Tapping the Hot Line




Back on September 7, 1941, Leningrad had been under direct German fire for three days. The famous siege of nine hundred days was about to commence. Immediately to the east, at a place called Shlisselburg, troops of the Soviet NKVD desperately resisted advance elements of the German Sixteenth Army. Three hundred aircraft of the German Luftwaffe swept in to strafe the holdouts, and by nightfall the city on the shores of Lake Ladoga was engulfed in flames.

Far to the south, but also on the eastern front, panzer chieftain Heinz Guderian had turned his tank columns in a drive across the Russian rear in the Ukraine. He soon would meet another German pincer sweep and close the vast encirclement of Kiev. At the center of the eastern front another huge haul of prisoners and territory was in prospect for the German Army Group Center driving toward Vyazma.

A world in such tumult paid little attention to a radio-telephone call late that day from still-peaceable Washington, D.C., to London. In that innocuous pulsing across the Atlantic—also the scene of raging war—a newly arrived British official merely asked his superiors in London to provide him an assistant.

Innocuous as the call may have seemed, the German enemy heard, recorded and understood the conversation—no matter that it was “scrambled.” The occasion, in fact, was a red-letter day for a certain set of German eavesdroppers—this was their first intercept of many on the very same transatlantic “line” that Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt would be using throughout the war to discuss Allied strategy, tactics, and policy.

If the Allies had their super-secret ULTRA code-breaking operation as an ear to Nazi Germany’s pulse, the Germans, as an intelligence coup of their own, had solved the Allied “scramble” device and could listen in when the two heads of state, or their many functionaries, picked up the scramble phone on either side of the Atlantic.

So secret was ULTRA that only the highest Allied officials and the most select intelligence personnel knew about it. So secret, likewise, was the German radio-telephone intercept that military intelligence was left out of the game almost entirely. Hitler and his closest Nazi Party coterie kept this one pretty much to themselves.

And they could thank the man equivalent to America’s postmaster general for the coup, rather than Germany’s professional spies.

Ladislas Farago told the story of Reich’s Post Minister Wilhelm Ohnesorge’s contribution to the German war effort in the 1971 book, The Game of the Foxes. The tale actually begins in 1939, when a German agent in New York noticed a story in the New York Times that was headlined: “Roosevelt Protected in Talks to Envoys by Radio ‘Scrambling’ to Foil Spies Abroad.”

Roosevelt’s scrambler was located in a soundproof room in the basement of the White House. Later in the war, Churchill would do his conversing from a scramble instrument located in his underground War Cabinet Rooms in London. For the moment, though, America was still a neutral party, and FDR’s first use of the scramble phone had been to hear about the unprovoked German invasion of Poland on September 1 from his ambassador in Paris, William C. Bullitt.

Developed by Bell Telephone, the A-3 scramble device would break up the frequency band and scatter the voice impulses at one end, all to be sorted out by a descrambler at the other end of the radio-telephone link. From the White House, FDR’s conversation was piped into an AT&T security room in New York for the transatlantic transmission in unintelligible form.

The German spy in New York dutifully forwarded his clipping from the Times, but in Germany there was no immediate or significant reaction within the intelligence community. Still, the Allied “hot line” did interest one expert outside normal German intelligence circles—Wilhelm Ohnesorge.

As Reichs post minister, Ohnesorge was in charge not only of Germany’s postal system, but also its telephone and telegraph network. He was just the man to focus upon the ballyhooed radio-telephone “scramble” link between England and America, which he did without delay. His laboratories and engineers set to work entirely lacking in visible evidence of the highly secret Bell apparatus—no blueprints, models, or the like. But, beginning his work in 1940, Ohnesorge’s chief research engineer, Kurt Vetterlein, had developed experimental models of both the scrambling and descrambling devices by September 1941. The first interception was of the British official’s call to London from Washington late on September 7, even as Leningrad came under siege.

Keeping their experimental work secret, Ohnesorge and Vetterlein soon perfected their intercept system. They built a monitoring station on the coast of occupied Holland, complete with directional antennas to pick up the radio signals from nearby England. By March 1942, they were ready to begin their intercepts on a regular basis.

At this early stage of the war—for America, especially—FDR and Churchill had a great many military secrets to talk about. The Normandy invasion was still two years away; the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa was still months in the future, and for both Allies, the war in the Pacific against Germany’s Axis partner Japan still appeared an unmitigated disaster.

As David Kahn further explained in his 1978 book, Hitler’s Spies, wartime developments gradually encroached upon the listening unit’s original location in a onetime youth hostel on the Dutch coast. Commando raids on coastal radar stations prompted the Germans to move their Forschungsstelle, or “research post,” to Valkenswaard in southeastern Holland. “Here a compact brick-and-concrete bunker, in the shape of an L, was built for it in the woods….” wrote Kahn. “The men worked in areas guarded by inch-thick steel doors, cooked in their own kitchen, slept in rooms with dormer windows, and relaxed in a living room with a fireplace.”

By the fall of 1944, after the Normandy invasion, the exigencies of war forced the Germans to relocate again—this time as distantly from England as Bavaria. “But here the distance from the [England-based] transmitter considerably impaired its results.”

The original, early war locale, of course, had been the best for Engineer Vetterlein’s operation. That spot, two hundred yards from the sea, “could pick up both the ground wave of the transmitter in England and the back lob of its beam toward America.” Vetterlein’s equipment included single sideband receivers, filters, modulators, switching equipment, tape recorders, timers and, for the intercepts themselves, two rhombic antennas. The latter took in the Allied signals in their scrambled form, but with the supporting equipment, Vetterlein and his men would find the Allied chitchat “instantaneously disentangled by the apparatus, and tape-recorded in the clear.”

As Kahn also noted, Vetterlein did not exactly begin his work from a point zero. His Deutsche Reichspost agency had owned an A-3 device allowing radiotelephone communication with the United States. The trick for Vetterlein and his crowd was to descramble, even if they understood the operating principles.

Thus, they first attacked the problem using American transmissions intercepted near occupied Bordeaux, France. They “attacked the problem with oscilloscopes and spectrographs, filters and patience. By the end of 1940, they had reconstructed the A-3’s secret parameters—the widths of the subbands, their division points, their inversions, and their intersubstitutions, which changed thirty-six times every twelve minutes.”

The painstaking work led eventually to the equipment that would descramble the overheard conversations “as they were being spoken,” although it did take months—until fall of 1941—to effectively intercept and descramble the cross-Atlantic messages. Later, when the intelligence operation was in full swing, the Germans monitored the hot line around the clock, with thirty to sixty calls to choose from every day.

Churchill and his counterpart in Washington would not discuss everything by radio-telephone, to be sure. They did have their wartime conferences; they communicated by other means, and they had many subordinates shuttling back and forth. Many of those subordinates, however, both military and diplomatic, would be using the scramble phone too.

Unknown to any of the Allied principals, the German monitoring station first located in Holland produced an intelligence bonanza from the start. “Its equipment was so efficient,” wrote Farago in his book, “that the intercepted conversations could be ‘deciphered’ instantaneously, losing only a few syllables after each key change (which occurred at intervals of twenty seconds) until the proper key was found automatically. The German transcripts were sent to Berlin on a G-Schreiber, a classified teletype that had its own scrambler system. The entire operation, from the interception to the arrival of its transcript in Berlin, usually required only a couple of hours. It was probably the fastest means of intelligence procurement in secret service history.”

Reichs Post Minister Ohnesorge waited until the intercept system was working perfectly before informing Hitler of the great success. On March 6, 1942, he wrote the Führer to report that his was the only agency in the Third Reich “that succeeded in rendering conversations that had been made unintelligible, intelligible again at the instant of reception.”

As a direct result, among other helpful intelligence gleanings, the Germans in July of 1943 were able to confirm that the Italian government, having deposed Mussolini, was seeking an armistice with the Allies.

Various signs had pointed toward the wavering of the Italian ally, but Hitler and his close advisors were unsure what to expect. When Marshal Pietro Badoglio’s new government took over on July 25, confusion reigned in Nazi Germany’s highest councils.

On July 29, however, Post Minister Ohnesorge’s latest intercept, delivered in a sealed envelope marked with a big U, settled the controversy—and resulted in Hitler’s next fateful decision. At 1 A.M. that day, Churchill and Roosevelt had talked on their scramble phone about the tumultuous events in Italy. They had discussed the possibility of an impending armistice with the new government.

Since there had been no official peace-feeler by the Badoglio regime, they might have been premature in anticipating such a move just then. And they apparently did speak in a conditional sense, even if their expectations were made quite clear.

Whatever the tone of the conversation, it was enough for the eavesdropping Germans. They saw it as hard evidence that armistice negotiations were under way.

As a result, Hitler’s uncertainty was ended. He immediately ordered the occupation of Italy, and soon twenty German divisions stood in the Allied pathway up the Italian boot, instead of the mere eight that were stationed there before the telephone intercept. The Allies would spend the rest of the war subduing the German forces in Italy—at horrendous cost to both sides.

While the Deutsche Reichpost had more than proved the value of its listening post in Holland, Germany’s military forces were not often to share in the intelligence harvest that resulted. “This was a Nazi triumph, and it was to remain a Nazi operation,” wrote Farago. “Distribution of the intercepts was strictly limited. A single copy of the original transcript was sent to Heinrich Himmler to be distributed at his discretion. The [military] Abwehr was bypassed, as were the intelligence departments of the Army, Navy, and Luftwaffe.”

After SS Chief Himmler’s scrutiny of the incoming intercepts, the “choicest” were sent on to Hitler. A few went to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, but he apparently was discouraged by the fact that the Allied speakers on the radio-telephone were often guarded even in their scrambled conversations. “Owing to the fact that these conversations are camouflaged,” he once complained, “there is very little one can learn from them.”

Wiser members of the Third Reich’s ruling circles were, of course, more impressed. The Himmler protégé Walter Schellenberg, who had vaulted to head of all German espionage by 1944, recognized an obvious “bull’s-eye” when the Holland intercept picked up an FDR-Churchill conversation on May 5, 1944, about an Allied buildup in England. There, straight from “the horse’s mouth,” was confirmation that the invasion of France was imminent. And when it did take place, just a month later, it wasn’t the Deutsche Reichspost’s fault that Germany was unable to stop it. Germany’s postmaster general and his engineers had done their job—what could be done about the information they provided was another matter altogether.

The Beginning of the Ottoman Retreat in Europe




In 1453 the Janissaries forced their way into Constantinople at the crucial hour of the final assault on Byzantium; a century later they were the spearhead of Suleiman the Magnificent’s army. In these years the corps was bound by a strict and well-defined code of life: absolute obedience to their officers; perfect accord between each unit; abstinence from alcohol; observance of Muslim piety; enlistment only from the devşirme or from prisoners-of-war; no beards; no marriage; no pursuit of a trade or profession other than soldiery; and acceptance of seniority as a basis for promotion, of residence in barracks (with safeguards for retirement), of capital punishment in a reputedly merciful form, of corporal punishment on the orders of Janissary officers, and of demands for training or exercise at any time. They could count on good pay and rations and, from 1451 onwards, they received a special distribution of Accession Money each time a new Sultan was girded with the ceremonial sword. Since only seven Sultans acceded during a span of a hundred and fifty years, Accession Money formed a not unreasonable occasional bonus payment.

But by 1620 the Janissaries were not so much a standing army as a standing menace. Their code was neglected. Legal marriage was first permitted in 1566, the year of the great Suleiman’s death. Soon afterwards sons of Janissaries were allowed to join the Corps, even though as Muslims they could not themselves be bound in the slave obedience that ensured strict discipline. The last comprehensive levy in south-eastern Europe was raised in 1676; already by then there were instances of Muslim fathers lending sons to Christian families so that they could find their way into such a powerful and prestigious body of men. By the start of the seventeenth century the communal life of the Corps was less binding; Janissaries acquired their own homes in garrison towns; if not campaigning, they practised trades; many behaved like a civilian reserve militia rather than as the core of the Sultan’s army. Yet while greedy to acquire new rights, they remained jealously possessive of old privileges. Accession Money became, not a reward, but a form of extortion. When in 1623 Murad IV became the fourth Sultan to accede in six years, the Grand Vizier informed the senior generals of the Janissaries that the treasury was empty, and they agreed that their troops would forgo the bonus; but, in a mutinous mood, the Corps insisted on its rights: gold and silver plate from the Topkapi Sarayi was melted down and minted into coin for their benefit.

