourage passing along a road. Sidling up, she tried to detain Hadrian and put a question to him. The wheels of the imperial train, however, did not brake and the woman was left mouthing her words into thin air. Not one to be cowed, she caught up with Hadrian and told him that if he did not have time to stop and hear her request, he did not have time to be emperor at all. Hadrian duly stopped and listened. His standing and popularity, like that of all the emperors at the high point of empire, depended on public opinion. But being highly ‘visible’ did not in everyone’s eyes make a ‘good emperor’. To be away from Rome for so long was also the neglectful characteristic of ‘bad emperors’.

On Hadrian’s travels, the heritage city of Athens, that ancient centre of learning, was of course his favourite destination, and here he made three visits. ‘In almost every city he constructed some building and gave public games,’ says one account of his rule.9 The building programme in Athens alone testifies to his favour and philhellenism. He endowed the city with a grand library, a brand new forum and a glorious marble gate. The ancient heart of the city was thus redesigned and made Roman, but Hadrian’s fingerprints made an indelible mark in other ways too. The most famous sanctuary, for example, was to Zeus, the greatest of the Greek gods, and the equivalent of the Roman god Jupiter. This temple had been started at the very beginning of the classical period in the sixth century BC; in AD 132 it was completed and dedicated in person by the man whose rule bookends that age. The achievements of the two cultures, one ancient, the other of the imperial present, were fused and celebrated as one.

The classical temples, buildings and monuments he inaugurated (not just in Athens, but in places as far apart as Smyrna in modern Turkey and his family’s town of Italica in Spain) were branded with the emperor’s name and an inscription. In response, the leading town councillors of the imperial cities that Hadrian had endowed repaid the compliment with the erection of statues, shrines and busts of the emperor. They were to be found in houses, temples and marketplaces. In his beloved Athens there was a statue of Hadrian erected in the Theatre of Dionysus. Even in those places that fell outside Hadrian’s favour, the leading citizens honoured the cult of the emperor god. It was a way of demonstrating their loyalty, improving the standing of their community in the emperor’s eyes, and putting the emperor under an obligation to help them. Through these symbols of the imperial cult the high profile of the emperor was sustained, even in places where his fondness for travelling did not take him. The same can also be said of the coins, stamped with the emperor’s image, that changed hands across the breadth of his empire.



The distribution of satrapies in the Macedonian empire after the Settlement in Babylon summer/fall 323 BC


Kingdoms of the Diadochi after the Battle of Ipsus, c. 301 BC.

Diadochi is the Greek word for “successors” and refers the successors of the empire of Alexander the Great. At first there was initial agreement to the unity of the empire, but this soon turned into wars between rival rulers. These included Macedon, Egypt under Ptolemy as Africa, and the Near East under Seleucus as Asia.


Alexander the Great died on June 11, 323 b. c. e., in Babylon. His leading generals met in discussion. Alexander had a half brother, Arridaeus, but he was illegitimate and an epileptic and thought unfit to rule. Perdiccas, general of the cavalry, stated that Alexander’s wife, Roxane, was pregnant. If a boy was born, then he would become king. Alexander had named Perdiccas successor as regent, until the child was of age. The other generals opposed this idea. Nearchus, commander of the navy, pointed out that Alexander had a three-year-old son, Heracles, with his former concubine Barsine. The other generals opposed this because Nearchus was married to Barsine’s daughter and related to the young possible king. Ptolemy wanted a joint leadership and deemed that the empire needed firm government and jointly the generals could assure this. Some thought that a collective leadership could lead to a division of the empire. Meleager, the commander of the pikemen, opposed the idea. He wanted Arridaeus as king to unite the empire. The final decision was to appoint Perdiccas as regent for Arridaeus, who would become Philip III, and if Roxane gave birth to a boy, he would take precedence and become King Alexander IV.

Alexander’s father, Philip of Macedon, had led his armies south and conquered all of Greece. Alexander was king of Macedon and Greece and had left a general there to rule. The Greeks saw that Alexander and his generals had taken on the customs of their hated enemies, the Persians. The people of Athens and other Greek cities staged revolts as soon as they heard that Alexander had died. Antipater led forces south and battled in what would became the Lamian War. Craterus arrived with reinforcements. Craterus led the Macedonians to victory against the Greeks at the Battle of Crannon on September 5, 322 b. c. e. As the Macedonians captured Athens, Demosthenes, the leader of the revolt, died by taking poison.


Perdiccas ruled as regent, and there was peace for a time. His first war was with Ariarathes, who ruled in Cappadocia in the central part of modern-day Turkey. The First Diadoch War broke out in 322 b. c. e., when Craterus and Antipater in Macedonia refused to follow the orders of Perdiccas. Knowing that war would come, the Macedonians allied with Ptolemy of Egypt. Perdiccas invaded Egypt and tried to cross the Nile, but many of his men were swept away. When Perdiccas called together his commanders Peithon, Antigenes, and Seleucus for a new war strategy, they instead killed him and ended the civil war. They offered to make Ptolemy the regent of the empire, but he was content with Egypt and declined. Ptolemy suggested that Peithon be regent, which annoyed Antipater of Macedon. Negotiations were held and succession was finally decided: Antipater became regent; Roxane’s son, who had just been born, was named Alexander IV. They would live in Macedonia, where Antipater would rule the empire. His ally Lysimachus would rule Thrace, and Ptolemy would remain satrap of Egypt. Of Perdiccas’s commanders, Seleucus would become satrap of Babylonia, and Peithon would rule Media. Antigonus, in charge of the army of Perdiccas, was in control of Asia Minor.


War was again initiated when Antipater died in 319 b. c. e. He had appointed a general called Polyperchon to succeed him as regent. At this, his son, Cassander, organized a rebellion against Polyperchon. With war breaking out Ptolemy had his eye on Syria, which had historically belonged to Egypt. There was an alliance between Cassander, Ptolemy, and Antigonus of Asia Minor, who had designs against the new ruler Polyper- chon. Ptolemy then attacked Syria. Polyperchon, desperate for allies, offered the Greek cities the possibility of autonomy, but this did not gain him many troops. Cassander invaded Macedonia but was defeated. During this fighting the mother of Alexander, Olympias, was executed in 316 b. c. e.

Polyperchon had the support of Eumenes, an important Macedonian general. Polyperchon attempted to ally with Seleucus of Babylon. Seleucus refused, and the satraps of the eastern provinces decided not to be involved. Antigonus, in June 316 b. c. e., moved into Persia and engaged the forces of Eumenes at the Battle of Paraitacene, which was indecisive. Another battle near Gabae, where the fighting was also indecisive, led to the murder of Eumenes at the end of the fighting. This left Antigonus in control of all of the Asian part of the former empire. To cement his hold over the empire, he invited Peithon of Media and then had him executed. Seleucus, seeing that he would no longer have control over Babylon, fled to Egypt.


Antigonus Monophthalmus was now powerful and had control of Asia. Worried about an invasion of Egypt, Ptolemy started plotting with Lysimachus of Thrace and Cassander of Macedonia. Together they demanded that Antigonus hand over the royal treasury he had seized and hand back many of his lands. He refused, and in 314 b. c. e. war broke out. Antigonus attacked Syria and tried to capture Phoenicia. He lay siege to the city of Tyre for 15 months. Meanwhile, Seleucus took Cyprus. On the diplomatic front Antigonus demanded that Cassander explain how Olympias had died and what had happened to Alexander IV and his mother, in whose name Cassander held rule. Antigonus made an alliance with Polyperchon, who held southern Greece.

Ptolemy sent his navy to attack Cilicia, the south coast of what is now Turkey, in the summer of 312 b. c. e. With his forces in Syria, Ptolemy worried that Egypt might be attacked and retreated. Seleucus, who was a commander in the Ptolemaic army, marched to Babylon and was recognized as satrap in mid-311 b. c. e.; the previous satrap, Peithon, was killed at Gaza.

Antigonus realized that he could not defeat Ptolemy and his allies. A truce was agreed to in December 311 b. c. e. Cassander held Macedonia until Alexander IV came of age six years later; Lysimachus kept Thrace and the Chersonese (modern-day Gallipoli); Ptolemy had Egypt, Palestine, and Cyprus; Antigonus held Asia Minor; and Seleucus gained everything east of the river Euphrates to India. The following year (310 b. c. e.), Cassander murdered both the young Alexander IV and his mother, Roxane.