A strong and fearless ruler would have suppressed the Janissaries. But how? Unlike the Russian streltsy, the corps was not based on any single centre in the empire. There had long been Janissary barracks in Constantinople, in the larger provincial cities, and in conquered capitals such as Cairo and Damascus. Suleiman, aware of the potential danger constituted by the Corps, encouraged the growth of an Imperial Bodyguard of dragoons (silahtar). Under his successors this regiment was recruited from the richer Turkish nobility and in any campaign remained close to the Sultan’s person. Yet while the silahtar was a small élite force, the Janissaries could number 90,000 men organized in more than a hundred battalions (orta), if fully mobilized. They included what might be regarded as a proto-commando brigade, the serdengecti (‘those willing to give up their heads’), an initial infantry assault force. If the Ottoman Empire was to meet the military challenge from the West, the Sultans needed the Janissaries, provided the Corps would fight as loyally and ferociously as in the days of Mehmed the Conqueror and Suleiman the Magnificent.

Briefly it seemed as if they might. Under Mustafa II, who came to the throne in February 1695, a vigorous attempt was made to halt the Austrian advance. Within eleven weeks of his accession Sultan Mustafa appointed as şeyhülislâm Feyzullah Effendi, his former tutor. As principal interpreter of Holy Law it was Feyzullah Effendi’s task to win support from the conservative ulema for renewed war on the Danube. Resistance to the Habsburgs required more taxation and greater personal suffering in the villages of both Rumelia and Anatolia, for a new campaign would once again denude the fields of labourers. Feyzullah Effendi became more than a spiritual leader; in the absence of a strong Vizier he was the Sultan’s chief executive, capable of scaring reluctant provincial pashas into raising troops for the Sultan and of checking the mutinous tendencies of the Janissaries. Theoretically the Janissary Corps was at full strength, although in practice no more than 10,000 men were ready for service in Europe and the orta stationed in Egypt remained wildly undisciplined. But by the early months of 1696 a formidable army had gathered around the holy banner. Feyzullah Effendi and the ulema would, under the protection of Allah, control the Ottoman Empire from the capital while, once again, a Sultan led his army into battle.

At first Sultan Mustafa’s generalship met with some success. He defended Temesvar (Timisoara) against Emperor Leopold’s troops, enabling the Turks to keep a firm foothold north of the Danube. But in the late summer of 1697 he became over-ambitious, advancing northwards from Belgrade, into the rich Hungarian granary of the Backsa (now the Serbian Vojvodina). Near the small town of Zenta the Sultan’s engineers improvised a bridge of pontoons across the lower Tisza, broad and fast-flowing at this point, not far from the river’s confluence with the Danube. It was while the army was crossing the Tisza, late in the evening of 11 September, that the Austrians struck. Under the inspired leadership of Prince Eugene of Savoy they cut the Turkish force in two. Possibly as many as 30,000 men in the Ottoman army perished, killed on the battlefield of Zenta or drowned in the waters of the Tisza. Clusters of corpses formed ‘islands’ in the river, Prince Eugene reported back to Vienna soon after the battle. His ‘decisive victory’ marked the start of the Prince’s brilliant career; it made him ‘the most renowned commander in Europe’, comments Lord Acton, anticipating the victorious partnership of Eugene and Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession. For the Turks, however, Zenta was decisive as an end of an era rather than a beginning. Fourteen years after the relief of Vienna—almost to the day—the last Turkish attempt to sweep back up the middle Danube lay shattered. The Sultan was left with virtually no army outside Asia.

Heavy rain saved Mustafa II from the immediate consequences of his defeat; Leopold I was not prepared to send his troops on a wintry expedition into the Balkans. More significant was the impact of Zenta on European diplomacy as a whole. England and the Netherlands sought to arbitrate, hoping to secure peace in the East so that the Habsburgs could concentrate on the struggle against Louis XIV’s France: there was as yet no Eastern Question to perplex western statesmen, only a tiresome and distracting Eastern Sideshow.

Long negotiations ended in the last week of January 1699 with a peace settlement concluded at Karlowitz (now Sremski Karlovici). Emperor Leopold was well satisfied by the treaty. Clauses which offered trade concessions to Austrian merchants and confirmed the right of Roman Catholics to worship freely within the Sultan’s lands might be imprecisely phrased, but they appeared to give the Habsburg Emperor a claim to intervene in internal Ottoman affairs. The territorial clauses of the settlement were almost deceptively straightforward: Hungary and all of Transylvania (except for a triangle of land around Temesvar) were in Habsburg hands when the peace talks began, and they remained so under the terms of the treaty; the Venetians had consolidated their hold on Dalmatia and the Peloponnese, and they retained them; the Turks had pulled back from southern Poland and the Ukraine, and they made no attempt to recover these lands from the Poles. Talks with Russian emissaries went on even longer, but a compromise was reached in June 1700; the Treaty of Constantinople confirmed Tsar Peter’s possession of Azov and a stretch of the lower Dniester, provided that all Russian fortifications in the region were dismantled.

No signatory of these treaties regarded the redrawing of frontiers as final. The contest for mastery of the Black Sea was only just beginning and it seemed likely that the distant possessions of a decaying Venice would soon slip from the Republic’s grasp. In one region, however, the Peace of Karlowitz lastingly changed the map. Until 1683 the ‘Military Frontier’ across western Hungary and Croatia had formed a defensive wall against Islam; after 1699 the Frontier stretched as far east as Transylvania, looming so aggressively over the Balkans that the Austrian Habsburgs seemed poised to throw the Turks back into Asia, just as their Spanish kinsmen had expelled the Moors of North Africa a century before. Yet this was an illusion. The new Military Frontier, like the old, proved essentially defensive, if only because of Habsburg preoccupation with the grand designs of the French, and the problems of Germany, Poland and the Italian peninsula. Prince Eugene fought one further successful campaign in the east, adding lustre to his reputation at Temesvar in 1716 and Belgrade a year later; but, although the Banat of Temesvar never returned to Ottoman rule, by 1739 the Turks had recovered Serbia, and it was another century and a half before a token Turkish detachment finally lowered the last crescent flag to fly over Belgrade. An Austrian march on Constantinople—a real threat at the time of Karlowitz—never took place. Apart from two decades in the early eighteenth century, the Sava and Danube rivers continued to mark the boundary of the Habsburg Monarchy until the empires were swept away at the end of the First World War.

Karlowitz was not, as some writers maintain, a disaster for the Ottoman Empire. The Peace enabled Turkey to parry the challenge from the West, ready to meet the great threat from the North and new dangers in Asia, too. For three years after Karlowitz the last Grand Vizier of the Köprülü family, Amcazade Hüseyin, undertook vigorous reforms, in the system of levying taxes, in the organization and training of the army, and in developing a sail-powered fleet to replace the traditional oar-powered galleys. Hüseyin’s reforming zeal intruded into many cherished preserves. Inevitably it offended the conservative ulema, still led by the Sultan’s nominee as şeyhülislâm, Feyzullah Effendi. Had not a fatal illness forced him to resign in September 1702, Hüseyin would almost certainly have fallen a victim to his political enemies.

Over the next eleven months events followed a familiar pattern. Feyzullah Effendi, though vigilant and alert at the start of the reign, soon succumbed to the seductive venality of office. By the turn of the century he was amassing a considerable fortune and exercising nepotism on a grand scale. Rumour said that Sultan Mustafa and Feyzullah were planning to move court and capital back to Edirne, a decision which would have destroyed the livelihood of hundreds of traders in Stamboul and along the shores of the Golden Horn. In July 1703 four companies of Janissaries, their pay heavily in arrears, led a mutiny in Stamboul, winning support from other soldiers and religious students. The rebels marched on Edirne, where the Sultan and the şeyhülislâm were in residence. Although Mustafa II hurriedly exiled Feyzullah and his kinsfolk, he could not avoid his father’s fate. The Viziers deposed him on 22 August; and dropsy carried off yet another victim in the kafe at the end of December.

Once again an Ottoman prince, fetched from the Fourth Courtyard of the Topkapi Sarayi, was girded with the sword at Edirne rather that at Eyüp. Here, however, a slight change crept into an otherwise familiar scenario. Unusually, the twenty-nine-year-old Ahmed III was a brother, rather than a half-brother, of his predecessor; their Cretan mother, Rabia Gulnus, was in her early sixties at Ahmed’s accession and she enjoyed some influence as Valide Sultana until her death twelve years later. Yet for a few months it seemed as if the Ottoman dynasty itself was under notice to quit. Ahmed was forced to pay out a larger amount of Accession Money than any predecessor, satisfying the mutinous Janissaries with funds confiscated from the discredited Feyzullah Effendi and his circle of intimates. Even so, the Sultan could not distribute an equal sum to every unit of rebellious troops, and there was widespread discontent in Rumelia and south-western Anatolia.

A hostile army gathered at Silivri, where the road to Edirne turned inland from the Sea of Marmara. If at that moment the commanders could have agreed on a nominee for the Sultanate from one of the other leading families, the Ottoman Empire might well have fallen apart, dissolving into a loose confederation of khanates. But Ahmed, and the Empire, survived. He was prepared to use the Janissaries as protectors of the dynasty. At their approach the rebels fled from Silivri, many becoming brigands in eastern Thrace and the Rodopi Mountains. The threat of civil war receded.

For the first half of his twenty-seven-year reign, Ahmed III showed a political guile which occasionally rose to shrewd statesmanship. In retrospect, the years 1703 to 1718 form a period of weak government; thirteen Grand Viziers followed one another with disconcerting rapidity; and control of the outlying provinces was so poor that in 1711 there were seventy days of bloodshed in Cairo, as six military corps collaborated in the ‘great Insurrection’ against Janissary pretensions. But in the imperial capital Sultan Ahmed used these years to consolidate his position on the throne, playing off rival viziers and ‘Lords of the Divan’ while advancing his own nominees to key posts in the army and at Court. The policy of modernizing the army and navy, begun by Hüseyin, was cautiously continued and met with some success. While no Ottoman commander could outwit Prince Eugene, the Russians were checked on the river Pruth in 1711, Peter the Great himself narrowly avoiding capture. But the most striking achievements of this period were in southern Greece. The remarkable speed with which the Peloponnese was recovered testifies to the effectiveness of the redesigned fleet. It also provides a significant commentary on the status of Ahmed III’s Greek Orthodox subjects.

Veracruz 1914



Woodrow Wilson’s accession to the presidency in 1913 might have been expected to overturn the interventionist trend of the Roosevelt and Taft years. Though he had supported the war of 1898 and the annexation of the Philippines, Wilson had been critical of “gunboat diplomacy” and “dollar diplomacy,” often denouncing foreign economic exploitation of Latin America. His first secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, had been one of the leading opponents of American imperialism. And Senate Democrats had opposed the customs treaties with the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Yet far from renouncing the interventionist policies of his Republican predecessors, Wilson expanded them. The stern Presbyterian professor believed that America had a duty to export democracy abroad, and he was prepared to act on it. “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!” the new president confidently boomed to a startled British envoy, who later declared, “If some of the veteran diplomats could have heard us, they would have fallen in a faint.”