Peace lasted until 308 b. c. e. when Demetrius, a son of Antigonus, attacked Cyprus at the Battle of Salamis. He then attacked Greece, where he captured Athens and many other cities and then marched on Ptolemy. Antigonus sent Nicanor against Bablyon, but Seleucus defeated him. Seleucus used this opportunity to capture Ecbatana, the capital of Nicanor. Antigonus then sent Demetrius against Seleucus, and he besieged Babylon. Eventually, the forces of Antigonus and Seleucus met on the battlefield. Seleucus ordered a predawn attack and forced Antigonus to retreat to Syria. Seleucus sent troops ahead, but with little threat from the West he attacked Bactria and northern India. When Antigonus attacked Syria and headed to Egypt, his column was attacked by the troops sent by Seleucus.


Demetrius’ Agema fighting Ptolemy’s Companions at Gaza, 312 BC.


In 307 b. c. e. the Fourth Diadoch War broke out. Antigonus was facing a powerful Seleucus to his east and Ptolemy to the south. Egypt was secure with the protection of a large navy. Ptolemy attacked Greece, motivated largely by a desire to ensure that Athens and other cities did not support Antigonus.

Demetrius in a diversion attacked Cyprus and continued with his siege of Salamis. This pulled Ptolemy out of Greece, and his navy headed to Cyprus. Ptolemy lost many of his men and ships. Menelaus surrendered Cyprus in 306 b. c. e., once again giving Antigonus control of the city. Antigonus proclaimed himself successor to Alexander the Great. Antigonus did not view Seleucus as a threat, so instead marched against Ptolemy. His army ran out of supplies and was forced to withdraw. Demetrius had attacked the island of Rhodes, held by Ptolemy. Ptolemy was able to supply Rhodes from the sea, and so Demetrius withdrew. Cassander, then attacked Athens. In 301 b. c. e. Cassander, aided by Lysimachus, invaded Asia Minor, fighting the army of Antigonus and Demetrius, with Cassander capturing Sardis and Ephesus. Hearing that Antigonus was leading an army, Cassander withdrew to Ipsus, near Phrygia, and asked Ptolemy and Seleucus for support. Ptolemy heard a rumor that Cassander had been defeated and withdrew to Egypt. Seleucus realized that this might be the opportunity to destroy Antigonus. Earlier he had concluded a peace agreement with King Chandragupta II, in the Indus Valley, and had been given a large number of war elephants. Seleucus marched to support Cassander.

Hearing of his approach, Antigonus sent an army to Babylon hoping to divert Seleucus. Seleucus marched his men to Ipsus and joined Lysimachus. There, in 301 b. c. e., a large battle ensued. Seleucus, with his elephants, launched a massive attack that won the battle. Antigonus was killed on the battlefield, but Demetrius escaped. This left Seleucus and Lysimachus in control of the whole of Asia Minor. Seleucus and Lysimachus agreed that Cassander would be king of Macedonia, but he died the following year. Demetrius had escaped to Greece, attacking Macedonia and, seven years later, killed a son of Cassander. A new ruler had emerged, Pyrrhus of Epirus, an ally of Ptolemy. He attacked Macedonia and the forces of Demetrius. Demetrius repelled the attack and was nominated as king of Macedonia but had to give up Cilicia and Cyprus. Ptolemy urged on Pyrrhus, who attacked Macedonia in 286 b. c. e. and drove Demetrius from the kingdom, aided by an internal revolt. Demetrius fled from Europe in 286 b. c. e. With his men he attacked Sardis again. Lysimachus and Seleucus attacked him, and Demetrius surrendered and was taken prisoner by Seleucus. He later died in prison.

This left Lysimachus and Pyrrhus fighting for possession of Europe, while Ptolemy and Seleucus owned rest of the former empire. Ptolemy abdicated to his son Ptolemy Philadelphus. An older son, Ptolemy Keraunos, sought help from Seleucus to try to take over Egypt. Ptolemy died in January 282 b. c. e. In 281 b. c. e. Ptolemy Keraunos, decided that it would be easier to take Macedonia rather than to attack Egypt. He and Seleucus attacked Lysimachus, killing him at the Battle of Corus in February 281 b. c. e. Ptolemy Keraunos then returned to Asia, and prior to leaving for Macedonia again in 280 b. c. e., he murdered Seleucus.

By the end of the Diadochi wars, Antigonus Gonatas, the son of Demetrius, ruled Greece; Ptolemy II Philadelphus was king of Egypt; and Antiochus I, son of Seleucus, ruled much of western Asia. Ptolemy Keraunos held the lands of Lysander in Thrace. The Diadochi wars came to an end with the death of Seleucus, but wars between the kingdoms continued.