A great deal has been written about the differences between Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. It has even been suggested by Henry Kissinger, in his magisterial Diplomacy, that the two men were the yin and yang of American diplomacy, Roosevelt representing European-style Realpolitik and Wilson the voice of naïve American ideology. This is a misleading assessment. “Roosevelt,” concludes the foremost study of his diplomacy, “was prone by instinct to approach issues in terms of right and wrong and . . . he was just as much of a preacher as Woodrow Wilson.” Indeed when he was police commissioner of New York, Roosevelt had atop his desk a tablet inscribed with these words: “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.” Roosevelt acted on this belief when he helped whoop America into a war to liberate the Cuban people from “murderous oppression,” and when he refused to support a pro-American president of Panama who had gained power through election fraud.

The difference between Roosevelt and Wilson was not primarily over ends but means. Wilson believed in the efficacy of international law and moral force. Roosevelt believed that American honor could be protected, and its ideals exported, only by military force. His famous slogan was “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Wilson almost inverted this aphorism. The irony is that Wilson would wind up resorting to force more often than his famously bellicose predecessor had. This may not have been entirely accidental, for Roosevelt believed that his buildup of the military, and his well-advertised willingness to use it, deterred potential adversaries from challenging U.S. power. Wilson, by contrast, he condemned as one of those “prize jackasses” who combined “the unready hand with the unbridled tongue,” and hence made war more likely. This may be an overly harsh judgment—there was abundant personal animus between Roosevelt and his successor—but there is little doubt that Woodrow Wilson came into office little realizing how often and how much military force would be required to implement his ideals.

He would find out soon enough.

The first foreign crisis to confront the Wilson administration occurred in Mexico. Since 1876, America’s southern neighbor had been ruled by Porfirio Díaz, a dictator who had established a climate conducive to foreign investment and friendly relations with Washington. By 1910 Mexico was the site of more than a billion dollars in U.S. investment and home to more than 40,000 American expatriates. The 80-year-old Díaz was ousted in 1911, setting off a violent upheaval that would last a decade and permanently transform the face of Mexico.

Díaz’s initial successor was the idealistic and ineffectual Francisco I. Madero. In February 1913 Madero was overthrown and murdered by the ruthless General Victoriano Huerta. Woodrow Wilson, who took office just 10 days later, was so offended by the violent takeover of this “desperate brute” that he broke with longstanding tradition that held that a sovereign government would receive international recognition regardless of how it came to power. Wilson not only refused to recognize the Huerta regime, he lifted an arms embargo and allowed U.S. weapons to flow to Huerta’s opponents, the Constitutionalists led by Venustiano Carranza. Wilson made it the object of American policy to overthrow the dictator and extend self-government to the Mexican people.

The first open clash between the U.S. and the Hueristas occurred in Tampico, a foreign-dominated Gulf port that was a center of Mexico’s oil industry. On April 9, 1914, a party of nine American sailors in a whaleboat flying the U.S. colors was arrested by a Huerista shore patrol for being in a restricted military area without permission. As soon as the Mexican military governor found out, he ordered them released and apologized profusely for the mistake. But this was not good enough for Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, the obdurate old cuss who commanded the local U.S. Navy squadron. Lacking a direct radio or telegraph link with Washington, he took the initiative, and in the navy’s nineteenth-century tradition (think of David Porter in Puerto Rico), demanded that the Hueristas fire a 21-gun salute to the Stars and Stripes in order to cleanse this stain upon American honor. The local Mexican commander balked at this imperious demand. Wilson, sensing a pretext that he could use to force a showdown with Huerta, made Mayo’s intemperate ultimatum his own. “The salute will be fired,” he grimly vowed, and ordered both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets to steam toward Mexico. Huerta finally offered to stage a “reciprocal” salute—first a Mexican battery would salute the U.S. flag, then U.S. ships would salute the Mexican flag—but Wilson deemed this insufficient.

On Sunday, April 19, 1914, Wilson decided to break off a week of negotiations with Huerta, and at 3:00 P.M. the next day he appeared before a joint session of Congress to ask for a blank check to use armed force against Huerta. The House immediately approved the resolution Wilson wanted, but the Senate adjourned that night without voting.

At 2 A.M. on Tuesday, April 21, the president was awakened and informed that a German cargo ship, the Ypiranga, was heading toward Veracruz and would arrive later that morning with a load of munitions for the Hueristas. This would increase Huerta’s power and make him harder to dislodge. Wilson did not want to intercept a foreign ship on the high seas; in an odd bit of legal reasoning, he decided it would be better to seize the wharves where it was going to unload. This had the added advantage of denying Huerta customs revenues from Mexico’s largest port, which might help to dislodge the dictator. Later that morning, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels sent a radiogram to Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher, in command of the naval squadron off Veracruz: “Seize custom house. Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or to any other party.”

April 21 dawned gray and windy. With a storm brewing, Admiral Fletcher lost no time in executing his orders. Just after 11 A.M., whaleboats were hoisted over the side, and more than 700 marines and bluejackets plowed through the choppy surf toward Pier Four, Veracruz’s main wharf. A large and curious crowd of Mexican and American civilians assembled to watch the spectacle. The invaders, organized into a marine regiment and a seaman regiment, encountered no resistance as they clambered out of their boats, formed ranks, and began marching toward their objectives.

From a distance Veracruz looked beautiful, a picture postcard of beaches and pastel buildings surrounded by “indigo waters, sand hills, white walls and coconut palms, mountain peaks piercing the clouds, [and] an island scarred with the grim old fortress of San Juan de Uloa.” But upon closer examination the sailors and marines found the narrow cobblestone streets littered with garbage and rotting animal carcasses. Giant black vultures called zopilotes circled overhead and mongrel dogs ran wild. A powerful stench pervaded everything in this town of 40,000.

Wilson had counted on a peaceful occupation; he assumed that the Mexican people—“the submerged 85 per cent of the people of that Republic who are now struggling toward liberty”—would welcome American intervention to topple their dictator. This view turned out to be dangerously naive. Veracruz’s military commander, General Gustavo Maass, was determined to resist. He distributed arms to local militiamen and convicts from local prisons, and sent 100 of his soldiers to the waterfront with orders to “repel the invasion.” Just after they set out, he received orders from Mexico City to withdraw his force without a fight. Maass evacuated most of his 1,000 men, but by then it was too late to prevent a clash.

Just after noon on April 21, 1914, a shot rang out near the railway yard, a U.S. Navy signalman fell dead, and general firing erupted. The battle of Veracruz had begun. Mexican snipers took up positions on rooftops and in windows and began raining bullets down on the Americans. Americans began falling—by 2 P.M. four were dead, 20 wounded—and the sailors, unused to street fighting, bogged down.

Admiral Fletcher hoped to negotiate an armistice but he could find nobody to bargain with. A messenger discovered the mayor of Veracruz cowering in his bathroom, but the mayor said he had no authority over his armed countrymen. On the night of April 21, Fletcher decided that he had no choice but to expand his original mission from simply taking the waterfront to taking all of Veracruz. He was able to accomplish this goal the next day thanks to the arrival of 3,000 marine reinforcements, among them Major Smedley Butler.

“At daylight we marched right through Vera Cruz,” Butler remembered. “Mexicans in the houses, on the roofs, and in the streets peppered us from all directions. Some fired at us with machine guns. Since the Mexicans were using the houses as fortresses, the Marines rushed from house to house, knocking in the doors and searching for snipers.” Sailors trying to flush out the defenders had been mauled because they had simply walked straight down the middle of the street, but the marines employed sounder tactics. “Stationing a machine gunner at one end of the street as lookout, we advanced under cover, cutting our way through the adobe walls from one house to another with axes and picks,” Butler wrote. “We drove everybody from the houses and then climbed up on the flat roofs to wipe out the snipers.”

Although the navy also participated in this mission, the sailors proved less adroit at street fighting. A naval regiment led by Navy Captain E. A. Anderson, who had no experience in land warfare, advanced in parade-ground formation upon the Mexican Naval Academy, making his men easy targets for the cadets and other defenders barricaded inside the two-story building. The bluejackets’ advance was repulsed with casualties, the situation only being saved by three warships in the harbor that pounded the academy with their long guns for a few minutes, silencing all resistance. The bombardment killed 15 cadets, including José Azueta, the son of a commodore. He became a great Mexican martyr; a monument to him still stands in Veracruz.

By noon on Wednesday, April 22, 1914, the sailors and marines had complete control of Veracruz. In the process, the Americans suffered 22 killed and 70 wounded. The exact Mexican losses are unknown, but at least 126 died and 195 were wounded.

The Navy Department was so ecstatic about this victory that it gave away medals by the bushel. Congress for the first time authorized the Medal of Honor for naval and marine officers as well as enlisted men. Smedley Butler was awarded one of 55 Medals of Honor handed out for this minor two-day engagement, the most for any battle before or since. He was incensed at this “unutterably foul perversion of Our Country’s greatest gift,” and tried to return his decoration, but the Navy Department insisted he keep it. The irony is that Butler had deserved a Medal of Honor for his actions in the Boxer Uprising, but had never gotten one.

The army and navy brass assumed that the occupation of Veracruz would be a prelude to an advance on Mexico City, as called for in their war plans, and as had actually happened in 1847 during the last war with Mexico. Otherwise, the occupation made no strategic sense in their minds. They had not even drawn up any plans for a military intervention in Mexico short of all-out war. But President Wilson had lost his stomach for more bloodshed, and unlike his European counterparts in that fateful year, he refused to subordinate important political decisions to the demands of military timetables. He decided to head off a war with Mexico by not advancing beyond Veracruz. But he also did not want to relinquish the port, at least while Huerta was still in power. Army and navy officers were perplexed by what Admiral Mayo called a “decidedly strange . . . state of affairs,” under which the U.S. could occupy the principal port of a country it was not at war with. But the armed forces followed the commander-in-chief’s orders, even if they did not agree with them, and the U.S. Army moved in to administer Veracruz.

Chosen to command the port city was 49-year-old Brigadier General Frederick Funston. His career had languished since his daring capture of the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo 13 years before. He had returned from the Philippines to San Francisco in January 1902 to recuperate from chronic ulcerative appendicitis. He immediately tried to cash in on his fame by going on a lecture tour, but before long a backlash against him set in. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge’s committee, investigating the conduct of the Philippine War, heard testimony that Funston had ordered prisoners to be tortured and sometimes shot. Funston did nothing to help his own cause. In one speech he declared that critics of the war ought to be strung up on the nearest lamppost. This caused such a furor that his old friend and admirer, President Theodore Roosevelt, sent word that he should shut up. This he did, but he got into more hot water with Secretary of War William Howard Taft in 1906, who ended his command of the Army of Cuban Pacification almost before it had begun.

Funston’s luck did not go permanently AWOL. When the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco, Funston was deputy commander of the military district of Northern California. Since the commanding officer was out of town, Funston personally took charge of the relief effort. He once again became a hero, but was passed over for further promotion owing to the jealousy of older officers and concerns among his superiors about his temperament. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels was hesitant to appoint “Fighting Fred” Funston as commander of the Veracruz occupation for fear that “he may do something that may precipitate a war.” This worry was reasonable enough but turned out to be unfounded. Funston was itching to proceed on to Mexico City—“Merely give the order and leave the rest to us,” he begged the secretary of war—but when no such order was forthcoming, he contented himself with running the port city.

Where possible, Funston tried to keep the original Mexican bureaucrats in place, but few of them would serve an army of occupation. Most of the jobs had to be filled by army officers. Their main task, as an American weekly newspaper noted, was fighting “not the Mexicans, but the enemies of the Mexicans and all mankind, the microbe.” Veracruz, which suffered from a polluted water supply and lack of adequate sewage, was swept regularly by epidemics of yellow fever, malaria, dysentery, smallpox, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Funston, following the example of the army in Cuba, the Philippines, and elsewhere, imposed sanitation at gunpoint. He even imported 2,500 garbage cans from the United States. As a result the death rate among city residents plummeted, and the vultures left town. In general the Americanos proved more efficient and honest than the Huerista officials they replaced; the police, for instance, no longer took bribes and actually cracked down on crime. It was, concludes one American historian, “a benevolent despotism, the best government the people of Veracruz ever had.”