Further reading: Bosworth, A. B. The Legacy of Alexander the Great: Politics, Warfare and Propaganda under the Suc- cessors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002; Doherty, Paul. Alexander the Great: The Death of a God. London: Constable, 2004; Kincaid, C. A. Successors of Alexander the Great. Chicago: Ares, 1985; Paveley, J. D. Lysimachos, the Diadoch. Ph. D. thesis, University of Swansea, Wales, 1988.

Hyksos in Egypt


The Hyksos were foreign rulers of Egypt who seized power and ruled Lower (northern) Egypt. Contradictory dates and king lists, as well as gaps in the records, render their history elusive, but the Hyksos were most likely Palestinian. The combined efforts of Egyptian kings Seqenenre, Kamose, and Ahmose and their mothers forced out the last Hyksos ruler, Apepi, around 1530 b. c. e.

The Second Intermediate Period is the label given to the years of Hyksos power. At the end of the Middle Period of Egyptian history the breakdown of centralized authority and fragmentation of administrative control led to the neglect of Egypt’s borders. Areas may have fallen to the kingdom of Kush or to Nubia, and the eastern border also brought invaders. Immigrants called Aamu (usually translated as Asiatic) may have been entering for years, settling in the Nile Valley and assimilating into local villages. About 1650 b. c. e. a group of foreign chieftains with Semitic names took control of Egypt’s Delta and ruled from Memphis. Possibly, they simply took over existing posts and pushed out the local administrators. Egyptians referred to these kings as heka-kaswt (or hikkhase or hikau khausut), meaning “rulers of foreign lands.” Greek historians shortened that phrase to Hyksos.

A major source of our knowledge of the Hyksos is the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote in the first century c. e. Josephus quoted the Egyptian priest Manetho, whose book of Egyptian history—now lost—was composed around 270 b. c. e., 1,300 years after the Second Intermediate Period. According to Josephus, the Hyksos came from the east and seized power without striking a blow, and then destroyed temples and cities and enslaved or killed the inhabitants. Their appointed king was Salitis; Bnon and then Apachman succeeded him. Josephus listed six Hyksos kings, and their reigns averaged 43 years each.

Sextus Julius Africanus, who wrote in the third century c. e., also quoted Manetho. He listed six Hyksos kings of the Fifteenth Dynasty, whose reigns totaled 284 years, followed by 518 years given to the Sixteenth Dynasty, also Hyksos. The Seventeenth Dynasty combined Hyksos and Theban kings, who ruled a total of 151 years. Other king lists are equally confusing and the dates unreliable, but most scholars accept that during these dynasties, kings ruled simultaneously in different parts of Egypt.

The numbers are difficult to reconcile, but historians believe that the Hyksos rulers never tried to unseat the Egyptian kings in Upper Egypt. There, the Thirteenth Dynasty of Egyptian kings continued, probably paying taxes to the Hyksos. The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Dynasties were Egyptian and centered in Thebes. Concurrently, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Dynasties of Hyksos kings ruled from either Memphis or Avaris in the northeast Nile Delta.

The Hyksos may have brought unique weapons with them and possibly introduced horses, chariots, the vertical loom, the lyre, and other innovations to Egypt, but overall they adopted Egyptian ways and culture. The greatest Hyksos king, Apepi, employed many scribes during his long reign; their work indicated just how Egyptian the Hyksos had become. Apepi waged war with the Theban king Seqenenre Taa of the Seventeenth Dynasty. Seqenenre was killed in battle; his mummy has been identified and is riddled with brutal blows. Seqenenre’s nephew, Kamose, continued the fight, though he did not live long. Kamose’s younger brother Ahmose is credited with finally removing the Hyksos and its last king Khamudi, and uniting Upper and Lower Egypt again. Stele praise the mother of Kamose and Ahmose, Ahhotpe, who guarded Egypt and expelled the rebels, and Seqenenre’s mother Tetisheri is also given credit. The final conflict between Hyksos and Theban kings lasted for 30 years.

Further reading: Bourriau, Janine. “The Second Intermediate Period.” In Ian Shaw, ed. Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000; Gardiner, Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.


Hyksos chariotry vs. Middle Kingdom Egyptian infantry

A formation of Hyskos chariots falls upon a (Middle) Egyptian force patrolling the eastern frontier. The Egyptian army at this time was composed of infantry brigaded into units differentiated by their arms: spearmen, axemen and bowmen; there were no chariots in the army of the Middle Kingdom. Most of the infantry would be massed by unit into close order formations for battle. In the absence of rough terrain or somesuch to anchor their flanks, the Egyptian units are fully exposed in the open. The primary arm of the Hyksos army was the chariotry, comprised of 2-horse light chariots, bearing a driver and an archer, either or both of whom may be armoured; for simplicity’s sake, throughout the following text the chariot archer bears the designation, maryannu, which term is less generic than this use would imply.

The Hyksos would be expected to maneuver around the Egyptian battleline, focussing their attention on the flanks. One would observe squadrons of chariots setting up mere yards from the Egyptians, and methodically pumping aimed shots with their very powerful composite bows, at near point blank range, into targets of choice — file leaders, standard bearers and rank closers. The best Egyptian countertactics would be twofold: counterfire by massed bowmen, and ad hoc counterattacks (rushes) by groups of (elite) warriors. In the first case, success would be fleeting at best, primarily because (i) it is assumed the Egyptian bowmen were not trained to shoot as individual marksmen, and (ii) the Egyptian bowmen would be unable to bring volleys to bear upon their tormentors, who would be expected to utilize their mobility to maneuver out of, or better yet, under the firing arcs.

Once they had passed under the firing arc of the footbows, the Hyksos could quickly and ruthlessly outshoot the exposed fronk rankers still able to return fire and intrepid enough to do so. On a technical note, the phrase passing under the firing arc refers to the chariot warriors moving through the zone of optimal effectiveness of the footbow’s indirect, plunging fire and into the direct fire zone immediately in front of the foot; this direct fire zone is deep enough to give the chariots the 15+ yards they need to maneuver. Most of the footbows in a massed formation cannot fire directly at a target, rather they arch their shots over the heads of the comrades in the front rank(s); it is exceedingly difficult for a back-ranker to place a shot on a target 15 yards away via indirection. Wargamers have gotten used to the idea that bowfire is more effective at shorter range than long, but as noted wargamer and songmaster George Gershwin pointed out long ago, “it ain’t necessarily so”; for the direct fire of the heavily armoured Hyksos maryannu, peppering the unarmoured Egyptian foot bow at short range, it is; for the ineffective mixture of scattered direct and indirect volley fire returned by the latter, it ain’t.

There is a remote possibility that the Egyptian footbows could stand up to the maryannu, despite mounting casualties, and eventually bring their greater number of bows to bear, but the bet here is the Egyptian morale breaks as soon as the Hyksos move in for the kill.

As for rushing the chariots, one would expect no more than an occasional (isolated) success, provided the Hyksos were careful about rotating their squadrons and resting their horses; besides, mounting casualties to Egyptian officers would soon make any organized action unlikely. It may be safely argued that the Egyptian infantry, cowering behind their shields (those who had them), unable to bear so much pressure, would soon skedaddle.

The Battle of Winchelsea


A depiction of medieval naval combat from Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, 14th century.

Edwards Cog thomas

King Edward’s flagship, Cog Thomas.

In 1350, King Edward III of England was at peace—with Scotland, after capturing King David II at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, and with France, after a decisive victory at the Battle of Crécy in the same year. For many years, however, trouble had been brewing with Castille—a Spanish kingdom whose navy had taken to raiding English ships in the Channel. A chance for restitution came when news reached Edward that a Spanish fleet had sailed to Flanders to trade wool. “We have for a long time spared these people,” he announced, “for which they have done us much harm; without amending their conduct; for on the contrary, they grow more arrogant; for which reason they must be chastised.” He resolved to intercept the fleet as it returned to Castille—a feasible operation in the narrow waters of the English Channel.

Edward assembled a fleet of 50 ships by the usual means of conscripting merchantmen and outfitting them for war, and issued a summons to his lords and knights. At least 17 lords and more than 400 knights responded, creating a top-heavy command structure on board ship; at the time, the title of “captain” was essentially a military one, and it was held by the lord or knight who commanded the troops on board. The fleet gathered off Winchelsea, then a significant harbor on the south coast and one of the Cinque Ports, which were obliged to maintain ships for the Crown in case of need. Edward’s warrior son, the Black Prince, and the 10-year-old John of Gaunt were among the troops, as was Robert of Namur, Edward’s favorite knight, who took charge of the Salle de Roi, which carried the King’s household.