The occupation quickly became a boring routine. The thousands of American soldiers had little to do. They marched hither and yon, and spent much time frequenting cantinas, bordellos and cinemas exhibiting new-fangled moving pictures. One of the few Americans to enjoy an adventure was an army captain named Douglas MacArthur, son of old General Arthur MacArthur of Philippine War fame. Assigned to Funston’s staff as an intelligence officer, Douglas decided to slip out of Veracruz with a few Mexican railroad workers to bring back some locomotives, which were in short supply in Veracruz. MacArthur returned with three locomotives—and an amazing tale of having shot it out with a party of Mexican cavalry that had attacked his little band. MacArthur was “incensed” that he did not win a Medal of Honor for this exploit.

Just 10 weeks after the occupation began, on July 15, 1914, the Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta resigned from office. The occupation of Veracruz—which denied him vital customs revenue—was undoubtedly a factor in his decision, but more important was the thrashing Venustiano Carranza’s rebel forces had administered to his army. Carranza replaced him as president, and although he refused to hold elections, Wilson nevertheless pledged on September 16 to withdraw U.S. forces from Veracruz. The actual pullout was delayed for a couple of months until Carranza agreed not to retaliate against civilians who had aided the occupation.

On November 23, 1914, all 7,000 U.S. troops in Veracruz unceremoniously marched down to the piers and boarded transport ships. By 2 P.M. they were gone, leaving behind copious stocks of arms for the Carrancistas, meticulous records of all administrative actions and not a few wailing girlfriends. Constitutionalist troops moved in, and before long the residents were once again tossing garbage into the streets.

What did this seven-month occupation accomplish? It did nothing to stop the delivery of arms to the Huerista regime. The Ypiranga simply diverted from Veracruz and offloaded its cargo south of the city on May 27, 1914; Wilson no longer cared. The occupation also did nothing to resolve the incident at Tampico that had started the whole affair. Admiral Mayo never did get his 21-gun salute. Instead he was forced to call on British and German warships to help evacuate all 2,600 American residents of Tampico because of anti-gringo rioting. The anti-American reaction was not limited to Mexico; the events of 1914 stirred up rioting across Latin America. An Argentine political cartoon summed up the prevailing Latin view when it depicted a menacing Uncle Sam demanding of a Mexican: “Salute my flag like it deserves or I’ll take off your hat with a cannon shot.”

For all these reasons the wife of the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Mexico City described the occupation of Veracruz as a “screaming farce.” But Wilson had reason to be satisfied anyway, for the occupation had contributed to the downfall of his nemesis, that “brute” Victoriano Huerta. Contrary to the expectations of America’s admirals and generals, a limited intervention in Mexico had more or less achieved its purpose.

New France



The English were not the only Europeans to establish permanent colonies in North America in the seventeenth century. Merchants from France and the Netherlands would found colonies early in the century, encouraged by their respective governments who hoped to compete with Spain and profit from an American trade. The French colonies in particular would leave an indelible legacy, still obvious in parts of Canada today. Adventurers and priests from Spain would continue to develop their colony in Florida and establish a new one in New Mexico to help protect and consolidate Spanish holdings in New Spain. Other French and Spanish colonies would later follow. The full story of colonial North America involved a diverse array of Europeans, each interacting in different ways with groups of Native Americans and (usually) Africans as well.

Since the focus of our story is mainly on the 13 mainland British colonies that would form the United States in 1776, we do not attempt to provide the full details of this multifaceted story. Still, the mainland British North American colonies took shape in an era of globalization, and historians today concur that their history cannot be understood without considerable attention to the other European colonies that coexisted in North America along with them. Some of these colonies would produce economic competitors to English traders, merchants, and planters. Others would pose serious military threats that would limit the territorial expansion and the demographic development of British North America for more than a century and a half. To understand the history of the British colonies, then, we need to understand something about the other colonial North American societies with which they interacted. Since the French were their most direct competitors for much of the seventeenth century, we will begin with them.

Despite the destruction of the French Huguenot colonies in South Carolina and Florida in the 1560s, French fishermen and traders had continued their yearly voyages to North America, becoming increasingly enmeshed in trading relationships with the various Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking peoples who lived along the Atlantic coastline and around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Near the mouth of the St. Lawrence lived Algonquians and Montagnais, with the Huron further upriver east of the Great Lakes. The dominant group in Acadia was the Micmacs, while the Abenaki peoples lived further south near the coast. Over the many decades during which their relationships developed, French traders learned to operate within the terms demanded by their Native American trading partners. For the Indians, as we have seen, trade implied more than a simple commercial relationship. It created a bond of something like kinship, imposing various reciprocal obligations beyond providing goods at a desirable price. In order to display the generosity and trustworthiness that their Indian trading partners expected of them, the French learned to proffer elaborate gifts, to participate in ceremonial rituals, and to refrain from sharp bargaining practices. They also learned, far better than their English competitors to the south, that their trading partners expected them to provide not only trade goods but also military assistance and protection against enemies.

Facing increasing pressure from English competitors, French merchants established trading posts in Acadia in 1598 and at Tadoussac, on the St. Lawrence River, in 1600. In 1603, partly to counter English attempts to encroach on the French fur trade, the French government granted charters to a merchant company led by Pierre Du Gua de Monts to establish a permanent settlement. The company hired the explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain to find an appropriate site for such a settlement. After several false starts, Champlain and a few dozen male settlers established a tiny fortified village at Québec, on the St. Lawrence River, in 1608.

The small size of Champlain’s colony as well as the settlers’ reliance on the Indian trade would shape the colony’s destiny, though it did so in ways its leaders could not have anticipated. Ironically, their miniscule numbers probably helped to ensure French survival, for the local Indians perceived this tiny new settlement to pose no threat to their own way of life. Indeed, they viewed the French as desirable trading partners and allies to be welcomed. For the first few decades after the French colonies were established, the French greatly strengthened the Hurons’ role as mediators of trade throughout the northern region. The effect of a permanent French presence was to bring many more native peoples into the fur trade, giving them access to coveted European trade goods. Items made from brass and iron were particularly sought after because of their utility, both as cooking implements and for use in making arrowheads that could penetrate wooden armor. But ornamental objects were also prized for the prestige they could confer when given away as gifts. In turn the Frenchmen depended heavily on their Indian trading partners for food and essential supplies, and were willing to accommodate their allies’ expectations in order to preserve their relationship.

To Montagnais and Huron peoples, the new alliance with the French had a profound political significance in addition to its economic effects. The peoples in the St. Lawrence region faced powerful enemies: the members of the Iroquois League, inland and just south of the St. Lawrence River as far west as the Great Lakes. By 1600, the members of the Iroquois Five Nations– the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas – numbered perhaps 25,000 people. Their confederacy was by now well established, and every year some 50 sachems representing each of the various clans in the Iroquois League met at the great long house of the Onondagas to exchange presents and renew their vows of peace and friendship. The alliance gave the Iroquois advantages that other tribal groups did not have. It created a mechanism for limiting unnecessary bloodshed, enabling the Iroquois to develop greater stability and cohesiveness than other peoples. It also made the members of the Five Nations a more formidable enemy when they made war upon neighbors from outside the confederacy, including the Susquehannocks to the south and the Algonquians, Montagnais, and Hurons to the north and east.

French presence in the region would change the balance of power between the Iroquois and their neighbors, for the St. Lawrence Indians expected the French to provide them not only with trade goods but also with military assistance against their foes. Indeed in July 1609, Champlain and his men lived up to expectations when their Montagnais and Huron trading partners launched a war party against the Mohawks. Though Mohawk warriors apparently outnumbered the French and Indian war party, they fled after suffering unexpectedly heavy casualties from the assault by French guns. Now, with French backing, the St. Lawrence Indians had suddenly gained the upper hand.

Very much like the English colonizers of New England, the French sought to convert their Native American trading partners and allies to Christianity, though in their case it was Catholic and not Protestant missions that were to be created. Missionaries were present in Acadia as early as 1611 and in Québec in 1625, and members of the Jesuit order embarked on a serious missionary effort during the 1630s. In the long run, French missionaries converted members of the Huron people in far larger numbers than English missionaries were able to achieve among the various tribal groups in southern New England. The question for historians has been why French Jesuits were so successful. One factor certainly was the support they received from the French Crown, encouraging the work of the Roman Catholic Church by providing it with large grants of land in New France, land which could then be leased to settlers. During the 1630s the French government in Québec also insisted that the Hurons allow Jesuit missionaries to live in their villages as a condition of trade. Another factor was the attractiveness of Catholic religious practices. Catholic missionaries invariably presented Christianity to the Indians as a source of spiritual power, and in that context Catholic rituals, saints, and material objects could be more plausibly presented as sources of powerful magic. Protestants, with their plain services and rejection of ritual, had less to offer.

Some historians have argued that French Jesuit missionaries succeeded because they were more culturally flexible than English Puritans, but other scholarship suggests a more complicated story, having to do with the indirect effects of sustained interactions between Frenchmen and native peoples. The French, just like the English further south, brought diseases which devastated local Indian populations – particularly among the Huron people, whose contacts with French traders and missionaries were both early and constant. During the 1630s and early 1640s, a small number of Hurons – mostly traders – converted to Catholicism. However, most Hurons resisted conversion, fearing that Christianity might actually be a malevolent force that was causing disease and death. It was only by the late 1640s, after a series of epidemics, famines, and stepped-up attacks by their Iroquois enemies that a large percentage of the Huron population finally gave in and decided to be baptized. In the end the surviving Hurons became deeply integrated into French Canada, living in Christian villages (called reserves) interspersed among French settlements. Other northern Indians would eventually convert to Catholicism as well, finding a close relationship with the French missionaries to be a helpful source of stability after their communities had been ravaged by disease or attacks from the Iroquois. The reserves became multicultural communities that included Algonquians, Mahicans, Ottawas, Hurons, and others, all of whose warriors were more or less explicitly allied with the French.

The French population in Acadia and Québec remained small for many years, numbering fewer than 200 for at least two decades. Champlain encouraged young male fur traders to live among the Indians rather than remaining inside the settlements, a policy which had the effect of strengthening French trading relationships with distant nations. The policy also extended French influence far inland into what became known as the pays d’en haut, territories which the French claimed as their own but never settled. In 1627, a trading company known as the Compagnie des Cent-Associés obtained from the French Crown a trading monopoly and land grant which included Québec and Acadia, extended northeast to Newfoundland and south through the Mississippi Valley. The company received the grant on the condition that it create a farming settlement. France’s aim was to consolidate French control over Canadian territory – a goal whose importance was reinforced in 1629, when English privateers captured Québec, took Champlain prisoner, and held the city until it was restored by treaty negotiations in 1632.

Once Champlain and the French investors regained control over New France, they became responsible for administering justice on the king’s behalf and distributing the land through a seigneurial system. Seigneurs, often French military officers or the Catholic Church, received large grants of land, laid out in strips perpendicular to the St. Lawrence River, which they held on the king’s behalf on condition that they ensure its improvement and development. The seigneurs then divided their lands among tenants, called habitants, who cleared and farmed the land in exchange for annual rents paid to the seigneurs. The seigneurs never became really wealthy, for rents remained small throughout the colonial period and farmers mostly grew food for their own subsistence rather than developing a cash crop. But the social structure did remain markedly different from that found in the English colonies. New France developed a sizable nobility, while most of its farmers remained permanent tenants. This gave it a distinctive character in contrast to New England, which never developed a nobility and where ordinary farming families typically owned their own land or paid only nominal rents.

Despite its obligation to do so, the company failed to bring settlers to New France in significant numbers, concentrating instead on further developing the fur trade. In consequence its trading monopoly was suspended in 1641, and the company was dissolved in 1662. Thereafter the colony was restructured as a royal province. Governing duties were carried out by a royal council consisting of a governor responsible for diplomacy and defense, an intendant who was in charge of finance and administering law and order, a bishop in charge of religious matters, and a five-person advisory council. The Crown filled each of these positions. Eventually the Crown also sent a permanent military force of French soldiers, called the troupes de marine, to the colony to man its garrisons and protect its settlements. The presence of professional soldiers also distinguished New France from the English colonies to its south, for the English colonies had no consistent military support from the home government until the eighteenth century.

Although migration to New France picked up after the reorganization of the government, French settlers arrived at a fraction of the rate achieved in the English colonies further south. During the early years of the colony, official French policy had limited migration to Catholics, although in reality the French government did little to hinder migration by Protestants. Between 1662 and 1671 the Crown actively encouraged immigrants by sending prospective settlers on royal transports as well as ships commissioned from merchants for the purpose. And yet the immigrants failed to come, for reasons that historians have struggled to understand. Peasants in seventeenth-century France, where famines were common and economic conditions grim, might have been expected to migrate in large numbers to a place with cheap, plentiful farmland and a low rate of mortality. In fact, however, few Frenchmen moved to New France voluntarily, and Frenchmen sent to the colony as soldiers or indentured servants were twice as likely to return to France as to stay in the colonies. Part of the reason for this reluctance was a widespread exaggeration among the French of the severity of Canadian winters. An even more important factor, historians have suggested, was the nature of French society and culture. Even when they were poor, French families were more likely than English families to provide patronage and material support for unemployed young people and to discourage their children from sailing away to an unknown land. As a result, French peasants (unlike their English, Scottish, and German contemporaries) simply refused to move away from home.

A census showed the presence of 3,215 European settlers in New France in 1666. Of these, about two-thirds were male, having arrived in the colony as either soldiers or indentured servants. In order to encourage marriage, the royal government in New France sponsored emigration by poor and unmarried Frenchwomen, much as the Virginia Company had done earlier in the century. About 770 filles du roi, as they were called, had arrived in the colony by 1673, whereupon they were encouraged to marry and begin new lives as the wives of French farmers. The importation of young women combined with a cold and healthy climate achieved, in the end, what earlier attempts to encourage immigration had not. Frenchwomen in the colony married young, experienced many pregnancies, and lived long lives, and the population at last began to grow at a rapid rate through natural increase. By the 1680s the population had grown to about 10,000 French-Canadians, more than doubling in less than 20 years.

The French government in New France also continued to encourage exploration and the expansion of the fur trade. A mission established at Ville-Marie in 1642 to convert the Indians became a major fur-trading center by the 1660s, attracting Indian traders from the north as well as west along the St. Lawrence River corridor as far as the Great Lakes. After the English Hudson’s Bay Company founded a colony north of New France in 1670 and began to compete with the French for the northern fur trade, the French government became an enthusiastic promoter of further exploration so that the French could expand their share of the trade. In 1682, Robert de La Salle explored the Mississippi and Ohio valleys on behalf of the French government, and laid claim for France to the surrounding territory. It was named Louisiana, and became part of New France.

The Recapture of Constantinople


The Latin Empire, Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus. The borders are very uncertain.

Between 1254 and 1261, the Latin Empire comes to an end, and the Byzantine Empire is restored

Half a century before, Byzantium had splintered into four mini-kingdoms and faded from sight. For a little less than a millennium, Constantinople had been a pivot point of international politics; now, like Kiev, or Braga, or Krakow, it was of vast importance to its immediate neighbors, but little more.

Constantinople now stood as the capital of the “Latin Empire,” a tiny and penniless realm. Immediately after the conquest of the city by the Fourth Crusade, the Latin Empire, under the Count of Flanders turned Emperor, had stretched from Constantinople into the south of Greece, across the Black Sea to encompass the coast of Asia Minor. But under the count’s nephew Baldwin II, who inherited the throne in 1228 at the age of eleven, the Latin Empire had shrunk. The Bulgarian empire, under the ambitious Ivan Asen, mounted constant attacks on its western border; the Empire of Nicaea, under the ruthless John Vatatzes, assaulted it from the east. Baldwin had few troops, and no money to hire mercenaries. A delegation of Franciscan and Dominican friars who visited the city in 1234 reported that city was “deprived of all protection,” the emperor a pauper: “All the paid knights departed. The ships of the Venetians, Pisans . . . and other nations were ready to leave, and some indeed had already left. When we saw that the land was abandoned, we feared danger because it was surrounded by enemies.”

Baldwin spent much of his reign out of Constantinople, traveling from court to court in Europe and begging each Christian king to help him protect the city that had once been Christianity’s crown jewel in the east. Both Louis IX of France and Henry III of England made small contributions to the Latin treasury, but in its king’s absence Constantinople itself grew shabbier and hungrier. By 1254, Baldwin could claim to rule only the land right around Constantinople’s walls. He had already sold most of the city’s treasures and sacred relics: a fragment of the True Cross, the napkin that Saint Veronica had used to wash the face of Christ as he walked towards Golgotha, the lance that pierced Christ’s side on the cross, the Crown of Thorns itself. (Louis IX bought most of them and built a special chapel in Paris to house the collection.) He had borrowed so much money from the Venetian merchants that he had been forced to send his son Philip to Venice as a hostage pending repayment; he had torn the copper roofs from Constantinople’s domes and melted them down into coins.

While the Latin Empire withered, the Empire of Nicaea grew. John Vatatzes, claiming to be the Byzantine emperor in exile, spent most of his thirty-three-year reign fighting: swallowing most of Constantinople’s land, seizing Thrace from Bulgaria and Thessalonica from the third of the mini-kingdoms, the Despotate of Epirus. (The fourth mini-kingdom, the Empire of Trebizond, never expanded very far away from the shoreline of the Black Sea.) By 1254, the Empire of Nicaea stretched from Asia Minor across to Greece and up north of the Aegean.

In February of that year, the sixty-year-old John Vatatzes suffered a massive epileptic seizure in his bedchamber. He slowly recovered, but seizures continued to plague him. “The attacks began to occur altogether more frequently,” writes the historian George Akropolites, who lived at the Nicaean court. “He had a wasting away of the flesh and . . . no respite from the affliction.” In November, the emperor died; his son Theodore, aged thirty-three, became emperor.

But Theodore II soon sickened with the same illness that had killed his father: “His entire body was reduced to a skeleton,” Akropolites says. He died before the end of his fourth year on the throne, leaving as heir his eight-year-old son John.

John’s rule was promptly co-opted by the ambitious Michael Palaeologus, a well-regarded soldier and aristocrat who was also the great-grandson of the Byzantine emperor Alexius III. With the support of most of the Nicaeans (“They did not think it proper,” says Akropolites, “for the . . . empire, being so great, to be governed by a fruit-picking and dice-playing infant”), Michael first declared himself to be regent and then, in 1259, promoted himself to co-emperor as Michael VIII.

From the moment he took the throne, Michael VIII intended to recover his great-grandfather’s city: “His every effort and whole aim was to rescue it from the hands of the Latins,” writes Akropolites. In the first two years of his reign, he prepared for the attack on Constantinople by making peace on his other borders; he concluded treaties with both Bulgaria and the nearby Il-khanate Mongols.

He also equipped himself with a new alliance. The merchants of Genoa had just suffered a commercial catastrophe. In 1256, they had quarreled sharply with the Venetians over the ownership of a waterfront parcel of land in Acre, the last surviving fragment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Whoever controlled it could block rival ships from the harbor of Acre, and both of the maritime republics wanted this advantage. “The Christians began to make shameful and wretched war on each other,” says the contemporary chronicle known as the Rothelin Continuation, “both sides being equally aggressive.” The first major sea battle in the war, between a thirty-nine-ship Venetian fleet (reinforced by ships from friendly Pisa) and a fifty-galley Genoan navy, had ended with an embarrassing Genoan loss. Between 1257 and 1258, the conflict ballooned until all of Acre was at war:

And all that year there were at least sixty engines, every one of them throwing down onto the city of Acre, onto houses, towers and turrets, and they smashed and laid level with the ground every building they touched, for ten of these engines could deliver rocks weighing as much as 1500 pounds. . . . [N]early all the towers and strong houses in Acre were destroyed . . . [and] twenty thousand men died in this war on one side or the other. . . . The city of Acre was as utterly devastated by this war as if it had been destroyed in warfare between Christians and Saracens.

The Genoans were the losers. By the end of 1258, they had been forced out of Acre completely; the old Genoese quarter in Acre was entirely pulled apart, and the Venetians and Pisans used the stones to rebuild their own trading posts.

Now Genoa needed another trading base in the eastern Mediterranean. Carefully guarded negotiations between the Genoese statesman Guglielmo Boccanegra and the emperor Michael VIII went on during the winter of 1260, and ended in July of 1261 with the signing of a major treaty: the Treaty of Nymphaion, which promised the Genoese their own tax-free trading quarters in Constantinople, should they help the ambitious emperor to conquer it.

The conquest itself was an anticlimax; Baldwin II was in no shape to resist, and the city was almost defenseless. As soon as the Treaty of Nymphaion was ratified, Michael sent a small detachment to Constantinople to issue a series of threats. The detachment discovered, to its surprise, that most of the remaining Latin army had been sent off to attack a Nicaean-held harbor island near the Bosphorus Strait. Under cover of thick dark, they climbed into the city, quickly overwhelmed the tiny remaining guard, and opened the gates. Baldwin himself, sleeping at the royal palace, woke up at the sounds of their shouts and managed to flee the city, leaving his crown behind him. The Latin Empire was no more.

Michael VIII himself was camped to the north of Thyateira at the time. When news of the capture arrived at his camp, his sister woke him up by shaking him and saying, “Rise up, emperor, for Christ has conferred Constantinople upon you!” According to Akropolites, he answered, “How? I did not even send a worthy army against it.”

Three weeks later, he arrived at the gates of Constantinople himself. He entered the city on August 14 as the first emperor of a restored Byzantium, and found a disastrous mess: “a plain of destruction, full of ruins and mounds.” The royal palace was so filthy and smoke-stained that it had to be scrubbed from top to bottom before he could take up residence in it.

The Genoese, claiming their reward, now had a trade monopoly in Byzantium and held the premier position in the Mediterranean Sea. Baldwin II ended up in Italy, still claiming to be the emperor of the Latins.

Michael’s co-emperor, young John, remained behind in Nicaea. Michael VIII intended to rule the restored Byzantium on his own, founder of a new royal dynasty, without challenge. Four months later, he ordered the boy blinded and imprisoned in a castle on an island in the Sea of Marmara. The sentence was carried out on Christmas Day, 1261, the boy’s eleventh birthday.

The War(s) in Ireland




Notwithstanding success on the Dutch and French fronts, the war with Spain dragged on and expanded. The most important such expansion occurred in 1594 when the northern Irish province of Ulster rebelled against Tudor overlordship and drew much of the island into a vicious war (known in Irish history as the Nine Years’ War). As will be recalled, the Tudors ruled very little of Ireland directly, but both the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and the Gaelic (or “wild”) Irish heads of septs were supposed to acknowledge the English monarch’s overlordship. That hegemony was in theory strengthened in the 1530s and 1540s when Henry VIII proclaimed himself king of Ireland and Supreme Head of its Church, and initiated the policy of “surrender and regrant”. But the Reformation gained little traction among the Irish people and the decision to destroy the earls of Kildare destabilized the island. Gaelic unrest in 1546–7 convinced Henry VIII and Somerset to abandon surrender and regrant for an entirely military solution by expanding the garrison. But Anglo-Irish taxpayers resented the expense and the troop surge was never large enough to subdue the island. In troublespots beyond the Pale, the English government began to sponsor “plantations”: that is, confiscating the lands of Gaelic chieftains and redistributing them to Protestant English (and later Scottish) landlords (soon to be known as the “New English”). The Gaelic landlords and, to a degree, the Gaelic peasantry itself were thrown off the land. The English created such plantations in Leix-Offaly in 1556, Down in 1570, Antrim in 1572–3, and Munster in 1584. For the rest of Ireland, they introduced English shires (but no JPs), English law, English courts, and, with less success, English religion. In 1560, the Dublin Parliament passed an Act of Uniformity for Ireland modeled on the English one, but while most Irish bishops conformed, most Gaelic and Anglo-Irish laymen and women did not. The lengthening history of Anglo-Irish bitterness, combined with the failure to translate the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Gaelic, help to explain why, beyond the Pale, the new statute was a dead letter.