Meanwhile, the Spanish fleet of 47 ships had loaded up with linen at Sluys, in Flanders, where the English had sunk most of the French fleet 10 years earlier. Don Carlos de la Cerda, the Spanish commander, had heard of Edward’s plans and armed his ships accordingly; as many cannons as he could find were lifted aboard, and the wooden “castles” atop the ships’ masts were stocked with stones and iron bars to drop on the English vessels. When they raised anchor, the ships, according to the Flemish chronicler Jean Froissart, were “so beautiful, it was a fine sight to see them under sail.”

Edward sailed in the Cog Thomas, commanded by Robert Passelow, and the fleet cruised between Dover and Calais. He enjoyed himself as he waited for the Spanish, encouraging Sir John Chandos, his tactician at the battle of Crécy, to sing with the royal minstrels. Eventually, late in the afternoon of August 29, the lookout caught sight of the Spanish. “I see two, three, four, and so many that, God help me, I cannot count them,” he cried. The minstrels were silenced and the king offered wine to his knights, who drank and put on their helmets. Always conscious of his image, Edward stood at the prow of the ship, dressed, according to Froissart, in a black velvet jacket and a beaver hat, “which became him very much.”

The Spanish had the wind behind them and could have declined battle (they had more to lose with valuable cargoes on board) but “their pride and presumption made them act otherwise.” The king shouted to Passelow, “Steer for that ship for I want to joust with her,” since he loved tournaments and had recently revived the Arthurian ideal of chivalry. Normally the master of the ship had the right to advise on such matters, but in this instance he remained silent:

The sailor did not want to disobey his orders because it was the King who desired it, even though the Spaniard came on at speed sailing on the wind. The King’s ship was strong and manoeuvrable, otherwise she would have split; for she and the great Spanish vessel struck with such force that it sounded like thunder and as they rebounded the castle of the King of England’s ship caught the [top]castle of the Spanish ship in such a way that the mast levered it from the mast on which it was fixed and it fell in the sea. All those in the castle were drowned and lost.

But the Spanish ship was not the only vessel damaged in the collision. The seams between the planks of the Cog Thomas opened and she began to take on water. The knights pumped and baled, but did not dare to tell the King, who looked at the ship alongside the one he had “jousted” with and called out, “Grapple my ship to that one; I must have her!” One of the knights exclaimed, “Let her go, you’ll get a better!” and soon another vessel drew near and the knights snared it with grappling hooks and chains:

The English royal knights made strenuous efforts to take the ship they had grappled with because their own… was in danger of foundering as she had taken in so much water. At last the King and his crew fought so well that the Spanish ship was taken and everyone on board her was thrown over the side. Then they told the King of his peril from the sinking ship and that he should go on board the prize vessel. The King took this advice and went on board the Spanish ship with all his men leaving the other empty.

The battle raged around the English as they drew close to the Spanish, who shot arrows and pelted them with iron bars. Night was falling and the English were anxious to reach a conclusion, but the Spanish were “people well used to the sea and with large well-equipped ships.” The Black Prince soon became embroiled in a fight of his own as his ship grappled a large Spanish vessel. His ship was holed in several places, perhaps by the iron bars, and was beginning to sink when the Duke of Lancaster came alongside in his own ship. The old crusader called out “Derby to the rescue!”—since he was also the Earl of Derby—and boarded the Spanish vessel. He was victorious, and again the captured enemy prisoners were thrown overboard.

The Salle de Roi was grappled by a large Spanish ship, which hoisted its sails and tried to drag her off. As the two ships passed the Cog Thomas, members of the royal household aboard the Salle de Roi cried for help, but there was no response. One of Robert’s followers, called Hanekin, then leapt into action:

With his naked sword in his hand, he leapt on board the Spanish ship, reached the mast, and cut the halyard and the sail collapsed and didn’t draw any more. And then with great effort he cut the four mighty shrouds which supported the mast and sails so that they fell on the ship and the ship stopped and couldn’t go any more.

Robert’s men boarded the ship with swords drawn, and, according to Froissart, “fought so well that all on board were killed and thrown overboard, and the ship taken.” It was the end of the battle—an indisputable victory for the English, who captured 20 Spanish ships at the cost of only two of their own.