These interlocking policies extended English rule to every part of the island except Ulster by 1590, but that rule was only nominal. The truth was that most Gaelic Irish septmen who surrendered and were regranted their lands felt little loyalty to the Crown while the plantations caused tremendous hardship and lasting bitterness among those whose land was taken away. Moreover, most plantations failed in economic terms. Even the Anglo-Irish (henceforward known as the “Old English”) came to resent the “New English” interlopers, corrupt English officials, and the high taxes necessary to pay them and the English garrison troops. Sometimes that resentment exploded into rioting against payment of the cess, the tax earmarked to pay for the troops. So these policies created numerous Gaelic and Old English victims who were – or thought themselves to be – innocent. Both groups disliked the frequent declarations of martial law and suspensions of the Irish Parliament. Both remained staunchly Catholic, first because there was no Gaelic New Testament until 1603, but also because few Protestant preachers were willing to proselytize in a land which the English considered a wild frontier. Official attempts to impose Protestantism only added to Irish resentment of the English presence. Finally, the rivalries among powerful Old English and Gaelic families such as the Geraldines (earls of Desmond and Kildare), the Butlers (earls of Ormond), and the O’Neills (earls of Tyrone) continued. When the government in London showed favor to one side, it increased disaffection in the other.

Under Elizabeth, English policy and Irish resentments spawned localized rebellions – of the Butlers in the 1560s; of the O’Briens, Fitzgeralds, and some Butlers (and thus much of the south and west) in 1568–73; of the earls of Desmond and Lord Baltinglass in Munster and the Pale in 1579–83; of Connaught in 1589; and of Ulster in 1594. These uprisings usually began either as local feuds between rival nobles or septs, or as protests against some particular government policy or official. They were not nationalistic wars for Irish liberation or for the reestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church. Ethnicity and parochialism divided Ireland too much for such concepts to have had much appeal. The Old English and the Gaelic Irish may have been Catholic, but they did not see each other as countrymen; septs of one region had little to do with those of another. And so, while the last of these rebellions certainly made England’s war against Spain more difficult, they were not, at first, part of that war.

Perhaps because these rebellions involved longstanding local hatreds and elements of blood-feud, the Crown and its Irish allies suppressed them with increasing brutality, massacring defeated men, women, and children, burning crops, and sanctioning other atrocities. Astoundingly, Protestant Englishmen saw themselves as liberating the Irish people from tyrannous local lords and their own savagery; they would give the island civilization. Edmund Spenser’s description of Irish natives emerging from the woods and glens exposes the hypocrisy of these policies:

[they came] creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them. They looked like anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves, they did eat of the dead carrions. … In short space there were none almost left and a most populous and beautiful country suddenly left void of man or beast.

Not surprisingly, with each suppression, both the Old English and Gaelic Irish grew even more embittered toward the government in London, the lord deputy in Dublin, the New English, and the Protestant religion which they brought. Ireland, always incendiary, was fast becoming a powder keg.

By the time war with Spain began in 1585, Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone (ca. 1550–1616), known as the Great O’Neill, the most powerful sept leader in Ulster, felt himself and his position particularly isolated and threatened by the Dublin government. Fearful of an English attack, Tyrone struck first, seizing Enniskillen in the west and Blackwater Fort in the east in the winter of 1594–5. Knowing full well that he was in a fight for his life against a relatively wealthy and well-organized State, Tyrone sought the assistance of Old English Catholics, the pope, and the Spanish king by appealing to anti-English and anti-Protestant sentiment. At one point the rebels offered the crown of Ireland to Philip II. But many Old English remained aloof, suspecting that O’Neill intended to establish Gaelic domination. The Spanish eventually mounted an expedition in 1596, but another “Protestant wind” destroyed it. They tried again in 1597 and 1599; but each time bad weather thwarted their plans.

Still, England’s forces were already overextended in the Netherlands and France, so Elizabeth and her Privy Council first tried negotiation. Tyrone demanded much: full pardons for the rebels, de facto religious toleration, and recognition of an autonomous Ulster under O’Neill control. Rebel victories in 1598, as well as the slaughter of English settlers in Munster, made the English situation critical. The queen responded by dispatching an army of 16,000 men and 1,300 horse under the command of her favorite, the earl of Essex. As Leicester’s stepson, Essex had inherited not only the former’s standing with the queen, but also his vast clientage network. Like Leicester, he was brave and chivalrous. But he was also impulsive, prideful, and, worse – again like his stepfather – a poor general. Essex landed in the spring of 1599. Rather than take the war to Tyrone’s stronghold in the north, he wasted about £300,000 in five months marching aimlessly around the south of Ireland. In September he agreed to peace talks with Tyrone that were technically treasonous and in which the latter outmaneuvered him. Finally, when it became clear that Essex had botched the campaign, he left his army in Ireland and returned to London, without orders, in order to defend his reputation against the whispering at court. Tyrone took this opportunity to march south and burn the lands of English loyalists. The queen took the same opportunity to replace Essex in February 1600 with a much more effective soldier, Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy (1563–1606). Mountjoy eventually succeeded in suppressing the rebellion, but not before one last Spanish invasion attempt. In 1601 Philip III (1578–1621; reigned 1598–1621) sent about 3,400 crack troops to seize the southern port of Kinsale. In fact, this force was too small to help Tyrone; instead, it increased his obligations. By laying siege to Kinsale, Mountjoy drew Tyrone out from his northern stronghold and routed the Irish relief forces on Christmas Eve, 1601. The Spanish surrendered a week later. Mountjoy accepted the earl’s submission on March 30, 1603, ending this Nine Years’ War just days after Elizabeth’s death.

Much treasure and many lives had been lost in bitter guerilla warfare in the bogs of Ireland. The campaign had cost £2 million and left Ulster devastated, Munster and Cork depopulated, trade ruined, and famine stalking the land. As many as 60,000 Irish died, perhaps 30,000 English. One of Mountjoy’s lieutenants, Sir Arthur Chichester (1563–1625), summed up the devastation as follows: “we have killed, burnt and spoiled all along the lough [Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ulster]. … We spare none of what quality or sex soever, and it have bred much terror in the people.” Mountjoy’s ruthless “pacification,” initiated on Elizabeth’s orders, was successful in its own terms, but its legacy of sorrow and bitterness further divided Irish from English and Irish from Irish.

In 1607 the cream of the Irish nobility, led by Tyrone and Rury O’Donnell, earl of Tyrconnell (1574/5–1608), absconded to Europe. They hoped to secure support from a Catholic patron, perhaps the pope, and return to reclaim their patrimony. But that never happened. And they never returned. “The flight of the earls” left their poor tenants to face the consequences. The following year, the English government began to confiscate both Gaelic and Old English land in Ulster, turning out landlords and tenants and replacing them with new, Protestant owners. These new plantations were, initially, a bust, economically. But they served their political, social, and religious purpose. They transformed Ulster from a stronghold of Gaelic and Catholic resistance to a divided society dominated by English Protestants and Scottish Presbyterians. These groups make up the majority of the population of Northern Ireland to the present day. By 1640, some 40,000 Scots and between 10,000 and 20,000 English had arrived in Ireland, displacing many Catholic Irish men and women. Admittedly, in 1640 Catholics still owned 60 percent of Irish land; it was not until the later plantations and displacements under Oliver Cromwell and William III that they would become a tiny minority of landowners. Still, the changes which followed the Elizabethan wars in Ireland intensified the bitterness of the Gaelic and Old English populations. That bitterness would erupt into violence during the 1640s and beyond.

Operation Blücher



Operation Blücher proposed a three-army attack along the Chemin des Dames: another frontal offensive, this one across the same terrain that had contributed so heavily to the French debacle in 1917. Ludendorff nevertheless approved as a means of drawing French reserves from a British front that he still expected to rupture decisively somehow at some future time.

Mounting Blücher required the transference of significant infantry and artillery from Rupprecht’s army group. Even then German strength was insufficient to replicate March 21 with a single coordinated attack. Results would have to be sought in a sequential series of attacks. That meant in essence using the same resources again and again, shifting their positions rather than relieving them to rest and prepare for the next round. Blücher succeeded in replicating Michael in the secrecy of its preparations—aided, according to some accounts, by the nightly croaking of thousands of frogs in the marshes and on the river banks. Thirty-nine divisions, two-thirds of them assault formations, were available. If the number of guns was fewer than optimal, Bruchmüller was in charge of them and supplemented tube artillery with over twelve hundred trench mortars. The Allies were taken by surprise when the German barrage, three million painstakingly coordinated and devastatingly effective rounds, opened on May 27. To make matters worse, the French sector commander insisted in front-loading his positions, at the rate of one division per five miles of front-line trenches. Finally, the initial weight of the attack fell on four British divisions badly mauled in the earlier fighting and sandwiched into this quiet sector to recover.

Tactically the attack was a virtuoso performance, even compared to Michael. Planning and serendipity enabled the Germans to advance as much as fourteen miles on the first day—the war’s largest single-day ground gain on any front. As the offensive attack continued to progress, Ludendorff applied the by now shopworn principle of following up tactical success with a set of operational objectives as vague as they proved ephemeral. He wrote of threatening Paris. Instead, Blücher devolved into an offensive to nowhere in particular as Allied reserves shored up the line and exhausted, disgruntled Germans found solace in captured supply dumps and their stores of liquor. Material results were impressive: 127,000 Allied casualties including 50,000 prisoners; 600 guns; an advance of almost forty miles in four days. But the vital northern French railway network was still uncut, its centers uncaptured. Blücher and its subsidiary operations had cost over a hundred thousand Germans dead, wounded, missing—replaceable in neither numbers nor quality. And a new player was making an appearance: the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

The improvised American Army had the obvious and predictable shortcomings: inadequate training, ineffective equipment, inappropriate doctrine, inefficient officers, inflexible organizations, inexperienced men. Two further factors exacerbated the Yanks’ initial difficulties. One was the strained relations between the Americans and their war-experienced mentors, the French in particular. A sense of saving the day at the last minute reinforced frequent dismissal of the poilus as burned out, prone to panic and reluctant to fight. In fact, as German casualty lists attested, the French remained on the whole first-rate combatants, skilled alike in minor tactics and larger combined-arms operations, making up in craft what they had sacrificed in élan. The confidence of inexperience limited the Americans’ ability to benefit systematically by observing their veteran allies. And that inexperience was red meat to the Germans who faced them.

In the “little war” of patrols, raids, and small-scale attacks that characterized the Americans’ early tours on the front line, the Germans consistently set the pace in battlecraft, initiative, and effective courage. The Americans were more than willing to fight. They simply did not know how, even against the third- and fourth-rate German divisions holding down the relatively quiet sectors that were the AEF’s test beds. The AEF’s higher commands and staffs were no less caught up in the higher mechanics of combat and logistics on scales heretofore unimagined at West Point or Leavenworth. The divisions were on their own. From Seicheprey and Château-Thierry through Belleau Wood to Soissons, Americans learned by experience, observation—and sometimes pure serendipity. Their learning curves could be steep, but too often the lessons learned were in a context of two steps forward, one sideways, one back. Their tactical deficiencies remained: poor cohesion and worse liaison, ill-defined objectives, misplaced initiatives. Their casualty rates were swingeing—on the scale of 1914–15. Too many officers in too many positions were still not up to their jobs. Tactical cooperation with the French was, if anything, growing worse. Nevertheless, the doughboys passed their first tests with credit, given where they had begun eighteen months earlier. They would play significant roles in checking the final German offensive and the resulting Allied counterattacks.

That, however, lay in the future. Present reality was Ludendorff’s reaction to the huge salient Blücher had created. Almost forty miles across, over sixty miles long, difficult to defend and more difficult to supply, it offered a stark choice as either a magnet for a major Allied counteroffensive or a springboard for another German attack. An initial effort in early June failed for the first time in months to achieve anything worthwhile tactically, to say nothing of operationally. The Allies were increasingly able to cope with storm troop tactics. The storm troop principle of infiltration, bypassing strong points in the way water seeks the easiest path, led to a downward focus that negatively complemented Ludendorff’s strategic principle of “punching a hole and seeing what happened.” In both cases there were no objectives—just processes, ultimately leading nowhere in particular. The result, as casualties mounted and reinforcements dwindled, was the reduction of assault divisions and storm battalions to isolated combat teams that could be frustrated, destroyed—or stopped in their tracks.

At command level, Ludendorff’s next operational decision was easily made: an attack towards the Marne, with the initial objective of—finally—capturing the railroad hub of Reims, and with Paris on the horizon as a prospect. There were more or less vague thoughts at OHL about using this offensive as a preliminary to a final, decisive blow against the BEF in Flanders. But what the Allies called the Second Battle of the Marne had first priority. If this was not an all-or-nothing effort, it was as close as the German Army could come. Forty-eight divisions, 900 aircraft, 6,300 guns, and Georg Bruchmüller were committed to the attack that began on July 15. This time the initial successes were limited, the offensive was stymied, and a series of well-coordinated Allied counterattacks retook almost all the ground lost during Blücher. Lossberg, a supreme realist and sufficiently junior to escape the predictable consequences, set the war’s “precise” turning point as July 18: the first day of the final Allied offensive on the Western Front. There might be errors and misunderstandings along the way, but from that date the Allies never looked back and the Germans always fought on the back foot, ever closer to home.

English-speaking historians remain prone to give the palm of decisive victory to the BEF’s attack on August 8, “the black day of the German Army” according to Ludendorff. It is more accurate to credit the empirical British with developing the first modern combined-arms team: a doctrinal, institutional, and technological synergy among infantry, artillery, tanks, and air power, coordinated by radio systems. The artillery sealed the flanks of an attack, conducted counter-battery fire against German gun positions, and provided an initial creeping barrage. Within the “artillery zone” the tanks sought targets of opportunity while the infantry probed for soft spots, each supporting the other as needed. Aircraft provided reconnaissance, artillery observation, and, increasingly, ground support: by August 1918 the Tank Corps had an RAF (Royal Air Force) squadron attached.

The complex interaction of these arms could not be controlled in any modern sense with the communication technology of 1918. Radios, still bulky and unreliable, were impractical below brigade level. Above all, even in the war’s final stages, technique and technology could not significantly reduce casualties. The Third Republic had the doctrine and possessed the tools for modern combat. French staff officers proclaiming “the battle of 1919 will be a battle of aviation and tanks” were, however, less expressing principled conversion to high-tech war than recognizing that their army had finally run out of men. By the time of the Armistice, “the emptiness of the battlefield” was more than just a metaphor in French sectors. The Americans were still chewing their way through the Argonne Forest on what amounted to a rifle-and-bayonet basis, suffering in under seven weeks the largest number killed of any battle in America’s history. They learned as they died, impressing the Germans with a fighting spirit long since eroded in their own ranks. But the AEF was still a long way from being able to implement smoothly the “semi-managed” battle, with attacks only able to move forward in a lurching progress that grew steadier with practice. It is similarly appropriate to speak of a “semi-mobile” battle, with men, vehicles, and firepower pushing back the German front as opposed to rupturing it. The initial gains of August 8 were in a sense deceptive. Neither the tactics nor the technology of 1918 was quite up to breaching even improvised defensive positions at acceptable cost. What they could do was maintain a steady pressure that compelled an eroding army to fall back steadily, never giving it time to recover.

Relative to its opponents, moreover, the German Army was demodernizing. The Fokker D-VII had acquired a reputation as the best fighter on the front, but the Jagdstaffeln were being whittled down by growing Allied numbers and increased Allied skill. A new generation of French and British air superiority fighters was coming from the factories to the front. Manfred von Richthofen had been killed on April 21, probably by ground fire. By mid-August his famous Fighter Wing 1 had been consolidated into a single squadron due to its heavy losses, the first of several times it would similarly be bled white. In May and June alone the Luftstreitkräfte used twice the amount of fuel that reached the front, and subsequent introduction of rationing limited some fighter squadrons to ten sorties a day. Whether a unit was fighter, attack, or observation, old hands carried the main burden and were making fatigue-related mistakes that too often proved fatal, even with the episodic introduction of parachutes in the war’s final stages. On the ground, the few tanks available achieved nothing in particular. Their numbers were too limited. Their technical shortcomings were too many. The overhanging chassis was vulnerable even to slight obstacles and irregularities. In operational contexts, officers of other arms had no serious idea of what tanks should or could do. Nor, indeed, did the tankers themselves. Armor doctrine, insofar as it existed, emphasized maintaining close contact with the infantry, using surprise when possible, avoiding rough or heavily shelled terrain. On one occasion a single cannon-armed A7V prevailed against no fewer than seven British Whippets carrying only machine guns. On another, the tanks encountered a river reported as fordable that in fact proved too deep to cross. On a third an Abteilung of A7Vs drove into an artillery position and was constrained to beat a hasty retreat. It was a far cry from June 1940.

More prosaically, artillery horses were dying in their traces by the score, limiting when not crippling the guns’ mobility, increasing the problem of providing effective fire support in what was becoming increasingly a war of movement. The deeper penetrations Allied tactics and technology enabled not only left more front-line units isolated, but made retreat an increasingly high-risk option. The result was a growing number of “ordered surrenders.” Three hundred forty thousand German soldiers surrendered between July 18 and November 11, 1918. These were mostly group capitulations, organized by company officers or senior NCOs, often brokered in part or accompanied by providing detailed information on a sector’s defenses and strong points as a good will gesture and to avert any later misunderstandings. It was a long way from August 1914.

The Germans’ fighting retreat was predictably tenacious and predictably skillful. They inflicted more casualties than they suffered. But in David Zabecki’s words, “they were truly burned out.” Hunger, influenza, typhus, and traumatic stress shredded the ranks at the front and in the rear. By default it was becoming an infantryman’s war that the infantry could not sustain indefinitely. Over 400,000 more men were dead or wounded. More ominously, almost 350,000 were counted as prisoners or missing. By early October an army corps with seven divisions in its order of battle was reporting its infantry strength at less than 5,000 men—less than 10 per cent of authorized tables of organization. One regiment could count only 200 men. Another mustered 120, organized in four companies instead of the regulation twelve. Units with such low strengths fell far below the critical mass necessary to sustain cohesion as a combat force. Battalions and companies depended increasingly and disproportionally on the remaining alte Hasen and the Korsettenstangen, the “old hares” and the “corset stays”—the machine gunners in particular—that the front’s artisan groups continued to produce. But as summer gave way to autumn the combat effectiveness of these groups eroded in favor of their survival aspects. Getting home alive became a primary objective of the Korporalschaften that in the course had become Kameradschaften as well as Kampfgemeinschaften. Wilhelm Deist describes the result as a “camouflaged strike,” with the “proletariat” of the war machine downing tools in a Marxist model of behavior. One might refer as well to Robert Darnton’s model of pre-industrial protest: challenging a system by defying its norms. Even before the army fell back towards its own frontiers, its rear areas contained increasing numbers of men who had drifted away from the front war. The will to enforce more than the minimum forms of discipline eroded, less from fear of a bullet in the back than a sense that it no longer mattered.

The German Army did win final victory—over its own government. Since August Ludendorff’s behavior had grown increasingly erratic. He blamed the continuing sequence of defeat on the failures of subordinates. He insisted deserters be executed out of hand and officers enforce orders with handguns. He had not, however, entirely lost touch with reality. On October 1 he presented a general review of the military situation. The war, he declared, was lost. The only way to save the army from disaster was for the government to request an immediate armistice. His auditors broke into fits of sobbing as the quartermaster-general finally confirmed the long-standing aphorism that “Prussia was an army with a country.” Two days later, Prince Max von Baden became chancellor. His first official act was to request an armistice on the basis of Woodrow Wilson’s call for “peace without victory.” He received a dusty answer. Wilson demanded that any terms make German resumption of hostilities militarily impossible. He insisted on refusing to negotiate with the emperor and the generals. The protests of Ludendorff and Hindenburg amounted to spitting into the wind. William’s last imperial act was to replace Ludendorff as first quartermaster-general with Wilhelm Gröner. It would be Gröner the problem-solver who would negotiate William’s abdication as the Second Reich collapsed into mutiny and disorder in a matter of days. It would be Gröner who silenced the fire-eaters demanding an all or nothing end game on German soil. And it would be Gröner who arranged the compromise with an embryonic republican government that committed the army, what might remain of it, to maintain law and order if the republic restricted revolution to the political sphere.

Those, however, are stories for another time and another book. The generals’ rebellion that deposed the emperor and the domestic revolution that ended the monarchical order are alike remarkable for the limited influence they exercised on the army as an institution. Conscript national armies are held together by a complex interface between front and home, military system and civil society, incorporating varying combinations of compulsion, patriotism, and ideology. Underlying all of them, however, is an implied contract between the soldier and the system. When the nature or the conduct of a particular conflict breaks that contract, soldiers are likely to respond negatively. To speak of a “strike” is to minimize the emotional factors, especially the sense of betrayal that accompanies the process. One might be better advised to talk of alienated affection. By November 1918, the German High Command could count no more than a dozen or so of its divisions as able and willing to fight anyone. Its storm troop battalions were increasingly used as headquarters guards. Far from being “stabbed in the back,” the German Army was beaten in the field, beaten to a degree sufficient to break its social contract and erode its cohesion.

For the most part, the desires of the disaffected soldiers were expressed in the counterpart to a joke common among American GIs in World War II. A suitably edited version is “when I get home, I’m going to do three things. First I’ll have a beer. Then I’ll make love to my wife. Then I’ll take off my pack.” Such a mind-set may not make revolutions, but it can halt wars. The Imperial German Army ended its existence with a collective sigh of relief.

The Grand Admiral Part I




With his succession as Commander-in-Chief on January 30th 1943, Karl Dönitz was appointed Grossadmiral. this was the high-water mark of his life. He was 51, at the height of his powers; in Ingeborg he had a gracious hostess for the social duties that came with high office, and which despite himself he enjoyed. He could be proud of his two sons, both lieutenants in the élite U-boat arm; Peter just coming up to his 21st birthday was second watchkeeping officer in U 954 working up for its first war cruise; the elder, Klaus, prevented from front service perhaps by injuries to his head in a motorcycle accident in 1939, was on the staff of the 5th U-flotilla at Kiel; his son-in-law, the ace Günther Hessler, was first staff officer under his U-boat department chief, Godt.

Above all and filling his thoughts was the prospect of winning the war—virtually on his own! With the Reich now on the defensive everywhere, the U-boat arm, which he had decided to keep under his own direct control, was the sole means to victory. Success had seemed so close in November; over the last two months it had danced away tantalizingly; few convoys had been found, due chiefly to bad weather and the enemy using new routes and somehow sailing around the U-boat groups, although just how they had discovered his dispositions was not clear. Now at last he had the power to remedy this, he intended increasing the monthly production totals, cutting down the exasperating delays in the dockyards and so filling the North Atlantic that the enemy would be unable to avoid his patrol lines.

His mood and the ruthless practicality of his thinking showed in his first directive issued to the staffs within days of taking office; it could scarcely have provided a greater contrast to Raeder’s methods:

1) It is a question of winning the war. Considerations of how the Navy should appear after the war have no value.