In spite of Edward’s success, however, Winchelsea was only a flash in a conflict that raged between the English and the Spanish for over 200 years, coming to a head with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was a typical naval battle of the late-medieval period, both harking back to the ram-and-board tactics of classical times and straining toward the early modern period, in which vessels with designated gun decks were developed. It proved yet again that merchant ships were ill-suited to housing cannons, and effectively became hand-to-hand battlegrounds when they met each other in combat. Little would change until the 16th century, when the first true warships in the modern sense were built, heralding an age in which ships could fire at each other from a distance, and battles could be won or lost without boarding.

Kwantung Army


Kwantung Army Headquarters



Kwantung Army’s defense plan prior to Soviet Invasion (1945), based on Glantz’s maps in Levenworth Paper No 7 – Feb 1983

Japan’s military presence in and domination of Manchuria in northwestern China received a major victory with the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Under the Treaty of Portsmouth, Japan was required to withdraw its troops from Manchuria proper but gained a leased territory of the Liaotung (Liaodong) Peninsula in southern Manchuria, renamed the Kwantung Leased Territory, which included the fortress and port of Port Arthur. The army unit assigned to garrison the area and the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway (SMR), as far as Changchun, was named the Kwantung Army. From this date this army became the spearhead of Japanese imperialism in China.

With the railway administration working as a colonial power, running ports, harbors, tax collection, mines, and utility companies, the SMR turned the railway zone into a semiautonomous state, and the Kwantung Army was its security and police arm.

After World War I, Japan gained control of former German holdings at Tsingtao in China’s Shandong (Shantung) Province and deployed 70,000 troops from the Kwantung Army to Siberia to support the Whites in the Russian Civil War. The Japanese sought to expand their empire in Siberia, failed to do so, and withdrew in 1922.

In 1927, when Chiang Kai-shek’s troops were marching on Shandong to break the power of local warlords in the Northern Expedition, Japanese troops were sent to Shandong (Shantung). Soon Chinese and Japanese troops were clashing. Chiang withdrew his forces from the city of Tsinan, but the Kwantung Army attacked it the next day, killing 13,000 civilians.

Chiang turned his troops away from confl ict with Japan. Tokyo, however, supported the Kwantung Army, issuing warnings to Chiang and Manchurian warlord Zang Zolin (Chang Tso-lin) not to attack Japanese forces or civilians. However, the new commander of the Kwantung Army, General Chotaro Muraoka, had other ideas, moving his headquarters in May 1928 from Port Arthur to Mukden, Manchuria’s main city, and preparing his troops to take control of the region.

Ready to move, Muraoka and his troops waited, fi ring telegrams to Tokyo asking permission to move. When Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka refused, the Kwantung Army’s officers were stunned. Muraoka decided to kill Zang Zolin, blasting a bridge as the warlord’s train crossed it on June 4, 1928. The Kwantung Army reported to Tokyo that Zang had been killed by Manchurian guerrillas. The truth came out anyway, and Tokyo could do seemingly little to control the insubordinate army and its officers, who had a lot of support in Japan.

But Tanaka was determined to punish the officers responsible for the assassination plot and recommended so to Emperor Hirohito, who agreed. But when the army as a whole objected, Tanaka temporized. He fired Muraoka and told the public that there was no evidence the Kwantung Army had been involved in the plot. Then Tanaka resigned. The Kwantung Army’s officers had defied Tokyo and gotten away with it.

As the Great Depression wore on, the Japanese economy continued to crumble. Many Japanese army officers, angered by the economic situation, joined secret societies like the Cherry Blossom League, and a group of officers plotted to use the Kwantung Army to seize Manchuria for its rich resources. One of the key men was Colonel Doihara Kenji, who prepared a “Plan for Acquiring Manchuria and Mongolia.”

Chiang Kai-shek, meanwhile, had succeeded in unifying China under the Kuomintang, and Zhang Xue- liang (Chang Hsueh-liang), Manchuria’s new warlord, supported the Nationalist, or Kuomintang, government. In 1931 clashes broke out between Korean farmers who were Japanese subjects and Chinese farmers over water rights.

Doihara went to Manchuria and determined that a Japanese attempt to seize Manchuria would result in international condemnation. An “incident” had to be manufactured to make a Japanese occupation of Manchuria seem China’s fault. In 1929 the Kwantung Army began to plot an incident under their new boss, Lieutenant General Shigeru Honjo, with Doihara as mastermind.