2) The sea war is the U-boat war.

3) All has to be subordinated to this main goal …

He knew it was a race against time, but he believed recent experience showed that tactical surprise could still be achieved in the mid-ocean ‘air gap’—narrow as this had become—and a concentration of boats could still overwhelm the surface escort and achieve decisive success.

It is easy to criticize this as a gross underestimation of the enemy’s capacity, both in the air and in merchant shipbuilding, an even more serious misjudgement of their likely reaction if threatened with defeat in the Atlantic: they were bound then to concentrate all their dispersed resources on closing the ‘air gap’ to make the whole North Atlantic convoy route as impossible for U-boat operations as they had already made the western Mediterranean—as indeed he had prophesied the previous summer.

Nevertheless he was optimistic by temperament and there was really little alternative to the U-boat campaign; the surface fleet had been rendered virtually impotent by allied naval and air superiority; in the east the German armies were on the defensive, and within a day of his taking over as Supreme Commander, Paulus’ forces at Stalingrad surrendered to the Russians; in North Africa Rommel was being starved of supplies by sea, air and submarine assault on the transports, and neither the Italian surface fleet nor the Axis U-boats were able to prevent a huge Anglo-American build-up against him. In the air the Luftwaffe could not cope with the weight of the allied raids on the Reich, let alone hope to deliver a decisive blow of its own. The only offensive force left to Germany was the U-boat arm, and it was natural that it should be used in a desperate throw to break out of the circle of defeat.

Whether Hitler believed it could do so may be doubted. Probably he knew already with the rational side of his mind that the Third Reich was doomed; he had based his strategy in both west and east on lightning campaigns to smash his enemies before their rearmament programmes could tip the balance against him. Now, not only had the Blitzkrieg in the east failed, but the huge economic and industrial power of the United States had risen against him. There are signs that he was already preparing himself and the Party in the ideology of defeat; on February 7th, for instance, the day before the first conference Dönitz attended as naval C-in-C, he told a gathering of gauleiters that if the German people failed it would be because they did not deserve to win—in the elemental struggle for survival between races, the Germans would have proved the weaker and the responsibility would not be his, nor the Party’s! This was to become a familiar motif in the last months of the Reich. It was at night that this rational and logical side took over; to shut it out he talked to his aides or weary female secretaries far into the morning hours, but when at last he went to bed it prevented him from sleeping; he was forced to take sedatives. By day he could escape his doubts by attention to the small detail of the campaigns at his situation reports, and allow the irrational side of his nature to seize on any straws of hope presented.

It was here that Dönitz played such an important role; his optimism, his determination that the U-boats could and would succeed, his positive response to all difficulties, were exactly what the jaded Führer needed to feed his wilful self-deceptions. Moreover, Dönitz’s great strengths as a leader, noted over the years by his superiors, his ‘iron will-power, goal-oriented certainty and unwearying toughness … calm, circumspection and power of resolution …’ his ‘inner enthusiasm for his profession …’ and ‘absolute reliability …’ impressed Hitler and won his immediate confidence. Hitler also recognized, with his sure instinct, that this taut-lipped professional would follow him, body and soul, with unquestioning devotion to the end.

Dönitz, for his part, tasting a fulfilment which because of his inner insecurity could never be complete without a fixed object to adhere to, saw in the person of the Führer, aged since Stalingrad with bent back and trembling hand and his formerly electric blue eyes rather dulled and protuberant, all that he had been taught and needed fervently to believe in; here was the man of iron will whose political and military genius had rescued Germany from internal chaos, Bolshevism and the hate-inspired dictats of the western powers. So, while he held to his own judgement in naval affairs, he never questioned Hitler’s overall strategy or views—indeed he made them his own—and while exasperated often enough by the lack of co-ordination at the top of the three services he blamed this on personalities, particularly the gross sybarite, Göring, rather than the Führer system or the Führer himself.

It was from both their points of view an ideal relationship; Hitler needed assurance that—despite recent events—he was the man of German destiny—Dönitz needed to give him that utter faith and loyalty. And since Hitler distrusted all his generals as a class and Göring was a caricature of self-indulgence, it is natural that he seized on Dönitz as confident and adviser, and in view of Dönitz’s ambitious and thrusting temperament inevitable that he responded ardently.

Can Dönitz have been so blind as to have no doubts? Could a man capable of such sensitive appreciation of the quiet culture of the Balinese or the contentment of the Javanese villagers, so appreciative of the fact that the native women did not scold their children and would have found hitting them inconceivable, never reflect that his own Volk were in hell and never ask himself whether it was not the ruling circle he had joined who had brought and were keeping them there? It could not have been ignorance. ‘The tyranny, the terror,’ Helmuth von Moltke had written the previous year, ‘the loss of values of all kinds is greater than I could have believed possible a short time ago.’ He had estimated that a hundred Germans a day were being executed after civil trial or court martial and hundreds more being shot in concentration camps without pretence of a trial. The greater part of the population had been uprooted by conscription or forced labour and ‘spread all over the continent, untying all bonds of nature and thereby loosing the beast in man’. Could Dönitz have accepted the very obvious effects of all this and the reports of the barbarities on the Russian front and the bestial treatment of, particularly, the Jews in the occupied countries as simply exigencies of a war necessary to save the Fatherland from Bolshevism? Certainly this is the impression he seeks to convey by total silence in all his writings. This very silence, however, is proof enough that he deliberately shut out all doubt: the question then arises, was it simply ambition or deep inner insecurity and the consequent need to cling to the image of what he thought he ought to be and ought to serve—as he had been indoctrinated all his life—that enabled or forced him to blinker himself so thoroughly? And was it the suppression of other more sensitive feelings that drove him to excess?

A simpler answer to questions about his moral blindness might be the corrupting effects of power and status. He moved into an imposing house built about the turn of the century—now the Institute for Experimental Therapy, University of Berlin—set back in spacious grounds in the suburb of Dahlem, Berlin, where many other Nazi bosses had their grand residences. It is interesting that this had been the parish of his one-time fellow-cadet in the class of 1910, subsequently fellow U-boat Commander, Martin Niemöller. Niemöller had taken Holy Orders after the war, and although an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler at the beginning, his later opposition had led to his incarceration in a concentration camp; in 1943 he was still inside. His successors are clear that neither Dönitz nor Ingeborg were churchgoers during their time in Dahlem.

In addition to his splendid home, which was guarded by an SS company, Dönitz had all the other gleaming trappings of Nazi power, a large Mercedes staff car—escorted by SS guards when he travelled—a smaller car for Berlin, a private aeroplane and a train named Auerhahn with a restaurant coach and a sleeping coach with a conference chamber. And like the other top men he had his collections—the Persian carpets he loved, the heroic engravings, the sea pictures he had been acquiring in France. He also collected silver, antiques and objets, and had been presented by his flotillas in France with a priceless Gobelin tapestry which had adorned the wall of a château; the house in Dahlem was furnished with exquisite taste. How much all these came from his service pay, how much from the handouts with which Hitler was wont to retain the loyalty of his chief servants, or from the general corruption that welded the seams of the Nazi machine is quite unknown. He received a grant of 300,000 marks from Hitler on his promotion to Grand Admiral, but this was standard for equivalent ranks in all the services. Probably the question is not important; undoubtedly Dönitz’s loyalty sprang from deeper wells than money or possessions; all who knew him describe him as upright and not out for personal gain—as one of his adjutants put it, ‘the complete opposite of Reichsmarschall Göring’.

He truly believed and acted on his first directive to his staff, which ran:

Our life belongs to the State. Our honour lies in our duty-fulfilment and readiness for action. No one of us has the right to private life. The question for us is winning the war. We have to pursue this goal with fanatical devotion and the most ruthless determination to win.

His own devotion and habits of work remained uncorroded by his new status. He continued to retire early to bed and to rise early. His adjutant, Korvettenkapitän Hansen-Nootbar, who joined him that spring from torpedo boats so that he could inform him of the attitudes and needs of the surface fleet, describes him as the ‘consummate “morning-man” ’; he recalls being roused by telephone at between five and six in the morning and hearing Dönitz’s voice.

‘Hänschen, are you still asleep!’

‘Jawohl, Herr Grossadmiral…’

‘That’s no good. I want you …’

Dönitz used to tell him he had his best thoughts in the early morning.

He lost no time in getting rid of the senior officers identified with Raeder’s policies, dismissing some like Carls and shifting others to front commands or to backwaters like education. ‘The great seal cull’, as it came to be known, caused bitterness among those axed, but it was undoubtedly necessary and brought an infusion of younger blood and practicality to areas where failure and fantasy had ruled.

Some of his choices were not so happy, in particular perhaps his appointment of Wilhlem Meisel as chief of the naval staff. Meisel was a conscientious worker—who was not in the German Navy!—but lacked the imagination or personality to be much more than a transmitting organ for Dönitz’s ideas. This suited Dönitz perfectly, but it was the worst possible relationship for naval decision-making. What Dönitz needed was a strong curb, an analytical and sceptical right hand with the toughness to oppose his own blood-reasoning. Whether he would have tolerated such a man for long is, of course, doubtful. The fact that he chose a man like Meisel for the key post at High Command is significant; probably this too stemmed from his insecurity; or it may be, as his adjutant, Hansen-Nootbar, believes, he lacked understanding of other men.

Since the sea war was now to be the U-boat war, he combined the office of BdU with his own post as C-in-C of the Navy, and had U-boat headquarters moved from Paris to Berlin, where the Hotel am Steinplatz in Charlottenberg was furnished for the purpose. He retained Godt as his effective chief of operations with the title of Admiral commanding U-boats and FdU; Hessler remained Godt’s number one.

The Kriegsmarine was a vast concern by this stage of the war; it had the defence of scores of harbours and thousands of miles of coastline from occupied Scandinavia and the Baltic right around northern Europe and Biscay to the south of France, the Aegean and the Black Sea to look after; it was responsible for the protection of the shipments of iron ore and other vital metals down the Norwegian coast and across the Baltic, troop transport and supplies to the eastern armies, the security of blockade runners from Japan and Spain with equally vital commodities for the war effort; in the Mediterranean the Navy was working in co-operation with the Italian Navy in the struggle to keep open the supply lines to the Afrika Korps, now squeezed into a corner of Tunisia, and was fully engaged in the attack on allied supply lines. It was a hugely complex military, military-political and economic mosaic quite different from the simple certainties of the Atlantic ‘tonnage war’. He learnt this quickly, but in the beginning his concern was the battle in the Atlantic, his first overriding priority to boost U-boat production. He also intended to increase production of the only other potent weapon of offence, the Schnell (fast motor torpedo)boats which attacked shipping in the English Channel. The task was rendered particularly difficult since Hitler’s reaction to the disaster at Stalingrad was to cut the Navy’s already insufficient steel quota further to make more available for tank production, which he accorded the highest priority. A great part of Dönitz’s energies, therefore—according to Hansen-Nootbar at least 90 per cent of his working time—was spent with the technical and construction departments.

At first he seems to have agreed with Hitler’s directive to scrap the big ships; already the surface fleet was being combed for more officers and men for the ever-increasing force of U-boats and his first plans included the phased de-commissioning of the major units to release yet more men and dockyard workers, whose shortage also contributed to the bottlenecks in construction. However, he soon came to appreciate Raeder’s objections to this course which were persisted in by the naval staff: it would amount to an effortless victory for the allies, not only handing them a great psychological and propaganda success, but allowing them to release far greater forces, at present held back to cover the threat posed by the Tirpitz and the other big ships, for offensive operations against the German coasts and supply shipping, or to protect Atlantic convoys. Moreover the release of steel and manpower would be a mere drop in the ocean. Chiefly, though, it was the classic argument of the fleet ‘in being’ to tie up the enemy’s forces which had been accepted by virtually every inferior fleet throughout the modern history of navies.