Japan’s civilian leaders did nothing to control the insubordinate Kwantung Army. The emperor, however, ordered Major General Yoshitsugu Tatekawa to bring a message from him on September 15, 1931, ordering the Kwantung Army not to take any unauthorized action. Unfortunately for Hirohito, Tatekawa’s assistant, Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto, was among the plotters, and he sent a message to officers of the Kwantung Army to let them know that Tatekawa was coming with imperial orders. When Tatekawa arrived in Mukden on September 17, Kwantung Army officers took the general to a party, where he became drunk.

That night Kwantung Army officers blew up a section of track on the South Manchurian Railway 1,200 yards from a Chinese army that failed to derail the night express. Kwantung Army troops then attacked and shelled the Chinese barracks, killing many soldiers. By 10:00 a. m. on September 18, 1931, Mukden was under Japanese control, Chang’s headquarters were ransacked, and his banks and government offices were occupied, as were a dozen other cities in southern Manchuria in a coordinated attack by Japanese units. Some 12 hours after their blast, Kwantung Army officers displayed to Western reporters the “proof” that the Chinese had tried to destroy the railroad, which was bodies of Chinese soldiers shot in the back lying facedown, supposedly cut down while fleeing the scene. The world was outraged by the political adventurism, and Tokyo was stunned. The emperor reminded Prime Minister Reijiro Wakatsuki that he had forbidden such action, and the foreign and finance ministers also objected. But Wakatsuki did not overrule his generals and colonels. The attack and subsequent conquest of Manchuria were accepted as a fait accompli.

From October to December 1931, the Kwantung Army, now empowered by Tokyo and advised by units of the Japanese army in Korea, expanded conquest of Manchuria, even plotting a coup in October to overthrow the civilian government in Tokyo. This attempted coup was ended when the leading plotters were secretly arrested. In December Wakatsuki resigned. Ki Inukai became the new prime minister, but General Araki, leader of the Kodo Ha faction, became war minister, effectively providing the military’s endorsement to the Kwantung Army’s actions. The Kwantung Army now became an occupation force in Manchuria, and its officers became heroes for all of Japan.

The Kwantung Army continued to seize Chinese territory, taking Rehe (Jehol) province in 1933 and Chahar province in 1934. Officers of the Kodo Ha movement were assigned to the Kwantung Army, strengthening its radicalism; among them was Hideki Tojo, who would become Japan’s prime minister during World War II.

In February 1936, the Kwantung Army showed its powerful influence when a group of Kodo Ha officers attempted a coup d’état in Tokyo. It failed, the ringleaders were shot, and the civilian leaders regained some control over the Kwantung Army.

Leaving Chinese unity under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership, the Kwantung Army set to create an “incident” between Chinese and Japanese forces on July 7, 1937, at a railway junction near Beijing (Peking) in northern China, called the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. This led to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, in which Japan committed unspeakable attrocities, such as the Rape of Nanjing. It became World War II in Asia. The Kwantung Army promised Tokyo victory in three months.

As World War II began and dragged on, the Kwantung Army remained in occupation of Manchuria, “Asia’s Ruhr,” against Soviet invasion. Over time, the army was stripped of most of its equipment and men, which were needed on other battlefronts.

When the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945, and invaded Manchuria, the Kwantung Army had 1 million men under arms equipped with 1,155 tanks, 5,360 guns, and 1,800 aircraft. On paper, this was a match for the Soviets’ 1.5 million men, but the Soviets also fielded 26,000 guns, 5,500 tanks, and 3,900 planes. In addition, the Kwantung Army was short of gasoline, ammunition, and transport.

Yet some of the Kwantung Army’s hotheaded leaders refused to surrender when Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 14, 1945. Commanding general Otozo Yamada refused to obey the Imperial Rescript to surrender, summoned his officers to his headquarters at Changchun, debated the news from Tokyo, and by a majority vote chose to go on fighting.

In the end, the Kwantung Army did obey an imperial command and surrendered to the Soviet Army. Several of its leaders, including Doihara and Tojo, were tried, convicted, and executed at the Tokyo International Court.

Further reading: Harris, Meirion, and Susie Harris. Soldiers of the Sun. New York: Random House, 1991; Hoyt, Edwin P. Japan’s War. New York: Da Capo, 1986; Toland, John. The Rising Sun. New York: Random House, 1970; Tuchman, Barbara W. Sand against the Wind: Stilwell and the American Experience in China. New York: MacMillan, 1970.